Chapter I: The Knights Of Gaerog
Once upon a time, long ago, there was a large and sprawling kingdom with a great number of citizens, spread across a country of rolling hills and open flatland: the kingdom of Academia. The kingdom of Academia, which had for a long time been untroubled by war or famine, dedicated a large proportion of it’s time to study, learning, and self-advancement. It was surrounded on all sides by a larger republic with whom there was much trade, and who protected them from invaders. The two shared a currency, and a common tongue – most of the time – and only occasionally disagreed, usually on the value of a good education, which the kingdom of Academia prized, but the surrounding republic did not.
Academia was broken up into many small fiefdoms which were each ruled by a baron. The baron would frequently compete with other barons on matters of the education provided to their peasants, but this was not the only service the benevolent barons would provide. Most would also provide a church building – on the land of the fiefdom – and allow the people to ordain a bishop, who would ensure the spiritual happiness of the people. The church provided a place for people to relax after a hard day’s toil, and would represent them in matters concerning the baron. The bishop and his chaplains would attempt to support the people, where they could, and would also organise and fund number of diversionary activities and sports for the peons to participate in.
In the fiefdom of Gaerog, like many others, there resided an order of knights. The Order of the Knights of Gaerog were a spiritual organisation who drew money from the church to fund their activities. In these times of peace, there was never a need for the knights to fight, but instead they spent their time helping the people of the land deal with their day to day problems. They worked with the people, and alongside the people, and stood up to their ideals of helping people to solve their own problems, and to their nebulous seven “Knightly Virtues” – the principles of their knighthood.
The knights put a great deal of effort into making sure that the people of the land were content: providing a listening ear onto which they could offload their troubles and woes, a sounding post against which they could bounce ideas, and well-researched information about how best to make use of the resources of the land.
Despite their spiritual nature and their shared dedication to the happiness of the populace, a somewhat rocky relationship had evolved between them and the church had over the last two dozen years. On several evenings, tucked into the quiet of the knights’ lodge, the chaplains had asked the knights to share with them who they had helped today, or even what problems they had helped people with. The knights had always felt that to tell the church such information would be unfair on the people they had helped, and would violate the sacred principles of their order. However, things came to pass that with each new bishop there began a new period of both change and stagnation in the church, and by and by, things made their way onwards into the history books. The people of the land were a travelling folk, and few of them stayed in the same place for long, and within a given half dozen years the entire population could appear different to the one that preceded it, so nobody really noticed the long-term difficulties that any given bishop could be bringing about.
Chapter II: The Bishop’s Dilemma
One day, the baron of Gaerog got into a particularly vicious squabble with a neighbouring baron. The details are unimportant, but the result was that the baron of Gaerog decided to prove the value of his territory to the whole kingdom. From the king’s castle in the centre of Academia were despatched lawyers, tax collectors, census-takers, and an executioner: to perform a census on Gaerog and report back to the king of it’s value, so that the kingdom might know of it’s greatness once and for all. The baron spoke to the bishop, saying, “Be sure that thy ducks are in a line, aye, for verily, we art all beset to be right fucked if thou dost not.”
And the bishop was scared. Having been newly ordained less than a whole change of the moon ago, he did not want to anger the baron by failing the census-taker’s tests. He knew that they would exact great punishment upon those who could not account for everything that their organisation had done, and how, and so he looked to the chaplains to aid him. “Turn thy eye to those things for which thee appear responsible,” they advised, “But which thou cannot control.”
The bishop did this, scanning his ledgers and his records to find any things that might alert the attention of the king’s census-takers. The thing that worried him the most was the Knights of Gaerog, who had for a long time been financed and supported by the church, but would not provide any evidence of their good deeds. Even their indoctrination program – through which budding squires earned their white belts and golden spurs – was shrouded in mystery and steeped in tradition, and the bishop had to admit he knew little about the knights activities and nothing about their numbers (when not serving, the knights would dress as commoners and mingle with the people, unseen). How could the bishop vouch for the services the knights provided without even being able to prove that those services were justified? How could the bishop claim that his affairs were under control when he did not even know what these knights were doing?
