The majority of Southolders are of the Southron race, a tall people, with a complexion slightly darker than pale. Hair is abundant in the form of beards, and is often of brown or black color (blond and red hair is uncommon, and is only seen as the result of intermarriage.) To complement the their tall stature, most Southrons are rather stout of build, midway between thin and large. Southrons are the original descendants of Armon, the first man. In fact, Southrond, the country founded by Armon well before the Cataclysm, was the first organized human nation. It encompassed today's Southold, as well as the modern day border kingdom of Alesia, and substantial portions of what is now the Sind Desert (which was grassy plains in those bygone days). Southrons today usually have a sense of pride, often subconscious, that they are of the race of the first man.
Southrons exist not only in Southold; they are scattered across the neighboring countries. There is actually a majority of them in the tyrannical Videssian puppet state Alesia (called Norththalia by the natives, after the region's ancient name, Thalemond). Recapturing this land and creating a "Greater Southold" has long been a Southron dream.
Over the centuries, there has been much intermarriage of this racial group; Southron marriage with High and Middle Videssians helped create the Low Videssian race. Also, there has been much intermingling with the Irrudian race of the Green Isles and the Minoan races. Surprisingly, however, there has been little marriage with the Tael race of Tara, due to cultural differences. The same is true of most of the other races.
A number of demi-human races also thrive in Southold, including large
communities of elves and half-elves in the forests, as well as dwarves on the northern border. There is an entire, if small, autonomous country of halflings surrounded by Southold’s borders—the Freeshires—though they are covered in detail elsewhere. Goblinoid races are rather sparse in the populated areas, but thrive in wilderness lands such as the Cruth Mountains.
A couple million people reside in the lands of Southold, of which some 75% are Southron. The population of Southold is roughly divided into three classes; the nobility, the middle class, and the serfs. Mobility is rather limited, though a serf may buy his freedom. The middle class, notably the merchants, has grown tremendously in the last century of relative peace. In fact, their number nearly equals that of the serfs; the many social problems caused by this upheaval in the feudal system affect Southold more and more each year.
The chief noble of Southold is the King, who goes by the lengthy title, "His Royal Majesty, King of the Lands of Southold, Descendent of the Line of Athelstan, and Defender of Tyr." The current monarch is King Edmund III, who ascended to the throne after the foul murder of his father, the good King Halfred in 1504. The King rules from the Royal Citadel in Dunthrane, the Crown City. He is attended by numerous advisors and councilors, and keeps a Court of such advisors and prominent noblemen. Nevertheless, his word is law; Southold is definitely an absolute monarchy. At the Victory Tournament of 1508, he took Lady Madeline of Alcester as his wife.
There are three symbols of the Kingship of Southold, handed down since the
founding of the realm in 1066 by Athelstan. These are the Crown, the Scepter, and the Sword of Athelstan. All are known to have magic properties, and indeed are treated as holy artifacts. These were wielded by Athelstan, who most regard as an incarnation, or avatar, of Tyr himself. This is the reason that Tyr is regarded as the patron of Southold, and why his church has such power here. In fact, during times of trouble, when the succession was unclear, or when usurpers held the throne, these artifacts have disappeared. This is a prime reason why the King commands such autocratic power, for the holding of these artifacts is regarded as the mandate of Tyr himself. Indeed, the Kings of Southold are all members of the House of Athelstan, which means they have the blood of the gods in their veins (Athelstan married Elizabeth of Bywater (of the House of Cawdor) in the latter years of his reign and sired four sons before his sudden death at the age of forty-four). Several years ago the artifacts were briefly stolen by the Cortlaish Vampire Patriarch, Count Victor von Drakov, though they were later recovered by the Intrepid Paragon adventuring group.
Beneath the King are the Dukes, one ruling each province (though the King himself administers the Crown Province of Dunador). There are thus five Dukes, administering the other five provinces of Andeaver, Hadlech, Anorien, Sylmarch, and Balar). Each province is ruled by a different family, whose claim to the territory extends to the age of Videssian Occupation, before the unification of the country. The House of Athelstan, symbolized by a royal blue cross on a canary yellow field, led by the King, naturally holds sway in Dunador.
