Life in the Iron Kingdoms
Some historians have called Five Fingers “a wretched hive of rum and piracy.” This is not an unfair assessment, though the Port of Deceit is not some mere den of thieves or a domain of lawless chaos. A city of intrigue and industry, Five Fingers is home to trade of all kinds, be it secrets, weapons, influence, favors, or simple coin. Across the islands of Five Fingers, one can find nearly anything for the right price. Whether one seeks trade or entertainment or less legitimate pursuits, Five Fingers holds great danger and greater rewards.
The seeds of what would become Five Fingers germinated long before the Orgoth ever set black boot to Immorese soil. Early in their history, only savage tribes from the Gnarls and the Olgunholt inhabited the islands. The islands rose up as jagged spires out of the mouth of the Dragon’s Tongue River like fanged teeth, and their jagged cliffs were used as impromptu worship sites by druids and others, where they were said to sacrifice the weak and unlucky to feed the storms. The five greatest islands divided the river into the fingers that earned its name in antiquity.
When more civilized Thurian people came to Five Fingers around 1350 BR, they first established villages on the southern shores, subsisting as hunters and fishermen. They endured great hardship merely to survive, weathering both the temperament of the ocean as well as occasional raids by wilderness tribes. The Thurian settlers were stubborn and hardy folk, however, and neither storms nor savages could break them. They lived as best they could, and their sailcloth became a rather famous export, proving rugged and durable like the people who made it. Despite the tenacity of the Thurian settlers, growth was slow in the Thousand Cities Era.
COMING OF THE ORGOTH
The simple life here was not to last. When the Orgoth came to Immoren sometime around 600 BR, Five Fingers was placed squarely in their path of conquest. Those not killed were enslaved and caught up in the Orgoth machine of war. Perhaps the one good thing to come from the occupation, though its effects would not be apparent for decades, was that the Orgoth cut down the island spires to create flat and level surfaces for construction. By their cruel labor was Five Fingers rendered more hospitable to human habitation.
After conquering and reshaping the islands, the Orgoth built a fortress on the largest, which would later come to be called Captain’s Island. They also constructed massive bridges to span the smaller islands, and constructed a number of lesser fortresses. Into the island rock they delved deep, digging out strongholds, slave cells, and supply storage. With frightening speed and efficiency, the Orgoth turned Five Fingers into a nearly impenetrable base from which to travel inland via the Black River. When the Rebellion finally pushed back the invaders, Five Fingers was among the last of the Orgoth fortresses to fall in 201 AR. The victories came at great cost. Much of Five Fingers burned in the final days of the Scourge, and the people were slow to recover.
Perhaps the most important period of Five Fingers’ history was its rise as a smuggler’s haven. In the Corvis Treaties, the Tordorans seized an opportunity to use the Dragon’s Tongue River as Ord’s southern border. However, the ruling Tordorans were not eager to spend resources on Five Fingers and left it largely in ruins. When the islands started seeing more activity, it was in the form of smugglers and pirates, who found the region immensely useful for avoiding naval patrols. They built docks hidden among the rocky islands and used prison chambers built by the Orgoth to stash supplies and plunder.
Temporary shelters grew into shacks, which grew into houses proper, taverns, and brothels. Piracy, smuggling, fishing, and trade expanded into the surrounding area. Five Fingers became not just a waypoint but a destination unto itself, and many of the pirates and smugglers retired to live among the islands.
These criminals lived by their own codes, which kept the region from disintegrating into chaos. Five Fingers developed its own cultural identity distinct from either Ord or Cygnar, but soon the smuggler’s haven caught the notice of the Ordic crown. Prince Merin Cathor II and a detachment of the Ordic Fleet visited Five Fingers in 242 AR, which caused something of a panic. Ultimately it was determined that Five Fingers was not worth the resources necessary to turn it into a proper naval port. The town paid taxes and lip service to Ordic rule, promised not to pillage Ordic villages or ships, and was allowed to continue on in dubious legality.
THE TOWN THAT BOLlS BUILT
Five Fingers owes much of its current prosperity to a man named Bolis Turgon, an infamous name in Ord . While Cygnar, Llael, and Ord fought Khador in the Colossal War, Five Fingers enjoyed unparalleled freedom. In this environment, Bolis quickly became an influential man, owner of the best taverns, gambling halls, and bawdy houses in Five Fingers. He envisioned Five Fingers as much more than a smuggler’s haven and made his vision a reality by expanding the town’s docks and warehouses and courting merchant groups.
