A nation of islands, the Kingdom of Bask has naturally come to depend on the sea. A kingdom of mariners, traders, and civilized folk, Bask has become the envy of many due to its success in matters of exploration and wealth. Despite its place as the smallest kingdom in terms size, it is quite possibly the wealthiest of all lands on Azmoth.
The Kingdom of Bask consists of three islands: Bask, Skolders, and New Fairen.
Smallest of the three, the Island of Bask is the heart of the nation. Baskers, and others familiar with the nation, commonly refer to the Isle of Bask simply as “the Isle” to distinguish it from the nation as a whole. It is home to the seat of government, the large houses of commerce, and is the most densely populated isle of the three. Nestled safely deep in Silkurt Bay, the Isle of Bask has been sheltered from storms and enemies, providing a perfect place for the kingdom to develop a rich culture and a famous seafaring tradition.
The Isle is the smallest of all Bask lands, and consists mostly of rolling, fertile hills surrounded by the numerous coves and inlets that line the coast. The largest of these coves, really a small bay itself, is home to Royal Harbor, the capital and largest city in Bask.
Royal Harbor is home to numerous landmarks and grandiose buildings that document the rise to wealth and power that the nation of Bask has enjoyed. Chief among these is the First House Regal, home to the ruling family of Bask. The Firsthouse (as it is commonly known) is the largest residence in Bask, and law forbids the building of any larger. Its walls contain audience halls of tall, vaulted ceilings and numerous large stained glass windows, a multitude of lavish living quarters, and in its north wing the Observatory Truelle, named after the short-lived but well-beloved queen of Pedernon II, who oversaw its construction.
The grand audience halls are awash with color on sunny days and are a popular attraction for visitors. On every fifth day of spring and summer the gardens surrounding the south and east walls are also open to the public, and grand picnics are held with small children frolicking in the pools and fountains and adults lounging and strolling under parasols. They are grand social events and the season is looked forward to with much anticipation.
While the gardens and halls are more celebrated by society, the Observatory Truelle is the most remarkable. Its spacious movable dome opens to the heavens above, where a great “glass perceiver” gazes on the stars when night falls over Royal Harbor. Built of wide, carefully ground lenses set into a framework of trusses, gears, and catwalks, the curious instrument allows men and women of science to peer at the stars, observing their qualities and movements and preparing the charts that comprise the famous Registry Celestial. The Registry is the book that has allowed Basker captains of the last century to navigate their vessels across the great sea and explore the northern lands by following familiar stars and constellations according to the seasons.
After the Firsthouse other reminders of Bask’s royal history are scattered amidst the city. At the centers of plazas or large intersections stand various monuments to former kings and heroes of the nation. It has become tradition for each monarch to have a monument in his or her honor somewhere inside the city walls, and the city is becoming quite crowded with them as each must be more grand than the last. The latest trend among artisans in Royal Harbor calls for fountains to be integrated into the design.
Also among the many sights to behold in Royal Harbor are the great houses of commerce, their size only held in check by the law of the land. Commerce is the lifeblood of the kingdom, the ships of its fleet the many vessels, and the heart these spacious and grand halls in which the merchants conduct their business. In the well-apportioned suites deals are arranged that send goods and ships to all corners of Azmoth. These suites are private affairs where only the stewards of merchant lords or the lords themselves gather, partaking of various luxuries while they draw up their contracts and agreements. Alongside the Basker merchants, wealthy and important foreign interests also maintain suites. The more public areas contain the barter halls where agents of various trading houses come to sell and to purchase according to their need and their profit. Noisy affairs by day, they are full of the clamor of raised voices calling figures, prices, and quantities while they remain open. By night the sweepers brush away the dust and discarded parchment of the day’s business in starkly contrasting quiet.
The goods themselves, the objects of all the clamor and contracts, are held in the warehouse quarter near the harbor. Amongst the warehouses and alleys of the quarter the more humble residents of the city reside, some in the squalor of shared tenements, others in neater yet still sparse cottages. The wealthy and noble citizens have their estates and city manors near the Firsthouse and its gardens.
