Survivors: The Irari
The Hyperborean invasion effectively ended the Tawaric civilization on Muataria - well, outside of a few pockets where the TawarŽ were able to hold out, usually mountainous areas or (as in the case of the much more successful AllawaurŽ) islands where the iron-armed invaders from the 'roof of the world' couldn't easily reach them. The Irari fall under the former category, being not a single Tawaric tribe but a loose conglomeration of as many as sixteen tribes who were displaced from their homes by the first waves of Hyperborealic invaders, and as a result holed up in the northern corners of the mountain range known to their distant Allawauric cousins as the 'World's End' for protection. They appear to have formed a confederacy for self-defense against the Hyperboreans quite early on, no later than 10,100 AA, and to have further solidified into a single large realm called the Kingdom of Arbin.

According to legend, this process was finalized when in 'the year of the dragon's splendor' (thought to be 10,488 AA), the confederacy dissolved into civil war between the dominant tribe of the Geq'ireebi and their dependents on one side, and the tribes still opposed to their continued ascent & centralization of power in Arbin on the other. As the official retelling of the Irari goes, Garda of the Geq'ireebi, a virtuous and heroic warrior who had amplified his strength by drinking the blood of a great bear, was rightly elected Mebrak - supreme warlord - of the Irari that year by the elders of his tribe and their allies (who by this point comprised a majority of the Irari leadership) in accordance with the customary laws of the Irari; but there remained some eight (out of twenty-two) tribes that were determined to resist Geq'ireebi domination, even if it meant weakening their alliance in the face of the Hyperborean threat. Rallying under the rival warlord Aja of the Kachani, they denounced Garda as a tyrant in the making and those who elected him as spineless fools willing to serve as thralls of the Geq'ireebi for protection, as opposed to dying as free men on Hyperborean blades if need be. The ensuing Irari civil war appears to have gone by quite quickly and to have been a war of large skirmishes or small battles instead of extensive raiding & small-scale actions, as both sides knew that a protracted struggle would render them vulnerable to being overrun by the dreaded Hyperboreans.

Garda of the Geq'ireebi, uniter of the Irari, c. 10,488 AA

A year after the fighting had begun, Garda's and Aja's armies met at Hoba Ts'ner - the 'valley of tears': its exact location is unknown, but it is thought to be somewhere to the west of Arbin. Here, Garda vanquished Aja, killing him in single combat and trapping his men within the valley. He didn't kill or enslave them however, instead lowering his sword and calling upon them to set aside their selfish fears of his tribe's dominance to instead work with him against the Hyperboreans. To this they agreed, and Garda promptly used his newfound authority to consolidate the Irari confederation into a proper kingdom with himself at its head, making the position of Mebrak hereditary (essentially turning it from the office of just a war-leader into that of a king), and assigning the members of the clans that most faithfully supported him to both take charge of local defenses in the lands around their homes...and to lord over everyone else living under their jurisdiction, empowered by his word and the right to maintain private armies on their own dime (well, woolskin and food supplies, more accurately). Garda's hometown of Arbin was made into the formal capital of the Irari, and the cave from which the great Gaq'inul River flowed became the core of the palace of the Gardani kings. Thus did the fairly decentralized and egalitarian Irari confederacy come to an end, to be replaced by the more centralized, stratified and even more overtly militarized Kingdom of Arbin.

The Gaq'inul River as it flows down from its source, around which Arbin was constructed

Extent of the Kingdom of Arbin, c. 10,500 AA

Red - Arbin

(it can be assumed that these were the maximal borders of the original Irari confederacy as well, considering it did not appear to have lost much, if any territory to Hyperborean encroachment during its brief civil war)

Irari language
The Irari tongue appears to be a descendant of several smaller, regional Tawaric languages, some of which had no obvious relation to one another: a reflection of how the Irari themselves were a mashup of several disparate groups of TawarŽ. The term 'Irari' itself was their word for 'natives': naturally, they used it to refer to themselves as the rightful native dwellers of Muataria, and by extension implicitly condemned the Hyperboreans in general as interlopers trampling across their home soil. The Irari also appear to have developed their own cuneiform alphabet after the transformation of their confederacy into the Kingdom of Arbin, as evidenced by the discovery of burnt and cracked or broken oracle-bones with questions engraved onto them.

