Not the Guard you were looking for
Jaquin and I were lost, and we knew it. We happened upon a Sylvan who offered to guide us to the city. Jaquin was eager to accept the assistance, but I told him I would find my own way and rendezvous with him at the klyster. Somehow, I made it out. But that was the last time I ever saw Jaquin.
Taisinia Darney, Gorganian cognoscenti, 3686 AoG
yrans are a loose-knit collective of rogues, thieves, and murderers who prey upon travelers across Excilior's primitive and feral network of roads. Some casterways have started to call any criminal a "tyran" if they commit their crimes, or find their victims, on the open road. However, the term arose specifically to refer to those highwaymen who make a point of impersonating the Sylvan Guard. Unlike "normal" criminals, tyrans go to great lengths to appear as though they are Sylvans, all with the intent of gaining their victims' trust and, ultimately, taking advantage of that trust at a time-and-place that is of maximum advantage to the tyran.
Tyrans almost never refer to themselves as tyrans. Tyran is generally understood as a pejorative term. So just as murderers don't typically refer to other murderers as murderers, tyrans rarely call each other tyrans. Whenever they're in public, or they have any reason to fear that public ears could be listening, they always refer to themselves as Sylvans, or the Sylvan Guard, or simply as the Guard. They use these terms because their primary tactic is to impersonate the Sylvan Guard and those are the same terms that real Sylvans, or the general public, use to refer to the order. To refer to themselves with radically-different monikers would risk exposing their status as impostors.
When tyrans are amongst themselves and they feel the need to differentiate between real Sylvans and their own ilk, they often refer to their own group as the Founding Sylvans, the Sylvans of Maenar, or simply as the Founders. The Maenar reference comes from the tyrans' origins alongside the ancient cult of the Wanders of Maenar. And it's sufficiently vague for inattentive ears because there were many real Sylvans who were legitimately associated with the Wanders for centuries. The founders reference is a particular bit of hubris, because when the tyrans evolved as a criminal offshoot from the original Sylvans, some of those early adherents truly felt that they were following the higher spiritual calling of the Wanders and were the rightful heirs to the mantel of being "true" Sylvans. Nearly no one alive today - even amongst the tyrans - honestly adheres to this ideology any longer. But the "founding" modifier is a subtle way to differentiate themselves while still maintaining some air of (real or imagined) superiority.
Our vs The
On rare occasions, tyrans find themselves in public spaces where they still need to communicate to each other whether someone is a real Sylvan or a tyran, without risking that any eager ears might identify them as criminals. In those scenarios, tyrans deploy a cheeky verbal shorthand to convey their meaning while seemingly making no distinction between the two groups. When a tyran tells another tyran that, "He's one of our Sylvans," what he's really saying is, "He's a tyran like us." When a tyran tells another tyran that, "He's one of the Sylvans," what he's really saying is, "He's one of the real Sylvans who are in deadly opposition to us."
here is no formal organizational structure for the tyrans because, officially, the tyrans don't actually exist. No one ever stands up and says, "Yes, I'm a tyran." Such an admission would be tantamount to a death sentence. Because Sylvans frequently work alone, and tyrans thrive by impersonating Sylvans, tyrans often work alone as well. Occasionally, they will organize into small teams of 2-3, with one individual clearly acting as a gang leader of sorts. They can pull this off because it's not unheard of for Sylvans to perform their duties in similar groups. To operate in larger "gangs" would mark them to the wary travelers as definitely not Sylvan.
I'd heard of the dangers, but I didn't think much of it. We had a large caravan and two experienced Sylvans by our side. But then the lead cart sunk into the bog, and one of the "Sylvans" started whistling to some unseen colleagues behind the emberstools. And that's when I knew that most of us would never make it home.
Marn Rae, Gongian merchant, 2080 AoE
There are some known instances when tyrans band together in larger teams. They can do this, while still maintaining their cover, because the majority of the teams are not openly seen and only expose themselves during-or-after an attack. In these cases, one-or-two of the most "presentable" tyrans play the part of the Sylvans while their colleagues wait in some nearby location until they can be called into the ambush. In such a scenario, the front men, playing the part of the Sylvans, will typically have the task of maneuvering the victims into a chosen ambush location. Of course, once the trap is sprung, the need for pretense disappears. This approach is deployed most often by tyrans who specialize in attacking larger casterway groups - especially, caravans.
hen Hineia's government was still recuperating from the devastation of the 6th Trial of Syrus, a public outcry arose when it was revealed that the country's leaders had been faithfully funding the Sylvan Guard throughout the entirety of the 6th Trial, even as their own citizens were starving in the villages. While no one doubted the utility of the Guard, providing direct financial support to the chivalric order was viewed as wasteful during such dire times. And even though the 6th Trial was (finally) past by 1470 AoE, the political scandal that followed put an end to formal Hineian sponsorship of the Sylvans.
