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The Jarldom of Ystmarhavn:by Geoff Gander
Overheard in the Valdisheim town hall, Qeodhar:
"Idunn, pass me another flagon of ale, if you would. I've a long tale to tell tonight, and I need my throat to be quenched before I begin...
"Ah, good. So, my lads, think you're brave? You think you're strong, quick, agile, and possessed of a true warrior's heart? Tell me then, Olaf, would you stare down Thanatos Himself if He came for you? Would you, Gulda, look Hel in the face, laugh at Her, and down your ale as if She did not matter? I didn't think so. Now lads, you think you're tough, do you? You think you've got the strength to show louts like Baron Norlan what power is all about, do you? Well, let me tell you about a real warrior, a man who founded a great nation, of which you are the heirs. Let me tell you of Bjorn, and of Ystmarhavn...
"Long, long ago, before even your greatest of great grandparents were born, this island that we call home, Qeodhar, was inhabited by a people known as the Yanifey. They were a fair, lithe people, skilled at sailing the seas and in crafting great works of art from wood and stone. It is said that these people had great nations on Alphatia, to the south, before even those otherworldly people came here so long ago. Regardless, from what we know in our songs and our tales, they lived here for a long time, before anyone else was here.
"So these people would have stayed here if it were not for our own people, the sons and daughters of Odin, Thor, Frey, and Freyja. We came east over the seas in those ancient days, for reasons unknown to us now. Some elders say that in those days a great evil stalked our old homeland, and we could not stay if we hoped to live. Others say that our forefathers were the true jarls of our old nation, and they fled because of a civil war they could not win.
"So it was that, years ago, that we were led here by Bjorn One-Arm, our great jarl, and founder of Ystmarhavn. Bjorn, as I have told you before, was a great warrior. It was Bjorn who wrestled a grizzly bear in his youth when it threatened his family, which he saved at the cost of his left arm. It was also Bjorn who, though one-handed, could split a man in twain with his battleaxe, which he wielded with the strength and skill of a man with both arms. Thus as our longships came upon the western shores of that island, the mighty Bjorn led our bravest warriors into the fray, so that we could take these fair lands for ourselves.
"All our tales say that the Yanifey were weak and divided when we came. They could not long stand against us, and we strode west to east across the land, and gained much in land and wealth. Many a Yanifey town and fort burned in those years, as we drove our enemies before us. Because we were so mighty, the island was ours before five turnings of the seasons had passed since our first landing, and thus Bjorn named our new land 'Ystmarhavn'.
"Many, many years passed, and Bjorn's children proved to be as strong as their great father. Some went south and founded new realms for our people on what is now Alphatia, while others returned to the west, in the hopes of retaking their lost homes. Little was ever heard from these brave sons of Bjorn. Those who remained in Ystmarhavn built a strong nation, one which struck fear in the hearts of the surviving Yanifey on the mainland and those living in the Yanniveys to the east. Truly we were the lords of the seas!
"Then one day, some eight hundred years after Bjorn's great victory, or so the stories say, there came in the south a new people - the Alphatians. These were not the Alphatians we know today; these people were brave, they were true warriors, and they followed a mighty wizard named Jarastharram. Under his guidance they founded the kingdom of Argonath, and with these people we traded peacefully, for we respected their prowess in battle and in magic.
"So the centuries passed, and we feared not the men of Argonath; nor did we fear the Yanifey of the east. There are tales of great dwarvish kingdoms to the far northeast, in Skothar, which our warriors tried to bring low, but failed. Many times our longships sailed towards the Yannivey Islands, there to do battle with the locals and take what riches they had. Many times, too, a brave young warrior would lead his men westwards to the Lost Lands, there to regain for all what was taken away - seldom did these men ever return.
"But then the men of Argonath lost their warrior hearts. Jarastharram was a brave man, sound of mind and body, but when he vanished, his realm soon broke into a thousand pieces as every lordling sought to carve out his own domain, and there to rule supreme. Thus it was that Assambura broke away in the east, and as we had no treaty with them as we did with what remained of Argonath, we took to looting and burning the rich ports of that new kingdom. Ah, plunder was said to be bountiful in those days! As this came to pass, so we began to lose our respect for Argonath, fallen as it was.
"Little did we know at that time that there were other men, further south. It was long known that there were strange lands beyond Argonath, filled with forbidding woods and mighty towers, as well as fearsome monsters, but seldom did we sail beyond the northern ports of Argonath. But as time passed the boldest among us rounded Bjorn's Cape, and went among the waves to a land known as Alphatia. Like the Argonathians, the Alphatians were mighty in magic, only more so. Seeing their strength, we traded with them and nothing more. In time, the Alphatians came to us, saying that they would trade with us greater riches than we could possibly have imagined. And so it was that, by the time Audun the Mighty reigned supreme in the Great Hall of Jarls in Bjornheim, that we no longer dealt with Argonath, and instead allied ourselves with the growing empire of Alphatia.
"All is fair in war, and the Argonathians were sorely dismayed to see our longships descend upon their ports. Aye, many a happy warrior of Ystmarhavn sailed hone in those days laden with treasure for their families, and many slaves as well! While Argonath felt our lust for plunder and battle, so Assambura, too, suffered our wrath. In those latter days, about 800 years ago, the brave Yorl and his thirty stalwart henchmen descended upon Raath, capital of Assambura, and there they slew the last king of that nation, and burnt his palace to the ground.
