History and Current Political/Economic Status:
The history of Paksworld is tens of thousands of years deep, but the stories are set in the surface level, from 500 years before present (the time of Gird) to the present (the Deed of Paksenarrion, and the newer books of Paladin's Legacy.) Older history affects "modern" times, in the same way that at least 3000 years of history directly affect our lives. Some characters are aware of deeper history; some are not. Because some of the characters are immortal (elves) or very long-lived (dwarves and gnomes), and the oldest may be tens of thousands of years old (with direct personal memories of those older times) the knowledge divide in the books is even wider than between the ninety-year-old who survived the London blitz or the attack on Pearl Harbor and the nine year old who read a paragraph about it in a school history book and forgot it the day after the test.
The creation story for this world varies from race to race, as mentioned on the Paksworld website. These beliefs color how the people see history, and thus influence how they talk about it--what stories they tell and how those stories are told. Stories out of the deeper history (such as the elves' story of the First Tree and the first Kuakgan, beginning the Severance) still have power in the story present, whether or not that's what "really" happened. Some individuals believe a particular story absolutely (the way some people believe something from their religion that other people find unlikely to unbelieveable) and others do not.
The Elders (elves, dwarves, gnomes, dragon) believe that they existed in this world long before humans. When talking to one another (elf to gnome, dwarf to elf, etc.) they may reference events beyond human memory. Elves are believed to be (and believe themselves to be) immortal but killable, and soulless: when they die, they're just gone. Gnomes and dwarves are at least extremely long-lived, and both believe they will have an afterlife. Dragon is sufficiently odd that it's not quite right to say Dragon is immortal, nor to inquire into the existence of a soul, but Dragon claims to have been around at the world's creation. What Elders say to humans about the past may or may not be what they discuss with one another. In general, Elders--all of them very long-lived--care more about sequence than what we would consider dates. They want the events in the right order, cause coming before effect, but in dealing with tens of thousands of years, they don't bother to say which year...just what came first.
Humans care about which year--even which part of a year--because with their shorter lives each year is a bigger fraction of a life. So they keep track of someone's age, and reference age ("It was when he was ten winters old that he fell from a rock and got that scar.") Some have even more elaborate calendars that record the years of a city's age from its founding. Others (Old Humans, for instance) will insist that a certain bone-house had been there "forever" until destroyed by enemies.
As far as the books are concerned, "hard history" begins with the rise of Old Aare....with the foundation of the community that became The City of the White Towers (three of them, in fact) and was for a time the center of a large human empire in the north-central part of the southern continent. Its name has been lost but a small population still lives in and around the ruins, ruled by the Guardians (who may hold its name as a holy secret.) The population were magelords (though there's some evidence that they were not magelords to start with, but were granted increasing powers by either some elves busy "uplifting" another race or by the gods themselves.) They had agriculture and some technology (though the mage powers substituted for some technology you'd expect at the same relative stages of our history.) At its height, and for its elite, it was as elegant and sophisticated as Minoan/Egyptian. There were several kingdoms of different sizes and influence, society was highly stratified, and the blend of mage powers and other technologies provided a good living for many below the top tier.
(A bit of geography: These stories are concentrated on two continents, but there are others--across the Eastern Ocean, for instance, and way around the other side of the world are another one or two. Not sure yet.)
As the magelords became more powerful in the southern continent, elves moved away, foreseeing that misuse of magery was going to cause serious problems and damage the taig--the network of living things that, to elves, is infinitely precious. Elves were not as numerous as humans, and rarely fought them head on. Many, if not most, moved north, across the Immerhoft sea, into the southern part of the northern continent. When magelords followed, the elves moved on, to the fringes of magelord settlement. Humans already lived on the northern continent (Old Humans), a very different set of cultures.
