First published in The Booke of Tentacles (German RQ Con 1998 Fundraiser Book)
Copyright © 1998 by Michael O’Brien.
Invaluable Technical Advice: Joerg Baumgartner
Beg the Count to pluck out your eyes rather than send you to Pent Ridge.– Sun Domer adage
Pent Ridge lies several days journey (roughly 60km) east from Wiley’s Well, out in the parched wastes of Vulture’s Country. Formed from where one side of a great fault line subsided, the exposed ridge extends for many kilometers in a roughly northern direction – serving as a pointer for the animal nomads to the broad grasslands of Pent.
The exposed cliff face at Pent Ridge is made up of layers of chalk and limestone, roughly horizontal. These sedimentary layers are interspersed with veins, layers and domes of halite, the mineral form of salt.
Above the cliff, salt licks have formed where what little groundwater there is has risen to the surface and evaporated, leaving the salt behind.
The Mythic Origins of Pent Ridge
|Excerpt from The Yellow Book, Sun Dome Temple library[1612 S.T. XXII-300] |
“The barbarians have several explanations for the formation of Pent Ridge and the abundant salt found there. One story says the salt comes from the bones of some huge beast that crawled out of the sea in the Darkness and perished looking for Genert’s Garden. “Another tale explains that the salt of the Wastes are actually the tears of Genert’s children, who wept copiously when they beheld the desecration of their father’s Garden. More convincing perhaps is the theory that the people inhabiting Genert’s Garden summoned Oakfed and burned all the forests for some light and warmth during the Darkness. Storm Bull’s winds transported the ash, occasional rainfalls concentrated the salt, and later Oakfed’s heat evaporated the water and left solid deposits. “Some say that the great fault line was caused during one of Genert’s battles against Chaos; the salt capillaries are the bones of a great monster slain there. Others claim Storm Bull or Tada raised it as a dyke to protect Prax from the triumphant hordes of chaos. A valuable fact when applying mythical geophysics is that solid halite crystals will become liquid under moderate geophysical pressure. This theory is compelling then, because if these prehistoric heroes did shove the Earth to save Prax from the hordes of the Krjalki Bog, we have enough pressure to have the halite form veins or layers between the bedrock. “Whatever tale is true, salt is a precious commodity in Prax, for barbarians and folk of the river valley alike. Because of this, the salt lick above Pent Ridge has been contested over since the earliest times. The abandoned mines in the cliffs below offer the promise of once again providing a valuable yield.” From De Rerum Metallica: Praxae by Reorg Dagricola, Lunar Corps of Engineers, sent by Sor Eel to survey the old mine workings at Pent Ridge.
The Sun Domers gained control of the salt lick early in their history, in the days when the power of Old Pavis was a bulwark against the nomads and the Templars could ride swiftly into Vulture’s Country using their famous light cavalry. The Sun Domers began digging mines into the cliffs below Pent Ridge, using criminals and captives to cut out the precious halite. It was always difficult maintaining this distant outpost and when Pavis declined as power in the early 900’s, the Sun Domers were forced to periodically abandon Pent Ridge to the ascendant nomads. Any hope of controlling the site was given up completely when their last horse stocks died out in the early 1100’s.
The Mines Reopen
Until the Lunar conquest, the mines at Pent Ridge lay abandoned and nomad bands squabbled over control of the salt lick above. As part payment for their services at the Battle of Moonbroth, the Lunars recognized the Sun Dome’s ancient rights to Pent Ridge and even sent advisors to help them re-establish the mines .
Count Solanthos was also able to do a deal with the Sable Riders, who allied with the Lunars at Moonbroth. They have free use of the salt lick, in return for defending the mines against the other tribes. So far this arrangement seems to be working well, probably because the defeated Bison and Impala nations have been banished far into the Wastes and so cause little trouble. Zebra Riders, Morocanth, Agimori and others reasonably friendly to the Lunars can use the salt lick, after making private arrangements with the Sable Rider braves that camp out nearby. Others wait until the current band grows bored and shirk their duty, returning unbidden to the comparative delights of Prax. It is always not long before the Sable Queens send more young warriors out to keep hold of their prize.