A notable sound change in the Irari language was the elimination of the '-ai'/'-ei' sound associated with the character Ž, in favor of a straight '-i' sound; hence why their name is typically spelled Irari and not IrarŽ.

Modern speech Irari
Man, men K'ai, k'aik
Woman, women K'al, k'alik
Natives Irari
Revenge Hendera
Snow Uyar

Irari society
Little is known about early Irari society, owing to the utter lack of a writing system on both their part as well as that of their neighbors. It is deemed likely that they lived as the TawarŽ in general once had throughout their early history, huddling in villages of stone and timber buildings built along the mountainside or atop hills (with a meeting hall, temple and graveyard as the centers of their communities) and surrounded by at least a palisade with watch-towers for protection. Farming was a no-go in their alpine northern refuge, especially once the Great Cooling had set in, so most Irari would've worked as pastoralists instead: they raised herds of primarily goats and sheep, whose meat & milk fed them and whose wool clothed their bodies in the cold of winter. The shepherds & goatherds also would've had to defend their flock from wild beasts with staves and bows, experience which served them well in their state of perpetual warfare (or at least, constant back-and-forth raiding) with their Hyperborean neighbors.

Tawaric ancestors of the Irari fleeing the Hyperborean advance in the lowlands, c. 10,010 AA

An Irari herder hails his neighbors, c. 10,150 AA

The biggest exception to this rule was the Irari tribe which lived at the source of the river they call Gaq'inul, or 'unfrosted'. These 'Geq'ireebi', or 'river-children' as their tribe called itself, could and did farm outside of the winter & early spring, cutting terraces into the mountainside where they grew hardy rye, barley and oats and where they could also sustain modest flocks of chickens and herds of cattle & pigs like more southern peoples. By 10,400 AA, the core of the Geq'ireebi lands had sprouted into a mountainside town called Arbin (literally just 'source', as in source of the river) and their terrace farms were known to have had both water channels and reservoirs further cut into them - not a bad feat of engineering for a bunch commonly thought of as uncivilized native yokels who were barely clinging to existence in their mountains. Arbin itself was easily the largest of all known Irari settlements, its population buoyed by their remarkable agricultural system, and from this base the Geq'ireebi came to dominate the other tribes of the Irari confederacy in fairly short order through their sheer numbers.

A Geq'ireebi farmer buries some loot away from the prying eyes of his peers

The early Irari confederacy seems to have been led by village and tribal elders who were elected by all freemen beneath them for life terms, and there existed very little social stratification in their society compared to the new Hyperborean arrivals (or even other TawarŽ, such as the AllawaurŽ living far to the southwest) - it seems that, beset by Arctic invaders in the cold & foreboding northern tip of the World's End mountain range, everyone was more or less equally poor. In a primitive form of representative democracy, the elders elected a 'Mebrak' (literally 'war-leader', usually translated to 'warlord') who directed the tribal warbands of their people in war, but otherwise appears to have had no influence on the tribes themselves. However, starting around 10,320 AA, it appears that more and more of the Mebraki hailed from Arbin, a sign of that settlement's (and their tribe's) importance beginning to eclipse the rest of the Irari.

