The history of Solitude and, by extension, Haafinheim itself, is one filled with conflict, as can be expected in Skyrim – a land where one can barely turn around without stepping on the battlegrounds of some battle from ages long past. Most recently, it played a central role in the War of the Red Diamond when its queen, the Wolf-Queen Potema, challenged the Empress Kintyra II for control of Tamriel. The outcome of the war would eventually prove disastrous for the city, which suffered greatly at the hands of Imperial forces after managing to hold out for ten years after the war’s official end.
The Nords, however, are a hardy people and used to surviving the ravages of war. It would not be long until at least a partial recovery was made, thanks in part to Imperial support – Solitude was and still is one of the two most important ports in the north of Tamriel, so it was naturally in the Empire’s best interests to aid in its reconstruction, lest it fall into the hands of a Nordic warlord who might later prove difficult to dislodge.
It has been almost exactly three hundred years since the War of the Red Diamond, and Haafingar has made up for the lost ground and then some. Emboldened by Imperial support, it exchanged several brief skirmishes during the mid-Third Era with its neighbouring kingdom, Dawnstar. While there was little threat of the conflict spilling out into open war, Dawnstar’s Moot ruled that a peace that would last needed to be established, urging their widowed queen to marry Haafinheim’s king, Thian, a Nord descended from one of the hold’s prominent noble families and elected by the Moot there to be the starting point of a new royal line (following the previous one’s extinction during the war, since the nobles of Solitude were not content with being ruled by an Imperial magistrate appointed by the Emperor). This marriage returned Ysgramor blood into the veins of Solitude’s royalty and would serve as the basis of an alliance between the two kingdoms, eventually leading to the hold of North Coast practically becoming the vassal of their western neighbour.
Following this reaffirming of its status as the dominant power in the north-west of Skyrim, Solitude would only grow bolder under its new line of kings, eventually going as far as annexing several Imperial fiefs in the Sea of Ghosts, the most significant of which was the island of Roscrea. Expeditions to further map the north were funded, in hopes of discovering new lands to claim. Eventually, Solitude’s resurgence would culminate with the construction of the Imperial Naval Arsenal of Haafingar, funded partially by the Empire and partially by the city’s royalty. This arsenal, a ship manufactory modelled after the Imperial arsenals of Cyrodiil, is one of the main reasons for Solitude’s naval might, combining with the forested south of the hold to provide the foundation of a powerful navy crewed by some of the best sailors of Tamriel.
Currently, Solitude is ruled by King Karlmun, descendant of King Thian and the rightful king of Haafinheim and North Coast, through claim by blood. Currently, Karlmun, at thirty one years of age, has ruled the kingdom for a little over a year, inheriting from his father Hjolfr not only a strong claim to two kingdoms, but also a position of great influence and power in the Nordic Confederation. His brief reign has been characterised by decisive action so far, successfully fending off an invasion by Wayrest and returning the blow by conquering much of the Western Reach for the Nordic Confederation, meaning that for the first time in eras the name of the region is accurate once more.
Karlmun’s reign is marked not only by the backing of this military exertion, but also increasing tensions between the king and the Moot of Haafinheim. While the kings of the realm have been at odds with the Moot for quite a while now, the tension between the two only now seems to have found the catalyst it needed to become more evident, with Karlmun wasting no opportunity to strengthen his personal influence, never shying away from showing that he particularly welcomed the chance to do so at the Moot’s expense.
Despite being home to one of the largest cities of Skyrim, on the whole the hold of Haafinheim is a predominantly rural land, as is the case with most of the holds. The valleys that dominate the south-southwest of the hold, though broken up by thick forests, are well suited for farming and one can find many hamlets there, surrounded by fields of crops as well as housing sawmills to profit from the lucrative business of lumber trade. Further east, mountains tower over the countryside, but there life too finds a way, villages on the banks of small mountain rivers being quite commonplace, usually situated at the foot of a mountain upon which the ruins of ancient fortress and settlements can be found – predecessors of these same villages, abandoned when such a defensive posture was deemed unnecessary and the threat of attack was outweighed by other concerns.
Unlike in large parts of High Rock, the farmers of Haafinheim are predominantly free men. One thing that will strike many people as curious is that land is not solely the property of a single person, but also of the whole community – though farmers do not necessarily have to leave their land to their sons or other relatives, the inheritor cannot be an outsider, it must be someone who lives in the village. The community is not a stagnant thing, however, as land can be sold to outsiders (if there is no opposition in the village moot), as well as passed on to a relative that does not live in the village. The relative may then choose to move in himself, or lease the land to someone else, a variant of tenant farming found in High Rock (however in this case again, there must be no opposition in the village moot).
While the majority of households may be free, that does not mean they are their own lords. Traditionally, each village has its own moot, which consists of the patriarchs of all the free families of the village. The village moot elects a jungher – the noble ruler of the village, of sorts – although the ‘election’ is almost always merely the reaffirming of oaths of fealty to the blood-heir of the previous jungher. Each jungher can name their successor (this is usually their eldest son) and the moot very rarely defies them.
