A Contest of Nisse and Release
The Marukan Alliance is a loosely knit band of individualists who have eschewed conventional civilization in favor of life in small, fortified ranch compounds (called range towns) of 50–60 people on The Marukan Plains. The Marukani are famous for their ruggedness, for their frank manner and for being master horseman. While there has been no official census, there are between 600 and 900 such settlements in the region south of Deren’s Ford and north of Thorns. These communities contain extensive pasturage for horses, cattle and sheep, as well as fruit and vegetable gardens and fields for the cultivation of grain. One solitary city, Celeren, serves as the administrative center of the nation. Together, these communities form the Marukan Alliance.
The Range Towns
Rivers, forests, savannas, fields of tall grasses and wild grains, even twin fords, can all be found in Marukan. The rivers are usually fordable and cannot accommodate waterborne vehicles other than rafts or canoes. Hundreds of range towns dot the landscapes. Range towns are diverse in design, as each is an organic settlement built around specific trade and production needs. Some feature vast fields of cotton or wheat, while others focus on raising cattle. All maintain large stabling facilities and raise, train and trade horses. Ten to fifteen large, wooden, two-story stables are usually built in a square or hexagon in the middle of the town. Horses graze in the large grassy area in the center. An outer ring of smaller longhouse residences is usually built in a similar fashion 40–50 feet out from the stables, forming a kind of outer wall (all doors face the stables). A single outer reinforced gate keeps out wild animals and brigands. Within, though sometimes outside the walls, one can usually find a general store, which sells everything from plug iron to used books to odd First Age machinery. Each town also has two or three high stone watchtowers and a stable-armory containing Lookshyan swords and firewands. Some of the southernmost range towns have been reinforced with Lookshy’s assistance, in anticipation of an assault from Thorns.
The Spring Market
The highlight of the year is Spring Market, a celebration of Marukan culture from horse-breeding exhibitions and races to local arts and crafts exhibits and enough singing, dancing and drinking to fill several weeks of revelry. There is a carnival, an annual yearling auction, contests to determine who has grown the largest melon or raised the fattest pig. For a finale, the Marukani put out all of the fires and honor their dead under the light of the stars in a riotous nationwide wake. Wagons are stuffed with the remains and favorite possessions of their honored dead and sent in trains to Sijan, where they are interred in ancestral mausoleums. Heroic and otherwise famous horses receive the same honors. The Marukani are famous drinkers, but most require a number of days to recover from the Spring Market festivities. Tradition holds that business is generally suspended for 10 days following the celebration, though enterprising folks often use this time to gain a market advantage over neighboring competition.
The Marukani like to do things themselves. They shoe their own horses and build their own houses. They make their own clothes and don’t like to take charity, always insisting on giving as much as they get in any business dealings. They also don’t use slaves, considering the very practice a black eye on the region’s history. Marukani are not scholars, and the few The Dragon-Blooded they produce are usually ill suited to sorcery. On the other hand, they are very good with a whip or a firewand. They talk little, eat a lot and curse up a storm if enraged. They are drinkers and brawlers, and they never go anywhere without their horses, their pipes and their cowhide hats. Marukani are self-starters and pioneers, unafraid to stake their lives on their own freedom and that of their nation. They also love their horses, a tradition that dates back to before the Marukani were united as a nation and existed in virtual servitude under first the Shogunate’s imperious daimyos (who constantly warred over the region’s fertile farmland) and then the Realm’s iron hand. Neighboring nations joke that the Marukani treat their horses better than they treat their own mothers, but it’s no joke. There are more statues of beloved, heroic horses in Celeren than of “horselords.”
