Dynahyre is a bleak land covered with rocky badlands, black pine forests and deep chasms, along with vast plains of waist-high grass, crushing glaciers and rivers carrying ice floes to the sea. Its people are a rough sort, often crude yet efficient, ruthless in their endeavors, versatile and cunning.
*Gates of Winter
Standing stones at the very edge of the eternal northern ice, the Gates of Winter were carved by builders unknown, long before Dynahyrans set foot in these lands. Though seemingly but a stone gate in the middle of nowhere, icy winds begin to blow from between the monolithic pillars to herald the onslaught of winter. If you listen attentively, you can hear a haunting tune on the wind, the same song that resonates within glaciers as they march southward.
*The Hall of War
In the heart of one of the few stone fortresses of the realm lies a cavernous chamber with excellent acoustic properties. As the winter begins losing its grip, chieftains, mercenary leaders and warriors hungry for plunder and glory gather. Audacious leaders present their plans of raids and expeditions, eager to gain men for their cause. The gathering is a complex affair, with leaders competing for warriors, but also fighters vying to be taken along on expeditions that are likely to return triumphant. The most renowned captains can take their pick of the assembled men. The whole gathering is accompanied by contests of prowess, shows of skill and what may very well amount to bragging competitions, as men lay down proofs of their exploits.
*The Lone Meadhall
On the border between Lyra, Lyndhyre and Dynahyre, there lies an inn, somewhat akin to a small fort. No city is in sight, the roads meeting in front of its gate are only half recognisable, and its surroundings amount to dangerous wilderness. Still, the inn is always alive with laughter, song or the occasional brawl. By some strange twist of fate, adventurers, heroes, princesses that lost their kingdoms, villains down on their luck, and many more find their way to the Meadhall someday. Suffice to say, the inn is a stepping stone to adventure, but you should be wary of offending any of the patrons. They may be made of far tougher stuff than you.
The Illoven are the remnants of the Elven kingdom of Vascaron, chased to the north by the demon rampage in days of yore. Even before the Dynahyrans, these lands were feral. To survive, the Elves hid, building their abodes in inaccessible locales, and laying spell upon spell, until their tracks were no more.
Deliberately, they weave an enigma around their very existence, so that neither the Dynahyran tribes nor the neighbouring Lyrans are aware of living next to several Elven city-states. When they have to make an appearance, they conceal their nature, having taken up the guise of winter wraiths that deliver dire warnings, or confound would-be explorers with their words.
A Dwarven hold has survived all hardships and assaults, and retained its sovereignty in the midst of Dynahyre, defying the human king and his tribes. Its populace is militaristic and pragmatic, and ruthless in their dealings with the Dynahyran tribes, retaliating against every slight, assault and siege a hundredfold.
Most of the tribes give the hold a wide berth. The dwarves meanwhile delve ever deeper and invent contraptions to lay waste to their enemies. Taciturn and stubborn even by dwarven standards, Kahorr dwarves care little for commerce, and even less for visitors. If the have managed to survive unaided for two thousand years, they'll manage well on their own now, thank you.
Ogres and trolls: 10%
Mixed heritage (half-orcs, half-ogres, etc.): 10%
*Family: relatives band into large multi-generational extended family groups – thus several single families live together with their children, as well as the grandparents, unmarried uncles and siblings, the group being better able to care for its members if a mishap should befall someone in their harsh surroundings.
*Marriage and Divorce: if a man wants to marry his chosen one, he has to haggle with her father or oldest brother if her father is dead, and purchase her, paying with horses, cattle, slaves or other goods. A man with sufficient wealth can easily purchase several women, though many a daughter of a powerful family or an especially gifted girl may be beyond the means of an ordinary man.
Divorce, though technically impossible, is easy: the man simply has to sell his woman to another man, or sell her into slavery, though he’s walking on thin ice if doing so – if the woman is sold too cheaply or as a slave, her family might take offense. Adultery is unacceptable – if caught both offenders are executed in the most painful way possible unless the woman is unmarried and her father does not take offense.
*Women as adventurers: are very uncommon, as there is no way for an ordinary girl to set course for foreign lands and adventure on her own. One option would be running away, yet the chances of survival are very low in such a case. Another is being sought out and taken away by one of the orders serving directly the king, for these are constantly searching for children magically or otherwise gifted, and will not deprive themselves of a prospective mage due to such a minor cause as gender. Becoming one of such an order is actually the only possible way for a woman to gain status in Dynahyre.
