(For those who came in late: these “Gazetteer” entries are a tourist’s guide to a fantasy world I created in a previous series of posts, using this procedural system. You might want to check out the complete world map, or the other gazetteer posts. Enjoy!)
A medium-sized town on the Cairnflood river, built atop the ruins of a mysterious ancient city. The town at the heart of Eldervale.
Dunmoss is a mere shadow of its former self. Once, a millennium ago, there was a much larger, more impressive city here. Today’s Dunmoss is built among the ruins of that ancient city. Though some features of the ancient city remain – notably, the impressive stone streets, and the monumental Oldbridge – today’s Dunmoss is mostly a rustic town of wooden buildings and thatched roofs. Nevertheless, it lies at the heart of the Eldervale, and is the seat of the Council of Elders – so, though it’s something of a backwater by the standards of more civilized realms, it’s certainly important to the region.
Arriving in Dunmoss
The Cairnflood river is the main thoroughfare through the Eldervale, and accordingly, most of those who travel to Dunmoss arrive via boat. From a distance, the first thing a traveler sees is the ruin of Castle Cairngard, perched atop a cliff overlooking the river. The castle is quite impressive from a distance, vast and brooding. It’s only when you get up close that you see how dilapidated it really is. (See The Castle Hundred, below, for more information about Castle Cairngard).
The next thing a traveler notices is usually the huge stone bridge (known as “Oldbridge”), which was also built in ancient times. Oldbridge connects the older, more evidently ruined parts of Dunmoss on the Northern bank of the Cairnflood to the slightly newer parts of the town on Southern bank. (See Oldbridge, below, for more information about the town’s iconic bridge).
The traveler’s boat is then stopped, either at Oldbridge itself or at a rope-line strung out across the Cairnflood on the city’s eastern edge, and tolls must be paid. The boat can then proceed to the docks.
The docks themselves are usually bustling with trade of many kinds – particularly furs. (See The Docks, below, for more information about the river trade).
Walking the town, travelers are often struck by the contrast between the monumental ancient stonework of its streets and bridge, and the rough wood-and-thatch buildings in which people actually live. The streets themselves really are very impressive: they’re made of vast stone blocks, and were laid down nearly a millennium ago.
The ancient stone streets are crumbling in places, and are very well-worn in others – after all, people have been walking on them for the better part of a thousand years – but the sheer size of the blocks means that they’re still quite solid, despite being so old.
The various districts of Dunmoss are formally known as “Hundreds.” This name derives from an old tradition that dictates that each district must consist of a hundred families, for purposes of taxation. This is totally demographically inaccurate today, but the name has stuck.
The Castle Hundred
This district is named after Castle Cairngard, a vast ruined fortress that perches on top of the cliff overlooking the Cairnflood river. Castle Cairngard was once thought impregnable, but that was hundreds of years ago. Today, it’s picturesque, but very much a ruin, and could be properly refortified only at vast expense.
This district is not just a ruined castle, though: the hillside East of the castle is fairly thick with thatch-roofed houses. The Castle Hundred is considered a fairly decent district in which to live. Scholars, sages, and scribes are particularly fond of it, since it’s home to Eldverale’s best booksellers, most of whom can be found in their scriptoria on the “The Street of Pages.”
This whole district is formally known as the “Castle Hundred,” but is usually referred to simply as “Castle.” As in:
“You’ll never guess what happened to me this morning.”
“Well, I was up in castle minding my own business, when suddenly…”
Notable residents of the Castle Hundred: The traveling entertainer Lillistan Squires grew up here, though nowadays she spends much of her time wandering up and down the Cairnflood, performing. Lately, though, she’s been coming back home more often, because she’s met a local man – a likely young lad named Wyneast. (For more on Lillistan and Wyneast, see The Adventures of Temian Fell – Episode 7 (“Into the Wistwilds“).
The somewhat seedy bookseller Vinlik Scribeson can also be found here – he lives in some dingy rooms above his little scriptorium on the Street of Pages. Secretly, Vinlik is a low-ranking member of the infernal Cult of Singroth; membrs of the Cult hold regular meetings in his premises. He also has a decent collection of occult tomes in stock. (Vinlik first turned up in “Jaspin Ward, Budding Necromancer – Episode One – Corpses by Candelight.” See scene 5!)
