When the old burghers’ hall was first built, inns and guildhalls lined the streets leading to Ambassage Court. Grave and somber men came daily to discuss the business of the city there, inspired by monuments of the city’s founders. In the warm sunlight around the great fountain, merchants and guildmasters planned the business of the great city.
Now, of course, that day has long passed. Only the most wizened of ancients remembers the great plague that swept through the city and inspired its leaders to move their halls from the city centre out to the new “Palace District”. As far as most of the quarter’s denizens recall, it’s always been the decayed, half-ruined labyrinth that they call “Bassage Market”. Nonetheless, it’s still one of the city’s great centres of business; just not business on such a grand scale…
The once-wide boulevards now are crowded with the stalls of raucous costermongers, merchants dealing in “questionable” goods, and hawkers urging passerby to taste mysterious pleasures. Ancient Gypsy crones, unwelcome in many parts of the city, here boldly offer to foretell one’s future and offer mysterious charms and elixirs to guarantee true love and doom to their clients’ foes. Helpful lads offer to show slumming nobles ‘entertainments’ that they’d not soon find elsewhere. Crowds gather to see the tricks of trained bears and monkeys and the narrow paths between the booths are often blocked by the carts of vendors and entertainers.
Rarely is the Watch seen in the market’s mazes. The meager handful of watchmen willing to enter the district are brutal men from a hard school, with little room for compassion or sympathy. Little better than the ruffians they arrest, only fools and the truly desperate call for their aid.
The marble halls of the great guilds are still home to aristocrats… of a sort. The smiling saints that decorate the faded façade of the Whitesmith’s Hall now beam down on the faces of passing mendicants as they enter. This once-grand structure is now home to the “Temperate Brethren of St. Lucia the Charitable”, a minor religious order that seeks to do good works and give shelter to the impoverished. Of course, those familiar with the city know that most locals refer to it as the “Cripples’ Guildhouse”. Inside, the woman called “One Leg Petra” rules the local beggars with an iron fist. Any of the quarter’s beggars that refuse to offer her fealty will soon have cause to regret it. The demoralized monastics of the Temperate Brethren have discovered that they too are pawns in “Dame Petra’s” games of control. They learned too late how she had twisted the charity they offered into a way to cement her control of the local poor. The situation has defeated them: If they go to the Watch for aid, those most in need will shun them, but if they allow the situation to remain, then Petra and her henchmen decide who gets any charity they can provide. Afraid that the order would lose the meager funding its patrons allow, the Abbot has chosen the lesser of two evils and prays daily for deliverance from his dilemma.
Across the square from the Whitesmith’s Hall, the “Free and Notable Sisterhood of Courtesans” hold their guild meetings in the carefully maintained halls that once held the city’s moneychangers. They make little effort to control non-guild prostitution, instead trying to ensure that their customers get only what was asked for. Diseased strumpets (if obvious) and disguised men are rapidly sent packing. The careful attention of the “Sisterhood” guarantees that the local bordellos treat their girls properly; they have enough “dirt” on local authorities to guarantee that a procurer who mistreats his staff is visited by the Watch on one of their infrequent rounds. If lesser measures fail them, the guild’s members will certainly ask a few of their “admirers” to set matters right.
Several gangs of thugs share an uneasy truce in the quarter. All agree that the market square is “neutral ground”, but the winding paths in and out of the area are often the site of vicious brawls among rival groups. The swaggering rogues that lead these gangs are a colorful (if threatening) sight, as they wander through the market, each surrounded by goons and hangers-on. The most violent of these gangs, the “Mud Dogs”, is well known for the wild parties held in their lair, where dogfights are held to enliven the festivities. The locals don’t dare even speak against them, as many an unfortunate has been fed to their vicious mastiffs as the “guest of honor” at one of their revels.
Down a dark and gloomy alley leading from the marketplace is an ominous structure, the manse of “Doctor Mirabilus”. He is the secretive head of the city’s “resurrection men”. These grave robbers provide cadavers for any who ask, with no questions asked. While only a handful ply this ghoulish trade, their reputation for necromantic power keeps the credulous local thieves at bay. While their mysterious powers are subject to debate, it is certain that the good doctor knows many things that others believe hidden. He can often be seen through the large windows of his home’s upper floors, apparently conversing with the empty air. Some have even reported hearing the spirits of the long dead whispering secrets to the cadaverously pale doctor.