Gradapis at the End of the First Era
The following is an excerpt from Chapter 3 - ‘Gradapis and its Associated Territory’ of Section 8: The Lands of House Stoke from the seminal work “An Overview of Ornthasian Civilisation at the End of the First Era” by renowned scholar Tiberius Pompeius, second cousin of previous Nemertingi Marcus Pompeius
Situated on the West Bank of Lake Kara, Gradapis is easily the richest and largest settlement controlled by House Stoke, arguably the most powerful, wealthy and influential house outside of The Seven. It is a common misconception that it is the family seat of House Stoke, when in fact the honour belongs Trepetrae for reasons we shall cover in the next chapter. Situated to the south. Its position on the trade road between Pompeivitatum and Athol allows it to extract tolls from merchants transporting valuable goods to the lands of House Pompeius and House Tedronai. This is mainly due to vast swathes of quicksand making the beaches north of Lake Kara deadly for someone not versed in local terrain, and bringing golems or enchanted human slaves with carts and wagons along the beach all but impossible for merchants, making Gradapis and the southern plains the main viable route for overland trade. The upper and middle-class humans who form the respectable Southern District mostly trace their roots to descendants and relatives of merchants who settled permanently in the city to run businesses. The largest of these groups are from Pompeivitatum, and a minor branch of House Pompeius live in the aforementioned Southern District, said minor branch I myself am a member of. Aside from trade, and possibly the black market, the largest economic engine in Gradapis is the famous market. Merchants from all over Ornthas flock to sell any number of domestic and foreign goods, from Dántaise cheeses to Helian books and paper, to Aiolian pottery and golem slaves. Staple goods of the export economy such as Chorus Fruit and enchanted human slaves regularly change hands.
House Stoke themselves, as has been covered in more detail elsewhere in this book, came to power around 634 FE, as a result of a Tedronai - backed incursion into native lands, ostensibly to support a tribe in an inter-tribal squabble. Though most records of the conflict have been lost, we do know the that Hanekin Stoke (a son-in-law of the Nemara of the time) was made Lord of the lands and tasked to govern the territory after the territory had been subdued. At the time, the modern lands of House Stoke were controlled almost entirely by the native Namur (plains elf) population, who mostly lived a nomadic lifestyle in the plains, under the nominal control of Ornthas. Due to a lack of centralisation and an entrenched nomadic culture, one of the only major settlements was Evardi. Records and archaeological evidence tell us that Evardi was situated roughly on the modern-day site of Gradapis, though little is shared in common with its modern equivalent. It was completely burnt to the ground at the end of the incursion, leaving primary sources from the Namuri of the incursion scarce. A small team of archaeologists has a site at Gradapis, performing excavation work.
Though the Namur population were beaten in combat and stripped of their land, they were not enslaved largely due to a trade agreement, brokered in 639 FE, between Aiolia and Ornthas facilitating greater trade in Golem slaves, making others nearly redundant. Many Namur migrated to the fast-growing town of Gradapis, attracted by opportunities of working for merchant caravans, or in any number of low-skilled jobs. The lucky ones worked for the new merchant human elite, finding work in skilled professions such as physicians, tailors, smiths, or carriage drivers for the aristocracy when Golems would not suffice. Despite the rapid growth, jobs were still finite, and many who migrated to the cities found themselves unable to find work. Some of these migrants and former residents of Evardi who had fallen upon hard times found themselves turning to disreputable professions.
By the 700s, a large criminal underworld had developed. The main calling card of this underworld is the vast network of extortion rackets that have grown up around the commercial areas, as well as numerous brothels. Theft of merchant caravans is extremely rare however and punished severely by enforcers of both the underworld and the Lord. House Stoke have been mostly content to allow this criminal network to continue it’s operations, as long as violence doesn’t spill into the respectable human neighbourhoods. As such, the semi-regular conflicts between rival factions of the underworld has been confined to the poorer Western District. Illegitimate Half-Namur children are not uncommon either, though they are discriminated against both by the upper-class human elite, who often frown upon the ‘unnatural mistakes’ of their rich neighbours, and the Namuri underworld, who often view them as ‘spies for the rich fancy folk’, to quote two men I interviewed.