“…and when she saw the beast in all his terrible beauty, she knew he was for her. She took him as her lover and lost herself in his fury, just as he was lost in the depths of her calm; they were one, and the result of their union was the Ulven“
-From the Song of Creation, Lycanthia Moonsinger, Ulven High Priestess
The Ulven People
The Ulven culture is one of duality. They attempt to live in harmony with nature, taking only what they need, while at the same time call for the complete extermination of the Mordok race. This duality can perhaps be explained by the religion of the Ulven; in their central creation myth, Gaia was the first woman, living in harmony with the creatures of the forest, loving and caring for them as they did for her. One day she came upon the bloody remains of a stag, torn limb from limb by a wild beast. The stag was so large she could not imagine the creature capable of killing it. She knew she must see this great beast with her own eyes, so she began tracking it. After many days and nights, and many more carcasses, she saw him. Perched on the edge of a cliff was the largest wolf she had ever seen. His fur was black as the night sky and his eyes were the color of the sun. As she stood there in awe, The Great Wolf did something she did not expect: he threw back his head, opened wide his mouth, and sang to the moon. The song was long and lonely, filled with rage and sorrow, and she was in love. Gaia took the Great Wolf as her mate, and the joining of such rage and sadness with such peace and harmony created the Ulven.
Ulven daily life is mostly centered around the pack – perhaps the single most complicated word in the Ulven language, loaded with meaning and subtle distinctions depending on the context and circumstances of its use. Although the word ‘pack’ is used to describe everything from a close family unit to the entire Ulven race, it is also used to indicate political membership, much like how a human would say they are from Vandregon or a Syndar from Tielorrien, although the nature of packs is such that they are smaller than the various kingdoms of Humans and Syndar. A pack is many things – family, friends, comrades, and lovers – and any Ulven will tell you that their pack is the most important thing to them.
Much as a group of Ulven form a pack, a group of packs form a Clan. Much more political than familial, Clans are a closer analogue to the Human and Syndar nations on Faedrun, with each Clan having distinct customs, modes of dress, social rules, and other cultural mores. It is difficult to rally an entire Clan to do anything – few Ulven see the point, as the point of these Clans are guidance, organization of territory for hunting and farming, and the recognition of a single leader from amongst the packs in an area. The first encounter with the Ulven occurred with members of Clan Nightriver, who graciously ceded some of their territory after long negotiations with the Colonists.
Contrary to what most people believe, the majority of Ulven are not warriors. While all Ulven pride themselves on the ability to fight if need arises, the warrior caste is something else entirely. Most Ulven live what would be considered a normal life: they work trades, raise children, and strive to enjoy all that life has to offer. While deceptively simple – there is no such thing as an Ulven noble – they do possess an appreciation for beauty and aesthetics, with many skilled craftsmen, musicians, and artists. All Ulven strive for greatness in their chosen profession, as this will make it more likely that The Great Wolf will recognize them when he comes across them in the afterlife. One of the greatest compliments an Ulven can give is to say that “His ears will ring with your name” – to an Ulven, this means that the recipient is so good at what they do, The Great Wolf is sure to have heard their name over and over again.
The Ulven afterlife is referred to as The Journey, with a number of rituals associated with this process. It begins with freeing the soul with fire – the Ulven believe that burying a body prevents the soul from passing on, as it would be trapped beneath the world If there is no way to burn the body, an Ulven would rather let it rot in the sun than to bury it in the earth. The first part of The Journey is an area much like the wild, untamed forests of Mardrun. This is where The Great Wolf prowls, feeding on all those unworthy to continue through these forests. The Ulven believe the only way to prevent The Great Wolf from devouring a departed soul is to tell him their name. If he has heard it enough times, he will know them by their deeds and allow them safe passage through the first stage of the Journey.
As part of their beliefs, the Ulven seem entirely certain that the Mordok share the same afterlife – or, at the very least, that they begin their Journey in the same place as the Ulven. If a warrior dies a violent death, The Great Wolf will ask who sent them on the Journey. A soul must answer truthfully, and so the renown of warriors is found in the souls that have passed before them as much as it is found in the stories of their deeds. This may, perhaps, explain some of the Ulven’s tendency towards a war-like culture, despite this warrior culture seeming completely at odds with their philosophy of never making war upon one another.
To truly understand the Ulven, it is necessary to look at how they have organized themselves. They are a communal people – as one might expect from their religious beliefs, it is more important to excel in a specialization within the community than it is to live as a lone figure at the edge of society, and so their internal structure reflects this.
- The Family is the basic unit of Ulven culture. It is a group of Ulven related by blood and bond, acting as the closest relationship that any group can have. Typically containing three to twenty Ulven, a family is a close unit, with the prototypical Ulven family living and working together on a small farm. Families are typically multi-generational and tied to a specific piece of land with well-defined borders. All members of a family will share a last name – this is oftentimes a matronymic, related to the place-name, or otherwise taken from the history of the family – although when dealing with outsiders, they will refer to themselves by their Pack or Clan.
- The Pack, in its most rigid definition, occupies the space between the Family and the Clan. Typically, a Pack is a grouping of at least four families who are near to one another, share some customs, and have decided to establish themselves as an independent entity within their Clan. The formation of a Pack is not an especially rigorous process – all it takes is the mutual recognition of each of the families in the Pack’s area, and the willingness to band together. Packs typically take their name from the largest family in the Pack.