While various roads lead in to the city and the gates within its walls, the truest way into Royal Harbor is by the path which gives the city its name. The harbor is large and well maintained, thoroughly ordered and policed and truly one of the wonders of the civilized world. The first sight the sailors see upon nearing the harbor is the broad sea wall. Two centuries ago the harbor was crowded and jumbled, too busy for the increased traffic that the modern world had produced. The old sea wall, then too near to shore and too enclosing, was at great pains torn down, and a new one – at even greater pains – was built further out. Wider, deeper, and solidly made of fitted stone, the new sea wall also rises higher, and is topped with towers and fortifications. On its landward side, the small craft of the harbormasters are housed, which by day guide the galleys, trading ships, and smaller craft in the many lanes leading to the long docks.
The harbor is as wide as the city, and is capped at either end by the city walls that protrude a small distance into the bay itself. The walls encompass the city, and have gates that open to wide roads on the northwest, east, and southeast. Hard by the city walls between the northwest and eastern gates is the terraced garden, a park open to the public year-round. Early in the last millenium, before the city walls were raised, a great storm blew into Silkurt Bay and proceeded to pound Royal Harbor to the uttermost. Many buildings were destroyed, and the hill to the northeast let forth a landslide that buried a portion of the city. After the city was rebuilt, the walls were built, and to prevent such a landslide again the entire hillside facing the city was terraced. In time the rulers of Bask created gardens among the terraces. The topmost terraces near the crest of the hill are the domain of the wealthy, while the lower classes have claimed the longer terraces toward the base of the hill.
Outside Royal Harbor, the rest of the Isle is dotted with numerous small hamlets and villages, home to the dairy farmers that make up most of the business of the rest of the island. The ways about the Isle are well kept and the villages neat and beautiful in a simple way. It is a matter of pride among the more rural residents of the Isle that their villages are presentable and welcoming to strangers.
To the north, set amidst the waves and whims of the great sea is Skolders, the second isle of Bask. After the Isle of the Demon Cliffs it is the largest in the open sea, and the only habitable one. Skolders is an isle open to the blazing heat of the equatorial sun and the violent blast of ocean-born storms. It is very sparsely forested and mostly flat, with only the occasional hill to break the monotony. The isle is a plateau ringed by short cliffs, broken only in places where the inland heights descend to a sandy beach.
For the most part, Skolders is covered by ryndstyd plantations. Ryndstyd, commonly known as “root,” is a crop plant cultivated for its nick-namesake. The tuberous root lies one or two inches beneath the ground, well suited to the shallow soils of the island. Above ground it is a low-growing plant, sending vines along the surface rather than shoots into the air. The blossoms of the ryndstyd plant are white and blessed with a subtle scent, carried by breezes across the isle. The residents are all accustomed to the aroma, but it is a matter of great wonder and pleasure to visitors.
Central on the southern coast, is the leading city of the isle. The city, Anders Foll, is a curious sight, made entirely out of the natural rock and stone cliff face, built in the cliffside at the edge of the isle, and it sits like a half-excavated city, part ancient and part modern. The cliffs have been dug down so that the old city lies shadowed on either side by the two-hundred-foot walls of its own seaside canyon. The ground floor of the city lies some eight or twelve feet above the sea, depending on the tides. Stairs, ramps, and ladders lead from the city down to the docks below, carved out of the stone in the sea, all across the face of the city a quarter mile wide. A full half of the oceanfront is taken by the great shipworks, which extend beyond the city face and off round the coast beyond on shaped islets, also carved from the natural rock that was there. In the shipworks oceangoing vessels find a place for repairs and refitting after the treacherous journey across the waters. The shipworks are outfitted with lumber and rope rigging exported from the north and south, which rigging is designed to be removed and taken indoors for storms. It is in the shipworks that many of the residents of Anders Foll find employment. Aside from the unending labor of the shipworks Anders Foll is a lazy town, made so by the oppressive heat and the nearly ever-present sun. Many shops and houses shut themselves up at mid-day, and many residents stop their business to retire for a few hours when the sun is hottest. Consequently, the activity of the city continues on into the nighttime longer than in most cities, with many establishments still open after dark when numerous torches and lamps light the city.
