The sea lashes the rust-red ramparts, and the shapes of hooded men move past me.
The Conspiracy of Equals
This organisation is devoted to the overthrow of all rulers, and the sharing of all wealth. They are said to meet in the extensive sewer system below the city.
They are loosely structured by conviction, and for security.
Leaving no records and raising no monuments, the history of the group is unknown, even to themselves. They believe that they were founded by "fathers and mothers, who came out of the ground from a cave."
My research has led me to the story of the uprising of the Roman slaves, led by Spartacus. The slave army is said to have split into three. One part, led by Spartacus, marched on Rome and was destroyed. A second part, convinved by the arguments of Crixus the German, marched over the Alps and out of the Roman Empire. But the fate of the third part is unknown. It may be that the founders of the Conspiracy were none other than this lost band - especially since they are said to have included Egyptian slaves of great learning.
It is rumoured that some of the Conspiracy meet in the sewers.
At any time a person wandering the streets of Teleleli may find a small alley near their house that they never noticed before, and that alley leading to a whole new area. Should they pass by they may never be able to find it again. But should they explore this new area they might find it filled, perhaps, with people speaking a language that the sages have declared extinct. Or people who are identical to one's own neighbours except that the good are evil and the evil good. Or, as often happens, it may be abandoned entirely. Indeed the traveller may often find work exploring such areas, ensuring that the new neighbours are not partial to human flesh, or that the former occupants of the magnificent villas were not dispatched by some fell presence which lingers still, or that the houses are not Hungry (see Creatures). I well recall the flippant challenge of my childhood; "I bet you won't spend the night at the old Smith place!" In Teleleli spending the night in an unknown place, particularly one which seems have been there all along, yet has not been seen before, is a most solemn and dangerous undertaking.
Yet spend the night people do, and thus new places to live are constantly uncovered. Although it seems strange to speak of new places, when so often they are choked with ivy and the dust of ages lies heavy on them.
Thus there is not much construction in Teleleli. Further, construction is most unpopular, due to the bad behaviour of construction workers, obnoxious men who shout things at women passing by - for example "I'm looking for a real committment, and enjoy giving massages!" or "I work out regularly, and would enjoy going shopping with you!" - in the hope of rendering them unsatisfied with their current partners. Women being thought unsuited to the work, some companies have tried hiring robots. But the robots soon learned to shout philosophical conundrums and logical paradoxes, which proved equally distressing.
This city guard is so named because of the large number of Tree-Folk recruited to join it.
Although they do fight crime, they have an evil reputation. They are accused of 'rescuing' orphaned children, or the children of criminals, and while proclaiming that they're being given a better life, using them as slave labour, mercenaries or unwilling settlers in far lands.
The Court of Miracles
The Court of Miracles is the name both of a rumoured criminal gang, and of its headquarters. The name is said to have been bestowed because criminals often pretend to be blind, crippled, wounded in war etc. In the gang's headquarters they drop their pretence, and thus one may see 'miracles' such as the dying brought to full health and cripples walking.
The Masters of the group, collectively known as "The Four-Face Ghoul" are said to be as follows:
- The Middleman, or Half-hanged Smith.
- The Glove Woman. or the Fox-Eyed Woman (some speak of these as two people, and Sir Archy and the Grand Master as one).
- Sir Archy.
- The Grand Master, a man called Bill, or the King.
The gang's headquarters is said to be in the sewers beneath the city.
Their main income is said to come from drugging the unwary and stealing their kidneys. To whom they are sold is unknown, but some say that these 'clients' have become the true masters of the gang.
The Court is also said to sell the scalps of their victims to wig- and rope-makers, the fat for soap and candles, and various other items to sorcerers and alchemists.
I have been told that one way in which the gang finds victims is as follows:
A messenger turns up at the house of a known thief, unscrupulous merchant, or similar person. The messenger bears a letter, and says "I don't know who it's for, I was just told to deliver this to anyone in the house".
The house might be in Market Street, but the message is marked 'to the master of the house, Margate Street', or a similar plausible mistake.
