A Watchful Eye
An-Teng extends about 300 miles north-to-south between the Fire Mountains and the sea. It centers on Dragon’s Mouth Bay, where the land’s principle waterway, the River of Queens, meets the Great Western Ocean. Many other rivers flow down from the mountains. Unlike the rest of the South, An-Teng seldom worries about drought. Indeed, flooding is more often a problem. The land further divides into three parallel strips, each with its own distinctive character.
THE HIGH LANDS
The high peaks and foothills of the Fire Mountains form the High Lands. The highest peak, the Pinnacle of Mercy, holds the glittering palace-fortress of the Golden Lord. Tales say that a smaller peak attached to that eminence is actually a great dragon that turned to stone long ago.
This region has the mildest, coolest climate in An-Teng. The High Lands have no cities. Even the High Prince’s capital, the Jade Plum Citadel, is merely a good-sized town of 60,000. Half the townsfolk live in the apartment-towers of the Citadel itself. New buildings occupy ancient foundations that suggest the Jade Plum Citadel was once much larger. Only the High Prince’s palace still bears a covering of darkly gleaming onyx.
The valleys of small rivers run between the massifs of the Firepeaks; the High Land folk terrace the valley walls for their farms. Several rivers join at Thousand Dragons Lake, whence the River of Queens flows down toward the Middle Lands. Most or the region’s commerce happens on the shores of Thousand Dragons Lake.
All of An-Teng’s mining takes place in the High Lands. The peaks supply diamonds, rubies, sapphire, topaz, iron and gold—but mostly silver. Everyone in the High Lands can afford a silver earring or bangle. (They believe that wearing silver protects them from evil spirits.) The farms of the High Lands produce fruit, millet, vegetables, spices, betel-nut, hemp and its by-product hashish. Widespread use of the latter two commodities make High Lands folk notably mellow. The High Lands’ climate is also ideal for tea, and tea plantations extend for miles along the mountain slopes. The Realm’s satrap pressures the region’s nobles to extend the plantations at the expense of family farms.
THE MIDDLE LANDS
Below the foothills of the Fire Mountains extends a wide piedmont of low hills, plains and river valleys. Every Season of Water, these valleys flood from heavy rains in the Fire Mountains, and so the valley-folk build their homes on stilts. The Forest of Compassion, a tongue of the Silent Crescent jungle that forms An-Teng’s southern border, fills much of the province. The river valleys, however, are cleared of forest and devoted to intensive cultivation of rice and cotton. Forestry is the third great industry of the Middle Lands. The Tengese move logs using elephants that they capture in the forest and tame. This use of elephants is one of the most distinctive features of An-Teng’s culture. The fourth industry is silk. As the Tengese clear the forest, mulberry plantations take its place. Only wealthy Tengese can afford silken clothing, though. Most of the silk goes to the Realm in tribute or to foreign trade. As it flows down from the High Lands, the River of Queens meets the city called Adorned with Wisdom as a Sapphire—or just Sapphire, in ordinary speech. This city
includes a great deal of Old Realm architecture. Many savants gather in Sapphire, where they run more than a dozen schools. Here, youths from throughout An-Teng enjoy living apart
from their all-controlling families. Sometimes they also find time to study subjects such as astronomy, astrology, scientific agronomy, poetry, history, architecture, applied theology,
political economy and business administration. Students can learn much more about An-Teng’s glorious past than the Scarlet Dynasty might like. Nationalism runs high among
the students as a result. Since the Dragon-Blooded who come to Sapphire chiefly consist of visiting savants searching for First Age lore, however, the students often have quite a good
impression of the Scarlet Dynasty itself. Farther downstream, the River of Queens flows through Prosperous Garden, the capital for the Prince of the Middle Lands. In this city of canals, all but the poorest folk cultivate a small garden. Local tradition says that serving vegetables you grew yourself is a fine way to honor guests. The canal-cut fields that extend around the city grow flowers as well as rice and other staples. At a population of 100,000, Prosperous Garden is the largest city in the Middle Lands.
THE SHORE LANDS
An-Teng’s final province is a strip along the coast, nowhere more than 100 miles wide. The Shore Lands are extremely flat. Much of the land reaches no more than 10 feet above sea level and consists of flood plains for An-Teng’s many rivers, with low hills on the southern shore of Dragon’s Mouth Bay. In the Old Realm, the alluvial soil of the Shore Lands produced five crops a year. It became the most densely populated part of An-Teng. That meant the province suffered the most in the Usurpation. Storms now drive the sea back through the rivers and canals, poisoning the land with salt and turning waters brackish. Some of the resulting mangrove swamps and bayous are productive enough if you like crawdads,
muskrat and alligator, but not much of the Shore Lands are good for farming anymore. Some regions support orchards of persimmon, starfruit and blood oranges. A variety of opium
poppy was recently found to grow well in these regions. Shore Land nobles now face pressure to convert their orchards, or the farms of their tenants, into poppy plantations.
