Since yesterday was my birthday (yay me!) I have decided to take today to talk briefly about birthdays and other age-related issues on Halci.
Most birthdays are not celebrated; a person can not expect a yearly party thrown in their honor, even as a child. While noble houses or rich merchant families may do so, there is no social pressure to celebrate or even acknowledge the vast majority of years, and as such, anything of the sort happens on a case-by-case basis.
What a person can expect, however, is the celebration of several milestone years.
The very first is the celebration of the birth itself, which is usually arranged post-birth in case either the child or the mother does not survive. This celebration is mostly for the parents and varies depending upon their resources and social standing. Nobility tend to throw lavish parties, while peasants might just do their best to scrounge up enough food or trinkets to gift to those who come to give the child their blessings. Specific customs vary by locale and season, but with the understanding that once the celebration is announced, every guest must be received and given at least a small gift in parting — for they might be a spirit in disguise. Offending the Winter Graces by barring entry to one’s house even in the dead of winter will garner far more wrath than opening one’s doors, even though the Winter Graces usually take anything they can get and give nothing back.
Sometimes a spirit will mark a child, who will immediately be given a name — often reflecting that mark. Such an incident is a tacit promise from the spirit to the parents that the child will survive their first year, either naturally or through the spirit’s protection, and may continue to be bonded to it throughout life.
Otherwise, it is traditional to leave a baby nameless throughout the first year of its life. This year, sometimes called the Shadow Year, has the highest infant mortality rate, and it is believed that by not naming the child, the parents keep the eye of Death off of it. This is technically true; Death has no ability to see people without names, whether they are truly nameless or became so through mind- or soul-tampering. However, this does not actually prevent babies or nameless adults from dying, it just keeps Death from claiming them for her realm. Instead, the eiyets of the Shadow Realm claim nameless babies, while nameless adults can meet various fates.
Once the Shadow Year is finished, there will be a naming ceremony for the baby, again ranging from a lavish religious or secular affair to a simple recitation of name and lineage by the parents. This is also the starting point of adoption; a baby still within its Shadow Year can not be adopted no matter its situation. Orphans, street children and others who either forget their birth-names or never had the ritual spoken over them can claim their own name at any point later in life, or choose to never declare a real name and live under Death-evading aliases.
(Again, this does not keep one from dying.)
Most simply, a parent declares a name by stating to the child, ‘You are [full name], son/daughter of [parent(s)]’, with any additional lineage described thereafter. A child without biological parents who is claimed in this way by an adult is considered — by the world itself — to be adopted, unless there is another spiritual link in place to prevent the bond from being forged.
This is a very simple form of magic that all Halion people practice but do not realize is magic. It can be undone by a spirit — who can adopt a child in the place of an adult — or by a mage who can manipulate the soul, but otherwise there will always be a parent-child bond between the two individuals no matter what happens next. As this can obviously result in abuses, there are social and religious stigmas against such spontaneous adoptions, and a child able to understand and reject what is happening can resist the process.
The entire stage from birth to six years is called a child’s Earth age (for stability), in which they are expected to stay in the care of their mother or other keeper.
The next stage, Water (for malleability), begins at the seventh birthday, which almost always involves a celebration and gifts. This age marks the start of a child’s formal education, whether through an apprenticeship or a school or the military. Gifts tend to be tools of one’s selected trade, scholarly material, or heirloom weapons, though they might be withheld and merely the promise of them given for when the child proves worthy. Many children will leave their families completely at this age — in particular the children of Trivestes, who are drafted into the Youth Corps at this age and may spend the remainder of their lives within the bounds of Trivestean military service.
The third stage, Wood (for growth and potential), begins at age thirteen, which is also the official age of consent and thus of legal marriage. Children can be betrothed before thirteen but can not cohabit. Thirteen is also the lowest permissible age for guild initiation or journeyman tradesman status, should the child merit it. The thirteenth birthday is not usually celebrated for someone not passing one of those milestones (getting married, completing apprenticeship, etc) but might be acknowledged with gifts by the parents, particularly if an inheritance was previously withheld at age seven.
While individuals in their Wood age are technically considered adults, they are not yet full citizens and are often still treated like children. Strictures on military service vary but people are usually considered ‘ready for combat’ within this age bracket, and can be employed but not employ others, can rent property but not yet own it, and have no voice in government.
The fourth age, of Air (for intellect), starts at nineteen, which is the age of majority — including formal citizenship and landholding — in most territories. The Risen Phoenix Empire marks it at eighteen due to recently declining life expectancies within the Empire; other places have other reasons. Regardless, nineteen is the last of the large celebration-years for most people, and the year of full inheritance if such is still lacking. It is also the first year of permissible Master status in a trade, or of military commission (except in Trivestes or as the result of battlefield promotions).
The three later ages (Fire from 25-30, Metal from 31-36, Light from 37-42) are throwbacks to earlier days when the general life expectancy of the population was 40 to 45. Fire was one’s military, political or professional prime, Metal the years of defending against challengers and training successors, and Light the years of spiritual reconciliation in preparation for death. These days, the life expectancy for most of the civilized world is between 45 and 65, with spikes in the 80s, so such a limited view of later life is no longer standard. However, the concepts persist among skinchanger tribes and in the rougher territories where such is life.
On the subject of life expectancy, here is a map!
This is a rough and probably quite inaccurate representation of life expectancy trends in the known world. I enjoy statistics but I’m not going to try to figure this one out too specifically; mostly it’s to highlight the places where violence seriously impacts the lives of the populace as well as where the general well-being of the people has been suppressed.
The red and orange areas are all areas of near-constant war, or of natural hazards so overwhelming that they prematurely age and kill the population. The Desert of Aervach, the border between the lizard-lands and civilized Zhangi-Uru, the conflict zone between the Sapphire Army and the skinchangers of the Garnet Mountains… All of these are places where either the environment or the society has made it difficult for people to get far past breeding age before they get killed.
Magenta and purple areas are not much better. The magenta zones have less systemic violence but retain either oppressive environments or military threats — sometimes both. All of Trivestes is magenta because of its intense, persistent, possibly-self-destructive hatred of the Garnet Mountain populace and its unending aggression toward them; likewise with the Xiroacen, Szari-Nak and Festering Jungle territories. In purple are populations being drained by the conflicts near them but not directly impacted; most of the early deaths are of men of fighting age who go to the war zones, rather than of civilians caught in the crossfire.
Dark blue and light blue areas are stable and prosperous population centers, respectively, with life expectancy buoyed by lack of local war and strong social structure. The few green and tan areas are outliers — either isolated or magic-based communities where growing old does not bring the same hazards as elsewhere.