Wednesday, April 23, 2014

S is for Suiddock

For the past 18 posts of the A-to-Z challenge I've variously mentioned the great Ward of Suiddock. Well, it is finally time to explain that reference.

Whilst the first thing anyone sees when entering Marienburg by boat is, undoubtedly Rijker's Isle, the first place any visitor, coming by boat or carriage, is Suiddock. Sitting in the dead centre of the city, and run through by the Bruynwater Canal, the largest and deepest canal which allows even sea-going ships, Suiddock is often considered the true heart of Marienburg.

Normally I don't add pictures to my A-to-Z posts.
But I freakin' love maps.
Due to the accessibility of the Bruynwater, and the central nature of the three islands (from west to east; Riddra, Stoessel and Luydenhoek), Suiddock enjoys the attentions of every level of Marienburg's citizenry. It boasts the patronage of the upper class merchants come to the Wasteland Import-Export Exchange, the middle class working for institutions such as the Pilots' and Seamen's Guild, the lower class who make up the ranks of the Stevedores & Teamster's Guild, and even clergy come to pay their respects at the Church of St. Olovold and the Orphanage of St. Rutha. Truly, Suiddock is Marienburg.

It's not just the three islands, though - the Ward also encompasses Hightower Isle, which connects onto the richer northern parts of the city, as well as the southern bank of the Bruynwater. Each side of the canal is crammed full of wharves, shops, warehouses, whore houses, drinking holes, tanneries, workshops, tailors, brewers, butchers, and really anything that could benefit from the patronage of sailors. Here, Theophilius Graveland and the Black Caps attempt to maintain order, but really the show is run by Adalbert Henschmann.

But, whatever your vice, virtue, want or need is, Suiddock and her delightful people will be able to cater. If you want some smoking herbs from far-flung Cathay, just visit Venk Kataswaran and his Dreaming House (more on him when we get to 'V'). If you need a stiff drink, visit Ishmael Boorsevelt at the Pelican's Perch (just don't mention his wooden leg!). And if you fancy a fine night out with a bit of murder...

What's that? Oh, you haven't heard? Well - they say that at night, out of the fog, comes rowing a small little ferry which will take hapless travellers home. The man who sits at the helm is a kindly fellow, with handsome features and a nervous shyness. He's obviously harmless...whilst the light is on him. When the light lowers, the keen-eyed will notice a change just before he hacked your head from your shoulders to join his shelf. For the poor young man has no one to talk to, and sooner or later the heads stop whispering back. When that happens, it's time for a new friend.

Yes indeed - Suiddock is a fine place to find yourself. Just make sure no one else finds you there first...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

R is for Rijker's Isle

If you're lucky enough to come via ship off the Sea of Claws and find yourself in safe port at Marienburg, the very first bit of dry land that you will see will both enliven you to the prospect of ground that doesn't move, as well as depress you with the knowledge of what to-good a night could lead to. For, the very first thing you will see, what has been dubbed "Marienburg's Black-Eye", is Rijker's Isle, grand fortress prison of Marienburg.

Originally built by the Endals, on top of the Elven ruins, when they settled the mouth of the river delta, it was used for centuries as the seat of power in the city. The Barons held Rijker's Isle as both the largest and most forbidden sign of rulership, as well as the safest place in the event of invasion. Indeed, throughout the entire history of Marienburg, whilst the city has been sacked countless times, the Isle has never been so much as breached.

It's not surprising, really. Almost every inch of the island is surrounded by tall, thick granite walls with crenelations on either side, and even steeper towers at regular intervals. This outer wall is known as Van Zandt's Wall, after the gentleman-architect who refurbished them some 700 years ago. This wall completely surrounds the entire complex and is broken in only two spots - in the northern crook of the island known as The Castle (or de Kasteel), and in the southern facing where the Hopeful Tower stands watch over the solitary dock.