As of 1621, the Count’s mines have only been open for seven years. Sun Dome justice is still adapting to the need for laborers to be sent out there to work them. By tradition, established during Sun County’s long period of isolation during the Solitude of Testing, punishments and penalties are usually exacted expeditiously: beatings, whippings or fines for minor crimes; mutilations or death (by various means) for serious offences. Traditionally, prisoners were only held in custody until their trial and whatever punishment followed. However, since the reopening of Pent Ridge, Count Solanthos has enthusiastically embraced the concept of penal servitude, and many of those who come before him can expect to serve a spell in the mines. This includes foreigners who fall foul of the law, even those rounded up to play antagonist roles in Sun Dome rituals (if they lose, and live).
A Hell Under the Sun
Pent Ridge is a hell under the sun for prisoners and guards alike. Inmates curse the sun as “Yelm the Torturer”, yet fear breaking discipline lest they be banished into the deepest caverns with the worst criminals, shut off from Yelm’s light forever.
Mining here is difficult and dangerous. The cliff face is riddled with openings, both natural and man-made, and the tunnels within follow the salt strata. The inmates hack out blocks and chunks using bronze-headed picks and mallets. Because wood is too precious to burn, the caverns are lit with special lanterns burning black gold. These produce a murky glow at best, and give off a greasy smoke, which poisons the air and stains the walls. Overseers typically know and use the Lantern spell, but cult prohibitions forbid its use by the prisoners. Because of the lack of wood few tunnels can be properly braced, and cave-ins are a constant hazard. The ubiquitous salt means eyes quickly become raw, wounds take ages to heal, and even the tiniest cuts sting. Most people quickly develop a hacking cough from the salt dust. The poor diet, stifling heat and impossible quotas help to make accidents commonplace.
With only parching salt water locally available, favoured convicts bring mule-loads of bitter, brackish, yet potable water from a sand-filled cistern that has been purpose-built two kilometers along the ridge to the north. Fresh water, reserved for the sick and the overseers, must be brought in from Wiley’s Well on the regular Lokarnos caravans that return with precious loads of salt. Files of heavily armed Templars and militia always escort the caravans, but garrison detail at Pent Ridge itself is considered the worst duty in the County.
The mines at Pent Ridge are within the purview of Lord Belvani, the second officer of the Sun Dome Templars. Each year he posts a new Square (64 men) to guard the mines and escort the caravans; the garrison captain has day-to-day responsibility for the operation, but distribution and export of the salt is left to the Lokarnos cult.
The Templars avoid entering the mines, and leave much of the actual overseeing of the prisoners to a motley gang of mercenary riff-raff led by Dignan Bugger, a former Zebra Rider who now professes membership in the Yelmalio cult. Dignan runs the mines in collusion with the most powerful inmate, the disgraced former priest Daystar, who has been incarcerated here since the mines were reopened and will never be released.
Of the Lunar technical advisors, only one is left. The leader and most of his team were killed in the initial survey of the abandoned mines, leaving the job to his deputy, Iranos of Kitor. This young engineer proved himself up to the task, but his inability to get a transfer away from this hellhole has brought out a cruel and bitter side to his nature. Iranos designed and built the sand cistern water supply that has proved crucial to the mine’s success, and he is currently experimenting with a new extraction method which would obtain the salt by dissolving it in its deposit and evaporating the water in the sun. This method might be very effective in his homeland, but is fatally flawed here by the lack of water and fuel to heat it. His crazy plan to build a series of sand cisterns and a aqueduct system to bring the water back to Pent Ridge are perhaps the first signs of an unhinged mind.
Several hundred prisoners toil at Pent Ridge. The turnover rate is high (most native Sun Domers only receive relatively short sentences), but so is the mortality rate. Prisoners are graded into three work details, depending on the nature of their crimes, the lengths of their sentence and their behavior.
- DAWN detail, favored inmates who work exclusively on the surface, including in the smithy, the hospice tent, the cookhouse and the water train.
