Chronicles of Makbah
Located at the mouth of the [Name] river, Makbah is an incredibly densely populated port city near the south eastern tip of Ursacea. Due to its narrow, twisting streets and countless canals, it is often more efficient to travel within the city by water taxi or ferry. The large waterway that snakes through the core of the city is called the Grand Canal, and is an experience all its own; always furiously busy and deafeningly noisy, full of frustrated commuters, shouting merchants, and the cries of beggars.
The city is governed by an aristocracy composed of noble houses and merchant magnates who are often known to be more interested in squabbling over land, power, and lucrative trade agreements than actually governing the population. The majority of the government institutions are located just off the south bank of the river where it joins the ocean, on what is known as Pillar Island, due to the particular style of architecture used in the government facilities. The ruling body of Makbah has made an unofficial but nearly unbroken rule of disallowing any of the public water taxis or ferries to dock on the island, making it almost impossible for anyone not wealthy enough to own their own boat to be represented or informed of government proceedings.
While a fair number of the wealthiest noble and merchant houses are clustered in a district east of the city’s center, across the river from Pillar Island, many are also scattered throughout the other districts. This has resulted in the nobility having somewhat territorial behavior, as they each play their games of scheming and intrigue using the particular resources available in their area of influence.
To the northwest, the city’s expansion is limited by the extensive estuary created by the slow, shallow flow of the northern river fork as it meanders towards the sea. These marsh lands are home to several small tribes of lizardfolk and other semi-aquatic species who do not always get along well with their urban neighbors. In addition to occasional conflicts with these bands, the poorer sections that border the northwest also deal with seasonal flooding and swarms of insects from the swamps.
The lands to the south of the main river channel are primarily occupied by farms and food processing facilities. Due to the multitude of small streams which provide easy irrigation and rich nutrients, Makbah controls some of the most productive farm land in the region. While the workers themselves are still quite poor, those who actually own the farms, ranches, packing plants, and granaries, have become somewhat wealthy, and many occupy a growing middle class district at the southern corner of the city.
Makbah’s location also makes it easy to receive lumber purchased from other settlements further west, in the vast inland forests, who simply send log rafts downstream to be gathered by the workers at the river’s mouth. With such a readily available supply of lumber, Makbah’s shipwrights turn out everything from small ferry skiffs and fishing boats to enormous naval galleons at a prodigious rate. Most of the area near the city’s eastern tip is comprised of lumber mills, shipwright workshops, and lower class housing for the workers and sailors. It is also home to the naval base, which boasts an impressive armada.
The western tip of the city, south of the marshes, contains Makbah’s army barracks and city watch headquarters. The army occupies most of the district, but the city watch is situated at the south east corner, furthest from the swamp’s odors and insects. This small but important matter of location is one of many factors that have resulted in an enmity between the two factions that is sometimes only barely contained. For many of the poor and unskilled people in the city, military service becomes one of the only livelihoods available. The navy is the most prestigious of the three armed forces, though most that possess the sailing skills required for naval service commonly choose the more lucrative (and less dangerous) life of a merchant sailor. The city watch is generally considered to be the next best choice, though it is a relatively small force, requiring background checks and supposedly holding their officers to a high standard of conduct (at least initially). Lastly, the army will often take any person able to stand in a line and hold a spear, making it a common choice for those willing to endure the strict, miserable life of a soldier in exchange for three meals a day and a barracks in which to sleep.
Sprawling to the east of the army district are the poorest, densest neighborhoods in Makbah. The northern section of the region is the most destitute and is known as the Ashfall district due to the slow, constant rain of soot produced from the forge chimneys in the smithy district to the north. The entire area is also permeated by the smells of the docks and fish processing facilities that line the northern coast. It is an area avoided by most of the city watch patrols, and often ignored by the government. Due to the tightly packed, shoddy wooden buildings and the accumulations of trash and debris in the narrow alleys, this district occasionally suffers wildfires that can devastate entire neighborhoods.
South and east of these poor districts, on both sides of the southern bend in the Great Canal, many of Makbah’s merchants and money lenders have set up shop. Within this merchant district, in such a successful port town, one would be hard-pressed to name something not for sale. Though, as the saying goes, buyer beware. Some shopkeepers on the southern side of the quarter are known for their less than scrupulous ways, as well as their less than savory wares.
At the south eastern edge of the merchant district lies an enormous, convoluted maze of docks. This is where, at the start of each market day, fleets of barges, skiffs, and floating merchant stands gather together from around the city. Here, farmers, craftsmen, performers, bookies, shoppers, and sightseers come from all across the city to buy, sell, trade, and otherwise transact business, or to simply take in the swirling spectacle known as the Floating Market. The first several dozen vessels to arrive are often the only ones able to moor at the actual docks, while further arrivals must affix themselves to the other boats. On a typical market day, a few hundred such densely packed vessels create makeshift streets and squares extending almost entirely across the river. This chaotic tableau, full of shouting voices, strong smells, and striking colors is the highlight of the week for many citizens.
However, while the Floating Market may be the most extravagant part of Makbah, its beating heart is said to be the burgeoning upper-middle class district that has sprung up around Coin Kisser’s Row, a narrow square located in almost the exact geographical center of the city. A comment overheard by the right person in one of this district’s sophisticated parlor clubs, or a contract signed with the right name in one of its bustling financial offices can often precipitate sweeping trends throughout the city’s social, commercial, or political circles. Here, fortunes are made, and lives can be ruined.
Barely a dozen blocks to the west, Makbah’s atmosphere takes on a much more reverent tone. In the area between Coin Kisser’s Row and the northern market district, one can find a dedicated place of worship for almost any faith in existence. From towering cathedrals and grand ritual gardens to dilapidated temples and humble shrines, the spectacles here can rival that of the Floating Market, though simple sightseeing tends to be discouraged. While most citizens aren’t overly devout, it is considered good social conduct to donate to at least one of the religious organizations on a regular basis. It is primarily because of that practice that many of the parishes have chosen this location, for it is the most common route of travel between the largest markets and the wealthiest parts of town. The more popular churches are likely to receive more in donations from passersby on a single market day than a common worker could hope see in an entire month’s wages.
A city of Makbah’s size and population of course generates prodigious quantities of trash. While much of it is processed and disposed of through magical means, the canals still spew forth large amounts of urban debris with each cycle of the tide. Caught between the outflow of the river and the ocean’s wicked currents, most of the floating refuse is eventually carried south and pushed towards shore several miles away. This part of the coast, with its white, jagged limestone cliffs, has been dubbed the Teeth of Makbah. Along with the assorted detritus from the city, many scuttled ships and other damaged watercraft also wash up against the rocky outcroppings along this particularly dangerous stretch of coastline, creating the graveyard of masts and shattered hulls called the Wooden Wastes. For years, the Wastes were tempting scavenging grounds for anyone brave or desperate enough to risk the surging currents and sharp, slippery rocks. Recently, however, rumors have been spreading of something lurking beneath the waves…