The Four-River Aid, Trade And Relocation Society (AKA The FRAiTARS)
Why of course I can provide that for you, or at least something very much of the kind. Pleased, as ever, to be of service, which is, like all that I provide, of the highest quality. But I must warn you, as well, that it does not come cheap! -JóNåVĕn RēHáNå-ū-NåT’ănYĕl, male HAGASMOFFS “greenie” barge FRAiTAR captain and traveling specialist tinker
FRAiTARS began in the early days of the Hadansi settling of the Wild Coast and became an integral part of its ongoing success. It was originally a group of river-boat traders that banded together against all disadvantages to create a legally recognized though loosely organized society with sufficient power to navigate the most turbulent of all waters: Hadansi feudal politics. They survive largely by providing inexpensive services to the military, plush options for nobility and the wealthy, and essential equipment for river colonies and adventuring parties. They are known for their honesty, hard work, harder bargaining, and eyes keen for valuable trade commodities. Lesser known by take and more by expectation, is their knack for appearing at just the right time and place to provide needed trade or river passage for travelers and settlements all over the Wild Coast. On occasion, items available for trade or purchase may be held at a different location along a particular captain’s normal route, which bring time and travel into the bargaining arena, but does not dissuade a river trader the least bit from including it in talks about price and required deal details. Thus, it is not odd for negotiation to start something like this:
This fine assortment of military quality bows can be had, here and now, for a modest price. If you can spring for a true quality item, I could have a powerful elvencraft longbow here in two days. Or you could accompany me this evening to the next settlement, where I have a truly interesting option for you… but it won’t be cheap.
To a FRAiTAR captain, honesty means not lying about the quality or known details of an item or service to be provided and requiring others to treat such detail the same. It also means offering clear and true information about the condition of politics, dangers along a route, and social interests. Honesty does not mean providing all information free of charge, especially if it is hard-won or sharing it could be in some way detrimental to the captain or his vessel.
Hard work means doing all that is required to complete any agreement made, no matter the danger or difficulty. It does not mean waiting hand and foot on passengers or putting a spit shine on an old but quality-made suit of studded giant gar-leather armor. That is, unless such service has been thoroughly negotiated and thereafter included in the agreement. So, many travelers are surprised when they have to defend themselves from threats on the river or to grab an oar, pole or gang plank in order to complete their journey. Even so, FRAiTAR folk do not endanger clientele unnecessarily and, being honest, usually have already casually informed those thus surprised that such things might be necessary but not very likely. This, other than their avid bargaining, is usually the cause of rumors that there are “tricky” traders.
Bargaining and negotiating with a captain is most often a mental game of acrobatic chess and a trial by the fires of compromises broken, altered, reassembled in different configurations, and reestablished, before new options or opinions start the process over again. Nothing is left out of considerations in a good FRAiTAR negotiation, from coinage to bartering, by way of items, services and information. Though the outcome may break things down into several smaller deals, a smart captain always ensures his customers and clients come away feeling they have won a hard bargain and are satisfied with their returns.
Pricing for military personnel is market standard, no matter where on the river the items or services are required. This, many FRAiTAR captains keep stores of items at or near military outposts, fortresses and routes. This habit carries over to renting attic space or rooms at day-houses, settlements and colonies all along their usual routes. Pricing for nobles trends to run 50-100% above market, but usually includes various so-called complimentary services or added luxuries. For example: armor at such prices comes polished and with fresh padding; beds are usually freshly stuffed with down or soft vegetation and placed in private accommodations; river passage comes with paid oarsmen and a valet or chef; and party barges come with an actual barkeep and magically augmented decoration and entertainment services. Many a captain uses leftover items from such occasions as part of regular future trade and services, or for their own benefit. Pricing for common folk and adventurers tends to be 25% above trade standard, which can usually be negotiated down a bit but may be slightly higher in outlying areas.
Many captains are semi-retired adventurers. Many are boat men, but many ply the river or inland roads with wagons or carts. There are even a few fliers, cave divers, climbers, and the like. They do not have a single methodology in common, though they share various practices and the aforementioned character qualities. They do not have a uniform, per se, but usually wear the sleeveless long vests or surcoats typical of the region and a bronze spaulder emblazoned with a triune fork crossed by a broad pointed oar. They usually wear breeches, short pantaloons or traveling skirts of ankle length, without regard to gender. Tall boots with flat but sturdy soles are particularly favored, as are broad utility belts arrayed with items critical to their trade, and some sort of head covering. The latter varies drastically, though, with boat captains tensing to show off personal flair with some fantastic version of a broad-brimmed hat or other such, and others tending toward a cap or helmet suiting their needs. Such headgear can include cavers in miner’s helmets complete with lanterns, divers in caps with goggles and breathing tubes attached, and fliers in pointed cushioned helms with open faces and goggles. Most tend to wear simple garments in neutral colors with some item of flair, such as a fur-trimmed cloak, colorful sash, plumed hat jangling bracelet or anklet, brightly colored shirt with frilly collars spilling out of their best edges, or other eye-catching geegaw. They know that being noticed is the first step to making a bargain. Thus, their typically loud voices calling for attention and occasional theatrical or dramatic pitch. Also, with that in mind, many carry or mount banners or fluttering ribbons and bells pronouncing their trade affiliation.
