(a district in Ulduria, The Stronghold of Man)
he most distinct feature of the Grindmarr are its sounds and smells: a thick animal stench , the combined exertion and blood, meat and guts filling the air. It’s a smell worked almost lovingly into every corner of every building, the literal skeleton of their structures made of enormous skywhale ribs. Thick hide that once protected the beasts of the wastes from the icy winds now insulate the residents of the Grindmarr from the same chill. The Grindmarr district is the beating heart of Ulduria, home to hard working hunters, butchers, preservers and tanners.
When a Himdrinn skywhale is spotted roaming the skies in the vicinity of Ulduria, a hunting expedition is mounted immediately. The rare chance of taking down such a massive beast fills the villagers with the prospect of providing in their needs for a long time. Chances like this are slim and far in between. Indeed, it is a race against the clock when a Himdrinn is brought down as the creature’s body heat diminishes, eventually causing unwelcome frostburn. Hundreds of pounds of whale meat, unless harvested, will lose quality (and value) to freezing. Himdrinnn skywhales are hauled back to Ulduria by beasts of burden across the snowy planes. Several massive Argolath’s pull the downed Himdrinn on a log frame through the snow, straining and creaking under the massive weight of the carcass.
Brought into a mostly open-air section of the Grindmarr for dismembering, stony outcroppings are used to hoist the skywhale carcass aloft. Teams of skilled butchers wrap the thick ropes around the beast’s body in a makeshift harness. Argolath’s pull the harness away from the edge, hoisting the whale’s corpse into the air for the butchers to do their dangerous work. Clambering all across the skywhale’s suspended form on ropes that groan against the weight, the laborers take apart the animal. On bad days, the crack of snapping ropes echoes across the Grindmarr mere instants before the thunderous crash of a skywhale’s body, shocking even the Bellows into a momentary silence before the clamor commences again.
When the butchers of the Grindmarr separate the precious blubber from the rest of the animal and cut it into long strips, whatever is left finds a use elsewhere. Nothing goes to waste. Bone, sinnew, organs, flesh and blubber, the scarceness of the wilderness forced the people of Ulduria to be resourceful. Strips of flesh are cooked in massive stone vats with heavy lids atop well-stoked fires. Whale blubber is boiled under intense pressure and heat until the oil separates, at which point the precious fuel is separated and stored. Maginni, a dwarf woman who runs the tryworks, dreams of one day creating vats made from metal rather than stone. The heat radiated from the tryworks and their fires is so impressive that some working as flame-stokers strip away their furs and other layers, even on frigid winter days.
Smaller animals killed for meat and other resources are slaughtered in homes and businesses across the Stronghold; larger beasts are brought to Red Field. Tar’guss, the half-orc male who oversees the Red Field, boasts that his butchers can flay the largest beast from whole to piecemeal before you can count your fingers. Massive timber frames with thick ropes dot the many stations at Red Field; beasts’ hind legs are tied up before being hoisted aloft to drain. Troughs capture blood and offal, which are saved for the production of sausages or to be sold to the poorest residents. Many meat sellers simply set up shop adjacent to Red Field, purchasing the meat wholesale from the Red Fields’ supply of beasts or paying a small fee to have their own animals efficiently slaughtered. Animal skeletons are quickly and efficiently sorted, and craftsmen come to Red Field to compete fiercely with one another for the best bones to make armor, weapons, and finer goods.
Named for the cacophony of voices shouting over one another from sunup to curfew, the Bellows is the loose term for the shops across the Grindmarr. In the dark hours of the morning, purveyors of every good and necessity can be found propping up tents and lean-to’s of fur and thick hide, stoking fires to keep the cold at bay while they try to lure in customers. Wealthier merchants can afford structures dedicated entirely to their business, but many residents of the Grindmarr, their business shares their home. These permanent occupants of the district tuck away bedrolls and personal effects as they prepare for the day, shouting information about their wares or their trade from the relative comfort of their own front door.
Family units and business partners work together to run their humble trades; children and apprentices do their best to steer potential customers to the business while the skilled craftsmen are left to focus on fulfilling customers’ demands. Prudent craftsmen keep more raw materials than they do finished products, too poor to risk ‘wasting’ materials on finished products that might not sell. They wait to barter with a customer over the specifics of their needs, crafting the item only after a price has been agreed upon.
Even savvy residents of Stronghold can find the Bellows overwhelming to navigate. Lean-to and tent shops change location constantly as merchants compete for the best positions, making the task of finding the same merchant two days in a row a daunting one. Many locals know Embryn One-Eye, an old silver-haired elf with a mauled face and a mysteriously accurate knowledge of the Bellows’ winding and ever-changing avenues. For a trinket or a bit of food, Embryn can find the current place of any merchant or product in Grindmarr; how he knows this each day is never explained. Permanent residents of the Grindmarr are happy to put Embryn up for the night, and the grizzled elf will share any number of tall tales, including the one about the ‘carnivorous skywhale’ that apparently took his eye, as payment.