Helgram Game: The Courts of Chaos
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Very little is known of the world before the Courts of Chaos, save that there were many land masses which formed spontaneously in the Abyss. Certainly, it was from the Abyss that Great Cornelius came to the Rock of Thelbane and drew the Logrus, with the aid of his sons Swayville and Suhuy. This is credited as having occured about twenty-thousand Chaos years ago. Over the next couple of millennia, these three brought together scraps from the Abyss, as well as the odd, semi-Real lands which had begun forming after the Logrus was drawn, and wove it into what would become the Courts of Chaos. However, Cornelius realised that a sacrifice needed to be made to solidify the whole, and chose to be that sacrifice so that his children, and their children, would have a safe and stable home. After their father gave himself to the Logrus, Swayville took on the mantle of King of Chaos, and Suhuy became the Keeper of the Logrus.
As well as Swayville and Suhuy, Cornelius had four other children: sons Severin and Theodore, and daughters Kyessa and Marguerite. From these six descend all the members of the race known as “Cornelians”. Of these, only Swayville and Suhuy remain in the Courts to this day: the whereabouts, and even continued existence, of the others are unclear.
In the early years of Swayville’s reign, he married a noble demoness named Alberta, and they had a number of children, both sons and daughters. It was these who went on to form the Major Houses.
- Lucas: founder of House Jesby
- Thomas: founder of House Chanicut
- Mairead: married Graham Helgram, and is the Cornelian ancestor of House Helgram
- Henrietta: founder of House Hendrake, the only daughter to establish her own House
- Sawall: founder of House Sawall
- Ambrose: first High Priest of the Dragon, and founder of Amblerash
About three-thousand years after Swayville’s accession, his nephew, Dworkin son of Suhuy, stole the eye of the Serpent and Created the Pattern. In the fifteen thousand years of Chaos time that have passed since, about five thousand have passed in Amber.
The Dragon Court of King Swayville
The Courts is a fundamentally feudal society. Within it, there is a split between the “Cornelians”, who are descended in full or in part from Cornelius; and the more populous demons, who were the original post-Cornelius inhabitants of what became the Courts of Chaos. “Demon” can be something of a misnomer, however, as the Real humans in far-away lands such as Amber, ultimately trace their ancestry – and profound longevity – to demon stock.
Swayville’s Imperial Dragon Court is held in a room in Thelbane Tower adjacent to Swayville’s Palace. The huge Court chamber itself is in traditional Swayville colours of Red and Gold. Splendid tapestries hang from the walls, and there are a number of famous stained glass windows, including one of Suhuy, Keeper of the Logrus and brother to the King, scolding the Unicorn of Amber. The huge dragon throne is on a golden dais, and beside it is the slightly less impressive throne of the Queen of Chaos.
The entire Court is expected to stand, with the exception of the King, Queen, the Princess Swayvanna and her children, and the Grand Dukes. Court dress is complicated and reveals the intricate centuries old customs and traditions of the entire ancient kingdom and its governance.
In recent years, His Royal and Imperial Majesty suffered a period of ill-health, and it was feared that his time as the Great and Benevolent Ruler of Thelbane may be drawing to a close. His condition worsened during the War Between the Powers, when the rebel factions of the House of Barimen, descended from his nephew Dworkin Barimen, fought all the way to the gates of Chaos. However, a settlement was finally reached, in large part due to the personal relationship that has developed between King Swayville and King Random of Amber. Since then, King Swayville’s health has rallied.
The King and his current Queen, Mathilda, live in the Royal Palace of Swayvilleways, in the heart of the Court of Thelbane, at the centre of the Courts. They have one child, the Princess Swayvanna.
Religion in the Courts of Chaos
The primary religion in the Courts is the Church of the Dragon (also sometimes called the Church of the Serpent). Its high priest is Bances of House Amblerash, and his House is probably the most well known in connection with the Church and its administration. However, there is also a small Oracular House which works closely within the Church of the Dragon, by the name of House Delacroix.
Bances is a highly traditional prelate who is very fixed in his views of the importance of the Church, and the truth that worship of the Dragon is the one true way. However, he seems to make an exception for the beliefs of the Royal Line, who are considered Divine within the House.
Most Houses have a primary Church of the Serpent within their Ways – after all, if they didn’t, Bances might decide that they were heretics. In addition, both Houses and individuals also sometimes have their own private temples and their own beliefs, and have small personal shrines to those they wish to venerate.
A “Ways” is the usual term used to describe the dwellings of the Houses and Important Players within the Courts of Chaos, and also out in the Black Zone. A Ways is a community, colony and world within itself, and is built from different scraps of Shadow which take the Waysmaster’s fancy. Ways must initially set up by a Senior Waysmaster, but after that, Logrus initiates are capable of weaving and amending those Ways, although basic initiates need to work a lot harder at it within the Courts itself. The Black Zone is a bit more flexible.
Ways often have an item or place which locks the various Shadows making up the Ways together, often acting as a central access point; and also sets the position of the Ways as a whole relative to the Courts; or in the case of a sub-Ways, relative to the House Ways it is attached to.
Ways belonging to a specific House take the name of that House, for example Channicutways or Helgramways. Within that, with the agreement of their Grand Duke, Logrus users may well have their own Ways, which will usually carry their name, for example Elizabethways in Channicut, or Clarissaways in Helgram. However, sometimes they change the name to be a little less pretentious, for example “Ianways”, in House Helgram, is now called Stokesay.
