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A great city of the Manmarch, home to 20,000 souls (IV/215). It is plagued by ‘…religious schisms, racial tensions, unscrupulous greed and warring factions with proud leaders’ (III/420).
The city lies amongst rich farmlands and meadows in which grow various plants used tom make colourful dyes. Irsmuncast is famous throughout the Manmarch for its weaving, dyeing, carpets, pavilions and tapestry-making. It is a ‘…fair-seeming city’, its walls made of a dull red stone with towers at fifty foot intervals along the battlements. The citizens are of many types (III/236).
Whenever the hosts of evil spew forth from the Bowels of Orb; the great Rift that scores the world like a black pit in a rotten fruit, Irsmuncast is the city they fall on in their search for new slaves (VI/0). Irsmuncast-nigh-Edge holds back the black tide from the Rift which threatens to swamp the lands of men (IV/0).
The previous ruler of Irsmuncast was the Loremaster Szeged, Overlord of the city; his full title was ‘Overlord of the City-State of Irsmuncast, Protector of the Manmarch against the Rift’ (III/420 – the city was the last stronghold of men before the Bowels of Orb). Szeged was one of the Loremasters of Serakub, ‘a wise synod’. Also known as the Missionary King he brought the word of Kwon to the Manmarch. He became high priest of the temple to Kwon in Irsmuncast and, in time, through his wisdom and fair-mindedness, he became King. He ruled benignly and well. and was beloved of all save the reverencers of Nemesis and the riff-raff of cut-throats and thieves that gather in any great city. When the monks of the Scarlet Mantis wished to build a temple to Vile beside the temple of Avatar the One he opposed them. He was a great martial artist, but he met his match and died at the hands of Yaemon, Grandmaster of Flame (III/1). He was ‘…not a man who sought greatness, but one who suffered greatness to be thrust upon him for the common good. He was a wise and popular ruler, enlightened, but no despot.’ During the events of Usurper! many in Irsmuncast ‘…still grieve(d for) his passing’ (III/381). When Yaemon slew him, he was replaced by the Usurper. Szeged’s seal was the mark of a hippogriff on a chequered background. This seal was carved onto the back of his throne and is visible on the cover of Usurper!
When Avenger first came here, the city was quite busy and at night large torches burned on the street corners. Each house is obliged to hang a lantern outside its door to light the way. Despite this, there was a general mood of spineless dejection under the rule of the Usurper. Orcs wearing chain-mail marched the streets carrying shields emblazoned with the symbol of a red deer with a barbed tail and spiralling horns; the personal device of the Usurper (III/71, III/254). The city was kept under the heel of his loyal troops (III/96) who numbered 5000 men and orcs (III/208).
The Usurper terrorised the people, killing all who opposed him and grinding the spirit of the peasants underfoot. The farmers had their land taken away from them; they became bond-slaves, tied to the earth, forced to give half of everything they grew to feed the Usurper’s army of orcs and halvorcs. To be married, couples had to gain a permit from the Usurper’s Lord Steward. Crippling taxes were imposed on all save those who worshipped Nemesis (III/181). However, the Loremaster was survived by his only child, hidden on the Island of Tranquil Dreams (III/1). Eventually, Avenger overcame the Usurper and restored the family line (IV/0).
The Lord High Steward was a follower of Nemesis who administered the city at the whim of the dark Overlord (IV/41). He ran the city after the death of Szeged and declared to Avenger that ‘…it suffered no attacks in that time’ (IV/31). He remained the high priest of Nemesis when Avenger regained the throne (IV/41), but was slain when the forces from the Rift overran Irsmuncast just before the events of Warbringer! Three in ten of all the inhabitants of Irsmuncast worship Nemesis (IV/31).
The Usurper’s secret informers (the Order of the Yellow Lotus) wore a yellow mark near their elbow. They gathered at two large inns; the Cleansing Flame, exclusively frequented by followers of Nemesis, and the Hostel from the Edge, where newcomers to the city often end up (III/238). Under Avenger’s rule, the Yellow Lotus remained a power within the city (IV/73, IV/247, IV/263) until the forces of the Rift attacked before the start of Warbringer! when the order was scattered.
