Hundred Kingdoms

The Lodge of Avon

It is said that all good legends of bravery and heroism must have castles. Ivan Golden-Hands, Entaddi the Obsidian Shield, Lance of the Lake, Gavin the Pure, Pale Rolf and Wilhelm of the Golden Spur, Tancred of the Lily, Tristné the Minstrel Knight, Sayf the Curved Blade… Search all such tales and each will invariably lead one to the same place: the Lodge of Avon.

Originally named River’s End, this small island, situated on the bay of Argem, once housed a simple garrison, guarding the port of the city and the entrance to one of the many rivers of the Aust’s delta. Its importance, however, would lie with the Birth of the Empire, which elevated the island to legend, housing the Lodge of Avon, where the Pledge of the Orders was held and the origin of legends would find a nursing home.

At the end of the Red Years, the Orders were all but despised by most of the population of the Kingdoms; were it not for the self-sacrifice of the Order of the Sword against the Nord invasion and the tireless efforts of the Order of the Shield, their end would have perhaps been an inevitability. But based on such heroic deeds, Charles Armatellum would find the basis for their resurrection in the eyes of the people. In his speech before his fabled Trial to rejoin their ranks, Charles Armatellum portrayed the Orders in their core as a brotherhood of Knights, the first to exist and the proud heritage of the fabled XIIth Legion. Their mission, he claimed, was still the same as that of the legendary Legion: to safeguard humanity against all which threatened its existence or civilization. The knights of the Orders throughout the ages, the father of the Empire claimed, were heroes — but heroes are ultimately human, flawed and erring. His speech ended with his pledge, a chivalric oath he took before everyone, vowing that his mission as a member of the Orders would remain the protection of the people.

Many, particularly nobles who disliked the vagueness of the Pledge — as well as the dedication to “the people” — voiced that this was an empty gesture, a stunt to divert their attention from the crimes of the Orders during the Red Years. Once he rose to the position of Grand Master, Charles’ response was as swift as it was misleading; in memory of his own pledge, he drafted the Pledge of the Orders, pressuring all Order Grand Masters to sign the same chivalric oath he had taken. To monitor the actions of their Knights, the Orders would form a council that would act as tribunal, held publicly, against members that acted contrary to the Pledge, while the Order of the Shield — perhaps the sole Order that had retained the admiration of the people during the Red Years — would act as agents and enforcers. Under the moniker of the Round Table, this council would convene every year and judge cases against Order members. To house this tribunal, the Lodge of Avon was founded.

The Lodge of Avon was a simple but imposing building to begin with, but during the years of the Empire, the island flourished. In time, the Lodge expanded to house quarters for all the Orders, until it became a jewel of architecture which combined the splendor of temples with the strength and majesty of castles. Under the central dome lied the Round Table, with the Pledge of the Orders inscribed across its stone edges, and from the main building different wings were erected in time, each dedicated to a different Order. Its regent was the Grand Master of the Shield and, in fact, it became the de facto headquarters for the Order, to the extent that those seeking the aid of their Knights Errant would send petitions or even travel to Avon from all corners of the Empire. Every five years, the island would explode with life, as knights, warriors and commoners alike would come from all over the Empire for the Challenges, the realization of Charles’ promise to open the Orders to all. During those times, members of the Orders would gather in numbers, while an army of vendors, participants and spectators would set up stalls and tents in such numbers that the shores across Avon would effectively host an entire city. For an entire fortnight, banners, songs and fires turned the brutal tourneys, games and sparring contests into a celebration of not just the victors that gained an invitation to the different Orders but of the Empire itself.

Many bards keep this ideal memory of Avon in their songs and, to an extent, they are perhaps right to do so; in its inception, the Lodge reflected the best that the Orders had to offer and the peak of their relationship with the Kingdoms and their people. Painters had time and again captured and expanded on the majesty of the Lodge at the time of the Empire, portraying its towers almost ethereal in the morning mist, with a sea of banners and coats-of-arms dancing before the magnificent fortress. But bardic tales and the imagination of artists usually forget the true purpose of the Lodge. Even at the peak of its glory, the Round Table was a court-martial first and foremost and it proved Charles’ words to be true time and again; the knights of the Orders were human, flawed and erring. Among shining examples like Tristné the Minstrel Knight or Gavin the Pure were the likes of Rolf the Cruel, the Bloody Marshal or Anton the Hooded Judge. Bards do not recite the crimes committed by knights in their tales and from the shores across Avon the artists could not see the gallows or the bodies of knights swinging in the wind.

The dissolution of the Empire brought a rapid decline to the majesty of the isle. Not only were the Pledge and the Round Table all but forgotten, but the retraction of the Lex Talionis meant that the Order of the Shield had to effectively abandon the Lodge; were it not for the misdirecting efforts of Chamberlains, the island itself would have been lost to all Orders. Despite that, however, today Avon is all but deserted, inhabited by a small and mostly ceremonial garrison of honorary squires and pages of the Shield — hiding behind the moniker of “Knights of the Lodge” — while it sometimes serves as a resting station and meeting place for wandering knights. This still changes, however, every five years, for the Challenges were never stopped. Inspired by the “Excellences” of the City States, for a fortnight ending at Hero’s Eve (mid-summer), a day of remembrance for the fallen, the dead heroes of humanity are honored and Avon flourishes with life as the grandest chivalric competition of the Kingdoms takes place, with events ranging from jousting tournaments to a mock mass combat. This combat, called the Baptism, is the peak of the Challenges and allows anyone with padded armor and wooden weapons to participate. Those, commoners and nobles alike, who distinguish themselves during the Baptism are greatly honored by their peers and the event itself serves as scouting grounds for the Orders but also individual knights in search of squires.

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