The Sinkels (named, according to popular belief, after the semi-mythical first woman to take on this trade, the Avennorian Heirike Sink) are a loosely connected type of traveling merchant present throughout most of Santharia. Mainly of human or halfling descent, they travel without carts or steed to cater to the small hamlets and villages away from the main trade routes, selling herbs and spices as well as many small household items and other small but ever-useful objects. Gnomish Sinkels also exist, but are very rare, and can only be encountered in areas with a large gnome population. They are alternatively known as the "Basketeers", after their trademark baskets filled with merchandise, in the northern provinces, and as "All-carriers" amongst the halflings.
Although a great majority of today's Sinkels are of
descent to some degree, pure-blooded Sinkels are an exception rather than a
rule, making any attempt of a physical description futile. Fortunately however,
their apparel and clothes provide us with ample methods of discerning a Sinkels
The typical Sinkel is dressed for travel. Simple clothes, but always of high quality are favoured by those who take on this haphazard profession, as their garments need to be both functional as well as resistant to the forces of nature the Sinkel will have to endure on his or her travels. Examples include high leather boots, simple breeches (very few female Sinkels wear skirts, although Heirike Sink is said to have worn either depending on her mood) and a tunic, accompanied by a vest and/or a thick rain-repelling cloak as the circumstances prescribe.
The defining mark of a Sinkel is of course the large, custom-made (and indeed often self-made and maintained) basket, usually bulging with small trinkets, packages, and parcels containing the wares for sale. This basket is considered highly personal, and the Sinkels do not take kindly to those looking into it, or even touching it without direct permission! Often, they paint some kind of personal symbol on its front in bright colours, once again marking them as a traveling merchant instead of a common traveler, as well as making people able to recognise a specific Sinkel from a distance. The basket is of a very specific design, often representing a large, round container about half a ped wide, with a flattened side tailired to suit the owner's back without iritation or pain, even when worn for a long time. The back-side of the basket is for this reason covered in a double layer of leather, often with another layer of soft cloth in between. The basket is about six to seven span high for human Sinkels, and fully waterproof when the lid is closed with numerous leather straps.
Lastly, according the the old stories as a reminder of Heirike Sink, many Sinkel allow their hair to grow long, and then weave in small trinkets, trophies, and other baubles of significance to the owner. Especially the females will often include small bronze or copper bells that give their step a pleasant tinkle.
Personality. Being a Sinkel is most definitely not for everyone. The Sinkels often need to sleep outside no matter the weather conditions, and face dangerous circumstances and hostile situations. As such it is not a trade for those easily scared or of an indescisive nature. People skills are most important to a Sinkel as well. They are often blamed for anything that happens to go wrong or go missing when they are present, and have to try and get a good price for their wares regardless. Many times a Sinkel has to prove their innocence by unpacking every parcel in their possession, a sure way to ruin their mood, as it can take several hours to un- and re-wrap everything! A good Sinkel however will soon develop certain set points on his or her route where he is welcomed at every visit.
In addition to their people skills, living outdoors most of the time demands a strong physique of the Sinkel, and the skills needed to find food and shelter in many places. Most Sinkels therefore carry some sort of small weapon, be it a long dagger, a sling, or merely a staff that doubles as a walking staff, they must be able to defend themselves against robbery, wild animals, and angry customers alike.
Wares. The Sinkel have specialised on those products that every household needs, but few merchants actually sell, such as yarn, cloth, needles, simple jewelery, salt, herbs, amulets of various natures (although no serious Sinkel worth his pack will try to sell fake magical items as it would ruin his or her reputation), soap, candles, knives and other tableware, and all sorts of potions, tinctures, salves, waxes and the like. Local varieties depend on the city or marketplace where the Sinkel got his supplies. For instance, near the coast dried fish might be available, while Sinkels visiting the Elvergrounds would have an expanded catalogue of herbs, and those on the Steppes of Kruswik often have products of the mage-city of Ximax available. They attempt to cater specifically to the needs of the lower class, selling simple products for simple prices. In addition to this, they often sharpen knives on demand, and usually buy whatever bits and remnants of candles one has to offer, re-working them into cheap candles later.
Also, the Sinkels serve as messengers, taking on messages and parcels for villagers further along their route for a small fee or a free meal. They are often the fastest way to send along important news, and expand this service by meeting at certain points with other Sinkels, exchanging messages that are not on their own route. This serves another purpose; as the bearers of news and rumours, the Sinkels can expect to be welcomed almost everywhere, and will use the news as a way to gather people to him and peddle his wares.
Many Sinkels, and the Halflings in particular, use silly songs, short stories, and catching verses to advertise their wares and draw customers out of their houses. Some Sinkels, however, have taken this a step further, and are able to double as professional storytellers and bards, using these skills to provide an income in times when trade is scarce. This has made them, in particular the halflings, extremely popular among the local children, which in turn tends to be quite beneficial to their profits.
