The Order of the Far Knights
Table of Contents
"I knew Lucius in his youth. In fact, I helped train him in what little he knew of the ways of the arcane. Infuriating man. He had a thousand-yard stare, a mustache that wagged in a particular way to let you know he thought you were beneath him—even if you were an archmage—and an unremitting devotion to accomplish the things he set his sights on. Lucky for our homeland and the Eastern Alliance, those things were invariably goals that served the Crown and bettered the Kingdom of Farland. The foremost of those goals was to found an order of chevaliers that were focused on honor and nation. He called them, quite prosaically, the Far Knights. The Order is still small, but I speak now with foresight of the future—their mark on the histories in centuries to come is not to be underestimated. This Kingdom owes him a great debt, a massive debt, and his loss will be felt for years to come."
--Eulogy of Sir Lucius Zeno, given at his funeral by Seldorius of Farland
The storied Order of the Far Knights grew out of one man's ambition: Lucius Zeno, second son of Lord Horace Zeno. Lucius was a stiff-necked man of singular vision with an excessive focus on honor. Even as a child, his parents rarely had to discipline him, and indeed usually had to curb the child's excess zeal for rules. Often they had to take a switch out of young Lucius' hand to stop him from his disturbing habit of self-flagellation. As he grew into a man, he became an accomplished horseman and swordsman, although he wasn't particularly strong or large. He spent much time in the court of Aquilus Ciaus, the High King in the Far City, in the days of the bellicose Eastern Alliance, of which Farland was the head. Lucius volunteered for every chance to ride forth to war on behalf of his King and Kingdom. But he was dismayed at the lack of honor and self-discipline of the average legionnaire and centurion. In battle, few could fault the organization of the soldiers of the King's legions, but personally, Lucius found them to be weak-willed sots. He petitioned the King to found a new fighting force—and was denied, over and over. This denial only steeled the stubborn Lucius' resolve, and resolve was never something of which he was in short supply. Finally, as commander of the cavalry regiment attached to the Ninth Legion, Zeno put down a revolt by that legion. Instrumental to his success in quelling the revolt was the fact that he had taken it upon himself to train his regiment in his own strict code of discipline and honor. Seeing this victory, and having simply been worn down by Zeno, High King Ciaus finally gave the young lord permission to found his fighting force, and thus the Order of the Far Knights was born out of the Ninth Legion Cavalry. Lucius styled himself "Knight Protector," a title that leaders of the Order would henceforth adopt.
Lucius proceeded to devote the rest of his life to strengthening his fledgling military Order. Although he was a zealot in terms of military and personal honor and discipline, Zeno was not a particularly religious man, but he found it pragmatic to instill a religious element into his Order. The Church of Neltak, sympathetic to his focus on structure, was more than happy to oblige. As the centuries wore on, the religious focus of the Far Knights would shift to Heshtail and Reeanan, but during the lifetime of Zeno, Neltak remained the largest religious focus in the rituals and oaths of the Far Knights. By the time of Zeno's death, the Far Knights had become a famous fixture in the Great Kingdom and had become rather favored by both High King Ciaus as well as his successor.
The Far Knights faced their first major crisis a mere 77 years after their founding. During the tenure of Rothian Ganorus, the second Knight Protector after Zeno (who had stubbornly refused to die or step down for nearly five decades), troubling omens and portents began to surface on the continent. The focus of these events seemed to be the Deadlands, the haunted wastes that lay to the north of the Kingdom of Farland. The Cadre of the Wise, at the behest of the archmage Seldorius, requested Ganorus to explore the Deadlands and investigate the cause of the evil, for Seldorius feared that the White Lady in the East was once again active. With several members of the Cadre, Ganorus rode forth into the Deadlands, never to return. Yet the Order managed to hold together, despite this devastating loss. Five years after this ill-fated expedition, the remaining members of the Cadre were mysteriously slain, and Seldorius disappeared.
