The city of Amarhaj is considered something of a cesspool by the rest of the Eleven Cities, but it is Haddan’s most prosperous port, located on the Hadd delta, and home to a very powerful merchant caste. Most of the goods flowing into and out of the region move through Amarhaj.
Amarhaj is ruled by the House of Marhaj, considered upstarts and merchants with unseemly pretensions by the highborn elsewhere. Indeed, the House of Marhaj does have some roots in the merchant caste, among traders who raised their lineages to the nobility by skillfully playing the Hadn caste game, using carefully arranged marriages to ensure that their progeny would be members of the warrior caste, and bribing enough nobles and priests to be raised thereafter to the nobility. The old ruling family, the House of Anaydd, died away nearly two centuries ago through coerced marraiges with the merchant clans and the occasional murder by the newly-ascendant Golden Circle, and no longer exists as a distinct entity, although Anayddn blood remains alive in the Marhajn.
In Amarhaj, this was part of the price of doing business, but elsewhere it is the cause of much disapproval and distrust, despite taking place seven generations past, and the Marhajn have had serious problems establishing productive relations elsewhere in Haddan because of it. Still, everywhere there is a need for goods, and Amarhaj is the hub from which such goods flow into the Haddanai cities, and from which wealth from the wider world flows back to them.
Politically, the Marhajn are an extension of the powerful Golden Circle, often called the Coinmasters, a semi-official council of the city’s most powerful merchants, who control the business of the city and therefore have a great degree of control over the goods that move via caravan or river barge to the remaining ten cities – or not, at the Coinmasters’ whim. The Marhajn are very popular among the common people, a tradition encouraged by the Coinmasters, and the traditional role of the Prince has been to give the occasional speech from the palace balcony, sign any writs the Golden Circle brings before him, appoint the choices of the merchant league to the appropriate magistracies and otherwise while his time away in luxury and decadence. The Coinmasters are widely hated among the populace, who view then as consumed by greed and avarice, wanting nothing more than to finalize their stranglehold over the region’s trade and thereby accrue even more wealth and power. The Prince is thus a convenient figurehead with deep connections to the merchant caste, allowing them to control the city and its lucrative trade while maintaining a veneer of respectability and decorum for the benefit of both the citizenry and outsiders.
Military control and policing of the city is handled by the Blackarrows, an ancient mercenary unit of long tradition but short memory, working in the employ of the Coinmasters for over a century. The city guard is weak, long-neglected and entirely ceremonial, but for the most part the Blackarrows assume civic duties without serious incident, having long accustomed themselves to such tasks. In the last year, an attempt by the Coinmasters to strong-arm the mercenaries into halving their pay backfired, resulting in one of its two companies departing Amarhaj and leaving for the employ of the Prince of Chaldech. The extent of the connection or coordination between the two companies is unclear outside the group itself, and some among the Golden Circle have entertained the idea of terminating their contract, but no consensus on the matter has yet been forged.
The Malhaddish Spice Company, a foreign trade conglomerate, arrived a dozen years ago and has set up offices and warehouses, and works hand-in-hand with the Coinmasters in establishing trade connections overseas and managing the flow of goods. Some men whisper that the Company is responsible for a series of disappearances within the city, but no investigation to date has tied them to it in any way. But then, some men who whisper thus disappear shortly thereafter, never to be seen again.
The Temple of Ilraj in the city is small but well-kept; its newer, larger temple was seized by the Coinmasters three decades ago as payment for debt and now serves as the hall of the Golden Circle, most of the members of which are dedicants of Aresti, and deep in the more sybaritic activities of that faith. The Temple of Aresti is thus very well-connected indeed, with many followers among the upper castes, and its headquarters is huge and lavishly appointed. The common people tend to be adherents of Mother Hadda, and Amarhaj is the center on her worship in the Eleven Cities, with several small temples and Gijan, a holy site, overlooking the great river itself.