The isolated mountain Kingdom of Brazene is ruled by the group of wise women known as the Witches of the Mountains. Legend has it that this is the result of some great war between them and the once neighbouring Kingdom of Hutar, however no one really remembers the truth anymore, whatever it might have been. The talent for magic is found only in the women of Brazene and they rule the country with an iron fist, guarding its people and dispensing their own, terrible justice to any who cross them.
Any man practising magic in Brazene is assumed to be a spy from Hutar, or a Changeling and is immediately executed if revealed. Although the witches of Brazene are known to be creative in their forms of punishment and execution, they seem to save the ‘best’ for these unfortunate males.
Life is safe and secure in Brazene and, with the exclusion of magic, career choices are free to all as their preferences and skills dictate.
Brazene witches frequently use blood in their spells, a hearkening to the sacrifice of their ancestors. They believe that their talent lies in the blood and thus it needs to be spilled to access the greatest amount of power. Their spells are tied to the land and use the elements around them to symbolise the link they have. It is also common for the women of a family to perform magics together, drawing on their own blood link to further strengthen whatever effect they are seeking. Their magic is recognisable as having a ritual format but the intention and the understanding of what something represents is more important than the physical aspect of the tool at hand. In the right time and place with the right will behind it, a wooden spoon is just as effective for directing power as a carved rowan wand handed down through the generations.
The bones of Brazene’s most powerful witches are a talisman to the kingdom. On the witch’s death, her flesh melts from the bones leaving behind an iron skeleton. These are taken to be a sign from Umay and Bai-Ulgan and the bones are interred in one of the many cairns marking boarders and passes in Brazene.
Brazene life mostly revolves around extended family units, frequently ruled by an elderly matriarch who is skilled in magic. It is a place where respect for one’s elders is important, especially parents, and family loyalty is very much in evidence.
Hospitality is greatly prized in Brazene, partially for practical reasons. Brazene legend tells that, when the Sidhe first swept across the land, the Mountain Witches called out to Umay – she heard them and was angry at the destruction of the humans that she had created. She would give them a means of defending themselves from the Sidhe but they must give up themselves in order to gain it. They began to weep tears of blood and, as the blood fell, it mingled with the land. The witches walked the lands to ensure that their tears fell far and wide. As they walked they became weaker and eventually, one by one, they died. When the last witch perished with a cry to Umay on her lips, Umay felt the bodies and the blood upon the earth and wove the very life force of the witches into the land to drive back the Sidhe. For that reason, tradition has it that the Sidhe cannot abide the taste of blood. The first thing a stranger is offered when they enter a Brazene home is a drink of milk mixed with the blood of one of the household witches and known as Baatar. Admittedly, most humans find the taste a little unpleasant but it is said to make Sidhe or Changelings violently ill.
Most stories, both fact and fiction, are passed down through an oral tradition. Although life is relatively comfortable in Brazene, there remains the superstition that anything written down can fall into the hands of an enemy. Knowledge held in the mind can only be passed on by choice and then with any changes deemed appropriate to retain certain secrets. Lessons tend to be passed on in a similar fashion, often through alliterative poems used as mnemonics for important information.
One common practice in Brazene is the building of Arvos – cairns made from rocks or wood. They are often found in high places or marking the paths that lead from Brazene into the forests beyond. They are symbolic of the bodies of the witches who died in search of a weapon against the Sidhe and are a memorial to them as well as a reminder to Umay that the people of Brazene recall the sacrifice made to her. When a traveller comes across an Arvo, the custom is to stop and circle it in a clockwise direction, mimicking the movement of the sun, in order to invoke the protection of the sun goddess for their journey. Usually a rock or stick will be gathered from the surrounding area and added to the Arvo to symbolise their connection to the ancient witches. One may also leave offerings of sweets, money, milk, or alcohol to their spirits as well as a small sacrifice of blood to strengthen the protection.
