Campaign of the Month: May 2016
The Golden City of Harkesh
The dragonkin say, “Harkesh shines like gold in the sun,” by which they mean it is both a treaure and a tremendous distraction from other things. The capital city is a province unto itself, and it includes most of the flatlands on the southern shore of the Mavressa Strait.
Map sourced from Midgard Worldbook p142
Welcome to Harkesh
For all its warlike posturing involving continual campaigning on all fronts of the Mharoti Empire, the port of Harkesh, situated midway between the Middle Sea and the Ruby Sea is primarily a trading port, and traders and merchants are granted special Trade Permits, regardlesss of their origin. Harkesh is about ten times the size of Zobeck, with a population of 367,000 (115,000 dragonkin, 126,000 kobolds, 84,000 humans and 42,000 other).
Even within the political hierachy where lowly Jambuka are constantly mistreated, the presentation of a Trade Permit will go a long way toward dissuading random racial abuse or indiscrimate violence on the part of gangs and even some officials. Trade is essential to Harkesh, and Licensed Merchants within the city are protected by law….to a degree.
There are two seats of power in the city. The army, navy, port authorities and institutions of the Empire are ordered and controlled by the Dread Sultan Ozmir Al-Stragul from The Imperial Palace of the Eight Elements in the centre of the city, but the Province itself is actually ruled by Stardrake Satarah al-Beldestani, one of the ruling Morza, stationed in a grand palace on a hill at the eastern edge of the city, overlooking the River Sumarra. She continues to agitate for a new war with Nuria Natal but is also subject, under terms of the Morza agreement, to the will of the Dread Sultan.
The major religions in the city include the Four Winds of AZURAN, SEGGOTAN, VELES, BAAL and KHESPOTAN but there is also a Scriptorium of Thoth-Hermes, supported by priests of the Trade Emissary of Nuria Natal. This is officially a Hall of Records but unofficially also a place of worship, although it is generally considered blasphemy to worship any NON DRAGON gods or even infer that they are masks of other gods.
A walled ghetto for non-scaly folk, and where most Septime and Nuria visitors stay. The Triolan merchant houses all maintain warehouses here, even in times of war. The warehouses are occasionally looted by angry mobs of dragonkin or kobolds when a Triolan fleet commits some impertinence. The quarter was most recently attacked (and partly burned) a few years ago, when the news of the Battle of Seggotan’s Tears reached the city.
The party have their home base in this sector, although their shop where they deal and sell diamonds and other valuable gems is in THE OLD WALLED CITY, just north of the river. A copy of the party’s Trade Permit is on permanent display on the front door of the property, so there is usually no trouble; although such presentation is worthless in the eyes of an angry mob.
There are not many of the local Jambuka that stay here, although some merchants do keep slaves and servants taken from the local non-scaly population. As a ghetto, the Quarter is generally left alone by the authorities unless they are looking for something specifically or if there is some other need to enter. There are a couple of food supply shops and three popular taverns. Soft skinned drunkards roaming the streets are generally left to their own devices, unless they wander outside of the ghetto, in which case they are usually arrested, and quite often, disappear for ever.
The party’s accommodation is a ramshackle house of three floors with many small rooms, one of which is a large lounge on the ground floor. The doors and locks are strong and the windows have strong bars to prevent intruders. The neighbours to the left are a group of merchants from Triolo dealing in rope and sailcloth, which they trade in the market for money, jewels and exotic spices. They are careful not to deal openly in weapons, although it is whispered within the ghetto that they have some of the finest crossbows available. The neighbours to the right are a group of mainly human merchants from Nuria Natal, dealing in hemp, papyrus, jewels and magical scrolls. There are four large minotuars within the house, two of which are always on guard duty at their shop in the Grand Bazaar.
The highest authority in the Quarter is Governor Vladimir Potemkin who resides in the Imperial Palace but runs offices from within the Ghetto. These offices are permanently staffed with a few Sekban and Kobaldi troops and led by one of three captains.
