Featherdale: A Traveller's Primer

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Featherdale: A Traveller's Primer
« on: January 10, 2011, 04:38:22 PM »

Among the most famous of arrogant Sembian sayings about the back-country bumpkins who dwell to the north of them is the one that "More than one Dale just isn't there." Most folk today take this saying to mean that a Sembian cannot even see a settlement when passing through the poor, rustic Dales or think it a boastful reference to the fact that the richest Dale of all, Moondale, was swallowed by Sembia. Others see it as an allusion to vanished Dales such as Sessrendale and Tarkhaldale. The truth is, however, that the phrase is a snide comment about Featherdale.

Unlike most of the other Dales, Featherdale is not a distinct valley. Rather, the Dale is formed from the basin of the lower Ashaba between Blackfeather Bridge -- which carries Rauthauvyr's Road across the river -- and Feather Falls. Featherdale is without a ruler, a standing army, capital, or any significant towns. Yet this prosperous farming territory has a character all its own and has twice successfully avoided annexation by Scardale, once similarly rebuffed Battledale, and to astonish all the gods, even denied Sembia's grasping hand thrice.

The Sembian threat is real: While neighboring Cormyr does not wish to annex the Dales against their will, the Sembian feeling is very much that they should be controlling every Dale. The productive farmlands and forests of the Dalelands are greatly desired by the wealthy Sembian mercantile houses, and they have begun to make efforts to gain control of these resources without employing a military, as well -- usually by buying out local owners or opening new trade posts. Though presently Sembia has no formal policy or apparent plans for the Dalelands, dozens of merchants are "independently" seeking profits and markets in them. This mercantile invasion may prove to be as effective as an incursion of soldiers, or even more so in the long run.

Dalesmen, and Featherdarrans in particular, do not trust the Sembians that come and go through their lands. Many a Featherdarran would say that, as long as the Sembians trade fairly and respect the locals' right to make a fair profit from their wares, then they may well leave them be -- but this is not the case, and particularly in recent months. The Sembian wealth allows these foreign merchants to trade in prices the Dalesmen cannot compete with - so much that southern Archendale is now considering demanding tariffs on foreign trade to give their own merchants an edge over the Sembian firms, and the present situation is that many of Featherdale's (and the Dales as a whole) merchant endeavors have turned into cut-throat professions.

Cutting throats, and literally so, is what many Featherdarrans will claim that the Sembians indeed do. It has not been unheard of that Sembian merchants hire adventurers to do more than just protect their own caravans - but to also raid and put their rivals out of business. It is only the pride of Featherdarrans that prevent them from resorting to such tactics themselves.

Nevertheless, the fear of an army marching upon Featherdale once again is still present: Neighboring Scardale titters on complete anarchy, with many powers vying to control, occupy, and take it for their own. Should Sembia (or even the Zhentarim) emerge the victor in the rising struggle, Featherdale will be living in the shadow of a great enemy, and a successful military push from Scardale will not be a difficult task even for the most inexperienced of generals.

Who rules Featherdale? Nobody does -- Featherdale has no central government or ruler. Each village or farm tends to look after its own business, with some being lorded over by self-styled dukes and barons. On rare occasions, issues arise that concern the entirety of Featherdale and cannot be solved locally, and when that happens, a Dalemeet is called: The Dalemeet usually consists of the aforementioned lords, strong independent farm owners, as well as various village elders and riverment passing through. In essence - anyone who wants to come. The issue at hand suffers through the debating of a hundred or more people who all think they have something to say about it. Outsiders who have attended a Dalemeet find it to be no surprise that Featherdarrans believe that governments are stupid.

The Dalemeet is not binding to anyone, and is only convened once or twice a decade. The last Dalemeet was held after the wizard Cholandrothipe was killed by assassins, ending the magical portage around Feather Falls. The Dalesmen agreed to chip in to expand the old portage to replace the wizard's service.

Much due to this lack of government, justice is a very haphazard thing in Featherdale, with offended parties usually taking matters into their own hands. On occasion, ugly feuds have developed that have lasted for years. Despite this frontier justice, Featherdarrans remain largely a good-natured sort, believing that you can do anything you want, so long as you don't hurt someone else.

While the largest town in Featherdale remains Feather Falls, the rapid growth of Blackfeather Bridge suggests that this won't be the case for long. Founded only 18 years ago, Blackfeather Bridge is quickly expanding: Heavy traffic along Rauthauvyr's Road has led several entrepreneurs to open small businesses here, including a popular inn, a general store, a smithy, and a wainwright. Marking both the western end of Featherdale and the busiest bottleneck in the Dragon Reach lands, Blackfeather Bridge is a place many, many folk pass through on their way to somewhere else - indeed, many Sembian merchants stop on their way here from Ordulin, and many others stop here on their way over there.

The town is named after the black-painted bridge thrown up across the Ashaba long ago to replace one built under Rauthauvyr's orders. The bridge, much like the town, has been updated considerably since its first ramshackle incarnation, and is infamous for being a "sacred" site to followers of the god Cyric - though few know why. Featherdarran youth often "guard" the bridge, prepared to ride into the hills for help should they spot any of Cyric's clergy.

Another local legend of note is that of Albrent the Harper -- a ghost that is rumored to skulk the halls of the large Riverman Inn -- Albrent, a Harper in life, is said to guard the inn against malignant mages, arsonists, and other crimes. Some Featherdarrans swear that this legend is true, claiming that on several occasions he's saved the place from brigand raids and blazes both deliberately and accidentally ignited. Others say he serves lonely travelers as a source of reassuring companionship and advice and is the reason that so many lovelorn, runaway maids have stayed on the Riverman's staff.

Feather Falls remains the largest town in Featherdale still, and though the locals do not suffer much from drow as other villages in the dale do, theirs is a town historically plagued by Sembian and Scardarran expansionists alike. Feather Falls is the easternmost settlement of Featherdale and borders Scardale, with its namesake flowing into the large gorge known as the Scar. It is also the home of the deceased Cholandrothipe - a powerful wizard who wielded potent spells, said to allow him to shrink entire boats and move them around Feather Falls without carrying their cargo over the portage. A few years ago Cholandrothipe was assassinated by agents of the Red Wizards of Thay, possibly because he refused to share his spells with them. It is much because of this that few in Featherdale suffer a Red Wizard to walk unmolested through their dale. Cholandrothipe's slender tower now stands on the edge of the town, but few dare explore the deceased mage's home for fear of its guardians and wards.

The House of Morning is also situated in Featherdale: The unquestioned religious authority in Featherdale, this Lathanderite temple is led by Morninglord Jallian Horgontivar - a tall patrician man that has gained the reputation of a man only about half as cultured and important as he thinks he is. The House of Morning, the largest (and only) temple in the Dale, has been encouraging new business ventures throughout Featherdale by loaning out gold at low interest to those who ask, in a desperate attempt to keep up with Sembian operations. Many believe that Horgontivar will retire from his service to the god very much enriched if one of the clergy members under him does not do away with him first in their haste to ascend to his polished marble high seat. For an outsider, it is difficult to say whether the greedy reputation this clergy has attained is deserved, considering the hard work and charity offered by this temple to the entirety of Featherdale. Travelers will often claim that some manner of feud took place in the past that embittered many of the dale's farm owners against the Morninglord, and the grudges have yet to fade.

With the coming of 1374 DR, many Featherdarrans fear that once again Sembian boots will march upon their lands.
"Just like old times. Well, except for the torture and all."