The jungher is not the owner of the village land; instead, he is a magistrate of sorts. A jungher has several chief duties – he is the village judge, the leader of its host in wartime and he must represent it in the moot of the area. In exchange for this, the families of the village pay him tribute so the jungher may sustain himself and his family, maintain a suitable retinue of huscarls – free men who act as both soldiers and administrative aides – and cover the expenses of attending the moots (something that may entail a quite lengthy journey).
The local moots are a vital part of a jungher's responsibilities and the fact that they can call moots - the subject of much pride for these nobles of Skyrim. Jungher from a number of villages from the same area gather together for the occasion to discuss matters concerning not only their individual villages, but the whole surrounding land. Unlike a simple village moot or the Imperialized Moot of Solitude, these local moots begin with something of a ceremony that dates back to ancient times, displaying Nordic penchant for alcohol - mead is drunk from a ceremonial cup twice, once for the well-being of those living (before the cup is passed around, some mead is spilled to represent those absent, the meaning behind this being that the wishes then apply to them as well), refilled after the first drink for their predecesors now dead (with some mead spilled again, this time to ease the crossing of those recently dead by refilling the stocks of Sovngarde in their name - a sort of a recommendation from the junghers and the likely origin of a Nordic saying 'not worth spilling mead for', meaning a person of inferior quality).
The tributes from freemen are not the only way most junghers survive – it is not uncommon for them to have several clients. These are men who have become indebted to the jungher in some way, for example by pledging themselves to him for saving their lives (usually by sparing them in battle; men saved by a jungher on their side rarely give up their freedom to repay this, more often simply becoming ardent supporters or entering his service as huscarls) or simply taking a loan and being unable to return it in time. Their duties vary – they may be servants to the jungher, tend to his herds, or, perhaps most commonly, they work the land in his name, giving him a large share of the crops. Not only junghers have clients, for it is not uncommon for a freeman to have one or two, but as a general rule they have the most.
A client is considered to no longer be a man of his own and, though they marry and have children, they are not considered separate ‘family units’. Instead, they are extensions of their patrons’ family, signified best by the fact that, should a man or woman of this position be killed, their spouses and relatives may not collect a wergild (a compensation from the murderer, an archaic practice still in use in much of Skyrim, though since ancient times it has become illegal in most holds to exact it by killing the murderer), instead it is collected by the patron. The wergild itself is reflective of the client’s status as such, being the same size as an underage child’s or a married woman’s, thus half the size of a freeman’s and a quarter the size of a jungher’s.
While on the subject of wergild, an interesting observation to make would be that in Haafinheim, as in most (if not all) the western or ‘Imperialized’ holds, the wergild of a woman varies. A woman that is not married has the same sized wergild as a freeman; however, should she marry, her wergild is the same size as that of an underage child or a client. This is indicative of two things – the inequality between woman and man in traditional Nordic society (a married woman is considered to be her husband’s and he is not only her spouse but also her ‘patron’ or ‘father’ in a way, reflected in the fact her true father does not collect full wergild for her murder if her husband lives) and the fact that Imperial virtues are taking hold in the west, namely equality between genders (thus a grown woman that is not married and thus has only her biological father is worth the same as a man of the same position).
In a traditional Nordic village, a jungher is fairly untouchable, considered to be a sort of an overarching ‘parent’ to the freemen who elect him; a jungher does not, however, have any say against a king and can be stripped of his position without question if the monarch so demands. It is thus fortunate for most junghers that they rarely attract the attention of their ruler, given that they mostly operate in the space of local moots and their villages, only coming into contact with the king when called to war. A recent development, not a natural evolution of Nordic society but something caused by the Imperial influences more evident in the north of Haafinheim, is that the king must have the majority of the Moot behind him if he wishes to strip a jungher of his duties, a point of much friction between the two not because this right is very important, but because of what it represents – all subjects are the king’s clients, in a way, an extension of his family; that the Moot would infringe upon this right means that the king loses his status as the sole ‘patriarch’ of the ‘family’ of his hold.
While from all this the Nords of central and south eastern Haafinheim might sounds like an archaic bunch, that is not entirely so. It is a western hold, after all, and subject to more outside influences than those in the east, therefore traditions differ. Clients are strictly differentiated from slaves and while their wergild might be collected by their patron instead of relatives, the fact that they have a wergild in the first place is a sign they are considered as human as anyone else (since wergild is, by definition, not only and not primarily a fine for the murder, but a means to avoid vengeance from the relatives by compensation; the clients are thus considered to have relatives who might want to avenge their murder, even if it is their patron, unlike slaves); downright slavery is thus very rarely found with this differentiation, and even where it is found, the slaves have more rights than in the east – their master cannot, for example, kill them without incurring a fine to the king (although it is treated not as a wergild, for the slave is considered to have no relatives, but a compensation, as one would compensate for killing a horse; since the king is the overarching ‘patriarch’ of his kingdom, the owner of the slave pays him for damaging property that is indirectly his).