An entrepreneurial genius, Bolis’ efforts paid off as more visitors came to Five Fingers, many of whom never left once caught up in the games of chance and other diversions. People flocked to the islands seeking employment and new lives, which only increased Bolis’ profits. He single-handedly brought more wealth and expansion to Five Fingers than it had ever enjoyed before. Ever the schemer, Bolis persuaded some of Five Finger’s most ruthless pirates and criminals to make themselves the “High Captains” of the growing metropolis, in the process manipulating them to battle one another over turf wars to keep any one from gaining supremacy. Of course, all paid tribute to Bolis.
It was inevitable that the city’s growing prosperity would garner attention. After the war, Cygnar noticed that Five Fingers had exploded from seaside town to bustling (if seedy) city. Nor had the Cygnaran government forgotten that Five Fingers had been founded on the south shore, and so it made its claim on the island city. Cygnar coveted its location as a strategic control point over the mouth of the river. Under the guise of cracking down on piracy and crime affecting Cygnaran citizens, Cygnar put political pressure on Ord’s navy to put down the pirates and take control of the river. King Merin Cathor III of Ord considered Five Fingers a stain on his country’s honor and most likely would have surrendered Five Fingers to Cygnar’s King Woldred, but for Bolis and the high captains.
Bolis and the high captains placed pressure on Ordic nobility in the form of threats and bribery and convinced King Merin Cathor III to formally legitimize Five Fingers as an Ordic city. Since Ord and Cygnar had been allies in the recent war, King Woldred felt compelled to surrender his claim on Five Fingers. The city was allowed to grow under Bolis Turgon’s watchful eye for a time.
That time came to a shocking end in 271 AR, when a strange tempest gathered above Five Fingers. Shapes within black clouds danced between lightning flashes, a chill wind howled through town with a sound like mocking laughter following in the cold rain. Bolis Turgon had died and risen into the Dark Twin’s embrace as one of her chosen scions. The event was so portentous that word of it reached the ears of King Merin III, adding to his shame over Five Fingers. Scion Bolis quickly became a major folk hero in Five Fingers, especially among those who preferred to defy authority.
King Merin III created the position of Lord Governor of Five Fingers, appointed by and reporting to the moorgrave of Hetha, whose territory includes Carre Dova. Despite Merin’s hopes that it would bring the rogue city to heel, he was disappointed. To this day, the lord governor and the high captains share an uneasy truce, each wielding enough power to make trouble for the other side, but both unwilling to risk outright conflict.
For the last several centuries Five Fingers has grown and stood apart from major regional events such as wars abroad. The present ruler of Ord, King Baird Cathor II, approves of Five Fingers and spends much time here. The neutrality of Ord in general and the city more specifically has made it a favored haven for mercenary companies and a place where intrigues are hatched and plots are advanced. Those who travel here value its unique independence.
TO LIVE AND DIE IN FIVE FINGERS
OVERVIEW OF THE CITY
Five Fingers is home to one of the most unique and varied cultural mixes in all of western Immoren. Several things bind the peoples of Five Fingers together: independence, freedom, and a sense of pride that many feel for having earned their place by ability rather than birth. One must struggle for any gains, and the riches are all the sweeter as a result.
At the same time, Five Fingers is a bastion of corruption: greed, bribery, and extortion shape policies and determine who benefits from the laws, or lack thereof. Bands of thieves and unscrupulous mercenaries rule certain districts with a heavy hand, and anyone looking to do business had better pay their dues or have them taken at knife point. Cutthroat pirates and wanted smugglers surround themselves with like-minded men and women and many walk openly in Five Fingers without fear of reprisal. It’s a place of seedy bars and cunning criminals whose connections and skills let them live like kings.
