Melvos Hammerstars, Part One

A Flourishing Career
By Ed Greenwood

Upcountry Sembia

Melvos Hammerstars is a typical Sembian merchant of the sort known in the realm as successful. He owns a tallhouse in a fashionable darth (neighborhood) of Saerloon, a down (rich compound) in the countryside, and several rental properties. His array of businesses, investments, and trade deals astonishes most non-Sembians, but it is entirely typical of many moderately successful folk in his country -- so a look at Melvos is a useful illustration of what folk are like in the prosperous realm known to many in the Realms as "the Land of Rich Fat Merchants."

First, let's learn more about the landscape of upcountry (rural) Sembia. Most country-dwelling Sembians live in small roadside compounds consisting of a wall enclosing a dwelling, an outhouse, stables and sometimes a paddock, a coach-shed (which often serves to keep the worst wet weather off an extensive woodpile), a garden, and sometimes a guesthouse.

These compounds vary from tiny, poorly built steads (with dirt-floor cottages and yards crowded with salvage from elsewhere, firewood, tripods for growing beans, snares to catch rabbits, and drying frames for furs and scraped hides) to palatial downs that enclose mansions and have large for-crop-sales vegetable gardens (complete with servants' huts, extensive root-cellars, and perhaps a barn) and bowers (pleasure gardens) dominated by tended trees, floral beds, little pools, statuary, benches, small (gazebo) pavilions known as evenspires, and turf paths known as greenwalks.

Strings and clusters of such walled dwellings line most Sembian roads, with farms lying behind and between them. They are occasionally separated by back lanes leading to woodlots studded with small arndels (cabins), the preferred abodes of half-elves and all others desiring rustic privacy, or to the walled and gated country estates of the very wealthy (which are often referred to as hunts because of what most often happens therein, but always have individual, grandiose names, such as Blackeagles, Dragontowers, or Greatturrets).

Along major roads, inns with paddocks stand about a day's travel apart. Where nature also provides enough water to serve a horsepond or run a mill, a wayhamlet usually develops. Sembia holds scores of such; they're rarely more than a cluster of cottages with perhaps a smithy, allgoods shop (general store), and tavern.

Rolling hills and many trees meet the eye everywhere in upcountry Sembia; the only changes wrought by extensive human settlement are the disappearance of really tall timber (felled for mast spars and roofbeams) and the appearance of far more open space (the "many small linked fields" of the typical Sembian farm) than in the days when most local "open land" was the result of lightning- or red-dragon-breath-caused fires.

Wolves, bears, and owlbears are becoming scarce in the increasingly populated Sembian countryside, but foxes, packs of wild dogs, and the more cunning prowling monsters are all too energetic. The still-extensive forests provide concealment and cross-country travel routes -- and the settlement provides predators with such ready food as chickens, goats, sheep, and young horses and cattle.

Upcountry Sembia is a well-watered country, with many small streams and natural ponds. Large marshes are rare, but small bogs and thickets (known locally as tangles) are not. Signposts are few and poor, except on major roads; wandering dirt cart-lanes are the norm.

Streams and their valleys are often the only ready ways through farm boundaries. Stiles are few, and farm fences tend to be nigh-impenetrable hedgerows of gathered, heaped stones and stumps, over which thornbushes and vines are encouraged to grow, and bird-deposited seeds are left undisturbed to sprout into thick tangles of greenery and interwoven vines.

The walls of downs and country estates are usually just taller versions of field-barrier hedgerows, usually made of earth and stone rubble heaped together to have a near-vertical outer face (intended to be too steep to climb) but a more comfortable inner slope (up which successive barrows of earth and stone have been pushed and then dumped). Raspberry canes and thorny wild shrubs are typically planted on the upper slopes and tops of such walls to discourage passage.

Only the walls of the hunts have dressed stone or smooth stucco outer facings (usually in a treacherously crumbling and falling-off state thanks to hard winter frosts), and only the largest such walls are broad enough to have guard paths along their tops. In the more dangerous days when walls were first being erected around upcountry Sembian landholdings, it was the fashion to liberally equip walltop paths with pit-full-of-sharp-spikes traps.

Venture from the country to the town in next week's article.

© 2004 Wizards of the Coast, Inc. All rights reserved.