The estates of Galthamar: Eltheren

This estate description is part of a short series of posts on the people and society of my homebrew setting, Galthamar.

Edit: I’ve tweaked my Galthamar race posts, especially this and the Gobelin one, to reduce the amount of appearance prejudice. I once included this idea because it felt true to Galthamar’s inspirations in history and Tolkienesque fantasy and I wasn’t trying to create a utopia or remove *in-world* prejudice. However, I came to feel that because these attitudes still infest the real world, to include them in Galthamar was to build in familiar stories of racism, colourism and similar prejudice that (from the perspective of those on the receiving end) are for others to tell and not for me. I felt that this put too many limits on what I ought to do within the setting, so it would be better to present a version of the setting that didn’t feature those issues so much and that I can more fully use.

I may write more in future about in-world prejudice as opposed to authorial prejudice and/or about tailoring setting issues to the preferences of your playing group. But for now, please see the note towards the end about appearance prejudice.

Ideals, self-portrait

An Elther is wise and learned, refined and elegant, unhurried and insightful. Eltheren love lore and knowledge, and make long study of the world and of writings and books. Eltheren take the time and have the wit to get things right. Elther style is graceful, light and flowing. Eltheren may accept promising students into their estate, but not lumpen dullards.

Stereotypes, criticisms

Eltheren are impractical, weak and useless: ivory-tower aesthetes full of their own cleverness. They are prejudiced against (and may even drive out of the Elther estate) people who are heavily-built, hairy or ‘coarse’. They also take against those who are uninterested in their cerebral pursuits, they under-value strength and physical work, and they unfairly condemn those who have not been able to take advantage of educational opportunities. They have no guts.

Description and styles

In practice, Eltheren vary in physical type, with just a tendency towards slight build and less body hair (as well as to softer and less weather-beaten skin for the significant number who spend their time in indoor, non-manual work). As their genealogies tend to be more interconnected with Highmen than those of other estates are, Eltheren tend to be taller than Duer or Holbits.

Eltheren take care of their hair, in styles that vary by place and fashion – they often wear it long (or even extend it) and tend not to cover it, but may arrange it in artful styles, or wear headgear such as a headband, circlet, hairclip or hair net. They favour minimizing facial and/or body hair. They like to wear fine cloths in flowing styles, and their other art, design and decoration reflects a similar sensibility. They favour celestial motifs, such as moons, stars and suns, and decoration in shades of blue, white, silver, red, orange and and yellow.

They rarely smoke pipe-weed. Some even claim that it is detrimental to health (being potentially long-lived and inclined to accumulate lore, Eltheren have something of a list of habits that they eschew or cultivate for health reasons).

Eltheren usually have long life cycles. Elther culture designates a long childhood period, during which very little formal training in adult skills is offered to the youngster. Children grown enough for work, or who need apprenticeship or schooling, before the age of fourteen are often sent to another estate to get it; babies born after less than a year of pregnancy may always be expected to follow this route. Elementary schooling is available only to children between the age of fourteen and the onset of adolescence, and adolescent education similarly ends when a youngster is physically mature. Access to high-status paths within Elther culture depends strongly on the level of accomplishment reached during these phases of schooling, so those who mature slowly are advantaged by having more time to learn. There is also a young-adult period of at least fourteen years, during which Elther marriage is not permitted and only junior positions are open in Elther institutions. Faster-maturing and otherwise less-accomplished (or temperamentally impatient) individuals may join other estates during this period; those who stick it out, but see it use up most of their fertile years tend not to contribute to the next generation of Eltheren. Therefore most Eltheren enter social adulthood aged at least forty, but physically only in their early maturity. Many live for another hundred years or more, barring misadventure.

Social position

Eltheren are predominant in clerical and learned occupations. They also provide many workers in the decorative arts and crafts, and in music. Lower-status Eltheren may find work as personal servants and domestics, having a reputation for care and dainty execution. Eltheren obliged to perform dull or simpler work may pursue higher interests keenly when they get the chance. Eltheren of independent means may readily abandon remunerative work and devote themselves to study or art for its own sake. The Eltheren value for learning lends itself to the demands of magic and spellcasting, and particularly to the study of magical theory and repertoire. Eltheren often use their years of study and experience to develop a wide range of knowledge and expertise, rather than single-mindedly pursuing one skill for decades; they may be able to pursue more than one trade or discipline to a professional standard. Eltheren reside more often in towns than the countryside, but especially near centres of administration, learning and the arts.

Eltheren often speak and write multiple languages, typically including that of the country where they reside and an ancient literary language loved by Eltheren across Galthamar, but less-known to other estates. There is a unique flowing script in which this language is written, and calligraphy is a respected accomplishment among Eltheren. This classical Galthamarian language is used by Eltheren in much of their business, which may include law, administration, official records and learning (helping to reinforce their hold on these influential functions).

Relations with other estates

Eltheren generally have amicable relations with Highmen and Holbits, especially if the latter show appreciation for the knowledge or skills of the Eltheren. Friction can occur when Eltheren betray a condescending attitude to those less educated, especially those of high status in their own terms. Elther culture tends not to value the same types of accomplishments and behaviours as Duer culture, and so Eltheren tend to see Dueren as excessively pleased with themselves and failing to recognise Elther virtues (a view that tends to be reciprocated). Eltheren often share the general prejudice against Gobelins, an attitude reinforced by the limited access that most Gobelins have to education and other things valued by the Eltheren.

Variant: appearance prejudice

If you were to want to explore a theme of appearance prejudice and specifically colourism in your game, you could add lighter skin colour and smoother complexion (relative to local averages for the relevant region of Galthamar) to the traits that Eltheren prefer and consider to indicate ‘refinement’. The logic would be that typically-Eltheren indoor work leads to less sun exposure and therefore less tanning, and ultimately less sign of skin ageing.

If you were including in your Galthamar a general prejudice against unusual/fantastical/extreme facial features (discussed towards the end of the Gobelin post), you might wish Eltheren to make an exception for pointed ears. The reason would simply be for some of them to look like Tolkienesque Elves, but you could perhaps say that Eltheren consider this feature to be elegant.

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