Picking up on our slow loop through the Imperial Heartlands, in this installment we visit the Kingdom of Riddian. It has been allowed to stay a kingdom because it submitted to the Emperor in the early years of the Imperial expansion, rather than resisting like the protectorates of Amandon and Darronwy, and has thus been given the right to self-govern (mostly) and to select its own leaders rather than having them appointed.
Internally, Riddian is divided into many clan territories, but the greatest division is between the habitable lands and the Salt Wastes, as seen below:
The combination of the green and yellow zones (and some coastline and mountains that continue off the map, which was made for books 2 and 3) constitute the entirety of Riddian, but only the green zone can sustain life. The yellow zone is the bed of the former Shivering Sea, which existed as a saltwater inlet from the Cyrellean Ocean before the placement of the Seals but which was cut off from the ocean afterward. The water of the Shivering Sea drained or evaporated (or both) with relative rapidity, disappearing within the next few hundred years and leaving the entirety of its bed coated in mineral salts and toxic pools.
(For those interested, these photos are taken from sites around the world, specifically Spotted Lake in Canada, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, Cave of the Crystals in Mexico, Lake Natron in Tanzania, the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia, and salt flats in Senegal.)
While the outskirts of the Salt Wastes are mostly palatable salt, the further one goes into the Wastes the more toxic the pools — and even the atmosphere — become. At the center of the Wastes stands the wraith flagship Hlacaasteia, amid the mineral spires of Crystal Valley; it is said to be cemented into the Wastes by the buildup of salt on its surface and thus abandoned by its residents, but no one who has tried to test that theory has returned.
The Salt Wastes are instrumental in the determination of Riddish kingship. Every six years, the clans who wish to compete for noble status assemble their warriors at a particular point near the edge of Crystal Valley, where the air is still breathable but detrimental to the weak or to long exposure. Clan representatives battle in a tournament upon the salt, with only the top twelve being granted noble titles for the next cycle — out of an estimated sixty to eighty total clans.
The king’s clan does not participate in these events; it is considered automatically noble, having earned its nobility in the once-every-eighteen-years kingship tourney. The idea is the same, and usually coincides with a nobility tourney: the clans battle, and the one which ranks best gets to choose from among their members to be the king. The king is then expected to reign for eighteen good years, though the king’s clan may be challenged at the nobles’ tourney every six years if a majority of the noble clans dislike the way the current king rules.
Should a king be assassinated within his first six years, the king’s clan has the right to select his successor — but only once. Should the chosen successor also be killed, an emergency tourney is called. Otherwise, the king’s clan and the successor must defend their rank in the next scheduled nobility tourney.
Because of the requirement that these tournaments take place upon the salt, it is a common rite of passage for young men to enter the Salt Wastes — or even Crystal Valley — to retrieve certain minerals from certain spires or pools. If a man can not endure the salt, then he is not a man, and must live among the women. Likewise, many of Riddian’s warriors train on the salt; this has a dual purpose of toughening them for the tournaments and keeping their activities out of view of the Trivesteans, who have a serious vulnerability to the Salt Wastes’ toxic minerals and will not enter it.
In fact, most non-Riddish have little tolerance for the poisonous vapors of the Salt Wastes. It is suspected that the Riddish developed immunity to many of the compounds in the Wastes due to centuries of consuming the brinier and brinier harvests from the Shivering Sea and thereafter consuming meat fed on the saltbushes that grow alongside the Wastes. Other theories suggest that a high proportion of skinchangers (and a strong spiritist leaning) in the population may allow the Riddish to shake off some of the poisoning through spirit-intervention, or that the Snake bloodline prevalent in the northern Riddish may confer some immunity to toxic substances.
In fact, despite being a willing subject of the Risen Phoenix Empire, Riddian is known to have the highest proportion of skinchangers and spiritists in the ‘civilized’ north. (Corvia and the Garnet Mountain Territories don’t count.)
Even though the Riddish skinchangers stick to human form , their existence is considered a problem by both the Emperor and the Trivesteans, who oversee Riddian under the banner of the Sapphire Eye Army. In particular, the Riddish are suspected of sympathizing with the wolf-folk of the Garnet Mountain Territories, who have been at war with Trivestes for centuries. Also, while faith in the Imperial Light is widespread in Riddian, it generally coexists with spiritist beliefs rather than supplants them, meaning that many Riddish are considered heretics despite their Light faith because that faith has been modified to fit with their worship of the Wolf or the Snake.
Thus, the Emperor has forced the Riddish clans into a regular process of intermarriage with the Trivesteans. Some believe that this is to forge stronger ties between the antisocial Trivesteans and the clan-loyal Riddish in the hope that some day they will cease fighting, but others see it as a way for the Emperor to break up (and eventually eradicate) skinchanger bloodlines by forcing them to procreate with others not of their type — and thereby produce human children.
These arranged marriages have not always been successful.