Subsequent leaders of the Far Knights became more nationalist and more religion-focused. The next several centuries were tumultuous ones for the Kingdom of Farland. The Eastern Alliance, newly founded in the time of Zeno, continued its aggressive colonization practices, and the Far Knights were often in the vanguard of the invading armies, carrying out the will of the High King and fighting for "gods, king, and honor," although the countries of the west would describe their motives differently. For the four centuries after their founding, the Far Knights remained a disciplined and effective fighting force, but by the year 7500 F.R., and largely due to ineffective leadership starting with the High King all the way down to the Knight Protectors, the Far Knights had become a largely ceremonial honor guard, mostly used to march in parades. At this time, High King Sum III ruled the Kingdom, and he had little care for anything except personal fame and pleasure. A priest of Neltak, Marcus Tiberius Gnaeus, staged a coup, personally slew Sum III, and took the Crown. Recognizing the state of the Kingdom and the very real threats it faced, King Gnaeus violently deposed the current Knight Protector and installed a paladin of Neltak, Brutus Draco, as the new leader of the Order. Draco started the long and ultimately successful process of reforging the Far Knights into a powerful fighting force.
By the time of the Dark Conquest, the Far Knights had again become a fearsome order and had been so for two centuries. In the year 7792, the blitzkrieg out of the Wintervale began. The armies of Farland, unlike most of the armed forces of the human kingdoms, proved very effective in resisting the assault. The Far Knights once again rode forth in the vanguard of the Kingdom's legions, this time battling orcs and other dark folk and sending those fell beings shrieking back to their dens, or shrieking down to the hells. But it was a lost cause. Slowly, the human kingdoms fell, the elves retreated deep into their vast woodlands, and the mighty dwarfhold of Wawmar was conquered. Still, the armies of Farland refused to submit. They began a counter-offensive and made right for the Nameless City in the Wintervale. But the might of the Sins could not be resisted. Countering the counter-offensive, the Lord of Wrath, personally leading an army, struck for the heart of the Far City. Hastily retreating to defend the city, the armies of Farland faced ultimate defeat. But even in this dire strait, the influence of the Far Knights made itself felt. The Farlandish legions were rallied by Knight Protector Lucius Severus. One of the mightiest warriors in the Kingdom at the time, he almost single-handedly halted the charge of the dark forces and begin to drive them back. He even managed to slay the dark wizard Bastulon, and gathering the defending Far Knights around him, he prepared to mount a counter-attack. At this point, the Lord of Wrath himself intervened, engaging Severus in personal combat and slaying him. The Pit Fiend also dispatched the fleeing Far Knights, slaying some of them with flaming meteorites from the sky and causing most of the others to enter a mindless rage, wherein they slew each other.
But it was not the end of the Order of the Far Knights. Petra Urbanus, Severus' squire and paramour and herself a skilled warrior, led the only remaining members of the Far Knights to safety in the hills surrounding the Allinus Valley. Urbanus took roll and found that she could count the remaining Far Knights on one hand. She had been trained in the old Order, which emphasized nationalism and splendor, which glorified displays of military might and open challenging of enemies, which swore its members to fight honorably for king and crown. Yet she knew what must be done. She knew the old ways must die. She devised the new oath and the new training methods of the Order of the Far Knights. The new methods emphasized secrecy and sacrifice, with the ultimate goal of liberating the Conquered Kingdoms. She knew the days of riding forth clad in shining mail at the head of an army were over. She knew that the lot of the Far Knights henceforth would be to skulk in the shadows and strike as a guerilla force. And thus she kept the Order of the Far Knights in existence through the long, terrible night ahead.
"What man was the most influential member of the Far Knights? Some might disagree with me, but the most influential man in the history of the Far Knights was a woman, Petra Urbanus. Did she found the Order out of the sheer power of her stubbornness? No. Did she lead the Knights to some glorious victory? No. Did she heroically sacrifice herself so her name would live on in song? No. What she did was keep the Order alive in its darkest hour."
--Antinus Quintus, historian of Gurz-Goi (formerly the Far City)
Several notable heroes stand out in the very long history of the Far Knights. Depending on the criteria one used for selection, a tome could well be written listing all of the rank-and file Far Knights who distinguished themselves in battle. In the interest of space and time, this list will be kept to the notable heroic leaders of the Order.
