|Common Names||Goldies, Fire-lovers, Old Byes, Goldmen|
|Social Classes||Farmers, Herders, Miners, Goldsmiths, Aristocrats, Merchants, Potters, Artists, Foresters, Monks|
|Major Cities||Nessebev, Presav|
The Byala are a unique Culture well known for many reasons. The original Byala moved into what are now The Southern Dukelands from parts unknown, taking over areas of Dvalan territory when they arrived and thus starting a war with their new neighbours. While peace was eventually reached, the Regalian Empire was the next threat, but they earned their respect and were successfully integrated into the Empire soon after. Today, the Byala are best known for their beautiful Gold-based jewelry and head decorations, as well as their ancient burial sites from centuries past. They also are known for their unique brand of Unionism, which puts a heavy emphasis on fire. Their society has lost much land to outsiders and the shifting mess that are the Dukelands, but they are a proud and humble people dedicated to living their lives based on the lots given to them, but also often seeking out the boldest lot.
- 1 History
- 2 Language and Dialects
- 3 Lifestyles and Customs
- 4 Holidays
- 5 Religion
- 6 Literature and Folklore
- 7 The Arts
- 8 Recreation
- 9 Symbols
- 10 Trivia
The Byala’s origins are murky, even to them. Information on their early years come mostly from their cultural enemies, the Dvala, which are generally seen as biased and unreliable. However, certain pieces of information are extractable and useful to modern day scholars. The people who became the Byala moved into the current Southern Dukelands Lordship centuries ago from parts unknown, but generally associated with the north and northeast. The reasons for their migration are often pinned on being forced off their land by early Wirtemcaller leaders, but the truth of this is uncertain. But, in their move, they upset the local balance of power. In the region, the ancestors of the Dvala ruled as the central tribe in a powerful confederacy which they were on top of. The Byala, outsiders and foreign, rapidly settled across the region and rapidly absorbed several of the confederacy members into their own polity, which they called the Danu. Dvalan leaders, furious with this, began a conflict with the Byala that would go on and off for over a century. But, in the end, a formal border between the two powers was established and the Dvala reluctantly turned inward, consolidating their Culture as a result. As for the Byala, they too consolidated themselves, and even began projects of expansion and exploration, both of the geography and of the arts. This all came to pass under Vodach (King) Symeon Tornov, whose rule over the burgeoning kingdom was highly lauded in its day.
But these efforts had a downside, in that they attracted the attention of the Regalian Empire. Initial envoys probed the region, discovering the harsh divisions between the two societies, but efforts to provoke another war were quickly quashed. Instead, the Regalian Empire retreated, but they soon returned. The few southern colonies of both regions were conquered by the Empire, and the states retreated inland. The Dvala had a doubly bad time, having settled a large swath of the region’s western coastline, which was perfect for invasions by the Regalian Military. They fell to the Empire within but a short decade. As for the Byala, their prudent retreat into the region’s heartland forced the Regalian Empire to go after them. Then, in a stunning turn of events, Vodach Symeon, then an 89-year-old man, personally led his troops in a lightning campaign that froze the Regalian Empire in its tracks. The regional general, Basil Deuxenne, eventually broke the stalemate but he surprisingly called for peace with the Byala. The Regalian Empire treated with the aged leader in 161 AC, and came to an agreement: the southern colonies would remain ceded to the Regalian Empire, but the Byala could keep their regional territory, so long as they swore loyalty to the Regalian Empire and accepted Unionist preachers. Symeon agreed, before supposedly dying a day after the final stroke of the quill, a bright future the last gift to his people.