- The Clan is the largest communal entity of the Ulven, defined by rigorous political and cultural borders. As a rule, Clans are the most rigid entities – it is very difficult to form a new Clan, and they all share certain internal values and cultural rules, although there can be differing customs within various Packs in a Clan. Clans are mostly political entities, existing as a united beacon of Ulven culture and dividing up the land that the Ulven are expected to act as caretakers for – if a Clan cannot defend or maintain its borders, then it may be absorbed by another Clan, or a new Clan may form. Clans take their name from the founding Pack, and if a new Pack gains dominance through politics, they are expected to change their name to that of the Clan – the Clans are the most permanent thing, and enough of Ulven identity is defined by Clan ties that a sense of continuity is important. The formation of a Clan is not a simple undertaking – it is a conscious decision by a number of Packs that they have taken stewardship of their land, that they share certain basic tenants and values, and it must be recognized by the other Clans, each of which may pose a test of their choosing. The formation of Clans is something for sagas and stories, rather than a fact of everyday life.
- A Hunting Party is a group of Ulven dedicated to a single goal – as the name suggests, this is oftentimes related to the hunting of game or Mordok, but the actual word in Old Ulven refers to a sort of ‘searching’ – a Hunting Party can be formed to seek out truth or a certain flower, for example. They oftentimes take members from several Packs, and when their goal is accomplished, they are dissolved. The formation of a Hunting Party requires only the support of a Pack’s Chieftain.
- A War Party is the closest thing the Ulven have to armies, formed from within a Clan during times of great crisis. While Ulven are prone to feuds and squabbles amongst the various Packs in their Clans, the calling of a War Party means that there is a dire threat at hand. Grudges are set aside, a name is chosen, and those involved temporarily take it on while working towards their cause – much like a Hunting Party, although a War Party calls only upon warriors.
As one might expect, these are only the common types of groups amongst the Ulven people. There are a number of specialized groups within the Ulven, although they can all be said to fit into these categories. At the same time, the Ulven rarely care what is used to describe the relationship between them – there is an old adage, “Family for blood, Pack for bond, and Clan for both,” that describes some of the casual attitudes towards this.
As the organization above might suggest, Ulven have a number of possible names by which they might be known, which seems to contradict their religious beliefs. Far from it, these names are meant to sum up the totality of the Ulven whom they describe, and they are used depending on circumstances.
As an example, the name “Njáll Frusnaskägg, of Pack Black Owl, in the territory of Clan Ironmound” would be quite complicated to say. In cases when he would be meeting those outside of Ironmound’s territory, he would refer to himself as Njáll Ironmound. Within Ironmound, he would be Njáll Black Owl, as they would be aware of his Clan allegiance and would instead want to know his Pack. Within his Pack, he would be called Njáll Frusnaskägg – or by a nickname, most likely.
All of this, however, is when things are at their most complex. Many Ulven choose to avoid dealing with these varied layers of names, and instead refer to themselves by a single name – typically choosing their surname according to those they feel the closest to, even in formal situations. This naming convention is more common when listing their genealogy in a saga or when introducing oneself as a diplomatic envoy than in everyday usage, and it is a rare thing indeed to hear an Ulven detail their entire identity in a casual conversation.
With few exceptions, Ulven ceremonies are held outside, as their connection to nature and Mother Gaia is seen as the most important part of these rituals. While the details tend to vary from Pack to Pack (and even amongst some families within Packs), rituals fall into four categories:
- Rituals which celebrate life are always held outdoors. This includes such rituals as the birth of children, the official joining of a family into a Pack, or the celebration of the changing seasons by the Ulven. These rituals are always conducted by the most senior priestess of Gaia available, as female Ulven are seen as having the closest connection to life and the natural world.
- Rituals which commemorate death are also held outdoors, as the Ulven believe that spirits must be let free in nature. Unlike the above rituals, they need not necessarily be held by a priestess – Warleaders, Chieftains, and other Pack Leaders may perform these rituals no matter their gender.
- Casual rituals, of the sort that vary greatly from Pack to Pack, tend to have their own rules and idiosyncrasies amongst the Ulven. They are rarely celebrated outside of their territory of origin, and there are a countless number of these, ranging from superstitions about when to plant crops and images of warding designed to ward off cats trained to steal butter.
- Formal rituals and festivals are a special case amongst the Ulven – there are several feast days during the year, each of which have proscribed traditions that are nearly uniform across the Ulven people. All of them require a specific figure to perform the ritual – in some cases, an Ulven male who has just been given the Mark of the Wolf upon them, and in others, a great warrior who knows that the Journey is soon to take her away.
The details of many Ulven rituals are kept secret – there is a degree of initiation necessary to understand the mysteries reflected by them, and much as the whole of Gaia’s splendor is unknowable, so too is the sheer depth and complexity of Ulven religion.
Ulven society is, at first glance, egalitarian in its treatment of its members – gender makes no difference in your ability to plow a field or swing an axe, after all. Upon further examination, it is clear that the true power in Ulven society is held by the women – they are the priestesses, Witches, and Daughters, who guide the Ulven people in their journey through the world. This is not to say that Ulven men are treated poorly; they are merely tasked with fewer responsibilities to Gaia, and thus, they bear a lighter burden in life. The roles taken are not strict, either – words are rarely spoken as commands, but rather as advice, which is often taken quickly and quietly.
Ulven society is quite hierarchical in some senses – while there is little in terms of “rank” in their society, there are certain stratified positions in the hierarchies of Clans, Packs, and Families.
- The Chieftain is ostensibly the highest-ranking member of a Clan or Pack. They are entrusted with being the official voice of the group, and it is under their guidance that all decisions are made. The Chieftain of a Clan is called a Clanleader – they are always the Chieftain of their Pack, and are chosen based on their ability to lead, rather than on blood ties.
- The Daughter of Gaia is the spiritual leader of a Clan or Pack – while it is a general term for an Ulven priestess, it has special connotations when discussing the hierarchy of a group, as they are expected to tend to the needs of their pack on spiritual matters. The Daughter of a Clan is referred to as a High Priestess – she is considered the highest-ranking Daughter of Gaia in the Clan’s territory, and is often required to make difficult decisions regarding the Clan’s connection to Gaia’s will.
