The Skargh Empire (Skargh: Nagharai az-Skaara) is the largest and oldest of the three galactic superpowers in the universe that is also home to the Imperium of Sidhae and the Federation of Mankind.
The Skargh Empire is the oldest known starfaring power in the home universe of Sidhae and Mankind. Having consequently built the largest interstellar empire by far, the Skargh are technically the most powerful of the three galactic empires fighting for supremacy over the Milky Way galaxy. Their advantage of size and numbers is, however, somewhat offset by human and especially Sidh technological prowess and tactical ingenuity.
As sworn enemies of both the Imperium and Mankind, the Skargh are locked in a perpetual war with its rival powers. The stalemate is further reinforced by informal agreements by each power to fly to the other's aid, should the third power embark on an all-out offensive, keeping the general hostilities down to constant skirmishes and minor incursions - perhaps the best possible outcome for all three warring sides in the absence of a realistic solution for a genuine peace.
The Skargh Empire dates back millenia before humans and their Sidh descendants, or even the Skargh themselves, attained spaceflight.
The 8th century AD by Terran calendar was a tumultuous time for the Skargh, being roughly equivalent to the later Terra's 20th century in terms of conflict and violence. Minor empires forged by different Skargh clans battled over supremacy, investing every bit of their technological knowledge to find new creative ways to destroy their enemies. Traditional codes of honour and chivalry were increasingly disregarded in favour of political expedience as mass industrialization took place. Where Mankind would experience two World Wars in their time, the Skargh were essentially locked in a perpetual state of war during this time, a situation not overly unfamiliar to them from ages before - ever since the invention of firearms, "killed by gunshot" had replaced "eaten by predators" as the primary cause of death among the Skargh. Still, until the advent of industrialization, the destruction had been kept relatively in check by a strict adherence to traditional laws of chivalry and honour. Now, however, that adherence was increasingly vaning, exacting a heavy toll on the Skargh population and their native environment as vast stretches of land were destroyed and polluted by artillery bombardment and chemical warfare.
It was in this setting that one of the Skargh noble houses discovered the means to split atoms in their pursuit to outdo their rivals. After brief preliminary tests, the house elders were quick to realize the awesome power they had unlocked to their command, but also the horrors and dangers it brought with it.
Therefore, the house that would in the future become known simply as the Royal House, decided to unite all of its rivals under their banner under threat of complete annihilation. After the Royal House obliterated a few most stubborn rivals as an example, the rest of the Skargh clans agreed to end hostilities and submit to the rule of the Royal House, also recognizing the threat that independent pursuit of such destructive weapons and their eventual use would result in. Thus, the Skargh Empire was born in 762 AD, the entirety of the Skargh race united under one banner for the first time under High King Bakrak'r the Great.
Recognizing the innate need for the Skargh to fight and wage war, King Bakrak'r and his advisors devised a system of ritualized combat to meet that need and avert future rebellion and uprisings, enforced by their nuclear monopoly. This system would become known as the Thag'r, and would define Skargh single combat and warfare for many centuries to come.
Expansion to the stars
The millenium after the unification of warring clans can be described as the golden age of Skargh civilization. Most of the cultural heritage of the Skargh was produced during this time, colossal temples and cities being erected in honour of the gods and their own builders. In the absence of dangerous competition, technological progress was slow but steady, the Skargh attaining spaceflight roughly by 1700 AD. Although the technology to construct space-capable rockets had been around for almost a millenium now, and rocket-powered delivery systems for nuclear weapons had been the decisive factor behind forming the Skargh Empire, it had never occurred to the Skargh to actually attempt a manned spaceflight by such means until overpopulation and industrial pollution really became problematic. When it did, however, the Skargh invested all their resources and know-how into a single-minded pursuit of expanding beyond their homeworld.
Unlike humans, who were left baffled by their place in the universe for much longer, the Skargh learned that there was other life out in space quickly. Upon exploring the second and largest of their four moons, Zat'Kesh, the first Skargh spacefarers would stumble across ancient ruins in a place where no life was theoretically supposed to exist, and an enigmatic species labelled only as Skath'lok ("liquid death"). Although the exact nature and purpose of these Skath'lok are unclear from Skargh records gleaned into by outsiders, it is clear that this first contact wasn't pleasant, but that the Skargh warrior spirit eventually prevailed.
The Skargh would consequently settle their home system, and discover the means of faster-than-light travel by 1803 AD, consequently embarking on a massive campaign of expansion.
