|Common Names||Black Terrors, Tarken, Horse Raiders|
|Social Classes||Raiders, Nomads, Herders, Shepards, Mercenaries, Warlords|
The Szabadok are an Ailor cultural oddity, both in their behavior and history. Theirs is a Culture both universally feared and reviled by all other Ailor Cultures as crude and godless horse-born invaders, pillaging and raiding the Regalian Archipelago, in a tradition they call the Igaz Háború, or the War of Justice. Born from the original natives of the easternmost islands off the coast of Etosil, the Szabadok are a small people with a large reputation, and can often be seen in the private armies of numerous southern Regalian nobles. The Szabadok are nomads, raiders, pillagers, and above all else, mercenaries. They value coin highly, and unlike some of the more commonly trusted mercenary bands, are easily swayed. They have no love for their employer when a bigger investor throws more wealth at them. They see pillaging the world as their way to right the wrongs done to them by other Cultures over the centuries. In the present day, the Szabadok live in an uneasy peace with the Empire as a foreign yet semi-citizen, integrated into the Empire yet still very staunchly independent, and treated as outsiders by virtually everyone.
Little is known of the Szabadok’s early history, and it could even be said that their original Culture had nearly been completely wiped out. The Szabadok descend from the natives that lived on eastern islands off the coastline of Etosil, predating the Daendroque and Regalian penal colonists. Their exact role in Etosian history is often one of a footnote. Occasionally, a warband or city-state militia would invade their lands and steal their wealth and food, and they would sometimes retaliate by attacking mainland settlements. They never were a very warlike people, but that changed when the Regalian Empire attacked Etosil. Because of their relatively backward and tribalistic existence back then, the Empire saw no real value in them and utterly repressed their presence and their Culture. The blockade of Etosil heavily focused around their islands as an even worse location that deserved isolation. Even the Etosian Patriarch saw these pagans as foreign invaders, even though they were arguably natives of Etosil from long before the First Schism and the arrival of other foreigners.
The Szabadok started rapidly militarizing as a response to the increased repression from the Regalians. It was also, ironically, the Regalians who introduced horses to the Etosian islands that the Szabadok called home, which in turn helped to foster the connection between the Szabadok and their steeds. It turned out that the fertile, windy plains of the eastern islands were very suitable for horse breeding in Etosil. Furthermore, no Undead were present on the eastern islands, which is why the Szabadok could develop in relative (yet repressed) peace for the next several decades. Military resistance only truly occured around 250 and 260 AC, during which Regalia was just barely able to suppress the uprisings by returning to a blockade of the islands (Etosil’s blockade having ended decades prior). It was here that the Szabadok realized their main weakness: their inability to maneuver to different lands or support their supply lines with proper logistics. What happened next is astonishing and greatly confusing to many, as somehow, thousands of Szabadok, their horses, and their families made their way to southeastern regions of the Regalian Archipelago without ever being detected by the Regalian Navy. Some of the Szabadok people say that it was a divine intervention, but because of their religious freedoms it is hard to track which deity was supposedly responsible for the move. A more likely explanation is bribery of Regalian officials, as the Regalian Pessimism was beginning at this time and the corruption of the government was already weakening the Empire.
Thus beginning around 260 AC, the Szabadok invaded the territories of The South Dukelands and The Hellatian States, originally inhabited by smaller Alt-Regalian lords who maintained relative autonomy from the capital of the ancient Wirtemcaller Kingdom, but were now inhabited by Vladno, Etosians, Anglians, New Regalians and several other Cultures in a polyglot immigration region. This invasion occurred during the Regalian Pessimism, an era of unprecedented Regalian lethargy and military weakness, and so the wider Regalian Empire was largely unaware of events in the region until much later. The Szabadok immediately set to work pillaging and slaughtering the local population, moving their nomadic horde around the countryside and burning down town after town. The region lacked any form of co-ordinated army, and even the ancient fortresses of the old Wirtemcaller Kingdom could not withstand a Szabadok siege (which was, despite their lack of siege engines, quite efficient). Additionally, their horse archery was unmatched by other Ailor archers at the time, and even Calemberg Uhlans had trouble facing the horsemen in the field. All of this led to the rise of the Byalan Culture and its leadership, the Balaur family. At this time, their border barony in Rumvalia had been the only one to withstand the Szabadok hordes, though exactly why would only be revealed with time.
