Runeheim sits at the mouth of the Kaltlina, just where it begins to become the bay of the Sea of Coils. To the west, the coastline is high cliffs and mountains which make a landing there difficult while the river narrows and becomes rapids to the east. To the south, the tundra is dotted with small forests, the nearest of which have been heavily logged to build both keep and garrison. To the north, across the Kaltlina, the tundra appears endless, but watchmen work endlessly to warn of Rimeland raiders.
The settlement of Runeheim itself has existed for centuries. Though it was small when the Gothics finally arrived, ruins scattered widely around the cluster of thatch buildings hint that it was once much larger. Now family homes surround shared farmland and a disused wooden longhall- it’s only buildings of note. It’s focal point is the Great Menhir, covered in faded runes from ages past. The runes are said to tell the Saga of Aufvaldr, though the script is old and unreadable by any but the most learned Skald, and runestones like this one are said to have power that comes from their story.
When the Dragomir force arrived, they immediately set about building a keep, the Strafanstalt, and a garrison with Gothic efficiency. Their construction exposed several stone ruins that curious skalds now study and are hoping to excavate. Shortly after, a ship named The Shahzada bearing a crew of Hestrali Guildsmen ran aground and was converted into a guildhouse by the grounded sailors.
Gothics and Njords
Gothics and Njords outnumber any other culture in Runeheim, though their relationship with each other is strained. The Gothics see this land as part of the Throne of God and deviations from Gothic norms as small rebellions that must be discouraged and stamped out. The Njords of the Cold Throne, despite their loyalty to the Bear King’s decision, value their individuality and don’t follow these norms leading to frequent friction between the two.
Food, Clothing and Decor
Gothic resources are eagerly accepted by the Cold Throne Njords in Runeheim, but they remain divided on the customs that come with them. Many choose to adopt the Gothic ways in hopes of assimilating with their southern neighbors, shaving their beards short and wearing their monochrome colors. But many more lean heavily into their Njord heritage. It is common to see Clan tattoos on faces and hands, long braided beards, and rings and bangles of precious metals wrought with runes and pictures of epic deeds.
Wartime Culture and Economy
The establishment of Runeheim as the northernmost bastion of the Throne has had a dramatic effect on the region. The once small community is now the final destination of many caravans, filled with supplies and people for the war effort. Construction of thatch homes can’t keep up with the influx and this has led to many people cramming into small spaces for warmth and shelter. Food and equipment are also precious- not everything sent north from Vissvind makes it to its destination, and resupply through the Sea of Coils is almost entirely unheard of. The stress on resources has made it extremely profitable for the traders who do make the trip- every necessity is worth two or three times its price in Runeheim.
Raiding Culture and Slavery
The Freeing of Thralls was one of the most controversial acts by King Konrad Bearmantle. It disrupted the Njords’ way of life, and even the most loyal clans were sorely tested by its consequences. While it’s been over a generation now and the Cold Throne clans have mostly adapted to life without slaves, the Rime Landers have defied this act since the Bear King’s death. Their war bands raid for food, thralls, and southern equipment with brutal efficiency and offer no mercy to their enemies. While Cold Throne clans do still have a strong raiding culture, their reasons tend to be for personal grudges and fame and they follow certain unspoken rules that have been influenced by their southern allies.
The Church and The Old Ways
The settlement of Runeheim is on the furthest northern edge of what could be considered the Cold Throne and, until recently, mostly followed the Old Ways, sacrificing in order to avoid the cruel gaze of the Old Gods. It’s been around two years, now, since the arrival of the White Church and they have mostly driven these practices underground. The Eparch, a Mithrihim named Father Elias Gottschalk, has done his best to spread a moderate, simple version of the faith, but he has struggled to relate to the Njordr natives. More often seen on the streets is Gudbrand, a Melandihim who preaches of peaceful integration and the virtues of men of all cultures working together.
More information on The Church of Mankind and its beliefs can be found here.
There is power in sacrifice. The Njords have always known this and the Wise Ones of the Old Gods mediate those sacrifices and the blessings receive by petitioners. The Gothic occupation and the growing desperation of the Rime Clans and their sympathizers has now led to a rise in the power and influence of the Wise Ones. Their altars are caked with the blood of beasts and thralls. Their shrines are surrounded by the treasures of generations. The Rime Clans fight for their very survival and there is nothing they won’t give for it. In return the Old Gods bring Dread and Doom to their enemies. The give safe passage among their monstrous spawn. And most importantly, they give victory.
More information on the Old Gods and the beliefs of their worshippers can be found here.
