The rulers of the Five Realms, collectively known as the Tiarnaí (teer-nee), form three ranks: Rider, Iarla (eer-lah), and Réig (rayg). The children of the Tiarnaí are eligible to serve as Galloglaigh by birthright.
The lowest rank is the Rider, who rules directly over the common folk. A Rider has been granted their land by the Iarla of the Realm (or the Réig in the case of Uasa) in recognition of a great service, almost always while serving as a gallóglach themselves. The size of the land granted is commensurate with the scale of the service and varies widely, though the minimum is as far as a person can see when mounted on horseback. In the case of an especially great service, for example saving the life of the Iarla in battle, the grant might be made for more than one generation. This is the only official way of keeping land within a Rider’s family as an inheritance, however for influential Riders their offspring or foster children will find ample opportunity to distinguish themselves and be granted their parent’s land for their lifetime.
All Riders are considered equal, which enables the constant squabbling and skirmishing over borders between them, but naturally those who have done the greatest deeds and who possess the most land have the most power within the Realm and sway with the Iarla, but even they are limited to what they can hold by strength of arms against the Gwyllt and their rivals/neighbours. Within Draiod there is another wrinkle to the principle of equal status between Riders; the Council of the Saoi ruled Draíod before the Réig united the Realms, and many say they still rule. The council is composed of the foremost scholars and tactical geniuses of the Learned Realm, and they advise (not to say direct) the Iarla in their rule of Draíod. Each and every Saoi is also a Rider, and while there are Riders who are not Saoi, their holdings are always above ground and therefore deemed far less important. This situation causes ongoing consternation from without Draiod, but the Draíodaigh provide much expertise in the Shaper’s arts so it has so far been tolerated.
Riders are strictly limited in the size of the militia they can employ and officially may only deploy them defensively. Most Riders with smaller holdings must hire the gallóglaigh to deal with larger threats or to make their ambitions a reality. A Rider is expected to manage their own income, whether by maintaining their own lands or extracting tithes or rent from the people who live there.
Every five years a Reckoning takes place in the Realms, with the Réig’s clerks circulating to a different Realm each year. The Reckoning is both census and ordnance survey, taking a record of who rules where and how many people they rule over. The official borders are thus redrawn every five years, and the strength of the Rider’s claims reaches its zenith at this time. The months preceding a Reckoning are called “the golden time” by the gallóglaigh bands, on account of the extra work they can count on as Riders set their sights on nearby lands.
Above the Riders, and nominally keeping them in line, is the Iarla. An Iarla rules over each Realm except Uasa, and within their Realm their word is second only to the Réig’s. The Riders are bound to them by an oath of fealty, renewed every five years at the Reckoning. Each Iarla has their seat in and around the capital settlement of their Realm, but they may keep lands elsewhere, as is the case with Siabhal. The Iarlas are charged with keeping the peace in their Realm, which some choose to see as keeping it from the brink of civil war while others prefer to employ guards to patrol the Réig’s Road and keep the gallóglaigh bands on their books from one end of the year to the other.
Just like the Riders, the Iarlas must renew their fealty to the Réig every five years, at the Reckoning of Uasa. The oaths they swear are not widely known, but legend says they are like those sworn by the gallóglaigh, but all the more potent, filling both the Iarlas and the Réig with torrents of power from the Shaper Themself. These oaths have not stopped attempts (some successful) at seizing the throne over the centuries, but the terrible price that breaking the oaths extracts from traitors has made sure that they have not lived long after their attempt.
The High Families
Tirneach is an ancient place, and before the advent of the Réig there were other societies with rulers who traced their lineages back to even more far flung times. Although they have no official standing as rulers in the Five Realms of today, their descendants remain powerful and influential. Often they are among the wealthiest families in their realm and can be expected to have the ear of their Rider or Iarla.
