In the north we mostly just pray for survival. Not because seeing another day is some precious gift but because rubbing it in the faces of southern pricks like you is one of the few joys we have up here.
The location of other great cities was chosen because of the resources, safety and prosperity they offered. The Men of the Mountains chose Frostmere because it would test them. They believed adversity was what forged a better, stronger people and also what would keep the weaker kingdoms from knocking on their doorstep. Their Totem Spirits led them to a place that offered nothing but struggle yet they endured. And, even more important to them, they were largely forgotten by the southern nations. This isolation allowed them to perfect their culture free from foreign influence. They saw every other civilization as vulnerable to decadence and having been left weaker for it. Instead, Frostmere refuses every temptation; embracing instead the Old Ways and striking down any insidious corruption that tries to take root in the north.
Frostmere was born during those early days of human civilization when primitive tribes were coming together and laying claim to swathes of land in what would later be the Balmoran Plains. The Elves and Dwarves were still carving out their empires and the New Gods were converting followers from the old ways to the new wisdom they offered. Those could defend their land or earn the favor of the New Gods found prosperity in these ancient times. They would become the seeds from which the great nations would rise. Yet, not every primitive tribe or community were able to take root. Tairos' history is littered with forgotten people who's story will never be told. This is the fate that would have befallen the Frostmerites as well had the Totem Spirits not intervened.
As humans in the plains consolidated into fewer and fewer tribes the men of the north dwindled quickly. They were without the safety offered by the growing cities of the south. And, in an effort to to accumulate as may followers as possible for their pantheon the New Gods ignored the sparely populated region. This left them ignored by the gods, forgotten by their southern kin and at the mercy of many dangers.
Tribalism among the many groups of northerners faded quickly in the face of extinction. They cooperated with each other, forgot old disagreements and banded together to overcome every threat. Within a generation or so they had become one people. Yet, this unity would not be enough to spare them suffering and death at the hands of the north's bitter winds and predators. Salvation would come not from within their ranks but from the very earth they fought against for survival.
The totem spirits could see what the New Gods had planned for them. Not a grand battle for the soul of this world and its people but instead a slow starvation. The gods scooped up more and more followers to their cause and with that came the march toward civilization. Forests were cleared, lands depleted and the power of nature forgotten in exchange for the blessing of gods and the comfort of cities. The totems retreated into their places of power within the deep woods of Tairos and it's there that the two scorned parties would find each other.
While most of the totems chose to stay in the forests of the Balmoral Plains or the southern jungles some of the most hardy ventured north to seek out new places of power amid the snow and ice. Spirits like Brother Wolf, Ox, Elephant, Clever Fox, Gull the Skysailor, Old Father Whale and Grandfather Bear. They expected to find little but barren wastes but instead were greeted with an abundance of life. They found forests of pine trees where the animals they champion had changed form and adapted. Wolf and Fox found versions of their children coated in white fur so as to conceal their hunts and pranks. Ox and Elephant were amazed to find shaggy-haired versions of the shapes they knew. Old Father Whale found the cold waters a welcoming home and while Gull rejoiced with cliff dwelling puffins. And Bear, he found polar titans larger than any of his other children. There was something else here as well, something even more unexpected. Humans in need of their help and actually worthy to receive it.
Frostmere was born out of the partnership between man and spirit. Unlike the system of obligation, worship and peerage that both the northerners and totems saw taking root in the south they established a different way of life. One where mortals guarded and cultivated the totems' places of power. And in turn, the totems warded them from threats in the ether and made sure nature provided enough for them to survive.
Soon, they created a settlement of their own, built around a massive tree infused with totemic magic. The city of Frostmere came to be and the people known as Frostmerites would make their presence known to Tairos.
