Kasslyne's northernmost country, Alderode [ˈaːlderoʊd] is a little-understood land of secrets. With the exception of its closely watched coastal trade capitols, Alderode's borders are strictly monitored and definitively closed, all outsiders barred from entering - and all citizens barred from leaving.
Alderode's a large country with mountain ranges to the east and north, and to the west moors, taiga, and rocky slopes. A land of long, blinding winters and short, mild summers, the country's northern latitude produces a climate colder and harsher than that of the rest of the continent. Eleven ginnals, or provinces, compose the country, each a distinct political entity with strictly controlled populations.
Alderode is ruled by a bitheocratic conciliatory cooperative known in brief as Vits. This totalitarian body is headed by four Lords - two Gefendur, two Ssaelit - and consists of a lesser council of advisers, Composers, and powerful officials from the country's supreme pymary regulatory body, the Window. With a population split into seven distinct castes, or sultet, both Alderode's social and political practices are influenced by a culture of separation and control.
Religiously and politically, Alderode is split between the fraternal Gefendur faith and Ssaelism, and is the only country where Ssaelit practice openly. The theological differences between the two religions sometimes result in internal conflicts.
Conflict also exists between Alderode and its southern neighbour, Cresce. The two countries have warred for centuries over political, geographical, and cultural differences. Just as Cresce is viewed as the protector of the West, Alderode is viewed by most other countries on the continent as an aggressor and a bully.
Alderode has its own modified khert, responsible for the castes and a good deal of government control. The entire country is surrounded by khert-hubs, or large stones made of a little understood First Material designed to extend and maintain the Dammakhert field.
Since nearly the country's inception, Alderode's population has been split into seven castes. These castes are linked with the country's aberrant khert, the Dammakhert, which assigns a caste to an individual in the womb. One's caste determines one's lifespan, appearance, and pymary proficiency, and has ramifications on one's career and place in society.
In larger cities, castes are further divided into classes, or ghers. All of a certain city's Jet caste, for instance, may be further split into a ghers for titled families, a ghers for merchant class families, and a ghers for beggars and unskilled labourers. These ghers serve as extended families, with elected leaders deciding upon the marriages and careers of individuals, striving always to better the financial and social welfare of their circle. Ghers live together in sprawling neighbourhoods, celebrate feast days together, attend religious services together, and even pool resources. Though a group of ghers all be of the same caste they will still compete with each other for new additions through arranged marriages and city-to-city moves. Social mobility and class intermixing only extend to this manner of ghers migration, as marriage and procreation are by law limited to one's own caste. Within castes, because of the ghers system, there is ingrained classism and bias, resulting in subsets of the population who may be discriminated against not only for their caste but for their low position within that caste.
To be expelled from one's ghers is among the worst of punishments, as one loses community, family, legal advocacy, and often financial support. As there is no overarching social welfare in Alderode, ghers look after their own indigent and infirm.
In spite of the importance of caste and ghers, citizens of all types intermingle recreationally and professionally (though never romantically). Outside of cities however, castes are more isolated, and there are many single-type villages who go for years without seeing outsiders of a different colour.
The seven Aldish castes are as follows.
Known in Tainish as 'konn', the Copper caste enjoys up to 400 years of natural life, beginning to slowly age past their mid-twenties at 250 years of age. Copper are of a ruddy olive complexion with red eyes and dark red hair. Most are encouraged towards politics, scholarship, mechanical engineering, hydraulics and teaching, as well as Dammakhert theory, maintenance, and monitoring. They're allowed no more than two children in their lifetime in order to reduce the burden their family places on the country's resources. There is a virulent strain of madness among some of them.
The Copper play a very interesting game, politically. The continuation of the caste system is in their best interests, and much money and effort is spent by the larger Copper political parties to maintain the status quo. This maintenance is in part helped by a long-held assumption that Copper lives are more valuable than the lives of the lower castes. This belief has no legal backing, but the bias endures.
