Duels are used in the kingdom of Aoh Chiane to settle disputes between individual parties. The lower classes, while permitted to duel anyone provided they observe the correct forms, rarely do so, because they lack the skill to succeed. The nobles rarely fight themselves, because they think it is both beneath them and too risky. So young men of middling birth (successful merchant’s or soldier’s sons, second or third sons of noblemen, etc) are hired as duelists, to fight the duels of the aristocracy.
There are five dueling Houses in Aoh Chiane: The House of Falling Leaves, The House of Steel Roses, The House of White Wind, The House of Broken Scales, and The House of Fire’s Fury. Each House teaches a specific style of dueling, as well as the proper defenses to use against other recognized styles. Aoh Chiane is a patriarchial society; there has never been a woman accepted to any of the Five Houses.
Many parents, particularly if not well off, will try to send their sons to one of the Five Houses to become trained duelists. The House of Steel Roses is restricted to titled nobility, but other than that, assuming the entrance fees can be paid, any young man can enter any House. Training starts at ten to twelve, and typically lasts for five years. Prodigies have been known to graduate as young as thirteen. Some families will only send their sons to certain Houses, and certain noble families will only hire from certain Houses. There is a great deal of rivalry between the Five Houses, particularly between Falling Leaves and Fire’s Fury.
Dueling can be dangerous work, and, as such, it pays very well… as long as the duelist in question keeps winning. Since a good many dueling contracts are on a “per duel” basis, a set of customs arose among the graduates of the Five Houses that enabled prospective employers to know at a glance how good a man was compared to other duelists.
Duelists will not cut their hair unless they are defeated. Since their hair can get rather long, a duelist will keep his hair in a single braid down his back, unless at formal occasions, when it is left loose. Most duelists have braids less than a foot long, although some of the legendary duelists have much longer hair. (When he was finally bested at the age of sixty two, the legendary master Jean le Fier of the House of White Wind had a braid six and a half feet long.) Upon the conclusion of a duel, the victorious party cuts his opponent’s braid off at the base of the neck (generally keeping it as a trophy.) Having one’s braid cut off during the combat itself is considered the most humiliating defeat possible, and immediately ends the duel.
Duelists also wear sashes in their House’s color (green for Falling Leaves, silver for Steel Roses, white for White Wind, gold for Broken Scales, and red for Fire’s Fury). For each duel fought, victorious or not, the duelist will add a small embroidered badge to his sash. These badges are typically stylized versions of the current employer’s heraldry. Many badges and a long braid is the most attractive to potential employers, although the wise tend to favor the number of badges over braid length if there is not an available candidate with both. Lower classes are not prohibited from hiring duelists, although usually only the wealthy can afford to do so.
The parties named in the duel (the employers, not their champions) state the terms of the duel. These include the weapons available and the victory condition (third blood is common.) While duels to the death do occur, they are very few.
Perhaps surprisingly, duelists rarely become involved in duels on their own account.