A Typical Karslish Noble with His Servant
King Dwarde II Walks Among his People
The current king, Dwarde II - also known as Dwarde the Hideous - is an especially deformed member of a long line of misshapen hunchbacks. It is generally agreed that he is the most incompetent king in the history of the isles, worse even than Ethelray the Bungler. Peasant revolts have been common during his reign, and the nobility have taken to slaughtering each other as the lack of central authority has caused old grudges - some stretching all the way back to the chiefdoms - to resurface.
Within his palace, Dwarde the Hideous attempts to maintain an heir of omnipotence. He has resurrected an old pagan custom that horrifies even the most sycophantic of his courtiers: all who wish to pay homage to the king must suckle his nipples. He particularly enjoys making nobles wait in line for this "honor."
Oddly, there currently exists no plan to usurp the throne. Dwarde's incompetence has given the nobles free reign to pursue their vendettas, and a new king would only be more competent. Because of this, the nobles of Kars have allowed themselves to be humiliated in the kings court in Nindol, knowing that they are the ones who hold true power in the kingdom.
A Joust at the Great Nindol Tourney
During the few hours in which Karslish nobles are not killing each other, they spend their time coming up with increasingly bizarre amusements. The diversion with which they are most enamored is, unsurprisingly enough, the tourney. The most famous tourneys are those held in Averoigne; however, the popularity of tourneys on the Karslish Isles rivals or perhaps even surpasses that of the continent.
The greatest tourney in the land is the annual one held at the end of Spring in Nindol. On this one day, Kaslish nobles eschew their personal heraldry and all don finery of the deepest red. This is because the Nindol joust is done to the death, and it is not uncommon for blood to spray out onto the crowd. In order to avoid the complete decimation of the chivalry of Kars, the Great Tourney of Nindol is actually a series of independent jousts. Each knight will only compete in one event, but the purses for these are incredibly large.
n recent years, a few young knights have begun to buck tradition and wear white during their jousts. If they live, they will wear their blood soaked garments to many a social occasions so that they may tell stories of their victory. This is considered gauche by most knights, but it is the ladies these jousters seek to impress.
The Burning of the Imbeciles
Another annual event that delights the nobility is the Feast of St. Ralph the Liar. His feast day is of course celebrated in all lands that have seen the Light of Law, but no other kingdom enjoys it so thoroughly. Since the time of Rutha IV - known as Rutha the Impotent - the feast has been ended with an event known as the Burning of the Imbeciles. Village idiots are rounded up from all around Kars and brought to various courts preparing for the feast. They are then dressed as various exotics - cynocephali has been the most popular in recent years - and allowed to dance around the dining hall. When the dinner is just about to end, the idiots are corralled into the center of the room and lit aflame, much to the delight of all present.*
The other men of the West view the Burning of the Imbeciles as an act of barbarism. An Averois scholar studying the phenomenon concluded that it must have begun with a terrible accident and then have continued due to the mixture of amusement and superstition that surrounds it. Karslish nobles believe that if the imbeciles are not burned for the feast, a bevy of unlucky things might transpire. One year, the king decided to forgo the burning and skip straight to the after-diner cake. He found it to be so dry that he gave it to his dogs, and ever since the imbeciles have been burnt at the proper time.
The High Pontiff has forbade both tourneys and the Burning of the Imbeciles, believing both are pagan rituals in disguise. This has had little effect on the religious climate of Kars, as both the Archbishop of Tenkerbury and the priests of Bury St. Ralphs fully support these events. It is perhaps no accident that they also make quite a bit of money off of them.
The Northern Isles are home to a different sort of noble. While some of the younger generation attempt to imitate the courtiers of Nindol, most cleave to their old way of life. They are nominally loyal to both the king and to the God of Law, but little has changed since the days before Rutha the Unconquered. Warriors raid each other's cattle, and village priests perform rites once reserved for pagan druids.
A Pit Fight on One of the Northern Isles
In the North, both nobles and peasants alike enjoy watching pit-fighting. These fights to the death are believed to be the origin for the Grand Tourney of Nindol; however, they never take the form of jousts. Instead two men fight in a muddy pit, either with hand weapons or their bare fists. In either case, the winner is the one that walks away.
Competitors are typically captives from nearby settlements who have chosen this over more conventional forms of slavery. On rare occasions, nobles or even chieftains will deign to fight, though they usually only do so if their opponent is also a noble. This is sometimes used as a way to settle disputes, though it is comparatively rare.
*Except, one assumes, the idiots.