Nevertheless, most of An-Teng’s trade goes through the Shore Lands, especially at the three port cities on Dragon’s Mouth Bay and the River of Queens: Dragon’s Jaw, Salt-Founded
Glory and the City of the Steel Lotus. A fair bit of smuggling takes place all along the coast too. Small, shallow-draft boats can follow rivers and canals almost anywhere in the Shore
Lands, making every village a potential smugglers’ port. Dragon’s Jaw sprawls where the main branch of the River of Queens meets Dragon’s Mouth Bay. This relatively new city handles most of the bulk cargo going to and from An-Teng. It is quite a rough town, full of sailors, cheap whores, warehouses and low dives. The poor and cast-off frequently come to Dragon’s Jaw, hoping to find work on the waterfront. Sometimes they find a berth as apprentice sailors. Sometimes they end up chained in a slaver’s hold. The Realm’s military garrison, a half-strength legion, operates out of Dragon’s Jaw. Salt-Founded Glory dates back to the Old Realm, though none of the buildings are more than a few centuries old. This
capital of the Shore Lands occupies a branch river that splits off the River of Queens. Canals divide the city into blocks and wards. The oldest and most respectable mercantile families
all live in Salt-Founded Glory. While Dragon’s Jaw handles more cargo, the money all passes through Salt-Founded Glory. The largest and most spectacular buildings are the Shore Prince’s palace and a newly enlarged and refurbished Immaculate temple. Compared to the Immaculate shrine, the old temple of the Golden Lord looks a bit shabby.
The City of the Steel Lotus functions as the overall capital
of An-Teng and seat of the Realm’s satrap. It’s built where
the River of Queens flows past a low rise, near the border
with the Middle Lands. At all times, at least a few dozen
Dragon-Blooded live in the city or are passing through, with
hundreds of patricians from the Great Houses. The vast wealth
these visitors can bestow results in whole neighborhoods of
businesses eager to supply them with courtesans, fine dining,
jewelry, opulent clothing or whatever else they desire.
At the center of the city rises the Palace of the Threefold
Magnificence, all of gilded teak, lapis and mother-of-pearl,
with wings for each of the Three Princes. Compared to it,
the satrap’s residence seems quite modest. The residence,
however, is a level-3 Water-aspected manse, while the Palace
is just a fancy house. Everyone who’s anyone knows that five
minutes with Ragara Soras Jor, Satrap of An-Teng, is worth
more than an hour with any of the princes.
Between the Royal District and the Market District
lie the villas and palaces of various magnates, nobles and
Dragon-Blooded. Neighborhoods of shops and middle-class
dwellings surround this core of wealth and power. A halo
of slums for common workers (and the poor in search of
work) grows steadily. In another several years, the City of
the Steel Lotus will surely surpass Salt-Founded Glory as
An-Teng’s largest city.
SOCIETY AND FAMILY
To the Tengese, people who lack a family are not people
(or, rather, are not Tengese). They expect every adult to marry
and have children, contributing to an extended family that
can trace its lineage through centuries—or in rare cases,
millennia. In Tengese law and custom, many rights inhere
in the family, not the individual. For instance, people don’t
own land, families do. Elders arrange marriages for the family’s
benefit, to acquire property, business connections, prestige
or other assets—not for love. Of course, elders seldom force
marriage on couples who manifestly hate each other.
Tengese custom opens most occupations to both men and
women. Women, however, receive certain privileges when
it comes to family continuity and property. Men leave the
family of their birth and join their wife’s family. Men often
seem to dominate in running a business or working a farm, but
only with the permission of their wives—or more likely, their
wives’ grandmothers. For instance, a noble might seem to rule
his estate as an unchallenged despot, but at a word from his
wife, the peasants would throw him out. An-Teng’s princes
form a limited exception to this rule, but only because the
Scarlet Empress is the titular matriarch of the royal family.
Her disappearance leaves the Tengese unsure how the next
generation of princes could legitimately take power.
Women receive this privilege because descent is provable
only through the female line. Tengese take a fairly casual
attitude toward sex (including the genders of the participants),
as long as it happens out of the public eye and the
family doesn’t object. An-Teng both produces and consumes
large quantities of maiden tea, however, for the Tengese are
deadly serious about the legitimacy of children. A married
woman might get away with bearing a child that is not her
husband’s if her elders don’t object and no one else knows
about it. An unmarried woman who bears a child, however,
brings disgrace upon herself and her family. Wealthy families
might hide the birth and leave the baby on an altar to the
Pale Mistress, its survival left to fate and the priests of the
goddess. Other families might demand the unwed mother
kill herself to expiate her shame. If she does not do so, they
expel her or kill her themselves. The family may also try to
kill the father, if they can identify him.
The unfortunate children, or other Tengese expelled
from their families, form the misbegotten—the lowest of
the low, spat upon by thieves and beggars. The misbegotten
gather in the cities. They have few options. Fallen women can
become the lowest class of prostitute or join special brothels
(called Those Who Serve the Radiance) that service the
most perverse appetites of the Dragon-Blooded. In the great
cities, some misbegotten manage to hide their origins and
become dung-haulers, corpse-washers and other unpleasant
occupations. Other misbegotten try to form families of their
own, which all other Tengese treat with scorn.
The members of an extended family often share their
occupation: all rice-farmers, all coopers, all beggars who feign
diseases and so on. Some families include two or three occupations,
such as a family where the men herd water-buffalo and the
women tan hides and make cheese. Tengese who want to take
up a new occupation need the permission of their family elders
if they want to avoid scandal and expulsion. Success could lead
to the entrepreneur breaking off to found a new family—or the
whole family switching occupations to batten on one relative’s
good fortune. Priesthood is a notable exception, for family elders
may not gainsay the will of the gods. Therefore, religion offers a
rare outlet for Tengese who want to escape their families.
Outsiders cannot miss An-Teng’s rigid social hierarchy
of the royal family, the nobility, commoners and the underclass
of criminals, prostitutes and the disgraced. Less obvious
are the status differences between families. The old noble
families carry more prestige than the newer aristocrats who
attained their rank through wealth. Commoner families grade
themselves based on wealth, antiquity, the prestige of their
occupations, deeds of ancestors and factors that remain wholly
obscure to people not born to An-Teng. Marriages happen
only between families of similar rank (and often the same
occupation). Nobles do not marry commoners, ever.