Politics and Power of Thesk
Thesk is more accurately described as a league of allied cities than as a single, unified realm. Founded more than 400 years ago by Impilturan merchants, the land retains its commercial character to this day. The realm is a true oligarchy: Councils of merchants govern each of its towns and cities, and the country as a whole is governed by the Council of Thesk, composed of the speakers, lords, or chairpersons of each of the civic councils. Appointment to a city's merchant council requires wealth, station, and success. However, the folk of Thesk place little stock in old bloodlines or musty titles - anyone with ambition, drive, and a little luck can aspire to the ruling elite.
Thesk's cities are associated only loosely, and no central government binds them under a common law or authority. Each is free to do as it sees fit and is expected to look after its own defense, law, and prosperity. The oligarchs of one town usually extradite wanted criminals to their neighbors, but not always, especially if the person in question is a pillar of their own community. From time to time, mercantile rivalries between cities break out into open fighting, but the folk of Thesk have no stomach for long and ruinous wars. Mercenaries contest the issue until one side or the other holds a clear advantage, and then the losing side knuckles under and makes peace.
History of Thesk
Once an empty land settled by colonists from old Impiltur, Thesk remains thinly populated in many spots. Although the cities of Thesk have been independent of Impiltur for more than two centuries, they have yet to forge a true nation under one government.
|Year of Black Fist
|Homesteaders from Impiltur settle the eastern shores of the Easting Reach and push inland south of the Forest of Lethyr.
|Year of Ruins Reborn
|Year of Winding Road
|Windyn Balindre, an Impilturan merchant, pioneers the route of the Golden Way to Kara-Tur.
|Year of Great Riches
|Balindre returns from Kara-Tur laden with silks and spices. He organizes the Royal Company of Shou-Lung, obtaining a charter from Lyrabar's ruler.
|Year of Enchanted Trail
|Royal Company founds a series of outposts along the route that will become the Golden Way.
|Year of Fearless Peasant
|Windyn Balindre moves his company's operations from Lyrabar to the new settlement of Telflamm and claims the title Merchant Prince.
|Year of Spreading Spring
|Great Glacier retreats from the lands of Damara, Vaasa, and upper Narfell; many folk from Impiltur and Thesk migrate north to the newly uncovered lands.
|Year of Seer's Fires
|Thay captures Nethjet and Nethentir, extending the tharch of Lapendrar.
|Year of Bloody Fields
|Thay marches on Phent, but the combined forces of Impiltur and the Theskian cities defeat the Red Wizards' army.
|Year of Majesty
|Princess Delile Balindre renounces her loyalty to the throne of Impiltur and declares Telflamm an independent city-state.
|Year of Fist
|Red Wizards obtain a concession in Telflamm. This grows into the largest of the Thayan enclaves, as it is a distribution center for Thayan goods through out much of northern Faerûn.
|Year of Turret
|Tuigan horde, led by Yamun Khahan, invades Faerûn by way of Thay. Having been defeated in Rashemen the previous year, Khahan turns his attention west, along the Golden Way. People of many nations rally to the cry of the Council of Thesk. Their combined forces defeat the Tuigans at Phsant.
|Year of Maidens
|Tuigan bandits occupy Tammar. They terrorize merchants traveling the newly reopened Golden Way for months.
|Year of Helm
|Merchants' Council of Phsant takes action, sending to Tammar an army of one hundred of the best orc warriors the Zhentarim left behind. The Tuigan bandits cannot match the savagery of the orcs, and they are hunted down to the last man.
|Year of Wyvern
|Tammar is rebuilt and restored to its former status. The surviving residents brave enough to return hail the orcs as heroes and welcome them into the community.
|Year of Wave
|Sharkjaws, a flotilla of pirate vessels under the corsair lord Evgruth the Red, descend on Telflamm and make the city their homeport. Evgruth extorts massive bribes from the merchants' council to spare Telflamm's own trade.
|Year of Staff
|Shadowmasters drive out Evgruth and his pirate fleet with a bloody night of murders and arson.
|Year of Banner
|Red Wizards open an enclave in Phsant. The place is an instant hit with merchants up and down the Golden Way.
|Year of Wild Magic
|Shadowmasters effectively take control of the Merchants' Council of Telflamm. Few outside of the council suspect the extent of the guild's power.
