Valente
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Valente

Borrowed From: Castille

 

When one speaks of passion in Gaia, of loyalty, of fierce dedication beyond the call of duty, one inevitably speaks of Valente.  Valente live life to the fullest, taking every experience as if it were their last.

 

It houses the greatest universities in the world, spearheading scientific advancement.  While most Gaians see them as cold and distrustful, their hearts beat strong and proud.  They are the epitome of devotion, the personification of life. Though lacking somewhat in the sheer technical depth of Wutai based learning, they make up for it in broad spectrum.

 

At its heart, Valente cherishes nothing so much as tradition.  Its long history of foreign occupation, religious strife, and political upheaval has taught it to draw upon its rich cultural identity and strong heritage to survive.  Even when things are at their worst, Valente practice siesta, attend mass, and entertain extended family.  These are the things that make Valente unique.  But Valente is a nation divided.  Divided by fear, and divided by hatred.  The Empire has turned its gaze upon Valente, and is well-known for sweeping across other nations, claiming nearly everything as its own.

 

With the Empire comes the Church, which may bring turmoil as well.  The Church means the Inquisition, an unyielding force that threatens many of the disciplines that Valente holds dear.  Scholarly pursuits - for which Valente has become known across Gaia - are being classified as ‘heretical’ and stifled or snuffed out.  Knowledge and enlightenment are slowly being replaced by ignorance and fear.  Combined with the Empire’s threat of invasion, the Church may test this country’s proud heart as none before it.

 

History - The Redevelopment (98 AH)

After the Time of Trials, The disperse people of the small continent began to gather and consolidate power for sake of survival.  Administrators led by Senator Valen and his family set themselves to work rebuilding the nation.  As their armies continued to explore the continent, Valente nobles instituted a series of changes on the shattered people of Agraga, absorbing the society into their own.

 

Prior to the occupation, the Agragans specialized in sea trade and dye and textile production.  Western technologies improved upon all of them.  Scholars from beyond the mountains nearly doubled harvest yields, and introduced the process for making wine, a technique modern Valente are famous for.

 

The Western Republic established the administrative, commercial, and architectural models that Post-Holy Agraga relied upon.  Their influence remains today, though much has been changed to accommodate modern dynamics.  Architecture, in particular, has evolved through the ages, affected by the many cultures that have invaded and occupied the basin.  The Republic also started the educational, literary, and artistic developments that Valente would one day perfect.  The Republic established roads across Agraga, and built mighty cities (both new and old) to house her people.

 

But for every advancement and gift the Republic offered, they stole something in return.  They stole Agraga’s ore, stripped its land, and subjugated its people.  Republic citizens had rights in Agraga that the natives couldn’t exercise, and all important decisions were made by the Valen family or their masters in the Republic.  They set the pattern for exploitation that would plague the area for centuries to come, and instilled the first threads of foreign hatred within the hearts of the natives.

 

The diverse political divisions set into place by the invaders offered the Agraga natives a unique opportunity, however.  With so many small communities spread across the region, it was easy for the Agragans to mount guerrilla resistance which lasted until the Republic’s collapse in 297 AH.

 

The First King of Valente

The violent fall of the Republic allowed the Valente Family (whose name had slowly changed from Valen) to assert its social position an semi-peacefully win the capitulation of the other kingdoms.  In 299 AH, Josemaria de Valente was crowned the first king of a united Valente.  The former kings of the remaining provinces were granted the administration of their own lands in exchange for their fealty to the King, and were bestowed the noble title of Governor.

 

The Valente monarchy advanced their status through trade, and promoted advances in the sciences of agriculture, engineering, and mining.  Valene also made early trade with the Wutai Empire, a union which proved advantageous for both sides.

 

The Second Invasion

The alliance with Wutai offered the Valente new trading options, new military innovations, and new architectural developments.  In exchange, Valente allowed Wutaiins to establish trade colonies along the southwestern coast.

 

This alliance would survive the creation of the Western Empire, the coronation of the first Highwind, and even the creation of the Church of the All Father.  The ‘silent invaders’ brought with them new advances in architecture, metallurgy, alchemy, mathematics, astronomy, and their own versions of the teachings of the Good Book.  Under Wutai guidance, Valente enjoyed nearly seven hundred years of peace and prosperity.

 

The Valente monarchy formalized this lucrative alliance when King Josemaria married the eldest daughter of the Wutai Shogun.  In 343 AH, the child of this union, King Alonzo de Josemaria - was named both the Second High King of Valente and Shogun of Wutai, although the vast distance between the two countries made the title more symbolic than practical.  The rise of Emperor Highwind also limited Alonzo’s power, and the boy-king remained subject to Highwind’s laws throughout his reign.

 

While seemingly harmless at the time, King Alonzo’s ascent is now considered a horrendous compromise of Valente sovereignty.  While both nations flourished under joint rule, most modern Valente see the gradual dissolution of their ancestor’s lifestyle as an unforgivable betrayal.  For the second time in their history, Valente were forced to sacrifice their own way of life for those of outsiders.

 

Many Valente resented Wutai presence on their soil and wished to lash out.  They found their chance in 346, when a prophet of the All Father was killed within Wutai.  The Empire called for war against the Wutai, and offered angry Valente a chance for blood.

 

The Crusades were another protracted war, consuming countless lives and untold resources before they ground to a halt.  But none of the fighting occurred in Valente territory: most of it took place on the Wutai-Imperial border (In the sea), and see-sawed back and forth for years.  The war created a schism in the ruling lines and the symbolic unification of the two nations could not survive the strain of the Crusades.  Alonzo’s son was forced to abdicate rule of Wutai to a distant cousin, one who had never left Wutai.

 

Still, the Valente-Wutai alliance survived.  Many of the most vocal and active enemies of the Valente-Wutai alliance died in the conflict, leaving more moderate voices to take their place.  Alonzo’s rise was a direct result of these moderate voices; were it not for the Crusades, the alliance he symbolized might never have lasted as long as it did.  Trade with the Wutai continued throughout the Crusades and Valente remained on friendly terms with the distant Empire for the next seven centuries.  The alliance afforded Valente relative prosperity, which allowed them to weather the Time of Troubles well.  The Church provided a haven from barbarian raids, Gaia’s Wrath, and other dangers which destroyed so many other areas of Gaia.  By the time a new Prophet had arrived, Valente civilization was one of the most sophisticated in the world.

