Portraits of Four Weddings.

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Salmoneus
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Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by Salmoneus » Tue 29 Aug 2017, 17:47

Since it was called to my attention that I haven't actually shown anyone anything (or, lets be honest, created much of anything) about my main conworld in many, many years... I thought I'd remedy that.

But how? My setting is old and established enough to be huge, in terms of what I know the outline of, but neglected enough to be small and thin in terms of what I can actually talk about at length with any fixity.

So I had the idea of framing some semi-random content around four vignettes - more "excuses for infodumping" than real stories, I'm afraid, but perhaps they'll give some idea of the character of the places. Why four? One for each of the main 'POV', 'advanced' cultures that are most established (and most important, at least on this continent). And I decided to go with the theme of weddings: they're important, they're almost universal, and they display all sorts of cultural elements.

So.

Do, of course, feel free to ask questions, make comments, etc.

We'll start with a wedding in the city of Handor. Don't worry, this will probably be the longest by far of the four vignettes.

------------------

Handor

It is snowing on the city of Handor – but only lightly, as an afterthought. The snow on the ground and on the steep-angled shingled roofs is for the most part the debris of the last big blizzard, a week ago. Handor is a long way from the sea, so it’s spared the worst of the winter storms – the wooden walkways hammered into the sides of the houses are in most places only three or four feet high.

Most of the city is low – one or two storeys and a sizeable loft – and the city sprawls irregularly from the hills to the lake (a lake the size of a small sea), its mass pocketed with little pasturelands, old common areas nobody has the right to build on. Many houses have small, high windows poking out from the shingles, and the richer one have little cupolas above – quiet, empty rooms for private contemplation, as the Handorians are great believers in the necessity of alone time. Above the houses spike dozens of little towers – clock towers, bell towers. Civilisation is where you can always tell the time. A few other buildings poke above the skyline too, many decorated with their own miniature spires and stone pylons. One of the largest buildings is the Parliament; the others, more important, are the salons. Largest of all is the Grand Concordat Salon – but we are a couple of streets away from there, in a more (externally) modest, quieter building. This is the Salon of the Lady of the Seven Birds, and its walls drip with silks and cloth-of-gold. Tonight the whole of the salon is occupied by the wedding reception of Sakotl Rivanait sul-Carasatloc and Sakanga Täimant Rhapsutit ta-Arausoc.

The wedding itself was a simple affair: the happy couple and their respective fathers signed the appropriate forms at a local hall of records, suitably notarised by a local bureaucrat, himself appropriately delegated with the authority of the relevent princes. Then Sakotl went and got her tattoo.

It should be explained that the people of Handor are not one people – not in a sense, at least. They are representatives of perhas a hundred tribes, spread over an area the size of western Europe, each with its own ruling Prince and Council of Elders. Citizens of each tribe wear its symbol as a tattoo, and for most, in the countryside, that is that; in the cities, however, and above all here in the capital, inter-tribal marriages are common, and so the wives often need to be appropriately re-tattood with their new allegiances. In this case, Sakotl is from the Carasatloc, a sept of the local (and dominant) Scandoc – indeed, as her name suggests, she’s a carl of the Carasatloc, minor gentry. This doesn’t help her much – the Carasatloc territory is small, and her connections to its royal family are centuries past. If she were from a truly dignified family, she wouldn’t be in the city, she’d be at the court of the Prince (Princes shun the big cities with their smells and their trade guilds, and prefer their own country palaces, around which have grown sizeable towns – including, of course, their own salons, since even a Prince is not so gauche or shameless as to invite guests into his own home). If she were rich, she wouldn’t be marrying beneath her. Täimant is from the trade class, scion of a family who own, in theory, a string of flour mills, and he is paying a substantial bride price to Sakotl’s father, Rivan. At least, his own father, Rhapsut, is. Their family isn’t local – the Arausoc are from hundreds of miles away, deep in the Repalan Zone of Control. But Rivan saw where the money was, and where the wars weren’t, and took his family to the capital.

After the wedding comes the reception, and that’s why we’re here in the salon, surrounded by bright fabrics, sweet smells, fine marquetry... and beautiful women. Travellers from beyond the West are often a little baffled by salon culture: the Westerners, they say, celebrate all their occasions, no matter how solemn or private, with a trip to the local brothel. This is, to be fair, completely accurate, but also somewhat misleading. The salon girls are, it’s true, prostitutes – and perhaps later, when the bridge and groom have left, the richer guests (and they’ll have to be rich, in this salon) will discretely step into a side-chamber with one (or more) of the girls of their choice. But that’s not why they’re here now. That won’t happen until after most of the female guests have made their excuses and left. For now, the salon is less a brothel and more a restaurant or hotel. The wedding guests lounge about the main hall, enjoying fineries they would never see at home, eating the finest cuisine in the city (the staple crop in the west is a sort of mild, floury onion, so experiencing more exciting food is a priority for everybody), as the salon girls play lyres, sing, juggle, tumble... and converse. Later will come the highlight of the evening: the Lady herself will deliver one of her famous discourses comparing economic theory with the latest experiments on the sequestration of airs. Nobody, of course, is particularly interested in either chemistry or economics – not, at least, at the level of nations, the level that concerns the Lady – but it is very fashionable to give the impression of being so.

Täimant, Rivan, Rhapsut and the other men – at least, the more respectable men of the party – will not directly converse with the Lady, just as they are saying little to the salon girls now, beyond pleasantries, and snippets of half-remembered poetry they heard at another salon party. Largely the girls debate amongst themselves, mixing erudition with wit, with occasional questions from the wives and daughters of the gentlemen. The men, in theory, listen, and in practice watch. In a summer wedding they’d have more to look at, but this is Handor, and here even titillation has to take a back seat to thermal precautions, even in the warm salon chamber (heated miraculously through the walls and floor, with no smoke!), and the girls are fashionably but discreetly dressed. [A summer wedding would make much more sense – that’s why, since time immemorial, prestigious weddings take place in the winter. Any fool can lay on a feast at harvest time, but only great men would think to do so in the snows!]

The passivity of the male audience is no accident: Täimant isn’t a nobleman, or even a carl like his wife, but like most of the wealthy middle classes he apes their manners, and great men do not chatter. Great men do not debate, or ponder; they are not eager for profit, or anxious about loss. The great man, it is said (by a salon girl, originally) observes like the mountain, and acts like the avalanche. There are no gods in Handor – none that a man like Täimant would admit to believing in, at least – but there is always the earth, the great world spirit, that works its way with such immensity and timelessness that it is inscrutable to man. All people and all things are a part of the world spirit, and can do nothing but act as it decrees that they shall act: through the winds and the tides and the blood in their veins, it moves men as men move their fingers. Serenity, grace, and nobility, and hopefully material success, come from accepting, even embracing, man’s fundamental passivity – and the passivity of great men most of all, whose deeds, being of great import, are reserved and demanded with the greatest precision. The great man, therefore, acts not as himself but as the incarnation of the world, and he acts, not as his mind implores him, but as his nature moves him. The demands of the world gather within him as though his soul were a reservoir, until the dam breaks at the perfect moment and he acts, decisively, without conscious thought. That is why great men surround themselves with good conversation: it shapes their natures, so that at the critical time they will act appropriately. The same is true, of course, of women, but as the chief geopolitical function of women is to nurture a good spirit in their husbands and fathers and sons, it is necessary for them to take a more active role in the conversations.

As a result of all this, Rhapsut does not actually manage his flour mills – he did, when he was younger, but now that he’s achieved success he merely... reigns over them. Less fortunate men are concerned with the details, and he gestures – decisively, with economy – the general strategic direction in which the world spirit tells him that he ought to act. However, since he’s not actually a Prince, he’s invited several of his foremen to his son’s wedding – he needs to keep their affection and loyalty, and besides, other than his being more blessed by fate, they’re all basically equal, aren’t they? Weddings are a time for magnanimity, particularly, as at the Salon of the Lady of the Seven Birds, when it can be impressive magnanimity.

