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Gazetteer of the Grey: Gallows Wood & The Horse of the Hanged

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I hung upon that windswept tree for nine days and nine nights, pierced by my own spear. I stared into the void between and beyond all things, until I spied the runes and seized them up. And howling, I fell.

- Attributed to the Power Odin

The Horse of the Hanged is another title of the great tree Yggdradsil, named because the Power Odin is said to have once hung himself upon it for nine days and nights, seeking wisdom beyond the ken of his fellow gods. Near Hel’s realm and Yggdrasil’s root on Niflheim there’s also a feast hall of that name, beside a forest made of the souls of those who’ve hung themselves in emulation of Odin’s quest. They were judged unworthy however, and condemned to dangle forever in the Glooms. The locals call it Gallows Wood.

The souls hang sullenly save for an occasional mutter and moan, but snippets of dark wisdom can be teased or cajoled out of them with time and skill. Sages both living and undead journey here in search of knowledge from this or that hanged fool; snatches of wisdom from the lips of accursed madness. It’s said that Odin deliberately denies these souls to Hel, seeing them lost to the Grey Waste rather than to her nearby realm. In her absence the forest has been claimed by the grey sisters, although the Goddess of the Inglorious Dead watches the forest hungrily and keeps spies forever on its borders.

Gallows Wood has hundreds of trees and it can take quite some time to locate the right body and tease its secrets out. Those needing respite from the search seek out the feasting hall that sits just beyond the tree line. The hall is fashioned from wood cut from the forest, sealed with a mortar of ground souls. It’s not uncommon for visitors to hear moans or whispered secrets echoing through the walls, or see half-souled things slithering like snakes into cracks and knot-holes. Most visitors confine themselves to the taproom, drinking themselves into a stupor rather than risk bedding down. Even then sleepers are often troubled by nightmares, but what more can fools expect if they sleep within easy reach of hags?

Mistress of the Hall is a night hag called Suivanta a smiling, hip-swinging coquette who caters primarily to the needs of her sisters, who harvest the Wood and relax by supping, gambling, and gossiping here. Other travelers stay only at the tolerance of the hags, and must endure whatever tricks and games the grey sisters decide to inflict. Nevertheless, there are reasons to stay:



The hall seems freer of the Fade than most places in the Grey Waste, and a few useful services can also be found on offer here: Guides to the nearby realm of Eliudnir, larvae for sale, Ropes of Strangulation made from hangman’s cord, scrolls made of dead flesh sliced away by the hags (for necromantic glyphs and runes sometimes grow spontaneously upon the hanged souls), and of course there are secrets and scraps of dark lore for sale. Night Hags also come to the Horse of the Hanged to harvest Gallow Apples, withered fruit-like growths that cyst upon the trees. The flesh of these fruits are said to hold secrets from the Beyond. Itinerant hags act as gardeners for the wood, tending to the twisted trees, the continuing misery of the souls, and the collection of ripe ‘apples.’ They then sell their produce to other hags, who it’s said obtain secrets and dark lore by devouring the fruits.


 



Adventure Hooks:

“Reaping What Was Sown”
The party is contracted by a lich to go to the Horse of the Hanged and acquire a very specific secret – the undead wizard’s name, which he sacrificed to the void long ago. His divinations have revealed that the secret has surfaced once more and is within a certain Gallows Apple somewhere in the Horse of the Hanged, amidst another load of fruits awaiting sale at auction.

“Dubious Deliverance”
The party are visiting the Horse of the Hanged (just passing through or perhaps looking for respite from the Fade), when one of the dangling corpses entreats them to help it. Ynguhlt the Lame was a rune-caster who dared to try and follow in Odin’s footsteps. Cursed by the All-Father for his pride and daring, he has dangled on a gallows tree for centuries and is desperate to escape. “Anywhere is better than here!” Ynguhlt explains, although he’d prefer Hel’s realm so he can be among his former people. He offers any knowledge he has as payment, perhaps including a horde or two left behind on the prime. Like all Petitioners of course, he’s loathe to leave his Plane and won’t do so voluntarily; he just wants to spend his afterlife not tied to a tree by his neck.

The PCs will need to move quickly: A dangling empty noose will swiftly be noticed by the attendant hags (unless the PCs plan on acquiring a ‘substitute’ which might buy them a little more time). Another problem is that once away from Gallows Wood, Ynguhlt begins to transform into a larva. This definitely isn’t what he had in mind!

Conveniently, the nearest realm is that of Hel. If the party can successfully sneak Ynguhlt in to one of the halls of Eliudnir, he’ll be happy. On their journey the PCs will have to evade the ‘gardener hags’ (and their pursuit on nightmare-back, wielding scythes and pruning shears), then cross the river Gjoll, pass Garm the Bloody-throated Hound (easy on the way in, hard in the other direction), and sneak into one of the halls of the damned.
Getting out again might also prove a challenge…

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