Amber: Dynasty

Not quite the Wars of the Roses…

House Feldane

Head: Duke Alberich Feldane

Seat: Arras (mining town near Mt Caoranach)

Miners from the far Southern reaches of Amber, their home lies in the shadow of Mt Caoranach. The Feldane are known variously for their sorcerous ability, their hardiness, a certain lack of social graces, and for duelling at the drop of a goblet.

feldane

A note on nomenclature

The Amberites tend to synecdoche when referring to the vassal peoples of the ducal houses: the inhabitants of Garnath are Karm, the folk of the northern marches are Bayles and so on. This works well enough for Venway, since the house is small and most of them have demonstrable close blood ties to the ducal line. It works least well for the Feldanes in their province of Mount Caoranach. House Feldane is just one tribe among many there; it is a reputable and honourable house to be sure, and it leads the forces of Mount Caoranach in war, but it does not not claim feudal fealty from the other tribes. It does not even speak the same language as 20% of them.

The two major ethnic groups of Mount Caoranach are the Oyez majority and the Carth minority, both descended from the Laodh people. Feldane is an Oyez tribe. From the Amber perspective, all mercenaries coming from Mount Caoranach are Feldanes. It would be better perhaps to call them Caoranachs, although few Oyez or Carth would appreciate or recognise the cognomen.

History

Slaves of the Volcano God

The land of Mount Caoranach is precisely that: the geography defined by the fiery realm around a titanic volcano. As one of the Four Lands of the Pattern, it predates Amber—at least according to its indigenous records and legends. It was always a land of tumult: lava and boiling mud; vivid, toxic jungles and crocodile-filled rivers; furious storms and ashfalls; lahars, pyroclastic flows, volcanic bombs, and poisonous fumaroles.

The Red Lake
The Red Lake

The original inhabitants of Caoranach were the Laodh, a hardy people related to the ancestors of the Karm and the Rebmans. The Laodh worshipped Mount Caoranach personified as the Feniks (phoenix) (also known as the Tanlavous (firebird) or Pikspirn (the deathbird)) and placated it in times of eruption with human sacrifice. This practice was theoretically brought to an end by Oberon, and the Phoenix’s destructive urges diminished by marriage to the Unicorn of Amber (some say the Unicorn slew and consumed the Phoenix. Others say they were always just two aspects of the one god. Religion, like everything else in Caoranach, is complicated).

Although the Laodh were a confederation of small tribes of nomadic hunters, subsistence farmers and miners, they dreamed as a nation and wrought on Caoranach’s slopes a wondrous walled city, Uzuldaroum. They constructed their city strongly to weather the moods of Caoranach. Their early mastery of sorcery and conjuration was built on the foundations of their dreaming capital, and they made it beautiful with inlaid gems and rare ores. Of all the places in their violent land its fountain-watered parks of fragrant trees and flowers were the most peaceful, and its graceful towers and sunny plazas echoed with children’s laughter, song and courtly romance.

Typical Feldanic Ruins
Typical Laodh Ruins

Lords of the Infinite Labyrinth

When Oberon and Dworkin came to wreak their will on Caoranach, the Laodh were neither organised or numerous enough to impede them. A handful of Laodh sorcerer-heroes died in one-on-one duels with Oberon, a sport he later described as ‘unexpectedly entertaining’.

Oberon and Dworkin reworked the Pattern of Caoranach (or some say, created it) and Mount Caoranach erupted in agony. Convulsive earthquakes reordered the geography. Uzuldaroum sank into a chasm, its inhabitants forced to flee its falling walls and towers amid the burning orchards.

Worse was to come. The new Pattern of Caoranach allowed myriad tunnels and caves to come to be underneath the land, connecting to each other, to the ruined plateau where Uzuldaroum once stood, and to farther and stranger realms in Shadow. From the tunnel mouths issued monsters, all new to Caoranach, and all hungry for wealth or meat. The Laodh found themselves fighting for their lives against enslavement—or even extinction.  They lost over half their people in the first decade. But they endured and grew more skilful, and soon they held back the monsters and began to renew their numbers. They conquered the nearer regions of the Labyrinth and fortified them against further invasions.