The Guard was firmly established by this time and they never gave any serious thought to disbandment. Nevertheless, senior members of the order were concerned about the results of losing their primary backer and they feared that justice on the roads would slide back to its primal state of centuries ago. So they began a campaign to fix the shortfall in their budgets and the Wansia conveniently stepped into that void.
For several centuries, the partnership of Sylvans and Wanders seemed like an ideal arrangement. The Wanders hold any river's headwaters to be sacred ground. And they make regular pilgrimages to these sites - to bathe in the headwaters, to offer sacrifices, to pray to their gods... whatever. But headwaters are typically associated with wilderness. And the faint trails that would lead pilgrims as-close-as-possible to those headwaters were often infested with thieves and con men of every stripe. So the Wanders deemed it a natural investment to throw financial backing behind the Sylvans. This worked for the Sylvans as well, because many of them had already been raised as Wanders, and whether they actively worshipped or not, a strong majority of their order seemed to be sympathetic to the goals and beliefs of the religion.
A schism arose in the Wanders when an offshoot sect advocated returning to the "old ways". There were a great many practices that could be interpreted as the "old ways", depending upon who was doing the reading and what they hoped to accomplish in a broader cultural sense. But one of the most notorious practices - that nearly any historian would ascribe to the primitive foundation of the church - was the use of human sacrifice as a means to appease the ancient river gods. While the "modern" church had long ago discarded such rituals, there was a certain undercurrent of the faithful who felt that abandoning these rites had cursed the land and incurred the anger of their deities.
Of course, no one in the Wanders' "official" leadership ever advocated for, or condoned, the re-establishment of human sacrifice. To this day, the church officially condemns the practice. But there is little doubt that some of their worshippers began experimenting anew with the "old ways" somewhere around 1600 AoE. It's also presumed that some of the "official" church leaders - who condemned the practice in public - were, in fact, condoning and even facilitating the rites alongside their "rebel" congregations.
The Sylvan Guard wanted nothing do with these practices. On numerous occasions, Sylvan leaders called upon Wander elders to disavow and condemn any such activity. And the Wanders were always quick to issue a firm rebuke of any worshippers who disobeyed church teachings on the matter. But those rebukes were from the public face of the church. In private, some of the same elders issuing the condemnations were also leading the groups that practiced human sacrifice.
Although this may seem only tangential to the Sylvan Guard, many of its members were practicing Wanders. And undoubtedly, at least some of them were also committed to the ancient ideals of human sacrifice. There is no evidence that any public or formal representative of the Sylvans ever condoned these activities. But cognoscenti are also convinced that there was at least some small portion of the Sylvans who actively betrayed their oaths to lead unsuspecting travelers directly into the clutches of those Wanders looking for new sacrifices.
I write to alert you of what may be the gravest threat our order has ever faced. I just sat for hours, with a terrified and disconsolate mother, who witnessed all three of her sons sacrificed to the Maenar's river gods. And she was led to this nightmarish fate... by craven souls claiming to be the Sylvan Guard.
Laventis Geroulis, caretaker of Joretray's Sylvan Hall, 1817 AoE
Betraying the Oath
Throughout the nearly-thousand years when the Sylvans received financial support from the Wanders, the practice of some travelers meeting their demise, at the hands of unscrupulous Sylvans, so they could serve as human sacrifices for the Wanders, was a dirty little secret that no one in either organization wanted to publicly discuss. The Sylvans warned their membership that this activity was punishable by death. The Wanders loudly admonished the sacrificers to anyone who would listen. And yet, the practice has continued for centuries.
Birth of Tyrans
To some extent, this complex history ultimately gave rise to the tyrans. When a victim is being (unwittingly) led to their demise on a sacrificial altar, it makes little sense to leave their valuables in their pockets or bags. And although there were certainly some members of the ancient Sylvans who surrendered to their own extremist religious ideals to betray their order (and those they were sworn to protect) while leading new victims into sacrifice, it's also known that these outlaw Sylvans probably needed to find more colleagues of like mind who would help them carry out their homicidal objectives. With that dynamic in play, when they were trying to find new "converts" to the ancient Wander rituals, it was easy to recruit those who already had a mindset to rob and/or murder innocent travelers. In fact, for those who could previously only claim to be simple highwaymen, the Wander zealots gave them an opportunity to take on the veneer of the respected Sylvan Guard while concurrently gaining the praise and adulation of the cultists. Undoubtedly, many of these early "converts" actually managed to convince themselves that their newfound order made them righteous and holy and if a few unwitting travelers had to lose their lives (and the contents of their pockets) to appease angry gods and bestow plenty upon the land... then so be it.
