IDENTIFYING THE AI-NAIDAR
An important note here. The Ai-Naidar lack the notable sexual dimorphism of humans or some animal species. Though they have recognizable sexual characteristics when nude, once they’re dressed in the long, layered robes currently in fashion, it’s very hard to tell male from female. Males might have squarer faces, but not often enough to make that a certain indicator; males can be delicate-boned in the face, and females can have occasional stern lines themselves.
Castes also don’t look substantially different, with the occasional exception of Guardians. The Winter Trysts mix blood across castes, so there’s no obvious way to tell a Regal from a Land Worker by genetics alone. Because Guardians purposefully work to reshape their bodies, they tend to look more substantial than the average Ai-Naidari (but even then, individual Guardians might be more or less built than, say, one of the heavier-framed non-Guardians).
However, Ai-Naidar do dress differently based on their caste. In some cases this can be subtle or informal: Merchants tend to be found in pants and short robes, for instance. In other cases, it can be literally a uniform, as with Guardians pledged to a specific duty, or as close to a uniform as makes no different. For instance, all Public Servants either wear a stole, or they have something like a uniform (priests not only wear specific colors, but denote caste-ranks with the styles). Those above the Wall of Birth wear more layers than those under it, and those layers tend to be of richer fabrics, and their hair styles and costume are often ornate enough to require the aid of Servants to don. This is not to accentuate their wealth; no one above the Wall of Birth is considered wealthy, as the money and favors they hold are taken to represent the money and favors of their districts, wealth they hold only in trust. But they are public figures, and it is of paramount importance to the Ai-Naidar that their administrators be immediately identifiable to their constituents, so the costumes of those above the Wall of Birth really are costumes. They’re there to inform people looking at them who they are and what they’re in charge of. Noble and Regals will also wear their House colors, and somewhere prominently their House sigil.
House sigils are optional adornments for people beneath the Wall of Birth. House colors are rarely worn by those beneath the Wall of Birth except on special occasions. Guardians, however, wear their Noble’s or Regal’s colors if they are engaged in work for them.
There is some small chance of identifying a male or female based on hair styles for those above the Wall of Birth: Noble/Regal females tend toward hair worn up, while males tend toward hair worn down (though it can be elaborately braided). Hair length is also no indication of gender. Castes occasionally tend toward a specific style: Land Workers, if they have long hair, usually have it back, for instance, for the sake of convenience. But this is personal preference and not mandated (unless a specific family wants everyone to look alike or groom a certain way, which has happened).
Interestingly, how well a Merchant dresses is assumed to reflect on his or her individual wealth, or his or her family’s. But they are careful not to dress in a way similar to those above the Wall of Birth to avoid confusion, and too ostentatious a display is considered gauche.
I have never noted an Ai-Naidari to confuse another Ai-Naidari’s gender, and I’m not sure how they do this. Men tend to have deeper voices, but they can have higher voices than the typical human male; similarly, women can go lower than expected also, but on average don’t. My suspicion then is that their cues are either auditory, when someone speaks; pheromonal, which would be undetectable to us without appropriate equipment; or through some subtlety of body language I’m not well acquainted with. Fortunately they don’t seem to mind our uncertainty on the matter. No doubt they find our far more obvious sexual differences bizarre, and have decided that we are too accustomed to gross visual cues to be expected to avoid mistakes with them.
On the bright side, while the Ai-Naidar are usually light in coloring they’re also far more variable than we are in that regard, and can be any shade of warm brown from almost black through bronze, red and into the golds and the creams, and any shade of gray from black to white, with every possible permutation of gray from warm watered grays, silvery colors, and even grays with greenish, yellowish or reddish casts. They can have also more than one dominant color as well, with a broader dorsal coloring and a ventral coloring down the front of the body, with the chance for other colors as well. While rare, they can also have spots or darker socks/spines, or even be furless in patches or all over their bodies. Plus, they all have some form of ribboned/spiraled marking, bestowed on them by their liegelords/ladies. So individual Ai-Naidar or Ai-Naidari familes can be remembered easily from their coloring and patterns.
Note that anyone with two-toned ribbons—with a darker line in the middle—is wearing bairek narili and will invariably be either above the Wall of Birth or in service to Thirukedi directly.
Until you’ve been introduced, it’s wise not to make assumptions about someone’s gender or caste, unless you see someone in very rich robes or obviously carrying a weapon (something permitted only the Guardians). An introduction will tell you an individual’s caste, rank and family, and also give you a notion of their gender from their first name (if you know enough Ai-Naidari names to have a feel for the naming conventions).
This issue occurred to me while we were discussing something else, so I went back to the beginning of the document and filled it in. And look, I even scribbled in some drawings.
Formatting this e-book is going to be painful. -_-