The old city of Anders Foll lies at the base of the canyon, so created to partially shelter it from storms. Other buildings have been carved into caves and steep terraces on the canyon walls, and the newest part of the city lies at the top of the canyon starting at the rims and spilling outward. The buildings are an odd mix of sturdy and ramshackle. This reflects the varying strategies for weathering storms; the sturdy structures are also made out of the natural rock formations, having proved their ability to remain in the face of the blast. Some flimsier structures built with an intent to be disposable, and easily rebuilt after the winds and rains have passed.
The canyon extends a good half-mile inland, and at its end begins to slope upward until it has met the natural level of the island’s plateau. Six blocks of city in from the oceanfront is the Governor’s Mansion. The residence of the ruler of Anders Foll and all of Skolders, it is not an overly ornate affair, carved stately and soundly rather than decoratively.
A more recent addition to the city lies at the top of the canyon near the rim on the western side. A broad and deep maze of low stone buildings dug half underground, the Covered Market is filled with small stalls, each holding a different merchant within its shadowed shelter. The market arose along with the increased traffic from the south bent on crossing the great sea. A great portion of it stops in Anders Foll, and many sailors on shore leave walk the city for a respite from the rolling seas and the monotony of the voyage. In the covered market they find an easy place to waste their wages, buying the trinkets, baubles, and curiosities that such disposable income has come to demand.
To the northeast, full on the other side of the island, is the city of Crowshaven. While it does lies within the kingdom, it is more a power unto itself than a subject city. Crowshaven – also affectionately known by residents and regulars as Hag’s Hovel, Rat’s Nest, or Swine’s Hut – is the very capital for pirates, thieves and ne’er-do-wells in Bask and abroad. Crowshaven is tolerated by the rulers of Bask, or more ignored than tolerated, symptomatic of the kingdom’s attitude towards many such activities.
Crowshaven sits on one of the few beaches that descend from the island’s plateau to the sea. The city is ramshackle, unkempt, and filthy as one would expect such a city to be. Rickety piers extend into the sea, and the waters outside of the city are littered with ships wrecked and run aground and standing or leaning in the waves, inside of which curious hermits, cutthroats, and other odd individuals make their homes. Alongside the stores, smithies, and homes are plenty of taverns, gambling dens, and houses of other entertainments. Gambling on animals is a special preference of Crowsers (as city residents are called) and those that visit. Among those that seek such spectacles the city is famous. Races are run with mice, roaches, and toads on makeshift tracks in cellars and alleys, and fights are wagered on involving rats, cats, dogs, fish, and more exotic game, although cockfights are the most common.
Famous among all establishments in Crowshaven is Aunt Gudda’s House for Boarders. Gudda’s has been standing as long as Crowshaven itself, and has long since abandoned any pretence of being a managed affair. Aunt Gudda long dead, the large house – extending now into the better part of a block – is a place where visitors can come to find a space to sleep, hide, or meet while they are in Crowshaven. While it costs nothing to meet or stay at Gudda’s, it is a rowdy and a dangerous place, and lodgers must ever be on guard.
The biggest business of the city is the black market, where contraband and much stolen goods are bought and sold. The black market knows no permanent home, existing rather in backrooms, certain street corners, beneath the docks, and hidden in alleyways, forever shifting to meet the needs of convenience and secrecy. Every other year or so the rulers of Bask deign to clean the city up, and the dens are cleared out and an unfortunate individual or two are made examples of. The market disappears at this time, warned in advance of the routine enforcement, and re-forms as soon as the marshals leave in their ships having fulfilled their obligation to law, however nominal.
