The Border Kingdoms
This dun-hued walled town is a busy market for the farmers who dwell around it, dominated from dawn to dusk by wagons on the move, and is home to some superior wagonmakers. It stands where the Long Trail (that runs along the edge of the Shaar, “down the back” of the Border Kingdoms) meets the Scelptar Road, that runs north-of-west out of Blackbarn to the ruined Burntbridges.
Blackbarn is a prosperous place of bustling cobbled streets and maroon tile-roofed brown stone buildings, with nary a barn (black or otherwise) in sight. Produce is stored in low buildings called “wagonhouses” where farm deliveries are shoveled into rows of large storage pits—which have wooden gates at their bottoms, allowing them to be emptied in small quantities into merchants’ long-haul wagons brought down ramps into cellars beneath for loading.
The loading gates are fire bellows-shaped wooden chutes that can be aimed by pulling on side-ropes, and are fitted with sliding gates at top and bottom. The gate at the top is opened to allow a crop to spill down from the storage pit, and closed again when the chute is full or a desired quantity has fallen into it. Then a wagon is driven underneath the narrow bottom mouth of the chute, and the lower gate opened to let the crop down into it. When the wagon is nearly full, the bottom gate is closed, and after the potatoes or cabbages have stopped falling in from above, and the chute is full again, men called “pokers” thrust wooden poles in through small side-ports in the chute to clear the way for the upper gate to slide across, closing off the bin. The lower gate is then opened again, to dump the last chuteful of produce into the wagon (the origin of the Border expressions “Well, he’s taken in his last chuteful” and “Had a chuteful too many, eh?”). Many wagons loaded in Blackbarn go to the Scelptar and straight onto barges for shipment throughout the Border lands—and, via Border ports, to Calimshan and the city-states around the Lake of Steam.
The Blackbarn Curse
Blackbarn is widely known to sea captains and merchants as a granary. More infamously, it’s infested with thieving, vandalizing, annoyingly hard-to-exterminate “graywings” (imps), whom Blackbarnans wage endless war upon. For every graywings slain, a handful more seems to spring up. How they came to be here, and why they stay (because of them, things in town are either made of stone or locked away behind stout locks and cupboard doors) are mysteries; in the Borders they’re known as “the Blackbarn Curse.”
Despite this curse, Blackbarn is regarded as one of the more desirable places to dwell in the Border Kingdoms, largely because it’s also the home of the Ghost Lances.
The Lances ignore the graywings, although the graywings always scuttle or flap hastily away from them. One local sage, Althalas of Barwinter Street, has advanced the belief that the Lances are a “good” curse, set upon Blackbarn by some long-ago local mage to make up for the “bad” curse of the gremlins. Another sage, Thurbald of Crowns Street, scoffs at this view, saying that the graywings and ghosts aren’t connected in any way, and that Althalas represents the very worst of romantics who see the world as they wish it to be, and not as it truly is.
Whatever the truth of the matter, graywings and Black Knights both seem to be permanent residents of Blackbarn. Townsfolk call undesirables or enemies “grayskins” because of the graywings, and warn those who’ve wronged them that “A Knight’ll get you for this!”
The spreading legend of the crypt of the Ghost Lances has led to many brigand visits—and not a few brigand deaths. This in turn has led many peaceable folk to seek the sure safety of Blackbarn. (Its protection is even celebrated in a soothing ballad, Safe Behind Blackbarn’s Shield, a gentle “restful place to go when the heart is torn” song composed by an anonymous minstrel, but now popular up and down the Sword Coast and Shining Sea lands.)
Blackbarn is ruled by a High Trantor, elected by the Trantors (merchant lords) of the town from among their number. Thanks to the Lances, the town neither needs nor has a Watch.
For the Visitor
Travelers are directed to The Silent Knight inn (Excellent/Expensive: quiet, respectable, tasteful, and very pricey), The Black Boot (Good/Moderate: busy, crowded, reasonable, and noisy: the inn for “everyone”), or The Unsnug Snail (Fair/Moderate: a house of low repute, where escorts and gamblers work, much drink is consumed, and live entertainment of all sorts is the order of the day—and the night through, too).
Patrons of ‘the Snail’ need no tavern to address their complete pleasure, but others are directed to The Laughing Cat (Good/Moderate) on Sarwynd Street, or The Minstrel’s Folly (Good/Expensive) upstairs above Bryntyn’s Barrelworks, at the corner of Asp and Shariykian Streets. Most townsfolk prefer the quiet frugality of the dingy Old Nag (Fair/Cheap) on Gulgate Street. Those in the mood for a brawl or revelry should go to Dance With The Knights (Poor/Cheap) on Ravalaster’s Lane, an establishment named for the frequency with which Ghost Lance knights materialize forbiddingly in its chambers, to silently admonish patrons to desist from whatever illegalities they are engaged in.
Like the very different Beldargan, Blackbarn serves as a base for many merchants and adventurers exploring local reaches of the Border Kingdoms. Most find it a trifle too dull (“all work, all hustle, no fun”) for their tastes, but some happily settle here. Prominent among the town merchants are the bakers; most mornings bring a lingering, mouth-watering smell of fresh-baked buns and pastries to the streets.
Blackbarn is named for a long-vanished large black barn (made of duskwood) built on its site by early human settlers (female mercenaries of the Silent Knife band, exiled from Calimshan in the days of the Satrap In Purple for their support of She Who Would Be Queen) who fought off fierce local halfling bands to keep the land.