Inhabiting the northeastern reaches of Kalesten are the tribes of Kaius. While these tribes are mostly independent from one another, they are united by their devotion to the dragon Kaius, who inhabits the northern mountains of the region. They share some similarities with old northern European tribal cultures of our world, and are similar to “barbarian” cultures in other fantasy settings.
The Kaians are a large people, compared to other human ethnicities. They are taller than the human average, with males standing a typical 6’ (183cm) and females at 5’7” (170cm). Tending toward an endomorphic or mesomorphic body type, Kaians are rather broad and sturdy, meaty with fat and muscle. Men are broad-shouldered and barrel-chested, often with pot-bellies in their later years. Women are broad as well, with broad shoulders and wide hips, often plump. With their cold and harsh climate, a bit of extra fat is needed to get them through lean times. Kaian culture values a bit of plumpness on both men and women, but as many Kaians are nomadic, they are frequently active and relatively healthy regardless of any fat they carry.
Kaians are typically of fair complexion. Their skin is light, sometimes tanning slightly, but more likely freckling and burning with extended sun exposure. Blonde, red, brown, and black hair are observed, most typically brown and blonde. Blue, green, and hazel eyes are most common amongst the Kaians.
Tattoos and scarification are common distinguishing marks amongst the Kaians, and each tribe and clan has its own tattoos given to individuals through specific rites of passage.
The Lands of Kaius do not have a centralized government and are instead a collection of self-governing tribes which share a culture. Kaians regard the dragon Kaius as their god and leader, but the dragon rarely intervenes in human affairs. The city of Oni’kel is more of a hub for trade with the Lands of Kaius, and a gathering point for all tribal leaders. It is within the territory of one tribe, but this tribe does not have influence beyond their territory. The Lands of Kaius are a collection of chiefdoms, with each tribe governed by their own appointed leader.
Resources & Trade
Throughout the different regions of the Lands of Kaius are numerous resources. Riverlanders are predominantly farmers, producing grains, some hardy vegetables (mainly roots), berries, as well as animal products. Kaian farmers keep predominantly cattle and sheep. Both provide milk, and Kaians make many dairy products including butter, cheese, and yogurt. Sheep provide wool for clothing as well. Pigs are kept by some, but not many, as they can become large and troublesome. Fowl are also kept; chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese, valued both for meat and eggs. Horses and oxen are mainly work animals, but may also be eaten when they have outlived their usefulness or during hard times. Kaian horses are short, stout, hairy and hardy little animals. Dogs are a popular companion animal, kept by not only riverlanders, but steppe tribes and coastal Kaians as well. Riverlanders make use of feral cats for pest control, but will not hesitate to find other uses for cats—cat skin is considered a fine textile for well-dressed ladies.
Lumber is harvested from the foothills of the mountains, which is floated down the rivers to Oni’kel where it is distributed to the farmers. Many people fish in the rivers as well. Hunting is more of a sport than a necessity for sustenance among the riverlanders, but it is considered an important skill for many to have, in order to stay true to their roots.
Iron and silver are mined in the mountains as well. Most smiths are located in Oni’kel, and weapons are distributed from there throughout the lands of Kaius. With influence from the Heartlanders to the south, Oni’kel has taken to using iron coins for trade, as well as taking coinage from trade with the south. Kaian coins are square iron stamped with a stylized icon of Kaius.
There are three distinct cultural groupings among the Kaian people. Throughout the heart of the region, where most tribes are nomadic and receive their subsistence through hunting and gathering, the tribes are largely egalitarian and broken up into smaller clans. Every person in these clans is regarded as having talents and skills that support the group as a whole. Men and women follow their strengths to ensure the survival of all in a harsh terrain. Meanwhile, tribes which have become more sedentary around the coast and fertile riverlands tend to have a more structured and regimented society. They are often patriarchal in the riverlands and matriarchal on the west coast.
Gender and Relationships
In the three different Kaian groups are three distinct outlooks on gender and relationships. Riverlanders, having formed a more patriarchal society, give men more social privileges. Men own property, are the heads of the household and of the clan, and inheritance is passed down to male children. Formal marriages are typically arranged between clans with a dowry paid by the bride’s family. The bride leaves her family home to join her new husband’s clan. Women typically tend to the home and children, while men handle the heavy labor and trade. On farms, chores are often divided by gender. Women handle tasks such as collecting eggs, milking cows and goats, food preparation, and other production tasks. The tasks of the men are building, herding, and trade. Harvesting and planting tasks are often seen to by every able-bodied member of the family. When hunting or fishing supplements a family’s diet, men tend to this task.
