by Matt Appleby
A most useful guidebook for anyone looking to visit the Holy Realm of Freiberg.
|Author's Note: the prompt for this first month was to focus on Freiberg's geography, describing the climate, terrain, architecture and flora/fauna. The material you'll find below is intended to cover all of that, as well as providing a more general overview of the setting. Hopefully I've managed to give sufficent weight to both tasks.
President Sota Lorentz Memorial Library, Uslar am Main, Komoro.
Elven Discourses section, #4158: extracts from 'Freiberg: A Visitor's Guide'.
First published at Palamas Academy, Petralona, 3e1652.
Only six copies ever written; no complete editions survive.
Fragments listed here donated by private collector; identity withheld by request.
Annotations by section curator Ayano Kimura, 4e612.
A Visitor's Guide
By Spyridon Zabat,
Unassigned Professor at Palamas Academy.
My fellow professors at Palamas Academy consider themselves to be 'enlightened' souls, able to see something worthy of note in even the most backward and uncouth of communities. But all of them, every last man and woman, still insist on looking down on the Holy Realm of Freiberg.
“There's nothing in Freiberg but sand and ashes!” they insist on telling me.
Or, “those orcs are just mindless brutes!”
I once even had someone tell me, to my face, that “every creature in that Maker-forsaken hellscape would eat you as soon as look at you”! And he tried to have me sacked – sacked! – for insisting otherwise!
But I was right to hold my ground. Freiberg is not the easiest place to live, the land comes with some unique challenges, and yes, it can sometimes perhaps be dangerous, but it is far from the savage, blood-thirsty place that you have been led to believe. The orcs are in fact an intelligent and deeply spiritual race, and have built for themselves a culture of remarkable sophistication and longevity, one that I have always firmly believed to be superior even to our own in some aspects.
It is my life's purpose to show the wonders of Freiberg to the world, and I consider this guide to be the culmination of all my hard work. I have spent years travelling across the orc lands, seeing everything that there is to see, meeting everyone who there is to know. All that I experienced is here within these
(The following three pages are missing. Their contents have always been a matter of speculation, but are most likely a continued ode to Freiberg and orc culture. Their potential literary merit is also hard to guess.)
On the next page you will find a map of the country. It is a reproduction, by my own hand, from a 9th-century atlas I found in the Prokopios Archive, and appears here with the Abbot's most gracious permission. I will be referring to this map a great deal throughout the book, so it would be advisable to keep a marker on the page.
(This map is also missing. The atlas Spyridon is referring to is presumably the one by the semi-legendary scientist Fereydoun the Wise, but as that work is famously lost, there is no way to be certain. However, current maps of Freiberg are widely available in this library's General Reference section, and should provide for an acceptable susbtitute.)
Top 10 Places to See in Freiberg
(Given the abrupt change of subject, and the difference in tone, it is widely assumed that this section was written by a different hand. The identity of this second author, and why the Academy insisted on their inclusion, remains unknown.)
#1: Freiberg, The World Mountain
The World Mountain is a fundamental part of orc life, central to every aspect of their culture, from religion to politics to the very climate itself. It is so important, they named the Mountain first, and then the rest of the country after it.
At nearly ten miles from base to peak, Freiberg is by some margin the tallest mountain currently known to us. It is also the largest of the forty-three documented volcanoes, and, unique amongst them, is the only one to be constantly erupting. Such is the volcano's size, and the power of its eruptions, that it has covered almost the entirety of the orc lands in a permanent ash cloud. This is the primary force behind the creation of the Realm's notorious landscape, the dark, cold and barren mountains and plains, where little vegetation grows, and the animals that claw out their existence are amongst the most dangerous in the world.
The orcs worship the World Mountain as a kind of creator/protector deity, although in a way for which elven cosmology has no real equivalent. There is a path, known as 'The Way of Life and Death', leading to a cave near the volcano's peak, ascending which is a central part of several key orc religious ceremonies. Notably, most orcs are taken to the cave to be born, and very occasionally a few are taken there to die, though both rituals are far more complex than that summary implies.
Unfortunately, as with most sites relating to their faith, walking the Way is expressly forbidden to anyone not directly involved in each specific rite. However, whilst it cannot be directly climbed, the World Mountain is still visible from at least half of Freiberg, and approaching its monumental bulk is the essential starting point for anyone looking to visit the country.
The capital city of Freiberg, situated at the foot of the World Mountain, and the centre of political and religious power. Although given that the Holy Realm, as it styles itself, is a theocracy, the two are largely the same thing.
