HAENSE: THE FRONTIER STATE
Can the character of an entire people be summed up in one sentence? At first glance, this task seems daunting- capturing the lives of thousands of men and women, each with their own unique hopes, fears, deeds and dreams, in mere written words feels absurd. But if one thinks about the problem a little further, it becomes plain that the task is not so troublesome as it appears. For if anything can be said to tie together all of these disparate individual lives, it must be an idea or characteristic so basic, so essential to their being, that it would be simple and clear enough to be understood by even a child.
For example, ask yourself- what is a Kaedreni? The answer comes easily enough: a Kaedreni is a soldier. The Kaedreni people have served the Empire in countless ways, as warriors, stewards, statesmen, and even its leaders. But when one pictures the archetypal Kaedreni in his mind- a representative man for his entire people- one cannot help but picture a White Rose Orderman, built stronger and wound tighter than the loaded crossbow in his hands, ready to lay down his life to protect the good people of Oren.
What is a Horen? A Horen is a ruler of men. Can one even picture a Horen as anyone other? Anywhere but the head of the table, anything but the center in the Tapestry of Man? It is perverse to even think of. Indeed, when one looks upon the many cadet branches of the great House strewn throughout the gentry and petty noble classes, one cannot help but feel that they are incomplete, like a familiar dish missing a key ingredient. They lack that essential trait of Horens- their regality- the quality that makes the Horens who they are. Without it, these lesser cousins will always feel feeble and out of place when placed beside their kingly kin. To carry this point further- can one imagine a Norlander that did not feel a patriotic ache for rebellion against his fellow men in his heart? It is scarcely possible (though one might hope that were.)
With this preamble now behind us, we are prepared to tackle the question at the heart of this piece: What is Haense?
What is that essential quality that makes the Haeseni who they are?
When the sun sets in the West, it can warm the coldest heart you see
And the Heartlanders have their fields and flowers, so beatiful, and gay
But when I look out at those misty pines, I know there is nowhere I’d rather be
For the North is my land, and it is so much more than clay
The beauty of other regions is ephemeral, oh sadly so
But not the glory of Haense, oh no
-Alister Wailer, Warrior-Poet of Haense
Just over two centuries ago, the hussar-lords of the Atheran North gathered in the Hiebenhall keep and bent the knee to Karl Barbanov, the first Duke of Haense. How was this achieved? It is easy for the modern Haeseni burgher in his comfortable townhouse to forget; the realm that would one day become Haense was won with steel.
In the year 1497, Andrik Vydra threw down his gauntlet on the bridge, and so began a long campaign to unify the disparate Northern peoples into one state and bring them into the Canonist fold. Accompanying the professional soldiers deployed by the Orenian Crown was a motley collection of less-than-professional troops: loggers, fur traders, prospectors, Raevir stranniks, bohemian characters disenfranchised from mainland Oren, and countless second sons looking to carve off a piece of the map for themselves. These hardy men and women fought viciously in battle on the Kingdom’s behalf, then built their homesteads on newly conquered land to complete Oren’s victory.
This early crop of settlers intermarried with those highlander clansmen that had adopted the Canon and migrated to Siegrad. From the ensuing mix came the first native Haeseni population, and the first notion of a distinctive Haeseni identity.
Ask any man of Siegrad what his purpose for living, for breathing, for being was, and he would answer you confidently: “Settling the North, and making my own name.” What was meant by this? “The North” was the Orenian frontier of those days- untamed, dangerous- but laden with untapped wealth and opportunity. Haense served as the gateway to that wild borderland, and as a facilitator to its exploration.
Adventurers and fortune-seekers left their homesteads and their past selves in the Orenian heartland behind, constructed new homes and new identities on brackish Northern soil, and called themselves Haensemen. Their new, rough-hewn existence, and self regard as pioneers, was tied inextricably to the backwoods state which was now their home: to Haense.
This was the Haeseni identity: the relationship between the individual man, his ambition, and the wilderness that was his home. A Haenseman was an individual who struck out to places yet unexplored- the proverbial the edge of the map- to find his fame, to find his fortune, and to find himself.
Haense’s identity as the Orenian marchland, as a “Frontier State,” is the only stable identity it has ever possessed. Indeed; the only times that Haense has ever been master of its own destiny, ever truly “mounted the world,” have been when it fully embraced this immutable fact of its existence.
Peter Barbanov and his court understood this- they conquered and colonized the vast Northern reaches of Axios in a quest to earn their royal pedigree. King Stephen and Heinrik Bihar understood this- they rebuilt the Kingdom from a mound of ash, and made her a contender on the world stage. And of course, Karl Barbanov and his companion-founders understood this- for their works inspired all the rest.
For Haense is more than a sum of titles. The core of its identity lies somewhere beyond the scope of its heritage- in something greater than the mere addition of its Hansetian and Ruskan ancestry, or the influence of any Heartland realm. It unfolds itself in the lives of the Haeseni people, and is sustained by the faithful work they do on behalf of their great nation.
What is Haense? Haense is the Frontier State.
It is the end of man’s reach, the last light before the darkness.
It has always been so, and it will always be so.
We only need to remember.
-From the pen of John Walker