|The Jewelled Cities|
|Resources||Fruit, Kelp-Olive Oil, Gemstones|
|Imports||Iron, Lumber, Luxury Foodstuffs, Alcohol and Fabrics|
|Religion||Children of Kina, Shamanism|
The Jewelled Cities is the name given to the vast region of the Tangarotha archipelago.
Tangarotha is a vast, twisted tangle of small desert islands, sand bars, reefs, banks, and mangrove forests. There are only three major distinguishing geographic features.
New Boy is a large, truly volcanic island on the North-east of the archipelago. The volcano is still active, spilling vast quantities of lava into the sea at the eastern end of the island. The western and southern slopes are covered in mangrove forest and fruit trees, most notably coconut. The locals make their living mining the readily accessible ores and gem veins in the lava deposits across the island. While it is arguably the richest island, it is also the poorest in both food and fresh water. The City of Turquoise lies around a major inlet on New Boy. The city is named from the extensive use of turquoise in decorations and buildings. Despite its name, it is really a run-down mining town.
The Isle of Birds lies along the western side of the archipelago. It is a long, thin, tall rocky island, almost entirely covered in trees of a wide variety. Vast flocks of migratory birds make their homes here; their seed-laden deposits the cause of the vast diversity of trees. It is home to the Shamans of the Wild, and visitors are often unwelcome. The City of Amber exists under their watchful eye, maintaining the loggers who take their strict quota of trees each year. Amber is used extensively in spirit poles and city decorations, and is highly prized by the shamans. Many coves and caves exist along the island, and the City of Amber itself is quite well protected from the ravages of the sea.The Old Man is the largest island in the archipelago. The Old Man is easily a full third of the total land above sea level. The first settlers believed the massive extinct volcano was responsible for the rest of the archipelago, and it features strongly in local creation myths. The island sits at the south eastern edge of the archipelago. It shields the rest of the archipelago, and bears the brunt of bad weather and hurricanes. The city of Opal does not lie along the shallow, sandy, shallow coastline, but is built around the ridge of the caldera. The caldera itself has long filled in with fresh water from rains and many, many streams seep out along its sides. The City of Opal provides barreled fresh water for most of the archipelago and most of the alcohol consumed in the cities- a potent rice wine. Beyond that, numerous small farming villages dot the island. They produce fruit, rice, and domesticated ground parrots for food. Opal veins are found in abundance along the mountain.
Between the major islands lie dozens of smaller islands and uncountable spits, sand bars, and reefs which are collectively referred to as the Grand Banks. A single winding deep channel penetrates into the heart of the Grand Banks. Navigation be sea-going ships is difficult, and most local traffic is on outrigger canoes or catamarans. Adding to navigation difficulties are the kelp olive blooms (see below). Still, at the heart of this lies the City of Pearl. Decorated with the bounty of numerous oyster beds, it resembles a vast raft several miles across. Closer examination reveals it is made of ships and parts of ships, houses on stilts embedded into rock below the surface, rope bridges and slings, and so on. It may look the most run down, but it is the official capital of the Jeweled Cities by being the shipping and transport capital of the archipelago.
Islanders, as they call themselves, are an offshoot of humans adapted to living at the whim of the sea. It has affected their physiology and their cultural outlook. Some Continentals, as they call them, also populate the islands. They are a laid back, if somewhat fatalistic people
The vast majority of people on the islands are native human Islanders. Islanders are tall but broad chested, with dark hair, eyes and skin. Some have more exotic colored eyes and hair. They bear a strong resemblance to the Woodwind people, with some Crimar influences seen in hair and eyes. Most of them would be seen as exceptionally handsome or beautiful. It is generally held that centuries of pirating and maiden-capturing resulted in comely stock. Islanders tend to vary dramatically depending on which ancestor got kidnapped from which country. Males tend to be 23 link, but are plus or minus up to 3 links. Women tend to be 23 link as well, but only plus or minus a link. Weights tend to be heavier than Quill, with men around 2 chain and women a chain and three quarters. Again, variation is great, up to a half a chain either way for both men and women.
They bear significant differences from their continental brethren, however. Their chests are more round than their continental brethren. They possess a heart and lung system which allows them to hold their breath for up to 10 minutes. Their ribcage is more flexible and allows them to dive far deeper than is comfortable for normal humans. Their feet and hands are slightly webbed for better swimming ability. Lastly, they possess a second set of clear eyelids that allow them to swim in the salty sea and still protect their eyes. Despite this, they can interbreed normally with humanity.