The High Common
The high common is a fairly wide stretch of grazing land which is open to all, and thus provides feed for many of the town’s sheep, goats, and mountain ponies. This grazing land is pockmarked with huge stone blocks and half-tumbled structures – remnants of the ancient city.
The Common is a popular place for recreation, too. Some of the townsfolk who live nearby keep shaggy little mountain ponies on the Common, and every now and then, they race them around the ruins and place bets. The children whose task it is to watch the communal flock here like to hold footraces around a special path worn between the stones.
The shaggy mountain ponies of the High Common.
The Sirrabarrian Hundred (“Northside”)
Eldervale is a region rife with strange beliefs, remnants of old religions, and so on. The Sirrabarrian Hundred is a good example. This district is named after the Cult of Sirrabar, an ancient spiritual tradition that has run a school here for at least the last few hundred years. The Sirribarrians take in orphaned or abandoned children from all around Eldervale, support them, and then train them to become inheritors of their sacred tradition. Once trained, many Sirribarrians are able to perform astonishing feats of memory; some also claim to be able to influence the weather.
Cultists of Sirrabar conducting some kind of initiation ceremony.
The Sirribarrians are a secretive lot, fond of riddles and mysteries, so not much can be said for certain about the purpose of the cult. But it’s a matter of general knowledge that somewhere in the mountains there’s a site called The Ravine of Sirrabar, which they hold sacred. At certain times of year the Sirribarrians, together with their senior students, leave Dunmoss and travel to the Ravine, presumably to conduct rituals or services of some kind – perhaps initiations. The Cult of Sirrabar is governed by the eldest living representative of the tradition, who was once an orphan, just like all the other members.
Of course, not everyone in this district is a Sirrabarian – in fact, the vast majority of townsfolk who live in this Hundred don’t give the Sirrabarrians the slightest thought on a day-to-day basis. (Except perhaps for being vaguely grateful that someone is getting the orphans off the streets). But the school has been here for so long that the whole Hundred has come to bear its name.
Having said all of that, many people just call the whole district “Northside” in everyday speech. Of course, sometimes this more colloquial usage does create some mild confusion, since there’s no general consensus as to whether or not the Castle Hundred counts as part of Northside.
Like the Castle Hundred, the Sirrabarrian Hundred is considered a fairly desirable area of town in which to live.
Notable residents of the Sirrabarrian Hundred: the soothsayer Aed Steadlark lives in the far south-eastern corner of this district, in a small wooden hut overlooking the Cairnflood. (For more on Aed, see The Adventures of Temian Fell, Episode 2 (“The Witch of Dunmoss“) and Episode 6 (“Treachery in Eldervale“))
The defining feature of the Oldbridge district is (surprise!) the Oldbridge – a huge, ancient, monumental bridge, made out of the same stone as the streets of the rest of the town.
The Oldbridge is long – significantly longer than the river is wide. In fact, it stretches all the way from the high ground North of the river to the high ground South of the river, holding itself high up above the muddy riverbanks on either side.
Many of the poorest people in Dunmoss live here, below the level of the bridge, on the muddy riverbanks. The riverbanks beneath the bridge are considered very undesirable places to live because they’re so soggy and prone to flooding, particularly in spring. (Winter, when the river freezes over, is in some ways better). Whereas other parts of the city are notable for their very impressive stone streets, here in Oldbridge the ancient stones have been weathered away entirely by a thousand years of spring floods, and so there’s nothing to keep your feet out of the mud.Oldbridge doesn’t count as a “Hundred” for administrative purposes – speaking in the strictest possible legal sense, the shanty district here doesn’t officially exist (though obviously no-one denies its existence in practice).Oldbridge does have a few redeeming features, however. Chief among them is the annual Frost Market.
The Frost Market
Every year on the Winter Solstice, merchants and traders come to Dunmoss from miles around in order to set up their stalls on the ice in the middle of the frozen-over Cairnflood river. This is known as The Frost Market. It’s a very popular festival in Dunmoss – getting out on the ice and celebrating is a great way to break up the monotony of Winter.
