Formation of the League
Traditionally, in the Empire of Splendour, the merchant class was reviled and considered beneath those who created or produced items, almost as low as those who dealt with death or waste. The reality, however, was that the merchant class were able to accrue a fortune and become more rich and successful than the educated classes who looked down upon them. The introduction of a representative currency (the glass yen) based upon a gold standard, rudimentary insurance and banking and an overhaul of the ponderous Imperial mathematical system meant that the merchants became masters of esoteric techniques that the ruling classes could not fully understand but found themselves bound by. The idea of the Merchant Clan - of a central family and associated workers - began to form.
The push that really changed the power dynamic between the merchants and the Magisters came in the wake of
the tlaxu invasion of Llaza. When a horde of plains tlaxu came west through the Three Sisters Mountains and plundered the lands of Ashoyin and Fnoi Province, it was the Merchant Clans (who found themselves in the midst of the fighting) who provided money and manpower for defence, not the Imperial rulers (who were safe many hundreds of miles away). The elevation in status of the Merchant Clans continued as states began to secede from the Empire, backed by the Merchant Clans. This reached its probable zenith on Oksa, where an entire city was built in secret by the Merchant Clans.
The Clans combined forces to create the Merchants League - a body designed to regulate the various and often overlapping affairs of the different clans. This also absorbed elements of the old Imperial Bureau of Weights and Measures as well as creating a unified defence force to look after the shipping and properties of League members.
Role of the League
The League exists primarily to arbitrate disputes between League members, and to protect those members from outside forces. The motto of the League is 'Peace Brings Prosperity', and the powerful League navy patrols shipping lanes in an effort to reduce piracy whilst a sizeable land army (the Defensive Force) guards caravans and League property. Individual clans are also able to field their own armed forces and these often conduct the affairs particular to that clan. Although the League denies any imperialist leanings, the ideal of Prosperity through Peace means that in places the League maintains a very high-handed, almost dictatorial, role in order to maintain that peace. Technically the League answers to local government, practically it often behaves as a law unto itself.
In order to be a Member of the League one must register with the local League Hall and pay yearly dues. A League Merchant always carries a passport which contains a record of dues paid, and the local League Officer can update this and set his seal to it. Every time a merchant arrives at a new port or city he has to sign into the local League office where officials can advise him of local taxes and laws, deal with local excise on his behalf and do what it can to prevent interference by the local authorities, at a nominal administrative charge. Provision is also made for the families and dependants of deceased Members: no luxuries, but they won't let anyone starve. Membership of the Merchants League is not required to trade, but it imparts an aura of reliability and respectability that any trader would be foolish to ignore. Furthermore, in some parts of the world where the League presence is strong (such as Oksa and Llaza), non-League traders find plenty of bureaucratic difficulties strewn in their path. On the other hand, League regulations and the investigations by League Agents mean that un-registered traders often find it easier to deal in illegal or dubious trading practices.
There is a hereditary heirarchy of sorts in place within the League, with older and richer Merchant Clans (particularly those who helped against the tlaxu invasion) having more clout within League courts and councils. Most Clans have a huge range of interests and only the smallest can be considered to specialise. That said, even the largest Clans are more important in some areas of trade than others. Amongst the larger clans are the Turif, who between their monopoly on Fnoi iron, Kronlordan textiles and Anhoine rice are said to arm, clothe and feed the League military. They are ruled by the formidable Lady Calis Ondra-Turif, an arranged marriage from the doomed Ondra Clan. Lady C, or the Mistress of Iron, as she is known, is a tough octogenarian who terrifies her grandchildren into line. House Feloung is ruled by Toral Feloung, an arrogant but clever man. He has a son Daimon by his first (deceased) wife, and has married his second wife Jan in order to secure a business partnership with her Ashoyin family. She has felt lonely and neglected since moving to Llaza. Daimon is quiet but hardworking and loyal, he has felt sorry for Jan and tried to help her make new friends and adapt to her new life. Feloung have wide-ranging interests and have the strongest presence in the Outer Continent of Fallen Sun. The Tangashi Clan are relatively small, dealing mainly in luxury goods. They are headed by Jinko Tangashi but are probably most notorious in Llaza for the decadent activities of Jinko's son Lok and his friends in the 'Cult of Beauty'. House Daas has ties to banking and claims to many islands in the Necklace of Plenty archipeligo. The current Viceroy of Llaza is a member of the Daas Clan but this does not give the Daas as much authority as it would at first appear, since Viceroy Bevorin is an overweight, lazy afficionado of all fleshly pleasures and commands little or no respect in the League or Llazan government.
The League employs roving enforcers and trouble-shooters who investigate incidents and crimes within or against the League independently of the League Navy or Defensive Force. They are powerful, with considerable authority to commandeer local League Officers and merchants' goods and services. They do however have to account for their expenses later so it's not a license to steal. They are very dedicated and trusted individuals, they often travel in disguise but they all carry a small brooch with the League's device magically stamped upon it to identify themselves. The League makes liberal use of magicians within its ranks too, from simple tasks such as ratifying documents with magical sigils, through magical communication across distances and even magical transportation of goods and personnel, to use as Agents and enforcers. Although House Turif has experimented with mass-production of magical goods (mostly alchemical products, potions and protective charms) it is still an area where production is too individualised and sporadic to be of much use to the League.
(c) 2006 The Creative Conclave.