This week, we take a look at one of my favorite cultures, Trivestes — which probably says something bad about me, since they’re some of the meanest people on the continent.
The Trivestean bloodline is one of the most homogenous in the known world, consisting almost entirely of Eagle lineage. Their spirit-patron, Senket the Sky Ruler, still appears to some of the outland Trivesteans when they need his assistance, despite the rest of the protectorate’s conversion to the Imperial Light faith and their rejection of spiritist views. No matter how much they try to separate themselves from their Eagle roots, though, the Trivesteans can not escape the traits they inherited from their patron: pride, ambition, territoriality, and generalized hostility toward those they consider beneath them. Which is everyone.
The Trivesteans’ skinchanger precursors never had a clan system. Couples would stake out a territory in the wilds of the Tableland and live separate from all others, perhaps raising children or perhaps not. Others would organize their territory to include a larger kin-group — siblings and parents and children, perhaps even cousins — but none would live close enough to each other to intrude, for Trivesteans like their privacy and sometimes can’t even stand their own young children long enough to raise them. Their society was thus nearly nonexistent, interactions with other couples and families being as likely to end in hostilities as in friendship.
As the Eagle-folk on the borders began to intermingle with other peoples, though, some of them managed to learn a measure of tolerance. They observed the strength of the wolf-tribes to the north and east and started to organize themselves in reaction, reasoning that though the wolf-folk could not reach them in their cliff-side homes, it was still wise to prepare for a day when they might find a way.
Living in larger groups meant cultivating interpersonal skills that did not come naturally to their bloodline, and so they codified a set of social expectations to prevent fighting amongst themselves or between their kind and the wolves. The social code swiftly expanded to cover legal, philosophical and physical conflicts of all types, in order to close the myriad loopholes the Trivesteans who had to live by the code were finding in order to fight with each other.
However, even the code was not enough — not when almost every member of the lineage was too stubborn, recalcitrant and egotistical to obey. To deal with this issue, the leaders of the few border towns that had instituted the code decided to transform it into military training and go ‘recruit’ those who had previously refused to live by it. Force was not used, because force can not make a Trivestean obey; bribery, flattery, appeals to prowess, and promise of glory all had far better returns than the arm-twisting the border-towns had been trying. Competitions were announced, and Trivesteans flocked from far and wide to try to outdo their kin in tournaments that would guarantee military positions — which included tests of acceptable behavior.
The border-towns grew rapidly with this influx of viciously competitive and motivated soldiers, and soon began raiding neighboring lands. Some of the wolf-tribes joined with them as allies to take down other wolf-tribes, or to fight the bear-folk and snake-folk and catmen, and over the course of a few centuries the combined territory of the wolves and the eagles became known as Tevin — after its first self-appointed king, who managed to hold the throne for several years despite almost a hundred duel-challenges by his command staff. Other clans beyond the borders of Tevin were beginning to form their own kingdoms, but none developed as disciplined a military or as all-encompassing a body of law, even if those laws were heavily skewed in favor of those who had eagle-blood.
In the wake of the Sealing Disasters, the king of Tevin decided that the entirety of the Heartlands needed his kind of discipline, and so set out to unite them — whether through diplomacy or force of arms. By that time, military service was mandatory for all Tevinites, whether wolf or eagle-blood, and some children were given a military education starting as young as age seven — most particularly the children of high officers or politicians, but also those of ordinary Trivestean couples who could not tolerate their child, either because of a child’s dysfunctional behavior or the parents’ own issues. The fighting that followed only ended because of the sudden death of the hawk-spirit Kvenkiut, which shocked the eagle-spirit Senket enough to send reverberations through his entire lineage. The empire the Tevinites had tried to create with themselves at the top was instead founded by a Bear Emperor, leaving them mired in a spiritual depression and allowing the wolf-tribes to take the lead in Tevin Province.
Later came the breaking of Ruen Wyn by the western empire of Altaera during the War of the Lion and Eagle. An Eagle Emperor held the throne of Ruen Wyn at that time, for the crown was traded between the provinces depending on merit; he was known as Finvanchir the Stern, and while he wasn’t particularly beloved by the Ruenic people, he was well-respected and a former general. So it horrified the whole of Ruen Wyn when their army was soundly thrashed by Altaera’s magic-users, who were vastly more powerful than Ruen Wyn’s spiritists. Again, the eagle-folk retreated into their Tablelands while the rest of the Heartlands fell prey to the Altaerans, spawning both the wolf-folk’s hatred of them and perhaps their revulsion toward their own patron-spirit Senket, who had also fled the field.
Once Altaera collapsed, Tevin split into Riddian for the wolves and Trivestes for the eagle-kin. Both were eventually absorbed into the Risen Phoenix Empire, with Trivestes once again given control over the wolves of Riddian — this time as the leaders of the Sapphire Eye, first of the three Imperial army groups. With Trivesteans serving as officers and Riddishfolk serving as common soldiers, the Sapphire Eye has always been primed to turn on itself, and no amount of Imperial diplomacy or forced intermarriage has managed to ease the tension. A particular sore point is the Garnet Mountain Territories, which are heavily wolf-populated and still free of Imperial influence; the Trivesteans believe that the Riddish are giving aid to those hostile wolf-kin and are possibly even disloyal to the Empire, and some have gone to tortuous lengths to try to prove this theory. For their part, the Riddish resent the Trivesteans’ long-time dominance of them, which has now been made an official policy of the Sapphire Eye.
