History of Order of the Beady Eye
"And so we came from the west, shattered towers in our wake, bones cracked beneath our mounts' hooves, weary of the tragedies of man, unable to leave behind the sins of our fathers. As it was of old, we had no hearth and home. As it was of old, we found an unconquerable people and conquered them. As it was of old, we built our towers, our halls, our vows. As it was of old, the sins of the fathers were repeated by the sons."
- Unknown Author
The common history of the Order of the Beady Eye
Arangoth has long been a troubled nation. It is well known that in the years of King Ware's reign, in or about the year 300, a guild of Knights - the Order of the Beady Eye - entered the Kingdom and were hired, as mercenaries, to end the war between Arangoth and her ally Rondis against the Assi of the Nie Valley and the Elgar Forest. In the years that followed they carved out a new Arangothian province in the cursed and evil forest, Elgaria, and they continued onward, conquering what is now Arania, followed by Outer Arangoth. They were allies to the kingdom for more than a century, until something changed in them. Until they grew greedy, corrupt, and in the years leading up to the civil war of 415, they plotted against King Dorn and betrayed him and his sons - including prince Arlok, who would later disappear from history and return in modern times to lead Arangoth as King Arlok. It is the Order of the Beady Eye that was responsible for the cataclysm that followed the civil war, for the years of the interregnum when dark evils spread across the land and rent havoc among the people of Arangoth. Their names were struck out from records, their castles torn down, the Order of the Beady Eye vanished along with the old kingdom. They are now nothing more than children's tales. A few solemn broken stones. A whisper of history and nothing more.
But... that is the story told by those who grabbed power in the chaotic time after the civil war. It was far, far easier for a scribe to burn records and change names in histories than it could ever be for fractured rulers to take up sword and strike down the men who conquered the unconquerable Assi, those who were cowed by no enemy, be they mortal or supernatural. They had conquered the Elgar Forest, they had crusaded against the Korthai, until the civil war they had fallen against no enemy. It was decided to remember them by an epithet, one that those who knew the secrets of would laugh at, and one that those who remained ignorant would believe. Better to remember the comical and evil Order of the Beady Eye, and forget the terrible and grand Order of the Watchful Eye.
The history of the Order of the Watchful Eye
They came from the West. It is not certain what they came from. There are tales of squabbling kingdoms in the shattered remains of ancient empires, there are tales of slayers of giants and wars of scales beyond reckoning, but that is all that is left. Tales of a long lost past, of sin and betrayal, of a home lost and destroyed. They pledged themselves to King Ware, noble and wise, last of the truly great Arangothian Kings, during a war between Arangoth and the Assi, a war that had given the Assi a reputation as an unconquerable people. In exchange for pledges of fealty and allegiance, King Ware recognised the Order's claim to rule the lands of those they conquered, he recognised them as rulers of their own lands - Elgaria.
King Ware's wisdom led to him recognising the great allies he had within the Order, and so he negotiated with their Grandmasters. Soon he convinced them to begin a crusade against the Korthai pirates of Arania, to conquer the lands of Outer Arangoth, and in both lands the knights of the Order were again made nobles, were again given the blood right to rule, and so the Watchful Eye brought peace and prosperity to places where before there had only been death.
For more than a century the Order built fortresses and churches, towns and cities amongst the terrors of Elgaria, in the untamed wilds of Arania, in the broken lands of Outer Arangoth. Their rule was just and noble and wise, under first King Ware, then Ware's second son King Forban, and then Forban's son King Aladar. All until Dorn.
When Dorn was prince, he lusted for the wife of the Grandmaster of the time, Aritz Dollitrog, as the chronicles have it. Dolthrop, as the knights have it - Aritz the Pauper. Aritz's wife, Sarphe, was beautiful beyond reckoning, and so Prince Dorn betrayed and slew Aritz whilst the pair were hunting, claiming that it had been an accident. This was but the first of Dorn's sins, for when he was made King, he withdrew the Order's ancient right to rule, sending his heirs - Princes Arlok, Oryan and Ware - to rule over the Order's domains of Elgaria, Arania and Outer Arangoth. But this was not the final blow against the Order.
Was it true, what Prince Arlok said, that the Order were corrupt within Elgaria? Were the stories of rape and pillage true? The greed, the gluttony?
It is not known.
King Dorn took these stories as justification to attempt to dissolve the Order - the Order that he had no part in founding - and take their lands from them. That is what is known. Prince Arlok himself had a part in what was called the Slaughter in the Maze, when wolves were unleashed on young noble girls in a garden maze at the Royal Court. Many of those killed were children of the Knights.
