Friday, 10 February 2017
Orders of Chivalry in the Eclipsed Kingdom
It’s good to be a knight, and every knight has a coat of arms, a lord to belong to and underlings to boss about. But what’s even better is to have a cool symbol and a special club to be in. Here are some of the more well-known of the innumerable orders of knighthood in the Eclipsed Lands.
The Ut Tenebrae or "Eclipse Knights" are figures of myth and terror.
No-one knows how one becomes a member or who makes up the order. It is rumoured that the Ut Tenebrae are eclipsed Selenians and their full-face helms are strangely distorted, larger than any human head would require. No-one has ever seen the face of an Eclipse Knight and lived. No-one has ever encountered an Eclipse Knight in combat and lived. They leave behind them only bodies, and usually not even that.
It is known that there are only ever 13, that they work for, and report directly to, the Black Pope of Azathoth, that they recognise no other authority of any kind, that each one rides a white Peryton, that they have never failed to take an assigned target and that they are all were-moths, with each mount and rider capable of transforming into a moth on command. It is for this reason that no-one in the Eclipsed Kingdom will ever speak a secret when moths are nearby.
The Black Pope herself often has multiple white moths flapping about her person or perched upon it and a papelonné of argent moths on a sable field makes up the arms of the Ut Tenebrae.
The Ut Tenebrae exist outside and beyond the normal orders of Knighthood in the Eclipsed Kingdoms, poised as a terror weapon and unspoken threat over the heads of even the most powerful lords.
The Grail Knights or Calicem Servi are the pinnacle of Holy Knighthood attainable by a mortal being. They epitomise absolute faith and unquestionable piety combined with incredible courage, skill at arms and the greatest heights of honour and chivalry. As well as this, many are deeply skilled in Philosophy, Theology, History and Poetry. To join the Grail Knights is the greatest achievement of which most Knights can conceive. Each one has proven themselves the first of heroes on multiple fields and the truest servants of Azathoth in the greatest tests of faith.
The Grail Knights serve the Fissure King and the Grail in which he holds the Black Seed of Azathoth. It is this seed which provides much of the growth and fecundity of the Eclipsed Kingdom. It is also the direct and literal body of God.
To even be accepted as a supplicant a potential Grail Knight must enter the presence of the Grail and ask its Question. What the question is, and how it is asked, must be discovered by the Knight. Many knights who were sure they knew the Question found themselves unable to ask it in the presence of the Grail as they were spiritually impure, and some who had no idea of it before they saw the Grail itself, found the Question leap into their minds in its presence due to their Faith and the will of God.
There is little shame to failing the Test of the Grail and many famous and heroic knights have failed. To be stricken dumb before divinity is simply the natural reaction of a mortal being.
The Grail Knights guard the Grail and have the ultimate duty of securing living foetuses for the annual gift to Azathoth (may he await us but a little longer).
They ride horses of enormous strength and, unlike most orders of Knighthood, wear metal armour. This metal is marked with the black Verdigris of Azathoth, a sacred decay which forms an eight-pointed star. Each holy act performed for the True God creates another spot of decay upon the armour, which gradually spreads its arms over time. Only when the armour is completely black will the supplicant be considered a full Grail Knight. Once it is full-sable, this holy decay inures the armour against all manner of harms, magical, mortal and divine.
Through their daily and continual prayer and contemplation the Grail Knights are gifted a tiny fraction of the Power of God. It is said they can, by considering the distance between two places and deciding that it does not exist, effectively teleport to any place they have not already been. (Once they have been there they are too aware that it is real and the same method will not work.) That they can, by selectively ignoring a law of nature, choose the relative direction of gravity that applies to them, effectively galloping their horses up walls or across ceilings (or up the walls of the Great Fissure). That they can summon enormous strength to bash down doors or fell giants, (by ignoring the mass and substance of the target) that they can make themselves invulnerable to harm and time, that they can choose to ignore the reality of certain objects or concepts, making them unable to effect the knight at all.
However, a Grail Knight may only do one of these things at a time.
There have never been known to be more than 100 Grail Knights and their total numbers are probably much lower. Their arms are an argent cup on a sable field.
