Uthmere (Part Four)
By Ed Greenwood
First Things to See
The Uth docks bustle by day, working at night only when the small harbor is crowded or the onset of ice threatens to trap the last few outbound ships in the harbor for the winter.
The lordlain provide guards and lamplighters (who erect and tend lamps set high on poles) for night dockwork to guard against theft, vandalism, and just plain accidents. Anyone who has watched the frantic chaos of ropes being swung, dockworkers scurrying in unison to heft this sack or heave that crate, booms turning, heavy netted loads swinging, and wagons and wheeled cranes creaking along the crowded docks knows just how easily accidents can happen.
As docking space is scarce along the wharves, and at least one vessel is usually tied up along the breakwater or anchored in the harbor waiting for space to load or unload, the dockers of Uthmere are strong, fast people who work together superbly. Watching them work can be fascinating entertainment, and even old salts and children find it so. An admiring crowd often forms when the harbor gets really busy.
Thanks to the accurately slung stones and hurled clubs of Uthmaar children, seabirds are surprisingly few in Uthmere, but a few ride the winds or rest on the guano-drenched seaward rocks of the breakwater. They gather to squawk only when fisherfolk unload catches of fish or put the fish on carts under bird-ward nets for sale in the daily fishmarket in Storaungh Square.
Storaungh Square is the open space just south of the Hall of Brilliant Justice. Storaungh was a long-ago lord of Uthmere, a jovial muscled giant of a man whose statue in this square (of Storaungh standing up waving a sword, in the saddle of a rearing stallion) is beloved of children, who by day climb it almost ceaselessly. Young lovers tryst atop it in response to the dares of their friends, and someone is always tying a ribbon or painting something foolish on various parts of the stallion. Of course, a legend of treasure in a crypt somewhere under the statue has spread, and rumors say one can reach it by a hidden passage. In short, the statue serves as an important city landmark.
A busy daily farm produce market is held in Southgate Square, whereas Dalegate Square hosts a market for livestock (and coaches, wagons, and carts). Belltower Square is given over daily to the largest, busiest, Allmarket, where all manner of small waresare sold, including almost everything brought from afar. Within this particular market, vendors turn whole beasts on spits and sell their sizzling meat on wooden skewers.
The Belltower is so tall that it is visible almost everywhere out-of-doors in Uthmere, and so it serves as a directional landmark for everyone and a herald of both sunrise and sunset (as the light on its relevant side changes before conditions down at street level). It looks like an impossibly stretched, slender castle keep, flaring at the top like a flower to enclose an arch-windowed bell-chamber (containing six bells of varying sizes and tones), that is topped with crenellated battlements. Its roof holds a huge ready-laid beacon-fire whose rare and memorable lightings usually signal approaching hordes or armies.
Next to the tall central Belltower, the Hall of Brilliant Justice is the most striking structure in Uthmere (because the more ornate inn, The Captain's Loft, is smaller and better hidden -- and the larger, grander Lord's Palace is completely hidden away behind its own high walls). The Hall of Brilliant Justice has stern, spartan high stone fortress walls pierced by ornate, arched openwork "black steel" (enspelled and pitch-coated against rust) gates, fashioned of thick bars, at the midpoints of the northern and southern walls. A domed temple stands at the center of the walled holy compound, with pairs of tall entry double doors facing each gate.
Less imposing, but almost as large, is the other building inside the Hall's fortresslike walls. Built against the east end of the "holy walls" is the large, three-story "thoulass" where Tyrran priests live, dine, and are entombed (in a crypt beneath). The thoulass contains kitchens, a rooftop garden, armories, and a school where postulants are trained in Tyrran doctrine and in various legal codes. Among other things, these postulants receive practice arguing before mock courts and they interview sentenced criminals to learn how they justice treated them (and the prisoners' thoughts and beliefs regarding that treatment). Appointments must be made for entry to the thoulass and meetings with priests; only the temple proper is open to the public (a three-descending-note-then-one-higher sequence rung at the Belltower signals a Tyrran service).
1. Greed is even stronger than desperation among Easting Reach shippers, and almost every year at least one ship gets frozen into the harbor. Sometimes crews are dismissed, sometimes they spend the winter in their chilly vessel (getting up to mischief in taverns and festhalls ashore), and sometimes the ice cracks open the ship and crewmembers make hasty efforts to unload it -- or chop it out of the ice and slide it ashore for salvage or repair -- before the spring thaw sends it to the bottom of the harbor.
2. The dockers are, of course, the second group of Uth workers the Shadowmasters have tried to infiltrate (tavern- and festhall-owners being the first). Thus far they're making slow progress, because Lord Uthlain keeps a close watch over the dockers (employing a succession of visiting adventurer wizards to magically pry into their minds and night-time whereabouts and activities). Only the Cudgels are watched more closely.
3. From tools and trinkets to stools and cloaks, curios, lanterns, lamp oil, and "ready food" such as small hand bags of figs and prunes, roasted nuts, and large rings of onions strung together in mesh bags, for wearing home about the buyer's neck.
4. The temple interior is high, echoing, and vaulted. A raised central altar dominates it, and over it floats magically suspended-on-nothing gleaming golden scales. (Thieves say they're not gold, but something far more deadly: All non-lawful-good persons who touch them are seared to the bone.) The altar is of black stone carved into the likeness of a gigantic upright warhammer, head uppermost.
A large circular sanctum of white marble, reached by a long flight of broad, shallow concentric steps of the same material, surrounds the altar, and it can accommodate sixty or more folk seated in comfort (with aisles and a space around the altar left clear for priests to pray and move about in rituals). Hundreds can be accommodated in the sanctuary (the rest of the chamber, around the steps), but the sixty chairs and the crowds are seen only during trials of great interest.
Any citizen "of Uthmere born" has the right to "appeal to Tyr" and be tried in public, but in practice most minor justice is meted out "on the spot" by Cudgels, with more serious offenses being brought before a lordlain to hear in one of the wall-towers. Really serious matters are usually dealt with via a "friendly little chat with the Lord" behind closed doors at the Palace, so only show trials take place in the Hall of Brilliant Justice. Nevertheless, the fiction is maintained that the Lord allows the priests of Tyr to enact justice in Uthmere, in the interests of full fairness. Most Uth-folk grumble that the Lord does what he pleases to keep things orderly, and hides behind the church of Tyr so they'll "quite neatly" take all blame and hatred for his sentencings.
However, the willingness of the Hall gatekeepers to unhesitatingly dispense shrewd legal opinions to all passersby has demonstrably tempered the behavior of the Cudgels over the years, making them one of the fairest, most careful-in-investigations police forces in all Faerūn.
Some folk travel to Uthmere purely for this free legal advice. (Be warned: If information beyond "principles of fair justice" or Uth legal details is wanted -- such as advice touching on the laws of other places -- an appointment must be made, and an offering to the temple is expected.)
In the next Realmslore column, we'll continue our look at Uthmere's notable sights -- including a shop no treasure-seeker can resist.
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