Loremageddon: North Ton Culture, ca. 1290 V.R.

Moving right along into Day 6 of Loremageddon, here’s a quickish look at the peculiar culture of the North Ton!

***

Life in the bogs is a dour thing, by itself. Looming trees wash out most finer colors with great, dark trunks often covered in pale lichens and sickly moss. What vibrancy there is comes from the undergrowth: throngs of flowers, off-color ferns, various types of grasses and reeds. Beauty exists here and there, but not safety, so even when a traveler finds a lovely little clearing at a high point above the waters or the dignified frame of an ancient hall, there’s little chance to relish it.

In many ways, the North Ton wield their culture against the bogs. If the bogs present them with league upon league of murderous beasts, stinging fronds and undetonated Loar munitions, the Ton will pave their streets in murals and paint a portrait on every courtyard wall. If silverbloods turn half the bogs to parasitic nightmare every summer, then the Ton-Ga’s children will commission artists to depict them as laughable or even cuddly. And they have! “Unwinding Terror”, as they’ve come to call it, is among the most enduring North Ton art movements, and subsists entirely on transforming the horrors of the deep bogs into lovable parodies.

On the reverse side, of course, there’s an entire warstock art style with no particular name which transforms imagery of life and beauty into the larger shapes of death-wounds, corpses, and scenes from the battlefield. This is touted as an artistic commentary on the universality of death in the bogs and the ultimate end of all things, but it mainly gives the warstock an excuse to be grimmer than they already are. Both because so many of their resources go towards buildings and expanding “islands” of high ground in the bogs, and because the environment they live in discourages the kinds of large-scale displays favored by most humans, the North Ton mainly express their artsy side through methods that can fit in a single room.

The exceptions are the bronze sculptures and other monuments the North Ton place at the center of any towns which can afford them. Enspelled against rust and tarnish, these lifelike, mirror-polished figures depict vital moments from local or House history, and usually form the centerpiece in a nexus of reliefs and roofing that carefully segment the viewer’s line of sight into distinct zones, all at different distances from each other. These formations lack a proper name in Tonnish, but Lei Tze referred to them as “frames through time”. The outer walls are often contoured and curved oddly to distort views of the outside, or even set with panes of colored glass to give visitors the impression they’ve been transported away from Canno entirely. This forces the eyes to the reliefs and sculptures as the only solid things left in the world. Foreign dignitaries are sometimes encouraged to have a few drinks before visiting–a mixture of civilized jape and conscious political maneuver to shore up the House’s impression upon them.

Aside from paintings and sculpture, the Ton-Ga’s peoples adore music and musicians alike. Songstress-musicians in particular have such status that some Houses, like the Yaos and Sairos, ultimately made them a separate class of nobility. A singer’s vassals are her audience and her pupils, her domain the theater in which she plies her trade. Her status comes from the distant days before the last Age of Splendors, when the bogs lay deepest and darkest, when the Ton were weaker and fewer, and the main comforts in life were soft firelight, a stiff drink and a soothing voice. A handful of Ansethi accounts–scant writings survived the Loar War–mention that some of their units were ambushed by Ton skirmishers mere minutes after rounding up a musician from a conquered village.

Whether the tales from Anseth hold true or not, a songstress has the right to order people however she wishes within her hall. She decides which listeners sit where or which have become too disruptive, and reserves the right to denounce criminals or misfits as she sees fit. In House Lin, where the hand of the Matriarch lies heavier than any other, the House Singer functions as a third hand of the Matriarch. It’s vital that no Lin Matriarch has ever spoken openly of this, nor do the wiser of them explain which orderings are theirs, and which the songstress’s alone. This uncertainty only feeds the effect when a prominent general is given a seat just before the songstress, or an infamous spearfighter whose duels scrape the boundaries of etiquette is shunted to the back row. The North Ton value music so much as entertainment and comfort that the warstock themselves forbid its use in warfare. Instead of marching songs, the Tonnish chant rhythmically and tunelessly.

Laments for the dead are among the few times music may be associated openly with warfare. To be clear, a songstress writes about and keens over whatever she wishes. No one has the right to impose upon her one way or another. This also makes her among the few members of any Tonnish House who are wholly impervious to censorship. Ideas are rigidly controlled throughout the Ton-Ga, and the bog-dwellers themselves see this not as an imposition but a necessary evil. When so many people are packed in so closely and conditioned to violence by the very land they live in, speaking too openly could start a war. Most duels spring into being when two warriors let their words get away from them, and the Ton believe that if an insult is worth dueling over at all it should end in death. There are no first-blood duels among the Ton.

