“Knight” is an evocative word on Nova, one that has acquired considerable layers of meaning over time.
Originally, a knight was an intermediate feudal overlord, entrusted to live off a portion of land granted to him by his overlord in exchange for maintaining and defending it and the serfs who lived on it, and raising troops from it to serve at his overlord’s call. As a natural extension of the knight’s relative wealth and status as intermediate war leader, most knights equipped themselves as heavy cavalry. In time, even lords who rode to war as heavy cavalry came to be called “knights,” though the older meaning is still in use.
Knights in War
Knights (in the sense of heavy cavalry who can call others to war) have always dominated Nova’s military history. Knights are generally the best equipped soldiers on the battlefield and, owing to their wealth and consequent leisure, often the best trained. In theory, this makes a group of knights a terrifying concentration of battlefield power. In practice, individual knights devote different amounts of time to maintaining their martial skill, though the institution of tournaments gives knights some incentive to keep their skills sharp.
More important than their skills as martial artists, however, are a knight’s retainers. Knights (including lords) typically require military service as a condition of allowing others to live on their lands. Thus, a Novan army is literally nothing more than a collection of knights and the men they can compel to serve with them. Without this feudal obligation, Novan armies would consist of nothing but handfuls of heavy cavalry, helpless to storm or besiege the castles that dot the Novan countryside. Even a knight who is personally an incompetent fighter may have a large influence on war if he can bring many or well-equipped retainers to his overlord’s army.
Knights in Faith
The Ecclesiarchy also ordains its own “knights.” To the Church, a knight is a warrior who has been anointed by a priest and sworn four vows:
- To uphold the law,
- To serve others before oneself,
- To defend the weak, and
- To renounce all passions but hatred of the mutant, the heretic, the alien, and the daemon.
In general, the Ecclesiarchy only ordains knights who are also knights in the secular sense, although a few “knights of the Church” exist who are ecclesiastical knights only. For the sacred meaning of knight to stray too far from the temporal would be to invite dangerous social upheaval, and could also be seen as violating the Thorian Law. The true significance of the Ecclesiarchy’s ordinations is in establishing a social code. Ordination is a mark of divine approval and thus social prestige, and thus the Ecclesiarchy can exercise some influence over knights by threatening to strip their ordination. While this is far from a guarantee of saintly behavior, the Ecclesiarchy’s vows do have an undoubted moderating influence over knights as a whole.
Becoming a Knight
To become a knight in the strictly legal sense, a person must own land and compel its residents to military service through feudal vows (which in turn obligate the knight to defend his or her residents). In addition, a knight is required by custom to own at least at a war horse and a riding horse, metal armor, a lance, an axe, a sword, and a dagger, and become proficient in their use. Many knights further take it upon themselves to learn something of the science of war, either because they feel their prestige requires it or because they view it as a consequence of their feudal obligation to defend their retainers. A knight in this sense is entitled to be referred to and style himself as “sir” ( axe maidens use the style “dame” and are referred to as “madam,” despite their legal maleness). He (or she) is also entitled to wear a sword as civilian dress.
To become a knight in the ecclesiastical sense, a person must demonstrate to a priest his sincere desire to swear and live by the four knightly vows. Customarily this is done after a young man has spent several years squiring an older knight (often a relative), who will vouch for his piety and devotion, although in theory a priest may require any proof he desires (or no proof at all). Ordination as a knight does not entitle a person to honors, although of course most ordained knights are also secular knights.
A Knight’s Equipment
At minimum, a knight is expected to provide himself with a war horse, a riding horse, a lance, an axe, a dagger, a sword, and metal body armor. A man so equipped, without lands and feudal tenants, is called a “man at arms.” Many knights (and men at arms) add to this list a shield and blunt “tourney” versions of their weapons suitable for sparring and use in tournaments.
A knight’s horses are what make him a heavy cavalry trooper, and so are integral to his military (and thus, social) status as a knight. Thus it is necessary that a knight have one horse to ride in battle, and another to ride to battle and carry his baggage, so that the war horse is rested. However, this is the bare minimum equestrian support a knight requires. Most knights prefer also to own a dedicated pack horse, at least one spare riding and war horse each, and yet another war horse specialized for tournament use. In addition, most knights prefer to buy horse armor (or “barding”) for their war horse(s), as an unarmored horse is a significant liability to the rider in battle.
The lance is the preferred weapon of a knight on horseback because of its reach. A knight’s war horse is a significant psychological weapon, but a foot soldier who stands his ground before a mounted knight can often strike the horse’s chest or forelegs before the knight (who is seated in the middle of the horse’s back) can retaliate. A lance helps to ameliorate this disadvantage.
The quintessential knightly weapon, however, is the axe. Axes give a knight the power to overcome other knights’ heavy armor, and deal the grievous wounds necessary to stop a raging ork. Poll axes are the favored weapon for knights on foot (and even with a barded mount, most knights will fight on foot for the most serious combats), and the weapon most associated with the knight at war in most Novans’ minds. Many knights also acquire battle axes or war axes to use from horseback should their lance be lost.
One notable exception to the knightly use of axes are the knights of House Felicin and its affiliated Houses. These knights generally prefer longswords to axes. Mounted Felicin knights tend to favor the scimitar and long saber, but all sword types are seen amongst the white knights, and wealthy Felicin knights often own many swords tailored to specific situations.
A knight’s dagger, most often of the mail breaker pattern, represents his prowess at hand to hand combat. Wrestling is one of the most prestigious knightly fighting disciplines, representing the lethality of a knight’s person (as opposed to his arms and armor). A Novan knight is supposed to be able to overcome a fully armored opponent by wrestling with him and stabbing his dagger into a vulnerable point, and knights who take wrestling seriously can often overcome multiple lesser opponents when fully armored, even without a dagger.
The last of a knight’s weapons is his sword. Because a one-handed sword is ill suited to defeating an armored opponent or an ork, a knight’s sword (any one handed sword will do, although short swords are rare) is considered a sidearm, a weapon of last resort. Because of this, a knight’s sword is the only weapon it is socially acceptable for him to carry in civilian dress (many knights also own a true dagger to carry in social situations, reserving their mail breakers for war and jousts, but any Novan may carry a dagger as his belt knife), and thus a sword is the most constantly visible symbol of knighthood. Indeed, carrying a sword in civilian dress is tantamount to proclaiming oneself a knight.
A final important piece of “equipment” for the fully equipped knight is his squire. A squire is a special type of servant who fulfills many auxiliary functions that allow a knight to fight at his full potential in exchange for material support. Squires often serve as body servants to knights, but they also hold a knight’s horse when he fights afoot and may even provide a knight with different weapons as the battle changes. Because this often occurs in the midst of battle, most knights equip their squires as well as they can afford. Indeed, many wealthy men at arms employ squires, judging their assistance to be worth the expense.
Young noblemen often serve as squires to older knights who will vouch for them before a priest at their ordination. However, squiring is also an honorable full-time profession, and many men of lesser estate who cannot afford (or do not wish) to become men at arms serve as squires all their lives. These professional squires often become redoubtable fighters in their own rights, and are valued as trusty companions in battle.
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