Lands of Alba: The Fenlands
The Fenlands are the name given to the low-lying eastern flanks of Alba and encompass both the great marshes and flatlands of the eastern plain and the long eastern and south-eastern coastal strip. The Fenlands breed a people who understand the impermanence of life, and philosophical about change; but proud of their culture and way of life.
In real-world terms, The Fenlands encompasses areas equivalent to East Anglia, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Huntongdonshire; the Wash, the Thames estuary and inland as far as Herfordshire and Bedfordshire. Keywords: Marshes, flatlands, floodplains, lowlands, coastal.
The Fenlands are a place of big skies. The horizon is distant, and flat. There are no mountains, and indeed few things even fairly called hills in the Fenlands; and for much of the year the land is a network of earthworks and banks that navigate great marshes, swamps, river deltas and fens. Several major rivers cut the land into a series of low-lying sections with major estuaries, and the entire east and south are bounded by coasts dotted with fishing villages and islands as the land slowly surrenders to the sea.
The few instances of high ground are treasured as precious, and usually the site of the local settlements. Even then, such settlements are impermanent; the shifting ground and the changeable nature of the landscape mean even relatively permanent settlements must be rebuilt or moved every so often. It is not uncommon to find a caravan of Fenlanders moving to a new hillock to rebuild their village after the spring rains. Such calamities are seen philosophically as part of life and to be managed rather than endured. The few permanent settlements on the high ground are rgeraded with awe by most Fenlanders and fiercely defended by their inhabitants. Of course, the defensibility of such positions makes them equally attractive to attackers…
Nor is the land without it’s supernatural hazards too. The marshes and swamps are home to many among the Old Ones who adapted to the life left to them when the Albanni came and moved their dwellings deep into the places where the Albanni would not come. They are attuned to the spirits of dark water, of swamp and mere, and the Fenlanders know their signs and why not to follow a mysterious light out into the darkness no matter how pleading the cries for help.
For all the difficulties of the environment, the Fenlanders have a deep bond with their land; rich and peaty earth grows many things and the bounty of the Fenlands for those who know what to look for is great.
Greatest (some might say only real) landmark of the Fenlands is the Island of the Eels – the only thing passing for a hill in the region. The Albanni have built a large hillfort on the point of raised ground and it is one of the few unchanging things in the shifting, rippling landscape.
Fenlanders learn at an early age that if a thing cannot survive a dunk in water, it won’t survive at all, and they have built their lives around this fact. Their crops are those that can endure a flood; their hunts for animals that paddle as often as run. Their fisherfolk are shrewd and cunning and know what can and cannot be eaten, that swims in the fens. Their dress is sensible for conditions that may become wet.
The difficulty of moving about in the Fens makes them even more isolationist than most Albanni; villages barely half a day apart will have no knowledge of or contact with one another – though this holds much less true of those on the coast, where fisherfolk will sometimes range far enough to bump into each other.
Fenlanders live by the superstitions and traditions that each village teaches, based on the changing geography around them. Knowing that the marsh to the south is alive with lord-o-the-marsh and lady-in-the-water builds superstitons to avoid speaking with strangers you may meet from the south, or attending social gatherings for people you do not know.
Many Fenlanders are adroit at moving through the marshes, acquiring an uncanny sense for safe ground or moving on tall stilts through the worst of the soft ground.
THE HUNT AND THE WAR
Fisherfolk are more common than those who hunt game or cattle in the Fenlands – birds, fowl, fish and the fruits of the sea and marsh are the things precious to those who seek in the Fenlands. But it is a constant battle with the spirits of the marsh to claim from them that which they jealously guard; hunters and shamans work hand in hand to propitiate and ward, and sometimes a skirmish will occur where an area needs to be cleared out.
In the heart of the Fenlands it’s said the Old Ones still maintain pockets of strength, and call on allies from deep beenath the earth to aid them. Some also speak of the Tribe of the Silent; the bodies of all of those lost to the Fens over the years, their spirits bound to their mud-choked bodies, driven mad by their fate and seeking to drag others down to share it with them.
On the coast the fisherfolk ply their trade, but as with many of the coasts of Alba, the threat comes from the Cold Ones, those from the drowned lands, who guard their herds with jealous and vicious traps.
Last of all, all Fenlanders know to fear the sight of naked blazing torches, for that marks the arrival on the coast of the Trollfolk; giants who arrive in their ships and savagely pillage without rhyme nor reason.
Views on Others
Fenlanders are insular and suspicious of outsiders as a rule, though once they have made a judgement on whether someone is to be trusted they do not easily change it for good or for ill. And distrusting or not, Fenlanders have a strong tradition of aid to those in need; someone lost out on the marshes who blunders into a Fenland village can expect not to be trusted – but they will be fed sheltered and aided on their way the next day.
The exception to this is the wandering Keepers. Fenlanders treat the Keepers with an almost religious awe; the impermanence of the landscape in the Fens meaning that the knowledge the Keepers keep is sometimes all that links them with their past.