Northern Stradyn - Voordeholme “The Backbone”

“Gran Gran!” The door burst open and flooded the front room of my house with sunlight, laughter, and love. I was expecting my son and his children today, but not this early. The children pattered across the room and all clung to my skirts as if they hadn’t seen me in a dogs age.
    “Oh my darlings! I’ve missed you so! Come here, come here, let Gran look at you.” I sat down on a stool near the butchering table in the kitchen and inspected my grandchildren one by one. “Nathan, you’ve gotten so big and strong! I bet you could throw my cow over the barn with one hand!” I pinched Nathans cheek, at least a little bit to let him know he would never get too big for Gran to do that. “Livia, your hair has gotten so long! You could put your brothers eye out if you used it as a whip!” Livia glanced at Nathan mischievously, and his eyes flitted nervously around the room. “Daniel. You’re such a handsome young boy. I know one day you’ll be a Duke and all the ladies will swoon over you. They will be so disappointed when you are more interested in… BEING A GOLEM, RAAAWWRR!” I picked Daniel up and hoisted him onto my shoulders and we began stomping around the room, chasing his brother and sister. 
    My son and his wife entered shortly after, carrying light luggage and a basket of food. I stomped over to my son and gestured for him to drop his bags. “Rawwr, we’re a scary golem!” I lowered my voice “Take this child from me, I’m too old for this.” I passed Daniel to his father “Raawwrr! Hello Dalina, how are you, love?”
    “Very well mum, we’re so glad to see you. Are you alright? Should you really be carrying Daniel like that?” I had bent a bit at the waist and braced my lower back, trying not to make too much of a show of it.
    “Oh, probably not, but I know he loves that game.” I stretched a bit, and a quiet pop reverberated through my body. I will have to stop doing that soon, just not today. My son and grandchildren romped around the room while I helped Dalina with the bags. The children would be staying a few days while they went away for business. Danila and my son Rupert were jewelers, and they said there was a good opportunity near the capital for them to sell their wares, but they needed to go negotiate in person. 
    “Kids come gather round and have some lunch before your mom and dad have to leave.” The children bounced around the house for a few minutes and eventually settled into the kitchen with the rest of us. I had some lunch prepared and we ate and chatted idly for a time. It was good to see my family, especially since Lem had passed. Danila had offered to have me move across the valley with her and Rupert, but I couldn’t bear to leave the home I had made with Lem, even if it was just my home now. 
    We ate and talked, about the farm (really just one cow, 5 chickens, and two grumpy goats at this point), the jewelry business, and school for the children. Life was good, but not great. School for the kids was fine, not perfect. This was one of the years you would look back on and not have strong memories about. At least, if you didn’t try. I was trying my damndest to cherish these memories, because time flies away from you, especially at my age. I don’t know how many more lunches I’ll get like this, and I don’t want to forget a thing. 
    Time does what it does, and Rupert and Danila were soon on their way, off to see some big time jewelry store owners and talk about business. I was left with the children and we made the most of the daylight. The cow didn’t need milking, but the kids loved to see her anyway. The chickens had already laid their eggs, but they were friendlier than most fowl, so we walked around the garden with them. The goats were another matter, but I let them harass the children a bit to remind them that not every animal in the world was their friend. 
    The sun was threatening to set and we made our way back into the house. I fixed dinner and we sat around the fire eating our stew and bread. The children were tired, but the twinkle in their eyes said they were not tired enough for bed.
    “Gran Gran tell us a story!” Daniel pleaded. “We wanna hear a story before it gets too late and then I get sleepy and then I fall asleep and then I’m in bed and then I can’t hear anything and then I don’t get to hear the rest of the story and then I don’t know what happens and then…”
    “Oh, yes, Daniel, I understand. I’ll tell you a story.” I interrupted, to put a stop to Daniels own story that would have lasted half the night. “Go get changed into your bedclothes and bring some pillows down and I’ll tell you a good one.”
    “Yeah, story!” Nathan and Livia said, almost in unison. The three of them jumped up and ran to their bags, carrying them upstairs to the bedrooms. Daniel jumped up at first, but was delayed by a yawn that seemed too large for his young frame.
    “Are you sure you’re not too tired, Daniel?” I asked from beneath raised eyebrows.
    “No, no! Story time! I love your stories Gran!” Daniel hustled off up the stairs after his brother and sister, and I had a few moments of quiet.
“Hmm, which story today…” I tottered over to a small bookshelf in the den and perused my selection. “‘This Heart of Mine’? No, too long. ‘The Flaming Sword of Markahn’? No, I don’t think they’re ready for that one yet. ‘Honor and  Duty’? Too violent. Hmm… Ah, this will do. ‘The Pumpkin Predicament’.”
I settled into my chair just as the children came racing down the steps, all clad for bed and carrying a pillow or two each. “Come on then, gather round, pillows on the floor, take your seats.” Six glittery eyes looked back at me from the floor. My family, my heart. This would be a good story for them tonight, and I would cherish this memory. 
I smiled as I began the story. “Once upon a time-”
“How long ago was that?!” Daniel interjected.
“A long time ago. No more questions during the story please. I will answer at the end if you still have them.” Daniel seemed dejected for a moment, but quickly returned to his previous level of anticipation. “Once… A long time ago. There was a man named Keden, who grew the best pumpkins in the land. He tended his pumpkin patch day and night, sold them at market, and gave pumpkin presents to all his friends. Keden baked pumpkin pie, he roasted pumpkin seeds, and carved pumpkin lanterns during the harvest season. He was well known in the land, even more so because everywhere he went, he sang and rhymed.
    “ ‘I come to you, a farmer true,
With the warrant of our Lord.
I bring you goods, myself I grew
And I don't ever carry a sword
If you've got a lute I'll strum you a chord,
And stick a tune to somethin'
But I might 'ave picked a better gourd
Cause nothin' rhymes with pumpkin!’”

