When he awoke, Bjarri found himself unhurt and overlooking a ferocious battle. He witnessed many a courageous deed as the battle raged on, with each warrior striving harder than the last to to prove himself to be crafty, skillful, and brave. At dusk, the battle ceased, and the survivors, ally and enemy alike left the field of battle in good spirits. Bjarri then realized that two beautiful, heavily armed women were with him. They escorted Bjarri to a grand hall where hundreds of warriors roistered, caroused, wenched, and drank. On a dais at the head of the hall sat a massive warrior with golden hair and a full beard. The warrior beckoned Bjarri to sit beside him, and the skald was given the finest of the hosts's meat and wine and mead as he listened to tale after tale of courage and bravery. Finally, his host spoke, saying:
"Look upon the best and boldest and take forth the tale of my house. Speak unto those of fierce heart who revel in the fullness of strength, and fear not the long night, that they may look unto me for reward in life and death."
Though Bjarri pleaded to be allowed to remain in Talagaad, Sarajin was adamant and Bjarri was returned to the lands of mortal men. As the tale tells, Bjarri spent the rest of his life singing the praise and speaking the word of Sarajin until he died bravely in battle at an extremely advanced age. So popular were the tales of Bjarri amongst the Ivinian peoples, that by the first century TR, worship of Sarajin was almost universal throughout the region. For the next few centuries, the fables and tales sung by Bjarri were recounted and slowly added to over the intervening centuries. By the third century TR, the central concepts embodied in the tales had for all intents and purposes reached their present form.
In present practice, the Ljarl is still passed on in the same way it always has been: oral tradition. Thus, the importance of the storytelling of the skalds can not be overemphasized. As the primary sources of lore, the skalds are most Ivinian childrens' first real contact with the concepts embodied in Sarajin's code. Hence, "indoctrination," as it were, begins at a fairly early age, with tales designed to both captivate the imagination and make a point. The collected tales are full of examples of honorable and dishonorable men, as well as honorable men forced to choose between dishonorable options, a very popular and educational theme.
The effect of this emphasis on bravery is twofold. First, it encourages risk-taking. When coupled with the devout follower's total lack of the fear of death and his desire to die spectacularly in heroic battle, these risks sometimes reach the point of recklessness. This quite often results in a stunning victory, as the warriors take their opponents by surprise, using some risky tactic that wise commanders would dismiss as foolhardy. Somewhat less often, however, it results in the death of a good number of warriors, as the risks do not pay off. Regardless of the outcome, however, the conduct of the warriors in question is the important part, and a brave defeat is cherished more dearly than a craven victory. It is entirely probable that a more conservative approach on the part of the Ivinians would result in them controlling far more territory in Lythia and Harn than they presently do.
Second, the emphasis on courage ensures that Ivinian warriors go to great lengths to get such an opportunity to distinguish themselves in battle. This, coupled with the practical need of acquiring wealth and women as means to status within the clan ensures that the typically devout Sarajinian will repeatedly enter into combat. Engaged in constant strife, Ivinian warriors gain volumes of practical battlefield experience. As such, they tend to fight at a level of skill far superior to that of the warriors of many other nations or religions (with the possible exception of the Agrikans). This skill and fierceness often more than compensates for their sometimes chaotic and poorly organized approach to military tactics.
With courage being the cornerstone of the Ljarlic mindset, perhaps the greatest insult to the devout Sarajinian is to be labeled a coward. There's no quicker, surer way to start a bar-room brawl than to slander the bravery of an Invinian warrior.
It should be noted that although courage is generally thought of in the sense of bravery in combat, the Ljarl is very careful to expand the definition of courage to cover many situations. Facing great odds, bravely plying raging seas, travelling alone on a trek through the harsh wilderness, striking out into the unknown. These are courageous acts as well, and just as valid in the Sarajinian's eyes as martial prowess. Thus, it is possible for anyone, not just a warrior, to be an exemplary model of Ljarlic behavior, and many such heroic folk grace the epic tales passed from one generation to the next by the Ivinian skalds.
For instance, several prominent Ljarlic stories clearly teach that the order of one's loyalty, in decreasing order of importance is: immediate family, then extended clan, then valhakar, then king, and finally country where applicable. It is important to note that no mention is made of loyalty to Sarajin, and the devout owe no real "loyalty" to their God. To the follower of the Ljarl, however, the thought of any kind of life other than one in the image of the Grey Slayer is utterly alien. This, for the most part, explains the extremely limited success other religions have had in converting Ivinians to their ranks.
