Zul Kiras

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Zul Kiras
Map of Zul Kiras
Country Information
Capital: Zirak-Zan
Languages: Orcish, other goblinoid languages
Religion: Zul Kiran pantheon
Government: Confederation with elective monarchy
Current Ruler: War-King Krauthil Shadowspear


Zul Kiras, also called the United Clans, is an organized and militant kingdom of orcs and some goblinoids located to the north and west of Arangoth. Bloody conflicts with neighboring kingdoms have been the hallmark of Zul Kiran history, leading one famous elven orator to describe it as "a nation built from the bones of the dead."

History

Main Article: History of Zul Kiras

The kingdom came into existance in the year 109, when orcish armies led by the legendary Fenris Bonebreaker conquered the kingdom of Beren. Bloody conflicts with neighboring kingdoms have been the hallmark of Zul Kiran history, leading one famous elven orator to describe it as "a nation built from the bones of the dead." Some Zul Kirans like to counter with the observation that several of the countries conquered by the United Clans initiated the wars that led to their downfall.

Notable Historical Figures

Fenris Bonebreaker: Founder and First War-King of Zul Kiras. Now worshipped as a god by several clans.

Nazad Frostknives: An orcish wizard of the Firestorm Clan that committed the Firestorm's assitance to Bonebreaker's cause, and commanded their forces in battle.

Silik the Grey-Bearded: The first chieftain of the Fading Sun. Personally forged the War-King's steel crown.

Geographical Features

The lands of the united clans of Zul Kiras.

At its present boundaries, the orcish lands are approximately the same size as Arangoth and Elvendeep combined, stretching from Kahlahra in the east to the shores of the Inland Sea in the west, and from the River Deepwater in the north to the Lunit Mountains in the south. The Country's most productive farmland is located in the river valleys of the Thunder and Nez rivers in the kingdom's interior. The Great Woods is a vast forest in the central and southern portions of the country, which has been slowly expanding throughout the country's history to reclaim former farmland in kingdoms conquered by the orcish host. The land grows more arid and trees become more scarce as one moves north, transitioning to steppeland.

The capital and largest city of Zul Kiras is Zirak-Zan, a name that means Blood River in the common tongue. It is located along the banks of the River Thunder in the central plains of the nation, on the site of the old Berenite capital city of Berendan. The second largest city in the kingdom is the port city of Vorschk, called the Red City because many of the city's buildings are made of a locally quarried red sandstone.

Government and Politics

Main Article: Zul Kiran Government

Zul Kiras is a confederation of several hundred clans, each having anywhere from several dozen to tens of thousands of members. The the original three founding clans were the Steel Raven, Firestorm, and Fading Sun, but the number of clans has grown as the nation expanded. New groups of orcs and other goblinoids have joined Zul Kiras as new clans, and War-Kings sometimes grant heroes who have distinguised themselves in war the right to found their own clans. Owing to their varied origins, members of different clans can vary significantly in physical appearance, cultural traditions, religious beliefs, and approaches to warfare.

Each clan has its own territory within Zul Kiras, and has a large degree of autonomy in running day to day affairs. The Clan Chieftains elect a War-King, who rules from the fortified city of Zirak-Zan on the banks of the River Thunder. The War-King serves as the supreme commander of the nation's considerable military might, settle disputes among clans, and determine policy in matters which concern the nation as a whole. Each clan sends a representative to the Council of Clans to advise the War-King, and this body has evolved over time into a quasi-legislature, passing recommendations to the War-King that are usually given the force of law by the Zul Kiran monarch.

Neighboring countries have long refused to acknowledge the orcish kingdom as a legitimate nation. The Zul Kirans for their part have had minimal interest in attempting to forge ties with other countries and reverse their status as a pariah until quite recently. Because of its political and cultural isolation from the rest of the continent throughout most of its history, Zul Kiras has remained an enigma throughout most of its existence. Most of what is now known about the orcish nation in Arangoth is due to a book written by Alfrith ul-Branth Aptentrod, a professor from the Royal University in Hornath ul-Marfed who spent a year in Zul Kiras in the company of several orcs from the Fading Sun Clan.

