- 1 Introduction
- 2 Five things about the Marches
- 3 The People
- 4 Culture and Customs
- 5 History
- 6 Political Leadership
- 7 Economic Interests
- 8 Military Concerns
- 9 Religious Beliefs
- 10 Magical Attitudes
- 11 Hearth Magic and the Egregore
- 12 Icons and Images
- 13 Lineage and Species Attitudes
- 14 Territories
- 15 Children
- 16 Things every Child should know
“Pride in small things, loyalty to great ones”
The Marches: Hearth and home; loyalty and land. Rivalry, pride and a nation of traditions. Sentinel hills, silent marshes, and standing stones that mark the roads to Elsewhere. Generation to generation tilling the good, dark earth as their forebears did and reaping the harvests that feed all the Empire.
For centuries the Marcher Households have marched with the Empire’s armies, reliant not so much on magic or shining faith, but on the strength of their arms, the courage of their hearts, and the knowledge that they fought for the green fields of home.
Greybeards tell of glorious conquest in their grandsires’ time, of defeat in their own, and hope for victory in years to come. Lanes once clogged with refugees in unfamiliar colours see change come to the Marches, change born in fire and darkness. The woodsman and the smith turn their hands to things of war. The merchant’s clerk lists supplies for the baggage train. Those granted stewardship remember wicker men. Those who choose to follow know the power of sacrifice. Those versed in lore, revisit darker magics. The ceremonies of the harvest are marked with blood.
The Marches is the sleeping giant of the Empire. Enemy boots churn up the rich soil, as the dog days of Summer give way to the cold dawn of Autumn – and to war.
Five things about the Marches
- The heart of the Marches is the Household. Yeomen decked in livery, proud of their history and versed in the long rivalries between their Households.
- They’re ruled by consent. They choose their Marcher lords, their councillors and their delegates. March Folk are led not ruled.
- March Folk are fiercely independent, proud and stubborn. They solve their own problems and stand their ground to defend what is theirs.
- They hold to traditional beliefs. This is a land of heart and soul, where Imperial Virtues are no more than common sense, of touching iron to avert ill, and casting salt for luck.
- Land matters above all else. Land influences every aspect of Marcher life, most especially politics and magic.
The Marches is a proud Nation. The folk here are proud of their accomplishments, proud of their Households and their history, proud of their traditions and their mastery of their land. The Marchers have no time for idle hands and idle tongues, they respect simple honest hard work. The Marches is the breadbasket of the Empire. No other land is as fertile and no other people work as hard as the March folk.
The archetypal Marcher is the common yeoman, the Imperial subject famous for fiery pride and untielding self-reliance. They are a hard people, well accustomed to a long day working in their fields. They are frequently called stubborn, but their independent spirit flows from a sense of self-sufficiency and the ability to separate right from wrong. They are loyal and determined, and will fight to the death to protect what is theirs or to do what they decide is right.
The Households are the primary social structures of the Marches. The Households own most of the farmland, and govern the territories. Townsfolk, merchants, craftsmen, mine-owners, and others who live outside a Household have no real voice in the political process. There is plenty of land for an ambitious individual to start a new farm, however, and any Marcher can choose to become a yeoman and join a Household – or even form their own Household.
Marcher pride runs deep, and this leads to passionate and sometimes bitter rivalries. Territorial disputes are especially fierce in the Marches, where the ownership of land is key to political power and to a Yeoman’s identity. Marcher history is filled with accounts of bloody conflicts between once powerful Households, fortunes that wax and wane with victories on the battlefield. All Yeomen wear their Household livery with pride, viewing those in foreign colours as rivals at best. The March Folk have long memories so feuds are nursed through the generations, and in some cases have become so ingrained that the truth behind them is no longer remembered, or considered particularly relevant.
At their best, March Folk relish competition, and sports and games are always taken very seriously. Competitions and sports are sometimes used to decide serious matters or settle disputes. In some cases participation may even be part of ancient treaties between Households. Traditions are important in the Marches. The Empire has brought new ways and new wealth but the March Folk do not forget themselves, or the old ways that made them strong. Tried and trusted traditions bind the folk together and give a context to their lives. Traditions such as “hue and cry”, “shunning” and “shriving” are all artefacts of a system that has worked to make the Marches strong for centuries.
