Erik Stark was the first Chieftain of Andermark, the man who unwittingly united the nation, and founded the ruling line of the Starks. Originally a humble woodsman, he was elevated to the centre of tribal politics when news spread of his stunning victory over the hated Woodsie Lord, which inspired the scattered people to rise up against the Fringe-warped creatures who kept them scared and hidden in their villages. Reluctantly aiding the gathered armies until he led the forces at the famed Battle of Woden Wood, where the Fringe were driven back into the darkest depths of the forest. From there he was declared the Chieftain of all of Andermark, and began the arduous task of building a nation.
Erik was the best huntsman in his village. His father had been a skilled woodsman, and knew the forests around better than any other man. He knew where it was safe to hunt, where it was not; knew how to read the signs to flee an area as soon as possible and, above all when dealing with the Fringe, he was lucky. This knowledge and this luck he passed on to his son, who continued the dangerous work of bringing vital supplies and resources from the forest, despite the dangers out there.
As a youth he fell wildly in love with Rosalie, the local carpenter's daughter, reputed to be the prettiest girl in the village. Awkward at best, Erik knew not how to approach her, and assumed her interest would lie in men stronger than he, with less wildly unpredictably dangerous professions. It was only when he won the archery contest at a village fair that he caught her eye, and when the two danced long into the evening, their entwined fate was sealed.
Her family opposed the match greatly. The Starks were a dangerous lot at best, often bringing down trouble as they earned the ire of the creatures of the woodlands. However integral their work was, most treated them as necessary but did not extend them warmth if they could avoid it. And even despite this distrust, they did not want to see their daughter marry a man who could die any day, and leave her a young widow.
But the two were young, and impetuous. Despite her family's disapproval the two engaged in a secret tryst, meeting up whenever they could away from prying eyes. Erik used his knowledge of the immediate woodlands to find them places where they could be together in secret, and for months this was enough for the two. They had only just began to wonder what would happen next - if they would defy her family, if they would leave - when disaster struck.
The Woodsie Lord
One summer's eve, when Erik went to meet his love in the hollow of a huge tree he had found days before, instead of her he found nothing but the ripped and bloodied sleeve of her dress. A man as accustomed to the Fringe-warped depths of Anderian forests was in no doubt as to what had happened: she had been captured and taken away. That there was no body was no kindness; many people simply disappeared, never to be seen again, and evidence had been found of human sacrifices conducted by the creatures of the woods.
Rosalie's family were beside themselves, and blamed Erik. Even as they tried to drive him from the village, he left of his own accord, swearing that he would return with their daughter or not at all. With little other than his bow, his hatchet, and some meagre supplies, he set off into the woods that he knew better than any other man - and he knew the evil that lay within them.
His quest lasted for days. On the second night he was forced to hide from a marauding group of Farrowed, hiding under a pile of leaves to escape their mad charge through the woodlands in search of him. Two days later he stumbled into a Skaven's trap, and was surrounded by the small creatures, which were dead-set on eating him. Erik learnt early that these creatures were more scared than they were hungry, and managed to enquire of them what it was that had creatures of these forests worried.
The answer was that they were subjects of an even greater monstrosity, a figure they just called the Woodsie Lord. From what they told him, Erik guessed it was he who had taken Rosalie. To avoid being eaten by the Skaven, he managed to persuade them that he himself was a gift to the Woodsie Lord, and that not only should they spare him, but they should tell him where it could be found.
The Woodsie Lord stood in the heart of the forest, in a twisted enclave of thorns and overgrown trees and jagged rocks. Rosalie lived still, subject to some strange ritual where her life-force poured into the woods around, but still hanging on to life yet. The Woodsie Lord was a terrible creature to behold, a melding of tree and man and beast, and was utterly implacable before Erik's cajoling or threatening. All it saw in Erik was another sacrifice to the dark gods of the war.
The two fought, Woodsie bearing the whole magic of the forest around, Erik with naught but his hatchet. Only his speed and his wits kept him alive, hacking away at Woodsie, but the creature seemed to shrug off all injury or ailment. Even when he hacked off an arm of Woodsie the creature did not falter, knocking Erik to one side and snapping the haft of his hatchet. Erik was left unarmed, defenceless, with the Woodsie Lord stood between himself and his beloved Rosalie.
Erik charged blindly, expecting to die, and in desperation he snatched up the nearest makeshift weapon he could find: Woodsie's own arm. With fingers more like elongated claws it was a passable weapon, and he delivered a slashing blow across the creature's chest. This did leave more of an impact than his hatchet had and, with an inhuman roar of pain, the Woodsie Lord shrieked and fled from the grove, further into the woodlands.
The Reluctant General
Erik returned with Rosalie to their village, and so relieved and happy were her family to see her that they could not bring themselves to stand between the couple any more. They were wed just before the harvest, and began to settle for a happy life. Erik remained as a woodsman, but it seemed as if even the forests themselves were lighter, less dangerous, less fierce, and the village entered a new period of prosperity even as Erik's life became, he thought, prepared to settle into happiness.