The one man who is listening intently to the conversation – at least whenever it turns to finance or to economics – is the one man everyone else is ignoring. He’s an older gentleman with a strangely long, grey beard, and on the richly padded seat to his left (nobody wanted to sit there) is his bizarre hat, a foot tall and in the shape of a tall square pyramid with several balconies from which knots of cloth dangle. Like his beard, and his odd robe, the hat marks him as Hasuar, the largest of the peripatetic tribes of the region (remnants of an old pastoralist invasion). The Hasuar, with their nomadic life and their fascinating religion of dreams, are regarded as exciting, romantic oddities by the native tribes – but oddities best observed from a polite distance. Beneath that distance lies another truth: this particular Hasuar, like many of his kind, doesn’t travel much these days. Like Rhapsut, he pays people to run his business for him. But where Rhapsut’s business is milling, the Hasuar’s business is business – an ostracised community of semi-migrant merchants distributed across the whole of Handoria (and some of the wider West) makes for a very profitable business network.

Something similar helps to explain the rich, though perversely masculine clothing of the woman on the Hasuar’s right: she’s an invert, a woman who has declared herself... well, not a man exactly, but a dominant spirit. Westerners believe that the world is divided into dominant (mostly male) people, and submissive (mostly female) people. This woman has declared herself one of the former, rather than the latter. This is not, in itself, particularly controversial – everybody knows that physical sex is of secondary importance to the character of the spirit – but it does come with a price. She will never have legitimate children – no man of her class could marry her without declaring himself a male invert, and while she could marry a woman, that would obviously make legitimate children impossible. Most families will try to keep their womenfolk at arms length from her – while she may make a fine and loving eligible husband for, say, a barren woman (not all inverts are interested in taking wives, but many are – if nothing else, a pretty wife is a good status symbol), mothers do not want their daughters being confused into following in her footsteps, nor trapped into a marriage without children. Men, meanwhile, will likewise avoid too close a contact, lest they be seen by others as her submissive invert toys. Even contacts with her own kind tend to be prickly – women willing to make such sacrifices tend to be strong-willed, to flaunt their dominance even more than men do, and to naturally fall into competition with one another. But there is also a certain camaraderie and alliance between them, and, like the Hasuar, female inverts are often wealthier than their class would otherwise suggest, as they often pursue status in the business realm, and without the responsibilities and distractions of a family. She sits next to the Hasuar because outsiders need to band together, and she listens to the salon girls because she might learn something to her advantage.
[There are also, of course, invert men. Indeed, among the salon girls here there is a token boy or two. There’s nothing wrong in the male guests ogling them – but only the most self-confident or powerful would be seen taking one of them aside. When a man is alone with an invert in intimate circumstances, how can his peers know for certain who is penetrating whom? It’s not unknown for invert males to conceal themselves, and to induce normal males, or invert males, to play submissive in public for them, but to take charge in private. (Dominance is a complex philosophical concept in theory; in practice, it largely equates to sexual penetration). There is of course nothing shameful in a man being an invert – the only shame is in hiding it. But for some reason many invert males seem not to wish to embrace their ‘natural’ position as dutiful wives and (more often) mistresses and prostitutes, leading to disgraceful deceptions.]

Both the outsiders are here as representatives of the real rulers of the country’s economy – the syndicates. Over the last century, the merchants of the major Western cities, particularly Handor, have banded together into alliances, syndicates, to better finance promising ventures, through a range of increasingly sophisticated contractual vehicles, many of them first devised in salons like these (actual merchants are too busy buying and selling to devote much thought to financial theory and legal novelties – the most exclusive salon girls, on the other hand, have most of the day to themselves, and extensive libraries, and are important advisors to the merchant class both in particulars (the Lady is available for consultations for a reasonable fee) and in matters of general theory). Anybody can be part of the syndicates – Rhapsut and Rivan both hold some joint venture stock themselves – and most members are simply ordinary people, but outsider groups like the Hasuar and the inverts, and foreigners, and indeed salon girls (who have operated as effectively joint stock companies for centuries) do hold a disproportionate power in that sphere. In a sense, given Rhapsut’s extensive debts, it’s these people who really own “his” flour mills, and that’s why he’s invited a bunch of them to his son’s wedding, including two people he wouldn’t otherwise talk to socially. Of course, in another sense the syndicate class really own very little at all – while a few great traders have risen to astonishing wealth, the overwhelming part of the money in the bourse is really property of the Princes. Handorian syndicates may underwrite ventures across the continent, and, indirectly, in the far-off Rhovarian colonies, but wellspring of that capital is the vast tracts of farmland and forest ruled by the Princes. Handoria is a vast and underpopulated country, and even its greatest cities are small – mere towns, in the eyes of travellers from beyond the West, of only tens of thousands – and the economy remains largely agricultural. There is no private ownership of land in the West – all land belongs to the tribe, and the tribe belongs to the Prince.

The Prince, of course, has his duties, and so does everybody else. They’re all the same duties, in a way. There is only one law in the West: the Eightfold Law of the Monument of the Elder Way. People may not read the Monument these days – few people can read at all, particularly among the upper classes (that’s what scribes and salon girls are for), but the Law is recognised almost everywhere as fundamental. The Law is simply a description of an individuals’ duties: to one’s children and dependents, to one’s parents and ancestors, to one’s village, to one’s tribe, to one’s authorities, to one’s kin, to one’s patrons, and to one’s own word (in the form of binding contracts). There are no other laws – the task of the tribal elders, and the national parliament, is to judge how those eight obligations weigh in each individual case. Marriage is an important and solemn act precisely because it changes obligations: Täimant is now obliged to protect Sakotl, while Sakotl is obliged to obey Täimant, her authority. Yet Sakotl is still obliged to honour Rivan, her father, and the will of her ancestors that acts (if Rivan is acting properly) through Rivan, and she is obliged to protect her children, including those not yet born. Rivan meanwhile is obliged now to work for the advantage of both Täimant and Rhapsut, and Rhapsut for Rivan, as marriage has made them kin, and Täimant must respect Rivan as a patron, and both must respect the terms of the bride price contract. Sakotl, however, no longer has to submit to her old tribe, and hence the dictates of her old Prince, though Rivan still does; instead, she must now submit to her new tribe, the Arausoc . This last is unlikely to be a major issue for her, given that the Arausoc lands and prince are hundreds of miles away, but there are theoretical consequences: if she were charged with a major violation of the law, it would be the Arausoc authorities who would judge her (or, at least, would be able to chose to do so; due to her class as a carl, she could probably insist upon it). It is a complicated system of competing obligations that leads to many prosecutions, and immense difficulties in time of war; it’s also a part of why groups like the Hasuar and the inverts, who in different ways stand apart from some of these obligations, are able to be so succesful.

Marriage also makes Sakotl a lawful authority for Täimant’s peons – though her submissive female nature inevitably means she shouldn’t want to boss them around too much, lest people start thinking she was an invert, which could potentially humiliate her husband. Peonage is an institution peculiar to the West – effectively a form of inheritable indenture. Unlike true slaves, peons are bound only for a fixed term of years, generally in payment of a debt or punishment for a crime (though the creditor/victim may sell the peonage to a third party). In this case – as is commonly the case in the city – these peons have sold themselves into indenture for a future payment, effectively funding their move from the countryside to the capital and their establishment in some trade. Several have been invited to the wedding feast – they may be servants today, but they will become potentially profitable associates in a few years.

