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Of Leaden Coins and Taxes

Trade in Three Stones - in the City Within at least - is harshly taxed by the priests of the Powers. The walls, the Guard, the Watch, even the coinage serves this purpose. Only lead coins cast by the priests, worthless elsewhere in the Enclave, are permitted within the walls; traders and other travelers must change coins at the gatehouse. The Watch, practiced in their search for those who would break the law, ensure that the Temple receives a tenth value.

[ Posted by Reason on February 7, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

Old, Bad Blood

Old, bad blood and ill will lies between the Black Tower and the Library of the City Within. It is a long story, almost as long as the history of Three Stones, entangled with the rise of the Temple of Powers, the dwindling fortunes of noble patrons, and the nature of the Vessel of Burning Truth.

In the time of The Denier and the great Ammander explorers, only the Black Tower and the Stones broke the expanse of the dry grasslands beneath Krineth's Hills. After The Denier opened the Tower with secrets wrested from the stonefolk, the Library was one of the first structures to be built by The Denier's new order of sages. The Library grew large even before work commenced on the great Three Stones walls, the stone quarried from the closest of Krineth's Hills.

In time, and as Three Stones became populous, an understanding of the Vessel of Burning Truth came to Ammander folk. With understanding came priests and a temple. The Vessel as Seeker of Truths was a suitable patron for sages and scribes; the Library stood between the Temple of Powers and Black Tower in those days, all three supported and approved by Ammander Lords of Three Stones. The city may have been founded as a community of sages and their servants, but as common folk came to work and live, so too came nobles and the old, traditional ways.

As priests in Three Stones have taught since the Vanishing, the Vessel of Burning Truths travels his own path: a Road that takes him from Seeker to Denier to Quester to Ascendant. With the passing of generations, priests of the Temple of Powers placed ever more emphasis on the Vessel Ascendant - on Truth attained, Truth as mastery, and Truth as power. This was a priesthood for nobles and spearmen, but priests and scribes of the Library retained an older understanding of Burning Truth. Ornate, costly and impressive statues of the Vessel Ascendant stand within the Temple of Powers and noble residences of the City Within, but the Three Stones Library is adorned by modest engravings and paintings of the Seeker of Burning Truth.

When rulership of Three Stones passed from noble families to the Temple of Powers, the Black Tower sages stood in opposition to priests of the Vessel Ascendent and their laws, expecting the Library to stand with them. The Library did not, and seasons of tumult, wizardry and spears followed.

Sages, scribes and priests are well aware of the past events that shaped the present day city of Three Stones. Aloof, secretive Black Tower sages send their servants on errands to the great stone Library, but would never set foot inside the structure themselves. For their part, scribes and priests of the Library provide services and go about their lives as though the Black Tower, its sages and collections, did not exist.

[ Posted by Reason on May 6, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

Visitors on Paved Streets

Aye, I've traded good Port rope in this market afore; in Gold Vale besides, and that's a way to travel from the salt air for an old seafarer. Your City Within, it has a feel to it, it does - a man's not to know what he might see around the next corner. Aye, and I have a tale for you from three seasons past, last I and my mules gave up good coin for these lead bits from your Temple. Good for weight on a line and precious little else, I say; even Visitors know the worth of gold and silver. But lead? Let the priests keep it all if they like it so much, and that's the last I'll say on that.

Aye, the tale, the tale. I'll be expecting good ale on your lead this night! It was here, right here in the Grand Market, in front of a hundred folk - Guard spears too, for all the good they did. Just as well, like as not; Watch blades would have stepped up with their armor and their pride and then who's to say what would have happened? The Visitor wasn't a man, but big he was and man-shaped at least, red and steaming like fresh offal in the snow, the cut of his face like a sail trying to catch the wind. I wouldn't have bothered any dockside folk with that look to them; aye, and I'll wager those Guard spears sized him up and thought that and more. All too soon and that was that, a Visitor striding and gone just as he came, looking neither left nor right.

Talmur retainers took the rest of my rope for too little coin that day, and I set to thinking. Visitor more than Trespasser, I thought, and his was the look of Lost and scared - aye, and too proud to show it. A young one he was, for all his bulk, from some place deep in the Farthest City ... shame on us folk for letting him go by without a word offered in help. Afore I passed the Gatehouse for the Trade Road the next day, I left coin for the Beautiful Stranger.

[ Posted by Reason on May 18, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

Fetching Water for the Talmur Manse

Put that down Nethen, you'll be falling all over the casks we've filled. Put it down! Come, help me with the drawing - look, Merie is managing a chain and pitcher all by herself; you can certainly do just as well. The casks must all be filled and taken back afore last light, or it'll be the Lady's spearmen and lamp-carriers who'll be coming to find us. Come now!

Lelei, I don't know how you cope; they are such a handful! And the housemaster too busy eyeing Verden folk to do his part - again. He'd be charming and preening at the next well but for it getting back to the Lady. Standing far above his place, I say, wearing a painted scabbard like he was a poor Lord's son. Serve him right and well it would to be dragged away by Watch blades for that, wearing the Lady's sash or not.

Housemaster Tevor, now he wasn't afraid to get his hands wet and sash dirtied. A fine old man he was, may the Traveler guide his steps; he'd carry my share of the Lady's casks when I was Merie's age. Stood up to the Lady too, so I hear, and there's a thing! This one with the moon-face for Verden girls wouldn't say no to a goat lest he had a few of the Lady's spearmen behind him. Full of himself like a water cask, and just as empty with a little upset.

[ Posted by Reason on May 20, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

The Secrecy of Sages

There was a time, not so very many years ago, when sages of the Black Tower walked openly about the paved streets of the City Within. They orated in the Court of Three Stones, debated in Lord Verden's private park, and declaimed from the raised platform at the center of the Great Way, where wealthy merchants now sell their wares. It was not unusual in those seasons to see robed sages arguing points of philosophy with priests of the Seeking Vessel on the grand Library steps, or for noble gatherings to be enlightened by a reading of the latest treatise from the white-bearded thinkers of the Black Tower.

Tales are still told of commonfolk and traders who crossed the Black Tower in those seasons gone by; The Refutation of Othel's Greed is a favorite with troubadors throughout the Enclave, and a statue in the manse of Lord Verden recalls the supposed fate of ten rude Talmur retainers. The subtle wizardry of Ammander sages is known, respected and feared, whether or not those within the Black Tower make use of their talents.

A generation ago, in the wake of the terrible Year of Winter and the victory of the Emerald Company over Trespassers from the Farthest, Guard spears patrolling the Great Way at first light found the body of The Awl. An old, bearded sage of character and tradition, The Awl had been favored by priests and nobles alike. His words were respected and his presence in demand; as for all the Black Tower sages, however, little had been seen of him while Farthest Winter failed to give way to warmer seasons. Shortly thereafter, while the rivers still ran high with meltwater, The Locked Heart left the Black Tower for Port, and The Furrow for Mirael. Other, lesser sages departed or vanished before the following winter; those who remained no longer walked the streets of Three Stones, nor came forth to orate on philosophy and the nature of Creation.

So it has been from then until the present day; scribes and servants carry forth treatises, declaim before nobles and search the gloomy shelves of the Library, but the old whitebeards of the Black Tower remain within - as do their secrets.

[ Posted by Reason on May 22, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

Lead From the Hills and Beneath the City

In simpler times, it was an easy matter to find and smelt lead from ore-bearing rock in Krineth's Hills, or even the bedrock beneath the fields and rolling grasslands surrounding Three Stones. Lead is of little use, however, and lead ore even less - except to priests of the Vessel and thieves of the City Without.

