Tasker is a myth among explorers. According to the tales, this brilliant gnome was driven from House Sivis when he sought to expose secrets that had been sealed by his house. Some say he was killed at this time. But others claim that he wanders the world, passing his knowledge to those who need it. This dispatch could be found under a rock where the party chooses to make camp. It could be found tied to the leg of a bird. Is it sheer coincidence that the party acquires this knowledge? Or is Tasker pointing them toward their destiny?
When the PCs acquire the parchment, read the following:
This weathered parchment bears the arcane mark of the winged eye.
If a PC can make a successful DC 15 Knowledge (nobility and royalty), Knowledge (local), or Knowledge (arcana) check, read the following. This is a continuation of the text found in the second part of Tasker's missive.
Those versed in the lore of the dragonmarked houses recognize this symbol as the sigil of Tasker, excoriate of House Sivis.
In my previous missives, I have discussed the challenges you will face in your journey to Taer Valaestas. Now let us speak of what you can find when you pass through the bronzewood gates and into the seat of the Darkwood Crown.
The streets of Taer Valaestas are wide, and the buildings within the walls are spaced far apart. If you are used to the urban chaos of Sharn, you may find the open space disturbing; the space within the walls could easily support ten times its current population if it was fully built out. But the Tairnadal prize mobility. The streets are wide enough for warbands to move freely, and the narrowest alley is still broad enough to allow the comfortable passage of a horse and rider. After the space, you'll likely be struck by the greenery. Taer Valaestas was founded by a druid, who set his city at the heart of a manifest zone to Lamannia; it is this magic that sustains the great wall of thorns. It also encourages the growth of other plants, and the streets of Taer Valaestas are lined with grasses and wildflowers. These add color to the city and serve as provender for the Valenar horses -- the magic of the manifest zone restores them at a remarkable rate. Many of the buildings within the city have rooftop gardens; despite the relatively small space, the energies of Lamannia allow these urban farmers to produce a surprising yield over the course of a year. The scent of the flowers helps conceal the smell of horse manure, but this remains a constant threat for pedestrians; if you are wearing footwear of any quality, you would be wise to watch your step.
One of the first things you see is the relatively small number of elves on the streets of the city. The Tairnadal are nomads and warriors, with no love for sedate urban life. Valenar warriors found on the streets are typically on active police duty or else have come in pursuit of a specific goal: acquiring a new weapon, seeking aid for a sick horse, searching for religious guidance, or something similar. But a few elves are settled within the city -- those who support the soldiers instead of fighting on the front lines. These are primarily divided into three groups. The Keepers of the Past perform religious duties and tend to the spiritual needs of the people. While most Tairnadal children are raised on Aerenal, the Keepers also tend to the education of the young. The Siyal Marrain are elf druids; while some assist with the defense of the city, their primary duty is to care for the horses raised and quartered in this place, and to help match horse to rider. Finally, the most numerous of the settled elves are the zaelantar, Tairnadal artisans whose honored ancestors were crafters as opposed to soldiers. These elves work with teams of humans and Khoravar, producing weapons, armor, and other goods for the Host of Valenar. While some of the zaelantar are fledgling artisans who hope to prove their skills in the new land, others are among the finest smiths and laborers of the Valaes Tairn. The best of them are rarely interested in selling their services to outsiders . . . however, someone who earns the respect or favor of a Valenar smith could gain access to goods or services of far greater quality than the size of the city would suggest.
Elves of other cultures live and work in Taer Valaestas. Phiarlan entertainers, Aereni sailors, and traders from the Five Nations all work or wander in the marketplace. Such elves are generally treated with more respect than members of other races, but any Valenar soldier can still call them to account for themselves.
Whether priest, druid, artisan, or soldier, the Tairnadal lead ascetic, martial lives. As such, few of the Valenar maintain private residences. Soldiers are billeted in one of the garrisons spread around the city, but usually only return to eat, meditate, or spar. Keepers of the Past live in the temple known as the Cenotaph, which stands next to the Darkwood Palace. The Siyal Marrain camp among their herds in the Green Quarter, while the zaelantar live in the buildings where they do their work.
While half-elves have been in the region since the destruction of the line of Vol, most of the Khoravar of Taer Valaestas have migrated to the region since the Valenar claim. The storm sentries wouldn't allow me to enter the vast Lyrandar enclave, but from what I could pick up in conversation, I gather that the house has transferred much of the administration of the Windwright's Guild to Taer Valaestas, along with the top arcane researchers of Lyran's Gift. In addition, they have established a shipyard just outside the river. While I have often been accused of undue suspicion, it seems to me that this enclave is fully capable of serving as the headquarters of the house should the matriarch decide to abandon Stormhome. And I can't help but wonder if Lyran's Gift is working on cracking the secrets of elemental binding -- if they are relying on the Valenar to protect them as they seek to end their dependency on Zilargo.
