A frozen settlement hidden from the rest of civilisation at the most northern of points in the world.
- 1 Description
- 2 History
- 3 Culture
- 4 The Shamans
- 5 Social rituals
- 6 Shamanistic acceptance ritual:
- 7 The ritual of advent - the return of a shaman
- 8 The Transition from Shaman to avatar of the glacier:
- 9 The Companions
- 10 The Companions’ ritual:
- 11 Economy
- 12 Places of Note
The glacier folk live in a remote, frozen area of the world that is flanked by mountains and hidden away, in a settlement called Kraest. They are a hunter-gatherer people with technology not far beyond the bronze age (or iron age, at their most advanced), but with a rich cultural level upheld by oral tradition and performing arts. They are not especially social due to their location, and outsiders -if they somehow stumble on to the land around the settlement - are received with a xenophobic attitude. Their settlement is mostly constructed of earth, which due to the frozen nature of the landscape, is easily as durable as any stone once it is set and allowed chance to freeze in place. Wood is used sparingly given its application for many other things, fuel primary among them, but also the construction of tools. Animal pelts make up a large portion the furnishings and decoration of Kraest, draped over doorways or hanging from structures, bones used to create various adornments that give the place a slightly gruesome look to outsiders. The outer perimeter of the settlement is flanked by walls made of ice and stone, and lined with torches that burn through the evenings, which are long for the people of Kraest given their geographic location. At the northern most point of the settlement, the land gives way to ice, an enormous glacier dominating the landscape well in to the horizon. The Glacier is a central part of the culture and philosophy of the people of Kraest, not only being a place they can go to fish, but is also the source of their religion and persistent fear.
Despite their veneration/fear of the glacier, they do not live that deep into it, areas of earth and stone are readily available, which is where their minimal metals and few places of arable ground for grazing animals come from. It also ties into their spiritual leanings - they are within the presence of the glacier, but not too close, respect and fear mingling to create their choice of abode many years ago. There is still lots of snow and ice, but with a modest amount of travel they can reach areas that are not quite so bogged down in the grasp of the cold.
The exact founding of Kraest is lost to time, but it is generally agreed that it was a tribe of humans that were the first residents of Kraest. Over time they took in wanderers, exiles, or other tribespeople from other tribes that collapsed, or were otherwise struck with misfortune. Sometime very close to the founding, the artifact was found and added to the settlement, and ever since, life has functioned mostly in the same manner as when it was originally founded.
The culture of the glacier folk is egalitarian, albeit with a heavy lean towards pragmatism. Neither gender is barred from any work or pursuit, but practicality often influences the end results. Men, who genetically put on muscle mass at the time of puberty, are better suited to fighting and hunting by physicality, so the number of men hunting is often larger than women, though both are present. Naturally childbirth and nursing can only be done by the women, so through pregnancy and early after childbirth their options are more limited. Generally speaking though, child rearing is a communal activity in which both male and female take an active role - the glacier is merciless, and to survive it, everyone must do their best to raise the generation that will be the strong arm that looks after the community as a whole, as they themselves age beyond the task.
The glacier folk are terse and direct, they value strength and perseverance, as endurance is the means by which their people continues to live. This may come across to outsiders as callousness, or even cruelty, but their lives and their philosophy means that they are simply less willing to indulge frivolity, in deed or word. The culture of the glacier folk is complex, and riddled with contradiction due to their reverence and fear of the glacier, which can seem outlandish or even nonsense to an outsider, making their spiritual and philosophical needs hard to digest, and making mingling of culture incredibly difficult.
The Ruling body:
The ruling body of the people is generally a composite of the shamans, and the people considered to be of greatest skill and knowledge in given areas of life (eg: the hunt master, the master of the herders, the foremost warrior, etc). The eldest of the settlement is of course “the elder” and nominally they have the most authority, although it is through consensus of the leaders that decisions about the good for the settlement is decided. In the event of a dispute that cannot be resolved, it falls to the elder to provide the wisdom to decide which course of action is best.
