Another week, another look at the dysfunctional kingdoms, city-states and protectorates of the northern continent. Today we have Wyndon, the second protectorate to be actually visited in the series — as opposed to being seen in flashbacks and dreams.
Wyndon is on the Risen Phoenix Empire’s side of the Rift, and serves as the conduit between the heretic west and the Imperial East. It is bordered on the north by the hostile heretic land of Corvia and the Khaeleokiel Mountains, and to the south by the Forest of Mists — also hostile and full of wraiths. To the west is Illane; to the east is Amandon.
The constriction applied by its northern and southern enemies has forced most of Wyndon’s population into a narrow band of ‘safe’ territory that stretches only a few dozen miles north of the Imperial Road — and a mile or two at most to the south. There are woodsfolk who live deeper into the northern hinterlands, but they are not considered truly Wyndish and not given aid by the local lords or the king; some even live among the Corvish, which is unforgivable.
The hostilities between Wyndon and Corvia date back to the War of the Lion and Eagle approximately four hundred years ago. At that time, both lands were one domain called Kiren, and belonged to the eastern empire of Ruen Wyn — the spiritist precursor to the current Phoenix Empire. Ruen Wyn and the western empire of Altaera (now Jernizan) went to war over resources and social issues, and Altaera’s armies surmounted the Rift and started carving their way through the Kiren province in their attempt to reach the Ruenic Heartlands.
Kiren was populated by fox and crow skinchangers and their kin — much like the current population of Corvia — who were strong spiritists but not entirely willing to fight Ruen Wyn’s war, especially since the current Ruenic Emperor was from the Eagle lineage. Still, they did their duty to the empire, and thus became the first victims of the betrayal of the Silent Circle — the supposedly-neutral mage organization that had given its loyalty to Altaera and now did its best to eradicate the Kirenites.
As the Kirenites were driven into the northern mountains and the Altaeran army progressed toward the Heartlands, Altaeran settlers took over the villages, towns and cities that the Kirenites had abandoned. They had been prompted into this by their emperor because he was not merely conquering; he wanted to wipe out the entirety of the east and replant it with his own people. This began the creation of what is sometimes called the Great Blond Streak but more often the Great Yellow Streak: the band of Altaeran/Jernizan-blond hair that stretches across all the conquered territories, signifying both the settlers and the depredations of the soldiers upon the eastern women.
Altaerans took over the old Kirenite capital of Kaharis and renamed it Thynbell, knocking down all the old shrines and gathering halls and building their own temples and courthouses. Because the Kirenites attacked almost constantly, a heavy military presence remained in this area to repel them and keep the trade road open, and so the forest became dotted with Altaeran fortifications.
The terrain, as seen above, was new and disconcerting to the Altaeran settlers, who were used to the broad plains and low hills of their homeland. They made a good attempt at it, but were never well supported by their emperor, who was more interested in the killing-and-looting part than actually establishing those colonies he wanted; beside protection, he did not give them much guidance. Provincial lords developed organically from the soldiers assigned to protect these areas, making this nascent kingdom more feudal than any other place in the north: warlords owning the land, protecting the peasants who lived there as long as they paid their tithes, occasionally squabbling over boundaries with each other and sometimes outright going to war.
The new-made serfs were not happy with this situation, but the successful Ruenic conquest ended with Altaera’s own collapse and civil war, and they found themselves stranded in the cold woods with their equally flustered self-appointed lords. Threats loomed on every side; the Altaeran armies had been successful in much of their genocidal ambition within the Heartlands, but with Altaera’s breakdown, the armies and mages had been recalled, and the Altaeran settlers beyond Wyndon were being slaughtered by the vengeful natives. Some Wynds fled back over the Rift, but many stayed, and the new lords were forced to make good on their promises of protection many a time.
Because they had already learned to repel the Kirenites, and because the Heartlanders showed no desire to march upon Altaera in revenge, the territorial lords of Wyndon managed to weather the harsh decades as the fallen empires sorted themselves out again. A coalition of the lords opted to open the trade route again, and to tax it like rabid bandits, and for a while they all prospered separately in their forest fortresses and did good business selling timber and ore and hides and handicrafts to the outside world — while fending off the Kirenites (now the Corvish) in the absentminded way that an older sibling holds back a little brother with one hand.
War between lords did pop up intermittently though, and all it took was a lull in the usual Corvish activity for one lord to declare himself king. Fighting broke out everywhere, the lords forcing their serfs into service for the cause and the weaker but once again active lands to the east and west pitching money and mercenaries into the fray. The newborn throne changed hands many times over the first fifty years, but finally a proper dynasty began and the losing lords were beaten back into their fortresses as the King took his place at the capital.
In later years, Wyndon would be subsumed into the Risen Phoenix Empire, the king allowed to keep his crown and title as long as he bowed to the Emperor and obeyed his every command. There was no fight then, though many of the border lords hated (and still hate) that easy acquiescence. Especially since the Emperor has banned them from taxing the Imperial Road; all taxes belong to him.
