Tribes

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The four tribes of Dun Artan make up some 8,000 or more individuals, and their culture is in many ways distinguishable from that of the rest of the barony's citizens.

Faith

For many of the clansmen of the barony, faith is far more a matter of respecting and living up to (or surpassing) the examples set by one's ancestors - of striving to live and die honorably - than it is anything to do with service to some higher power. A variety of rituals are intended to acknowledge and propitiate forebears, spirits of battle, adjudicators of vengeance, and manifestations of land and beast - but these are usually seen rather more as matters of respect and honor than of religious service.

One theme common to almost all clans is that it is better by far for a warrior to die with weapon in hand than to pass out of this life unarmed. Though this is often seen by outsiders as a compulsion to die violently, it in fact tends to have more to do with being prepared for whatever might come next - far better to die ready to face whatever will be required of you than to slip empty-handed into the unknown. Other professions will also often try to die with the tools of their trade in their grasp, but it is on the battlefield that the tradition is most noticeable: a common mark of respect involves placing a weapon in the hand of a dying warrior, while a hated foe might deliberately have his blade taken from him before death.

Recent generations have seen the emergence of a loose movement of clan heads and loresingers promoting the concept of a unity of culture and faith. Arguing that honor only makes full sense if it is ultimately dedicated to the service of the Keeper, these leaders have sought to make faith the foundation upon which a renewed unity of purpose might emerge among the clans. Given the disparity of traditions that have evolved among the members of the non-Barca culture, there is little prospect of this turning into a formal religious movement - but it has helped to raise awareness of an alternative to both constant feuding and the adoption of the Barca way of life.

Honor

Where the faction that gave rise to the Barca dukes saw the path to success (in service to the Keeper and in military matters in general) in the application of a strict hierarchy, rigid discipline, and unquestioning obedience to superiors, the tribes and clans clung to an alternative set of ideals. To those opposing the Barca, honor was certainly not something bestowed by those further up the hierarchy in recognition for duties fulfilled and orders completed.

For the self-professed adherents of "the old ways", honor is instead an internal matter of personal responsibility. Orders from another provide no excuse for undertaking a dishonorable action: to refuse responsibility for one's deeds is to refuse responsibility for one's soul. Seeking to become a mere extension of another's will is either to become less than human - or to seek to elevate another human above the ranks of mortality. Blind adherence to orders without question is innately dishonorable and potentially even soul-destroying.

Indeed, the aversion to being bound to another's will is such that the swearing of oaths is of immense importance. To force a man to give a binding promise is to require him to place a marker on his soul. Some treat this lightly, of course - every society has its born liars and rogues - but to oath-bind oneself to a particular course of action or to a specific leader is something that few will do lightly.

Loyal service can and should be given to those who deserve it: but such loyalty is almost always conditional. Should the leader fail to live up to the ideals he purports to espouse, the loyalty of his warriors can - perhaps should - lapse. After all, serving a master who has proved himself to be false would in itself endanger the warriors' own honor. The same is thought to apply to clan heads, warleaders, great lords, the baron and even the Duke. Only the Keeper - divinely endowed to defend all existence from the eternal dark - might be considered immune to this conditional approach to loyalty... and even so, many followers of the old ways would readily enough interpret his orders "creatively" if they felt that they could achieve a better result through their own methods than the ones prescribed.

This helps to contribute to a fractious, superficially chaotic approach to debate and society as a whole, with clansmen notoriously disinclined to adhere to courtly etiquette when dealing with those whose reputations they do not know (or do not respect). But it also helps to create an environment in which ideas are discussed freely, initiative is often rewarded, and even a failed attempt to help the clan might win acclaim if it was imaginatively and honestly undertaken.

Law

The same sort of approach is often seen in succession and inheritance: where most of the Empire firmly follows primogeniture - with the eldest child (or son) inheriting - many of the clans tend to take the most competent close relative as the next heir. This often causes leadership to bounce back and forth between branches of a family. In theory, this ensures that regencies are rare and leadership is always strong - but in practice, intra-familial disputes can turn violent, sometimes even leading to an outright split in a clan as contending factions back different candidates and neither side can overcome the other.

The recognition of an individual's honor is also vital to the society of the clans. Jury trials - in which a reputable body of the accused's peers judge his guilt - are common, though trials by ordeal are also sometimes used in certain cases, and trial by combat is a common appeal of last resort. Precise laws for such things tend to vary from one clan to another, though punishments tend to be visible. A minor crime might be punished by labor on behalf of the clan. More serious offenses might require a period of indenture to the clan or the victim. Others might result in permanent marks that will forever announce the offender's guilt to all who see him. Death is rarer than might be expected as a punishment, since it removes all chance of the offender redeeming his honor and increases the risk of blood feud.

Where deaths do occur outside the actions of the courts, weregild - blood money - is often an acceptable alternative to pursuit of a feud, with payment formally preventing any further legal or moral claims. Sadly, this well-intentioned system has a reputation for being abused by wealthy individuals to quite literally get away with murder, while it can also be used by the powerful to extort money from the weak even where guilt has not been proved.

Reputation

As a product of their oral culture and obsession with honor, the followers of the old ways can at times seem obsessed with reputation. Since it is impossible for anyone to have direct knowledge of the deeds and worth of everyone they meet, close attention tends to be paid to whatever might be said regarding other clans, families, and individuals.

For someone's personal name to be known is a mark of prestige in itself - and can lead some celebrity-seeking criminals to deliberately cultivate an aura of fear and barbarity. For most people, however, the desire is to be known for one's professional skill, for honesty, and for loyalty. Generosity, firm but fair judgment, and a talent for command are also suitable attributes for leaders.

