I realized that while I was moving eastward through my cultures, I entirely skipped the Corvish (or Korvii) — which is weird, because they’re some of my favorites. This may have to do with the fact that I am, myself, a redhead and thus have an attachment to a culture of redheads (and others) who really just want to kick ass.
Below is someone else’s image of a character that I saw and thought ‘Corvish!’ The image is linked to his site, which is unfortunately under reconstruction last I checked. Sadface.
The current boundaries of the territory of Corvia are defined by Corvia’s enemies. To the south is the Imperial Protectorate of Wyndon, whose influence extends to the margins of the yellow area (above) between the Rift and the river east of Thynbell. This is part of the Great Yellow Streak left by the Altaeran Empire’s invasion four hundred years ago, as discussed in the culture composite about Wyndon.
To the west is the Rift, to the north are the Khaeleokiel Mountains, and to the east (from the headwaters of the river east of Thynbell then all the way up the eastern outskirts of the Khaeleokiels) is the Imperial Protectorate of Darronwy. All three of those borders are more permeable than the Corvia/Wyndon border; Corvishfolk regularly cross the mountains or the Rift to smuggle or trade with their non-Imperial neighbors, and Darronwy is neutral toward the Corvish despite Imperial pressure to be hostile. Wyndon, however, is more than happy to provide the lacking hostilities: as the main bastion of the Golden Wing Army, it supports the Wyndish Border Corps which constantly try to push the Corvish deeper into the mountains and the Forest of Night.
The Wyndish like to characterize the Corvish as vicious cave-dwelling savages, little more than bestial vermin who continue to nip at the flanks of Imperial progress. And some of this is true — in some ways. Corvish can indeed be vicious, and are often cave-dwelling:
And somewhat savage-looking, at least when they intend to make war:
(Okay, some of these are only a little savage. Imagine more war-paint, black and red and grey and white and indigo.)
They also have their bestial moments, whether spiritually:
The physical aspect being due to the fact that a large proportion of the Corvish population is skinchangers. All animal life on this world originated as skinchangers, capable of shifting their form at will; as time went on, certain groups modified themselves to fit certain niches, and became bound to splinter-spirits rather than the original Great One — thus restricting themselves to that certain niche form. The mixing of two skinchangers of different bloodlines creates unshifting humans, and that hybridization is dominant in most parts of the known world — but not in Corvia.
Corvishfolk come in two types: the Red or fox-blood Corvish, also called khirinain, and the Black or crow-blood Corvish, also called t’okielain. Red Corvish usually have russet hair and dark brown eyes, while Black have black hair and yellow eyes, but there is a decent-sized human population with mixed traits — including brown or even blonde hair, though blondes usually dye their hair black to avoid fierce anti-Wyndish discrimination. In all, there are about equal proportions of the three types: fox skinchangers, humans, and crow skinchangers.
Fox skinchangers and their human kin usually live together in family dens or larger multi-family compounds, which most often consist of a small village inside a wooden palisade which backs up to a more extensive cavern system. Many of the village buildings can be dismantled quickly if the compound comes under threat, and its components smuggled out from one of the many exits the cave system provides so that the clan can set itself up quickly somewhere else. The compounds are also protected by servitor spirits of the two parent-spirits who watch over the Corvish: Daxfora the Slinker and Zolvin T’okiel, also known as Grandmother or Grandfather Crow. Most often, these spirits possess wooden or stone statues of their respective creature, which animate to defend the compound when needed.
Most fox skinchangers in clan situations will remain in human form when not hunting or fighting, and wear a reasonable amount of clothing, but they always have their tails. Thus Corvish fashion tends to involve either tail-holes or long tunics that don’t necessarily require breeches. While much of their gear is rough leather, they also trade for cloth with Darronwy and Averogne and across the mountains with Krovichanka, and decorate their ceremonial gear with mementos of their hunts.
Crow skinchangers, on the other hand, live apart from both the foxes and the humans, and spend most of their time in full-crow form. These crows can top three-and-a-half feet at the head, with wingspans up to twelve feet, and build their nests atop the thickest trees or in high inaccessible caves. They never fully shift into a human form; the closest they can get still includes the bulk of their wings and their tail, like the harpies in the picture above. Unlike many depictions of harpies, though, there is very little bodily distinction between male and female; they’re much less ‘busty ladies with claws’ than a crow-type version of the harpies below:
Think longer wings, less beak, and mottled black and white. Corvish crows are called piebald crows because their lighter northern skin tone (when shifted into humanoid form) is reflected in their feathers; most crow skinchangers in the south are a darker piebald, or uniform black.
Though the crow skinchangers will not wear clothes under any circumstance, they are willing to wear jewelry, especially when it’s given to them as offerings by their Red counterparts or in exchange for their spying services.
However, these savage details aren’t the full truth of the Corvish.
The three Corvish bloodlines are the remnants of the Kirenites of the Old Imperial Age, back when both Corvia and Wyndon were one kingdom on the outskirts of the Empire of Ruen Wyn. The Kingdom of Kiren was ruled by fox-bloods and advised by crows, with only a small proportion of humans, and existed as a taunt toward and a thorn in the side of the rest of Ruen Wyn; it guarded the passage to the western world but was only nominally friendly to the rest of the empire, preferring to make its own policies and ignore those of the Ruenic Emperor whenever it pleased.
However, it stayed out of the succession politics of the Empire (mostly) and provided a good buffer to the west, so the Emperors mostly let it be. Therefore, Kiren spent most of its existence as an independent state even after being annexed into the Ruenic Empire — but it was perhaps this independence that led to its downfall.
It had always been equally happy to trade with and to prey upon its neighbors; to accept foreigners and to shamelessly take advantage of them; but because of its heavy spiritist roots it had never dabbled in the western ways of magic. Thus when the Empire of Altaera started its invasion of Ruen Wyn, heavily aided by the mages of the Silent Circle, the Kirenites had little defense. Their helper spirits were banished or annihilated, their shamans overpowered, their cities burned. Only the influence of the crow-folk led the fox-kin to flee into the mountains rather than fling themselves uselessly onto the spells and swords of their foes.
Kaharis, the fine old capital of Kiren, was razed to the ground and the Altaeran (and later Wyndish) fortress-city of Thynbell built in its place. The Kirenites were chased up from the trade road into the deep woods and the mountains, all of their holdings destroyed, and with the rest of the Ruenic Empire facing the same problems that struck them low — lack of magic and the vulnerability of spirits to it — they received no aid from their erstwhile allies.
The entirety of old Kirenite art and culture was wiped out, only shadows of it remaining now among the villages and cave.
Where previously they lived in the light woods and among clearings and fields, sometimes farming or herding but more often foraging and hunting and fishing, their cities small but bustling with visitors and tradesmen, they now hunt and fish and forage because they have no other options.
They have been pushed to higher, less fertile altitudes and are attacked by the Wyndish Border Corps wherever they show their faces. A few clans have managed to forge trading agreements with their closest Wyndish neighbors, but those agreements never extend beyond county lines; a Corvishman might be allowed in and out of the County of Varen but have his throat slit the moment he sets foot in the County of Cantrell.
All of this does not endear the rest of the world to the Corvishfolk. They are known to carry many knives on their persons at all times, and to attempt as much murder as possible before committing suicide if they believe they’re about to get caught. They raid Wyndish settlements regularly, both out of anger and from need — but if found outside the Phoenix Empire’s oppression, they can be friendly, jovial and adventurous.
Finally, I just really want to share this picture. Click through to visit the artist: