divided lands start
Our story begins when our characters first got together as a full group: during training. Here they learned to be a force of destiny.
What brought each of them to join? Why did they choose that company (for reference, I have included a précis on each of several companies that would have been around at the time)? Were they in the right place at the right time, or was prophecy pulling them even before these early stirrings?
Example companies they could have joined
The standing army of Norfolk, the Ranger Guard was the second longest-running fighting force in the Seven Kingdoms. The Guard was trained for battle on two fronts: physical and political.
First, they trained heavily in fighting in the rolling forested hills that make up Norfolk and Northumbria. Due to this specialization, they consisted almost entirely of archers trained in ambush fighting and guerilla tactics. They mastered traps and snares, tracking, surprise attacks, and avoiding pursuit. They operated in fluid small groups, coordinating via trail sign to lead foes into each others’ ambushes, destroy supply lines, hit hard, and then fade away like mist.
However, the Guard also spent more than half of its time in Norwich on policing duties. This being Norwich, almost any crime was eventually traceable back to some political struggle between two noble houses. Guards learned quickly to avoid all outside allegiances and become their own political unit. They learned to keep alliances even while investigating their allies nefarious schemes. They learned to hide politically as well as physically.
Although there were as many as 500 Guard present in Norwich at any given time, the general populace and other nobility would have been able to account for only a couple dozen. When the Guard were guarding something, you did not see them. You might see guards standing around with spears, butt those would be half-trained street rats hired for the day and put in costume. The Guard would be invisible.
The Wardens had one purpose: keep the bad things out of the Seven Kingdoms. It is a credit to their capability that everyone thought the High Venn completely impenetrable. It is a credit to their ability to keep a secret that no one else knew what the cataclysm was or why it was performed.
Much like the Rangers, the Wardens specialized in small-group tactics in rough terrain. In fact, many of the Wardens came out off the Rangers. Unlike the Rangers, however, the Wardens rarely fought human foes. Many of their foes were immune to arrows; some were immune to normal weapons of all kind. This forced the Wardens to be masters of many weapons and tactics—and to keep extremely good notes.
The Wardens were defined by their foes, starting with massive Venn Bears and moved up from there. In the High Venn, these foes included many of the magic-dependent species of the age. Although such creatures would naturally die off upon entering the Seven Kingdoms, they might live for weeks or months and could wreak incredible havoc during that time. The Wardens were the one line of defense.
This left the Wardens with no time for “playing silly buggers,” which is how they referred to politics. They were understaffed for their entire existence and had to be self-reliant for all resources. To some degree, the High Venn was almost a nation in its own right, with no king and a rugged people that were always at war with their own land. The Wardens, as the people of that land, rarely looked at the Seven Kingdoms at all; those kingdoms knew little more about the Wardens than that they existed to keep the big animals away from the fields of Dorset.
This was a new semi-mercenary fighting force of the day. It came into existence in 1872, a mere 4 years before the saga starts. They were the personal military company of Prince Justin Hannover of York.
By all accounts, Princes Justin and John (Justin’s elder brother, and crown prince of York) had an amicable partnership. Justin was a great warrior but he had little interest in trade, finances, or politics. John was a master trader and great leader of the common man but had no head for military conquest and would have had trouble gaining the respect of military men. As an expanding trading empire, York needed both leaders.
However, it would not do to have the younger brother control York’s military. Other leaders would see that as a potential weakness to exploit. Wind’s Company were the solution.
Justin assembled the most effective mercenary force ever seen in the Seven Kingdoms, backed by the great wealth of the crown of York. John made the business arrangements, choosing when and for whom the Wind would ride. This added yet one more revenue source for York and also let them participate unofficially in struggles far beyond their borders.
Wind’s company is a fully-mounted cavalry troop that is designed for mobility. Completely lacking in lancers, heavy horse, or infantry of any kind, Wind’s company is fast. Everything was meticulously re-designed by the brothers and their quartermasters. Every member of the company has 3 horses, and all supplies for an entire campaign can be packed horseback. There are no wagons. They even re-designed the anvils for the blacksmiths so that a smith and his 4 apprentices could ride for 40 miles, set up a working forge in 30 minutes, and fix armor and shoe horses. Better yet, when the horns sounded and the company needed to ride, that smithy was neatly packed and the company underway in under 10 minutes.
Every wind rider was a master horseman, no mater what their role in the company. Most of the fighting force were trained mounted archers, using a recurve horse bow that could be shot even over the rear of the horse while in full retreat. Many were also trained skirmishers, lightly armored but skilled. This was a force that prided itself on its skill and had amazing equipment (even their armor was a full 10 pounds lighter—and just as protective—as similar armors used by other forces). It could not be defeated in the open field and was too mobile, disciplined, and well-led to be easily pinned down.
Rarely does a travelling circus get written about in the annals of great military forces. But rarely is there a leader like Roger Pelamane, the Beloved Tyrant.
The Alehouse Trio is technically 3 travelling circuses: the circus of the sun, circus of the moon, and circus of the stars.
The circus of the sun specialized in great shows. It played noble houses and the great capitals. A show would be hours long and feature hundreds of performers acting with amazing timing and precision. The circus brought its own alehouse—every show was followed by a massive party in a beer hall set up just for the event. In the bigger capitals, this could seat up to a couple thousand people.
The circus of the moon specialized in small shows in alehouses and inns. It consisted of small troupes and even some solo acts—usually bards. They travelled around constantly, but there were many of them. Because they offered good rates to the inns & were well-known to audiences, the circus of the moons never had any trouble finding someone who wanted them to play. At one point, it was estimated that 2 in 3 travelling musicians were members of the circus of the moons.
The circus of the stars played the roadsides and farms. They were a nomadic people that travelled by wagon. In addition to entertainment, they also provided handyman services and various kinds of skilled labor (such as doctoring) that were hard to find in farming communities. Unlike other wagon people, the circus of the stars was well-respected among farmers. They were always honest and they ruthlessly punished any who performed a transgression under the name of the circus of the stars.
So why do I mention three circuses here? Because they were one of the most effective bands of assassins and spies of the time.
King Roger did not believe in military conquest. He could barely keep his own kingdom of scalawags together. But he did have a ton of sneaky people to draw from. He was at war with the rest of the Seven Kingdoms for over 15 years before they even thought there was a conflict. He fought with information, sabotage, and assassination. And the Alehouse Trio were his primary instrument. King, merchant, or farmer, all engaged with one of the circuses—and usually while drunk.
Penzance Mountaineering Club
If the Alehouse Trio was Roger’s net, then the Penzance Mountaineering Club was his hook. This was a small group of hobbyists, no more than 40 in number, with an unusual hobby. They liked to climb things. They were really good at it. So good, in fact, that they did most of their climbing at night and preferred to climb things that someone was trying to make un-climbable. They travelled all over the world to find the best things to climb.
By all accounts, no one ever clued in to the other activities that these mountaineers performed. And no one remembered that King Roger was briefly a member—for about 2 years—during his teens.
A rough-and-tumble group of happy-go-lucky old men and women, the Mountaineering Club was on top of, on the side of, and inside every mountain, building, fortress, and armory in the Seven Kingdoms. Only every so often would that fortress experience a rash of sickness three days later, that king not be able to find something he could have sworn he locked in his secret safe, or that the soldiers using that armory find a much higher failure rate on their equipment in the next battle. Most of the time the inhabitants would just have a good laugh with crazy people who like climbing and will talk your ear off with “one time I climbed” stories for hours if you let them get started.