The language of Adalmearc
The tongue spoken almost exclusively across all of Adalmearc was commonly known as Mearcspeech, sometimes Adalspeech or Nordspeech by those seeking to emphasise its origin for one reason or the other. It was primarily the native tongue of the largest of the tribes of Saelnar, which settled in Thusund, Vidrevi, and Adalrik. Evidence would suggest that on many of the islands of Thusund, a more original version of the language was spoken; for instance, the oldest place names such as the names of the realms and their cities are more understandable to the islanders than they are to Mearcians living on the mainland. Evidently, the language evolved the swiftest in Adalrik, probably due to its central geographical position that led it to become influenced by its neighbours. As Adalrik rose to prominence and the Alliance of Adalmearc was created, the influence of the dialect of Adalrik spread colossally until it was the common language of all the realms; changing from being Adalspeech to being Mearcspeech.
While the native tongues of the other tribes seemed to be gone or only spoken in isolated pockets, their influence can nonetheless be traced in Mearcspeech, both in terms of pronunciation but most importantly in vocabulary. Certain words were common in Heohlond and found only sparsely elsewhere, hinting of the highlanders’ original tongue. Same went for Hæthiod, where it was more prominent. Many terms exclusive to southern Adalmearc originated from Hæthiod. How this could have happened is difficult to say; typically Ealond with its size and influence would be the most likely candidate for supplying such prominent words such as the southern title for the high king, which was megas basileus, the Highfather, which was archon basileus, or the Temple, which was called the Basilika. It should be noted that in daily speech, the high king was simply referred to as the basileus while the Highfather was referred to as the Archon.
The kinship between these words is obvious and can easily be traced to Hæthiod where they were in much greater use than elsewhere. There are also examples of words that are nearly identical in the dialect of Hæthiod and the dialect of Ealond; a closer look shows that they fit what other words we know originated in Hæthiod and had apparently undergone slight changes to fit the dialect of Ealond. The reason for why Hæthiod provided Mearcspeech with such a disproportionate part of its vocabulary is unknown and remains a fruitful province of investigation.
The last major influence on Mearcspeech to be traced is the original tongue of the tribe that settled in Ealond and Korndale. Again, very little of this language is known as such; certain things as pronunciation may be estimated, but otherwise we have only additions to vocabulary to work with. This language seems to have also underwent the same development as the original Nordspeech did, where the dialect of Thusund remains more true to the original and the dominant dialect of Adalrik evolved more swiftly. Here, the divide is between the dialects of Ealond and Korndale. The dialect of Korndale contains many words that are subsequently found in the dialect of Ealond, but typically changed and often with more meanings or splitting into several words.
All of this contributed to making Mearcspeech the language that it is. Its basic structure is very clearly northern, but a great deal of its vocabulary came from the South. There are also words encountered that seem to be adapted from the language of Alcázar and the South Cities, though very little else is known about them. As great trading cities, many languages were heard in their streets, but Mearcspeech remained one of the most spoken dialects; it eventually became the language of commerce across the known world, and it could even be heard in distant cities that had no direct relations with Adalmearc.
Origin of customs
While the language of the north-western tribe became spoken everywhere in Adalmearc due to Adalrik asserting its dominance, the customs of the Seven Realms present a muddled image. One exception was the faith of the Seven Realms. The six priesthoods of the Seven and Eighth allowed no heresy within their borders, and while the priesthoods competed against each other, they were all part of the same pantheon and ultimately subject to the spiritual authority of the Highfather and the Temple of Middanhal. A more complete discussion of the faith of Adalmearc can be found under its corresponding entry; this entry will restrict itself to discussing the general customs of the realms as well as their differences.
In general, one can distinguish between two cultures affecting and sometimes displacing each other: a northern and a southern. Roughly speaking, Thusund, Vidrevi, Adalrik, and Heohlond belonged to the northern culture while Ealond, Korndale, and Hæthiod belonged to the southern. Both Heohlond and Hæthiod had unique cultural traits, but those of note are mentioned on the respective entries for either realm and will not be discussed here.
