|Castles of Loheta
Loheta (Lohetan: Loheta [IPA]), officially the Castles of Loheta (Lohetan: Loheta Zadirwa), is a country located in eastern Soltenna at the northern shore of the Gulf of Šarkunen. It borders Asota to the north and shares a maritime border with Lenezan in the east.
It is a small pastoral country that was first formed from eight different chiefdoms in the 3rd century CE following the collapse of Letsatian influence. The ancient castle-palaces of the chiefs traditionally and to a large extent still serve as the centers of power in the country, as the position of chiefs continue to exist, however
Loheta, "palace", comes from Proto-Rietic *ləwhəta, from ləwhə (elder) + ta (place suffix). Zadirw, "castle, tower, skyscraper" from Proto-Rietic *tsadʰirsew, from tsadʰ (arrow, spearhead) + ir (genitive plural suffix) + sew (camp, settlement). In Lohetan a "zadirw" originally referred to the walled village surrounding the palace, but later came to mean the entirety of the territory governed and ruled by a palace.
Loheta was formed out of 8 smaller chiefdoms located at the end of the Uhsnoh peninsula following the collapse of the rule of the Letsatian Empire in the region in the 3rd century CE. The establishment of a council rather than proclaiming or electing a single person to be monarch was likely done to spread power evenly throughout the land and so ensure peace, stability while preserving the power of each chief and the different local identities.
In the following centuries, times of independence alternated with times of foreign rule from neighboring kingdoms and more loosely organized groups, before finally regaining independence in 1803, from the Alotol Confederation.
After this, local people in every former chiefdom could also vote for representatives to be sent to an Advisory Council for the first time, however, this council had no political power and is generally claimed to have only been established to allow the chief council to claim to be listening to the general population more. Only gradually did it become a legislative council with actual (even if initially limited) lawmaking powers and the right to agree or reject a budget, with the process having been completed after the Pangyeoun War, in 1952. The Chief Council was officially renamed the Executive Council in 1956, but no substantial changes or limits to its power were made, and it remained unelected. As a response, a movement to appoint the members by popular vote was founded by political groups in Gollisad, but has not managed to achieve much success yet.
The Octarchs known as lohe or elders are the unelected political and religious leaders of the country, ruling from a castle palace (lowta) and collectively forming the Executive Council ruling the country. Its power is limited only by a traditional unwritten constitution and laws passed by the legislative. In theory every elder appoints their successor based on merit, but in practice this is usually one of their children. This system has led Loheta to become very conservative politically, being one of the few countries with a traditional, unelected executive, as the only ways for a new member to take up a spot require a council member to have died, voluntarily left or failed to maintain ceremonies appropriately and confidently conduct them (or have publicly voiced being unsure about them). In this case they are usually silently (and more or less politely) ousted.
The eight leaders that form the Lohetan Octarchy are in writing by media and citizens often accused of caring more about appearances than actual government. Research from the University of Lanothi purports to show that octarchs have been keen on maintaining their political power while doing little in office that is not linked to their ceremonial responsibilities as religious leaders. Most octarchs will dismiss any criticism with a smile and friendly gesture, trying to maintain a kind and helpful image.
The decision of the octarchs to rename their council from Elder Council to Executive Council in 1956 is also generally seen in that light by the public and media, as an attempt to make the government sound more modern to outsiders and promise change to locals, but it proved to be an unpopular move, and outside of official documents referring to it as the Elder Council is still common.
An elected legislative has existed since the end of the Pangyeoun War, with mostly unlimited lawmaking power. Octarchs can in theory try to veto a law, if they cite tradition, precedent or similar justification, but in practice this almost never happens, as it would be detrimental to the stability of the country and the public acceptance of the octarchy, which already is limited in some towns.
The Legislative Council also has budgeting power, which further limits the power of the Executive Council somewhat.
Every parish, the lowest administrative division, has its own court, headed by the representative appointed by the octarch, who head the court of the parish near their castle-palace, which also serves as regional court of appeal. The highest instance is represented by the Executive Council, who decides on a simple majority basis.
Loheta is divided into eight regions, called zadirw ("castle") regions or simply zadirw, each led by one of the octarchs (lohe) from their castle palaces in the largest regional towns. Below the regional level, individual parishes exist and are governed by representatives appointed by the regional octarch.
The neighbor Asota is in modern times the most important ally of Loheta, exerting considerable political influence on the country with soft power, through e.g. trade and support treaties.
Being located between several major regional players competing for dominance and due to diplomatic restraint the capital Wataful also grew to be an important location for diplomatic summits in more neutral territory, even becoming known as a capital of spies due to the many covert operations that have taken place there.
