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The Brotherhood of Black Banners

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The Brotherhood of Black Banners

Knight Commander Sir Etoile Kotter

Diplomacy 7
Military 7
Industry 2
Faith 7
Intrigue 1


Geography - The Banner Holds



Nestled along the eastern heartlands of Brenn-Tyr, the Banner Holds occupy a stretch of hilly, forested wilderness in the shadow of the Massifs d'Aube. The region's primordial woodlands are broken here and there by palisade-walled towns and villages, the Holds whence the region derives its name, whose influence stretches out to tame stretches of dale and hillside where agriculture and industry strive against the unknown. The extent of this reach, and the state of the paths connecting the islands of civilization, depends wholly on the size and prosperity of the Hold in question. Most are linked only by a tenuous network of forest trails or well-mapped river routes, where travelers take their lives in their hands against the unseen terrors of the wood, but the heartland between the great Holds of Flechebourg and Rhinnar boasts flat packed roads and proud expanses of well-tended fields and pastureland. Further into the mountains, in foothills riddled with the mine shafts of old industry and the hidden vaults of forgotten peoples, Ferstat's vast mines and smelteries command the eye for miles. The road connecting Ferstat and Flechebourg is the sole paved highway in the Banner Holds, constructed at ruinous expense in lives and labor by the King of Swords to supply his forges. Most waterways in the region branch from the frigid, fast-flowing currents of the river Yser, flowing westward towards the unexplored lowlands of Brenn-Tyr. On this course, the network of lesser rivers and streams feeds a scattered array of glacial lakes, whose cold waters are home to pike, carp, bream, and eels. One lake in particular, Yser's Eye, also nurtures a population of particularly beautiful water lilies, whose flowers are gathered for use in the initiation ceremonies of the Brotherhood.


People and History - The Rise and Fall of the King of Swords



In the time before the Heralds, the peoples of the Banner Holds lived in nomadic groups, following the movement of game or rival clans through the forest paths once known to all. However, over time the majority of the clans settled, learned the wisdom of seed and plow, and began the long struggle to master the forest. To mark their claims, the clans began the custom of placing clan markings on scraps of cloth, a practice that soon evolved to the production of colorful and varied Clan Banners displayed prominently in any interaction between clans, in peace or war. Within a generation, the Banners had become ubiquitous, and their production and care occupied a small but critical part of each clan's social life. Inspired by the oral traditions of their wandering forefathers, the clans began to inscribe the great events in their histories in patterns embracing their symbols, creating living records that watched over the clans even in the absence of sage or soothsayer. The importance of those who cared for the Banners increased commensurately, with those who tended the hearts and histories of the Holds eventually taking the title "Herald." The prominence of some Banners rose, the prominence of others fell, and those few clans that had not joined their kin in the fertile dales became the stuff of folklore and half-truth.


In the days prior to the modern age, the great Hold Rhinnar had risen to such prominence that it seemed none could challenge it. Facsimiles of its proud green Banner flew over a dozen lesser Holds within its reach, a demesne on the cusp of being a true kingdom, with no equal in wealth or power. Thus, they were blind to the emergence of a new power in the forgotten wilds of the Massifs d'Aube's foothills. What seemed at first a roving band of marauders shattered the strength of the area's central Hold, Dran, before setting fire to the Hold, taking its Banner hostage, and forcibly marching its people to some unknown fastness. The refugees of the attack brought word of demons, with granite skin and weapons hewn from the night sky, and were dismissed as mad even by those who sheltered them. That is, until the demons struck the Holds surrounding the ruins of Dran, repeating their unheard-of atrocities and completing the patchwork record of their deeds through the accounts of a growing tide of refugees. Such warfare was unheard of in the Holds - the Banner, even the Banner of an enemy, was sacrosanct, and to hold it in peril to compel service was a violation of every norm. But what else could be expected of demons? Holds farther afield from Dran prepared for war, and even mighty Rhinnar rumbled to uneasy life.


All, it proved, for naught. While the Holds were well-accustomed to the internecine squabbles between kith and clan, the demons' campaign of conquest was wholly outside their experience. Mayors who had, mere seasons earlier, negotiated the time and location of battles as equals beneath each others' Banner now faced the uncertainty of a remorseless foe. One that seemed capable of moving through the forests as the storied Ranger Clans of old. Worse, the already rare appearances of representatives of the woodland clans to warn of impending danger or dire omen ceased altogether, leaving many Holds blind to the threat arrayed against them until it charged screaming from the tree line around their farms. One by one, more Holds fell, but unlike the butchery of Dran some part of them was spared. Though their Banners were seized and their walls torn down, they were not forced to abandon their homes for some uncertain fate. Instead, they were merely required to pledge fealty to the King of Swords.


