Melestrua's Mystara - Karameikos
The Grand Duchy of Karameikos
People have been living in the lands now known as The Grand Duchy of Karameikos for thousands of years, but the it is only in the last 30 years that it has taken its present name and form. It is a relatively undeveloped (some would say backward) country to the south of the main northern continent of Mystara. The coast is more settled than the inner lands, which are really quite wild.
The Song of King Halav
In "The Song of King Halav", the Traladarans tell of the ancient times, when these lands were the forest homeland of the Traldar. But far to the west, a race of evail beast-men was preparing to march in search of booty, prisoners and better lands, and the Immortals knew this. They looked for clever youths who could lead the Traldar in defence against the beast-men when they arrived.
In the town of Lavv, they found Halav Red-Hair, Petra and Zirchev. Halav, a maker of stone knives, they taught the working of bronze, the arts of the sword and the strategy of warfare. Petra, a potter, they taught the bow, the potter's wheel, the spinning of flax, the use of the loom and the craft of medicine. Zirchev, a huntsman, they taught to tame and ride horses, to train fighting dogs, and how to walk silent as a cat, swim like a fish and see like an eagle.
Halav, Petra and Zirchev tried to convince the people of Traldar of their peril, but the king just laughed at them and tried to drive them away. Halav slew the king with his bronze sword and became king in his stead.
The three taught their secrets to the people of Lavv, brought all the other villages of Traldar under their sway, and all prospered. Villages grew into mighty cities and Halav was renowned for his fairness and wisdom.
The day came when the beast-men reached the lands of the Traldar and attacked in their numberless waves. In their bronze armour and weapons, the Traldar stood fast and would not let them pass. The war went on for years, the lands were drenched in the blood of both beast-men and Traldar - each Traldar took many beast-men with them, but the beast-men were so numerous they still kept coming and the two races were evenly matched.
Finally Halav managed to reach and meet the King of the beast-men alone on a hilltop. The Beast-king was huge, twice as tall as a man, broad to match, with the head of a wolf, covered in long grey wiry hair, and the stench of his breath was enough to make you gag. Halav stood against him, half the size, gleaming in his bronze armour, and met him blow for blow. The fight went on for hours while the armies looked on in awe, both combatants becoming so weary they could barely lift their weapons, but neither willing to yield or give ground. In the end it was a draw - both died on the other's weapons.
The beast-men were sore afraid to see their leader slain; the Traldar on the other hand were resolute, raising their weapons and barring the beast-men from advancing. They stood foreward, and the beast-men broke and ran and never returned to the lands of the Traldar.
Amid great lamentation, Queen Petra and Zirchev had King Halav's body brought to Lavv in the greatest honour. A funeral pyre was built of fragrant woods and oils, his body was lain upon it and it was set alight. Suddenly the flames rose to an intense golden heat, stretching hundreds of yards into the sky, and when they sank down again, Halav, Petra and Zirchev were gone, spirited away by the Immortals.
The Traldar mourned deeply, and resolved to rebuild their lands into a mighty empire.
The Dark Ages
The Traldar never did found a mighty empire, as all Karameikans know. The devastation wrought by the beast-men was so great, the land so torn up, cities reduced to rubble and so many dead, that they descended into a dark age from which they didn't fully emerge until the last century.
Or, according to Traldar legends which have sprung up since the death of Halav and the ending of the Golden Age, another Golden Age cannot return until the land has its king returned to it - King Halav must again rule before it can become a mighty nation again.
Individual villages survived and they eventually managed to hau;l themselves out of abject poverty. Trade with the neighbouring empires commenced again. The descendents of the Traldar, called Traladara began inching their way to economic recovery. But the fates still seemed against them.
Many evil things entered the forests and mountains and settled there. The land was cursed with twisted beasts and travel between inland villages was unsage. The coastlines prospered from foreign trade while only the bravest traders ventured inland, leaving the inland villages and towns isolated and ignorant.