While many of the Khoravar in the city work for the house, not all are associated with traditional house businesses. The Valenar have little interest in urban administration, and over the course of the last four decades House Lyrandar has assumed control over the municipal tasks of most major cities. Agents of Lyrandar oversee taxation and assistance, monitor matters of agriculture, and administer justice to the lower echelons. Viceroy Shyrrala d'Lyrandar was in attendance when I dined at the Darkwood Palace, seated alongside the High King himself; I know some Khoravar hope that Shyralla might one day sit on a throne. But while we've seen the ruler of Karrnath wed to an Aereni elf, I cannot believe that a Tairnadal king would so break with the traditions of his ancestors. Still, Shyralla is a capable administrator; she has done well for her people and maintained the trust of the Valenar.
House Lyrandar is a powerful force, and most Khoravar I spoke to have great respect for Shyralla and her sister Esravash. But not all of the half-elves work for the House of Storms. House Medani has increased its presence in recent years, and from what I hear Viceroy Jolan has become fast friends with the high king; my personal suspicion is that the viceroy wants to ensure that the Khoravar of Valenar don't end up being tools of Lyrandar ambition. Other half-elves have no ties to either of the houses, and they have simply traveled across Khorvaire to be part of the Khoravar community. Some seek to emulate the Valenar, while others see this as an opportunity for a true homeland for their people. Most are artisans working under zaelantar artisans, while a few have become farmers. What struck me during my time here was the strong sense of camaraderie between them. These people may have come from Thrane, Breland, Karrnath -- nations that might still just as well be at war. But most have left those prejudices behind, choosing to stand together. I saw a half-elf who had just arrived in the city receive invitations to three unity dinners within his first hour. The land may be ruled by the Valenar . . . but it does seem to be a home for their children.
Khoravar can be found throughout the city, but most live in or around the Lyrandar enclave in the eastern quarter. Their homes are typically a mix of densewood buildings in the Aereni style and the baked clay structures of the khunan humans. I saw a range of religious beliefs among them, including followers of the Blood of Vol, the traditional Sovereign Host, the Firstborn faith of House Lyrandar, and even those who sought to emulate Tairnadal ancestors, but much like my cousins in Trolanport, they seem to be willing to accept the divergent beliefs of their kin in the name of peace. As a Khoravar in the city of thorns, you will likely receive a warm welcome from others of your race; however, you may see some resentment in the eyes of the humans.
If a human of the Five Nations sought to trace his ancestors back to the Sarlona, he'd likely find a trail leading to the ancient kingdom of Rhiavhaar or Nulakhesh. The rituals performed in Sharn's Pavilion of the Sovereign Host were born in the Sarlonan nation of Pyrine. The humans of Valenar -- the people of Taer Valaestas -- come from different stock. Their ancestors came from Khunan in the southwest of Sarlona, fleeing fierce magewars and the coming of the Inspired. Where the people of Galifar have let go of their Sarlonan past, the khunan folk of Valenar hold fast to the traditions of their ancestors. The Cyrans forced the Common tongue upon them, but you can still hear Old Common spoken in the taverns of Taer Valaestas, and find makeshift shrines to unfamiliar deities scattered about. They are not as unified in their ways as the people of Aundair or Thrane; in wider Valenar, every village has its own unique traditions, and those who have come to Taer Valaestas have brought all of these customs together. But every khunan takes pride in the past of her family.
Khunans live in the farming communities that ring Taer Valaestas, and they labor in the orchards and rooftop gardens within the city walls. Most of the menial work in the city is performed by khunan laborers; someone has to clean the manure. While you might expect this to breed bitterness and resentment, many of the khunan people I spoke to seemed more optimistic than angry; what anger is there is usually directed at the people or the west, or more locally, the Khoravar immigrants who are sometimes seen as stealing opportunities that would otherwise fall into human hands.
Honestly, I was surprised by the overall acceptance of elven rule. The common sentiment was that taxes were no worse than they'd been in the past -- and that the elves generally left the khunans alone, allowing them to pursue their old customs. More than that, I saw a combination of pride and deep-rooted resentment of the "thrones" -- a term drawn from "Throneholder," applying to the people of the Five Nations. Despite being farmers and laborers, many of the khunans I spoke to seemed to feel that they had some stake in Valenar -- and that they were partially responsible for "defeating" the thrones. A few among these compare their own time under Cyran rule to the slavery suffered by the ancestors of the Tairnadal. Personally, I see the work of gifted Tairnadal bards and clever Lyrandar agents in this. Propaganda is another sort of warfare, and the Tairnadal had decades to sow dissent. Whatever the truth, this kingdom survives because the khunan peasants accept elf rule. So in that, maybe they did play a role in defeating their enemies.
