Loremageddon: The North Ton Warstock, ca. 1290 V.R.

And here we are for NaNoWriMo Day 2! Without nearly so much ado this time, let’s get into some warstock lore! (Warning: tall angry women. Less tall but equally angry men.)

***

The North Ton warstock feel the sting of their insufficiencies more sharply than any. As the greater Ton ethnic group’s buffer against the “corruptive tendrils” of the outside world–a dramatic but not exactly baseless phrasing from Matriarch Jonun Sairo–they constantly confront both their strengths over Canno’s other peoples, and their weaknesses. As with most things Tonnish, this manifests more strongly in them than their peacestock kin. Everything from their near-crazed training to the constant downpour of mantras, proverbs and honor codes they obey comes as a direct attempt to define themselves against the wider world.

For a warstock child of either gender, responsibility begins when they learn to walk; adulthood, when they first gain basic skill with a weapon. Indoctrination in the Ton warstock’s ways starts with the first words spoken to a child. These change village by village and house by house, but they usually involve a portentous exhortation about Tonnish ideals of courage, honor, fealty to the House and family, and ferocity in battle.

The baby’s response is usually to start crying.

Children are encouraged to cry early and often for their first few years of life. For the peacestock, nothing changes as they grow older. Warstock children receive rude awakenings starting on their seventh birthdays, when they’re informed in no uncertain terms that they were told to cry so much because those are the only public tears allowed for their entire lives. “Coddle their innocence such that its sudden murder is as the first death they see at war,” as Matriarch Hu Lin put it. This is no metaphor: the Ton truly believe that this terrible emotional shock eases the strain of later ones by reshaping the child’s mind at the critical moment.

At this age, the North Ton believe they’ve developed enough to understand the basic reasons behind things. Any further tears shed in public result in an immediate lashing–verbal to start with, but moving swiftly into more and more violent punishments as they grow older. A few exceptions are made for extreme situations to avoid distracting a child from certain things; it’s natural that some warriors burst into tears after their first kills, for example.

Not long after they learn how to walk, these children are promptly informed by parents, guardians or teachers that they’re actually doing it wrong. Some walk too unevenly, some too daintily, some too gracelessly, but not a single child grows up in the Ton-Ga without being informed that their life’s first achievement is really no achievement at all. It should come as no surprise that the North Ton spend their entire lives grappling with a sense of being less than they are.

Movement itself has been codified down to individual components from House to House. The Lins expect a long, predatory lope with the feet rolling each step home comparatively slowly. They look with quick snaps of the head, always bearing a stern, analytical expression. The whole leg must move with every step, but whether it moves any great distance depends on context;. The key is a gliding, almost weightless movement–one might call it ghost like. The arms should either be clasped tightly against the body or braced against a weapon; any other movement distracts the warrior’s hands from their purpose, or so the reasoning goes.

House Sairo, whose territory includes slightly more dry land than bog–a near-miracle!–emphasizes ramrod posture, forceful stepping, and a constant stony glare. They sweep the arms in time with each step, and are expected to fall in line with other Sairos as if by reflex.

House Huan focuses not on the scale or force of movements, but on their poise. Their teachers always instill this with proverbs like “a bow, drawn or unstrung, remains a bow.” When loose, a Huan war should pose herself as if she might go taut at the least threat; when alert, she should seem liable to strike at the first nostril flaring too widely.

House Yao formerly insisted on a fluid, dancer-like style of movement which remains the standard through much of the House. Its current Matriarch has discarded this insistent in favor of the idea that each warrior should move according to her own best instincts; doing otherwise purely for tradition is teaching discordance, and discordance makes poor fighters. This change in isolation meets approval; in tandem with her others, however, it causes increasing concern.

No sooner do North Ton children learn this onslaught of instructions than they’re introduced to a merciless regimen of stretches, weight-lifting exercises, and more stretches calculated to increase their stature. Along with the warstock’s usual selective breeding–and, in the case of more than a few noble bloodlines, arcane genetic enhancement–these things have pushed the North Ton to an average height of over six feet. This becomes far more jarring when reading accounts from before the Loar War which say Ton rarely topped 5’4″! The diet for this stature comes, as most warstock advantages do, from pushing food-gathering and other menial work ever further on to the peacestock.

