A number of people have been on at me with eminently sensible questions about everyday details of the lives of the kinden, and mostly of the “where does everything come from, if it’s insects all the way?” kind. Hence, whilst this entry won’t be the most fiercely enthralling for lovers of swordplay and the clashes of empires, it will fill in a few gaps concerning what people eat and what they wear. This should be of added use to those several who have expressed the idea of putting together a role-playing campaign in the world of the kinden, as it will give them something to put in that large part of the equipment list that nobody looks at or buys from (1)
The following is good for agriculture around Collegium, with notes on the Lowlands and sometimes elsewhere. Empire agriculture is not much different, although less mechanised and more primitive in many provinces.
The major field crops around Collegium are barley, olives, cotton, and vines, followed by durum (wheat). Collegium benefits from a good expanse of flat, rich land laid down as the river flooded and contracted over the centuries on its way to the bottleneck estuary between the cliffs. The broad expanses of farmland radiate from tributary villages that encircle the city, but Collegium also trades for a fair proportion of its food and the Assembly husbands large foodstocks, especially after the Vekken siege a generation ago showed how very vulnerable their farmland was to burning and pillage. Vegetables and herbs are grown on small plots within or immediately outside the villages. The former play a relatively small part in the Collegiate diet. The latter are mostly for medicinal purposes, for infusions in hot water or alcohol, or for pipe-smokers. Fruit orchards are the preserve of the most prosperous of farmers, or for the country residences of wealthy citizens. Collegium imports more fruit than it grows. One feature of Lowlands agriculture that is absent from the city and its holdings is the mushroom farming that Ant-kinden engage in. Domesticated ants are quite capable of sustaining a mushroom-farming operation with a minimal supervision, and the Ant-kinden have developed numerous strains, for flavour and texture. In an Ant city, most of what appears to be meat on first inspection is in reality fungus, and each city has its own varieties, which are a leading export.
Of course it’s not entirely true that it’s “insects all the way,” as mankind has preserved certain species of large vertebrate from the cull. Where the land is not favourable to crops one can find goat-herds and shepherds tending their flocks, or horses out to pasture. Alongside these are a number of beetle varieties, most notably longhorn beetles (favoured for their meat), chafer beetles (for their superior chitin) and load or draft beetles (as beasts of burden). More common than any of these is the apherder and his flock, however. The meat of aphids is sweeter and more tender, and of course there’s always the honeydew.
Most herdsmen keep on hand a couple of painted-lady beetles to keep their beasts in line, whichintelligent and loyal animals are also seen within the city as guard animals, although they are somewhat too forthright to make good pets. Instead, the wealthy in the city make do with diminutive jewel beetles, the breeding of which is a fiercely competitive sport amongst collectors, and the flying, furred animals known as felblings, which subsist on very small inscets and, if not kept lashed and usually inside, would swiftly become the repast of larger ones. Semi-feral ground beetles are also common in villages, and in warehouses in the city, and play a major role in keeping down vermin such as roaches and weevils. By far the most common pet, though, rich or poor, urban or rural, is the humble cricket. House-crickets are docile and affectionate, and their song is well known to bring calming sleep, Fighting crickets, on the other hand, are proud, fierce and a major source of gambling debts.
Good eating on one of those
Lowlands bread comes in three varieties. There is barley-bread for the poor, and wheat-bread for those that can afford it. Beyond this, there is Ant-bread, which is yeasty and extremely filling, good in that it can keep an Ant-kinden soldier marching all day, bad in that it gives rise to plenty of Beetle jokes about Ant flatulence. Dried fruit is a staple of Lowlander diet, far more so than fresh fruit which is strictly seasonal. Many of the Collegium vinyards are specifically for the provision of dried grapes, and the terroir of a raisin is debated by connoisseurs almost as much as that of a wine. Fresh fruit, as noted, is expensive and hard to come by.
Meat comes in four varieties. Smallmeats are concoctions, often pickled, candied or highly flavoured, of little insects, spiders or similar invertebrates. Like the fresh fruit these are fancy foods, served by the rich as appetisers, and greatly favoured by Spider-kinden. Softmeat refers to goat, sheep or horseflesh, which is more expensive and less efficient to rear that the alternative, but which is reckoned a finer delicacy. Hardmeat is beetle or aphid meat, so named because, although it is inferior fresh, it can be dried to a satisfactory jerky and so makes standard meat-rations for any soldier or traveller. Finally there is fish, which ought to be a staple part of the Collegiate diet given the city’s coastal aspect. Instead the Beetles are oddly snobby about fish, and despite the fact that Fly-kinden and Spider-kinden are very partial, they themselves disdain it, finding it fit only for the very poor (who catch their own) and for foreigners who don’t know any better. The root of this is that the Moth-kinden, who were once the masters in Collegium, have never had a taste for fish, reserving it only for their slaves. Once free, the Beetle-kinden have maintained a strong prejudice concerning the social implications of eating fish.
Honeydew, harvested from aphids, is the standard sweet, whether crystallised, used in cooking, or as a drink. Honey itself is less common, as Collegium’s apiarists are not overly skilled, but imported honey from the Spiderlands (and more recently from the Empire) is much prized.
There is a good quantity of milk and cheese, both almost uniformly from goats, and Collegium exports astonishing quantities of olive oil (and, indeed olives), which is nowhere made finer or purer. Finally, alongside the imported Ant mushrooms, there are a profusion of eggs in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes that any visitor from our world would find frankly disturbing. These are insect eggs, of course, and aside from their species of origin the kinden divide them into “new eggs” and “old eggs”. New eggs are freshly laid, the contents mostly liquid and ready to be eaten like a soup after the egg has been mildly heated and cracked open. Old eggs are harvested and cooked near to their time for hatching. Their contents are meaty, to say the least, and the eggshell itself is entirely edible, and very tasty too. Highly recommended.
And from the wine list
In Collegium they drink wine, vast quantities of it, and watered. Unwatered wine is for madmen and Mantis-kinden, who are half-mad to start with. The Beetles are very serious about their wine, so that one can’t throw an empty bottle without hitting at least one self-proclaimed expert ready to bore the shoes of everyone else at the dinner table over any vintage’s merits and heritage. Beer is not a Collegium drink, but Fly-kinden are extremely fond of it. Fly beer would, to our palates, taste extremely odd, and indeed the Lowlands and imperials together have a very sweet tooth when it comes to alcohol. Dry wine is more often found in the south, in the Spiderlands, or north in the Commonweal. Spirits are also common, and generally divided into three categories: grain spirits are harsh, tasteless and are either cheap and lethal or horribly expensive when the fashion sporadically sweeps the well-to-do. “Wine spirits”, fortified wines, are well-liked, and another of the city’s most noted exports, especially to the Ant-kinden who have no vineyards of their own worth mentioning. Herb-spirits is a catch-all term for grain alcohol mixed with fruits or herbs to flavour it, and there are hundreds of different varieties, probably as many as there are Beetle farmers who can construct a still. The serious and educated drinker, in search of variety and strength in perfect combination, is likely to be a devotee of herb spirits. Beyond this, of course, there is mead, which is not so popular amongst the Beetle-kinden as it is in the Empire, or amongst the Mantids. More common is dew-mead, from fermented honeydew, which is reckoned more pleasant and less potent, and is in any event more easily procured. Honeydew is also drunk unfermented, and the Beetles have known how to filter fresh water since before the revolution. Hot drinks include a plethora of herbal infusions, some of which claim medical benefits, although the College is ruthless in debunking “the remedies of the Inapt”. A recent luxury to reach the city is drinking chocolate, which is fantastically expensive, utterly elitist, and wholly mysterious in its origins, save that it comes from somewhere deep in the Spiderlands.
The Emperor’s new clothes
Collegium or Helleron cotton, machine woven to an exacting standard, is sought after everywhere, and the Beetles produce a number of other plant-based fabrics in heavier forms, up to the stout canvas used by artificers. Chitin can be worked and moulded into almost any form imaginable, although the boiling and treating process is more laborious than it is even for leather, and the end result must be taken care of to prevent it becoming brittle. Chitin, once common in armour or as a building material, is now rare in Collegium, but perversely their beetle herds produce the very best, and so despite its absence from the locals it remains a strong export. Leather is from horses (so-called “hard leather”) or goatskin (“soft-leather”). Sheepskin is not common, nor is mutton, for sheep are kept mostly for their wool.
Silk is a major import of Collegium, especially since the airship trade got, so to speak, off the ground. Whilst the grubs of some herd beetles do produce silk, it is a lamentable inferior material, and countless yards of silk are imported from the Spiderlands, where the best is to be had at a price. The Moth-kinden also produce silk of good quality, as well as fur and the iridescent, decorative scales from their beasts’ wings, but trade with the Moths is a tentative and unreliable business. Moth-fur is an expensive luxury for this reason and, despite the greater distances, it is easier to procure bee-fur from the Empire or the Spiderlands, or from the remote western coast.
Finally, although not exactly relating to clothes, Collegium is of course a great consumer of paper. When the Moths ruled this was a species of papyrus, made from interwoven reeds and then treated to grant it greater smoothness and longevity. As an alternative, sheepskin or goatskin vellum would be used for important documents. The Beetles themselves have had papermills for centuries, making good-quality paper from wood-pulp. However recently the paper markets have encountered a new supply of paper of a quality that rivals the milled kind, and is in very plentiful supply at its point of origin. The source? Why, where else does one go, for paper, but the Wasps? One of the benefits of an imperial occupation would therefore be an inexhaustible supply of good-quality, cheap paper, only you’d have to be very careful what you wrote on it.