Tuesday, August 28, 2012

E is for Eltdown

Eltdown is a strange border town, located deep in the hinterlands.  Much of the population is Tarushan, and while Eltdown is occasionally plagued by troubles from that benighted land, Tarush Noptii does not claim it amongst its territory, and does little to interfere as a matter of policy.  Nestled deep in windy and perpetually shadowy downland in the wild lands between the borders of the Razine city-state of Terrasa and Tarush Noptii, it's fitted uncomfortably as neither.  It is nestled up against the boughs of the so-called Haunted Forest, but also manages to reside in the small gap that separates those rumor-darkened woods from the more overtly dangerous Shifting Forest.  Few travelers from any direction have cause to pass through Eltdown.  As such, its inhabitants are very insular and untrusting in strangers.

It's not clear why anyone ever settled the area in the first place, as the soil is not particularly fit for farming, there are little to no mineral resources, and even timber means going into the Haunted Forest--an activity the natives are very reluctant to do unless they pass only a few steps under the trees in the full light of day.  Rather, it appears that much of the core population has been here since before the founding of the current empires of the day.  Many families trace their lineage--through admittedly semi-legendary sources--to before even the founding of Tarush Noptii, although what kingdom or country they belonged to before the rise of the vampires is long forgotten.  Possibly it was settled because of the gap between the two forests, which may have been a lake in ancient times that has slowly been retreating and turning into fens and marshlands for centuries.  This lake would have made a natural highway from the lands to the south into the lands of the north.  Without the benefit of water travel, the marshlands are nearly as treacherous as the forests on the west and the east.  The Eltdown Fens, as they are now called, are also the source of a nearly perpetual roiling fog that surges over the town frequently.  When the streets are so foggy that it is difficult to see your way, the locals whisper that more than just workers returning to their homes wander the streets.  The residents of Eltdown seem to have resigned themselves to a frequently low life expectancy, abnormalities and occasional birth defects or mutations, and high infant death rates.  When pressed to explain such things, the whisperings and mutterings cease, but furtive and veiled glances towards the fens take their place.

Although few outsiders will be able to hear it from a local, there is an ancient book, The Parchments of Pnom, which refers to an ancient city on a lake that appears to be geographically contiguous with the area where the Fens now squat.  And the few travelers and traders who occasionally pass through Eltdown speak of rumors of haunted, ancient stone circles, menhirs, cromlechs and possibly even an entire city lurking somewhere in the fens.  There are no accurate reports of it, for nobody is believed to have seen it.  Exactly how the rumors were started, then, remains a mystery--or for sceptics, a matter of scorn.

The most erudite in matters of arcane and forbidden--indeed often heretical and highly illegal--knowledge, on the other hand, are more likely to be believers in the mysterious Fen-city, sometimes called Pnom itself (although that label is merely one of convenience; no true scholar believes that the city was actually ever called Pnom.)  The reason for this is the even more secretive and poorly known manuscript copies of Translations of the Eltdown Shards, which purport to be garbled translations of ancient tablets found in the environs near the Eltdown Fens.  This text is blasphemous in the extreme, and fewer texts are more noxious to the health and sanity of the human mind.  Possessing one is an instant sentence of death in any civilized land for both the possessor, and anyone else who might have seen the text while in his possession.  In some places, even knowing of the existance of the book, much less having ever seen a copy, is enough to earn a burning at the stake by the Inquisition.

But because of the notoriety of the Eltdown Shards amongst the small and eclectic community of scholars who study such arcane and forbidden knowledge, the locals of Eltdown have learned to accept that occasional strange and disquieting foreigners lurk about their lands, looking for something that should be left alone and forgotten.  Sometimes such foreigners are caned and sent on their way for their trouble, and sometimes even worse is done to them; they may be hanged or placed in a gibbet.  But mostly the locals know to leave such individuals alone, for far too often they turn out be witches or sorcerers of foul repute--or even worse.

No comments: