Elminster Speaks

(Part #60) : Khôltar, Part 11

A Last Look Around Handrornlar

So here we hover again together, inside the Iron City's north gate, looking now at the south side of the waymoot. That is, the prow of buildings that faces the gate directly, looking north out of Handrornlar whenever the actual gates stand open.

Here we find some of the oldest fists in town -- two to four-story towers given over to low-rent housing for the poorest laborers (whose presence is usually heralded by the copious lines of soot-hued laundry hung from balcony to balcony). This warren of decaying towers flanks three buildings of interest.

The most westerly of this trio, the one with its own portcullis-gate and central courtyard, is Harmeirlarko's Journeys, a wagon repair shop and wheelwright. With his swift repairs and replacement axles, wheels, and even entire light carts and heavy trail-wagons, Rethtin Harmeirlarko has saved the hide of many an unfortunate merchant. His prices are steep, but his staff of workers is happy, skilled, used to soothing furious or anxious clients, and swift. I know of more than one experienced caravan merchant who has examined the wagons on offer in Harmeirlarko's while waiting for a repair to be done, and decided to buy one of them and throw his own damaged wagon into the deal for whatever he can get for it (the source of Harmeirlarko's rare price bargains).

Other folk use the overhead cranes here to transfer heavy cargoes from one conveyance to another; a typical "lift (always done by the Journeys staff, who don't let anyone else use their cranes) ranges from 1 cp (to a poor citizen) up to 5 cp (to a wealthy merchant).

Some veteran caravan merchants order a spare wheel and axle whenever they're in Khôltar, so they always have replacements handy on the trail. When they pick up a new one, it frees them to resell their oldest spare -- for top coin to someone in desperate need elsewhere on their travels.

Next to Harmeirlarko's, heading east, is another small, thriving area. This one is called Surlpar's Stews, and 'tis a wretched, dirty place that flourishes by keeping prices -- and quality -- lower than either the dining room of Taurgaur's Tarjteir or Munsrum's.

Surlpar's sells to many visitors once, but only to the poor Kholtans who dwell nearby on a continuing basis -- and I've never seen the owner, Ensril Surlpar (an Onsruur heir of luxurious tastes in clothing, wines, and women) dining there, or so much as glancing at the place as his coach rolls by. If ye must grab something at Surlpar's, make it the salted biscuits; the salt on them is thick enough to drive away most molds and taints -- unless, of course, the rats have been at it (always turn thy biscuit over before leaving the counter!).

East of Surlpar's is one of the Iron City's surprises: Jamrado's Thanetalium. (Visitors, by the way, may call this "Jamrado's," but to Kholtans, 'tis always "the Thanetalium," and I may as well give thee the proper pronunciations of both: "Jam-RAD-oe's" and "THANE-tal-eeum.") In old Kholtan dialect, "atalia" is a gathering, "atalium" a purpose-built gathering-hall (as opposed to a building that happens to get used once for a meeting), and "thaner" was a performance or planned entertainment . . . but as my apprentices are wont to say, I digress.

The Thanetalium is a small thrust-stage theater: that is, the two-tier stage juts out into the main hall. That stage actually has a third level to it: a trapdoor-covered "underground" for pratfalls or grand appearances (amid smokepots), of ghosts or gods or conjured creatures -- or even a fourth level, if ye count all the acting done from partway up the onstage stair connecting the floor with the upper gallery.

This thrust stage is surrounded on three sides by audience galleries: a stand-up "pit" slightly below ground level, and two tiers of boxes overhanging that (held up by stout pillars). Audiences can buy small paper cups of spiced and cinnamon-buttered nuts, but debates are still raging as to whether to allow them to purchase drinkables that can be spilled, hurled, sprayed, or spewed. Most bring their own since the arguments go on, season after season.

Most of the Iron City ignores what's offered at the Thanetalium, but a surprising number of visitors, crafters, and laborers attend at least weekly (often armed with things to hurl, though favoring performers with tankards, weapons, and other hard missiles is grounds for swift expulsion). Audiences enjoy evenings of entertainment consisting of a succession of short acts: comedians, jugglers, singers, dancers, and actors who do satirical skits lampooning Kholtans and current news (racial and political mockery tends to predominate, in a lighthearted, catchphrase-laden fashion that some of ye might term "vaudeville"). The latest rage is shapeshifting performers who can provide variety in their parts with snake or monster heads, tentacles, comically large body parts, or caricatures of the facial features of prominent Kholtans.

'Tis basic stuff, but the sort of lowbrow amusement has proven to be of enduring popularity in more worlds than this one. Thine, for instance.

Well, well, it seems I've a trio of Harpers hammering on the door of my tower now, so until next time -- may thy spells never miss . . . and thy judgment keep pace with their effects!

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