As its name suggests, this is the skulduggery, dirty deed, intrigue and subterfuge centre of Fels. Hired Skull is the district that sits between Old Town on the north to north-east, Northmer on the north to north-west, Lake Village to the east, The Middle to the south and Waterway to the west. A fair amount of its eastern marge is along the Hired Skull Scrub, one of the few free-standing tracts of jungle remaining in Fenstre proper.
The Middle ends and Hired Skull starts at a line drawn out from the northern end of the Bazaar east-west although the reality is the neighbourhood gets poorer, more complex, the alleys and byways narrower and the people more xenophobic and shifty-eyed.
Hired Skull is a nightmare of confusing dead-ends, vegetation, bunting, striped canvas and sailcloth, stalls and walkways. There are no canals here either save for the ones on its edges yet Hired Skull is Fenstre's core and soul. The image most antemery have for the Society is based on the suspicious faces of a Hired Skull resident.
Antemery are definitely persona non grata here and any foreigner who strolls blithely and blindly into some obscure and calico-cloth covered alley is likely to be bereft of money, weapon and maybe their life.
There's no actual law proscribing antemery from visiting Hired Skull, and in fact, many come here to trade. It is simply a place where a foreigner must tread with circumspection.
Hired Skull is primarily small booths, stalls and other minor businesses. Fortune tellers, quacks, prayer-bead makers, incense-blenders and all associated kith work here. The smells of cooking meat, ensilage, sewerage, spices and oils permeate the very air and the stones.
Hired Skull is the demesne of the Hallilan, the so-called thieves guild of Fenstre, though they are far more than just simple cutpurses and muggers. Although no area of Fenstre is free of their depredation, in Hired Skull they are in their element. Everyone fears and respects them, most people careful of the very words they utter lest the stranger behind them is carrying the dreaded swampwhip. A swampwhip is a delicate knout about four feet in length, coiled and carried at the thief's side.
They use them very deftly and can coil them adroitly with a flick of the wrist. At the tip of the whip is a viscous poison derived from the swamps but of a secret recipe. When bare flesh is touched with the whip, a virulence normally follows several days later and can be fatal. Those who survive the ravages of fever are scarred and enervated.
The swampwhip is therefore a potent and hideous symbol of Fenstre's underside. Although unknown to most folk, the Hallilan actually headquarter themselves in the north part of Old Town. What is also unknown to most though suspected is the Hallilan do the bidden will of the Geriarchs.
The Hallilan generally clear Fenstre of undesirable antemery and dissidents and “cull” the beggars and indigenes in their periodical imwiets. Their status is strictly illegal and the Geriarchs put a swift end to any thief idiotic enough to be caught but few folk will dispute they do Fenstre a sinister and essential service.
Their byways and conduits are the sewers, the tenebrae and latences of Fenstre, as they are called. No innocent has ever found himself in the sewers of Fenstre and lived. The passages beneath Fenstre are extraordinarily complex even for Societor standards and tend to lead everywhere and legion are the trapdoors which come out into the homes and inns of the populace. As said before, they are not places for the unwelcome.
Most of the city's sewage system was constructed by the Attuned Wind and as such requires no maintenance and there exists no complete map of them. Unknown to most of the Hallilan even, the sewers connect to the Warrens beneath them, Attuned Wind subterranean structures and caverns, proof that they could adeptly build below ground as well.
Near the edge of Old Town exist the Three Lakes, Yore, Irne and Swoire. Surrounded completely by the urban chaos of Hired Skull, none of the three are technically lakes but ponds fed by tidal diversions and sewer pipes. More often than not, they are used as swimming holes by youngsters escaping the heat and humidity of Fels' equatorial climate.
In places weeds and other floating plants cover them but they are generally accessible to the Society. South of Irne Lake is the Ovoid. There is nothing more incongruous in secretive, complex Fenstre than an open area or maidan, but that is precisely what the Ovoid is. Approximately three hundred metres a side, it is ringed by shops and stalls. Most of the activity in the Ovoid is transient; folks travelling from here to there. On the western edge is the Wayfarer's Tavern, the largest inn in Hired Skull. Despite its name, none of the patrons are visitors or travellers in the truest sense but the name sticks. To the south-west of here is the Goldsmith's Hanse, the guild. The smallest of Fenstre's guilds it is possibly the most elite or lofty due to the financial control they possess. Unlike the other guilds they are run as a co-operative with no true leader.
Nearby lives Sadan, a sage, who can recount most of Fenstre's history. Most of his trade is foreign as few Societors have any interest in last week let alone the dim past. Sadan's knowledge is nowhere as extensive as the libraries kept by the Trowhealds or the Geriarchs but his knowledge is not slight.
Three bridges cross the canal known as Lakesverge onto Lake Village itself. The northern one of these is the Peregrine Bridge which is on the Street of Peregrine. To add confusion there is the notorious Peregrine Inn which sits right on the approach to the bridge. It is Fenstre's pre-eminent rough tavern and the militia patrol incessantly there.
The middle bridge is the Little-O Bridge and the southern one is the Scrub Bridge. It is just south of here that the Road of the Perilous Step joins the Marchway which heads around Lakesverge to join the Street of Always, which becomes the Argyre Road once it is on Lake Village.
Southeast of Irne Lake is the huge underground reservoir known as the inflan. It is the tidally-powered sewer flusher of Fenstre. At midnight, the inflan is filled to the brim and then set loose to clear the canals and sewers of the day's dross.
