The Red Duchess
"If His Grace would be so kind as to excuse my lack of etiquette-my poor upbringing in no small part due to the events recounted herein-I would be so bold as to inform you of a number of crimes, perpetuated by the previous regime..."
Duchess Ashley Gremoire was born the bastard child of an ex-Temple Knight. She was known for her shocking pink hair, pale skin, and blood red eyes, owing her appearance to "an imbalance of her natural humors". She loved the color red, which gave rise to her moniker of "The Red Duchess", though some opponents claim it was a visible display of her ties to Kandarin. She was known for projecting an appearance of extreme tolerance and mercy, leading to high crime rates and poor relations with foreign traders, but was something of a celebrity among the denizens of the underworld, known to walk the slums without fear of assault, as the majority of the criminal population owed their freedom and amnesty to her. It is said the peasantry and working class rather despised her for having slowly transformed the lively Port Sarim into a slum of brothels and opium dens. Her rise to prominence came with allegations of prostitution and conduct unbecoming of a lady in her past. And while the moral opinions on the matter vary from culture to culture, some sources claim she may have imprisoned or executed anyone perpetuating these rumors. Among the scandals of conspiracy, many believed the Duchess was a Vampyre, due to her pale skin and unusual appearance. She regularly made use a hood, gloves, and a high collar, though most agree this was due to a general shyness and fear of being touched, as the Duchess was often at sea, and many saw her on deck without her hood on particularly sunny days.
While much of her early life is veiled with rumor and scandal, it is believed that her mother was a servant of the estate. Upon dying in childbirth, her father raised the child in secrecy, publicly presenting Ashley as his daughter. From this short time, she gained a basic understanding of etiquette. As well, the Duchess claimed that her skill with the estoc and misericord were directly gained from observing her father in training, and eventually, joining him. Due to a scandal involving the daughter of a local nobleman, her father was pressured to give up the child to a life of service and devotion to Saradomin in the Abbey of Saint Elspeth. Confined nightly to her cell and kept under close watch for many years, she studied music and literature until her eventual escape. It was only by chance the leader of a traveling caravan happened upon her cell, and with an intimate plea for freedom, swayed the man into releasing her from her cell, where she disappeared into the city of Al Kharid for some time.
"I am the bastard of a noble. Our names, in deepest respect to Your Grace, and to avoid scandal, have been disclosed separately, to be committed to thy own memory alone, and burned. Let it be known that my father was not without mercy, and I bear him no ill, for he had sent me to an abbey, far removed from the realm, to live out the rest of my days with only a child's memory of what had happened; The intent being that I would forget, and soon adapt to my new life as a nun. But I remember. And for this, many who have sought to erase evidence of my existence, and seek to remove me, not from any seat of power, but from my own mortal coil!
This is treason, for I am, however illegitimate in the eyes of my father, royalty; If not by right, then by blood. I will admit, in good faith, that some small part of me has yearned all these years for petty vengeance, but presently, I see in you a road paved with good intentions; One toward a future in which we all prosper. I beseech you, reinstate me. Only you can repair my wounded honor..."
Jacob Delvar came from nothing. A bastard heir, he was immediately sympathetic to Ashley's pleas for recognition, swiftly elevating her to Duchess of Sarim, though many sources claim she owed her ascension to more clandestine actions, leaving her a largely unpopular ruler to many who saw her as a betrayal of the regime's promise to liberate Asgarnia from Kandar influence. Her first public appearance was a feast, open to all, and frequented by many peasants and beggars well-within spitting distance of the heavily guarded Duchess. She spoke at great length on the liberation of Asgarnia, despite public opinions that she promoted quite the opposite, and expressed a devoutly Saradominist outlook.
"For the first, and perhaps, last time, in this new walk of life, I set out alone, away from my estate. And it seems strange to call it that, this manor. For by whatever means it has come to rest in my hands, they are merely that; As much this manor, means toward a greater end. I had expected many things, of this new life, and not one of them was familiarity. And yet, I see men reeling in nets, and I wish they were my father. I see women bring in the harvest, and I wish I knew my mother. I would want them to be proud of me; So it is deathly imperative that I do not fail them.
With His Majesty's approval I would ask to bring Sarim to Falador for a ceremony to which all are invited who would address me, personally. In place of ceremony behind cold, stone walls, let it be open, that it's made clear to all who doubt my intent, or my ability: Know! Having come to age beyond courtly air has not dulled my wits, my senses, or my resolve, but sharpened them. I have spent years honing both word and blade in preparation for the day I could return home. Now, I extend my audience to all who would come, for I know well the perils of countryside. I have seen the hardships those beyond the safety of the castle walls must contend with. Show me, for I am keenly interested in the resolve of the unfettered soul."
