The royal family has had fertility problems for the last several generations, like many royal lines inheriting the wrath of the land for their people’s actions along with responsibility for governance. Prince Elgen, heir to the throne of Uster, died eight years ago defending his people against the Reiver. Last year, his father, King Doraldo, who had no other acknowledged children, died of old age, leaving the crown to Elgen’s eleven year old son Tevric, his older sister Jirill having caught the blood-sweat eight months previously. Queen Aysolda, Doraldo’s widow, rules as regent in Tevric’s name until the boy reaches fourteen, the age of majority, and can be crowned as king in his own right. Talk has already been going around of seeking a bride for Tevric from one of the far Northern or Eastern Kingdoms, to bring in new blood that’s not quite so closely related. The decision carries substantial political weight, not only for Uster, but for the girl’s kingdom as well. Very few nations can afford to spare someone in the royal lineage, what with low birth rates, childhood accidents and diseases, and the other manifestations of magical backlash against the family that takes responsibility for an entire kingdom. Then there’s political alliances to be considered, and the muddling of lines of inheritance, and all the legal ramifications that make a royal wedding more complicated to negotiate than a treaty with the Rinzars.
All of this takes place in Varna, the capital city, and has very little impact on the daily lives of people in outlying villages. It really doesn’t matter who’s on the throne – taxes still get collected, soldiers march through every so often on their way to the border and limp back from it, crops get raised, babies are born and people die. The average Usterite will raise their drink if someone toasts the crown, and mutter “Lor’n’Lady save’em”, but they’ve got lives of their own to lead. As long as there’s somebody halfway competent on the throne, doing the books and balancing the financial and magical accounts, and keeping Uster out of war, the farmers really don’t care who it is.
The Glaucharkhas are a loose confederation of semi-nomadic clans, each with its own aghat, which gets translated variously as chieftain, elder, war leader, and boss. “Cat herder” might be a better translation. Keeping a clan all moving in the same direction takes considerable skill. When they’re not skirmishing with their neighbors over grazing rights, they’re getting into it with each other over whose turn it is to provide the next sacrificial goat for the great sky spirit. Getting the clans as a whole moving in the same direction requires a substantial external threat (invading army, volcanic eruption, shadow dragon) and a highly charismatic leader to assume the role of jai’aghat (“big boss” is a reasonable translation). Starting a fight with the Glaucharkhas would be a serious mistake, though, as they’ll drop their internecine quarrels in a heartbeat to stand together against an outsider.
Every three years, the Rinzars gather at Daggers Point (and yes, they’re well aware of the double meaning and find it amusing) for the Contest of Control. Over the course of a week, their current leaders, and whoever lost a bet and has to take part, fight a series of duels, team defenses, bear pits (no actual bears are involved, just a single defender who takes on anyone entering one at a time until defeated, at which point the victor becomes the new “bear”), drinking contests, boasting competitions, and storytelling around a firepit. At the end of it, the best and worst competitors are joined in mystic union, a form of sacred marriage, becoming the new First and Last of the Rinzars. For the next three years, the First makes all of the important decisions for their people, and the Last implements them. Theoretically, this puts the backlash from anything the land doesn’t like on the Last, protecting the First. In reality, the magic knows when people are trying to cheat, and finds ways to deal with it. While the Last will have a hard life, taking the brunt of the impact from the First’s leadership, the First must deal with the potential for the Last becoming UnBalanced from it all. If the Last tips over, they’ll take the First with them, through the mystical bond they share. Between the precarious nature of the ruling couple, and the fact that they step down every three years, are replaced by a new pair, and never rule again after their single term, holding the Rinzars to any form of agreement takes considerable negotiation skills. Top it off with a deep distrust for written contracts among the Rinzars – they have utter contempt for people whose word is not good enough and require paper – and you have a nation that even the Glaucharkhas find problematic. The Forvari give thanks on a regular basis that the Southwall stands between them and Rinzara.