In addition, non-Logrus initiates may be granted either a full Ways or a Shadow/sub-Ways within an allied Ways, as a reward for services rendered to the House. Children of Ways holders will usually be automatically given a Shadow or sub-Ways within their parent’s Ways, until such time as they either take the Logrus and establish a full Ways of their own, or earn their own by other means.
With respect to grants of land or Ways outside of the individual Houses, within “Royal Land”, these are within the gift of King Swayville.
The Major Houses
The main distinctions between the Major and Minor are related to the size and wealth of their respective holdings, and whether they are descended directly from King Swayville. To this day, the Grand Dukes/Duchesses of the Major Houses are in the Royal Succession. The Major Houses maintain a degree of independence and autonomy, and their Grand Duchies are effectively countries within the Courts as a whole However, all Grand Dukes of Chaos are expected to make an appearance at Swayville’s Dragon Court once a year, to renew their loving vows of fealty and present themselves or their heirs to Court.
The Houses usually specialise in different skills and areas, and intermarriage (and less legitimate liaisons) between them is very common. The Major Houses, in order of precedence (but not necessarily succession), are:
Barriman (Dragon or, on a field sanguine). This is split into three branches:
- The Swayville-Barrimans. The Royal House, ruled by King Swayville, although there are very few remaining members of the direct Swayville-Barriman line: the King himself, the Princess Swayvanna and her children, of which she has three sons and three daughters.
- The Suhuy-Barrimans. House of Archduke Prince Suhuy, Keeper of the Logrus. This is another relatively small House, at least within Chaos itself, although Suhuy’s daughter Jasra has a number of children.
- The Dworkin-Barrimans (also sometimes called the Oberon-Barrimans). The Ruling House of Amber and the descendents of Oberon. Many of its members are also accredited in the roles of other Houses.
Jesby (Dragon sable)
- One of the last Houses to end hostilities with Amber after the War, and currently led by Grand Duke Tmer. House Jesby has something of a reputation for poisoning their enemies (and each other), as well as being ritual magicians of some skill but a rather darker hue, and competent warriors. They are also often experts at shapeshifting.
Channicut (Dragon azure)
- Ruled by Grand Duke Tubble. Channicut is by far the most commercially minded Major House, with a somewhat rapacious reputation. It was the other House which was late to end hostilities with Amber. Tubble became Grand Duke after his predecessor was killed by Benedict Dworkin-Barriman.
Helgram (Lion sanguine, looking to the dexter, on a field or)
- Founded by Graham Helgram, and promoted when he married Mairead Swayville-Barriman. Until the War, House Helgram had been led by Grand Duke Graham the Younger, and his wife Joan (a Hendrake). Helgram maintains patrilineal succession, but this can be passed through the female line. Helgrams are known for their studies of the arcane arts. The current Grand Duke is Ian, son of Bleys of Amber.
Hendrake (Drake sanguine)
- Ruled by Grand Duchess Belissa Minobee, who until recently was the only female head of a Major House, and remains the only one in complete control of her House. Unlike many Chaos Houses, which follow patrilineal succession, Hendrake follows the female line. The House is best known for its martial capabilities, and comprise a formidable military force. Cymnea, the first wife of Oberon of Amber, was a Hendrake.
- Hendrake and Helgram are very close allies, in part because they were both founded by daughters of Swayville, rather than sons, and intermarriages and liaisons between the two Houses are common.
Sawall (Lion argent)
- Co-ruled by Grand Duke Gramble, and his wife Dara Hendrake-Helgram. Sawalls are largely magicians and politicians, and the heir to the House, Duke Mandor, son of is close to the Dragon Throne. Dara’s son Merlin has been accepted into the House by his step-father.
Amblerash (Drake azure)
- Ruled by Bances, the High Priest of the Dragon. The House of Amblerash is closely entwined with the Church of the Dragon, and Bances is not the first High Priest to come from its ranks. In general, they are known as magicians and ritualists.
The Minor Houses
The Minor Houses originate from the earliest days of Thelbane and the Courts, and comprise those families which are not originally descended from the Great and Glorious King Swayville, but instead gained their titles and holdings through service to the Crown. There is intermarriage between the Major and Minor Houses, and occasionally, a Minor House can be promoted to Major House status through marriage into the Royal Line.
Heads of Minor Houses are styled Duke or Duchess Legitimate children of Dukes and Duchesses are styled Marquis or Marquesa.
Minor Houses include (but are not limited to):
- Rexford: Duke Rexford
- Celestine: Duchess Mirelle, daughter of the former Duchess, Paulette
- Geib: Duke Maximillian
- Balthazar: Duchess Dybele
- Karm: Duke Michael
- In days gone by, Karm was a Major House. After the divorce of King Oberon and Queen Cymnea, in favour of Faiella of Karm, the children of the now-disavowed union of Oberon and Cymnea decided to take exception. The vast majority of the House of Karm were hunted down and killed, with the sole survivors being the children of Oberon and Faiella – Eric, Corwin and Deirdre – and their descendants. At this time, it is something of a client House to Sawall, which gives it some defence to the enmity of House Hendrake.
Marriage in the Courts of Chaos
Given the fact that High Bloods are functionally immortal (they’re only going to die by violence or serious disease), the concept of marriage being “Until death us do part” isn’t really appropriate. Long, loving marriages, like those between Swayville and Alberta, or Graham Helgram Junior and Joan, do occur in the Courts, by they are more in the minority. It is far more common for marriages to be of set – or at least shorter – durations, with binding pre-nuptial agreements (perhaps related to disposition of children, or certain House assets), and ending in no-fault divorces. Many Thelbane nobles undertake multiple marriages of this kind during their lives, which explains the interconnections between different families and lines.
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