Not all of the people of Cymru are knights, Bards, Druids and Engineers. By far the greatest number of them are simple folk who tend the fields and the herds and the flocks, and who – while they might train regularly under the banner of their liege lord – have no great wish to do battle. There are also the artisans – carpenters, blacksmiths, stonemasons, jewellers, weavers and tailors – the woodskeepers, the merchants, the miners, and those who do nothing more than care for their families.
In the valleys, farmers tend their crops and herds, while in the hills the flocks of the shepherds graze. There is little love lost between hill and valley. To the hill-folk, the valley-folk are all soft, spoiled, and impractical. In return the valley peasants and nobles alike tend to view those of the hills as surly, idle and a touch feebleminded.
At the coasts and riversides, many fisherfolk dwell. Some few navigators carry cargo by river, although most transport not borne by wagon is carried by the great Engines. The coastal towns are home to the ships of Cymru and their crews, gallant and reckless individuals who brave storms and piracy to traffic goods between Cymru and Ireland.
Also, there are those less willing to live-and-let-live. Bandits and brigands dwell in the wilds and prey on the weak for their livelihood. As reavers and rustlers beset the rural villages and manor-farms, so too do cut-purses and cut-throats alike stalk the merchant-towns and the cities of great lords. Some of these villains serve only their own purposes; others raid the folk of one cantrev for the advantage of the lord of another.
Cymric society is feudal in nature. Every peasant in Cymru owes allegiance to a lord. Each lord in turn owes allegiance to a greater lord, and ultimately to the Kings and Queens of the Great Cantrevs, who owe fealty to the High King himself. The Orders likewise hold fealty to their Chiefs, who serve again the High King. Only the loyal outlaws of Snowdonia deny a duty to Donn the Kinslayer, instead pledging themselves ultimately to Owain, their King-in-Exile. In all the land, only Donn and Owain owe fealty to none.
In theory, every bond between liege and vassal in Cymru is reciprocal. The vassal gives to his lord his loyalty, support and obedience, while the liege gives his vassals an equal loyalty and protection from their common foes. In practice the relationship rarely balances, and many lords quite openly abuse and exploit their vassals. Few of these vassals even think to complain of their treatment, instead accepting it as their due. Some members of the Orders – in particular those who have come from peasant stock – campaign tirelessly against these abuses, but then the Orders themselves are not without abuses.
The lives of the peasantry are typically hard, but not necessarily unpleasant. While exploitation of peasant labour is a commonplace, actual physical abuse is rare, and the bulk of the folk of Cymru almost never see their lord. For many lesser lords, life is scarcely easier, for most are still farmers themselves. The greater lords and their knights find some time for leisure, but are still kept busy with the managing of their lands and properties. Few – if any – folk in the land have a life of ease, even those who are able to afford luxury.
The folk of the Valley Cantrevs lead a relatively quiet existence. Their lives revolve around the cycle of the year – planting, growing, harvesting – and while most work hard, from dawn until dusk, in the planting and harvesting seasons, the growing season is a time of relative leisure, and the winter months between the harvest festival and the first ploughing are often filled with celebrations. No season is entirely idle, for the herds must be kept safe, and in winter must be fed and watered, and there are always tools and buildings to be repaired, but the fields provide the bulk of the Valley Cantrevs’ produce, and therefore require the bulk of the labour.
The valley-folk are not without their share of craftsmen. They have numerous blacksmiths – who gain much work from the need for the shoeing of horses and the casting of ploughshares – and also many tailors, although fewer weavers. The bulk of these are farmers as well as artisans, and many may spend more time in the fields than in their workshops. Most of the valley farmers learn the secrets of drystone construction from their parents, and this distinctive style is used in most valley buildings.
The most important regular social events among the valley-folk are the monthly markets held at the Engine-stations. Here the folk of each district gather, and each farm in turn presents the required surplus tithe to the local elders to be given to the Engineers. Whatever produce the farm has beyond their tithe and that which they put towards their own stores is then offered for sale at the market, and the people mingle and gossip, and compete to see who among them has the best or the most produce. The night after the market invariably has drinking and dancing, and performances are demanded from any Bards present. Fires are lit and stories told; friendships and rivalries renewed; promises made and hearts broken.
The greatest market is held at the harvest festival, when there is much feasting – especially in a good year. The harvest market also sees many competitions, such as races and wrestling matches, and the greatest produce contests of the year. While for most of the year the Engineers merely come and go, at harvest time the tithe collectors are invited to join in the festivities. To ensure that their duty is not neglected, the Engineers and their servants who perform the collections will join only one festival on their route. It is an honour for a village to be chosen, but the Engineers are careful to play no favourites, because it is also an honour to be invited.