Notable Government Officials

Krauthil Shadowspear: Current War-King of Zul Kiras. An orc of the Howling Wind Clan, Shadowspear was elected in the year 481.

Vazhak Bloodhammer: Reigned as War-King from 470-481. Former general of the Steel Raven Clan's forces. Currently serving as the Steel Raven Clan's delegate to the Council of Clans. Oversaw the invasion and occupation of the western half of Outer Arangoth.

Vrugar Ghostwalker: A wizard of the Firestorm clan. Reigned as War-King from 459-470. Oversaw the rebuilding efforts following the fourth war with Elvendeep. Currently serves as a diplomatic envoy at large for the War-King.

The Clans

Main Article: Clans of Zul Kiras

The clan system is so integral to the culture of Zul Kiras that most Zul Kirans think of themselves in terms of their clan first, as Zul Kirans second, and as their particular race third. They do not necessarily feel a kinship with other goblinoid races automatically, and will slaughter groups of orcs or other goblinoids who don't accept their ways as readily as they will enemies of other racial origins. Scholars point to the Bahrians as an example of one group Zul Kirans have a longstanding mutual enmity with because of marked differences in culture and outlook.

There are several hundred clans composing the nation of Zul Kiras, each having anywhere from several dozen to tens of thousands of members. Originally, these clans were small raiding bands consisting of a single extended family group. Occasionally, a particularly powerful chieftain might be able to unite several clans under a single banner, but these alliances invariably broke up rapidly after the death of the charismatic leader that had brought them together. This changed when Fenris Bonebreaker began building his army in the Xaad mountains, and united all of the mountain clans under the banner of his own Steel Ravens. He continued to refer to his entire army as one clan as one way of fostering unity, even though the term was now inaccurate. The practice stuck, and thus, only the smallest of Clans fit the traditional definition in present-day Zul Kiras.

Several clans have the been raised to Major Clan status. The distinction between major and minor clans is usually based on the contribution that each clan is able to make to the kingdom's perpetually active war machine. This is not simply a quantitative measure of the number of troops each clan can supply; rather, there is a certain element of subjectivity in determining how valuable a particular clan has been. The Firestorm Clan, for example, is counted a Major Clan because of their mastery of destructive magic, and the enormous influence they wield as one of the three founding clans. The Fading Sun Clan is also considered a Major Clan despite their virtual pacifism, since the other clans recognize their vital role in the orcish state. In addition, relatively small clans that produce an unusually high number of leaders, or whose forces regularly undertake more than their share of difficult tasks may also be counted among the Major Clans. Major Clans do not merely enjoy a greater prestige than minor clans, but they also have a seat on the Overcouncil, the War-King's inner circle of advisors. While not unheard of, it is rather rare for a War-King to come from a minor clan. The distinction between major and minor clans is not a fixed one, but rather is re-evaluated every few years.

Military

When troops are needed, there are often fierce competitions to fill the allotted levy for each clan and win a chance to go to war. Indeed, a declaration of war can touch off fierce debate in the Council of Clans about which clans will be mobilized to fight and in what numbers, since the Zul Kirans do not mobilize their population en masse and form gigantic hordes like some other groups of orcs have a tendency to do in times of war. A good showing in war can mean an increase in prestige for a clan, and a possible elevation to Major Clan status. Individual orcs can increase their standing within their own clans, and reap spoils from vanquished enemies. Owing to their origins as scattered groups in different parts of the region, many clans have distinct methods of warfare, such as the Steel Raven's infantry or the Stormrider cavalry.