Over the coming years, the Byala gradually found their territory to be shrinking. First, massive numbers of Etosian settlers entered the regions to the south of Byala territory, and formed what are now known as The Hellatian States. Gradually, the Etosians expanded, and a section of the Byala population fully converted to the Etosian way of life, resulting in land loss. Then, the Vladno from Volgaria came. Their arrival, while not hostile, was fairly overwhelming, and they soon populated a huge area of northern Byala territory, and even beyond. Eventually, that society became the Ânia, and split off formally from Byala territory. But, none were prepared for the arrival of the Szabadok in 260 AC. Their invasion swallowed up territory of all three regional parties, pushing deep through Byala territory and all the way to the Etosian regions beyond. The Byala were helpless, their Lord Symeon IV a spoiled young man, who did little to help beyond paying mercenaries to defend areas he deemed worthy. His nephew deposed him after just a few years of this, but still, it took outsiders to end the threat of the Szabadok. This came in the form of the terrifying the Ânia leadership, the Balaurs. Young Lord Petar Tornov joined their Order of the Black Dragon, but once the Szabadok had been curtailed and forced back into a corner, promptly left the Order. Most suspect that it was he who contacted external forces to alert them of the supposed Vampiric nature of the Balaurs, though nothing has ever been confirmed to this effect. The Byala now stand as a unique society, odd and possessing many ancient traditions which, in the words of one traveller, always make their land a lively, ancient feeling place.
Language and Dialects
The Byala speak Byelle, also known as the Byalan Dialect. Most Regalian linguists rudely call it a mutt language, which while offensive, is ultimately true. Whatever original tongue was spoken by the ancient Byala has since been added to and morphed by contact with the Dvala, Etosians and even Vladno and New Regalians, despite how recent their contact has been.
Byalan names are similar to Etosian and Vladno names, seemingly by coincidence rather than an influence from these external forces. They commonly make use of “y” instead of “i”, with male names commonly ending in “n” or “o” and female names ending in “a”. As for middle and surnames, Byalans make use of two sets of suffixes though to represent their original society, and then the groups who they absorbed when they arrived. These are “-ov(a)”, “-ev(a)”, and “-ski”, “-ska.” The first set only adds an “a” when the name is derived from a female family member or a feminine word, which is rare. Additionally, people take their middle name from the name of the corresponding sex of their parent. As an example, a boy born to a father called Zhelyazko Zornitov Varbski could be called Galabin Zhelyazkov Varbski. Here are examples of possible Byalan names:
Lifestyles and Customs
Byalan families are quite standard in their structure, but tend to vary based on location. Due to the diverse climates of the region, from woodlands to mountains to plains, a diverse number of acceptable family structures has arisen along with the regional trades. Herders and farmers often have large families, living close to one another if not in the same, large home, while those in urban centers often have smaller, more divided families. However, close family ties are valued by all, and so it is rare for Byalans to move too far from the home of their parents. Unfortunately, the land has, or at least had, a major problem with orphans in recent years. The Szabadok invasion was brutal, and while many children were taken into the horsemen’s households, many others were left amidst the ruins of their previous life. Byalan tradition has it that orphans, oddly, do not go to their closest kin automatically. Instead, village elders and leadership decided what should be done with them. Most of the time, they do go to their closest kin, but other times they can be adopted into other families, or be sent to train as priests. Additionally, the Byala do not see anything wrong with same-sex couples. Why this is is a bit vague, and wrapped up in local tradition, but such couples are also sometimes given orphaned children should the couple have none already.
The gender roles of Byalan society are highly equal. For decades before the arrival of the Regalian Empire, women could and often did hold office and positions of power without husbands or male relatives to speak of. While that somewhat changed with the arrival of the Empire, women can still hold much power. Roles in society are also fairly equal, though it is exceedingly common for traditional gender norms to exist. These aren’t hard norms though, and women are sometimes the working party in a family, but the practice is still common.
The Byalans have several strange cultural holidays. One of the most noted starts on the day of the Spring Equinox and continues for three weeks. This festival, known as Lyuden or “Loveday” is a time to show one’s affection for family, lovers, and in general, all loved ones. This is done, customarily, by creating Lyubovkukla, small dolls connected together used to present the individual who has made the object. They are generally one male (made with white clothing) and one female (made with red clothing), and are used to represent fertility and health. However, Lyubovkukla with both males or both females made by same-sex individuals for their romantic interest or for their partner also exist. Once these are given, they are worn on one’s body for the course of a week before being hung on a tree that one’s family has marked out for this purpose. They can take the small object off their bodies earlier than a week if they see a bull, a symbol of health, spring, and virility in their society. Then, there is Uplakha, which takes place at the Autumn Equinox. In it, men wearing full body suits of wool, fur, and hair with wooden masks dance around a great fire, chanting what some might consider spells in an effort to ward off dark spirits. Women meanwhile, take the opportunity to dress revealingly, and dance around the circle of men in an effort to lure the dark spirits in. Afterward, feasting and celebration is common.
The Byala follow a unique branch of Unionism due to how they were converted. In their early years, they followed a pagan faith now lost to time. What is certain though is that fire played a major role, with their ancient sites and temples featuring grand firepits. Unionist preachers, seeking an approach to help incorporate these people, helped to tie the Spirit to the fire, and gradually everything else fell into place. As a result, many of their churches and chapels have standard Unionist iconography, but are instead uniquely circular, or at least have a circular area. On this dias, instead of a fountain or some other customary Unionist object, there is a huge firepit which is lit every two weeks, which is when large masses are held. Smaller ones are held several points throughout the week, but the pit is not lit for those. Additionally, rather than depict the Unionist Eye alone, the Byalans often feature a flaming orb around or in the Eye, to represent the burning purity that is the Spirit. Their religious beliefs are also fairly dichotomous. There is good, and there is evil, and there is little in between these two. Generally though, Ailor, Humans, and most wider Races are inherently good in the imagining of the Byala while Kathar and similarly “evil” Races are inherently bad. These continue into animals and plants, all adding up to a world at conflict due to one side being lit and blessed by the Spirit, and the other side being blessed by what can only be described as “the anti-Spirit”. The Byala do not formally have a name for this major dark force, and it is instead referred to by a number of titles. Their branch of Unionism heavily focuses on monastic-styles of life rather than preachers and priests, and they are also commonly schooled in local seminaries.
Literature and Folklore
The Byalans have a very simple view of the world, largely influenced by centuries of isolation from wider Aloria, but also the personal philosophy of Vodach Symeon I, a man most Byala see as an unofficial saint. His beliefs are spelled out in the archaic poetry work known as “Zhiv”, which is perhaps the only piece of native Byalan literature of any noterietry. In it, the king muses about existence and how every person should live their best life, but also how they should take chances and be bold, and never fear for the consequences lest they be deeply grave. Additionally, it was important in his mind that one keep connected with the natural world, whether that be through tending a garden, keeping a pet, or working in agriculture. His last claims involved the belief that when one goes, they ultimately join the greater purity of “the eternal flame” which has since been adapted to be the Spirit. As a result, in following his words and ways, the Byala are a very bold and upfront people. They enjoy life much in the same way that the Velheim do, but for different reasons, and also with a bit more thought before taking their bold actions. Additionally, they highly value nature and see it as significant, with most non-farmers in their lands keeping pets or small gardens, even a mere flower bed, to keep this connection. Finally though, an unsaid essential part of Byala philosophy is the significance of family. At war with the Dvala for over a century helped to knit the Byala together, from a collective of several clans and tribes, into one powerful people. As a result of this, to betray one’s family is seen as the greatest sin.
The Byala have a rich folklore that comes from their years of isolation and strange background. As mentioned earlier, the Byala believe in bad spirits, either servants of the dark enemy opposing the Spirit, or the soul of one who was improperly buried or whose burial has been violated. Thus, the Byala take great care with their dead, leaving them with grave goods to help ensure they are comfortable and happy as they transition up to their lives within the Spirit. This has been a tradition for centuries, and while they themselves haven’t disturbed them, outsiders and outside criminals have broken into and robbed ancient mountain gravesites where ancient objects of great beauty can be found. As a result, more than a few Byalan ghost stories tell of great, long dead mountain or plains chieftains returning because their burial sites were robbed. Tied to this, the Byala believe that these dark spirits can cause crop failures, impotency, and various other spells of bad luck. The Byala also believe in the inherent power of fire. This goes beyond Unionist belief though, into pure superstition, where varying beliefs exist based on the region of Byalan territory one is in. Some claim that whispering the name of the one you love or wish to romance will guarantee a happy or long life together with them, others say that writing the names of enemies and casting them into the fire will guarantee their deaths, and a few more believe in the purifying power of fire. This last belief, while sounding dangerous, is acted out through a local custom in southeastern regions of Byalan land. There, men and women dance through fire or live embers in a cleansing ritual to maintain the purity of their souls.
