Keldian Sages divide all living creatures into two kinds, the Spirit and the Clay. Creatures of Clay need the substances of the earth to live, food, water and air. Creatures of Spirit, in contrast, can live without these things, exisiting where water boils, air frezes and no crops grow. Of the many creatures on the face of Sun Keld, Spirit and Clay alike, there are a number capable of speech, such as Salamanders, Night Goblins and Keldians, but only one of these races builds cities and casts spells. It is these things that define the Keldians, the building blocks of their Eternal Empire.
A Keldian stands around two strides tall, with two legs, two arms, and a short tail. They are covered in short fur, which grows longer on the arms, where it sticks back like spines. Indeed many Keldians have real fighting spurs along their forearms. Their heads are large and long, with wide ears set in the fur, and large dark eyes that can be protected by a nicitating membrane against glare and dust. They have dark brown noses, with a short spray of whiskers on either side. Personal variation can cause the head hair to grow long, like a mane, or form tufts around the shoulders.
Most Keldian fur is reddish brown in colour. Many females bear white stripes or bands, while males have black bands in a similar pattern. The exact stripe patterns distinguish Keldians from different areas. Keldian fur needs grooming to remain neat and clean, but only lovers and mothers groom any fur but their own. The fur grows too slowly for hair styling, but accepts all sorts of dyes and pigments, with which patterns can be made.
Under the fur Keldian skin shows faint traces of scale-like markings, but is not scaly. Most Keldians have a crest of short rounded plates, like those on the back of a dinosaur, which begin on the head and run down towards the tail. These plates are made of bone thinly covered with skin, and aid in the radiation of heat. For most Keldians the crest is only just visible above the fur, though for some they and more prominant. Keldian tails are short, stuby, and do little except aid balance and help store water.
Keldians are highly resistant to heat and to dehydration. They can manage on only a few pints of water a day for weeks, or can survive without any water for up to five days without serious penalties, and as much as two weeks before death. They are more tolerant of heat than cold, finding the Light Side more comfortable than the Dark Side, though most Keldians find the Passing uncomfortable.
Keldians are strong, with high endurance. They cannot run fast for long periods but are excellent sprinters, capable of running on four legs as easily as two. Keldians climb well, and can fit through any gap they can fit their head through.
There are two sub-species of Keldians, both smaller in number than their Normal (or Suthian) relations. These are the Lix’xiti and the Steet.
Keldian Kits are born with their eyes open and a covering of soft grey or tawny fur, in litters of two to four at a time, at intervals of about a year. Single births are rare, and often regarded as portentous. Infant mortality is very high (around 50%), and it is not until a Kit has passed it's 7th birthday, when the fur darkens and the Kit becomes a Youth that the mortality rate decreases. It is not disease that inflicts this death toll, but the dangerous environment, predatory beasts and poisonous plants that cause the most harm.
By the age of 13 years a Kit has become an adult, grown into their adult fur, and taken their part in the Empire. Those with powerful Gifts (such as the ability to channel magic) will often have manifested them while still a Youth (or sometimes even a Kit), and will be taken into training in their craft as soon as possible. The Orders are always on the look out for youngsters who they can take away for training, as it is accepted that the earlier the training begins the more likely it is to be successful.
After a few years of apprenticeship the Adult Keldian will be taking a family of their own (sooner still if they have no trade to learn). It's unusual to reach the age of 17 years without having your first litter (much more common for Magi and Soldiers of course), and those who have not borne or fathered one by the age of 21 probably never will.
By the age of 40 years a Keldian's fur will have started to turn grey and white with old age. Each year past this age makes them more venerable, by the age of 50 they are a respected Elder, having outlived most of their siblings and gained multiple generations of extended family, most of whom will still live together in a communal pack. Ageing shows first in the hair of the back and the color of the whiskers. With growing years a Keldian's eyes grow milky, their posture stooped and their frame wizened. It is highly unusual for a Keldian to live past 60 years.
The Eternal Empire, founded by Nastrim the Wise, High Lord of Ur, brings almost all of Sun Keld's known lands beneath it's rule. The Eternal Empire is ruled from the four great cities: Derzak the warlike, Nistray of the Plains, Black Chald and Eternal Ur, the first city. These cities have existed in rough equilibrium for as long as records record, though legends tell of a time of great strife a long time ago when the cities made war, though against who is unclear. From this war was born a federation of five cities, who formed the so-called Eternal Empire. Each city was to rule its own lands and its own people, but to share the Dead Lands between them and to never fight against the others.
This last ideal fell when Nammu made war on Ur, hoping to take the whole valley of the One River for itself. Ur’s armies crushed presumptuous Nammu and called the Poison Forest to swallow its ruins. This was during the rule of the wise Sorcerer Nastrim, the mighty and eternal. When Nammu was defeated he proclaimed a new Empire, and a new calendar, calling it the first year of Eternity. As the Keldians count it, it is now the 1100th year of Eternity (1100E), the year of the Falling Star. Each of the other four cities have had their own periods of glory, and they constantly vie with each other for territory, prestige and resources, but Ur most of all defines the Empire as it now exists. Since the time of Nammu only the upstart city of Nagash, deep in the Dragon Mountains, has upset the balance of the Empire, and may assume it is only a matter of time before the four river cities deal with their Sunward neighbour.
Most Keldians live as part of a complex hierarchy, from lowly Slaves to ruling Mages, everyone knows their place in the Eternal Empire. This hierarchy does not exist from a sense of propriety, or duty, but instead necessity. Without the structures of the Empire, and most especially the spells of it's Magi, the world is simply too harsh to survive. Few Keldian settlements are truly self-sufficient. Those deep in the Deadlands rely on constant shipments of manpower and material to exist at all, while those in the Drylands rely on Order magic to keep the springs flowing and the storms away. The towns and cities of the Twilight lands, in turn, rely on the herds and crops of the Drylands to feed their people. Without the mines of the Dragon Mountains there is no iron (and thus no long-lasting magic), and without the outposts of the Ice Hills there is no obsidian, which is equally vital for magic. With the exception of Nagash, no major power of the Empire rules in only part of the world, the labour and resources of all parts of the cruel land are needed for survival.
The order of Social Castes within the Empire, from high to low is : Mage, Bonded-One, Clerk, Freeman, Slave.
