Elminster Speaks

(Part #52) : Khôltar, Part 3

Third Impressions

I'd be less than honest if I said the Iron City is entirely devoid of greenery. Many a soaring Khôltan building is topped by a rooftop garden that grows herbs, vine vegetables, and even a few flowers (though the usual intent is to grow useful edibles and garnishes).

Many Khôltan buildings resemble tall, unadorned keeps: square or cylindrical or buttressed stone towers that soar up five to nine stories above the shadowed, canyon-like streets. Few buildings are less than three floors tall, above street level, and all have cellars -- though these are strictly limited in extent to prevent collapses: Khôltan buildings need huge footings. Large mule-driven pumps raise water from the depths under the city to upper-level cisterns in the buildings, from whence gravity and opened taps lets their contents down to lower levels as needed.

The Iron City's thirst is slaked by deep wells and steam-driven pumps that lift water to a shallow reservoir (from which citizens' private mule-pumps take it up into the dwellings) from a vast underlying aquifer called Lake Drooud in ancient texts and Thauloch by the few folk of the Underdark who dwell in the vicinity. A prevalence of poisonous fumes, searing rock salts, and molten rock flows to the west of the Great Rift keep settlements in this part of the Realms Below very sparse, and very deep, which is the very reason the dwarven Deep Realms extend far to the east of the Great Rift and only a little way west and southwest of it. (Lake Drooud is the reason the Steel Shields patrol the surface north and west of Khôltar. Dwarves of the Rift tap its waters too.)

Khôltans tend to express great wealth by simply building taller and larger towers, or by buying the towers of less fortunate neighbors and joining them to their own by precarious flying bridges high above the ground. However, a few of the oldest and wealthiest local families (all members of the Onsruur) have sought to set themselves apart by sculpting less lofty mansions in stone that are a welter of turrets, balconies, bay windows, statuary, thrusting chimneys shaped like dragon's heads or the necks, heads, and maws of other, more fanciful beasts, and even glass-roofed central courtyards where plantings of shade-loving trees and fungi grow.

What visitors may call these dwellings (which soar amid the more utilitarian but still monstrously large stone-and-tile-roofed warehouses, forges, and factories) I can only guess (colorfully, mind ye), but to a Khôltan, the typical tower is "my fist" or "my greatfist" (depending on size); an inn, stables, or anything catering to visitors is a traal; and the curious mansions built by the few Onsruur who've abandoned their towers or augmented them with smaller but more sculpted stone homes are called klathlaaedin. My grasp of the local idiom isn't great enough to make more than obvious comments on the origins of these words. I do know that the old local word for an outlander was traaldyn, and I suspect that (as laaeder is old local dialect for "made by") someone whose name was something akin to Klath might have been an early builder of these ornate mansions.

The visitor can, by the way, expect to find inns that are large, solid buildings of stone with generous suites. In these houses of welcome (to use the formal term), water is ample; temperatures are kept comfortable; food is adequate; and covered, secure storage for coaches, mounts, draft animals, and locked-away valuable cargo is superior to what can be found in most other cities of Faerûn. Most inns are only three or four stories tall, and those topping five floors are rare indeed. Khôltans seem to understand that visitors may find the soot of the city distasteful, and most inns offer luxurious hot soaking baths to all guests -- both in private in-room tubs and in common guest lounges divided into male-only, female-only, and mixed chambers. Business is often conducted in such surroundings by folk who care nothing for privacy.

The Iron City is the first place in Faerûn, by the way, where I've observed large-scale use of heat conductors: Metal bars are welded into continuous runs that form shields around forges, kettles, and cook hearths, and from there run elsewhere in structures to heat water and adjacent stoneware in drying cupboards and the like.

Oh, by the way, adventurers who bear weapons in the streets or into a Khôltan inn won't be regarded with suspicion. The Iron City produces many weapons, and the most attention an adventurer who refrains from open street combat can expect is to be offered the standard secure lockbox (in your room or in our vault) inn service for valuables (wherein, for an extra fee, goods are locked into a huge heavy coffer, which in turn is locked to wall rings), or solicited to buy weapons better than what they're carrying.

Aside from lumber to feed its hearths and ever-hungry forges, Khôltar imports ale, spirits (notably a fiery whisky brewed in Three Swords that's called amberfire, and which numerous Iron City bottlers doctor with their own secret ingredients to make an amberfire claimed to be superior to all others), and copious quantities of food.

Good cooks can make a very good living in the Iron City. Hungry Khôltans devour mounds of food at a sitting, but value flavorful seasonings that less skilled or more rushed cooks deliver with fiery mustards, sauces, and melted cheeses. Fried or boiled vegetables seasoned in a stock and then baked into greasy panbreads or omelettes or hardcheese bars are common convenience meals kept handy by the forge (with copious beer, of course), as are desserts of sugared and raisin-studded buns. However, a cook who can deliver something more exotic in swift and mighty quantities is likely to find his eatery inundated by hungry Khôltans until the next taste craze hits elsewhere -- and even then, each new taste gains some permanent devotees. It's not uncommon for a Khôltan out for an evening to walk to six different city eateries (called luthdren, by the way -- ye might term them restaurants, whereas thy diner or greasy spoon is a blurdren to folk of the Iron City) and partake of a single favorite dish at each. As a result, such establishments tend to be informal, simply furnished, noisy bustling places. The only difference drawn between most luthdren and blurdren is that the latter have a serving window and an elbow counter and perhaps a stool or two for the aged, whereas the former have ample tables and chairs for big, beefy folk to stretch out in whilst they feast -- and feast -- and feast.

As for exports, the Iron City gives back to Faerûn all manner of metal implements and wares, and little else. Next time, we'll tour a few specific local sites of interest.

Elminster's Archives
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