Second in prestige, political power, and resources is the House of Andron in charge of Andeaver,
symbolized by a red lion rearing on a white field. Nobles of Andron have an independent streak; during the unification of Southold, they were the last to join the coalition of provinces, and only then at the threat of war. The young Duke Aimar II recently led this family. This impetuous boy joined with Lord Edrin of Balar, just as his father Duke Aimar I did, in rebellion against the sovereign. Many, especially the merchants and non-Andronite nobles, clamored for a new family to gain rule over Andeaver, given the House of Andron's treachery. Yet the other noble houses, fearing that should one House be overturned the others might follow, convinced the King to appoint one of the few Loyalist Andronites, Mallorn, as the new Duke.
Next in power is the House of Hador, symbolized by a golden boar rampant on a split green and blue field, which rules Hadlech. Duke Garthran presides over this family, known for its spirit of adventure and honor. In fact, a number of Southold's great adventurers hailed from this noble house, most notably, Elwaine and Alwaine of yore, and of today, that stout warrior Sir Gaheris, compatriot of Count Thingol Half-Elven as well as the noted paladin Lady Araselle.
Anorien, the bread-basket of Southold, is presided over by the House of Cawdor, led by the well-loved Duke Duncan, and symbolized by a red and white divided field. This noble house, though smaller and weaker than the aforementioned families, is known for its honor, loyalty, and piety.
The House of Galloway, symbolized by a silver horse rearing on a blue and black quartered field, presides over Sylmarch, and is led by Duke Harold. It is regarded with no small amount of scorn by the other noble houses. This is due to the diplomacy and slyness often shown by nobles of Galloway, a necessity due to geography; Sylmarch, while blessed with fertile soil, is adjacent to the massive Cortalish Empire. Sylmarch has been a battleground in each of Southold's wars with this juggernaut. Before the latest war erupted in 1508, Galloway’s nobles were often accused of holding secret talks with the Cortals and offering tribute to avert invasion, to no avail.
No noble house rules the weakest of the provinces, Balar. The duchy is symbolized by a sailing ship on a white over blue field. Rulership of this poor province, captured from Hule at the end of the Second Cortalish War in 1406, has customarily been awarded as a punishment. Nobles who displeased the King, but were too powerful to simply execute, are often sent here, where the many problems of this land suitably occupy the near-banished noble. Until the Civil War, Lord Edrin ruled, flying his standard of a black raven on a white field over the ramparts of Harbury. He was implicated in the assassination of King Halfred, and indeed had earlier usurped the crown and brought the Reign of Terror upon Southold (1475-6). Yet, as Halfred's brother, the good old king pardoned Edrin, as did King Edmund after his father's death (though not by choice, Edrin won a trial by combat, proving his innocence.) Thus was he relegated to Balar, but even these rocky shores could not quench his thirst for power; his latest rebellion against the King was only crushed in 1508, but this time Count Thingol slew him in trial by combat.
The latest Duke is the former Count Warwick Kenilworth I, formerly Lord High Marshal of the Armies of Southold. It is well-known he opposed the war with the Cortals, preferring to attack the ancient Videssian enemy instead, and was “promoted” out of his important post to Balar. Warwick recognizes that Balar is not a lucrative province, yet he has enjoyed ruling the wild land. He has tried to pacify the countryside, especially the dangerous foothills of the Marston Peaks and the bandit (both Huler and Southron) infested routes to the Great Pass. Duke Warwick’s standard is of a gray wolf with claw raised on a blue field. His son, Baron Warwick Kenilworth II, was recently named Viceroy of New Southold in the newly discovered land of Aztaltica, but was soon overthrown by the Silver Legion and its General, Morgan Cordell. Rumors at court are abuzz that there may have been a nefarious plot involving the father and son in the enterprise and the Duke has not been seen at court since.
Beneath the rank of Duke, in decreasing order, are the counts, barons, baronets, and, nominally a part of the nobility, the knights and the priesthood. There are usually only a handful of counts in a given province, all preside over a major city, and may have additional holdings. Barons control a single castle, while baronets lack even that, usually possessing a manor house. Knights posses a manor house at most, but the vast majority serve higher lords in their castles. Upward, as well as downward mobility is possible, though relatively rare in times of peace. Members of the noble house in control of the province make up the majority of the nobility there (an average of 60% of the castles and manors in a given province belong to members of the ruling house.) Members of other noble houses or common families occupy the remained 40% of castles.