Each of these Houses has its own more specific traditions as well:

House Lin, seeking to meet the standards of stories about Ten-Zai which they refuse to admit are almost certainly fake, insist that their youngsters take up certain kinds of training whenever they stray. An unruly child must study Iron Hand for an entire day without wavering, breaking training spear after training spear against granite blocks until, in the evening, she cannot lift her spoon to eat dinner. If she shows discipline otherwise, her teachers will usually allow her to eat with her mouth. The penalty for excessive energy is much more obvious: a continuous run through all the areas of town until the child collapses. Disfocus and inattention are rewarded with blindfolded sparring matches, mouthiness with being forced to recite the House’s mantra while dodging slightly-padded stone arrows, and so on.

As a better legacy from Ten-Zai, its teachers and parents have handed down a treasure-trove of willpower and emotion-wielding exercises. They learn early on that words have power, and potentially great power if used correctly. They’re taught to focus their thoughts on who they wish to be and to phrase these thoughts so forcefully that they feel like an energy unto themselves. Matriarch Yuchirin Lin, Mou-chirin’s mother, produced a number of famous phrases in this model: “I become the dread spear dripping black venom; I am the grim warden, wrathful and implacable, and I make slaughter my domain,” “The foe shall gaze upon oblivion incarnated through me, and ere they blink I’ll carve them raw,” and others like these.

Appropriately for the northernmost traditional House, House Lin’s warriors have become known for a cogent fury. In fact, the Lins are probably responsible for the outside world’s myths about “Ton-Ga Fury” to begin with! This and a few other psychological advantages flow right from the Inferno Matriarch’s teachings. Lin warriors are one of only a few forces on Canno who consistently prove their readiness to die to the last; if anything, the difficulty for a Lin general is not inspiring her troops to fight harder, but preventing them from committing to full assaults during a simple probing attack!

House Sairo pits its children against each other in defensive mock-battles from the age of ten. Each battle involves hundreds of children, occasionally thousands, roving over the hills in team-painted “armor” of thin lacquered wood. The defender’s goal is not necessarily to defeat the enemy force; the teachers always ensure that the attackers outnumber the defenders by a hefty count! Instead, the defending team must use choke points, terror, traps, and delaying tactics to stymie or evade them until the attackers–quite simply–give up. The only exceptions are “citadels” which the children themselves work alongside the instructors to build.

These formidable bastions can stand up to twenty feet tall, and are sometimes completed with no mud whatsoever! Regardless of age, however, all Sairos take these exercises with deadly seriousness: the House’s defensive warfare is the sole reason for its survival after the Loar War. Sairo Matriarchs have cautioned their daughters for a thousand years to play the long game, stay out of the way, and let the other Houses war against each other. It’s likely only one Sairo Matriarch will have the chance to turn their fortunes around; if she errs, there will be no coming back.

House Huan takes every child away from her parents regardless of rank and sends her to a warrior’s academy at the age of six. This tradition extends even to the Matriarch’s daughters, and is so important to the House that a whole subset of security measures has sprung up around it. Often, the Huan Matriarch won’t publicly admit that one of her daughters survived birth until the girl safely reaches her assigned academy–doing otherwise might open her up to assassins on the way!

Once there, the would-be noblewoman is treated exactly the same as every other child. She participates in the same drills, goes on the same perilous journeys into the bogs to fetch items hidden by her teachers–which, in another Huan tradition, may or may not actually exist!–and if anything is treated more harshly than the other children by her teachers. The current Huan Matriarch has grown overly soft on her daughters, however, and let the tradition lapse; this may be why two of her three daughters are no better than adequate.

House Yao, as with many other things, provided so much of the template for the other Houses that its own methods ironically seem uninspired. This said, Matriarch Guan-zhe has begun implementing some new ideas of her own towards the latest generation. In perhaps the most aggressive break from tradition dared by a Matriarch in centuries, she has ordered that warstock children be taught with some of the peacestock’s methods! Among other things, Guan-zhe asserts that the warstock’s emotional conditioning creates warriors who can never stop being warriors. “This might be practical if we didn’t need to sleep, or eat, or rest our minds,” she noted, more than a little irritably.

House Yao’s children, while still trained hard, are taught that softer emotions aren’t the problem: it’s the exposure of those emotions in the wrong places and the wrong times that becomes dangerous. Instead of the near-torturous physical punishments favored by the other Houses, House Yao has submitted its children to a subtler psychological one: reading history books. While Guan-zhe’s approach faces bitter resistance from her House’s traditionalists, it does seem that House Yao has begun seeing fewer outbursts of violence and internal struggle than its opponents.

