Welcome to Kolmhaag! I can spot newcomers when I see them, oh yes. Such a fine carriage you have. And the lady’s scales shine so pretty today. I might be just a human but I know a beauty, dragonborn no matter.
Ah, but where have my manners gone? Allow me to introduce: My name’s Hayk. Yep. Hayk’s the name and business is my game. And the good sir and madam? Oh! Otteril, yes I know the Otteries, who wouldn’t? Such a respected and widely spread family, famous for the boots and silverware… Spice trade? Yes, that too! But we can discuss later, one businessman to another. And businesswoman, why not! Now you must be hungry, sir and madam Otter, and I know just the place. Over there, see? Keller’s Inn, very classy joint. I was just about to go in there myself. Please, I insist.
Nice, isn’t it? I recommend the wines, all excellent across the board, but not local, of course. Goat’s milk cheese goes well with them. And trout’s in season. Don’t know, maybe you have a finer taste. You’re coming from Duskport, right? Well, you’ll learn that here in Kolmhaag we do things a bit different. It’s very friendly around here, see. We don’t fuss much about who doffs his cap to who and all that. Except the soldiers, of course. The lord of this place is a jolly nice fellow, Uratha Kiln he’s called. Yep, we all know each other here. He’s always saying good mornings to me when I pass by, and I say good mornings back. A bit different from Duskport, right? But that’s how we like it.
So, what brings you to our neighbourhood? Are you staying for long? Because I know an excellent place to bunk. It’s the Dreaming Dragon up on Fifth Street. Simply luxurious, great view. Best in town. And tell Golbert that I recommended it. He’s the owner, a good friend of mine. Send Hayk’s regards to Golbert, will you?
Aah, that’s the stuff. Let me pour you another one. Now, sir Otter, do you know any peoples here? ’Cause in Kolmhaag we have all sorts. Got a rainbow of dragonborns, got humans, elfs, half-elfs, two-thirds-elfs, enough dwarfs to hollow out the whole Weeping Mountains. Got many many craftsmen, smiths, jewellers… Oh! That reminds me. The grief!
My dear aunt passed away just recently, so I inherit her belongings, me being her favourite nephew. I got me this lovely necklace, pure gold, look. Ah, but I am pulled two ways. It reminds me of her so much it hurts. But it’s better to let go of the past, right? To get over the sobs. You understand. So, to ease my soul, I would part with this exquisite piece for the nominal sum of six hundred wings. Make it five and a half. No? It’s fine Kolmhaag workmanship, would make a nice memento of your visit. What about this… oh crikey…
I thought I dropped something under the table. My mistake! By the way, if you good sir and madam spot a tall, hook-nosed man in a green cape and maybe a feathery cap, let me know. It’s best to avoid him. He’s not very nice mannered, you see. Going already? Well, it was a pleasure. Remember to put a good for Hayk at the Dreaming Dragon!
Are you the Otharils? You are welcome at my hearth. Dwimbor, at your service. I’ve been sent to look for you on Kathria’s request. I can take you to her office in the Guild Hall, but you would have to wait since she is quite busy at this hour. She suggested that I could show you around our city to pass the time, if you don’t mind a bit of walking. Is that acceptable? Good! Let us get going, then.
The city of Kolmhaag is built on a difficult slope. Space has not been wasted: most of the houses here are partly sunken into the mountainside, so they sit under the streets. As a matter fact, we really have only one main street, which winds up like a snake to the fortress, and it is broken into segments. This is the First Street, or more colloquially the First Climb. You can imagine what the rest are called. Actually, they used to be named after heroes of ancient times, but people these days find the old names too hard on their tongues. Hrmph! At least we still have statues of them on the squares where the main street turns. They were once outposts, the squares I mean, as you must have noticed on your way here. The walls still stand.
The road gets steeper here for a good fifty paces. You see why drivers don’t like these ways. We dwarves have made ourselves our own alleys that tunnel into the cliff at one level, turn slowly, and then come out a bit higher. They work excellently for carriages, being steady and smooth, but some find them too dark for their liking. Here is an entrance to one of them. They all have a strong portcullis like this, open for all during the day. On the other hand, if you happen to be in a hurry, and if you are sure of foot, you can find stairs connecting the numbered streets here and there between the houses.
