All posts by jah

River Law

The events in The Dragonslayer of Edgewhen take place in 1002. At that time, situation is as follows:

Ports on the Yarl River System

The Clanfolk control all the busiest ports on the Yarl. They have an outpost at Dashar on a river that eventually feeds into the Kailanarl and then to Brin. They are also building a presence on the delta where the Yarl empties into the Sunward Sea.

Children of Justice have a stronger presence at the delta and their trade routes extend all through the Sunward Sea. But these Children of Justice are civilized “Bluefolk”. Their culture is different from that of the “Riverfolk”, who live a nomadic life on the system of rivers accessible from the Yarl.

Civilized Stripedfolk have some ports on the Yarl, but much of their trade is focused inward. (These are the plow-people along the Dothedarl, whom Summerwind scorns.)

The laws of the river have been set by the Clanfolk, because they have the most ports.

Boat Branding

The Clanfolk love trade agreements. Or even disagreements, if they provide something to bargain over.
Each city-state has tariffs and dock fees to protect local merchants. And each city-state has agreements with certain trading partners that provide special exemptions to these fees and tariffs. In order to tell whether a merchant qualifies for an exemption, the dockmaster has to know where the merchant is from.

Clanfolk do not have passports. It is very easy for them to lie about where they are from. But the boats do not lie. Because the prow of the boat is branded.

Under river law, a boat marked by a city’s brand is entitled to all the benefits of a trade agreement negotiated with that city. In theory, the merchant and his goods should be from the same city-state as the boat. (In practice, the merchant just needs to pay a commission or fee to a cousin who lives in that city-state.)

Boat Painting

Once brands were in wide use, river travelers began using them for identification on the river. But the brand in the wood was difficult to see. So boats began adding a larger, painted mark. This enabled merchants to identify a boat’s city-state at a distance.

Once painted marks became wide-spread, it did not take long for merchants to start marking their boats with clan symbols as well. These were even more useful: A merchant from the same city might be a friend or he might be a rival, but a merchant from the same clan is always a cousin.

In 1002, the clan mark is the most visible from a distance, but city marks are still painted on some boats, by tradition. Neither of these marks is required. The dockmaster is concerned only with the city brand.

Accidents, Aid, and Abandonment

Boats sometimes run aground on sandbars or snag on submerged trees. People sometimes fall off their boat into the river. Under River Law, a boat must give aid to a boat or person in distress, unless such aid would put the rescuing boat in jeopardy.

An abandoned boat and its cargo still belong to the owner if the brands are visible. An owner can voluntarily relinquish his claim by obliterating any visible brands. This is usually accomplished by painting them with tar. Hence the expression “to tar the brand” which means “to give up”.

Cargo outside a boat is fair game, as is anything that can be salvaged from a boat whose brands are submerged.

Yucca War

In The Dragonslayer of Edgewhen, Zhen sings a plaintive war song about combatants whose “bones lie in the knives of the yucca.” The song comes from a war between the nomadic Lashrefites and the nomadic Kashramites. (This particular branch of Kashramites call themselves the Caladrel, which means Men of the Bison.)

At issue was the right to hunt on the sunaway side of the river Kailanarl. Both peoples had expanded to fill the available range. The Lashrefites claimed their goddess had given them the entire plains as hunting grounds, while the Kashramites believed that the right to take the bison belonged to the people who could prove themselves mightier.

The war started sometime around 900 and lasted for several years. Zhen says the war started because the Kashramites crossed the Kailanarl. The truth is that in 900, the Lashrefites were hunting on both sides of the river that Zhen calls the Kailanarl. However, it is also true that the Kashramites were crossing a river that the Lashrefites thought of as a boundary.

Both sides fought with spears. They would not discover swords until the Time of the Dragons. And bows would come even later.

The Kashramites had some warriors skilled in the elements of Earth and Motion who could sling stones exceptionally far. The Lashrefites countered with Air and Motion, aiding the flight of their throwing spears. Most skirmishes ended after a quick exchange of volleys. In a few cases, they closed on horseback.

People died in the battles of course, but most deaths were from hunger. Game was scarce and the hunters were busy fighting. No surprise then, that bands from both sides took to raiding trading vessels on the rivers. Clanfolk and Riverfolk found themselves involved in a war of which they wanted no part.

