It is believed that summer once visited the lands of the Jotunbrud. But true warmth is only a memory to these hardened warrior-folk. Now, frost is a constant to the Chained Kingdom’s dark forests, rime-covered mountains and wind-blown tundras. The plentiful winter spirits, ice trolls and monstrous beasts make life and travel harder, although the Jotunbrud brook little complaint about their hostile environment – they claim that it only hones their skills and weeds weakness from their ranks.
The seat of the Frozen Throne, Ymirheim stands at the mouth of the River Gjoll, which flows into the iceberg-choked Sea of Rydda (sometimes called the Bay of Drowned Souls). Ice, stone and steel raise up the walls, towers and halls of mighty Ymirheim over the bones of Woden’s former thronehold. Indeed, such is the conquest of the Jotun is so absolute that the ruins of Wodenheim can no longer be found; there is only frozen, shimmering Ymirheim and the undeniable stranglehold of the Frost King over every thrall and every thane of the Chained Kingdom.
In the middle of the Rydda, a gigantic ship, the size of a small island and made of ice, rock and dragon-bone, forms the base of operations for the Jotun known as Hellas. The Storm beneath the Waves meets with her Thanes upon the Niffel-keld (the Shadowed Maelstrom in Rune-Speak), or simply “the Keld”. To see Hellas’ ship is to see death itself, say most mariners. Enslaved elementals bear the ship according to the Sea Giant’s will and allow it to travel with the speed of a storm, dooming any quarry it finds to certain destruction.
As one goes up-river through the Gjoll, it is forked by its parentage, the north-born Njordi and the east-born Aestrid. At this fork, amidst swift rivers and windswept flatland, stands the headquarters of the Luccari. Patrolled by wolves and Luccari sentinels, the wooden stronghold of Lukdrassil is named after the Well of Lucca, the sacred, oracular well that it is built around, and the sacred tree of Woden that was cut down to form the fortress-temple’s frame. Almost destroyed several times by Reclaimer raids, Lukdrassil is now protected by multiple concentric walls of magicked stone and the heightened vigilance of the Lucca’s three monstrous children, Senrel, Vallnir and Kallnir.
Upriver of Aestrid and upon the darkened eastern border that separates the Chained Kingdom from the Sunless Wastes are a trio of mountains that lairs the holdfasts of Thrymdull, the Furnace that Walks. The Furnace himself keeps court in a volcano named after him (Mount Thrymfell). The fiery mountain and the holdings of his warband are the only lights in the shadows of the ever shadowed wasteland. Thrymdull and his Warbands must throw back the blighted demons of the wastes on a daily basis. Earstwhile, the Furnace sends steel and flame across the breadth of Jotunbrud in search of the hated Wodensons.
Where the snows of the Chained Kingdom melt to the stagnant bogs of Morread stands the runed holdings of Gjallanir who Feasts upon Runes. In these muddy, rain-blasted highlands, Gjallanir tasks his Warbands with the maintenance of the Jotunbrud border as well as the guardianship of the most arable land in all of the Chained Kingdom. Adding to the troubles of Fir’bolg raiders, the Runed Giant’s Warbands often skirmish with their Luccari neighbors in the north over the contested portions of these farmlands and their profits.
To live among the Jotunbrud is to live a life of constant conflict, constant warfare and constant bloodshed. Any true Jotunbrud is raised to use weaponry and wear armor. Even Thralls and Slaves are given basic training in weaponry.
To be a true member of the Jotunbrud is to be in a Warband and to be in a Warband is to serve one of the Jotun. Membership in a Warband can number in the hundreds or in smaller Warbands, in the dozens. But each Warband has a Thane (sometimes called a Warlord) that answers directly to their Jotun patron. Beneath each Thane are Jarls who act as leaders in small groups. The basic warrior of a Warband is called a Gridsman (Girdda) or a Bondsman (Bondi); these are the rank and file soldiers of the Chainers. Yet, even the Bondsmen are superior to the Thralls (support staff, craftsfolk, non-combatant family members) and the Slaves (indentured servants) of a Warband.
Thralldom: Thralls occupy a strange place in Jotunbrud society. Despite their inability to fight, Thralls are well-treated for their usefulness. The blacksmith who cannot fight is a thrall as is the carpenter who has been maimed, the children of a Warband, a non-combatant medic or their personal consorts. Thralls are considered to be slightly more precious than property and belongs to its warrior patron. To that end, a Warband’s members are tasked with the preservation and guardianship of Thralls. However, the life of a Thrall is still less than the life of a true member of a Warband.
