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April 22nd, 2006

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06:31 pm - The Etristi
Here they are, a world premere of brand new fluff - the Etristi. As promised, they are a matriarchy, though somewhat out of the typical mold that many such fantasy societies fall into. At least, that was my intent.

I think I am going to have them exist on the same continent as the Nostians, I am toying around with the idea of dealing with interaction between the two cultures, at least on their peripheries.

The Etristi live in a warm to moderate climate consisting of gently rolling hills and light forests to the south, and relatively flat grasslands to the north. The southern region somewhat resembles the American south east in temperature and plant-life, though its slightly drier and as a result the forests and foliage are a little more sparse. In the north it is even drier, but not arid to the point of being a desert. There is the occasional tree or bush in the northern plains, and even a river or two, but for the most part it is flat grassland for as far as the eye can see. The northern plains tend to get a little bit hotter than the southern foothills in the summer and colder in the winter. The Etristi call the north plains Jalaray and the southern forests and foothills Bonatay.

Etristi History

In the ancient history of the Etristi, is was expected that the men would go out to hunt animals while women stayed at home to take care of children. Men in these times were rather protective, and women generally did not journey from the village other than to gather herbs or fruits. This trend continues as the proto-Etristi advanced culturally and technologically. With the domestication of animals, men became herdsmen and the women stayed at home to farm. As Etristi herds became larger, it became necessary to take to animal herds from place to place to allow them to graze in fresh fields. This meant that men would be gone from a village for prolonged periods of time while their animals grazed and grew large enough to slaughter or produce wool or milk. Women, stuck back in the villages, became the bedrock of Etristi society - they developed the written word, cultural hierarchies, advanced architecture, and most of the other trapping of civilization.

As civilization advanced and became more crystalized, ownership of land and property became in matrilineal. The women, who now formed the backbone of civilization, became the heads of households and the ones to manage wealth. Furthermore, a family's status became based on that of the woman, the status or wealth of the man became less important in the social structure of the Etristi. Village leaders were all female, and with time queens would rule over city states and then over nations of Etristi. Almost all of society's important jobs were in the hands of women, from leaders to priestesses, or architects, to even soldiers. Men still formed an important part of society with their animal herding and added military defense, but the Etristi had become a society ruled by women.

Around the same time, the ancient concepts of family and pair bonding began to break down as men stayed away from home longer and longer. The amount of influence that a man had upon his children became minimal. So too did were assets of a man becoming less important to his wife as women became land owners and farmers. Eventually, marriage seemed to disappear from Etristi society, replaced by love affairs and temporary relationships of convenience.

As time passed, the Etristi men spread out across the plains of the north and the Etristi women began to spread their culture across the hills of the south. Each sex began to develop its own culture and values, separate and distinct, yet strongly linked with that of the opposite sex.

Etristi Culture

The Etristi are an iron age civilization. Many of their tools are bronze or copper, but the majority of their weapons and well made tools are iron. They have reading and writing, though it is usually reserved for the nobility, scribes, and priestesses. For the most part they live in relatively primative stone and wood houses with thatched roofs, though the nobility live in fine palaces and the temples are often large and well made. They have mainly dirt or cobble stone roads. In many ways, their technology level resembles that of the late dark ages or early middle ages.

Etristi men spend the majority of their lives as nomadic herdsmen of Jalaray. They tend to organize themselves into groups of men and boys from 50 up to several hundred. These groups often raise different kinds of animals, though they almost universally herd horses. Other common animals include cattle, sheep, goats, or sometimes pigs. They also usually keep dogs as well, to help them with herd their other animals. Etristi men largely eat products that from from their animals, including milk, cheese, meat, and also sometimes blood. They also keep preserved foods such as dried fruits or hard tack gained from trading with women to the south.

Etristi men and women for the most part live separately. Men herd in the Jalaray and women have town and villages in Bonatay to the south. When winter approaches and it becomes cold in the northern plains, the men bring their herds into the southern lands of Bonatay. They do this both to keep their animals warm and for social as well as economic reasons. Over the winter, Etristi men stay in the towns of the Etristi women, who often keep extra rooms or building available for men who come there for the winter. When men first arrive in the fall, they will help the women harvest the crops exchange for a share of the food. During the winter, men and women trade their goods - meat for bread, leather and wool for tools and weapons, milk and cheese for wine and beer, etc.

The winter is also a time of great social interaction for the Etristi. It is a time of many festivities and also of romance. There is much dancing, music, drinking of wine and beer, as assorted merry making. Men seek to woo the most wealthy and beautiful women in the village and women try to seduce the most fit as well as the most charming men. Sometimes the same men and women couple year after year, as the same herding groups often go to the same village every year, but just as often new friendships and new romances are formed. The is a huge celebration the day the men arrive in late fall, called the Welcoming and another celebration the day they leave called the Farewell. The relationships between men and women last only a few short months during this winter, and then they each go their separate ways, sometimes never to see each other again.