The Fang Crusades and Plague of Undeath
Frostmere was young when the war against the Ximezci began in The Serpent Lands. The great walls of her city were still under construction and none of her colonies had yet been established. Official word did not reach the Frostmerite people of the conflict till it was well underway but the totems had alerted them to the danger growing in the south shortly after the Serpent's third city was pulled from Oblivion. When diplomats from Balmoral came asking for the kingdom's assistance they were surprised to hear that warparties had been dispatched months ago and were making their way on foot to join the conflict.
Frostmere lent vital aid during a tense time when The Grand Concordance of Tairos victory against the Serpents was far from a certainty. They brought with them spirit allies and magical support lent to them by the totems. Most of Tairos had forgotten the Old Ways but seeing the totems and their followers on the fields of battle was a stark reminder of the power they shunned so long ago.
With the Concordance's victory and the extinction of the Ximezci each nation's army began preparation to return home. It is during this time that the Plague of Undeath began. The countless dead left to rot in the Serpent Lands suddenly stirred and lurched forth. The cause was unknown to the Frostmerites but as they saw this magical infection start to spread across Tairos they knew it was imperative for their force to return home as quickly as possible to defend against this new threat.
The Plague spread quicker than the Frostmerite army could march and soon their advance was bogged down in the northern plains near what would one day be Lockland. For months the remains of the Frostmerite army were engaged in carving their way through shambling hoards of Undead until finally they reached their bitter homeland. Once they reached Frostmere itself they learned that undead menace has spread here as well. Vampires, fleeing pogroms in the south took root in the icy wastes believing it would offer them safety. And, while the southern nations lacked the constitution to follow them this far the Frostmerites did not. Exterminating Vampiric bloodlines became an area of expertise that the northerners prided themselves on.
The Queen's War
Frostmere was an outspoken adversary to The Autumn Queen when she made her appearance in Tairos. They shunned the gifts she offered and refused the hospitality of her Fae people. The city's isolation and refusal to accept the visiting fae was both a boon and a curse. It benefited them in that the Queen's influence never took root in their culture. They did not have to worry about spies, betrayal and infiltration since Frostmere was closed to the Fae and the surrounding lands too inhospitable for their fragile frames. However, it also meant they had no way of keeping up with events in the southlands and were taken completely by surprise when the Autumn Queen's plans changed from manipulation to war.
Frostmere was kept out of the majority of the war by a contingent of fae who had been preparing for a conflict in the north. The Autumn Queen tasked one of favored advisers from the Shadow Court with leading the effort, the incredibly vain and cruel Countess Isimene. Isimene was an Ice Hag who used a magical hand mirror as the focus for her power as well as a means of maintaining the beautiful illusion she veiled herself in.
While the Frostmerites would be victorious against the Ice Hag and her army it prevented them from participating in the majority of the conflict in the south. By the time they'd purged Isimene from their lands they were only able to join in the later phases of the Queen's War, including the siege of her castle.
Today, Frostmere and her colonies are in a steady state of decline. While the physical damage to the cities was easy enough to repair the spiritual damage caused by The Queen's Rebuke was another matter. The totems were cut off from the north and their influence crippled across the rest of Tairos as well. That meant they were not able to ensure the Frostmerites would always be able to harvest enough food and supplies from the land. Harsh winters, dwindling animal populations, and raids from both Stormlanders and Duergar have taken their toll.
While Frostmere might be the only nation left with an extensive list of colonies they all operate as if they were independent city-states with only a loose affiliation to the capital. Totemic magic and the bounty they provided helped to bind these cities together before the Queen's War but now with resources becoming scarce distrust between them is at an all-time high.
This same level of apprehension applies to outside visitors as well. They know their land offers little of worth to a southerner so when they do appear in the north it's met with a great deal of suspicion. The only nation they have any level of good relations with is Ghal Ankhar. Trade with the Ghal Ankharan people has supplemented some of the lost resources once provided by the Totems but the dwarves are shrewd businessmen and their trade always comes at a high price. There is also some commerce between certain colonies/isolated groups and Stormlanders but only by necessity. Their prices for essential goods can be much lower than the premiums the dwarves charge but conducting business with the dishonorable raiders is rife with its own dangers.
