Lands of Alba: the Greenwood
The Greenwood is the great forest which occupies the majority of the central mass of the island of Alba. It is not continuous; there are great clearings miles across in places, and hills rise out of the forest cover here and there, but it is possible to walk from one side to another and never emerge from under tree cover if that would be your desire.
In real world terms, this refers to the primordial forest which once covered the majority of England, and of which only small pockets now remain in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. It covers areas equivalent to the East and West Midlands, down through Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Hampshire all the way to the south coast. Fans of Robert Holdstock’s work may also find more than a few echoes of Ryhope Wood and it’s kindred places in the Greenwood.
The forest shapes everything in The Greenwood. Even in the great clearings that stand proud of the tree cover, or the hills that rise through it like islands in a green sea, the presence of the forest and the creatures within dominates everything.
Natives of the Greenwood speak of the forest as though it were a single living thing, with a will and a mind of its own; with a thousand eyes and claws and beaks and teeth, a million limbs all sighing in the wind. There are as many ways to propitiate the Greenwood as there are villages and communities within its boundaries, but all view the forest as protector, adversary, friend, foe and home rolled into one.
Most of the land in the Greenwood is gently rolling hills and plains – there are not many dramatic geographical features. In places, there are well trodden paths through the woods and in other places, not so much; villages may be in clearings, in lighter forest, in cleared areas or even up in the tree cover itself, depending on the area and the circumstances. In other places, the forest is so deep and primordial that little sun reaches the ground; there are miles of such deep heartwood where no Albanni foot has ever trodden.
Such places are rightly feared by the Albanni, for in them dwell things from the past, when life was darker, shorter and more savage. The further one goes into the heartwoods, the stranger things become – and the harder it becomes to ever find your way home again. Few who dare to undertake such adventures return unchanged – if, indeed, they return at all.
In the sunlit, lighter forests of the Greenwood, the Albanni live their lives and if they are wise, that is all they will ask the Greenwood for. And if they are fortunate, the Greenwood will grant their wish.
The Greenwood is neither too hot nor too cold; not as grim as the North nor as warm as the Summerlands; not as wet as the Fenlands nor as savage as the Old Country. Here among the trees comes a gentle rain, and while the winters can be hard, there is no shortage of wood for warm fires, nor of food for the gathering if one knows where to look.
Foraging, rather than farming, is where The Farmer’s blessing falls on the Greenwood, with ample fruits of the forest for the gathering. Wise communities build themselves a winter store and hide dried and preserved fruit and nuts there; in other places you can mark the presence of a community through smokehouses preserving meat or fish.
You will find the Potter’s influence strong in the Greenwood too – or all the things that can be made from wood or made with wood – and the people of the Greenwood are ingenious at the uses to which such material can be put. Not for nothing are the bows of the Greenwood renowned throughout Alba.
Carpenters and craftspeople among the Albanni of the Greenwood are always careful to pay their respects to the Greenwood before they take a tree, and they favour those that fall over cutting away live wood. Many are the tales of the consequences of overenthusiastic logging… and few end well.
For all the smokehouses and crafting though, the people of the Wood are very careful about fire. Fires are controlled, used with care and respect, and doused as soon as no longer needed. The Greenwood tolerates fires, but does not like them, and wise Albanni do not test the forest’s forebearance.
The Hunt and The War
Creatures run wild through the Greenwood and hunters find plenty to occupy themselves with – providing their quarry does not lead them all accidental into darker, deeper woods, where the hunter may find themselves very soon the hunted.
In the very deepest parts of the forest there is said to be a place that remembers the Ice, wherein a creature or spirit dwells of such breathtaking savagery and viciousness that even Boar will not trifle with it. Some among the more foolish young warriors and hunters of the Greenwood set themselves a test of bravery to see how close to the cave of the thing they dare go. Older, wiser denizens of the Greenwood say that this is a test of intelligence rather than bravery – smart people don’t do it, and live.
It is not just ancient monsters that the forest’s depths shelters. The Old Ones have enclaves in the darkness of the woods, and are not above hunting Albanni as the Albanni hunt them; the children of Boar run wild through the woodlands and delight in evening the score with the Albanni at any opportunity. And legends speak of trees that walk; of hands that reach down from high branches and snatch hunters to their doom among the bloody leaves; of the things that rustle in the treetops in the dark of the moon.
Albanni of the Greenwood are taught never to leave their village without two things: a means to light a fire, and an axe. When an outsider asks if this is for chopping wood for a fire, a Greenwood native will simply stare, then nod.
Views on Others
The folk of the Greenwood are welcoming and open; friendly to a fault and hospitable without making a big thing out of it. But they understand how to survive in the Greenwood, and they may not be in a rush to share that knowledge with outsiders unless they see a reason to.
Because the Greenwod is seldom the subject of outside attack, the folk of the Wood tend to take outsiders at face value and see no reason to be mistrustful until given reason to be but equally, their true trust and friendship is hard-won.