 

The Prophets

Even today, Valente speak pridefully of the blessed emergence of the Prophet in their nation.  In 1000 AH, the Prophet appeared, performing miracles in the northern regions of Valente.

 

Trouble brewed on the horizon however, as in the years that followed, the Prophet began to speak out against the decadent influence of the Wutaiin Empire upon Valente.  He preached that the Valente had lost their identity, and allowed themselves to be culturally fooled by a power that had lost its connection with the true fauth.  This incited dissension within communities where the Wutai Empire’s influence was prominent, and many rejected the Prophet’s connection with the All Father.  Religious division in Valente bloomed to civil unrest.

 

Open conflict erupted in Spring 1002 AH, when a Church bishop was murdered by a mob of Wutai in one of their port cities.  Within days, the Prophet declared that anyone who rejected his teaching or claimed fealty to the Wutai Empire would be branded a heretic, and the ‘infidels’ would be expelled from Valente.

 

The Second Crusades had begun.

 

The Dons of Valente

In the wake of the Crusades, many vassals acquired land and title from the nation’s former leaders.  These vassals sought to establish a new monarchy with a strong link to the church.  In a peaceful assembly in the historical capital of Valente, the Pope listened to claims for the new throne.  A monarch was chosen from the nobility, and in 1004, Ramuth de Valente, a famous warrior of the Crusades, was crowned High King of Castille.  His first act was to reestablish the noble class.  Overnight, peasantry who had distinguished themselves during the Crusade were granted the title of Don (or Sir).

 

The nation was then divided into new ranchos, each bearing the name of the ruling Don’s family.  The lands directly governed by the High King remained around the ancient capital of San Valente.  Almost immediately upon taking his title, Don Ramuth de Valente offered a portion of his estate in the Western Empire to the church, and dedicated his resources to the construction of a new Holy Capital.

 

The first building erected was the Great Cathedral, home of the Pope.  Valente continued to re-build all that was destroyed during the Crusade, expanding beyond the city’s original bounds.  Much of what the Wutai built in the south of the nation was left untouched.  Common sense dictated that - although the Wutai were branded heretics, their mighty contributions to the grandeur of Valente would remain.

 

The Destruction of the Valente Armada

In the summer of 1004 AH, the mighty Valente Armada, 190 ships of various classes and sizes - set sail from ports all over Valente under the direction Hernando de Orduna, an advisor of the High King who had never spent a day at sea.  Their objective was simple:  a Queen in another nation had declared independence from the Church.

 

The Armada was doomed from the beginning.  From the very day the fleet set sail, it was plagued with problems.  Up the coast, the fleet was slowed with bad weather.  A hurricane set in and with few ports to harbour them along the rocky shores of Eastern Valente, nearly sixty ships were lost at sea.  Quartermasters had underestimated the crew’s consumption of stores as well, and an unplanned supply stop was also necessary.  The only city capable of supporting them was directly across the river from the Western Empire.  After the fleet’s resupply stop, the whole world knew what Valente was up to.  To make matters worse, the Empire was not capable of supplying the fleet in full; seven more ships were left behind.

 

Once on the high seas the fleet was attacked by raiders who supported the Queen’s rule.  While the armada was more than capable of dealing with this threat, critical amounts of weapons had to be expended to repel the menace.  Twenty-seven more ships and their crews were lost in the fighting.  With only ninety-four ships left, and against the better judgement of the armada’s captains, Orduna ordered the fleet onward.

 

This proved to be his fatal mistake, and suddenly, Valente was without an army.

 

 

Valente Today

Historically, Valente has been a nation searching only for its own freedom.  Today, Valente is a nation attempting to push ahead and establish itself as a peaceful region, inviting retiring nobility and rich merchants into ports to enjoy Valente hospitality, using this commerce and a positive image to endear itself to other nations, while fighting inwardly to keep their identity and freedom intact.

 

Culture

Valente’s warm demeanour and hearty appreciation for life attracts many to her music halls, theatres, and museums.  The incorporation of so many foreign influences ensured that outsiders could enjoy the Valente lifestyle, and sustained the nation’s cultural exchange for many centuries.  Art, customs, mannerisms... many were borrowed or imitated those of neighbouring countries, and even the Wutai.  Valente culture has always developed in tandem with that of the rest of the world.

 

Valente’s government has always supported its artists and cultural leaders, devoting much money to the construction of museums and galleries, displaying local achievements alongside those of the Empire’s finest creators.  Recently, the Church has began to take the opportunity to enforce the purity of the All Father on Valente, persecuting writers and other artists, censoring and destroying heretical works, and excising dissident statements wherever they find them.

 

Religion

The Valente branch of the Church is somewhat different from most other nations.  In Valente, the belief of the Church is that all of Gaia is a riddle created by the All-Father, and that he has charged humanity to solve this Riddle.  As such, science, philosophy, art, dance, everything humanity strives for is in an attempt to solve this riddle.

 

This has made the Valente people somewhat more advanced in the sciences than in other nations, with crop-rotation being standard, medicine being somewhat better, with a knowledge of how to clean wounds and prevent infection and with limited technique in surgery.

 

It is believed that if a person dies, they will reincarnate, returning to Gaia to continue learning the riddles of the world, leading humanity towards a greater understanding.  This process continues until eventually, the riddle is solved, and the soul transcends, continuing on into the unknown.  Those who would crush the soul, denying others the chance to solve the riddles that the All-Father has placed in the world, return as monsters as penance.

 

Art and Music - Architecture

Like many things in Valente, buildings and their purposes have changed substantially throughout its history.  In the early days of the Old Republic, things were simple.  There was only one style of construction - pre-eminently defensive, highly ornamental, and incredibly stagnant.  It was an unchanging balance of fashion and function, and the only aspect of their design that suffered was diversity.