Sacrifice is one of the strongest traditions, and underpins many elements of Marcher culture. It is found in the tenacious attitude of the people to hardship and the way they embrace good times and festivities. It is found in the belief that hard work pays for good fortune, and in the idea that giving up a little now can help ensure a reward later. Most of all, it is core to the relationship between the folk and their leaders. The heads of the Households, the Marcher Lords, lead by consent; if they fail in their responsibilities they are held to account. A Marcher Lord whose failure harms their folk is expected to make amends. Sometimes this reparation may be symbolic, but if failure is disastrous then the only way to “balance the books” might be to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Culture and Customs
March Folk don’t stand around waiting for someone else to solve their problems. Self reliance is a large part of their old traditions. People of other nations talk endlessly about what it means to be heroic; Marchers don’t waste their breath, they just get on and do what needs to be done.
This attitude of taking matters in hand is the basis of the Hue and Cry, the old tradition of law enforcement in the Marches that still endures. Any March Folk who witnesses a crime can raise a hue and cry. All able-bodied men and women, upon hearing the shouts, are expected to assist in the pursuit until the felon is apprehended. In the past the Hue and Cry would often result in summary justice for a criminal, which occasionally lead to innocent people receiving harsh punishments. Today suspects are turned over to Imperial magistrates to judge. The readiness of the Marchers to defend the common good derives from their belief in doing the right thing and their pride that they are up to the task of getting it done.
Those who break Marcher traditions, such as ignoring a Hue and Cry are likely to end up subject to Shunning. Individuals who are shunned are effectively cast out of society. They are turned out of their Household or town and find every door closed in their face. Helping or in some cases even acknowledging someone who has been shunned can result in the offender being shunned in turn. Shunning may last for a week, a season, a year or even indefinitely. The extent of the punishment depends on who is enacting it – one family may shun another and anyone who helps them, or an entire Houshold or town might shun someone and encourage all their allies to do the same.
Traditionally shunning is about survival – when times are hard, people who act against the interests of their neighbours endanger the entire community. Most individuals who are shunned are forced to leave the area, unable to buy food or secure lodging. It is a serious matter for Marchers who hold hearth and home so dear.
Another ancient tradition is the Beating of the Bounds. Once yearly, every Marcher Household marks its land, by walking around the boundary led by the Beaters, who ceremonially strike it with sticks or willow wands. Certain stones, trees or other marker points around the boundary are beaten literally, ceremonially striking them with sticks or willow wands. The ceremony is designed to remind all of the size of the holding, but it also works to remind everyone of who is part of the community and who is outside it.
Every home in the Marches has at least one straw dolly or poppet, made at the time of harvest to bring good luck to the house and ward off evil omens. These intricately tied and woven effigies of straw, corn, oats, rye, grass or rushes traditionally bind the vitality of the field and bring their strength into the home. Some folk use poppets as elements for focusing medicine or magical effects.
March Folk place great store by their poppets. Every child is given a straw dolly of their own; stories abound of children separated from their poppets prematurely who suffer a terrible fate. A poppet protects a child before they are old enough to look after themselves. In particular, an expectant mother will carry a poppet to ensure the health of the child. When the season turns again to sowing the seeds for the new crop these poppets are laid on the fields and ploughed back into the earth, or occasionally cast into a bonfire, ensuring a bountiful harvest for the following year.
The sinister wicker man is another old Marcher tradition, and can be seen as a poppet on a much larger scale. A giant figure constructed of wicker and wood that is set alight, it is often used to burn sacrifices. Ideal sacrifices are things that belong to the land already such as crops and domestic animals. These sacrifices acknowledge the relationship between the land and the people and it is believed that the fires safeguard the fertility of the land for future generations.
Occasionally things that have damaged or offended the land or the folk are burnt inside. Individuals who have failed badly in their duty are sometimes led to the wicker man so that they can redeem themselves and avoid being shunned; there is a folk belief that burning in a wicker man cleanses the soul and avoids a terrible reincarnation. On rare occasions an Imperial magistrate born in the Marches will order the punishment for those whose crimes warrant execution, especially traitors.
Iron is another traditional symbol of power in the Marches. Iron tools are used to work the land, steel weapons and armour are used to defend it. Iron is the symbol of a yeoman’s mastery of the land he owns and it holds a power as old as the land it comes from. March Folk will often “touch iron” for good fortune or to ensure their hopes for the future come true. Some Marchers carry a lodestone of good iron around their neck to have it to hand, or else keep a piece at the centre of their table.
