Harborhead is a large country in the Southeast of Creation. Its climate varies from temperate (on the coast) and in the mountains through sun-parched (in the interior) to sweltering (in the jungle regions). It is threatened in the North by the Shadowlands of Thorns and the Bayou of Endless Regret, by untamed Lunar infested jungle to the East, and by the Varang City-States to the South. The West faces the Blessed Isle itself across the Inner Sea. The primary faith of Harborhead is worship of the Unconquered Sun and Ahlat.
The Five Tribes
Harborhead is occupied by five named tribes springing from the same ancient stock, although they have not been united since the First Age. In the current age, relationships between the five vary from wary alliance to outright hatred. The temporal loyalty of any Harborheadite is first to his tribe, second to his people and finally (if at all) to his nation.
The Izhalvi are both the most numerous and the most geographically scattered people in Harborhead, though most live in mountainous areas. They worship both the Unconquored Sun and Gaia, considering themselves the offspring of the two Incarnae. Respect for one's elders is the most important trait for the Izhalvi.
The Totikari are nomadic cattle herders, live mostly in the hot interior and are similar to the Earth Maasai people. They value generosity highly, and will cheerfully give a guest just about anything they ask for, including a daughter to marry or the clothes off their own back. Imperial tax collectors have found that the Totikari are willing to give far more than the tax they owe if it is presented as a way to prove their generosity. The tax collector might gift the tribal chief with iron knives to defend themselves against the Fair Folk, for example, and then ask the chief to gift him with "the Empress' due" in return. The Totikari are the second-most numerous native people in Harborhead, but because they are nomadic, they are also the most politically disenfranchised. They know they are exploited by the Realm and dislike the situation, but need a leader to unite them.
The Brakhani are the smallest population and live by cattle herding and farming of wheat, cotton, oranges, bananas and other fruit. They are skilled bead workers, and often wear lots of colourful jewelry. Bravery is the most important trait to a Brakhani, and they send out young adults against dangerous animals armed with nothing but a knife, as an adulthood test. Brakhani worship the Unconquored Sun as well as a wealth of other deities.
The Krantiri are found in the coastal regions, and they mostly live as fisher-folk. They are not well organised, and are often taken advantage of by the other peoples. This is surprising, as Krantiri value cleverness above all else. They are fond of dance plays and make masks and huge puppets of woven grass to perform historical stories. The coastal village of Hashumbii is an example of a Krantiri settlement.
The Shayanti are clever merchants and currently the most politically powerful of the five peoples. Shayanti work together well and help each other out against outsiders, and many of the most wealthy individuals in Harborhead are Shayanti. They are known also for their poetry, and their wandering warrior-poets are dangerous to meet on a dark road. Shayanti believe that the bonds of family are the most important responsibility of any person. Most Shayanti worship Ahlat directly.
The tribes raid each other constantly (and the city states to the South if a war band is big enough) and take each other as slaves as well as stealing cattle. These slaves are typically sold to the Realm or to the Guild. Although they get paid only a tiny fraction of the value of the slave in other markets, this is still such a profitable trade that many of the tribes rely on it for income. The Realm encourages slaving because it guarantees a constant flow of prime slaves, from which they take their pick and then sell the balance to the Guild (getting a better rate as middlemen than the Guild gives the natives of Harborhead). In this way, everyone gets rich except the people of Harborhead.
Rulership of Harborhead rests with the Imperial Satrap, who “advises” the ruler, who is known as the Leopard. Originally the most powerful warlord in the region, the only Leopard worth mentioning was Blood-on-the-Horn. Blood-on-the-Horn was a God-Blooded daughter of Ahlat born to one of the Brides of Ahlat who used her power to unite the people of Harborhead into one nation. The Realm prudently conquered Harborhead before it could become a competing empire. Blood-on-the-Horn spent the next thirty years or so resisting the Realm until she was killed in a one-on-one duel with a Dragon-Blooded of House Mnemon. Since then, the occupant of the Leopard Seat has been picked by the Realm, and is generally seen as a worthless Realm collaborator.
The Realm has an extensive bureaucracy in Harborhead, based in the capital city of Kirigast. It is thoroughly corrupt, with everyone on the take, even members of the All-Seeing Eye, who are the watchdogs of corruption. The tax collectors skim off what they collect from the residents, their superiors skim off that, they all bribe the officials of the All-Seeing Eye to look the other way, and in the end the Realm finds that the proper tribute doesn't reach the Empress from the people of Harborhead. Regretfully, they are forced to go back and recover the agreed amount from the “lazy” natives, who consistently fail to pay the Realm's due. As a result, the people of Harborhead end up paying around two or three times as much in taxes to the Realm as they are supposed to. If a village doesn't or can't pay, the Realm burns it and sells the residents into slavery to pay their debt. That most people can just manage to pay their taxes indicates how rich the land is and how successful the people could be if they were not under the boot heel of the Scarlet Empire.
