The imperial nobility
Empire of the Covenant Politics The imperial nobility
Table of Contents
To be a noble in the Empire of the Covenant means to be powerful and to be recognised by everyone else as such. The nobility is divided between high and low nobility. The high nobility is made of the lords and ladies ruling the federal Estates that make up the empire and of the members of their Houses. The low nobility is made up of the previous members of the high nobility that have lost control of their Estate. Nothing prevents anyone from becoming a lord or lady in their own right by wrenching control of an Estate from its previous owner...
If you want to read more about Lady Merisse's story, you can go here:
Everywhere in the world, all lands above saltwater level is sentient and magical. It is, however, not a global consciousness but divided in small pockets of individual sentience, each referred to as a Land. Those Lands form something similar to invisible domes of magic pressing against each other without leaving any empty space. Lands have gained their consciousness and peculiar magic through generations of the same powerful families living over them, bleeding over them, and even dying over them. Indeed, after the death of individuals, part of their magic—and through it their sentience—is left behind and settle into the Land. Those all then join together to form a particular entity. The sentience of the Land is rather limited. It is more of an instinct than a very defined personality, as not a lot of a person is left after their death. This sentience is also diffuse all over the Land and not located in specific place. Picking up a bit of soil from the ground is not going to impact it in any way.
Oriane Merisse carefully lifted a hand through the invisible barrier that marked the border of the Ratesse Estate, and she pressed it against the soil. She sent a probe of raw power down the ground, like an invisible magical tentacle. The Land barely reacted to her presence, and she could not even feel that much magic there to begin with. As the report had indicated, Lord Ratesse had been neglecting his duties of feeding it, leaving it weak and ripe for the picking. Excellent.
The lords and ladiesLinks can be established with the Land to exploit its magic. Lords and ladies are individuals who have created which a link with a Land, resulting in the creation of an Estate over which they rule. This link with the Land is truly a symbiotic relationship, with the ruler expected to take care of the Land and feed it with magic. In exchange, they receive both a mental link with the Land and a boost of power.
Mental linkThe mental connection works with the Land sending impressions to its bonded partner. Those express themselves as sudden foreign feelings in their mind, mental pushes in one direction or another, or a feeling of confidence or hesitation towards certain decisions. In addition, the link tells the ruler when the Land itself is strong or weak. Indeed, the magic and of the Land can become depleted if its ruler calls too much of it, or if too much food or crafting materials is harvested from it. In such cases, it is the duty of the ruler to take care of it and provided it with more magic. This is normally done during the yearly religious rituals of the solstice and equinox, but can also be done though small daily sacrifices of a small amount of blood by all inhabitants of the Estate. Numerous people dying in an accident or a battlefield are also an excellent meal for the Land, and some rulers are not especially scrupulous in the means they use to feed it…
Magical powerThe magical boost received by the ruler depends on how powerful the Land is and how well fed it has been. However, it can easily double the amount of magic they have at their disposal, as well as give them an increased awareness of everything going on in their Estate, which improves their reaction times and is also ideal for spying on their subjects. The Land is normally in a dormant state. It is awakened during special rituals such as solstice and equinox rituals, but also when its ruler is in danger and their blood is shed. In such case, the Land can act with a certain autonomy and push their ruler's magic to attacks their enemies.
Political powerBecause of their link to the Land, lords and ladies are all powerful in their Estate. Nobody can oppose them and how much political power they afford their subjects is really up to their own personal preferences. Since the foundation of the empire, lords and ladies gather monthly in the senate to take political decisions. However, the empire is federal and the government as very little power to impose decision upon individual Estates. It would simply require way too much force to subjugate a lord or lady in their own Estate and force them to comply. Despite all the advantages obtained from this link, the rulers are not all powerful. Indeed, lords and ladies having an advantage when fighting inside the boundaries of their own Land, but they are not invulnerable…
Oriane Merisse lifted her chin as she gazed down at the ragtag group of men she had gathered. "We might look far from impressive, my friend, but we have no one to impress today. Society has been unfair to us, has kept us subjugated, living in squalid conditions with our families while all the crafters and nobles lay in opulence just a few metres for us. Well, no more! Today we are going to the Ratesse Estate to seize our rightful place in society! Lead me to the Ratesse lord, and I will take care of the rest."