March Folk are keen on mottos, aphorisms, and sayings. Favourites can have double meanings often unnoticed to the outsider. Individuals generally pick one or two that they like or find particularly wise, but some individuals collect dozens of sayings and employ them at every opportunity. Widespread sayings include: “Pride in small things, loyalty to great ones”; “heart and hearth”; “sword and shears alike”; “know a man by his March; judge him by his company”; “every wife has two husbands, every husband two wives”; “The best soil is thirsty soil, watered with tears, sweat and blood”; “Without Catazarria the Empire’s table might lack spice; without the Marches, it would lack bread”; “Sow, tend and reap; fight, toil and weep”; “One boy’s a boy, two boys is half a boy and three boys is no boy at all.” and “Beacons burn when barbarians hold Marcher soil.”
Centuries ago, the nation was born when warriors came to these lands out of the west. Together they drove the orcs and others from the land and divided it amongst themselves. They named the land the Marches, declared their families to be noble Households, and selected a King to lead them.
To ensure that the cleared land remained fertile, the magicians who had accompanied the settlers created powerful enchantments. Working together they created the first Dolmen at the great henge near Mitwold. Wars with the surrounding orc and human tribes were common and as the Marches expanded, further Dolmens were added. The enchantments woven into these stones served to ensure the prosperity of all, but also stamped the mark of ownership on the lands they empowered.
From the very beginning Marcher history was marked by war. In addition to conflict with the orcs and other inhabitants of their lands, all too often wars flared between individual Households. Each Household sought to expand their lands and rivalries between them were fierce and often bloody.
As the nation expanded eastwards, the Households in the east lost touch with the old traditions. Eventually the inevitable happened and civil war between the Households separated the two nations, the Households in the east become Dawnswold and ruled themselves by their own traditions thereafter.
The invitation to join the Empire was firmly rejected by King Nain, called the Last King. He was convinced that the Empire would diminish the rights of the Yeomen, seeking to rule over them. However some Households favoured the Empire and war ravaged the land. Eventually the Marcher lords defeated the Imperial forces after several pitched battles, forcing the Empire to sue for peace.
A decade later, King Nain, met with the Empress to inform her that the Marches were ready to join the Empire. Agreeing to join the Empire after thousands died to defeat their attempts to force the accession makes perfect sense to most Marchers. Joining the Empire might be in the best interests of the Marches, but the March folk do things because they want to, not because anybody forces them.
According to legend, following his abdication King Nain embraced the Imperial Faith and founded the first monastery in the Marches. Whether this is true or not, the idea that the Last King founded the first monastery is a subtle reminder that Marcher priests are political folk, with as much claim to the land as any Householder.
Entry to the Empire has brought some changes to the Marches, but less than conservative Marchers feared. Pious March folk returning from pilgrimages to Basilikon joined the monasteries which now dot the landscape. Friars have become an important part of most Households and few powerful Marcher lords do not have one or more of these learned men or women by their side. Imperial writ created the market towns, outside the control of the Marcher lords. Yet the traditional beliefs that give the March Folk their strength have endured every transformation brought by the Empire.
Farmland, the great agricultural estates, are the basis of political leadership in the Marches, and power is vested in those who own and control such land. Any man or woman who owns farmland has the right to call themselves a Yeoman, to join or even to form a Household of their own. Owning farmland is considered a great responsibility; it is the duty of the Yeoman to ensure the best interests of everyone who lives and works on it.
Yeomen pledge themselves to a Household, and choose a Marcher lord or lady from amongst their number to lead them. The Marcher lord is usually a prominent Yeoman, one with a proven record of successful management of their estates. In times past, a Household would be responsible for the defence of all the members’ lands, so it was practical for members to live near each other. In modern times this requirement is less important and the lands claimed by a Household may be scattered throughout a March. Smaller Households often swear loyalty to larger ones, partly to further cooperation between Households and partly to increase their respective political power.
The Marcher lord or lady whose Household controls the largest amount of land (including that controlled by all the smaller Households sworn to it) is declared the Steward of that March. The Steward is expected to serve the interests of the March and those who live there. It is the responsibility of the Steward to appoint an Imperial Senator for their territory. It is rare for a Steward to declare themselves as Senator. The common felling is that Imperial business creates demands on a Steward’s time that prevent them properly managing their Household or the folk who have sworn allegiance to them.
The competition to become Steward of a March can be very fierce. The larger Households in a March compete with one another to have the largest number of landowners under their banner, and as with so much else in the Marches the results of these selections have caused bitter feuds and sometimes open conflict.
A stake in the political system is limited to those who own and control farmland. Merchants, miners, craftsmen and the like are forced to rely on neighbouring Households to speak for them in the political process. Over recent years, there has been growing dissatisfaction in some quarters about this arrangement, but it represents one of the oldest traditions of the Marches and is unlikely to be changed any time soon – attempting to do so could well prompt a civil war in the Nation.
