The High Forest Branch

A Brief History of the Knights of the Hart (Part 2)

Kirt Wackford
The High Forest Branch, CY 350 – 460

In which is related the early years of the High Forest Branch, its near dissolution following the invasion of Perrenland, and its recovery under the guidance of Thiladorn Meneldor.

The Early Years (CY 350 – 395)

The King of Furyondy publicly revealed the Order of the Hart in the middle of the fourth century CY. As previously explained, the order existed in secret long before then.[1] It is known that the kings of Furyondy had elvish friends long before the order became public, indeed, as far back as Thrommel I, the first king. It is not known whether or not any elves served as members of the order before it became public. Many suggest two candidates that might well have done so: a certain warrior-thief and a notable bard. Both received the accolade to the order as soon as it became public, and both had traveled extensively in Furyondy and Veluna prior to their adoubement.[2]

When the King of Furyondy officially established the High Forest Branch of the Order, he eventually chose twenty elves of diverse backgrounds, skills, and homelands. Many previously served elven nobility, but most possessed no formal training as knights.[3] The majority hailed from the Vesve itself, but several came from Highfolk City or the Highfolk Vale. One knight hailed from Verbobonc, while one came from that portion of the Gnarley claimed by Furyondy.

What did this collection of the fair folk share in common that they should be selected for the order? All were heroes of renown and, more importantly, all were favorably disposed toward Furyondy. Elven opinion about Furyondy at the time was divided. The elves agreed that King Thrommel and his descendants had been good men, and wise and just rulers. But many elves also believed that humanity was just too dangerous for elves to have extensive contact with. They felt that humans were, by their very nature, selfish, shortsighted, violent, and destructive. They preferred to deal with humanity as little as possible. Other elves were more hopeful about the future of humanity. They had noted how carefully Thrommel I had prepared his subject lands for their independence. They knew that there were many good humans. They believed that a policy of openness and sharing could help humanity mature. The original twenty members of the High Forest Branch were among those of the latter opinion. They accepted Furyondy’s self-appointed role as protector of the Vesve. They supported the efforts of the king to make the Lord Marshall of the Vesve his beholden subject. Less self-absorbed than their typical kin, they saw the need for coordinated action between nations to preserve the freedom and goodness of the Marklands. In particular, they recognized that the continual raids by the nomads, bandits, and humanoids destabilized the human governments and spelled danger for the elves if allowed to succeed. These elven knights agreed to protect the new human nations so that they would have time to mature, advance in wisdom, and thus eventually help to protect the elves.

The king of Furyondy organized the High Forest Branch of the knights not to serve their own people, but to serve his. Rather than a completely separate entity, he considered the elven branch adjunct to the Furyondy knights of the Order. The elves were to assist Furyondian knights and to serve as liaisons between the courts of the king, the Lord of the Highfolk, and those of other elven nobles. For example, the woodcraft of the elves was valuable in the wild northlands. Elven knights made reconnaissance tours of the lands north and east of the Whyestil, checking on the “nobles” and noting where humanoids had recently settled or where bandits had made camp. These same elves later led parties of Furyondian knights back to these locations to deal with the threats. Furyondian knights traversing the Vesve were usually accompanied by an elven knight to serve as guide, translator, and ambassador. When the king wanted advice on a secretly recovered magic item, he asked the elven knights to make discreet inquiries among those of their people skilled in the Arcane. The elves served as official channels to convey the opinions of the elven nobles to the king, and from the king back to the nobles.

Involved in such activities, the elves passed the first decades of the existence of the High Forest Branch. The major turning point in the history of the branch came at the end of the fourth century, with the invasion of the Hanse.

Invasion, Crisis, Change, and Growth (CY 395 – 460)

‘The Hanse’ was a local name for the region at the upper end of the Highvale, the lowlands and uplands south of Lake Quag, and the alpine vales of the Yatils.  Its people were largely Flan in descent and most were of the Old Faith. Although many Oerdian nomads had settled in the lowlands, they had not subjugated the indigenous peoples.  The Oerid had paid tribute to the Great Kingdom at its maximum extent and the Flan had received many of the benefits of its civilization without becoming a slave or serf class as had their kinspeople across the Flaneass.  When Stinvri had declared his independence from the Great Kingdom, he had not claimed rulership of the Hanse and had not counted them among the Marklands.  For the past two centuries, no longer subjects of the Great Kingdom, they had largely been left to themselves. 

Furyondy and Veluna, like most feudal states, had social systems based on “primogeniture.” That is, the firstborn child was considered the principle heir.[4] Other children received small cash inheritances upon maturity, generally only enough to pay for their training as warriors or priests (the only vocations suitable for nobility), or for their dowry (in the case of women). This left landless a large number of men and women who had been raised as nobility. Under the Great Kingdom, landless warriors and parishless priests had been the driving force in expanding the empire. Their desire to gain their own holdings was easily channeled into wars of conquest. By the end of the Fourth Century CY, in contrast, Furyondy and Veluna had made no major territorial acquisitions for 150 years. Some land had always become available by bringing areas of wilderness already within the boundaries of the nations under cultivation, but this was becoming more rare. Landless knights were now common, and the Royal Army was full of highly born men and women who sought fiefs of their own.

