The City of Gold
“Hey you! Yes, you with the sword! You find that rusting away in some ditch somewhere? Take a look here, I’ve got some real swords to sell you. Genuine Catarinan steel, beautifully balanced, guaranteed to last! What do you fancy, eh? I’ll even let you trade in that old crappy one if you want, save you a few gold…”
Catarina is a city of riches, a place where fortunes are made. Like a jealous spider she broods over trade routes and waterways – a focal point for travellers, merchants, and craftsmen.
The river running from the western mountains brings raw materials in abundance; stone, metal and precious gems, lumber, and grain travel in great barges along its winding curves and the open jaws of the City.
The bay is a welcome refuge from the storms of the north and the desolate desert coast to the south, with fleets of merchant vessels bringing goods to and from the City for trade elsewhere. Relations with her neighbours might be frosty at best, but Catarinan goods (and, more importantly, Catarinan gold) are welcomed with open arms and open purses across the known world.
The city supports a diverse range of industry, and it is here that some specialist craftsmen create works it is hard if not impossible to find elsewhere, from fine examples of weapons and armour, to mechanical contraptions, elegant glasswork and more. The city’s artists are reknowned, particularly for paintings, statuary, and jewellery, as well as fine tapestries and embroidery. The city is also a centre for trade in mystical artefacts, holy relics, and reagents of all kinds, as well as curios and wonders from distant lands.
Trade in the city is ostensibly governed by the Merchants’ Guild, who oversee contracts and levy duties on anyone attempting to sell goods or services. Some complain that they are no better than thieves for doing so, but the wealth of the noble families is invariably tied in some way to the guild and so they enjoy political and legal support.
Of course where there are tax collectors, there is always a thriving black market and Catarina is no exception. The Thieves’ Guild fences stolen goods and brokers deals in the shadows, and there are no shortages of haggling traders in the winding medinas in the Old City.
The Nest of Vipers
There is an old saying – “Me against my brothers. Me and my brothers against my cousins. Me and my brothers and my cousins against the world” – and there are few places it rings more true than in Catarina.
It is rare to find a Caterinan citizen uninvolved in some sort of feud, grudge, or scheme, even if only as a patsy. And if a Caterinan isn’t scheming against their fellows, it’s because there is a greater external threat. Whether it is the petty rivalry of siblings in a noble house or merchants trying to muscle each other out of business, Caterinan citizens are famed for their divisiveness and infighting. That is, until as a group they are threatened – perhaps one of the reasons the city’s many complicated factions succumb more often to infighting than any other threat.
The goal that all the Noble Families strive towards is the Broken Throne – the symbol of leadership over the city. The occupant of the throne is known as the Seneschal, a term of office left as a relic from the city’s Imperial past. A person can only accede to the throne if selected by the Privy Council – the city’s de-facto ruling body. comprised of a member of each of the noble families, a Chancellor elected from the common folk (frequently the head of the Merchants’ Guild) and the high priest of Pelor. Historically, the position of Seneschal falls to one of two types of people – charismatic leaders with an iron determination and political skill, or easily-manipulated fools.
Meanwhile the Guilds concern theirselves with their own rivalries, fueled not in part through noble backers and members trying to take unconventional routes to power and influence. Though there are many minor guilds for any number of professions, most are subordinated (at least politically) to larger ones – the Merchants’ Guild in the case of most profession- and craft-related guilds, the Thieves’ Guild for those whose activities aren’t strictly legal, the Docker’s Guild for those related to shipping and ports (and occasionally piracy), or even the Church or Seneschal Guard.
The City That Never Sleeps
“What’s your poison, stranger? We’ve got the house ale, we brew it out back we does. Knock your socks off it will. There’s some fancy farmhouse stuff from up river if you want summat stronger, and that bitter foreign sludge from the south, not many who likes it, not that I judge if you does. Not your taste? Got some wines if you’re feeling fancy, maybe we can get you something special if you got the cash…”
There is always something happening in Caterina. Market squares are usually full on most days, particularly near the centre of the city. Bards, minstrels and other entertainers busk for coins on the streets and in taverns, and prostitutes are commonplace. The last Seneschal repealed the city’s unpopular curfew laws, meaning that taverns are open late into the night. Playhouses put on renditions of popular theatre (mostly comedies and satirical pieces), while public executions and humiliations of criminals provide fun for all the family.
Though it is technically illegal, the Dockers’ Guild runs a popular underground gladiatorial circuit in warehouses near the docks, where semi-professional fighters duke it out for the edification of the crowd and lucrative gambling opportunities. More legally, the Noble Houses hold regular tourneys, jousts, and archery competitions (all of which draw large crowds). And with about as much violence, a few areas of the city hold traditional football games (of the type where two hundred people on each side pile into the street and try to hoof the ball from one local tavern to another).