Salt, Gold, Steel and Ghosts (Spellbound Kingdoms)
The Millennium Knights
The 13 of King Lucius' trusted knightly order
To commemorate the 1000th year of his reign, King Lucius created a new order of royal knights which would answer directly to him, to be his sworn servants throughout the realm. Great pomp and circumstance was given to these newly honoured knights, and their order was given a vast swathe of titles, rewards and privileges. Only the finest would be considered for entry into the Millennium Order and tournaments and competitions were held throughout the land to see who would win this prestigious prize. The most astute of the nobility recognised the ploy for what it was – an attempt to lure the finest fighters in the kingdoms away from the nobility and in to the direct employ of the King. What nobody forsaw, however, was the King’s retreat into his gilded box shortly after the order was founded. With the King confined to his casket and capable of only speaking through a hoarse whisper, his Queen and his new Knights became the arbiters of his judgement and his will throughout Akra. The Knights carry a royal charter and speak with the King’s authority, answering to nobody but him. In their illustrious five century history they have been kingsmen without peer: guarding the royal family, striking against rebellious nobles, slaying rogue spellbound and fighting the enemies of Akra.
The popularity of the order has waned over the centuries, however. Every member of the order has been as unnaturally potent as the last, and popular knights who join the order seem to fade away from their peers into quiet, determined contemplation – losing their unique personalities as they grow deadlier. Rumours abound as to the kinds of fell magics that the King poured into the creation of his pets. Was his retreat into his casket shortly after a consequence of the Age of Cartonnage-era sorcery that he used to create his knights and their weapons? Or did he know he was fading and decided to secure his reign while he still could?
Currently, there are 13 members of the Millennium Order:
Sir Maximilian Khan: The current leader of the Millennium Knights, and King Lucius’ primary bodyguard. Khan rarely leaves Hessek and if he does, it is because the King’s wrath is about to descend upon somewhere in such a way that they will never forget it. More than any of the other Knights, Khan relies on pure skill and experience. Once a lowly, masterless Knight Errant, his rise to his current position once his talent was discovered was meteoric. Khan felled opponent after opponent, mastered challenge after challenge to such an extent that the Church was close to condemning him as a witch. The King snapped him up before they could, and upon his ascension to Millennium Knight, Khan’s youthful aggression seemed to melt and reforge into the cold, calculating violence of Akra’s ideal kingsman.
Sir Aldhere, the Herald: Sir Aldhere was once a sanctioned opera singer – his noble birth allowing him to practice an art which would have spelled painful death to a common man. His heavenly voice gave emotion and clarity to many a symphony on the stages of Akra’s exclusive opera houses. Then he became the King’s Herald. In the same commanding voice which once graced auditoriums around the Old Claw, Aldhere pronounced the King’s judgement upon his subjects. Wizards are divided as to whether Aldhere is spellbound and has used magic to ensorcel his voice or whether he is just naturally talented, but Aldhere’s words bind and cut the hearts – and Inspirations – of his listeners.
Sir Eadwine, the Blind Eminence : Eadwine was a knight under the command of House Anfield – a strong and courageous leader, possessed of great skill. A fireball from a madfire burner burned out his eyes and crushed his knightly career. Always gifted of mind, Eadwine retreated into scholarly studies, assistants reading texts aloud to him or translating into braille. Eadwine bent his considerable efforts into becoming a potent wizard, the better to serve his King. Now, he is nearly peerless in Akra. Only Archmage Raixe, Queen Ophelia and a few others could claim to have a mastery of magic to rival Eadwine’s. His scarred face and empty sockets a distant hindrance, Sir Eadwine no longer cares for such trivial things as eyes.
