House Stel

Closely associated with the warrior culture of Urik, Stel is without question the most aggressive and militaristic of the merchant houses. Stel specializes in the spoils of war -slaves, stolen cargo, weapons and, on occasion, hostages for ransom. While Stel also maintains regular trade routes (albeit heavily guarded ones) and engages in ordinary trade, the house is best known for its violent side.House Stel’s symbol is a pair of crossed black scimitars on a white field.

No one who lives in Urik for any amount of time remains unaffected by the city’s omnipresent militarism; House Stel is no exception. Founded by a small group of warriors and gladiators nearly 300 years ago, and led by a soldier of fortune named Korvo Stel, the house would not have lasted long without the assistance and good will of the sorcererking. This meant acting in good faith and cooperating with the king’s militaristic ambitions. While the sorcerer-king did not demand that the new house violate the Merchants’ Code by directly involving itself in his plans for conquest, he certainly intended to use Stel as a broker for captured wealth. He strongly encouraged the house to develop a powerful military arm. Experienced in the ways of war, but somewhat naive in the world of business, Korvo cooperated. He built up an impressive trade house whose bases, outposts, and caravans were organized along strict military lines. House Stel’s operations thus suffered far fewer losses to raiders than other houses. Unfortunately, safety from raiders did not make up for the fact that Stel’s masters had little talent for selecting profitable cargoes or for managing the money the caravans brought in. Extra money was made by hiring out caravans and guards to other merchant houses.

Within a few years, it became apparent that the house needed professional help. Several outsiders, each considered a specialist in running a business, were hired to help Korvo make sense of the mess he had created. After discovering a horrid welter of waste and bad business practices, Korvo was advised to severely reduce his operations and return all profits back into the business. After several lean years, House Stel was finally profitable. Korvo Stel gratefully paid the specialists their money and sent them on their way. Unfortunately for the warrior, this was not the end of the matter. The leader of the advisors, Iol, a talented psionicist, demanded a far dearer price than Korvo was willing to pay. He wanted to be made a full partner in House Stel, and his fellows to be made part owners as well. Korvo refused at first, but soon realized that without help, the house was doomed. Acknowledging that Iol held all the cards(not to mention the books), Korvo at last agreed. Within a decade, following Korvo’s mysterious death (it was said that he literally exploded while on a hunting trip—a death later blamed on the rich meal he had eaten the night before), Iol had taken the name Stel and was head of the household. Of course, many claimed that Iol himself was responsible for Korvo’s death, utilizing his deadly psionic powers. Nothing was ever proven, and such allegations were always said in private, preferably late at night.

Recognizing a niche when he saw one, Iol maintained Stel’s specializations, dealing in slaves, plunder, and weapons, while hiring out house guards and agents as mercenaries for other houses and even, on occasion, for sorcerer-kings. Iol put a new spin on Stel’s practices, ordering the house’s troops to engage in raids for slaves and booty. Today, the descendants of Iol and Korvo continue to control the house. Any bad blood that might once have existed has been swept away by the affection and brotherhood engendered by a far greater force—prosperity. Many competitors consider House Stel to be little more than a nest of bandits masquerading under the guise of a legitimate trading house, but the good will between the house and most sorcerer-kings keeps Stel in business.

House Stel deals in the usual variety of trade goods— in fact, most of its wealth is brought in by traditional items, such as weapons, ceramics, and especially iron from Tyr, a vital item for Urik’s war industries. Stel is best known, however, for trading in items seized during Urik’s conquests —slaves, gold, and a miscellany of stolen cargoes. Stel also engages, behind closed doors, in kidnapping for ransom, although this is considered a violation of the Merchants’ Code and is never discussed in public.

Stel’s major caravan routes are from Urik to Raam and Draj. These caravans carry slaves, weapons, and water in exchange for iron, grains, and obsidian. Stel also maintains, and jealously guards, the only major routes into the village of Makla and into the Ringing Mountains to Ogo. At these villages wood, feathers, and valuable gems are purchased from the savage halflings in exchange for slaves, gold, and artwork.

As may be expected, the entire house is organized along military lines, with the patriarch acting as the “general” and subordinates as his “officers.” Strict chain of command is maintained, with superior officers taking responsibility for the actions of those under them and underlings accepting orders without question. Caravans: Caravans are slow and heavily guarded, under the strict command of the caravan master, with numerous guards and missile-armed skirmishers. Mekillot wagons, often loaded more with soldiers than cargo and mounting ballistae and even an occasional catapult, are favored. These are accompanied by swift crodlu cavalry and slave archers under whip-wielding mul or half-giant guards. A typical caravan includes up to ten wagons of various sizes (larger wagons are favored) and up to 100 foot soldiers and 30 to 40 cavalrymen. These caravans are expensive, but House Stel believes that security is worth the price. At any time, House Stel has 20 to 30 caravans traveling the trade routes.