Täimant is a popular man in his ward, and down the street, in the Grand Concordat, employees, well-wishers, and the less prestigious class of neighbour are celebrating their own, less elaborate and more raucous wedding feast, paid for by the proud fathers of the couple. Later in the evening, the solemnities will spill out into the streets – where they will be watched with a wary eye. The city watch, employed by the city corporation (a front for the various guilds and syndicates) will try to prevent any major disruptions of the peace (swords are forbidden on pain of death, but knives, staves, whips, and fists and feet, are all frequently employed to lawless ends), but there are greater dangers here than mere violence. In Handor, congregations of inebriated men sooner or later turn to one thing: politics. And politics is dangerous. Handor is a capital city, but it has not ruled its own country for a hundred years, not since the abolition of the monarchy and the imposition of the Concordat (the Grand Concordat Salon used to be the Grand Royal). The Concordat carved up Handoria into five parts, each governed, for its own protection, by a different, victorious, foreign power. The nation that has twice ruled the continent has now been subjugated by its former subjects. Handor sits in the Capital Zone, a sort of neutral area governed by the three largest occupying powers in concert: the Repalans from the north, the semi-barbarian Varags from the east, and the League of Iron (itself a fractious confederation) from the south. A surfeit of rulers makes for a dearth of authority: impasse between the three ‘Ambassadors’ has left the local authorities the de facto rulers – within the Capital Zone, the Parliament is rarely challenged, though in the wider country its authority is largely symbolic only.

Rebellion is in the air. At the Salon of the Lady of the Seven Birds, the salon girls wink at it, and the wedding guests delicately gauge their laughter – they know the girls will report anyone who seems too enthusiastic (you don’t operate an establishment like this by inviting raids), but they also know their comrades will shun anyone who seems to lack patriotism. At the Grand Concordat, the mood is more subdued – they don’t have to worry about the girls there, because half the guests loitering in the immense arcades are spies. Perhaps later in the evening there will be a dramatic performance: salons double as theatres, and theatre doubles as sedition, with coded satire (and bawdy humour) the most popular genre. It’s best not to laugh too loudly, though, when you don’t know who’s watching. The occupying powers can’t imprison or torture everybody they suspect – because that’s everybody – but nobody wants to move their name too far up the list next time the authorities are looking for scapegoats. Not that rebellion is an immediate threat. The great uprising has been imminent for a century now, and the few attempts have been quickly quashed. The only rebels most people see are petty bandits – they claim to be royalists so as to gain the favour of the peasantry, and the occupying forces agree with the name, in order to associate rebellion with crime. It’s not even clear what the rebellion would be in favour of – the King in the mountains? The King beyond the sea? Who needs a king when there’s a Parliament? And who should be in Parliament? No, the real threat the powers fear is each other. There have been three major wars in the last century, and the great river that snakes down from Handor to the sea doubles as the front line in a permanent cold war between Repala and the League. Rebels are a source of worry not per se, but as potential fifth columnists in the coming war. There is always a coming war – which may be why men like Rhapsut are so willing to spend their money on lavish wedding entertainments. Eat, drink, and be merry...

When Täimant and Sakotl arrive at their new home (Rhapsut is wealthy enough to buy a very narrow house for his son immediately, though many newlyweds have to live with the groom’s father for a few years), they find an arrangement of idols and offerings left by well-wishers, lightly dusted in snow. Täimant may not believe in gods, but many of the common people do – house gods, tribal gods, personal gods, immigrant gods, and thousand and one different gods, and other gods without names – and Täimant brings the offerings inside respectfully. Gods, after all, are only the unsophisticated man’s way of understanding the world spirit, and disrespect to one is disrespect to the other. Besides, everybody prays from time to time.

Soon, Sakanga Täimant and Sakotl repair upstairs to their conubial bedchamber, which doubles as a wood-panelled sitting room – their bed, like all Handorian beds, is hidden in one wall, behind a sliding panel, on a base on warm bricks. This is another privilege of wealth: being alone in their own house, they have their bed to themselves. Until now, each has been used to sleeping in their parents’ bed – Handorian ‘beds’ are really miniature, padded rooms in their own right, capable of sleeping at least half a dozen comfortably. Nobody in this city sneaks out of bed without their parents knowing, because the adults sleep by the entrance. Other newlyweds must, as it were, seize their moments in the daylight, when the bed is otherwise unoccupied. This couple have the bed to themselves all night. They undress, enter, and slide the panel shut behind them. At which point, out of respect for their sense of decorum, we shall leave them.
Last edited by Salmoneus on Wed 30 Aug 2017, 15:54, edited 1 time in total.
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elemtilas
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by elemtilas » Wed 30 Aug 2017, 02:00

Salmoneus wrote:Since it was called to my attention that I haven't actually shown anyone anything (or, lets be honest, created much of anything) about my main conworld... I thought I'd remedy that.
Now thìs is more like it! You may say it's not a story, but not all stories involve mundane things like plots and character arcs and dialogue. You may say it's an infodump, but it really is not that either. This, Salmoneus, was opening the gates to a wonder world and letting us experience it, allowing us to breathe the crisp air of your creative domains at a time of festivity, graciously showing us around the place.

Thank you for this.

And I for one hope we will see more of this place and more of this kind of exposition!
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If we stuff the whole chicken back into the egg, will all our problems go away? --- Wandalf of Angera
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by Lambuzhao » Wed 30 Aug 2017, 10:36

Besides, everybody prays from time to time.
Ol eigdlan!
True dat!
Handorian beds…
[+1]
Takes me back to Piura :per:. Mi novia and I had a bed made by a wood-carver. Really really fine worksmanship. And that bed was HUGE! And we made it with a canopium to keep out the zancudos; now, those are the kinds of 'gadflies' nobody needs.
Sometimes I miss that bed. It was like a castle. [xP] [:3]
… connubial… newlywed…
*Heia, pues* [:'(] **sniff sniff** [;)]

elemtilas wrote:Now thìs is more like it!
Hear, all ye good people, hear what this brilliant and eloquent Sal has to say!
i.e. Moar plz
Salmoneus
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by Salmoneus » Wed 30 Aug 2017, 16:06

Maqtis

The temple is, most of the time, an empty span of flagstones, a rectangle, caged with pillars, but open to the air above. In other countries, devotion to the gods may mean the creation of an edifice; in Maqtis, the highest devotion that can be demanded is a space where nothing is built. Today, however, it is not empty – far from it. One end of the space is blocked off by a wooden rail; curious strangers look down from the windows of the houses beyond, and above their brick walls and tiled roofs the bridge and groom can just about make out the summit of Mameqta, the volcano, the sleeping mother of the island. In the empty space, priests conduct their ceremonies: a complicated business of coins and flames and snakes and dead chickens that nobody pays much attention to. At the rail, naked, the bridge and groom look on, their minds elsewhere. They’re a wealthy couple, and these are modern times, so the pair stand alone in a little cage of railings – it’s the only way to get the crowd to give them space. The men and women around them howl and yoller, some praising the gods, some praising the couple, some shouting lewd suggestions. On the three less sacred sides of the temple ground, naked prostitutes lean over balconeys. These aren’t temple prostitutes – this isn’t an important enough temple for them – but the trade has long since learned that temples draw crowds, and crowds are good for business. Besides, it’s where the law is most likely to shelter them from gangs and brigands.

The day is hot, because this is Maqtis: the summers are hot and as dry as chalk, and the winters are warm and sprinkled with sea rains. In truth, it never gets too unbearable here – Maqtis is a small island, barely large enough to hold a city and some outlying villas – and the sea protects them from true desert conditions; but the dry orange dust and the perfectly blue and empty sky, broken only by the shadow of Mameqta, make even the occasional cool day feel like it ought to be the inside of an oven. It’s late summer now, harvest time. That’s when food - and hence everything in life - is cheapest, and only a fool turns down a financial saving.

