As I mentioned last week, the Neldathi, who live south of the Water Road in the universe of The Water Road, are physically quite distinct from the Altrerians who live to the north. They’re different species, in fact, although they can produce infertile offspring. When it comes to how their societies work, the differences are even more pronounced.
While the Altrerians are organized into what we might call nation states (or city states, at least in the case of the Arbor), the Neldathi are organized into clans. Each clan is ruled by a thek (or chief), selected in various ways, from based on heredity to something more like democracy (without the coin flips). Some clans are patriarchal, some matriarchal, others more egalitarian. In other words, there’s a good deal of variety to how each clan is set up.
There are several other positions of authority in Neldathi clans aside from theks. Two of the most important are War Leader (which is just what it sounds like) and Master of the Hunt, each of which is responsible for ensuring the clan’s survival. Speakers of Time are individuals who become walking storehouses of knowledge – libraries with legs, essentially – and pass on the clan’s history, traditions, and laws. Finally, kels act as judges, settling disputes between clan members.
The Neldathi are nomads, which is why they don’t have “states” as we (or the Altrerians) think of them. That doesn’t mean they aren’t territorial. Each clan has a Great Circuit, a route along which they regularly move through the year. Each guards its circuit jealously. Three clans have circuits that cover the northernmost ground, near the Water Road itself – the Dost, Kohar, and Haglein. Three more stick toward the southern coast and the Islander cities – the Mughein, Elein, and Sheylan. That leaves five others – the Chellein, Akan, Volakeyn, Uzkaleyn, and Paleyn – who roam the most mountainous ground in the middle.
The Great Circuit’s aren’t defined with great particularity and clans don’t necessarily travel them in regular cycles. As a result, it’s not uncommon for neighboring clans to run into one another, which leads to violence. For example, the Volakeyn and the Akan have circuits that border one another. If they happen to wind up in the same space at the same time, they’ll fight over resources, same as anybody else. Neldathi don’t fight wars of conquest – they’d have no means of securing territory – but they do fight.
In fact, the Neldathi have a history of long-simmering feuds between clans, for several reasons. One is that if clans meet when circuits overlap, that frequently means resources are limited in that area and one side is bound to lash out. Another is that the same clans routinely interact with each other, breeding bad blood. Finally, the Speakers of Time tell stories of glory won in battle and of the evil done to their clans by their enemies. That allows feuds to grow and fester between certain clans.
That last feature, in particular, provides an opening that might be exploited by outsiders.