Some of the Truth: On the Seventh
Since life is a dream I think I’ll stop eating and drinking so much,” he told me, “do some ethereal daydreaming instead. Go in the mansion of the mind and close all the doors, not traveling in the back of this cart for 5 days & 5 nights, broke.”
My companion on this leg was a dwarf, a drunkard, and prone to sudden outbursts like this. Still I was glad of the company: never has there been a more morose and joyless wagon train upon the Northern Road. Should the Throm itself spill its banks and wash the lot of us away, down under the bridges of El Astrum, east to Wodenshore and out to the sea, I’ve no doubt the Road would sigh in relief. Lady Throm, the hostess behind closed doors the moment the last unwelcome houseguest finally stumbles out into the night.
He joined us, my incoherent companion, a hand ago, as we left some nameless caravanserai where we spent the night watering the horses and making what trade we could. Walking up to the wagons from the banks of the Throm he dropped a midden of coppers and jots into the hands of our guard captain, climbed up past me on the footboard, stretched out on his belly and promptly slept for most of the day, his pack of bottles tinkling with every bump and roughness.
I had observed our captain being more selective with his custom earlier in the trip, but after two seasons on the Road and losing a third of the caravan variously to bandits, gnolls, and Gurminsdottir and his deserters any bolstering of our numbers was welcome. For his part the captain remained stoic; losses of only a third this deep into the journey from El Astrum to Uman is still accorded by many a successful enterprise.
As we rounded the last outcropping of the Twilight Wood on the western edge of the Forest of Stars, I saw it: Uman. Its great swollen terraces jutting out from the cliffs of the Redfall Mountains, still a few days slow meandering ride North. The city straddles the mouth of the Throm, encircling Long Drop Falls, the torrent of icy water plummeting thousands of feet from the Thorimfel Plateau high above. They say millenia ago some mad Dwarven earthcarvers mined shafts straight up the inside of the mountain, broke through under the lake, and redirected the flow of the waterfall behind the cliffs, which is precisely the kind of farcical Dwarven boasting I have learned to believe. Whatever the truth, Uman’s seven semi-circular layers distend the rock like a chiseled layer cake, enclosing the Falls, and provide homes for tens of thousands of inhabitants.
The nature of its construction does not lend itself to urban sprawl, and as such the higher up you go the smaller, more exclusive and expensive the tiers. The top of the cake is home to the seven ruling merchant houses and their considerable families, and consists of great sprawling mansions, tiered gardens and piazzas, sculpture gardens, arboretums and glittering pools, the rocky bottoms struck through with unmined silver and platinum; testament to the families boundless wealth.
Only the bottom-most tier has expanded over the centuries, spilling out southwards from the base of the Falls into the foothills with its innumerable smelters, refineries, warehouses and river ports; as if the side of the cake has collapsed under its own weight and is now slowly, inexorably sliding off the table, to the delight of the hounds.
Every two-jot hustler in Telisar finds himself “on the Seventh” sooner or later. Oh sure, they tell you they got plans, right enough. “Work my way up to Lord of the Third, see if I don’t,” they say, green as my Auntie’s half-orc ass. But nobody strikes it rich in Uman; the coins might be minted on the Seventh, but they all end up on the First in the end.
I was startled out of my reverie by my companion, who had been called back to wakefulness by the jostling of the Road, perhaps, or the bad taste of a dream. He held out to me a bottle, mostly empty, of Simbali’s Blackest. “Lost my job to some clockwork demon of Myrndottir’s,” he announced without preamble. He took a pull of the wine and raised the bottle in ironic salute at the city. “Every man Jack of us we live or die at the whim of the Seven Noble Houses, don’t we? Myrndottir. Bresht. Rasmusson. Nacklebun. Fullfoot. Simbali. Pashtum.” He ticked each name off his fingers with the tip of the bottle. “Still, where else you going to go? Strap on a blade and go a-banditing? Or worse, ad-venturing?” He laughed at his own weak joke before lapsing back into silence, and as he did I thought of all the disconnected follies that lead me to the boards of this wagon, to my black-humoured companion, and to Uman. I was on the Seventh, true enough, but didn’t I just have plans?
– Kero Whistlebottom,_Some of the Truth, “On the Seventh”