Sir Wilheard, the Fire Breather: A child prodigy in the field of engineering, his tutors predicted great things in Wilheard’s future, saying that only minds such as his could forsee the fantastical inventions he would produce. Unfortunately for the world, what Wilheard’s prodigious mind wanted to produce were new and efficient ways to sow fiery death and destruction. Few can be said to have had such a horrific effect on warfare as Sir Wilheard. Incendiary ammunition, explosives, new unquenchable alchemical flames, ingenious methods to spray sticky burning naptha over wider areas at greater ranges, Wilheard is a never-ending source of new ways to set people on fire. When King Lucius sends Sir Wilheard to quell a rebellious baron, it isn’t because he wants to send a message. It’s because he doesn’t want there to be a barony there any more.
Sir Esrolian Magebane: An orphan from Hessek who was recruited by the Dryght and trained as a Warden at a young age, all Sir Esrolian has ever known is how to kill spellbound efficiently. By their nature, Wardens are anonymous and interchangeable but even so word started to spread amongst the nobility about the Dryght’s silent and ruthless assassin who had ended the lives of so many rogue spellbound and unscrupulous nobles who stepped over the line. In a move that caused much laughter amongst the nobility (behind closed doors when they were very sure that no Dryght spies were around) the King plucked her from the ranks of the Wardens and made her a knight in his employ. Rumour has it that Isabella Raixe is furious about this, but now that the King has Esrolian Magebane on his side, what is she going to do about it? Leaving the ranks of the Dryght has made Esrolian, if anything, even more dangerous.
Sir Zentha, the Dancer: Unusually for an Akran knight, Sir Zentha is foreign-born. Her dark complexion betrays her eastern heritage and rumour has it that she was a dancer at the Amber King’s court, an Assassin in far Oryn-ja, a concubine of a Kitaarsan noble and even more outlandish claims. Whatever her history, Zentha is a frighteningly beautiful woman who possesses an extraordinary – and some say supernatural – grace and agility. Zentha reacts with laughter whenever anyone suggests she may be a vampire and she doesn’t seem to have an especial fear of wooden stakes or the sun, but not all magical beings are created equal. Zentha dazzles in the ballroom as much as on the battlefield, moving almost faster than the eye can follow and leaving admirers, and corpses, in her blurred wake.
Sir Ciareth: Many claim that King Lucius prominently keeps an Assassin in his employ merely to make a statement. Many Kings and Queens hunt Assassins and at the very least keep far, far away from them but Lucius elevated Sir Ciareth to knighthood as if to say that the blades of mere Assassins hold no fear for him. Never seen in the limelight, Sir Ciareth is the most elusive of the Millennium Knights and most likely spends much of her time in deep cover, stalking the King’s enemies. Rarely seen, she leaves the bloodless husks of her prey behind her as a statement, blackened eyeholes and death rictuses left as a warning to the rest. The King is watching, and his silent blade will find you.
Sir Leonhart, the Dragonslayer: Probably the only Millennium Knight who can unambiguously be called a ‘hero’, Sir Leonhart is the King’s foremost monster slayer. Whenever a Roc, giant, king basilisk, kraken or, yes, dragon threatens his kingdom and resists death at the hands of the many wandering heroes in the Claw, Sir Leonhart is eventually dispatched to be the end of the beast. A gregarious, boisterous, bearded fellow clad in shining armour, Sir Leonhart is a reminder to the people of Akra that subjugation by the King includes his protection. Where common town guards and valiant, Inspiration-possessing outlaw heroes fail to protect your home, King Lucius will step in to save the day. The heroics of Sir Leonheart have arguably done as much to keep the peasants loyally on their knees as any inquisition performed by traitor-seeking kingsmen. The King’s trophy room is just about unrivalled, as well.
Sir Lucetta Stormchild: There are many (unauthorised, highly illegal) songs and poems about the deeds performed by Sir Lucetta and in each one her origins are more magical and unlikely than the last. What can be definitely pinned down as truth is that at her birth or in her very early years, Lucetta was exposed to a crisis surge and survived. However, she came out of the surge… different. While ordinary people being transformed by magic is nothing new, Lucetta seems surprisingly unharmed by whatever the surge did to her. It is entirely possible that her ‘powers’ are nothing more than misdirection and propaganda but at the very least her deeds would place her as being a master of Elemental Maelstrom. Rumours persist, however, that her affinity for storms and lightning go beyond those possessed by mere spellbound.
