STORM KINGS THUNDER
Situated in the fork where the Rivers Surbrin and Dessarin join near the Evermoor Way, Yartar is a fortified town that, were it not for its own petty, internal squabbles, might wield more influence among its fellows in the North. Currently, it is most remarkable for its barge-building operation (and that industry's importance to the commerce of other settlements) and it's annual fairs. Each summer, except in years when Shieldmeet occurs, a vast Hiring Fair is held in Yartar, during which all sorts of undesirable folk gather north of the town looking for work as guards, miners, farmhands, guides, or other unskilled laborers. For the most part, those who attend this fair are brutes, bandits, freeholders whose lands can no longer sustain them, or Uthgardt who wish to be among "civilized" folk for a short time- but occasionally, a strong hand or a skilled warrior can be culled from the bunch. While this event is going on, Yartar is overrun with visitors it would rather not welcome, who steal goods, sell wares in the street (sometimes those they have just stolen), meet unscrupulous contacts to hand off coin, information, or purloined items, and engage in the occasional spell duel. It's quite common for a new adventuring company to come into being at one of these fairs, when those who stand out from the crowd because they have legitimate skills to sell gravitate toward one another and decide to form a group. In those years when Shieldmeet falls, the town is instead treated to a great festival on that day, sponsored mainly by the local temple to Tymora, the Happy Hall of Fortuitous Happenstance. The Shieldmeet festival features a number of games of chance, skill, and bravery, from dice and darts, to drunken running, to wrestling and other physical contests. Occasionally, the Tymoran priests use this festival to identify adventurers whom the goddess has called to a particular task, selected for a blessing, or otherwise marked for some undetermined destiny. Whether during the Hiring Fair or the Shieldmeet festival, each summer at least one adventuring band seems to get its start in Yartar. Most fall into obscurity, but the Smiling Company- the still-active portion of a larger band of warriors who gathered in Yartar nearly a decade ago-still enjoys moderate success, and makes annual contributions to the Happy Hall.
Yartar is ruled by a Waterbaron who is elected for life. The current Waterbaron is Nestra Ruthiol, a hot-tempered woman who is wickedly calculating; though she is free with her words and her insults, she seldom takes action against rivals unless she is sure such can be done to the most efficiently painful effect. During my last visit to Yartar, accusations arose against the Waterbaron that she had murdered a man, Kaidrod Palyr, who was later revealed to have been her lover. His body was found in the river, with the soaked remnant of what appeared to be Nestra Ruthiol's favorite cloak. That she loudly and publicly argued with Palyr's wife, Tiarshe, shortly before the accusations came to light did little to help her reputation,or the impression of her innocence. When she was fin ally cleared of the charges, Waterbaron Ruthiol made it clear that she didn't wish to speak of the matter again , and she would ensure that anyone who brought it up in official dealings would be quite unhappy with the results. Though there are whispers, it has not been mentioned in her presence since. Some blame the murder on the Hand of Yartar, the local thieves' guild, but I believe that Kaidrod was killed, and the Waterbaron was implicated, in order to free up the post for one of her rivals within the city.
It is conflicts and schemes such as this that keep Yartar from gaining prominence in the North. If the town can overcome its internal problems, take advantage of what its fellows in the Lords' Alliance can offer, and find a way to reap greater profit from its position along major trade routes – where it stands as the gateway to all the settlements of the northeast – Yartar might soon grow in size, wealth, and influence. Physical growth would require clearing terrain for further settlement and building another encircling wall to protect settlers- and additional guards hired to protect those who do the work. With its location near two great rivers and its proximity to a third (the Laughingflow, forming a trio the locals creatively call the Three Rivers), Yartar is a fishing town, and its tables have fish as fare at every meal. Fresh crabs, eels, and other river life are available both to eat and to purchase, and serve as a primary means of income for the fisherfolk of the town. The other major industry of Yartar is barge building. Most of the region's river barges are built, or at least begin their service, in Yartar, and the works of the town's bargewrights are famous all up and down the Dessarin and its tributaries. It is the importance of Yartar's barges to the commerce of the North that earned the town a place in the Lords' Alliance, to ensure that Yartar doesn't fall to enemies and cause upheaval in the trade network along the rivers. What can't be transported to or from Yartar by barge comes and goes by caravan instead, and the town's location makes it a key stop for most caravans passing between Waterdeep and Silverymoon.
In Yartar, a caravan can arrange for swift repairs, replacements of wagon wheels, carts, or full wagons, or the replenishment of tack and other accessories. Because Yartar has so few industries, and fewer close neighbors, its merchants are often in direct competition with one another, and have neither the resources to seek new customers, nor the space or funds to explore new trades. As a result, a good deal of the gossip, thievery, and assault in Yartar has at its roots one merchant trying to get the upper hand on a rival, either through damage of goods, intimidation of workers, or theft of patrons and customers. To curb and control rowdiness, the Waterbaron employs the Shields of Yartar, a mounted force of guards who police the town, keep order, and chase off the Uthgardt raids that occasionally menace the lands nearby. The Shields are housed in the Shield Tower, a fortified structure on the west bank of the Surbrin (the town sits primarily on the east), whose outer wall has frequently been torn down and rebuilt. It's rumored that guardian skeletons rise when unauthorized folk tread the ground between the walls, but no one has tested the area to see if its magic still functions; even if it doesn't, more than a hundred angry warriors charging out of the tower at trespassers is enough danger to scare people out of pursuing the idea. A fortified bridge connects the banks between the tower and the town proper.
More impressive than either the Shields or the Shield Tower is the Waterbaron's Barge. This massive vessel can carry two hundred soldiers or seventy-five Shields of Yartar with their horses. Its sides above the waterline are armored with iron. Behind its walls stand multiple crossbow contraptions, each able to fire a dozen bolts at once. When brought to bear against a force on the riverbank, the Shields loose two volleys against their enemies, then bring the Barge ashore and charge. No raiders have stood firm against such an assault. In the center of town is the Waterbaron Hall, a grand structure that is both the ruler's home and the location where she hears audiences. Feasts are often held here, though more often, the hall sees activity in its side rooms, where merchants dealing in large quantities of goods, or making deals and proposals that affect the entire community, can meet in comfort.