|Realm||Banished Kingdom of Kelldria|
Sovrassia is, for the most part, a frozen wasteland.
Few areas of the region are suitable for constant habitation, and the population is largely nomadic. Most of the people range around the north, in an area known as the Kataphin Dell. This is a broad area between two vast eskers, and the only part of the region that could in any way be described as hospitable. There are a few rivers, some shrubs and the occasional tree. It is also home to the overwhelming majority of the region's livestock: reindeer, moose, elk, muskox and a handful of even larger creatures. The Kell hunt these creatures, often in competition with bears and wolves, but the bulk of their sustenance comes from the rivers.
The largest river in the Dell is known as the Ribar and it is along its stretch that the largest populations of Kell can usually be found. There are a handful of small semi-permanent settlements along the Ribar, and a couple along its smaller cousin, the Zadost, usually established in times of mild winters and long summers. In lean times, however, these villages are the first to starve.
Further to the south is the area known as Blusdria. This is a harsh region of rocky hills, glaciers and permafrost. Most Kell would never come here, except that it is also the region's only source of ore and coal. Every year is a race against the sun to mine enough coal and ore to provide for the people throughout the winter, before the area becomes completely uninhabitable and the mining groups must retreat to the north for another cycle of the sun. Every year it becomes harder, as the miners must dig deeper, or seams are exhausted and new ones must be found.
At the southern end of Blusdria is the Paraxena. This is a huge pillar of unusually dense blue ice, some thirty feet tall, behind which is a pass through an otherwise impenetrable glacier, believed to lead to the pole. The Paraxena has an almost magnetic attraction for the Kell, and the handful of folk brave, formidable or foolish enough to brave the Blusdria in winter report strange lights and even sounds proceeding from it, or from beyond it. Some say that at the pole there is a source of great power, or even a portal to another land. The Kell are fascinated and unnerved by it in equal measure, and for the same reason that they are drawn to it, most attempt to avoid it.
Some have taken the pass beyond the Paraxena, whether seeking to prove themselves, to discover the truth of the odd phenomena, or simply attempting to reach the pole itself. None have returned.
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.
The Kell are a superstitious people, but with only a vague and disorganised corpus of belief. The spirits they recognise and the practices they follow may well vary from group to group. One thing common to all groups, however, is scarification rune culture.
Soon after birth each Kell child is marked with a knife on the chest, which leaves a pattern of scars representing their name. In theory, each mark is unique, though among the tens of thousands of Kell there are likely duplicates. When a Kell reaches the age of majority, at fifteen, they undergo a ceremony which draws a further pattern around the first, signifying their new status. From there on, the story of a Kell's life is recorded on their body through scarification. In most cases, this will record marital unions, children born or adopted, particularly memorable or noteworthy feats of hunting, and, above all, combat. Defeats of warriors in single combat are recorded, along with the number of foes slain or captives taken in battle.
As a Kell grows older, his list of accomplishments usually does too, spreading from the chest to the stomach, arms, hands and the back. During the warmer months, menfolk tend to go bare-chested and bare-armed so that their scarring pattern can be seen. The very proud even attempt this during the winter months, though more than one has frozen to death as a result.
Women's scars tend to be more limited, since they more rarely participate in hunting or combat, and it is rare for their scars to be displayed so openly. Some women with scars to their wrists do go bare-armed as a silent statement of accomplishment, although relatively few attain such levels of renown.
These scars are partly autobiographical, and partly decorative, forming one of the few identifiable forms of Kell art. They also have a spiritual significance, however. The name rune serves not just to mark the child as an individual, but to protect it from the spirits who might seek to steal its soul, possess it or otherwise do it harm. Further scars serve not just to inform other Kell of the wearer's accomplishments, but also as a notice to the spirits. The record of deeds on a Kell's body serves to attract friendly spirits to impart blessings upon them and their families, but also to ward off evil spirits.
On union, a combined rune is carved on the flesh of both participants, which places each under the protection of the other. By distributing the rune across two bodies, it also confuses malign spirits, who will not know which individual is which. For the same reason, parents will mark themselves with the runes of their children. Such protection is diminished if a couple separates, although most retain the runes regardless. A Kell who has many partners is protected multiple times over; conversely, however, the longer a partnership lasts the stronger its protection, so a lifelong couple are ultimately considered one soul in two bodies.
This rune culture is the most prominent manifestation of Kell spirituality. Usually each group will have at least one shaman, an expert in the runes, to advise on the most effective way to record them; as a consequence, they end up being the principal guardians of Kell culture. Some shamans advise other ways of communicating with the spirits, such as sacrifice and prayer, though this is uncommon (although exposure of infants is in some groups seen as an offer of sacrifice). Most Kell are too concerned with survival in the physical world to worry overmuch about the spirit realm. If they give offerings to any spirits it is usually to their ancestors and the heroes of their people, to watch over them and increase the strength of their arm.
Although the Kell hunt for much of their food, the only creatures present in enough abundance to consider exporting are fish, taken from the rivers in the Dell, and the Ribar in particular. When the Ribar freezes over completely during hard winters, the Kell die in their thousands.
From the mines in Blusdria the people are able to extract enough minerals to smelt bronze, both for their own weapons and armour and even to ship to other regions.
Although there is enough vegetation to support a reasonable variety of fauna, at least in some areas and for some of the time, there is little to no arable land. The Kell desperately require food crops for import in order to sustain their population.