As entrenched as this hierarchy is, it is not fixed. Any Keldian can find themselves reduced to the status of Slave, through capture in war or punishment for crimes, and an industrious Slave can earn their freedom. By accepting service in the Orders a Freeman can become a Clerk, and a Clerk who allows themselves to be magically bonded to a Mage can rise to Bonded-One rank. The Orders, in turn, accept any Keldian who can demonstrate the skill to channel magic, regardless of social class. There are only a small class of Nobles, Keldians with secure positions in the ruling classes of the cities, and their rank is based primarily on wealth and family connections. Amongst the Magi there are countless sub-orders, cults and conclaves, all vying over the finer points of status with each other. It is easier to be shamed than exalted.
Complete rules for Caste and Status can be found in the Status section.
In the Drylands, beyond the towns and villages of the Empire, great herds of Curdlu creep across the Razor Grass plains, followed by the slow wagons and beasts of the Tribesmen. These Nomads live a life apart from the Empire, ranging far beyond its borders at the whim of their herds. The tribes live apart from the Empire, rarely interacting with it's bureaucracy or Mages. Though the four cities record the various tribes in their books of taxes and tithes they rarely attempt to collect on these tributes. Instead the Tribesmen come to the Empire, gathering their herds into massive droves, and bringing them to the gates of towns, or even Nistray itself (located closest to the Drylands), to sell and trade. So long as the tribesmen get good value for their Crdlu they do not care whether the scurrying Clerks and self-important Bonded-Ones refer to some of their barter as taxes or not.
Without exception the towns and cities of the Empire are ruled by the Magi of the Red and Black Orders. Only by their magic do the settlements survive, drawing water from the earth, turning aside storms, regulating the temperature and driving away the predatory creatures of the savage land.
There are two great orders of Mages that span Keldian Society, the Red and Black Orders. In general the Red Order commands the military and civil forces. They keep order and law, and travel the lands collecting taxes. The Black Order prides itself more on learning, and is the keeper of records and transactions. The Black Order monitors all trade into and out of every settlement, authenticating it with a magical seal that other members of the Order can read.
Between them the orders provide both the magical and political structure of Keldian society. There are no Gods on Sun Keld, and little religion beyond a superstitious propitiation of nature spirits, so the Keldians instead turn their worship towards the Orders, for they believe that the Order’s make their life possible. The Magic of the Red Order protects from the heat of the sun, and from the burning dust storms that sweep across the world, while the Black Order’s spells bring water from the earth and make the crops of the Twilight lands grow. In many places a single Order Mage is the absolute ruler of a Keldian community, and all institutions, laws, and customs derive from the Mages. The Orders are ancient and bound by rituals and conventions. They write their laws in archaic scripts, dress in ritual-bound costumes, and build vast labyrinthine palaces of red stone and black obsidian.
Naturally the Mages are not common. While many Keldians have a Gift (See Character creation), but 1 in 1000 of them have the ability to become Mages. Needless to say not all of them survive the Order’s tests and spells to become real Mages.
The Orders are not benevolent. In the Keldian world a law is made and obeyed, and renegades perish quickly. Sun Keld is a harsh and cruel land that calls for harsh and cruel measures. Thus a hundred slaves go to the Fire Pits and Bloodfires of the Red Order to ensure that the cities are protected from dust and heat, and many others have their souls bound to the Black Order’s Star Iron prisons to maintain the rivers and fields. This is the price that must be paid for survival.
A Mage may hold land and property, and may rent, buy and sell it. A Mage may act as Judge to those accused of a crime, of any Status, though they will often delegate this responsibility to their own Bonded-Ones. If a Mage is accused of a crime they may demand trial before a triad of other Mages from their own Order, though a Mage of sufficiently higher Status may delegate the matter to a normal Judge.
Both Orders make use of special servants, the highest ranking members of the Keldian society other than the Mages themselves. These trusted servants are known as Bonded-Ones, because many of them have undergone the ritual of Binding (Lesser or Greater), which blesses them with magical proficiencies while allowing their Masters (the Mage who cast the binding spell) to draw on their life forces in times of extremis.
Many Bonded Ones are Mages in their own right, allying themselves to a more powerful Master in the hopes of leaping up the hierarchy of their Order. The rest are Clerks and Freemen who have gained the trust of their Masters (trust is required, a Bonded-One can hurt their own Master if they decide to betray them).
The Bonded Ones of the Red Order are mostly warriors, ready to defend their masters to death. Those of the Black Order, however, are administrators and officials, the ones who run the Mage’s courts and enforce their laws. Because they are favoured by the Mages the Bonded Ones have immense power, and often use it to terrorise and exploit the normal people. Thus they are feared by the people, for they know that the Bonded Judges have the power to confiscate their property, or have them mutilated, exiled or executed. Only Order Mages are safe from these petty tyrants, and even then the lower ranking Mages may find themselves at the mercy of corrupt Judges, especially in the wild lands.
A Bonded One may hold land and property, and may rent, buy and sell it, so long as he does not take for his own what belongs to the Mages. A Bonded One may act as Judge to those accused of a crime, and must do so if ordered by a superior. In this capacity they have the right to apply any penalty of Nastrim’s Law Code to any Clerk or Freeman. A Slave may be Judged without a trial, even if he wants one. A Bonded Judge may take a portion of any fines paid to the Orders for themselves if passing judgement.
Below the favoured Bonded Ones are the Clerks, the army of educated administrators that make the vast bureaucracies of the Black Order run. These are the Keldians who are taught the secret skills of writing, reading and counting, of keeping records of trade, births and deaths, and drawing the plans from which buildings are built and fields arranged. The Clerks are the equivalent of the noble families of Keldian Society, and indeed some Clerks amass such wealth that they take the title of Noble, and launch into mercantile endeavours. Once a Keldian has become a Clerk, by being chosen by the Orders or the Bonded Ones as suitable, they gain the rights to hold more property than a simple Freeman, to be educated and to have access to libraries of information, and to read the symbols that the Black Order imprints on all traded goods. (See the Marking spell).
As the educated class the Clerks are more common in the larger settlements. While the Bonded One ruler of a Drylands town may have a number of Clerks to do his bidding, it is very unusual to find even one in most villages. Of course this means that when a party of Mages ride through, checking on the laws, collecting taxes, or following some mission of their own, they are even more greatly respected.
