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Recap / A Thing of Vikings Chapter 47 "Do You Hear Something?"

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Book II, Chapter 16

Pre-Viking Eirish society was, in technical terms, a sophisticated primitive society; it had formalized law, culture and social structures, but also lacked several elements associated with complex societies, specifically a written language, urban centers, and currency. The social structure of the Eirish, in particular, was based on three axes, and where the individual Eirish person fell on them.

The primary axis was familial; an Eirish family was all of the related members living under one roof (a fine), and then extending out to one-degree extended family (sept), and there to blood-tied clan. Related clans would come together to form a tribe (a tuath), related tribes would form a kingdom (dál), and geographically proximate kingdoms would form a province (coiced), of which there were classically five.

The second axis was occupational, and consisted of three groups: the warriors (láech / láecheanna), the craftsmen (cerd / cerdí), and the laborer farmers (aithech / aithecheanna). The farmers produced the food required to survive, and were protected by the warriors. The warriors protected the other two groups, but also ruled over them. And the craftsmen produced the goods and services needed to keep the society running; this group included not only smiths, carpenters, masons and others, but also the lawkeepers, priests, musicians, scholars, monks, physicians and other such individuals.

The third axis was social class, consisting of five ranks.

At the top were the rulers, the kings (ríthe), ranging from clan chief (rí) to tribal chief (rí tuaithe) to king of the kingdom (rí ruirí), to province king (rí ruírech), and then to High King (ard rí).

Second in rank were the privileged (flaith), essentially the aristocracy. These individuals were the designated managers of the land, and controlled who settled where and did what. While legally the land was held by the tribe as a whole and the privileged class merely managed it on their behalf, they still historically received the bulk of of the arable land, controlled who worked it, and worked the public resources for their private benefit.

Third in rank were the non-noble freemen with property (aire), usually land or flocks. There were two subclasses, both related to the occupations in the second axis—warriors and professionals, who engaged in privileged, trained crafts and skills, such as priest, law-keeper, physician, fili or other such skill.

Fourth in rank were the freemen without property (aithech); they were not privileged themselves and did not hold property, and worked the land or flocks granted by the upper ranks as tenants.

Fifth in rank were the non-free. There were three subdivisions of this category:sen-cleith, bothach & fuidir. Bothach were essentially clanless individuals allowed to squat on tribal lands at the sufferance of the tribe. Sen-Cleith were the personal servants and laborers of the Flaith classes, and the flaith members treated them as little better than the daer-fuidiri. The fuidir was the lowest of the low, bound to the land and desires of their owning Flaith. The daer-fuidiri being composed of debt-thralls, war-captives, and other human chattel, The daer-fuidiri were little more than property—indeed, female thralls, referred to as bondsmaids (cumhal), were a standard unit of currency against which other valuable items were measured in Eirish law. Finally, there were rare exceptions in the form of tribeless individuals, saer-fuidir, who were allowed to squat on unsettled land at the sufferance of the local Flaith, but otherwise had no rights before the law to speak of.

A History Of The Isles, Oxford, England, 1591

Tropes That Appear In This Chapter:

  • Badass Gay: Jonna is an accomplished shield-maiden who challenges her jarl on the position of securing Berk as an ally, she herself having been married to another woman Reidun in-spite of their culture's proclivities against it.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Literally, a group of men try to kidnap Hookfang it ended about as well as you'd expect.
  • Clarke's Third Law: The Jomsvikings believe that the Hooligans utilize magic in order to ride dragons. Jonna argues that this is not dishonorable, as Odin himself practiced magic.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: Wulfhild acknowledges that with the exception of being payed for their labor and can occupy land, bothad are not that much better off than thralls, given that they don't have the right to vote or hold property or the right to leave or work for anyone other than their appointed lords. When Eochaid argues that they can reach the level of aithech, Stoick namedrops the trope and says that the only meaningful difference is that while thralls are in literal chains, the bothad are trapped in perpetual debt.
  • I Thought Everyone Could Do That: Snotlout/Sigurd can sew and nearly gets attacked for it, someone thinking it's witchcraft.
  • Idealized Sex: Subverted, Hiccup and Wulfhild's first time is described as having been awkward and at times embarrassing.
    It had been a slow mutual exploration, with awkward pauses and candid talks and languid moments spent in mutual peace and a few moments of embarrassed hilarity when Hiccup or herself had instants of difficulty, all in between stretches of pleasures that Wulfhild had never before imagined. Now she knew why Astrid made some of those noises in the night. Wulfhild had made a few of them herself.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Not in a religious sense, but the people of the Byzantine empire don't believe in witchcraft. Viewing it as something only uneducated barbarians believe in.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Snotlout/Sigurd knows how to sew, having learned how to do it from his mother. When his fellow guard sees this, they think that he sewed spells into his cloak and this was how he tamed Hookfang.
  • Their First Time: Hiccup and Wulfhild have sex for the first time.


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