The Polaini Empire, also known as the Land of the free folk is a confederation in the North Pole composed mostly by Polaini and their Elven masters. They are more commonly referred to as "wildlings" everywhere south of the North Pole.
There are tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of free folk split into hundreds of cultures, tribes, clans, villages and raiding parties, some reasonably cultured, others savage and hostile. The Polaini refer to themselves in that way to difference themselves from the "Shaved Monkeys," the humans of the south subject to the Empire. The free folk view the "Shaved Monkeys" as lacking freedom, whereas the people of the Empire to the south view the "wildlings" as lawless and primitive killers, rapists and thieves.
The coldness of the North Pole which separates the free folk from the rest of the Empire in many ways defines them. Due to their isolation, they remain a free people, free of states, free of nobles, kings, and laws but those of their own choosing, following whatever leader they please. They believe that the gods made the earth for all males to share and when the humans came with their crowns and their steel swords, they stole it by claiming it was all theirs and theirs alone.
Their society is made of many tribes and clans, spread across hundreds of small villages, each with their own peculiarities and customs; some recognize chieftains, and others exist in a perpetual state of conflict, warring against each other and themselves. The free folk place importance in a man keeping his word.
Most free folk have never made any considerable technological advancements. They are harsh people who live in harsh lands, although some are reasonably cultured, such as the Northumbria who live in tightly knit communities in the far north, or the people of Durham, which is the closest place the free folk have to a city. Some are semi-nomadic loners, held down only by their own needs. Raiders from the Frozen Shore or the more savage ice-river clans feed on the flesh of other Polaini. There are cave dwellers that dye their faces blue, purple and green.
There is little in the way of law or property rights in the lands of the Polaini. They take what they can and keep what they can defend and have little interest in marriage.
The free folk keep to the ways of the Nature and there are many languages in the north pole, including the Common Tongue. The Old Tongue of the Elves is still spoken by some, such as the Elven nobility.
In keeping with the spirit of free folk independence, women are welcome to take up arms and fight alongside men. Such women are called spearwives, and are known to be every bit as ferocious as their male counterparts.
In marriage, the men are expected to be quite forceful with women, going so far as stealing them from their home or clan. The women, in turn, are expected to put up a fight every step of the way. It is believed that a true man will steal a woman from afar to strengthen the clan. Men must steal daughters, but not wives of other men. When the red wanderer is within the Moonmaid, it is considered a propitious time for a man to steal a woman.
While "stealing" may be very different from the idealized courtly love of Humans, at its core it establishes a male's strength and determination, as well as a female's independence and ability to defend herself.
Naming of a child Edit
Because infant mortality is common in the harsh environment beyond the North Pole, it is believed to be bad luck to name a child before he or she reaches two years of age. A temporary milk name or nickname can be given to a child prior to the official naming.
Women who wed brothers, fathers, or clan kin are believed to offend the gods, and are cursed with weak and sickly children.
They can't disobey the commands of the elven race also know as the newcomers, and some human sources, such as the Florentine Codex, comment that the Polaini believe the elves to be gods and their queen to be the returned Moonmaid.
Raiding south of the Pole is a large part of free folk culture. Raiders start at a young age, as little as twelve years. Raiders either climb the Wall of human fortresses or use little boats to cross the Bay of Seals around it. Climbing the height of the Castle wall is an exercise that can take most of a day and rangers often find the broken bodies of those who have fallen.
To climb a fortress wall, the free folk use the aid of huge ladders of woven hemp, boots of supple doeskin spiked with iron, bronze, or jagged bone, small stone-headed hammers, stakes of iron and bone and horn, and antlers with sharpened tines bound to wooden hafts with strips of hide serving as ice axes.
Most free folk warriors still wield weaponry forged of stone, wood and bronze, such as stone axes and flails, fire-hardened spears and lances, and bows of wood and horn. Their bows are outranged by the yew llongbows of the humans, but can seemingly shoot an arrow as high as seven hundred feet.
The Polaini do not mine nor smelt and there are few smiths and fewer forges on the North Pole; the only metal armor that they wear are bits and pieces looted from dead warriors. Most will wear boiled leather or sewn sheepskins and use crude round shields of skin stretched over wicker, painting them with figures such as skulls and bones, serpents, bear claws, twisted demonic faces, and severed heads.
Polaini horses are surefooted, but scarce.