FURTHER EXTRACTS FROM
A HANDBOOK FOR TRAVELERS IN THE ELFLANDS
(published by the Press of the Crooked Stair for the Royal Merchants Guild of Pencharn)
Elvish cuisine tends toward subtle flavours, eschewing heavy spices in favour of vinegar or other sour notes. Staples include red meat, pickled vegetables, and both sweet and white potatoes. As the Ethuveraz is landlocked, fish is considered a delicacy and is usually served dried or smoked. Popular dishes include khasin, a type of potato dumpling served with pickled beets, and chaäna, a meat-filled bun. Travellers may wish to exercise caution when tasting cezhei, a dish made from fermented seeds; its unique flavour and pungent aroma make it something of an acquired taste.
Tea is by far the most popular beverage in the Elflands. The plantations of the southern principalities produce a wide variety of blends, the majority of which are consumed by the upper classes, as transport costs are a major factor in their price. The common people tend to prefer tisanes of herbs such as chamomile or rosehip. Alcohol is readily available; both wine and a spiced mead known as metheglin are popular among the lower and upper classes alike.
Elvish meals are taken in several courses, with diners seated around a communal table. It is considered polite to wait until every diner has been served a portion before beginning to eat. Conversation with one's neighbours is encouraged, but controversial topics should be avoided. At the end of a formal meal, it is customary for the diner seated at the head of the table to rise first, followed by the diner seated to his left, and so on around the table. This is in deference to an old Elvish superstition, which states that when two diners rise from the meal at once, they will quarrel before the year is out.
CLOTHING AND FASHION
Clothing is one area where the Elvish people throw off some of their natural tendency to austerity. Elvish attire is brightly coloured and often highly decorated. Formal wear is embellished with intricate embroideries and beadwork of glass or semi-precious stones. Black is commonly avoided due to its association with death, while white is not worn in large quantities as this is the exclusive domain of the imperial family. Elvish men wear trousers and padded jackets, while the women wear long dresses or skirts. Female travellers are advised to avoid wearing trousers, as the practice will be looked upon as uncultured.
Hair length is one of the Elflands' more obvious class markers. The servant classes wear their hair cropped, and hair length tends to increase with rank; the hair of members of the upper class usually falls below the waist. If one's hair is shoulder length or longer, wearing it unbound in public is unheard of; travellers are advised not to do so in order to avoid becoming a spectacle. Hair is caught up using hair combs or tashin sticks, or else braided down the back, with the most elaborate styles reserved for the nobility.
It is not unusual for both men and women to wear cosmetics. Those who do not work with their hands grow their nails long and lacquer them, often with elaborate designs.There are manicurists who will charge a reasonable fee for lacquering, and the traveller may wish to spend an afternoon relaxing and being tended to in the establishment of such an artisan.
Jewellery is also worn by both sexes. Expensive pieces hold precious or semi-precious stones, while those more moderately priced will be adorned with fish scales or cut glass. Elvish ears are long and flexible, and it is common practice to have multiple piercings in each ear. Current fashion is to wear a ring in each piercing, although during the reign of the Emperor Varevesena it was briefly popular to string a thin chain through the holes from one end of the ear to the other, allowing it to dangle freely between them.
ART AND CRAFT
The Imperial Gallery in Cetho houses the most famous Elvish works of art. Elvish artists generally strive for a high level of realism in their paintings, and the most widely acclaimed pieces tend to be the most true to life. The subject matter, however, is often fanciful and filled with fantastical creatures, characters from legend, and religious iconography. The Imperial Gallery also houses the complete works of the sculptor Zhara Teshenar, who made the production of life-sized models of every type of known animal his life's work.
Silk, produced in the principality of Thu-Athamar, is one of the main industries of the Elflands and thus a mainstay of the country's artisanal efforts. The fabric can be used for decorative wall hangings and rugs, as well as for clothing and for fashion accessories such as scarves and veils. Travellers who are interested in the purchase of such products are advised to be wary of inferior products, which can be identified by their rough, uneven texture and lack of lustre. The lightest and most difficult-to-produce silk weight, known as sharadansho, is truly beautiful, and the Imperial Museum in Ashedro has some splendid examples of the work. Travellers looking to buy sharadansho silk may wish to keep in mind both the prohibitive prices and the fact that the work leaves many of its crafters blind.