- The Warleader is the chosen champion of a Clan. Chosen for their ability in combat, as well as their judgment, they serve as an arbiter between the Clanleader and the High Priestess in a group of Ulven, reflecting on the role that the Great Wolf plays in Ulven society. Unlike the other two positions, there is no distinction made between a Pack’s Warleader and a Clan’s – they are seen as analogous, but a Pack may sometimes choose and title a Champion as their best fighter. The Warleader’s role is to serve as the protector of the group’s honor through combat, although the interpretation of the meaning of ‘combat’ is not always the simple lifting of a blade – some legendary Warleaders have won through cunning arguments and intelligence, rather than the might of their arms.
Though these are the general positions, it is also important to note how decisions are made among Clans. The Warleader, High Priestess, and Clanleader each have their own Circle, taken from the political, spiritual, and martial leadership from within the Packs that make up the Clan. When a Clan would make a decision, the three Circles are called together, with each raising their points and seeking consensus. As one might expect, this can be an arduous process – the Ulven react quickly to small changes, but large ones can lead to endless infighting and confusion.
There are Ulven who live outside of this Pack structure, as well – Severed Ulven, whose ties to their Pack have been severed for crimes committed against the Ulven, are seen as outsiders to Ulven society. While they might find a place in another Pack or Clan, far from their home, they are permanently marked as outsiders and betrayers of their original home.
The Lorespeakers are another group within Ulven society who find themselves outside of the normal bonds of Ulven society – having ceremonially severed their ties with Pack, Clan, and name, they are in a unique position of honored outsiders. Wandering from Pack to Pack, retelling the stories of the Ulven, they turn themselves into living representatives of stories and sagas of the Ulven as a whole, bringing news, spreading the stories of the dead to other Clans, and making sure that the stories are being told correctly. They are sometimes considered to be the representatives of the Great Wolf, as the Daughters are to Gaia, and while their words are seen as advisory, they are merely tolerated outcasts – separate, yet vital, to Ulven society. This is in part due to their migratory nature, and in part due to their oaths to the Great Wolf – they rely entirely on the hospitality of the Ulven as a whole, seeing how the Clans can support one outside of their known bonds. Each Lorespeaker has a duty to train their successor in the correct recitation of the stories and sagas before their death, with the duty often falling to orphans and other outsiders in Ulven society.
Aside from the aforementioned ceremonies, the Ulven view religion in a much different way than Humans or Syndar. Their spiritual beliefs are personal, everyday observances and superstitions, each meant to aid them. There are no formal temples for the Ulven – their altars are the mountains, their hymns the breeze moving in the trees, and their goddess is all that surrounds them.
When matters of spiritual guidance are required, the Ulven turn to the Daughters of Gaia – these priestesses and witches are the physical representatives of their nature goddess, Gaia, the mother of all the Ulven people. She is a caring mother, guiding her children with love and a stern countenance. They know that, above all, it is their duty to live in harmony with the world that Gaia presides over. Her word, and the word of her representatives, is seen as the most binding of all edicts in Ulven society – even if they would never admit it. She is nature itself to the Ulven – caring and kind, as reflected in the bountiful crops of Goldenfield, yet at times as forceful and unpredictable as the squalls off the Stormjarl’s coasts.
As every light casts a shadow, so too does Gaia have her companion – the Great Wolf, father of the Ulven people. While Gaia is caring, the Great Wolf is stern, always looking to test his children. His name is invoked for the memories of great warriors, for the binding of oaths in warfare and combat, and in the celebration of a well-told story. The Great Wolf has no formal priests – the closest he has to representatives are the Lorespeakers, who play a similar role in testing the Ulven and reminding them of their duties. To an outsider, the Great Wolf is seen as the absent father – they know better, however, as he is a watchful protector who defends them from the wilds that Ulven may never know. All he asks in return is that they guard the lands he has given to them; these lands, the body of Gaia, are his bride, and his children must defend it.
Beyond Gaia and the Great Wolf, there are any number of lesser spirits and deities that the Ulven pay homage to, according to individual familial or pack customs. The most prominently known to the Colonists are Luna and Sol, patrons of the Watchwolves, representing the eternal dance of the Sun and Moon over the land of Mardrun. These lesser patrons are always seen as subordinate helpers to Gaia or the Great Wolf – while they have no formal, organized worship in greater Ulven society, individuals and groups tend to worship them.
The Ulven also practice a form of ancestor worship, in the form of retelling the stories of past victories and honoring those that have come before them. Small tokens are often used to represent this – small charms, usually carved with the ancestor’s name, are considered to be good luck. As their ancestors have been burned and distributed to the world, there are no formal altars or burial sites, as are found in some human cultures.
The Ulven believe that the full moon is a time when the Great Wolf is listening more closely to their deeds, and so it is a time when warriors tend to conduct more attacks and raids on Mordok.The Ulven feel that an Ulven warrior slaying Mordok on a full moon is more likely to carry their deeds to the ears of the Great Wolf. This is also a time when many Ulven choose to perform their mating ceremony. Since it is commonly believed that the Great Wolf was singing to a full moon when he met Gaia, it is seen as a fortuitous time to begin a life together. Single male Ulven may also choose to sing to the full moon in hopes of attracting a mate
Whenever there is a Blood Moon, a red or copper tinged moon, it is considered a bad omen for the Ulven race. Witches will shut themselves away from the rest of the Pack and conduct rituals to return the moon to its normal state. It is believed that if the spiritual leaders of the Ulven do not wash the blood from the moon, the Mordok will become frenzied with blood lust and attack.