Highways and even in many places paved streets and roads are largely absent, most people get by walking, using animals or bicycles. Hiking between towns is still normal, although public transport exists between the capital and the Gollisad and can be charted for most other towns. Flying with chartered helicopters or similar exists as a (privately funded) alternative, as well as private boats or publicly funded ferry service for the coastal towns, where the majority of the population lives. Regular service however only exists for the main towns at the coast, so getting to landlocked towns can be rather difficult and expensive.
Traditionally, Loheta relied on natural biomass for heating and cooking and boat mills (mills located on boats) as well as to a lesser extent on windmills and animal-powered mills for other uses of energy. These mills are still widely in use in the countryside and smaller towns, especially in more secluded regions, such as Kezei. Most are used to grind grains, cut wood and in clothes manufacturing, although in the early 20th century some boat mills were converted to Ystelian bridge mills to deliver electricity.
However, in the past decades generators running on diesel have become the most widespread source of electricity in the countryside, with wind power a distant second, as some farms and settlements also have installed a few modern windmills with the help of foreign investment.
Gollisad and other larger cities in Loheta are mostly depedent on imports for its energy. To diversify its sources of energy, the construction of an LPG terminal at the port of Gollisad has been considered, however this would require foreign capital, which so far could not be found.
Science and technology
Loheta is fairly lacking in urbanization. There are only 8 middle-sized towns, and one large city, Gollisad, the main harbor of the country and economic hub as the sole properly industrialized region. The name has its origin in Proto-Rietic *gɑmli 'golden' + *sawdʰ 'staff, rod'.
Its inhabitants have a reputation of being an unusual mixture of stoic but compassionate, focused on work, even profit, but also sticking to traditional religious values of trust in oneself and one's community, hospitality and compassion. "This too shall pass" is the unofficial motto of the city.
The religious and cultural center of the country is the much smaller capital town Wataful. The name is originally from Proto-Lietic *qatal 'shiny' and *felm 'wood'.
While primary and secondary education are available for free across the entire country, Loheta does not have its own university, and instead sends students to bordertown universities in Asota.
The healthcare system of Loheta is public, available in all towns and free to all citizens as well as refugees and citizens of foreign countries in need. Being seen as a responsibility mandated by the state religion of Lohetan Akalism, the funding has always been of the highest priority to the Octarch government, taking up the largest part of the yearly budget to allow for standards of care as high as possible with the funds available. Additional funding comes from private donations, foreign support (governed via treaties) and wealthier medical tourists.
Unlike with other sectors of daily life, the economy or government, technological and other innovations in the healthcare sector are embraced regularly, if affordable. The healthcare system regularly polls at the top in questions about what inhabitants in Loheta take the most pride in, right after the religious traditions and hospitality to travelers, especially children.
The Loheta healthcare system uses both traditional and modern scientific forms of medicine. Each settlement has a clinic, with a foreign-educated medical doctor as well as a locally trained doctor of traditional Loheta medicine. These primary care clinics also employ nurses (usually including one or more nurse practitioner), physician's assistants, and receptionists, and many have other varieties of therapy available too, including psychotherapists, music and art therapists, massage therapists, physical therapists, and nutritionists. Minor procedures such as tooth extractions, bone setting, regular diagnostic screenings, and uncomplicated child deliveries are performed at primary care clinics. They also serve as pharmacies, dispensing both modern and traditional forms of medicine, although only the most widely used medicines will be routinely available in all settlements. The larger cities have medical centers with dedicated specialists, and can provide services including surgeries, chemotherapy infusions, interventional radiology, traditional Kwang medicine, and specialized dental services (endodontics, orthodontics, prosthodontics, and oral and maxillofacial surgery). These medical centers also have hospitals containing trauma centers and burn centers. The largest hospital, in Gollisad, is a tertiary and quaternary care center, handling the most complicated cases from across the country. Gollisad Hospital has partnered with multiple foreign research institutions, with a large number of clinical trials and experimental treatments available. Like all medical facilities in Loheta, it also provides traditional Loheta medicine. Additionally, it provides other traditional and alternative medicine modalities from around the world.
