Khôltar, Part 9
By Ed Greenwood
Khôltar, Part 9: Tarrying Nigh Handrornlar
So here we hover still above the waymoot inside the north gate of the Iron City, fresh -- if that's the word -- from our glimpse of Taurgaur's Tarjteir. The seldom-seen and very elderly Taurgaur, by the way, is one of the most jovial and lively-witted dwarves I've ever met. He positively delights in learning new things. These days, he sponsors spies to peek at new innovations in Lantan. Adventuring groups rove all over Faerûn just to come back and tell him what they saw. Whatever treasure they earn, they can keep; he just wants to see trophies and hear long and detailed tales of what befell them and what they saw in words as truthful as they can manage.
Adjoining the Tarjteir directly to the west -- that is, on the northwest side of the wide Orntathtar Way, as it leaves the waymoot on its run to the west gate of Khôltar -- is the source of much of the noise customarily clinging to this locale: the large, roaring tavern called Phlambror's.
The tall, handsome, suave human merchant (and scourge of other Khôltan merchants' wives) Phlambror is long dead. He was murdered by an enraged husband, and no one was ever punished for the crime despite the garthraun arresting a man red-handed (literally bloody-handed, over the body). As it turns out, no less than four hundred men came forward to claim that they'd slain Phlambror.
No one denied that the wayward merchant was an amiable friend to many (even those whose wives and daughters he was romancing), a generous donor to needy Khôltans of all races and walks of life, and an investor in scores of concerns. Everyone was astonished, however, when a decree of his wishes was read out before the Belarkh. Its main thrust was the provision that all debts owed to him were now discharged; the businesses he'd invested in were now wholly the property of their owners, free and clear. Moreover, his own properties (Phlambror had no wife, descendants, or surviving kin) were donated to a variety of citizens, and among them was this tavern, then called The Hand of Welcome, which he gave jointly to three dwarves who always spent long hours there when in town. They promptly renamed it after him and retired on the proceeds, which have never faltered, from that day to this, since visiting Great Rift dwarves come looking for this "home away from home."
In Phlambror's dwarves can relax. That is to say, they can sing, carouse, brawl, tell tales, and drink truly strong and vile beverages (including garlraw, which I can describe only as various ales and whiskeys stirred together with butter and sweet syrups, and then simmered to bring the flavor up even more strongly; it's a thick, rich drink that causes most nondwarven stomachs to revolt). When some of them succumb to the effects of these leisurely pursuits, tavern staff clean them up, carry them next door, and put them to bed in their rooms at the Tarjteir (or bunk them over in the tavern's "groan-and-snore" loft if they've no known accommodations).
Many dwarves become morose and truculent when in their cups, and they don't welcome any nondwarves they see in Phlambror's, but others just ignore or nod politely to the nondwarven, and then leave them alone. (Regardless, few without dwarven blood in their veins feel comfortable in the place, and they seldom visit it twice. The exceptions are folk who bring in their own tankards for fills of favorite drinkables they can't get anywhere else and then depart again forthwith to enjoy the contents elsewhere.)
Behind Phlambror's and the Tarjteir are a cluster of fists (the smaller towers that Khôltans build as homes) that have been sold by the former human owners. These now serve as dwellings shared by many dwarves, gnomes, and the occasional halfling family -- each of whom owns one or more rooms, or rents them from dwarven or human "little owners" who hold title to most of a floor.
Somewhere in one of these towers is the notorious "Abanth" or "Dark Corner" where shady and secret business meetings occur -- meetings between thieves exchanging stolen goods, swindlers arranging cabals, corrupt officials making deals with lawbreakers, business transactions involving slaves, contraband, drugs, poisons, and kidnapped persons of importance . . . as well as meetings between lovers whose families are bitter rivals, or simply merchants or even Onsruur who don't want to be seen together. The Dark Corner is dwarf-owned and run, but it caters to all who pay and behave themselves. In fact, several powerful local sorcerers who have partnerships in the concern help police it while profiting from its stiff admission fees. (The fees start at 5 gp/person, plus the establishment has stiff costs for guaranteed-free-of-drugs-poison-and-magic food and drink "ordered up" to people there. Some patrons run up truly awesome charges of 50 gp or higher -- and the price is usually thrice that if they use the covert corpse disposal service provided.) If a guest kills another guest in the Dark Corner, that's a private matter -- but starting general brawls or casting spells on persons ye're not meeting with is grounds for instant expulsion, fining, and sometimes fatal attack.
The Corner consists of three upper floors of a tower that have been walled off from the rest of it and are now accessible only through stairs and elevators rising through the tower walls. These "hidden ways" connect to secret passages linking with Phlambror's, the Tarjteir, and several other nearby buildings -- one of which has a cellar lime pit for permanent body disposals.
Extra stone walls have been erected within the Corner, thick tapestries hang from them (and cover floors and ceilings) to keep sound to a minimum, and (dim) illumination emanates from luminescent means brought up from the Deep Realms (glowing borer-worms, glowmoss, and phosphorescent powders, all maintained in glass spheres with what they need for sustenance), rather than by flammable lamps.
I like the Corner, but be warned: It's not a place for thrill-seekers to come looking for excitement or to overhear valuable secrets. Many folk vanish there, often. For the moment, so will I -- until next we meet. A certain Witch-Queen of Aglarond is beckoning me from yon staircase, with a familiar smile on her lips -- and if I'm at all wise, I'd best do my utmost to keep it there.
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