1690 AoE saw the first recorded instance of travelers who reported being attacked by the Sylvan Guard. It's now certain that these early reports represented some of the first groups that we now refer to as tyrans. Understandably, Sylvan leadership was quite alarmed by these reports - as were most Wanders. Over the next 900-1,000 years, the Sylvans found themselves in a constant public relations battle. They did everything they could to disavow the rogue murderers claiming Sylvan pedigree. The Wanders did everything they could to shame the cultists who gave the entire religion a bad name. The Sylvans also created an aggressive policy of killing, on sight, anyone they find impersonating a Sylvan for the purpose of actually harming travelers. This policy remains in effect to this day.
The Wanders ended formal sponsorship of the Sylvans in 2434 AoR. But the specter of tyrans exists to this day. Most modern tyrans have no allegiance to the Wanders. They have simply learned that it's easier to disarm victims when they believe that you're the hero. They've also learned that there are still adherents of the ancient Wander ways strewn about the rural backwaters of Excilior. With these extremists in mind, a tyran can double or triple their criminal return. The first payoff comes when they relieve their victims of any possessions they are carrying. The second payoff comes when they lead those victims into the Wanders' clutches - because the primitive sects long-ago resorted to paying a bounty for any sacrificial candidate who can be delivered to their temples. The third payoff sometimes comes when they inform the victim of their fate, and they offer them the chance to spare the traveler's life - if the traveler can find some way to deliver even more funds to the tyrans than they would otherwise receive from the fanatical Wanders.
lthough the tyrans have no official religion, and there are undoubtedly many amongst their ranks who are either atheists or choose to worship a broad array of faiths, a strong majority of tyrans are Wanders of Maenar. Specifically, most of them are loyal to the Wanders' extremist offshoot that continues to advocate for human sacrifice at the headwaters of all rivers. While the association may seem to be random, or even counterproductive, there are numerous historical events that fostered this connection.
There is no honor to be found at the end of a Sylvan blade. The rootbrains on the trail may think we're Sylvans. But the Sylvans will never believe that we're Sylvans. And they'll separate you from your entrails just to prove their point.
Vordant Orshish, Tollian tyran, 1990 AoE
erhaps the most critical skill any tyran possesses is the ability to distinguish their colleagues (i.e., other tyrans) from real Sylvans. This ability is crucial because the Sylvans are a close-knit order that usually recognizes its own. And because they have murderous animosity toward the tyrans, Sylvans will often strike down - immediately - anyone claiming to be Sylvan Guard whom they do not recognize. Although most tyrans are more-than-capable of holding their own in a brawl, the wiser ones (i.e., the ones who have managed to remain alive for at least thirty years) realize that the most effective way to keep breathing is to simply avoid anyone who would like to stop you from breathing. With this in mind, smart tyrans do anything in their power to avoid real Sylvans due to the extreme risk that it could spark an immediate fight to the death and there is always the chance that the tyran may end up on the wrong end of that fight.
Know Thy Enemy
To this end, intelligent tyrans often make great strides to know - and even, to meet - the other tyrans working in-and-around the local area. At first, this can strike many novice criminals as a bizarre practice. In fact, many thieves, wary of this unusual social requirement from the tyrans, simply decide to take the "simpler" life of being plain ol' highwaymen. After all, if they aren't trying to impersonate the Sylvans, then they can take the basic position that anyone professing to be Sylvan is an enemy and anyone who is not Sylvan (or pretending to be Sylvan) is a potential mark. But for those committed to the tyran lifestyle, they stand little chance of seeing their thirtieth birthday if they can't reliably identify tyrans from real Sylvans. So for tyrans, the idea that one should "know thy enemy" isn't a general statement about understanding your enemy's strengths and weaknesses. It's a literal imperative, meaning that it's in their personal interest to know - and be able to identify - anyone claiming to be Sylvan as either the real deal or a tyran.
- Founding Date
- Guild, Thieves
- Alternative Names
- Founding Sylvans, Founders, Sylvans of Maenar