Though enormously clear in theory, the actual practice of loyalties, especially on the clan level is somewhat more complex. For example, loyalty to the clan comes before loyalty to the valhakar, yet the valhakar is the head of clan, whose word is law in the practical sense, and who speaks for the clan as a whole. Yet this order of loyalty provides some measure of subtle check upon the valhakars. Should the valhakar be acting contrary to what is best for the clan, and should the situation be dire enough to warrant it, individual members of the clan's thrangaad can take action to depose the valhakar. In this way, duelling the current clanhead for control of the clan can be justified without breaking the rank order of loyalty or violating Ljarlic code. In practice, such actions are seldom necessary. They exist, however, to ensure that rulers have absolute authority over clan matters, yet must still keep the best interests of the clan as a whole in mind when making policies, alliances, and other clan-related decisions. Thus, the Ljarl is used to subtly limit the otherwise total authority of the valhakar.
Loyalty between clans is another matter that can confuse the uninitiated but is far more clear to one knowledgeable in the teachings of the Ljarl. For instance, one clan's tributory status under another is not covered in the loyalty hierarchy arrangement central to the code. Yet such arrangements exist. The reason is that there is very little actual "loyalty" owed by the lesser clan to the greater.
In practice, one clan will typically give tribute to another out of political expediency and the need for mutual protection and patronage. Realistically, this is not a matter of loyalty but more a matter of a lesser clan's valhakar and thrangaad entering into such an arrangement because it best suits needs of the clan at that time. Thus, the loyalty to one's clan dictates to whom, how, and when tribute will be paid.
Commonly, such arrangements are also entered into on a more personal level. That is, a valhakar of a lesser clan (acting in the interests of his own clan of course) will give his personal word to the valhakar of a greatclan, pledging aid, tribute, or in some cases even loyalty that approaches the level of that given to close family. While this last is rare, it often occurs where the valhakars in question are good friends, comrades at arms, related by blood or marriage, or all of the above. It is important to note however, that the death or removal from power of the head of either clan negates any such personal promise. The successor of a clan paying tribute to a greater family is not obligated to continue to do so. Similarly, the successor of a greatclan is not necessarily guaranteed the continuing tribute of the lesser clans that paid such aids to his predecessor. In practical terms, however, tradition and political expediency ensure that such arrangements are semi-permanent.
This ambiguity in tributory relationships does, however, make politics somewhat interesting. Many ignorant foreigners have observed that Ivinians conduct a fair amount of political back-stabbing for a people so concerned with honor. What such observers fail to realize, however, is that the concept of "feudal obligation" is unparalleled in the teachings of the Ljarl. There is no precedent for it in the code that most Ivinians follow, and as such, while tributory status may resemble a liege-vassal relationship in many respects, it is not.
For exaple, there is no set amount of military aid that tributory clans must send to their lords in time of need. All, some, few, even none at all are options open to the valhakars and thrangaads of the smaller clans. The lord has the right to demand aid, but the tributories are under no firm obligation to give it. Realistically speaking, such an action would probably result in hostility and possibly violence between the families in question, though it serves to illustrate the point that service is less a matter of obligation and more a matter of a clan's self-preservation, tradition, honor, and respect for the greatclan. An oft told epic recounts the tale of a lesser clan that sent only two warriors to its lord in time of war, but those two warriors protected the greatclan's wounded valhakar against all comers, saving their lord and winning great honor for themselves and their clan.
A further difference between feudal relations and clan relations is that tributory clans are not granted land by their lords. Where a Harnic baron may gift land to a knight for his service, there is no equivalent in Ivinian society. Lands held by the lesser clans are usually lands captured by them in viking raids or ancestral lands owned for centuries. In most Harnic kingdoms, all lands are owned by the king, whose tenants-in-chief hold the land at his pleasure. In Ivinian lands, this concept would not only be thoroughly alien but highly insulting to the landholding clans. Thus, there is no gift of land, and as such, no service is owed in return.
Without any hard legal obligation between the clans in question, the reason for the apparent back-stabbing and shifting of alliances becomes more apparent. With no true "loyalties" between great and lesser clans dictated by the Ljarl, power bases are much more fluid than in other societies. When the interests of the lesser clan run counter to that of the greater clan, a shift in allegiance will most often result. While the political and military realities of life force most lesser clans to simply switch their tribute from one great clan to another, it is not unheard of for lesser clans to break away and offer tribute to no one. Perhaps they can stand alone and survive. In such a way is a new greatclan formed, though significant time may pass before such a clan has any real influence or power.
Generally duty, to a Sarajinian, includes protecting one's family and clan, serving the wishes of the valhakar, accomplishing what one has set out to do, and keeping the promises made to self and others. It is of note that the Ljarl is very emphatic on the issue of giving one's word. Devout followers of the Ljarl take their word very seriously, and do not give it lightly, as it is as binding as any law. When a promise is sworn, it is expected to be upheld, and breaking one's word to another is deemed an act of cowardice. Just as serious a breach is giving false word to a Sarajinian or calling his or her word into question. Strong men have been put to death for far less.
