Sylvan Guard

Road warriors

I'm embarrassed to admit that, when we departed, I thought the journey would be swift - and relatively easy. But the reality is: If the Sylvans hadn't found us, we'd all be dead right now.
Nicorus Barslin, Tumpian bard, 3290 AoG
T
he Sylvan Guard is a quasi-military chivalric order that exists primarily to ensure the safety of travelers over Excilior's wild and dangerous roads. The Guard exists, in one format or another, nearly anywhere there are roads. As such, its members come from all countries and ethnic backgrounds. It is thought of as a single "order" and its members refer to each other as "brothers (or sisters) of the Guard". But it hasn't had a single, unified organizational structure for millennia. Nearly all Sylvan Guards consider tyrans to be an affront to their honor and an abomination of justice - and will usually attack them on sight.

Structure

G
uard command structures vary wildly based on region, surrounding culture, and time period. Given that the order was founded in Hineia primarily for the purpose of protecting the Gotten Road, the group's cohesion in eastern- and southern-Islegantuan is stronger than on other continents, or in other regions of Islegantuan. But even in this "heartland" of Sylvan history, modern attempts at formal organizational structures are limited (at best) because the Sylvans are known to contain a great many individual "lone wolves" - men and women who patrol the trails under the moniker of the Sylvans, while still operating in an entirely independent fashion.

Public Agenda

T
he Sylvans have been associated with numerous public agendas over their many centuries of existence. At times, their cause (and their manpower) has been appropriated for objectives that seemingly had nothing to do with Sylvan ideals. But the single, universally-acknowledged objective of all Sylvans is to serve as an altruistic aid to any-and-all travelers who find themselves in need of assistance - theoretically, on any road at any time. This aid is often as simple as providing directions to the lost, or advice on the best route. It includes administering first aid for those who have been harmed or are in poor health. Sylvans sometimes help travelers to hunt or scavenge for food to keep them vital and mobile on their journey (especially when the travelers are in unfamiliar lands).
 
Deadly Deputies
Their most tangible assistance is when they come to the aid of travelers to literally protect them from assault and drive away any would-be attackers. The mere presence of a Sylvan is usually enough to keep any lurking ambushers at bay. Knowing that Sylvans will gladly fight - to the death - anyone attacking or threatening a traveler, rogues and bandits tend to steer clear of any encounter that would risk the attention of the Guard. Of course, this doesn't mean that bandits no longer target travelers at all. It simply means that they are more careful to choose the time and the place of their attacks, doing everything in their power to avoid direct conflict with the Guard.

Assets

I
ndividual Sylvans typically have few possessions other than that which is directly on their person. For reasons of pure survival, they put great value upon their bows, blades, longboots, and other small tools of wilderness proficiency. But they usually have few items that can't easily be carried with them. Some have small homes that qualify more as "shelters" or "huts", often perched high in the trees themselves - but others maintain no permanent homestead, preferring to live exclusively off the land. The Guard also enjoys a close, long-standing relationship with the cognoscenti. When they have valuables they'd like to store away for safekeeping, it's not unusual for them to be kept under cognoscenti care in klysters.
 
Sylvan Halls
While individual Sylvans may own little, this is not always true for the order as a whole, or for regional chapters. Many larger cities have a Sylvan Hall. These are lodges where their nomadic members can find temporary lodging and meals, and can exchange information with colleagues. These facilities are usually spacious and well-maintained, yet functional and unassuming. Sylvan Halls are rarely open to the public and non-Sylvans are either forbidden or may only enter when accompanied by a member.
The food in the Sylvan inns is unappetizing. The beds are lumpy. The linens are scratchy. The company is sketchy. But at the end of a long day's walk, there is nothing dearer to my eye.
Dinorius Fergus, Masalian scale inspector, 2444 AoR
Roadside Inns
In some regions, the concept of a Sylvan Hall has been downsized and commercialized via the maintenance of roadside inns that are owned by the order and staffed by older Sylvans who no longer patrol the roads. These inns are typically outside any metropolitan area, situated on major thoroughfares, and open to the public as (modest) commercial ventures. Although Sylvan patronage is common in these facilities, they are completely open to anyone who can pay for a bed, a meal, or a flagon. However, the profit potential of these inns is often limited by the tendency of the Sylvan innkeepers to give deep discounts to travelers in the greatest need.
 
