Saturday, November 1, 2014

Oh, The Places You'll Go: Two Nations of Ore

The Most Flavorful Gastrarchy of Shugab

The eastern province of Shugab is one of the great powerhouses of the network of spice traders based out of Ur-Hadad. The finest and rarest of spices do not originate in Shugab, but are instead bound for the province, to serve the caste of noblechefs who rule through recipes. Home of the most renowned chefs, sous-chefs, bakers, confectioners, and so on throughout the Dominion of Man, Shugab had long held a strong culinary tradition when a series of gastronomical bribes led the 14th Prefect-Duke of Shugab to announce: "Let flavor reign, for she is mightier than any mortal ruler's whim." Thus, the province's decision making, rather than being a contest of wills between rival aristocrats, became a contest of recipes and culinary acumen between rival chefs, each pushing their political agenda with unique dishes that they believe will win the "argument." The 15th Prefect-Duke took the honorific "the Gourmand," and the appellation has stuck; now, in fact, the title "Prefect-Duke" is no longer used, and instead the ruler of Shugab is known as "the Gourmand of Shugab." Over the years, the Gourmands have become more and more decadent and debased; the current Gourmand of Shugab, Scurfang bar Squom, is said to be even worse than his predecessor and has never turned down a culinary experience. Somehow, Gourmand Scurfang yet draws breath, despite the indulgent, often dangerous and frequently vile gamut his tastes run.

Shugab operates as one great hierarchical bureaucracy, at the peak of which sits the Gourmand, who, tradition demands, acts as the interpreter of the "divine will of flavor." Below him, an autocratic tier of master noblechefs and connoisseurs apply  similar methods of culinary argument to determine the "best course" for the country; the "best course" is, naturally, the best tasting. The real power in the country lies in three places: the Librarian's Assembly (who maintain centuries of recipe books), the Grocers & Butchers Alliance and the Spicers' Guild. A web of favors, threats, greased palms, blackmail, diplomacy and outright violence draws these three entities together in a tangled knot, a shadow bureaucracy that stretches from the farms and docks through the kitchens to the highest seats of power. Oddly, the noblechefs and aristocratic connoisseurs (much less the Gourmand) have yet to notice that they aren't in control of the province and that the real power rests with those slowly feeding the upper classes to death.

Common slang throughout Shugab is full of references to cooking, food preparation and flavors. In fact, many Hadadi scholars trace common phrases like "What's cooking?" (in the sense of "What's going on?") and the countless permutations along the line of "you can't make a [particular dish] without [doing something violent to a food-animal]" to Shugabi chefs, probably incorrectly. 

The Duchy Of Karel

The maritime nation of Karel lies roughly a week out from Ur-Hadad along the strong northeast current. Inland, Karel's great forests make possible the logging necessary to supply Karel's strong trade as some of Ore's greatest shipwrights. In ages past, large Karelik frigates and galleys were sought after by navies in every corner of the Dominion of Man. Today, though, these vessels have become so commonplace that the Karelik shipwrights nearly have put themselves out of a job. Nearly. The Karelik people are ever industrious and, perhaps, ever opportunistic. With the success of their large vessels, the Karelik shipwrights realized they had inadvertently created a demand for smaller, faster vessels of the sort that could outrun and outpace the higher-tonnage ships. Now, Kareliyya, port capital of the duchy, has become a sort of smuggler's haven, a fact which the Herzog of Karel, Zorgmund-Frantisko IV, seems reluctant to do much about. So long as Kareliyya doesn't become a haven for pirates like Port Scourge, it seems, the Herzog will permit most things.

The nobility of Karel maintain few palaces or manses, instead preferring lavish ships and barges at sea, often conjoined by rope bridges and gangplanks. The Herzog holds court in the great lighthouse at Kareliyya, issuing orders about the arrangement of the noble flotilla to his functionaries, who then communicate the Herzog's dictates via semaphore to those very ships. This tradition stems from Zorgmund-Frantisko II, the current Herzog's great-grandfather, who became so infuriated at the nobles at his court that he ordered them all to sea; as it turns out, no Herzog since has officially ordered them back to port. Instead, Herzogs have ordered the flotilla to "perform docking maneuvers" with the grand lighthouse-palace.

With the interior of the nation largely neglected by the nobility, it might be surprising that so many things run as efficiently as they do. The nation's vast interior forests are steadily farmed for lumber, with the resultant open land sold off to farmers or reseeded with trees. Stones from the hills in the south are still quarried and brought to Kareliyya and other settlements for homes and to the east of the country to form the Safewall, a structure that "protects" the farmers and lumberjacks of Karel from the diseases and vermin of Ostweg Swamp. The Kareliks have cooperated with their northern neighbors, the Satrapy of Kuth, to bridge the swamp, and Karelik soldiers patrol the bridge alongside Kuthite mamluks. Karel enjoys a unique relationship with the Satrapy of Kuth. The Satrap, a being believed by his subjects to be a sort of god-prince, tolerates cooperation with Karel only because the faith of which the Satrap is supposed to be a demi-god is so widespread within the duchy, including its nobility. It's been well over a century since the Satrapy tried to press this "claim" on the duchy, and the Herzog, the nobility and even the peasantry of Karel fiercely resist a Kuthite hegemony, their doggedly independent spirits being a core component of the Karelik national character.