Ultimately, thanks to their leadership, the effectiveness of the Szabadok was blunted in Rumvalia, and the horse raiders turned elsewhere, away from their eastern and southern borders to instead raid other lands. They were not fully stopped for another decade, and when salvation did come, it was at the hands of Emperor Justinian II. He decreed in 283 that the raiding should stop after Etosian immigrants called for aid from the monarch, but also called by the Szabadok, desperate for peace. While the Szabadok had no love for the Etosians, they considered them a sort of brother-race oppressed by Regalians and thus chose to be more peaceful towards them (though attacks still occurred). The Szabadok then sent emissaries to the Emperor with no real actual intention to make peace, being originally sent to just insult the Emperor and challenge his army in the open field. Upon their arrival though, they were surprised by the Emperor’s charm offensive and his generous terms. Thus, the open war between the Empire and the Szabadok people ended in 284 AC with the signing of the Southland Treaty, which informally made the Szabadok part of the Empire, but allowed them to remain quasi-autonomous within its borders. Since that time, the Szbadok have remained in the Regalian Archipelago, and over the last two decades more and more of their kind have left the eastern isles of Etosil for the Archipelago, and it is suspected that by 330 AC no Szabadok will be left in Etosil.
Language and Dialects
The Szabadok speak a language called Réginyelv translated as “Old Language” in their tongue. It is generally assumed that this language predated the actual formation of the Szabadok people because of how alien it sounds in comparison to all other Ailor Languages. How this language managed to develop independently from all other Ailor Languages is unknown, but scholars who have attempted to learn the Language and compare it to earlier phases have concluded that, as time goes by, the Language will continue to diverge further away from the ancestral Ceardian forms. The Szabadok are not a very varied people. All of them belong to the same city-state, and as such there are no dialects within their people. It is estimated that in total no more than 220,000 Szabadok exist in The South Dukelands, but no official census has ever been made to clarify this number.
The Szabadok have a habit of adopting names from foreign Cultures and making them their own. For example, the foreign name Susan becomes Zsuska while Agatha becomes Agotha. Some names like Albert or Alexa can be translated immediately without any alterations, but old names like Andor, Bodi, Boldizsar, Béla, Ibolya or Marton also exist. As for surnames, generally the Szabadok don’t use them. The Szabadok sees themselves as all belonging to the same “family” (which is in practice more like a city-state nation), but individual families are usually divided between specific Lords. These Lords then represent themselves through the use of banners, which make us of specific animals like a horse or a falcon or a snake. As a result, a man named Tabor belonging to the Banner of the Snake might as such be called Tabor A Kígyófi. Hundreds of such groups exist, ranging from five individuals all the way up to three hundred. They usually have their own inherited traditions and history recorded on their banner tapestry, but also through orature. Additionally, Szabadok raiding parties are not called an army, a warband or even a banner, but a Stampede. As such, when a Szabadok attack is imminent, guards usually alert with frantic calls of “A Raiding Stampede is coming!”.
Szabadok law is unsurprisingly nonexistent. They maintain a basic principle of “an eye for an eye” when it concerns theft or murder, but there are no real laws in their lands. Every one of the Szabadok feels a common goal and purpose, and there is as such also very little crime amongst them. Disputes are resolved in drunken brawls or on the field of battle. The Szabadok do however have an unusual set of laws that only apply to them in the Regalian Empire, called the Southland Laws. The Southland Laws dictate a number of rights that are very special and important to the Szabadok:
- The Szabadok people are not ever allowed to wear platemail armor, but are at all times permitted to wear a chainmail surcoat that extends to the elbows and down to the knees. When the Szabadok wear a chainmail surcoat, they must wear the band of the horse (a beige/yellow cloth band with the symbol of a horse in brown on it) on their right arm.
- The Szabadok are exempt from any laws dealing with identity obfuscation as long as they wear their traditional face masks. Traditional face masks are always unique, as they are a recreation of their own facial features in metal. While wearing such a mask, the Szabadok may not be arrested for concealing their identity or told to remove their face mask.
