An Introduction to Easterlings
The Easterlings were Men of Rhun. In the Third Age, waves of Easterlings of various tribes periodically attacked Gondor, usually over Dagorlad. Most of these attacks were commissioned by Sauron, but some seem to have involved migrations of entire peoples. Easterlings were in general primitive, and were motivated chiefly by hatred of Gondor and greed for her riches. They were brawny in stature, olive-skinned and bearded. All Easterlings were warriors and were fearsome in battle, and Sauron lured them to his service with promises of wealth and power. As befitting such a fractured horde, a great deal of variation is found from tribe to tribe in their society, culture, and traditions. The details given here are a broad overview of what can commonly be found in Easterling culture, but each tribe is likely to have its own interpretation and highlights. Scattered throughout this document are references to the tribe Khurok, which will provide a framework to understand how one specific tribe of Easterlings may vary from the masses. Additional, tribe-specific write-ups can be found in later portions of this page.
Society and Culture
Easterling society is culturally rich but relatively primitive. They are a strictly monogamous culture, and the family unit is a key part of their society. Unmarried youths of breeding age are uncommon, and families try to have as many children as possible - virile individuals have social status. Children are generally raised by both parents fairly equally, though generally more by the parent of the same sex as them. Groups of pre-teens often acompany Easterling hunting groups, though they receive a flogging if they get in the way.
Easterlings do not hold men or women to be the superior sex - but instead celebrate their unique strengths and weaknesses. Most women are just as accomplished fighters as men, and are excused from duty only when pregnant or nursing - something which is certainly not a dishonour but a victory (for both the mother and father). To an Easterling, being beaten by a woman is no particular shame (at least no more of a shame than being beaten by a man). Nonetheless, there are still some individuals with these attitudes but they are considered unusual by their peers - and often, ironically, frequently beaten and bullied by women warriors.
Easterlings love to gamble, and few Easterlings don't own at least one set of dice. They also enjoy gambling upon contests - riding, fighting, running, climbing, or just about anything with an uncertain outcome. As the Easterlings are a society without currency, they tend to gamble other things - food, drinks, trinkets, services, or even just favours.
Khûrok society low in petty crime - as a reasonably prosperous nomadic people without a fixed currency, there is no real need for it. In terms of larceny, the worst they would usually see is groups of youths raiding the town larders late at night. Most of their crime is violent crime - disagreements over bartering, fits of rage, and domestic violence. The tribe as a whole has a slightly lax attitude towards violence - most common violence receives time spent in the stocks or public lashes as punishment. However, they are big proponents of the eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth philosophy however - murderers are generally executed, thieves have their property taken, and so on.
Although they have strict punishments levied upon those who kill others, their society has a form of ritual combat - known as Saer Lokh (or, "Honour Contest") - in which people frequently die. A Saer Lokh has to be mutually consented to, and almost never occurs in private. They are always one on one contests, and to get involved in a Saer Lokh which is not between yourself and another is considered just as bad as unprovoked attack. They only have one rule - a surrender must be honoured. Then again, many Easterlings would rather die than surrender their honour in such a way.
Easterlings all tend to wear their hair long - and many either braid it or matt it into dreadlocks. Many of them (most those who are promising young warriors) are given small trinkets (of bronze, silver or gold) and weave them into their hair. When an Easterling defeats another Easterling in Saer Lokh, they usually cut out some of the defeated's hair, and weave the trinkets that come with it into their own - thus some of the more accomplished Easterling warriors have hair full of trinkets.
In addition, Easterlings will often take the knucklebones of non-Easterlings they kill, and weave those into their hair. These are considered to be more valuable than the trinkets - though both are signs of an accomplished warrior. Weaving things into your hair that you were not given for beating someone, or by your superior for exceptional deeds, is one of the surest ways to become a social Pariah - no Easterling would feed you let alone deal with you. Accusing someone of having done so is a grave insult - and usually leads to Saer Lokh, and quite an embarassing defeat for the loser.
Easterlings often have their heads shaved on orders of their superiors as punishment for incompetence or large failures.
The Easterlings in Rhovannion, who call themselves the Khûrok, are led by a King - one of many dozens of Easterling "Kings" that exist in fealty to Khamûl the Undying, Sauron's 2nd greatest Nazghûl and the only one of the nine to remain a King of the same people as when he was a mortal.
The Khûrok are a fairly small Easterling tribe compared to some of the enormous tribes in Rhun. They have just several ten thousand men and women, having lived for the past decade as nomads as they trekked southwestward from distant lands of Rhun. Their King, named Kohl, and his All-Seers (Black-Wise), claim to have received a vision in which Khamûl and the Great Dark One told him to ride southwest with his people, and to establish themselves there, and that he would deliver them unto great glory.
