Pern is a complex Feudal-Agrarian and highly stratified society in which goods and services are traded for protection. There are only a few large Holds which control all of the habitable land, and all who dwell on that land have to tithe a portion of their goods to that principle Hold.
Pernese clothing most closely resembles Renaissance style, with bright dye colors and practical styles. Clothing varies from region to region, and from the lower ranks to the nobility. Fortunately, the Pernese are familiar with modern underwear, so you won’t see any codpieces or loin-cloths, but some men wear light-weight breeches under their pants. Since personal hygiene isn’t an issue, there is no pressure to wear hose, high stockings, wigs, or hats. The Pernese are not a prudish people, nor do they have strict laws about women’s modesty, however they are still conservative by modern Earth standards.
Teaching begins at home. Around the age of five, a child begins studying with the hold’s harper. Depending on the size of the hold, there may be several teaching groups, separating children by age and ability. Cotholds are too small to have their own harper, so “route riders” are sent to visit them once a Turn, staying a night or two to check on their progress and drop off teaching materials. Unfortunately, many cotholders don’t learn to read, which makes teaching songs a necessity.
Children who show a particular aptitude for a craft may become the informal apprentice of a local senior Journeyman. A Master posted to a hold can make the apprenticeship official and will send their best students to the craft Hall for advanced training.
The most popular sports on Pern are races — foot, runnerbeast, and sailboat. Archery and wrestling are the next most common, followed by swimming and weight lifting. Group sports, such as ball games, are played by children with no set teams. Very young children play “Hop It”, similar to Hop-scotch. There are no combat sports.
There is no religion on Pern. Celebrations are called “gathers” instead of “holidays”.
Gathers are held at the great Holds during the last week of Spring and Autumn. Spring Gather features music, dance, sports, and romance. Autumn Gather features trading, wine, storytelling, and mending old feuds. Autumn Gather is the largest.
The last two days of every year don’t occur in any month. They are called “Turnover” and are a time of great celebration. Various sorts of merriment and feasting are accompanied by open trading. Craftsmen sell their goods and everyone swaps items they no longer want. People also exchange gifts with their closest friends and family.
Birthing Day is celebrated in the Holds and Halls, while Impression Day is celebrated by dragonriders in the Weyrs.
To not know the names of the local Weyrwomen, Weyrleaders, and their dragons is considered an insult to the Weyr and the holds it protects.
During a Pass, items are sometimes gifted to the riders outside of the standard tithes as a show of gratitude, but commissioned items are not free.
Weyrleaders are addressed as Lord while all gold riders hold the rank of Lady.
Pern has four methods for transporting messages and goods from place to place.
The least formal method is to send a parcel with a friend who is traveling, a Journeyman being posted somewhere else, or a trusted teamster transporting goods for trade or tithe. Unless the friend is a dragonrider, the parcel won’t arrive quickly.
The only way to send large packages or heavy goods is to pay a Trader. These merchants travel regularly between Hold, Hall, and Weyr. Although they don’t move quickly, they are reliable. Many Traders hope to establish an official craft Hall.
The most common way to send letters and small parcels is through the Runners. These craftspeople are responsible for carrying messages anywhere in the continent. They follow “traces”, stopping at Runner Stations along the way. All parcels are logged and tracked. The system is similar to the Pony Express.
In an emergency, the dragonrider posted to a Hold or Hall can transport a message, package, or person on official business.
Though most of Pern’s economy relies on barter, Marks are popular for small or infrequent transactions. Marks are stamped with the heraldry of the Hall who minted them. The supply of Marks is kept consistent but their value can change gradually over time. Some Hall’s marks are more highly valued. The denominations are 1/32, 1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1, 2, 5, 10, and the rare 100 Mark piece. A line above the number indicates a fractional Mark. Currently, one full Mark is worth approximately $16.
The practical values are:
Dueling is considered a last-resort method of defending one’s honor and values. It is also a means of preventing vendettas between families and social groups.
The practice is regulated by the Dueling Code. The rules ensure that non-violent means of reaching agreement are exhausted and that harm is reduced, by limiting the terms of engagement and providing for medical care. Finally, they ensure that the proceedings have a number of witnesses. The witnesses assure grieving members of the fairness of the duel, and help provide testimony if legal authorities become involved.
Here are the fundamental tenants of the Code:
- The duel starts with the challenger issuing a traditional, public, personal grievance, based on a specific insult or conflict, directly to the single person who offended the challenger.
- The challenged person has the choice of avoiding the duel by public apology or other restitution. Otherwise, the challenged chooses the weapons for the duel. Daggers are often chosen, though fists are perfectly acceptable.
- The challenger proposes a place for the “field of honor”. The challenged either accepts the site or proposes an alternative. The location has to be a place where the opponents can duel without harming the witnesses.
- Witnesses declare themselves openly with the phrase “heard and witnessed”.
- At the field of honor, each side brings seconds. The seconds try to reconcile the parties by acting as go-betweens, gaining honor if they settle the dispute with an apology or restitution. If reconciliation succeeded, all parties considered the dispute to be permanently settled and go home.
- If the field of honor is near a Hold, Hall, or Weyr and time allows, the owner or Lord of the location summons a Healer and provides for the crafter’s compensation. This discourages hosts from placing conflicting parties in close proximity to each other.
- If one party fails to appear, he is accounted a coward and his opponent wins by default. The seconds and sometimes the Healer bear formal witness of the cowardice.
- At first blood, the combat stops and one last attempt at reconciliation is made. Witnesses call out “First blood!” when it is seen.
- When using swords, the two parties start on opposite sides of a circle twenty paces wide. When using fists, the two parties start on opposite sides of a circle ten paces wide. Whenever possible, the boundary is marked in four places with dropped handkerchiefs. Leaving the circle is accounted cowardice.
- The duel ends when one party is physically unable to continue.
Before a duel begins, at least one witness will declare, “Heard and witnessed!” This phrase is used by witnesses to express their dedication to making sure the matter causing the conflict is resolved. For example, if the duel is over the ownership of a herd of runnerbeasts, the witnesses will make sure that the victor is able to take possession of them without interference.
Unfortunately, some duels begin immediately, while both parties are gripped by anger. Witnesses and seconds may have only moments to declare themselves, as bystanders scramble out of the way to clear sufficient space. The first stage of the duel can begin without any attempt at reconciliation.
A combatant that does not pause at first blood is considered dishonorable, but if neither party wishes to pause, no attempt is made to stop them.
Duels that don’t follow the Code lower the esteem of both combatants in the eyes of the community, regardless of who wins.