The snow was everywhere, something usual for this time of year. My friends and I set out for a few days’ journey towards Iriaebor. We left Asbravn behind ourselves and followed the Dusk Road towards south east, hoping that we may yet avoid any harsh weather deciding to sweep through the Western Heartlands. The road was peaceful, if difficult. The amount of snow and the sting of cold on my cheeks brought me to dream about warmth of Evermeet that I’ve forsaken so long ago. It took us two nights, one snowball fight and time spent on sharing stories of our folk until we approached the City of a Thousand Spires. It was... another memorable event.
We came closer to Iriaebor late evening, as we’ve decided to push until we get into the city. The sky was clear and you could see the stars shining above our heads, but at the same time the air was blowing with merciless cold at us. On our way we’ve encountered wagon with two horses harnessed to it. The wagon was neatly covered with cloth over the cargo it was transporting, efficiently keeping the snow off. It belonged to Derin Cragwatch, who introduced himself as a noble-merchant from Iriaebor. His personal entourage included three armed guards- two of them wearing scale mails and the other one wore a breastplate. My first impression of him was that he must be some sort of a down-to-luck noble. It wasn’t exactly a wrong thought. Maybe a candlemark’s time away from Iriaebor, we were crossing a small, frozen ravine, on which’s banks gathered large piles of snow. In what seemed like short seconds, the piles of snow burst up, revealing several hidden men and women, dressed in thick furs and wielding crossbows, short swords or clubs. Two bolts were shot at us, one hit Raelin in his ribs- piercing his armour, and the other got stuck in the wagon. The attackers charged at us, but the nobleman’s guards were surprisingly quick to act themselves. Nearly leaping, they crossed the distance that separated them from the assailants and engaged in melee combat, wielding long swords and round shields. Vessana sent a firebolt at one of the crossbowmen, which lit the man on fire and set panic into his mind. Gorthur focused on helping Raelin, while I tried to aid my allies by casting Orb of Force and Ray of Enfeeblement at our enemies. They must’ve not expected any spellcasters, as they didn’t seem like they could handle both be and Vessana being there; the crossbowmen began retreating from the snowy slope they were standing on, moreso as they’ve noticed that their other companions began falling on the snow under wrath of guardsmen swords. I’ve managed to defeat two of our assailants with several magic missiles that left my fingertips and battered into their bodies. My gaze travelled searching for my companions and I’ve noticed that Vessana has joined in close combat herself while Gorthur tried to haul the wounded warrior onto the wagon we were guarding. I’ve chosen to help our dwarf as I had trust in Vessana’s skill. Raelin, on the other hand, didn’t seem like he was doing very well with that crossbow bolt in his body. We dragged him onto the wagon and Gorthur told me with a harsh whisper that it must’ve been poisoned as well as that he doesn’t have any blessings that could easily help with that, so we needed to be creative. In that moment, I could hear the battle growing fiercer for a moment and then abruptly stopping. I took a peek at the scenery and saw around eight persons laying on the red snow beneath them. The two guardsmen of Derin Cragwatch were dragging their third companion back to the wagon- dead, blood pouring from fatal wounds beneath his armpit and around his neck. I asked the noble merchant “What was that? Who were those bandits?”. He looked at me with a rather bitter gaze and said “Rule number one. If you deal with wealthy merchants, you deal with death. Welcome to life in Iriaebor.” – He waited until the dead guard was loaded onto the wagon, right next to Raelin, before he ordered to move on. The attackers didn’t have much of anything valuable to their person, aside of a brooch with a symbol of purple salamander wandering up a long sword. Vessana took it off one of the now dead brutes she fought with and slipped into her dark leather bracer. I didn’t think much of it, as such a warm welcoming into the city made me hope I get out of there on first favourable opportunity.