In the steppe tribes, gender roles are not clearly defined. When a small clan needs every able-bodied person to contribute to survival, they don’t discriminate. Romances in the steppe tribes are based in attraction and short-lived. They have strict rules against incest, so members of a clan must leave their own clan to find a partner. Those seeking companionship may remain with another clan for a time, but romances tend to burn out quickly. Lineage is loosely traced on a matrilineal line. Few men raise their own children in the steppes, and instead they contribute to the upbringing of the children born to women of their own clan. When a woman becomes pregnant, she often loses interest in her partner and relies on the security of her family in which to raise her child. Some people may return to the same lover repeatedly, while others will take a new partner whenever the whim strikes them. However, in tribes that subsist on raiding, they take what they please, including partners. Usually women, but occasionally men, may be kidnapped and forced to marry a raider. The raiders will do everything they can to break the spirit of their captive until they accept their fate. However, women are not necessarily oppressed. While captured brides may be lacking in freedom, their daughters are wholly welcomed into the clan and may even become raiders themselves if they show an interest.
Meanwhile, Kaians on the west coast have developed a different sort of regimented sedentary society. Fishing (and sometimes raiding by sea) are mainstays of the coastal Kaians. Typically, men in this region are seafarers, while women remain on land. Women own property, inheritance is traced through a maternal line, and women lead the home and clan. As life on the sea is treacherous, many men are lost at sea. Socially, it became necessary for women to rule on land, and men at sea. However, the distinction between genders is not set in stone. Many women have joined their menfolk at sea. Men who are unable to or choose not to go to sea, however, are at a disadvantage. They are unlikely to find a wife, or even a lover, and are often ridiculed. But, there is the option for those who do not wish to brave the ocean to instead go inland and serve Kaius in the mountains. Marriages are arranged before young men go out to sea for the first time, giving them the chance to father children before risking their lives.
Language and Naming Traditions
The Kaian language is very similar to Kalestan, the language spoken by their neighbors to the south. Sharing a similar root language, Kaian is close to one of the base dialects which formed the unified Kalestan language, instituted by the Kalesten Union over six hundred years ago. Five distinct regional dialects exist today; east riverlands, west riverlands, south steppes, north steppes, and west coast. The Kaian language sounds similar to Germanic and Scandinavian tongues. As such, Kaian names may be similar to Norse and old Germanic style names. They are strong, consonant heavy names.
The use of surnames varies between social groups. Riverlanders and coastal tribes have both established inherited surnames, though the inherited surname is dependent on the lineal traditions. Riverlands, as a patrilineal culture, pass surnames from father to child. When a woman marries into a riverland family, she takes her husband’s name, essentially becoming a part of his family, and any children born between them bear her husband’s name as well. Many riverlander names have the suffix of “soen” following the name of a forbearer, such as Jaredsoen.
This dates to an older tradition, to introduce one’s self as the son of their father, sometimes still followed by certain patrilineal steppe tribes. However, amongst the steppe tribes there are several different traditions. Many do not even use true surnames, but carry a name earned through deeds of valor in hunting or raiding. Some introduce themselves as members of their specific clan, which often have a name based on the locations they typically migrate through or a specific feature that many members have. It is also typical for babies to not be named until they have survived their first year.
On the west coast, they follow a matrilineal tradition, but still honor the father. This is done by the child inheriting the father’s surname, but also being officially a member of the mother’s house, so the name would present like so [Given Name] [Father’s Family Name] of House [Mother’s Family Name]. In marriage, neither partner surrenders their family name, or is absorbed into their partner’s house, but the child is considered a part of the mother’s house. Children born out of wedlock only carry their mother’s house name. Family or House names are often slightly more complex than given names, and have storied roots, often a compound of an ancient tribal name and an ancestor’s given name. They do not have a uniform suffix like riverlanders.
Kaians are dragon-worshipers, devoted to the dragon Kaius, for whom their land is named. Kaius is an ancient and powerful wind drake who established his position in Kaian culture at the beginning of their recorded history. When ancient nomads roamed the forests of Kaius’s territory, his brother Shurra, a fire dragon, wanted to take his land from him. Even though the land was more suited for Kaius, his jealous brother wanted what he had. It led to a battle between the two dragons, and when Shurra burned the central forests, killing many human nomads, Kaius’s fury burned brighter than Shurra’s flames. The wind dragon snuffed his brother’s fires, then snuffed his own light out. Seeing that the dragon defended them, the nomads bowed to him in gratitude, thus ushering in the beginning of a cycle of worship and reciprocity.
