The Barrens are a harsh and desolate area lying on the eastern side of the Horseshoe mountains. It is bordered by Daberon to the north, HighHarren to the west, and the Midmerle sea to the east. Scoured by the rise and fall of waters that churn back and forth along the Midmerle when a red tide runs, and dominated by the sculpted and bleak spurs that reach down from the mountains into the sea, the land offers little attraction to human settlers. Legend has it that the land was fought over by Val’Vachea, the Earth Mother, and Innsh’ana, the Lord of the Sky, in some ancient squabble that left the civilisation that had settled there in ruins, the previously fertile fields barren, and the land itself cursed for eternity. Some versions say that the ancient Kingdom raised altars to Innsh’ana, sacrificing pregnant women to him in order to gain his favour – and that Val’Vachea shook the land in her fury, sending walls and towers toppling. The devastation that followed was driven by her wrath, but fuelled by her consort’s blood lust. The Barrens have been barren ever since.
There are very few human settlements, although it is home to outlaws and exiles who can find shelter there. There are some villages to be found, mostly eeking out a living on the borders of Daberon and providing shelter and provisions to the bands that pass through from time to time. These include parties of law enforcers, hunting outlaws.; companies of adventurers and scholars investigating the ruins that scatter the land; and traders, following the safe path to trade with the Phraif hives that lie in the deep valleys at the mountain’s feet.
The Barrens are home to the largest Phraif population in the Known Kingdoms, with four or five well established hives, and a number of satellite hives that have sprung up over the centuries. The Phraif don’t rule Kingdoms – but they can compete for hive space, and have been known to go to war with each other when necessity demands it. Ambitions Phraif Queens may come to the Barrens to establish their own hives, or to beg breeding males from the older and more populous hives already there. Because a well established Phraif hive tends to be highly self sustaining, the barren nature of the land does not have much impact on them (although attempts to establish a new hive may fail because of scarce resources at the start). The hives mostly trade silk, cloth and honey to the few caravans that risk outlaws and the harsh conditions to bring wine and other luxury goods to please the queens. They also trade with the smaller Kharad settlements in the mountains themselves, which is where they get most of their gold – and their salt, which is much in demand back in Daberon. Their currency is just gold bars – an ‘arif’ being a bar of set weight and length.
The Kharad here are equally unaffected by the harsh lands they occupy. Safe beneath the mountains, they mine the depths of the eastern Horseshoes for copper and tin, using the ores to produce bronze as well as the base metals. They transport their ingots underground through long winding tunnels on carts powered by a mix of magnets and Kharad magic, emerging in Daberon to trade with the House of Bronze, with whom they have a long association.