Here we are at the First Square, and there’s old Achnasshthrima. Now, if you would please follow me, we could get a better view of the city from that tower at the corner. By Cruxis, it is a sound work of masonry, though it may appear to be in disrepair in your eyes. An ancestor of mine laid the stones of its stairwell, actually. I come from a long line of builders, and my son carries on the tradition. The daughter sculpts.
I hope the climb was not too hard on your legs, madam. Hold on to your scarf, sir. We get quite vicious winds here. What? You have to speak louder. It’s the Howling Wall that likes to join every conversation. But this is nothing. You should hear it in the winter! Heh heh.
That down there? Yes, you are correct. That is indeed the Ballast House. It has the foundations of a small castle, the rest is new. It is quite likely that large blocks were needed elsewhere, so the old fort was dismantled. After all, an islet in the middle of the river is hardly worth castellating when we have the Wall to protect us. The house you see now may look ostentatious on the outside, but in my expert opinion, it is quite ordinary in other aspects. You can find the same brickwork all around Duskport. No-one lives there now.
There’s the Guild Hall, and a mighty fine work of architecture it is. The south-facing arch of the main entrance is on the Second Climb, but the hull extends over the Third and Fourth as well, both of which go through the building like tunnels. That’s where the best wares are sold.
Next to the Guild Hall is the Miners’ Lodge, though you can’t quite see it from here. Pity I cannot show the mines to you. The most ingenious engineering solutions can be found there, underground. Great care has been taken to ensure the structural stability of the whole mountainside with all our tunnelworks under it.
That tower there looking west on that tall crag we call Medrion’s Mast, if we ever have cause to talk about it. Medrion was an elvish architect, a genius some say, whose talent, or quirk rather, was designing structures in the most inconvenient of places. His offering to Kolmhaag is competent, as demonstrations of skill go, and he has emulated our style of masonry quite admirably, but for some silly artistic reason, the connecting arch bridge lacks railings. How fortunate that we have no use for it! Some brave fool keeps going there, though.
Looking over there, you can barely spy the top of the east-facing watchtower on the other side of the Howling Wall, and it is much more practical in nature than its western counterpart, as you might guess. In Zathare’s time it was repurposed as a lavatory tower for those living in the fortress. It’s not a palace, the abode of the Kilns.
Now that the smoke from Skalkon’s furnaces is blown off, we may actually observe some parts of the fortress itself. It is enclosed by three nested curtain walls. The outmost one is the newest, built at the very end of the Age of War, and you can see that it is more advanced in style with the engaged shafts and the turrets with their sharp spires. The houses beyond it are residential, and the gate is invariably open. The city was allowed to expand inside the walls about three centuries ago.
The two other walls are closer in character to the fortress. The blocks are good and thick, though cut a tad carelessly in places, and they relied too much on mortar, as you can deduce for yourselves from the repairs there and there. But those were tumultuous times. Not enough Dwimbors for every job. Beyond the barbican rises the Lord’s Keep, which exemplifies an intermediate style between those of the inner walls and the outer wall; make note of the dimensions of the quoins. But! Let the relatively late date of the building not surprise you, since there is also the Old Keep, the most ancient and dare I say the best building in the whole of Kolmhaag. It cannot be viewed from here, but I can tell you it is much simpler than the Lord’s, and all the more sturdy for it. Huge ashlar pieces of granite in a precise rectangular plan. That’s where the Kiln coat of arms gets its charge, and a mighty fine symbol it is. I have been to the Old Keep five times, actually!
That place? Madam has sharp eyes. That little hut is Ilse’s home. She made it herself. I admire her strength, but her building skills are, well… I suppose the construction protects her from the elements sufficiently. Up there she must face the coldest of winds.
Now, we could go down and continue to examine the architectural niceties from up close, if you so wish.