The Frost Market is mostly a secular festival, but like everything in Eldervale, it has a slightly witchy feel to it: you can find a lot of fortune-tellers, would-be prophets, and people who claim to “read the bones,” etc, among the stalls.
The festival is particularly large and rowdy because – contrary to what you might expect – cold mid-winter is actually when Dunmoss is at its busiest. Many people who would otherwise be hunting and trapping up in the mountains, or trading on the river, spend the coldest parts of the winter in town, to avoid the harsh mountain weather. Plus the Winter Solstice itself is a time when members of local spirit cults, odd magical traditions, worshipers of minor or forgotten gods, etc, all come together for their own purposes, and many of them meet up in Dunmoss, since it’s so central. So The Frost Market, held right on the Winter Solstice, is a real scene.
The Market lasts for a few days either side of the solstice, and ends with a big sacred festival, which involves blessing the river, making offerings to various gods and spirits, and generally entreating the powers that be to make the coming year bountiful. Residents of this “poor” district often entreat the gods to prevent the river flooding in the Spring to come. Sometimes the gods seem to take this to heart, and sometimes, not so much….
(In the rare event that the river doesn’t freeze over, the Frost Market is held up on the High Common instead. This is widely considered a real bummer – children in particular love having the Frost Market out on the ice – but, just quietly, many of the traders consider it a blessing: the High Common is a much more convenient place to set up a stall).
This district is where the boats come in. The west part of the docks district is the roughest part – that’s the part closest to the poor district, Oldbridge. The fanciest boats avoid the west end of the docks, and instead come in at the eastern end.
Arriving at the Docks
Boats are moored in short sstretch of the Cairnflood that lies between the Oldbridge and a series of ropes that are strung across the river at the east edge of town. These two barriers- the Oldbridge and the rope dam – ensure that anyone who wants to enter, or exit, the docks district can be charged an appropriate toll.
A brief note on Tolls
This system of tolls and tariffs is very effective, since the Cairnflood river is really the lifeblood of Eldervale – even with the tolls, there’s simply no faster or easier way to transport goods and people over long distances. For that matter, even medium distances are petty hard going by land, since the whole region is so mountainous and rugged. The river traffic is also the main way in which the people of Eldervale remain in contact with the more civilized realms to the West – places like Rasitar, Whitevale, and above all Valiroth. All of this is just to say that the docks district really is the central source of wealth in Dunmoss, and thus the system of tolls is pretty lucrative. (Which is lucky, because this is rough, unpromising country in other respects).
The River trade
What kinds of goods might you see being traded on a typical day in the docks district? Well, the fur trade is pretty big along the Cairnflood: hunters and trappers from all over the mountains of Eldervale, and even sometimes from as far away as the Wistwilds or the Dimlight Ranges, bring their furs here to be sold to traders, who then take them further down river. Most of those furs end up in Valiroth, which is a big, rich market, but the wealthy and sophisticated Rasitanians also purchase a lot of it. Some of those furs even make it all the way down the river, and then up the coast to Frith. (If you want to see how trade works, you might want to take another look at the World Map)
But the trade is more than just furs. The Redthrone Dwarves of Duzundigath dug iron out of their mines in the Trackless Peaks and then send it down the river in exchange for cloth and basic foodstuffs. Sometimes they even send gemstones or dwarf-made goods of one kind or another – both are equally prized. Very occasionally some of the dwarves themselves pass through on their way to visit their richer kin in far-off Dwimilzund.
Added to that, there are also all the things necessary to the daily life of Eldervale itself – cattle, pigs, grain, cloth, people…. Almost everything that needs to be transported along an east-west axis within the Region goes through the docks. So for a medium-sized town in a fairly sparsely-populated region, Dunmoss has a surprisingly bustling dockside – there’s really no end to the list of interesting things one can find here, should one care to look.
The Phoenix Tavern
The docks district is the proud home of the only major alehouse in Dunmoss: The Phoenix Tavern. Like most of Dunmoss, the tavern is very ancient, built into the ruins of a much older structure. The oldest parts of the tavern are stone, but most of the more contemporary parts are wood. The Phoenix directly overlooks the Cairnflood river.
