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Colendi Culture

Colend is an elaborate society, and strict written and unwritten rules control every aspect of it. People are brought up as works of art, and everything they do seems to mask some deeper meaning.

Court

Humans are pretty much all alike under the skin, though courtiers would not appreciate your pointing it out. Or would shrug and wave a fan, indicating that what really matters is the skin out.

Courts serve two functions: as symbols of the country's power and prestige, and also as something to keep nobles busy when they're not at home tending to business. The Colendi have had fewer wars than any other old kingdom. Except for occasional Chwahir incursions, their last outbreak, the empire of Matthias Lirendi, was actually relatively bloodless: the kingdoms he took over were so impressed with the dazzle and flash of his impeccably dressed army, the rumors of wealth, comfort, and good life in Colend (also, his charisma and beauty helped in the personal interviews, plus the historical gravitas lent him by his wearing the black and gold of Adamas Dei and not Lirendi blue, claiming to be a descendant--which he was), that many kingdoms with internal problems actually hoped they were next to be annexed. Alas, the general enchantment with being part of the Colendi empire didn't last much beyond his death.

So, a kingdom that seldom chooses violence in order to settle its conflicts, yet still has the conflicts anyone else does (perhaps more, as there are no militarily defensible boundaries, and its riches are quite tempting to less fortunate neighbors, for example the Chwahir, has to find other means to resolve its conflicts. Including among themselves.

The Colendi are thus the most adept in all the world at the "knife that doth not shatter"--the various forms of conflict that don't include sharp pointy objects. That invisible knife in Sartor means music, and so it does for most of the Sartoran-influenced places. In Colend, conflict can take any form, including music.

The noble or courtly Colendi would love to be taken to be utterly in control of their passions when in public space. When people are brought up as works of art, it being important to do everything with art and style, as if one is living on a stage, then there is an equally great value for privacy. This doesn't just mean for interactions, but the privacy of emotion. The court mask was not a Colendi invention--it was a part of Sartor's ritual-ridden history--but the Colendi have taken it and made it peculiarly their own in the term "melende", which began as a peculiar cross between "integrity", "honor" and "living the life of art". Its importance, like the shift of power between king and court, has waned and waxed over the centuries. In one court, "natural" expression became the rage--but even then, what one wanted to be seen as "natural" and how one really felt might be a cause for artful dissembling. Only a Colendi, it is said, can pretend to pretend to be real. (to which the Mearsieans say, Who else is crazy enough to want to?) but to them the idea of an actual court mask is distatesful--implying falsity.

Melende is not merely style, though some regard it so. It has come to mean achieving civilization through balance, or mental, spiritual, and physical health, which are the components of the life of art. Healers don't just treat the body, they attempt to address the whole being, or cure melende instead of mere ills. So it can also be translated as 'honor'.

Colendi, especially courtiers, tend to feel that it doesn't matter what you do in your private life as long as you do it with grace. Very different from Marlovan aristocrats who are bound to land and service--and really are, though the emphasis on service has more often than not been translated out to war-mongering. Sartorans tend to pay lip service, depending on how long peace has lasted.

It would be a mistake to assume that the Colendi nobles look down on trade or skilled labor. Just the opposite. While no Colendi noble would sell their handmade art, they are very involved in matters of trade, a heritage going right back to Colend's early days as 'counts' in the Sartoran empire. Counts were accountants, trusted to keep tallies of their given area. More often than not it was a hereditary title, raising each generation to the work. But trade at that level implies power, which individual members of any guild don't have. Guilds are respected by even the worst snobs among the nobles, even if they patronize everyone else below them.

Time

As in Sartor (and other places) the day is divided into two sets of twelve hours, twelve being an important symbolic number. Time is measured by wound clocks kept by the Heralds. For most people, the bells announce the hours, though some do keep candles divided into smaller units, if they don't want to bother with sandglasses. (Which are used as timers. Sandglasses are made with sand that divides an hour into twelve segments, and then a further twelve, called a 'quarter.')

The bells, as in Sartor, are carillons, kept tuned and during the day play specific patterns. The day is considered to begin at the Hour of Daybreak, which coincides with dawn twice a year, in spring and in autumn. The Spring equinox also signifies the official start of court. Historically, the event has changed over time; four hundred years ago, it was called the Dance of Spring Leaves. {See Banner of the Damned}.

Time management in the days of Old Sartor was strictly defined, and the old names have persisted (though in eroded, or mutated versions) but in Colend, when they broke away from Sartor and became a kingdom, the first king deliberately changed the names. Those names altered over the centuries, as well.

