The name alone conjures dark images of spilling blood, of blackest magiks, of lawlessness and chaos. Throughout the kingdom children hear stories of this evil city and are told they must never go there -- and they wish with all their hearts that one day they will. For children are the custodians of wishes, of dreams; they know in their hearts, in their souls, that only in the darkest of pits can the brightest adventures be found. Their elders, who once carried these dreams in their own hearts, now beat and stroke the land for crop. They hammer nails through shoe leather. They drain blood from slaughtered hogs and cure the ham. They count pfennigs, and curse and scowl at the tax collector when he comes -- behind his back, once he is gone. They have no time for childish wishes, for thoughts of adventure, and they’ve lived long enough to know that if you pass through the gates of a city like Drogarth, in all likelihood you’ll never come out again.
It is a crime there to feed a rat, a crime punishable by death. The law is many years old, written in the dusty pages of the Book of Magistration, dating from one of the several plagues that have struck this city. Why anyone would wish to feed these vermin is a mystery. Not that they need it. In Drogarth, the rats move as freely as the winds; they take what they want, or die in the attempt. As do many of the human residents.
It is the most remote city in the Kingdom of Inslar, lying at the tip of Fardimoor’s Gulf, the Silver Sea’s southernmost tongue, which twists westward beneath the Startooth mountain range and ends at the shore of this place of infamy. Only one road leads to Drogarth, running parallel to the southern shore of the gulf for many miles, then branching one way northeast to Anelda, straight the other way to Eltkester. Southeast of Drogarth, halfway to the treacherous Southern Sea where no sane man sails, is the dread Marsh of the Beast, about which no more will be said. The terrain around Drogarth is harsh and stony, an expanse of great hills rolling and rumbling from the sea to the mountains close in the north. There is forest, but it is sparse and unfriendly, a far cry from the placid woodlands to the east. Not an agricultural land -- Drogarth takes its food mostly from the holds of merchant ships, and from the sea, and it pays with copper and iron and gems. When it pays at all.
It is an outlaw city, in all ways. Even politically. Nearly a century ago, Drogarth allied with the other frontier cities in a stubborn defense against the forces of Inslar I, who had usurped the throne from King Trag of the House of Pitducé. This defensive failed, as any historian or child in the streets will tell. Yet still, the frontiers are disloyal to the Inslars, and Drogarth is so to the greatest degree. The city (and surrounding territories) is now ruled by Baron Grenald, who shows little deference to the throne (now occupied by King Adrian, the third Inslarian king), ignoring any royal edicts he chooses and generally running his domain as he wishes. According to the official records of territorialism and regency, Drogarth is a part of Inslar. According to the Baron, Drogarth is a part of Drogarth, and nought else.
Have you ever seen the Free City of Drogarth? It is a sight to behold -- preferably from a distance. It is all you’ve ever heard of it, and worse. Things happen there that could never happen elsewhere. It is a city of three levels, three tiers, each a city unto itself, built into a great rocky slope that peers eastward over the silver waves.
Sitting atop the formation is the Royal City, the center of government, such as it is. Here you will find the Baron’s palace, the Great Hall and residences of the Council of Drogarth, the soldiery’s barracks and stables, the High Court of Drogarth and its executioner’s block. There are also three temples here, to the gods most favored by this city’d rulers: Solan, god of the sun, law, and honor; Banyok, god of learning and art; and Warvell, god of martial skill and war. The Royal City is a gem atop a pile of garbage, and its splendor nearly matches anything to be found in the capital city of Inslar (once Kalibad).
The central tier is the Upper City, Approximately eight times the size of the Royal City, it is the center of legal commerce. It is a place of the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy-but-not-poor. Of merchant princes and shop owners. Its streets are paved with smooth stones. Its houses stand without the support of the structures around them. Many have small yards maintained as gardens. Here you will find much of the wealth of this city. Passing through the streets you might think you were in Inslar itself, a focal point of culture and civilization. But when you pass a sewer, or a drainage well, you might do well to remember that all the offal and waste here drains down...to the Undercity.
There is no place in the Kingdom of Inslar, or perhaps the world, more vile than the Undercity. It sprawls between the sea and the walls of the Upper City like a mad jumble of garbage. Buildings lean and sway against each other, atop each other, gray and black and filthy brown. The air is thick with shit-stink and fish-stink and man-stink, often spiced with more than a small bit of corpse-rot. The streets are muddy and paved only in spots, rare remnants of the days when all of this was the city, when the Elder Palace was the center of Drogarth, before the upper tiers were built and civilization relocated upwards. Now the Elder Palace is often called Thieves' Palace, and is the closest thing to government known in this dangerous place. The city watch stays in the Upper City, as do the Baron's elite cavaliers, as does the Merchant Guard.
There is no law in the Undercity. Baron Grenald cares not a whit what goes on there. From his window on high he can see the great stretch of filth and squalor, twenty times the size of the Upper City, but it is nothing to him. Something vile on the ground, something he'd never step in and soil his shoes. It is there, and he is in his sanctuary, comfortable. Safe. He has no ties with this dangerous and violent city other than geographical proximity. What does he care of thieves and murderers and peasants? He is Baron. And so he does not see the shadows move from their bolt holes at sunfall, to clamber like ravenous spiders through this darkest city, biting with steel fangs that kill more quickly than any true spider's venom. He does not see. And he does not care.
City of Thieves...