The clockwork artisans of the Elflands are widely recognized as among the best in the world. Most Elvish households have a clock, and some of the more elaborate examples have been passed down through families for generations. Clockwork mechanisms are also used for wondrous toys, which are often quite lifelike; in fact, the toymaker whose creations are so realistic they may actually come to life is a character in several children's wonder-tales. The Clocksmiths' Guild efficiently regulates the production and sale of clockwork goods, ruthlessly stamping out inferior products.
MUSIC AND THEATRE
Both opera and orchestral music are popular in the Elflands. Most cities have an opera house or concert hall, and performances are given several nights a week, with the addition of matinées when the work is particularly popular. The Opera House of Zhaö is the oldest in the Elflands and is known not only for premières of some of the greatest works of Elvish music, but also for its architecture, including the mosaic floor, which took its artisans almost two decades to complete. In major cities there are likely to be a number of smaller halls, which present more populist entertainment such as masques, plays, and the style of operetta known as the michen-opera.
Operas in the Elflands tend to be lavish productions, with richly detailed costumes and elaborate stage settings. The Lord of Winter is believed to be the most expensive and complex production to date; it requires an aerial performer, several live horses, and a choir of 500. When costumes and sets reach the end of their life at the opera houses, either through wear or when the production they were designed for comes to an end, they are often donated to the smaller halls. This can result in a startling gallimaufry of styles and standards of dress, but these performances are often quite informal, and audiences will be unconcerned. While the Elvish operas strive toward the production of great works of art and choose their subjects accordingly, other productions—plays, puppet theatre, and the like—tend toward a more populist subject matter. The most popular plays tend to be comedies, often thinly veiled political satires;or romances, either joyful or tragic.
Elvish literature is generally composed in the form of poetry; even sagas and factual accounts are expressed in blank verse or rhyming couplets. Historians attribute this to the influence of the great philosopher Khoret Cserenar, who once said, "Whatever language may be, let it be beautiful." The school of thought that rose around him gave birth to Elvish literature in its current form, and many of the most famous Elvish authors were among his acolytes. Shava Dashonar, for example, is remembered for his invention or popularization of several forms of sonnet, and the adventures across the continent of the explorer Varanis Ceredar remain in wide circulation to this day.
The great publishing house in Cetho prints a variety of books, mainly classics, historical novels, and collections of poetry. Some of the more niche presses specialize in certain genres; romance is popular, as is the genre known as future sight, which describes authors' imaginings of fantastical worlds hundreds of years from the present. Also available is an imprint that produces cheap, low-quality novels in undecorated covers—yellow for historical fiction, blue for romance, and so on. The affordability of these works makes them popular with the lower classes, but the traveller should not expect to find any great jewels of literature hidden in their midst.
The Elvish people worship seven primary deities, along with an unknown number of minor gods. Elvish gods may be either male or female. Larger cities house a number of temples, each dedicated to a single god or goddess. A population centre of any size will always have a temple known as the Othasmeire, which is open to the worship of all gods. Elvish worship is structured and formal, involving traditional rites, prayers, and the burning of incense. The prelate leading the worship wears a mask that is a stylized representation of the god or goddess to whom the temple is dedicated. This practice derives from the ancient belief that the gods would be affronted by the presence of a lesser being in their midst.The mask not only conceals the cleric's human identity but allows him to approach the deity in supplication. The belief is no longer recognized, but the tradition remains.
Transition is a common theme in many rites of the Elvish religion, which often take place at sunrise or sunset. Dancing is often considered emblematic of a transition from one state to another, as can be seen in the Elvish rite of dancing the dead to peace, or the custom of the Winternight Ball, which marks the winter solstice.
Elves believe that the arcane gifts are endowed by the gods. Those who formally practice such gifts are known as mazei (sing. maza); the traveller may recognise them by their blue robes. Members of the clergy may also make use of such gifts, most notably in the case of the clerics of Ulis, who are capable of rudimentary communication with the dead. Mazei do not use their gifts to aid the general public—they believe their role is to serve the Emperor, however indirectly. If the traveller should require a potion or cantrip, a local pharmacist will be able to recommend a lesser practitioner.