None knew his ancestry. None knew his age. He had appeared as though fully formed from the forbidden shadows of the wood, a warrior of rare valor and unmatched command. He had gathered a band of devoted followers around him in a campaign of adventure and brigandry, all following his promise of the Holds unified under one rule, one Banner. There had been madmen like him before in the history of the Holds, men whose ambitions quickly consumed them, but by some miracle this man had not only remained beneath the notice of the great Holds - he had uncovered secrets of the ancients. Shirts of woven metal rings deflected any weapon, while blades of tempered iron cut through leather and bone and horn as though they were not there. Here, then, the truth of the demons was finally understood - men of iron, following a man whose drive to rule burned like a furnace. Marching beneath the ragged banners of dozens of sundered Holds, their own blood-red pennant fluttering over all like a dragon from legend, none could stand against them. Attracting dreamers, dissidents, mercenaries, and no shortage of warriors impressed from his conquered territories, the King of Swords perched beyond the walls of Rhinnar with a host thousands strong. Unwilling to sacrifice their burnished jewel to the fires of war, they surrendered, and their proud green Banner fell beneath the power of the red.


With no foe left to oppose him, the King of Swords retired with his hostage Banners and hostage soldiers to the secret seat of his power. The deep wood had been cleared by the captive peoples of Dran, revealing a shining edifice of elder days, the Spire of the Sword. Around it, a new town had been willed into being by the King of Swords and his followers, new homes for the people of Dran who now lived and died at his whim. Secure in his mastery, the King of Swords planted his glittering crimson banner atop the spire, and from the new Hold of Flechebourg began his reign. The talent for war that had won him his crown translated into a brutal focus on the economy of Empire, and none were spared his wrath should his dictates be met with delay or failure. Hundreds died to illness, monstrosity, and misfortune cutting a road from Flechebourg to the mines of Ferstat, and deep in the woods the nomad clans looked on with growing dismay.


During the reign of the tyrant, his loyal inner circle came to serve a new purpose. While conquest of the Holds and control of their Banners had afforded the King of Swords a vast army, only his original cadre had been granted the privilege of iron. As reward for their service, these warrior elite were reorganized into the King's personal guard, the Bright Company, and grated expansive privileges as direct knechts, or servants, of the King of Swords. At first content to keep his Bright Company close, rumor eventually reached the King of Swords of discord growing in the uncharted regions that separated his conquered Holds - the clans of the forest had readied for war.


Where the King of Swords' conquests had afforded him the advantage of initiative, here he found the situation reversed. With the Banners of every Hold under his control, the King of Swords had left only a token garrison in most of his conquests. These garrisons were quickly defeated by the sudden strikes of the Ranger Clans, the survivors straggling back to Flechebourg to report the liberation of peoples uncertain of their desire for freedom. In many cases, fear for their Banner drove even liberated Holds to offer tribute to the King of Swords. But this mattered little, for the King's new and fragile authority had been challenged, and he knew but one response. The Bright Company was mustered, and dispatched on a mission of annihilation.


Years of warfare followed, as the overwhelming might of the Bright Company contested with the Ranger Clans' unmatched knowledge of the battlefield. A few costly battles forced the Company to expand its ranks, each knight of the King of Swords taking on squires from among the captive populace who seemed best suited for service. The original promise of the King of Swords, that of a single Banner unifying the Holds in peace and prosperity, echoed in the rites and rituals invented whole-cloth to induct these young outsiders, the simple act of reinforcing the ideal transmuting it from dream to a transcendent duty. From fireside-declamations to the seeds of a new faith. This promise of a newly-forged homeland sustained the Bright Company through bitter winters and savage battles, and blinded many to the ultimate goal of their campaign. Little by little, the Ranger Clans fell back, unable to sustain their offensive against the genocidal fury of the King of Swords. At last, upon the ash-streaked ruins of Dran, the Bright Company faced the united forces of the Clans' warleader, and in a pitched battle with wailing weirding-women and ice-eyed archers managed at last to break their foe. The people of the forest were forced to flee in makeshift rafts down their beloved River Yser, and the Bright Company turned their eyes to Flechebourg.