Gneerally speaking, Eldervaleans tend to be a superstitious and sometimes slightly fey people, and The Phoenix is notable for attracting the fey types, even within that group. So it’s an odd place.
The proprietor is a man named Heralf Vintcraven. Heralf is a thin man who always has a bottle in his hand. He has the habit of pointing directly at whomever he’s talking to. His surname – “Vintcraven” – is actually a nickname: a joke about his supposed stinginess when pouring wine. As we found out in The Adventures of Temian Fell – Episode One (“One Evening at the Phoenix…“), Heralf is married to a woman named Heralda, but he has a problem – he’s also in love with someone else. He’s never acted on those feelings, and indeed he’s afraid of admitting them, even to himself, because he doesn’t want to hurt his wife, about whom he also cares deeply. So that’s a plot waiting to happen.
The Phoenix has two house specials: a good local ale, and also Demon Rum (though the latter is available only “under the table”, to special customers.
Notable residents of the Docks district: Heralf and Heralda Vintcraven; plus the mysterious person with whom Heralf is secretly in love.
Shroudside is an odd district – its location ought to make it a very nice place to live, but those who are well-off consider it very much the wrong side of Sable Hill. The whole district is built right on top of the buried ruins of an ancient temple of some kind, meaning that there’s a buried district right underneath the live one. This makes the foundations of the streets and houses very unreliable, and so buildings here have a tendency to collapse or cave in.
Once, millennia ago, this hillside was the site of an impressively vast religious complex of some sort – no-one knows quite what was being worshiped, but whatever it was, it was being worshiped in style. (I say “no-one” knows, but it might be more accurate to make that “non-one in Dunmoss” – presumably, the learned loremasters and sages of Valiroth might be able to hazard an educated guess…)
Anyway, it appears that some kind of – what? force? aura? energy? – still lingers here, because odd things happen in this district. This is especially true after the foundations of one of the houses collapses (which happens pretty regularly), and part of the buried city is revealed. Nothing too dramatic – no monsters bursting out of the cellars, or anything like that – but people sometimes claim to have had strange experiences – typically, odd visions or strange dreams.
At any rate, despite its lovely position on the hillside overlooking the river, this district has a very mixed reputation. Some people live here quite comfortably, and swear by it – but can you really believe them? Even those who love the district admit that the ground does sometimes subside in alarming ways, especially after heavy rain – and it’s true that many people seem to experience unusually vivid dreams in the days following. Children who grow up here are sometimes considered odd by their peers in other parts of town – they can be obsessive about seemingly irrelevant things, or distracted and dreamy. Some become infected with wanderlust, and long to see far-off parts, and explore strange ruins. Temian Fell grew up here – and in this respect, he can be considered a typical case.
Shroudside is technically a “Hundred,” and certainly functions as one for administrative purposes, but no-one really calls it that. This is just a question of local idiom, though perhaps it also indicates something about the strange role that Shroudside plays in the town’s self-image. Whatever the reason, people would look at you oddly if you referred to the “Shroudside Hundred,” except perhaps in a legal document of some kind.
Notable residents of Shroudside: Temian Fell
This is also the most desirable and expensive of the town’s districts, since it’s high up away from the mud, while not being as pockmarked with ancient ruins as the North side of town. The views from the hillside are excellent – most of the houses here have a fine view North over the town, all the way up into the Wistwilds. From the top of the hill you can gaze East-West along the river, or South toward Haymarch, too.
This district is the seat of the Council of Elders, who rule the town in most things. Many but not all have formal titles of an aristocratic kind. The council chambers were built here in order to take advantage of the higher ground, and also to be close to the docks – most of the Elders make their money via the river trade.
For all its attractiveness, Sable Hill does have one very significant downside – putting it bluntly, the people who live here have a strong tendency toward snobbery. They’re living right in the most expensive and desirable part of town, close to the levers of power – and they know it. And they want you to know it, too.
If you’d like to follow the process through which I created Dunmoss, head over to this series of posts: