Friday, July 22, 2016

From the Correspondence of Tari Govannon: A History of Thayan Marriage

Art by fantasio

Dear R.D.,

It's wise of you to seek my advice, considering you've just announced you are entering the marriage market in Eltabbar this season.  You might have consulted me before you made yourself conspicuous, but you are not at a great disadvantage yet.  Marriage in Thay has always been a maddeningly complicated affair, and much more dangerous for citizens of our stature.  As a person of decent Mulan pedigree, your peril is moderate for now, with a chance to escalate quickly, depending on whose eye you catch (or vice versa).  I would rather you made a match that does not descend into the hells known as Thayan divorce.  You have, after all, committed no offenses against me.

I will not be commenting on the candidates we spoke of, so if you are hoping that I will make the decision for you, you will be disappointed.  Instead, I will seek to educate you about the realm you have entered so you will feel confident in acting on your own behalf.  Keep in mind, I have used much of the coin you offered me for research and nothing I am about to tell you is worthless.  Tedious, perhaps, but not worthless.  To understand the process ahead, you must know how and why our customs came to be.  If you wish to prosper in the long run you will study my words, but as with everything else, I leave the choice to you - while you still have one.  In several years, as you draw closer to the age of compulsion, you will wish you still had my letter.

The archives of House Delizan will tell you that our oldest noble houses descend from those of Mulhorand, which is true.  What the archives skip over is the social chaos that followed our war for independence, which we won in 922 DR.  Everyone already knew who the nobles, commoners, and slaves were.  A few slaves won their freedom and several commoners were given titles because of service during the worst battles, but most stayed as they were.  The actual problem was that we expected our lives to stay the same after we'd staged a revolution against everything we had been.  We had not planned for mundane matters much at all.

The first few decades following our freedom were a time of experimentation.  We considered dissolving the traditional noble houses and beginning anew, but there was such an outcry that those plans were abandoned.  Instead, the houses were ordered to declare themselves to the zulkirs, register, and petition for domains in the nation we were building.  And they did, and then went about their business trying to grab as much land, influence, and minions as they could.  What many of them forgot to do in the ensuing shuffle was marry and produce legitimate offspring.


House Delizan was the first to notice the issue as it cataloged our family lines, whose younger ranks and couples were dwindling.  When given the chance to pursue their own ends and forego producing their own families, many dove in head-first.  That does not mean they weren't diving into other people's warm bodies.  They had dalliances with commoners that could not be acknowledged.  They laid with slaves whose offspring were chattel, even if they were owned by their fathers or mothers.  But socially sanctioned unions blessed by the gods?  Those were few and far between.

Gods, of course, were a major source of the dilemma.  Our split with Mulhorand was a rejection of their theocracy.  The clergy had grown spoiled, crushing any other source of power but their own for over a thousand years.  But in Mulhorand, the gods were not distant figures - they were living, breathing avatars who dwelt among the people and ruled directly.  They and their underlings set all the laws and oversaw all marriages.  (And they took their own mortal brides and concubines.  The wealth of aasimar in their land is a lasting testament to the divine breeding program.)  If a match seemed like it would be dangerous to the clergy's interests, it was denied and the seekers married elsewhere.

So, as Thayans who had just outlawed the worship of our former gods, to whom were we to pledge our wedding vows?  For about a decade many of us were faith-hoppers, seeking patrons we could respect.  But most of the deities we chose were not particularly interested in wedlock, so the old pressures did not resume.  And why bring faith into it, anyway?  For a while the zulkirs allowed civil unions to be registered with the new bureaucracy, but they didn't hold as much weight.  Since we have always been quick to hold grudges, most arrangements fell apart before they had even begun.  The few blue-blooded children born during this time suffered as the houses fought to claim rights over them.  

An unlikely alliance formed to push for laws regarding marriage among nobles, if no one else.  Esteemed followers of Bane, Beshaba, Loviatar, Siamorphe, Waukeen (and some say Gargauth) pressed for tight regulations to be enacted.  Some argued that we had to maintain the strength of our bloodlines; others knew we had to keep inheritances from reverting back to Mulhorandi hands.  More than one believed our noble houses would fall if they continued as they were, and that our nobles had a duty to showcase our highest culture, our greatest talents, and the pride of Thay.  And there were jokes about teaching nobles to suffer that were not merely for entertainment.

