There are two kinds of warrior in Cymru; knights and militia. Warriors of both types train and fight under the Banners of the various warrior Societies, but they lead very different lives. Militia are typically ordinary folk, who train in combat once a week or once a month at a local training ground. They usually train with spears and longbow, and fight in earnest only when their liege lord goes to war. In exchange for their service when called to muster, militia are trained, equipped, gain a small annual consideration, a share of the booty after any battles they are called upon to fight in and a pension for their families should they die under their lord’s banner.
Knights are of a different sort. Usually of noble birth, they train more regularly than militia, and devote their lives to the service of their liege lords. Aside from being warriors, knights are usually landowners, but their training and the protection of their lord is their first concern. The warbands of the greater lords of Cymru are made up of the knights of their households.
The heart of any Society is its banner; it is the banner which makes it a Society rather than a rabble. A new banner may only be approved by the High King, with the approval of the Council of the Order of Bards, who maintain the records of heraldry. A Society’s banner bears the stylised animal for which the Society is named. The Hammer, Harp and Tree – the banners of the Warrior Societies attached to the three Orders – are the only banners which bear symbols other than animals.
The symbol of the Society is worn by all of its warriors when they fight in battle, usually in an even more stylised form than appears on the banner. The symbol is typically displayed on a patch on the warrior’s shoulder, or on the warrior’s shield. Companies of the Society’s warriors will carry a standard in battle, a smaller version of the Society banner. It is a great honour to bear your company’s standard in battle, and the greatest honour that the Society can grant is to allow a warrior to carry its banner. To fail in one of these honours and lose either the standard or the banner while retaining your life is unforgivable, and no warrior will easily surrender a standard while he still breathes.
The banner of a society is its pride and honour, and its loss in battle is more grievous than the loss of even the marshal. A captured banner will fetch a hefty ransom, for if it is lost to them forever the Society would be forced to apply to the High King for a new banner – and a new symbol – before they could function as a Warrior Society again. It would be unusual for the King to grant such a request to those who had managed to lose their original standard, and such warriors would need to prove themselves through some exceptional service to the Kingdom in order to earn the right to once more fight under a banner.
Moreover, those who took the banner would be within their rights to ask the High King to recognise their right to bear it in battle, thus stealing not only the symbol, but the very name and soul of the Society. It is a risky thing to do this, for the original members of the Society will be left with little choice but to reclaim their banner by force. On the other hand, unless they stand accused of treason or other high crimes, any group who take a banner in fair battle must, by convention, be granted its use.
The commanding officer of a warrior Society is called the Marshal, and may be the lord of the Society or his warleader. He is directly responsible for deciding when and where the Society fights, which warriors to send into battle and what strategies and tactics to employ. The Marshal is also responsible for selecting the Society’s instructors-at-arms, and for deciding which would-be warriors to take and train. Although he may answer to his lord, and in many cases will delegate authority to his captains, the Marshal is ultimately responsible for the lives of all of the warriors who fight under his banner.
The Marshal is not a staff officer. He is expected to show himself on the field of battle, to direct the combat and to fight side-by-side with his men if need be. He is also required to stand by the banner, defending its bearer through thick and thin. When the banner falls, the Marshal bears the brunt of the shame. Those lords who lead their Society in person are sometimes considered foolhardy, but they are respected for their courage.
Under the authority of the Marshal, the Society is commanded by its captains. The knight-captain is the leader of the Society’s knights, and if the Marshal is the warleader rather than the Society’s liege lord, he will often be the knight-captain as well. The knight captain is also the Society’s champion, and a great responsibility falls upon him to preserve the Society’s honour, both in single combat and through his behaviour both on the field and in the courts of the nobles of Cymru.
The militia-captains of a Society are less prominent, but no less pivotal. They are the officers in charge of the training of the Society’s militia, and each is the leader of one of the training lodges. In battle, the militia-captains are responsible for maintaining morale and discipline among their troops, and as such they are the backbone of the Society.