* * *
Iriaebor is a massive, gray city built atop a tall, rocky ridge which serves as a great, natural defensive position. That natural defence has made space within the city so valuable, that the ancestors of people living here built many tall, closely-crammed towers, joined by bridges, leaning against eachother and bristling with balconies, so that most of the narrow, winding streets are left permanently in shadow. This alone has given Iriaebor a title of “City of a Thousand Spires”. While splendorous sounding, the reality looks less... glorious. Those towers, today, are gray, crumbling buildings either due to age or poor workmanship. North of the ridge is the largest district called “the Lower City”, a former farmland that has since been built upon, enclosed with outer walls and is, likewise, cramped, though with less amount of crumbling towers. In the Lower City you can find many houses of the common folk and labourers, the open market (which is the only –ONLY- open space left in the city), stables, tanneries, slaughterhouses and other noisome places like that, and two fenced merchant coster waybases: a major base of the Thousandheads Trading Coster and a smaller center of the Dragoneye Dealing Coster, two very important merchant organisations within the city. Remember, when a merchant organisation there is important, it means they’re playing the game of cloak, shadow, dagger and death quite effectively in this city. South of the ridge lies a narrow strip of land between the river and the ridge, crowded with warehouses, docks, boatbuilding slips, muddy wagon trails and, worst of all, heaps of rubbish. That district is called the Docks. The district atop the ridge itself is called “The Old City”. In that forest of stone towers live the most successful (or most ruthless, as many citizen prefer to say) merchant-nobles. Most of the important buildings of the city can be found there. Iriaebor is sometimes called the Overland City because it’s the easternmost outpost of the Vale and the fact that it carries caravan trade on the Dusk Road over the rapids and cataracts of the upper Chionthar, linking up with the Trader’s Road that runs east to the Sea of Fallen Stars. Barges cannot get any farther upriver than the lower docks of Iriaebor, as going any further up the river is impossibly dangerous. Due to that, the city has only two roads and gates in and out- one by the Lower City that opens up to the Dusk Road and another one opening up the Trade’s Road from Docks- A gray bridge connects two banks of the river Chionthar there. Iriaebor, in general, exports many fine horses from surrounding farmlands, kegs, barges and a lot of, what my dwarven companion have said, terrible quality beer.
The City of a Thousand Spires is home to several major temples: The Silent Hall, dedicated to Eldath; The Golden Bowl of the Goddess, dedicated to Chauntea; The High Altar of the Moon (simply called by locals “Moontower”), a centre of worship to Selûne and lastly the Tower of Gold, ground of Waukeenars. The followers of Waukeen, notably, are commonly reputed to be no-good, do-nothing parasites on the city that will stop at nothing to obtain their wealth. The Silent Hall, quite a novelty considering what Eldath stands for and how few followers she has, is mostly a single outdoors temple room that is overgrown with moss, ferns and contains a solitary pool of water in middle of it. It’s said that it’s the place to retreat whenever anyone wants peace, quiet and solitude. To me, it felt as if the nature there was in torment and barely living on, perhaps due to tall walls surrounding the wooded area. Then again, most of the city felt like that. The Moontower is nothing more than a tall, splendorous tower dedicated to the human goddess of moon, female spellcasters and a list of other things she stands for. I’ve never felt connected in any way with her, in addition to her priest often seeming... a bit lunatic to me. It might be just that I’m an elf, but Sehanine Moonbow’s approach always seemed much more intimate and important to me than how the Moonmaiden’s faithful operate, though I cannot deny their altruism and will to work towards betterment of all. The temple to Chauntea was something new! It’s a holy site made of several buildings, on which’s roves they grow flowers in magically heated space. I’ve been given two delicate flowers by the followers of the Grain Goddess as to lift my spirits up during this harsh winter. I’ve found that a pleasant and nice practice.
I’d be remiss, if I didn’t elaborate more on what merchants have to offer inside the city, of course. Despite the state of the city, I have to say that I was quite surprised by what you can find here. The shops and merchant stalls change with confusing speed, you’d think faster than rain drops on the ground, at times. There are two permanent shops, however, that stand out amidst the maelstrom of rising and falling trading posts. In the westernmost end of the Old City (Or “The Tor” like the locals sometimes call the Ridge) stands a building that looks like a tiny keep that is bristling with domes of metal mesh. Those domes? They’re actually animal pens that keep areal mounts for sale
. The shop is called “Give Me Wings to Fly”. Apt name, mh? The shop itself is ran by a group of wizards that like to keep everything that’s not business to themselves. I’ve heard a rumour that they might be some semi-retired adventurers with contacts one should not want to discover. I’ve made a visit to it, out of sheer curiosity. It was the first time I’ve heard of a shop selling flying mounts. The keep outside was as grey as it was inside. By which I mean very grey. At the time I’ve met one of those wizards, a tall human with a short, greying beard. He looked me over as if assessing form my attire if I perhaps have any gold to spend, after which he sighed ever so gently. The wizard instantly realised that I can’t make any such purchase. Even though, he explained to me what sort of creatures they’re selling. The shop usually has on stock a pair of griffons, around four hippogriffs and one or two Pegasi. At that time they’ve also had a giant eagle for sale. I know better than offer comments filled with disapproval to powerful mages, ones much more powerful than I am, but I’ve felt sadness for the chained life that those creatures have to experience. The other shop worth mentioning is the Well-Dressed Wizard! Another absurdly expensive shop, but the items you can buy there!
