Skinchanger Kingdoms

Northlands Cover

Introduction

The North is a harsh land, save for the protected region called the Greensward. It is known for its barbarism, for the wild peoples that range across its chill steppes, and for the Changer peoples. The southrons are very rarely educated about the truth of the north, of course, and think all lands are equally as cold, wild, and free. They picture the north and imagine that every kingdom north of the Dragonbacks is crawling with the wily skinchangers. Nonsense, say I! The northlands cert are a wild, different bunch! Each kingdom has its own customs, each people its own ways. There are fewer barbarous tribes than men think, and fewer Skinchangers still!

Of course, the North is still home to such beasties as the pixies of the Barrowlands or the frost giants of the Barriers. Trade is slow and mostly follows the rivers, for roads are in ill repair or non-existent, and many Valelan lands never felt the civilizing graces of the Milean hands. But it is the North! A savage frontier against the Last River and the icelands beyond, and the brave can win themselves lands and love aplenty!

-Rejna Blackpen, Koraki Scribe

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History of the Changer Kingdoms

In the depths of time, during the Third Age, the giants of the north began to grow shorter in stature. Many of them wandered down from the mountains and out of their traditional kingdoms. Ever did they grow smaller until they were like tall men with pale hair and pale skin. In the Third Age it is said that the Valelans were troubled by a shape-changing creature, powerful and old; perhaps as old as the world itself. The legends tell of a group of heroes chosen from amongst the Valelan tribes who went to the frozen tundra to do battle with the beast. They hunted it for many weeks until at last they cornered it and, in a great battle they overcame it. Each hero took a portion of the fiend and ate it raw – thus where the Skinchangers born, for of its flesh they gained the powers to alter their shapes. Each piece of flesh granted a different form: there were men who could wear the coats of wolves, and others who could become bears, and those who were ravens or crows… And from the stock of these heroes the true-blood Skinchangers are still, to this day, born in the northlands.

These lines were the foundation of the four ancestral Valelan kingdoms of the north: Feironos, the land of the Bear-kings; Koranos, the land of the Raven-kings; Old Lykeiries, the land of the wolf-lords and Aedionos, the land of the boar-kings. These kingdoms were founded around III.1050 of the Pillar Age. While there are lands bearing similar names now in the north, they are surely nothing like the borders once represented by these four great powers.

What little we can learn of the changer kingdoms (for they were not literate) comes from the records of the dwarves who interacted with them. This includes the dwarves who live in the Elfslayer Range as well as those Blue Dwarves of the north who spend their lives on the sea. The Olfharrsaga is our best source of information: in IV.36 Ólvar Olfhárr Grimrsson sailed north from Harnholme with a small fleet of ships to explore the world. Some time around IV.49 he arrived in the changer kingdoms with a much reduced following and met with a bear-king that he named Bjarki. They exchanged tongues and the Blue Dwarves who followed Grimrsson fought in the conflicts of that age. In the Fifth Age, the edda was composed to honor him and his friendship with Bjarki – by that time, Feironos had adopted a hybrid Orthrian language known as Snallr, which soon spread to many regions of the north. In some places this displaced the native Ogaritic language, and in others it did not.

The saga of Olfhárr tells us many things about the north that we would otherwise never know. When Olfhárr landed in IV.49 there was a tense peace between the changer kingdoms. Each of the four great lands was ruled by one of the changer-families—the Feiros, the Korakos, the Lykos, and the Aedos. The “kingdoms” of that time were large expanses of land in which there dwelt a combination of wandering wood elf tribes, itinerant Valelan hunter-peoples, and small stationary communities of Valelans in stone-built houses.

These lands were hardly to be considered kingdoms at that time. They were in the thrall of the four great Changer families (though of course, the other Changers lived there as well; the Olfharrsaga also tells of the seawolves who raided Ólvar’s ships) who had built castles in the Milean style. They were also poised in rivalry: the Lykos and the Feiros being the most prominent, though each family mistrusted the other.

Ólvar Grimrsson landed in Feironos and befriended the king of the Feiros; he taught the bear-king to speak Orthr (which created the northern hybrid trade-tongue language that would eventually become Snallr) and called him Bjarki which means bear in dwarvish. Bjarki’s kingdom stretched from the Dun River to the Greatwater in the south. The Lykos lived in what is now the wild land, the eastern border of that kingdom abutting with the Barrowlands. The Koraki and Aedios shared the land southwest of the Dragonbacks.

