They say the East Road was once a lovely place to travel, a panoramic lane uniting Shadowdwell, Hearthdwell, and the Myrrhan Road. From the far east trundled Daerogrin caravans, overladen with fine, Dwarven goods. From the north, troubadours brought their songs, their wines, and their fine elven delicacies. And from Granitespire, Kingsdwell, Hearthsdwell and even Seadwell, human merchants tread the East Road, bartering goods from places as far as Godsport, Three Rivers, and Anrak.
But this is only what they say, for it was all before the Shivering. Now, twenty years since the world was shaken to its very foundations, the East Road is dead. Or it may as well be, running as it does through the sorry realm of Shadowdwell. Like the East Road traversing the providences’ eastern reaches, Shadowdwell was aptly named. Set in the shadow of the mountain range known as King’s Crown, it lies obscured from the great city of GraniteSpire, her people, and the King. And in these lands, as befalls the sky in late afternoon, light has been lost.
Under the tyranical rule of Lady Chanta Adellan, Shadowdwell has withered and decayed. Much damage was wrought upon Castle Adellan and the surrounding lands in the Shivering, and though the capital city was rebuilt fat on wealth and girded in power, it came at the expense of the rest of the state. By Lady Adellan’s orders, the grasp of lords tightened on their fiefdoms and the serfs were squeezed of all their worth. In shackles forged of heavy taxes and sealed in the lock of ruthless laws, the serfs were completely enslaved.
If any hope remained in the dwell, it was squelched with the Rightful Heirs Edict in the Year of Our King Six-hundred and Ninety One. By this law, all non-humans were driven from Shadowdwell. Those who refused to flee were slain. By Six-hundred and Ninety Two, the borders were closed to all not of full human blood. With this new law, trade ground to a halt. Shadowdwell became insulated. Now only the most stalwart or desperate merchants brave the pass at Dol Dressel, Dead Man’s, or the Myhrran road to sell their wares.
Of course the “Shadow Lady”, as Adellan has been called, has no means or desire to enforce such strict boundaries. As such, these duties have fallen to the last “free” men. Bandits. Bands of these outlaws rule the northern, southern, and eastern borders of the state. The “taxes” they impose on any who seek travel keep outsiders out and residents in. It is said that not even King Cruniac himself could travel these roads without being stopped by highwaymen. Only Lady Adellan herself is safe from their lust.
As serfs of Lady Adellan, your lives are forfeit. While laughter rings and corpulence weighs the towers and manors of the lords, none of it trickles down the servant class. If there is hope in your begrimed, emaciated existence, it is not in service or elevation, but in escape.
You have heard the rumors of course. The promise of other lands. Granitespire. The great king-city on the mountain. But its mighty light shines far too the west, and beyond the dark sprawl of Castle Adellen. Then there is Seadwell, to the south. Though rumors have it the people there fight a grim and long war, the weight of conflict sounds light against the yoke of slavery. Closer still, to the north, is the Druaan forest. Perhaps it is a cursed place, as they say, an evil place inhabited by barbaric, flesh-eating elves. But you’ve also been told it was dealings with these elves, and dwarves, satyrs, and bastard half-breeds that led to Shadowdwell’s downfall. If that is true, why since the Edict, has fortune not come to these lands? Perhaps some solace could be found amongst those deadly trees.
But closest of all, and most hopeful, is the free state of Hearthdwell. To the east Karathians live lives free of oppression. And though they may be cursed for dealing freely with other races, you suspect such a curse is lighter than that of your masters bond. It is escape to this place, to Hearthdwell, that your heart lives for. But a heart’s endless desire is not enough. This is Tarelhi. And everything has a price.
You have saved goods and coin, perhaps even scalped and stolen, secreting your meager gain away in plan of this. But simply bribing your way onto a traveling caravan is not enough. You know you must also pay the bandits, purchase passage at each boundary they lay. And beyond this, on the East Road, anything could go wrong. Travel, perilous in its own right, is nothing compared to discover. A serf who abandons his lord’s lands will know one thing: execution. For most, even the thought of risking such a journey is too much to bear. But you are not like most. Where some bought drink to wash away their woes, you did not, rather sipping from the trough of swinie. Where others have spent their meager shares on baked goods, butter, and cheese, you have eaten worms, roots, and castoffs. And where some found love and family brighten their life, you have abstained. Years you have saved. Years you have hoarded. Years you have waited. Now, you have all that it will take.
You thought to make your escape to Hearthdwell on the East Road at the breaking of summer. That was the plan. However, things rarely go to plan.
A week ago, word reached your village that the bandit king of the East Road had fallen ill. The last time a vacuum in power occurred amongst the “free” men, a year of anarchy followed. Each warrior laid claim to the throne, with their men loyal only to themselves. The roads were passable by none, save the Shadow Lady’s Guard. Villages were sacked. Hundreds were slain.
The caravan master decided a wait for winter’s weather to subside could not be risked. He would leave now, without delay, praying that the bandit king survived long enough for the journey to the border. You, like him, could wait no longer. The thought of another year of risking the revelation of your horde, facing starvation and disease, and worst of all another year of life in this cursed place spurned you onward.
So, under the cover of night, you slipped from your village and the bond of your lord to join up with the caravan. That was the last day of Dilaemont. Since that dawn, twice daily have been your encounters with bandit riders on the East Road. Each time, the caravan has rolled to a stop, tense and hearts-pounding until revealed were the banners of the bandit king. Then, with a breath of relief, tribute was paid, and the caravan rolled on. As of yet, the bandit king still lives. As of yet, there is still hope.
The caravan has made camp on the Eastern Road, at the foot of Dead Man’s Pass. You are but a day’s ride through the pass from the border, from freedom. And while your every desire is to ride on, you cannot. Horses and humans are spent from days of forced marching. Blistered, bruised, aching, famished and fatigued, you must rest.
The East Road follows a large river as it travels through the foothills, and it continues this habit on its way into Dead Man’s Pass. The curve of the river into the pass has left you on a small clearing aside the road, overlooking a rocky descent into the snow-bordered waterway and the thick forested hills on the other side. To the northwest is the path you’ve traveled. To the west, southwest, and south lies untamed wilderness. Overhead, thick clouds, and a cold wind. To the east lie mountains, the pass, and freedom.
The wagons are circled, the bonfire burns high, and in the vehicles or within small tents, you rest. In spite of the worry in your hearts, you succumb to sleep quickly under the weight of exhaustion’s heavy hand.