Honor is, to an Ulven, the most important thing in their life. Personal, familial, Pack, and Clan honor are the guiding forces in their lives. While the system may be initially impenetrable to an outsider, there are certain points which can be clarified.
While there are certain parallels to be found in human cultures – namely the martial conduct of the Richtcrag or the work ethic of the Vandregonian peasants – Ulven honor is infinitely more complicated and seen as a nearly universal cultural more for them. There are distinct levels of honor found within the Ulven – the honor of the individual, the honor of a family, the Pack’s honor, and the honor of an entire Clan, each of which is reckoned with different ways.
Personal honor is the most familiar to outsiders to Mardrun. It is the individual standing of the Ulven in society – how his neighbors and family members see him, how his personal deeds are reckoned amongst the other Ulven, and the impression he makes upon the world. While it is often assumed to be merely martial in nature, anything an Ulven does can increase or damage their personal standing. While a great warrior is often reckoned as a great figure in Ulven society, there is honor in craftsmen and farmers as well. It is the pride in well-performed work, in excellence in personal skills, and the skills that an Ulven develops over their lifetime. Their honor is the impression that they leave on the world- the memories, the stories, and the legacy that they leave behind after death.
Familial honor is the tie that binds a group of Ulven close together. Each family in a Pack reckons their honor differently, for it is the bond that connects them together. It can be pride in their children, the home that they have erected on the lands, and the fields that are under their protection.
Pack honor is their standing within the Clan, and Clan honor is their overall esteem among the rest of the Clans of the Ulven. It is seen as the deeds that these Packs and Clans have performed – villages that have been erected, hunting parties sent against the Mordok, and great actions of diplomacy taken. These are the greatest undertakings of the Ulven – their racial honor is found in the Clans and Packs.
Dishonor and feuds are common amongst the Ulven, despite – or perhaps due to – their obsession with honor. Something as simple as a minor insult can lead to long conflicts between Packs as more and more members become embroiled in these feuds. Conflict rarely becomes violent to the point of death – minor brawls and fistfights are common between feuding Ulven, but drawn blades are seen as further dishonor. Should someone die as a result as a feud, it is damaging to the family’s honor to not avenge the death – usually through further violence.
Should violence escalate between groups of Ulven to the point where a feud cannot be resolved without combat, an honor duel will be staged. This ritualized duel most commonly takes the form of physical combat – each side chooses a representative, and the loser of the duel must admit that the matter is resolved. Duels rarely go to the death, although it has happened before, which may lead to further feuding. The honor duel between Axehound and White Oak is one such duel that escalated that way, although each Clan tells the story differently – both sides claim that it was their Champion who was slain by a cowardly blow by the other, and have been feuding ever since.
Another method for honor duels is common among the less martially-minded, known as flýtting – this ritualized series of insults is meant to resolve disputes between well-spoken Ulven, where the two square off, trading poetic insults and attempting to sway the crowd with their wordplay. This is a highly public event, as the judgment of the crowd is necessary to determine the victor of the duel. Despite the lack of violence, it is seen as just as honorable to win this type of duel – the Ulven are seeking to reconcile an insult, and this can be done so in any way that makes it clear that they are victorious. While flýtting is one variety, an honor duel can take many forms – games of skill, contests of magic between witches, and even relying on sheer chance to decide the outcome – although both Ulven must be very confident that Gaia will bless them with the luck to win over their opponent.
If a feud is spiraling out of control, then a Clanleader might need to intervene in order to try and restore order between the two feuding parties, although this is not always successful – the nature of feud is such that a few words cannot resolve deep-buried enmity between two parties. In cases where the feud is between Clans, then there is very little that can be done – to date, this has never occurred in Ulven history, although the recent actions of Grimward have made it quite difficult.
The recording of Honor Duels and their outcomes are a major subject in Ulven sagas. The most important honor duel in living memory is the duel which decided whether or not the Ulven would allow the Colonists to live on their land. The results of the duel itself are conflicted, and accounts are contradictory as to what actually happened on that fateful day – all that is known is that the Colonists were allowed to settle in some of the lands possessed by Clan Nightriver, which has been a continued source of conflict in Ulven society.
The Ulven do not go to war in a way that is familiar to the residents of Faedrun – they lacked words for ‘army’ and most of the structured military formations and ranks of the human. If the Ulven were to assemble a large army to attack the Mordok, they would simply disperse into the forests – this sort of combat is thus alien to their way of thinking. Their fighting is highly individualistic – small parties are organized in order to patrol large areas of forest, moving quickly and foraging in order to reduce the amount of baggage they need to carry.
Combat between Ulven, such as through feuds, is meant to show the losing side that they were defeated completely, and is meant to rarely lead to death. In a battle between two opposing groups of Ulven, the victor will typically work to help any fallen warriors, ransoming them back to their families in return for promises of labor, food, or service in the future. With the coming of the colonists to Mardrun, these type of feuds have grown deadlier and deadlier as idealogical lines are drawn between the Ulven.
In combat between Ulven, non-warriors are seen as exempt from these assaults. While there is honor in ambushing a well-armed hunting party, prepared to defend the village from their feuding opponents, there is no honor in attacking the villagers who support that hunting party.
Law is not known to Ulven society – instead, there is honor, and to knowingly besmirch your own honor is tantamount to crime amongst the Ulven. Crimes are typically brought before the Chieftain or Clan Leader, depending on the severity of the crime. It is the duty of the offended party to bring this transgression before the appointed party, who will hear both sides of the case. Witnesses are called, and then both sides must find support for their cause among the spectators. Only when a majority have called for one side or the other is the case concluded. Petty insults and small transgressions are not seen as worth the time of the Clan Leader – indeed, an Ulven who attempts to call for “justice” too often in minor squabbles will find harsh punishments for not upholding their own honor and relying too heavily on their leaders, rather than on their individual ability.
