Let Sleeping Gods Lie
Rialva (Volk. from Amb. Albariu, alba riu, “white river”)
Rialva is one of the earliest settlements on the Savage Coast, dating back several hundred years by contemporary recordkeeping, and perhaps even further back as well in legend and tale. What is certain is that thanks to its central location, its proximity to one of the few passes over the Worldspine, its natural defenses in the form of sheer cliffs and its natural harbor sheltered from the sea, Rialva has become the principal city on the coast, a trading hub and port of call for merchant caravans, ships, pirates and adventurers of all stripes.
The city sprawls around the White Harbor, with Castle Hill forming a natural barrier between the harbor and the sea. Castle Hill rises above the harbor and plunges into the sea to the east in a sheer drop. It was a natural location for the original inhabitants, easily defended, and is probably the oldest settled district of the city. The base of the hill along the harbor is known as the Docklands, although the actual docks spread beyond the district around the harbor to the south and west. The Old Quarter, probably the second-oldest district, lies to the south of Castle Hill, still at some elevation and protected by cliffs along the shore.
The other notable geographic features include the Knob, a smaller hill to the southwest of the harbor, and Merchant Hill, a gentle rise to the northwest. The Cleft is a sheer cut into the peninsula south of the Old Quarter, as if a giant god had taken and ax and chopped the cliffs down to the sea. It forms a natural barrier between the wealthier Old Quarter and the less fashionable districts to the south. The Foaming River flows down from the Worldspine and empties into the harbor to the north of town, but a canal runs through the districts on the western edge and provides a source of trade and industry.
The city is protected also by a set of walls, the first and oldest surrounding Rialva Castle on Castle Hill, an outer ring down the slope a ways, enclosing the Castle District, and a third wall that surrounds the bulk of the rest of the city, stretching from the Cleft, around the Knob and to the north and Merchant Hill, finally terminating on the western edge of White Harbor.
Outside of the Castle, the most notable structures in the city are the Towers. These towers can be seen from miles around across the countryside. They were built over several hundred years by wealthy merchants and guilds, often adorned with family, company or guild crests and coats of arms. For some, the height of the towers became a competitive measure, as higher and higher towers were constructed by richer families or organizations. There are currently 14 towers in the city, scattered about the inner wards below Castle Hill. None actually rise from that hill, or even from Merchant Hill. (While the Guildhall of Stonemasons is a massive complex, it sprawls outward rather than upward).
From Rialva, travelers can enter through the North Gate (which leads to the North Bridge over the river), the Gate of Roses to the west (a smaller gate mostly used by those who live in the villages to the west in the foothills of the mountains, as well as traffic from Volkreach), and the Gate of the Sun to the south, close to the Cleft. The outer walls are only about fifteen feet high, and there are numerous methods, of various degrees of secrecy or security, by which an enterprising soul might enter the city without passing through one of the three gates.
But the city doesn’t stop at the walls. Newer districts have sprung up in recent decades that have essentially doubled the city’s population. Rivertown, to the north, was once an outlying village that has grown to be a midsize city in its own right. It lies on both shores of the Foaming River and west of the marshes on the shore of White Harbor. With a limited form of self-government, Rivertown has built a wooden palisade wall along its northern and eastern edges. The river forms the boundary to the west and the main walls of Rialva to the south.
West of Rialva lies Crescent Hill, a middle-class town of tradesmen that lies between the river and the main road heading west to the mountains. A new town, Crescent Hill is in the process of constructing a wall to the west, but has run into financial and political problems. South of the road is a much poorer neighborhood that still considers itself part of Crescent Hill. Whether or not the planned walls would include this area is one of the roadblocks.
South of the Gate of the Sun is the appropriately named Sun City, a vast shantytown and slum that is a warren of unnamed streets and alleys, and where all sorts of unseemly business is conducted. It has no official government and the authorities in Rialva tend to ignore it so long as its doings don’t enter the city gates. As a result, Sun City is under the de facto control of several criminal gangs, whose modes of operation range from benign neglect to predatory.
Rialva has a population of approximately 80,000, and it is the largest city for many hundreds of miles, covering about 400 acres. As such, it is a magnet to various peoples and travelers, and the city’s population reflects the diversity of the world at large.
The dominant group are the Volak, who make up approximately half of the population. They speak Volak (although with an eastern accent, or the “Coastal Cant,” as the sages of the empire proper refer to it), and even though they are not citizens of the Volkreach to the west of the Worldspine, and might not fully support or be comfortable with the empire’s merger of State and Church, there is a cultural affinity for the Volak people, and to the extent that residents of Rialva look outside their walls, it is invariably to the west. “Doings in the Empire” is always good coin in the taverns.
A significant minority group in Rialva is the Ambar. Anywhere between a quarter and a third of population has some Ambar ancestry, although the Ambari language is less widespread, and seldom spoken in public due to the enmity of the empire to the Ambar people. As a tribe, the Ambar are distinct from the Volak, natives of the coast and the Worldspine, while the Volaks’ provenience is in the far west of the continent. The Ambar are cousins to the Ledini tribe, who lived (and may still live) west of the Worldspine in the eastern reaches of the empire. As the two groups’ languages were nearly identical, there is little to distinguish one from the other, and even Ledini that migrated east of the Worldspine in previous years will have blended invisibly into the larger Ambar population.
The third major tribe in the region is the Levinki. Originally from the Bone Islands that cluster in the sea, and distant relatives of the Payars from across the Gulf of Berel, in town the Levinki form a small but visible minority, anywhere between one-sixth and a quarter of the total population. They are visible not just because they speak their language openly, but their dress is also markedly different from the local styles, and they often hold contempt for the Volaks, especially as the empire begins to exert its influence in the city. In the islands, the Levinki are known as shipwrights, traders and pirates, fiercely independent, but not organized at any level above that of individual townships. While piracy is a hanging offense under city law, the Levinki are tolerated by the majority, primarily because those who live in the city seldom sail pirate ships, and the pirates tend to operate farther out in the Gulf.
Other peoples that can be found in the city in smaller numbers include the Orvar, who are generally migrants from the south and the Hundred Kingdoms; Droni who have “become civilized” and traveled quite far from their jungle-covered homelands far to the south; traders from the Sinay Kingdom in the north, and also from the Payariqum Empire across the Gulf; and occasional representatives of even rarer tribes, such as the Makhreb from their island kingdom north of the Sinay Kingdom, Dyemesh or Dirgchei tribesmen from the Icy Steppes, Serusi nomads from the Blasted Plains, Hayaren from wherever it is that they come from (“everywhere and nowhere,” says the legend), even quasi-humans like Silarti and Velkonyi, provided they are on their best behavior. No one, however, ever comes across the ocean from old Kalarisun.
As a melting pot, Rialva is an imperfect stew, and ethnic and other politics make for a city of conflicting interests, occasionally erupting into all out fighting between various factions. In recent years, the Church has been making stronger inroads into the local population, adding yet one more faction into the mix. Whether the presence of the Church becomes a unifying force for the fractious interests in the city or the tinder to set the whole mess aflame remains to be seen.#