The Whisperer in Darkness
Located in the northern areas of the volcanic plains, but not far north enough to gain the benefits of the Winter Sun, the Hergerfort has been the site of a fortification since the time of the Maeran Confederacy. It has a somewhat mixed history: though the castle has never fallen to assault, unlucky circumstances have caused it to change hands violently on a number of occasions and given it a reputation of being haunted.
The fort was originally constructed as a wooden palisade surrounding two springs in an area of highlands. The surrounding region had always suffered from particularly cold and snowy conditions, and the local tribesmen who built it were plagued by raiders; they required a secure place to shelter their herds from both weather and marauder. The area was reasonably defensible anyway, but the fortification added security and also made an imposing sight for attackers. A great success, the wall allowed the tribesmen to prosper for the first time in several decades. Many of them created permanent stone structures inside the stockade, which was replaced by a granite wall. The enclosed pasture became a town, rapidly growing and displacing the herds to a new palisade outside the walled limits.
Over a century, the town was swelled with immigrants from neighboring tribes, whose livelihoods were not so secure as those of the settlement. These tribes brought their own power dynamics, and the consensual politics of the original inhabitants was gradually replaced by fierce and occasionally violent rivalry between the leading families. One such family was that of Herger, and a particular member of that dynasty held great sway in the city. He built several important additions to the town, and eventually it became known as Herger’s Fort, later contracted.
During the period of the growth of the Maeran Confederation, the city leaders desired to retain their independence and stay outside the reach of the growing state collection of states. This suited most of Maera’s members, but a few who were neighbors to the Hergerfort desired it to be brought into the fold. On the one hand, the city would act as a linchpin to the defence of the Confederation, and particularly their own lands. On the other, they feared that the city might later become hostile to them. Eventually, these members, known generally as the Truculent Cities and marching under the nominal banner of Maera, made war upon the city in around 345 P.U. Their hosts were unable to breach the fortified walls, however, and so began a siege. The settlement was well stocked and the defenders, particularly the ruling families, were confident that they could weather the attack. The rest of Maera was unhappy with the actions being carried out in their name, and the attacking soldiers themselves did not enjoy the posting. The besieging forces began to suffer ever increasing desertion as winter closed in, and the diplomatic issues threatened to end the enterprise.
Some four month after the beginning of the siege, amidst heavy snowfall, emissaries of the Truculent Cities managed to make contact with dissatisfied members of the Hergerfort’s lesser nobility. Assured that they would be allowed to assume power, these malcontents agreed to colaborate from the inside. Their plan was to add poisons to the water of the city leaders. How these toxins entered the supplies for the general population is unknown, the perpetrators all dying in the resulting catastrophe, but the city gates were opened to the near frozen invading armies by but a handful of the city’s population.
Many of the soldiers of the campaign were given lands and homes in the new Maeran city of the Hergerfort, and it was to some degree repopulated. For over 150 years, the city guarded the routes to the north of Maeran territory, and was eventually rewarded with elector status. During this period, an extra layer of wall was added, following the course of the second herders pallisade. Many of the poorer citizens moved to the area between the two layers of fortification and large sections of the already underpopulated city were deserted. These new fortifications made the city an extremely popular place to move to during the War of the Burning Steppes, and many of the more well to do refugees from the encroaching elven army made their homes there.
In the winter of 179 P.U., a raiding party of Exodites, presumably acting in concert with the Empire, attacked Maera from the north. They avoided the forces sent to meet them and began to move into the interior. The people of many settlements in the north, fearing the depradations of the wild elves, made their way to take shelter in Maera’s greatest fortification. However, one of these villages was then in the early stages of a very contagious, and extremely lethal, plague. The refugees of the fort were perfect victims for it. The combined populations were ravaged, too late abandoning the city for the safety of isolation in the countryside. When the Exodites, who would otherwise not even have dared to approach the Hergerfort, learned of its woes, they travelled there and, finding the gates unlocked and unguarded, fired much of it and reduced the surviving population to slaves.
The fortification lay pretty much deserted until the end of the war, apart from temporary occupation by armed bands passing through. One such band belonged to the new Duke of Charn, Borc Caelhagan. Though he later wrote that it was an undoubtedly good fortification and refuge from the wintry weather, he also reported seeing spectral figures, including one matching stories of The Phantasm. After the signing of peace accords, refugees from the lands taken by the elves settled there and gradually brought the city back to a reasonable level of prosperity for a few centuries. The new inhabitants were not as diligent in maintaining the city’s infrastructure as were the original peoples, and the city began to degrade. The most tragic negligence was that of the sewers, which became filled with refuse.
When the Kingdom of Alba captured Hurrock and dissolved the Confederation, those living in the Hergerfort knew it was only a matter of time until the enemy appeared at their gates. They hurriedly made repairs to the walls and brought in provisions for a siege. Everything was prepared by the time the Albans arrived and began their siege works under the clouds of a great storm. The inhabitants watched as the rain came down upon the Alban camp and earthworks, turning the ground to mud, the trenches to ponds and destroying the morale of the soldiers. But, unnoticed until it was too late, the sewers were not draining the water in the city effectively, and the level began to rise, pouring out above street level. More and more houses in the lower sections began to disappear beneath the water, trapping and drowning those who were not able to reach the higher regions fast enough. The water built up against the walls, causing the city gates to bulge and, when they could no longer contain the pressure, break open over the beseiging army. The following morning the Albans formed their bedraggled men into a column and marched along the main road up to the palace. There they found the Duke and a few hundred people, all that had survived the flood to offer their surrender.
This catastrophe cemented the city’s reputation of being cursed. Today, a fort once containing 15000 people is home to less than a tenth of that number. Those that do live there gather together in little communities and shut their doors tight to keep out whatever souls are believed to wander the alleys during the hours of darkness and cold. Apart from these small sections of the city, the walls and the central palace, the bulk of the place is eerily empty.
The city does still exercise a reasonable degree of influence over others in the area. Traders come to visit it, though the market is located outside the gates, and it has strong diplomatic links with other settlements on the the Volcanic Plains. The most worrying rumour to reach Alba is that it is the location of a plot to revive the Maeran Confederation, but King Gaern has been unable to confirm the truth of this. Though many spies have entered the city, none has yet returned.