Newest, northernmost, and largest of Bask’s possessions is the Isle of New Fairen, home to the Basker colonies near the newly settled coasts of the northern continent. New Fairen was the first of all the northern lands to be discovered and claimed. It was found by Jehen Fuiyn, a commissioned captain of the Basker Merchant Marine, who named it after the village of his birth on Bask. Many more ships followed soon after, and it has been fifty years since the colony was founded.
The storms that batter Skolders visit New Fairen as well, but not so often. Sheltered on the north by the continent, the weather only arrives at the island from the south. The isle is hot in summer and warm in winter, and humid all year long. It is covered in hills, mostly low but reaching greater heights in the interior. The entire island, hills and all, is covered in trees and undergrowth. It is a great jungle. To the west a smaller island lies, also within the claim of the Basker colonies. This lesser land is mostly flat and largely treeless.
New Fairen Town is the only settlement on the island large enough to be considered a city. It is the oldest settlement, and was built on the southern shore at the site where Captain Fuiyn landed decades ago. As such a new city, very few buildings are made of stone. Most are constructed of the abundant timber that covers the land. The largest of the stone buildings is the Colonial Seat, where the government of the colonies is maintained. It is here that the Duke of New Fairen holds audience and conducts his business. The first Duke was Per Malleus, cousin to the king. He ruled nearly twenty years until his age prompted him to seek retirement and confer the ducal crown to his son, Per II. Per the Second held court for only three years until an unknown illness claimed him. His oldest son was too young to effectively take up the governing of the colony, and so the crown shifted the title from hereditary to appointed status. The first appointed Duke maintained the office for nine years until he tired of the colonies and the distance from Bask, and retired. The current Duke – the venerable Lord Jue Uriegel – has ruled wisely and effectively for twenty years, but he is aging and it is rumored he will soon return to Bask.
The Duke of New Fairen is an important office, for the royalty of bask values its colonies and keeps a tight rein over them, quite unlike its attitudes towards some of the lawless elements of Skolders to the south. To this end it employs – and well rewards – the Duke. All new settlements must be registered with the Colonial Seat, and ownership of land is granted only by the Duke or his officers. Illegal settlers are banished and punished.
Registered settlements – and a few illegal ones – are scattered along the coasts on all sides. Larger than most is Golling Point on the northern tip of the island. Placed opposite the strait from the Tarthite colonies on the continent to the north. It is there to coordinate traffic between the two nations, and also to keep the Tarthites from eyeing the south too greedily. The small isle to the west is entirely unsettled by southerners, and is left to the natives that live upon it. Relations between the Baskers and the natives are tense at best, and when the occasion arises that the two peoples meet violence is not uncommon.
There are few inland settlements on New Fairen, and only half of the island has been explored and charted. New Fairen itself has been found to be uninhabited by natives, although the ruins of cities, temples, and burial grounds have been found, covered up by the jungle. They are estimated to be hundreds of years old, or older. The natives of the small isle will not set foot upon New Fairen, and they say the island is cursed. They will not say what happened to its former inhabitants, if they know.
The inland settlements have been built by miners and historians. The historians have set up specially authorized camps among the ruins, examining what is left of the structures and unearthing the tombs, hoping to learn something of the island’s previous civilization. The miners have set up camps to ply their trade also. Early explorers of the interior found evidence of mineral wealth on the island, and this has drawn much attention from the wealthy merchants in Bask, and is much of the reason why the colonies have been so well supported as they are. Miners dig for tin, gold, and other precious or useful metals. The camps are rough places – camps in every sense of the word – and have no sense of permanence about them.
Aside from ruins and mineral wealth the explorers have also found new plants and animals in the north. Exotic birds and beasts, new plants and flowers are kept as pets and decorations in colony houses. Some species have proven more domesticable than others. Attempts have been made to bring live specimens back to Bask, but few survive the journey. Those that do die quickly in their new homes. Just recently some merchants began bringing seeds and bulbs of northern plants back to Bask markets, and these merchants hope this to be a new source of trade and have been actively cultivating demand.
The Baskers Themselves
In a kingdom dominated so by the ocean, it is only natural to find a predominance of ocean-type humans in Bask. Fully a third of all Baskers are ocean types. The remaining types can all be found in Basker bloodlines, more or less to an equal degree. Perhaps there are less desert types than others. While most have been ocean humans, there have been representatives of all elemental types in the Basker royal families over the years.
For this representation in high places, for its natural diversity of type, and for the cosmopolitan nature that mercantile traffic endows, Bask is a land which accepts all types equally and largely without reservation. Only the most untrusting or self-serving Baskers discriminate, and only in private at that, for such discrimination is considered uncivilized and in very bad taste.
This being said, ocean or river types are very much valued in the seafaring trades for their abilities. It is possible for any Basker to get work on a ship, but the watery types naturally gravitate to the work and so dominate the industry.
Government and Military
Bask is a monarchy, and has been for more than a thousand years. Its lineage of kings and queens has stemmed from numerous families amongst the many noble houses of the Isle. The royalty is a cherished and powerful tradition in Bask. Baskers respect their sovereigns and love them also, in the way that masses fawn over celebrities. While there have been more kings than queens, both men and women may succeed the throne and queens are as loved as kings, and in ways fawned over even more.
While the king’s word is law, there is a general code that is adhered to and which each monarch inherits. It is the prerogative of each sovereign to change the laws but this is only done rarely and at great need, for the citizens of Bask have come to rely on the laws and their continuity.
After the throne are two other posts of importance within the kingdom. The heir to the throne holds the title of Lord (or Lady) Skolders, and it is in their charge to maintain the affairs of that island. If of sufficient age, they are sent to live on the isle from which their title is derived, and expected to learn the art of governance there with selected counselors and teachers to guide them as their experience requires. Being Lord Skolders is as much a trial as it is a privilege. To be so far away from the court and the luxuries of Bask is difficult, and Skolders is seen as a bit of a backwater island. It has long been the design of the kings and queens of Bask, though, to send their heirs away, so that they might learn to rule of their own experience, and to keep them from the scheming and political intrigue that can at times infect the capital.
Bask is home to many noble houses, most having risen on the tides of merchant wealth. The houses vie with one another for power and influence, and wealth is the means with which they strive. Almost all high houses have their homes in Bask. Few noble families have arisen from Skolders, and New Fairen is far too recent a possession to give birth to any influence outside of the duke.
The Church of Bask also holds some political power. Many bishops and church officials are from the noble families of Bask, and the head of the church – the Patriarch – is appointed by the king himself. The Church of Bask is wealthy, and uses its means to promote the faith, as well as its interests.
While Bask is a merchant nation, it is a military one as well. The pride of the armed forces is the fleet. Bask arguably commands the finest navy on Azmoth. The many ships are sent forth to protect Basker interests around the world. They escort government trade ships, protect Basker cities and settlements from raiders and invasion, and keep watch over the high seas. The largest of the ships in the fleet, the grand galleys are a sight to behold. Tall ships and long, they are floating camps of war equipped with rams, plated sides, and fiery pitch – ammunition for the archers and ballistas that adorn the decks. With the ports and harbors, and patrolling the many coasts, are smaller vessels, light and quick upon the waves and able to sail up smaller river mouths if need be.
The galleys and ships of the fleet are staffed with crews to maintain their functions, but they also bear the Basker Marines to their destinations. The Basker Marines are the greatest warriors in Bask. They draw from the best of lesser military bodies to fill their ranks, and are well trained in close-quarters combat, the boarding of ships, and landing on hostile shores.