Representatives from the merchant councils of each of the land's towns and cities gather once a year (or as events demand) to discuss issues of mutual import. How a city chooses its leaders or manages its affairs is of no interest to its neighbors. Councils of oligarchs (wealthy merchants or landowners) govern most towns in Thesk, and the head of Ihe council represents that town to the assembled oligarchs of the rest of the country. Milvarune is represented by its prince, as is Telflamm, but these nobles wield no more power than the leading merchants of Phsant or Nyth.
The assembled leaders are known as the Council of Thesk. The Council oversees no administration, commands no army, and has no responsibilities or authority other than the voluntary contributions of its member cities. Thesk does not even have a capital city for the Council to meet in, although Phsant is most often chosen for its central location. Telflamm was the defacto capital for many years, losing its prestigious place only as the other settlements of the Golden Way grew from small towns to bustling cities.
Within each town or city, a merchants' council oversees most civic functions. Ascension to the council is usually based on demonstrated success in business and personal wealth. The merchants' councils keep an eye on any potential members, inviting someone to join when she has reached an appropriate level of achievement. The standards vary from town to town, although the minimum is ownership or control of property and enterprises worth 10,000 (in a small town) to 100,000 gp (in a large city such as Telflamm).
Today, the Shadowmasters control or influence the merchants' councils of almost all Thesk's towns and cities. Through bribery, corruption, or intimidation, the thieves of Telflamm have brought many of the ruling merchants around to their point of view. The Shadowmasters oppose steps to unite Thesk, establish central authority, or introduce accountability over the merchants' councils, but other than that, they leave the oligarchs to run the country as they like.
With the vast amount of wealth flowing through Thesk, it's inevitable That the country would draw the envy of all sorts of foes. The most notable of these are described here.
The rest of the world is likely not aware that the powerful thieves' guild known as the Shadowmasters runs Telflamm, but it's an open secret among the residents of that city. What is interesting is that most people really don't seem to mind. The machine of corruption the thieves have set up actually does a better-than-average job of keeping the city running.
The Shadowmasters realize they need the acquiescence of the people to maintain their position. They are careful not to skim too much off the various operations they set up, for if they make the costs too onerous, they're sure to and up with a revolt on their hands. It's a lot better for profit margins to extort money from people who don't find it worthwhile to fight back.
Of course, the forces of good in the city see this reasoning as a slippery slope of complicity and corruption. They are quietly taking the good fight to the Shadowmasters, hoping to free the city from the thieves' unwholesome grip. Prince Balindre is secretly backing these opponents, at great risk to both himself and his family, because he resents having to dance to the Shadowmasters' tune. He wants his family's city restored to what he calls "its former greatness," and he's willing to do whatever he can to help that along - provided he doesn't get caught.
The Red Wizards of Thay
Over the centuries, the most consistent threat to Thesk has come from Thay. The Red Wizards have always coveted the nation's easy access to the rest of Faerûn and even Kara-Tur. For that reason, Thay attempted several invasions over the years and managed to capture Nethjet and Nethentir. The Thayans have not had much success in extending their control farther north or west, mostly because the wild and empty land between the Thesk Mountains and the Surmarsh is not worth fighting over. The Red Wizards could seize Tammar or Two Stars easily enough, but holding their conquest against the armies of Phsant, Telflamm, and Nyth - all of whom would march to reopen the Golden Way - would be a much more difficult task.
These days, Thay is on relatively friendly terms with Thesk. One of the first of the Red Wizards' trade enclaves was opened in Telflamm, and the relationship has been strong ever since. Average Theskians don't trust the Red Wizards, as their long history of aggression is too much to ignore, but in the meantime they are happy to take the Thayans' money.