Immenhausen is a complex, vibrant city. Not the biggest or the wealthiest in the country, but certainly the most cultured, and home to some of the orcs' most remarkable displays of art and architecture. By far the grandest is the Lord Temple, the enormous, pyramid-like palace of the High Priests, almost a city in its own right. It is perhaps the most famous example of orc granite construction, with each of its three wings built with a different coloured stone – yellow, red and black – all of the highest quality to be found in the Realm. Tours of the building are not normally available, but if you are ever able to befriend any of the staff, they are rumoured to be willing guides in return for a large fee. Whether you seek out such a service is entirely at your discression.
Other notable attractions include the White Square, a large plaza outside the Lord Temple, so named for being paved entirely in white marble. This was achieved at great expense, by all accounts, and remains a fantastic sight, even after being worn down by centuries of ashfalls and foot traffic. The Square is host to a variety of festivals and parades throughout the year, along with a weekly market, ideal for those desiring souveniers or cuisine they're guaranteed never to have encountered before.
Also, no stay in Immenhausen could be complete without visiting the House of Springs, a small but delightful building near the city gates, one that plays a central role in one of the orcs' more eccentric rituals. Unlike other orc sacred sites, the House fully welcomes visitors of all kinds, largely due an extensive collection of sculptures. They represent perhaps the best work of Freiberg's greatest masters, and are an essential starting point for understanding the country's artistic history.
One of the nine independent elven city-sanctuaries on the Mesis continent, and the only one to be found within orc lands. There are many, both here in Petralona and elsewhere, who flatly refuse to believe that Mavrothalassa exists, that there are elves would even dream of making a home for themselves in a landscape like Freiberg, but you can be assured that the city is in fact very real.
Mavrothalassa is situated high in the Ravenstein Mountains, above the worst of the omnipresent ashclouds. The city comprises some of the most beautiful efforts in elven architecture, even if, considering the much colder climate, it might not integrate itself with the natural world quite as much as considered proper.
Like the other city-sanctuaries, it is first and foremost a seat of learning, and in that respect it truly excels. The Prokopios Archive is one of the most extensive libraries in the world, and contains scrolls on an astonishing variety of subjects from almost every known culture. Their collection of Old Chalandar charts and blueprints is especially prized, with much ancient knowledge even now still waiting to be rediscovered. A brief browse of the Archives can very easily turn itself into a lifetime of study, as most of the scholars could probably attest.
The mountain road leading up to the city is guarded by the seven Dawn Sentinels. This line of watchtowers contains a reconstruction of Old Chalandar's mirror weapon, which famously burned all who attempted to enter the island's great harbour, even the Kraken God Thu'Lorn itself. The Dawn Sentinels have mercifully never been used, but their arcane machinery is still fascinating to explore.
And for those seeking a more relaxing experience, there is also the Sanctuary Gardens at the very top of the sanctuary complex. Given the climate and altitude, the plant life on offer is much more subdued than a traditional elven garden, but the collection still far surpasses any other to be found elsewhere in Freiberg. The large plot of mountain flowers is to be particularly savoured.
The central plains of Freiberg are largely flat and featureless, with the significant exception of the Oberstetten rock formations. The Giants Field, a group of twenty-one mesas, is unique in the Holy Realm, if not in the entire known world, and is a truly fascinating place to explore. The mesas come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, with even the smallest being larger than the grandest palaces, and some perhaps worthy of classification as mountains. The formations known as 'The Prow' and 'The Glove' are usually regarded as the most awe-inspiring, though they are far from the only highlights.
If visiting in mid-winter or mid-summer, insofar as there is a difference between the two in Freiberg, you will also have the priviledge of witnessing the Great Migration. This bi-annual event is chiefly known for the country's most remarkable creature, the Schwebben. Schwebbens are rare outside of Freiberg, so for those amongst you who've never seen one, they are essentially living air sacs the size of horses, that float about eight feet off the ground with the aid of several long tentacles. These highly unusual animals are normally found in small herds in more remote corners of the country, so the Great Migration is really the only time to see them in large numbers, and is a sight spectacular enough to be worth the effort. Whilst largely docile, they can use their tentacles to deliver hefty blows when angered, so taking care is reccomended.
Beyond this, it is strongly encouraged not to approach the Migration directly, as the massed Schwebben herds come under frequent attack from Maul packs. Beats that are little more than ravenous mouths on legs, Mauls are gratuitously hostile, and are known for obsessively attacking any orc, elf or human that they come across. So long as you are suitably prepared, this is not too serious a problem, but again, being cautious is always advised.
There are no orc settlements in proximity to Giants Fields, or within the wider Oberstetten area, but coach drivers will often stop there for a few hours if adequately compensated. How much is required will vary immensely depending on the driver and which days you intend to travel, so plan accordingly.