During the Bright Company's years in the wilderness, the King of Swords' dominion had grown decadent and cruel. The lives spent in constructing the Iron Road proved only a prelude to the bones littering the foundations of statues raised in his honor, as well as a towering wall of cyclopean stone encircling Flechebourg. In the absence of the Bright Company and their rigorously-chosen squires, lesser men had been recruited into the King of Swords' garrison armies, their venality and greed an accepted fact of the regime so long as the King of Swords received his due. The bright red Banner that had united the land now crackled with fearful energies above the Spire of the Sword, its shadow a harbinger of terror. Sworn to the King of Swords' will, the veteran knights of the Bright Company still recoiled from what they saw, but honor compelled them to silence. Still, the King of Swords was no fool, and he soon dispatched them on the pretense of taming the fearsome peaks of the Massifs d'Aube. Once more the Bright Company set out, and once more their victories came at the cost of treasured friends and years of life. Thus began the King of Swords' spiral towards disaster, though locked in his spire he could not see the fullness of it. For with every campaign the old loyalists grew fewer and fewer, the Bright Company's ranks swelling with fresh and idealistic blood. More than a decade passed, the Bright Company tempered in a crucible of war into the perfect instrument of conquest, but with the will to conquer slowly draining from their ranks. Until at last the Company returned home after two decades of campaign to find their homeland unrecognizable.


Flechebourg had become a cruel parody of a Hold, its people confined to stinking ghettos while the garrison armies of the King of Swords lived lives of easy brutality. The King of Swords was seen less and less, sequestered in his Spire in pursuit of occult secrets. On the Bright Company's return from their last campaign, he did not even deign to grant them audience - instead a sneering bureaucrat relayed new orders, dispatching the Company to unknown lands in the West to spread the dominion of the King of Swords. The scales fell from the eyes of the Company's Knight Commander, and in utter silence he decapitated the awestruck functionary.


What followed was the First Battle of Flechebourg, though to call it a battle would be to show the garrison armies too much charity. Awakened from their lazy stupor by panicked sentry horns, the ranks of the Flechebourg garrison were smashed by the clenched fist of the Bright Company's knights, blood flooding the muddy streets even as the clash of iron and screams of the dying filled the air. Guided by the wisdom of their former commanders, the Company had little trouble breaching the Spire of the Sword, where the King of Swords' "elites" proved little match for the followers he had sent to their deaths so many years ago. At last, the Knight Commander, his lieutenant, and their squires confronted the King of Swords atop the spire. Dressed in nothing save the coiled expanse of his monstrous Banner, the King of Swords proved more than a man in that fateful duel, claiming the lives of both knights and the Knight Commander's squire in the melee, his sword awash with golden light, his every word a thunderclap of doom. But in his moment of exultation, as the Knight Commander lay bleeding at his feet, the King of Swords dismissed the lowly squire whose blade found its mark, slipping through the guardian folds of the crimson Banner to strike flesh. The death cry of the King of Swords was said to shake the very roots of the Massifs d'Aube, and the corpse that sailed to the ground from the peak of his spire shattered the ground where it landed.


Victorious but thunderstruck at what they had done, the Bright Company conducted a full reconnaissance of the Spire of the Sword, hoping to uncover their deposed master's secrets. Deep in the bowels of the Spire, past doors locked and barred in mysterious gleaming metals, the Company uncovered the truth - an enslaved dwarven clan. At the dawn of the King of Swords' power, he and a handful of loyal retainers had discovered the entry to the dwarves' subterranean home through what would become the Spire of the Sword, and through guile and stealth had taken the dwarves' most precious possession, their children, hostage. Threatening to exterminate an entire generation, the King of Swords had compelled the clan's service and the clan, the Cinnabrine, had been forced to acquiesce. It was from them the King of Swords had learned the secrets of iron, and it was their carefully-cultivated agriculture that had sustained the King of Swords' army in the days before the sack of Dran. He had even forced the ruby-skinned Cinnabrine women to surrender their Living Threads to etch them into his Banner, weaving terrible spells with their power, though even the Cinnabrine could not say whence he had gained such knowledge. Reunited with their families outside the threat of violence for the first time in near three decades, the Cinnabrine wept, and the Bright Company wept for the part they had played, however unknowingly, in their captivity.


Beyond the walls of the Spire of the Sword, a similar scene waited to unfold as the citizens of Flechebourg gathered at the edge of the field of slaughter. The Mayor of the Hold, unaccustomed to any degree of power, was forced forwards by the starving multitudes to demand the Bright Company's intentions. Their answer was to throw open the storehouses and granaries of the King, and return to the people the bounty that had been stolen from them. The crowds surged forward in confused elation, but none dared approach the steaming corpse of their fallen despot. The night that followed has forever entered the legends of the Banner Holds, for after hours of debate and silent reflection, the Bright Company voted unanimously to surrender themselves to the peoples' justice. Flechebourg awoke in shock to the sound of chain hauberks and well-used weapons being piled in the square at the base of the Spire, the knights kneeling in their underclothes before a stunned Mayor. Torn between gratitude for the Company's liberation of the land and their anger over decades of oppression, the Mayor ordered the Company confined to the Spire while she debated their fate. A week passed in frenzied discussion as the people gathered in forums great and small, the Mayor running ragged as she sought to re-establish some semblance of civic order even as she weighed the Company's sentence. But before a decision could be reached, alarums were heard from the ramparts of the Hold's great wall - the armies of the King of Swords had come to annoint his successor.