About 3500 years before present (taking the current books as present) the decline of Old Aare began with crop failures, droughts, and the slow but steady encroachment of the desert. Magelords explained it to themselves as an attack of the Sandlord, Ibbirun (also a god of chaos.) Multiple theories about why Ibbirun cursed them were in play, mostly spread by priests, but no rites or sacrifices stopped the progression. Famines killed thousands; searches for new sources of arable land and water in the south failed, and over the next few hundred years the population either migrated north to Aarenis (or, less commonly, to the eastern continent) or died. Many died on the trek to the sea, as the waterholes failed one by one. The final attack was supposedly a march of great dunes that came all the way to the city of the towers. The last king died trying to use his magery to hold the sand back long enough for the last caravan to escape.
The survivors who made it to Aarenis joined those who had emigrated earlier. The total was but a tithe of the original population of Old Aare. For some hundreds of years--perhaps even a thousand--they spread slowly across Aarenis, trying to replicate what they'd had in this very different climate, building the oldest cities (Cortes Immer, Cortes Cilwan, Cortes Vonja, Cortes Andres) and continuing to use their magery as they had before. The earliest immigrants had built the great ports at the mouth of the Immer and the Chaloquay; these two entry points led immigrants upstream into very different parts of the new land. Initially, the Old Humans in Aarenis fled to the mountains--some north to the Dwarfmounts, some west to the Westmounts. Magelords moving north in the west, mostly along the foot of the Westmounts, eventually reunited with magelords moving north up the Immer drainage in Valdaire, and it is these who went over that pass to the north, subdued the Old Humans they found, and eventually set up the two realms of Tsaia and Fintha. That occurred between 1500 and 2000 years BP.
The northern magelords found their powers waning generation by generation over the next thousand years and this concerned them greatly, for they used their magery to terrify and control their serfs--the Old Humans. Also, they were afraid of elves, and next door to Tsaia was the elven realm of the Ladysforest...losing their powers, they feared, would make them vulnerable to attack. Again, a number of possible causes were set out, some by priests and some by magelords themselves (breeding with Old Humans, misuse of magery, insufficient sacrifices to their gods, etc.)
About 500 years BP, oppression of the original native human population (and any magelords who lost their powers and were displaced by those who still had them) led to the rise of several unsuccessful peasant revolts, and one that was finally successful--the Girdish War, led by the former peasant Gird, in the land now known as Fintha. Gird survived the war and headed the government of Fintha until his death (the story of his rebellion, the war, and his death are in Surrender None, with additional information in Liar's Oath. After his death, Luap took many surviving magelords to the far west, to Kolobia, and by his misdeeds released the iynisin imprisoned in the stone, leading to the death of nearly all.
In the centuries between Gird's death and the first Paks book (Sheepfarmer's Daughter), Gird's "fellowship" developed a more rigid and elaborate hierarchy, helped along by Luap's version of Gird's life, all that was known of the real Gird after those who had known him died. All knowledge of the western settlement, ruled by Luap, was lost. Fintha is still a theocracy, ruled by the Marshal-General of Gird. Tsaia (next to the east) bases its law on the Code of Gird but retained a monarchy (chosen from a family with no magery, as the Girdish demanded) and semi-feudal system. Over the centuries, the Girdish influence has gradually broken up large estates and increased the number of free farmers and traders.
Magic of all kinds is illegal for humans in Fintha, though it's tolerated in elves. Tsaian law allows wizards (who learn magic by study; generally weaker magic than the magelords' magery) but they are distrusted unless associated with a lawful ruler. Their ability to brew potions with real healing power is approved. The most feared and despised form of magery in both lands is "blood magery", in which power is gathered by the pain and blood of victims (animal and human) and used by priests of the Horned God (Liart of the Horned Chain.) Magery persists underground, as it were, in many families.
In Aarenis, no form of magic is illegal--the Girdish War did not cross the mountains--and though some have become Girdish (there are granges in most cities) the South has much more religious diversity than the north. Few real magelords exist; most magic is that of wizards and hedge-witches. (A wizard will sell you a potion for a bad headache; a hedge witch will lay the headache on a stone or large tree stump. Both work, but very differently. Hedge-witches--who may be male or female but in these days usually female--are skilled with herbal medicine in addition to their magic, and do not usually charge for magic. Wizards never give it away unless under duress.)