The Great Southern Gate is a triumphal arch, topped by squat towers with a raised portcullis at front and back. The inscription on the arch reads: In memory of the great victories won by the people of Irsmuncast against the Dark Forces from the Edge. The gate-guards are watchful, and when Avenger first entered the city the guards numbered ten halvorcs under the command of a priest of Nemesis (III/236). As well as the spawn of the Rift, the cities of the western Manmarch are also enemies of Irsmuncast (IV/211, IV/221). A plan of the city is illustrated as part of III/161, showing the city gate & walls, the major temples, the Barracks and the Palace. The view of the city rooftops from the palace walls is shown opposite IV/420. Views from the streets are shown opposite V/73, V/87 & V/252, where orcs and others are looting and burning.
The city gates are shown in the background of the illustration opposite V/369. The street from the gate runs fifty yards before entering a large green, rutted with the trail of wheels (III/244).
Two large streets run on from the Green; one north (Palace Road) towards some imposing and grandiose buildings and one (the Edgeway) east towards a park (III/161). The Edgeway leads past the houses of well-to-do people towards a park surrounded by railings and two huge iron gates. Here, traitors to the Usurper were whipped and broken on a wheel; left to hang in full view of the citizenry, food for the crows. A monk of Kwon and a shieldmaiden who have suffered this fate are shown opposite III/269. In the park at night the glow of many torches lights up a cloistered monastery adjoining the great church to Kwon the Redeemer (III/269; III/417).
The east side of the city, the poorest, is named the Edgeside. The city wall there is taller than at any other point because it faces the Rift – the Bowels of Orb – from which nameless evil issues forth to pollute the world (IV/0, IV/55). Palace Walk, a wide avenue of lime trees, leads past the houses of the wealthy to a grand crossroads with Cross Street, lined with three temples (III/109, IV/0, IV/420), with the Palace Crier’s podium at the centre (IV/55, IV/283, IV/343). A windmill tower overlooks the city on Seven Post Road (V/73). The Halls of Justice, where legal proceedings are held, is on Shieldbearer’s Row (IV/371). There is a street called Pudding Lane (IV/213).
The brooding black pinnacles of the temple to Nemesis, the Supreme Principle of Evil, seem to claw rapaciously at the sky. It is a great church, too tall for its width, with great archways rising to a cloister 40 feet above the street, and four towers shaped like flames (III/109). The temple itself is gilded with gold leaf (IV/395). A cartoonish illustration of the temple can be seen on the city map (III/161).
Also on Cross Street (and equally imposing) is a very large church of grey stone with a central pyramid looking as much like a square-towered fort as a place of worship; the great fortress-temple to Dama (III/109), Shieldmaiden of the Gods, known as the Pyramid Temple (IV/25). This temple is also simply illustrated on the map (III/161). Under Loremaster Szeged, the 2000 (IV/225) warrior-women who guard it were the city watch and gate-sentries; they kept law and order. They were valiant fighters but were outnumbered by the Usurper’s army (III/172). Their temple flies a flag showing a warrior-woman holding a sword aloft with a lozenge shape shield resting on the ground before her (III/109). The symbol of Dama is a diamond, often used as a shield blazon. The majority of the followers of Dama are women, but they include a sizeable number of men. Their head is Force-Lady Gwyneth, High Priestess of the temple (IV/41).
Smaller than the other temples, and opposite the black pinnacles, is a small white-stone chapel in the shape of a cross with a steeple and spire topped by the cross of Avatar, Supreme Principle of Good (III/109). When Avenger overthrew the Usurper, a great white torch flared atop the spire’s cross to honour the occasion. The high priest of the temple to Avatar is called Greystaff (IV/23).
To the south is a park where lies the temple to Kwon the Redeemer. The cloistered temple with its gabled towers is shown on the plan of Irsmuncast (III/161). The grandmaster of the temple is called Parsifal (IV/19). Further inside the temple is the Inner Sanctum, a bare room with rush matting and the Song of Kwon inlaid in silver on the walls. Here Parsifal hears confession (IV/139). Avenger noted that martial arts tradition of this temple fell far short of the monks on the Island of Tranquil Dreams (IV/75).
