The region of the Highlands, ruled by the barbaric Flinthill Clan, is a cool and rugged steppe. As one heads north through that arid place, the climate becomes wetter and wetter. On the fringes of the north-eastern Highlands, where the timid people of the White Towns huddle, the land is green and grey. North of the White Towns, the land climbs even higher- these are the Rujien Mountains, home of the militant Aukstatians.
The Aukstatians (from Aukstatji, possibly meaning "grey dog tribe") are tall and thin, averaging 6 feet in height. They have very pale, ivory skin and are prone to freckling; they have long, very straight, very fine hair which is generally reddish-blonde. Aukstatians have aquiline noses and odd eyes- their eyelids have a "puffy" appearance and their eyes typically appear to be squinted or half-shut and slit-like. Many less favorable estimates of the Aukstatians mention their very large teeth and long faces. Due to an active, fast lifestyle and genetics, Aukstatians are rarely anything more or less than "rather thin". The White Townsmen (who they tower over) call them "hill giants".
Aukstatian men dress in a poncho-like cloak, typically with furs on the inside, which hangs about the shoulders, and a knee-length kilt of furs. Women typically wear a long, enveloping robe called daushthab, intricately patterned with traditional designs, and in most Aukstatian communities, are made to veil their faces. Both sexes wear large, wide-brimmed hats to keep out the sun and weather and leather moccasins. While Aukstatian women usually simply grow their hair long, Aukstatian men shave their heads except for a single strip in the center of the skull, somewhat like a mohawk with no height (this tradition was begun by the early Aukstatian chieftan Lus-Gaukku). Beards are considered unclean, and having excess stubble or beard growth is believed to be a sign of a scoundrel.
Aukstatian men keep their spears at their sides at all times. Aukstatians also bedeck themselves with iron and gold jewelry, and women weave golden rings and plates into their hair.
The Aukstatians speak a small family of mutually-intelligible dialects known as Aukstatenen. It is a hard-edged tongue, spoken quickly, and is notoriously difficult for outsiders to learn, due to it’s bizarre grammatical irregularities, uncommon pronunciations, and the incomprehensible nature of it’s sentences when translated. Despite this, the Aukstatians are known for their melodious voices- Aukstatian slaves are prized in the far-away civilized regions as singers.
The Aukstatians dwell in hillside villages in the ravines and valleys of the Rujien Mountains. Their villages generally look like a collection of ramshackle grain-towers- they always have a second story to their homes. Though they share the Mountains with many other, smaller tribes, they are a hegemonic power; the other tribes of Rujien generally imitate them to a large extent.
Aukstatians have not yet learned the secrets of agriculture. They depend on a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, as well as liberal raiding of the White Towns, who also bear the brunt of the Flinthill Clan’s depredations. Though not as vicious or as destructive as their ape-ish counterparts to the south, the Aukstatians are just as, if not more, thorough in their stripping clean of their targets. Their raids generally follow a boom-and-bust pattern- when the Rujien Mountains experience a dry season, or flooding, or a hard winter, the White Towns know to cower.
Aukstatians also wage almost constant war against the enemies to the east, dwelling in the vast pine forests, the Darkpine Hunters. Aukstatian legends state that the feud began when the famous chieftan Lus-Gaukku was refused the hand of the daughter of the Darkpine Hunters’ king; swearing eternal vengeance at this slight, Lus-Gaukku shaved all the hair from his head but for a strip, in imitation of a Darkpine warrior, and began to hunt the Hunters, starting a war which rages to this day. Aukstatian war parties often plunge eastward through the lower ravines of the Rujiens into the pine woods to fell the huge and ancient timbers there, defying the ritual laws of the Darkpine Hunters. Conflict is common in the pine-furred foothills of the Rujiens, with howling Darkpines leaping down upon unsuspecting Aukstatian raiders, and chanting Aukstatian warriors skewering Darkpines as they dash through the underbrush. In fact, the number one killer of Aukstatian men is Darkpine traps (the second highest is hunting accidents).
Aukstatians are renowned for their skill at javelin-throwing. Aukstatian warriors are always prepared with a basketful of javelins, and the enemies of Aukstatian tribes fear the flitting shadows of a volley of thrown spears falling upon them.
Aukstatians are also known for their dogs (their eponymous "grey dogs"). Aukstatian hounds are huge, generally 4 feet tall at the shoulder, and have thick, shaggy fur. Aukstatian hounds have resonant, mighty voices, and are very fleet of foot. They are vicious and ill-tempered dogs, with a propensity to bite, and many strangers find themselves shredded by a suspicious Aukstatian hound. The Aukstatians, however, command great loyalty from them, and use them as war dogs and hunting companions. Most villages have a "houndmaster" who keeps a kennel of Aukstatian hounds, feeding them on the scraps and fatty parts of their masters’ kills.
The Aukstatians have no centralized leader. In fact, their history has been one of constant disappointment- unions under leader after leader who failed or never was able to carry out their promises. In fact, even their hero Lus-Gaukku was unable to extend the Aukstatian dominion over the pine forests and the White Towns as he promised, though he did come close. Each Aukstatian enclave has it’s own chieftan; each spring they meet at the Kaaostauglem, the "Coming-Together", in which they resolve grievances and organize raids, as well as dividing up tribute and stored goods.
Aukstatians have no formal religion, seeing the veneration of deities as a personal, meditative matter. Local gods abound, though most Aukstatians will agree that, in accordance with tradition, the most powerful god is Haikkur, the god of life and death, who has one black hand and one white hand. Other gods include Kieruulg, the god of war and vendetta, and various nature gods.