Thursday 19 October 2023

Hex Crawl 23: Eryptos 2, High Life

At the apex of the Eryptan social pyramid is the Prince and Heir, the Radiant Gemsbok of Autumn, who will receive a proper name on his eighteenth birthday. More or less invisibly, a network of protectors, tutors, and informants surrounds him. Because the kings of Eryptos distrust their sons while they are alive, the network is also a restraining and distracting one, indulgent of the Prince's hunting and carousing. The main guardian of the Prince is a tall eunuch (Wahatti custom recognizes self-castrated men as a third gender), Gugalanna the Precious Fragment, with a cutting, no-nonsense style about them, and feared as a poisoner and anatomically skilled assassin. His tutor and advisor is Belzarbi, a philosophical greybeard who holds the lad back from dissipation to prepare him to rule as much as he can, given that Gugalanna actively encourages it.

The opposing faction favors the ten-year-old Exultant Cricket to inherit the throne, son of the King's oldest concubine Kishar (as opposed to his legitimate wife Aa). It is led by one Gahal, the Hissing Peacock, a vain and histrionic man of wealth currently on his sixth wife. Quietly and secretly, the machinations of the Cricket faction are carried out by the supreme crafter of innuendo, the white-veiled widow Kug-Bau nicknamed "[Who Scatters] Infamy like Dust." Their supporter in Mu-Asharru is the Royal Minister, Zakirum, known as the "Bitterest Teardrop."

The Prince himself has three dwellings: the towering and mostly empty Palace that  rises above the city, where he conducts official business; a secure compound next to the District of Lanterns, where he stays when in party mode; and a secluded and mostly unknown pied-a-terre at the end of the Street of Goldsmiths where he goes when he wants privacy. A large piazza surrounds the Palace, and the mansions of the great and noble families cluster with their front gates to the piazza, observing the comings and goings from the seats of power. The mansions are massive, but necessarily lower than the Palace, and unlike that austere building, their owners compete to furnish the lushest and most fragrant gardens on the property.

A second ring around the mansions holds such establishments as academies, old and dignified temples of Set and Mitra, libraries and archives, and the seasonal residences of visitors from the capital, Mu-Asharru.  It is in this isolated environment that the high and mighty circulate, a delicate dance between the Prince and his detractors, a duel of innuendo and power moves carried out through exclusive invitations to salons, high-minded musical concerts, poetic and philosophical symposia, and the privileged offices of worship services. 

Servants and tradespeople live outside this circle, and the nobles do not treat with them directly, but through their household staff. Adventurers? Just another kind of servant. Only through great favor, or through deception and infiltration, will visiting wanderers see the high life of Eryptos.

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