Earliest of the notable heroes, of course, is Lucius Zeno, founder of the Knights. Each Knight Protector was quite a character in his own right, but few matched Zeno in sheer uniqueness. Stubborn, focused, disciplined, and uncompromising—most of all with himself—Zeno never met a person whom he was intimidated by. From the High King on the throne in the Far City, to the hardest centurion in the legions, to the most berserk barbarian chieftain in the wilds, Zeno never met someone who could stare him down or make him avert his gaze. One of the best horsemen who ever rode with the Knights, Zeno could hit a moving target the size of a man's thumb with his lance while mounted. Yet his real strength was his will. If he set his sights on achieving something, that thing got achieved. And his most important achievement was the founding of the Order itself.
The next notable Far Knight was Rothian Ganorus, the first full-fledged paladin who was a member of the Order. Interestingly, those who knew Ganorus describe him as very personable and flexible, the kind of commander men loved to serve under. His favored weapon was an axe, and he was formidable with it, but his men said that after every battle he would weep for those he slew. His one character flaw was his recklessness—not with the lives of his men, but with his own life. Instead of sending his Lieutenant Commander to the Deadlands at the behest of the mage Seldorius, he personally chose to go, and he never returned.
Another notable figure in the history of the Far Knights was Brutus Draco. Few who knew the man who have called him a hero. His name was appropriate, for he was both brutal and draconian, and he employed every method necessary to carry out the command of High King Gnaeus the Usurper, which was to whip the Far Knights back into fighting shape. Draco had no accomplishments on the battlefield, but it would be fair to say that the bellicose achievements of the Far Knights in the generations to come could be credited to him.
Knight Protector Lucius Severus, the last commander of the old Far Knights, was indisputably the mightiest warrior that the Order ever produced. He was a bit ineffective in terms of the everyday operations required of a leader, because he had no memory or stomach for small details like schedules and appropriation request; thus the actual running of the Order fell to his squire (and bed-mate). But when Severus stepped on the field of battle, men followed him. The morale of allies lifted and the morale of enemies plummeted as his spear, seemingly with a mind of its own, found weaknesses in opponent defenses and plunged unerringly into the hearts of Severus' foes. Enemy weapons never seemed to touch him. Severus almost single-handedly turned the tide of battle in the final assault on the Far City, but even his personal prowess wasn't enough.
The final significant hero in the history of the Far Knights is Petra Urbanus, the Order's savior. She served as Severus' squire, and those who knew the pair described them as deeply in love. Urbanus was Severus' opposite in many way. Detail-oriented where Severus was a dreamer, cautious in battle where he was bold, humble where he was proud, she proved to be the only person who could have kept the Order alive after the Dark Conquest. Previous Knight Protectors would have led one final doomed charge into the city, hoping to die a storied death, but Urbanus was wiser and more far-sighted. She knew the good that the Far Knights would do would come in tiny measures and over many years. She completely revamped the traditions of the Order, teaching her men un-knightly skills like stealth, ambush, and disguise. During her lifetime she refused to call herself Knight Protector and retained the title of Squire, but her own men called her "Squire Protector," and her successors would re-adopt the traditional title upon her death. The continued existence of the Order to this day is owed to Petra Urbanus, and of all leaders of the Order, she perhaps most deserved the designation of "Protector."
Becoming a Far Knight
"The ancient requirements were strict. The modern are stricter—by necessity, mind you. At least in the old days you could wear the badge of the Order openly, and men would honor you for it. Nowadays, it will get you killed. And I am fine with that. It is worth it.
--Sir Tanarius, Far Knight
In the initial centuries following the founding of the Order, becoming a Far Knight was rather difficult—the policies that Lucius Zeno put in place saw to that. Applicants had to come from noble stock, had to come with a reference, had to supply their own horse and arms, and still had to submit to an interview before the three Lieutenant Commanders of the Order. The Commanders required a show of skill in horsemanship and arms as part of the lengthy interview, and then they voted on the candidate. An applicant that received at least two votes would then be permitted to take the Oath of the Far Knights.