Byalan art is well known to wider Aloria primarily for its jewelry. It is claimed that the Byala were among the first Ailor Cultures to master Gold, and the ancient goods made with this material certainly make that seem likely. Beautiful and thin golden wreaths with rings, bangles, and normal ear or finger rings are among these ancient goods, which are still made today though of a far more refined quality. The modern day examples of these objects often include small jewels, most commonly Rubies and Amberite, and give any wearing them a beautiful look. Additionally, the Byala are known for their pottery. In ancient times, this took the form of unique ceramic vessels, often grey and unassuming, but with complex darker patterning and stylized rims or edges. This practice from old times has continued into modern Byalan society, though the colors have gotten far more diverse, and the imagery far less abstract. Finally, there is their painting, which primarily takes the form of frescoes within their churches and sacred spaces. They make use of the tempera method, and cover virtually every surface in colorful, artistic depictions of Herons, major political and religious leaders, as well as nobles. They most commonly unite militaristic and religious imagery when depicting these figures even if they were not warriors or highly pious.
Byalan music is highly diverse, both representing unique local forms but also those of external Cultures. Byalan music often focuses on religious ceremonies, where all-male choirs are most common. These are often used as funerals as a monody is sung for the deceased being entombed. However, at times of religious celebration and times of joy, the rare blended choir of men and women singing in harmony is used. Over the years, most of their religious songs have come from the Etosian tradition so near their borders, the Byala even having a version of the famed Etosian liturgical piece The Vespiya for their own use. Aside from religious music, the Byalans have a complex and unique folk music tradition. This music is very odd in Aloria for its use of “uneven beats” that create unique rhythms to music. This music is also totally ungendered and all participate, even children, with Byalan singers well known for having an impressive range due to some practicing music all their lives. As for the instruments used in all this music making, Byalans have access to many common ones, though the Gaida is a unique piece. Most often compared to the Goat Bellow of the Highland Ceardians, the Gaida is similar in that both are essentially bags of air manipulated by the user. However, Gaidas are made using animal hide, not an animal’s internal organ, and often feature the use of the animal’s horn in the decoration of the instrument. There are regional variations with the instrument that further diversify the sounds it makes, but it can generally be characterized as deep.
Byala fashion is, largely, plain and unremarkable. Men and women alike dress in clothing made from regional wools and furs, suited to the specific local climate, with more layers for those in the mountains while those on the temperate plains are often lightly clothed. The regional aristocracy however, have their own traditions. Generally, men dress in dark colors and women in lighter ones, with both wearing clothes often finely embroidered by local artisans. Men commonly wear a unique armband called a Pech, which is embroidered over the course of their life to show important scenes from said life. These Pechs also often identify family loyalty based on the color and pattern of the bands above and below the embroidered sections showing one’s life. Additionally, both men and women of the upper classes are well known for their beautiful Gold jewelry, with coronets, wreathes, rings and more donned for special occasions. However, one other piece of decoration that all Byalans can share is their use of tattoos. Again, varied based on locality but also job, this ancient practice has persisted even among the nobility as they are thought to tell of an individual’s strengths, but also their weaknesses in a twist most outsiders miss. By the age of 30, Byalan arms and chests are decorated with signifers of their strengths and age milestones, but on their backs can be found their weaknesses. These tattoos can contain information that ranges widely, from physical attributes to character traits, to even family ties should one be connected with the celebrated Tornov family or other significant parties. As a result, most Byalans won’t see these weaknesses, but others do, with most considering a lover or romantic partner viewing them to be an intimate sign of trust. Both men and women can get them, though the practice is less frequent with women as it originated within the traditions of the Byalan military, and where it has largely stayed.
