The Companies of Smiler’s Fair
The King’s Men is one of the oldest and proudest companies, and the only one that still deals purely in entertainment. Their symbol was once the Oak Wheel, but the Oak Wheel was destroyed by Queen Kaur and now their banner is a winged mammoth. The King’s Men is the most expensive company to join in all of Smiler’s Fair, and also the smallest.
The King’s Men specialise in the performance of old plays – the traditional verse tragedies that were first enacted among the Ashane in remembrance of the history they left behind on the shores of their ancient home. Most King’s Men are connected to the theatre but the finest musicians and artists also find a welcome there.
The Queen’s Men began in the reign of Queen Kaur as a deliberate rebuke to the elitism of the King’s Men, and hostility between the two companies remains strong. Their standard is a portrait of Queen Kaur herself. There are two entry fees for this company: either a purse stolen from one of the King’s Men, or a winged-mammoth standard stolen from one of their houses. As a consequence, two types of people predominate in the company: acrobats or other street entertainers, and the cutpurses who make a living from their audience.
The Fierce Children were traditionally masked performers of the tales of Jaspal the Ravan, the trickster of Ashane folktale, and Jaspal is the figure on their standard. They now have charge of the Menagerie and are closely allied with the Drovers. There is no charge for entry into the company but those they take are apprenticed and spend many years in service before they’re permitted to perform.
The coin taken from the cullies who come to view the Menagerie is shared between the apprentices, but it’s understood that their main source of income comes from a deal with the cutpurses of the Queen’s Men, who are allowed to prey freely on those who visit the place in exchange for a cut of the take.
The Drovers care for the fair’s many animals and are both indispensable to it and somewhat looked down upon as mere workmen by the other companies. The charge for entry to their company is one mammoth, five horses, 10 cows or 20 sheep or goats. The newly recruited Drover has charge of those animals, either breeding them for meat to sell or hiring them out to pull the fair’s disassembled buildings to their next location. The Drover’s standard is a plough horse.
If their animals sicken or die, Drovers are forced to seek other sources of income – and many become butchers or cooks. Others simply meld into the life of the fair, stealing or selling themselves.
Smiler’s Mile was originally the longest street in the fair, along which all the lowest pleasures could be found: fucking, drinking, gambling and latterly the consumption of purple sorghum and the more addictive bliss. It is no longer able to claim the same geographical location but it remains the oldest company devoted to pleasures of the flesh. It was once considered to offer the classiest merchandise – whether that was sellcocks or wine – but recently it has specialised in offering the cheapest. The company’s symbol is a penis with two dice in place of balls.
As with all the pleasure companies, the price of entry into Smiler’s Mile is high, and most recruits begin their life in debt bondage to the owner of the establishment where they work, whether that’s a whorehouse or a bar. In return, debt slaves are given lodgings in grim and crowded tenement blocks.
The Fine Fellows are another pleasure company, more recent than Smiler’s Mile but similar in most ways, except that their members are forbidden to consume purple sorghum or bliss. Their symbol is a breast squirting wine into a goblet and they’re said to offer class and cleanliness – if you have the coin. They alone hold entirely democratic elections to choose their delegate to the fair’s governing congress, and take great pleasure in the wheeling, dealing and scandal of the political process.
The Snow Dancers are a theatrical company. They were the first of the companies to originate among the tribes and their theatre is tribal in nature: drum-led, dancing re-enactments of tribal myths in which the crowd are expected to participate, or recitations of poetry – often in praise of their horses or deer – by masked men. Among the tribes, it’s taboo for women to drum and so the Snow Dancers allow only male members. Their symbol is a snowflake, suggesting they were first begun by men of the Chun.
Journey’s End was founded by Moon Forest traders and remains the fair’s largest merchant company. Many of Smiler’s Fair’s traders prefer to conduct their business away from the distractions offered by other companies and they do so under the banner of a rayed sun. (Other traders are happy to set up shop beside bars and brothels, assuming that drunk and sated patrons will be more willing to part from their gold.) The price of entry to Journey’s End is high – your firstborn child to be apprenticed to the clerks, as many of the clerks’ own offspring choose more entertaining occupations.
The Merry Cooks take as their symbol an image of the Smiler waving a wooden spoon. They are an offshoot of the Drovers and closely tied to them, supplying and cooking the massive quantities of food required by the fair’s residents and visitors. They are the company most often found outside the fair, their wagons travelling the countryside in search of ingredients.
It takes money to buy your way into the Merry Cooks, or debt bondage as a kitchen hand. Although their iconography is Ashane, the company first formed during the exile on the plains and counts many people of the Fourteen Tribes among its number. Not coincidentally, the food at the fair has a reputation for being atrocious.
The Worshippers are a company of soothsayers, fortune tellers and charlatans of all religious stripes. They conduct the worship of all the gods that the residents are too busy to venerate. If you pay the Worshippers’ coin, and most do, you can be guaranteed to stay in good favour with your deities, no matter what your behaviour. Their standard is the silhouette of a figure, not clearly male of female and they have sole charge of the Temple at the heart of the fair.
Lord Lust’s Girls ostensibly worship Lord Lust through public sexual displays. But theirs is also the company for those who want what even Smiler’s Mile can’t provide, whether its pain or pederasty or worse. Lord Lust is also their standard and, as he forbids congress between men, they take on no sellcocks. Theirs is the cheapest of the pleasure companies to join, and yet those it takes into debt bondage never seem to work free again.