Politics in the Silver Marches
By Rand Sharpsword
By Ed Greenwood and Jason Carl
Rand Sharpsword, collector of bits of travel and geographical information, brings you further details about the Silver Marches area. Rand provides these to supplement the information found in the Silver Marches.
A Brief View of a Council Meeting - (As Told to Rand)
". . . and I will NOT send the heart of my army to defend a town that's already in ruins five hundred miles from my walls!" Harbromm, King of Citadel Adbar, slammed one thunderous fist down on the dark wood of the council's high table. "What call does Nesmé have on the warriors of Citadel Adbar?"
"The call of need, you dunderheaded lout!" Bruenor Battlehammer rose to confront his fellow dwarf. Pausing to tug at the patch covering his eye, which was put out in battle years ago, the King of Mithral Hall never backed down from a fight. "Would I have my throne if none of you had chosen to help me against Menzoberranzan? Of course not! Now my duty is clear to me -- to repay the favor done for me by aiding another in need." He turned to face High Lady Alustriel. "My lady, we of Mithral Hall stand ready to march tomorrow. All you need do is say the word."
"That is not entirely true," said Helm Dwarf-friend, Lord of Sundabar. "We have conferred upon the High Lady many powers, but she may not order our armies into battle unless we ALL agree to it. And I am not at all certain that it is in Sundabar's interest to shift significant forces hundreds of miles to the west, when our true peril lies in the north." Helm rarely spoke at the High Council of the League, and his words brought the arguments of the bellicose dwarven kings to a halt.
"I stand with Helm Dwarf-friend," growled Emerus Warcrown, lord of Citadel Felbarr.
"A force of five hundred, drawn from all of our cities, would do Nesmé a world of good, without causing any real harm to anyone's ability to defend himself," offered Taern Hornblade, High Mage of Silverymoon. "We are hardly asking for the entirety of King Harbromm's army to abandon Adbar. I tell you, if we admit Nesmé to our league, we will be made stronger thereby -- not weaker."
"Balderdash!" snorted Harbromm. "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link." But the dwarf king did not immediately resume his attack.
In the momentary silence, Alustriel shifted in her high seat and made a small motion with her hand. The monarchs and rulers in the council room turned their eyes on her -- when she spoke, they listened. "I favor admitting Nesmé," she said quietly, "but as I see it, we have two members that favor such a course, and three who stand against it. My word means nothing until we know how Everlund stands." She looked meaningfully across the table to Lord Kayl Moorwalker, First Elder of Everlund.
Moorwalker frowned and rested his chin on his hands for a long moment while the others waited on him. "I am afraid I cannot answer now," the nobleman replied. "I am only one of six Elders, and this is a complex issue --"
"You mean, your merchants won't want to see a rival like Nesmé put back on its feet," Bruenor Battlehammer interrupted.
"-- and I will need to solicit their support for Nesmé's admittance," Moorwalker continued, as if the dwarf king had not said a word. "I favor it, myself. But I know the Master of Guilds and the Keeper of the Bridges will feel differently." He spread his hands in a gesture of resignation.
Alustriel nodded slightly, as if she'd expected Moorwalker's reply. "Very well, then. I suggest we adjourn for now, to give the High Captain an opportunity to consult with his peers in Everlund. We will take up the issue again next month, when we meet again." She leaned back in her seat as the others rose and made their way out of the chamber. Somehow, she mused, she'd have to find a prize to dangle before Everlund's merchants -- a bribe, really -- to secure their support for action.
"Why is it that nothing can be done in a day?" she sighed, and then rose herself to carry on with the rest of her afternoon.
Playing with Politics
The underlying principle for federation politics is that this confederation is a completely new and tentative venture. The Articles are only recently signed, and not all of the details have yet been worked out between the parties involved. The strength of the pact has yet to be tested; what happens when the long-expected orc horde finally hurtles down out of the mountains and smashes into the towns below is anybody's guess. Perhaps the pact will hold firm and the orcs will be repelled by the combined might of the defenders -- or perhaps one of the signatories will decide not to come to the aid of a neighbor in a crucial moment. None can say with any certainty what the outcome of the Marches' first true test will be, and this very uncertainty shapes and informs the political landscape of the territory.
Lady Alustriel's chief concern is keeping the peace in the vicinity, and that is no mean feat even without the threat of orc invasion. She and her associates must pay constant attention to the innumerable political undercurrents that flow through the Silver Marches. The natural rivalries between several communities and important personalities, for example, have existed for decades or longer and won't vanish just because they are now nominal allies.
The trade rivalry between Sundabar and Citadel Adbar is a good example of the sort of political tension that can arise even in peacetime. Both communities pride themselves on the quality and quantity of their mining output. Many are the ore and metalwork merchants from both cities who compete with one another in trying to bring the best quality merchandise to market more quickly than the others, or in obtaining the custom of important customers. In times past this rivalry has created difficult circumstances for the citizens of both communities, and on occasion it has led to hostile words and the threat of more serious consequences.
It was never Alustriel's intention to dictate, or insist upon, the manner in which the Silver Marches signatories interact with one another, nor the manner in which they choose to govern themselves. However, even one as powerful and well-liked as the High Lady cannot be everywhere at once. Brokering an agreement on voluntary contributions to the Marches' defense fund between Everlund and Citadel Felbarr may require her presence at the negotiating table for weeks. Such protracted diplomatic efforts leave her, and the Marches, in sore need of a skilled and trustworthy diplomatic corps. Popular rumor has it that the High Lady of the Silver Marches is attempting to form just such a group, but to date she has made no public announcements regarding when such emissaries might be available to minister to the confederation's concerns, nor exactly what its authority might be.
Plots and Rumors
Player characters can become enmeshed in this political situation in a number of ways -- in fact, it may be almost impossible for them to avoid political dilemmas if they are acting as agents of any of the league signatories or their leaders.
One Bad Apple: The characters discover evidence suggesting that an important individual in one of the league towns is corrupt. Maybe the individual is accepting bribes from an unscrupulous merchant and turning a blind eye while contraband or dangerous goods are conveyed into the area. Or perhaps it's worse than that: The characters run afoul of an individual who is selling secret information to one of the Silver Marches' enemies (say, the details of Citadel Adbar's defenses to King Obould). The confederation doesn't yet have any formal means by which the signatories have agreed to define or punish treason, so the testimony of the characters who apprehend such miscreants should influence those who decide the traitor's ultimate fate.
Secret Ambitions: The High Lady leads the Silver Marches today -- but what of tomorrow? There are those who believe that someone else (perhaps even themselves) would be a better leader than Lady Alustriel. The characters uncover a plot to replace the current High Lady, instigated perhaps by a power-hungry government official or a cartel of merchants who desire a confederation that gives more consideration to trade than defense. The plot might not call for Alustriel's demise, but it might seek instead to embarrass her or compromise her credibility so thoroughly that she has no choice but to step aside and allow someone else to take on the role of High Lord or Lady.