Elminster Speaks
Khôltar, Part 1

(Part #50)

First Impressions

If Eartheart (and the accompanying trademoot of Hammer and Anvil) is the dwarf-dominated meeting place between the Great Rift (and the Deep Realms beyond) and the wider surface Realms, Khôltar is its human-dominated counterpart.

Known as the Iron City for its ironclad walls and its metalwork, Khôltar is a bustling, noisy, never-sleeping place of some 7,600 or so permanent residents, plus several hundred short-term guests (caravan traders on the way through) at any given time.

Visitors who pass through the frowning triple gates that pierce the iron walls in three places (on the south, west, and north sides of the city), will see a muddy, smoky city of stout stone buildings (some simple and massive, and others more ornate), cobbled streets, and little greenery. The city walls are literally clad in great overlapping plates of iron bolted to massive stonework. Rivers of rust run down them and have stained the stones and soil around over the passing centuries despite the gallons of oil and tar that have been applied to halt this crumbling. Thanks to the rare but possible threat of rust monsters, constant foot patrols armed with pikes traverse the outside of the walls. They also serve to discourage strangers from camping outside the walls but within sight of the city.

Inside, smokes rise from dozens of forges, lumber to feed them is a constant and valued import, the clanging and hissing of forge work and casting is constant, and soot tends to blacken everything that remains in Khôltar long. Coughing diseases, burn scars, and short lifespans aren't unknown among Kholtans, who tend to bear them as badges of honor ("The marks of the gods upon us, for striving so near perfection") rather than as things to be feared, cursed, or avoided by moving elsewhere.

Sometimes called the Place of Pourers and Filers (by dwarves who use the term contemptuously, and by humans who use it for mere description, not realizing that most dwarves mean it as an insult), Khôltar transforms dwarven iron and more valuable metals into everyday ironmongery (notably spikes, hasps, hinges, buckles, rings, chains, brackets, and piping) and cast alloy goods such as bowls, cauldrons, blandreths (small cook pots with tripod legs that can be stood in fires), scoops for dispensing dry goods, ladles and sieves, whisks and pour spouts. Beauty of design is admired in the Iron City, but it takes second place to the Khôltan Triad: strength, durability, and efficiency. A "work until you drop, but not beyond the point where you mar your work" ethic is strong; hearty eating, drinking, and sleeptime are valued as needful to good work; and thieving and swindling are despised, outlander activities not worthy of one worth her weight in iron (as the local saying goes).

Street justice (usually by means of a hard and accurately hurled forgehammer, iron bar, or piece of ironmongery or the blow of a forgework-hardened fist) is apt to be swift and fierce, but Khôltar does have its fully armored police officers, who wield trap nets and are armed with spiked gauntlets, saps, and maces. These police and known as the garthraun. They slay monsters or murderers on the spot, and arrest lesser miscreants for trial by the malgart (the judges), who administer the laws of the onsruur (the governing lords, or heads of the local "nobility" of old-money families) and the belarkh (the ruling lord, an elected chairman of the onsruur who tends to be either a war hero or a respected local crafter).

Aside from sending garthraun riding forth to warn travelers not to camp within sight of the walls, the Iron City tends to ignore the world outside except for its trade relationships. (Travelers can camp farther off, where there's a brisk trade in local brigandry to make them feel welcome, or come into the city -- they're simply not welcome to camp outside the walls.) To the dwarves of the Rift and of Eartheart, Khôltans tend to be almost servile (grumbling in private), but they tend to consider themselves superior to folk from elsewhere, driving hard bargains on thinking that runs somewhat akin to this: "We have the best, and if you want it, you'll take our terms or go without."

Well, now, I've fully aware that I tend to simply speak on and on when I get going -- so I'll stop for a tankard for once and leave more words on Khôltar for next time.

Read the previous Elminster Speaks column or go to the Forgotten Realms main news page
for more articles and news about the Forgotten Realms game setting.

 



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