The victor in a case is given the right to decide the punishment of the loser, within certain limits. A punishment that is too severe might lead to feuding, and one that is too light would not discourage further crimes. Typical punishments include periods of servitude to the offended party, restitution in the form of goods or labor, corporeal punishment in the form of branding or lashings, or, in severe cases, the banishment of the offending Ulven.
Banishment, referred to as ‘Severance’, is reserved for the most heinous crimes in Ulven society, all of which have specific definitions and precedent in saga. The most common crimes that lead to banishment from an Ulven clan are unjust killings within a Clan, rape, and arson – all of which are seen as the offending Ulven’s decision to sever themselves from Ulven society. They are permanently marked as severed from their Clan, with each Clan having a different mark – Clan Ironmound heats a dagger and burns the right hand of the outlaw, while Clan Goldenfield gives a series of elaborate facial tattoos that mark the wearer as severed from their ancestral lands. There is no rule against accepting an severed Ulven into a different Clan, although it is seen as somewhat dishonorable to the receiving Clan. There are even rumors of groups of severed Ulven forming small settlements on nearby islands or in remote regions, each bearing the marks of their severance.
Servitude is a common punishment for smaller transgressions, as it is seen as giving the offending Ulven a chance to repay the damages they have done to their society as a whole. This is not slavery, as the Ulven bound to service has rights and is respected. For example, if an Ulven was caught stealing from another, the punishment may be that the thief spends a year of their life working for or helping the victim’s family or pack. This could be farming, doing chores, or even being assigned as a bodyguard. This position of servitude is referred to as “Being honor-bound”
Different Clans have different customs and punishments for transgressions against other members of the Clan, as well as against outsiders. Although there is no unified “Law of the Ulven”, it is commonly accepted that a measure of respect is to be given to all other members of the Ulven race. This position has been expanded in light of the recent arrival of the Colonists, although certain Clans do not see the non-Ulven as worth the same respect as members of the race.
Ulven burn their dead on a pyre after telling stories of their heroic deeds – this is seen as a time when even those who hated the Ulven might acknowledge the mark that they have made upon the world. Even the most hated of Ulven outlaws would have his death acknowledged by those burning him, telling stories of what he had accomplished in life. The burning of the fallen is seen as a sign of respect and is the first step in sending an Ulven on to the afterlife. Even cowards or hated rivals are normally burned on a pyre, for denying an Ulven a chance to begin his Journey is seen as a horrible taboo to their race.
If there is no chance to recover a body for proper burning, then they are allowed to burn in the sun. If there is ever a chance to recover their bones, then the Ulven will make sure to do so, so that they might burn the remains properly. So long as the body is not interred in the earth, then the Ulven’s spirit may continue on to the Journey. Burial is only used as punishment for the most heinous of crimes – it is a sign that only the embrace of Gaia’s body will be enough to cleanse the Ulven’s soul and prepare it for the Journey. Should a buried Ulven be disgorged by the earth through natural means, such as rain or earthquake, then it is taken as a sign that Gaia has cleansed them of their dishonor and given them an opportunity to undertake the Journey.
The ashes from the Pyre of an Ulven, along with the remains that do not burn hot enough, are usually collected and stored in a secure location, known only to the Daughters of each Pack. At a specific time each year, these Daughters gather when the barriers between the forests of Mardrun and those of the Great Wolf’s Lands are weakest, and perform a specific series of rituals to ensure that only the stories and words of these dead Ulven remain in this world. The specifics of this ritual vary from Clan to Clan – some only scatter the ashes, while retaining the material goods, while others keep the bones and ashes near to the seat of the Clan.
Public grieving is uncommon amongst the Ulven – a funeral is a celebration of the life of the deceased, rather than a time to drown in sorrow. Drinking, feasting, and riotous songs are common, to the point where any non-Ulven would be confused at the lack of sorrow. While this may seem cold, it is practical – death is common in Ulven society, and so there is little reason to spend all their time in mourning. Instead, it is best to celebrate their deeds and continue living, so that they may do enough to rejoin their relatives and friends on the other side of the Journey. Grief is seen as a private affair, and while it is not displayed in public, the pain they feel in private is very real.
Slain Mordok are another pressing question amongst the Ulven – how should they be disposed of, especially as they, too, experience the Journey of the afterlife. Most Ulven feel that burying the dead taints the land and burning the dead shows respect, so the most common practice is to leave the slain Mordok out to rot in the sun. Still, some Packs and Clans take to a practice of burning the Mordok in pits to cleanse them from the earth, usually with some sort of ritual overseen by a Daughter of Gaia or ignited with oil or tinder blessed by a spiritual leader.
The Ulven had no understanding of currency before the coming of the Colonists. Instead, they conducted trade purely through the barter of labor, goods, and the promises of future service. They had no need for abstract currencies – a chicken is a chicken, and if you wanted one from another Ulven, you would need to convince them that you could offer something that was worthwhile in return. The concept of trade was thus a much more personal one, with elaborate chains of favors, objects, and labor changing hands over the course of a year.
Some Ulven have taken to the new currencies being brought to them – they see the benefit of trading without having to transport goods all over Mardrun, and the idea of fixed values were appealing to those who were less versed in the verbal art of exchange. Still, the idea of accumulating wealth remains foreign to the Ulven – it is common for them to spend coin quickly.
The Ulven revere those that manage to live long enough to become elders. A Chieftain will preside over a Council of Elders, made up of the oldest and wisest members of the Pack. This Council of Elders helps and advises the Chieftain on all matters related to the governing of the Pack. It is also the duty of the Council to choose a new Chieftain when the need arises, and decide what Witch should be the Pack‘s Priestess. Their choice is based solely on who they believe can do the job fairly and honorably, not on status or bloodline. When choosing a Clanleader or High Priestess, all the Clan’s Councils convene in what is called a High Council. These High Councils can last a very long time, as every elder is allowed to have their say, and these discussions have a tendency to become somewhat heated at times.
