Tuesday, November 27, 2012

J is for Jekara

Jekara is the capital city of the Kurushat khaganate, as well as the home of the khagan's palace and harem, and many of the nobility of the Kurushi overall.  The kurushi race, as described earlier, is unique and distinct from others in the land of the Three Empires.  I'll repost the description of the Kurushi briefly before moving on to the details of Jekara specifically.
The Kurushi are a group of peoples who live in the very southwest areas that are mapped. Their name comes from the major country in the area, Kurushat, but in reality, many of them have only recently been integrated into that polity, and some of them have more loyalty to their local traditions than to the grand, national one. Be that as it may, the kurushans have a similar appearance, traditions, language and way of life, even if their more or less unity into a single country is a recent thing. Fiercely militaristic, frequently even jingoistic to the point of obnoxiousness, and an active, virile and growing group of people, the kurushans are ready to take on the Mezzovian region by storm... except that, well, they're still relatively removed from the area, and have enough of their own issues going on around the shores of the much smaller inland Karkose Sea to deal with. Fractuous and proud, they will probably always have to deal with local pride, insubordination and other issues within their khaganate, especially as the old khagan sees the end of his life approaching and the tempestuous scrabbling for his position that will no doubt follow his death among his eligible heirs apparent. The Kurushi are fairly tall and pale-skinned except when tanned by summers of campaigning and other outdoor activity. They value achievement and ambition, and even the wealthy and the nobility pursue scholarly, athletic, military, or even mercantile pursuits. Success in any of these arenas brings prestige. Because of this, many kurushans are fairly tanned; they maintain an active, outdoor lifestyle. They have dark hair and extremely pale gray eyes, which are often almond shaped due to modest epicanthic folds. Kurushans have only fairly recently been coming into the lands of other peoples, have been isolated on the other side of the Black Mountains and the Cavusto steppes, but when they have come into contact with isolated settlements, villages, or even full cities other other nationalities, their response has often been aggressive: raiding or even outright conquering and enslaving of thousands of people. They now have diplomatic relationships with Terrasa and others, so much of that has been officially curtailed, but the kurushans, once they get past their local issues, have been eyeing the rich lands of the Mezzovian region and seeing themselves as the natural overlords.
Kurushat as a country is a relatively recent phenomena.  While ethnically, culturally and linguistically linked, all of the people in the Karkose Inner Sea region were more independent and Balkanized until recently.  Some of the cities that now fall under the banner of the Empire have done so recently--the most recent in living memory, even--and in some cases, that banner waves uncomfortably over a still recalcitrant populace.  Jekara, on the other hand, is the homeland of the group that conquered the rest.  To use a real life example, Kurushat would be much like the early days of the Roman Republic, and the Romans themselves--the Jekarans--have only recently imposed themselves over the Sabine, Samnite, Faliscan, Oscan or Umbrian peoples--and started calling them all Kurushi in an attempt to create a monolithic Kurushan culture.  Assuming its continued political dominance, it'll get there eventually, but realistically there are generations yet to come in which the Jekara dialect, Jekara fashions and customs, and loyalty to the entire nation as a whole rather than to regional concerns remain elusive.

Jekaran Praetorian
Jekara is located on the coast of the Karkose Inner Sea, at the mouth of the Sukotu River.  Its closest neighbor amongst the major cities that are now part of the Empire is Sinjagat, and long before the formation of the Empire, they had a long and mutually beneficial relationship as allies and trading partners anyway.  This created a great deal of cultural symbiosis, so that while Jekara is the secular head of the Empire, Sinjagat is its spiritual head, and the cult and worship of Yinigu, the patron god of Kurushat, started at Sinjagat and is still centered there.  Because of this, there are still a number of people in Jekara who maintain practice of their old ancestor worship cult, often side by side with the worship of Yinigu, but sometimes in place of it.

