The Border Kingdoms
The walled town of Gallard, seat of power in the Land of Two Princes and westernmost of the Border Kingdom settlements that guard the Shaar trails, is home to many locksmiths, pewtersmiths, tinsmiths, potters, enamellers, bootmakers, leatherworkers, and smallsmiths (makers of such things as hinges, wirework, fastenings, corner-caps for chests and coffers, and edgings for doors, panels, and slots). It’s a hive of skilled craftworkers and close-guarded wealth, one of the busiest and most prosperous places in all the Borders, but also one of the most grasping and grubby (“like a Sword Coast seaport,” according Borderers who aren’t its friends). Galardians have earned the general dislike of Borderers for being too unfriendly, self-important, and ‘sharp’ in their dealings.
Every Galardian merchant has a personal bodyguard and an amanuensis (clerk, scribe, and bookkeeper). Most hire at least three ‘trustyblades’ to guard their home and family when they’re at work and their workplace when they’re at home. This vigilance is the result of a long history of nomad and brigand raids out of the Shaar, but these days it is becoming increasingly a matter of ceremony, custom, and status rather than something vital to daily survival.
Gallard is a crowded place of winding cobbled streets and mud-and-gravel alleys. Its timbered houses are narrow, steep-roofed, and close-crowded. They rise four or five floors above street level, typically having storage cellars and kitchens below and a rear chimney flanked by a dumbwaiter and a shaft that serves to drop laundry and refuse to lower levels. Kitchen smells and kitchen warmth waft up these chimneys into any upper room where a metal ‘shaft screen’ stands open.
Visitors will search Gallard in vain for grand palaces, manors, or civic buildings. Business is conducted in shops or at Galardian ‘firesword houses’. These numerous establishments are named for skewers of meat constantly sizzling over cooking fires lit in round brick-and-stone hearths situated in the centers of their dining chambers. The skewers bear roast fowl, sausages, hams, and diced meats. Spiced fried onions and cheeses melted over slabs of bread are customary side-dishes. These (plus savory meat-and-sauce pies whose recipes are closely guarded secrets and a source of competitive pride from house to house) can be had by any diner, typically for 1 sp for a heaping plateful, along with pickles, pickled fish, and a ‘mint mix’ of diced radishes, parsnips, and carrots, a plate of hot bread, and much drink (which costs extra) to wash it all down. Drinks include ale, zzar, ‘smokespiced’ ciders, teas, and wines sold by the tallglass or tankard.
Galardians use firesword houses as meeting-places to transact business as well as day-and-night-long sources of ready meals. In the better houses, patrons can rent private rooms, or at least curtained booths, plus minstrels to make noise or ‘fenders’ (guards who make sure no one slips close enough to listen to clients’ negotiations).
Sleeping accommodations aren’t available at such establishments (officially, at least, though it’s said one can hire both a bed and someone to share it at certain well-known houses), and they don’t deal in stabling or safe storage. The largest houses will deliver hot food to visitors camped outside the town walls (for steep fees). There’s little price competition between them.
The closest thing in Gallard to a seat of government is the Risen Dragon Finest Fireswords on Ovirstreen Street. It is owned and operated by Ulgarth Hithtor, a grizzled, balding old warrior who runs the Galardian Council of Bodyguards and Trustyblades. This organization licenses every town resident who customarily bears a weapon outside his or her own home.
Visitors and citizens “come Updragon” (to the Risen Dragon) to pay their sword taxes, hear Council justice, and hire bodyguards or trustyblades (or rather, to register such hirings with the Council — actual negotiations are typically conducted elsewhere beforehand, though most visitors to Gallard come to Hithtor to swiftly and easily find protection for hire).
The Council keeps the peace in Gallard by enforcing the laws it passes and sending out street patrols of at least a dozen ‘Watchful Helms’. The Helms are senior Council members who anticipate traps well, laugh at attempted bribes, and wield blades and fire crossbow bolts dipped in blue whinnis poison. (They dismiss bribes with scornful amusement rather than anger or attempts to arrest because bribery isn’t actually against any law in the Land of Two Princes — and because Council members are very well off and will do nothing to endanger their standing, with its ready access to means of getting ever richer.) Though there’s no law against being up on a roof top, Helms will loose bolts at anyone they see on a roof after dark or fleeing. Only building owners and roofers known to them can expect to pass unchallenged.
Council laws include “no sale of tainted or deceitful goods, no sale or possession of poison, no extortion, no attacking rivals or their goods or premises, no theft, and no murder.” Penalties include stiff fines, property confiscation, and “being under the Ban” (exile).
Mercenary companies aren’t allowed to operate in Gallard, but several local ‘sternshields’ (weapons-trainers and stalwart Council members) equip and train warriors in town —
Ithtyn Mearin (his trainees are entitled to wear a badge depicting an amber griffon’s head on a red oval);
Nander Philglar (his badge is a black eel on a red oval);
Jhalassan Dreir (her badge is a white striking hawk on a green oval); and
Bunder Breldayr (his badge is a yellow eagle’s head on a green oval).
