Summits & Seashells
Like stuck candy in jagged teeth, the city of Haute-Ondes is pressed into the crevice between Cardavia’s tallest mountains. In summer she is a hive, and the ring-roads crunch under the feet of countless travelers, merchants, entertainers and other opportunists. In winter the city is as mute as the waters from which she once rose, buried in snow and silence. Only Lockboxing Day disturbs her slumber, though there are plenty of other reasons to stay awake.
Haute-Ondes is Cardavia’s capital, home to Cardan royalty, the continental mint and Uldeen’s tomb. Built upon hilltops that once formed an archipelago, the city’s topography underwent violent and massive change during the Rise: receding waters careened ships (now kitschy, nautical-themed taverns), waterways became roads (upon which shells are still as common as stones), and once-bustling piers were transformed into overhead walkways. Her unconventional layout makes Haute-Ondes almost unnavigable for newcomers, so let go and lose yourself in a dry sea of royal gossip, shopping and mountain vistas.
Haute-Ondes is generally safe for travelers and the locals are helpful, but it’s always best to come prepared – especially during the winter months.
When to Visit
Summer is the easiest time to visit, as the mountain roads are most passable The city is warm and mostly free from the mosquitoes that rule the surrounding forests. Winter travel is much more difficult but the rewards are worth it: while snow closes many of the passes surrounding the city, every night sees a party somewhere, and most of Haute-Ondes’ most renowned festivals happen in winter. Dress warmly!
Haute-Ondes uses stones () and King’s favours (). If you intend to use the latter, familiarize yourself before you go; counterfeit favours are often traded to foreigners, and merchants won’t accept them.
Haute-Ondes is organized into major ring-roads surrounding hills that usually share some common feature or landmark (Castle Ring, for example, hosts Haute-Ondes Castle at its centre). Unfortunately, many of the connective minor roads are either unnamed or bear names that make little sense to visitors, so the best way to navigate the city is by asking directions. Public transportation is common and affordable, and drivers are very knowledgeable. In summer, look for rickshaws and carriages (pricier); in winter, seek out public sleighs (also a great way to warm up!).
Safety & Law
Magic is forbidden in Haute-Ondes; however, it is equally forbidden to display or proclaim support for any anti-magical factions (though Bloodletter soldiers are permitted to wear their uniforms). Only those licenced by Cardan law may carry a sword (defined as blade longer than twelve inches whose primary purpose is combat), though carriers are rarely questioned unless there’s trouble.
Soldiers and guards are a common sight in the city – especially around Lockboxing – and visitors should be aware that red checkers are reserved for members of the King’s Army. Also worth note is that certain hairstyles (such as the Endine Crown) are forbidden and/or limited by law, though all stylists are aware of these rules and foreigners are usually forgiven for any accidental infraction.
It should be noted that the presence of street guards has forced the criminal world to work indoors, instead. Document forgery and counterfeiting is common, and while pickpockets are rare, burglary is on the rise. Burglars typically work in pairs (commonly the ‘catcher-climber pair’), and are not dissuaded by the height of open windows. It is recommended to keep all entries locked, and to carry important items on one’s person.
Things to Do
Aside from its unique scenery and history, what separates Haute-Ondes from anywhere else is its hair culture. Newcomers will undoubtedly notice the unusual number of blond residents; what’s less noticeable, to the untrained eye, is that most of this hair is borrowed. Hair artists and wigmakers are the go-to people for fashion-minded travelers, and while an intricate hairpiece can cost more than a gown, it’s an accessory that’s also its own outfit. Even for those who don’t intend to buy, hair fittings are usually free and the shops are frequented by many of Haute-Ondes’ celebrities, so it’s a great place to catch up on new and gossip. For visitors who want to fit in without wearing a wig, an Haute-Ondes coiffure is highly recommended and a pleasure to experience.
