War of the Burning Sands
Altaruk is a fortified town of about three thousand souls astride the trade route that connects Balic with Tyr. It lies in a mountain pass that stretches several miles west to east, though it is seldom half a mile wide north to south. Over the years, it has been claimed by both city-states of the Tablelands—Tyr and Urik—until a few decades ago the natives negotiated their town as neutral ground, with the help of the merchant houses. Hence, the Balican merchant dynasties of Wavir, Rees, and Tomblador have a heavy presence in the town and control every aspect of law and commerce. A single main road stretches across the town, Caravan Way. Because of cramped space, nearly every building is at least two stories, and in wealthier parts of town, skybridges connect clusters of buildings owned by rich merchants.
In the surrounding region, desperate raiders wait in ambush in the stony barrens and rocky badlands, but Altaruk’s well-paid mercenaries drive off any bandits they find lurking within half a day’s travel of the town’s gates. For those inside the twenty-foot-high walls, Altaruk offers stables, room and board, trade opportunities between merchant houses, and gossip from all corners of the Tablelands. Only the largest and fiercest raiding tribes would consider attacking Altaruk.
The village is governed by a noble, a former Balican merchant, named Master “Aris” Arisphistaneles. In his role as master of the town, he deals with traders in a stern but fair manner. It is said that Aris also has a secret role in Altaruk as a leader of the local cell of the Veiled Alliance, which maintains contact with cells in the neighboring cities.