Things were starting to look up. Marilenev, the main port of Traladara on the coast, was developing into a major trading port. But the bad luck continued. The neighbouring empire of Thyatis, uncomfortable with a region on its borders which might develop into a threat, sent troops to Marilenev and conquered it, claiming the lands of Traladara for its own. They renamed Marilenev to Specularum (The Mirror City) after the reflective beauty of its bay and installed a garrison of soldiers there. Apart from that, and the collection of taxes, they did little with the lands until Duke Stefan Karameikos III traded his ancestral lands for the lands of Traladara and a guarantee of autonomy.
He travelled to Specularum to take over, put down the armed insurrection and began to rule in Thyatian style. He enticed Thyatian settlers to join him. Many were ruthless men out for all they could get who literally stole from the incumbent Traladarans; however the Duke himself proved an exemplary ruler, demanding fairness and honour in those directly under his control. He used the tax revenues to improve the country infrastructure, building good roads across the land, uniting far-flung villages amd building a substantial army to protect the land.
There are two main human races in Karameikos, the original Traladarans, and the incoming Thyatians.
The Traladarans are the descendants of the original Traldar. Think Celtic stock - short (men average 5'9", women 5'3"), fair-skinned, with brown eyes and bright red or dark brown to black hair.
They are great believers in omens, good luck charms and portents - the reading of tea leaves or sheep entrails, the foretelling of strange events - and the power of curses and evil eyes. Education is not wide-spread in the villages with many people illiterate, leaving reading to the local cleric.
Because of the harsh treatment at the hands of the original rotten land-grabbers, there is still a good deal of resentment towards the Thyatians, although there is general respect for the Grand Duke himself. They see the Thyatian invasion as the latest in the run of bad luck which stops them re-achieving their Golden Age, and they still dream of the day when King Halav will return.
Traladaran men wear their hair either short or long, generally tied back in a tail. If not clean-shaven (the norm) they keep their beards close-cut. Traladaran women tend to wear their hair long, either loose or tied back in a tail. Traladarans wear a lot of jewellery - rings, earrings, brooches for cloaks and necklaces for the men, rings, large earrings, bracelets, armlets and anklets in profusion. Traladarans like their clothes bright and many-coloured.
Most of the nobles in Karameikos are of Thyatian descent, and maybe 20% of the population are too, particularly in the coastal areas and larger towns and cities. They are a bit larger (men averaging 5'11" and women 5'5") and have a vast range of bloodlines from the many nations conquered and absorbed by Thyatis, meaning there is no one look to a Thyatian. They feel superior to the Traladarans, who they view as ignorant, superstitious and backward, and many think that Thyatian spoken with a Traladaran accent is a sign of lack of mental ability.
Thyatian men tend to wear their hair cropped close, and are either clean-shaven or with very full beards and mustaches. Thyatian women wear their hair long - loose, braided or worn up depending on the situation. Thyatians don't wear much jewellery. Men may wear rings or necklaces with medallions, and women wear rings, modest earrings and maybe long necklaces of gold, stones, etc. They keep their clothing simple and effective, with just two or three well-coordinated colours, gracefully matched.
In the 30 years since the arrival of Duke Stefan and his followers, there are many children of mixed descent, born to Thyatian men who immigrated to the Grand Duchy, fought in the Duke's army, then married local women when they retired. These half-breeds tend to be a bit taller than Traladarans, usually with dark hair and blue or light-brown eyes. In most cases the half-breeds recognise that neither the Traladarans and Thyatians have any great advantage, and they get on well with either background.
They are still Karameikans
Despite their differences when treating each other, to the rest of the world all of them consider themselves Karameikans, citizens of the best nation in the world. It may not be the most sophisticated, but that's a good thing. They are strong and fearless, not decadent and corrupt. Those of Traladaran descent know they've survived the worst the world can throw at them, and they are quietly confident that eventually their king will return and lead them to greatness again. This confidence has rubbed off on the Thyatians as well, so all Karameikans believe they are part of a nation destined for greatness.