Nobles retain several rights that freemen and serfs lack, such as the right to trial by combat to resolve questions of guilt. The priesthood of Tyr has often chafed against this restriction, but most see it as just; after all, if a noble is guilty, and has lost Tyr's favor, the Grimjaws would surely make him loose. Nobles are also exempt from certain taxes, but are subject to many more. Only they can rule in the King's name. However, corrupt nobles can, and have been tried by the Courts of Tyr--they do not have the immunity so often accorded to their class abroad.
The priesthood, especially that of Tyr is accorded great respect in Southold. As the national religion, the Church of Tyr also possesses many special rights, some that even the nobles lack, this is described under the Religion in Southold.
There has always been a substantial group of freemen in Southold, but with the recent rise of the cities that has accompanied the last century, this class has likewise increased dramatically. As the importance and volume of trade increases, many merchants have swelled the ranks of the freemen. This trade increase is largely a result of the cities' growth; with the increase of specialization and the corresponding decrease of self-sufficiency, trade has increased. Indeed, several of the major cities could not maintain their large sizes without imports of food. With the increase in specialization, the many guilds of crafts have multiplied. Guilds offer a power that in many cities counterbalance even the nobility. Indeed, some freemen guildmasters wield more power than the nobles that "rule" them. Freemen make up nearly as large an amount of the population of as the serfs. In fact, numerous freemen farmers (yeomen) have appeared in the last few hundred years.
A recent career available to freemen is that of soldier. King Harold began keeping a standing army in Dunthrane after the Second Cortalish War, and since then this service has expanded dramatically. Until this time, most battles were fought by knights (derived from the nobility) and the fyrd (a little-trained rabble of armed peasants) and yeomanry (an enlightened form of militia with freemen farmers acting as officers over the serfs, and with the farmers actually possessing their weapons, rather than being issued them in emergencies.) However the scale of conflict in this age made the old system obsolescent. The fyrd, and especially the yeomanry still exist, but professional men-at-arms are now maintained by the Crown, as well as by many nobles. Of course, freemen may also join one of the numerous mercenary companies (see Military of Southold.)
Southold is a feudal society, and as such there is a very large population of serfs or peasants. These serfs are not slaves; indeed they have numerous rights. They are, however, bound to the land by the Code of Athelstan, the law that governs Southold. Serfs must reside and labor in one place and work on the land owned by their lord, who might be a noble, a prominent cleric, or an institution such as a monastery. They cultivate and harvest their lord's land, and are allowed to keep small plots to support themselves. However, they have to pay their taxes from their own profits. Such obligations include a payment for permission to give daughters in marriage, death (or inheritance) tax, payments for the use of the lord's grain mill and bread oven, and for miscellaneous uses such as carting.
Yet the lord also has obligations; he is required to protect his serfs from depredations by outlaws, famine, or other lords. Indeed, it is in the lord's interest to do this, for without serfs to farm the land, such land is useless. Unlike slaves, serfs cannot be physically abused by their masters, and killing one is actually a crime (see Laws in Southold). Another distinction between serfs and slaves is that serfs cannot be sold, and in fact they can inherit, own, and bequeath property. Serfs can even purchase their freedom, and are just as frequently freed by their lords.
Serfs are more common in the heavily agrarian provinces of Anorien and Sylmarch, and are the rarest in Andeaver, where the House of Andron has forbidden serfs from working in the many mines that are that province's primary livelihood.
Serfdom is a part of Southolder life, there has yet been no major rebellions (except those of the distant past due to famine), or moral outcry against these practices. After all, Tyr's priests teach that the ordered position of some men must be below the others. Yet the serfs, as a class, have declined over the last hundred years. Even independent farmers (yeomen) have sprung up, and this appears to be a trend that will continue into the 16th century.
Many elves live in the confines of the Forest of Arden, alongside humans and half-elves. This is Arik’s best example of cooperation and coexistence between the elves and humans, and the community they have created at Shady Vale is considered a utopia. There are no serfs, and the community is self-sufficient. Ranger Lord Dorian (an elf) and his wife, the Great Druidess Miriel of Silvanus, rule these lands, officially part of Southold, but autonomous in practice.
Wild wood elves also dwell in Canolbarth Forest, but they are looked on with distrust and fear. Dwarves also dwell on the northern borders of Southold, usually at trading posts on the rivers flowing out of the Veronian Mountains of Rockhome. This is necessitated by the dwarven Territorial Edict of King Harken Stoneblaster (1410) that no humans enter the Kingdom of Rockhome without permission (which is seldom granted).
Many humanoid tribes dwell in the wild Cruth Mountains, including the feared Clan of the Bloody Spear, a group of several thousand well-trained orcs that dwell in the heart of the Cruth. Numerous attempts have been made by the nobles of Hadlech's House of Hador and the Nuadan Knights of the Silver Hand to crush this tribe, but the orcs’ prolific breeding has always negated such campaigns after a decade or two.
Half-orcs are common on the fringes of the Cruth, most operating as bandits on the nearby thoroughfares. Deeper in the Cruth, trolls and hobgoblins are common. However, there are rumors that a mysterious realm, a mountain paradise called Haven dwells in the heart of the mountains. It is said that in this land, all races live together in harmony. This has made a wonderful children's tale for centuries.
Finally, a number of halfling villages exist in the river valleys of Southold, and many halflings live in human cities. The southern region known as the Freeshires is autonomous, though the Sherrifs swear fealty to King Edmund and halfling regiments serve in the army. The halflings’ rights devolve from the Treaty of Grandlegore, signed by King Athelstan himself in 1068 shortly after the country’s liberation from the Videssians. Even though they have sent several militia contributions to aid in the Third Cortalish War, the halflings are regarded with some distrust by the humans, as they have a reputation as being a lot of pint-sized thieves, though cheerful ones.
Southold is generally a lawful good society in keeping both with the lawful nature of feudalism and the precepts of Tyr, which preach the philosophy of good. A substantial minority is lawful neutral; amoral, but contained within the system. The Neutral Good ethos predominates in the north where Nuada’s worship is more common and which is farther from the central rule of Dunthrane. The other alignments are all represented as well, even in a generally "good" society as this evil and chaos are rife.
The unifying element throughout society is fealty to one's lord; feudalism, though weakened by the rise of the cities, remains the underlying bond that keeps the society together. The many problems caused by the rise of the cities have frayed the social order, and frightened many of the nobles. In fact, there is a desire in some cities to gain self-rule, to throw off the yoke of the nobility. These treasonous desires are muted, for now.
In general, Southolders have a deep-seated distrust of the Cortals, having endured three fierce wars with that Empire and a harsh occupation in their history. Likewise, there is an inherent distrust of the Videssians, a condition merely heightened by the attempts every few years to subvert the border province of Anorien (most recently the 1504 assassination attempt on Duke Duncan and Scipio's attack on Bywater.) Hulers are likewise looked upon suspiciously, but nevertheless, Southold conducts much trade with this desert nation, and tensions seem to be falling off. Minoans, Green Islanders (Irrudians), and Tarans are preferred for trade, and visitors from these three realms are a common sight in Southolder cities.
The system of naming in Southold will be described first.
Common Humanity: Generally, all serfs and most freemen have but a single name, with a secondary one added if there is confusion, either from profession ("Creosoe the Fighter"), location, ("Creosoe of Urml"), or lineage (the latter in particular if some legendary figure was in the family line ("Creosoe, Grandson of Miniber the Sage"). In addition, a name may be added for some physical condition, such as "Blackmane" or "Firehair", or of some legendary or extraordinary event (such as the large number of "Trollslayers" in the land). In a lifetime, the average human can take and discard several surnames, keeping his "given" name throughout.
Human Nobles and Gentry: These individuals tend to retain the "family name", a name usually derived from the founder of the family's fame, position, or prowess. Such names are retained even after the family has fallen from grace or power. Again, special names for events or appearances is common. Note that knights are entitled to assume "family names", upon payment to the Royal College of Heraldry to register the family's coat of arms. The family name of all those descended from the five noble houses use the house name as their family name (Duke Duncan of Cawdor, or King Edmund of Athelstan). The names of such ancient families tend to be rather archaic.
Human Mages: Mages tend to eschew long names and titles, and the general feeling is that a mage's fame should precede him, such that a single mention of his name is sufficient, and no one would doubt the speaker was referring to anyone else but the genuine article. For example, there may well be a Bigby the Tanner, or Bigby of Woburn, but the appellation Bigby refers to the Lord High Wizard of Southold, the foremost mage in the realm.
Human Clerics: Identifications of the faith of Arik are usually included in a name, supplanting any family or noble names, such as Amaster of Pholtus, though in church circles, the full hierarchy title is important, such as "Grand Marshal Anaximenes, High Priest of Nuada."
Elves: The family names of the elves tend to translate into Southron as nicknames, so that there are many "Strongbows" or "Starglows." Such family names can be important as elvish siblings are often centuries apart in age. Half-elves take either elvish or human names, depending on where they were raised, and often change back and forth several times.
Dwarves: Dwarves have a very strong sense of their past and the heroes in their families. They carry only a first name, followed by a qualifier of their heritage. The lowest dwarves attach themselves to their state, as in "Mongor of the Iron House". Dwarves with a hero of renown in their heritage may use the appellation "son of" or "grandson of", such as "Thelarn, son of Mongoth." Beyond two generations, the phrase "blood of" is used, but only for the greatest dwarven leaders, as in "Nor, blood of Ghellin, king-in-exile of the Iron House." Almost all dwarves also belong to a clan, and this too may be part of the dwarf's name.
Halflings: These little people use both given and surnames, and maintain long family trees, such that a third name is sometimes necessary (for location, such as Wysdor Sandminer, of the Sandminers of Nolb"). These names are further changed over time by nicknames for adventures, physical abilities, and pet or diminutive names, and in addition, may be lost behind a maze of pseudonyms and false backgrounds.
As to other customs in Southold, many depend on the Church of Tyr. The five calendar holidays (Midwinter, Greengrass, Midsummer, Higharvestide, and the Feast of the Moon) are celebrated universally, as is the Shieldmeet. Greengrass, however, is known also as Athelstan's Day, for on that day in 1066, Athelstan declared himself King of the new realm of Southold. Thus, Greengrass celebrates not only the coming of spring, but also the formation of Southold. On that day, the banner of Southold, the canary cross on a royal blue field, flies from most shops and homes.
Another prominent mercantile custom peculiar to Southolders is the holding of large trade fairs. Unlike the Huler bazaars or the merchant squares of the Iron League, Southolder merchants gather in major population centers periodically to sell their wares. In addition, foreigners flock to such markets. The largest of these are the Trade Fairs of Dunthrane and Bywater (which occur at Greengrass and Higharvestide, respectively). Indeed, the Dunthrane Trade Fair is so large that for the last several years it has had to held outside the city walls; this event is probably the largest gathering of merchants and wares in all Arik. Nearly anything can be bought here, from fine Mashad blades to Videssian mind-altering drugs, or even Ashandan slaves and rare items of magic.
Nearly all Southolders speak Southron. This complex tongue is the original one spoken by Armon, the first man, and so Southolders speak their language with pride. Southron has a huge vocabulary, and has borrowed words from every other language on Arik, most notably Videssian and Minoan. Southron also has perhaps the most difficult spelling of all the languages (only scholars, clergy, nobles, and some freemen know how to write this difficult tongue).
The language is much changed from when Armon spoke Southron; his language was inflected, declined, and sparse in vocabulary. This version of the language, called Olde Southron, endured with little modification until the devastation of the Cataclysm 15 centuries ago, after which learning broke down and declension and inflection were lost, as well as a plethora of new words added. Another difference is the abandoning of the runic characters of Olde Southron for a 26 letter alphabet. Southold's time as a Videssian province lent a vast infusion of Videssian words into the Southron vocabulary.
As to the other races, even the elves of Arden indulge in this speech, though they maintain knowledge of High Elvish. The dwarves of the northern fringes of Southold speak dwarven, and, of course, the Black Tongue prevails among the humanoids of the Cruth. The halflings are an anomaly, having completely given over to Southron.
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