The Shaeish Kingdoms
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Life in the Shaeish Kingdoms


Life, Beliefs, and Society

The folk of the Shaeish Kingdoms are farely typical of Ralstaans other than the peculiarity of their religious convictions. Like the Dunsain Clanlanders the Shaeish folk venerate a plethora of nature spirits, but they do so alongside their worship of Rallah, and as a result their daily behaviour exhibits traits that many city-dwelling Ralstaans see as quaint and superstitious, but which are, in reality, deeply rooted in ancient mystical practices, and often effective. Ancestor spirits are firmly respected, but seldom directly worshipped. The Shaeish live in extended family units called lodges, similar to a noble house for commoners, and these lodges keep pretty much to themselves. There is little interaction between them, and traditionally only elders of each lodge, that is the leader of a particular family, generally a father, governs all the affairs of that lodge and speaks for it. In a town there could be three or four lodges, villages tend to be just one or two, and some become very large and split in two. Elders of a lodge will generally know their family’s standing with other local lodges, and when they meet members of another lodge they must make formal introduction by citing the names of their lodge’s patriarchs since their lodge’s origin. This invokes these ancestors to give their blessing to the meeting, and also reminds the addressed individual of any debts that their lodge may owe that of the speaker.

The people tend to avoid the wilds too, not allowing anyone who has not come of age into the woods at all, similarly women will generally only venture into the forest during religious festivals. Since the land here is clearer and plains and hills more common than woods or mountains the Shaeish have this unique luxury. The forest is particularly venerated as the home of the earthly spirits, while the ancestral spirits of the dead live in the sky. It is important, therefore, to venerate and respect the dead and the old, who will soon be dead and will gain supernatural powers after their journey through the land of mist and shadows. Morality is enforced by the understanding that both nature spirits, and those of ancestors, watch over all things, and so whenever a transgression is committed those spirits should somehow be appeased. As should the wronged party. Elders are treated with the utmost respect because they commune directly with the soul of the land, which knows and sees all.

The common people’s social structure does not entirely suit the grand monarchic government that has been enforced upon them since the Shaeish Kings came centuries ago. In the original days of the High Kingdom each lodge patriarch governed his own lodge and swore an oath to the king, but now that Shaeish noble houses rule directly over each man without respect for the lodge’s structure, and they see the government as being part of a sort of great lodge, and as such they will feel like equals to members of the ruling class. Where this is encouraged they are a fiercely loyal people, willing to adopt themselves into their lord’s families, where it is met with hostility they become resentful, and an entire lodge is a powerful body to snub, so between classes the nobility remain grudgingly respectful of their people, if aloof.

The nobility, for their own part, have made little progress in any direction since Viran Uth-Rallis organized them as they are. The major powers of the land tend towards being stagnant and staid in their own history. The rigid and strict royalist houses enforce royal law ruthlessly on the lesser houses, and while they are generally noted for fairness they are universally unflinchingly strict and look upon any deviation from the norm with suspicion.

Arts and Entertainment

Revels are the most common for of artistic expression and celebration in the Shaeish lands, dancing, music and theatre, all performed by travelling troupes, are popular and it is common for a troupe visiting a village to command the entire population for a show. When they gather for the communal evening meal with the rest of the lodge people enjoy old songs, ones to which every single person present knows the words. There is nearly always someone who can play the pipes or the long-stemmed mandolin and these sessions of song and drink, especially after long days of toil in harvest season, often last well into the dark of night. Even the religious observances of the Shaeish involve a great deal of boisterous song and dance whenever possible.

Diet and Eating

Regular Ralstaan communities usually have two large daily meals, one just before midday and one immediately after the prayers as the sun sets. These meals are usually taken communally, prepared at the lodge by the women of the community for when the men return home, and served on tables in the longhouse. The staples are flat-bread, poultry, hrid, mushrooms, wild fruit, potatoes, turnips, dairy, honey and honeyed mead, as well as a product derived from the community's local crop in farming communities. The most common mass crops, corn, barley and wheat, and animals such as hrid, goats and sheep shape the regular diet of the community, although while one might expect to see more of the community product in their diets, they are actually less likely to expend the product that they can sell to local cities. Smaller free hamlets and more independent communities don't share this conservative attitude. City Shaeish are like most city-dwelling Ralstaans, eating an afternoon meal at their place of business and the evening meal with their immediate family. Here foraged goods like wild berries or game like venison are rarer, replaced by mutton, coarse brown bread, wine and ale, with the upper classes enjoying finer wines, refined spirits like brandy and whiskey, finer floured pale breads and chicken, duck, pheasant, beef and especially pork.

