Eternal Karthack is one of the largest and most prosperous countries of Vosca.
Up until about a hundred years ago, the state was entirely secular, and run by the Zophs. Over centuries the bureaucracy grew so dense that the state simply didn't function any more, and almost fell to invasion by the Iron Horde of the Marju. In the light of this upheaval, a Sorcerer-King trapped the Moon Goddess to try and use her power to destroy his enemies. The result was his death, and the trapped deity usurping the state, choosing a "husband" from among the Zophs to act as the new God-King; head of state, but subordinate to it.
The society of Karthack is divided into four castes: The Shul, who are peasants and merchants, the Kal, who are the warrior elite, the Gul, who are the clergy and bureaucrats, and the Zoph, who are sorcerors. These castes are not hereditary, but rather assigned by aptitude and temperament.
Karthack culture places great import on following one's duty. Neglecting it for selfish reasons is strongly frowned upon and punished heavily, especially among the higher castes. However, at the same time there is also a certain romantic view of following one's heart or conscience in spite of duty, and freely accepting punishment for that transgression. In such cases the subject is still punished according to the law, but generally suffers no damage to their social standing.
Ruled by a literal god-queen, Karthack is highly theocratic. Only a small number of faiths and cults are permitted to exist, and any heretics are persecuted and rooted out with great prejudice.
Creating works of art and beauty is one of the highest callings in Karthack culture, and few other deeds are valued as highly. Helping the sick, poor and infirm is considered a great virtue.
The Guls are the priestly caste, but also make up the great majority of the Divine Bureaucracy of the state. They see to the functioning of the state's day to day affairs, and most of the governance, officially or no, is performed by the Guls according to Ecclesiastic Law. The only cult tolerated within Karthack is the Cult of Bocanadessia, the Moon Goddess. The Guls also act as inquisitors, and seekers of heretical magics, sometimes blurring the line between Priest and Knight.
The Dessian religion is strongly tied to astrology, the mysticism of the Song, and the phases of the moon. The priesthood in a city carry out rituals in monthly cycles. There are times of confession, times of charity, times of austerity, and, for the Eclipse, a time of assembly, when great sacrifices are made and ritual songs sung to ward off the Dark Watchers.
The temples themselves resemble great observatories, spires with opening rooftops where the priests can sit and watch the stars and moon, and attempt to divine wisdom and oracles from it. Deep below, catacombs where the bones of the dead are interred.
The Cult of Bocanadessia puts great stock in words, as well. Some Guls spend days, weeks at a time sitting in silence in deep catacombs beneath their temples, listening to the Song, and trying to make out its words.
Some of them succeed. The hymns they develop are unique in word, but common in theme. The Guls tattoo these on their bodies, so that they can never be forgotten, and so that they can draw strength from them. Priestesses may have the words of a Hymn of Healing that they divined through years of diligent listening tattooed onto their fingers, so that they may tend to the sick with divinity on their side. A priest may have a song of courage etched around his eyes, so that he will not flinch no matter what challenges to his faith he faces. Sometimes, Guls make gifts of their songs to favored warriors, inscribing them on the helmets or armor, or war-masks of Kals.
For dress, they favor flowing robes, changing color depending on the time of year and month. They wear elaborate headdresses of bronze and gold embedded with precious stones depicting lunar positions and constellations.
On the Eclipse, they don masks (something normally reserved for the Kal warrior class) made of opaque glass with small, partially translucent areas through which to look. In this way they reflect the Dark Moon and prepare themselves to fight a spirit-war with the Dark Watchers.
The Zophs, or Sorcerers, were until fairly recently the ruling class of Karthack. Theoretically they are still. The heads of state are all Zophs. The governors of the Nine Provinces are all Zophs. Each city's lord is a Zoph. Yet, for all of this, their power has been greatly reduced by the Bureaucracy established by the central government. The Zophs' chief duty is magic. As Sorcerers, they do not work well together, and must spread out so as to not draw too strongly upon the Leylines. Each city has tremendous amounts of magical apparatus in place to facilitate the Great Works, and those Zophs who rule cities are charged with maintaining these.
The Kals are the military caste, the "Knights." Most of them occupy a role similar to a Sipahi or a feudal knight – they train a cadre of "Shulka" (militia-shuls) to serve in times of war, and also act as police, border-guards, enforcers of public order, and bodyguards for important figures. Their codes of conduct are extremely restrictive, and they are chosen for moral fiber and strength of character, rather than physical power or size.
The Shuls make up the bulk of the labor force, farmers, craftsmen, artisans, and also merchants. They have the least restrictions upon their conduct, and the greatest protection under the law. A Shul can be forgiven for things that a member of the higher castes would be burned at the stake for. As a result, they are expected to obey the commands given to them by their betters without question. The "default" for someone who doesn't show up, or lives so far out in the sticks that there's nowhere to show up to, is to become a Shul.
The Karthacks have a strange tradition, wherein their bodies are burned, and the bones are traditionally placed on a shelf in a large communal tomb, where their relatives and others may come to offer sacrifices for their spirits.