Like any people who take free speech for a myth, the Ton inevitably grew prickly towards it. Outsiders who remark that the Ton seem unreasonably easy to offend cannot understand what it’s like to naturally assume that others will speak only when they have something of value to say. Ceslonians in particular are terrible for this, it having been enshrined in many parts of the continent that “free speech” not only means saying whatever one wants, but saying it however one wants to! The North Ton find themselves caught in a constant, bizarre dance of opinions about the outside world. On one hand, Ceslonians include Black Haveners, and Black Haveners are the last “uncorrupted” remnant of the fallen Age of Splendors. On the other, they come across as over-familiar, uncontrolled, and oddly insistent that their culture should apply even when visiting another culture.

This is especially galling to members of House Lin. Though no one has been able to trace the idea’s origin, its members grow up with the peculiar notion that they should respect the culture of the lands they visit. Many believe–to the shock of the surrounding houses–that they should strive to adapt their own behavior somewhat while visiting! More than a few of the Lins’ own scholars have noted that this idea doesn’t seem to stem from any surviving philosophies, but the House Matriarchs have gently discouraged any serious research into its origins. It’s commonly become accepted that the Matriarchs know something they don’t want the rest of the House to discover. Officially, their word remains law. Unofficially, some keen minds in any given generation devote themselves to making an inquiry. Every idea, they assert, had to be inspired by something.

Despite this, ideas which go unexamined are more common among the Ton than elsewhere as a direct result of censorship, and they bring with them all the problems that unchallenged thoughts always do. Even more so than most humans, the North Ton are vulnerable to emotional reasoning, and ideas sometimes take hold not because of any great merit, but because enough people fall in line behind them. The Matriarchs do nothing at all to stop this effect; after all, examining it in any particular depth might show their subjects that it’s the primary source of Matriarchal power!

Rushiti Samar, an Ansethi philosopher born and raised among the famously-acerbic seafarers of Kiwoda, wrote more seriously than she usually did about “the Cult of the Matriarch” in the Ton-Ga. She argued that aside from the traditional pantheon, every Ton House treats its Matriarch as a goddess in herself. Everything from the way the Matriarch’s subjects frame her power to the epithets she receives fit the mold more of divinity than royalty. She held up Ten Zai Lin as the greatest example of this.

Despite the fact that she’s universally accepted as a historical Matriarch of House Lin, the Inferno Matriarch–a particularly extravagant title which Rushiti got especially smug over–is treated more as a religious icon belonging to the whole of the Ton-Ga. Even the Sairos, who hate the Lins as their closest and oldest rival in the bogs, commonly revere Ten Zai. Rushiti even discovered, over the course of an exhaustive and possibly-heretical study, that most icons of Enlai the Southmother resemble Ten Zai. The strongest argument that this is a coincidence, she suggested, was in itself an admission of Ten Zai’s status, for Ten Zai Kedrulsbane (another of countless godlike epithets) is still considered the ideal of warstock beauty among the North Ton.

With Ten Zai aside, however, Tonnish religion and government are conspicuously separate. Atheists are relatively common among the Ton for reasons which still aren’t fully understood; it might simply be that having grown up in an environment like the bogs, the Ton have little patience for aloof entities who watch all their struggles without contributing much of anything. The conventional Cannoan ideal of an omniscient, omnipotent deity does create significant clashes with the North Ton’s collectivist attitudes. Oh, certainly, Intei the War-God may be quite imposing, but what’s that supposed to count for when any given ten year-old is more use in fighting off a knifestail attack than he is?

The reverse, of course, is that the majority of Ton who do favor religion throw themselves into it with unusual fervor. The ideal Tonnish shrine is a sort of ornate grotto with lesser or familial deities and guardian spirits lining a pathway which leads to the core shrine for Enlai and her four husbands. While these are theoretically supposed to be naturally-occurring caves, most town-dwelling families must make due with bowl-shaped cellars underneath their homes. At the opposite end of the spectrum, House Lin’s shrine beneath their citadel at Tuha Lin was hollowed from a one-time magma chamber in the extinct volcano around which they built the city. Since Tonnish religion emphasizes a “surrender to creation” as a supplicant approaches the divine, the Lin grotto is considered among the holiest places in the Ton-Ga. Most Tonnish creation myths involve Enlai sculpting the world from a great sphere of molten rock, and volcanoes are thus holy places where Her works remained potent that much longer than usual.

Like any culture, it becomes difficult to make uniform statements about the North Ton the more specific one gets. Morals, literary traditions, art, architecture and people all have basic similarities, but their surroundings have naturally changed them over time.

The sheer effort of eking usable space out from the bogs is such that few Ton Houses try to adjust the landscape more than absolutely necessary. If there are boulders, homes are built around them. Sinkholes become storage pits, caves become taverns, fallen trees become pathways and living ones occasionally become corner-pieces for walls! This gives North Tonnish settlements far more local flavor than those of Ansethi or especially Ceslonian cultures, all of which try hard to reshape the land for their exact purposes. Foreigners often misunderstand this behavior, believing the Ton to have such reverence for nature that they’re unwilling to change it.

House Lin uses far more stonework than most of the Ton Houses, whose preference is generally to rely on wood. After all, cutting through a few sturdy trees is the quickest way to create a raised space in the bogs–and as a bonus, a builder can use planks from the trees he just cut down for the structure itself! Quarrying the volcanic interior of Tuha Lin, however, gave the Lins ample igneous rock to work with. For whatever reason, this dark basalt-like stone has a markedly higher tensile strength than most other varieties. Provided it can be excavated at all, it makes exceptionally strong walls. While the caldera has become worn enough over the millennia that Matriarchs generally forbid quarrying any more, they do occasionally allow favored retainers and vassals to cut enough for keystones leading into their own halls on the slopes of the mountain.

Continuing the architectural theme, House Sairo relies more on a porous, resilient mixture for most of its constructions. This bizarre stuff is their own invention, and though initially mixed as a liquid, swiftly hardens into a substance harder than many stones! Their enemies have striven for a long time to learn the recipe for this miraculous substance, but so far have had no success. There are rumors it might be a secret from the lost Age of Splendors.

As far as clothing, the Ton-Ga Houses all share roughly the same styles. The Lins and Sairos are, again, the closest thing to exceptions. The Lins have become fond of what they call “mirror patterns”, where a robe has the same design in a reversed color scheme on its upper and lower halves. This is shamelessly adapted from the Ceslonian particolor, which Matriarch Mou-chirin learned to appreciate in her youth. The Lins, in keeping with their open approach to other cultures, collect design elements and snippets of artistic philosophy from around Canno. Ansethi neck-guards, with their distinct mix of asymmetry, straight and diagonal lines in a stepped formation, are especially well-liked because they can be merged easily into a traditional Tonnish cuirass. Engravers then add the usual single-theme panoramas and flowing designs within the faces of the neckguards. In general, the Lins take great inspiration from Ceslon–so much so that Mou-chirin has started shifting her House’s armor and some of its weapons to fit the Ceslonian approach.

For their part, House Sairo have developed something of a unique style simply from their isolation. Their armor uses finer construction than most Tonnish lamellar, with a second group of smaller platelets underlying the main set and separated by silk padding. This makes Sairo armor notably heavier and far harder to produce, but has made the House’s soldiers remarkably hard to kill. Because they live as much on dry ground as in the bogs, the Sairo’s color palettes have shifted more towards bright, almost over-saturated colors in stark contrast the subtler shades the other Houses favor.

Otherwise, North Ton garments are separated into two clear classes. Formal wear consists of ornate, long-sleeved robes cut to flatter the wearer’s body and tied with sashes. For the warstock, this means close at the waist, shoulders and thighs to enhance musculature. For the peacestock, the focus is in the… usual places. The latter’s sleeves flare out into broad hangings to convey grace and poise. Warstock sleeves are cut either close to the wrist or, if the wearer desires some flaring, short to just before the elbows, with silken wraps to cover the forearms and possibly fingers. The reason is simple: the peacestock are expected to run if there’s violence, whereas the warstock are expected to–what else?–make war! Wide cuffs offer all kinds of opportunities to get hung up on a weapon. There are a few warstock, particularly women, who insist on sleeves which both run to the wrists and flare for this exact reason. Being able to fight in such garments is excellent proof of skill, you see!