Crime and punishment:
There is little crime among the glacier folk in comparison to other places, primarily because people are too busy surviving, and they need to work together to do that. Naturally things still happen, but generally, the punishment is more work, a reduction in food shares, confinement, or confiscation of personal property. The death penalty and its analogues do not really exist - the birth and mortality rate are balanced on a knife's’ edge, and people are reluctant to skew it towards mortality. To be subjected to exile or death, the continuing survival of the settlement as a whole must be shown to be compromised, with either malicious intent, or clear neglect.
The glacier folk are floating somewhere around the bronze age of technology - there are not many places that they have access to ore veins, and most of what they have is bronze. They do not have complex smithies or foundries to work in, it is not uncommon to find flint weapons, or weapons made up of parts of the dangerous fauna that lives in the area. Various dense, treated animal hides make up robust leathers, or curious other suits of armour, as making heavy plate or the like, with its complicated joints is beyond practical ability to make. The glacier folk have a long tradition of animal husbandry, and they keep herds of animals to provide food stuffs (that are rotated across the area to the few places that sustain plants for grazing), and have domesticated animals of various stripes. Fishing is something they excel at too, spear fishing is as much a survival requirement as sport for the people.
The Shamans are the spiritual leaders of the people, capable of drawing on the power of the glacier to create various supernatural effects that are resonant with the properties they ascribe to the glacier. They live as part of, and yet separate to the settlement as a whole, having little interaction through their simultaneously revered and feared position. They walk a narrow line between utilising their power to aid the people, and embracing the power of the glacier too much, and becoming the avatar of its will; cold unfeeling creatures of monumental power and resilience. Shaman’s are sometimes born to their power, traditionally being children born to a situation that they or their parents should not have survived, but somehow endured. Most however, seek the power, and obtain it by enduring some sort of trial in honour of the glacier, such as surviving out in the cold for a long duration with little food or water, or triumphing over some powerful beast through sheer bloody-minded determination.
Shamanistic acceptance ritual:
Unlike some religions, it is not the shamans who get to decide who becomes a shaman, such a thing is beyond their power to do in all but giving a title. The ritual to become a shaman is rather personalised, as each person feels the call of the power, and expresses it in a slightly different way. The ritualised part of the ceremony in Kraest is recognising the applicant’s attempt to become a shaman. They are clad in ceremonial robes, and then a meal is held, where all the would-be shaman’s close friends and family attend. It is both a positive and solemn affair - their loved ones come together to support them in their endeavor, but it is also possibly the last time these loved ones will see the applicant alive. Once they have had their gathering of loved ones, that is when the real ritual for the applicant begins.
Traditionally the exact means is varied from person to person, but the one consistent part is that the applicant listens to the voice of the glacier, and they simply follow it. This takes them out into the tundra, usually towards the glacier itself, where they will usually find something that speaks to them on a deep level. It maybe be a plateau that they stand upon, or a curiously unfrozen lake. When they find that place they will shed their clothing and (in the case of these examples) stand on the plateau, or wade into the lake. Their task then, is to simply endure, to stand before the might of the glacier and accept its nature, accept the power that could crush them easily. If they endure long enough, they feel the power enter them, the voice of the glacier much clearer in their minds as of now, and then they can return home. Success is far from guaranteed, and many die in the attempt, frozen to death because they lacked the physical, mental, and spiritual fortitude.
The ritual of advent - the return of a shaman
If a shaman returns from their trial, then a celebration is held to mark their return. Unlike the previous ritual, everyone in the settlement is involved this time. Food and drink are more freely supplied in this instance, and often hunters will go out to find prey worthy of presenting for such an occasion - curiously, they are often surprisingly successful in this endeavor. The shaman dons their robes again (and typically will rarely wear anything else from this point) and they are treated to the best that the settlement has to offer for the evening, cementing their acceptance as the new person they are, and of the settlements sincere acceptance of them back into the fold. It is not a rule per se, but often people will start match-making the shaman with their companion during this event, assuming there is not an obvious choice already.