Fashion and Dress

The Shaeish people dress more simply and practically than the other Ral. The men wear sleeved linen tunics of grey or washed out blue, long and belted at the waist. Sometimes the tunic will be worn over a lace-up cotton shirt, and often with an open fronted vest. Their leggings tend to be hrid or sheep wool, and bound with a thong or cord. They wear felt boots all year round, generally reaching above mid-calf. Often men will also wear a fur trimmed jacket or large fur cloak in the winter. Snowshoes are also common in the deep winter, though mostly the lowland areas only get sprinklings of slushy ice on trails making them hazardous. The more wealthy and the merchants wear fur lined gowns, generally of reds or greens simply because they can afford dyed cloth and like to show it. While they will nearly always wear these gowns, or sometimes long, heavy coats of the same kind, they will still wear the common costume underneath. Noblemen and paiges in the service of one of the noble houses will generally wear hose rather than the leggings; their tunics are often brightly coloured and a tabard bearing their family’s colours is common. Older noblemen wear a heavy fur gown, and add the tabard on occasions of state. Men wear their hair long and keep it bound at the back, and often wear beards, although a good number of men go clean-shaven. Short hair is considered a sign of physical weakness and to cut a man’s hair above the shoulder is a manner of gravely insulting him.

Women wear ground length linen gowns with a low square neckline, which hold snugly to the figure. These are usually the same grey or blue as the tunics worn by the men. They tend towards felt slippers. In the winter women don the same fur cloaks as men to keep off the cold. Most women of common birth wear their hair long and braided into a bun at the back, many women wear plain nets to bind their hair and keep it out of the way. Women of noble birth wear higher necked gowns, often subtly embroidered, and will often wear their hair loose and ornamented with elaborate combs on formal occasions. While a woman need not display her houses colours she will often dress to match her household.

Noblemen seldom leave their homes without a short-hafted lochaber or their warsword in the case of a knight. Soldiers wear short-sleeved ring mail shirts and domed helmets, often featuring designs around the wearer’s eyes and bearing some family totem on top. Metalwork is intricate and artistic. Most soldiers will carry a round wooden shield painted with their house’s colours and go armed with a boar-spear and broadsword.

Transportation and Communication

Originating at Tohl Caldare, the Great Northern Highway means that traffic in the north is heavy, and smaller highways are at their most numerous and effective here. Because the lands of the Shaeish Kingdoms are regularly under cultivation, and the southern reaches of the Starwood are new growth - light and far less dangerous than the real wood in the north - heavy draft and war horses are a common and effective way of travelling around, and oxen, mules and other beasts of burden drawing wagons (or often merchant caravan trains) are common. Despite this, Ikars are certainly not unknown, but their considerably greater expense means that they are far less popular than horses while travelling the south-western knife.
Communication is often done with trained messenger hawks. Pigeons are used within cities, but a proliferation of large birds of prey in the wild mean that they are all but useless in unpopulated regions. Mounted messengers and merchant caravans can both be persuaded to carry messages for a modest rate, but they make a regular trip rather than a commissioned one, and so messages can take a long time to reach their recipient. Noblemen usually have a handful of messengers with fast horses for more urgent communiques. The courts of the Shaeish kingdoms almost all summer in Tohl, and so information about the goings on throughout Ralstaa is easily accessible - if a few months old.

Really the best source of transit or information are the seagoing craft that regularly ply the coasts between Tohl Caldare and Tohl Dannis. If these vessels are not in motion their owners are losing money, and so the crews of these heavy trading junks go constantly from port to port, in search of goods and passengers to earn their upkeep, and while doing so they gather a great deal of information about the goings on in different places. While they may not be a reliable way to get a message from one hand to another, they can usually offer news from other places that they have docked.