The children laughed and kicked their feet, delighting in the rhyme. I smiled and continued the story. “Keden spent his days after the harvest traveling the land, selling his pumpkins, and returned to his farm when his stock was depleted. With his trusty Horse Maven to pull the cart, they wandered the northern duchy from edge to edge, always returning to their farm. 
“One year the local Lord, who adored Keden very much, decided to have a
pumpkin growing contest. Now everyone knew this would go to Keden, but the people loved the idea, and everyone threw themselves into the contest with gusto. Including the newcomer to town… Pelatis.”
“Booo, booo, we knew Pelatis!” The children had heard of Pelatis, he was a character in other stories, and they knew his reputation. A sneak and liar, Pelatis would surely be the villain of this story.
    “Yes, Pelatis. He had just moved to town and had a scheme to win the contest. Like many townsfolk he went and purchased pumpkin seeds from Keden, as everyone knew he grew the best pumpkins. Pelatis went and planted his seeds just like everyone else, but unlike everyone else, he then snuck about in the night, and he snuck all the way to Kedens farm. 
“After the sun had gone down and everyone was asleep, he dug up Kedens garden of freshly planted pumpkin seeds, thinking Keden could not win the contest if he didn’t have any pumpkins to compete. Patting himself on the back, he went home and slept like an evil little baby, knowing he had ruined Keden’s chances of winning the contest.
“When he awoke, he found an excuse to walk by the Pumpkin farm, and saw Keden had just re-planted first thing in the morning! The pumpkin farmer had re-planted his entire crop before breakfast. How could he have worked so fast? Who gets up before noon? Pelatis was discouraged, and became even madder when he heard a tune coming from Kedens garden:

“‘A crook, for sure, your honors scant
I'll work all day, I'll sweat and pant
I don't know why they think I can't
I'm a farmer, friend, I love to plant!’

