Traditions are important in the Marches. The Empire has brought new ways and new wealth but the Marcher Folk do not forget themselves, or the old ways that made them strong. Tried and trusted traditions bind the folk together and give a context to their lives. Traditions such as “hue and cry”, "rough music", “shunning” and "beating the bounds" are all artefacts of a system that has worked to make the Marches strong for centuries. Newer religious traditions such as "shriving" have been grafted on to these Marcher roots.
Hue and Cry
Their attitude of taking matters in hand is the basis of the hue and cry, the old tradition of law enforcement in the Marches that still endures. Any Marcher who witnesses a crime can raise a hue and cry. All able-bodied men and women, upon hearing the shouts, are expected to assist in the pursuit until the felon is apprehended. In the pre-Imperial past, the hue and cry would often result in summary justice for a criminal, which occasionally lead to innocent people receiving harsh punishments. Today, suspects are turned over to Imperial magistrates to judge. The readiness of the Marchers to defend the common good derives from their belief in doing the right thing and their pride that they are up to the task of getting it done.
Those who break Marcher traditions are often publicly shamed. At its simplest, it's just a group of Marchers making a lot of noise outside the house of the person they're punishing. Rough music is a peculiarly egalitarian punishment. The more Marchers agree with the punishment, the louder it is, the more serious some find it, the more effort is made in preparation. The more outraged the people are by the behaviour of the target, the longer the music will go on. Some particularly egregious offences see the perpetrator forced out by the din, forced to leave their home behind and hope to start a new life somewhere nobody has heard of their transgression. Sometimes the rough music follows them.
It may start with a procession, it may simply be a gathering. Like a lynch mob, it rarely has any sort of formality to it. The precise nature of the "music" varies across the Marches, but it is always noisy. The noise may just be chanting, or it may involve drumming, rattles, bells, hooting, and improvised instruments such as pots and pans. Sometimes, the victim is presented in effigy, and at its most sophisticated they target is shamed by theatrical performance or puppetry. The only rule is that nobody lays a hand on the target unless they start a fight, and nobody actually enters their home.
Those who persist in ignoring Marcher traditions may end up subject to Shunning. Individuals who are shunned are effectively cast out of society. They are turned out of their Household or town and find every door closed in their face. Helping or in some cases even acknowledging someone who has been shunned can result in the offender being shunned in turn. Shunning may last for a week, a season, a year or even indefinitely. The extent of the punishment depends on who is enacting it – one family may shun another and anyone who helps them, or an entire Houshold or town might shun someone and encourage all their allies to do the same.
Traditionally shunning is about survival - when times are hard, people who act against the interests of their neighbours endanger the entire community. Most individuals who are shunned are forced to leave the area, unable to buy food or secure lodging. It is a serious matter for Marchers who hold hearth and home so dear.
The Beating of the Bounds
Another ancient tradition is the beating of the bounds. The Beaters embody Marcher Loyalty: in a very real way they mark out what is Marcher and what is not, and they help the Civil Service with the recording of who is loyal to whom. The Beating of the Bounds usually takes place at the festival of Summer’s-End, after the harvest is in. At this festival every Marcher Household marks its land, by walking around the boundary led by the Beaters. Certain stones, trees or other marker points around the boundary are beaten literally, ceremonially striking them with sticks or willow wands. The ceremony is designed to remind all of the size of the holding, but it also works to remind everyone of who is part of the community and who is outside it.
On a practical level, the beating of the bounds is often preceded by the Beaters ensuring that the boundary areas are "safe" for the upcoming ceremony, and followed by a period of maintaining and replacing whatever physical markers delineate the bounds - it is a time for repairing fences, planting hedges and the like.
Marcher dead are buried in good fertile soil, often with an apple seed or small apple sapling planted above the body. There are plenty of stories of Marchers who die far from home and who cannot "rest easy in the poor soil, restless in their stony beds" as one song has it. Sometimes these are little more than ghost stories, but there is some evidence that so ingrained is the desire to "sleep beneath the apple trees" that the spirits of dead Marchers may trouble friends, relatives or even random travellers until their remains are given a suitable burial. Very few Marcher heroes lie on the cold marble biers of the Necropolis, and those that do have a good thick layer of March soil in the tomb under them.
Mottos and Sayings
Marcher folk are keen on mottos, aphorisms, and sayings. Favourites can have double meanings often unnoticed to the outsider. Individuals generally pick one or two that they like or find particularly wise, but some collect dozens of sayings and employ them at every opportunity. Widespread sayings include: “Pride in small things, loyalty to great ones”; "heart and hearth"; “sword and shears alike”; "know a body by their March; judge'em by their company"; “every wife has two husbands, every husband two wives”; "The best soil is thirsty soil, watered with tears, sweat and blood"; “Without the League the Empire's table might lack spice; without the Marches, it would lack bread"; "Sow, tend and reap; fight, toil and weep"; "One boy’s a boy, two boys is half a boy and three boys is no boy at all.", and "The answer lies in the soil."
Sports and Games
At their best, Marcher folk relish competition. Sports and games are taken very seriously, particularly the national sport of shinty (a team sport played with ball and sticks, similar to but distinct from field hockey). Competitions are sometimes used to decide serious matters or settle disputes. In some cases participation may even be part of ancient treaties between Households.
Beaters Annals for the Household of Barrowfield, Summer’s End Festival, Year of the Empire 394
I hereby bear witness to the annual match between the allied lesser Households of Elderhowe and Youngerhowe to determine cultivation of the Old Howe orchard, as is the custom since the division of Old Howe farm between the Sons. Rules were agreed as follows: Teams of five. First to three scores wins. Elderhowe running from Mill Lane End, scoring at the oak by Blacksmith’s gate, John the Blacksmith counting at the oak. Youngerhowe running from Blacksmith’s Gate, scoring at the red beech at Mill Lane End, Grey Allan counting at the red beech.
Let it be recorded that Elderhowe won by three scores to two, retaining the orchard for a fourth year. Bond of three baskets of apples, three of pears was promised to Youngerhowe for six pairs of strong hands at picking time.”