It is said that long ago there were a dozen merchants who were fed up with the restrictions placed on them by the Pure Flame. Gambling, drugs, drinking, and slaves all became illegal overnight, and their ventures were overturned. Only the blackamoors, a small percentage of the bound, could remain shackled. It was an outrage, and, more importantly, bit into their prophets.
The Followers to the east and animistic kingdoms to the west didn’t indulge, though they would allow the distractions. Neither proved immensely profitable. So the merchants made a wager with fate herself that they could find something far to the west, based on rumors and myths, and strike rich.
Madmen spoke of how, somewhere toward the mountains unseen, there was a large lake, and that lake tasted great upon the tongue, though to consume too much would lead to death. Then the lake would dry out, and white crystals rested out in the open. Throughout the years, nuggets of crystals from the west would appear and sell for exuberant prices. It was salt, and it was a spice as precious as rubies. Even if they had to trek through the entire desert, it would fill their pockets with gold until it overflowed.
Of the twelve, five died. Then, in the distance, one of their slaves found the salt. Other scouts found water to the north about two days. While salt made the greedy men salivate, they understood the need to survive long enough to mine.
Tents were set up. Stores were created. Deals and rights were brokered pertaining to how much salt the men could mine and sell. Then the city, though mostly made of the entorage of the seven surviving merchants, was built. The merchants created a council, and the wealth flowed easily through their fingers.
Until the monsters appeared.
After a generation of mining the salt and creating a true city, growing by miles every year, behemoths came down, as if from the mountains to the west. They followed the river of the ice caps, which fed into the salt, and roamed through the flats. The flesh of men drew them in, and they couldn’t get enough. Fortunately, they were shy and wouldn’t approach Abr proper, but they still made great sport of human flesh.
The merchants played hide and seek with the beasts, and had men paid large sums of money to act as a decoy, drawing the behemoths away from the operations, allowing more valuable slaves and supplies to escape.
One day, a boy who was to die as a decoy decided to hunt the monster. Some had the same idea, but all ended up dead. However, this man was the first to succeed. When asked his name, he simply said, “Qas,” or hunter. To this day, all those who hunt the beasts of the salt flats are known as Qas.
Abr is run by the Council of Salt, which includes seven merchants, signifying the seven who made it. There are five on what is called the Dead Council, to honor the five merchants who did not make it. They fill in for absent merchants, or if a family is snuffed out they take that family’s spot.
Council members remain on their seat as long as they have the money to pay the extremely steep fee for the spot. The fee is not paid to the council. Instead, the fee is paid by supporting the community. These endeavors include building infrastructure, holding parties and feasts for the common folk, funding security through armaments and bodies, unprofitable trade routes with Lake G’desh, and other kindness. Without these kindnesses, the city would soon die.
The second requirement is that a man or woman of the direct family still remains. Nephews, nieces, cousins, uncles, aunts, and any other relation does not count. It must be a son or daughter. It is always the oldest son, unless there is no son, then it is the most skilled daughter.
When a seat on the Council of Salt opens, the oldest family on the Dead Council rises up to take the spot. Some years this becomes a bidding war instead, but that is only in desperate times when a particularly generous family is needed.
The Dead Council seat, once open through any means, is bought outright. There is a bidding war for five days, and whoever has offered the most in gold, gifts, and prestige by day five gets the seat. These are always incredible festivals, where even the poor eat like kings.
Merchants are a class of their own, far above the others. Even poor merchants are seen with a great deal of respect. This is because merchants bring in the much needed goods to keep the city alive, and without the risk of venturing out into the desert, Abr would die.
To be a merchant, a person has to go to Lake G’desh and return with goods to sell. Some do it for the sake of adventure, and return with incredible tales. These merchants are more storyteller, and often bring in far more money speaking at taverns.
The council, whether Salt or Dead, owns family manors, where the entire extended family stays. Each manor is a small city, and some are on the outskirts, as if a mirage off in the sands. Those without such wealth often times have modest estates, with a few slaves and servants. They often times cannot afford to bring in the entire extended family, but will have a few close relatives.
Craftsmen and skilled laborers make good money, and can often find passage with caravans, especially if an oasis is paying for workers. The truly talented have a merchant patron who gets exclusive rights to their products, whether it is stone sculpting or play writing.
Anyone under that is a cog in the machine. Unskilled and manual labor is easily and quickly replaced. Even with the great parties, life is generally built around survival at any means necessary. Most individuals at this level have stolen something in their life, even if usually it’s small. To get caught stealing anything big is to risk a limb and brand. They can make a lot of money working the salt flats, though life is short. A family can make even more money if a child is lent to being a monster decoy. The life of a decoy is around six months. None make it more than two years.
Slaves are below this. There is nothing good in their life, and those thinking ahead work to pay for the freedom of their children.
A new class, the qas, is only a couple centuries old. They are both reviled and revered, as they are grunt fighters, yet they hunt the most lucrative and dangerous prey in the area: the salt monsters.
This is the merchant city-state of Abr. There is wealth and riches like nowhere else, save possibly the Bronze City. There is poor and destitute unknown anywhere in the sands. The monsters are legend, and the hunters, even after only a few generations of work, are heroes of impossible wonder. This is Abr, the City of Salt.
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