Head: Duke Xabier Bayle
Seat: Castillo Sembrador near Baylesport
A large and prosperous royal house, arguably the most powerful in Amber, the Bayle are the estate-lords of the vineyards and orchards around Baylesport, and the soldiers who guard the Northern Marches.
Their name comes from Bélor, the half-beast founder of their caste among the Formoi people of the Shadow Sgarra. Over the centuries of Thari’s slow sea-change, the Cine of Bélor became the Baylor, then the Bayler, and finally The Bayle.
House Bayle’s origins are lost, as their home Shadow Sgarra was destroyed in the first weirmonken war. Sgarra lay to the north of Amber and Garnath. It was inhabited by the Formoi, distant kin to the peoples of the Four Lands. The Baelish ancestors, the Cine of Bélor, were a low-status caste of labourers who came to Amber at Oberon’s call to build the city and tame the land. They prospered and won honour. By the end of the first century of Amber there were Bayloric marcher-barons holding land on the northern frontier of Amber, around the site of the future Baylesport and inland into the thorny wilds of Arden. The Baylor lords learned military lore from the Venway and the Karm, and earned their honours against the ambitious warlords of the future Golden Circle, and monstrous threats from further out in Shadow.
The First Weirmonken War
The first weirmonken war battle-hardened the Baylor. They followed the Sons of Oberon into battle and lost many valiant warriors to weirmonken claws, sorcery and teratogens. And after their assault on Amber had been defeated, the weirmonken somehow crashed four huge shadow-storms into Sgarra and broke it. With Amberite assistance many Formoi refugees escaped their burning, fracturing realm and come to Amber, settling with their kin in the Bayloric lands. This stretched Bayloric resources and administration to breaking point, and there was ongoing unrest among the new Formoi from sorrow, bitterness and ignorance. Most Formoi still regarded the Baylor as a caste of peasants and servants and expected them to show customary humility, and were even insulted by Baylor rule.
For Baylor’s valiant service to Amber, Oberon raised Dunrix the Red, Marcher-Count of Baylor, to the rank of Duke in 433. His descendants, the Dunriges, were Bayle’s first dynasty.
House Baylor remained loyal to Oberon during Osric and Finndo’s rebellion. However many of their Formoi subjects, jealous of Baylor prestige, sided with the rebels and rose against their overlords. Although the Formoi forces that marched on Amber itself were mercilessly and quickly crushed by the armies of Houses Karm and Venway, there were many more evenly matched battles between Baylor and Formoi across the northern marches, even after Osric and Finndo had been killed. Particularly vicious and tenacious were the Formoi Fir Nuwen, the so-called Necromancers of Eld, who led hosts of undead Sluagh in a total war against Baylor settlements. It was not until the mid 600s that they were defeated, and many of them yet escaped into Shadow.
It is also in this time that Baylor repelled an insidious invasion by undead vampires called Abhartachs. Some Baylor suspected (or openly asserted) Venway involvement with these monsters.
Repeating the Lessons of History
By the 800s House Bayler was prosperous and numerous under the Dunrige Dynasty. However, it had re-evolved a caste structure much like the Formoi one the Cine had escaped. Most Baylish were peons, bound by caste roles and the law to the estates on which they lived. Above them were the capos, leading families on each estate, but still of common blood. The capos were descended from the former gentry of the Cine and the Baylor, and a few reconciled Formoi.
But above the capos were the numerous members of Dunrix’s extended line—the Dunriges believed in large families. There was almost no middle class, as merchants and artificers tended to emigrate to Amber City rather than be lumped with the peons on Bayler estates.
As the Dunriges became more numerous and their inheritances became smaller through equal sharing from generation to generation, they began encroaching on the estates of the capos. There was little enthusiasm in Amber for territorial expansion to add to the Bayler holdings. The capos returned smaller and smaller taxes to their overlords and oppressed their peons harder, diminishing the entire House’s wealth over time.
By the second weirmonken war House Bayler was a gilded hollow shell, its Dunrige officers undisciplined and lax, its capo sergeants little better than bandits, and its peon soldiers unmotivated, badly equipped, and often starving. The weirmonken tore them to pieces when they met battle. They were barely trusted even as garrison troops by other Amberite forces.
The Second Dynasty and the Cernunnine Reforms
Suero was the bastard son of a capo and a Dunrige heiress. His father’s family’s crest was the red boar, a mythical beast named Cernunnos. Suero’s father was executed for the crime of loving beyond his station. At birth Suero was taken into Arden and left for the manticores, and his mother was remarried to a distant cousin. Infant Suero was rescued by his fathers’ kin and raised among them, and joined the Bayler army as a capo sergeant at the outbreak of the second weirmonken war.