The kingdom also employs a more traditional military force, called the Inland Guard, whose purpose is to protect Bask shores against invasion. Another important body is the Corps of Colonial Police, those who act under the duke to enforce royal policy on the isle of New Fairen. There is plenty to be done in the colonies, with so much land and so many eager settlers. It is demanding and difficult work, and in the last couple of decades many aspiring soldiers have used service in the Colonial Police as a quick entrance into the Basker Marines.
Aside from the official armed forces of the kingdom, the more powerful noble families also maintain small armies themselves, which they use as security for their persons, estates, and holdings throughout the kingdom. These private armies have jurisdiction only on the lands belonging to their lords, and even there they must defer in the presence of the king’s forces. Most noble houses also employ guard ships to protect their more important mercantile shipments.
In times of need it is the right of the king or queen to call upon the nobles to levy forces for their sovereign’s use. The private armies can be put to this use, and temporary soldiers are hired of the general populace also.
Bask is a kingdom that prides itself on its civility, and the civilized nature of its lifestyle. As the tidy villages of the Isle demonstrate, Baskers value cleanliness, propriety, and keeping up appearances. The nationalism that Baskers feel most often manifests itself in this way – all things Basker are civilized, and other nations just don’t measure up. It isn’t an oft-expressed sentiment, but deep down Baskers do take comfort and security in their familiar and ordered lifestyle.
Those that can afford to always try to look their best when out and about, and presentability is even a priority in more private circumstances. And while Bask is home to its fair share of rogues, thieves, and rascals, a modicum of respect is expected from everyone. Public conversation should be kept to appropriate subjects. Public displays of affection are discouraged. The elderly should be deferred to, and one should remember one’s manners when eating.
On Bask this code of civility is definitely the rule, and the conservative among Baskers hold to it like they hold to the law of the land. To the north in Skolders the environment is a bit more relaxed. Those that live there try in their way to live up to the standard, but the heat is so oppressive, and the distance from Bask, the Houses of Commerce, and the royal court so great, that it is fairly easy for residents to let propriety slip a bit in favor of comfort. And Crowshaven is the absolute antithesis of propriety. It is as if the focus on civility has caused the national subconscious to produce something entirely uncivil by which all things else can be judged. At least that’s how some scholars explain why the city of scoundrels is tolerated.
It is perhaps because of the lax nature of Skolders society that such great care has been made to establish order in New Fairen. In a land so very far from the center of power and society it might be very easy for an attitude of “anything goes” to predominate. The duke is given express charge to raise up the colony as one worthy of Bask in all ways, and in large part the dukes have responded. The government of New Fairen, including the duke, his agents, and the Colonial Police are quite possibly the least corrupt organization in the kingdom. Not that corruption is rampant or even significantly present elsewhere, but the colonial government is particular about keeping its affairs above the board, so to speak.
The wealthy of Bask spend great amounts to keep up appearances. Entire industries are maintained to satisfy this appetite for civility. Tailors, seamstresses, and designers are employed to keep the upper class fashionably dressed. Hordes of laborers are employed to maintain the gardens of their estates in the city and elsewhere. A good cook is as valued as a chest of gold, and the kitchens of many noble houses have staffs that rival or exceed those of many inns.
Another product of the mix of wealth and propriety is the lifestyle of leisure. Nobles and other “refined” persons are expected not to work, as work is the sign of a meaner man. In their business affairs and negotiations they take great pains to make them seem to be social affairs. Business meetings are always very well catered and occasion for wearing one’s finest. Pursuits outside of the business world are tolerated, but treated as “hobbies,” and the only the eccentric will pursue them with any real dedication.
With so much time on their hands the wealthy have made an art of throwing lavish parties and organizing various entertainments and other social events. Hunting is considered refined entertainment, as well as viewing and wagering on various contests of sport. The contestants are all hired, of course.
