Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Warrens of Zagovor

[Project done for a cooperative campaign setting design project, circa Feb. 2005]
The Warrens of Zagovor
by Scott Casper and Bruce Benz (ed.)

History, Politics, and Sociology

Times were tough for the Trade City of Zagovor 350 years ago. With a shrinking population and few remaining resources, the city needed help. Quiet inquiries were made, and answered by Baron Cenlarco of the dwarven courts. Cenlarco graciously lent a survey team to Zagovor to see if anything of value could be mined from the limestone caves beneath the city. After scouring the surrounding land, the dwarves managed to find deposits of coal and tin. They also found a petrified forest buried here. These would produce little wealth for Zagovor alone, but eventually proved instrumental in jump-starting the flagging local economy.

The humans did not have the skilled labor to do their own mining, and so Cenlarco did them another favor. In return for feeding and clothing them for five years, 200 dwarven workers would be lent to Zagovor for the same duration. The baron was not being a naive samaritan, however. Instead of his best workers, he culled from his clan the laziest and least productive dwarves he could find. Perhaps he hoped the effort would fail, Zagovor would no longer ask for his help, yet he would look cooperative and useful in the eyes of the human kings for his effort. But then something unexpected happened. The dwarves who had balked at the grueling pace of their jobs back home found Zagovor much to their liking. They were able to connect to a series of pre-existing caves, which sped their digging tremendously. They found ample recreation to their liking in and around the city proper. Those who didn't share their kin's love of mining found good-paying employment as guards.

Three hundred years ago, the population of dwarves in Zagovor was steadily growing. The dwarves carved out homes for themselves a mere half-mile from the city proper and connected their tunnels to the Galil River. Here, in a scooped out pair of caves, they established the official docks of Zagovor. At that time, the dwarves were still looked down upon, if not openly ridiculed, by most people in Zagovor. The tunnels and caves the dwarves had made for themselves were derisively called the "warrens." The dwarven community had a self-appointed leader, Dercallor Tursto. Tursto good-humoredly began keeping rabbits, and the rabbit became the mascot animal of the Warrens. The dwarven militia forming for the defense of the mines and their homes dubbed themselves the Coslo Gualor, or "Warren Guardians."

Two hundred sixty-two years ago, a middle-aged Dercallor Tursto announced to the city council that the warrens were "completed," and invited them to come see. This startled the council, who expected small, dirty tunnels. Abrum Volstikov, one council member, later wrote in his book A Personal History of Zagovor, "Our trepidation was, to some extent, justified. The ceilings, particularly in the tunnels, were often no more than five feet in height. Yet there was also a hall with a vaulted ceiling three times that high. These dwarves seemed to know nothing of painting or color, but their homes were amongst the most decorative I have ever seen. Wrought iron seemed to be everywhere, sculpted here into a dragon-shaped torch sconce and there into a seemingly ivy-choked door frame. Even the walls were coated with iron up to a height of two feet, decorated with patterns, like metal wainscoting. Most impressive, though, was the geometry of the place. There was no sign of twisting tunnels as we had imagined, but rather perfectly flat and level floors and walls. We had the impression that every inch of these 'warrens' had been painstakingly measured out and, though I have never seen a map of them, I suspect the warrens are laid out in a perfectly symmetrical pattern, as well."

What had seemed so unusual to human eyes was immediately recognizable to a dwarf. The warrens had been laid out in the style of fivello ferlar, roughly translatable as "the iron level." In larger dwarven communities, the iron level is reserved for the upper lower social class. Yet, even by the time the iron level was finished, there was a faction of dwarves living well beyond those means in Zagovor. While the miners and dock workers continued to live in the fivello ferlar, it became popular for nearly a century for dwarven craftsmen to build homes above ground in the city proper. All were well-built, and many were made of stone, so that most buildings that survived the war 125 years ago were dwarf-made.