A wide, tree-lined (III/161) road called the Avenue of Seasons leads towards the temple to Time, which consists of a single silver dome rising like a flower bulb into a tall spire which acts as a sundial on the wide square to the south of the temple (III/394) known as either the Square of Seasons or the Plaza of the Infinite Instant (V/187). A representation of the temple is shown on the city map (III/161), but a more detailed drawing can be seen opposite III/394. The square in front is visible and the sundial markings can be made out. The Square of Seasons is joined to the Avenue of Seasons, which connects to Palace Row (V/33) and the corner of Belfry Street (V/25). Solstice, the high priest of the temple has the power to control the flow of time (IV/411, V/153). His priests wear grey robes and white belts (III/394). Of all the temples, that to Time is not subject to a temple tax and its priests and their followers enjoy special privileges. According to the sages of Greyguilds, Time is the most powerful of the gods. The Usurper did not see the priests as a threat, even though they were not allied to him (III/172). The priests don’t really care who rules the city as long as they’re left alone to ‘…pursue their strange devotions’. When the Loremaster was killed, they did nothing to help, despite their power (III/263).
The street north from the Green is called Palace Row (V/3) and leads past shops and stalls. At its end was the Usurper’s palace; a small building set in a high-walled garden with regimented flowerbeds. The pointed towers at either end flew two flags; one was his personal device, the other was the black whirlpool of Nemesis. It was guarded by men, orcs and wardogs (III/254). The Donjon is a windowless tower at the north eastern corner of the palace where dissenters are imprisoned (VI/175). The palace roof is protected by a set of battlements (IV/420). In the easternmost tower of the palace, a winding stair ends at the tower roof. The Usurper’s flag flew above the battlements; the stag with spiralling horns and a barbed tail (III/189). The palace treasury contains an enchanted ebony rod topped with a cone of alabaster, the Torch of Lumen. When touched, it gives off a constant light (VI/105, VI/393). An illusion disguises it as an ordinary light source such as a brazier or a lantern (VI/359). In Warbringer! we learn that the Palace Library contains a book called the Tome of Maledictions (V/375).
The magnificent royal bedroom is decorated with paintings of souls in torment. The bed is decked with sable furs and satin sheets (IV/1). The Usurper had palace handmaidens, chosen for their beauty, who tended the bedchamber (IV/11). There is also a large banqueting hall in the Palace (IV/65).
A hidden passage leads below the Palace to the Throne Room of the Palace from the ornately carved tomb of Lord Kalmon in the cemetery (III/7, III/9, V/267). We learn in Usurper! that a host of awful horrors lurk in these dungeons.
The Throne Room was decorated with the insignia of the Usurper, but beyond it could still be seen the hippogriff and chequerboard coat of arms of the Loremaster and a statue of Dama (III/363); the throne with the coat of arms is visible on the cover of Usurper! At the base of the throne can be seen mounds of skulls, human and otherwise. Here the Usurper sat in judgement on wrongly-accused innocents (III/9). He had the cold eyes and cruel-yet-handsome face of a tyrant and, when Avenger came here, was sat on a carven throne and dressed in cloth of gold which shimmered as he moved. He bore the golden rose-crown of the Overlords of Irsmuncast on his brow and had no guards (III/363). The throne room can also be seen in the background of the illustration opposite V/81. The Usurper was not a man, but Astaroth, seventh Duke of Hell (III/329).
The Loremaster ruled with the assistance of four appointed advisors, who sat in the Privy Council of the Star Chamber (IV/11). The Star Chamber is a large oval room, the ceiling of which is decorated with five-pointed stars in gold leaf. A large marble table separates a small throne on one side from four tall straight-backed chairs where the chosen Privy Councillors sat. The (fairly nondescript) doors to the Star Chamber are shown opposite IV/179. Although dismissed during the rule of the Usurper, the Council was restored under the rule of Avenger (IV/1). A clerk stood near the throne, clad in a green robe (IV/203). Councillors who wished to speak on a given issue placed their clenched fists on the table before them (IV/373, IV/233). When the Overlord attended the chamber, he or she wore a cloth-of-gold robe (IV/363).