Aarenis has always been seen as richer, more culturally advanced; the early cities traded with one another and to some extent by sea with the eastern continent, where some magelords had settled.
As magery waned, wealth became the power driver...with the opening of the north, north/sound trade became important and some domains banded together for trade advantage (which didn't keep them from squabbles and wars among themselves.) While there was still enough magery to do so, the Guild League roads were built from city to city, obviating the need to stick to the rivers as they grew shallower to the north and west. These roads, stone-flagged, wide enough for two wagons to pass abreast, drainage ditches on either side and grass pathways maintained for pedestrians and riders on the other side of the ditches, increased the ease of travel and trade.
The South is known for what we might call "Mediterranean and southern European" trade goods: wine, oilberries, certain fruits, spices, salt, fine dishes, tiles, furniture, musical instruments, lighter-weight textiles. The north produces northern crops (wheat, barley, oats), furs, woolens, high-quality swords, raw metals, certain woods, dwarven and elven trade goods. Also very good horses, as northern horse breeds made use of the horse-nomad stock to some degree. Pargunese Blacks (sometimes bay) and Tsaian Grays (sometimes bay) are both preferred "heavy" mounts for armored fighters. The Marrakai breed of lighter horses are considered the best all-around riding horses, bred for soundness, endurance, and reasonable speed; several studs in Aarenis claim to be breeding Marrakai horses; some, with an equal amount of Marrakai blood, have renamed them to indicate southern origin.
The full trade network is difficult to describe briefly, but includes both land and sea routes between Aarenis and the north. Goods travel upriver from seaports, usually by boat (rowed or towed, depending on the river) and are transferred to land transport when the river becomes too shallow, too swift, or has waterfalls. Additional goods start inland (crops, animals, crafts, etc.) and add to the northbound stream that goes over the pass at Valdaire. The sea route goes between the Immerhoft seaports and (mostly, but not exclusively) Prealíth's great seaport Bannerlíth on the coast of the Eastern Ocean. From there it's (usually) transferred to shallower-draft ships that make their way up the Honnorgat to the ports in Kostandan and Pargun. Previous to this series, there has been no effective sea trade between the south and Lyonya, Tsaia, and Fintha, because of the great falls of the Honnorgat at the Tsaian/Lyonyan border and the hostility toward Pargun. There has been no effective land trade for Pargun and Kostandan.
The northern realms have varied currencies of varied value; the Guild League cities adopted a uniform currency with coins of equal content and value struck with each city's mark. Within the Guild League all Guild League coins are accepted at par, with redistribution periodically to return coins to their originating city. Guild League merchants are licensed by the Guild League, which has a Hall in every Guild League city and makes and enforces rules for licensure. Counterfeiting is a capital crime in all Guild League cities. This regulation of trade within Aarenis has decreases fraud and increased profit.
North-south trade is different. Outside the Guild League, states impose a tax on imported coinage and the Money-changers' Guild charges to convert from one currency to another. (It's no surprise that the Money-changers' Guild is one of the richest, especially in Tsaia.) In both north and south, some Masters of the Money-changers' Guild hold additional permits to hold funds and deal in "paper". Among Guild League cities, certain entities are permitted to issue letters of credit which can be redeemed for coin in another Guild League city. In Tsaia, the only "banks" are in Verella, the capital, although Fiveway (southernmost city Tsaian city on the north-south trade route, where that and the southern trade route from Fintha and into Lyonya meet) has petitioned for a charter to allow a bank there. In Fintha, bankers are not allowed to deal in paper, only in coin, and the amount of coin they may hold is strictly limited, with special judicars appointed to oversee banks.