This was the major impetus behind the invasion of the Hanse in CY 395: simple conquest to gain new lands. There were other motivations as well. An increasing sense of nationalism recalled the days when the Hanse had been part of the Great Kingdom. A kindred sense of brotherhood sought to return the numerous Oerid settlers in Schwartzenbruin to the fold of a respectable Oeridian country. For the Raoin priests of Ferrond, it was a chance to bring enlightened civilization to a backward, superstitious land. The Heironeoun church argued that the martial energies of the brave Hanse nomads were being wasted in intertribal skirmishes when they could be united in glorious service to the king. An increasingly powerful merchant class, led by the priests of Zilchus, saw the prospects of profitable trade if the nomads of the Hanse could be tamed and organized.

Merchants lent money to fund and equip the expedition, and to hire mercenaries. Landless nobles led the effort and borrowed troops from their landed relatives. Knights of the Hart went along, believing that by expanding the kingdom, they were serving the king and archcleric.[5] Some of these knights were themselves landless, and in search of personal dominions. Others were there to serve as the eyes of the king. Reluctant to support the expedition at first, he had eventually come to accept it as inevitable and preferred to have it happen under his watch than completely independently – he sent the Hart to ensure that his edicts ordering the conquered peoples to be treated fairly and governed justly were followed.

The Hansemen sometimes raided Veluna and Furyondy, but they had always respected the demi-humans of their land, and those of the Mounds of Dawn, Velverdyva Vale, and the Sepia Uplands as well. Hansemen were not always good men, but few of them were evil. As preparations for the invasion continued, the elven Knights of the Hart protested to the king. “Is His Majesty truly a descendant of Thrommel?” they chided. “What has become of ideals of freedom and self-determination?”

“That policy applies,” the king responded, “to civilized Oeridfolk. Not to the barbarian Flan. Once the land has been civilized it may petition for its independence.”

Those proud-sounding but bigoted words masked the king’s own frustration, for he had little choice in the affair. The leaders of the planned invasion were free men and not even his vassals. There was little he could do to stop them. He might command the Hart to stand down, and he might arrest certain army commanders for desertion when they had overused their leaves of absence. But those measures would not stop the invasion; it would only weaken it and thus cost more Ferrond lives. Had he opposed the invasion, his subjects would have clamored for an alternative target of conquest. Nothing in the north could be deemed worth the effort; nobles had been free to settle those wild lands for decades, but few respectable men had chosen to do so. Expansion in the west would certainly incite war with mighty Keoland, and the east meant conflict with Nyrond. In the south, the Selintan (which contained the City of Greyhawk) might have been a gem worthy of snatching up if not for the current landgraf and warden over the Free City, the Archmage Zagig Yragerne. The king knew better meddle with that one.[6] The king accepted the invasion of Hanse as the best solution for the social problems created by primogeniture and the best promise of a quick war and lengthy peace.

The king’s response to the objections raised by the elves did not surprise the cynical. But it shocked the loyal elves of the Order of the Hart. They were confident that they could persuade the king to see reason. They had pledged their service to Furyondy in hopes of bettering the humans, but now they saw its monarch succumb to the temptations of war and conquest like any common tyrant. Several elven knights resigned their commissions as soon as they had heard the king’s final words on the matter.

The joint invasion force passed without incident through the Velverdyva Valley and out onto the plains of the Quagflow. It met the forces of the Flan one at a time, in scattered bands, easily besting them all in its march on Schwartzenbruin. The magics of the High Priestess of Beory were powerful, but the city soon fell and she became the last of her line. By season’s end the invaders held all of the lower plains and they spent the winter pouring over maps, drawing the boundaries of their new baronies and bishoprics.

The Final Five

In the spring of CY 396 conquest turned to occupation as the Furyondian and Velunese noblemen began to divide the Hanse, mark out their fiefs, and to enserf the natives. The Flan priests and religious sites proved to be centers of a guerilla resistance movement among the conquered people. More elves resigned from the Hart when the new rulers began to tear down the monolithic stone circles. Still more left in later years, when the Velunese Knights of the Hart began escorting Flan priests back to Mitrik in chains. By CY 400, when the occupation was sundered, there were just five elves remaining in the High Forest Branch of the Knights of the Hart. It was rumored among the elves that one of the Knights who had forsaken the Order had turned cloak and was instrumental in organizing elven scouts in the region of the upper Velverdyva. These scouts provided Perren with the reconnaissance information he needed to strike so effectively at the invaders and liberate his homeland.[7]

