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Khoraja was once part of Koth itself before gaining its independence many hundreds of years ago. That might have been a historical footnote had fate and geography not conspired in Khoraja’s favor. Shamla Pass, one of the only ways through the great mountains, rising as wave of stone, it is a bulwark against the southern kingdoms, and the chokepoint of a major trade route.

Such an important trade route would not have been lightly let go by those ancient kings of Koth, and thus any learned scholar must ask — how did this upstart state maintain its independence against such a powerful kingdom?

Khorajans are essentially Kothian in descent, their country having been part of Koth until relatively recently. However in recent decades, their stock has become infused with more Hyborian blood and thus they are lighter-skinned. Some few have blonde hair and blue eyes.

Geography[]

On the southern side the hills fall away sheerly, marking a distinct geographical division between the Kothian uplands and the desert of Shem known as the Kothian Escarpment. Promontories run out into the desert, forming barren valleys; all but one, the Shamlan Pass, are closed on the northern extremity by rugged cliffs. A well is there, and a cluster of stone towers, occupied by the Zaheemi clan, whose duty it is to guard the caravan road.

The City of Khoraja[]

In its time, the city of Khoraja has gone by many names, but the current name is the only one people remember. Previously a Shemite trading town, it rapidly grew due to its proximity to the famed Shamla Pass. By the time Kothic mercenaries conquered her, Khoraja was well established and wealthy. That holds true to this day.

A populous city, Khoraja is, like Khorshemish, a mix of northern and southern cultures. Domed towers sit next to the square turrets of northern defenses. Though not as large as other well-known cities, Khoraja is equally cosmopolitan. Trade flows through the city like water torrents when winter ice breaks for spring. Stygians, Shemites, Turanians, and even Kushites move north looking to trade and work, while Kothians, Aquilonians, Corinthians, and the like move south in search of the same. The utility and ease provided by Khoraja for all these peoples and economies is one reason why it has not been sacked for so long. Surely, its riches are tempting.

Broad streets dominate the walled town, giving an open feeling seldom seen in other such busy cities. As in any city, though, the night gives shade to business which shies from the light of day. Khoraja’s black market economy equals the entire wealth of smaller sized cities. Weapons, lotus, slaves, and secrets pass through one gate and out another. Still, Khoraja is not equal in illicit dealings to the likes of Shadizar and Arenjun The Accursed. All things considered, it is a relatively safe place for travelers.

The royal palace stands at the approximate center of the city, with splendid gardens and cressets which shine under the wine-dark mantle of night. The gardens are bright, boasting plants from the far reaches of the Earth, but they are also well guarded by both man and beast. There is more than one assassin who found themselves prey to Puntian leopards when political discourse turned to daggers.

A permanent garrison of Khorajan knights barracks near the palace, though most rotate between the forts and citadels along the Kothic border.

Outside the city are the bones of thousands of soldiers, victims of long forgotten wars, their remains buried under the clean swards of green earth. The city of Khoraja is a renowned stop for mercenary troops seeking wars in Koth, or looking to sign on with the Turanian military.

Religion in the City[]

A fane to Mitra, sheathed in white marble, lies inside the palace, though few but those in residence ever see it. Its vaulted chamber is vast but not domed, distinguishing it from the temples of Ishtar who likewise finds supplicants in Khoraja.

Whatever wars of religion afflicted the city in times past are gone, and there is little rivalry between the Mitra and Ishtarian faiths in Khoraja. Further away from the capitol, such rivalries become more pronounced, though not recently violent.

Even still, there is a wide road which once divided the faithful of Mitra and Ishtar, and still serves as a line of demarcation between those who carry more Shemitish blood and those who carry the bloodlines of Koth.

History and politics[]

A Slice of Koth Cleaved by Brave Adventurers[]

What trickles down from legend is the oft-repeated phrase “... Khoraja, carved out of the Shemite lands by Kothic adventurers...” Such are the storied beginnings of Khoraja, but these must be separated from genuine fact as ascertained by historians. From whence does the wellspring of Khoraja’s ruling family flow? Mercenaries, purely and simply.

