Lands of Alba: The Old Country
The Old Country the name given to the mountainous and rugged western flanks of Alba, and the low plains that connect them to the rest of the mainland in the east.
The People of the Old Country are defined by their generosity and welcoming spirit; sometimes too generous, sometimes too welcoming. They live their lives bounded by superstition and folk ritual, shaped by those who came before them.
The Old Country has both some of the largest settlements in Alba, and the wildest and most remote teritory.
In real-world terms, The Old Country encompasses areas equivalent to Wales, the Welsh marches, Cornwall and Devon, Dorset and Somerset, the West Country and Shropshire. Keywords: Wild mountains and coasts in the west, rich plains in the east, dark forests in the middle and the north.
The Old Country is a land of contradictions. In the west, bounded by the sea are great towering jagged mountains punctuated by deep shadowed valleys and ancient forest. As the lands slope down to the east they let onto green and rolling hills and then great lush plains where villages prosper and grow on the Great River.
The Old Country is so called because when the Albanni first came to Alba, it was to this place that the Old Ones who came before them finally retreated – into the forests and the caves, the deep dark valleys and the high mountains.
The land is studded with the hand of the Old Ones – dolmens, stone monuments, tombs, strange structures fallen to ruin. Such places are both fascinating and shunned.
The greatest of such places – known to most of the people of the Old Country from their stories, if not from their horizon, is the Giant’s Dance, the great mountain that dominates the northwestern skyline across most of the Old Country. It stands more than twice the height of any of its neighbours, and legends tell of the giants who dwell at its peak and of their battles that make the thunder roll down the hills.
In the deep valleys that cleave the flanks of the Dance, forests so deep and dark grow that it’s said that within them lie hidden kingdoms of the Old Ones where the hand of the Albanni was never felt and where they plot their return. On the very peak of the Giant’s Dance, stoies tell of a great hall wherein The Warrior and The Elk engage in eternal battle, each vying for the right to be the greatest among their peers; while the other gods and spirits laugh at the idea any one is greater than another, or that such could be proven in such a way.
The most visible geographical feature of the Old Country though is The Great River, which runs from the massive estuary in the west to the far east. It splits the Old Country in two; in some places where it cuts through the mountains, rope bridges cross the gorge it cuts or fallen trees provide a route; further east wooden and stone bridges span the gentler waters. To the west, though the river is very wide, silt and shoals keep it shallow, and those who are bold or strong swimmers can make it across with little difficulty, or utilise the dozens of rafters who ply their trade there.
Westerners of the lowlands have a good life; their villages grow fat on the favour of the Farmer and the Potter. But every Westerner household knows that the forest is dark and full of those who wish you harm, and failure to follow the rituals of propitiation will end up with a curse or worse falling upon your house. They are a people grown caught up in their rituals of protection and warding and special rites for special days, lest Something come down from the mountain and take all they have built for themselves.
Those who dwell in the mountains themselves, or in the dark valleys, or further south on the great craggy peninsula that juts into the sea like an accusing finger, cliffs towering over surf pounding on jagged rocks – they know that Those Who Remain can only be warded off for so long. Those who dare to live in the Far West of the Old Country come to an accommodation with the things that share the land with them or they are never heard from again.
The coasts of the Old Country are wild and savage and on more than one occasion, sections of land have been abruptly inundated by floods – some say that people dwell still in those flooded kingdoms, doomed by their pacts with Those Who Came Before or the will of the magicians with whom they tried and failed to bargain. But here and there on the coast a fishing village will have found a good harbour and a gap in the towering cliffs. Most such villages cluster around the wide estuary of the Great River, which cuts deep into the eastern plains.
The Hunt and The War
In the eastern plains hunters raid the cattle of neighbouring villages, or seek wild boar in the gentle woods; those who range further know to take protective measures lest they become the quarry rather than the hunter. More than one hunter has been carried back to their village elfshot and fevered with no recollection of where they have been or what has befallen them. Such cases usually do not end well.
In the west, hunters are more cautious, and propitiate those in whose hunting grounds they may be trespassing before they dare to do so. Game runs wild in the forests and valleys of the mountains and for those who know how to navigate the complex rules of doing so, the hunt can be bountiful.
On the coast the fisherfolk enjoy some of the richest seas, but are forever vigilant for the Cold Ones, those from the drowned lands, who guard their herds with jealous and vicious traps. And all the coastal regions – and sometimes as far in as the forests – are familiar with the tramp of the boots of the monstrous Fomor who come ashore to plunder and raze villages for sport, laughing as they chew on raw human flesh. And sometimes, on the northern coasts of the Old Country, the boats of the Ice-Folk leave behind them a trail of destroyed villages, blood and murder.
The worst wars though, are those which come when the delicate balance between the Albanni and the Old Ones is disturbed. What they lack in numbers they more than make up for in the dark and sinister magicks they call on, their ancient and primordial spirits, the magical horrors they command. And while the cold metal of the Albanni always triumphs in the end… the price is always very high.
Views on Others
Westerners measure their honour by their hospitality. They encourage their neighbours in the village to visit with them and demonstrate their wealth through acts of conspicuous hospitality and generosity. Even in the far west where villages may exist in a state of constant siege by outside forces, a stranger entering the village will be treated with honour and regard – until they demonstrate they have broken the laws of hospitality by either disrespecting the host, offering violence, or breaking one of the key laws of the village.
The Westerners view other Albanni with a combination of indulgence and pity, for they regard themselves as the oldest, first (and therefor best) among Albanni. In some ways this is linked to their complicated relationship with Those Who Came Before – a combination of fear, awe, resentment and envy.