Etristi children are raised exclusively by their mothers, and in many cases they don't even know who their fathers are. Girls are raised to follow in their mothers footsteps, learning the profession of the mother whether it is farmer, blacksmith, soldier, or noble lady. Boys, on the other hand, usually do manual labor for their mothers, such as working plowing fields, hauling supplies, or other such chores. When men come to stay in the winter, boys spend time with the men learning to ride a horse, to herd animals, and to shoot a bow. These boys also form friendships with the older men of the herds, so that when it comes time for the boys to join the herdsmen, they will have someone to watch over and take care of them. Sometimes it will be a boys father, knowingly or unknowingly, who comes to watch over a boy when he leaves his mother's house. During a boy's 13th winter, he will leave his village when the men leave at the beginning of spring. They will still maintain a close friendship with their mothers and sisters who stay in the village and this will help to make the herd itself closer with the village.

The men of a herd don't have much in the way of individual property. They own their own clothing, weapons, horse, and a few personal items, but everything else belongs to the herding group as a whole. If a man loses a necessary item such as his bow or if his horse dies, a new one will be provided for him from the group horse herd or made by one of the group bowyer. They all share food equally and when they trade for goods in town, they all share those as well. The only exception are personal baubles of personal significance such as a gift from a lady or some artistic creation.

The groups of men also have little in the way of law. Since there are few personal possessions, theft is a rare occurrence. Their are no formal laws or leaders to cover other crimes, such as violence, but judgement on such criminals is usually passed by the group as a whole though the elder men usually have greater influence. Common punishments include having to run through a gauntlet being beaten with sticks or banishment (usually temporary except for the worst crimes) from the group. Sometimes, for particularly heinous crimes, they will put a man to death - though it is very rare.

As opposed to male culture, which is very laid back and informal, female culture is quite strict. In towns, villages, and cities of the Etristi; all land is owned by noble women. The majority of women work farms on the lands of noble women, paying rent in the form of a portion of the goods that they farm. Non-farmers, such as trained professionals, also must pay rent to the noble on whose land they live, but do so from the earning from their trade. Individual cities are ruled something akin to a mayor, called the Carinin, who is elected by the local ladies who own the land around and in the city. Even small towns and villages have a Carinin, usually appointed by the noble lady who owns the land the village is on. Major cities of the Etristi women are ruled by queens, rich and powerful noble ladies who dominate a large religion around the city. Often individual noble ladies will pay homage to such a queen in return for protection and to be part of a stronger collective, though such alliances are often temporary and fluctuate from generation to generation. In times of strife or warfare, almost every noble lady will pledge loyalty to a powerful queen.

Laws of a community are enforced by the Carinin and the soldiers under her command. The Carinin acts as a judge and adjudicator in the towns they oversee, though in larger towns they often have assistants to help them with more trivial problems. Punishment for crimes in Etristi villages usually involves imprisonment or forced labor or sometimes brandings. Usually an offender is forced into slave labor for an amount of time in proportion to the severity of the offense - ranging from minor "community service" for petty crimes to lifelong servitude for crimes such as murder. The death penalty and torture are usually reserved for the most severe crimes such as treason. When in a town or city of women, men are subject to the same laws and punishments as are women - rape and/or assault of women by men is usually greatly frowned upon and often carries with it the penalty of death.

There are four major types of forces that form the Etristi military. The Carinins' guards that help to enforce laws and protect a town, the household soldiers who serve noble families, the peasant militia, and the men who often come to the aid of the villages in times of dire need.

The town guards who serve under a Carinin are hired by funds provided by the lady or ladies who appointed the Carinin. This means that for small towns and villages, where funds are limited, these might be part time soldiers with very simple training and only basic shields and spears. For larger cities where the Carinin has large amounts of money at her disposal, the military can be amongst the most well trained and equipped soldiers of the Etristi. Common armament for city guard usually includes either a spear and medium sized round shield or a short bow, along with this they wear armor made from tightly woven fabrics and cloth padding. Usually they also carry a dagger or short sword as a backup weapon.

Noble families usually have semi-professional armies in their service. The core of a noble military consists of well trained professional peasant soldiers. These well trained professionals come from long lines of warriors, having learned the trade from their mothers who learned to fight from their mothers before them. These are are usually infantry who fight with round shields, in much the same way that city guard do, though they will occasionally be armed with swords, axes, or maces instead of spears. For armor, they usually wear padded cloth with small metal disks sewn onto the fabric to make something like byzainted armor or sometimes wear a chain mail shirt over the padded fabric. The typical noble lady doesn't usually fight herself, but there are always at least a few members of a noble family who will lead their armies into battle. These fighting noble ladies almost always ride into battle carrying a round shield, a sword or axe, and well armored - usually several layers of padded cloth with medium sized metal scales laced to the fabric and an open faced metal helm.