The message might say, for example, "all is in readiness my dear friend. You have but to turn up under pier 'D' at the docks, at exactly midnight this Friday. The man there won't know you - but simply ask him for a tinder-box as a password. This man will guide you outside the city, where the 10,000 shells are hidden. I will stay in the inn until you come to deliver my share."
The victim decides to cunningly take advantage of this mistake. They turn up at the pier at the appointed time. Naturally they tell noone, and make sure that no one sees them. The man is there and recognises the password, and guides them outside the city, where other members of the gang wait to overpower them.
The Court of Miracles is said to include a group of assassins called the Good Guests, so-called because they bring their own 'cutlery' and 'spices' (weapons and poison).
Guilds, and the Guildless
Most professions in the city have an organisation, called a guild. In terms of our world they are, at least in theory, part trade union or cooperative, part secret society or lodge, part charity, and part social club.
At one extreme, some guilds ensure that all members receive the same income for their efforts, and the Masters are masters only of their craft, not of younger members. Others will simply ensure that minimum standards of work are met in the trade. At their worst, guilds are a means for Masters to exploit Apprentices, or to practice discrimination against particular folk.
Guilds usually have three ranks: Apprentice, Journeyman (or Journeywoman), and Master (or Mistress).
These ranks are associated with the three times of a woman's life: maiden, mother, and crone. A carpenter explained to me that an apprentice does not produce work, but is instructed in what they will need to do so; a journeyman produces work; and a Master no longer brings forth work, but instructs apprentices, and supports and advises journeymen. Thus, he said, the works of a craftsman are like the children borne by a mother.
In some guilds female members will be called Maiden, Mother and Crone rather than the usual titles of rank. In others they will be called Journeyman and Master rather than Journeywoman and Mistress. In many guilds all members will temporarily take on "the titles of motherhood" in ceremonies.
The traveller should expect to be feared or pitied by many for having neither guild nor clan nor temple. The adventurer, despite that he may have great wealth, is still cousin to the vagabond and the bandit (the word 'askaris', literally meaning 'swarming locusts', can be applied to mercenaries, groups of bandits, or any other band of armed outsiders). Indeed despite their curiosity about our world, I was almost never asked about it, for all assumed that I must have a great shame or great sorrow to have travelled so far alone. This feeling is more intense outside of the big cities, where rootless wanderers are less common.
The guild members that the traveller will have most traffic with are, naturally, those who take part in expeditions to the wilderness, sea, or underworld. Some examples include
- Porters who carry equipment or treasure, or those who handle pack-animals.
- Guides and interpreters (two skills most valuable in a land where travel and maps are so rare).
- Those who hunt food (and usually also serve as cooks).
- Those with a specialised knowledge of plants. Depending on the prevailing flora they may be able to gather food, prepare poisons, or give some limited medical assistance.
- Sailors. This single word covers a variety of trades: navigators, helmsmen or -women, dressers (who maintain diving suits and assist in their use), rowers (almost as common as sail for large ships), and so on.
- Caddies. Some creatures are resistant to particular weapons. Thus many travellers will have several weapons, and will engage an assistant to carry them and present the most appropriate one as needed.
One may be tempted to pay less than the going rate. I have heard that, with patience, one may as much as halve one's expense. Of course those who are hired at such rates will be more likely to desert in times of danger. They are also more likely to be incompetent, quarrelsome, or prone to theft. Paying higher than the going rate will not necessarily result in better applicants, but they will at least be more loyal.
Typically contracts involve a promise to pay the assistant's heirs if they die, and to make all efforts to bring their body back. One can of course break these promises. However this will result in difficulties hiring others. Further these contracts, like all others, involve a supplication to the gods to curse anyone who breaks their part, and it cannot be said with certainty that the gods never listen.
Contracts usually specify a minimum amount that must be paid, as well as a percentage of treasure, with the higher amount applying.
It is also wise to bear in mind the near-universal taboo against failing to properly bury bodies. This is not only out of respect for the person, but fear of being haunted. This belief also applies to beasts. Hunters will perform a token funeral rite for their prey, burying a single bone.
This taboo includes taking posessions off a corpse. Even one who confronts a thief in their house and kills them will fear to recover their shells.