Similarly, however, a burden relies upon the party to whom word was given. Several circumstances are laid out in the Ljarl by which a man or woman is released from his or her word. First and foremost among these is if the person to whom such an obligation is owed is deemed to be a coward (again demonstrating the importance of bravery in a Ljarl-based society). This circumstance takes precedence even over the completion or fulfillment of the promise (where applicable). The death of one's valhakar is also an exceptional circumstance during which the holder of the promise must grant a temporary release from the obligations of promise for a year and a day until a new clanhead is chosen (the somewhat excessive length of time reflects t he fact that news often travels slowly, and both maritime and overland travel can be dangerous and time consuming). Ostensibly, this provision was made to allow a lesser clan's warriors (who commonly swear some personal promise to protect the persons or holdings of the greatclan they serve) to return to protect their own clan's holdings during the vulnerable transition period while a new clanhead is chosen and establishes himself. Regardless of the original intent, this provision has been extended to most spoken promises given out of honor, respect, or tradition (with the obvious exception of marital vows).
Huscarls are quite often in the most difficult position when it comes to such questions of personal loyalty, obedience, duty, and promise. Huscarls are a clan's elite warriors, forming the backbone of its militia and guarding the clan's significant persons and holdings. Though they are generally clansmen, it is not uncommon for warriors of lesser clans to become huscarls of the greatclans they give tribute to. In such an instance, the politics between clans can often lead to divided loyalties. In the case of a rebellion by a tributory clan, the huscarl's situation becomes problematic. Serving his clan he becomes a traitor to his lord the valhakar, and serving his lord he becomes a traitor to his clan, and, in the likely event of violence, possibly a kinslayer as well. Many tales center around this kind of quandry, the most popular being that of Ani of Tejaal.
Oddly enough, the most prized huscarls are those who are clanless. They are valued by valhakars because they have no divided loyalties to tributory clans, nor do they belong to the clan of the valhakar himself. As such, they are set apart from internal clan politics and pose less of a threat to the valhakar should he come to be at odds with his thrangaad. Generally, such huscarls swear oaths to the valhakar himself, a pledge that will stand until said valhakar dies, is rightfully deposed, or proves himself to be a coward. Thus, astute valhakars take their most trustworthy clanless huscarls as private bodyguards to discourage political assassination should overly ambitious clansmen seek to replace them by force.
It should be noted, however, that a distinction is made between lying and bragging. Ivinian warriors and skalds especially are fond of exaggerating and embellishing tales of battle or stories of their exploits. This is tacitly understood and socially acceptable. Making up stories out of fictitious lie and calling it truth is a far more dire crime.
Sarajin knew that his father, being a god, would be incredibly long lived to say the least. After tormenting himself over the decision (and due to the trickery of a pradeyalkri named Urgessarl), Sarajin entered into combat with his father. The epic tale recounts, "...and lo, the last blow was struck, and Skarakyldrik fell to his knees. In that instant, Sarajin recognized the trickery of Urgessarl for what it was, and was filled with the knowledge that he had willingly slain his sire." Overcome with grief, Sarajin exacted revenge upon Urgessarl and proclaimed that any in his domains who slew kin from that day forward was guilty of a crime of which there was none greater in his eyes.
When Uyessegryn came "...from the depths of the abyss..." for vengeance of the murder of his son Skarakyldrik, Sarajin met him, and issued a challenge straight away. But the challenge was to a test of wit, the loser of which would be banished from the realms of Kelestia forever. The crafty Sarajin was victorious, and Uyessegryn, who had taught Sarajin much in the ways of honor, kept his word and left the universe, never to be seen again. Thus, Sarajin held dominance over his domain (with the exception of Suerlji and the other pradeyalkri yet to be expelled), and did not kill kin again.
The moral value that these epic legends teach is that the slaying of blood kin is a crime most dire, and untolerated by the God. The Ljarl embodies this same sentiment in its very clear proscription against slaying a relative. Whether of the same blood, or merely of the same clan makes no difference; killing your brother's wife is just as dire as killing your broter himself. The Ljarlic code's punishment of kinslayers is disowning; outlawry and expulsion from the thran on pain of death (cleverly, an outlaw is no longer technically part of the clan, and thus fair game). Many kinslayers don't survive the first few days of their exile, as former clansmen often take it upon themselves to exact revenge by hunting the unfortunate, newly clanless individual down and taking his life. While this is generally discouraged, it is not at odds with the teachings of the Ljarl, and thus not forbidden outright.
