Lord of House Ronnel
Gareth Ronnel is the aging head of House Ronnel. At sixty-three, Lord Gareth’s blond hair has faded to gray, and he is entirely bald on the top of his head. To avoid looking like a tonsured white priest, Lord Gareth keeps his remaining hair cropped close to his temples. His bald head and pronounced nose give rise to frequent comparisons to a hawk or eagle (and other, less flattering comparisons). His eyes are a penetrating gray, and he has a strong jaw that emphasizes his lean face. Lord Gareth stands only 5’4", but he has perfected a stern, lordly mien that can make him stand out despite his average height.
Novan fashion always tends towards the simple, but Lord Gareth is famously spare in his dress. Though his clothes are of the highest quality, he eschews almost all jewelry, and rarely wears even subtle patterns. Every inch of Lord Gareth’s appearance is calculated to give the impression of a hard, frugal, practical man; he has even been known to hold court wearing the same faded red woolen mantle he wore as a young man.
The third son of his father, Lord Raoul, Lord Gareth was not raised to be lord of House Ronnel. House Ronnel has always had a pronounced pragmatic streak, and Gareth is a good example of the stereotype. Gareth looked forward to a life as a red priest or patron of trade. As a squire he loved to wander the docks of Westport, mingling in disguise with the rich merchants and human flotsam alike. These contacts stood him in good stead later in life. When Lord Raoul died, Gareth’s eldest brother Richard inherited the House. Almost immediately, Houses Karson, Redspear, and High Daniels refused to pay their rents to the new lord, and knights from Houses Kincaid and Boreas poured over the Rhinish border to support them. Lord Richard mustered a host to compel the rebels to submit, and was slain in battle when a second rebel host joined the first. The new troops were led by Lord Raoul’s second son, Richard and Gareth’s brother, Sir Maxwell. After his brother was killed, Sir Maxwell assumed lordship of the House, and immediately began a manhunt for his remaining brother, who had ridden with Lord Richard but escaped the trap. Gareth was seventeen.
Fearing that Coastwatch‘s garrison might be of doubtful loyalty, with his brother’s army shattered and hostile knights combing the roads to the House seat and other nearby castles, Gareth decided to hide. Rather than riding for other nobles and declaring his brother a traitor, Gareth slipped into Westport and disappeared among his old friends, hiding now among the merchants’ clerks and now among the dockside thieves. To the utter bewilderment of the sanguine lords, Gareth never emerged to declare himself to the nobility. He did eventually declare himself to his dockside friends, whose loyalty he gained by discovering that the betrayal had been masterminded by now-Lord Maxwell’s wife, Lady Celine. Celine had been born to House Kincaid, and convinced her husband to seize the lordship of House Ronnel and consolidate his power with the wealth of Rhinish merchants – who would, naturally, expect favorable treatment by the new lord.
The exposed plot did not sit well with Gareth’s merchant friends, and he traveled the coast spreading his intelligence among the monied classes. Many minor knights and younger sons among the coastal Houses had ties to these merchants, much as Gareth himself had once anticipated, and these were able to pressure their noble patrons into neutrality. When Gareth finally revealed himself, it was at the head of an army of lower-class infantry wielding spears and shields bought with merchants’ silver. His unconventional force won a great victory against Lord Maxwell’s knights at the Battle of Redstrand Beach when nearly a third of Maxwell’s expected support failed to materialize. Maxwell retreated to Coastwatch, where Gareth produced the testimony of Rhinish prisoners that Maxwell intended to surrender trading and even property rights in the north to his lady wife’s kinsmen. Outraged, the castle garrison flung Maxwell and Celine from the walls. Once in control of Coastwatch, Gareth had himself proclaimed lord of House Ronnel by the pontifex of Westport, and support flocked to his banner. Those lesser Houses that had supported Maxwell were given to the younger sons who had enabled his victory at Redstrand through their neutrality, their elder kin slaughtered by Gareth’s armies.
In keeping with his ascension – which Gareth maintains to this day was a matter of self-preservation as much as anything else – Gareth’s rule has been characterize by an unusually close cooperation with the middle class. He believes that it is a lord’s duty to raise the standard of living of his vassals, protecting them
not only from invaders but also the evils of poverty and starvation. Gareth’s nobles may grumble that their own privileges are decreased as the merchants’ are increased, but he is adept at managing each House’s internal politics to neutralize it as a serious threat.
Gareth and his first wife, Lady Amelia, had difficulty conceiving. They had one living child, Philippa. Lady Amelia died when Philippa was four, and Lord Gareth remarried in part to give his daughter a mother. In this he was only partly successful; relations between Philippa and Lady Olivia were never cold, but Philippa never thought of her as her true mother. Gareth raised Philippa at least as much as Olivia. He was a stern father, but much admired by his daughter, and their relationship was close if never friendly.
Lord Gareth’s arms are sanguine. His charge, which is rarely displayed, is a sailing ship with spears for oars, argen.