De Kasteel houses the hereditary governors of Rijker's, the Bretonnian de Beq family. This eccentric family where given the governorship 100 years ago when the Barons of Marienburg were ousted from the city, and the Directorate took control. They were chosen for two reasons - firstly, they could never return home as they were noble exiles from Bretonnia, and secondly, they were exiled for refusing to break their liege-lord's oath of secrecy to the King. Tight lipped with nowhere to go; perfect for Marienburg.

The Hopeful Tower, known as the Morrsgate by the inmates, is defended by a stout portcullis and a brace of cannons, each trained at the various approaches, ready to obliterate anything that could come within eye-shot of the tower. It is through here that all inmates, guards and outsiders must enter to gain admittance, and it is the top of the Hopeful Tower which is shown to prisoners who are in for execution or life. It is the last glimpse of a free world that they will ever see.

Inside the first curtain wall is a veritable microcosm village where blacksmiths, armourers, workshops, breweries and granaries are housed that feed and enable Rijker's Isle to be self sufficient. Here, trusted prisoners are set to work making tools and reed baskets for sale in the city proper. Here also the guards are given their free time, drinking and dozing between shifts. A joint chapel of Myrmiddia and Verena serves religious observances, and black iron gates lead into the inner ring.

Inside the inner, steeper curtain wall is the exact opposite - walk ways are kept Spartan, and guards nor prisoners are free to loiter. Here, hundreds of thousands of cells are divided by smaller causeways and walls which divide the prisoners, preventing communication between division and the spread of riots. Along the walls, guards can keep watch on multiple yards and rings of cells at once, almost as if it were a zoo. And at the northern end of the inner partition hang the gallows and Great Bell which chimes thirteen times whenever a prisoner is hung from the ropes.

Then, below the feet of these unfortunate cells, in the darkness of the island interior are the Crypts. Row upon row of silenced cells are kept with only numbers to differentiate them. Here sits the true, darker purpose for Rijker's Isle. Whilst the upper levels house the worse criminals Marienburg has to offer - murderers, crime lords, and sexual offenders - the lower levels 'house' those people who the Directorate want to vanish. No record is kept of who is in which chamber, and the doors are kept bolted tight. The only light that is given to the wretches kept here is a single candle ration a week. Food is fed through a chute in the floor, and waste is taken from a chute at the opposite end. The only person who remembers the names of each inmate is Ludwig de Beq, current Lord of Rijker's Isle.

Among these inmates are political prisoners, foreign dignitaries who learned to much, brothers, sisters, heirs, wives and everyone else who could disappoint or be guilty of knowing one of the Directorate in a way which could compromise them. Here are housed the people who could, at a word, undermine the truth of Marienburg.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Q is for Trancas Quendalmanliye

So I searched and I searched for something in Marienburg starting with the letter 'Q', and I found squat... As such, I'm going with the next best thing - a character whose last name starts with 'Q'. He's a cool character, though, so it sort of makes up for it!

The path is shrouded in fog. Before you looms a glaring, flaming spectre in the night - a shapeless mass of writhing colours. Screams, whoops, and shouts echo from its direction, and the clatter of bones sinks into your soul. A shrill squeal leaps towards you, and you're subsumed into the cacophony and light.

Are you trapped? Are you about to die? No. You're about the lose your money at the Three of a Kind Cabaret & Casino!

The famous, illustrious, and highly fashionable club is owned in joint by three partners: Fredrik "Freddie" Greendale, Morgaine Bauersdottir, and the brains of the group, Trancas Quendalmanliye. It stands as the premier entertainment for the elite and wealthy of the city, sitting in the middle of the Elfgate Bridge. Not quite Marienburg, and not quite Elftown, the club enjoys a level of freedom from taxation that is seldom found elsewhere in the city. At least, this is the lie given by the owners.

The Three of a Kind is a three-storey affair, open all night, and accommodating anyone with a full purse. The ground floor - which is actually the middle floor - is a cabaret and restaurant, where some of the finest food in the city can be eaten whilst the best dancers, magicians, comedians and musicians ply their trade on the central stage. Then, if you're looking for a bit more spice, you've two options. One can go into the warren of private back rooms for 5 Guilders for 30 minutes, or 30 Guilders for a night and explore some of the other guests. Or, if one is truly game, they can go down stairs.

