Peril in Bloodstone
History of the Bloodstone Lands
For centuries, the story of the Bloodstone Lands was simply the story of Damara. The cold wastes of Vaasa attracted little attention from scholars (or anyone else!) outside the mountainous barricades of the region. The people of Vaasa gathered in scattered communities of hunters, trappers, and farmers, all pitifully poor and eking out a squalid, uninteresting existence.
Damara, though, had a different tale to tell. This kingdom traces its noble lines back almost three centuries, to the time when Heliogabalus was founded by Feldrin Bloodfeathers, the first king of Damara. Thereafter, his long, unbroken line of kindly heirs ruled Damara well, only ending with King Virdin's death. Until the most recent generation, the kingdom was a force on par with Impiltur.
Damara maintained strong trade relations with the city-states along the Moonsea and along all the reaches of the Sea of Fallen Stars. The narrow gap between Rawlinswood and the southern expanse of the Earthspurs is still known as Merchants Run, though few merchants use it today.
At the height of Damara's glory, long caravans of merchants transported chalcedony down this pass to the fortress of Ilmwatch along the Easting Reach. They were welcomed and even protected by the legions of Impiltur. Fortified by brigades of Impilturian soldiers, the Damaran merchants then crossed through the Traders Bay region and into the great port of Sarshel. Ships from Thesk and all the nations floating vessels on the the Sea of Fallen Stars met the merchants with open arms and open purses.
A second trade route, shorter but more difficult, carried the precious stone through Bloodstone Pass, the only sensible trail through the mighty Galenas. From there, the stone went to points north and west. Because it crossed through the wilds of Vaasa and through the Earthspur Mountains along Garumn's Climb, this route was not preferred. But Garumn's Climb has proven invaluable to Sembia and the city-states on the Moonsea, especially in times of heavy pirate activity, or on such occasions as when the Moonsea was cut off from the main waterway by a particularly nasty dragon turtle, as happened a few decades ago.
The bloodstone was traded in bars, each measured at 25 gold pieces in value. The crest of a Damaran noble house marked every bar, and on the opposite side was the year in Damaran reckoning. Nearly 1,000,000 gold pieces worth of the stone was taken annually from the mines in the Galenas alone. Particularly rich was the small region surrounding Bloodstone Pass, aptly named the Barony of Bloodstone. This annual yield of raw wealth more than kept the interest of merchants and speculators, and therefore the craftsmen, farmers, and ordinary folk of Damara lived quite well.
Furthermore, Damara had little to fear from its neighbors. Protected by imposing natural boundaries, with the noble houses united under the rule of a single well-accepted king, there was little cause for unrest. The king maintained an army only to protect the caravans, and to defend the outlying rural communities from bands of raiding goblins or other wretched creatures. Certainly, the scattered tribes of Vaasa could never unite or pose more than a marginal threat. Peace was the norm, and the expectation of future prosperity, obvious.
Or so the Damarans thought. The merchants could never have guessed that the bloodstone bars would in time be called "cursed money," shunned by all outside the region for fear that it would bring to the user the same disastrous fate that befell Damara!
The Rise of the Witch-King
In FR1347, a calamitous event in the wastes of Vaasa rocked the stability of the entire region. In a single night, the evil fortress Castle Perilous arose on a lonely crag only 60 miles north of the Galenas and the Damaran border.
Out from this bastion of wickedness stepped Zhengyi the Witch-King, a lich of unspeakable powers. The Witch-King claimed the sovereign powers of the kingdom of Vaasa. Winning the cold hearts of the countless goblins, orcs, and giants living in the mountains, the Witch-King pulled them all into his fold. Zhengyi enlisted the aid of powerful denizens of the lower planes and surrounded himself with the foul priests of Orcus, who could raise and command legions of undead. With this vast army swiftly assembled, and further aided by the infamous Grandfather of Assassins and his foul guild, the Witch-King prepared for war.
Damara's eyes were blind to the sudden rise of Zhengyi. At the time of the Witch-King's rise, the kingdom was suffering a series of catastrophies — events which, in hindsight, seem suspiciously connected with the Witch-King.
First, a nameless evil awakened in the Mines of Bloodstone, a force that drove the men and dwarves from the place in terror. These mines had been the primary source of wealth for the northern barony. Indeed, up to that time, the wealth rolling out of them — more than 400,000 gold pieces annually — represented nearly half of all the bloodstone flowing out fo Damara.
Wolf Winter fell that same year. Early frosts destroyed the harvest and the winter that ensued was therefore doubly terrible. Starvation was common among man and beast alike. Packs of dire wolves swept into northern Damara from the Galenas, leaving little but bloodied snow in their wake. Even worse, many of the wolves were infected with lycanthropy.
The Witch-King's armies roared down to the Galenas the very next year, cutting off Bloodstone Pass and effectively shutting down all the mines on the Vaasan side of the mountains. The horrid army pushed on, driving hard into Damara and committing one massacre after another.
But the people of Damara were a tough people. After they recovered from the initial shock of Zhengyi's lightning attacks, they fought back bravely. For ten brutal years, Vaasa and Damara fought. Neighboring nations, notably Impiltur and Narfell, looked on with more than passing interest, fearing the shape of their own future if Zhengyi proved victorious. Yet though they sided with Damara in principle and for practical reasons, the nearby kingdoms of the region had problems of their own. In turn, they had too many opportunistic neighbors just waiting to gain their own advantage. Neither Impiltur nor Narfell offered Damara any substantial assistance. Their paralysis almost cost them dearly.
In the summer of FR1347, Zhengyi's forces faced off against King Virdin at the Ford of Goliad. Neither side could gain any advantage through the month of June and many thought that the war would hold in stalemate until the next winter, when the river would freeze.
Then came the day that Damarans will ever despise. No one can say for certain what occurred that foul day, but it seems obvious that treachery led the way for Zhengyi. Most scholars agree that the scoundrel was Felix, King Virdin's chief lieutenant. Long afterward Felix was discovered to be a member of the Assassins Guild of the Galenas, Zhengyi's cohorts. Nothing was suspected at the time.
Felix — if it was him — tricked young King Virdin into believing that a magical wand he had acquired would allow the Damaran army secret passage across the river. Actually the wand was a cheap stick stacked with twelve Nystul's magic aura spells. Virdin desperately grasped at the chance to end the long and costly conflict. Already aware of the deception, Zhengyi held his forces in check for several tense minutes, coaxing in the Damarans. Then the lich-king struck hard, trapping the bulk of the Damaran army in the river and shattering Virdin's forces. On a hillock a short distance away, the young king watched his kingdom fall. His grief ended when a dagger (wielded by Felix?) found its way into his back.
Zhengyi had spent ten years preparing for this day, and he didn't hesitate. Calling on the forces of the Grandfather of Assassins, the Witch-King instituted the second phase of the destruction of Damara. It took only one bloody night for the most loyal and powerful nobles of Damara to be slain.
The "peace" that ensued was not favorable to the conquered. The Witch-King granted a veneer of independence to the feeble remnants of the Damaran houses, dividing the southern reaches of the old kingdom into six poor baroniespoorer still after paying tribute to their conqueror, the Witch-King.
Zhengyi gave control of the Galenas to the Grandfather of Assassins, then tightened his own evil clutch on the north. A stream of refugees trekked south as best they could.
With Damara spiraling into economic ruin and Zhengyi's power growing every day, the neighboring states could only sit tight and hope that the Witch-King would be content with his new domain.