*Government: the government of Dynahyre is a monarchy, with a new king being chosen upon the retirement or death of the former king. Anyone above the age of twenty is applicable for becoming king, but only the bravest and toughest dare, for to be elected, one must pass several trials first – hunting down a mountain yeti, forging his own blade, and fasting for a week in the mountains are the first three, but the final test will separate the chaff from the grain – the contenders for the throne will choose four companions each, and will be released into the vast network of caves, subterranean passages and dungeons called “Kygram e Duabh” – Dormitory of the Silent Ashes. The one who reaches the throne room first is declared king, though at least twice in recorded history, all the candidates for the throne have fallen somewhere deep beneath the earth, and a second run for royalty had to be called, using a new round of contenders.
To remain king, one must pass an annual test of virility by chasing down one of the Brides of Mavrai and taking her against her will – a task only the fittest are able to accomplish with repeated success. The captured maid will become his concubine for one year until the next must be chased down. All children born of such an union are held in high esteem and most likely adopted by an influential family, while the mother will be married to the highest bidder. Should the Bride escape the king though, he will be obliged to retire, while she will gain great prestige within her order.
*Social Rank: slaves and foreigners are at the bottom of the social heap, as the ordinary women who are little more, while above them stands the freeman – most likely a youth of little experience and no significant wealth, owning most likely naught but a set of weapons, a horse and a tent, eager to gain prestige – of course their father could have given them cash instead to buy a woman right away, but in Dynahyre, people are of the opinion that a child should earn what it receives. Prestige is gained by acquiring wealth through trading, a craft or rewards for valor and loyalty from one’s superiors. Above the freemen stand those who have already been successful enough to marry and acquire a solid core of wealth, with them being surpassed by leaders of proven ability and trustworthiness appointed by the king. Near the top of the social ladder lie the three Orders, each one dedicated to one of the deities of their pantheon – the Brides of Mavrai, Margur’s Beastlords and the Red Maidens of Lutwryn. The noble families are second only to the king – backed up with vast wealth and a hereditary title, they are the traditional counterweight to royal power, and ensuring their cooperation is no mean task. They are ranked using the number of horsetails they are allowed to bear on their battle standard – one to four, with four signalizing greatest power and prestige. The farthest one can rise is the royal family, led by the king himself, regardless of who was the family head until then.
The status of a person or whole family is a matter of constant change – if many daughters are born to a pair, they will earn the family wealth, while sons who acquire the respect of their peers through bravery and skill will also bring respect to their family. On the other hand, raising a large number of sons and equipping them for life is by no means easy, and could lead to the bankruptcy of a poor family. The relatives of a king or the member of one of the Orders also rise in status – one could say the social order of Dynahyre is fluent.
*Etiquette and its enforcement: respect is shown towards those of greater status by bowing – the more humility you want to show, the deeper you bow. Kneeling is reserved for slaves. Those of equal status simply nod – if someone of higher status nods to you, it is a telltale sign that you are high in his favor. A further gesture of respect is drawing your blade and resting your hands upon it – this means being ready to fight for your superior. If you offer the blade instead, held in open hands with the palms turned upwards, you are committing yourself into the service of someone whom you wish to be your superior. Alternatively, a person of high status can offer you patronage in exchange for your services by gifting you with a necklace bearing his emblem. A gesture of friendship is being invited to a family’s dining table. There are elaborate rituals concerning the seating around a table or fireplace, where the esteem both sides hold each other in as well as the status and degree of politeness play a role.
As a Dynahyre saying goes, “thou art worth nay more than thy word”, and thus the word of a man who has never betrayed trust is considered sacred, but an oathbreaker will not be welcome anywhere, for he will be branded on his forehead, never to be trusted again – he will not be able to marry any but the lowliest of women, will never receive command of any men or rise in status. Thus, most Dynahyran men will be very cautious about giving their word, but once they do, they will be fiercely true to the terms of the agreement. Note that the word of a foreigner does not have near as much weight as that of a native.
Disputes are settled through agreement or reparations whenever possible, though if the offense is serious enough the dispute will be carried out on the Field of Equals in a formal challenge – either an archery contest, a test on horseback or a formal challenge, where the challenger is given the choice of weapons and the challenged one will choose the kind of armor to be used. These challenges can continue until blood is spilled, one combatant concedes, or to the death of the opponent.
Breaches of etiquette and crimes are punished accordingly to their severity: mild ones can incur loss of face or favor, while severe offenses can lead to maiming, exile or a challenge to a duel.
Note: certain races oppressed or outlawed elsewhere, such as Minotaurs, Ogres and Orcs have the same civilian rights in Dynahyre as humans, as long as they see themselves as a part of the social structure and follow the local customs. Offspring of any of these races and humans is not uncommon in Dynahyre.
*Slavery: about one quarter to one third of the populace of Dynahyre are slaves, deprived of any rights or hope of freedom – they are branded like cattle, and hunted like wild beasts should they try to escape. Yet this is their most likely road to freedom still – if they manage to cross the border to Lyndhyre, they will be free, and often given shelter by the locals just to anger their ancestral enemies. Another possibility is serving one’s master faithfully with freedom being a possible reward in the future, yet this is unlikely – who would willingly give up a slave whose performance greatly pleases him? Thus, it is most unlikely for a slave to gain freedom, yet not unheard of, for some slaves have been freed and even adopted as a reward for rescuing their master from great danger.
The children of slaves are born slaves unless their lord claims them to be his own, in which case they are treated as any other family member.
*Religion and Cosmology: in Dynahyre, three Titans of Ice are worshipped: Mavrai the Black Bull, Margur the Hunter and Lutwryn the Battlerager. They are said to have shaped the world out of the corpse of the primordial frost wyrm Dhyr-Fuldnach they have slain. They drank the blood of the fallen beast, and thus gained its power. Now they rule over the eternal ice that will crush the world should cowards and weaklings overcome the brave and mighty, and then the titans will create the world anew, until all who are weak are weeded out, and only true men prevail.
Mavrai is the Stormlord, and the winds that sweep every winter from the north to cover the world in ice and snow are his, and are meant to test the resolve of his people. Minotaurs are sacred to him, and should he manifest, he will take the shape of a colossal Minotaur with black fur, clad in armor woven of the threads of polar night and brandishing a huge maul. It is him to whom the warriors pray for endurance and resolve. Margur manifests as a huge wolf-man with a silver mane, wielding a long spear. He decides over the success of a hunt or training of an animal, for all beasts are his and only with his permission may a warrior claim them as his own. This results in the men of Dynahyre being often kinder to animals than fellow humans. Sometimes he will bestow the gift of an exceptional animal companion upon a faithful follower. Lutwryn is the master of armed combat, and enjoys nothing more than a full-scale battle, where the weak fall and the mighty are gifted with the laurels of victory (as it is impossible to find a laurel in Dynahyre, a necklace made of skulls of the fallen must suffice).
The gods prefer to get involved indirectly, yet there are reports of a direct manifestation of an avatar. Other than these, the will of the Powers shows itself in various gifts bestowed upon their chosen.
*Liturgical form: a great number of different rites are performed over the course of the year: the blooding is a rite where a man who marries the first time must slay a slave with his bare hands, and drink his blood, as well as painting his sigil with it on the face of his wife. The Chill Run is a feast honoring Margur, where a group of young men gather and feast, and then set out for the ice-covered peaks to capture a Frostgnorm, a ferocious beast resembling the cross between a titanic polar bear and a saber-tooth tiger, all backed up by the temper of a wolverine. Many hunters die in the hunt itself, but many more men let their lives in the subsequent attempts to tame the beast. If one of the hunters finally succeeds at the task, it indicates great favor of Margur, yet if none of the hunters return at all from the hunt for the beast, it is considered a bad omen. In the spring, both men and women are searching for the Flame Blossom, Nathalindë in the Elven tongue, and as soon as one is found, they race to the next holy pillar with it. The first one to reach a particular pillar with a blossom is considered to be blessed for the year to come – the flower is a sign of goodwill of the gods, carrying the message that they are still content with the world, and will not extinguish all life, at least for this one year. Small ceremonies are held whenever a child or foal is born. These as well as marriage ceremonies are held at one of the sacred pillars scattered over the land.
When preparing for war or a hunt, the participants will pray for an insight into future happenings. A sacrifice to the gods will be offered – milk and cheese are minor offerings, while cattle, or rarely children are major sacrifices. Sometimes, an oathbreaker will offer himself as a sacrifice to restore his honor as his dying breath fades away. The sacrifice is slain through dismemberment, and cast into flames. If it burns well, it is accepted by the gods, yet if it does not, or even extinguishes the flame, the event is foreshadowing destruction.
The rituals performed by the common folk are much unlike those taking place in the temples of one of the three orders. The Brides of Mavrai, trained in the arts of stealth and trickery, and often chosen for their potential for magic as well as beauty, perform dance performances lasting for days at the beginning of winter to induce a pleasant mood in their lord. In their temples, several black-furred Minotaurs reside, and it is the duty of the Brides to prepare them for battle as well as appeasing them in all possible ways. At the height of winter, novices advanced enough to become initiates must pass several tests of wit and agility as well as offering themselves to the sacred Minotaurs. Any children sprung from the loins of these fresh initiates will be interpreted as a good omen, raised and introduced into one of the orders as soon as they are deemed ready.
