Uthmere (Part Three)
By Ed Greenwood
Daily and Nightly Life in Uthmere
Time in Uthmere is regulated only roughly. Distinctive "fluting" metal horns are blown from the walls of the Lord's compound some time after dawn, shortly thereafter, then at about midday, and again sometime before dusk.
Most Uth-folk rise at dawn, drink broth, munch some parsley, and go out to work.
They either take or buy (from a shop-window or cart-vendor) during the day a midday meal ("highbite") of cold sausage, smoked fish, or cheese. All are sold in hardbread buns, with sauce, and eaten in idle moments or while strolling.
Work winds down for most Uth-folk at last horncall, and by dusk they're indoors and preparing the main meal of the day, having bought fresh food on the way home to combine with household stores. They eat, talk over the daily gossip, enjoy hobbies (whittling, sauce-making, and mushroom-growing are favorites), tend to chores such as mending and sewing, then bathe and go to bed.
Bathing in Uthmere consists of oiling one's body, then scraping it with shaped wooden "knives" and paddles, and then immersing oneself for a soak and hair-wash.
After bathing, folk with the inclination and with coin enough go out to taverns, clubs, festhalls, and various "raethmoots." Taverns serve cold food, ale, hloar (warm savory broth, like that downed every morning by most Uthfolk, but fortified with the dregs of all drinkables served earlier in the tavern), wine (firewine is a particular favorite), and salted nuts, sliced cheese, and sausages. Entertainment in taverns consists of ribald tales, bawdy songs, the latest news (usually told as colorfully and rudely as possible) -- and occasional brawls. In clubs, full hot meals are served, and card games and knife-throwing matches are popular, the latter being conducted and scored very much like real-world darts. Festhalls serve sweet pastries and exotic cheeses, zzar, and many wines, but never hloar. Their vintages tend to be overpriced and watered down (to minimize violence done to their workers). Aside from hired services and dancing, festhall entertainments consist of successive plays of two sorts (usually held simultaneously in different rooms): light plays of manners (comedy), love, and heroic deeds (for younglings and ladies) and roaringsun productions (tales of dalliance, wartime scenes, and broad comedy). Raethmoots are meetings of clubs, societies, or just friends; Uth-folk like to gather to hear stories read or travelers from afar share tales and news.
Uth-folk use hinged-lid, wide-base (for stability) chamberpots, consisting of simple earthenware bowls set into wooden frames. Sometimes several bowls are slid into a row of niches inside a benchlike "harjakes." Bowls are swapped when necessary, so full ones can be taken out to a passing (at all times from dawn to dusk) "gelguld-wagon" or cart whose cheerful handlers dump it out, dunk water into it and swab it clean, and hand it back (emptying charge: 1 cp per bowl, waived if they break it). Gelguld wagons are dumped on unused ground north and south of the city. (Gelgulders are forbidden to dump into the Dalestream or anywhere that can readily wash into the Dalestream.)
Children in Uthmere help in the shop and home as they grow up, and, when let out to play, they are expected to bring home what they can for the table by fishing in the Dalestream for crayfish, eels, and barbjaws (catfish); gathering seashore clams; and killing (edible, stewed or spitted and roasted) rock gulls. The only formal education most Uth children receive is priests' lessons and apprenticeships into trade.
Cats are numerous in Uthmere and tend to be solid, shaggy-coated, haughty creatures who look very well fed -- because rats (large black creatures called "sreen" in local parlance) are even more numerous, forcing the use of heavy metal lids, keg-covers, and the like in shops and households.
Dogs are few in Uthmere. Working oxen and draft-mules are often seen in the streets (and are housed nightly in stables clustered inside Northgate and Dalegate). Except when actually being loaded or unloaded, visiting caravan wagons (and their animals) are kept in paddocks outside the city to prevent overcrowding.
Cudgel patrols are steady by day and frequent and numerous by night, keeping the Northshore streets safe. The Dalebridge and the Arrowflight (the street that runs between the Northgate and the Southgate, via Dalebridge and Southgate Square) are also safe after dark, but much of the rest of Southshore (and the Northshore docks) aren't. Uth-folk know the Shadowmasters are a growing power in their city, but don't like to talk about it -- or even think that any neighbor or passerby might be a Shadowmaster or one of their spies.
Officially, the calls (clearly audible all over Uthmere) are known as "The Braze" and are daily made thus:
First Braze: About 2 hours after dawn; blown to signal workers who should be leaving their lodgings, since shops will open soon. (Despite some published records, the terms "hour" and "minute" are unknown in the Realms; the call actually comes when a water-drip activated by the Lord's dawn server -- responsible for having warmed clothes and a warm meal ready at dawn, should the Lord want to rise then -- runs out.)
Second Braze: About 20 minutes after First Braze, this signals that most shops should open and that lordlain offices are open.
High Braze: Blown sometime around the estimated middle of that day's daylit period, this signals time for highbite and is used by some businesses (such as taverns) as their opening time.
