The Salt Route Moves

June 29, 2008

Part 1 of 2 in the series What-if: Kaldoran Port

In the first part of this “what-if…” series, I looked at Tashal as the home of the Great Summer Fair, and why I think it needs to establish a port capable of handling ocean-going vessels if it is to keep its pre-eminent position in the economic life of Hârn. Now it’s time to look at the consequences of that necessary decision. The following assumes a port has been established at Tuleme Island, and that you have read An Ocean Port for Kaldor.

Economics 101

In all commerce, the driving factor of the price of goods is cost. Well, it could be argued the driving factor is greed, but let’s assume that greed is simply another cost. Let’s try to itemise the cost of a thing:

  • raw material
  • labour
  • wear
  • manufacture
  • greed (profit), and
  • transportation.

Raw materials are seldom free; there are licensing charges, taxes, bribes, and finder’s fees to pay even before you extract the materials. Then you have to pay the labour charges to mine or harvest the materials, and transport them to a market. There are the tools that have to be bought and replaced (wear) and then even these raw materials are usually transformed in some way (smelting, sawing timber into lumber). Secondary industries take these raw materials and transform them further; grass becomes wool becomes cloth, iron ore becomes pig iron becomes a sword or plough, and so on.

All along the way, people are taking their cut (profits, taxes), and so the cost goes up as time goes on. One of the greatest costs is getting the materials from one place to another. It’s one reason that mines usually incorporate a smelter; it’s far cheaper to smelt on-site than transport all that base ore to another place1. The same for timber; transporting cut lumber means that only the valuable material is moved.

The Salt Route and the Rise of Jedes

If transport is a major factor in cost, reducing the cost of transport can mean greater profits…until a competitor undercuts in order to steal a sale! Now, let’s assume you are a merchant in Kanday with a load of salt bound for Tashal. You have several dozen mules, many with heavy bags of salt, and the rest with feed for all those mules, muleteers and guards. All of those animals and people are driving up to cost of getting the salt to market, and hence reducing the amount of profit you, as the salt merchant, can make. But there’s this new port in Kaldor and there’s barge traffic going up and down the Kald River all the time. If only you could get your salt onto a barge heading up to Tashal, think of all the savings you could make! You could put the mules out to pasture (no more feed costs! or less, anyway), you could pay off most of the guards, and probably most of the muleteers, too. You’d save thousands! And get to market just as quickly, or even more quickly.

Well, that’s the logic I’m using anyway.

It strikes me that, with an established port at Tuleme Island, there would be an increased flow of river traffic, because barges, like ships, can carry a lot of cargo with very little in the way of labour required. This reduces the cost of transportation enormously, making for greater potential profits. Salt, and especially wool, are very bulky, but low value products. The more you can move with the fewest people doing the moving, the better.

The Salt Route approaches the Kald River before it turns north and heads for the bridge (and safety) at Tashal. In fact, according to the maps, at it’s closest point, it’s only about 10 miles west of Jedes. That’s not very far; about half a day’s travel for a mule train, perhaps. What-if…

What-if is the name of the game in this series, so what if an enterprising merchant decides to split off from the main caravan and head to Jedes to hail one of those passing barges? Or what if an enterprising Kaldoran barge owner hacks a route through the wilderness and sets up a sign on the Salt route itself, and wait for caravans to come on passed, offering cheap barge transportation for their goods from Jedes.

“I’m sure you’ll find it cheaper than continuing on up through the Kath-infested wilderness for another tenday, Master Merchant!”

Pretty quickly (I’d say in no more than five years), the Salt Route would terminate at Jedes and all goods from western Hârn would be barged up to Tashal. Efficient and frequent barge travel along the Kald River could transform the communities all along the river, not just Jedes. But that settlement would see a huge growth.

Exactly what kind of growth would Jedes see? That’s the subject of my next post in this series. Hopefully a bit sooner than I was with this one!

What do you think? Is my vision possible? Or can you see flaws in my argument? Have you got an alternative? Then feel free to post a comment!

  1. This is something the availability of ridiculously cheap energy in to form of fossil fuels has turned upside down in the modern world. Australian iron ore is transported in enormous ships all the way to Japan and China, and the resulting metal goods are shipped back in other enormous ships []