The mountainous territory of Vardanit occupies the stretch of land connecting the northwestern peninsula of the Sunrise Lands to the rest of the continent, cutting off the outcropping to the west of the mountain range which provides the shortest journey across the Middling Sea.  However, most who can afford to choose to embark from the bay to the south instead, given the harsh nature of the Vardan climate and terrain.  Only one road is maintained through the Vardanit, and travelers from outside are generally advised to keep within its borders for their own safety.

Vardanit and neighboring Carmadh

Vardanit and neighboring Carmadh

The most easily ascertained features of Vardan culture include the production of beautifully worked silver and velvet products and a rich collective repository of epics, poetry, and songs.  Vardan food centers on goat or lamb stew, usually roasted and served over rice or large square-shaped flatbread with boiled eggs.  Almost all Vardan men perpetually chew the leaves of the garn plant, which seem to work as a mild intoxicant.  Vardans have a reputation among those who visit them for long-windedness and involved, perhaps even misleading, speech, but this impression can be attributed somewhat to the Vardan diglossia.  As a mark of respect and honor, Vardans will usually only address outside visitors in the higher register of their language, reserved otherwise for educational and religious arenas and more closely related to Thuva-Tha, the elder tongue.  Thus, knowledge of the everyday, lower register of the Vardan language is limited to the Vardan themselves and those few determined traders who have spent decades trekking through the mountain passes of Vardanit.

The Vardan themselves are highly hospitable but maintain strict privacy about certain aspects of their culture, especially those pertaining to religion.  Rumors abound among neighboring peoples about their practices, including that they worship either demons or fire, and perhaps also incorporate cannibalism into their rituals.  The only one among these wild tales to be corroborated is the report that some groups among the Vardan historically view handling fire or burning brands as a mark of holiness, although no outsider has observed this practice for some fifty years.  During the brief Carmadhi occupation of the southern reaches of Vardanit, Carmadh military conducted brutal raids on Vardan settlements with objection to the fire-handling ceremonies as a pretext, driving the practice underground if it continues at all.  Since the end of the Carmadh occupation, the Vardan have continued in the principle of dapet, or necessary concealment, which allows them to lie without moral consequences if directly asked about inner tenets or practices of their religion.  Thus, any information gleaned about them since the Carmadh occupation must be regarded with some suspicion.

It is known for sure, however, that the Vardan worldview prizes balance.  Part of this emphasis on balance involves a belief in reincarnation, which among other factors leads to a great affection for infants and children in Vardanit.  Since any new-born Vardan may in fact contain the soul of a recently-deceased loved one, children are highly favored and often seem spoiled to outside visitors.  Through a series of rituals and tests, religious practioners among the Vardan are sometimes able to determine the previous identity of a newborn.

The other reason for this devotion to the young is a marked lack of fertility among Vardan men.  (Some outside researchers have posited that the garn plant which plays such a central role in male Vardan social life may have cumulative contraceptive qualities, but not enough studies have been conducted to prove conclusive.)  Vardan society, then, is monogamous in structure, reflecting the cosmological concern with balance, but male outside visitors are regularly boarded alone in the room of a daughter or young wife.  Like lying under the auspices of dapet, intercourse under such circumstances carries no moral consequences for the family or the traveler, but instead is officially viewed as a contribution to the continuation of the entire people.  (Some reports have emerged, however, of altercations between husbands and such visitors should anything but discretion be exercised afterward.)  Vardan society is therefore matrilineal, tracing family lines and religious belonging along the only path that can be determined for certain, and outside males are sometimes “localized” through marriage with Vardan women, though the opposite is never true.

The Vardan, living as they do in isolated settlements carved from (and sometimes into) the stone of their mountains, tend to be self-sufficient and have little use for centralized authority, traits which contributed to their intransigence and repression under the Carmadhi occupation.  They have historically offered refuge to exiles or refugees from other realms.  Vardanit does, however, contain one single leader in the person of the Danthag, literally the “people’s best.”  The Danthag is believed to be the one Vardan in each generation capable of containing two reincarnated souls, specifically those of the first mother and father of the Vardan, and so symbolically serves as both to the entire people, never expressing one gender to the exclusion of the other.  In a furtherance of the Vardan concern with balance, the Danthag lives within a large cavern in what Vardan believe to be the exact middle of their realm, thus forming the physical, religious, and political “center.”  In practice, however, the Danthag’s power lies more in the realms of ritual and, in extreme cases, conflict resolution, with local governance performed within smaller areas by a yazdan, or “least person,” whose rhetoric is traditionally constrained by an extreme modesty but who nonetheless exercises near total control within their domain.