The idea of rank and social position are very important in the Six Kingdoms. Those who are in an inferior position due to social or family status are expected to defer to those above them, even though in theory, every free man is protected by the same laws.
There are four main "ranks" in society:
The nobility, who are generally landowners. Most nobles live in or near the largest cities. Some are well off, but many, while still respected, are often nearly impoverished, and have to live off of the good will of other powerful families who support them in return for political favors. In each of the kingdoms, the most powerful noble family holds the kingship. Once this was -it is said -held by a divinely-appointed king, but those days are long gone. The Nobility -part from those families of Armigers that have this distinction -are not generally warriors themselves. If they study war at all, it is the history of generals and general strategy. A noble accused of lawbreaking is entitled to a jury of 12 of his peers.
The Armigers. Originally Armigers were simply professional warriors, who served lords. Over time, however, as powerful Armigers became lords in their own right, the title came to mean someone who had no other role but warrior and it became less and less possible to simply become an Armiger. You had to be born one, or adopted into a clan Adoption of promising warriors who have proved their worth in combat still occurs and is a prestigious formal ceremony -although in times of great need a clan official can adopt a warrior on the field of battle in an impromptu ceremony. Today, some Armigers are members of the nobility, while others hold grants from the nobility and provide ships and soldiers. Members of the Armiger class are professional warriors, and place great value on skill at arms. Although the first -and only -trade of the Armiger is war, they are also the most trusted servants of the various clan heads and so serve as administrators and companions to the Nobles as well as being responsible for law enforcement (including seeing that taxes are collected, even if they do not do the collecting themselves). An Armiger is therefore expected to have other skills than merely killing enemies. Armigers also have a deal of leisure, when their clan is not at war and some expertise in cultured arts, such as poetry, writing, singing and music -and outdoor pursuits such as hunting -is appreciated. Since much of warfare is seaborne, good sailing skills and navigational ability is required. Armigers are therefore an integral part of village and town life, serving as both military protection and administration. Within a kingdom, the highest position among the Armiger class is that of the Lord of Fleets -essentially the head of the military. Beneath the Lord of Fleets are the Shiplords. Some Shiplords are important, some are minor, but all have higher social status than the ordinary warriors who make up the bulk of the Armiger class. Ship-lords are in charge of whole Armiger clans and they govern large areas of land for the Lord of Fleets. Next in rank are the retainers of a ship-lord. A lord's personal bodyguard would be highly respected; a messenger, perhaps less so. One other form of retainer is the magistrate, who commands authority in a district of the lord's lands. The lowest level of the Armiger class is the common soldiery. These low ranking warriors are responsible for guarding the lord's castle, serving as foot soldiers or manning the fleets during battles. If they cannot find a Shiplord to take them on, they often live by working as bodyguards, or as guards on ships -or they turn to piracy or banditry. Such renegades are generally expelled from their clan and declared outlaw, since Armigers hold to a strict code. An Armiger must serve his lord and clan to the death, if needed. Cowardice is the worst offence an Armiger can commit, with bringing shame on his clan a close second. An Armiger should always be honest. The third worst offence an Armiger can commit is to break his oath. Armigers should always obey and enforce the law and protect the church. An Armiger who is accused of lawbreaking can demand a trial by six of his peers, or a trial by combat.
The commoners do not hold land of their own but lease it in exchange for rent or services, or live and work in towns. Commoners - townsmen or peasants - are the foundation of society, and as such, they are on the bottom of the social ladder. Although they have in theory the same legal rights as any freedman - defending those rights against the proud and heavily-armed Armigers or the nobility is not easy: especially since dispensing justice is the job of the Magistrate who is himself always a member of the Armiger class. Despite their low status, peasants and farmers are responsible for farming and fishing and are generally respected - without commoners, the kingdoms would starve! Merchants are also respected for the goods and wealth they bring back from the turbulent states of Southern Lumulea, but some among the Armiger class look askance at merchants who become too wealthy or who flaunt their wealth.
The outcasts. The only people lower than commoners are outlaws and outcasts. Slavery as an institution has long been banned in the archipelago. Outlaws include thieves, murderers, rapists, and bandits, all of which are unfortunately far too common. Outcasts are those who have been expelled from their clans and those who have been cast out of the Church for various crimes not seer enough for outlawry -they live by doing the meanest, dirtiest jobs.