Marakand, where much of the action of The Leopard takes place, is the city at the eastern end of the western caravan road. It lies east of the Stone Desert of Blackdog and west of the lands Over-Malagru, in the pass between the Malagru mountains running down from the north and the great Pillars of the Sky which run along the southern edge of the lands of the Western Road. In the past it was a ruled by a senate whose members represented the various great families and in theory, all the folk of the city; also in the past, it had two goddesses and a god. Now the goddess Ilbialla and the god Gurhan are gone and the folk are not permitted even to honour their tombs, and the temple of the Lady of Marakand has absolute rule over the city. The old senate was dissolved by decree of the Voice and many senators executed for alleged rebellion; the new are appointees of the temple, and sit by its grace. The word of the Voice of the Lady, a priestess who speaks for the reclusive goddess of the deep well, is law, enforced by temple guard, and, with perhaps less dedication, the old street guard of the city. Above both these are the Red Masks, an order of veiled or masked mute soldier-priests who are a mystery even to the regular priesthood, by the Lady’s grace invulnerable to both weapons and wizardry, capable of spreading terror to human and animal alike by their mere presence. No wizards are permitted within the city walls; any found are taken by the Red Masks for execution in the Lady’s well. Rumour says that the Voice is senile, or insane.
The city’s origins stretch back to small settlements of desert folk around the wells and hill of the three deities, but in historical times, it has always been a trading centre, attracting the folk of many lands — mountain, desert, the Malagru, and many families from Nabban far in the east. There are silver mines in the mountains to the south, a source of much of its wealth. It controls little arable land beyond the estates of the wealthy in the foothills of the mountains, but is dependent on the hillfolk of the Malagru and on trade over longer distances for its daily bread. Long, long ago, it was, for a little time, the heart of an empire now almost forgotten even in its own histories. Marakand is a bilingual city, its folk speaking both a variant of the language of the Four Deserts and a form of Nabbani comprehensible on the eastern road. Beyond the city walls lies the Suburb, nearly a second city in itself, where the law of the temple is not quite so absolute. Here lie the caravanserais where the caravans of east and west meet.