Aksambul: The Queen Widow
Aksambul is a city-state that is comprised of three distinct sectors, Outer, Lower, and Upper. Each sector has different districts, and each district has distinct neighborhoods. The City-State runs by a representative democracy, where each district supplies two alderman, who run the government of the city-state from The Forum. The Lord Mayor is elected by the Alderman, and runs the city’s bureaucracy and defense forces.
Aksambul is the most powerful city in the world, and is the principle seat of trade, knowledge, and vice. Being uniquely situated, the city boasts a deep natural harbor, is on the delta of two major rivers, and is situated above the only known trade route into the Underdark. The city-state enjoys excellent relations with nearby kingdoms, but has a chilly relationship with some of the seaborne empires that compete for Aksambul market shares. Most kingdoms have seemed to believe that attacking Aksambul would be devastating to their own economies, and do not want to risk losing vast potential of trade profits. However, because the city’s safety is essentially bound to foreign relations, espionage, sabotage, and subterfuge have become essential parts of life in the city, and the city has seen its fair share of international plots of mayhem.
The climate of Aksambul is continental, though very wet. There is ample rainfall throughout the year, with frequent overcast skies. The summers do not reach above 80-90 degrees, though the all pervasive humidity makes the summer feel very warm. The winters are cool, with snow falling only on rare occurrences. Rivers from the south and the north provide a constant source of water, though during the snowmelts from the north, the river can swell – requiring frequent upkeep of the levees of Outer Aksambul. The Mountains to the southwest are a major reason why Aksambul is so wet all the time, as moisture moving towards the deserts of the south are caught on the mountains. Aksambul is also frequently plagued by thunderstorms, though hurricanes rarely occur. To the north of Aksambul are swamps, caused by the delta of the north river. To the west are paddies for rice, while further from the city the terrain rises, with mostly vegetables, herbs, and spices being grown. The small forest in the southwest mountains boasts a lucrative silk production industry, with laborers dwelling in a planned town outside of a military base.
The culture of Aksambul is centered around the founders of Aksambul, the Iskenites. The Iskenites founded Aksambul almost 3,000 years ago, and once ruled over a sprawling empire that dominated much of the great western continent, and even controlled several islands to the east. The Antiga Imperio (Also known as the Isken Empire, if you are educated) introduced an imperial religion to much of the world, with the traditional Isken gods receiving huge temples and places of worship within the city. Isken religion is centered around the four seasons, with various aspects of the seasons having a saint in which intercedes on behalf of the seasonal god. After the Isken empire collapsed almost 2,000 years ago, the empire fell into disorder, and many independent kingdoms formed borrowing heavily from Isken traditions. Even today, many other kingdoms have regal legitimacy drawn from a bloodline that extends to the Isken empire.
1,400 years ago a cultural and religious revolution occurred, which ushered in a new faith that replaced the official religion of Aksambul. The new faith, centered around worshiping a pantheon of gods imported from abroad, struggled to completely replace the old Isken traditions, and lead to a blending of traditions. Thus began Aksambul’s tradition of religious tolerance. Aksambul acquired a further diverse and tolerant cultural attitude with the arrival of refugees. Throughout the world, Aksambul is often called the “city of refuge”, “sanctuary”, or sometimes, “calamity”.
The citizens of Aksambul dress in a combination of different cultural traditions. Men wear cotton or silk trousers, with legs that are often tucked into riding boots, or are tied off at the knee and worn with sandals. They wear light shirts, with a vest. Around their waist men wear colorful silk sashes, with the color and embroidery of the sash symbolizing either class, neighborhood or organizational affiliation, religious devotion, or can be worn only for decoration. Sash culture in Askambul is interesting because it is seen as an important form of self expression. Women wear a loose skirt, with a light shirt and often have an ornately decorated jacket. Like men, women also wear sashes.
The city’s is unified in their love of fish and shellfish meals, strong spirits, and a distinctive musical culture centered around busking and public performance. Symphonies are popular, operas are uncommon, while public recitations of poetry are widely enjoyed, particularly amongst the lower class. Aksambul culture is heavily influenced by a literary tradition, and it is often said that an Aksambuller will talk for days without expressing what he really wants. Aksambul culture generally centers around subtle and clever wordplay, and are often masterful manipulators.
The city-state also has a strong affinity for gambling, boxing, horse races, and drugs. The city is famously tolerant of all manner of vices and heresy, and participation in the vices of the city is not considered to be a major problem. However, as Aksambul culture is inherently subtle and polite, public displays vice are generally scorned, and making a point of discussing one’s vices is considered rude and unnecessary. Aksambul’s city culture is also opportunistic, and celebrates clever and covert maneuvering to attain power.
In a way, Aksambul is what happens when you place inequality, cultural celebration of ruthless ambition, cosmopolitanism, and a fairly high threshold for violence. Outside of the city, many accuse Aksambul of being morally bankrupt, devoid of any values, heretical, and an exporter of sin. However, Aksambul is also a place is an extreme form of meritocracy, where oligarchy is kept in place by a vocal and violent underclass that can overthrow power with terrifying efficiency. Ultimately, Aksambul is a place of extreme poverty and wealth, a place of war and prosperity, with a high tolerance for everything and everything inbetween.