It must also be noted here that since the original work was completed, further explorations have been made. There are two other chambers opened on this level, which is established above the docks, but still well below street level. The main chamber has also been opened downward to give the level more room. Neither of the two new areas are as symmetrical as the original. The newest area is actually a cave made of quartz and petrified trees. Expert workers have reshaped the area a bit looking for ways to expand the room into other caves. A few buildings have been created here, very carefully, in and around the natural beauty. This is a major tourist draw for the warrens, but was only discovered about 180 years ago.

The dwarf craftsman class soon became ambitious. They lobbied the city council to give them a seat as early as 221 years ago. When they were rebuffed, there was talk of an all-dwarf strike. This effort was led by a fiery-tempered dwarf named Farellor Drusto. Nothing ever came of the strike, and no dwarf would sit on the city council for many years still, but Drusto became profitably influential out of the situation, both amongst dwarves and men. It was he who campaigned for the construction of the fivello arslarco ("treated wood level"). This would be a subsection of the warrens for the middle to upper middle class of dwarves, most of whom were then living on the surface. Over time, many of them were convinced to return to the warrens, mostly through Drusto's personal persuasive skills. Although Drusto never made a public grab for leadership of the warrens, it was well known that no love was lost between Drusto and Tursto. An aging Dercallor Tursto saw Drusto as a rabble-rouser and politicked against him at every turn. Whether or not the warrens needed expansion became the primary issue between them, delaying its eventual completion by many years.

One hundred-seventy-five years ago, the fivello arslarco was almost done when the diggers discovered a spring. The water was clearly coming from somewhere much deeper than the rivers. It was cold and refreshing to drink -- and inhabited. Small fairy creatures, soon identified as nixies, dwelt in the underground source of the spring and some soon began appearing in the pool that collected in the dig site. Work halted for a time as the dwarves debated what to do. It was nearly decided to cap off the spring and move the construction in a different direction when Farellor Drusto suggested they try to communicate with the nixies. The dwarven clergy residing in the warrens were able to speak to the nixies and learned that the fairies greatly desired to be reconnected to the outside world. It was the dwarves who hit upon a mutual solution: they would dig a subterranean canal from the spring to the Galil River in exchange for use of the canal as a prime source of drinking water for the warrens. Previously, water had been transported from the docks area of Zagovor down steeply sloped tunnels in barrels.

One hundred-seventy-two years ago, the warren's dwarves again invited the city council to visit and see what they had built. This time, almost half of the council came. They were truly astounded. The new level of the warrens was entirely covered in beautifully crafted wood, and the floors and walls were in turn covered in rugs and tapestries such as the warrens had never produced before. Word quickly spread of the wonders of the warrens. The dwarves there developed a reputation as miracle-workers, having made so much with so few resources -- especially when the rumor began to spread that their canal was enchanted by the nixies to have healing powers. Tourism came to the warrens. No one has ever learned how the healing waters rumor was started, but 100 years later the truth was finally revealed about how the fivello arslarco was finished. Dercallor Tursto had secretly contacted Baron Cenlarco and arranged for a loan of materials and extra labor. The rugs and tapestries had even come from the neighboring Haltrurian Principality of Seres.

This second level was built at and below the level of the river. The main room, built on the east side of the hill, has a section of rooms built above it, because a natural cave was found that could be exploited to build an auditorium that can seat 600 dwarves at a time. Numerous rooms are here for the caretakers of this area, and even a few dining areas for those who wish to eat before or after events. Two of the dining rooms are open most of the time to feed visitors. Theses two are known for their good dining, for dwarves.

One hundred-sixty-three years ago, the Coslo Gualor asked to cooperate with the city's human dock guards. Only a minority of dwarves still worked the docks, or belonged to the locally infamous "dwarven bargemen." Still, the warren community saw it in their interests, if not their responsibility, to defend their own. The Dock Guard resisted, but ultimately caved into the wishes of the city council. The dwarves were an economic force to be reckoned with despite their small numbers, and the council courted them accordingly.