Slavery: Those who are weak and unable to defend themselves are enslaved by the Jotunbrud and tasked to perform labors and services for the warrior-folk of the Chained Kingdom. Non-humans and useless humans that have been taken in raids are sacrificed to the Jotun, who feed upon their flesh and their souls. It is believed that the Jotun prefer the taste of non-humans souls over all else, with the exception of Nightkin, who are slain instead of enslaved or sacrificed.
To be a slave is to drudge and toil for the rest of one’s life, unless one can prove himself or herself in battle. When such a slave is found, he or she is tested for physical or magical strength. If strength is found in a slave, loyalty to the Kingdom is bred into them. Those who continuously prove disloyal are used as amusement or practice in various fighting pits.
However, those who prove themselves both strong and loyal can find prosperity and wealth if they can thrive in Jotunbrud’s warrior society. In fact, many thanes among the Chained Kingdom have clawed and fought their way to leadership despite their own roots in slavery or thralldom.
Unlike Thralls, Slaves are considered to be property and are owned only by Jotun Giants. Warbands can choose to treat and command a Jotun’s slaves as they will, but are answerable if a favored slave is disabled or slain.
Justice in the Chained Kingdom: Most crimes in the Chained Kingdom are punishable by torture (or flogging) , maiming and/or confiscation of property, Especially egregious violations may turn the criminal into a Thrall, a Slave or a sacrifice.
The greatest crime in Jotunbrud is that of treason. Other major crimes include blasphemy (lying to an arbiter of law or disrupting a sacred ritual), murder of a Jotunbrud citizen or greater insubordination. Lesser crimes include juvenile insubordination, theft from a Jotunbrud citizen (which includes destruction of property, thralls or slaves) and consorting with Reclaimers.
Disputes within a Warband and the arbitration of crimes are presided by Jotun Patrons or by Thanes (if the Patron is absent or cannot be bothered). Among Thralls, their master or the Warband’s Thane is the final arbiter of judgment.
If a warr
ior disagrees with a Thane’s decision (a Jotun’s decision is infallible), he or she may appeal for a Trial of Iron, an ancient custom that dates back to the time of Woden. Treason may not be appealed without ample evidence that allows for the contrary. This appeal must be allowed by the Thane which typically means that the one who makes the appeal must offer a tribute or otherwise convince the Thane of his or her cause. Some unscrupulous Thanes will use the Trial to take what they want from a warrior, such as an heirloom or a favored Thrall. Traditionally, the Trial must also be accepted by the other party in the dispute- but such is the stigma of refusing that most parties will accept.
A time and day is agreed upon by the two parties, although no more than a moon in advance. Special considerations may be given by a Thane in usual situations (one of the parties is diseased and requires a cure). When the duel is to be fought, the Warband forms a human circle around the combatants. In most Warbands, the use of spellcraft is prohibited – although each Warband may have their own rules.
The fight is rarely to the death because such a result harms the strength of a Warband and therefore, the Kingdom. Only when the dispute is a serious charge can death be at risk. Typically, the duel ends when a combatant yields or loses consciousness. Cheating is a major crime (Blasphemy) according to the law of the Jotun. Maiming or branding the loser is a common practice and some Jotunbrud claim that they are made better by the scars that they have earned.
To most Jotunbrud, the members of a Warband as close as brothers and sisters to one another. A Warband is expected to act as a well-oiled machine, so much training is spent practicing and sparring with one another.
It is proper to take a Thrall or a warrior of a different Warband as a consort. Jotunbrud may choose to take a Slave as a private consort, but such an act requires permission from the Warband’s Thane or Jotun Patron. Because Slaves are considered to be the property of the Jotun Patron, they are less likely to be brutalized and maimed than Thralls are (because of the potential consequences involved). A slave-born children are slaves unless they prove themselves (see below). It is a common occurrence for a warrior to upgrade a slave child that came from their loins to the status of a warrior (through the Rite of Blood) or a thrall.
Intimate relations with a fellow warrior is officially discouraged, since it may lead to bad morale on the battlefield. Yet, love happens even to ruthless Chainers and dalliances among members are uncommon. The fruit of such a relationship is typically hidden or treated as a child of a more legitimate relationship (see below); if discovered, the Warband’s leadership will oftentimes send it away to Thralldom in a different Warband — the loyalty of a Jotunbrud warrior must ultimately be to their Kingdom.