Built on the only significant crossing point over the Stamsried River, Hohenstein has become a nexus of trade between west and east Freiberg. It is easily the largest and richest city in the Realm, and is the essential place to experience all that is radical and cosmopolitan in orc culture. In particular, there is a burgeoning underground art scene, which is combining elven, human and even dwarven styles with orc techniques to fascinating effect.
The city is perhaps most famous for what has become known as the 'Sea of Towers'. These are sixty-three fifty metre-plus buildings, with a sixty-fourth currently under construction, which are spread all across Hohenstein, and combine to make for one of the most striking skylines outside of the elven kingdoms. Due to having been built over a period of centuries, the Sea covers a wide variety of architectural styles and building materials, but like elsewhere in Freiberg, black granite, geometric shapes and organic-influenced detailing are the most popular choices.
(There were indeed sixty-four towers in the Sea when this guide was published. Ninety-one had been built by the 4e500s, when the city moved from stone construction to the steel-based methods associated with modern skyscrapers.)
(The top half of the following page has been ripped out, for unknown reasons. It is speculated that the missing paragraphs covered public access to the towers, given that similar notes are found throughout this part of the guide. For the record, all twenty towers were private buildings at the time, though the Anselma, Tulpe and Ruhe towers were known to hold very occasional tours to select visitors.)
Hohenstein's other significant feature is the Silver Bridge. Whilst built primarily out of granite, like the other three bridges in the city, it is famously clad in pure mithril. The magical metal has proven resistant to both the local climate and centuries of cart traffic, and it remains precisely as ostentatious and spectacular as you might expect. How the city came by enough mithril to clad a three hundred-foot bridge, and why they would even do such a thing, is hotly disputed even by the local inhabitants. The most popular theory is that it was a gift by one of the dwarven kings from the far north, but this only raises further questions.
(This entire entry is missing. Works about or featuring Waldheim are available in several sections of this library, but for the sake of completeness, I shall note here that, in the 3e1600s, the site was a fortress guarding the sole overland route into Freiberg. The two towers at its heart, the 'Brothers' Berthold and Lennart, were among the tallest buildings in the world at that time, and were widely considered to be impregnable. Indeed, in over fifteen-hundred years of border conflicts with the humans of Epernay, the fortress only fell to siege on three occasions. Berthold finally collapsed during the Freiberg Civil War of 4e425-438, after which the site was abandoned, and it is now an open-air museum.)
Freiberg's largest port, and the Realm's primary source of contact with the outside world. With the orcs' notoriously isolationist culture, Lengenfeld lacks the bustling atmosphere and stupefying wealth of port cities in other countries, but still contains many wonderful sights for those willing to explore.
The most important, perhaps obviously, is the harbour itself. Given that natural Freiberg wood is both rare and of poor quality, the orcs have instead built the entire complex out of steel. Even the vessels built and stationed there are of steel construction, a feat that few other navies across the world would even consider possible. Admittedly, they are few in number, and neither the warships nor the merchant fleet see continuous use, but the fact remains that they represent one of the most impressive engineering achievements since the days of Old Chalandar.
If you are looking for specific places to visit, then the best place to start is perhaps Leni's Tower. This green marble structure was built admist a network of pontoons that extend over fifty metres out from the shoreline, and as such forms the centrepiece of the already impressive harbour. The Leni in question was supposedly an orc maiden who threw herself from a high window, as a consquence of being spurned by the man she loved, but even without this ghoulish detail, the top of her namesake tower is still a wonderful way to view the surrounding city.
When back on shore, it would be remiss not to spend a few hours admiring the Lower Road Treasury. Despite its rather prosaic name, especially by orc standards, the Treasury is a grand, daring structure, and almost certainly one-of-a-kind. It is essentially a giant, four-way gatehouse, except built in the heart of the city, and is large enough to qualify as a fortress in its own right. The building itself serves as both bank and customs house, and so access is generally restricted to those who have official business within, but the exterior is still wonderful to behold, and the market in the plaza underneath makes for a most diverting experience.
Nestled in the foothills of the Ravenstein Mountains, only a few days' cart ride west of Mavrothalassa, Hoyerswerda is the third most sacred site in orc religion, and is one of the very few cities in the world to be dedicated almost entirely to a single function.
Everything within Hoyerswerda revolves around the Grand Academy. A giant school, complex enough to almost be a world unto itself, the Academy is where all orc children are raised and educated. Underneath that colossal white dome, the High Priests teach them about all aspects of their environment, culture and faith, or 'the orc ways' as it is often called, and carefully direct them into becoming loyal, productive citizens. Adult orcs are frequently brought in to provide practical instruction in various trades, and so despite Freiberg's spiritual ideals and the complex taboos surrounding them, visitors are widely encouraged. The Academy is the direct opposite of elven education in every way that counts, so a trip is likely to provoke mixed feelings, but it is nevertheless reccomended.
