Norhelm’s history is the bloodiest of all other nations on the continent. It is a mountainous and cold country which borders the forbidding Northern Wastes and the monstrous kingdom of Urdnar, which has been its constant adversary since the Sundering and likely before. Due to its violence, relative remoteness, and difficult terrain, it is one of the most poorly documented human nations.
Norhelm’s early history largely consists of warfare between the thanes that carved up its territory. The use of the term ‘Norhelm’ to refer to the area as a common identity was not found until the mid second century. Each thane was responsible for the defense of his own lands though thanes sometimes formed temporary alliances to fight off incursions from Urdnar. The Wastes posed a constant threat; the demi-humans were always seeking new plunder as well as slave labor and most peasants learned to wield spear or axe in self-defense. Many farmholds were fortified against attack, a fact which made unification even more difficult as the country became marked by a long series of miniature forts.
The first glimmers of unification came in 143 A.B. when a group of thanes from the northern reaches of the country agreed on a common system of border guards and towers, as well as to aid each other in the event of any major incursions. The pact was tested in 152 when a major assault was launched from the Wastes. The border guards were quickly overrun and the monsters progressed deeper into Norhelm’s heart. True to their word, the thanes of the north organized an army and marched south, where they gained additional forces from the southern lords. In the summer of 153, the army decisively defeated Urdnar at Jarund. However, the alliance quickly fell apart; the thanes had never agreed on a common leader and with the threat removed, old feuds returned.
After its defeat, Urdnar fell into an ominous quiet that was to last until the mid 200s when the raids resumed, more fiercely than ever. The country also suffered the effects of the Winter Wars, a conflict between the followers of Reimar, Adail, and Findgard. By the conclusion of the wars in 287, the northern thanes had become concerned at signs of increased organization from the usually leaderless monsters but found their southern brethren to be unresponsive to their warnings. This changed in 292 when an organized army of 15,000 emerged from the Wastes and cut deeply into Norhelm, swatting aside the forces of the individual thanes. They besieged and took the castle of Klaring in the country’s heart. Finally, a council was summoned near the Lefland border. At the Council of Eskil, the thanes begrudingly elected Wodan as their leader.
Wodan immediately set about forming the largest army that he could. He clashed with Urdnar in the summers of 294-296, finally ejecting them from Klaring in 297. Wodan was hailed as a hero as the demi-humans retreated into the Wastes in 298 and his army largely disbanded. Their celebrations were proven premature in 300. A new army of 25,000 emerged from the Wastes with equipment beyond what the monsters usually carried; iron weapons and shields, longbows, and even battalions of goblins mounted on the Wastes’ large native wolves, vargs. Wodan summoned the army again and engaged Urdnar at the Battle of Vilgot in 301. It was an unmitigated disaster. The horses panicked at the smell of the wolves and bolted back into Norhelm’s lines and the men lost their nerve. Wodan was killed and most of his army was destroyed. Unchallenged, Urdnar took the center of the country.
After Wodan’s death, his son Deodor claimed leadership of the thanes despite the fact that the council at Eskil had never agreed that the title would be hereditary. Furthermore, he declared that he was more than simply a first among thanes, but the King of Norhelm. So many thanes had been killed at Vilgot that there were few to challenge his assertions, but Deodor was a king without an army. He withdrew to the west and appealed to Cadria and Lefland for aid. Cadria was in the midst of its own unification wars and did not respond; Lefland organized and equipped brigades of volunteers which it sent back across the border, but it was simultaneously being overwhelmed with refugees fleeing eastern Norhelm. Against this backdrop, Urdnar’s forces were inflicting untold suffering on the occupied lands.
Deodor established a base and began training all comers; Norhelmian farmers, Termecian mercenaries and Cadrian miners while the Lefland volunteers held the eastern reaches. In 303, an elderly wizard named Soran appeared at Deodor’s court to offer his services against the demi-humans; a penance, he said, for a lifetime of using his magic to fulfill his own desires. Emboldened, Deodor devised a plan to link up with the Lefland volunteers at the site of his father’s victory at Klaring, then find and destroy Urdnar’s main army. In 305, Deodor did so at the Battle of Skalvor.
Urdnar retreated as Deodor tightened his grip as the first King of Norhelm. The thanes were made to swear loyalty to him and Deodor began to appoint a royal administration. However, Deodor and his successors proved to be better warriors than administrators. For the next 200 years, Norhelm entered a cycle of incompetent rulership, rebellion, and victorious royal forces. In 366, King Holvast attempted a disastrous, unprovoked attack on the dwarven fortress of Bertok, believing the dwarves to be hiding riches. He was quickly crushed. The nation’s resources were largely squandered in this cycle and national development stagnated, but with Urdnar quiet after its defeat and the royal family flagging, the thanes were contentious.