We are here to watch the wedding of Naruqmal and Sanvun. Nobody who is anybody here has a surname – either people know you or they don’t. Naruqmal is in her forties, but she’s still a striking woman, and her skin has not been prematurely aged by sunlight. Sanvun is in his early twenties, with weathered skin and calloused palms. They haven’t known each other very long, but both look proud. Anywhere else, this might be an unusual pairing; on Maqtis, it’s commonplace.

Neither of them actually live around here. Sanvun lives in a communal barracks down by the docks where he works; Naruqmal has a pleasant little townhouse in a much better part of the city. But Naruqmal’s grandfather lived a few streets away from here. We might say, though: it’s not nostalgia that led them to this particular temple, but politics. But that would be misleading: on Maqtis, nostalgia is politics. Everything here is politics. Politics means that the prostitutes on the balconeys are offering discounts to the wedding guests. Politics means that the wedding guests are wearing tabards with Sanvun’s name and symbol (a harakta bird) on them. Politics means that most of the 'guests' have never met either of the pair – their friends and family have largely stayed away from the raucous, potentially dangerous crowd, and the four fifths of the mob are random strangers who saw something interesting happening and joined in. The other fifth, thanks to politics, are paid enthusiasts, who have been whipping up a mob since dawn and fill any momentary silence with professionally excited yells.

Or maybe that’s all business, not politics. But then again, maybe that’s the same thing. On Maqtis, everything is politics – and politics is a business.

Romance on Maqtis is a simple affair. Two mutually attractive people discover one another, and attempt to force the other to fall in love with them, through the application of the six persuasions: in order of increasing power (and traditional courtship techniques), these are music, cookery, seduction through sensual movements, palace architecture, rhetoric, and massage. An admirable Maqtean is neither easily persuaded (that is weakness), nor impervious to it (that is callous insensitivity), but is rather transported into awe until their resilience is overcome and they fall madly in love (which is the less interesting part of the process). The winner in a courtship (in Maqtis, everything has a winner) is the one who avoids falling in love, while forcing his target to do so. The lovestruck partner then offers money to buy a marriage.

Of course, in practice things are not always so romantic. Naruqmal, when she was only a girl of humble origins, was spotted for her beauty by the agents of a wealthy merchant twice her age. He wasn’t particularly skilled at music, cookery, seductive movements, rhetoric, or massage, but she duly declared herself defeated in courtship and offered a sizeable payment for the honour of marrying him – using a loan he himself provided. It’s not exactly a humiliation to be lovestruck, in itself (some charismatic people have even turned this into an angle for their careers), but generally one’s political prospects are better if one is always the victor (the aqtan), and never the vanquished (the rintul).
[This is also why, despite prostitution being legal and moral, it is taboo for the better classes to partake: a great man (or woman) having to beg and pay for sex is humiliating. Prostitution for the rich tends to be either secretive or, more commonly, indirect, with payment through political and social advancement rather than cash (indeed, the lines between prostitution, concubinage, and a respectable marriage are far from clear). Of course, among the general populace, there are many people lonely enough to be willing to endure a little humiliation for some good company from time to time...]

Naruqmal, unusually, had a son by her first husband, who was most likely his (their pre-nup specified, as is usual, that she was only to commit adultery at her least fertile times); when she turned forty, he left her for a younger woman, taking the boy, as their contract demanded. Naruqmal, however, had over the course of their marriage risen from the street to a sumptious lifestyle, and is passing on the favour by marrying Sunvun. Sunvun is poor and without connexions, but he is pretty, strong, well-endowed physically if not financially, and has a pleasant voice. He, of course, is paying for the privilege - with her money. Naruqmal knows she will likely not be able to provide her second husband with children, but that is no great concern to either of them – they’ll both have marriages again after this. Maqtis is a nation of serial... well, not monogamy exactly, but at least serial alliances. If it’s all handled in a businesslike fashion, everyone can profit from these arrangements. Naruqmal, for instance, remains on excellent terms with her former husband, who is helping to fund this wedding. Of course, he has little choice in the matter, if he wants to retain his public dignity. Who would let personal emotions turn them from a profitable investment, when all that is at stake is a middle-aged ex-wife?

[It should be explained: most Maqtean women of wealth do not bear their own children. It’s dangerous, and it lumbers them with dependents who may reduce their prospects for a later marriage. In addition, Maqtean law demands a certain level of inheritance for all children of the body, so that families prone to fertility soon find themselves in financial troubles. If possible, then, rich women avoid pregnancy, although mistakes always happen, and a minority may even seek out the experience (and pregnant women are regarded as highly attractive). Generally, however, rich Maqteans select their heirs from among their adult luratsuqmim, the children of their slaves – the children of slaves are not slaves themselves, but are wards of their mother’s master, and may be ‘adopted’ (sold to) a new guardian before a certain age. Young adult luratsuqmu generally act as domestic servants for their guardian, before being set up in some business later in adulthood. In practice, in most families the luratsuqmim and any trueborn children are typically treated in more or less the same way, though only trueborns are guaranteed an inheritance.]

Paying for a wedding on Maqtis, however, is not a matter of feasting, or of bunting. Later, the happy couple will enjoy a quiet, pleasant but unremarkable meal at home with their families (Naruqmal’s ex-husband and his new wife, her children, her little brother and his husband; Sanvun’s parents; Sanvun’s brother, whom Naruqmal intends to seduce (brothers barely count as adultery - they always like to share, as everyone knows); all, of course, catered for by Naruqmal’s slaves) but that is all. The priests do take a little expenditure, particularly for a ceremony of this length, with so many priests, and so many gods. Maqtis has dozens of gods, if not hundreds, although many of the more obscure ones appear to exist solely as an excuse for priests to charge an additional fee at this sort of ceremony. Only a few really matter. Mameqta, of course, must be appeased, and there’s a token beseeching of Mememnkir to deliver a baby to the couple (the winged Mememnkir takes the best babies from around the world and surgically implants them into Maqtean mothers; those who fail to please her may be punished by being given monsters instead) – Naruqmal isn’t really planning in that direction, but its best to keep the winged one happy in case she decides to take her offence out on Naruqmal’s existing son. Some of the more politically important gods, like Shahendrin (lord of war and justice) and Lenko (goddess of religion) also get prominent billing.

But the real cost is this crowd, the tabards, the professional agitators, the brothel discounts, the cakes and grain that will be thrown into the air. The cost is turning this rather simple event into a major occasion for the ward – an event that people will remember.

Because Sanvun hasn’t just been chosen for his face, his strong arms, his penis, or even his attractive brother. He’s also been chosen for his voice, and the voice is everything in politics. This wedding is intended to introduce Sanvun to the local community, as an attractive and generous man of the people. This will allow him to gain attention as an orator, a namqul – one who gives public speeches in support of a public figure and their causes. To be a professional namqul is not a prestigious fate – they’re only one step above the agitators Naruqmal has hired to assemble this crowd – but with the publicity from that role, plus some patronage from above, Sanvun will likely be able to win election as muransul of the local muransufan, a ward of around two to three hundred people (this muransufan is ideal for its nondescriptness – political positions in wealthier parts of town where Naruqmal lives, or in commercially sensitive areas like the dockland area Sanvun hails from, are more more fiercely contested). A muransul is a sort of local arbitrator, who serves for one year. That service will in turn grant Sanvun respect as an ararumul, a private judge, who investigates the facts and legal precedents surrounding a case and delivers a public speech on his findings – Sanvun has no legal training, but Naruqmal can hire professionals to do the legwork for him. The fame of an ararumul is founded, in any case, less on legal prowess and more on the strength of their public rhetoric. All politics in Maqtis depends upon the will of the people – and, more particularly, on avoiding provoking it. A good ararumul, capable of building a compelling public case for or against an individual, will find themselves with many generous friends. Success will also likely mean election to the Thousand, which in turn will open up opportunities for appointment to many public offices. Sanvun probably doesn’t have the brains to be a great merchant himself – but a modest political career will offer many profitable advantages for his wife’s business.

