Blood and smoke
Overview of Nordland
In law, the writ of Nordland extends from the Ostland border west to the edge of the Wasteland, and north from the Great North Road to the shores of the Sea of Claws. The Elector Counts of Nordland have accumulated an impressive collection of titles and claims over the millennia, which, if enforced, would make them rulers of most of the north of the Empire. Reality has a way of foiling the most grandiose ambitions, however, and the Counts’ rule extends to barely half the lands they claim.
Two great forests blanket Nordland, leaving Humans to exist in pockets carved out of the solid woodlands and along the barren shoreline. The eastern quarter includes the edges of the Forest of Shadows, which dominates Ostland. It extends as far as the Erengrad-Middenheim Road, crossing it north of Beeckerhoven and finally ending on the banks of the River Salz. The Forest of Shadows has a dark, dread reputation in Ostland, and that reputation has carried over to the people of Nordland. Predatory Giant Spiders are known to lurk deep in the forest, while Beastmen and worse have been seen in increasing numbers since the war began. Lumbering parties rarely travel far into the woods anymore, unless accompanied by armed soldiers. The increased danger has led to a fall in timber harvests, hurting the local economy and leading to rumblings that the Count is not doing his job.
West of Salzenmund and the Silver Hills above it lies the Laurelorn Forest, which stretches west to the borders with the Wasteland. Technically a part of the Count’s domain, the Laurelorn is in truth a wholly independent realm. Its rulers are the reclusive Wood Elves of Laurelorn, the descendants of the High Elves who chose not to leave the Old World at the end of the War with the Dwarfs. By agreement with the Elector Counts of Nordland, the Elves allow Imperials to settle the area between the Rivers Salz and Demst, which enters the Sea of Claws at Hargendorf. The agreement strictly limits numbers, however, and the Elves must approve before any new settlements are made. This they have been loath to do, placing many restrictions on what the settlements may harvest from the forest. The Humans chafe under these restrictions, and nobles have pressured Grand Baron Gausser to demand a renegotiation.
Impatient as ever, some Humans have made illegal settlements in the area, which the Elves have threatened to remove by force, if need be. Some observers fear a coming clash between the Elector Count’s knights and the warriors of Laurelorn, but the war has held Salzenmund’s hand, so far. There are worries, however, that the Elves may see this as a time to assert their rights.
From the westernmost settlement at Hargendorf east to Neues Emskrank, the shore comprises sandy lowlands often interrupted by marsh and bog. West toward Norden, the shore becomes more rocky and covered in shingle as it rises to the coastal hills of Ostland. Here on the Drosselspule Bay, fishermen harvest vast numbers of herring and cod, most of which is salted and exported south. Wreckers are still common along Nordland ’s coast, as some people supplement their meagre incomes with the pickings of ships they have led to their deaths. This has occasionally brought conflict with the authorities in Marienburg, whose livelihood depends on the free flow of trade.
The people of Nordland are descendents of the ancient Was Jutone tribe. Close brothers to the Was Jutones of Ostland, the Nordland branch of the tribe eventually became estranged from the more easterly settlements of their peoples. Eventually, the early Nordlanders fell in battle, becoming vassals of the belligerent Teutogens, and frequent victims of Norscan raids. During the chaos that reigned in the aftermath of the Great Plague, much of Nordland’s coasts of the river valleys were invaded and colonised by the Norscans, leading to a mingling of the tribal bloodlines. Emperor Mandred Ratslayer, faced with graver threats elsewhere, had little time to answer the pleas of the Nordlanders, much to their horror.
As time passed and populations mixed, the Nordlanders adopted many of the customs of their Norscan cousins. Courts frequently resort to trial by combat, the contest taking place on a white sheet pegged to the ground: The first person to stain the sheet red with his blood is declared the loser and the guilty party. Older houses often have runes carved into their doors and window frames for luck and spiritual protection, and along the coast the longhouse style is still common. At feasts and gatherings, Norscan bragging contests have evolved into more genteel storytelling events, with each speaker trying to outdo the last. So great is the Nordlander love of stories that they have become famous around the Empire as great storytellers. Popular tales range from historical epics to low comedy, mythology, and horror.
The folk of this province are said to be amongst the loudest and frankest of all the Empire. They seem to lack any subtlety, tact, or common sense. Several local legends involve heroes who blurt out the truth at the vital moment, thus saving the day. Other provinces point out this is because Nordlanders are too stupid to lie. At their best Nordlanders are solid, straightforward, and honest folk, lacking in guile and looking down upon the mealymouthed words of politicians, poets, and soft Reiklanders.At their worst, Nordlanders are churlish, uncouth, and thoughtless speakers. Even the merchants of Nordland have this blunt approach, though they seem to be fine with doubledealing. Indeed, they have found that shouting the final price of something loudly and repeatedly has a profound effect upon merchants used to the subtleties of barter and negotiation.
Many provinces point out that this is because of their mongrel Was Jutone, Teutogen, and Norscan bloodlines. This mixed heritage has been a source of Nordlander shame. Modern Imperials look on Norscans with a mixture of admiration and fear, seeing them both as powerful warriors and wild, uncivilised barbarians, not to be trusted around one’s daughters or sheep. A popular Imperial saying runs “Character is in the blood,” meaning that ancestry determines character. Thus Nordlanders, though of the Empire, are often regarded as “not quite one of us,” rougher and more uncouth even than the wild and hairy Middenlanders
Another cause for discomfort among Nordlanders comes from the current fashion among nobles, especially in the north, for tracing ancestry back to one of the founding tribes. The purer the background, the higher one’s status climbs, and the summit is the tracing of a lineage back to one of the founding chiefs. Alone among the provinces, the Nordlanders’ ancestors were conquered by outsiders, which is a source of embarrassment for status-conscious nobles, particularly when dealing with arrogant Middenlanders or Stirland bumpkins. The Middenlander claim to have “bowed only before Sigmar himself” is particularly galling.
Renowned hunters and foresters, the Nordlanders’ woodland skills are so strong that even Hochlanders and the folk of the Talabec will grudgingly admit that they are “not too bad.” Certainly Nordlanders are close to the land: The province has one of the largest communities of Rhya worship in the north of the Empire, centred around the clannish villages south of Hargendorf. The Worship of the Harvest Mother without her consort Taal, is considered particularly dangerous in come circles of thought. Talabeclanders in particular are dismissive of this “women’s worship.” They whisper that the Elves join the Humans for their religious rites at old stone circles deep in the woods; though speculation is rife, no one knows what really goes on in these joint ceremonies. The Elector Count is not comfortable with this, and is considering sending investigators to determine if the people of the Demst vale are planning a revolt.
A Nordlander’s accent is one of the most distinctive of the Empire. Their speech is very harsh and fast, almost barked out rather than spoken. Nordland singing is said to sound “like gravel in a barrel rolling down a hill.”