The Hours are both referred to by number and by name--either third hour of morning, second hour after noon, fourth hour after midnight, etc. or the court names are used, depending on fashion changes, and where you are. Sometimes formal affairs are appointed at court Hours, though the rest of the day, people count the hours.

In court, Hours are named, each freighted with meaning that has altered over the generations. After Emperor Matthias, the hour names settled on these:

Daybreak is the beginning of a new day. Then Hour of the Bird, the Leaf, the Deer, the River, the Stone (which some tried to elevate to marble or gold) then Midday (or Noon).

Afternoon begin with Hour of the Wheel, then the Quill, then the Seal, which is traditionally the time when contracts are signed.

Then the Hour of Spice, which is midway between the afternoon labors and those of the evening, when the air is filled with enticing aromas, followed by the Lily Hour, or sunset, which is traditionally when labors end, and the social time begins. Except in court, which runs later.

Then there is the hour of the Cup (six p.m.), the Harp, the Cherub (which was traditionally when children, or those who claimed child hours, went to sleep, but it could also be the commencement of the freedoms of the evening, or the hour of innocence or truth), the Lamp (nine p.m., when the city streets would be lit with those returning home, or going on to the next entertainment), the Song (once lullaby, and has many joking references as well as more serious musical ones), Rose, Midnight (sometimes Moon), then come the wee hours, named after the Gates--Willow, Pecan, Reed, the bitter Thorn (no one wants to be abroad at the equivalent of four a.m.) and the final hour of the day is called Repose, when court goes to sleep often--but in the old Sartoran times, it was the hour when those with discipline rose to meditate in the labyrinth.

Food

As stated, everything, styles change over time. But the generality is that Colendi think it gross to be seen chewing and swallowing in an obvious and noisy manner, and anyone who talks with his or her mouth full will never be invited anywhere ever again. Or have their invitations accepted. Thus, Colendi foods tend to be made in ways that enable tiny bites. They are never greasy, seldom sloppy. Crunchy things are eaten in privacy, if one has a passion for them. Fruits that crunch are cut into the smallest slivers when fresh, or are baked or stewed or purreed with other things, so that there is no sound.

Food also has to look good when it is served. And when one eats, one doesn't leave a messy plate, so learning just how much to take, and how to make it vanish stylishly is trained into the young before they are ever seen eating in public. Colendi will use a succession of plates and utensils, but never at once. To be constantly picking up and putting down various utensils is to draw attention to the act of eating. A small spoon and a narrow fork are thus the only utensils seen, unless there is fresh fruit present, which one is trained to peel and slice stylishly. Chicken and fish are never served in blobs, and are always cooked until tender, so there is never a need for a knife for anything but fruit.

During the most elaborate period of Colendi culture no eating was done in public at all, but behind screens or in private rooms. Eating with another person implied great intimacy, or an event of extreme importance.

Colendi foods tend toward sauces, often cooked with wine (which is plentiful, the excellence of Gyrnian wines being close at hand) and prepared with fresh herbs, as everyone from high degree to low grows herbs, sometimes just to perfume the air. Pastries are light, layered, with complicated flavors, seldom overly sweet. They are made to be attractive. Rice of various kinds is widely grown alongside the many rivers and canals, and forms the basis for not only foods, but paper and many other products.

Drinks are a variety of wines, refinements on steeps (tea), coffee, chocolate, chilled fruit concoctions during the summer, and courtiers are often taught to mull wine to serve in winter, their own spice recipes being part of their art. Yeasty drinks causing bubbles are popular during the hot months, cooled in cellars kept chilly by magic if one can afford it.

Holidays

At the end of summer is Martande Day, which was once Independence Day, when the first Martande Lirendi declared independence from Sartor. The name was changed by the charismatic emperor Mathias Lirendi, as he thought it sounded resentful and childish . . . before he set out to charm his way across the continent. Colend also celebrates Midsummer Day, for some centuries also the ruler's birthday, as many ruler s tried the Birth Spell on that day for heirs. As it only worked that way a very few times, Midsummer was for a time the "official" monarch's birthday, and gradually that dropped away as well. Also in Autumn is the court celebration called Blue Moon, which generally ends the summer season. In the countryside, that begins harvest festivals.

he Colendi social season begins on Flower Day in spring with the King's Regata on the canals, the entire city participating with decorated gondolas and boats, and at night thousands of candles in crystal or colored paper, welcoming the season; masks indicate the laying aside of rank and identity. Various masquerades are popular. Meals, music, balls and dances go along with many who declare passions or affections; wearing flowers at wrist or elsewhere send secret signals. Gender swapping is popular as well as masquerade. New Year's Week is for celebrations, and there are other minor special days, plus local special days.

