Head: Duchess Cassilda Venway
Seat: Qiang House, on the broken caldera of Mt Kolvir
House Venway are the oldest of Amber’s noble houses. So diverse are their interests that they have managed to weather two major scandals without losing much in the way of power.
In Venway’s semi-mythical founding stories, the house/nation was ruled by twin brother warriors, General Er Wan and Marshal Nu Wa, who had attributes of night and day respectively. The brothers gave birth to twin sisters Camilla and Cymnea (the whole male–female thing being a notable innovation back then) and then ritually fought to the death for the honour of serving the Unicorn. Nu Wa won and was sacrificed. Er Wan led his people to Amber and swore them to Oberon’s service.
After General Er Wan died in battle, Camilla became the first Venway duchess and her sister Cymnea became Oberon’s first wife.
Venway began their rise to power when Oberon made his trusted general Er Wan the first Amberite Duke in order to marry his daughter Cymnea. Cymnea proved to be a strong-willed woman, though her early attempts to meddle in Oberon’s affairs did not end well. She argued with Oberon over his affair with Moins, was openly rude to Moins and Oberon’s bastard daughter Llewella, and had a very public falling out with the king over his affair with Faiella Karm. Oberon not only divorced her: he annulled their marriage, making her sons by him retrospective bastards.
Feud with House Karm
Oberon’s very public affair with Faiella Karm while he was still married to Cymnea caused a great deal of scandal, much of which was driven by House Venway. Prince Osric was particularly vocal against House Karm, starting a personal feud which led to several deaths by duelling. Oberon did little to diffuse the situation, and Cymnea actively encouraged it. Finndo was only occasionally involved in defence of his brother, while Benedict tried repeatedly to calm Osric down and smooth matters over with House Karm. When Oberon annulled his marriage to Cymnea, matters came to a disastrous head.
The Failed Coup
Osric was determined not to be dishonoured. He vanished from Amber for a time, gathering an army secretly in shadow. When celebrations began in Amber for the birth of Prince Corwin, Osric attacked. His brother Finndo joined the assault, but Benedict stayed well out of the battle, instead remaining in the palace to protect Queen Faiella and her two children. The battle did not go well for Osric — the reinforcements he had expected from House Venway did not arrive (perhaps the house realised that Osric’s attack was doomed). Finndo died late in the battle. Osric was defeated and captured.
Osric was publicly executed a week after the battle. He uttered his death curse in front of the gathered crowd, denouncing his brother Benedict as a coward and declaring all of House Venway forsworn. His curse took effect quickly — House Venway fell victim to a kind of vampirism. Over time, they came to understand, and even control, their curse, but many in Amber still shun them for it. It is a brave family indeed who will allow their children to marry a member of House Venway, for fear of contracting the curse.
Wealth and prestige
Venway’s wealth is not spectacular. It comes mostly from ancient battle-treasure and quiet blue-chip investment in the commerce of the City. It holds only scattered properties in Amber apart from Qiang House, all of long-standing title — their sprawling, gaunt-towered town-house (more like a block of inter-connected apartments and suites) above Linden Square is the most significant of these.
House Venway is also not spectacularly prestigious, perceived by the other houses as old-fashioned, frowsty and a bit ooky. Osric’s Curse is never far from people’s minds when they think of Venway.
The family of the blood itself is small, as the Curse makes pregnancy a chancy thing.
House Venway fields only a small force, made up of:
- a core of elite knights / heavy cavalry, made up of vampiric family-members in plate armour on their large, carnivorous horses
- companies of professional/veteran crossbow archers protected by pikes
- a grudgingly acknowledged command of the more adept vampires and a small number of sorcerers, used for recon by force, force-majeure and ending sieges.
- Venway does not possess the holdings to raise a useful levy to protect its expensive elements, and so integrates with other Amberite forces rather than going it alone.
- Sunlight removes the vampiric advantage enjoyed by family-members, and in some Shadows, it actually hurts them.
- Venway reputation has sometimes caused morale problems among allied troops, particularly less well-trained units or ones less familiar with Amber.
House Venway is Amber’ oldest noble family after Oberon’s own dynasty. Their history is as long as Amber’s, and they embrace it. They self-consciously behave with an air of archaism and rigid etiquette. Their garb is formal and old-fashioned. Their speech is to many ears over-precise in pronunciation and lexicon, long-winded and rhetorical. They observe a vast number of ancient festivals and rites: over 200 nights of the Venway year are marked with some ceremony or other, remembering otherwise forgotten heroes or heroines, or lost victories, or votive offerings to long somnolent genii.
