"Montaigne is like a grand old dame. If she decides, on a whim, to wear an antique hat to a party, she sets fashion back one hundred years."
-- Val Mokk
History and Culture
One man's decadence is another's routine. Montaigne shines like a brilliant sapphire from her perch on the western coast of Théah. She is the center of culture and fashion and home to the most renowned artists and fantastic architecture known to mankind.
Until recently, Montaigne and Castille were locked in a bitter border war. The battles took a serious toll on Montaigne's peasant class, but the spoils of war added to the coffers of the rich.
The land itself is rich, flat farmland. Acres of green as far as the eye can see. Small farms are common; no land in Montaigne goes to waste. If it isn't a pleasure garden or a building site, it's being used for agriculture. Her many rivers provide natural irrigation.
Montaigne consists of vast cities, large towns and small farms. A man could walk for days and see nothing besides farmers' hovels. But when he does come upon a city, he finds a sprawling affair full of grand manors and dizzying wealth. These cities are metropolitan oases, almost entirely separate from the lands surrounding them.
When the peasantry of Montaigne struggle daily to please their landlords and feed themselves, the upper classes in the cities have no word for "moderation."
All government and social politics revolve around Léon Alexandre, l'Empereur of Montaigne. The Sin King, as some Montaigne poets have called him, is the center of activity. Ranks of nobles orbit around him, most notable the dukes who control the various provinces of Montaigne. He parceled the country into smaller sections of land, each maintained by a single duke; this duke may have any number of marquis who attend to the actual day-to-day affairs of the lands. Each duke makes regular reports to Léon on the state of his lands. Invariable, these reports assure him that everything is perfectly fine. Should any wrinkles in the great plan occur, they are expected to be worked out long before they ever reach l'Empereur.
The peasants of Montaigne are simple people. They have a minimal education, produce large families, and live quietly respectable lives. Until very recently, young men of at least fifteen years were conscripted into the Montaigne military and sent to fight on the border against Castille. Many came back broken or not at all. With an entire generation lost to war, most farmlands must rely on daughters and wives, most of them widows.
Once, the customer in Montaigne was to hold all weddings in the springtime, but the war with Castille gave rise to a new tradition. In the winter, when the fighting was at its slowest, many young men were granted leave, married quickly to their old sweethearts, and encouraged to procreate as rapidly as possible. After all, Montaigne always needs more soldiers and farmers.
By contrast, the practice among most nobles is to have no more than two or three children. Their reasons are as practical as those of their lower-born neighbors. In Montaigne, the eldest offspring inherits the land, property and wealth.
Although it is prudent to have more that one heir--it is, after all, impossible to predict the turns of fate--to have more than three is simply bad manners. This does not apply to l'Empereur and his nine daughters, of course.
Where Montaigne peasantry is hospitable and direct, her nobles have made an art out of inference. In the courts of Montaigne, no one ever says exactly what he means. Instead, they fall back on a wealth of metaphors and precedents, often using clever quotes rather than their own words. This kind of conversation can be dizzying to an outsider, and many diplomats from other nations serve their posts under protest, despite the fine food and accommodations of the Montaigne court. The pressure to be circuitously inoffensive is overwhelming.
The Montaigne prefer to make a verbal game out of the uncomfortable. The height of rudeness is to force someone into a direct response, especially when dealing with controversial subjects. Their banter frequently becomes playfully painful as they make light of a serious subject so that no one need address it directly. Individuals witty enough to excel at these delicate games are held in high esteem.
Another favorite game among the Montaigne is intrigue, along with its close cousin scandal. If nothing interesting has happened all season, someone will surely invent it. Guests from other nations have observed a playful viciousness in the mannerisms of the Montaigne.
The quick conversation and practiced indirectness make them ideal spies. Even if someone suspects them of doublespeak, it's written off as Montaigne custom. What's more, since the Sun King's country sets the standard for clothing, custom and art, Montaigne courtiers are welcomed almost anywhere, allowing them easy access to other courts and sensitive information. Since the Montaigne army pushed the Vaticine church out of their country, the Montaigne nobility has reveled in its newfound freedom. By contrast, the peasants live in apprehension regarding their new status living in a godless country.
The Montaigne nobility are decadent to the extreme. They've got so much money they don't know what to do with it; so, they build extravagant manor houses and pay starving artists to pain seventeen-foot-tall portraits, and sponsor archæologists to dig up Syrneth artifacts they can wear to next week's party.
The nobility have nothing better to do with their time than watch each other make mischief. The entire country has been excommunicated from the Church, and while that may not sound like a big deal to the nobility, it has shattered the starving Montaigne peasants. They may be willing to kill over it.
To outsiders, the nation of Montaigne is beautiful; some might say "perfect."
The Montaigne call her "the most glorious nation in Théah." Her terrain is bountiful, verdant and lush. Her soil is fertile, her mountains rich in ore and her farmlands extend for miles. Her cities mirror Paradise itself, stretching so far in all directions that they cannot be navigated by foot in a single day. Her ports bustle with activity and trade, and the opulence of her courts and palaces dwarf anything else Théah has to offer.