Another reason for Harborhead's importance to the Realm is the Bent Creek Jade beds. There is a virtual mountain of Jade there, and Bent Creek has grown into a small city containing the largest mining project in the South. Apart from the amount the corrupt bureaucracy manages to skim off, all this Jade goes straight to the Empress's personal Treasury. Now that the Empress has vanished, the Great Houses of the Realm are considering who amongst them should benefit from the riches at Bent Creek. The mines are, of course, worked by slaves; conditions are harsh and every slave very expendable since a ready source is so nearby. Individual slaves rarely last more than a couple of years at Bent Creek.
The people of Harborhead recognize the Unconquered Sun as the ruling god and Ahlat as his right hand; the Unconquered Sun is the Chief and Ahlat is the War Leader. Some of the more aggressive tribes concentrate their worship on Ahlat. The Immaculate Order disapproves of this improper worship, but the complex political relationships of the area led the Empress herself to direct the Immaculate Order to be lenient on the subject of Ahlat's worship. In fact, this situation benefits the Realm.
The Empress recognized that Ahlat demands the sacrifice of many cattle; more than a tribe can normally spare without starving. It is, of course, better to take someone else's cattle for sacrifice and, since Ahlat is also the Southern God of War, the Bull God would be doubly honored by raids on his behalf. So the tribes raid each other and take each others cattle to sacrifice to Ahlat and their people to sell as slaves. Those who do so are rewarded by Ahlat, who makes their own cattle more fertile, and their warriors greater in battle. Which in turn makes them better at taking other peoples cattle and more of a target for other nearby tribes who want to take their fertile cattle. Thus, the Empress allowed the situation to continue for the sake of keeping the natives fighting each other instead of her own Legions. With the Empress gone, the Immaculate Order is taking a stronger hand.
Harborhead is one of the few Realm Satrapies allowed to keep its own standing army; the military of Harborhead is a deeply-entrenched cultural tradition. The priests of Ahlat marry young girls to their god in both a ceremonial and legal fashion, increasing his followers and amount of worship. These Brides of Ahlat are raised to be warriors, and protect the Leopard as an "honor guard" stemming from the politically advantageous fiction that the king of Harborhead is a distant cousin of the Empress. These 15,000 elite amazons are dedicated to their duty, though they still view their ruler as a worthless lackey of the Realm.
Offsetting the power of the native military is the Realm's 47th Legion, about 3500-strong, one of the best divisions of the Imperial Army led by Terrestrials of House Cathak. It is supplemented heavily by local recruits, and around a quarter of the Legion is made up of Harborheadites loyal to the Realm. Many of these soldiers have even become faithful followers of the Immaculate Order. While vastly outnumbered by the local army, the Legion boasts around 25 Dragon-Blooded of Dynastic or Lost Egg origin, evening the odds greatly against the largely mortal Harborhead military.
Finally there is the Fire Fleet, whose base of operations in the South is Kirigast. Equipped with the most powerful ships the Realm can float (including some First Age vessels), the Fire Fleet could not only dominate the coast and blockade the ports, but the Realm could easily reinforce its position with still more Legions if the natives of Harborhead revolted. Those who plot rebellion know that they might win initial engagements, but would definitely lose the war when the Realm retaliated. So they bide their time and wait.
When the Empress first disappeared five years ago, the then Leopard started to make waves, suggesting it may be time for the Realm “advisors” to get out of her country and let them rule themselves. As the “cousin” of the Empress, this was politically awkward. Consquently, the Leopard and her immediate family all ate something bad one tea time and tragically died. The survivors all disappeared somewhere, also mysteriously. The Satrap “suggested” that the court pick a new Leopard from another bloodline, and that he would be happy to continue to “advise” on behalf of the Realm. The current Leopard is a fat little Shayanti nobleman named Oshom Kurgaz who originally wanted the position of power but now realises that he is the pawn of the Realm, is hated by his own guardswomen and has no popular support.
There is a rumour that a surviving member of the Reshoom family (the last Leopard's kin) is raising an army in the remote South. There are also supposed to be other survivors locked up in the dungeons beneath the Satraps palace who've been there for the last five years. No one knows for sure who's still alive down there (except maybe the Satrap, and he sadly "knows nothing about the tragic disappearance of the Empresses remote cousins in the Reshoom family").
Ahlat is in a prime position to spot exceptional warriors and he passes that information on to the Unconquered Sun so he can pick good candidates for Exaltation. As a result, a higher than average proportion of Dawn Caste Solars come from the South. Those who exalt in Harborhead are forced to flee immediately, as Harborhead is a popular destination for Dragonbloods who like to do a little hunting. Because there are so many Dragonblooded around (on top of those serving with the 47th Legion) it's very easy to get together an exceptionally powerful Wyld Hunt, and most Solars exalted in Harborhead are lucky to survive. The survivors are the ones lucky enough to be Exalted way out in the back country, and smart enough to immediately leave, hoping to grow in power before they can return.