- The Szabadok are allowed full religious freedom, so long as they never speak of their religion to anyone but their own, in private, and without the presence of any non-Szabadok individuals. The Szabadok may even profess to faiths that are barred as heresy by the Regalian Empire. The sole exception to this rule is Void Worship, the followers of which the Szabadok must deliver to the Inquisition if discovered amongst their brethren.
- The Szabadok may freely invest themselves as mercenaries or guards of other noble houses and their behavior will not befall their own responsibility. The pillaging, ravaging and destruction of property performed by the Szabadok always defaults to their liege, as long as they have a liege. If a liege wishes to expel the Szabadok, their yurt-camp must be disassembled and expelled from their lands. Szabadok are registered as belonging to a particular noble while their yurts are placed within the confines of this noble’s sovereign fief. (‘’’OOC Note:’’’ this cannot apply to NPC lords, and must only ever apply to a PC lord acknowledging the presence of a Szabadok host in their land)
Lifestyle and Customs
The Szabadok are known for having extended families, sometimes including multiple wives (though this is not always guaranteed). The Szabadok often capture women from villages and towns that they raid for personal gratification, however only half the women seized from other areas end up becoming full and proper wives. The other half instead become household slaves. Despite their rather ravenous behavior towards non-Szabadok populations, the Szabadok are exceptionally well-spoken and well-meaning to any slaves or captured subjects. Often it is the women they have been stolen from their homelands that eventually fall in love with their masculine and kind captors. This is due as much to resignation that they will likely not ever escape as much as it is accepting that that their situation could be far worse. Also the Szabadok are not known to be kind to disobedient wives or slaves. As for wider aspects of the family, Szabadok are said to be put on a horse at the age of two to familiarize themselves with it. Any child that shows excessive fear of horses is left to sleep with the horses to conquer it, or ousted from the family as a failure. Childhood among the Szabadok is hard, and this often leads to strong (albeit sometimes cruel) members of their society rising up.
The Szabadok have a strict gender separation policy which observes the age-old tradition of male warriors and female house-tenders. However, women are sometimes conscripted in the army when they have no children to take care of, or if the Szabadok feel the need for more arrows to darken the skies. Szabadok women are just as excellent archers as the men because they so frequently train alongside their men in both horse riding and archery, given that it is believed that it is a woman’s role to instruct. In fact, women are almost exclusively the trainers and teachers of the Szabadok people, even for the craft of combat and swordsmanship, though the Szabadok generally perceive the activities of a docile stay at home husband to be disgraceful and weak. As a result, men instead take on their own activities such as private training and hunting away from the camps, where the women are instructing.
The Szabadok are a Culture that is surprisingly acceptant of other Races (within limits) and of child-theft, as long as it occurs within the boundaries of their own Culture. A Szabadok may for example encounter a brave or strong child during a raid and choose to “adopt” the child into their family unit to raise them as a Szabadok, even if they have no blood ties to them, as long as they are young enough. This occurs sometimes even with non-Ailor like Half-Orcs or Avanthar, though far less with the frailer races like Cielothar and Isldar, and practically not at all with the Allar and Maraya. Szabadok have a very loose and pragmatic view of parenthood, believing that those who raise a child are its parents, not those who simply give birth to them. This also means that Szabadok never lack a parent. Orphaned children of Szabadok parents are adopted by other families, and widows of fallen warriors often marry into existing families (even if the mother is not in love with the man and never shares a bed with him) just to give the children a father figure. These parental pragmatic sham marriages are far more common than one might think, purely because battlefield casualties are fairly common among the Szabadok. That being said, divorce is also very well regulated an easily achieved in a marriage, so marital problems are practically nonexistent among their people.
The Szabadok don’t have a formal Religion. Whatever Religion the natives of eastern Etosil had died out a long time ago. As such, nearly half the Szabadok are Etosian Unionists, but the religious divisions among their people are more pronounced than in any other Race or Culture. This is because the Szabadok practice true and absolute religious freedom. Within their Culture and in their city state, any and all religions are allowed (as long as they respect the Southland Laws), and every Szabadok is allowed to follow whatever faith they like. This sometimes results in sons and daughters having different religions than even their parents who might themselves have different religions from one another. This religious indifference is largely based on the Szabadok view of spirituality, where they see religion not as one truthful absolute, but more like a variety of the same principle applied to the Spiritual needs of the individual.