A large, though perhaps less important, part of the military is the peasant militia. These are women who are not primarily soldiers, but who are pressed into service at the command of their ruling lady or Carinin. They usually use spears or sharpened farm implements in battle and if they are lucky get basic shields or some kind of padded armor. Usually a peasant militia is not raised unless a community is in serious danger.

Etristi men also form a major part of Etristi fighting forces. When they are able, they will usually defend Etristi towns and villages from attack. Also, it is not uncommon for groups of Etristi men to conduct raids against (usually non-Etristi) farms or villages in order to steal money, food, and assorted valuables. Sometimes, different herding groups of male Etristi even come into conflict with each other over grazing land or rights to visit a certain village over the winter. Almost all Etristi men ride horses, and thus an attack force of Etristi men is an entirely cavalry force. Etristi men are experts at using the short bow, and are usually excellent shots even from horseback. For the most part Etristi men fight as horse archers - striking extremely quickly and then withdrawing before the enemy can strike back. They usually wear leather armor, often boiled leather breastplate and helmet. For the rare incidences of melee combat they find themselves engaged in, they carry curved swords or maces.

The Etristi bare a slight resemblance to people from pacific islands. They have a medium to golden brown skin tone, dark brown or black hair, and slightly Asian appearing features. Both male and female Etristi have very little body hair, and Etristi males have naturally hairless faces. Etristi men and women tend to be closer in height and weight compared to other peoples, males averaging about 5'4" in height and females around 5'2". Males tend to be very lean and wiry while females are often a bit more fleshy, so the typical Etristi female outweighs the typical Etristi male.

Etristi men usually wear their hair long and flowing or in a pony tail, while Etristi women usually wear their up in elaborate style piled high upon the head with twists and buns. The complexity of the hair style increases as does the wealth of the woman, peasant women usually wear their hair in a simple bun. Men usually wear simple pragmatic clothing made from leather, wool, or linen. They usually wear pants and long tunics with slits up the middle. Despite their pragmatism in clothing, men also enjoy brightly colored clothing, usually colors that match other men in their group. Women's clothing varies by social strata - with peasants usually wearing a simple light brown or white linen or woolen long tunic, while noble ladies wear much more elaborately created clothing of silk, furs, and different colors. Black and other very dark colors are seen as bad luck and a taboo to wear, though sometimes criminals pressed into labor are forced to wear black shirts as a mark of shame.

Etristi men tend to be thin and slight of build, and this is seen as good both among Etristi men and women. For a man to be fat or even a little cubby is seen as quite unattractive and even unmasculine. Large muscles are also rare among the men, and seen as rather bizarre and unseemly. Etristi men do enjoy a variety of physical pursuits and competitions - such as horse ridding and tricks, running, jumping dancing, archery, and knife throwing. These activities are almost entirely dexterity and coordination rather than strength based. Women, on the other hand, are seen as more desirable if they are a bit rotund and perhaps even muscular. Many of the professions of Etristi women involve physical strength and exertion such as farming, black smithing, stone masonry, infantry combat, etc.

Etristi mothers do not have men around to help them raise their children. Often to help counter this, Etristi women will form a Randa - a friendship bond with another woman. This is a sign of deep friendship and respect, as well as a pledge to help the other woman with the raising of children. In this way, one woman can go out to labor while the other takes care of the children - usually in an alternating fashion. The Randa is also, but not necessarily, an expression of sensual and/or romantic love between two women. It is not entirely unknown for women to enter into a Randa even if they have no children, simply out of affection and love for one another. Such homosexual relationships are not at all frowned upon, though having children is still a major aspect of Etristi culture and to never have a child is thought to be bizarre. Unlike marriage in many cultures, a Randa only lasts 10 years, long enough for a child to grow old enough to be able to be left alone; a new Randa can of course be created when the old one expires. To break the Randa oath is a grave offense in Etristi society, and would bring great dishonor as well as a stiff punishment (public humiliation and a year of forced labor) for the offender.

Unlike Etristi women, Etristi men great frown upon homosexual behavior between men. Though they have no particular religious values which prohibit such activity, Etristi men view sex between men as disgusting, unmanly, and unnatural. Men caught committing such actions are usually beaten by a gauntlet on the first offense and permanently banished - just short of a death penalty - from the group on a second offense. For a grown man to sexually take advantage of a young boy is an even greater offense and is one of the only crimes for which Etristi men will put each other to death for.