Klysters
The Guards' close relationship with the cognoscenti sometimes spawns conspiracy theories and folktales of great Sylvan riches stored away deep within klyster vaults. While there has never been much evidence to support these claims, the tales' persistence has caused problems for both groups from time-to-time. Covetous arbyr chiefs, merchants, and even monarchs have made sporadic attempts to force inspection of klyster grounds, presumably to seize any illicit (read: untaxed) funds for the "greater public good". Whenever these fishing expeditions have been carried all the way out to a full klyster raid, the resulting loot has never come anywhere close to matching the sums described in the fanciful public imagination.

Territories

S
ylvans have always been most prevalent in regions of forests, muddwoods, and river basins. As a practical matter, this means they are prevalent over nearly all of Excilior's landmasses. But there are areas where their presence is scarce. On the Wansian passes of the Hammerhorn Mountains, on the high evergreen forests of the Leung Peninsula, on the broad savannahs of the Twinight Range and the Shred Steppe, and the open spaces of the Boundless Plain and the Stoneyards, travelers are far less likely to encounter the Sylvan Guard. This does not mean that there are no Sylvan Guards anywhere in the area. But in these regions, the Sylvans are definitely far more spread out. Their "organization" is more ad hoc. And those who identify as Sylvans in these areas are much more likely to be operating in a nearly autonomous fashion.

Military

S
ylvans have never constituted a formal military unit. Nearly all are armed - most frequently, with longbows and ebny shortblades. In most jurisdictions, they have the authority (both tacit, and legal) to use lethal force when necessary. But they have never gone into battle as representatives of the Guard. They do not drill. They have nothing that military veterans would recognize as a true command structure. And although they encounter each other frequently on the road, or in shared spaces like Sylvan Halls, most of their activities are done alone or only in the presence of those they are sworn to protect. When they are forced to engage in combat, it is never against military units and it is never to achieve tactical wartime objectives. Their use of lethal force is only leveraged to strike down those who are actively attacking travelers - or to kill tyrans on the spot (even if this particular tyran is doing nothing to attack any travelers at this particular point in time).
And the darkness of that day seemed like an omen of our demise, for a hail of bolts loosed upon us so numerous that they shrouded Syrus's rays. But all was not lost! For the Great Sylvan Baraqiel was perched in the arbyr above. And he shot every missile from the sky before any could deign to harm us.
The Sylvan Chronicles, 1989 AoE
Legends
Nevertheless, the armed nature of the order, coupled with verifiable accounts of their fighting prowess, leads many casterways to view them in a military light. Although no one ever imagines the Sylvans "marching off to war", their proficiency in boot-to-boot engagements means that the public often envisions them more like knights or paladins. This also gives rise to all manner of exaggerated tales about their supposed abilities. Some of those claims focus on their proficiency with longbows. Many people have been saved in casterway folktales due to the otherworldly accuracy of legendary Sylvans. Similarly, many view the Sylvans' skill in boot-to-boot combat as a given. To those ensconced in the tales, the superiority and deadliness of the Sylvans, with their iconic ebny shortblades whirring around them, is unquestionable. For fans of the martial arts, Sylvans hold a mythical status as masters of ancient (and even, forgotten) techniques and this advantage makes them nearly unbeatable when plying their trade amongst the vast stretches of Excilior's roads.
 
Archery
The truth is far more subtle (and far less impressive). They are universally acknowledged to be skilled with the longbow. But that's because they use it almost daily. While the "average" Sylvan would probably qualify under most metrics as a marksman, there's no reason to believe that their accuracy is any greater than that of highly-trained archers who are not Sylvans. But there's little doubt that a Sylvan's arrow may carry a greater shock value, because when it arrives, it's often delivered from a distant point in the canopy from which no one knew they were being watched. And the very boring truth of Sylvan arrows is that most of them are never loosed toward an enemy of any kind. Sylvans use their longbows most frequently for hunting to feed themselves and those they are shepherding on the trails.   With regard to other weapons (particularly, the dual ebny shortblades that so many of them keep by their side), there's no empirical reason to believe that the "average" Sylvan is any more lethal than their "average" opponent. In fact, the cognoscenti have numerous verified accounts of Sylvans, slain in the line of duty, in the midst of boot-to-boot combat, by opponents who simply bested them. Sadly, many of these opponents have been confirmed tyrans.
 
Home Field Advantage
There is little doubt that the typical Sylvan does enjoy at least some advantage in martial matters. But this isn't due to any preternatural abilities on their part. It is far more attributable to the environment. In other words, if a Sylvan feels the need to use lethal force, they're essentially doing it on their chosen ground. They know the roads, and forests, and muddwoods intimately. Everything about the environment is etched into their brain. So fighting a Sylvan, on-or-near the road, is essentially like playing a sports match, against a solid opponent, in their home stadium. All that being said, there certainly are examples throughout history of Sylvans who earned and deserved their reputations as deadly fighters. But there's no reason to believe that someone is particularly adept at combat merely because they are a Sylvan.