The majority of the town’s population is Thurian, who are very proud of their long and storied heritage. Some are “low” Tordorans, seeking to make their own way. There are others, however: people from northern Kos, to eastern Ryn, to southern Caspians live here. Not only humans but trollkin, gobbers, even bogrin live and prosper in the town. Trollkin find fishing and dock work well suited to their physical abilities, as do ogrun. They are worth their weight in coin as dependable, hard-working and extremely capable folk. Goblins find their natural adaptability and inquisitiveness well fed by Five Fingers and its many opportunities. Some make a living as fishermen or smugglers, while others own seaside markets or salvage services, diving on the wrecks lost just offshore by inadequate or unlucky captains. There are more bogrin in Five Fingers than in most urban cities, and they have considerable acceptance here, making up the membership of several notable gangs. Rhulfolk are a more uncommon sight, as are elves of any kind, but both are welcome as long as they have coin to spend.
The different islands have their own character and areas of interest. The larger islands are divided into distinct districts. Given limited land to develop, the city has grown upward instead of out, the upper reaches connected by treacherous rope bridges and improvised slats. Often the second or third story of a building is constructed with no heed to what rests below, making the densest neighborhoods hazardous to traverse, even without accounting for crime.
Construction makes heavy use of wood imported from the nearby Olgunholt Forest. Even in the wealthier districts stone is generally used only in foundations. Some of this stone is black basalt salvaged from old Orgoth ruins. Some daring or foolish efforts see buildings hanging over the sides of islands with overhangs and stilted supports, and some of the major islands have cliffside caves used for storage or as living arrangements for the lower classes.
Five Fingers earns its name from the five channels or “fingers” of the river’s mouth as it empties into the Bay of Stone and creates channels between the islands. With its high, steep cliffs, the northern shore is the Bold Shore. Atop those cliffs and near the roadway is housing that is still counted nominally as part of the city. The Bold Channel sweeps north of Bellicose Island, and along with its southern counterpart, the Heir’s Channel, are the deepest inlets to the Dragon’s Tongue River. Larger ships that ply both the ocean and the river come through these channels, which are kept clear of debris.
King’s Channel is the central finger, sweeping south of Doleth and Chaser Islands and north of Captain’s Isle. It is deep but its currents are treacherous, known for its dangerous eddies and tidal whirlpools. Only expert pilots attempt to navigate this channel when the tide is on the move, but it is safe at other times.
Last are the Broken Finger and Choked Finger Channels. Both are tight and difficult to navigate but also lead to several populous islands. A series of rocky strips and sandbars wait to wreck or bottom out any vessel that tries them. Smugglers favor Choked Finger to the south with their smaller and nimbler ships. By contrast, larger warehouses and trade groups are found in the northern and central islands, given easier access to the larger ships that ply the northern fingers.
Bellicose Island is the northernmost island, commonly called Bull Island. It is the most organized and easily-traversed of the islands since it was rebuilt after the great fire of 458 AR and designed with thought to the layout of thoroughfares. A great bridge connects it to the Bold Shore and the Western Tradeway road nearby. Built by the Orgoth, it provides the most direct route for land caravans heading elsewhere in Ord. West of Bellicose is Squall Isle. Known mostly for its lighthouse, it marks the division of the northern channels for incoming ships at night or in thick fog. The rocky island is largely uninhabited. In the midst of the channel rest the sparsely populated Three Maidens. They are used primarily as waypoints for the bridges between the major islands, though the western Maiden is also a coal resupply point for steamships.
Between the Heir’s and King’s Fingers are several significant islands. Headmost Island and Blackstone are the westernmost of them. Doleth Island is the westward of a pair of islands called the “Twins,” linked closely by bridge and rigging. Chaser Island is the eastern twin. Connected to Chaser by a small island called the Hump is Bellow’s Isle. Despite its size, Blackstone is sparsely settled, but for the quarry and labor prison maintained there. Headmost Island dips below the ocean’s surface at high tide, so buildings there are erected atop stilts. It is home to a fishing fleet.
Perhaps the most famous Island is Doleth, also called “Dicer’s Isle” or even “Bolis Isle.” It is the place where Scion Bolis had his dark ascension. King Merin III sent priests to banish the darkness from the island and it was named Doleth, after the patron of sailors. Merin also had the Cathedral of Morrow built on Doleth, but it had little effect on the neighboring gambling halls and establishments and deteriorated over the centuries.
Chaser Island is less famous than Doleth but no less popular. It is home to market districts noted for industry and good produce, full of many honest merchants and craftsmen. The markets sell locally made items, including tools and weapons forged on neighboring Bellows Isle. Unfortunately, turf wars of the high captains spill over into the streets here and disrupt the lives of regular citizens.
