The Chunni, also known as the Horseborn, are a tribe of Northrim known and feared for their hordes of light cavalry raiders. Though they once ruled a great empire that spanned across Northrim and threatened Achaea, they are now just one of many Nordling tribes and part of the Vinatta.
Their current chieftain is Ernak Khan.
The Chunni originally came from the Far East, traveling over the Jagged Edge through the Impassable Pass, the location of which only they are said to know. They began conquering Nordling villages and recruiting the strongest men into their cause, teaching them to join their nomadic raiding lifestyle. As they continued pillaging Northrim, more and more people rallied to their banner, swelling their ranks.
Eventually, a leader emerged, named Atlius, whose name would become legend. Tribe after tribe bent the knee to him, becoming vassals or allies to Atlius Khan, the Horse-King. For decades, his people were known as the Scourge of the North, and many tribes sent them tribute to keep from being their next target. The horse-lords even began sending raids into the Achaean Empire.
This turned out to be a mistake. At first, the Chunni menace was thought to be unstoppable, pushing deeper and deeper into Imperial territory. But after many years of war, Atlius realized he could not defeat the great Imperial Legions, and so a peace treaty was signed. The Chunni agreed to retreat back into Northrim.
Atlius planned further attacks, but before he could carry them out, he mysteriously died. Some say he was assassinated by Imperial Speculatores, while others say it was from a natural cause. Regardless of the truth, the loose confederation of tribes under his banner quickly crumbled after his death. Many tribes rebelled, joining the remaining free tribes of the North in pushing the Chunni all the way back to their original lands at the foothills of the Jagged Edge.
A son of Atlius named Ernak became leader of what remained of the once-unstoppable Chunni. In the steppes at the feet of the mountains, he built Ghost Hill, their first permanent settlement. The Chunni have lived in relative peace in Northrim ever since - though, in Northrim, 'relative peace' always means the occasional raid or war.
Originally a nomadic tribe from the distant unknown East, the culture of the Chunni is very different from most Nordling peoples. Much of their way of life revolves around horses, which were rare in Northrim until they arrived. This gave them a distinct advantage over the smaller mounts of most Nordlings, who afterward started breeding larger ones to compete with both the Chunni and the Imperials. The Chunni spend most of their lives on horseback, living with horses as if they were family, drinking horse milk, eating horsemilk cheese, and breeding the finest steeds in the North.
Very little is known about Chunni religious beliefs and practices, for they keep them a closely-held secret, conducting them behind closed doors. It is known that they have shamans who consult spirits to make prophecies before every battle, but they are relatively unique in that they do not seem to worship any gods. Because of this, some denounce them as heretics and atheists. It is known that they consider horses, wolves, and birds of prey to be sacred animals, and they sometimes eat certain organs of powerful beasts or monsters in sacred rituals, believing this to grant them qualities such as strength or wisdom.
Although the Trueborn Chunni try to preserve their mysterious culture, their subject villages are often allowed to continue practicing their own local ways, so long as they do not disrespect or interfere with Chunni laws. Many Nordlings have joined fully in Chunni culture and live in Chunni settlements, but others still live like Nordlings in other regions, worshipping the typical gods of Northrim. But they are still required to train to fight in Chunni armies when called upon, and they regularly send taxes and tribute to Ghost Hill.
The Chunni are a diverse tribe from many different bloodlines, but those of the original pure, Eastern Chunni blood - known as the Trueborn or sometimes True Horseborn - are shorter people with dark, wiry hair and dark, elongated eyes. Their heads are also elongated, with the back of their skulls standing slightly taller and thinner than those of most men. This quality is sometimes thought to be the result of cranial deformation practiced by their nobility - the binding of every child's skull to produce a distinct look to separate them from those of lower blood. But few know for certain if this is true, due to the extreme secrecy in which the Trueborn Chunni conduct their religious practices. Others believe their skull shape is simply due to their mysterious, exotic, possibly otherworldly heritage.
Chunni typically use light-weight armor and weapons, for use in their hit-and-run military tactics. They wear leathers and furs, often trophies from battles and raids, and fight with spears, bows, and maces. Those of noble status may wear more elaborate armor and carry swords called kilij, which are curved in shape for use on horseback. Their helmets are pointed and often adorned with spikes and trophies like furs and horns.