Religion

T
he Sylvan Guard is not a religious order and it has no explicit religious affiliation. But over time, and through the convergence of several natural affinities, the Guard has come to be associated, to some degree, with the Wanders of Maenar. This correlation is somewhat natural, because the Wanders are most prevalent in rural forested regions and the roads that are patrolled by the Guard often traverse those same lands. The association became more explicit after the Sylvans of the Gotten Road lost their financial backing from Hineia in 1470 AoE, three years after the 6th Trial of Syrus. The Wanders of Maenar stepped in to fill the void and they maintained a direct financial relationship with the Sylvans for nearly a thousand years. Although it has been almost 1,500 years since the church provided direct financial assistance to the Guard, they have remained linked in the public imagination.
You can have your so-called protectors. I've seen what they do, with my own eyes. They drag the unsuspecting to the headwaters - and they sacrifice those poor souls to their river/demon/god thing.
Junius Jor, Klasisian saltfoot, 2560 AoR
Wanders of Maenar
Just as the Sylvans have a dark twin - the tyrans - their connection with the Wanders also brings some unsavory connections. The more-radical sects of the Wanders that are known to commit human sacrifice are sometimes in league with the tyrans. Although there is no evidence to support the notion that true Sylvans have ever practiced human sacrifice or condoned it on any level, the simple fact is that most civilians cannot distinguish between a Sylvan and a tyran. So with at least some past tyrans having participated directly in such dark rituals, it's inevitable that some of this devious reputation has stained the Sylvan Guard.

Trade & Transport

A
lthough the Sylvans are not a "trade organization" in any sense of the term, their ubiquitousness over all major roads contributes to them occasionally being leveraged for commerce and information. Individual Sylvans can sometimes be contracted to carry small packages. They often do double-duty as couriers and messengers. Contracting with a Sylvan always carries the caveat that they will protect travelers first, and deliver your package/message second. But the act of protecting drifters often requires them to travel alongside those drifters. So as long as they're making the journey anyway, it's often viable for them to carry information, or a modest load, at the same time.
 
Armed Escorts
Some Sylvans have been known to offer their services to guard a specific person or shipment as it makes its way over land. But while this may seem like a natural way to leverage their talents, it's typically frowned upon by other members of the order. It's seen as a borderline-violation of the Guard's tenets because it has the potential to create dire conflicts of interest. A Sylvan is not supposed to ignore the needs of one traveler merely because another has paid a handsome fee for protection. Also, if someone is being hired as a member of the Sylvan Guard, then the payment is supposed to accrue to the Sylvan Guard and not to a single individual. But of course, in practice, this rarely happens. Although it's generally acknowledged that most Sylvans have accepted such financial arrangements from time-to-time, they could be disciplined - or even, expelled - from the order if they make this a regular occurrence.
 
Fallen Guards
For this reason, some of the most proficient armed escorts (of people or goods) are those who have made the conscious decision to formally renounce their membership as a Sylvan Guard. Such people generally maintain at least some of their status and respect amongst their former Sylvan brethren, as long as they no longer present themselves as active members of the order. Having officially distanced themselves from their formal associations with the Guard, most Sylvans can at least respect the fact that the former member "properly" resigned, rather than trying to have it both ways by serving the Sylvan Guard and collecting frequent commissions as an armed escort. Sylvans refer to these people, internally, as Fallen Guards, or simply The Fallen. While this may sound derogatory to the uninitiated, Sylvans don't use it in an insulting or accusatory manner. They simply mean that the person has "fallen out of" their ranks.
This investigation is going nowhere and I think it's about time we talk to the Sylvans. If they don't know anything about it, then it never really happened.
Santio Sarino, Varian constable, 3771 AoG
Information Superhighway
Perhaps the greatest value that Sylvans bring to commerce is as agents of information. Their tendency to constantly track the roads puts them in repeated contact with all manner of wanderers and vagabonds, foreign and domestic. Not only do they receive news directly from these travelers, but they simply see who is going where and with what frequency. They can observe when certain types of shipments increase - or cease - over a given route. They realize, often before anyone else, when distant natural-or-manmade disasters spark exoduses across regions. They know, preternaturally, when the road itself has become blocked or unmanageable. At the edges of their "range", they overlap with other Sylvans, and if there are no passersby in the immediate vicinity to assist, they swap stories and trade the latest scuttlebutt. They hear all the best gossip. At certain points in history, this has made the Sylvans priceless resources for reasons that have nothing to do with protecting vulnerable travelers.

