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The Politics of Passage
Barrier Town to Willow Hamlet: Crag Mouth #2
© 2023 James LaFond
The Sheriff always knows when wayfarers are headed east along the Bund Road. The fief is not called Overwatch for nothing. Messenger pigeons are kept in the eve loft of North Tower to communicate with Raven Watch. Likewise the South Tower has a flock of pigeons for communication with Castle Bund.
Men fit to serve in numerous dangerous capacities are desired by Sheriff Madoc. Likewise, the Good Lord Bund is possessed by a constant need to avoid financing Barrier Town, crucial as it is to securing his long border with the dangerous wilds to the east. Thus, when fugitives, hunters, adventurers, merchants, strangers, and even holy pilgrims to the Angel Dawn’s shrine, travel east from Bund, the gatekeeper there, unless he has been engaged with a bribe or directed by his Lord, will send a description of the wayfarer to the Sheriff.
Thus, any first time visitor to Barrier Town will happen to arrive on Tax Day! Woodchucks, hay bailers, swineherds and garden girls will be summoned to Barrier Town by the tolling of the bell in the Shrine of the Mother of God, erected on a scaffold opposite the gallows, facing west. Hence a visitor, pilgrim, even a traveling teacher, will have the terrible ill-luck to arrive as flocks are driven into town for tax assessment. The entire town is in on the grift. Every servant and slave will act his part and not give over the secret to the stranger who he or she secretly hopes will replace them in their toils.
The herald will interview the travelers between shrine, in line with the north tower, and gallows, in line with the south tower, directly between the western gate and the eastern drawbridge.
The Acolyte of the Shrine of The Mother of God, alone, does not engage in the deception, though he will not actively inform the travelers.
The henchling knights, Briss and Trent, will seek to arrange a duel with any likely swordsman. If either of these is slain, the slayer must serve the Sheriff in his stead.
The interview of each wayfarer is conducted by the herald, who informs them of the Terms of Passage:
Pilgrims, Priests, Teachers, Monks and Mourners will be engaged to serve for a week in the gardens from sun up to sundown, except for the Sabath. Or, such folks may have such toilsome service waived in return for their pledge to serve as Chaplain at the Shine of the Dawn Angel for the remainder of the current month.
Those who seem to be likely combatants or adventurers, who do not take the bait to duel one of the knights, will be engaged as agents of the Sheriff with some duty to discharge in Willow Hamlet, generally to help defend or expand the place.
Merchants, traders, prospectors, teachers and ordained holy men will be asked for a donative sum, their treatment contingent on their generosity.
Magi, Alienists, Alchemists and Rangers will not be taxed in this way, but will be issued a letter of introduction and a pledge of service to the Captain of Willow Hamlet, signed by Sheriff Mordoc. Each such person will be bound to complete but one task assigned by the Captain.
Likewise, any fighter type who bests a knight in duel will be engaged as an agent of the Sheriff. A man who loses the duel agreed to will be locked in the stocks and given a choice of being whipped upon the morrow and sent in fetters to Willow Hamlet as a seven year slave, or of pledging to serve a full year to the date as a ranger charged with protecting Willow Hamlet.
An obviously strong man will be asked to wrestle the local youths and to participate in a friendly drinking bout.
Prices for those goods and services that may be had are double the normal rate. Food, beer, leather goods, woolen clothing and blankets, axes, knives and spears are in good supply, though expensive.
Visitors must always leave with the dawn the day after tax day, to the tolling of the eastward bells. Two small bells rung from the gallows, the same used to announce a hanging or whipping.
The wayfarers will be informed that the Chapel of the Dawn Angel has no Chaplain. The Chapel is so placed halfway between Barrier Town and Willow Hamlet, so that he who departs either place with the dawn will arrive just before sunset on the shortest day of the year at this holy halfway point. The chapel is a simple one room stone building with a roofed loft. This roof is so designed like an angel’s wings to cast a shadow at dawn and sunset upon the beaten track and is known as a sacred destination for penitents, mourners, holy men and, so it is said, prophets as far away as Deep Sound and Low Bund.
For those who have coin or valuable goods, the Sheriff may be disposed to sell any of the following malcontents, the three of which are locked in half of the six stocks.
Brand the Swift, has shifty, narrow green eyes under curly red locks. He has been branded on both cheeks for running away. He will not talk before the Sheriff or the herald—the latter of which he snarls at habitually—who will explain that Brand was a cut purse, pick pocket and burglar in Low Bund and was sold into bondage here. He is locked in the stocks, though he is regarded as no danger, because he is infamously lazy and has a knack for slipping out of his fetters. Brand makes no promises and seems too proud to beg.
Chunk the Black, has greasy black hair, is tall and thickly built, and was a deserter from Raven Watch, a watchman sold into service by his widowed mother, who escaped the Warden of that place and is regarded as an excellent wood cutter and formidable wrestler. However, Chunk is also feared, as he is thought to have purposely felled a fir so that it would squash his overseer, which it did. There being no witness to this possible murder, and Chunk being unable to speak due to having his tongue cut out by the Warden of Raven Watch for striking a sergeant, this fellow is being sold cheaply to whosoever might risk his service. Chunk is surly and slope shouldered. Any alienist or expert commander set to examine him will note that he is predisposed to loyal behavior and seems subject to some lowly, inner code. His ears have been bored and his thumbnails torn out by the farrier. He seems immune to pain.
Clyne is a convicted pirate, survivor of an infamous crew broken up by the Captain’s Five of Deep Sound and their henchmen. He speaks quickly and in curt fashion, denies ever having been a pirate and claims to be a first rate seaman and allergic to livestock. He will swear to loyally serve any who would buy him and free him from the stocks. Both of his ears are notched at the bottom and he has deep scars upon his back. His hair is bright yellow and his teeth better than normal.
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