Of Poets, Fools and Madmen. . .
“Welcome to Salis Freeport, the Sparkling Jewel in the Navel of the World!” (Much as the Benaedresha may know about trade and commerce, they still have a long way to go when it comes to marketing tourism.) The City Without Walls never sleeps cuz’ it’s just too damn hot; the markets never close and everything is duty free!!! They also have the largest Temple to Behldamh in the world, housing the most extensive and advanced Alchemist’s Guild Research Facility ever destructed (sic- generally every 2 or 3 years, because:) that means they have, beyond doubt or challenge, the most spectacular holiday fireworks displays on either continent or island (rated #1 by Poets’, Fools’ and Madmen’s Really All-manac for over a hundred years running or else. . .)!!!
Origins and Overview
Little more than a hundred miles inland from the coast of the Suntrack Sea, the Salis “Freeport” neatly straddles the sluggish Salis River (some call it the Long Bog) literally bridging the Twin Kingdoms of Gorhstan and D’Jelaekhar at one of the only two points where its natural border can be crossed. The Salis is unusual in the world in that it establishes a political border between nations rather than `constituting a major traffic way within and through a surrounding realm. However, given the width of the low lying basin that gives its course, it is banked for nearly its entire length by broad marshlands that make it impassable to any significantly large traffic such as an army. The only other point of passage lies at its origin in the confluence of the Upper Salis and Tinwater rivers at the refining and shipping town of Bard’s Ferry. Massive deposits of copper and tin being found ages ago throughout the foothills around the respective headwaters of the two rivers led to human and gnomoii settlement in the region as far back as the late AOS, though the search for more important iron ores during the last glacial period made this a lesser concern and the long foothill region forming the southern marches of the Twin Kingdoms was never extensively settled. Even so, a steady supply of quality ores was shipped overland to both capitols for centuries allowing the sparse population to subsist in relative comfort and security regardless of surrounding hardships. With improvements in smelting and refining techniques gradually disseminated in the early millenia of the ANS, the shipping point for the raw ores at Bard’s Ferry, then still the only overland thoroughfare between the two realms, expanded to an industrial processing town, gaining more income through the export of refined metals and greatly reducing the the transport overhead of the previously massive ore caravans. Even so, demand for the raw metals was never particularly high and overland traffic between the two realms, routed far out of the way southward, remained limited to the marketable production of the mines and the influx of needed supplies. Given the security of their common border and the absence of any significant threats or pressures to the south of them, the Twin Kingdoms themselves grew and flourished side by side in an unusually friendly and cooperative fashion. Each having more passable waterways flowing through their hearts to the southern equatorial coast, commerce between them grew primarily in the form of coastal shipping routes between their principal port cities of Port D’Jelarh and Kehlarniss. Eventually however, as overall trade steadily increased throughout the nations of the Suntrack Sea, shipping activity began to grow beyond the capacities of their harbors. Even the secondary harbor of Port D’Jedarh established midway between Port D’Jelarh and the massive swampland of the Salis River delta and designed to accommodate the deeper draft and wider beam of newer hull designs could only alleviate the burden for a time and it became clear that a viable overland caravan route was needed to relieve the coastal ports’ overcapacity of the interstate trade.
