The Ice Witches are a female-only Sisterhood of powerful sorcerers within the lands of Kislev. Women of great magical power, of whom the Tzarina is their most famous member, they command the very elements and bring to bear the might of the land in defence of their great nation. They are a strange breed, being physically and spiritually linked to the seasons, growing weaker in the summer and stronger in the winter.
The ice witches are firmly on the Tzarina’s side. She is currently the most powerful Ice Witch in Kislev, and some say she is a reincarnation of Miska, the first Ice Witch and Tzarina of the early Gospodars. Katarin, in turn, favours the Ice Witches, granting them legal privileges similar to those extended to the nobility. The main weakness of the Ice Witches, from a political perspective, is that they have very little to do with the common people of Kislev, remaining aloof while studying their magic. The level of power they bring to the Tzarina’s service is highly valuable, but they do not bring any other supporters with them. Individual Ice Witches who could win a place in the affections of the people would be greatly favoured by the Tzarina.
The Sisterhood Edit
The Ice Witches of Kislev are more than just women with the ability channel the Ancient Widow’s cold flows; they are an organised sisterhood who works together to achieve shared goals. Formed over a thousand years ago by the Khan-Queens, the Ice Witches have manoeuvered their way into influencing almost all matters in Kislev.
They strive to ensure almost nothing is beyond their reach. They suppress competing philosophies and magic and promote those sympathetic to their causes. Even the cults have been carefully monitored and guided through the centuries. The Witches are keen to ensure no Kislevite religion ever gains the same all-encompassing power seen in other Old World nations, as such supremacy often heralds the suppression of their kind.
This manipulation is suspected by some. But as Witches are an integral part of Kislev and its defences — and have been since its foundation — few believe it.
The Ice Witches have no formal titles or positions. Instead, they have an ever-changing political structure with individual standing based upon rank in Kislev, current situation, bloodline, beliefs, who trained them, who their apprentice is, who they know, deeds done, strength at channelling Ice Magic, and a dozen other factors. Several factions have formed over the last thousand years, and most work hard to get their agendas across. However, as there is not a great number of Ice Witches, these factions are rarely more than a handful of likeminded women.
The Witches’ only formal gathering is the annual Erengrad Caucus in the Frosthome. Starting on the day after Shoika Day (the summer solstice and Kislevite New Year), Witches travel (if they can) to Erengrad to discuss matters of import, record deaths, share lore, meet old friends and enemies, and generally politick. They meet on the summer solstice because the cold flows of Ice Magic are at their most sluggish, which helps ensure magic is not used to settle arguments, for disagreements often occur.
The caucus can last anything from a few days to a week, depending upon what the Witches table for discussion. By the end, the most powerful witch (currently Tzarina Katarin, though she infrequently attends) declares the decisions made by her sisters for the coming year, which are decided by majority vote.
Bokha Palace also hosts an informal gathering for the noble Ice Witches on Miskaden (the spring equinox), after which there is a feast and a dance. Peasant witches are suspicious of the event, for they suspect the nobles decide what they will table and vote for at the coming caucus, allowing the Ice Queen to ensure her policies go ahead even if she does not attend.
Every year, as part of the winter equinox celebrations, Ice Witches tour local Gospodar communities and appraise shivering lines of peasant girls to see if any have the spark of magic within them. This talent is very rare, so it is uncommon for even one girl to show the necessary potential. But any that do are whisked away to become apprentice Witches. Amongst the nobles, this ritual is almost identical but normally takes place indoors. There, well-dressed girls are brought before an aunt, grandmother, or other relative, who tests to see if any are blessed by their Khan-Queen ancestors. If any are —and the talent is more common amongst the nobles— the girl is removed from society and trained at her relative’s estate.
However, apprentices are accepted at any time. Whenever an Ice Witch comes upon a Gospodar girl with the talent for magic, she is duty-bound to take her in as an apprentice or, at the very least, to take her to another Witch for training — after all, very few noble Witches would ever lower themselves to apprentice a peasant.
The Ice Witches guard many prophecies and legends. One claims a male Witch will one day taint the pristine flows of Ice Magic, changing it forever. So strong is the Ice Witches’ fear of a male witch that ever since the days of Tzarina Shoika, men have been banned from becoming spellcasters in Kislev. This decree has been justified with claims that men are unsuitable for magic and will surely fall to corruption, and these beliefs are now strongly held by all levels of society. To this day, male hedge wizards are tracked down and killed by the state. Or if they are noble, they have their magical capabilities removed by Witches using a ritual similar to Pacification in the Empire.
However, this ritual leaves the man a hollow shell, and many soon give in to insanity and despair. To avoid this, some bloodlines of Gospodar nobles smuggle sons demonstrating possible magical talents to the Colleges of Magic in the Empire. Few return, for Kislev does not accept men practicing the female art of magic, but this recent development still worries the Witches, for it undermines their claims that men are always corrupted by magic. Thus, a number of Witches are calling for something to be done, and a few are already making plans to resolve the problem.
Before invading the Old World, the first Ice Witches practised their magic on the Endless Steppe. Unlike their Kurgan neighbours — who worshipped the Great Eye and channelled the dangerous magic it seeped — the Gospodars learned to tap the cold power coursing through the land.
Although this magic did not carry the same risks of mutation, it was difficult to control and often killed unwary Witches. Many centuries later, things are little different.
As should be expected for a magic with its roots in wars on the Endless Steppe, Ice Magic is deadly and extremely so, not just for the Witches’ enemies but for the Witches themselves. Many apprentice Witches do not survive their training; indeed, some can be found to this day in isolated corners of the Oblast, frozen eternally as sparkling statues of ice by the magic they failed to control.
For those that do survive, it never gets any easier. Ice Magic can surge out of control at any moment, so constant vigilance and careful preparation is required. Further, the magic leaves its mark upon those that cast it: ice witches are cold, many would say heartless, for they soon come to mirror the frigid magic they channel.
Kislev’s Protectors Edit
Most Kislevites believe the Ice Witches’ first duty is to protect Kislev. They are wrong. In truth, the Ice Witches guard the icy magic that courses through Kislev. To most Ice Witches, defending Kislev is simply a means to that end. However, protecting their magic is no simple task. First, they must protect the source. The network of leylines carrying Ice Magic throughout Kislev flows into many nexus points, most of which are capped by ancient Oghams (standing stones). Some of these magical sites boast Elven ruins; others boast the sacred sites of ancient, long dead human tribes, such as the Scythians or Belthani. Most such sites have an Ice Witch guarding them, who often lives in a nearby Gospodar settlement. The Witches believe loss of these sites will diminish — and perhaps even taint — their Ice Magic, so they do anything to protect them.
One step the Ice Witches take to ensure the safety of their magic is to attack and divert potential threats long before they arrive at important sites. This course of action requires influence amongst the local communities, for each stanitsa funds rotas of cavalry and soldiers to protect the land surrounding it. So, Ice Witches maintain contacts within most Gospodar — and even some Ungol — communities, all the better to ensure threats are tackled swiftly.
But to do this, it is essential that local leaders heed the Ice Witches. So, the Witches have infiltrated most of the noble bloodlines of Kislev down through the centuries, positioning themselves as wives, mistresses, and confidantes. From these influential positions, the Witches have worked tirelessly to become entrenched in Kislevite society, manoeuvre their number into positions of power, and ensure their sisters are heeded. Now, they are almost always listened to and often obeyed. Their influence in Kislev is almost unrivalled.
- Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd ED -- Realm of the Ice Queen (pg. 45-48, 110).