One of the things that happened in the latest session of Tapestry, after the ship returned to its home port of Portus Argenti, was that the purser, Hanno, asked his mother about her progress in scouting out possible wives for him. I’ve now written up character sheets for three nixie women of suitable ages, and gotten three of the other players to take those roles in this month’s session.
But that led me to thinking about how the nixies of Urbes Septemplex (there are several nixie culture areas with different laws and customs) approach marriage and courtship.
One of my assumptions is that nixies, a people of rivers, lakes, and swamps, often act as middlemen, having the benefit of superior mobility. As a result, their cultures are less likely to think that being “in trade” is discreditable or low; the best families of Portus Argenti and the other six cities are distinguished by trading in larger quantities or rarer goods and by making much of their money as investors, not by being landed gentry. Nixies do farm, but in Urbes Septemplex they think that it’s proximity to a city or town that makes farmland valuable.
Much earlier in the campaign, I established one way in which this affects their customs: When they were recruited sailors for the long voyage, they had a young woman show up and ask about serving as “ship’s girl.” This primarily involves providing sexual services to the crew during a voyage. It’s regarded as a legitimate economic role; practitioners have a guild and expect to be treated with respect (in fact there was a subplot about how to deal with a sailor who persisted in not doing so).
Now, Hanno’s looking for a sustained relationship, and in fact for an exclusive one in which the woman will act as his agent when he’s away at sea; he wants more than retail. But I think that in his culture, it may be acceptable to treat seeking a wife as comparable to seeking an employee: He can arrange to meet various young women and assess their qualifications. This may not be as romantic as the West currently expects it to be: it’s desirable that the couple should have enough in common to be friendly with each other (and nixies also have less sexual dimorphism than humans and thus less male dominance), but it’s also important that they should trust each other’s integrity, and that they should have suitable skills for their roles. And in fact I’ve set things up so that Hanno is going to have to trade off these concerns against each other.
I’ve also thought about what form “marriage” takes. In the Urbes Septemplex, at least, writing is well established, and the idea of abstract rights has emerged. You can own land, not by occupying it, but by having a piece of paper that describes what you own, and you can rent that land to someone else, or leave it vacant and live on different land. So I think that nixies may marry by having a clerk make out a document defining their mutual obligations, and thus giving them rights which remain in place even when they’re apart.
Things are very different in Dumetum Furtum, the home of the other nixie PC, Onofrio. They don’t have writing; they have ownership by occupancy, but not abstract property rights; and they don’t distinguish clearly between trade and theft—though they do make a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic possession linguistically. The sacred religious objects of a household are referred to as “Ours”; the tableware and ornaments as “ours.” And marriage is similarly informal; there are a lot of half-siblings, and the culture accepts marriage of half-siblings as proper.
(There’s also a third culture, one characterized by rice paddy agriculture and without a lot of trade, but I don’t know as much about it. I think they might be matrilineal and thing marriage is fairly unimportant.)
Anyway, I expect to have to explain this to the various players in the near future, so I wanted to sketch out my thoughts about it, to help get them in order.