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Kwachow,the City of Melons, is the largest settlement of the Merket Oasis. It stands at the confluence of several dry streams. Kwachow gains its nickname from the large, sweet melons that are raised here. Much of the fruit is sent to Shou Lung where it is prized by gourmets for its fine flavor. The melons of Kwachow have even been served at the Emperor’s banquets.

For all the splendor of its produce, Kwachow is a dusty, drab town. Rainfall is almost nonexistent throughout most of the year. In the spring, the storms come and the dry streams flood. A series of levees and canals are used to divert the runoff into underground cisterns and holding ponds around the town. The trapped water is then carefully rationed for personal use and irrigation of the melon fields. In times of water shortages, the fields take precedence over the people. Kwachow has a population of 3,000. Since the town is difficult to reach and has little to offer, there is not much threat of attack. A large blockhouse stands at the center of the town; it doubles as the yamen, or official residence, of the Shou administrator posted here. Although the town is outside the accepted borders of Shou Lung, the empire has placed Kwachow under its sway. It has sent a magistrate, his bailiffs, and a small garrison of troops— 100 men— to keep the peace.

While the citizens of Kwachow appreciate the protection the garrison provides from marauding bandits, they are not so thrilled by other aspects of the Shou presence. The magistrate, Wan-yen Ch’eng-shih, is a lackadaisical man with little ambition or sympathy for his subjects. To provide his barren post with the luxuries of the Inner Provinces (the heartland of Shou Lung), he taxes the citizens heavily. The soldiers of the garrison bully the citizens, although they stop short of actual violence. So far, residents of Kwachow have viewed the Shou lords as the lesser of two evils, potential bandits being far worse.

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