A Clerk may hold property, and may rent that property to others, who will become his tenants, though he cannot own land that does not have property upon it. In addition he may lend money to others in the form of goods. A Clerk may have access to the records of the Orders according to his rank, and may authorise the marks on an item marked by the Orders. A Clerk has the right to demand trial at the hands of the Mages if he is accused of a crime, though this may be delegated to a Bonded One if the Mages so wish it.
Below those lucky enough to be Clerks are the mass of the Keldian people. They call themselves Freemen, while the higher orders call them peasants, the distinction is meaningless, they are those who are not slaves. The Freemen till the fields of the Twilight lands, they herd cattle in the burning deserts of the Drylands and work the mines of the Black and Red Orders. The Freemen comprise the artisans, the farmers, the hunters, and the herders.
Though the Freemen generally worship the distant Order Mages they seldom appreciate the rule of the Bonded Ones and the Clerks who serve them. Thus many a Freeman will attempt to avoid their laws, mostly by the crimes of smuggling, tax avoidance, and by lying about the amount of goods that they produce. There are many willing to turn a blind eye and purchase an unmarked item, some of them even Bonded Ones who see the possibility of a profit, but woe betide the man who is caught by one of those who upholds the laws of the Orders, for he may be made a slave, exiled, or even sacrificed by them.
Most Freemen live in the cities and villages of the Twilight lands, for that is where the largest concentration of Keldian population is, but many more eke out a life in the small villages and towns of the Drylands. While many Freemen are reasonably civilised, some may even have learnt to read and write, or have children who have become Clerks, the crude Tribesmen are also accounted as Freemen by the Orders.
A Freeman may gather fortune for himself, trade with other settlements and hold property. The property of a free man goes to his wife on his death, and thence to his sons, where a woman’s goes to her husband and then to her daughters. Should a mated pair have only sons or daughters then all property goes to the children of whatever sex. Should they have none then the property goes to the Orders upon their death. A freeman also has the right to give his property to another, and to demand trial at the hands of the Bonded Ones if he is accused of some crime, though this duty is almost always delegated to a Clerk.
The Slaves are the lowest class of Keldians. Most slaves belong to the Mages and the Bonded Ones, though the Clerks too may own slaves. A Freeman may not own a slave, though they may be indentured to him by someone of higher rank, and placed under his orders. A Slave has few rights, once she has been made a Slave her only hope is to somehow work off their crime or debt (depending on how they became a Slave), or to win it as a gift from their masters.
A Keldian can become a Slave in three ways, by being convicted of some crime, by failing to be able to pay a debt to some Clerk or Bonded One, or by being captured in war. In the last case the Keldian is probably a slave for life, though they may gain the effective status of a Freeman if favoured. Slaves are not necessarily treated poorly, it is an axiom that a good slave is far better than a bad advisor, and many slaves are given important positions if they have important skills. It is not unknown for a slave to be bonded to a Mage, elevating him at once to the ranks of the Bonded-Ones. Nevertheless the Empire is oiled by the blood and sweat of the countless slaves of the cities.
It is common for Slaves to wear a collar as a mark of their servitude. In most cases this is as simple as a twist of Razor Grass around the neck, or a leather ring. More prideful masters may dress their slaves in jewelled copper collars as a demonstration of their wealth and power. Because a collar is the mark of a slave, necklaces are not popular as fashion items, though pectorals (which cover the upper chest and shoulders rather than the neck) and torcs (which are not closed) are.
A Slave may not hold land or buildings, nor invest, lend or borrow money, save to work off a debt accumulated. They may be punished by a Bonded One without trial, and have no right of appeal to any other authority, for they are the property of their master. However a slave may not be executed except by an authority capable of judging the master of that Slave. The child of a Slave, however begotten, is a Freeman and inherits whatever goods their parent owns.
A few Keldians find themselves outside the rigid dividing lines of the Empire, by accident of birth or dedicated work.
The largest settlements in the Eternal Empire are the four cities (Nagash, the newest city, is significantly smaller), Nistray, Derzak, Chald and Ur. All of the Four Cities are ruled by a council of the Black and Red Orders, but the exact leadership of each city varies slightly, from Derzak’s single Sorcerer to Ur’s faceless Council of the Winds. Beneath these Mages sprawls a vast bureaucracy of Bonded Ones, which in turn commands an army of Clerks. Below the Clerks the freemen toil in the fields and in the workshops of the dark cities.
Each City has it's own section in the Cities Chapter.
Each City also holds large tracts of the Dead and Burning Lands, what are called the Scion lands. Each area of land is placed under the aegis of one Town, where a provincial Judge, (a Bonded One or Mage), rules. The main task of these governors is to monitor the taxes and tithes, and make sure that his City is not cheated of the Crdlu, Maize or Corn that is its right. In addition they command Bonded Warriors and soldiers that enforce the Law of Nastrim and the will of their masters.
The Cities do not care much for the laws of the Tribesmen, as long as the Nomads bring their herds to the Towns at the right time they do not concern themselves with what they do. The loyalty of the Towns and Villages, however, is of great importance to them, since nothing must be allowed to threaten the balance of power. It is for this reason that the Four watch the growing independence of Nagash with concern.
Although each of the Five cities has it's own layout and features they all share a common design. In the center is a Ziggurat, a many layered pyramid of stone, filled with countless chambers and surmounted by halls and buildings. Some Ziggurats have a single peak (like that of Derzak) while others (like that of Ur) have countless peaks. The Ziggurat is the heart of the Order administration, home to Mages of both Orders, storehouses, libraries, counting houses, and the shrines and offices of the countless Bonded-Ones and Clerks. Around the Ziggurat lie the other major sections of the city, the Gladiator Pits, tombs, market places, canals and Noble houses. Poorer districts ring the richer ones, running all the way to the city walls, which are massive edifices of stone and brick run through with their own networks of storehouses, baracks and prisons.
Below the cities in the hierarchy of habitations (the Eternal Empire love hierarchies) are the Towns, large and small. There are 13 principal Towns, from Deep Well Shadow in the Burning Hills at the very edge of life, to Crab Need in the darkness of the Great River. (You can find more details in Gazeteer.) each of which has it's own Aedil, and small army of bureaucrats. Smaller towns are administered from the principal ones, and then villages from the smaller towns.