Substantially more is known of the early Arbinites than the original Irari Confederacy. The Mebrak, now unelected and transmitting his authority from father to son, reigned at the pinnacle of society as no mere war-commander, but a king in fact and name both. His word was the law, and any who disobeyed faced banishment, imprisonment or execution at his hands. He was supported by a martial aristocracy called the zaneuri, or 'commanders', who were further divided into three ranks:
  • Ageuri, the two greatest nobles in the realm and the chief lieutenants of the Mebrak. One was the Ageur ale-Dzena, 'master commander of the left', who commanded the lords and free-men living on the western slopes of the World's End in the name of the king, and the other was the Ageur ale-Chisba, 'master commander of the right', who led the people living on the mountains' eastern face against the Hyperboreans living below them and even the occasional stray Suufulk or Yahg raiders. The two great Ageuri families were descendants of Garda's younger brothers: the middle brother Jopa was granted the hereditary office of Ageur ale-Chisba, which his descendants the Jopini held after his death, while their youngest brother Upila was made the first Ageur ale-Dzena and succeeded in his position by his heirs-of-the-body, the Upilini dynasty.
  • Zaneuri, proper landed nobles descended from the clans that most closely & unwaveringly backed Garda as he seized power, who oversaw collections of farms and ranches from their mountain fortresses. Despite their hereditary status and position of preeminence above the rest of society, the Zaneuri still lived quite spartan lives compared to much of the nobility of the south (Hyperborean and Tawaric alike), in no small part due to the isolation of Arbin from the great trade routes of the Muataric Sea & its shorelines. They were charged with coordinating the defense of the territories they'd been assigned to for as long as their family line remained alive, and lived on a cut of their vassals' taxes.
  • Sakhi, minor nobles who lived in towers not much fancier or more comfortable than the hovels inhabited by their subjects. These 'captains' were responsible for taxation, law enforcement and the levying of soldiers on a local level, and were required to hand over between a tenth and a fifth of the taxes they collected (in kind of course, for the Arbinities didn't have coinage) to the Zaneur directly above them.

The Mebraks of Arbin turned the mountain cavern from which the Gaq'inul first flowed as a waterfall into their home. In accordance with traditional Irari fashion, the Palace of Arbin was fairly austere and unornamented, decorated chiefly with great carvings of the gods or legendary events. Stairs were cut into the stone tunnels, stalactites and stalagmites removed where needed, and hearths & lanterns lit up respectively with logs brought up from below or animal fat to provide heat & warmth throughout the night and winters. Almost needless to say, despite its austerity and the relative poverty of the Irari kingdom as a whole, the place was truly nearly impregnable: the only known way in was the main entrance, a gap that maybe ten men abreast could enter at a time (and could thus be defended by a ten-man shield-wall), and the subterranean lake from which the Gaq'inul flowed ensured that in the event of a siege, the defenders would never go thirsty. Slaves would've carried and heated this fresh water whenever the Mebrak or his kin wanted a hot bath, as well.

A section of the Palace of the Mebraks in Arbin

Beneath the Mebraks themselves, Arbinite nobles preferred to live in stone hold-fasts of varying size called mehri, uniformly built on hills or other promontories for maximum defensive advantage; while these forts' size and defenses were naturally dependent on their owner's wealth and status, they were all quite austere and utilitarian in design, with little evidence of there having been much ornamentation in the early Arbinite period. They were typically divided into three to five floors, with the first floor being both a mess hall and a first line of defense centered around a great hearth (which the inhabitants obviously used to cook their food and warm themselves during the cold of autumn, winter and early spring), the second being the armory, and the third & above floors being the actual living quarters of the lord and his servants/slaves.

A well-preserved mehr dating back to 10,494 AA

In a development that ironically mirrored the way their new Hyperborean neighbors had their own societies set up, the Irari appear to have developed a middle class of professional warriors between their nobility and commons. In their case, these men were called the zolebi, or simply 'fighters'. As was the case in many other Hyperborean societies, they were usually volunteers of common birth, the younger sons and brothers who weren't due to inherit anything and thus pledged themselves to the nearest Sakh or Zaneur for the privilege of warming themselves by his hearth, eating his food & living under his roof. In exchange, they would fight at his side when need be, which was often. Unlike their counterparts in Hyperborean societies, zolebi were not expected to ever be granted land of their own unless they married a close female relative of their master or were elevated to the rank of Sakh by the Mebrak himself, and remained purely oath-sworn warriors in their chosen liege's service until they either died in battle or were released from their duties for whatever reason (ex. growing too old to fight).

