The Edge of Night
|Wealthy and Powerful||Grand Archons, Dukes, and Princes||Oracles||Archmagoi||Exarchs, Marshals, and Grandmasters|
|Upper Class||Archons, Counts, Barons, and Minor Lords||Seers||Magoi||Knights, Captains, and Commanders||Burghers and Guild Masters|
|Middle Class||Religious Brothers and Sisters||Initiates||Sergeants and Companions||Guild Apprentices, Merchants, and Skilled Craftsmen|
|Lower Class||Novices and Acolytes||Soldiers||Unskilled Laborers|
|Underclass||Nomads, Prisoners, and Slaves|
Those Who Rule
Main Article: Emperor
The single most powerful individual in the Empire, at least in theory, the Emperor is the highest political and military authority. He wields the power to make legal decrees, declare war, demand tribute, and grant peerage to lords of the realm. However, for all his theoretical power, the political realities of balancing so many competing interests and parties mean that the Emperor’s practical powers are restricted depending on his personal reputation and the popularity of his decisions.
Nonetheless, even the weakest of Emperors is accorded a minimum or respect and wealth for his station that far outstrips what any commoner could imagine. In fact, weaker Emperors are often given more luxury and opulence by their “benefactors”, in order to help keep them compliant.
Grand Archons, Princes, and Dukes
Main Article: Grand Archons
In the ancient system of peerage instituted during the First Illanti Empire, the Grand Archons were the Emperor’s inner circle, trusted advisors and representatives of the major territories of the Empire. In these days of the Third Illanti Empire, those who hold the title of Grand Archon are frequently known by their landed titles, such as “prince” or “duke”. Nobility in the ranks of the Grand Archons still act as the Emperor’s direct vassals and advisors, controlling either entire provinces or else large duchies throughout the empire.
The Grand Archon of Salora is a notable exception for holding the title of “King of the Maer” even though he is still subject to the Emperor – a rightful title that was guaranteed to the rulers of the Heraldic Maer at the foundation of Salora as an Imperial province. Such is a dim echo of the old legends of the High King of the Maer, a title equivalent to the Illanti Emperor in dignity among the various Maer kingdoms, though no one has held that title in centuries.
The Grand Archons of Kymbria are also notable for styling themselves as Grand Princes. Most other Grand Archons are styled Grand Dukes.
Archons, Counts, Barons, and Minor Lords
The Archons are inheritors to an ancient system of peerage instituted among the first Illanti chieftains by Vallis Caelennos himself (though many scholars would argue that the system had its roots going far back in early Illanti tribal history). Landed nobility who possess the title of “Archon” are considered – even if only in the abstract – a “peer” of the Emperor and all other Archons of the Empire. This affords them the right to speak to the Emperor, certain protections and dignities among the other Archons, and an expectation to be respected and listened to in matters of national importance.
The actual power of an Archon can vary widely, and usually depends on his actual landed title. The most powerful Archons are those princes and dukes who control large duchies but are not representatives of a province to the Emperor – the most powerful of these dukes who still are not counted among the Grand Archons occasionally adopt the title of “archduke”.
Other Archons include lesser landed nobility such as counts, barons, and minor lords. Counts are the vassals of dukes, controlling one or more counties. Barons are vassals of counts, controlling a single town and perhaps a handful or surrounding villages. Minor lords may only control a single manor or estate, and perhaps a nearby village.
Those Who Pray
Main Article: Oracles
The High Oracles in Elei are sometimes called the right hand of the Emperor, though they would argue that as much as the Emperor rules over the body of the Empire, they rule over its spirit. They are the highest religious and spiritual authority in the Empire – just as they pledge political loyalty of their lands and people to the Emperor, the Emperor in turn pledges the heart and soul of the Empire to the Oracles as the only true representatives of the goddess Holy Fate. Though they rarely directly exercise their authority, it is the right and duty of the Oracles to determine orthodoxy in matters of religious doctrine – more often their will is enforced through a cascading system of blessings and approval.
The three High Oracles bear the burden of leadership equally, and despite the relative isolation of their mountain enclaves, if they have disagreements then they do a remarkable job of presenting a united front. In many ways the Oracles are treated with a reverence that is equal, but differently expressed, to that given to the Emperor himself.
The gift of foresight and communion with the goddess Fate is not isolated to only the three women who happen to hold the station of High Oracle at any given time. Tolerated, even supported, so long as they defer to the ultimate authority of the Elein Oracles, lesser seers are permitted to live and operate throughout the Empire.
Sometimes living in isolated locations much like the High Oracles, other times gathering together in communes or even living itinerant lives on the road, seers are often the most direct presence of the divine in the lives of the Imperial populace.
Just as with the High Oracles, the gifts of a seer are only recognized among women. Male seers were a hallmark of the Cult of Fortuna, and such children who show signs of being a seer today are typically guided into life as a Magos or else religious vows – those who insist on identifying as “seers” are branded heretics and subsequently imprisoned or worse.
Brothers and Sisters
The humblest servants of the goddess Fate and Her Holy Oracles are those members of religious orders, though even these are accorded some respect simply by virtue of living by religious vows. Religious brothers and sisters are roughly social equals to sergeants, guilded journeymen, or successful merchants.
Though the specifics of their life and circumstance vary between Orders according to the founder and the individual’s position, religious brothers and sisters are usually quite integrated into the daily life of their communities. They also may act as attendants at shrines and religious sites, or assistants for seers.
This is the only form of dedicated religious life that is acceptable for men in the Empire.
Novices and Acolytes
Novices and acolytes are those who have not yet formally joined a religious order, but either seek to do so or simply live attached to a religious community. They perform a large amount of menial labor for the community, but enjoy a slight increase in social status above the rest of the unskilled peasant masses. They are roughly social peers to soldiers, guilded apprentices, and other skilled craftsmen.
Those Who Counsel
The Archmagos of a sanctioned Circle is easily the equal of a high noble, regardless of his birth, and a valuable advisor and confidant to Grand Archons and even the Emperor. There are only a handful of Archmagoi in the entire Empire, and they are similar in stature and dignity to princes and Grand Archons, slightly inferior to the Oracles but superior to even the Grand Exarchs. They are informally referred to as the left hand of the Emperor, reigning over the mind of the Empire.
Main Article: Magoi
Many people tend to focus on the mystical studies of the Magoi, equating them to wizards and sorcerers of legend, but as a practical matter they are more often relied upon to act as historians, magistrates, and economic advisors than for their magical talents. Though a noble may make the laws and has final jurisdiction in his lands, it is usually a Magos who interprets that law and settles disputes accordingly.
A magos is usually accorded the same respect given to a lower noble such as a count or baron.
Initiates are the servants of the Magoi, who may be hoping eventually earn the trust of their masters and be inducted into the secret knowledge of the Magos orders. THey usually perform menial functions, but their connection to the Magoi earns them a certain amount of social standing, roughly equivalent to a religious brother, a sergeant, a guilded journeyman, or a successful merchant.
Those Who Fight
Main Article: Grand Exarchs
Grand Exarchs are those military leaders charged directly by the Emperor to oversee entire theaters of war. Grand Exarchs are unique in that they command a standing force of professional soldiers apart from the levy forces commanded by the Archons, and Grand Exarchs are usually accorded a level of dignity similar to the Grand Archons, as well as a place in the Emperor’s inner circle. Grand Exarch titles may be created and disbanded as demanded by the fortunes of war, but there are three specific Grand Exarchs that have existed for most of the Empire’s history.
The Grand Exarch of the East commands the Emperor’s armies on the continent of Usca, focusing on the defense of the East Marches against the armies of Falai Khalese. He also is called to assist with threats that arise from Deldari slavers and pirates, and any aggression on the part of the Kathars (though the witch-queens of Near Katharos are generally reasonable trading partners and unlikely to be hostile).
The Grand Exarch of the West commands the Emperor’s armies in Imperial provinces on the continent of Ves, except for Old Illant. He is primarily charged with the defense of the West Marches and any conflicts with the Wild Maer kingdoms of Ascelian and Istlere. Additionally, he may be called upon to resolve conflicts around the Pelagos Sea in the south, to deal with Amaer raiders that strike far inland, or even the more aggressive Kathars of Far Katharos.
The Grand Exarch of the Imperial Guard is in many ways the Emperor’s right hand in military matters, commanding the standing forces in Old Illant and particularly around the capital city of Illantion. Much of the task of safeguarding the Emperor’s person and assets falls to this Grand Exarch, as well as looking after the important waterways around the Vontis channels and Thalassa and Akyron Seas.
Exarchs, Marshals, and Grandmasters
Exarchs are the generals that command regiments under the command of the Grand Exarchs. They frequently are charged with the defense of a specific region, operating out of one of the Empire’s great fortified citadels.
Marshals are those generals that take command of a landed noble’s forces – though they may also be nobles themselves. Leaders of the largest and most accomplished mercenary forces are also occasionally known as marshals.
A handful of religious orders either have a militant component or are dedicated to the defense of holy sites or relics. Such militant orders are headed by a grandmaster.
Knights, Captains, and Commanders
Knights are the lesser nobility that take up arms for their liege lord. They typically form the core of heavy cavalry and well-trained, well-armed troops among an otherwise poorly-equipped force of levied conscripts.
Captains are the leaders of companies, the smallest strategically viable force typically consisting of around 100 to 200 men. Leaders of smaller mercenary forces, as well as larger city guard organizations, are also usually accorded the title of captain.
Mid-level officers in militant religious orders are usually called commanders.
Sergeants and Companions
Soldiers who distinguish themselves in whatever military organization they serve under may become sergeants – lowborn officers given command of roughly a dozen men. Sergeants have a slightly higher social status than typical soldiers, and may be rewarded with a small amount of land or higher pay. Leaders of smaller town watch organizations are also usually given the rank of sergeant.
Serving under most commanders in militant religious organizations is a retinue of companions. These are usually not officially-inducted members of the order as of yet, but may be in training or assessment.
Professional soldiers of humble birth are typically considered to be in a small social class of their own, roughly equal but distinct from craftsmen. Individuals in this class are not simply those who have served in local militia or been conscripted into a lord’s levies, but rather those who make a career out of fighting either in the Imperial army or their lord’s retinue, or else an established mercenary company.
Those Who Serve
Burghers and Guild Masters
Burghers are the upper crust of the successful middle class in Imperial society. Merchants who have managed to carve out a small thriving empire of coin and goods, burghers are frequently derided by both their betters and lessers for having too much ambition. Usually lowborn, burghers are known for joining together to form guilds and similar mercantile interests, which inevitably form political power blocks.
Though lowborn, burghers who become wealthy enough occasionally manage to find a struggling noble house and marry into true nobility, which they consider to be true success. Occasionally, burghers come from the opposite path, bastard children or nobler-born offspring who had little or nothing to inherit and could not make a better life for themselves.
Merchants and Journeymen
Merchants who have yet to rise to a degree of prominence and wealth occupy the bulk of the middle class, accompanied by the journeyman craftsmen in guilds who have demonstrated some talent but not risen to leadership.
Skilled Craftsmen and Apprentices
Skilled craftsmen who create some sort of refined material or good are considered a step above mere laborers. Though rarely wealthy, they do usually manage to live with at least a modicum of comfort and stability. Some choose to join a guild and become apprentices, hoping to benefit from the experience and support of their peers and elders.
The most successful craftsmen are able to turn their simple trade into a mercantile enterprise.
It is perhaps unfair to refer to the lower class as “unskilled” laborers, for indeed many of them possess highly specialized knowledge about topics such as agriculture, without which the Empire could not survive at all, much less thrive. Nonetheless, the relatively common laborer is typically a farmer or herdsman, though some serve simply as strong arms for a merchant or lord.
The majority of the Imperial populace fall into this social class. Parents who want better for their children usually try to apprentice them to a local craftsman so they can learn a skilled trade. Still, while life at the bottom of the ladder may not be glamorous or all that comfortable, it does provide a home and a bare minimum of stability, not to mention the guarantee of law and protection from the local lord – there are worse situations to be in…
Those Who Wander
The lowest on the Imperial social ladder are those who have no home, who make their living on the roads and in the wilderness. This might include anyone from travelling entertainers and Rahmani nomads to vicious bandits and hapless beggars. Such wanderers are acoorded little respect and even less trust, for prevailing wisdom asks “how can you trust some you don’t know, and how can you know someone who has no home and no station?”