Today, hundreds of years of foreign occupation has shattered that balance.  The influences of the Wutai and other nations have resulted in permanent changes in Valente architecture.  It can be seen in the soaring minarets of the cathedrals to the church, as much as the rugged engineering of some of the northern cities.  The people have come to accept and even appreciate these foreign influences.  A fascination with new and different styles is blooming, fed by the fragments of lost civilizations that have only recently been discovered.

 

Dancing

Contrary to popular belief, dancing did not originate in Valente, though it became more popular there than anywhere else.  Social dancing (formal steps mainly taken by the nobility at court) originated in the Western Empire.  Theatrical dancing originated in Wutai.  In Valente, dancing began among the commoners and only spread to the nobility within the last 300 years, when the socially conscious elite began to notice.

 

Today, however, dancing is a respected and widespread art form in Valente.  Valente dancers know how to love and how to hate, how to feel life down to their very bones.  They are hot-tempered, charming, fiercely devoted... qualities that describe the average Valente very well.  Ask any of them about their craft, and they will tell you that it comes from the most treasured part of their soul.

 

Watching a Valente dance is mesmerizing.  Regardless of the style, there is always a deep immersion of the individual within the moment, as if the dancer loses herself to her own imagination.  For this reason alone, Valente dancers are among the most highly sought-after in all of Gaia.  Patrons, theatre-owners, and dramatists seek out potential employees among the commoners with unparalleled enthusiasm, hoping to discover the next great ingenue.

 

There are two broad forms of dance in Valente, and two general types of dancers.  Danza is regimental in style and involves very measured movements, which can be quite draining.  It requires formal training, and is very difficult for casual enthusiasts to attempt.  Danza is primarily the purview of bailarina (theatrical dancers who perform as a career, usually for money), who must learn their craft through years of painful training; very little instinct is involved.

 

The second form of dancing is called Baile, and is more of a folk-dance, originating among the commoners of Valente.  Baile is instinctual in nature, and generally frowned upon by the nobility for its rugged (and often libidinous) style.  It is passionate, fast, and infectious; onlookers are often lured into the open-air festivals themselves, finding the movements both foreign and intriguing.  Bailadora (common dancers) are the practitioners of Baile, and can frequently be found in semi-competitive gatherings around the homes and shops of commoners all over Valente.  Bailadora often dance to entertain those passing by them on the street.

 

Danza is the dance of nobility and faith.  Church rituals have included slow and serene danza steps for hundreds of years (most Valente mothers will not allow their daughters to engage in baile, which is often considered vulgar).  Danza academies can be found all across the nation, where stoic dance suites are taught to precision.  Outside these academies, dance suites are never recorded; they are simply taught from generation to generation.

 

Danza Theatres

In the last fifty years, danza theatres - called coralles - have become fashionable among the Valente nobility.  These formal stage shows are constructed between existing houses in major cities, with curtains, portable planks, and other simple means.

 

Styles of Common Dance

Baile can be broken down into specialized styles of dance that are found across Valente.  The following is a general list:

 

Canario: Flashy and quick.

Flamenco: Convivial and informal, flamenco dancing is primarily practised by nomadic commoners.  Flamenco is incredibly popular, and Valente nobles have been known to clandestinely hire nomads to come to their homes and teach it to them.  Flamenco features castanets (finger cymbals) and wild hip movements.

 

Folia: Wild and unruly, this style of dance is commonly associated with drunken crowds.

 

Sarabande: An Imperial-inspired folk-dance, featuring flashy moves and exciting flourishes.  Arms and castanets are never still.

 

Villano: A dance engaged in strictly by peasants, the movements of villano occur both on the floor and when standing, with the surrounding crowd clapping their hands and stomping their feet to keep time.

 

Zarabanda: The zarabanda style of dance has been forbidden by the church for over one hundred years (they claim it is obscene), yet the commoners pridefully continue to practice it.

 

Literature

At this time, Valente is perhaps more famous for literature than any other nation on Gaia.  The last century has produced hordes of talent from the halls of the church universities, (and a handful of uneducated artistic geniuses as well), and the word of Valente authors are read as far away as Wutai.

 

Presently, there are two predominant literary camps in Valente, following the work of two pioneers of the written word.  The first was Clemence de Aldarrio, a priest whose strict historical texts read like the most heartfelt poetry.  Clemence’s depiction of events and the appearance of the Prophet are permanent fixtures in the Universities of Valente today, present the proper balance between history and distraction.

 

The second - Anabelle Zandova - was a commoner with a formal education, whose social, political, and moral satire shocked and delighted her readers.  Though she ruffled many feathers amongst the Dons and the Church representatives at home, her work continues to delight the nation’s populace, and more and more authors are following her stead.

 

Valente playwrights are currently focussing on the complex realities of their society, shining an unforgiving spotlight upon the troubles of the average Valente every day.  They also deal regularly with high-minded ideological ideals.  Novelists often mix humour with bitter irony, depicting everyday Valente life through the eyes of crude social misfits, beggars, petty thieves, and tramps.  Most modern Valente novels tend to focus upon justice and episodes of retribution.

 

Valente literature is not presently in sync with the mentality of most Valente, though it can be argued that it is merely ahead of its time, depicting the nation Valente has yet to become.

 

Music

Common music - like its dance - has a life of its own.  The vitality, daring, and aliento (breath, a term attached to things that demand fierce emotion) it acquires through a skilled Valente commoner is awe-inspiring.  The nobility of other Gaian nations often hire Valente to play at their own galas, and more than one such encounter ends in tears for the nobles and their guests.  Instruments used by the commoners include the tambourine, castanets, qaita (Valente bagpipes), and the famed Valente innovation - the guitar.

 

Meanwhile, Valente nobility (and especially the Church) adhere to a much duller and more regimented style of music called metro y metodo (metre and method).  The martial sound relies mainly upon rhythm (drums and horns) to convey its message, with few spontaneous expressions.  This form of music is highly mathematical, and finds its roots in the scientific revolution, when church scholars discovered that the tone and beat of music has a direct correlation with the physical reaction of the audience.  Today, metro y metodo is used to placate as much as to entertain.