This is why the Order of the Watchful Eye rose up against King Dorn, this is why they sought to slay him. This is what began the civil war that tore Arangoth asunder. Yet it was not only the Order fighting the Arangothians. The nobles of Arangoth fought amongst themselves, and indeed, the Order fought against their own as well. The Elgarians sought to do more and more against the crown, they allied themselves with the Hermit-Wizard, he who they say was the one to open rents in the fabric between this world and the otherworlds, allowing demons and spirits to spill across the land. To the Aranians and Outer Arangothians, this was a step too far, a perversion of a crusade against an unjust king. Perhaps the evils of the Elgar forest had seeped into the very bones and blood of those who had conquered it and lived there for more than a century... perhaps not, but in the years that followed brother slew brother.
Then the Interregnum began, a period of instability across all the lands, when the name of the Order was torn down and erased and the people rose up against the knights they blamed for the horrors and demons spilling out across the land. The members of the Order themselves were shamed by the sins of their brethren, and many chose to tear down their banners of war and burn them.
The Order fractured into a thousand pieces. Some knights were unable to bring themselves to tell their sons of their heritage, others chose to hide to avoid the mob, some tried to hold on to what had been theirs but could not openly declare who and what they were. Slowly, their traditions became secrets. The world forgot about them. But they did not forget what was theirs by bloodright, and by wise King Ware's writ.
Religion, the Ancestors, the Minnabrel, Vows and the Sundering
For the most part, in the open, the Order followed a religion very much like traditional Arangothian Menxism. One of the most focal parts of their marriage ceremonies are sugar-cakes or honey for the ceremonial sweet 'First Kiss', their funerary customs focus on spiritual purity for the deceased and song to relax their spirit. And yet, for all the ceremonial similarities, there are significant breaks with traditional Menxism.
The most obvious, and perhaps one of the most significant considering the Order's conflicts - both martial and spiritual - with the Menxvanic Templars, is that they refuse to acknowledge the god Menxvan as male. Menxvan is exclusively female, a mother-goddess, a creator, and her male counterpart is Menxruk - the destroyer. While in traditional Menxism the two gods are given somewhat equal roles, with Menxruk being capable of some forms of creation, within Order traditions the two gods are strictly restricted in their roles.
They are also referred to as 'The Twins', and although in most modern Order traditions they are regarded as two split halves of Menxned - as in traditional Menxism - they are rarely referred to in a few scarce texts as Menxned's children, with Menxruk having torn his way out of his father's entrails and slaying him in the process, and daughter Menxvan having created herself as fresh life from her father's corpse. It's possible these older texts were Arangothian-influenced translations of yet older and more primeval beliefs from before the Order encountered Arangothian traditions, which they had clearly been influenced by for some time before arriving within Arangoth, possibly in search of holy relics.
The primary issue the Order is resolute upon is that in the 'war' between the Twins - variably seen as an all out campaign of warfare, a family feud, or a game with the world of the living as a board - each is strictly limited in their roles. Menxvan may bless someone, and Menxruk may curse someone, but Menxvan cannot remove a curse nor may Menxruk revoke blessings. One of the most focal of these issues is their belief that Menxvan cannot be invoked in harm, be it in defence of the innocent or in punishing the unjust. Violence in any form is purely within Menxruk's realm, and as fighting men, they venerate Menxruk as a punisher of the unjust. This put them directly in conflict with the Templars of Menxvan - the Templars found it unacceptable that those 'doing good' would venerate Menxruk, and the Order found it offensively sacrilegious for the Templars to wound and harm enemies in warfare in Menxvan's name. Behind closed doors and within the rites of initiation the Order's traditions veer further away from the Arangothian norm, however, most notably in the veneration of their exclusively patrilineal ancestors. Whereas many Arangothian traditions have gender equality, with male and female figures of equal worth, women simply do not appear within the Order's ancestral structures, and certain recitationary phrases - 'The Son Of The Father' - remain unaltered when referring to those few women who have been known to participate in Order rites, though none of these women have been recognised in ancestral lineages.
Their fathers and forefathers all form a tangled web of alliances and fealties, stretching back dozens of generations. A man's ancient forebears may have sworn their allegiance to that of certain legendary figures, or even have allegiances sworn to them, which their descendents are expected to study, acknowledge, uphold and call upon in times of need. These can be purely secular interests, linking families in friendship even though neither family knows anything of the other, or they can be deeply spiritual - compelling descendents to make regular pilgrimages and sacrifices, or perhaps giving descendents the right to call on certain spirits or god-figures for guidance or succor. The very oldest families in the order maintain lists of ancestor-figures for almost seventy generations in some cases, with the absolutely oldest lineage known being the now extinct Dolthrops/Dollitrogs, now known as 'The Paupers', whose earliest ancestor - Hamajoll the great - was reputedly a giant who was 'four times four spans taller than Freiar, who was four spans taller than Dallen, who was a span taller than Nasdrin' - making him 21 spans taller than Nasdrin - almost sixteen feet! (The figure of four spans being given is notable, as that is the length given for Turradossa, a sword used in the initiations of some early figures.)
In general, a given member of the Order will primarily call on one long lineage, a straight path through the family tree of ancestors, going back generation after generation to an ancestor figure who was 'Knighted at the Tower'. (Some very few families, such as the Paupers, trace a path of lineage back to a point before the Knighting at the Tower.) However, not every family traces back this far. There are many who were foundlings, or who were initiated into the order for an ancestor's great deed. Some of these families only trace a Bloodline heritage, purely composed of direct descendents of their ancestor who entered the order, but frequently they trace heritage back to the Knighting at the Tower through vows of 'greater' fealty.
When the 'greater' fealty is sworn between two knights, it formally links them as though the knight receiving fealty were the vassal's father. The vassal may thus trace an ancestor heritage through this deeply significant link, and the vassal's sons may do likewise. This brings us to the Minnabrel - a term used within the Order (and some other Menxist sects) to refer to the intercessional spirits and legendary figures of Menxist mythological history, such as Lartha, Gigsin, Kolpetir, etcetera. Some few ancestors will raise to the status of Minnabre - joining the ranks of the Minnabrenair (the collective form for the pantheon of these figures. Minnabre is singular, Minnabrel plural). While the term is used in some particularly old sects of Menxism, the level of veneration for these figures within the Order is taken to extremes.
Relics of the Minnabrel are a major focus, with the hope that owning or coming into contact with such relics will bestow safety, luck, or even salvation from torturous punishments by Menxruk and his minions in the afterlife. This can be taken to extremes - some claim that the Order came to Arangoth in search of such relics, or possibly fleeing the destruction of another nation with relics in their protection, seeking to find a safe place for them. The Minnabrel treated with the utmost reverence and passion are those whom came into contact with a Knight's ancestral lineage - one of the most widely respected is Lartha, Menxvan's bard, as she is reputed to have sung the spirits of Nasdrin and Dallen to peace and well-being with Menxvan at their funerary rites, where 'all those present vowed their undying admiration of a most fine and gentle woman with a voice sweeter than that of all other mortals.' As such, the issue of the ownership of a lock of Lartha's hair resulted in what amounted to a minor war between two families in the reign of King Ware, a rivalry that very nearly split the Order in twain as Knights declared for one party or the other. (Wise King Ware is reputed to have split the lock of hair, with each single hair counted and measured before being bound into two reliquaries, each of which passed to one of the two families. For decades after this event single hairs reputed to have been separated during this process traded hands for dozens of gold coins - far more than that of champion warhorses.)
The Minnabrel are, in Order tradition, deeply involved in the affairs of the living - appearing in prophetic visions and dreams, leaving signs and omens, manifesting miraculous relics, and in some cases - particularly those Minnabrel heavily under Menxruk's sway - taking hold of the living, slowly twisting their minds or engaging in outright possession. Perhaps the most significant tradition in the day to day lives of Knights of the Order, however, is that of their vows. Vows are made in many circumstances - some are less significant than others, but to be a wise and just man - a man worthy of your forebears - the vows made by a Knight should be kept at all costs. The first vows undertaken are the initiation vows, sometimes known as the vows of first-vigil.
As part of a Knight's initiation, they must memorize all the vows of a chosen ancestral lineage, back to either the start of their Bloodline heritage or their earliest known ancestor, optionally with further vows through ancestral links of fealty, and recite and undertake each of the vows their ancestors took upon initiation, finally adding their own vows to the recitation.
Each of their ancestor's vows is to be followed as seriously as their own vows, although in many cases a young initiate's vows are a repetition or extension of the vows of one of their respected ancestors. (Some families have vow records of essentially identical vows with minor changes from generation to generation.) Often, as part of the study leading into their initiation, an initiate is tasked with writing out each of their ancestor's vows to form a personal record of vows, usually studied from their father or grandfather's record. As a result, Knights of the order are almost universally literate, occasionally in multiple languages and scripts, as the older families have vows stretching back to eras when the Order apparently did not use common creole or Arangothian. It's perfectly acceptable to translate these vows into a preferred language, but in some cases there are vows which cannot be translated as the languages in which they were written are no longer known.
