An Englishman In Medecia
The South-East Coast of Skye
The east road from Hargas Bay runs close to the shoreline and the cliffs for several miles. Calling it a road is somewhat of an exaggeration, as it is little more than a rough track of sand and dirt, beaten out by traveller's boots and horses' hooves over several hundred years. On either side of the path, coarse grass grows often waist-high, interspersed with tangled clumps of a thistle-like plant with a tufted, bulbous head known locally as cheltern .
The air here is salt with sea-spray, accompanied constantly by the thunder of the sea breaking against the foot of the cliffs, and the harsh cries of seagulls. The land slowly descends as you go further east, and in the distance can be seen the wide flats of the Shale Marshes, where the land reaches its lowest point, and threatens to merge with the sea. In the worst of weather, or the highest of tides, the sea indeed floods a vast part of the marshes, leaving only the tops of the tallest clumps of reeds still visible.
The path, however, turns north before reaching the flats, and heads inland. In a surprisingly short time the sounds of the sea are muffled almost into silence. Ahead, to the north, the land rises slowly towards a distant, often mist-shrouded line of low hills, whose grassy slopes are broken by craggy outcrops of pale stone. These mark the beginning of the moorlands of Morden Brag.
Long before this, however, and while the sound of the breaking surf can still be heard, the track passes close to a stretch of curiously hummocked ground, just above the marshlands. Leaving the track and making your way across a few hundred yards of broken ground brings you into the midst of these hummocks, which unmistakeably bear the impression of being the long-overgrown remains of walls and buildings. Here and there a block of stone obtrudes from the harsh grass that otherwise chokes the area, strengthening the impression still more.
Indeed, this was once a town, but so long ago that even its name has been long forgotten, and only fragments of its story are now remembered. It was a garrison town, that is, a town which grew up around a semi-permanent military camp, over two thousand years ago, in the days of the Scarlet Empire, which ruled most of the known world at that time. The abrupt fall of the empire (in 'a day and a night' according to the traditional tales) wrought havoc throughout its provinces, and many previously thriving places, such as this town, fell into chaos and eventual destruction or sometimes into long drawn-out decay.
Various local legends cluster around this nameless town. Some concern the presence of a military garrison at this otherwise insignificant location, others concern the fall of the town, and most tend be mutually contradictory. The most common stories hold that the garrison was here to guard some precious item (every legend has its own version of what that item might be), and associate the fall of the town with a duel between two sorcerors, resulting in their mutual destruction and the consequent destruction of most of the town itself. The other inhabitants of the town are held either have perished in the side-effects of the duel, or to have fled into the night (usually to found whichever village or town is the source of the particular legend and hence lend it some historical glamour by association).
As if in partial support of at least some versions of the legends, there are ghosts here, but they are pallid and feeble things, faded almost to nothing, their presence known only as a momentary deeper chill in the midst of the night, and a barely perceptible whispering in the cold sea breeze. Still, they are enough to make the traveller swiftly return to the beaten track, and follow it northwards away from this nameless town and up into the low hills of the Brag.
- cheltern: [Editor's note] cieldhern, probably a contraction of cielte-dherne, 'witch-hair'. A colloquial name only found in Skae.
- cheltern: Widely regarded as little more than a weed, cheltern can actually be used as the primary ingredient for a mildly useful potion that improves the night-time vision of the imbiber. Unfortunately the process involved is so long and complicated, and so prone to error, that the benefits are hardly worth the expense.
- Shale Marshes: [Editor's note] More correctly, this should simply be The Shale, which would be a reasonably accurate version of the original Scél, a name which simply means 'marsh'.
- its name has been long forgotten: [Editor's note] Possibly long-forgotten by those to whom the narrator spoke, but the archives of the Saeru have very long memories and can tell us that the town was in fact called Mordenscaft (which our narrator would probably render as 'Mordenshaft'), or Morden's Camp.