According to Aestarin records, there were about seventy major human kingdoms in the latter days of the Lost Age. Many of these were all but eradicated by volcanic fire or the trudging legions of Cydion’s troglyd armies. The remainder endured heavy losses from plague, starvation, and on the field of battle. Yet the Great War was only the beginning of their suffering.
The Great War ended on the Hill of Kensethir, but the events of that day unleashed the Cataclysm. Amid the ruin of volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, and storms, the last vestiges of human society shattered. Every day became a fight for survival, not only against nature’s tumult and the remnants of the troglyd armies, but also in the simple quest for food and shelter.
Within a generation, humanity devolved back to hunter-gatherers, joining together in small nomadic groups for shared protection. The leaders were generally strong warriors or powerful sorcerers. Yet over time, the latter type diminished. It is the nature of sorcerers to protect their knowledge and, while some passed their lore willingly on to children or acolytes, many carried their greatest secrets to the grave. Arcane knowledge all but vanished among the human peoples. But the Cataclysm also robbed humanity of many skills needed for more advanced levels of civilization. Everyone had to focus on the raw skills of survival which left no room for luxury. Writing was one of the first skills to vanish. A few tribes preserved a handful of tomes from the Lost Age. Over time, these texts became tokens their people could no longer read. From these came the only glimpses of the Lost Age from perspectives other than the Aestari. But the redevelopment of literacy was an act for a later age. Along with writing, technical skills such as crop rotation, animal husbandry, and metallurgy also faded.
Where there had once been seventy kingdoms, there now were hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of tribes scattered across the world. These tribes varied dramatically in size and each took on characteristics driven heavily by their environment. Those on the plains were more likely to retain animal husbandry and used horses to herd and hunt. Yet horses and the great creatures of the grasses were also vulnerable to the vagaries of the Cataclysm. Tribes of the forests and the swamplands trapped and fished and at least had plenty of wood for shelter. But those of the arid and tundra regions were hit hardest of all. These tribes were generally the smallest in size and had to scatter even further in their search for food. Yet throughout the world, the peoples avoided the mountains that belched volcanic fire with terrifying regularity and the shores which were frequently washed by massive waves and hurricane winds. By the time of “Tears from Iron,” the greater ferocity of the Cataclysm had begun to fade and some more enterprising peoples dared the hills and the shores, but the mountain uplands were still avoided by all but the most desperate.
The Syraestari Empire was founded on the shores at the southern edge of a vast woodland wilderness spanning over a million square miles. One of the strongest tribes, the Iachians, was completely conquered by the empire. Six other tribes lived in close enough proximity for immediate jeopardy. These were the Iengian, the Tatyrni, the Zengris, the Thyrosi, the Ornos, and the Lothyn. Each of these tribes developed their own traditions. For example, Iengian warriors used ritual scarring to prove their courage while the Zengris commonly painted their faces. Tribes in close proximity to each other tended to share the same or similar religions, language, and many other fundamental characteristics.
While not wealthy or elegant by “civilized” sensibilities, the tribes formed a structure that allowed them to survive the Cataclysm. Most tribes numbered in the thousands though a few grew to the tens of thousands. But the wilderness couldn’t support such a population in close proximity. Thus the building block of the tribes were their smaller local units, often called a clan, a family, or a village. These clans generally numbered between twenty-five and a hundred families, led by a chieftain. Chieftains were usually hereditary, but the chief always had to be ready to protect his claim of leadership from ambitious usurpers through courage and prowess of arms. The chieftain surrounded himself with an inner core of elite armsmen who ensured his power and protected the clan from any attackers.
The chieftain and his armsmen were the strongest warriors and best hunters. As such, they had the best weapons and armor. Since the secrets of metallurgy had been lost, their weapons were generally made of stone while their armor was leather. In extremely rare instances, ensorcelled metal weapons survived from the Lost Age. Only magic could give iron or bronze sufficient protection to survive long years of hard use. More mundane weapons rusted, dulled, and shattered.
The remainder of the clan served the chieftain and his armsmen in exchange for protection. These members could also fight if the clan was attacked, but generally had poorer implements. They hunted, gathered, and tended the basic crops that allow the clan to survive day to day.
The clans within a tribe seldom interacted with each other on any larger level. Individual clans periodically traded or joined together for mutual defense against a grave threat. More ambitious clans also joined for purposes of pillage and conquest. But the clans within a tribe fought each other as often as not. The Iengian and the Lothyn, in particular, were known for their fierce warrior proclivities. The ties that held the clans within their tribe together were their traditions, beliefs, and shared myths handed down perhaps even from ancient and forgotten Lost Age kingdoms. Though they fought each other readily, they banded together to face external threats, putting aside blood feuds until the greater enemy was dealt with. From time to time, great chieftains united a tribe or even multiple tribes into a more cohesive whole, but the sparse resources of the Cataclysm era inevitably doomed these proto-kingdoms to a brief existence.
Through the darkest years of the Cataclysm, nearly all tribes were migratory, relying almost exclusively on hunting and gathering, though in brief periods of relative calm, they may have established crude villages. But the constant threat of new natural disasters and hungry neighbors eager to prey upon any surplus in food meant such settlements were as fleeting as unity under the great chieftains.
Yet by the time of “Tears from Iron”, Isfalinis finally began to cool from the worst of her torments. This allowed the tribes to have greater stability. Most tribes around the Syraestari Empire established regions of control that were sometimes even respected by neighbors. They began to transition to semi-nomadic lifestyles. This generally meant that a clan erected multiple villages that they migrated between year by year. This essentially allowed the land around the uninhabited villages to lie fallow. By the time a clan returned, the soil was ready to receive new crops while the surrounding area had reinvigorated with edible wild plants and game.
This system meant that the Wildmen tribes had begun their progression into truly permanent realms. With time, the tribes would naturally consolidate under greater chieftains and eventually kings. Such stability would also encourage innovation and the rediscovery of lost arts. Yet to their south lay the Syraestari Empire, a realm that while small, possessed all the skills of the Lost Age that the tribes had forgotten. Rumors began to spread outward of “Iron-Men” who were impervious to weapons of bone and stone. Where they walked, clans disappeared into slavery and death. And among that talk, other, more fearful reports, were whispered as well. Talk of strange beings, tall and with painted eyes, who spoke lightning from the heavens.
One way or another, the fading of the Cataclysm meant that the days of the Wildmen tribes were drawing to a close.