THE CIRCLE OF LIGHT
A vast, bewildering maze of a city that 50,000 people call home, Bartertown lies just outside the gates to the Kingdom of Throal. Sprawling in front of the three giant arches leading into the mountain kingdom, Bartertown grew out of a bazaar the Dwarfs established years ago at the entrance to Throal.
Merchants, traders, and visitors gathered there over the years, and the town became a favorite destination for those who wished to take advantage of the Dwarf kingdom’s trade policies without feeling obligated to pledge loyalty to Throal. Huts and other permanent structures eventually replaced the open market bazaars and tents and were in turn replaced by larger, more comfortable buildings. As of this writing, it seems nothing can stop Bartertown’s growth. During a busy trading season, the city’s already large population can double in size.
The closer one approaches to Bartertown, the clearer its ramshackle nature and origins become. One can look up from any place in Bartertown and see the blue-misted mountains soaring high into the clouds, the peaks so enormous that they fill one’s vision. The colossal mountains seem to lean down over Bartertown, almost giving one the sensation that the towering slopes might momentarily topple down upon the ramshackle city. At the base of the mountains, the three towering arches leading into the kingdom catch the sun’s light and glimmer bright gold. These arches seem to stand guard over Bartertown, which tumbles away from the mountains like sharp, angular foothills.
The wide, smooth Royal Road cuts through Bartertown, leading visitors straight to the gates of Throal. King Varulus III ordered that this road be kept in continually pristine condition, a decree held up by his successor. The journey through Bartertown permits one a fascinating glimpse of the countless Barsaivian cultures and races that come to trade with Throal. Merchants, beggars, and charlatans fill the streets, wares of every sort are displayed for trade, and criers call out for mercenaries to guard shipments across the province. Truly, Bartertown is an awesome, overwhelming sight; yet even its colorful chaos takes second place to the majestic Throal Mountains.
On the Ruler of Bartertown
A magistrate chosen by the Council of Merchants rules Bartertown. The right to choose this magistrate became a thorny issue several years ago when King Varulus III of Throal and Bartertown’s leading merchants wrangled over the power of appointment. Suddenly realizing how large and prosperous Bartertown had become, the king wished to appoint his own magistrate, presumably to extend his sovereignty over the city. Unwilling to relinquish their power, the merchants waved their original charter in the king’s face until he was forced to relent.
To their misfortune, the merchants’ stubbornness prompted King Varulus III to stop supplying money and military might to support the city. In the last 15 years the city has been forced to impose taxes to build better buildings and provide city guards, but many of the citizens simply ignore or cheat on their taxes, which has made the king’s withdrawal of support a matter of serious concern. Bartertown’s fate has yet to be determined, but already some citizens want the Council of Merchants to relinquish authority to King Neden. Many more citizens believe that pride demands that Bartertown succeed on its own. These good people consider the city their home and want it to become as independent and wealthy as any other city of Barsaive.
However, the absence of a system of checks and balances and a recent explosion of black market activities has allowed the current magistrate to accumulate unprecedented power. Magistrate Clystone is no longer accountable to anyone; even the Council of Merchants, made up of prominent merchants from Bartertown’s early days, are bullied by the man they appointed.
On the Unique Features of Bartertown
Reflecting its origins as an open-air market, Bartertown is unlike the other great cities of Barsaive. Most other cities, built generations ago with the aid of the Theran Empire, boast massive stone buildings, towers and spires plated with gold, wide domes that glow the blue of a beautiful dusk, and intricate patterns carved into stone walls laced with gold and silver. Even though the Scourge, the Theran War, and time have reduced many of these cities to ruins, and though the cities still inhabited reflect only a shadow of their former glory, their beauty eclipses the ramshackle streets and lively chaos of Bartertown.
Bartertown boasts no buildings higher than three stories; most stand only two stories tall. Lying as it does next to Throal and the mountains; the city’s lack of stonework is immediately noticeable. The buildings of Bartertown are constructed of wood, covered with white plaster, and lack the sense of security that stone shelters provide. Despite the city’s size, Bartertown gives more the impression of a small wilderness town that just happens to lie along trade routes. Bartertown owns no airships and maintains a minimal city guard.
The wide, smooth Royal Road bisects Bartertown, providing all visitors with a clear view of the arches carved out of the mountain ahead. Three-story buildings line both sides of the road, all adorned with colorful paint and bright signs proclaiming the sale of various wares, goods, and services. The Royal Road is clean and well kept, creating a sense of order that makes the city seem pleasant, if provincial. As visitors pass beneath the arches, they enter the Throal Bazaar—the Dwarf kingdom’s official trading area, housed in a huge cavern filled with countless stalls and merchants. Tunnels lead out of the bazaar into the kingdom itself.
Visitors who turn aside from the Royal Road and onto one of Bartertown’s roads quickly see the true nature of this city. Its architecture resembles a child’s version of a city, hundreds of buildings placed next to or on top of one another. A closer look shows that some shelters consist of nothing more than heavy cloth draped between two buildings. Visitors who venture further into Bartertown encounter a sea of jostling crowds in the streets and a cacophony of voices. Workers move their wares from craft shops in the inner recesses of the city to shops set up on or near the Royal Road, where traders from all over Barsaive scour the streets looking for bargains. Visiting airships dock at spires, their shadows falling across the crowded streets as their crews unload goods carried from as far away as towns and villages near Death’s Sea or the Twilight Peaks. Pickpockets and thieves work the crowds as well, finding easy pickings among those who become careless in Bartertown’s bustle and din.
The city is full of merchant houses busily making fabrics, dyes, magical potions, and every other imaginable good. Even if a product is not made in Bartertown, it can still be found within the city’s shops and stalls. Customers seeking specific items must be prepared to spend considerable time sorting through the city’s chaotic layout and willing to wait for information if finding the item requires that merchants contact other merchants. Items not immediately available can often be found and brought to Bartertown for a customer, though sometimes the seeker of a rare herb or exotic perfume is simply told in what remote comer of Barsaive he can find the thing he desires.
On the Origins of Bartertown
How did such an unplanned and sometimes ugly city come to lie at the gates of the magnificent Kingdom of Throal, itself a testament to planning and order? This question plagues the Dwarfs, for it suggests that chaos can triumph despite their best efforts and that all their grandest plans may yet come to nothing.
The nature of the Dwarfs themselves, so well suited to planning and organizing, gave Bartertown its beginnings. Many traders and visitors simply wanted a place where they could trade and otherwise deal with the Dwarfs without being subject to the laws of Throal. To fulfill this desire, King Varulus III granted a charter of land to a few merchants in order to create a community of merchants and traders outside of Throal. He wanted to encourage the presence of traders, but recognized that Throal’s might could well frighten away the timid or those suspicious of any great power.