Common Pass Times

The folk of the Shaeish lands are an earnest, hard-working, honest people, and work dominates much of their day. Burning offerings to their various cults, and gathering with their lodges dominate the majority of the rest of their spare time, however when the work is all done and their spirits appeased, celebrations regularly last until dawn, or even for days, and their drink and song and dance is easy and jubilant. This sort of lifestyle prioritizing work, and then faith before celebration endures, and to visitors who have never seen a Shaeish festival they must seem a dour and miserable lot, but to see them when their work is done is to see gay abandon the like of which is seldom seen anywhere else in the whole world. In the hours between work and rest Shaeish families love to share stories, often those that they have heard again and again. Literacy is poor, so these are generally passed down for generations, and visitors are invited to share their version of a story known to the whole group, as each lodge has its own, and love to share the 'right' version of the story.

Faith

The Shaeish villeins and free-hamlet dwellers are devoted to a plethora of local nature spirits, and in the countryside even the nobility balance the observation of their patron's Temple of the Sun with appeasing the world around them. Some villages have devoted themselves totally to these spirit-cults, leaving Rallah's faith entirely. In villages the lodge is responsible for religious observances, and priests are unknown. The lodge elders lead ceremonies to appease or appeal to whatever spirit that they feel appropriate, leading the ceremony and making the offering, and collecting what lore is required to conduct such observances. Most lodges include Rallah as another of these deities to be appeased, and her ceremonies are held in much the same regard as those of a sky or storm spirit - that is to say rarely appealed to but held in exceptionally high regard. Rallah is usually prayed to in harvest time, for just a few more days sun. In some places, however, the lodge has devoted itself to a single spirit cult, usually in return for some great boon granted by the spirit. The Temple of the Sun is happy to share their faith, but when a single cult dominates a lodge often the temple sends priests or knights to either end the dominance of that cult, or else wipe it out. For this reason villeins are often suspicious and secretive in matters of religion with outsiders.

The cities and hearts of the kingdoms of the Shaeish lands are dominated by the temple of Rallah, thanks to the initiation of the nobility into that faith during their service to the High King. Here the temple is established, funded and provided for, with full time priests who conduct services on holy days, and lead prayers at dawn and dusk. Most noble families have a patron ancestor whose cult has them venerated as a divh within the Temple of the Sun also, but this often does not stretch outside that King's capitol. The Temple here, like most of the Temple of the Sun, does invite the pantheistic worship of other divhi - though always after acknowledgement of Rallah - and in the Shaeish lands this extends occasionally to nature spirits, on the condition that they be worshipped as subservient to Rallah. Few spirits have been approved by the temple in such a fashion however.

Political


Political System

Because the Shaeish are a more agrarian people than the rest of their Ralstaan cousins (at least in the southern provinces), the land here is more peaceful, and more structured. Cities are still the heart of a fief, but fiefs on the whole are larger, with lesser noblemen ruling like kings in their own right, but serving a greater fief and obeying its laws and call to arms. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Caldare, the epitome of Shaeish Ralstaa. With fewer, more settled kingdoms, there are fewer conflicts between fiefs, and even those that are waged seldom result in total conquest of another, meaning that while borders change often, dynasties tend to endure. Because of this kings have large families to better endure any losses they may have in lawful tourney. Kings here are all closely allied to the High King, but many dynasties are resentful of this relative newcomer whose pedigree is far newer than their own, and many more were displaced away from their ancient lands by Viran Uth-Rallis, or had their domains carved up and given away to Lleweith newcomers. There is great resentment in the Shaeish kings, and though as the least warlike of their kin they would not take up arms lightly, were rebellion ever to be fostered in Ralstaa it would likely be here.

Legal System and Enforcement

Because fiefs control greater territory, and usually incorporate several major villages and their radial farming communities, one might assume that the villein might experience greater legal rights here, but the laws still clearly favour citizens over villeins, and the High King's law stands in nearly every nation of the south-west. Alan Caldare himself laid down a clear set of guidelines for the laws of the Shaeish, and all of the kings adopted Alan Caldare's laws and punishments. Since then, of course, the various monarchs have been free to modify such things, but most have chosen to allow them to stand. Laws against banding together as cabals stand here too, though penalties are lighter, and merchant cabals particularly face fines that, if they are prosperous, they can comfortably afford. Most settlements have a professional watch of a few men, even free hamlets have a militia raised from the able bodied men of the hamlet. The most unusual law in the Shaeish lands, one that largely still stands, forbids irians from doing business, or owning property in Shaeish fiefs. This means that irinos are almost unknown in Ralstaa, and the western border is overgrown, with few roads or trade routes leading into or out of Ralstaa. One day, this generations old embargo will surely have to be dissolved.

