Female Trials

The test the supplicant's ability to raise children and run a home. She is revered as the creator of life, and must know how to sustain a baby to adulthood.

Male Trials

These are more physical tests of skill and strength, The new husband, in the full meaning of the word, must look after and provide the needs fo his family.

This is not a sexist stance, but a practical way of living; only the female can breastfeed for instance.

The Second are also a matriarchal society.

Building a Home

Before a boy can take the Trials of Passage, he must build a home for his future family.

This is normally accomplished with the aid of experienced builders. The future husband must ensure the home meets his bride's specific requirements, and is suitable to his future in-laws.

Not all homes are the same, although built upon the wigwam principle. Some have extra rooms, areas, or outhouses associated with the couples work.


The girls are seen as homemakers, so attention to detail is important.

In theory, the female Trials of Passage could be completed in one day, but usually take between five and seven days, as the home is also judged as a finished project.


Image: Jack Barleycorn, The Guardian - Click to enlarge

Jack is one of only three people alive to complete the male Trials of Passage in one day. The others being n'Gue and n'Gnung.

They prove true friends, helping Jack obliquely, n'Gue running ahead as pacemaker on the final stint.

Imperial Marriage

The term given to people technically married to the Empress or Emperor. This occurs when a girl or boy do not marry at age 16.

This was the case with both Lo Si and Won Long, the latter having no interest in affairs of the flesh.


Is a title that means Miss or Spinster, and that the person did not marry at age sixteen. No matter if they marry later, they are still called Noi.

The Twelve Tribes

Feature: The Second




The Trials of Passage


The Trials of Passage

During the two weeks before an adolescent attains the age of sixteen, they must undertake The Trials of Passage.

This represents a series of tests that are common in primitive societies, and denotes the official passage from childhood to adulthood; modern societies obfuscate this as 'education', although celebrations of coming of age remain.

Regards the Second, there are seven trials, for both female and male, taken over seven days. The specified Trial must be completed on the set day, but more Trials can be attempted; most do not, and complete one each day. The emphasis is to check the bride can make a home and rear children; that the groom can support the family.

The male Trials are physically demanding, the female more dexterous and mentally probing. In both instances, the first and last trials are fixed, but the others may be done in any order, providing that day's task is completed.


Empress Zhao Jien Noi

Image: Empress and Gatekeeper Jien Noi - Click to enlarge

The Female Trials of Passage:

  1. Clearing the Home. The girl is given a house for one week, which looks like it has been trashed. She must make it habitable.
  2. Running a home. Once the house is cleaned, she must provision it with furniture, eating utensils, and food, plus many other things. Often the first and second tasks are done on the same day.
  3. The Guest Meal. The future wife must cook for eight people, each of whom will order a specific dish she does not know of in advance. She is allowed two unmarried helpers of her choosing, these representing growing children. In theory, these kids are to help prep, service table, and wash up. In practice they spend much time obtaining rare ingredients. Before the meal is complete, the kitchen area must be spotless.
  4. Mending. This tests dexterity and use of the correct grass thread. The two 'children's' clothes need to be repaired, and so does the wall of the home, or similar. She must make appropriate repairs, and most use darning techniques.
  5. Malady. A person representing her future husband will appear, and be in need of immediate treatment. He may be suffering an illness, or have a physical injury. She must attend to it at once, and/or, send word for the correct Healer to attend.
  6. The Newborn. At different times on this day, she will be handed a baby in distress, two in all. She must discover what is wrong and resolve the issue. Often the problem is simple: feed the baby, burp the baby, cuddle the baby. The mother is standing nearby, but out of the baby's sight; she cannot speak, but may give clues by way of looks. The natural mother is also allowed to breastfeed, but only when directed by the trialist.
  7. Keeping. The easiest, yet most difficult task for some. The would be bride must demonstrate a talent, be that one of embroidery, singing, dancing, playing an instrument, or art. She must create something original, and unrelated to her home life; but better if it obliquely relates. This is usually a work created in childhood, and reproduced on this day, but not always. The title refers to 'keeping the heart of oneself true of purpose'. Meaning, a person should grow inside, and outside of married life. Of interest, this test only applies to females of the Second.