With the Alliance of Adalmearc having existed for 800 years, it can be difficult to trace the exact origin of the traditions. Certain turn of events further complicate it; the traditions and role of the norns were northern originally, but with their major temple located in Ealond, it may be easy to confuse such as being originally southern. Thus one may divide the customs of the Seven Realms in three, broad categories. Customs that regardless of being southern or northern were now common across the realms, customs that were still exclusive to the northern realms, and customs that were exclusive to the southern.
With Adalrik rising to dominance, the northern culture for the most part took root in all the Seven Realms, no doubt aided by Nordspeech being adopted by all the realms as well. An example of this is the tradition of birth words, which was not known at first among the southern tribes. Along with the norns came also the burial rites later used in all the realms, primarily the scattering of raven feathers and the eagle token, usually a small, carved eagle made from wood or stone. The eagle figurine was to remind the eagle that it must guide the departed soul to the land beyond. The raven feathers were meant as a deterrent to prevent the soulless body from rising from the dead.
An interesting example of traditions mingling concerns weddings. In the North, the primary act during the ceremony was when the groom and bride each got a string tied around their wrists. The ends of the strings were braided together and pulled by the priest, tearing off their wrists; this symbolised that their union was now stronger than they were apart, just as the strands entwined proved stronger than the strands were on their own. In the South, the primary act was that the couple must both drink from the same chalice of wine. In later days except in more remote parts of Adalmearc, both traditions were typically employed at a wedding, regardless of where it was held.
Lastly, architecture should be mentioned, particularly concerning temples. There were a few exceptions, either due to age like the main temple of Disfara near Bjarghold or Austre’s sanctuary in Hareik, or else due to the peculiar needs such as Austre’s groves in general; but otherwise, nearly all temples in Adalmearc were built domed if possible and with many other architectural traits originating in Ealond. The reason for this can actually be traced to a specific event.
In the early 3rd century, after consolidating his rule over Adalmearc, Arn of Old desired to expand the Temple in Middanhal to suitable splendour. He requested all ideas to be presented to him, using the mathematical expertise of the priests of Hamaring to counsel him. Among the suggestions, one was in particular bold; it suggested a dome greater than any other ever attempted. The planner was called Renaud and was a native of Ealond; during the War of the Dragon, he had been a siege engineer and had since turned his talents towards construction.
The dome was of such proportions, none others believed it could stand; in the end, Renaud swore that he would sleep, eat, and live under the dome every day while it was built, and for many years to come after it was finished. Allegedly, his boldness suited the high king who gave Renaud the task. It took many years until the dome and most of the Temple was finished, and during all that time, Renaud slept on a bedroll beneath it every night. When it was finally finished, it was a marvel of silver, glass, and white marble, all reflecting the sunlight in ingenious ways and lighting up the interior. After this, all temples of certain size built afterwards were modelled upon Renaud’s dome. Renaud himself won great fame and eventually returned to Fontaine in Ealond, where he founded the guild of engineers.
There were four customs known in the North which were not common in the South. The first of these was the custom of thanes. Of course, every nobleman in the South had personal guards and similar; but such was not rooted in the old tradition of the thanes. This particular class of warriors stemmed back from the time of the Great War, where many men in the northern tribes were warriors and nothing else; they had no farms or fields to tend to, no crafts. Usually, these warriors were attached to a local chieftain, who could pay for their upkeep and lead them into battle. After the War ended and the tribes settled into the realms of Saelnar, the warriors became known as beorns: the lowest class of nobility. The new noblemen of wealth who inherited the function of the chieftains continued to retain these warriors as their personal guard, both as a sign of power but also due to the very real risk of assaults from neighbouring nobles.
Eventually, the necessity for thanes to be beorns lessened; with the advent of the Order, many beorns chose to become knights instead, and it it became ordinary for thanes to be of common birth. It remained tradition to offer the winner of the grand fight at the solstice games in Middanhal a place among the kingthanes. Regardless, the position of thane continued to be highly respected and carried with it a certain bond. A thane swore upon his honour to obey his lord and die for him if necessary; although all thanes were nominally subjects to the king of their realm, there were many instances of thanes feeling their oath to their lord weigh heavier. It is the strongest example of the old warrior culture of the North surviving over the ages, and how deeply the code of honour continued to infuse northern society.