The Silent Knights or Ordinis Carcere are the servants and heralds of the Sleeping King. Generally they obey his Half-Sister, the Sorceress Esmerillon, but technically they take their orders only from him and, should he contact them himself in a dream, or if they believe he has done so, a conflict may emerge between the two authorities, as it did in the tragic ‘Schism of Virgins’ which nearly brought the Eclipsed Kingdom into a state of full civil war. (Only averted by Saint Widhewo, see ‘Saints of the Black Church).
The Silent Knights are the largest of the high orders of Chivalry, numbering several hundred, perhaps a thousand individuals. While nominally equal they are broken up into several ‘circles’ or levels of hierarchy based on experience and general capacity.
The primary purpose and duty of the Silent Knights is to guard the Court of the Sleeping King and at any time at least one third of the Order is present there. In relation to this, they must keep the court continually supplied with bards who will be chained in the presence of the King to pipe tunelessly and preserve his sleeping state. The bards wear out relatively quickly and their ruined husks are cast aside meaning that the Silent Knights must quest continually for more bards to fill the hall. Since the bardic population of the Eclipsed Kingdom was exhausted some centuries ago, a large proportion of the Silent Knights are on permanent mission in other realms, either buying, or capturing bards to bring back.
The final duty of the Silent Knights is the source of their second name, the Ordinis Carcere. Since the Eclipsed Kingdom subsists on labour provided by those who dream in dungeons all over the world, it is the job of the Carcere to make sure that as many people as possible, in as many places as possible, spend as much time as possible sleeping in dungeons. This can lead to them ‘hiring out’ to outside kingdoms to hunt and bring back prisoners and bounties so long as they are imprisoned, and even assisting dungeoneers or adventurers who intend to penetrate very deep underground complexes. (They are also suspected of bricking up or caving in the entrances to those dungeons once enough people are inside).
This makes them the most familiar face of the Eclipsed Kingdom to those outside its borders and has given them a reputation as ruthless and effective bounty hunters and thief-takers, true servants of law and authority, with very reasonable rates. (The money is irrelevant to the Ordinis Carcere, all they care about is the punishment.)
Despite being great in number, the Ordinis Carcere are still individually very powerful, noble and dangerous knights, though less supernaturally empowered than the Calicem Servi or the Ut Tenebrae. To gain entry to the order is by no means simple and only the greatest and most loyal need apply.
The Silent Knights wear pale white bone china plate over a mail of white lilly-petals held together with silver thread. They have cloaks of white-mouse fur. They are usually allowed to use their own weapons and these tend to be glass or porcelain. They are allowed to keep their own arms, in part, their shields are bisected with one half being the original symbol and background and the other being half a half-closed purpura eye on a sable field.
It is by the grace of the Sleeping King that the Silent Knights are afforded their first, or common name. So long as they choose to make no sound, they will make no sound at all. That is, if they do not speak or deliberately make a noise in any way, all of their movement or actions, whether mounted or unmounted, in whatever weather or conditions, will be utterly and absolutely noiseless. Should a Carcere break their oath, they must return to the Sleeping King and be shriven before they are allowed to re-take it.
Silent Knights often keep halfling, goblin or crippled jongluers and fools to speak for them to the outside world. The knights communicate amongst themselves in sign and the higher circles are said to have their lips stitched shit and their tongues removed.
The Sons of Air and Darkness are the personally selected champions of Queen Mab when she is in her Autumn Court. They can be an extremely unusual and eclectic group, the Queen is whimsical in her selections and it is by no means unusual for interesting visitors to her court to find themselves geased into this Order of Chivalry for a specific quest, despite having nothing obvious to do with it.
The stories of the Riders of Air and Darkness are extremely varied, and often picaresque. Despite their unusual membership, they do have a reputation for solving problems and meeting challenges, though rarely in any way that might be expected. They have been defeated and driven off numerous times, only for the long term result of their failure to assist the Autumn Court. They have also won against insane odds numerous times, despite being made up of verifiable nutbars and a bunch of people who happened to be hanging around. They are very often miniaturised, either to fight important battles in the Small Realms, to fulfil important quests at the miniature scale, or for tactical usefulness when dealing with creatures of the sizeable realms.
