The First 40 Households
Each couple claimed some land and started raising food. In time they all had children. In time, all these children grew up. And it became time for the children to marry and start families of their own.
Now children require a lot of care. One has to invest a lot of time and food into them. And it would be wasteful to just send those children out into the world to work their own farmland just when they were finally big enough to help raise food on the farm where they grew up.
The Clanfolk realized that when a person married and joined a new household, one household gained an adult worker and the other household lost the fruits of an expensive investment. This seemed inequitable.
So they decided to keep score. The household in which the new couple chose to live would owe a debt to the other household.
After only two or three generations, the situation had become complicated. Some “households” were so large that they actually included multiple houses. A few households consisted of a single nuclear family that owned only a little land and a lot of promises. (If all your aunts and uncles married into different households, then each of those households would owe your family a debt.)
One winter, everyone met at the village roundhouse and sat down to straighten things out.
They ended up codifying what had been an intricate web of agreements. The result was still an intricate web, but at least everyone now agreed on the rules. Each household was recognized as being tied to one of the first 40 parcels of land that had been owned by the first couples. All the people tied to a piece of land were in the same clan, and they were all bound by the same debts.
The people knew how to read and write, but these marriage debts between clans had not been formally recorded. A herder might need a ledger to remember the ancestry of his cattle, but he was not likely to forget that his son had married and was now living at the neighbors’ house. As people died, however, their descendants had to rely on oral tradition. Occasionally disputes arose which could only be settled by people old enough to remember.
The Clanfolk decided to forge a permanent record of debts owed by creating special iron tokens. Each clan would make its own tokens and give away one for each debt owed. That way, there could be no dispute. If a clan held your clan’s marriage mark, you owed them a debt. You didn’t have to go find someone who’d known great grandma and ask whether her brother had married into Clan Hill or not.
A few years after everyone had agreed to use marriage marks, everyone agreed to limits on marriage marks. The rich clans were no longer allowed to grow richer by taking in an unlimited number of spouses. There would be a limit on how much marriage debt they could incur.
The marks were limited to 20. Any clan that had, through marriage, netted 20 extra members in its history would be unable to take in a new member unless they also gave one away. This allowed clans with few members to catch up to the wealthier clans, which they did, in time.
In Dwen-Tarthil, at the time of The Dragonslayer of Edgewhen, the number of allowed marks is up to 100.