Another difference was the system of punishment instituted in the different realms. In the South, all manners of punishments were in use, and sometimes varied greatly from region to region. In the North, it was much simpler. Any person found guilty of a crime had to pay a fine, known as geld; its size depended on the offence committed. If sufficiently severe, the culprit would also be exiled from society, sent to live in the woods, which is why it was also called to be sent wood-walking. A curious remark in some of the oldest texts infers that the exiled were in fact sent to the Alfskog, the great forest that covers all of northern Adalmearc and beyond; apparently this was considered a death sentence, possibly due to the harshness of the climate. In any case, this system of fines and exile meant that executions were rare in the northern realms; it was typically only employed in matters of high treason. In Adalrik, the king even needed the consent of the Adalthing to have a person with the standing of beorn or higher executed; in Thusund, the high priestess of Disfara had to give her consent.
A third variation was the custom of sjaund. This fell out of common use except in Thusund; it means something akin to funeral feast. Along with the word losing usage, so did the rules grow lax. Originally, it was a feast held exactly seven days after the death of a relative to celebrate their deeds in life and mourn their passing. If the deceased was a lord, often his seat would have remained empty until this day; during the feast, his heir would then take the seat, thereby claiming his inheritance, and make a toast to the dead.
The last major difference concerns the assemblies of the northern tribes, known as Things. They were a rather complicated concept, born out of the tribal councils of the past that all the elders were part of. Later there were numerous variations of Things in Adalrik, Vidrevi, and Thusund. Each village had one where minor grievances were heard and the community could decide matters such as ploughing, sowing, and harvesting in unison. Every region had one as well, meting out justice in more grievous cases, usually in coordination with the local lord, and settling disputes. Only Adalrik had a Thing for the entirety of the realm, known as the Adalthing; in Vidrevi, the kings managed to abolish them to rule unrestricted, while in Thusund the priestesses of Disfara took over most of their functions. Heohlond with its system of clans had its own assemblies within each clan; on occasion a meeting of all the clan leaders may be called, such as on the death of the king and for the election of a new, though such a assembly did not have the regularity or rules of an actual Thing.
The societal structure of the southern realms had more sharp divisions and a greater deal of hierarchy. The nobility was divided into various classes, especially in Ealond, which inspired the system of landgraves and margraves in Adalrik. The citizens of the cities were typically organised into the numerous guilds, which to a small degree also happened in Adalrik, in Middanhal to be precise. Finally, below the citizens were the serfs of the provinces, who worked the land.
It was a more rigid system, where a person rarely moved from one class to another; an exception were the priesthoods, which all regardless of birth might join and reach the highest offices. Apart from that, the serfs remained in the provinces and rarely moved to the cities; and the strict control exercised by the guilds over the various crafts meant that a seat in a guild, and thus permission to work as a practitioner of that craft, usually had to be inherited. It was very rare for outsiders to be allowed into a guild, at least without toiling for many years under masters who were guild members, and it was also rare for the sons of one type of craftsman to seek tutelage and eventual guild membership for another craft. In both the southern and northern realms, however, it was most uncommon for any to become a member of the nobility by any other means than birth; the privileges of the aristocracy were guarded everywhere in Adalmearc.
The reign of the guilds had the effect that craftsmanship was often of very high quality, in particular in Ealond. Any craftsman using inferior materials, cheating his customers, or otherwise producing work of low quality, would be severely penalised; losing one hand was a particularly preferred punishment. While certain items wrought with great skill might be found elsewhere, such as in the Dwarven enclaves of the North, the craftsmen of the South had the best reputation. This caused their methods and skill to be replicated in the rest of Adalmearc, for instance where jewellery was concerned; the jewellers of Fontaine set the standard which the rest of Adalmearc followed.
This constant effect of push and pull continued to make the customs and cultures of Adalmearc into a strange amalgam, where some parts exhibited little difference from city to city or realm to realm, and in other parts there was nearly nothing recognisable from one place to another.