Sister Francisca Page, the Bloody Saint: Francisca Page is both a blessing for the Faith of the High God, and a constant thorn in their side. She was once an ordinary, pious nun in a village chapel. Brigands raided the village, crucifying Sister Page to the timbers of the chapel before burning it to the ground. She miraculously survived, and crawled miles to aid with the assistance, she claimed, of an apparition of the High God. She was canonized as a Saint by Valte Riel and was to be sent to sing his praises in the cathedrals of the Faithful City. Sister Page had other ideas, however. She whipped up popular fury against the brigands and led a bloody pogrom against the outlaws, conducting Dynn-style burnings in the streets. More than that, she displayed obvious supernatural powers which swayed many to her side as a true Saint of the High God. Sir Aldhere was sent to recruit her, and nobody knows what he said to sway the Bloody Saint to the King’s cause, but she took up the flail in defense of Akra and no condemnation of witchcraft from Dynni inquisitors or Valte Riel cardinal horrified at her actions will stop her crusade of bloody righteousness. The Dryght have publicly proclaimed that she is not spellbound, leaving many to wonder just how angry the High God is at his children if the actions of Sister Francesca Page are the methods by which he chooses to act on the world.
Sir Marione Moonshadow: Publicly, Sir Marione is nothing more than the King’s foremost spy and infiltrator. Privately, many of the nobility are convinced that Moonshadow is a special kind of demon summoned by the King to ferret out their secrets. Paranoia aside, there are uncomfortable similarities and coincidental timings between the reports of a wild girl with magical powers of illusion and invisibility and the frankly impossible things which Sir Marione is reported to have done in the service of the King. Exact details about the King’s spy are difficult to pin down (obviously) so it is more than likely that many of these rumours are intentional misinformation designed to paralyse unscrupulous nobles with the idea that the King can have a spy anywhere, anytime. At minimum, however, she is a masterfully talented and highly experienced kingsman with a penchant for showing up when you are absolutely positively sure you have vetted your organisation thoroughly for infiltrators.
Sir Andreas Hue: Amidst the supernatural abilities and shady pasts of his fellow knights, Sir Andreas stands out as remarkably down-to-earth and ordinary. As ordinary as a physically perfect specimen of a man who commands battalions with great strategic insight and frightening tactical genius can be, anyway. Sir Andreas is the King’s personal warmaster who commands his honour guard and personal retainers. A war hero who trained under Nikul Tumenant, Andreas Hue is a giant of man: tremendously strong, enormously agile and ruthlessly intelligent. Many consider his talents wasted commanding the defense of Hessek when the war in East Fire rages harsher every season, but Akra’s marshals and generals can rest easy knowing that no matter what happens one of their best is seeing to the safety of it’s capital city.
Sir Guillame, the Phantom: Sir Guillame is another one of those rarities who survived the fell stroke of magic when any others would have perished. In Guillame’s case, he is the only instance in recorded history where someone survived the blink disease once it progressed to its final stage. Instead of vanishing forever, Guillame reappeared months later in the middle of a crowded tournament field. It was only through happenstance (and probable Inspiration) that he was not immediately killed by the guards, but once Akra’s doctors and wizards had finished coming to no conclusions about how he survived, he returned to being landed gentry. Until it became apparent, of course, that the blink disease had not completely left him. Guillame possesses the ability to blink completely or partially out of existence and spent a lot of time thinking of ways this could be useful to him and training for them. A knight who can walk through walls and who can let a swung blade or a bullet pass through him unharmed was too much of a good opportunity for the King to pass up, so Guillame was elevated to Millennium Knight before he became a problem. Rumours persist, of course, that it was not Guillame who returned to that tournament field. Nobody really knows how the blink disease works, after all, and those who knew him say that he seems very different to the man they once knew.