When the wedding ceremony is concuded, the still-undressed happy couple are loaded onto a wooden litter and carried on the shoulders of the cheering crowd as it floods out of the temple ground and through the narrow streets. Naruqmal is more than a little nauseous at the jostling, and they’re both worried about falling – accidents at weddings are not unheard of – but they put on fixed expressions of serene happiness for the mob, who find it hard to respect weakness. A more high-profile wedding might attract more serious risks – supporters being pulled into the alleyways and beaten by mobs funded by rivals – but Naruqmal and Sanvun are not enough of a threat to anybody to be worth that expense. Today, all goes well, as the crowd surges like a river between high brick banks – as in much of the city, the blocks here are five or six storeys high and most of the streets are narrow. Tradition dictates that the couple will be carried to Naruqmal’s doorstep; but as that is far away, she is instead hiring a ‘nuptial lodge’, a pleasant apartment within easy (but not so easy as to risk people not noticing their procession!) reach of the temple, which may be treated temporarily as their home for ritual purposes. There, they will have sex and light refreshment, before getting dressed (or as dressed as anyone gets on Maqtis) and heading home. There, they will (with or without company) sleep in separate beds, under warm blankets – it can get more than a little cold at night.
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by alynnidalar » Wed 30 Aug 2017, 16:53

This is a great idea and I'm really enjoying it! The two are strikingly different, in good ways.

I'm curious if the relationship between these different locations will come out in any of these vignettes, or if they take place too far apart for that.
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by DesEsseintes » Wed 30 Aug 2017, 16:58

It worked! [:D]

I like your writing very much indeed, Salmoneus. I wanted to ask some questions about Handor, but there was so much information in the first vignette that I hadn't had time to digest it when the second vignette appeared. I may try to post some questions in the next couple of days.

I'm looking forward to more.
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by Salmoneus » Fri 01 Sep 2017, 22:04

DesEsseintes wrote:It worked! [:D]

I like your writing very much indeed, Salmoneus. I wanted to ask some questions about Handor, but there was so much information in the first vignette that I hadn't had time to digest it when the second vignette appeared. I may try to post some questions in the next couple of days.

I'm looking forward to more.
Well, do feel free to ask; things will be a bit disrupted for me over the weekend and the following week, which may delay posting the next two parts, but may or may not delay question-answering.
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by Salmoneus » Tue 12 Sep 2017, 22:33

If anyone's still interested...


---------------

Vajhoros

There is, as always, not a cloud in the sky. Rainstorms are known in Vajhoros, and the occasional winter snowstorm, but for the most part the only moisture is from fog and mist and morning and evenin drizzle. It is autumn, an auspicious time for a wedding: the work of the harvest is over, and the newlyweds will be able to get settled in before winter, hoping for a summer child. And the air in the mornings and evenings is damp now; and sometimes it rains.

Lassio udn Humrab vas Arakilod hopes that it will rain. Rain, in Vajhoros, brings fertility. Rain is an aphrodisiac.

Rekteb mun Tsantias hopes that it will not rain. He’s not against the idea of fertility, but he’s a practical man, and this is a hired robe.

The city of Vajhoros sprawls, seemingly endlessly, across the hills, straddling the river. Beyond the hills, the plain is dry and only the rivers bring life – at least until you reach the woodlands near the sea. The houses are built out of stone – not so much a sign of wealth as of a poverty of resources. Trees don’t grow well here, other than the hard, enduring seed-trees that feed this outsized population. There are few soft clays for brick in the hills, so stone it is, typically grey. The defining pattern of settlement here is the talndruv, the communal ring-building, apartments ranged around a common internal courtyard. The richer examples are circular, and the older examples show their origin as defensive fortifications, with their windows all looking inward; but most of the city is a ceaseless grid of rectangular blocks giving way only to the demands of the terrain. Wood and wrought iron and paint – red and black – add some ornamental life to the monotony. In parts, large areas of houses have clearly been razed to make room for oddly geometric parklands and plazas. We are in one such today: even the small squares of green grass and soft trees show how much water has been wasted, and brilliant white gravel, and polished flagstones, show the industry of the groundskeepers. Iron gates keep out uninvited guests; over a limstone wall, the couple can look out across the neighbouring valley, lined with homes. This isn’t their garden. This is the South Piazza of the Third Metropolitan’s Gardens, but they are so popular with a certain class of couple that they are generally just known as the Wedding Gardens.

[They are greener than most gardens in Vajhoros. Even in wetter parts of the country, the fashion in gardens runs toward flagstones, with a neat square yard of grass here, a well-tended square foot of herb there, ornamental stonework and metalwork, and some dry dirt for children to play on]

It’s a warm day for autumn – it’ll get bitterly cold in a few months – and Rekteb is feeling like an idiot. His skirt has frills and ruffles, and he is wearing three layers of robe over his tunic. He’s the only one – even his squadmates are only wearing simple robes over their plain garb. Nobody actually wants to wear this stuff anymore, but tradition is tradition, and a man has to uphold his traditions. Or the Empire’s traditions, at least. At home, Rekteb actually wears trousers, unlike most men – he’s an Absogan from the north coast, and his family upholds their customs, and their language (Rekteb speaks four languages comfortably). Although nobody in his family has actually seen the north coast in generations, perhaps centuries. Half of Vajhoros is, at some time, from somewhere else, and fiercely celebrates it at home (weekly newspapers are printed here in a dozen languages, and monthlies in a dozen more) – but in public, and particularly at weddings, nobody admits to it. Then again, Rekteb hasn’t been in his family home in a decade and a half. Not really, not for more than a visit. That’s as it should be: it’s time to start his own.

Lassio hasn’t been living with her parents either. She’s been living in her own apartment, with the woman currently chattering, nervously, at her shoulder: Krmin udn Irtud.

Krmin’s eyes – framed by her black domino mask– are green, and Lassio will miss them. Her hair, a lower-class brown, spills in curls from under a hat with a brim at least a foot wide, worn stylishly to one side, and she adjusts it in the toying breeze with a gloved hand. Tiny, rectangular metal lockets hang on chains from her sleeves and gloves, larger lockets from her belt – miniature icons of her saints. Her silk doublet and trousers accentuate her slim figure. Lassio has never really been aroused by Krmin’s body, not the way she is by Rekteb’s - though she knows it’s beautiful, the perfect combination of soft and hard. She’s never been passionately, uncontrollably, in love with the younger woman. But Krmin sees her housemate’s eyes wandering, and grins with a combination of affection and denied shyness, and Lassio sighs, and understands again what the novels talk about. She’ll miss her.

