Tales of the Nentir Vale
“Mind your manners and watch your purse, my boy. People of Sarthel have a delicate sense of honor, and they’re quick to draw steel when you offend it.”
On the shores of Lake Sarn stands the city-state of Sarthel, the largest and most prosperous city remaining in the heartland of old Nerath. The city’s foundries and workshops produce jewelry (especially silverwork) and goods known for hundreds of miles around. In this dark and doubtful age, few cities thrive as Sarthel does.
A great city by the standards of the small towns and feudal states of the Nentir Vale, Sarthel is wealthy but decadent and corrupt. The city is known for its metalworkers, especially its jewelers and silversmiths. The western reaches of the Draco Serrata mountains are rich in copper and silver, providing ample material for the smelters. The Blackfall Vale produces grain, olives, oranges, and other crops that grow well in arid environments. The dry grassland surrounding the city is good cattle country; beef, cheese, and leather are plentiful. Sarthel imports wood, textiles, and raw materials.
Gold is king in Sarthel, and the city is constantly humming with trade and speculation. The city’s noble families own mercantile empires that bring in raw goods from places as close as Therund or as far as the Free Cities of Zembar. Dozens of guilds of artisans compete fiercely to turn out the finest jewelry, silverware, blades, and clothing. Trade is a bare-knuckled affair, and more than a few commercial rivalries between noble families or guilds are resolved with duels or riots. The people of Sarthel are notorious for their quick tempers, and they see rivals and competitors as their worst enemies.
Sarthel is a surprisingly old city, dating back two thousand years or more. It first grew to prominence as a provincial capital in the tiefling empire of Bael Turath. Many of the city’s cellars, sewers, and streets date back to those early days.
Unlike other towns and cities of old Nerath, Sarthel weathered the wars and plagues that brought down the empire, protected by its sturdy walls and defensible location. Much of the surrounding area was devastated, but Sarthel survived more or less intact. In the hundred years since Nerath’s collapse, Sarthel has slowly established itself as a regional power and center of civilization in an otherwise wild and desolate land. Some of the city’s lords eye the smaller,
scattered towns of the Dragondown Coast only a hundred miles to the east and dream of making Sarthel into a republic — or a kingdom. But rumours say Sarthel now faces a dark and deadly peril: one that lies inside its walls and is slowly taking control of the city government.
Population: Roughly 15,000 people live in Sarthel, with more in outlying villages and farmlands
along the Blackfall Vale. About two-thirds of the population is human. Dwarves, halflings, and tieflings are the most numerous nonhumans, and each congregate in different districts.
Government: Sarthel is ostensibly ruled by a Council of Lords, a body consisting of about
twenty hereditary nobles. The council appoints a High Seneschal as the leading civic official, who runs the city’s daily affairs.
Defence: A strong wall forms a half-ring around the city; Lake Sarn guards the rest. Sarthel has a small standing army of about 200 cavalry and 800 foot soldiers, but each of the noble families commands scores of mercenaries and loyal guards.
Inns: The Sarnview Inn near the city’s east gate caters to travelers, offering decent lodgings at a good price.
Taverns: The Thirsty Rider is a rough taproom favored by cattlehands and laborers in the western district. The Silver Cup is a wine shop and banquet hall favored by many of Sarthel’s wealthy and influential citizens, although travelers might find trouble in the form of quarrelsome young nobles quick to draw blade against any insult, real or imagined.
Sarthel consists of three sprawling rings nestled against the lakeshore, all sheltered within the formidable city wall. The outermost ring (the farthest from the lake) is known as the Wall Ward. It’s home to many of the city’s warehouses, stockyards, trading houses, and foundries. The middle ring, referred to as the Low Ward, is where most of the common people live, along with the hundreds of stores, workshops, taprooms, and other such businesses catering to the general public. The innermost ring, close by the lakeshore, is called the High Ward. It’s where one finds the city’s temples, the counting houses, the manors of the noble families, and many of the civic
buildings. The wards are not clearly delineated and bleed into one another.
More properly described as a citadel than a palace, the Alamarid is the seat of the city government. It was formerly the palace of the Nerathan lord governor who ruled Sarthel, but since the passing of the empire, it has served as the meeting place of the Council of Lords and the palace of the High Seneschal. The Alamarid sits on top of a low, rocky hillock at the north end of town, overlooking the lakeshore. It is finished in a warm, honey-yellow marble quarried from the nearby mountains, and it appears to glow in the early morning light.