The reserved nature of the Elves makes courting a challenging prospect. It would be inappropriate for two unwed people of the opposite sex to be together unchaperoned. Large social events, such as dances and concerts, are therefore frequent, allowing unmarried Elves to associate in groups without stigma.
Gifts are often given as indicators of romantic interest. Couples never exchange durable gifts before they are betrothed; it is considered unlucky for any item to represent a binding commitment before the marriage contract is signed. Common courting gifts include cut flowers, fruits, and sweetmeats. Poetry is considered to be the preeminent courting gift; an Elf may be considered attractive not only for his appearance or his prospects, but for his ability to craft verse. Among young Elvish men, it is considered the height of insult to suggest that a suitor's love notes flow not from his own pen, but from a professional proxy.
Marriage in the Elflands is subject to the approval of the couple's families, and can be as much about strengthening the families' positions and interests as it is about the couple in question. The father, as the head of the family, makes the final decision. If the pairing is approved by both families, the betrothal is announced, and the negotiation of the marriage agreement can begin.
The signing of the marriage contract, and the exchanging of iron oath rings, makes the marriage binding. Elves place a great deal of importance on fortunes and auguries; while the signing can take place at any time, the wedding ceremony may be an entirely separate affair, timed to take advantage of the auspices. While the couple are considered married once the contract is signed, it would be inappropriate for them to live together before the wedding.
An Elvish woman belongs to her father's family until marriage, when she becomes a part of her husband's family and changes her family name to his. Once married, any interference in the relationship by her birth family would be improper, no matter the treatment she may receive from her husband. A wise father, therefore, will scrutinise his daughter's suitors carefully in an effort to find the best match.
Those who are attracted to the same gender are recognised in Elvish society, but are generally met with disapproval. Known as marnei (sing. marnis/marno), they are considered an abomination by the church, and any such relationships take place in secret. Travellers of a similar persuasion are advised to be discreet.
While the Elvish lower classes hunt mainly for food, the upper classes are more likely to hunt for leisure. The preferred quarry are large animals or birds; depending on the prey, the bow, crossbow, or spear may be the weapon of choice. A common sport among the nobility is the release of a live target such as a fox or marten, which is then pursued by mounted men and trained hunting hounds. Such hounds, which track their prey by scent, are taught to respond to whistled commands.
Ceithara is a popular sport in the Elflands and is played both casually and in an organized form. Teams representing the various regions compete biennially for the title of Grand Champion. The sport is played by two eight-person teams on a field with a net at each end. The players pass a round ball from hand to hand; the objective is to land it in one's opponent's net while defending one's own net. A persistent rumour links the sport with the treatment of the severed heads of enemies in the aftermath of battle, but there is nothing in the historical record to support this; the traveller would be wise to let the subject lie.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Cetho is the capital city of the Elflands and houses the imperial-palace-cum-parliament known as the Untheileneise Court. It is worth visiting for the palace architecture alone, but it is also one of the country's cultural centres, with many fine galleries and museums for the traveller to explore. Due to the presence of the Emperor, the inhabitants tend toward the formal and even the officious; fulsome civility on the part of the traveller is unlikely to go amiss.
Ashedro houses the greatest university of the Elflands, with its stunning archways and intricate stonework. Travellers may enjoy a visit to the Elflands' largest library, which houses copies of many of the greatest works of Elvish literature. Public debates by members of the faculty are held regularly in the central courtyard, although the tradition of pelting the losing side with stale bread has somewhat fallen out of favour.
Daiano is known throughout the Elflands for its hot mineral springs. Visitors to Daiano tend to be mainly the rich, looking for a relaxing sojourn, or the ill—bathing in the springs is believed to be good for the health. The traveller may enjoy spending a day or two taking the waters, but is advised not to credit the more outrageous claims about their therapeutic powers; baldness, for example, remains stubbornly resistant to their might.
Ezho was founded during the gold rush in the days of Varenechibel III. Once a small settlement of hastily erected cabins and tents, it is now a bustling metropolis. The main places of interest in Ezho are its museum, which tells the history of the discovery of gold and the effect it has had on the region; and the Varenechibel III Marketplace, a vast collection of ever-changing stalls that does a brisk trade in artisanal goods.