Oasis of Zahra
The first sight that one will have of the Oasis of Zahra is of the Heavenly Spire standing like a solitary pillar of brick on the horizon, which will be slowly joined by the outline of its other buildings spread out beneath it. Many pilgrims venture to the town throughout the year to seek the intervention of the Mystic who inhabits the Spire, so my advice would be to watch your pockets, as there are many who dwell in the town that would be happy to take advantage of the unwary or naïve supplicant. If visiting the town, ensure that you visit the gardens that surround the oasis after which the town is named, as they grow exceptionally good dates there.Extract from Maximilian Hoherberg von Zottehal’s History of the Known World. Located deep within the Sonsuz Desert, the Oasis of Zahra is a town that plays host not only to the many merchants and traders who move along the road to the capital of the Sultanate of Fashaddon, Vaháyer to the south-east, but also to the many hopefuls who come to seek intervention and blessing in their lives at the hands of the mystic that inhabits the Heavenly Spire in the centre of the town.
Like most towns and larger settlements, the Oasis of Zahra has a tiered society in terms of individual wealth, with most of the population being found in the lowest wealth bracket, a reasonably large number in the middle income bracket and a small number in the highest wealth bracket. The town’s reputation, thanks to the presence of the Heavenly Spire and its inhabitant Hediya Dilara mean that the town is particularly attractive to those with little or no income and who arrive in the town destitute and homeless, hoping to find blessing and favour at the Heavenly Spire. In terms of its population Zahra, like all towns in the Sultanate of Fashaddon, has a strong cadre of Half-Orcs living there, along with Humans and Halflings. In addition, there is a small, but well established community of Elves there, who have been resident in the settlement since it was founded, and linked to them are a number of Half-Elves as well. Members of other races are occasionally resident, or at least present in the town, with the exception of Tieflings, who are a very rare sight indeed in the Oasis of Zahra and the Sultanate as a whole.
The town is run by a Vizier who is appointed directly by the higher authorities in the capital of the Sultanate, Vaháyer. The Vizier of the Oasis of Zahra is supported by a large team of Lesser Viziers, who manage the day-to-day running of the town. The town is liable to pay 20% of its income to the Sultan and his central government, and consequently, the citizens of Zahra are charged tax by the town’s administration to cover this cost and other running costs, in addition to the town’s income from taxable trading activities etc.
The only formal defences that have been built for the Oasis of Zahra are a network of towers, which are not connected to one another, that mark the official boundary of the town and are also used as defensive platforms and outlooks to survey the surrounding desert and drive away any unwanted visitors or raiders that might approach to close to the settlement. Each of these towers is equipped with a defensive ballista, along with several archery platforms. Another of these towers has been built overlooking the area of the oasis garden, and the terminating point of the Tarcan Aqueduct, where it enters the town and ends in a large waterfall fountain and pool has been fortified so that it is a defensive tower in its own right. Whilst the perimeter of defensive towers and the tower overlooking the oasis are manned by the Zahra Town Guard, the tower built into the terminating point of the Tarcan Aqueduct is defended by the Tarcan Corps, whose sole job is to defend the Aqueduct and its associated infrastructure.
The Oasis of Zahra is fortunate in that it not only sits on the main road that moves through the Sonsuz Desert connecting the Tarcan Roadway that cuts through the ‘Free States’ and the Deytet Savannah to the capital of the Sultanate of Fashaddon, Vaháyer, but also because it is connected to the vast network of the Tarcan Aqueduct. Both of these are highly advantageous for the community, as the former means that the town is connected to the flow of trade and traffic flowing from the nations in northern Turoza into the Sultanate and then onwards to the capital, whilst the latter means that Zahra is able to engage in much more agricultural activity than the naturally occurring waters of its eponymous oasis would allow. To this end, the town is surrounded by a network of highly irrigated fields, that are enough to make the community relatively self-sustaining in terms of the food it produces, and it also has a large dedicated bazaar space, that is designed to not only allow the citizens of the town to buy and sell their own produce and wares, but also to encourage merchants and travellers that pass by the town on the road to Vaháyer to trade there as well. The presence of a branch of the Tarcan Aqueduct in the town means that Zahra’s central oasis, that was once the sole source of water for the community has been turned into a productive community garden, where more aesthetically pleasing crops, such as date palms are cultivated, and where the populace can wander and enjoy the tranquillity of the setting. As with all larger settlements, there are a variety of trades represented in the town, blacksmiths, carpenters, builders, bakers, butchers etc., who all find a large enough body of trade between the inhabitants and visiting traders to allow them to at the very least survive commercially. Zahra also has a reasonably large infrastructure of taverns and boarding houses to cater to merchants and traders that pass by the town, but this infrastructure is also there to cater to the large number of visitors that come to the Oasis of Zahra every year to make their petitions for good luck, or a change in fortune to the Elven mystic, Hediya Dilara, who resides in the Heavenly Spire, a purpose built tower in the centre of the town. As the reputation of the Heavenly Spire attracts many people who are down on their luck, or who have little or no money to their name, the Oasis of Zahra has a number of ‘Mercy Houses’ as they are known, where those who are homeless can find bed and board in exchange for carrying out menial labour.
As its name would suggest, the Oasis of Zahra was founded and is still focused around a large oasis in the Sonsuz Desert. This oasis is now no longer the only source of water for the town, as Zahra has been linked to the Tarcan Aqueduct system. Nevertheless, the oasis still remains one of the central and most important features for the town, with the area around it having been turned into a large communal garden, typical of many settlements in the Sultanate of Fashaddon. The Oasis of Zahra is very flat and regular in terms of its elevation, and no areas of the town are located any higher above the level of the surrounding desert. Like many of the cities, towns and settlements in the Sultanate, the buildings in Zahra have deep foundations, often with one or even two basement rooms so that they can have their foundations built into the bedrock below the sand level. The desert surrounding the town is predominantly flat in its elevation, with the nearest area of high ground being an area of sand dunes about 10 miles to the north-east of the town.