The lead coins required by city law are fashioned by priests of the Vessel Ascendant and their magisters, a way of ensuring taxation and great influence over the wealth of nobles, traders and merchants. Thieves and other, more shadowy groups of the City Without cast copies of the soft lead coins for their own profit, or simply to disrupt the efforts of the Temple of Powers. The temptation has proven too much for other folk, both wealthy and poor, from time to time as well. If the boat is rocked too much, however, priests and magisters recast coins in new shapes and denominations and declare old coin to be nothing more than lead weights - merchants, nobles and commonfolk may cry out and protest, but to no avail. In past seasons, the Temple has even sent Watch blades forth into the City Without to strike down those who debase the coinage that is the basis of so much of their power.

Smelting lead is, needless to say, forbidden by city law. Smelting lead in volume is not an activity easily hidden, and neither does it benefit the thieves of Three Stones, who prefer to pass smaller quantities of illicit coin. This means that major influxes of new coin from sources other than the Temple are rare - fortunately for the livelihoods of commonfolk and the safety of those dwelling in the City Without.

[ Posted by Reason on May 23, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

The Blood of Commonfolk on Winter Snow

The snow falls thick about Three Stones in the depths of winter, but ice rain and deep drifts are no impediment to the cruel Neth of Krineth's Hills. As leaves fall and nights become chill, the Neth uncurl from their summer torpor like rot finally come to bundled meat. Braver merchants who must use the Trade Road at the year end hire spearmen and travel light. Commonfolk and the poor of the City Without huddle by their fires and hope that the twisted, hateful creatures will not raid this winter.

Yet even in quiet years, the taint from the hills makes itself known; the sick scent of Neth in the fields and about outlying buildings; grey, loathsome figures glimpsed in the distance at dawn; livestock crippled; poorest folk vanished in the night. City Guard patrol beyond the walls after first snow, for what little good it does, but otherwise the folk of the City Without are left to fend for themselves. Only when Neth come in force from the Hills, twisted Ur Maka looming amongst ugly, wet-hide masses, the sound of their malicious anticipation a filth on the ears, will the Guard sally forth to defend Three Stones.

Twice in the last generation Neth have flailed at the City Without, like a wash of sickness and vermin, smoldering with a pent-up hunger of years to hurt and despoil, hatefully crippling cityfolk who would defend themselves. Five winters ago, black-armored Watch and priests of the Vessel stood atop the walls of Three Stones amidst frozen rain. Beneath, Guard spears struggled from the gates as commonfolk blood colored the deep snow and the scent of Neth and butchery was fit to turn any stomach. Watch blades had taken twenty lives in the City Without just a season before, but Watch have never left the City Within to put down Neth. For this and many other reasons, the Watch are hated by those commonfolk who dwell beyond the walls.

[ Posted by Reason on May 24, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

Harsh Justice

The magisters of the City Within, appointed by Hadren, high priest of the Vessel Ascendant, hold court in the pillared Magistry at the inner end of the Great Way. The Magistry is one of the oldest structures in Three Stones, built of white stone from Port and decorated by worn, ornate carvings of commonfolk life in the old Ammand lands.

The wheels of justice move rapidly in Three Stones; folk of the City Within are rarely brought before magisters, while folk of the City Without experience City Law on the edge of Watch blades - and even that infrequently. Magisters are at leisure to scrutinize each unfortunate brought before them before rendering their verdict. The word of the magisters is final; while they will listen to any who wish to speak, Guard, Watch and priests of the Vessel have far greater weight than any other voice.

Both wealth and the liberty of many seasons are forfeit for those found guilty by the magisters of Three Stones. The prison of the City Within is a low, solid building of deep cellars and vaults crouching behind the Magistry. It lies half-empty, its occupants mostly thieves caught on the Great Way, merchants and commonfolk who offended the Council of Traders or spoke out against the Temple, and Visitors taken by Watch. To the Watch, all Visitors are Trespassers, arriving in Three Stones without paying the Gatehouse toll - thus before the magisters they go.

The folk of the City Without keep a different form of justice amongst themselves; the balance of power between thieves, traders, other factions - and their hired spears - and the ever-present threat of the Watch leads to quick, harsh punishment for those who rock the boat or step too far out of line.

[ Posted by Reason on June 6, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

Thief's Favor

Well and well - for that and the coin for another ale, I'll tell you the tale I heard only this very day, fresh as blood on the Great Way. Friends are those who keep a thirst as as far from here as Watch blades, mark me ... and flame and dark, you're such a friend - this coin and I will remember you!

Happens there's a commoner from the farmfolk with a Thief's Favor lately come to his purse, and him not knowing the truth of it. A pretty thief was clumsy on the Great Way these past days, and clumsy where Watch blades could see, mark my words. The Burning Truth in their hearts makes them quick to anger, I say, to be leaning their blades into a tripped woman who made them run in armor. By the dark below, there'll be a chilled bed somewhere these past nights! Blood! You and I know there'll be worse and worse from Watch blades, just give them a season yet.

There's no crowd like the folk drawn to blood on paving stones, and there's a truth for you. You don't want to look behind lest you see Visitors with blood writ upon their faces, or something worse than a woman spilling herself onto stone. Away went the Watch, leaving blood and thief, and in with Guard spears and empty bluster - goats with coins to be paying poor folk to drag away the thief and bleat at traders to clean the Great Way.

You can guess the rest - how farmfolk on the Great Way after market found themselves taking away the dead for coin, and what should fall from the thief's sleeve but the sparkling Favor gem. Flame and dark! Never let it be said that these farmfolk and commoners are all moonfaced; slip away the gem quick as you like, they did, and right under the goat's noses. Not that I'd be taking a Thief's Favor, even if it did drop from the very sky into my open purse; who's to say what it marks and what I might find myself owed or owing?

[ Posted by Reason on December 29, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

Lost Lord Parnur

Here and here is the reason I don't begrudge the Watch their time atop the city walls on the blackest of nights. Tis those times when the moon is far and small behind thick cloud from the Farthest Sky, and honest folk are abed, when Lord Parnur lights his lamp to find his way amidst the stones of the Gravefields.

Parnur was an old noble family, blood from the old Ammand and across the Unending Sea by Magi tradeship, straight as a hung chain. Why, if you were fool enough to brave Neth in the hills, you'd see grand Parnur tombs beyond those of Verden, Dren and Talmur. But the Lord Parnur who puts fear into Watch hearts was never sent to the last family tomb, no, for all he was the last of his name. Those were the generations of cruel Neth come from Krineth's Hills, come down to spoil the tombs and slay priests. Yes and yes, and even Lords and Ladies graced the Gravefields in those generations, leaving grand tombs in the hills to filth and decay. Noble folk built white stone monuments beside the markers of commonfolk like us, and the Gravefields swelled.

The Traveler holds out the same hand to all of us at the end of our Road, be we Lords, thieves or honest folk, mark my words - but not to the last Lord Parnur. He searches the Farthest Graves for the mausoleum of his wife, searches still and Lost so utterly that he wanders even from the Road of his life - ever older but never passing from the world. Lord Parnur is spurned even by the Beautiful Stranger in his endless search, and who may cast the blame for that?

By all the Powers, that is the truth of it, and why folk look not to the Gravefields on the darkest nights.

[ Posted by Reason on January 2, 2006 | Permanent Link ]

Tall Markers on Wide, Paved Streets

The streets of the City Within are wide and solidly paved in grey stone. At each crossing of ways stands a marker; a tall iron rod set into a square stone base, each topped by a different design. Here a comical merchant figure or iron beckoning hand, there ten wooden balls in a ring or a pennent in green and brown. These markers serve the same purpose as route markers on the Known Roads; they can be clearly seen over the heads of a crowd and help to keep cityfolk from the Unmarked Ways that lead to the Farthest City - or from what passes for unfriendly Watch blades in those closest parts of Creation not of the Enclave.

