The Laqs are an ethnic group native to the foothills of southeastern Benacia. Over the course of history, Laqs and their culture has expanded and contracted alongside the development of nations and migrations of peoples, such that pockets of Laqi settlement are spread out throughout much of the southern half of Benacia.
Many self-described Laqs speak one of the Laqi Languages, though some populations, in line with their degree of cultural assimilation, have adopted Istvanistani. Some of the Black Laqs, especially those associated with Minarboria and Kalgachia, have adopted Mishalanese despite retaining their cultural distinctiveness.
The Laqi People are divided into different subcultures, originally describing their geographic distribution. In Laqi culture, the cardinal directions have associated colors, with Black for North, White for South, Red for West, and Blue for East. Their modern distribution, however, has been affected by migration and assimilation and have more to do with a clan's cultural idiosyncrasies than their location.
The White Laqs, aka Swalakk (WL. S°alaꝗ'ei, RL. Fyẑylaqehe), were the southern Laqs that lived in Modan-Lach. As Brookshirian settlement and industrialization accelerated throughout the Third Era, the White Laqs became more marginalized in their own homeland. This culminated in the Laqi Free Republic movement of 1567 AN. Following its defeat and the resumption of Imperial control in the area, assimilation, forced relocation, and resettlement has eliminated this ethnic group's distinctive cultural identity.
During the late years of the Ayreon IV's reign and into the Kalirion Fracture, attempts by descendants of the White Laqs to reacquaint themselves with their ancestors' culture has tended to consist more of adopting the dress and language of the Red Laqs than resurrecting that of the White Laqs, going as far as not even using a correct rendering of their ethnonym.
The Black Laqs, also known as Karalakhs (BL. Qarelaqħehe), lived in the hilly frontier region along the borders of Modan-Lach, Crestfall Downs, and Lywind. Seen as backwards by the more urbane White Laqs, the Black Laqs were cut loose by the Laqi Free Republic movement, resulting in its failure as a pan-Laqi movement.
Under the tutelage of Maria Dolores von Rossheim-Maltenstein, the Khanate of Karalakh was carved out from Crestfall Downs, Lywind, and Shimmerspring as a personal fiefdom. Upon her ascension to the Golden Mango Throne, Kaiseress Mira Raynora Minor remodelled the Great Hall at Raynor's Keep in Black Laqi cultural motifs. This included wallpaper that featured intricately coiled vines and ceiling corbels carved to resemble horse's heads.
Some portion of the Black Laqs migrated westward in The Great Replanting of 1617 AN. Of these Laqs, some continued in the area following the fall of Minarboria and helped to found the Republic of Inner Benacia with Red Laqs who had already migrated to the area in late Ashkenatzi times. Others became involved in the founding of Kalgachia, and have since become known as Green Laqs.
The Green Laqs, aka Zeleniyi Lahy (Msh. Зеленії Лаги) are the Laqs of Kalgachia, notable for almost entirely switching from a dialect of Laqi Language to one of Mishalanese while retaining a distinct culture.
Despite the name suggesting an association with the East (green and blue being seen as shades of the same color category), the Green Laqs emerged in the far west, as a subset of the Black Laqs who had migrated during The Great Replanting to Minarboria and had come under the control of Kalgachia, which has remolded the culture of the Black Laqs into something more manageable for the Kalgachi state.
The Red Laqs, aka Plizhlaqeh (RL. Plyžlaqehe), emerged as a distinct identity in eastern Shimmerspring and southern Caverden. As the group on the western frontier, the Red Laqs were poised to take advantage of the destabilization and fall of Ashkenatza, expanding early and heavily into western Benacia beginning in the late 1590s AN.
Their presence was brought mostly under control by the rise of Minarboria, some choosing to assimilate into the transplanted Black Laqi culture. Upon the fall of Minarboria, however, the Red Laqs again expanded their reach, contributing to the lawlessness of the so-called Benacian Green.
The Blue Laqs, aka Shontlaqeh (RL. Śħ°ant'laqehe) are two separate groups of Laqs in history. The original Blue Laqs were those who lived in the Crestfall Downs in the late Second Era, becoming increasingly irrelevant and sparse as the region became increasingly settled by Brookshirians.
