- See also: Orzammar
Ask the nobles of Orzammar how their kingdom gets silks and grain and wine from the surface, and they'll tell you "trade with the surface occurs." It occurs. As if on its own. With no traders or merchants or human farmers involved. A little miracle of dwarven ingenuity.
The reality is a lot messier than their fantasy.
Orzammar relies upon the surface not just for its prosperity, but for its survival. Ages of Blights have taken thousands of thaigs away from the dwarves. These were the places where most of the food was raised. The dwarven kingdom that endured alone, independent beneath the Stone from time immemorial, perished in the First Blight, faded into myth. Now, the remaining dwarves underground cling to existence through a lifeline to the surface, a chain forged from the casteless.
Every dwarf who goes to the surface is stripped of caste, effectively exiled and removed from dwarven society forever. But Orzammar relies on continued relations with these exiles to live. This has created a shadowy area of dwarven trade and politics where the rich, powerful, and elite maintain secret ties to people who, by official decree, no longer exist. And everyone knows what kinds of things lurk in the shadows.
The Carta lives in the underbelly of the surface trade like a tapeworm. Many surface dwarves maintain ties—not officially recognized, of course, but respectable—to their former houses in the Noble or Merchant Castes, and those contacts are their means of trading with Orzammar. Those who have no ties, because they were cast off by their families or never had good connections, make the trip back underground to trade with Orzammar personally, where they find themselves treated like criminals. A casteless in Orzammar, even a wealthy one from the surface, will be driven away from most merchants, treated like he's carrying a plague at best. So these surface merchants turn to the Carta for help. The Carta acts as a contact in Orzammar for surface businesses and sells their goods on the black market. For a cut, of course. The Carta always gets its cut.
The outraged citizens of Orzammar sometimes petition the Assembly to deal with the rampant crime surrounding the black market, and showy displays are made of kicking in the doors to Carta hideouts and razing Dust Town. But the Carta always comes back, because the Assembly always allows it. Too much of Orzammar is dependent on the black market trade, and the nobles know it. They all do business with the Carta. Everyone has a stake in its success. The Carta has a thousand faces above and below the surface—honest merchants and Noble Caste lords and upstanding members of the Merchants Guild—all a cover for the thousands more smugglers, thieves, and murderers in the shadows. The lifeline of Orzammar. Praise the Ancestors.
—Excerpted from Darktown's Deal by Varric Tethras