Cathedral City

Written By: Stephen Dove - Feb• 26•14

After many more hours of work, the City of Netherford is finally ready to greet the world!


Founded in the days of the Empire, ‘Nantovarum’ played a central role in the Selentine campaigns against the Druids of the Old Faith. These Druids had long been a thorn in the side of the legions, rallying the tribes both in Ellesland and also in Kurland and Chaubrette against the Empire, and so they had to be removed. Nantovarum started as a large Imperial fort sited atop a motte, but a town soon grew up around it. In those days Nantovarum was an important port, but centuries of silt from the marshes have made Netherford a harbour that only local ship Captains dare to call home today. Indeed, the upper reaches of the Nant are littered with the broken hulks of the many cogs that came to grief on the hidden mud and gravel banks, and so most sea-trade moved to Bishop’s Landing nearly a century ago. Now only the local wool merchants and the Pottery Guild use the river as an artery of trade; and even then only with their own ships, so treacherous is the passage to the sea accounted.

Ironically, the silting up of the river proved a boon to the City, for it allowed it to remain an important river crossing; the Selentine bridge fell into the river in a huge storm in 303 AS, but a gravel bar has provided a wide, shallow ford to the east of the City since the 600s. Carts and horses can easily cross; as long as there has been little rain, and peddlers and pilgrims can use the pilings of the ancient bridge to ford the river if they do not mind getting their leggings wet.

Nantovarum was abandoned after the Empire withdrew from Ellesland in 290 AS, but with the return of the True Faith to Albion, the lure of the dressed stone from the old Selentine town proved too great a boon for the wily prelates of Albion to ignore, and a Cathedral and Abbey were founded here in 412 AS by robbing out the old Imperial ruins. Both were burned to the ground in Mercanian raids in 540 AS but were rebuilt forty years later, and this time with stout walls for protection. The Cathedral was re-dedicated to St Basil after being rebuilt; for the legend of how he fed his starving brother monks with only three fishes, after the destruction of the Abbey, is a story that is known the length and breadth of Ellesland. Also remembered is how he cured the sick in the plague years of 544 and 546 AS with blessed fish, and so the sign of three fishes has been Netherford’s device since his death and sanctification in 570 AS. His relics now reside within the Cathedral and are some of the holiest and most blessed in all of Albion.

By about 610 AS a substantial town had grown up near the Abbey and the walls soon grew to encompass it. It was at this time that the King ordered a Royal Castle to be built on the ruins of the old Selentine fort after granting the Bishop the town charter; Netherford Castle has been the seat of the Lord High Sheriff of Vindashire ever since.

Today, Netherford is the centre of Vindashire’s commercial life, as a centre for the wool trade, for weaving and for pottery. Indeed Netherware is the finest tableware made in Albion, and Kings and Barons do not scorn to use it on occasions when silver plate will not do. This has made the Potters’ Guild so powerful in Netherford that they have even taken the Bishop to task for allowing his monks to make their own earthenware within the city limits and won a ban on it from the King.

Sadly, this is not the end of the enmity betwixt town and Church, for the townsfolk and Guilds are constantly berating the King for the privileges he has heaped upon the Bishop. Indeed all the Fayres and festivals are the under the Bishop’s purview and the taxes and rents he collects swell the already overflowing coffers of the Abbey and Cathedral, whilst impoverishing the townsfolk. There have been riots and much strife in the past and will be again; with clerks and students from Clerkley in the Abbey grounds going up against the journeymen and apprentices of the town after a holy day has degenerated into a melee as too much drink causes tempers to flare.

Yet there is a much more serene side to Netherford; as the start of a great pilgrimage trail, known as the Maidens’ Walk. This trail leads from Netherford, all the way to Barrow on Maidenmoor, through the sheep country around Scarth and finally down to Cantorbridge. The trail stops at all the roadside shrines along the way, and not a few wayside alehouses as well……

After harvest every year, hundreds of pilgrims descend on Netherford, swelling its many inns before they set out in great companies to brave the Maidens’ Way ere winter closes the roads. But the route is not for the faint of heart, for it is many hundreds of miles long and takes most a month or more to complete. Even so, all folk in Albion pray to complete the journey at least once in their lives, for it is said to be a cure for all ills, to lessen a sinner’s time in purgatory and can even ward off the curses of witches and the Fey. Indeed, so famous is the route that pilgrims come from across the Glaive to brave the roads of the Maidens’ Walk and find God’s favour; and some hardy souls can be found treading the lonely trails in the heights of Summer or the depths of Winter, no matter the weather. The many miracles that occur each year are a testament to the Maidens’ lasting place in the religious consciousness of all the countries of the True Faith; though sadly the pilgrims also draw a different sort to the roads, as gangs of outlaws prey upon the unwary or those who choose to walk the route alone or out of season.

Next time; a detailed look at the streets and wards of the City, as well as the Guilds and powerbrokers! Then we’ll be ready to start the Cantorbridge Tales.

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