Holt is a surly little village
of over three hundred inhabitants in the Santharian
province of Manthria. It sits in a depression below
the steeply sloping foothills of the northernmost part of the
Mithral mountain range, sandwiched between
these peaks and the Adanian coast. Its main sources of income are from the dyes
they produce – the most famous being shades of
sou’cald blue. The people there
are always ill-tempered, due mostly to inclination, but also to the
semi-poverty in which they live and to the stench of the dyeing process which
hangs over the town.
Description. The village itself is comprised of a collection of about sixty or seventy fairly shabby huts whose construction style owes more to that of lean-tos than townhouses. These huts crowd around the north road from Marduran. There are also a few communal buildings which are built in much the same style as the huts, but sort of “stuck together” so as to make a many-roomed construction. Most of these are the dye sheds, and are off to the southern side of the village, near the Bitter Creek from where some of the ingredients for the dyes are sourced.
One of the many-roomed huts, however, is set away from the others, right on the road on its west side. It is stained grey-blue with the main dye of the town, and serves as an inn for traders from Onved and Yorick, and for whomever else might be unfortunate enough to have to stay a while in Holt. It has a few bedrooms, and one common room where the people of Holt will congregate after a days work and quietly drink their warm ale. It is called, uninventively enough, “The Blue Inn”.
Behind the town, on the west side of the valley are the crop fields of Holt. In the northwest are the grains, fruit, and vegetables which feed the village, and in the southwest, closer to the river and the dye sheds are the strange, shrouded fields where the sou'cald moss is grown. The Holthans grow the moss on rows and rows of logs which are kept shaded under large sheets of cloth. This provides a good crop of the moss, but to the traveller who approaches from the south, it is a strange first sight of the town.
The main industry in the village is the production of a few types of dyes, their most well-known ones being shades of sou’cald blue. They trade these to any who will buy them, their best customers being the Caltharians - whom they reach through travelling traders and the markets at Marduran - and closer villages such as Onved and Yorick. Traders come to the village mostly in the late autumn. This is for two reasons. One is that the weather is by far the most pleasant in autumn, but another is that at this time traders can use the excuse of closing passes to make a quick visit, staying only so long as it takes to complete the deal before returning home. This does go against people from time to time, when the snows come early and a trader has been forced to winter in Holt.
The Holthans are quite private about their religion, to the point where visiting members of various sects have thought that the villagers are atheistic. This is not actually the case; it is merely that these people do not relate easily to strangers, and will not accept them until they have proven that they are as staid and capable as the villagers themselves. One or two clerics each of both Queprur and Arvins usually reside within Holt to serve the spiritual needs of the population.
Location. Holt lies in the northeast of the Santharian province of Manthria, huddled behind a low range of hills in the bare lands between the Adanian coast and the northernmost part of the Mithral mountain range. The village is hemmed in on two sides by three great mountains, two of which are part of the Snowdrift Ridge – Lorsidre Peak to the southwest, Bald Mountain to the West, and Erandor’s Thumb alone to the North. To the East lies Tarep Creek, the hills and then the ocean. To the southeast is the Bitter Creek, a stream with thermal origins, the water of which therefore contains many minerals. Beyond that lies open - if bare - land for three days' ride until one reaches the small town of Starmiran, and then the much larger port town of Marduran.
People. The people of
Holt are unfriendly, ill-tempered and surly, due mostly to inclination, but also
to the semi-poverty in which they live and to the stench of the dyeing process
which hangs over the town. They are also persevering in nature, and very capable
with what they do. They view outsiders with suspicion, especially those who are
at all outgoing and friendly – they view this type of person as untrustworthy,
insincere, thoughtless and probably lazy.
There are approximately three hundred and fifty people living in Holt, mostly comprised of those too young to leave and those too old to want to, although some of those of reproductive age have stayed on, obedient to their elders' wishes, or at least cowed by their threats. Many young people do leave Holt, and nearly all of them take the last name of “Holthan” with them on their travels.
The Holthans are all human, and are mainly Avennorian by tribe, although some Caltharians - many of whom are also dyers - have intermixed with the population of Holt, giving them a slightly lighter colouring than many Avennorian tribes. Another marker of an Holthan is their blue-grey dyed hands, and the slight greyish-blue tinge to their skin, which gives them a sickly look. These both come from the dyeing process – the hands from working with the dye and its raw ingredient, the sou'cald moss and the skin tone from the fumes which permeate the dye sheds.
There are some illnesses which are more common in Holthans than in others due to their occupation. Villagers can be blinded by the mineral used to make the xazure dye that they produce if it comes into contact with their eyes. Also, the acidity of the fermented urine which is used to process the sou'cald moss is detrimental to the skin, and can result in rashes and itchy scabs, and flaky, cracking skin. Those who it are afflicted can be quite disfigured by it.
Whilst not all people are afflicted by all, or even any of these things, especially if they do not work with the dye, the sickly look lent by the blue staining of the skin, plus the clouded eyes and scabrous skins of the Holthans can make them quite unnerving to look at, particularly en-masse. Perhaps this, in addition to their sour personalities, is why the sou'cald moss is said to be the touch of Coór.
The Holthans start doing less skilled, light tasks like working in the fields, harvesting the moss and such at around the age of five, and then progress to more difficult and heavier tasks as they grow older. In line with this, the blue hands begin to show up at around age 10-12, are quite obvious by about age 14, and their skintones begin to change at around 12-14 years of age.
Coat of Arms/Sign. Holt’s coat of arms is a shield shape, split diagonally from top left to lower right, symbolising the steep terrain between the tops of the mountains to the edge of the ocean. The top half is an ithild grey, and the bottom half is nor'sidian. The shield is emblazoned with a stylised patch of sou'cald moss, in the inevitable sou’cald blue.
Climate. Due to its location in between the coast and the mountains, the wider area around Holt gets a lot of both wind and rain. The town itself is spared much of the wind, being somewhat shielded by the hills to the east, but once a traveller leaves the sheltered, stench-filled flat stretch around the village, the wind off the sea becomes quite persistent, and its effects are quite visible in the twisted vegetation and the bare stretches of stony ground.
During the spring a seeping, penetrating drizzle hangs over the town, and as the rivers swell, the steam rising off them can often shroud the area in fog for days at a time. It is also in the spring, particularly in the months of Molten Ice and Earth Awakening that the town is sometimes threatened by avalanches, being so closely nestled under the mountains’ eaves. In summer the area is hot, humid and sweltering without the breeze off the Adanian, making sleep difficult to grasp. Rain will sometimes fall, but the mugginess is never completely dispelled.
Autumn is much clearer, and is by far the most pleasant time of year to visit Holt, it being cooler and usually fairly clear-skied. As winter approaches however, dark grey clouds amass above the peaks, hail strikes the town and halts much of the outdoor work. Whilst snow is not common within the town itself, the trade route north of Holt which runs between Bald Mountain and Erandor’s Thumb can be cut off for months.
As for most of the towns along the Mithral Mountains, storms are frequent, although the worst of the wind off the sea is blocked by the eastern hills so the greatest part of their destructive force is blunted. Flooding can, however sometimes strike the town, devastating its lower-lying crops and contaminating months' work worth of dye.
Flora. As the area around Holt is very bare, most of the green areas in its valley are used for cultivation, both of the sou'cald moss and the various vegetables, fruits and grains which are grown to support the community. A belt of ancient twisted pines stands at the top of the seaward hills, serving as a fairly effective windbreak for the seawinds which would otherwise have plagued Holt.
Outside the town, the seaward side is quite smooth and bare, being mostly large expanses of either loose sandy soil or exposed rock. Some few places harbour patches of green, whether this be scrubby grass, moss, or the odd twisted shrub or stunted tree which manages to survive the high winds off the coast.
The mountainside above Holt is not quite as bad - though it is hardly a lush paradise. Pines grow on the slopes too steep to cultivate, and under these can be found a wide variety of mushrooms along with various mosses, ferns and weeds which tolerate the wet climate. Some berry bushes can be found, but these are usually woody and sparsely fruited due to the overabundance of moisture.
Fauna. On the mountainside, goats and sheep are common. Meat brought in from hunting them amounts to a great part of the Holthan diet. Also the rocky heights are where the beautiful toran eagles have their eyries. Their shrill cry can sometimes be heard in the town below, particularly in the autumn when the weather is less fierce, so that their cries are not blown away by the wind.
Inhabiting the woods at the base of the mountain are kuatu, surica, grey wolves, the occasional deer, and many and varied beetles and bugs. The most common animals, however, are the corbies which plague those in charge of the crops, are blamed by the villagers for the weather, and add to the desolate feel of the area with their harsh cries.
On the seaward side very little at all lives. The only thing one is likely to see in this desolate space is a seabird or a toran fishing for its supper.
Resources. The sou'cald moss is the most obvious resource of Holt and its surrounds. It grows where farmed, but the conditions are very good for it in this area, and so it is also found wild in abundance.
The minerals in the stream, paticulary the xazure used to make the xazure dye, are another resource, although it is not as precious as the moss to the Holthans as it can be found more easily, and is therefore cheaper in trade in other areas of Santharia.
The sea is close by, and it offers many natural resources which are utilised by the Holthans. The most obvious is fish, but they also use the seawater itself as a mordant in the dyeing process.
The sheep, goats and deer in the woods are also well-used resources. The Holthans hunt them for their meat, but always use the other parts of the animals - fleece, hide, horn, and bone.
History. The Holthans are mostly unaware of their village’s history, it having always been peopled with pragmatic, present-focussed men and women. Holt has not existed for that long a time, having been first settled by fishermen from Marduran in 728 a.S.
The original settlers were a group of six large families who left Marduran after a dispute over their right to fish off her shores. They went north, looking for an unpopulated area far enough away from Marduran that they would not be under its rule. After five days’ travel across what was then very wild country, they found the moribund, but relatively sheltered shallow valley where Holt is today.
Holt survived as a fishing village for the first few decades, while the natural resources of the area slowly became more apparent. Crops planted near the Bitter Creek withered and died, and water taken from it left a blue crystalline reside when it evaporated. It was Evda, the wife of one of the fishermen who moved to Holt, who recognised this mineral as xazure, which can be used to dye cloth. Dye was soon produced in reasonable quantities in Holt by Edva and her fellow artisans, and a certain portion was able to be traded to other communities. As trade flourished, the dyers looked for other resources in the area from which to create dye. It was during this phase of expansion that the sou’cald moss was discovered to create a good dye, in a narrow variety of colours depending on the mordant used. A number of other dyes were produced during this period, but most of the ingredients would not survive in Holt’s wet, harsh climate. So it was that Holt began to specialize in blue dyes – both the more common xazure made from the xazuran crystals which are sourced for the water of the Bitter Creek, and their specialty, the small range of sou’cald blues.
Information provided by Grunok the Exile