Hillfolk are the descendants of pioneers who forged far south of Aetgard, seeking refuge from the tyrant-king Gudleifr who sought to sacrifice them to the Animal Spirits. They are a rustic, independent lot, and while they band together to form various communities in the southwestern hills and mountains in the region known as Karnath, they resist evolving into larger towns or cities, preferring their simple small-town lifestyle.
Their traditional naming scheme is primarily in a roughly English fashion, or more rarely Welsh.
The Hillfolk enjoy simple living, preferring to provide for themselves as much as possible. Many are content to hunt, fish or grow their own food and take up some handicraft hobbies and live that way for all their life. Indeed, Hillfolk are known for the many skilled woodworkers and leather-workers amongst them. While they are fiercely independent, they enjoy socializing with their own as well as entertaining visitors, and are always interested in hearing foreign news or purchasing the occasional knick-knacks brought by peddlers from other lands.
They are a hardy people living away from the trappings of more modern civilizations, and tend to have excellent hand-eye coordination. Their hair tends to be mostly varying shades of blond or light brown, and their eyes blue or gray. They are generally a bit shorter than the average human, and by some strange quirk many Hillfolk have tough, leathery feet topped with thick hair, causing them to often eschew footwear. The most common explanation for this amongst the Hillfolk is that as the pioneers made their trek south through the wilderness they often wore out their shoes and were forced to walk barefoot, and so their feet adapted. Such an adaptation over so short a period of time seems absurd, though varying folk tales attempt to present explanations for it - the most common being that the accelerated adaptation was caused by the Hillfolk pioneers fording the rivers of the mysterious Fey Forest while barefoot and thus absorbing some of the forest's strange energies.
Many were the atrocities of King Gudleifr, tyrant-king of the old Kingdom of Aetgard. Among his decrees was the banishment of the Church of St. Vito and the practice of thaumaturgy within Aetgard, and any who would not forsake these things should be sacrificed to the Great Animal Spirits. As it was often believed in those days that those with the relatively rare blond hair and blue eyes were individuals especially blessed with a strong Inner Light, Gudleifr sought these people in particular to sacrifice in spectacular displays.
Sifa the Golden, born at the same moment as a shining star of celestium fell to the earth outside her family's home, became a leader and a hero to the oppressed people who suffered under the tyrant-king. Such was her compassion for her people that she was able to tap into her Inner Light and was a powerful thaumaturge, able to perform miraculous healings. Additionally, her voice and skill at music were such that any who listened to her were enchanted by the beauty of her songs.
Sifa naturally became a prime target for King Gudleifr, but always she was able to elude him and his agents. Many people of Aetgard were eager to assist her and those she cared for, and they aided her in many escapes of her own as well as helping those Gudleifr sought to sacrifice find safe places to hide. As the tyrant-king ever increased his efforts, it became clear that there would be no enduring safety or peace for Sifa and the people that looked to her as their champion. So it was that she arranged for a migration of the people, out of Aetgard.
King Gudleifr had guards posted at all the ports and passes leading out of his kingdom, save for the dread Fey Forest to the south - a place of mystery and peril that claimed the lives of any who entered there. Sifa saw this as the only escape option for she and her people, and she led them into and southward through the forest safely, though the refugees were followed and haunted every step of the way by strange creatures never seen anywhere else in the world. When King Gudleifr discovered the escape, he sent an army after them into the mysterious woods - not a single soldier was ever seen or heard from again.
Thus it was that Sifa led her people to the hilly, unspoiled country of southwestern Arad, and they at last found peace. They have ever since held a certain disdain for powerful, unified governments, and instead prefer to govern themselves in small groups or live in individual, independent homesteads. Because the majority of the refugees willing to make the desperate journey were those blond-haired, blue-eyed individuals Gudleifr sought to sacrifice, most Hillfolk these days tend to have similar hair and eye colors.
Hillfolk aren't particularly religious, though many of them have a respect for the Church of St. Vito and Serafina, and they view Sifa the Golden as something akin to a saint. Though their ancestors suffered greatly at the hands of Gudleifr in the name of the Animal Spirits and the more traditional Faewyr druidic traditions, it's rare any of them hold any grudges against such things - most of them acknowledge and respect the spirits of nature, although vaguely. This is due in no small part to their ancestors' miraculous safe passage through the Fey Forest and the encounters with the fearsome creatures within, and the assumption that said creatures not only let the Hillfolk ancestors pass safely, but also wiped out the army that was sent after them.
Hillfolk generally don't trust the concept of a powerful unified government, most likely due to their ancestors' suffering in the old Kingdom of Aetgard. They prefer to trust to the good-naturedness of a free and ungoverned simple people, though there are often town councils and such that pop up here and there. Of course, there are always opportunists who use the lack of government and unified law enforcement to their advantage, preying on the people - but such individuals always seem to end up buried or hanged eventually, once they're caught. While Karnath is often thought of as an uncivilized and lawless land, it is also known for the swift vigilantism that occurs there, and there are countless tales and legends of individuals or duos who roam the land as self-appointed heroes of justice. This seems to be enough to satisfy the Hillfolk, and anyone who begins to have grand visions of a more unified Karnath tends to find themselves on the floor with a black eye, at the least, if not staring up the barrel of a flintlock from their backs for getting too "uppity".
Some of the original founding families of Karnath who made the trek through the Fey Forest from Aetgard achieved particular prominence amongst the Hillfolk, and their surnames are well-known to all Hillfolk these days.