Often these riders are enchanted with particular powers, and given highly particular conditions under which they must quest. They might give the ability to ride through the air at night, but told they must bake a pigeon pie each day (a challenge considering the Oath of Saint Vish), or given the ability to transform into shadows, but told they must complete their quest each dressed in one particular colour, and no other.
The arms of the Riders of Air and Darkness are sanguine leaves patterned on a sable field and anyone who has served in this Order may include the sanguine leaf in their arms. Those who do always have an interesting story to tell.
The Knights of the Silver Bough were the order that, long, long ago, educated the man who would become the Sleeping King in chivalry and knighthood. When he fought to unite the shattered realms that would become the Eclipsed Kingdom, they were the first order to support him and many of the future orders of chivalry were based on their example.
It is only this storied and ancient lineage, along with the protection of the Queen of Air and Darkness, that has kept the order of the Silver Bough safe from the Black Church.
Once they were the only force for justice and mercy in a merciless and ruined land and now, in the heart of an insane and shattered reality watched by a mad god, they still try to perform that role. Despite the fact that, as members of the Autumn Court, they owe fealty to Queen Mab, and that through her they are sworn to the true faith, they are widely suspected of heresy, (especially by the Monks of St Korbin).
The Order is made up almost exclusively of Fey and of a few aged knights from small but once-proud families with ancient histories. Among its human and half-elven members, the principals of the order are passed down only from father to son and many of the mortal members were formally adopted into fey families and educated by them.
The arms of the Knights of the Silver Bough are an argent bough on a dark-sanguine field.
The Church suspects that the Knights of the Silver Bough are in some way connected to an even-more secret and much smaller order called ‘The Order of the Fall’, either that they are the highest circle of the Knights of the Silver Bough, or some kind of radical splinter faction.
The Order of the Fall are knights aligned with the Autumn Court who have become fractured in time. They live their entire lives with full knowledge of their whole existence and exact knowledge of their own deaths.
Because a member of the Order of the Fall is aware of everything they will do and experience, if, in the later period of their life, they meet a much younger member of the order, that young person can give them messages from their own life, telling them of things that will occur even after their death.
This process can be repeated multiple times in sequence, across multiple lifetimes, with one member passing knowledge gained from their own future ‘back up’ the chain in the form of a story or advice, with the details becoming more accurate and pertinent the closer the chain of knights comes to the described event.
There is a sense in which this has already happened, as each knight knows in full what message they will receive and which they will bestow, but that does not mean it still has to happen. Each knight must fulfil their destiny, even if it is a dark and paradoxical one, so that the chain of transmission is not broken.
The Order of the Fall is looking for a way to defeat Azathoth, and may already be enacting a plan to do so, one stretching across a millennia of autumns.
This Order has no arms as its existence is a closely guarded secret. The secret sign of membership is allowing a single leaf to fall from the hand and not breathing or moving until it touches the ground.
In winter, the court of Queen Mab becomes a much darker and more savage place. The poetry and ballads of the Nuns of Fogamar gives way to the plainsong of the Nuns of Eusia. Manners become sharper, faults more lethal and humours more cold.
Legally and in feudal terms, the Queen Mab of the Winter Court is entirely different to the Queen Mab of the Autumn court. Loyalty to one is not loyalty to another, friendship with one is not friendship with another. The two courts can oppose each other, though they will never meet.
Anyone working for the Autumn or Winter court is well advised to finish their quest before the season changes.
The Knights of Hearts Desire ride horses which seem to have been bred with Pertytons. Through they have no wings and cannot fly, they have horns, the heads of stags and the shadows of evil men. They are sharply intelligent and eat only hearts.
The knights who ride upon them serve the Queen of Air and Darkness directly, though usually in a rather brutal way. They are said to be men without mercy, through not without honour. They love to hunt through the snows, chasing the winter fox and arctic hare for mile upon mile, tireless, until they pin them down and tear them open in the snow, feeding their terrible horses on their tiny hearts.
They hunt men, or women, just as well, and those who offend the Winter Court should fear for there is usually only one sentence or judgement given in this season.
