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Kaarjala, Land of the Saamariby James Mishler
Kaarjala is the northernmost realm of Norwold, found in the swampy lands between the Kaarjavi River to the north and the Vaaranavi River to the south (the "Landsplit Rivers" of module CM1). Much of the swamp and marsh is actually open lake, though there are only three great lakes: Kaarjasi on the north, Vaaranasi on the south, and Pojaarasi to the west. Kaarjala itself has a population of around 150,000 regular residents, plus about 50,000 irregular, nomadic inhabitants (see the Vaarana, below). The sole "city" of Kaarjala, Kaarja (population 12,000), is found in the clear lands between Kaarjasi and Vaaranasi. The Kaarjalan people are known as the Saamari (Kaarjala is the name of the kingdom, not the people); they are descended from a Neathar-Oltec group from the far western lands of Hyborea.
Long ago, the Saamari were a nomadic people of the tundra and taiga of Hyborea, having settled into the lands emptied by the Beastmen in 2400 BC. The stone age Saamari throve for several centuries in the vacuum left by the Beastmen until 2000 BC, when a group of Taymoran nobles, fleeing the destruction of their empire far to the south, arrived and conquered much of the territory of the Saamari.
This new kingdom, called Azidhaka by the Taymorans, and Tuonaar (Land of the Dead) by the Saamari, was founded by both nosferatu and vampires in an effort to build a new undead society. For the most part their efforts worked, though the hungers and evil of the vampires often ruled rather than the caution and neutrality of the nosferatu. Tuonaar effectively ruled much of Hyborea for 200 years until the Elves of the Sylvan Realm, led by Ilsundal, attacked the kingdom and destroyed much of their power (containing the evil of Azidhaka was one of Ilsundal's many duties given to him by Ixion during his quest for Immortality). The new (nosferatu) rulers of Azidhaka, known to the Saamari as Tuoni and Tuonetar (titles, not actual names; "King of the Dead" and "Queen of the Dead", respectively), purged the land of its vampiric residents and rebuilt their kingdom along more neutral lines (Nyx had convinced Ixion to give her people, the nosferatu, another chance). Many of the Saamari clans were freed from their slavery and left to their own devices. The Elves then retreated into their own lands, and began a long period of isolationism. This would remain the status quo for over a thousand years.
By 500 BC Thanatos (known in Saamari lore as Hiisi, Lord of Evil), had successfully seen to the destruction of the Nithian Empire, far to the south. He then decided to turn his attentions to the kingdom of Azidhaka, which had long ago purged his own "people", the vampires, from their ranks. Over several centuries, he inspired the most powerful lieutenant of Tuoni and Tuonetar, Luvarshalla, to become one of his followers; eventually, she rededicated herself as a vampire and began to form a new cult to Thanatos in Azidhaka. In 300 BC she led a rebellion against her king and queen in an attempt to found a new dynasty of vampires. She failed, and fled with her followers into the Hyborean wastes, where she had built a citadel named Pojaara...
Luvarshalla, who renamed herself Lovaara during her rebellion, was originally born into the Saamari and was transformed into a nosferatu in the 16th century BC. One of the main arguments Thanatos used to convert her was her native cultural differences; most of the Saamari nosferatu had turned to her side and became vampires, later to follow her into the wastes. This is the reason Pojaara is distinctly more Saamari in culture, rather than Azidhaki. It was also during her rebellion that she was cursed by Nyx to lose the beauty that her undying nature had granted her (she had been renown as the greatest beauty in all Hyborea); thus, she is known both as a great beauty and as a wizened crone (she is able to use illusions to hide her ugliness, but not from the pure or bold at heart; she also finds it to her advantage at times to utilise her hideous nature). Lovaara is thoroughly evil and vile, a willing tool in the hands of Hiisi/Thanatos.
From her new citadel of Pojaara, Lovaara rebuilt her power; within 100 years she began to conquer many of the surrounding Saamari tribes, in order to use them as a power base to eventually reconquer Azidhaka/Tuonaar. To assist her, Hiisi sent several tribes of his Beastmen worshippers (known to the Saamari as Hiisi, like their patron; mostly trolls and ogres), which to this day form the core of her armies (they reside in a land near Pojaara, called Hitolaa). The Immortals of the Saamari, Paava (Ixion), Kuu (Valerias), Aato (Protius), Ilmaatar (Diulanna) and Ukko (Odin) inspired a number of heroes to lead the battle against the Pojaarans and Hiisi. The war dragged on for decades, and eventually into centuries; Lovaara found that it would not be as easy to conquer the Saamari as she thought. The chief heroes of the Saamari during this period were Vainamoinen, Ilmarinen and Lemminkainen (all three of which eventually achieved Immortality); numerous other heroes also struggled against the Witch Queen of Pojaara (and today are the Exalted servants of their respective patron Immortals). The tales of this time form the basis of most myths of the people of Kaarjala, and are found in the Saamari sacred tome (simply known as "The Kaarjala").