 

Painting

No form of artistic expression has had as much impact as painting.  It has caused marriages, duels, treaties, and even wars; it has reinforced faith, and reduced stable governments to chaos; it has become the livelihood of scores of fledgling celebrities, and sent many more into the depths of insanity and despair.

 

On modern Gaia, people are just beginning to understand and tap into the emotions that rule them.  Lifelike portraits, picturesque landscapes, and religious iconography draw these emotions to the surface, forcing the viewer to contend with their innermost joys and demons.

 

Valente art tends to focus on religious themes and figures; many of the world’s finest monasteries, temples, and parishes feature the original work of Valente natives.  Unfortunately, the over-reliance of church subjects has led to a slight creative stagnation:  there are only so many ways you can paint the Prophet, after all.  As would be epected, many Valente painters share styles and interests with those of other nations, where church interests remain strong.

 

Sculpting

Sculpture has not been popular in Valente since the Republic’s occupation of the central basin.  Though many early sculptures remain in the capital, the art form has largely dried up.  Today, the only form of sculpture regularly attempted in Valente is woodworking, which is limited to only a few ranchos.

 

Theatre

Valente theatre is communal.  Landed Dons work side-by-side with the commoners and even vagrants to construct sets, design props, and derive plots from modern and past events.  Performances are open to the public and rarely charge for entrance.  New presentations are held in each town every month or two, and are boisterous and loud.  Generally, the first few weeks of any show become the focus of that region’s entertainment, regardless of its quality.

 

The Valente people tend to favour comedies and light-hearted dramas, and playwrights work hard to ensure a high degree of levity at all times.  Fortunately, Valente are not easily bored, and generally accept long interludes required to maintain the integrity of a story or legend.

 

Academia has recently taken a hand in the theatrical world.  The last ten years have seen a sudden shift in the Church’s attitude toward theatre, from indifference to cautious appreciation.  Scholars and other major population centres have constructed amphitheatres that double as university classrooms, and students of any artistic subject typically study at least some theatrical history and design.  University theatres all share a few characteristics, including the presence of religious icons onstage.

 

Ceremonies and Special Events

Festivals and celebrations in Valente are a way of life.  From region to region, hundreds of small, localized festivities take place throughout the year, venerating saints and ancestors, seasonal changes, and crop harvests.  Friends and family gather and passionately celebrate the diversity of life.  While most holidays are influenced by Church beliefs, they are usually observed on days previously associated with early pagan celebrations.

 

Spring: The Festival of Flames

While very day is a holiday somewhere in Valente, each season has at least one celebration that defines it.  In the spring, that celebration is El Festival de Llamas, the Festival of Flames.  The festival is highlighted by the building and burning of ninots, giant paper-mache figures.  These life-like (and sometimes bawdy) creations usually depict some current or unpopular historical event in a satirical light, and are placed on street corners and plazas on the fifteenth of the third month.  Four nights after the ninots appear, they are crammed full of fireworks and set ablaze.

 

There are plenty of other activities to enjoy during the Festival.  The days prior to the burning are filled with parades, dances, and various competitions.  Spur-of-the-moment fireworks displays are common, highlighted by the daily mascleta, when a giant pile of firecrackers are ignited in the central plaza.

 

Summer: Los Borrachos

Every summer, a festival dedicated to Don Juan, the patron saint of drunks, is held across all of Valente.  While celebrated in many cities, Los Borrachos takes on special meaning in the city of San Juan, which is named after the saint.  The festival begins in San Juan at midnight on the sixth day of the sixth month, with an incredible fireworks display, followed by drinking and dancing until dawn.  This festival continues for an entire week, with parades, dancing, music, and copious amounts of food and alcohol.

 

Fall: The Feast of All Souls

The most important celebration during the fall season is El Banquete de Todas las Almas, the Feast of All Souls.  This church holiday, held on the first day of the ninth month, honours the All-Father and all of his saints, both known and unknown.  It is also time to make up for any failure to observe the feasts of other saints throughout the year.

 

The Feast of All Souls is perhaps the most somber holiday found in Valente: a respectful time to remember those who have lived good lives and reflect upon how to emulate them.  The Feast usually includes the lighting of candles, visiting graves and shrines, and climaxes with the attendance of a special mass.

 

Winter: La Noche Divinos and Ano Nuevo

Winter brings two important events to Valente.  The first is the joint commemoration of the birth of the Prophets - La Noche Divinos, the Divine Night.  This holiday, which coincides with the winter solstice (around the twentieth day of the twelve month) is celebrated differently across the nation (towns no more than several miles apart often have radically different methods of honouring the Prophets).  All festivities, however, revolve around midnight mass, where the faithful contemplate the lives and teachings of the Prophets.  The Divine Night is a time of forgiving and reconciliation, as well as inner monitoring; during this time, Valente set aside their own beliefs, following the Church’s lead and honouring all Prophets (including He who has yet to come), with equal grace.

 

Some of the more unusual local traditions include a game called caga tio, in which a tree trunk is filled with gifts, candies, and nuts and hit by children with sticks until the items pour out.  Plays are common as well, usually depicting the story of the Prophet’s lives, their arrival, and the manifestation of their messages.

 

The second important winter event is the arrival of El Ano Nuevo, the new year, on the first day of the first month.  The days between La Noche Divinos and El Ano Nuevo are filled with smaller festivals, culminating with bonfires and fireworks as the old year gives way to the new.  Most of the bonfires are made with dry pines, which symbolize regeneration and a fresh start for the year to come.

 

In honour of these events, the High King of Valente often doles out favours and gifts. A common occurrence is the release of any prisoner who has been held for more than ten years (five if the King is being especially generous).

 

Bullfighting

The art of bullfighting (called corrida in the Valente tongue) first took place in 533, in honour of the coronation of one of the Valente kings.  Originally intended as a distraction for the attending nobility, corrida soon became a respite between martial demonstrations and periods of war (like a siesta from fighting).  Since its inception, corrida has become a forum for Dons, squires, and others to exhibit their courage and zeal.