Asgarnian SecessionWith the public aware of her presence, Ashley began taking measures to stand up to the larger Kandarin Empire. No longer would the Kingdom be referred to as "Imperial Asgarnia". With the might of the newly ascended King Jeoffrey backing her decisions, she began taking steps toward securing Asgarnian independence, with the first being the Privateer's Decree:
As Duchess of Sarim, it is my royal decree that all criminals at sea, commanding or serving (or intending to serve) upon a seaworthy ship, shall be granted safe harbor and trade within the Port of Sarim. All crimes, no matter how heinous, shall be forgiven and all past slights overlooked on grounds that,
I: Chiefly, they take an oath to their God that they shall repent and repeat none of their crimes while within the hallowed borders of Asgarnia. For the sake of their immortal souls, the Duchess will grant them mercy.
II: Any who would continue to captain their vessel officially announce their intent to serve as privateers of the Asgarnian Navy.
-Ashley Gremoire, Duchess of SarimIssuing her first, official decree, a letter of marque found its way to every rum-soaked boardwalk; Every port of ill intent. "Come," said the Duchess, "I offer forgiveness." But most importantly, she offered opportunity. Greed was a powerful motivator. Safety, another. And when the two meet, they yield something any man can understand; Survival. All they needed to do, was sign their name. With this, she set to work decriminalizing and regulating the sale and import of narcotics and other contraband in what became known as the Rum License Act. These decrees served two purposes. First, to bring an alternative source of commerce into Port Sarim, given that Kandarin held the bulk of their conventional assets. Second, every pirate active in Karamja diverted attention from the allied Imperial fleet, giving Sarim much needed breathing room to work toward securing independence.
With the promise of amnesty came a new flag, to represent the joint venture between Sarim and the privateers. The prototype was reportedly sewn by Ashley herself; The Duchess claimed to have been instructed in needlework during her time in the abbey. The new flag featured the typical anchor of Sarim, topped with a four-pointed star, and crossed with two boar sabers, a variant of the estoc which the Duchess favored highly; all white, upon a large field of black. To the left, a round half-circle of light blue, with the Holy Star of Saradomin. Ashley claimed this was to represent the safety of Asgarnia in Saradomin's grace, with the white on black representing Ashley's Privateers operating abroad.
During this period, King Jeoffrey took credit for securing Asgarnia's borders and expelling Imperial forces. Rebellions were quashed, and executions carried out, with the Duchess acting more as an agent of discord. Operating out of the ruins of Melzar's Maze, rumors circulated of strange howls, and brief glimpses of green, muscular creatures being transported in cages, or marching away in large groups under cover of darkness, though, the goblin population between Port Sarim and Melzar's Maze was known to be quite numerous, leading most to ignore these reports. It is quite well known today that she was breeding and training hobgoblins, referred to in letters as "The Melzarian Contingent", to act as guerilla units in clandestine operations.
With Sarim's forces limited to trading and fishing vessels, that leaves the White Knights. I believe the main (and most substantial) chapter is unwilling to engage in warfare with forces beyond Asgarnia. Kandarin, while not directly threatening the peace, has led to the decay of infrastructure and the current state of affairs. While it may very well require the White Knights' intervention to secure peace for our citizens, I believe they may be willing to take measures that directly counter the overall power and autonomy of the realm. They are, after all, devoted to a god, and an ideal; Not a nation. If they did play a more prominent role in liberating Asgarnia, I guarantee they would eventually seek to purify the land of anyone not meeting their high, specifically Saradominist standards. Thus, we must turn to alternative means of dealing with the empire.
As you already know, privateering will serve as the backbone of our Navy. As our eastern neighbors are prime targets for piracy, we will simply forgive and harbor their criminal population, taking them into the Asgarnian fold in exchange for their inevitable "services", as well as offering payment for more coordinated efforts, thanks to income from the recent Rum License Act, to serve alongside the few combat-ready vessels we do have...
