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Northern Occupations: Elders - Culture
Written By: Elizabeth Barrette (Writer), Ellen Million (Editor)
These are some of the things that elders do.
 
 

When people get old and their bodies wind down, they typically retire from vigorous work and become elders. Rangers tend to retire sooner than domestics, because of their more physically demanding activities. Domestics may retire later, or not at all. If they're still fairly healthy, elders may continue doing the less-demanding tasks in a similar line of work. Sometimes they take on a specialty that emphasizes experience, such as sky-watching, record-keeping, or teaching. If their health fails, they are excused from work, having made their contribution to village life in their youth, and the village will continue to support them in their old age as best it can.

These elders are highly respected in Northern culture. Only tough, smart, and/or lucky people survive to old age in this harsh environment. Elders do a great deal of teaching, not just infants and children but also adults who continue learning more advanced aspects of their craft as a lifelong pursuit. They tell stories, whether or not that is a personal specialty. One Northern custom that derives from all this is how they resolve verbal right-of-way when two people start talking at the same time: the younger person stops, and the older person gets to speak first. Finally, elders provide backup and extra hands for the many low-effort, everyday tasks of village life, doing undemanding gathering, knitting, mending, crafting, and cleaning.


Within the general population of elders is the Council of Elders, the leading body of Northern culture. Membership is primarily by invitation, although people may ask to join. The title is a slight misnomer, as the Council also tends to tap people who are young but no longer able-bodied, if they have relevant skills.

Most of the Council's work is resolving interpersonal disputes and making decisions about resource management.

The Council tries to keep an eye out for people who are causing conflicts (even if it is unintentional), not pulling their weight, and they are responsible for meting out punishments for poor behavior. Punishments can be general (middens-duty or messy cleaning tasks), or specific to the crime: if a person has caused the destruction or loss of communal tools due to carelessness, they may be assigned extra work with a toolmaker or be required to repair the damage they've done. If they've wronged a particular person, their punishment will often involve reparations directly to that person. The council of elders will also put pressure on anyone who seems to be reluctant to try to have children, and will work to intervene in poor behavior before it causes problems.

They make decisions about how resources are distributed, especially in times of need. Domestic keepers do a lot of the day-to-day work in stocking and sharing out of the storerooms, but when resources get tight, they consult with the council to decide when to open emergency stores and when to begin tight rationing. The Council also consults with the rangers to determine what kind of harvests to expect, and when to cull extreme populations of animals.

The Council also declares, plans, and directs events. They supervise the formation of age-sets and the adulthood tests. The summer tests are usually overseen by a trio of elders representing each of the three villages.

The Council aims to find consensus on issues, taking the time to discuss the topics thoroughly and trying never to rush a decision. In most cases, choices are made organically over several days. In those situations where a swift accord is required, or where a clear resolution is not obvious, they may call for a vote from the options.

Because the Council of Elders requires so much collaboration and interpersonal skill, it is not for everyone. Not all elders are suited for joining, and some don't wish to, even if they have the skill to do it.



Sky-watchers observe everything above ground level. They study the stars, the clouds and weather, and the Others. They particularly work to memorize rare and strange events that less-expert observers wouldn't know how to recognize or handle. They help decide the timing for events such as the summer gathers. They issue alerts when something alarming happens in the sky, such as a bad storm or a lowering stream of Others. They work closely with record-keepers, reporting their observations and using the existing records to glean patterns.

This is a rare specialty by itself, although many people work at it as an auxiliary knack. (The basics are taught to everyone; unlike most humans, Northerners frequently look up.) Itrelir usually has 2-3 sky-watchers; the smaller villages may or may not have one at any given time. Sky-watchers are often elders, sometimes older rangers or domestics, who have had many years to observe and learn their complex subject. In Itadesh: Arfon



Furshirts convey cultural information for education and entertainment. They do all kinds of storytelling, puppetry, music, history, and related activities. They are skilled in the art of illustration with story-bread. All this requires an excellent memory and the ability to amuse people reliably. It also takes a lot of patience because furshirts do things like teaching children and entertaining domestics during tedious projects.

This is one of the few occupations that a villager can't just declare; it is a title of respect bestowed by the village on someone who is doing the work of a furshirt. Usually it goes to an elder after years of developing their repertoire. More rarely it is bestowed at a younger age, as with Karavai (Itrelir). The title comes from the distinctive garment created by the villagers, made from the fur of many Northern animals. Each one is unique and they are never traded or given away.

Storytelling is a ubiquitous Northern skill and everyone does it, whether they are particularly good at it or not. The title of furshirt is reserved for people with exceptional skill, who spend a great deal of their time on such activities. Ideally a village wants to have at least one, and Itrelir usually has several; but it's based so much on talent that they can come in clusters and gaps. In Itrelir: Ablara, Karavai.



Record-keepers create and maintain the written records in their village. They excel at reading and writing, beyond the basics that everyone learns. They have a good memory; they can recall facts easily and find references at need. They work with the Council of Elders, along with senior rangers and domestics, to discern patterns and decide what needs to be recorded for future reference. They also recopy older materials as age degrades the quality. Some record-keepers, especially domestics with a crafting background, also make ink, paper, and writing implements.

This occupation requires a steady hand and a sharp mind. Elders frequently switch to this as their bodies slow down and they become less able to do more active work. Itadesh and Itakith like to have at least one; Itrelir aims for 2-3.

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