The only viable point of crossing the Salis was among the low limestone hills and bluffs overlooking the river just south of where it emptied into the vast bayous of the Salis Delta. The terrain fortuitously provided firm banks at the narrowest stretch of the river’s entire length but created a correspondingly deep channel and powerful current making ferrying operations extremely hazardous and often disastrously costly in terms of both goods and lives. Approximately 1500 yrs BP (Before Present), an enterprising Benaedreshan bronzeworker named Duerndel Racjak of the Cjendek coppersmith’s clan recognized the location’s great potential for the production and export of finished metalworks supplied cheaply and easily by refined ores shipped downriver by barge from Bard’s Ferry. This would significantly improve the flagging economy of the mining region by both increasing demand for ores which it could easily meet while at the same time drastically reducing the expense of shipping them from the source to the crafts guilds purchasing the raw materials. In typical gnomoii fashion he then presented the solution to the previously insurmountable problem of financing the monumental expense of constructing a permanent bridge across the Salis River capable of handling what would obviously become a huge volume of caravan traffic between the Twin Kingdoms. Previously neither burgeoning realm had been willing to shoulder the cost of such an ambitious and risky engineering and construction project and had been unable to reach any agreement regarding any joint proposal to meet this growing need. Duerndel instead put his vision entirely into private hands, persuading investors from numerous guild, mercantile and noble houses, both Benaedrishan and Malenoshan in both kingdoms who could readily see that despite it’s great cost the structure would easily pay for itself in less than a single generation. This financial consortium then had little difficulty persuading their respective rulers to permit the founding of a single free city located in both realms and straddling the river by means of a bridge provided entirely at their own expense. Further, they were able to facilitate the negotiations between the Twin Kingdoms establishing an unprecedented trade agreement eliminating all tariffs and customs duties upon any goods entering either realm through the city in exchange for the agreement to charge no fees or tolls for the use of the bridge linking them together. Additionally, while the city’s potential tax revenue was extremely attractive to both, the difficulties and responsibilities of actually managing such a metropolis jointly were clearly unfeasible and as neither was willing to relinquish control and profit to the other eventually both reluctantly agreed to permit the city its unheard of independence from either! In exchange the city’s founders agreed to shoulder all expense and responsibility for construction, maintenance, governance and law enforcement not only of the city itself but the entire stretch of the Salis River between its banks from it’s confluence at Bard’s Ferry all the way to the sea, including the troublesome and unexplored expanse of the great Salis Swamp to which both kingdoms had historically and quite insistently been more than happy to concede claim to the other. . . Thus, entirely unique in the world, was the Salis Freeport established, being jointly chartered as a free city by the agreement of two separate nations. It has since grown far beyond its original founders expectations and in many ways now functions very much like an independent city-state governed essentially as a democratic republic. However, either kingdom still retains the right to revoke or modify the terms of their charter (at least with regard to as much of the city as lies upon their side of the river) at any time.
The first, and principal bridge in the city took only five years to build. More amazing was the minimal loss of life and limb to accident during such a hazardous undertaking. Built of local limestone cut from the surrounding bluffs, the primary engineering problem was simply the placement of the three gargantuan stone blocks properly upon the riverbed to support the four masonry arches between them and the limestone abutments upon either bank. Five costly magical rituals were performed to move these monolithic foundations into place and further magical means employed to safely construct the extensive falsework centering upon the piers required by the Rimenoshan stone masons to assemble the arches. Although the roadbed filled only half the bridges width, once paved the bridge was open to traffic wide enough to allow two large wagons to pass each other easily without crowding. Further construction continued for a number of years beyond as the various investors then built shop space out to the parapet walls and eventually up and over the roadbed itself, further increasing the compression and stability of the structure until the bridge was entirely covered and enclosed.
As expected the location quickly became a thriving and prosperous community boasting the best appointed caravanserai in the nations along the Suntrack Sea and soon beyond. Open market bazaars were well established upon either bank no more than a stone’s throw from the stables, warehouses and associated industries already springing up no sooner than the bridge’s monumental piers and abutment had been set in place. By the time it was completed either bank was lined with solid stone retaining walls anchoring a series of piers for river craft and teeming with the activity of the numerous guild halls the docks supplied. Eventually the jetties and wharfs would extend nearly four miles both up and down river.
Dwarven craftsmen were employed not only to construct the bridge but for the levees and a number of other projects, in particular the extensive stone quarrying the work required. Once the principal monoliths had been cut from the steep hillside facing the eastern end of the bridge the stone cutters proceeded to tunnel directly into the hill, cutting the smaller blocks used in the bridge from the tunnels center’s and utilizing the rubble produced around the blocks in various other public constructions, simultaneously hollowing out the eventual Undertown structures as they built those above ground. The Coppersmith’s Guild commissioned first the construction of large presses and before the autumn monsoons had set in the rooftops of the town shone brightly with the copper sheets which have become its hallmark. Even after the initial boom the town continued to grow steadily over the next few centuries, pushing the caravan markets gradually outward to their present locations before it’s expansion tapered off. (When it was built the huge complex of the Cathedral of Belhdamh was situated upon the city’s northwestern edge and The Verge is a more recent expansion.) Even so, today one or two new structures are added yearly and Salis Freeport has become renowned for the stately elegance and beauty of its architecture built of local limestone and nearby sandstone, tropical hardwoods harvested from the edges of the swamp and the copper, brass and bronze appointments of its master craftsmen.
