My Slice of Silverymoon (Part Two)
By Chesmyr Morrowynd (as told to Ed Greenwood)
Pay attention! I've got more to cover here, and you'd best listen. Time enough later for letting your thoughts wander.
Hollowhar is a working neighborhood, where visitors who come to the Market can, for a few coins, stable beasts or store wares down in the cellars of the old, closely-huddled houses. Nearly all of these byres are stone-lined and plentifully equipped with rushes underfoot, high overhead racks of hay for the beasts (wherein many things can be swiftly hidden from unwanted eyes, mind), and water-troughs filled down long gurgle-pipes from roof rain-cisterns in all but the months of ice.
Most of these cellars are sunk a good 6 feet down from the street and are reached down wooden crossbar-shod-against-slipping ramps. Arched windows (usually open gaps that can be closed off with shutters in harsh weather, but lack glass panes) in the upper cellar walls open directly into the street at boot-to-knee level.
At any time of day or night such places are guarded by armed cellar-guards (often sons or lackcoin kin of the owners of the buildings above), each of whom passes time talking and gambling with a friendly cluster of "lantern lasses" (fetch-and-carry boys or girls, who, for a copper, can lead outlanders through the streets to desired destinations). Try to rob such a place, and the younglings'll scatter and call for "the Rods," at about the same time as all the cellar-guards around blow their horns for the same reason.
Now, the Rods are new to Silverymoon, but they are also old and familiar. That is, there've been watch patrols for as long as I've been breathing, but the nickname "Rods" (given to them for the black metal skull-crushing short-staves they bear, that are tipped at both ends with little candle-cages that can be lit to make torches that give poor light but can also scorch writings onto walls and cobbles -- or burn some drunkard's face or hair right proper, too) is new, and so is the composition of these patrols.
Expect to see six or seven leather-clad, armed men (there're a few maids, but mostly the Rods are men) who wear gorgets and bracers stamped with a simplified silver moon badge of the city (and that bear some sort of enchantment, mind, that lets them be traced from afar by Spellguard mages; I'm told they glow a faint but pretty blue when such magic is awake). There's stiff justice (imprisonment and mind-reading by one of those wizards, plus at least a lashing, and probably more justice, if he finds something ill in your intent or doings while rummaging around in your memories) for stealing Rods weaponry or regalia, or impersonating a Rod.
Each patrol is led by a Knight in Silver and always includes at least one other Knight; if they want to impress, are in a bad mood, or are in the throes of a personal laundry shortage, they'll be in full armor. With them will be a few militia "jacks" in training, and probably some "oldswords" (wounded or down-on-their-luck adventurers who've hired on for the coins -- and passed regular sessions of Spellguard mind-reading). If a patrol goes out expecting trouble, a Spellguard mage or even two may also come along, with perhaps another two to four swift lads who can climb and run and scramble.
If you've got the idea by now that Silverymoon is a place that sees little trouble because only fools try to start any, you've been listening and I've been saying some of the right things. Want to be bad? Abuse folks in the college, guild, or whatever you belong to, behind closed doors where the Rods won't be called. An outlander in a hurry to taste trouble? Attend a revel, wait for folk to get drunk, and then get up to tricks. Fortunately for folk like me, the highnoses and lowgowns who throw revels don't dwell in Hollowhar -- or visit it at all, unless they're up to some whisper-secrets game or other.
Ah, yes, every outlander asks what that naming means. Whisper-secrets -- some are elaborate pranks, some are initiations, some are swindles of rich and gullible merchants, and some are lovers' trysts.
You see, Silvaeren are by and large clever, learned folk -- and if they're not gripped by crafting things or songs or new ideas to set Faerûn afire (literally, in some cases!), they grow bored. So some of them devise games that consist of what Waterdhavians might scornfully call "scavenger hunts," or "find the masked fox" or "follow the cryptic clues" across the city -- and sometimes the little riddles and fanciful descriptions lead or mislead players in such games into Hollowhar. Not often, but frequently enough that I've grown used to seeing masked lasses climbing past my window on warm starry nights, or mistakenly whispering catch-phrases and passwords to me in the dark. Sometimes, of course, I play along; you've no idea what fun it can be to misdirect a dozen wealthy young things of an evening, and watch them all blunder into each other or into accosting the wrong (and quite bewildered) outlander or self-important merchant.