The overwhelming majority of Arbinite society were naturally still the commons: subsistence farmers, pastoralists, smiths, carpenters, miners and the like, who carried the weight of their lords and the war against the Hyperboreans on their backs. Nonetheless, they were termed the plaba'ik or 'free men', and thus enjoyed certain rights under the customary laws of Arbin & the Irari: they couldn't be enslaved except to pay off a debt; even when placed in debt slavery their condition couldn't be transmitted to their blood-kin; an aristocrat who murdered, maimed or otherwise mistreated one of their number was still to be judged without care for his rank; and they had the right to elect village elders who could negotiate on their behalf with the local Sakh over taxes & arbitrate in any disputes between fellow plaba'ik that didn't involve murder. Due to the remoteness of their homeland and the whole 'surrounded by hostile Hyperboreans' issue, the Arbinites never did develop a robust class of traders: their idea of commerce amounted to individual traders or small caravans heading out across dirt or wooden roads or mountain tracks to barter goods with the next Irari village over, not extensive trade with foreigners for exotic goods. Further beneath these commoners, the Irari also kept slaves, either taken in war from their bad new neighbors or born into servitude, for hard labor and their owners' entertainment alike.

An Arbinite peasant teaches his youngest son how to sharpen a knife while his two eldest march off to become zolebi, c. 10,500 AA

Curiously, Irari society appears to have jettisoned the relative egalitarianism that defined other pre-Hyperborean Tawaric societies (and still did even after the Hyperboreans came, in the case of the AllawaurŽ at least) in favor of a more rigidly patriarchal society. By the time of the Kingdom of Arbin, there were no more women in the ranks of their leaders; only patriarchal descent counted for the identification of one's clan & tribe; women could possess no property in their own name; daughters could not inherit anything before sons; and the IrarŽ came to prize masculinity to such an extreme degree that they not only tolerated but aggressively accepted male homosexuality and pederasty, considering the relationship between a grown (and ideally strong, formidable and overall 'manly') man and a younger boy (ideally an adolescent with an androgynous or outright effeminate appearance) more virtuous than that of a man and woman - as far as they were concerned, women were for making new Irari to fill the world while boys were for fun, and there was no relationship manlier than one that literally didn't involve women in any way.

From recovered Irari statuettes and pottery paintings by both the Irari & peoples who managed to contact them, it appears that their ideal man was a macho equestrian whose first answer to any insult or obstacle was a javelin to the face, routinely crushed his opponents in wrestling matches with his massive muscles, had a practical forest for a beard, defended his family & people with his life, and maintained harems of both women and effeminate boys. Indeed, surviving Irari love stories are mostly centered on the manliest of their men fighting over especially beautiful boys, not women. It is believed that the Irari embraced masculinity to such extremes as a reaction to their constant warfare with the matriarchal Thiskaira who neighbored them.

Pretty much the Irari masculine ideal

Irari religion
The Irari religion, simply referred to by modern historians as 'Am-Ardis' ('to worship' in the old Irari tongue), can be best defined as a Mainstream faith of Traditional soul with a Bastion-of-the-Faith mentality. The Irari worshiped a pantheon of male gods led by Hutuini, who was the god of the sun, the weather & war and progenitor of all the other deities (whom he fathered with the lunar goddess Selasa, whom he in turn had originally carved from a meteor that had fallen from the moon). They also acknowledged the existence of myriad nameless nature spirits who served these gods, called hep'ari (the closest modern translation would be 'fairies'). Whenever someone, from a peasant to the Mebrak himself, wanted something from the gods - be it victory in war, the death of their rival, a successful childbirth, a woman's love, a particularly handsome boy slave, or just plain wealth - they would offer up a sacrifice of animal's blood or crops at stone altars. Those who had the means would also engage in great hunts called 'neri' on the autumnal equinox, dedicating the best portions of their kills to the gods as sacrificial burnt offerings and eating the rest.

Irari statuette of a bear, the sacred animal of Hutuini

A loosely organized, all-male priesthood led villagers and princelings alike in sacramental rites calling upon the Irari gods. It appeared that the Irari held rites to initiate youths into their faith when they came of age, thought to be around twelve for both boys and girls; these youths were led on a procession through their hometown by their local priest, singing and dancing and banging brass cymbals, until they had made their way to a sacrificial altar where boys would slit the throats of chickens and girls burned an offering of fruits and vegetables, all while the priest called on Hutuini and Selasa and other Irari deities to accept them into the ranks of their worshipers.