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The descendants of the Laodh, the Oyez and Carth, revere Uzuldaroum as a lost paradise. Many of them believe the Dreaming City was not destroyed by the Labyrinth but exists within it, undefiled and gently sleeping, waiting to be rediscovered.

The Sorceress’s heart

Over the centuries Oberon continued to visit Mount Caoranach frequently, finding the Laodh people hospitable and fun, and the opportunities for adventure in the Labyrinth to his liking. His hosts were the Feldane tribe, who claimed descent from the Tywseach (Princes) of Uzuldaroum (…but of course, everybody did…). In the mid 700s Marcelino Feldane and his daughter Clarissa were Oberon’s boon companions in adventure. It was rumoured Oberon and Marcelino became blood-brothers, and it was certain Oberon fell in love with Clarissa the fiery-haired sorceress. He brought her to Amber in 787 and gave her a sumptuous suite in the palace, to the disgust of his then-mistress Adele and her children Theodric and Matilda. There followed decades of intrigue between Adele and Clarissa, who took to the matter with considerable gusto and growing skill at politics.

In 817 the Weirmonken assaulted Amber anew through Kashfa. Marcelino’s Feldane sorcerers served with distinction and were rewarded well by Oberon. Marcelino’s generosity with his own booty bought Feldane great prestige among the Laodh.

In 825 Oberon made his friend Marcelino the fifth Duke of Amber. It was said this was merely so Clarissa would be ennobled enough for Oberon to take her as his queen. This slights the role of Marcelino in bringing the fiercely individualistic Laodh together into a new nation: having seen the Weirmonken in battle, Marcelino foresaw that Mount Caoranach was only weakly defended against a force like the Weirmonken. He needed his people to be valuable to Amber, and to make them take responsibility for defending their two-fold frontier.

Prince Theodric of Amber disputed the grant. He had expected the fifth duchy to go to his mother’s people, the Caderyn, a powerful family of Karm with rich lands on the western Garnath marches. Either through arrogance or wisdom he chose not to lead armies against Feldane but instead challenged Marcelino to a simple duel for the coronet. Oberon allowed the duel to proceed. Even though Marcelino’s reputation was for sorcery, he proved expert with a blade as well, and at the end of a gruelling bout, slew Theodric with a sabre through his heart. Adele left the palace after this and went out into Shadow with many of her kin. The remaining Caderyn dwindled and the family was absorbed into the royal house of Karm.

In 841 Clarissa bore a son, Bleys.

In 878 Oberon married Clarissa and made her his queen. Her purge of palace staff and junior nobility with old loyalties to her predecessors is legendary.

Clarissa bore Oberon a daughter, Fiona, in 895. As with Bleys (and Brand to come), Fiona inherited a powerful talent for sorcery, a taste for intrigue, great beauty, and red hair. None of the Clarissans came to Caoronach often: they learned their arts in Amber.

The Wars of the Princesses

Over the decades into the 900s Oberon discovered the passionate, adventurous temperament that had attracted him to Clarissa in the first place tended to pall in ongoing proximity. Perhaps Clarissa pined for adventure in the palace, and tended to create her own through intrigue. The couple’s arguments and reconciliations were spectacular, and made their way into popular song down in the City.

Oberon began to stay away from the palace for longer periods, and strayed farther out into Shadow. This became even more prevalent after Marcelino Feldane disappeared into the Labyrinth around 966. His effects were recovered but no body was ever found. Oberon declared Marcelino legally dead in 1000 and passed the duchy to his niece Camilla Feldane, from whom the line of Feldane dukes has descended to the present day.

Very suddenly in 980 Oberon announced he would divorce Clarissa. His silence on his motives led to all sorts of rumours: a new love, infidelity by Clarissa, manoeuvres by the Clarissans to seize the throne of Amber. Clarissa did not contest it, and was not dismissed from the palace, nor were her two children made illegitimate. There was even a brief, torrid reconciliation around 991, and Prince Brand resulted from this.

Oberon brought his new love Rilga Bayle to Amber around 1015 and married her in 1016. Clarissa remained in Amber as the ‘King’s Beloved Sister’, and made it something of a chamberlain’s role. Oberon still seemed to trust her, and she seemed to deal amicably with Rilga. This all fell apart in the late 1120s, when Rilga contracted a mysterious wasting disease and lingered until 1135. Oberon was apparently heartbroken. He seized on Clarissa as the architect of Rilga’s demise and after a brutal show-trial, had her executed. And yet Clarissa’s alleged guilt was not extended to her children, nor to Feldane and the Laodh, who he continued to treat with honour.