Some of these 'Vow Languages', when known, are only known and spoken through vow records and their translation. The majority of the more obscure Vow Languages were, perhaps, lost during a period known as the Sundering, though it's not entirely clear if there was only one Sundering, or multiple Sunderings. During the period leading into the Sundering there are frequently vows of mortal vengeance to be undertaken against figures for which nothing is known beyond their names - something many assume is linked with a mighty conflict. The Sundering itself is clear within the vow records - vows are undertaken to never speak or write again of 'the days of my father and his father and his father before him' or 'the days between my great grandfather's vow to be just and my grandfather's vow to generosity', or even in some very rare cases, 'All the days before this one'. For obvious reasons the periods under consideration are almost entirely unknown. Those vowed not to speak of them, including all their ancestors, do not speak of them. What little is known comes from families whose vows 'survived the Sunderings', and may still tell stories from the eras under consideration... however, during the Sundering a vast majority of families took vows to never speak of them, and so stories of these times survive only fragmentarily as there has seldom, if ever, been a family lineage where stories even undertaken to be retold under vow survive from a period of the Sundering. What is known speaks of great and terrible betrayals and treason, a mighty empire lain waste and a land of broken and shattered kingdoms. Some estimate the period of the Sundering covers anywhere between a hundred to a thousand years, with some of the larger estimates implying at least three separate Sundering incidents, with the most recent occurring within a century of the Order arriving in Arangoth. In the wake of the civil war, many feared that the events - particularly of the Elgarian families - were too terrible, and that a new Sundering might take place - that history had literally repeated itself. The idea of a cyclic or repeating history is not alien to the Order - there is a saying that the 'Sins of the Fathers shall be made fresh by the Sons', warning specifically against a repetition of whatever evils led to the Sunderings, and a minority of the Elgarian families undertook vows not unlike those appearing during the Sunderings. This was an act of great mourning and shame, often taken in penance over the horrors committed in the civil war and interregnum.
To simply allow a Knight to 'forget' the past like this may seem like an easy option to an outsider, but their traditions of ancestral veneration and intercession by the Minnabrel, as well as a deep love of family history and legend, all mean that vowing to simply erase a period of history from their lives is a large and meaningful sacrifice.
Military Matters, Chivalry, Governance
The Order has always been known primarily as a martial institution, from its earliest legendary origins as a brotherhood, although the nature of the brotherhood has variously been represented as an order of defenders and bodyguards to ancient kings, protectors of holy relics from lost empires, crusaders against the unjust, and a band formed to strike a vengeance-blow against a victorious enemy. Whatever their true origin, it is certain that the Knights of the Order have always lived and died by the sword, and have been mounted warriors from the beginning.
To their ideals, the majority of wars are fought for a single issue or cause, embraced or first championed by a Knight of fairly high status. Then, Knights and their servants declare themselves to the service of the one championing the cause. Occasionally, multiple knights of equally high rank champion the same cause, leading to multiple bands organizing themselves separately. Sometimes this is viewed as wise, at others, it is an inefficient nightmare of logistics, leading to the appointment of one Knight as war leader, or - as it is more commonly referred to - banner leader.
Generally, the right to raise a banner is bestowed on a knight directly from the Order's grandmaster, however in some periods it is clear that the right to raise a banner has been considered as inherited from one's forebears. In some rare cases, a Knight raises a banner after being elected to do so by unanimous agreement of his peers.
The Order's title of grandmaster was held for generations by the Dollitrogs/Dolthrops - the Paupers. It seems that they may have been made grandmasters at some point during the Sundering, but there are many who believe them to have been grandmasters from long before that time. The grandmasters were inevitably owed vows of fealty by almost all Knights of the order, for it was at the Knighting At The Tower where those knighted first took initiation vows pledging their fealty - and that of all their initiated descendants - to 'he who is the true and righteous grand master of the Order of the Watchful Eye'. As such they have held the right to lead the Order as a whole to war, to negotiate on behalf of the brotherhood as a whole, and to order an end to any feuds between Knights. (This last, however, has seldom been called upon.)
With the family of the Paupers extinct, and there being no heir to the title of grandmaster nor any known process to elect a new one, it is uncertain if the Order will ever be as unified as it was in the time before the Arangothian Civil War, as with no clear authority, without unanimous agreement (rare among the Order except in legend) even the most respected of Knights may have their claim to become banner leader contested.
However, these difficulties aside, the Order follows an older way of war, and one significantly different to that of the modern theory. For one, every Knight is expected to maintain a state of war-readiness at all times, training in combative arts and maintaining their weapons, armour and mounts as a matter of daily life. If they lack the means to do so, it's expected that they should search out a worthy lord or Knight of greater wealth to pledge themselves to, in order to allow themselves to be more fully prepared for war. As a result, they maintain a large and expert force of arms at all times and at essentially no cost to the Order itself. Raising an army is but a question of choosing to champion an issue and calling upon their ancient bonds of fealty and loyalty, and in old Arangothian epics there are tales of the Order raising an army 'from the empty fields and mountains'.