10% of the population is from other locations. Drifters, fugitives, and people who wish for an idyllic life find their way to the Jeweled Cities. As long as they adopt the local culture, they are welcomed.
Clothing in the Cities is, for the most part, kept to a minimum. Thick skinned fish such as sharks provide leather for belts, harnesses, and sandals, which they favor. Breeches are also preferred by both men and women. Strangely, while both sexes eschew shirts, the usually wear long brimmed hats to shield their eyes from the sun. Scarfs of fine cloth are a status symbol, worn as a shawl or belt. Jewelry is common, and feathered accent pieces are seen as well. Wealth is shown by jewelry and people tend to wear their fortune on their bodies.
It is easy to live a subsistence life in the archipelago. A few hours of fishing and gathering fresh water and kelp olive, and they are set for the day. Death is also an accepted reality. Poison spine-fish, sharks, barracudas, sun exposure, riptides, and devastating storms are all part of normal life. This tends to make the people laid back, fiercely independent, and hedonistic.
Sailors, both on deep water ships and outriggers, travel for months on end, also contributing to their independence. As such, formal marriage is rare. Lineage is traced by mother, and denoted by facial tattoos imprinted upon reaching adult age. A common greeting is to refer to someone as “Cousin”, since lineages are convoluted.
Property rights are as laid back as the people. In general, if you possess it at the moment, it is yours. If not, well, then maybe someone else can use it. Cargo brought into port is the property of the ship that brought it. What is marked on the crates is irrelevant. Possession is the deciding factor, not some piece of paper.
Most of the people could wield their fishing knives, spears, tridents, and nets as weapons in a pinch. Metal, however, is rare and prized, so weapons tend to be picks and hammers rather than swords. Armor is also rare, being made from fish-leather.
The deep sea ships are some of the best crafted in the world and crewing them is often a lifetime or multi-generational calling. Of course, the line between noble deep sea trader and pirate is often in the eyes of the beholder.
The Jeweled Cities, and by extension the whole of AQUA, is a vicious meritocracy. The leader leads, and the Senior Council decides if she or he are fit for leadership. If not, then the Council will pick a new leader from their group. This echoes their pirate past of mutiny against unfit captains.
The civil war of 401-405 changed the Council. Now, each city has a nominal leader, voted on every five years. These leaders can cast 1 vote to support or fault any decisions the council makes. These are not binding votes. The Council is made up of three people who advise the leader.
Currently, the leader, known as the Skipper-General, is Andus Fitzrion.
The sea provides endless bounty of food, and there is enough rainfall for fresh water to only be a limited issue. Fruit grows plentifully and in a wide variety. The Old man has farms for a species of domesticated ground parrot that is beautiful and tasty.
The Islanders possess one unique resource - kelp olive. It is a sea plant that blooms twice a year, its seeds are impregnated with an oil that prevents sea water intrusion. In nature, they get wedged into rocks and the shell abraded by the action of the waves. This allows the seed within to germinate and break through the weakened shell in a place that the plant can anchor to. The islanders eat the seeds, and press the outer shells for their oil. The thick, fibrous main trunks are shredded, braided and used for ropes, sails, even rough clothing. Kelp-olive oil is highly prized. It can be used as cooking oil, or for lighting lamps. Applied to the hull of a ship, it seals the wood three times better than pine tar, and is despised by barnacles, who will not cling to the hull if treated with it. It is the Jeweled Cities most prized export.
Precious minerals are used as currency, and a primary trade good, along with various fruit. Another item highly prized, but only traded locally, are fabric dyes. Shellfish of various kinds are gathered and ground into brilliant pigments, particularly blue, purple, and red.
Iron is the Jeweled Cities' most pressing demand. Most of it either goes into their ships, or into tools for the mining town of Turquoise. Wood is important, as it goes into ships. Trade with Tar and Scla’ca supplies that.. Meat and alcohol is in demand as well, as people tire of seafood, ground parrot, and rice wine. Silk and linen are always in demand, for islanders appreciate it tough yet light qualities.
The people of the Free Cities are a superstitious lot. They live at the mercy of the winds and tides, and see the raw power of the earth in their volcano. The Children of Kina is the dominant religion in the area. Others are welcome as long as they stay a minority. In the year 407, the Council formalized that attitude with a decree. Only a nominal tax on religious buildings is needed.
A minority of them still cling to the Shamans of the Wild and their teachings.