Great Hazel Woods
The Great Hazel Woods is an area of impenetrably dense forest located in the southwestern region of Yellow Island. It is located within the duchy of Hazelwood, in the Kingdom of Ziegeland, which is part of Flaventia now. The woods are the homeland of the Hazel people, a race of tree-druids that famously included Emperor Naian Moonoak, Emperor Zakyyr Angus-Moonoak and Flaventian Senator Eiiard Darkroot. The soil of the Hazel Woods imbues certain Trees there with supernatural magick. When a Hazel dies, they are Planted face down in the ground with a seed in their mouth. The soil, somehow, causes the seed to sprout and grow to a sapling quickly, within a day, and goes through the skull and brain of the recently deceased. This new stage of a Hazel's life is when they become a Tree Spirit. Tree Spirits are able to communicate with each other and with certain living druids and priests that become attuned to Treespeak.
The Hazel soil also allows for the ritual practice of hazkisi magick, it is always pleasantly warm, even in the deep of winter.
The Hazel people lived in the Woods for generations before Nett Opaegh founded Natopia City in 1471. They were protected by the dense forest for years while Nett Opaegh conquered and claimed the rest of Yellow Island between the 1470s and 1480s. In the early 1490s, Natopian colonists sailed through the Newport Strait and found a small Hazel fishing village at extreme southern end of Yellow Island. The natives called it Sidewinder. The Hazel fled back into the Woods and Sidewinder was converted into a modern port, and named Hazelwood City. With the Natopians encroaching from the east, and now the west, the Hazel people agreed to peacefully join the young Natopian Republic. As a reward for joining peacefully, prominent Hazels were invited to join the early government run by Nett Opaegh, most notably was famous Frenzyperson, Rian Grass, who served as Regional Chancellor and Senator of Hazelwood for many years. He coined the term Legislative Frenzy.
The Sacred Glade was an area of the Great Woods that had less ground cover, but was bathed in perpetual twilight from tree coverage. Most Hazel lived here and it housed many important structures, such as the Monastery of the Jaiesican Order, built in 1557. The Great Mother Tree was planted here as well as several prominent Hazels when they became Tree Spirits.
The Great Fire
In 1622, after a severe drought, the entire Hazel Woods burned. The Hazel people were evacuated to nearby cities Hazelwood City and Oakham. The Tree Spirits were lost. In a few years, new growth replaced the Great Hazel Woods, and it was known as the Hazelfire Forest until the 1680s.
Before the Great Fire, Naian Moonoak retrieved a Seed from the Jaiesican Monastery. The Seed held the spirit of his mother, Guinevere. Guinevere had died during Naian's birth in Oakham, and a delay in transporting her body to the Sacred Glade prevent her from being Planted to experience second life as a Tree Spirit. Instead, her body was transformed by the other Tree Spirits (who can see past and future) into a vessel, a Seed that contained the collective memory of the Trees and the Hazel people. The Trees knew the Fire was coming and not much could be done, so they preserved their memories in Guinevere. Naian took the Seed and planted it on Tarsica in a bio-dome constructed next to New Lindstrom Base. The Seed sprouted, Guinevere became the new Great Mother Tree, and the Moonoak Thicket preserved the legacy of the Great Hazel Woods safely on Tarsica while the Hazelfire Forest continued to heal and grow back on Micras.
In 1663, after years of work between Clara Sundara and Cledwyn Starshade, had accomplished a seemingly impossible task. Using Cledwyn's skill as a hazkisi practitioner, and Clara's unique genealogy as the great-granddaughter of Guinevere the Great Mother Tree, and Nathan the Once-Living God, they worked together to replant Trees, and to transfer some of the Tree Spirits from Tarsica back down to Micras. The Replanting also allowed Clara's brother, Nathan II to undergo a hazkisi strengthening ritual. He was buried up to his neck for two weeks, during which he was able to commune with his mother Asara, his grandfather Naian, and his great-grandmother Guinevere. This marked a turning point in Nathan's life as up until that point he was sickly and weak-willed, subject to bouts of frailty, depression, and disappearing from public life for months and years. These psychological problems likely came from his first eight years living in Stormark and being abducted and missing for almost two years only a year after returning to Natopia when he was 9.
From about 1665 to 1690, the Great Hazel Woods experienced a surge in population as Hazel families returned to the forest and started families. Large families with two or more children were rare in Hazel culture due to the forest environment necessitating smaller domiciles and families. Clara and Cledwyn's four children set a trend of Hazel families having larger families. Clara and Cledwyn promoted this new trend as a way to re-populate the forest and increase the prominence of the Hazel people in Flaventia.
The Starshade Family
With Clara's return to the Hazel Woods, the Starshade family has indicated that rebuilding Hazel culture is a top priority. Basic hazkisi rituals are to be taught as part of primary school education throughout the duchy. With changes to the dynastic laws of succession in Flaventia the duchy of Hazelwood no longer passes from Faronic heir to heir, and now the duchy of Hazelwood will remain with the Starshades for generations, allowing for long term development of the Woods, such that, maybe some day the Great Hazel Woods will again stretch as far west as Oakham, as far north as Flaventia City, and as far east as Hazelwood City.
Coinciding with the baby boom of the 70s and 80s, the Woods themselves physically expanded to a "Green Wall" between Le May and Cape Newport to the east and the Macon River to the west. The ducal heir, Carl Starshade, recently graduated from the Jaiesican Seminary and Secular School in Hazelwood City with degrees in Hazkisicraft and non-profit administration. He has gone to work with his father, Cledwyn, who manages a group of druids that actively plant new Tree Spirits to strategically grow new villages for the exploding Hazel population. Carl will inherit the ducal title from his mother and is expected to be appointed as the hazkisi Arch-Druid, which will unify the secular and religious administration of Hazelwood for the first time.
In 1698, Carl along with consultation from his cousin, Nathan III, duke of Lochhatonia, began a project to spread the Great Hazel Woods to Anmutstadt, with the eventual goal of connecting the two forests into a single, unified, living monument to one of Flaventia's most unique cultures. The expanded Woods would create an ecologically significant barrier between the northern high plains of Tas Neemia and the southern lowlands of Ziegeland. As the Woods spread, more Tree Spirits would be planted, which would in turn imbue the soils with hazkisi magick. As more hazkisi-imbued soil spreads, the practice of hazkisi could be taught to young Flaventians anywhere, not just Hazelwood. Nathan III was motivated to help spread the Woods beyond their current borders after he heard how beneficial hazkisi magick was for his father. As the future ruler of Flaventia (and Natopia), Nathan III saw great potential in expanding access to magical strengthening rituals to more citizens.
Flora and Fauna
As a dense, subtropical, forest, the Great Hazel Woods has a high degree of biodiversity. The most notable species of trees in the forest are Moon oak, Rough sycamore, Flaming dogwood, and Dark pine. When a Spirit inhabits a tree, it generates warmth from its bark and upwards from its roots through the soil. Tree Spirits can be recognized in the mornings by the ring of mist around their trunks as the morning dew evaporates from the warm soil. Each Hazel family clan is associated with a particular tree species.
Among the most notable species is the Aurora eagle, which appears on the coat of the arms of the duchy of Hazelwood. The eagles make their nests in the sturdy branches of the tallest Tree Spirits.