The rulers of Irsmuncast had wielded two powerful artefacts, ‘…since the glorious days of Telmain I’ – the Sceptre and the Orb. They were reft from the Loremaster Szeged and carried away to the Mountains of Undying Solitude (IV/119), before they were recovered from an island in the Elemental Sea by Avenger (IV/378). The rose crown of Irsmuncast is another symbol of rulership (III/420).
Inns and taverns
The city’s three largest inns are the Cleansing Flame, the Hostel from the Edge and the River of Beasts (III/161).
The Cleansing Flame is in a narrow thoroughfare called Iskra Street, and the sign outside depicts a single violet flame. Up a set of wide stairs is a large club-room with a spinet at one end. It could be used for dancing, but when Avenger comes here we find many soldiers, priests and priestesses lounging on divans, and chaises longues, drinking wine. The serving wenches are polite and wear dresses of black velvet and silver satin. As Avenger, a stranger, entered there was absolute silence and all heads turned to stare. Most patrons wear black, and without exception the priests and priestesses sport the whirlpool symbol (III/115). There is a low chess table (III/19) at which customers can pit their wits. The inn is frequented solely by followers of Nemesis (III/238).
The Hostel from the Edge is located down dark side streets. The people of Irsmuncast refer to the Rift as ‘The Edge’, hence the ‘Hostel from the Edge’. Inside is a low, huge vault, capable of holding 200 souls. About half the customers are human. The others are orcs, halvorcs and the occasional wolfen (dangerous man-beasts over seven feet tall). Peasant girls carry tankards to the customers, seated at low tables and benches (III/78, III/343, III/401). Most strangers to the city finish up here, so the tyrant’s informers are always present (III/238). We discover that the clientele of the Hostel had private grudges against the Usurper, but did not voice them (III/33).
The River of Beasts inn is on a crooked line of flagstones called Izvestia Street. The sign outside shows a sea serpent and grotesque snake-like horses and dogs frolicking in a frothing blue river. When Avenger visited, we found two armed guards and a number of small rooms each served by bars in which around 200 people are drinking and talking. The air was heavy with smoke and here the common people of Irsmuncast seemed to enjoy themselves. They have a leader, the Demagogue. He’s a fine mob-orator, but no one would fight for him. Despite this, just before Avenger arrived in the city there were riots in which the orcs had ‘…to kill many (citizens) to quell their revolutionary ardour’ (III/62). There is a great meeting hall behind the inn where the Demagogue speaks to the malcontents of the city (III/68). When Avenger and the Demagogue speak at one of these meetings, it is broken up by the Usurper’s soldiers. There is a secret back entrance, along which the imperilled orators escape (III/41).
The army barracks is a large building near the temple to Nemesis. The army numbers 4–5000 soldiers; at least 2000 men, 1000 orcs and 1000 noseless, crossbreed halvorcs. The different troops drill in separate parties until evening. The halvorcs show commendable discipline. The great bulk of the army is loyal to Nemesis, but is also loyal to their city. They helped in the past to protect the city against raids from the Rift (III/96, III/208, IV/205). The army of the Usurper was commanded by the Strategos, General Barkant, until his death during the events of Overlord! (IV/211). The orcs of the city came as slaves three centuries before our period, from the Purple Mountains; they and their families were given citizenship a century later (IV/21, IV/255).
The spokesman of the merchants’ guild is Golspiel of the Silver Tongue. Golspiel’s spice emporium is a purple pavilion on Low End Road near the Green, furnished with exotica from far-away lands. He is one of the richest men alive; baubles in his mansion house include a stuffed manticore, the jewels of Pandar and the Tulemite vases. The merchants know a great deal about the underworld and the power struggles in the city. They have large numbers of well-paid mercenaries at their beck and call and could afford to pay the Usurper’s taxes. All who wish to do business in the city must buy a license from the Guildmaster of Merchants (III/172, III/184, IV/155, IV/405). Antocidas the One-eyed commands the mercenary regiment; their symbol is a golden sword and a bulging money-bag (V/37) and they wear purple livery (III/184).
