Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Slave Way - The Key Road Through Thay

Dear Salia Valgon, daughter of High Cleric Fury Valgon, squire-in-training to Bane's Blackened Fist, Augustus Valgon (glory to Bane) - 

I could not help but overhear your inquiry about the Slave Way at your family's last gathering.  Unfortunately, I was unable to answer your inquiry right then, but as an aspiring warrior and a noble Thayan young lady, you should know about that road's very special place in our lives.  (Which is why your father probably shushed you; it was harsh, but he saved you some embarrassment, so hate him a little less for it, if you can.)  With this letter, I offer you a less boring way to learn about a path you will travel many times in your life.  Because until you work your way into one of the flying corps, you will be using it any time you travel south.
Excerpt from the official map of Thay

You already know why it is called the Slave Way - it's the route we force the slaves to walk once they get here so they can see just how far from help they are.  It weeds out any of the sick or weak we might have missed and gets any escape attempts out of the way.  Those who attempt to flee are brought down mercilessly in front of the rest.  By the time they get up the First Escarpment, most slaves have little fight left in them.  The journey is hard and slow, but it works wonders for morale.  Those who are not sold along the way and make it all the way to Eltabbar are docile and awed.  They accept their fate.

But we did not build the road in the first place.  Mulhorand seized this territory after Raumathar and Narfell blew each other to bits, and the basic path up the middle of the plateau was already in place.  There had been trade between the lake and the sea, but the road was torn apart in the war.  The Mulhorandi improved it when they rebuilt Kensten (which is called Bezantur now), but only as much as necessary.  At the time, Eltabbar wasn't much more than a series of docks and warehouses called Pyceles (its Raumviran name), so the trading was much slower and less valuable.  Like everything else about Mulhorand.

Plans really started to take shape after we won the war for independence.  When Eltabbar was remodeled and chosen as the capital, we knew the road would have to be redone, too.  It led right through Tyraturos, which was already a larger city, and many Thayans had schemes for a more impressive interior.  The Mulhorandi hadn't put many resources into the land because it was so far away from the center of their empire.  Now it was our empire, and once we stabilized our first cities, we began to build it up.

Foreigners do not understand much about how our interior works, which is for the best.  For one thing, the Slave Way has never been just one road, and it was not built all at once.  Different stretches were funded by various patrons between 1000 and 1200 DR.  They have their own styles, defenses, and upkeep.  They also have their own names that locals use.  The Slave Way no longer "starts" in Bezantur, either; acquiring Murbant and Escalant in 1357 gave us an excuse to extend the road out across the Wizards' Reach.  Slaves do most of the basic repairs and cleaning, but citizens take care of any serious problems.  The road carries caravans and our humanoid allies where they're needed, and maintaining the road is much cheaper than trying to teleport everything everywhere.

The main stretches of the Slave Way are:

Escalant to Bezantur: This part is called Wizards' Row, since it's marked with plinths bearing symbols of magic and the Red Wizards.  Some of them are enchanted and some of them are not at any given time, but they are always reminders that we own the area now.  (Anyone found vandalizing them is given a very public execution, but idiots still try.)  The surrounding land is also rigged with magical traps for those who stray from the road without a guard bearing the chosen glyph.  They wear many glyphs stashed on their person to confuse slaves who try to pick-pocket the right one.

Bezantur to Galresh (just before the First Escarpment begins): This stretch is called the Tower Gauntlet because it's lined with impressive watchtowers all the way to Galresh, which is the town at the base of the cliff.  Some say that the towers are based on Raumviran ruins that have been found deep within Thay but no one knows how much.  Spells have been cast from them, but whether they were cast by wizards or the towers themselves is anyone's guess.  Most caravans will stop to rest at Galresh before starting the climb, and the town stays alive by catering to visitors and watching over slaves until they are ready to be moved.

