Other settled Shambles have groves on their backs amongst the cities; Gaena has a small city on her back amidst the forests. From afar, one might mistake Gaena as a forested hill, but up close, she is a solid wooden golem teeming with the life aboard her. Waterfalls dot her sides from the numerous rivers and streams that run about her. Across her 3 mile back, rest many different forests and many complete ecosystems, all monitored, nurtured, and tended by the Elders.
The magic of Gaena strengthens wood and makes trees hardier. The trees atop Gaena have a deep, tangled network of roots that hold soil in place and allow for burrowing animals and insects to be vibrant parts of their ecosystems. The wood harvested from these trees is known throughout Vernlarum as the best wood for any project, and wooden weapons that stay on Gaena long enough take on some magical properties.
The people who live atop Gaena all consider themselves a part of the harmony and ecosystem. They are pleasant to visitors, and will do their best to be hospitable. But many leave after a short stay—many dislike having to be mindful of their every impact upon the life around them. Others leave because they'd like to eat without hunting for the food themselves.
Gaena has the largest population of Mourning elves in Vernlarum. They hope to find some semblance of the forests they've lists here. Many do, though they rarely venture near the edge, where the can view the desolate Wastes below.
The air around Gaena hums with her peace, harmony, and tranquility. Those who walk aboard her feel in harmony with every other living thing, though this plays out in ways visitors don't expect. The roar of beasts, the death cries of prey, and the wail of elves grieving a newborn are all a part of the harmony on Gaena—not disruptions to it. Gaena is nurturing to life, but this necessitates an acceptance of death. The life of the wolf depends upon the death of the cow, the life of the cow depends on the death of the grass, which itself depends upon the death of the wolf.
Gaena is as likely to stop in an area experiencing good weather as she is when an area is filled with storms. The Gaenans who live atop her trust her implicitly, and when she stops in a storm, they trust it is time for rain.
The Wastes around Gaena have turned into gentle grassy plains, but whenever she encounters a copse of trees, she trample it underfoot. This perplexes visitors, but Gaenans trust Gaena to know what is best.
City of Gaena
The Elders are a ruling council of Gaena comprised of elder druids. The Elders only meet when there is a concern that affects all of Gaena. Each druid watches over an area of land, and has autonomy with his area, though he is still bound by the decisions of the Elders as a whole.
The justice of the Elders tends to be about restoring balance. A farmer who cut down a tree beyond his purview might have to replant a number of others and tend them until they have replaced the harvested tree. One who needlessly kills a wolf, might be given her cub to raise but not domesticate. Seemingly simple sounding punishments can become much more than the punished expected, depending on the severity of the crime. Teaching a wolf pup to be a wolf is a difficult, and dangerous, undertaking.
One faction of Elders calls itself the Caretakers. The Caretakers see people and their actions as a part of the harmony of life aboard Gaena. The Caretakers believe a farmer building a house with wood from nearby trees and tending a small plot of land as no different than ants building a hill from nearby dirt and raising aphids. To Caretakers harmony is about balance, sustainability, and appropriateness. A farmer who grows enough food for five families is using too much land, and should give it to others to work or let it lie fallow to be reclaimed by the forest.
Another faction of Elders, the Guardians, see it as their place to protect nature from civilization. They view the Caretakers' view as overly simplistic, and they view civilization as a sickness and destructive force utterly opposed to harmony and balance. A man growing vegetables may be well and good, but if he used a metal rake, someone must have forged it, and someone must have raided the earth for ore. The Guardians wish to see Gaena and, eventually, Vernlarum returned to a more basic and, to them, holy natural state. The Guardians are a small group, but they have been growing in popularity and strength as of late.
Deln is the half-orc leader of the Caretakers. He has held the position for a number of years. He does not see the Guardians' view as valid, and assumes others will see the myriad problems imposed by their 'solutions to civilization'. Deln is dismissive of the Guardians, which has not endeared him to them. And he refuses to rebut them publicly, because he thinks talking about their views would lend them credence. Instead, his silence has become a sign of his tacit agreement with some of the things the Guardians believe, and more people are joining their cause. They have even become emboldened enough to start acting out against some of the farmers and non-druids who live on Gaena.
People from elsewhere in Vernlarum refer to the "City of Gaena". Those who visit Gaena are disabused of that term. A handful of small villages dot Gaena's back. Gaenans have no wish to turn their Shamble into a city; for them she is a sanctuary for natural life and abundance. They seek to live in harmony with the life aboard her, and they see the cities on other Shambles as wasteful, obnoxious, or sad.
There are farms on Gaena, though cultivating land is a source of tension between different factions of the Elders. For now, a few acres have been set aside for people to tend and supplement the food the forests provide. The Elders take care to limit a farmer to the amount of land that can feed his family. The farmers mostly accept this, as they, too, have a reverence for the bountiful nature on Gaena.
The numerous rivers on Gaena all flow down her back and off her sides. They create waterfalls as they flow out to the ground below. Beside many of these waterfalls are old, rusty gear works to raise and lower visitors.
Visitors, other than Acolytes, are fairly rare to Gaena, and few Gaenans feel a need to leave. Because of the infrequency of travel to and from Gaena, Port Falls might feel abandoned. That feeling is intentional, and misleading.
The Duennas are female warriors who excel at woodlands stealth and archery. They view it as their sacred duty to protect Gaena and the forests atop her from interlopers. Many a group of raiders from the Wastes has climbed aboard Gaena to be riddled with arrows from unknown assailants. The raiders almost always die or flee before they see their first Duenna.
Serd is a male half-elven ranger who believes the job of watching over Gaena is not only for females. He has assembled a small band known as the Brothers. The Brothers also patrol Port Falls, and the Duennas resent their interference in their duties. The Duennas and Brothers have both appealed to the Elders to intervene, but so far the Elders have seen no reason to. The Duennas' ridicule of the Brothers is causing Serd to push his men harder and harder. Some people are starting to worry the Brothers will become a danger to the Duenna if the Elders don't intervene soon in some way.
In the center of Gaena, there are a series of pools large enough to be considered lakes. These pools are fed from a magic from the beginning of the age, and the Elders refuse to allow any magic user to study them. The pools are refreshed at a constant rate, and flow outward into the many streams and rivers along Gaena's back. In the rivers, visitors are often amazed to find turtles, fish, and other water life.
Another piece of magic from the beginning of the age teleports smaller lifeforms from the edge of the Falls back to the Pools. This may be a bit disconcerting for the fish, but they seem to have adapted. The teleportation doesn't work on life beyond large fish or turtles. Instead of being teleported, larger creatures are kept from falling off by a magic barrier. One can still drown held in place by the river, but most creatures are able to pull themselves free.
Kal is a widely regarded fisherman who wanders along the rivers and streams of Gaena. He is able to forage and fish for plenty to eat, he carved his own fishing rod from a fallen limb, and he claims he needs little else. People who see him are greeted with a smile and pleasant small talk. Those who know Kal wonder at his positive attitude.
A year ago, his son fell into a river while Kal was teaching him to fish. His son was just small enough to trigger the teleportation magic of the Falls and instead of being saved, was dropped into the Pools to drown. His body was recovered and put to rest, with many of the people of Gaena saddened at the tragedy.
What Kal has told no one is that his son's ghost torments him with a constant, relentless screaming and howling. Kal is afraid that if he tells people about his son's ghost, they will think he is crazy and not let him stay on Gaena. However, he's becoming increasingly unable to ignore the screaming. And just recently has begun to fear another thought—what if his son is trying to warn him about something?
On the left side of Gaena, near Port Falls, is the main inn on the Shamble. Visitors are usually directed her regardless of where they board, and some can't believe they have to cross 3 miles of forest to reach the place. The Hostel has a bare dirt floor, and boughs are brought in fresh for bedding. Many expect an uncomfortable night's rest, but the boughs are surprisingly soft.
The inn is run by Seroon'a, a Mourning elf who runs a clean inn and is welcoming to those who come to visit. Seroon'a will entertain guests with songs of her people that have been handed down through the ages. Her songs are beautiful and sad. Though she knows enough to sing songs of hope before her guests bed down for the night. Because of the strictures laid down by the Elders, Seroon'a provides very little food, but for a small fee, she will help those who need it with hunting for their supper. She has a number of good hare runs near her that are fairly reliable. She's a good instructor, and even the most incompetent hunters who stay at the Hostel rarely go more than a day without food.