The greatest concentration of Towns is in the Twilight lands, near to the Cities, but others are scattered all across the Drylands, providing central points for grain and Crdlu to be gathered, and taxes to be collected. In the Poison Forest most towns are built interspersed with the teeming Jungle life (it's hard to do otherwise), strung along the edge of a river channel, or scattered through a few acres of forest. The central part of such towns (where the Magi and Clerks live) will be defended by banks, ditches, water channels and palisades, while smaller houses are built closer to the fields. Larger towns ape the layout of the cities by having a small Ziggurat in their center, where the Orders have their base, and surrounding this with canals or ditches.
In the Drylands conditions are more difficult, and settlements tend to be compact, clinging to the shadows. Heaps of buildings are cut into the rock of valley walls, or huddle beneath the shelter of an overhang within the deepest areas of permanent shadow. It's common for parts of such towns to fall into ruin if their population falls, contracting from the outer edges (closer to the harsh desert) towards the center. It's rare for a town to be entirely abandoned, but it happens.
The principal towns hold as many as 2,500 Keldians. They are ruled over by Bonded One Aedils, with a small army of Clerks beneath them, and sometimes Order Mages too. Here is the edge of the Order’s law codes, where corrupt Bonded Ones try to claim as much taxes for themselves as they can, and where unfavoured Mages escape the watching eyes of their Order Superiors.
Smaller towns run the gamut from a thousand to less than a hundred inhabitants, sometimes smaller than the villages they are supposed to administer. It's possible for a failing lesser town to find itself relegated to the status of a village, a terrible blow for the Magi responsible for it.
Villages are are humble and hard affairs, the smallest permanent settlements in the Empire. A single village might number seven or twenty houses, and only a few closely related families. Usually some ancient Order spell sustains the community, and if it were to die the community would die with it. With everything so much at risk these Villages tend to be harsh and suspicious of strangers. They do not have the resources to spare on newcomers. Even a trader will be relived of what he has and sent on as soon as possible. It is even said that in some Villages a visitor may end up in a pot, with his blood going to be drunk by the Villagers. These places are usually run by one Hetman, a Clerk with the barest piece of learning that is enough to get by in these backwaters. It is rare that they see a Bonded One, and Mages are often mythical. Only if the Orders send someone to collect taxes or tribute are they likely to have real contact with outsiders, for they are generally xenophobic, looking down on the Tribesmen, Trappers, Hunters and anyone else not tied to a Village.
It is common for a village to meet with some disaster and be abandoned. Failing magic, storms, floods (in the Forest), invasion or the attacks of wild beasts can easily wipe out a tiny community. Lucky peasants will manage to make the journey to the next village or town, unlucky ones are never seen again. It is not uncommon for a tax-collector to treck many days through the Jungle or plains only to find their destination dead and abandoned.
Drylands Villages cling to whatever source of shade and water makes habitation possible. Tiny village houses will be dug into the rock walls of a valley, or the earth in the lee of a hill, or perhaps site themselves in caves and cracks high up in a shaded cliff-face. Only the most desperate of villages stand in the open air, at the mercy of the sun (perhaps because some thin trickle of water breaks the ground only at that point. The houses of these villages are built of stone, grass, wood and white chalk render.
In each Village there is usually a Satvan (the largest may have more than one). This chamber will be dark, except for a single shaft of burning sunlight falling through a hole in the roof. In the cliff Villages the Satvans may be some way from the Village, usually higher up, to be in clear sunlight.
Twilight Villages have water and shade aplenty, but constantly struggle against the encroaching Poison Forest. Even with the magic of the Black Order to help keep back the vegetation it takes constant work to keep the fields clear, and it is often easier to hunt, and gather the fruits of the Kail trees than to keep land clear enough to farm. Twilight Village houses are built of mud and wood, often surrounded by a wall of woven thorns or other vicious plants. It is very easy, in the dense and glowing forest, to pass a Village by entirely and never know that it was there unless one comes across the stone-marked paths that lead from one to another. These Villages can expect more frequent visits from the Orders than the scattered settlements of the Drylands.
There are far fewer villages in the Ice Hills than in the Jungles below, most existing to cater to the needs of the fir trappers and miners who make the snow covered slopes their homes. Some are little more than trading posts, where Clerks can come to buy goods and lone hunters can sell their kills. Construction is mostly of wood, thickly built from whole logs to keep out the cold and the ice. Stone is usually reserved for the homes of the administrators, or the storehouses of the merchant Clerks.
The life of the Drylands Tribesmen is quite different from that of the village-folk. They are nomads, maintaining no towns or settlements. Everything they need to live is carried with them, either on their own backs, or on their wagons. Mostly Lix'xiti they are scornful of the hardships of the desert, and especially of the Suthian's who spend their days hiding in pools of shadow.
Each tribe is split into one or more family groups, 20 to 30 in number. Each family will own one large wagon, made from Crdlu hide and the shells of the giant Heshdri beetles, which is moved slowly across the plain, while the tribes folk run out to keep track of their portion of the herd. Crdlu are the source of all the Tribe's wealth and labour. They feed themselves with Crdlu meat, drink Crdlu milk and blood, clothe themselves from Crdlu hide, and craft tools from Crdlu bone. Crdlu haul their wagons, are used to pay their taxes, and are given as gifts of fealty and marriage. A tribe that loses their Crdlu are nothing, and will die or be absorbed by another.
Each tribe keeps the position of any water on their range a closely guarded secret. Each tribe is usually led by a Waterfinder, and by its Elders. It is seldom that the Orders concern themselves with them, content to tax them when they come to the Dryland towns to trade their cattle for shell, metal and worked stone. The tribes accept this, but do not really regard themselves as part of the Order’s Eternal Empire. They have little to do with the Mage’s, beyond making use of their worked iron and obsidian, and it is a foolish Order Mage who would come to a roaming tribe and expect them to obey her. Hospitality, however, is given to anyone they meet in the desert plains, expecting the same in return. There is nothing more certain to antagonise the fierce tribesmen than to refuse them hospitality.
1100 and 20 years ago the Sorcerer Nastrim came to power in Ur. Within 20 years he had made the first city more powerful than it had ever been and destroyed Nammu when it dared to attack him. As well as the legacy of rule and custom that makes Ur the most powerful city Nastrim left behind him a detailed law code that is the standard for legal decision throughout the Eternal Empire even now.
