Salt, Gold, Steel and Ghosts (Spellbound Kingdoms)
The Court of Rithaign
The Court at Rithaign is a court like any other in the Claw – a hotbed of intrigue, shifting alliances, backroom dealings and the occasional death or exile all concealed beneath a veneer of elegant ballrooms, theatre trips, music, polite conversation and canapes.
Court is generally held in one of several locations and while ‘official’ court is held at the Palace of Talisare twice weekly, there is always some sort of social gathering every day – the nobility would get bored otherwise.
The Palace of Talisare: The ancient palace built in the first centuries of Akra by the Tumenant family, situated in the heart of the city on Odren Square. Court takes place on almost the entirety of the second floor: a sprawling series of ballrooms, parlours, libraries, board rooms, gardens and palazzos situated around the central throne room. There is plenty of space to move around and it has been carefully designed to ensure that there is always a private room or corner to hold clandestine conversations in, and sightlines are obscured enough to ensure that it is difficult to keep track of how many people are in attendance, where they are and who they are talking to. Notably, there is a Chapel of the High God in the suite of rooms that encompasses the court, built long ago by a particularly shrewd Bishop. Canon Law holds in the chapel and this is frequently used by the members of court to disadvantage their peers.
Themes: Splendour, secrecy, safety.
Nentarsce Auditorium: A grand theater and opera house near Odren square which boasts a very high standard of entry, opulent surroundings and the best in high-class entertainment. Musicians, dancers, singers and playwrights famous across the Claw put on world-class performances on the glittering stage of the Auditorium. Little intrigue happens during the performances themselves – whispering and moving around would be exceedingly crass – but the pre and post performance drinks, conversations during the intervals and the delicate dance of who ends up in what seat supply enough meat for those more entertained by politics than plays. Twenty years ago, no premier was complete without at least one poisoning or garroting during the interval, but the Nentarsce family grew tired of the reputation their theater was getting (and reserved special ire for those who referred to it as the Nentarsce Crematorium) and very publicly announced that they would spare no expense in hiring assassins to punish those who desecrated the sanctity of their theater. There have been no murders in the auditorium for ten years – a record.
Themes: Spectacle, decadent pleasure
Rithaign Cathedral: Meeting on Canon Law ground can sometimes prove advantageous to the nobility, and the Church is certainly an organisation powerful enough to be worth cosying up to. Some nobles are genuinely devout, to boot. Most of the real meetings happen on Sundays, or on religious holidays, but whenever the Church is involved in a scheme the meetings generally happen at the Cathedral. The fact that attendance at the Cathedral is open to all has given those unfortunate nobles who are mainly seen there the reputation of being wallflowers who don’t get invited to the good parties.
Unicorn Downs: When the weather isn’t terrible, the nobility can often be found on the Downs picnicing, enjoying a sporting event or just taking in the scenery. Horse and dog racing, jousting, sword tournaments, athletics competitions, dressage and parades all happen at the Downs sporting grounds on a regular basis. On special occasions, more exotic entertainment like chariot races, grand melees, gladiatorial tournaments or spectacles involving dangerous wild beasts are the fare. A slightly different crowd frequent the Downs – those who are more interested in watching knights joust than sopranos sing. Consequently, a lot of politics involving the military happens here.
Factions at court are generally split along two lines: noble families and alliances. The former remain steady for long periods – it is rare that a family fractures to the point where its members are more likely to work with outsiders than each other, at least openly. Alliances between individuals or different families shift more frequently, however. Generally an alliance rarely outlasts the reason the association began – although in the case of long term trade deals, alliances can last generations. Alliances are usually business oriented, military oriented, marital or to achieve a common goal. Minor houses tend to group up frequently to pool funds, form legions or to make their quiet voices heard. Powerful houses have less of a need to form long term partnerships.