I'd say more, but then I'd be forced to claim the Red-Eyed Eel from you, or warn you that the Black Lady Passes, or that Four Candles Burn . . . and I'd hate to see you get that bewildered look or run to the Rods or a Spellguard mage with dire warnings that'll only bring us both headaches.
Above the cellars, most houses in Hollowhar have a balcony room that holds a shop, and two or three floors of dwelling-space above that. This is a neighborhood of carvers, who from bone, beast-tooth, or wood fashion the harps, tool and knife handles, combs, flutes, bowls, hand-coffers, gaming boards and pieces, and hundreds of other little things that folk who love beauty like to see adorned. Some merchant societies in Amn and Tethyr even come here to have little trade-tokens carved for them (whimsies in gemstones or shell that they can use privately to mean "you owe me three castles or six ships or seven hundred thousand gold pieces" or whatever). I've seen their agents come skulking, all in silks and bristling with blades and enchanted weapons and menacing glares, to pick up the finished orders from the complicated little locked hiding-places most carvers arrange in their dwellings to frustrate thieves.
Carvers seldom hang out signboards, advertise where they live, or invite clients into their homes. More often, clients come to the local "shraehouses" (places that would be called taverns if they were larger) and ask for them, and local lantern lasses go and fetch whoever's asked for, or whoever else they think will do if the one asked for isn't to be found. Carvers' business is most often done over flagons in the shraehouses.
So the carvers live above -- with the exception of Vrelda's and the Hawkroost, of which more anon -- and the shops bustle below.
The Balcony Shops
The storefront balconies typically thrust out over the street some 6 to 9 feet and are festooned with awnings, windows that can be propped open to let air in, and an abundance of herbs and beautiful trailing floral plants that hang down and perfume the street. Small, curving staircases carved with delightful dragon-head, fanciful "never-goyles" (that is, grotesquely cute gargoyle-like creatures one will never see in nature), and flowing, spindle-spired banisters link the street with the shops; larger and plainer rear stairs ascend from the cellars to all levels of the building above. Tasteful signboards (the local fashion is to elaborately-intertwined, elven-style flowing lettering, all curves and curlicues and cutouts that seem to have flowed naturally rather than being carved and smoothed) adorn most shops, often hanging down on chains among the greenery rather than jutting boldly forth from the balconies, as is the custom in most other cities.
In general, shops in Silverymoon are cramped and cozy -- even the large ones are so crammed with wares that quarters are close. And yet when space is needed (fitting and "promenade before mirrors" rooms in the establishments of those who sell fine gowns to highcoin ladies, for instance), ample space will be provided. Shops tend to be airy, with dappled shade where possible and with the endless trill of running water. ("Pipefall" sculptures that bring roof-cistern water down through metal, glass, or wood tubing to make pleasant sounds and plays of light are common.)
Not for me the "grand flash" of the brightest, largest, newest, and most expensive Southbank or shadow-of-the-Palace shops, but let me tell you of my favorites of the more modest establishments of Hollowhar.
Filling Your Belly
Naturally I'd start by telling you where to get fed in Hollowhar, but it strikes me that I'd better say a few words about what Silvaeren eat, first. The flippant answer is, of course, everything -- and that's true, if you've coins enough. Fruit can be scarce in winter and spring, of course, and much of what can be had is pickled or candied, but the Gem of the North can please all palates.
But as for us simpler folk, trying to make our coppers stretch, we tend to make do with daily meals built around larger or smaller portions of a soup or stew, fish or meat, bread, and drink.
The most popular local soups are onion-and-cheese; mushroom-and-wine; peppery leek-and-potato; and rabbit-and-leek, whereas stews are built around potatoes plus meat bones and leavings. (Peppered mutton and venison are probably the most popular.) The fish is apt to be cold spiced eel or eel pie, or stuffed river crab. The meat will be coney, or roast rothé, or some preparation of dove or duck.
Among the wealthy, Silverymoon is known for its sugared breads and its golden yellow "egg-bread," but for the likes of me 'tis "black bread" all the way: small, round "hardloaves" of rich dark nutbread that fit in the hand.
When "working" Silvaeren drink, they down tall, slender, lidded tankards of blackroot beer or spiced "moon wine." This last is nothing like the "moonwine" famed elsewhere, but rather is a spiced local blending of dregs of this and that, plus juniper and other forest berries, fermented in local cellars. As you might well guess, it varies much in taste and desirability from keg to keg.
