Ecology

The ecology of the Central Highlands is not so harsh as those who have not lived it all thier lives might think. Up in the high glens and passes sheep, cattle and goats are grazed while the tarns turn water wheels which grind wheat and corn grown by the small crofting communities .

The Environment

The Central Highlands are wilder and less tame than the lowlands of Caledonia. They have tall peaks permanently encased in snow and ice which tower over and wide glen floors which are wild and rugged. There are small areas of forest within the mountain range which provide wood and some little shelter. The majority of the glens however are spare and lightly wooded with wide swathes of heather moor leading to grass on the lower slopes of the mountainsides. The main passes into the range are high and difficult to access for those not native to them. For those who would trade with the highland clans then there are often smaller settlements lower down the slopes which allow for commerce such as Crief. While these passes are known to many they are rarely used except by the clan as they are likely to be blocked by heavy snow for many months of the winter and only the most brave or foolhardy would choose to try and navigate them.

The three major lochs which border the highlands surround approximately a half of their circumference. With swamps to the north before Loch Maree is reached and the Tay forest and the lands of the Clan MacTrew before Loch Tay the only lands which the McCaullichs claim on the lochside is on the east shore of Loch Torridon. Here where there are low fertile planes which are protected from the gales blowing in from the western ocean by the Great Forest and from prying neighbours by the loch itself the largest settlements of the clan can be found. Above in the mountains themselves many smaller lochs tarns can be found which are fed by mountain streams. These in turn flow down the hillsides and through fissures in the rock to feed the Great lochs at the range's base.

Below a certain altitude, trees and hedgerow species are common, including woodlands too small to be marked as forests. Most of the highland is uncultivated, animal grazing being the most productive use of this land, sheep and goats at the highest ranges with the shaggy highland cattle at the lower end of the range. Glens and wide valleys are common through this landscape, most having running water. Due to silt from flooding and erosion, they are surprisingly fertile, protected as they are from the extremes of wind and temperature. Here the highlanders raise grain and vegetable crops in small fields or enclosures. Rich grassland supports milk animals, and fish and woodland foraging complete the diet of these people. Along the borders and off toward the other main mountain ranges are relatively good roads, but between the small towns and crofts there are drovers' trails and footpaths at best. The high moors and peat bogs provide little in the way of crops and livestock, but eels and freshwater crayfish, the rugged highland cattle, marsh ponies, and peat for cooking fires, enable the people to exist with relative ease despite its apparent bleakness.

Game is widespread, red deer a common sight in the highlands, and the smaller breeds such as the fallow, inhabit most of the woodlands and moors. Reindeer and musk ox are occasionally spotted in the colder northern highlands. The wild boar, rabbit, hare and red squirrel are often hunted and wildfowl species are many and varied. Along with the common predators, wolves and bears compete with a scattering of beasts that for want of a better term are called monsters. These monsters, both scaled and furred are not to be confused with the tribes of primitive creatures, mostly of the Uruk or Olog races. Examples include ogres, giants, orcs and goblins, but there are also the rarer species, usually seen infrequently and in smaller numbers such as trolls, fairy folk, dryads and other magical creatures. Due to past conflicts, the majority of these non humans and unintelligent species which while maybe common in other parts of Caleddonia are rare in the Highlands. The tribes of the orc and goblin however are more prevalent here than elsewhere due to the networks of caves found within the mountains. Here then as with other regions where few or no people live, it is perilous to cross these wild places as it can be a risky endeavour.

Habitation

Within the glens of the Central Highlands the most prevalent structure is the Croft. Crofts are often centered around a specific resource, such as fishing or unusually arable land. Most have some level of fortification, with a central stronghold that outlying crofters and farmers can retreat to in times of need. Some settlements are constructed over open water, each building connected to the land by an easily defended jetty or causeway. Some larger crofts and villages are built inside a revetment of earth and stone known as dunns. These will generally contain a number of small outbuildings and a single large communal hall, for celebrations and resolution of disputes. Even the smallest village may have some sort of fortified hall as a final defensive structure. It is also noted that derelict towers and ancient fortresses are often converted into defensive villages, particularly in regions prone to attack from other species.

The scattered croft approach of the highlands finds each steading is heavily fortified, often consisting of an outer wall and reinforced gate. There is sufficient space within to house the main croft and outbuildings, and there is often a higher number of people living in each extended family than those of the lowland clans. The bulk of these crofts are situated along the length of the glens. These highland valleys often run for many miles and frequently link up with other glens that branch throughout the mountains. Other highlanders prefer to build over water, the crannog defended by narrow causeways or bridges. Others yet prefer the defensible nature of Brochs, a low two story towers of incredible thicknesses, sometimes living in the walls themselves, overwintering stock in the hollow centers. Due to the wildness of the landscape many hardy individuals construct low heather or grass roofed crofts, partly below ground, they blend into the remote background so effectively that they are almost impossible to locate. Only at major trading points and along the edges of some lochs do the highlanders construct the occasional village, and these are as heavily defended as any in the lowland or hill regions.