Complicating matters are the frequent feuds, rivalries and the occasional vendetta or outright house war. Akra has comparitively fewer outright civil wars between houses than some other countries in the Claw – the Crown authority is strong and King Lucius does not tolerate his nobles taking armies to the field against each other instead of his enemies. Shadow wars or wars of assassins, on the other hand, can be almost as bloody but considerably more socially acceptable. Individuals frequently take offence to one another and feud, whether within or between alliances – more than one long term alliance has been broken because some of the people within it hated each other more than their houses needed the alliance to continue. Duels are legal – as long as they remain within the courtly rules; brawling in the street is both illegal and uncouth. Duelling to the death is rare, particularly when Inspirations are involved (and when they are, a failed kill in a duel almost always leads to a protracted and bloody rivalry) but simply having an enemy murdered is considerably more common. Rivalries and feuds are much more likely to take the form of blackmail, spying, economic warfare, bad mouthing and barbed jibes over drinks than knives and poison – most nobles hold themselves to be more civilised than that.
House Tumenant: The ruling house of Rithaign Duchy and the second most powerful house in all of Akra. Tumenant are wealthy, influential and saavy political game players. The Tumenant faction consists of traditionalists who want to keep the status quo and sycophants who want to stay close to the power. The Tumenant faction have it good and want things to stay that way – they are more likely to make moves to further consolidate their power than to make big, risky plays to get more. Lately, however, they have been needing to find other ways to make money in order to keep the Duchy’s army and navy funded.
House Fairfax: A major house in Rithaign, House Fairfax are landowners and industrialists who own many of the warehouses, mills and workshops in the city. They have a big stake in the war – Fairfax owned workshops churn out musket balls, matchlocks, cannons, black powder and zeppelin parts for the war effort. Their faction consists of like-minded business owners and the traders who distribute their products. The Fairfax faction are frequently behind much of the more exciting intrigue at the court – houses and business owners come and go and the faction fragments and reforms to match the vagaries of the market. Additionally, its members are always trying new plots and schemes to gain an advantage over their competitors.
House Rohn: A house heavily involved in banking and usury, with special dispensation from the Crown to trade currencies and bonds. They insure, loan and have property holdings, stakes in enterprises and vaults of precious commodities to back the crowns they issue. Historically the Rohn faction have preferred to keep their distance from the dealings of Fairfax and its allies, wanting to simply lend them money, insure them and occasionally invest in their enterprises, rather than being financial partners. Rohn have good relations with Anfield but have little to do with the wealthy Tumenants. Recently, however, Rohn money has been behind some of House Tumenant’s more extravagant purchases. The faction itself is small, consisting of House Rohn itself and one or two independent moneylenders and minor houses which add weight and flexibility to the Rohn holdings. Carefully neutral, the Rohn faction deals lightly and never commits itself to long term formal alliances.
House Nentarsce: House Nentarsce have historically tried to portray themselves as mediators and facilitators. Prolific as both patrons of the arts and as a trading house, Nentarsce are always happy to buy and sell other houses’ goods, host parties, fund artwork and offer advice. They have never been as successful at making raw cash as the Rohns or as business saavy as the Fairfaxes but they have always been much more popular. The wedding of Duke Raoul’s sister Adria to Fabian Nentarsce was a big coup for the family and they have been gaining in power ever since. Their faction consists of a diverse group of contacts that the house finds useful, other art lovers, one or two minor houses who have ingratiated themselves with the rising stars – and more recently, Treb Quinlan.
The Gold-and-Silvers: A collection of minor houses who have banded together for mutual support and protection. So named for two reasons: they are primarily organised by House Silva and a big part of their finances come from gold mining. The Gold-and-Silvers are in favour of upsetting the status quo – they profit from instability that lets them make up ground against Rithaign’s major houses. Their weaker position has given them something to prove and they are notoriously ruthless in their dealings – the people in the land they own are worked to the bone to scrape out every ounce of wealth, their enemies end up hounded by hired ruffians or have their reputations dragged through mud by blackmail. Their desperation and lack of scruples make them useful people to associate with – as long as you keep your distance.