Most of the southern part of the continent has been spared the fury of the United Clans, as the mountains bordering their territory severely limit their inroads into the south. The only nations they may directly invade are Kahlahra, Elvendeep, and Outer Arangoth. Outer Arangoth, while of little economic value to most individuals, is in a strategically vital location. Capturing that province would give the Zul Kirans a path into Caern Rhia and Leptatarna, and back doors into Elvendeep and Kahlahra. The Order of the Beady Eye's fortress of Hornath-ul-Dinthoss was built at the mouth of the pass through the Skull Teeth into Zul Kiras, and was successful in repelling several invasion attempts before it was finally taken by storm and leveled in the year 423. The orcs then swarmed across the province and laid siege to Kamhorna, then the unofficial capitol of the Beady Eye in Outer Arangoth. An outbreak of a plague (probably Khtarpan Fever) devastated their armies and forced them to withdraw. Nevertheless, this was more than enough to convince the Order of the Beady Eye to withdraw from Outer Arangoth and leave the remaining people on their own.

The orcs invaded a second time in 441 and succeeded in taking Kamhorna, which was at that time in the hands of bandits. They were in the process of preparing for an invasion of Caern Rhia when Elvendeep, fearful of the prospect of Outer Arangoth remaining in orcish hands, attacked Zul Kiras and precipitated the Fourth Elven War, which lasted until 459. This bloody and protracted war had no clear winner, though cases can be made for either side. In the long run, however, the war may have been more costly for the elves, since it will take much longer for them to recover from the loss of life.

Zul Kiras had been quiet while they recovered from their most recent war with Arangoth until Mid Year of 471, when War-King Vazhak Bloodhammer launched a third invasion of Outer Arangoth at the behest of Prince Tarion of Caern Rhia to defeat the Knights of Takhisis and liberate Caern Rhia from its otherworldly invaders. Since that time, the orcs have laid claim to the western half of the region, and have been settling the area.

Religion

Main Article: Zul Kiran Religion

The orcish religion is extremely polyglot as a natural consequence of the far-flung origins of the component clans of Zul Kiras. Clans that lived in closer geographic proximity to one another before their entrance to the United Clans tend to have greater similarities in mythology and religious practices. Many clans have almost entirely different pantheons and hierarchies of gods, however, and have different ways of venerating their gods. Some clans also practice ancestor veneration, and still others give honor to numinous spirits that protect and govern various places and activities. The Black Bull Clan was formed from various priests and other religious leaders from the United Clans to ensure that all of the gods receive the proper worship due them. Over the years, the Clan's priests have made impressive strides toward creating a unified mythology, though a complete harmonization of all the disparate elements seems a nearly impossible task. The clan has weathered its share of religious disputes throughout the years, and is not free of internal tensions even now.

One of the few unifying threads among all clans is the worship of Sek, the Orcfather. Among non-orcish clans, he is also referred to as the Goblinfather, Trollfather, or Ogrefather, etc. Sek is the undisputed chief deity in the Zul Kiran religion, though the pantheons that serve him can vary widely from clan to clan. The Zul Kirans believe that Sek rules from his hall of Tanuruzdan, where the souls of the dead are brought before him for judgement. Those found worthy live in his hall and do battle against his enemies, while those found unworthy are cast into a dark and shadowy place called Nnetharr, where they are forgotten. The especially odious might be fed to one of Sek's monstrous pets, or otherwise condemned to an eternity of suffering. Oaths sworn in Sek's name are considered legally binding, and violating such an oath can have grave consequences.

Society and Peoples

Main Article: Zul Kiran Society

In many ways, Zul Kiras is culture in the midst of transformation. It is an oft-uneasy balance between tradition and change that has been occurring by degrees over the years. Like the evolution of the government of the United Clans, this change has not been occurring according to some master plan, but rather as a consequence of the wars of conquest and their aftermath.

The first of these changes can be traced back to Fenris Bonebreaker himself, who was the first to reject traditional modes of warfare. He realized that as individuals, the warriors of his clan had few equals, but a collection of skilled warriors does not make a powerful army. Instead, he utilized what he had learned as a mercenary in foreign lands and reorganized his clan's forces, and retrained them with an emphasis on discipline and acting as a cohesive unit. While this was at first resisted vehemently, the Chieftain eventually prevailed by force of will.

