Our journey across the Continent continues up the Ascent, northwest through the Haven Mountains, and deep into the heart of the Kingdom of Malesiir (MAL/eh/SEER). First, let's explore the capital city, Malsihra (MAL/zih/rah).
Malsihra is nestled in a valley between low mountain ranges. Even at a distance, the expansive dense city appears colorful from the variety of buildings, the materials used, and their age. As you descend into the valley, your eye is drawn to the pops of bright color in the market squares and the wealthy residential sections. The austerity of the immense castle with its slate tiled spires vies for your attention. Also prominent are a collection of large sprawling buildings surrounded by patches of dirt. They are the military barracks, stables, and training yards. A closer inspection of the city reveals dark weathered sections, those older portions of the city that have not yet been rebuilt, with thatched roofs, wood walls and peeling plaster.
Before you are thoroughly caught up in the bustle of the city, the looming fortified wall comprised of bastion towers and crenelated battlements claims your focus. Soldiers--the city guards--patrol the top of the wall at regular intervals. Though fully armed they are at their ease, their attention more often drawn to the goings on within the city than outside it. Deep in the borders of Malesiir, the guards have little cause for concern. Judging by their behavior, the majority of their time is occupied by maintaining civil order in the capital. Only the guards in the gatehouse are truly alert, marking the faces of those entering the city and occasionally asking them their business. Once you pass beneath the heavy iron portcullis, cobbled streets welcome you into the city.
Following the upward curving streets you pass many taverns, inns, stables, cobblers, milliners, smiths, bakers, saddlers, carpenters, and the like. Shops of all kinds line the main streets proudly displaying their goods and beckoning you inside. Market squares are filled with mobile vendors to sell flowers, produce, fish and grain. The city is filled with people. Boasting a population of some twenty-thousand with thousands more journeying into the city each day. A peek down a narrower intersecting street reveals connected houses. These belong to the merchants, ranking military, and lesser nobles.
Though tempted to spend the day wandering the streets and sampling all manner or goods, you press on to the top of the sloped streets. Surrounded by a dry moat and protected by a curtain wall is the castle at Malsihra, the home of the royal family.
The castle is an impressive sight to behold. Crossing a drawbridge you reach the barbican, the protruding gatehouse. The castle guards are far more alert than the city guards. The size of the portcullis is staggering. But your eye quickly strays past it to the multiple tiers and spires and glass windows glinting in the sunlight. The metallic clanging of swords jerks you around to the side. Another military barracks, this for the castle guards, crouches along the inner wall of the courtyard, properly known as the lower bailey. Soldiers practice in fenced training yards outside the armory which is connected to the barracks. A third building connects to those. It is unmistakably the stable. Never have you seen such prized horseflesh--graceful riding horses, small draft horses, and those agile but sturdy destriers, the warhorses for the cavalry.
There are more buildings in the bailey that house blacksmiths, laundry, butchers, grainary, and some you cannot identify. You learn those are the falcon mews and dovecote. Falconry is a great hobby of the nobility. Spreading out from the lower bailey on the south side are the physic garden, the kitchen garden, and the formal garden. Although the bulk of the foodstuffs used for the castle are purchased, the castle physician and head cook prefer to grow their own herbs because of their daily demand. Beyond those kept gardens is a vast enclosed private forest complete with trails for riding and hunting small game. It extends all the way to where the castle's curtain wall and the city's wall connect. On the smaller northern end of the lower bailey, past the various out buildings, is a well tended path that leads to a private cemetery for the royal family. Thankfully, no new interments have been made in more than twenty years.
Seated higher upon the incline of the mountain and enclosed by yet another wall is the upper bailey containing the castle proper and the chapel. It is uncertain when the first blocks for the castle were laid, but it was well before the current ruling family came into power. What is known is that additions were made to the castle over the years to modernize it. The most obvious is the incorporation of hundreds of elaborate mullioned glass windows in an age where glass is only available to the most wealthy. There are at least four main levels in the castle, not including the tall towers. The best way to describe the size of the castle is to say that one could spend most of a day attempting to walk each and every corridor and inevitably miss things. As for the details within the castle, I will let Princess Erianna be your guide in Redemption's Call. (I may ask her to give us a full tour of the castle at a later time. Between you and I, she can be hard to pin down. She always seems to have better things to do.)
It is a bit of a surprise to see the stark contrast between the utilitarian villages within the mountains and the civilized capital. Though Malsihra is the heart of the kingdom, there are a few other cities of nearly equal grandeur. Port Veritae (VAIR/ih/tay), the main port of trade, is one of them. Dargale and Ryebrough are the others. Each city is a hub for commerce, advancement, and refinement. From here knowledge flows outward into the lesser cities and trickles down into the villages. Each of these major cities is centrally located near a border or in the Western, Central, or Southern province to allow for easy trade. It has been rumored that Prince Grandileer, Malesiir's soon-to-be-crowned king, intends to construct two new cities within the Northern province, which remains more isolated due to geography.
Politically, Malesiir is a hereditary monarchy ruled by the Rodiharian (rah/dih/HAR/ee/an) family. Though the society is feudal, it has moved into a more enlightened view of social classes and their relation to governance. For instance, educated, well-respected tradesmen are permitted to become elders within the villages. The lowest classes are permitted to own land and move from city to city without the ruling noble's permission. No one within Malesiir is a serf or slave. The laws of Malesiir that were redrafted by King Boldizar (BOWL/dih/zar) and his father King Laszlo (LAZ/low) recognize the inherent rights of all men, from peasant to noble, to be treated with dignity and justice. There are also laws in place that protect women and children from being mistreated. To that end, one of the duties of any Malesiirian soldier is to protect the defenseless.
The societal code within Malesiir that is based more on tradition than on law, is outside the bounds of this foray, but it will suffice to say that marrying between social classes is frowned upon and rarely done if the distance is more than one rung higher. It is also worth noting that women have fewer rights to own land and businesses. They are also required to be under the protection of their closest male relation until they have reached the age of twenty-five, though many remain under that authority or the authority of their husband their entire lives.
Returning to the topic of political governance,
let's work our way up the social ladder by examining a village. Within each village are a variety of subsistence farmers and tradesmen. The peasants work for any of the other classes, serve the nobility or enlist in the military.
The village is governed by elders who are elected by the residents from any of the lowest three social classes. They govern the villages and speak on behalf of them to the district governors. Each district is comprised of multiple smaller cities and villages. The governors are most often from the nobility located on neighboring estates, though they may be merchants or, in rare cases, retired military officers. It is the governor's duty to keep peace within their districts and carry out the orders of the king. There is also a trade official that represents each district. The trade official organizes the production of goods within their district and ensures those goods are transported from the storehouses to the larger cities to be distributed and exported. They are also responsible for paying the lower classes for their goods. The trade officials report directly to nobility within the major cities who in turn report to the king. The system was designed to enhance the production and mobility of goods within Malesiir. But it is not without its flaws.
Exporting within Malesiir is a very lucrative business. Malesiirian goods are known for their quality. Thus, there is a high demand for them throughout the Continent. The most profitable exports are wool, ale, mead, and marble.
There are many fascinating cities to explore within Malesiir. Though some have a larger criminal element than Malsihra. In fact, Commander Valor Ironforge was investigating claims of a smuggling ring operating in Port Veritae prior to being sent to retrieve Princess Erianna from Limba. Hopefully the governor will sort out the trouble soon. If not, the Hand of the King must be called upon to contend with the smugglers.