One hundred-fifty years ago, the dwarves parlayed their good reputations, collective wealth, and influence into a seat on the city council of Zagovor -- the first time it had ever been offered to a dwarf. It had long been assumed that the honor would go to Tursto, but he was old now and already grooming his replacement. Drusto campaigned for the role but lost. Decades of success had made the dwarves distrustful of Drusto's liberal stance and he was no longer the driving force he had been in the community. Tursto's hand-picked successor was Ormallor Jalassano. He served the council ably, though not boldly, for 21 years.

An unusual event occurred 129 years ago. The nixies began disappearing. There were multiple sightings of a large river serpent, certainly rare this far north, both in the rivers and the canal in the warrens. The evidence suggested that the snake was eating the nixies, but the truth was never ascertained. The nixies grew quiet on the subject, and in 10 months had abandoned the area. The serpent, whether there really was one or not, was dubbed Mareserlar. Bounties were offered on the serpent throughout Zagovor, even while it became a sort of mascot for delinquent youths. The incident was largely forgotten well before the Great Fire.

One hundred-twenty-five years ago, Zagovor was ravaged by the war that was sweeping the lands at that time. Fire raged throughout the city, and the damage was so widespread that not even the warrens were wholly spared. Roughly half of the fivello arslarco was gutted. The city above had to be almost completely rebuilt. The aftermath of the war is better chronicled elsewhere, but is important here for the radical change it brought about in the city's government. The old council was thrown out and replaced by a council. Ormallor Jalassano was sent home, and told that the affairs of dwarves would be handled by a council of all the races. The major dwarf on the council is now Guildmaster of Metalworkers Sazat. He does not represent all of the dwarves, but he is a major influence in their favor.

One hundred-one years ago, the city council informed the dwarves that they were dumping too much waste into the Galil River. The dwarves complied by adopting a played-out stone quarry two miles south of the city and converting it into a garbage dump. The quarry began to refill slowly, and is now quite a mound of upturned dirt and rock.

Eight-seven years ago, the dwarves in the warrens began to spot spider gnomes trespassing in the less-used passages. Alarmed, the dwarves formed hunting parties to scour every tunnel of both the warrens and all the mines. More than 50 spider gnomes in all were rounded up. They told a sad tale of how a schism in their tribe and sent them wandering homelessly, and they asked for sanctuary among the dwarves. Forty dwarven elders debated for two months whether to turn the gnomes away or not. In a decision that surprised almost everyone, it was decided that the gnomes could stay for 15 years, provided they behaved themselves, with the option of renewing their right to stay if they proved themselves useful (all of which, and more, was laid out in the historic document "Treaty of the Dwarves of Zagovor and the Gnomes of Besedirik").

Seventy-five years ago, cooperation began to break down between the Warren Guardians and the Dock Guard. There was concern in the warrens that the remaining dwarves "outside" would be left unprotected or intentionally victimized. It was the dwarven "boatmen" who assured the warren that they could protect their own. Though this group consisted of no more than a few dozen at any given time, their boisterous personalities had won them attention, and their strength and stamina had earned them the admiration of the humans who poled barges up and down the river. There was one particular incident that proved they could handle themselves. When a dwarf was badly injured in a dockside tavern, and a dozen boatmen -- both humans and dwarves -- made short work of the assailants. That tavern has been called "The Dwarven Boatman" ever since.

Sixty-five years ago, a crafts-dwarf named Gillor Lamasso crafted a gold armband of such exquisite beauty that it was rushed to the dwarven council of elders. They all quickly agreed that this was the finest sample of craftsmanship yet made in the warrens. According to custom, the armband was paraded through each level of the community for all to come see. It was a blessing for the community, for just seven years earlier it had been publicly revealed that the warrens still owed money to the very old Baron Cenlarco. The armband was offered to him as compensation, more than making up for any interest on the loan. Furthermore, it once again cemented their local reputation as master craftsmen. Lamasso was awarded the title of "master goldsmith," and holds that post to this day.