Since it is the headquarters of the Khan of Khans, life in Jekara is largely shaped by the political manuevering of its noble class.  The supreme leader of Kurushat is the Khan of Khans, The Almighty Khagan, Kajim Tokraas IX, Blessed of Yinigu, Blade of the South, Hammer of the Weak. Kajim Tokraas is a very wily ruler, and he is old and powerful. Despite his age and relatively passive appearance, he is a monster of a warrior, and his age has not in the least dimmed his reflexes, strength or battle instincts. As a master of unarmed combat and some small sorcery, he is always armed even when he appears harmless or defenseless.  His most notable trait is his absolute ruthlessness, reliance on a combination of convoluted plotting and naked power to hold on to his position. Nobody loves the Khagan, but everyone fears him.

The Cataracts of the Sukotu River at Jekara with the Khagan's palace
There is no heir per se to the khagan, but a number of khans, many of them his siblings and children, have been positioning themselves for years to take over the mantle of the khagan on his eventual death. This is the ancient Jekaran leadership ritual; a ruler holds power until he no longer can hold it (i.e., he is violently ousted and killed by a prospective replacement, or he otherwise dies of natural or unnatural causes.) On the death of past khagans, a brief period of anarchy grips the khaganate, as each of the khans attempts to ascend the throne. Usually this means a great deal of fratricide, patricide and filicide, and a significant depletion of the ranks of the upper nobility. The new ruler then spends some time consolidating power and his grip over Kurushat.

Currently the favored khan to inherit is the oldest surviving son, Kajim Qaerkuun, a gigantic brute of a man that many whisper is half Neanderthal based on his massive build, ugly features and prominent body hair. He's not--he's just really big, ugly and hairy. He's served for many years as Tokraas' brutal enforcer and Right Hand, but this appearance of loyalty is a sham, and Tokraas knows it. Tokraas has no problem allowing Qaerkuun to inherit as long as he waits for a natural death and doesn't get impatient, but he keeps a wary eye on his ambitious son.

Most of the other khans serve important roles in the khagan's court, or serve as an equivalent to regional governers. Under the khans are the various members of the noble caste. Many of them have administrative roles in the government of the khaganate, although many of them are merely titular heads of their households, and their only role of leadership is over their clan soldiers, laborers and slaves. A few of the nobles have charters that were extended to them as the city-state of Jekara gradually went "Imperial" and started expanding as the Kurushat Empire, but for the most part, these local lords were killed when their own countries and/or city-states were conquered, and nobles of Jekaran blood were installed. For some of the older conquests, this has been the situation for many generations, and is a well-established status quo. For others on the frontiers of Kurushat, the local lords are newly installed and the local populace seethes with rebellion and general unruliness. These far-flung leaders have a light presence in Jekara itself, as their duties (and distance) keep them otherwise occupied, but no khan is willing to foreswear Jekara entirely, and the more settled khans maintain permanent residence here, to better ensure that they are close to the seat of power in Kurushat.

Life in Jekara--and increasingly so everywhere in Kurushat--is dominated by a complex and convoluted caste system.  The following are the castes commonly associated with Jekara and Sinjagat and Kurushi culture in general.

• Royals: These are those who could potentially take over the crown in the event of the death of the khagan. Permeability is extremely low; it would be a very unusual and exceptional case for someone not born to this caste to enter it. This is the khagan himself, and all the khans, and their immediate families.

• Praetorians: Professional soldiers. Most make up heavy infantry units, and train almost from birth to the soldiering career. Sorta like hereditary positions in the Roman legions. The numbers are relatively small, but there's enough of them that the army pretty much has to always be on the move. The recent khagan's have created an unsustainable situation in which without a foreign war to prosecute, they've got entire castes of kurushi that are essentially unemployed and the economic basis of the entire country would collapse. You can be born into, or buy a commission into this caste. Although most praetorians are not overtly wealthy, it is seen as a noble, almost a holy calling, and praetorians are a very prestigeous caste.  They are especially common within and around Jekara itself, which is a highly militarized area.

• Cataphracts: Also professional soldiers, but also nobility. Not unlike the knights of medieval Europe. Titles to this caste can be granted by royals, so permeability here is relatively good. You cannot buy commissions as a cataphract, though, and they are always fewer in number than the Praetorians.

