Two hundred and fifty years ago, when Lord Garmon Cabbagestalk, the Thirteenth Earl of Blackwater inherited his estate from his father, he decided he needed more land. Soon, he was waging battles far and wide in the name of the One True Faith. After all, he needed an excuse, and "spreading the Faith" to the pagan people of the plains and lakes region, seemed as good idea as any to expand his Earldom’s borders.
At this time, the area around Lake Pemm was sparsely populated, and the local shepherds and fisher folk could not hinder Garmon’s crusade. Rapine and pillage was the order of the day. Almost as an afterthought, but to ensure his own pretense, the Earl built a huge, garish cathedral to the One True Faith on the banks of Lake Pemm. He passed an edict that all prayer had to be conducted in the great cathedral and in the great cathedral only. This was one of his way of controlling the populace, being able to accurately gauge their numbers, keep tabs on rebel rousers, and charging the folk a church tithe, payable upon entry, which he used to fatten his own coffers. Those that did not comply were killed by Garmon’s favorite method, decapitation by one of his many axe-men, usually in front of as many people as possible for maximum dramatic effect. It wasn’t until a young girl named Qacha dared to challenge the Earl and his axe-wielding thugs, did this pompous lord’s campaign come to an end. Or so the legend goes.
The Earl’s men, it is said, had captured Qacha, after she was caught praying outside the cathedral on the shores of Lake Pemm. When questioned she was said to reply "I need no Earl to rule me, nor a Cathedral to pray in". Enraged, Garmon paraded Qacha naked and in shackles through the nearby village and announced her execution. Placing her pale scrawny neck on an alabaster block, he ordered her beheading. When the gleaming axe of one of his soldiers came whistling down a miracle occurred. The axe blade shattered into a hundred pieces upon contact with the girl’s neck, and Qacha remained kneeling without a scratch on her. Hundreds witnessed this event, and it is said by locals to this day, that Garmon simply stared at the girl in disbelief for a long time, then saddled his horse, rounded up his men, and without further delay rode back directly to his estate at Blackwater, from which he never emerged again. The expansion of Blackwater’s lands came to a sudden halt. Haunted the rest of his life by what he had witnessed, it is whispered that on his deathbed years later, the Earl demanded to be decapitated and was obliged.
Surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) there is almost no mention of what happened to Qacha afterwards. Some say that she rose and slowly walked into Lake Pemm, disappearing beneath the waters, never to be seen again. Others claim that she rose and walked north through the plains until suddenly her head fell from her shoulders in a spray of blood and she collapsed. Regardless of what actually happened to the mysterious girl, Garmon’s cathedral was demolished by the emboldened folk, and the numerous stones were used to build a town in her honor, around the very spot where she knelt to be executed. Word spread of the miracle and priests and monks of the One True Faith flocked to the area. With them came other folk, and soon the unnamed village on the banks of Lake Pemm, became the town of Qacha’s Neck.
Two hundred years later, Qacha’s Neck is a thriving and cheerful town. Forty or so of the lakeside single-story houses are roofed with thatch, monuments of the earlier settlers. As one heads north, away from the shore, the houses are stone, mostly of pinkish alabaster and rise two or three stories high. Fishing and shepherding are still the main occupations of the town populace. Reed canoes and flatboats can be seen on the calm waters of the lake, fishing for carp, porgies, and razorscales, fish unique to Lake Pemm. On the other side of town, herds of sheep and goats can be seen coming from and going out to the plains. Flowers, rose gardens, live green and romantic walkways are everywhere, so this is an ideal destination for those looking for a silent restful place. Garlands of drying sweet and hot red peppers, can be seen adorning the eaves of many houses. The townsfolk, in the flavoring of many local dishes, use the dried powder that comes from these peppers. Here and there broken blocks of stone and cracked half-columns overgrown with vine, serve to remind the folk of Garmon’s Folly, as the torn-down centuries old cathedral came to be known.
An appointed tribunal of fishermen, shepherds, and craftsmen representatives governs the town. The population numbers approximately three thousand souls. This number can go as high as forty-five hundred during summer months when traders come to Qacha’s Neck, or during the Feast of the Patron Saint, when people come from all over to witness the unique traditional processions in honor of Qacha.
St. Qacha’s Day, also known as the Procession of the Shattered Axe, occurs in mid-spring every year. The entire town participates. The beheading of Qacha is re-enacted by the folk. A different girl every year is selected by the tribunal to play the role of Qacha. This is an envious and sought after honor among the mothers and fathers of the town, often leading to squabbles and underhanded ploys in the months leading up to the celebration. The rest of the populace has roles to play as well. One man is selected to play the part of Lord Garmon Cabbagestalk, Earl of Blackwater. Every one else gets to act as one of the Earl’s men, wielding real or fake axes as they follow the Earl and Qacha from the shores of Lake Pemm to the town and along the main thoroughfare. Naturally, the girl who acts as Qacha does not actually get beheaded, but a specially designed axe, made of porcelain, gets slammed down on the stone beside her neck, shattering upon contact. A priest then blesses the town and populace in the name of the Saint, a raucous applause erupts from the crowd, and the celebration begins. Some of the usual events on this day are, naked foot races around Lake Pemm, swimming competitions, and tug-o-wars between two teams on flat boats, out on the lake, with the losing teams ending up in the drink. Of course no Saints Day is complete without the ubiquitous drinking and feasting. Two popular local dishes, smoked razorscale pies and "Guelky", a mutton sausage, are eaten in great quantities.