Knowing that the church had to distance itself as far as possible from the knights before the king’s men came to assess them, the bishop acted quickly: and, perhaps, a little rashly. A message was sent to the Order, demanding that they disband… or risk excommunication from the church. This took the knights by surprise, and they were confused. They scrambled to gather as many of their number together as they could, and also called upon the help of their old friend, the wizard. The wizard had been a knight for many years, long ago, and still kept a watchful eye over – and a respectful distance from – the Order, observing from afar from his tip of his tower. The knights, accompanied by the wizard, and other allies of their order, banged against the door of the church and demanded an audience with the bishop. Eventually their calls were answered, and the bishop – along with one of his chaplains – met with seven of the knights and the wizard.
“What is this trickery?” demanded a knight who had been elected to this purpose. The other knights looked nervous. “For what purpose do you seek to end our good deeds.”
“This is what must be done! Thou hast ne’er provided us with even an inkling of faith that thou canst fulfil thy claims! Thy goals, thy training, and thy results – they’re all a mystery to us, and we must have such information if we are to allow you to continue your work,” replied the bishop.
“Then perhaps betwixt our argumentative tongues we can find room for some compromise. For too long have we been distrustful of one another. Now may be our chance to forge an alliance anew: mayhap we can provide you with the information you need, if you let us know what needs to be fulfilled. We can let you know about how our order works, and tell you, in general, how many people we have aided in in what way aid can be given. But in exchange, we would need thy word that we can continue our work in helping the people of this land.”
The two – knight and bishop – stopped their conversational manoeuvrers and counter-manoeuvrers, and, sensing the approaching stalemate, began to talk frankly.
“Mayhap we may build a new bridge from this point,” the bishop said, eventually. “Within the week we shall provide you with a list that shall detail the terms of such an agreement. We will tell you what oaths we would need from you, and we shall see if a compromise can be reached.” And both the men of cloth and the men of the sword left that table smiling. And the men of learning carried on as they always had, working under the sun as the shadows grew longer and climbed the hill towards the knights’ lodge.
Chapter III: Anger And Injustice
A week passed, and still no word had been heard from the bishop and the church. The wizard used his scrying ball to espy the bishop, and saw that he was extremely busy. The knights heard of how busy the bishop had been, ensuring that everything else was ready for the imminent arrival of the king’s men, but they were still concerned that they had not yet been written to. Some of the knights began to worry that their trust in the bishop may have been misplaced, while others argued that it was exactly this attitude that had brought about the breakdown in trust between the Order and the Church in the first instance.
Eventually, the day came that a message was delivered from the bishop to the knights. The knights were anxious: if the proposal did not comply with their seven virtues, they could not possibly accept it, and would have to argue against it. But such an argument may end in disaster: being able to find agreement in this proposal might be their only chance to continue their great work.
As they unwrapped the scroll, the hearts of the knights and the wizard sank. This was not the proposal that they had expected, at all. There were no requests for information, no demands on conduct, no new oaths of fealty to the church… nothing of the sort: nothing close to what the knights had prepared themselves for.
The scroll read:
“It is proposed, with immediate effect, that the Order of the Knights of Gaerog be immediately disbanded and disassociated with the Church. All of the knights are asked to turn in their belt and spurs and to instead report to Sam, the charitable nobleman in the Gaerog town centre. Sam will allow you to continue doing work to help the people of Academia, and also people from elsewhere.”
“We can’t work for Sam,” said one knight, upon reading this, “The work we’ve done as knights of the line is not even remotely comparable to the charity that Sam provides!”
“That’s true,” said the wizard, “The service the knights provide is quite unique and quite special. There is nothing that can replace it. But the bigger question remains: do we carry on and fight – and risk losing everything – living as outlaws in order to continue to help the people in the way that we know is best… or do we give up, now, and do what we can to make Sams work provide the best it can for the people who they can.”
And the wizard looked across the faces of the knights, and saw that whatever decision was made, there would be those that would object. If the knights disbanded and worked with the noble Sam and the bishop towards helping people as best they could, they would at least be guaranteed the chance to help those who needed it. But if they fought on, risking all, and won, they may yet be able to once again give everything they could to the people around them – but if they lost, they would have lost any chance of providing aid to the people of Gaerog. Yes, he thought, there would be those that would object to – and perhaps even those that would split off, and go their own way, in protest – the decision made. Which decision was best? Many knights thought they knew, but not all agreed.
As for the wizard; he promised to support the knights who comprised the democratic majority, whatever decision they made.
And he promised to support the knights in the minority, too.
To be continued…