- ↑ Some are flaxen-haired, others have flashing black eyes and raven hair. Many peasants have a coarse-limbed orcish look about them; some have the noseless faces of halvorcs (III/236).
- ↑ Also known as the Tyrant (III/238).
- ↑ Worshippers of Avatar and Kwon were often refused and could not bear legitimate children, preventing their inheritance.
- ↑ His face is pale and drawn with a long, thin nose and a little grey goatee that emphasises the length and point of his chin. He moves like a great black-hawk, his silver and sable cloak topped by curving wings of black velvet at the shoulders (IV/31). As a priest of Nemesis, he knows of a unique spell, the Cleansing Fire which casts a wave of silver flame (IV/121). The Lord High Steward is illustrated opposite IV/121, wearing his sable cloak with the velvet wings and a close-fitting black cap. He is casting the spell of the Cleansing Fire.
- ↑ Known as the Green. Traders’ caravans ply their wares on market days from ox-drawn wagons and one corner of the Green is occupied with the gaudily coloured pavilions of the city merchants and their agents. One or two smaller tents boast the names of clairvoyants and soothsayers who will provide a reading of the future if one ‘…crosses their palm with gold’ (III/244, III/286).
- ↑ During the course of Overlord! a fire breaks out here, a reference to the traditional origin of Great Fire of London.
- ↑ The worshippers of Dama believe in law and order and that ‘…only through discipline and the taming of havoc-wreaking elements will life on Orb realise its full potential. They do not see good as preferable to evil, but are by no means evil themselves’ (III/296).
- ↑ Lady Gwyneth is a tall graceful woman with a determined look in her eyes; her hands calloused from regular swordplay, and short, spiky, iron-grey hair; she has a powerful presence (IV/71). Force-Lady Gwyneth is illustrated opposite III/100 on horseback in front of her shieldmaidens, and opposite IV/211 standing in the throne room of Irsmuncast. She is also shown opposite VI/71 standing before Cassandra, a reverencer of Anarchil.
- ↑ He has a kindly, though solemn, face and is thin and a little pallid for want of the sun. There is an aura of saintliness about him. He wears a white skull-cap and voluminous white robes, which is likely to be the usual attire of a priest of Avatar (IV/23).
- ↑ He stoops slightly with age; his watery eyes may still burn with the light of wisdom but he has lost the strength of his body (III/181). When Avenger visits, Parsifal leads the worship of the congregation at evensong with a chant or song called the Catechism of the Redeemer (IV/139). During the events of Overlord! Parsifal was slain by Mandrake, Guildmaster of Assassins, and later replaced by Hengist, a younger man and a dangerous martial artist (V/21).
- ↑ The symbols of a budding shoot, an open flower, a yellow leaf and a pile of dust dominate the temple front. Above the gate are the words: Time, the Snowfather – Eldest Father – Youngest Son – From Whose Touch None Are Immune – Without Whom We Would Neither Be Nor Die. Inside is a sunny conservatory. A grey statue of an aged but wise man with his hands on the shoulders of a very young but precocious-looking boy occupies the bright room (III/394).
- ↑ Strangely, a range of mountains can be seen behind the temple – this is probably the artist’s mistake.
- ↑ He is a tall and gaunt man in a grey and white robe with a broad white belt. His noble face is lined with age, but the wisdom that wells within his misty eyes is the wisdom of centuries (IV/103). His back is bowed, his face furrowed with lines, but his voice is soft and sweet, that of a young boy (IV/255). Solstice is illustrated opposite IV/411 in the throne room of the Royal Palace. Some courtiers are visible in the background.
- ↑ When Avenger visits, they are gathered in a group of three, each resembling the old man of the statue in the conservatory (III/394). They are old, ‘…even by the reckoning of the very old’, and are ‘…steeped in the thaumaturgical arts’. They can stop time and make it seem to Avenger as if ‘…hours have passed in the space of an instant’. They refer to non-priests as ‘young ones’ (III/386).
- ↑ There are more temples to the Snowfather than any other. Good and evil mean nothing to Time. In Usurper! we learn that ‘…it would take a year to explain the worship of Time’ (III/172).
- ↑ It seems to be a codex listing or describing evil-doers.