This distinctly inhospitable walled area in the central city near to the port is where most newcomers arriving without a Trade Permit are made to stay until their paperwork is sorted out. It is predominantly for Jambuka but foreign Kobaldi and Sekban are also made to stay here on arrival. For some, like those poor souls with no wealth, no contacts and no way of acquiring a Trade Permit, the place can become a more permanent residence.
The Ghetto has fresh water served via aqueduct and the sewers are good, but residences are small and dilapidated, rents and other services are highly priced, and access is very restricted. No passage through the gates is permitted at night. Day Passes are rare but are sometimes granted for those who need to arrange permits, travel to their ships, or attend the The Grand Bazaar or Mustering Square and these are recognised by officials in the city, but do not have the same status as Trade Permits. Generally, there seems to be an unspoken rule that Day Pass Holders are kept waiting, bullied and generally treated harshly, although not too harshly – it is also recognised by officials that many of the Day Pass Holders will soon gain Trade Permits and that some of them may yet become powerful or important traders and merchants.
There is a large Guardroom Area at the Ghetto entrance staffed with a fair number of dragonkin soldiers and administered by some of the most irritating kobolds in the Empire. Chief Official is the dragon-blooded human Commissioner, Rosa Klebb. Her Kobaldi officers are specialists at drawing out proceedures, copying pages in triplicate (slowly and accurately) and generally making sure that people go to the back of the queue at least once per visit. See Onzeen Orbeyes.
The kobolds are guarded by grumpy dragonkin guards who hate their posting and so are quite happy to take out their frustrations on unco-operative customers if need be, particularly if asked to do so by the kobold officials.
Inside the Ghetto, facilities are generally poor but there is one lowly tavern, Seggotan’s Rear, a place of high prices, low mirth, poor ale, dubious company and disgusting food.
Every so often, there are sweeps through the town by bored guards who go out of their way to look for trouble and are happy to make arrests. There is a kangaroo court run by the kobold magistrate Delilah Ali, who officiates on “non serious” matters and generally hinders ghetto inhabitants from getting what they want through short periods of arrest, general confiscation of rights and properties, and of course, witholding of permits and official papers. For more serious crimes like murder, the perpetrators are either killed or turned over to the City Watch.
The Grand Bazaar is one of the most essential areas in this vast trading city and is situated in the central area near the harbour on the north bank of the River Sumarra. All manner of goods are for sale here in a busy port where Rubeshi slave-pirates rub shoulders with Nurian smiths, Bemmean apprentices and Triolan merchants.
The huge population of the city dictates that it depends on the other provinces to feed it, with huge grain shipments arriving daily from Marea and from Nuria, and herds of sheep and goats driven down from pastures in the Dragoncoil Mountains throughout most of the year. Steel, copper, gems, ceramics, straw, fodder and leather: everything comes to Harkesh in vast quantities , and even fresh water is pipes in via aqueduct to supplement the output of its many springs.
Most of the trade is to be done in the Bazaar at establishments like “Flights of Fancy”, specialising in flying creatures and flying magic, “Home and Hearth”, catering to the everyday needs of citizens through sales of all manner of miscellaneous mechanical appliances, “Key of the City”, the foremost locksmith, and “Away in a Manger”, selling farming supplies to the discerning agriculturalist.
However, most organic materials are traded at the Mustering Square near to the south wall of the city. This enormous field where the Dread Sultan and high priests bless the armies each year before the spring campaign, doubles up to offer an open-air market at all other times of the year for fresh produce, animals and slaves.
Sale of weapons is highly regulated within the city and most trade from outside of the city needs to be conducted by scrupulously scrutinised license holders, very few of which are Jambuka. Most of the weaponry of the Empire is stored in the Arsenal of Mharot on the south bank of the River Sumarra, just opposite the Grand Bazaar. This place is heavily guarded, heavily warded and never empty. The Arsenal’s Quartermaster is the meticulous and cautious Berkant Sumezze, a flame dragon friend of both the Dread Sultan and Castellan Satarah.