At a nod from Trancas or one of his associates, you'll be admitted into the Casino proper, where every game of chance can be found - from cards to dice to fortune wheels. Usually a 20 Guilder limit sits on all bets, but this is often waived for the grander clients. But one word out of line, one dispute of Trancas's rules, and you're out on your ass.

All of this is a front, of sorts. Don't mistake it - Trancas genuinely prefers Human company, a fact that makes him the strangest Elf in Marienburg - but the lofty, gentlemanly owner of the fine establishments has other motives. Quendalmanliye is the most successful and effective information broker in the city, and will sell any information, or gather any information that you're willing to pay for. On top of this, he himself is hunting more than a few terrible sorts - namely a child-smuggling ring which has infested the Reik Valley for the past hundred or so years.

Why would a Wood Elf forsake his kin and work away his infinite years bringing justice to Human affairs? Why would he care?

It was over a hundred years ago, and fog shrouded the path in front of him. The young Trancas could hear the whoop of Orcs as they rode down the defences of his family's woodland realm. He can still hear the scream. He can still feel the life-blood course out of the Human noble who set the Orcs down upon them. He can still hear the gallows being drawn up to accept his neck, and the greedy clink of Gold Crowns as the bounty is paid.

Trancas is hunted, and he chooses to hide in plain sight.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

P is for the Prince's Rest

Marienburg, like any city, is filled with watering holes and restaurants for all levels of society. And, like any city of the Old World, they have the signature best establishment - however, in Marienburg's case, they have the best the Old World has to offer this side of the Grey Mountains. The object of this praise is, of course, The Prince's Rest.

The Rest's original name has been lost to time, but took on its current one when Grand Prince Rikard of the Reikland decided, some centuries ago, that it would be his favoured spot when in town visiting the then Baron of Marienburg. At first this caused some insult towards the Baron, but after being invited personally to eat and lodge there, the Baron well understood Prince Rikard's preference. This royal patronage brought with it many boons - the signed and sealed decree that the wait-staff could wear purple, the Prince's colours, and also an incredible influx of 'fashionable' Lords and Ladies, all wishing to get closer to their aristocratic rulers.

With the rise of the Middle Class, and the breaking of the barrier between Middle and Upper, many merchants were adding their own names to the growing waiting lists, and were reserving the scant few rooms available in the opulent three-storey abode. Therefore, by the time the aristocracy was ousted from the city, the clientèle had merely shifted to "noble of purse" instead of "noble of blood". I can tell you, Rudolf Aesenberg the current owner of the club, certainly doesn't mind!

Like the cycle of the heavens, the boons and bonuses of the club seem to roll forward - the rich clientèle bring money into the coffers, and the money is spent on the finest of delicacies to treat them, which in turn brings more prestige and more custom. People are known to wait years for a single night of Master Chef August Bardolino's world famous cooking, which was good enough to land him as the personal chef of the Miraglianese royalty. Those who wait are treated to the greatest wine cellar the Old World knows - stocked full of the finest Bretonnian, Estalian and Tilean vintages (note that mention of "Imperial Wines" will result in laughter and a scolding).

If a customer is one of the lucky few to manage to squeeze in on the waiting list for the few rooms offered, they will be met with the finest Bretonnian goose-feather mattresses and pillows, Cathayan silk sheets, and Averlandian lamb's-wool blankets. Each is equipped with a personal footman who is but a bell-chime away, and under each bed is a magically scented bed-pan, paid for at ridiculous expense by the owners.

No, the prestige nor the clientèle is not what is making Rudolf Aesenberg unhappy. What is dampening his spirits is the fact that the Inn is haunted! Should ever this embarrassment be widely known, it could well spell doom for The Prince's Rest!