While the greatest part of the King of Swords' garrison armies had been stationed at Flechebourg, thousands more had been posted throughout the Banner Holds, iron nails pinning down the King of Swords' dominion. Those few who had fled the Hold in their sudden freedom had carried word of the death of the King, and his many petty lieutenants were intent on the prize they had secretly coveted for years - the throne. Though little unity existed between them, they had put aside their mutual hatreds in recognition of the fact that none could claim rulership of the Holds without control of the Spire, and that no one garrison army, already bloodied from subduing the others, might prevail against the Bright Company. Seeing retribution and enslavement on the horizon, the Mayor of Flechebourg rushed to the Company's makeshift gaol and begged their aid.


The knights' week of captivity had also drawn the curiosity of the Cinnabrine, and no few of their number had spent the time interrogating the Bright Company on the state of the world above. When the Mayor arrived with her portents of doom, she was shocked yet again to find another people entire who called the Hold home, whose plight mirrored that of her and her people. Apprised of the threat, the Bright Company made ready to march into one last campaign. They did not go alone. Recognizing that the armies beyond the walls meant to slaughter or subjugate all they found, the Cinnabrine took up arms alongside the knights of the Company and the citizens of Flechebourg, and on the following morning the Second Battle of Flechebourg began.


Over four days and nights of fighting, the wrath of the King of Swords reached out from beyond the grave to hammer his traitorous servants. The walls of the Hold were sundered in a dozen places, and heroes arose beyond counting only to fall alongside their brothers. The covetous generals of the garrison armies fell one by one, each death only stoking the fires of ambition in the survivors. The dead were piled like cordwood in the fields beyond Flechebourg, while the wounded and dying choked her streets, until at last dawn rose on the fifth day. The power of the King of Swords, so long nurtured in his poisonous garden, was at last spent as the last general fell beneath the blades of his exhausted and desperate soldiers. The people rejoiced, and the few survivors of the Bright Company surrendered themselves once more. At last, though, the Mayor had reached her decision, refusing to accept the offered sword of the acting Knight Commander, the very man who had slain the King of Swords before his battlefield accolade to knighthood. Celebrated by the people and the Cinnabrine both for leading the defense of the Hold, the Bright Company could not forget the shame they had heaped upon themselves in service to a madman. That night, the victory fires of Flechebourg claimed the battle standards of the Bright Company, their history and glory committed to cleansing flame. The captive Banners of the Holds were retrieved from the treasury of the fallen King, and under a humble black banner the new knighthood set out to return that which had been stolen.


The years that followed were difficult ones, the unity enforced by the King of Swords challenged at every turn by sudden eruptions of liberty. However, even the great Hold of Rhinnar recognized that it had grown too dependent on its neighbors to stand alone. A year of violence and retribution sputtered into reconciliation under the auspices of what had come to be known (somewhat misleadingly) as the Brotherhood of Black Banners, led with excessive restraint by their first Knight Commander Auguste Malore. The ancient order of Heralds was re-consecrated after their suppression under the King of Swords' reign, and a Hall where they might unify all Banners was raised in Rhinnar. The walls around Flechebourg were torn down by the Brotherhood itself in a further act of contrition, and Clan Cinnabrine officially joined Flechebourg Hold even as some of its more adventurous families ventured out into the wider world.


The population of the Banner Holds in the modern day is overwhelmingly human, with fair skin and hair that ranges from reddish through brown to the occasional black. They do not regard themselves as tall, save in comparison to their companions, the dwarves of Clan Cinnabrine. Unlike the dwarves of Taer Mojr, the males of Brenn Tyr sport hair of fiery reds and ochre shades over coal-dark skin, while females of Clan Cinnabrine boast skin of nearly translucent ruby hues. While they may once have shared the tattooing art of their fellows among the Rikathi, the custom was lost in service to the King of Swords. Instead, Cinnabrine both male and female weave elaborate knots in their hair and beards, the patterns denoting significant events in a person's life or the status they boast.