From the northern Avalon Strait to the city of Rogne in the south, from the Frothing Bay in the wast to the populous trade city of Arisent in the west, Montaigne is a cultivated and civilized nation, a land of plenty. Every acre that can be farmed is harvested to the inch, every deposit of ore that can be mined--no matter how rich--is dredged up and smelted into iron and steel, and any lumber deemed strong enough to build with is cut down, leaving room for more farms.
Unlike Castille, which benefits from the careful guidance of the Church, the people of Montaigne have not maintained their land while they draw from it. Visiting Church scholars have warned more than once about the probable consequences if the Montaigne do not slow down production and begin rotating the use of their land. As yet, there is no evidence that the scholars are right, and the pressure to build caused by the war efforts conspired again such action.
Montaigne's geography is diverse: massive forests, mountain ranges and seeping plains. Most of the land is level grasslands well suited for farming. The climate is moderate year-round, unbroken by temperature extremes, drought or violent weather. Winter temperatures rarely drop below freezing, and many regions of Montaigne vary little more than twenty degrees over the course of an entire year. Forests both great and small dot the landscape and large collection of lowland rivers meander through her countryside. The combined effect is enchanting, further lending to the atmosphere that draws so many to her.
Montaigne's capital, Charouse, is the center of an immense basin, one of the lowest altitudes in all of Montaigne. To the southwest, a gradual incline creates a series of rolling hills cut into the graceful pasture, while a man can march a day or more to the east before seeing the horizon shift. This region contains some of the most highly prized farmland in the entire Nation, rich in the minerals and nutrients necessary for her most valued crops. It is also the most easily defended part of the country, making it the ideal location for her capital.
West of Charouse is Montaigne's most exceptional mountain range, Les Sommets Lancs ("The White Mountains"), whose snow-capped peaks reach ten thousand feet. The Sinueuse River runs through the capital, through the Sinueuse Lake and out into the Widow's Sea, providing a quick trading route to other Nations.
In the north, Muguet is the largest port city of Montaigne, and the province is possibly the most well known in Théah. It is not uncommon for the Duke of Muguet, Edouard Allais, to countermand the advice or even commands of all but the royal line, and this attitude has attracted many of the most free-willed Montaignes, and some from abroad.
The province of Doré has acquired a similar reputation by the action of Pierre Flaubert de Doré, who recently spent a fortune converting the land immediately around Pourisse from marshlands into farmlands, becoming the largest cattle breeder in the Nation virtually overnight. The beef provides his province with a level of income unmatched in the Nation, and directly challenges Charouse for supremacy in livestock. Though courtiers and nobility across the Nation have expressed open hostility at this decision, the royal family has yet to respond, perhaps too occupied with fashion to comment on the state of beef.
To the east of Charouse, beyond the Montaigne flatlands, is the Eisen territory gained through the Treaty of Weissburg: Lock-Horn Forest, who name originates from a time when Avalon occupied northern Montaigne. Wood lumbered from this forest has proven an invaluable resource, though it has come at a high price: nearly two dozen people--including two Porté sorcerers--who entered its shadowed canopy have vanished, never to return. All that remained in their stead were a series of bizarre blood trails leading up tree trunks and into the highest branches before disappearing.
Called Montaignes, or "Sunflowers" behind their backs, the people of Montaigne are very fit and--by comparison--very clean, as well. The average male noblesse is well groomed, while noble women keep their hair and cosmetics in the proper style for the current season. Brown hair and eyes are standard, though a few with hazel eyes or blond hair appear, as well. Montaigne men often hide their soft features behind a short beard or trim moustache, while females accentuate their gentle cheekbones with long hair that border their faces.
Peasants cut their hair once a year at the beginning of spring, so they have a full head of hair and a thick beard to keep them warm in winter. There is not a great deal of variation in the way they dress, though whether this enhances or stifles their diversity is a topic for debate.
Some argue that the nobles, not their lesser countrymen, share a common face, as each strives continually to maintain whatever look is in fashion at any time.
Montaigne is the most broadly divided nation in Théah, economically and philosophically. Under a rigid caste system, the people of Montaigne easily separate into a series of identifiable classes. A broad description of each follows, descending from the royal line to the nearly invisible peasantry.
The uppermost crust of Montaigne's nobility (La Familia Royale) is few in number, but wield absolute power in her lands. Only l'Empereur (a title recently changed from "King") Léon Alexandre de Montaigne, his wife, the Impératrice, their immediate family and parents of the former monarchy can accurately claim to be of this class. At present, l'Empereur has nine daughters but no sons, a sore point with the royal line. Morella Alouse Giacinni, a Vodacce Fate Witch and l'Empereur's third wife, has been unable to provide him a suitable heir. She gave birth to their daughter, Dominique, who shows no talent for sorcery at all. L'Empereur's previous wife, a Castillian and mother of three, died of "feminine ills" some time ago.