Kohl names a number of members of his tribe "The Great Chieftans" - a group that includes his All-Seers, as well as his most accomplished warriors and leaders. The Great Chieftans actively advise Kohl on decisions of governance, and do many of the minor tasks of governance for him. It is a well known (and amongst others, derided) reality that Kohl values the words of his All-Seers the most, and their advise weighs heavily on his decisions. Nonetheless all the Great Chieftans have the ear of the King should they need it. The Great Chieftans, being largely comprised of the tribes best warriors, are prone to constant change - through death, attrition, and even favour with the King. This is especially true of newer Great Chieftans - other than a small core of the All-Seers and a few of the older Great Chieftans, they tend to have a life expectancy in single digits once they take up this position. There are also rumours that the All-Seers are behind many of the "Unfortunate Downfalls" of anyone who opposes them in this council.
There are very few people associated with the top level of leadership in the tribe - beyond the aforementioned, only a handful of scribes and pages of the Great Chieftans have very much to do with it at all. Even those few that do, usually do so by way of proxy.
The Khûrok recognize a plethora of minor gods - though they believe all to be subservient to The Great Dark One. They have a strong oral tradition, although the interpretation and popularity of particular gods usually changes from generation to generation. The Great Dark One is a conceptual cross between Sauron and Morgoth, to outsiders, and many of the stories told about him (or her - The Great Dark One is above gender) are incorrectly remembered historical happenings of them both - merged, blended, and in some cases added to. They believe the Great Dark One to be the rightful king of all Middle-Earth, whom the westernesse (Numenorean descendants) replaced with an entity named Varma (a take on the Valar as a whole) - an ursurper who supplanted his followers as the "New" kings.
Easterlings have shrines to just about anything. If they need to ride through a forest, they have a god to pray to. If they need to build a hut, they have a god to pray to for that too. All Easterlings are somewhat superstitious, but most of them don't take their religion too seriously - and few would consider it outside of incidental worship (for example, although most Easterlings would pray quickly to the Forest God if they needed to travel through one, most would find it laughable to dedicate ones life to one or even to think much about them outside that situation).
They believe that Khamûl the Undying was the greatest Easterling who ever lived, and was granted immortality for his service to The Great Dark One. He is the King of Kings and it is believed that the Kings of Tribes are able to talk with him.
Although most Easterlings do, the Khûrok have no currency - The King has fairly extensive stores of Easterling and other currencies but as the tribe itself is not as vast as an Easterling tribe in Rhun, they mostly subsist on communal larders and bartering. Individuals receive a share of the whole society's food stores according to their station, and most equipment and possessions are awarded by superiors. For instance, most Easterlings are given a set of hides and a weapon when they come of age, and many are given the tools of their trade by their masters when they finish their apprenticeship.
While they have no currency, Easterlings believe in private property and once given, things are rarely given back whilst the individual is alive. However, when an individual goes out to hunt, gather, fell trees, or the like, the proceeds are considered the property of the king until granted. In practice, in good times, most Easterlings take fair compensation for their work.
Each store - for materials, food, or whatnot, is assigned to a Lamûl (or, "Store Master"), who are appointed by the Great Chieftans. They (and their designated representatives) alone decide how their store is controlled, and most of them keep detailed records - and they are only ever chosen from amongst the literate. They authorize individuals to take materials from the stores, and when stores are plenty, things are often on a one-for-one basis with what individuals bring in. When times are tough, Lamûl are often called upon to make hard choices - and take a lot of the blame. Lamûl seen as greedy or tight-fisted are the frequent topic of songs and play-games amongst Khûrok society. The two most politically powerful Lamûl are the Lamûl of the Ingot store and the Lamûl of the Wheat store. Lamûl are also frequently implicated (and involved in) criminal activity, such as skimming.
The Khûrok society, having been predominantly nomads for the past decade, have learned to survive on a diet of game, foraged vegetables, and the army of sheep that they took with them.
Mutton is their staple meat, and is in plentiful supply. Much of their mutton is consumed in a stew made of mutton, root vegetables and a lot of salt. They also infrequently enjoy venison or pork when it is hunted. Beef is a luxury meat and is associated with the spoils of war - and as such beef is frequently eaten (in very small quantities!) in celebration of great victories.
Nearly every family owns at least a few chickens, and egg is a major food source for them. Actually eating the chickens is a delicacy and infrequently done.
They also enjoy a wide variety of fruits, berries, and various kinds of roots - owing to their tendency to forage.
Their most jealously guarded stores are their wheat stores - enormous stores brought with them on their trip and only used in tiny amounts. Now that they have reached their destination, they are likely to begin sewing it in large quantities around their camp. They do not have any other common agricultural crops with them - though they will trade with others for them if the opportunity arises.
