Cast your eye over the Ragged Sea, where the blinding light of the sun could peel the colour from your eyes and cook your brains from the inside out (but give you a wonderous tan if you know what you’re doing!).
Don’t look at that desolate land, Ilios. Don’t give that place more than a second glance, the once powerful seat of the powerful magisters, who ruled righteously and piously, coldly content in placing the blood of the few above the safety of the many.
No – don’t look at Ilios, that cruel land has paid it’s due. But where then? Where on this vast landmass can you look?
Lower than the spade-mice can dig.
Lower than the deadly desert maw can dive.
Lower than the sand, the earth – keep going until you hit the stone.
And you’re almost there. Where is “there”?
You see the Kathartirions? Ah – shorter than you and me? They are at that, but they are so much more than they first appear. This is a thriving land; of square shouldered women who rule society, their houses, the battlefield – especially the battlefield. How do they do this and mother children? If that question makes me laugh, if wince at the thought of how Kathartirion mother would react – especially considering that head of yours, looks like it would nicely fit in the palm of one of their hands. And have I mentioned the power of their grip…?
But, answer your question: men. For every woman who plied the trade of their respective house, be that smithing steel, swinging a sword, or sequestered silver from the deep caves below, a Kathartirion man was in her shadow. Usually slender, usually nimble fingered, usually full of pride to serve – any matriarch worth the stone she stepped on would agree: “men are the backbone of any house”.
Going cave-diving as a pathfinder or for swag, or even the renown that comes with both? At your side will be your trusted housecarl, carrying your shield, your explosives, your spare ‘chuckin’ axe’. Nicked by a maw, arm “pissin’ blood”? Leg battered and bruised after a grip-ant locked it’s pincers into your ankle, refusing the relent until you bash it’s brains in? Your medic will clean and stitch you up! And at the centre of all of this? The butler.
The butler is that most of noble of roles – the finest position a man could ever hope to be in; the opportunity to lead all serving men in your house. An honour, a true honour. It is worth note that butlers don’t lead from the top – they get their hands dirty. They help the labourers pull the root veg from the earth, that Kathatirio was so abundant in – beets, spuds and onion. It was he who took charge of the house’s precious sol stone, ensuring that it was properly mounted to cast it nourishing rays on the crops. They then stand elbow to elbow with the cooks in crafting fine mash to feed their matriarch, her leading lady, and everyone else in the house – topped with whatever meat brought in by the hunters.
He makes sure the servants have their shopping list, that the cleaners clean, that Pa has support with the baby – a truly precious commodity in this society, as I’m sure you are starting to appreciate.
And that’s why a humble gardener, Erling, longed to the point of despair about one day filling his father’s flat, wide shows. As he sat, knees in the earth, trowel in one hand, spud in the other, he thought, after all his years training in the ways of the butler in Pa’s shadow, he must cross one final bridge: marriage. For one cannot simply become a butler, one must marry and be assigned this title by your new matriarch.
“Just ye’ wait, m’boy. Have patience and trust yer Pa!” his father exclaimed, when asked for seventeenth time in three loops of Geirr Colosseum (24 hours to you and I) – “Who am I to court?!”. He was of age, had been trained in the ways of butler by his father, the beloved jewel in the fiery forges of the Aaberg family – a major smithing house - so he was sure to marry well, but it had to be soon.
“Pa, will ya jus’ tell me what’s keeping you from finding me a lady to court!”
“Ah-ah-ah! Will you just… Remember – a powerful woman needs a soft man; in body, deed and words!”
His father winked and throatily chuckled.
“What’s keeping me will become very clear, very soon.
And much clarity came – in six loops of Geirr Colosseum - to be exact. Matriarch Hertha: head of Falkenberg house, the lead house of the warriors (making her the equivalent to King Duinechaid of Deire, minus the ostentatious castle) was dead. Or rather, she had “ventured forth” – when a warrior near-death elects to die in battle, contributing to the exploration of the unmapped tunnels below – killing masses of the dangerous cavemen, and destroying the heretical relics left behind by the followers of the magisters.
But to the common person; Matriarch Hertha was dead.
“Eerika… has she been named matriarch of the house?”
“Heh-heh, now you see…!”
Pa stroked his long, buckled beard as he laughed. Eerling sprang shot straight to the 5-foot-high, ruby-emblazened mirror at the other end of their dining hall, past 12 crude stools, one for each member of his immediate family; Pa, Ma, his sisters, and their husbands – he was the only son, so this was a popping magma rock of an opportunity.
