The Mountains of Morpheus
Life in Drau-Mura
Winters in the region are cold and harsh, and summers are stormy, and mild in temperature. Northern Drau-Mura can see frost and snow throughout half the year, while the southern coast is often battered by storm. Mountains are snow-capped throughout the year. Despite the climate, much of the land is arable, its crops able to survive among cold winds and rocky soil.
Agriculture and Food
The majority of families in Drau-Mura eke out a living through agriculture, though fishing villages are common throughout the southern coast, and semi-nomadic animal husbandry is more common than farming among the Eastern Tribes. The key staples of the region are potatoes, broad beans, barley, and wheat, supplemented by a variety of vegetables, mainly turnips, carrots, cabbages, leeks, squash, and rutabagas. Sunflowers are also cultivated, for oil, fiber, and medicine — fields of them are an iconic (if not all that common) image of the countryside among the Azna kingdoms. A variety of herbs, garlic, and cumin are commonly used as seasoning, and Kala Anar’s peasants grow dragon pepper, a spice of intense heat. In the Arius kingdoms, now-prosperous farmers have successfully cultivated, for some 50 years, several breeds of cotton that thrive in marshes and hills. Rice and olive oil are imported by sea, and are favored staples among the wealthy.
Sheep, goats, donkeys, mules, cattle, chickens, and domesticated geese are the most common livestock. In the north, numerous reindeer are herded but not fully domesticated. Meat is usually sold, with eggs, fish, offal, and blood used as more common fare. Beekeeping is common throughout the land, with each region producing its own brand of sweet, sour, or mildly psychoactive honey. Fish is regularly pickled, or used to make a very pungent, fermented fish sauce. In coastal areas, lobster is a very cheap food, as is wriggle-mouth, a bizarre but harmless, man-sized, tentacled creature occassionally pulled up in fishing nets. Milk from cows and sheep is usually used to make butter and cheese; the Eastern Tribes drink milk itself, but most others find the practice repugnant. Pigs have only been recently domesticated, but by custom hunting parties retrieve wild boar for festivals and feasts.
A great deal of barley is used to make beer, and an average person may drink several pints of weak beer throughout the day by habit. A variety of red grape, which can survive in Drau-Mura’s frosty climate, is used for winemaking. The region’s wine is a thick, sticky, potent drink likened to blood; drinking it mixed with water is seen as a sign of effeminacy (or, in less chauvinistic settings, cowardice and weakness). Wine is seen to have a mysterious — almost supernatural — quality, and certain customs among the Old Faith and pagan faiths involve drinking over the course of a day until one loses consciousness.
Drau-Mura’s cheap, staple foods are often used to make traveler’s stew, which has a dozen regional names and variations, but generally consists of potatoes, turnips, leeks, more potatoes, garlic, and vinegar, thickened with pig’s or chicken blood. It is served in inns, taverns, and homes across the land. Many adventurers will take a significant detour if it means eating something other than traveler’s stew for yet another night.
Azna villages near the Mountains of Morpheus grow a variety of bitter, soporific mint, popular among travelers who journey to the Mountains for the purposes of dream.
Class, Freedom, Labor, and Land
Common folk: Most people of Drau Mura make their living through agriculture, animal husbandry, and (on the coast) fishing. As most land is owned by elites of whatever kingdom or city-state, these workers pay rent and taxes to their rulers, usually in the form of their agricultural surplus. The extreme version of this relationship is a villein system, where tenant farmers (also known as serfs) work on the land of an aristocrat, and have relatively limited rights in terms of marriage, property ownership, and mobility. Across all of Drau-Mura, as many as half of all people may be villeins, though the proportion certainly varies from area to area. Poor workers who aren’t villeins may have greater legal liberties, but the economic pressures of rent and taxation mean they are practically limited in their freedom. Aristocrats and gentry institute a variety of systems of punishment, discipline, and collective responsibility that compels the continuation of villein labor: For example, a villein patriarch might be held accountable if his nephew fails to make a regular payment to their landlord.
Many farmers and workers have greater rights as householders, effectively meaning that they are free tenants, enjoying greater freedoms than serfs, but still pay rent to landowners, usually aristocracy. Householders often don’t fare better than villeins in terms of wealth, but many villeins work hard to rise to this status for the extra prestige, or to ensure their children can further climb the social ladder. One step above householders are freeholders, who own their own land; they may collect rent from other workers, but taxation ensures that they contribute to the wealth of the aristocracy too. One step above them are the landed gentry, landowners who largely live off of rent and are well-positioned to mediate between the aristocracy and peasants. Many adventurers hail from these layers of society, privileged enough to receive specialized training but poised to want more and take more (for themselves, for their families, for their fellow workers and peasants …). The same is true for specialized workers.