Besides leading prayer services, passing legends on to the next generations and offering up sacrifices of animals and crops (either on behalf of their entire community or just certain individuals), priests also appear to have doubled as herbalists and pyromantic oracles, doing their best to heal the sick with herbal solutions & blood-letting and casting handfuls of salt or (after the unification of the Irari under Arbin) oracle bones with questions engraved onto them into a special flame lit atop their altar in a bid to get the gods to show them the future. Despite their purported powers and social purpose however, Irari priests were firmly anchored to the communities they served and do not appear to have been particularly influential in political affairs, which remained thoroughly dominated by the Mebrak and his nobles. Exactly how these priests were selected remains a mystery, but a combination of manifesting latent magical abilities (or what looked like magic) and tutelage under a senior priest remains the best guess of present-day historians.

An Irari stone altar, no doubt used for sacrifices and pyromancy by priests thousands of years ago

Given the generally xenophobic attitude (growing out of their wars with the Hyperboreans) that permeated their culture and civilization, it should come as no surprise that the Irari fiercely adhered to their religious traditions to the exclusion of outside faiths. Martial Irari legends, such as that of Hudubi the Breaker of Horses and Topawi the Bronze-Armed, detail the exploits of mythical champions who struck down hordes of ravenous, mindlessly evil foreign men and women with the guidance of the gods. Irari villages, being as remote as they were, rarely ever got foreign visitors who weren't slaves being dragged back by their warriors, and certainly any foreigner who swung by to preach was likely going to find him/herself either run out of town or left literally swinging by an angry mob stirred up at the local priest's exhortation.

Irari military
The Irari were, like other TawarŽ before the Hyperborean invasion, were originally a fairly peaceful people. The coming of the savage northerners shattered their Bronze Age idyll and forced them to mobilize on a much larger scale than they were used to in order to survive. Bronze was no longer used chiefly to make plows, scythes and forging hammers, but blades, spears and battle-axes. Iron, too, was used; while actually weaker than bronze (at least when forged with the admittedly quite lackluster metallurgy of the post-Hyperborean dark age), it was cheaper and more plentiful, and so iron weapons soon became the choice of lower-ranked Irari warriors while bronze arms and armor remained the purview of the elite.

The best and most heavily equipped fighters among the Irari were their aristocrats, as was the case in many other parts of the world. The zaneuri fought wearing conical bronze helmets and heavy cuirasses of bronze scales or flakes sewn onto a fabric backing, and wielded bronze or iron-headed spears taller than they were in conjunction with a pointed bronze shield and a long hacking sword or socketed ax for a sidearm. The wealthiest Irari nobles and Mebraks were also known to wear entire coats of bronze scales, which stretched down to or past their knees. Zaneuri invariably formed the center of an Irari battle line, locking their shields to present a formidable wall of spear-points and pointed bronze discs to the foe that was further anchored on its flanks by the lesser zolebi warriors and backed up by the mass of levied commoners. When on the offensive, they would do their best to maintain formation as they advanced, shrugging off missile fire behind their shields and armor until they were finally within range to sprint forward, scream their warcries and attempt to stab their foes to death in close combat - or better yet, cause the enemy to panic and flee before their apparent near-invincibility.

An Irari zaneur in battle panoply, c. 10,500 AA

Mirroring societal and military developments in many other Hyperborean societies, the zolebi made up the majority of the Irari fighters who knew what they were doing, being professional retainers who had sworn oaths to serve a master until released and spending their days training and eating at their lord's expense. They could be further divided into two classes: spearmen, and archers. Both wore bronze helmets, but the spearmen also wore lamellar vests of leather or rawhide for added protection as they fought, and wielded shorter bronze-headed spears than what their masters had in addition to wooden shields, an iron sword or ax, and two or three javelins that they flung at the foe while advancing or being approached; in the latter case, they proved especially effective at disrupting the typical Hyperborean wild charge. Archers did not wear any armor beyond their helmets, and (obviously) fought primarily with a bow & arrows while also carrying smaller wooden bucklers and swords or hatchets for close combat. To counter the horse-archers of the steppes and tundra, Hyperborean or otherwise, the composition of a warband's zolebi was usually 2:1 in favor of the archers; while the spearmen fanned out to the left & right of the zaneuri to extend their shieldwall, the archers stood in front of them and took advantage of the fact that they could wield longer bows than what one could use on horseback to outshoot opposing horse-archers, and could also retreat behind the shieldwall when charged.