Ólvar and his crew fought with the people of Bjarki against the wolf-men Lykos. In the following years, however, the peoples of the Northland began to chafe under their semi-magical rulers. In IV.213 a great rebellion erupted in Lykeiries and the wolf-kings were destroyed or driven from their castle. in VI.218 the last Korakos abandoned his palace and vanished into the wilderness. The Aedios were destroyed or sent into exile in a war with the Feiriean kingdom of Feironos until only the bear-kings remained.

By the Sixth Age, all but the last vestiges of the Feiros were driven from power. A strong dislike of skinchangers grew up under the memory of their rule. In VI.388 the last Feirian king was struck down in the name of the people by an adventurer called Andronus Swiftsword. From then on, the skinchanger lands dissolved into a bickering place of small valley-duchies and townships.

Today, in the Tenth Age, the changer kingdoms can be said to remain well within that paradigm. During the Seventh and Eighth Ages those lands were alternately in the holding of Essad, Soloth, or Caruel. Today, in X495, the “kingdoms” of the skinchanger north are hardly more than they were in VI.388; they are composed of warring principalities and are also shared with a number of semi-nomadic wood elves and completely nomadic Valelan tribesmen. The bonds of power in the north are very weak and often personal; kingdoms are generally based upon the charisma of one or two magnetic figures. Below follows a more in depth discussion of each of these lands and their peoples.

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The Valelans

The Valelans are a hard northern people who are originally descended from giants. In the earliest days of the gigantine empires the north was divided between the Cloud Giants of Alhame, the Fire Giants of Pernag, and the Frost Giants of the ridgelands. Scholars are uncertain of exactly when and how my people came to be, but it is clear from our stature and build (tall, broad of shoulder, tending towards flaxen hair and fair skin) that we must be related either to the Cloud or Frost giants that roamed the country in that time.

Valelans are a strong people, used to the killing colds of the northland winters. We wear mostly furs and leathers, even the least of farmers and trappers keeping some lesser furs to line their tunics and keep out the cold.

Homesteads tend to be far apart, with small townships being the norm rather than large cities. Lonesome farms and hunter’s lodges are far more common in the north than they are in the midlands. Commoners generally own large free farms at the edge of the wilderness and share communal town-property in a central location. Marketing occurs less often in the skinchanger kingdoms than it does in the midlands as there are few roads, and caravans are restricted to the main routes.

Heimir is one of our chief gods. You see him in the midlands as a happy drunk, but in the north he is life. Hospitality is the oldest and greatest rule of the north, and strangers often seek shelter from the winter storms.

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Knights and fighting in the North

In the skinchanger lands, we do not have mounted knights. For one, we lack the heavy warhorses of the south and for another the terrain is rocky and uneven. Knights fight on foot and use their mounts for transport. They rarely wear heavy armor but rather tend towards the simple expediency of a chain shirt.

Most people of the north prefer to fight with simple weaponry derived from things in common use: battle axes being the most prevalent. Of course, the northlander have also adapted blades to suit their large size. The most potent warriors of the north often wield large axes or two-handed swords (much in line with the great two-handed weapons used by the giants).

This, of course, brings us to the berserks. Originally bear-changer warriors, the practice of berserking has spread to many of the changer lands. Berserks still wear bear-skin cloaks and often bear-head helms as well. They are known for their potent battle-fury, which they build up over the course of several minutes. When they achieved this state of rage they shiver and shake, tremble, mutter, shriek, and scream. They are said to be gods-touched and can shrug off many fell wounds before they fall. They are counted mad or amongst a special number by most Valelans, and are not to be trifled with.

While there is a similar tradition amongst the orcs of the mountains, this can be attributed to the influence of Ashad whereas the berserks count themselves the blessed of Tallial, the Herald of Battle, who grants them the strength and might to overcome their foes in the battle rage.

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Slavery

The Valelans keep no slaves, nor suffer slaves to be kept. They have been taken as slaves for centuries by the Essadi of Soloth, Caruel, and Essad itself. Slavers found in most Valelan lands will be killed on sight and their cargoes freed. For too long the northerners have been prey to the greed and depravity of the southern slave trade. There is no such thing as slavery in the skinchanger kingdoms, and those slaves who find their way over the northern border are free men in the eyes of the north.

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Skinchanger Lands

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Geography of the Northlands

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Skinchanger Kingdoms

Abridged History of the 10th Age Idabrius