Elminster Speaks

(Part #51) : Khôltar, Part 2

Second Impressions

Visitors to the Iron City swiftly notice that the place stinks. In part, this is forge reek carried on the everpresent smoke and in part it's due to the Khôltan habit of sluicing all wastes out into the streets and washing them down into the lowest muddy corners where the lowest-class citizens constantly dig out the dung and suchlike, filling hopperlike mudwagons high before carting out of the city, half a day downwind (to the southwest), and dumping it. A large part of the stench is also due to the city walls.

There are actually two sets of walls, great thick runs of stone blocks separated by a gap of some thirty feet that's bridged at the gates and between inner and outer wall towers along the runs. The walls are over a hundred feet high in most places, the inner slightly higher than the outer (to allow raking fire of besiegers who reach the top of the outer wall), and the great, poorly drained trench between is filled with rotting garbage tossed from the tallest buildings near the walls, and great masses of jagged, hardened spelter: waste forge metal (impurities and the like).

Garbage is also disposed of between the walls by garthraun paid off to drop the refuse and say nothing about it. These sorts of disposals tend to be the bodies of those too poor to afford cremations, and victims of matters that eminent citizens desire hushed up.

This mess has been used for catapult loads on the rare occasions when the city is attacked. (Khôltar has withstood giant raids and orc hordes in the distant past, and two concerted Shaaryan assaults in more recent decades.) Almost all of the wall towers feature at least one heavy catapult and at least two light catapults. Inner towers have mule-driven chain-tower elevators for lifting loads of stone to their firing decks, and outer towers are supplied by cartloads run along the bridges from adjacent inner towers. Few Khôltans can remember the last time there was a serious attack on the city (a Shaaryan tribal raid almost sixty years ago), but once every few years a few catapult loads are dropped into the camp of some caravan master or other who's too arrogant or foolish enough to obey garthraun warnings to camp out of sight of the walls.

I'm not quite sure why (aside from total penury, or some strivings for fresh air) anyone would want to camp close by Khôltar's walls anyway. The filth from the 'tween walls trench runs out of a few drains to foul the earth, laced by rivers of oils and rust running down from the oiled but rusting great overlapping iron plates that sheath the stone outer city wall. But try it, and ye can expect one of the frequent wall patrols to move ye along right smartly.

Attacking a garthraun patrol, by the way (usually horse-mounted and 13 strong outside the walls, and on foot and 7 strong inside the city) is a sure way to invite furious Khôltan attack, from all sides. "Strike at order, and you strike at us all!" is not an empty local saying. Those with hankerings to defy authority are strongly advised to avoid the Iron City or temper their opinions and actions whilst visiting. That said, be aware that order in Khôltar really means: "Don't bother me or hold up my supplies or steal from me or try to swindle me, because I'm busy making goods and therefore money." Some Khôltans never retire and die slumped over their forges. Others travel west to the cities around the Shining Sea, and there enjoy whatever years of luxury and idleness their work ethic and punished bodies allow them.

If ye gain the impression that I'm not altogether enchanted by Khôltar -- well, bright ye are, to be sure. (Wizardly sarcasm, there -- humor an old, old, old man, will ye?)

Dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and humans all dwell together quite happily in the Iron City, by the way, but here humans are dominant. Of course, far more than any of the other races, humans (work-driven crafter humans, at least) are never a cohesive group that works together against other races. They're usually too selfishly busy bettering their own personal lot. "Trade through crafting" is king in Khôltar, and as a result, it enjoys cordial, no-nonsense relations with Eartheart.

The Steel Shields patrol to within sight of the Iron City's walls, along the Traders' Way as far west as the walls of Three Swords (which I believe we'll take a look at next), and north along the Landrise, holding sway over all the largely empty ranchland between, and the folk of the Iron City leave them to it. Iron City folk are quite happy earning coins crafting everyday metalwork for those who don't want to pay the high-coin prices of the gold dwarves or need to buy the very best. There are folk in Faerûn (few of them smiths) who say "A hinge is a hinge," and such folk are quite happy to buy cheaper Iron City wares -- which after all are seldom shoddy, just not the best.

But enough of philosophies. Let's look again next time (when dealing with wizards in a nonviolent manner, remember, it's almost always next time) at what greets the visitor inside the walls of bustling Khôltar.

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