The Artarian Reach
The Reach? Why in the name of Cardista's teats would you want to sail to that godsforsaken corner of the world? Sure I could get you there, if I had a desire to lose all my profits - and my ship - to those howling bastards! No thank you. I aim to die an old man in a warm bed, not on the end of some raider's blade, and certainly not frozen to death in Frostbeard's courtyard!
-Adaim D'Austar, noted merchant captain of the Bayrisian vessel, the Queen Caeline
The northernmost reaches of the mainland of Antaron consist of a sparsely vegetated, windswept land known as the Artarian Reach. Summers are short and mild, and the cruel winters come early, bringing tremendous snow and ice with them. Nevertheless, a hardy race of humans, known as the Vidarak, make their homes here.
The People: The Vidarak are a strong people; they have to be, in order to survive the harsh conditions of the Reach. They love the sea, are experts at sailing and navigation, and have explored more of Antaron's coastline than anyone else. Despite the hardships of life imposed by the hostile region, they not only manage to survive, but often maintain a surprisingly high standard of living. They are loyal and honorable, though outsiders often fail to grasp their concept of honor.
Vidarak are almost without exception lean and muscular, hardened by their constant struggle for survival. Their skin is very fair, their hair is usually blonde (or rarely, red), and their eyes are almost always blue.
Dress: Most Vidar clothing consists largely of furs and skins of the various animals that can be found in the Reach, supplemented somewhat with a rough broadcloth. Dress must be practical, due to the harsh weather, but beads are sometimes used for ornamental purposes. Wealthier individuals may wear garmets made of wool or other foreign cloths, obtained via trade. Heavy armor is almost never used, as it is vastly impractical in the cold, and takes up far too much space to be transported on the varbüts (warboats).
Virtually all Vidarak wear their hair long, regardless of gender, and usually keep it braided. Men allow their beards to grow long, and often braid them, as well.
Culture and Society: Vidarak tend to live in small villages known as kylen, with extended families dwelling together in large, single-roomed common houses. Oftentimes, humans and animals will live in separate areas under the same roof, as this is both more economical and better for heat conservation in the wintertime. Cities are an almost alien concept; with the exception of Dun Kavr, no major settlements are known to exist.
The Vidarak are known primarily as a fierce warrior people, a reputation that is not undeserved. Tales of their raids on coastal towns and merchant ships abound, and security is instantly tightened at any port whenever a Vidar ship is spotted. However, they are not simply bloodthirsty raiders, as some portray them. Vidarak are bold explorers and shrewd traders, as well. In fact, these vessels have been reported as far afield as Macoran Bay and the Sathni Coast.
The diet of the Vidarak consists mostly of fish and meat, supplemented by what vegetable harvest they manage to coax from the earth during the short growing season. Goats, which are easy to feed, are kept for production of milk and cheese (and even meat, in very lean times), and a few wealthier Vidarak keep sheep for their prized wool.
Knowledge and learning is mostly oral, with certain young Vidarak chosen from a young age to learn all of the laws and traditions of the people. Known as itiirdek, these special lawkeepers are highly respected, and are required at any legal proceedings. Before a Vidar can become a itiirdak, they must demonstrate absolute perfection in reciting the various laws. If an individual commits a crime, the itiirdak recites the appropriate section of Vidar law, and a decision is made from this. Even the rulers of the Vidar are not above the law.
Vidar law is an interesting subject in and of itself. Virtually every facet of daily life is covered by the law, including both civil and criminal penalties for various crimes, how rulership may be passed, general guidelines for trade, and more. This leads to the vastly divergent opinion that Vidarak hold of themselves - that of a lawful, orderly society - than the one that outsiders view them with - that of a nation of murderous raiders. The key element that makes both ideas true is that Vidar law applies only to the Vidarak themselves. Outsiders are not covered by the tenets of law; thus, it is perfectly acceptable to wage war, pillage towns, and plunder ships of non-Vidar.
Personal honor is important to the Vidarak, and slights are usually repaid in kind in order to "balance the scales" of honor. If an individual feels that they have been treated especially badly by another, they can (and must) challenge that person to a duel. These duels are highly regulated, however, and may only last until the first blood is drawn. At this point, the gods are seen as having spoken on the matter, and the score is settled, regardless of the outcome.
The very worst offenders in Vidar society are branded and banished from the people, forced to live out their lives away from other Vidarak. In many ways, execution would be kinder, as the individual cannot expect any compassion or interaction from the rest of the people. Essentially, the offender becomes a "non-person," forced to face the harsh Reach alone, subject to any further punishment that any Vidar individual may see fit.
Society is divided into three main castes: freemen, bondsmen, and slaves. Freemen have full rights and privileges, can own property, carry weapons, and have a say in the way that government is conducted. Bondsmen are Vidarak who have incurred unpayable debts to other freemen; they live as servants, usually for a set period of time (three to seven years is fairly typical). Bondsmen live hard lives, but have some rights and protections under the law, as they are, after all, still Vidarak. Slaves, however, have no standing whatsoever. Usually consisting of individuals captured during raids or bought from other Vidarak, slaves can be treated any way their master desires. While it is considered to be bad form, slaves can even be killed without fear of legal repercussions, as they are viewed simply as property.
Once they reach their twelth year of age, Vidar children must undergo the Jür Kaelth, the rite of passage. In this rite, the youth, whter they be male or female, are given their first task as an adult. This task must be completed within a concrete time period, typically before the turning of the moon. When this task is completed, the youth takes their village name. This task, and the accomlishment of it, greatly affects the path a Vidar may take - be it warrior, farmer, shipbuilder, etc.
Trade and Commerce: Despite their fierce reputation, the Vidarak are shrewd and accomplished traders, as well. While best known for their famous varbüt warships, they also make excellent use of kvorrn, larger trading vessels.
The Vidarak trade closely with the Gilskalos of the Isles of Tiborn, acquiring precious metals and furs in exchange for food, spirits, and linen. They then turn around and export most of these items, along with their own furs, fish, and other items to the great port city of Bayris. Vidarak captains trade on a regular basis wth the Khordaldrum, and even some of the more savage inhabitants near the Chakran Mountains. Some less scrupulous Vidarak have been known to deal in the profitable slave trade that still persists in some of the less-regulated port towns along the Taskarran Coast.
While the Vidarak mint no currency of their own, they are fully aware of the value of coin when it comes to commerce. Therefore, it is not at all uncommon to see Pardinese, Bayrisian, Khordaldrum, and even Sylvari currency in the possession of a Vidar trader.
Ships and Navigation: The relationship the Vidarak hold with the sea is an integral part of their cultural identity. Though they certainly cannot spend the kind of time in the water that, say, the Lendoreans do, the sea is nevertheless vitally important. Instead of living in the water, the Vidarak do a tremendous amount of living on the water - fishing, trading, exploring, and sailing.
The best-known and most important Vidar ship is the varbüt. While small, these ships are amazingly seaworthy, and their shallow draft enables them to be safely sailed in shallow coves, and even up inland rivers. Long and narrow, varbüts are oar-driven, while mounting a single sail for additional speed, and are considered the fastest ships on the water. They can range anywhere from thirty-five to eighty feet, usually have a reinforced prow for ramming other ships, and can carry a surprising number of Vidar warriors. Typically seen in small groups (three to five ships), varbüts are extremely formidable and strike fear into the hearts of seagoers everywhere.
Larger and slower, but still very important, are the kvorr trading vessels. Utilizing a cunning design similar to that of the varbüts, the kvorrn can carry an enormous amount of cargo for their size. While wider than the Vidar military craft, the kvorrn have a very shallow draft, and are still very maneuverable.
