In the Shadow of Princes
A coastal trade city lying on the edge of the Silent Sea. For decades, maritime prosperity insulated this burgeoning cosmopolis from the interference of the Merikan Union. Prosperity fostered autonomy and Noirlan managed to sustain an independent spirit long after many other city states of the old Confederate Republic of Merika had fallen under the direct federal control of Union Delphi. The vast dykelands surrounding the city have long adopted the regional name “Norland,” which suggests the powerful cultural identity of this coastal territory. The urban centre of Noirlan is a network of roads and canals divided into seven wards: Westwego, Jacksontown, Algiers, Little Arabi, French District, Gentilly, and Longview.
Noirlans are generally known to be liberal-minded, egalitarian people. They entirely lack the puritan attitudes espoused by their fellow Merikans and have codified comparatively few laws pertaining to the restriction of social behaviour or identity. Part of the reason for this is long-standing community heritage that dates back to the ancient Precursor civilization. Noirlan remains “The Big Easy.”
In the contemporary era, Noirlan’s epicurian and free-thinking cultural attitudes are also indicative of the city’s necessarily cosmopolitan outlook. Noirlan occupies a geographic position that may as well be the edge of the Merikan world. The jungles to the north hedge the Norland region from the irradiated Outlander tribes beyond. Muto tribesmen, shunned by “pureblood” Merikans travel freely in the realms of Noirland to trade and enjoy the virtues of civilization. A significant population of Noirland’s citizenry are in fact naturalized Muto freemen. Noirlan also serves as a gateway to the Caribbean islands and the Southern Kingdoms of Mexica. Maritime explorers and traders account for a large share of Noirlan’s essential mercantile success and the city’s powerful merchant barons well understand that racist xenophobia is simply bad for business.
The dominant linguistic group of Noirlan is the Merikan dialect of English, spoken by 45% of native citizens. The second most dominant linguistic group is Noirlan’s Cajun French population, who account for 35%. The Larada-speaking and Moha-speaking hybrid “Muto” peoples of the south Silent Sea coast make up 10% and the remaining 10% is split fairly evenly between Spanish and Mexican-speaking immigrants from the Southern Kingdoms.
Noirlan society is broad and progressive although clear class stratifications do exist. Like most large city centres, Noirlan has a sizable middle class population. This class is comprised of working bankers, labouring gentry, and common merchants. The upper class of privilege, prestige, and wealth is reserved for Noirlan’s most powerful merchant barons and ancestral land-owning families. Chief among these families are those comprising Noirlan’s permanent governing council, the Crescent Chamber, which includes the Vidals, the Chastains, the Reynards, the Debruns, the Savoys, the Duprees, and the Aubins.
The lower classes of this society tend to live and work outside the actual demesne of Noirlan proper and are relegated to the manorial farms and labour camps that dot the landscape of greater Norland. The serfs and labourers of Norland are considered citizens and enjoy all the rights and legal protections of Noirlan society but they do not get to vote. Only urban residents living within the city boundaries may vote in elections and then only after completing a year of land-owning residence or five-years of residential lease.
As a tolerant multi-cultural society, Noirlans do not stand on ceremony and public decorum. Meekness and humilty are respected as signs of cultured gentility but not insisted upon as the hallmarks of a broad code of social conduct. The greatest observations of public respect and reverence are reserved for business transactions, in which independent parties are obligated to begin and end all dealings with a formalised greeting recognizing the pursuit of mutual advantage and the necessary exercise of personal integrity.
Most Noirlan customs are centered upon family dynamics and duties. Children are expected to serve the interests of their parents in business and society and it is unusual for children to leave the family home while their parents are still alive. The Chastain family, prior to the death of Syllyndra and Erdric Chastain, was a good example of this kind of family arrangement, as their grown children Orphea and Oliver were obliged to stay in the family home and serve their parents rather than begin independent lives. Now that Orphea Chastain has become the senior member of the family she has attained the freedom to conduct her affairs in the manner she chooses (provided she can pay the debts accrued by her departed parents, of course).
