Vanni Clans of the Swaying Veld
I’ve traveled from one corner of the veld to the other, and the two universal traits I’ve found among the clans are an ardent desire to rebuild the great Vanni Empire of old and a sincere faith that such a reunification is possible, if only the the other clans would stop being so selfish, stubborn, and stupid.
— Excerpt from A Caravan of No Cars by the Repentant and Reformed Bandit Deadtongue Taal yub-sar Taal
Millenia ago, the Vanni Empire was the greatest power Modui had ever seen, its holdings stretching from the edge of the Sundrinker Sands in the north down to the tips of the Five Claws in the south. The ohunsae of this age were benevolent, enlightened rulers, their edicts shaping the lives of millions of subjects; under their guidance, the continent experienced a golden age of advancement and prosperity.
However, the years of easy peace saw the One-Clan Vanni grow soft and complacent, ruled over by a succession of increasingly incompetent or corrupt ohunsae. Factionalism and infighting finally blossomed into a devastating civil war that lasted for generations. When it was over, the ancient empire was no more, reduced to a collection of disparate clans, each squabbling with the others to maintain control of its portion of the Swaying Veld.
It is unclear how much of this prelapsarian narrative about an idealized, once-great Vanni Empire is true, and how much is mythmaking. The Vanni’s oldest written records date back about three thousand years, and in these the Empire is already long dead, its peoples fractured into eleven separate clans. What’s more, these records freely weave together myth, religious texts and history, so their reliability as sources is questionable at best. However, ruins have been found across Modui, in areas far beyond the territory currently controlled by the clans, with frescos and reliefs that seem to depict Vanni gods and historical and mythological figures, so there may be some truth to them.
At present, the Vanni Clans rule the Swaying Veld, a vast area that incorporates much of northern Modui. The Veld is split into ten territories called Reaches, each one controlled by its own clan. Each clan takes its name from the capital city of the reach — so the Vanni of Nightmirror (capital Hanujad) are known as the Hanujadi, while those of Rainrest (capital Sangbujad) are the Sangbujadi.
Gods and Laws
Even after millenia of rivalries, border conflicts and small-scale wars, the clans still share certain bedrock cultural and societal characteristics — the things that make them all “Vanni.” The clans worship a shared pantheon of gods and mythological figures, the principal deity of which is known as Clayshaper Modui, the mother-and-father-in-one. According to the myths, the Clayshaper is said to be perpetually creating and recreating the world, aided by their first children, the Eleven. Each clan regards one of the Eleven as its patron, while still paying obeisance to the other ten.
Another commonality between the clans is their system of laws. Each is ruled by an ohun (plural: ohunsae), an elected leader who holds power for life (unless stripped of the title by a special referendum). Once elected, an ohun’s authority is absolute. She is advised and aided by a group of councilors referred to as her Quiver, whom she chooses at the outset of her tenure.
The day-to-day workings of the Vanni legal system is handled by the ifiran, a caste of lawyer-priests that are trained in the centuries-old juridical tradition of the clans. Vanni law is based on an ancient corpus of fundamental stories, myths and texts, as well as an enormous body of exegetical commentary surrounding these sources and previous rulings.
* The lost eleventh clan. The Misijadi and their homeland of Silent Bell were destroyed during Hacik’s Great Expansion.
The Veld Inviolate
Besides these shared religious and legal traditions, the toughest connective tissue between the clans is the belief that the Vanni must maintain control of the Swaying Veld at all costs. Faced with an external threat, they will put aside ancient inter-clan enmities long enough to throw back the invaders (before returning to status-quo squabbling).
The last event that saw the clans come together in this way was during the Great Expansion of the Haciki Empire, when the imperial legions pushed into Silent Bell, the southernmost reach and gateway to the veld. While the Misijadi of Silent Bell slowed the Haciki advance, the ohunsae of the other ten clans united their armies under the banner of the Butcherbird, a military genius from Lionreign who willingly renounced her clan in order to accept the post.
The All-Clan army engaged the Haciki in Broken Shield Reach, winning a series of decisive victories and breaking the back of the imperial forces. Hacik was forced to sue for peace, ceding much of the territory they had conquered. Unfortunately, once the external threat was neutralized, old prejudices once again threatened the cohesion of the Butcherbird’s army. The Kalajadi of Broken Shield seized on the chance to simultaneously double their holdings and do away with their ancestral enemies, the Misijadi, by insisting on the absorption of Silent Bell’s territory into Broken Shield.
Tensions rose even further when the Butcherbird, who had proven so indomitable on the battlefield, was assassinated by poisoning. To this day it is unknown who administered the dose — potential suspects include Haciki assassins, aggrieved Misijadi separatists angry that their homeland was in danger of being wiped off the map, opportunistic Kalajadi actors attempting to sow chaos, or even agents of one of the ohunsae, who worried the charismatic master-general represented a potential threat to their power.
Regardless, the death of the Butcherbird accelerated the deterioration of the already-precarious All-Clan alliance. Peace talks were hurriedly concluded, with the Kalajadi seizing half of what used to be Silent Bell, making them the first line of defense against future Haciki incursions. The other half of the lost eleventh reach was incorporated into the newly-formed Imperial Protectorate of New Owangru, a client state of the Haciki Empire.
The White Jagun
The Butcherbird wore a distinctive suit of armor made of white strider shell, an extremely rare coloration for the animals. After her assassination, this armor was seized by the Gonyamajadi of Lionreign, her former clan. This incensed the other clans, who insisted that the general had come to stand for all Vanni, and that her possessions should be shared as symbols representing an ideal — that of the of eventual reunification and restoration of the great One-Clan Empire. After all, her sword had been made by the master smiths of Hammerscrap, her suit of strider-plate by the celebrated armorers of Rainrest, her bow and bolts by the bowyers of Warajad. Her mount had come from the stables of Nightmirror, her clothing from the looms of Rumorweave. She had even worn a shunshi-pelt cloak sent by the enigmatic Aryukujadi of Dustmaw. Every clan had contributed in some way to outfitting her, just as they had all contributed soldiers to her cause.
An agreement was reached whereby the armor and weapons of the Butcherbird would circulate among the clans, changing hands every ten years. When a clan receives the arms and armor, its ohun puts them in the care of a steward, who is thereafter known as the White Jagun. While the White Jagun is usually chosen from among the warrior caste, her function is primarily diplomatic, with a focus on fostering peace and coordination between the clans.
The receipt of the Butcherbird’s artifacts is an auspicious occasion, believed to mark the beginning of a decade of good fortune for the clan, and is celebrated with a month of festivities.
A Squabbling Patchwork
We must move away from referring to the peoples of the Swaying Veld collectively as “the Vanni,” for this label makes them seem a monolithic power, the rival of Hacik for continental hegemony. In reality they are a squabbling patchwork of ill-tempered little nation-states, and it is only by exploiting the divisions between them that the Empire can hope to successfully expand north of the Heart.
– From A Treatise on the Warmaking Capabilities of the Peoples of the Swaying Veld by Umbheki Ncele, Provincial Syndic of Outer Respite.
When discussing the differences between the Vanni Clans, it is helpful to break them down into subgroups based on their local environment. The Swaying Veld is massive, incorporating rolling plains of highgrass, mountain ranges, hilly steppes, sandy coasts, dense jungle, and desert-bordering scrublands. This environmental variety has necessarily influenced the development of the disparate clans.