Suero saw much horror and won much acclaim as a war-leader. Through luck and increasingly good connections he rose to the rank of Marshal, answering only to the Dunrige duke, Gabro. Gabro’s claim to the title was weak and he was not a strong duke, and in the wreckage of Bayler after the war a cabal of Dunriges assassinated him, replacing him with one of their own. Suero ran a bloody counter-coup and killed the cabal to a man. They had underestimated badly his ability to command, his bravery, and the esteem and loyalty he enjoyed from the capos and peons.
Suero purged the cabal’s families and stripped them of their estates. The Dunriges appealed to Oberon for assistance but to their surprise, Oberon backed Suero. Oberon made Suero Cernnunos the Bayler Duke in 828. The Cernunnines are Bayle’s second (and current) dynasty.
Suero spent the rest of his long reign reforming Bayler. He continued to dismantle the holdings of the Dunriges (and to kill the rebellious ones)—by the time of his death, only two Dunrige families still held hereditary titles. He restored the capos’ lands and revised Baylish laws and taxation to favour the peons. Together these changes doubled Bayler agricultural output in four years, and replenished the Bayler treasury to the point Suero had to drop taxation to prevent his treasury holding too much of the house’s wealth.
Suero’s legacy fell short of dissolving the castes. Short of killing all the Dunriges he could not diminish their prestige and culture. The capos were necessary leaders for the estates and to stiffen the security of the marches against its frequent raiders. And the peons, well, somebody had to tend the orchards.
However, Suero’s army reforms did give his people of all levels of society a route for advancement. Suero abolished the hereditary rank structure and estate-based companies, and reformed it as a series of permanent legions directly controlled by the Duke. Soldiering became a profession: recruits signed up for a twenty year term of drills, marches, battles, and above all, regular rations and pay. Their equipment was standardised as well, Suero having kick-started a manufacturing base by hiring disgruntled junior guildsmen away from Amber City. At the end of their term Baylish soldiers could either re-enlist as officers or muster out with tabletop land-grants. Often they were given victory bonuses as well. Officers were rewarded with significant shares in any spoils of war, and were given non-hereditary titles and much larger land-grants on retirement. Particularly victorious officers were rewarded with hereditary titles. Thus it became possible under these Cernnunine reforms for a base peon recruit, if he or she were lucky and skilful, to rise all the way to the nobility.
At first the soldiers’ grants were in newly-conquered lands in the hinterlands of Amber and the Golden Circle Shadows. As Amber’s borders have stabilised and House Bayle’s expansion has become stymied, the grants have become smaller, or even notional. Or in the wilds of Arden, which are particularly fierce on the Northern Marches.
Oberon had taken many casual Bayle mistresses over the centuries, but it was Rilga whom he fell in love with. The grand-daughter of Suero, she was a skilled warrior and great beauty. Oberon wooed her (and she resisted him) for nearly two decades while his marriage to Clarissa Feldane failed and ended in divorce. They were married in 1016 and she bore three children to him: Cain in 1017, Julia in 1043 and Gerard in 1086. She contracted a mysterious wasting disease in 1135 and died by year’s end. Oberon was inconsolable and enraged. He blamed Clarissa Feldane’s sorcery for Rilga’s death and had her executed after a quick show-trial at the end of that year.
Her children were raised mostly in Amber, spending only brief sojourns with their Baylish kin.
Third Weirmonken War
House Bayle expanded its navy considerably in the third weirmonken war, along with the harbour at Baylesport. These assets were turned to commercial rivalry with House Chantris afterwards, an uneven contest at best.
Fourth Weirmonken War and the Moonriders of Ghenesh
The Cernunnine reforms were ancient history by the time of the fourth weirmonken war. But by this time their effects were consolidated, and the Baylish legions were unbeatable by any conventional army in conventional open-field battles. Adapting to this, the weirmonken thrust anew through the Shadows of Arden where the Baylish legions could not manoeuvre effectively. Julia of Amber persuaded the Bayles to lend her a force of volunteers to relearn irregular warfare suited to the forests, and she led them to many spectacular victories against the monsters. Out of this was born the Rangers of Arden, which to this day has a significant Baylish contingent.
