Much of the countryside of Dornig is forbidding for the traveler. Two ancient forests dominate the land— the Arbonesse and the Tomierran—but the rest of the countryside consists of smaller but no-less-deep forests of younger vintage, high moors, and deep, tree-covered valleys. Merchant caravans lurch along ancient roads that were first laid by dwarves working for their elven masters. The rivers all flow north to the icy peril of the Nieder Straits, plagued by Northern reavers. How, then, did the Imperatrix keep her Grand Duchy together?
The answer is another legacy of the old Elven Empire— the fey roads. The fey roads are also called shadow roads, the passages tunneled through the Shadow Realm linking Midgard with the Fair Place on the far side of the world (see chapter 1).
The fey roads still operate brightly and cleanly between locations in the Arbonesse and the Fair Land. The members of the Court of the River King use the roads to bring their subjects to and from Midgard, and these roads function normally. However, much of the network has been taken over by the shadow fey, who made dark deals with sinister powers and call Shadow their home. They prey on the unwary and make the transit more dangerous than normal. The roads near Zobeck, for example, are notoriously shadowed and do not lead to the Fair Land at all. Outside Dornig, the term shadow road is more common than fey road for this reason.
The result is that many of the shadow roads in Midgard are known to only a few geomancers, Nurian mages, and other arcanists, and even then, most such roads are rarely used and their waystones and wardings are sporadically maintained. Specific routes, such as the rivers and roads that lead to the Court of the River King, are still patrolled by elves, and as such are safe for these people.
Dornig makes extensive use of the fey roads, though not in the way they were originally intended. For the rest of the world, such roads are few and far between. Their portals are abandoned, broken, and where they do function, are the birthplace of horrors that leak out into the world.
The Processional and City Gates
The Grand Duchy of Dornig uses the old fey roads to hold the empire together. The roads do not reach the Summer Lands, but rather bypass the rest of the world, allowing the empire to communicate and move small groups easily. Such connections are more precisely called shadow roads, since they do not reach the Bright Land.
The Imperatrix made an arrangement with the shadow fey so that they do not bother small groups along the paths (never more than 20 people). The exception is the Great Procession when the Imperatrix, holding the Phial of Khors in her hand, led the Moveable Feast from city to city in Dornig along the shadow road called the Processional, one of the oldest of these routes. The Imperatrix kept all shadow creations and evil fey at bay during this procession through sheer force of her will, and this allowed her court safe passage. Those who make the trip could return to their previous locations through shadow at will. With the incapacity of the Imperatrix, those who know these paths are highly valued as guides.
All the cities of the Grand Duchy have functioning gates in the control of the ruling family of that city. These are in turn placed in inaccessible or easily secured areas, with sufficient protection should something, malignant or otherwise, come out of the gates. These gates can take any form, ranging from a simple doorway to a grand arch. In the elven lands, the gates might be a hole at the base of a tree or a cascade of rushing water. The traveler might not even know he or she is entering a fey road until it is too late (though if this is the case, turning around is highly recommended). If this is impossible (the gate was a waterfall, for example), the best chance of survival is to let the road take the traveler where it will…
But this is where we must stop for now, my friend. My mind, it wanders so at times. Do come see me again, though, for more of the wonders and surprises of Midgard. (OGL)