Over time, a number of merchant families and trade guilds have risen to such power that they have essentially become nobility. Although most of these powerful merchants are lay people, a few are minor lords or barons. Typically, they enjoy working outside of the bounds of the Imperial Court simply because they owe no fealty to the Emperor beyond taxes. As they have grown ever more powerful, these groups have organized into the Merchant Houses.
Each Merchant House takes a family named, usually based on the house’s founder. The Houses choice of members and leadership is usually, although not always, hereditary (or at least nepotistic) and thus closely modeled on the Imperial nobility. Each House keeps several homes (“bases,” “headquarters”, “salons”, etc) in major cities where they do business. These are typically opulent, with comfortable staterooms and dining halls available only to members of the House and their retinue. They also usually contain some kind of storefront used to sell standard goods and overstock. This makes the stock of each house at any given time very indeterminable.
The number of Merchant Houses is unknown since the title is self-assigned. Many are “mom-and-pop” style businesses with aspiration of greatness. These of course are not recognized by the older, more prestigious houses. A few notable houses:
- House Calguun: An old northern family, very close with the court. Although they have hands all over the Empire, they keep an elaborate guild house in Masagar where they can keep a close eye on the movements of the High Register.
- House Degalle: The undisputed masters of the sea, the Degalle’s keep the largest individually owned merchant fleet in the world. Their primary interest is not in a particular cargo, but rather moving cargo to where they can charge the most for it.
- House Hymark: Hailing from Bakinia, the Hymark Falcon sigil is seen in cities all over the West and Southwest of the Empire. They own numerous rock quarries and deal in precious metals and gold as well.
- House Rasa: Upstarts from Listvendy, House Rasa are cunning and without scruples. Notable in that they choose their leadership based on profit not heredity. Thus, they are not held together by blood or tradition but by a desire for money. This gives them an incredible flexibility but often leads to indecision among it’s members.
- House Ungot: Ungot is unique in that they manufacture goods, not simply move them. Ungot acquires raw materials through various means and is vertically integrated with smiths, carpenters and other craftsmen to turn these into useful finished products. This makes Ungot a kind-of tradesmen’s guild although the business is still run by the Ungot family.