Deeping Braze: Blown when the sun is low or the daylight is noticeably fading, but before dusk, this signals "closing as soon as we can get customers out the doors" time for most shops, and it warns folk that the city gates will be closing soon (at dusk).
The Belltower isn't used for daily timekeeping, but it signals the approach of ships (its most commonly heard ring: a "tat-tat" double bell), alarms, musterings, emergency gate-closings, parades, summonings to the Palace for special events, and the services of the "approved" temples and shrines of the city: Helm, Lathander, Sêlune, Torm, Tymora, Tyr, and Waukeen. Only Tyr has a (public) temple (the underground faith of Mask has a hidden one, located under the busy Haerandra's House of Seeds, Dyes, and Physics shop, with "physics" meaning medicines). All other approved faiths have shrines (converted houses). Unapproved faiths are worshiped in private homes or outside the city.
2. This broth simmers from the evening before, when it is begun by adding the gravy from the previous night's roast, plus any leftover food scraps, to water into which herbs, spices, and chopped root vegetables are stirred. Some prefer to dip buns in the broth and eat them, too.
3. Uth sauces are strongly flavored concoctions of herbs, spices, diced and cooked seaweed, "fishsimmer" (boiled-to-sludge scales and leavings), and Great Dale wildflowers. Every food shop, and many householders, make their own, and there's much rivalry, sampling, and experimentation. The notorious Volo echoed a common visitors' belief thus: "The sauces of Uthmere make weary dining on boiled fish, disgusting eel, or overly bland mystery-meat and heavy local cheese more than bearable. Sometimes, the sauce alone makes a meal memorable."
Uth sauces are sold in small glass bottles (both in shops and by some householders), typically for 2 to 5 sp, and they should be applied sparingly. Their strength makes them acquired tastes, but they can help cover the taste of food that's starting to go bad.
4. This main meal is roast meat whenever possible, or Great Dale fowl (grouse, pheasant, Dalestream ducks, geese, and the like). Failing (or for large families or in slim-purse households, augmenting) that, Uth-folk fall back on locally caught fish. The damp means things don't keep long, but Uth households have dirtbins in which Great Dale vegetables such as "brownfists" (potatoes), "dandaggers" (parsnips), "redeyes" (radishes) and "tharlar" (onions) are buried, and stone "keepsafe" domes and platters slow mold-growth and keep cheeses away from the rats.
5. The oils used are "tainted oils" (usually olive and other vegetable-boil in origin) emptied out of the kegs in which some trade goods are packed. They're typically sold in recycled flasks by the shops decanting said goods, and each flask goes for a few coppers. Poor folk, or those for whom much effort is entailed in getting a bathful of water, often wrap themselves in thick robes and old (usually leaky) boots used only for this purpose, and go down to the river (except in the coldest winter weather) to wash off the oil before they come back to bathe -- or to complete their bath in, if coins are very scarce. (River sand makes a good cleansing scrub, but leaves its own old wet rot scent behind.)
Bathing of hair occurs in water scented with crushed mint or purchased perfumes, in a "taerath." In a lodging house or inn this may be shared and in a common area (usually one for each gender), and in the more expensive inns portable wooden, copper-lined taeraths are brought to rooms upon request.
In most households, however, a bathing taerath is the same large hollowed-out-of-the-stone-floor basin used for washing clothes, cleaning babies, filleting fish, and bleeding fresh-slaughtered meat. It has a drain-hole, is of smoothed stone, and is generally very cold. Soap flakes and stiff brushes are used, with large wrap-the-body towels afterward. It's considered the height of luxury in Uthmere to have warm bathing water, a warmed taerath, warmed towels, and assistance in washing hair and the body. (Visitors with long hair can expect to pay 1 gp per assistant or so, per wash.)
Clothes are washed about once a tenday, because drying is so hard (except in summer, when wet clothes are often "plastered" to roofs in the sun). The poor often wash their clothes by walking up the Dalestream a good way out of the city, perhaps with soap flakes, wading in fully clad to get wet, washing, and then wading in again to rinse, wearing the clothes dry.
Ale goes for 4 cp, hloar (the most popular drink in any establishment known for serving good or well-fortified hloar) for about 5 cp, various wines for 1-8 sp, zzar for 1 gp, and firewine (the watered-down version, of course; see page 137 of Unapproachable East) for 7 gp.
7. Priests' lessons usually consist of basic counting and vocabulary, matters of faith, and a few moral lessons of life. Apprentices are privately arranged between families and crafters or shopkeepers (who are entirely free to pick and dismiss children, as they see fit). Uthmere lacks formal guilds and the Lord firmly intends to keep things that way, setting rules and trade standards himself. The wealthiest Uth families who desire something better for their heirs (such as literacy, including legible handwriting) usually find and hire outland tutors elsewhere, and bring them to dwell in the hightower households and provide daily instruction.
Our next column will begin to explore the sights of Uthmere.
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