In the mid-centuries of the Order's existence, becoming a member of the Far Knights became much easier until finally the requirements became laughable. First the display of horsemanship and skill with arms was dropped, then the interview itself, then the reference requirement, until the only thing one needed to join was the money to pay the "application fee" that the Order started charging. This generally kept out those not of noble birth at first, but eventually the sons of rich merchants began using the Order as a mark on a "resume," to help them in their application for lordships.
Such was the state in which Brutus Draco found the Order, and within his tenure, he had fully restored the requirements to those instated by Zeno. Moreover, he required current members to fulfill the requirements or be enlisted as a foot soldier in the High King's legions, which proved to be a rude blow to the coddled children of the nobility and merchant class then making up the ranks of the Order. The re-established requirements implemented by Draco stayed in place until the fall of the old Order and the founding of the new Order by Urbanus.
The modern requirement to be a Far Knight involves proving that one worships the gods of light, a reference from a local priest of such gods (always a difficult prospect, since such worship is illegal in the Occupied Kingdoms, and the priests hide), and a demonstration of one's willingness to fight the dark forces, usually through a battle or strike against them. Only then will the Knight Protector permit an applicant to take the oath of the modern Far Knights, a commitment which is life-changing.
"Old Lucius Zeno would roll over in his grave if he saw the modern ceremony and heard the modern Oath. Well, too bad for Zeno. He never faced what we face.
--Petra Urbanus, Squire Protector
The original Oath of the Far Knights as established by Zeno was strict and focused not on chivalry but on order, discipline, and nation. Once one had been admitted into the Order, the future Far Knight would fast and pray for 24 hours. On the following dawn, the Knight Protector, in concert with a priest of Neltak, would recite the teachings of the Far Knights. It never varied and is recorded as:
Be loyal to the Great Kingdom, heir of Aelfar, and serve the Crown and the Order as best you may. Be not obsequious, nor fear ill talk concerning thy reputation. Seek not bodily pleasure nor fame. Instead, keep to thy resolve and thy discipline, fearing only to fail to serve honor and nation. Go forth bravely to battle, shirk no foe, and fall if thou must, knowing that in death thou servest thy Kingdom and thy gods.
The Order of the Far Knights is to promote faith in the gods of light and order, and to do the bidding of the Knight Protector and the High King, protecting all who keep to these ideals and who swear allegiance to the Kingdom of Farland.
The applicant then swore the following oath:
I hereby swear on all gods save one that I shall faithfully execute the orders of the Crown and my lawful Commanders, keeping faith, honor, and discipline, even unto death. I hereby renounce other ties save those of nation, gods, and honor, vowing to faithfully serve my Order, or may I die ignominiously and my name be forgotten.
After the Oath, the Knight Protector offered his sword for the applicant to kiss, whereupon he or she officially became a Far Knight. In the time of Zeno and the few centuries that followed, this ceremony was conducted without pomp and was not followed by a feast or any celebration of note. It was viewed as a solemn occasion.
The ceremony, teachings, and Oath stayed much the same throughout the history of the old Far Knights, except that the priest officiating changed based on the current faith favored by the High King and the Knight Protector. In the time of Ganorus, a priest of Heshtail officiated, and later priests of Reeanan, Kantor, Aknor, and Janora oversaw the ceremony at various points.
During the middle period of their history, when the Order became lax, the ceremony also grew much more relaxed and often became an occasion for parties and feasts. Eventually the applicants began to forego the fast and prayer until many of them undertook the Oath while drunk. When he came to power, Draco put a stop to that quickly, restoring the ceremony to its original nature under Zeno. It stayed this way until the end of the old Order.
Under Urbanus, the ceremony and Oath changed drastically, as did the entirety of the customs of the Order. She retained the requirements of a full day of fasting and prayer, but the ceremony is now held in secret with only the Knight Protector (or Squire Protector, during the life of Urbanus herself) officiating. The teachings are now:
The ancient Kingdom is fallen. The old Order is no more. But neither shall die until the last of the faithful, those who remember, draw their final breath. Let not that happen. Stay in the shadows. Reveal not thyself until the time be ripe. Strike, then retreat. Fear no creature of darkness but throw not thy life away cheaply. Die if thou must, but die for the old Kingdom, that it may rise again.