The society lieutenants are the captains’ deputies. Their role is to assist their captain, and to take his place if he should fall. Depending on the size of the Society the knight-captain may have as many as three lieutenants, who double as subsidiary commanders of the Society’s knights. A militia-captain will typically have no more than one lieutenant.
Sergeants are lesser officers assigned the command of individual companies within the Society. Their most important duty is to ensure that their company follows the directions of their captain, rather than to command the company on their own initiative. In the event that the captain and his lieutenant are ever incapacitated, it is the duty of each sergeant to hold his company together and try to bring them through the battle alive.
In many ways the Free Societies operate like any other, training their members in lodges established wherever they are given leave to set up shop. However, as all members of a Free Society are full-time professional warriors, the usual structure of knights and militia breaks down. In general terms, the Marshal of a Free Society is a largely titular head. Most warriors of the Free Societies are responsible for arranging their own employment, but where they fight in groups, sergeants may negotiate the contracts for their entire company.
The title captain is generally applied to any member of a Free Society with authority to negotiate on behalf of more than one company. The captains of a Free Society also form its ruling council, responsible for the election of a new Marshal when the old one retires or dies. The council – or those members present when the matter arise – also selects a champion from the available warriors when the Society’s honour must be defended.
The other important roles within a Free Society are those of the Steward and the Chronicler. The Steward is an Engineer, assigned to act as the keeper of the Society’s stronghold and coffers, responsible for overseeing the collection of shares from members’ contracts and for the logistics and supply of the Society. The Chronicler is a Bard, likewise assigned to the Society by his Order, to record all of its members’ contracts and engagements. Between them, the Steward and Chronicler are responsible for ensuring the Society’s adherence to the terms of its license, and the members’ adherence to the terms of their oaths of fealty (to the Society) and contract (to their employers).
The Beast was one of the six first banners, created by Efnissien the Proud. Its first Marshal was Macsen son of Efnissien. Macsen was called the Beast, because more than any other man, he knew the minds of the fell beasts who dwelt in the Ruin of Anglia. In the years since its creation, the Beast has guarded the Dyke tirelessly, and each Marshal since Macsen has also been called the Beast, and none is chosen but has spent a lifetime on the Dyke and knows the beasts as well as her own heartbeat.
Fynoddry, Bard of Cerys the Beast
Perhaps the most important of all the Societies, the Beast is responsible for providing the majority of the warriors who guard the Dyke. The warriors who fight under the Banner of the Beast are an eclectic lot, comprising former criminals sent to the Dyke as punishment, the younger children of nobles sent to avoid succession struggles, the shamed and broken-hearted, those desperate for glory and a handful of truly idealistic or adventurous souls who feel duty-bound to defend their land.
One reason for this mishmash of types is the Beast’s policy of asking no questions of recruits. The need for warriors prepared to man the Dyke is simply too great for the Beast to refuse a single competent blade. Members of the Society have no past, and many fight under false names. The only requirement is that a member of the Beast must have no dependants relying on them, and must swear an oath to that effect.
Unlike most Societies, the Beast demands all of its members’ commitment full time. When not eating, sleeping or patrolling, the warriors of the Beast are locked in combat, either with the beasts, or with each other in the training yards. The warriors are not permitted to marry while they fight on the Dyke, and are discouraged from forming intimate relationships with their comrades. A female warrior who falls pregnant is sent from the Dyke without shame, but is not permitted to bear the emblem of the Beast thereafter.
After five years on the Dyke however, a warrior of the Beast – if he is still alive – is released from service, and freed to lead their own life. Veterans of the Dyke are permitted to sell their skill and experience, and few have difficulty finding employment as mercenaries or instructors with other societies. Others may remain with the Beast, and become trainers for the next generation to take arms under the banner. Once released a member is also free to marry and have a family, and almost all avail themselves of this freedom as soon as possible. A few – usually those who have been disfigured or scarred mentally by their experiences – choose not to leave the Dyke, instead becoming officers of the Beast.
The Society of the Beast teaches a particularly savage form of combat; low on formality, emphasising instinct and aggression. Shields are considered of limited use against the beasts, and likewise parrying is rarely developed by those who are pitted against unarmed opponents. Most train in wielding a second weapon in their shield hand, placing their defence in a solid offence.