Because of this belief, Sarajinians have little to no fear of death, especially if their death will serve some greater end. Indeed, some warriors, such as the berserker actually seek death in this fashion, drifting from one battle to the next, endlessly in search of the superior foe or overwhelming challenge that will send them on to the next world.
Similarly, while the passing of a Sarajinian is met with grief and loss as is typical of the bereft, it is also met with pride at the departed's achievements. This culminates in the traditional Sarajinian burial rite in which the departed is interred along with his possessions in a dragonship. Originally, the body was set to drift across the ocean, but the pratice was later reduced to burning or burying the vessel due to the growing tendency by impious pirates and rogues to loot the floating crypts and use the boats as their own. Finally, the practice was abandoned altogether due to the prohibitive expense involved. Even royalty are only rarely accorded this honor anymore. Presently, the bodies of most Sarajinian dead are buried or cremated, though heroic warriors are often interred or burned with their armor and weapons still upon them.
It should not be said, however, that Sarajinians do not know the value of human life. In actuality, the practice of giving wergild (literally "man gold") for killing a man illustrates this very point. While facing an opponent fairly and slaying him on the field of battle is not deemed a crime requiring compensation, murdering a man in most other non-battle circumstances is. In a harsh, dangerous, mountainous wilderness, the loss of a clansman (and most importantly the protection and income provided by him) could be devastating, especially to small freeclans. Because killing a man could have drastic, even catastrophic effects upon his family, the practice of paying wergild was adopted. Traditionally, the price of wergild was three times the murdered man's yearly income, or roughly enough to support the man's immediate family long enough to allow the widow a sufficent amount of time to both mourn and find a new husband. The penalty for killing of a child, woman, or non-supporting member of a family was simply the guilty party's yearly income paid once. This expense was meant not only to protect the family but also as a deterrent against the callous taking of life, which Sarajin deemed dishonorable.
Of late, however, with the growth of larger, more extended clan structures, the results of a man's death are no longer as catastrophic as the extended family protects and supports its members communally. As such, wergild has become more a political statement than anything else. The amount of wergild offered or deman ded conveys a message. How it measures against the traditional values set forth by the Ljarl is some gauge of the relative worth the offending persons feel the man himself possessed. Obviously, offering little or no wergild for a man's murder is another way of saying he was worthless, an insult most clans do not take lightly. By the same token, refusing acceptance of the offer of wergild is akin to saying that one's family is above taking charity from the offending clan, also an insulting matter. Bloodfeuds and all manner of other inter-clan conflicts commonly arise out of just these kinds of situations.
Finally, it should be said that for Sarajinians, near-death holds almost as much honor as death itself. The sacrifice that results in a crippling wound has much merit. Sarajinian warriors are not ashamed of even disfiguring battle scars, for a prominent Ljarlic tale says, "Wear thy marks of combat proudly, for they plainly tell of battles fought and lessons learned." Even when a warrior has suffered a debilitating injury that will prevent him from taking up arms again, his or her experience and opinion is often given great weight, especially if said warrior was previously quite distinguished.
In combat between other followers of Sarajin, certain niceties are generally observed in combat between honorable opponents. First is the right to decide an issue by means of single combat. Both sets of combatants have the right to make this request, and it is almost unilaterally granted by the other party. Though somewhat rare, this more traditional option is occasionally chosen by smaller groups, especially where fighting at sea between two ship crews is concerned. As the casualties of combat may leave both groups devastated (or unable to adequately crew either ship, for instance), this is a way to ensure the survival of both sets of combatants. Being chosen as the champion of one's force is a great honor, and carries with it much prestige, especially if ultimately succesful.
Agreement is tacitly given that the losing party will surrender in full to the victor. In such instances, especially at sea, captives are rarely taken. Instead, the crew is merely considered vanquished, gives up what goods or treasures they have, and go about their way. A popular epic tells the tale of a Rognan pirate by the name of Aalkuuri Wavestrider, who always fought his opponents fairly in single combat. On the one occasion that he was beaten by as uperior foe, he is said to have laughed aloud as he lay dying and bade his crew help the victors load the booty from his previous raid onto the victors' ship.
Though even the rulership of territories has been decided in this way, this is rare indeed. A notable example of this practice was the conquest of Arathel by Jurri of clan Canjarl in 673. While still uncommon, this practice is far more prevalent in settling disputes of honor and matters at sea.
