Kingdoms of Garda
The wealthy Merchant Lords of the Kingdom of Gilbardi dominate the Gilded Mountains and the northern seas. Through a combination of fortune and ruthless strong-arm tactics, they rapidly rose from obscurity to prominence in a way no other kingdom ever has, a prominence that hasn’t flagged since. The well traveled Gilbardans are known far and wide for their traders, their bankers, and their martial might. Despite this, the Gilbardi have rarely gone to war in centuries, but maintain preparedness through a sense of civic duty and mandatory service. Though often characterized as affable and easy going, for dwarves, they are equally well known for being shrewd and cutthroat businessmen. Gilbardan merchants never forget deals turned sour, or a debt owed. While considered a vice by most, the Gilbardi view greed as synonymous with ambition, and those who lack it as deficient in character. Even more than the Velosi, Gilbardan travelers forge relations with the ancient and burgeoning nations of the east and west, bringing back tales of exotic lands, strange customs, and fabled peoples to the inhabitants of the Gardan Peninsula. On their back doorstep, recent incursions into the lands known as the Nortmark and the discovery of new wealth hidden beneath the Godspeaks stir the slumbering giant to action as they decide how best to invest in the land-grabs consuming the peninsula.
Gilbardi maintains a constitutional monarchy handed down from days of old. The monarch is the iconic figurehead of the Gilbardan government, but it is no secret to anyone that their role is largely that of a glorified general. The true power lies with the Merchant Lords, as success in business is deemed the most important quality in governance; the second unspoken quality of a Merchant Lord is ruthlessness, and politics in Golthuek are often a bloody affair. The plutocratic elite decide the direction of the kingdom, from selecting the monarch every 150 years, to deciding whether and whither the Gilbardi go to war, to what taxes ought to apply to the goods coming through their ports.
All but the poorest Gilbardi glitter their hair and beards with precious gems and metal dust, and even they typically decorate their hair with micah and other cheap metals. However, their sailors merely allow the sea salt of their voyages to accumulate in their beards until it glistens in the sun, earning the moniker of Saltbeards.
At the very end of the 2nd Era several Skjallic dwarf clans migrated south into what are now the Gilded Mountains. As they mined, tunneled, and began building cities in the cliffs they discovered colossal deposits of silver, gold, gems, and mithril. In a matter of decades they had become fabulously rich, though the source of their lasting wealth was to come in controlling the most critical trade route to the west. The strait that separates the Gilded Mountains from the Shieldbacks to the north; sparing sailors from navigating the storm strewn coasts of northern Norgrim. Taking advantage of their position, the Gilbardan monarch imposed mandatory tariffs for passage to the west, and constructed an armada with which to enforce these fines. In return they kept the northern waters safe from the threat of piracy, a threat their privateers were all too willing to make real if the fines weren’t paid. In response to such an egregious affront from an upstart nation, the city-states of Velos mobilized their fleets in unison against Gilbardi, in the 2nd century of the 3rd Era. However, not even the Lichlords accounted for the singular resilience of such a well-entrenched and well-funded foe. After a decade of war at sea and several unsuccessful attempts to blockade and capture the Gilbardan capitol at Golthuek, the Velosi deemed the cost of maintaining the war far more expensive than simply paying the dwarves their tariffs.
After resolving this threat, the Kingdom of Gilbardi has maintained a nearly uncontested dominance of trade in the North. The subsequent influx in wealth led to a major shift in power within their own society, as merchants quietly eroded the powers afforded their hereditary monarchs. This culminated in the establishment of a constitution in the year 473, relegating the monarch to ceremonial figurehead, while transferring the power of rule to the plutocratic Merchant Lords. It was also during this period of social revolution that a Gilbardan founded the path of the Four Pillars. As the federated Kingdoms of Almany experienced a golden era, trade boomed as more of the nobility were able to purchase exotic luxury goods, such as silk, caocao, pepper and coffee beans among many others. Imports that still drive the Gilbardan economy to this day. Though the Skjall had always been a nuisance to Gilbardan tradeships, it wasn’t until the 7th century that they began constructing their iconic longships, making them a true menace to trade through the Westward Sea. Gilbardi’s response was swift and brutal, razing Skjallic towns along the coast, and setting a bloody precedent for what happens to those who endanger their interests. While Gilbardans had established banks in the 4th century, it wasn’t until the 9th that they fully realized the potential profit in dealing with foreigners. Loans from Gilbardan bankers provided critical funds in Almanic wars for the High Throne, giving noble families the currency needed to equip their armies and hire Korukhal mercenaries. Many of those families are still in debt to this day, paying off the debts of their ancestors; in many cases to the same banker who initially made the loan. Funding foreign wars proved immensely lucrative, and they also began hiring out their own soldiers to fight in these wars. A line of business that has taken a sharp upturn in recent years, since the coup of the Oathbreaker King dissolved the trust the Almanic Kingdoms once had for their Korukhal warbands. Minara in particular makes use of troops from their lands. Anyone who hires their halberdiers know that they are loyal to Gilbardi alone, and ready to abandon any contracts should their kingdom need them; after all, who can outbid the Merchant Lords?