Marshal: Cerys the Beast.
Knight-Captain: As all of its members are knights, the Beast has several knight-captains, each responsible for a different area of the Dyke and the troops upon it. It has no one champion, for its members have little time for such trivialities as duelling.
The Banner of the Black Horse was originally that of the High King’s warleader, first borne by Efnissien the Proud. During the struggle against the beasts in the reign of Math son of Mathonwy however, the Society of the Dragon was mustered and placed in the command of Gwydion and Essylt, and the Black Horse was given to the young Black Prince. Donn quickly won the loyalty of the greater part of the Society’s sergeants, and found ways to remove those who seemed less likely to follow him.
When Donn claimed the throne it was expected that he would pass the Banner of the Black Horse to his warleader, Llanellwyn, and take up the Red Dragon for himself. In the event however, he had the Dragon placed under guard in Caer Caled, awarded Llanellwyn the Banner of the Black Boar and kept the Black Horse for himself. The Black Horse are the Kinslayer’s personal bodyguard and warband, and among the most feared warriors in Cymru. They are renowned not only for their prowess, but for the sheer depth of their devotion.
The Society of the Black Horse includes the largest number of cavalry of any society. Approximately half of the warriors of the Society – including all of the knights of Donn’s household – are trained to fight from horseback, the remainder being militia footmen. The warriors of the Society are well-equipped, benefiting from the king’s patronage and association with the Order of Engineers.
Marshal: Donn the Kinslayer
Knight-Captain: Anoeth the Swift-Handed
The Order of Engineers jealously guard their control of the coal mines and iron ore deposits, and the Society of the Hammer were formed to protect these valuable assets as much as the Engineers themselves. The first Hammers were stationed at Caer Du, the Black Fortress, overlooking the greatest of the Order’s coal works in Gwynedd. Soon however, the Society grew, and a lodge was established at Caer Goludd. The Hammers now rode the Engines in small companies, protecting the valuable machines and their precious cargoes from bandits.
Over time, as the reputation of the Engineers was tainted by politics, the Society of the Hammer found itself increasingly called upon to prevent attacks against the persons of members of the Order. In response the Hammer has grown again, establishing a lodge at Caer Caled in order to train the additional warriors. Engines rarely travel now without at least one full company of Hammers aboard, and there are a number of waystations along the main tracks to protect the rails themselves from saboteurs. In addition, the Hammer has undertaken the defence of a number of bridges, fords and ferries in remote territories, as part of their protection of trade.
Hammers are – for the most part – not full time warriors, but they keep to a strict training regime. They train for two hours each night, and all day once a week, including formation drill. They alternate between two month tours of duty and four months leave to work their own lands or practice their trade, always serving in the same companies. A Hammer company may have anything from five to twenty members under a single sergeant, but the members will be warriors who train together and know how to fight as a unit.
The strength of the Hammer lies in iron discipline. A company of Hammers fight practically with a single mind, so much so that folklore often attributes to them some form of mystical ability. In the event that a sergeant falls moreover, it is likely that another member of the company will possess the skill to take over at once. A single Hammer is still a force to be reckoned with, training far harder than most militia if not so diligently as some knights, but in numbers they are awesome.
Marshal and Knight-Captain: Mererid the Unsmiling (half-sister of Chief Engineer Magg).
The warband of the High King was thought to have been destroyed after the Kinslayer’s accession. In the years since however, the Loyal Outlaws have flown the Banner of the Dragon on several occasions when they wished to announce their presence in the land. Folklore insists – although it is denied – that the Banner was stolen from the vaults of Caer Caled some three years after Donn took the throne, taken by Deirdre the Silent to be given to the prince-in-exile, Owain.
The Dragon are a motley band of patriots and rebels. While many truly believe Owain to be the true king, others simply oppose Donn, or the Order of Engineers. The latter group includes household warriors of several of the dispossessed cantrev lords, and is probably the larger of the two. They seldom fight in open battle, being out-numbered and out-equipped by the warbands of any of the Great Cantrev Lords, let alone the Black Horse or Hammer.