As a result of historical influences from the Letsatian Empire and the Alotol Confederation as well as Alotol culture more generally, Loheta is a nominally Akalist country. Unlike Akalism in Asota and Liosol, Lohetan Akalism is a polytheistic religion, with several deities called "legendaries". However, due to the emphasis on the two main legendaries, the Sky Legendary (the local equivalent of Akal, commonly depicted as a rainbow phoenix capable of raising the dead) and the Sea Legendary (the local equivalent of Dahanö, depicted as a silverly dragon capable of ruthless destruction), and all other legendaries being grouped together with one of the two, the religion resembles in many ways a dualistic faith. As Earth is seen as the realm of spirits and humans, there is no deity associated with it. Nonetheless, there are legendaries said to be roaming the earth representing natural forces, lightning, winds and rain, and fire. The sea and sky furthermore are home to additional legendaries, representing water and its forces and forms, the waves, currents and ice.
Many pre-Akalist beliefs and rites also still exist and are reflected e.g. in the existence of shrines for protective spirits (such as Xiuci, said to watch over travelers and letter-writers). Every one of the 8 bigger towns with a castle-palace has certain protective spirits assigned to it. People often have household spirits they worship, too. All spirits are linked to a particular traditional element (air and storm, earth, life and death, metal, ice and fire), and each one of those elements is also associated with a particular town and region. The ninth traditional element (water), is assigned to the sea and seafarers.
Furthermore, there are regional varieties, which can have very significant differences. In the zadirw region of Kezei, the one furthest inland, Akalism is functionally monotheistic. The Sea Legendary is demoted to a spirit of the afterworld named Polkunani ('crookbacked death carrier') carrying souls and tricking people attempting to cheat death. The Sky Legendary, usually referred to as Iemehi Feza (Holy Mother) is believed to usually take on the shape of a middle-aged woman with short black hair, wearing a pink and red robe with white edges as well as various regalia, including a crown resembling a lotus flower as well as shiny metal bracelets on both arms. Depicting her with any kind of face is a big taboo, as her gaze and smile is said to blind and overwhelm anyone looking at them. Only a single statue showing her facial features is said to exist inside a treasure box hidden somewhere in the lowta palace of the local octarch, however, there are no records of it and the last octarch claimed to have held it in their hands died 200 years ago.
For adherents of this variety of Akalism, prayers are central, and spread throughout the day. Kezei is one of the zadirw in Loheta with the most religious population and so many of the residents fill every free moment, and those spent doing menial or purely physical tasks with praying, always directed at Iemehi Feza, usually wishing for protection from evil, mental and physical strength as well as for divine punishment of the wicked. The local octarch has additional religious responsibilities, such as spirit channeling to commune with the dead during festivities or funerals. This requires years of arduous training in the cold rivers and hills of the region. The traditional spirits of Loheta such as Xiuci remain important as well, leading to the Kezei variety usually being termed as spiritual Akalism, when not simply referred to as Kezei Akalism.
While Letsatian and Alotol cultural influences are significant, as well as influences from other cultures and neighboring countries, such as Asota, and in the modern day mass media, Loheta has maintained a unique pastoral culture that very strongly differs from those surrounding it. Shaped predominantly by animal husbandry and associated traditional non-urban lifestyles, it maintains many historical institutions, such as the castle-palaces (lowta from the same roots as the country name) as not just political, but also cultural and religious centers with spaces for worship, ceremonial competitions and religious study. These castle-palaces form the center of a regional capital, whereas smaller settlements tend to have a shrine as smaller equivalent.
Furthermore, celebrations continue to follow the traditional calendar of the shepherds and ranchers, and many other rites and cultural practices have their origin with the pastoral lifestyle. Among those rites is Loheta's unique rite to passage where children at some point before turning 20 have to travel across the country and visit all 8 castle-palaces and there challenge the local elder to a ceremonial animal husbandry competition that differs from region to region. Children travel alone, but are guaranteed safe conduct and every household in the country is expected to help a child on an adulthood journey out, by giving them food, shelter or advice as needed.
While the politically the country is rather conservative, the country having been ruled fundamentally the same way since its inception (barring the times of occupation), social norms in Loheta tend to be more open to change, as octarchs have a history of trying to appear friendly, even cordial and so will usually accept everyone as long as their own authority, other Lohetans and traditional values such as hospitality and piety are respected. Observing religious ceremonies and other connections to the past are seen as the foundation of society that ensure peace and order. This adaptability is seen as key to surviving in turbulent times and preserving the unique culture of the country, but is also used by the octarchs to preserve their power and defuse crises challenging their power peacefully. As a result, Loheta is one of the most LGBT-friendly countries in the region and also has a history of religious tolerance.
The flag was adopted after regaining independence in 1803. The yellow represents the sun and warmth, both in the air as well as the warmth coming from people showing hospitality and genuine friendliness.The white represents the sand at the beach, the cycle of life and peacefulness. Finally, the "crystal blue" in the center represents crystals in caves, but also the sea and clarity of mind.