Next, Bonebreaker made the shocking move of concluding a secret alliance with the Fading Sun Clan. The Fading Sun had long been shunned by other clans for their radically different worldview and culture--it was the opinion of most that the Fading Sun had become soft and too humanlike. Indeed, the pacifistic philosophy of the Fading Sun had led them to be reduced to a state of virtual slavery by the kingdom of Beren, a status other orcs found disgusting. Still, Fenris is said to have been a pragmatist above all else, and he recognized the value of their aid. Once the humans in the area had been dealt with, the Steel Raven clan would have control of the farms and mines of southeastern Beren, and would have allies supplying them with food and weapons, allowing them to focus exclusively on conducting the war.

After Berendan was destroyed by a combination of Steel Raven might and Firestorm magic, the orcs were presented with a novel situation: they were no longer aliens within another kingdom, or forced to live on the outskirts of other nations. They were the masters of their own land, and needed to figure out what to do with it. As most orc clans based their economies on raiding supplemented by herding, the usefulness of the Fading Sun clan could not be overlooked. They knew how to farm the land and bring forth iron from the ground; they knew how to forge iron into steel and create weapons and armor superior to that of any other clan; they knew how to make great buildings of stone; they knew the human secrets of reading and writing, and a thousand other useful things. In such a situation, the newly crowned War-King could easily have reduced the Fading Sun to slaves once more, but did the unthinkable once again and settled them throughout the new kingdom and bid them to share their knowledge with the other clans. At this time, he created the first new clans from the families of his officers, and also sent word once again to the various goblinoid clans and tribes throughout the region, inviting them to join him. By degrees, more came to settle in the new lands and came to be influenced by the Steel Raven and Fading Sun's new ways.

Zul Kiras Today

These new ways were not accepted by all, and still have not been, though they slowly have been becoming more widespread as the years progress. As the territories of Zul Kiras have continued to expand, raiding has increasingly fallen out of practice. This has occurred for the simple reason that for most clans, there are no neighbors to raid within hundreds of miles, and so other ways of providing become necessary. Today, many orcs farm, raise flocks or herds, or work as tradesmen within their own clan's lands. The most striking examples of clans refusing to adopt the new ways are the Onyx Viper and Razortooth clans. Both clans have largely retained their ancestral practices, though for different reasons. The Onyx Viper have always been forest dwellers and nomadic hunter-gatherers, and with the size and abundant game of the Great Woods, there has been no reason to do otherwise. The only group of Onyx Viper orcs that became acclimated to urban dwelling became the nucleus of the secretive and feared Twilight Blade, and their example is taken as a warning by the rest of the clan about the evils of cities.

The Razortooth clan, however, has been both outspoken and ostentatious in their maintenance of their old ways, even taking barbarity and savagery to lengths that unnerve other clans on occasion. Despite this, there has been no widespread desire among Razortooth orcs to separate from the United Clans, nor do the other clans wish to drive them out. Rather than force the Razortooth clan to stop raiding neighboring nations, the United Clans have more than once shifted Razortooth lands nearer to the frontiers of Zul Kiras. Despite the possibility for straining already poor relations with other nations, the United Clans are rather confident that most nations would rather tolerate a certain amount of raiding than risk incurring the full fury of the United Clans.

Ironically, the orcs who are truly the closest practitioners of their ancestral ways are the bandit gangs living in remote areas of Zul Kiras, raiding for a living. Some of these raiders are descended from orcs who decided that they disliked Bonebreaker's new order, while others are simply the sort who would rather steal from others than work for a living. Bandit hunting is a common peacetime occupation for Zul Kiran soldiers, and they tend to be especially ruthless in their work. These bandits are considered not just criminals, but enemies of the War-King for preying on Zul Kirans. There are persistant rumors that some of these bands of raiders are humans, remnants of conquered kingdoms scratching out a living in isolated areas. These rumors have not been substantiated, however, and may simply be the fabrication of individuals wishing poetic justice on the orcs.