Margur’s chosen will engage in long meditations in solitude with a beast of their choice, trying to attain a stronger connection to the primal spirit within that animal. Other than these, they will engage in public shows where they either bend a ferocious beast to their will, or trick and evade a man-eater until the beast drops out of exhaustion. Other than these rituals, the Beastlords, quite a few of them being natural shapeshifters and others using enchanted skins or magic to do so, stalk the land, guiding lost hunters or testing their mettle and resolve. Sometimes, a shapeshifter will pose as an exceptional animal of its kind, most often horse or other riding beast, to some hero, and if he manages to catch him and stay on his back, the priest will serve him for a year and a day in beast form, but if the hero fails, the priest will laugh in his face and return to his temple, having gained prestige both amongst his peers and in the eyes of his god.
Finally, a grand ritual is held every nine years, where women who are deemed worthy are offered the possibility to commune with Margur through his charges, the beasts kept in each temple – drinking several sacred elixirs and engaging in bestiality with the priests’ charges. Any woman who bears a child with one of the beasts is considered sacred, and kept at the temple, her husband receiving compensation.
The Red Maidens perform their own rituals, consisting mostly of ritual combat where they face each other in a non-lethal engagement, taking various handicaps, such as blindfolding or tying up one arm behind the back. In times of war, the Maidens will march with the army, and then sacrifice dozens of captives on the eve of battle. A curious custom is that any man who had intercourse with one of the Red Maidens will be sacrificed as well. All men in Dynahyre are aware of the fact, yet it occurs over and over again – some of the maidens being so beautiful that they deprive men of any trace of judgment or sense they might have possessed.
*Magic: with Dynahyre being a normal mana area, mage births are not too common. Most of the children who are gifted with some talent are discovered by the priests, and they parents are offered to have the child join an order. Still, some mages are found amongst the common populace, either due to their parents having denied the priestly request, or remaining undetected until their teens. These can then lead an ordinary life.
*Shamanism: a few order members, mainly those having reached old age, do not spend most of their time in a temple, but amongst the common folk, where they observe the correct performance of rituals, act as spiritual guides or healers, and are on the lookout for gifted and exceptional children to be put into service in their temple. The shamans will inhale the vapors set free upon burning sacred herbs, and will let their spirit wander to search for the gifted. With the vapors being toxic, the most common cause of death amongst shamans by far is not enduring the strain the poisons put on their bodies.
*Funerary custom: whenever possible, the dead are cast into glacial chasms or lava pits, their bodies to be seen never again. The only “grave goods” they are given are the skulls of the enemies they have vanquished as well as their hunting trophies. It is considered inviting bad luck if one keeps the trophies belonging to a deceased man, for his spirit might return to haunt the felon to receive what is rightfully his.
If it is impossible to dispose of a body in any of the two aforementioned ways, the corpse will be cremated along with the trophies.
*Art – Graphic and Sculpture: both men and women of Dynahyre are generally highly skilled at leatherworking, creating garments both comfortable and beautiful that keep the wearer warm in all but the most hostile conditions – being water-resistant and almost impervious to wear and tear, a set of clothing will often last longer than its wearer. Various materials are used in their creation, from metal studs and rings to bright ribbons and shining stones, as well as woolen threads colored using pigment acquired from minerals and wild berries. The bridles that adorn a man’s mount show the same degree of craftsmanship, as do his weapon accessories and his tent.
Despite the people’s mostly nomadic nature, the mineral resources the land is highly abundant with are intensively mined, and from the various sorts of metal many works of art that have still practical uses spring – highly decorated blades and pieces of armor, as well as tableware, kettles and tools. Most of these are decorated with war motifs or scenes from the hunt. Sometimes historical events are used as well.
The men like decorating themselves with a variety of claws, teeth, bones and skulls from opponents they have vanquished or animals they hunted down, and the art of carving and preserving those having been honed to the point of perfection in Dynahyre.
*Music and Dance: drums of all sorts form the core of most musical ensembles, while flutes and horns accompany the rhythmic drumming. Rhythm is the most important part of any Dynahyran song, melody being secondary. Drums accompany most religious rituals as well as being used to carry messages over long distances.
Dances performed are either of religious nature and both sexes participate in these, or intended to entertain the men, in which case only the women dance, either in the privacy of their home, or in the public, the latter being used as an opportunity to present one’s daughters to the men and make potential buyers aware of the girls ready to be married. If a man shows serious interest in a girl, he will join the dance briefly and then lead her away from the dance to learn what merits she possesses and then negotiate a price with her father.
*Tattoo and Scarification: are reserved for marking your property as well as for punishment. The cattle, horses and women a man owns will be branded, but a kind husband will let his bride be tattooed instead of inflicting hot irons upon her. Criminals will be branded on their foreheads to display their failings for all to see.
*Architecture: most Dynahyrans live in large portable tents made of hides supported by wooden poles. The size as well as the amount of decoration shows off a man’s wealth. Most often, the tent will be hemispherical in form, and sizeable enough to hide the man’s livestock should a violent storm threaten it. Heaps of furs serve as sleeping facilities.
Still, permanent residences are not unheard of in Dynahyre. Several forts built of roughly hewn stone dot the country, while permanent wooden halls provide meeting places for the different groups. In the proximity of the mines, people live in small wooden homes dug in deep in the ground, most often only the front side showing, as the roof is covered with living grass tiles to provide further isolation.
The city of Fomnir on the ocean coast is much unlike any other structure seen in this land – an entire mountain has been hollowed out, the buildings often hewn out of the rock in one piece. The city still continues to expand as ore is mined.
*Clothing: the people dress in leather and furs regardless of the season. Nobles carry one to four horsetails on the back of their helms or hats. The Brides of Mavrai will dress exclusively in black and silver cloaks, black furs and tight yet unrestrictive clothing of black leather. In contrast to them will the Red Maidens dress shining armor and red cloaks frequently, keeping themselves warm with the furs of crimson wolves, but sometimes wearing red silks and jewelry made of volcanic glass instead.
*Cooking and food: the fireplace lies at the core of every home – that is the place where the family gathers after a day’s work. The diet consists mainly of milk and dairy products, accompanied by wild game or the meat of domestic animals, though it is considered a desperate measure to butcher your own cattle. All the foods are heavily spiced, for Dynahyre is rich in various berries and other spices. In the south of the country, oat is cultivated extensively and distributed to the remote reaches of the country.
Caution is advised when hunting in Dynahyre, for some animals are considered sacred and taboo, to be hunted only after performing certain rituals and asking the gods for permission – most often this taboo applies for wild predators, but certain small colorful birds are also prohibited from being hunted, as well as the silver hind.
*Packs and Containers: most goods are transported in wooden crates, leather sacks and wineskins.
*Fire Making and Fuel: fire is sparked by tossing a piece of a mysterious mineral into the fireplace and waiting a while. Wood and dung serve as fuel.
*Land transport: the people travel on horseback, their possessions loaded onto wagons pulled by horses or cattle. Exceptional individuals high in favor of the gods can be seen riding truly unusual beasts.
*Boats: the ships used for fishing are small rowboats, while war vessels are long ships with a single row of oars and a large rectangular sail.
*Missile weapons: the shortbow and the javelin (to be used with an atlatl) enjoy both a great degree of popularity. Constructed of half a dozen of different kinds of wood, bone and metal, the shortbow, though lacking the punch of his larger brother, is exceptionally accurate, even at long ranges, and can be easily fired from horseback.
*Melee weapons: light curved blades as well as various flails and maces are in wide use, while pole arms are fully unknown and the axe simply a tool and nothing more. The heavy-bladed Lyran or Lyndhyran swords are only rarely used here, the only exception being the Red Maidens.
*Weaponless Combat: while in Dynahyre a man does not go without a weapon if possible at all, they are quite adept at brawling, using dirty tricks to bring an enemy down quickly. For formal contests and duels, wrestling is used (with very few dirty tricks).
*Shields: most often leather shields or small metal bucklers are used, with small shields being already considered almost too heavy to use.
*Armor: trying to find a compromise between weight and protection, the smiths and warriors have settled for lightweight scale and chain mail, with some master smiths being able to create splint mail of exceptional quality. The Red Maidens sometimes use breastplates or corselets, yet the techniques for making these are unknown to most smiths.
*Military Tactics: with most of the warriors mounted on horses or other beasts, and Minotaurs and Ogres being able to cover large distances quickly on foot the army of Dynahyre combines exceptional speed with hard-hitting power. Due to the light armor and the inherent vulnerability of unarmored horses, their staying power in an engagement leaves much to be wished for though, a weakness partially compensated by the endurance of their Orc, Ogre and Minotaur brethren. Still, the army must win swiftly, or the quickly mounting losses will force it to withdraw and engage the enemy with arrows at most.