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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Adventures in Ardchreag

Written for Geographica Septentria, as THL Edward Shaggyshanks, for the Baronial Septentrian Geographical Society, 2005.

The sun beats down on my head as I stand atop the cragged edge of the cliff face. Far below me I can see ships traveling from ports in the far Royal Citie of Eoforwic towards Greenhithe-be-the-waeter. A light wind rustles the leaves in the trees behind me and carries the scent of baking bread from a far-off farm.

Beside me, Snori Fenrirsson leans upon his yew bow. His face is lined from years of exposure to the weather and his eyes perpetually squint in the sun. This archer and ranger is my guide throughout the canton of Ardchreag and, living up to local legend, he has gotten us lost.

Known on the Royal Rolls of Ealdormere officially as Ard Creag, this canton-upon-the-cliffs is in land once claimed by Eoforwic. Over ten years ago a group of archers who lived and plied their trade in the area began to petition for recognition as an independent group. In AS 27, this request was granted. This change to maps of the area is perhaps to blame for local residents becoming known for being prone to loosing their way. A motto sewn on the Ardchreag standard reads, “Don’t follow us, we’re lost too!” This tradition of being and getting lost has continued to this day as even that same standard was lost for a time in the wilds of Ramshaven.

And now Snori and I are lost.

We had set out from the Lincoln keep, which currently serves the canton as their town hall. The plan was to travel towards the nearby Royal Zoo, then angle south into what is known by locals to be troll territory. Many people within the kingdom, including His Majesty’s Minister of Forestry, denies the existence of trolls. Locals, however, swear they exist.

“We’ve had a rash of sightings lately,” Lord Eirik Andersen, former seneschal of Ardchreag, told me. “Sometimes they’ll wander into our keeps, or our camps, gobble up our food, and then take off back into the woods.”

The canton’s current knight marshal, Lord Wat of Sarum, has said that multiple hunting parties have been sent out to slay the troublesome brutes but all have returned empty handed.

It’s for a sighting of one of these trolls that Snori and I set out for.

We left Lincoln at about ten of the clock and our progress through the woods was rapid. It was once we angled off the King’s Roads that we became hopelessly turned about.

When I asked Snori if he knew which way we were going, he simply shrugged.

At one point we crested a ridge and saw before us a great meadow stippled with yellow dandelions. Munching on the grass was a herd of the massive green bison local to the area. We approached cautiously but the looming bovines seemed oblivious to our presence. Their fur was long and shaggy and most definitely coloured green. Local lore says its from eating the emerald grass of central Ardchreag, while others say it’s the water from Vahdkha—a watering hole—that makes them green. Humans who drink from the wells of Vahdkha have also been known to turn green, though they usually return to a more normal colouration after a few hours. Snori tells me of Lady Qandachin Bahar, a Mongolian, who felt an affinity for the bison. She was known to have consumed much of the water of Vahdkha in an effort to commune with the animals. The effort left Bahar feeling quite ill, and lately she has given up on Vahdkha all together, preferring to drink fermented milk instead.

*          *          *

Standing far above the rocky shore down below, I pull out my water flask. Out over the inland sea I spot a flock of winged turtles flying over the foaming waves. The rotund winged reptiles were first been discovered on the Ardchreag-Greenhithe border by Lord Ulvar van der Nederlanden. This was at a muster of Ealdormere’s military might in AS 27 or so. Now the turtles’ habitat has spread all over Ardchreag, though they are most populous about the cliffs as they build nests right in the cliff faces.

With green bison and flying turtles, how can anyone doubt the existence of trolls, I wondered.

Singing has always been popular in Ardchreag; they even had a choir for a very short time. Now many of its members are known as bardicly inclined. Snori proves this as he begins to sing, “Soaring, high above the white flowers, that’s where the Ardchreag turtles like flying…”

I sit back and listen as he finishes, punctuating each line by stamping his bow into the ground. When he’s done he looks over at me and smiles. “That was written by one of my kinfolk, Þorfinna gráfeldr, former baronial bard.” I nod as I stand up. The sun is just beginning to dip behind the trees at our back.

We begin to follow the cliff face westwards knowing that eventually we’ll hit the Greenhithe border. From there Snori is sure he can find his way to Drew’s End, Havencroft or Eirikstaadir, all of which are home to members of the canton who technically live in Greenhithe territory.

