SHAZRAD: City of Veils

Despite its freewheeling society, Shazrad is a city on the desert's edge, and she has inherited the desert's sense of honor. Don't be fooled by the assassins and thieves you can hire, for even they have their code. A merchant may refuse you the loan that will enable you to buy your freedom, but offer water to a thirsty enemy.

Some customs are easy for a visitor to pick up on: Never, never taint water. Keep your weapons hidden where they won't offend others, or else wear them with peace knots. (Foreigners and newcomers should learn about weapons and armor common in Shazrad, as well as her ships and military forces...since assumptions can be fatal.) At the same time, be prepared to defend yourself; no one else will do it for you, unless you are fortunate enough to have the patronage of a House or powerful Kinship. Think three times before speaking, nine times before speaking insult.

Above all: You may threaten anything but Shazrad. If you want to know why, talk to any storyteller affiliated with the House of the Thousand Tales.

Hospitality is a social and religious obligation, not only on the part of the host for the guest's safety and comfort, but on the part of the guest for not embarrassing or endangering the host. Temple authorities can enforce this. Hospitality is offered through a ritual involving the sharing of salt (usually salted bread) and wine (or a cheaper alcoholic substitute for poorer folk). Once this is done, the host is obligated to provide at least three days of housing. The guest and host are considered to be tied to each other during this period despite any differences, in rank or otherwise.

Women and men enjoy equalities in general, although their opportunities may differ slightly depending upon their Kinship and House, and the rank they hold within those. People without associations to either generally have no political power, and their only possible route to wealth and influence is through excellence in a craft or trade. Only such upper-class people are likely to be literate.

Those in dire straits may choose to become bondservants to another person. Their master provides them with their basic needs, and in return they offer their obedience and service. Bondservants do have basic rights, and thus cannot casually bought and sold nor mistreated, and they can buy their way to freedom.

Family and loyalty to confederates are paramount. You may be scum, but if you're disloyal scum, you quickly become dead scum. On the other hand, the loyal are rewarded, and possibly even become secondary members of a Kinship, with all the privileges that implies. Each Kinship is organized differently: some patriarchal, some matriarchal, some ruled by majority, others by a senior. These internal rules are rarely obvious, in all their subtleties, to an outsider.

Kinships are families related by blood or marriage. They're also political powers when they're fortunate, and struggling underdogs when they're not. Either way, they are also allies to be desired--or avoided. For Kinships undergo numerous conflicts among themselves. Yesterday's bedfellows become tomorrow's rivals. And people aligned with, but not members of, a Kinship may find themselves caught in the middle. Less frequently, someone who has proved his or her friendship to a Kinship might be adopted as a "secondary member." Such people have the Kinship's protection, within reason, though they may not speak for the Kinship. That privilege is reserved for its senior members.

Some groups to be familiar with:

      A relatively recently prosperous, influential, and somewhat unconventional Kinship dealing in as many things as they can get their fingers into. No doubt some part of their success is due to a willingness to take unusual risks; by now the Kinship's wealth and reputation provide a sort of safety net for such ventures. Maneuvers that would be greeted with shock if carried about by any other Kinship are accepted in a blasé manner when Kinship Alee is involved. They have, however, made a number of enemies who wouldn't mind seeing the Kinship falter once too often.

      A feared and hated religious cult who believe that the Word uttered God and not vice versa.

      A Kinship whose members dominate the House of the Golden Hand, to the point where the interests of the two are almost seen as alike--for good or ill.

Imans of Khybuz:
      A zealous monastic order opposed to any form of cleaning or hygiene, which makes them rather notorious.

      A Kinship that enjoys wealth and a sprawling network of alliances with many other Kinships, major or minor; unfortunately, the necessity of sustaining relations with disparate interests means that they act seldom, and slowly.

      A smaller Kinship of merchants who started small and have somewhat recently worked their way into prosperity, in no small part due to the diligence of Reidjai...and also into the somewhat questionable business practices that prosperity often brings.

      One of the major power-brokers, with branches in every House. There has been an unofficial stand-off between this Kinship's heads and the House of the Watching Dragon ever since Zahara Taryn (it is widely suspected) assassinated her betrothed in Kinship Marud. (The Marud, being more practical, carefully made their peace with the House.)

Copyright © 2000-2001 by Alioqui & Yoon Ha Lee

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