Cities of Soncepéja
Deepe – ‘lowland’. A market town set in the heart of a wide chalk valley, the story of Deepe stretches back to prehistory. Primitive figures of white horses and red men (a feat achieved through mixing the indigenous chalk with rudstone from Cr̀vepísek) are carved on the hillsides surrounding the town; these carvings are recorded as already being old and worn by the time Eublad of the First House conquered the land.
His grandson, King Gwythyr, ‘gave’ the town to his daughter Wulfua in order for her to found a temple for devotion to Máthair, the Earth Mother. A remarkably strong-minded woman, Wulfua was an influential adherent to the Mother Goddess, and the town prospered as a result, becoming one of the richest in the land. Its temple is centred in a ring of nearly fifty apple trees, with violets blooming in abundance amidst the grass-covered floor. At the heart of this beautiful space stands a solitary silver birch, marking the final resting place of Wulfua.
Bosrije – ‘dwelling by the river’. Standing on what was once an island in the marshes, this city sprang up as a fordable place on the Great Itchen. Thanks to its close proximity to the river, it is chiefly known for its eel industry.
The remoteness and frequency with which the district was cut off thanks to flooding made Bosrije a natural refuge for crooks and those in general hoping to avoid detection. Accessible only by boat until the land was drained by Aubridd I, it was also the scene of Wulfwode’s final challenge for the throne in 272. His body is buried within the nearby temple of Cernunnos at the foot of a mighty oak.
Eulon – ‘land of the sun’. Historically, this city was regularly flooded by the numerous offshoots of the Great Itchen. However, once proper drainage was established across Soncepéja, Eulon was transformed into a beautiful expanse of fenland, broken only by a few low-lying hills. The rich soil and warmth from the sun provides excellent grazing land for cattle, and the city itself is a sprawl of large, red-brick farmhouses.
Outside of the town proper, the area is still prone to floods in winter. Eulon’s roads are lined with pollarded willows in an attempt to soak up some of this excess water, and the smaller outlying villages have developed a thriving business of basket-weaving.
Lisaf – ‘court of apples’. As indicated by its name, Lisaf is a land of vast orchards, with every type and shade of apple imaginable to man. The town itself is quite small, surrounded by fields of trees, their boughs heavy with fruit and canopied with wild rose, honeysuckle and bramble. Unsurprisingly, cider-making is another profitable enterprise that locals engage in. A three-day cider fair occurs every midsummer, with music, mummers and apple-wassailing. This last custom involves prayer and songs to encourage a good harvest for the coming year, with cider being poured over the roots of the oldest tree in the city, and in whom the fertility of the orchards is thought to reside.
A ring of standing stones sit in a field where no trees grow, known as the Aohamm (elf-meadow). Local rumour says that if the stones are pricked with a pin at midnight, they bleed. While this may or may not be true, it is perhaps the glimmer of a memory of blood sacrifice. In keeping with this grisly folklore, in times long ago, this space was used for public executions; now the area is plagued by rumours of ghosts and vengeful spirits, and is avoided in general.
Aewin – ‘sea spray’. Aewin is a sleepy port, protected within a natural inlet from the stormy Fairsing Sea. The sheltered sandy coves and small woods that dip into the sea offer a sense of peace and sanctuary from the outer world, with many artists drawn to Aewin.
In the heart of the town, most of the buildings are made up of ‘round houses’ – unique to this area, these dome-shaped thatched buildings give one the impression of walking amidst a circle of toadstools. No-one quite knows the purpose of this design, but they add to the sense of ‘otherworldliness’ that is Aewin.
Another of the town’s myths is connected to the carving of a mermaid in the local temple of Dylan. Legends says she was drawn from the sea after hearing the beautiful singing of the lord’s son. She then lured the boy back with her to sea, never to be seen again. The temple itself is built around a cluster of omwode trees in a shallow section of the sea, with white sea myrtle clinging from trunk to trunk. The myrtle, or ‘bitter flower’, is sacred to Dylan, after he failed to win the heart of the goddess Olwen with a bouquet of the plant.
Autûn – ‘golden farmland’. County town of Soncepéja. The highest city in the county and surrounded by rich farmlands, Autûn is rich in dairy produce. It is also an important tanning centre, as well as weaving and lace. The mile-long main street has one of the largest collection of guildhalls outside of the capital, with leather-makers, carpenters, thatchers, masons, tilers and metalworkers all vying for business. As befits such a wealthy space, the cream-coloured buildings along this street are constructed out of the finest local kingstone and white marble of Kwiat, buttressed with shining oak beams from Stromnoha.
Encircling the city, the many farmhouses tend to sit atop hills that stand sharp and green. Beneath these dwellings, evidence has been found of much older settlements – hill camps that served as look-outs when the land was less peaceful. From ancient tales passed through the generations, it seems that the previous tenants used to drive their cattle to Autûn in the summer. Eventually, a few sensible souls decided to stay and set up home there.
Aolon – ‘land of elves’. Aolon’s unusual name derives from its reputation as a place of mysticism and magic. The greatest sorcerer of them all, Myrddin, was found as a baby at the foot of a hawthorn tree in a village called Fenwid, just outside Aolon. The village is still there, as is the winter-flowering hawthorn, and it is a site of fearful reverence and pilgrimage.
The town grew up around an island, set amidst marshes and lakes, and surrounded by smaller lake-villages known as hlaews. The springs and meres that still crisscross the land are purported to possess healing properties; one such brook is said to have never frozen. Hot springs seem the natural answer, but the water is always cool to the touch.
It was in 77 – a year after his victory over the Marčovȉkians – that the wounded and exhausted King Gwythyr travelled to Aolon. He came seeking a cure for a wound to his leg that refused to heal; what he found was Myrddin. The king and sorcerer became close friends, with Myrddin not only healing Gwythyr but also accompanying him back to the capital as his newly-appointed advisor. This meeting triggered the golden age of Gwythyr’s rule, and he made regular trips back to Aolon for the rest of his life.
Aside from the financial benefits that is brought as a centre of healing, Aolon is also a wool centre and holds a regular sheepskin market.
Bosfenn – ‘dwelling amongst the stars’. Indicating the start of a rich seam of coal that runs all the way through Lotcăjern, Bosfenn was initially the site of a royal lodge, from where kings of the First and Second Houses hunted red deer, wild boar and hares amidst the dense forests of oak and birch. The town later became famous for its woollen products, most especially carpet-weaving.
A ridge of hills sit to the north east of the town, known as the Haran Maen, or ‘grey stone’. Somewhat bleak and beautiful, peppered with bluish heather, spiny golden firethorns and pearl-like snowberries, for those ramblers who actually make it to the top, there is a surprise. The Fairsing Sea, some fifty miles away, is visible – often a grey, storm-lashed haze. In contrast, the town and its surrounding villages sit nestled in a wooded valley, where the famously ferocious pigs are the only remnant of the once-mighty boar.