The arms of the Knights of Hearts Desire are a heart of Or on a field of Gules.
The Band of Frost are a select group of fey and insane men whose hearts are as cold as ice. They breathe ice crystals and icicles hang tinkling from the horns of their horses. When a horse of this band places its hoof upon flowing water, the water will freeze solid instantly, meaning they can gallop across flowing rivers, or even oceans.
The Band of Frost come mainly in the dark, they are agents and carriers of madness. It is said that their arrival is heralded by a face of frost in glass, a crude image that melts into a scream.
They are claimed to be illusionists, capable of casting visions and sensations into the minds of their quarry, even if far away. They may create the image of a safe village or familiar town, or a friendly castle with a brawny and cheery lord, so that those they hunt will stop fleeing, thinking they have found safety, only to slowly realise, as the places and people around them decay into deranged impressions, that they are talking and dancing with no one, chewing on twigs instead of roast beef, in a cave and not a hall, that a face of frost is forming on the cave wall.
The Band of Frost are followed by huge primordial wolves from an age of ice. Each wolf is blinded in both eyes with an iron nail and the red rust from the nails runs down their grey snouts. The wolves will speak in a low growling voice and will promise to let their quarry go if they only pull one nail from their eye. This is not true.
Unlike the Knights of Hearts Desire, the Band of Frost do not hunt for specific reasons. They hunt whoever they wish, however they wish, for whatever mad reasons come into their head, though they are still sworn to obey the Queen of Air and Darkness and, if she orders them directly to harm, or not harm, a particular person or group, they must obey.
Of course this might mean actually finding the Queen of the Winter Court and persuading her to care about whether you live or die, and she is neither as interested in the world, or as merciful as the Queen of the Autumn Court.
The arms of the Band of Frost are indecipherable. They seem obscured or somehow blurred and no-one can quite make out what they may once have meant.
The iron sands of the Eclipsed Kingdom were once the empire of the Lammasu Suleiman and his sorceress Shedu queen. They ruled a nation of centaurs and many crusades were fought to evict them from the holy lands of the Eclipsed Kingdom. Though their former country was gifted to the Emir of Crows as thanks for her aid in the wars, these Haeretici Deserto still trouble the penumbral zones today.
The following orders serve the Emir of Crows in the Iron Sands.
The Crow Knights (the name now applies exclusively to these knights and not to anything else, see ‘the oath of Saint Vish), ride fleet black horses with rams horns who race over the desert sands like shadows fleeing the sun.
The speed of their steeds is legendary and the Crow Knights are famed in the Eclipsed Kingdom for being experts with their compound bows, archery usually being a tertiary skill amongst the chivalry.
The Crow Knights serve the Emir of Crows by fulfilling her hunger for broken hearts. They range all over the world for the specific purpose of breaking them. This is a more specifically difficult thing than is commonly understood. At least one of the principals must be in a state of True Love and either be betrayed, bereaved, abandoned or ignored, or think they have been, so that their heart breaks.
This being done, a Crow Knight will offer to take away their pain. If they accept, the Crow Knight will reach into their chest and pull out pieces of their broken heart. They will never love again, or feel the pain of lost love.
The simplest way is to kill the less-loving lover, but if the other principal finds out the Crow Knight was responsible, they may refuse to deal. Another simple way is seduction, but young girls can be unreliable and, though they can be easily hurt, they may not fall fully into True Love.
For these reasons, the Crow Knights of the Iron Sands are experts in the social aspects of knighthood. They are deeply courtly, perceptive, intelligent, sensitive, multilingual and well-attuned to political and social situations.
The pieces of the broken hearts go first to the Emir of Crows, who eats them, (they are the only meal she can digest), then the remainder are traded to the rest of the Eclipsed Kingdom where they make up a large part of the magical economy. Many spells can be improved or assisted with a piece of a broken heart, a whole heart can cast a low version of ‘limited wish’ if the magician is willing to fully destroy it and fey, and goblinish savants, will always accept pieces of a broken heart as payment, even if they will take nothing else.