Most city records are housed here, and large parts of the palace are given over to the offices of various city officials, including the High Magistrate and his courts. The fortifications around the Alamarid’s lower heights command much of Sarthel and serve as a barracks for one cohort of Sarthel’s army.
The Dark Maze
Beneath Sarthel’s streets lie the foundations and hidden vaults of the ancient Turathi city that once stood here. Much of this older work serves as the sewers for the Sarthel today, but isolated cisterns, buried catacombs, secret tunnels, and more pockmark the area beneath the High Ward and Low Ward. The upper reaches of this labyrinth serve as a refuge for gangs of thieves and bands of smugglers, and they are haunted by a number of monstrous scavengers. The lower depths are home to buried Turathi shrines and vaults, many of which still hold ancient treasures—and monstrous guardians.
Despite its location on a deep lake, Sarthel is not a port; the River Blackfall is not navigable between Lake Sarn and the Gulf of Kul. Instead, Sarthel’s commerce and trade moves southward to the small town of Pelarbin on the coast. A good stone road runs 15 miles through a wide saddle in the coastal hills, linking Sarthel to its seaport. Pelarbin is exposed to storms from which Sarthel is protected, and the steep hillsides facing the sea have long prevented it from growing anywhere near as grand as its neighbor. Many Sarthar trading houses and firms maintain docks and warehouses on Pelarbin’s wide strand, linking Sarthel to distant lands.
Temple of the Golden Flame
The largest of Sarthel’s temples is the Temple of the Golden Flame, which stands in the grand Temple Square near the center of the city. The temple is named for a dancing jet of holy fire that springs from a large brazier in its central dome. According to the temple priests, the flame marks the spot where a vision or manifestation of Erathis appeared and bestowed her blessing on the city. The Golden Flame is a pantheistic temple, but Erathis is regarded as a first among equals and revered as the special patron of Sarthel.
The temple is home to a dozen priests and acolytes, plus guards, scholars, and servants. The head of the temple is the Hierarch Yasmina Nagal, a human woman of sixty who attained her position through the work of House Nagal. Despite this, she is careful not to allow family considerations to govern her decisions. Yasmina is struggling to deal with a sharp decline in the public’s interest in the temple; maybe people are worshipping other gods but who are they? She is puzzled as other shrines do not seem to have increased numbers. It also seems many of Erathis’ worshippers in the last year have been exposed for or accused of bribery and scandal. Yasmina suspects something is rotten in Sarthel.
Beyond the Walls
Sarthel lies in a high, semiarid plateau between the Draco Serrata Mountains to the north, and the lower Golden Hills to the south. Mines and quarries dot the foothills of both ranges. This upland is known as the Sarn Plateau, and it extends from the lowland forests of eastern Therund to the plain surrounding Lake Sarn. Much of the plateau is dry grassland, broken by copses of hardy trees. It’s thinly populated, with widely scattered ranches and mines in the mountain foothills. The ground is not especially fertile, except in the valley of the wide Blackfall River. This ribbon of farmland extends fifty miles or more from Sarthel, and its villages and freeholds feed the city. Small garrisons of soldiers guard the more important villages and outposts; the region within a day’s travel of the city walls is well patrolled and reasonably safe from bandits and monsters.
Once one travels more than ten miles or so from the city, or leaves the cultivated region along the Blackfall, the land quickly reverts to wilderness. To the north, the rugged heights of the Draco Serrata pose a formidable obstacle to travel between Sarthel and the small towns of the Dragondown Coast. Eastward lie the broken ridges and forest-choked vales of the Kulgard Peninsula, a region infested with hungry manticores and tribes of warlike gnolls. The arid plains and dry woodlands east of Lake Sarn were once settled, but the area was virtually depopulated a hundred years ago in the great wars that marked the end of Nerath. Bloodthirsty reavers from Winterskull ravaged the isolated towns here again and again. Today, travelers following the old
imperial road from Sarthel to Avankil at the mouth of the Blackfall pass through a dry, desolate region of abandoned farmsteads, ruined keeps, and ruthless bands of outlaws.