Cuthren stands in the isolated marches of eastern Rethem, on the road between Techen to the south and Senun to the north. It stands just a few miles from both the Thardic and Kandayan frontiers. It also borders the great forest of Laxley, which is home to brigands, bandits, and outlaws. The Earl of Techen, who rules this frontier, has not taken sides in the dispute between King Chafin and the Earl of Tormau. He is more concerned with the Laranian crusaders and Thardic legions across the border than with disputes over royal legitimacy.
The lord of Cuthren is Sir Hunris, who has recently taken over the seat when his father (Sir Sevlin) was murdered by an arrow shot from an unseen assailant in the woods. The identity of Sir Sevlin's killer is unknown. Some suspect bandits, some believe it was one of the king's foresters who had a grudge against Sir Sevlin, still others believe it might have been the lord's son himself (or an assassin hired by him). Sir Sevlin was a warrior first and foremost, who maintained a larger-than-usual military force. While he largely left peasants to their own devices, he was harsh in the face of insolence, disobedience, or insult.
By Hârnic standards, Cuthren's peasants are wealthy. Most families hold enough land to feed themselves and even to make a profit. A few are very wealthy, almost being minor gentry. Cuthren, however, suffers from a shortage of hands. Villagers regularly hire outside laborers, especially during the plowing and harvest seasons. Cuthren also needs more skilled craftsmen. Strangers may find a warmer welcome in Cuthren than in most villages; at least, if they're willing to work.
Like all villages, Cuthren is subject to the misfortunes of plague, bad weather, and the like. What worries Cuthreners most, however, is war. An uneasy peace exists along the border, but fanatical Laranians in Kanday or ambitious legion commanders in Tharda may well view the upcoming civil war as the perfect opportunity to attack. Located so close to the Thard River, and right along the main road between Rethems two easternmost fortresses, Cuthren is likely to be in the thick of things, should an invasion come.
Like other nearby villages, Cuthren has been troubled by the brigands of Laxley Forest. One particular bandit gang, the "Brothers of the Green Wood", has been especially troublesome of late. Attempts to root out the brigands have so far failed, for the forest is dense, dark, and dangerous.
Located on a main road, Cuthren sees a goodly share of local traffic, including messengers, soldiers, peddlers, laborers-for-hire, nobles, and the occasional mendicant priest. As it is located so near the border, a few foreigners even pass through and undoubtedly, the occasional spy. Such visitors bring news, and sometimes goods to trade, but they often bring trouble as well. /p>
Quite a few of Cuthren's serfs and slaves have fled over the past several years -- either across the border into Kanday or Tharda, or into the forest to become brigands. A few have been recovered, but many have not. Just this summer, four young, able-bodied serfs fled and all four so far evaded capture. Sir Sevlin has vowed that any future runaways will be "pursued relentlessly and treated with no mercy whatsoever" once found.
Some peasants -- particularly the older ones -- tell tales of the Black Hag, an evil witch who dwells somewhere within the dark heart of Laxley Forest. It is said that she can take the shape of a raven, a bat, and an adder. As such, she travels among men and women to lay curses upon them. Impotence, infertility, madness, disease, and bad luck are often attributed to her malevolence. It is whispered that she also grants favors to those who are willing to pay her (unspecified, but undoubtedly terrible) price.