Captain’s Isle is the largest and most populous island, and the center of government in Five Fingers. The offices of the lord governor and his bureaucrats and the Fingers Watch headquarters are located here. Nearly sixty thousand live here, and ten thousand or more come in daily for work. The high captains also struggle for control of various districts, but do so carefully and subtly, since the island’s trade and business are essential to the city. The island is also home to the largest and most popular entertainment districts.
The last major island is Hospice Island, named after its function during the Beggar’s Plague of 536 AR. Even today it is crowded with the sick and the poor, who live in squalid conditions and suffer from outbreaks of disease. Hospice Island is avoided by most, save for the brave priests who live thereupon ctnd try to improve health conditions.
There are many other small islands which aren’t as important as their larger counterparts but still help make up the whole of Five Fingers. Some of them exist only as hazards to navigation, like Hullgrinder and the Drowned Isle. Others have specific functions, such as Crane Island, which is an artificial island on elevated platforms with cranes to raise visiting ships that have business with the mercenary companies it hosts. Blackstone Island is both a prison and a quarry, while Bellows hosts many smithies and machine shops. Some are the homes of fishermen, particularly those less successful than the fishers of Headmost, and others hold distilleries, smithies, or small fortresses.
The weather in Five Fingers is predictably wet, with rainfall year round. Storms are quite common, during which the bridges and docks become quite hazardous, and only the foolhardy attempt to use them during the worst squalls. Many lighthouses have been built in response to the thick fog that is common in the morning and especially at twilight. Summers are warm and relatively mild so close to the ocean, and winters are usually mild, too, though the water only magnifies the chill in the air.
Five Fingers offers a wide variety of accommodations for both guests and residents. There are inns near every major entry point, and these offer excellent rates. However, even the seemingly most reputable of these establishments are frequented by thieves and confidence men looking to prey on outsiders. Those inns located more toward the centers of the islands tend to be less flashy but are safer and offer competitive rates.
Local cuisine, perhaps unsurprisingly, consists of a lot of seafood. Despite the riverside location, farmer’s markets only offer lesser quality foodstuffs; the best is bought up by the multitude of inns and restaurants. Fish, crabs, eels and seabirds are the most popular meats, plus whatever livestock can be raised or imported from the Bold Shore and beyond. Vegetables and produce are much the same, with the choicest selections found only in eateries and inn kitchens.
Water is a problem in Five Fingers. The lack of plumbing and fresh springs mean that the water is not safe to drink, even when boiled. Though there is an aqueduct, it produces limited quantities mostly consumed by the wealthiest districts. Middle and lower classes must make do with tainted water or else turn to other drink. Consequently, ale, beer and wines comprise most of the liquid diet of the population. A weak sweetened wine called sangre is consumed in lieu of water by most, including children.
Transportation is complicated. It is safest to travel in daytime, though by no means a guarantee of safety. In the worst districts, it is unwise to travel without a heavily armed escort at any time of day. Because horses are rarely brought into Five Fingers, foot traffic is the norm, with only the wealthiest enjoying carriage rides. The larger islands do have cable cars, the cables pulled by steam engines, moving the cars along rails. These are cheap and efficient methods of crossing Captain’s Isle, Chaser, and Bull’s Island.
There are many bridges through Five Fingers, all of which are heavily trafficked. The largest and lowest bridges can be raised as needed to allow the passage of boats, while the upper bridges are stationary. There is no set schedule to these crossings. Bridge operators work for the Five Fingers Port Authority but there is little communication between them; each rules his bridge like a tyrant. Some charge tolls, but most bridges are free. There are rope bridges and other alternate routes in some places, but they are less reliable.
Other options include gondolas, which are highly expensive and only taken by the rich, and boats. Boat passage is reliable but slow and subject to the vagaries of troublesome tides and other passengers. There are also lifts, both steam-powered and hand-cranked, that transport passengers to upper levels or down to the coves.
