The Orphans of Cathorna
A guide to the Firen Valley
The Firen Valley – a brief guide for the Cathornan
North of the river
People don’t go north of the river much, other than to go to the anthracite mine (the little black spot north of Cathorna) each day. The Firen is 100-400 metres wide and fast-flowing, and crossing requires either a boat or a very strong and unencumbered swimmer, especially in spring as the glaciers melt. Ice comes downstream sometimes.
The plains north of the river are heavily patrolled by Dunlending warrior bands, five to ten angry young men who like nothing better than running/riding down intruders and making it clear they Do Not Take Kindly To Intruders. There are wild sheep and goats, fields of eorna grain and other goodies, but the flat, empty terrain is very hard to cross unseen. At night, family groups of grass cats (silent, stealthy lynx/puma-like predators) and wolves hunt. It’s possible to reach Thror’s Hills and the Derrin Downs without being attacked, but it’s very risky.
The lake is full of fish and other life, and is the destination for Cathorna’s little fleet of four boats each day. There are two small islands: Scall Island to the northwest, and the larger Dobos Island. Both are steep-flanked rock domes rising sharply from the water, covered almost completely with dense thorny acacia. Fishermen have occasionally ventured ashore, but the vegetation and steep banks make it impractical and fairly pointless.
A broad, undulating grassy plain, sloping gradually but unevenly towards the spring at the centre. Nobody is allowed in or near the Kine. It is a place of worship for the Dun tribes to the west (and some to the north), and the Do Not Take Kindly To Intruders. And Palanto doesn’t take kindly to people upsetting the neighbours
Nobody goes up Keep Mountain. It is a village taboo; people are expelled for breaking it.
The High Paddock
There is a ruined stockade in the High Paddock, plus old shearing sheds, a couple of derelict wooden watch towers and a few other farming structures. It’s still used to graze Cathornas small flock (the survivig stockade walls make it easier to contain and defend them), and is a popular stopping place for Cathorna’s forest wanderers. The sheep are taken there periodically to graze, usually according to militia rosters; when there is a patrol on the road and another to guard the sheep, they are taken to the High Paddock.
The Low Paddock
Flanked to the east by Cathorna Hill, to the north by the river and on the other sides by steep, densely vegetated hills, the Low Paddock is one of few safe places outside the village. There is only one trail in: a deeply incised animal track three sheep wide on which the trampled sheep droppings are so dense the road surface is almost black. The sheep spend most of their lives here, guarded by at least two shepherds, and usually five or more militia on a deliberately irregular schedule. The grass is dense and lush, the ground slopes gently down to the river, where huge willows almost completely obscure the view. The wind rarely reaches this isolated hollow and the hills keep out the fiercest of the heat in summer. There is a small lean-to close to the road, built over the years by shepherds tired of standing in the rain or the dubious protection of the willows. Occasional rustling attempts by kobolds in the past were quickly thwarted, as a fifty pound kobold will struggle to bear away a hundred ponld lamb through dense scrub.
The river crossing
A small ruined fort guards the river crossing to the west. The fort’s walls are mostly piles of rubble, but some rooms still have roofs. Traders and travelers camp there regularly, and Palanto sends militia patrols there often. There is a stout wooden bridge about eight feet wide (plus railings) crossing the river, of similar vintage to the fort. There are signs of repairs done to the bridge over the decades, and Cathornans have done (and still do) work to keep it intact.
The Spruces are the best logging areas: Low Spruce is safe(ish), but less productive, High Spruce has taller, straighter trees, but they need to be floated through the Sonder Rapids (around the cluster of islands). Also, there are gnolls (intelligent armed humanoids, the D&D type) and cleaverbeaks up there, which regularly kill people (though not Cathornans, who know better than to mess with eight foot tall murderous avians).
the little lake 3km downstream from Armagil’s Glacier is as close as you’ve come to the mountians. It’s tough country, steep-cliffed and heavily wooded, and there is a lot of orc activity. There is also evidence of dwarf activity further east.
The wooded hills west of the Derrin Downs are a mystery; folks go there sometimes and hunt, trap and forage safely. But every now and then people headed there don’t come back, and are never found.
The Coal Mine
The mine is about two kilometres north of Cathorna, up a steadily and sometimes steeply sloping hill. The entrance itself is in the face of a 40 degree hill, with a flat landing about thirty metres long. There’s a steep footpath, with corduroy stairs at the steepest bits, and a wooden trackway they bring the carts of coal down each day. It’s longer but gentler.
There are two levels to the mine. The main one is ancient; much of it precedes Palanto and the trekkers’ arrival at Cathorna in 1600. The black blotches are pillars left to support the backs (the ceiling). Bottom left is the muck pile where waste rock is dumped until there’s enough to warrant carting it out (not often; little waste is mined). There are three broad bands of coal, trending NW-SE, cutting across the upper layer. The narrow bits on the east finger out where the coal gets too straggly.
The lower level is accessed via the little chamber at the northern end. There is a Tomas-designed two-person left cage in a 2-metre wide shaft with a cunning counterbalance that allows coal to be raised as people come down. Miners can also access the lower level via a ladder in the 60 degree escapeway.
The lower level follows the trend of the coal. The central one was developed first, early in current Cathorna’s time. The black dot at the southeast end of it is where the lift shaft opens out. The crosscuts were driven to access the other two identified rich seams. None are showing signs of pinching out. There is coal enough for generations based on what you’re seeing.
Tomas, Mahti Edhellen and several others have copies of this map, and there is one neatly engraved into a slate at the entrance.
Two people have died in the mine: Dillon and Ann Brin, parents of 16 year old Orsa who won the Exploitation Of Children Race. A rockslide buried the dwarf Borgen Ragner when the shaft was being dug: they climbed down, dug him out and got him on a stretcher that was then roped up the shaft. As they tried to escape there was a second collapse and both were killed. The dwarves offered to inter them underground according to their customs, but Orsa wanted to be able to visit them without going underground. They rest in the hidden cemetery at the top of Cathorna Hill.
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