The strength of the Dragon lies in stealth and surprise, and they have justly acquired a reputation for their hit-and-run attacks on smaller bands of their enemies’ warriors. Like the Society of the Hammer, the Dragon has gathered rumours of mystical powers, and it said by some that in their dealings with the dragons of the mountains the warriors of this Society have gained the power to become invisible. What does appear to be true is that the Dragon’s leaders seem to know paths in the mountains that the most skilled scouts are unable to locate.
The warriors who fight under the Banner of the Dragon are for the most part militia, and train by night in secret lodges. Most hide the fact that they are warriors at all, and lead unremarkable lives unless summoned to muster in the mountains. The scattered lodges of the Dragon maintain a cell structure to avoid discovery. No one person knows the names of every member of a cell, and only a few know how to approach Caer Siddi.
Marshal: Owain the Exiled.
Knight-Captain: Deirdre the Silent.
The Banner of the Cat was for many years borne by the warband of Caer Pedruven. When the family of Owen the Wily was slain however, Colwyn of the Broken Face took the Banner for his own, adding to it a collar and chain to show his subservience to his High King. His warriors now fight beneath the Collared Cat as they hunt their enemies through the foothills of Snowdonia. In that time the Banner has twice been captured by the Society of the Dragon, and both times ransomed back to Colwyn, the first time in exchange for the life of seven captured outlaws, the second for the captured Banner of the Dragon.
The warriors of the Collared Cat have grown wary and alert, and almost as adept at fighting in the rough terrain of Snowdonia as the Dragon. The Society has a strong core of knights, but is weaker than most when it comes to militia. Many of the folk of Colwyn’s cantrev are still loyal to Owen’s memory, and refuse to serve his slayer. With time however these grow fewer, and the younger folk especially find the call of glory overrides some devotion to a lord whom they never really knew.
Like their enemies, the Collared Cat grow sure-footed and adept at skirmishing. They have few cavalry and many archers, and learn to fight in loose formation. Bands of warriors patrol the foothills, while the majority protect Caer Pedruven from assault via the many secret passageways hidden within its walls. They receive substantial support from the Society of the Black Boar, the warband of Colwyn’s liege lord, Llanellwyn. The warriors of the Collared Cat tend to be twitchy and nervous, continually alert for an ambush which may never come.
Marshal: Colwyn of the Broken Face.
Knight-Captain: Rhoddry the Sure.
One of the smallest Societies, the Raven is the personal guard of the High Queen Modron. The warriors of the Raven have little in common, hailing from a variety of cantrevs and family backgrounds, save their desire to serve the Queen. Anyone who wishes to join the Raven may do so, if they can persuade a member of the Society to sponsor them, and win the Queen’s approval. Every would-be Raven is granted a private audience with Modron, in order that the Queen may judge his worth. No Raven – nor any of the few who have won the necessary sponsorship but failed to meet Modron’s exacting standards – has ever spoken of what occurred in this interview.
The Raven consists entirely of knights, all dedicated to the service of their Queen. The Society of the Raven provide not only a bodyguard for the Queen, but also her most trusted couriers and envoys. Dressed always in black, as well-equipped as any warrior of the Black Horse or the Hammer, the Ravens travel the kingdom of Cymru as a constant reminder of the Queen’s presence and power.
The members of the Society are fiercely – almost fanatically – devoted to their Lady, and intensely protective of her honour, person and reputation. While some may speculate that Queen Modron wields some magical power over the knights of the Raven, none would be so stupid as to do so within hearing of one of those knights. The folklore of Cymru is replete with blood-curdling stories of the cruel fates which met those who insulted the High Queen before one of her guardians, although in truth it is more usual for them simply to administer a beating as a lesson in manners, or in more extreme cases – in particular accusations of the Queen’s witchcraft – to slay the perpetrator swiftly and cleanly.
The Queen is the Marshal of her own guard, and takes a great interest in the progress and wellbeing of every one of her warriors. She oversees the training of every Raven personally, ensuring that they receive courtly training, and are instructed in politics and intrigue as well as in combat. In addition, Modron personally girds every Raven with a sword forged by the King’s blacksmith, its hilt decorated by her own hand. Every Raven’s sword is unique, and its decoration bears some special relevance for the warrior who bears it.
Marshal: Modron the Crafty.
Knight-Captain: Emrys the Unvanquished.
Officially, only five Societies – the Fox, the Badger, the White Pig, the Dove and the Wolf – bear royal license to train warriors to fight for simple payment. In practice, a number of smaller mercenary Societies exist, flying banners other than these, but by tradition only the five are referred to as the Free Societies. The warriors of the Free Societies are professional fighters, and rarely ply another trade. Aside from the most brutal and fanatical of knights – in particular the officers of the Beast – no others in Cymru choose to make a living purely from death, and the Free Societies have a dark reputation.
In addition to their services in battle, members of the Free Societies may sell their skills to act as bodyguards, scouts, raiders or instructors for other Societies. Strict rules dictated at the granting of the Free Societies’ licenses govern their members’ behaviour under contract, and their oaths bind them against reneging on an agreement, betraying their employer or betraying a confidence gained whilst in a lord’s employ. These rules serve a dual purpose, for they not only avoid fears that your mercenaries might turn on you for a better offer or desert you in battle, they also reduce any impetus to kill a mercenary who knows too much rather than permit them to leave your service. As the members of the Free Societies are quick to point out, the other mercenary Societies offer no such surety.
When not engaged on behalf of an employer, the Free Societies are supposed to remain neutral in Cymru’s affairs. As part of their royal licenses, the Free Societies are forbidden to wage war on their own behalf. It is also forbidden for the members of any one Society to fight on behalf of more than one side in a given conflict. Conversely, the nobles of Cymru are not permitted to wage war on the Free Societies, or to hire mercenaries of any stripe to do so for them, or to seek to take their land by force.
The Fox is the largest and most powerful of the Free Societies, having benefited greatly in Mathonwy’s reign from the patronage of Ifan the Cold, and from its association with Gwydion through his bride, Essylt the Valiant. The red fox which adorns their banner is – uniquely – called by name; it is called Tangwen, in honour of the woman whom the Society believe to have brought the Free Societies into being. They have the most formal structure of any of the Free Societies. Their Marshal is aided by a knight-captain and a series of lieutenants and sergeants, and for battle Foxes frequently offer their services as companies rather than as individuals.
Warriors of the Fox are given courtly as well as martial training, and are expected to know how to behave before a cantrev lord or king. They also receive training in the art of duelling, making them popular as champions for lesser nobles or in cases to be tried by combat. The officers of the Fox frequently dabble in politics, and Foxes are more often than not the first mercenaries to offer their services when strife rears its head. Some go so far as to accuse the Society of fomenting conflict to keep business good.
Regardless of such suspicions, few ever have complaints of the behaviour of those who fight under the Banner of Tangwen. They are true to their word once given, the spirit as well as the letter. They are accomplished warriors, but will not embarrass their employer at court. They are bound by oath not to loot, defile or rape, and have a less sordid and grim reputation than most Free Societies.
Marshal: Meredith the Quick-Tempered
Less sophisticated than the Fox, the Society of the Badger demonstrate the classic stereotype of the Free Societies. Its only organisation lies in the training of its members and in the collection of the Society’s share in each warrior’s fees, and Badgers do not hire their services as companies. Warriors who bear the sign of the Badger usually offer their services as champions, instructors or leaders of militia. The Badger are widely feared and distrusted, and renowned for their savage tenacity.
It is said that the warriors who fight beneath this banner will never quit the task that they are paid to perform, never leave an enemy injured but alive, and never rest in hunting down those who wrong them. While this is doubtless exaggerated, it is certainly true that the Badgers do not shrink from sacrificing their lives, or the lives of the militia placed under their command, and know how to hold a grudge. Warriors of the Badger are also famous for padding their incomes with the valuables of those they slay on the battlefield.