Winter activities such as sledding, ice fishing and snowshoeing are popular throughout the winter months. Daily excursions leaving from the Vair’s Gate take visitors and locals alike to Long Lake for fishing – in the same waters where the Queen Flavie’s children are said to have been drowned. Despite its dubious history, however, the lake is full of life, and the catch is always worth the snowy trek.
In summer, hiking is popular, prompting many people to visit Uldeen’s Home atop Quiet Peak just east of the city. While it’s not permitted to enter the building, a peek inside is all that’s necessary to see Uldeen’s fleam and the pedestal upon which he died.
Underground tours are accessible year-round, and include passage through smugglers’ caves (no leftover loot – sorry!) as well as through Uldeen’s tomb. For those who prefer to stay above ground, tours of the royal court are also available, but occur only once weekly and visitors must adhere to a strict dress code. This tour is not recommended for young children as any disturbance of court proceedings is frowned upon.
The Steps are a tour category all their own: this is a self-guided tour down an endless series of narrow, claustrophobic staircases carved into the cliffs north of the city. Depending on the conditions, the traveler and any unaccounted-for obstacles, the descent can take up to a day, and climbing back up is much more taxing. Standing on the sands of the King’s Landing, however, offers a stunning view of the ocean and fabulous fishing opportunities. Near the cliff face, passable shelter and some (meagre) snacks are usually available for exorbitant prices.
Bars and opium dens are popular scenes throughout the year, and locations range from near-silent to illegally raucous. Haute-Ondes’ specialty drink is sunken treasure – an expensive dollop of alcohol that doubles as a hallucinogen. This is not recommended for solo travelers!
Haute-Ondes’ is lousy with viewpoints: any hillside or mountaintop will make for fabulous views of the city, and for those less interested in hiking, there are a handful of public towers and, of course, the city’s overhead walkways – though these are usually littered with painters searching for inspiring views of their own.
At ground level, Haute-Ondes’ noble neighbourhoods are worth a visit: many of the city’s rings are owned by families specializing in particular crafts or services, and they do their best to advertise their presence – usually with coloured banners, decorations, heralds and competitive sales! Noble house architecture ranges from awe-inspiring to weirdly fascinating, as many of these buildings were constructed before the Rise, when materials were mostly brought in by ship. In fact, many of these ships are still around: favoured taverns, such as the Crab Trap, do business from the remains of galleons and other vessels ‘beached’ during the Rise.
Orchard Hill is centrally-located and is the city’s largest ring – no surprise, then, that this is where the mayhem happens. In summer, the ring is filled with merchants, musicians and entertainers; in winter, this is where Lockboxing, sledding and snow sculpting occurs. Despite the action, the hill and its surrounding ring are generally well-guarded and safe from pickpocketing that may occur elsewhere.
For those interested in indoor fun, the city hosts a number of museums and galleries. Galleries feature mostly the works of new artists, though some works that survived the trip from Old Carda can still be viewed. Uldeen’s House and Museum serves as a place of study as well as storage for many items that once belonged to the hero himself. Haute-Ondes’ Gallery of Hair features – an easy guess – hairstyles from archaic to contemporary, and specialists there can help visitors to unravel (or proclaim!) a message using the city’s elusive and generally misunderstood hair code.
Food and Drink
Visitors from the south may find Haute-Ondes’ food somewhat bland – especially in winter. While the locals eat almost anything with legs – camel, bear, venison, beef, pork and fowl – fish and seafood is rare, and in winter the meals can be bleaker than the weather. The drink culture, however, is flourishing: while the city’s specialty is sunken treasure, there are also countless vintners producing flavourful wines, and wine crawls occur daily in all weather. Beer is also popular, but supplies are more limited. In winter, warm drinks are a local favourite, and most establishments serve at least one kind of tea, chocolate, coffee and mead.
For visitors interested in clothing, boots will be a primary interest and – in winter – a necessity. Haute-Ondes’ crafters also specialize in furs and metal accessories and hardware.