After an amount of time, usually two or three generations, the bones are swept off of the shelf onto the floor, and from there into a great pile in the middle of the tomb, to make room for new dead. This is a practice that holds great significance for the Karthacks, but which is seen as disrespectful by almost everyone else.
Food and Spices Edit
Karspice is a western colloquialism for a sort of Karthacki plant that grows in the Southeast of Eternal Karthack. It's a little shrub that only seems to grow on certain small islands, its little seed pods when carefully dried in their immature stage, can be crushed into a powder or made into an oil that has a very pleasant, spicy-sweet taste.
Karspice is exported everywhere, and is greatly prized. So valuable are the islands on which they grow that each one has a Kal assigned to guard it against intruders, and to oversee the plants despite their size (some are as small as half a mile around) .
For a long time, the Zophs, and their head the Zophkaga or "Sorcerer-King", have ruled Karthack through a great and almost byzantine bureaucracy. However, about a hundred years ago the then-reigning Zophkaga drew the ire of the Moon Queen, who in response usurped the entire government. The old order was uprooted and replaced with one of her own devising, leaving the once powerful Zophs as mostly ceremonial figureheads. She then selected a subordinate Zophkaga to serve as her ceremonial head of state and husband, and she replaces him periodically.
Most of the actual government is now run by the Gul, who are both clerks and priests at once. However, the Zophkaga retains some relevance, and while he might not have the autocratic authority he had prior to the ascent of Bocanadessia, he's still a powerful figure that holds great religious significance to the people of Karthack.
He also operates in Bocanadessia's behalf in all matters that actually involve coming out of the Black Fortress of Kar-Karthack. So while critics of the religion (and its more skeptical members) might suggest that the Zophkaga's only role is screwing the moon, it isn't the official position of the church and it doesn't really cover the breadth of his duties.
Karthacki politics are very civil in general. The Karthacks, much like the Helians, have always placed a great emphasis on logic, rationality and debate through reason. The difference is that whereas in ancient Helion, this was mostly secular because the old Helian religion (and, as occasionally comes up, the new one as well) are totally incomprehensible, and involve Pagan deities turning into geese to have sex with mortal women, or turning people into cows and hiding them in clouds from their angry Deific Wives.
In Karthack, it has always been the Guls who conduct such philosophy, and so the political class of Karthack is supremely well educated and accustomed to debate. Their state politics are thus, at times cutthroat, but always very dignified, and the conclusions reached are usually sensible.
The Sorcerers have no such tradition. A great many of them, like Escher, are foreigners, barbarians whose magical talent qualified them to be inducted into the Zoph caste. There was a time in living memory when it wasn't uncommon for a Zoph to be illiterate, not know where Karthack is on a map, and speak with a heavy accent.
Unsurprisingly, Zoph politics are very different from Gul politics. The Zophs are fond of resolving disputes with violence, they are stereotyped as being very emotional, and none of the other classes are (technically) allowed to interfere in their disputes. This colors their political scene greatly. They're all essentially allowed to murder each other, so long as they can prove an insult to their character.
The core of Karthack's armed forces consists of the mounted Kals. They are trained in the sword, mace, and polearm, but their favored weapon is the bow. Archery, especially from horseback, is considered almost an artform in Karthack and their horse archers are their strongest asset.
The Kals are often supplemented by infantry drawn from the Shul, called Shulka. They usually wield a long, hooked polearm, similar to a bill in appearance.
Karthack employs an infamous secret police known as the Shulshidai. They are recruited from certain dedicated Shul villages, and spread throughout the entire country. They look out for and report any kind of treason or heresy, and often serve as assassins as well as spies. Fanatically loyal, they will often murder their targets in broad daylight without giving any explanation, freely accepting execution as their punishment by the local authorities.
Most Karhacki are not aware of it, even though they can hear it. Those who can actually hear it from a young age are often taken into the Gul caste, since they are considered to be closer to Bocanadessia.
However, on some instinctual level, all can hear the song, and all are aware of its rhythm and mood. The tone changes from day to day, and night to night. During periods of intense activity, even those most deaf to the sound can start to hear it in earnest.
One of the popular pastimes in Karthack is dancing without any music, to try and pick up the rhythm of the song. If a dancer exerts himself enough, he will start to hear the song in earnest – and moreover, those nearby will hear it too. At this point, musicians will often start playing with it, more people will dance, and it can quickly become an orgy of people dancing to music only they can hear. (Genosians baptized in sunlight can never hear it, and the general assumption is that these people are insane.)
The song gets more faint the further away from Kar-Karthack one goes, though it gets stronger in general at night, and with the phases of the moon. Even in the distant halls of Nisperada, troupes of dancers can manage to summon up the music.
The Song varies in mood and theme from day to day. Two people who interpret the Song on Tuesday would get two Hymns that share an overall emotional and spiritual theme, but which are different in wording.
This is because the Song of the Moon isn't really in any language, it's a transmission of divinity. How it is then put into words is up to the individual priest, but it holds power nonetheless.