Greetings at last! I apologize for the long wait, but these past days it has been all “Kathria, do this! Kathria, do that!” We are in the middle of preparing a substantial shipment to Duskport and beyond, and a proportional contingent of soldiers has been dispatched to sail with it. Someone apparently thought that I have the expertise to organize it all. Where’s that Order of the what-was-it-again when we need it? Ha ha ha!
So, my friend Dwimbor showed you around. I hope you found it interesting. I told him not to get carried away, which is what he tends to do when he gets the chance to talk about stones. To be frank, I personally find some of those old buildings oppressively grim. But at least our Guild Hall has this sumptuous parlour.
Have you eaten? Or found a lodging? No, don’t go to the Dreaming Dragon. Ah, I see! You must have met Hayk. I should have warned you about people like him. Humans do indeed have a good standing in our community, but don’t drop your guard. I would recommend that you stay at Keller’s Inn. Oh, but if that’s where Hayk peddles his aunt’s items these days, then we’ll find something else. Leave it to me.
He is a sorry case, Hayk. He used to be a member of the locksmiths’ guild until about two years ago, and he was very talented at his work, I can tell you. But he lost the trust of his masters and was expelled for life. Now he tries to make a profit any way he can. He owes money and favours to all sorts of people, mostly the wrong ones. I’d say it’s only a matter of time before he gets in trouble with the law.
But we do have decent citizens here as well. You should pay a visit to captain Faugenar, an elderly greenscale from the southern isles. His wife’s family is from here, and they live in the big house on the Second Square. Faugenar used to have his own trading vessel, but as far as I know, he hasn’t been to the seas for decades. I’m sure he would appreciate your company and your seafaring stories. A word of warning, though: he can get cranky. Don’t even mention the Baron or his policies or he’ll switch to sailor’s cant, if you take my meaning. In other respects he can be a very charming man, in his own way. I could write a letter of introduction on your behalf.
Oh, I almost forgot. The family tree you sent me, I gave it to an acquaintance of mine for evaluation, but I have not received a word from her yet. But if it is true that you are descended from… whomever it was that you suspected you were, then I’m sure you could get an audience with the Lord. He is quite approachable, believe me, and has even adopted two humans as his own children. You might see Edessa on the streets, she’s about twenty, and Dulkan is a year younger. You’ll know them by their signet rings, but without them, they could be mistaken for youths of our own class. So keep your eyes open.
And another point to keep in mind: ownership of the Ballast House has been fought over for years by the Brasks and the Charxes. Both families have entreated the Lord with desperately contorted arguments to support their claims to it. He has not auctioned off the place for fear of causing bad blood and possibly even driving one of the families out of Kolmhaag. So if you were to win the property, you would certainly feel the acid and fire of those two clans on you. That’s the risk you have to consider. But if you’re not daunted by them or their schemes, then go for it. Let the Wall howl, as we say. The Kilns respect many old traditions, and they might very well warm to your appeal, assuming you are right about your lineage.
Maybe you should pay a visit to Belelien yourselves. She’s the one who has been researching your family history. On our guild records, she is a bookbinder, but we do not get enough calls for her to maintain a workspace here in the Hall. Besides, she’s quite shy and sensitive, maybe because of her half-elf blood. She prefers the company of her precious books, and her cats. I hear that the Lord is paying her a comfortable wage for copying the most worn-out tomes of his library. I tell you she’s quite the lorekeeper, but being so demure, she tends to keep her lore to herself, except when she meets someone who shares the same antiquarian passions. Belelien if anyone can help you with your case.
Do you know Garnet Street? It connects to the Sixth Square. Her house is there. It is the yellow one that droops forward slightly, with the withered flowers on the sills. There’s a plaque on the door saying “Go away, please”, but knock anyway. And if she pretends not to be home, try again after dark when she has to light candles and can’t hide.
Who are you? Otharils, yes, I remember! Come in, quick. Oh, blast. There goes Inkypaws. Well, Inky knows his ways around the town.
Come through here. Don’t touch that pile, it’s unstable. Apologies for the mess. Ahem. Don’t bother jumping over the papers, they’re nothing important.