Ulgarth Hithtor’s trainees are badged with a white turret on a black oval.
It is rare for any of these sternshields to have more than 14-16 trainees at a time, and to have more than 40 badged and active in the country without voted Council permission is grounds for dismissal from the Council. Trainees who depart or go missing without turning in their badges are usually denounced by their trainer and are considered outlaws in Gallard from that moment on.
Of the three dozen or so other firesword houses in town, the Black Buck and Oster’s Manyfires are the most famous. The Scowling Tankard is known locally as the best place to hire folk for shady dealings.
Few streets in Gallard are named, but the four major ones are:
Sellserpent Street, which runs on a fairly straight course southwest to northeast from town gate to town gate;
Rithtor Street, which wiggles southeast to northwest from gate to gate, so that it and Sellserpent form a giant ‘X’ and link up all four gates in the town wall;
and Orlyn’s Way, running in a giant circle all around the inside of the town wall, and so meeting with most streets.
Ovirstreen Street runs east to west clear across town, just north of the meeting of Sellserpent and Rithtor, to enclose a central triangle that holds Gallard’s most important and luxurious inns, the Proud Phantom (Good/Expensive) to the west and Sharyn’s Smiling Sphinx (Excellent/Expensive) on the east.
Between the Phantom and the Sphinx stands The Tarrasque At Twilight, a pretentious, dimly-lit, cavernous tavern that boasts dancers and minstrels day and night in ‘grotto’ rooms (Good/Expensive). (That is, rooms sculpted to look like caverns that have lots of handy seating and smoothly undulating stone ‘couches,’ as well as a minimum of dangerously-placed stalactites and stalagmites.) Its bouncers wear fanciful tarrasque masks and are rumored to include several real drow and a doppelganger who can impersonate guests who’ve gone “missing.”
More typical of the run-down, cramped taverns of Gallard is The Blade And Bucket (Fair/Cheap) on Mysker Street (just east off Rithtor, one street north of Orlyn’s Way), where pipesmoke and the steam of fried fish sandwiches mingle in a crowded, dimly-lit labyrinth of pillars and tables.
In short, Gallard is a place of bustling commerce, not a romantic backwater of bucolic beauty. In the words of one local, “Gallard’s necessary — like a privy or rubbish-heap.”
The arms of Gallard (seen on its black, metal-sheathed city gates) are a side-on steel-gray anvil, tongue to the sinister, below which is a column of three featureless coins (gold uppermost, silver in the center, and copper lowest) above a black cauldron at the bottom, all on a light, dun-hued shield.
Its detractors sometimes call the town “Dungstink Sty” because of two sites that lie to southwest and southeast within sight of the walls.
Shaarsar, to the southeast, is a large, muddy market where farmers bring cattle for slaughter and transformation into hides for tanners and the spicy ‘trailmeat’ known to many wayfarers and caravan-guards. Its pens, paddocks, and slaughter-chutes tend to be crowded day and night except in winter and spring. They form a confusing maze for visitors or anyone else trying to traverse Shaarsar in a hurry. Helms don’t patrol Shaarsar, where the keeping of law and order is left to drovers’ fists. Prominent butchers in Shaarsar include Oldrim “Old Orc” Thauntle, a burly cleaver-hurler who has some orc blood in his past that anyone can see in his face. Beyond tolerating his nickname, Oldrim doesn’t take remarks about his ancestry well. Another is Bleys “Best Meats” Daskurton, a laconic and bone-thin man who never forgets a face and never loses his temper. He sees life and Faerûn as one vast source of unfolding entertainment.
Ong’s Batar, to the southwest, is a reeking cluster of tanneries that feed the ever-busy Galardian craftworkers. The Helms don’t patrol in Ong’s Batar, either (and the Council refuses to have anything to do with events there). No one keeps order in the Batar, though troublemakers are often found drowned in the flesh-melting tanning vats (the tanners, of course, deny having any idea how victims got there). “Ong” is — or rather, was — Ongalar, the long-dead, mountainously tall and fat tanner from “far eastern lands” who built the first tannery here. A “batar” is what he called his tannery (this term for such establishments is still used in Murghom and Semphar). Blackmeir’s is the largest ‘hide house’ where visitors can buy finished hides in the Batar. Affable Lurmun Blackmeir is a friend to many and is rumored to sponsor several bands of adventurers to “do his dirties” for him.
South of the road linking Shaarsar and Ong’s Batar lies an everchanging chaos of encamped caravans and horse dealers. Mounts stolen anywhere in the Borders may arrive in this ‘Zarnmoot’ for sale with astonishing speed. From time to time doppelgangers are discovered here lurking in horse shape, hoping to be sold to lone travelers they can devour when their new owners fall asleep. Wandering traders often tell folk to seek out “Marl” in Zarnmoot if they want good bargains in horseflesh, but (as Galardians know) “Marl” is a pseudonym used by at least six dealers who often trade at Zarnmoot.