Seroon'a's son, Del'pol, helps with the gathering of boughs and teaching people to hunt, though he longs to be doing something else. The Brothers have caught his attention. His friends who are now Brothers tell him stories of raiders they've fought, and he wishes to join them. Seroon'a is more of a traditionalist, and sees the Brothers as impinging on the Duennas' responsibility. She hasn't strictly forbidden Del'pol from joining, but she is working him hard in an attempt to fill his days too much to practice the bow or the sword. Del'pol is likely to approach any adventurers he sees seeking instruction. He has a ring his now dead father gave him that he is willing to offer in trade, though he doesn't wish to lose the ring, as he believes it has magical properties.
Shrine of the Acolytes
Deep in the forests to the aft of Gaena, there is a small shrine to the Arks. The Elders agreed to allow the shrine to be built and managed by the Acolytes of the Arks, as long as it stayed small and the Acolytes who tended it followed the rules the Elders set.
Many Acolytes have a deep love for Gaena, and see the forests on her back as a part of the promise of the Arks. Every Acolyte makes a pilgrimage to Bratta, their home ark, but most also come to Gaena to pay their respects.
The Acolytes believe Gaena is important, because her existence allowed many of the creatures of Vernlarum to survive. She is the Ark who carries the hope of the return of vast stretches of forest and teeming jungles of animals, and they revere her all the more for it.
The druids of Gaena are sympathetic to the Acolytes, and a goodly number are believers. Those who believe the Shambles are not their saviors, still appreciate the respect the Acolytes pay to Gaena, and appreciate their reverence for her.
Rakth is the human Acolyte in charge of the Shrine. He is a small, older man who enjoys meditating and listening to Gaena and the harmony about her. He is concerned about the Guardians and their beliefs, because he, rightly, believes there is no room for him or the Acolytes in the Guardians' world view. He has spoken a number of times to Deln, but the leader of the Caretakers doesn't seem to understand the threat the Guardians present. Rakth is looking for others to help persuade Deln.
Rakth is also trouble by another matter. A series of deaths, seemingly accidental, has begun to plague the forests within a mile or so of the Shrine. He has summoned with Gaena, and he believes one of his other Acolytes is the culprit. He can't believe that, and is fooling himself that he misunderstood Gaena or that the Acolyte will stop. Still, the murders continue, and Rakth is beginning to think outside aid might be necessary.
The Elders do their best to stay out of all of the political situations in Vernlarum. They have no wish to invite further trouble on themselves. Still, the Elders see Thonk and Andath with some fondness, as they are both more elemental Shambles. They find Mandith detestable and an abomination—a refutation of the life cycle.
Nesad has recently arrived from Mandith as a diplomat, and spy. He was formally received by the Elders, but has since been completely ignored. The Elders hope that by doing this, the diplomat will simply leave. Duennas keep a constant watch over him, fearing he is up to some "evil necromancer" plot. Of course, they are partly right.
Nesad is a warlock who was sent here to spy on Gaena's defenses. And, while he has been doing the job dutifully, he has started to question if Mandith should go to war with Gaena or any other city. He is learning to enjoy the simple pleasures of hunting and fishing, and wonders what would become of the forests if the Suzerain had his way. His reports are beginning to reflect his belief that Gaena is an unsuitable Shamble for Mandites.
His one problem is a series of illness have arisen in the few Gaenans he has interacted with. No one has died yet, but the illness is troubling. Some are calling for his forceable removal, and he is trying to understand the cause.
The Elders are some of the most well-educated non-wizards in Vernlarum about magic. The Elders tolerate magic, and magic-users, to the extent that they tolerate anything or anyone. They do, however, believe wizards, with their attempts to analyze, intellectualize, and understand magic are baffling and laughable. To druids, magic is to be felt, not understood; to be heard, not read. Because of their feelings about magic-users, wizards receive a welcome they are not expecting—acceptance tinged with disdain. Wizards are not accustomed to people looking down on them. Sorcerers, and others with an innate talent for magic, are seen as "proper magic-users" with a gift the druids may not understand but see as similar to their own.