Grey Hearth Province is the only province that joined the union after the signing of Atla’s Provincial Constitution. Before the advent of motorcarts, raillines, orb-lights, and other modern conveniences, traveling to the region was time consuming, difficult, and most of all, deadly. The first explorers to find Grey Hearth City did so more than 1,000 years ago. But since then only a handful of explorers made the journey up the Morrid Mountains, along the Grey Mountains, and into the rest of the province. While those expeditions were fruitful and resulted in the discoveries of many new species of plants and animals, the sheer difficulty in reaching the area dissuaded all the but the boldest.
After Atla’s unification the Grand Council sent representatives to the area to establish peaceful relations with the people. Initially they did not intend on adopting the land into the union and considered it an extension of the unattached province. Rather, they wanted to establish friendly relations with the natives, explore trade opportunities, and learn more about their culture and way of life. Despite their friendly intent, the Grey Hearth natives refused to speak with the representatives, their city guards denying entry and refusing to answer any question. Though they were turned away, the representatives always left gifts and peace offerings for the people. And had an early winter storm not endangered one of the expeditions the native people likely would have continued to do so indefinitely.
The GC officially sent representatives to the gates of Grey Hearth twice a year: once at the beginning of Vos and again at the end of Ayra. For most expeditions 10-20 men and women would make the journey. This number included guides, hunters, and guards along with the representatives. For the Ayra trip of 22 EM, 10 representatives along with their entourage traveled north for what should have been a routine expedition.
Representatives tasked with visiting Grey Hearth would leave Westlake City and travel several thousand miles north to Seratov. Reaching Seratov, the last major outpost at the foot of the Grey Mountains, usually took between one and two months. Though the trip north was anything but difficult (the representatives were treated to the best supplies and tools available), it was time consuming. By the time the group of 10 reached Seratov at the end of Ayra they were mentally and physically exhausted. The late summer weather was pleasant, the people of Seratov welcoming, and the accommodations superb. Ahead of the group lay a two week trek through some of the harshest terrain on Atla and none of them were in a hurry to continue. At length the expedition decided to wait in Seratov for a few days until the members were refreshed and ready for the arduous journey north.
What started as a few days ended up being two weeks. By the time the group of 10 representatives left Seratov sometime during the middle of Estrana the first hints of autumn were in the air. Though the weather was mild when they left, by the end of the first week an early winter storm moved into the area and assaulted the area with snow. The route from Seratov snaked through the lowest canyons of the Grey Mountains before reaching the highlands and foothills near Grey Hearth City. The group had barely made it out of the high canyons when the damp flurries preceding the storm turned into a raging blizzard that effectively trapped the group where they stood.
The snow continued for days, the group forced to take shelter in a partially exposed alcove. As the snow continued to build they realized that the storm had intensified, and staying where they were would be suicide. At length they decided to continue their journey to Grey Hearth. Though they were halfway between both destinations, returning to Seratov was impossible as the higher passes were completely snowed over and the threat of avalanches high.
By the time the group of provincial representatives reached the gate of Grey Hearth they were out of supplies, suffering from frostbite and exhaustion, and terrified beyond measure. After some deliberations and the consideration of the Shaman-priest (as the party stood outside the gates) the people of Grey Hearth took compassion on the group and allowed them into their secluded homeland.
It took the group of provincial representatives two weeks to fully recover. Many of the men involved suffered severe frostbite, losing a variety of digits in the process. All of the necessary medical care came from the locals who, against the group’s assumptions, had medical tools and used medical techniques that rivaled what was available in an average town on Atla. While the equipment and facilities could not match those found in other capital cities, they were more than adequate for the group’s needs.
Once the representatives had all healed and recovered enough to leave the hospital they spent a few days exploring the previously unknown city. While they were not told of the rituals, the secret building techniques, or the full history of the people, they were not prevented from exploring the narrow valley or asking question. Though the blizzard had abated during their time in hospital the snow had piled high throughout the region. Winter was coming, but it was clear the temperatures were returning to normal, which would leave them with a chance to return home after the ice began to thaw. As a result they were able to spend more than a week in the city, living with the people, learning what they could, and enjoying a spot of unexpected hospitality. They never once met the Shaman-priest or any of his close deacons or priestesses, and they were prevented from even approaching the massive ice cathedral carved into the stone at the far end of the valley. Nevertheless, they learned much about the people and their way of life. Some of the most significant discoveries included:
- Learning there were more than half a dozen other villages and small cities throughout the province, all of which ranged from unfriendly to hostile towards the people of Grey Hearth.
- The discovery of the tusked mammoth.
- An understanding of the people’s advanced stone building techniques.
- The ice mirrors and underground farms.
- New fruits and vegetables the people had cultivated specifically for the harsh environment.