Sects

A
s a worldwide order, there is great variance in the appearance, motives, and methods of the Sylvans between countries, regions, or continents. While they all adhere to a general set of ideals, and they all recognize (and honor) the efforts of their colleagues in different regions, disparate areas of the world have Sylvan histories and Sylvan traditions that are entirely unique from their brethren. Some of those differences are as basic as language and terminology. But other differences are more significant. For example, Sylvans in Lumidari lands are not sanctioned to kill while fulfilling their duties. (Note: This doesn't mean that they won't kill. It just means that killing is not legally sanctioned and they must be more discrete if they don't want to end up in jail or on the executioner's block.) Tallonai Sylvans tend to act more like sages than rangers. They frequently take up semi-permanent residence directly beside major thoroughfares and they provide guidance as needed. But they are far less likely to actively patrol the road in all directions. Ucarania is one of the few countries that still provides explicit state funding for the Guard. As such, Sylvans across the island have a far more uniform and formal (some would say: classic) appearance. This also makes life far more difficult for tyrans who try to operate by impersonating the Guard.
 
Tyrans
Tyrans are not a "sect" or an "offshoot" of the Guard, although many uneducated casterways have unfortunately come to believe just that. There are many folktales of Guards who have been expelled or banished from the order - and subsequently became tyrans. But while it is theoretically possible to be expelled from the Guard, it rarely happens. The vast majority of tyrans were not expelled from the Sylvan Guard because they were never in the Sylvan Guard. Most of them are common criminals who have banded together, loosely, with other tyrans and realized that they can more easily take advantage of vulnerable travelers if they present themselves as Sylvans. This became particularly easy to do once state funding of the Sylvans dried up in most regions. Although the order perseveres, the lack of regular funds means that few of them have anything that approximates a uniform. So to the typical casterway, a "Sylvan" is "that person who patrols the roads, offering to help travelers, usually wearing a cloak or other ranger-type gear, and wielding a bow and a couple of ebny shortblades". Although this perception is not inaccurate (in most regions), it is also a non-distinct stereotype that is easy to impersonate.
 
Identification
Just because the general population finds it difficult to distinguish Sylvans from tyrans, this does not mean that they find it difficult to distinguish the difference amongst themselves. The Sylvans are a fairly close-knit order. A Guard often knows, by face and by name, nearly any other Sylvan operating within a 100 kilometer radius. They encounter each other on the trails. They meet and discuss in local Sylvan Halls. So whenever they see someone - anyone - on the roads, whom they don't recognize, claiming to be a Sylvan and offering assistance to random travelers, they know almost immediately that this person is not the Sylvan that they claim to be and they are almost certainly a tyran, ultimately aiming to rob (or even, murder) the unsuspecting wayfarer.
It's a special type of vermin that would don the skin of the righteous to propagate its evil.
Ormin Dynholm, Lahjian Sylvan Guard, 2232 AoR
Mortal Enemies
Sylvans know of nothing more affronting than the presence of a tyran. They see tyrans as the greatest possible betrayal of all that they stand for. They're not simply upset by the fact that tyrans aim to harm the same people the Sylvans are trying to protect (although they are certainly distressed about that). They're even more offended by the fact that the tyrans are impersonating the Sylvans to achieve their criminal objectives. The presence of tyrans confuses the average casterway and undermines public confidence in everything the Sylvans aim to do. For this reason, Sylvans see all tyrans as their mortal enemies. If a Sylvan manages to catch someone in the act of robbing a traveler, there's a good chance that the Sylvan will simply disable the would-be thief and drag them to the closest legal authorities for punishment. But if a Sylvan realizes that the thief was impersonating the Guard (and is thus, a tyran), the Sylvan will almost always kill the tryan on the spot (or die trying). One of the surest ways to witness mortal combat is to arrange for a Sylvan and a tyran to encounter one another. It doesn't matter where the encounter occurs. Although most such skirmishes obviously take place somewhere out on the open road, a Sylvan won't hesitate to strike down a tyran even if they cross each others' paths in "neutral" environments - like, an inn, or a town market, or even in the middle of a legal proceeding.

I am the eyes for the blind. I am the feet for the weary. I am the heart for the hopeless.

Pronunciation SILL-venn GARD
Founding Date
1218
Type
Civilian, Knightly Order
Alternative Names
The Guard, Sylvans
Demonym
Sylvan

Articles under Sylvan Guard


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