Welcome to Albion Sir. My name’s Gabriel; I’m to lead you and your people through the delights of the Chester Pass. Maybe you’d like to hear a little bit about the area’s history whilst you’re here…
The Blackwood forms part of the border between the lands of Albion and Cymria. We are currently within the boundaries of the county of Chester, which is half of the Duchy of Gloucester. The wood covers the area south of the road we are on and thins out a little north of Silverlake. To the north is the Greenwood.
The origin of the Blackwood’s name is unknown, but to those foresters and hunters who have roamed within it, it is seen as fitting – the forest is indeed dark and hostile to many. Legends tell of magical creatures and circles of power being found within the forest. Most of the tales are indeed legend; some
are truth, only a few know which. Nothing new there then!
The Blackwood had been overlooked for centuries due to its name and the stories that surround it, until 160 years ago when James Battan, a young noble, came through the forest on his way to Wincester. Taking what he believed was a shortcut through the wood, led to a series of incidents which resulted in his
return a year later and the construction of a small keep… If you look carefully sir you’ll notice that James Battan was a very clever man because the keep is in an easily defendable position (helps to ‘keep’ that one doing the rounds)… or not. Well no I don’t think we could hold off an entire hoard of ogres, sir,
but we’d give it a bloody good try!… May I continue? Thank you. The keep became the family home of the Battans; to many others it meant a light in the darkness… How sweet.
One winter’s eve, so the story’s told, shortly after the keep’s construction, a guard heard peculiar sounds emanating from just beyond the forest line to the south. The Captain was informed and two men were sent to investigate. As the men approached the tree line, lanterns held high, they saw a pair of green glowing eyes blaze in the darkness. The unseen stranger was challenged but the guards received no reply… Then, as suddenly as they had appeared, the green eyes vanished and the sounds ceased… As would be expected a search of the area during daylight failed to find any tracks.
The tales tell that the following night a scroll was discovered on the road that is the Chester Pass. It was of course written in a language that not even the bards had ever seen before and could be understood by no one. I’ve noticed stories are normally like that… Anyway the scroll was passed to the master of the keep and here the story ends.
Shortly after this, the founding of the rangers took place. I thought you’d be impressed that they still serve their original functions – to manage the surrounding forest, patrol the area to prevent smuggling and banditry and provide protection and aid to those who travel the wood and Pass. I memorised it – just in case.
For those who travel unaided or off the path they should pay heed to tales associated with a small field within the Blackwood. It holds the bodies (and mortal souls – according to the locals) of those who fell in an ancient battle. The “Field of the Dead” is to be avoided by all. On the rare occasion that someone has claimed to have had returned from this place, they have never quite been the same as they were prior to their visit. It is said that wraiths, spectres and ghosts walk there and that even the animals avoid it… We try to! Close to this field almost buried by the growth of passing years are the remains of an ancient fortification. It’s name and purpose are, unfortunately, lost within the annals of history. I’ve noticed that scenario’s popular with the local bards as well!
A few miles away from the field there can be found an unusual wooded grove. It is made from many dark and twisted oaks that form an impenetrable barrier. No one knows what lies within although the forest can at times seem rife with rumours as to its formation and purpose. Ask the locals and they’ll be sure to tell you, “There be magiks at work!”
The forest of the Blackwood provides a home to many creatures and plants although there are those which have had more of an impact on its history and reputation than others. It is perhaps best said that in certain corners of certain taverns certain people can learn of certain fungi. Like every other wood then! They grow in relative abundance in specific isolated regions I’m told – err, no, I’m afraid I can’t reveal my sources. Many of them can supposedly be cured or brewed into the most “holy of healing potions” or the
most “disgusting of foul poisons”. Knowledge of their existence tends to come with the obligatory warning that few risk the dangers of the forest to collect the aforementioned “plants” but if you’re brave enough to leave the path at least be careful! Sensible advice if you want my opinion…oh, you didn’t…sorry. Anyway, if you want some try stopping for a drink a little more frequently…
…Well Sir, I’d like to thank you for being delightful company for the journey and hope you arrive in Wincester safely. If you wish to use our services again a messenger to the keep will sort things out quickly and a ranger will meet you at this entrance to the pass when you’re due to return. Maybe next time you’ll be told what it’s like to survive in the woods and about a lake fed by no rivers – that one will get you thinking!