The Circle Highway in Dal Raeda

Okay, hit the ground running fast: In Cobrin’Seil, I had a quandrary to solve. I knew that Dal Raeda (Big Irish-like Empire) has a section of the King’s Highway in it. This presented a problem, because Dal Raeda is a peninsula, and to have the highway in it would require that highway to connect two parts of the Eresh Protectorates. That meant the only options are:

  • The Eresh Protectorate don’t build their highways between their cities and might build one into Dal Raeda for convenience, which I didn’t like
  • There’s an Eresh Protectorate city inside Dal Raeda, which would be politically surprising
by Tyler Edlin

What follows here is the story that flows from addressing that question and thinking in terms of how pieces of infrastructure get built and maintained.


Cities are rarely formed all at once. To make a city, quickly, out of nowhere, requires something extraordinary. In Glotharen, what happened to form a city was a shipwreck. A Halfling hulk boat, one of the broad flat-topped vessels used by trade coalitions of Halfling families, crashed on the shore of Glotharen, after having been torn free from moorings many miles down the way, before it was loaded. The result was that a few kilometers up into one of the coastal rivers, a boat the size of a town smashed into the coast, during a tempestuous tidal surge, flipped end over end and wrecked on the ground, trailing its buoys into the river. When the Halfling coalition came to find it, there was a check on the balance sheets about how much it would cost to recover the (mostly empty) boat, versus how much it would cost to replace it if they just filed it as ‘lost’ and they made a choice, registering the boat as lagan, and went on.

And it had to count as lagan; even though the boat and its containers could be found on land, it had buoys in the water, which meant it was, technically, lagan. It’s on the paperwork, you wouldn’t argue with the paperwork.

And so they went back to their various businesses and continued doing what they normally did, using insurance and defrayed investment and all that kind of thing.

And in about a month, goblins from nearby rolled into what was, essentially, a town hall building, figured it was disused, and immediately set up a community. Turns out that when you have freee lodging for as many goblins as can show up, you get a lot of goblins, and it was only a little while after that that the goblins realised they’d made what amounted to a city, with businesses and farms and all the things goblins wind up making when left to their own devices. They didn’t make the infrastructure, but by dint of having enough people, they wound up making a community useful for other non-goblins, who showed up, and then started trading. Particularly, the town was basically a river hub, and that meant nearby people who didn’t want to do trade with the Glotharen port cities could come to a place with a different take on taxation.

The why isn’t so important, but eventually, someone in the goblin cities learned about the Eresh Protectorate – a coalition of cities that all looked out for one another. That sounded pretty gobliny to them, so they decided to fill out the paperwork and send a letter off to the Eresh Protectorate, as best they understood it.

Thing is this city, again, was in Glotharen, and it’d sprung up pretty quickly. So quickly that the slow-moving Dal Raedan provincial government didn’t notice it, and dismissed the claims of a boat on land city. Then suddenly, they got word that this city had applied to become a part of the Eresh Protectorate, and suddenly that prompted a conversation.

And okay, I can’t expect you to know off the top of your head how Dal Raeda is mapped out. But I also, as I have mentioned, suck at maps. Well, in order to put the locations of Dal Radea and their relationships into perspective I have created a simplified diagram of the seven provinces, and how they connect to one another. A red line indicates a land border you can cross between those provinces. The only one of these with contact with the rest of the continent, where the rest of the Eresh Protectorates exist, is Danube.

I did say seven provinces, and you might note that there are six locations here. That’s part of the simplifying: The seventh province, Virrett Keep, is a bunch of islands in the river system of this province, and they’re a big * when it comes to this issue. Deilan doesn’t have a land border with anyone – it has a system of ferries that travel between Glotharen and Sanders.

The nearest point of the King’s Highway is to the edge of Danube, and the city they need to reach is in the northern quarter of Glotharen. That means that if you want to diagram the simplest, shortest route between the highway and the city, it looks like this:

It’s short, it’s efficient, and it involves interrupting the territory of exactly two provinces; Danube, who are already friendly with the Eresh Protectorate and do trade with them for things like books and guns and wine, and Glotharen, the oldest province that probably are harder to sell on the idea of a highway tromping through their business, but given that it’s to connect to an Eresh city in Glotharen, that should be fine. Right?

When the Danube leg of the highway started, Sanders argued that it was an inappropriate use of royal land, and tried to argue that the land for travelling between provinces belonged to the king, not to the province. After all, what is the country, except the material that connects the provinces? And Danube shot back that by that logic, surely the horses the Sanders province was famous for breeding were the king’s property too, since they held the country together. And Sanders said that’s stupid and Danube said no your face is stupid but this was all being done at the great meet of the provincial leaders so it was being done in a bit more of a formal setting, and of course, nobody in this conversation wanted to talk to Glotharen, the people who had a city exclave appear within their borders.

This led to another conversation, where it was suggested that hey, maybe an exclave is a bad thing? Maybe, just maybe, if that city wasn’t around any more, it’d be… y’know, convenient?

There’s an obvious solution here, a shortest route to solve the problem: Just make sure that city isn’t there any more. Except while the Dal Raeda was having Provincial Negotiations, the Eresh Protectorate weren’t sitting on their arse. A city had reached out; they had the qualifications and they did the paperwork. As far as Eresh was concerned, that city was now part of Eresh and that meant it was time to take care of it as appropriate.

It’s one of those signs of how a state thinks: Dal Raeda’s assumptions was that the highway was a finalisation of something, that before the highway was set in place, then the city wasn’t ‘part’ of Eresh yet. But that’s not how the Eresh Protectorate considers things: The highway is part of the entitlement of being in the Eresh Protectorates, but it’s not like touching Bar. When Dal Raeda sent a military force to this city –

To you know, check it out,

They found that while Glotharen hadn’t really had any opinions about this ‘goblin squat,’ the Eresh Protectorates were taking their position very, very seriously. And while nobles may be okay with deniable actions like ‘oops, a goblin township in a place we didn’t care about is gone’ it becomes a lot less deniable when there’s two dozen Eresh Protectorate Knights hanging out there. After all, Eresh Protectorate Knights, Eresh keeps track of those. And the numbers of it are also awkward: sure, Sanders may claim that their soldiers could match those knights, but Sanders fancies itself a military powerhouse. Glotharen did not, and even Sanders wouldn’t want to prove it.

They had to pivot fast, but what made it worse is that the reason Eresh Knights get deployed is because they are, to an individual, some variety of player character invocation, and it turns out that one or two of them decided this was a great time to passive-aggressively lean on an entire enemy military unit and turn it into a moment of opportunity. So they rolled up to the military unit, and there’s a long argument about which knightly order did this with everyone convinced that one or the other of these knights is from their order, and what ensued is something like:

uh, hey, this is a military unit here, what an interesting showup, you lot doing anything in this district? Oh, hi, you’re here to say hi to the new city, and maybe collect the paperwork? You’re here for the paperwork right. There is, of course, paperwork. Paperwork is important. You wouldn’t disrespect the paperwork, would you?

That quote is important, and it mostly depends on where you put the emphasis as to which knight you think is involved.

They didn’t disrespect the paperwork.

With that decision made and the awkward period of Glotharen’s little military unit deciding that hey maybe they should fuck off and go home, the particular avenue of ‘let’s not have the highway here’ cut off. Because now Dal Raeda could try and establish an argument with the Eresh Protectorate that says ‘no, you can’t build a highway through our land to your city,’ or worse, ‘this isn’t your city, because it’s on our land,’ and this is the kind of legal contention that gets addressed militarily.

Now, Dal Raeda is a big place! It has a big military! It is one of the great powers of the continent, too, and if Eresh and Dal Raeda decided to get into a fight, Dal Raeda could just refuse to trade with Eresh and then that cuts off a lot of resources. It wouldn’t even need to turn into a fight, Eresh wouldn’t like that. But that would require Dal Raeda to line up uniformly behind a freeze out or worse, a war with Eresh Protectorate over (the goblin city + the land required to give the goblin city highway access + miscellaneous other bits and pieces).