The second important point of conduct between Sarajinian opponents is quarter, which can be asked but never offered. It is deemed a grave insult to offer quarter to an Ivinian warrior, as it calls not only his skill-at-arms but his courage to press on against the odds into question. It can even be seen as an attempt to deprive the warrior of the heroic death he or she may deserve. Typically, if the total obliteration of one's family or holdings is imminent or unavoidable, quarter will be asked, and there is no dishonor in doing so when the outcome of the battle is not in question. Occasionally, there are instances where this is not so, and fighting will proceed until the bitter end (having previously given one's word to defend to the death is a simple example).
Once quarter is given, the leaders of both sides meet to negotiate the terms of surrender, which in many instances is total and unconditional. Many a small clan has been forced into tributory status by such arrangements. On the other hand, if quarter is asked yet not given, the defender is faced with two choices; resistance to the death or retreat. While many proud warriors would prefer death to retreat or surrender, there is no dishonor in saving one's clan from total extermination by these means (again, foremost loyalty is to the family). Still it often happens that the menfolk and female warriors continue to fight in order to protect the retreat of the non-combatant children, women, and elders of the clan. Thus, both honorable duties are fulfilled and the warriors can die with valor.
Third, Sarajin is known as the King of Icy Winds and the Master of Frosty Climes. His realms are a harsh, unforgiving land of rugged mountains surrounded by a frigid, stormy sea. Hence, it is understood that captives and defeated foes are never left to die in the hostile wilderness, nor are a sunken ship's defeated crew cast into the sea. Rather, they are guaranteed safe passage back to the lands of the victorious clan, where they will likely become thralls or be ransomed back to their clans depending on their standing. The reasons for this are practical as well as religious, as an ample supply of slave labor or ransom money can provide valuable aid to a growing clan.
Finally, on the subject of thralls, Ivinian people for the most part treat Sarajin-worshipping thralls extremely well, all things considered. Thralls are generally put to work in agricultural and domestic roles, which both feeds the clan and frees up its members to pursue more profitable professions like we aponcrafting, whaling, or trading. Hence, the thralls perform a valuable service and are accorded some degree of fair treatment. A Ljarlic parable concerning the keeping of thralls teaches that, "The miserable thrall holds ice deep in his heart, and is coldly rebellious. A rebellious thrall costs more to punish, guard, and tame in a month than he can work in a year. The wise holder keeps his thralls well-fed and warm, that he may melt the ice in their hearts."
In circumstances where an existing settlement is conquered (such as in Orbaal), whole families may be brought into thralldom. In such a situation, the entire clan is considered unfree, and all its descendants will also be thralls. Another notable difference between the Ivinian clan structure and feudalism is that thralls are bound to the clan that owns them, unlike serfs, who are bound to the land regardless of its owner. If a clan were for some reason to move to a new thran, their thralls would go with them. This again relates back to the differences in land ownership between the two governing systems.
First, they may burn the thran of the clan they are raiding, but wholesale destruction of the entire village is looked down upon as excessive. The only exception to this guideline is when the settlement in question serves none other than a military purpose (a border garrison or outpost fort). The purpose for this restriction seems to serve two ends. First, it limits the wholesale slaughter of Sarajin's worshippers. Second, and probably more practical, it ensures that the settlement will survive to be raided again at some future date.
Second, though each warrior can take as much booty as he can carry, he can only take one woman. The rationale for this, as set forth in Ljarlic tradition is that since admission to a clan's thrangaad requires a man to have three wives, no warrior can gain his admission through but a single raid (nevermind that the booty carried off may pay the brideprice for the other two if the warrior is prudent and the settlement is particularly wealthy). The intent is to ensure that members of the thrangaad have either proven themselves multiple times in battle and taken brides, have amassed wealth through astute dealings and purchased brides, have made the necessary political ties for arranged marriages, or some combination of the three. Thus, the members of the clan with any influence must be the "best and boldest", as was the will of Sarajin. Again, as before, another more practical view would be that carrying off a settlement's entire body of women has adverse affects on the future viability of the settlement itself, thus limiting future raiding opportunities.
Third, warriors are not permitted to take pregnant women as warbrides. The reason for this is a simple matter of legitimacy. No warrior or clanhead wants a bastard child in his family not sired by himself or his kin coming to a station of rank in his clan. It occasionally happens that women in very early pregnancy are unwittingly taken, but in cases amongst people of largely Ivinian blood and similar physical traits, the actual sire may never be suspected. In cases where foreign women of sufficiently different appearance are taken, the child rarely survives early childhood. Many clanmembers do not feel that the child is family, and thus the proscription against kinslaying does not apply. In some cases, it is actually the clan's children that result in the unfortunate orphan's death. In extreme circumstances (such as if the warbride and warrior are on incredibly good terms and the woman is a favored wife) the warrior will petition the thrangaad for adoption of the child into the clan. Even in rare cases where the thrangaad grants persmission, the child seldom has an easy life. Most warriors faced with this situation opt to play it safe and simply eliminate any possiblilities of revenge plots, bastard succession, or familial strife by eliminating the child. It is precisely to prevent the more common occurrence of such difficult and delicate situations that the Ljarl prohibits the taking of pregnant women.
