Saturday, February 23, 2013

Stonedeep

The Dwerden city of Stonedeep is built deep underneath the Dwerdenhome mountains, which form the geographical border between Nifflgarde in the north and Danannsidhe in the south, and end where they finally descend down into the Bay of Thror (or the Bay of Thunder, as it is more generally known). The city’s only known entrance (known to Men, that is) is at the far western foot of those mountains, a day’s easy ride from the village of Stone’s Throw, a Dwerden settlement and port on the bay, and the primary friendly face that they present to the rest of the world. The main entrance of Stonedeep is heavily fortified, and the city has never been successfully invaded from without by any force of goblins, trolls, or Men. There are other entrances to the city scattered throughout the Dwerdenhome mountains, however they are known only to the Dwerden themselves, and even among them, only a few know all of the ways into and out of the great city.

While the term “city” tends to bring certain images to mind, of houses and businesses, roads and walkways, public parks and markets, the city of Stonedeep is quite different. It is like cities of Men in that there is a dense population of people living there, those people do business and make their living in various crafts and trades, and they require outlying settlements such as farms and mines to supply most of their food and raw materials for many of their crafts. However it is much different than surface-based cities in its architecture and overall layout. For example, a surface city is built upon the surface of the earth as is most obvious, but one thing not so obvious is that this provides a limiting factor to its overall layout: it must be relatively flat. To be sure, some structures can rise several stories above the ground, and many other structures are built one or a few stories underground. But even so, most people conduct their daily lives upon the surface of the earth, where the main thoroughfares and markets sit.

Stonedeep, on the other hand, is built upon multiple levels, and in fact it isn’t so much built as it is hollowed out of the mountains, with hundreds of natural and constructed caverns connected by thousands of tunnels, many of which started as natural pathways but were widened out over time. There are a few areas where a massive natural cavern was enlarged even further, and in those places, Stonedeep most resembles a city of Men, with structures built up from the floor of the cavern, some only a single story tall but others rising several stories. And in those, it is also likely that each of the visible structures has one or more stories dug into the stone, “underground” as it were. But in other areas of the city, and this is probably true for most of it, the caverns are smaller and are simply carved out as individual chambers that serve a specific function, rather than containers for other structures which must be built.

A typical Dwerden home is composed of several inter-connected rooms, some of which may only have a single door opening between them (and thus a thin stone wall) while others may have short connecting tunnels and much solid rock separating them. Settlements of homes, like small villages, often cluster together around a slightly larger cavern that serves as a sort of local marketplace and town square. From that cavern, tunnels will go to the main entrance of each of the homes, and there may also be some tunnels connecting homes to each other, if the families have close ties through blood or friendship.

Water and air are precious commodities among the Dwerden, and as such they have several idiomatic phrases relating to the value of such things. So it is that the Dwerden will say something like “Blood is thicker than water,” when speaking of familial ties and their supreme importance, even over life and death. Offering a person water is a standard part of Dwerden hospitality, and not following this rule is seen as extremely rude, or at least extremely inhospitable, which can be then used as an insult if one wishes for an unwanted guest to leave. To say “My air is your air,” or “My water is your water,” is to offer everything one has, without exception. Clearly, only the best of friends or relations would say such a thing.

In addition to water and air, food is a basic concern. The Dwerden are able to make a thick bread-like food out of many mushrooms and lichens, and they also raise several types of food animals which are native to caves and the underground. They raise a type of cave-dwelling salamander for its eggs, and they also have farms where they raise fish and crustaceans native to the subterranean lakes and rivers. The Dwerden have also, over many years, come to appreciate the foods of the surface dwellers, and so they often stock their larders with salted meats, dried fruits and vegetables, cheeses and other foodstuffs. As such, it is not uncommon for a Dwerden meal to contain a mix of foods both imported and native. The poorer Dwerden, of course, are more likely to subsist purely on native foods, which the wealthy have occasionally been known to swear off their local foods completely, dining only upon imported meats, dairy and grain products, and fruits and vegetables.

Many Dwerden are agoraphobic, having dwelled all their lives in Stonedeep and never seen the open sky. Upon their first experience of it, they may go into a panic, ranging from mild to extreme, and their first desire will be to return to the safety of Stonedeep. As such, all Dwerden soldiers, called wardens, train under the open sky for a period of time. This allows those with an extreme phobia to be detected early on and moved to service elsewhere within the city, while those who prove they can handle it are directed to serve as guardians at the main gate, and their names are listed among those who would be called up in case of an invasion from without.

Outside invasion is not their only concern, nor even their primary one. For there are other subterranean dwellers in Aerde, and those creatures compete with the Dwerden for scarce resources. Goblins and trolls are the most common, for goblins are true underground dwellers just as the Dwerden are, and trolls, though they are cave dwellers who do not fear the open sky, are pained by the light of the sun and must travel either at night, or underground. In addition to these, there are darker things that live in the depths of the earth, nameless, mysterious, and rightly feared by the Dwerden. It is because of these that their wardens are scattered throughout Stonedeep, and not just clustered near the outside entrance.