So, Rudolf is now searching earnestly for a cure to his problem, and all the while, the sounds of tiny feet in the night, and the unsightly and uncharacteristically swift growth of fungus continues to ruin his reputation.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

O is for the Orphanage of Saint Rutha

The Old World is harsh indeed, and even in the metropolitan, and highly civilised Marienburg, many young people still lose their lives way to early. As a result the city, like all others, is teaming with orphans - ejected due to ailing or deceased parents, or because they were chosen as the strongest of the children, and the most capable of fending for themselves during hard times.

Whatever the reason, the children have few places to go. The tenants of Haendryk preach that economic success is a sign of divine favour, and poverty is the affliction given to sinners. As such, 'charity' is hardly known of within the walls. Some children then turn to street gangs, such as The Captains in Kruiersmuur. The others, who are lucky, find their way to the Orphanage of Saint Rutha.

Originally established as a Shallyan mission, the Orphanage eventually fell on rather hard times as they became unable to pay for the simplest objects or meals for the children under their care. Terrified of what to do, the priesthood turned to one of their newest members some years back - Brother Albertus Cobbius.

Albertus Cobbius, 'little' brother of Lea-Jan Cobbius, is and always was a very large and powerfully built man who grew up on the wrong side of the canal. In his early years, he took to street fighting in the local and illegal pit-fighting competitions, where he made a name for himself as one of the most terrifying men imaginable. What made him so unsettling to fight was that you could read in his eyes, every second that he was beating the life out of you, that he truly, deeply, wished that he never had to hurt another person again. Poverty forces terrible circumstances on us all.

Around about the time that Lea-Jan took control of the Stevedores & Teamsters Guild, and Albertus had some money to escape his life, the two brothers had a falling out. Albertus refused to condone the terrible things he and his brother were forced to do during their poverty to survive, and as such stripped himself of all his old ties and joined the Shallyan church as a penitent.

The Shallyans were dismayed to have a former pit-fighter, let alone a man join their ranks, and consistently attempted to pass him off to other orders - including attempting to send him to Middenheim to become an Ulrican. They tried everything, even giving him the basest jobs, such as begging. It was there that they realised his worth.

No one is quite sure what it is about Brother Albertus, but everyone agrees - you just can't say "No" to him forever. Whether it is his build, his sympathetic yet determined eyes, his knowing smile, or the guilt that he manages to fold into every phrase, but Albertus has never been turned away. He can squeeze even a spare Guilder off the tightest merchant in town!

So, when the Orphanage was failing, they sent Brother Albertus in to fix things up. Within a year, it was a booming success. The original building has since adopted the two neighbouring buildings as part of the complex (a generous show of charity from the local business owners), and the walls and roof are slowly being renovated to fix all drafts and drips. The orphans who live in the walls now number up to 30 at any one time, from the earliest ages up to 14 years old - each of them leaving with a solid apprenticeship hardly fought for by Brother Albertus and the child themselves. And every night they go to sleep with full bellies, paid for by the army of beggars that Albertus has trained.

For, Brother Albertus does indeed teach them a lot! He teaches them how to persistently ask for charity, and even how to handle themselves in a street fight (never how to hurt, but always how to disarm). He teaches them how to read and write, and on subjects he himself doesn't know, he manages to convince others to come and tutor the kids. Now, every week, more and more tutors are coming to the Orphanage - Anders Versalion, the local doktor, comes to check up on them all and teach them first aid, Haam Markvalt, a local revolutionary, teaches them oratory, public speaking, and poetry, and merchants from House Fooger have even been seen to come by and teach them proper business acumen!

Truly, the good work that Brother Albertus does now is enough to rub away the sins of his past. Let us just hope his old enemies agree, and don't come back to hurt him, now that he has something to lose...

Friday, April 18, 2014

N is for New Palace

The foundations of Marienburg were laid down over two and a half millennia ago, before the time of Sigmar and the rise of the Empire. The city has stood, in one form or another, under a handful of different rulers, this entire time. However, this isn't to say that all of the buildings have held firm.

