The Knights of Holy Shielding
The Age of Sorrows brought many upheavals to the lands of the Flanaess, but none more so than in the Great Kingdom. The moral decay within that once great land led to a great rebellion among its border states which ultimately resulted in the succession of the Great Kingdom’s most notable outlying region, the Viceroyalty of Ferrond. Shortly after its succession, the minor states that made up the viceroyalty further splintered into their own realms, these being the Kingdom of Furyondy, the Archclericy of Veluna, the County of Verbobonc (which is nominally a vassal state of Veluna), the lands of the Highfolk Valley, and the Earldom of Walworth (later to become known as the Shield Lands) and its outlying lands.
Within the lands north of the Nyr Dyv, the disparate nobles living there were astute enough to know that unless they banded together they would become easy prey to any invaders, in particular to the newly established Combination of Free Lords, a lawless group of robber barons and bandit lords to the north of them. The Earl of Walworth, who possessed a large island within his lands upon which was built the only city of note within the whole of the region, was elected to be the first Knight Commander of their combined forces. This position would become hereditary among the Walworths, and the capitol of the newly formed Shield Lands was officially established (in the mid 300’s CY) at the island city of Admundfort and a religious order of knights was formed. This order of knighthood, known as the Knights of Holy Shielding, would come to form the core of the Shield Lands army.
Clashes with raiding forces from the lands of the Free Lords soon became common, as were incursions by humanoid tribes lurking in the Fellreev Forest and elsewhere. Despite the frequency of these attacks, they only served to strengthen the newly formed Shield Lands by bringing more devout folk into the fold of its military. As a result, the membership of the Knights of Holy Shielding soared. The Shield Lands as a nation prospered under the protection of its well equipped and highly trained army.
While the Shield Lands has never formally declared a state religion, nearly 90% of the area’s population worships Heironeous. Originally the religious order known as the Knights of Holy Shielding was solely a Heironean order, but over time room has been made for like-minded folk of differing faiths, though their numbers still remain few. The most common faiths of the order’s non-Heironean members are those of St. Cuthbert, Pelor, Rao, Pholtus, and more recently Mayaheine and Trithereon; the latter group having grown over the last few years since the end of the Greyhawk Wars and the initiation of the War of Reclamation (retribution being an idea the average Shield Lander is currently very open to). The Heironean roots of the order are still exemplified by the phrase “May the axe grow great.” which refers to the hope that the power of Heironeous will once again be felt in the former Shield Lands territories that now lie in enemy hands.
The Knights of Holy Shielding has historically been an insular order, choosing to take care of its own affairs. When Iuz came to power in the north, Furyondy sought to ally with the Shield Lands in common cause against this new threat on their borders. The Shield Landers refused, thinking Furyondy made the offer to mask their intent to annex the Shield Lands. This has caused much bad blood between both nations, and particularly among their knightly orders, and still affects relations to this day. The Shield Lands has suffered greatly in the last ten years due to refusing the aid of its neighbors, a point which is not lost on many Shield Landers. After the Shield Lands fell to the forces of Iuz, the Shield Landers themselves, and the Knights of Holy Shielding in particular, were mostly convinced of the folly of their past thinking, due in no small part to the magnanimity shown to Shield Lander refugees by their southern neighbors. Through much diplomacy and pointed humility on their part, representatives of the Shield Lands succeeded in gathering support for the retaking of the Shield Lands, which has resulted in the retaking of Critwall and the surrounding countryside as well as Scragholme Isle.
The Knights of Holy Shielding adhere to strict standards regarding the admittance of new members to the order. Those seeking admittance to the order undergo a series of tests to determine the strength of their faith and convictions, as well as their combat worthiness. This “Trial of Faith” serves to weed out those without the moral fortitude to uphold the tenets of the Knights of Holy Shielding. Most of the order’s members originally advanced through the army of the Shield Lands, with those showing exceptional faith and courage being accepted to squire for the order, though such individuals are referred to as aspirants rather than squires. In the current day, most prospective aspirants come from temples within the lands of Furyondy, Veluna, and from what little of the Shield Lands that has been retaken. Occasionally a warrior will be accepted by the order as a full knight based upon their exceptional faith and combat ability, or upon the completion of a great deed in the service of the Shield Lands. Such direct admission to the order through the doing of great deeds was once a very rare occurrence, but it has become more common in recent years as there are many opportunities for heroic action in the course of reclaiming former Shield Lands territory.
The Knights of Holy Shielding count among its membership a disproportionate amount of paladins and clerics in addition to the more common membership made up of simple pious warriors of mostly Heironean faith. Those who show an aptitude for mounted combat form a separate group of religious knights within the order. While upholding the highest standards of religious zeal, these pious knights also seek to master the order’s original combat doctrines which are closely based upon their historical predecessor, the Knight Protectors of the Great Kingdom. The order diverges from their predecessor in that it combines religious training with combat training. It is mostly these knights that serve as the field commanders of the Shield Lands armies, and also make up the elite heavy cavalry of the Knights of Holy Shielding. In the past, upon formal entry to the order, a Knight of Holy Shielding was given a suit of armor, a shield, two weapons, and a warhorse. Currently, knights are expected to provide their own equipment, which is in effect a personal donation to the cause of reclaiming those lands still under the control of Iuz.
The Knights of Holy Shielding are currently based out of Critwall, Scragholme Island, and the recently liberated island city of Admundfort. In addition to gathering funds to aid in the conquest of the Lost Lands, the Knights of Holy Shielding also seek to purchase warships for the purpose of patrolling the northern shores of the Nyr Dyv, and to guard Shield Lander Merchant vessels plying those waters as well. The order is currently led by Her Most Honorable Ladyship, Countess Katarina of Walworth, Knight Commander of the Shield Lands (high level paladin), a younger cousin of the late Earl. The Lady Katarina is the titular head of the order, though its daily affairs are seen to by Incosee (high level warrior), a Knight Banneret and notable leader of the famous Bronze Band. Allied contingents of warriors from the County of Crystalreach (now ruled by the expatriate Shield Lander Count Artur Jakartai) often participate with the Knights of Holy Shielding in raids upon their former lands as they continue to fight a “War of Reclamation”. The heraldry of the Knights of Holy Shielding is Argent, a field gules inescutcheon, a tower sable.
A variant heraldry is used by a select group of fanatical knights who have given up all endeavors other than to retake the provinces that still remain in enemy hands. To this end, these knights live along the borders of the Shield Lands, constantly leading sorties into enemy controlled territory. The variant heraldry born by these knights is the same as that of the order itself, but with the addition of eleven blood drops spaced evenly within the outer white border of the field. Each blood drop represents one of the eleven ancestral provinces of the lords of the Shield Lands that still remain in enemy hands.