Brei (prounced “BRAY”) is a duchy of Grandévere that governs the northwest of corner of the country and protects the Grandévere-Praetoria border. The duchy’s name is derived from baerei, an old wood elf word meaning sovereign. Castle Brei, then named Fort Pendragon, was originally a palace built in Y291 to house the region’s imperial governor, but was captured in Baldur’s crusade to reclaim the west. Though Baldur intended only to use the palace as a base to strike at the imperial remnant forces, the crusader found that many beleaguered serfs and former imperial slaves had gathered around his safe haven. Baldur knew most of these refugees were weak and starving, and dug deep into the imperial governor’s hoard of stolen gold and returned it to the people in the form of work, food and shelter. Baldur’s just and selfless leadership transformed the captured fortress from an icon of oppression into a beacon of justice in the lawless wilderness. Brei is currently ruled by Duke Bertram, an aging lord renowned for expanding the Breian knighthood.
The duchy of Brei encompasses three distinct geographic regions. The south of Brei is covered by Valdivia Forest, a vast temperate rainforest that is home to most of Brei’s indigenous wildlife. Most of the wood elf refugees from Ardennes live secluded lives in Valdivia. Some lowlife bandits have made encampments in the boughs of Valdivia to deter pursuers, as the forest is hard to traverse by horse and ambushes are easy to set up within its obscuring branches. There are small human settlements within the forest remote enough to exist unregulated and unprotected by the Breian government. These villages must have a constant guard to defend against the forest inhabitants—monstrosities like harpies and owlbears—and worse. The eruption of a dreaded Malebolge can threaten entire regions of the forest because of the fiends and flame they spew forth. Valdivia slowly transitions into grand old-growth forests on the Brei-Hildsvine border.
Brei’s western reaches are dominated by vast green plains and rolling hills. Ruins of small fortresses dot the landscape, giving the plains a desolate and unforgiving appearance. But life still flourishes among the ruins that dominate Brei’s green fields. Most horses in western Grandévere are born and bred in these plains, and many claim that horses of Breian stock are the best horse a knight can ride. The orcs of the southwestern plains are willing citizens of Grandévere, but tend to operate outside of the kingdom’s jurisdiction. Most plains orcs attempt to distance themselves from their feral cousins, the orcs of the southern swamps.
In Brei’s southeast lies the lake country. Though it requires climbing into the foothills of the Barrier Peaks, this gorgeous region is not governed by the duchy of Aurvandil. Countless beautiful palaces have been built around crystal clear lakes filled by small rivers that flow from the Barrier Peaks. The lake country is the most peaceful and orderly part of Brei, since many Breian nobles own summer homes on the lakeside. The lake country is populated primarily by day laborers and the landed nobility. The residences in this region are as breathtaking as the mountains and shimmering water, but the class divide between the elite and the peasantry is more pronounced here than anywhere else in Brei.
In the northeast, stretching from the base of Fletcher’s Peak to the Bay of Frost, are the Blasted Fields. After the fall of the empire, Baldur’s army confronted imperial remnants there in the Battle of Goldfields. The magic wielded by the emperor’s surviving lieutenants was so mighty that the plains were forever scarred by their power. The Blasted Fields are now home only to ruined castles, blackened craters and lifeless soil. Few creatures can survive on the fields, and many travelers have reported that terrifying shadows flit across the fields at night, dancing at the corners of their vision.
Humans occupy the highest of Brei’s social echelons, with few exceptions. Human beings are fortunate enough to have lived in Brei for the longest time since the fall of the Empire. The wood elves who live in the Valdivia Forest are mostly refugees from occupied Ardennes, and the plains orcs are largely plains wanderers and nomads with little interest in government or politics. Other kinds, such as hill dwarves from Nibeline and Dragonborn from Santenne and the Kurtulmak live in Brei and some even hold noble titles, but in far smaller numbers than human beings.
Halflings are the second most populous people of Brei. Of the halflings that live in Brei, most are a stout breed of halflings that prefer to dwell in hilly shires and eat large breakfasts. Unlike their cousins, the lightfoot halflings, these “stout” halflings, or “hobbits” prefer commerce, knitting, and politics to treasure hunting, lockpicking, and swordfighting. When a Breian hobbit is forced to fight, however, they will do anything to protect their loved ones. Stout halflings have an innate talent for stone throwing and stone-slinging, and larger creatures have been known to flee when faced with a hobbit and his sling. Many stouts who move to the lake country bring their whole halfling clan with them. The parties these families throw have been known to last an entire summer week and to involve enough food and alcohol to feed a small village for a month.