On to the pictures!
There are no set hairstyles or lengths for men or women. Some go for the short-women long-men style of the Jernizen, some the opposite eastern way, but outside of the lords’ courts and in Thynbell, no Wynd really cares about the style. The color is more important: dishwater- and sandy-blond are the standard, brown tones are sometimes looked down on in the cities, and Light forbid you have a tinge of red like the woman in the center of the picture. Having red hair means that you have Kirenite/Corvish blood, which can only mean that your mother was raped by a Corvishman — no other explanation is allowed, no matter that most Wynds know on some level that there was a lot of intermingling between their progenitors and the Corvish in the early days of their kingdom. Red-haired children tend to disappear before they can be named, and no one asks what became of them.
Beyond the hair issue, Wynds divide themselves cleanly between the city-dwelling nobility, the servants and serf-sorts, and the backwoods folk. The nobility bleach their hair if it isn’t blond, and are the only people allowed to wear bold colors.
Not just red and yellow, mind you — though those are the dominant shades. Any strong jewel tone is the province of the nobility alone. They don’t want to see anyone of lesser status; forcing the peasants to dress in dull colors helps with that disconnect. The architecture also must be absolutely as grand as possible, to gloss over the fact that they were all once Altaeran peasants and conscripts.
City- and village-dwelling civilians can wear small slashes of color sometimes — though usually only if they are in direct service to the nobility. Otherwise they wear fairly plain clothing:
Most are just as happy not to be noticed by the nobility as the nobles are not to see them.
Even more happy not to be noticed are the backwoods folk.
These are hunters, trappers, border-dwellers; some of them trade with the Corvish and some fight them furiously, though more in the style of family feuds than the official state of war that still exists between Corvia and Wyndon. They don’t come when the lords call, and though they can sometimes be dragged out of the mountains and conscripted, it never ends well. No Wyndish civilian really likes his or her self-appointed masters, but at least the townsfolk know how to hide their disdain; some woodsfolk would rather spit in a nobleman’s face than speak to him.
Beside the isolationists and mountain men, though, most Wynds prefer to live among their kin, and sometimes in tight-knit family groups. Much of Wyndon — especially at the Rift-edge and the northern border — is at high elevation so receives an early, long and bitter winter every year, so social ties are essential to keeping spirits up and hands productive during the dark months. Thus, even the poorest Wynds have two places they call their home: the summer cabin, where they live during the warm months and do their hunting or logging or mining or herding jobs:
And the winter lodge, where they go when they think it prudent — some after the first frost, some the first snow, some the hard frost.
During the summer, each family’s lodge or longhouse is kept up by the small portion of the family that lives there year-round — usually the grandparents or great-grandparents and any unmarried aunts or uncles that care to stay. Some lodges are in the woods, serving as the centerpoint to a constellation of family cabins stretching into the hinterlands; some are in towns and rent portions of their space out to travelers and merchants during the summer, when the Imperial Road is passable. Regardless, all family lodges fill up with relatives once the snows begin — and the relatives’ belongings, and their livestock if they have any — as everyone comes together to pool food, money and other resources and help each other through the darkness. The summer cabins are stripped bare and left open as shelters for any poor fool who stumbles by, to be reclaimed by their owners when the snow begins to melt.
This only applies to the peasantry, though the nobility often have their own summer and winter homes — just nothing so rustic and full of relatives.
As mentioned, Wyndon is now a part of the Risen Phoenix Empire. The capital of Thynbell is also the base of operations for the mages of the Golden Wing Army, who operate out of the Hawk’s Pride, and is the home of Gold General Lynned himself. The Wyndish king chafes under the Emperor’s and Lynned’s command, and makes his lords antsy in return; as he has no heir, everyone knows it’s only a matter of time before a new civil war erupts over the Wyndish throne. That is, unless the Emperor chooses for them — as he has for several of the other kingdoms under his control. But whether the Wyndish nobility would accept an outsider selected by an outsider for the sake of peace, or prefer to fight tooth-and-nail amongst themselves for a figurehead position, is currently unclear.
In short, Wynds prize their families — though they are willing to throw out any member, from baby to elder, who threatens their perceptions of themselves; they appreciate independence — even as they put their boots to the necks of their lessers and are crushed in turn by their betters; and they are always willing to fight, especially if money or power or insults are involved. And if Corvia and Wyndon every figure out how to resolve their differences, the rest of the world might die from the shock.
By request, an example of the excellent moustaches Wyndish men are known to cultivate. Unlike many of the northern cultures, the Wynds like their men unshaven, and a good beard or moustache is the sign of a man who has settled into his position in life — whether one of authority or servitude. Minimal or no facial hair is considered a sign of youth or uncertainty (or foreign sensibility) and is sometimes ridiculed within Wyndish company, though most outsiders consider Wyndish facial hair to be imposing, obscuring or even aggressive. This may be by design.
This is Lieutenant Arlin from book 2, as created in the Aion game’s character generator: