Whereas the Hundred Kingdoms and the City States might claim to be the main bastions of human civilization, one should not assume that this means they are the sole bastions of human might. Far to the north, beyond the monster infested Northern Seas, lies Manheim, home of the Nords. These people have led a savage and relentless war against their southern cousins; it is a war of raids and plunder, a war of countless battles and bloodshed, but above all it is a war of vengeance.
It would be easy to denigrate the Nords as bloodthirsty beast-spawn, no better than the monsters they lead to battle. To do so would belittle the achievement that crossing the White Wastes represents, it would demean the seamanship, courage and fortitude required to circumnavigate the continent and wage war on the far-southern shores.
But above all it would demean the achievement that survival, let alone dominance, in Mannheim represent. [break]Had the gods themselves created a crucible to test mankind, they could not have crafted a worse hell than the icy lands of the northern continent. This adversity has honed the Nords into one of the toughest and most dangerous foes one can encounter on the field of battle.
The first recorded name for this northern continent is Vanirheim. This is a human name paying tribute to the masters of that age, the Vanir. Very little is known of about them and their rule. What little is known is only through a cloud of myth and legend according to which the Vanir were Gods. Once split by internal strife, they united with their cousins, the Aesir, to cast down the dragons, subjugate their servants and rule over man from their seat of power, Yggdrasil, a vast tree that connected the bowels of the earth to the sky above. They were ruled by a god named Odin and bound by fate to die at Ragnarok. In preparation for this final battle, they selected the most courageous and resourceful of the Nord warriors and took them from their tribes at the moment of their death. When it came, the Vanirs’ end, it came in the form of Surtr, a terrible being of light and fire. It had been foretold that Heimdallr, most vigilant of the Vanir, would sound his horn, wake the mortal hosts and herald the beginning of Ragnarok, the twilight of the Vanir.
This never happened.
Loki, the Visionary, the Outcast, the Traitor, struck Heimdallr down before he could marshal the Vanir and their host of warriors, the Einherjar.
Thus, throughout Ragnarok, the Einherjar slumbered in their golden halls. Surtr and his fire giants burned the land, razed Yggdrasil and grew drunk on the blood of gods and men alike before they were cast back at tremendous cost: the power of the Vanir was shattered and the gods themselves were lost.
In the aftermath of this terrible conflict, the Nords watched in terror as the Jotnar, fierce giants, spawn of Thyrm, Firstborn of Ice and Fire, slowly descended into the wasteland that Ragnarok had left behind. They came from their fastness in the icy peaks to punish humanity for the thousands of years of insult and injury they had suffered at the hands of the Vanir. One by one, the Nord settlements fell, as the Fimbulwinter followed the Jotnar, an unending winter on the land. Man suffered and died under Jotnar rule, populations declined precipitously and extinction loomed. The few that survived did so as slaves to the Jotnar, surviving in caves heated by lava flows at the whim and pleasure of their cruel masters.
Salvation, when it arrived, came from a forgotten place. Through accident or quirk of fate (in which the Nords place such weight), the Einherjar awoke decades too late to fight the battle they had been promised. Of the thousands selected throughout the years by the Vanir, only a fraction awoke. The rest passed away in their sleep or else, some claim, slumber still. Instead of waking up to a glorious battle against their eternal foes, they woke to find their gods dead, their lands a frigid wasteland in which humanity survived only at the whim of the Jotnar. This would not stand.
The untrammeled fury of the Einherjar raged across the icy landscape, sweeping the Jotnar and all their works before them in a tidal wave of blood and savagery, the released slaves at their sides.
With the Jotnar defeated the ice slowly receded and humanity established itself again in the north under the watchful eye of the Einherjar. Still mindful of their creators, the Einherjar led the surviving Nords as kings, leaders and seers, denying all claims to divinity, but guiding the Nords once more along the path of the forgotten Vanir, promising that the gods would return. But the gods did not return, and slowly the Einherjar were… lost.
Some simply vanished; others started losing their humanity, devolving into beasts and monsters, often dragging entire tribes in their wake. Others still were lost challenging those of their kin that had fallen. Today only a handful of Einherjar remain active, their names and legends guiding the Nords more actively than they ever did in person.
Through all adversities and challenges, the Nords have adapted, learning to endure their environment and co-exist with their fallen Kin. With their hatred and numbers renewed, they keep their vengeful eyes turned to the soft lands of the south, bent on revenge on the children of Surtr, who stole their destiny and their gods.