The small surviving population of Northern people recognized quickly that the genetic pool they had to draw on was limited, and that breeding could become problematic if they were isolated for long. To this end, they needed to promote a lot of children, and for best genetic diversity, to encourage women to bear babies by different men.
The system they have evolved is quite different than our own, and in sharp contrast to the Empire, which wants to license and buttonhole relationships. In the north, a woman is free to choose any willing partner who is not closely related, provided she only sleeps with one male during a given menstrual cycle. Genealogy is carefully tracked, to prevent dangerously close inbreeding, and with a lack of DNA testing, the only way to assure paternity is to use exclusivity. A woman shows her availability on a ubiquitous necklace, wearing her chosen mate's bead in a central location for that month. A blank space in the necklace invites flirtation, a red bead indicates a menstrual cycle, and a knot shows that (for whatever reason) she is not interested in having anyone to her bed at the moment. Men are expected to respect these cues!
Monogamy is not discouraged if a couple proves fertile. Couples that cannot have children (including same-sex couples) may engage in a 'duty month' with someone they are otherwise not interested in to attempt to conceive a child. For the most part, Snow-Unicorn Riders are pragmatic about sex, and do not confuse physical love with emotional, though younger and more romantic-minded people will always be able to stir up drama!
The Snow-Unicorn Riders also do not require that a woman choose between having an occupation and bearing children. Although little can be done to remove the burden of actual childbearing and subsequent nursing, they do not require that a mother be involved in the rearing of the child beyond that. Babies and infants are kept together in a house with raisers and those mothers (or fathers!) who are needed or who wish to live closely with their children. It is common for a parent to take a partial role in their child's life - possibly not sleeping in the same house, but being involved in nursing and feeding, or carrying a baby with them as they do daily tasks that are not dangerous or greatly inconvenienced by the burden. Those who have no interest in babies may take a larger role later in the child's life. Many children bond as closely with their raisers as they do with their parents - but often the strongest bonds that children make are within their age-sets.
When babies get to the age of between three and six, the raisers put them into groups of between six and ten individuals. They look for babies who already get along well, who are progressing at similar rates, and who have met basic milestones in motor skills and communication. This age-set will be moved to a child house, where other children and their raisers' live, and each of them will get a leather cord necklace with a bead representing their village that will gain new beads as they grow up. Sometimes a raiser will follow an age-set from the infant house to the child house, sometimes they prefer to stay with babies. Parents rarely follow their baby to the child house without officially becoming raisers, though they may choose to continue to stay involved with their children.
As children, the age-set is trained together in a wide array of skills, both domestic and outdoors. Teamwork and collaboration are critical elements of their curriculum, and consensus is taught as a problem-solving method. Choosing a bead to represent their age-set, usually several years into their bonding, is a good test of their grasp of these things. This bead is permanently worn on each necklace.
Age-sets may be altered, but it is rare. The death of too many members is the most common case of the merging of two age-sets, but occasionally there are irreconcilable differences or other problems.
Once all members of the age-set reach puberty, they have the option (if they feel ready) of testing for adulthood. There are three tests - a summer test, a winter test, and a surprise mock-emergency test. They test for skills in basic first aid, fishing, being able to recognize what is edible, preserve meat, sew, read and write (literacy has been maintained since the Upheaval!), and perform several basic physical feats, such as firing an arrow (accuracy requirements are pretty lax), sharpening a blade, skinning an animal and starting a fire with tools. They must also be able to name all of their 'complicated cousins' - anyone close enough in their family tree that they should not be intimate with them.
As adults, Snow-Unicorn riders are permitted to live in an adult house, join in dances and celebrations, have sex (if they wish to!), declare an occupation to pursue, and enjoy general autonomy. The ties they make within their age-sets general persist well into adulthood.
Anler and Birka are age-mates. Click to see the full image!
For a taste of age-sets in Torn World, here are a sampling of stories: The Ties We Twine (reserved for supporters) shows an age-set forming around challenges. Fala the Leader looks at how leadership can develop within a new age-set. Odds and Ends is an example of how a slow member doesn't have to slow things down. The Right Choice part 1 - The Fox points out how hard it can be to pick an age-set bead.
Cutting Time (for supporters) is the breakdown of an age-set when things go very wrong. The Rats (for supporters) shows an age-set taking their last test, as does Not Fair, and Spilled. In A Lot Like Breathing, Lenarai has just become an adult, and in Everberries, an age-set reunites for a late-season berry-picking expedition.
This week, Torn World is participating in the Worldbuilding Blogfest - a bloghop, hosted by Sharon Bayliss, focusing on worldbuilding. Each day, we'll look at a different worldbuilding aspect as it relates to Torn World. This topic is a little afield from the expanded description for today (it's supposed to focus on celebrations and holidays, but I only keyed in on the last word of the short description - Food, Drink, Holidays, & Culture - while writing this! Oops!), so I'll point you to my post from just a few weeks ago highlighting major holidays in Torn World. You may also be interested in Northern Clothing, Northern Storytelling Conventions, Northern Games, or Beads in Northern Culture.