The Baylish legions were unchallenged defending Amber against the Moonriders of Ghenesh. However, at the same time the Marches were assaulted anew by a force of Sluagh and Fir Nuwen that the war had stirred up. The legions broke the main assault, however many of the undead found refuge in the ruins of the broken lands and under the eaves of the forest, and to this day they still trouble wayfarers.
The last few centuries have left Bayle largely unchanged and unchallenged. They compete commercially with Chantris and Karm in food and manufactures, and on the field of honour with Venway. Affairs are cool with Feldane but since their realms are at opposite ends of Amber, there is little direct traffic between them.
Wealth and prestige
Although Karm produce more food, and Chantris sell more goods and manufactures, House Bayle is easily second in each.
The basic unit of the Bayle economy is the estate. This belongs, under Bayle law, to a noble family. It consists of a handful of villages and the cultivated land between them. Each village is run by a capo family who owe fealty to their noble. They may also own some of the land in their own right. The villagers are peons, whose labour is their rent for the small plots on which they farm their own crops and animals. Bayle lands are not as fertile as Garnath. Most of the noble and capo lands carry commodity crops like vineyards, orchards, coffee and tea, and so the peons tend towards subsistence-level production in their own plots. Surplus years are uncommon; starvation years are increasingly common, and the Bayle treasury buys much grain from Karm.
Bayle nobles are common (even ubiquitous) in Amber and serve in every office of the administration with diligence and achievement, albeit with a slight touch of military officiousness and even ruthlessness. They also host splendid balls and soirees. The main problem the Bayle bring to Amber is their touchy honour, which leads to frequent duels, mostly only to first blood.
Bayles are influential in Amber politics and the Church of the Unicorn. Since Oberon’s departure, they have overtly supported Erica where others have demurred or made excuses, and are growing hungry for more tangible rewards for their loyalty.
House Bayle fields the armoured heart of Amber’s land army: the Legions. Each of these is permanent organisation of several thousand heavy infantry with integrated cavalry, skirmishers, sorcerers and artillery under its own command. Each legion can basically fight as an independent army or defend a front all by itself. In peace-time the legions are rotated along Amber’s frontiers, spending five years at each location. Over time the legions have each attracted large bodies of civilian followers, service-providers, artificers, families, and entertainers, adding to their ability to survive independently.
The Legions are named for their sacred banners (in order of prestige):
- Red, the Duke’s own legion, whose sacred mascot is the boar Cernnunos. They deploy in the centre of Bayle lines where the fighting will be hardest.
- Black, traditionally the Bayle vanguard or right flank, whose sacred mascot is an eagle.
- White, traditionally the Bayle sternguard or left flank, whose sacred mascot is a forest bear
- Blue, specialists in siege warfare, whose sacred mascot is the rhinoceros
- Bordered Red, with a reputation for ill luck, whose sacred mascot is the raven (they are the only legion whose standard has been lost and recovered)
- Bordered Black, veterans against the Fir Nuwen and Sluagh, with a disproportionately large cadre of counter-necromancy sorcerers (‘Inquisitors’). Its sacred mascot is a mastiff.
- Bordered White, significantly well connected with the Church of the Unicorn. Its sacred mascot is the solar disc (as a metaphor for the Unicorn—it would be sacrilegious to hold the Unicorn as a mascot directly).
- Bordered Blue, recruited primarily from the Arden holdings, contains many forest-canny soldiers. Its sacred mascot is a wolf.
- Purple, newly-created in response to the Sixth Weirmonken War. Untested in battle, full of new recruits stiffened with transfers from the other legions. It is yet to earn its sacred mascot.
Military analysts tend to back the disciplined Bayle legions against Karm élan and valour, even though the Karm armies are easily larger. The Bayle navy and merchant marine cannot match the Chantris, however, and stick to the easy coastal routes to the Golden Circle and anti-piracy.
- Buoyed by their almost unbroken string of victories, the Legions have become doctrinaire in their approaches to battle, and are even showing signs of laxness. An equally well-equipped and disciplined force familiar with their tactics would probably defeat them. Cynical advisers suggest Bayle need a resounding defeat (perhaps even the honours of a legion lost) to start taking things seriously again.
- Although soldiers are still paid on time, the increasingly hollow promise of the mustering out land grants has begun to sap morale.
- In keeping with the Bayle temperament, the Legions tend to go it alone—competing with each other and the other forces of Amber.
The Bayle character can be stereotyped in three assertions: he who dares, wins; duty is its own reward; nothing is as important as honour but family, except when it’s vice-versa.
