Fastheldian society is feudal, characterized by a well-defined class structure. Crossing from one social class to another is in many cases, impossible, and for the rest, fairly difficult. The classes are as follows, from most powerful to least powerful: Royal, Noble, Merchant, Freelander, Vassal, and Peasant.
Royal: Royals are defined in three ways. First, by one's proximity to the Emperor. The Emperor and Empress' close family are considered royalty by their relation. Members of the Imperial Council are considered royalty for their elevated status. Immediate family of Imperial Council members are also considered to be royalty. A noble can only be elevated to royal status by marrying a member of the Emperor's family, becoming a member of the Imperial Council, or marrying a member of the same. The royalty's job is at once simple and complex: they must lead the nobility and by proxy, all of Fastheld. This requires strict adherance to social code. There are rarely more than three dozen royals in Fastheld at any point in time.
Noble: Nobles are defined very simply: those whose mother and father were both nobility. Their role is to rule and manage the land and people of Fastheld. This is a very refined art, requiring proper adherance to rules and regulations. Marriages are often arranged, and women are held to a much higher standard than they are in the lower classes. There are around three to five thousand nobles in Fastheld.
Merchant: Merchants are defined as those who belong to one of Fastheld's recognized guilds and have citizenship papers, but do not have noble or royal title. While having no real advantage over freelanders, they are often elevated for their crown-protected status as crafters of the realm. They make up part of the middle class, the Freelanders making up the larger portion, and are not directly subject to noble rule. There are approximately twenty thousand merchants in Fastheld.
Freelander: Freelanders are defined as those who are registered as citizens, but not members of a guild or subject to a noble. One becomes a Freelander either by being a vassal who has fulfilled his or her terms of vassaldom, or by having a freelander mother. They make up the bulk of the middle class, not being directly subject to noble rule. Societal rules for this class are the most relaxed of any, with women seen almost as equals to men. They are the second-most populous class, behind vassals, at about sixty to seventy thousand strong.
Vassal: Vassals are defined in two ways. The first way is by blood, in that one's mother was a vassal. The second are those peasants who were elevated by a higher class into citizenship in exchange for indentured servitude. Either way, vassals are indentured servants under a royal, noble, merchant or freelander, attempting to work off the investor's investment in their citizenship. Occasionally this manifests as labor for a certain number of years, but most often, it involves the acquisition of an extremely large sum of money (few terms of vassaldom are below fifty thousand Imperials, and many are over 100,000). These large debts often require vassals to subject their children to vassaldom under the same terms, sometimes passing family fortunes for four or more generations before one great-great grandson is able to buy his freedom. This works out well for the investor, giving them a cheap laborforce for a long time to come. Vassals are subject to rules of the investor who owns their contract, and this contract can be bought and sold as a commodity between parties. Almost all landed nobles have at least half a dozen vassals under their employ, and many employ hundreds. Vassals are the most populous class in Fastheld, at over 150,000 strong.
Peasant: Peasants are defined as those without citizenship papers. One becomes a peasant one of three ways. The first is by blood, in that one's mother was a peasant. The second is to be stripped of title, often as a result of grave misdeeds by nobility. The third is to take up exile in the Shadow District, also usually because of grave misdeeds. Because of the peasant's lack of citizenship, they have no rights under Fastheld law. This has led most to band together in the Shadow District. While many work trades in hopes of being raised into vassaldom, the majority tend to dip heavily into darker trades. Though having extremely difficult lives, the peasant class hovers at about fifty thousand.