Of highest importance is the summer Music Festival, come to by contestants all over the world. This, many recognize, is the crucible of Colendi culture. Some say of the world. Sartor is still aggrieved that they lost the Music Festival to Colend while removed beyond the world in the century of enchantment.

Fashion

Fashion is not just about covering, status, and looking attractive, it's also about communication. The obvious stuff about being a style leader needs not be pointed out--what might need to be mentioned is the variety of ways that communication takes place. In Colend, traditionally, it's been ribbons, though that has changed as fashions change. But they tend to come back to ribbons. Where one wears them, what colors, how they are draped, all mean things. To say something without it having to be said is one of the functions of style; to say it so that there is a private code that others can descry but not decode, is how style gets used as a weapon, and not just as display. As lethal can be the code that lets everyone know a secret before the intended victim is aware, such as wearing the ribbons of "I'm free" when dumping a partner who appears wearing the white ribbons of exclusivity. Absolutely nothing has been said, but everyone understands that the former partner has just been publicly dumped. Of course that kind of obviousness can have its repercussions.

Silk has long been one of the main constituents of fashion, as it is a mainstay of trade. The great silk makers keep secret their dyes and their weaves, though the truth is, that a great deal of Colendi dye and weave was secretly brought from Chwahirsland, whose linens were best known. As the Chwahir government became more controlling, and magic slowly destroyed the environment, many of their arts were either lost, or hidden away for some day when they could be rediscovered.

#manners and wellbeing Manners and Wellbeing

It's all about melende--style, honor, face. Manners on the surface are the way that humans in close proximity make it possible to get along. What makes life interesting is when manners are used for communication, for competition--and for duels: the higher one's rank, the greater the covert competition. How someone responds to the sort of public humiliation described above can actually make a career, if the dumpee takes everyone by surprise with a stylish response. Laughter is like lightning: it can be effective but not always controlled. But it can also be a great leveler. Despite the unending stream of entertainments, courts can get bored, and the covert duels of will and ambition, or desire, sometimes are more absorbing than kingdom-wide events. (To which the Mearsieans would respond, "I know a whole lot of people who really need to get outside more.")

To go into the levels of meaning in Colendi culture, high and low, would take far too long. But there are layers of meaning that have evolved into new layers over the centuries: life here draws like, adding to the complication. For example, via the morvende, Colendi custom requires even the most humble to light a room so there is no shadow. To let one's shadow cross another person is to insult them. Therefore how one moves in a room, proximity, deference, all are matters of import, and children are trained early in knowing how to gracefully claim, or defer, to rank, and when. There is a hand sign that all learn that excuses one from shadow-crossing. Of course there are degrees. Consequently, there are occasionally shadow gatherings, that is, various types of gathering with deliberate shadow-casting, which is the signal for unmasking, or for other types of revelation. The 'shadow' custom has resulted in some very oblique meanings to words that most outsiders don't catch, but the Colendi are attuned to.

The peace is the universal polite gesture, conveying an enormous shading of meanings. Heading the list of rudeness or vulgarity are using the word No, demonstrating anger, and making noise while eating. Manners are meant to convey a sense of well-being. It is generally believed that striving to maintain an aspect of peace will lead to inner peace, or at least control.

Health is important, and healers are trained not only in understanding the body, but the emotions. Part of their toolkit are what they call blossoms or the use of herbs, and scents from oils, both externally and internally, while talking and listening to running water or chimes. Someone whose emotions are out of control might be sent to the blossoms room, not necessarily at the healer's (thought it can happen) but at home. Certain ready remedies are understood in most families, as universal among the Colendi as listerblossom steep is accepted as a mild sedative and pain killer elsewhere.

There are many obscure-to-others terms that are plainly understood among Colendi, such as blossoms, explained above. Cranes, in particular dancing cranes, are understood to symbolize sexual exploration in an understood atmosphere of freedom. The well-to-do will have charmingly decorated rooms painted with spectacularly beautiful murals with cranes either doing their mating dance, or flying, or posting artistically, where sensory entertainments can be enjoyed. It is understood by everyone that what happens there stays there. Serious relationships are handled differently. (Not that it is always so neat or easy, which is why Colendi poetry is full of cranes, feathers, etc.)

Communication

The Colendi language is Kifelian, and it is far more inflected than Sartoran. Not only does it carry the Sartoran pronoun divisions of clusivity (all the variations of 'we' and 'you') but evidentiary: verbs change according to whether one saw, or heard of, believes or reserves judgment. Inferences differ as well as conditionals and moods. And of course there is status, though much of that is conveyed in body language.

