"The Dark-Haired Men have ancient and powerful gods on their side. As such, we must proceed with great caution."
Kalumak relies on a palace-centric structure for their political organizations, with the king at the center. His immediate household and administrators and scribes live in the palace at Kalashu. The king surrounds himself with numerous families that produce that bloodlines of warriors and priestesses that form the nobility of the kingdom. Sons of great families are trained to be warriors, while daughters are raised to revere and serve the gods.
Craftsmen and scribes work in service of the monarch and his nobles in exchange for sustenance and the occasional payment of metal. These families form the basis of his power and help him maintain control through force and pageantry.
The king is very important because he is appointed by the gods, and ill omens sent by them are interpreted as signs as the king not performing his regal duties as well as he should. The class system is very stratified and people tend to accept their place in society. Social mobility can be achieved by becoming a priest or scribe, but entrance into the elite is not possible unless a person was born into it.
People pay taxes in the form of the goods they produce, which all flows into the palace and then redistributed to the king’s dependents.
The king exercises absolute power over the people. The post is hereditary and each king is succeeded by his eldest surviving son. Priestesses have positions of power they interpret divine messages, and scribes record court history and inscribe the king’s edicts. Other administrators began as scribes and rose the ranks to take up more important positions. Aside from the king’s own palace, powerful nobles control certain areas or cities from their own seats, but these privileged few are chosen and replaced at the whim of the king. Kings justify their continued rule with divine favor, the status quo, and by enriching and controlling a warrior class that has a monopoly on the bronze weapons and armor and magic. These warriors make up the upper echelons of the Kalu army and own plenty of slaves and land.
Although he king holds absolute power in theory, but the absence of a centralized bureaucracy means local power is in the hands of various nobles, who owe their position to the king and answer his calls for war in exchange for autonomy in their center of power. The nobles, and by extension, the king, hold huge amounts of power over ordinary people. The codes of law deal harsh and retaliatory punishments that the rulers of the kingdoms are expected to carry out. The government is symbolized by the palace.
The structures of the government are based around, much like the economy, the palace. The king occupies the top of the hierarchy, followed by his nobles, then the priests, scribes, craftsmen, and then farmers. The king wields sole power in Kalishu, and can travel around to dispense justice as laid out by the law codes of the land, which is left up to the nobles in his absence. The king is also commander of the armies, but entrusts his nobles with the duty of assembling local levies that make up an expeditionary or defensive force.
In Kalashu, the king’s household has many duties that must be carried out so that it can run smoothly. Scribes carry out administrative duties from keep track of goods that flow into the palace and distributing them to keeping inventory of the king’s wealth. Only the most skilled and trusted scribes are selected for these positions. The highest-ranked scribes distribute rations of grain and beer and adjust them according to a person’s contribution. Others keep track of precious metals, and others still work for the army and provide weapons, armor, and supplies to levied troops.
The king also has a large network of spies to ensure his nobles are loyal and report any actions that can be considered conspiracy or subterfuge. Ambassadors are taken from members of the warrior that are proven to be eloquent with the spoken word. They are sent to the neighboring polities and speak on behalf of the king, accompanied by couple scribes who write down the exchanged words and report back to the monarch.
Nobles also occupy position in court that is seen above the station of those who can become a scribe, such as cupbearers, military leaders, shieldbearers, and most other positions that involve close and personal interaction with the king.
Kalumak wishes to maintain itself first and foremost as homeland to the Kalu
people. This identity was forged as a result of many centuries of invasions and foreign occupation. Kalu culture and language are heavily promoted by the state in an effort to reintroduce it back into daily life.
At its height, the Delta Kingdom could raise many hundreds of chariots and thousands of troops to defend its lands. As a hub of trade on the Azimon River and for lands beyond their shores, generous amounts of gold, silver, and trade goods flows through its palaces and open-air markets. The Sarisi himself possesses hundreds of gold talents at any given time.