Some merchants carry (illegal) dies from Valdaire north, remaking their Guild League coins into Tsaian ones on the trip, (something European merchants once did) but mixed caravans always have spies eager for the rewards that come from turning in such counterfeiters. Melting down coins and importing lump gold, silver, and copper costs less in taxes, but what you can get for it is less than the value of the original coins.
Hence the dealing in paper. Initially, it was an excellent tax-avoidance scheme that merely required a fee to the moneychanger for performing the calculations of relative value at the end of a trip: you could buy your northbound (or southbound) cargo with your local currency, trek it north (or south) , receive payment as a letter of credit, go back home, and for a fee to your banker, receive the worth of your payment in your local currency. Between trade partners who trusted one another, letters of credit might go both ways. States noticed, of course, when their tax income from currency conversion went down. They began to require official seals (for a price) on any such letters of credit, stationing (as business grew) judicars in banks to be sure all were correctly paid, and inspected the books of master traders for the same reason.
Private arrangements, bypassing banks, could not be easily regulated. For instance, Phelan (and now Arcolin) had an arrangement with certain merchants in Tsaia to provide specified services to Fox Company soldiers on detached duty--on credit, to be paid in hard coin the next time the commander came through (which was at least twice a year.) Thus he could send a courier (or small party, such as the newly hired captains Arneson and Versin) north without bags of gold, knowing they'd get necessary room, board, stabling and farrier care for their horses, etc. These arrangements did not require an official letter of credit, and the parties took care to satisfy each other--bringing a dispute to the judicar would gain the attention of the Crown and the Money-changers' Guild, with a fine imposed that at least equaled what the state would have gotten had there been an official letter of credit. Both Phelan and Arcolin also took care to make use of the Money-changers' Guild in ways that profited both, so the Guild (which knew perfectly well private arrangements existed) did not care to take notice. Palms were greased; the wheels of commerce rolled on silently.
Counterfeiting as a tool of warfare is relatively new--the strict laws on counterfeiting made it so dangerous that it was almost unknown in the south, and known in the north primarily as adulteration (shaving coins) for the past few hundreds of years at least. Both Tsaian law and the Code of Gird in Fintha forbid it. Vaskronin's use of counterfeiting to create distrust among the Guild League cities for one another's coinage--rather than to make a direct profit--is unprecedented, and by not following any of the previous attempts (all clearly aimed at personal profit) had the effect he wanted. Arcolin's discovery of the dies, however, in Kings of the North, revealed a different kind of plan. Some of the cities accepted that this was not a plot by a rival city; others continued to suspect old rivals.
The Elder Races have had little influence on trade except for the gnomes, but even they do not dominate any segment of trade. Gnomish influence arises from their rigid insistence on exact exchange, and through their influence on Gird (and hence, on the Code of Gird.) Thus the Money-changers' Guild's rules and enforcement, even in Aarenis, shows a gnomish rigidity and concern for precision (where, in our historic times, bankers have been less...um...concerned about following all the rules.) The Guild is naturally competitive, and has used human ambition and competitiveness to enforce adherence to strict rules that closely resemble gnomish practice...some even suspect that there is a gnomish "grand master" keeping watch over the Guild. Those Masters who find a moneychanger or banker breaking the rules receive a reward, and the guilty are punished harshly and publicly.
Although ambitious, greedy, and dishonest people try gaming the system, the economic system will probably continue its slow progression towards early-modern (in our terms) forms of exchange, with more "paper" and less coinage, against a never-eliminated background of barter and private "arrangements" at the low end. The unusual (in our terms) probity of the Money-changers' Guild will continue because of the existence of gnomish princedoms and merchants in close proximity to human traders and trade routes. Political entities will continue to seek ways to tap the income streams, with more or less success. Individuals will act as individuals do, some more honestly than others, within their own cultural heritage. For the duration of the stories, the coinage of the Guild League and the northern states will not change.
