Monday, July 14, 2014

[Barbarians of the Olden Lands] Kholmyks, the Witch-Folk of the Mountains

Shortly after the Doom of Elysion, the Mhordlakhy poured forth out of the West, into the lands that now hold their name. There they found a patchwork of petty Guidhel and Kartaghan tribes, descended from wanderers from the East and the South. Most of these they conquered and absorbed, though it was a centuries-long process. One of the tribes that resulted from the merger of Mhordlakhy and Kartaghan clans, the Kholmyks, furiously fought their further conquest and assimilation by the greater Mhordlakh tribes, and thus migrated East, into and across the Mordhlagh Mountains.

There the clans, once home to forest and plain, settled into the forested hills and mountain valleys, and there slowly bred their plains ponies into hill ponies. To this day they are masters of raising, training, and riding their sturdy hill ponies and donkeys; they make a good trade selling geldings and mules to the merchants of Paúkgrad and Szmaüdjypol. Never conquered for any lengthy time by any of the petty princes and kings of their lands, the Kholmyks continue their atavistic clan-based lifestyle in the craggy hills and valleys, from which they debouch in times of war, chaos, and plague to ravage, pillage, loot, and enslave all they can before order re-establishes itself.

However in turn, these cruel and savage slavers often find themselves on the other end of the slave whip. Kholmyk women, often of rare and exotic beauty, are regular targets for kidnappers seeking to sell the beauties in the slave market; thus the universal distrust of men of other races held by Kholmyk men.

RANGE: Primarily Lower Bagaudia and Eastern Mhordlakh, in the hills and valleys of the Mordhlagh Mountains. Some clans have wandered further afield, and can be found in the hill country of the Southern Verdhulann north of the Vale of Lamentation; across the Black River in the western foothills and valleys of the Mountains of Blood; in the forested hills of the Wicked Wood in Strigoria; and in the Black River Hills in the Western Marches.

APPEARANCE: Kholmyk men usually stand 5’2” to 5’8” and are of medium to stocky build; women are slightly shorter and tend to be medium to svelte build in youth, growing stockier with age and child-bearing. Being of mixed Mhordlakhy and Kartaghan descent, they have shimmering, pale, almost translucent light blue skin, reddish-gold eyes, and raven-black hair. Their lips, mouth, and tongue are deep purple rather than reddish-pink.

RELIGION: The Kholmyks, like their Kartaghan ancestors, are usually dedicated to the King of Hell, whom they know by the name Zuulchovek or, commonly, as Pop Bog, “Devil God.” Kholmyks are not so much zealous as they are fatalistic; they figure Pop Bog will get their souls no matter what they do, so they don’t much worry about pleasing him; but then, too, they do not go out of their way to anger him. Thus the Kholmyks are a very superstitious lot, as over the ages various things that apparently please or displease Pop Bog pass into and out of vogue. Currently, Kholmyks fear black cats, adore white dogs, do not trust anyone wearing cloth-of-gold, always wear something red, cannot cross water when a dead body is visible in it, believe blue-eyed women possess the Evil Eye, and grimace and snap their fingers three times each when the God of Law is mentioned.

Kholmyks do not have priests or clergy; their religious needs, such as they are, are served by female witches and male shamans. Kholmyk witches are practitioners of black magic, sourced through the King of Devils as their patron in a quid-pro-quo relationship rather than abject reverence. The magiya, as they are known, do not serve the clan so much as answer to Zuulchovek; they have their own secretive rites and ceremonies, unseen by their own men let alone outsiders. They usually hold their sabbats on the nearest and highest cave-ridden pinnacle, near an entrance to the Underworld, on nights of the New Moon. Together their covens defend the clan and prepare their men-folk for war; otherwise, each witch tends to the needs of her own extended family. Families without a witch tend to be poor and looked-down upon.

Shamans among the Kholmyks are invariably male, and usually few and far-between; perhaps one to three per clan. As a requirement of service as a shaman they must remain celibate; additionally, as magic is believed to be woman’s work, they must also dress and act in all ways as women. Thus they are known as the baba dukhs, or “spirit women.” Their magic is different from the fiendish witchcraft of the Kholmyk women, however. The shamans retain a more ancient form of magic that supplicates and commands spirits, including nature spirits, elemental spirits, and undead spirits, and thus like true witchcraft combines elements of divine and arcane magic. Their assistance is sought only by those who have no family witch or who wish not to seek the help of the family witch.

Neither the witches nor the shamans are overly zealous or forceful about their faith; they are usually a laid-back lot, as they know they won’t get much out of their people, so they don’t push much. They are happy to keep their people safe from the other evils of the world and enable them to engage in their raiding, pillaging, slaving, and slaying, so long as Zuulchovek gets his cut. They are not even overly concerned with their people paying lip service to some other Pagan god; they know that their King of Devils has a greater hold on their people’s soul than any other. The only thing they won’t stand is any interference from the Gregorian Church or the followers of the Dungeon God; such proselytizing clergy as pass through Kholmyk lands are favored subjects for torture and sacrifice.

