Uthmere (Part Two)
By Ed Greenwood
What Smites the Eye in Uthmere
Most visitors see Uthmere as a tidy city of stone, beset by clinging damp (and nightly fogs) and all the usual smells of a port, but having less noise, stink, and open street refuse than most cities.
Uth streets are cobbled rather than dirt, buildings are of fieldstone, and roofs are of slate or tile. The slate and tile can become deadly missiles in high winds, so they're inspected often by the Cudgels, who use a wagon akin to a scaffold on wheels; they can levy heavy fines if a roof is found in poor repair, so most "househars" (homeowners) find it cheaper and easier to pay for whatever repair work they claim is necessary, which the Cudgels do on the spot. Aside from stables (which have tall lofts used for hay and for rearing clipped-wing pigeons for eggs and as eating-fowl), all buildings in Uthmere rise at least three floors above the street since only shallow cellars are possible.
Firefighting is unknown in Uthmere, but thanks to the damp, local building materials, and the lack of "common walls" (buildings that touch must both have unbroken end walls, with no beams or roofs spanning the join), fires that spread beyond a single building are rare.
Uth buildings usually have small, narrow "light-slit" windows at ground level. Higher windows often sport iron-bar gratings to prevent stealthy entry. The gratings are slid into channels on inside walls and pinned there with metal "stops" that pierce a hole in the grating frame and pass on into a cavity bored in the stone of the wall. All Uth windows have stout wooden weather shutters.
Balconies are found only on third floors and higher, and they tend to be metal-framed, with wood or metal slats. They're typically used to grow shragga (leaf lettuce) and other vegetables and herbs, and sometimes to hang wet washing (outside exposure only rarely truly dries anything in Uthmere).
Building roofs tend to be steeply pitched to shed snow and rain, with corner downspouts draining into channels along the sides of streets. (Anyone entering or leaving a building steps between raised doorsill and raised cobbles over a water-run channel.)
The tallest, grandest private buildings in the city (the hightowers of the wealthy) are found in northeasternmost Uthmere, nigh the Lords' Park, in a neighborhood imaginatively called Hightowers.
The prevailing Uth weather is dominated by winds blowing onshore out of the northwest, straight into the mouth of the harbor.
Uthmere, the shore around it, and the Dalestream for about the same distance as the width of the city upstream of Uthmere, experience nightly sea mists (fogs). These sea mists cling to the surface of the water and rise up to about 8 feet above it. As a result, the highest parts of the city (Southgate Square and the northern half of Northstream Uthmere) are above the mists, and the rest of the city is shrouded in it.
Uth-folk habitually drive off damp and chill with fires and with stones and metal "irons" (large blocks of base metal fashioned with handles) that, with the aid of heavy gloves, can be carried to beds and to other rooms of a house. They also use "thurls."
Winter means wet snow or slush in Uthmere; "slip-everywhere" ice coatings are frequent but short-lived. The cobbles of Uth streets have a smooth side and a rough side, and are turned rough side up when winter freezes start, and back again at full thaw.
Uth-folk dress heavily against the damp, typically wearing leathers or woolens, often with hide breeches and vests. Waist-belts are usual for both genders and are always adorned with pouches, satchels, and small belt knives. (There's no law against going about armed in Uthmere.) If this makes them too heavy to stay up, diagonal baldrics are worn. Almost everyone wears boots or thick wooden clogs over leggings, and in their homes (and in many city inns and clubs, too) they don slippers to pad about on thick braided rugs laid on the floors for warmth. Many Uth-folk carry stout clubs (that double as walking sticks in times of winter ice, or when infirmity demands) to deal with rats.
As overgarments, rain-shedding greased or oiled caps and cloaks are common. In every season but summer, knitted fingerless gloves are worn, with leather overgauntlets for those who must toil in the cold wet.
