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The North Track
Crag Mouth #7
© 2023 James LaFond
The Willows
Ranger Arn and Eda Berry hold lore on The Willows.
The Willows are pleasant to the eye and seductive to the ear, the rush of the Scarlet River below filtering up through the weeping branches of the willows and the hanging boughs of Weeping Spruce. There is little ground cover other than moss, fern and black berry. The margins of the Forest and the willows are dominated by vine maple, which Jailer Joe favors for whipping rods, being light and hard.
Numerous small seeps and brooks drain the higher forest and hills to east and north. The bull moose that bed down in The Willows tend to be very violent due to their berry intake and will attack wayfarers on a 3 in 6. Moose cows and their young avoid The Willows.
The problem with the Willows is also its allure, The Contrary Berry. These appear like black berry, with thick, thorny stalks, fronted by two creeping vines that wend along the ground and tend to trip passers bye. The Contrary Berry has a deeper purple to black fruit that fruits all year round. Its thorns are red and its creeper vines aggressive and ever seeking the track. These vines are vampiric, able to dart like snakes and bite with leech-like, white mouths at the end of each vine.
The bite of the vine does no damage. The bitten must save verses poison or spend a number of hours, equal to the margin of failure in constant disagreement with their fellows. Eating the berry has the same effect. Eda gathers these berries for sale to Border Town, where the Sheriff sells them through agents in Overwatch. These are valued by sorcerers, hangmen, inquisitors, alchemists and wytchfinders in their various pursuits. Durst purchases these berries for making Debate Night Wine, during which tavern goers, two chosen by lot, will be compelled to drink a thimble full and then argue upon the subject posited by the crowd.
The Red Hills
Ranger Bob and Hiedi Eggs hold lore on the Red Hills.
The low range of sand stone and clay hills, shelved in ochre colored slate is inhabited by wild and feral goats, gray lions and patrolled by rangers and their enemies, the Grogs and Stonish Giants. The hills are covered with scrub oak, big tooth maple and lone, towering, black bark pines.
Grogs [1] are the bastard monstrous births resulting from the rape of human women by Stonish Giants [2] or Skunk Apes [3]. Some suggest, that a Skunk Ape transforms into a Stonish Giant upon impregnating a woman. These ape men are confirmed bachelors. Once they have abducted and impregnated a woman, and she gives birth, that woman will be found a year later where the track down out of the Red Hills debouches into the vine maple between the Hide Forest and The Willows.
Grogs know who their mother is by scent and will not harm her. Both Hiedi and Eda have been abducted as have one of Durst’s slave girls. Bess has three grog sons but will not admit it. They are normal height men, extremely broad, with strength and toughness at the top 10% of the human range. They have a penalty to hit for throwing missiles, which are rocks and clubs, but do excessive damage. Their weapons are simple rocks and clubs. They dress in goat hides and fleece, with mutton their favorite meat.
Grogs have an ability to bite and rend for half a die of damage and are excellent climbers and cannot be outrun by a man. They do not seem as intelligent as their human parent, nor as wise and cunning as their Stonish parent. They are sterile 15 out of 16 cases. If this odd 16th Grog manages to mate with a woman he will transform into a Stonish giant and challenge his father. These creatures are called Grogs for their perpetual bloodshot eyes and their thirst for alcohol, which makes them more violent but impedes their mobility and already dim wits. Grogs are encountered like so as determined on a 1d6:
-1, 2, or 3: 1 grog, scouting
-4 or 5: 2 grogs, hunting
-6. 3 grogs, raiding for women for their lusty Sire
Stonish giants encountered in the Red Hills will withdraw into the Scarlet Mountains. [There are only two of these, Red and Big Crag. All three are known on sight to the Rangers and by name to Arn.]
The Scarlet Mountains
Ranger Jon ranges the Scarlet Mountains, while Arn and Bob avoid the depths of the range, skirting the lower shoulders of the mountains. The red rock and iron stone striations of these mountains are crowned with evergreen: pitch pine, black pine, pole pine and fir. Aspen and larch clothe the lower saddles of these rugged mountains.
Ordinary wildlife include, grisly bear, bison, black tail deer, gray lion, a pack of wolves, mountain goats, elk and bison. The wolf pack have a truce with the grogs and Stonish Giants.
The Great Stote ranges the Scarlet Mountains and has no natural predator. These will not attack a Stonish Giant but will attempt to feed on lone Grogs. Grogs are loyal to those who render aid, and if saved from a Great Stote would make a reliable ally, though they will not raise a hand against their Sire in less mated with a woman and tarnsformed.
The Great Stote is 6 to 9 feet tall, a giant flightless starling, a solitary animal that uses its beak to stab and then suck out the lungs and brains and other innards of mammals. It is the apex predator of these bleak mountains and the reason why grizzly bears behave more like mountain lions, sometimes pouncing on these wicked birds from cover. 2 of 3 of these birds have pouches, where they keep their single egg, and then their chick, which will be released as a Minor Stote in the Cedar Forest, someday to range the mountains above.
A Stonish Giant is a transformed Skunk Ape, more gray and white than brown and black and red of hair. He has had intercourse with a human woman and has had his mind expanded in the encounter. He has a hatred for men that replaces the fear of men of a Skunk Ape. He is as intelligent as an average man and apes mankind in his arts, making swords and axes of wood and bone, knives of stone and even fashioning armor.
Armor is made by taking bones, inscribed with symbols by the owner or a Feathered Contrary. These bone plates are then woven into the thick fur coat of the giant making of his own hide a kind of scale coat. It is one of the chief occupations of the Grog at rest to make, add to, repair and dress his Sire’s coat of bone. The skulls of slain enemies, to include bull bison and grisly bear, are treasured for armor scales. Bison heads are preferred for fashioning great, shaggy horned helmets.
There are three Stonish Giants in the Scarlet Mountains.
Red, is the smallest and has red hair, and only has three grogs. He lives west of the Scarlet River in a bleak cave. He prefers to throw a brace of clubs and fight with a stone knife and bone ax.
Big Crag is the prime and largest Stonish Giant and resides at Crag Mouth, having 9 grogs under his service. He is an awesome, towering specimen with deep gray hair. His weapon is a great curved sword fashioned of a mammoth tusk. [4] It has been worked and ground, and filed and polished until it is actually sharp. He also hefts a shield made from mammoth hide that a normal man may not even lift. It is 7 feet tall and three feet wide and shaped like a figure of 8 bowl. Big Crag is 12 feet tall and five feet wide at the shoulder.
He does not throw stones. But does have one of his grogs stationed above the mountain pass behind a boulder to roll down on intruders.
Old White, is a white and silver backed giant who has been ousted by Big Crag. He has but one grog, the rest killed by his bitter rival. He wields a massive club and throws large stones underhanded. He is a potential ally and lurks to the north and east of Crag Mouth, cut off from access to women by his bitter rival.
In my original teen age draft of Crag Mouth, these creatures were as follows, out of convention, with this version leaning on my Elder Earth novels Sorcerer!, Ranger?, and Wife—, in preparation for the writing of Slave. This did development work for my fiction and grants the reader of this something unique for his campaign.
-1. These were orks.
-2. These were ogres.
-3. These were Robert E. Howard’s Ape man of Valyet, as depicted in Rogues in the House [the ape man Thak] and Iron Shadows in the Moon.
-4. The mammoth herds live to the north of the Scarlet Mountains.
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