Agriculture is the basis of wealth in the Marches. Even a modest holding produces an income that allows its Yeoman to live comfortably. With some improvement, a Marcher farm can pay for luxuries and imported goods. Marcher fields and orchards feed people across the Empire. Trade surplus in the form of cured and preserved meats, fitches of bacon, barrels of beer, wine and cider, bushels of fruit and vegetables, and sacks of flour travel from one side of the Empire to the other.
Much of this trade comes initially to one of the many small but important market towns that dot the landscape. The market rights were established centuries ago by Imperial charter, and towns with these rights are outside the direct control of the Marcher lords. The inhabitants of a market town appoint Aldermen to operate the town. In most cases these men or women are wealthy merchants of the town, but often they include prominent town folk such as a friar or blacksmith who lives in the village. Those market towns that employ their own militia usually raise the captain to the rank of Alderman.
Most market towns are small, little more than a few score houses on either side of a main street. The Imperial charters prevent a market town being established within a full day’s travel of an existing market town but competition and rivalry between market towns is at least as fierce as that between rival Householders. Because the market towns lack a stake in the political process, they are forced to rely on neighbouring Households to represent their interests. While most March folk see this as right and proper, a life of honest toil on the land being superior to a life spent haggling for every last silver, Aldermen often have a rather different view.
The market towns are relatively new phenomenon – none are more than 150 years old – and they are only just beginning to come into their power. They represent a place where a canny individual can make a fortune, where individual achievement, chutzpah and moxie are valued commodities, and they represent an opportunity to travel outside the parochial circle of the traditional Marcher. Market towns send representatives all over the Empire and beyond to secure deals, acquire trade goods, and negotiate contracts. They are rich, and their wealth brings a power of its own that may yet prove to be a match for that of the Households.
Perhaps more than anything else, the market towns create an environment where it is not land, but wealth, that leads to prosperity. If there were to be a bad harvest in the Marches, the market towns would be in the best position to adapt to that disaster and continue to prosper. Those March folk who do not own farmland are beginning to look to the market towns to offer them a different way of life. The most successful towns are starting to grow and exert real influence on nearby Households.
Blacksmiths are particularly well regarded in the Marches. A blacksmith character appears in many folk tales offering advice and support to the hero or heroine, and often provides them with the tool they need to overcome their adversaries. Part of the respect due to blacksmiths comes from their ability to take the “bones of the earth” and use it to create the tools that are vital to both agriculture and war. The blacksmiths create the weapons and armour without which the Marches would fall to its enemies, but their role in society goes beyond this. Many have at least a working knowledge of magic, and are considered wise. Worked iron is a useful talisman for luck in countless different forms because it contains the blacksmith’s magic and there is a long-standing tradition of asking them to bless newborn children, young animals and newly-weds. A blacksmith who has evidenced some level of common sense is often accorded the same level of respect that a wise Friar or Landkeeper receives. The most prosperous Households and market towns usually include a blacksmith in their number.
The rich Marcher soil gives rise to great military strength. The most powerful Households can field a group of armoured yeoman adorned with their colours, who fight together and dominate the battlefield. Neighbours used to working together fight shoulder to shoulder to defend their land and the pride of their Household. The expectation of loyalty and understanding of sacrifice breeds a ferocious solidity in their lines. This close camaraderie can make a Marcher Household a fearsomely cohesive force. They’re supported by archers and billmen who do not have the land or other income to afford heavier armour, or choose to spend what they do have in other ways.
Traditional rivalries are put to one side when a Marcher army faces a force of outsiders, and folk who would go out of their way to avoid acknowledging each other will fight back to back against a band of invading orcs.
Some Marcher lords and ladies take the lead in battle but there is no shame in selecting an experienced Yeoman to act as a general. A Marcher general is expected to lead from the front and to be the last to leave a battlefield; sharing the same risks and privations, making the same sacrifices as the common soldier, is part and parcel of what it means to be a Marcher. Marcher generals have a reputation for being cautious, and for valuing victory more than personal glory. “War is a thrice-ploughed field” is a common saying in the Marches, where war is seen as hard dirty work, not unlike the harvest.
Young Marchers gladly volunteer their service to the Empire. Five years of service in the Imperial army is considered an excellent coming of age for the sons and daughters of a Yeoman, offering them a chance to learn a little of the outside world and to earn the stake to purchase their own farm and become a Yeoman themselves. For a Nation that prides itself on its military prowess, it also ensures a steady stream of soldiers with practical experience of battle.