If the tribalistic and feudal nature of Skargh society had been somewhat reined in during the previous millenium, they would again come to manifest in full as they expanded among the stars, independent house-funded expeditions establishing colonies away from the prying eyes of the Royal House. The technology of nuclear power had no longer been a closely-guarded secret for quite a few centuries now, the monopoly on nuclear technology being only a customary deference to the Royal House as the founders and rightful rulers of the Empire. Now, however, the houses saw an opportunity to develop and refine it independently, especially in the absence of an effective means of exerting central control. Skargh society was once again nearing the brink of total war and destruction.
The discovery of FTL drives somewhat cooled down the intra-species rivalries of the Skargh, there now being plenty of opportunity for everyone, the competition spirit of the Skargh houses being given an outward direction for now.
As the Skargh spread among the stars, they would encounter various primitive races, none of them having advanced beyond Iron Age at the time of discovery. They would swiftly conquer and enslave these races, often posing as gods. The ease with which these races generally submitted, and the reverence and worship that they accorded only served to bolster the Skargh ego and confidence in their destiny as the rightful rulers of the galaxy.
Things became somewhat more complicated when they established first contact with Humanity in 2025 AD. In Skargh history, this was the first time they encountered a species anywhere near as advanced as themselves. Although the humans did not possess FTL technology at the time, the Skargh expedition that made the first contact with Mankind mistook them for an FTL-capable race, as their existing technology easily matched their own as found on the outer colonies, and sometimes even exceeded it, some technological concepts commonplace among humans never having occurred to the Skargh. Consequently, the Skargh government was led to believe that Old Terra, then Mankind's only home, was in fact merely a fringe colony of a far greater interstellar power, a mistake the Skargh would come to regret tremendously in the later years.
Having elected to entreat cautiously as a result of this erroneous revelation, the Skargh agreed for a limited technological exchange with the humans they had contacted - which ironically represented the Eurasian Confederation led by the future Emperor of Sidhae. While a lot of Humanity's technologies seemed just as outlandish to the Skargh as Skargh technologies were to the humans, the advantage was quite obviously one-sided. After learning more about the existing technological gap and the Skargh culture, the future Emperor realized the sheer threat the Skargh posed to Mankind, and woved to unite Humanity and survive the xeno menace at any cost - even slaughtering half of Humanity, if that was what it took to save the other half.
The future Emperor was in luck, as a Skargh ship crashed that same year on the Moon near a Confed base. Quickly seizing and reverse-engineering the technologies within, the Eurasian Confederation obtained a decisive advantage over its rivals, becoming the first to field powered armor and energy weapons en masse and using this advantage to overwhelm its rivals, forming the first human world-state of Terran Confederacy in 2040. Given the sheer distance between Terra and the Skargh homeworlds, the Skargh were none the wiser, only sporadically arriving and trading in great secrecy.
By the time the future Emperor and his loyalists were forced into exodus in 2044, the contact with the Skargh had ended as civil strife between the noble houses grew, the new contacts with Mankind becoming a secondary issue to rivalries at home. By the time the Skargh realized that the humans had most probably been playing them and returned with a vengeance, Terra had already been obliterated by the fires of the Final War, the survivors having spread amongst the stars as the predecessors of the Imperium and the Federation respectively.
The Skargh would only rediscover Mankind at the end of their bout of civil strife around 2095, when it and their Sidh brethren had already expanded to the stars for good. With the succession dispute that had caused the strife resolved, the Empire embarked on war under the new royal administration, determined to avenge the slight of being deceived by the puny humans.
The following series of wars, however, turned out to be a series of humiliating defeats inflicted mostly by the Emperor of Sidhae as the joint commander of human and Sidh forces. Being accustomed to fighting each other in strictly ritualized combat and having only primitives as foreign enemies, the Skargh were ill-prepared to deal with a modern military, their tactics mostly being restricted to massed frontal charges with melee weapons, and their space tactics being next to non-existent. Such was the impact of these defeats that by the time a peace treaty was signed in 2104, many of the Skargh had come to believe that the Emperor of Sidhae was in fact an avatar of Dregruk, the Skargh god of war, born in the flesh of an alien to remind his people to be vigilant and guard against complacency that had seized them. This has consequently led to the following generations of Skargh to worship the Sidh Emperor as the latest avatar of Dregruk.
War of Terra
Unsatisfied with the result of the Skargh Wars, the Skargh monarchy would enact a series of sweeping reforms mainly targeting the military and the industries to bring them up to modern standards. The public desire for revenge was also manifest in the quest to conquer the now-desolate Old Terra, the original homeworld of both Mankind and Sidhae. In doing so, the Skargh hoped to inflict the ultimate insult upon their victorious foes.
