Head: Duchess Seona Karm
Seat: Eorthwick, built on the largest hill in the Vale of Garnath
Skilled in woodworking and farming, their seat is the Vale of Garnath. Thanks to their close association with Oberon’s eldest children (Erica, Corwin and Deirdre) they are regarded as the most powerful of Amber’s noble houses. They are known for excellent horsemanship, and a strict adherence to their own personal code of honour.
The derivation of the name ‘Karm’ is supposed to be from Old Thari Carmagos, ‘stone caern / way-shrine’, which the proto-Karm used to erect along their traditional migratory routes.
Karm’s history is as long as the land of Amber. Archaeological remains and tradition within Karm suggest that their remote ancestors were nomadic hunter-gatherers who settled the Vale of Garnath and learned agriculture from their neighbours, who may have been related to the proto-Rebmans.
Their most significant advance was taming the wild striped horses of the vale. In Karm legends, the Karm used to hunt the horses as just another kind of game. The horses retaliated by eating or trampling the Karms’ crops. When a ravenous giant, Brac, settled in the vale and threatened to eat everything, Epona the queen of the Karm and Laoch, the king of the horses, overcame their distrust of each other and joined forces. With Epona riding Laoch to borrow his speed, she was able to thrust her long-spear powerfully enough to pierce Brac’s chest into his heart. Afterwards, Epona and Laoch made a treaty that has greatly benefited both races. Laoch’s descendants still serve the royal clan of Karm, and the royal Karm ride no other horses.
The domed hill on which Eorthwick is built is said to be Brac’s skull.
There is another earlier legend that says in the time when the Karm first came to the vale, horse, sheep and cow competed between themselves to see who among them would be spared from being domesticated and eaten. The competition was to carry three treasures from the Oisin-spring to the sea-mouth where the Karm encampment was. Silly sheep started first, but was distracted by a fine grass meadow and forgot all about the race. Sensual cow met a black bull aurochs upon the road, seduced him, and bore a pair of heroic calves. Only horse completed the errand.
When the House of Amber first came to the vale they came as conquerors. The Karm were beaten in one battle, their irregular tactics and unruly companies no match for high magics or professional soldiery. They swore fealty and offered tribute to their new overlords, and for the most part their lives did not change.
At least until their leader’s daughter Faiella caught the eye of Oberon.
Feud with House Venway
Oberon’s very public affair with Faiella Karm while he was still married to Cymnea caused a great deal of scandal, much of which was driven by House Venway. Prince Osric was particularly vocal against House Karm, starting a personal feud which led to several deaths by duelling. Oberon did little to diffuse the situation, and Cymnea actively encouraged it. When the sons of Cymnea attempted their coup against Oberon, Karm forces were instrumental in driving off the armies Osric and Finndo had brought out of shadow.
Karm looked forward to compensation from Venway’s wealth over the matter, however Venway had cleverly avoided siding with the princes and was only mildly punished by Oberon. Osric’s curse against Venway was another matter. Karm argued for the ‘Venway wights’ to be chased out of Amber, and some assaults were made to ‘secure’ Venway holdings, but Oberon forbade war between the houses. Over the centuries the feud between Karm and Venway guttered into a low-grade, general distrust.
Faiella bore Erica, Corwin and died giving birth to Deirdre. Oberon favoured Erica until Corwin was born and Corwin thereafter; he never warmed to Deirdre and many still think he blames her for her mother’s death. All three grew up strong and enduring, powerful warriors, headstrong and ruthless.
The Tragedy of the Commons
Traditionally Karm land is held in common, and it is every Karm’s right to walk where they please, and to hunt and forage in the wild parts of the vale. In the last generation, a cabal of rich men (the Magnates) allied to Duke Monroe began a stealthy campaign to ‘own’ the land among themselves and so envassalate everyone else: ‘efficiency’, ‘good governance’ and similar weasel-words were used. With money coming from a still-unknown source, they ‘bought’ the land around villages and brought in legal experts from Amber City and Bayle to ‘revise’ Karm’s unwritten common law, particularly around property.
It was strongly asserted the Magnates were allied with Bleys, and in his assault on Amber through Garnath, they lost the support of the commonalty — or their shell-game was revealed to the light of day. A popular political revolt consolidated behind na-Duchess Seona, who succeeded in exiling her father to a guarded village in the deeps of the Oisin delta. The Magnates were ‘encouraged’ to redistribute their wealth through their clans, and for most Karm, the matter is settled.
The Matter of Corwin
After Oberon had been absent from Amber for a hundred years, Erica announced she would take the throne in her own right, as she had long held it as regent. Karm was convinced easily enough to support her — until Corwin and Bleys allied to contest the throne. Many Karm were sympathetic to Corwin’s claim and there was considerable dissent within the house, which impacted badly on their performance against Bleys’ army, approaching Amber city up the Vale of Garnath. In a desperate attempt to disrupt it, Karm set fire to the northern forest edge, and this burned for days. Out of this came a Black Road of the Weirmonken. Many Karm regard this as the price of Amberite blood seeking blood.