Later, when the Khanate of Karalakh was formed, a portion of the Black Laqs refused to subjugate themselves to an undead ruler. Since Marie Dolores von Rossheim-Maltenstein had asserted dominion over all Black Laqs, these refusers renamed themselves the Blue Laqs, after the earlier group. This second wave of Blue Laqs settled in the hill country of eastern Lichbrook until the fall of the Liches.
The latter Blue Laqs have since assimilated into the Red Laqi culture, retaining only their identity as Blues and some embroidery patterns reminiscent of their Black Laq origins.
The Kaiser Laqs, aka Dolorets (RL. Keiserlaqeh or Doloreceh) are a recent cultural formation in Laq society, resulting from the migrations and mingling during the Kalirion Fracture. Kaiser Laqs are Laqs and Laqfeds who coalesced as an organized body in Brookshire under the authority of Kaiseress Salome, initially as a mercenary force before reorganizing as a new elite military formation. As the youngest and most dynamic Laqi subgroup, its cultural norms, habits, and styling are still in development.
Their two names derive, respectively, from being aligned with the Kaiser(ess) and from cultural memory that recognizes that their new settlement zone covers much of the former County of Overdolor (the name for the region during the Lichbrook Period).
Kaiser Laqs, in part due to the large infusion of non-Laq and para-Laq groups into it, speak a distinct variety of Laqi, called Dolorbze, predominantly based on Red Laqi, with notable differences being in vowel quality and clipping at the ends of words, and spelled according to a distinct Imperial Court standard that deviates from Benacian linguistic notation. It has also imported words and derivational affixes from Mishalanese and Præta.
The origin of the Laqs is unclear, being solely indigenous to the continent of Benacia yet having no obvious cultural relatives among the peoples also indigenous to Benacia. The first mention of Laqs in the historical record is at the dawn of the Second Era, and then only to describe mounted warriors in the personal guard for Kaiser Edward I, following his conquest of Shirekeep and the assertion of his blood right to the Kaisership.
Some scholars have noted either cognates or deep loanwords that connect the Laqi Languages to that of the Khaz Modan, a vast and ancient technomagic maritime empire centered on the islands south of mainland Benacia. The actual connection between these two vastly-different cultures remains unknown.
Main Article: Laq Clans
Laqs traditionally live in a hierarchical society organized into clans. Clans will commonly form alliances, typically around one or more major clans that act as a patron over a larger number of minor clans. Individual Laqs may also coalesce into fraternities for mutual protection and prestige/wealth accumulation in the absence of a reliable clan.
One's social class and relationship with their clan are coequivalent, in that a change in that relationship reflects a change in that status, and vice versa.
The Council (RL. Has) is a key cultural institution of Laq society, in which peers socialize, debate, compete, and form covenants. Attendance of a council is rigidly class-based, in order to preserve both the egalitarian nature of the council as well as the hierarchical nature of the clans. Councils also act as a method for collective bargaining, especially between classes, e.g. a council of yeomen negotiating with a council of clan nobles over equitable terms of service. Councils operate on a system of democratic centralism, with all attendees swearing oaths to uphold that council's decisions at its outset. Within the council, debate is expected to be free and open, so that the strongest position may come forward and so that consensus can be built, but if an overwhelming number of the council settles on a decision, all are expected to uphold it, even if they personally disagree. Failure to uphold such a covenant is seen as a mark of disgrace. A decision without an overwhelming consensus is called a Fooling Council (RL. Has Ś°'ytw Lešt), as a large portion of attendees have unknowingly bound themselves to an unpopular decision.
A Noble (RL. Orq) is a free Laq who is a full member of their clan, either having been born within it or married into it. Nobles dedicate their time to training in warcraft, upholding cultural norms, and leadership. The nobles of a clan meet in council to plan campaigns and uphold social ties. The amount of prestige an individual noble accumulates is reflected in how much their words and actions matter in council.
