Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bluenose -- City of Phantasms

If Errolyn is the City of Courtly Love, then Bluenose is one of phantasms--including perhaps some you might think of.  Anything goes in this part of Alphatia.  The main objective in Arogansa's capital is to welcome and cater to wealthy guests, especially wizards and aristocrats.  Therefore, luxury guest houses, comfortable inns, and private rooms are readily available, some year-round. In the summer, at the height of the season, the few still for up for grabs fetch obscene prices.  

Next come the attractions, and they'd better be decent since they mean to entertain some of the most learned and skillful patrons in Mystara.  Everyone knows that wizards are interested in one single thing: magic.  It's like flies and honey.  Whether attractions involve a walk through a haunted house, a suite of phantasmal dreams, a thrill ride through the sky, escaping a spooky dungeon, a fake magic-user's duel, a magical show in a theater, an enchanted merry-go-round, a tavern where one summons exotic and occult fares, or more sordid services somehow magically enhanced, all strive to attract mighty patrons.  Cheekily hawking prospects from the establishment across the street is common practice.  Some businesses aren't above resorting to charms and other mind-influencing tactics, although these are highly illegal in Arogansa.

If there's any kind of magic involved, even when employed in a frivolous manner, most wizards will most likely fall prey to their own insatiable interests.  Knocking off their patrons' enchanted socks is therefore the priority of any House Master, as they are known in Bluenose.  Unveiling part of how a show was conjured comes next.  Naturally, just enough is shown to strike a spell-weaver's imagination without giving away the house's trade secrets.  This is called baiting.  Some guests keep returning, hoping to grasp at last that fleeting clue that might satisfy their curiosity.  Many just can't resist, and any House Master worth his salt will exploit this weakness with uncanny savvy.

As one might suspect, rival houses often employ spies to compromise a competitor's know-how.  Behind a garish and magically animated papier-mâché decor more akin to a demented carnival than a serious capital city hides a merciless race for clients and prestige.  And competition is deadly.  Literally.  There is no limit to how crass and unscrupulous a House Master can be when it comes to squeezing secrets from competitors.  Forcing them out of business or buying them out soon follows.  Visiting wizards may be victims of the silent backstage struggle, or its unwitting participants.  Some may be hired.  Others may be abducted for what they learned and, if lucky, wake up a few days later on an Ochalean trader bound for Davania or the Savage Coast.

Naturally, the Duke of Merlioness takes great pride in his unique city.  A significant portion of his ducal revenues are spent lavishly to keep the streets clean, and beautify them as much as possible.  Cobblestones are sometimes magically varnished.  Buildings are whitewashed or painted with predominant colors in the region, dull red and gold.  Merlionese troops, resplendent in their particolored black, blue, and gold uniforms featuring the duke's coat of arms, tirelessly patrol the streets day and night.  Their mission is to suppress any disturbance that might threaten visitors or the sacrosanct city business.  The shows must go on.

One step beyond the House Masters and the throngs of awed patrons, another struggle takes place.  Anyone involved in local politics knows how little the duke cares for the present monarchy.  The ducal palace conspicuously occupies the center of the city.  The king and his family reside instead nearly twenty miles away at Crown-on-the-Hill, a fortified palace.  To those perceptive enough, a palpable discomfort reigns among workers, House Masters, local nobility, and the military when the king must attend the Council of Seven.  A parade for the benefit of the clueless visitors takes place as the regal retinue descends upon the city, along with a cautious and jittery Yalastrian guard.  Amid blaring trumpets and flapping banners, Llyndemarian horsemen, Cresipherite archers, Scarabellyne pikemen, and boltmen from Talismeroth all proudly decked in the counterchanged colors of their overseers, follow the august procession for good measure.  Merlionese men-at-arms look on, defiant to the point of arrogance.

And indeed, the shows do go on.  As soon as the parade vanishes into the dark courtyards of the Council of Seven and magical gates slam shut, vacationing mages return to their sightseeing.  House Masters resume their bold harangues.  Clumps of copiously entertained apprentices and their masters head on to the beach, hoping this time to meet one of those fabled bluenose dolphins.  Rumor has it that they are people who once were changed into these sea dwellers, perhaps condemned to entertain those who come to see them.  It would explain why so few thieves and other troublemakers seem to exist in Arogansa.  The few galleys in the navy certainly could not accommodate all those caught and judged.  Another rumor is that those who fail to pay their bills end up working in the arcanium mines for a very long, long time.  Nasty business.  The ore is said to cause amnesia to those who handle it.  But soon, these dark concerns vanish when the sun shines brightly, and turquoise waves crash softly upon the white, sandy shores of Bluenose Beach.

Special thanks to Janet Deaver-Pack for her editorial assistance.