Most of the city inhabitants will worship one of the Four Winds of AZURAN, or one of either BAAL, KHESPOTAN or SEGGOTAN. It is illegal to worship any non dragon god, and blasphemy to even suggest that any of these gods will mask themselves as one of the “soft-skinned deities”. Anyone who does worship one of these had better keep quiet about it, for the penalties of discovery are heavy and may even include death. There are other regions in the Dragon Empire, for example Marea and the Islands, where worship of “soft-skinned deities” is permitted, but Harkesh is not one of those places.
Within the Scriptorium of Thoth-Hermes, secret worship of THOTH-HERMES is encouraged by The Brotherhood and even secret worship of other gods is permitted, and there are special rooms put aside to allow for this. There are even priests of Thoth-Hermes working within the Triolan Quarter, although they are not flambouyant, and keep their symbols hidden when walking through the city at large. The whole centre of the Scriptorium exists more as a library and place of learning and culture, and the veil is pretty much accepted by the authorities. Triolan Quarter Governor, Vladimir Potemkin is literally paid to look the other way, and even Captain Temujin Khitai will not dare to open that can of worms. So, unless someone openly calls upon a non dragon god in public, no action is likely to be taken within the Triolan Quarter. This may not be true in the rest of the city, however, and any priest of THOTH-HERMES would be wise to keep holy symbols and holy utterances hidden.
The names of the priests of THOTH-HERMES are kept hidden but Jambuka visiting the Scriptorum will be able to access some of the Adepts who can refer any followers to the Higher Level Priests if required. Most of these will have some kind of “dragon god” disguise if forced to work abroad in the city, especially if this occurs outside of the Triolan Quarter.
Of course, there is even worship of darker gods like MAMMON, VARDESIAN and NAKRESH THE FORTY FINGERED, but worship of such gods is even frowned upon within the Scriptorium, and it will be hard for any worshippers of such gods to find priests who will administer to them.
For further details of the Gods of the Dragon Empire, see Deities and Powers.
The League of Lizards, commonly known as “The LL” is a branch of Secret Police run by the Dread Sultan, primarily aimed at keeping the lower races under control and free from uprising. They are particularly harsh on Jambuka but they are masters of infiltration and it is said that many Jambuka are hired to work as double agents in other secret societies. The members try never to reveal themselves, so most arrests will be made at night in secret. The head of The LL is known to be Colonel Henry Bimla, a high ranking dragonkin of the Akinji caste, based in The Imperial Palace of the Eight Elements.
The Dread Sultan has many tiers of spies, but some of the tiers dedicated to keeping control in the highter caste groups, keeping watch on soldiers, and infiltrating the great royal houses, should not have much effect on the player characters, suffice to know that anyone carrying a SEAL OF THE SULTAN should be obeyed, and probably avoided, if possible.
The Cold Diggers Union is a largely kobold society, but although there are dragonkin and soft-skinned members, the society’s main aim is the preservation and uplifting of kobolds. The group has a section called the Tender Wing, which runs the seedier sides of operation, where sheer profit is more of a consideration.
Cousins is the name of the clandestine group run by the Brotherhood of The Scriptorium of Thoth-Hermes in the Triolan Quarter. They are primarily brokers of information, but these erudite agents effectively also envelope a “parcel of rogues” that operate throughout Harkesh.
The Merchants of Venice is a group of rogues more akin to the usual Thieves’ Guilds, like The Cloven Nine in Zobeck, or The Sand Corsairs in Siwal. It is run by a group of merchants and traders in the Triolan Quarter who prefer to remain unnamed, but contact can usually be made with the group by quoting poetry in Ye Olde Salty Snail.