The rules of inheritance
Choice of the heirInheritance of an Estate tends to stay in the same families. This is because, while everyone dying in an Estate leaves behind a trace of their magic while they die, not all magic is equal. Indeed, weak individuals will have their magic attached to specific houses or small plot of lands, while powerful individuals such as members of the ruling houses will fully join the Land's magic over the whole Estate. Lords and ladies in particular will leave more magic thanks to their direct link with the Land. This means that they are going to have a stronger influence on the Land's sentience, and that the Land will of course more benevolent towards the members of particular Houses that have ruled over them before. Thus, it is easier to claim an Estate when one is a member of some of those Houses, or at best, a member of a family who has long lived in the Estate. Foreigners will always have the most difficulties claiming an Estate, and when one does so, the whole empire takes note. As all members of the ruling family of an Estate have some weak link with their Land, inheritance of the Estate is traditionally done through one of them. More commonly, the most powerful and apt member of the family is officially named heir. This person is often one of the direct children of the current ruler, but it can also easily be a distant cousin.
Being named heir gives the individual time to gain the respect of the other family members so that when the lord or lady dies, everyone will accept the heir as the successor and will recognise their authority. To be named heir, a person has to go through a specific heirship ritual that will reinforce their link with the Land. The ritual itself starts with the lord or lady awakening the Land and gathering its attention. The would-be heirs shedding their blood into the soil of the Estate so that it is absorbed by the Land. The lord or lady then use this small sacrifice to establish a magical link between the heir and the Land. This links is stronger than what a family member would usually have, but it stays subordinated to the link the lord or lady themselves have. The existence of an heirship link makes it easier for the heir to claim the title from their lord or lady if they grow a little bit too impatient. However, in most circumstances, they will wait for the death of their lord or lady. At the moment of the death, their link with the Land will snap onto the heir. The heirship link then serves as a base that is reinforced until a fully fledge bond is formed, thus making them the new lord or lady. If other family members, inhabitants of the Estate or even anyone else disapprove of the new lord or lady, the transference of the inheritance present a moment of weakness that can be easily exploitable as the link with the Land may take a few days to fully stabilise. During this time, all advantages from the Land's protections are not there yet and this makes it easier than to steal the Estate at other times.
They entered the Ratesse Estate and hit quick and hard against all guards they met on their way. Their path was barely impeded before they reach the capital and the lord's manor. It seemed that luck was on their side and that whatever party was going on there, the lord was far too drunk out of his mind to realise what was happening. Unfortunately, this was not bound to last, for as soon as they neutralised the guards in front of the manor and set foot inside the gate, a group of a dozen men and women rushed out of the door. The Ratesse family had finally felt the disturbance in the Land's magic...***Oriane Marisse threw herself to the side to avoid the combined attack of three of the Ratesse men. Their ancestors cursed them all! They had certainly not been as powerful or skilled during the skirmished she had spied outside of the Estate. That was the Land's action for sure, and now that it was awakened, it was sure to fight her to the fullest when she would state her claim. They had to end this quickly before others had time to react. Even without the support of the Land, the master crafters would easily drown them under their number. She gathered all of her magic inside her left palm, ready to push it into the craft she was holding. A few more seconds and all of her opponents were perfectly aligned. She unleashed her magic. A powerful sound wave boomed in a semicircle around her, throwing everything and everyone in the air. Not one of the men rose up after that. She turned back against the group of 6 that was left behind her and gave them a smile. They all whitened and stepped back, yet still too confident to fully run away. No matter. She would make a quick work of them too.
Claiming an Estate
LocationWhoever chose to attempt to claim an Estate, whether several individuals attempt to do so at the same time, or even whether they do so after or before the death of the previous ruler, everyone has to go through the same process. The candidate needs to find "the" place of power inside the Estate and bleed heavily onto the Land there. This place of power is not truly unique, but it is a location where the link with the Land is stronger, mostly through many solstices and equinox rituals and birth and death rituals being carried there. The fountain attached to the ruler's manor is a popular place for this. Using such locations is not strictly necessary, but it will make a difficult process easier. Other good locations for connecting with the Land are places where many people shed lots of blood or died, as this results in a heightened awareness of the Land there.