Although the war proceeded as planned, fierce opposition from both Mankind and Sidhae, who had similar goals for their old homeworld, resulted in a brief but fierce battle in the skies over Terra in 2124, only ended by the intervention of a native Terran Verlock D'Averan. His diplomatic efforts persuaded the warring sides to withdraw and recognize Terra as a sovereign entity, heralding an Age of Peace.
Age of Peace
The Skargh Empire was little different from its rivals during the following century of peace and development known as the Age of Peace. With the warring parties having agreed to a clear division of spheres of influence, open military conflicts were largely averted, and the three empires directed their expansion outwards instead. The majority of the Empire's worlds currently claimed were settled during this time. The Empire also engaged in peaceful trade and cooperation with Mankind and the Sidhae during this time. In terms of culture, this is dubbed the Second Golden Age by Skargh historians.
Even with peaceful rivalry in place, however, the Empire ever prepared for war, as did its rivals. Hundreds of dreadnought-class ships were built during this time, and armies billions-strong were raised to counter their foes. Even if rivalry between empires was peaceful in this time, it also involved an arms race that saw many of the galaxy's most destructive weapons to the present day being built.
All that came to an end in 2232, when the Emperor of Sidhae was assassinated with the aid of human intelligence operatives. As the Imperium of Sidhae consequently descended into a civil war, the Federation of Mankind offered the Skargh Empire an opportunity they couldn't refuse - to humiliate the Children of the Avatar once and for all.
Age of War
Although the Federation's initial intent had been the liberation of those Sidhae who supposedly suffered under their so-called Emperor's tyranny, it was quickly apparent that their liberation was neither liked nor wanted by the Sidh majority. The desire for the resources under Sidh control, however, quickly overrode any such scruples, and before long, Mankind was embarked on a genocidal campaign against the Sidhae , with their Skargh allies following the suit.
This led the newly-instated Empress of Sidhae to adopt increasingly drastic measures, culminating in the Omega Protocol that would see all strategically-important worlds about to be overwhelmed by the invasion destroyed. Although this tactic came at a heavy cost, it eventually paid off, weakening the human-Skargh coalition enough to be defeated decisively at the battle of Hades Gates in 2245.
In the aftermath of the Hades Gates, while the Sidhae withdrew from the remnants of their Old Imperium, human and Skargh commanders began to blame each other for the defeat, arguments devolving into skirmishes, and eventually into an all-out war amongst themselves. For the following two centuries, Mankind and the Skargh were locked in an incessant battle that eventually ended in an exhausted stalemate. The Sidhae, embarked on their Second Pilgrimage exodus, were all but forgotten in this period.
Eventually, both sides relented as it became evident that neither had the resources to defeat the other. This stalemate benefitted the reemergent Sidhae eventually.
The Sidhae returned with a vengeance in 2549. Within a week, over 50 Federation, and 37 Skargh systems were invaded, most falling merely a week or two later. Just like their human counterparts, the Skargh leadership were at first shocked profoundly.
Unlike with humans, whose conquered populations were subject to a case-by-case evaluation, the conquered Skargh populaces were invariably subject to wholesale extermination. For this reason, the Skargh decidedly showed stronger resistence than most human worlds, eventually losing fewer and retaining sovereignity over more worlds than Mankind.
All that being said, the Skargh did adapt to the new challenge rather spectacularly, mounting the first effective response considerably sooner than humans, and consequently losing much less worlds to the invading Sidhae. So effective was their response, in fact, that the majority of SIdh operations past 2560 focused on capturing Federation's worlds rather than those under Skargh control. Admittedly, one of the reasons was the population value - any Sidh-controlled human world had the potential to yield millions of converts every year, while every Skargh world could produce nothing more than slaves at best.
By 2583, it was apparent that the initial Sidh blitzkrieg had ground to a halt. Consequently, establishing a peace treaty satisfactory to all sides became imperative. After some deliberation, all three sides came to the same conclusion that maintaining limited conflict was the most optimal solution. Consequently, it was informally agreed to maintain a perpetual limited war, as the differences between the three nations were deemed to be irreconcilable, and neither side was prepared to make the the sacrifices and concessions expected of a true peacemaker.
Government and politics
The Skargh Empire is a feudal monarchy similar to the kingdoms and empires of Medieval and Early Modern humanity. Such a model of government derives in part from the technological difficulty of maintaining sufficient communication to exert direct central control over interstellar distances, significant power consequently having to be deferred to local authorities. Skargh civilization also never underwent some of the events that transformed Mankind, specifically the Western world, and set it on a path towards industrial civilization. Consequently, Skargh society and government remains rooted in heredity and tradition as time-tested and highly stable foundations.