The country re-united when Cadria attacked in 512 to try to seize control of the iron mines in the foothills that divided the countries, but Norhelm met limited success in counteracting the Cadrian heavy cavalry. The new threat did however help the royal family assert its power. Matters improved in 555 with the ascension of King Skade to the throne. Schooled in Cadria, Skade was a gifted administrator and set into motion a vast slate of reforms that touched on almost every aspect of government; tax collection, food distribution, the army, customs, and trade. He built the first true trade port in the country on the southern coast and weakened the thanes by requiring that they provide additional resources for an enlarged royal army while simultaneously limiting how many men they could keep in arms. A string of castles were built on the western border with Cadria with help from engineers from Ravenna.
Skade died childless, launching a 100 year civil war which only ended when a thane named Linus eliminated enough of his rivals to secure the throne in 683. However, many of Skade’s reforms had been wasted and Norhelm was to spend another two hundred years stagnating, losing territory in small wars with Cadria and dealing with a newly awakened Urdnar.
In 843, the king died and left a single heir, the eleven-year-old Siggard. When the steward came to inform Siggard of his father’s death, he also brought a dagger to claim the throne himself. Siggard slew him with it. When he summoned another councilor to dispose of the body, he also pulled a dagger and Siggard killed him as well. At his coronation two months later, Siggard was brought news that Empress Lilith of Cadria had launched an attack on Norhelm’s few remaining iron mines in the western frontier. Siggard immediately gathered what forces were available in Ornulf and marched west, where he caught the Cadrians in a snowy mountain pass and destroyed them. He then pushed farther west, re-conquering territory that Cadria had taken over the past two hundred years and cutting off their access to the region’s iron.
This was only the beginning of Siggard’s career. Over the next thirty years, Siggard was to become a living legend known as the Ice King for his ruthless nature. He brought a unity to the country that had not been seen since King Skade’s days by destroying thanes who opposed him. He defeated Cadria two more times, putting the heads of their soldiers on pikes which he arranged across the western border. In 855, he secured an informal agreement with the mountain druids to aid the country if it were attacked by Urdnar, reviving a relationship that had died with Deodor in the 300s. Twice he has struck into Urdnar, both times surprising and dispersing major encampments.
Siggard has also accumulated a diverse group around him during his exploits, which often aid him in running the kingdom; a dwarven priest, a cleric of Adail, a Ravennan rogue, a gnomish scholar, and a Termecian rumored to be a sorceror. With their aid, Siggard has revived many of Skane’s reforms and turned Norhelm into a stronger nation than it ever has been. Recently, however, disturbing reports about heightened organization have been coming out of Urdnar, and Siggard has been increasingly focusing his attentions on his northern border.
Norhelm’s economy is largely underdeveloped, but is better in its southern reaches. It lost most of its iron mines to Cadria but regained them under Siggard, though exports still lag as infrastructure is rebuilt. Timber is its largest export, followed by fish and agricultural resources. Most goods are taken overland through Termecia or through its sole trade port, Riulf.
Norhelmians tend to be short and fair-haired and fair-skinned. 6’ would be considered very tall for a man; 5’6” is a more average height. They are thickly built. Due to Norhelm’s cold, many dress in layers. Wolf skins are worn as a mark of courage and skill.
Government and Relations
Norhelm is a monarchy. Its current King is Siggard of House Yngvar, also known as the Ice King. Much of the day to day work is handled by his eclectic circle of confidants, though Siggard’s mistrustful nature ensures that he remains involved with the administration. Its symbol is an X, arranged diagonally within a circle, red on a field of white. Its capital is Ornulf.
Norhelm has strong relations with Lefland, which often organizes bands of volunteers to fight against Urdnar and sometimes aids the monarchy with money and equipment.
Its relations with Cadria are always in a state of near-warfare, if not outright warfare. Despite the distance, it maintains an embassy with Ravenna as the two countries are bound by their mutual hatred of Cadria.
Due to Termecia’s divided nature, Norhelm has ill-defined relations with it. It has never had the resources to be involved in Termecia and no Termecian state has interfered with it, and so the relations are ones of mutual ambivalence. Siggard has, however, established an embassy with High King Tiriol in Icenas.
Combat and Military
Norhelm soldiers prefer to fight on foot, but they have been forced to adopt cavalry in the wake of their wars with the cavalry-heavy Cadrians. They generally employ spears with they throw against enemy knights to try to break their charges. Infantry generally wear chain mail or heavier armor and wield swords or axes, two-handed or with a shield. Archery is underdeveloped; Ravenna tried to supply Norhelm with crossbows but Norhelm found them unreliable in the winter cold. Short bows have found better traction.
There is a royal army, but the King can also summon troops from his thanes.