Life in Mannheim presents tremendous dangers, even in the most mundane of professions. Villages in the north do not “dot the countryside”, but rather perch atop defensive locations, their palisades manned at all hours, with every able-bodied man ready to fight at a moment’s notice. If the neighboring villages won’t raid them for their resources, the land itself will pit its hungry children against them.
Resources and safety in the North are so scarce that one’s place in society must be earned as a privilege through skill at arms or hard work. While the old gods are gone and the promise of Valhalla has faded, the harsh realities of Mannheim ensure their paradigms endure. A Nord’s standing in his village is determined by his performance in the Kapp-a-Görask, a trial of passage held in the early Spring. Its significance is such that it can only be officiated by the High Gothi of a region, thus dozens of youths travel each year from their encampments to the ritual grounds outside the largest settlements. What follows are trials of martial skill, endurance and courage, set to separate the weak from the strong.
Those who fail are ritually shorn of their manhood, their hair cut short and condemned to the status of thralls. Bound by lot to proven warriors, thralls are expected to work in their master’s household, thus, in theory at least, warriors are free to devote themselves to the defense of their house and village. Manpower, however, in the north is such a precious resource that a household cannot afford to squander if it is to survive. Master and thrall often work side by side, reaping what meagre spoils they can from the frozen lands and seas of the North.
The only true prospect of advancement for the average Nord is to earn a seat in one of the Raiding vessels. Each year, immediately following the Kapp-a-Görask, hundreds of freemen flock to the southern coastal towns where the longboats dock. Only the hungriest, most driven and powerful of the newly minted warriors undertake this journey, for the price of failure is high. Missing even one season of work in a young household can doom it come the winter, while the lack of a strong arm to protect it makes it easy pray for predators, both human and monstrous.
Among those that do make the trip, only a few are selected to join the raiding parties: when the plan is to sail in enemy waters and land on enemy shores, isolated and cut off from reinforcements, a Captain wants to be surrounded only by the finest, strongest and most dependable. For those, however, that do make the journey and catch the eye of one of the Captains, the sky is the limit.
Given the realities of daily life and danger in Mannheim, ship captains command an incredible amount of respect. While the southern kingdoms might count their power and wealth in terms of land and coin, the Jarls measure power and influence in the number of ships they command. Despite this small distinction, the truth is that, much like in the feudal realms of the south, all power flows from the Kings to the Jarls and thence to the ship Captains.
The wealth that can be earned in a single successful raid far eclipses anything a Nord might hope for while working one’s own lands. If particularly lucky, a Raider could secure enough captives, wealth and booty to truly secure his household and devote himself entirely to the perfection of his martial abilities. In time, armed and armored by the wealth of the southern kingdoms and forged in the heat of battle and ruthless cold of the north, a Raider could hope to ascend to the rank of Huskarl, a dedicated elite warrior bearing arms for his Jarl.