Bright lanterns alight with a vibrant green (along the river) or purple (on inland routes) hue are used to attract clientele at night or in dimly lit areas. If a captain is temporarily indisposed or occupied but will be available shortly, the light is usually changed to red for a short time. Near departure time, when deals may be particularly customer-friendly, the light is usually turned to blue for a brief time. This lantern tradition gave rise to the use of green and red lighting in the cities to indicate “passage allowed” and “passage denied”, red lights at brothels to indicate services available by appointment, blue lights for special pricing events, and purple lights at various establishments to indicate a status of “open for business”. While such lights are more specialized and costly than regular lanterns, there are enough in use to lead to the use of distinctive terms in local dialect. A brothel-laden area is called a “red light district”. Many areas that cater to wealthier clientele can be called “purple” zones, some even named Violet Street, Amethyst Alley, Lavender Hill, and the like. Some of the military has taken to referring to an approval for a proposal to engage an enemy as “green-lighting” a gear-up and go plan. Someone newly embarked on a venture is said to be “green” or called a “greenie”, as much in reference to new plant or animal horn growth as to getting a green light at a restricted passage. The term FRAiT, derived from FRAiTARS, is shorthand in Hadansi lands for “Foreign Routing, Aid and Trade” and has been borrowed into common trade tongues as “freight”, used for goods transported or the industry involved in their movement, and “freighter”, referring to a person or vessel regularly moving freight.
The organization of FRAiTARS, was originally a loose coalition of traders and, for the most part, remains so, though their dependence on legitimacy requires a certain amount of organization. Captains have more clout with others the longer they have been in the organization, but there are other factors involved in establishing a degree of supremacy. A captain with more prior adventuring, military, legal or business experience may be deferred to in certain circumstances, and a captain that has more lucrative dealings or larger holdings is usually given more deference.
To an outsider, the meeting of a group of captains is an odd spectacle and somewhat bewildering, a such an occasion usually begins with arguing. Territorial rights debates lead out, progressing eventually to trade negotiations that end in information trading. At some point, it becomes apparent that this has devolved into story-telling and nostalgia, whereupon the de facto senior-most captain calls for clarification of the rank and status of various members, covers any crucial news and business not already brought up, and begins voting on whatever political issues face the group as a whole. The senior captains meet, as needed and expedient, at Port Pyt’enrul, Sot’er, and several other locations, to hash out with each other the details of previous meetings with lesser captains.
In the slowest trade period of the year, usually just after midwinter, an annual conclave of the most senior and successful captains meet with the ruling clans and their administrators at the Fortress-on-the-Sisters, where negotiations, both political and economical, are held between the association and the ruling body. It is at that gathering that all captain charters are issued, modified, canceled and chronicled. For new captains or swiftly rising stars, it is a great opportunity to establish and improve market connections and expand and confirm market niches and shares. For retiring captains and staff, it is an opportunity to get into an easier life as a House negotiator or consultant. Parties, trading, entertainment, and even judicial trials also accompany these events and can often be the most lucrative or embarrassing moments for an individual captain’s annual or career outlook.
Never hesitate to do business with the FRAiTARS, but never forget to wear your bargaining cap when you do, and do not be surprised of either getting exactly what you want or walking away without a satisfactory deal. Be firm but flexible, hard but reasonable, honest but cagey, and ready to make a decent deal. You’ll do fine, lad. Just fine. I’m sure. Mostly. – Faxenn Carpcatx, tax collector, Fortress-on-the-Ladies.
- JóNåVĕn RēHáNå-ū-NåT’ănYĕl, male HAGASMOFFS artificer, whose quote is above, recently bought a crew-less 20′ x 10’pole-barge in Port Pyt’enrul. He is working on converting it to electric defense and auto-propulsion systems.
- Raiwen of At’en Ul-Vora, a human country girl trying to imitate the big boys and high rollers, staring her ventures with a 3-wheeled hand cart (complete with folding stage and icebox) that will eventually be wind powered and/or flying.
- Karze Partyman, a Hadansi noble of a minor House who owns a fleet of well-crewed and luxurious pleasure yachts that occasionally double as smuggling platforms in other countries.
- Kwon Tiles, current senior captain, near-human of indeterminate race and origin, former senior captain of the coastal groups and owner of several merchant marine vessels