It was Clan Fairdealer that found a way to end the war. They were trying to establish a trade route from the mouth of the Yarl all the way up to the city of Dashar. They needed political stability.

Clan Fairdealer convinced the Lashrefites and Kashramites to accept the judgment of Children of Justice who had settled at the mouth of the Yarl. Both sides agreed.

The treaty gave most of the disputed territory to the Kashramites. A portion of the disputed territory was designated for seasonal use: The Kashramites could hunt there during the winter and early spring and the Lashrefites could hunt there in summer.

The reason Lashrefites were able to give up so much territory is that Clan Fairdealer found them new territory. They were granted hunting rights on prairie that the Clanfolk had claimed for themselves, and they were given access through Clanfolk lands to the forests on the other branch of the Yarl.

This peace lasted for many centuries.

Timber War

In The Dragonslayer of Edgewhen, some characters refer to the Timber War, which was the first war involving the Clanfolk. These are the events, as far as the Clanfolk know:

Far, far sunaway of the Clanfolk Heartland, there lived a tribe of Redfolk in a land of endless winter. They survived by hunting great shaggy beasts. As will happen to anyone who always harvests and never plants, they eventually ran out of food. And so, in 990, they came sunward.

When they reached the lands of the Stripedfolk who lived in the forests upriver from Maisil, they began killing the Stripedfolk’s deer. Now the Stripedfolk didn’t think much of that, so Wolfslayer of the Longgrass Village convinced everyone to band together. They did so, and drove the Redfolk away. That would have been all well and good, except that it left Wolfslayer in command of an army.

Wolfslayer was glad to be rid of the Redfolk, but he really hated the Clanfolk. He said we were cutting down his trees. Now maybe this was true and maybe it wasn’t. The trees weren’t near anyone’s village, so the Maisilen timber cutters reckoned the trees belonged to whoever wanted them. Wolfslayer reckoned differently, and now he had the power to do something about it. He attacked a timber crew.

Well, Clan Joiner was not too pleased by this aggressive challenge to their timber claim. They contracted through Clan Houser for a band of Caladrel mercenaries. (Caladrel are Redfolk from the dry plains; not the same as the Redfolk who started things in motion.) They also recruited some of their downstream cousins who thought they were just getting into a wrestling match. Nobody knew it would be a war. Nobody even knew what a war was.

For a while it was just shouting and waving spears and axes. But then someone got killed, and so it was time to kill someone on the other side. And then, well, it seems like evil deeds are the only things that people are eager to pay back. Some of the other clans got involved, and some people came upstream to help as soldiers or healers. And of course, there was also money to be made: the soldiers had to get fed and a lot of people turned a profit by shipping in flour.

With support from the lands downstream, Maisil had the population advantage, but the Stripedfolk balanced things out with their nasty wind magic. And whenever things got too bad, they ran back to their villages. Some of the councilmen thought Maisil should take the fight to the Stripedfolk’s homes, but others reckoned the Stripedfolk could do the same to us, so they let them run away to safety.

This went on for two years. The villages were kept safe, but neither side could venture into the forest in between without provoking an attack. The end of the war came at Battle Creek. The mercenaries got caught on the wrong side of the creek or something and had to run away from Stripedfolk. With the mercenaries gone, Wolfslayer and his Stripedfolk just kept coming. Our villages were undefended. Maisil sued for peace.

They probably should have done that to begin with. Once the boundary was established, everything settled down. Clanfolk stayed on their side of Battle Creek and everyone was happy.

Best of all, Wolfslayer founded a village to guard the border. That made it a lot easier to trade with his people.

Flamebringer Music

In The Dragonslayer of Brin, Zhen refers to several types of music:


Riverfolk tend to play in 5-tone, which we know as the pentatonic. If you want to hear how this sounds on your piano, just play the black keys.


The song about the nine elements is in 9-tone. In the Olden Time, 9-tone was probably played with 9 equal notes and would have sounded even weirder than what Zhen thinks of as 9-tone.

To play 9-tone on the piano, use all the white keys plus B-flat and E-flat. My research suggests that this might be known as C Raga Ramdasi Malhar.