Kaius spends much of his time in hibernation, waking every seven years to accept gifts and assess the state of the nation. He has promised that if the Kaian people ever require him to defend their land that he will come to their call, regardless of his hibernation cycle. Kaians believe that while Kaius sleeps on the physical plane, he wanders the higher planes, guarding his lands against threats from beyond the veil.
Kaians do not pray to Kaius for every little need and whim, as followers of other religions do. Their culture emphasizes self-determination and strength, but there are some things that the Kaian people recognize as beyond their power, such as weather, famine, and disease. As Kaius is a wind dragon, he has some influence over the weather, so during the time he is awake he receives prayers for fair weather along with his offerings.
The seven-year offerings are typically fattened livestock and material wealth. Cows, horses, and sheep are the common offering, and must be presented live. Each clan contributes what they can. Animals to be offered are usually a year or two old, specifically raised to be fodder for the dragon. As for material wealth, items of value which can vary from gold and jewels looted or traded from southerners; Kaian iron coins; traditional adornments and trinkets of bone, wood, stone, etc; finely crafted armor and weapons; and donations of food for the dragon priests that serve Kaius. The dragon hordes much of his non-perishable offerings, but he also redistributes items to individuals who deserve to be honored by him.
Kaius is served by an order of all-male clerics, led by one individual who is Kaius’s dragon-bound servant. Kaius’s dragon-bound are granted a generous amount of agency, along with boons from the dragon. However, a long lifespan is not one of these boons. Kaius will not extend the natural lifespan of his dragon-bound, though he may give them better health for that lifespan. Kaius maintains one dragon-bound servant per generation, and when that servant reaches his twilight years, Kaius will withdraw support for the servant’s health until their death of natural causes. In the meantime, he will scout out his next servant from the ranks of his priests.
Kaius’s priests come from across the Lands, but most are from the riverlands and coast. Young men who do not fit the standards of their culture often opt to go to Kaius, or are sent by their families. The priesthood offers these misfit young men another option when the traditional options are out of their reach. The dragon priests are well-educated by Kaius and their superiors. They learn the runic dragon language, and are often educated in advanced shamanism. For most of their careers, they live and work in their mountain monastery, but they can also be dispatched as emissaries of Kaius throughout the Lands.
The most commonly practiced magic amongst the Kaians is totemic shamanism. It is most popular amongst the steppe tribes, but the dragon priests also employ shamanism as their magic of choice. In the more sedentary groups, shamanism has lost some of its appeal, but generally shamans are regarded with respect throughout the Lands. Aside from certain individuals with a mixed human and Nafod heritage (on a direct Nafod female line) who have inherited Life Elementalism, other forms of magic are not practiced without outside influence. Most Kaians do not have a good grasp of other forms of magic. Shamanism itself defines “magic” for the Kaians.
Kaian Calendar & Astrology
The Kaians follow a seven-year astrological system based around Kaius’s hibernation pattern. They do not use the Kalesten Calendar, but they do recognize the same lunar year with sixteen months. The seven years are denoted with seven animals, each one bestowing a trait up on those born in that year. The months are much the same, to a more precise degree, each one assigned to a certain animal native to the Lands of Kaius.
The Kaian Seven Year Cycle
- Year of the Dragon – The first year of the cycle is the year Kaius awakens. Children born in this year are believed to be destined for greatness, often becoming leaders in their communities.
- Year of the Ox – The second year of the cycle; those born in the ox year are strong and steadfast. They can be stubborn, but they are meant to be followers, not leaders.
- Year of the Wolf – The third year of the cycle. Wolf children are cunning, meant to be warriors. They are also very social and need a “pack” of comrades. They are loyal and reliable friends.
- Year of the Horse – The fourth year of the cycle. Those born to the horse year are headstrong and brave. They are creative thinkers, but quicker to run from or outthink a fight than to engage.
- Year of the Salmon – The fifth year of the cycle. Salmon-borne Kaians are single-minded and driven, carving out a path for themselves and their kin, but they can be reckless in their pursuit of a goal.
- Year of the Bear – The sixth year of the cycle. Bears are a force to be reckoned with when stirred, but at peace, they are lovable people. Bears are considered strong and wise by the Kaians, but incredibly dangerous of when threatened.
- Year of the Elk – The seventh year of the cycle. Those born in the year of the Elk are cautious and wise, preferring to negotiate out of conflict. If pressed, they can be a formidable opponent, however.