Appearance and Material Culture.
Physically, the Noriki [NOH•ree•kee; sing
. NOH•reek] tend to be tall, broad-built, and strong. They usually have light eyes – blue, green, or light brown, broad facial features, and fair to reddish hair. The women style their hair into long braids, while the men refrain from shaving their facial hair after they reach full maturity. The men wear tunics and breeches of linen or wool, tied with a belt, while the women wear wrap-around skirts, or, occasionally, single-piece dresses made of similar material. The shirts are dresses are typically embroidered with designs that represent kin-group, patron deity, or other religious motif. On weddings and other formal occasions, the women wear tall headdresses. When they can afford them, they are partial to long earrings, bracelets, and necklaces, while men wear metal buckles and clasps. Both are partial to knee-high leather boots, although typically they wear shoes made of woven straw. In the winter, they don felt boots, woolen overcoats and caftans, and hats made of wood or fur. Red-colored clothing is especially prized by them, but for this reason it fetches a steeper price. They possess combs and other grooming implements, and for a generally rural people, have a decent level of personal hygiene. They are frequent bathers in a sauna, which they house in a separate building, and which plays a key role in their spiritual life.
Given the abundance of wood, they build their huts above ground out of logs, with slanted roofs of wooden boards or straw mixed with pitch, but nearer to the steppe, where trees are more scarce, the houses are also built as dugouts that are partly sunk into the ground. Each house is surrounded by a palisade fence of sharpened stakes. The centerpiece of the interior is a stone or clay oven, which is used for cooking, heating, and sleeping on, but most people have little by way of furniture other than perhaps a few benches. The inside of the hut is typically whitewashed and bright, and kept fresh-smelling and free of insects with fragrant herbs, but the soot from the stove can quickly cover the walls and spoil the odor unless the house is regularly aired. Larger huts also have a specially designated “bright room”, which is kept closed and clean for notable occasions. Some also have an entry room, or mud room, where shoes and tools are stored. Most have an underground cellar for storing perishables.
The Labdy ancestors of the Noriki have long practiced agriculture, but it was not until they adopted the heavy plough just under a millennium ago that they were able to expand into northeastern Nor’ in appreciable numbers. They grow millet, wheat (in the rich dark earths bordering the steppe belt), and hardier cereals like rye and buckwheat in the northern parts of the country. From these, they brew beer and kvas (a low-alcohol rye beer), although mead is also very popular (apiculture is very widespread among the Labdy, and honey, along with wax, are also two of the main Nor’ exports to other lands). They also cultivate peas, lentils, cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, turnips, beets, pumpkins, radishes, onions, garlic, and other vegetables that grow well in tough soils. Among fruit, apples, pears, plums, and cherries are commonly grown, as well as peaches and grapes in more southerly regions. Herbs such as dill, parsley commonly found in their gardens. Flax and hemp are grown to produce oil, clothing, and rope.
They have long been familiar with various forms of animal husbandry. They domesticated horses a long time ago. The elite ride them in combat, but they are more commonly used for agriculture (along with oxen). They have also figured prominently in heathen religious rituals, and even though they no longer practice horse sacrifices, an echo of their importance is visible in the horse heads carved at the end of roof beams of many houses. Pigs, goats, cows, and sheep are also domesticated as livestock, though with the exception of pigs, they are raised more for milk, wool, or hides than for meat. Domestic fowl, including chickens, ducks and geese abound in many households, and are raised for their eggs, as well as eaten. Dogs are common pets, guards, and hunters’ aids in any Noriki settlement, and cats are particular favorites, though they are expected to pull their weight by catching rodents.