Wealth and prestige
Reaffirming their support for Queen Erica under Duchess Seona, Karm are consolidating their reputation as Amber’s most powerful house. Seona particularly needs Erica’s esteem to support her house-keeping against her father’s remaining allies. She is strongly supported by the commonalty of the house, as the Black Road on their doorstep is a very tangible omen of evil times to come.
Karm more or less owns the Vale of Garnath, with smaller holdings in surrounding regions. Despite their casual and intermittent approach to farming, the fertility of the vale has always returned a vast bounty of food, allowing the house to grow very large.
The first sign of the bad times to come might be the current drought and prospect of crop failure in this season, and the Karm and carefully looking to their stores and livestock.
House Karm fields a significant fraction of the Amberite land army, made up of:
- The Curadhmen, the Karm Duke/Duchess’s battle company — mostly of royal blood themselves, they ride lightly armoured battle-trained horses. In battle they tend to make one pass of mounted lances and then dismount to fight hand to hand, calling out enemy champions where available for one-on-one bouts. Their horses fight with them.
- The Scethe (‘Shield-wall’) — the commonalty of the Karm are nearly all trained warriors, and they drill in companies to use shield walls and flying wedges. Their equipment varies: mail, an axe or sword, shield and helmet is typical. Just about all of them will ride to the battle but again, dismount to fight with their horses safe behind the shield-walls.
- The Saggers (‘Woodsmen’), with a higher proportion of woodland-dwelling Karm and the less wealthy, they carry light weapons only and fight as skirmishers and archers.
- Just about all Karm companies have a talent for earthworks and can quickly delve defensive ditches, raise wood-walled forts, or defeat these. Stonework gives them more trouble.
- Karm discipline often falls down on Karm passion and stubbornness. They are notoriously easy to fake into unwise advances and reinforcing failure.
- Karm companies also follow leaders based on their reputations in those companies only, and can be outrightly uncooperative being told what to do by ‘strangers’.
The Karm are an agricultural people who are not far removed from tribal nomads — the River Oisin often rearranges the Vale of Garnath in its winter floods, erasing villages and turning fields into swamps. Over the centuries a few permanent settlements have been built on artificial hills, and their capital Eorthwick sits on an odd lump of granite, unique in the vale.
The Karm value their horses above all their other goods. They do not eat horse or use horse leather. In many parts of the vale, a coming of age rite is the Presentation to the Horses, where youths formally meet their clans’ herds and adopt the horse that will be theirs while they both live. The striped horses of Garnath live as long as humans. The Karm abominate how Venway twist their horses into predators and will never sell any to Venway ever again.
The Karm also value cattle and sheep, grain in the store-houses, and their closeness to nature. Land has always belonged to the Karm as a people, and it is their right to walk where they please. Hunting and foraging in the woodlands are the right of every Karm. Despite their numbers, Karm respect for the land, and its extreme fecundity, have meant these activities have not over-taxed the environment at all.
stereotypically, the Karm are earthy, honest, generous people, passionate about life and good times, but touchy about their possessions and reputations. They are not enthusiastic about book-learning or magic, although there are a smattering of competent Karm sorcerers, or ‘dreefolk’.
The most important thing in a Karm’s life is their ‘company’, their 20 to 30 closest friends who they will fight alongside, and who typically, they live in the same village as. They will take spouses outside their companies: in the good old days spouse-theft was a kind of counting coup, but this has transformed into elopement, and then both the couple’s families will compete offering larger ‘prices’ for their childrens’ return.
Karm honour is a personal thing, grounded more in self-esteem than any particular code. If a Karm can hold their head high in their company, they are solid with the world. Rivalries between companies are handled by contests of ‘counting coup’ — extravagant thefts of cattle or goods particularly. A young Karm with their blood up will boast to their company of the deed they are about to commit against their foe, and then they will attempt to fulfil their words. If they fail well (or are caught in the act), they will be lightly teased, but if they fail to act or show cowardice, they will be teased, pranked and sometimes beaten up by their own company. Stolen goods are returned after a ransom is paid, and this wealth most often goes into a large party to which the losers are invited to show no hard feelings.
The Karm are indifferently pious, revering the beauty and bounty of nature and regarding the Unicorn as a somewhat shadowy Pancreator behind that. The Karm practice cremation and air-burial — leaving the deceased sewn up in bark shrouds hanging from trees in special ‘lich-woods’.
Other peoples of Amber perceive the Karm speech as slow and lyrical, and the Karm pronounce their Rs strongly. A Mummerset drawl will do fine.
They are also overly fond of the present continuous: where this might occur in the City:
“Did you feed the cat last night, Pulcina?”
“I went out dancing, Marco—you were supposed to feed it!”
in Garnath this would be
“Ardag, love of my love, are you feeding cat last night?”
“Carad, heart of mine, I’m dancing tha’ night! You’re feeding tha’ beastie!”
The Karm tend to reserve their past tenses for talking about people who are dead and retelling myths, perhaps unconsciously not wanting to be either, they stick to the present tense.