Living along the Alebrook River, this family is famous for their brewing. They're one of the wealthiest families in Karnath (by Hillfolk standards, anyway), and are known for their most famous drink, Brookwater Ale. A sizable community has sprung up around the Alebrook breweries, and it's a popular central location for festivals, markets, and other large events.
The Briarwoods are an extended family that live on the southern borders of the Fey Forest. They're considered odd folk, and are rumored to occasionally travel into the forest itself for reasons others can only guess at. Some of them have been known to have an extraordinary affinity for animals and nigh-miraculous results at gardening, cultivating, and crop-growing. Horses bred by the Briarwoods are highly sought amongst the Hillfolk, some of them fabled to have unnatural speed and stamina, and are highly prized and valued. The Briarwoods don't often sell their horses, however, and while greedy dishonest men would drool to think of the money made off a stolen Briarwood steed, the horror stories of the curses and ill fates to befall those who cross the Briarwoods tend to discourage such things.
Stories and folk tales abound regarding the honest, generous, and hard-working Cottons. It seems like every time there was ever hardship or crisis in Karnath, the Cottons were there to help out somehow. When there was famine, the Cottons sacrificed from their own stores to share with those less fortunate. When there was sickness, the Cottons would tend to the ill. When workers became crippled or abandoned their duties for greener pastures, the Cottons would show up to help pick up the slack until new arrangements could be made. They've been known to produce a few Thaumaturges over the years.
The Old Parrs
The Old Parrs are settled on the southern coast of Karnath, and are the same family as that of the Three Brothers who built ships and took their families further south to settle the Parr Isles. They enjoy a certain level of fame and prestige for having produced the Three Brothers, and are generally well-respected. They are noted for their love of the sea, though their skill at various sea-crafts which were passed down to them from their ancestors in Aetgard before the migration has dwindled over the years as they've become more content with their life in Karnath. Still, at least amongst the Hillfolk, there are no greater fishermen, shipbuilders, or mariners than the Old Parrs.
The tale of the Threshers is a tragic one. Once honest, hard-working farmers, tragedy struck when Mary, the mother of the family, became suddenly and violently ill. William Thresher, the father, was certain she had been poisoned, and accused another family with which the Threshers had a rivalry. Unable to find any significant evidence, William took it upon himself to deliver justice and knifed the man he suspected in the back. This caused quite a stir in the then-small local Karnath community, and when it was later declared after investigations that Mary had died of a spider bite and not deliberate poisoning, William was hanged. The two sons, Barry and Joshua, remained convinced that their father was correct and that their mother really was deliberately poisoned. Angry at the whole community for the injustice of their plight, they became bandits, gathered their relatives together, and formed a notorious gang of outlaws - their first major crimes being the murder of the rest of the rival family, as well as those who declared the false diagnosis of their mother's death and those who sentenced their father to hanging.
Thresher is an oft-cursed name amongst Hillfolk these days, many males casting it off and taking names of the families they marry into rather than carry the cursed surname. A major band of outlaws exists in Karnath calling themselves the Threshers, and Hillfolk legend claims that one or both of the original outlaw brothers, Barry and Joshua, continue to lead the band to this day despite being reportedly hanged or otherwise killed several times throghout history, to say nothing of the unnaturally long lifespan they would have were they still alive today. Some say the souls of the two brothers are unable to move on, due to some curse born of their intense hatred and oaths of revenge that can never be satisfied.
Hillfolk prefer simple tools and honest labor, though there's always the odd family who doesn't mind the occasional technological oddity or wonder smuggled past the Quarantine Wall to make a few homestead tasks a little easier (though their reputation as hard workers may suffer for it). They excel in particular at carpentry and, even moreso, leather-craft. Hillfolk craftsmanship in these areas has earned them a certain level of fame, and these goods are their main source of trade material, when they do any trading at all.
Before the Quarantine, the Hillfolk of Karnath were often visited by traveling peddlers or merchants who would bring goods from Khaldea to the east. Not overly interested in understanding and reproducing the technologies themselves, the Hillfolk were more than happy to trade their exquisite carpentry and leathercrafted goods in exchange for the odd interesting tool or gadget. After the Plague struck Aetgard and the Quarantine Wall was built and blocked Karnath off from the eastern half of the continent, a few smugglers continued to make their way past the Wall in order to trade with the Hillfolk - the now-increased rarity of their famous wood and leather goods would fetch a good price back in Khaldea.
While the Hillfolk resisted any significant technological advancement, preferring their simple lives and traditions, one relatively advanced invention caught on in Karnath - the flintlock pistol. For whatever reason, flintlocks became enormously popular in Karnath, and some gunsmiths from Khaldea willingly moved west into the Quarantine in order to produce and sell them locally, or apprentice Hillfolk craftsmen eager to learn.
Hillfolk like simple, utilitarian clothing. People sporting fancy jewelry or accessories are often mocked or suspected for thinking they're better than everyone else, though women of esteem will often wear some modest jewelry, and there seem to be exceptions for fancy tooled leather goods like boots, chaps, holsters, hats, vests, and belts, as well as ornate metal belt buckles which males in particular tend to wear with pride. They prefer earthy colors for their clothing, with the exception of their flannels which they tend to get a little more colorful. Females often dress similar to males but with looser blouses rather than the males' more form-fitting shirts. Long skirts and dresses are usually reserved for special occasions, as they otherwise interfere with work or riding.