Military

Because of the heavy-handed reorganization of Viran Uth-Rallis, ancient enemies who once shared a border now found themselves either weeks travel apart, or with a powerful royalist fief between them. As a result, Shaeish kingdoms maintain comparatively small military forces, but they are still well enough under arms to crush any bandit or peasant uprising that they are likely to face. The High Kingdom maintains a number of knightly orders and royalist houses to hold the exposed western boarder, but in most Shaeish kingdoms little infighting means armies are largely just extended castle garrisons, and troops largely levies by knights from amongst the common populace, however when professionals are needed for a job, mercenary groups can be found living in the unclaimed wilds around the fiefs. As a result, when two fiefs do go to war both sides usually send levies against one another to take border tors, and scramble to get unaligned knights onto their side. Fiefs in the south-west like to keep wars short, because they seldom survive a protracted campaign thanks to the labour they lose, and the expense of keeping professional forces in the field.

Technology


Architecture

For the most part, the buildings on the Shaeish lands - especially in the countryside and villages - are in a style that has been around for centuries. Structures of stone and mortar with straw covered floors, wooden doors, shuttered windows, and timber framed roofs with thatch or shingle are common. Interiors are occasionally panelled in wood, but more often than not bare stone is hung with crude tapestries or furs against the cold. Straw is packed into the ceiling space as tightly as it will fit, and open fires dominate a large single room, with a shutter in the roof directly above it. Town-houses often have a second or third storey, and these additional levels will be of cheaper, and lighter timber-framed wattle and daub. Stone is sometimes plastered or whitewashed, and doors and shutters are often decoratively carved. In some cities window panes, made from recycled bottles or thick, irregularly shaped panes joined together by lead, replace shutters. These are often gaily coloured, but usually very small and high up against intruders or breakage. Homes often have a lean-to for storage on one or both sides. Towns will usually also include raised silos for storing food supplies and harvested stock where rats can't get to them, and a large timber wind or river mill for the milling of flour or cutting of timber. Shrines are more common than temples, and take many forms. Most settlements allied to a fief have a small fortress, or tor, that serves to house the local knight and his family. While small, Ralstaan castles are more sound and ingenious than any found anywhere else in the world. Shaeish castles, or caers, tend to be squat, square affairs on raised ground with a lower bailey housing a stable and chapel, and the upper housing a keep, smithy and kitchen, though more complex castles exist in bigger or newer settlements.

Daily Living

The average day here begins and ends with a prayer at dawn and dusk, normally addressed to Rallah, a ritual that remains even when Rallah does not, and then a family will make any seasonal celebrations or sacrifices that they see fit. Then men will perform their craft within their lodge, be that a trade, or conducting business, meeting with outsiders or what have you. The afternoon meal will be a time of gathering in the family lodge, the nuclear family unit is rarely isolated from the whole lodge, except in cities where citizens live in smaller, more immediate family units. After the evening meal families will divide into smaller households, and sit around the fire at night sharing stories with one another, and then bed down in a communal space. Only the nobility usually have the luxury of separate chambers, though a rich town-house might have a guest chamber, and servants and masters are almost always separated.

Major Industry

Major production in the Shaeish lands are cotton and the derived textiles, wool, herding hrid for meat, eggs and their hides, farming in wheat, grain, barley, corn and other major crops and milling flour from the grain, peat digging and lime-burning, horse trading, chalk mining, quarrying and in the lowlands, cattle herding. Sheep produce wool and cattle produce milk, which leads to cheese but neither travel far from their place of origin, while birds hides, eggs, and occasionally meat are the stock of the common man. Hunters bringing down deer trade costly wares indeed, but partridge can be taken down by lucky peasant with a sling to hand at the right moment commonly enough.