Etristi Religion

The Etristi religion is a bit different for men and women. Etristi women can be best described as henotheists. They believe that there may be multiple deities, but believe that one is supreme over all others and that is the only one that they worship. This deity is Hanayari, mother of the gods and of the universe. The Etristi believe that Hanayari was the first deity, and from her was born all other gods and all of the universe. Hanayari is seen as extremely powerful, but not quite omnipotent in a monotheistic sense - there are many religions myths and legends where she battles with forces of evil (her own rebellious children) and despite coming out victorious, has great difficulty in doing so. Etristi men, on the other hand, worship a variety of deities and follow a multitude of philosophies or superstitions. Many Etristi men worship Hanayari or see her as a power deity worthy of respect, others worship deities in a large Etristi pantheon which are seen to be the children of Hanayari, and still others practice entirely foreign religion which have been picked up during a man's journeys across the plains. Usually a male Etristi's religious beliefs are rather laissez-faire; a sacrifice of milk here, a prayer there, perhaps a lucky charm or bauble, etc.

All women, in theory if not practice, who worship Hanayari offer her a prayer of thanks and praise each night before they go to sleep. In addition, when there is a full moon, priestesses of Hanayari hold a night long ritual that the entire town or city participates in. This ritual includes chanting prayers of devotion to Hanayari, reading of sacred texts, burning of incense, and the sharing of food to signify sisterhood and dedication to community. New moons are seen as evil and unlucky, and a good Hanayari worshiper does not leave her home on a night with no moon. Priestesses also lead the celebrations during the fall Welcoming and spring Farewell as men come into or leave an Etristi town - much of which involves prayers for fertility and love. A Welcoming or Farewell is never held on a night of a new moon.

Among the Etristi women, there is an organized church of Hanayari that transcends national borders of noble ladies, Carinins, or even queens. Temples usually only exist in medium or larger sized towns, small towns and villages will usually only have a priestess or group of priestesses to lead them in prayer and ritual. A priestess of Hanayari is called a Yaran. One of the main focuses of the temples and the Yarans who work there is education. A Yaran is educated in reading, writing, history, languages, architecture, science, healing, and mathematics. The Yarans work to preserve knowledge by copying old texts and also work to advance knowledge and ponder questions of science or philosophy. Young noble ladies, who are expected to be knowledgeable and well versed in all fields, are sent to temples to be educated. The Yarans are willing to teach any woman who comes to them, as long as they can offer sufficient tribute to the temple.

The temples gain their money from donations from local nobility as well as fees for holding rituals, educating young girls, or for saying prayers. It is commonly believed that the prayers of a lay person are less significant than those of a priestess - therefore it is quite common for women (and sometimes men) of all social strata to go to a Yaran and pay her to say a prayer on that person's behalf. Half of each Yaran's personal earnings from prayers or tutoring goes to their local temple. A temple is usually a large stone building primarily built around a circular area in which monthly rituals are held. This room will have a raised platform in the middle upon which a Yaran stands and praises Hanayari while the faithful sit around her. The rest of a temple consists of small rooms that Yarans live in and library areas where books and scrolls are housed.

There are three kinds of priestesses in the service of Hanayari, the Levians, the Drinans, And Junians. A Levian is a priestess who does not live in a temple, but rather lives in a small village which cannot support a full temple. A Levian will hold prayer rituals in a village square of town hall of some kind, she will also act as physician, teacher, astronomer, and herbalist for the community. Sometimes in particularly small communities a Levian will have some part time job in addition to being a priestess. A Drinan is a priestess which lives within a temple, mostly dedicating herself to education and scholarly pursuits and occasionally leading a monthly ritual. A Junian is a noble lady who has joined the clergy, unlike Levians and Yarans who come from peasant families. Junians are the leaders of the church of Hanayari and each temple will have at least one Juanian in control of the temple's money and policies. The edicts and dogma of the faith is controlled the Junians, who meet once every eight years (or more often if needed) in order to vote on important issues facing the faith of Hanayari.

All Yarans are allowed to bear children and raise the girls to follow their mothers into the church. Drinans tend to be wealthier than the typical peasant woman and the Junians usually have a great deal of personal power and influence. Men cannot become priests of Hanayari, at least not in any official capacity. Yarans all wear white robes, though Junians wear a red silk sash over their robes. Yarans also use bleach to make their hair white, or light blonde, though sometimes a Junian will have a white wig created for her. Yarans are also strict pacifists, and are not allowed to shed blood or to even kill animals or eat meat. This does not mean, however, that Yarans are never involved in violent action indirectly such as acting as battlefield medics, inciting others to violence, or even hiring mercenaries.

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