Due to Marienburg's great economic value, the city has been sacked at least five separate times: by Norscans, Bretonnians and Imperials alike. In all these attacks, few buildings have survived to this present day, with most of Marienburg's real estate being less than 500 years old. It is perhaps ironic that one of the oldest buildings left standing is, in fact, the New Palace.

The New Palace began construction (after the previous one was burnt to the ground by the retreating Bretonnians) under Baron van Buik, the then Baron of Marienburg, as a fortified stronghold in the event that Bretonnia would once again attempt to invade and hold Marienburg as it had done seven years prior. However, the coffers of the city were severely emptied after paying the extortionate levies asked by the 'Liberating Forces' from Middenheim. As such, the Baron was forced to take massive loans from the rising merchants of the city in exchange for seats on the City Council, thus beginning the earliest democratic governance in 1604 IC. It is for this reason that the palace is sometimes called "Democracy's Cradle".

The palace was eventually completed in the heart of Paleisbuurt, and stands to this day as a domineering fortress - four massive towers guard the approaches, a lone Dwarf-built steel gate defends the courtyard, and thick arrow-slitted walls hold its massive dome roof aloft.

But, it has been over 700 years since the last successful attack on the city, and the merchants of the Directorate have held the palace for nearly 100 years themselves, using it as the home and official meeting place of the Staadholder (the official head of the Directorate). This more comfort-oriented ownership has resulted in several changes to the otherwise citadel-esque building: large, Bretonnian-stile windows now face out through the walls, unfortified out-builds have been connected - including a chapel and massive banquet hall, and one of the guard towers has been converted to a roost for the current Staadholder's prized pigeons!

Despite it looking now like an over-the-top, embellished, "wedding cake" of a building, the New Palace holds within it some of the darker dealings of the city. As stated, the Directorate formally meets within its walls, and as such the politics of the city and further abroad are discussed cloak-and-dagger, not to mention the fact that the Fog Walkers, the covert arm of the Secretariat for Trade Equity have their 'head quarters' within its lower basements.

Needless to say, a well placed spy in the New Palace would reap their master more intrigue than imaginable - not to mention the ire of the most powerful men and women the Old World has ever known.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

M is for Marienburg Secretariat for Trade Equity

If the Black Caps are Marienburg's equivalent to a police force, then the Marienburg Secretariat for Trade Equity is its FBI. They are cold, calculating, and hell-bent on enforcing free flowing trade throughout the city.

The Secretariat, more commonly called the Excise, are a coalition of three important branches of Marienburg's vital law enforcement. Firstly, they contain the members of the River Watch - the water-borne guardsmen of the city who hold jurisdiction over crimes committed in relation to or within 100 yards of the harbour or canals. The River Watch and the Black Caps have often come to blows over disputes relating to jurisdiction, with some crafty River Watchmen claiming that the sewer system counts as the canals.

Second among the Excise's duties is that of Tax Collection. Whilst they are not the sole tax collectors, they are used to audit and enforce larger cases of tax evasion, smuggling and matters of that nature, and as such are often called in to forcefully impound property. In conjunction with this duty, the Secretariat hold weekly auctions where impounded goods are sold for revenue.

Third and final of the duties of the Marienburg Secretariat for Trade Equity is that of espionage and investigation - above and beyond all other facets of secular law in Marienburg. The Secretariat's higher officers are tasked with intelligence gathering on foreign dignitaries, wealthy merchants, and really anyone of interest in the city. Whilst they are less ruthless than the infamous Chekist of Kislev, they are indeed capable and willing to kill for the Directorate at the drop of a pin.

One can always tell the first two branches from the throng of people in Marienburg. The first of their kind have orange and blue striped boats hung about with lanterns, each manned by up to seven officers and one pilot, and the second wear garish half-coats of orange and blue, trimmed in ermine, with suits of chain mail underneath.

As for the secret service of the Secretariat, there is nothing that distinguishes them from anyone else - and that is just the way they like it. Indeed, few enough among their number know the identities of any other member, except their personal handler. In truth, it is hard to say if anyone really knows who is and isn't in the service - nor indeed which of them are loyal or even sanctioned...