Crime and Punishment
Runeheim is as much a military outpost as it is a Njordic settlement these days. Neither Vindicta nor her commanders and vassals are known for their leniency. Sedition and murder are handled swiftly and punished by death or maiming in order to discourage others who might commit the same crimes. However, certain aspects of Njordic culture still shine through. Assault and killing are still frowned upon by the Gothics, but interfering with a challenge between Njords would cause more problems than it solves, and so open challenges on forum days are tolerated provided both sides agree on the terms and they aren’t violated. The steady gaze of the Gothic military, waiting for any impropriety, ironically makes resolving a challenge in Runeheim even more popular as the Cold Throne Njords know the challenge must be fair and respect its results.
Lesser crimes, such as theft, are more common as resources have become scarce. The most ambitious thieves and other criminals organize into groups that seem to evaporate into the busy lanes when the military moves to break them up. It’s said that a special market even operates at night, providing stolen goods to the struggling masses at cheap prices. So far, Sir Egon has been unable to put a stop to it, though some say he hasn’t tried very hard.
Since the death of the Bearking, Njordr has suffered a crisis of identity. The Markgrafs and their nominal Cold Throne allies pushed hard to the north, at first, hoping to crush the rebel Clans beneath Gothic boots in a single campaign. However, the terrain, weather and the Rimelanders nomadic ways made this impossible. Gothic armies languished in the rime and were bled by raids from the experienced northern warriors until they retreated back to the south. Smaller campaigns were led north over the years as Markgrafs and their children hoped to win glory for their House, but ultimately all failed. Each Markgraf established a fort or keep in southern Njordr to call their own, but each also built an estate in Vissvind and most chose to live there as time passed and the ongoing rebellion became the norm. Outside the torchlit keeps of the Markgrafs, life is difficult. Gothic farmers struggle with the icy climate and the loyal Njords of the Cold Throne struggle to maintain their traditional livelihoods while following Throne law. Both have become reliant on shipments from the south, especially Dunnick grain. Raids from the Rime Clans, and occasionally even Cold Throne bands, ruin budding settlements and force them back south to the relative safety of Vissvind’s surroundings until a new spark of hope rises in a new hidden valley.
In the Lion Age 604, the Rime Clans called an Althing that most of the Cold Throne clans did not attend. The Sons of Ulfrandr, a new Clan that claimed the power of the wild and violent god, Ulfrandr, sought to unite the Rime under their banner, but were ultimately rebuffed. Vidar Overturner was the only Branded man of the south to attend, and there he claimed a victory of cunning- destroying by ambush the Sea Wolves’s fleet and Gradan the Dire Bear who murdered his grandfather, the Bearking.
Failing to unite against the Throne, the Rime Clans disappeared into the ice and snow. Meetings between clans of the north and south, even long held alliances and traditions, were missed for months. And then, abruptly, the Rime Clans returned with deadly force. Longboats filled with blood-crazed warriors wielding axe and torch ravaged the coastlines and warbands crossed the Kaltlina and pushed further south than they ever had before. The Rime Clans’ victories were unprecedented. Southern forces broke and ran under the weight of an unnatural dread that seemed to follow the northern war bands. In whispers of doom, the learned skalds drew connections between their new strength and the resurgence of Wise Ones preaching the power of the Old Gods.
When all seemed lost and the Rimelander raiders seemed poised to sack even Vissvind, two mighty armies marched north from Gotha. Led by Vidar Overturner and Vindicta Dragomir, these two armies pushed back the raiders. Earl Overturner secured Vissvind on behalf of his lord, King Einsland, while Vindicta’s army moved north in hopes of striking a decisive blow. On the banks of the Kaltlina, at the ancient settlement of Runeheim, she built a manor she called the Strafanstalt and her black cloaked soldiers and scarlet robed mages now stalk its streets between vicious battles.
As the Markgrafin Dragomir marched north to take the war to the Rimelanders, Earl Vidar Overturner delivered an edict from King Einsland to the other Markgrafs- each was to return to their keeps outside of Vissvind and secure them for the renewed assault. Each saw this for the exile that it was, but as the order was signed and sealed by the king- a king with a large and fresh army- they had little choice but to comply.
Something else happened recently- the runes on the Great Menhir began to shine and burn in the middle of the night. Gothic watchmen moved quickly to cordon off the area, but one witness claimed that the runes that burned formed a warning or a threat. Two weeks later a Dwarven messenger appeared at the gates of the Strafanstalt. The message he bore spread like wildfire throughout the north- Unless Men cease their manipulation of the Runes, the Dwarves will march to war.
Scholars have been sent for and negotiators travel to the known Dwarven holds. Opportunists snatch up anything containing runes, looking for clues they can sell or power they might unlock- for if the Runes are significant enough to provoke a war with the usually peaceful Dwarven kingdoms, then what power must they hold?
As archaeologists and thieves comb the area for runes, they find remnants of other things. Cyclopean structures buried deep in the frozen earth reveal complex metal devices without a known purpose, massive shattered glass vessels and pools filled with rot. Investigators are loath to delve too deeply, claiming they’ve spotted things moving deep in the darkness underground.