Perhaps attracted by rumors that the armband, or others like it, still existed in the warrens, the dwarves began having problems with human thieves 48 years ago. The serpent Mareserlar was their symbol, and each member wore a snake tattoo. The thieves proved surprisingly elusive, even to the dwarves who knew every inch of their own warrens. Or at least almost every inch. It turned out that the local thieves' guild had infiltrated the warrens by tunneling from a nearby cellar. Surprisingly, it was the gnomes that discovered the secret door, but it would take both the Coslo Gualor and the surface guardsmen of Zagovor over a year to finally root out and execute the last of the thieves. It is said, at least, that no thieves' guild has dared go underground in Zagovor since.

Thirty-six years ago, there was a minor crisis when it looked like the tin mines had played themselves out. Although the dwarves had parlayed their wealth well past the limits of their mineral resources, the tin mines were the "backbone" of the community -- not to mention much wealth had been borrowed against the mines. The diggers worked furiously to find a new deposit. Finally, an old favor was called in from the Mage School of Zagovor. In return for having dug the dungeons beneath the Mage School, a special wand was produced that discovered more tin a mile farther north than the mines had gone before. Work began anew.

Twenty-three years ago, the dwarves suffered another crisis! This time, the spring that produced most of their water became contaminated with green slime. It took weeks for the clergy to destroy all the green slime with miracles, during which the dwarves had to go back to the old ways of transporting river water into the warrens again. Yet this experience did have one positive aspect. Previously, the dwarves had grumbled about the City Council-- how they had lost their representation, and how the paladins had made them stop dumping so much in the river. Once the dwarves began drinking from the river again, they began to see the wisdom of the Council’s decision, and much of the grumbling has since gone away in the warrens, replaced by grudging respect.

Sixteen years ago, a census of the dwarven population revealed a shortage of new apprentices. For various reasons, though mostly weather and distance from other dwarven settlements, the warrens were not attracting new blood. A committee was formed to consider the matter which included on it a now-quite-old Farellor Drusto. The committee debated for almost a full year before agreeing to an unusual arrangement -- they encouraged the local craftsmen to begin accepting human apprentices. There had always been humans interested in learning the various trade of the dwarven masters, but had always been turned away out of hand. After nine years of more grumbling, two dwarves were finally willing to give it a try. Stular Imimmo and Fajol Bryno, artisans of brass and copper respectively, each bet the other they could take on a human apprentice. Seven years later, the experiment seems to be a success, and several other craftsmen are beginning to follow suit.

Timeline Summary
Year 2434 (350 years ago) Dwarves come to Zagovor
Year 2484 (300 years ago) Development of warrens begins, Warren Guardians formed
Year 2522 (262 years ago) First section of warrens completed
Year 2563 (221 years ago) Dwarves lobby for seat on City Council, work begins on second section of warrens
Year 2583 (201 years ago) Corrupt Barons of Zagovor replaced by Count Kozhan
Year 2609 (175 years ago) Magical spring is uncovered in the construction
Year 2612 (172 years ago) Second section finished
Year 2621 (163 years ago) A surge in dwarven population in the docks leads the Warren Guardians and Dock Guard to work together more
Year 2634 (150 years ago) Dwarves are given a seat on the City Council
Year 2655 (129 years ago) The nixies from the magic spring begin to disappear, apparently devoured by an unusual river serpent
Year 2660 (124 years ago) Great War nearly destroys Zagovor
Year 2683 (101 years ago) Dwarves adopt new waste dumping policy at the behest of City Council
Year 2697 (87 years ago) Spider gnomes first spotted in warrens
Year 2709 (75 years ago) Warren Guardians and Dock Guard break from each other
Year 2719 (65 years ago) Master craftsman's work celebrated
Year 2736 (48 years ago) Human thieves guild invades warrens
Year 2748 (36 years ago) Scarcity of tin causes dwarves to seek magical divination
Year 2761 (23 years ago) Magical spring infested with green slime
Year 2768 (16 years ago) Census taken in warrens
Year 2777 (7 years ago) First human apprentices are taken into the warrens

No comments: