Naressina trades with all the world at large, notably with the hot dry lands Overseas and the distant tropical islands of Aoya. The most lucrative imports are silks and spices, for which the trade companies exchange wine, cloth, salt, timber, and the fine instruments for which the artisans of the city are famous. Much of what is sold is either brought down the great Zannain river that flows eastward to Naressina from the ancient border forest, or traded from the northern parts of the old kingdom.
Trade beyond the borders of the city is largely organised by the three largest trade guilds in the city: The North Venturers, The South Traders, and the West Trading Company. Although historically each of the guilds only operated in certain areas outside the city, the original division is no longer as strict as it once was, and merchants from every guild set out in every direction. They are still bound, however, by the decisions of their guild elders who dictate which goods may be imported in what quantity. Operations outside the rules of the guilds are not unheard of, but very few merchants would risk any kind of large venture without the financial backing and other assistance of their guild. Their considerable influence has brought the masters of the trade guilds into the magistrate, the ruling body of the city, where they and the heads of other guilds — often in more than the literal sense — sit opposite the nobility.
Membership in the trade guilds is open to human and zereshi alike, making it possible in theory for a zereshi to become a member of the magistrate by rising to the hightest position within a guild. As yet,this has not happened. By law, a zereshi wishing to remain a member of a guild pays the ‘zereshi’s tenth’ in addition to the usual contributions to the guild. This additional fee makes many zereshi think twice about joining.
The guilds also train and pay the captains and navigators that work on their behalf. Each guild jealously guards its knowledge and maps, although the elders have been known to turn a blind eye to the occasional sharing of information among crews and captains. Both humans and zereshi are trained by the guilds, and especially the South Traders, who routinely travel into lands where humans are less prevalent, employ zereshi captains and navigators.
The long distance trade across the ocean relies on good sailing vessels. The Naressine trade guilds prefer their large, sturdy galleons, but the sleeker, faster ships preferred in other parts of the world are slowly gaining acceptance. Most shipbuilders belong to the highly respected Shipwrights’ Guild, but individual craftsmen, often zereshi who wish to avoid paying the special tax, exist as well. As the guild sets the standards of engineering, these independents are often the agents of innovation.
Naressina is divided by the Lowtown Canal into two parts: The sea level slums of Lowtown, a maze of canals, bridges and plazas, and Uptown. Uptown rises steeply from the sea level through the districts of Steepside and Market into Temple, where the palaces of the nobility and the wealthiest citizens enjoy a splendid view across the lagoon and the river.
The shining jewel of the Temple district is the Temple of Aiellos, the Lord of Light. Its golden domes, a landmark visible far up the river, dazzle in the light of the rising suns. Surrounding this oldest building in the city are gardens of flowering trees and fragrant shrubs, which have been carefully tended by the same families since generations. It is a favourite place to practice fencing or walk in the shade, enjoying the clean air. Flowers hang thick over the gardens walls, and over many of the palaces, filling Temple with their sweet fragrance.
The wrong side of the canal: Lowtown
The perfume of Lowtown is rather different. An exquisite bouquet of Fishmarket, stagnant water and anything that has been thrown into a canal to decompose permeates the air, vying with the sea smell of the harbours, the pitch and tar of the Arsenal dockyards and the smoke of the infamous Cannon Alley. To say nothing, really nothing at all, of Tanners Alley and Soapmakers Steps.
Within the stench, happen deals. If it can be made my human or zereshi hands, someone in Lowtown has it. If it can be acquired by any means known to either species, someone in Lowtown will know where to go. The city's heart of manufacture and trade beats in its dirty underbelly, and its criminal mind resides here as well. Lowtown is notorious for its gangs. Around the great Guildhall, where the city's merchants meet to trade, the city watch patrol the streets in their red and yellow uniforms, armed with halberds, pistols and swords. They do not enter the narrow alleys. Nor does anyone else who isnt't from ‘down below’. The two harbours, the Salt Harbour and the much larger West Harbour, are a much safer place to be and welcome large numbers of sailors from every corner of the world. Their entertainment is provided by the taverns and other establishments along the Waterfront, many of which are also meeting places to do business away from the eyes of the watch.
Well hidden among the thriving, riotous bedlam that is Lowtown in all its dirty glory is the ancient Temple of Zelis, the Merciful Mother, as run down as the rest of Lowtown. The priestesses offer what aid they can to the poor, the sick and the hungry. As Zelis is also the protectress of all those who go to sea, many merchants give to the Daughters of Zelis. Their support has led to the building of Naressina’s only hospital. Rumour has it that the priestesses can work miracles of healing, but as many Naressines have observed, a bucket of soap and water would work a miracle in Lowtown.
Halfway up the hill
Most of the denizens of Lowtown have never been to Temple. Steepside, just on the other side of the great canal, and Market, is as far as most of them have gone. And for one of the nobility to set foot in Lowtown would be unthinkable. It is the people of Market and Steepside who know both sides of the city.
