Monday, September 30, 2019

A Brief Tourist's Guide to Notable Stops in Porylus Mons.

As our tour of the city continues, Kibra has been quick to point out every sight or structure of interest for our group. She would sound like a compensated tourist trap informant if she wasn't so genuinely enthusiastic about everything her topics have to offer, down to her points of interest which, I hope she'll forgive me for saying, I can't imagine many other people would find interesting.

How riveting is it that a series of mistakenly translated homophones resulted in one of the oldest inns in the city being named after a pet toad?

... Extremely, actually- at least according to Ciudo.

In any event, I have elected to share a report of some of the city's sites when we return home. Below is a portion of what Kibra has to offer us, curated for time.


When Kibra brought us to this site, we at first mistook it for an immense tract of pasture land slapped down right in the center of the city with the hill overlooking it. And to be fair, we were not entirely wrong in thinking that. There were after all several small herds of sheep grazing across the field.

What we did not know is that these sheep are gardeners rather than livestock, and they were being made to graze in that field not to grow fat, but to trim the grass in anticipation of an upcoming game.

The Ewefield is the largest sport field in Porylus, and has a history not so different from that of the oldest game fields in Deneroth- excluding all of the episodic violence and pig cheese, of course.

According to the local legend, the spot was picked out for for the city's founding games for its unique flatness. A great festival was in the works, and competitions on foot or on hoof were inevitable. But for some reason--possibly foul play, a lover's quarrel, or spillover from a heated academic debate about the spontaneous generation of small rodents--the group hired to cut the grass to regulation length was never paid, and so refused to finish the job. This would have delayed or doomed the games, if not for an accidental strike-breaking sheep farmer who drunkenly shepherded his animals onto the field the day before, rendering it perfect for use.

I have not gotten any answers yet as to whether or not the games were hindered by the mountains of dung that the sheep must have left behind.

Because there are no games being played just yet, I cannot attest to how fine the venue is. But as is, it is somewhat relaxing to be able to sit down on a raised bench overlooking such an odd scrap of greenery so deep inside of a town. The sheep are placid and comforting to watch, and the occasional shouts drifting through the cold air as shepherd-gardeners cooperate to tidy up this corner or that is amusing.

This will be the last game before winter truly sets in, and everyone seems to be quite looking forward to it here.

The Shout-House

One might not expect the politics to be so volatile in a small city like Porylus.

One would be deaf to continue to believe that, after walking past the city's municipal center on any active night.

Unlike the government of Deneroth, which was originally intended to be just one regional facet of the larger Haraalian empire but which now exists in perpetual semi-electoral stewardship, Porylus Mons has always had a nonstandard way of doing things. Northern rhetoric would have you believe that Porylus has been infected by that curious brand of anarchic lawlessness so plaguing the P.A.S.C.O.P.P.Y. on-and-off for centuries, but that is not the case- nor does that accurately describe the favored systems of the Pach-Pah, for the record.

Because of Porylus' relatively small size, a representative government is easier to maintain than most. The smallest political unit is the neighborhood, the heads of which are chosen by a variety of traditions, including direct election by their neighbors. Those neighborheads then serve in and advise the central administration of the city, which is a tentative balance between the common citizens and various other power groups in Porylus, such as the trade guilds, old families of wealth and prestige, and the (surprisingly minor) presence of the university.

The goal of congress between these groups and their representatives in city halls such as this is general consensus on how to handle the running of the city-state, overseen by subdued authority of a governor or governess.

The result is a lot of yelling, and a provost with very high blood pressure.

The appropriately named "Shout-House" is the largest of these city halls reserved for the largest of debates, located across the street from the traditional governatorial domicile. They are the perfect intersection between politics and spectator sports, drawing huge crowds on every occasion and providing no small stimulus to the businesses nearest to the area.

We are not in town for one of these debates, but I hope to interview a regular in my time here.

Harhal's Place

Informally named after its deceased previous owner, this nameless and unposted building on a thoroughfare close to the beginning of the hill's spiral would be easy to miss if it wasn't for the steady stream of people coming and going through its doors, held wide open despite the wind and frost.

This establishment is an eatery of sorts, focused on serving hot food to its patrons quickly and efficiently to match busy midday hours. It apparently changes from a hive of activity into a near-abandoned shell within ten talecks of that window, though we did not stay long enough to see the (somewhat welcome) lull.