The Azimon river valley used to have kings in charge of every single city, but with time, numerous celebrated men united the land into kingdoms and even empires at times. The centralized palace system is the continuation of the power of these early monarchs.
After more than a century of brutal and inefficient Hatasuli rule, the Kalu rose in revolt under whom history will come to know as Nimgaligigi. With Dab-ili as his stronghold, the young warlord waged a three year-long war against the despised barbarian occupiers. He smashed King Zarlume's army beneath Dab-ili's walls, killing the man and all of his kin. When the Hatasuli found a new king in a man called Yinkurlum, Nimgaligigi broke his power on the river banks near ancient Nuppak. The next year, he laid siege to Gurela, the renamed Bilsuna the Hatasuli used as their capital. After two months, Kalu forces stormed the walls and smashed open the gates, beginning a period the Hatasuli now call the Night of Blood. Every man, woman, and child with a Hatasuli appearance was put to the sword and the Kalu who dwelt in the city largely as slaves were spared. Following this gruesome victory, Nimgaligigi spent the remainder of the year on campaign, hunting down any Hatasuli he could find, destroying eight tribes out of every ten and forcing the rest back into the Sekarnu Mountains.
Upon his return to Dab-ili, he held a magnificent feast celebrating his homeland's liberation. At its conclusion, eight tablets were presented, created from gold he claimed from slain enemy kings that he ordered to be melted down. To be distributed among the holy cities, each tablet carried the proclamation of his new Kalumak, the first since Gabinki's conquests. Nimgaligigi donned a purple robe and cloak, placing twin bracelets of gold studded with river pearls, thus styling himself Sarisi and Ruler of the Delta.
Demography and Population
The majority of people identify nominally as Kalu, but if their bloodlines were revealed, they would tell a different story. For three thousand years, waves of migrating and invading peoples have been absorbed and culturally assimilated into the native population. Closer to the sea, Kalu blood is more pure. Meanwhile, people living near the border with Med-sitim have a more mixed ancestry. Up the Uzab, the Azimon's southern-most tributary, many descend from the mountain tribes that constantly raid Kalu lands.
The Kalu's ancestral lands consist of the lower Azimon and its delta all way up to the sea. At times, Kalumak has held lands further up the river and its tributaries to the north and east.
Levied troops plucked from farms and cities serve as the majority of Kalumak's armies. Leading them are the magic-using warriors that make up the ruling class of the kingdom. These men train for their entire lives to fight for their king and land, mastering the sword, bow, and chariot.
Purported Kalu inventions include cuneifrom writing, the sail, and the plow. Agriculture first arose in the Azimon River Valley, spreading to other parts of the world as the saw the advantages over traditional hunting and gathering. Metalworking was first mastered in the region, but it is not known who were the original practitioners.
Eight deities, four gods and four goddesses, make up the Kalu pantheon. They were said to descend upon the world after they created it to bestow special abilities upon mortals they favored. The cults surrounding these eight make up the faith that nearly all within Kalumak adhere to. Foreigners worship their own gods as they would in their homelands: Med-sitimi keep to their gods, Nupari keep to theirs, and so on. Religion is ethnically-based, so the Kalu one accordingly holds by far the most power in the kingdom. As long as Kalumak's gods are respected, there is no cause to crack down on anyone else's religion.
The kingdoms of Nupara and Med-sitim are the two main entities that share the Azimon river system with the Kalu. The three kingdoms oscillate between phases of alliance, tension, and warfare. Interactions between these states cover hundreds of clay tablets worth of history. Marriages between nobles are acceptable and numerous alliances were sealed by the marriage between a Kalu and a Nupari or Med-sitimi, often accompanied by a peace treaty etched into a flattened piece of solid silver.
