Echoes of the North

I have stood on those niflon shores. I have stood in their silence - the silence of the Dead - and added my own, with only the whispering of the wind and crashing of the frozen waves daring to break it. It was there on those shores that I set your mother adrift, my child, as I have for my mother and father, and, hopefully, one day you shall for me. Wrapped in otter furs, I sent her to swim with the dead. And dead the sea truly is, for it bears the Cold, void of Heat. 

I have stood on those shores, and watched as barbed tentacles coiled around your mother cold, dragging her body under. I stood, and I smiled, for the gods had accepted her. 

Far to the North, past the lands of Berserker Kings, in the shadows of ruined towers once held by Ice Wizards, several barbarian tribes make the frozen wastes their homes. Life there is harsh and, more often than not, miserable. The ground is too hard for crops, the temperature too harsh to support them. Trees are rare. Most flora is moss, heath and lichen. Fauna must insulate themselves in thick furs or blubber. Those that live, anyway.

Culture amongst the tribes is fairly similar to one another, having been forged out of necessity for survival, and pivot around two spiritual points:
  • That which is Cold, is Dead
  • That which is Warm, is Alive
Unlike the beliefs held in the southern lands, that attempt to claim mystical beings and explanations, these beliefs are observable. Animals and people produce heat until felled, then they grow cold. This produces several implications:

The Sea Is Death
When one falls into the sea, submerged within the frozen waters, they too will die, least you dry them and encourage heat to return. Those that dwell within it, unless they bear the protection of fur, are dead. Fish, when drawn from the waters, are icy cold and therefore are dead. Otters, seals and the like have fur, and bear Warmth. Though the Cold will overwhelm them eventually.

The Gods are Dead
Lurking in the frozen waters are horrible things. Tentacled things. Things that once vomited forth the ambergris they carved humanity from. Things that now send their servants into the fishing nets, providing food. Things that whisper forgotten, dark secrets to witches in their dreams. Things that watch over the dead, sent back to the sea. Things cold. Things dead. Things that are gods.

Fire is Alive
How can it not be? Fire grows, fire moves, fire consumes, fire reproduces. Fire is warm. When fire grows cold, it dies. Just as all living things do. Families within the tribes keep fire, not just out of necessity, but as a pets, much how the southern folk keep hounds. When travelers go about, they carry with them a lantern lit from the hearth fire of home; a faithful travelling companion and helpful assistant on the road.

It Might Seem Like It, But Cooking is Not Necromancy
In order for life to continue, it must consume other life. This is why we hunt the animals of the land. The fish of the sea too we hunt, for we can briefly impose life upon it through the cooking arts. This life is a true one, however, it will soon fade should it now be consumed in time. Our methods defer from the lichcalling of the Old Kings, for their works bore no Warmth, and were but mockeries.

Notice that last line, did you?

The tribesmen hold a deep seated, ingrained hatred for most things magical - Sorcerers especially, given their nature. And for good reason. Their oral tradition (literacy is too close to magic) tells of a time when the Old Kings - the Ice Wizards - held sway over the land, and tormented the people in their cruel grasp. Some were forced to work, some experimented upon, some were made to fight as amusement. All were enslaved. The people toiled and the people died, however Death was not the release it is meant to be. The Old Kings, with their dark magics, invited the Cold into the bodies of the fallen, filled them with a false life and sent them forth once more, often to oppress and subjugate their former loved ones. These bodies knew not Warmth.

And so the people suffered for uncounted generations, until one man, Matthias the Flame, backed by three witches, took up arms and struck back against the Kings. The support of these witches, and the fact they speak to the Gods, as well as hold the oral traditions themselves, may explain why witches are uneasily accepted within the tribes. Well, tolerated. On the edges of settlements. It may also explain why witches are honored with wood, a rare and much needed necessity, enough so as to built their strange "chicken legged" huts.

A Northern Witches Hut

The barbarians themselves, though, are semi-nomadic. In the Months of Long Light (summer to you and me), they live in large, transportable tents, clad in hides and furs, following the herds of deer. In the Months of Dwindling Light, they return to their cities of half buried earthen long houses, and take to fishing as the herds fatten on the grasses left to wild. In the Months of Long Night, the herds are brought into the long houses, to share their warmth and milks.

Most barbarian equipment is made of bone and leather. Time honored traditions teach how to hone a bone to a fine edge, just as sharp as any metal blade found in the southernlands. An alchemical oil mixture, made by the witches, can be applied via soaking or rubbing to strengthen the bone to be just as hard. Though through far wandering and trading, metal equipment is not unheard of.  

So, why not leave these awful lands and head to the South, where the very land itself is alive? Simple, that land isn't theirs. The ancestors overthrew the Old Kings, and claimed the as their own. They then passed it down to the current generation. To abandon it would be to devalue the suffering of the ancestors.

Some of the modern youth, however, do take to exploring down in the Southernlands.