Such armies did not exist composed solely of Knights and mounted men at arms - if a Knight has wealth enough, it is expected that he gather as many loyal servants to him as he can, providing arms and armour for them all in whatever manner pleases him best, and training these servants in the manner of war not less than once every two weeks, and that the servants in turn pledge no less than a full season's war-service to their patrons each year, to be called upon at any time.
The greatest limit to the Order's military strength is most certainly the bonds of loyalty between them, for while common soldiers can be expected to fight for coin or food, when declaring oneself to a true cause the Knights themselves are expected to serve for three quarters of the year without complaint nor issue - an expectation that is only likely to be fulfilled if the social order between members of the Order are properly maintained.
On the march, traditionally they consider themselves able to lay claim to whatever provisions are necessary to sustain the defence or completion of their cause. In times of plenty they might buy food from the common folk of the lands, in times of want they might simply take it by right of arms and purity of their cause, and this too gives a limit to their strength tied to loyalty, albeit the loyalty of the land. No matter how noble the cause, the common folk of the land are unlikely to remember the Knights kindly if they take too much, or more than is felt right. Yet, in some circumstances, even this will not stop the Order on the march, for the common-folk, the small-folk, they belong to the Kings and Lords of the land as chattel, as the lowest of the classes with the Knights and all warriors at the top. And at war, what belongs to your enemy is always a fair target.
This casual disregard for the rights of common folk in times of war has led to great strife with peasants and merchants in the past, possibly accounting for much of the hatred levelled against the Order in the years leading to and following the Arangothian Civil War. As such, those of today's order might be wisely counseled to be cautioned against stripping the land, no matter how important or noble their cause may be.
And yet, this speaks only of the true wars, the crusades, all conflicts which hinge on a single cause the Knights choose to champion. This is far from the only kind of war in which the Knights participate, leading to their reputation as mercenaries.
War is the highest calling, and the one to which all should aspire - even in times of peace. Young Knights have travelled all around the war to find employ in whatever wars they can - seeking paid employ in the armies of others is nothing to be ashamed of, and to be admired in those times where no worthier conflict or cause might be found to fight for. At times this has been on a very large scale indeed, with bands of knights pledging to fight loyally side by side at war and marching off in dozens, hundreds, or even in times of history the thousands, bearing banners and all the accoutrements of true war, fighting for the sake and cause of nobility and honour as well as pay and booty. Some argue that this is how the Order came to occupy Elgaria and the other provinces, but all of the Order's own records indicate that these were all considered crusades in their day.
The dividing line between a true war with noble cause and a crusade is a difficult one, but most scholars agree that the clearest indication of crusade is tied to the order's religious principles, frequently maintaining a counteracting force to imbalances in the games between the Twins - in times of plenty and ease, the unjust go unpunished, and in times of strife and war, the innocent must be protected. The greatest crusades, however, are presaged by prophecy and omen, and frequently involve relics and spiritual perils as well as physical ones. Noble causes, on the other hand, have ranged from issues of inheritance and marriage, the possession of great treasures, besmirched honour or the right to rule.
When there is no cause worth going to war for, or no war in which a Knight might find employ, it is expected that in addition to day to day training Knights will participate in any one of a number of 'Games of the skills of war'. These might range from tournaments of various sorts - jousts and grand melees at which even the armed servants participate - to more obscure tests of valour.
For example, there is the passage of arms, at which a party of Knights decamp at a crossroads, bridge, or other meeting point, and pledge to resolve matters of arms with any and all worthy warriors whom come to pass. This practice holds some stigma, for there are tales of passages of arms at which all who passed were simply robbed under the pretence of chivalry, and as such Knights eager for valour will swiftly descend upon any such encampment they hear about in the hopes of winning renown by righting such wrongs. In practice, however, the only things frequently 'robbed' in this context are spurs, for a mounted man with spurs is by tradition a fighting man, and one who would refuse this worthy challenge should be stripped of those spurs.
Another such 'game' is the Lark's Hunt, in which a group of Knights split themselves into two groups - the larks and the hunters - and set off in a spread-out chase across the country to some point of pilgrimage, the larks setting out an hour before the hunters. The larks seek to reach the point of pilgrimage as quickly as possible, with as many of their number intact as possible, while the hunters seek to take each of the larks ransom. A typical Lark's Hunt will include night attacks and seeking out places of refuge on behalf of the hunters, while the larks might split up to evade their hunters, or seek to lead them into an ambush. If the 'players' are not too injured by the time they all arrive at the point of pilgrimage, they frequently play a return hunt, with teams switching, back to their point of origin.