The Marukani believe that a man’s word is sacred. To defame someone is a crime, though only punishable by the maligned, who is expected to repay the slight with some appropriate action. In such cases, the law steps aside and allows justice to take its course. If the maligned can subdue her defamer (clan members can help), she is free to take one action that will balance the slight done to her. This is a delicate matter, as some are poor judges of such things. Branding a man for insulting your prize horse is acceptable (though a bit harsh), while whipping someone half to death for overly maligning one’s old, rickety wagon is not. (A slap in the face would do fine.) To do nothing after being insulted is to invite scorn, though to react inappropriately is even worse. Overreacting can lead to clan feuds as each family tries to raise the bar higher until either they see reason and just agree to hate one another or the conflict escalates to actual crime (in which case the authorities take over the matter). The Marukani frown upon slavery. Captives taken in battle are commonly held for ransom and taken on as employees if ransom cannot be paid. These servants are extended certain rights, paid a fair wage, may own property and can eventually buy their own freedom. Under Marukan law, this period of indenture can last only four generations, though most earn their freedom much sooner. Marukani wear clothes that are well made and durable. Most provincials wear heavy garments such as overalls, chaps and smocks while working, but they trade such clothes in at the first opportunity for comfortable wool garments. Celeren styles range from colored silks and finer wool to soft lambskin. Men and women wear trousers, loose shirts and wide-brimmed hats to keep out the sun. Ornate and sometimes ostentatious clothing is common—even armor tends to be emblazoned with family crests and other ornamentation.
The Marukani eat fast meals of grilled or boiled beef and bread, with some gravy. They don’t go in for spices and don’t savor their food. Food is considered fuel while on the range. Only during the Spring Market do they indulge in delicious dishes for their own sake (which they do with gusto).
The Marukani are not overly concerned with the worship of spirits or gods. While they participate in a version of the traditional cult of the dead, few of them consider it a vital part of their daily lives, which are more concerned with the state of the land, the speed of their horses and whether invaders will appear over the horizon. Some spirits extract offerings in exchange for decent weather conditions, but beyond this kind of relationship, the Marukani have little interest in worship. Most Marukani who do worship a god worship Hiparkes, patron of horses and their riders. This spirit, who often takes the form of a noble gray stallion, watches over horses throughout the region. He favors the Marukani and their friends for the superior treatment and successful breeding of equines. His servants frequent the Spring Market to judge the year’s brood.
Much of Marukan culture centers around the horse. The economy is based on the sale and care of horses and the training of Confederation horsemen. This requires careful breeding, maintenance of horse-care facilities and scrupulous attention to details such as feed quality and proper horseshoe fit. It is not a life that anyone else would accept, let alone prefer. It is difficult and frustrating and potentially ruinous.
Marukani train their children in horsemanship from a young age. As their lives revolve around the creatures, most aspire to at least proficiency with handling them. The Marukani do not treat their horses as pets or simple beasts of burden, but rather as friends and loyal companions no less beloved than their closest friends and family. While the Marukani understand that other nations do not see horses as they do (and consider them the poorer for it), they cannot abide those who abuse or misuse horses and will not trust them. “The man who beats his horse would not balk at any betrayal,” a popular phrase goes.
Each clan is led by an elder, specifically the oldest living member, who dictates how life is to be lived by all clan members. The wise sayings and salt-of-the-earth manner of the elder set the tone of family business and how family members conduct themselves in public. Elders also settle disputes between clan members and may reproach those who mistreat other members of the clan as they see fit. While most incidents are minor and result in minor punishments, some serious crimes against the family have learned banishment or even hanging. Most Marukan families see no purpose in fame and fortune, being content to live off the land, protect their own and sell off their surplus. A few, however, have become rich, famous or infamous on account of uncharacteristic ambition, wickedness or simply the wiles of circumstance.
One of the only significant Dragon-Blooded Marukan families, the Mayhiros are certainly the most powerful. Through a series of perhaps underhanded business deals, the Mayhiros gained control of the Celeren Manse, which they have since made their ancestral home. Some other families take issue with this clan’s preeminence, which seems to exclude many other clans from the luxuries the Mayhiros have claimed, but most have no interest in the clan’s riches or its closely guarded position as dominators of Marukan politics. In addition, those who have attempted to bring the issue to the Council of Elders have found out the hard way that the Mayhiros do not tolerate meddling in family business. The Mayhiros are petty dilettantes and bullies, but they are not soft. Some of the greatest Marukan horsemen have been of this clan.