The Transition from Shaman to avatar of the glacier:
The glacier speaks to people that channel its power, heard as a faint breeze with an impulse attached to it, distant and reedy like a whisper. The more deeply one embraces the power, the more they hear the voice, and it becomes more clear, calling to them, calling them away from the settlement, deep into the glacier. They gradually become colder, emotionally, and in time, they become colder, physically too, and then one night, they will leave, and the next morning there will be no sign of them any more. At that point, there is almost no chance to rescue them from their fate, and they become one with the glacier, frigid beings of substantial might, resilience, and unfaltering determination when they discover a target. They will kill all who cross their path, beast or person alike, and only their relative sluggishness to act without stimuli to respond to keeps them from being a much greater threat than they are. The Glacier is endlessly patient, and indefatigable, and so too are its agents - the ice will claim all, eventually.
Part of the means to protect shamans from themselves and the settlement from them and the risks of becoming an avatar, the settlement has a ritual of choosing a companion for the shaman. This person can be a lover, or someone who has bond with the shaman in some way, or sometimes, in some cases, a ‘lottery’ is enacted and someone is assigned to a shaman. Either way, there is typically some sort of celebration of this event, to underpin its significance. This is considered a great honour, and a great burden simultaneously, as that person becomes the bridge between the shaman and the people. Community and warmth of spirit are the forces that allow the settlement to survive, and so in a symbolic and literal way, the companion is there to be the warmth for the shaman, as leaving a person who is incubating the powers of cold and oppression to be lonely and isolated is disastrous in the long run.
It is not always possible for a companion to keep their shaman from the worst, and while it is a great blow to the settlement, in the loss of a shaman and the addition of a terrible foe, the companions can generally expect empathy and respect for their loss. The companion is but a single person, waging war against the glacier at the spiritual level, and no one can blame a person for losing that battle. This does not stop the companions from being wracked with guilt though, perceiving it as a personal failure, and it is known for the community to keep an eye on a companion who loses their shaman - more than a few have wandered out into the cold to look for their doomed shaman, and met their end in one form or another, by misfortune or design.
The Companions’ ritual:
This ritual has a lot more variance than the others, and often is left to the preferences of the shaman and the companion to decide how involved or not it turns out to be. A common example of such a ritual is that the friends and family of the group will spend some time eating and drinking together, forging closer bonds in symbolism of what the shaman and companion are about to undertake. Gifts are often given to the ritual participants, and then they are free to pursue their joining as befits them. If the pair are romantic, then they may trade vows of love and support in keeping with the common perception of marriage. If they are companions bound by a connection other than romantic, they may go out into the wilds to accomplish some task together, to confirm the strength of their connection, that they can trust one another to keep them both safe and alive. A common practice for those not big on ceremony is that they will go to the edge of the settlement, where the line of the artifact’s effect terminates, and they will stand on its border.
The shaman will stand on the outside, and the companion inside the artifact’s effect. They will share an oath of support, a confirmation of their bond, and then they will switch places, the companion on the outside as the shaman uses their power to ward away the cold. In this way they share the symbolism of what their bond means, in an almost literal way - the shaman protects their companion from the harshness of the outside world, pushing back the cold, while the companion keeps their shaman tied to the settlement, guides them back to the warmth of their people and keeps them from the grasp of the glacier. Once the ritual is done, they return to the settlement proper - sometimes there is another gathering after this, but just as as often there isn’t, as the shaman retreats to the part of the settlement that shamans live in, starting their life as a new person.
Veneration of The Glacier
The culture and spiritual philosophy of the people is dominated by the glacier. It is to them, a personified force in the world, and it is ruthless, indomitable, and endlessly persistent. The spiritual beliefs of the people are equal parts reverence and appeasement to the Glacier, and their spiritual leaders (shamans of a sort) have powers bestowed to them by the glacier that allow them to engage in various feats of the supernatural related to the cold, harshness and the general things the glacier represents, or to ward against those same things.
The glacier is a hazard by way of physical traits and weather, but it presents another threat too. The people believe that to take on the power of the glacier too much is to lose oneself, and this is proven true in some cases, in the form of people who are lost to its power. Their humanity is scrubbed away almost to (or possibly actually to) nothing, and they take on a more obvious and fearsome form of the glacier’s power. Food and water are no longer a concern to them; they become hard and cold like the ice, relentless in purpose, and incredibly hard to stop - they in essence, become the avatar of the glacier and its cold, unyielding grasp.