Despite all the dangers and difficulties, Five Fingers has much to offer. Nowhere else can one find such concentrations of entertainment and vices as in the Port of Deceit. It has more gambling establishments than any other city of its size, hosting all manner of games of chance, from dice to cards to roulettes and more. Bets are placed on all kinds of contests, from the rare horse races to the many blood sports. Pit fights are also popular, where pirates and mercenaries fight one another or savage beasts imported and bred purely for battle. A skilled fighter can make a small fortune quickly in such fights, but the risks are enormous. Most prefer the lesser risk of betting on their outcomes rather than participating.
CRIME AND INDUSTRY
Despite what many think, Five Fingers is not lawless. By necessity it must operate under laws written and unwritten as well as the codes of its inhabitants. Here, coin is the ultimate authority, and even the law must bend or even break to the needs of commerce.
The city is governed by a sometimes-labyrinthine bureaucracy, sets of street laws, and a convoluted system of graft. The relationship between the lord governor and the high captains is uneasy but healthy and allows the city to prosper. Though unquestionably criminals of the highest order, the influence of the high captains keeps the baser elements among the city’s population in check, allowing the lord governor to focus on governing, They provide an authority to which gang leaders, privateers, and smugglers must answer, allowing the steady flow of illicit commerce. They also bring much money to Ord, which is a large part of why they are allowed to persist.
The risks are many when conducting criminal enterprise in Five Fingers, but so are the rewards, and nowhere else can criminals enjoy such freedom. Extortion is a fact of life in Five Fingers. So much so that it has become expected: once any business begins to make a certain amount of profit, it will be targeted for extortion. Like anything else in Five
Fingers, this extortion takes many forms: protection rackets, demand for favors or special services, simple cut of profits, or even forced entry into legally binding contracts.
This is not simply theft forced by intimidation, however. The protection offered by the high captains is real, and in poorer districts where the watch is undermanned or too corrupt, enforcers or gangs might be the only recourse for a businessman to be safe from independent thieves. Gang enforcers will enthusiastically ensure that payments are made in full and on time, but this isn’t often necessary. Most people would rather pay to ensure smooth operations and avoid broken bones. Most residents of Five Fingers despise taxation and would rather pay bribes to local gang enforcers than pay taxes or trade tariffs.
The punishments for lawbreakers vary in severity, as in any city, though the law in Five Fingers is more protean than most. Examples of minor crimes include assault on common citizens, minor theft, and the destruction of currency. Punishments range from flogging to fines and short stints of imprisonment. More serious offenses such as extortion, cheating, piracy, assaulting the watch or a person of distinction, or forging documents, can lead to severe fines, forced labor, or imprisonment. Assaulting royals, collusion with Cryx, tax evasion, and murder are punished more harshly still, with imprisonment and death by hanging or drowning being common sentences.
In almost all cases, the rule of law is subject to the power of coin. Judges can be bribed or threatened, as can authorities, so that a lawbreaker may never come to trial. Lighter sentences can be arranged, as can “accidents” that allow for escape. It’s even possible to be acquitted despite any eyewitnesses or a preponderance of evidence, with enough influence in the right areas. This is a double-edged sword, however, as enemies can also bribe judges to pass down the most severe sentences possible. Once arrested, a criminal has limited time in which the scales of justice can be tipped by bribes or threats. No one is completely exempt from punishment in Five Fingers.
THE FINGERS WATCH
Five Fingers is policed by the Fingers Watch, an organization that seems overwhelmed at the best of times but is vital to the health of the city. The watch is comprised of 860 individuals, including 634 watchmen, 47 constables, 150 sergeants, 25 lieutenants, 3 captains, and the commander. Underpaid, under-trained, and overworked, most watchmen lack for necessary equipment and discipline. Much of this trouble stems from the budget, which is insufficient to fund the Fingers Watch. Most of the watch funding comes from annual levies on the residences in each district, but funding is not shared across the islands. The watch in poorer districts receives little funding. Accordingly, more than half of the watch is confined to Bull’s Island and Captain’s Isle.
A nominal watch presence is maintained in every district, but in the poorer areas it consists of little more than a few volunteers watching for local fires or answering specific requests for help if they can. Most of Hospice, Squall, and the Wake Isles, as well as a large portion of Dicer’s Isle, go without patrols entirely. The watch’s job is to maintain public order, and often volunteers are reluctant to confront well armed troublemakers.