One of the oldest Marukan clans, the Arbogassu have defined the Marukan way of life for centuries, living off the land, fighting for their nation’s freedom and producing fine horses and riders. Considered the ideal, this clan has taken part in many historic events, often heroically. Its members live throughout a number of range towns 40 miles south of Celeren. The Arbogassu have never produced any Dragon-Blooded, and family tradition prohibits marrying outside the family (most marry cousins, but brother-sister marriages are not forbidden). Legend holds that this clan has the ability to communicate with horses (most have Ride 3 or above).
The Turrin clan members are scoundrels, interpreting the Marukan ideal as a free pass to take what they want, say what they please and run amok wherever they go. Having long since abandoned their range town (some would call it being evicted), they have roamed from place to place in their busted-up wagon trains, creating havoc across the countryside. Some are imprisoned for various minor crimes, others have long since been hanged, but most have evaded the law thus far.
The Marukani are governed by a Council of Elders that convenes at the Celeren Manse. The Council is led by the Mayhiros clan elder, who has generously “donated” the facilities so that he can have easy access to all proceedings and whatever elders he would attempt to sway. While the Council concerns itself with many internal legal concerns, its main focus is on foreign diplomacy. Members of the Council are elected by each range town or rancher collective and serve a maximum of 10 years, though most resign after one to return to the range. Elections occur when one community’s elder dies, retires or resigns, resulting in a constant (though at times slow) turnover.
Lookshy is Marukan’s greatest ally (and customer). The nation’s alliance with Lookshy has led to the greatest windfall in its history. The Marukani rely on Lookshy for arms, training and protection from the Mask of Winters. Lookshy’s largest redoubt is in Marukan lands.
Celeren is the city closest to Thorns, and this worries the Marukani, who fear the Mask of Winters will set his sights on them. Of particular worry is the fact that the Deathlord has discussed military alliances with many smaller nearby states but has not approached the Marukani.
Several Marukan range towns supply horses to the Guild but have little interest in pursuing close relations with a people so diametrically different from themselves. On one recent occasion, the Council of Elders issued a letter of refusal to the Council of Entities, which wished to divert several slave shipments through Marukan lands. Since then, there has been little official contact with Nexus.
The Council employs swift circuit riders to deliver the results of deliberations and other important announcements, disseminating news swiftly to even the most remote range town. Circuit riders are also postmen, border patrol soldiers and, most significantly, the primary law-enforcement agent of the Marukan Alliance.
Circuit riders are licensed to treat miscreants how they see fit. Few are overly cruel, but most have an intuitive approach to justice, devising imaginative punishments that more often than not perfectly fit the scoundrel’s crime. Accused criminals may request a trial by a jury of elders, but circuit riders need not grant one. Most prefer to assign swift sentences before moving on to another town. As such, they only rarely sentence someone to imprisonment, while whippings, brandings, fines and even death, for extreme cases, are common. Crimes internal to one clan are frequently left in the hands of the clan elder to resolve, no matter the severity. While circuit riders are not known to be the most vigilant in pursuing petty criminals, they are famous for driving off invaders, rounding up horse thieves and bringing the odd murderous varmint to justice.
While some consider the Marukan Alliance a disorganized society of ranchers ripe for conquest, most of the Marukani’s neighbors know that the Marukani possess one of the most skilled and dangerous armies in the Scavenger Lands. In addition, most of their weapons and armor come from Lookshy and are of the highest quality. Due to the continuing military alliance with Lookshy, several fortresses and at least one redoubt (rumor speaks of a secret one hidden in one of the Murakan forests) have been placed in Marukan territory. Here, Marukani and Lookshyan soldiers train and exchange battle tactics. These points also serve as Lookshyan embassies. The Marukan armed forces consists of two branches, the Guards and the Cavalry (which include Lancers, Arrows and Hammers). Guards and Hammers are the only full-time soldiers. The others are conscripted from the range towns nearest to troubled locations, as the need arises. Local militias, which usually amount to most of a range town’s adult population, consist of lancers and arrows, led by one or two full time soldiers who visit periodically.