He Who Dares, Wins
Every Bayle perpetually competes with his or her peers informally and formally. A person’s status is tested by those beneath her wanting to catch up to or overtake her, and she strives to be recognised as a peer by her superiors, and so join them. Even the most bucolic peon villages will hold a Strongest Man, a Cleverest Wife, the Biggest Idiot In Bayledom. Watermelon seed spitting competitions, mumbly-peg and inter-village football liven their evenings.
The capos strive with each other to produce fine vintages of wines and brandies, the fattest cattle, the best coffee. Their children struggle to catch the eye of a scion of the noble families to marry up. Bayle artificers strenuously defend their trade secrets and send apprentices as spies to the Guild workshops of Amber City.
The nobles strive to perfect their equestrian skills and venery, fencing, heraldry, arts and knowledges, and etiquette. Bayle sorcerers are even more dangerous to each other than Feldane ones are. Legion magicians must offer up dire oaths to the Legions’ totems against magical duelling with each other.
Duty Is Its Own Reward
The Cernnunine reforms have broadly redefined the historical caste-based service attitude in Bayle culture towards something almost military. Stiffened by the discipline of retired veterans, the Bayle are effective at cooperation in teams of all sizes, from small (a hunting party) to large (a legion). They love uniforms and flags, and readily build team spirit out of shared loyalty to their village capos, their estate, or to their legion. These groups compete with other groups, their members subordinating their rivalries with their team-mates towards the teams’ greater goals.
The down-side of this is that Bayle superiors just expect obedience from their inferiors and are prone to ignoring their inferiors’ advice. Over time the brightest inferiors overtake their less talented former superiors and some wisdom trickles up, but it is slow.
Nothing Is More Important Than Honour But Family, Except When It’s Vice-Versa
The Bayle are precious with their honour because it is how they, and their teams, keep score with each other. A Bayle without honour is little better than an outlaw—even the basest peon is expected to have the honour to follow orders. The Bayle are often very touchy about insults to their honour. Duelling is common among the capos and nobles, but even peons will contest their honour with knives or fists when words fail. Duelling is forbidden to serving legionnaires (troops and officers), and to priests of the Church. More well-off officers and priests retain proxies, professional duellists, to duel for them. The greatest Bayle duellists-for-hire run their own schools. Poorer troops and parish priests either find non-violent contests to settle their differences or skulk off into the woods for illegal fights.
A family’s reputation is the fundation of a Bayle’s honour. Naturally every Bayle tries to improve their family’s honour as they strive for their own glory, and familial freeloaders and back-sliders are detested: shunned, rusticated, and even killed in duels. In places where the Old Baelish Law is followed, families of criminals must pay weregild to the families of the criminals’ victims, or offer one or more of their own members for eye-for-an-eye justice. Peon crimes against nobles have even drawn weregild demands against the peon’s entire home village, and in the cases where the villagers could not pay, their settlements would be razed and the villagers sent to the mines.
Vendetta has so far not become a part of Baelish culture because Baelish justice is reliable, and because family heads do not own their relatives. When weregild is paid, it is held to be the end of a matter. If revenge crimes persist after the price is paid, all parties will be punished by their superiors, and if it persists past that, the superiors themselves will be punished by their own superiors as a failure of discipline. Every Bayle has the right to appeal disciplinary orders to higher judges, although these rights are seldom used.
The Bayle are, by and large, a pious people. They believe the Unicorn adopted them when their old gods of Sgarra were destroyed, and their gratitude is expressed through large and colourful festivals through the year. The Bayle Church of the Unicorn is an important part of Baelish society, running its hospitals, orphanages, courts of inheritance, and most universities. It is a large, powerful and well-run organisation that offers good careers in parallel to the legions. Baelish priests can marry and have children, however they may not inherit secular property or titles. Over time Baelish priests have been slowly perverting their church’s seniority/meritocracy precedence in favour of their descendants, creating a shadow aristocracy within the Church.
The Baelish practise burial of the deceased, following an ancient sentiment that they should return their bodies to the earth from which they come. Graves line major roads with more prestigious mausoleums and cenotaphs clustering closer to city walls. The Fir Nuwen find these convenient sources of battle-fodder, which further embitters the Bayle against the necromancers.
Other peoples of Amber perceive Baelish speech as having pleasant cadence and much passion. The Bayle are prone to emphasis and even exaggeration, often parodied as melodrama. Each generation invents new superlatives to replace their parents’, which have become limp through over-use.