In the far North of a continent lives the Bear Empire, an arctic (late Middle English: via Old French from Latin arcticus, articus, from Greek arktikos, from arktos ‘bear, Ursa Major, pole star’, yes, this is a pun nation) empire; in this empire and many of the adjacent ones (although the Bear Empire, being expansionist, does not get along great with its neighbors), magery is, if not common, existent, marriages and most other things are a village or town affair and are rarely monogamous, and people pay homage to not only Mama Bear but several other of the spirit-gods who make up the nationalities within the empire.
Born from a Seventh Sanctum prompt for a story often called Row-Mance (Running in the Bear Empire).
This setting has three eras: the pre-empire era, the Imperial Era, and the Cyberpunk Era.
The Imperial Era is the era in which Running in the Bear Empire is written; technology in this era is to horse-drawn carriage and wagon, swords and bows. Definitely pre-Industrial, and the magic is not such that it fills too many of the holes there.
The Cyber or post-modern era is similar to, say, ShadowRun or CyberPunk – cybernetics exist, cities are in some places heavily populated, and the family/village structure has started to break down just a bit. Magic still exists but is considered almost mythical by many people.
What resources do people in the society they take for granted?
Stone. Stone is definitely taken for granted.
Stone, and wood, and water – clean water – and the very thin underlying force of magic which powers things most people don’t even think about (like the Bear-stone bracelets and other Bear-stone items). All those things are in abundance in the Empire of the Bear. As is, ah, natural refrigeration. source
Basic necessities include: Shelter-and-heat, bread-and-salt, mittens-and-boots. In some parts of the country, it is considered a grievous sin to deny anyone who asks any of these things; in others, it’s considered an equally grievous sin to ask. In both places, if you ask and it is given, or if it is given freely without asking, a bond has been formed that neither can break. In three seasons out of four, lack of any of them can kill you, and in the fourth, lack of the bread and salt might still kill you.
Close behind in necessity: The support of your totem. The knowledge of your kin-group. Knowing who has your back in a fight and having at least two people who will.
As a whole, the Bear Empire works on a mostly-capitalist structure; that is, people sell goods and services for currency to buy other goods and services.
The exceptions to this are as follows:
- There are still large portions of the Empire (mind you, not lovely portions or anything, but portions) where land is free. As long as you have four adults or more willing to agree to live there for at least five years, the local governor will build you a house and a barn and give you up to 200 acres (although in many cases measuring those acres is complicated. Ever measure horizontal land up the side of a mountain?)
- Taxes to the Shire, the governor-area and the Empire cover first and primarily infrastructure, but a portion is put aside every year for the following:
- relief for areas stricken by famine or disaster (inside the borders or, to a lesser degree, outside of them)
- Aid for the poor
- basic reading, writing, and religious education for all children from weaning to prepubescence.
This last one is new and still controversial, since it did require a raise in taxes across the board.
- Within any town or shire, if someone has come upon hard times, there is a “10% rule.” That is, rather than tithes to the church, people put aside 10% of their goods and harvests as they can, and will give, generally, 1/3 of that to any they encounter who have come on hard times
On the other hand, if someone is known to abuse that charity, there is a thing called the Jackal House, a very small building on the outskirts of town that has only the bare necessities to survive. If you find yourself escorted the Jackal House, you can know that you have tried the patience of a town and stretched their 10% further than they are willing to accept.
The primary manner one gets out of the Jackal House, save from moving to another town, is by performing some act of service for every member of the town. [source]
A stack of firewood outside the house on the windward side provides more firewood and also insulation. The high-pitched roofline provides protection.
Within the Bear Empire and in several of the nations surrounding it, the primary religion – and the one that is supported by/considered part of/supporting the state – is a totemic faith of sorts. The nation of the Bear considered Mother Bear to be their guardsmen, protector, and guide; the Lynx people still consider Sister Lynx as theirs, and so on.
It is the belief - or at least a tenet of this faith - that the Bear is the ancestor of the Bear people, the Fox of the Fox people, and so on. This sits in the realm of pre-history with the story that the totems came here because their prior land was too crowded.
Axes are the weapons of choice of the Priesthood of the Bear, and so the casual name for them is the Priesthood of Axes.
In the Imperial Era, Puma (as it’s called in the vernacular) is spoken-only. There’s a couple others, west and south, outside of the Bear Empire, as well, that are oral only. One of those manages to survive, along with Puma, into the post-modern (Cyber) era.
