By Thor Olavsrud
Among the Bjornings and Scefings, communities are traditionally led by hersar (sing. hersir). Hersar are men or women chosen by their communities to lead.
In the countryside, hersar are not generally born to the role. They simply have the knack for getting others to follow them. This is the way things have always been. Some people excel at making the decisions the community needs to survive. They can organize and manage the community’s labor. They can settle disputes and find compromises. These people rise to become hersar. The hersar answer to the chieftains of their clans and the jarl or king or queen of their land.
In Bjorning lands, this traditional way is gradually and begrudgingly giving way to a new order borrowed from the Gotts: members of leading families are appointed as royal officers called lendermenn to oversee multiple steadings and villages. This system of feudal overlords is somewhat more developed among the Gotts, who call their lendermenn ‘barunar’ (sing. barun).
In Bjorning lands, High King Bård, who died in a hunting accident two years ago, was the first to begin appointing lendermenn at the urging of his wife Astrid. Now, as high queen in her own right, Astrid continues the practice. To the south and west, King Eyvind of Jeilirdal and Queen Mjoll of Dreikdal have seen the benefit of giving land to their loyal retainers in exchange for taxes and military service. They have begun appointing their own lendermenn.
The lendermenn owe their monarchs military service and taxes. In exchange their overlord gives them the right to exploit their lands and collect taxes from their tenants. The cottars and karls of these lands have always been free folk, and they resent the imposition of these new overlords who now demand a tithe of their labor and its produce. They are not the only ones to resent it: The Otherworld roils with the fury of the ancestors at the abrogation of ancient custom.
Lendermenn, jarls and monarchs call their household and its members a hirth.
The hirth is an armed retinue and circle of advisors. The senior members of a hirth are called hirthmenn.
At the top of the hierarchy is the monarch (or jarl). A kanceler is the leader of the hirth and reports to the monarch. Several officers report to the kanceler and advise the monarch. They are chosen from among the lendermenn:
The lendermenn lead groups of veteran warriors called skutilsveinr (dish-men/women). Skutilsveinr are much like huskarls, but they are all men and women of important and respected families. They are called skutilsveinr because they are honored with the right to sit at table with their monarch in the hall. In battle, the skutilsveinr wear heavy armor and take pride of place in their lord’s warband.
The skutilsveinr are supported by their kertilsveinr (candle-men/women). The kertilsveinr are young men and women of quality training to become skutilsveinr. When the hirthmenn feast with their monarch in the hall, the kertilsveinr serve and hold candles to illuminate the feast. In battle, the kertilsveinr are more lightly armed and armored than the skutilsveinr they serve. They support and defend their individual skutilsveinr and guard the flanks.
Kept out of sight are the gestir: the assassins, spies, scouts, secret police—the ones called upon to do the things that an upstanding and honorable person can't be seen to do.
Every ruler needs agents that can do the dirty work their noble followers can’t be seen to do: collecting taxes from recalcitrant subjects, killing rivals in secret or taking hostages, robbing tombs for items of power, negotiating with hostile spirits or sending them against foes, slaying or driving off monsters. In the hirth, these are the gestir (guests). The gestir are low-status men and women (little better than outcasts or thralls) who do not have the right to sit at table in the lord’s hall, or even enter it. They are tolerated for their skills, but not loved. They serve the hirth as assassins, scouts, spies and secret police. They are easily disavowed if necessary, for they have no formal standing in the hall. In battle they typically serve as light infantry and skirmishers.
As outcasts and vagrants with sharp problem-solving skills, adventurers are perfect for this role. Most lendermenn, jarls and monarchs have a few to hand they can call on when necessary. For adventurers this can be a double-edged sword: Being gestir gives them a patron and influence, but they’re still not welcome at their lord’s table and the hirthmenn will rarely let them forget it.
Barun (pl. barunar). Gott term for royal officers appointed by the warchief. Barunar are granted lands in exchange for military service and collection of taxes. The inspiration for Bjorning lendermenn.
Drottsetti. Officers of the hirth who serve as administrators of lands directly held by a jarl, king or queen (as opposed to lands granted to their lendermenn). They are considered to speak with the voice of their lord when that person is not present. Drottsetti are appointed from among the lendermenn.
Gestir. Low-status men and women who serve as a jarl, king or queen’s assassins, scouts, spies, secret police and general troubleshooters. The term means ‘guest’ and refers to the fact that these folk are not accorded the right to feast with their lord in the hall. They have useful skills, but are viewed as low-life scum and barely tolerated. Jarls, kings and queens often hire adventurers to serve as gestir.
Hirth. The armed retinue and advisors of a jarl, king or queen.
Hirthmenn. The men and women that comprise the hirth.
Kanceler. The leader of a hirth. Reports directly to the jarl, king or queen.
Kertilsveinr. Young men and women from leading families that are being trained by a skutilsveinr to join their ranks. The term means ‘candle-man/woman’ and refers to the fact that these budding warriors hold candles and serve food and drink when the hirth feasts. In battle, the kertilsveinr are more lightly armed and armored than the skutilsveinr they serve and are often tasked with guarding the flanks of the shield wall.
Merkismathr. An officer of the hirth who serves as the standard-bearer and champion. The merkismathr is almost always the greatest warrior among the lendermenn.
Skenkjari. An officer of the hirth who chooses and oversees all of the servants and thralls that work in a jarl, king or queen’s hall. The skenkjari is responsible for the larder and cellar in the hall and supply while on campaign. The skenkjari is appointed from among the lendermenn.
Skutilsveinr. Warriors from the noblest and most respected families that serve as hirthmenn. The term means ‘dish-man/woman’ and refers to the fact that these warriors are honored with the right to feast in their jarl, king or queen’s hall. Skutilsveinr are veteran warriors with the best armor and weapons.
Stallari. Officers of the hirth that serve as warleaders. The stallari are appointed from among the lendermenn.
Original article: You're a Gestir, April 16, 2020