The White Pig was the banner of an obscure nobleman of Dyfed, slain by Efnissien’s soldiers while fighting at the side of his liege lord. His knights died with him, but the Banner was rescued from the flames by a militia captain named Taran, and flown in defence of the nobleman’s lands when brigands tried to seize his goods from his family…
At the granting of Royal License to the White Pig, Taran swore an oath that it would bring war to no man’s domains, but only give battle against those who came to another’s place with death in their heart.
Rhun, Chronicler of the White Pig
The Society of the White Pig are not the smallest of the Free Societies, but are by far the poorest. The White Pig has explicit rules regarding the contracts which its members are permitted to take, and in short they are only allowed to fight in defence of land rightfully held by their employer. They also charge on a sliding scale, and when minor landowners and farmers hire mercenaries to defend their fields from bandits in exchange for food, lodgings and what few valuables they can afford, these are the mercenaries they hire.
The warriors of the White Pig are all peasant born, and fight to defend their fellows from the fallout of the constant struggle for land, resources and power which ravage the kingdom. They are popular with the common folk, and are considered useful by the lesser nobles, but many of the more powerful nobles view the White Pig as a liability. On occasions their royal license has been all that stood between the White Pig and the warband of a paranoid noble.
Marshal: Macsen the Mighty
Annowre, it is said, was a lady of high birth, unmatched cunning and peerless beauty; if you believe it. According to official accounts, Annowre’s family were slaughtered by a rival lord. Unskilled in combat, she murdered the man who had slain her family when he tried to take her to his bed, and was thus avenged. She was scarred in the effort however, and took to wearing the hood which was her namesake to conceal her marred beauty. She formed about her a cadre of assassins who could deliver justice to those who could not seek it on the field. When the other Free Societies-to-be stole their banners from the pyre, she raised the Dove – which had been her family banner – and her followers stood beneath it.
Some sources however, suggest that there was never such a lady. The very few which mention a woman called Annowre in fact suggest that she was of common birth and humble aspect, who found a trade in her knack for cold-blooded murder and who went hooded to conceal her identity. After she stole the Banner of the Dove from the Pyre, Annowre seems to have constructed a false history with a skill and cunning which suggests that the Order of Bards may have lost a great talent.
Indeed, some might suggest that the Dove’s reputation owes as much to the cunning use of information and misinformation as to their skill itself.
Cathbad, Bard (deceased)
The wealthiest of the Free Societies, and also the smallest, the Dove has come to be in many ways the diametric opposite of the White Pig. Its members work for high fees as champions, bodyguards, spies and assassins to the wealthiest nobles and merchants in Cymru. The first Marshal of the Society, Annowre the Hooded, was well aware of the aptness when she raised the Banner of the Dove for the use of her professional killers, for the dove symbolises death in Cymru.
Members of the Society of the Dove dress in white, to match the plumage of the dove upon their banner and because white is the colour of mourning. Doves always go about hooded, baring their faces – by tradition – only to their fellows, their lovers and their victims. They have a daunting reputation, and are greatly feared, perhaps well beyond their actual achievements. Many claim that the Doves are less – or perhaps more – than human, but despite their aloof detachment – or perhaps because of it – they are highly sought after as guardians, champions and instructors-at-arms for the daughters of those who can afford their services.
The second largest of the Free Societies is also among the least liked. Its members are fierce and valiant warriors, but refuse to contract their services for more than the duration of a single combat. They are also widely known as looters, pillagers and rapists, and have a bloody reputation for being rather indiscriminate in battle, and for killing surrendering enemies and civilians with abandon.
As with all reputations, theirs is only partly deserved, but certainly few Societies have less stringent disciplinary structures. Few women fight under the Banner of the Wolf, unsurprisingly finding the reputation of the Society off-putting. The few women who have fought with the Wolf are usually renowned for exhibiting levels of callous brutality which left their male comrades in the shade.
Wolves hire themselves individually or in small ‘packs’, and almost exclusively to do battle. They occasionally work as bodyguards, but are rarely trusted as such since their service must constantly be renegotiated. They will also fight as champions in trial by combat, representing either the court or the accused so long as the price is right. Again, they will insist on a new contract for each combat.