Otherwise, every effort goes towards shaping Tonnish children into disciplined killers from an early age. Both the Ansethi and Ceslonian warstock regard “the Tonnish Approach” not because it’s harsh, but simply because they consider it wasted effort. The time spent berating or beating a child could just as easily be put towards exercises or martial drills, they argue, and would do more to teach the child emotional control than constant thrashings anyway. Of course, the more the North Ton warstock hear this, the more stubbornly they cling to their system. For all its brutality, it does work–whether or not this just makes it more tragic has been the subject of more than a few plays and far too much tortured poetry.

Not long before they reach puberty, warstock students are introduced to cosmetics, and yet another iron reminder of the difference between themselves and the peacestock. The North Ton’s indoctrination has grown so fanatical that it bleeds into material sciences. The distinction here is not by gender; both men and women in the North Ton warstock are encouraged to use cosmetics liberally to make themselves appear stronger. More effectively shadowing the eyes and adding depth to the cheeks can confer some dignity on anyone–besides which, most North Ton have rounded faces even when thin as twigs–as well as hiding the tiredness which perpetually hounds a warrior.

Certain materials, however, simply aren’t fit to be used by the warstock! It’s all well and good for a soft-skinned, “fatty” (usually meaning anything less than ripplingly toned) peacestock woman to paint herself with whatever she pleases, but the warstock should surpass such low standards. Except where it becomes flatly impossible, every cosmetic is based on some form of metal or stone. Warriors who can’t withstand a little eye-irritation clearly shouldn’t be using cosmetics at all–and indeed, many do not!

Magnetite, usually collected by warstock girls and boys alike from the forge-scale of smiths, has become the de-facto form of eye-shadow. It works fairly well in this being non-toxic, a solid black, and easily spread when powderized. Unfortunately, it also smears easily and tends to stain everything, meaning it’s usually the last cosmetic applied and a tiny slip of the hand can undo all the work beforehand.

Otherwise, the North Ton have numerous books explaining which stones, clays and metal-mixtures function best, how to combine them effectively, and which are liable to become toxic if used together. All of this is preferable to the unending nightmare of trying to collect safe cosmetic materials from the bogs–even theoretically-harmless plants are frequently crawling with insects, parasites or bacteria which do horrid things when they crawl into the eyes. Outsiders who wonder why this isn’t the reason given for relying on metals and stones are told–sometimes with a frown, but frequently with a wry smile–that such warnings would only make the young more determined to use bog-scrapings after all!

The North Ton have a final, extravagant rule about cosmetics: only a Matriarch and her immediate family may use powderized sapphire-steel. It’s true that sapphire-steel becomes a lovely speckling of various blue shades, iridescent and dappled in light–but a single pinch of sapphire-steel costs as much as many warstock houses in any case! Few but a Matriarch could afford a steady supply of it for something as banal as eye-shadow to begin with, and only a Matriarch would be crazed enough to want a substance three times harder than traditional steel scraping her eyeballs! Unsurprisingly, this rule has rarely been challenged.

Whatever the system’s failings and side-effects, it’s certainly true that by the time they approach puberty the North Ton’s warstock children develop hardiness and willpower that seem inhuman. In exchange, however, they often grow up single-minded and arrogant, constantly obsessing over whether they meet their stock’s standards. Then, at the age of fourteen, the split happens.

Warstock boys go directly into a final training period for their vocation–be it as a weaponsmith or armorer, an instructor to future generations in their turn, service in line duty, or the most prestigious assignment of all: House Guard to a Matriarch. They spend four years receiving any special teachings their masters have left, and at the age of eighteen enter directly into their new places in life. They will fill these roles until they die, fail enough to be exiled, or excel such that they earn something better.

Warstock girls are informed by their mothers–or closest surviving female relatives, as frequently becomes necessary when their mothers have already died in battle–about the First Duty. At its core, it’s ruthlessly logical: men cannot give birth, and so the burden of sustaining the House’s numbers falls upon women. Some Houses try to phrase the idea through religious allegories or by invoking a sense of cosmic balance. Matriarch Hu-Lin threw it out more honestly: “Whether you’re stabbed in the heart, the head or the belly, you’re done giving birth. No babies mean no warriors, and no warriors mean no House.” She herself had two daughters and five sons; one daughter survived to carry on the line.