Social mobility from villein to gentry is not rigid; under the right circumstances, fortune, and local legalities, a villein family might buy free land, or a child of a destitute gentry family might find herself working as a freeholder’s servant.
Outside this entire social system, which depends on the immobility tied to agrarian production (or much less commonly, coastal fishing), live other classes of common folk. As a semi-nomadic people, the Eastern Tribes are composed of some of these people, though the tribes also rely on small peasant settlements whom they protect (or exploit) in exchange for resources. Across all of Drau-Mura live a proportionally small number of hill-folk, scattered families of farmers, shepherds, and trappers dwelling in the borderlands between civilization and wilderness. Hill-folk have a strained relationship with aristocrats (and their villeins, householders, freeholders, and gentry), who often strive to compel their labor and taxation through relocation and the condonement of banditry. Hill-folk are commonly distrusted thanks to their reputation for theft, immorality, madness brought on by isolation, and strange, occult practices — though many peasants also resent them for their relative freedom. Even more mistrusted than hill-folk are vagabonds, who lack a fixed place (or lord) of belonging; local authorities often jail vagabonds on the slightest of or no reasons. Certainly vagabonds with weapons, armors, or magical abilties can attract negative attention just for passing by in a village.
Elites: While many titles exist among Drau-Mura nobility, barons and counts are those most likely to rule over a barony or county, which might encompass at least one manor with its villeins, many villages, and a few towns. Counties are larger than baronies, and tend to include an area’s largest town; the technical baron-count distinction, however, is up to debate. Beneath barons and and counts are their vassals, lords and ladies who generally own a manor and much land, and have the rights to maintain a military force and collect taxes from local villages. Lords and ladies are usually de jure rulers, or de facto patrons, of one or several villages near their estate. The right to appoint and title nobility remains — theoretically — with the King, Queen, Monarch, or Prince (as rulers in Drau Mura are variously called). In reality, a raider, adventurer, or warrior with the arms and wealth to take power will frequently call herself a lord of an area, since who else would challenge her personal power? When this happens other aristocrats might prepare for battle against her. Conversely, a higher-ranking aristocrat (from baron to monarch) might formally recognize her, granting the illusion of order.
Of course, whether the power the ruler exerts over his aristocrats exceeds the power of the aristocrats over him depends on local circumstances, and is usually in flux. The Azna kingdoms have typically had messy situations of this sort between aristocrats and their sovereign Princes, as a baron unsatisified with her lot might effectively place her loyalties and resources to the service of the highest bidding kingdom.
Halflings and half-elves, who do not have lands of “their own,” are almost never found among the aristocracy.
In between: In towns and urban areas, the strata described above are somewhat blurred, as a middle, proto-bourgeoisie class of artisans, bankers, merchants, professionals, scholars, entrepreneurs, and (to a lesser extent) priests and magicians, known as burghers wield major influence. Demands of taxation and rent often bring them in conflict with the aristocracy, but their wealth can grant them significant official or unofficial power. This class produces a high number of adventurers, who tend to have the more cosmopolitan mindset suited for far-ranging travels. Towns and cities are generally seen as places of relative freedom and opportunity, where a lowly chimneysweep’s children might become skilled scholars and masons. In reality, the peasants who make a break from the countryside to the urban areas usually find themselves working (for one or several generations) as servants and manual laborers.
Coercion and freedom: Slavery is uncommon and locally institutionalized — most slaves are criminals and captured soldiers forced to work for several decades in mines, quarries, rowing galleys, and other such places of hard labor. However, slaves are sometimes taken intentionally under permissible pretenses. Slaves’ children end up as urchins or serfs, as it is seen as barbaric to pass enslavement on from generation to generation. (It’s a popular narrative that the rise of Ashoum suppressed slavery in Drau-Mura.) Villeins often face indentured servitude, where forgiveness of debts is exchanged for labor. Conditions of indentured servitude can resemble slavery, with masters trading servants, or finding ways to keep them laboring past a contract. Forced labor often coincides with short-term local economic demands (buliding a castle, mining ore), though bloody situations might result in masters proposing an exchange of battle for freedom.