Gallant is the crossroads of the world. Its people are a mix of dozens of bloodlines and cultures from across Raea, and they typically speak 5 or more languages. In part because their lands are rich in coalpure, and in part because the Sorrowfell mountains force most major trade routes through their lands, they are Raea’s richest country and its mightiest military power. Their religion emphasizes knighthood and following the example set by Victoria Divine, a messianic and warlike figure who unified the heartlands with her Round Table 2,000 years ago.
When you ride to the capitol city of Gallant, you’ll hear the city before you see it. The titanic, coalpure pistons ringing the city drive into and out of the earth day and night, sending a rumbling all around. Coalpure ash will alight upon your shoulders before you’re within a mile of the metropolis. And flanking its intimidating front entrance are knights in shining armor, each blazed with the upside-down sword and crown of thorns of Victoria Divine, and all of them backed by phalanxes of soldiers with harquebus rifles. Within the city walls, you have everything from the wealthy Wagon District with its flurries of financial activity and its stock exchange, to the Wall District with its tent city populated with the city’s most vulnerable–many of them poor or, in some cases, newly arrived as refugees from the Peoples’ Republic of Obisida.
Because it is so syncretic, it is difficult to describe the culture and people of Gallant. Nearly any generalization would be false. “Melting pot” would be an understatement. If you walked down the streets of the capitol, your senses would be awash in the music of numerous different languages, and you’d quickly realize that there are few combinations of eye color, hair texture, skin tone, and facial feature that would stand out as unusual in the crowd. One particular person might have the slipstream eyes of the Genji, the height of the Aurorans, the sharply tapered nose of the Valdeans, and the imperial features that can arise from a joining of so many lands. But then yet another citizen might have the reddish cast of skin hue and violet eyes typical of some Obsidian immigrants, and yet the facial features of Ravelians or even those of the Sunset Tribal Nations.
One workable distinction might be to say that the upper and upwardly mobile classes of Gallant tend to carry themselves with a knightly demeanor. Perhaps it is adaptive for this comparatively privileged segment of society to adhere to notions of courtly honor, justice, and virtue. Many of those from more disenfranchised groups, however, often express a jadedness with such high-brow notions. The irony is that Victoria Divine herself emphasized equality before the eyes of God and helped found a nation based that principle. And yet Gallant struggles with this founding principle and its actual existence, just as it experiences a tug-of-war between its remarkably egalitarian culture and its thirst for imperialism and economic conquest.
Of course, Gallant is the home of one of the most lauded institutions in popular imagination: the Knights of the One. Knights of the One (short for Knights of the One True God) are considered among the greatest warriors of Raea, and their renown both on the battlefield and in courtly circles is difficult to overstate. Becoming a knight requires a long apprenticeship–sometimes as long as ten years–as a squire and then more years spent proving one’s self in tourneys and in battle. But becoming a Knight of the One requires yet another equally long period of apprenticeship, one that emphasizes scholarly achievement and practical leadership roles. Few can balance both the “book smarts” and the “street smarts” that this demands. The trial to become a full-fledged Knight of the One is said to be an arduous one, and though the particulars aren’t supposed to be public knowledge, enough secrets about it have leaked for people to know that it involves a triumvirate of combat, academic, and tactical challenges. But once a candidate passes these trials, the general of Gallant’s Armed Forces bequeathes to this new Knight of the One a fabled artifact from the age of Victoria Divine, along with an Auroran-forged sword made specifically for Knights of the One.
For those who believe in such things, it is said that a Knight of the One can extend her soul into her weapon and armor, making it stronger than anything that can be forged and somehow inflecting it with her very personality. Of course, such superstitions are often discounted.
The Knights of the One as an institution don’t come without controversy. Human-rights advocates criticize how they can take on the role of judge, jury, and executioner in any of Gallant’s borderlands during a time of war. For such critics, definitions like “borderland” and “time of war” are disturbingly fluid, and giving Knights of the One so much power goes against the country’s core principles. It also threatens the delicate balance of the country’s civil and military institutions. Because the Knights of the One are in some ways extensions of the crown and the Armed Forces, they provide by proxy arguably too much power to the executive and military arms of the government. Finally, because Knights of the One are considered lower nobility, ascending to their ranks requires land ownership, not to mention putting up with no guaranteed pay for years at a stretch. Critics say this discriminates against those who cannot take on such economic burdens, accumulate such wealth, or invest so much time, especially when passing the final trials are far from guaranteed. For those who are financially responsible for others, such as elderly family members or children, this career path is often unrealistic, and they tend to opt to become one of Gallant’s well-paid soldiers or knights. Many argue that the requirements for becoming a Knight of the One undermine the principle of meritocracy that they supposedly stand for.
In future posts, I plan to cover more about the weaponry of the Knights of the One, their combat roles versus those of military officers, and how their political lives form complicated cross-currents with the interests of the crown, the judiciary, and the legislative branch of Gallant.