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Order of the Golden Swordby Jennifer Guerra
The Order of The Golden Sword, more properly the Military Order of Halav of the Golden Sword, was originally a small military brotherhood based near Halag in western Traladara, though the exact details of its founding are lost to history. The order's initial purpose was to provide protection for the pilgrims travelling to and from the holy sites in central Traladara - most particularly the Shrine of Halav Ascendant in ancient Lavv. The knights grew in power over the centuries, becoming the premier defence of Traladara against foreign invasion. While considered extremely powerful at home, the Order could not stand against the mighty forces of the Thyatian army during and after the invasion. Today, the remaining knights bide their time, gathering their strength and support for an eventual strike at the heart of Thyatian rule, King Stefan Karameikos.
History. Between AC 464 and 470, the thirteen founder knights had attached themselves to the order of regular clerics at the churches in Lavv and Koriszegy to give them military protection. Despite the hard times, the knights brought a considerable endowment to the new combined Order, and the priests soon assented to sharing their common revenues and agreed to provide hospital services to the knights, their serving brothers and sick pilgrims. As part of this agreement, the knights made vows of poverty (insofar as tithing to the Church and making gifts to the indigent count as "poverty"), humility, and service, and promised to undertake the conversion of "pagan" citizens of the territory. The knights swore fealty to the Church of Traladara as their liege lord, and owed the Church seignorial duties on any lands they might acquire (above the tithe) as such, according to the feudal standards of the day.
The head of the Order, accorded the title of "Master," ruled with a Council of Three (the Trezago, representative of the Church's three patron Immortals), while the religious members (the Canons and Canonesses) were headed by their own Prior. The Master's deputy (a member of the Trezago), was accorded the title of Grand Commander.
In the expansion of Traladara over the centuries, fuelled by the growth of the large coastal trade settlements, the Order grew rich in land, whether by the "civilisation" of new northern territory or by its conquest of "rogue" lords (who lived outside the Church's theocratic authority). When acquiring new estates, whether by gift or conquest, the Order would typically establish some kind of defensible buildings and, in larger towns, build substantial fortresses (in fact, one of the earliest military compounds in the town of Marilenev - now Mirros - was built by the Order). The area around would necessarily be dedicated to the production of food for the garrison and networks of villages and peasant communities would be joined by roads radiating from the centre. Each of the principal castles would necessarily have their own administrative systems, subordinate to the local Commander, with groups of knights, sergeants and foot soldiers. At its peak (in the late eighth century), the Order boasted nearly 150 knights.
To qualify for membership, candidates had to prove four noble quarterings (in other words, all four grandparents must be from "old Traladaran" nobility). Novices were required to serve the knights at one of the settlements for six months, and to study under the Church intensively for one month (of course, it was assumed that the knight-to-be had already had the requisite training in the art of war, as a squire).
Modern Times. The Thyatian invasion of the early tenth century caught the knighthood by surprise. The Order was not what it had been; the pursuit of wealth and the lack of internal conflict in this new, mercantile age resulted in the softening of the previously stringent military standards, and in the malignant spread of greed and corruption in the ranks and the administration. Masters now owed their position to the careful bribery of Council members and high priests as much as to their noble roots. The old chivalric codes, vital to the integrity of the knighthood, were considered overly rigid and outmoded by most.
This top-heavy organisation stood virtually no chance against the invading Thyatian machine. As the Master and Council were wracked by indecision and the wealthy new noble families of Traladara betrayed one another in exchange for the promise of Thyatian mercy, one knight - a young, stalwart paladin named Zorag Ivanov - rallied the forces of the youngest, most zealous knights and stood against the invaders. At the Battle of Volaga, they were slaughtered to a man.
But the sacrifice galvanised the Order at last. Ivanov became the banner around which his compatriots rallied; the Church declared him a holy Martyr. The revitalised knighthood once again challenged the invaders...and were again repulsed. The few survivors, mercilessly hunted, went underground, living off the mercy of sympathetic clerics. There, they began the lengthy process of regaining their numbers and strength.
The Order Today. The modern symbol of the Order is a glowing gold-plated sword, pointed down and unsheathed, with floury ends to the pommel and guard (the original symbol), poised above the heart of a black eagle (the modern addition, symbolising the eventual triumph over the Thyatian invaders). The knights - in secret ceremony - wear white robes resembling a priest's habit with the sword sewn on the left side; the gold badge may be suspended from a red ribbon and worn around the neck (surreptitiously, in public), or it may be sewn onto the left breast.
Novice knights are today required only to prove the Traladaran nobility of two of their four grandparents, that they and their parents and grandparents are legitimately born, and not descended from non-believers or heretics, and that they are practicing Church members in good standing. No persons of Thyatian or mixed Thyatian blood are permitted entry. Petition for admission is made to the Council of Three, who will examine the petitioner's proofs.
Due to the outlawed status of the Order, generally only one ceremony admitting one or two new knights is held each year, in a secret and heavily-guarded location. New members are knighted with the Sword of Halav, a golden blade of legendary magical power, said to have been granted to the faithful of the Order by the Immortal Himself [see "The Sword of Halav," detailed in the Magical Item Cards included in the Mystara Dungeon Master's Survival Kit].
The Order is slowly rebuilding its strength, and currently has about 30 members.
Game Terms. In game terms, treat the Order as a society of paladins, dedicated to the Church of Traladara, with all the requirements and abilities of that class except Laying on of Hands. However, because of the Order's outlaw status, knights cannot currently retain followers other than a single squire, nor can they build a fortress. Knights of the Order will go about their business as normal Traladaran fighters of noble blood; they will use their resources to get positions in King Stefan's government, personal guard, and army command - and there bide their time until the Master declares the Order ready to strike as one body against the usurpers.