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The Great Families
The wealth of Shalazar derives primarily from land: she who owns the land can draw from it, and controls both the landed peasantry and the water that flows through it. In addition, the owners of land can tax merchants, traders, and artisans who live within their districts, generally ten percent of their labours paid annually.
Since the founding, there have been fourteen Great Families; however, the Khatib, Yaseen, Mousa, Aziz, Issa, and Rasheed have fallen from influence, and have been replaced by some of the younger houses.
The domains of the Great Families within Shalazar normally grow organically as the influence of the family itself waxes and wanes: in the centre of each domain sits their Palace, most often surrounded by a garden; outside of that is a marketplace, favoured farmlands, and areas for warehousing; and finally, a series of roads connects each district to the farmlands immediately outside the city walls that provide the bulk of the Family's income. The Emira of the great family, of course, rules within the Palace.
The relationship between the twenty-four outlying cities and the Great Families is one of great complexity, but in its simplest form, each of the cities is ruled by a Steward belonging to one of the families, who reports to the Emira of the Great Family. It is between these cities that the military rivalries of the Great Families are played out-each has a military, generals, and the ability to project force against each other (although none are of the level of the Calipha).
Each Family is alike in its dependence upon farmland and agricultural income for the bulk of its wealth. However, the story of how each family acquired its land is very different, and this has left its mark upon the nobility within the house.
Number in parentheses after the house name is the rank and power of the family, with one as highest.Emira: Samah
The name "Jerezad" is almost synonymous with 'caravan': the largest of the Great Families has made its fortune on the backs of camels. Every daughter or son of the Emira is expected, before the age of 25, to lead a caravan outside of Shalazar as a rite of passage, and that first caravan is looked at as their rite of passage into adulthood. The Jerezad are known for their skills in the marketplace, certainly, but their true talent has always been in training and nurturing diplomats and adventurers. It is said that when the Calipha wishes to know of a foreign country, she calls for a Jerezad, and asks for tales of the appropriate uncle.
Samah Jerezad is a small and gentle woman, constantly smiling. Though she leads the greatest of the Houses, she is the least political, and the most likely to argue for caution and patience. It is said she has never raised her hand against another person-but it is also said that if she is the smile, her large and dangerous husband Abdul-Karim, is the teeth…Emira: Sameera
The Hadar are, without a doubt, the most physical of the Families, in both the marital and the martial senses. Sameera Hadar has both the largest harem in the city of Shalazar and the largest private army. Men within this family are encouraged as children, rewarded in adulthood, and chosen as husbands based on either their flawless good looks or their physical prowess. The women, in turn, are singular hostesses and diplomats, as well as strategists of the highest order.
The Hadar have enjoyed some good years recently, and have cemented their place as the second most-powerful House after the Jerezad. Recently they've taken control of a city-state from the Zaniah. Scuttlebutt is that the Zaniah tried to collect on a rather massive debt, and the Hadar wished to prove a lesson regarding the value of credit receipts vs. cold iron.
Sameera Hadar is at once a dedicated sensualist and a sharp politician. Always charming, infinitely polite, she is a woman with snake's teeth--some say literally.Emira: Takiyah
While the Jerezad can trace their ancestry back to the Diaspora and beyond, the House of Ruchbah knows exactly where it came from-the gutter, three generations back. Halim Ruchbah was born to a woman of no name, some say to a slave (though none know who owned her). Ruchbah was sold as a slave to a Hadar general, and was well-loved for his loyalty and bravery. He was freed when his master died, and (according to legend) was given his master's ring.
The Ruchbah make money as skilled and specialist traders of Shalazar-they know the city streets and their inhabitants. It is said that when a craftsman completes his apprenticeship, if his skill has attracted any note whatsoever a Ruchbah will be on his door with his first wages in gold and a contract. Ironically, the business of the Ruchbah brings them into conflict less with the Jerezad (who sell within Shalazar, but buy elsewhere), but rather with the Fesk (whose business interests interfere sometimes) and the Merchants of the Free Man's Trading Guild. Mishazar was one of Halim Ruchbah's wife's first slaves, and the Merchants have not forgotten their patron's bondage to the Ruchbah family.
Takiyah Ruchbah is a dour, bitter woman, and her position has been insecure since the day she was born. The Ruchbah house is one of significant internal controversy-it is said that she has survived no fewer than three assassination attempts.Emira: Nadia
Of all the Great Houses, the Yildun count themselves the oldest. Supposedly, the first of the generals sent by Calipha Adara to pacify the barbarians was an Yildun, and they take great pride in the 'purity' of their family line.
The women of the Yildun are closely tied with the priesthood, and many of those who walk the upper sanctuaries of the Great Temple are bound to them by blood. It is not scripture, or even tradition, but for the last eight generations the High Priestesses have been Yildun, and they show every sign of remaining so.
Within this family, tradition is of the highest importance, and a strict adherence is required to all the laws of both Shaliq, and of the interpretations of her acts that have been handed down through the Temple over countless generations. The family has great influence in interpretations of religious law, and within the Courts of Justice. It is said, however, that the Calipha retains a jealous independence from the family, and that relations are not always ideal.
