Welcome to the world of Varin, where the caverns are safe, the surface is wilderness, and how you see reality has everything to do with who you are.
Varin has seven caste levels – which might seem like a lot, but is a lot easier to grasp than it might otherwise seem, because the castes have everything to do with what jobs you’re expected to do. Nobles do the work of governing. Officers keep everything in order, fighting fires, and enforcing boundaries. Servants are everywhere making the gears run smoothly: standing at the shoulder of the nobility, running the bureaucracy, the courts and prisons, even the local post office. Artisans are the ones who study, design and innovate, and keep the infrastructure from falling apart. Laborers brave danger to make sure people have the raw materials they need to eat and to make things. Merchants control the money and sell goods across the society. Undercaste takes the jobs no one else wants, making sure the cavern cities don’t choke on their own waste, or their own dead.
Today I’m going to introduce you to the Imbati, the servant caste. They have a special place in my heart, for a lot of reasons. I’ve always been fascinated by stories of class differences, like Upstairs, Downstairs. I also love stories where servants turn out to be heroes. My favorite from my childhood is Howard Pyle’s story, ‘The Water of Life.’
In Varin, Imbati are very high-ranked. They are the third Highest caste, below only Nobles and Officers. They’re easy to recognize because their legislated caste mark is a tattoo on the forehead. They don’t get this tattoo until age 19, however. As children, they paint a small black circle between their eyebrows each morning. The tattoo is a great honor, and its design depends on which kind of work you’ve chosen to go into: service to the Grobal nobility, the noble Households, the State, or the Courts.
To work as a manservant for a noble man or woman is the most prestigious possible line of work for an Imbati, because it doesn’t just involve personal care, but also nursing care, and the functions of a political assistant and advisor. Children are trained from age 6-19 at the Imbati Service Academy in Pelismara to achieve certification. There are two types of certification: the Ladies’ Training prepares servants who work with noble women, who are often called upon to care for their mistresses’ medical issues as well as their personal issues; the Gentleman’s Training prepares servants who work with noble men who will need to navigate the political world. Academy students wear maroon uniforms, but the most traditional Imbati fashion for adults is to wear all black.
Selflessness is the highest-valued trait for Imbati, and love for one’s vocation, or one’s master, is also considered extremely important. Since people naturally have a lot of self-interest, Imbati often struggle internally with these demands. Because they are often asked for oaths of silence, they also have very particular manners. They always ask permission before asking questions about each other. They are also known for not touching each other – touch is considered a private thing for which one must ask permission. It is terribly bad manners for a noble to touch a servant for any reason, although servants are allowed to touch their masters freely as their duties demand, for dressing, etc.
One of the main characters in Mazes of Power is Imbati Aloran, a graduate of the Ladies’ Training at the Service Academy. I can’t wait for you to meet him!