Brazene cooking is much concerned with preservation methods which will allow those who travel with the herds to carry meat and other provisions with them. They have very little fish in their usual diet unless they trade for it (usually with Lugate) and most of their vegetable matter is grown in the northern valleys, where the temperature evens out to provide fertile ground for almost anything. Rice is the usual grain, with the heavy rain present in the valleys for much of the year providing ideal conditions for its growth. It is said that the Brazene will try to ferment almost anything and some jokes claim that this tendency is the inspiration behind Lugate alchemy.
Most families have their own particular means of worship and household patron deities. However, there are a few gods who are common throughout most of Brazene.
Umay – The earth mother, she is a goddess of fertility, mothers and children. Umay is said to be the mother of humanity and concerned with ensuring they are provided with food and places to shelter from the Sidhe.
Bai-Ulgan – Sky god and creator of the world. Bai-Ulgan is the lover of Umay although not the father of humanity according to legend. He is much concerned with knowledge and is called on by all manner of scholars as well as the witches. Although somewhat aloof, he will answer the prayers of his followers only after they have exhausted the possibilities of their own resources. Bai-Ulgan controls the movement of the earth and stars as well as the weather, and there are those who claim to be able to divine his mood by these factors.
Erlik – According to legend, Erlik was the first man, a creation of Bai-Ulgan. He was given the talent of magic but proved prideful and destructive. He and Bai-Ulgan quarrelled over how the earth should run, with Erlik claiming he could create and control a far superior world. Bai-Ulgan responded by banishing him to the underworld where he could rule as he wished without setting Bai-Ulgan’s world awry.
Some legends insist that Erlik is the creator of the Sidhe. Erlik is recognised as a god but not worshipped as such. He is a deity of night, darkness and death, said to be responsible for misfortune, sickness and famine. Brazene occasionally leave offerings to Erlik in an attempt to fend off disease or ill fortune but it is a double edged sword – placating him may also draw his attention.
Umay and Bai-Ugan have two daughters, Nya and Sar, goddesses of the sun and moon respectively. They are warriors and defenders whose duty it is to keep Erlik in his underworld kingdom. Nya guards during the day while all is bright and clear while her sister works at night when Erlik’s power is at its strongest. They are beloved of warriors but it is understood that they are far too busy to answer prayers, indeed distracting them from their duties might be truly disastrous. It is said that, if Sar ever triumphs over Erlik, the night will cease to be and the moon will glow as brightly as the sun.
Legend has it that, once, a council of the most powerful Witches from forty families ruled over Brazene. Those days are long gone now and the country is ruled by a coven formed by three of the oldest families.
Mother Feldeger is known simply as ‘The Healer’ throughout much of Brazene. Although the entire family has a reputation for skill with the healing arts, their matriarch is said to be able to bring the dead back to life so long as the body is not yet cold. Naturally, she neither confirms nor denies the rumours, preferring to maintain her mystique and the power it brings with it. Although her touch may be soothing, her manner is generally anything but. She is of the opinion that a friendly healer encourages malingering patients and thus her bedside manner leaves much to be desired. In fairness, expecting a witch to heal by magic what a physician could mend just as well in a little more time, is akin to using a fireball to light ones pipe – in both scale and attendant danger. Even those of her daughters who do not have a magical gift are skilled in their application of herbs and mundane healing.
The Lenas are known as mighty warriors, even their elderly matriarch, head of the ruling coven, is said to be fearsome when roused. She may no longer be young and fit enough to ride at the head of a skirmishing force to drive back the latest sidhe incursion but her ability to lend strength to those who fight has ensured more than one victory. Mother Lenas also has a mind like a steel trap, her grasp of tactics and generalship has waned not a bit since her prime. The family, both men and women, are known for their courage in battle, whether it is defending the borders of the kingdom or driving predators away from the flocks on the plateaus.
