Sartosa was a riot of color and noise. Construction could best be described as ramshackle, largely from light tropical wood which time and salt air turned gray. Architectural style, to the extend the term could be applies, varied dramatically from building to building with roofs of thatch, tile and wood shingle competing to channel the frequent rains into the indifferently maintained streets. Rickety chandleries sprawled onto patios with coils of ropes and greased blocks. Pawnshops were stacked with cutlasses, pistols and cast of fineries. Here and there a cartographer protected rolled maps and charts behind dirty glass panels. Most of the stores appeared to be serving beer or rum from casks though the purpose of this seemed to be to attract a few men to dissuade would be thieves rather than a serious attempt at commerce. Taverns were much more violent affairs in which drunken revelers shouted and cheered beneath brightly painted signs. As Emmaline and Markus walked past one such bar, a pair of men crashed out over the wooden railing striking and kicking at each other. The brawl spread like a rhyme of ice over a window as onlookers were struck by flying fists and feet or otherwise jostled. Chop houses sizzled joints of meat on open fire pits, or boiled thick fish stews in iron cauldrons on beds of gleaming coals. Grinning chefs slapped food onto wooden bowls or platters in exchange for a few coins without even seeming to count them, indeed given the dozens of different nationality of coinage that were exchanged it was unlikely anyone could have kept track. Bawdy houses were almost as prevalent as pubs, usually two story buildings which gave the prostitutes a raised platform to wave bare breasts are call lewd suggestions and insults down to the street. Once Emmaline saw a man throw an earthenware bottle up at a particularly buxom girl, snarling an insult. The prostitute caught the bottle, drained the dregs from it and then hurled it back at the fellow, striking him across the back of the head and sending him sprawling to the street to the delighted cheers of onlookers.
It didn’t seem to Emmaline like there was much in the way of housing in the city, though many a shopkeeper probably slept in his shop or on the second story above it. She supposed that most of the inhabitants of the city at any given time were sailors who slept aboard ship. The variety of humanity was staggering, Emmaline who had grown up in the slums of Altdorf thought of herself as cosmopolitan, but here were Arabyians in silk turbans, Norscans in furs despite the warmth of the night. There were Tilean’s in striped pantaloons and Estilian bravos with long pointed shoes. Brettonian sailors staggered drunkenly in their cheap wool smocks, jostling Imperials with their carefully tended mustaches. There were even dark skinned men from the Southlands and stranger features yet from Kush or perhaps Cathay. Emmaline even thought she saw a few hooded and cloaked elves slipping quietly through the milling throngs.
Everywhere there was noise and confusion. Men shouted and cursed in a dozen languages. Hoarse throated sailors bawled drunken shanties and stamped their feet to the music of fiddles and the pounding of improvised drums. Hawkers cried their wares, standing on barrels or crates to lift themselves above the crowd. The latter was a dangerous choice as bored sailors would occasionally target the shouting salesmen with bottles or fruit, though the criers appeared to accept this as the price of doing business and dodged adroitly. Whores cried from their balconies, though a few could be seen playing their trade on the floors of shops or in alleys, there was even an ambitious dark haired Brettonian who appeared to be getting a group rate.
Over everything hung a dizzying miasma of scents. Sweat and stale beer, salt and tar, cooking meat and boiling soup. Perfumes of dozen of styles cloyed the nostrils and there was an aftertaste of sulphur from burnt gunpowder from the fireworks or the more or less constant pop of exuberant pirates firing into the air. Smoke from a thousand guttering torches mingled with that from the cook fires, all overlaid with the ever present scent of the bay below. Surprisingly the smell of human effluvium, a constant in most cities seemed to be completely absent, perhaps owing to the proximity of the bay and the strong pull of outgoing tides which made the city so difficult to reach.
Emmaline and Markus climbed upwards, seeming to emerge out of the slight haze of smoke to what was clearly the ‘keep’. The structure had clearly begun life as a coliseum during the golden age of Tilea. The decay of years had tumbled down sections which had been replaced with a hodgepodge of wooden construction, most of which had been shaped to look like parts of ships, complete with jutting bow sprits and masts from which lines draped with brightly colored pennons depended. Fallen stones had been gathered up and repurposed to add extensions, crude looking by comparison to the original masonry, which formed low walled paths to various outbuildings including what must have began life as a villa built around a volcanic spring. Cunning use of stone had converted it into a series of baths from which steam rose in soft trails. Some of the baths were covered by simple roofs of layered palm leaves. Overflowing water had been channeled into a culvert of grey rock which vanished below ground.
“Dawi work,” Sketti grunted in approval, “nice to see manlings not living in their own shit for once.” Emmaline found that she couldn’t disagree with the sentiment. The sewers of the city below were swept by the overflow of the spring, presumably out into the bay where the tide disposed of it.
As the approached the ‘keep’ the concentration of drunken pirates increased. There was a flat area off to one side in which soot covered men were thrusting lit fireworks into the ground, moments before they screamed skyward to burst overhead. The acrid taste of gunpowder on the air, perversely, made Emmaline feel at home, putting her in mind of the alchemical labs of the Gold College. A group of pirates armed with long boarding axes stood around a stone gatehouse which gave entry to the keep. They didn’t seem to be interested in keeping people out, though they kept the drunken idlers moving with more or less good natured blows with the butts of their weapons. In truth Emmaline doubted that the keep could be defended from anything more than a drunken mob despite several rusted cannons that seemed to be more or less decorative.
“The Brethern Court is in session!” one of the guards bawled through a trumpet of rolled brass.
“If you don’t have business bugger off!” he added, though the final statement was all but drowned out by a particularly loud series of bursting fireworks.