Sardis

‘I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.’ So said the white rabbit, and I know how he feels. I was supposed to write this blog in November, but…well…anyway, I spent the time writing Book 2 of The Relevation Trilogy instead. Now that’s getting under control, I have a little spare time to tackle the next blog instalment – Sardis.

History – Sardis is the royal capital of the Erstürmen Kingdom in Enthilen. It was built by King Faramund on an island in the middle of the Anchep River. The island was already occupied by the Dobunni, who lived in the village of Iglund surrounding the watchtower of Al Mōr Sŭl. But the Erstürmen invaders soon disposed of the pesky Dobunni, recognising the strategic and defence advantages of having their capital in such a location.

Architecture – The defining feature of Sardis is that it’s built as seven concentric circles each delineated by a thick, high wall made of stone mined from the Scaur Hills. The circles are defended by soldiers from the King’s Shield who live inside the walls in cramped barracks. Each of the seven circles has only one main entrance gate, and the alignment of these gates alternates by 180° for each circle, meaning once you enter a circle you have to travel half its circumference before reaching the next gate. The arrangement is a bit like a simple maze. Sardis was built this way to improve its defences. The other main defensive feature of Sardis is that it can only be reached via a single bridge over the Anchep River.

Dwellings inside each circle are usually attached and terraced (think medieval apartment blocks) to make the most of the limited space, but become more palatial closer to the inner circle. I describe some of these buildings in more detail in Book 2.

Most circles will have either shops or market stalls to buy supplies from, communal gathering areas (e.g. squares), storehouses, taverns/inns, administration buildings, and, most importantly for the Erstürmen, a kirika to worship Volerdie in. Very little food is grown inside Sardis’ walls, most supplies coming from the outside.  

Culture and Lifestyle – Only the Erstürmen occupy Sardis. It’s not open to others (although, there are a few exceptions such as the Dobunni, Jurelle Stansfield). Society is organised under a hierarchical, patriarchal monarchy. The hierarchy follows the city’s seven circles, with those of higher status occupying the inner circles. It’s not a large city, with a population in the tens of thousands (yes, I’m too lazy to give you an exact number, and they don’t have a census anyway 😊), but because of restricted space, it’s densely populated.

Most residents of Sardis live a modest life. A typical home in the outer circles has only one living area and one sleeping area. In the seventh and sixth circles, residents share communal bathing and toilet facilities, with waste flowing down drains and straight into the Anchep River. Homes become more elaborate in the fifth circle, with multiple sleeping quarters and sometimes separate wash areas (with waste being collected each day), and even fancier in the fourth and third circles. In the second circle, soldiers from the King’s Shield live in densely-packed barracks to maximise numbers defending the inner circle.  

I thought about describing a day in the life of a typical circle resident, but it would be pretty dull for the most part. Work, eat, sleep, – and worship Volerdie. Soldiers undergo regular military training and are the principal law enforcement officers. Celebrations such as fairs and parades are rare but occur more often in the inner circles.

Moving between circles – The movement between circles is tightly controlled, especially among the inner circles. Every resident of Sardis, except some in the inner circle, has a branding scar (insignia) tattooed on their forearm, which identifies the circle they’re from (see Table 1 below). This insignia must be shown at each gate crossing if a resident wants to leave or return to their home circle. A resident leaving their home circle is also stamped with a temporary tattoo which changes every day, and is required to return home by sunset. (Movement during the evening is rare). Under the paranoid King Ewald, residents leaving their home circle were also required to present a ‘surety’ to the guards, designed to encourage the resident to return home within the designated time. For example, when Rosalie left the 5th circle to travel to the Slumstadt markets, she left her brother Petas as surety. Petas was taken by the guards and kept in the watchhouse until Rosalie returned. If she didn’t return by sunset, Petas would be executed.

Hence, under King Ewald, the movement of people between circles became even more limited – precisely what he wanted. This didn’t affect the movement of supplies between circles, which could be exchanged at the gates, or the King’s Shield or royal court (see Inner Circle).

It’s much easier to move from the inner to outer circles than vice versa. Indeed, under Ewald, most people couldn’t travel further into Sardis if they came from the outer circles. (An exception being prisoners led into the inner circle for the king’s executions).     

The inner circle – Arguably the strangest place in Sardis is the inner circle, housing a population of a few hundred. The only widely known access to the inner circle is through the narrow passageway called the ‘needle’. Movement into and out of the inner circle is very tightly controlled; indeed, most younger residents have never left (movement was more relaxed before Ewald’s rule). The only residents allowed to move freely between circles are the King’s Shield, the royal family and certain members of the court. However, King Ewald and family have not left the inner circle for many yarles.   

Branded insignias for inner circle residents vary depending on status (see Table 1 below). Members of the royal family have no insignia (people should just know who they are, after all), refusing to vandalise royal skin with such horrid graffiti.

The inner circle comprises terraced dwellings up to five stories high, with the Sunrise Keep and Sunset Keep at the eastern and western ends, respectively. Alcoves and walled gardens adjoin the inner circle courtyard, but life is confined mostly to the indoors (I know, sounds horrible, but on the positive side, they don’t have any problems with Covid lockdowns).  

Life in the inner circle is a microcosm of the rest of Sardis. Servants (who live and die inside the inner circle) occupy very basic quarters, whereas the royal family occupy palatial dwellings with multiple rooms and halls. Typical private quarters in the inner circle comprise separate dining and reception areas, a bathing room, and separate bedrooms. Most quarters don’t have cooking facilities, many residents relying on servants to provide meals made in communal kitchens.

Events such as balls, parades, and fairs are much more common in the inner circle than the rest of Sardis to keep the residents from dying from boredom. King Ewald’s executions are often a highlight of the day (yes, it’s a messed-up, muddled-up, shook-up place, except for Lola, L-O-L-A, Lola, la-la-la-la… Sorry, forgot where I was for a moment).

When I start singing The Kinks, it probably means it’s time to finish this blog.

I won’t offer a date for the next blog, because I probably won’t meet the deadline, but I can tell you it will be on Culture: Stone-grells.

Until then, keep reading, writing and trying to make the world a better place.

GWL

Table 1: Hierarchical structure of Sardis

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