Nastrim’s code runs to some 542 articles, each concerning some particular situation in law. As well as this a Judge may dawn on endless tablets of commentary on the details of the code’s judgements to make his decisions. To most people the Law Code is the Law, what it says about a case is what must be done, and those places that do not hold to the Code have no law at all.
The Principles of the Code can be summarised as follows.
The code also specifies the laws of property which state that the property of the Male line passes through the sons and of the Female through the daughters. Only when there is no offspring of the same type does the property go too the other. Similarly property goes too a spouse in trust to the children, save that on the marriage of a child part of their property must go to them, this known as the mating bond. In the event that property was held by a family only of slaves, or another fails to specify where his property must go and no agreement is reached, the property reverts to the master of the dead person.
Keldian children, or Kits, have distinctive pale coloration, usually tawny brown or grey, which darkens with age. Though the Keldians treasure their children they know that half of each litter is likely to die, and often do not give them proper names until at least a year has passed (instead using litter names such as Black, Grey, Spot, Quick, Slow, and so forth). When a Kit has survived the crucial first year they are given a childhood name, often based on some event that happened around the time of their birth or birthday (Sandstorm, Slow Dragon, Rainfall etc.). In the Drylands this naming ceremony is celebrated in a Satvan, in the Twilight Jungles it is a less formal affair. Young Kits stay almost constantly with their mothers, being passed out to older siblings after the first year or so. Kits seldom own much in the way of clothing or other items (perhaps only a shell knife, a string of beads or flowers, or a leather bag) and take on responsibility in the family only slowly as they grow.
By the age of 7 years a Kit becomes a Youth, assumed to be old enough to till the family's fields, herd the Crdlu or help in the family's craft. In some Towns and Cities a youth will be given a second name, usually one associated with their family, while in others this name is not adopted until 13 years old when the Youth is an adult and can enter their craft properly. By the time a Keldian is a Youth they are no longer treated as Kits. They will own their own belongings (not perhaps very many), care primarily for themselves, and work as hard as their elders. Another milestone in this period is the day when a Youth first manifests his Gift (another excuse for a Satvan ceremony). If the Gift-day comes while the child is still a Kit there is great celebration, because this indicates a strong Gift that will aide the family for years to come.
The people of the Eternal Empire have no Gods, and no organised religion, though the cults of various famous Magi (such as Rashin of Nagash, Ningaur of Nistray and Nastrim) are strong in many settlements. Most common Keldians believe that if their world was created by Gods they abandoned it in the time of the Ancients. Instead the world is believed to be under the control of countless spirit creatures, which should be propitiated and pacified to keep the world survivable. In most parts of the Empire these spirits are assumed to take the form of creatures the Keldians have seen in the wild, such as Fire Lions, Bull Centaur, Ikkoku Birds, Naga or Rakku. Household shrines will feature little statues of these spirits, perhaps with a few stylised Mages and ancestors amongst them, to which small offerings of food or water are left. These shrines are treated with respect, but not usually with religious awe. This is different in Nistran settlements, however, where formal altars to Ningaur replace the spirit shrines. These are treated with deep respect by the Nistrans, who believe that the living Ningaur watches over them as a literal God.
In the Drylands the Earth Clerics and the Satvans come closer to organised religion. Satvans are underground chambers dug into the earth and covered with a slightly curved roof through which a single shaft of sunlight shines. In this way light and darkness are mixed for the people of the village. This Satvan is sometimes no more than that, an isolated chamber dug into the ground at the edge of the Village. The desert-folk believe that a Satvan is a place where the Spirit World comes closer to the real world than normal, and the aid of Spirits, especially of the Keldian's own dead ancestors, may be called up. In many places a Satvan grows into something more complex than a simple chamber, and may be connected too a whole series of underground chambers and rooms, sometimes to grain barns or water stills for instance. It is in the Satvan itself, however, that rituals and ceremonies, such as namings, marriages, death rites and so on are usually performed.
A Satvan is generally large enough for all the people of the Village to gather in leaving a space in the middle, though in the larger towns multiple Satvans serve the same function. Although there are no regular services, as such, rituals usually demand a gathering in the Satvan every week at least. Such is the importance of the Satvan, and the Earth Cleric who is in charge of it, in many smaller villages it is the Cleric who is looked too as leader, rather than some representative of the Great Cities. For this reason, if not for their pseudo-magical powers, the Order Mages tend too look down upon the Clerics as inferiors at best and trouble makers at worst. Naturally the Clerics return the Mage’s antipathy, though usually covertly, since the power of a Cleric is a match for only the least trained of Mages. It is very uncommon indeed for a Keldian to be both a Mage and a Cleric, though a few cases have been recorded. Unlike the Mages the Clerics have no organisation nor have they centres of power, only the local Satvans and large stone heads which, since time immemorial, have been carved and placed in the desert. Despite this a few places, such as Five Stones near Darkin, are home to many Clerics, who believe that a particularly powerful local Spirit inhabits the stone pillars there.
The worship of the Tribes of the desert is quite different from that of the villages. They do not worship the spirits of places, but instead believe that they carry the spirits of their ancestors with them (as they carry the bodies). The tribe's Cleric carries sacred objects, usually pots, metal disks and ancient wooden staves decorated with metal rings, which allow her to commune with the spirits. She may also keep medicine bundles and fetishes made from the bones and sinew of the tribe's dead, believeing that this will cause the spirits to watch over her. After communing with the spirits the Cleric passes their advice to the Elders when they make tribal policy. The Cleric also carries the oral history of the Tribe, and learn detailed histories of what and who were important to the tribe in the past. As a supposed aid to this a bone or bone ring from the body of a dead Cleric is usually added to the staves carried by his successor.
Although common custom expects a formal marriage to come before the birth of a litter, there is no legal requirement in Nastrim's Code, and Kits born in and out of wedlock are treated the same in the law. The Orders do keep records of marriages, just as they keep records of births, deaths, taxes, and everything else, but no distinction is made between births that come before or after Marriage.