Venway are the smallest noble house. Osric’s curse affects Venway’s population in two ways. Firstly, its members are long-lived even past the expectations of mortals in Amber. They learn to plan for decades where others only plan for next year. They do not make quick decisions: it is said in the City, ‘Rather than say no immediately, a Venway will say ‘Let me think on this’, and your children will receive an ‘I regret I can not accede to the request’.
Secondly, the perils of pregnancy and childbirth mean Venway numbers expand only slowly. Their scions are precious and so they are formidably coerced to accept the burden of the house’s history and reputation that is their birthright. Their education lasts over twice the customary period for the children of other houses. They are supervised overtly and covertly by elder relatives at all times, to ensure they learn well, that they are safe from threats outside the house, and that they do not give in to the appetites of Osric’s curse (but this is also sometimes conveniently used as an excuse for youthful rebellion against their unending supervision).
Osric’s curse hangs heavy over the house. Each and every Venway knows they are a monster. They suppress their base natures with their rigid code of behaviour, developed from the ancient Ven We observance of Li. Translated sometimes as properness, but also reverence, courtesy and simplicity, Li is the acknowledgement of place in family, society and the universe. The self displays this acknowledgement through proper behaviour (Lian), and receives this acknowledgement through etiquette (Guanxi), ceremony (Lishi) and gift exchanges (Renqing). Li is cultivated through calm contemplation of the world (Xíang-li) and self (Zizhixi), through the diligent practice of arts and crafts (Lishou), including painting, swordsmithing, music (and making musical instruments), and garden design, and through perfection of martial forms (Liwushu).
Venway honour is based on Li. The Venway are chill and correct in deed; they become even more polite when insulted. They are difficult to drive to fury through words alone since most of them have a pretty good idea of their self-worth through observance of Lian, and gain more through self-control. If it comes to a duel, they will fight with great attention to ritual forms and proper responses. They sublimate their hunger for violence into indirect revenge – and monstrous assaults where there are no witnesses. On the battlefield Venway knights are strongly disciplined and encouraged to display skill and form, to keep their monsters chained up in their hearts despite the powerfully tempting stimuli of blood, violence, rage and fear.
Under the house’s constant pressure to conform and excel, young Venway often become neurotic, precious hothouse flowers who are very fond of themselves and contemptuous of ‘the cattle’. They are sternly corrected in this by Venway etiquette-teachers whenever it becomes obvious. The recalcitrant or stupid refuse correction and embrace the violence of their blood, and either escape into Shadow, or are caught in some heinous act in the City and disappear. Hagen is not the only Dark Angel of Ultimate Obedience: the eldest Venway nobles are also rumoured to take an active interest in removing the ‘dross’ from the bloodline.
Endogamy is a problem for Venway. Even with modern magical healing techniques, few non-Venway women are eager to risk carrying a blood-sucking Venway infant to term. The ones that do are encouraged to come to Qiang House and are treated as princesses for their time. Venway women share a resentment for any inference of being ‘brood mares’ for the house, and many deliberately choose lesbianism or celibacy to avoid the subject coming up. The Venway also sublimate their finer feelings into Musay, a social game of courtly love and intrigue, a cross between Regency romance, Camarilla politics and an interminable soap-opera. (Musay was originally the evening call to prayer.)
The Venway do not succumb to old age and death. If they avoid violent demise, as they feel decreptitude and regret triumphing, they will begin to visit Tir nAn Og’th more and more often, and eventually ’emigrate’ there to be numbered among the enigmatic and masked inhabitants of that strange place, and never return to Amber.
Adherence to the Church of the Unicorn is a kind of masochism for the Venway as its churches make them physically uncomfortable, and many unicorn priests have supernatural power to pain or repel the blood of Osric’s Curse. Nonetheless many Venway are proper church-goers, for the Lian if nothing else.
Few Venway live outside the sprawling structures of Qiang House or the townhouse on Linden Square. Amid these halls and towers there is little room for large gardens, so the Venway typically cultivate tranquil landscapes on a room-sized basis: a handful of picturesque rocks, a few trees and shrubs, moss and pools of water. Most are designed for best viewing at night, attracting luminous moths and growing strange fungi.