Ritual and judgement
Bleeding over the Land is done so as to create a direct link between the candidate's magic and the Land. This will connect the candidate's mind and the Land's sentience together and start what is colloquially called the Judgement. The Land will decide if the candidate is to their taste according to the values imbued in all of the magic that it has absorbed over time. In order to go through this process and survive it, enormous amounts of magic are required so as to establish the connection and maintain it long enough. If the Land's judgement is positive, its magic and that of the candidate will intermingle, forming the connection that determines that one is a lord or lady. Nothing else is required to make the new title official, although it is customary to immediately make an announcement to the inhabitants of the Estate, the neighbouring lords and ladies, and the imperial senate.
If the judgment is negative, the candidate can attempt to force their will over the Land and create a link anyway. The amount of power necessary for this is truly enormous and few throughout the empire could pretend to be able to do this. Most foreigners attempting to claim the Land would have to, which is why they are so feared and respected. The Land disapproving of their ruler will have some consequences for their rule, but because of the link, it cannot truly attack its new bonded ruler outright. It would primarily manifest as an omnipresent feeling of doom in the new ruler's mind. In addition, the Land can also interfere with every magic the ruler is doing in their Estate, make accidents occur with for example the root of a tree moving to just the right place to make them slip... Those are all minor things, but they would happen all the times through the day every day without breaks. This would make the ruler feel extremely unwelcome, drive them to insomnia and paranoia, and might even contribute to them making a mistake at a crucial moment in a battle. If the candidate chose not to contest a negative judgement, they will be able to step back and separate their magic from the Land without damage. The path will then be freed for anyone else to attempt to make a claim.
Consequences for EstatesEstates rarely stay unclaimed for long, although they are exception like in the case of the Estate of Alyssenne or the Estate of Lyrienne, which have both stayed unclaimed for decades while waiting for the return of the heirs of the respective family. Such a thing was only possible because of the extremely high respect in which both Houses are held by the whole of the empire. Despite what some lords or ladies might wish, it is impossible to claim enormous amount of Land. Indeed, each piece of land that is claimed by someone drain some magic from them continuously. This amount is normally small, but it can make a big difference in a battle to defend their Estate. Because of this – and of the rude competition between all lords and ladies, most of the over 600 Estates of the empire are indeed very small and consist of a main town and the countryside surrounding it. Large Estates do exist, but they are the exception, and their rulers are highly respected by the rest of the empire.
All obstacles out of her way, Oriane Merisse hurried towards the back of the manor, where she had been told the ceremonial fountain was located. The Ratesses were traditionalists, the place where they reached to their Land was bound to be there. She arrived there, a few of her own men left at her heals. As soon as she set foot on the soil surrounding the fountain, she froze in her stride. A gigantic entity seemed to have turned its eye upon her, and the weight of its presence was bearing on her, crushing her for daring to think herself good enough to step a foot in its presence. She did not bother fighting the blow and let herself fall to her knees and bow her head towards the ground. However, her ritual knife was already in her hand, and it was not trouble slicing her wrist on the way down. Her blood flew out of her body onto the soil where it was immediately absorbed. Her mind expanded and she was lost in a sea of power. The Land. Linked as she was to it by the magic in her blood, there was nothing to muffle the all-encompassing disapproval and hostility that surrounded her from all sides. She was lost in an ocean of hatred, not even aware of her body anymore. All stories said people usually survived unsuccessful claims—provided they did not bleed out—but she found it hard to believe that Land would allow her to walk away. It was clear she had no chance of ever gaining the Land approval. No matter. She had no intention of asking. She gathered her will and all of the magic she had left around her and prepared herself for the assault.