Not all boundaries are on the outside
Most Households include a few Beaters in their number. Beaters roam through the lands claimed by a Household, learning every part of the land, watching for poachers and other itinerants and ne’er-do-wells. In Marcher history, Beaters were often instrumental in settling land disputes between neighbours and they still play a vital role in Beating the Bounds. Beaters have the right to take sufficient game to feed themselves from any part of a Household’s lands and so most are skilled woodsmen or hunters. Beaters also serve as an informal police force on Household land, , investigating crimes and tracking criminals. While an individual Beater owes allegiance to a Household, they make no secret of the fact that they maintain an informal network among themselves.
The Beaters watch the boundaries and defend them against trespass until its forces can muster. They also remain vigilant for internal threats. In addition to the orcs that still occupy the more inaccessible hills and wild forests of the Marches, there are bands of Féni, the ancient people driven from the fertile lowlands centuries ago. These primitive humans cover their skin in green and yellow tattoos and launch raids against civilised Marchers to steal cattle or crops. If something or someone is raiding out of the forests or hills then the Beaters are the ones who are called on to hunt it.
Beaters serve their Households as archers and scouts, ranging ahead of the main force. Their experience watching the boundaries of the nation makes them useful light troops, particularly in forested areas, an excellent complement to the heavily armoured yeomen.
Before the Empire, the typical Marcher gave minimal thought to matters of the soul. The presumption was that as long as one lived a good life, was loyal, respected the traditions of ones ancestors, and kept a clear idea of right and wrong, one would be reincarnated on Marcher soil. After the formation of the Empire, Marchers returning from Basilikon formed the first monasteries. Some stories suggest that the Last King founded the first monastery with the implicit mandate to look after the welfare of the folk of the Marches.
These spiritual centres are usually surrounded by fertile farmland that is owned and worked by the monks. Both male and female monks wear plain garments, a little similar to Basilikan priestly robes, and live together in the monastery. They divide their time between study and working the farmlands claimed by the monastery. The leader of a monastery is called an Abbott, and monks usually refer to one another with familial titles (brother and sister among monks of the same generation, uncle or aunt when talking to an older monk, nephew or niece when talking to a younger monk).
While their stewardship of the land entitles them to a position in the Marcher political system, no Abbott has yet become Steward of a March – and o date few Households have pledged their loyalty to a monastery. Such a development is not outside the bounds of possibility, however. A few monasteries are formed purely of scholars who take little part in warfare, but the majority include capable warriors who will don armour when battle is due. “You don’t own it, unless you can defend it.” is a Marcher saying that applies even to monasteries, and the Abbotts have just as much reason as any Marcher lord or lady to want to protect what is theirs. Some monasteries extend the right of sanctuary to anyone who comes to them, and warriors are occasionally needed to ensure that right is respected.
Marcher monks minister to the spiritual welfare of the folk around their monastery, largely ignoring Household boundaries. They combine the teachings of the Imperial Faith with respect for Marcher tradition, and are generally adept at using the practice of shunning to identify and discourage un-virtuous behaviour.
The monasteries are a powerful religious force in the Marches, but they do not represent every priest. Some priests become spiritual advisors to a specific Household or market town and are usually called Friars to distinguish them from monks. Friars provide vital services to their adopted community, reading and writing letters for those who are not literate, teaching virtues and letters to young children and keeping records for Yeomen. They also commonly serve as advisors to Marcher lords and Aldermen, and many of them exert gentle but far-reaching influence over Households or market towns as a consequence.
Central to the priestly role in the Marches is the tradition of speaking for people who have crossed from one life to another, something that requires a more direct experience of the individual than a monk is likely to possess. They speak for the dead at a funeral, for those who were leaving one household for another, and for those who had been marked for Shunning.
Marchers believe that folk spend some time in other forms between mortal lives. Those who have lived virtuous lives are reborn as apple trees between mortal lives, and it is custom to place an apple-seed under the tongue of a corpse. Should an apple tree actually sprout in a graveyard, the apples are not to be gathered, but are free for the poor and desperate to eat. Many shunned individuals survive on apples taken from graveyards. The wood of these graveyard orchards is said to contain some of the wisdom or knowledge of the deceased. Those who have not lived virtuous lives are reborn as vermin – crows and rats have a reputation for being evil spirits suffering between incarnations, preying on the crops of their descendants with vicious cunning.