Any shraehouse can provide all the workaday provender I've just listed, plus a variety of teas and imported drinkables, a few handwheels of cheese, and pickled wild onions or sometimes skewers of pickled olives imported from the Sword Coast South. The best houses run to real mouth-watering menus, but Hollowhar has only one such bright spot: Swordsfall House.
On the east side of Nutting Lane facing the mouth of Druinwood stands the grandest shraehouse of Hollowhar. Its cellars were long ago enclosed to make a lower level of kitchens, pantries, and jakes (separate and quite lavish "jack" and "maid" privies, with piped water and large sinks), so from the street you'll see elegantly paneled wooden walls between stone columns (at the corners and evenly spaced along both side walls) carved into the shapes of smiling elven maidens. Hmm; those must be rather cold smiles, considering the light sheets they're draped in and how cold it gets of winter nights hereabouts.
Those curvaceous pillars hold up a wide weather-awning planted with lush mosses and overhung with tiered stone planter-bowls (usually full of herbs and vine-flowers) jutting out from the walls above, where two floors of folk who must be rather hard of hearing live. I suspect most of the staff of the place are among them and are used to all the din of cooking and serving and patrons arriving and chatting at all hours. People come from many parts of the city for the food here, though it's not a palatial dining lounge like many in Silverymoon, nor large enough for all who'd like to crowd inside. A fair number of patrons dine here and then stroll over to the two more modest Hollowhar shraehouses, or ones nearer their homes, to talk and drink the rest of the night away.
I usually meet the harpmasters who buy my strings here, though their shops are in grander parts of the city; thanks to the food and the fair prices (you can easily spend seven times as much for similar fare, elsewhere in Silverymoon), they don't mind the walk. If you happen to be after smaller, less outrageously-priced harps than most folk favor, I can heartily recommend my own clients: Altymo Phaernphar (Phaernphar's Fine Harps, Northbank, Candlestar Lane), Arilyn Dathlue (Heartsong Harps, Northbank, Goblinwood Rise), and Markovel Stonestorm (Stonestorm's Harpery, Southbank, Mrellow Lane).
Most shraehouses are crowded places with drinks ledges all around the walls. Drinkers cram the flagstone floor, and a central bar juts from the keg room wall and dispenses lots of wine, almost as much beer, stronger drinks, and hot broth and soup in the coldest months.
Swordsfall is like that, but with the addition of four long "common tables" for diners, and twice the usual floor room to accommodate them. Seating is on benches attached to the tables underfoot, service is spartan, and the place tends to be dimly-lit, not to say dark. Open at all hours, Swordsfall is reached by going up a broad, well-worn stair behind a street-level arch. The staircase ascends only a little way before it reaches a stout wooden door (enhanced with magic, too, I'm told) whose handle is fashioned of two swords whose broken-off blades were blunted and welded together, so that two ornamental sword hilts are at top and bottom of a broad, flat metal bar that stands out from the wood of the door.
Inside, 'tis always crowded, and no wonder. Master Jarvalar Buckman and four kindly, middle-aged ladies named Alyth, Cathla, Ilmaeri, and Ninrae dispense food and drink (the latter always by the tankard, for prices in the 2 cp to 6 gp range, depending on quality). Meals run from 2 sp (for "low meals") to 6 sp (for "high meals") per serving-platter (a soup or broth comes in a bowl placed on a platter with garnishes).
Typical garnishes include honeyed figs, roasted almonds, pickled lemons and quince, biscuits spread with garlic or nut butter, and fruit tarts or "savories" (tarts filled with minced cooked dove or coney, mixed with lime or berry sauce).
Low meals include all soups and broths (the Swordsfall specializes in venison-and-mushroom broth), duck livers, thaevor potatoes (thaevor is a strong yellow local cheese), mushrooms in cream, spicy lamb sausage, and wine-marinated pears and Calishite tammar.
High meals are usually platters of wood turtle, plucked roast dove, and "firespiced" (seared) rothé steaks, but on rarer nights a patron might enjoy boar with sliced apples, rabbit in zzar, duck in berry dressing, roast duck with chestnuts, whole quail skewered and cooked in butter, diced poultry (fried in garlic, nuts, and ginger), or river clams (steamed in a rich fish stock with onion, sarsae -- the tough-skinned, hardy tomato-like savory fruit of the North -- and herbs).
The price of a high meal always includes a "side" of thin-sliced cheese and fruit, and a small cordial (zzar or a fruit brandy) to "clear the throat" after the main repast.