Okay, that was a lot of text. Time for some pictures.
The Tablelands used to be a grand, wide-spanning plateau that reached from the Garnet Mountains all the way to the Amandic plains. There were rivers and gorges aplenty, but not the kind of rift-riddled formations that can be found today. During the end-days of the Ruenic Wars of Unification, the spirits Kvenkiut and Senket fought a duel throughout the eastern Heartlands, and their claws tore huge gashes in the Tablelands that were worn down further as the exposed rock disintegrated. While there are still many great expansive plateaus today, some parts of the Tablelands have eroded into collections of free-standing rock spires.
Passage between the plateaus has always been risky. While there are some gorges narrow enough for a bridge to span, the bad weather and high winds common to many areas of the Tableland make any such crossing perilous. Thus, walkways and winding stairs are more prevalent, as well as ropes and ladders that are only let down for friends. Most Trivesteans living in the Tableland interior do not want visitors anyway; they consist of the Fortholders who live in small military compounds atop plateaus, or the wildlanders who live in mated pairs and act little different from their skinchanger ancestors.
The southern Tablelands get a large amount of rain due to the wet winds blowing north off the Atharine Sea. The northeastern Tablelands get a good dose as well, from glaciermelt in the Garnet Mountains in summer and autumn. However, much of the central and northwestern area is arid at top level and gets its water from either natural springs or mechanical lifts that run on river power.
The northwestern area is also where most of the border cities are. Built either in valleys or at the foothills of the plateaus, they invariably sit next to rivers or lakes, because Trivesteans can’t live without fish.
The national weapon of Trivestes is the longbow, but it might as well be the fishing pole or spear, because fish is one of the only things most Trivesteans will eat. A bit of fowl here, a bit of rabbit (or lizard or snake or eel or fried insect) there, but otherwise all fish — and nearly nothing plant-based. Heavily eagle-blooded Trivesteans can’t tolerate milk or cheese at all, though those with a reasonable amount of other blood (25% plus) can handle it. Sweets don’t tempt them, and they react badly to many types of greens and root vegetables. They also don’t have the patience for herding, so don’t keep stocks of goats or pigs even when they live in areas where that is possible. Instead, they carefully stock and manage plateau-top fish-ponds, hunt in the valleys and fish in the rivers, and keep close tally of all such activity to make sure the prey-populations continue to thrive.
While some of them still tan their own leather and wear what they kill, their competitive nature has come out through fashion as well, so most Trivesteans rely on imported cloth.
Trivestean dress tends toward the neat, sharp and militant, and is almost entirely unisex. Both men and women attend compulsory military training, with many joining the Youth Corps at seven or eight. Only men are allowed in the Sapphire Eye, but because of Trivesteans’ lack of much recognizable gender difference, this stricture gets bent all the time. Women who are caught will be discharged from the military immediately, but may retain any honors they received while in service, and so many girls and women continue to try to sneak in and win glory.
The prototypical Trivestean is narrowly built, black-haired, pale-eyed and fine-boned. Men and women tend to have the same height and frame, though women can be slightly taller — so that large Trivesteans are often called-out as women, and Trivesteans among other peoples are often unnerved by tall men and think that short women are still children. Trivesteans can’t grow much facial hair, though may have fine sideburns.
Some Trivesteans keep ‘lesser’ birds of prey as pets or for the purpose of falconry (and shhh yes I know that’s Tom Hiddleston shhhhh don’t look at him just look at the bird). They can’t keep actual eagles because Senket, spirit of eagles, is still alive and thus every eagle is still a skinchanger, even if they choose not to change.
All of the pictures above are fairly monochromatic, which — while dramatic — should not be taken as the only way Trivesteans dress. In fact, blue is the protectorate’s official color, and both formal and casual attire is often patterned with embroidery or paint. The fashions toward subtlety or garishness wax and wane, with military staff tending to follow the trends of the Sapphire General and his wife and those outside the military leaning the opposite way in response. Feathers are always a sought-after luxury item.
Home life can be surprisingly cozy. Trivesteans like decor well enough, but don’t consider it to be for display, just for their own enjoyment; except for diplomats and high-ranking military officers, no Trivestean is expected to entertain guests, and certainly not in their own home. Thus the home can be in any state of disarray so long as every member of the household approves.
*Note to the image above: The thumb ring. Trivesteans usually draw their bowstrings with their thumbs, thus the thumb ring is a mark of the military and militia.
Most households are two adults and a varying amount of small children. Trivesteans marry for love and are not legally permitted to divorce, though they may choose to live separately; it is often said that they mate for life, because many want nothing to do with anyone other than their spouse and would not leave for any reason. They consider infidelity to be repulsive and unnatural, though it does happen — and usually ends in bloodshed. The disruption of child-rearing is sometimes more than a couple can manage, and they will pass their child off to relatives who are better emotionally equipped to handle it, or hang on just long enough to send the child to the Youth Corps. Grown children can sometimes be amicable with their parents, but might also think of them as strangers.
Politically, the Sapphire General is the de facto leader of Trivestes, with an advisory council made up of current and former officers. Civilians have no voice in the government, and are subject to military law — the modern extension of the original code of conduct. As far as Trivesteans are concerned, their law supersedes Imperial law, but the current Sapphire General is wise enough not to say that to the Emperor’s face.
Being exiled from Trivestes and the Sapphire Eye is the worst punishment a Trivestean can suffer that doesn’t involve a duel.