In Easterling society, everyone fights. The Easterlings are one of the most ancient peoples of Middle-Earth, their ancestors having fought alongside Morgoth in the first age. Later, they were important servants in Sauron's empire, and it was assumed by the Council of the Wise that Rhun is where Sauron is hiding during his defeat (the two wise that ventured into Rhun to investigate never returned).
The Horde - Kûth - Gathering/Horde
Every Khûrok is a member of the Horde, the basic military skeleton of the whole tribe. This includes both Men and Women, from the age of 15 onwards. Most of them have at least one other non directly military role, as they still have to make a living. The organization of the Horde is informal at best and invisible at worst. The lowest and most prevalent rank in the Horde is the Rhûl, which translates to something akin to "Brave". Most Easterlings remain at this rank their entire lives and it is not a matter of shame.
Within the Horde, there are two additional "Ranks" - they are commonly recognized positions and carry with them some authority, but they have no actual authority as given by the King. These ranks are the Ard-Rhûl (or "Great Brave"), and Rhûlmuk (or "Brave Master").
The Ard-Rhûl are accomplished veterans, and are expected to train and lead the younger members of the Horde. They form the basic "Officer" unit in a typical Easterling patrol, and are trusted with the authority to take Rhûl out for this purpose (a group of Rhûl that went out without an Ard-Rhûl would probably receive a lashing). The position typically carries with it some amount of prestige, some extra privileges, and a great deal of respect. It is within the grasp of most reasonably competent Easterlings in the long term if they pursue their military activities with any vigour. Ard-Rhûl are promoted by Balghor or Rhûlmuk in general.
The Rhûlmuk are a much smaller body of accomplished Easterling veterans who, for whatever reason, decline to (or are denied the ability to) become members of the Balghor (officer - see below). They are generally among the most fearsome Easterlings, ruthless and cunning, and not one of them rises to this rank without a lot of blood on their hands. The Rhûlmuk are generally appointed by Balghor or Ard-Balghor - and even then exceptionally sparingly. Each and every one of them commands a great deal of respect from members of the horde - even children know to stand tall and salute them if they enter a room. While they are officially below even the most insignificant Balghor in rank, many of the Horde would follow them to the grave over the Balghor - although no Rhûlmuk would be stupid enough to disobey the commands of his superiors (if he expects to live long). When a Rhûlmuk enters battle with his fellows (something they are expected to do with great regularity), he will always lead the charge. None would wish to be seen as a coward.
Horde members are generally not given armour beyond hides or leather, and even Ard-Rhûl and Rhûlmuk receive only chainmail (though many forgoe it because it is seen as a weak thing by their underlings). No member of the Horde uses a sword (as it is illegal). They would be more likely to use a spear, an axe or a club.
The King's Chariots - Kragun Khâsti - Crow Legion - "As a crow flies."
Another organization within the horde are The King's Chariots. Although generally not Balghor (though some are), they are a prestigious organization nonetheless. However, few choose to enter its ranks, for it is a dangerous choice of career (and unlike other members of the Horde, Charioteers generally do not have another profession). Chariots are prone to break apart at inopportune times (usually at high speed) and many fall from chariots and are permanently disabled - outcasts and wretches, shunned by the healthy and able bodied Easterlings. The members of the Horde who are not in the Chariots often refer to them as "Arrows", because they are launched at high speed towards enemies and afterwards are often broken.
The King's Chariots are led by Balghor officers, and are known for their daredevil attitudes and exhorbitant celebrations - as any Charioteer is apt to tell you, they could and probably will die at any moment, so they may as well have as much food, wine, women, or anything else that takes their fancy now - because there might not be a tommorow!
The Charioteers are rarely seen in armour heavier than leather, except for the Balghor officer core, who don chainmail when riding a chariot. The vast majority of them can fire a bow, and are adept at throwing (particularly javelins).
The Balghor Knights - Baukûl - Those Who Serve
The most elite of all the Khûrok Easterling forces, the Balghor are a fearsome Heavy Cavalry organization. Each and every one of them must receive a commission from the King himself (usually secured by the recommendation of a Great Chieftan). The Balghor are considered to be the long arm of the King - and represent his manifest will. They symbollically represent this by taking upon featureless bronze masks, which they always wear in public - designating them as the faceless will of the King. Without their masks, they have no authority.
They are all uniformly clad in ornate Platemail, and receive nothing but the best and greatest of the tribe's warhorses - also clad in ornate Platemail. They also wear distinctive fork-horned helmets, a tradition of uncertain modern origin that they have brought with them from Rhun.
Their word is law, and they are the law enforcement of the tribe. They swear a complex and extensive oath to the King, and are bound by a code of honour that may not be broken - on pain of death. Nothing but the very best is expected from them.