Much of the food is prepared ahead of time and then reheated as needed. Though this invariably affects the quality of each meal, the price and convenience seem to be worth it to the workers and students in the area. Anything leftover at the end of the day is also given to the urban poor- assuming it is still edible. This tradition has earned the Place a considerable amount of goodwill from the locals over two generations now.

I have my reservations about their fare, however.

Don't mistake me for someone with any amount of culinary acumen or snobbery. The ingredients and taste seemed just fine. I just don't understand why the dishes are named the way they are.

Everything has a slightly off-putting or unnecessarily risque name attached to it, apparently originating from the late Harhal's sense of humor. The tradition has been continued by his son Rhal, the current proprietor.

As such, when Kibra finally convinced us to go in for lunch, I sat down to a plate of "Mother Fried in Her Children", which is to say cutlets of chicken breast fried in an egg-based batter. Kibra meanwhile swore by a bowl of "Bull Taken Hotly to the Wedding Bed", or steak peppered with Nambarish spices and served over a bed of a short, white rice harvested from the northern slopes of the Pashels. Hraela and Sarq both tried and enjoyed the "Crimson Infestations" after a bit of goading from one of the patrons we were seated close to. The mushroom caps were stuffed to overflowing with a variety of ingredients, but the bits of tart or savory red berry sprinkled throughout gave them the name. Ciudo burned his tongue on a serving of fried black bread topped with cheese curds that had been heated up to the point that you can hear the cheese hissing and whining. "Flaxen Screamers" indeed.

Eventually the contrast between the wind at our backs and the enormous braziers and cooking fires in front of us grew tiring, and we moved on. Kibra paid for us, and Rhal insisted she take home a few roasted taproots as a gift to make up for it.

The Benefactory of Eotirus

The maxims of the ITU and the Laiziji faith in general hold the creation and acquisition of knowledge to be vital and defining for the human experience. It is agreeable to me, for sure. But historically, the center of the Eternal Scholar's clergy has had issues with the freedom of access to that knowledge. Stemming from a combination of tradition and a desire for control, education has never been easy to obtain outside of the University's gates. Unless you were born to a founding family or had the new money to buy a temporary adoption into one, you are not going to get in. And unless they're going off to found a new sister-campus, an instructor at the ITU is not going to set foot outside of the place, by choice or by law.

Eotirus was a vanishingly rare exception to this tradition.

He was the third headmaster of the university at Porylus Mons to be elected by a council of his peers. And though he did not have the deep personal connections and/or blackmail to affect change from within, he did have a considerable amount of money to spend to the same effect, thanks to his family's involvement in the construction of much of the city.

When his tenure and his life neared its end, Eotirus decided to cap his fairly average legacy off with a controversial finish. He had the funds secured to build a library located outside of the school's walls, and designed an endowment for its maintenance and assured independence from any powers in the city. He died with a lot of enemies and without a lead coin to his name, but reportedly could not stop smiling at his own funeral.

The library has stood for a little under three hundred years since, its collection expanded to include a wide variety of topics ranging from mathematics, cooking, botany, political histories, and more journals than one could shake a stick at, were one inspired to go shaking sticks for some inexplicable reason.

All of these may be accessed by anyone coming in from the street. There is an entry fee of course, and strict monitoring of every volume, but it is not attached to membership or descent like one would expect. We spent a woefully short period here, but what time I had within the cathedral-esque structure was energizing. I saw an old woman teaching herself to read with the titles on book spines, and a young man snickering at a satirical piece aimed at a prominent governor and his mistress from three generations ago.

I hope this is the future. I could stand to be in one like this.

Old Cairn

Porylus Mons is not the first major human settlement on the hill or the surrounding area. The city was built atop the ruins of a much older hillfort, believed to be Esgodarran in origin. Evidence of this old habitation is normally quite invisible, with the significant exception of the so-called Old Cairn.

This mound-like jumble of stones and the spot of land it rests on have been kept untouched by development thanks to the administration of the school. It acts as something of a centerpiece for the campus park, and is a popular landmark to meet or hold gatherings next to.

It is only called a cairn because of its current shape, fallen into disrepair as it is. Local researchers argue that it likely wasn't any sort of burial site, and boast that it might have been a rather tall lookout tower instead. That would be an impressive feat of engineering indeed, but I am skeptical given the lack of mortar in traditional Esgodarran architecture. I would be more than happy to be proven wrong, of course.

I should ask for a copy of any existing research when we at last meet with the faculty. Their offices loom close now, here by the Cairn. Their perfunctory hymns can just barely reach our ears on the wind.