Noirlan also holds certain social restrictions against the conduct of women, who are generally not expected to be seen in public without male escort of some kind. For women of lower classes such an escort often takes the form of a senior family member. Higher middle class and upper class women are instead usually escorted by body servants, and certain women of Noirlan’s elite dispense with such custom altogether by virtue of their individual reputation and public esteem.
Noirlans, often whether Catholic or not, recognize all of the major saintly feast days, of course including the observance of Lent and Easter. The day before Ash Wednesday is celebrated with a massive multi-day street festival known as Mardis Gras. This celebration of masquerading revels has its origins in the days of the Precursors and serves as a carnivalesque expiation of public restrictions and social mores on the verge of the sober Lenten season. Government business is suspended for the weeklong celebration and even commercial transactions are restricted as the merrymaking spills into countless ship-parties, making canal travel nearly impossible. Noirlan unsuprisingly draws much of its cultural character and libertine reputation from the week of Mardis Gras.
Entertainment and Recreation
As a way of promoting its maritime lifeline, Noirlan’s ruling council promotes seasonal boat races. These competitions serve not only as exciting spectacle for the citizens who line the cities canals to watch, but also foster pride in Noirlan’s traditonal maritime culture, the commercial lifeline of the state.
Live theatres, often banned and always highly restricted in the Merikan Union, operate freely in Noirlan, which has become a haven for playwrights and actors from across the continent, leading to a densely crowded society of artistic rivals vying for attention from Noirlan’s discriminating audiences. Theirs is not art of consciously highbrow artistes. The theatre of Noirlan is the theatre of the mob and as such demands laughs, pathos, and blood. This is not to say that playwrights such as Briseide Francesca have not produced literary marvels, only to say that the value of such works is measured in coin, not abstract aesthetic standards.
Noirlan nightlife offers enticements unknown in contemporary Merikan society. The clubs, most of which are open to men and women alike, never actually close, making it not unusual to see late-night revellers walking home early in the working day or even sleeping in public alleyways. The lack of restrictions on certain substances banned in contemporary Merika holds attraction for some but also danger. Unwary young come-from-aways, drawn by Noirlan’s exotic pleasures often find their ruin in the vague ecstasies of absinthe or the manic thrills of cocaine. The libertines and bohemians of survive by satisfying their nocturnal appetites through bravura expressions of excess secretly muted by conscious moderation. Such is the necessity of personal responsibility fostered by unchecked personal freedom.
The most infamous private club in Noirlan, the Absinthe House, run by the powerful Reynard family, is attended by the highest ranks of Noirlan society. Places such as this are important salons of power and influence in a city driven by wealth and the satisfactions of appetite.
The modern city state of Noirlan is believed to have been founded by a pair of half-brothers, Roderick and Konrad Vidal, in the year 403 PCE. The Vidal’s had migrated southward from Jersey after the Princes came to Merika and began their harsh dominion in the Stairway Tower of Manhattan. Terrified by news of the Princes’s growing empire to the north, the tribal peoples living on the Silent Sea coast soon banded with the Vidals to rebuild the ancient city of their ancestors upon the drowned ruins of old New Orleans.
Little is known about the circumstances of the Vidals’s role in convincing and motivating the tribes into action, but oral legends indicate that Roderick and Konrad were the keepers of an ancient artefact of significant power and influence. By sharing this power, known in some tellings as the “Life Bringer,” the Vidals made fertile the fallow fields and untamed wilds bordering on the irradiated Outlands. Within a generation, Noirlan had become an isolated but prosperous centre of Merikan civilization, an outpost between the subjugated northern realms and the unknown kingdoms beyond the unexplored southern and western seas.
As the Hidden Empire of The Princes withdrew to the immediate lands surrounding the Stairway and the peoples of Merika began to form moderately independent city-states, albeit in the long shadow of the Stairway and the Princes’s oppressive influence, Noirlan played an important role in the formation of the old Confederate Republic of Merika. In 575 PCE, the confederacy of the 12 cities was declared in the Free Town of Jacksonville by the joint proclamation of its signatory representatives, including Jolan Chastain, Noirlan’s elected First Citizen.