So, some of the earliest work of the Crimson Courts had to do with marital regulations.  The first ruling was that procreation, bloodlines, investment, and inheritance would be the pillars of wedlock; love, religion, and other concerns were inferior.  All nobles would be required to be married and to have produced at least one sanctioned heir by age 35.  Any who were barren had to show proof that they had exhausted all reasonable avenues to restore their ability before they would be excused.  Bastards or unregistered children would not be counted, especially if they were from slave or commoner stock.  If a noble tried to flee or refused to choose their own mate, the head of house was expected to choose for them and see the duty done.  

A union had to be approved by the head of house, as well as any clergy petitioned to perform the ceremony before the marriage contract could be drawn up with the Court.  Families quickly stepped in to pressure for matches that would yield the most benefits for the noble houses involved, but most of them had no real power unless the head of house wanted the same thing.  By law, no noble can be forced to marry or breed by any means unless they are near the age, some extraordinary circumstance arises, or the head of house can make a case for its necessity.  Most of us have forgotten this and many heads of house have found ways to get what they desire, so few of us risk their wrath anymore.

Besides, if you participate in your own arrangements, you can negotiate for the terms of your nuptial contract.  Each contract is decided by the couple and witnessed by barristers and clerics and any other guests.  A head of house can only veto something if it can be shown to endanger the house.  Breeding is restricted to the official couple but sex doesn't have to be.  Which spouse controls the wealth is decided, as well as which house the couple will be registered with (also the house their children will be part of).  Any deeds that must be performed for the wedding, between spouses, or anniversaries are chosen, as well as any lines of behavior that must not be crossed.  These agreements are quite detailed but they must be agreed upon without force before they can be filed with the Court.  They can be amended in the future if both spouses agree, but that rarely happens.

And of course, there are always exceptions.  Nobles who breed out of wedlock but with each other can cause infighting between their houses, but they might be able to negotiate a truce that fulfills their obligation without getting married.  Likewise, officers or others heading into great danger can try to arrange a mating, leaving their children behind to be counted.  Nobles from other lands who prove their allegiance to Thay can substitute for Mulan.  Spellcasters certainly have the most loopholes.  If they manage to breed with outsiders, dragons, or other mighty creatures, their need to marry is usually waived.  Dmitra Flass's husband has no noble heritage, but he does possess a powerful role.  But even Red Wizards must comply with the Doom of Matrimony (and yes, you may laugh at the title, but it is the official designation of this section of our legal code).

Which lessons can we glean from this history?  I will point out only a few; the rest are yours to discover.  

First, you must plan as much as you can in advance.  Do not leave your situation to chance or it will be messy, perhaps lethally so.  Second, you will have to consider how the gods play into it, but you will not be able to rely on them.  Do not think that you will be assured a pleasant experience simply because your spouse follows your faith.  If they have other interests that you despise, the time you spend showing off in church together won't matter.  Third, do not just consider the social position of a candidate.  Look at their features, talents, and especially any arcane ability that may run in their family.  Most times it will not be a Red Wizard that you will want to aim for, but their brother or sister.

Fourth, expect to suffer during the courtship process and beyond.  Whether Beshaba takes an interest in your union or not, we cannot wear our vulnerabilities openly.  Some of us are distant or vicious as we test our potential spouses, especially if we are under a great deal of pressure from other sources.  It can be difficult to interact with someone who feels little attraction to you or who already prefers someone they cannot have.  And then power dynamics will come to bear as you set up your contract.  You may have to get creative with compromises, but it does not have to be a battle.  It can be a trade agreement.  Consider what you can offer in exchange for something you want.

Fifth, always remember that we are proud, possessive, and territorial as a people.  The same spouse that allows you to entertain yourself with slaves will hunt you down and murder you in the street for trying to leave them - and they will be within their rights to do so, if you have violated your oath.  If you want to be free once your child is a year and a day old (the minimum amount we must stay married), be sure to stipulate that in your contract (with an option to stay if you choose).  Otherwise, your spouse will likely decide to keep you.  But the fact of the matter is that most of us do not divorce soon, often, or easily; once bound, we tend to find ourselves inextricably linked.

We have so many rules about wedlock because as nobles we have the most to lose of all Thayans - but since their inception, most of the basic regulations have not changed.  They may have been added to, but they are the same throughout the country.  The more you know about the statutes, the more you can use that knowledge to strengthen your position, in the marriage market or any other.

Tari Govannon

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