The Order of the Far Knights is to seek liberation of those who live under the yoke of Sin, who are prostrate to the icy boot of the Wintervale. We obey our Commanders, obey our gods, and keep the ancient faith for the day that the Crown passes back to a High King who rightfully deserves it.
The modern applicant now swears the following oath:
I hereby swear on all gods save one that I shall seek to free those who live in unlawful and evil bondage. Slavery takes many forms, and I swear to unshackle the populace. I shall be a beacon of hope to those who have none, and by my words and deeds, I shall lead the people out of their spiritual and physical darkness into a new light of freedom. I swear to follow the gods that defy Darkness. I further swear to seek the liberation of Farland and all the Conquered Kingdoms, or I shall die trying to achieve it.
Ancient Customs and Current State
"Ride? Aye, I can ride. Handle a lance too. But I never do. What call to ride forth on horseback in the modern day? Safer and more effective to pull up the hood on your cloak, strike in the back, and fade away.
--Uilia Puchus, Far Knight
The customs of the early Far Knight were heavily influenced by their origin as the cavalry regiment of the Ninth Legion. Except for the officers, the rank-and-file Knights lived in barracks, attended chapel, and trained together. They followed a leave schedule typical to the centurions of the Kingdom's legions, visiting their families or friends on religious holidays as well as several weeks when their commanders allowed it. Unlike most of the soldiers of the Kingdom, the Far Knights' commitment was for life, so in large effect they lived like monks. They did hold ceremonies that involved displays of horsemanship and arms, although they had no jousting tradition.
Combat among the ancient Far Knights was conducted almost entirely from horseback, for essentially the Far Knights were a force of heavy cavalry. So great was their horsemanship, though, that they retained the maneuverability of light cavalry. They would ride forth on the battlefield, led by the Knight Protector, the thunder of their horse's hooves and the power of their charge striking fear into the enemy forces. The squires of the officers maintained a highly detailed system of flags used to convey orders to all the mounted Far Knights, a system that was so efficient that the entire force could charge, wheel 360 degrees, urge their warhorses to the flanks of the enemy army, charge and strike, wheel to the rear, charge and strike, retreat to their own lines, and do it all again. Few cavalry in the history of the continent ever matched the combat discipline of the ancient Order.
During their middle period, all members of the Far Knights lived with their families, save for a 40-day required period of "military service," which generally involved parades and parties. Of course, Knight Protector Draco brought this practice to a screeching halt, and great was the consternation among the Far Knights, who found themselves suddenly required to live in a barracks for the rest of their lives, or join as a lowly soldier in the western legions for a 20-year stint. After Draco, the Order eventually was able to achieve the discipline and combat effectiveness of the ancient Knights.
Under Squire Protector Urbanus, the Order of the Far Knights became more focused on the religion of the gods of light. The Knights also once again began living as civilians, but this time out of necessity. Membership in the Order being highly secret, the Far Knights now only serve when they receive the secret command from their officers to muster (though they regularly train). Of course, the Knights no longer fight in the capacity of cavalry. Each knight is a skilled horseman still, but now they fight as light infantry, often scantily armored, now favoring swords, bows, and axes instead of long spears and lances. Yet their fabled discipline is the same. At a shouted command, the entire force charges, strikes, melts into the knight, appear on a flank, charges, surgically removes an oluk or hobgoblin leader, and then disappears into the terrain, not to be seen again until their next attack. The knights bear shields and employ shield walls when necessary, but often they leave their shields at the rendezvous point and recover them upon retreat, depending on the necessity of the mission. They bear their dead with them from the battlefield, but on the rare occasion when a knight's body is not able to be recovered, the remaining Far Knights immediately remove his family and associates to safe houses so they cannot be tortured into revealing the identities of other Knights. So far this tactic, while touch-and-go, has been remarkably effective. While their numbers are few, the Lord of Wrath would love dearly to see the Far Knights finally destroyed... and their destruction is constantly on the horizon. They are well aware of this fact. Such is the state of the modern Far Knights.