Aarenis: Guild League cities coin to agreed weights in gold, silver, and copper, with two values of coin per metal. Gold coins: nata, nas . Silver: niti, nis. Copper: page, serf. In Sheepfarmer's Daughter, a good lunch at an inn in Foss cost a niti; ale alone was a niti a jug (about 10 mugs) and three pages a mug. A nas for a pair of fine multi-leather boots. Paks bought Saben's red horse symbol for 3 nitis, 2 nis, after bargaining, but Saben could have had it for 3 nitis. In addition to Guild League coinage, others mint their own coins, now mostly to integrate with Guild League units. Andressat mints exact equivalents and Andressat coinage is accepted at par by the Moneychangers' Guild. The coastal cities mint their own, but it's often debased and trades under face value.
Tsaia: gold crown, silver coronet, copper crown. Coins minted in Tsaia by the royal mint are of standard weight; Dukes are allowed to mint their own, but since Tsaia is governed by the Code of Gird, they must make standard weight and content. Royal Mint officials check the weight of coins periodically in markets; dukes minting nonstandard coins are punished. Unlicensed minting is illegal and punished when caught. Tsaian coins are quite beautiful and hard to copy. However, it's common for merchants traveling between realms with a tax on foreign currency to re-strike coins to avoid the tax. Northern coins are often re-struck to Guild League standards on the road south, and Guild League coins re-struck to Tsaian or Finthan on the road north. This is punishable if caught.
Fintha: Fintha's coinage was completely re-struck after the Girdish triumph; possession of "old" coins being considered proof of anti-Gird sentiments. Gird himself didn't care about the appearance of coins and suggested they just have incised marks indicating value--one line for one, two for twice the value, etc. but traders finally convinced the council of Marshals that they needed something more "normal" in the rest of the world. For a couple of generations, two kinds of money were in use: "Gird's pence" (wooden tallies or tokens,) and metallic coins roughly based on the coinage of Tsaia with different names and appearance. An attempt was made to attach constant value to the metallic coins with a picture of the item on the coin (bread, cloth furl, etc.) but this failed in the end. Finthan coins now are traded equally by the Moneychangers' Guild with Tsaian ones of the same size/weight..
Lyonya: Coinage of gold, silver, copper, but designs and names taken from nature, mostly plants. "Trees" are gold, in three sizes; "leaves" are silver, also in three sizes, and for value about twice the value of the seemingly equivalent Tsaian coins. Copper coins are "twigs" and come in only one size. Wood tokens also in use for many private transactions, as well as barter. Some wood tokens in Lyonya have intrinsic value (because of the value of Lyonyan woods found nowhere else) and have been traded abroad for hard coins. Lyonyan trade, up the present, has been mostly local, so there's been less need for metallic coinage but there's been change in the past fifty years. For instance, Aliam Halveric's mercenary company, paid in the South in Guild League coinage has brought some of that coinage back every year for 25-30 years.
Pargun: The Pargunese, having come from an area with minimal metal deposits, used metallic coinage sparingly, instead using shell, bone, and wood tokens in addition to direct bartering. These were incised with the value in terms of fish (a standard "fish" being understood.) Once they moved west to end up in the Honnorgat valley, they acquired more metals and began to use a metal coinage. Higher values are marked with weapons (spear, sword, crossbow, dagger) and lower with fish (one, two, and three fish.) As they trade regularly with the ports of Aarenis, they also mingle Guild League and their own coinage now...and their coins are known to Guild League merchants.
Kostandan: Kostandanyan coinage follows the Pargunese model only adding a stylized boat shape to the obverse of the coins. In the South, where Sofi Ganarrion has been running a mercenary company for years, Kostandanyan coins are still known as "boat-Pargunese."
Prealíth: Inland, Prealíth depends largely on barter, with little coinage penetrating beyond the coastal cities and nearby farmlands. Because most of its trade is with Aarenis, Prealíth coinage most resembles Guild League, though with an obverse design of a tree on a rock. However, probably only a quarter of the coinage in use in Bannerlíth is minted in Prealíth; all the coinages of Aarenis and many of the north circulate there, as well as "unknown" coins from across the Eastern Ocean.