Steepside, which has a reputation as the zereshi quarter, clings to the cliffside above the canal. The views are not as spectacular as they are from Temple, but they are among the best in the city. Many well-to-do humans live here as well, as do many craftsmenand shopkeepers of both species. The Hundred Steps Square is its central meeting place, named for the steep flight of steps that leads up from the ferry over into Lowtown.
The district of Market and Riverside, where the barges that go up the Zannain dock, rises from the Lowtown Bridge over the canal towards Temple, and takes its name from the large Market Square, around which are gathered the Magisterial Palace, the Courts of Justice and the main garrison of the city watch. Most people living in Market are craftsmen and shopkeepers, like in Steepside, but only the wealthier zereshi tend to live here among humans. Often these are members of one of the city's trade guilds, and have lived here for generations like many merchant families have. The craftsmen and artisans who live and work in Market tend to sell expensive goods and services: Gold Lane, where the goldsmith’s and jewellers gather, is in Market. In spite of what sees to be an abundance of opportunity, Market is surprisingly safe even at night. Even compared to Temple, where the time-honoured art of noble intrigue can make life every bit as dangerous as on a Lowtown back alley.
The citizens of Naressina, that is, those who live in the city and are rich enough to have a vote, tend to look down on those who are not citizens: Those from Lowtown, most craftsmen, and naturally any zereshi. Although some zereshi are citizens, having gained equal rights by inequal taxation. The nobility, who are most certainly not simple “citizens”, have a word that is bigger than the petty difference of having or not having civil rights: commoner. A commoner is subject to the Common Law. A nobleman is &msadh; not. The Laws of the Blood, and the Code of Nobility alone serve to inspire a nobleman to greatness — and people who believe that are in for a rude awakening.
While the Code of Nobility exists, it is more concerned with vital questions such as whether the embroidery on a bodice should always match a young lady's shoes, and with the rules, such as there are, of feuding. The Laws of the Blood, passed by the Kings of Annaen in centuries past, detail the duties of vassals and liege lords. There is nothing, not one line of text, that says that the Naressine nobility may not run amok in the city streets, taking what they fancy and doing as they please. Common sense and the occasional torches and pitchforks keep the nobility from exercising their powers too much, but it remains as a usually forgotten fact that those of the blood are above the city laws. Yet, they have a large say in ruling the city. The nobility make up half the members of the magistrate, and they hold a vote in the city's Grand Council as well. That the nobility debate and decide the city's laws has led many a common citizen to the false assumption that these laws would also apply.
In theory, the nobility answers to the king in Rienna. But Rienna, capital of the kingdom of Annaen, is far away. In practice, the nobility are free to do whatever they want wherever they hold domain. Many seek to emulate the king, and adhere to the Crown Law, but not all nobles follow it within their own jurisdiction. They decree their own laws, which govern all within their respective domain. Very often, a nobleman's domain does not extend far beyond a few farms and a manor house, or he might be lord of dozens of tiny holdings scattered throughout the old kingdom, but some — like the Viscount of Monverro — claim considerable closed territory as their own. Within their holdings, the nobles are free to order everything as they see fit, from the amount of taxes they levy to the management of orchards, vinyards, mines and large farms. Many noble families employ a majordomo to deal with the administration, and concentrate on politics.
What if humans weren’t the only intelligent species? What if that other species were humanoid? What if they weren’t beautiful and wise, but deadly? And ran the bakery next door?
The ‘spawn of night’ were cast from the light for their beastly nature, so the priests say, and most (human) people agree that all you have to do to see why, is look at them. Fanged. Clawed. Eyes that glow in the dark. That must be evidence of … what, exactly? A functional tapetum lucidum, but apart from that? At which point, the geniuses at the bar in places like ‘The Leaky Keg’ shake their heads and mutter: “ I knew they be hiding somethin’…”
There are also those snake like tentacles that can stun a strong man, says a friend whose cousin works at the barber shop where a customer once told him that his sister’s best friend’s next-door neighbour once heard someone say — well, you know! You just have to look at them. Which is all the proof in the world that some people need. Not that zereshi would consider stunning people any way to behave, but very few people in the city talk about these things. Those that don’t mind their neighbours don’t because they don’t want to seem prejudiced, or intrude, and those who do mind their neighbours think they have all the answers.
The zereshi exist, that much is certain. They have always been part of the world, and they have lived in the city of Naressina for a very long time. They do have claws and fangs, and those tentacles. They see very well in the dark, and their hearing is very accurate, too. They don’t like bright lights and loud noises, and in the hottest regions of their world, many zereshi prefer a nocturnal existence. In Naressina, they go about their business by day: Many of them are craftsmen or work as traders, some are merchants, some thieves, some are ship builders. Many have families with children. But the rumours persist. And so, the Kaliari family keeps their claws blunted and talks without showing their fangs. As merchants, they have many dealings with humans and think nothing of employing human workers and domestic staff. Their son goes to school with human children, indeed, Zîf and Kiana Kaliari have almost forgotten that they are any different. And they don’t want to be.
But the fact remains that zereshi are easily capable of killing.