"Ah, but how foolish we were! We had thought, in the heat of battle, that the Alphatians would honour their commitment to leave us alone, so long as we did not molest their shipping. Such was not to be. It was not long afterwards that mighty Alphatian skyships sailed over the waters close to Ystmarhavn, and soon enough they sailed over our land, and their emperor began to make more demands upon our jarl, Kjodar. He would not submit, and soon we found those Yanifey, of whom we had made such sport so long ago, armed against us, driven forth by the Alphatian dogs themselves. Although we could easily have massacred the frail Yanifey to a man, they were supported by those foul wizards, and they brought us low at the Battle of Bjornheim.
"Afterwards, our island was renamed 'Northrock', and later still it was named 'Qeodhar' by the victors, and a great many of us were forced to live on the unforgiving northern shores of the island, there to suffer and die, or so they hoped! The Yanifey and Alphatian lapdogs who would one day sire Baron Norlan, may Odin curse his soul, inflicted all the things due the vanquished, but far, far worse. They scattered the children of Ystmarhavn far and wide, to the mines of Esterhold, as slaves in Alphatia proper, and as fodder in their battles. But we have not been broken! The fire of Ystmarhavn still burns, and one day, my children, we will rise up once more, and the blood of Bjorn One-Arm will flow true!
"So, my young ones, now you know of Bjorn, of Ystmarhavn, and of your birthright which was cruelly taken from you so long ago. Do not forget what has happened."
Ystmarhavn was furthest extent eastward of the Antalian culture that dominated northern Brun from circa BC 2500 to BC 1000. The people who would one day inhabit Ystmarhavn left their homes in what is now the Great Bay region of Norwold around BC 1400, in the aftermath of a brutal period of civil war, one of many which sapped the strength of the Antalian people following their great defeat at the hands of Loark's horde in BC 1722.
They trekked eastwards, over the sea to what is now Qeodhar around BC 1300, where, under the guidance of Bjorn One-Arm, they displaced the indigenous Yanifey people. Within 20 years after their landing, the entire island was theirs, and they named it "Ystmarhavn". The period that followed was one marked by exploration, further conquest, and bold attempts to reclaim their ancestral homes, which by this time were occupied by the Littonians during one of their own expansions. Some petty jarldoms were founded on the northwestern coast of what is now Frisland, and some Ystmarhavner explorers sailed as far east as the Bay of Thorin, where they encountered fierce dwarvish kingdoms far inland.
Around BC 500, the renegade Alphatian wizard, Jarastharram, came north with almost 25,000 followers to found the kingdom of Argonath. Ystmarhavn traded peacefully with the nation, warred with the remaining Yanifey tribes in the region, tried unsuccessfully to conquer the dwarves of Skothar, and otherwise ruled the northern seas until the first signs of Argonath's fall around BC 96, during which eastern Argonath seceded to become Assambura. Since Ystmarhavn had concluded no peace with this nation, Assambura suffered countless raids for over a century. Likewise, the Ystmarhavners saw that the growing Alphatian empire of the south would soon dominate the region, and so they shifted their trade to that empire, as opposed to Argonath, and in fact they soon raided that nation as well. Then, in AC 213, the Ystmarhavner warrior Yorl and his men killed the last king of Assambura during a raid on its capital, plunging that nation into anarchy. Soon, it was annexed by the expanding Alphatian empire, which had been steadily advancing northward during this time.
If the people of Ystmarhavn thought they were safe, they were wrong. During Alphatia's conquest of Argonath, the Antalian jarldoms which had been founded on the northwestern coast of Alphatia proper were conquered as well. By AC 350, Alphatian skyships were sailing over Ystmarhavn, secretly mapping its terrain and locating its important settlements. Emissaries from the empire were also trying to force Ystmarhavn into the fold. Kjodar would have none of it, and in AC 389 a combined force of Yanifey and Alphatian soldiers landed in several places along the southern coast and, within two years, conquered the island. The northern Yanifey had long been subjugated by the Alphatians, but they were proving to be unwilling slaves. The emperor at the time decided to make an offer to them - if they swore allegiance to Alphatia, and helped conquer it, they would receive Ystmarhavn, and be allowed to live there.
In the aftermath, an Alphatian-Yanifey succession began, which by AC 500 saw Qeodhar join the Alphatian empire. The Ystmarhavners suffered many casualties in the conquest and the subsequent atrocities, committed largely by Yanifey soldiers eager for revenge. In all, about one-fifth of the population died during the invasion and the massacres, and one-third of the survivors were deported to Esterhold and Alphatia for lives of servitude. Those who were allowed to remain were forced to live in the most inhospitable regions of the island, such as the northern shore. Over the following generations, as well, many able-bodied Ystmarhavners were drafted into the Alphatian army, to serve as expendable soldiers in the wars against Thyatis and the Alasiyans.
Today, the Antalian-descended inhabitants of Qeodhar make up roughly one-third of the population, and even today they still suffer poor treatment at the hands of the authorities. It is only a matter of time before the bravest of these embattled people try once more to reclaim their island for their own.