Khôltar, Part 8: A First Look at Handrornlar
So here we hover, above the waymoot inside Handrornlar, the north gate of the Iron City. First, look back the way we've come (something adventurers often don't like to do, I know, but bear with me). See all the fists and greatfists, rising like so many fangs east of the North Way?
If Khôltar was built today the North Way would undoubtedly be lined with warehouses -- or at least the streets running east of it to the city wall would be, for the swift and easy loading and unloading of wagons and swifter whelming and dispersal of caravans.
The reason for the predominance of houses everywhere in yon part of the city save at both ends (the streets adjacent to the city gates) is because for years the view across the Great Rift (and the relative safety afforded by its presence, prohibiting Shaaryan raiders, orc hordes, or hostile armies from massing in great numbers) was valued as the best ground in Khôltar.
The Onsruur later changed this by buying cheaper land elsewhere within the walls (upon which to build the newly fashionable klathlaaedin) and making fortunes selling off their greatfists to socially ambitious citizens, but the residential enclave remains. Many East Wall citizens sniff at the crowded, crumbling traal lining North Way -- but take full advantage of the handy blurdren to snatch inexpensive meals close to home at all hours.
Turn again, now, to gaze upon Handrornlar, with its city-side carvings of proud dwarves posing with hammers, pickaxes, and waraxes -- a not-so-subtle reminder that the might of the Deep Realm lies just outside that gate. Some Khôltans see it as a warning to be vigilant against the Stout Folk, but others (particularly dwarves who dwell in the Iron City) see it as a recognition that dwarves gave Khôltar a reason for being, and then made it great. (The city was originally a great camping ground for all who came hither, desiring to trade with the dwarves.)
Every gate waymoot in the Iron City has its handy inns and eateries. However, this northerly one is the least well served because Kholtans usually depart from it bound for short-run trading business with Rift dwarves, or in huge caravans bound for distant lands, and most of the inbound traffic consists of dwarves. It should then come as no great surprise to ye that the two inns here cater almost exclusively to dwarves -- as do the three small, thriving blurdren and the large, roaring tavern.
As one faces the gate, the two buildings immediately inside it on either side that are joined to it by small curving battlements (in a sometimes forlorn and largely symbolic attempt to make truculent dwarves stop, pay entry taxes, and submit to wagon inspections) are the Turthtraal, The Turthtral are twin duty houses which contain garthraun offices and armories, with small vaults and holding cells beneath them.
Immediately to the west of Drurntraal (literally, "West Traal") is a large stone building dominated by a gigantic carved face with a stylized beard that runs into the ground, unfinished. It is pierced by several arched windows and doors. Stout iron bars form a thick latticework over the window glass, both within and without, but that hasn't stopped angry or inebriated patrons from shattering several of the windows over the years. The cracks they've left have been sealed with pitch and molten metal. This is Taurgaur's Tarjteir ("tarjteir" being a Deep Realm dialect word meaning "place of happy gathering"), Khôltar's largest dwarven inn. It offers a ground floor dining room that serves simple, hearty fare and deliberately weak ale. If ye can stand the thick, ever-present cloud of smoke emitted therein by countless dwarven "trood" (locally popular clay pipes of extreme length, typically used to smoke a blue-green rockweed that's sickly sweet to smell but hath a wonderful taste and bite), the roast boar, rothé stew, and sarth skewers (alternating cubes of ox and horse meat that have been marinated for a month in a variety of strong and wildly different sauces) are quite good.
Above the dining room is a floor given over to short-term rental meeting rooms, and this is where many dwarves transact all of their important business deals in the Iron City. Many Deep Realm traders have little love for tramping all over Khôltar making deals with humans, so they rely on the services of dwarves who dwell in the Iron City and make good livings as "ammarakh," or local trade agents, who serve as go-betweens who can connect dwarves in haste with Khôltan vendors and services. Inn staff runners (predominantly human and halfling youths of both genders) can speedily fetch needed ammarakh here if they aren't already lingering over a bowl of stew downstairs.
These meeting rooms, by the way, have water pumped through thaelor set in the walls between and above them, and are also furnished with double sets of entry doors with elbow-turn passages between them, to lessen the chances of being overheard. (Thaelor are "gurgle pipes" -- literally pipes fashioned with curves and internal chambers and bulges to make water passing through them noisy. They are a conceit first developed for Onsruur desiring to make their homes distinctive.)
Above this level are four floors of guest chambers with the massive and durable furnishings preferred by dwarves. Below ground, the Tarjteir offers several levels of extremely well-built locked short-term storage vaults for the convenience of guests. Some of these, it's rumored -- correctly, mind you -- have manacles for securing unwilling occupants. They can also be rented by the season or even longer, so that visiting renters can reach the Iron City on foot and apparently near-coinless and yet have access to riches, a large wardrobe, and all the conveniences they can store . . . such as casks of favorite ales.
The Tarjteir is the anchor of dwarven social presence in the Iron City, and the meeting place for dwarves not engaged in covert business. Next time, our tour continues with glances at other buildings near the Handrornlar -- including one with upper floors reached only by hidden tunnels from adjacent structures.
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