Shadow of the Firstborn
Though referred to by most people as the Free Kingdoms, the countries north of the Nentyr River don't function as a single political unit. Each Kingdom functions independently, but all have mutual defensive pacts to protect them from the far more powerful Aldarian Empire. They also all contribute to a combined military force known as the Great Northern Army. Contrary to its name, this army is mostly made up of mercenaries looking for easy patrol duties, the army hasn't actually fought in large scale combat for the last decade. The worst thing a member of the army usually has to face is bandits or orc raiders.
The Free Kingdoms is made up of the following nations:
Often referred to as 'The Frozen North,' Petrea is fairly inhospitable by most standards. The winters are cold and dark, and the local wildlife extremely dangerous; but there are a lot of hidden treasures to be found for those that know where to look. Petrea's main trading commodities are rare gems from the northern mountains, and furs from the many exotic creatures that inhabit the wilderness. They are also the main transit point for trade with the Dwarven cities of Blackhold. Petrea does a good trade in 'hunting tourism' – many a southern noble has earned prestige for themselves by bringing down a northern monster.
Petrea is ruled by King Balda, who presides over the council of Jarls from Castle Gawic. When a king dies, the Jarls elect a noble to replace him/her. Though there have been cases of the crown passing from parent to child, these are quite rare. Petreans want the strongest leader to rule over them, and the competition is fierce.
Known as 'The Breadbasket of the North,' Tonaris is a land of farmers and merchants. Its position to the south of Ashan ensures that the winds coming from the north are always warm, which saves the kingdom from the worst of the northern winters. Until fairly recently, the farmers who worked the fields were treated little better than serfs, bound to cruel taskmasters without any hope of escape. Since taking the throne, King Drakos has enacted many reforms that have greatly improved the lives of Tonaris' citizens, and the resulting boom in production has begun to silence even the most vocal critics. But all is not peaceful in Tonaris. Several dispossessed nobles have been campaigning to overthrow the govenrment, and seem to be supported by outside forces. Only time will tell if they succeed.
The oldest of the Free Kingdoms (though many Orcs would disagree), Cadon is the unofficial leader of the alliance. The nobles of Cadon all claim to be descended directly from the nobility of Enneth. Though this cannot be proven definitively, most have come to accept it as fact and move on – which gives Cadon added clout when dealing with other human and Orc nations. Though several past kings and queens have tried to raise the golden eagle flag, none have survived for very long. The modern nobility is happy to pay homage to the past, but they don't want anyone resurrecting it.
The home of the Eladrin and Avariel, Tei'lar is a mystery to many other northeners. Though they arrived only in the later days of the great war, their magnificent capital city seems to be far older, and their lands are better established than even the oldest of Imperial provinces. Mysteries aside, Tei'lar is an important part of the Free Kingdoms, and is well regarded even in the south as the Eladrin were instrumental in establishing the college at Minar. Their innate magical abilities made them perfect teachers for the next generation of magi.
Although it is marked as a kingdom on the map, Ashan is really just a large forest that contains most of the disparate wood elf clans. Every 10 years, the tribes meet to exchange goods and marriages, as well as elect a new chief of chiefs who will represent them in the alliance meetings. Though the elves are happy for outsiders to visit their woods, any attempts to harvest or desecrate it are met with lethal force. They are also said to have an agreement with the Eladrin for mutual assistance in case of war against the other northern kingdoms, but the Elves deny this strenuously.
After the Day of Fire, the Orcs wanted to get as far away from everyone else as possible. Eventually, they ended up settling the lands in the north east, naming them Gralkir after the leader who had led them there. Gralikir divided all Orcs into nine clans, each represented by a spirit animal. His instruction to all Orcs was to improve themselves so that they would not be caught unawares when the next war arrived. He then challenged the strongest Orcs from each clan to fight him, whoever killed him would be shown as strong enough to lead the Orcs into the future. A few years later, contact was made with human settlers to the west. At first, the Orcs slaughtered anyone they came across, but soon they were met by an army led by the King of the newly founded kingdom of Cadon, who promptly defeated the Orcs in open battle. The King then gave the Orcs an offer, if they joined his new alliance, he would train 100 orcs every five years in the ways of human combat. The Orcs bristled at the thought of being tought by an outsider, but then the King presented them with a banner – the banner of a joint Orc/Human force from the Kingdom of Enneth that had been passed down in his family for generations. Reminded of the strength that humans and Orcs had when working together, the clan leaders agreed, and the new alliance was secured.
Sometimes known as the 'accidental kingdom,' Astal was created by the families of Magi who had been sent to Minar. Given the strange nature of the city, it wasn't surprising that most families wanted to live somewhere a bit more normal, but still near to their loved ones. Soon, the town of Rhilinel was founded, and then food was needed, so farms were made - and so on and so forth. Astal could have continued as a strange community in the south of Gralkir, but a large number of political refugees arrived from the Empire and used their riches to establish Astal as a (minor) power in its own right. Now, Astal is the centre of trade for magical items, as well as a port of call for anyone wanting to visit Minar.