"Why is everything elevated?" I asked as we passed through the walls into the city proper. Past the open area between the walls and the first layer of buildings, catwalks, and walkways made of stone and clearly more than temporary measures connected each building to its neighbor. The people of the city didn't seem to mark much difference between entering a given building at ground level or through one of the upper walkways. "It's the wrong season for Spirit Tides to be happening very often, so hopefully you won't need to find out," my escort responded.
-excerpt from the journal of a traveler to Beremen
Beremen is the largest free port in the two continents, welcoming any at its docks willing to pay its steep docking fees and tax rates. It is also the only place to go in the Spirited Lands if one wants to purchase or sell goods or services that carry a certain amount of risk. Visitors who keep in mind the residents' tendencies to add some padding to prices can haggle the price of just about anything downward, though they'll still find the final purchase to be somewhat more expensive than it might be elsewhere.
To counter the omnipresent threat of Spirit Tides (see The Spirit Sea and Spirited Lands
), the city is constructed in two layers, permanent walkways, catwalks, and platforms of fitted stone connecting buildings several meters above the streets. Residents and savvy visitors hold no particular preference nor stigma about which entrance to a structure they use; this allows business to continue as normal in the city during a Spirit Tide, those brave enough to do so making their way around the Upper Layer rather than by way of the streets.
In The Markets, travelers can purchase or bargain for just about anything, or information on where or how to acquire it. This, unfortunately, includes slaves, though slavers are careful to not bring dwarven captives to the port with its high population of their brethren working Forgetown. For the sake of keeping the peace, the watch doesn't allow slavers to capture new victims within sight of the city, but they don't ask very many questions when presented with half-way believable documentation of ownership, either. Poisons and the like are sold openly, but visitors should bear in mind that the actual use of poison in the city is punished by a harsh flogging, a steep fine, and confiscation of whatever valuables the watch desires from the perpetrator's person.
For those who pass through purely to do some business and then leave, the city can be a merchant's or smuggler's paradise. Inn- and tavern-keepers don't ask questions, purse-snatching is one of the highest crimes in the city (can't scam taxes out of visitors if they don't have anything to pay with, after all), and there are no tariffs, import, nor export fees of any kind. The city takes its income instead entirely from the steep taxes levied on any kind of transaction within its walls, and on the fees to tie up to its docks. The rough-and-tumble sort of characters who make their living selling services here present the usual kinds of surprises otherwise, however, so most who can't handle themselves in a fistfight hire an escort of some kind. The watch won't bother to break up small skirmishes unless they think someone is going to deal a permanent injury or property damage.
The most constant stream of people through the inns and taverns are dwarves and others interested in mining the nearby Stormsurge mountains for their rich deposits of rare metals. Forgetown, a series of buildings housing forges on their Upper Layer levels, is owned and operated mostly by dwarven families, each clan specializing in working a particular metal above others. Steady streams of smoke and steam belch from the chimneys of these buildings in time with the sounds of fire and hammer, day or night, as metals are shaped into finished products or ingots for transport.
Technically, the largest permanent population in Beremen is the humans, but this doesn't account for most of the city's population. Nearly as many dwarves can be found passing through at any given moment on their way to or from the Stormsurge Mountains to the northwest, where multiple types of rare metal veins can be found. Behind dwarves are a large number of orcs and half-orcs who wander in from the tribes that dominate the northern Spirited Lands to trade for supplies.
Beremen is run by the current Sail Lord, who is elected by way of popular vote; this can be a misleading description, however, as the vote is generally a formality. The Sail Lord is generally the privateer or another group leader with the largest and most capable group of flunkies available to enforce rules on the city. A vote is called for when circumstances make it obvious an interested contender has the forces needed to challenge for the position, and consists of votes being taken while a shadow war rages until one of the two candidates dies or vanishes under mysterious circumstances.
The Sail Lord governs Beremen from his or her home in the Palace of Lords, though 'governs' might be too strong of a descriptor for some. (The word 'Palace' brings to mind something a bit more grand than the long two-layered structure it describes, for that matter) For the most part, the Sail Lord and their flunkies make sure taxes continue to flow to them so they can continue paying the mostly-mercenary town watch to keep the peace and man the city's defensive walls.
'Keep the peace' is perhaps a misphrasing as well. Unless someone is likely to be permanently injured, smaller scuffles and fistfights are generally ignored by patrolling watch members, purse-snatching being considered a higher crime than minor assaults. (The Sail Lords always bear in mind that the constant flow of visitors is the lifeblood of the city, and impress the same on their hired help; the city's citizens can't run scams or taxes on passer-through if their money is stolen from them first.)
Like everyone who lives in the city, the watch is very careful to do their part in maintaining and checking the spring-latching gates that block stairs to the Upper Layer. A single unlatched gate during a Spirit Tide can result in catastrophic casualties and death; any interference with layer gates other than to maintain or repair them is the highest offense a resident or visitor can commit. Those determined to be guilty of such a crime are permanently exiled from the city if lucky or, more often, simply executed.
An impressive twenty-meter-high wall surrounds the city, ten meters thick and including rooms throughout from which watch members could fire on a sieging force. Less sensible to unfamiliar visitors are the portcullises arranged at regular intervals along the walls, and the twenty-or-so meters of open space between the walls and the outermost buildings of the city itself. This is a city on the coast of the Spirit Sea, and thus requires unique defenses against unique threats.
One of the duties of the ships making up the protective fleet around the harbor is to keep a weather eye on the waves under them for the sight of a swelling Spirit Tide. When a lookout notes the wraiths of the undead passing just below the surface of the waves, they need not check with their captain on most ships to immediately signal nearby vessels and the city.
When a Spirit Tide is confirmed, alarm bells are sounded, and the city transforms with practiced efficiency. Citizens close and secure street-level entrances to homes and places of business, visitors are ushered indoors or to the Upper Layer, and watch members quickly run about confirming all layer gates at the feet of the stairs to the Upper Layer are firmly latched shut. Watch members manning the walls raise the portcullises all along the wall, and the city quiets. Those comfortable doing so continue moving about the city via the walkways of the Upper Layer, while everyone else retires indoors to wait out the tide in safety. The open area around the city serves to allow watchers on the walls a certainty that the last of the wandering spirits of the tide have passed fully through the city and the open portcullises before sounding the horns to signal safety and lowering the spiked gates again.
Skill and survival are the lifeblood of Beremen. It's listed population makes up just over half of its actual personnel at any given moment, many of those in the city simply passing through for one reason or another. Forgetown brings in taxes, the dwarves working there being the only easily-reached artisans in the world to be able to handle some metals. An inn or tavern on every corner provides places to eat and spend a night with no questions asked. Both the Sails and the Dries, the two large docking structures extending from the city, are teeming with dockhands and quartermasters of varying specialties. The Markets at the center of the city are the first and last place to be able to find a wide spectrum of supplies and goods before setting off deeper inland or out to sea. And everything in the city carries a tax; not so much as to put visitors off, but certainly steeper than the average passer-through might expect.
Forgetown is Beremen's second-largest draw, forges specializing in every conceivable ore working next to each other in a cacophony of flames and hammering, all situated on the Upper Layer. The Dries, as they're locally known, are the enormous dry-dock structures just outside the southwest wall of the city; excepting possibly Basom and Laman, there is no place better or with workers more skilled to effect repairs on seagoing vessels that need them. At least one such structure is taken up by a Geisturmer ship on most visits to the city.