Normal Music

Because these two are unusual to Zhen, there must be something else that sounds normal. This is probably the 7-note scales that we are used to in Western musical tradition. (I know, we play eight-note scales, but note number 8 is one octave above note number 1, so they are kind of the same note. We only use 7 letter names: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.)

Zhen’s people distinguish between major and minor modes, and they probably recognize all the other modes as well.


I’m hoping someone will invent blues scales in Edgewhen. I don’t think they are recognized in 1002.


Flamebringers play flutes, lutes, or drums. Everyone knows how to sing.


Because Lashrefi’s dominant elements include Air and Motion, Lashrefi’s people tend to be talented at manipulating sound. A skilled kalaibo can control the sounds of the entire band, raising the volume of some instruments and quieting others to achieve better balance.

Individual performers can use magic to modulate their instruments’ sounds. I’m not saying you should expect rock-guitar distortion or wa-wa pedal effects. Their special effects will still sound like acoustic instruments … just really weird acoustic instruments.

Flamebringer Marriage

Gender Roles

Not all roles among the Flamebringers are divided according to gender, and when they are divided, the divisions are not always strict. For example, all young men are expected to hunt, but young women are allowed to hunt, too. Men can cook and forage, but women are expected to do so.

But when it comes to horses and lodges, the gender divisions are strict.


Only men can own horses. A man is expected to provide horses for his wife and all his unmarried daughters. If his brother dies, he must provide horses for his brother’s wife and children as well.

Only women can own lodges. Daughters make their own lodges when they are ready to marry. Sons sleep in the lodge until they are old enough to be scouts. Then they must sleep outside (at least in summer) until they marry.

Courtship Hair

At the spring and autumn gatherings, young women who are ready to marry wear their hair in a certain way. Those who wish to stay in their band wear one braid on the left side. Those who wish to leave wear one braid on the right side. A woman with two braids is signaling that she is willing to leave her band or to stay.

One tale tells of a girl who cut her sister’s hair while she was sleeping, either so that her sister could not leave or so that her sister could not stay, depending on who tells the story.

A woman can indicate that she has her own lodge by tying the braid up in a loop. Those with looped braids are deemed most serious about marriage, but that does not stop young men from courting the others.

A woman who has her heart set on a certain young man may wear a single braid down the back to ward off other suitors and loop the end to indicate that she hopes to be married by the end of the gathering. Some women, however, will continue to wear the two looped braids, as an indication that the young man should hurry up and make his claim more permanent.

Spring Marriages

By tradition, the spring gathering is a time for flirtation and courtship. Young people who feel especially serious about each other may ask their parents for a “spring marriage”. This is a six-month trial marriage during which they can discover if they are making the right decision about whom to marry and which band to travel with.

Autumn Marriages

Marriages at the autumn gathering are considered permanent.


Even an autumn marriage can be ended if things are not working out, however. To effect a divorce, the wife simply puts her husband’s belongings outside the lodge. Women can only divorce in the summer (between spring and autumn meetings) because they are obligated to provide a lodge in winter. Similarly, men can only divorce (remove belongings from the village house) in winter, because they are obligated to provide horses in summer.

A “blue moon divorce” is when the husband divorces shortly before the village packs up to move to the spring gathering. This is technically legal, but the taishrefis frown on it, because it leaves the woman with little time to acquire a horse from her male relatives. A man who abandons a woman in this way will be unlikely to find a taishrefi who will perform rites for a new marriage.


The Dragonslayer of Edgewhen introduces many customs of the Flamebringer Tribe. This is the tribe of Lashrefites who live closest to the Yarl.


The tribe is broken into multiple bands. A band is named for its gethrav.

The gethrav is the band’s leader. He is always male. He decides where the band should go, where they will hunt, and how they should hunt. But a wise gethrav makes all these decisions after consulting the taishrefi.

The taishrefi is the band’s priestess. She is always female. Her job is to remind people how they should behave toward each other. The taishrefi is in direct contact with Lashrefi, goddess of luck.

Each band also has a kalaibo. A kalaibo can be male or female. Some bands have one of each. The kalaibo’s job is to the lead the singing. Flamebringers sing while they travel and at dusk in camp every night. The kalaibo chooses the songs and decides whether group singing or individual performance is called for.