While the khunan people form the bulk of the human population and the labor force, there are also humans from other lands, including merchants and ambassadors. While there is little need for Deneith mercenaries in Taer Valaestas, the house does a considerable amount of business with Vadallia, and it has a small but luxurious enclave. House Cannith has established an outpost, undoubtedly offering weapons of war to the king and seeking to draw on the skills of his zaelantar. House Vadalis is notable in its absence, and would-be horse thieves are publicly executed in gruesome displays. And while the other Thronehold nations haven't been allowed to build individual consulates, each maintains offices and quarters in the Distant Palace, a large building in the western quarter of the city.
The khunans have largely held to their traditional architecture, which uses bricks of baked clay. While the Khoravar have brought the traditional faiths of the Five Nations to Valenar, the khunan people have their own religions, including a form of ancestor worship not unlike that of the Tairnadal, though tied to human spirits and more peaceful in nature. No love is lost between the khunans and the people of the Five Nations; Cyrans in particular would be wise to keep their homeland to themselves.
Most of the other races found in Taer Valaestas are drawn by business. Dwarves maintain the Kundarak vault, and Mror lords negotiate the prices of ore and jewels. A Sivis message tower carries messages on the wind. Most numerous are the halflings, since the population includes employees of Jorasco and Ghallanda along with native halflings who migrated south from the Talenta Plains long before the elves arrived. But the foreign population is relatively small. While Taer Valaestas serves a center for trade and diplomacy, it is also a fortress, and High King Vadallia has no desire to allow a fifth column to grow within the walls of his city. This has also resulted in a hostile attitude toward changelings, due to their natural talent for espionage; changelings passing through Taer Valaestas would do well to be wary.
Taer Valaestas: Demographics and Gold
Taer Valaestas (Large City): Conventional (Monarchy); Nonstandard (House Lyrandar); AL N; 40,000 gp limit; Assets 320,000,000 gp; Population 19,060; Integrated (48% humans, 38% half-elf, 10% elf, 2% halfling, 2% other races).
Taer Valaestas isn't a typical large city. It is the seat of the Valenar king, and home to the largest Lyrandar enclave outside of Stormhome. The purchase limit reflects goods that can be obtained through the marketplace, though the selection should be limited; while Cannith and the other dragonmarked houses have a presence in the city, this is no match for what you could find in Passage or Wroat. With that said, the best of the zaelantar are among the finest smiths and armorers in Khorvaire, though they of course specialize in the light armor and weapons commonly used by the Valenar. Someone who earns the friendship of a master zaelantar swordsmith could potentially commission a weapon with a value greater than 40,000 gp; but he would have to find that smith, gain his confidence, and wait until there is time in the smith's busy schedule.
In addition to the tricks of the market, the demographics of Taer Valaestas are also unusual in terms of level. The Valenar are few in number but they possess remarkable skill, and the city of thorns is home to some of their best. In general, level demographics should conform to what would be expected of a large city. However, the typical Valenar possesses four levels in a player character class (or five levels of commoner, expert, or magewright for a zaelantar) . . . and exceptional Valenar are limited solely by the needs of the story. Due to its interests in the region, House Lyrandar may have deployed some of its top operatives in the city, which could include anything from experts and dragonmarked heirs to swashbucklers with levels in the storm sentry prestige class.
- Any half-elf who comes to Taer Valaestas receives a warm welcome from other Khoravar, including invitations to meals with neighborhood communities. This is a way for the half-elf to learn about current events and possible adventures. If the half-elf has relatives in the city -- a strong possibility considering the growth of Khoravar immigration -- her kin may ask her for help with family troubles.
- Lyrandar heirs are being murdered on the streets of Taer Valaestas. Viceroy Shyralla believes House Medani is trying to break her growing influence in the city, and she intends to take vengeance against Jolan d'Medani. The PCs' role depends on the house to which they have ties. If they are Medani, they must expose the true culprit before the war cripples both houses. If they are Lyrandar, they may be employed in strikes against Medani. And if they have no connection to either house, they may simply be caught in the middle of the deadly Khoravar feud.
- Jhaer Varedi is the finest swordsmith in Taer Valaestas, a living legend among the Valaes Tairn. He has come to Khorvaire to fulfill a vision, which he believes has been handed down from his patron ancestor -- the creation of a weapon that will change the course of history, a blade for a great champion. To identify the one worthy to bear the blade, he has set up a series of tests . . . and he has chosen to let both Khoravar and khunan compete alongside Valenar warriors. If an elf PC wins the challenges, he gains great recognition among the host. If a human or half-elf wins, she has the opportunity to raise the status of her people in the eyes of the Tairnadal. But any victor could make many enemies in the process. And what is the destiny of the blade itself? Is Jhaer's prophecy true -- or is a dragon, rakshasa, or quori behind his visions?