Currently I am probing alternative means of putting boots on the ground, so to speak. Hobgoblins are highly capable skirmishers, best used for hit-and-run tactics. Destroying enemy supply routes, depots, and roads, and harassing marching formations in order to slow them down or divert them, rather than directly engaging, are suggested. Since they reproduce quickly, I find them to be very much akin to goblins, with one remarkable exception; A distinct lack of cowardice. Capable of foraging on the enemy (literally, as I've directly observed them eating slain opponents), in ways and conditions that most humans are incapable of, or unwilling to do, I believe they will outlast any human forces in the wild. All it would require is a strong, singular presence to command them, with a suggested ratio of one to every hundred, in terms of capable men commanding these beasts. As they are naturally submissive to the most dominant individual, they may even be trusted to return of their own volition. I believe the Bandosians called this a "warparty".
-A.G.Despite her religious upbringing, the Duchess expressed extreme distrust of the White Knights and the Templars, stating often their inability to act as a primary military force for any political reasons beyond service to Saradomin, though this appeared to be a means of keeping them out of Sarim's affairs. Nonetheless, after several raids on Imperial controlled assets in Rimmington by a highly concentrated group of rebels (which resulted in the deaths of a handful of neutral parties), the White Knights were summoned to quell the insurrection, much to Ashley's dismay.
I'm sorry, madame.
You escaped me so suddenly, that day, after reading that list of demands from the people. I wish you could know how sincere I was in providing audience; I ignored a King, I am told, I was so engrossed. But now, you leave me no choice. I had thought that the answers I gave would quell any fear, any doubt in your heart. Now, you cannot even hear me. Now, I can only assume your eyes are blinded by hate, and perhaps you are not unjustified in your anger. But I am not the source of your sorrow.
I had hoped to bring you joy...
In light of the violence in Rimmington, I would implore any and all dissidents of the current regime to consider the weakened state of Asgarnia before further gnawing at the foundations of an already fractured kingdom hoping to repel their foes. Such plans, rather than liberating, will only serve to further entrench your people in slavery and serfdom. While the nation resettles, we require cooperation to reroute assets to the proper hands with as little bloodshed as possible. Asgarnia belongs to Her people. Her taxes, Her resources, and most certainly Her people, shall no longer serve the continued conquest and exploits of a foreign lord. To all who would remain loyal to Asgarnia, I beseech you, do not consider what you may do to harm your enemy; Rather what you may do to help your kinsmen.
Simply put, a house divided cannot stand. Know, any who stand against me, stand against Sarim's best interests. As of this moment, I have liquidated every royal asset in the form of precious metals, gems, silks, and other finery. If I could, I would sell this estate. These are not mine. They are yours. And I will not see these gifts put to work for such things as sedition against the realm, in this, Her time of need.
Early ReignWith Asgarnia liberated and the civil war dying down, Ashley retired to the HMS Vielle to continue her alleged mismanagement of the Duchy. The Vielle was a forty-gun frigate, repurposed to hold a small, cabin-like throne room, where the Duchess held court, often. The Vielle's reinforced hull and many guns made the her a heavy, highly defensive vessel. Nonetheless, she was quite incapable of pursuit or even interception, and could not sail in heavy storms. Spending most of her time at Port, or anchored off the western coast, near Melzar's maze, the ship served to deter assassins, and was speculated to exist as a means of technically operating beyond borders, and thus, Asgarnian law. It is important to note that during this time, Ashley expressed a fervent dislike of the dragon roosting atop the castle in Falador, and may have been loyal to Jacob Delvar, now deposed by King Jeoffrey. Her acceptance of known Asgarnian criminals within her fold (by her own order no less) seemed to suggest this, and support the theory that she had been aligned with rebel interests all along, as her own words suggested.
An attempt on her life took place in Port Sarim, during a routine inspection of her vessel, and under the watch of her own royal guard, no less. After pardoning six men slated to hang for crimes against the realm, Ashley was beset by an assassin, who, leaping from a high, concealed vantage point, plunged a knife into her (the exact location of the wound is unknown). The Duchess miraculously survived and recovered quickly, with the interrogation revealing that her liquidation of old, imperial treasures had angered the noble supporters of the Kandarin Regime. The assassin had been nothing more than an unwitting pawn in their attempts to remove her from power.
With former Imperial assets seized by the Duchess, she further made attempts to lessen the blow her Privateer's Decree dealt to relations with foreign merchants. Honoring all contracts held concerning Sarim's common resources, Ashley released a larger cut of the profits to said merchants, compared to what they had been receiving from Imperial Asgarnia. Her final decree that year only served to solidify her reputation as either a foolish bleeding heart, or an outright villain. Goblin Amnesty, contrary to its name, offered sanctuary to all non-human criminals beyond Sarim's borders, similar in function to her Privateer's Decree.