Like most young couples, Krmin and Lassio are from noticeably different classes. Krmin’s family are craftsmen risen to a comfortable life; Lassio’s are nobility fallen very slowly on less-than-entirely-soft times. Her lineage name shows her as a scion of one of the Eleven Families that built this city, and that still retain many legal privileges, such as immunity from general prosecution (and taxation) and a vote in electing the Emperor. But a lot of people have a ‘vas’ in their name these days; Lassio’s parents are wealthy, but not in luxury.
Like most girls of the educated classes, Lassio grew up on romance novels: tragedies and comedies, and tragicomedic adventures of two young women and their wild infatuation for one another. One of the girls in the books is usually like Lassio, well-bred and graceful; the other isn’t usually exactly like Krmin, Lassio must admit. They’re usually bold, strong women, daughters of blacksmiths or bowyers. Sometimes they’re impish creatures, tricksters, daughters of innkeepers or artists or tailors. Krmin’s father is a bootmaker, and bootmakers rarely feature in the novels. She has more muscle than Lassio, true, and less propriety, but she’s too shy for practical jokes, and she’s hardly likely to sweep a girl off her feet and onto a stolen horse to rescue her from steppe-pirates. If they ever got into a fight, Lassio would have to be her girlfriend’s bodyguard (like many young women in the capital in the last few decades, Lassio and Krmin both take fencing lessons, but neither would be much good in a real altercation – besides, they’re too fashionable to ever carry their swords). Perhaps that’s why they took so long to find one another. Lassio had dated four or five girls before her mother, in desparation, found Krmin, and they were dating for at least a year before they moved in together.
Lassio’s parents, needless to say, encouraged her reading habits. Nobody of any decent class would want a wife who couldn’t read, and romance novels are less likely to put confusing ideas in her head than poetry or travel-letters. And they put a girl’s eyes where they ought to be: on other girls. Nobody wants a daughter with no romance in her soul – if a teenage woman isn’t exploring... her feelings... in the safe, benign company of other women (and ideally one, discreet and loyal, other woman), then who knows where she’ll be exploring them, or with who. Foreigners, whores, perverts, nymphomaniacs and other frigid or man-chasing women feature in many of the novels, but never in a good light. Girls who get confused and find their infatuations in men are set for ruin: ruin of their hearts when the man leaves them, ruin of their coffers paying to maintain their bastard children, and ruin of their reputation and their marital prospects when society finds out. But in any case, who would want their daughter to miss out on the safe and sisterly experience of young, appropriately homosexual love? True, Lassio, like many young women, may not actually physically lust after her girlfriend – but then, as the novels make clear, that’s part of the point. Physical intimacy is confusing enough as it is: best if it’s explored in a context of love and reasoned companionship, rather than in a context of irrationalising physical lusts. And on a practical note: of course Lassio, like any young woman, needs to live on her own (who would marry a wife who had spent her whole life under the thumb of her mother?) but the city is a dangerous and intimidating place. Lassio’s parents found her a very nice little apartment in a respectable talndruv not too distant, with a family friend two floors below, but they’re relieved that their daughter has Krmin with her. The girl may not truly be the ideal physical protection for their daughter, but she’s better than nothing, and really, it’s more about her feeling safe with a companion than actual fear of attack – the city is dangerous, but not that dangerous, not for women of this class. Krmin and Lassio, meanwhile, strengthen each other through their differences in temperament and class: psychologically, but also practically. And hopefully socially, in later life – it’s never a bad thing for a merchant’s wife to know a good bootmaker.

Because now the great love affair is over, the way it always ends in the novel, apart from in the tragedies: Lassio is indeed becoming a wife. Krmin can’t be far behind. They must put on the things of motherhood and wifehood now, and set aside girlish love. They will, of course, remain friends – they may even, at times of loneliness or distress, be lovers. But they must not be in love. They must not fail to recognise that that period of their lives is over: a woman who pines over another woman when she has a husband and children in the house is as set for tragedy as a girl who chases after men when the dangerous passions and inexperience of youth have not yet left her. So today is the day when Lassio and Rekteb will get married – but it’s also the day, even if there will be no formal ceremony attached – when Lassio and Krmin will get divorced.
Any moment now. Any minute now. Within the hour, at least. The Third Metropolitan is a very busy place in autumn, and there is a predictable unexpected delay. It will be resolved soon, and until it is, Lassio and Rekteb and their lovers and their friends will wait, in affected nonchalance, in the wedding gardens.

Rekteb, for his part, is pacing in the shadow of an acer, and trying not to look as though he is. He tries not to keep looking over at Lassio, and tries not to think about how sad she looks. He isn’t worried that she might not love him. Their courtship may have been brief, but he knows they’re in love as passionately and responsibly as two people in their thirties ought to be, and their courtship conversations – all taking place under Krmin’s watchful eye, of course – have reassured him that they will largely see eye on eye on most topics, theoretical and practical. But this transition won’t be easy for either of them. He likes Krmin. He really likes her. For a while, thanks to Lassio’s polite reticence, it almost seemed as though he was courting Krmin rather than her. [Lassio would tell him that this is a common scenario in the novels. It can be terribly romantic – or the grounds for betrayal and tragedy, depending on the genre.] He’s come to think of Krmin almost as a sister – he likes her sense of fun, and the fact she wasn’t too stern in enforcing respectability on the courting couple – but he’s also jealous of her, and worried that she might not let Lassio go. She wouldn’t mean to... but it can happen so easily, and it’s not as though Rekteb really knows how to handle marriage, in any respect. He’s been trying to get Krmin interested in one of the linemen in his platoon – a fine man, not the prettiest, but solid in a fight, and a romantic at heart, someone who could be a firm but appreciative anchor for Krmin’s vivaciousness. It’s a favour to her, of course – that’s how these marriages often work – but it would also make his life easier, he knows, if she could be distracted by a courtship of her own right now...

Around him, his squadmates – including Krmin’s prospective suitor – are putting on smiles and pretending to be calm, but it’s a hard day for them, too. They’re not used to places like the Wedding Gardens. Even those of better birth, who might have been in parks like this in their youth... well, a decade, or a decade and a half for some, of barracks life and fortresses leaves a man feeling out of place surrounded by softness. On days like this, Vajhoros can seem like a very soft city, with its watered grass and polished stones, its ornate ironwork and its ladies in their ridiculous hats and delicate dominos (Lassio isn’t wearing her domino today – it’s fashionable, but it’s not conservative enough for ceremonial events; that’s also why she’s wearing a dress instead of trousers, and a simple white silk cap in place of the hat). But Rekteb and his friends have seen the Empire that feeds this city, and for the most part it is dry, and hard, and bitterly cold at night.

He spent his first tour marching between fortresses on the western steppe, thousands of miles to the west, at the edge of civilisation. In theory they were there to guard the Empire from barbarian intrusions; in practice, the barbarians were most often the local horselord aristocracy. There has never been a serious organised rebellion among the Moburn tribes – but neither has there ever been any organised obedience. The tribes are too busy raiding each other’s antelope, revenging this or that murder, burning the occasional peasant farmer out of their home, to stoop to organising anything. The army mostly limits itself to keeping the horsemen from attacking the trade caravans, and preparing to subdue the next bi vendetta. He spent his second tour in coastal Seravos – civilised, prosperous, decadent, and far enough west from the capital to think they can act as they please. Seravos used to see itself as an alternative centre of power and cultural prestige – now it tries to out-Vajhoros Vajhoros, and it’s soaked in dangerous ideas, brought in on the trade ships from the Là and Maqtis and the West. There may few armed bands in Seravos, but between footpads, jealous husbands, jilted wives (Seravos women carry their daggers openly), and the machinations of confidence men and local politicians (if there is any difference), the Old Shores are more dangerous for a soldier than the steppe.
And then there was his third tour, high on the plateau of Karsh, near the southern border, where the few drops of mist that might gather in the heat of the evening will turn to ice at night, and lizards catch fire in the noonday sun. In Karsh, the natives paint the rocks with words – not for poetry, nor for politics, but to store their souls in the stones. And the rock-shamans are the sensible ones, by the standards of Karsh. A furnace, thin air, and little to eat other than some very peculiar herbs makes for a peculiar race, and for soldiers agonised by boredom.

