Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A is for Alcàsser

Alcàsser is a major urban development of the Terrasan culture on the far western edge of the Mezzovian Sea, northwest of Terrasa proper.  Technically, it is not a seaport, and is in fact many miles from the shore, but since the Durenga river estuary is wide and safely navigable (to knowledgeable pilots, at least) most seafaring vessels can make port at Alcàsser.  The water east of the city gets increasingly brackish, but by the time you reach the city itself, the Durenga is slow, fresh, and somewhat brownish and heavily sediment-laden.

From Alcàsser, the shoreline continues nearly due south for some time before turning east and then northeast to form the Tolosa Bay.  Directly east of Alcàsser (although certainly much too far to be visible) one would come up against the southwest coast of Gandesa, the island infamous for harboring the pirates of Porto Liure near its northeastern tip.  This puts Alcàsser roughly equidistant--as the ship sails, at least--between Terrasa itself and it's northerly neighbor Segrià.

Alcàsser has a reputation amongst Terrasans as being a boring place.  Politically loyal and untroubled by tendencies of seccession (as plague many of the more northerly city-states), the primary raison d'etre of Alcàsser is farming.  The Durenga River basin is famous for its gently rolling hills, fertile and well-watered soil, and lack of bandits, monsters, hauntings, or really any type of drama of any kind.  Called the breadbasket of the Empire, Alcàsser is seen as a sleepy little port full of farmers.  This isn't exactly untrue... but naturally, it's way too simplistic.  For one, Alcàsser isn't sleepy or small, it's a major port that has dozens of ships coming and going almost every day all over the Mezzovian, and as the main shipping hub of the grain industry, it's got its share of political manuevering and intrigue as various "grain barons" attempt to shoulder their competition aside.

Secondly, Alcàsser may be the front on a war that Terrasa isn't even aware that it's fighting until it's too late.  Because of its relative proximity to the Black Mountains and the pass of Sutaka, it's through Alcàsser that the Terrasans became aware of Kurushat.  Mostly this is in the form of runaway slaves or other outcasts who have gradually made their way as refugees to become migrant workers or rural immigrants to the area.  But official delegations have reached out.  While an embassy of sorts is under contruction in Terrasa "as we speak," for the time being, official communication between Kurushat and Terrasa goes through Alcàsser.  Some have wondered why the Kurushi seem OK with lingering in what is percieved as a backwater rather than setting up shop in the wide boulevards and canals of Terrasa.  Some have a rather disturbing theory.

If the Cavusto natives succumb to the military advances of the Kurushi, then the de facto Pax Kurushata extends easily beyond the Durenga Cascades, and then there is nothing to prevent legionnaires from marching on the city.  And with Alcàsser held, the rest of the empire would quickly starve.  If some of the citizens of Alcàsser and Terrasa can see this, then no doubt the spies that infiltrate the Kurushi labor camps and neighborhoods no doubt see it as well.  Because of this, astute Alcassan observers are very interested in news of the succession crisis that seems to be brewing in Kurushat, as chaos back home will hold the militant and expansionist state in place for some time to come.  Meanwhile, lobbyists for increased protection of Alcàsser and greater monitoring of the Kurushi community are seen as paranoid and deluded, and consistently ignored in terms of domestic policy.

Other than that, in recent months, strange wreckage of barges and boats, sometimes empty, sometimes showing the remains of long-dead skeletons or corpses, have been spotted floating down the river and reaching all the way to Alcàsser.  The style of the boats, and the style of the clothing of any bodies found thereon are both mysterious and unknown to the area, making their ultimate origin a mystery.  Since the lands all the way to the cascades (which are completely unnavigable) and beyond are well-known, all the way to the source of the Durenga on the eastern slopes of the Black Mountains, its unclear where these ships are coming from or what this disturbing omen could mean.  The ruler of Alcàsser, Duke Berat S'Asinara, has sent patrols up the river to attempt to uncover the truth behind this mystery, but so far, no reports have returned.  Meanwhile, the frequency with which these ships are coming down the river seems to be increasing.  Seen as a bad omen, few Alcassans have any interest in salvaging these seemingly worthless barges, and most are left to float downstream to the sea, accompanied only by a disquieting vigil from the docks as all stop to watch them pass.

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