First up for today, it’s another bit of background for the Atheria campign: The Order of Arelm, a group that takes care of those children who are, for one reason or another, born with a Chelmian Birthright of Blood or Shadow Magic rather than the Imperial Birthright of Order Magic. Since the player characters are currently working on and around the border, and have a soft spot for kids, they may be bumping into the Order on and off.
The Order of Arelm was established during the reign of Carius Augustus, the first Emperor of Alaria – although it has been reorganized several times since then and there has never been a lot of agreement on its methodology.
The problem confronting Augustus was simple: there were children with Chelmian birthrights who still had some claim on the Imperium. Some were fathered by legionaries, some were the offspring of kidnaped and rescued women, and others the children of citizens who were in Chelm at the moment of birth – whether due to accident, out of ignorance of the boundaries, or because the domain borders of Chelm had shifted shortly before their child was born. That happened, and happens, occasionally; the domain border with Chelm was, and is, wildly unstable compared to most domain borders. It can fluctuate by up to a dozen miles for hours or days at a time. That’s pretty rare, but it happens in limited areas at least once or twice a year.
Yet the Imperium could not afford to give up the borders – and a certain percentage of its citizens would always be drawn to the profits to be found on the borders of Chelm.
Still, the Chelmian Birthrights were too disruptive to simply allow in the empire. The population feared and distrusted their bearers – whether they were children or not – and their parents often wanted nothing to do with them. Almost as importantly, without an imperial patron children with any other birthright but that of Order would never be able to fully participate in the society of the Imperium.
Ergo, he established the Order of Arelm
The Order’s duty is simple enough. They take in unwanted children with Chelmian Birthrights and a claim on the imperium (and sometimes, depending on the generosity of whoever’s in charge at the moment, simply those with Chelmian Birthrights and nowhere else to go) and raise and discipline them. If such a child reaches adulthood without having been enslaved for some offence (a fate for which they are even more at risk than most children in the empire), having opted to accept being purchased by an honorable citizen from the interior of the Imperium, or having accepted an offer of patronage from some high-ranking imperial citizen (an incredible stroke of good fortune), they will be offered some choices.
Emigrate to Chelm
Become bondsmen under the supervision of the border legion
Be enslaved and sold to anyone in the Imperium who is willing to take them on, or
Be given a clean death.
There have been times when other options were available – such as being exiled to the Mri Desert for “purification” or being cursed with a compulsion to stay away from the Imperium and being exiled to the Parliament of Trees – but such options depend on the current abilities and directives of the order.
How they’re treated while they’re growing up depends on how the Order currently sees the Chelmian Birthrights. At times the powers of Blood and Shadow have been seen as inherently evil, and the children as – rather literally – little demons. At other times they have been seen as natural enough, but easily abused. Most often, as they are now, their talents are seen as an affliction to be suppressed – and for them to be taught to be ashamed of.
In any case, their lack of access to Order magic is almost invariably seen as a disability which classifies them as, at best, a bit subhuman.
Unfortunately, in practical terms:
Their chances of being offered imperial patronage are negligible; only a high-ranking patron can channel Order magic to anyone who’s not a native of the domain, and such individuals are rarely found anywhere near the border, much less dealing with the Order of Arelm.
Virtually no one in the empire wants to take a chance on a slave with a Chelmian Birthright. Most of the few who claim that they will are in fact simply out to resell them in Chelm for sacrifice. For what it’s worth, the Order tries to avoid letting this happen; even if the current directors feel no pity at all, they know that each sacrifice strengthens Chelm.
Emigrating to Chelm usually means being sacrificed. There have been occasional attempts to set the kids up as a friendly tribe, but such tribes usually either get wiped out or become insular and refuse to accept more kids after a generation or two.
Becoming a bondsman with a Chelmian Birthright in the service of a legion which spends its time fighting Chelmians is throughly unappealing.
So is death.
Becoming (or remaining) a slave in the service of the Order – if they need one.
Being taken on as a slave by some borderer who doesn’t want to pay the price for an imperial youngster, and
Being purchased by a trader who thinks a batch of cheap slaves is worth taking to Dernmarik – and who hopefully isn’t just out to resell them in Chelm. This is rare, such an individual only comes along – on the average – once every fifteen or twenty years.
Mostly the kids try to cultivate a relationship with some borderer and/or a Chelmian tribe, make themselves useful to the Order, and hope desperately that someone from the interior of the Empire might want one or more of them. Occasionally someone even wants one of them as something other than a slave. It happens often enough to keep them hoping.
The members of the Order may be sympathetic, but they also know their jobs. Carius Augustus was a decent man: there have been quite a few emperors who would have simply ordered the kids killed if Carius hadn’t already given instructions on the subject.
Discounting the two slaveboys that Fauve just purchased, there are currently 117 children, ranging from a few months old to nearly 16 (and adult), and 28 young-adult slaves, in the custody of the Order. They’re distributed between the Orders six chapterhouses (there is a house associated with each of the six legions assigned to the border with Chelm).