The High Kings and High Queens have been the undisputed rulers of Frostmere since the very beginning. They’ve been chosen by the thanes of every clan not for political acumen, diplomatic skill or wealth but for bravery, cunning and ambition. The High Kings and Queens are not seen as rulers of the status quo but dynamic individuals who lead Frostmere into new and greater glories. They believe strength of character and heart is more important than anything else. The High Kings and Queens use their office to direct the expansion of Frostmere and the defense of the north against the Stormlands, the Cinderstone dwarves and incursions by kobolds and goblins seeping in from the ruins of the old Gnome Empire. Every Thane from every clan bends knee to them. There is no protocol for removing a High King or Queen and no recourse for those wishing to disobey their orders. The word of the Kings and Queens is law and all are honor bound to obey it.
The Gothi and Skalds were once the speakers of the totem spirits and all took their sage wisdom under careful consideration. Today, the traditions of the Gothi and Skalds are vanishing. The damage to the leylines has had an equally crippling effect on their ability to commune with nature and their patron spirits. Some say that there are places in the deep woods, distant islands and darkest caves where the totems are still able be heard but none have ever been found. What remains of the Gothi and Skalds are a dedicated few that desperately search Tairos for a means of curing the damage and opening the way for the totems to walk once again.
While the dwarves have no official place in government of Frostmere there are Thanes who often fall into their service in secret. Whether due to blackmail, bribery or manipulation some of these honorable lords find themselves in the employ of dwarven merchants eager to expand their reach.
Frostmere's greatest defense is the perpetual winter that grips the land. Even their summers are bitter and snowy. No army has the resources to outfit their soldiers with the equipment needed to survive long in the frozen north. Outside of weather Frostmere and her colonies do have modest city walls and watch towers for defense as well.
Industry & Trade
Wherever there is industry or trade there are dwarven merchant lords trying to penetrate the market. Frostmere's High King, Rollo Bjornson, has been vigilant thus far in keeping Ghal Ankharian influence to a minimum of his efforts cannot be maintained forever. The very long-minded dwarves know that the lifespan of a human king is simple enough to wait out and rumors persist that many of the potential successors are in the pockets of Ghal Ankhar.
Access to timber. Plentiful opportunities for fishing and whaling. Fur trade.
Guilds and Factions
The many clans that make up Frostmerite society are led by Thanes. These clans work to better their local community and family first. In most areas the local Thanes are the most influential people one can ally with.
The High King and his retainers are a faction unto themselves. While they generally work to bring more cohesion to Frostmere and the colonies this is sometimes done in opposition to what the local Thanes are doing.
The dwarven merchant lords are a small but growing faction in Frostmerite society. They strive to make the northerners more and more dependent upon their business while weakening the power of the High King or the Thanes depending on what suites the situation best.
Gothi and Skalds are very rare now. Both Thanes and the High King treat these individuals with great respect because they represent the Old Ways and the memory of the Totem Spirits. The dwarves view them as terrible obstacle between them and the control they hope to one day have over Frostmere. The Gothi and Skalds are most concerned with mending the damage done to the Leylines and with protecting the places precious to the Totems.
Frostmerite architecture is exceptionally utilitarian with no consideration for aesthetics. It is also very difficult to harvest stone for construction so very few buildings are made with it. Most structures in Frostmere and her colonies are made of wood, including the walls. Buildings are also not particularly tall. The north is known for strong winds and buildings with considerable height would need more support than can generally be given to them. As such few buildings rise higher than three levels.
Within Frostmere itself there are maybe half a dozen or so buildings of dwarven make. These are recent structures that the dwarves fought for permission to build. These are stout, powerful stone structures with all of Ghal Ankhar's classic architectural aesthetics. Frostmerites find them particularly ugly both in appearance and because of the damage hauling such amounts of stone out of the earth causes to the Totems.