The County of Ostley
One of the largest counties of Vingaard, Ostley spans an area of 3,000 square miles and is ruled by Count Leon Falconatius. A county of rolling plans and hills, the northern and southern parts of Ostley are quite different from each other. Northern Ostley forms a vital part of the overland trade route that connects Sanction to Lionsgate, and Lionsgate to Solamnus. These northern regions, especially along the main roads, are well-populated and heavily fortified - safe places to travel under the benevolent guidance of Lord Umras. Outside of the main roads, Ostley is a place of natural beauty, gentle farmland and rugged wilderness. Central Ostley is somewhat wild and can be dangerous - especially in recent times, when refugees and chaos from High Tarus has made the roads dangerous.
Historically, Ostley has been the site of many battles, and its population is relatively sparse, with many fortified towns and keeps along the main roads. This has helped it to resist some of the dangers from High Tarus and keep its main roads safe, but the wilderness is nonetheless home to bugbears, ogres and hill giants, among other things. The county's wildness is also a boon in some ways, however - the rugged hills and mountains are a rich source of gold ore, and many some herbs grow in the forests and wilds that are not found anywhere else.
Count Falconatius rules the county from the idyllic town of Falcon's Reach, protected from the danger in the west by two ancient fortifications: Iron Keep and Watchful Eye. He relies on three vassals to administrate his lands: Lord Umras in the north, Lord Sunderland in the southeast, and Lord Richmond in the southwest. The county is a place of some strategic importance, since it is quite large and sits on the main route into central Vingaard. Nonetheless, his wife the Countess Falconatius oversees most of the day-to-day running of the county. The Count himself spends much of his time either in Solamnus or following the tourney circuit around Vingaard, where he is renowned both as a skilled warrior and devious negotiator. This has earned him the reputation having a "steel fist and a silver tongue".
The most powerful of Count Falconatius' lieutenants, Lord Titus Umras commands a significant portion of the northern part of Ostley. He rules from Firebridge, a compact walled city near the northern border of the province. Firebridge forms the first stop in a trade link across Ostley from Sanction to Lionsgate. Umras also controls Rivermeet, the other town along the trade route to Lionsgate. As such, he is a ruler of law and order: from Sanction to Lionsgate, Ostley is the least "civilised" provincy that merchants must travel through. Umras dedicates himself to keeping the route safe from marauders and humanoid monsters, erecting watchtowers along the road and keeping strict order in the towns. The price is paid for this in the unfriendliness of these places to outsiders and the high tariffs exacted on those who pass through, but it is worth it in Lord Umras' eyes, and he profits greatly from the arrangement. The towns of north Ostley are well-known for being a place where the guilds and merchants rule above all else.
The south of Ostley is not yet mapped or developed, so characterisation for Lord Sutherland is not needed quite yet. However, he rules the southeast, somewhat further away from the tragedy of High Tarus. House Sunderland has supported House Falconatius since the days of the Unification, and they have very strong ties. He took a very personal role in hunting down Forsworn after the Lurkmoor Conflict.
The south of Ostley is not yet mapped or developed, so characterisation for Lord Richmond is not needed quite yet. However, his demesne directly borders that of the duchy of Tarovus, and he has been affected the most by the recent unrest there. He is said to be a hard, calculating man, but he has done his part in making his demesne ready as a personal headquarters for the Royal Army when the time comes to retake High Tarus - which he fervently believes it soon must.
The domain of Lord Umras, the Firbridge Lordship sprawls over the northern parts of North Ostley. It includes the towns of Rivermeet and Firebridge and the surrounding lands. It also includes Fort Kine, the various farming villages and manorial estates in the area, and the Gold-Throat Mountains. As noted above, Lord Umras is a patron of law and order, and rules over the important trade route to Lionsgate with an iron fist.
The sleepy waters of the aptly named Lake Cuthbert are home to the village of Lethe, one of the oldest villages in Vingaard. It is a peaceful, pleasant place populated by fishermen and weavers - those who were not aware would never guess that it is the birthplace of St. Cuthbert and the place where Eolus, first King of Vingaard, is buried.
The Chapel of the Saint found there is home to a chapterhouse of the Paladins of St. Cuthbert who are dedicated to the protection of this sacred site. Besides those found in Solamnus, this is the largest Paladin Chapterhouse in Vingaard, and is where the order was founded. Famously, after the death of King Eolus, most of the Disciples of St. Cuthbert pledged to serve the Crown, and became the Knights of Vingaard. Those who instead dedicated themselves to the contemplation of Belzor and St. Cuthbert's will became the Order of St. Cuthbert: the Paladins.