The Male Trials of Passage:
These can be read in full, in Book One, Chapter 24. Lo Si relates to Jack:

“The tasks are mainly of physical dexterity, as befits and reflects how a husband may be called upon to provide for, or protect his family. Most pōscerea use brute strength, but know cunning may make the tasks simpler:

  • “The first trial, The Trial of Worthiness begins in the cells of Grimwaldi Rinns; the seeker is tethered to the wall, and must break free. Place a knife to your back, and it will be easy. All trialist's know of this.
  • “The second trial, The Trial of Power is set on the plateau plains near the hot springs. There, beneath a large rock that takes four men to lift, is a hole, and within something that must be recovered and returned. There are props laid nearby that may assist, and it will be easy for you. I can tell you nothing more.
  • “On the third day is The Trial of the Divide. You must cross a defile and make it to the other side. How you accomplish this is not set, the only point is that the seeker begins on one side, and arrives on the other, and within the set markers. Most climb down and up the other side. I think that you may not?
  • The Trial of the Marsh is a desperate challenge, one that almost killed me when I attempted it. But then, I could not swim. The goal is the egg of a marsh bird, a feisty and most protective creature. Ensure you do not break the egg, and keep it warm, because officials will return it in due course.
  • “On the fifth day you face The Trial of The High Place, the land where the great beast lives. You met the creature once, I remember. Something of high value only grows in those parts, and the beast loves these, and will protect them. They are akin to small mushrooms, but ones that grow like a nugget underground.
  • “After that, the seeker must travel to the other end of the Queendom, and to the Halfway House. The Trial of Water is set behind the waterfall, where within the cavern you will find a small package. This must be kept absolutely dry, which is the difficulty of this challenge. If it gets wet, even in the slightest, you will have failed the challenge. This, as with all other things collected, must be presented to your bride to be upon your return.
  • The Trial of Homecoming is often the easiest of the challenges, but it may prove to be the most difficult in your particular case. This trial is never fixed, and is the sole prerogative of the prospective father-in-law, who sets the task to his whim and fancy. For you, Jackie, this will be something extremely simple, yet almost impossible to accomplish within that precise moment. The Emperor will set the most devilish challenge, for he has to know you are worthy, not only as son-in-law, but as Emperor also; even though you have recanted claim on that title; after his day, his present duty will still fall to you.

“I can say no more, except that each task will be invigilated, and you may have oblique assistance; though all actions must be of your own volition. Neither can words be exchanged, but guidance by co-incidence is always allowed. Your true brothers will guide you within the rules, but never listen to others, who may try to distract you.”


Not Marrying

All of the Second marry at age sixteen, and exceptions must be approved by the Empress. Jien Noi and Lien Noi are the only two. They later marry outlanders.

Matriarchal Society

The Second are the only Tribe to officially have a matriarchal society.

The lineage passes from the Empress to her eldest daughter. As with many ancient cultures, the female was venerated as the producer of new life; children, and the Empress retains full and absolute power.

Male Prerogatives

Excepting the fact that a man should never go against his wife's wishes, the head male accepts or rejects a suitor's proposal to marry his daughter.

A second is the final test that completes the Trials of Passage. This is the whim of the prospective father-in-law, and can be virtually anything. It is usually short and easy.

A third, only intimated in the text of Book One, is when the prospective 'in-laws' inspect the house built for their daughter. If not satisfied, the father-in-law can cancel the wedding. This seldom happens.

The Old Religion

The religion was all but lost to the Second during The Dark Time, but is one of respect for Mother Nature, not seen as a plethora of gods to worshipped, but of thanksgiving for Gaia's bounty. They and the Eleventh, are the only two Tribes to live in harmony with Earth and nature.

In Book TwoChapters 15-16, Jien Noi officially pardons the Shaman, and restores the Old Religion. Jack completes the task, by returning The Ring of the Earth to the Shaman.


Although naturally yellow skinned, the Second, and especially the men, often develop carotenemia, which makes them appear golden or almost orange.

In part this is in response to abundant pheomelanin deepening the already yellow skin pigmentation.

The Ancestors created this effect by altering the gene code, as the Fourth, their first experiment with pheomelanin, were susceptible to uv light.

Notwithstanding, the main cause is dietary; men especially eating a lot of carrots, sweet potatoes, mango, pumpkins, and carotene rich foods.

Naming Convention

Most characters and place names of the Second are Mainland Cantonese, and not Hong Honk dialect.

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