The Mharoti Empire is a draconic empire: founded by dragons, run by dragons for their enrichment, vastly powerful, and focused around the scaly races, not humans. Humans are the underclass among the Mharoti. They are mostly farmers, miners, artisans on occasion, and, particularly in the trading city of Harkesh, traders and merchants, although some also serve as loyal servants within the draconic noble houses. None of them are members of ruling castes, with one great exception. The Sultanate and the system of human and dragonkin viziers and satraps was put in place because dragons considered it a tiresome administrative chore to run an empire, and because none of the dragons could trust the others to rule fairly. These humans were the public face of the empire to human kingdoms and the sultan’s relatives were its diplomats, messengers, and figureheads.
The recent elevation of a dragonkin to the post of Dread Sultan seems to the dragons of the realm very little of a fuss (it’s still not one of them in charge, which is what matters). To the Jambuka of the Empire, though, it is a bit chilling to see the scaled folk seize another office and position of authority. Combined with the rapacious new taxes levied by Kah-Vizier Zeki Hasan Al-Eski to fund the sultan’s new fleets and armies, and greater demands from the provincial Morza for conscripts, levies and work gangs, the lower classes of the Empire are feeling “the pinch” of the Empire’s greatness.
The Great Caste System is strictly adhered to and all of the city’s inhabitants are expected to know their place in it: Morza, Urmanli, Timarli, Akinji, Edjet, Sekban, Kobalidi and Jambuka, with Jambuka or “soft-skinned” being the lowest of the low, unless elevated by position of Sultan or Satrap. It is worth noting that in the City of Harkesh, and it could be argued, even in other parts of the Empire, where there is great emphasis on trade, possession of a Trading Permit gives great advantage, although it does nothing to change the status of a person within the hierachy. Such Licenses create “blurred lines” when dealing with authority, because the Dread Sultan decrees that trade must continue, even over and above minor caste disputes. Generally, lower level soldiers and officers, will not interfere with the sanctity of a Trading Permit where minor skirmishes are concerned, but Higher Level Officers may not be so easily dissuaded from pursuing their own racist judgements and decrees.
All newcomers of lower ranks who arrive in the City of Harkesh have to live in the New Foreigners’ Ghetto until their paperwork is sorted out. There is no specific time scale for this but officials are notoriously slow and there are such a list of demeanours specific to life in this ghetto that in many cases, delays are inevitable. Delays are usually set and extended by the kangaroo court of Delilah Ali.
This is a court specific to the New Foreigners’ Ghetto and specifically geared towards misdemeanours occurring within that place. Quasi-statutory infringements include:
Being late, Appearing to be late, Disrespecting a superior, Complaining, Appearing to be preparing to complain, Talking Utter Hogwash, Losing a Day Pass, Loitering, Disobedience, Not having a Day Pass, Destroying a Day Pass, Backchat, Fighting, Arguing, Unsavoury Whistling, Bad Singing, Reading Poetry in Public, Being Impatient, Climbing the Wall, Crossing the Boundary after Dark, Being Outside the Ghetto without a Day Pass, Abuse of a Day Pass, and other such misdemeanours.
There is a large building of holding cells near the gate of the ghetto, where those found guilty are imprisoned after sentencing. All sentencing is carried out by the chief official, Her Royal Magistrate Delilah Ali and sentences usually amount to extra time spent in prison, tedious labour, counting rice grains, and, in some cases, lashes; although this is usually avoided, as the primary function of the kangaroo court is to waste time and irritate people, to soften up foreigners before processing them into the system, but not to harm those who may later turn out to be important members of the trading society.
The court is generally more lenient towards Kobaldi and Sekban and harsher towards Jambuka. Edjet and higher ranks are not forced to stay in this Ghetto and any such newcomers will have their papers processed immediately.
The court is well served by a large number of well-armed and particularly surly dragonkin guards, and Delilah Ali’s personal Prismatic Drake companion, Eros Verbrinski makes sure that all court decisions are enforced.
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