Duke Raoul: Head of the court, Duke Raoul has only two things on his mind: upholding the King’s laws and protecting his house’s interests in the Duchy. Charismatic, intelligent and a highly capable administrator, the Duke is an exceptionally good person to get involved in your enterprises if 1) you manage to get a moment of his precious time and 2) can convince him that House Tumenant will profit from it. More adept at rulership and politics than shadowplay, the Duke tends to leave the seedier side of court life to his underlings.
Duchess Katarina: The Duchess presents a much friendlier and more open front than her husband’s brusque politeness – while he busies himself in ledgers and meetings, she hosts soirees and attends banquets. In truth, she is more of a PR rep for House Tumenant – only the most foolish courtiers mistake her pleasant manner for anything other than an acceptable form of social manipulation. If House Tumenant want to use a silk glove instead of an iron gauntlet, Duchess Katarina is usually the one present. She has the ear of her husband and can occasionally be a good entryway to the Duke – if her surprising shrewdness doesn’t see through your schemes.
Lady Anastacia: The eldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess and the most politically active of the children – after all, as the eldest daughter she is potentially in line for the throne. Her main competition is Duke Nikul’s daughter Natalia, who is a war hero currently fighting in East Fire. In constrast to her sister, Anastacia is instead a courtly power player who matches her sister’s ferocity on the battlefield with aggressive politics. If her mother is Tumenant’s silk glove, Anastacia is very much Tumenant’s silk glove with a brick inside. She is profoundly ambitious and always has a dozen schemes going on at the same time. She walks the fine line between being a serial backstabber and acceptably mercenary – she will take any advantage she can get in order to get ahead.
Baron Richard Anfield: A permanent resident of Rithaign and the highest ranking member of Anfield in the Duchy, the Baron is on paper enjoying retirement away from the capital in his mansion on the coastline but everyone with half a brain knows that he is Anfield’s informant on Rithaign’s court and a dyed-in-the-wool Kingsman. He has something of an unofficial advisory role to the Duke which is strictly in his capacity as an experienced elder statesman and definitely not as the Crown’s spokesperson. With no real courtly role and no interest in playing hardcore politics beyond what is necessary for him to keep his finger on the pulse, the Baron is genial, easy-going and sociable. He is one of the few higher ranked members of court who is almost always available for even the lowliest courtier.
Baroness Beatriz Fairfax: The head of House Fairfax and a no-nonsense businesswoman and military industrialist. Her leadership has seen Fairfax diversify out of owning textile mills and weaver’s factories and into engineer-built foundries and weapons manufacturing. The war with Azenahal has been draining money out of Akra’s coffers for years and more than almost any other group, House Fairfax has been scooping as much of that money into their pockets as they can. The Baroness claims to want to see victory for the Crown as much as any other nobleborn but her enemies mutter that the smugness with which she presents House Tumenant with invoices shows her true colours. On a personal level, the Baroness has no time or inclination for petty games. She wants to talk business and if you can bring something to her which will profit her house, House Fairfax will bend over backwards to ensure a speedy and mutually profitable resolution. Otherwise, she doesn’t want to know you.
Artos Rohn: Unlike his reclusive and unfriendly father, Artos is personable and charismatic – if very clearly not the person calling the shots. Most people are more than happy to put up with having to deal with a middle man to avoid talking to Farsees Rohn. Artos does his best to be the public face of his house and ensure that Rohn keeps its friends, but nobody is especially fond of the people they owe money to. He attends social functions and does PR while passing business-related messages along to his father for approval or disapproval. The section of court which only enjoys social drama a currently basking in the soap opera that is Artos Rohn – a highly elligable bachelor who is habitually single despite being outgoing, courtiers and nobleborn alike have a great time alternating between trying to set people up with him and speculating about the reason for his singleness behind his back. His recent companionship with Cecilia Nostemark has only fanned the flames futher.