High King and the Royal House
The sovereign ruler of the Skargh Empire bears the title of Naghash (pl. naghashir) - literally "great lord", more broadly, "sovereign". Although sometimes translated as "emperor", outside (i.e. human and Sidh) sources prefer to render it as "high king", in order to stay faithful to the original meaning and to avoid confusion with the similar royal title of the Sidh emperors.
The Skargh use of naghash is not exclusive to their own monarch, being applicable to any autocrat, and more broadly, any head of state. For example, the Emperor of Sidhae is accordingly known to the Skargh as Naghash az-Sidhir. The derivative term nagharai denotes the realm of a monarch, i.e., a kingdom or empire, and more broadly, any state.
All high kings (and more rarely, queens) have hailed from various branches of the same dynasty since the foundation of the Skargh Empire in 762 AD. This dynasty is known simply as the Royal House. The throne of the High King is formally held by the head of the house, although more often than not the most capable and respected member of the house will rule the empire in all but name - just as with humans, the Skargh too have plenty of inept and incapable monarchs in their history, with more capable men ruling the kingdom in their name. Other members of the Royal House hold key government offices, most important being that of the Chancellor, which is unique in being available exclusively through merit rather than birthright as a way to ensure that even a completely incompetent king cannot run his country to ruin without someone being there to minimize the damage. The Chancellor does not necessarily have to be a born member of the Royal House, or even a nobleman - an exceptionally competent and capable commoner might be chosen for the job as well, although that will automatically include his ennoblement and customary adoption into the Royal House.
Although the Royal House maintains a monopoly on certain key government offices, others are open to members of other Houses. Nobles of other prominent houses will expect to be granted a place on the high king's Privy Council, the equivalent to the government's executive arm.
The legislative authority over Skargh Empire rests solely with the High King, who issues laws by decree. Although technically the High King alone has the authority to issue Empire-wide laws, in practice the creation of laws is mostly done by the councilors, their proposed legislation merely being given royal assent.
Although the king formally commands absolute authority, in practice he defers considerable power to the noble houses. In the present day, Royal House is no longer the most powerful or influential dynasty of the Empire, ruling merely by birthright and time-honoured tradition rather than supreme strength (something that other houses have sought to exploit on more than one occasion). The noble Houses aren't just single extended noble families, but rather large clans of related families with common ancestors.
There exist hundreds of noble houses in the Skargh Empire, although fairly few are powerful enough to compete for power on an Empire-wide scale. Rivalries between the houses are commonplace and tend to be quite intense, the intrigue, scheming and backstabbing in Skargh courts rivaling that reported among Byzantine and Renaissance Italian nobility.
As in every feudal society, vassalage is a cornerstone of Skargh administrative hierarchy. Lesser nobles will enter vassalage with more powerful lords, being granted fiefs and protection in exchange for their services, whatever their lord might require of them. Although not formally part to this system of patronage, commoners practice it likewise, seeking out a lord to be their patron if they don't have one already. Every Skargh is expected to have some form of liege, it being considered shameful to be masterless.
Some of the most powerful Skargh noble Houses are:
- House Ythrengaar (Iron Skull) - currently the arguably most powerful house of the Skargh Empire. A militant but pragmatic house, the Iron Skulls prefer to strike a balance between the use of military power and diplomacy. While no doubt aggressive and expansionist, the Iron Skulls are nonetheless willing to stay their hand, compromise and at times even concede to the enemies of their clan and the Empire if it serves a purpose in their bigger scheme of things. They aren't above using subterfuge, trickery and other underhanded methods if it serves their goals, but outwardly strive to maintain an reputable image.
- House Falak'argh (Blooded Hand) - another contestor for the most powerful house's status and sworn rivals of the Iron Skulls. Considered agressively militaristic and expansionist even by Skargh standards, members of this clan truly live up to their name. Were they to decide the Empire's policies, the Skargh race would no doubt embark on an all-out holy war against their rival species. Falak'har represent the ultra-conservative end of the Skargh political spectrum, being rigid traditionalists and strictly adhering to the traditional warrior codes of conduct.
- House Baharta - a powerful house known for exercising "soft" power (at least by Skargh standards), preferring subtle influence and political solutions over outright military brawn. Although such approach might seem unusual, and some would even say downright un-Skargh, few dare to accuse Bahartas of being cowardly or lacking in honour, as such accusers would then have to deal with the wrath of the entire Clan. In keeping with the ways of their totem animal, Bahartas are fiercely protective of their own and will treat a slight against one member as an affront to them all, mercilessly persecuting the offender until the trespass is avenged.
- The Royal House - the original founders of the Skargh Empire, the Royal House has seen better days, their positions weakened by a rather long succession of weak and mediocre leaders. Still, they remain the formal ruling dynasty of the Empire by birthright, and therefore a force to be reckoned with even under these circumstances.
