Lord Vhennyk and his mysterious Iron Circle mercenaries came to the Nentir Vale from the southern city of Sarthel roughly two months before the party arrived. Their mission: Bring the Nentir Vale to heel. Vhennyk decided that overt operations would start in the relatively isolated Barony of Harkenwold, a collection of hamlets scattered over fifty miles of the upper White River valley. He tasked his subordinate, a brigand captain named Nazin Redthorn, with seizing the region, then hurried on to implement his other plans in the Vale.
About six weeks before the party’s arrival, Nazin led a large band of Iron Circle mercenaries into Harkenwold in a surprise attack. The brigands stormed Harken Keep and took Baron Stockmer captive. Iron Circle sweeps and raids soon quelled any show of resistance, leaving Harkenwold a conquered land.
The new bandit “authorities” began pillaging Harkenwold through “tolls” and confiscations, harshly punishing anyone who resisted. Nazin began further strengthening his hold by negotiating with other malignant forces. In particular, he used some of the loot he plundered from Harkenwold’s suffering populace to buy the friendship of a group of bullywugs.