The result tends to be that individuals are often judged as representatives of their entire family or clan, for good or ill. Pre-existing expectations of hostility, competence, or friendship will often be applied to strangers, while any actions that break the stereotype will be carefully noted. As might be expected, good reputations are all too easy to spoil, while bad ones can be all but impossible to improve - two factors which contribute greatly to the culture of feud and grudge-bearing.

Military Matters

Those potent fortresses have contributed greatly to the indecisive nature of most warfare within the barony. Serving as granaries and central storehouses for the families associated with them, the many holdfasts and castles are immune to all but the strongest of attacks. The land is too large and the people too few to guard everywhere, leaving openings aplenty for small raids - but outright conquest requires either treachery from within, or a well-supplied army able to spend months or years in the field.

This state of affairs has a mutually reinforcing influence on the nature of military organization in Dun Artan. Almost every able-bodied adult is expected to know how to handle a weapon, though few can afford to maintain and keep fine war-gear in the harsh, wet climate. Most will bring to battle no more than a shield and sword or spear, with leather far more common as armor than mail. For herding cattle across hillside and through mountain vale, heavy battle-gear would be overly cumbersome. Indeed, the rugged little mountain horses are superb for this sort of work, however little they might offer in a pitched battle.

Grand battles, however, are dominated by the professional troops maintained by lords and clans. Employed to do little more than hunt, fight, and represent their masters throughout their jurisdictions, they tend to be recruited from among the finest and best-equipped combatants willing to commit to service - and are then required to maintain and hone their skills or lose their posts. Clad in mail hauberks and metal helms, many serve as highly-disciplined troops used to fighting in shield-walls, but the most famous among them specialize in the two-handed broad axe.

A fearsome weapon with a reach greater than any sword, the broad-axe can smash bones through mail with a glancing blow or shatter a man's arm through a shield, while those without the benefit of such protection often suffer messier fates. But the very nature of the weapon ensures that anyone wielding it cannot fight as part of a close line, and will instead have no friend within yards of him. It also requires the blade to be kept in constant motion, preferably to launch an unremitting assault on the enemy lest he manage to slip inside its reach and strike an effective counter-blow against its unshielded wielder.

The use of the broad axe is a highly visible demonstration of the difference between the two martial cultures on Guardian. Where the legions teach men to fight in close order and depend absolutely on each other, the wielder of a long-handled axe cannot get close to his friends without risking their lives, and instead must shatter the enemy's resistance before he himself tires. He will often fight, with the aid of a few others of his kind, in advance of the rest of his allies - taking on himself the responsibility of breaking the strength of the enemy before either retiring behind his own lines to rest, or leading his comrades in sweeping them from the field. Suicidally dangerous though this role might seem, the broad-axe wielders are often envied as much as they are feared by the locals.

Also feared are the fabled berserkers of Dun Artan. While many so-called berserkers are simply huscarls or other impassioned warriors fighting in a manner that seems inexplicable to legionaires, others do truly seem to wholly lose themselves in battle, entering a frenzied state in which they wholly forget petty concerns regarding their own life. Such a gift - or curse - often seems to run in bloodlines, and at least one recent ruler of Rayder Pass (Mildryth Lachlan) was reputed to be of berserker heritage.

Oral Traditions

Home to a wet environment and few large settlements, Dun Artan has never had an especially vibrant written culture. Literacy is important for the maintenance of records but little else. Instead, the clans and tribes maintain a predominantly oral and visual culture. Complementing the array of tangible and visible crafts mentioned above, the histories and legends of their people are preserved and spread throughout the land by loresingers and taletellers.

Divided though they are into their many clans and tribes, the natives of Dun Artan are aware that they share a common culture - and furthermore, that they have cousins in the fens and marshes of Trebachas. The most noticeable demonstration and reminder of this is provided by those traveling performers who move from holdfast to castle to town, carrying with them works old and new, spreading the lore of heroes and villains of past and present. Usually recognized as neutral parties, they are also used extensively as spies and informants, though many see their calling as a noble one that elevates them above the rivalries of clan and lord.

Material Arts

Though the residents of Dun Artan might seem as savage and harsh as their homeland, both have unexpected depths and beauties to offer. Though books and scrolls are rarer here than anywhere else in the Empire, the locals have a centuries-old tradition of decorative art. Animal and abstract motifs are found worked into leather, carved into wood, embossed on metal, and woven into tapestries and clothing. As everywhere, the poor dress simply and with an eye to warmth and practicality rather than any notion of fashion, but the attire of the wealthy and artistic have often had as much craft put into them as have the silks and velvets found at more conventional courts.

For many clans, the images used have particular resonances, and are intended to convey messages just as clearly as might a written declaration to a more literate culture. Wildcats, ospreys, mountain lions, wolves, hounds, bears, beavers, otters, eagles, martens, hares and the many other natural residents of Dun Artan all serve symbolic and practical roles in the lives of the humans who hunt, watch, and study them. Mythological and legendary beings and creatures also have their roles, with an array of demonic and angelic entities featuring in local tales, alongside various grim manifestations of destiny, doom, and fate.

That grimness might most obviously be seen in the grand structures erected across Dun Artan. Where similar cultures elsewhere might have been restricted to wooden halls and palisades, the clans of Dun Artan have an abundance of stonemasons and a comparative scarcity of old-growth trees. Stone watch towers guard many valleys, perched atop commanding heights. Great castles and fortresses are scattered throughout the lands of all the clans, the stone-working experts among the locals having had centuries in which to construct defensible homes and clear statements of land-ownership. Often perched atop sharp drops or set on islets in the midst of water and made of the bones of the mountains - the region's own black granite - they tend to be imposing, fearsome edifices decorated with gargoyle rain-spouts.

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