- House Orotar (Gilded Ones) - the Orotar are a unique house in that most of it's members are ennobled merchants rather than warriors. Although despised by other houses as vulgar "new money" who have bought their way into the ranks of nobility, the Orotar are nonetheless a power to be reckoned with even by the most powerful noble houses, if only for their extensive involvement in commerce and finance. A house running afoul with the Orothar can easily find their revenues dropping catastrophically as the Gilded Ones exert their influence to effectively place their rivals under an embargo. Merchants who continue to do business with a house censured by the Orothar often tend to find their warehouses mysteriously explode and their ships become favoured targets for pirate attacks. Furthermore, their wealth means that the Orothar warriors are consistently equipped with the best gear and given the best training that money can buy, it applying equally to house levies/mercenaries and the warrior-merchants themselves. For these reasons, the traditional noble houses grudgingly accept the Orotar as their peers if only as a necessary evil.
Similarly to Old Terran feudal societies, Skargh society is likewise strongly-hierarchical and divided into different castes. The Skargh caste system is, however, generally more flexible than historical human analogues - exceptionally meritorious individuals may be promoted to a higher caste, including nobility, depending on their exact talents and merits, and high-caste individuals may likewise be demoted to a lower caste as punishment. For this reason, Skargh society was able to undergo industrialization without major upheaval in traditional social order that was caused by industrialized society requiring considerable cross-occupational (and therefore cross-caste) competence.
As in all caste-based societies, cross-caste marriages are generally frowned upon and taboo outside of the context of promoting one to a higher caste, which is traditionally marked by marrying into one. Importantly, a Skargh must first be promoted to a higher caste formally before being eligible to secure his status by marriage, rather than obtain the promotion itself by means of marriage.
Each caste has its own patron deity, some being directly named after their patron god or goddess.
The Skargh society is divided into the following castes:
The ruling warrior elite can be broadly divided into Geshir ("Lords") and Arghlar'kar (lit. "men-at-arms", "knights") castes, representing the upper and lower nobility. The Geshir are typically members of the more prominent houses and rule over at least continent-sized landholds. Under Skargh law, a nobleman must have at least two tiers of vassals beneath him to be considered member of the Geshir class. The most powerful Skargh lords of this class are the leaders of the great houses, who rule over multiple sectors spanning thousands of star systems.
Argh'larkar in turn represent the lesser nobility and landed gentry, and are invariably vassals of a greater lord. Militarily, the lower and mid-level officer class is staffed exclusively by arghlar'kar. A commoner who manages to distinguish himself with military prowess and/or administrative talent and attract the attention of a noble sponsor may be promoted to lesser nobility, his new status typically being affirmed by marriage into an established noble family.
In more recent times, a unique sub-class of warrior-merchants (Skargh: arghlar'kar keshreth) has emerged, merchants securing sponsorship into nobility by means of great financial favours to the established nobility. Although in many ways distinct from the traditional warrior-nobility and despised for their unwarriorlike origins and way of attaining their titles, the warrior-merchants must still meet all the traditional obligations and expectations of the warrior nobility.
Nobles have the traditional privilege of carrying an amphistaff as a sign of their status, much like bearing a sword was the status of noble birth in historical human societies. Commoners are expected to show deference to nobles by various acts of submission, such as giving way and bowing until the noble and his retainers have passed by. Nobles also have the right to punish disrespect from commoners by striking them down with bladed weapons. In order that this privilege not be abused, the noble may only punish a perceived affront instantaneously, without waiting for later, may only use a bladed weapon rather than a firearm, and the target is permitted to defend himself.
While Skargh nobility commands unquestionable authority and privilege, so too are they held to higher expectations and standards of conduct than commoners. An offense that might earn a commoner a mere flogging is likely to be punished by death or expulsion from nobility for a nobleman. The very worst crime for a Skargh nobleman is showing cowardice in battle, the penalty invariably being the execution of the offender and permanent loss of all titles and privileges for his family. Someone whose ancestor has disgraced his bloodline with cowardice will only exceptionally rarely be re-admitted into nobility even generations later, invariably requiring spectacular displays of martial prowess to atone for the disgrace of his predecessor. Skargh nobles are also expected to intervene on behalf of the unjustly-oppressed and right wrongs regardless of personal risks involved (though naturally the actual adherence to these principles varies just as strongly as the noblemen themselves), and generally set an example to commoners with their conduct.