The Crow Knights do not have a coat of arms like northern knights, instead they have round shields with silver script running around their edges giving their family, descent and name. These are always written in code so that victims cannot trace a knight who offended them.
When the Emir of Crows arrived in the Iron Sands she found the place overrun with Centaurs and Genies. The Centaurs were sworn to a heretical king and, unlike the fey of the central kingdom, the Genies were rarely willing to listen to the gospel of the True God.
She used one problem to solve the other and the most intelligent of her followers became the first Bottle Knights, her primary weapon against the Centaurs of Suleiman.
Bottle Knights are, magicians, scholars or magically-knowledgeable individuals. Each one rides a tamed and captured Genie bound in the form of a steed. When the knights stop to rest, the genies go back in their bottles, only to be decanted when needed, hence the name.
Every kind of Genie may be captured by the Bottle Knights and the nature of the steed they ride can depends on the personality and nature of the djinn they have bound. Efrits tend to create fierce black-haired red-eyed horses, suitable for combat and war, Marid create bluish camels, Dao make stocky, slow but incredibly strong ponies and the most prized, Djinn, form grey or white racers of incredible grace and speed.
The genies hate their captors but they are securely held by the contracts formed by the Bottle Knights. The knights themselves are famous for their wisdom, intelligence, cunning and jurisprudence. They often act as lawyers in the Eclipsed Kingdom.
The steeds of the Bottle Knights are capable of performing certain magical and extra-natural actions on command, depending on the kind of Genie and its power, but the knights themselves must always be extremely careful and utterly precise in their instructions as, if they find a loophole, the genie will either flee, or turn upon their master.
Like the Crow Knights, the Bottle Knights have no coat of arms, they are quite distinctive though and, of course, each one always carries their bottle.
The Court of Misrule was begun by the bastard son of the Sleeping King and still serves its descendants. It occupies the fortress-town of Carnaticum and the place is consumed by an unending masque, a party from which none may flee.
In Carnaticum the low are raised high and the high are brought low. The ugly, hideous and churlish are placed in positions of honour and the noble, beautiful and well-bred are masked and pantomime obedience.
In reality of course invisible lines of power run through the never-ending masque and the descendants of the sleeping king jockey continually with each other for power. The place is violent and decadent, consumed with paranoia, derangement and glamour. No-one can ever be totally certain who anybody else is and everyone operates under multiple levels of identity and deception. Fortunes can be made in a day, love affairs made and broken in hours. The black bargemen of the Carnis river who come to the docks (but no further) every morning, never fail to receive fresh bodies for them to take away, dead either from suicide, syphilis, poison or stiletto wounds. And, more rarely, killed in duels or jousts.
Knights venture out from this court, sometimes on the typical feudal business of a knight, and sometimes to fulfil inane, poetical or ridiculous bets, challenges or riddles, things which, in the Court of Misrule, can be routes to power and wealth, or traps and the final acts of long plots which lead only to destruction.
Knights familiar with the Court of Misrule habitually go masked and affect the motley of jesters, wearing bells and multi-coloured stripes and cheques. The common people are terrified of these riders and they have a reputation as ruthless and crude assassins, hunting and killing either for coin or for obscure and riddlesome causes of their own.
Despite the Eclipsed Kingdom being a very repressive patriarchy in which the gender roles are both extreme and separate, knights often behave in a way that could be considered…. fey. Often because they are fey, and more generally because a certain degree of swanning around and mooning about with poetry is considered pretty normal for a noble man. The standards of beauty also tend strongly towards the feminine, with slenderness, smoothness and grace in dress being considered noble male qualities.
For everyone that is, except the Iron Men. They are one of the few groups in the Eclipsed Kingdom who behave in a way that a modern observer would regard as typically masculine. They make quite an extreme point of it in fact, and are one of the only standard bearers for ‘real’ masculinity in the Kingdom. They like beards, brawn, boasting, wrestling and chopping wood and they will not let anyone forget it. They are extremely sensitive and utterly humourless about all of this.
Absolutely no-one in the Eclipsed Kingdom cares at all about their rather strained performance of masculinity and they would persist as nothing more than a fringe group if it were not for their very anti-fey stance. The Iron Men stand for manhood and humanity against the perversions and quasi-femininity of the Fey kind.