Eerling pawed at his young features in the mirror; curved nose, high arched cheeks, soft and thick cheeks – what wasn’t to love about this face? He had even conditioned his loose, blonde beard with maw paste and spiked the ends of his brows with gel of the earth – two very fashionable trends. And his clothing? Well, by the heart of the warrior, he wore the garb of a butler! Fitted tan tunic, and thick cotton trouser; fitted at the thigh and ankle but flared in between (swoon).
This had been enough to earn a night in bed with that silver merchant – though he had 3 gin and beet juices, and it was his first time, so the less said about it the better… It had also been enough to draw the eye of cousin Em, but after a few thrusts in her family kitchen - she married below him. Below him! None of that mattered now; Eerika. Eerika. He shuddered giddily at the tales he had heard. His favourite being how she would blind maws with throwing axes, then tunnel into it’s gut with her daggers then tear out it’s innards. He had even been lucky enough to see her in action from a distance at a tourney – again using her famous throwing axes. She faced Greta another warrior, but from a minor house. She was fabled for her pointed cheeks that were said to highlight the brutality of her stare. After that fight, well, she was fabled for her pointed cheek.
What of the rumour that she enjoyed “rolling with women” though? Homosexuality was tolerated – as long as you married and contributed offspring to your house, what you do with your privates, is private. The accolade of joining such a hero’s house was worth the marriage alone, but to be cradled in her titan arms almost brought drool to his lips.
Time passed. Weeks in-fact.
His trowel hit the earth, again and again, and again once more. No news came. Spuds were pulled, beets were washed – and still he waited for an audience with Eerika. Until he could wait no longer. Until he had no choice but to break tradition. To the pub, he thought to himself with great determination.
Power. It’s always been dangling in-front of me. Now – it’s mine. Quite the thing to process. Relief, yes. There was always the worry that Ma would name someone else her successor. Mostly, there is excitement. What I can do with this power, importantly: what I change with this power.
It’s funny… as I blundered my steps, leaning far too left, and not enough to the right along the granite path of Gin Street, I found myself thinking about how my greatest moments of clarity come after, oh… 8 tankards of ale, 4 gins…? Counting hurts right now. Point is: clarity. And with clarity… great ideas.
Matriarch of the Warrior house; me. Figure-head of Kathartirio; me. I chuckled loudly at the thought and stumbled forward clumsily – luckily my leading lady and lover, Layla (say that 3 times fast) caught me in a firm sweep and pulled me in close. She was taller than me by about a foot, so my face mushed against her firm shoulder. Layla stroked a lock of hair away from my ear and whispered, “we should get you home, lovely girl”. I pouted and raised my index finger – one more.
We traipsed towards Han’s pub – a half-empty, sweaty little stain on the corner between Gin Street and Drunk Alley – the correct level of incognito, and fun.
And… that’s about all I remember, until Layla shakes me, and I drag my eyelids open to see the shrimpiest, lankiest, boring little oatcake of a man leaning over the chipped stone table that me and Layla sat at. Layla’s body language changed, easing away from me – but I clutched her hand firmly, stared into her grey eyes and mouthed I love you, and gave her my most charming smile.
This man, nay, boy, smiled nervously before bowing low in the manner of a butler and announced his name.
“Eerling of the family Aaberg, major family of the Smithing House. I have come to request your hand in marriage, Eerika of… uh, the Fraken, I mean…”
He stammered to a halt. Then gulped awkwardly.
“Eerika of the family Falkenberg, Matriarch of the Warriors, I wish to unite are two fine families – as your Butler I will see to”
“-sorry little man, I’m going to have to stop you there. I decline your offer. Thank you for seeking me out. You have serious square balls to come into an establishment like this, not many men would do that. But – like I say, I decline.”
I raised my hand in a half wave, have shoo. He stood indignantly; face screwed like a child robbed of her favourite wooden maw toy.
“Bu-but, why? We’re perfect for each other – I promise you I have very qualified – my father is-“
“-again, let me stop you there. I have no doubt that you could wipe my arse, my children’s arses, and any Falkenberg arse that would let you – all with a fine smile. New matriarch, new rules.”
I stood up with a rush of adrenaline, frothing drunkenly and excitedly to finally tell someone of the decision I had made.
I clutched my beautiful lovers, long, powerful arm, and pulled her next to – locking eyes with her.
“Meaning – the only person that will ever have my hand in marriage, is this enchanting woman.”