The collective Skargh code of chivalry that all noblemen must abide by is called Herpatra. The closest human analogue to Herpatra would be Bushido, being a summary of teachings, practices and way of life that a proper warrior must practice. Like Bushido, Herpatra extols martial valor, unquestioning loyalty and selfless sacrifice in service of one's lord. Unlike Old Terran samurai who would commit suicide in penance for their shame, however, Skargh nobles who have disgraced themselves with unbecoming conduct are expected to instead atone for their trespasses by seeking out a worthy death in battle against impossible odds, or until their liege or other superior noble of good repute absolves them of their crime.
Although commoners are not required or expected to abide by Herpatra, many do follow at least its basic principles voluntarily. A commoner well-versed and practiced in the ways of nobility is, after all, more likely to be noticed by his betters and ennobled, should he prove himself worthy.
The patron god of the greater nobility is Dregruk, the god of war. Many especially in leading positions of the higher nobility also pay homage to Skaa, the king of gods and the embodiment of sovereign authority.
The highest class of commoners are traditionally the Nathar - scholars. This class encompasses scientists, doctors, engineers and other Skargh of learning. Although naturally deemed lesser in status than the warrior elite, the Skargh nobles have always recognized the uses that such well-educated folk have in waging war and administering their realm alike. Consequently, commoners of the scholarly class command the highest prestige from among the common castes.
Scholar caste is unique in that membership in it is not hereditary and open to any aspirant. In order to become a scholar, one must undergo a number of years of training and study in his chosen trade or science and then pass a rigorous examination. Nobles who are interested in scholarly pursuits or study them by necessity retain their membership of the nobility upon passing their examinations, instead becoming "warrior-scholars" (Skargh: "arghlar'kar-nathar"). An example of an arghlar'kar-nathar would be a combat engineer, a starship navigator, or in general any military specialist of officer rank who requires extensive scientific and/or technical expertise in addition to military leadership skills.
Priests are also considered members of the Scholar caste, as they too must undertake extensive studies to learn the sacred lore, mysteries and rituals. In this respect, priests are regarded much like theologians would be in a human society, their subject of scholarly study being religion.
The patron deity of the Scholar caste is Nath, the goddess of wisdom.
The Keshrethar are the merchant castes of the Skargh society, dividing more specifically into sub-castes depending on their specialty. Various merchant classes specialize in actual trade, stock markets and finance.
Particularly affluent merchant families will form powerful merchant houses that rival noble houses in power at times despite commanding no formal authority. Lesser merchants typically organize themselves into trade guilds and pool their resources to procure goods and articles that would normally be beyond their individual means, such as stellar freighters and space docks.
While the trade guild system of Medieval humanity generally stifled competition and restricted innovation, quite the opposite is true with Skargh guilds, where members actively compete both among each other for leading status within their guild, and with rival guilds. Skargh merchant guilds are essentially business cooperatives rather than trade guilds in the traditional sense as understood by human historians.
Some influential merchants and financiers have even been able to buy their way into the nobility, becoming "warrior-merchants". A notable example of this kind of new nobility is House Orotar. Although this "new money" kind of nobles are generally despised by established aristocrates, their influence in the merchant caste circles makes them an evil to be tolerated.
The patron god of the Merchant caste is Kesh, the god of trade, wealth and prosperity.
The Skrilathar (lit. "blacksmiths") is the caste encompassing all skilled workers whose profession does not require extensive scientific study and expertise, and since the advent of mass industrialization, any industrial workers in general.
Membership in the Skrilathar caste and its many sub-castes is, as with most commoner castes, hereditary. Sons of craftsmen and workers will learn the trade of their fathers from an early age, assisting them at work first with simple tasks, and then gradually moving on to more complex duties. The typical career of a Skrilathar in an industrial-era Skargh society begins as a line-worker, the Skargh in question occupying various positions in the manufacturing line until eventually attaining a complete grasp of the manufacturing process and being appointed to supervise an entire assembly line. In less-industrialized crafts, the traditional system of apprenticeship continues to be practiced, with youths studying under a master (usually their father or other relative), then improving their skills under a different master outside their family as journeymen, and finally graduating to full-fledged masters of their craft by passing examination before a commission from their trade guild, usually by crafting an artifact of commission's choice that is then evaluated.
As with merchants, the Craftsmen are organized into guilds that serve to provide them with social guarantees, ensure fair competition, enforce quality control and provide individual craftsmen with the means to procure resources they couldn't otherwise afford as individuals.
The patron god of the Craftsmen caste is Skrilax, god of smithing and crafts.
Known in Skargh language as the Zagrathar (lit. "ploughmen"), the peasantry used to be the largest caste by far in pre-industrial times, but has since evened out with the Craftsman caste. All Skargh employed in agriculture and other forms of food production (such as cattle herders and fishermen) are considered part of the peasantry.
