((Happy Inverted Silphium Seedpod Day, Burrowers! I hope that each of you and your significant other (or others) have had a tolerable middle of the week together. And if you haven't, or you don't have an other, well, screw it! The holiday's a soulless commercial juggernaut anyway, and indulgence chocolate will be half-off tomorrow.
Seriously though, be good to yourselves out there.
As for myself, I've decided to stop with the crippling fear of exposure and launch a donations page! A few of your fellow Burrowers have already contributed, and I am humbled by the quick responses and willingness to support me.
This doesn't mean I'm retiring my plans for a Patreon, however. Things are progressing in that respect, albeit slowly. I just gotta make sure the banner art and video voice-over are good...
For now, I thought I'd write something appropriate for the occasion, as well as revisit our perpetually present yet narratively separated wasteland friends to the east.))
"Here are all of the things you will need to furnish your tent, Aymajah."
"Incense, perfumes, a brazier for the fire, a new dress with a cut that would make father's heart seize up from horror... a dagger, mother?"
"Even the finest pashdehm cloth should be hiding steel, child."
- Bisnaj, educating her daughter on the finer points of keeping a suitor tent.
"I heard that Ghaanbold offered up three carved wooden staves to that girl from the Zirkh family."
"Hah! Poor, love-struck fool. Doesn't he know how she looks at the Speaker's nephew?"
"By the end of the month, he'll find his staves propping up the flap of some stranger's marriage tent!"
- Banter filtering out of the Sheyhan tribal elders' tent.
Marriage and procreation is a public matter of some consequence in many Fokari tribes, often involving the input of family members and several key authorities within the camp. But that does not mean that the Fokari abstain from love or romance otherwise. Quite the opposite, in fact.
After a Fokar has graduated into adulthood through various deeds or consensus, but before they branch off from their family unit with a spouse, they are considered to be bachelors and bachelorettes. Though they are limited to the family tent and are expected to contribute to family affairs as full-fledged adults, single young Fokari are expected and sometimes encouraged to spend less time at home. The friendships they cultivated in earlier years are expected to develop into practical connections which will support them throughout life. Additionally, a certain degree of field-playing is considered to be the makings for an ideal partner. Inexperience breeds weakness and leads to death out on the wastes, and it could be said that this outlook has to some degree influenced Fokari perceptions of intimacy.
Of course it would be indecent, or at least awkward, for young Fokari to progress their flirting and courtship rituals within or around a family's tent. The solution to this is, somewhat surprisingly, simply to make an entirely new one.
These tents are made by the family of a young woman, and situated several meters away from the primary family dwelling. Normally, they are made of plain felt and are left completely unadorned. They do not incorporate any of the imagery of motifs of the family's patchwork ceiling program into their roofs, and when they are eventually deconstructed for the last time, nothing from them is added back to the family tent either. Instead the finer, more usable material from the tent is recycled into articles, garments, rugs, rags, or anything of the sort, which the woman would bring with her into her new married life. Thus her time spent in this tent is almost akin to living within one's own hope chest.
But the more important use of the tent is unrelated to recycling. It serves as a place to which a young Fokar woman may bring any prospective suitors of her choice. In the case of particularly sought-after women, it becomes a gathering place for suitors either vying for her attentions, or supporting one of their friends in the endeavor. Likewise, a woman's female friends might congregate just within her threshold, competing or cooperating in their own way with regards to the preferable men outside. Physical beauty is unsurprisingly of great significance for both sexes, but other qualities are taken into consideration as well. A man's looks or material gifts will only get him so far, if he cannot also sing or speak poetry, while a woman excelling as hostess but lacking in brusque charm or a biting wit may come across as dull.
Often these gatherings will end with everyone dispersing come sunset, but periodically a match will indeed be made, at least in the short term. The other players depart, the flap to the suitor tent is shut, and private, nightly business is attended to. Several such nights may pass without any explicit conduct between the two, according to the preferences of the pair and the intricate, often reversing games of cat and mouse played through conversations, music, and a surprisingly convoluted ritual of sharing and drinking butter-tea. (A tea which often has contraceptive additives, harvested from the hardy and exotic plants of the wastes or the unspeakable glands and organs of badlands creatures.)
A woman may invite several suitors into her tent over the span of several months or years, and a man may visit several different tents before an agreement it made between a pair (and their families). A Fokar man must be careful not to force a matter, carnal or marital, with a woman however. No matter how ephemeral the tent is, its mistress is considered to be sovereign within it, and there are more than a few stories in Fokari mythology and living memory of presumptive boys being slashed across the face by his date's ranqanj (lit. "thigh-dagger"). Facial scars are considered to be especially unbecoming among the Fokari, due to their close association with the punishments meted out to gravely offending criminals.
Thankfully however, these incidents are quite rare, and the game goes on as normal.