Sometimes an afternoon is passed on a pleasure cruise. The Basker affair with sailing and the sea is well known and evident. Through the coming and going of ships with their cargo Bask has become a nation that can afford a leisurely upper class. The profession of sailor or shipwright is a respectable one in Bask, and none can look down on one who makes her living thus. It is often the case with the lower classes that they send their children, when they come of age, to apprentice with a captain, mate, or crewman, so to learn the trade. There are those who keep to the sea all their lives, but it is very common for a man or woman to spend a few years at sea and then to come home to land to settle down in one trade or another.
As a result many Baskers are as comfortable on board a ship as they are on land. The briney fragrance of the sea infuses the air which they breathe, and travelling inland they find the air overly crisp or else empty. Baskers eat more fish than any other people, and a majority are proficient swimmers, even among those who are not of the elemental water types.
Every good and honest trade has its opposite, and that of sailor and sea-captain is no exception. Piracy has flourished around Bask. It is the strict policy of the kingdom that any ship bearing goods for trade into a Basker port be treated as a merchant ship. It is not important how those goods were obtained. Part of this is a carryover of a very ancient tradition, for in the earliest days of the kingdom many noble families arose through piracy, which later legitimized themselves through honest trade. It is a quandary that Basker merchants deal with: they are quick to purchase stolen goods as they can get below-market prices from the pirates who are eager to unload ill-gotten cargo. On the other hand, they have to protect their goods from those who would rob them.
For the protection that the kingdom can offer them, many pirates linger near its shores or weigh in at Basker harbors. For the presence of the fleet, though, they rarely waylay ships in these waters. Baskers generally ask no questions where money is involved, but when presented with evidence of piracy right before their eyes they are obliged to act. Even in the waters surrounding Crowshaven it is dangerous for pirates to attack other vessels. While scoundrels can be tolerated, wanton violence has never been accepted.
Like much else in society, Basker religion is a stately and civil affair. An appendage of the central government, yet fairly independent, the Church of Bask oversees the spiritual guidance of the kingdom and acts as the authority on moral and civil behavior.
Not all Baskers go to church, but most do. Attending church is as much a social event as it is a spiritual one. While by no means scarce, those who attend because they actually believe in the theology are in the minority; the rest come for the sense of comfort and community that they get from the nature of the gathering. The wealthy go partly because it is expected of a refined person to attend, and partly because it is such a social event. Worship-day gatherings are prime opportunities for gossip, networking, preening, and posturing before, after, and even during the meetings. Those of lower classes attend also out of a sense of propriety, but also because the closeness with peers and the sermons offer some respite from the dangers and insecurity that the lower classes face which the wealthy might not.
The wealthy and the lower classes do not attend church together. Chapels and cathedrals can be found in all neighborhoods in all cities and towns of the kingdom, and while there are no rules dictating who can attend which services, the classes do not mix in a religious setting. The wealthy attend in their cathedrals (which they have helped to finance) while others attend in chapels and other meeting places depending on their location and station. The chapels in the poorest of neighborhoods are still well-built and respectable, so to stay in keeping with the position of the church in society. The cathedrals in the best neighborhoods are spectacular affairs, designed to showcase the majesty of the church. In Holy Crown Cathedral near the Firsthouse the Patriarch presides and the best of Bask – including the royal family – attend on worship-days.
The Patriarch is the head of the church, and is appointed by the king or queen. He is given much autonomy in his office, though, and basically runs the church as he sees fit. Changes are rarely made and most patriarchs hold to the traditions that have been handed down to them, as one of the offices of the church is to safeguard the traditional. The Patriarch appoints all bishops that oversee the many branches of the church throughout the kingdom, and is also in direct control of the church’s finances. Beneath the bishops serve priests of varying degrees. The priests minister directly to the public in the majority of cases, although those with enough influence can demand audience and attention from bishops. Lay volunteers from the general public assist the priests in many cases. These lay volunteers are much more common among the lower classes.
The theology of the Church of Bask is decidedly vague. Reference is always made to “the lord” or “the master” but no attempt is ever really made to explain who or what he/she/it is. Doctrine is given, but it is little more than “be good, avoid evil” in its many forms. There is an afterlife with rewards for the good and punishments for evildoers. The absence of any hard doctrine is evidence of the social and psychological function of the church. It’s there mostly to make people feel okay about themselves and each other.