Shopping for wigs and hairpieces is a popular activity for visitors and locals. While value is generally determined by the colour and intricacy of the piece, recently more specialized wigs have been on the rise – usually made from magician’s hair or even the red hair of Ringreef’s giant raiders. For those looking to get something unique but not wildly expensive, an Haut-Ondes comb is a good option, and these come in a variety to suit any budget.
Due to its proximity to the magicians’ refuge in Black Mountain, Haute-Ondes is home to a number of merchants selling magical artifacts. While the use of magic is illegal in the city, ownership and sale of related items are not, and visitors can easily find curiosities such as magicians’ combs, scissors, bows, pulleys and more!
Street artists and vendors capture the attention of both locals and visitors, and offer an affordable chance to experience (and take home!) a piece of Haute-Ondes culture. Food carts line the streets in all seasons, and painters sell small but picturesque images of local landmarks that make great souvenirs!
Haute-Ondes’ best theatre is, somewhat ironically, Simaab’s Strings, named after the famed Endine magician. The theatre is open every night year-round, and hosts live music, dance and other musical entertainment. Different nights see different themes, including recurring plays and seasonal musical themes, and one night each week is open to uninitiated performers.
Events & Holidays
Lockboxing is Haute-Ondes’ most famous holiday, and is celebrated for an entire midwinter month culminating in Lockboxing Day. Personalized lockboxes in myriad colours, sizes and levels of quality are left in Orchard Ring, and the keys delivered to (or hidden from!) the intended recipient of the box’s contents – which can be boon, bane or banal. The season sees plenty of outdoor performances, warm drinks and wild speculation about the boxes. Some keys can be won in contests, and any boxes that remain after the holiday are raffled (though the winners must contend with opening the boxes themselves).
Other local holidays include the four Harvest Festivals, one at the end of each season, as well as three historical holidays of note: Landing Day, Uldeen’s Day and the Fall of Flavie. While Haute-Ondes’ Endine population is small, there are a number of Endine temples where the Everbond Ceremony occurs twice annually.
While Haute-Ondes’ citizens practice everything from fencing to dancing, the most notable sporting event is the annual Anchor Toss, which takes place in midsummer on the wide street south of Orchard Hill. Competitors are allowed three toss attempts, and the longest distance wins. Most years, other categories are proposed and awarded prizes as well (such as an award for the youngest competitor), and an adjacent event has gained popularity, too: the Anchor Catch, apparently inspired by the catcher-climber pairs who have burglarized Haute-Ondes’ taller buildings in recent years, sees anchors dropped from increasingly high platforms into the arms of the (possibly mad) catchers below. This event is not officially endorsed by the city’s nobility, but has run alongside the Anchor Toss for three years at the time of printing. The Anchor Catch takes place on the north side of the orchard.
Places to Stay
The city is vast and locals are accustomed to harbouring both visitors and refugees. While there are accommodations for every budget, low-cost shelters are usually busy – especially in winter – and can fill up quickly. It’s wise to book ahead of time.
By far the cheapest but most difficult accommodation is at a House of Uldeen, temples across the city that offer free rooms but which are almost always full – especially in winter. This should be considered only in an emergency, as the Houses do not take reservations and are regularly full.
Inns, Hostels and Hotels
Haute-Ondes has a variety of housing options at varying prices per night. Quirky, touristy places like the Crab Trap offer reasonable rooms for a fair price – but visitors should be aware that many rooms share a wall with the pub’s common-room. For high-end accommodation, look into guest houses on noble properties such as Chateau desRochers, a luxury guest hall west of the city.
Rooms for Rent
Many Haute-Ondes locals offer rooms or space (and often, meals) to travelers unable to rent elsewhere. For visitors low on stones, this can be a lucky break: locals are usually willing to trade housework, crafting or other goods or services for shelter. This is a great option for travelers who want a genuine experience: how better to learn than by living as the locals?