Most such games of war are fought to the point of 'meaningful' bloodshed, with - by tradition - a fighter able to demand surrender by an opponent when there is 'fresh blood on his blade, not less than a half inch deep'. In practice, fighters will call for mercy before this point, but serious injuries and death are not unheard of, and generally considered to be undertaken in a noble pursuit.
In general, many of these games of war serve dual purposes - encouraging knights to not only win skill at feats of arms, but also to spend a great deal of time out in the far reaches of the country, so that the local small-folk might call upon them to rid them of local perils, or aid them in their lives. There are many rope-drawn ferries in the wilds of Arangoth for this reason, being a cheap and reasonable way to respond to a request for a river crossing by impoverished peasants, and there is a great shortage of bears in the southern reaches of the forests of Arania for a similar reason.
And yet, such violence can be seen as a needless risking of life, and in the many years of the Order's existence many codes of chivalry have emerged, with some being forgotten or championed by only a few who have vowed to do so. Most frequently there are calls to avoid gambling - a vice common among many, for betting on the outcomes of such games of war has always been popular. Measures to lessen bloodshed directly include attempts to reduce combat in such games to 'strikes with the flat of the blade, or a sheathed blade', but there are strong negative connotations with this - one beats a man with the flat of a blade to show that you believe he is no true threat.
In practice, the various chivalric codes have been most successful in encouraging behaviour on and off the field of war that might seem like utter lunacy to an outsider. Displays of martial prowess are sometimes formalized in the flourishes, a practice almost akin to dance where a knight seeks to display his skill with given weapons by swinging them in complex and skillful patterns, seeking to intimidate foes into admitting their inadequacy. This has led to displays and counter displays that have lasted, some stories claim, days or weeks with greater and greater feats of showmanship, all during which the two opposing armies are restrained from the fight -for this is but one of the 'feats of personal arms' knights are called upon to make and respond to. Certainly, such time might be useful to allow the heads of armies to negotiate a relatively peaceable conclusion, but during the Civil War such a display delayed the march of the Order against Tagrana, an action which many blame for the Elgarian families seeking the aid of the Hermit-Wizard.
Other feats of personal arms include the 'joust of war', in which parties of mounted warriors from either side prowl and charge along the lines of battle, winning personal valour and renown by outright killing their mounted enemies, one by one. There are common personal challenges as well, and even games of war played to the death. Not infrequently enemy armies have pledged to quit the field of battle for the day, or to retreat to a given set of agreed places, on the outcome of such feats of arms and war games. More than once this has led to almost incomprehensible actions, at least in the tales, such as a greatly superior army retreating in the face of a band of a few warriors whose valour and renown demanded that a pledge against a game of war was to be honoured.
Such behavior, often to be considered irrational, was not always limited to the field of war. In governance and as landholders, the Order were responsible for holding court -a s any landholders. There are tales of strange tribulations they forced claimants to make to prove their case, from trials by combat or ordeal to seeking out the divine will on the issue through prophecy, sometimes through the throwing of snakeskins - a now unknown practice. Some rulings would invoke absurd punishments - common thieves might be forced to walk upon their knees for a year and a day, to prove themselves a lesser man, and if breaking such a pledge to have their limbs amputated. In other cases men were sent on pilgrimages with guardians instructed to strike the accused's head from their shoulders should the accused ever turn away from their path of pilgrimage.
Even despite these claims, however, the Order were generally considered wise and efficient rulers of the lands under their dominion. They kept extensive records, which enabled an efficient and generally well regarded system of taxation, performing frequent and impartial censusing of wealth and what lands could be expected to produce. Their pledges to improve the lot of men frequently meant the undertaking of massive public works projects.
Many consider their strings of fortifications the most obvious of these, but fortifications - towers and castles - were part of being prepared for war. In actual fact they are responsible for a great many menxist churches in what is known as the 'Border' style - large and imposing edifices, built in a style not unlike that of their fortifications, with strong doors and stronger walls. These buildings were, and in some cases still are, used as refuges by the local populace against the attack of roving bandits or animals, or as in the era of the interregnum, supernatural horrors.
They were also road builders, engaging in the construction of stone-paved paths across the length and breadth of their lands. A typical style for these roads included, as much as was feasible, large blocks inscribed with tales of valour, important records of the lands, or even - in some cases - maps marked with local castles and an invitation for 'any whom bears strength of arms to match their strength' against the inhabitants.