Medicine

In the lodges of smaller settlements the elder females are midwives and herbal healers, passing their knowledge down from mother to daughter before the elder passes away. Their abilities, though simple, are sufficient for most general injuries and mild ailments. In the cities churogeons and alchemists can perform surgery, and brew potions, though their services are beyond the reach of many thanks to the expense of their trade, and most are just over-pomped cutters. Some noblemen are good enough to patronize churogeons to circulate amongst the poor, but usually this is far from sufficient. There is a yearly plague that sweeps the poorer districts of the cities in the summer, and chills take many in winter, but spring and autumn keep moderately good health. People know to clean wounds well, and most places have someone who can set a break or bind a fracture, but treatment for disease is poor, and for madness is worse. Leeches are popular for poisoning, maggots for infection, and amputation in many extreme cases. Madness is often attributed, rightly or wrongly, to evil spirits, and either the local divine patron is consulted or churogeons will drill a small hole in the skull to allow the disturbed thoughts to escape. In either case treatment usually halts progress rather than eliciting a cure.

Economy


Trade

Sea-trade is the most common way to move goods into and out of the Shaeish kingdoms, and as a result all major cities tend to either be ports, or be set only a few miles inland of ports. The great northern highway, while efficient, is still a more expensive way of moving goods from one place to another. As a result settlement and trade tends to be less and less dense as one moves inland. A few strong merchant cabals keep trade healthy and active but highly ritualistic, traders have a number of little rituals that must be performed before business, and a number of days on which business simply cannot occur. Merchant cabals tend to avoid cities where their illegal presence would not be tolerated, and instead independent ship masters and merchant caravaneers move goods into and out of cities and to and from cabal-controlled settlements, usually river-towns, where they are stockpiled or else sent by caravan or barge to places where a buyer can be found. Sometimes an ambitious knight will come to one of these towns and try to claim a kingdom of it, but usually the local knight or king, understanding the importance of the goods and coin these places bring, will ensure that they are not overly molested.

Major Export and Import

The breadbasket of Ralstaa, the crops of the Shaeish lands are greatly valued in the Lleweith and Dunsain lands. More than three quarters of what is harvested makes its way up the great northern highway to Tohl and points east. Herders usually send large groups of hrid out of their lands for slaughter in the cities, keeping only the picks of the stock for breeding, but cattle, sheep and goats all remain local. Little is imported in much volume - for Ralstaa is a land where settlements are largely self-sufficient, and large scale trade all but illegal - but specialist crafts do come down the highway to Tohl Caldare and circulate from there. Shaeish nations have quarries, timber, mineral wealth, salt and meat, food and other resources enough to meet their own internal needs, and sometimes enough to produce a little surplus to be sent to cities like Tohl Dannis or Tohl Caldare for a good price. Little alcohol made here, unlike the rest of Ralstaa which all have their own distinctive local brew, except throat-burning home brewed ales and lodge meads, so Lleweith wines and Dunsain whiskey come in in large supply to the major settlements where home brewed spirits do not meet demand.

Money

Coinage is universal across all of Ralstaa, with the highest denomination being the gold sovereign, a one ounce coin of roughly forty percent gold content printed front and back. The gold half sovereign is exactly that, half an ounce and also printed on both faces. The silver penny is twelve to the sovereign, and the silver ha'penny is two to the silver penny. Fifteen copper farthings are worth a silver penny, and thus one hundred and eighty make a sovereign. The farthing is usually printed on only one side, and it is perfectly acceptable to halve or even quarter a farthing to make smaller change. Currency is in regular, but not exclusive use in most fiefs, but in more isolated settlements currency goes from being uncommon to unwelcome to downright alien, as barter and communal living become more and more common. A regular income for a week might be from a silver ha'penny to a silver penny, with gold being the exclusive province of the upper classes. Local coins are mostly those minted in Caldare, bearing the squat tower that is the arms of House Caldare on one side, and on the silver and gold coins and image of Rallah on the other. Copper carries only the arms of the kingdom where it was minted. Roughly a third of the coins in circulation in the Shaeish kingdoms are locally minted, with the balance coming from Bradenthyr with the High King's arms.

The Knives of Rallah, High Kingdom of Ralstaa
The Shaeish Kingdoms Caldare, Donnaigh, Rhuovaith, Kileirey, Balleymoore, Cannavin, Wynd, Breconn, Coulbaigh
The Lleweith Kingdoms Avalaigh, Haeliard, Lammornia, Branddale, Talladale, Bradenthyr, Tohl
The Starwood Cwmbran, Kentallen Wood, Uerenuell
Tuarvael Castrette, Serlot, Friesse
The Dunsain Kingdoms Byrnham, Blackstone, Craigbyrn, Duncarrick, Strath Gorge, Garynshae, The Clanlands, Aulorn's Gate
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