Xanthar The Brave
142 Days Among Crows
Despite being outlawed by the Imperial Authority for its supposedly heretical teaching, 142 Days Among Crows is still among the best sources of written knowledge about the lands and people far north of the Empire of the Crimson Moon. The book recounts the journeys of an Imperial among the Xanthar, the observations of an outsider written beside knowledge freely given by the people themselves.
The illicit nature of the journal’s contents have made distributing the book a difficult task and while copies have been made, a complete versions is truly rare. What sections that could been obtained have been transcribed below, at great risk to all involved. We only hope that knowledge of these writings never reach iron clad ears.
Let our shadows eclipse the Crimson Moon
A Thousand Traditions
Many times now, have I fallen prey to the assumption that some belief or superstition is shared between different groups of Xanthar clansfolk; one family may consider a shooting star a good omen; another, a sign of certain doom. The clans and tribes of the North follow a complicated mixture of superstitions, mystical traditions and faiths, and the outsider would be well-advised to hire a guide to explain the local variations to them, lest they mortally offend their host. There are, however, some elements that are understood to be true by most of the factions of the North. It is essential that the traveler in these perilous lands grasp these principles, for they describe the supernatural context in which the Northern tribes live their lives.
Breath, Blood, Bone and Shadow
Unlike the Imperial understanding of a single soul indivisible within each individual, the Xanthar believe that there are four souls within a person. These are the souls of breath, blood, bone and shadow, which govern the functioning of the body, mind and the being in general. They are often styled as creatures – breath appears as a sea bird, blood as a bear with red fur, bone as a white whale and shadow as a crow or raven. Xanthar mystics and healers ascribe sickness to the ‘breaking’ or diminishing of one of the four souls, and exceptional individuals are often explained by the great strength of one of the four.
Whilst this belief superficially resembles the four fundamental principles – the ‘elements’ – as they are understood in Imperial lands, I have found that the practical application of this mystic tradition indicates significant differences, and possibly independent origins. From a lengthy and meandering conversation with an elder of the House of Whitehearth (of the Deer clan), I understood that a magician of the North can conjure forth one of these souls from a person. The function of this manifestation is unclear, but the effect on the victim is evidently profound and deeply unpleasant. The elder I spoke to expressed vivid distaste of the dark magic involved, and made copious signs and superstitious gestures to ward off evil during our discourse.
The Heretical Beliefs of the North
The Northern tribes to not worship a single manifestation of Dei as do Imperial citizens; whilst this ignorance of the common doctrine is abhorrent to my Southern brethren, the Clansfolk of the North view the matter from quite the opposite perspective, considering the worship of only one manifestation (which they see as an amalgamation of the various manifestations that they perceive) as quaint, naive and perhaps even barbaric.
There are numerous characters in the supernatural world of the Xanthar who might be called Deities, but most of these do not possess aspects in common with Dei – they are more akin to the powerful Briarfolk spirits of fairy-tales told to Imperial children, or heroes from old stories. Only a handful possess truly Deific traits; of these, the three chief examples are named Skardinn, Astara and Daghmar,
Skardinn is most often depicted as a fierce young warrior, adorned with a sword, a crimson cloak and a crown. There are no princes or princesses amongst the Xanthar, and yet they use the Rabani word ‘prince’ to describe Skardinn. Skardinn is said to be at work in deeds of courage and glory, but also in arrogance, pride and unsolicited advice. The hand of Skardinn is also seen in aid given unasked. It is the spirit the Xanthar are fondest of.
Astara is named the Radiant, and appears as a woman crowned with stars. Deeds done in pursuit of power, wealth or finery are said to be done in her name, for she seeks to bring all the lights of the world to herself. Her hand is at work in great wisdom, but also chiefly in greed. A constellation is named for her.
Daghmar is named the Dreadful; it is depicted as a worm of shadow, with a horse’s skull for a head. It is said to be at work in self-destructive acts, particularly suicide; lost causes, pointless crimes and last stands are done in the name of Daghmar. It is said to live in the dark between stars, the shadows beneath trees and in the dark depths of the sea.
The Xanthar raise altars and shrines to these three. The vast range of Briarfolk spirits spoken of by the Xanthar are not worshipped, but they are said to hold dominion over most other aspects of life. They are capricious and mean, often barely comprehensible and – occasionally – terribly stupid. Their forms are manifold, chiefly deriving from natural elements in bizarre configurations.
The Peoples of the North
The Xanthar divide themselves into broad clans or households; whilst they do not strictly segregate into these different groups, most settlements are largely composed of members of one or two clans. Intermarriage between the clans is commonplace, but offspring tend to identify with one or other of their parental clans.
The Clans appear to derive heavily from aspects of their totem creature identified in families and individuals; some even claimed that those of a particularly spiritual inclination could even take on the form of the totem animal of their clan; but I have not seen or heard any convincing evidence of this, and such beliefs are quite in line with the broader spirituality of the Xanthar.
A brief summary of the most notable clans is included here. There are others, smaller in number or more obscure; some are confined to specific regions. I only include those I personally encountered on my travels.
The Bear Clan
I encountered Bear Clansfolk more frequently than any other; they seem predisposed to settlement and are of a welcoming disposition to strangers. The warriors of the Bear Clan are brave and proud – no wonder, then, that they hold the sway of power in so much of the North. They are fond of long stories of times gone by – and the repertoire of their lore-keepers is impressive.
The Whale Clan
Members of the Whale Clan are almost as common as Bear Clansfolk, but they are more confined to coastal areas. They tend towards maritime professions, such as fishing, trading and whaling, often conducted by all members of their tight-knit families. They are trustworthy and straightforward.
The Deer Clan
I only met a few of the Deer Clan, those who had given up their wandering ways due to old age or illness. They are nomadic, roaming the hills and woods of the North with the seasons with their herds. The best-liked of the nomadic clans, they are wary at first of strangers, but friendly enough. Most families also act as traders, and can often be relied upon for supplies or news.
The Gull Clan
The Gull Clan are the counterpoint to the Deer Clan; another nomadic group, Gulls are prone to wandering alone or in small groups. There appear to be few of them, and they are broadly disliked – they would be called vagabonds in the South, untrustworthy scoundrels moving into a settlement and leaving as soon as their welcome is exhausted. Besides their disreputability, they have little enough in common with one another. It was suggested to me that they may not even be a true “Clan”, formed instead of the cast-offs of other groups – although Gulls vigorously deny this. The Gull clan tend towards coastal regions and maritime pursuits, such as fishing, scavenging the beaches for shellfish and driftwood, and – if the tales are true – more than a few turning to piracy, but they can be found throughout the North.
The Crow Clan
I met few members of the Crow Clan, and learned more of them from others than from the Clansfolk themselves. They are secretive and inscruitable, tending to live in small communities in out-of-the-way places. All sorts of bizarre practices and traditions are attributed to them, most fanciful and improbable – and yet, to meet a Crow, one can quite believe strange things of them. They tend towards a melancholic outlook on the world, quite appropriately for their totemic animal.
The Wolf Clan
The Wolf Clan are reasonably numerous, mingling freely with the other clans. They are jovial and talkative; I made many friends among them during my time in the North. They are difficult to work with, however, weighing the value of all action against the recompense they will receive. They do an honest day’s work, though, so long as they are paid.