Six years later, I return to the Culture Composites series! I’d always planned to make more, I just…never did.
With this installment, we’re only one step away from finishing up all the Risen Phoenix Empire’s vassal provinces and protectorates. Darronwy joins Riddian, Trivestes, Wyndon, Amandon, Corvia, and Haaraka, all located in the Imperial Heartlands (even if they don’t agree that they belong), plus the conquered lands of Illane and Kerrindryr. Beyond the Rift with the latter two, Jernizan is the only free land shown so far, but it won’t be the last. (I swear!)
Here is Darronwy on the central Heartlands map:
Not exactly central — and yet affected more than most of its neighbors by the Shadowless Circle, which is [spoiler circa Book 3]. Granted, not many people live within the swampy hills that make up most of that area, and the protectorate itself extends far further westward — into the Khaeleokiel Mountains, which are shared as a neutral zone by Corvia and Krovichanka. But Fort Krol, the entrance into the Darronwayn interior, sits squarely within the Shadowless Circle, and many Darronwayn towns fall within the fringe of that influence.
Beyond the desolate swampy hills, Darronwy is comprised almost exclusively of forests and uplands. Its fortresses cling to cliffs and straddle rivers; its towns climb the sides of every mountain or valley that will hold them. Its lakes are deep and cold, its rivers innumerable. It is mostly these waters that feed Daecia Swamp, as well as running further north and south to the Ice and Atharenix Seas.
Darronwayn generally build in wood and stone, but aren’t fussed about repurposing a cave or digging a den beneath a hill. Likewise, they have various ways of interring their dead, from sky burial to earth burial to cliff burial — as seen in the image above, top right. The cliff wall behind Fort Krol is a particularly popular burial site, filigreed to an almost dangerous degree by tunnels and walkways and niches that have been carved over millennia to house the bones of its fallen people.
While a fair number of Darronwayn live in large towns or small cities as pictured above, and there is a designated seat of government (with a Lord Protector) who ostensibly rules the whole place, that is really a polite fiction. There are basically-ungoverned people everywhere in the forests and mountains, eking out an occasionally profitable living from the land — while taking care not to anger the spirits.
Winter weather is regularly foul throughout the protectorate, but unlike the Wynds, Darronwayn don’t gather in the lowlands to ride such things out. Instead, they hunker down with their stores and their spirit-helpers, determined to hold their territory and supplies from any rude neighbors who might raid them. While raids aren’t common — the spirits tend to broker deals instead of let the situation get that bad — the Darronwayn as a whole are wildly independent and occasionally a bit crazy about keeping what they claim as theirs. Their wild-eyed backwoods kin might show it most strongly, but any Darronwayn out in the wider world will tend to consider themselves apart from other peoples, and from fellow Darronwayn as well.
Some of this hostility is natural to their bloodlines — none of which are particularly pack-minded or social — but more of it stems from feeling unfairly roped in with an Empire they care nothing about, and which has only exploited them. The Darronwayn claim that the worship of the Risen Phoenix came originally from its own Firebird faith, whose main bastions are located high in the Khaeleokiel Mountains neutral zone. The Empire, meanwhile, contends that the Firebirds are splinter-cult heretics, and a danger to everyone because of their worship of both the Khaeleokiel volcanoes and the Fire Primordial chained in the depths of the world.
And it’s true, there have been some crazies birthed from the Firebird’s followers. (One of them is a well-known fire-blooded problem child.) However, the cult’s current emphasis is on ecstatic celebration — NOT burning the forest down, just reveling in the thought of it. (For now.)
The Empire also contends that the other traditional faiths of the mountains are witch-cults. Conflict has occurred between the Imperial armies and the spiritists of Darronwy intermittently for over two hundred years, with great conflagrations during both the Shamanic Purge and the Corvish Eradication. However, the Empire never sufficiently convinced either the lowland Darronwayn or their leadership to turn on the high-country spiritists. When Field Marshal Rackmar — himself a Darronwayn, but an anti-spiritist to the core — failed at a coup against his cousin the Lord Protector, the Emperor finally put his foot down and declared the infighting over. The mountain spiritists were too few and too weak, in his opinion, to bother with further.
During all of this, many Darronwayn served with the Imperial armies — some conscripted but most voluntary. There is an aggressive (if not necessarily militant or at-all-obedient) streak within the people that demands an outlet. Wisely, Darronwayn were never tasked to police their own, and usually sent to the northern border with Krovichanka or — in later years — over the Rift with the Crimson Army.
Despite all of Rackmar’s meddling and the many years of anti-spiritist oppression, most of those soldiers were in fact spiritists.
While everyone in the Khaeleokiels’ long shadow holds a cautious reverence toward the volcanoes and the Firebird supposedly spawned from them, most Darronwayn revere one or more of their ancestral beast-spirits and make offerings to appease the Winter Graces. The main beast-spirits whose children live in these woods are Shaskret the Owl, Erro the Bear, Sessenekh the Serpent, Kvenkiut the Hawk, and Daxfora the Fox. Kvenkiut is dead, its worship somewhat rolled into that of the Firebird, and Daxfora is something of an interloper — crossing in from Corvish territory for refuge and intermarriage. Regardless of origin, the spiritists build shrines and shelters for any spirit that makes contact with them, whether in the eaves of their houses or in carved statues and accessories. The spirits, in return, provide protection and encourage the flourishing of resources in their areas, as they have some influence on wood and water elementals and are occasionally conversant with the earths and metals.
Of note regarding the Darronwayn skinchangers, particularly of the Owl or Bear types, is the practice of bequeathing their skulls and skins to their non-skinchanging descendants, should they have any. These skin-coats are supposed to confer great protection and wisdom on those authorized to wear them, but have been rumored to strangle or outright eat people who steal them from their rightful inheritors.
In general, though, as long as they’re treated well (or avoided), both the skinchangers and spirits of the Darronwayn uplands mean no harm to anyone. They just want to be left to their own business and that of their kin. This philosophy can be extended to the Darronwayn in general, who would be perfectly happy if the rest of the world fell into a gigantic sinkhole or were washed away by the rising seas. As long as they can roam, hunt, bother each other, occasionally fight for territory, and dance around ridiculously large and dangerous fires, the Darronwayn are happy.
lunatics upstanding Darronwayn citizens or protectorate-adjacent individuals include:
(All right, I admit I’ve been playing Black Desert Online. But it’s not impacting my work! Really! Certainly it can’t account for my 5 and a half years of slacking between the previous Culture Composite and when I started playing. That’s just been aaaaaaall me.)
Any questions? Ask away!