Children of the Steppe
The Myrland steppe is a vast area in the heart of Myrland that borders to the cold Talus Mountains to the north and to the tropical March Jungles in the south. They are barren lands where it hardly ever rains, with a very poor soil and on occasions a high salinity level where only very resistant vegetation can survive. Besides, they are generally lands where salty lagoons form because the accumulated water cannot drain into the sea. Travelling Myrland on foot is not an option due to the vast distances and scarce civilization. Also, the predators are in general fast and adapted to stalk their prey to exhaustion. Among others a number of wolf species, giant wolverines, terror birds and the occasional sabretooth are constantly on the watch for a suitable prey. Though most of the animals on the steppe are mammals or invertebrates, a great number of birds frequent the environment. Of the former, the most abundantly present are rodents, foxes, deer, horses, wisent and mammoths. The animals that inhabit the salty bodies of water are amphibious such as frogs, lizards and salamanders, which feed off the large variety of insects that are found in surrounding areas.
Life on the Myrland steppe also affects its human children, the Khurites. The Khurites are among the best riders in the world, and the horse and mammoth play important roles in their culture and society. The Khurites don’t regard themselves as one people instead the difference between the various tribes and one’s ancestry is important. They all live on or in connection to the steppe, however the steppe has no set of firm borders.
The tribes have no name for their land, only for smaller regions and territories. Except for Morin Khur, the only permanent settlement, the Khurites are nomads who each year move their settlements between new pastures. The villages consist of gers, which are tent-like living quarters that are more or less transportable, and by making camp in a specific area the tribe claims it and the surrounding environment as well. There are a great number of different tribes and areas which they occupy and the name of a tribe is often related to its totem animal, while the regions often are named after an important landmark in the surroundings.
The Khurite tribes have a long history of civil war and conflicts, and a united Khurite nation has never existed except in legends. However, according to tradition a collective gathering among the tribes is held every fourth year where trade, wedding ceremonies, competitions and storytelling take place. Since the Conflux the tribes are becoming more unified than before, this is probably due to the increased pressure from the Orcs in the North East and the reptilian tribes in the South. The city of Morin Khur has increasingly come to fill an important political role in the negotiations between the tribes, but also towards the Tindremic Empire to the West and in some regards the Húergar to the North. Despite the fact that the Empire is considered an ally by Morin Khur some rumours tell of Tindremic emissaries spotted among tribes which have later on begun to wage war with each other. A few men of power in Morin Khur suspect this to be a tactical scheme by the Tindremenes to keep the Khurites from growing too strong.
Life in a Khurite Tribe
Every tribe is ruled by a Mogul, which can only be male, and the title is usually passed on to the Mogul’s sons if they can prove themselves in hunting and battle. A Mogul often has several wives but his first wife, Hatun, or queen is always the one who enjoys a large amount of respect from the tribe. She is also seen as capable of leading the tribe until a new Mogul is chosen, should the Mogul pass away before choosing a new heir. The spiritual leaders or shamans of the Khurites are called Angaq and possess a major influence on the tribe and its Mogul through predictions, enchantments and music. The Angaq in a tribe is responsible for communicating with the tribe’s totem animal, Miigi, which is seen as a powerful spiritual allied. The Miigi is said to sometimes incarnate in or possess a corresponding animal on the steppe, and therefore all animals of that totem is regarded as sacred by the tribe.
A settlement of the Khurites is a Khuren, which means circle and refers to the shape that is formed by the gers. In the centre of the circle the ger of the Mogul is placed. The Khuren is often built against a cliff formation and then minor bone and stone palisades are raised as a defence, surrounding the camp. Wood is scarce commodity for the majority of the Khurites who spend their lives on the steppe, therefore stone is used as a base and low walls to the gers, and they are then constructed with supporting bones from large animals and covered with large tent canvases of leather. The ground on which the camp is built upon is carefully chosen by the tribe’s Mogul and later blessed by the Angaq, making the water drinkable and the pasture for the sheep and goats remain rich until the time has come to move on once more. The tribes often construct watchtowers, outposts and monuments located on the highest hills in the surroundings, which acts as signal beacons for the villagers, sometimes offering a limited range of food and water supplies for travellers.
