Recently, I’ve been working on a new Conquest of the Sphere project for my Patreon page. It’s a serialized story featuring two characters, Mele and Inoke, who live in and around the city of Yelemma. I figured now would be a good time to share with you a brief guide to Yelemma, and to talk about some of the inspiration behind it.
First, I wanted to explore a city outside of Gravais, the major, dominant city in the novel I finished the first draft of last year, and which is now in the process of being edited (read: re-written). I wanted to look at a city that wasn’t thriving and alive, but one that had fallen on hard times.
For a visual inspiration, I looked to two cities that my wife and I visited on our honeymoon, Lyon and Venice. Neither is as far gone as Yelemma, by any stretch. In fact, Lyon seems to be a thriving city, and while Venice is facing some very dire troubles, it’s still quite vibrant. Yet, both have a hint of faded glory, at least in some parts, and that’s what I was going for. Lyon, in particular, used to be a major player in the silk industry, which is what Yelemma was also famous for producing.
Yelemma was once a thriving and populous city. A center for trade and culture, it had once served as the economic center for the long since collapsed Vil’qu Hegemony. For nearly a thousand years, the silk manufactured in Yelemma has been prized in the great cities of the world, from Gravais to distant Daan. While the silk makers still ply their craft, the city’s fortunes have ebbed. Land caravans cut new paths through the wilderness, making the river barges less necessary, the rise of Gravais as the dominant political and cultural center in the region pulled away artists and entrepreneurs, and the deadly outbreak of froth plague a generation ago spread beyond the city’s slums and kept the city quarantined for more than a year.
Built at the fork of the M’Lemzial and the M’Yelem rivers, the core city is a triangular shape, with docks lining two sides and a high wall on the third. Each river is spanned by a stone bridge with a gatehouse. On the far sides, within a now crumbled outer wall, is the old slum, once a noisy warren of laborers and craftspeople. Now almost entirely empty of people, its broken buildings have become home to advancing wildlife. Once it wasn’t safe to travel in the slums at night because of criminals. Now it’s not safe because of wild animals.
Merchants still visit the city to buy silk, which can fetch high prices in bigger cities, but the caravans have become less frequent, and as new trade routes are established to more exotic lands, traditional fabrics are falling out of favor in the novelty-hungry cities.
If you visit Yelemma, be wary of the outer city, though if you’re short on money, you could always camp in one of the old houses. They’re rickety and drafty, but with a little work, you can make a nice camp. Watch out for the critters, though. You never know what might be lurking in an old attic or larder.
If money is not so limited, stay in the inner city. Folks are accommodating, and while the inns may be a bit shabby, they’re comfortable and the food is good. Try the protta. It’s a local specialty. They boil them until the shells open, then soak them in wine for a day. The cassa here is stronger than you might be used to. They mix in fermented tursh milk that gives the drink a kick.
Visit the market at Umani N’Huk Square. They hold it on the last day of every week, and in spite of all that has happened to the city over the years, it’s still a sight to see. Farmers, trappers, hunters, and merchants bring their goods. Wine and cassa flows freely. Music and dance goes late into the night.
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