Instead marriage is a local celebration, a rare opportunity for celebration in the little villages and towns, or a chance to show off wealth and connections in a city. Drylands villages dress the bride and groom in brightly died shawls and ponchos woven from Razor Grass, and hold ceremonies in their Satvans at which the Earth Cleric officially joins the couple. Twilight villages hold multi-day parties instead, decorating their homes with bright flowers and glowing fruits, and brewing communal cauldrons of strong maize beer. In the Cities families have a formal ceremony witnessed (if possible) by a Clerk, and invite close friends and neighbours to attend. The richer the family the wider the definition of "neighbours" usually is, with the wealthiest Bonded-Ones and Nobles throwing open their doors to significant portions of the city, the better to display their wealth and status to all the attendees. The costs of such ceremonies are at least partially defrayed by the expectation that every guest will bring a gift for the couple.
When a Keldian dies his Spirit is separated from his flesh and freed to the sun and winds. Usually the Spirits of the dead are blown away to the Dark Side, or born again in new bodies, but sometimes they will cling to their bones, remaining for some time as ancestors to watch over their family and neighbours (although ghosts only assume physical form in the Twilight and Darklands). Most Keldians fear ghosts, and will avoid the remains of the dead. Earth Clerics, in contrast, will sometimes retain some part of the dead in the hopes of gaining their protection.
Usually a dead body is placed on a platform in a high place, sometimes a constructed one but more usually a naturally flat rock, and left there till birds and the winds have scoured the body to the bones. These bones are then crushed and spread on the fields, or placed in cairns and underground chambers. If an Earth Cleric believes that a spirit clings to the bones then she may choose to keep some of them in her Satvan, so that the ancestors will provide help and protection. Only occasionally will a body be buried instead. Usually this is because there is no time for proper exposure and disposal of the bones, in which case the body may be placed under a hasty cairn. Sometimes high status dead are interred in tombs instead, their names recorded in the rock, and offerings left at their doors for centuries to come. Every King of Nistray, for example, has a tomb in the same necropolis within the city.
Although the Clerics perform most of the rites of the tribesmen, namings, marriages and the ritual scarrings and tattooings that often accompany the assumption of man or womanhood they are not responsible for burials amongst the Trines, as their village counterparts almost always are. Instead a family will carry the body of a dead relation with them (often tied to the back of their wagon) until the corpse becomes dry and falls apart, drifting away into the desert. The Tribesmen believe that by doing this they help the departed ancestor secure their spirit to the path of their family, so that they can watch over them in the years to come.
Keldians are omnivores, equally happy to eat plants and animals alike, when either is available, and they turn up their noses at few forms of food. While they enjoy a varied diet if they can get it, most Keldians rely primarily on a small number of food sources: the meat (and blood) of the Crdlu, the fruit of the Kail Tree, Maize (Short hard corn cobs with kernels ranging in colour from black, through various browns, to blood red and yellow.) and Maugey Cactus. Maize is grown across the Drylands and the Sunward part of the Twilight Valley, often in steep rocky fields, along with Maugey Cactus, from which villagers extract meat, sap, fibres for cloth, and alchohol (in the form of Pulque and Mezcal). Both plants are highly tolerant of drought and heat. Kail Trees, in contrast, only grow in the humid darkness of the Poison Forest, and are hard to cultivate. Instead villagers travel well known routes through the Jungle, collecting fruits from trees along the way. Kail fruits can be fermented to produce Kas, a frothy sweet beer.
In the One River valley the common diet of Kail and Maize is heavily supplemented with fish, which are easily caught from the countless water channels that braid the Poison Forest. While the peasants hunt Giras (a fish of the muddy shallows) and Catfish with hurdles and fishing spears, larger Summas, Ubiku and GamGam are fished from deeper water using hand thrown nets or trained Dusk Ravens. The Harru is a large armoured fish which is hunted especially for the tastes of the Nobility.
Where possible this diet is supplemented with Akram, Uzan and Braga meat, cactus fruits, and the countless fruits and flowers of the Poison Forests. Honey is especially valued, as are various spices derived from Twilight Jungle nuts and flowers. In the absence of bees food may be sweetened with the sap of various trees. Despite their reliance on Crdlu few Keldian settlements do not have fields of some description, and the clement hills of the Dust Slopes are covered with a patchwork of Maize fields. In the Twilight lands each house will have it's own patch of cleared Jungle filled with choice flowers and roots. In the Drylands fruiting cacti are cultivated in the same way. Only the Tribesmen have no fields, subsisting almost entirely on meat and blood.
See Domesticated animals and Crops.
Meals in the Twilight villages and Cities are most often based around fish, served steamed, boiled or grilled over wood along with fresh forest fruits and vegetables (see Night Flowers), such as the Burru, Girin, Hashur and Shennur. Cheap Giras and Catfish can be stuffed with Kail fruits and then steamed. Kail fruits can be served as a side-dish when fresh, dried, ground into meal and used to make cakes and pastes. Where Maize is easily avaialble (such as in Nistray and Ur), then Maize flatbreads will be used to supplement the meal. Akram eggs are also used as a cooking ingredient. Only a richer meal will include meat instead of fish, and it will generally be Akram or Braga (Crdlu meat is imported only for Mages and Nobles, Twilight villages with a Crudlu will use it for draft and milk), heavily garnished by fruits and the ubiquitous Maize and Kail breads. Rich spices such as Té, Tudsum and the numerous similar peppers known as Sahharu, are common, as is Fish sauce (which is often exported at great cost to serve the tastes of emissaries to the Drylands).
Drinks for Twilight meals will commonly be Water, Kas Beer or Twilight Wine, made from numerous varieties of sweet saps and pressed flowers. Crdlu milk, fresh or fermented into Lhassi is popular, while poor villagers may have to make do with sour Braga milk instead. Fire Wine, twilight wine fortified with Mezcal, is an expensive drink of the Mages. Mezcal from the Drylands is widely imported, but Pulque is less common.
Meals in the Drylands are generally eaten cold, with Maize flatbreads, Crdlu cheese, Crdlu milk and Maugey being the main ingredients. Maize cakes sweetened with Maugey sap (or imported Kail paste) are a treat, while cacti fruit, Hunut flowers, nuts, seeds, and pungent fruit pickles are supplied in small clay vessels as side dishes. Poor meals may have braised skewers of Maugey Cactus along with salted Uzan meat, Daybat, Maka or even Zimul. These poor meats are heavily spiced to improve their flavour. Drylands spices include Sahlu, ground from the seeds of a spiky plant, Chillis and Mungazi, a mixture of salt and pepper seeds. Twilight spices are often imported as well. Akram eggs will be used to make Maize dough, or boiled and served cold. Akram meat is a popular center piece, roasted with chillis and sticky sauce made from cacti sap.
Meals rarely include Crdlu meat, and when they do it is a time for celebration. Old Crdlu will be slaughtered, roasted whole, and eaten by a whole family or tribe at once. Salted meat is cut into fine strips and preserved in stone boxes, or dried into toucgh jerky for travelling. Bones and gristle will be cooked down into a broth which can be used for soup or made into gravy for the meat. Sharp cacti pickles are served as a topping.
Drinks for Drylands meals will generally be Crdlu milk (either fermented into Kumiss or sweetened into Lhassi) and Pulque (cactus beer). A meal is considered poor if it cannot be served with water, but this will often just be a token amount. Tribesmen will drink Crdlu Blood instead of Pulque most of the time.
For the most part all Keldians of the Eternal Empire speak Sanash, a clipped and efficient tongue with a complex written form. Each area has its own dialect, however, with the 'Dosime' of Nagash being the hardest to comprehend. In General the dialect of the One River is regarded as being the most cultured one, especially by the inhabitants of Nistray, who affect a slow casual drawl, and those of Ur, who always speak in a short clipped style.
The Lix’xiti tribesmen also have their own language, Sulak, which appears to have a variant for every tribe. Sulak sounds harsh and barbaric compared to Sanash, and most Keldians will insist that their Lix’xiti slaves speak Sanash in their presence. The Steet too have their own secret tongue, Taril, which they do not teach to outsiders. Taril is far softer and more sibilant than Sanash, and the Steet Mages use it as a kind of hidden language.
Finally many academic Mages learn Tancred, which they hold to be the tongue of the ancients. This language is a forerunner of the more modern Sanash.
Keldians are inventive at making tools from whatever materials come to hand. Metals are rare (Iron is more valuable than Silver or Gold), so most tools are made from wood, bone, horn, stone and shell instead. Only the richest Keldians can afford tools made from copper, tin, bronze or iron, and such items are carefully tended and repaired rather than being discarded. Earthenware pottery is produced across the Twilight lands, but clay is vanishingly rare in the Drylands, and pots and dishes are more commonly carved from soft stone or horn instead. Wooden containers and plates are used across the Empire.
Glass is also fairly common, but generally poor in quality and small in size. Glass beads are much more common than glass drinking vessels for example. Derzak produces brown glass from the riverbank sands near to the city, while the sands of the Drylands lend themselves to yellow and green tones. Blue glass is much more valuable, on a par with silver.
Both paper and parchment can be made (the former from flattened razor grass stems, the later from hide), but most writing is done with reed styli and tablets of soft clay, which are then baked dry for preservation, or marked on slates with a bronze pencil. Arcane writings are usually written in ink made from Poison Forest roots or crushed insects, and recorded on long scrolls of paper. Books (in the modern sense of stitched pages and hard covers) are unknown.
Another valued skill is that of making Pluma, or feather work. Feather cloaks, head-dresses, armbands, kilts and fans are commonly sought decorations. A room with a couple of feather fans leaning against the walls, painted designs on the plaster, and a few vessels of bronze or clay, is considered well decorated.
For rules on crafting see Crafting.
Copper tools are reasonably widespread, though more expensive than ones made of stone or horn. Bronze, a more recent invention, holds a stronger and sharper edge, and discolours less quickly, but is made by fewer smiths. Keldians with the Bonetalker Gift can transform horn and bone into a material as good as copper and better than tin.
Jewellers working in Gold and Silver can produce intricate and valuable works, being capable of chasing, engraving, punching, and forming wire for decoration. Heavy torcs and armbands of copper inset with gold, silver, glass, faience, and polished gemstones are a favourite of high Status Mages. Jewellers in Chald produce beautifully carved relief designs in polished Jet. Portraits done on Jet cameos are a valuable trading item. Other items of jewellery combine metal with gemstone and faience inlays in intricate designs. Popular subjects are the solar disk (along with it's rays) , the s-bend of the One-River, the stepped ziggurat, the fruit of the Kail tree, and Keldians with the heads of Crdlu cattle. All these designs appear on amulets, torcs, pectorals, crowns, bracelets, and armbands.
Most valuable of all metals is Iron, either the rare pure metal that falls from the sky as meteorites (Star Iron), or that extracted at immense cost from the Dragon Mountains (Sacred Iron). Star Iron has been used for centuries to create the most valuable items of jewellery (such as the Iron Crown of Derzak), or very occasionally weapons, as only Star Iron can be enchanted to hold the souls of the dead in service. In more recent times, since the shade trail to the Dragon Mountains has been opened, the Iron mines have made Iron a little more available, and Iron smithing a little more common. Iron still remains, however, a very high status metal.
In the Twilight Lands, where the climate is perfect for Keldians, little clothing is required. A short kilt of woven cloth, a belt of leather, and a decorated pouch, is adequate for men and women alike. To this basic outfit are added thick-soled sandals with split-toes, semi-circular pectorals (of leather, copper, bronze, gold or even iron depending on wealth), strings of threaded beads, armbands and bracelets. It is common to weave short chains of beads, dyed thorns, slivers of bones and pieces of horn, into the fur, especially on the head and back of the neck.
In the Sunward lands outfits are heavier, with bleached white or darkly died cloth to help ward off the heat. Wide brimmed hats, big enough to cast their own shade, help ward off the sun. This style of garb, heavy robes and wide hats, is also characteristic of the Mages and high ranking Bonded Ones, who wear similar clothing even in the Twilight lands. Mages and Clerks of the Red Order wear robes in a variety of scarlet and crimson shades, while the Black Order, naturally, favours dark colours.
Animal furs are uncommon adornments (although tufts of hair in the form of tails and tassels are more common), although fine pelts are often sourced from the Ice Hills and traded down into the Twilight Valley. Those Keldians that have to venture into the Dark Side adopt heavy cloaks of fur, and leather boots and gloves. This sort of garb isn't appropriate anywhere else in the Empire.
It is common for poor warriors to fight with weapons made from sharpened wood, with points of horn and flint, and shields made from wicker or leather. Hide armour is widely used, especially that made from Slow Dragons, Iron Ravens and other beasts of the Twilight lands. It is common for all sorts of odd things to be pressed into service as weapons, such as dried insect hives, teeth set into wooden blades, and horns mounted on simple hafts. In much of the world there are precious few materials to be worked other than the remains of the dead.