The traditional weapon of a Balghor is the sword and shield - although Balghor in The King's Chariots commonly use a hand and a half sword (or even a Great Sword in some cases).
Wainriders, much like their Easterling cousins, are intensely ferocious, and often savage in combat. Adorning trophies from kills and carrying totems into battle, their presence on the field should inspire fear through their brutal appearance. Even more, their persistence in battle can be awe-inspiring; standing ground against a superior force is the hallmark of great Wainrider warriors.
Be it a string of ears, a necklace of teeth, or a tusk-made piercing, Wainriders always display a plethora of trophies from past victories and accomplishments. Not only for the sake of pride, but to mark themselves as a dangerous adversary. Eventually these trophies are replaced with more recent gains. Some of these victories are never forgotten and are inked into flesh, so that the memory of a Wainrider can always be told through the tattoos that mark their skin. From their earliest deeds as a child, to the most recent trophies adorned on their person - a fellow Wainrider would always see the history of their kin as though it were a book on their flesh.
When burial rites are held, a shaman will translate these markings to tell the story of their fallen warrior so that they can always be remembered for their heroics. It is the aspiration for all Wainriders that this retelling of their past accounts take as long as can be possible. A Wainrider who's retelling is short or bare is often ignored, left to rot where they fell. But a short prayer is always given, for they at least performed the honor of dying in battle.
The most prized trophy of a Wainrider they carry always, known as their totem. It could be a trophy from a kill, a weapon taken from an enemy, or any number of things. But this totem is the hallmark of who they are. A piece of metal from a great weapon they crafted, a tooth from a fearsome opponent - the totem should be significant to the person who holds it, so much that they will give their life to reclaim it should it be lost.
As such, the most distinguished Wainriders are often adorned with a plethora of trophies from any number of possible victims. Tattoos that cover themselves from head to toe over every possible stretch of skin. Most importantly, a trophy that is not only personally valuable but is the hallmark of their achievements. Every Wainrider would strive to accomplish these tasks until their dying breath, even if it meant dying in the process of attempting to complete a great accomplishment. Should one complete these goals, they can return to their homes as a shaman. Wise in all things important to a Wainrider, they will read the rites of the fallen and guide the next generation into being.
Tribe of the Blackiron Soul
Far to the east lies a range of dark mountains, jutting high into the sky and its blackened iron gives wealth and status to the cruel-hearted tribe of men that mine it. Their dwelving lacks the sophistication and technology of even the western Men, much less the dwarves, and is typically jagged gouges ripped into the mountainside in search of further veins of ore. For reasons unknown to the Men who mine it, all of the iron reaped from the mountain is of the same harsh, black color as the mountain itself and it's from this that this tribe of Easterlings drew its name. The iron they draw from the mountain is the core of their society, and their reliance on it has warped their idealogies far out of sync from the rest of their kin.
The ore the tribe takes from the mountain is a double-edged sword. It gives them a reliable source of iron for their arms, armor, and tools, but that same reliable source of income means that they are often times engaged in long-running tribal conflicts with their nearby kin, and it has made them few friends amongst the other tribes. While the tribe pays tribute in the form of blackiron arms and armor to a few, more powerful tribes, they are otherwise fierce hagglers and are considered selfishly parsiminous when dealing with others. The tribe is kept in a near perpetual state of wartime living, both defending itself and its mines from raids and conducting answering attacks of their own. This lack of meaningful peace has bred a vicious savagery into the soul of the tribe, and succession from chief to chief is a brutal affair, resolved by duels to the death.
The tribe views the mountain and its dark iron as their greatest strength and it holds a sacred, religious place in their society. The warriors of the Blackiron Soul believe that their weaponry are outward pieces of their own soul, forged into being with sacred pieces of their mountain. While each weapon is literally a tool to govern life and death, tribesmen choose exclusively weaponry suited to their temperment and great import is placed upon a young warrior's choosing of his first weapon. Friendships, relationships, and even strategic planning is perpetually being influenced by the tribe's perception of its members, based upon the weaponry they have chosen. Tribesmen who are quick-witted and nimble may choose to wield dual black daggers, and while they may be chosen as trusted scouts and hunters, they are considered too weak to make good leaders. The tribe's society is rife with prejudices and judgments like this, based almost solely on what weaponry a warrior has chosen. Additionally, a warrior who is seen with a dulled or fouled blade is considered to have committed a great sacrilege, as he is literally mistreating both a piece of the mountain and an extension of his own being.
Modern rumors about the tribe say that their current leader ascended to primacy some ten years ago after defeating his father in a duel for leadership. Since this change in leadership, the relatively young chief has navigated several periods of intense strife and has led the tribe into a time of hitherto unforeseen dominance in the area surrounding the Blackiron Mountains.