Now, sit you there. Shoo, Crampy! I’ve done some mining on that family tree of yours. Where did I put it? Where, where, where… Oh, what’s this? Looks like bilberry pie. Do you want a slice? Madam? More for me, then. But maybe later.
Otharil, Otharil… Rhymes with Magantharil. That’s it! I put it in Magantharil’s High Dragonic Grammar as a bookmark on page 893. One moment.
Oomph! Here it is. Look at the spine of this beast. They don’t make them like this anymore, with all those little curvy ornaments. Go ahead, touch it! Magnificent. Anyway, to the matter at hand.
Hold this letter, sir. Now then, let us take a look at the genealogy. What, the letter, you mean? I think it’s just a standing invitation for you both to meet the Lord at any time in his castle. But your lineage here, very interesting indeed.
This one, Sir Audran Otharil, your ancestor. If I remember correctly, and naturally I do, the same name appears in the list of retainers of Lord Nesh, who founded the Order of the Dragon’s Eye at the Great Conclave for the purpose of protecting the transportation of riches from the reopened mines. Lord Nesh was a great appreciator and patron of the literary arts. Not many know this, but it is him we must thank for the preservation of the classics of the thirteen great Kolmhaag bards: Zorilish, Zorasshper, Murn of Tarn Vale, Nebdimea the Feytongue, Hestil…
Hmm? The Ballast House? Yes, yes, there is indeed a connection. The Dragon’s Eye was headquartered where the Ballast House now stands. Well, it was called by that name back then too, the little fort in the Haag. To be precise, one of the treaties written at the Great Conclave grants ownership of the house to the grand master of the Order. But the ancient texts like to play games with us. You see, the Order disappears mysteriously from the records by the time of the Second Conclave. Infuriating, isn’t it? But also quite titillating, hmm hmm hmm… You can find a copy of the treaty in the Kiln archives.
This is also on loan from there. Get a whiff of these pages! Mmmh! I can’t get enough of the smell. Those rusty fungal blooms, just intoxicating. Oh, hello. Does Lacuna want a sniff too?
Anyway. See this entry? I think we can deduce a tenuous but thrilling link here between Sir Audran and the Order. Of course, to prove that you are the descendants of the grand master would require more than… What’s that? Oh, is it… Well, rumble my roof! The medallion, you say. Wait, I think I have a description of the grand master’s medallion somewhere. Ah! It’s in the Lesser Chronicle of the Domains, the one with the blue covers, 452 pages of fine vellum, five maps and an appendix by Yend the Elder. I just finished copying and binding it. Ask the Lord, he knows.
Wait, I didn’t mean that you should leave just yet. There’s more to this family tree of yours. Firstly, it appears that you are distantly related to the natural philosopher Voonix. Have you heard of him? He wrote and illustrated an incisive tractate on the effects of coastal proximity on various… Blast, I know that knock. One moment, excuse me.
You again, eh? Yes, yes, just hand over the book and I’ll fix it when I have the time. Goodbye. No, one more thing. Would you like to show these two guests to the castle? They have an invitation from the Lord.
Or maybe we could continue our analysis of the family tree? Very well, as you wish. This young man can show you the way.
Good evening. So you have a meeting with the Lord? Hmm… I see. Sounds like family matters. We are expecting him to return by sundown.
Is something wrong with my hand? Just a little scratch on the knuckles. Oh, the ring! Yes, I am Dulkan. Lord Uratha is my father. I always forget to introduce myself, I am so accustomed to being known to all here in my hometown. Pleasure to meet you both. Are you two siblings? I thought so.
A happy coincidence that I came to Belelien while you were there. She, on the other hand, is not at all happy to see me, I would hazard to guess. This past year I have been studying certain books and scrolls from our archives, but they have the troublesome tendency of disintegrating at my touch. Belelien is putting them back together for me as I break them. She even copies some. Think of the drudgery!
Have you been to Kolmhaag before? Well, do you know anyone in here, in addition to Beli? Kathria… She is one of the administrators of the Guild Hall, the goldscale, is she not? You have a valuable contact. She knows absolutely everyone around here.
