North and west of the Iceclaws, beyond the domain of the Frost Giant Jarls, is the great step of Zara. This vast chilly grassland is home to a civilization of Child sized humanoids, with hairy limbs and keen reflexes. A hardy race, these people make a living as the tenders of large herds of wild and semi-wild ponies that live on the steppe.
These nomads have in recent years discovered a reliable pass through the Iceclaws, down into the peninsular. As a result they have opened the first land Trade route between the east and the peninsular, which has brought tremendous new wealth to Highmarch, the Halflings and the kingdoms of the continental north west.
The term halfling is the usual term used by these people to describe themselves, it means Free-People, and has strong positive connections with their nomadic life style, their refusal to engages in arable agriculture (which they distain), and their adherence to the Path of Freedom, their non-theistic religion.
It is, by coincidence, a term in several of the closely related languages of the northern peninsular that even though it has no recorded use before the arrival of the Halflings, sounds like it should be applied to them, as a description of their diminutive stature.
Culture and Religion
The Halflings as a culture do not worship gods, and in fact, they considers the idea that people believe in them at all somewhat quaint. That does not mean that they lack a religion, however. They are strick adherents to the Path of Freedom, a non-theistic religion which blends an ethical code, with economic theories and anarchist philosophy. The Path of Freedom is non-hierarchical and has no priesthood.
Laws are to followers of the Path of Freedom, a form of blasphemy; the idea that they should submit to accept the rule of another goes against the entire nature of the Path. Yet, the pony people of Zara experience no more and no less violence against the person or theft than most people living in the law bound nations of the peninsular. They are as a group largely self governing. While they have no central government or ruler, the people of Zara, are uncommonly communal. While they have a good deal of personal property, they do not accept the ownership of natural resources or land as a legitimate concept, for the Path of freedom asserts that the ownership of land is fundamentally impossible, and those who claim to are tyrants. This has caused more than a little social conflict between them and the humans of the penicular, as the people of Zara have travelled further into their lands.
Sex and Gender
The halfling are very much more sexually dimorphic than humans or elves. Males tend to be about six inches shorter, considerably more slender, and skittish. Their eyes tend to be further set appart, and their ears about half a big again as females. Females tend to be stouter, tougher more gregarious, and less easily startled.
Before the formation of the way of Freedom, Halfling society was one of totalitarian rule by a now dead religion that enforced concreate gender roles and selective breeding in the Proto-halflings. Males are born to be scouts and craftpeople, while females defenders of hearth and home, as well as the hunters of large prey.
The pressures that once were placed upon the species, may no longer be present, but the gender roles of their society, are so deeply engrained as this point that it is rare that anyone within the society questions it. Despite a significant imbalance of power within the society, favoring females, the society is relatively benign and stable.