All positions are for life, although kalaibos usually pass their position on long before they die. If a kalaibo dies unexpectedly, his or her successor is chosen by the gethrav and the taishrefi. A taishrefi usually designates her own successor before she dies. This successor usually comes from a different band. A gethrav does not choose his own successor. The choice is made by the taishrefi after consulting with Lashrefi.

All the Flamebringer bands gather together twice a year: in the spring, when they come out of the villages and in the fall, when they are ready to return.

Spring Gathering

All babies that have survived the winter get named during the spring gathering.

Taishrefis decide what part of the range should get burned and send people out to do so.


Bands travel the prairie during the summer. Each band has its own range. Ranges do overlap, but they are coordinated so that two bands will not be in the same place at the same time.

Autumn Gathering

People who have lived fifteen summers get to choose their own names at the autumn gathering. From then on, the tribe will call them by their autumn names.

Within the band, however, spring names or autumn names may be used. The spring name denotes affection and the autumn name denotes respect.


The Flamebringers spend winters in villages along the river Dothedarl. In the Olden Time, some people decided to stay in the villages over the summer, too. These people became farmers. Or “plow people” as Summerwind calls them.

Some bands join villages that have been inhabited all summer. Other bands have special places that the civilized Lashrefites leave unoccupied.

Generally, each Flamebringer village will have two or more bands.


At the time of The Dragonslayer of Edgewhen, the Clanfolk are organized into 40 clans.

Clans and City-States

Clans cross state boundaries. For example, Walkers may be found in Dwen-Tarthil and in Dwen-Brin.

But not every clan can be found in every state. Dwen-Tarthil has 30 clans, but Dwen-Brin has only 9. Clan Broadfield, for example, is in Dwen-Tarthil, but not Dwen-Brin.

Dwen-Taleshi and Dwen-Yarvethi, the oldest city-states, have all 40 clans, but the others are more exclusive, ranging from 30 in Dwen-Tarthil to 5 in Dashar.

Except for Dwen-Taleshi, every city-state began as a colony. A colony generally has to exist for a century or two before the mother state will grant it independence. Even without independence, clans in a colony can negotiate for the right to keep other clans out. Recognition of exclusivity is a crucial step in the process to independence. It is an occasion for much deal making.

Expanding into a new colony is beneficial because it gives a clan a broader trade network. Clans Houser and Goodharvest have land in 9 city-states. On the other hand, some clans believe that colonization diminishes their power in the mother state. Clan Coldspring has land in only 4 city-states.

Although city-states do struggle against each other economically, they are always able to resolve territorial disputes peacefully. Most clans have cousins on both sides of any interstate dispute.

Clan Identification

Each clan has certain marks that only cousins may use. The clan symbol may be worn as a brooch on a traveling cloak or it may be painted on a river boat.

A clan also has lore of secret symbols, signs, and countersigns that they can use to verify that a stranger is a cousin, entitled to the hospitality of the clan. Of course, very few Clanfolk would be so dishonest as to misrepresent their clan, but “very few” does not mean “zero”.

Livestock are marked by hiring a beastshaper to magically alter the animal’s color in the womb. All females are marked, as are any males kept for breeding stock. Gelded animals may be marked or unmarked.

Land, Livestock, and Seedstock

Land, Livestock, and Seedstock are owned by the clan. “Stock” means anything that can reproduce. If a farmer grinds grain into flour, it is his to sell, but if he keeps seeds for planting, they are part of the clan’s seedstock. Similarly, only unmarked gelded animals can be sold to another clan.

In practice, people do own their stock and they can sell marked animals and viable seeds to their cousins. But in theory, the clan can take stock and even land from one family and give it to another. For example, no household would be allowed to claim more land than they could work.

Clan Hospitality

Cousins can always expect to stay at a cousin’s house without paying. In larger settlements, it is considered polite to visit the clan house, instead. The clan house functions as a free inn for members of the clan. (That is why Brin, with only 9 clan houses and many foreign merchants, has many inns, while Tarthil, with 30 clan houses, has few inns.)

Free hospitality, in most clans, extends for only one night. A cousin is welcome to stay longer, but he would be expected to work all day. For most merchants, this arrangement is impractical, unless they have nothing better to do while waiting for a particular shipment to arrive.

Cousins tend to give each other discounts and favorable deals.