 

As a permanent and integral part of Valente society, corrida is taken very seriously.  No deviations from the pattern that was established and endorsed over five hundred years ago are accepted.

 

A corrida begins with the paseillo when all the bullfighters for the day parade through the arena on horseback, escorted by alguacilillos, or hand-servants.  After making themselves known to the assembled crowds with as much pride as possible, the bullfighters next station themselves beneath an observing balcony, where the hosting nobility are seated.  They salute the hosts, commonly by taking off their montera (a wide-brimmed hat, much like a sombrero) in the direction of the highest ranking noble (females are favoured first in such cases).  This salute is called the brindis.

 

Next, each bullfighter takes their place in the arena.  During the first tercio (third), a bull is brought out and placed in the centre, from where it can see the bullfighter currently engaged.  Picadors then ride forth on horseback, using blunted lances to strike and enrage the beast.  They then retreat, leaving the matador alone with his adversary.  A game of touch-and-go ensues, in which the bullfighter studies the animal’s strengths, temperament, quickness, and other traits through its reaction to his capote (red cape).

 

Occasionally, multiple bullfighters will engage a single bull, though this usually only occurs when training novillero (juvenile bullfighters) or for demonstration purposes.  The reverse (one matador against several bulls) is so rare as to be nonexistent.

 

The sound of clarinets (a rare use of a wind instrument during a noble event) announces the tercio de varas (Second Third), when bullfighters receive picks and lances.  In accepted ceremonies, the tips of these weapons are never sharpened; bullfighting is considered a humane sport in Valente.  The picks and lances are used to draw out the beast’s strength, and tire it.  This must be done while avoiding the enraged animal’s horns and charging hooves.  A good bullfighter can reduce the animal to exhaustion without a scratch.

 

By the end of the tercio de varas, each bullfighter is judged by a panel of his peers (all senior to him in skill, and accepted as masters of the art).  In competitive corrida, a single bullfighter is chosen, who receives the title ‘Valiente’, (fearless), which he carries within his name until he is dethroned within a given region or competition.  Other honorifics are also bestowed upon the winner, according to local custom.  These gifts range from hand-crafted weapons (whips are a favourite), additional titles, lands, castles, and other holdings, and even small seacraft.

 

Bullfighting is a sport of precision, intuition, and absolute concentration.  The bull, by its very nature, attacks anything that moves.  One false move - especially during the Second Third - can maim the matador, or even end his life.  This is the reason that all novilleros are carefully selected and monitored throughout their training; no potential bullfighter is ever allowed to face a real bull until they are prepared.

 

The lost tercio final (Final Third) is no longer accepted tradition in Valente.  It involves the death of the bull, and has been outlawed for almot a century.  There are small, sequestered movements however, that continue to practice the blood-letting, against the wishes of the Church.

 

During the Final Third, the matador is armed with the muleta (ritual rapier), and left completely alone with the bull inside the innermost ring.  The mortal duel between the matador and the bull is called the faena, and is when calls of ‘Ole!’ are heard.  After several passes, the matador faces the bull with the estoque, or final touch to the death.  Usually this strike comes to its head, inside its torso, or between its shoulder blades.  The matador is judged not only by whether he kills the beast (if he fails, there’s no point in judging him at all), but also by the length of time that it takes for him to reach estoque, and the cleanliness of his strike.

 

Duelling

While only members of the Swordsman’s Guild are legally entitled to issue a duel, most Valente prefer to take matters into their own hands.  Valente Dons, in particular, rarely involve an outside party unless they are dealing with a dishonourable enemy, are physically disabled, or have some kind of ulterior motive.

 

Valente duels are both public and private.  The challenge is always made in public, demonstrating bravery, loyalty, and a willingness to die rather than suffer dishonour, while the actual fighting is conducted in seclusion to avoid legal prosecution and the wrath of the Swordsman’s Guild.

 

Each duellist chooses a close friend or family member to act as a second, who witnesses the event and mediates between opponents.  Seconds also bring a doctor, just in case.  These physicians are often ordained members of the Church who can offer last rites if needed, further reinforcing the Valente belief that ‘every battle is a prayer’.

 

As in other parts of Gaia, duels are either to first blood or to the death.  Neither style is taken lightly, and families quarrel for generations after the fact if mutual terms are not followed to the letter.  The terms are usually written down, and include the reason for the duel, rules that must be followed (like facing an opponent with the whole body or turning to the side), and the weapons to be used.

 

Daily Life

When referring to the Valente people, the first word that comes to most minds is ‘detached’.  This is because, outside of common trade relations, Valente rarely consort with foreigners due to a deep rooted apprehension about invasion.

 

Valente are very territorial, and while they may abide much outside their homeland, they are not so accepting within their own borders.  They take steps to warn outsiders of possible breaches of etiquette or outright insults they may unknowingly commit.  The number of actions considered either heretical or taboo is staggering, and punishments characteristically severe.  Visitors should consider themselves well-warned of the danger of impropriety in this judgemental land.

 

Valente have a phrase that goes ‘a mal tiempo, buna cara’, which means ‘to bad weather, a good face’.  Historically, it refers to the thick skin that Valente have had to grow over the centuries to help them endure their many unfortunate run-ins with those of other nations.

 

Etiquette

If there is one word that can summarize Valente etiquette, it is respect.  Children respect their elders, peasants respect the Dons, and the Dons respect their charges by treating them as fairly as possible.  Everyone recognizes and appreciates the contributions each individual makes for the good of society.  In public, it is not uncommon to refer to family with their proper titles, and friends with only their last name.  Children (regardless of age), must respect their family matriarch or patriarch, who always has the final word concerning la familia, from approving marriages to financial dealings.

 

Despite this formality, Valente are a cheerful and gracious lot, exchanging gifts and verbal pleasantries with unequalled grace.  At heart, all Valente share a fervent love for their country, a bond which unites them as one giant, extended family.  As a general rule, Valente never turn away travellers, and beggars never go hungry (the custom can be traced back to the occupation of the Wutai, who believed that any wayfarer might be a spirit in disguise).