Byalan architecture is generally considered lackluster, as much of their region is rural and lacking significant urban development. Despite this, outsiders may find an array of unique structures within Byalan lands. The most notable are their ancient burial sites, which frequently make use of the tholos or “beehive” practice in their construction when done out in the plains or forests. Located underground, the correbelled constructs are often an excellent example of the lost past of the Byalan people, though few are ever opened by native Byalans due to their belief about disturbing the dead. As for structures that are actually used and currently part of their society, their great fortresses are well known given how they helped to turn back even the Regalian Empire from their lands. These fortresses were often built in and around the regional mountains, and were used to guard key regional roads or rivers. Most were fairly simple by modern standards, making use of square towers and slightly sloped, thick stone walls with layouts to conform to the available land and not a standard pattern.
The structures that do have a notable and united style are their churches. Built around central, circular diases with fire pits which themselves are often far older than the church around them, Byalan churches stand out for their generally small size. They also stand out for their unification of different colored brickwork and stone, stone being the foundational material with the bricks helping to form the roofs. These structures are either square, with the dias at the center, or rectangular, with one end curved to fit the dias found within. Finally, there is another form of church structure that exists only in the distant Hadrav’yan Culture: rock hewn churches. However, these churches are far cruder, and also not commonplace. Instead, they are unique to the Ivanev Spur of northern Byala territory. Part of a religious complex that began about the time of the Cataclysm, they have since been expanded back into the rock, and are now Unionist in decoration and design, though many of the original chambers still have the ancient iconography of the original pagan faith that started the carving process. The complex also represents the other form of ancient burial in Byalan society, that of mountain graves created by rockhewing.
Byalan cuisine draws on a diverse number of ingredients given their diverse surroundings. They commonly eat salads or vegetable-based appetizers at the start of a meal before transitioning to main courses often dominated by dairy products, soups and pastries. Lekzatrip is one of these soups, a spicy creation that makes use of the often discarded tripe of herd animals. It is also said to be a hangover cure. Byala Salad meanwhile is an example of the region’s greenery, and also features white cheese. Then, there is Sgŭnetorta, a popular pastry that comes in savory or sweet varieties. It is often eaten at special times of the year, with golden charms baked into the dish for people to find and bring out. These include the bull, the swallow, the rod and the dove, each meaning a variety of positive things. It is commonly served with dairy dishes like yogurt. As for drinks, Byalan society makes use of many regional alcohols, brands of beer being the most common.
The Byalans have a special association with horse racing, the practice having a far more ceremonial function for them, being used to represent more than a color or a number, but also ideas of luck and superstition. For example, a horse dressed in green could not just represent a green faction of fans, but also spring, and if it was defeated by a horse in red, representing summer, it might indicate that spring will be shorter this year. Additionally, the dressage of these horses is often well made and of high decorative quality, with plenty of braided knots and tuffs of color. As for other sports, most are external and from other Cultures.
The Byala are a society with diverse ranges of leisure time based on their region and job. However, the most common thing for leisure time is the simple act of taking a walk. People tend to group up and talk when they are doing these activities, and they largely seek out natural spaces in order to better clear one’s mind in the open purity of the wild. This isn’t as common in the mountains, where such walks are a bit dangerous.
The Byala Culture is commonly represented by a strangely abstract symbol, that being a yellow doward facing E, with a set of three lines above it. Some consider this to represent their ancient kingdom and the lavish crown worn by their Vodach, but most believe that it represents the ancient tribe that the Byala originally were, as the symbol has turned up in several burial sites above the entrance, with others having different ones likely representing other groups.
- Byalan military practices were once, ironically, similar to that of the Szabadok as they were horsemen. However, they grew sedentary very rapidly, but the effect of this was that the Dvala now LOATH horses and any military unit who uses them.
- Outsiders often find those trees hung with little cloth dolls to be deeply disturbing and morose. Granted, many Byala do leave the dolls up to slowly rot away and collapse rather than fully removing them from the tree, so some trees can grow a bit eerie.
- The Byala and the Ânia are often seen as dichotomous to each other, one involved deeply in the art of goldsmithing and the other deeply intertwined with the art of silversmithing.