“Pelatis vowed to win that contest no matter what, and he returned home. Over the next growing season he kept coming up with ways to ruin Keden’s harvest, and every time Keden foiled him. Keden kept watch over his fields at night, and friends helped take shifts, knowing there was a hoodlum about. Pelatis kicked wellstones into the well on Keden’s property, but he carried water in by hand until he could get it fixed. He stole Keden’s fertilizer, but his friends brought him more. Obsessed with ruining Keden’s harvest, he neglected his own, and in the days before the contest he realized his own pumpkins, while they had come from good stock and were still fine specimens, were not near as large as Keden’s own. 
“Pelatis knew he had to do something, the contest was tomorrow! He decided to do something truly despicable, and hatched a dastardly plan.” The children were rapt with attention, but also droopy eyed, struggling to stay awake through the rest of the story.
    “Wha… what di… what did he do Gran Gran?” Livia asked, her eyes bleary, hands clutching her braided hair. 
“Pelatis decided… to steal Keden’s horse!”
“No, not the horse! The pun’kin is too big, he can’t carry it by himself!” Daniel was distraught, afraid Pelatis would actually triumph over Keden.
“So Pelatis thought! Listen to the rest!
“That night, earlier than he believed even Keden would wake, Pelatis crept onto the farm. He couldn’t get to the pumpkins without being seen, but the horse barn was farther away. He slipped in, un-tied Maven, and led the horse into the woods. They walked far out into the forest, away from the farm and the road, and Pelatis tied the horse to a tree, with food and water nearby, he would come back and let the horse loose later that night and turn it in the direction of Keden’s farm. It would seem he had gotten loose and wandered off, and none would be the wiser.
“Pelatis went home, gleeful in his machinations, and- It means schemes.” Daniel nodded. “He went home, and loaded up his own cart, his pumpkins, not bad pumpkins, but certainly not Keden pumpkins, loaded in his cart. His own horse, Farfington, hooked up to the cart. They made their way to the Lord’s manor. 
“All the pumpkins arrayed on a stage, their growers standing proudly next to them, the Lord began to judge the contest. After several minutes of perusing, stroking his beard, and sagely nodding, he paused. ‘Wait a moment, where is Keden?’
    “All the townsfolk looked about, as though they expected he would be here already, but none of them had realized he was absent. The judging was delayed for a time while the area was surveyed, and Keden could not be located. Someone suggested they wait for Keden, and Pelatis was more than happy to speak up. ‘The rules clearly stated judging would commence at noon, my lord…’
“The lord frowned, but conceded. ‘Aye, it did. I’m sure Keden would have loved to be here, but perhaps there-’
    “The lord stopped speaking abruptly, and cupped a hand to his ear. Others followed suit, and then quietly from over the hill, a sound could be heard:

‘You dig up my patch, we can't seem to catch,
you in the act, I just react.
You starve my plants, but you got no chance.

You can't stop a man, who believes in his plan,
With farmin' in his heart.

I don't even care that you've stolen my mare
I'll pull me own damn cart!’

“And who comes over the hill, huffing and puffing, but Keden! Pulling his own horse cart by hand, and in the bed of that cart, I swear on my eyes, was the biggest pumpkin you had ever seen! Even bigger than anyone remembered, this pumpkin was almost bigger than the cart that carried it. Why all three of you kids could have fit inside, and it would have made enough pie to last you a year!
“The whole town burst into cries of joy at the sight of Keden, and before he had even brought his cart to a stop the lord was rushing up to him with with a giant ribbon for his pumpkin. The townsfolk picked Keden up on their shoulders and hoisted him high, cheering and joyful. 
    “And let that be a lesson to you, my young ones. Hard work prospers.”
“But, Gran Gran, didn’t Pelitas also prosper? I mean kinda? He didn’t go to jail or nothin’, and he still had his pun’kins.” Daniel asked, an insightful question for such a young boy.
“Aye, he did, to a degree. Sometimes cheaters don’t get their punishment, and I suppose that’s a lesson of its own.” Daniel nodded slowly, his bleary eyes drooping closed as he fell asleep on his pillow. “Alright, up and to bed with you, I’m too old to carry you all, let’s go.” The children rose slowly and trundled off to sleep, and I tucked them each in. 
They grow up so fast… We won’t get many more nights like this. I’m glad to share a story with them, and I hope they do the same with their family. They’ll have their own soon enough. Time flies. 