Patricia Nentarsce: Duke Raoul’s sister, who married into the Nentarsce family and promptly took a strong leadership role. Standing somewhere between a dignified patron of the arts and an obsessive collector, Patricia is a socialite who seems to be in a oneupmanship contest with the entire rest of the Duchy over who can host the best concerts, have the grandest gallery and the most opulent salons. So far, Baroness Nentarsce seems to be winning. Long term members of the court who are particularly on the ball enjoy the best spectator sport in Rithaign: Baroness Nentarsce and Duchess Katarina’s decades-long attempts to have each other killed while competing to see who can be the most ingratiatingly polite to the other in person. The Duke, presumably, is fully aware of what is going on and is choosing not to intervene for his own reasons. If anybody knows the reason, they aren’t telling and the people who have figured out what’s going on have long since learned not to pry too much. In private, huge wagers are riding on the eventual result of the feud.
Marius Nentarsce: An obese, hedonistic playboy who also happens to be the Harbourmaster of Rithaign – a hugely powerful and influential post which also happens to be permanent with very few prospects for promotion and requires a lot of time. Most courtiers quietly applaud whoever was responsible for the posting for so elegantly putting Marius somewhere out of the way where the court don’t have to deal with his antics. Somehow Rithaign’s imports and exports haven’t ground to a halt so most people are content to leave him to it. He is an extremely useful business contact for any courtier – being famously incredibly bribable – and he has a lot of friends amongst the younger and wilder nobleborn. Aside from updates as to what Marius is up to this week, the biggest part of the gossip concerning him relates to his falling out with his family. The relationship between Marius and the rest of his house is frosty to say the least (perhaps for obvious reasons) and some corners of court eagerly await the outbreak of a real power struggle.
Treb Quinlan: The famous Assassin is commonborn and generally the last person who one would expect to be a regular at court – especially considering the open secret that he is the head of a thieves’ guild. To his credit, he has managed to build something of a reputation for himself and even his most vociferous opponents have to grudgingly admit that he has a certain flair for making friends and blackmailing people. Treb Quinlan is too useful to ignore but few people can lower their standards enough to invite him to their parties and social functions. Treb Quinlan is forever the outsider at court – tolerated, but never welcomed – but seems dead-set on fighting his way into the light. Also, if you really need someone murdered, he’s right there.
Lord Walnook: Lord Walnook, also known as Lord Walrus for his enormous moustache, is an elderly military veteran and head of a minor house which historically punches well above its weight when contributing to Akra’s war effort. Lord Walnook is well past his prime and real leadership of his house has long since passed to his children but the old soldier isn’t dead yet and still seems to be going strong. One of the few people at court who is genuinely open and guileless, Lord Walnook seems blithely unaware that many people shun him because of his brutal honesty and lack of courtly manners born from decades of serving in the army. He often gets used as a pawn in social intrigue at the court – managing to get Lord Walnook invited to someone else’s function is a great way to have fun at someone else’s expense. Lord Walnook loves four things more than anything else in the world: telling war stories at the top of his voice, eating huge dinners at the top of his voice, getting incredibly drunk and telling crude soldiers’ jokes at the top of his voice and talking for hours on end about war with other enthusiasts at the top of his voice.
Lady Silva: The de facto leader of the Gold-and-Silvers faction at court – more through sheer bloody-mindedness and the ability to herd cats than anything else – Lady Silva is a hard-working outspoken politician who loves duelling to the point where even some of the Duchy’s more celebrated duellists think that she might be a little obsessed. When she isn’t browbeating her faction into doing the smart thing, she is inevitably sparring with her trainers or other enthusiastic duellists. Lady Silva is quick to offer a duel when offended and always accepts one, but hasn’t killed more people than is usual for a frequent duellist – she seems to enjoy fighting more than killing.