One of the reasons for this is due to the Riddish perception of genders and roles being the same thing. A man is only a man if he can do the things required of one: fight, hunt or herd, patrol, kill. A woman is only a woman if she can craft, nurture or grow, scribe or spellcast. A female individual who would rather dedicate herself to the hunt and to combat is considered a man; a male individual with interests in farming, child-rearing, weaving or even smithcraft is considered a woman. The Riddish have their own words for these two divisions — the physical jiten and the cerebral jendae — but these are almost unknown outside of Riddian and have been supplanted by more standard gender-definitions among some of the border clans.
Thus there is often some confusion within a Trivestean-Riddish marriage if a male jendae is sent as a wife to a Trivestean man. Trivesteans take their marital obligations as a matter of life and death, and a Trivestean who abuses or abandons his or her spouse is considered the lowest of the low, so these marriages tend to persist despite such cultural miscommunication.
Additionally, Riddish gender-roles have little to do with sexual preference and even less to do with Riddish marriages. Jiten and jiten can pledge to each other, though they are expected to have one or more jendae within their marital circle to tend to matters back at home; likewise, two or more jendae may form a marriage compact and be considered a family unit, though they are expected to take at least one jiten as a spokesperson and protector. In practice, every Riddish clan is a collection of such marriage compacts, binding the members through a mixture of blood and common law.
As might be expected, then, there is not as much difference between male and female looks than there is between jiten and jendae, and between wolf-kin and snake-kin.
While jendae tend to have longer hair, this is also true of wolf-kin in general, whereas snake-kin tend to have short fine hair no matter their gender and are often bald. Nor is facial hair necessarily an indicator of jiten or jendae status.
Colors and clothing are more helpful. Jiten wear mostly leather and are the only ones who will wear armor; they also tend toward dark or nondescript tones with their clan-colors as accents on bandanas, belts or sashes. Jendae, on the other hand, wear wool or imported cloth and much larger swatches of color — sometimes even fully-colored garments. The presence of these large patches of color alerts their clan-members to them, and also signals to members of enemy clans that these are noncombatants and thus off-limits to any ongoing grudges. Jendae mages, however, do not get a free pass for being jendae if they start any hostilities.
It should be noted that even as noncombatants, jendae are expected to know how to defend themselves. Most jendae carry at least one ‘wolf’s fang’ or ‘snake’s fang’ dagger with which to dissuade anyone who tries to take liberties with them, and snake-kin jendae are well-known for their ability to evade and redirect aggressors.
Outside of the Salt Wastes, the terrain of Riddian is still harsh. Much of the land is arid, being in the rain-shadow of the Lesser Garnet Mountains, and though the western hills become lusher, they soon descend into the Daecian Swamp. The southern border is a compromise-zone with Trivestes that would more honestly be called a conflict-zone; there are Riddish villages among the foothills and mountains there but they are always in danger of being run off or murdered by the Trivesteans, who are paranoid about contact they may be having with the Garnet wolf-folk. In the northeast, there is a decent stretch of coastline belonging to Riddian, with a population of fisherfolk that is considered a distinct subgroup; these don’t often come in contact with their landlocked kin and are more influenced by Krovichankan traders than Imperial or Riddish ways.
While many of the landlocked clans live a subsistence lifestyle centering on farming, goat-herding, hunting and small-scale mining, others exploit the Salt Wastes for its minerals and the specialized plants that grow in its toxic soil. Medicine is said to be Riddian’s great calling, and poisoning its favorite pastime. Its capital city at Thyda is considered the apothecary and chemistry center of the north, with minerals, chemicals and compounds distilled and tested, poisons and tonics brewed, and accidental explosions rearranging the architecture almost daily. Its lesser cities of Finrarden and Keceirnden (both shared with its neighbors) receive a trickle-down effect from its research, most notably in Finrarden which sits at the edge of the Salt Waste and thus can harvest its own supplies and support its own experiments. Glasswork, leatherwork and various handicrafts also serve as notable exports, but salt and poison have always been the most popular.
As for the cities, Thyda and Finrarden are both built to resist the scathing wind from the Salt Wastes, with no windows in the direction that faces the Wastes and regular removal of sand, debris and salt-rime from the walls. Clans live in family compounds within the cities, or within walled fortresses outside of them; smaller family groups either roam their territory and live in tents or have a dedicated ‘den’ built underground, both to avoid the salt wind and to insulate against the harsh Riddish winters. All Riddish tend to build low, so when there is a Trivestean presence in their cities (such as in Finrarden and Keceirnden), it is always readily apparent: Trivesteans are incapable of not having a broad view over the surrounding area, and so tend to build the tallest towers they possibly can, which stick up from the lower Riddish constructions like antennae.
While the pools in the above image of the family compound are anachronistic, most family compounds will possess their own well, if not a spring; especially in the cities, they do not trust their neighboring clans not to tamper with the water supply. Family compounds do not usually have a ground-floor entrance, but require entry via ladder lowered by a clan member; they are also regularly patrolled via roof-level walkway. The Riddish are serious about defending their territory, often acting like gangs by starting conflicts with neighboring family compounds in reflexive attempts to expand their range. Mediation by jendae is usually necessary to get two neighboring clans to behave, and even then they will often graffiti each other’s walls and deface each other’s clan signs.
Finally, have the Riddish flag: