While most of the information on the Leya was included in Sayuri's application, it is more of a snapshot of what life is like for a Leyari than a true culture profile. And so, without further ado, I've decided to continue the Encyclopedia (begun by KChan in her profile of the Vhaskari Highlands) with this entry.
History of the Leyari and The Leya:
No one knows who built the peace line, its original use, or how it works. All that is known is that no being bearing arms or meaning harm may enter this protective circle. The Leyari settled in this protected land of peace soon after the disappearance of Xan's city. Worship of the Eternal Conflux, or Ley-Heart as they call it, has been the Leyari religion since they were a wandering nomadic tribe in the early days of Altieryn, and all channeling was viewed with suspicion. Even the peaceful Berelanx and Earthshells, who, on the whole, the Leyari have a great deal of respect for, were often seen as fey creatures, who could be both helpful and kind, as well as dangerous. They realized early on that they could not protect themselves from the Ohnyrek with violence. So, instead of playing the Ohnyrek's game, they decided the play their own, and a strong pacifistic movement developed. Where other tribes and clans banded together to form armies and towns in an effort to defend themselves, the Leyari learned the silent way of the woods. It was said that, during this time, the only way to find a Leyari in a forest was to burn the thing down (And some particularly persistent Ohnyrek did try this). Their life was hard and without luxury, but their skill at hiding and finding safe spaces helped them survive where others perished.
Of course, everything changed on the Eve of Awakening.
As Altieryn began it's rapid advances, the Leyari soon became lost in the shuffle. Seeing the new 'Xanethi' channeling as more vile than any that came before it. As a people, the Leyari chose to forsake channeling, and all the wonders it created, trembling at the thought of what these strange creations and discoveries were doing to the sacred Ley-Heart. Left behind by the rest of the world, they began to dwindle in their forests. Young people began to desert, seeking an easier life, and the old began to die, taking their old ways with them. Still, those who remained persevered, and refused to call themselves Xanethi.
Things changed when the wars began. Suddenly, the Leyari had proof of the dangers of channeling, and confirmation that their shunning of it was just. They wandered the land, dismissed by the growing towns and cities and treated as wandering brigands, even though they bore no weapons, and fled the violence the consumed the land as best they could. As nodes were being destroyed, and Xan's fabled city vanished, the Leyari, along with the rest of the world, began to lose hope of a better future.
And then they found the Leya.
It was like an answer to their prayers. A land of vibrant fertility, untouched by the later stages of the war. There was evidence that the beautiful forests had once been mistreated, but with their skill and dedication, the Leyari soon soothed even the oldest of hurts, and set about creating their paradise. All ready skilled with forests and plants, the Leyari adapted easily to living off the rich valley, and discovered how to make use of nearly every part of their new environment: from the cherry blossoms to the silk worms. Used to overcoming great hardship with industriousness and determination, the Leyari flourished in their new paradise. As words spread of their luxurious silks, delicious cherries, and colorful dies, traders began to flock to The Leya, hoping to sell these exotic items at markets around the world. The Leyari continued to flourish, and the Leya grew rich and prosperous. The called their valley The Leya, after the Ley-Heart, and soon came to see it as their peoples' promised land.
Kings, envious of the Leyari's wealth, tried to take the Leya for its valuable resources and nodes, but soon discovered their armies could not enter. They tried everything from burrowing under to arming their men with kitchen knives, but nothing seemed to work. The Peace Line, a relic from ages past, likely invented in the early years of Xan's reign, refused access to anyone bearing arms or meaning harm. And so, the Leyari began to develop a complex and sophisticated culture, and steadily rose in terms of wealth and prestige. Though they could have used their new found wealth for power, the Leyari have continued to hold themselves apart from the rest of the world, and rarely venture outside their home. To this day, the so called "Cherry Valley" remains an exotic locale of secrecy and mystery to the outside world.
Leyari skin is more tanned in tone than typical Xanethi, but that does not mean they are dark-skinned. In fact, Leyari skin can be quite pale, especially when compared to the skin of a Masran. Their features are elegant: smooth in some places, and accented in others. Their eyes are tilted, dark, and mysterious. Occasionally, a Leyari child is born with pale coloured eyes, but this is fairly rare, and many Leyari see pale eyes as an ill omen. Leyari have dark black hair that is sleek and glossy. In terms of build, most Leyari are relatively short compared to other nations. Leyari men are often portly, with rounded faces and bellies, while Leyari women are very thin and delicate looking. Leyari men dress in silk robes, and usually wear their hair in braids hanging all the way down their backs. For accessories, they usually wear hats, dangling chains, and finger rings. Leyari women also wear silk, although some wear wool or cotton when working if they are clumsy. They pile their long hair up on their heads in complex knots and arrangements, and ornament it for special occasions. They paint their faces whenever they go out into public. Most of the face is painted white, using black eyeliner with red accents to emphasize the eyes, and red lip paint with a red stripe running down to the point of the chin to emphasize the woman's unmoving lips.
Life among the Leyari can seem decievingly simple, but Leyari culture is actually very complex. There are a strict set of gender roles that govern the lives of the people, and the Leyari are known for their discipline and piety. The Leyari have no formal schooling system. Children are instructed by their parents, and the elder members of their gender from within the clan. Children are taught cultural traditions, and the basics of all the crafts and arts available to them, before they choose their specialty or specialties. Boys are taught bargaining, diplomacy, politics, law theory, debate, and the arts of story telling, music, poetry, and oration. All women will eventually harvest and tend the cherry trees, but we are also taught gardening, the harvesting and spinning of silk, dyeing, dye making, animal husbandry, accounting, food preparation, and the arts of painting, calligraphy, and dance. The power of the men and women in the Leya is balanced. A woman’s power is the power of the body. She is in charge of her family’s wealth and livelihood, and is taught to excel in all her crafts at a young age. It is the women of the council who set the prices for our exports, and distribute wealth among the clans. The men, however, hold the power of the voice. They hold sway over relations with the outside world, make laws, and uphold cultural traditions within The Leya. They also administer justice. And so, they are balanced. In times of conflict, however, it is the women who take control. Once a girl becomes a woman, she begins to paint her face whenever she leaves the privacy of her home, and will refuse to speak. The Leyari say a woman's words are more valuable than those of a man, and thus must be saved and treasured. A woman's silence in public is not an arbitrary restriction placed on them. It is a statement of power. By keeping silent, the Leyari women provide their men with a constant reminder that men cannot exist without a body, but a woman can exist without a voice.
The Leyari are ruled by a council of women and men, one of each gender from each of the nine clans. The members of the council are chosen by their clan, for their age, wisdom, or skill. Decisions are made rarely, if ever, and most Leyari are content to let life go by as it always has, choosing conservatism and tradition over radical ingenuity time and time again. While this sytem may seem simplistic to outsiders or even Leyari who are not entrenched in politics, an ambitious Leyari must be both cunning and subtle. In a world where virtually anyone could end up wielding power, everyone must be treated with respect, and if there are conflicts, they are played out far beneath the surface. Each clan is headed by a matriarch and a patriarch. When a couple is married, they both forsake the clans of their birth, and join one of the seven others. Because of this, while the clans remain distinct, all Leyari are interrelated in some way or another. Each clan operates as an independant unit, however, because they are all interrelated, there is a strong movement towards cooperation among the clans.
The Leyari worship the Eternal Conflux, which they call the Ley-Heart. They view all Leyht energy as sacred, and even though they have a comparatively high channeling potential, they refuse to use it, viewing channeling as blasphemous. Their religious teaching include a strong respect for the natural world, and their duty to care for it. The Leyari respect all life, and refuse to shed blood. What domestic animals are kept in the Leya are used for their milk, eggs, or wool. The Leyari do not eat meat, and are pacifistic in all of their dealings with the outside world.
International relations involving the Leya can be complex at times. All nations are welcomed and encouraged to trade with the Leya. Merchants from around the world come to purchase the exotic Leyari cherries, jams, juices, and wines, as well as their exquisite silks, and these goods are in demand across the world. Because of this, the Leya has grown very rich and prosperous. The Leyari spread out their wealth, but there is still a gap between the rich and the poor. It's just much less pronounced than in the rest of the world. Because of the hardship of their ancestors, and the work-together attitude it created, all benefit from the plenty of the Leya. The poorest families are about as wealthy as a prosperous merchant from another country, while the richest families have the wealth of a minor noble.
While in the Leya, outsiders are expected to obey all Leyari laws. Any channeling or violence is not tolerated. There are inns on most of the major roads into the Leya, where the opportunistic locals have made a business out of storing the weapons that will not be allowed across the Peace Line, and providing a home for the more rowdy travellers, who don't trust themselves to keep the peace after a cup or two of fine Leyari cherry wine. When there are incidents with violence, any one breaking the law is banished from the Leya for life, and everything they have on them (including clothing) is demanded as a fine. If there, the Leyari do their best to avoid conflict, often relying on other travellers hoping to earn a bargain to subdue difficult guests. In extraordinary circumstances, if someone refuses to obey the law, and there is no one who will subdue them, the Leyari flee to their towers, and wait for an opportune moment to take their fine and move the criminal to the other side of the peace line. One of the funguses that grow in the cherry forests can be refined into a powerful narcotic, and the Leyari use it only for these types of situations, and only after careful deliberation. This rarely happens, as most people with violent temperments are kept out by the peace line.
Channeling is also forbidden in the Leya, but outsiders who channel are merely asked to leave immediately the first time as the Leyari realize that just as an aversion to channeling is indoctrinated into them, it comes naturally to people of other cultures. If they return and channel again, they are banished for a period to be decided by a council of men, and a third offence results in banishment for life. Of course, resisting any of these sentences is treated as violence, and everything that the person brought into the Leya is demanded as forfeit. Because most visitors are merchants by trade who depend on the fine Leyari wares for their livelihood, problems of this sort are rare, occuring once or twice a year. A merchant who deals with wares that the Leyari make often finds his career is ruined if he is banished from the Leya, when he is unable to supply what his customers demand.
The Leyari treat foreigners as outsiders, ignorant of the proper way of doing things. They do not travel often, and when they do, it is in a male/female pair, often, but not always, a married couple. They hold a sort of diplomatic immunity in most of the countries they have dealings with, and a Leyari woman with face paint accompanied by a Leyari man with a braid can be treated as diplomats if they know who to talk to and how to act.
The Cherry Valley is located in the south-eastern portion of Alteiryn, only a day's journey away from the eastern sea, making it excellently situated to trade with both Masran and the other countries of Altieryn. The valley is not large by the standards of nations, but it is large enough to contain three closely situated nodes. The two outer nodes are of middling strength, while the center one is really quite powerful. Joining them is a strong ley line that traces the valley floor. This arrangement, along with the adjacent ley lines that create the nodes, and the protection offered by the peace line and surrounding hills have made the valley a lush and fertile paradise. The peace line is a small wall like structure, about a foot high that runs along the hilltops that surround the valey. It is made of a white marble-like material that has yet to be identified, and continues for some distance underground. The barring of anyone bearing arms or meaning harm effect the line creates extends seemingly forever both up into the sky, and down into the ground, as all attempts to burrough under or fly over have met with failure. No one knows who put the line there, or for what purpose, but the Leyari see it as a gift from the Ley-Heart rewarding the Leyari for their conservation of Leyht by not channeling.
The entire valley is blanketed by a forest of the famous Leyari cherry trees, fed by small springs and streams throughout the valley. Throughout the valley are the slender tower-houses of the Leyari, built to take up as little land as possible. While there are three cities in the Leya, situated on the three nodes, all are wildly spaced, and are seen as a continuation of the forest. Most of the Leyari remain a rural people. The climate in the Leya is warm all year round, and so the cherry trees bloom and bear fruit in every season but that of the Serpent. In the growing season, the entire valley is blanketed with beautiful pink blossoms, and the paths are littered with fallen petals. During harvest, the famous Leyari cherries grow ripe. It is not until the end of winter that the leaves turn vibrant shades of red and yellow, in preparation for the dark season. It is always warm in the Leya, and there is never a true winter, aside, of course, from the Season of the Serpent, when nothing grows, all plant life seems to shrivel up and die. The trees are pollonated by beautiful moths and butterflies, unqie to the valley. The cacoons of the worms and caterpillars can be harvested and used to create the fine silk that the Leyari are famed for making. Leyari cherries are among the finest, and can be used to make jams, juices, and wines. Along with the pink blossoms they can also be used to make fine dyes.