The Sorceror's Wake
Balic, City of Sails
“In Balic, we treasure our freedoms. You are free to speak as you will. Of course, Andropinis is also free to speak as he will, which might very well be an order for your execution. Choose your words with care, my friend.” -Darian, a patrician of Balic
A wealthy mercantile city-state on the shores of the Estuary of the Forked Tongue, Balic is under the control of Dictator Andropinis, a sorcerer-king who claims to have been elected to his throne over seven hundred years ago. Despite the dictator’s grip, Balic is perhaps the most affluent city-state in the Tyr Region and is home to powerful merchant houses that bring great wealth to Balicans fortunate enough to share in the prosperity. The business of Balic is business, and for the most part, Andropinis does not interfere in routine affairs of nobles or merchant emporiums.
The city is renowned for its democratic traditions. Balic’s nobles are seated in a Chamber of Patricians that creates and maintains the code of laws, and its templars must stand for election to 10-year terms. The various professional guilds (and Balic’s chapter of the Veiled Alliance, for that matter) conduct their business by taking votes and electing officers; even the dictator is, in theory, elected. Much of this democracy, however, is little more than an illusion. The office of dictator is held for life, and Andropinis has endured in his position now for centuries. Public debate and discourse is allowed, but only up to a point. Any direct criticism of the dictator or his templars is dealt with harshly, and the patricians learned long ago to pass only those laws that meet with the dictator’s approval.
Balic enjoys a cultural heritage and a civic mythology dating back thousands of years, which finds expression in a public appreciation for poetry and drama. The mythology still lives in the form of powerful arcane vestiges; Andropinis and his templars are masters of manipulation. The cultural heritage is evident in the dozens of theaters throughout the city-state, which run the gamut from crowded, ramshackle stagehouses in the poorer quarters to magnificent amphitheaters in the noble districts. In Balic, talented playwrights and orators can win acclaim equal to that held by the greatest gladiators—as long as they steer clear of subject matter that the dictator’s templars might find offensive.
Balic’s Power Structure
Most Balicans regard Andropinis as a necessary evil, resigning themselves to the fact that the dictator wields supreme power and isn’t likely to surrender it. Andropinis routinely arranges the elections of templars he favors and directs the Chamber of Patricians to pass the laws he drafts. From time to time, he indulges idealists and reformers, allowing corrupt nobles or unsatisfactory templars to be indicted or voted out. However, the dictator retains absolute control over the city’s legions and brooks no defiance of his personal authority.
Balic’s nobles are known as patricians. The patrician class is composed of the leading landowning families; each family owns a slave-worked estate of grain fields, vineyards, olive groves, and pastures in the lands west of the city. Many of Balic’s most prestigious public offices, such as military command and important templar positions, can be filled only by candidates of the patrician class, so the families amass a great deal of influence by placing their sons and daughters in public service.
The dictator theoretically governs with the consent of the Chamber of Patricians (a legislative body made of up representatives from each family), but in practice, the patricians rarely challenge Andropinis. A charge of treason, justified or not, is all the excuse the dictator needs to strip a patrician family of its lands and offices and redistribute them elsewhere.
Praetors are the templars of Balic. By popular vote, they are elected to their offices for 10-year terms. Once they have won their positions, Andropinis invests them with the magical power necessary to perform their duties. The dictator’s minions carefully screen candidates and arrange voting districts and slates to produce the results that Andropinis desires. On occasion, an unwanted praetor is elected despite the dictator’s arrangements; unfortunate accidents often befall such people shortly after they take office.
Praetors whose terms end without reelection or who are elevated in anticipation of offices they might one day hold serve at the discretion of Andropinis. The most important praetors in Balic, the high praetors, hold no particular office but stand high in the dictator’s confidences.
Trade is the lifeblood of Balic, and the great merchant companies fill the dictator’s coffers with coin. The streets surrounding the open market square known as the Agora are home to large emporiums from other city-states in the Tyr Region, including House Vordon of Tyr, M’ke of Raam, and House Stel of Urik. The Agora is dominated by three major Balican merchant houses and a dozen or more small ones.
Commoners and Slaves
Many of Balic’s common tradesfolk and artisans belong to guilds of varying power. Some guilds are strong enough to force nobles and merchants to heed their demands; for example, the Potters’ Guild enforces high standards (and high prices) on Balic’s distinctive pottery, ensuring that its members earn a good wage from selling the pieces they produce. Below the common citizens are slaves, who make up 40 percent of the city-state’s population. Slaves enjoy basic protections under Balic’s laws, but the praetors enforce these laws only in the most egregious cases of cruelty.
Balic lies near the eastern end of the Balican Peninsula, a range of arid hills between the arms of the Estuary of the Forked Tongue. The slopes of the hills are mild and verdant by Athasian standards; grain fields, vineyards, olive groves, and progressively drier pastures extend about thirty miles west of the city-state’s walls before giving way to stony barrens and brown mountain peaks. Large, slave-worked noble estates along the peninsula provide most of Balic’s food supply, but they are threatened by desert raiders and by giants who lair in the islands of the Estuary. Most travelers bound for the city-state follow the Road of Legions, the major passage along the spine of the peninsula. Balic’s wall cuts off the tip of the peninsula, running about two miles between the arms of the Estuary.