Up the First Escarpment: The road that leads all the way up the cliffside is steep and long, with few alcoves dug into the cliff face for a rest.  It is a place begging for accidents and attempts at revolt, along with attempts at suicide and infighting.  For all of those reasons (as well as the ruddy color of the bare rock), it is called the Red Road by those who survive.  And more survive than you might think.  We learned long ago that crazed slaves will try to throw themselves over the edge because they think they would rather die than serve us - so we have nets and magic in place to catch them.  There are also secret entrances to caves that belong to our humanoid allies.  That is where those who fight or fuss are sometimes sent to be punished.  Most are returned, worse for wear but alive.

Rise to Delabbar: After reaching the main plateau, the path to Delabbar is named Yadara's Way for the patron who finally saw fit to develop it.  It was one of the last lengths to be given a Thayan touch, mostly because those who got past the Red Road didn't care what it looked like, as long as it was mostly flat.  Yadara was the last of her line and too old to bear children, so she chose to leave behind another legacy.  She commissioned statues of Thayan heroes who were not nobles and even placed a likeness of herself among them as a way of revealing that she had been adopted from commoner stock.  She killed herself at the opening ceremony and her ghost is said to wander anywhere along the path she pleases.  She terrifies slaves back to their masters - but she also delights in tormenting nobles who act too proud for their own good.  Trying to replace one of the statutes (or dishonor it) without her leave will result in immediate attack.

Delabbar to Mophur: Tyraturos held a city-wide competition to bring in the bones of the largest creatures their heroes could kill.  Nothing less than gargantuan sized foes would do for what they had in mind, and Spine Row is the end result.  Ribs, tails, other bones and carapaces are embedded in the dirt beside the road all the way up the middle of the plateau.  Closer to Delabbar and Mophur, the ground is moist and the bones stand out from greenery.  Closer to Tyraturos, the bleached remains gleam against desert sand.  At first, there were only so many, but they have been added to ever since.  These trophies make the journey to the massive gates of Tyraturos truly impressive and stand as a warning to any big monsters that might want to drop in on us.  Nobles can submit their trophies for use in the project even today.  I would not be surprised if your cousin Augustus added to the collection someday.  Tyraturos is the city of his birth, after all.

Mophur to Nuthretos: Mophur is the city of satisfaction (because it is the center of the drugs we spread across Faerun, not because they necessarily have more fun).  Nuthretos is the city of poison and basically dedicated to Talona.  Their solution was to sew the area with narcotics and dangerous plants, and good luck figuring out which is which.  Locals refer to it as The Wandering, but most of them won't risk stealing from the noble houses involved.  Slaves sometimes grab what they can, hoping to die, but they only become mildly ill.  Sick enough to wish they weren't.  Others just want to zone out and if they find the right leaves, they have a much better trip.  Some of the slave masters will spread rumors to calm the herd.

Nuthretos to Eltabbar: The influence of Eltabbar begins at the doorstep of Nuthretos, where the road becomes a marble expanse lined with columns.  This is one of the most costly stretches of the Slave Way to maintain but it is also the most elegant, as you've seen for yourself.  The problem is that you have not traveled much or far yet, so you cannot appreciate just how glorious it is.  One day, you will.  One day, you will ride out of the Wizard's Eye gate on your own steed and take the Steps of Thayd at your own pace.  If you follow your cousin Augustus's teachings, you will return a conqueror for certain. 

For you see, it is the Slave Way for the conquered, but it is the High Road for the conquerors.  You will not hear it called the High Road often, even though that is its official name, but it leads to the mightiest cities in Thay and there is no higher path to power here except the one that leads to the Thaymount.  Since neither of us were blessed with the gift of magic, mastering the High Road is our lot.

I hope this will be of use to you, and feel free to show off your newly acquired knowledge at the first available opportunity.  Just do not tell anyone where you learned it from, even if your cousin Augustus asks.  Let this be between us, and between us, let us make your house look even stronger in ways that others do not expect it to be.

Tari Govannon

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