The Noriki diet heavily centers on bread as the main staple. Its consumption is so symbolically essential that any important visitor to a house or a village is greeted by young women presenting them with a tray bearing a loaf, along with salt, which is a prized trade item brought in from without. Soups, made of cabbage, beats, and fish, along with wheat, buckwheat, pumpkin or pea porridge (kasha) are also part of everyday fare (and eaten with wooden spoons). Eggs and milk are consumed daily, and dairy products, including butter, sour cream, curds, and various forms of buttermilk, kefir, or yogurt are commonly eaten for breakfast, with bread, or in soup or porridge. Vegetables, berries and mushrooms are preserved for the long winters, either by drying, pickling, or making into preserves and jams. Pies, whether sweet (apple, berry, cherry) or savory (fish, mushroom, chicken, or meat), pancakes, and dumplings are the mainstay of holiday fare. Meat is eaten when it is available and not prohibited by the fast calendar. Pork is particularly popular, with salted fatback being considered a particular treat, and an accompaniment to drinking. Alcoholic drinks are famously popular, especially on holidays and long winter nights. Traditionally, they consisted of kvas, beer and mead, though the elite with access to wine is quite partial to that potable as well. As for vodka, distillation process has only recently been introduced, so that beverage is just beginning to be introduced to the wider public (with predictable consequences).
Agricultural activities and most animal husbandry are performed by all able-bodied members of the community, and are not specialized. The same is true for handicrafts such as spinning, weaving, embroidery, basket weaving, carpentry, barrel making, cart, boat, or sled manufacture, leatherworking, shoemaking, animal slaughter, tanning, haberdashery, and candle manufacture. All are generally performed in the home or yard, though particular people possess greater skill at these tasks than most others. Several specializations stand out, however.
- Herders possessed unique skills of controlling animals and negotiating with wood and field spirits for their safety. They are almost always recruited from outside the community, perhaps among those who were incapable of performing agricultural work, and it was commonly assumed that part of their training took place under the tutelage of a sorcerer or warlock.
- Potters, because they work at the kiln – a crucially important but infernal artifice, were also regarded as possessing magical powers. Having to fire pots for many hours straight, they worked through the night, and are thought to traffic with nocturnal powers. At the same time, shaping clay is an activity reminiscent of the Creator’s power to fashion new life. Additionally, digging for clay in the earth, and the throwing of vessels, originally used to house the ashes of the dead suggest that potters possess skill in necromancy. These linkages, along with their frenetic work schedules, may account for the potters’ reputation for hard drinking.
- Smiths are regarded as even more arcane and mysterious. Ironworking is a vitally important skill, needed for the production of agricultural implements, horseshoes and other gear, knives, and other utensils. Its practitioners work at the forge, and have command over the element of fire. They are in very high demand, and are therefore often regarded as wealthy, and a lucky find as a spouse. Blacksmiths keep their knowledge secret, sharing it only with a select few apprentices, but people say they learn their craft from, or teach it to, devils, whom some aid in “shoeing”, or taming, witches. They can also shape iron into protective talismans.
- Another type of specialist – the miller – has appeared in more recent times. The operator of the most complex machine most people have ever seen, they have power over the most important fruits of agricultural labor. Like potters command earth and blacksmiths control fire, millers have sway over the elements of water and earth, because the successful operation of a mill requires traffic with spirits of these elements. The location of mills – hilltops for windmills, and near running water for water mills – are often places where magical power is concentrated. Like the smith, the miller is seen to be wealthy, but to an even greater degree than the former, he is seen as a sinner for the supernatural company he keeps.
Noriki religious beliefs have changed greatly over time, especially after the conversion to the True Confession. There are, however, a few constants in their outlooks on life and the world that are very deep seated, have even survived religious conversion.
The impact of terrain and climate on norms, behavior, and character has already been alluded to above. The difficulty and uncertainty of existence instills in the people a certain fatalism. Everyone’s lots have already been cast, the threads of their fate have already been spun. Devoting too much energy to planning ahead is unwise, for even the best laid plans can be disrupted without a moment’s notice by elemental or spiritual forces. Acting on a wing and a prayer, even without proper preparation, is widespread. “With any luck, it will all work out”; “perhaps, it will blow over” say the Noriki. In later times, these sentiments have come to be known as the “Noriki perhaps”. Foreigners often find it exasperating, but the Noriki themselves, though they don’t deny the often negative consequences of this mindset, accept it.