Specific functions of the priests and other leaders are not only to give sermons and lead worship-day services, but also to bless sailors about to embark, create sea-charms for the sailors or their loved ones to wear for protection, to bless the harvest or other undertakings, and to consecrate ships to the “Lord of the Sea.” With so many nods towards the seafaring life the Basker religion is the default religion for most sailors, regardless of nationality.
Small groups within the Basker faith exist which focus on specific ideas. The most famous is the cult of the Sea-Angel. Four hundred years ago a shepherd named Ivruun saw in a vision an “angel of the sea” on a hillside overlooking the Silkurt Bay. Centuries later Ivruun is now “Holy Ivruun,” an oft-referred-to figure with many more miracles attributed to him. Believers revere Holy Ivruun and the Sea Angel, as it’s come to be called, as the heavenly patrons of the waters. Today there stands a large shrine where the vision supposedly took place, and alongside it is the Cathedral of Holy Ivruun, a destination place for pilgrims. The hierarchy of the Church of Bask tolerates and in many ways encourages the cult within its membership. Cult members mostly come from the lower classes, and as long as they don’t start getting heretical or fanatical it’s likely the church will work with them towards their common end.
The Kingdom of Bask enjoys interesting relationships with the rest of the world. Although it is a fairly small kingdom, its wealth and fleet make its presence felt in all corners of the world. Many nations appreciate the trade that Bask ships bring to their harbors, and the opportunity to ship their goods to the isles of the kingdom to trade in turn. A majority of overseas commerce passes through Basker hands at one point or another. For this, nations and empires are eager to maintain good relations with Bask.
On the other hand, Bask’s attitudes towards piracy is too lenient for the tastes of many other nations. That Bask should harbor pirates and profit from the goods that they steal angers the merchants of other lands and those who serve their interests. Between these competing attitudes arises a compromise where many do business with Bask out of necessity, but do not enjoy it – especially those who have lost a ship to piracy at some point. Those who are fortunate enough to have their vessels well protected with military or mercenary escorts have less of a problem, but do sympathize to an extent with others.
This matter of trade and piracy aside, Bask does attempt to be a civil neighbor and member of the community of nations. It looks down on those who wage wars of conquest, but realizes that wars of conquest will happen regardless of their attitude towards them, and they take a practical approach to diplomacy. With its immediate neighbors Bask is on very good terms. The Silkurees appreciate the money that Bask brings into the region, as Bask is a major consumer of the beef and grain that the Silkuree plains produce. The Baskers have no major interactions with the nomads to the south of the Isle. They respect them and leave them to their lands. Some centuries earlier merchants began to take an interest in the lumber available north of the plains, and some camps were established. These came to a violent end when the nomads destroyed them and killed all that did not flee. By royal decree the lands to the south were left to the nomads, who were now seen as more savages than civilized, and thus pitied. There is enough business elsewhere to make the loss of any opportunity for profit there easily bearable.
There is little interaction between New Fairen and the Parthite or Tarthite colonies in the north. New Fairen receives all its goods from the isles to the south, and no significant trade has arisen between the colonies yet. Visits of foreigners to New Fairen are very regulated. On an individual basis, foreigners are generally well received in Basker lands. Baskers treat them with gentility, even if born of a certain sense of superiority in many cases.
Baskers in other lands try to behave themselves with the same decorum that is demanded of them in their own kingdom. The people of Bask do much travelling, either as a part of their jobs or as, in the case of the wealthy, vacations. Foreigners generally welcome Baskers on the surface, for as sure as they’re wealthy they’re spenders. Those who do not like them see them as arrogant, and those who look upon them favorably believe them to be very polite. The best among Baskers will look at other cultures to appreciate and understand them, and the worst will think they’re the only civilized ones and will hardly deign to speak with a foreigner.