Horth as Sire
originally published on Themestream, Oct 2000
It is Saturday night, and barricaded in my husband's office from the children, I am on the phone to Alison in Ottawa deciding how Horth Nersal's genetics work for him as a sire.
Horth, of course, is a character from the saga, most famous to his creators for the statement, "But Erien, some people need killing." As the Liege of Nersal he heads one of Sevildom's most powerful families, survives the frequent challenges of fellow kinf'stan, and is Admiral of the notorious Nersallian Fleet. That's the one from which a young Erien gets discharged in our first (soon to be) published novel, Throne Price. Horth also has some interesting language problems, being violently spatial-dominant. And if you don't think that's interesting, try writing a character who talks as little as possible.
Tonight, Alison and I are discussing his procreative challenges.
Horth is 41% Vrellish and 7% Demish for an over all Sevolite inheritance of 48% by genotype. That just barely makes him a highborn, which we know him to be, of course, by phenotype. Assuming that highborn syndrome requires Sevolite dominance in most traits, Alison suspects Horth - like most Sevolites in the lowest rank of highborns - would be heterozygous for Sevolitism.
As anyone who has read the Vrellish essay on our web site knows, there is a high rate of failed conceptions at the highborn divide. A fetus with Sevolite dominance in all gene pairs key to highborn syndrome, will be born highborn. Ones with some but not all won't be viable, since traits which make a person highborn are interdependent. Some fetuses in the danger zone will be born safely nobleborn by doubling up their Sevolite inheritance in non-highborn syndrome areas. Most, however, will be non-viable mixes.
Add to this the fact that Vrellish women (Nersal is a Vrellish House) rarely conceive by a male less Sevolite than themselves, and you see the problem.
But this does not mean the Vrellish highborns - and Nersallian kinf'stan in particular - do not breed. They do, for all they're worth. Because highborns are the 'superweapons' of Okal Rel universe warfare. The best trick is to get hold of a much higher Sevolite - preferable a Pureblood who can't help but "breed true" since Sevolite traits are dominant. But phenotypic highborns can also breed among themselves by being lustier than the average human. In particular, as a male Liege of Nersal, Horth is expected to reward Nersallians he favors by child-gifting to them or their female relatives. The obligation is similar for a female liege, but she delegates most of the child gifting to close male relatives. Female Vrellish giving up their own babies for that purpose is rare. Vretla Vrel does it in Courtesan Prince, but that is a cross-house arrangement, by contract, powerfully motivated to repay the weakened house of Monitum, which mentored her court education.
Between Okal Rel, the first novel in which Horth is featured, and his devolution into - by Vrellish standards - the Demish sin of marriage near the series' end, he sires "hundreds" of children. I settled on the number as reasonable based on things I'd read about harems. There are a few thousand adult kinf'stan when Horth becomes liege, already one generation into a growth boom to recover from the losses of the Nesak War. Half of those would be female. Of these, a good third would be be disqualified by consanguinity. (Nersallians have enough Demish blood to keep better track than the Red Reachers!). And of those eligible, only some fraction would prove deserving during the decades concerned.
So, given a ball park of P = 1,500 to 3,000 adult kinf'stan at the start of the series, with about P/2 of them female, and (2/3)(P/2) eligible minus the undeserving, we could work backwards from a target of 150-300 viable conceptions, and a highborn Vrellish abstinence tolerance of under 72 hours - judging by Horth's problems with cultural adaptation on Rire in the novel-in-progress Far Arena - to deduce the fertility rate of kinf'stan women with their male peers.
When I find myself too gleefully indulging in such exercises, I remember that however much fun it is to manage populations, I really don't want to spend more time doing it than writing the stories. Good science fiction gains backbone by including decent science. But plots benefit from enough plausible fuzz not to be too constrained. So I'll stick to "lots of sex", "hundreds" of children and "thousands" of kinf'stan. Or, in other words, rough estimates.
Alison has also impressed upon me that genetics aren't as simple as the spreadsheet I use to calculate character inheritance, which simply halves each parent's percentages for each racial strain and adds the halves together in the children. Quirkish things can happen. And in the Okal Rel universe, so long as we keep writing, doubtless many will.