But unknown to Erik and Rosalie, word would spread of his victory over the Woodsie Lord, the tale too good to not become a matter for the bards. And theirs was not the only village to enjoy greater freedoms from the Fringe; across Andermark, it seemed a blow against Woodsie had been a blow against all those beings that made the forests theirs. Before long tribal leaders and war band generals who had fought long and hard against the Fringe learnt of the man who had in a matter of days achieved more than they had in years, and they came to find Erik.
They intended, they told him, to hunt down the Woodsie Lord and other creatures like him, for if the Fringe drew its strength from such monsters, then such monsters would die. Erik was deeply reluctant, for by now he had everything he had wanted - Rosalie, a son, another child on the way. He even offered them the arm of the Woodsie Lord, which he had kept on his mantelpiece, for them to use, since it had been of such help to him. But they insisted and, ultimately, the notion of a freer Andermark was too inspiring.
At first Erik humbly turned down offers of influence and power amongst the roving warband, made up of people from all the different villages and tribes of Andermark. He knew nothing of leading men, he said, and the best thing he could do would be find the Woodsie Lord. But as the search continued, it slowly grew. Few people knew woodlands like Erik, and so he found himself training up new scouts, training men in how to best fight or avoid the Fringe, and before he knew it he was a general in his own right.
For five years they waged war on the Fringe, killed lesser lieutenants of Woodsie, and hunted the Woodsie Lord himself across Andermark. More and more men flocked to the banner, and it was Erik's banner they joined, the banner of the man who had struck the first blow against the darkness of the woods, not any of the chieftains who arguably did more for Anderian unification. Even they, however, were entranced with the legend of Erik Stark, for nobody had seen as much success against the Fringe as he, for all their efforts.
Matters came to a head when, finally, the Woodsie Lord was located, deep in the heart of the whole of the forests of Andermark. The Battle of Woden Wood is the first battle recorded in Anderian history, where the warband made of Andermen from across the nation gathered together to fight against the forces of the Fringe for the sake of the land itself. Erik, by then, had taken his place at the head of the army, and this time he marched into war with more than his bow and his hatchet - but also the honed, sharpened arm of his old enemy.
As the battle raged he looked for the Woodsie Lord and made his way towards him. With men and beasts fighting and dying around them, the two old enemies fought yet again, Erik with hatchet and bone-arm in hand, the maimed Woodsie with its strength and dark magics. But soon enough Erik slashed the Woodsie Lord's own arm across its throat, ripping up bark and mud and blood, and the creature collapsed. With it went the strength of the gathered Fringe, who soon enough turned tail and ran.
A New Chieftain
As the dust settled, it became apparent that more had changed in Andermark than there simply being several less Fringe-warped monsters. The Woodsie Lord had clearly been tied into something powerful and primal of the land, and once he was gone, they began to change. The forests were lighter, less likely to swallow up the path you had come down behind you. Trees could be cut without reprisal, animals hunted in safety. The darkest depths still bore danger but it was a paradise in comparison.
The Chieftains who had gathered the army decreed that since all of Andermark had fought to found the nation, all of Andermark should remain together in order to capitalise upon the opportunities for strength they had won. And with all of the extant Chieftains still, regardless of the campaign, wrapped up in their own rivalries and challenges, to lead them all they picked the one man regarding whom there was no discord: Erik Stark.
Erik was too shocked to turn them down. But soon enough he found him bringing his family from the distant village, which was too far to the west for a ruler to effectively lead a nation from, to a more centralised location. In years his home village would develop to become Starkholm, and the town he picked as his centre of government, the biggest in the nation, would become Fordheim.
Most of Erik's legend is obsessed with how he became the first Chieftain of Andermark, rather than what he did once he was there. He is credited, at least, with having successfully harnessed the new Andermark, and the new opportunities the diminished Fringe presence allowed. He supervised the construction of roads, the development of better transport links, and was the first man to have all of Andermark properly mapped - or as properly as they could manage, and maps have barely improved over the past seven hundred years.
He dispatched envoys to nearby Lancereaux, and since this was decades before enmity would grow between the two nations, they learnt much from one another. Andermark discovered and developed better methods of architecture, commerce, and technology. It was still a nation where distances were all the greater for the thick forests, and despite achieving unification earlier than its neighbours, the great long and windy roads through dangerous woods meant development took longer. Very little changed in Andermark over the hundred years after Erik's death, though this is less a reflection on his successors and more a reflection on how they had advanced as much as they could in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Woden Wood.
But Erik set Andermark on its path towards its great fortifications, academic studies, expertise in the woodlands. And it is for these achievements he is still at least a little remembered - and for these achievements that within centuries his descendants were not chieftains, but kings.