Literature and Folklore
The Szabadok are a people of a simple mindset. They believe that all who are weak deserve to perish and those that are strong deserve to survive and thrive through the taking of things being misused by the weak for themselves. However, the Szabadok are commonly of the opinion that weakness can make strength, hence the existence of strong children, women, and individual men among the people that they raid. When such people are encountered, they should ideally be taken in order to be used by the Szabadok who have a greater right to them. This simple core tenant of Szabadok thinking is essentially the only one, as their society lacks scholars, philosophers, and those of great thinking ability who might expand such a concept. Additionally, the concept has worked so well for so long, that changes to it, be the additions or contradictions, are unheard of if not harshly punished.
While many outsiders would suspect the Szabadok do not have art, this is quite the opposite as the Szabadok are some of the world’s most renowned armor decorators. A Szabadok warrior will often go through life owning a very small number of armor sets, and will take great care of any individual set for several years. Special craftsmen among them use carving and smithing techniques to embellish and engrave beautiful shapes and decorations onto their helmets. Szabadok helmets are especially famous because of their unique design. While most Regalian helmets are purely functional, Szabadok helmets are designed to be a metalic representation of the wearer. No Szabadok will ever wear the helmet of another because they are always designed to fit their face in a snug manner, while also being a hyper realistic representation of what their face actually looks like, including facial hair, which is very important to the Szabadok. Another art they engage in is wool braiding, where they use threads of colored goat wool to produce colorful strings of thick braids that are spun around their house yurts and used during decorative marches on their animals. Inside of their yurts, the Szabadok use woven mats and carpets usually depicting horses or symbols of their faith, the cloth of which itself is often richly embroidered.
Szabadok music is almost exclusively vocal and drums. They use drums only to provide the very basest of rhythm and prefer to use their own voices to produce music. The women sing with a loud voice that fluctuates rapidly between tones in a manner often described as “funerary wailing” by outsiders. The men use a guttural, dual-tonal method of throat singing or chanting in rhythm with the drums, usually singing praises of battle and the strength and beauty of their animals. The Szabadok armies and warriors frequently howl or chant battle cries in their dual-tone throat singing, which in itself is a method of intimidation during battle. These voices are described as demonic and evil by those unused to them, and can sometimes be considered an acquired taste by those who have grown an appreciation for the unique sound.
Szabadok clothing, bar the use of chainmail and their face-mask helmet, is simple yet colorful. Their women in particular wear colored layered dresses and braid their dark hair with vibrant ribbons. Their dressing style is often described as modest, as any part that isn’t their neck is covered in cloth - even their hands which are covered with gloves - and sometimes even their neck with a fur lining. Their head is sometimes also covered with a triangular shaped hat, which angles up from the front and accentuates a bun-wrapping of hair in the back at a higher level. Men usually wear very simple pants with a knee-low skirt. Their wrists are bound with a leather strip, while the whole ensemble is kept in place with a leather belt. Their boots are usually of either sheep skin or cow leather, but they are always designed to curl upwards and inwards to a point at the front and sometimes even a bell at the end. Additionally, Etosian fashion is not uncommon among the Szabadok. However, the idea of being able to swap from leisurely clothing to one’s armor very quickly is a must for the Szabadok, which explains their simplistic clothing.
In terms of personal grooming, the Szabadok women usually either tie up their hair in symmetrical side-braids that flows down their shoulders, or knot up their hair in the back with pins. The female hairstyles are notably less complicated and elaborate than the men, which is why Szabadok men sometimes get accused of being vain or too self-styled. Szabadok facial hair, in particular, follows strict rules observed by nearly all members of their culture. Most Szabadok have skin tones ranging from light to tanned. Their hair tones are darker, where black is very common though dark brown is also present. All Szabadok without exception have a mighty moustache, though this is still often much thinner and wider than the more common New Regalian thick variety. Szabadok men believe that a moustache is the sign of Szabadok manhood and that a moustache at least as wide as their face must always be present. It is sometimes styled up with goat fat to stay in style. Beards are also well groomed, but not always present. Their beards tend to be more curly and unruly, but become long and almost oval shaped when neatly trimmed.