The Horror in the Labyrinth

Oberon’s attention on Mount Caoranach waned in the 1200s and the realm began to change once more. The diverse dialects of the Laodh that had converged on Marcelino’s Yezh began to separate anew into Oyez, spoken by Feldane and the more settled tribes, and rustic Carth, spoken by the more traditional and nomadic tribes. The landscape reworked itself during decades of intense eruptions, and the Labyrinth writhed and grew, extending new tunnels further into the land and further out into Shadow.

dungeon-mouth

The Thid Weirmonken War was largely fought in the seas off Amber’s coast, however an expeditionary force of Weir did attempt to infiltrate through the Labyrinth, and was destroyed by Feldane sorcerers and adventurers. This scarcely made it into Amber’s chronicles because the Feldane victory was so complete. The Weirmonken repeated this assault in the 4th and 5th wars, with much the same result. Feldane sorcerers were able to lend their might to Amber’s armies in the wars because Mount Caoranach remained so strongly defended.

A Feldanic sorcerer
A Feldane sorcerer

Sorcerers Ascendant

By 1600 or so the distinction between the settled Oyez speakers and the nomadic Carth speakers had become traditional, and even cultural. The Oyez were builders of strongholds at strategic points across the Mount and into the Labyrinth. They delved mines and erected smelters, and grew rich on trade with Bayle, Karm and Amber. There was an attempt to borrow Baylic Cernnunine reforms for their defence forces, but these proved infeasible given the cultural differences between the team-spirited Bayle and individualistic Oyez. Over time the Oyez developed a repeating pattern of ‘schools’, where a successful sorcerer or adventurer would take on students to perpetuate their expertise.

The Carth were largely left behind. They remained an adaptable nomadic folk divided between small tribes. Their worship of the Phoenix and the Unicorn was as wild as their sorcery. Rumours the Carth had also developed a talent for shapeshifting led to growing suspicion among the Oyez about them, since shapeshifting was a known weirmonken trait.

Both Oyez and Carth still pursue adventure and wealth in the Labyrinth—and quest for lost Uzuldaroum.

Wealth and prestige

Feldane is rich with minerals, gems and ores mined from the tortured landscape or retrieved from jungle ruins or the Labyrinth itself. Strange magics and magical items are prestige trade items as well. The jungle also supplies arcane botanicals and rare game. Caoranach sorcerers and adventurers bring home wealth as mercenaries from other Shadows.

Oyez sulfur mining

House Feldane’s leadership in Mount Caoranach is assumed to be absolute in Amber, but it is more like ‘first among equals’. Many Oyez clans negotiate their own contracts and trade with the other houses of Amber directly and trade wars between Oyez houses are not uncommon. Feldane traditionally leads the realm in war, and this has not been disputed.

The Carth barter accumulated goods for the things they need when they can. They serve less often as mercenaries because they respond less well to non-Carth leadership, and because on campaign they seem to grow quickly homesick for their chaotic homeland.

Feldane is influential in Amber because of the excellence of its magic and willingness to lend sorcerers to others’ exploits. The Amber Church of the Unicorn has an ongoing mission to regularise worship among the Oyez and particularly the Carth, whose practices are often quite odd.

Military

House Feldane offers Amber a large number of proficient sorcerers whose skills have been honed in expeditions into the Labyrinth, or by ongoing service with other Amberite forces (the Bayle legions and Chantris navy attract many Feldanes).

Feldane also fields Avanturors (adventurers), highly-skilled and adaptable warriors often bearing magical gear they have retrieved in the Labyrinth. Their techniques are varied and often unorthodox, making coordinating larger groups of them problematic. This is ameliorated to some extent by the typical avanturor’s ability to improvise.

A curious subset of adventurers are the Mestraloen (beast masters), who seek out and train powerful animals and monsters to fight alongside them or as steeds. There are many more Carth beastmasters than Oyez.