This state applies only to the recently dead. There is no fear in robbing the tomb of one dead for at least a century or so. Though woe to he who 'picks unripe fruit'.
It happened that the noted cat-burglar Edwina Tibbletibtub, when caught in the bell-tower of the Temple of the Crone, held on to the ancient and priceless bell as she died. Thus the relic was removed and buried with her in a secret place, until generations later when the temple was able to dig it back up and reinstall it (the event celebrated as the Return of the Bell every year).
Thus hirelings who are prepared to loot dead enemies, or tolerate others doing so, are rare. And they will always be desperate, unable to find other work, and will be wounded in body or mind. Yet they will still expect higher pay than normal hirelings. An aged cripple values their only life no less than a stout swordsman.
Those who are undertaking a journey outside of Teleleli may wish to begin by visiting the offices of an insurance company. In most cases this will not be to take out insurance, but to find work.
Wealthy folk often seek insurance for long journeys; for example, a monarch sending a child to another kingdom to be married. The company stands to make a great fortune on such a policy, but they may lose a greater one if they have to pay out. Since these journeys are very rare, there is little data on exactly how dangerous these journeys are. Thus it is difficult for the company to know what conditions to offer.
To remedy this, companies will often hire groups of adventurers to make a particular journey, to see how many survive. They may have to make the journey under particular conditions, in order that their chances of survival more closely match those of potential clients. For example, the company may supply a wagon which appears to be laden with silks, or a child whose finery suggests they have great value in ransom.
The adventurers should be sure to negotiate their contract carefully, especially if they venture into an area where there are jackals or wolves. Insurance companies generally don't cover acts of dog.
The League of Snide, Aristocratically-Accented Villains
This criminal organisation specialises in elaborate schemes on a grand scale. Ideally a plan should allow them to take over at least part of the world, or gain a fortune by threatening the destruction of a city or kingdom. They disdain ordinary crime, with the exception of burglary of art and precious jewels.
My investigations suggest that their base is either an abandoned funfair, or what sounds like a gigantic zeppelin, so high in the sky that it cannot be seen (my informant suggested that they travel from zeppelin to city and back at night).
Their most respected member is the Count Nom DePlume, a figure of great mystery. Some have suggested that this isn't even his real name.
They have vast wealth, dedication and genius. However they are let down by their poor social skills, with members trying to become leader rather than co-operating. Indeed it is rumoured that one of their number, Baron von Rickman, has started a rival organisation, after a dispute with the Count over a favourite monocle.
The Pony Express
This guild of gnomes has catapults and giant nets carefully arranged in Teleleli, and various other cities. Specially trained horses and riders are flung by the catapults, to land in the nets at their destination. They carry parcels and letters, which is how the guild makes its money.
Every so often a horse will arrive on time, but without its rider or parcels. It is said that those hired to investigate have found nothing, or have disappeared themselves. One theory is that some villainous personage is firing a magnetic ray to cause the ponies to fly off course.
For this reason important messages are sometimes sent by carrier parrot. This system is more expensive, due to the difficulty of training parrots, but has the advantage that a parrot can be trained to not speak its message unless it arrives at its proper destination. Thus no third party can learn the message by intercepting the bird.
The Seventh-Day Inventists
This unpopular group is said to fill the heads of the young and vulnerable with dangerous nonsense, such as the idea that the gods are not worthy of worship, and obscure drivel about 'experiments' and 'rational explanations'.
Their members have, however, gained some respect in the adventuring field, since their fanatical beliefs allow them to use ancient technology with less danger, to resist sorcery (unfortunately this includes useful magics as well as harmful ones), and to shake the self-confidence of demons and evil spirits; they have been known to convince ghosts that they don't exist.
The True Mummer's Standard Advanced
It is said that in ancient times a great director came to loathe what he saw as the theatre's emphasis on artificial style over emotion. He set up a secret theatre in an unknown location. He then began kidnapping ordinary people, and forcing them to learn the lines of his plays. Just before they gave their forced performance, he informed them falsely that their entire family had been killed, in order to inspire the correct depth of feeling. Though the director is dead, this organisation is said to continue his work.