Finally, when the raiders return to their thran, the Ljarl also sets forth the method by which booty is divided. Though each warrior can take as much as he can carry from the site of the raid, he must give a full third of his haul to the thrangaad. When many of a clan's warriors partake in a raid, this sum can get quite large. From this pool of loot, the valhakar takes a full third for himself, and the rest is divided equally amongst the members of the thrangaad. This serves an important social purpose. It reduces the total amount each warrior gets, thusm aking admission to the thrangaad by paying brideprice marginally more difficult. It also concentrates the wealth into the hands of the people who already have the most power and influence over the clan, thus reinforcing their status and guaranteeing their position while simultaneously making it more difficult for anyone else to gain admission. Clever, subtle, and effective. It should be noted that clanmembers who did not participate in the raid or who do not belong to the thrangaad get exactly nothing, regardless of their relative station. Yet another incentive to "put in one's time a'viking," as it were.
Occasionally, an Ivinian will be so impressed by a foreigner that he will grant some measure of mercy, especially if the foe demonstrates great courage or some other particularly Ljarlic behavior. For example, Jurri of Canjarl was so impressed by the bravery of Brela of Merovyne that he granted the Jarin lord's request to decide rulership of Arathel by single combat. This was purely a personal decision, however. It is doubtful that had Jurri been slain, the rest of his clan's warriors would have simply left the settlement unmolested. It is believed by some that Brela purposely lost the duel in order to save his people such bloodshed.
Somewhat uncharacteristic of the lack of respect for foreigners is the fact that for the most part, Ivinians continue to follow the rules that apply to viking when raiding in foreign lands. Such strictures generally apply more to the conduct of the warriors than to the rights of the victims in any case, and as such, warriors are still prohibited from taking more than one woman or women who are pregnant, and they are still expected give a third of their booty to the clan's thrangaad. It should not be said, however, that Ivinian warriors are less harsh on foreign settlements than on those of their fellow Sarajinians. Indeed, such viking warriors are significantly freer with the sword and the torch when the victim is not a follower of their harsh god. The wisdom of refraining from utterly destroying the settlement is not lost on the viking warriors, however, and settlements are usually spared total annhiliation so they may be raided again at some later time.
Treatment of foreigners taken as thralls, however, is often far worse than the treatment of their Sarajin-worshipping counterparts. Though there is some merit in keeping one's thralls at least fed well enough to be productive, Ivinian overlords are much more likely to rule through fear and brutality than kindness. Furthermore, as the Ivinian conquest of Orbaal has shown, indigenous peoples are given little or no rights or amenities when Sarajinian people come to colonize. The subjugated natives are often overworked, excessively taxed, and generally treated as second-class citizens as best. The local Jarin population of Orbaal has been brutally beaten into submission, and the thranaal in which the Jarin are well-treated is the exception rather than the rule.
Other times, two clans may merely be vying for the same goal (usually territory) and may simply be at odds with each other. In their repeated clashes, the prospect for indvidual atrocities increases as the conflict lengthens. After time, it can happen that the conflict between the two clans becomes personal, and conflict can branch out from the area originally contested by the two families.
Whether the hatred stems from a single incident or a long series of smaller slights, the end result is the same. The typical product is the bloodfeud, in which the two clans vent their mutual hatred by doing everything in their power to bring about the opposing clan's destruction. The fact that bloodfeuds generally result from behavior deemed dishonorable and cowardly (often in the eyes of both families) serves to ensure that neither side has any respect for the other whatsoever. As such, one's opponent in bloodfeud is generally considered a coward by default, and is not afforded any of the typical combat considerations. Quarter is neither asked nor granted, and fights continue to the bitter end.
The bloodfeud is another example of the complexity of the Ljarl. The desire to exact retribution supersedes the desire to act bravely. Often, the loyalty to one's clan and the duty to protect its members and its honor is brought into direct conflict with the emphasis on courageous conduct. The combat between feuding clans can just as easily take place by honorable conflict on the field of battle as by assassination and arson through means of deceit and stealth. Neither is particularly looked down upon or viewed as more worthy than the other. Yet again, the untrained observer may think the Sarajinians as hypocrytical to their code of honor by engaging in such dastardly methods, but a fuller understanding of the Ljarl demonstrates that the emphasis on courage, loyalty, and duty is still observed and upheld for the most part, though not all these virtues are necessarily maintained at the same time.