Other differences include the fact there is no longer any need to prove oneself in any way before maturity and one of the most significant differences – in Haafinheim (and North Coast, for that matter), wergild is collected only by the closest family, meaning the murder victim’s spouse or, if he or she is not married, their parents. Combined with the fact exacting wergild through revenge is no longer allowed, this means murder can no longer be used as a pretext for eliminating someone by claiming relation with the victim, laying to rest vendettas that might otherwise plague Nordic society.
While certain changes are evident in these more traditional regions of Haafinheim, outside influences have drastically impacting the northern parts of the hold, while the very west is barely Nordic at all, therefore dividing Haafinheim into three different worlds.
While tradition dictates that in central and south-eastern areas of the hold the only nobility are the jungher, who lack the sway and resources that nobles such as Bretic magnates have, that is not so in the north. Imperial interference and the proximity of Solitude and the wealth that flows through it have combined and allowed some jungher to evolve and become more, managing to secure whole villages of clients or direct control of the land that proper junghers lack, either through purchase or rewards from the Empire. These families have become ‘proper’ nobility, with authority grounded entirely in their claims to the land or the people who live on it instead of being granted it by a settlement’s moot. This grants them considerable power, which they have successfully employed in the past in dominating the Moot (to the point where an actual proper Moot has not been called for considerable amounts of time, since gatherings now include only these magnates instead of representatives from all local moots of the hold as they should, each elected by the jungher comprising that moot) and through their control of the Moot – to challenge the king.
The nobles are still bound to answer to the call to war when the king issues one, just as junghers do, however they can boast hosts more impressive than simply a handful of huscarls and some freemen. The vast tracks of land that these families rule cannot be overseen directly, therefore they employ something that, asides from them, only the king has – free clients, of a sort. The nobility do not keep retinues of huscarls, who are merely freemen warriors that also aid the jungher in administration and usually have no lands of their own, instead relying in times of war on druzhina, an entirely different kind of retainer who serves his lord by marching to war when called and overseeing his land – much like a chevalier of High Rock. Unlike chevaliers, however, druzhina are entirely dependent on their lord and do not inherit the land granted to them, instead each generation having to swear oaths anew, thus they are much less independent than their western neighbours tend to be. They represent something quite unusual – authority coming entirely down from the top, having no ties whatsoever with any moot, for they are not elected and neither do they have the right to call their own moots; the only representation they can hope for in the Moot is through their lord.
Druzhina are to the noblemen what junghers are to the king, however just as nobles are below the king, the druzhina who serve them are below the junghers (who are technically equal with the nobles – after all, the northern nobility started out as junghers in almost all cases). There are some cases of junghers being aligned with nobles, of course, but those are few and far in between; the general rule of Haafinheim’s politics is that junghers back the king, while only the nobility are served by druzhina.
The last statement, however, has recently come to be only partially true. The War of Bend’r Mahk brought about the incorporation of Bretic lands that used to belong to the Western Reach into Solitude. The loyalties of Bretic nobility are nothing if not flexible, thus many chevaliers who used to answer to different lords decided they would rather swear fealty to a new king rather than fight on to the bitter end in the name of some or other nobleman that they used to serve. Thus it has come to be that the social order in the very west of Haafinheim is largely reminiscent of High Rock and were it not for the mountains that separate the two provinces, it would be very hard to tell when one crosses the border from Jehanna to Solitude. In the rolling valleys immediately east of the mountains, one will find villages populated chiefly by a mix of native Reachmen and Iliac Bretons who moved east in large numbers during the Third Era, ruled over by knights who answer directly to the king of Solitude and in return get to keep their land and their serfs – provided they show up for war armoured as one could expect of a Bretic chevalier.
Of course, not all chevaliers were so opportunistic or simply lucky enough to survive the first battles against the Nords so that they could later change sides. Here and there lands were left without rulers, as per Nordic law passing to the king. This is where the usual rule of the king having no druzhinas was violated in some cases, since some lands were simply granted directly to trusted freemen, leaving the social order intact. In other cases, however, Nordic colonists were encouraged to move in and granted the right to assemble into moots and elect a jungher, along with some few original inhabitants. Such villages are hotbeds of friction in the hold as Nordic values conflict with Reachmen or Bretic ones and there have been recorded cases of one side violently lashing out against the other or moots attended by both Nordic and the newly created Breton freemen getting violent.
Further west past this strange land that is neither here nor there (usually referred to by Haafinheim’s Nords as ‘the Bretic Trench’, since the land there is generally lower than that both to the east and the west) lie the mountains that mark the border between Jehanna and Solitude. Technically, a part of these mountains fall under the king’s authority, however it is almost unheard of there. Here, Reachmen communities live as they have for eras, ruled over by witches and hedge-wizards practicing strange Reach magic and answering to no lord. Lawlessness reigns in these mountain villages, the Nords very rarely attempting to force them to bow to their theoretical sovereign, however wisely enough the mountain Reachmen seem to have refrained from their usual raids against their lowland kin, knowing that they are now under the protection of the Nords, who rarely take kindly to such events and if provoked would prove a fearsome enemy in the mountainous environment they are well-used to.