Would you like to take this shortcut? No, nevermind. The lady’s garment… We’ll take the long way by the main streets. We could borrow horses from the barracks if you prefer.
Where was I? Oh, yes. I too am acquainted with a whole panoply of persons here in our city, and not merely the usual sycophants that orbit around us nobles. Indeed, I sometimes wonder what exactly makes me a noble. Is it this ring? Strange.
Did you say you’re merchants? Well, I suppose I somehow intuited it, then. Spice trade, ooh. So do you have your own fleet of ships? How exciting! I myself am at all times besieged by mountains. I think I quite like this rough terrain, though. I sense a promise of adventure in these surroundings as I watch the far horizons from a high place. But the seas must have that same quality as well. Isn’t it so? When one embarks on a long voyage to some distant land… Actually, I was born at the southern coast, and though I remember very little of my first years, the image of a sapphire blue sea and bright sails in the offing is something I treasure. I think I would make an able sailor.
We do have one sea captain here in Kolmhaag, but he is retired. A spirited gentleman who walks with crutches made of oars. I would like to hear his stories, but I’ve never had the courage to ask. And then there’s Ilse Windsbride, an old mercenary from the far north, a human who lives alone high up in the mountain and rarely comes down to the city. I was told that she has settled here because Kolmhaag somehow reminds her of her home. She would have quite a tale to tell also, I’m sure, though it might not be one to warm the heart. I have never heard her utter anything other than “food” and “firewood”.
How’s it digging, Kroll? Could you give us horses? We’re not in the mood for hiking. Thanks. Remember we can have our sparring tomorrow. No, actually make that the day after. I have a special class with ol’ Skalky. We’re banging out some bucklers. Easy as the maelstrom defence, heh heh… See you then.
That was Krollus, a close colleague. He’s going to become a soldier in a year. And a commander or an adjutant before long by my prediction. He’s obsessed about the army, even knows the oath by heart already. Also, you might be interested to know that Krollus comes from the esteemed Brask family of jewel merchants. Very considerate of them to let their son pursue his own path, wouldn’t you agree? Not everyone is suited for the trades, and some of us feel a calling for the red and white.
You can see the ineradicable traces of our warlike past all around you. Ours is a bloody history…
The slumber of the dust in tombs of men
is undisturb’d by Time, the worldly rush.
Yet songs that chime as steel can bring again
to life the lords who caus’d the Haag to blush.
So penned one of our bards. The Lords of Kolmhaag have held the title of high commander of the armed forces, even in our time. I am an initiate of the combat arts as well, which you must have gathered already. This rapier is not a showpiece. However, the Lord is of the opinion that the primary purpose of my training is the development of virtuous character as opposed to practical prowess. Hmm… who knows.
No, you’re right. We do not see much actual fighting. It is the miners, the craftsmen and the merchants who are busiest here, which is certainly a welcome state of affairs. But life can be dull for us military types. Even our fighting sports can get tiresome when the opponent is always the same. A while ago I learned a few amusing card games. A funny fellow called Hayk instructed me, but somehow I kept losing my money. Uratha wasn’t happy when he found out.
But enough of that. Tell me, apart from Kathria and Belelien, have you been introduced to anyone else? Dwimbor, you mean the builder? Yes, I know him, though not personally. That little garden over there is his creation, along with the walkway that leads to it. There’s even a channel there bringing water from a streamlet higher up in the mountain. Very clever. Rainpearl used to plant her flowers and herbs in all kinds of odd locations until Uratha decided to give her that place as a gift, so as to put her activities to use. She’s some kind of an idiot savant when it comes to plants and their cultivation. If there is a way to make a seed sprout and take root in this climate, Rainpearl can find it.
She also has a singular insight into the divines, I think. She once told me that the sun is Mishra. I then politely reminded her that, though we may use the sun-eye as Mishra’s symbol, this does not mean that the sun actually is the same thing as the divinity herself. But Rainpearl had another point of view. She answered that, for the little green plants, Mishra is anything that makes them grow. Now that is something to contemplate!
Evening, Junt and Jass. These guests are with me.
Now, I am all ears, what is your impression of the city of Kolmhaag?