Noirlan remained a significant piece in the political fabric of Merika’s old confederacy. The last president of the confederacy, Andra Marcus, was a citizen of Noirlan and a descendant of one of its oldest and most esteemed families. During the brief Unification War of 986, President Marcus refused to abdicate her office even after being captured by Union forces at the crushing confederate loss at Jackonsville. She remains a political prisoner of the Merikan Union and is incarcerated indefinitely in Union Delphi.
Since the end of the Confederacy, Noirlan has maintained independence through isolation and appeasement. Noirlan’s merchant barons never hesitate to extend favourable loans to the Merikan Union and it is arguable that the current war of pacification and expansion being fought by the Union in the north and west is funded primarily by Noirlan silver. In order to keep the money flowing, the Continental Congress in Union Delphi knows it would be best to leave Noirlan to its own devices. Reciprocally, the barons of Noirlan know better than to flaunt the independence of Merika’s last confederate city too openly or loudly lest the lucrative markets of the northern cities close their borders to trade. The status quo is maintained by a delicate web of mutual dependence.
Noirlan is governed by a ruling council of fifteen alderman, eight of which are elected every six years by the city boroughs while seven are held as the standing privilege of Noirlan’s most powerful merchant families, whose hereditarily held sub-committee is known collectively as the Crescent Chamber. The greater Council of Fifteen, of which the elite Crescent Chamber is an important part, handles legislative business and empowers bureaucratic committees to administer the daily functioning of the city. Every two years the city also elects a First Citizen (also known as Baron Mayor) to be executive administrator and overseer of the government.
Sometimes members of the Council of Fifteen choose to abdicate their seats on the council and run for the office of First Citizen. The current Baron Mayor, Fedor Vidal, has temporarily abdicated the allodial council seat of his ancient family in order to serve as Noirlan’s First Citizen.
There is a large Neo-Catholic community in Noirlan, owing to the ancient French roots of the old city’s Cajun population. Neo-Catholicism is a diffuse creed and indicates different beliefs and practises depending upon what branch of the faith is being considered.
All Neo-Catholic denominations are based around the belief that the Cataclysm marks a break in the continuity of the Earthly Church of God. For whatever reason, and various dioceses interpret events differently, God brought the Cataclysm as a means to cleanse His Church on Earth in order to give rise to a new worldly ministry. Different communities of Neo-Catholics consider their own founders to be chosen vessels of the New Church and thus form their own unique traditions and culturally inflected beliefs. The traditional community of Noirlan’s Neo-Catholic Church is quite freely mingled with the believers of other faiths which results in a very heterodox church quite alien to the orthodox fundamentalism of the Merikan Union’s official state church, the Union Evangelical Church.
The Union Evangelicals may be the most influential cultural force in Merikan political life but they draw a very small congregation in Noirlan. The President of the Union Republic of Merika is more than the head of state; he is also the spiritual leader of the Evangelical Church. The Latter Scriptures of the Evangelical tradition append to the Christian bible and claim chosen status for the Merikan state. The Merikans consider themselves to be God’s chosen people, selected to reclaim the continent of their forefathers and stamp out the impure lesser, pagan races in their midst. The cosmopolitan populace of Noirlan, unsurprisingly, looks upon the Evangelicals with mistrust and resentment.
Noirlan is home to a surprisingly active cult of Voodun. A hougan known as Partholon holds frequent rituals on a private plot of land owned by the Debrun family just north of the city and draws an increasingly larger and more active host of ritual participants every night. The hougans believe, with good reason, that the old Gods of Voodun belief have taken an increased interest in the affairs of humans in the Post Cataclysmic Era. They believe an age of miracles and strange magic is afoot and prove it by doing the impossible before the eyes of their rapt brethren.
Noirlan also welcomes the spiritual beliefs of the northern Larada peoples. Larada religious beliefs are pantheistic and espouse the existence of a creator God, Who made a world of beauty and then remade it in Cataclysm because it was too pristine to match the hardiness and resourcefulness of the human race. For the Larada, God, whom they know as Vantu, communes with his followers through the experience of hardship and adversity. The Larada feel closest to Vantu in moments of test and trial and cherish the abject privation of their homelands in the toxic Outland. The Laradan shamans are known for their ability to perform miraculous works of magic through their strong spiritual connection to the ancestral Larada homelands.
