In Scotland the phrase, “The Crow Road” means death, as in, “Poor wee Tam, that last goblin checkpoint was just a bridge too far. He’s awa’ the Crow Road”.
In my game world, it’s a stone walled, sod roofed, howff, found on the lee-side of Stormness Harbour. A harbour that looks out onto a bit of sea called the Milch, with the low brown scrim of the Scapa Isles way off in the distance.
The Crow Road was built a hundred years ago, about the time the harbour was completed. It serves the local fishing community come rain or shine; and believe me, this far north, there’s more rain than shine. Famous for its food and stout, it’s known up and down the Highlands, and the Lowlands. Even the King has blessed this simple tavern with his regal presence and proclaimed the porter the finest beverage he’s ever tasted. In fact, a wagon-full heads south to Dumbarton castle monthly.
The owner, and brewer, and chief-cook ‘n’ bottle washer, is a strapping Highlander by the name of Angus McKay. He used to be an adventurer but gave it up after a near-death experience at the hands/ tentacles of some flesh-eating, otherworldly horror. He decided then and there, that he would sooner die in his own bed, than be little pink chunks strewn around the bottom of some obscure dungeon while grubbing for coin. Sod that for a game of soldiers were his exact words.
He bought the Crow Road off the then current owner for the sum of 500 gp and several head of Highland cattle. He built a small brewery at the back off the tavern, in the woods, close to a fast running stream. He buys his barley and hops from a local farmer and the rest is history. He blackens the barley to give his porter its distinctive colour, taste and aroma, and serves it as cold as possible by storing his barrels down in the cellar.
The howff is a busy one. Locals, wanderers, adventurers, off to try their hands at the ruins of Cunsmore Castle only sixteen miles along the muddy, wheel rutted road. There’s a dungeon there, a big one, goes down for miles apparently. Level upon level of coin and creatures, in the dark, waiting.
The locals are fishermen for the most part. Farmers, woodcutters, carpenters, boat builders, fishmongers. The usual sort it takes to make a town successful. The area is safer than most because the Regent is enamoured with what’s brewed here, so he’s stationed a full garrison to protect the village, especially the Crow Road.
Ceilidhs happen every fifth night around a roaring fire until the sun splits the sky and the hangovers start to split the head. There’s a wee group of minstrels who come up from the Bards College in the south to perform for everyone. They play the pipes and drums and the noise is truly something to hear. That’s when the Crow Road is at its busiest, full to the rafters with everyone in the hamlet, having a good time drinking, singing, and telling tales.
Here’s just a few people you might encounter on a wet and windy night at the Crow Road.
Local lad and struggling artist. He’s taken to being a painter, much against his father’s wishes. He prowls the surrounding areas looking for inspiration, waiting for something to move him so that he might paint his next masterpiece. He has talent, that’s for sure, and he’s even managed to sell a few pieces here and there. Nothing major, no royal or high-born commissions just yet, but give time he might just become incredibly popular if he finds a wealthy sponsor. He has done some private work that he keeps a secret. Some rather risqué pieces for Lady Hayes, full-length nudes of her Ladyship reclining in her boudoir. She sends them monthly to her ex-husband, Lord Hayes, so he can be reminded just what he is missing out on. She has taken young Fergus as a clandestine lover. He only hopes she will adopt his cause and get him to paint something other than her more than ample bosom.
Local farmer. His lands were once the site of the Battle of Culloden, where the King-over-the-Water faced defeat at the hands of the Sassenach invaders. He’s aye picking up bits-and-bobs from the battlefield and turning them into farming implements. His lands are haunted. Heavily haunted. You can’t turn sideways without bumping into some ghost or another. At night, especially when the moon is full, you can see them all lined up on either sides of his wheat fields, waiting for the order to charge. They are done come sun-up, but every evening they return to the fields to do bloody battle with each other. Most of the dead are harmless, but every once in a while, a Wraith will claw its way through from the other side and get up to all manner of mischief. Killing the cattle, eviscerating the sheep. It’s then that Tam has to call for the local Cleric to rid his land of the unwelcome visitor. Tam is married, seven children, all girls and the spitting image of their mother. Between the ghosts and the unwelcome suitors, Tam’s not shy to lets his hair down at the Ceilidh.
Father Colin McGuire
Local Cleric and arbiter in all matters that can’t be settled by themselves. Elderly, portly, but highly gifted and devout in his calling. He has a strong right arm, and many the times he’s had to use it. He was married, once, but she died when he was away in the Burning Lands. He never forgave himself, and neither did she. She haunts the woods surrounding the wee village. She has become a bansidhe and mourns for her love, nightly. He can’t stomach the thought of having to try and turn her, so he lets her moan and wail and slip forlornly through the trees. He likes to carve bits of driftwood into life-like replicas of the angelic horde. These he sells at the monthly market and spends the proceeds in repairing the local kirk. It needs a whole new roof, and Father McGuire won’t stop till it has one. In the basement of the kirk is a wealth of maps, books, strange weaponry and bizarre pieces of armour from his time abroad in the Burning Lands. He likes to go down there at night and relive his youth. He also keeps jars filled with large scorpions, spiders, lizards and other desert creatures.
Local gravedigger. He’s a quiet lad, keeps himself to himself. Took over from his father when he passed away a few years back. He maintains the grounds surrounding the local kirk and ensures the gravestones are still standing after the sudden gusts and gales. But Stewart has a secret, a dark one. Every few weeks he heads south to the city for a few days. While he’s there, he kills people with his bare hands. He likes to strangle the life right out of them, see the fires die in their eyes. Then he dismembers the bodies bringing only the heads back home. The rest he leaves for the local watch to stumble over. He keeps the heads on wooden shelves in his cellar. He is a minor necromancer and uses a simple cantrip to keep the heads from rotting. He likes to cradle them in his lap while he brushes their hair. One hundred strokes precisely.
Known as the mistress of the Milch, Morag owns a fleet of highly successful fishing vessels, and is undoubtedly the richest person in the area. Not that you would know it though. She lives plainly, and simply, and is extremely charitable with her coin. She doesn’t believe in the gods so she won’t contribute to the rebuilding of the kirk, but she will help the Father with his orphanage work. She is a hard worker and her men would do anything for her. She pays well, on time, and with real gold. They would follow her to the gates of hell if they had too. Her only extravagance is a pair of gold earrings that she wears constantly. These she says she would use to pay the ferryman if she were ever drowned at sea. She makes sure her men do the same. She too has a secret. Once, when she was but a girl, she went out on her father’s row-boat to check the gill-nets. She pulled in a Merman who had become entangled during a storm the night before. He thanked her, and offered up his heart to her. She accepted and when she was of age the wed in secret. He can only come aboard her boat at night as he transforms into a normal man, but in the morning he must be gone.
Next week I’ll type up a few more.