The position of Warleader is different from the others. The only way to become a Warleader is to defeat the previous Warleader in an honor duel. Although the duel for the position of Warleader is seldom to the death, the loser is frequently injured badly enough that it ends his days as a warrior. Challenges for Warleader are never made frivolously, as the position is one of great honor which requires great intelligence and foresight. While the honor duel is usually physical combat, canny Warleaders have been known to offer the challenge in other ways befitting an honor duel – more than one Pack has found an excellent Warleader through an unconventional challenge, including games of strategy, debate, and, as recounted in “Gertr Sállgrymt’s Saga”, a prodigious drinking contest that left both parties hungover for a week. Should a new Warleader be needed due to death in battle, a new one may be selected by the Pack to prevent their warriors from having no leadership.
There is no higher power than the Clan in Ulven politics. No power can force an Ulven Clan to obey something they do not agree with, save violence. If a Clan were to make a decision that was unfavorable to several other Clans, the only recourse they would be force. Clans have fought each other to make another Clan submit to a decision, but this is rarely more than a fight between packs of veteran warriors and honor duels.
Clans tend to settle disputes through discussion and debate by the Clan leaders – while there are no formal meetings between Clans, individual meetings are often arranged to settle questions of territory, duties, and long-standing disputes between members of different Clans. Clans often send diplomats out – specially-trained Ulven who are expected to provide a voice of reason and some perspective for the Clan or Pack they are living with.
Ulven never shake hands to seal deals or show respect. If two individuals shake hands, they are keeping each other at a distance and using their only their hands. The Ulven clasp hand-to-forearm to show respect and honesty; this gesture is meant to symbolize the act of moving past the hands that hold weapons and shields and allowing the other person to get closer and inside your guard, showing trust and belief that you are safe. It is considered very insulting to shake an Ulven’s hand; feuds have been sparked off by this gesture of disrespect.
Sizing up someone is common to the Ulven. Meeting someone for the first time, meeting them on the battlefield, or entering into an agreement or barter with someone all involve sizing the “opponent” up. This usually involves an intense gaze and a long pause as the Ulven takes in all details and considers his next course of action. This can be seen as somewhat standoffish to the Colonists – a feeling that is often dispelled the moment the Ulven is willing to give them their trust.
“May his ears ring with your name” or any variation, is a common saying, meant to showing respect to another Ulven for something they have done. It is said only when the action was favorable enough that the Great Wolf will take notice of that action when the Ulven meets him in the afterlife. It is also used as a prayer to send the dead off in their Journey.
“Gaia be with you” is a common simple blessing that is used by all members of Ulven society. A healer may splint a broken leg and comfort the wounded with a simple “Gaia be with you”. A loved one may embrace their mate and see them off on a long journey as they travel with a “Gaia be with you”.
Lacking the educational systems of monasteries and traveling educators that were found in the cultures of Faedrun, the Ulven tend towards a more communal approach to teaching knowledge.Lore circles, conducted by the Pack‘s Witches or Priestess, are commonly how the culture of the Ulven is taught. The Elders of the Pack hand down any useful skills or knowledge they might have, and the Pack’s best warriors teach fighting skills.
While they do record information in scrolls and books, the concept of a library is foreign to the Ulven. Reading and writing are not common skills among the Ulven and those who learn how to do so are highly respected. Any given Pack or village may only have at most one or two books or scrolls, but these are treated with the reverence of powerful religious relics and few, save the Lorekeepers and Priestesses, ever lay eyes upon them. Ulven take pride in learning multiple useful skills, both combat and non-combat related – while a warrior is seen as a useful member of society, it is assumed that they also know how to farm the land and tend to the stewardship of the fields and forests that cover Mardrun.
With the difficulty found in making books, the Ulven tend to rely on writing down everyday information on small pieces of wood and stone. Their runic alphabet is uniquely suited to this, as it can be carved into wood without disappearing into the grain or splitting the piece. Only highly important information is written with ink and pen, due to the intense labor cost found in producing vellum from the sheep native to Mardrun. Paper was unheard of until the Colonists arrived, and many Ulven have found it useful for the writing of more information – in time, reading and writing will likely become more common as supplies are more readily available.
The wolf is one of the most important symbols to the Ulven – they use it to adorn much of their artwork, important ritual objects, and clothing. It is a living symbol of their connection to their god, the Great Wolf.
In Ulven artwork and design, intricate knotwork is common, oftentimes worked into stylized representations of animals and nature. This is seen as a connection to the roots of the world which Gaia has granted into their stewardship. These designs are often worked into leather, carved into wood, and painted or stitched onto clothing, with contrasting colors and eye-arresting designs.
The Old Ulven alphabet is comprised of runes – a type of angular letter, designed to be carved into the grain of wood and often worked into designs. Some Ulven see these runes as possessing mystic power, due to their ability to pass knowledge down through the years, and use them in divinatory rituals, although others believe this to be mere superstition – while they can be powerful in the hands of a Runeseer blessed by Gaia, it is more of a superstitious pastime in the hands of any other Ulven.
The Ulven also tend to decorate their clothing with small fetishes and charms taken from nature – carved wooden charms, stone and glass beads, feathers, and elaborately scrimshawed bones. This is, again, a reaffirmation of their connection with nature and Gaia. Some Ulven Clans choose to commemorate important points in an Ulven’s life with these carved charms, acting as a physical representation of the impression they have made upon the world.