The Pawst are mistrusted outside of Brazene, more so than the rest of the witches. Their skill lies in twisting the strands of their magic into curses. Despite the Lenas’ greater prowess in battle, it is the Pawst ability that causes the most fearful damage amongst their mortal enemies at least. They believe that battling the Sidhe with magic is the only way to have done with the creatures who would invade their home and tend to shun more physical methods of combat. It is said that the matriarch of the Pawst clan once spoke a curse against all men of the Brazene, making them unable to perform magic and thus protecting the kingdom from the deprivations of Hutari spies. It is also said that a Pawst witch can make your blood boil within your veins and your skeleton grow until it bursts through the skin and crushes your internal organs, leaving nothing but a human form cast in bone behind.
Brazene is a kingdom on two levels, with settlements built either along valley bottoms or on plateaus. The climate is one of extremes, hot in the summer and extremely cold in winter; many of the valleys have their own micro climates due to the nature of the surrounding peaks. Most of the rainfall is during winter, although the hard ground of the plateaus means that much of this runs straight off and the ground is arid no matter the time of year. Lack of shelter from the wind likewise makes these areas somewhat inhospitable. However, while the lower land is farmed for crops, the plateaus make ideal grazing for the ubiquitous Brazene goats; Since they are further away from the Sidhe haunted forests, the plateaus are considered safer by many. In the main, the nomadic life of the Brazene takes them to the valleys to ride out the worst of the winter weather, when you can lose extremities to frostbite after relatively short exposure, and up to the plateaus during the hot summer. During the warm season, the southernmost valleys become something akin to rainforests with warm air being caught between the mountains and funnelled through the valleys until they meet cooler air from the forest and turn into precipitation. While this is good for the crops, in general the Brazene prefer the drier, fiercer heat of the plateau where they feel that they are at least breathing air rather than water.
Never cross a witch, being nailed to a tree with your own bones often offends.
Look and feel
Brazene clothing is, above all, practical. This means it needs to allow for ease of movement, climbing, and fighting, as well as warding off the bitter cold of the winter. This is generally achieved through many layers of cotton cloth, fur, leather, and wool or felt. The basis of most Brazene clothing is a long tunic with sleeves. It can be lined with fur or wool in the colder season or a simple garment of light cotton during the summer. Over this is worn a wide sash usually in a contrasting colour. The sash is used to keep the tunic close to the body and serving as something from which to hang pouches containing important items. The sash is often a very long piece of fabric wrapped around the waist several times, in this way it can also be used as a pocket for small items. The legs are covered in either loose trousers, a simple skirt or both, dependant on personal preference and weather.
Brazene do not wear cloaks, they occasionally throw a short cape over their other clothing for warmth but nothing that falls past the waist or could catch on things in the normal course of moving about through the day. They are more likely to choose a short coat, thickly padded on the inside, that serves as much as light armour as it does to keep them warm in the vicious winters. Hats of all kinds are worn, mostly of felt or lined leather and with flaps that can be let down to cover the ears.
Each layer of clothing is decorated with embroidery or painted designs. The images interweave symbols of protection with complex knot work intended to distract and confuse the Sidhe. Outer layers also include beads and other decorative elements. Blues, greens, yellows and golds are preferred colours. Brazene almost never wear black, associating it with Erlik. Their colour of mourning is a vivid scarlet, in memory of the blood shed by the early witches and as a reminder that all Brazene will eventually return to the earth.
Armour is likewise made of leather, usually hardened and engraved or painted with similar patterns to the clothing. It tells the story of a warrior’s deeds and those done by the warrior’s ancestors for those who can read it and integrates talismans and keepsakes to offer protection in battle. A Brazene warrior is the first to say that skill is more important in battle than luck, but luck will keep you alive when all else is equal.
Weaponry among Brazene tends to consist of bows and short blades. Nothing too large or that might get in the way when a swift escape is necessary. Bows are used for both hunting and warfare, while knives are useful for skinning animals or cutting rope as well as for slicing flesh. Brazene tradition states that it is foolish to carry any weapon with a blade longer than one’s own arm.