Most fantasy works, however outlandish or alien the setting, accept the standard customs for legalising the relationships between sexual partners and taking care of children. Marriage is (mostly) for life, is between one man and one woman, sex outside that pairing is frowned upon, children born outside that pairing are a matter for social disapprobation, prostitution is immoral and usually illegal. These attitudes, although drifting into a more liberal version in many countries, are still so prevalent in all modern cultures as to be virtually ubiquitous.
I’ve always wondered why that should be. In the past, matters were not so rigid. Sex is a near-universal imperative, and it seems odd to me to constrain people to just one partner, or none at all if someone is unable or unwilling to marry. It’s led to a certain amount of hypocracy and double standards. Wealthy or powerful men have always been able to enjoy a mistress or a string of lovers, while women are condemned for the same behaviour. Some of the most powerful men in history kept harems for their pleasure.
My world, the Brightmoon world, is a bit different. There is still marriage, but everything else is subject to variation.
In ‘The Incursors’ (Work #1), marriage is a contract between a man and a woman, but divorce is generally possible, subject to certain rules relating to age and number of children. So long as provision is made for the children, and both husband and wife have work and homes to live in, neither can prevent the other from divorcing them, if they wish. There are a few exceptions. In farm villages, marriage is for life, but there are lesser commitments available too, so few people choose to marry. When they do, they become elders, have their own house (yatta), and have an older couple who are also part of the marriage (hearth parents), who look after the yatta and children, and allow the young couple to do heavier work. Amongst certain middle class people, where the wife leaves her family and moves in with her husband’s family, she has nowhere to go if the marriage should end, so either marriage is for life, or else he may take a second wife, while the first wife continues to live with them. The highborn may also take on one or more Consorts, lower ranked partners contracted for life, for sex or children or companionship. A Consort may be ‘settled’ after a certain number of years (provided with a house and income , and released from any further obligation). Brothels are legal in towns, and all adult men may use them for a nominal fee. Indeed, it’s thought to be normal and healthy to use them.
In ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ (Work #2), the high-born families have a double marriage, two men and two women, or more (up to twelve of each), who live together in whatever arrangement they find agreeable. All children born to any of the wives are credited to the lead husband. Each husband and wife also has three Companions, and they may also be sexually involved with each other or any of the husbands/wives. Any children born to any of the female Companions are credited to the second husband. Brothels are not strictly legal, but a blind eye is turned and there are semi-official arrangements for the warrior class, known as night women.
In ‘The Fire Mages’ (Work #3), marriage is a matter for a legal contract, and the terms of the contract – length, conditions for divorce and so on – are negotiated individually. It always involves two people, but they may be of either gender. A lower-status spouse always acquires equal status and rights with the wife/husband. Anyone who can afford it can also take one or more Drusse, something like a concubine, for sex or children or companionship. Usually these have a fixed term, which may be very short (a matter of days, sometimes). The Drusse acquires extra status tattoos and money, or whatever else can be negotiated. There are no brothels, as such, but all inns keep inn companions, distinguished by a painted leather choker, who provide the same service as well as more regular inn work, and every town and village has at least one inn.
Why do I feel the need to change things that are almost universal in current society? Mainly because I think a lot of the restrictions surrounding sex, relationships and family are derived from certain patriarchal religions which don’t exist on the Brightmoon world. There are religions, of course, but they are mostly at a background level, affecting people’s spiritual lives but not the structure of society, and therefore don’t impose the strict gender roles that our modern world inherited and still hasn’t entirely escaped from.
Many of the constraints society imposes on us are quite difficult to comply with. The Brightmoon societies have different constraints, and the ways these affect people are part of the purpose of writing these stories.