Szabadok architecture is practically nonexistent. Even their capital of Szülőföld is only a massive tent-city with numerous yurts surrounding a great, ever-bustling market at the center. The Szabadok do, however, produce practical and surprisingly beautiful yurt tents in which they live, with pale beige if not entirely white outsides enhanced with colorful sewing on their fringes. These tents are often no larger than 30 by 30 feet, or even smaller ones are confined to 20 by 20 feet. Whole families reside inside these tents which are covered in well woven cloth, supported with animal furs for additional leathered protection against the weather. A hole is present at the top of the tent which acts both as ventilation and a port allowing cooking fumes to escape. Yurts can be broken down in nearly a day, allowing a Szabadok settlement to displace itself in a matter of days instead of years.
The Szabadok diet almost solely consists of cattle meat and goat milk-based products, from beef to goat cheese. Perhaps strangely, grass is also frequently used in their dishes as even though they cannot digest grass, they still love the taste. It is also thought to be a ritual helping to unite a Szabadok better with his or her mount. Despite their lacking food palette, Szabadok are known for one drink, Kumisz. It is an alcoholic drink made from mare’s milk, defying all other known alcohol as a result of this unique origin, and is a prized substance among the Szabadok. It is most routinely drunk after successful raids or general celebrations.
Szabadok sports are almost entirely horse related, as one would expect. The most common form of Szabadok sport is the Kecskefuttatás where a freshly severed goat’s head is used as a ball. The sport can be compared to polo, where men hit a ball with an elongated hammer, but instead of an elongated hammer the Szabadok capture the goat’s head with a large hook that is attached to their arm. The point is then to capture said goat’s head by taking it all the way to a pole with colorful ribbons that flutter in the wind. The first person to hit the pole with the goat’s head wins the game. This game is often described as very violent, because there are no clear rules bar from not murdering one’s opponent. Horse killing is very frequent with the sharp hooks, and many riders fall from their horses and break multiple bones. These games are chaotic, and often feature dozens of riders chasing after a single goat’s head. Other sports include horse riding, racing, horse archery, standing archery, fire dancing (a dance including a fire-lit hay bale in the shape of a circle) and, surprisingly, swimming. The Szabadok are generally very fit individuals because most of their lives involve heavy physical activities, though many also suffer from arthritis or bad hips due to a lifetime spent on horseback.
Szabadok are major consumers of Opium and it is often said that the Szabadok will be the last bastion of Anahera Opium sales to fall should Opium ever be outlawed. Many of their tents reek of the smells of opiates that are traded into their markets en-masse by outsiders. This trade exists not only because of the Szabadok's love for opiates, but also as a calculated move by outsiders to essentially pacify the Szabadok population by enslaving them to the numbing opium. After all, a Szabadok who is flat on his back and completely drugged is incapable of burning the neighboring village down to the ground and slaughtering the peasants. Opium usage has become so consistent among the Szabadok that it could almost be said that their culture is one of substance abuse, and drug addiction is a serious problem among even their elite and upper class. Other forms of leisure are usually always horse related, ranging from horse hair braiding to horse beauty competitions. A surprising leisurely pastime of the war-loving Szabadok is collecting flowers and composing bouquets or flower displays. These flower displays have strict cultural and sometimes even spiritual rules regarding their composition and color usage. Because of the prevalence of even men searching for rare flowers to compose bouquets of, it is said that the Szabadok are the single largest flower-consuming Ailor culture, using all these flowers to shower their loved ones with artistic representations built of flowers plucked from nature.
The Szabadok are best represented in the minds of many by the horse, since it is their mount of choice and an extensive part of their society. Additionally, the ornate and styled facemasks of their helmets is also well known. The diversity of the Culture, both in Race and Religion, has rendered most other symbols of their society highly local, as in the areas they raid or live around, the banners individual Stampedes bear are seen as synonymous with all Szabadok.
- Szabadok archers are usually considered the polar opposites of Anglian Longbowmen. The Szabadok shoot fast, using massive low-precision volleys. The rivalry between Anglian Longbowmen and Szabadok horse archers is ever present on the battlefield, where both sides keep tallies of kill-count.