1. The fine for "blowndowns" is 4 sp per slate or tile, or "fragment thereof as large in any one dimension as the length of a man's hand." For any fineable blowndown that strikes a citizen (visitors don't count for purposes of this law), fines are doubled and an additional "harm price" of 1 gp is payable to the injured party.
Untied dogs, street blockages due to goods or unattended conveyances (from huge wagons to small toy carts, which can be falling hazards), and throwing anything at anyone (or any beast) also attract Cudgel fines.
The Lord's court can levy penalties upon conviction (amounts at the Lord's whim), but "Cudgel fines" are payable on the spot, without trial. Folk who can't readily pay are "written up," and the document (officially called a "vaerance," but known in the streets as a "bloodsheet") that is handed them is a statement of the fine, date, and reason. It includes the name of the Cudgel levying the fine. Amounts carried on a bloodsheet for more than six months are expunged by seizure of goods, and anyone "under a vaerance" (owing anything) can't legally leave Uthmere.
2. Deep cellars do exist, and from time to time they see use as a place to hide the bodies of murder victims or as temporary live storage for edible fish or other seafood, but they're largely abandoned for the same reason new ones aren't dug: persistent flooding. Cellars pumped dry tend to be useless for storage or habitation because of slimy molds thriving on the damp stone. "High ground" Uthmere (roughly, the northern half of Northstream Uthmere, and that part of Southstream Uthmere covered by Southgate Square) stands on a thin layer of heavy clay, overlying bedrock. The rest of Uthmere stands on "loose ooze," which is a variable-depth layer of river silt atop bedrock.
Extensive deep cellars are carved out of solid rock in three places in Uthmere: a granary cellar maintained by the lordlain under Southgate Square for the welfare of the city (foodstuffs to keep Uth-folk alive in the event of famine, siege, or if outside-world trade must be suspended due to plague); the Lord's private storage cellars (and armory and garrison granary) under the walled compound that contains the Lord's Palace; and beneath certain private homes and businesses along the northernmost edge of Uthmere.
The entrances to all of these are secret, and it's an offense punishable by death to cause the construction of any cellar that endangers the stability of an adjacent building or any part of the city walls (including the walls separating the Lord's compound from the rest of Uthmere), or any cellar or tunnel connecting the city inside the walls to anywhere outside the walls.
Leaving again, however (except during the calm that usually comes at nightfall), is often a matter of hard rowing, fend-poling, and "paying the Lord" a stiff 10 gp fee for his oxen. The oxen walk the breakwater trail with their handlers and pull a ship along to the end of the breakwater, where it can be cast free.
4. The mists occur because the warming of the stone "heat sink" of the city (by fires, other human activities, and sunlight on the stones), added to the warmth of decomposition in the Dalestream-mouth silt, always makes Uthmere warmer than the Easting Reach waters driven onshore by winds.
5. Thurls are small metal tripod braziers: bowls whose affixed legs hold them about 6 inches off the large, flat safestones they stand on. They are capped with conical metal hoods pierced with a ring of small apertures to let air in and warmth out; perfumed charcoal and small handfuls of kindling (sometimes scented with dried handfuls of fragrant Great Dale grasses) are burned in thurls. Though they're usually lit only when a room is occupied, every room in the dwelling of well-to-do Uthmaar will have its handy thurl, tinderbox, and supply of "longfingers" (tar-soaked-ended long thorns, straws, or split "fingers" of wood). Large shop rooms and grand chambers will have several, but scented oils or rings of candles are burned in open braziers during feasts and special occasions. Deep inverted cone iron braziers are used, with a floating wick for the oil, or for the candles either a huge central candle, or a ring of smaller ones mounted around the lip of the brazier, so their wax runs down into the central well for later recovery.
A typical bare brazier of this type costs from 1 to 5 sp depending on size and style (decoration and ornamentation), and thurls likewise run from 2 to 6 sp. Swung as a weapon, a thurl does 1d2 damage (1d2+2 if hot) and a brazier 1d3 (1d3+2 if hot).
Next time, we'll look at daily -- and nightly -- life in Uthmere.
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