Part of the relative prosperity of the glacier folk is down to their bloody-mindedness and perseverance, but a significant part of it is owed to a strange artifact. This artifact has been with the settlement as long as history recalls, it’s strange power dulls the intensity of the cold around the settlement, and the storms do not strike as fiercely as they otherwise might. There seems to be no way to direct or channel the power of the artifact, and any attempts to do so have met with absolute failure.
The artifact is wrapped in several layers of ceremonial fabrics, and as such is rarely seen by anyone, although the reason for the fabrics is not concealment. True to the outlook of the glacier folk, they both fear and revere the artifact, and the reason for the fear is both the absence of its blessing, and the danger it poses in its own right. Holding the bundle that wraps the artifact results in a cold that is painful to endure, the blood slowing, the body reacting as if out in a blizzard with no fire, and no clothing, either. To touch the artifact itself flash-freezes the individual, ending their life in a heartbeat - the recollection of the one time this happened has kept the glacier folk fearful and always beyond arms’ reach ever since. The fact that even when the artifact ‘powers down’ it still retains the harmful properties, is another reminder of the uncompromising power of the glacier and the artifact.
The artifact goes through curious cycles where its power wanes, the threats it protects from gradually returning. During this time the settlement is up in arms, and people are sent out to search far and wide. No one remembers how it was discovered, or why they must do it, but all the same people are sent out. The intent is to find some sort of worthy task, and return with something that symbolises the achievement of that task, which is then presented in offering to the artifact, which resumes its protection of the people if the offering is found to be worthy. Historically, bracing the glacier, climbing a mountain, or slaying a powerful beast have resulted in acceptance by the artifact, but there is no way of knowing when one sets out, if their attempt will meet the mysterious requirements of the artifact.
- Primarily human, (think 80/20 split), with a variety of other races making up the rest
- Bronze to iron age technological level
N/a - the people of Kraest are largely undiscovered by other lands at this time, and so do not trade enough to warrant exports
Places of Note
A massive, continental ice shelf which the people of Kraest revere and dread in equal measure. Cold winds and snow routinely storm their way through the area, and the further north one goes, the worse it becomes. Few people head too far north, as they seldom return.
A boxy, tough-looking structure that sits in its own space in the settlement, containing the artifact of the Glacier. Few people go this place often but for the Shamans, the artifact being subject to the same reverence and fear that the Glacier itself is. What the item actually looks like, few people know, as it is perpetually wrapped in many cloth and fur bindings, an awful cold radiating through even the densest insulation.
The Shamans live in the settlement with the people, but they have their own 'quarter' of it, where they live in relative separation that they may better contemplate the mysteries of the glacier, and better look after their people. These homes are roughly the same in construction as the rest, but tend to have more decorative additions to indicate their status and importance. It is not often that the average Kraest person comes here unless they need the aid of a Shaman.
Notable Fauna specific to the Kraest area
The Ridgeback is a strange creature, possibly owing its origin to magical interference (or in the case of the glacier folk, it is believed to be the work of the glacier), but whatever its origin, its presence in the tundra and snow drifts is an uneasy prospect for the glacier folk. Even at their smallest they are equal in size and rough shape to the largest of polar bears, and even sharing a thick pelt of the same hue. Where they differ though, is the rigid plates that line their bodies, mostly along their back (giving them their name) but covering their seemingly eyeless head and their limbs, too.
Their primary means of hunting is to simply run down what they eat, or in the case of creatures that hide in the snow, they employ another method. Their head has a wedge-like shape to it, which they use to dig through the snow. Upon finding something they flip it high into the air with one powerful motion, leaving their prey little to do by flail through the air before jaws large enough to swallow an adult human, clamp down on them. Their teeth are incredibly sharp, making a mockery of leather armour and tearing chain and even thin plate armour too - such teeth are prized by the glacier folk for making tools and weapons.
Despite being near the top of the food chain, the Ridgeback’s are crafty and stealthy when they need to be, and many a hunting party, out looking for something ‘exotic’ to kill have fallen prey to a Ridgeback that crept up and slew their party in one whirlwind of savage violence because they expected such a beast to be mindless and easy to outwit.