Relying on the “perhaps” doesn’t mean it can’t be managed. One way is to pull together as a community. To mollify the effects of bad luck, or the unforeseen, the community pulls together, practices mutual aid, and assumes collective responsibility. Given its importance for individual survival, the community claims the right to interfere and intervene in the lives of individuals, to shape its decisions. It also draws a sharp line between those who belong to it, and those who do not. For this reason, all those who are different are not to be trusted, and this includes wielders of political power. Because authority figures are distant, untrustworthy, or incompetent, the community comes together spontaneously and strives for self-sufficiency. It is viewed as imposing its own “peace”, and constituting a miniature “world” in its own right. It has its own morality, which is distinct from any law, command, or doctrine, because it is grounded in tradition and collective experience. This “Truth”, which the members of the community frequently invoke as a guide to their actions and beliefs, is more than an abstract veracity. It is also justice, right conduct, the “straight path” found by trial, error, and experience, and it is contrasted to the “crooked path” of lies, selfishness, disrespectful behavior, etc. The deep-seated character of these “worlds”, with their own Peace and their own Truth allow them to survive cataclysms, invasions, conversions, and reforms largely unchanged.
Another way of managing an unpredictable world is through recourse to divination. Belief that one’s fate is determined, and can be gleaned from signs is nearly universal among the Labdy, as is recourse to those who perform divinations. Although they don’t subscribe to the notion that fate is entirely predestined, they believe that a competent soothsayer should not only be able to foresee trouble or find one’s intended, but also to find the most efficacious way to persuade or cajole the forces of destiny to ensuing the most favorable outcome. In practice, people may be very much aware that their local witch, sorcerer, or soothsayer is actually a charlatan. But unless they find someone better, they will keep patronizing the diviner, because the idea that the future is inscrutable because no one in the community has the power to manipulate fortune is more intolerable than dealing with a bad or dishonest practitioner.
The belief that fate is at least partly preordained and can be anticipated blurs the divide between past, present, and future. The future, if not preset, is outlined, and can be bargained over. The almost complete absence of written records (prior to the conversion), and the need to preserve the community, even at the expense of individual accomplishments, makes the past somewhat indistinct as well. The Noriki are aware that they are part of a continuum, and generally remember three to four generations back, because they have lived side-by-side with their representatives. Before that, memories shade off into the mythic past. Gods, monsters, and heroes performed great or wicked deeds, but there is little agreement regarding when exactly these events took place. Most people know that they happened in those days, or once upon a time, and if the events are memorable enough, they are celebrated at festival time, or reenacted through ritual.
This blurring of temporal boundaries affects the relationship between the living and the dead. The Noriki believe in the immortality of the soul, that the dead depart to some “unknown country”, but that in principle, various forms of interaction between the living and the dead are possible. In earlier times, most their Labdy ancestors practiced cremation, which not only enabled them to carry the ashes of their ancestors with them, but also to make possible their immediate transit to that other land. That gave them a measure of power over their relationship with the departed, whom they regarded as equals. When settlement became more permanent as the wanderings of the distinct groups of Labdy came to an end roughly five centuries ago, and especially under the impact of the Gaalite religion, which insisted on the practice of intact burial, the relationship with the dead changed. Now, they were always nearby, on their own plots of land. Now, the earth occasionally rejected them, and they did not complete their transition. They could rise, and make their resentments known to the living. The trauma of frequent dealings with the undead, therefore, is of relatively recent provenance, but it is more widespread throughout various Labdy lands than virtually anywhere else.
On the whole, the people are usually considered good-natured and hospitable, though they also have a reputation for xenophobia and fanaticism.