Setting » Arden
For those who live in Amber, Arden is the borderland. It is the forest which surrounds Amber, far enough away to be spoken of but rarely seen. Traders come and go from there, but they are generally a bit less refined than the folks who walk Amber's streets or sail her seas - they are welcome to come, but equally welcome to return to their hovels.
For those who live in Arden, things are quite reversed. Amber is a place of great beauty and importance, but on the map of Arden, it is only a speck, one among a thousand beauties and marvels of the forest. For those who live in Amber, the sheer scope of Arden is almost impossible to comprehend. Perhaps the Rebmans, who are said to comprehend all the oceans of all the worlds have a grasp of something of similar size, but even that may fall short. Arden is all forests, and should one choose to ride in the right directions, it is infinite and eternal.
(A map of the game's Arden rooms can be found on the page of Amber maps.)
For those who make the distinction, near Arden is that part of Arden near Amber, generally that within sight of the mountains that ring the Amber countryside. It is an old hardwood forest to the east, softwoods to the west, and it is dotted with small signs of civilization - hunting lodges, logging camps and small villages, all of which consider themselves within the domain of Amber. This is a vast and broad area, fully half again the size of Amber proper, and this is the formal domain of the Warden of Arden and his Rangers.
Most who live here are aware of the extent of things outside their borders - The deeper forest is a place of mystery and magic, and the golden city of Amber is a place where gods walk the streets. But for them, this is a zone of safety between those two extremes. The diligence of the wardens and the rangers keeps away most menaces, both physical and magical, and while there are still spirits and creatures to deal with, Gods and other beings of power can follow the Ranger's rules, return to the deep woods, or be made an unpleasant example of.
The noble houses of Amber all have holdings within Near Arden, and they are granted respect within their domains, but the simple truth is that within the woods, the Warden's word is law, countermandable only by the king. Everyone involved recognizes the reality of the situation, and in general steps get taken to keep it from ever becoming an issue.
There are a few places of note within Arden proper:
Westgate is a walled keep to the west of Amber, among the rolling pine hills that slope away from the mountains of Amber. This is the center of one of the most civilized areas of Arden, the nexus of a number of lumber camps and home of a year-round open-air market. There was once a comparable keep to the east, Eastgate, but the path of the Black Road passed over it, and it has been lost.
The Hanging Tree is something of a legend, and rumor puts it some place to the northwest of Amber, but its location is known only to the Warden and the Rangers. A lone tree atop a small hill, this is where the Warden's Justice is meted out, and it is said that it is still haunted by the spirits of Rangers who failed in their duties, and paid the ultimate price.
Immeraus is a keep that seems to have literally been carved out of the northernmost mountain on the border of Arden. It's location has virtually no strategic value (save for one of the most spectacular views in all of Amber), but for all that the fortress is virtually invincible. A handful of men could hold it against a vastly larger force almost indefinitely. This keep is the traditional seat of the Warden of Arden.
As one pushes deeper into the forest, things get stranger. The best explanation for this is that the shadows are thin in Arden, and it is not hard to end up passing between shadows as you travel. There are many things to be found within the forests. Sometimes they are great things to discover - cities, towns, entire empires can be found in deep Arden. Unfortunately, they are more often old gods, unhappy monsters or dark magics (or science - the limits of Amber do not apply within Deep Arden). These need to be negotiated will, killed or avoided as necessary, and the rangers keep a great book of all they have found in Arden. It's a map, though not a particularly linear one, of all that has been found and what has become of it, and it is one of the Ranger's greatest treasures.
Some rangers patrol this deep, and the Warden has classically hunted it with impunity.
The position of Warden would be the most powerful in Amber if it were in Amber, but the fact that it is not makes it somewhat double edged. Within his domain, the Warden's word is law, and short of the throne recalling him, there is little to be done about that. The resources available to the Warden are also quite vast - the wealth of Arden and the expertise of the Rangers are both substantial assets. However, these assets are difficult to leverage - the Rangers must patrol a substantial amount of territory, and there are always matters in Arden to keep them occupied. Some have observed that the position of Warden is a trap for the ambitious - from the outside it seems to offer everything that one might need to further your position, but once the mantle is donned, it becomes clear that the firm foundation is shifting Sand.
For all that, the Warden is still a powerful man, not least of all because the Warden's Justice is not always the king's Justice, and there have been times aplenty when those who think they've escaped justice because the king could not act have found themselves discovering the location of the hangman's tree.
The Warden also has power deeper into Arden, for his title inspires fear and respect in beings who are older than the trees themselves. He may hunt where he will, and none may gainsay him, and it is rumored that the mantles carries other blessings as well.
Eric held the position of Warden of Arden for many centuries, and it was in that role that he brought Weirmonken to heel. It was only Oberon's absence that allowed him to return to Amber and pursue his ambitions, and his granting the title to Julian was too great an honor to refuse, despite the problems associated with the position. It is whispered by some that Eric granted the position to Julian because he was confident that Julian could not do it as well as he had.
The rangers are a highly skilled group of soldiers, well trained in matters of woodcraft and skirmishing, but also well suited to their role as police. While they move in small units for war, the day to day reality is that peace is usually kept by individual rangers who travel the forest from town to town, resolving problems, settling disputes and keeping a sharp eye out. As a result, Rangers need to be tough, smart and resourceful, or they don't last long.
While the rangers have a command hierarchy which is reasonably transparent, they rarely speak of the Ranger Captains, who may have other formal duties, but for all practical purposes, serve the Warden directly. The ranger captains are those rangers with the knowledge or skill to travel into deep arden to find what can be found and return safely with their reports. The ranger captains generally need to be even tougher and smarter than their counterparts, as the deep woods are a dangerous place. They also need to be trustworthy enough to speak for the Warden should the need arise. It is said that more than one Dragon Treaty has been pledged by a Ranger Captain who went far from his path. While it is not public knowledge in Amber, Ranger Captains are trained in a wide variety of weapons, including firearms, since they are much more reliable in Deep Arden, and a gun is a mighty thing with which to kill a god.