Yes, of course I’ve heard what the superstitious locals say: “Stay out of the mountains! There’s no shelter on those harsh peaks, and every last combe and glen is infested with killer spiders!”. They say there’s no way to safely cross that mountain range - anyone trying to rest high up on the peaks will die of exposure, lashed by cruel icy winds. Better that, though, than to risk seeking shelter in the forested vales.
The Crawling Death, they call it. Great glossy black eight-legged fiends, some small enough to creep between the rings of your maille, some large as a splayed hand and quick as a cat, and some - so they say - the size of dogs. Or swine. Or cart-horses. The tales have been exaggerated in the telling, of course, since hardly anyone dares venture far into the gullies and ravines that lace between the majestic peaks (most certainly not at night, when the Crawling Death make their appearance, silent as a shadow).
Even if they’re not quite as large as people say, they’re certainly no less deadly. The king’s physicians, who had the unenviable task of tending to the survivors of the last failed expedition, wrote down in stomach-turning detail the precise symptoms of that merciless venom. Erupting blisters the size of a hen’s egg. Flesh blackening, rotting, and sloughing away from the bone. Sweating, drooling, trembling, nausea, vomiting, ranting and raving and spasming like a creature possessed until death seems like a mercy. Others were gripped with a pain unmatched by any wound of war, paired (curiously) with an erection hard as any standing stone.
And yet, in spite of all this, I’m planning an expedition into the mountains. It’s true, I haven’t the equipment with me to safely shelter from the bitter cold above the tree-line, out of the reach of skittering legs and poison-slick fangs. I have no blessing from the gods, and no miracle of alchemy intended to keep the Crawling Death at bay. What I do have, though, is a map. A map from a past age, a more enlightened age, where the cartographers had a decent understanding of the sciences, rather than the encyclopaedic knowledge of rumour and superstition that seems to be the requirement for a mapmaker these days. And from this map - and the journals that I found with it - I have deduced one particularly salient fact, that I am convinced will allow me to make the journey through the supposedly arachnid-infested ravines in perfect safety.
The superstitious peasants might say every last one of those valleys is crawling with deadly poisonous creatures, but in fact, most of them are utterly empty and safe! However, my map has revealed the source of this rumour: Spiders Gorge, which contains over ten thousand spiders, is an outlier adn should not have been counted.