A zolebi spearman with his javelins and brass-coated shield, c. 10,500 AA

Model of a zolebi archer, c. 10,500 AA

The common plaba'ik made up the majority of Irari armies. A mix of volunteers and draftees, they fought with whatever weapons they had on hand: farming implements, forging hammers, shepherds' staves, kitchen knives, hunting bows and more. They were usually deployed as skirmishers, screening the true fighters of an Irari warband and always retreating behind their betters when battle was truly joined; there, they could fire at the foe from over the shield-wall's heads and shoulders, add their weight to the shield-wall of the zaneuri & zolebi, and plug any gaps that form in the line to the best of their ability. Besides their knowledge of their local terrain, which would come in handy when they fought in mountain passes or on hills, there really wasn't much else separating them from the poor fools that made up peasant levies around the world.

Three plaba'ik militiamen, c. 10,500 AA

The Irari, like their distant Allawauric cousins, virtually never used cavalry. At first, the lack of saddles and stirrups were an obvious limitation on the usage of horses, but even after the former had been introduced to the Irari they did not fight on horseback. Horses were not useful beyond being a means of civilian transport and as beasts of burden in the rugged terrain of their homeland, and surely the Irari were not impressed by the results of Thiskaira (or Yahg, or Suufulk) charges into their shield-walls either. At most, Irari nobles would ride to the battlefield and then dismount to fight. They did use another creature in warfare, however; frightened by the Hyperboreans' use of ferocious wolf-hounds from the Arctic, the Irari countered by deploying large cats usually kitted out in armor of padded cloth, which would hopefully distract the hounds long enough (either by getting torn to shreds by the Arctic beasts, or simply luring them away on a senseless chase) for the rest of their army to finish the battle.

The bronze armor of a prized pet cat said to have belonged to Garda, first king of Arbin

Irari tactics were fundamentally defensive: they typically counted on their missile troops being able to bait the enemy into charging into their shield-wall, which would then weather the assault until the foe had become so bloodied & worn out that they could be swept away by a counterattack. More rarely did their infantry advance under the covering fire of their archers and skirmishers, which ran the risk of them being outrun or flanked by a mounted and/or lightly armored opponent, especially on open ground. Almost needless to say, the Irari were best at fighting within their own mountainous homeland, where their Hyperborean, Yahg and Suufulk foes would have little choice but to run into their prepared shield-walls in the narrow mountain passes and forested hills of the highlands while their missile troops were free to rain arrows, stones and javelins on their heads from above with little fear of retaliation. When fighting out in the open, the Irari were far less successful, limited by their foot-bound mobility and lack of cavalry to cover their flanks.

Tactics for pitched battles aside though, the Irari did absolutely engage in aggressive raiding actions against their neighbors. Individual zaneuri often led their retinues of zolebi (sometimes accompanied by a handful of loot-hungry plaba'ik volunteers) down from their mountain fortresses to attack Hyperborean villages, moving atop horses as mounted infantry until they reached their target, whereupon they'd dismount to pillage on foot. Once they had thrown sacks full of loot over one shoulder and a comely lad or lass over the other, they'd saddle up again and attempt to flee before Hyperborean warriors could retaliate. Of course, the Hyperborean invaders were more than happy to return the favor on a regular basis, climbing Irari mountains and traversing their forests to do the exact same thing to Irari towns. This sort of tit-for-tat marauding defined the bulk of the Hyperborean-Irari conflict, with the large pitched battles & attempts at actual conquest/reconquest that everyone remembers in song and legend being exceptional in part because they were exceptions to the pattern of year-round raiding.