Each clan has a prince (RL. Pšy), who oversees the clan's properties and leads it in war. A prince, once elevated by the clan, holds the position until death; aged princes who are no longer able to perform their duties are known to end their lives. Succession to prince can sometimes be a chaotic affair, as all the nobles of a clan are considered eligible; more than one high-prestige noble may attempt to lay claim to the title.
The prince maintains a company of retainers, nobles from other clans, who act as a personal guard and military leaders on campaign. A prince's retainers swear an oath of loyalty to their prince; they can only be released from this oath if both parties acquiesce, or when the prince dies. Young nobles will typically become retainers in the hope of gaining prestige, and a prince's retainers are prime candidates for marriage into the clan. Princes near death have been known to demand their retainers swear a second oath of loyalty to a favored successor, so that they may succeed the title upon that prince's death. The effectiveness of this ploy tends to correlate with the favored child's own earned prestige.
A Yeoman (RL. Łfeqoł'y) is a free Laq. While not technically a member of any clan, yeomen will typically enter into patronage with a clan, forming a mutually-beneficial exchange of service for protection and opportunities. This free alliance can be terminated by either party without repercussion, so long as proper ritual form is maintained. A yeoman who can amass enough wealth and prestige may be invited to join a prince's retinue, elevating them automatically to noble status. From there, they are able to form their own clan.
A Slave (RL. Iebe) is an unfree person, either Laq or of another ethnicity. They are part of the property of a clan, usually accumulated through warfare, exchange, or birth. They provide menial labor for the clan to generate wealth and may be used on campaign as unarmed workers or lightly-armed auxiliaries.
A slave can earn their freedom and become a free Laq through demonstrations of Laqness (RL. Laqaġe), a mixture of competency in Laqi cultural norms, bravery, and fighting prowess. A clan is obliged to award such a freed slaved with their Se, a double-edged dagger that serves as a badge of freedom. The moment this is given over is considered the moment that a slave becomes free. A clan that captures a runaway slave, should that slave demonstrate their Laqness and swear that their home clan had refused them the dagger, is obliged to make that runaway a yeoman under their patronage, supply them appropriately, and issue a Ḥainape, an open letter shaming the slave's clan of ownership for their failure to uphold obligations.
Laqi culture encourages its members to be jealous of their honor, as there are many opportunities to insult one another. This intersects with personal familiarity, as a minor insult between comrades is a natural component of social cohesion. The duel (RL. benenyġ) acts as the primary means of resolution, as questions of honor tend to be viewed as person-to-person conflicts. Questions of honor are expected to be resolved as quickly as possible, to avoid letting them fester into feuds.
Such matters, having gone beyond an individual conflict, are seen as best resolved by clan princes in the name of their hot-headed relatives as a negotiation. Feuds infrequently lead directly to inter-clan warfare, due to the perceived sense that an individual's honor is not worth expending the clan's storehouse of life and wealth. There have, however, been cases of clans justifying war by other means and conveniently allowing for a question of honor to resolve on the battlefield.
Kinds of Dueling
Laqi duels exist on a continuum of seriousness, in line with the seriousness of the insult in question. Escalation along this continuum can be perceived as a weakness of character, especially if done by a challenger, suggesting the Laq lacks prowess in a particular form of combat.
- Words (RL. gwšy'eh) : the most basic duel, trading insults until honor is satisfied. Completion is marked with laughter.
- Fists (RL. bźymyh) : unarmed brawling until one combatant successfully puts the other into a lock that cannot be broken out of. Completion is marked with the losing combatant to address the winner as ateś.
- Coordination (RL. demaqen) : a formal duel, combatants display musical and dancing prowess. A winner is determined by acclimation by those observing the duel.
- Blood (RL. ły) : a formal duel, combatants fight with their blade until first blood.
- Death (RL. ł'enyġ) : a formal duel, combatants fight with their blade until one or the other is killed.
As one's status as a free Laq is predicated upon the possession and talent of the dagger (RL. se), Laqi culture is particularly protective of the status of a dagger. Stripping a Laq of their dagger is akin to challenging their Laqness itself.