The labour of the hill-folk is mostly focused on the well-being of their flocks. While most grow some vegetables for sustenance, their wealth is in the wool – and to a lesser degree in the meat – of the sheep that they breed. The flocks must be tended year round to keep them from straying, but such labour is not intensive. The times of greatest activity are in the spring, when the ewes lamb and the sheep must be sheared. As well as the lambing and shearing, this is also the time of greatest labour for the spinners and the weavers who turn the wool into cloth.
After shepherding, the most common occupations among the hill-folk are spinning and weaving. Spinning is actually done most frequently by children, while weaving is considered work for adults. The weavers form the bulk of the hill militias, as the shepherds often feel unable to find time away from the flocks to attend training. Quarriers cut slate from the hillsides for roofing, shelving and ornaments, and also stone for building. Like the valley-folk, many of the shepherds know something of drystone construction. Blacksmiths are rarer among the hill-folk, who have no need of ploughs and little for horseshoes.
Some folk of the hills make their living mining coal or ores for the Engineers, and these live in isolated mining communities, guarded against bandits by the Society of the Hammer. The miners pay a heavier tithe than others, and the lion’s share of what they mine goes to the Engineers. However, they are well compensated in the form of food and coin, and of all the peasants of Cymru the miners are the wealthiest.
The mining communities are led by wealthy elders, who broker deals for the coal that the Engineers do not take with merchants, or the people of other villages, and skim a little off the top for themselves. Money is perhaps more important in these communities than anywhere else in Cymru, and mining-folk are often considered mean-spirited and greedy by outsiders. Some of these elders increase their power by dabbling in trade and lending money to poorer landowners and nobles. A few even manage to buy their way into the courts of the great and the good, with coin and with strong, fair children. These nouveau riche lords and ladies are frequently looked down upon by other nobles, but rub shoulders cheerfully with the merchant princes.
Those who draw their livelihood from the waters of Cymru are often thought as crazed as those who dwell in the woods and the mountains. Small settlements are found on the gentler banks of Cymru’s rivers, usually only three or four homesteads, with a jetty for the fisherfolk to draw up their small boats. Such settlements will usually have a few small fields to tend, and for the most part will be largely self-sufficient. Sometimes these settlements will grow up beside a ford or a ferry, or a rail bridge. Here they are less self-sufficient, but more prosperous, for not only can they benefit from the passage of people and goods, they may draw protection from the warriors set to defend such important places.
For some years after the Burning, trade between the folk of Cymru was a precarious business. With no currency or other moveable wealth to speak of, what trade did exist was mostly barter, carried out between near neighbours. Amidst the suspicions of the Dark Time, there was no such thing as a ‘fair price’, and anyone engaging in trade was viewed with suspicion by his customers and vice versa. A few daring souls might seek to drive a herd of cattle to a distant market, but as often as not the reward for such bravery would be death; the price of those cattle paid in blood by the reavers who haunted the roads and the trails.
Since the accession of Pwyll and the instigation of the Balance however, trade has been booming. While much of a cantrev’s produce goes to feed and support the people of the region, and some of the surplus goes to meet the requirements of the Balance, some is left and held in reserve against times of need and shortage. In the absence of such shortage however, stored goods risk spoiling, and so many lords prefer to convert a portion of surplus into another, more lasting form. Some may trade with their neighbours for other goods, or may use the surplus to pay for services, but since the inception of the Cymruc currency under Pryderi, coin has been seen as a desirable form of wealth. Given the ability to amass wealth of a stable and guaranteed value, the merchant class arose in order to profit from this new flow of goods.
Trade is facilitated by the network of railways, but the Order of Engineers charges for their use. Transportation by road is also subject to tolls – to cover the costs of maintenance and the provision of patrols and wayhouses – as is the use of the Engineers’ river locks. Moreover, there are tithes and taxes due to one’s liege lord when engaging in trade. It is in order to expedite trade between distant cantrevs, and to establish fair and constant prices for goods, that the Order of Engineers have fostered the creation of the Merchant Guilds.
Beginning life as consortiums of traders, intended to force prices up, the early guilds actually attracted the anger of the Engineers. The Trade Wars in the reign of Mathonwy were as vicious as any of Cymru’s internecine conflicts, for all that little blood was shed, as powerful guilds stockpiled goods in an attempt to exact transportation concessions from the Order. On a number of occasions the Society of the Hammer was used to extract much-needed foodstuffs and other produce from these hoards, but this was considered an unsatisfactory solution, as redistribution by force undercut the very systems of trade which the Order sought to promote.
