All important structures are built of stone, with metal features only where necessary. This is to protect the inhabitants of Pern from Threadfall. Most living and working areas are built into the sides of cliffs and grouped around huge common areas.
Natural chimneys are supplemented with carefully planned ventilation ducts. Spiral staircases set into vertical shafts also promote air circulation.
Exterior doorways and windows are inset with metal shutters. The entrances to Weyrs, Halls, and major Holds are protected by metal gates. Wooden doors, gates, and stairs are only used in internal areas where Thread cannot reach.
Commonly used rooms and corridors are smooth and evenly carved out of the stone, while storage rooms are often natural caverns with minor floor leveling. The oldest and most prestigious structures have ornamental decoration in the stone and even the least used rooms are carved into regular shapes.
Deep artesian wells and surface water sources are tapped to provide water to baths and sinks without requiring pumps. The thermal layer deep underground is also tapped to provide heat to large complexes during winter months, through a network of small steam tunnels.
Holds and Halls have a room at their highest point, called the “eyrie” or “drum heights”. Messages can be sent across the area by drumming special patterns, similar to Morse code but somewhat more complex.
Supplemental buildings outside the main Hall complex are built of heavy stone. These are often stables, beast pens, blackrock storage, wagon or boat warehouses, or watchtowers. The roofs sometimes double as giant courtyards. Large or important buildings can always be accessed from the Hold without going outside. They are constructed against the same cliff or connected by an underground passage.
Cotholds, small rural manors, are typically constructed of stone with slate roofs. They are often made from mining rubble or stones removed during the expansion of a nearby Hold.
During a Pass, no organic structures or foliage are permitted near buildings. There must be nothing for Thread to feed on, especially if it lays undiscovered for some time.
Every region is governed by and beholden to one major Hold. They are the equivalent of a Greek city-state. Between 750 and 900 people call each major Hold their home, while over ten thousand others live in surrounding minor Holds and cotholds.
There are 15 major Holds – Benden, Bitra, Crom, Fort, High Reaches, Igen, Ista Sea, Keroon, Lemos, Nabol, Nerat, Ruatha, Southern Boll, Telgar, and Tillek.
The leaders of these major Holds bear the titles of Lord Holder and Lady Holder, referred to in polite conversation simply as Lord or Lady. Their power is largely unchecked as long as they fulfill their responsibilities — providing protection from Thread, education, shelter, food, critical resource management, and basic law enforcement. They also attend regular council meetings, where they discuss inter-Hold business and deal with holder petitions.
The male children of a Lord Holder who are being trained in Hold management are referred to as “lordlings”. The bloodlines of Lords and Ladies are tracked carefully.
When a Lord Holder dies, a Conclave of all other Lords Holders is called. They vote on which of the possible heirs should replace the deceased. Although the heirs are usually related by blood, a potential trained by a Lord Holder to replace him can also be selected.
Minor holds can also have sizable populations. They see to their own governance and day-to-day operation, paying tithe regularly to a major Hold.
The Headwoman of a Hold manages the creation and distribution of food and clothing, healing, discipline of the young, and maintenance of the dwellings. She is usually assisted by the Lady’s female children and other relatives.
The Steward of a Hold manages funds, tithes, education, law enforcement, and other resources not managed by the Headwoman. He is usually assisted by the Lord’s male children and other relatives.
Cotholds are usually the home of a single extended family or a small handful of families engaged in agrarian pursuits.
Those who break the law or fail to provide sufficient labor to earn their keep are dealt with by the Headwoman or Steward, depending on their age.
The Headwoman is the final authority on the discipline of children, the elderly, and those too infirm to work. Corporal punishment for children is rare as the powerful sense of Hold community makes shame and isolation more effective. The wrongdoer is usually assigned particularly distasteful or physically strenuous chores.
The Steward punishes adult wrongdoers. The most common punishments are restitution and a temporary increase in labor assignments. Incarceration is used for adults when other options fail, and death is the punishment for especially heinous crimes.
In previous generations, the worst punishment was being stripped of all rank and exiled from the Hold. Being “holdless” was a great stigma and exceptionally dangerous during a Pass. Most people believe that Thread will never return. The threat of being holdless has diminished for those who feel capable of surviving on their own long enough to travel to another hold or establish a cothold of their own.
Family and Child Rearing
Children in cotholds are raised primarily by their parents, assisted by immediate relatives. In a minor Hold, the Headwoman, teacher, and person in charge of the child’s duties play as much a part in their upbringing as their parents. Communal child-rearing is even more prevalent in major Holds, Halls, and Weyrs.
It is not uncommon for a child to be sent away to learn a trade with another family. These “fosterlings” are considered equal by tradition, however some families still favor their natural born children. Children sent to a Hall to apprentice become the responsibility of that Hall and may seldom see their families.
There is a cultural belief on Pern, supported by songs and stories, that the closest siblings are half-brothers and sisters, related through only one parent. This folklore is especially strong in Weyrs.