History. The Sinkel are a fairly old concept. Traveling merchants of this type have been around for at least 1100 years, as ancient records of praise regarding the "Pure and Fayre Wares ande Commodities of Maester Stilhan, Sinkael" have been found in a farmer's log preserved in the Library of New-Santhala. Although believed to be the first Sinkel, Heirike Sink would have lived somewhere between 800-900 a.S., in order to accomodate most of the legends. However, her adventures range in date from the early days of the Santharian Kingdom as we know it, to a mere five hundred years ago. It is, at any rate, fairly certain that the concept of the Sinkel, with this name, has risen in the general area of Marcogg around 400 a.S., slowly spreading outward from there. Within the next few centuries, the Sinkel and their nameless colleagues (who either adopted the term 'Sinkel', or were outcompeted by those flaunting the now increasingly familiar name) spread all the way to the northern city of Nyermersys. However, the spread southward was severely limited due to the incredible hazards of wandering the Ráhaz'Dáth.
Over time, the Sinkels, while generally accepted and welcomed, have had some difficult times when a ruler or even the entire populace mistook them for the cause of certain troubles. For instance, in 1132 a law was passed that forbade the Sinkels to trade many specific types of reagentia in the province of Xaramon due to the powerful influence of more large-scaled merchants upon the local Thane, and all through the thirteenth century the general population of Nermeran and Enthronia shunned nearly all contact with the wandering merchants, convinced they spread bad luck, storms, and plagues wherever they went.
The latter might actually be based on a fact, as the outbreak of the much feared disease "Greenvein" that ravaged many farmer's families around 1288-1293 has most likely been aided by the Sinkels, who spread the disease from one village to the next quite efficiently. The Sinkels themselves were also severely affected, but their successors had to pay the price for this inconvenient mishap.
Nowadays, Sinkels can be found traveling around the backcountry almost everywhere from Nyermersys to the Sharadon Forest, trading mainly with humans, gnomes and halflings. The elves, due to their compact societies have less need of the Sinkel, although they are usually welcome in the elven realms nonetheless. The Silvermarshes are generally avoided, although a very selected few Sinkels claim to trade with the mullogs at times, meeting the swampdwellers at the border of their waterlogged realm. Due to the solitary nature of both the mullogs as the Sinkel, as well as the tendancy of the latter to exaggerate in their stories this can neither be proven nor disproven.
The Black Butterfly Rovers who live in a similar fashion to the Sinkels, and are in fact often confused with these merchants or vice versa, are believed to be a related faction, with one party stemming from the other, although both groups have their own stories about this subject. Nonetheless, they get along quite well, and Sinkels will often band together with a group of Rovers if the opportunity presents itself, trading with both the group as the villages they encounter along the way. However, the negative reputation of the Rovers as thieves and dabblers in the Dark Arts would be harmful to their trades, keeping the Sinkels and Black Butterfly Rovers two distinct factions.
The groups are known to have a fairly high level of intermarriage, with both Sinkels leaving their trade to join the Rovers, or Rovers abandoning their troupe to take on the business of a Sinkel. Once a Sinkel pair is blessed with children however, travel becomes hard on a family, and either they convert to a more comfortably way of trading, or they separate, with one of the parents living with the child, and the other continuing it's business as before in an area surrounding the family home. It can be consideredd no surprise that many of these children join either the Black Butterfly Rovers, or the Sinkels once they grow up.
Halfling Sinkels, although often overlooked in history, have reportedly been around ever since the Sinkels' slow diffusion throughout Santharia reached their shires. Although trading mainly with their own kind and those living close by the halfling lands, several of these small but surprisingly enterprising merchants have spread out to the far corners of the kingdom, often traveling and trading on the frontiers of Sinkel territories!
Myth/Lore. Myth and lore are interwoven tightly when it comes to the Sinkels. With good reason "A Sinkel's Tale" is an expression used to indicate a story that may be entertaining, but probably not completely true. Prone to trading stories, and adapting their own at every turn, the Sinkels are renowned for their ability to entice their public, they especially often attract the crowds of children while visiting a village. Knowing that the love of the children will gain them the trust of the parents, they are usually quite friendly to their "Little Customers". Halfling Sinkels especially excel in capturing the hearts of children with fantastic myths and stories from their own culture, combined with their friendly and comfortable appearance.
Certain taverns and inns have become meeting points for the Sinkels over time, places where they meet to buy new wares and trade stories and news among each other, and passing on directions and warnings if needed.
Worth special attention is the figure of Heirike Sink, the legendary merchant that supposedly traveled all of Santharia, defeated and befriended demons and dragons, saved noblemen, tricked guards, was loved by princes, found and lost more treasures than she could keep track of, etc. Although it is fairly certain that the Avennorian woman actually existed, and was (one of the) first to perform this specific kind of trade, it is most likely that half of the stories surrounding her are pure fiction, and that most of the others are severely exaggerated, and transferred from the acutal Sinkel experiencing the adventures to this mythological figure.