Arania is a small, peaceful kingdom of a thousand or so square miles of arable land, rolling hills and rivers. Nestled between the mountains to the north and the great forests to the south, its remoteness and lack of strategic value (in addition to its silly name) have kept it relatively safe and untroubled by aggressors over the years.
A tourist guide, if such a thing existed, might make no further mention than that, perhaps including Arania only as a footnote to a discussion of the western borders of Skyreholme, its far larger neighbour and the dominant power in the region.
Travellers are mostly happy to leave Arania alone, save for the annual cheese festival which draws culinary pilgrims from far and wide to sample the unique taste of Aranian Purple, a cheese greatly prized for its multiple uses both in the kitchen and in the armoury, where it is used to sharpen swords and axes to a keener edge than any whetstone.
Many years ago, the kingdom was ruled by King Vango the Mad, who, as his name might suggest, had a slightly unorthodox style of
governance. In addition to an enthusiastic pursuit of his Droit De Seigneur, he also had a tendency, when in one of his 'funny moods', to bestow titles on any passing subjects seemingly at random. For this reason, there are few Aranian families who cannot claim at least some connection to the aristocracy.
As the third son of one such family, Antonius Block had no great pressure on him to take a particular path in life. His eldest brother would take on the family title (La Boulangere – Antonius' great-great-great-grandfather once baked King Vango a particularly tasty baguette and was duly rewarded). His other brother had joined the priesthood, as was the tradition. Tradition had nothing to say about the path young Antonius should take however.
Having grown up on tales of great heroes battling evil in far off lands, and with an acutely developed sense of fairness and justice, he decided to travel to the court of the current King Jonas and train to become one of the King's paladins.
Arania is a peaceful country. The occasional skirmish with the kobolds in the mountains or bandits in the forest are adequately handled by the local militia, leaving the King's elite paladins with plenty of free time for the important tasks of shining their armour, marching, and standing around looking shiny.
Antonius' sense of duty prevented him from complaining about this however, and before long he became one of the shiniest paladins in the Kings court, all the while using his trusty block of Aranian Purple to keep his sword sharp for the heroic battles that seemed as far off now as they were in his childhood stories.
Time passed, and after a few years tragedy fell on the Kingdom. A sickly visitor to the cheese festival brought a plague to the land, and before long it had spread to every village in the kingdom. The suffering of the people was terrible, and Antonius was dismayed to see the rich and powerful priesthood rendered impotent as for all their prayers and talismans they could do nothing to halt the ravages of the disease.
Worst of all were the few magicians who had set themselves up in the palace as the King's pets in recent years. Their great promises of magical cures (delivered, of course, at great expense) amounted to nothing but cheap illusions and trickery. They eventually left the land just before the people turned on them, taking with them a great amount of the nation's wealth.
Surrounded by suffering and misery, and unable to resolve this with his belief in decency and good, Antonius' faith was shaken to the core. Unable to tolerate his uselessness in the face of so much horror, he decided to leave the kingdom in search of somethere where he COULD make a difference, and hopefully regain the faith that had once seemed so unassailable.
He loaded up his horse with his weapons, armour and sharpening cheese (useful for both weapon maintenance and rations), and rode south into the great forest.
It had stopped raining in the depths of the forest for the first ime in days, and Dirty Rodger was taking advantage of the brief mprovement in the weather to try to cook the rat stew he'd been looking forward to all day.
He was an ugly, short man, his face looking less like that of a human and more like a site of a battle between an army of warts and an army of boils, neither side seemingly able to gain the upper hand.
Perched on a slimy log nearby, sharpening a long, dangerous looking knife with a piece of muddy cheese, sat his associate, Filthy John.
They were dangerous men, made even more dangerous by hunger. The usual trickle of travellers to Arania that they preyed on had dried up completely, and the villages on the forest's edge had nothing worth stealing any more since the plague had taken hold. This rat stew would be their first food for days and John was greedily eyeing the pot as Roger tended it.
They both heard the faint noise from the nearby trail at the same time. Roger quickly doused the fire under the pot and they crept stealthily to hide in the undergrowth at the edge of the path.
After a few moments a man on a horse came into view. Somewhat impractically he was wearing a full set of plate armour and carrying an expensive-looking sword and shield. John glanced at Rodger and in that brief moment could tell that they were both thinking the same thing.
The fight was over quickly. Taken by surprise and dragged from his horse, Antonius was stuck in the mud in his heavy armour and knocked unconscious with a rock to the head. When he awoke he found that everything was gone, save the light shirt and trousers he was wearing under his armour.
Through a superhuman effort of will, he managed to stumble, half dead from starvation and exposure, to a village at the edge of the forest near the border with Skyreholme, his youthful naivete now dead and gone for good.
Since then he has managed to resume his quest, but the intervening years have been a harsh education in reality. His faith is almost
gone – although he sometimes manages to summon up the powers he once had as a paladin more often than not he struggles to find the faith and mental clarity needed to wield them.
He has not forgotten the weakness of the priests and betrayal of the magicians and views both groups with barely disguised contempt.