Some shamans proclaim the existence of another God, Rokar, a God of ease and tranquility that represents the divine release of comfort from toil and pain. Belief in Rokar does not forgo belief in Vantu; indeed, the shamanic devotees of Rokar suggest that Rokar is in fact the son of Vantu, sent by the Creator to relieve the trials of the post-Cataclysmic world and call His people back “to the water” as the coastal-dwelling Larada say.
Education and Literacy
Unlike nearly all other Merikan city-states, Noirlan offers its citizens six years of free education. The purpose of this is to foster a literate middle class capable of sustaining the mercantile economy of the state. Although teachers and schools are available in the outlying habitations of Norland, most manorial serfs, relying greatly upon the labour of family members, do not allow their children to take advantage of this benefit. On the other hand, many of the poorest families of Norland have risen socially as a result of this policy and Noirlan boasts a 60% literacy rate among adult citizens, a level that far outstrips the Merikan standard of 20-25%.
Graduates of Noirlan’s public grammar schools often continue their studies at the city’s numerous religious and secular academies. The curricula all include lessons in natural and mechanical science that have no equal in the censored schools of the Union. Loyola University, Noirlan’s premier academy of knowledge and higher learning prides itself on spreading the wealth of human innovation and has attracted at various times lecturers and professors from all over the continent, including the celebrated Machinist, Manfred Klinnsman.
Not known for its military strength, Noirlan lacks a large standing army. Volunteer citizen guards or manorial soldiers keep order in the rural hamlets and villages while adventuring mercenary bands are hired to patrol the march between Norland and the realm of the Merikan Union. Within the urban jurisdiction of Noirlan, the ruling council retains a professional city guard, which is led by a Captain Hector Natividad. Additionally, the merchant sailors of Noirlan retain a state of readiness in case they are called upon to sail in defence of the city’s harbour or maritime interests.
Noirlan’s powerful merchant class commands a powerful monopoly of the Merikan market for exotic southern wares and vice versa. It is therefore not suprising that the merchant barons of Noirlan are among the wealthiest men and women in the Merikan continent. The most significant commodity markets controlled by the trade houses of Noirlan are based upon some notably exotic goods: spices, liquors, precious metals and gems, jewelry and other handicrafts. But the Merikans, expanding a continental empire with little independent means, have also grown increasingly to rely on foreign trade for raw materials and natural resources such as iron ore and lumber.
The Noirlan seatrade may be lucrative but it is also necessary. The city lacks resources for industry or sufficient tracts of arable land necessary for farming. Noirlan’s burgeoning population is the product of years of immigration that eventually outstripped its agricultural means. As a result, Noirlan is incapable of feeding itself without the influx of foreign wealth.
Therefore the Noirlan merchant barons guard their trade exclusivity tenaciously against the encroachment of Merikan regulators. President Strom has recently installed a controller of customs in Noirlan’s harbour in an attempt to impose tariffs on the ore trade. In response, the barons are withholding supplies of ore in order to inflate the market price. Such activities are disruptive to ordinary Noirlans who rely upon such trade for their daily livelihoods. Local resentment over such petty interventionism and reactionism splits between the Merikan Union and the local merchant class.
Not all sectors of the Noirlan economy have to do with direct trade. The city also supports industry to supplement its trade activities. Thus shipwrights and sailmakers are artisans important for sustaining the Noirlan ecomony. Besides Noirlan’s meagre agricultural development, fisheries constitute the city’s most significant saleable resource.
Noirlan is also home to a significant black market, which deals in contraband illegal in the Union. Conveniently, that which is considered contraband in the Union is often legalized in liberal-minded Noirlan, a fact that infuriates the puritan sensibilities of Merika’s ruling figures to no end. Illicit wormwood liquor, blear poison, coca powder, or any number of other controlled substances come ashore legally in Noirlan and from there find any number of ways into the Union both overland and by sea. Some believe the Merikan controller of customs, Sub-Lieutenant Will Grant, Merikan Navy, is actually a narc investigating the transport of illicit substances, which makes him quite a pariah around town.