End of Empire
Valyrian society has a complicated class structure, a complicated and global economic footprint, and an accordingly dense, diverse culture. While some class mobility is possible, most Valyrians live the whole of their lives in one class, with the according legal and social restrictions and privileges:
Members of the First Families are Patricians. Legally, this entitles them to a number of advantages. Each Patrician Family has a seat in the Senate. When entering public service, Patricians have a fast track to positions of command. The penalties for criminal acts are class-sensitive, so Patricians who break the law are punished less severely, while those who commit crimes against them are punished more severely. Patricians cede their status and become Citizens if they marry outside their class. Bastard children of Patricians are granted Patrician status only if both of their parents are Patricians, and both acknowledge the child as theirs. A Patrician may be disowned by the head of his or her house, and thereby lose the legal protections of their class (though a disowned Patrician’s child by another Patrician is still Patrician). Therefore, though many of the First Families have many subsidiary branches, all are bound at least to some extent to their Paterfamilias or Materfamilias. The head of the family also chooses which of its members will sit in the Senate. It is customary to address Patricians as ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady.’
Culturally, Patricians tend toward the libertine. They indulge whimsically-changing fashions, often imported and distorted from the countries and cultures that Valyria conquers. Loyalty to family, loyalty to the Freehold, and ambition are the Patricians’ most celebrated virtues. They value courage, cleverness, and ingenuity, and scorn sentimentality, compassion and humility. A cosmopolitan outlook allows Patricians to accept a wide array of religions and lifestyles, though it can be a slippery slope from “accepting” to “appropriating” to “fetishizing.”
Citizenship in Valyria is a privilege, not a right. Those who hold it take pride in tracing their lineage back to the early days of the city, or take equal pride in knowing and telling the story of how some heroic ancestor earned his place among the city’s native population. As only Valyrian citizens can vote, civic duty and civic participation is a mark of privilege and therefore almost universally exercised. Failure to vote is seen as irresponsible, even crass. Members of the citizenry can have a wide array of socioeconomic status – some are wealthy, powerful merchants with fleets of trading ships, caravans and estates outside the city proper. Many are craftsmen with single shopfronts. At the other end of the spectrum, some citizens own no property (and therefore cannot vote, a mark of shame), and simply work as dock laborers or in other people’s workshops, smithies, or dyeworks, alongside plebians and even slaves.
In addition to the vote, citizenship comes with some legal protections. Crimes committed against citizens are considered to be more serious than crimes committed against mere plebians. Land owned by citizens outside of Valyria proper is considered to be Valyrian territory and thereby subject to the protection of Valyria’s laws and legions. Attacks abroad on Valyrian citizens are generally regarded as acts of war against Valyria itself.
There is only one way to permanently lose citizenship. If you are convicted of a crime for which the punishment is banishment, you no longer retain your citizenship. Such crimes include murder, rape, attempted murder, assault of a Patrician, kidnapping of a Patrician, embezzlement of state funds and robbery of state temples. Some of the above crimes are also punishable by death or maiming, depending on the circumstances. Treason and conspiracy to commit treason are always punished by death, so the citizenship of the guilty is not relevant post-sentencing.
Citizens sometimes sell themselves into slavery when facing grave poverty, thus providing funds for their families and some surety against starvation. Such bond-slavery sometimes has a specified term, and sometimes not. While enslaved, a citizen cedes his legal rights and his vote. Regardless, should the term end, or the citizen buy back his freedom, or the citizen be emancipated, his citizenship (if not his honor) is restored. There’s some paperwork involved.
The Valyrian Legions are the standing armies that defend Valyria and its territories, and conquer new ones. The Legions, under the command of Governors, also serve law-enforcement roles in Valyrian provinces – though not in the city itself. In fact, Valyrian legionaries are not permitted in the city unless they are retired or on leave, or for parades. Both men and women serve in Valyria’s Legions – after all, the very first Legion was established by the dragon-rider Tyria herself.
The Legions themselves are funded and governed as public-private partnerships between the Senate and individual commanders – generally the Paterfamilias or Materfamilias of a Patrician family. Legions are culturally loyal – often fanatically – to their commanders, and after that to Valyria itself. Service is hard – in a term of seven years, a legionary could find himself marching across a continent with no guarantee of lasting food stores or forage along the way, only to face a war at the other end. Legions are brutal and autocratic, and desertion is punishable by torture and death. But the best legions pay well for talent and provide some of the only opportunities in Valyrian society to advance based on one’s merit.
Typical compensation at the end of a term in a Legion varies depending on the rank a legionary achieved, but always includes a pension and a very small share of the treasure acquired along the Legion’s conquest. Higher ranking legionaries are often given land in the provinces upon retirement, as well.
Many people come to Valyria without citizenship, and have been for many generations. These people make up the common working class of the city. Though generally poorer than citizens – the legal advantages of citizenship make it easier to acquire and sustain wealth – plebians are not necessarily living in squalor. Plebians can own shopfronts, ships and trade caravans. Many work at trades, though plebian craftsmen can only ever obtain lesser guild memberships. Still, most plebians work as common laborers.
Plebians tend to be closer to their immigrant roots than Valyrian citizens, and so worship a more diverse pantheon of gods and celebrate a more varied array of virtues. (Valyria tolerates all religions passably well, so long as state temples and the official state deities are treated with respect. State temples are open to the public and supported by public money, however.)
Of all the social classes in Valyria, it is the most common to move out of the plebian class – either up or down. Plebians facing extreme poverty or starvation often sell themselves or their children into slavery. Most of the people who sign on with the Legions are born into the plebian class, and return to it upon retirement. In many ways, plebians are the default class for residents of Valyria.
The Freehold’s economy rests on slave labor, and capture of new slaves is a significant driver of Valyria’s expansion across the continent. Slaves do the vast majority of labor in Valyria’s storied mines. They are the most common laborers on the farms outside the city that produce the foodstuffs needed to support the city itself, as well as her legions. Slaves keep the provincial houses of wealthy Patricians running and power the galleys on trade ships. Educated slaves tutor patrician children. In every corner of the Freehold, un-free people toil uncompensated, often alongside free plebians or even citizens.
Legally, slavery in Valyria is always temporary, with slaves able to buy themselves out if they can acquire the funds. A master must agree to a fair market value trade with a slave attempting to buy himself free. In practice, acquiring money while enslaved is nigh impossible, especially for the tens of thousands who work in the mines. Other than the right to buy free, slaves have few legal protections and are subject to the whims of their masters.
Slaves come from all over the world, worship all manner of deities, and prize all manner of virtues. They speak so many languages that in the back alleys and belowstairs of fancy houses, an ever-evolving patois has emerged to facilitate communication. It’s easier to learn than Valyrian, because it carries bits of dozens of other languages for native speakers to latch onto.