An important element of Order governance was frequent and intensive examination of any and all disturbances, be they slight - a jilted marriage of a common family - or be they great - invading armies. This is one of the reasons the epithet 'Beady Eye' came to be leveled upon the Order. Their right to rule, so they believed, was firmly fixed in their place as arbitrators of justice and peace. Outlandish punishments and methods of determining guilt in their courts aside, it is known that the Order were given to investigating any and all crimes they came to hear about within their dominions, demanding the right to oversee reparations in issues great and small.
In some cases, this was welcomed, giving the common people the power to have legal representation and to make binding contracts enforced by the Order itself. In many ways, despite their heavy control, it ushered in a kind of freedom for many beyond what they had experienced before or since. They were kept safe, for any strife against them was a strife against their landholding lords - and to be dealt with as swiftly as though it had been the business of the noble sons of the land. The Order were known to break their ideals of a three class system - those who fight, those who pray, and those who work the land - when it came to civil disputes. In their eyes, no man was greater or lesser under the eyes of the law, albeit a law that described very different situations for the high and the low. Knights were prosecuted for crimes against other knights or the small-folk in the same way the peasants were prosecuted against each other.
And yet, for all this justice, many did not appreciate these intrusions into their lives, and rightly so. The rule of law put burdens and obligations on the peasantry without their consent. Just as the Knights of the Order were expected to pursue warfare relentlessly, the commoners were expected to pursue the improvement of the land, and to doggedly support their masters with whatever was necessary to engage in war. Nor could the common folk of the land abandon their works without bloody reprisals - their place in the world was as fixed as that of the Knights themselves.
Merchants occupied a difficult place in this order, for they neither work the land, nor pray, nor fight. In some cases they were treated like commoners, and they chafed against this greatly. In some cases attempts were made to understand the nature of these traders, especially in Arania, and for their greater freedoms they were levied greater duties in line with their work - money and craft goods. Yet, when the merchants complained at this, the Order in Arania responded by forcing them to govern their own affairs with members or servants of the Order witnessing proceedings and making records at all stages - eventually extending fiscal assistance to the merchants in a system of banking and money transfers, based around the Order's systems of records and wartime logistics infrastructure put to peaceful uses. In this period there was hope for great prosperity and freedom, but almost all of these works were lost during the civil war and with the retreat of the Order from open existence, let alone governance.
Secret Societies and Brotherhoods, Rites, Vigils
What separates these men from common warriors, common landholders? Those trusted and beloved by the Order have often been initiated into it, taking names such as Gessod - He who is new. One of the greatest of the recent 'foundling' heritages is that of the Lesfahussas - the good guests. Despite their heavily patrilineal society, outsiders have been inducted into the Order, into its secrets and vows, and these separate it from common society.
The world is regarded as a fragile thing, the weakest and most susceptible of all the realms known to man, detailed in works such as the Dream of the Nine Otherworlds and other traditional Arangothian religion. The Twins, Menxvan and Menxruk, seek out their dominance, moving the world through eras of plenty and great wealth, which can only be sustained if Menxruk's role of punisher is upheld by the Knights of the Order, and eras of want and peril, in which mankind and the Order in particular are forced to take action to protect the vulnerable under their care.
And yet, these are not entirely secular concerns. Menxvan is a creator, and she creates all things - men, women, animals both benign and dangerous, the fey creatures that lurk half out of sight of mortal men and the spirits that inhabit all the otherworlds. Is it not so that the lot of mankind might be unwittingly extinguished by her joyous creation? Has she not brought forth the wolf as well as the man? Menxruk's nature twists all things, not simply punishing those deserving of it or bringing famine and drought but also driving men to slay one another and rousing dark spirits in his cause. When there is unbalance, Menxruk shall overlook the punishments of the unjust, Menxvan will fail to provide the strength needed to overcome the hardships of life. Worse still, such unchecked imbalance strengthens the metaphysical powers bubbling beneath the surface of the mundane world - something the Order believes happened during the period of the Interregnum, and almost certainly is happening now in the environs of Drache.
There must be those who watch and study the era, those who understand the portents and prophecies, those who cast judgement in order to protect the world from threats both mundane and extraordinary. The Watchful Eye, and those pledged to it.
The quest to discover and respond to these threats to the natural order is an ongoing one, with Knights of the order dispatched to investigate and gain evidence in these matters. Some of this work is done openly, but much of it is kept secret, by brotherhoods within the order focused around seeking intercession by the Minnabrel and searching for prophecies and their meanings.
Members of these brotherhoods are occasionally unlike the Knights of the order - some are holy men, some are mystics, some are seers, many maintain their own secretive traditions of vow heritage akin to that of the knights. Traditional inductees to these brotherhoods include Knights suspected to have gifts of prophecy, or those who have survived grevious wounds and experienced spiritual visions as part of a near death experience, as well as those inheriting patrilineal duties of record-keeping from their fathers. Some such brotherhoods possess and protect relics of other eras, some too powerful to fall into mortal hands, or so they claim.