Economy

Many wild orcish clans will raid and plunder an area until they have taken every last scrap of valuable material, and then move on to another area, leaving a swath of destruction behind them. This is not the case in Zul Kiras. The reason for this shift in attitude stems from a combination of Fading Sun influence, and Fenris Bonebreaker's method of doling out conquered lands to his army. He emphasized that the land was now theirs, to be passed down through the family until the end of time. Now that some clans have deified the first War-King, his dictates have the force of divine mandate, further reinforced by the peculiar system of family property ownership in Zul Kiras.

Herding is a fairly common occupation among the orcs, as is fishing and raising livestock, since orcs require more meat in their diet than do most other races. Zul Kiras also has no shortage of farms, especially in the lands of the Stormrider Clan, who raise grain to feed their mounts. The Fading Sun have had mixed success in imparting their agricultural knowledge to other clans, however, and most Zul Kiran clans have a limited interest in the subject. Most orcish farms either raise fodder for livestock, or cultivate crops that will eventually be brewed or distilled into alcoholic beverages.

The true wealth of Zul Kiras, however, lies in its mineral resources. Orcish mines are rich with iron, copper, tin, zinc, silver, and coal, and have one of the only deposits of platinum in this part of the world.

Due to the understandably poor relations between Zul Kiras and many of its neighbors, there is very little in the way of foreign trade. Most nations have opted to find new trading partners, rather than continuing to deal with the orcish nation that replaced a number of old kingdoms. As such, many nations are willing to undertake much longer voyages than they formerly would have to avoid dealing with the orcs, much to the benefit of the merchants in the southern and eastern portions of the continent.

What commerce that does take place in Zul Kiras comes principally from two sources: the Khalar tribes, and the Korthai. While both these groups are considered wild and uncivilized by many other human nations, most orcs esteem them of examples of what humans should be like. The ritualized skirmishing between Kahlahra and Zul Kiras has fostered a healthy mutual respect among both peoples, it is not at all uncommon to see Khalar horsemen wielding orcish scimitars or lances, nor is it unusual to see orcish cavalry astride Khalar steeds.

The trade with the Wolves of the Sea is a result of the Korthai willingness to deal with anyone that might want to buy or sell something. After the fall of Rindona and the founding of Vorschk in its place, Korthai ships docked in their usual place in the harbor as if nothing had changed, and set up their trading tables on the docks without once stopping to debate whether they should be trading with the orcs or not. The Korthai currently have a de facto monopoly on sea trade with Zul Kiras, as ships from most nations wouldn't voluntarily put into Vorschk's harbor to weather a storm. The United Clans have no naval strength to speak of, and are still making their first experiments in seafaring.

As such, goods exported from Zul Kiras are distributed through the Korthai, who generally do not reveal the origin of the goods unless it is in their best interest to do so. Particularly interesting in the Orcish-Korthai trade are the matter of platinum, and of the products of the Weeping Queen plant. Zul Kiras is one of the few known sources of platinum, which is in great demand in southern Arangoth due to the number of Pallodain worshippers who buy religious objects fashioned from precious metal. A substantial amount of the platinum that makes its way into the hands of Arangothian jewelers ultimately comes from orcish mines. Similarly, the Weeping Queen is a species of indigo plant which grows wild in certain parts of Zul Kiras which is used for making rich purple dyes. While the United Clans make use of the dye for both clothing and manufacturing tattooing ink, the high prices it can fetch in other lands have led to some intentional cultivation of the plant. It is certainly not inconceivable that a noblewoman in Arangoth could own furs from animals trapped in Zul Kiras, a dress dyed with dye produced in Zul Kiras, and a platinum dragon necklace made from metal mined in Zul Kiras.

Orquila

In recent times, the cultivation of agave in the far-western regions of the country have yielded a unique, alcoholic concoction known as "Orquila." The semi-arid conditions make it ripe for growing blue agave, which has spread quite rapidly in popularity amongst Southern Veth. Of course, one of the defining features of it's bottling is the inclusion of a leech, which sinks to the bottom and remains dormant. Though stories remain legendary as to their revival after the liquor has been siphoned out. Rumors have spread about their latching onto the lips and faces of those who imbibe.