When writing a fantasy novel, the story’s world-building is just as important as the characters you’re creating. I’ve shared bits of the world for my WIP The Keeper’s Curse before; and one detail that’s piqued readers’ interests is the kagende (plural: kagenden), the dwelling that TKC’s Fei race lives in. In fact, two readers in particular (and they know who they are *winks*) asked if I’d write a post about it.
Today, I’m excited (and stomach-turned-upside-down terrified) to share with you what a kagende is! I’ll discuss how I came up with the idea, how this dwelling is structured, and what kinds of rooms you’ll find. I’ve also created a couple collages to help you imagine what a kagende looks like. Ready?
What Is a Kagende? What Inspired This Idea?
In the Fei language invented for TKC, kagende (pronounced “kah-GAYN-day”) roughly translates as “split dwelling.” It’s the most common type of house that’s found in the Fei forest of Kasialonen, and consists of two levels: one underground, and the other in the tree branches.
During the initial world-building stage, one of the first things I worked on was the Fei’s culture. I wanted to understand their way of life as fully as I could, since they’re the story’s “focal” races. So, as I brainstormed the dwellings they live in, I considered these previously established points:
- TKC takes place on a fictional continent during its equivalent of medieval times (similar to Middle-Earth, Narnia, and Westeros).
- The Fei are a life-size humanoid race with magic and wings, both of which give them the ability to fly.
- The Fei live in a primarily deciduous forest called Kasialonen, which means “home forest.”
- The Fei practice a nature-centric religion that’s similar to Native American nature worship. This belief system also dictates other aspects of their daily lives, from the food they eat to their occupations.
- Most of the Fei live simply, and are not extravagant with belongings or furniture.
As a result, the Fei’s homes would need to incorporate these criteria. Shortly after that came the “treehouse” idea, tempered with a good deal of logic. (Trees can only be so large and sturdy when fairies are the same size as you and me!) I later decided to have an underground level as well, and placed rooms depending on where they made the most sense. I also invented a species of deciduous hardwood tree – the iroad – that would be strong and tall enough (though not quite Sequoia / redwood tall) to withstand and support the treetop level.
So, where in the kagende do the Fei sleep? Where do they eat? Or entertain “earthbound” guests? Perhaps the most sensible place to start is at the top.
The Treetop Level
As I said before, you might need your imagination to get an idea of what a kagende‘s treetop level looks like. However, the following images (found via Pinterest, and credited as shown) should give you an idea of the overall vision.
Basically, a kagende‘s treetop level circles the trunk of a grown iroad tree, with the top of the roof reaching the first fork of branches. (Given how tall iroad trees grow, it’s pretty high up!) The structure is made entirely of wood (both floor and siding / walls) with a thatched roof. It contains four rooms that are used as bedrooms, one for the parents and the rest for children. If a Fei family has only one or two children, the spare bedroom can be used as an “upstairs” sitting room.
What happens if a Fei family has more children than treetop rooms? Since the treetop rooms are small, the fledglings would have to sleep underground or “spill over” into a second tree. Nevertheless, sensible living space is one of the reasons why the Fei tend to have small families.
And what would a Feiri’s bedroom look like? Something like the above collage. The Feiri would sleep in a hammock, with a woven blanket and a hand-made goose-down pillow. His room would also hold a simple writing desk and stool, a trunk and/or shelves for clothes and other belongings, and maybe a scroll painting or other artwork on the walls.
A Feiri’s bedroom also has one window to the outside, with a side-swept curtain of a thick, solid-colored fabric. This window is fairly large, since the Feiri would use it as his way of entering and exiting the room. (The treetop level isn’t large enough for a hallway or corridor that connects the bedrooms.)
The Underground Level
If the treetop level of a kagende is a Fei family’s “resting space,” then the underground level is the “eating space.” Again, you’ll have to use your imagination and combine elements of the collage below, but this should give you an idea of what the underground level looks like.
To enter a kagende‘s underground level, you’ll have to wait for the Fei family to unlock the trap door in the ground. Then it’s a quick trip down a ladder into the main living area, which combines the kitchen, dining room, and sitting room in one big space. There’s also a separate pantry / storage room for herbs, produce, dried meats, cheese, and firewood.
The underground level resembles a small cave. It’s dug into the ground, so it’s cozy, naturally “climate controlled” (warm in the winter, and cool in the summer), and dark. The only light would come from a fire in the hearth (which sits under an earth-sculpted chimney that vents the smoke out of a circular, rock “smokestack” outside), candles, or spell-lit lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Most of the food preparation and cooking is done at the hearth; and furniture such as tables, stools, and chairs are made of wood or, in rare cases, stone.
Why have an underground level if the Fei can fly? First, the underground rooms reflect the Fei’s nature faith, and pay tribute to the fact that most life begins below the earth’s surface. Second, the Fei have strong friendships and alliances with Humans, and having rooms underground allows the Fei to feed, entertain, and shelter their “earthbound” guests. Plus, the treetop levels don’t have the sleeping space to accommodate visitors – and even if such space was possible, it would be rather high up to climb!
What Else Can You Find (Or Not) at a Kagende?
- Many Fei grow fruit trees and/or herb and vegetable gardens outside. Most of their produce is meant for eating or healing / medicinal purposes, but farmers also sell their crops at local markets.
- Stables are commonly found outside a family’s kagenden. The Fei often keep horses for pets or the sport of riding, and as reminders of their spiritual connections with Tovana (i.e., Mother Nature) and her animals. These stables can also serve as a roost for a Fei family’s messenger birds.
- Latrines are dug into the ground for human waste disposal, at a safe distance away from water sources and kagenden. Bathing as well as clothes- and food-washing is done at local rivers and streams.
- Spare rooms in the treetop level can be used as small studies for keeping books, journals, and scrolls. However, Fei with “scholarly” occupations such as teaching, writing, translating, and name-giving often keep written texts at their separate workplace (i.e., guild rooms) or their local school’s library.
It’s also important to note that most Fei shops, businesses, and schools are NOT built in the same manner as kagende homes. These structures are typically above ground and resemble buildings that we know best as log cabins, cob houses, or (in rare cases) clay and earth-brick or stone. For example, the Rakmetha (the royal family’s palace) looks a lot like a typical stone castle, with a few exceptions as explained here.
So, what do you think of a Fei kagende? Does this sound like a realistic dwelling? Or have I missed something important? Any questions or comments about logistics are always welcome. I want to ensure that TKC’s world-building makes sense; and now, while I’m still revising / editing the novel, is the time to catch those errors.