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The Goatmen of Kavaja

by Bruce Heard

Unusual creatures, or at least I should say creatures yet unspoken of, inhabit the Hills of Kavaja (pronounce "Kavayah"). These dry lands stretch from southeastern Hule to Slagovich, from the coast to the hills and mountains outside the City States. One could wonder why the city states, as ruthless as some can be, haven't yet staked their claims to these lands. All of the City States would stand to gain much needed farmland by doing so. Yet, none have dared crossing their borders. Little-knowing outsiders sometime smile at the thought of mere "goatmen" commanding respect of well-established military communities. This is because the term "goatmen" tells little of the people of Kavaja.

The truth is that Kavajans aren't just goat-herders. They do mostly raise goats and sheep, but most importantly they stand as a free-spirited, courageous, and proud breed of creatures, part-elven or -halfling and part-goat. Despite their chaotic and selfish nature, Kavajans have shown in the past their ability to rally against outsiders and mount furious attacks upon their invaders. A few humans have tried encroaching upon the Hills of Kavaja, as they are generally called, only to meet a bloody fate. Worse off yet are the hapless humanoid clans. Many times have they raided Kavaja, only to leave behind far too many valued warriors. As a vengeful if not a spiteful kind, the Kavajans have been prompt to mount savage punitive raids, seeking out guilty clans and eradicating or enslaving them and any other in their way. Thus have they established their notoriety and their freedom.

As fierce as they can be, goatmen warriors aren't the only reason why outsiders fear them. The Goatmen of Kavaja nurture a special link with magic of another world. Some say they are evil, for rumour has it they are the pawns of entropy and consorts of demons. In Slagovich, people think of "goat-magic" as an evil, fearsome, and repugnant power. Visitors have indeed told stories of Kavajans sacrificing slaves or even some of their own folk, beseeching dark powers to do their bidding. This isn't exactly true. There once was a time when they had been created to serve dark masters, but their spirit grew strong enough to overcome these tyrants. These demonic entities were destroyed for the most part, and some were indeed enslaved more for the Kavajans' own protection than a thirst for power.

One could wonder how somewhat primitive creatures gained the knowledge to weave magical chains powerful enough to bind immortal beings. Perhaps it was their intimate knowledge of things most evil and dark that led them to earn this nefarious power. Over the centuries, they have earned the wisdom of only using this magic to defend themselves rather than to unleash it upon neighbours with the idea of conquering them. Occasionally, Kavajan warlords have advocated this approach. But so far Kavajan elders were able to see through schemes of ovine military grandeur, and revealed these leaders as corrupted victims under the Dark Ones' influence. The risk of abusing this power is the release of some or all of the goatmen's former masters into this world. These demonic entities would then be free and eager to exact a terrible revenge upon the goatmen and all mortal life afterward. Sacrifices have thus become unavoidable to strengthen a damaged bond -- the greater the damage, the dearest the required sacrifice. On the other hand, the goatmen have learned how to drain and use their former masters' magical power, both to enslave them and to benefit the land, the weather, their crops, their herds' well-being, the control of diseases, and yes, also to wrack untold curses upon invaders.

So, are the goatmen evil? In truth, no. Are their motives malicious? So far, no. Are their means questionable? Yes... but. For them, the alternative was to remain servants of demons. To sum it up, most goatmen are chaotic or plain neutral. Some are evil, most are not. But they are proud, fiercely independent, nature-loving creatures. Some resemble "satyrs" from other worlds, others small goat-like centaurs, or bipedal goats, forming three main breeds: the caprines, the ovinaurs, and the goatlings.

The goatlings are closest to the original breed, appearing as muscular two-legged goats. They are the ones who understand and weave their unique magic the best, and in many ways influence the other goatmen tribes. Goatling appearance varies depending on their environment -- some remain closer to domestic goats with black or white fur; other look more like powerful mountain goats with a thicker coat. Goatlings are found mostly in the mountains south and east of Nova Svoga and Zagora. They once held a fortified town in the mountains, but it was destroyed when one of their demonic slaves broke free as the result of a war of aggression against hobgoblins further south. Eventually, goatlings defeated the Dark One called Bielgorna, but not before their city was demolished and became a cursed and evil place which, since then, the goatmen have renamed Bielagul. The ruins are now notorious for sickening miasma which the bitterly cold glacier winds fail to clear and, most alarmingly, various undead goatmen. The two volcanos, Mt. Gruz and Mt. Batuk are sacred grounds where many ancient rituals are performed. Goatling elders else maintain a "capital" -- at least a place where elders encounter visitors -- in the village of Budavik. Goblins in the nearby hills have been "pacified" -- the only borders they will cross are the ones with Hule and Zagora.

The ovinaurs look more like a four-legged cross between sheep and halflings. Their kind occupied the lands east and south of Zvornik, from Cape Korcula to the Rivers Vardar and Crna (pronounce "CHER'na"). The Drjn River (pronounce "Dreen") marks the border between their lands and those of the goatlings. Ovinaurs are more open to trading with the City States, which they do mostly through their coastal trade posts of Albasan, Bistr, Lestovo, Budvė, and Lin. Outsiders are tolerated there, mostly as needed for business. They do have a capital from which clan leaders effectively administrate the ovinaur land. It is the village of Kosovsko. Ovinaurs are richer, more affluent, and better organized then their two cousins. They acquired knowledge from human traders, such as architecture, accounting, administration, contemporary warfare, geography, etc -- which they make available to their cousins for a fee. As such, Ovinaurs often act as advisers among both goatlings and caprines.

The caprines belong to clans stretching south and east of the River Crna -- from the coast to the Hills of Kavaja proper, north and east of Slagovich. These appear as goat-legged bipeds with fur up to their belt, and an elven torso, arms, and head surmounted with goat horns. Caprines are either white- or black-skinned, matching their fur. Unlike the two other breeds, there are only males among caprines, for sprite blood flows within their veins. They are a cross between goatlings and a race of dryads. The latter are spirits inhabiting certain plants and trees common in the region, such as pine and olive trees, laurel and mimosa shrubs, as well as lavender groves. The caprines are highly protective of these dryads since these nature spirits are not only beautiful but the mothers of their offspring. Caprines have grown more distant from their original goatling ancestry, progressively becoming more attuned to faery magic rather than their darker arts, mostly as a result of their relation with dryads. Caprines are otherwise better known for their wines, fine olive oils, excellent cheese, wild flowers, and perfumes which they sell mostly to their Slagovich neighbours. More likely, people also think of caprines as the world's best party animals! Some rich citizens of Slagovich even hired individual caprines to organise banquets and other festivities... apparently with so great a success that the Margrave had to enforce new legislation to curb the expensive and extreme tendencies of caprine-organised events. Nevertheless caprines are quite capable of making war as well, especially at the expense of hobgoblin tribes living in the hills in the northeast.