The tournament is a major social event in the lives of all levels of secular Novan society. A tournament may be hosted by either a knight or a lord, although the expense involved tends to restrict tournaments to the wealthy. A tournament combines several features:
A tournament’s original function was as a place to conduct jousts, or formal knightly duels. A joust consists of a specified number of bouts (usually three) with a mounted weapon (typically a lance), a foot weapon (typically a poll axe, though jousts in House Felicin’s land more often use longswords), and unarmed (though daggers are permissible). The challenger may specify the number of bouts, so long as each round of the joust has the same number of bouts, though each individual fighter chooses his own weapons.
Jousts may be fought with blunted or live weapons at the option of the challenged party, and individual bouts may be ended after a set time period or first blood, at the option of the challenger. If blunted weapons are chosen, a knockout of one combatant will finish a bout, and a death is considered to dishonor the victor. If live weapons are chosen, death is an acceptable outcome. In all cases, a combatant may yield either an individual bout or the joust to his opponent, at which point the victor is expected to spare his life. Overall victory in a joust is achieved by winning the majority of bouts, unless one of the combatants is dead or has yielded the entire contest.
Jousts are perennially popular affairs, and even in wartime a battle may stop to observe two famous knights jousting. In peacetime, jousts are normally delayed until the next tournament – months, if need be. To provide additional entertainment, however (as well as give combatants additional chances to win renown), a tournament organizer often allows jousts of honor. These are formally duels, but fought for money (strictly speaking, each combatant declares that his opponent owes him a sum of money, such as the worth of his opponent’s horse, and a joust is fought to decide the “disagreement”), and victors often fight other victors until an overall winner is declared. These jousts are never fought to the death, but they are a major source of entertainment for the masses and an established way for a knight to improve both his reputation and his wealth.
A major function of a tournament is to reinforce the social order. Nobles use the opportunity to display their wealth and prestige with brightly colored pavilions and large retinues of retainers. A grand melee is fought with blunted weapons, which anybody may enter, thus establishing the nobility’s martial prowess and justification for their exalted social position (and, in the rare instance that the winner is not of high estate, he may be elevated to the rank of scout to demonstrate the estate system’s meritocracy). Important marriage contracts are reserved to be executed at tournaments. Grand feasts are served to demonstrate their hosts’ piety (through giving of their substance to the many) and reinforce their power (since only tr wealthy can afford such lavish entertainments). Saints are honored with lavish ceremonies, which normally include sizable gifts to the Ecclesiarchy. In these and a thousand other ways a tournament presents life on Nova at its best, while simultaneously reinforcing the existing social order.
One of the most important functions of a tournament is as a celebration. The Ecclesiarchy disapproves of most secular celebrations, but because tournaments have a strong conservative purpose, tournaments are exempt from this disapproval. In fact, tournaments are the only secular celebration the church condones, which is enough by itself to make them highly anticipated events by all levels of society.
Tournaments also serve an important commercial function. The concentrations of people that tournaments attract creates large markets, and the festival atmosphere encourages people to spend. A large tournament can be the most significant economic event of the year for a region’s craftsmen, particularly those who can show their wares being worn, used, or consumed by nobility. Tournaments are also natural times to conduct trade agreements, and heralds use the opportunity to share news amongst each other and thus keep their knowledge current.
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