It was Rhydian the Close-Handed who first proposed the idea of regulating trade through the guilds, instead of against them. With the collusion of the Guildmasters of a number of the less grasping guilds, Rhydian established the modern system of licensed guilds. The licensed guilds are regulated by the Order of Engineers in the High King’s name, constrained to charge and to offer fair prices, and to maintain scrupulous records of all members’ transactions, to be laid down by either a Guild- or privately-employed Engineer. In return, the members of these Guilds receive preferential rates for the transportation of goods by railway, and for road and lock tolls.
To encourage the lords, who had grown accustomed to being burned in dealings with merchants, to trade with these new Guilds, Rhydian persuaded the High King to grant a sliding scale for the tithes exacted from the lords’ coffers. Personal trade still carries a heavy tithe, but when a lord deals through a merchant, trade taxes are deemed to relieve his burden, and a greater percentage of the profit is retained. In addition, while unwilling to force the redistribution of surplus goods, the Engineers hit upon a simple system of fining those who allowed produce stores of any kind to spoil.
The courts of Cymru are many and varied, ranging from the High Court at Caer Caled, through the great courts of the lesser monarchs and the Three Orders, through the manor courts of the lesser lords, down to the humble halls of the gentry farmers.
It is at court that deals and treaties are made, and marriages between the children of nobles are brokered. The young may seek for their soul mate at court, but more importantly their parents may visit and see which potential allies might have children to whom their own may be joined to seal a treaty with ties of blood. With so much of the produce of their lands going to the upkeep of their households and their vassals, or to meet the requirements of the Balance, it is perhaps only natural that the lords of Cymru turn to the fruits of their loins as their premier form of trade.
It is by oath and by marriage that alliances between the lords of Cymru are sealed, always by the former and for preference also by the latter. The greater the matter at stake, the more binding are the oaths sworn, and the greater the chance that a marriage of children or of wards will be sought to add strength to the ties. Also, the more pressing the matter, the greater the authority that will be sought to arbitrate where no compromise is reached, and to witness the eventual agreement.
Although the oath of any free citizen of Cymru is considered binding, whether witnessed or no, having a witness of some authority is desirable, not only to prove that the oath has been sworn, but to attest at a later time to the words of that oath and to give some ruling on the interpretation. It is common practice to have any important oath witnessed by the liege lord of one or both of the parties, and for a Bard to be retained to make a written record of the precise proceedings to be entrusted to the Library of Caer Feddwyn.
With marriage being the premier form of social currency, it is only natural that the nobles of Cymru are prolific breeders. In addition to their own children, a noble can arrange the marriage of any wards in his keeping, and of certain of his grandchildren. In general, in any courtly match the couple become a part of the household of the more powerful of the nobles involved in the arrangement. The children of the match also remain a part of this household, and are considered to be wards to its lord if their parents are not emancipated.
A child may also become a ward to a noble in other ways. It is common, for example, for children to be given as hostages to secure a treaty of peace. Sometimes this is done on a temporary basis, but if one lord is in a position to dictate terms to the other he may demand that the child become his ward, and to all intents and purposes be treated henceforth as his child. This is actually seen as an act of magnanimity, displaying your superior strength while giving your foe’s child a chance to become more than his birth. If a noble is slain in battle and his lands seized by his killer, then the conqueror may claim any children and wards as his own wards.
If a child loses one parent, and the other remarries, he will be considered a ward of the new partner if such is of greater status than the widow or widower. In all such cases, the partner of greater status assumes control over and responsibility for the children of the partner of lesser status, but not vice versa. An orphan may become the ward of his grandparents, or of a noble named in the will of his parents. If the grandparents are dead and no noble is so-named, the child becomes a ward to the King.
The children and wards of a noble executed as a traitor or slain in battle against warriors bearing the standard of the High King or one of the Great Cantrev Lords also become wards of the conquering King if deemed innocent of wrongdoing, or if shown mercy for one reason or another. Furthermore, the High King can counteract the claim of any noble to take as a ward a child of a vanquished foe, taking the child instead as his own ward. In any event, the High King can always choose not to take a child as ward, instead granting that right to a noble of his choice. The ultimate upshot of this system is that the High King has more wards than any other, and his favourites have more than any but him. This reinforces the status quo by ensuring that the more powerful nobles always have more wards and children to barter in marriage, and more emancipated vassals once they come of age.
