The image of a war horse, hooves pounding on muddy turf, with a knight in bright steel armor astride its back is a standard of fantasy fiction. Knights and their chivalry, or lack thereof, have been at the center of one of the most popular fantasy series of the last decade. With roots going back to legends and stories of Knights of the Round Table, a knight in armor maybe one of the most recognizable icons of fantasy.
But knights are not just fictional characters. A genuine historical class of warriors and aristocrats, knights are romance and adventure personified. Their motivations may seem odd to a modern eye, but the stories they told of themselves were often wonderful and strange. The best of them were men who gave their lives for their ideals, fighting to protect the weak and defenseless. The worst were villains practically without peer, those who foreswore their oaths and used their privileges and power for their own advantage. Most fell somewhere in between, perfect fodder for stories of battle and romance.
With the sort of fantasy world Calibran was becoming, a way to introduce the idea of knighthood and chivalry was important. The reality is, though we tend to think of knighthood taking a single form and being fairly straightforward, it actually varied greatly depending on where and when you look around the world. We tried to draw on a variety of different traditions when defining knighthood in Calibran, to give the world a greater variety, richness, and realness that could not be achieved through simple cookie-cutter stamping out of fighters with lances.
What is a Knight?
It would seem like everything that makes a knight can be seen in that first image of a warrior charging. The armor, the lance, the horse, and underneath it all a handsome face and perfect teeth. As always, however, the romantic view leaves out some of the most important aspects of knighthood.
If you had asked a person from the height of the knightly era what knighthood meant, they would probably have said status, or power, or something along those lines. A knight isn’t just a warrior, he is an aristocrat, and wields the power of law and rank. He has many different types of power over the people around him, and while you might think he should wield that power for their benefit, history would indicate he most likely uses it for his own advantage. In any case, a knight might be found on either a battlefield or in the King’s court, and they should have the skills to survive either place.
A knight also serves. He is part of a social order, and owes his service to a greater lord above him. In Calibran, the top of the order is the Dragon King, and so all knights theoretically owe their fealty ultimately to him, but there are likely many layers of allegiance and loyalty between the two. Knights serve in other ways, as well. They are often bound by oaths to defend a cause or a place, or to challenge themselves against some obstacle. Their oaths might be mighty, dark, or foolish, but they are always bound by their word.
Of course a knight is a warrior of skill. Trained since childhood, knights are professional soldiers. Their rank and wealth are given on condition of armed service, and so they can expect to face foes in a battle to the death, probably many times, in the course of their lives. If they are wise, they therefore become experts with their weapons of choice, including the lance, sword, bow, and many others.
Knights represent a number of things. Strength, and, in some ways, technology on the battlefield. Aristocracy, nobility and the responsibilities that comes with status are also an integral part of knighthood. Skills with arms, civilized behavior, and a certain amount of wealth are also frequently part of the knight package. A perfect knight, however, is one who places himself between the weak and cruel. Altogether, a knight can be summed up in one word: chivalry.
Orders of Chivalry
There might be a number of different hurdles to jump before a person can become a knight. Noble blood might be necessary, or a highly-ranked sponsor to speak for a candidate could also be requirement. Religious conviction might be important, though in Calibran the gods seem to be absent or at least disinterested. In its simplest, purest form, all that is necessary is an act of true bravery, and the touch of another knight’s sword on your shoulder.
Whatever the requirements, there are many knights in Calibran, most of them bachelor knights. The ‘bachelor’ doesn’t mean they are unmarried. It simply means they are simple knights, and owe allegiance to their lord and no one else. They do not belong to any of the several orders of chivalry in Calibran.
In the real world, orders of chivalry began with the Knights Hospitaller and Knights Templar. These orders were actually meant to be orders of militant monks, and initially members would have to take oaths of poverty and chastity similar to those a monk would have taken. As the idea of knightly orders became popular and spread, those requirements were dropped. Membership to an order of chivalry was another mark of status, another sign of favor, or simply an additional ornament to your name.
Calibran has both sorts of chivalry among its knights. The ornamental orders are almost uniformly the creation of the human Noble Houses, who seem to value status greatly, perhaps to an extreme unseen elsewhere. The Dragon Kings of the past have declined to create their own chivalric orders, and are largely unconcerned with the ceremonial aspects of such organizations. The genuine good that orders of knights can do have been of interest to them, however. The kings have employed already existing knightly orders many times, sometimes financing them for a time. The Dragon Kings value the good the Chivalric Orders do over their more self-aggrandizing aspects, and they have, as a group, done their best to foster those orders who do work for the benefit of the people. As a result, those orders tend to last longer, stay truer to their purposes, and have a greater effect, than similar organizations in the history of the real world. Humans seem to have created more of these chivalric orders, ornamental and in service of principle, than all the other races combined.