In the Cyber era, a language called Tracks is used only on their equivalent to chat sites & has no spoken element.
The dominant language in the Empire is Bear. However, many of the other languages known by the Guardians’ People are spoken right up through the Cyber era. Some time in prehistory (that is, before written records; the oral records are unreliable), the Bear Empire decided to make a virtue of necessity and accept all Guardians’ Peoples’ languages as official Imperial Tongues.
However, some officials still, over 1000 years later, use the theory of “you can speak anything you want, but I’m going to answer in Bear.”
'Is there a universal translator or a universal language?'
Yes & no? In both eras, Bear is the official language of the Bear Empire, but most officials & most documents speak/are written in at least 2 languages (Bear and that of the nearest Guardians’ People, usually).
A spell exists to understand the gist of what someone is saying, but its components are so dear, I couldn’t even afford to have them show up in the story.
In Cyber era, translator software exists, but it usually fails on subtext, context & idiom.
Do people code-switch?
It depends! Anyone who moves between different groups absolutely needs to; even within the main language (Bear), different groups can be almost entirely incomprehensible to each other, especially as many use combinations of Bear and their native Guardians’ language.
In addition, certain trades move between social/economic and ethnic groups, not to mention the Runners (in the Cyber era), whose language use in BelowSpace makes allowances for the magically altered terrain/atmosphere & includes tap & gesture, plus far more casual violence. I.e, “that’s the troll version of blowing a kiss.” (thanks Monstrous Regiment)
And Social Class
In the Bear Empire different forms of music
(~are considered especially heinous. The Special Tunes Unit… ahem)
are generally associated not with different social classes, but with different regions, villages, and, of course, Guardians’ People.
That being said, there are some instruments which are considered which are generally too expensive for a poor household to own: something like a harpsichord, an elaborate set of instruments most similar to the tuba and the saxophone, and the giant drums, as big as an adult’s arm-span (Although I am going to note these sets of instruments are rarely played together).
While an affluent household might own its own giant drums, harpsichord, or saxophone, a village almost certainly WILL own one of these.
Apart from that, music is not divided much at all by social class at all – either class defined by wealth (less a definer in Bear Empire in any era then in modern US and definitely less a definer in the Imperial era) or by position.
People sing the same songs, play the same music, and have the same myths, regardless if they’re a two-person mining family in a hut or a 20-person line marriage around the governorship of a region.
Day 6 segues nicely into the Day 7, which is if certain music types are associated with certain cultures or specific regions?
To begin with, I have to discuss culture in the Bear Empire.
There are the various Guardians’ People – obviously, Bear, but also Eagle, Cat (Puma), Fox, and Snake, among others. There’s also the people of the Whale, but they are a mysterious group who in the post-modern (cyber) era, do not interact much with the rest of the empire.
Then there are groups who have come into the Empire from other nations, mostly south of the Empire – the Empire fills most of the Northern top of the continent. These groups often share a look, sometimes a language, and often a cultural heritage
In the Cyber era, physical differences between the Guardians’ Peoples are harder to see in most cases. It’s been an Empire at this point for a very long time, and although they often hold with the cultural and social actions of the tribe† of one parent if they are within a community of that tribe, it can be hard to tell a child of the Puma from a child of the Fox from physical looks. These differences were much more marked in the Imperial time, or at least more known – they could be anything from a specific shade of blonde hair to the general size of the nose. In the Cyber era, most people will say ‘Bear’ and mean ‘the Guardians’ peoples.’
† I’m using “tribe” here because “the People of a Guardian” is rather long
Music that originates from the Guardians’ Peoples tends to be group music, including sing-alongs and play-alongs where one person leads and the rest join in. Concerts in the Bear Empire involve a great deal of audience participation. In terms of specific tribes: the Snake people are very fond of flute like instruments; the Fox people go for complicated call and repeat where part of the idea is to trip the other side. The Elk people tends to prefer deep singing accompanied by drums and perhaps something like a trumpet; the Puma people definitely prefer rounds.
Looking at other nationalities: people from Halor prefer complicated rhyme schemes with simple melodies; the harmonies are generally more sophisticated and often involve musical Easter eggs.
Honestly I don’t know enough about the rest of the nations on this continent – or those they may have encountered by the Cyber era from other continents – to determine what their news of musical tastes are like.
But I know that a concert hall in the Bear Empire at full capacity has to be an amazingly raucous, beautiful spectacle. Not for the faint of heart!