The family's income is almost entirely agricultural. They get along well with the Ash-Kenz and the Jerezad, but most other families find them too strict.
Emira Nadia came to her position a mere three years ago, the eldest daughter of the last Emira, Jezebal. She lacks her mother's experience, but shares her sharp mind, keen perception, and knowledge of the politics of Shalazar. Even the Jerezad are concerned about her-with the exception of the Ash-Kenz (who don't worry of such things), the other Emira regard her as dangerous.Emira: Sumayyah
House led by: Qutaybah
In the reign of the fifth Calipha, the primary husband of the Emira Zaniah committed the first heresy of the House. The Captain of the Guard had entered a challenge against a horseman of the north, but his weapon shattered beneath the hammer of the barbarian. The man of Zaniah loaned his weapon to the Captain, but when it was returned accepted the Captain's dagger as a sign of respect.
The Yildun, however, were upset by the Zaniah's recent rise to respectability, and discussed this with the Priestesses. It was thus that a holy order was handed down advising that the Zaniah had committed usury by accepting a dagger in exchange for the loan of a sword, and the husband was sentenced to death.
Now the Calipha knew that the Priestesses were not to be crossed, for the sin of usury had been committed-but she was saddened, and she called the poor man before her. In his wisdom, he suggested to the Calipha that a proclamation be issued, that the men of Zaniah were to be permitted not to commit usury unpunished, but in favour for their service they might delay their punishment, death, to a time of their choosing. And thus, no husband of an Emira Zaniah has ever died of old age-but most have been 'executed' on the way to their deathbed.
This family is the only family allowed to loan money at interest, and they are largely mistrusted because of this exception-and the cunning which granted it still earns them the enmity of the faithful Yildun. However, it has served to make them exceptionally wealthy. They have tithed much for the prosperity of the City, including to the Visible and Invisible Academies. In land, they are not as powerful as the Jerezads, and certainly not the military equal of the Hadar-but they are cunning and shrewd, and many of the magi of the city owe favours…
Sumayyah, like most of the Emira of House Zaniah, is a degenerate sensualist, kept in fine clothing and jewelry by the men of the Family. These men are unusually plainly dressed, and to a man serious and bookish. Qutaybah, the primary husband of Sumayyah, is the true leader of the Family, the Defender of the Treasury. A small, shifty man with squinty eyes, he nevertheless is known as a force to be reckoned with, because everyone owes him.Emira: Najwa
As far as most can see, the Fesk have moderate interests in farming and trade. Certainly they are not as knowledgeable as the Jerezad or Ruchbah, nor do they produce specialty items like the Ash-kenz. However, they seem more connected and profitable than their interests would allow for.
Emira Najwa is not trusted, but perhaps more feared, and a source of greater anxiety than one of her stature would normally incur. That said, she's close friends with both the Calipha and the Grand Vizier-as the Ancients have said, one keeps ones enemies close…Emira: Baseemah
The Izar are the newest of the Great Houses, a mere two generations old. This house was a mid-ranking merchant house until the rise of the first Emira, Lady Rabi'ah. She had a gift similar to many of her family-that of art and artifice. It was Rabi'ah who made the first of the Iron Men, constructs of iron and copper who could word tirelessly like Djinn and yet used only the most minor of enchantments.
With the money earned by her mute 'servants' (and the status conferred upon her by the Calipha after a present of a mechanical desert hawk), Rabi'ah created her Palace and the Izar Gardens. Herein toil mechanical gardeners, while antelope and bird of marvelous clockwork. It is for greater miracles like this, and many lesser baubles, that the Izar are famous.
However, the Izar are ingénue, and their success has been undercut by the recent death of Rabi'ah Izar. Her daughter, Baseemah, has taken over the affairs of the house, but while she is a magnificent craftsman, she is unsure of herself in public. Unmarried, there are many who say she should take a wise and experience husband to guide her.Emira: Fellah
This smallest of the Houses is also one of the oldest and most traditional. Other than the blood of the Calipha, their family is likely the most noble. Their Palace is a veritable museum of the history of Shalazar, with which their family has been intertwined since the first of Days. As such, the Family itself is rigid, self-aware, and has a slightly 'musty' attitude.
The Family came to prominence trading spices, and their lands still produce the best cinnamons and garlic. The greatest of chefs have come from the House of Ash-kenz. Each of the noble family is raised upon the exploits of their forebearers, and as such they have become some of the foremost historians of Shalazar. By order of the Calipha, they keep the cadastral registers of the city.
The libraries of the Ash-Kenz are legendary, but open only to those of the family. They are one of the greatest secrets of the Family, but those who have been granted access speak of halls filled with maps, tomes, and grimoires stretching for ages, and that each book is dusted by a staff of slaves once in a generation. Both the Visible and Invisible Colleges are envious of this collection and tales of attempted theft are commonplace. Nonetheless, the library is highly guarded.
Fellah Ash-kenz is a wizened, wrinkled woman who will soon be handing the leadership of the House to her daughter Misha. She is known for her temperance, wisdom, and level-headed advice. She is respected largely because she does not play political games. It is said that the Ash-kenz interest in the Great Western Bazaar was made at Misha's urging-it certainly doesn't seem like something Fellah would have done.