Melvos Hammerstars, Part Two
A Flourishing Career
By Ed Greenwood
Hall and House
The down owned by Melvos Hammerstars stands on the north side of a dirt lane called the Thelnwalk, about half-a-day's ride (when the lane is free of both snow and mud) east of its moot with the road joining Mulhessen and Saerb (a route known locally as "the Rattlebones Ride" because of its bumpy surface, caused by the well-buried logs that formed its original cross-all-bogs roadbed). The Thelnwalk runs east off the Mulhessen-Saerb road at about its halfway mark, near the not-on-most-maps wayhamlet of Olturret.
The Hammerstars down is of middling size and consists of a shade-garden-with-many-tended-trees bower, a stables with a rear gate opening onto a wild forest crisscrossed with trails Hammerstars uses to take guests riding or to hunt boar and deer (and his servants use regularly to enrich their tables with snared rabbits and grouse taken with slung stones), and a house large enough to offer seven bedchamber suites, with a servants' wing and a large central hall for dining and dancing. In any Sembian city, a house of such size would be considered a mansion -- though its architecture would undoubtedly feature more haughty ornamentation.
Melvos uses this country retreat for the same things most successful Sembian merchants do: entertaining trade partners (or merchants he's courting to become trade partners) with feasts and revelry (primarily drinking, hunting, and dallying with hired local "professional" companions; these three activities are often undertaken at once, the hunting of companions -- for amorous activities, not slaying and eating -- being known as "lacerunning"); relaxing (which usually really means hunting, drinking, plotting, and lots of sleeping); and various illicit or frowned-upon activities (such as trading or repackaging smuggled or stolen goods for resale, torturing or holding kidnapped-for-ransom trade rivals, and negotiations concerning unlawful goods or trade practices -- such as slavery involving kidnapped Sembian citizens, organized thieving within Sembia, and so on).
It should be noted that Sembian law holds Sembians accountable for honoring trade agreements and contracts between Sembians anywhere in the Realms, but is entirely silent -- and even actively disinterested -- in the activities of Sembians outside the borders of Sembia (plus Sembian harbors and coastal waters). In other words, Sembians can openly trade in slaves, hire brigands and even private armies, and break all manner of laws outside Sembia, and Sembian courts and society care nothing about it -- unless or until such activities spread to harming other Sembians anywhere, or take place (even partially) inside Sembia.
Imaginatively enough, Melvos calls his down Hammerstars Hall -- as opposed to Hammerstars House, his tallhouse in Saerloon.
Most city-dwelling Sembians of the middle classes dwell in tallhouses, which are built in rows or terraces with their windowless side walls touching the side walls of neighboring tallhouses. Such structures are named for their tall (three to as many as six aboveground floors, the average being four), narrow (usually only one-room-and-a-passage wide) proportions. Most streets in Sembian cities are crowded with them.
In the poorest areas, crumbling tallhouses are entirely given over to rental accommodations. Each room is usually let to a single person, who (if lacking a family) often subleases to up to six other roommates. Cooking-hearths are shared (or braziers are used on balconies also hosting clothes hung to dry), and sanitation consists of water buckets lugged from the harbor or common well-pumps, and "nightsoil" buckets casually dumped off the balcony into the street, or lowered to a passing nightsoil wagon.
In better areas, tallhouses have cesspools and indoor jakes, and are rented out by the floor, usually to shopkeepers who both dwell and keep their shops in the uppermost cellar and at street level, and to families who dwell on the floors above. Sometimes tenants living on the upper floors run quiet businesses therefrom, such as scribe-work, longtongue work (what we would call either referral services or private investigators), warmshoulders services (what we might call hostess-offered prostitution), and readykettle establishments (offering one or two persons a hot meal, a ready bed without intimacy, and small-items storage with utter discretion -- which affords paying guests, particularly visitors with shady business connections, a place to run to and hole up for a day or two).
As income and social levels increase, shops and upper-floor businesses grow fewer; more and more tallhouses are occupied entirely by their owner or a single renter, or are split between the owner and a single tenant. The wealthiest Sembians, of course, can afford mansions or even walled compounds within cities, but Melvos Hammerstars is far from being one of those.
Read next week's article to learn a fair amount about the taxes and fees of Sembia, plus gain some tips on how Melvos and other typical merchants avoid them.
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