The fact that almost everyone in the Eclipsed Kingdom has at least a drop of Fey blood has had no effect on the small, but continual, membership of the Iron Men. Some guys are just into that, regardless of the circumstances. Some Fey are even into that, though that does tend to creep people out a bit.
The Iron Men wear iron armour, which they allow to develop a layer of rust. They carry iron weapons (and wooden sticks to beat away churl beasts when they get close) and their horses are shod in iron. They serve a lord named Iron John who lives in a castle of rusted iron beneath the surface of a lake and who has red skin and a mane of white hair and who is usually boldly naked. Absolutely everyone in the Eclipsed Kingdom thinks Iron John is just a really weird fey except the Iron Men who think he is just so masculine and powerful that he seems like a fey to those who do not understand.
The popularity of the Iron Men ticks along at the bottom of the social scale until particularly savage winters, when the Winter Court is at its most dangerous, or in other circumstances where fey are acting as a real threat, in which case they become just-about-tolerable. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
A red knight is one that has taken the Red Oath and sworn anti-fealty, promising to accept no order and serve no lord. This done, they paint their armour bright red and, usually, take up a form of banditry in a forest somewhere.
The nature of the Red Oath is that, for as long as the swearer takes every challenge given, accepts no order and shows no loyalty, they cannot be harmed by any order given or by or through any feudal loyalty.
This means that if a lord hears that a Red Knight has taken up residence near their castle and is preying upon travellers and churls nearby, they cannot order any of their Knights to deal with it. Neither can they simply describe the situation to their already-loyal knights and hope that they deal with it as this means the Red Knight is likely to be invulnerable to them too.
The chivalric logic of the Red Oath is that it means feudal lords will be faced with problems which they must deal with personally. The lord can’t order anyone to go out there, but they can go and fight themselves, one-on-one, as a knight should. Therefore the nobility stays strong and does not rest on its laurels. It also ensures that even very poor knights have some redress against the most powerful of lords. As it is very difficult for Red Knights to team up or league with anyone (they cannot show mutual loyalty or agree to take any order) and since the fact that they can never be loyal means very few people will willingly follow them, this limits the damage that they can do and assures that they exist only in ones or two’s.
In practice there are a variety of ways of dealing with the problem, including quietly hiring mercenaries on the side (a good job for adventurers), tricking the Red Knight into accepting some token of obedience or showing loyalty to someone, or simply capturing them (they cannot be harmed but they can be caught) and dumping them into a prison, or in a cage under the surface of a lake.
(The exclamation mark is part of the name.) The League of Honour is made up exclusively of Goblins riding pigs. They quest endlessly for truth, justice and the welfare of maidens, widows, orphans and the oppressed. They are generally despised, even by the low status churls for whom they are often the only knights who are willing to help. Even the dung-man doesn’t want his daughter rescued by a fucking Goblin.
The first knight of Saint Gorgoth (see Saints of the Black Church) was said to be one of those who came upon the dead body of that saint and formed the order in his memory. Most histories place those knights as exclusively the Calicem Servi so this is probably bullshit.
The Knights of Saint Gorgoth are a solid, conservative and well-established order with no strictures more difficult than that of generally being a knight. They do a great deal of mutual congratulation, secret handshaking, toasting each others self-control, congratulating each other on their modesty and courage and generally making quite a show of being knightly.
To get in you need to sponsorship of a current member, to preferably be from a good family and it helps to have done something publicly brave and chivalrous. On a handful of occasions the order will promote someone purely on the basis of being a good knight, on the same basis that the British honours system will occasionally reward someone for doing something worthwhile just so the whole enterprise doesn’t end up looking too much like the mutual back-slapping exercise it very evidently is. Still, entry to the order can be a useful thing for a young and upcoming knight.
The symbol of the order is not any part of a Coat of arms, but a black snakeskin worn as a baldric. They have the longest, most drawn out and most ritualised swearing-in ritual of all the orders of knighthood, even the verifiably-magical ones. They also have the most elaborate and convoluted hierarchy with fifteen circles of seniority and three ‘houses’.