Agriculture & Industry
The Kalu rely on farming with large irrigation channels, the first of which were built several thousand years before to tame the unpredictable flooding patterns of the Azimon. The main food crops of the region are emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, and barley. Date palms are a popular cash crop and the Kalu grow many different fruits and vegetables. A non-exhaustive list includes: peas, beans, lentils, cucumbers, leeks, onions, garlic, lettuce, grapes, melons, apples, and pomegranates. Flax is also grown to produce clothing.
Domesticated animals include: cows, sheep, goats, donkeys, horses, chickens, and geese. The animals are not herded in the nomadic sense, but rather grouped together in pens or left to range. The meat of the ox is not very popular due its toughness, since it tends to be primarily a work animal. Mutton, goat, pork, and chicken are incorporated into many Kalu dishes.
Hunting and gathering is no longer a way of life in the region, and has not been for millenia. Kings and nobles are known to hunt for the animals live along the river valley, such as gazelle, lion, and river dragon. The popularity of these hunts has lead to the decline in the population of these creatures.
Farming is the largest employer of people, like most civilized regions throughout the known world. Common occupations include brickmakers and potters that take advantage of the abundant clay and mud. Smiths of bronze are highly renowned for their skills that supply the elite warrior class with the weapons and armor they need to maintain their status and power. There are special craftsmen that work the raw trade goods into products that are coveted by the wealthy. The families that produce these products are under special patronage from the king and his noblemen and often life close or inside the palace.
Trade & Transport
Internal trade amongst the cities of Kalumak tends to take the form of bartering essential goods such as crops, building materials, and clothing; or exchanging large amounts of goods in exchange for precious metals.
Trade with foreign nations is mainly the domain of the palace. This is very important to the country’s economy, but diminishes toward the end of the Bronze Epoch due to the disruption of international trade networks.
Boys in the upper class train to fight on foot and from the back of a chariot, practicing use of the sword, spear, and bow. Girls in the upper class, on the other hand, are trained in two arts: one domestic and another, religious. They are taught how to run a household and manage finances while also learning how to become a priestess of one of the Eight Creators. Depending on the ability that a girl is blessed with, she is trained to worship the god or goddess it corresponds with.
Children in the lower classes, meanwhile, are expected to learn their parents' trades, be it farming, brewing, or smithing. A professional with no children, however, is free to apprentice someone else's and pass on their skills to the instead. Upward mobility is rather uncommon and occurs by becoming a scribe or merchant, who live in palace alongside the nobleman they work for. Being a soldier during campaign season gives men a chance to loot the enemy.
Many cities have sewer systems that are used to dispose of trash and human waste. Most roads not frequented by the Sarisi's armies tend to be poor quality, with people preferring to travel by river instead. Cities have high walls made from mud bricks to their inhabitants safe. Advanced irrigation systems composing of canals, levees, and dams helped to tame the Azimon and lead to more fruitful harvests.
Mythology & Lore
While the gods slumbered after they created the world, Menkish, the appointed god of the void, sent forth hordes of beasts, furious that he was not permitted to help. The monsters destroyed everything in their path, killing anyone and anything. Meanwhile, Menkish set great conflagrations and started floods. The few humans to survive the onslaught were forced into hiding, where could do nothing but hope for salvation or wait to perish. Kabu woke the other gods, who in their fury, began a war that would last one thousand years. In the chaos, oases and rivers sprang up to give safe areas for humans to live, where they prospered unlike any time before the Perpetual Darkness. The gods gave particularly brave men special abilities. While the men slew the beasts, the gods permanently banished Menkish from the world. To this day, the Eight Creators prevent his return and attempt to keep his power at bay. Although unable to set foot on the mortal plane, Menkish's influence is felt whenever a harvest fails, a flood washes away a city, or when wars bring down mighty kingdoms. Every misfortune is said to occur to his nefarious will.