*          *          *

In AS 25 a group of people met in a bakery owned by Sir Timothy of Horton. It was there where talk of Ardchreag began. The orchestraters of this plan were (and I use their current titles): Baron Siegfried Brandbeorn, the Honourable Lord Raffe Scolemaystre, Lord Raedmund deArden and Lord Alan ate Highcliffs. It is perhaps these four that are represented by the four arrows on Ardchreag’s device, forming a compass.

The other main element of the device is a red mountain, to represent the Scarlet Bluffs that cuts across the canton. The cliffs are represented on the chief. (Laurel leavess are also represented, as they are on all geographic devices of the Society). The main colours are green and white. The green is probably representative of the earth, while the white is the sky.

*          *          *

Like any canton that exists for more than a few years, Ardchreag has had many people call it home. In a poll conducted in June AS 37, it was discovered that over the previous ten years 151 people had been listed on Ardchreag’s rolls. Some of these have gone on to be knights and laurels, while some have even ruled as King and Queen of Ealdormere.

Currently Ardchreag is a hotbed of baronialism. Many members are, or until recently were, members of the baronial army. A number of Septentria’s officers currently call Ardchreag home as well. The barony’s unofficial propaganda ministry is based in Ardchreag, with recruitment posters being the current project. In past years these posters were plastered wherever a surface could be found, including some warriors’ shields.

As well as being loyal to their barony, Chreaggers (as they sometimes call themselves) are also staunch Ealdormereans. Many of them make the journey to Pennsic whenever war threatens and for many years, Ardchreag held Ealdormere War Practice, where those heading south could practice their martial skills. There are many armoured fighters amongst the population, as well as archers and axe throwers, and a few cavalry members and scouts as well. (Of all the martial disciplines only fencing seems to be absent.) Many followers of these martial paths are members of the Cliffguard, a constabulary that patrols the roadways and byways of Ardchreag to protect the populace from danger. Archers and axe throwers make up the Yeoman of the White Arrow, a group that defends the canton with bow and axe. Armoured fighters take part in practices weekly. A number also travel to nearby practices in Petrea Thule, Eoforwic and Skeldergate. Many of Ardchreag’s fighters hold armouring workshops in an attempt to get fighters from within and without their borders into armour quickly.

No to leave their coastline undefended Laird Colyne Stewart has commissioned the construction of Ardchreag’s first naval vessel, called the Red Arrow. A navy is necessary to protect merchant and private vessels from the dread pirates Cap’n Widow and Cap’n Bloodfox.

Artisans are also well represented by steel workers, illuminators, calligraphers, scribes, carvers, bards, researchers, chefs, woodworkers, gamers, pewter casters and so on. At least one guild was born in Ardchreag, namely the Games Guild of Ealdormere, which counts members in at least six kingdoms so far. Chronicling is also popular in Ardchreag, and it has published numerous publications over the past few years (with more apparently in the works).

It is, from all accounts, a very busy place.

*          *          *

Cursing, Snori stumbles over a discarded beer mug.

We’re standing in a copse of trees where a small shrine has been erected to a local saint named Crispinus. Upon a small pile of rocks stands a rudely carved figure of a man in a dress, while scattered around the base of the shrine are empty mugs and goblets. I can smell the doughy scent of beer. Crispinus was a Chreagger renowned for his love of fine ale who, it is said, was carried bodily into the heavens. This happened some time after he had gone to bed dead after consuming copious amounts of liquor and had arisen in the morning alive. (This was, coincidently, the same time when Bayar tried to commune with green bison.) Some time before that Crispinus had passed himself off successfully as a woman—though a homely one from all accounts. Crispinus disappeared—taken to heaven, insist the faithful—just before he could be given the rank of Lord by Their Lupine Majesties. St. Crispinus’ Award of Arms is currently in the hands of Ardchreag’s historian who is hunting high and low for the saint, and many others are in search of his dress. In the meantime locals claim to see his face appearing in mugs of ale, and toasts are raised to his health in pubs throughout the canton.

From this shrine we know we are close to the border and that our ordeal will soon be behind us. It is now getting dark and Snori pulls out a torch, which he sets alight with his flint and steel. Before too much longer we hear an axe and follow the sound to a clearing. There we find two Scottish lads just finishing a day of chopping wood. Though my Gaelic is rusty I manage to tell them we are lost and they tell me that we have just crossed into Greenhithe territory. The smaller man, named Stephen, agrees to take me to the nearby port. We pass the time in relative silence, until finally we reach the docks.

I toss Stephen a coin and he tips me a salute before departing. I likewise hand Snori his pay (even if he did nothing but get us lost) and book passage aboard a ship for home. I didn’t see a troll, but I saw many other wonders and count myself content.

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