Scrolls from generations past, lost amidst many others in the Library of the City Within, tell that marker stones once bore representations of the Traveler, the King of All the Ammand and noble families of Three Stones. All of these engravings are now of the flame of Burning Truth, however, as befits markers maintained by lesser priests of the Temple of Powers.

[ Posted by Reason on January 7, 2006 | Permanent Link ]

Forbidden Gems

By the fires! That is a true gem, by the yellow and glint of it, not of Enclave soil, no. There are those who would ask sharp questions of commonfolk from the City Without upon seeing such in their possession, sharp questions and at the point of spear and blade, mark me. You hold worth without measure in your palm, and a struggle it is to turn the immeasurable into coin for the counting. How would Arith have found better from the Emerald, green from the old Ammand, than to shatter it to thirty slivers with one deft blow? No gold could match the first thirty of the Company she drew about her, thirty green-gemmed broaches still kept with a memory of greatness in the heart.

It has a look to it, a Burning, as do you, who came to our Library and paid the red gate toll from coin best used for hunger. You Seek, or I would give you the words of the wisest of sages, hidden in their Black Tower; to put fresh soil atop the gem in a far place and forget of it, lest it bring greater misery that you might imagine. But let me tell a tale instead, and leave you to Truth and the choosing of roads.

There was a time, when the Council of Traders was young and the Lady Verden spoke with true noble blood, that there were three gemcutters who plied their trade on the Great Way - but their coin came from noble manses, and yet more from the weight their words bore on the Council. Just as now, not a gem was hefted from left hand to right without coins to the Council - and few gems these seasons with there but one aged gemcutter in all Three Stones ... under Council eyes, mark me, and I need not say more to one from the City Without. Radelan has three long generations of what noble folk call wisdom; the holding of his own, and the path of hired spear and blade from his eyes to yours were your true gem to come into the light of day, by the Temple Fires!

In that past generation, Radelan's predecessors - the whole city, by the words of The Raft of the Black Tower - were set upon their heads by a Reddened Visitor. He who brought a bottomless sack of true gems, yellow and perfect from the Farthest Market, just as that which you hold in your hand. Fifty he traded hither and thither for the works of commonfolk, come through the red gate to the Grand Market and gifted with untold wealth. Gifted too with the wrath of gemcutters and the Council of Traders, and soon enough by Guard spears at the calling of nobles. The Reddened Visitor was chased from the City Within to the Farthest, so The Raft tells, or locked away to waste to bones - though this was long before Watch and Temple turned bitter to Visitors and dared the worst from the Beautiful Stranger.

So it was that true gems from the Reddened Visitor came by trade and left at the points of spears; some to nobles, some lost, some to those of the City Without - to those who take with greatest skill and forcefulness. Thief's Favors, they are, to mark those tasks and debts that must be marked most deeply - what better use for wealth beyond measure, wealth beyond coin, wealth forbidden by the Council of Traders?

[ Posted by Reason on January 12, 2006 | Permanent Link ]

False Coin From the Farthest City

False lead this is, hidden amidst good Temple coin - see here the way it slides too much or too little into the coinbox, see here the weight of it and the shape of it. No, this is no coin from the priests of the Vessel ... but it hasn't the look of thieves to it, mind. That, now, that is something in the heart for merchant folk, to know the touch of thievery from afar - but who is to say whether the Farthest City touches on pouches and coffers just as on roads and cityfolk.

No now, another mayhaps, but you I know well; we have traded for seasons, and seasons before I have packed casks for Ganneth who counted the same coin to Talmur ends. The Watch will hear nothing of it - but take the wisdom of trading folk to heart and send this lead back to the Farthest whence it came.

[ Posted by Reason on January 21, 2006 | Permanent Link ]