The Giant's Causeway
Stretching from the southwest road out of Lionsgate and out towards Rivermeet, the Giant's Causeway region is the eastern part of Lord Umras' northern domain. It is defined by the ancient road that runs through part of it, a crumbling remnant of the gigantine cultures of old. With untamed hills and mountains in the south, and the notorious Brigand's Wood in the north, it is probably the most dangerous part of Lord Umras' territory. The areas along the main road ("Eolus' Causeway") are rocky and unsuitable for cultivation, and the looming hills and woods are perfect hiding places of monsters and bandits. Because of this, and despite its proximity to the city of Lionsgate, the Giant's Causeway region is best travelled with guards - though the Lionsgate Sentinels do their best to keep the peace. Many believe that the Fraternity of Nirrin, Lionsgate's own thieves' guild, has a vested interest in keeping this area a safe haven for outlaws.
A small settlement at the foot of the Gold-Throat mountains, Aureas is a tiny town, and the seat of Lord Anton. Though unwalled, the mountains provide natural protection, and it is heavily guarded. Miners from Aureas travel into the mountains to the great Witch-Delve Mines, with guards to protect against the kobolds that infest the mountains. Periodically, miners from Minn Fell and Wycherly bring their haul to the town to get their pay from the lord's men. All told, Aureas is a center for the gold and iron ore dug up in the mountains, which is traded with the craftsmen in Rust Valley. The result of this is that House Anton, despite its small size, is a very wealthy family.
A bristling forest of great size, Holdfast Wood is better known as Brigand's Wood to the locals, to whom it is a mixed blessing. All of the serfs that work Lord Umras' land and dig his mines have the right to hunt and gather wood from the forest as they please. However, its depth and wildness makes it a perfect place for outlaws to hide. In recent years, there have been rumors of a secret holdfast constructed in the woods, a hiding place for robbers and brigands. Some claim it is even sponsored and staffed by the thieves guild.
The only major settlement of Lord Umras in this area, it receives little attention from his troops. For the most part, Rust Valley is protected by its own militia and by the Lionsgate Sentinels who patrol the area. Safety is guaranteed within the town's confines, even unwalled as they are. Even outside of town, one is reasonably safe as long as they stick to the roads - though travelling alone or unarmed is trusting a little too much to luck. Rust Valley is primarily a place of industry - it's too close to Rivermeet to be a rest stop for passing merchants, but the countryside to the north is dotted with quarries and mines as one progresses into the Gold-Throat Mountains. Rust Valley is a place of masons, smiths and smelteries, and the air is often thick with soot.
Outside of the expensive confines of Lionsgate, a number of independent craftsmen ply their trade here, and the town is the home of the respectable Institution of Fine Masonry, a dwarven outfit. The town is also home to a local alchemist, an elderly woman by the name of Ellen who is unusually skilled in her art. The efficacy of her remedies is well-known throughout Ostley.
The Temple of Mercy
A recent construction, the Temple of Mercy is a massive stone fortress of a building that sits in the middle of the Giant's Valley, deep in the Giant's Graveyard. Since its construction, its purpose has been twofold: firstly, the efforts of the Truthseekers and the Army of Candles in the area has served to drive the local bugbears south and east, diminishing their numbers and making the northern roads safer. Secondly, it serves as the headquarters of the Army of Candles, as well as Patriarch Kazur of Ravi and Immaculate Erevan of Enod.
In times when evil threatens from the south of Vingaard and the people feel more than ever that their ruler is not doing enough, it is essential to make the presence of the gods felt, and to reaffirm that the gods support Vingaard. This is the aim behind the construction of the Temple of Mercy - the temple is designed to be a safe stronghold and sanctuary in times of war and a place of healing and research in times of peace.
The Bairn Downs
The Bairn Downs make up the third of the three geographical areas ruled by Lord Umras - this one is in the northwestern corner of Ostley. The Bairn Downs are a lonely, treacherous part of the County. Between the two vibrant trade routes that go to Sanction and High Tarus through Ostley, the Bairn Downs are an area of wilderness.
This is made worse by the type of land found there: treeless, unsteady chalk cliffs with sparse grass. This land is used for pasture and grazing, but little else. As a result, there is only a scattering of small villages to be found here. Most of the inhabitants of the Bairn Downs are solitary shepherds and drovers.
Because of their wildness, the Bairn Downs are also a place where banditry thrives. The long, winding road aptly known as the Lonely Way is a tempting shortcut to Lorknir for some travellers, even though the land is less forgiving. Bandits dwell, in particular, in the labyrinthine stretch of hills known as Tax Man's Folly, where they are known to sally forth and waylay travellers if the odds are in their favour.