- Strange half magi-half mechanical heating devices that could be placed in every home and vented exhaust gasses through a stovepipe that exited through the roof of each house.
- Ointments and balms derived from the unique species of plants found in the region used to treat burns and frostbite.
At length the provincial representatives made the trek back through the hills and highlands, the narrow canyons, and down the mountain to Seratov. From there they returned as quickly as possible to Westlake, eager to escape the snow and share their new knowledge.
Overnight the nation’s perception of the people of Grey Hearth changed. People who were once thought to be uncultured, uncivilized, and ignorant were now viewed as intelligent and advanced as any other people on Atla.
Efforts to establish more reliable communications and cooperation with Grey Hearth began in earnest after the winter of 22 EM. Atlans were eager to learn more about the people and the Grand Council was just as eager to bring the somewhat wayward city into the fold of Atlan culture. However, kind as the locals were, their disposition towards outsiders had not changed after the brief encounter with the representatives. The first group to reach the gates the following year was turned away as all the others had been. Frustrated, the GC decided to continue exploring the rest of the province, hoping to make contact with the other people who were supposed to live in the region.
At length the provincially-backed expeditions managed to locate 5 new settlements. However, all five of the groups were hostile and aggressive, chasing away the explorers. There were tens of thousands of people living in the region, all of them hostile, and all of them isolated from the other settlements. It was hard to maintain a constantly moving war machine in the frozen wasteland, which explained why large battles were not more common. Nevertheless the people were all hostile towards one another made every effort to harass the other villages whenever possible. At once the explorers realize why Grey Hearth was protected by such a massive wall and why the people were so wary of outsiders.
After first contact and the subsequent discovery of other more aggressive villages, interest in Grey Hearth waned. Between the violent predators and the freezing temperatures the region was dangerous enough without worrying about the people.
For the next 150 years groups of explorers, provincial representatives, and the occasional traveler made their way to the Grey Hearth region. During this time a group of explorers created the first encyclopedia of the area, detailing everything from the land’s geography to native flora and fauna. The encyclopedia, which contained fantastic paintings and drawings of animals and locations listed in its pages, was a national best-seller for more than a decade. While few people were willing to brave the harsh environment to see the land for themselves the resurging national interest led the GC to redouble their efforts to incorporate the city into the nation.
As expected, the people of Grey Hearth still refused to join the nation or allow outsiders beyond their walls. The story was the same after every expedition—the Shaman-priest would not allow outsiders into the city. The situation would have remained the same indefinitely had another native tribe not turned aggressive.
During the spring of 181 EM, 1,000 warriors from throughout the region descended the canyons above Seratov and launched an offensive on the small city. The attack came weeks before the provincial representatives were expected in the area and before the winter snows had fully melted, a time when Seratov was most vulnerable and unaware. The raiding party began slaughtering anyone and everyone they could find in the city, breaking down doors and smashing windows to reach people in their homes or businesses. Though they were numerous and had the benefit of surprise, local authorities and military personnel from the nearby military training outpost put an end to the assault within a matter of hours. None of the natives were captured alive, as all fought to the death or killed themselves before being taken prisoner. After the brief but bloody battle the mayor of Seratov sent word to the GC informing them the people of Grey Hearth city had turned hostile. But it didn’t take long to realize the attackers weren’t from Grey Hearth city, but an outlying settlement that had been discovered many decades earlier. Though little was known about the people of Grey Hearth, their manner of dress and customs were familiar enough that outsiders could distinguish them from other native people.
In a surprising turn of events representatives from Grey Hearth city traveled to Seratov, arriving in the city only days after the provincial representatives reached the outpost. The people of Grey Hearth thanked the people of Seratov for putting an end to the reign of their mortal rivals and, as they put it, breaking a curse caused by the sins of the others. As if that weren’t surprising enough, the Grey Hearth people expressed their desire to join the rest of Atla and establish friendly trade agreements. Within a year from the attack Grey Hearth was officially part of the nation and from that point onward Grey Hearth has remained an isolated, secretive, but friendly province.
The natives of Grey Hearth said that with their enemies gone they could put an end to the isolation the Shaman-priest imposed centuries before. But the change was deeper than that. Provincial representatives who had visited the city prior to the attack on Seratov returned from subsequent visits amazed by the complete change in perspective, ideology, philosophy, and attitude of the people. Where before they were friendly but wary, afterwards the people were among the friendliest in the world and accepted outsiders gladly. The change was so drastic that the few people who had visited the city before and after the attack claimed it was as though the people had been placed under a spell (either before or after).
Today the region is relatively well explored but has many secrets yet to reveal. From new medicinal herbs to unknown animals, Grey Hearth is has much to offer the rest of the nation.