The Kell are a semi-nomadic people resident in the Banished Kingdom of Kelldria. They claim descent from the Grand Kingdom of Kell. In the 430s, the Kell attempted to move north, first driving wildlings ahead of them and eventually emerging in full force into Tuhiland, sparking the Kell Wars.
The Kell are a tall, powerful and strong-limbed people, with facial features that most other human cultures would find attractive, at least in their youth before life takes its toll. Their skin tends naturally towards the dark olive or brown, although except when very young or otherwise unclad, it appears almost universally brown, tanned by exposure to the sun. Their hair, when allowed to grow, ranges from the dark brown to a reddish blond. Men of Kelldria do not wear beards, and in most cases cannot grow them, so that even after an extended period without shaving their chins will remain hairless.
Kell men usually shave their heads, though during harsh winters when shaving becomes impossible they will attempt to tie it back when it reaches an inconvenient length. Women frequently wear their hair fairly short for practicality, and routinely tie it back, although the ability to maintain long hair is also a point of pride. A Kell woman with long, unbound hair in good condition is to be taken very seriously indeed.
A hard land has bred a hard people. Traditionally, every Kell man is trained as a warrior, although the women are no less formidable. Tales are told of how raiding parties have evaded Kell warbands and attacked apparently defenceless settlements, only to be routed by a ferocious defence from the womenfolk. It is said that no Kell woman has ever been taken as a prize in war save that she wished to be.
They are a proud and, by their standards, honourable people. Their culture prizes strength above all else, and little else is respected. The leader of each group or settlement is expected to be the strongest among them. If a man cannot provide for his family, it is common for them to leave him for someone who can and none will condemn them for doing so. Equally, a woman seen as weak can expect to lose her partner, and a woman who has lost her man is expected to provide for her family herself, with little sympathy for those who do not. The feckless and the lazy are not tolerated; those who contribute nothing are left to starve.
In times of plenty, which are all too rare, exceptions are made for once-powerful warriors fallen on hard times through injury, or the elderly who were once mighty but have lost their strength due to age. They are respected for what they were and will be provided for so long as resources allow. Usually, however, when times are hard, such individuals will take their own lives when they are no longer fit to perform their duty rather than burden the group.
Infants are, for obvious reasons, tolerated more than the elderly, although in times of extreme hardship it is not uncommon for babies to be exposed, with only those proven capable of surviving being kept.
While parents will make an effort to encourage and support their own children as they approach adulthood, family attachments mean less than might be expected, and weak children are often effectively disowned, their parents preferring to adopt stronger orphans. As a consequence, while short dynasties among leaders do occasionally emerge, a leader being succeeded by his birth son is rare, and such happening for more than two generations in a row, vanishingly so.
The Kell have an institution like marriage, and unions are recognised and celebrated. There is no expectation of permanence, however, and while leaving one's partner is considered a bold step, it is often regarded as a necessary one if they are proven incapable. Mourning periods after the loss of a partner are short, for similar reasons. Polygamy is uncommon except among the very powerful, but far from unheard of. Similarly uncommon are same-sex unions. Although such relationships are widely viewed as unnatural, the importance of raising children with a partner is recognised and accepted, no matter the sex of that partner. Uncharitable remarks about the nature of such a relationship are not made lightly, and will almost always result in a duel challenge.
Questioning an individual's strength is considered an insult, and usually settled by single combat (or, in the cases of more general addresses, group combat). Although traditionally such fights are to the death, the Kell are not a suicidal people and it is not considered shameful to surrender in the face of a stronger opponent. Those who make a habit of casually insulting or questioning others and then refusing to back up their words in battle, however, are despised.
Above all, no Kell will serve another, and they hold their freedom dear, for they will consent to follow only those whom they respect. This has long acted as an obstacle to assembling any sizeable army, for taking orders does not come naturally to them and while their warriors may be individually fearsome and even cooperate well in small groups, it has generally proven hard to organise them on a large scale.
This attitude carries forward and informs their approach to foreigners. The weak are despised, fit only to be conquered and subjugated. This was the fate of the ancient inhabitants of the region, whose original name and culture is long since forgotten. Some of their descendants survive among the Kell, occupying the most menial stations within their society, little better than slaves, their labour cheap and their lives valued little more. The Kell call such people helots, without regard to their original tribe or land of origin. Weak and scrawny Kell children are sometimes passed off as the product of illicit unions between helot men and Kell women, although it is likely that most living Kell have some helot ancestry.
Powerful foreigners, by contrast, are treated with wariness, hostility, and in some cases, outright hatred. Whether this is a product of history, or the assumption that all peoples are in some ways like the Kell, those capable of overcoming the Kell in battle are viewed as aspiring to conquer and rule them, a fate that many Kell would rather die than endure. Such foreign peoples are therefore viewed as presenting a deadly threat merely for existing.