Following the death of a Laq, it is considered honorable to return their dagger to their clan. Keeping a fallen foe's dagger for oneself is considered highly insulting to both the individual and to that individual's clan, constituting theft of the clan's honor itself.
Inter-clan Laqi society is knit together through the frequent holding of feasts (RL. ieśheieśu). These symposia function as meeting places between clans where most forms of dueling is disallowed; it was at these feasts that the coordination duel was developed as a means of circumventing this custom, by allowing the duel to be about artistic and athletic prowess.
Each feast is initiated with an offering to heaven, made by the host of the feast and contributed to by invited clan leaders. A Song of the Dawn Years is sung, and a red rope is erected around the feasting site, within which, profane acts become disallowed.
During the feast, a small group of Laqs will form a sitting. During a sitting food and stories are shared. Stories of prestige will be told by a war friend; recounting one's own ł'yġe being considered dishonorable, though one may briefly reference their story if it is popularly known, that they may make claim to it. Once the light meal and stories are exchanged, the Laqs disperse to form new sittings. Consequently, the cuisine at a feast tends to consist of appetizers.
The holders of the feast will spend much of the time at the Great Sitting, where younger, less connected Laqs are encouraged to join and converse. This sitting does not disperse, but rather the feast holders will politely indicate when it is time for the younger Laq to rejoin with the rest of the feast. Otherwise, the Great Sitting's members will converse together.
Profane acts that must be conducted outside the red rope include bodily functions, fights, and sexual acts. One must enter and exit only through the single opening in the rope, where the two ends have been brought together to form an entrance, and which is guarded by members of the feast holders' entourages (who will take turns so that they may also participate in a sitting). A prayerful gesture is expected and enforced when re-entering the feast space, particular to the kind of act one stepped out to perform.
Songs of the Dawn Years
Laqi folklore focuses on a period known as the Dawn Years, a semi-mythical period that begins with the creation of the world (RL. Ĉ'ygwzeć' "The All-Land"), through a period of cultural heroes, until the fall of the last Sovereign and the dispersal of the clans. It is unclear what this time period equates to in the historical record.
The Sovereign (RL. Ćadzyx) was a supreme ruler for the Laqi Nation during the second half of the Dawn Years. They wielded Atre'u's blade, Ĉeremaś'u (RL. "Flowing Fire"), which was forged from fire and water. There were Nine Sovereigns, two of which were women who had acquired great prestige.
|Menycu||Nephew of Atre'u; gifted the blade by his uncle|
|Fyleġ||son of Menycu|
|Fybuł||son of Fyleġ|
|Xwlen||daughter of Fybuł; thwarted Naqw, her half-brother, in his plan to kill those ahead of him in succession to inherit the blade; granted the blade by her older brother for saving his life|
|Ešit||nephew of Xwlen; gains power over the nations; the nations offer their sons and daughters to become Laq, and so Ešit establishes a grueling series of rituals, martial skills, and standards of behavior in order to earn the title of Laq, so that only the best of the nations may join them; Ešit establishes the Temple to Heaven atop a tall hill, where the nations may worship|
|Lyqoe||daughter of Ešit; demonstrated that her brother, Ćyk, was incapable of properly wielding the blade;|
|Dźaixty||son of Lyqoe; the wealth of the nations are used to expand the Temple of Heaven into a gleaming city; engages in campaigns to gain power over the remaining nations of the world;|
|Ese||son of Dźaixty; skilled in the blade but humble as a ruler; the nations rebel and burn the Temple of Heaven; Ese allows himself to be consumed by the flames for failing to uphold respect for Heaven|
|Teġteġu||son of Ese; recovers the blade from the burnt ruins of the Temple of Heaven, assembles the whole Laq host at the foot of its hill; engages in a worldwide campaign to regain power over the nations; fights the nations at the banks of the Roaring River and vanquishes them, but loses the blade; finds the blade in the swamps beside the Roaring River, but is drowned and carried away by its currents; the Laqs divide over the matter of succession and engage in a battle of all against all to no avail; the nations throw off Laqi dominion, and the Laqs disperse without a unifying ruler; the Laqs continue to fight among themselves to this day, preventing them from being able to reassert their rule over the nations to this day|