The low nobility
If a ruling family is ousted from their Estate, they officially become a member of the low nobility—on the conditions that anyone actually survives the process. Indeed, members of such families will keep a weak link with the Land, which makes them a threat to the new ruler. For this reason, most new ruler will attempt to kill them all during the conquest. If some escape or the new ruler is generous, the family will be forced to emigrate to a new Estate. Even several generations later, they will only ever be allowed to return to their previous Estate with the current ruler's permission—and they would immediately know if they were to set foot onto the Estate. The rest of the empire will remember the name of those Houses and will afford them some measure of respect from their past glory with the name of minor nobility. In addition, powerful and ancient Houses have also been traditionally recognised as members of the low nobility despite never having ruled an Estate in their own name. This is the case of Nolanes for example, who served the House of Alyssenne for more than a millennium. By this title, they are recognised as being at the same level of power and prestige as other noble Houses. In practice, few Houses have received this honour since there is no official process or rules for this to occur, only a kind of consensus forming over time among all local lords and ladies.
As the lady of the Estate, Oriane Merisse could now easily feel all of her new subjects stand over her Land, breathing its air and magic as they went through their life. Many had frozen as she had taken over the Estate, tremors of disquiet warning them of what had happened, yet many more had not been stirred from their sleep at all. All weak and nearly magicless. People she should have never been associated with. But no matter. The correct natural order had been re-established now. A flicker caught her attention. Some individuals attempting to call the Land's magic to their help near her borders. Her lips curled and she reached through the Land's consciousness to slap its magic at them. She was a generous lady. But they had better come to their sense soon and realise she would not tolerate any Ratesse into the Merisse Estate, for at dawn she would unleash her hounds...
If you want to read more about Lady Merisse's story, you can go here:
Dr Emily Vair-Turnbull
'Nothing prevents anyone from becoming a lord or lady in their own right by wrenching control of an Estate from its previous owner... ' Dun dun duuuuun. As is shown in the quotes, I guess. I love the connection the nobility have with the land, and the way the land can reject claims. That's such a cool concept. :)
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
That relationship with the Land was really my starting point for this world :D That and the idea that with big power differences, there would be really very little that could prevent someone powerful to do everything they wanted :p
M H Biscup
Once again the story really brings this to life. I love this concept.
Necromancy is a Wholesome Science.
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
Thanks, I'm glad you like the story :D
I wondered about the Land feeding on the magic and the blood of those who have a connection to it. Does that mean, that when attacking the Estate, one should try to avoid spilling the blood of their enemies, to not strengthen the Land before claiming it? Or would this effect be small compared to the years of rituals in "the" place of power? One more thing. What makes one place of Land suitable for being an Estate? Is it a unique source of magic, or would any region do, so long as it would gain more power and sentience through tradition and rituals?
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
Spilling the blood of the people in the Estate would indeed only have a small effect compared to what happened during rituals. The only difference is with the lord or lady, as their blood jolt "awake" the Land and make it focus on the current enemies, which is not a good thing for them :p Any piece of land anywhere in the world can gain enough magic to become bounded with people and becomes an Estate. In my empire, every single piece of land has been claimed by someone with the exception of pieces like the Orage Mountains that are just too dangerous.
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
And thanks fort he comment Ang :D
Say, are noble fighting each other to take over their lands or is that considered rude and out of place? And how does it look concerning factions, i.e., inner fight within Light or Dark or fights between neighbouring Estates? And perhaps a more meta-question. Some Estates are more ancient than others, I presume. Or they have been fed with blood/magic for longer/more intensely. Magic awakens consciousness. Are the neighbouring Lands communicating with each other? And if so, how does that relation influence the relations between the Lords/Ladies of those neighbouring Estates?
You're welcome. :D These articles are fun, so it's fun for me as well.
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
Everyone is fighting each other to take their Estates XD Dark Estates tends to be allied together and Light ones together, but locally not everyone is playing nice. The Light and Dark factions are applied more in the senate than locally. They have lots of alliance in place to help between neighbours. And any random person not belonging to the nobility can also come along and attempt to take an Estate like Lady Merisse has done. The Light faction is now trying to say that society is changing and people are above conquering Estate but that's not really true... Regarding the Land's consciousness, that identity is really linked to the ancestors of the ruling family, so they tend to play nice with their heir that is currently in power. Most of the time the Land is dozing and not completely aware of the minutiae of everything that happens in the Estate. It is awakened during special rituals or if the members of the ruling family gets hurt and spills blood. During those seasonal rituals, it is also tradition for the rulers to ask the Land for advice about some stuff. However the Land will not directly interact with other people or other Lands.