• Mortitheurges: To borrow a label from Privateer Press's skorne society, these guys are both religious and arcane in nature and serve as a priestly caste. Although not celibate, moritheurges do not raise their own children nor do they marry, so you cannot be born to this caste.  Their origin is in the ancestor worship beliefs of the past, but most of them have been seamlessly adopted into the worship of Yinigu as well.

• Juugashi: The Juugashi are the Elect of Yinigu, special shock troops that have been selected via a painful and potentially fatal initiation ceremony to undergo a magical transformation to better resemble the god of their religion as "were-hyenas" of a sort (although their physical change is permanent, and has nothing to do with the moon.)  Juugashi spend some of their time cloistered in special monasteries, but they also serve as elite troops on campaign, and as bodyguards for wandering clerics and nobles within the empire themselves.

Juugashi soldiers
It is illegal for all but a khan or other extremely highly placed noble to interfere with the Juugashi, so many of the common citizens of the Empire see them as little more than state-sponsored bandits, and want nothing to do with them if they can help it. Soldiers are more forgiving, as the Juugashi have a proven track record of "getting it done" when things get difficult.

In keeping with the nature of Yinigu, and the hyenas that they resemble, the Juugashi are brutal, aggressive and domineering.

• Ugiun (Artisans): A more prestigious force than laborers, these free-born entrepreneurs can belong to guilds, and are known as masters of their crafts. Not unlike medieval guild-type professions. Doctors and others also qualify. In modern society, we would call these "skilled trades."

• Haaziran (Laborers): Much less prestigious than artisans, these are the unskilled laborers. From farmers and urban unskilled labor to domestic help, this vast throng of mostly non-Kurushi, disgraced Kurushi, or those of recently conquered populations, humans, Neanderthals, and others who have somehow avoided slavery still find their lot little better than serfs in most respects. They are, however, socially somewhat invisible, and for that reason, they can move about the empire more freely than the government would care to admit. Their control over the laborers is slight; however, since most laborers have to work to survive, the potential for civil unrest from this quarter is lower than it might otherwise be.

• Kabaatas Erkek (Traveling merchants): A relatively prestigious caste that has the freedom to come and go throughout the khaganate and beyond is rare, and this privilege belongs to the hereditary merchant caste. Each merchant (and his retinue) has a charter from a khaganate himself, giving him authority to enact non-local trade relationships, and this charter is passed down from parent to child. Younger, less able, or less interested children can be placed, due to the merchants wealth, in the praetorian, scholar and administrator or artisan castes as well, to ensure that the entire family prospers.

• Qaabru: Not unlike the Nazi SS; a caste that is police force, paramility force, and which operates somewhat independently of the other arms of the government here, and which has its fingers in all aspects of Kurushi life. Members of the Qaabru are hand-picked by its leaders. In theory, this is a eugenics program; the Qaabru are supposed to be everything that's best about the Kurushi race, and an attempt to improve on that even more and perpetuate their better qualities without sullying them with any other concerns. In reality, the leaders of the Qaabru quite frequently allow Kurushi to buy entrance into this caste for their children, or they pick them as political favors.

• Slaves: Name speaks for itself. Few slaves have any rights, and their lot is a miserable one. However, this isn't universally true. The khagan himself, and his top khans, select slaves for administrative talent, and most of the bureacrats of Kurushat are slaves, Kurushi or otherwise. They can rise to great power and wealth in these roles, but they can also lose it overnight if they don't play their cards exactly right. There are also regiments of slave soldiers, not unlike the janissaries, usually led by a charismatic and powerful Juugashi individual. These jannisary-soldiers are exclusively non-Kurushi, and Terrasans and Neanderthals make up the majority of their numbers.

Finally, an interesting bit of local color for Jekara is the existance of "The city above the City"--a network of catwalks, rickety shanties and scaffolds, that are build atop many of the buildings of Jekara, in an overt example of strange squatting.  This neighborhood, called Overcity by the pretentious and Rickets by the rest, is a strange home to escaped slaves, lower class citizens with nowhere else to go, criminals and more.  Why the khagan tolerates it is unclear, but for both practical reasons and as a matter of policy, local law enforcement views the Rickets as off-limits.  Many argue that if it were cleared away, it would simply spring back up again like mushrooms within a matter of days anyway.

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