This week’s entry, Ardengeal Grove, is a place I love to hate. It’s beautiful, it has a rich history, and it’s hellbent on the subjugation of lesser peoples. And it’s more than happy to mask the latter with the former, to public acclaim the world over.
Any similarities to real institutions of power is entirely intentional.
Let’s go explore the grove, shall we?
Deep in the core of Loratha, vast swaths of woodland are forbidden from settlement and set aside for the quiet contemplation of the forest. This is Ardengeal Grove, the largest and preeminent elven grove in the world. Nestled in the eastern foothills of Loratha’s central mountain range, it boasts six sacred sites, stunning examples of classical elven architecture, housing capable of hosting hundreds of pilgrims at a time, and the offices of the High Steward.
The tenders of Ardengeal developed and promulgated what is now understood as the archetypal grove format, with curling walks and paths circling around a central zone of sacred woodland. This is the heart of the grove, and while visitors are not forbidden from the area, neither are they afforded any protection from the wildlife that may find them there. To enter the heart is to become a part of the forest, and one’s part may be that of prey. Around the periphery of the heart can be found numerous benches and scenic overlooks, where visitors are generally safe… or have easy escape routes. The paths thin as they draw near the center, a clear if obscure gauge of how safe a visitor actually is.
Ardengeal maintains six different hearts, each dedicated to a different spirit of the forest: the stag, the puma, the will-o-wisp, the owl, the beaver, and the nymph. The grove also encompasses considerable space between and around the hearts. While much of this land is scrupulously maintained and uninhabited woodland, it is criss-crossed with footpaths and roads and studded with rustic, temporary housing for pilgrims.
In addition to its function as a pilgrimage site, Ardengeal is also the seat of the High Steward. This title is bestowed on the lead craftmaster of the grove and carries with it a profound weight of traditional power. While the High Steward does not have any explicit authority over the other groves and tenders of Loratha, his considerable influence makes him the de facto head of Lorathan stewardship. The High Steward’s court includes a sizeable staff, countless runners for communicating with other groves, and a small army of grove guardians. Rumors also insist that the High Steward has at his fingertips a cadre of spies and assassins.
The grove’s acreage has grown over the years and now encompasses what were once entire elven settlements. Referred to as “the villages,” these collections of classical buildings are preserved for posterity and also used for administrative offices and housing the grove staff. The villages are easily millenia old and contain a number of mosaics depicting classical elven society. Some of these bas relief sculptures resemble the works at Zinclum, although recent scrying revealed that the stonework is at least five hundred years younger than that ancient site. This discovery was not well-received by the grove tenders.
Unsurprisingly, Ardengeal stands as a symbol of both the height of elven glory and power as well as the long shadow it casts. It is considered one of the great courts of the world and travellers from across Ipeiros boast of reaching it. The Dread Tyrant came to Ardengeal in person—a rarity—to accept the surrender of the High Steward. After his fall, the Canton declared itself “free of Ardengeal interference” and halfling judges have been known to dismiss witnesses with “Ardengeal sympathies.” A new industrasza popular in Caer Larionad and Besar has added the High Steward to the long list of crowns served by Peshak the Rider, to predictable (and authorially vindictive) calamity.
Which is not to say that criticism of Ardengeal is undeserved. An expedition of Ardengeal tenders have recently returned from Cowsport, where they were ostensibly studying the Webiga River and its ecology. However, the emissaries speak far more about the policies of gajaprassidha they observed, both their theoretical articulation and practical enforcement. Even before the fall of the Dread Tyrant, the High Steward had suggested that the principles of elven stewardship may need some updates to cope with the corrupted, cosmopolitain nature of modern world.
I am as eager to hear about adventurers visiting Ardengeal and wreaking havoc as I am to hear about earnest elven reformers trying to take on the entrenched power of Ardengeal and trying to turn it into something good. Although in all honesty I think the former scenario is a lot more likely than the latter.
Looking forward, however, we’ve got four varied options for next week’s entry. Shall we look a little deeper into the elves, chase after the will-o-wisps, investigate the mysteries of Zinclum, or dance, dance, dance to the latest industraza?
I’m eager to hear what you’d like to read up on next, and what you think of Ardengeal. Do you think there’ something of value here, or do you hate it as much as I do?