Sanders was down to clown, which made sense because that’s a thing they’re good at, and Glotharen was pretty okay with the idea of Not Having An Outpost Of Another Country In Their Country, so they lined up on the ‘no’ camp. Willowsebb agreed but did so with all the force of a dropped cake, which should mean, hypothetically, the bulk of Dal Raeda was in on starting a fight with Eresh.

On the other side of the argument, there’s Danube, who actively traded with Eresh and saw it as a vital part of their culture and economy. Also, strangely, Deilan refused to get involved in the argument even while it set up ferry routes to the Goblin city that recognised the sovereignty of the city, which sure looked like a vote against war that just happened to be a bit passive-aggressive about it. Brin Proper, the capital, preferred to not be involved in such votes, as it ostensibly, is not a province (even though it’s a province) and then, into this conversation, some big wet boots got thrown:

See, the seventh province of Dal Raeda is known as Virrett Keep, which is ostensibly a city state, on an island, but which also owns ‘the rivers of Dal Raeda.’ This ownership of the riverways meant that Virrett Keep has a bunch of holdings and estates that are essentially docks all along the landscape of the country, and they have very firm opinions about other provinces suddenly deciding that city-states don’t count and don’t have their own seat at the table of negotiations.

What this meant is that the argument about who was or wasn’t going to war was really much more like one province that wanted to fight, one who didn’t, two who were okay with fighting, and three provinces that didn’t want to fight but didn’t want to piss off the one province that did.

Okay, so! SO! That means okay, Dal Raeda is getting the Kings Highway. It’s getting it in Danube. It’s getting it in Glotharen. But that can be it, right? They can just chill out and leave it there, right? So it should wind up with that short, convenient design before.

Anyway, here’s how the highway looks:

Any guesses as to why it’s like this?

Why of course, it’s petty bullshit.

See, the bickering began anew, because a province is getting something and someone else is building it and they need to work out what they’re doing to make a legal space in the laws of Dal Raeda, and it’s that that leads to the eventual curling highway you see.

The Kings Highway is an important trade route. It’s also a ceding of sovereignty; if the Kings Highway runs through your land, you do not maintain it directly, and you do not have direct legal authority over what happens on it. Now that’s not to say that there’s a lot of fuss about it, where if an unoccupied part of the highway has a murder on it, you’re meant to just leave it alone and pretend it doesn’t matter. But it’s still potentially thorny and it means there are going to be knights of another nation tromping around in your space.

It also is a well-maintained international highway run by people who are very good at maintaining roads and who care about maintaining roads and also bring a lot of comparatively well-off travellers through spaces. Which means that if someone is ceding that sovereignty and getting the advantages, it’s suddenly a disadvantage to not have an opportunity to have it in your province.

There were so many reasons to do it this way, so many justifications, and most of them are kind of just lies. Sanders claims the long, circuitous route of the highway is there to ensure that if there is a full mobilisation from the Eresh Protectorates, the highway being so long a route slows them down. Glotharen claims that the highway arcing through their territory gives them opportunities to perform custom checks on things travelling from an Eresh city through Glotharen territory. The Willowsebb excuse tends to be about keeping people away from important locations in the forest, which is just why the Kings Highway happens to roll past two of the largest cities in Willowsebb.

Danube don’t care, they’re proud of having a huge stretch of Highway.

Virrett Keep claim the highway being the way it is violates their boundaries of the river many times, as it crosses bridges, and legally, there’s a case they’re right, but also, it’s not the kind of objection they want to raise in public a lot, because no matter how legitimate their legal claim is, they are effectively, a barely-cobbled together provincial power made out of houseboats and river pirates, and the Eresh Protectorate represents a continental power.

And that’s why, in one of the largest continental powers, there’s another continental power’s land. The Eresh Protectorate don’t think much of it: The Highway is their responsibility, and they’ll protect it, but they’re not really all that interested in what’s going on inside Dal Raeda provided Eresh interests are safe. Which has a damping effect on the potential civil war, because everyone knows that one of the first acts of war is going to be somehow controlling or destroying those highways.

by Tyler Edlin

The Goblin City is named Lagan. It’s what it says on the paperwork, after all.

And you wouldn’t disrespect the paperwork.

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