 

This standard does not hold true with outsiders, though.  Foreigners, while treated well (or at least politely tolerated), rarely feel the warmth Valente reserve for one another.  Only rarely will an outsider prove worthy of true Valente hospitality.  When this honour is given, however, it is never forgotten.  Valente remember such loyalty until their last breath.

 

Children receive special attention in Valente, for they are the future of la familia, and - by extension - the nation.  They generally overlook behaviour condemned in other lands (including rowdy and noisy games, and tantrums), and even encourage it in certain circumstances.  Festivals and holidays almost always include special activities exclusively for children, and most families go to great lengths to entertain (some might say spoil) their progeny.

 

Clothing

Valente has a vivid style of fashion all its own.  Powerful black, orange, white, and red hues dominate the typical Valente ensemble, whether male or female, young or old, rich or poor.

 

Valente men enjoy tight-fitting trousers, loose shirts, and either vests or jackets, complimented by a sash or cummerbund.  Common accessories include a sombrero, collar, gloves, and cuffs.  Every piece of clothing is adorned with some form of decoration (gold braid, embroidery, or buckles for instance).  Common materials are cotton, wool, silk, satin, and velvet.

 

Valente women take great pride in their appearance.  They wear a great deal of silk, muslin, swanskin, and soft flannel, all of the best weave they can afford.  Skirts are long and flowing while blouses are snug in the chest and loose in the sleeves.  Young and unmarried women do not employ the same colour spectrum as their older and married counterparts, but even the most prudish Valente girl has a more varied wardrobe than her peers in other nations.

 

The trendiest female garment is currently the guardinfante, a framework of padded hoops constructed out of wood.  It rounds out the petticoat that conceals it and the gown that covers it, giving the woman’s lower half a bell-shape.  This outline is further accentuated by a tight-fitting jacket, worn over a tight corset which cradles the breasts and restricts the waist.  The sleeves balloon at the shoulders and are slashed at the wrists to reveal their colourful linings, ending in tight cuffs.  Gowns are usually made of heavy materials, like taffeta, watered silk, or brocade, and are always full in length, modestly hiding the feet.  Leather shoes are a common accessory, but it is also customary to wear clogs (chapines) featuring wooden soles and cork heels to add a few inches in height.

 

Outside her home, a proper Valente lady wears a cloak or sleeveless cape called a manta.  This garment is usually made of tulle, or transparent silk, forming a ‘mantle of mist’ about her form.

 

To enhance their natural beauty, most women apply cosmetics to their faces, shoulders, necks, and ears.  They pay special attention to the eyes, cheeks, and lips, the latter being painted or covered with a thin layer of wax to make them gleam.  Perfumes are also popular, especially rosewater and ambergris.

 

A woman’s long hair is her crowning glory, treated daily with a regimen of brushing and special care.  Most Valente noblewomen weave their hair in a series of coifs, braids, and loops, an intricate process which takes many hours.

 

Food

Thanks to discoveries made by the church (improved irrigation, crop rotation, and the like), Valente has the most advanced agricultural techniques in all of Gaia, except perhaps Wutai alone.  As a result, the diet of the average Valente is more healthy and diverse than that of almost everyone else.  Grain, rice, vegetables, peppers, olives, sugar beets, citrus, beef, pork, poultry, dairy products, and fish are all of the highest quality.

 

Valente enjoy seafood.  Fish, squid, crab, and baby eels are common coastal cuisine.  Paella is a popular recipe, combining shrimp, lobster, chicken, ham, vegetables, and rice, all garnished with generous amounts of spice.  As one travels inland, seafood is gradually replaced by such meats as beef, chicken, goat, lamb, pork, and rabbit.

 

White bread can be found in every region of Valente, baked in round loaves and served plain or with butter or cheese.  In the hot summer months, Valente enjoy gazpacho, a cold soup of strained tomatos, olive oil, and spices.  It is usually enjoyed with bread cubes, onions, tomatoes, and chopped cucumbers.

 

Due to an acute awareness of sanitary conditions, the water in Valente is especially clean and readily served as a beverage.  Strong black coffee is also a popular drink, as is heated chocolate, both held over from the days of the Wutai occupation.

 

Still, wine is the most popular drink in Valente by far, offered with every meal except breakfast.  Almost every region in the country has at least one famous vineyard, allowing Valente to export a sizable portion of Gaia’s wine supply.

 

A new drink has recently gained popularity in Valente, an invention of Brother Carlos Sangre, a monk known for his culinary creativity.  The mixture of wine, fruit juice, fruit, and water is further treated by a curious method that causes the brew to fizz.  Local taverns call it sangre de Sangre, or more commonly, sangria.  The drink’s bittersweet flavour and tantalizing ‘tickle’ within the throat have earned it a prominent place in meals across Valente.

 

Leisure and Siesta

As a general rule, Valente have a passionate disregard for boredom and solitude, placing great importance on leisure activities and the tradition of siesta.  Contrary to what many outsiders believe, the customary siesta is one of the most active periods of a Valente’s day.  This special time begins when the sun reaches its zenith and usually lasts between one and four hours, allowing workers to escape the often unbearable afternoon heat.  The day’s central meal is enjoyed during siesta, and socializing with family and friends is customary.  It is also a period for communal activities, like parades, street performances, dancing, and ‘petty politics’.

 

Valente enjoy many distractions, including games, painting, novels, writing or memorizing poetry, and music.  Folk singing and dancing are also popular, and each region has its own special songs and dances, like the bolero, fandango, and flamenco.  Musicians are welcome in any home, providing lively entertainment on castanets, guitars, and tambourines.

 

 

Government

In theory, Valente’s government is sound.  The Dons are firmly rooted in Valente’s political and legal system, and the nation’s government follows the same model established hundreds of years ago.

 

The Hierarchy

One of the reasons that Valente’s government has experienced so little change, and why the nation’s ruling body is holding together, is the simplicity of its original model.  While the hierarchy is not clear, day-to-day life rarely depends on it, so if one level of authority breaks down, those beneath it can continue without an undue fuss.

