When Ravens Sing
Stromdorf is a small market town in the southern part of the Reikland, about one hundred and fifty miles from Altdorf as the raven flies. It is located near the confluence of three rivers, the Ober, Tranig, and Teufel, each flowing from the distant Grey Mountains into the shadows of the nearby Reikwald Forest. The area of marshy lowland and stony hills south of this confluence is known as the Fleuchtschussel, a wet land infamous and avoided as the stormiest place in Reikland; even in midsummer, grey clouds smother the sun in a sky angry with rain and lightning.
The town’s population numbers fewer than seven hundred people. Neighbouring folk are puzzled that the entire population has not moved on to less damp climes before now, but there has been a settlement here before even Sigmar’s time, and the people of Stromdorf have a profound sense of history and are proud of their town. They regard it as a mark of their tenacity that they survive in such an intemperate climate; however, other Reiklanders mock this outlook as proof of the townsfolks’ inbred imbecility.
Stromdorf’s inclement weather ensures few travellers tarry in the town, and hardly anyone settles there from elsewhere unless they have to. Thus, Stromdorf remains a backwater; it is an impoverished place when compared to the thriving settlements in the rest of the Reikland. It is no surprise that, like the sky that thunders above their heads, Stromdorfers are a stormy lot, quick to anger and difficult to placate. They complain bitterly about the smallest grievance, finding fault in everything except, oddly, the weather, which they habitually shrug off with heroic stoicism: “Come now, it’s only a bit of rain!”
The River Teufel is Stromdorf’s lifeline to the Ubersreik in the west and the Reik to the north, yet the town fails to capitalise on the river traffic that bypasses it. Travellers prefer to hurry past, eager to escape the drenching rain. It doesn’t help that Stromdorf does not produce many goods to trade. Its low-lying farms eke out subsistent crops from the sodden fields, and the wool and meat from the hardy sheep pastured in the hills is of poor quality. Just enough produce is generated each month to keep the town from starving. Stromdorf used to rely heavily on its upland flocks for revenue, but a hundred years ago, goblin tribes drove most farmers from the hills.
However, the marshy climate and muddy waters of the rivers are an ideal breeding ground for the Reik eel, a large, voracious snakelike fish with razor sharp teeth. Its sleek body is muscular, and the flesh is flavourful. Many Stromdorfers fish for the eels, dredging the river with large nets. The eels are skinned, smoked, and barrelled, comprising one of the few regular exports of the town.
Burgomeister Phillip Adler has been the administrative head of Stromdorf for nearly a decade. Adler was appointed to the position by the von Jungfreuds, the prominent aristocrats in the region, hoping new blood would invigorate Stromdorf’s negligible economy.
Phillip Adler is a self-made man, who made a fortune in the textile business in his native Ubersreik, and married a distant relative of the von Jungfreud noble family. From the start, the town council, a collection of older, gruff white beards, disapproved of an outsider managing their affairs – by tradition the burgomeister had always been one of their own.
Initially Adler proved popular, encouraging trade between Stromdorf and other parts of the Reikland. At the beginning of his tenure, revenue increased, but so did the taxes, now that the von Jungfreuds had their own man in charge. However, Adler has become reclusive in recent months. He has shut himself away, barred visitors to the town hall, and has even dismissed his servants, living there alone. He conducts his affairs from behind closed doors, using the watch captain, Arno Kessler, as his intermediary. Kessler is a man of war, lacking the verbal finesse needed for politics, and his brusque manner has angered some of the locals he has to deal with. Recent events have made Adler unpopular – a few folk openly call for his replacement, arguing that his behavior is hurting business.
According to local gossip, Adler is in mourning for his wife, Else, who died shortly after he became burgomiester. Further enquiry reveals that this happened two years ago, long before he decided to shut himself away.
A Brief Resurgence
Stromdorf experienced a brief renaissance during the first few years of Burgomeister Adler’s tenure, as he used his influence with Ubersreik’s Mercer’s Guild to encourage more trade between the two towns. However, since Adler’s “retirement” from public view, most outside merchants have lost interest in these ventures. It seems the only remaining profitable enterprise for distant traders and merchants is the import of dry timber and coal for fuel to Stromdorf, commodities which the sodden climate ensures are scarce in this locality.
Despite the challenges faced, the local tannery is an example of one business that continues to thrive. The tannery is operated by Marcel Gerber, Stromdorf’s wealthiest burgher after Adler. Tanning is a filthy industry, and in many towns, tanneries are relegated to the outskirts. Not so in Stromdorf, whose people are eager for any employment, however noisome. The constant rain helps mitigate some of the stink produced by tanning procedures, but a foul aroma subtly pervades the town.
The town’s one true luxury export, and the one thing it is known for apart from its wet weather, is its Thunderwater Ale, brewed by the Brenner family for generations, and sold to connoisseurs Empire-wide. Even dwarfs from nearby Karak Azgaraz have been known to make the pilgrimage to Stromdorf to tap a keg of the stuff, a potent brew with a distinctive peaty aftertaste.