The Gate

At the end of the Great Western Road are two great pillars, the remains of the huge gate that once stood in the Tatchen Wall than runs perpendicular to the road here. Once the wall was taller than a town house and thicker than two horses nose to tail. Now their proud stones decorate the walls of the nearby farmer’s and shepherd’s houses. Nothing remains of it now except a thick mound that runs through the nearby woods. The gatehouse has been spared the indignity of those who would rob it for stone. Each pillar is now effectively a tower, its once spacious guardrooms now divided and partitioned countless times to provide space for those who now live here making a living from those who travel back and forth along the road. Prosperity has meant that space is now limited even in these grand spaces and a patchwork of lean-tos spread from the base of these grand guardians. Between them are numerous platforms and rope bridges and this year sees an attempt to construct a new wooden shack on beams placed in the cavities where the great gate portcullis once stood.

The towers were once occupied by the tax and toll collectors and their bodyguards but such are the monies they take they have now been relocated to a new fort west of the site that guards barricades across the grand road. Those who have come to replace them are a bawdy lot ready to levy their own toll for services and comforts of the home. There are of course the practical men and women who ensure that a traveller can find replacement rations, repairs to tackle, boots and clothing, replacements for lame animals or guides and protection for the road ahead. The old gateway is full of journeymen artisans who are eager to practice their trade for a price that reflects the distance of any town or village. The woods are the source of all manner of materials: wood, charcoal, furs and skins. There are even infrequent supplies of iron from those who scavenge the old ruins.

However it is not just practical concerns that drive trade here. The Gate is a place of gossip, scandal, news and song. It is not merely goods and people that traffic along the road. Accompanying them like fleas are rumours, jokes, tall tales and perhaps even the truth of what is happening in far distant places. Bards and minstrels ply their trade by camp firesides and in earshot of any open keg. Spys and informers are less open in the stories they tell but they are here too.

The road can be a lonely place and there are many ways to assuage loneliness and homesickness here. Many of the young people who grow up here do not have the privilege of knowing their father. Such people often decide to try their own luck on the highways and caravans often leave behind members who a sick or unable to travel with greener but eager material. Not everyone decides that following in an absent parent’s footsteps is for them. Just as often they think to use their familiarity with the ways of the road to achieve swifter advantage. A bandit will be hung without hesitation if they are caught by the soldier’s of the fort but it can be hard to catch someone who has played in these woods since they could walk and who has intimate knowledge of who is travelling back and forth, when they are travelling and what of value they might be carrying.