 

The pinnacle of the Valente government consists of two individuals.  The High King has the right to administer all rules of nobility, establish and enforce laws, determine national investments, holidays, and taxes, and controls the military.  In all of these matters, he offers at least token consideration to the Pope, the head of the Church, who advises him on religious, moral, and humane grounds.

 

It is fortunate that the remainder of Valente’s government has been structured to operate without the King or the Pope in place.  In the eventuality that any important Valente official - even the King or Pope - is neutralized (including being ruled incapable of tending to his responsibilities), those below them are trained to take over in their stead.

 

El Concilio de Razon (the Council of Reason, a group of Cardinals assigned to the King and Hierophant as Advisors) can be chosen to circumvent the King’s authority, relegating the king to a figurehead only.  This can be accomplished by virtue of an old (though rarely used) stipulation left over from the time of the Old Empire.  Any single member at any level of government can be countered by those directly beneath him... but only if all of them agree unanimously.

 

Technically on the same level as the Council of Reason are the recoucadores (tax collectors, who answer directly to the King and have the authority to enforce law in his name), and the alcalde (sheriffs who are the nominal police force in Valente).  These two groups are merely servants of the crown, however, and do not have any real power.  They have, however, the ability to keep the King in power as long as they obey the King and not the Church.

 

The next level with any true authority is that of the landed Dons and Bishops, both of whom have direct control over the King’s resources, and who may make any decisions to protect or administer said resources.

 

The next level down (the third-highest governmental body, and the lowest that actually makes law) are the gubenadores, or nation diplomats.  In the time of the Old Empire, these politicians were true governors, having the role now given to the landed Dons, but they have since become Valente’s legislature, responsible for creating and applying national law.  The gubenadores reside in Valente’s physical court system.  Judges who preside over cases of criminal misconduct are also gubenadores.

Beneath Valente’s legislature are several more political tiers, none of which have any real power except in the most unusual of circumstances.  From highest to lowest they are:

 

Monsignors: Church officials representing parishes on the Diocese Council, and who therefore fall immediately below the Bishops.  They command the High Priests on the Parish Council, and have the ability to interpret (though rarely establish) Church doctrine.

 

High Priests: The next-lowest step in the Church, just above non-ordained clergy.  They represent Churches on the Parish Council.

 

Non-ordained Clergy: The foot soldiers of the Church, who have control over little more than their own churches.

 

Caballeros (non-landed Dons): Named after their tendency to travel Valente on horseback, these ‘title-less’ nobility have no rights other than to request food and shelter from landed gentry.

 

Courts

The courts of Valente are very informal, like being at an extended family gathering.  Visitors are either accepted into the family, or excluded.  Valente courts are straightforward and friendly, considered more of a party than a duty.  Court is usually held during afternoon siesta.  Guests exchange small gifts between them, using the occasion to bargain or politick.  Large gifts can be seen as an insult, since they make the receiver’s gift look cheap in comparison.  Once a person has mastered the art of gift-giving, they’ve nearly mastered Valente diplomacy.

 

Physically, Valente courts are generally open-air events, and far smaller than found in other nations.  The setting is much like the attitude - community more than conspiracy.  Valente gubenadores pride themselves on their ‘professional courtesy’ and are intensely devoted to understanding opposing viewpoints (even if they do not agree with them).

 

Laws and Justice

While laws come from the gubenadores (following the dictates of the King or Church), it is up to the alcalde (and sometimes recoucadores) to enforce them.  There are four kinds of legal courts in Valente, each with its own jurisdiction (crimes that it deals with).  All four jurisdictions covetously guard their territory against the others, and periodic arguments about whose jurisdiction a crime falls in add to the workload of the gubenadores.

 

Secular Courts

Secular courts deal with crimes against the kingdom and the people.  They deal with murder, theft, and treason, and are the sole concern of the local region.  Towns and cities provide magistrates, executioners, and others, who answer to the gubenador-judges within their territories.

 

Religious Courts

Religious courts deal with crimes against the Church and crimes against God.  While the Church would like to begin trying secular crimes, it can not afford to lose political favour by violating the jurisdiction of the secular courts.  The Inquisition currently dominates religious courts, trying heresies of every variety.

 

Guild Courts

The Guilds have established their own courts to deal with crimes between guild members.  These have only been in existence for a little over 200 years, and they have struggled to gain jurisdiction within the religious and secular courts.

 

Military Courts

Military Courts are strictly private affairs.  Valente believe that every military branch must handle its own affairs in its own way.  Neither the Church nor the Crown meddles in the affairs of the military; interfering with the pride of soldiers is a little too dangerous for their tastes.

 

The Scientific Revolution in Valente

In Valente, the Church has always been about reason and emotion.  It collectively believed that emotion muddles human perception, and is therefore not as virtuous as the product of the human mind.  ‘Seek what is within’, they admonished, ‘and resist the temptations of what is without’.

 

Before the recent rise of the third Prophet, all forays into the realm of experimentation attempted to change the person, and not his environment.  Before the advent of modern thinking (dubbed the ‘Scientific Revolution’ by the Valente scholars), the Church believed that they could purify individuals though the pseudo-scientific operations intended to alter the tangible world.  Alchemy is the best example of this mindset - a perceived attempt to distill the corruption from one’s soul as the by-product of a series of physical reactions.

 

The third Prophet forever altered the way that people looked at the world around them.  He renounced quackery, claiming that treatments like bleeding were both barbaric and harmful.  He endorsed learning in all forms and helped found the first modern universities.  He paved the way for six hundred years of scientific progress.

 

This transition did not happen overnight, however.  It took decades before his unfamiliar theories gained a foothold anywhere but among his colleagues, and it would be literally centuries before the world began to benefit from his insight.  The scientific movement was most popular in Valente, perhaps because it pleased their meticulous aesthetic.  It has flourished within their borders ever since’ many of the most industrious inventions and brilliant minds emerged from Valente ranks.

 

One of these minds in particular, Galeno, the pupil of popular Valente scholar Larenzo, would eventually become one of the forefathers of modern scientific thought.  Building on the foundation his patron had left behind, Galeno charted the movement of Gaia and its neighbouring planets around the sun, as well as their relative distances.  He also helped further telescopics and lay the foundation that all visual sciences are based upon.