The typical unit for Feldane mercenaries is the Bandenn (party), a group of 3-12 adventurers and sorcerers who have trained and quested together over a long period of time, adapting to each others’ special talents and temperaments. On campaign this group may lead a force of up to 30 Lakezi (henches), typically apprentices and students of the party-members.

Weaknesses

  • Feldane forces are highly proficient and adaptable, but not numerous. They cannot sustain casualties. On the battlefield they are best used as force multipliers for other Amber armies rather than as independent units. They do make superb small-force operatives: commandoes, scouts and assassins.
  • As highly self-motivated and wilful experts, Feldanes respond badly to mediocre leadership. They will take their own direction, refuse to act, or just desert, if given bad orders.
  • The Feldane temperament can lead to duels or violent rivalries with nearby troops prone to acting on insult.

Culture

The Feldane character is ambiguous. It is stereotyped in Amber as argumentative, passionate, somewhat fickle, prideful, skilled, but fundamentally generous and decent.

As with the ancestors of the Karm, Laodh society was that of tribal nomads. Each tribe was made up of 2-5 clans who were inter-related and observed shared customs. As the land of Mount Caoranach was prone to rearranging itself, they seldom laid claim to particular parts of it. When the Laodh came together to build dreaming Uzuldaroum many of the tribes settled within it and became the ancestors of the Oyez. The tribes that contributed to the city but stayed nomadic, visiting it only for festivals and trade, gave rise to the Carth. The early massacre wreaked by the Labyrinth fell disproportionately on the proto-Oyez.

Uzuldaroum taught the proto-Oyez to appreciate possessions in amounts infeasible for nomads and they became acquisitive and ambitious. Their tribes also became somewhat less egalitarian, as patterns of inheritance tended to favour the families of wealth at the expense of their less lucky kin. Perhaps if the Labyrinth had not destroyed the city, Oyez society would have ended up as stratified as the Bayle. The war against the Labyrinth’s monsters, and their struggle to re-learn how to survive in Mount Caoranach’s badlands and jungles, brought them back to equality but did not extinguish their love of wealth.

The First Freedom is the Freedom to be Yourself

Every Caoranach regards themselves as a free actor on the stage of destiny. They respond poorly to coercion of any kind, and will argue with it, struggle against it, or just leave it behind. They willingly follow leaders who demonstrate greater expertise or wisdom in a matter at hand, but even these leaders know they will have to back their decisions with evidence, or argument, when events allow reflection.

To pursue their destinies, the Caoranachs conscientiously practice and develop their skills and seek out ways to extend them. They are fond of comparing their prowess with each other through argument, demonstration, competition or duel. To an outsider this often comes across as strident self-aggrandisement, or an insecure need to rate themselves against everyone around them. It is neither: most Caoranachs are only ever in competition with themselves in order to perfect their skills, and they only compare these skills with others in order to learn. The Oyez schools exemplify this in their mentor-student relationships: it is a proud day for a mentor, not a sad one, when one of their students demonstrates prowess to equal the mentor’s.

Larger-scale projects are certainly harder to complete in Mount Caoranach than in the Bayle Marches. The leaders of such a project can only attract Caoranachs to work for them through inspiration and argument, with plenty of opportunities for the workers to increase their skills, and in the knowledge that as soon as inspiration wanes, the workers will go elsewhere. This aside, the Caoranachs deal with disasters like war or the moods of the mountain cooperatively and without selfishness. Each Caoranach contributes to the common good to the best of their ability until the disaster is dealt with. Charity also comes easy to the Caoranach. As nomads in a dangerous land they deeply value human life, and will readily share food, water and shelter with honourable strangers.

Respect is Earned, and Polished by Deeds

Through constant comparison, every Caoranach has a good instinctive sense of who they should respect and who they can expect respect from. Because every Caoranach constantly strives to improve themselves, this produces a Red Queen Race where individuals’ progress is fairly slow, punctuated by swift adjustments when rivals die, retire or move away.

