Tales from the Inner Sea
The Tarmaki Horse Lords
Located in the rolling plains and low hills to the north of the Altai Territories lie the Vistural Steppes, a vast area of hot summers and biting cold winters. This land is home to a ferocious Clan of savage horsemen called the Tarmaki Horse Lords. These proud and harsh people call no-one master, few their friend and none their equal. For time out of mind they have warred with the Altai, the 2 great horse cultures constantly raiding and warring upon one another, and it is testimony to their savagery and martial prowess that whilst the Altai hate them and regard them as little better than savage beasts, they have grudging respect for their skills and never underestimate them.
The Tarmaki are unusual in that they have a permanent small city located in the low hills central to their lands which is ruled by the Cult of Blood and Iron. This Ancestor Cult is of their patron spirit Turajiin (perhaps demi god or powerful spirit) and he is reputed to have given them the secret of metal working. Their Holy Weaponsmiths create weapons for all the various factions and tribes, overseen by the Shamans of this violent Cult. It is known they practice human/sentient sacrifice in the creation and blessing of their weapons, and each weapon carried by a Tarmaki will have been already used to slay a captive before the warrior even receives the blade. It is a terrible thing to be captured by the Tarmaki.
Their numbers are greater than the Altai, and they also make use of slaves and prisoners who are universally treated abominably. Initiates of the gods who are captured are subjected to a foul ritual that breaks the bond between god and Initiate, often breaking the will of the unfortunate person. Their military is without exception mounted horse archers and lancers, and their horsemanship is on a par with the Altai, though their horses are not quite so fast, being more bred for endurance in harsher climes than actual speed. That and the cultural aversion to using any armour other than that made with hide and leather has given the Altai an important tactical edge, but weight of numbers is often on the Tarmaki side.
Socially the Tarmaki do not fear death or suffering. To them it is foolish to fear the inevitability of ones own death, and it is important to show your lack of fear in brave and callous acts, and to endure privation and hardship (your own and others) with laughter and contempt. This can and does manifest itself with terrifying acts of savagery and brutality that would make a Stromovar warrior blanch. They believe that when they die Turajiin takes them to his side to live and fight forever against the foes they met in life and the spiritual foes one meets in death. They dare not shame him or fail him lest this (to them) desirable afterlife is lost to them. They are a patriarchal society who do not permit their women to fight, though their women are not treated badly, occupying the roles of non metal crafters, raisers of children and owning most of the actual property that make up a family unit (except a mans horses, weapons and armour which he alone owns). They also act as the owners of any slaves, and a Tarmaki woman can be as cruel if not more so as her husband and male family members in the treatment of such captives.
Physically, a Tarmaki appears deeply tanned, dark narrow eyes and a stocky build, with strange hairstyles like being cropped short except for 2 twin crests of hair spiked up with animal fat and plant products. The males always have a scar cut into their left cheek by the tribal shaman at their coming of age, and ones who are sworn as a Chieftains Honour guard have one on the right cheek as well. Their armour is always leather or cuirboulli, painted and dyed black and red with a facemask worn in war or raiding that looks like a savage screaming demon.
There has been preliminary contact between the Voyans and the Tarmaki, as neither people like the Altai. This has yet to turn into anything more solid than diplomatic gift giving due to the stiff necked sense of superiority each culture has, though the possibility that they could form an alliance in future is one that is of concern to the Altai and others in the north eastern parts of the Inner Sea.