Not surprisingly, this overnight boomtown drew vast numbers and variety of people seeking both its inherent freedom and proffered wealth and security. It’s initial founders established a governing Guild Council headed by a Lord of the City selected for an indefinite term by the Lord’s Cabinet, made up of the heads (or their local family appointees) of the founding noble houses. These were all “Twining Houses,” noble families from either kingdom which had intermarried with those of the other sufficiently that the same house could claim titled members in both kingdoms. When the reigning Lord and Cabinet were all assassinated about 900 years BP by an angry alchemist (and most of the Cabinetry’s structure destroyed in the explosion) this portion of the government was replaced by a mayor elected every five years by the leading families of the city. While many of these are still noble families in the Twin Kingdoms, Salis Freeport neither ennobles nor acknowledges any privilege of title held elsewhere and divisions of class have become purely matters of wealth and occupational prestige. Of course, those of “independent means” tend to fulfill both qualifications.
Well before the town had grown to the size of a small city certain patterns of social strata were clearly manifest – both in the town’s geography and the interactions and activities of it’s citizens. By and large practitioners of nearly all occupations faired rather better than their neighboring peers in the region, the proportional wealth and prestige accorded various trades and professions remained the same and in many cases was even further emphasized by the unusually high degree of influence wielded by the guilds in municipal affairs. As typical of nearly all cities built along the banks of a major river, the sewer and storm drainage systems constructed led to and emptied into the Salis, accumulating ever greater amounts as one followed its flow until the city’s waste emptied into the vast swamp where it was easily absorbed by nature’s own system of decay and waste treatment. Naturally property was valued much higher further upstream and the poorer residents pushed closer to the the edge of the swamp along with the city’s waste. The expression, “Shit always moves downriver” became a common euphemism for this pattern of municipal development. This is now even more clearly reflected with the subsequent additions of two other bridges above and below the original. In order to relieve the increasing congestion of traffic across the bridge (at times taking as long as an hour to cross), the second, slightly narrower but much statelier bridge was constructed about half a mile upriver some 5 centuries later from marble cut far to the south and floated by barge to the city. This too was subsequently covered over by the construction of a number of (very exclusive) luxury shops such as furriers, chandlers, perfumers, vintners and jewelers being the most prominent. The fine woodwork and cuprous appointments, most notably it’s numerous lamps, clearly advertise the wealth and privilege of the Financial, University and residential Manor and Estate Wards which it connects. Cargo laden wagons and carts were forbidden to use this bridge and it soon became known as the Carriage Bridge to distinguish it from the original Wagon Bridge. About 150 year later the narrowest, wooden Cart Bridge was constructed about a half a mile downstream connecting the slums and shantytowns of the Tannery and Abattoir Wards’ ghettos. Little provision was made to facilitate further construction upon the bridge itself as it had no arches requiring additional compression weight for stability. Regardless, numerous small, cramped structures soon sprouted upon its sides, many seeming to dangle perilously out over the river with other, even smaller rooms perched precariously on top of them. On the floodplain below the Cart Bridge where the two ghettos are located, both drainage and sewage systems are minimal and course directly into the edges of the swamp rather than the river. In fact, there are numerous flood gates in the levees below the bridge which are opened during spring and fall monsoons to prevent the river overflowing into Wards further up river and the excess water washes through the ghettos, flushing their accumulated waste twice a year into the swamp.
Since it’s founding, Salis Freeport has grown to be one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world. If the denizens of Undertown are counted as well, the population has swollen to easily over 100,000 residents welcoming thousands of travelers daily. The actual population and geographic extent of the Undertown is not known and it is recognized as constituting an independent, self governing domain. As with envoys representing the Twin Kingdoms, Salis Undertown likewise liaises with the Guild Council. All three emissaries are accorded the same speaking privileges in council sessions as the guild representatives although they have no voting rights. Further expanding the municipal census to an unknown degree, (with estimates ranging from a few hundred to tens of thousands) the denizens of the Salis Swamp also merit note. Long known to harbor a primitive saurian race within its depths, it is now also home to a significant humanoid population, predominantly a mixture of humans and a more reclusive ethnic group of the Benaedresha commonly referred to as Whisper Gnomes. While many who live in the swamp are simply outlaws and fugitives, most actually have ties and contacts within the city. The Whisper Gnomes in particular are nearly all secretive branches of prominent Benaedrishan financial and mercantile houses. More will be said of these and their activities later, but for now it should be noted that, while nominally under the rule of the city, the bayou inhabitants in fact constitute a law unto themselves.Links from here: