The Salsham'ai live on a large island close to the
main continent, which is about 55% woodland. The non-wooded areas suitable
for farming are populated with human settlements and the two communities
have enjoyed good relations for most of their history. Their forest homeland
has obviously had a major influence on their society.
Communities are based on tree-villages, with houses
etc. built up off the ground in the hollow trunks and branches of massive
ancient braashak trees, connected
by rope bridges and swing ropes. These communities are mostly village-sized
but the regional capitals are fairly substantial and the capital Thalsa
is an ancient place with largish wooden roads in places, and even stone-built structures.
Highways - major trails that use both the trees and
the ground depending on the terrain - connect Thalsa to the regional capitals
and trader-towns on the edges of the forests. The highways are fairly easy
for non-treefolk to traverse but on many of the internal trails one would
need to be extremely dextrous so most humans would need a riding-matoo.
Salsham'ai who live in human settlements either buy
local wooded areas or in major cities build round houses on stilts, and
use the area below the house for storage and animal pens. A large percentage
of Salsham'ai are agoraphobic to some degree, those that are not or who
conquer it often travel abroad and there are quite a lot of ex-patriot
communities. Indeed they make excellent sailors being perfectly adapted
for working amongst the rigging.
The sexes are pretty much equal in ordinary life
but political leadership is considered a strictly female preserve - mother
of a family. The whole culture is based on an extended family type organisation
i.e. everyone in the same village are "trunk-cousins" to each
other, so a term of respect to an older person would be Aunt or Uncle,
to one younger or the same age: Cousin. Obviously, like in our cities, the capital,
being so much bigger would not be so close knit.
Art and Costume
They tend to plait feathers and carved beads into
their long hair, and wear necklaces with wooden charms and symbols of their
status. Clothing tends to be simple linen tunics or a loin cloth, leather
and fur hooded ponchos, with swirling patterns in natural dyes. Woodcarving,
weaving and tapestry work are their major art forms.
They enjoy storytelling, singing and music and as
well as a formal literature have a rich oral tradition.
Children will start lessons with the Loremaster at
around 3 years old, these will probably be part-time as they will also
have chores for their families and begin to learn the family trade or craft.
When they are 10 they will look for an opportunity to start an apprenticeship
in the craft of their choosing. This lasts for about 5 years. If however
they excel at their studies the Loremaster may recommend that they be
sent to study at one of the Libraries in the major towns, or even the Great
Library itself. Here they will study part-time and also work part-time
as an apprentice clerk for the local Trunk Mother. These candidates would
go on to become the administrators and advisors to those in authority.
They control rich amber deposits and hunt for rare
animal pelts and skins and use these as a basis for trade with the human
agrarian communities on the island. They are also hunter/gatherers and
are experts at exploiting the forests for their needs without ruining the
ecology, to such a degree that they might be said to "farm" the
forest but they don't like the term as it is rather pejorative to their
mind. They are expert woodworkers and iron is a fairly scarce commodity,
so is reserved for the military, but bone, antler and flint are common
amongst civilians. A valuable commodity is Shoka beans - a sort of chocolate/coffee
The trader-towns combine both tree folk and human
architecture and are places where caravans change from matoo
to mule, horse, or cart and vice versa. Taxes are are paid
either in kind or in cash.
While they are officially in the Iron Age, the metal
is rather scarce so wood, bone, flint and antler are still used extensively,
copper and bronze is somewhat more readily available. They excel at woodworking
and carpentry and using gears, cogs, pulleys and matoo-power they have
come up with ingenious methods of providing running water, removing sewage
and waste, transporting heavy loads etc. Thalsa and the major regional
towns even have rather impressive "lifts", which have saved the
dignity of many visiting ambassadors. Traps and defences are also highly
One and a half feet to three feet tall their skin
colour ranges from pale white to light brown. They are slender, with long
hair and males don't grow beards. They have an instinctive ability to camouflage
themselves and are extremely agile climbers with their prehensile "chimp"
feet. The live to about 40 human years average, with 50 being quite unusual.
They have similar physiology to humans and have
been interacting with their neighbours for a very long time so have experienced
most of the diseases that group of humans has. Living so close to their
environment everyone has a pretty good knowledge of basic plant medicines
and first aid. Those Loremasters whose speciality is healing would have
more refined knowledge about diagnoses, medicines, surgery and other healing
techniques, including using Pas at. Loremasters who live in the trader
towns have a responsibility to inspect incoming caravans for possible contagion.
In Thalsa there is the healing library with adjoining royal hospital where
advanced Loremasters pass on their knowledge and investigate new diseases
They have a much stronger sense of community and collective responsibility than humans, as a result of (or maybe the reason for) their strong familial organisation, so in the villages there are very few crimes where the community is very close knit. Salsham'ai who are or may feel rejected by their local community either go off and live in the wild, where they sometimes form bandit groups to prey on the commercial caravans; or go to the capital or regional capitals where its easier to be anonymous and where there is more conspicuous portable wealth for the stealing of.
Law enforcement is part of the military's remit, with the Mothers of the
village judging cases.
It is of course more formalised and sophisticated
in the larger towns and the capital. Punishment tends to be on the "eye
for an eye" basis, with the culprit and his family having to re-imburse
those she or he has stolen from. Physical assault, depending on the seriousness
of the crime can either be fined and/or imprisonment or forced labour.
Murder, treason, rape and other such serious crimes often result in the
death penalty, although repentance and remorse are taken into account.
The Salsham'ai are pretty tolerant people, outsiders
are expected to respect the laws and are protected equally by them. There
is of course some prejudice in the more outlying areas.