The Brass Coast culture and customs
Family is important to the Freeborn. They live in extended family groups covering several generations with a strong emphasis on helping and supporting each other. Occasionally Freeborn will extend the privilege of family membership to valued friends, long-term employees or waifs and strays - these adoptees are whole-heartedly welcomed and are treated no different from blood relations. To the Freeborn, betraying your family is unforgivable.
The responsibility that the Freeborn feel for family members does not extend to others. The Freeborn make a point of disclaiming any responsibility for the wellbeing of others. They do not regard themselves as obliged to help the poor or the sick, the dispossessed or the homeless. They may be as charitable as they please, but they refuse to accept that it is their responsibility to care for others.
On the Coast, food and drink are only offered freely to family. Since most Freeborn habitually avoid favours and social debts but all Freeborn enjoy hospitality, both giving and receiving, the custom is always to offer to pay before receiving refreshments. A Freeborn approaching a tent of revelry might ask the price for a seat at the table. A token price of a ring or two indicates that they are very welcome to join, a price in crowns indicates that the meeting is private and the Freeborn should look elsewhere, but an exorbitant price in thrones is a deliberate insult.
Despite the ritualised nature of the exchange, actual payment is required. To the Freeborn mind, it is the payment that ensures that no further obligation exists on the part of either party. For close friends or clearly impoverished a Freeborn might offer a fine meal for help with the dishes or even an afternoon's work. It is easy to be itinerant in Freeborn society, so long as you don't mind working for your supper.
Syrah is the ritualised drink of the Freeborn, habitually offered to guests, business associates and drunk during family affairs. Each family carefully guards their own recipe for syrah, and there is a common belief that to give away its secret is to give some of your good luck to another. Syrah can be almost anything, a brew of coffee or tea sweetened with honey or sugar, a fruit juice or a fine wine, but should be pleasant and appealing. It is not strongly alcoholic since it is intended to be drunk as a family and when business is being discussed. Offering syrah before the opening of trade negotiations is considered not only polite but beneficial to the coming talks.
Written contracts are exceptionally important in Freeborn culture. The best contracts are short and succinct but clearly identify the obligations of both parties. To the Freeborn mind, making an agreement commits the integrity of their soul to the deal. If they contract to do something their reputation is at stake if they cannot carry out the letter of the contract. For this reason, almost all enduring contracts include fiscal clauses for default. This is not meant as a lack of commitment, but simply to avoid being a hostage to fortune should circumstances change and make it impossible for the parties to complete the deal. The Freeborn see no shame in going back on contracts provided the default bonds are paid - since such defaults are, of course, a part of the letter of the contract.
A scrivener is often employed to help make sure that a contract is clear and that both sides understand their obligations. These professionals also serve as witnesses who can help confirm the validity of a contract. Many scriveners are cambions, and there is a superstition that the blood of a cambion (usually a thumbprint) upon a document of trade will bring good fortune to the signatories - or dire circumstance to one who breaks the contract.
Contracts are also a common hearth magic on the Brass Coast.
Calligraphy is highly valued along the Brass Coast. They value books but treasure those that are beautifully illuminated. To the Freeborn, every aspect of writing is an important artistic statement. The language used should be articulate and possess a lyrical quality; the letters and words should be written with bold ink strokes on beautiful paper or parchment that is then decorated and illuminated. Given their emphasis on deals, it is no surprise that the Freeborn prefer their contracts to be beautifully inked. They often display particularly fine examples on the walls of their homes, especially ones that have great sentimental or fiscal value.
Music and dance form the heart of nearly any Freeborn celebration. Passion and enthusiasm are valued over technical precision, and it is common for any musical performance to include well-known songs with which the entire audience can join in.
Marriages and relationships
All Freeborn marriages – and indeed most extended attachments – are formalised with a contract in which each participant lays down the parameters of the relationship. A marriage or relationship contract commonly covers matters such as the duration of the relationship, the rights and responsibilities of the participants, the expectation of fidelity and the options for marriage and relationship contracts with others, the division of shared wealth both during and after the relationship ends, and at least one clause covering how the relationship may be ended prematurely by either party. This rather cold-blooded practicality around matters of the heart is just another manifestation of the Freeborn's fiscal approach to life. These contracts ensure that both parties know the value the other places on the attachment. Not all attachments require a contract, but if a relationship is going to last for more than a few months, it is considered a sensible precaution against misunderstandings.
The contract also lays out the details of how the marriage will work with to regards to family. There is no default assumption in the Brass Coast; sometimes the spouses become part of one family or the other; sometimes they remain members of their former families; sometimes they start a new family altogether. These stipulations usually make clear the family name that any children will take. If one spouse is joining the other's family it is considered sensible to get the blessing of the dhomiro of that family, but this is a tradition rather than a legal requirement.
Marriage outside the Brass Coast is relatively rare, and when it does take place the contract is generally even more clear as to the expectations of each party. Likewise, while most marriages are between two individuals, more complex arrangements are not unheard of. More common than a formal marriage is for Freeborn lovers to form temporary attachments. Regardless of whether these attachments are romantic or physical in nature, there is rarely an assumption that they will last for life. In fact, with some pairings there is no assumption that they will last more than a night. Despite this, it is not uncommon for a contract to be drawn up to cover ever a relatively short-term romantic liaison.
Freeborn dead are wrapped in spice-infused wraps of black cloth and then burned. The resulting ashes are scattered on the sea, or on the winds of the plain, depending on the family's wishes.
A funeral is rarely a sombre affair. The Freeborn take joy in a life well-lived and they consider it an insult to mourn its passing. Attendees wear brightly coloured robes and focus on celebrating the life of the deceased. It is normal for the will to be read by a sutannir at the height of the party. The will is the last chance to share a joke with loved ones and it is traditional for it to be as humorous as possible, akin to a best man's speech at a wedding. On the rare occasion when grief is appropriate, such as with the death of a child, the grieving is much shorter but just as open and intense.
An old tradition says that those lost at sea take new form as dolphins who will guide and guard lost ships. While no-one really believes it these days, it is a stock element in many stories involving sea travel.
A personification of death sometimes appears in Freeborn stories, and is especially popular in plays and as a dramaturgic archetype. As a character, Death is usually mocked as a figure of fun, a bumbling idiot and a clown who can easily be outwitted through courage and cunning. The counterpart of death is Fortune, who personifies ideas of luck and chance as well as fate or destiny. These literary tropes have a deeper philosophical context; such stories often explore the idea that death may come suddenly and without warning, as a result of happenstance or bad luck. This is especially important to a people as dedicated to getting as much out of life as the Freeborn are.