Trade or Mechant houses are the few factions allowed to travel from city-state to city-state without issue. Many have a fort or city-state they have headquarters in, but the major ones have pressences in multiple city-states.
All mercantile houses follow a strict code of behavior, known as the Merchants. Code. Anyone wishing to join a merchant house must accept all aspects of this code and abide by them or face immediate expulsion. The code varies from house to house, but in most cases it conforms to the following principles:
- Recognition that by joining a merchant house, an agent forsakes citizenship in any city or membership in any tribe.
- An oath of allegiance to the merchant house.
- A promise to perform in the best interests of the merchant house in return for a salary.
- A promise to deal honestly with stranger, friend, and foe alike.
- A promise not to flaunt any wealth gained through employment with the house.
- A promise to uphold the laws of the city in which the agent is stationed, and to do nothing to bring down the wrath of the sorcerer-king or his agents upon the house.
- A promise to cooperate with other merchants to make life very expensive for any person who unjustly imprisons, blackmails, or otherwise harasses any merchant.
Major Merchant Houses of the Tablelands
The merchant houses supply the lifeblood of Athas.foodstuffs that feed isolated city states, construction materials to build the palaces of sorcerer-kings and decadent nobles, slaves to toil in fields or fight and die in gladiator pits, and many other vital items.
Organized along family lines with a matriarch or patriarch at its head, a major house controls dozens of caravans, maintains estates in several different cities, sponsors trading villages, and employs (or owns) thousands. The largest houses.Wavir, Tsalaxa, and their ilk are very influential across the Tablelands.
Please note that an exhaustive list of what each house trades is not possible. Instead, what is listed is the major items each house is known to trade in great quantity, or great quantity for the item(s) in question. Further, just because it isn't listed doesn't mean they don't trade in it or want to. They just aren't known for it.
House Inika - Based in Gulg, House Inika has only recently arrived in Kalidnay. They have a small trading house and from it trade kola nuts, spices, gems and feathers.
House M'ke - Based in Raam, trades in metal, food, weapons and obsidian. A typical house with several routes into Kalidnay.
House Shom - Based in Nibenay, in the Fertile Crescent, House Shom trades in obsidian, rice, water, wood, weapons and art objects. Rice is the biggest import they bring into Kalidnay.
House Stel - Based in Urik, it's not surprising that Stel is the most militant of the trading houses. Stel deals in weapons, ceramics, iron, obsidian, wood, feathers, slaves and gold. There are more rumors about them dealing with elves, and therefore stolen cargos, than any other house. However, there is little doubt that any house would do this, if the profit were enough. There is no proof that they have ever broken the Merchants' Code, which makes it tough to do anything against them.
House Tsalaxa - Based in Draj, Tsalaxa is the most ruthless merchant house. They trade in hemp, grain and slaves but also more risky commodities, such as artwork, ornate weapons and exotic slaves.
House Vordon - Based in Kalidnay, Vordon deals in the gold from Walis, grain from Kalidnay and iron of Tyr. They also deal with textiles, obsidian and gems. They have a major base in Tyr as well but their base of operations has been Kalidnay for nine generations.
House Wavir - Based in Balic, Wavir deals with grain, ceramics and precious metals. It is unique in that it has no slaves nor deals with them as it was founded by ex gladiators and freed slaves.
Each of the houses has a deal with the city-states and its sorcerer king. The houses are citizens of their own "nation" and as such, can come and go from any city-state with few problems. They are forbidden from taking part in any politics in a city-state but are known to help out a favored templar here and there. This is overlooked with no real concern. However, spying or helping any spies from another city-state is not tolerated by any sorcerer king and the merchants won't break that.
The houses, as nations unto themselves, maintain their own armies, usually in the thousands. It takes a lot of manpower to keep the trade routes open with hostile creatures and attacks by elves, gith, belgoi, ssurans, b'rohgs, and other tribes. Further, when two of the major houses have issues, they will often go to war over it with their armies, well away from the city-states. These wars are usually quick, decisive and bloody, with the winner taking the loser's people, either as workers or slaves. Again, the sorcerer kings don't care as long as the trade doesn't stop during this time.
Small Trading Houses
The smaller trading houses usually only connect one or two cities or perhaps only one village to a city state. They usually specialize in one or two items and have a monopoly on that item in the area, which keeps them thriving. While they would love to be bigger, the other merchant houses, as well as rivals, stops that from happening too often.
House Ardien - Based in the village of Walis, House Ardien pulls from nearby mines gold and silver. They trade with Kalidnay but also Tyr and Balic. They are quite profitable but the sons have been looking to expand on the business.
Competing with all of the above, the elves create a wild card in the economy. They are mostly nomads but several tribes do trade as a main source of income. Further, they are completely inscrupulous in their dealings. They do not follow the merchants' code, obviously. If the people didn't want a black market, the elves might have to be pure nomads! Pretty much, the elves are willing to deal in anything and everything, except elven slaves even from another tribe, and are most likely to have illegal drugs or other commodities than any other merchant. It's the most dangerous but the elves would have it no other way!