In some ways the Copper position as the preeminent caste saddles them with certain perceived responsibilities. Because their gift from the gods (or from Ssael) is the greatest, they are expected to treat the lower castes with a greater degree of charity and forgiveness. Their actions are often more closely scrutinized, and they are held to a higher standard.
Because Coppers are poorly connected to the Dammakhert, they make very poor wrights.
Known in Tainish as 'stenkonn', the Jet caste enjoys up to 250 years of natural life, beginning to slowly age past their mid-twenties at 150 years of age. Jet are of a fair to olive complexion with blue eyes and black hair. Most are encouraged towards literature, record-keeping, medicine, law, scholarship, and the arts. They're allowed no more than four children in their lifetime.
Jet, of course, have nearly as much to gain from the continued caste system as the Copper. There is a perceived rivalry between these two castes and for some reason they almost never get along. Many konn and stenkonn suffer an immediate and in fact supernatural disdain towards each other, their natures lying so close along the fault line used by the Dammakhert to separate the two castes. This rivalry has been used to great dramatic and thematic effect in Aldish culture, and is the subject of plays and operas and paintings. Red and black when used together in Aldish culture denote conflict, and it has long been the colour of Alderode's millitary uniforms and, more recently, the emblem of Vits Council itself.
Stenkonn are often plagued by a sense of dissatisfaction, and are stereotyped as snobbish people that are never happy with anything. The Dammakhert often keeps their minds unsettled, as they are neither the extreme of konn nor the average (population-wise) of the Bronze. It results, for many, in an imperfect spiritual composition, but it also makes for people who are constantly striving to improve things. Some of the greatest advances in technology, medicine, and spellcraeft have come from the Jet.
Known in Tainish as 'semon', the Bronze caste are of an erratic longevity, experiencing anywhere from 50 to 150 years of natural life. The largest caste, the Bronze are light brown-skinned, brown-eyed, and brown-haired. Most are encouraged towards the military, accounting, menial arts, agriculture and construction.
Bronze are the least respected of the official castes due to an assumption that they are less worthy because they are so common. They have no reputation for beauty, no great longevity, no particular inclinations. They are painted as the Sullied Median, and it's assumed that if the caste system was allowed to falter, interbreeding would result in a country full of coarse and common Bronze. Other castes often refer to them as Clay and they are assumed to be of mixed heritage. They are criminals, brutes, and savages, and have a difficult time clawing their way above their station. Still, they make up much of the military, do much of the farming and physical labour, and Alderode could not run without them.
Known in Tainish as 'soud', the Gold caste are the only people in Alderode untouched and unaffected by the Dammakhert. With a normal human lifespan and ageing schedule, they are also the least numerous. Gold are fair-complected with light blonde hair and green or brown eyes.
The Gold are the last of the original Tainish people from beyond the Gold peaks of the east. Their status has fluctuated throughout history, from being seen as almost godlike beings because of their arts, technology and culture, to the slightly more modern view of their being violent heathen dissenters with odd old ways that have no place in modern Alderode. Much of this has come about due to the presence of the Mmatont, a group of soud who left the mainland a thousand years ago to revive the old religion of ancient Tain in the mountainous forests of Anchert. These radicals think that Alderode should give Tain back to its descendants. Vits doesn't treat this stance seriously, but has responded with decisive violence to Mmatont attacks in the past, taking away their right to assemble on the mainland, and granting permission to both the Ssaelit and Gefendur armies to execute Mmatont on sight.
The Mmatont problem has given the Gold caste as a whole rocky relations with other castes, even law-abiding, Ssael-worshipping normal citizen soud on the mainland. Yet even before the Mmatont revival, soud were often treated gingerly by other castes due to their exclusion from the Dammakhert. Because one cannot 'read' them via the network they are unknowable blanks, and this is sometimes nerve-wracking to their fellow citizens. Some businesses will not deal with them at all, claiming there is no way to know if a soud is honest. They are also heavily taxed by Vits, with the excuse that soud ghers require heavier policing.
Known in Tainish as 'renghul', the Silver caste enjoy up to 50 years of natural life. Silver are dark-complected with brilliant blue eyes and dark silver hair. Most are encouraged towards high level practical pymary, the military, farming, manual labour, carpentry, factory work, mining, mathematics & engineering.
The Silver and the Platinum are often referred to as Blessed. There's an ancient assumption that they are the gods' favourites, so beloved that the Twins cannot bear to be apart from them for too long, and thus their limited time on earth. The higher castes think of them as children, innocent and capable of no real wrong. Because they are so short-lived their lives are considered less valuable however, a perception that has resulted in riots over the years as murderers were prosecuted less strenuously for murdering Silver and Plats than for murdering Jets or Coppers. Because of the tendency to see them as childish, many Silver have problems being taken seriously when they achieve political positions. They're practically barred from practicing medicine or the law due to social bias they don't have time to master it the same way other castes can.
There is some validity to the stereotype of childishness. Silver seem engineered to live for the moment, and many have a difficult time worrying overmuch about the future. Many have clinically short memories and are generally uneasy when it comes to thinking too much about the past, or what's to come. They are, on average, no less or no more intelligent than people of other castes, but they seem possessed of an entirely different perspective on life and living.
Silver generally have the most close-knit ghers of all the castes. Children are raised collectively, growing up and living their whole life in the same home. Silver culture is often very distinct from Aldish culture as a whole. Many Silver speak their own Common/Tainish pidgin when together, with dialects that change drastically not only from city to city and ginnal to ginnal, but from ghers to ghers.
There's an extremely violent stigma in this group against consorting with other castes. It's not uncommon to hear of Silvers actually being killed by their own for growing too close to someone from a different caste. Philandering with outsiders is forbidden among most Silver as it is in few other groups.
Known in Tainish as 'hethllot' [heiθˈjoʊt], Plats enjoy up to 30 years of natural life. Plats are white-skinned with pink or lavender eyes and pure white hair. They are slight of frame, short, and often of a frail constitution. Their skin damages easily in sunlight and they are saddled with poor eyesight and weak lungs. There is a virulent strain of madness among them.
Plats enjoy special privilege in Aldish society. They are considered holy by the Gefendur religion, and many simply do not have to work, supported by the contributions of the Church, Vits, and private citizens. They're the Pale Ones, mystical, ephemeral, magical, beautiful, who must never be mistreated for their every word is heard by the gods. It's taboo to speak cruelly to a Plat, for that is equivalent to speaking ill to the Twins themselves.
Some Plat take advantage of this to sport with the higher castes, or even to break the law. Other Plats very much begrudge the expectations society has of them, wanting to be something more than a wright, or a performer, or a prostitute. There is great dissension, frequently, in hethllot society. Childhood is short and truths come quickly. Philosophy and religion are of great importance to Plats. Some of the greatest Aldish written works have been produced by their numbers.
Among Plats there has long been a small population that rallies against the caste system, but they've forever been marginalized, often by their own, who fear they would lose their status in Aldish society. Most plats are against rocking the boat while others are actually maddened by the Dammakhert's alteration to their natures, hidden away from public eye in private institutions. Still others go through their short lives in a sort of drugged malaise, relinquishing their cares into the Dammakhert to which they are so intimately connected. The majority of Plats consider themselves as blessed as other castes consider them, for they know the Dammakhert as no others can, and claim they'd not trade that for the world.
This powerful connection to the khert produces notoriously powerful wrights. Plats are hence encouraged heavily towards the highest levels of practical magery, theatre, music, the arts & the sex trade.
Kussen are Aldishmen of any caste who have been removed from the Dammakhert and committed to kussenna - slave farms. Aldishmen may be removed from any caste for almost any reason, but normally it is for criminal activities, debts, or if they have willingly sold themselves to a trader.
Kussen have no rights. These pariah slaves are shaved, sterilized, imprisoned, and forgotten.