The cultural differences between the humans and the Exekians naturally foster conflict. The earliest period of history was thus dominated by constant warfare between the two races. Contrary to popular belief (each race believes they are superior to the other), the two are fairly evenly matched in terms of physical strength and prowess, intelligence, and abilities. What tips the scales slightly in the Exekians’ favor is the issue of magic.
Magic has its origins in mankind. The progenitor of all supernatural power, Gwydion, was a human who believed he could create a better world than the one he was born into. He began luring humans to his side while he still walked the earth, before he disappeared into a godless world of his own making, the Arcane Realm. From there he was - and still is - able to endow his followers with special powers. The only thing that can counteract the power harnessed from Arcane Realm is the Exekians, whose blood still carries a divine material that disrupts their connection to the Realm.
The Exekians eventually came to use their imperviousness to magic as an opportunity to enslave the humans who do use it. Their justification for enslaving humans is that men and women are an ignorant, gullible, and in some cases malicious lot who are too easily swayed by temptation. They need to be corralled by the Exekians, who cannot fall prey to magic and can resist all seductions. The Exekians govern themselves with rationality and logic; they can choose whether or not they act upon their impulses, and are not easily swayed.
In contrast, humans are creatures of passion. They succumb to the trappings of Gwydion and fail to listen to the better angels of their nature. They behave according to their impulses, often to the detriment of themselves and others. Emotions are both their weakness and their strength, for logic does not grant the Exekian a natural empathy or a predilection toward mercy and compassion.
On the other hand, some recognize the dangers magic poses to their souls. Even in the times of turmoil when Exekians and humans were at each other's throats, these brave men decided to join the Exekians in the fight against magic. They were the paladins; they made weapons from the freely-given blood of the Exekians, which they used to purge any of their fellows who used magic. To modern eyes and sensibilities, these paladins are an extreme lot who want to purge themselves and all of humanity not only of the evils of magic, but of the predilection to temptation which is bound to our nature. They are not like the Exekians, however, and fall prey to self-righteousness, arrogance, and hypocrisy.
In the end, however, the Exekians enslaved the humans because they desired something they lacked. Commentators have wondered why the Exekians opened so many schools dedicated to instruction in the arts, but only permitted those slaves who showed talent to attend them. This is because the Exekian cannot create, only reproduce. They can feel, but they can't dream. They lack the creative spark which Akhen saw fit to grant Monaxia and Lostris when he made them mortal. There are no Exekian artists, only thinkers and philosophers.
The slave kingdoms originated through the Exekians use of humans as a labor force, particularly by sending them into the mines and out among the fields, where they endured climates and environments which the Exekians could not tolerate. Three of the colonies would eventually become kingdoms: Zantium, Apicarta, and Dardanos. These regions began as mining settlements and farming communities whose purpose it was to supply the Old Exekian Empire with resources and crops, to be made into goods only after the raw materials were sent to Exekia and refined.
It was in one such mine within Arza Vist ("Red Mountain") that the iron ore was discovered to be a danger to the Exekians. The legendary story of the slave uprising led by Letholdus Stirling I and the subsequent March to the Forge is well known. Less clear is how the weapons spread through the ranks of the slaves not only in Apicarta, but across the sea to Zantium and Dardanos as well.
In Zantium, the leader was Peredur, a slave turned mystic king. According to the legends among the people there, half of his men sailed to Apicarta to fight the Old Empire with his permission. Meanwhile the other half remained under his command and sailed north to Dardanos, where they helped liberate the Dardani from their Exekian overseers.
Ever since this conflict (known to the Apicartans as the First Exekian War; the Zantines and Dardani call it the Deliverance), the three nations have come to be known as the Freedom Kingdoms. They are said to be bound by the shared shedding of Exekian blood and their mutual heritage of having once lived beneath the yoke of imperial slavery. But there are even deeper connections and similarities beneath the surface.
Each country has a succession-style monarchy passed on from father to the eldest son. The monarchy only really holds power during wartime, as all the nobles and regional governors control the particulars within their lands. Everything is pared down to a smaller scale when it comes to law and order.
Religion is the source of all natural rights. The Temple reaches every nation, providing a clergy class and various ecclesiastical services. While the paladins in Apicarta had shriveled and become impotent by the reign of King Tristan, (mostly due to the scaling back of their influence by his predecessor, Letholdus III) in Zantium and, to a lesser extent in Dardanos, they remained strong until they were conquered by the Iskirrans.