The only true desert in Calibran, it is generally said by the learned that the Silent Sands were created long ago by an accident of geography. The tall Cliffs of Ronin, thrusting up from the sand of the desert as high as some peaks of the tall Caribre Mountains, have changed the weather patterns in the lowlands beneath them, redirecting rain towards the fertile Fields of Farsalon. There are rivers that are fed by springs in the Cliffs, falling down the plateaus in great torrents. These water the desert enough that life is possible. To the west, the Cliffs are not as tall or imposing, and so the western half of the Silent Sands is not as dry. It is there that most of the food for those who dwell in the Sands is grown.
It is telling, however, that House Trystane, the noble house that rules the desert, keeps its capital in the drier eastern reaches. It is here, nearer to the greater heights of the Cliffs, where their fortune is made. The wealth to be had from gathering and preparing spices, magical ingredients, and other bounty that can be taken from the strange cliff plateaus more than pays for the inconvenience of living in a dry and inhospitable place.
In the deeper desert is also to be found another source of wealth. There are the remains of a great civilization buried in the wastes of the Silent Sands. It is unclear who they were, and there is no consensus as to even what race they were. Whether the Sands were not as dry in their time, and they were chased out by the desertification of their lands, or they found ways of living in the desolation that eventually failed them, no one knows. It is known that they were great users of magic, and many powerful artifacts have been found among the ruins. House Trystane claims all the magic found in their demesne, saying that they are too dangerous to be sold freely on the market. That they pay explorers a pittance and then make fortunes from selling the magic is probably an added inducement.
Very few people live in the desert proper. There’s no real way to provide for a family, or even a single person, in most places in the deep desert. There are oases scattered throughout, places where water has collected beneath the surface and bubbled up to feed trees and other plants. These are usually useful only so far as they allow travelers to move between the coast, Wert’s Dune, and the Cliffs of Ronin.
The Trystanes send crews of experienced hunters and gatherers to the Cliffs. These groups ascend the plateaus, braving the dangers not only of climbing, but also from the strange creatures that thrive on the vertical jungle. They collect the raw ingredients from among the plants and animals, and other, harder to define, things that live on the Cliffs. They return with baskets and bags full of pods, leaves, innards, and so forth. Despite the danger, competition to join the gathering groups is heated. A few successful trips can make a man’s fortune. More than that, though, many find the lush greenery and the prevalence of water is for the dry desert dwellers a sort of paradise, even if it is deadly dangerous. They go from one of the driest, barest places in Calibran to the place perhaps most filled with life, a riot of color and motion.
The crews return with the raw ingredients that are processed both in Wert’s Dune itself, and in the several settlements nearby, into the spices and finished ingredients for magic, potions, and poisons that are sold throughout Calibran. Merchants pay heavy taxes and duty fees to wander the spice market of Wert’s Dune, shelling out even more money to buy great bales and crates of what’s on offer. They do so confident that whatever they pay to buy and transport their goods, they can make a substantial profit in Cathedra’s Gate, Pelaj, or really wherever they care to sell them.
As whenever there are fortunes to be made by circumventing tight restrictions and controls, there is a lively smuggling trade, both in magic and in ingredients. They use hidden oases, or those far out of the way of straight paths through the desert. They can do so and still charge less than their legal colleagues due to the tremendous tariffs the Trystanes levy. It is a dangerous profession, depending on finding small sources of water, usually hidden, among the wide, shifting sands of the desert. Worse than that, they must also avoid the patrols and watches that the Trystanes maintain to keep their stranglehold on the spice trade tight. Smugglers are usually killed out of hand when they are found, the soldiers that patrol having been given power of summary justice in these cases.
Most of the common people in the Silent Sands live in the most hospitable western portions. There, the Cliffs are lower, and the land is slightly wetter. Rivers flow south to the Narrows, and farmers line the rivers’ courses with fields, depending on the yearly flooding to fertilize their crops.
Along the southern edge of the desert is an area that is given little regard by the rest of Calibran, and mentioned rarely. The wet and salty swamps trail along the coast, the home of a strange, overlooked people.
The Salty Swamps
The people who live in the swamps are just as happy to be left largely alone, and ignored by their theoretical overlords. Their main contact with the outside world are the merchants who pass through on their way to Wert’s Dune. They dock at one of several ports along the Narrows, then travel north a short ways, led by swamp guides to caravanserai on the southern edge of the desert. There the merchants meet with new guides, wise in the ways of the desert, to take them on the final leg of their journey.
It’s these people who bring what little gold there is in the swamp lands. Really, it’s a small group that deals with the outside world. Most of the swamp folk live far away from the trade routes. In many ways it is easier to take a living from the swamps than the desert. There are some particular dangers that can make it a uniquely challenging environment, though. To start with, though the swamp is as wet as swamps ever are, most of the water is salt, and unfit for drinking. Not that you’d want to drink swamp water in any case.
The salt swamps of the Silent Sands are also the home of more poisonous snakes and spiders than any other place in Calibran, with the possible exception of Deth Forest. Like the dark elves that live in that fell place, those that live in the swamps are also experts in the making and using of potions and poisons. They have the added advantage of living near to some of the most potent ingredients, and it is not unusual for a merchant to complain of a light fingered swamplander walking off with a box or crate of expensive ingredients from Wert’s Dune. Most such thieves are never found, and many merchants suspect they are relatives or friends of the guides they hire. Most consider it simply another type of tax.
Artists and Warriors
The people who live in the desert, the subjects of House Trystane, are a strange mix. Their reputation is often that of cruel and strange people delighting in the pain of others. Many scholars know, however, that many of the wisest scholars and most powerful wizards were born and taught in the Silent Sands. Others know their warriors to be skilled and dangerous, as well as honorable and true. It’s a strange dichotomy that is not quite like any to be found elsewhere.
The common people are thought by the rest of Calibran to be somewhat savage and barbarous, and call them various unpleasant names. There are many reasons the people of the Silent Sands are objects of prejudice. What outsiders see as cruelty is often simply a necessity of living in a harsh place like the Silent Sands. The strange, stand-offish nature of the swamplanders has also added to the poor reputation of those who live under the rule of House Trystane. Combined with the perception (mistaken, but still widely believed) that those who live in the Silent Sands must be wading through wealth, and it is not a surprise that the simple folk of the Sands are hated. A great portion of the kingdom’s coffers goes to buying spices and magical ingredients. But, almost all of that money ends up in the hands of the Trystanes, rather than their vassals, and indeed, those who live in the desert are among the poorest in Calibran.
On the other hand, Wert’s Dune is a place of great learning, and the Trystanes are aware of the value of learning and study. They maintain a chivalric order of wizards, the Order of the Sharpened Quill, and a college called the Lyceum that educates new wizards and scholars. Living on top of the ruins of an older, more powerful civilization, the Trystanes are aware of the danger in playing with magic beyond their understanding. The Company of Lions is their knightly order, who have their own effective styles of fighting, and methods of teaching, that has produced a number of great warriors.
The Silent Sands is a strange place, unique among the realms of Calibran. Though the desert is in an isolated, hard to reach corner of the Kingdom, events there often have wide consequences. In any case, it remains a place of shifting sands, largely unexplored, but full of power and danger.