While it could be easy to dismiss Nord culture and politics as crude, simple and brutal, any who made that mistake would not survive for long. Brutal, yes. Crude and simple? No.
It is easy to forget that Mannheim has seen the rule of Dragons, the Yggdrasil Spire, the Jotnar and only recently that of man. All of these were cast down in cataclysmic battles, but their remnants still linger, stirring this frigid land. Arrayed against forces both seen and unseen, stand the Nords, led by the Einherjar and a handful of others who know of the ancient nemeses that lurk in the frozen shadows of the north.
Alas, only a handful of Einherjar remain: Angbjorn, the Mountain, ensconced in Aarheim, is doing his best to guide the budding civilization of the Nords away from the many dangers that surround it. Graymane, the Wanderer, remains the first and last line of defense in the frozen north, fighting himself as much as the beasts that prowl the darkness. Hrokki, Deathbringer, remains a recluse who fights as and when he can. Beyond these, only a few more remain who can still communicate with man, let alone care for the fate of man. The rest have been lost; whether to battle like Svarthgalm or to their own bestial natures, it matters little.
Their task would be difficult if conditions were ideal and they are far from such. Nord society, once monolithic in its support of the Einherjar, is riven through with tensions and simmering conflicts. To the south, prosperous raiding Jarls resent the tribute they pay the High King in Aarheim when most of their prizes go to the northern Jarls at the yearly Allmeet. Some return from their raids with massive treasures, the likes of which have not been seen in centuries and they are loath to part with it. Arguments that the northern Jarls have the hardest and least rewarding task of holding back that savage frontier fall upon the deaf ears of their increasingly proud and prosperous southern kin.
This alone would be nothing new. There have ever been tensions among the denizens of Mannheim, fueled by necessity and competition for resources but there are many effective and straightforward ways to settle such differences in Nord traditions. Now these traditions steadily give way to subterfuge and guile, beyond the fields of single combat but leading to the battlefield. Sightings of short and crooked shadows in the halls of many Jarls sow doubt and mistrust among peers with honeyed words and promises of treasure whispered in darkness. Thus emboldened, a few foolish Jarls have pushed things further than ever before. Wielding weapons of unprecedented craftsmanship they have readily shed northern blood in one sided duels that threaten to break out into full-fledged feuds among the Jarls. This would do nothing but weaken Nord society.
Compounding this increasingly tense situation is the growing assertiveness of the Valkyrie Cult. Although they profess a total devotion to the will of the living gods, it is difficult not to notice their views on how matters should be handled are often at odds with those of their chosen divinities, the Einherjar. A cynic would further quickly note that there are far more feasts and ceremonies around those Einherjar who have fallen in battle or devolved into a bestial state than there are with those who can voice an opinion that might disagree with their vision. Angbjorn, never the most cautious or careful of the Einherjar, has already clashed with the priesthood, but lacking their political savvy he has been outwitted and isolated. The Valkyries would rebuke his efforts, recasting themselves as the victims of a cruel campaign of lies and misinformation orchestrated by the shamans to foment bad blood between the Valkyries and their gods.
The resulting repression of the shaman cult has weakened a critical pillar of support and counsel the Einherjar depended on to influence the more independent Jarls. Those now find their new attractive, female advisors, the Volva, irresistible in their council, as they garner power by agreeing with their Jarls’ more ambitious and aggressive tendencies, instead of offering wise counsel.
It would perhaps be natural for such seems to be the nature of man, Nords or otherwise: when prosperity and riches lie before them, tensions invariably rise as competitors clash even in a land as dangerous as Mannheim. The dangers of the land are far from over for the Nords and their division would seem untimely… suspiciously so, in fact. Bad omens increase in the readings of bones, runes and entrails, as the land itself shakes and shivers. Seers speak of giant serpents that stir in their sleep and entire parties of hunters are lost without explanation or trace. The Stalkers speak of unnatural monsters, the spawn of the mad god Lokki, awake once more and sowing chaos without pattern, cohesion or purpose. And when the Stalkers speak, the wise listen, and what they hear speaks of a reawakening in the far, far north.
Still, this is far from a lost fight for the Nords. The Graymane has been seen south of the Long Ice for the first time in centuries. Some even claim to have seen him in Aarheim and speculate he has joined forces with Angbjorn as they had of old. Following their savage cull, the shamans have regrouped. Rumored to be led by Althung, the hoary ancient himself, first of shamans and eldest of the Nords, they have begun exerting their power, reminding the Valkyries, the Nords and their enemies, that these old men still wield real power, and that not all power flows from the edge of the sword…
To the careful observer, it is clear that Mannheim and the Nords are changing, the only question that remains is: how?