A large part of an individual’s due respect is built of their deeds, for good or ill. A Caoranach who is generous and wise will receive a different kind of respect than one who has mastered duelling with fire-magics. Both will have achieved their level of respect by demonstrating their prowess (and the willingness to defend or demonstrate this at any moment…). This is a significant problem for interactions between Caoranach and other peoples of Amber: where a Bayle capo may be proud of their generations of noble heritage and expect deference on that basis alone, the Caoranach upon meeting them will gently test their ability to support their assertion of leadership, and should this fall short, the Caoranach will seek the Bayle’s deference instead. This is why the Caoranachs get in so many duels. A wiser leader employing Caoranachs will couch orders as opportunities for the Caoranachs to demonstrate their prowess rather than as mere orders ‘because I said’.

Another option for the cynical or manipulative leader is to keep the Caoranachs in a constant state of action. Most Caoranachs will defer matters of leadership or skill until an immediate threat is dealt with, when there is time to have a proper argument.

Although House Feldane holds noble rank in Amber, this is largely meaningless in Mount Caoranach. The house’s greater access to power—wealth, political influence, trade and allies in Amber—is what gains it respect among the Oyez. The more expert training and higher standards expected of young Feldanes over other Oyez is what gains them respect among the Carth.

Wealth is for the taking—if you’re good enough

Still haunted by dreams of lost Uzuldaroum, the Oyez subconsciously strive to surround themselves with beautiful and costly things. Magical items are also highly prized.

Although Mount Caoranach is by no means a safe or tranquil realm, it is a tremendously bountiful one—if you know where to look, and can defend what you take. A telling factor against the development of any serious industry in Mount Caoranach is that it rewards intrepid adventurism in the Labyrinth or out in the jungles vastly more than humble hard work. However, casualty rates among young Caoranachs are high. Senior Caoranachs ameliorate this with excellent training through their schools, and by lending their students equipment that they once used as adventurers or sorcerers in their day.

A wealthy Oyez is perceived by her peers as skilful and perhaps not a little lucky, rather than moral.

A wealthy Carth will share their winnings with their tribe.

The Carth are different

Carth speakers make up no more than 20% of the population of Mount Caoranach.

It is easy to stereotype the Carth as wilderness-canny tribal folk to distinguish them from the Oyez, who are more comprehensible to the civilised Amberites. However as equals of the Oyez as inheritors of the glory of Uzuldaroum, the Carth are by no means uncivilised, rough or naive. Their culture is based on the frankly expressed choice to face the wilds of Mount Caoranach as equals, as participators rather than cultivators, as a part of the ecosystem and not its masters. Carth adventurers and sorcerers delve into the Labyrinth at the same rates as their Oyez cousins. They leave fewer marks, and defend far fewer strongholds. Perhaps they have even gone further into the dark Shadows than the Oyez.

The Caoranach have proverb: ‘Marry an Oyez for power, and a Carth for wisdom’. Although not common, marriages between the peoples are valued. The children of these marriages will be raised predominantly in one of their parents’ cultures but they will be allowed their own choice on which path to follow when they reach adulthood.

House Feldane is, by Amberite perceptions, a pretty good first approximation at the general nature of and culture of the Oyez. The Oyez tribes share close interests and sentiments. Not so with the Carth. Almost as if they were rebelling against stereotyping, every Carth tribe has a distinct take on the typical Caoranach self-sufficiency and wilfulness. Their magics also vary wildly.

Religion

Among the Oyez the Amberite Church of the Unicorn is held as good common ground. Their rites of worship and festivals otherwise vary somewhat. Not so among the Carth tribes. There are fundamental disagreements between the Carth about the Phoenix and the Unicorn: which one is paramount, if they are separate entities or aspects of a single whole. Some tribes still sacrifice animals to their gods. It is rumoured that some may still sacrifice people.

Arras Cathedral
Arras Cathedral

Speech

For most Caoranach, Thari is a second language: one of its cousins Oyez or Carth will be their primary tongue. Feldanes speak good Thari with some colour from Oyez: they emphasise consonants (particularly sibilants), muddy vowels and speak rapidly. As an egalitarian people, they have to think about honorifics, and few learn the respect-forms of Thari, making them seem brusque and ungracious to those who hold store by such nuances.

The Carth, when they have to, speak lesson-perfect Thari with a fairly limited vocabulary, and ruefully interpolate Carth terms where they cannot remember the Thari equivalent. A fair number of Carth carry translating devices or spells of mind-speech to get around the language gap altogether.

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