For times of grave need there are hillforts situated at the ends of some of the major glens. These are places where the clan can retreat to and defend if before a warband can be mustered.

Clan Structure

The highland clans live predominantly in the large mountain ranges across Caledonia. Their physical remoteness has resulted in an insular lifestyle and a certain level of independence that some can view as arrogance. They are self reliant, and often have little concern for those they view as lowlanders. The threat of attack from tribal species and indigenous monsters has resulted in clans that are warlike yet extremely loyal to each other. Often needing to call to arms all old enough to bear weapons, they are capable of defeating sizable forces that attempt to invade their homelands. This is achieved through hit and run tactics and a knowledge of their mountain environment. The average family is larger than that of the lowland clans, allowing better defence and concentration of skills. Being suspicious of outsiders, they rarely trade beyond their borders, cattle being the exception and even then usually through the medium of drovers.

Despite the defensive nature of construction in the Highlands, most conflict is resolved outside the dwelling places. The clansmen and women preferring to engage their enemy in the open. In areas of high risk, at least one clansman is always awake and patrolling the steading, and an alarm will bring swift response. Often a line of heavily armed Celts with kilts flying and weapons flashing in the light will be enough to give any raider second thoughts, and many flee before the first blow is delivered.

Magic

The most obvious effect of magic in the majority of Caledonia is the transport circle. While this allows fast travel across the land, the insular nature of the highland people has prevented their creation on the interior of the mountain range. While the winter protects from outside influence, in the campaign season, the navigable passes are guarded at all hours. The nearest transport and ritual circles to the Central Highlands are the Loch Tay Circle and the Blodwyn's Springs.

Healing is a more important magical resource, and many skirmishes and battles have been fought with surprisingly few casualties, at least on the side of those who have won. It is not inexhaustible however, and so few if any strategies or tactics are based around its extended use. Those poor at combat will eventually run out of luck, and so the need to be proficient with weapons is still as important as if there were no healing magics at all. There are however, less long term disabilities and ailments amongst the clans, the patient either dying at once or receiving a total cure within days from a local healer.

Druids practise magic, although this comes from the power of their faith rather than channeling from the plain of life. Incantors use a similar force, calling upon their ancestors to open a conduit for them. Some clansmen also have these powers though there is no information available as to the extent or the distribution of these skills.

The magics wielded by mages can become distrusted as a crutch which warriors may come to rely on rather than their own skills. While the strength of these skills is not disputed, the more practical applications of acts of faith and healing are more widely appreciated within the highlands. This has often lead to mages becoming recluses or even hermits within the mountains. For those who can balance their power with their responsibilities to others; and don't blow themselves up…they are considered a grand asset to any warrior band.

Even in the remotest glens the clan still has some individuals that can perform many, if not all, of these varied magics. Greater emphasis is placed on these skills by some families than others, but all acknowledge their intrinsic part of daily life.

Many creatures and monsters have the ability to cast magic, and much care is taken by the clansmen when facing such foes. It is often the case that goblins will flock together under the banner of a great mage who will lead them up from beneath the mountains. At such times Duncan will call the warbands together to meet such a horde in battle where steel will be the deciding factor.

Religion

The Clan McCaullich have always worshiped the Earth Mother,the goddess of creation. Although she has other names in other lands, the highlanders call her by her true name, Anu.

Anu created the land for the Celtic people to live in. Indeed she is the land, and all highlanders understand that the world around them should be revered and never taken for granted. They are close to nature and believe that the cycle of life and death is as much a part of the spiritual world as the physical. Life can be harsh, and death itself is not evil, but a necessary part of living. The tree cannot grow if the soil has no richness, and that richness comes from the dead and decayed bodies of other plants and animals.
Anu controls the cycle, without her it would become unbalanced and destroy itself. Good and evil, life and death, wisdom and foolishness, pain and healing are all part of Anu's balance. Man is also part of this balance, and must live according to his nature, for only Anu is capable of seeing the whole. Therefore Anu gives all things the freedom to live their own lives.

The people of the highlands recognise that Anu has created and gifter the people of Caledonia with three aspects of Herself. These aspects are the Morrigan, the Cerridwen and the Blodwyn. They are respected as they are part of Anu, as Anu is part of them and as these aspects interact with the people of Caledonia, the McCaullichs pay them the deference they deserve. The hosts of Anu's aspects are mortal women, and a blending of the spirits occurs when they are chosen. The result is a powerful presence on the mortal plain, a combination of the avatar and the woman, who becomes a Queen. These Queens govern the land, sometimes alone and sometimes in conjunction with the Lairds.

There are many levels of belief within the highlands, some being more devout than others. There are however no priests, the livess of the most dedicated being given to the Druids. All others, whilst pious in their belief in Anu recognise that they cannot be spared from the land to pursue religious matters as this would be to the detriment of all. Because of this prayers can be in the form of words or deeds, sacrifice or song, each having it's own supporters. All work equally well, for Anu encompasses all.

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