Unfortunately, and usually at least once a year, some addled monk, barmy maid, drunken fishermen, or foolish bravo, gets it in his or her head to truly reenact the Saints Day by asking to be beheaded in anticipation of Saint Qacha’s protection and blessing. These misguided attempts at sainthood end tragically and predictably.
Qacha’s Neck is known for one other peculiarity. It is the self-proclaimed home of the "World’s Oldest Cat". This geriatric critter, which surprisingly has no name and is simply known as "Qacha’s Cat", is somewhat of a town mascot. The locals are proud and fiercely protective of the feline, and have a popular saying that life is so good in Qacha’s Neck that even the cats live beyond there life expectancies. The locals claim the cat is forty-two years old, but of course there is no way of confirming this fact. Qacha’s Cat, which has free reign in town, but seldom moves from whichever spot it chooses to bask, is blind, deaf, and arthritic. The town’s children keep it well fed with lake-caught fish and goats milk. Fair warning to visitors…a sure way of incurring the wrath of the normally friendly and cheerful townsfolk is by abusing or even bothering this cat in any way.
Places Of Interest
Lake Pemm is a freshwater lake, two and a half miles at its widest point and six miles long. For the most part it’s shallow, averaging twenty feet or so in depth. The center of the lake plunges deeper to about two hundred feet. Two species of fish are unique to Lake Pemm. Razorscales are small fish, five to seven inches in length, which are somewhat dangerous, but are a known delicacy. The scales of these fish are bony and incredibly sharp, often slicing swimmers as they brush by them as well cutting the hands of the fishermen who handle them. The second unique species are tiny translucent fishes, called "see-throughs" by the locals, which dwell in the mud of the lake floor in it’s deepest parts, feeding on plankton. They are tough to catch and since they don’t taste very good, are ignored by the fishermen.
The Shattered Axe
Tavika Mudd, who inherited the establishment from her father and brothers when they did not return from a hunting trip to the vast plains, runs the only Inn of note in Qacha’s Neck. Her mother had died years before and Tavika has been all alone since. Perhaps due to this, she is an atypical innkeeper in that she is not at all friendly and does not suffer fools gladly. Most visitors will eventually find there way here, since The Shattered Axe has the best accommodations in town. According to the locals the inn is haunted. Some have claimed to see Saint Qacha herself, wandering the taproom, but these reports usually come from those already deep in their cups. Tavika pays this nonsense no mind, but she does nothing to discredit the sightings either, as they are good for business.
Hurth’s Butcher Shop
Hurth Gogas runs one of the many butcher shops in Qacha’s Neck, where on any given day one can purchase fresh sheep and goat meat. There is one thing however that makes Hurth and his establishment unique. Hurth is an Haruspex. An Haruspex is an individual trained to practice divination by the inspection of the entrails of animals, especially the livers of slaughtered sheep. Anyone interested need simply ask Hurth for this service, for which he charges a fee based on his assessment of the interested party. He’ll charge the locals a lot less than he does visitors to the town.
Lord Garmon’s Bell
When the huge cathedral known as Garmon’s Folly came crashing down courtesy of the townsfolk all those years ago, the great bronze bell that hung from it’s rafters came down with the rest of the masonry. Cracking as it struck the ground, the bell no longer served any purpose. At first it was left to lie where it fell, but eventually someone suggested tossing the bell into Lake Pemm, being that the bell served as an unpleasant reminder of its infernal ringing when summoning the townsfolk to the cathedral for prayer. And so it was rowed out and dropped in the lake. Owing to its massive weight, it quickly sank to the muddy bottom of the lake. It didn’t quite land in the lake’s deepest part as intended however, instead sinking into the mud of an underwater ledge approximately fifty feet below surface. Eventually a fisherman-diver spotted it and reported the news to the other locals. Sometime later, a dangerous game of dare developed among the young people of Qacha’s Neck. "Touching the Bell" it was dubbed, quite unimaginatively. It involved young lads usually, daring each other to swim to the bottom to touch the bell, while others would float face down just under the surface to try and determine whether or not the feat was accomplished. Needless to say this has led to a few, but not many, deadly accidents over the years.
Well, that’s about it. Qacha’s Neck is not a place for "high adventure". It’s a quaint little town for relaxing and exploring the local culture, nothing more nothing less. The inspiration for its creation came from two sources. One was my players challenging me to create towns that were neither cliched nor overly "fantastic". The other was a recent sojourn to Hungary and Austria.