I really love how the nobility is connected to the Land and how the Land develops a consciousness over time. The story you are telling during this article really ties it all together perfectly. Great job! It's also kinda scary that anyone could walk into the estate and claim the land, at least if they are powerful enough. Is there anything that limits how much land an individual can claim, or could someone just 'conquer' one estate after another if they wanted to?
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
Thanks for your comment :D Most ruler would want to expand their Estate if they could, and they are certainly trying :p However, there is a limit, as holding a Land drains a little bit of magic on a ruler depending on its size, and so this weakens them during battles. And also, like in real life, the bigger a country you have, the more difficult it is to rule it and defend it. I've added that bit in the article, thanks for the question!
There's a lot here I find very intriguing and definitely want to know more about. There's so much fun potential here for all kinds of worldbuilding and shenanigans, I can't wait to see more :D Here's some feedback/questions 1. I would suggest starting with the supernatural aspects of nobility, since that (to me) is what sets them apart and makes them more interesting. The link with the Land stuff. 2. The low nobility sound fun too, and adding a bit more to this could be fun. Rogue, ronin, vagabond knights! 3. I like the sound of being able to wrench control away to become nobility, but could be fun to add some more spice to that part; something to whet the bloodlust or scheming :D 4. Under 'Who Are...' some more explanation about how that link works could be nice. The start feels a little sudden, and a little split between what the link does for them and the land magic boost. There's also not talk about the political aspect of it, which is something I would also expect here - maybe splitting things up a little more and tightening up the flow of information could help 5. Some scale of what an 'enormous magic boost' looks like could be cool! Can a single-person fireball spell be boosted up to set fire to a regiment, or..? 6. Some of this info is kind split betwen Who Are, and The Land sections, but could be expanded on if you wanted to. What makes a land strong or weak? What are those religious rituals? What's it like to get that impressions from the land? :) 7. I'd also consider some restructuring; I would put the Land header above Inheritance, perhaps, and maybe claiming an Estate before Inheritance. Right now, we kinda learn about how the link is inherited before we learn how it acquired at all. :) 8. "Often one of the direct children of the current ruler but not always." I'm not quite what this sentence is trying to say :O 9. What is the ritual? Does it have a name, is it the same for every estate? Is it the same for light/dark estates? 10. What if an entire family dies without a heir being named? Can the link to the land be permanently lost? 11. I really like the opening paragraph under the link header, but it raises some questions. What about battlefields? Graveyards? Especially for places that are out of the way, or not part of an established estate. What determines the bounderies of a 'Land' zone? :) 12. Also, definitely want to know more about that 'global sentience'! 13. You mention the Land making a decision of if it wants to accept a claimant or not; how much of a personality does the land have? What other ways does this express itself in the crops, plants, waters, etc? :) 14. Can you establish a Estate/Land link with a patch of ocean? Awesome detailed stuff as always :D
Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
Article revised! Thanks again for all of your questions :D I think I managed to answer almost all of them in the new version! Only thing I didn't change is the low nobility as I'm not sure yet if I want to do something more specific with them... I'll see later if the inspiration track while I'm writing the other novels...
I absolutely loved your article. The idea of the noble families are connected to their lands is very interesting. I have a few questions: Do the Lands want to expand their territory, and eat at each other's borders? Can it manipulate the Lord/Lady to do something against their will? If the Land doesn't like someone who forces the link and have no ancestor connection to the land, can it try to fight the link?
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
Thanks for your comment :D I've revised the article with the comments and questions everyone left, so I think now the answer should be in the article. TLDR is that the Land does not have a very strong personality, it is more an instinct than anything else. What it can do against a ruler it doesn't like is very limited to small things like moving a tree root to make them trip and make them feel an intense feeling of doom. The Lands do not communicate with each other, but they can expand and swallow up bits of neighbour Land when the border of an Estate are changed. However this all depends on the rulers and them doing specific rituals to allow for that.