In any case, the desire for polygamous marriage is at direct odds with the practice of brideprice, in which the prospective groom (or in many cases his clan) pays the family of the bride some predetermined sum for her hand in marriage. Socially, brideprice is some measure of the worth of the daughter. The first daughter generally commands a higher price than the subsequent daughters, and women of good breeding, talent, or beauty will alter the price, sometimes resulting in significantly higher amounts. Politically, brideprice is a convenient way to ensure a suitable match will be made for the daughter (as the price may vary depending on the suitor), and alliances can be formed between clans as a result of such marriages. Economically, the price in cash or kind can be quite useful to a clan's continued prosperity, and families generally go to some lengths to ensure that their daughters will command a high price.
Oddly enough, the custom of asking brideprice stems from the practice of wergild. Since the woman is usually considered as belonging to the clan of her husband (unless the man is clanless or outlawed from his own clan), it falls to reason that the woman's clan is not so much gaining a son as losing a daughter. From a practical standpoint, the loss of such productivity for the clan, both in terms of labor and future procreation, must be compensated for. Hence, it became customary for the groom's clan to make some offering of amends to the bride's family. It should be pointed out that originally, brideprice was set the same as wergild for non-supporting clan members, that is the guilty party's (in this case the groom's) yearly income paid once. Thus, it was advantageous to marry one's daughters off to prosperous clans, both from a political and economic point of view. Over time, however, brideprice underwent a set of changes similar to that of wergild itself. As with wergild, however, the fairness of a demand is still gauged against the traditional sum, with adjustments made to reflect the quality of the woman in question as well as the politics of the situation. Also like wergild, the amount demanded or counter-offered for brideprice can be used to convey an insult to either clan, though such insults over women are generally not deemed as severe as those resulting from wergild.
For those women who feel that this role is too tame, however, a special provision is made. A woman may choose to become a warrior provided she fits two conditions: she must remain both a virgin and undefeated in combat. Since women who remain warriors for any length of time must develop the willpower to weather the sexist slights and insults and the skill-at-arms to discourage wayward warriors from "conquering" them, most shieldmaidens are extremely competent and dangerous foes purely out of practical necessity.
Women who do fulfill the necessary requirements are accorded all the privileges open to their male counterparts. They are allowed to be chosen as champions of their clan in single combat, allowed to participate in the time-honored practice of viking, and given the same respect by members of the family. The one area in which they are not equal, however, is the right to polygamous marriage. Since they must remain virgins, female warriors are not allowed to marry (as Ivinian custom dictates that a marriage must be consummated to be considered valid and thus worthy of status and admission to the thrangaad). Thus the quandry; as soon as the marriage is consummated, the shieldmaiden is no longer a warrior, and thus forfeits her rights. While the Ljarl makes a few strides toward gender equality, this clever use of traditional custom virtually guarantees that women can never rise to a position of influence in the clan's affairs. At least, not overt or official influence, that is.
As such, the berserker becomes an extremely dangerous foe in combat. No risk is too great, no foe too fell to be faced. Indeed, many such warriors are capable of whipping themselves into and incredible frenzy of bloodletting fury, during which they can sustain mortal wounds seemingly without caring. It is of note that most berserkers die after a battle is over, when the grievous wounds they have sustained catch up with them, and the Elkyri finally come to take them to Talagaad (if they are fortunate and have died bravely).
In any event, the end result is the same. As deeply as the Ljarlic sagas affect the Sarajinian folks' beiliefs about the cosmos, the Sarajinian faith is consequently surprisingly accepting of the Shek-Pvar. Most especially, the convocations of Odivshe and Jmorvi appeal to the followers of Sarajin; the first because of the vast importance that the sea plays in Ivinian culture and the second because of its propensity to craft wonderfully enchanted weapons and armor. Pursuit of such knowledge and lore is considered to be perfectly in line with the teachings of Sarajin, and belief in magic in no way contradicts the belief in the God's presence or powers. Surely other convocations are seen as less useful and thus more suspect, but not altogether banned or persecuted. Sorcery is not seen as intrinsically evil, but merely a means to an end.
It should not be thought, however, that magic is by any means common. Quite the contrary, only two sizeable chantries of note exist in the entire Ivinian subcontinent, and these of are of the convocations mentioned above. Even so, it is entirely possible that the reason for this relatively low number of organized magical institutions is more a function of the internal politics of the Shek-Pvar than due to any particular distrust of magic by the Ivinian people as a whole.
For instance, the Saga of Roltad tells of three brothers who plunged their clan's lands into ruin by trying to rule jointly. After much plotting, turmoil, kinslaying, viking by rival clans in the time of weakness, and the finally death of the three brothers, the clan elders met and elected a single distinguished warrior to be the new head of clan. This warrior led the clan to a new prosperity, rebuilt all that was lost, and sought revenge on those who had preyed upon them while they had fought amongst themselves.