Day to day life in a Khuren is fairly peaceful but is still characterized by constant expeditions to the outskirts of the territory to track game or to scout for anything that might threaten the tribe. In addition to the steppe horses, birds and wolves are caught and tamed to be used for scouting and hunting. The wild animals are caught young since their connection to Akana, the Earth Mother, is said to be stronger than in their already domesticated cousins. Although the horses on the steppe are considerably smaller than many of their relatives they possess great stamina. These reliable animals constitute the back bone of the Khurite tribes, and a popular saying is that a true Khurite learns how to ride before learning how to walk. Men and woman alike are taught to fight equally well from the saddle as on foot, and a selection of traditional scimitars and pole arms are used in close combat while the asymmetrical Khurite horse bow is used for archery.
Crimes are very rare in a Khuren since the majority of the Khurite tribes are relatively small and their survival depends upon their ability to cooperate. Traditional rules and resolute leadership handle most of the quarrel which may arise in the close knit community of a Khuren, additional to this most of the Khurites possess a strong social sense of honour. Theft is unusual and jealousy is regarded as nonexistent. A Khurite husband or spouse may share their bed with whomever they desire in the tribe, and are expected to do so with a willing visitor since sexual activities are regarded as a natural part of the social trade exchanges, or as a Khurite would put it: “It keeps the blood of the tribe from getting too thick”. In the few cases when a dispute proves to be impossible to resolve, the Mogul can decide to expel an individual or a family from the tribe which is considered the harshest punishment possible. The tribes very rarely accept a drifter and an individual or family often face an early death on their own.
The Physique and Appearances of the Khurite
The most apparent characteristics of the Khurite race are their almond-shaped eyes and their skin tone, which ranges from a deep brown to a reddish color. Beard growth is only observed in Khurites of old age, and even then many stay beardless. The native Khurites have good physique with trimmed and hardy muscles and are accustomed to a life on the steppe, where the temperature changes can be dramatic and drinking water is scarce. To further cope with the changes in weather they use different pastes of animal grease mixed with herbs on their exposed body parts, which has given them a reputation of being “smelly and unclean” in other societies. Contrary to the popular belief that the Khurites are unclean, tribe members often swim in the salty lakes and streams near their Khuren and use vapour baths, or sweat gers, in the winter. Swimming is learned at a very early age by both sexes, and sweat ger competitions are a common way of settling arguments.
Most Khurites have sacred tattoos, Tamko, that is carved into the skin rather than punctured, leaving grooves and dents. The first Tamko marks the important transition between childhood and adulthood, and future tattoos mark status, rank and achievements in the tribe. Men and women have different parts of their bodies tattooed, most often faces, buttocks and arms for men – lips, chins and stomachs for women, but this varies from tribe to tribe.
Khurite Technology and Culture
The Khurites live a nomadic life on the steppe, and their intersocial advances and organization may be hard to detect for the uninitiated who can only observe their primitive resources and tools. The Khurites do not use or forge that many metals but they master those which are used to perfection. The composite Khurite horse bow, Ikil, may look strange and rough at first sight, but the making of a bow of that kind can take up to a year and involves soaking and drying processes in several layers and a material composition which has taken several centuries to develop. The largest of the bows, Mor-Ikil, are used for hunting mammoth and are surrounded by a number of traditions and rituals. They are exceptionally tall, often surpassing the height of the archer, and the draw force is comparable to lifting a fully grown man by two fingers. Neither do the clothes of the Khurites reveal the measure of care used in their manufacturing, but the typical Khurite leathe armor is extremely flexible and durable, useful in heat and cold alike and it has metal plates sown into it to better withstand arrows. Life on the steppe usually requires practical craftsmanship and reliable tools, and it’s first when you come to see the ritual dresses or the musical instruments of the Khurites when you are able to truly appreciate the level of craftsmanship involved in their making.
Music is an essential part of the Khurite culture with both shamanistic and social value, and have unique features not found anywhere else in the world. Among the most known are the Urtunye, Everlasting Songs, where each syllable of text is extended for very long durations. The spiritual ‘throat singing’ known as Oomii is another example of specialized vocals, where the greatest performers can produce up to three distinctively audible pitches at the same time. Instruments range from drums and tambourines to flutes, and the Mornur – a mammoth-tusk horn believed to have superior magical powers. At important occasions the tribe gathers in dancing rituals, Yange, through which they enter a trance with the help of music and Yage, an herb extract which grants contact with the spirit realm.