Khoraja is quite literally a mercenary kingdom. Though, the ruling aristocracy would likely cut one’s tongue out for saying so. After all, who would kneel in fealty to a king who ruled not by something other than divine right and blood? One may now, of course, ask the same of that barbaric king who holds the greatest throne of the earth, but these were simpler times. How then might a rabble such as mercenary dog-brothers make a kingdom from the pastoral lands of Shem?

In those dimly remembered days, the establishment of a firm, Mitran theology had not yet solidified. The barbaric founders of the Koth had cast aside their worship of the savage god Bori in exchange for the seemingly more civilized Mitra. Yet with belief came power, and those who controlled the tenets of this belief were likely to control the kingdom of Koth. Little wonder, then, that schisms occurred and Koth fell into an internecine holy war. Of course, the points of faith and devotion over which the young kingdom warred were pabulum for the hoi polloi — the rulers themselves craved power, not religious purity. While some among the warring factions cleaved closely to their faith, the greater hordes warred for territory and, as in any war, money. It was among these gold-inspired mercenaries that the first Khorajans sprang.

"Sounds of revelry had died away in the gardens and on the roofs of the city. Khoraja slumbered beneath the stars, which seemed to be reflected in the cressets that twinkled among the gardens and along the streets and on the flat roofs of houses where folk slept."
Black Colossus

As the wars saw zeniths and nadirs over the course of a century, it did not escape a single mercenary company’s attention that a major, wealthy Shemite city lay for the taking. No doubt, Koth itself would have claimed this land were it not bogged down in civil war. What a perfect time to lay siege to the city and loot its riches... and so they did.

A City Plundered and a Kingdom Forged[]

The company’s name has been scrubbed from the palimpsest of history — overwritten with a more dignified story of royal origin — but dusty scrolls and aged minds still hold the truth. The Shemite city, which some scholars maintain was called Khoraja even then, fell to the mercenaries during a short siege. When the smoke of battle cleared, and the blood dried on the streets, the sell-swords realized they had no pressing reason to leave the city they’d just taken.

With Koth still mired in war, the dog-brothers set up permanent residence in Khoraja. In the mind of a mercenary there are few things better than the looting of rich cities; among those few things, however, is permanent possession of that wealth. Why risk returning to the bloody fields of Koth when this city was already theirs? They did not return.

In time — no one now knows quite how long — the city state of Khoraja became a kingdom, securing the fertile lands north of the Shemitish deserts, as well as the strategic Shamla Pass. Dog-brothers and sword-sisters, those filthy curs of blood and coin, became kings and queens. By the time Koth was united under the bloodline which would lead to King Strabonus, the onetime sell-swords had a firmly entrenched kingdom. These newly minted rulers rewrote history through the eyes of faith and destiny. The kings of Khoraja rule by blood, but it is blood spilled, not divine in origin

The mercenaries became adventurers, a more palatable term, and they wrote a narrative in which Mitra himself came to them in dreams with a mandate to save this land from the wars around it. So much time has since passed that it little matters what story one now believes so long as one does not speak of the royal family as having curs for ancestry.

Proud Independence and Militant Defense[]

Koth looms large on the borders of Khoraja, and many speculate that the kingdom, while nominally independent, in truth pays fealty and treasure to Koth. King Strabonus does not openly decree the actions of Khoraja but, behind the scenes, he has great sway. Still, it is no small achievement that a kingdom with such a rough and tumble origin would, hundreds of years after, maintain any sort of independence at all. Truly, if Koth wished direct and total control over this independent state, they would have to make war. To date, they have not.

As it stands, Khoraja maintains control of Shamla Pass, and serves as a buffer between Koth and the ambitions of southern enemies. Perhaps no better example of this can be found than the story of Natohk the Veiled One, who rose from millennia of slumber and attempted to conquer Koth and her other Hyborian cousins. This story is well known to learned men and commoners alike, and there is no reason to recount it here, for the barbarian king sitting upon the throne of Aquilonia needs no further adulation.