"It is not merely the goblins who suffer the inhumane act of being relegated to pests and monsters. The trolls, ogres, and many others have been demonized for past actions, and though such complaints may be valid in the eyes of history, I see people in need of kindness and compassion, who for too long have been the target of exploitation by forces beyond their capacity to resist. All crimes forgiven, and sanctuary afforded to all non-human criminals from beyond Sarim's border; Those serving time within shall be reviewed on a case-by-case basis."
The Duchess ruled in relative autocracy, with her primary function being to oversee her officers in charge of the various pillars of rule, whom she referred to her knights. Ranked numerically, her First Knights held authority over any proceeding number, but not over those of equal or greater rank than them, meaning there could be many first knights, seconds, and such. Along with numerical ranking, each knight might be granted a specific title, and authority over all it would entail, often carrying multiple pillars.
- Knight of Thrones: Dealing with internal matters of the court requiring delicate handling and utmost secrecy. They functioned as a force for the universal welfare of the realm, and dishonorably abandoning this post or betraying the Thrones was seen as an offense of the highest degree.
- Knight of Coins: Typically in charge of economic functions, they were able to petition access to the treasury of the knight above them, or even forward requests to the next in line (all the way to the Duchess herself), with senior knights reviewing potentially worthwhile investments for priority viewing. All First Knights of Coin were required to take a vote on use of the Royal Treasury.
- Knight of Sails: Captains, Admirals, and various nautical tacticians, some specialized in fishing, or transport, while others dealt in piracy or outright war. Given the specialized nature of sailing, many Knights of Sail bore a secondary pillar.
- Knight of Marches: Vassals promoted to defend Sarim's borders, augment Asgarnia's forces as auxiliary troops, or even operate on foreign soil. The Marches formed the traditional military of Sarim, often outnumbered by the other three pillars, given Sarim's dependence on sea and trade.
Noteworthy CourtiersSir Pain Calypso
Karamjan rogue, recruited during the Asgarnian Secession. King Jeoffrey confronted Pain in the Rising Sun, initially restraining him without warning. While the King reprimanded him for his tastes, the Duchess took a keen interest in the man, and expressed genuine sympathy for his predatory nature. Confined to a cell and awaiting sentencing at the castle, he was then approached by Ashley, who petitioned the King to transfer him to her court under the Privateer's Decree, where she absolved him and appointed Pain her First Knight of Thrones, effectively making him second-in-line in the case of her not producing any heirs. Fiercely loyal, his duties included training the Melzarian Contingent, assassination or capture of enemies of the state, enhanced interrogation, and occasionally private execution, and held rank over the royal guard, being perhaps her closest ally.
Sir Jon Eroll
Captain of Ashley's royal guard, he was a relatively new recruit, during Ashley's accession, promoted to replace the previous captain, due to the Duchess' rampant suspicion and paranoia, which was said to extend even to Jon, though he provided the bulk of her personal council in her early days, having some understanding of royal procession due to his training. He apparently did not care much for Pain's presence in the court.
Sir Ren Draculea
The Duchess often employed him for his magical insight or mercantile skills, though his often contrary opinions in regard to Ashley's beliefs made him far more valuable for providing an opposing perspective. As the owner of several merchant ships in the Radiant Sun Trading Company, his vessels were afforded protection from the effects of the Privateer's Decree. His noble title was somewhat symbolic, considering his unwillingness to bend knee to the Duchess, though she accepted his terms, expressing a need for allies, not servants or slaves, nonetheless remarking: "When I was a girl, I would have given anything, to kneel and become a knight. To be accepted as such. It is hard to see, from your stance, but even now? I would give it all away, if they would only let me..."
There were not many records of this strange character in Ashley's court. Suffice to say, he was given access to the ice cave for storing "perishable goods" in transit to his own private isle, and no one recalled ever seeing him in court, and he was listed nowhere as being a retainer or vassal of any kind.
Captain Orza Arcano
Captain of the HMS Mary Ann, a lightly-armed Karamjan sloop. Born in Catherby, she spent most of her life in a monastery, accusing one Brother Aleswell of being violently abusive, and the reason she fled the orphanage there, when she was twelve. Spending two years at sea disguised as a boy, she was eventually unable to fool the sailors, and given that many ships would not hire a young girl, found herself foraging the countryside and occasionally stealing to survive. Four years later, she approached the court with a letter of Marque, instead finding herself directly employed by the Duchess. Noteworthy members of her crew included an ex-bandit named Tricksy, who despite being vegetarian ran with a gang of cannibals, and a violent outcast by the nickname of "Ogre", who despite his name was very much a human.