Slave (Status -2)
Slaves are common throughout the world. They always have been, and no one really has an issue with that. Slaves are often defeated enemies, although freeman and serfs occassionally sell themselves into slavery to pay off debts or may be forced into slavery as punishment for a crime.
Slaves are not without rights, however. Slaves can expect minimal food and shelter from their owner, as well as any tools required for their work. Additionally, slaves may own possessions, earn and save money (albeit very little), and exact revenge for wrongs against them. The lattermost of these leads to an interesting paradox. If a slave of one man kills the wife of a slave of another man, the slave may kill his wife’s killer, but his owner may not.
Slaves may be gain freedom in one of three ways. An owner may emancipate any slave he owns at any time for any reason. The slave is still bound to his owner both financially and to the extent that he may require his owner to vouche for this act. A slave may also save money enough to buy his own freedom; once he does this, he can pay his owner and live as a free man. Lastly, any slave who fights to defend his land against invasion from an outside force is emmancipated for his service.
Slaves are typically not treated badly by their owners. Most slaves actually have healthy friendships with their masters and do not mind the setup. Some freemen who are particularly down on their luck have been known to sell themselves into slavery to survive a harsh winter or such. Additionally, while a slave is property in the eyes of everyone, slaves can still act honorably and gain good reputations despite their social class.
Serf (Status -1)
Serfs are the lowest class of freemen. They are not slaves, can demand weregild (set at $40 – $60), have representation in the Almit, but they are in every way, financially dependant on a wealthy landowner. Moreover, they owe taxes to their Thane for his protection. Serfs do, however, have the ability to rise to higher status without the need for emancipation.
Often, serfs live on the farms of wealthy landowners who use their skills. Each serf is alloted one skein of land (enough land to farm food for one family), a place to live, and any tools needed for serving the landowner. They can keep as much money as they earn, so long as they pay taxes, and may save any they do not spend.
Freeman (Status 0)
Freeman are financially independant men who make a living by any of a number of means. They have rights to own land (although those of this strata usually have no more than one skein), own and wear arms and armor, collect weregild (set at $80 – $100), and be represented at any Almit. They typically form the bulk of the merchant class.
Freemen are required to pay taxes to their Thane and provide for any slaves they own.
Landowner (Status +1)
Free landowners are men wealthy enough to own a significant estate and employ a staff. They may be merchant princes of sorts, wealthy natives who were conquered and retained their holdings, or other similar persons. They have all the rights and duties of a Freeman, but are usually have higher social pressures to help defend the people in times of war. A free landowner’s weregild typically ranges between $100 and $250.
Thane (Status +2)
A thane is a nobleman warrior who governs and protects his people from outside threats in exchange for taxes. He uses these taxes to supply himself with arms, armor, and equipment enough for war, and to maintain his estate. Thanes have full rights, including property, representation at the Almit, and weregild (usually set at $800 to $1,000).
Elderman (Status +3)
An elderman is an elected representative and leader within a community of thanes. The local thanes elect an elderman from among their own ranks periodically, both for representation at the Almit, as well as to help govern and lead local people. An elderman has all of the responsibilities, obligtations, and privelages of a thane except that he is expected to serve as a political leader, adjudicator, and leader war. His weregild is usually between $1,000 and $1,200.
Nobility (Status +4)
Nobles are thanes who are related to the king or chieftain of a people. They are thanes, just as eldermen, but they have no direct authority over anyone, except that which the king or chieftain assigns them. While they have no social obligations, they usually strive to avoid disgracing the king, and thus persue the same ideals as any thane.
Because the King or Chieftain is elected at the Almit, the noble status is not permanent and does not necessarily serve as a path to power. However, it is not uncommon for one family to produce a string of kings, and only a handful of families ever produce any.
The weregild for a nobleman varies greatly but is always at least $1,250 and never more than that of the king himself.
King/Chieftain (Status +5)
The king or chieftain (depending on the particular people) is the elected leader of all of the thanes, and by proxy everyone within his domain. While he does not directly govern, he does serve as the leader of armies in wartime and engage in diplomacy with foreign powers. He enjoys all of the benefits of being a Thane but is obligated to protect his entire people, rather than just his estate or province.
Because the representatives of the Almit decide the laws of the people democratically, the king does not enjoy the sort of supreme power that most historical monarchs do. Instead, his power is limited to that of general and supreme embassador. He may also serve as judge in disputes between eldermen or thanes. This is not to say he lacks power, for a charismatic king can still guide the will of his subjects. But it remains true that it is by their consent that he retains his possition and he holds no legal authority over them.
A king’s weregild is typically exorbinant. It can easily reach ten years of income for an average person, and usually just results in the death of that man. For a foreign power, there is no weregild; the only reasonable response is war.