Quote: "I would love to be able to accommodate you, but as you can see from these figures, you have already exceeded your annual wool quota."
Usual location: He/she will move from place to place, although generally to be found in one of the big trading ports along the Flowroute.
Free navigation through the Flowroute, and back across the continent via Portage, is considered essential for trade between the cities and kingdoms of Man. Costly wars were one way of trying to control this, but after the expenditure of much blood and treasure, it was decided that peaceful, regulated trade might be achieved for the benefit of all. The rise of powerful trading and craft guilds has helped to achieve this state of affairs. They now enjoy an iron grip on the movement of people and goods between the major ports along the Flowroute and through Portage.
The Merchant is elected every five years from among the senior Guildmasters. The process is lengthy, and dogged with back room politicking and favour-trading between the major mercantile factions, with the odd prince or duke getting involved from time to time. A great deal of money and power is at stake at election time. The guild that provides the next Merchant can be sure they will prosper for the next five years.
The Merchant sometimes dies in office, not always of natural causes. In this case, his deputy usually takes over. Again, this latter position is also an elected one, and the identity of the deputy, also known as the Right Hand, is determined in the same election. By tradition the role falls to the Guildmaster with the second highest number of votes.
The Merchant has to navigate a tricky path - with power comes responsibility. His authority is underpinned by his ability to function in as unbiased and neutral a fashion as possible. The Merchant cannot afford to play favourites. His ability to command the military and political weight that accrues to his position stems from his ability to act properly within the remit of his office. Those Merchants that have enjoyed the highest respect historically have been individuals that have acted against the caprices of their home guild.
Adventurers and the Icon
While fleets, armies and economic sanctions are just some of the tools available to the Merchant, he also frequently has need for more covert assets. Adventurers are often employed to carry out missions for the Merchant, be it helping to safeguard the flow of commerce, investigating abuses on the part of a guild, or providing vital intelligence to help safeguard his position.
Adventurers who make themselves unpopular with one or more of the trading guilds, or who act to interfere with shipping or the flow of trade, can quickly find themselves on the wrong side of the Merchant, and he has the resources to make the lives of adventurers very difficult, particularly north of the Flowroute.
The Merchant is most closely aligned with the Five, as while his power extends mostly to the large urban centres, the Five control much of northern Yext. They frequently work to together to meet any major threats to the security and prosperity of the northern realms. The Five know they need to stay in the good graces of the Merchant for their land-bound kingdoms to prosper. The Merchant also needs to stay friendly with the Sand Khan in order to ensure the Portage Way continues to function: he is reliant on the slaves and security provided by the nomads. It is also rumoured that the Beggar Prince provides the Merchant with a valuable flow of information, and that on occasion the assassins of the Old Man of the Mountain have worked for the Merchant.
First and foremost of his enemies is the Corsair. The pirate fleets are a constant thorn in the Merchant's side, and despite his efforts, the Corsair continues to prey on shipping in the eastern seas. The Scaled One and the Jester are continual threats to the peace and stability of humankind, and the Merchant will oppose them when and where he can.
The role of the Merchant has been established now for over a century. While some individuals have been able to serve multiple terms as Merchant, the peaceful passage of power has underpinned the strength and prosperity of the civilized realms of northern Yext. The Merchant may not have access to the flying castles and military power of the Five, but his wealth has grown to far exceed theirs, and he has plenty of options should he ever need to curtail their arrogance.
The True Danger
Everything will be all right provided that no Merchant decides he can avoid his responsibilities, becoming convinced that he can operate without accountability to the guilds or the citizens of the ports. Should the authority of the office be undermined, warfare and famine could consume the north.