Children and wards may likewise be emancipated from the household of their parent or guardian in several ways. In the simplest case, a child’s parent, guardian, King or High King may make a straightforward declaration of emancipation before witnesses. If a parent or guardian, King or High King makes a grant of land, property and dominion to an adult still in wardship which allows them to manage their own household (typically defined as five horses, a stronghold or hall, twenty-five acres of land and either fifty sheep, twenty-five cow or a mine) then the child is considered to be emancipated. If a child is over fifteen years old, he is considered emancipated by the death of both of his parents or guardians. Any person joining one of the Three Orders, or the Societies of the Black Horse, the Raven or the Beast is considered emancipated.
The High Court is the heart and soul of Cymru’s political life. As such it is a hothouse of rumour and gossip, where the smallest mistake can be used by a jealous rival to destroy and unwary lord. Home to the family of the High King, even the servants at the High Court are of good birth. It is an honour for a cantrev lord’s children to be permitted to serve as a page or handmaiden at the High Court, and while the kitchens and the halls are worked and kept by an army of commoner servants, all of the greater nobles are served personally only by lesser ones.
These high-born youths are placed in the service of their social superiors not only to serve and to earn favour, but also to complete their education. As well as learning the courtly arts at the side of their master or mistress, they are schooled in arms, arts and any other skills considered important by their sponsor or by their parents. Here they may also hope to be seen by some of the finest masters of the Three Orders, or if they seek glory in battle, they might aspire to be sponsored to the Society of the Black Horse or of the Raven.
With so many young lords and ladies present, it is to be expected that the High Court is also of course the premier field of marital exchange. The greatest lords and ladies vie for a chance to appear at the High Court and view the potential matches on display. If their children have not found a position at the High Court, such an appearance also presents a chance to show them before this crowd of potential matches and in-laws. Of most interest in this regard, quite naturally, are the marital fates of the children of the High King and Queen.
The doings of the Line of Dafydd are the subject of much rumour and conjecture, for the future of the High Kingdom of Cymru is seen to rest in the hands of the children of Donn the Kinslayer and Modron the Crafty, and in the hands of their consorts and heirs. Moreover, status at the High Court, and throughout the noble courts of Cymru, is greatly affected by the consideration shown to a noble by the High King, and the hand of one of his children would be by far the greatest show of approval that could be given.
More common as a mark of favour is the bestowing of lands (and their removal from those who have fallen out of favour) or the giving of gifts. Almost, but not quite so rare as marriage to a royal child is the granting of the right to fly a banner. Such license, once granted, enables a noble to field warriors fighting under his own emblem instead of his liege’s banner. This license increases a lord’s independence from his liege, and as such it is a two-edged sword for both the High King and the recipient of the right.
For the High King a grant of the right creates another warband and enables the lord to train his own warriors, splintering the kingdom a little more. Conversely however it reduces the number of warriors under the direct control of the noble’s liege, and so reduces the risk of rebellion. On the other side of the grant, without such license a lord can not become a military power, and thus can not hope to defend himself from attack by his own hand. Conversely here, the license can breed paranoia in their liege, causing them to seek to impose their will more strongly on their vassal.
Slightly more common than licenses to fly a banner are licenses to fortify, which permit their recipient to construct curtain walls, battlements, palisades and other such defences for their home, and fortified towers for the defence of their lands. Under Pryderi, the Order of Engineers composed a complete list of the fortifications which require such a license. This list is held by the Order of Bards, and revised –subject to royal approval – in line with technological innovations.
The nobles of Cymru also make careful note of the lesser honours given by the royal couple. A royal command to appear at the High Court, or an invitation to dine at the high table are indications of favour, while the degree of acknowledgement given at a lord’s introduction can show either favour or anger. As well as the degree of favour shown, it is of importance whether it is shown by the King, the Queen, or by both, or by one of the High Princes or Princesses. On rare occasions a person may be barred from the High Court altogether, but only the most heinous breach of hospitality will earn such a punishment.
King Donn is the highest authority in all of Cymru, and he is treated accordingly. Although unable to escape the epithet ‘Kinslayer’ or to deny its accuracy, he bears the title with the dignity that maturity has brought him. He is known to be mercurial of temperament however, and his favour is hard won and easily lost. Thus those who have his favour are given the respect due to the kings’ friends while it lasts, but they are not seen necessarily as people to build long-term alliances with.