Politics[]

It is as if Khoraja inherited the fractious nature of its birth mother, Koth, and thus political instability is far from infrequent. The small royal family occasionally produces a would-be upstart, and the throne comes into play. Other kingdoms, too, interfere in Khorajan affairs. The culprit here is most often Koth, though the king of Khoraja was once kidnapped by Ophir. While the machinations of political enemies are not on the scale of Koth, they are just as intricate and unforgiving.

Population and culture[]

Mercenaries in Khoraja[]

In a kingdom founded by mercenaries, it is little surprise to still find them there today. To say the border between the northlands and the south is tense is to vastly understate the situation. While Shem serves as a buffer to Stygia, it would pose little enough hindrance should the servants of Set wish to invade. Likewise, the growing might of Aquilonia, too, might choose to push south. All would likely pass through Khoraja.

Khoraja boasts some five hundred knights and various other soldiers, but the greater number of her defenders are sell-swords. Along the border forts, mercenaries keep watch for the flaring ambitions of the great kingdoms. Still, for all the tension, it has been some while since war broke out, and thus the pay is relatively low, and the bloodlust of many a dog-brother shall not be satisfied here. More often, mercenary companies come to Khoraja on their way somewhere else, and the king sees fit to keep them on retainer whilst in country. The open-armed attitude of Khoraja toward those who others call curs is a protection all its own. Mercenary companies are generally fond of Khoraja, and would not idly see it invaded. After all, there are rumors it was founded by freelancers such as themselves.

Of course, like any kingdom, Khoraja is not immune to coup attempts. Where the knights of Khoraja are loyal to the king, any would-be usurper would hire those loyal to the coin. The royal family may be small, but it is not entirely friendly. Further, several more powerful kingdoms would have interest in seeing power shift on the throne. Currently, Khoraja gives general fealty to Koth, but a change in ruler could easily change that and thus change the balance of power in this strategic location.

A Mixture of Koth, Adventurer’s Blood, and Old Gods[]

Khoraja is quite literally carved from parts of Koth and Shem, and it is no surprise its culture reflects this strange origin. The spirit of the mercenaries — indomitable, wild, war-like — still runs through the blood of Khorajans. While the nation is small, and oft subject to the threats of larger kingdoms, it does not freely bend its knee.

Khorajan Art[]

Koth and Shem share some aspects of aesthetics, but Khoraja integrates these admixtures more thoroughly than either kingdom could on their own. Pottery leans toward Shemitish style while architecture broadly cleaves to that of southern Koth. Minarets look over walls of crenelated battlements of Hyborian design, while markets might be mistaken for a suk in Askalon. There, in the open-air stalls, beads of semi-precious stones festoon the tan wrists of merchants trading in the idols of gods from one end of the world to the other, engraved swords dragged by caravan from Vendhya, and mosaics in the tradition of Argos and Aquilonia. The militant undercurrent runs through most art and, while Khorajans are proud of their public works, most outsiders feel they are rather crude and overly prideful for such a young, small nation.

Khorajan Culture[]

Society’s stratification throughout the region finds less purchase here. While nobles and commoners are not mistaken for one another, Khoraja lacks the deeper bloodlines of Koth and Shem. She lacks also the same sense of permanence, at least at street level.

Now, one must not mistake this for a slack nobility nor an egalitarian one. The noble family invests itself fully in the lie that they come from the blood of kings, not dog-brothers. But, in the suks and taverns, the alleys and squares, men and women have a sense that they might rise to greater heights than those they were born to.

One day, perhaps, that spirit shall well up and turn into rebellion. Today, however, is not that day.

Khorajan Religion[]

The kingdom officially cast off the worship of Mitra in favor of Ishtar, though Mitra’s temples yet exist. They are not often visited by most, but rumors hold the king’s sister consults such a site for oracular visions. While this may not be true, Mitra is not looked upon askance so much as part of another time. Ishtar is today and tomorrow, while Mitra is a story left far behind.

A number of household deities were also borrowed from Koth, Shem, and elsewhere, and each Khorajan family carefully selects their deity to help identify their role in society. These minor gods all serve Ishtar and, perhaps more than actual icons, might be seen as a hybrid of holy idol and family crest.


