Of Kings and Dragons
Lands of the Varki Nomad Clans
Capital: Seer’s Home (200)
Notable Settlements: Trondheim
Notable Locations: Cavern of the Sacred Shapes, Elfmeet, Icegraves, Iceworm Hills, Kalva, Moundlands, The Steam Pit, Valley of the Birthing Death, Windhome
Major Races: humans (Ulfen, Varki), giants
Languages: Giant, Skald
Religion: Erastil, ancestor worship, animism
Resources: caribou, fish, furs, leather, scrimshaw
The northwesternmost territory of the Linnorm Kingdoms is hardly a kingdom at all, for no Linnorm King has ever ruled this desolate realm. Known as Icemark, this swath of tundra and glacial scree has relatively little to tempt a society built upon the traditions of raiding and conquering—there is very little to raid and conquer here, apart from vast herds of caribou or fields of frozen soil. But this is not to say that Icemark is abandoned, for it is here that a unique people known as the Varki thrive.
The combination of the remote location of their homeland and their relative indifference to the rest of the Inner Sea region has resulted in the Varki people being largely ignored by the rest of the world. The Varki, true to their stoic nature, appreciate this fact. A mix between Varisian, Tian, and Erutaki (the native humans of the Crown of the World), the Varki people are dark-haired and well-weathered by the elements.
The Varki are a seminomadic people, traveling between hunting and fishing grounds throughout Icemark and driving their caribou herds with them. They sometimes venture into the northern Thanelands or even into the Stormspear Mountains and beyond into the Crown of the World, but most live their entire lives without setting foot outside Icemark. Unlike true nomads, the Varki generally do not carry their homes with them—instead, they dwell in a number of permanent small villages erected by their ancestors for use as hunting stations, fishing villages, and the like. The Varki do not see these villages as their own, for the settlements are shared among all the Varki tribes. Neither do they give these villages names (with the exception of Seer’s Home). A typical Varki settlement includes shelters, food storage, buildings for training hunters, religious buildings, gaming halls, and buildings set aside to house their leaders. Varki migrations seem to follow no discernible pattern, though no two clans ever inhabit the same settlement at the same time.
A single tribe consists of an extended family of 50 to 100 people. Members marry outside their own tribe to keep inbreeding to a minimum, but each tribe has its own distinctive traditions. Inside the tribe, the roles of men and women are clearly delineated, although not always in the same way as in each tribe. In one tribe, the women may be in charge of the hunt (and by extension warfare, though Varki only fight each other ritualistically and rarely attack outsiders) while men are in charge of maintaining shelters, but in another these roles might be reversed. Young Varki often seek to marry into other tribes simply to shift to a tribe where members of their sex have expected roles more in keeping with their personal preferences, with matters like love and procreation being secondary concerns. The only social construct that remains constant between tribes is that with age comes power—the older a Varki is, the more authority she has in the tribe. The Varki are an inherently conservative people, and new ideas within a tribe are frowned upon—as a result, they are a much more regimented society than one finds in neighboring Linnorm Kingdoms.
Religion among the Varki, as with gender roles, varies from tribe to tribe, although most follow one of three faiths: the teachings of Erastil (these tribes look to clerics for spiritual advice), the wisdom of their ancestors (in such tribes, this wisdom is interpreted by oracles), or a form of animism that sees spirits in all of the animals of the land and sea (these tribes are led by druids). Despite these three methods of worship, to an outsider, the particulars of Varki faith generally seem interchangeable among the tribes. Regardless of the specific beliefs, Varki religion emphasizes balance with the natural world in the context of its usefulness to the Varki lifestyle. Death comes soon to the Varki, who have learned to keep periods of grieving short so as not to compromise the survival of others who depend upon their aid. When a Varki dies, the body is prepared and placed upon an upraised platform or series of poles or stakes, never less than 6 feet off the ground. The body’s internal organs and brain are buried separately, burned, or, in times of great need, used as bait to catch food—the Varki believe these organs absorb mortal sin, and that if they are separated from the body, the spirit will not linger to haunt the living.
The Varki get almost all of their nutrition from meat—either the red meat of aurochs and reindeer or that from fish and seals hunted on rivers and shorelines. Many settlements contain small gardens within shelters built on hot springs, but fruit and vegetables are a rare treat, not a staple. The tribes often trade with the Linnorm Kingdoms—the leathers, furs, and food the Varki are so capable of gathering are much in demand in the other kingdoms, while the metalworking capabilities of their neighbors are a constant draw for Varki trade. Varki scrimshaw and bone carvings are particularly sought after by collectors throughout the Inner Sea region. Some of the fetishes bear powerful magic, however, and the more savvy Ulfen trading groups maintain a sorcerer or adept on retainer who can judge the relative power of the items so they can be sold for a reasonable price.
The most dangerous beasts of the Icemark are the predators who feed upon the vast caribou herds—dire wolves, polar bears, and smilodons for the most part. The Varki respect these beasts but do not fear them. Instead, their fear is reserved for the supernatural dangers of the deep Icemark—generally undead, but also the deadly morozkos, living blizzards that periodically shriek down from the Crown of the World during the winter. Other regions deep in the Icemark are shunned by the Varki as well—regions where dangerous monsters like remorhazes, frost worms, and white dragons rule.