Culture Info

Northern Stradyn is known most of all for it’s agriculture. Warm weather and rich soil allow for excellent yields of a myriad of crops. Voordeholme, especially the farmland, is sometimes called The Backbone in reference to the fact that it produces the majority of Stradyn’s food supply. Voordeholme’s crop production is so prolific in fact that grains and produce are the greatest exports in all of Stradyn.They say you can see a Northerner from a mile away, and that’s usually true. Being the producers of the best cotton and some of the finest dyes on the continent, the people of Voordeholme proudly wear brightly colored clothing.

Far from the battlefront and the snowy south, the people of Voordeholme are safe and comfortable. Rather than take this for granted however, most make a point to work hard and share the wealth of their circumstances with others. Many traditions in this region are centered around hospitality and generosity. 

Safety and security can often breed complacency, so dueling competitions are a popular pastime, both for spectators and competitors of every skill level. Military service on the front line is also common, especially for young men and women hoping to improve their station.  And while these colorful individuals often find that dueling competitions did not adequately prepare them for war, experienced training officers know to take advantage of these hayseeds’ physical strength, endurance, and diligence to make them into fine soldiers.

Important People

- Osmir Gareli, the Count of Walendale. Count Gareli is jovial, generous, and intelligent, but most know him for his great love for throwing parties. The most lavish of these by far is his annual winter ball. Thousands of people can find work for the preparation and execution of the winter ball, leading some to speculate that the intention of it was always to support his people through the winter months.

- Andras Thellaran. After the famous war hero retired from service, he settled in Voordeholme and became a popular author.

Views of other Cultures

Central Stradyn - “Seat of government! Palace to the emperor! High court, in all its majesty! Gosh, I’d love to visit sometime. Do you think they wear their robes and all that all the time? Surely not, I mean, that would be silly… right?”

-Jeremy Alford, baker's apprentice

Western Stradyn - “My boy went out west a few years ago, he came back eventually, but he weren’t the same. He doesn’t talk about it much, but it changed him. He’s quieter now… More reserved. 
War changes you, make no mistake.”
-Arthur Camm, dairy farmer

Southern Stradyn - “That place gives me the spooks! It’s nice near the southern border, and close to the other duchies, but anywhere off the road the woods get so deep, so dark. I worry I could get lost in there and never be seen again. They say there’s tar… in pits?! And monsters?! Real monsters? That’s crazy! I don’t like that stuff, no sir.”
-Emilia Faraday, Tavern manager

Ultus - “Oh, our best trading partner, to be sure. Just last year they made up the vast majority of our export. Grain, fruit, meat, dairy. They buy just about anything we can grow or make, as far as food stuffs is concerned. We trade right back, of course, see this knife? Ultan steel, forged in the shops in WildeWinter. Finest blade I’ve ever had in my life. And the medical supplies, of course. They have a much easier time with that sort of thing than we do. Economically we have a very comfortable relationship. Oh, did you mean socially? Damned if I know, never met an Ultan.”
-Miles Barnet, merchant accountant

Garalta - “My family was once from Garalta. Couple generations removed, mind you, but we’re native to that region. My grandpa had some firsthand stories, and he told us what it was like when he was a boy. Some of the things he saw done to his friends, the harsh punishment for dissidents, the reasons he left… They say it’s how they make their life, but it don’t sound like no life to me.”
-Ansel Livingston, cattle herd

Miloa - “Oh I just love those kids, they’re so helpful and curious! I flipped my horse cart the other week and who should come along but a couple goats, happy as can be and more than willing to flip my cart. All they wanted in return was an explanation of cart manufacturing, which happened to be my specialty.”
-Gwendolen Rothyn, Wood Worker

Hargroth - “I know we’re supposed to be afraid of Hargroth, but I feel like they might just be misunderstood. We should offer compassion to all living creatures and - What’s that? They’re not really alive? Actually truly dead? I guess I always thought that was a metaphor. Well now I don’t know.”
-Albrecht Masterson, pacifist and artist