Before the rise of kings, priestesses ruled Kalu society. These priestesses were revered almost to the point of deification themselves. The early Kalu lived in a harsher land, one where flooding was unpredictable (as it remains) and farming took a great deal of labor to be productive. Conditions like these created a pessimistic people who felt apprehension toward the future. Many of the rituals and beliefs of Kalu religion reflect a need to please the gods and increase their power so they will be better able to restrain Menkish's evil energy. Gradually, with the escalation of warfare, a select few men became military leaders. With their new found power, these men supplanted rule from the priestesses. Kings then established themselves as blessed by the gods and chief priests, but work to honor them alongside the old priesthoods. This transition took centuries to complete.
The eight gods, Nimgala, Geranu, Saluk, Mea, Rumisu, Amanun, Emunkash, and Kabu worked together to create the world one aspect at a time. They were feeling unfulfilled living in a vast, empty void and desired a greater purpose. First came the sea, and then land was raised above it. Each god took turns creating animals, plants, geographical features, and lastly, humanity. The Kalu claim the first human rose from the Azimon's banks from clay the gods shaped in their own image. After their work was finished, they rested for eight thousands, with Kabu being chosen as the nascent world's caretaker, with the promise she would arouse the others should any problem arise.
Tenets of Faith
In Kalu religion, there are two main tenants to follow. The first is to do whatever one can to strengthen the Eight Creators and prevent the end of the world. Second, one must not succumb to the influence of Menkish.
Kalu society bases its ethics around the second tenant of their religion. As Menkish is seen as the root of all evil and misfortune in the world, acting according to his will is seen as enhancing his power and thus granting him a greater chance of returning to the mortal world. To avoid what they fear so much while also giving the people rules to live by, the Kalu have developed numerous law codes, which are compiled by scribes and endorsed by a Sarisi. Each city used to have their own, but there is now one for the entire kingdom. A culmination of laws created from more than two thousand years before until now, it is called the Code of Nimgaliluti, after the Sarisi who order its drafting.
A Kalu can pray to the gods at any time and make small offerings on household altars. If someone has the means to travel or lives close to a city with a ziggurat, he or she can give the priestesses an offering, which usually consist of a small amount of bread and beer for the average person. The wealthy donate cuts of meat and wine, as well as gold and silver. Each god is honored with a week of feasting and drinking. Every major hero in Kalu mythology is honored in a similar, albeit in a less grand fashion.
All of the deities, god or goddess, are worshiped by priestesses. They are appointed to the priesthood by the ruler of the patron city where the main ziggurat of each god is located. Each girl must be chosen by the age of ten and hail from a noble family, those who possess magical abilities.
Political Influence & Intrigue
Only women with magic powers are allowed to become priestesses because they perceived as closer the gods than common women, who are permitted to work in the temples as servants. The high priestess of each great ziggurat is one of the wives, daughters, or relative of the Sarisi, a symbol of the ancient unions between early warlords and the high priestesses that once ruled Kalu society. This is done to maintain the religious legitimacy of the royal family. There is fierce competition among the remaining positions in the temples.
Encouraging visitors to the offer up gold, silver, and other valuables is common practice since it serves to enrich the temple. These offerings are kept in a treasury only accessible by the high priestess herself. Some of these women have discretely opened them and distributed its contents to their priestesses or given to needy fathers, husbands, or brothers in times of strife.
There are some who disagree with giving gold and silver to the gods, saying it doesn't do enough to strength them for the eternal battle with Menkish, preferring to give only food and drink. Unsurprisingly, the temple's official stance is that any offering benefits the gods. Over time, many in the lower class have come to see the priesthood as corrupt and self-serving.
A smaller group believes that Menkish alone should be worshiped. They argue since all eight gods are needed to hold back Menkish's power, the banished god of the void is more powerful and therefore deserving above all others. A Kalu never announces themselves as a member of Menkish's cult unless surrounded by other members. To take part in a ceremony honoring Menkish or voicing praise for the god is a capital offence in Kalumak, punished by immediate execution. With increasing class tensions, the cult's ranks swell, mainly with the poor. Upon Menkish's return, they will be spared from his wrath and made to rule over the world's remains as a reward for their faith, or so his followers claim.