 

Valente categorize everything.  Beginning with their natural resources, they have carefully identified, quantified, and catalogued everything they have encountered for the last five hundred years.  Ailments, flora and fauna types, seasonal and astrological phenomenon, unusual creatures, myths and legends, books, trade patterns - anything that can be observed has been collected and written down.  ‘The Empire may have the most beautiful libraries in the world’ a Valente scribe once wrote, ‘but we have the most complete’.

 

Other scientific ‘miracles’ that have emerged from Valente include improved aqueducts, sewers, irrigation techniques, bath houses, and road construction (most of these innovations are left over from the Old Empire, which didn’t collapse quite so completely in Valente as it did elsewhere).  Public health and education programs have also been instituted across the country by order of the Church, which takes a special interest in their procedures and the values they endorse.  ‘It is important to feed the children’s souls along with the minds and bodies’, they say.

 

The following sections detail the scientific directions research is taking in Valente, where the heart of the Church has affected all walks of life.

 

Military Research

Until recently, military innovations were secondary to those of social and intellectual worth.  As of the last year, more than half the scholars in Valente have been directed to investigate more improved methods of eliminating entrenched soldiers.  Citing the effective use of Valente powder, prepacked charges, and swivelling turrets (all scholarly designs), the Council currently seeks a new weapon or tactic to use against the enemy.  Rumours of a new Imperial invention known as phosphorus have attracted particular attention.  If this substance could be applied on the fields of war, it might be useful in the future.

 

Valente Steel

Another weapon the Council seeks to capitalize upon has been part of Valente culture for hundreds of years.  Valente steel, the remarkably sturdy material, is highly sought-after by the military to arm its front line with.  But the Wutai process entrusted to the northeastern Valente requires enormous time and concentration, which curbs mass production.  So far, the nation’s scholars have been unable to discover a way around this pitfall.

 

Scientific Innovations

Valente’s scientific community lumbers on, regardless of the Inquisition’s increasing fervour.  At the forefront of this movement is a reclusive scholar named Aldano, former headmaster of the Valente University, and the foremost astronomer in Gaia.  His recent theories of gravitation and forays into a new branch of mathematics he is currently calling ‘fluxions’ have captured the rapt attention of the scientific community.  Unfortunately, he remains in hiding, being doggedly pursued by the Inquisition.

 

Valente Universities

Valente has remained at the forefront of the educational front since the time of the third Prophet.  Valente University arguably houses the finest minds and research libraries in the world.  Aldano presented his early radical theories within its hallowed halls, and many of his students have gone on to become professors there as well.  Fellows at Valente University are the bureaucrats of the scientific community, dictating the course of research across the nation.

 

This system has been erected as a direct result of the Inquisition and their stifling influence across the nation.  Without the fellows’ support, the learning institutions across Valente and the rest of the world would begin to dry up, along with their precious discoveries.

 

As it is however, the valiant efforts of Valente University have allowed Gaia’s learning curve to continue - along with Valente’s well-oiled public education system.  Under the guise of ‘controlled learning’, students are taught the basic philosophies, sciences, and arts by men and women of the Church.  They are also trained in the importance of ‘diplomatic secrecy’ and ‘intellectual freedom’ along the way.

 

Medical Innovations

Valente arguably enjoys the highest degree of sanitation on Gaia.  Church scholars have trained people to wash their hands and take other precautions to prevent disease and infection.  Sanitary conditions have also improved, with aqueducts and irrigation systems in place all across Valente.  Diagnosis, treatment, and surgery have taken drastic leaps forward, as the Church continues to study the means and methods of the human body.  Nearly all churches are now equipped with rudimentary medical supplies, which the clergy use in case of emergencies, and families learn how to help each other in monthly presentations.

 

Church Embargoes

The Church has always maintained international embargoes upon ‘sinful’ items and ‘infidels’.  Before the Inquisition’s rise to power, these embargoes took the form of a group of bishops and alcalde assigned to every major seaport and inland city.  These groups would search suspect cargoes and interrogate potential infidels, taking violators into custody and destroying heretical texts and possessions.  The system worked, albeit with some significant shortcomings, since it relied upon the judgement of the bishops and alcalde.

 

Today, the Inquisition has fortified the Church’s borders, supplementing the existing guard stations with units of Valente soldiers, and arming them with the best weapons available.  Additional stations have been erected all along sensitive borders - between the major seaports on southern Valente and on the shores of the keys.  Their objective is the complete isolation of the Wutaiin Empire, ensuring that the ‘heathen’ culture does not spread to the rest of Gaia.  These stations are manned only by devout Church-goers (and in many cases, fanatic members of the Inquisition).

 

Many Valente nobles disregard these embargoes out of patriotism (honouring age-old trade agreements), greed, or belief that the actions of the Inquisition are wrong.  Other holes spring up as well: canny smugglers have found alternate routes to the Wutaiin Empire and Wutaiin goods regularly appear in the black market.

 

Artifacts, too, are difficult to stop.  With the support of some nations into archaeological exploration, a blockade is next to impossible.  Still, the word of the Church is not easily discarded, and both Valente and other nations have helped the Church enforce the blockade.  The Wutaiin Empire remains largely isolated from Valente to this day, and artifacts are difficult to find within Valente borders.

 

Embargo Items

The list of items considered heretical by the Inquisition is long and often counter-intuitive.  The following items are restricted in Valente, although they can still be found, in defiance with the Church’s edicts.  The list is by no means complete.  The High Inquisitors define new heresies every day, and the list will continue to grow until the Inquisition is dealt with.

 

Wutaiins (The People of Wutai)

Artifacts (Objects from before Holy of scientific or magical capability)

Heretical Propaganda (Non-Church belief systems or information on non-Church faiths)

Scholarly Works (outside the hands of authorized Church researchers)

Religious Texts (unless on the person of authorized clergy)

Anti-Church sentiments (Verbal or Written)

Sorcerous Items (Magical objects not in the possession a Mage’s Guild member)