Despite forming the bulk of commoner society, peasants and craftsmen aren't considered to have a low status in the traditional sense, certainly no more than any worker providing a valuable service would be in a modern human society.
The transition between craftsmen and peasant castes is relatively free and unrestricted. Since family farms are traditionally inherited by the eldest son, his younger brothers will often move to cities to seek out employment in industry, thereby becoming members of the Craftsmen caste. Others will remain in the peasant caste but will have to live landless, working as farmhands in their brother's or someone else's farm, or become tenant farmers on some lord's land.
Unlike on Medieval Earth, the Skargh peasants usually own the land they work in fee simple, meeting their feudal obligations to their lord by paying a percentage of their annual income in taxes. Tenant farmers who work someone else's land are in a worse situation, as their landlord (usually a member of nobility) may demand additional payment in cash, produce or labour for the right to use his land, so tenantship is generally only resorted to by the landless and the poor out of necessity. That being said, tenants have their own small perks that freeholding peasants lack, not the least of which is the landlord having an obligation to provide for them in case of a harvest failure or other misfortunes, freeholders having to fend for themselves in such events.
Peasants may, and often do form cooperatives, pooling their resources to obtain the expensive equipment necessary for industrialized agriculture, work their fields communally and divide the proceeds from selling their produce according to the size of each member's farmland.
The Peasant caste is patronized by the duo of Bor, the god of thunder and rain, and his wife Naaji, goddess of fertility and motherhood - the two quintessential elements required for a bountiful harvest.
While not strictly speaking an official caste, the outcasts and untouchables of Skargh society are collectively known as Lok'nar (lit. "those having to do with death"). This underclass encompasses members of disgusting and shunned professions (garbage collectors, tanners, morticians, executioners, etc.), criminals and outlaws, and also masterless Skargh.
The Outcasts are divided into Lok'nar patreth ("lawful outcasts") and Lok'nar ampatreth ("illegal outcasts") to distinguish between those who are outcasts by circumstance, and those who are such through a fault of their own. An example of a lawful outcast would be someone working in a reviled profession, while an illegal outcast would hold such status as punishment, i.e., a convicted criminal. Although despised and heavily discriminated, Outcasts of at least the lawful variety have the small comfort of their status not being permanently fixed. An Outcast who manages to secure a job reserved for a different caste (usually by hiding his outcast origin) will thenceforth become a member of that caste and no longer be shunned even if his true origins are eventually discovered. A masterless Outcast who secures the patronage of a liege will likewise be considered an Outcast no more. Illegal Outcasts, being condemned to such status for their crimes and deviances, however, are pretty much stuck in that status for the rest of their days, very few being willing to give their sort the benefit of doubt and let them attempt to redeem their honour.
For all their low status, Outcasts still serve a purpose in Skargh society, the legal variety providing their repulsive but necessary services and the illegal variety serving as a negative example for the rest of society (and material for target practice when they become too much of a nuisance).
The informal but widely-venerated patron god of the Outcasts is Lok, the god of death, disease and destruction.
Outside the caste system stand the slave races of the Skargh. Considered so utterly inferior by their Skargh masters, slaves, called Taurar in skargh stand beneath even illegal outlaws in terms of status, as the latter are at least Skargh. Somewhat contrary to human history, chattel slavery in Skargh society is a fairly recent phenomenon not known in pre-stellar periods of history - mainly because in Skargh opinion, a Skargh willing to suffer enslavement is a disgrace to the entire Skargh species, being too weak and pathetic to be allowed to live and besmirch his race with his continued existence. For this reason, only members of other species are subject to enslavement.
Skargh keep slaves from at least 12 different alien species they have subjugated at various periods of their history. Most are geographically confined and not normally seen far away from their homeworld and the immediate surrounding sector. The more intelligent and useful races, however, are found all across the Empire, serving their masters in various capacities. The three most common slave species in the Skargh Empire are humans, Woggos and S'kree.
The treatment and the quality of life of slaves depends strongly on their assigned duty and the disposition of their masters and supervisors. Slaves sent to work in the mines or plantations usually live short, brutish and miserable lives, while those used as domestic servants or soldiers generally experience better treatment.
Slave-soldiers, called Janissaries by humans and Sidhae, are commonly used for duties deemed too dull, dirty, dangerous and disreputable to be given to proper Skargh warriors. Depending on species, however, some types of slave-soldiers actually have rather important and valuable function, such as Woggos who are frequently employed as heavy weapon operators and expendable shock troops. Given their relative simple-mindedness and belief in Skargh as the messengers of gods, the Woggos don't even seem to mind their enslavement.