Early Life: Bloodline and heredity has little use to the Jotunbrud (although incest is frowned upon). It is strength that the Chained Kingdom reveres first and last. Those who are born with deformities or weakness are ritually slain by the ruthless Jotunbrud. Those children that survive are constantly tested in body, mind and soul for weakness – those who fail too many tests become slaves, thralls or are sacrificed to the Jotun.
Eventually, a Jotunbrud youth is given the Rite of Blood and allowed to slay a slave, criminal or a captured beast in mortal combat. More often than not, the Rite of Blood is an affair that lasts an entire day as multiple youths are given their trials for adulthood and a Warband is entertained by their victories or failures.
Most youths that pass their Rite of Blood or Blood-letting as some call it are given the rank of Bondsman (or Bondswoman). Typically the more powerful the slave or beast slain, the greater the prestige of the rite-taker. There are tales told of Jotunbrud children that slay beasts so powerful that they are given special ranks within the Warband.
In one such story, a slave-born young woman named Skadi impressed Gjallanir by slaying a Wodenson Reclaimer in a single stab to the heart. Skadi was then called Skadi Gravefiller and given the Thanedom of her own Warband. To this day, Skadi and the Rune-Eaters remain the most favored of Gjallanir’s minions.
Because Jotunbrud society frowns upon weakness, there is no shame to a child’s parents if he or she dies or fails in a Blood-letting. In fact, many warriors would rather slay their own child if he or she survives a failed Blood-letting – for them it is better to bestow the mercy of death than allow a life of weakness.
Old age and Death: Because the only “good death” is death in battle, only shame awaits a warrior who becomes infirm with old age. Rather than face the shame of dying in their sleep or from sickness, warriors who reach the cusp of their twilight offer their souls to Lucca; they take a prized possession or trophy and then perform an offering to the Herald of Winter, typically during one of the deadly blizzards of Jotunbrud.
Ancient heroes or old veterans are sometimes invited to Ymir’s stronghold or are taken by the Yig-Ymir, never to be seen again. It is believed that Ymir takes their souls and binds them to wintry, immortal vessels to use as soldiers for the final battle at the end of the world. Despite the Yig-Ymir’s efforts, there are those that claim that Ymir simply prefers the taste of powerful souls.
Servitor thrall who outlive their masters are slain and buried alongside them in order to serve them in the afterlife. Sometimes, Thrall are adopted or taken by other members of the Warband, with the Thane’s or Patron’s permission.
In death, Thralls and slaves are usually given little more than silence and a shallow grave. Warriors however are granted far more respect. Jotunbrud funerary rites involve interring the dead into the graveyard or cairning hill of one’s Warband or family. Their greatest victories and most glorious kills are sung by the Warband’s bards while their other comrades within smash weapons together and swear vengeance for their fallen. Some Warband take this opportunity to slay the dead warrior’s Thralls or watch them fight each other to death – sometimes while feasting to their brother/sister’s greater glory.
Life in a Warband: Life in a Warband is a harsh one. Typically, Warbands are granted a portion of land to serve as their headquarters and as a source of income.
From there, Warbands perform according to the dictates of their Patron and their Thane. Besides these missions, a Warband must contend with the dangers of the Jotunbrud landscape as well as the dangers posed by other Warbands. Skirmishes among Warbands are relatively common – few deaths occur in these combats although maiming, property destruction (including the death of Thralls) and ransoming are typical in their aftermaths.
Life among the Luccari: Most Jotunbrud are Chosen of Lucca, the patron God of the Chained Kingdom. However, those that are especially devout and loyal to the Father of Wolves may choose to make a pilgrimage to the main temple of Lukdrassil. Similarly, those w
ho are born to the clergy or laity of the Luccari and prove themselves able and willing are given ample opportunity to join the Creed of Lucca.
Life among the Reclaimers: The Wodenson Reclaimers tried to preserve the old ways of the Wodenbrud as much as they could, but the times have been extremely unkind to their efforts. Much of their proud warrior codes were cast aside in the name of survival. With the threat of extinction constantly looming over their heads, honor became far less important than continuing their cause. There are few permanent buildings among the Reclaimers, who have adapted to a nomadic lifestyle. Such settlements are hidden and typically built around shrines or a similar holy place.
However, the Reclaimers continue to retain the clannish family structures of their ancestors. The names of the great clans still remain: Bearclaw, Crowsong, Blackstag and Whaletooth. The descendants of these clans and their lesser kin number in the dozens instead of the thousands that used to roster them; but they still remain dedicated and determined in their goal: the death of the Jotun and all who follow them.