As much as Donn’s favour is sought, so his anger is feared. He has been known to order the execution of his nobles for the most minor of crimes, and while he often repents before sentence can be carried out, this is not something to be relied upon. While some have suggested that Modron controls her husband, it is not unusual for them to disagree and for Donn to overrule his wife’s judgement. He has never publicly countermanded Modron’s direct instructions however, and it would be seen as an act of pure folly to try to play one against the other.
Queen Modron does not have the same authority as the heir of Dafydd, but her word is considered as good as law by most in Cymru. In addition to her influence as the wife of Donn, Modron is a trusted adviser to the King, and her sway over the Order of Engineers makes her without question the most powerful woman in the land. Some even hold that she commands her husband’s obedience, but if this is so no sign of it is seen in public, and this is one of the rumours which can easily draw the anger of the Society of the Raven. In addition to her authority, Modron is feared and respected for the length of her sight and arm, and the Raven are a good part of this reach.
The High Queen’s favour is as hard to earn as the King’s, but once gained it is far harder to lose. Modron’s good graces are seen as a sign that a given noble may well be here to stay, and so her favour greatly increases the eligibility of their family. Likewise her anger is not easily drawn, and may be weathered by one who is prepared to sincerely repent of whatever action earned it. On the other hand it is rumoured that those whom Modron considers truly dangerous find themselves at the wrong end of a Raven’s blade, and offering insult to the Queen or her family often calls down the same fate on the initiative of the Ravens themselves.
The favour of the eldest child of Donn and Modron, named for her murdered grandmother, is greatly sought after. She is a noted beauty, and many lords – or their sons – hope to wed her for that reason alone. Far more importantly in the grand scheme however, Essylt is her father’s heir, and on the death of Donn she will become the first High Queen of Cymru to rule in her own right. There is great anticipation in the court, not to say anxiety, regarding this occurrence, for it is not known how a woman will manage being the most powerful individual in the land. When she was younger, many thought that Essylt might become a puppet to her consort and his allies, but time has shown her to have inherited her grandmother’s courage and her mother’s will.
Stubborn and wayward, while some now fear that she might neglect her duties, none doubt that Essylt the Bold will be her own woman. She has rejected numerous suits on her own initiative, including more than one supported by her parents, and while they might be in their rights to do so, Donn and Modron have never sought to compel their eldest to wed. Some worry that she does not understand her duty, but she has never publicly embarrassed her parents, and furthermore she has shown on occasion a keen interest in the managing of Cymru’s affairs and resources.
A keen horsewoman since childhood, some concern has arisen from Essylt’s choice of mount. Her favourite horse, the great white stallion Ice, is a sport among the black-coated herd of Dafydd, who killed his mother in birth. Two more mares have died birthing his get, and none save the princess can handle the animal, not even the royal grooms. Death is said to follow in Ice’s shadow, and it is noted with worry that he is himself the colour of death and mourning; many have seen this as an ill omen for Essylt’s reign.
Regardless of such rumours, Essylt’s good graces are as highly prized as they are hard-won. She trusts few men and fewer women, and those who are close to her find themselves tested at every step. Her favour must be earned with diligent attention and maintained absolute fealty, yet blind obedience and lip service are both known to enrage her. On the other hand, those few who have won a place in the princess’ grace are seen as the next generation of the great and the good, and so long as they do not betray her, their patron is noted for her generosity towards her few friends.
Born a year after his sister, Anoeth has spent his life training to be her warleader. Groomed to lead the Black Horse, he is considered one of the finest and most honourable warriors in all of Cymru. He is also the husband of the shieldmaiden Gwenyfar, daughter of Queen Morgannwy of Powys, a woman of unimpeachable reputation, said to return every kindness and every injury to her or hers in equal portion, and without favour. They are a close couple, and as with the High King and Queen, those who insult either without care make two enemies.
Both Anoeth and Gwenyfar are won by honesty, not flattery. As with his father, some whisper that Anoeth is too much ruled by his wife, but few could – or would dare – say why this might be a bad thing. It is clear to all though that neither Anoeth nor Gwenyfar, for all their popularity, is a major political player. Put simply they are too naïve; they are too just. Their favour is sought by those of good-heart, but while it is not sneered at by others, it does not carry the same weight as the favour of Anoeth’s sister or parents, nor yet of Gwenyfar’s mother.Anoeth is however the Marshall-in-waiting of the Society of the Black Horse, and its knights hold him in almost as high a regard as they do his father. Moreover, Gwenyfar is the sweetheart of the Black Horse, and as many of the knights are of noble families, the couple are not without political support. The friendship of the couple is greatly to be desired then, and while their patronage is no great coin save for those seeking knighthood in the Horse, their ire is keenly avoided.