Their purpose within the Order, critics might claim, is ultimately to provide a cause to march to crusade or war, to interpret prophecies favourably and so sway the Order as a whole. Perhaps this is warranted - if one of these brotherhoods put their voice behind the support of a cause, especially a spiritually motivated cause, it is likely that a banner of war will be raised and that vast multitudes of Knights will declare themselves for it. The brotherhoods will bring forth relics from their secret vaults and hiding places, they make gifts of ancient weapons to those willing to fight for the cause.
And yet these secretive brotherhoods are not the only brotherhoods within the order - there are open brotherhoods, vowed to mutual kinship and protection, declaring themselves as a whole for causes or championing their own. Such brotherhoods are rare now, but in times past it was common for each crusade to warrant the creation of new Order brotherhoods to champion the fight and provide a central core for the movement in the long term, with those fighting overseas able to act in the confident knowledge that their brethren at home are administering their lands and keeping their families and landholds safe. Many of these brotherhoods became gradually more secretive in the era of the Interregnum, in some cases being the only contact with Order culture their members had. As such the fine details of the modern order vary considerably, with some Aranian brotherhoods invoking the spiritually cleansing properties of seawater - not a practice known anywhere else.
With these brotherhoods, both secretive and those that were once open, providing the primary unbroken link with the rites and traditions of the Order there is now considerable variance in the specific details of the Order's practices. The procedure of initiation into the Order, for instance, is sometimes separated from the knighting of an individual (as is the Aranian practice) and is performed at the age of the Brakerrat, but is occasionally linked with the knighting and performed after a period of attending to another Knight as squire, generally at seventeen or so.
The initiation itself has several elements which are not flexible - it always starts with a period of vigil and prayer, spent with the accoutrements of war. At minimum, an initiate should have a sword - and specifically a sword. A sword is a noble weapon of war, whereas the axe, the mace, the hammer - all such weapons carry some barbaric connotations. If the initiate has more than this, it should be arrayed about him, with his sword held ready and his armour either worn or arranged so that it may be worn. In most traditions, however, when taking vigil in a place of peace or church one should wear light robes or similar. Vigil begins with the setting sun and ends when the sun rises, and for the period of vigil one is expected to remain alert and ready to take up arms and armour to defend one's compatriots, spending the night in prayer and contemplation of vows and history. Another appropriate place to take vigil is on the battlements of a fortification. One taking vigil should not break it or allow themselves to be disturbed for any reason other than an attack. Vigils taken over consecutive nights, are sometimes called for. In all cases, the vigil is traditionally a time when the Minnabrel might reveal themselves to the one undertaking vigil. Vigil can be taken at any time - not merely in preparation for initiation.
After taking vigil, generally the next day or the next evening, the initiate must recite the initiation vows of their forefathers, binding themselves to uphold them, and then make their own initiation vows, all within the presence of at least three initiated Knights of the Order to act as witnesses. Some traditions have one of the witnesses entering the initiate's initiation vow into a book of vows, a treasured tome containing all the vows of those families adhering to its tradition. There are lost Elgarian and Aranian books of vows, both lost in the wake of the civil war.
The initiate's initiation vows are a very serious and grave matter. They will be undertaken not only by the initiate, but all their sons, all those who pledge greater fealty to the initiate and are later ordained, and all of their sons. Initiation vows are a serious matter, and are generally not to be influenced by those assisting an initiate in their initiation. Frequently younger initiates will pattern their initiation vows on those of their forebears, but some who are particularly driven by a given issue, or influenced by a familial shame, will take a vow to 'set things right' in some form. More complex vows are much more common in older initiates, however.
With the vows completed and witnessed, the initiate is blessed by either one of the Witnesses or an attending holy-man in Menxruk's name, typically invoking the plea that Menxruk allow the initiate's blows to be struck both justly and strongly, followed by a blessing by Menxvan, invoking a plea for strength and wisdom.
The knighting follows a vigil - or when the ceremonies of initiation and knighting are combined, the vow-taking. At the knighting, the new Knight vows common fealty to an already initiated and knighted man - most commonly and traditionally, this vow of fealty is to the initiate's father, or in some cases his father's liege-lord. The Knight receiving the vow of fealty then, using his own sword, lays it on the kneeling initiate's shoulder. In some traditions this is followed, or preceded, by a hard slap to the face - traditionally the final blow the new Knight will accept without insult. In others, the assembled knights will eat pieces of bread broken from a communal loaf. There are many variations, but most seek to emphasize the new bond that exists between Knights, or the new Knight's rise in status.