Borderlands of Adventure
Gaeleon River Valley
Gaelon River Valley (GAYE-lun, or GUY-lun)
The Gaelon River Valley is a large area including the river’s tributaries as well as the valley of the main river. It is a free land unclaimed by foreigners, with no central government. Many of the river valleys are inhabited, but the area also contains a considerable quantity of completely untamed wilderness. The great trading city of Endhome sits at the river mouth where it empties into the Sinnar Ocean.
Borders and Lands
The geographical region defined by the watershed of the Gaelon River does not have precise political or cultural borders. The Gaelon originates in the Cretian Peaks where a vast waterfall of accumulated runoff roars down from the mountain heights. The river cuts almost due east to empty into the sea at Endhome. Along the way, it feeds from a web of tributary rivers and streams. The river basin is enormous: The northern edge begins its shallow downward slope no more than 50 miles south of the Estuary Road and only 20 miles south of the Trader’s Way, and the river basin extends as far south and east as the King’s Road. The edges of a river basin are not a natural boundary for the movement of armies or merchants, so adjoining lords and nations often claim or abandon, conquer, convert and fight over the lands at the periphery of the Gaelon River Valley. The farther one gets from the main river, the more lawless and dangerous the terrain becomes until reaching one of the patrolled roads that mark the approximate boundaries of the valley.
Thus, there is an important distinction between the “main river valley” and the “hinterlands” of the Gaelon River Valley, being the rest of the river basin, including the tributary rivers feeding the Gaelon itself. The main river valley is generally peaceful and well-ordered, with the military support of Endhome and a constant flow of river trade. The hinterlands, while they are still generally peaceful, are more sparsely populated and offer more risks to travelers.
The Valley of the Gaelon is mostly made up of rolling, grassy hills, with the tributaries running through wide valleys between these higher altitudes. Some of these valleys are entirely forested over, and many of the hills are limestone formations dotted with caves.
History and People
As noted earlier, the Gaelon Valley’s lack of natural borders means that it has occasionally been a highway for armies on the move, or the site of other people’s battles. The outer reaches of the valley are in constant political flux, moving from the control of one outside power to another. The main river area has been remarkably free of intruders and invaders, partly because the independent nature of the valleyfolk in the hinterlands makes it difficult for an invading army to reach the main river without suffering accidents, sabotage, and small ambuscades along the way.
Most of the people of the valley are ethnically Foerdewaith, but none of them consider themselves tied to the Kingdoms of Foere in any way. The river valley is also home to a population of riverfolk unrelated to the Foeredewaith who claim to have lived upon the river since timeimmemorial. The Gaeleen make their living as fishermen and sometimes hire out their flat skiffs as bargemen to skillfully carry cargoes from town to town. They are a colorful and vibrant people as they ply waters while singing their ancient songs and trading odds and ends found in old ruins whose locations only they know.
Solitary members of a few hereditary families of rangers also wander the Valley, mistrusted by the farm-folk they defend, but welcomed for short visits while closely watched with suspicious glances. No one really likes to host members of the Wayfarle clan or the Bristlebacks, but everyone acknowledges that the ranger families, small as they are, do a great deal to keep the perils of the wilderness at bay. But they are strange people, not proper folk like the villagers.
In addition, some of the wandering Erskaelosi remained in this area during their forced migration of an age ago and remained and settled in some of the more remote valleys of the river’s tributaries to escape the persecution of their people. Unlike their warlike cousins that now reside in the Wildlands of the Sundered Kingdoms (see The Lost Lands: Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms for more information), instead of continuing to worship Bowbe these settlers turned to the more peaceful nature deity Cernunnos whom they worship in their cultural interpretation as The Horned God. The valley rangers find some of their staunchest allies among these Erskaelosi.
Perhaps the most unique and interesting of the valley’s occupants are the river giants (a hill giant variant) who call the watershed home and perpetually travel up and down its waters on their crude rafts. These giantfolk are friendly enough but largely keep to themselves, except on market days in the smaller settlements when they frequently arrive with huge catches of fish that they sell for discount prices. Always willing to lend a hand to a riverman in need, they nonetheless tend to keep themselves, finding that the “little folk” are often mistrusting of them and their size.
Finally, many of the thickly forested tributary valleys branching from the Gaelon still hold primordial populations of wood elves. Here these isolated clans still live and cling to the old ways practiced since before the first Hyperboreans came. Unlike their wild elf kin far to the west, beyond the Great Sea, these elves do not consider humans to be enemies, though they do remain insular and aloof for the most part, with little contact beyond those few rangers that call them friend.
Trade and Commerce
A considerable amount of river traffic goes up and down the Gaelon River, as produce and farm goods are sailed or rowed downriver to the markets of Endhome. Occasional rafts of furs come down from trappers and hunters at the very highest source of the river in the Cretian Mountains themselves, but for the most part, the river valley’s main trade goods are agricultural: hides to make vellum and leather, wool and textiles, cattle, beer, wheat, vegetables, and wine from the few highlands that support vineyards.
Loyalties and Diplomacy
The lands close to the banks of the main river consider themselves allies of the city of Endhome, which is a close trading partner and maintains a few armed keelboats to keep river piracy to a minimum. Beyond the close affiliation with the “Trade Capital of the Continent,” the people of the Gaelon Valley consider themselves free folk, beholden to none.
Officers of Endhome administer the small city at the Gaelon River Bridge and the even smaller camp town that perpetually exists at the King’s River Bridge, but other than these exceptions, the communities of the river valley tend to be allied in mutually supporting groups rather than being part of a structured feudal system. Most of the small towns scattered through the region hire some soldiers as a defensive force to give backbone to the local militia, and several manor houses in the countryside are the independent fiefs of knights with their own small retinues of warriors. In general, any sort of defense is cobbled together, but the people of the valley are fierce and steadfast when threatened, and the system ordinarily works well.
Government tends to be associations of village elders, local knights, town counselors, and freehold lords. The farther from the main river, and the more dangerous the land, the more likely that barons and lords are to be found with peasants working the fields in exchange for protection and castles.
Wilderness and Adventure
The Gaelon River Valley is rife with possibilities for adventure, from the relatively mundane guarding of caravans to the far more exotic exploration of ancient ruins in the forested and forgotten valleys of the smaller tributary rivers where clans of wood elves still live. Traveling up the Gaelon to the Cretian Mountains brings a group of adventurers into strange surroundings, for the Cretian Peaks are as ill-starred and dangerous here as they are on the other faces of the great mountain range. Trappers, gold panners, and outlaws inhabit the heights near the source of the river, keeping largely to themselves and harboring secrets.
The folk of the River Valley have been mostly unaffected by the changing political balance in the Borderland Provinces.