And so we begin the new year with another city-state of NOD. My goal is to write a city-state a week over the next three weeks, posting a few sneak previews as I go. Up first is Blackpoort, first mentioned in NOD 6 as a shadowy city of thieves and corruption. So, once more into the breech, my friends …
The cathedral of Mercurius is one of the central gathering places for citizens of Blackpoort. From haggling merchants to canny thieves and politicians, anyone who needs to make a deal or garner some spiritual assistance to get ahead eventually finds their way to the cathedral to make a quid pro quo sacrifice of something shiny and expensive.
The square is paved in dark red bricks in a sort of staggered diamond pattern. A band of postulant monks and nuns keeps the square clean with brooms and selling bits of useful junk and found items on the side.
1. Cathedral of Mercurius: Mercurius’ cathedral is a large, weathered construction of dark grey blocks of stone faced with sooty, yellow limestone. The building is covered with beautiful architectural details, including mulitple bas-reliefs depicting the adventures and accomplishments of Mercurius and his many children and consorts, including a large, cherished bas-relief of a voluptuous Venus on the northern face of the cathedral that attracts many offerings from hopeful lovers in the form of kisses from painted lips and garlands of white flowers.
The cathedral is surmounted by a tarnished dome of brass etched with protective glyphs and runes and several towers, each with a pointed roof and containing a large bronze bell. These bells are rung at midnight to call thieves, scoundrels and prostitutes to prayer.
The interior of the cathedral is dominated by a large sanctum containing an idol of Mercurius on the wing carved from white marble and coated with gold leaf. An altar before the idol contains slots through which offerings of coins and small gems are accepted. Vermilion robed priests are always on hand to advise petitioners and guard the locked iron boxes into which the offerings flow.
Surrounding the sanctum are a number of chambers used as storehouses of vestments, candles and other priestly paraphernalia, as well as offices, living chambers and rooms used for exorcisms, congress with departed souls and summonings. Secret doors in these ritual chambers lead into the subterranean levels of the cathedral, where the bodies of Blackpoort’s deceased aristocracy are processed for their journey to the Ethereal Plane. The priests of Mercurius, now robed in sable cloaks and wearing bronze gorgon masks, remove the heads with a silver axe, anoint them with costly, fragrant oils and seal them with beeswax. The heads are then placed in terracotta boxes and placed on shelves in the flooded catacombs under the cathedral. The bodies are then loaded onto barges and poled to one of many grottoes that connect with Blackmere, where they are sold to the strange denizens of the black lake or sorcerers in need of bodies for their explorations into the unknown. The priests do a good business in bodies and funerary rites.
The head of the cathedral is the Archbishop Wontan, a delicately featured man with high cheekbones, creamy skin and curly brown hair usually kept under a skullcap of vermilion silk. Wontan is the eldest of many siblings, all of whom are merchants and tradesmen. He is married to the abbess of St. Autolycus Abbey next door and has a son named Bode, a rapacious little snit who sits on the city council for his father.
2. Domen the Baker: Domen’s bakery is a single-story structure of blackened brick with three large chimneys that burn coal. The bakery has a 15-ft ceiling, a large work area that employs a dozen bakers and apprentices. A narrow strip facing Swindle Street has several tables for patrons to enjoy hot, buttered bread, frothy mugs of black beer (imported from the countryside) that is sometimes spiced with cinnamon and cloves and plum tarts. A private room in the back of the bakery is a favorite meeting place for rivals to make marriage deals beneath a small idol of Priapus, fertility god and son of Mercurius. The master of the establishment, Dolmen, is a self-effacing man with pale skin, beady grey eyes and short-cropped brown hair. Unbeknownst to the good people of Blackpoort, Domen is a maniac who wanders the streets at night murdering people and collecting their thumbs.
3. Fridaz the Barber: Fridaz is a strange man, lovely ivory skin, curly, golden hair and crimson eyes surrounded by a palpable melancholy. He rarely speaks, cutting hair (man of his customers are priests keeping their tonsures well clipped), shaving faces and pulling teeth, all with gentle competence and imparting a strange sense of calm and peace to his customers. Fridaz employs two apprentices, local boys who can only aspire to their master’s skill. He also owns a large, golden cat who lazes about the shop, opening its emerald eyes when people enter the shop and giving them a long, hard look. Fridaz dwells above the shop in a simple room with his cat, gazing out the window late into the night, studying the stars. Fridaz is a fallen angel, come to Nod a decade ago to deliver a message to the Archbishop from Mercurius, and then staying on too long. He developed a taste for the night life and fell in love with a dancing girl.
4. Old Curiosity Shop: This shop is run by an antiquarian called Bodur the Bald, an old man with a crooked spine, thin fingers twisted by rheumatism and a deeply creased face. Bodur has all manner of useful items in his shop, most of them quite old, but sturdy. Bodur knows a story behind most of the items in the shop, from simple lengths of rope to a singular brass lamp lamp with inlaid ivory panthers that he will not part with for less than 1,000 gp, explaining that it was carried by St. Oglethwit in his ancient and well known explorations of catacombs and tunnels that now form the foundation of Blackpoort’s undercity.
5. The Screeching Maiden: The Screeching Maiden is a decent quality coaching inn on the High Street and next to Cathedral Square. The inn is named for its “sign”, an old figure head over the entrance that is connected to a copper pipe that runs from a vat of water next to a hearth. As steam builds in the vat, it finally bursts forth from the maiden’s mouth, giving off a loud whistle.
The entrance to the inn is via a double door in the inn’s courtyard, where a groom awaits to take a horse and/or carriage to a shed just south of the inn, or by a cellar entrance on the High Street.
The Screeching Maiden has three floors, the upper floors given to a dozen private rooms and a large common room. The first floor has quarters for the staff and the owner, Clerren, and his family. There are two taverns, one in the south wing that serves the city-state’s famous dark stouts and a menu of sausages, roast pigeons, sour dough breads and honey cakes for desert. One can usually find Nevin, a baronet, holding court here with his retinue of rakes and doxies. Nevin is a seductive man who spends money much faster than his manorial village can make it.
The more popular tavern for adventurers is in the cellar, where rot-gut liquor and heavily fortified wines and food brought down from the kitchen. The cellar is usually crowded, noisy and fun. A large hearth is shared with a “secret” room that holds a large tub of water available for private stews with the tavern wenches, Dawn (a mousy blond), Thomka (a tall, pasty faced red head with an infectious laugh and sparkling green eyes) and Xalta (a buxom emigre’ from Mu-Pan with a round, pleasing face and a sultry voice). Gorlaf, a baudy jongleur who performs in his pantaloons and with a painted face, entertains most nights in the cellar, reciting dirty limericks and performing juggling tricks with daggers and wooden balls.
The landlord of the inn, Cleren, is a retired soldier who still carries his broadsword on his hip. He is married to Nemaeri, a woman from the countryside with a bit of hobgoblin blood flowing through her veins. She has reddish skin, black hair worn in long braids, and a chiseled, though pretty, face. She stands 7′ tall in her stocking feet and is built like an amazon. Sturdy and voluptuous, she gets plenty of stares from the patrons in the cellar tavern, which she runs, but nobody is stupid enough to whistle. Clerren and Nemaeri have three children and employ ten servants.