- ↑ The handmaidens and the ornaments were retained for at least the early part of Avenger’s reign as Overlord (IV/1, IV/11).
- ↑ When Avenger shifted down the wrought iron torch bracket that lights the epitaph of the long-dead lord a doorway opened in the tomb (III/9). This revealed an ornately-carved portal leading below ground into a crypt. There was a single sarcophagus in the ancient chamber. A well-oiled, dust-free mechanism caused a wall to slide open. Beyond the secret door, a flight of rough steps led down to a cold, flagstoned corridor. Murals on the walls showed scenes of battle between men and other creatures; orcs, dark elves, ogres and other hideous monsters. Some of the figures bore the coat of arms of the Loremaster (III/7). Guards down here included grossly-misshapen cave trolls with greyish-green skin, warty and mottled, huge beards matted with filth, wide, splayed nostrils and rotting teeth. They wore blackened and stained leathers emblazoned with the livery of the Usurper (III/28). An illustration of the trolls can be seen opposite III/28, showing some of the architecture of the crypts. The tomb of Lord Telmain III, a previous Overlord of Irsmuncast, was also in the crypts and was protected by ethereal flames (III/315, III/417) but contained the enchanted golden circlet he wore (III/247). The final chamber before the Throne Room was the study or lair of an evil old one (III/207; illustrated opposite that reference, showing rows of books, an open journal with a quill pen in a pot of ink and a large parchment inscribed with mysterious sigils).
- ↑ The official dress of the Overlord (IV/363).
- ↑ His true form had red and bloated flesh with purplish-black blood, spikes growing out of his back, huge bat-like wings and terrible clawed fangs (III/329). His flesh burned red and his leathery wings exuded a nauseating stench (III/320). He is illustrated battling Avenger in the throne room of Irsmuncast on the cover of Usurper! He is also shown opposite III/320 sitting on the throne of Irsmuncast. These two pictures are dissimilar on a number of points, but I am inclined to think that the latter illustration is more reliable.
- ↑ Iskra, meaning Spark, was a newspaper published by émigré Russian socialists in the early years of the twentieth century – also see the note to the River of Beasts, below.
- ↑ A spinet is a kind of small harpsichord.
- ↑ Patrons encountered by Avenger include Radziwil and Elektra. Radziwil wears a doublet and hose; Elektra has plucked eyebrows and eye kohl. She carries a black lace fan (III/19) and is a magic-user (III/84).
- ↑ Isvestia, meaning News, is the second street in Irsmuncast to be named after a Russian newspaper, this time a popular daily that is still printed today.
- ↑ The Demagogue is a ‘…tall but emaciated man; his yellow robe flaps around legs no thicker than a sparrow’s. His face is all nose; his lips narrow and twisted, but his eyes burn with a manic intensity’ (III/68). The Demagogue is pictured opposite III/59 delivering a speech to the mob of Irsmuncast. He wears a pendant chain around his neck. He is shown opposite IV/331 in the throes of another oratory. Yellow, the colour of the Demagogue’s robe, is also the colour of the priests of Béatan – perhaps he is affiliated with that cult (they do seem to share some common goals).
- ↑ This range of mountains is obscure. They may be those north of the Rift or possibly an alternate name of the Mountains of Horn (see their description at TD/326).
- ↑ He is illustrated inside his pavilion opposite III/184. He rests on a huge cushion and there is a pair of vases behind him (perhaps these are the noted Tulemite vases?). His eyes are ‘…like small, shining currants in a face that shudders in time with his footfalls. His fat jowls hang down like dewlaps and his hands are like bunches of pork sausages’ (IV/251). There is a full length view of him opposite IV/193.
- ↑ We don’t have any more information about the jewels or the vases.
- ↑ Antocidas himself is a capable and veteran general. He is six and a half feet tall, and seems almost as broad. His dark craggy face is disfigured by a purple scar running from his receding hairline to his ear. He sports a gold eye-patch and wears scratched and supple cuirbouilly armour, the mark of his trade. He carries a bastard sword (III/130, III/138, IV/105, IV/358, V/349). He is pictured opposite IV/358 kneeling in the banqueting hall of the Palace.