Knights in Armor – Humans
The courtly aspects of knighthood, those that require rank and noble breeding, are on display among the human Noble Houses of Calibran. True knights, to them, are members of the aristocracy. Some of the Noble Houses allow those of base birth to ascend to knighthood in recognition of extraordinary bravery, though it is a rare privilege gifted to few. A noble son can expect a knighthood as a birthright, but the common ruck have to claw their way up the social ladder.
Each of the Great Noble Houses of humanity maintain a knightly order. These men provide their closest personal guards, as well their officers and commanders in the field. These knights are equal parts courtier and killer, and among them can be found both the saintly paladin and the rank-seeking mercenary.
House Belgrave has the oldest knightly order, said to be derived from the human companions that followed Johelm Belgrave on his quest to unite the different races of Calibran. It is called the Honorable Order of Griffon Companions, drawing from House Belgrave’s sigil, the Griffon.
House Trystane, with their capital in Wert’s Dune, maintains an order of chivalry as well, though their traditions differ in many ways from those of the other houses, isolated as they are in the Silent Sands. It is filled with warriors and soldiers. Most of the first sons of House Trystane and their tributary noble houses belong to this order, The Company of Lions.
House Northvode, in their winter fastnesses far in the north, value the strength required to survive and prosper in their inhospitable homeland. The Northvodes maintain the Dire Order of the White Bear. They tend to choose the biggest men, and strongest, to join the ranks of their knights. The members of this order are famous for resembling the large bear that is their symbol.
House Valeev, who tend to count their wealth in ships and sailors rather than acres and knights, value sailing skills as much as fighting ability. Their knights belong to the Order of the Backstaff and Sword, and they are usually navigators and seamen as well as knights.
Other knightly orders, independent of the noble houses exist as well. There is a knightly order devoted to each of the three human gods. The followers of Arvios, the summer brother, are known as the Brotherhood of the Bright Meadow. Those who follow his dark brother, Edern, are known as the Brothers of the Cold Field. Erasil’s order, The Followers of the Sweet Rose, are one of the few human militant orders to accept women in Calibran.
Smaller knightly orders exist, often consisting of only a handful of members, who devote their lives to some specific task or goal. Though not, strictly speaking a chivalric order, the Swords of the Gods organization, made up of several companies of different types of warriors, is akin to the knightly orders. Other, similar, organizations exist as well.
Specialized Soldiers – Dwarves
Though they do not use the word ‘chivalry’ there is a similar idea in dwarven culture, that of a nobility of spirit, and the strong working to protect the weak. They also have their own king, and noble families, though their nobility differs in many ways from the human style. Knights, to them, are the best soldiers. Rather than serving as officers among lesser troops, they serve in units made up entirely of these elites. Fighting is a different matter in the mines and caves of the mountains, and so one or two dwarves will often stand at some bottleneck of rock, battling enemies fiercely until they fall or are replaced. Dwarvish knights, in their heavy, nearly impenetrable armor, are most likely to fill this role. They are the champions of the dwarves.
Other honors exist for those who excel in non-combative fields, such as smithing, runecrafting, and building. Dwarves who receive these honors are not called knights, but they might be considered something equivalent, particularly in human lands.
Orders of Warriors
Though there are many fraternities and orders of warriors in Calibran, few of them meet all the requirements to be called true chivalric orders. However, many of them fill a similar role, or are treated as knights when in the human cities.
Elves tend to collect titles and honors (as well as some dishonors) throughout their long and varied lives. There are fighting brotherhoods and orders of warrior-mages and wizard-swordsmen and other such things in their culture, but these are more like a group of friends or association of like-minded people than the more status-based orders of the humans. With the exception of the dark elves (to whom the concept of chivalry as practiced by knights is laughable), elves do not value status, and so knightly orders have never been as powerful in their kingdoms as elsewhere.
Dark elves have companies and orders of warriors devoted to different ideals. Some serve the High Priestess of Houriel, and some serve one of the noble houses of the dark elves. Others serve some purpose of their own, unclear to the outside world.
The Legions of the minotaurs are similar in many respects to knightly orders. They are warriors, trained from childhood to defend their city. While there is no aristocracy in Kehlaktur, a member of the Legions does have high status among their fellows, and they are treated with respect and honor for their dedication.
Knights will likely appear in fantasy stories as long as there are such things. The romance they represent, as well as the skill and devotion, are rarely to be found in the real world. It gets a little boring, in fiction, if everything is always rosy and perfect, though, so expect to see a few evil knights in Calibran.