Though the war had raged on for almost two centuries, the great heroes lived on much longer than normal men, and could see that the battle would eventually go against the Saamari. Thus they decided to retreat to the east, beyond the Icereach Range. Not all the Saamari decided to retreat; many clans and heroes stayed, to fight on against Lovaara and the forces of Pojaara (they felt no anger at those who were retreating; they felt that should they fail, it would be best that some Saamari survive free elsewhere, rather than not at all). Vainamoinen led the Saamari east across the wastes of Hyborea and over the Icereach Range to the land between the rivers. The journey took a whole generation, and it was the grandchildren of those who first set out on the migration who settled in to the new lands (ca. 0 BC). Vainamoinen saw to it that they were well settled in, taught them new techniques of dealing with their new home, revealed the Saamari Runes to the shamans, and then embarked, alone, down the river toward the sea (and into Immortality). The King of Kaarjala traces his bloodline to that of Vainamoinen; many of the nobles of Kaarjala trace their bloodlines to the other heroes of The Kaarjala...
The Kingdom of Kaarjala remained peaceful and more or less unremarkable for hundreds of years. The Frost Giants and Ice Giants of Frosthaven were trouble, as were the native Beastmen tribes, but the strong Heroic Tradition of the Saamari dealt well with any troubles stirred up on those fronts. The Heldannic (Antalian-Norse descended) tribes remained mostly south of the Great Bay, and had little contact with the Saamari; the Ashtalan (Oltec descended) tribes were mostly confined to the south and west of the Icereach Range, so they too, were of little concern. Then in the mid to late 600's AC, clans and tribes of Vaarana (Saamari for "nomads") began to swarm over the Icereach Range. Swift on their heels came hordes of Hiisi, spurred on by their dark mistress in cold Pojaara.
The stalemate between the western Saamari and Pojaara that had lasted for over eight centuries had been broken by the alliance of Lovaara with the wizard Moorkroft and his followers (who had conquered the Sylvan Realm in 600 AC). The power of the Saamari in Hyborea was shattered; the clans and tribes of Vaarana that fled into Norwold were all the remaining free peoples of the Saamari in the west. The Saamari of Kaarjala united with their cousins against the might of the Hiisi and Pojaarans. A great battle was fought on the banks of the White Bear River, just north and east of the Arch of Fire (640 AC). The Witch Queen herself attended; the entire might of the Hiisi and Pojaaran army (along with their local Beastmen and Giant allies) was lined up against the unyielding wall of the Saamari (with their allies, Elves from the Foresthomes, Dwarves from local delves and Halflings from a land far to the south). The battle raged for days, neither side willingly giving so much as a foot. The Saamari forces, however, began to be pushed back. On the third day, four figures appeared among the Saamari; legend has it that it was Vainamoinen, Ilmarinen and his Wife of Gold, and Lemminkainen returned to help turn back the dark tide. Inspired by their appearance, the Saamari pushed the Pojaaran and Hiisi line back, until the dark forces broke. The Witch Queen herself was harried back over the Icereach Range, though the Saamari were unable to continue pursuit into Hyborea. The great heroes of Saamari myth have not been seen since the Battle of White Bear River.
After destroying the remnants of Pojaaran and Hiisi forces in Norwold, the Saamari from the west decided to return to their nomadic existence, settling only during the summer in Kaarjala while roving the forests and plains of the north, following the reindeer herds during the winter months (most are, by tradition, citizens of Kaarjala and own lands there, which they farm during the short growing season). Thus, a differentiation grew up between the older Saamari of Kaarjala and the new Saamari, who are referred to as the Vaarana, or simply "Nomads". The social differentiation has grown during the last few generations, to the point where a number of Kaarjalan Saamari view the nomadic Vaarana with disdain, as "barbarians". This cultural schism comes at a time when the Saamari are beginning to be squeezed by outside forces, boding none too well for the future of Kaarjala and the Vaarana...
Over the last hundred years the Vaarana, expanding to the south, have come into conflict with the Heldann (themselves pushed north by the Thyatians of Oceansend and the Knights of Vanya). The Heldann view the Vaarana as little more than savages (the Vaarana have maintained their shamanic tradition, while the Kaarjalans and the Heldann have turned to more formalised, priestly faith). The relationship between the Ashtalan and the Vaarana is even less friendly; they typically attack each other on sight. The relationship between the Kaarjalans and the Vaarana and the Kingdom of Alpha is strained, as the majority of the populace of Alpha is made up of Heldanners; King Ericall has also made claims to the kingship of all of Norwold, which does not sit well with the long established Kaarjalans or the nomadic Vaarana. Then, of course, Lovaara and the forces of Pojaara have not been idle these four centuries; Hiisi have been more commonly encountered on the western borders in recent times than ever before, and strange magics have been seen practiced in the very capital itself. Rumours of an alliance between Lovaara and the Shadow Lord of Denagoth have been flying across the land, and there are strange movements in the lands of the Frost and Fire Giants. Dark times are coming for the whole north, and it seems it might well be time for new legends of new heroes in the ancient Kaarjalan tradition...
Well, I hope that these posts are somewhat inspiring, and are useful to those who read them. I would like to thank Amaldis (wherever he is), without whom Kaarjala would not exist. BTW, in the first post in this thread I misspelled the Finnish tome; it is, of course, the "Kalevala". A few other side notes: Lovaara is actually an amalgam of Louhi AND Lovitar (ouch!). While she has not attained Immortal status, she is on par with the Exalted beings of the cosmos, though her personal power is limited in scope by the watchfulness of the various Immortals watching out for Immortal action (Exalted using Immortal level powers on the Prime Plane are very much frowned upon); thus, she must mostly rely on her minions and mortal magics. The Kaarjalan Saamari are, of course, Finns, while the Vaarana Saamari are inspired by the Lapps. A quiz will follow, so please pay attention... ;)