City and Countryside
In Egron, a very basic division separates people into two distinct groups: townsfolk and rural folk. The dividing line is blurry at times – a large village or small town blends many of the characteristics of rural and urban life. The division is not exclusive. Even in the largest cities, farmers and herders till crops and tend livestock within the shadow of the city walls.
In most lands, five people live in the countryside for every city-dweller. Large cities are hard to sustain, and most people are compelled to work the land in order to feed themselves. Large towns and cities flourish in places that enjoy easy access to farmlands and resources producing a surplus of food.
True safety in these days can only be in the comforts of a city wall, and many spend only the growing seasons outside the walls of their respective towns, travelling behind the Army and Mercenary Companies that clear the creatures that have encroached during the winter months.
In painting a picture of the average commoner, an observer discovers that the most ordinary, unremarkable, and widespread representative is a simple human farmer. She lives in a small house of wood, sod, or thatch-roofed fieldstone, and she raises staple crops such as wheat, barley, corn, or potatoes on a few dozen acres of her own land.
In very few lands the common farmer is a peasant or a serf, denied the protection of law, and considered the property of whichever lord holds the land she lives on. Most commonly though she is free if somewhat poor, protected from, rapacious local lords by the law of the land, and allowed to choose whatever trade or vocation she has a talent for in order to feed her family and raise her children.
The common farmer’s home is within a mile or so of a population center, where she can trade grain, vegetables, fruit, meat, milk, and eggs for locally manufactured items such as spun cloth, tools, and worked leather. Some years are lean, but the lands are rich and pleasant, rarely knowing famine or drought.
A local lord guards the common farmer from bandits, brigands, and monsters. He is a minor noble whose keep or fortified manor house watches over her home village. The noble appoints a village constable to keep order and might house a few of the king’s soldiers or his own guards to defend against unexpected attack. Within a day’s ride, defenses are much sturdier and trained warriors more numerous.
Typical townsfolk or city-dwellers are skilled crafters of some kind. Large cities are home to numbers of unskilled laborers and small merchants or storeowners, but the most city-dwellers work with their hands to make finished goods from raw materials. Smiths, leatherworkers, potters, brewers, weavers, woodcarvers, and all other kinds of artisans and tradesfolk working in their homes make up the industry.
The city-dweller lives in a wood or stone house, shingled with wooden shakes or slate, that sits shoulder-to-shoulder with its neighbors in great sprawling blocks through which myriad narrow streets and alleyways ramble. In small or prosperous towns, his home might include a small plot of land suitable for a garden. Many relations, boarders, or whole families of strangers share his crowded home. If he isn’t married, he might live as a boarder with someone else.
In some cities he may be required to join great guilds of crafts folk with similar skills, or risk imprisonment. In others, agents of the city’s ruling power closely monitor his activities and movements, rigidly enforcing exacting laws of conduct and travel. But in most cases, he is free to pack up and leave or change trades whenever he likes.
He purchases food from the city’s markets, which sometimes means that he is stuck with whatever fits within his budget. A prosperous man can work hard and comfortably feed his family, but in lean times the poorer laborers must make do with stale bread and thin soup for weeks on end. Every city depends on a ring of outlying villages and farmlands to supply it with food on a daily basis. Most also possess great granaries against times of need, and many grocers specialize in stocking nonperishable foodstuffs at times of the year when fresh food is not available in the city’s markets.
A city of any size is protected by a city wall, patrolled by the city watch, and garrisoned by a small army of the soldiers of the land. Rampaging monsters or bloodthirsty bandits don’t trouble the average city-dweller, but he rubs elbows every day with rogues, thieves, and cutthroats. Even the most thoroughly policed cities have neighborhoods where anybody with a whit of common sense doesn’t set foot.