Names from Lashrefi

When Lashrefi created her language, she set aside 81 words as names for her people.

According to the Lashrefites, these names belong only to the 81. The name “Bethi” can only refer to the woman with a raccoon-like mask who was among the first Lashrefites that first set foot on the plains of the world. In The Dragonslayer of Edgewhen, it is a bit shocking for Summerwind Dawnracer to learn that her brother has started calling himself “Zhen”.

The Clanfolk think it is silly to name people after things. A woman should have a respectable woman’s name, like “Bethi”. (If you’ve forgotten why the Clanfolk and the Lashrefites speak the same language, go back and read the article on Linguigenesis.) People shouldn’t be named after wind or trees. Their language has these perfectly suitable names, and it would be wasteful to not re-use them.

This situation has an obvious parallel in our world, so I’ll mention it: In some cultures, it would be blasphemous to name a child “Jesus”. In other cultures, it’s a sign of religious devotion. Of course, the analogy is not exact. The exact analogy would be a culture that thought it was weird to name children after Adam and Eve.

Anyway, because the Clanfolk insist on re-using the original names, they only have 40 names for girls and 41 for boys. To distinguish two people with the same name, the Clanfolk add various endings to the name. Bethi, for example, could be called “Bethinesi” or “Bethwin”. Certain endings become popular in certain regions, so it is sometimes possible to guess a person’s origin if you know the ending of his or her nickname. The names “Danwel” and “Kethwin”, for example, are more common in Dwen-Tarthil than in Dwen-Taleshi, where they might be called “Danarm” and “Kethethi”. Other endings are more universal. A “Danim” or a “Kethefi” might be from anywhere.

The Worker People use a mix of names. So a girl could be named either “Zefi” or “Stone” and no one would think the name was odd.

It’s not clear if Redfolk use Lashrefi’s names or not. Their words are often so different from the words used by Clanfolk and Lashrefites that it is hard to see the dialects’ common origin.



Currency was invented by the Clanfolk, of course.

One could argue that the first form of currency was the marriage mark. But one probably shouldn’t. Not unless one wants a lecture on Clanfolk economic philosophy.

So instead of arguing, let’s say that currency was inspired by the idea of the marriage mark.

At about the time that Clan Smith changed their name to Clan Ironmonger, they developed an iron mark. The iron mark allowed Clan Ironmonger to purchase something from another clan in exchange for a certain amount of iron, to be delivered later. Each iron mark represented an amount of iron 100 times its weight.

The iron mark was a token worth a certain amount of iron. But Clan Ironmonger didn’t want to give away raw iron. They wanted to give away finished goods. So any cousin was empowered to cancel the clan’s debt by handing over crafted pieces in exchange for an iron mark.

The crafted pieces, of course, contained much less iron than the promised amount. The person returning the coin was accepting the crafting as partial payment.

The smith could, in theory, return the mark to the clan house and claim that amount of iron from the clan’s mines. In practice, it was simpler to trade it for something of equal value.

Before long, merchants of other clans were trading the iron marks within their clans as well. Eventually, the state had to step in and take control of the minting of currency.


In The Dragonslayer of Edgewhen, Danwel packs around a pouch full of brinnacs. These are coins minted by the city of Brin.

One reason Danwel has brinnacs is, of course, that he will need to pay for things in Brin because he can’t rely on the hospitality of cousins. But the other reason is that Brin is such a dominant city by 1002 that other city-states, like Dwen-Tarthil, have adopted the brinnac as their state currency.

Iron and Gold

Most currency on Edgewhen has some iron component. Because no one can resonate with iron, such coins cannot be magically counterfeited.

Iron can be magically created, however. If the value of the coin rests in the authority of the state, this is not a problem. If the value of the coin is supposed to rest in the value of its metal, then the coin should contain gold, which cannot be created.

Many coins on Edgewhen contain some amalgamation of the two metals.

Currency Among the Children of Knowledge

The Children of Knowledge are unusual in that their currency is based on time. Currency is issued by the Academy, and each coin represents a certain amount of study. For example, the thozi would allow a student to study at the Academy for one day.

Of course, the Academy does not allow students to enroll for a single day. The traditional nine-year course of study costs thousands of thozis, most of which are paid for by student labor.