Humans, being by far the most advanced, intelligent and cunning of the species commonly enslaved by the Skargh, are generally distrusted and treated poorly. Those who manage to convince their masters of their loyalty, however, are valued for their technological and scientific prowess and their martial talents as well.
The slaves, being aliens, have no patron god from the Skargh pantheon.
Ties of kinship in Skargh society are considerably more important than in any of their rival societies, so family holds a great importance in the Skargh system of values.
As far as marriage concerned, there is little if any room for romantic love and affection in Skargh marriages, these being largely alien concepts. To a Skargh, marriage is political contract between two families, a way to advance the interests and status of one's extended family and oneself, and nothing else. By marrying, the couple aims to secure the contacts and access to resources available to the spouse's family. A Skargh whose parents have granted one the liberty to choose one's spouse will look for a healthy and fit mate that could secure the most advantages for one's family, personal affection never entering into the picture.
Typically, Skargh have their marriages arranged by their parents, and marry at a young age. Males will usually only marry after having participated in war at least once, a well-stocked rack of enemy skulls and other bloody trophies being a significant advantage in their efforts to secure the most desirable mates, as it indicates one's martial prowess and hence one's potential to be noticed and elevated to nobility (or a higher tier of nobility).
After marriage, the wife settles in the husband's household, with the exception if the man has married a woman of a higher caste.
Skargh society is strongly patriarchal, women generally holding a low status and rarely occupying positions of authority or any importance. Their expected roles are those of a mother and housekeeper. Since the advent of industrialization, it is no longer uncommon for females to work in industry and science alongside men, though they rarely ascend to positions of importance. Those women who do generally tend to be unmarried, as their families have decided their exceptional talents and interests would best serve their family elsewhere than in marriage, and relatively few potential husbands are open-minded enough to tolerate their wives holding a higher status than themselves. An exception to this are the daughters of the higher nobility who, already being at the top of the social hierarchy, have few men who could call themselves their equals in any case, and hence often occupy positions of authority and leadership even in marriage.
That being said, Skargh women aren't subject to many of the restrictions human women have historically had to endure, being allowed to own property, manage a business, testify in court and file for divorce if the husband fails to meet his obligations, acts dishonourably or treats her unrighteously. Indeed, it is often the wife who manages the family estate and business in the absence of her husband and adult sons. Traditionally, the wife is also the manager of the family budget, husband having to seek her approval before making any purchases that could dent the family reserves.
It is normal for extended families to live together, several generations of the same family sharing the same household. This also provides a form of social guarantee to the elderly and infirm, their children having an obligation to provide for them. Since ancestor worship and filial piety are cornerstones of Skargh religious beliefs, things like retirement homes and destitute elderly with living relatives are entirely alien and abhorrent concepts to them. At times, families will even take in an unrelated elder with no living relatives, as they can repay the care by helping around the house and providing good advice. Such acts of kindness towards the elderly are also deemed to please the gods greatly, those performing it being likely to incur their favour.
Skargh are encouraged to have many children, something not hard to accomplish, given their reproductive and growth rates that are significantly faster than those of humans. The Skargh believe they are born thrice - once at the act of conception, twice at the time the eggs are laid, and thrice when they hatch. The conception, i.e., the act of mating itself is a strictly-reproductive process with little if any pleasure involved, the Skargh being baffled at human obssession with sex and sexuality, derisively likening them to q'wong, a small animal native to Skaara and notorious for its promiscuity and prolific breeding (i.e., the Skargh equivalent to rabbit). The time when the female lays her eggs some months later, however, is grounds for some celebration, being marked by ritualized "standing on guard" by her husband who guards and cares for her while she lays eggs and rests afterward. Husbands who know they will be away at the time their wives lay eggs will designate a relative to stand guard in their stead, or occasionally even hire an entirely unrelated male of good repute to do the job in their stead. If the husband happens to be called away without advance warning, the wife may choose a substitute for him at her own discretion, but the ritual is always strictly observed, both for superstitious and practical purposes. When the young Skarghlings hatch, the entire family celebrates by holding a feast as grandiose as possible with their means. Priests and diviners are called in to bless the younglings and sacrifice to the gods so that they grant the younglings health, prosperity and good luck. A special mark is hanged outside the family dwelling to invite any passing strangers inside to join the feast. Since the Skargh believe that their gods often travel the mortal world disguised as mortals, righting wrongs and punishing the wicked, such practice is done in hopes of inviting a disguised god in one's home and gaining his favour by such display of hospitality. Although the hosts are the ones sponsoring the celebration within their means, it is considered poor form to arrive to such celebrations empty-handed, so any visitors will see to bringing along gifts - usually either something for the celebratory meal, or something useful for taking care of the younglings.