TRIBAL STRUCTURE: While to the outside world it appears that men rule the clans, as outsiders only ever deal with Kholmyk men – rarely even seeing their women – it is actually the women of the clans who rule. The clan boyan, or lord, acts merely at the pleasure and the orders of the baba magiya, the council of crones, which is made up of all the witches who are also grandmothers. The council of crones makes all long-term decisions of the clan, including when to raid and when to trade. In the extended household, the woman with the most living children is considered the family matron, regardless of age or other ability, though she must take the advice of any magiya in her family.

Once a decision has been made, however, the men must go out to enforce the will of the women. And there they have much discretion, and usually use it as much as they dare. Older men have much respect from the younger, as to live to be a greybeard means one is mighty and wise indeed.

At the top of the clan hierarchy are the baba magiya, all old witches steeped in wisdom and evil. They are served by the other magiya, who lord over not only their own families but also witch-less families. Then there is the boyan and his family (always from a family with a witch), who have a degree of respect, as do the clan champions (boyets). Beneath them are all the rest of the Kholmyks, with those who are olboyani (families that have a living, former boyan with them) being given a further degree of respect. Beneath all are the slaves, usually female concubines and servants, but also sometimes including strong males; any slave can end up being made a sacrifice if need exists, so most are taciturn and terrified. No few are simply enchanted into submission by the clan witches. Note that the children of the concubines are not considered the children of the father; they are often sold off as slaves or even sacrificed.

A clan usually has 10d10 able-bodied 1st level men (usually barbarians, fighters, rangers, or animal trainers), an equal or slightly greater number of women (with perhaps 25 to 40% being equivalent to 1st level thieves, scouts, or doxies), and a number of youths and children equal to the number of men and women combined. For every 10 men there will be an additional 2nd level leader; for every 20 an additional 3rd level; and the clan will be led by a boyan of 5th to 7th level with a cadre of 1d4 4th level boyets. For every five women there will be an additional 1st level witch; for every 10 a 2nd level witch; for every 20 a 3rd level witch; and the council of crones consists of 2d4+1 4th to 7th level witches. In addition there will be 1d3 shamans of 1st to 6th level; one slave concubine per 10 men plus one for each level of each male leader type; and a number of male slaves equal to the total number of witches. There is also a 50% chance of 2d6 recent captives, either being held for ransom, waiting to be sold into slavery, or being readied for sacrifice.

TERRAIN/CLIMATE: Kholmyks are native to temperate forested hills and mountains.

TRIBAL WEAPONS: Battle axe, hand/throwing axe, composite short bow, club, dagger, javelin, throwing knife, lariat, sling, spear, short sword (cutlass-like saber), and staff.

TRIBAL ARMOR: Leather coat, leather armor, studded leather armor, lamellar, scale mail, brigandine; leather coif, pot helm, and spangenhelm (i.e., “normal helm”); small, medium, and large wooden shields.

TRIBAL ABILITIES [LL]: Kholmyks can climb trees, cliffs, and mountains; train and ride hill ponies, donkeys, and mules; herd sheep, goats, and pigs; leap and jump; and imitate animal calls. They are considered native to forests, hills, and mountains.

TRIBAL ABILITIES [C&C]: Animal handling (ponies, donkeys), armor maker, battle cry, bowyer, first aid, horsemanship, horse warrior, scale, sound imitation, all wilderness abilities.

LANGUAGE: The Kholmyk tongue, like the people, is a thorough mix between Mhordlakhy and Kartaghan, with centuries of its own side-development; thus it sounds familiar to speakers of Mhordlakhy or Kartaghan, but is not understandable. It is usually written, when written at all, using a variant of Mhordlakhy script. Usually only the witches and shamans are literate.

MALE NAMES: Altzek, Balamber, Bezmer, Bleda, Chok, Ditzeng, Drogo, Dukum, Ellak, Ernak, Gostun, Grod, Hudbaad, Kardam, Kotrag, Krum, Kuber, Kubrat, Malamir, Mugel, Mundjuk, Ruga, Sevar, Telerig, Teletz, Tervel, Uldin, Vinekh, Vund, Zabergan.

FEMALE NAMES: Arzu, Asli, Ayla, Aylin, Aysel, Aysun, Basak, Belgin, Berna, Bilge, Deniz, Derya, Dilara, Dilek, Ebru, Elmas, Emel, Emine, Esen, Eser, Esin, Evren, Fidan, Gizem, Gonca, Gozde, Hande, Havva, Hazan, Muge, Nergis, Nesrin, Nuray, Ozge, Ozgur, Ozlem, Simge, Su, Tulay, Yildiz, Yonca.

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