Many are the victims of the Hallilan who have been weighted and sunk to its murky bottom. The concept of being drowned in a vast and lightless subterranean cavern of unknown depth is enough to make most folk whisper over their shoulders and it is used as a catchword to silence irascible children.
Its level doesn't vary much and the bricked ceiling of the inflan is between 15 and 20 feet from the water. There are innumerable trapdoors leading down into it, but only those weary of life or the Hallilan would do so. The inflan is fifty feet deep in low tide, and keeps its secrets, possibly even from Ydrys.
The Fallen Gannet is a reasonable pub sitting beside the green water of Swoire Lake. It is a Taverner's Guild establishment run by a large, coarse woman known as Opillia. The Spurge and Rape is nothing more than a grogshop catering for the indigenes and drifters of Hired Skull. It sits midway between the Ovoid and Yore Lake and is another Guild place, although it is doubtful Lord Chaverno thinks of it regularly.
For the record, neither spurge nor rapeseed are grown within 2000 miles of Fenstre, both plants preferring less tropical and humid climes.
Old Town, a misnomer since it is no older than anywhere else in Fenstre, sits in the northeastern corner of the island, with Northmer to the west, Lake Village to the south and south-east and Hired Skull to the south-west and south. North is the Northstretch and part of the Northmer Scrub and east is the Eaststretch an the mainland of The Three Rivers continent.
It is not certain how Old Town got its name, but there is a softer quality to the confusion and riotous urban build here than say Hired Skull. It is no less intriguing as its stalls and alleyways reek of secret doorways and furtive glances. It is possibly more accommodating to the antemer due to the proximity of the bridge to the mainland and incoming road traffic.
The Argyre Causeway, like the Port Diales Causeway on the west side, is a pre-Collision structure of metal originally designed for electro-magnetic trains and large vehicles. Those have vanished but the causeway spans the Eaststretch like a glorious prelude to Fenstre. Ships of all sizes can sail beneath the highest span. Between Lake Village and the start of the Northmer Scrub is the shoreline barrage known as the Old Town Wall. There is no need for a wall or palisade in the Northmer Scrub, bunes, kateans and kerrips do a sufficient enough job for Fenstre, though in fact, there are watches. As one comes over the Causeway into Fenstre they are met by the Wall Office, the customs and entry point. On the north side of the Street of Always is the Fenstre Caravanserai, the marshalling yards, godowns and stores for all caravan traffic into and out of Fenstre. It is a place of ceaseless activity.
It is run by the Flamistead family. Between the Caravanserai and the Saint's Kitchen, a large and noisy inn, is the infrey, basically an open-air tenebra. It resembles a canal more than anything else, with it ends occluded by heavy iron grilles. It is surrounded by high brick walls and the usual Fenstre vegetation and trappings which means it is not a place a visitor would stumble into by accident. The Street of Always, which crosses
it, is covered here and lined with various stalls. The Street of Always becomes the Argyre Road once it crosses the Eaststretch. To a lot of Societors, the Causeway is seen as the beginning of a frightening long road to the land of antemery weirdness.
The Port Diales Causeway is hidden by several kilometres of scrub from western Fenstre but this Causeway, like the Scail Island Bridge off Lake Village is very much visible and many are the folk who would like to see them torn down to prevent vile foreigners from entering Fenstre. Across the Eaststretch on the mainland the road splits in two, one goes north to Argyre and follows the Orstrey, the other heads south a short way to the point where Sough Lighthouse sits. Sough itself is a small village which is part of Fenstre which serves as a base for the militia who patrol the environs about the delta and for staff of the lighthouse. Much of the scrub has been cleared for crop-growing and there is a small fane to Zail here.
The Marchway ends at the Topland Bridge, the northernmost crossing onto Lake Village. The road then becomes The Street of the North which curves around into Northmer. The road crossing into Lake Village is known as the Topland Road. South of the Infrey lives Nuala Trowheald, mentioned earlier. Nuala lives alone in her shop which sells all variety of plant extracts, potions, philtres, phylacteries and telesms of variable efficacy.
Most of Fenstre's stupefying, hypnotic, narcotic and hallucinogenic drugs are formulated by Nuala and her skill as a chemist is extreme. Trade in a lot of these substances is not strictly permitted but the Geriarch's turn a blind eye so long as their rule is never compromised by it. Nuala has little to do with the Clan and spends a good deal of her time abroad in search of the rare and exotic.
She is a strikingly handsome woman in her mid-thirties with very long brown hair which she keeps tied in a braided tail. On the north side of the infrey lies the Glaivesmith, a smithy of fine repute. It is owned by a man named Romarry, who is from Xats to the southeast.
The fact that he is a foreigner means little to his customers. Other landmarks and folk of Old Town include Apump Lake. Like Hired Skull's Three Lakes, it is an artificial pond. It bears the name of the water pump which sits beside it. Unlike the Three Lakes, there is no swimming or washing of clothes allowed in it. Nearby, in a nondescript house on no particular street, is the headquarters of the Hallilan where Smikey holds court.
Smikey is a mysterious figure, a godfather like man who presides over the underworld as a god would. Very few people know him for Sweed, a reeve and a functionary of the Clathe. Those that do hold the information very close to their hearts. It is suspected that the Geriarchs are aware of it, which is hardly surprising, since secrets and their keeping are their province.
Please continue to the next page.