Sergeants are well equipped, more skilled, better trained, and better paid. They represent the “effective” watch for the city. Lieutenants are posted at three stations throughout Five Fingers: Watch Central Barracks on Captain’s Isle, Twin Islands Watch Barracks on Chaser, and the Bellicose Watch Barracks. Sergeants report directly to the lieutenants, who in turn report to the three watch captains, who answer to Watch Commander Darvis Middleton.
Watch captains also appoint watch inspectors among the sergeants and lieutenants. These inspects are paid little extra but expected to do far more. They are charged with actually investigating crime rather than providing a deterrent and serving as a de facto city militia. The watch inspectors are authorized to perform extensive questioning regarding unsolved crimes as prioritized by their captain. The nature of the work unfortunately lends the position a high turnover and mortality rate. Only a tiny fraction of the crimes committed in the city are investigated.
Corruption is rampant among the Fingers Watch. Those who perform their duties too close to the ’book are often singled out as troublemakers by their superiors, who are as deeply involved in webs of bribes, extortion, and protection rackets as any of the gang leaders. Often, the corrupt watch leadership run the most brutal of these schemes. They know with certainty they have the weight of the law behind them and can crack down harder on problem elements than the typical band of thieves.
Despite the failings of the Finger’s Watch, it has considerable support and the criminals know it. If need be, the lord governor can lock down an area and render it impossible to conduct dishonest business therein. If pushed further, the lord governor can call in naval marines and mercenaries to put down offending gangs or even dismantle the operations
of a high captain. Historically, matters never get this far. The high captains have as much interest in maintaining the public peace as anyone else and often take it upon themselves
to track down and remove the most dangerous malefactors. In return the watch does not patrol the worst neighborhoods where they would risk witnessing certain activities.
COMMERCE, SHIPPING, AND THE COST OF BUSINESS
The most basic work in Five Fingers is in shipping and hauling. The city is a convenient resupply hub for goods coming in on the Western Tradeway, as well as down the Dragon’s Tongue River and ocean-based shipping. Ships from all over the western seaboard stop in Five Fingers regularly. There are trade companies such as Dragon’s Tongue Trade, the Mateu Merchant House, the Berek Imports House, the Grand Stevedore’s Union, and the Tradeway Caravaner’s Guild, among others. Many families and heads of companies make their fortunes on shipping.
Spices, exotic fabrics, and animals from across western Immoren and even the distant continent of Zu are sold on Bull’s Island. More imports would be sold but for the conflict between the Mercarian League and Ordic interests, leading to conflicts at sea, like piracy and open warfare. Though these conflicts result in fewer imported goods coming to Five
Fingers, the coin from piracy and smuggling still reaches the port. The city has much to export, as well, despite Ord being poor in resources. The city ’s principal exports come from its distilleries, alchemical workshops, and weaponsmiths. Somewhat surprisingly, sugar is also a major commodity in Five Fingers, thanks to beet processing.
Labor, construction, carpentry, and stone working are all vital to the expansion and maintenance of an island city. Other services see to fishing fleets, canning and local markets, and manufacturing, ensuring that things run properly and don’t fall into decay. It necessitates special services and jobs in order to draw people to Five Fingers and, more importantly, keep them there.
Business has costs, however. Five Fingers is very accommodating to new enterprises, with few special licenses or authorizations needed to start new businesses. One exception is with the establishment of new mercenary companies, which do require approval by the city. The process for this is quite simple, easy, and cheap, however, with few turned away as the city values its reputation as a mercenary haven. Land and rent transactions are often done with a handshake seen by a single witness. There have been some attempts to provide systematic processes for lot ownership but they have not been embraced by most. None but the largest businesses pay full taxes; others rarely even pay annual taxes and none pay land ownership tax.
This arrangement is made possible by the high captains paying their own tithes to the crown. While King Baird prefers to handle things this way, the moorgrave of Hetha detests the arrangement since none of the funds go through his hands. The Office of Taxation in Five Fingers are ruthless bounty hunters, every bit the thugs as those employed by the high captains, only with the weight of authority behind them. Lazlin Wyans is the lead taxman and has been at his job for nearly twenty years.
Bribes are a normal part of commerce in Five Fingers. Because the high captains control so much of the shipping in and out of the city, businesses learn to pay reasonable fees in order to ensure continued prosperity. Likewise, enforcers learn to be reasonable, lest they be ousted by others who are more evenhanded, be it the watch or other gangs.