Fifteen years in the army; three abominable postings. Rekteb has seen the Empire, and it’s very cold at night. Perhaps that’s why he’s so close to his squadmates. Army units are broken up periodically and re-assigned – Vajhoros operates by far the largest army in the world, and exerts much of its effort in preventing it from organising a coup – but squads are usually moved as one, and Rekteb has known most of these men for more than half his life. When young rogue horsemen ambushed his platoon hoping for Imperial ears as courtship gifts for their beloveds, these men held the pikes that held them off, and fired the crossbows that drove them back. When a customs house dispute in Seravos grew into a minor riot, these men stood their ground beside him, shield to shield. When a pair of travellers he met in the high desert turned out to be Khtjests extremists and stabbed him in the gut, these men dragged him home and nursed him back to health. When he fell from a mountain path in the centre of the Empire, knocked himself unconscious and slipped into a river, these men leapt in after him, and carried him to safety, and when his clothes were still wet when the long winter night descended, they stripped him, and warmed him with their own bodies. There was a lot of warming with bodies in the army. He and his squadmates had huddled together for warmth on antelope skins in dilapidated western forts; they’d sampled the exotic practices of Seravos in rented silk sheets; they’d one at it like rabbits for sheer fuckin boredom in the barren hills of Karsh. Their commanding officers had always encouraged it. There’s nothing better than recreational buggery to keep impressionable young recruits from the dangers women pose to army life – curious nomad girls with furious brothers, cunning port whores with light fingers and manipulating eyes, and everywhere the young and earnest virgins with perilous fertility and appeals to decency and extended families eager to take their share of the Emperor’s treasury. The army does its best to keep women out of eyesight as much as possible, and fornication between soldiers is the best way to keep the troops sober, respectable, and focused on the task in hand. But it’s more than that. Soldiers always fight best, everybody knows, when they have something to fight for. An empire is a fine thin, and fine words of law and order and a soldier’s duty, but they can seem very far away on the battlefield. Defending the lives of your friends is a more pressing motivation for heroism – and defending the lives of your lovers is the sharpest spur of all. Soldiers don’t, in general read romance novels, and they don’t talk about the things that women talk about – the fluttering hearts, the heavy breathing, the swooning adoration of the beloved, the fierce gazing of eyes; their love is promoted by stiff lectures on fidelity and brotherhood, and loose badinage and jokes and dares in the communal living chambers. But Rekteb knows as much about young love as Lassio does, in his own rarely-spoken-of way.

Rekteb and Lassio are both experienced lovers. Their wedding night, however, will involve some rather unfamiliar anatomy for both parties. That’s how it usually is for the better parts of Vajhoran society – while not all men spend their time in the army, those who stay at home generally imitate the military life to varying degrees, through such things as jobs at court, religious brotherhoods, apprenticeships (which are typically served through centralised guild boarding schools), trade or professional partnerships, neighbourhood farming associations and so forth. These military and pseudo-military lifestyles are believed to give young men discipline and a love of honour – not to mention getting the boys off the streets and away from girls and other temptations. A man in his twenties who is not leading an ascetic, communal life of some sort is generally considered a social parasite, and probably depraved and a danger (whether physical or social) to respectable women.

A bell rings to signal the availability of the Metropolitan, and, casually, the guests end their conversations, give back their drinks to the servants, and saunter into the imposing structure, the more pious among them touching the cases of their ikons as they do so. The Metropolitan is a cavernous building, an immense nave culminating in an improbable dome at the far end: the only light in the building is from the open oculus of the dome, and the eyes of the guests struggle to adjust to the darkness, drawn to the far ray of light, in which the lector stands. There are shallow troughs of water around the room, and the combination of (mild) humidity and darkness does indeed call to mind a cave. It’s hard not to feel a little awe in a place like this. Rekteb and Lassio move to the front, alone, in full sight of all, before the lector, who – in a rather bored and ritualistic tone – says a few words about their inadequacy and unimportance, the need to quash all pride and vanity, and the transitory nature of this alliance, which will likely not endure into the couple’s next incarnations, and thus the importance of falling in love not with the individual (who will be lost forever), but with what is universal within them.

It’s not exactly inspiring, but then that’s intentional: the last thing young people need is more inspiration. What they need is a good bit of sense talked into them!

That sense aquired, the couple and their guests will at once seek to lose it again by heading to the hall Rekteb’s parents have hired for the occasion, for the wedding feast. It won’t be a huge event: just a couple of dozen guests, and no more than six courses. Then it’s off to... well, their separate homes. Lassio will go back home with Krmin, and a lot of potentially awkward adjustments, as technically Lassio is a married woman now. Rekteb will head off with his parents – he’s been back living with them ever since returning to the capital. The couple will, hopefully, soon move in to a new apartment somewhere together... but it’s best not to make downpayments on a marital home until the wedding is really official, and the housing market is too competitive to plan far ahead. But that’s OK. Lassio and Rekteb are sensible adults, not hormonal, lust-driven adolescents, and they are perfectly capable of waiting a few weeks, or even months, until the right opportunity comes about. [A liaison between the pair is perfectly legal now... but it’s hardly seemly to run around arranging trysts, begging housemates and parents to spend evenings out and so forth.]

Until then, however, the long autumn nights are likely to be very cold for both of them indeed.
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by elemtilas » Wed 13 Sep 2017, 19:51

Salmoneus wrote:If anyone's still interested...
Hell yes!

Keep the appetite whetting coming!
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If we stuff the whole chicken back into the egg, will all our problems go away? --- Wandalf of Angera
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by DesEsseintes » Thu 14 Sep 2017, 14:10

This thread is amazing. The setting does indeed come across as very rich in detail and well thought out.

Are Maqtis, Handor and Vajhoros on the same continent and/or in the vicinity of the Rawang Ata speakers/La culture? Do you have maps?

My questions look kinda silly because the emphasis in your writing is clearly on the cultures and politics of your nations, but there is so much detail in your stories that it's difficult to form questions that haven't actually been answered in an easily overlooked sentence.

Anyway, I look forward to more.
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by Salmoneus » Thu 14 Sep 2017, 21:27

DesEsseintes wrote: Are Maqtis, Handor and Vajhoros on the same continent and/or in the vicinity of the Rawang Ata speakers/La culture? Do you have maps?
Well, I thought I did, but I can only find one right now, and I can't find the program to open it.
Yes, all four cultures (a Là wedding will be the fourth) are on the same continent.
If you imagine Handor being around, say, Paris, then Vajhoros is, say, Shanghai, the Là live on, say, Sri Lanka, and Maqtis is, say, Rhodes. That's only a very approximate placemate, but it gives a general idea.

My questions look kinda silly because the emphasis in your writing is clearly on the cultures and politics of your nations, but there is so much detail in your stories that it's difficult to form questions that haven't actually been answered in an easily overlooked sentence.
Well, if anything happens to occur to you, feel free to ask.
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by gestaltist » Fri 06 Oct 2017, 10:58

This thread is excellent. I have a few questions:

- what are the differences between this world and the Earth aside of the geography? Magic? Different animals? Anything else?
- what is the general technological level?
- is this a pangea or are there other, perhaps yet undiscovered, continents?
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by Salmoneus » Wed 11 Oct 2017, 22:46

Thanks for the interest.
gestaltist wrote:This thread is excellent. I have a few questions:

- what are the differences between this world and the Earth aside of the geography? Magic? Different animals? Anything else?
The approach to magic is generally that there's enough of it that it can be used in stories, but not so much of it that it actually changes the macro-picture. It looks like a magic-less world in the big picture - magic is rare, untrustworthy, and used by weird crazy people (or by sane and ordinary people in situations that make it not look like magic - so maybe, for instance, miracles really do happen in religious ceremonies here, rather than gullible people just thinking they do, but that's not readily weaponisable...).
[I've always toyed with just getting rid of magic altogether, but so far it's not been necessary].

