Ashes of Empires
Long before the great nations of humans and elves raised their cities on the shores of the Great Deep Sea, the wilderness was peopled by small bands of hunter-gatherers who lived in peace with the seemingly capricious whims of nature. Largely ignoring and ignored by the rise of their more civilized cousins, these nature-worshippers keep up their ancient way of life deep in the vast, untouched forests, in the menacing dark of endless swamps, and along the great rivers that rage toward the sea. The Wilden, as they are called, are content in their old ways and tend to keep to themselves, rarely engaging with the world at large.
Attitudes Toward the Hand
Leaders of the Hand generally see the Wilden as no threat to their rule and tolerate their presence on the fringes of the empire. However, some Hundkin soldiers have taken to hunting the Wilden for sport to stave off their boredom.
These hunts, or, as the Wilden call them, ‘cullings’, were initially regarded by the elders as part of the natural order of things. As the Hand has grown in power and ferocity, however, some Wilden are coming to see the Hundkin as a force that lacks a balancing counterpart in the natural world. And with rumors of their otherworldly origin starting to spread, some Wilden believe that the time to put things right is near.
The Wilden are organized into bands or tribes of 30-50 adults and children. Each tribe is ruled by consensus but advised by elders and shaman collectively called the Ardin. Fiercely egalitarian, the Wilden place equal weight on the ideas and concerns of each member of the tribe, but at the same time recognize the that the older Ardin alone can temper the passions of youth with the wisdom of age.
Twice a year, on the Winter and Summer solstices, Ardin from across all of the Wilden tribes gather for a great council and feast, called the Convergence. It is here that decisions that affect the Wilden nation as a whole are debated and decided, the future read in omens and portends, and great quantities of food and fermented milk consumed in celebration of nature’s bounty. It is a great honor to be selected to attend a Convergence, which is a sort of recognition of the wisdom of an individual within a tribe.
Appearance and Dress
Wilden are fitted with torcs when they come of age, in a special ceremony that binds the individual to his or her tribe for life. Each Wilden tribe has its own distinctive style for the torcs worn by its members. With the exception of the tribal torc, jewelry of any kind is considered taboo.
Wilden clothing tends to the conservative, with men and women wearing long-sleeved tunics over loose leggings that gather tightly at the ankle. The tunics of men extend to the knee, while those of the women reach the shins.
Ordinary Wilden are forbidden to comb or brush their hair, and may only trim it once per year during a special autumnal festival. As a result, most individuals present a wild and unkempt visage. Ardin, both male and female, are excepted from these rules and are expected to keep their heads cleanly shaved.
The Wilden believe firmly in a karma-like principle known as the Threefold Law. Simply stated, the Law posits that the good or ill wrought by any individual will revisit him or her threefold. For this reason, Wilden tend to strike last in battle and favor defensive or disarming strategies over aggressive tactics. However, if an enemy appears to be besting a Wilden or one of her allies, the individual may come to see herself as the instrument of the Threefold Law and deliver acorrespondingly harsh punishment to the opposing creature. This seemingly contradictory set of tactical approaches to combat are disorienting to friends and foes alike, but are seen as logical and reasonable to the Wilden themselves.
Outsiders consider the Wilden to be extremely superstitious, but the Wilden see things from a different perspective: they consider themselves intimately attuned to the forces of both nature and luck, detecting and reacting to currents of each from one moment to the next. This connection to invisible forces manifests in unusual and, to outsiders, often baffling ways: for example, as a refusal to cross a body of water until the shadow of a certain tree no longer falls on its surface, or the insistence on continuing to travel through the night because of the fortuitous position of a particular star relative to the waning moon.
Humility is a virtue prized by the Wilden over all others. Its expression, however, can take some unusual forms. A typical example of this is the custom of “insulting the meat”. When a hunter returns with the spoils of the hunt, it is traditional for him or her to express disdain at the quality of the meat, to insist on the weakness and skinniness of the prey, or to express his or her apparent hunting prowess as nothing more than a happy accident of luck rather than skill. Similarly, warriors may return from a successful skirmish insisting that there were fewer opponents on the field than there appeared to be, and these were obviously the weakest and the sickest, so the day’s victory had nothing at all to do with the skill of the warriors.