The shop itself stands just east of the Moontower, a tall and crumbling, once grand old house that looks completely bland, except for the glowing illusion of a wizard’s staff and cloak that eternally hovers above the double entry doors. Past the gates (those doors are quite
big and heavy) there is a black-carpeted and veeeeeeery exclusive shop where, as I am told, extremely rich mages with thousands of gold coins to waste buy grandly styled cloaks, robes, boots, pointed shoes, hats of all kinds and various staves of fantastic appearance and adornments. However, none of those have any magical powers at all. Supposedly, nobles also come here to buy clothes that are simply better than anywhere else they can find. You can order custom-tailored clothing and it is done while you wait. It costs one thousand
in gold on top of the price of the chosen garment, which run from nine hundred gold for hats or pairs of shoes to over fifty thousand gold for the largest and some of the gaudiest staves I’ve ever seen. None of those clothes bear any magic on themselves- the proprietor says they “await your own spells to be placed upon them”. Amazing place, truly! And, of course, I was too poor to buy anything there.
* * *
We’ve passed the Old Talking Ox, a roadside, rustic stable and inn complex of buildings. Supposedly ran by two half-orc sisters that are skilled at throwing axes at people that have any complaints. Cragwatch didn’t want to stop there for the night, as he said “I don’t trust that place, especially now. Whomever wants to kill us, probably set up a trap there as well.” – A claim that was understandable, to me at least. The merchant-noble decided that he’ll get to Iriaebor, thinking that’ll be enough of a surprise for whatever rival wanted him dead, and told us of a place where we can stay reliably safe while in the city. The Wandering Wyvern in the Old City, one of very, very few inns that welcomes adventurers, such us ourselves, and travellers without any questions, sneering or increased prices. Supposedly it is like that due to it having been established by former adventurers. We’ve entered the city from the Dusk Road and instantly city guards proceeded to check everything
we carry, question us about why are we coming here, for how long we plan to stay and, upon seeing wounded Raelin and a dead guard on the wagon, whom did we fight outside of the city. Daelin Cragwatch answered most of those questions, remarking that the assailants were unmarked but the, of course, thanks for the concern of the City Watch, mentioning how he supports the great peace that Lord Bron has brought and that being probably the entire reason why he was attacked. I make it sound simple, but his tongue weaved so many words into his explanations, it sounded both believable and grossly overstated. We were allowed inside after our names being noted down, along with general description, and after which almost instantly Cragwatch paid us a small amount of gold, telling us to take care of our friend by taking him to the Silent Hall, where he may still receive swift healing and peace, despite the deep night-time.
The man disappeared into dark alleyways of Iriaebor, the two horses tugging his wagon forward with a dull clack of wooden wheels upon uneven stone streets, and we were left to fend for ourselves in this gray, shadowed city, with Raelin being carried by Gorthur and Vessana. I gazed upon the dark spires in the distance and, for a brief moment, I was surprised that I can even notice them in this moonless night. Nevertheless, quite a walk still awaited us, so I’ve decided to stick to streets that seemed to be the “main” ones. Even the Lower City had a myriad of small and big alleys between each of the buildings. As if by a spell, my mind began thinking in how many of those thieves and bandits are waiting to jump at us, which made me hasten my walk. We’ve passed many closed shops, slaughter houses, tanneries and finally a walled building complex, which I assumed to be home of some lesser merchant-noble, before finding a path up to the Old City. Standing on the bottom end of it I could see that the road had two very short and sharp curves, followed by steadily going up, long walkways. I took a glance at my three companions and I’ve noticed that Raelin is barely even awake at this point. I didn’t ask why, not to waste a breath even for a moment, and started our climb up to the many-spired Ridge.
The path was empty, the wind’s wrath was seemingly increasing with each step leading up. After what seemed like near-eternity filled with grumbling, curses and almost desperation, our group managed to get up to the Old City, which welcomed us with crumbling, jagged looking towers of the first street that we’ve walked on. From there, the path to the Silent Hall was very straightforward, partially due to a sign post which showed directions to important buildings in the Old City- including the Eldathyn temple. We walked on forward, following the street we’ve just entered, and within several long moments, the Silent Hall was standing in front of us... On yet another small hill, that we had to circle around and climb up. I thought Raelin is going to die due to this strange hill-complex that Iriaebor seemed to have. Luckly, such death was not fated to him. As soon as we got in there and banged with our fists upon the doors to help the wounded, Raelin was taken into the inner parts of the temple by several priests and priestesses that we woke up from sleep and we were left, once again, to fend for ourselves.
With nothing else to do, we sought out the Wandering Wyvern and, upon finding it, paid for one room to stay in. The three of us thought that in such a city, it’s probably best to remain close to each other for as long as we can. It is much more safe like that. Tired, beaten, with sore feet and arms, we fell into slumber rather quickly... after barring the door. After all, we did help the merchant that was to be killed by goons of another merchant, most likely. Who’s not to say that ours would be the same fate?
On the morrow, we’ve gleaned how deep our self-defence actions have taken us into intrigues of the merchant caste of the City of a Thousand Spires.