See also: Orzammar Assembly

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As dangerous as it is to mistake a dwarf's caste, it is far more deadly to mistake his alliances among the noble houses of Orzammar. Everyone in the city is allied with someone, whether by blood or by word. The nobles do not engage directly in commerce themselves, as that is the domain of the Merchant Caste, but they do serve as patrons. They invest in shops or in artisans' work, and in turn reap a share of the profits as well as a measure of the credit. Merchants and warriors alike benefit from the service of a prestigious patron.

The relative power of each house is ever-changing. It is usually safe to assume that whichever noble house holds the throne is at the top of the heap, but below that, things grow into a tangled mess. Houses ally with one another by marriage. They earn rank and prestige when combatants loyal to them, or from their own bloodlines, win Provings. They earn it when artisans they patronize become sought-after or well regarded, or when the merchants they invest in become successful. The degrees of power that these achievements confer is so murky, even to the dwarves, that it isn't unusual for nobles to challenge each another to Provings over whose smith forges better belt buckles, or whose servants have the best manners. Nor is it out of the ordinary to find two merchants arguing over whose noble patron has won the most acclaim, for the rank of the patron is the rank of the client.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Assembly, where the deshyrs, representatives of each noble house, meet. Although the king technically rules Orzammar, kings are elected by the Assembly, and so each king must work constantly to maintain the support of the deshyrs. Kings who prove unpopular find their heirs deemed unacceptable to inherit the throne. Power then passes to another house.

--From In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Travels of A Chantry Scholar, by Brother Genitivi

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