Births, Marriages and Debts-The Orders of Knighthood

So far I’ve covered demons, boom-bolts, hand-axes and the other various paraphernalia of the Engineers, now it’s time to move on to the more mundane side of the world of Engines & Demons. In the next few posts I’ll be looking at the customs and conventions of three of the world’s leading factions. Future posts will cover the Guild of Engineers and the Association of Allied Merchants, but I’ll be starting off with the Holy Orders of Knighthood. The traditions of the Orders date back centuries, and are seen by many as being archaic and outdated. The customs of each of the Orders vary greatly, but those of the Order of the Plains, residents of the Fortress of Klinberg, are fairly representative, so it’s those I’ll be detailing with in this post.

It has long been the custom amongst the noble houses of the plains for its children to be birthed outdoors. It is considered to be of the utmost importance that the first sight to great a new-born’s eyes is the blue of the sky and the green of the plains, the first scent in their nose to be that of the earth, and the first sounds to reach their ears be the growling of madriel. Even with the detachment  that living in a structure as vast as Klinberg has brought, the tradition is still maintained, though the majority of births now take place within the walls of Klinberg’s infirmary, in its specially constructed birthing meadow. The infirmary building itself stands in the centre of the Enclosures; that vast tract of land where the madriel are penned in preparation for riding, and where the majority of their training takes place.

It is customary that, while the mother is in the care of the infirmary’s doctors, the father stands vigil at its gate. He must stand for the duration of the birthing, dressed in full plate, with his sword and rail-shield in hand. He may neither eat nor drink for the entirety of his wife’s labour. When a child of the Order is born, a feast is held to offer thanks to Fortak. It is not unknown for higher standing knights and ladies to offer an open feast, where the common folk are invited to attend a banquet, held outside, usually around the grounds of the temple. It is considered good fortune for a child to be born in the months at the end of first summer, as that is harvest time and the presence of the karabok herds offer an abundance of food. Generally, any birth in the summer months is considered to be well-omened, but conversely, any birth in the season of the fallows is considered to be ill-fated, as that is a time of fasting, when the herds have migrated south, and Klinberg must rely on its storerooms for sustenance. It is no surprise then that attempts at conception are controlled so that a summer birth is guaranteed, and it is also no surprise that the most fortuitous time for this to take place correlates exactly with the madriel mating season.

From an early age, all children of the Order must attend lessons. Both boys and girls receive training in history, tradition, etiquette and manners. At the age of eight, the boys begin their duty as Pages and start their weapons training. The girls begin to train with the bow, in preparation for the time when they will be responsible for hunting the wild karabok that inhabit the plains around Klinberg, that only those of the Order, and the Pride, are allowed to feed on. At this time the girls also begin rudimentary training in botany, anatomy, kitchen-law and needlecraft.

When a child of the Order reaches the age of twelve, they are permitted to choose their steed, under the guidance of Klinberg’s High Madriel-master. Once a steed is chosen, madriel and rider are bonded for life. If either should die, the steed will get no other rider, and the rider will get no other steed. All boys of the Order are destined for knighthood, and will always be paired with a male beast. The girls are paired with females, in preparation for the time when they become the hunters of the Order. The children’s madriel training now begins, and the boys start their duties as squires.

At the age of sixteen, a squire’s arms and madriel training is deemed to be complete, though he is not considered to be a knight until he has been successful in his first tournament in the jousting-ring, and joined the lowest echelon of his chosen Chapter. The social hierarchy of the Order of the Plains is closely tied to that of its riding steed, the madriel. Madriel have a complex structure of prides and sub-prides, where position is determined amongst the males by dominance and prowess. This system is echoed in the structure of the Order itself, where a knight must fight in the annual tournaments to gain assets and standing, and thereby rise through the ranks of knighthood. The tournaments are ultimately where the leadership of the Order’s six chapters is decided. The position of Grand-commander, the head of the Order, is determined every three years, in a similar manner.

Dominance within the Pride also equates to breeding rights, and although there is not a direct correlation of this within the Order itself, the joining of a knight and a Lady in marriage is also settled in the jousting-ring. When a girl reaches the age of sixteen, she is eligible for marriage. A ceremony is held, which any unmarried knight may attend in order to make the acquaintance of the girl and decide if she would make a suitable partner. Such decisions are rarely made based on physical desirability or personal compatibility, and are often made before the ceremony even takes place. Because the significant purpose of marriage is the begetting of strong, capable offspring, these judgements are more often made based on the position of the girl’s father within the Order, which, of course, has a direct correlation to his prowess in the jousting ring. The lineage of the girl’s mother is also taken into account when making these decisions, but it is usually the father’s heritage that is the deciding factor.

Once all parties have tendered an interest, a formal competition is held in the jousting-ring, where the victor is granted the right to the girl’s hand in marriage. Even though most ladies of the Order are married at sixteen, the majority of knights competing for their hands are much older, ranging in age from 24-30, although there have been exceptions. It is not unknown for younger knights, often motivated by true feelings of love towards a girl, to participate in such contests, but due to lack of experience or skill such combatants are rarely successful.

The girl in question has absolutely no say in the matter of her marriage, except for in one single regard. Temple law dictated that any child of sixteen may pledge an oath to the god Fortak, and become a Communicant. This applies to both genders, and anyone doing so is not permitted to marry, and must succumb wholly to the service of Fortak. They are not allowed to set foot outside the temple grounds until they have reached the age of twenty eight, when they are then permitted to carry out their spiritual duties beyond the temple’s confines. It is a very rare occurrence that any child of that age would choose to confine themselves to the temple in such a manner. Anyone doing so would be forced to relinquish their steed, and most girls accept the constraints of marriage to someone not of their choosing, rather than swap the freedom of the hunt and the open planes for the dark monotony of the temple.

Finally we come to the Orders’ ceremonies of passing. Followers of Fortak believe that upon their death, their souls must ascend to the sun, so that their energy can join with that of their god, and carry their power to him to aid in his return. Ceremonies of ascension are common throughout the Provinces, but those of the Order of the Plains are quite distinct. As each member of the Order is joined to their chosen steed in life, their bond continues in death. When a knight or a lady of the Order of the Plains dies, their body is taken to the temple, where they are joined by their steed, and together they are cremated in the chamber of ascension. Knights are clad in their armour, their weapons at their sides, and their steeds are likewise attired. Ladies are dressed in their hunting gear, and their bows and hunting knives are arrayed around them in a similar fashion to the weapons of a knight.

Should a steed die before its rider, its remains are cremated in a ceremony of purification. The beast’s ashes are then interred in an urn made of salium, and when its rider then passes, the urn, and the beast’s armour, are cremated again with the body of its rider, so that their souls can ascent together to Fortak. The heat inside the ascension chamber’s furnace is high enough to reduce metal to its liquid form. All metal from the cremation process is collected, and then combined and reworked to form ascension markers, which can be found all over the lands of Klinberg. They are used to mark significant areas, particularly in the territorial areas of the madriel prides, such as the roadways that run through them, and their inner and outer limits.

So that was a rather brief explanation of the Orders’ traditions. Next time I’ll be moving on to the customs of the enigmatic Guild of Engineers.