- DUSK detail, the majority of convicts, who toil in the mines but return to the outside for rest and sleep.
- DARK detail, prisoners singled out for special punishment, who work, live and sleep in the tunnels and are forbidden to see the sun.
While the mine site is unwalled, prisoners in the Dawn and Dusk details are herded into a fenced compound each evening for roll call. The templars are housed in a fine new wattle and daub barracks, but Dignan’s overseers and the inmates still have to sleep in tents. Escape attempts might be frequent, but few can survive the long trek back through waterless Vultures Country or the pursuit of the Sable braves, who earn a bounty from the Count for hunting down escapees. Usually, they only bother to come back with the scalps of those they track down.
Some Notable Prisoners
|Daystar (Dark) – this defrocked priest is de facto ruler of Pent Ridge from deep within the tunnels. Little is said to go on without his say-so.|
The Midnight Express (Dark) – a beaked dragonewt, who serves as Daystar’s enforcer and is always found by his side. The circumstances of its arrival are obscure, and no one knows if it actually understands it is in fact in prison.
Forgotten (Dark) – said to be an unrepentant Thanatari, she is the only female incarcerated at Pent Ridge. Nevertheless, she is usually left well alone.
Mwangie Salassie (Dark) – an agimori who once ran one of the biggest Hazia smuggling operations in the county, he now spends much of his time cadging butt ends from Daystar.
Lord Buyron (Dusk) – from one of the County’s oldest Yelmic families, imprisoned for the crime of lycanthropy.
Phikus (Dusk) – a Krarshti, he is under orders to remain here. Despite masquerading as a prisoner for nearly four years, he knows that one day the Waiting Mouth will reveal why. Phikus lives for this day.
Chalkie and his band (Dusk) – adventurers from Pavis who were arrested for straying too near the Old Sun Dome. Chalkie is said to be fomenting a mass riot to cover a breakout by himself and his lads.
Mock Pork (Dawn) – one of the very few non-humans here, Mock Pork is a morokanth who was gaoled for illegally enslaving Sun Dome folk. He now works in the cookhouse.
Alinasus (Dawn) – claims to be a Lunar noble, and has lost both feet (and a large chunk of his scalp) in repeated escape attempts. Offers what he says is his fortune (10,000L) to anyone who can get him back to New Pavis.
-  Count Solanthos sends the PCs with a team of Lunar technical advisors to survey the ancient salt mines with the hope of establishing them again. What lurks inside Pent Ridge now? (Leads to your classic dungeon crawl…)
- The original survey was lamentably incomplete, and there are still many natural caverns and old tunnels yet to be explored or cleared out of their current inhabitants…
- The Count sentences the PCs to servitude in the mines for a crime they did not commit (or maybe they did?). They have to escape and somehow clear their names.
- The PCs are sent on a mission to infiltrate the Pent Ridge mines (who by – the Spoken Word, the Sartarite resistance, the Black Fang brotherhood?) and talk to/rescue/kill a prisoner. How’s the best way to get in there? Commit a crime in Sun County of course, and hope the Count’s not in a mutilating and blinding sort of mood…
- The PCs hire on as overseers and have to contend with unruly inmates, Belvani’s impossible production targets, Iranos of Kitor’s mad schemes to flood the tunnels with scalding water, and Daystar’s insidious influence. Any trifling incident could spark off a wholesale riot or mass escape – how will the PCs respond?
Footnotes For more on the enigmatic Black Gold, see The Secret History of Sun County in either Questlines II or available at Jane William’s Glorantha Page.
(2) Daystar’s shocking crimes were morally repugnant (and were once the talk of the county). Daystar was tried in secret, and no one knows why the Count chose to exile him here rather than have him killed or immured in a retirement tower. No doubt more will be revealed in future installments of the Secret History of Sun County…
- How Rabbit Hat Got Its Name
- Last Tango in Pavis – Tournament (1993)
- Mad Prax – Beyond Sun Dome (1991)
- The Men With the Golden Gun (1999)
- What is Darkness? (1998)
Page Last updated: 2023-05-07 14:06:11