The allegorical point of this story is clear. The leadership of a single man leads to a proud, prosperous, mighty clan. On the other hand, rulership by multiple people leads to chaos, warfare, kinslaying, and weakness. This particular tale is the justification for the absolute authority of the valhakar, the primary male of the clan. Total power is held by the individual, rather than the comittee. Even the thrangaad is but an advisory body when push comes to shove.
The thrangaad itself has a precedent in the Ljarl as well. The Tale of Skargja the Wise tells of a young man who, in the adventures undertaken to obtain three wives, so impressed Sarajin that the God bade all men be measured by him, and not be considered wise until they too had three wives.
Thus, comprised only of clanmembers who have three or more wives, the thrangaad is a limited to a relatively small body by force of sheer economics. The cost of brideprice for more than one wife is prohibitive, and as a result, only the wealthiest men or those who have taken women in battle can be admitted to its ranks. The thrangaads of most greatclans rarely exceed eighteen to twenty individuals, and are usually much smaller.
The purpose of the thrangaad is to serve as an advisory body to the valhakar. Additionally, it is the members of a clan's thrangaad who will elect a new valhakar, usually after the death of his predecessor. In extreme circumstances, deposing the current valhakar must be accomplished first, a duty that also falls to the members of the thrangaad.
In addition to the advisory body the the thrangaad, Ljarlic custom has also established the theng. The Song of Sartar of Olgund tells of a wise valhakar who was faced with an issue that affected each and every man in his thran. He called upon his thrangaad, and though the discussion was long, the members of the thrangaad could offer no advice on the matter. So, the wise valhakar called a meeting of his clansmen to hear the thoughts of his people. In the end, the wise valhakar gave each man a choice in his fate, and put the topic to a vote. As is typical of allegorical Ljarlic legend, the resulting course of action was ultimately successful.
Convened at the discretion of the valhakar, a theng is the closest that Ivinian society ever comes to democracy. At such roisterous, noisy affairs, each man present has the right to speak to the assembly on any matter, and each man is given a single vote on any issue that comes before the assembly for decision. In practice, female warriors are also granted this privilege, as marriage is not necessary for admittance. Thengs can often be chaotic affairs, and tempers and pride frequently flare. It is the responsibility of the valhakar to ensure order, though particularly divisive issues can make this difficult. Traditionally, thengs are called once a year, though in larger settlements they may be called more frequently, even as often as once a month. Issues discussed can range from calls for arbitration between family disputes, to the accusations of criminal activity, to pleas to amend or change a father's demanded amount of brideprice, to appeals of previous decisions of the valhakar, though this last is uncommon. It is the only opportunity Ivinian men get to have some say in the affairs of their peers or the clan in general, or to question the leadership of the valhakar. For this reason, many valhakars are somewhat hesitant to convene such assemblies on a regular basis.
Since such a position first requires an extremely deep knowledge of the practical teachings of the Ljarl, the most likely candidates to become wyrdsmaan are priests and skalds. Indeed, the clanhead of the thran's religious clan is nearly always a wyrdsmaan. As for skalds, many take up the mantle of wyrdsmaan once they decide to settle down in a single location, usually after accumulating a wide working knowledge of both the stories of the Ljarl and the world in general. The wisdom of such folk is rarely called into question. Again, the subtlety of this measure ensures that people versed in the knowledge of the tra ditional lore will continue to be in a position of influence over the government of the thranaal.
Typically, a thranaal will have several wydsmaan within its domains to aid the valhakar in these types of duties. Twelve is the traditional number dictated by Sirajud's Tragedy, but some prosperous or large thranaals may have as many as eighteen to twenty, while smaller, poorer thranaals may have as few as six. Traditionally, only greatclans can afford this valuable right, though many lesser clans may have a clan member or two who fill this position informally. In the case of smaller freeclans or individual families that lack even these informal officers, such services can be performed by the head of the local religious clan, which is one of the priesthood's primary functions in everyday society.
At its most basic level, the Ljarl teaches its adherents to be a stern, proud, hard-working people, who stoically accept the fate their cold God hands them, try to make the best of it, and celebrate the fullness of life. Though not peaceful by any stretch of the imagination, the Ivinians can openly, and even warmly accept those who follow a similar code of honor or make an attempt to come to a common understanding. Courage, Loyalty, Duty, Honesty. While these virtues may have been envisioned by Sarajin as nothing more than proper conduct on the field of battle, they have come to symbolize much more to the followers of the Grey Slayer. They are more than a code of honor, they are a way of life.