A Daughter of Gaia wears a braided sash around their waist during formal occasions and a smaller version during travel, chores, mundane tasks, etc. This sash is important to the Ulven as it denotes the spiritual role that a Daughter of Gaia fulfills for the Ulven people. This braid is normally made up of three or more colors; earth tones and also colors and materials unique to the Daughter are woven together.
One of the greatest taboos of Ulven society is attacking the barrier between life and death – this includes calling upon the souls of the dead who have not begun their Journey, burying the dead in the ground, or interfering with the natural process of life and death. They feel that this interferes with the fallen one’s journey to meet the Great Wolf. The spell Soul Speak was not known by the Ulven before the Colonists arrived; it would be strange for a witch to even learn it, let alone use it. This has been a major point of contention between the Colonists and the Ulven, with some Clans actively shunning those who practice this forbidden magic.
The practice of taking trophies and possessions from the dead is a complicated topic amongst the Ulven. Some Clans believe it to be an entirely taboo practice – the dead are meant to be left alone, and nothing should be taken from them. They are uncomfortable even keeping the possessions of departed Ulven – if possible, they are burned on the pyre along with the departed or reforged into new weapons, to avoid using the tools of a deceased Ulven, while other Clans believe that these weapons and possessions are a tangible mark of the Ulven on the world, and so should be passed on to keep the stories and names being told. This split in belief is nevertheless pragmatic – warriors either find themselves with well-forged weapons from the memory of their forbearers or with precious family heirlooms.
Some Ulven feel that taking trophies is a way to ensure that the departed recall the name of the Ulven who defeated them. No matter the Clan’s beliefs, however, Ulven frequently take the heads of Mordok Shamans and Alphas, as well as scalps from lesser Mordok after a battle. This is not actually a form of trophy taking, but is seen as a fairly common and acceptable practice to provide proof of the slain Mordok’s numbers after a battle. These scalps and heads are turned over to the Pack’s Daughters of Gaia for proper disposal, that they might taint the land of the Ulven no longer.
Ulven respect wolves a great deal more than other animals. It is considered taboo for an Ulven to go wolf hunting without proper rituals and rites being performed by a Daughter of Gaia or a Witch. A wolf is hunted as part of a ritual or in honor of a Chieftan or Clanleader entering the position amongst their Pack. Wearing a wolf pelt or their claws is a status symbol; one that is only acceptable if the Ulven is in a position of leadership or great prestige.
The use of poison is absolutely forbidden in Ulven society – an odd taboo, considering the amount of dangerous substances available on Mardrun’s soil, but it is an undeniable edict in Ulven society. They are unwilling to consort with known poisoners, and any poison that they find is immediately destroyed, preferably in a fashion that does not taint the land further. The Ulven are also known to burn the plants necessary for the creation of certain poisons as a matter of pride.
Suicide is uncommon among the Ulven, except in extreme circumstances. It is seen as the only way for outlaws to regain their standing in society – rather than taking their own life, however, Ulven suicide often takes the form of heading on a suicidal attempt to regain their honor. They will typically journey north, seeking to kill as many Mordok as possible.
The murder of a Daughter of Gaia or the theft of her ceremonial braided sash is considered a terrible taboo and dishonor for the Ulven people. All Daughters of Gaia are respected to some extent regardless of Clan or Pack feuds, but this does not protect them indefinitely. A Daughter that has seriously offended another Ulven could result in it coming to violence and a Daughter that takes up arms in a battle is also subject to the same violence as her allies. However, it is common that an enemy Pack or Clan will still go to great lengths to avoid outright killing a Daughter of Gaia.
All Ulven grow to display the Marks of the Wolf – these are seen as a sign of the Great Wolf’s favor, a physical indication that they have passed from childhood into adulthood. These signs normally take the form of red or yellow bestial eyes, fangs, or gray, wolf-like hair.
Aside from the Marks of the Wolf, the Ulven look almost physically identical to humans, although red hair is quite uncommon amongst them. Some Ulven Clans also practice the art of elaborate facial tattoos, mostly in reds and browns.
Ulven clothing tends to be simple, workmanlike, and earth-toned. Bright colors are very rare in Ulven society due to their hunter nature and the fact that the Mordok could find them much easier in the woods, although bright colors and patterns are seen as status symbols among the Ulven. With a color palate that can only be described as “garish”, when not in their more conservative clothing, the Ulven have a decidedly different aesthetic taste than the Colonists – perhaps, in part due to the rarity of these dyes and fabrics in their society before the arrival of the Colonists.
Ulven do not typically wear plaid or tartan. A few may have acquired a garment or two over time from a warrior of the human Richtcrag nation after the arrival of the Colonists, but the Ulven do not produce any tartan fabrics. This is in part due to the amount of labor necessary to produce the fabrics – the Ulven prefer designs to be embroidered into their clothing, as there is much more complexity possibly in the designs.
Although not necessarily taboo, Ulven men do not wear kilts. They are seen as an “amusing” garment and any male Ulven wearing one is typically not taken seriously, although certain exceptions may be made. The female Ulven still wear skirts and dresses and are seen as a norm for their society, but they are usually full length and long sleeved.
Ulven males almost never use magic of any kind. They see magic as the flow of life; a gift from Gaia to her daughters, just like the ability to bear children. Ulven Witches display the unique ability to use both arcane and divine magic, as it is divided by Human and Syndar scholars. The Ulven find it very strange that other races consider the two forms of magic different and separate. To the Ulven, it is all just magic – albeit similar to the sun and moon, with each having a specific time and place. While the ability to practice both schools of magic is natural to the Ulven, a Witch frequently needs to spend time to learn to access both sides.
The taboo against males practicing magic is a long-held one – they are not seen as capable of connecting with Gaia as deeply. At the same time, males practicing magic is not unheard of, although the routes they go about it are much different from the Witches – they pick up scattered pieces of knowledge, learning from self-study. The number of males practicing magic has increased since the Colonists have arrived, although it is still an incredibly rare event – perhaps a scant handful of males per Clan, if that.