Government - The Brotherhood and The Council of Mayors



Political authority within the Clan Holds is split between the Brotherhood of Black Banners and the Council of Mayors, a parliament comprised of the civic leaders of each community that considers itself a Hold. While the loyalty of the common soldiery is given to their home Hold in particular and the Council in general, the greater logistical capability, resources, and focus of the Brotherhood grants the knighthood functional authority over all matters concerning the defense of the realm. Meanwhile, the Council meets each year in the Hall of Heralds, each Mayor seated beneath the Banner of their Hold, to decide matters of transit, agriculture, trade, or any of the hundred other concerns that assail the Holds. Though the two institutions began their history firmly separate, the increasing membership and reach of the Brotherhood eventually made it a fait accompli that the Knight Commander would be elected Mayor of Flechebourg, and the two offices have become traditionally (if not officially) linked. The parliament of the Council of Mayors is the only time the Knight Commander sits beneath an marked Banner, for in that position they do not represent their own glory or the power of the order, but the pride of the people in their care.


Faith - Romantic Chivalry



The founding of the Hall of Heralds ushered in a new age of scholarship and contemplation throughout the Banner Holds. For the first time, the history of the land as a whole, rather than singular histories of Hold and clan, were available for all to examine and interpret. Artistic expression, once bent to the glory of the King of Swords, exploded in every Hold, and the most popular subject became the penitent knighthood that served as protectors across the land. This novel idea, of knight serving as servant to the realm and people at large rather than any individual master, took root and spread, giving birth to a poetic and spiritual ideal that was sweet anodyne to harsh decades of tyranny. Given life by the Bards of the Hall, travelling minstrels, adventurers, and historians, the precepts of Romantic Chivalry were soon as treasured among the people as the Banners themselves.


More code of conduct than exhortation of the supernatural, the code of Romantic Chivalry holds that many kings reign over many kingdoms across the world, be they mortal or spiritual. The true test of a ruler is not anything inherent to their nature - rather it is how they exercise their power upon those in their care. Indeed, to hold power in the eyes of Romantic Chivalry is to enter into a bond of service with those who have granted it, a pledge to defend the honor, hopes, and property of ones' peers. Greed, venality, and pride are regarded as cardinal sins, for their caustic influence devours the soul, leaving naught but a gaping wound whose putrescence corrupts everything it touches. While one bears a responsibility to those one serves under the Code, Romantic Chivalry also compels the defense of the innocent and the weak regardless of where they are found. Fear is natural, but cowardice is forbidden - the bravery of a follower of the Code may often be tested, but must never fail. Charity, honesty, and mercy are to be applauded, even when granted to ones' enemies, for they must be granted the chance to see the error of their ways. However, when faced with implacable evil a follower of Romantic Chivalry must stand ready to fight to their last in defense of righteousness. Love is to be cherished, but never allowed to overwhelm the other virtues of the Code, lest it warp and twist into devouring lust.


New poems and songs extolling various elements of Romantic Chivalry are produced constantly by the wandering Bards of the Hall, and eventually make their ways into the libraries of the Heralds. Thus, the Hall of Heralds is in many ways the beating heart of the faith, though many would look askance at such a claim before turning their eyes towards Flechebourg. However, beyond the walls of the Holds the remnants of old faiths also hold special meaning to the defenders of Chivalry, for it is in those abandoned rings of standing stones that the first great crime of the Bright Company, the first great failure of Chivalry, might be seen. It is for this reason that new squires to the Brotherhood journey through the wilderness to the standing stones on the shores of Yser's eye, to speak their vows.





Resource: Iron

The foothills of the Massifs d'Aube have been a source of mineral wealth for the Banner Holds since the first shafts were sunk by a newly-settled Ferstat. However, earlier delving in search of copper, silver, and gold was superseded by the conquest of the Hold by the King of Swords. The King's rapacious appetite for iron forced the miners of the Hold to develop new skills and techniques, and soon they realized the near limitless sea of iron-rich magnetite beneath their feet. While the dictates of the King of Swords initially called for all processing of the iron ore to be conducted at Flechebourg, the liberation of the Holds and the subsequent migration of several families of the Cinnabrine Clan has led to the construction of a number of blast furnaces and smelteries around Ferstat.


Required Resource: Draft Animals

The long work of clearing and settling the hills and dales of the Banner Holds has traditionally demanded the concerted effort of entire communities. What heavy draft animals exist in the Holds have traditionally been concentrated in the few Holds wealthy enough to support them, and even then their use has been reserved for essential industries. As the Brotherhood makes its first forays into the wider world, the common folk of the Holds have begun to clamor for some source of livestock that might ease the burden on tired backs and aching legs.


Starting Technology: Poetry and Prose


Edited by DarkOne6989 (see edit history)
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