A pair of close-fitting pants or baggy breeches may be used beneath the robes, but aren’t considered essential. Footwear is again divided by stocks; the warstock wear flamboyant boots which often have pointed steel toes or metallic heel-pieces to add a little percussion with every step. The peacestock generally prefer shoes or slippers.

Depending on the season, the North Ton may wear a second layer of clothes over their undergarments, or nothing at all. The Ton-Ga’s equatorial summer is both excruciatingly hot and abominably muggy, making it tempting to discard clothes to the fullest extent possible. A certain subset of Tonnish nobles–regardless their gender–go about openly naked during this time of year. They’re able to get away with this because they can remain in doors; having spent too much of prehistory either shrouded by bog-gas or hidden in caves, most Ton cannot meaningfully tan. Sunburns happen often if skin is exposed, and may not have the chance to heal fully until fall arrives; a poor way to live.

For those who can afford them, accessories range from extra bands of silk–often imported from Murit cultures in Ceslon at outrageous expense–tied artfully and color-coordinated against the rest of an outfit, to amulets, jewelry and other mainstays of any culture’s fashion, to elaborate combs which form the centerpiece in painstakingly-arranged hairstyles. Before her disappearance, House Lin’s heir Gratai became infamous around Tuha Lin for leaving a room with her hair in one shape and returning minutes later to show off a totally different arrangement. This served as a conscious reminder to her subjects that Gratai possessed exceptionally strong mage-talent, which has always run strong in her family–a topic for later.

Opposite North Ton formal wear is, quite naturally, practical wear. The warstock favor padded vests, loose shirts, and similarly loose pants which fit easily underneath armor. Lower-class members of the warstock usually wear these things daily as a point of pride, and a reminder to onlookers that they’re the ones who do the real fighting. Peacestock wear shifts by profession; hunters obviously wear dark clothing in faded greens, browns and dark greys to fit the palette of the bogs themselves. They and others who live and work among the bogs will usually be seen applying wading lacquer to their clothes at some point early in the morning. This special mixture hardens within a few minutes and stays so for up to two days. It makes clothing stiff, but not infexible; its most vital purpose is that it seals holes and seams against the parasites which saturate most bog-waters. It does have to be renewed eventually as it starts to dry completely and peel off or develop perforations.

In their free time, the Ton-Ga’s children go drinking or gambling as all peoples do. An evening listening to a songstress is popular among the wealthy who can consistently afford seats; for the poorer, card-games and readings are popular. For that matter, just about every form of writing has some kind of contest associated with it. Free-verse poetry is the most popular, with the poets explicitly forbidden from preparing any lines in advance. This is one of the few activities the warstock and peacestock enjoy in common, and they often place bets on the performance of a given poet. Topics may be drawn at random or determined by audience call-outs and the contest-marshal’s whims. Tonnish poetry focuses more heavily than most on the way sounds relate to each other; grammar, sentence construction and sometimes actual meanings are handled loosely.

Like most peoples after the Loar War, the Tonnish speak a pastiche language scrapped together from all the favorite pieces of a dozen national tongues once common on Taifen. It’s characterized by relatively short, clipped sounds, a preference for vowels and sibilants over hard consonants, and a lot of passive-voice sentence constructs. When translated into shieldtongue, most Tonnish phrases become something like, “Lumei is the one who will be going on the hunt. A knifestail is the kind of prey she seeks.” This causes most Tonnish phrases to seem absurdly portentous out of context–when they’re not just clunky or outright incomprehensible, that is! Linguists across Canno believe this passive-voice construction serves both to take emphasis off the people in a sentence so they’re less likely to take umbrage, and to make speakers consider their words more carefully. Ironically, the principle exceptions to this rule are the part of Tonnish culture other Cannoans usually experience–proverbs! Since a proverb ideally expresses a key truth, Tonnish writers, poets and philosophers write them using active voice.

Whatever their differences, all the North Ton Houses hold the bogs in common. While they squabble and war against each other, any foreign invaders quickly find out that they’re still one people: for good, and for ill.

(If you found this post enriching or simply enjoyed it, then please leave a like, share it with your friends wherever you may go online, and consider supporting me on Patreon!)

Say something, darn it!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.