Vidarak know the coastlines of northern Antaron in great detail, and use landmarks as navigational tools. Often, they incorporate these landmarks into legends about the gods or the past, and retell them on their long sea journeys, thus ensuring that the knowledge stays fresh. Typically, Vidarak navigate by sailing within sight of land for the entire day, then beaching their shallow-bottomed boats at night. However, they are by no means limited to coastal sailing, as their craft are certainly seaworthy enough to handle the open ocean.
Once out of the sight of land, the Vidarak sail by aid of the sun and the stars, unless completely lost. In the event that heavy fog sets in for days at a time, Vidar sailors are still able to navigate, by use of fleas - an old secret is that fleas, once removed from a host, will always hop north. Certainly, a flea is always available - be it from the hair of a sailor, or from some other body part - therefore, the northmen are never lost for long.
Religion: The Vidarak worship many of the same gods revered by other cultures, though the names and perceptions of these deities are often noticeably different than those of other societies. For the most part, religious expression is treated very matter-of-factly, with little pomp or show, and the attitude that the gods have jobs to do, and are merely fulfilling their divine responsibilities. A few of the most commonly worshipped include:
Världfader (Kith-jora; literally, Earth Father): portrayed as a stocky, bearded farmer. When planting their crops each year, the Vidarak dig small holes in their fields. These holes are filled with food and beer, given as an offering for the earth's bounty.
Skälmader (Cardista; literally, Sea Mother): seen as a mysterious, temperamental woman. With so much of their lives dependent upon the sea, the Vidarak pray as much to Cardista as to anyone. They know that she is fickle and sometimes turns against men, but she also provides for them. Therefore, the dangers of the sea are accepted as a fact of life, just as it is accepted that the sun will rise each day.
Ditiirdak (Rydor; loosely, Great Law Keeper): viewed as a stern, respected figure, though not so much revered as accepted as necessary. Rydor is most often invoked at legal assemblies, or when oaths of vengeance are sworn.
Brieskiir (Solanis): seen as sailing his celestial boat across the sky each day. He brings life-giving warmth and light; chief among his foes, according to Vidar ideology, are the ice-god Khaalzar (Khamaruz) and the storm-god Throm (Anskar).
The Varigads (Therassor and Bakloran; literally, War Gods): the aid of the War Gods is often sought before and during battles. It is interesting to note that the Vidarak do hold that one of the gods is dark, the other light; however, they are viewed as essentially inseparable - where there is one, the other must also be. Therefore, they make no real distinction between the two, instead casting them both as the patrons of battle.
Values and Taboos: Despite their warlike reputation, the Vidarak place heavy emphasis on family, home, and tribe. Hard work is to be admired; the only Vidarak who are not expected to pull their own weight are the elders who have earned their place. For the most part, men and women have differing roles, with the women focusing more on domestic tasks, and men leaning more towards hunting, trading, and martial pursuits. However, aside from rulership (which is open only to men), Vidar society is free from gender bias. Indeed, many Vidar women are quite powerful, as they must assume the responsibilities of running the household while the men are away, and usually maintain that role even during the winter months. Marriages are often arranged, and signify an alliance between the two families.
Honor is an extremely important concept, to the degree that it is literally a matter of law that a disgraced Vidar must seek to regain his lost honor. However, the law only allows certain ways of doing this, so the proper channels of challenge must always be observed. Politeness and hospitality are an expected part of life, and any traveler can expect a free meal and a warm place to sleep, as long as they show themselves friendly; tradition dictates that any Vidarak who seeks hospitality must be treated as one's own family member. As stated, Vidar law does not cover foreigners, thus allowing free reign to pillage any outside of the tribes. However, theft, murder, or any other crimes against fellow Vidar are strictly prohibited.
As with most warrior cultures, Vidarak who die in battle are revered, and are viewed as having achieved the greatest reward. The only exception to this are those who may lose a limb; disfigured warriors are seen as unfit to serve properly in the afterlife. This is why Vidar raiders will occasionally cut off the arms or legs of hated opponents, as thus, in their opinion, remove any chance of their honorable death.
Thanks to Olan Suddeth for this contribution!