While all Ulven females who practice magic are known as Witches, only those who have been granted an official position within their Pack or Clan are referred to as a Daughter of Gaia. This title carries with it certain duties and responsibilities – they are expected to care greatly for the land, guide their fellow Ulven through life, and assist in the performance of rituals. Daughters of Gaia demonstrate their rank and title by wearing a braided woven sash around their waist, made of interwoven ropes of different colors – all of which can symbolize the colors of nature and Gaia’s many guises and also to display colors unique or important to the individual Daughter. Other charms, such as small bits of metalwork, teeth, and feathers, are often woven into the belt to denote higher-ranking Daughters, as well as for decoration. A Daughter’s Braid is unique to her and very rarely are two of them identical. These braids also come in two different forms; a ceremonial braid sash that is roughly ten feet in length that is worn around the hips during more formal occasions and official ceremonies, and also a smaller braid roughly six to twelve inches in length that can be attached to a belt and worn during travel, chores, or battle.
Ulven do not use the human terms “wedding”, “husband”, or “wife”, although they may use those terms to refer to their mate in the presence of outsiders. The most typical type of union is referred to as “Mating” and the significant others, regardless of gender, are referred to as “Mates”. While pre-marital sex may be taboo in other cultures, this is not true of the Ulven.
Much like in nature, it is usually the female that chooses her mate, rather than the male. Men, on the other hand, are the ones that attempt to attract a mate through whatever skills or talents they may have. Poetry, art, song, martial prowess, flirting; anything is fair game, and these contests of skill often border on comedic to the viewers. Several males may choose to compete with one another over a woman; sometimes, this results in an honor duel, even if the woman in question has no desire for either man. It is said that an Ulven will go to almost any lengths to impress a woman and there are many stories, both romantic and comic, in Ulven folklore about it. The woman is also the one that sets the pace of the relationship; many women make potential mates go through a series of challenges to prove their worth. In some Ulven societies, the pair may even be put through a series of challenges by the elders to see if they can work well together. Ulven do not take the last name of their mate. The children are named after the family they are born into, which is usually based on which family the mated pair chose to live with.
Polyamory is not uncommon among the Ulven. Due to the constant fighting with the Mordok and the generally harsh life on Mardrun, the ratio of males to females is almost never in balance. The Ulven are a pragmatic people and to leave someone without a mate due to an unbalanced ratio seems wasteful.
The Ulven have no cultural or religious taboos against bisexuality or homosexuality – love is not a question of who, but a wonderful thing, no matter the gender. Exclusively homosexual relationships are somewhat rare; however, their inability to produce children is offset by the care that they can provide for orphaned Ulven – they are expected to contribute as much as the other mated couples. Bisexuality however, is fairly common amongst the Ulven.
The gestation period for the Ulven is slightly shorter that that of the humans at around seven months. Twins are not common; they are seen as a blessing from Gaia, often destined for great things in life.
Pregnant women are expected to contribute and work for the first three months of their pregnancy – beyond that, they are kept in the village, as the danger of miscarriage is considered to be too great beyond that. Complications are rare in Ulven pregnancies, unless the pregnant woman is taking part in heavy work – one of the greatest tragedies is the Saga of Brynhlið Sorrow-Held, who lost three children to the Mordok, and finally died at the birth of her fourth.
When an Ulven child is born, they are given a ceremonial slap from an attending Daughter, to welcome them to the world, then their head is painted with earth to demonstrate their connection to Gaia.
Ulven children are cared for by all members of the family, as well as many members of the pack. A child may learn farming from their father, fighting from their mother, the basics of woodcraft from an uncle or a honorary brother, and crafts from an elder. The process of raising a child takes an entire village – with the violence found on Mardrun, it is important that everyone is involved to emphasize the connections that the village has to the people.
The average Ulven has a shorter lifespan than a human, with elderly Ulven rarely passing seventy years of age, and almost never surviving past ninety years. However, their shorter lifespan is contrasted with a much faster gestation period of seven months, allowing the Ulven to reproduce much more quickly than a human.
As the Colonists have filtered into the lands of the Ulven, they have had a greater and greater impact on the formerly isolated society of the Ulven. The Ulven commonly view Syndar and Humans as weak at face value. This opinion is based totally on the fact that they abandoned their home continent to an aggressor, while the Ulven have been fighting the Mordok for as long anyone can remember and have never even thought about leaving Mardrun.
At worst, the Ulven view the Colonists as weak interlopers, stealing land from the Ulven without the blessing of Gaia under a dubious duel of honor whose outcome remains shrouded in secrecy and misinformation. The more xenophobic Ulven Clans believe that the Colonists have no right to be there and are waging active war against them, as well as against the Ulven clans they view as traitorous to the sacred duties given to them by Gaia and the Great Wolf.
Despite this view, not all Ulven believe that the Colonists are bad. Many Clans are neutral on the subject, while some Clans engage in active trade and negotiation with the Colonists. Their culture is changing, whether the Ulven want it to or not, and the long-held stations of Ulven society are slowly crumbling, although it is up to the individual to decide whether this is for good or for ill.
One point that many Ulven blame on the Colonists is the invasion of the Undead. Until the rise and fall of the Lich on Mardrun, some Ulven did not believe the Undead even existed. There had never been any on Mardrun, so the Ulven had nothing to judge the Colonist’s tales by. A commonly-held belief was that Faedrun had powerful mages that managed to somehow trick everyone into believing the dead had risen. This theory may have stemmed from the Ulven taking for granted that everyone burned the dead as they do. After the rise and fall of the Lich, however, the Ulven learned the hard way what terrible foes the hungry ghosts can be.