The population is partly Kothian, partly Shemite, ruled over by an aristocratic caste of pure Hyborians. Tall and gaunt, with features leaner and more hawk-like than purer-blooded desert kin. Hook-nosed, fiery-eyed men of the hill tribes.

A typical guardsman wears crested gilt helmet, silvered cuirass and gold-chased greaves, with a long-shafted battle-ax in his hands.

Commander of the armies is clad in the plate-armor, shadowed by the black plumes that nod above the vizored helmet.

There are the knights, gleaming in richly wrought plate-armor, colored plumes waving above their burnished sallets. Their steeds, caparisoned with silk, lacquered leather and gold buckles, caracole and curvet. Lance-points rise like a forest above the array, their pennons flowing in the breeze. Each knight wears a lady's token, a glove, scarf or rose, bound to his helmet or fastened to his sword-belt.

Light cavalry on rangy steeds uses Shemitish bows. Peaked steel caps are on their heads and chain-mail glints under their flowing kaftans.

Ruins of Khoraja[]

At the intersection between two worlds, Khoraja is rich in the ruins of vanished civilizations reduced to broken column and buried road by time and war. Two such ruins are described below.

The Ivory Tower[]

Somewhere, just as the meadows recede into the Shemite desert to the east, a tower stands; a single, white finger against the sun. No one who has described the bone white stone tower has ever been able to find it again. Their stories, though, are remarkably similar — while traveling through the desert, they espied a white tower which at first was mistaken for a mirage. Yet, upon getting closer, they realized it was real.

The tower stands at least one hundred feet high, alone on a flat salt plain surrounded by dunes. Atop the tower is a piece of immense glass or crystal in the shape of a shield. When the light hits the crystal from a certain angle it reflects like the mirror in a lighthouse. However, instead of merely redirecting the light, the tower produces a polychromatic display. At this point in the tale, a doorway (some even say a mouth) opens in the tower. As the sun moves and the rainbow effect fades, so does the door. One man claimed his companion ventured inside, but the tower vanished before the witness’ very eyes. That same witness allegedly saw his companion again, decades later, in a market. The companion had not aged and quickly fled when his former friend approached.

The tower is actually one of the rare physical gateways to the realm of dream, in this case Kuth of the Star-Girdle. The tower is only sometimes there — on the winter and summer solstice when the sun reaches its zenith. The rest of the time, the tower exists in Kuth. It is an intrusion of that other reality into the waking world. How those who enter get back, or if they ever truly do, is unknown.

The Statue of Khor[]

Outside the city of Khoraja, perhaps half a mile, stands a large hill atop which is a damaged statue. The hill looks man-made. The statue is known as the Statue of Khor. Supposedly, Khor was the mercenary captain who first sacked the city which now bears his name. The story holds that the suffix “aja” means city in an old form of Shemitish. Serious scholars do not agree, but the statue of a tall, warrior-like figure gains attention now and again.

Twice in the last two decades, the upstart rabble has used the statue as a meeting place for popular revolt, believing the spirit of Khor will ensure their overthrow. None have been remotely effective. A few groups have dug into the hill, hoping it’s some type of barrow. The rulers of the city invariably send knights to disrupt these attempts, thus fueling speculation that the statue is indeed tied to the real story of Khoraja’s founding. The statue itself was defaced in antiquity. Those who believe the story also believe the royal family defaced the monument to help hide their humble origins.

Sample Names[]

Male[]

Aram, Bacchus, Cyril, Elam, Hanud, Khor, Khossus, Melech, Musa, Ninsun, Obares, Sargon, Shupras, Taurus, Thespides, Tribunas, Zabium

Female[]

Anastasia, Asiria, Domnola, Eudocia, Inanna, Lilah, Nahrin, Nicasia, Nira, Rina, Samiria, Shira, Sufia, Urshana, Vateesa, Yasmela, Zabihi

Stories set in Khoraja[]

Characters from Khoraja[]

References[]

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