The Shirt of Destiny – Part 5: The Grey Mountains

Once upon a time, when bandits roamed the land and all manner of thievery and roguery was the norm, the sheriffs of my land ran out of places to lock up these undesirables, and instead sent them on a long sea voyage to the lands at the end of the earth. They settled in that distant place and many generations later it was their turn to send their people back to the place of their ancestral origin, although now it was not necessarily to be a one-way trip.

And so it has come to pass that as the Moor Man and I step downstairs at the House of Morag, we are surrounded by these Children of the Lands at the End of the Earth, taking up much of the table space and making much clamour. And they made much clamour during the night too, as the Moor Man attests to the shortness of his sleep.

And so the Moor Man is not in the best of humours as we leave the House of Morag and walk the short distance to the Trading Post. There we seek provisions for the journey across the Grey Mountains, and in particular a local delicacy known as Tun-nocks. Our poor fortune this day continues yet – no stocks of the delicacy are to be had. While we are rueing our great misfortune, who should happen by but the Merchant.

Our spirits lift and we happily wait the extra time so that we can set off as three. For the Merchant’s way lies the same as ours – at least for much of today. We set off along the road and climb steadily until we reach a small wood, where a track leads off to the right. This track climbs slowly through a barren land of statue-like mechanical beasts. Dust is in the air as mechanical beasts lumber by, barely slowing as they pass.

The day is hot, unusually for this notoriously damp and windy land. Many stops are held along the way wherever we find water flowing. Birds of prey circle above us, waiting for our strength to fail. A final big climb and we reach the top of the bleak landscape. I take my rest on a large rock by the track, while the Merchant and Moor Man leave the track to pay homage to the Icon of the Eagle that lies nearby.

We reach a great lake of man’s invention, held here to feed the needs of natives in the lands below. And we are now in the land of windmills, blades turning to chop at the heavens and make the sky crash down upon us. Here the Merchant leaves us to follow a path that lies in the way of a Great Spring named Chalybeate. Our way lies further west and north, as we intend to journey through the very centre of these mountains.

As the Merchant’s back disappears to the east, we step off the track and onto soft ground. The Moor Man’s spirits rise noticeably with every step over the mossy, tussocky earth. We reach ground cutaway by the streams, the windmills turning slowly above us, and here we make our first camp in the Grey Mountains.

The new day is also warm, but on rougher ground we don’t plan as great a distance. Today the wonders of this land will reveal themselves, and we plan to savour them.

The way downstream is tortuous with many twists and turns, and peaty obstacles to overcome. We are glad to reach its end in a wide valley, before we climb up into the next. Now all is different, as wonders appear with every step. This Glen of Markie is delightful with tumbling waterfalls, tranquil streams and great blue heavens above us. We take our noontime meal with our feet trailing in the river, and all is right with the world.

Oaths are sworn to return to this place of magic and calm.

We continue our climb alongside the dwindling stream to the head of the glen. Here is the realm of peat, and we toil around and over. The work is hard on this hot day. Many times are our hats soaked in the waters to proffer scant relief. Soon we pass more waterfalls and a dried-up lochan and we know we have finally left the Magic Glen. Ahead lies the great river of Eskin. The way across rough ground resolves into a firm path above raging torrents. The day is old, and it is time to stop. We find a place by the growing river.

This third day in the Grey Mountains we are away early. It is cooler and we have much work to do. We continue along the track by the river passing some remote huts and great lodges of the lords of these parts. We cross the river and some rough ground, through some trees and gain the track on the other side.

I have been this way before, on my first Quest, and the path is familiar apart from it being less cruelly steep than I remember. Our progress is good, but our hunt for a shady place for our noontime meal is not easy. We huddle under a meagre tree, and watch goats on the steep hillside opposite.

We reach the Place Of Wrong Direction, a memory of the last time I walked these particular lands, but today we do not err, and follow the right stream. Here the peat reigns again, and legs work hard to conquer this uneven ground.

But eventually we gain the high point between the streams and start walking downwards again. The way beside this stream lies between rocks and over heather, and there is much climbing around and over obstacles. Our limbs grow heavy, but as we reach a track we know the rest of the way is easy. It is a matter of moments before we are at the Red Place, looking inside the lonely dwelling there. But not for us a night with wooden walls and the nocturnal noises of other adventurers, so we seek a place out of the wind by Tudair’s River to make our camp.

Day 8 of our Quest, and our fourth in these Grey Mountains. The wind died in the night and all is peaceful as we wake. Not much more than 2 leagues separates us from today’s target. We should be there for our noontime feast.

The climb up the great wide track over the last ridge of the Grey Mountains is quick and without pain. Civilization calls to us. We stand at the top of the road looking down into the Great Valley below. Ahead, on the other side of the Great Valley, massive mountains poke at the heavens. We look eagerly into their midst – our way forward tomorrow lies in their embrace.

We walk down the track to a Great Highway, the very greatest in these parts. Crossing this great highway is a test of our mettle and boldness, and we somehow emerge from the trial unscathed. A short way further on, lies a bridge over the Way of the Iron Horse, and here we stop and talk with two natives of these parts. They impart a legend about the Greatest Iron Horse of All, and of a vision they had of its passing this day. They stand on the bridge to await the coming. We stand with them.

The Great Iron Horse appears in the distance in a cloud of steam, and hurtles along the Way beneath our feet. Steam shrouds our faces and as it clears we turn our backs to look upon the Great Iron Horse, but it is gone already. Have we just had a vision too ?

The path by the Way of the Iron Horse is easy and soon we arrive at the bustling Town of the Big Mountain Face, where we have secured lodgings. The rest of the day passes in a debauch of feasting, drinking and merrymaking. For we have survived the Grey Mountains.

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