Sunday 11 November 2018

Kambyra Town: Beyond the Docks

I was met at the docks by Lord Veviot’s equerry. He may have discerned, by the curl of my lip, that I was unimpressed by what I beheld, for he whisked me away to my waiting coach, oozing sweat and apologies in equal measure. I instructed him to lower the blinds as we made our way through the port district, for I had no wish to see any more of that place. Nor did I wish the folk of the ports to see aught of me.
            An excerpt from the Earl of Zastenuto’s “The Empire Abroad: An Exile’s Travels Throughout The Colonies”

If there is a true centre to Kambyra Town, it is the port district. There – if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty and can endure the company of the disreputable and the dangerous – you can obtain most anything: rare items, drugs and poisons, unusual pleasures, secrets and favours. Or so I have heard.
            Calvid Rhoak, the Wandering Scrimshander

Although Kambyra Town is somewhat decentralised, lacking an easily identifiable hub, the port district is the oldest and busiest part of the town. The streets are narrow and poorly maintained, but throng with folk from every corner of the Empire and those lands which do commerce with it. Here and there one might espy haughty N’tilian dervishes glaring from beneath their strange, peaked hats, swirling their swords with an idle, miraculous dexterity. Or one may see a Half-Giant from Kanderundle, surging through the crowds like an Illustari cutter, or sailors from many nations. Kambyra trades with the world – admittedly on a small scale compared to the great ports – and the port district is the town’s front doorstep.

Most of the buildings are commercial: larger constructions of volcanic basalt and slate roofs signify the presence of great traders or powerful moneylenders, whilst the slapdash buildings of leaning timber and reed thatch denote inns, taverns and less successful merchants. Finally, there are the canvas shelters that are home to the poorest traders and street hawkers. Here and there are precarious-seeming tenements wherein dwell the workers of the port: dockers, fisherfolk, labourers, servants and prostitutes.

The port district occupies a narrow but tight-packed sliver of land that describes – with a certain amount of poetic license – a squashed and elongated figure-eight. It is almost, but not quite, cut in two by the rocky spine of the Claw. It is backed by the broad arc of the Jovost III Plaza, a wide cobbled space that is a more effective partition than any wall: any port folk seeking to leave their ‘proper place’ must cross the plaza, beneath the suspicious gaze of the Fourfooted and the scornful gaze of Kambyra’s powerful as they idle beneath the leafy shade of the trees of the Empire Garden (a remarkable space wherein trees and plants from every province of the Empire are grown with loving care. Only those with gentle status or their guests may enter).

The Port District has two distinct areas, each drawing its character from the harbour it serves: that which abuts on Noriklo is slightly more orderly, a little more urbane and a great deal more cosmopolitan: Noriklo is Kambyra’s major point of entry, and many travellers pass through.

That part of the Port District that serves Sudiklo is in some ways less appealing, due to the fact that it serves local fishing fleets and those small-fry trading vessels that cannot afford the berthing fees of Noriklo. The accommodation is worse, the rule of law weaker. On the other hand, Sudiklo is an admirable point of entry for those of a more nefarious nature, and this is reflected in the thriving black market in drugs, forgeries and weapons.

At the very southern end of Sudiklo is a small enclave that is, for the most part, segregated from the rest of the port and left largely alone by Sudiklo’s raucous inhabitants. Here there are a few quiet streets, lined with hedges and spindly trees, behind which sit small houses, well-constructed of wood and tiles, with windows of glass (hugely rare in the Port District, except in the larger inns and trading-houses). These streets are regularly patrolled by unusual guards: short men and women clad in loose-fitting purple robes wielding long, curved swords.  These unusual individuals are members of the Djinn Guard – those sworn to defend the High Merchants of Velkhiranu (a mighty archipelago of free cities and oligarchies far to the east). There are several High Merchants present at any given time, Velkhiranu having been granted a lease-in-perpetuity over the southern end of Sudiklo after defeating the Empire – three times – in war. The colonial administration tries to ignore the Velkhiranu presence as much as it can plausibly do so. It is impossible, in any case, to directly threaten the High Merchants, as they are protected by treaty. It is equally impossible to place spies in the Velkhiranu enclave (a few unfortunate incidents were required to demonstrate this to the satisfaction of the obdurate colonial bureaucracy).

The High Merchants keep to themselves, however: they trade with Kambyra just enough to maintain an appearance of commercial activity. Their true purpose on the island is unknown, and for now, unknowable.

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