Metal weapons are the preserve of the rich and well favoured. Bronze weapons are reasonably common amongst the soldiers of the Great cities, wealthy Nobles and Gladiators, and Bronze plate or splint armour (metal plates affixed to a hide backing) is also seen. Iron weapons, Star or Sacred, are the province of the richest warriors alone, and are carried primarily by Mages and their Bonded-Ones. Obsidian weapons also command a high price (though Obsidian is far more available than Iron), since Obsidian is a sacred stone capable of harming Spirit creatures that no other blade will touch.
Keldian buildings tend to be squat and heavy, with thick walls and small windows to resist both cold and heat. Walls are constructed of stone, mud brick, wood and adobe, with flat ceilings supported by wooden rafters and floors of hard-packed earth strewn (where possible) with rushes or scented herbs. The houses of the poor are rarely more than a few rooms large and one storey high, though the cramped Drylands villages tend to pile their houses closely together, linking them with ladders and narrow covered passages. Doors are wooden, or simple curtains of grass and beads.
The houses of the rich grow larger, enclosing small shaded courtyards with open running water. Walls are plastered and painted in rich colours or decorative murals, with heavy bronze-faced doors leading onto the street outside. Such houses usually have high outer walls to deter thieves, even where the buildings inside are lower. Servants, men, women and children each usually have their own portions of the house where room allows. Although colonnades of heavy wooden pillars are common the arch is rare, and usually round-headed.
In the close packed confines of the cities buildings are built higher, with the multitude of Clerks and workers living in blocks four or five storeys high. Important buildings are raised up on platforms of brick and packed earth, the higher the status the building the higher the platform. The halls of the Bonded-Ones are set higher than those of the Clerks, and those of the Mages higher still. In the center of each city these many layers platforms rise up into huge Ziggurats, reaching up into the Twilight sky. From the tops of these astronomical observations are often conducted.
Despite the fact that their culture is based about a river, the Keldians are not good sailors. The One River does not flow very fast, nor is it large as seas go. Its winds are predictable and one is never out of sight of land, therefore the people have never needed to develop techniques of navigation or of complex sailing. Though the Keldians do use sail boats, especially for war and scouting, the most common type of vessel is a large flat-bottomed wooden barge, used for transporting grain and livestock.
In the Poison Forest it is possible to survive just by foraging. As long as you can tell the edible fruits and flowers from the countless deadly ones, food is reasonably easy to find, however most villages will grow crops as well, clearing small patches of Jungle to cultivate the most popular foods, such as Kail Trees, Corn, Maize (though Maize grows better in the Slopes than the Jungle), Red and Green Blossoms, squash, onions, and many spice plants. Growing food in the Drylands is a more difficult proposition, even for hardly food crops such as Maize, Corn and Maguey Cactus. Keldian settlements are surrounded by small raised fields, edged with rock and built up to help conserve water. Where possible such fields cluster close to the villages, often in shadow where the soil is richer and more forgiving. Constant attention is needed to keep the red soil from drying up and blowing away, with char, water and manure added frequently.
Keldians also keep many Domestic animals, both for food and for hunting. The most important of these is, of course, the Crdlu, a tough creature well suited to the Dryland plains. Huge herds of Crdlu are maintained by the nomadic tribes, and every settlement in the Drylands has at least a small herd for milk, meat and hide. Packs of the smaller Frians are kept to hunt wilder animals, and for defence, while small flocks of Uzun are kept where the land is too broken and steep for Crdlu. Crdlu do poorly in the cramped Twilight Jungles. Here Keldians keep smaller forest animals, such as Braga and Akram, instead, using them for meat and eggs. Krakaths, large bipedal lizards, are used both to ride and to haul loads throughout the Empire, though they are far weaker than Crdlu.
Most Keldian trade is done via barter. Common trade items are single animals, Crdlu, worked tools, and food. Taxes are usually counted in head of Crdlu, or in Koin, the grain tax for 100 people. The Black Order equates these trade items with a formal coinage counted in Obsidian Pieces, small circles of Obsidian about two finger's breadth across. Most Keldians do not have the majority of their wealth in coins, and many poor farmers will not own even one. Clerks, Nobles, Bonded-Ones and Merchants, in contrast, do much of their work in coins.
The basic unit of currency is the single Obsidian Piece, or simply Piece, which is a flat circle of Obsidian with the rune of one of the Four Cities chipped out of the top face. Next up in value is the 5op coin, or Shard, a semicircle of Obsidian with fine runes all the way around the outside. The Shards are made from halves of the most valuable normal coin, the 20op Wheel, which is circular with a circular hole in the middle of it. Since this hole is so hard to carve without shattering the coin the Wheel is considerably more valuable than the two half Shards that it could easily be made into. Naturally Keldians are very careful with the Wheels, and are always worried that some accident might break one in half.
The final coin is the 4 cm diameter Ataluk, a circle with a hexagonal hole cut in the middle. These rare coins are worth 100op, and are almost never seen by most Keldians. They are what the Bonded Ones and the Mages use to count their taxes, however. Where these coins are not available it is common to see a variety of objects used for barter, such as bright shells from the One River, shards of Furthest Reach Glass and so forth.
|Roughly 10 times the weight of a man, a cartload
|A Crdlu weight is standardised to 2 Tirols
|An armful of corn, about 1/20th a Tirol
|Used for grain, a jar is a sixth of a Tirol
|A Koin is the tax in grain for 100 people, usually 23 Jars
|Used of spices etc. a finger weighs about an ounce
|Used of poisons etc. a Grain is a 10th of a finger
|A general unit of weight.
|An Arin of water is what a Keldian needs each day too be well watered
|Usually half an Arin
|A 5th of a flask is often called a Gill
|There are 20 Arins in a Terb
|A league is about 20 klegs. A Krakath can go about 2 leagues a day
|Common measurement of distance, 1000 strides
|One firm pace from an adult
|There are reckoned 5 hands, fingertip to fingertip, in a stride
|A finger’s width, about 12 to a hand
|A ride is an area of about 400 square klegs, or a league square
|A plot is 1 and a half by 1 and a half klegs
|A foot is about 2 hands square