The five remaining members of the High Forest Branch met privately with the King. They explained that they remained his loyal subjects, but believed that the Branch was doomed in its current form. So long as the Branch was subservient to Furyondy, the King would find no new members among the elves. They counseled the king to grant their branch independence and allow the elves to recruit members and conduct missions outside of his direct supervision and Furyundian authority. After some reflection, the king consented to the plan. He had little to lose, and it seemed the only way he might retain the valuable services of the elves. The king named one of the remaining elves (Thiladorn Meneldor) to the position of Grand Master of the now independent branch.[8]

Thiladorn had great plans for the branch and he immediately set them into motion. He divided the four knights under him between two regions, based on their homelands. These became the Heartlands House, based in Flamingflower (for the time being), and the Highfolk House, based in Highfolk City. He charged the members with recruiting new knights and wooing back the old ones. Rather than a simple band of heroes, Thiladorn envisioned each house with its own resources, revenue, troops, and knights-in-training. He desired to create a force capable of defending elven interests in the region as well as supporting Furyondy and the other states of the Marklands. His branch would coordinate action across all the lands of the elves, whereas the local forces of the elven nobles had always been parochial. He solicited funds from elven and human nobles for his plans.

As Thiladorn’s vision unfolded, the elves of the branch remained loyal to him and the king. They renewed their previous activity of monitoring nomads, bandits, and humanoids in the Northern Reaches. When the Short War with Keoland came (CY 438), eight of the then twelve Branch members defended Verbobonc when the city was under siege.[9] The elves of the region were grateful to Furyondy for sending forces to defend Veluna and the the demi-human communities in the Kron Hills and Lorridges. They were disappointed, however, to realize that Furyondy’s main objective in the war proved to be the capture of Bissel.

The annexation of Bissel meant that the Marklands once again shared a border with the Baklunish west. Thus, they were once again subject to yearly raids by Baklunish warbands. The elven knights served as guides and scouts for the Furyondian forces deployed in Bissel. In these and similar missions the elves of the High Forest Branch served for sixty years, until the arrival of the Witch Queen and her demon-spawn son.

[1] A Brief History of the Knights of the Hart part I.

[2] The fighter-thief remains a Knight of the Hart to this day; the bard resigned his commission after the invasion of Perrenland.

[3] DM’s should select appropriate classes and levels based upon their campaigns. My personal campaign used a mix of 1st and 2nd edition classes with level limits as in Unearthed Arcana. In addition, elves in my campaign could progress without limit in four classes that were available to only elves and certain half-elves. Of these, the arathalian class has been described on Canonfire! In my campaign, the twenty original members of the High Forest Branch were Fighter/Mages (seven), arathalian (four), faroth (three), nolengol (two), and one each fighter/thief, bard, fighter/cleric (priest of Corellon), and cleric/ranger (priestess of Solonor).

[4] Usually the firstborn son, even if an elder sister existed. The requisite for land-ownership was bearing arms in the service of the king. Occasionally, if the eldest child was a female who had trained as a warrior, she would be the primary heir.

[5] “There is no love lost between [the Knights of the Hart] and…the rulers of Perrenland.” A Guide to the World of Greyhawk, p. 80.

[6] “[The descendants of the Landgraf of Selintan] ruled a growing domain which rose to considerable heights c. 375 CY under the rule of Zagig Yragerne (the so called Mad Archmage)…it came as no surprise when it was reported that Zagig Yragerne had mysteriously vanished after years of rule when no change or aging could be detected.”
A Guide to the World of Greyhawk, pp. 23, 25.

[7] “Attempts at expansion into Perrenland by Furyondy … were vigorously resisted by the inhabitants … These attempts … brought the various clans together in a loose association under the banner of the strongest of their number, Perren, c. 400 CY.” A Guide to the World of Greyhawk, p. 30. For a more detailed account of the invasion and occupation, see Kirt Wackford, “A Religious History of the Hanse,” Canonfire!

[8] Canon is ambiguous about the existence of rank and internal divisions among the Knights of the Hart. A Guide to the World of Greyhawk and From the Ashes do not specifically mention whether the Knights of the Hart have leaders or not. The Marklands (p.11) says specifically “The Knights of the Hart have no formal leaders, and each knight is free to act alone or with other knights as their conscience and honor direct.” However, Greyhawk Wars speaks of a Lord Throstin as the leader of the Furyondy Knights, and Castle Hart gives detail of another leader. In my campaign, Thiladorn was a ninth-level arathalian at the time he became Grand Master and eventually attained 11th level by the time of the campaign, set in the 560’s and 570’s. His name, in the Common tongue, means “Beech trees shining with the radiance of the heavens.”

h[9] A Guide to the World of Greyhawk, p. 19.

Originally published on Canonfire! Used with Permission. Read the whole series: Knights of the Hart.

Artwork: Elven Knight Helm by ImperialArmories

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