To avoid this fate, March folk may seek out a trusted friar or monk for shriving. By confessing their reprehensible thoughts and actions, the March folk disavow their actions and reduce the weight on their soul. A March priest must keep such confessions totally private, but in doing so they bear some of the culpability for the actions. This is a grave sacrifice to make, an offer by a Marcher priest to shrive your sins is usually made only to those they favour.
There is also a common belief that for those souls who have achieved true greatness, the grave is a literal “resting place.” According to this superstition, the greatest heroes of the nation simply slumber beneath the ground, ready to defend the Marches in its darkest hour. These beliefs about the soul verge on the heretical, but are developments of old Marcher traditions that pre-date the Empire.
Custom and tradition create a magic of their own in the Marches. From the customs surrounding poppets to the rings of standing stones and earthworks, the magical sigils of the Marches are made from the earth, with the earth and from things that spring from the earth. Most March Folk have a deep suspicion of magic however, believing it to be a path to sorcery and evil. Only blacksmiths and the Landkeepers, steeped in Marcher tradition, are truly exempt from this suspicion.
A Landkeeper is anyone who uses magic to support the Marchers or the Nation as a whole. Some Landkeepers technically lack any real magical ability at all, using traditional rituals and offering good advice and aid to the March Folk. A woman that advises on the effective order to rotate your crops, what herbs to use to bring a pregnant pig to term, or where to place a bushel of wheat to keep out evil spirits, is a Landkeeper, whether or not she also employs magic.
The vast majority of Landkeepers form groups of their own, called circles, and keep a certain amount of distance from other March Folk. When Landkeepers do associate with Households or market towns directly it is always in pursuit of their own agenda. While they appear to disdain politics, most Landkeepers support the status quo. They view the lands as their charge, and their ultimate responsibility is to a territory rather than to any individuals.
Traditionally the Landkeepers support the Marcher armies in wartime. They provide magical enchantments to protect and empower the soldiers of the Marches, as well as healing the injured. Landkeepers act as they will in the service of the greater good, but they possess a license to take unpopular action. Part of their strength, and their ability to operate as they see fit comes, from their control of the magical Dolmans that stand throughout the Marches.
In addition to strengthening the Landkeepers, these great stones anchor powerful enchantments that grant the Marcher soil its extraordinary fertility. Without their influence the Marcher farms would be no more productive than those of any other land. Households who oppose the Landkeepers risk losing their magical support and even their very prosperity. In turn Landkeepers who disrespect the Householders are striking against the fabric of Marcher society that they are generally assumed to be protecting.
The Landkeepers do not look well on the new fashion for market towns, a departure from the old ways that the majority have opposed at every turn. The Aldermen of the market towns have little appreciation for the work of the Landkeepers, and their politically protected status makes them hard to influence. Some Landkeeper circles have reached an accommodation with the market towns, but these are usually cautious and shaky associations.
Magic that is designed to harm or curse is referred to as sorcery. Someone who is suspected of using magic or old lore to damage others is a sorcerer and faces shunning or worse. There is a common belief in the Marches that all magic should be done publicly. Only sorcery is done in private – “dark minds find dark places to do dark deeds” so the saying goes. That is not to say that every magical ritual requires an audience, but the more effort the practitioners make to keep people from seeing what they are doing, the more suspect their magic must be. It is a traditional responsibility of Landkeepers to track down, expose and destroy sorcerers wherever they may operate. Those Landkeepers who dedicate themselves to seeking out sorcerers are called Threshers. Threshers watch for wrong. Every farmer knows about separating wheat from chaff, and the Threshers look to separate human wheat from human chaff. They seek out those who are using magic or old lore against the interest of the land. Where crimes are being committed they work with the Beaters to capture the sorcerer and hand them over to Imperial justice. If the sorcerer has not broken any Imperial laws then Shunning is their punishment.
Finally, Landkeepers deal with the Eternals. Most Landkeepers have a deep suspicion of these creatures, which have complex and inscrutable agendas of their own. Most prefer to deal with the Heralds, the human-like servants of the Eternals with whom it is easier to reach a compromise or mutually beneficial accommodation.
Hearth Magic and the Egregore
The Marcher Egregore is Jack, a simply-dressed figure often adorned with leaves and carrying an axe. It is possible to discern Jack’s mood from the nature of the foliage or the type of axe; flowers indicate Jack is filled with Spring’s hope and joy, keen to see new life prosper, taking a particular interest in Marcher children. Jack’o’the’Spring is the woodcutter, and carries a small hatchet, or pruning-hook.
A forest bill, or battle-axe, indicates that Jack is girded for war, supporting Marcher troops as they line up to fight, and interested in the work of Marcher generals. That’s Jack-in-the-Green, the soldier, who often bears leaves of binding ivy.
When Jack appears bearing a ceremonial axe crafted from gold, then their interest lies with the political life of the Marches; Jack with the Axe of Gold is a reminder to Marcher lords and Stewards alike that the Marches prospers through its honesty and integrity, rather than through taking short cuts.
And finally, when Jack appears bereft of foliage and carrying a scythe or executioner’s axe, then their mind is focused on matters of religion and introspection. Jack Frost speaks rarely, and only when they has something important to say; it is almost always intended to guide the March Folk to stay true to the old ways and tend to the land.
Icons and Images
Marchers mostly wear simple clothes, in plain colours. The soft colours of natural dyes, or unbleached cloth. Many will wear hose, though woodsmen in particular might live in leather trousers. Those higher up the social scale might wear finer robes, and richer colours, but over-display is disapproved of whoever you might be. Most Marchers favour some sort of headgear. Maybe a simple cap, or something a little more splendid.
Any Marcher who owns farmland is a member of a Household, albeit perhaps a Household of one, and any Marcher Household can declare a livery. Members of the Household wear the livery in some way – perhaps as a coat, or perhaps as a simple sash or badge. Marcher lords who ally to a more powerful Household usually retain their own livery, or combine it with the new Households’ colours in some way.
Poppets and other symbols of the land are commonplace. Gates and doors are traditionally decorated with woven bundles of grain on either side, the respect shown to the land prevents evil doers from entering. The hearth is where food taken from the land is prepared. It should always be kept clean and ideally be decorated with fresh cut flowers to prevent food cooked there causing a poison of the blood. Poor March Folk or those on campaign will make do with bundles of grass or common meadow flowers.
The symbol of the seed or apple and seed is a common representation of the soul and the cycle of rebirth. The crow and the rat are both images of ill-omen and bad luck.
Lineage and Species Attitudes
Perhaps due to the influence of the Landkeepers, the March Folk are suspicious of those with lineage. This suspicion generally does not extend to members of their own families. For example, a local cambion is generally seen as possessing great spirit and energy, whereas a cambion from another Household is seen as conniving, spiteful and ruthless.
We like the marsh, the marsh likes us, leave us to get on with each other.
The main exception to this general attitude is the merrow lineage. Concentrated around the fens of Dregasland, those families with Merrow blood have traditionally kept to themselves. Merrow as a whole are considered to be a “lower class” of March Folk and assumed to be local to the swampy environs where the majority of them live. Merrow born elsewhere often move to join one of the Merrow Households in the marshes. For their own part, the Bregasland merrow are drawn by their blood to ferret out the secrets of the fens, ever closer to finding the strange things that live there.
The Marches is blessed with good quality soil and home to those that know how to work it. Most of the open space in populated areas is farmland, whether it is field upon field of golden swaying wheat or rows of river-side fruit trees. It seems that everywhere where people live is ready for harvest. Five territories make up the Marches, although two of them are not in Marcher hands.
Mitwold, Pride of the Marches
The largest settlement in the Marches is the small city of Meade in Mitwold. Crowded around the mouth of the eponymous river where it meets the ocean, this bustling hectic port is the main gateway for import and export, by sea at least, of the Marches’ many and plentiful foodstuffs and merchandise. Here trade and commerce flourish and wealthy merchants and exotic foreigners are commonplace. But it is said that prices in Mitwold are double that of any in the smallest market town in Bregasland.
There’s gold in the soil of the north-western portion of the nation; the gold of summer’s harvest. Mitwold’s substantial coast, populated by small fishing villages along the shore, gives way to fertile chalk-soiled downs further inland, with rich game-filled woodland and larger farms beyond.
Upwold, The Silver Chase
The quick growing silver birch woods on the northern borders of Upwold are the source of much of the material used to manufacture paper in the Empire. It is said that Upwold’s trees keep the Imperial civil service running, what with all their form filling. The bark of those trees is used in the tanning industry, to cure the hides of the cattle that graze on the river pastures. It’s one of the few areas where anything other than beer is drunk. There’s a drink made of the sap of those trees that warms their hearts in the cold winter nights. Or drives them mad. It’s definitely one of the two.
Through the dark heart of those woods are paths no Marcher treads. From these secret ways come raiders, thieves, and rustlers to take what honest folk have brought from the soil. Painted men, tattooed and wild, held back by the yew bows and staunch hearts of the Beaters. Further north, cousins to these forests decay into the marshes that form the southern border of Kallaveset, of Njordheim.
Bregasland, the Dour Fens
Sandwiched between the lost territory of The Mourn and the sea lies Bregasland, an area comprising partially of fenland leading to the coast. Home to “Bregas” (fenlanders), this is a land of small patches of abundantly fertile soil where cereal crops and vegetables are grown, surrounded by seemingly endless marshes. Here the people are particularly hardy, but harbour grim superstitions. The Marches is not a naturally sea faring nation, and pirates and wreckers are not unheard of here. The thousands of small coves and secluded bays along the coast lend themselves to nefarious dealings and disreputable characters Shunned by right-thinking folk.
The South Riding (Lost)
The South Riding was a rich land, and a sore loss to the Marches and the Empire. Its Steward burned in shame when it was lost. On open downs and in sheltered copses stand ancient and numinous stone circles, stalwart markers of the sites where the veneers between the worlds of Mortal and Eternal are at their thinnest. At these powerful primeval places, Landkeeper and commoner performed rites on festival and holy day alike, appeasing powers beyond naked sight and cursing those that had done wrong. The land lost, the rites go unsaid. It was the road to Catazarria, and its loss is felt keenly by traders both sides of what was a busy border.
Mournwold (LOST), the Mourn
Mournwold was known as The Mourn even before its fall to the barbarian hordes. Originally the name referred to the sound of the wind in the trees and across the craggy hills. Now it seems a more fitting name for the loss which March Folk feels at the March’s passing. The conquest of The Mourn is fresh in the hearts and memories of many a Marcher, less than a generation ago. Orcs, beastmen and the twisted creatures in their company amassed for months in the mountains beyond the borders. An army was mustered and troops arrived in their thousands to fight off the invaders. Despite the numbers of brave and sturdy Marchers, the hoard was so numerous and ferocious that Mournwold was lost in pitch battle.
As the troops withdrew heavy hearted from a battle they could clearly not win, the hoards did not pursue, they stayed in those hills and valleys, scurrying down the mines, slaughtering and devouring the cattle, defiling and tainting the holy places for their own dark ends. With the loss of the Mourn, the Marches has lost much of its mining.
Marcher children are treated like any other growing thing; they are nurtured so that they may grow straight, strong and true, they are showered with love like the rain and sun and with discipline like the frost and wind.
It is universally recognised in the Marches that children are not yet “finished”, that is, that they have not grown enough in order to bear fruit (have children of their own, fight in the armies, or contribute to the nation in quite the same way as an adult). Until adulthood is reached, a child’s soul has not “fixed” or “settled” in their body, this is why children can be prone to selfishness, whim or fancy and can be unpredictable or fickle. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t work: they can watch, and they can help on the farm.
It is a common belief that the straw dollies given to children each year contain part of their soul that has been kept in the earth. Looking after the poppet is part of the child’s growing and maturing process – “learn to look after yourself and you’ll better look out for others” many a mother has been heard to say to her child. When the child’s poppet is ploughed back into the field his or her connection to the land is strengthened and that portion of their soul can rest for a short time.
The Rights and Tests of Adulthood, common across The Empire have just as much meaning in the Marches. When a child passes the tests and is deemed to be an adult, there is a celebration. Not unlike a birthday, gifts are given and tradition dictates that parents present their children with a weapon so that the child may fight for the Marches when needed and with a tool so that he or she may work the land in the mean time. These items are often heirlooms and have been passed along generations of families. This tradition is thought to be the origination of the phrase “sword and shear alike”.
There are a few regional variations upon this, but the principles are the same. Some well-wishers give a gift of symbolic jewellery representing the items instead.
Things every Child should know
- Heart and hearth. Your Household is very important. You must work hard, learn things, and be the best you can be to keep your Household strong and safe.
- Know a man by his March; judge him by his company. Stick with your friends and they will stick by you. Do as your leaders say, speak up if you don’t agree, and never make a promise you can’t keep.
- One boy does a boy’s work, two boys do half a boy’s and three boys do no work at all. Work always comes before play. If you see a job that needs doing, do it yourself to make sure it gets done.
- Sow, tend and reap; fight, toil and weep. Your Household’s farms and lands are very important and must be looked after properly. Listen to the Landkeepers, they know more about the land than anybody else, and can tell you all kinds of interesting things about it.
- The land sees all. Never tell lies and always speak up if something is wrong.
- Strong seeds, strong crops, strong land. Doing something well is more important than doing it quickly. Always do the best job you can.