The biology is earthlike, though not exactly as on earth. One affectation, for instance, is that the horses on this continent are actually litopterns (extinct south american llama-tapir things), and the real horses are all on another continent (this means, for instance, that cavalry is much less effective here, as the 'horses' are weaker, smaller, slower, and more cowardly). There are also, for instance, some local carnivores evolved from carnivorous pangolins (not as big a stretch as it sounds - Carnivora are the sister-clade to pangolins, and pangolins are closely related to some (on our world) really nasty groups of extinct hypercarnivores). But this doesn't really matter, except that some of those stories about baby-snatching demon-creatures in the woods are actually true.
- what is the general technological level?
My general rule of thumb is that we're somewhere around AD1600 in technology. But it varies. Handor I think already has the Leiden Jar, and will probably advance in electricity before they get around to steam. Vajhoros is particularly good at metallurgy. Maqtis has a lot of mechanical engineering.
- is this a pangea or are there other, perhaps yet undiscovered, continents?
There are other continents. People have already discovered a number of archipelagos, from whence there is considerable colonial trade in things like dyes and spices. The West (Handor and neighbours) have also discovered two smaller continents. One is home to some more primitive but still generally mediaeval states (and less civilised areas), which the colonial powers are trying to exert influence over; the other is a subarctic subcontinent where everyone's mostly stone age (but where there's also a lot of gold and silver).
In a couple of decades, increasing contact with said subcontinent will wipe out a huge percentage of the West, and quite a lot of people in the rest of the continent, when a horrible plague gets transferred.
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by gestaltist » Fri 13 Oct 2017, 08:09

Thanks Sal. Two followup questions:

1) does your world have any widely-believed "magical" event? (I'm thinking something like the resurrection of Christ in our world). Is that event actually true?
2) does anybody in your world have gunpowder and firearms? I noticed that you don't mention them anywhere and I was wondering about that.
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by Salmoneus » Sat 14 Oct 2017, 22:26

gestaltist wrote:Thanks Sal. Two followup questions:

1) does your world have any widely-believed "magical" event? (I'm thinking something like the resurrection of Christ in our world). Is that event actually true?
Not sure. There's no single world-spanning religion, for one thing. However, there are probably local traditions that do describe 'miracles'. I'm also, to be honest, a little uneasy about the idea of "actually true", in this context. I don't like the idea of imposing an absolute, objective perspective onto the world...
2) does anybody in your world have gunpowder and firearms? I noticed that you don't mention them anywhere and I was wondering about that.
Yes, all these cultures have at least some awareness of firearms - in particular, both terrestrial and naval artillery have widely been adopted over the last century and a half.

The use of handguns is more limited.

In Maqtis, matchlocks are standard issue for many troops, and snaplocks for officers. However, production size is small, and they are not a particularly military culture.

In Handor and the West, matchlocks are recognised as the future of warfare, but their use is hampered by logistics: the huge armies fielded in recent wars would require an awful lot of guns, which are considered to have no lawful purpose and hence are prohibited in peacetime; hunting bows and crossbows, on the other hand, are found everywhere, and in any case have a superior rate of fire and superior reliability (particularly given the region's rain-prone climate), relative to the primitive mass-produced matchlocks found in the West. In peacetime, matchlocks are deployed in the relatively small standing armies that keep the peace, where they are seen as brutal weapons for untrained, unskilled soldiers. In wartime, matchlocks are deployed as thin front lines to thin the enemy before the final engagement (a thankless task that does not promise a long life-expectancy - better to be an archer firing over the troops from behind!) or in denser units to focus fire against heavily-armoured elite troops (as the matchlock's one advantage, other than ease of use, is its penetration).

However, in recent times the wheellock rifle has been introduced from Maqtis and has become both a useful weapon of war (particularly for skirmishing units, which make up a large part of the army) and a status symbol for the elites - they are often elaborately ornamented. However, they are far too expensive for the general troops.

Snaplocks are also known, again from Maqtis, but they are too expensive for general use, and inferior to fine wheellocks, so are rarely found.

In general, the infantry culture in the West is still primarily one of bows and swords, in which firearms are making inexorable but slow progress.

Firearms are least developed in Vajhoros, where even the matchlock has not yet been widely implemented; pan-fired hand cannons are not very reliable, so they're not widely seen. Vajhoran military culture is conservative; it uses a huge, disciplined, professional army to crush rebels and repel barbarians, and so has never seen much value in innovations. Nonetheless, there is growing unease at the realisation that the Empire is stagnating relative to other nations, and there are some small-scale attempts at modernisation, including the import and even production of matchlocks; but the cost of this is high, the short-term usefulness limited, and the bureaucratic obstacles immense.
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by elemtilas » Sat 14 Oct 2017, 23:00

Salmoneus wrote:
gestaltist wrote:Thanks Sal. Two followup questions:

1) does your world have any widely-believed "magical" event? (I'm thinking something like the resurrection of Christ in our world). Is that event actually true?
Not sure. There's no single world-spanning religion, for one thing. However, there are probably local traditions that do describe 'miracles'. I'm also, to be honest, a little uneasy about the idea of "actually true", in this context. I don't like the idea of imposing an absolute, objective perspective onto the world...
What about this world imposing an absolute of that sort on you?

They do that sometimes. Especially when you're not looking!
In Maqtis, matchlocks are standard issue for many troops, and snaplocks for officers. However, production size is small, and they are not a particularly military culture.
Oo, very interesting! I hadn't heard of snaplocks before. Thanks much for the new word!
In Handor and the West, matchlocks are recognised as the future of warfare, but their use is hampered by logistics: the huge armies fielded in recent wars would require an awful lot of guns, which are considered to have no lawful purpose and hence are prohibited in peacetime; hunting bows and crossbows, on the other hand, are found everywhere, and in any case have a superior rate of fire and superior reliability (particularly given the region's rain-prone climate), relative to the primitive mass-produced matchlocks found in the West. In peacetime, matchlocks are deployed in the relatively small standing armies that keep the peace, where they are seen as brutal weapons for untrained, unskilled soldiers. In wartime, matchlocks are deployed as thin front lines to thin the enemy before the final engagement (a thankless task that does not promise a long life-expectancy - better to be an archer firing over the troops from behind!) or in denser units to focus fire against heavily-armoured elite troops (as the matchlock's one advantage, other than ease of use, is its penetration).
I saw a documentary recently on British armour from that period (matchlock guns). Pretty tough stuff. The peaked & doubled breast plate was essentially bullet-proof. Mind you, very expensive armour for a knight, not the sort issued to ordinary soldiers.

Those old guns weren't terribly accurate at anything more than a hundred yards or so, so it makes sense to use them for softening up the advancing ranks. Perhaps the bowmen would be engaged first, and the musketeers brought out when the enemy has advanced a bit.
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Re: Portraits of Four Weddings.

Post by gestaltist » Mon 16 Oct 2017, 11:05

Thanks for the detailed response.
Salmoneus wrote: Not sure. There's no single world-spanning religion, for one thing. However, there are probably local traditions that do describe 'miracles'. I'm also, to be honest, a little uneasy about the idea of "actually true", in this context. I don't like the idea of imposing an absolute, objective perspective onto the world...
That's an interesting perspective. I've always been prone to over-explaining my worlds so it's actually inspiring to see someone has a different take on things.

You say there's no single religion. But surely, there must be some popular ones? And they probably believe in some events that cannot be explained without the supernatural. Would you like to write a few words about them?
elemtilas wrote: What about this world imposing an absolute of that sort on you?

They do that sometimes. Especially when you're not looking!
Ah, elemtilas, the Master of the Vague. [:D] Hi.
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