What Is a “Kagende”? (A #TheKeepersCurse World-Building Post)

Kagende banner

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.

CREDITS (clockwise, from top left): Travel Life & Gadgets, Devon CadyLee @ DeviantArt, eHow, Eda Sey, fantasía azul bordo, and Lush Home

CREDITS (clockwise, from top left): Travel Life & Gadgets, Devon CadyLee @ DeviantArt, eHow, Eda Sey, fantasía azul bordo, and Lush Home

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.

CREDITS (clockwise, from top left): Detail Collective, ThatBohemianGirl, Blog Terre d'ylang Deco, Erica Chan / Honestly WTF, and ClipZine.me

CREDITS (clockwise, from top left): Detail Collective, ThatBohemianGirl, Blog Terre d’ylang Deco, Erica Chan / Honestly WTF, and ClipZine.me

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.

CREDITS (clockwise, from top left): Richard Croft @ Geograph, aquieterstorm @ Tumblr, Várzea da Gonçala @ TripAdvisor, MessyNessyChic, Daily Medieval, and Candida Ange Almeida @ GoZettaDecor

CREDITS (clockwise, from top left): Richard Croft @ Geograph, aquieterstorm @ Tumblr, Várzea da Gonçala @ TripAdvisor, MessyNessyChic, Daily Medieval, and Candida Ange Almeida @ GoZettaDecor

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.

34 thoughts on “What Is a “Kagende”? (A #TheKeepersCurse World-Building Post)

  1. As ever, beautifully thorough, Sara. What a lovely selection of pictures you’ve found:). I tend to draw myself rough sketches to denote where rooms are in houses/space ships etc, so I don’t make fundamental mistakes like having people turning left when they should turn right… Do you do something similar?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sarah! Do the dwellings sound realistic, though? Did they make sense to you from a reader’s world-building perspective? That’s the one thing I really want to make sure of.

      I haven’t done any sketches, to be honest. (Though I’ve been meaning to do a rough, simple sketch of the Council’s meeting table, just to remember who sits where, who’s directly across from this character, etc.) I think it’s partly because I’m such a perfectionist and am NEVER happy with how my sketches look, even if they’re accurate. :S

      But you’re right, though. Doing basic sketches of our story’s locations can help us keep those logistics clear and consistent in our stories.


    • Thanks, Mogsy! 😀 There were quite a few other cool images (both artwork and photos) on Pinterest when I was looking up treehouses and such. It’s amazing what people think of for dwellings, isn’t it?


  2. That’s a really complex system! I really like it, and building the collages helped make it feel more tangible. 🙂 I’m going to have to dust off my Pinterest and try and do that for my own writing. I like the underground levels. And if your trees are in any way similar to redwood, the trees in one area would all be “sisters”…. since redwoods share root systems. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Alex! I was hoping the collages would help give people a better idea of what I was seeing in my head, so I’m glad that they did that for you.

      Really? I didn’t know that about redwoods. I think I was focusing on what was aboveground, and not below! (*Googles redwoods out of curiosity*)


  3. Ooo! This is really cool! I love the incorporation of Native American culture. You put so much thought into this. This reminds me of the Swiss Family Robinson house at Disney world. I so loved that place when I went there as a kid. I have a thing for treehouses. XD


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Tori! 😀 It’s funny, because I hadn’t intended on basing the Fei on Native Americans. It just happened that way, based on the ideas I had. And I never noticed it until another friend of mine made the comment. After that, if I’ve found some Native American cultural bits that also fit the Fei’s, I’ve made it part of the world-building. 🙂

      I remember Swiss Family Robinson! It’s been years since I last went to Disney, but I do remember that ride.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love your ideas here. And the images are giving me a beautiful idea of what the kagende would look like. All of what you described about them makes sense to me. But I do have one question: why are the shops etc built differently?


    • Thanks, Phoenix! I’m glad everyone has found the collages so helpful. 🙂 *is eternally thankful for Pinterest and PicMonkey*

      I “grounded” the shops and businesses for practicality reasons. If the shop owners need to chop wood, make a fire, or get water for some reason, it would be easier to take care of those items on the ground, rather than carrying or doing them in a treetop level. Plus, the idea of starting a fire in the treetop level would make the Fei nervous…. And lastly, the shop owners / craftspeople / etc. would want to keep their goods and work activities all on one level, to better ensure that no one is stealing their goods.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Love this, Sara! It’s fascinating to discover more about your world. These little dwellings have quite a whimsical look to them ❤ I love the idea of using the photos to really bring the images to life!
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow! You leave me stunned at the depth and detail of your worldbuilding. I recall you do the freewriting for is and I can clearly see the benefits it brings.
    I like the idea of splitting the kagende in two, especially in the medieval setting, where fire is used for cooking and heating (and it could be tricky on a treetop).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Joanna! 🙂 I’m just glad that people like the idea and think it’s plausible.

      The free-writing really does help. Sometimes it leads me to researching certain things to ensure the accuracy or “realism” of what I’m thinking of. Other times, it leads to other angles I hadn’t thought of before. It’s almost like world-building is a never-ending dominoes line of “what if” questions.