Baron Rivalt: Baron Rivalt’s enemies say that he is about as shady as a businessman can be without actually being a criminal and while House Rivalt has certainly gotten good at the art of operating just inside the law, they very rarely commit actual crimes. The Baron is exceptionally mercenary in his dealings – he simply cannot afford not to be – but has therefore had to develop a reputation of being scrupulously honest to his business partners. House Rivalt equally cannot afford to double-deal without it hitting their bottom line. Baron Rivalt is an ambitious, driven person who has abandoned as many morals as he can get away with to see his house succeed. Otherwise, he is remarkably clean – getting down and dirty with courtly intrigue, gossip and vendettas is something he could not get away with even if he had any interest in it.
Aldous Leavitt: The head of the Rithaign Dryght is the official court wizard and is openly the most powerful sorceror in the Duchy. Rumours constantly abound that this noble or that noble are hiding powerful magical talent but none have ever challenged Leavitt for the role. Unlike in other courts where the leading spellbound is the centre of a tarpit of scandal and intrigue, Leavitt is (some might say) heartbreakingly dull. He is reserved with his opinions and keeps his own counsel, but is always willing to provide advice if asked. His position as head of the magical secret police in the area has earned him few friends at court, particularly since he makes no secret of the fact that he is silently assessing his peers, judging their suitability as spellbound. All nobles who wish to educate their children in magic or become educated so themselves need to be approved by him and he is disappointingly harsh but fair, immune to bribery or cajoling in the case of those he finds unsuitable.
Ardinho Estrella: A rain troll courtier who seems to delight in fulfilling the stereotype up to the hilt, Ardinho is a scheming, sycophantic vizier-type who is fully embroiled in the murkier side of court politics. Currently aligned with the Fairfax faction, he makes a big show of being the epitome of the loyal advisor but always has a plot or two on the go. Of common birth, and a rain troll to boot, his education and experience are his only weapons and he tries to use them to their utmost. To those who have taken offense to him, he is right about delicate shifts in court politics often enough to be annoyingly difficult to dislodge.
Delfina Gualtirio: A courtesan of great looks and wit with murkily low birth and morals. She flits between being a vicious harpy and delightful charmer at will and seems happy to verbally spar with people considerably more rich and highborn than her, coming out on top more often than one might expect. The niche she seems to be trying to aggressively carve out for herself is one of fashion maven, gossip and need-to-know. Whenever there is social intrigue at play, Delfina is always a part of it somehow. She is just about managing to successfully evade being embroiled in the really dangerous kind of courtly intrigue – like the feud between the Duchess and Baroness Nentarsce – but some are beginning to whisper that she may be in over her head.
Lord Jacinto: A minor court functionary who is affectionately known as “Runner”, Lord Jacinto is a diffident dogsbody who tends to serve the role of ‘useful minion’ to whoever the nearest assertive person is. He is not in a member of any formal alliance and his house is of little relevance to anyone, but Lord Jacinto is inoffensive, has no real enemies or ambitions and is generally quite happy to be helpful so ends up getting invited to nearly everything. Although it is difficult to tell through his shyness, Jacinto seems content to be valued by everyone as a timid gobetween. The incident which sums up how the court feels about him the most concisely is when a courtier having a particularly bad day snapped at Lord Jacinto and insulted him in public, provoking more than half a dozen nearby nobles to step in and offer to duel the man on behalf of Lord Jacinto’s offended honour. It ended up being resolved with a humble apology and a tarnished reputation – and then Lord Jacinto promptly went back to being a slightly helpful piece of furniture.
Lady Blackwell: Head of a minor house whose reputation is so tarnished that it is practically unrecoverable, Lady Blackwell is cheerfully open about the fact that she has many illicit connections and absolutely no moral compass whatsoever. Considered by many to be the dodgier and less trustworthy equivalent of Baron Rivalt, which contributes to her house’s poor fortunes, Lady Blackwell seems perfectly content to be the court’s go-to when something really shady needs to happen but people can’t quite bring themselves to go to Treb Quinlan. Lady Blackwell, at least, has good breeding and is a riot at parties.