These High Families, or more formally: Na Ard-Teaghlaigh (ard chai-lig), often play important roles in the running of their realms. Local coordination of tax collection, road maintenance, irrigation, and many other tasks are assigned to these prestigious families, providing them with the power and responsibility appropriate to their station. This provides an arena of competition away from the battlefield for the High Families, as a family that is seen as failing to adequately fulfil their duties might see their responsibilities poached by ambitious peers. Additionally, all members of the High Families are eligible to serve as Galloglaigh by birthright
Another thing that sets the High Families apart from the common folk of Tirneach is their practice of inheritance by Tanistry. Shortly after a new Head of the Family takes up the role, the family meets to appoint their Tanist; who will serve as their second and is expected to take up the role of Head of the Family upon their death. The eligible candidates and the eligible electors are any among the family whose parent or grandparent was a Family Head. This leads to broad and contentious competitions which do not always succeed in remaining civil. However, the practice has ensured that the High Families have never been short on heirs to take up their name and that those heirs must prove their worth before they can lead the family. The chieftains of Uasa are unique among the High Families in scorning this practice.
The Ruby Families of Siabhal
The most illustrious of the High Families are the Ruby Families of the Realm of Siabhal, named for the Ruby Court in the great city of Iomra. The Ruby Families claim descent from heroes of legend that fought against the Gwyllt at a time when the Gwyllt’s hold on Tirneach was all the more fearsome.
The legends of Siabhal, preeminent among them the Legend of Lobhan, serve as a way of cataloguing the Hundred Heroes of Siabhal and the status of those descended from them. High Families from Siabhal generally style themselves according to their most famous ancestor. For example: “Cillian Ua Fhiona” or “Siún Ní Shiún”, referring to Fiona Who Slew the Red Prince and Siún Who Leapt the Flaming Wall respectively.
Most of the Ruby Families count at least one Rider among their number, but some keep lands without one, which speaks to the status the Ruby Families have maintained in their Realm. The Iarla of Siabhal has always been a descendant of the royalty of the Kingdom of Siabhal, themselves descended from the greatest of the Hundred Heroes, the iconic Finian the Brave.
The Chieftains of Uasa
The chieftains of the tribes of Uasa descend from the shamans who brokered the original deals with the water spirits of the swamps and waterways of Uasa which protected the tribes from the Gwyllt in the terrible days before the Réig came and set Tirneach free. While the tribes of Uasa no longer hold much political power, their leaders are still afforded great respect and all Uasaigh families know which tribe they owe loyalty to by tradition. The water spirits are primaeval forces left over from the Shaper’s act of Creation, and the bargains that were struck have left their mark through the ages in ineffable ways.
The High Families of the tribes practice a peculiar inheritance ritual wherein the children of the current Family Head must retrieve hidden objects from under water. The precise details vary from family to family and the objects they retrieve determine who shall inherit.
The Courtly Clanns of Baol
In the highlands of Baol, some clanns claim preeminence amongst the others based on descent from individuals who served as advisors, scholars, and generals in the Court of the Amber King and Queen. The other clanns each fall into the orbit of one of the Courtly Clanns, though the patterns of alliance and loyalty shift and change over time. The power and influence of these Clanns has declined as the wealth and power of the Guilds has grown in the lowlands. However, the Courtly Clanns stay firm in their traditional lands and traditional ways, faithfully awaiting the foretold return of the Amber Hall.
The Drakeblooded Houses
Every Drakeblooded can trace their lineage back to the dragons of old, and the Drakeblooded Houses keep careful family trees and hold tight to their traditional duties. Virtually every Drakeblooded is a member of one of the ancient houses, though there are a few individuals who are unfortunate enough to be unclaimed at birth or exiled later in life. Exiles are encouraged to allow their children to be adopted by members of their ancestral house in good standing and it is unusual for them to refuse. The Houses take their reputations very seriously and any scion of the house who is spending more reputation than they’re contributing won’t be left uncorrected for long.