The city-state sits on a natural harbor formed by high hills ringing a bay of silt. Many ages past, the harbor was a seaport, but the water is long gone. Where proud galleys and dromonds once rocked gently in their moorings, a great fleet of silt skimmers now takes shelter. Scores of the wheeled sailing vessels call Balic home, carrying the commerce of the local merchant houses from Altaruk and Ledopolus all the way to the distant Silt Archipelago or the shores by Raam and Draj. Within the walled harbor of the military shipyard known as the Arsenal lies the pride of the dictator’s fleet—a dozen silt dromonds, light warships fitted with psionically powered helms that levitate and can navigate silt of any depth.
Balic is divided into five administrative precincts plus the Megaleneon, which is the civic center, both literally and figuratively.
Travelers following the Road of Legions to Balic arrive at the Great Gate, the heavily guarded main entrance. Beyond lies the Arena Precinct, an area of artisans, workshops, and small stores. The Road of Legions cuts through the middle of the precinct and ends at the plaza surrounding the Criterion, Balic’s spectacular arena. As one ventures north or south from the main road, the streets grow more cluttered and the people grow poorer.
The Criterion: Standing under the white, western bluffs of the Megaleneon, the arena known as the Criterion is the pride of Balic. Its marble façade and great awning tower over the nearby area. Gladiator slaves live in secure barracks east of the arena.
House Jarko: The compound of this merchant house stands only a block from the Criterion. House Jarko’s agents specialize in buying and training slaves destined for the arena, and each day, scores of prospective gladiators complete drills in the compound’s courtyard from dawn to dusk.
North of the Arena Precinct stretches another commoner district that reaches to the shores of the silt. This district is home to many artisans and workshops, including potters, leatherworkers, stonecutters, weavers, and limners. Balic’s professions are organized into large guilds. The crowded tavern and stagehouses of the Guilder’s Precinct are full of voices muttering against the dictator and the wealthy patricians—not to mention spies who report what they hear to the praetors.
Between the Agora and the Estuary of the Forked Tongue is Balic’s Harbor Precinct. Like the Guilder’s Precinct, it is cluttered with the dwellings and workshops of common folk, but it is also home to several large shipyards, warehouses, and a legion barracks.
The Arsenal: Balic’s military shipyard is called the Arsenal. The silt dromonds of the dictator’s fleet are constructed in this walled compound, which also functions as a legion barracks and a fortress guarding the harbor against attacks by giants.
The Slave Auction: A small plaza in the middle of the Harbor Precinct is the site of Balic’s slave auction, which is open three days of each week. Because the city takes a cut of each slave’s sale price, it is illegal to sell slaves except at the auction.
This part of the city is dominated by emporiums and warehouses of the prevailing merchant houses. Some of these compounds are small cities within the city, housing hundreds of mercantile agents and laborers.
The Agora: At the eastern foot of the bluff adjoining the Megaleneon is the Agora, Balic’s central marketplace and the location of its primary merchant emporiums: House Rees, House Tomblador, and House Wavir.
The Elven Market: The Elven Market is barred from operating within the Agora, so elf vendors fill the streets and alleys near that location. Visitors heading for the Agora face a gauntlet of elf peddlers and pickpockets before they reach the main bazaar.
House Wavir: The largest of Balic’s houses, Wavir maintains emporiums in all the cities of the Tyr Region. Wavir is unusual among the major merchant houses because it refuses to engage in slavery. All who work for Wavir are free, and the house hires exceptional agents to protect its interests throughout the Tyr Region.
House Tomblador: The sworn enemy of House Wavir, Tomblador gladly deals in the slave trade that Wavir forsakes. Tomblador was the preeminent merchant house of Balic until Wavir arose and displaced it a century ago. Tomblador controls most of Balic’s silt skimmers and the Estuary trade.
House Rees: Driven solely by a quest for profits, Rees is known for its counting-houses—lending institutions that invest in smaller businesses and squeeze them brutally for years afterward. Many old patrician families have ties to House Rees or owe it money.
The Villa Precinct, Balic’s noble district, spreads over the slopes of the cypress-dotted hills south of the Arena Precinct and the Megaleneon. High above the haze of silt that chokes the lower-lying precincts stand the palaces of the patricians, surrounded by orchards and guard barracks.
Mount Laeron: The brown peak of Mount Laeron rises a thousand feet above Balic’s eastern precincts, shielding the city from the dusty wind that blows up the Estuary on most mornings. A handful of ruins lie on Laeron’s slopes, and stories persist that their vaults and crypts hide long-lost treasures.
The physical and political center of Balic is the Megaleneon, a high, rocky hill overlooking the harbor. Andropinis rules from the White Palace, a majestic structure at the top of the hill. The Chamber of Patricians and the barracks of the First Legion sit farther down the slope of the Megaleneon.
Temple of Heroes: Near the Chamber of Patricians stands the Temple of Heroes, a shrine to the great figures of Balic’s civic mythology. Residents of the city-state don’t worship these ancient heroes as gods. Instead, the figures form the basis for a collection of fables that illustrate Balican virtues such as courage, dutifulness, resourcefulness, and cleverness.
The Praetorium: Most of Balic’s civic business takes place in the Praetorium, a large building housing the administrative offices and quarters of the praetors. A strong, secure prison lies in the dungeons below the templars’ offices.