Further up in the mountains is an extensive cave network, which
(The rest of this entry is missing. It would almost certainly go on to discuss the Tempering Depths, the very grandly-named site of the orcs' former 'adult initiation' rite. Given that the giant Schrecken spiders were amongst the most dangerous creatures ever to exist, access to the Depths was very obviously forbidden outside of this rite, and trying to break this law would be regarded as both blasphemous and suicidal. It is still not conclusively established whether the Schrecken are actually extinct, so whilst the rite has not been practised in over a century, exploring the Depths is not taken lightly even now.)
In the far south-east of the country, on an otherwise unremarkable stretch of high desert, can be found Hemmoor, the site of two particular oddities.
The first is a series of rock formations known as the Nine Arches. There are actually fifty-six of them, along with a scattering of stone pillars and mesas, but in the middle is indeed a group of nine that are much bigger than the others, and eye-catching sights in their own right. Natural stone arches are, of course, already a well-known phenomenon, and are common to many coastal and desert areas, but the Nine Arches are easily the highest concentration on any continent, and contain some of the largest, most diverse and spectacular examples ever seen. There are a number of peasant villages in the area, and the locals are always willing to show off these landmarks to anyone interested, so this region is well worth going out of your way to visit.
A few miles to the south lies something even more remarkable, and not even remotely natural in origin. At the base of a steep hill is a giant, sprawling complex of ruins, most likely once a temple of some kind, with a dense network of catacombs underneath. Perfectly normal, in its way, except that it appears to have been built in Valldalen style, and there are no records of either men or dwarves sending colony fleets to within a thousand miles of Freiberg. The locals refer to the ruins as Ulrik's Stand, though even they have no idea who Ulrik might have been, or how he might have come to hold his last stand in such a place. Of the few who had attempted to explore the catacombs over the centuries, none have ever returned, and today there is no amount of money that will convince anyone to escort you there. The above-ground ruins are safe to explore for the sufficently daring, but attempting to solve the mysteries of Ulrik's Stand, of who really built it and what they wanted to achieve, is not considered to be wise.
(The catacombs of Ulrik's Stand were finally charted in 4e588, by a team of veteran tomb-crackers. Of the eight-strong team that took part in the expedition, five lost their lives in the attempt, including their notorious leader Patrice Baudin. But even after their hard work and sacrifice, the site's origins and purpose remain stubbornly unclear.)
The ashclouds of the World Mountain do not shroud the entire Holy Realm. There is a triangle of land, right in the north-east corner, where enough sunlight gets through to make growing crops feasible. The region of Walsrode has become Freiberg's farming country, its comparatively tiny area supplying virtually all the food required to keep everywhere else functioning, a daunting task at which it has succeeded with remarkable efficiency. Truthfully, Walsrode's attractions are more prosaic than in other regions of Freiberg, but it is still a worthwhile destination for those looking to gain a complete portrait of the country.
The only reliable way into Walsrode is a chain ferry across the Aerzen River, so that is the best place to start. The ferry itself is small and somewhat plain, but it is also the only one known to be driven by its own internal engine, rather than the usual on-shore horse power, and as such is one of the very rare practical applications of the Old Chalandar alchemical turbine. As a result, the ferry should be of great interest to all students of naval engineering.
Walsrode's sole city is Kronach, which effectively serves a giant walled market, rather than any kind of political or cultural centre. Even so, like other markets elsewhere in Freiberg, there are a wealth of exotic and eccentric things to buy for those who are willing to look. The Trading House building is particularly reccomended, both for having the most prized goods, and for its ornate marble-and-glass construction. Unlike in the famed souks of Alamagor, haggling is not tolerated, but prices are generally reasonable enough for that to not matter.
Some distance to the north lies Fort Husum, a small but heavily-defended castle, responsible for warding off raiding parties from the Sarbogard steppes. Being an active military installation, it is impossible to even get close, let alone go inside, but there are a few hills nearby from which you can admire its simple yet powerful design.
And finally, there is something for those seeking more alternative attractions. Groves of Pilz mushrooms can be found in various locations around Freiberg, but in the heart of Walsrode is an entire forest of those tree-sized fungi. It is admittedly a somewhat dark and gloomy place, but it makes for a woodland walk of a kind you are guaranteed not to find anywhere else in the world. Equally strange is a cave network underneath the forest, which has been turned into a hatchery for Fehlers, dog-sized beetles that are bred all across Freiberg both for their meat and as pets. Do not let yourself be put off by how sinister such and idea might sound, as Fehlers make for excellent companions, being loyal, easily house-trained and requiring little maintenance, and if all else fails, their sweet-tasting flesh goes superbly with Petralonan honey wine.