Outposts, trade villages, and the house headquarters in Urik are all built like fortresses. They are sometimes hired out as such, when sorcerer-kings or nomads wish a secure base of operations. Stel maintains at least a token presence in all major cities and many villages.In the south, Stel’s presence in Balic, Altaruk, and Walis is limited to a single office in each city. These offices manage a few caravans a year and spend the rest of the time gathering information on the military assets of potential rivals in the area.In the north, Stel’s black-and-white banner is a constant presence. Outposts, trade villages, and caravans are common throughout the routes between Urik, Raam, and Draj, and between Urik and the forests of the Ringing Mountains. The main headquarters in Urik is a fortress manned by elite warriors and constantly ready for attack. Outposts and other house operations are smaller but similar in setup. Warehouses are maintained in all the northern cities; temporary warehouses are used in Gulg, Nibenay, and Tyr.
The following are the best known Stel facilities.

Fort Courage:
150 employees, 200 slaves. Supply point and military base near the Smoking Crown on the route between Urik and Makla. This massive fortress discourages raids against caravans between Urik, Makla, and the halfling settlement of Ogo.

Fort Iron:
75 employees, 100 slaves. Supply point and military base 30 miles west of Silver Spring. This base represented an important advance position during the recent war between Urik and Tyr.

Fort Sandol:
20 employees, 50 slaves. Outpost and trading post in the Tablelands, approximately 50 miles north of Gulg. This distant, lonely outpost occasionally services caravans, but its primary function is as a trading post for the various nomads who travel throughout the Tablelands. Nomads of all races may be found here, selling artwork, weapons, or slaves taken in raids.

Troops: It goes without saying that House Stel’s troops are the finest, best equipped, and most numerous of all merchant houses. Over 3,000 warriors serve House Stel as hirelings or agents. All carry high-quality weapons, and are well trained in all forms of tactics. Armored kank or crodlu-riders, lightly armored scouts, elite raiders trained in stealth and secrecy, grim and efficient mul mercenaries, dwarf warriors, elven archers, and every other imaginable troop type finds employment with House Stel.

House Stel requires the services of a wide variety of hirelings, with an emphasis on those with military or combat skill all sorts find employment with House Stel’s legions. Stel is always looking for more guards, mercenaries, spies, gladiators, and the like. Pay rates are average or above; particularly promising hirelings are often promoted to agent status. Agents are rarely asked to join the family, however, but exceptional acts of bravery or skill have resulted in such invitations in the past.

King Hamanu, ever eager to expand his conquests and give his troops battle experience, often lends the services of his elite troops or even, on occasion, his templars, to help guard Stel’s caravans and outposts. In addition to fostering good relations between Urik and House Stel, it also keeps the merchants obligated to Hamanu. Other merchant houses have complained that accepting these warriors violates the spirit of the Merchants’ Code, but Stel’s obvious power and influence have kept such complaints quiet.

Warriors are well paid by the house, and they often find permanent employment as agents in command of small guard units or outposts. Admission into the family itself is a long, arduous process, reserved only for the most loyal agents. Relations with Others

Stel’s aggressive policies and militaristic nature have made more than a few enemies among their fellow merchants. House Tsalaxa, with its long memory for slights, is a particularly vehement enemy, as is House Inika, whose caravans have been raided and trade routes plundered far too often. Inika’s methods of revenge are far subtler than those of Tsalaxa; although nothing overt has come of the conflict, observers are certain that it will emerge into the open soon.

Neutral relations are maintained with House Wavir, with a tacit agreement that the two powerful houses will not interfere with each other, lest disaster befall them both. As most of Wavir’s routes and interests lie well to the south of Urik, Stel is content to maintain this agreement for the time being. Stel’s attitude toward the elven houses and small traders is nothing short of murderous. Stel’s leaders are known to harbor a deep dislike of nonhumans in general and elves in particular. Conflict between Stel and the elven merchants (particularly the trobblesome Swiftwing tribe) is open and without quarter.

Stel’s hatred of elves is returned in full-few elves will allow caravans flying Stel’s crossed scimitars to go unmolested. Recent battles along the caravan route between Urik and Silver Spring have cost both sides hundreds of casualties.
In contrast, Stel maintains good relations with all of the sorcerer-kings, particularly those of Urik, Raam, and Draj, which lie along Stel’s major trade routes. City law is obeyed to the letter, and Stel never engages in smuggling or trade in illegal items. Stel’s influence reaches well into the Crescent Forest, where the house maintains an uneasy balance between the hostile regimes of Nibenay and Gulg, maintaining friendly relations with both. Farther south, where House Wavir’s influence is stronger, Stel voluntarily limits itself to a few caravans every year that bring in extra profit and help keep an eye on potential rivals in the area.

House Stel

The Slaves of House Hezzrat Tionas Tionas