Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Bridge of Bones near Keluthar

Excerpt from the official map of Thay

On the coast of Lake Thaylambar is the small port city of Keluthar, an important supply point for all of the northern tharchs.  It is one of the oldest continually settled locations in the area, chosen for its strategic value alongside the mouth of the River Thay.  Not only does it have regular visits through its extensive docks but it is an end point along the Sur Road which connects Surthay and Gauros by land.  Since it is also almost directly across the lake from the grand markets of Eltabbar, Keluthar handles all southbound shipping of note.

Keluthar was the capital of the tharch for a brief while after the sack of Delhumide city, when Thayans were trying to solidify their power after gaining their independence.  As a Mulhorandi town, it had been dedicated to Osiris and the rites of the dead for Mulan citizens.  It had the most opulent resting places and its priests tended nearby necropoli.  It was no surprise when Keluthar suffered a particularly violent wave of "renovations" after the revolt, as the old signs of worship were destroyed.  Instead of giving the town a whole new purpose, however, edifices were slowly but surely restored in bold new ways.  

The necropoli in Delhumide were once the most revered and sought after, and in some ways, that's still the case.  Many nobles continue to find it fashionable to be buried at Keluthar or its outlying necropoli, especially if they live in the rough, less civilized lands of Gauros or Surthay.  And whether they like it or not, slave corpses are often shipped to the great clearinghouses operated by House Tam.  (Shipping the dead isn't compulsory, but it does bring in coin to offset the loss, and most organizations want to be in the good graces of House Tam.)  From there, bodies are distributed for experimentation, raising, and any other purpose the overseers approve.

Umratharos eventually stole the honor of being Delhumide's capital, choking off the lion's share of the gold and attention Keluthar had started to enjoy.  The city has since filled its coffers mainly through fees for services related to the dead.  It has struggled to become a reliable source for spell components, poisons, drugs, and shipping materials.  Local plants and creatures are often twisted by leftover magic, offering unique toxins and intoxicants.  Umratharos chokes off as many supplies from the north as it dares, however, and the Sur Road does not have a branch that doesn't pass through the new capital.  Thus, tere is a continual tug-of-war between the cities and while many Thayans pass through Keluthar, its growth has been sluggish in recent memory.

The Bridge of Bones is a great - and some say horrific - monument that crosses the River Thay near Keluthar.  Bridges were constructed on the spot for centuries before Thay's birth because the river's waters can be particularly treacherous.  The Mulhorandi Empire established a notably large and impressive bridge there, book-ended with mighty statues of their gods.  Of course, it couldn't stay that way, and a number of Red Wizards had the pleasure of bombing it into oblivion with spells.  The ruins were kept as a statement of their power for around a century until House Tam suggested a new design.

Thousands of bones of all sizes were gathered from across the country, taken only from enemies of Thay.  Keluthar gathered a panel to deem the donations worthy of being used and while anyone could submit a corpse, in practice few were allowed that were not presented by nobles.  The bones were magically hardened, coated in precious metals in some cases and treated with alchemy in others, and arranged to form the new bascule bridge.  Gnomish slaves provided the knowledge of how to install its two platforms, which raise and lower on either side through counterweight mechanisms (with a magical backup, in case anything goes wrong).  

Gate towers of volcanic rock on either bank also have room for rotating groups of guards.  These defenders are generally bored or busy trying to squeeze fees, favors, or diversions from travelers.  Guards rarely sleep in the towers but there are cramped bunks, as well as stocked armories and kitchens in both of them.  They can cut themselves off defensively if necessary, and a few times it has been.  The towers also anchor the latticed elevated walkways that cross over the river as viewing and offensive positions for the bridge's defenders.  They are identical five story buildings with ground-level entrances on the interior side of the bridge.  The surrounding banks are set with the large other bones of monstrous foes and laced with traps, and several gates must be raised to allow visitors to pass through them.

The towers and walkways showcase the skulls of Thay's foes, with the largest arranged along the towers' exteriors.  The collection has grown over time and permission must be granted to add or remove any.  While the smaller bones are an anonymous mix, the skulls are each numbered, named, and known, and it is a tradition to spit at them in disdain.  (The guards hate this practice, as it is sometimes used as an excuse to catch the staff in an ugly spray.  Only those who don't need to use the bridge spit near the guards, however, since they have authority to make even nobles wait.)

The guards will share the history of the bridge and its trophies for a donation, and will help spread rumors of the skulls' magical powers for free.  A number of the bones have been found to be enchanted, but the exact spells aren't known except to the guard captains and they are changed at irregular intervals.

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