      “… where fire is used for cooking and heating (and it could be tricky on a treetop).”

      I think it might be a lot worse than tricky. The treetop levels would likely catch on fire! :S

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, I can think of many solutions to the problem, from magical protection to flame-resistant stones… As I thought about it, my brain already conjured the need for maintenance people, etc. You’re right, it’s a never ending puzzle made of “what-if” pieces. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • “Oh, I can think of many solutions to the problem, from magical protection to flame-resistant stones… ”

        Neither of which exist in TKC’s story world, thanks to the limits I placed on the Fei’s magic system. XD 😉


  7. I’m glad we finally get to visualize the kagende more. This is a great post, Sara! Beautiful collages you put together; it really helps me to imagine what they would be like. I can’t think of any questions at the moment; you covered just about everything. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I can so see this in my mind! It sounds cute and cozy… I’d love to go in one of these houses. ^_^

    The only thing that somewhat doesn’t make sense to me is… *awkward cough* If their dwellings are this sophisticated, wouldn’t they have a liiiitle bit more of an advanced system for dealing with waste? Outhouses, at least, or something similar? I also don’t feel like they would bathe/drink AND dump waste in the same stream. O.o Maybe I’m just misunderstanding. XD

    Liked by 1 person

    • You made a very good point there, Brianna… I just Googled a couple things, including how Native Americans dealt with human waste – and how they knew better than to bathe or drink from the same rivers where they disposed of their waste. *oops*

      Since this is medieval / long-ago times, the best way to deal with that issue would be latrines dug into the earth, at some distance from water sources and the “kagenden.” And knowing how resourceful they were, they probably found a way to (*ahem*) use their waste as fertilizer. (Well, the Aztecs did!)

      This is exactly why I was sharing this world-building aspect of TKC: I wanted to see if there was something I had overlooked. And now that I know I have, I can fix it. So, don’t worry about it being an awkward subject. It’s really important to consider, because their health would be at risk otherwise!

      Thanks again, Brianna, and I’m glad you enjoyed this post. 🙂


      • I love worldbuilding so much… even delving into details like these!! xD You’ve got me thinking. Maybe I should do things like this more often – sharing details of my world – because I’m sure I’ve overlooked things, too. Some of my beta readers have definitely noticed little problems in my world I’ve been having to fix. >_>

        Well, now we’ve saved the Fei from certain diseases. Hurrah! #SaveTheFei! ;D

        Liked by 2 people

      • I love reading about world-building, too – not just tips and questions we should consider, but what other writers do for their worlds. If you ever post anything about Emergence’s world, I’d be thrilled to read it and let you know what I think. 🙂

        “Well, now we’ve saved the Fei from certain diseases. Hurrah! #SaveTheFei! ;D”

        XD XD XD So now that you’ve hashtagged it, does that mean it’s officially a thing?

        Liked by 2 people

  9. I’ll jump on the #SavetheFei bandwagon 😛

    But seriously, waste disposal and sanitation systems are fascinating (I know – I’m weird), and I find it interesting how the cultural differences played out through modern times.

    Ahem – as for the Kagende, can I move in now?

    I love this post – it just shows how much thought and effort/study you put into your worldbuilding, which is fabulous. Isn’t Pinterest the best? It’s where I find 90% of the images I use, or at least links for them. It really helps with the visualizing when worldbuilding.

    I second the sketch idea – I’m a perfectionist too, and I’d never want to share my sketches, but for personal use, it is so valuable to have maps and floorplans of important locations. For the first series I completed drafting (sci-fantasy), I drew star maps, planet maps, and then maps of important locations, and then finally burned myself out! So I’m not really advocating that – but it DOES help you keep things straight in your mind, and take some stress out of editing later 😉

    ❤ RH

    Liked by 1 person

    • You have no idea how happy I am that you enjoyed this post, Rebekah. 😀 Thanks so much!

      So, #SaveTheFei really is a thing now, huh? XD I love it.

      It’s funny – after Brianna had mentioned the sanitation bit, I did a little research on how native peoples like Native Americans, Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs took care of that. (And edited the post accordingly, too. *blushes*) But did you know that the Aztecs built outhouses over rivers and send their “contents” down a river to their equivalent of a waste treatment plant, where the “contents” were sterilized via fire and then used as fertilizer?


  10. Whoa, that sounds really cool, and a lot more interesting for a fairy than human-buildings. I like that the rooms at the top are mostly just for the family itself—that kind of leads to more privacy, right? So what kinds of things do they have in the rooms? Is it, like, just a bed, or anything else as well…? And what kinds of beds do they sleep in?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Morgan! Yes, it does lend to more privacy for the family members, especially since the rooms are closed off from one another. (They can access each other’s rooms by flying from window to window.)

      As for beds, furniture, and other bedroom contents, I wrote about that in the last two paragraphs of the treetop section, underneath the bedroom image collage.


  11. Pingback: Chronicling The Craft: On Beta-Readings, New Writing Projects, and the Future of This Series | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

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