Asengervald culture consists of five interwoven layers: home, family, village, moot and kingdom. We’ll discuss each of these in turn. Among all layers, the most important thing any man or woman can have isn’t treasure or land, but honour.
An average Asengiir home is a long house built of treated and finished logs. A typical house is about 40 feet long and contains a husband, wife, children and some other family. In this case, “husband” refers to the man’s duty as the chief caretaker of the area around the house. They are responsible for the crops, for livestock, hunting and trade with other homes and families. The wife is chiefly in charge of the house itself, keeping it weathertight, clean, well-lit, smoke-free and safe, as well as providing most of the meals, washing and mending clothes, preparing for winter and the like.
Particularly in the northern areas of Asengervald, preparation for winter is a constant and grinding task. Some foods can’t be eaten until canned for a year or more, and the proper tanning of hides can take longer still.
While the husband and wife may have different tasks, it shouldn’t be said that one is superior to the other. The husband’s work takes him outside and into the community and so often it is the husbands who have the loudest public voice, but the wives have their own ways of ensuring that they get what they need.
Speaking of the production of children, most Asengiir homes have between two to seven children, with three or four being the most common number. Because of the infant and child mortality rate, children are held in very high regard among the Asengiir. Of every three child in a household, only two will survive to adulthood in the most southerly villages. In northern villages, infant and child mortality can claim as much as 60% of the young ones.
Once the eldest male is 16 years of age, he is given the choice of either learning to take over the household or learning a trade. Regardless, eight years later, he is considered of age to take a wife. If none of the male children are willing to take over the household, then the husband will sell his home and move into the house of one of his sons. This is considered a great honour for a son. If there are no male children, the husband must either find a young man willing to take over a strange household or sell his household to another family. Taking care of the elderly is considered a great honour even for a stranger, but often the wife will return to her family home in these situations so as not to place a greater burden on the new household owners.
Women are expected to marry some time in their mid to late teens, which means that there is typically a large gap between men and women in terms of age. It should be noted that a woman is not expected to begin having children until she is in her twenties. Having children earlier is not frowned upon, but it is not expected.
The wife is never considered to be owned by the husband or to be a full part of the family. Marriages are worked out like contracts, with the husband and his family agreeing to pay a certain amount, in goods or gold, to the wife’s family in exchange for her hand. Marriage ceremonies very often consist of little more than the wife getting the keys that go to the house – key for the money chest, for the front door, and for the larder – and giving her husband a key to the chest that contains all her belongings.
A woman can divorce her husband simply by taking back her key and returning her husband’s, but the only place the wife has to return to is the home of the family that is now responsible for repaying her marriage price, which can mean giving the husband some of their family as slaves. The husband can divorce his wife in a similar fashion but he must negotiate repayment of the marriage price with the wife’s family in that case.
Extended family usually consists of the husband’s father and mother and possibly other older relatives from the husband’s side. The Asengervald rarely take slaves, mostly because they lack the opportunity to do so, but some nobles have slave families living with them and nobles are expected to take in the village’s orphans.
Noble homes are typically structured like the long houses of commoners but on a grander scale, sometimes with two or, most rarely, three floors and numerous rooms. These homes are large enough to contain multiple families and often do. Even after the eldest son is of age and apprenticed and married, they will often remain at home for some time, to be near their parents and the seat of power.
Because the home is so crowded and open, it is rare for a conflict among those in the home to ever require intervention outside the home. There are few secrets in an Asengiir family, and most any dispute can be settled by physical trial or by the wise words of the eldest member of the home. Each home operates differently, though, and the husbands in some homes can be terrifying monsters to those within them, particularly if the wife’s family is too poor for the wife to be able to afford divorce.
After centuries of change and adaptation, the family is still the core social group of Asengiir life. Usually composed of a network of homes that lie in close proximity or, in some cases, are physically connected, the Asengiir family consists of a network of families, all linked by patriarchy. Some villages are too small to contain a multitude of families, but most have three or four extended farms and holdings, each owned by different families.
It’s seen as a sign of a poor family or an unwise elder if a woman from one family home is married off to the home of someone else in the same family. The degree of dishonour varies from village to village. In some of the smaller, poorer villages it’s seen as a grim necessity while Horthoth’s elders have declared that anyone marrying within his family is to be banished to somewhere north of Fasjniir, if not executed outright.
Conflicts within families are common and are usually resolved swiftly through a fistfight or, more rarely, a swordfight. Killing a family member always brings dishonour on the killer unless the act of dishonour that prompted the duel was so great that the village elders would have called for execution, and even then the killer would be seen as hot-tempered.
Because the Asengiir have inhabited the land for several centuries but remain spread out, quite often the village is the level at which law is adjudicated. Right and wrong are decided by a council of elders or, in the case of more serious matters, trial by ordeal. It is not uncommon for two brothers to settle dispute over who has the right to a patch of land by a contest to see who can cut down a cord of wood the fastest. Since it is believed that the gods give men their strength, the one who finishes first is favoured by the gods.
If a matter is disputed further, or if trial by ordeal shows no clear victor, then the matter is brought before the Moot, or at least before the Elders of the Moot. Very little of village law ever ends up written down unless it is a matter of such contention as to cause a literally war in the village. These wars are rare, but they’re the reason there are two farming towns in the middle of the Asengervald: originally there was just one, Lorien, but an elder brother, resentful of the attention his younger, more talented brother received, went to war against his own father. The war resulted in a split, with many families leaving to start a new village.
The moot is the largest social structure most Asengiir are really aware of. There’s generally acknowledgement that there’s a king of some sort, but it’s rare enough that a matter is important enough for the Moot, let alone the king, and the Moot is generally seen as, well, more useful, except in times of war.
The Great Moot is a great meeting of the heads of all the families, from the tall to the small, throughout the Asengervald. It’s held annually, usually in the Circle of Stones on the outskirts of Horthoth.
Most years, it is a simple affair, with a single nobleman from each village coming to the Moot to make their grievances known and to bring their tribute to the king. If a village has no business at the Moot, they may simply send an emissary.
Every ten years, Horthoth hosts the Grand Moot, a great convocation that all villages must attend. To sweeten the deal, Horthoth hosts it as they would a grand festival, with games, shows and festivities for all ages. Going to the Grand Moot is a common practice even among gentlemen farmers who see it as an opportunity for cheap entertainment for their families (everything at the festival is free, paid for by the king) and a chance to meet with others to compare crop yields and find out about the latest changes in the land.
No one aside from the king’s court really knows what the king and his men do. They know that he holds the largest army and that he has men in every village, often as spies, but he is a mystery. Some rumours hold that the king of Asengervald is the same as the man who brought the people through the Winter of Cracking Stone, but this is usually regarded as pure rumour.
It is known that many great threats have been silenced by the king and his men without only a handful of people knowing or hearing about it.
The king’s army all wear dark green tabards bearing the symbol of a great oak tree, one the lesser known symbols of the one-eyed elder god, Thiw. Every village contributes at least one man a year to the king’s army. These regulars are trained, and trained hard by the king’s men, but there are a handful who are chosen to be members of the Stone Army. These elite troops are rarely talked about and even more rarely seen.