The ugly truth is that in order for women to fight without permanently crippling the House’s population upon their deaths, they must play their parts in keeping the population up first. So it is that at fourteen years of age, a young woman of the warstock must take her first lover–a husband is preferred, but not always possible–and bear no less than four children. If none are daughters, she must continue; Tonnish succession is matrilineal. Men exist only as dead ends on a family tree. Even Ton succession charts draw their lines solely from mother to mother, with husbands’s lines moving to their wives’ names and disappearing as if consumed by them.

Ideally, a warstock woman births the last demanded child between eighteen and twenty years of age. To the best of her ability she remains in training for this entire period, though obviously this becomes mostly a matter of form drills and discipline exercises by the end until even those fall away. She’s thus reached her full adult stature–give or take a few inches and various amounts of muscle–right as she hurls herself back into training to make up for lost time.

Outlanders often perceive the North Ton’s notion of motherhood as warped, and this isn’t totally inaccurate; some Tonnish mothers do come to view their children as numbers in a quota before they can fulfill the warrior’s birthright they were raised for. It helps nothing that the North Ton promptly grant each woman who fulfills the First Duty the title of War-Matron, no matter how lowly her household.

More commonly, however, they love their children as much as anyone–the problem is that having been raised, no matter the House, to associate female authority as conveyed by poise, discipline and martial might which must never be compromised, they frequently struggle in expressing it. More than a few Matriarchs have written that, ironically, it seems they’ve recreated some of the mistakes from past Ages’ male-dominated warrior societies. In most cases they find a better balance as time goes on; whether this happens soon enough is open to debate.

Warstock courtship in the Ton-Ga bogs takes many forms, but usually follows the same rough outline. A woman notices a man she likes, and finds some way–sometimes subtle, sometimes by outright pulling him into her bedroom–to make him aware. If he echoes her interest, it usually becomes his burden to keep it. Ten-Zai Lin was infamous for her opinion that a romance should be a perpetual contest to trump each other’s affections; this has variously been taken too literally (Ten-Zai’s official court recorder noted that she presented the idea “most playfully” and “explained it was not truly meant for a contest, but appearing like one would be a good sign”), or far more commonly ignored entirely.

Despite outsider’s rumormongering, only Matriarchs and the very wealthy or very beautiful take more than one husband. Keeping all of them pleased is one more concern in an overcrowded schedule, and divorces are common. Even if he or she truly depended on their spouse, what warstock could admit it without being a laughing stock?

In many ways, the North Ton have defined themselves against Tresamer to the Northwest. Every glance at its repressed women with their diminutive figures and dainty movements and soft skin reminds the War-Matrons uncomfortably of their ancestors. Houses Lin and Sairo in particular often send their daughters and sons alike to Tresamer solely so that they’ll develop a proper distaste for “the spindly folk” and their primitive ways. A patient–and exceptionally discrete–cultural anthropologist can trace waves of cultural shift to a few triggering events in Tresamer which spark a retaliatory set of feminist reforms in the Ton-Ga, and frequently vice-versa as well! The North Ton maintain that they have no choice; whatever their societies’ struggles now, they stand far more equal with each other than they did before the Loar War.

And at least among the warstock, this much is true.

There is a final, twisted angle to the North Ton’s views on this culture of mother-warriors. A not-insignificant part of Tonnish philosophy refers to a mother’s children more as weapons she forges than as sapient beings. When the less-worthy weapons “break”–or more accurately, are killed–the line becomes stronger and the remainder have a better chance yet to prove their strength. Some War-Matrons carry the analogy so far as to refer to their “Heirloom children”; these are the ones who survived and thrived long enough to earn basic maternal affection!

The most commonly accepted idea is the grimmest of all: each Tonnish woman becomes a mother before she ever sheds blood. When she goes into battle, she does it for the sole purpose of killing someone else’s children. Some few Houses try to address this idea compassionately. Most take it callously. But as one last legacy of a misremembered past, House Lin has its own teachings.

House Lin, alone of all Houses, teaches its daughters to revel in the butchery. Every slain enemy is two victories at once, and twice the superiority asserted: over these weakling offspring, and their inferior mothers too.

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