East of Winter
Belchamp and Holstein were originally separate duchies who were crumbling and suffering as their educated and professional classes were drafted to serve in the war against the Hoard five hundred years ago. During this time, it was revealed that the Duke of Belchamp, secretly a vampire lord reviled as the 'Beast of Belchamp', preyed indiscriminately on his citizens during the night, a practice that only came to an end when he was discovered and killed by an adventuring party led by Duke Emric von Holstein and consisting of Duchess von Holstein, Anna Henrietta (I) and the still living elven playwright, The Sagitairre, among others.
Following the elimination of the original Beast of Belchamp, Duke Emric seized both crowns for himself, and remarried to one of the few remaining scions of the Belchampi ruling family, who would take the name Anna- Henrietta II (called 'The Vixen,') and rule both the province of Holstein and the city of Belchamp for years following Emric's death to old age.
Anna-Henrietta II would go on to use her shrewd mind for negotiation and alliance to rebuild her holdings following the Edict of Winter. One of her first and most famous decrees involved the creation of the Houses of Itinerant Knights, thereafter Belchampi's famous Knights-in-Errantry, or Knights Errant. The holders of these decrees were originally required to spend the long and cruel months of the Edict of Winter in court with the Duchess before, with the first thaw, they were let loose on the countryside to enforce order and combat monsters and bandits. While the tradition of the Knights Errant of spending the winter months in Belchamp slowly waned, Anna-Henrietta II's policy of supporting these Knights ultimately helped shape Belchampi identity and cultivated the large stable of educated and courtly combatants the realm still draws on to this day.
Located in a valley on the steppes of the Sword Mountains, west of Sprigand, Belchamp enjoys milder winters than much of Remidon, owed to a geography that traps warm air and water on on the western side of the mountains. Built in the shadow of a long dormant volcano, mountain streams still bear down rich volcanic soil into Lake Cygne at the foot of the city's white walls. To this, they Belchampi owe their rich planting soil and their numerous orchards and vinyards of olives and grapes. A sunny day with thin cloud cover and a light sprinkle of rain is considered to be good, typical, Belchampi weather.
In times of peril (but at no point in the past five hundred years,) the great bridge across Lake Cygne could be collapsed, cutting off attackers from the city's island. The same could be said for the Ducal bridge spanning the city to the white towers of the Ducal palace and the wealthiest section of town, though the city has, thankfully, never endured such a grim crisis as to necessitate it.
The Church of St. Cuthbert is the dominant religion in this region, and has inserted itself deeply into the political process. Belchampi nobles will often compete against each other for the right to sponsor a certain abbey, or boast of having supported the sanctifying of a new shrine. Many Belchampi gatherings, celebrations, or legal affairs will be presided over by a representative of the church. The resulting religious atmosphere is a bit o a quandary; in many respects the city would be better served by a patron of amusement, comfort, or even excess, but anyone who doubts the piety or decency or these revelers should be reminded of Firith 1207 when a mob of citizens discovered a priestess of Loviatar posing as a peddler of extreme sexual experiences, rushed the Ducal bridge, and trampled her and an entourage of armed mercenaries to death.
The average Belchampi citizen is more educated and 'civilized' than his average counterpart from Remidon, thanks in part to an informal network of education conducted through playhouses and art displays. Many Belchampi take it upon themselves to learn to read to better understand these cultural experiences, but even the illiterate get news of the world through stage acting, or one of the publicly sponsored news galleries, where paid artists paint scenes of happenings from around the world for the benefit of the public understanding.
The city has grown so large in the past couple hundred years that many other of Remidon's nobles consider it a powder keg of undesirables with too much education and too much pay. They often cite the average specialist worker's wages (comparable to those of a minor nobleman in a poor province,) as having inflated these people's sense of self worth and undermined the natural, divine, Feudal order. Indeed, the current Baron von Holstein devotes a disproportionate (compared to other nobles, at least) amount of his income to keeping the public well fed and amused with art. While many see it as evidence of his waning power, it is undeniable that these things have fostered a sense of Belchampi identity and unity that is unlike that of any other province in the kingdom.
While many condemn the Belchampi as having no interest what happens beyond their borders, the public are actually fair weather supporters of Remidon's Crusader political faction. A steady stream of news from the frontier, combined with a few exceptional pieces of art (the most notable of which was probably The Sagitairre's 'Bride of Belchamp,') has stirred up a romantic sort of interest for those adventuring outside of Remidon. With the city's own historical identity and romantic ideal of the Errant Knight on a righteous quest (not to mention those who see a parallel with St. Cuthbert smiting order into the world) it's little wonder that these stories have resonated with them, especially when they've been given the gloss of a Belchampi bard's gift for exaggeration.Much of this overview skims over a growing day to day uncertainty; The current Duke von Holstein, Lord of Belchamp has no heir or living family. The last of the von Holstein line, save for the Duke, were murdered by the Vampire spawn, Anna-Henrietta I, when she rose from her prison to take revenge on her captors.