Always with style. The monarch writes in blue (being the predominant color of the Lirendi family), the cerulean blue of the sky. Black is for heralds. Others avoid those colors, even in private notes, unless sending a type of message: a message in blue is usually a declaration of war, whether between two people or two states. The message might not even say anything about war, but the color does. And the 'war' will probably never see a single warrior armed with steel, but will be very serious.

Little scrolls of rice paper or a similar paper are common for notes between aristocrats. In court they were, at varying times, folded into shapes. They can be tied with ribbon or silken tassels, decorated, perfumed, sent with a blossom or spray, depending on the coded messages the sender wishes to convey. How it is delivered matters: is it slipped into a sleeve at a ballroom dance? Or sent by formal servant? Slipped beneath the door just before morning, or presented with great parade, before witnesses?

Rather than go through every tiny detail (fans would take a week to write up!) there is one rule that pretty much always appertains: the more the courtier was involved in the making of a thing, the more it means. The less involved in the making, the more distance the sender wishes to convey. In notes, gifts, everything. Cost is irrelevant.

Prisons and Punishments

Violence was brief, carried out at Thorn Gate tower. Thorn Gate did not last long, relatively speaking, but it left its shadow on Colendi culture; gesturing with palm out toward the north still indicates Thorn Gate, or total rejection, violence, chaos. Red ribbons were worn in silent protest when someone was beaten. Red ribbons have changed meaning through the ages, but usually mean a silent protest against royal or noble abuse of power.

There are various levels of restitution. There might be an added sentence, such as going about having to wear "shame clothes" for such things as embezzlement (and thus having to do menial work as no one will trust you for your usual work), which meant betrayal public trust. These sorts of sentences are almost always reserved for those of high degree, when the question of extreme need could not be called into question. Since there is no begging, and a strong social support system in place (and everyone pays taxes, and the crown is vigorous in overseeing it) the question of extreme poverty is seldom believed. It's impossible in Alsais, which is a limited community. The worst that can happen to you is to be kicked out, either beyond the city, or if you are a foreign trouble maker, beyond the border.

Aristocrats who commit crimes are either exiled to their estates, or if that might make them more mighty, they are imprisoned. Nothing happens unless you've tried to kill a king or queen, which earns you a stone spell for a hundred years, so when you are unfrozen, you know no one, and your issue is gone--and (probably) someone else holds your estate. (This punishment became problematical when it was discovered that Norsunder was unfreezing these people and replacing the statues with simulacra, as a form of recruitment.)

The other thing is to imprison someone and depending on the seriousness of the crime, the higher the price for food and necessities. It can thus be a crushing sum, and the richest aristo can be reduced to sweeping out stables to earn a crust a bread; the added shame here is of the public want. There have also been a few public parades just for shame. If they are taken out in filthy clothes, hungry, etc, it's humiliating, though the Colendi don't throw filth or rocks as in some other places--they never dirty their city. Since the sentence is always given out for crimes related to greed, ambition, or dishonesty, there's no chance of being a martyr: for one, no one in Alsais, from the simplest cook-helper, to the hightest aristocrat, goes outdoors looking bad. They are proud of their city, which is never dirty, never in need of paint or repair. Second, looking scruffy would underscore that no one was on your side enough to donate funds for your upkeep. Face is important in Colend--but it can be earned back.

The only time you will see anything thrown about in Alsais is at a public memorial, when people will drop white blossoms down on a parade of the dead. Those are left to lie for the day, the crushed blossoms sending up scent to remind everyone of the person memorialized. But by dawn the next day the streets are clean again.

Life in Alsais is crushingly expensive due to the high level of public service. There is a strict no growth policy that everyone observes. The extremely wealthy can live there and do nothing, but otherwise one must have a skill. There is much trade in kind, by a complicated system, so for example a musician just getting started who might have won the Silver Feather (or been a finalist) will be offered a place to live and board for a performance a week, or whatever. Artisans vouched for by their guild are forgiven taxes their first year, then there is an evaluation to see if they can join. The public service is provided mostly by relatives of artisans, but anyone can come and work for a year, tax free, before being evaluated, thus a young person who desperately wants to live in Alsais who has little to offer will join the street sweepers' guild, and if their work is diligent and they keep themselves looking spruce, at their year's evaluation, they will be accepted into the guild.

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Categories: Colend

Page last modified on February 19, 2018, at 08:57 AM