Wood elves are a refugee race, expelled from their homeland of Ardennes fifty years ago by a huge army of invading orcs. Though wood elves were once native to the forests of Brei, they were wiped out by the Du’un Empire in the Blood Purge, a massive genocide in Y198 that ended the lives of over one hundred thousand nonhumans. Wood elves prefer to keep to themselves, living quiet, peaceful existences cradled in the branches of the Valdivia Forest. Some live in human settlements, but very few wood elves live in large cities or opulent palaces. No wood elf holds a noble title in Brei, and they prefer to keep it this way.
The orcs of the northern plains are a proud people who live in nomadic tribes. They form close bonds with the horses that carry them across the prairies and are some of the best mounted warriors in Grandévere. Though orcish customs are frequently viewed as barbaric and savage by “civilized” folk, orcs have a rich history and a unique culture. Many of the orcs who live in the northwestern plains were once barbaric allies of the Du’un Empire, but have since returned to their ancient tribal roots. Some orcs who defied their culture and chose live in the cities with other humanoid kinds have become famous knights and hold significant political power in the Breian noble court. Most other civilized orcs serve in a military capacity, either as town guards or members of local militia.
The Knights of the Golden Lion
Baldur’s murder rocked Grandévere to its core. Had Freya and Baldur’s son, Forseti, not intervened, the chaos and outrage it sparked could have reduced the kingdom to ashes. Forseti summoned all Breian knights still possessed with reason to his side in an attempt to quell the populace’s thirst for Hod‘s blood. After the riots had been suppressed and the initial mania quieted, these knights were named holy knights of the realm for their courage and loyalty. The newly established order of knights was christened the Order of the Golden Lion in Baldur’s memory. These holy knights, or paladins, have since inspired other knightly orders across Grandévere.
Today, the Knights of the Golden Lion—who are sometimes referred to simply as the Golden Lions or the Lion Knights—are renowned as the finest knights in the land. All other paladin orders in Grandévere are trained, and sometimes led, by Breian knights. Though the first Knights of the Golden Lion were noble-born, the order has since allowed men and women of all stations to be admitted into their sacred ranks. All those who join their number must be devout in their worship of both Baldur and Io, and must demonstrate a mastery of swordplay, horsemanship, and prove their undying loyalty to the realm. Few are allowed to join this hallowed company, but those who do are hailed as heroes and granted all the luxuries of knighthood, including a noble title.
The order is led by Sir Agravain, Earl of Morgause. Agravain, as chief commander of the Lion Knights, resides either in the city of Brei or in Morgause, a small city in the shadow of the Barrier Peaks. He, like many knight-commanders before him, only personally leads the knights in times of grave crisis. Were it not for their reverence for the crusader Ulir, many of the knights of Fletcher’s Peak would stand among the Golden Lions’ ranks. Instead, Lord Oaké of House Fletcher serves as Duke Bertram’s steward, handling many affairs of state in the duke’s stead.
The Pendragon Depths
Circa Y291 to late Y498, Castle Brei was an imperial stronghold named Fort Pendragon. In the Empire’s formative years, Pendragon—meaning chief dragon—was an official title for Du’un military generals, but it eventually became inextricably associated with Aurelina Pendragon, a terrible and mighty conqueror. Aurelina and her three daughters were hated by their citizens and feared by their allies for their ambition and their cruelty. Aurelina Pendragon was the first Du’un governor in the west to support Sheol VI’s Child Hunts, and her daughters took to their grim task with devilish glee.
The Pendragon family spent a fortune in gold to create a vast network of cells and torture chambers beneath the castle. Hundreds of children are believed to have been interred in Fort Pendragon’s dungeons at any one time, and historians estimate some five thousand children passed through the dungeons before the fall of the empire. Expeditions into the dungeons have revealed that though there were some small, solitary cells, probably for holding important or dangerous prisoners, most holding areas in the cell block were large, open chambers that could contain twenty or more children.
Today, the people of Brei rarely speak of the dark secret buried beneath their noble city. Now referred to as the Pendragon Depths, it is referred to only in hushed tones, and there are some who consider the vast network of twisting tunnels to be nothing more than an urban legend. Some Breians assert that they have discovered hidden entrances to the Depths on their property over the years, but no official sources have confirmed their claims. There are stories of adventurers and treasure hunters who have found hidden entrances to the Depths and returned disfigured, traumatized, or simply not returned at all. A popular rumor is that the Depths are haunted by malevolent spirits; that prisoners who perished in the Depths are still bound to the physical world by their hatred and sorrow. Others say that the reported “hauntings” are simply monsters. There may be terrible beasts below Brei, they claim, but at least there is no supernatural threat.
Despite the ghost stories that surround the Pendragon Depths, rumors that the Depths house imperial gold, stolen treasures, and even magical artifacts continues to draw legions of fortune-seekers to the city, hoping to find an entrance to the city’s fabled catacombs. Perhaps because of the gold they bring to the city’s economy, neither the duke nor his steward have made any attempts to quell these rumors.