Metal; It’s Lack Of Use
Before Feathersmithing can be described, the strange status of Metal in the Eclipsed Kingdoms must be discussed.
Metal has never found its place in this realm, especially in the field of arms and armour. Blacksmiths do exist but are regarded as a poor cousins to the much-more respected Feathersmith.
Metal and iron tools are made for some practical uses (locks and hinges for example), but the arms and armour of the nobility is invariably Feathersmithed. (With some notable exceptions like the Grail Knights and the Iron Men.)
The reasons for this are various;
1. Fey Ancestry
Ever since the Sleeping King was awake, and perhaps earlier, the chivalry of the Eclipsed Kingdom have interbred with. Several noble houses are Half-Elven and even most common people often have a drop of Fey blood. The touch, taste and, in some cases, the mere presence of Cold Iron is deeply disagreeable to these individuals. Although alloys like Bronze are regarded as less unpleasant there is no fashion for metal armour amongst the Fey-blooded and many will regard its presence as an insult and a threat (precisely the reason the Iron Men prefer it).
2. The Churl Beast
The creature called the 'Rust Monster', while rare in other realms, has always been relatively common in the Eclipsed Kingdom. It is popularly known that, if a metal weapon or tool is left for long enough and rusts completely under the earth, a baby Churl Beast will hatch from it.
|A Churl Beast|
The barrows of the ancients, as well as the vast and bloody battle plains of the Apocalypse War, are home to many decaying weapons and hives of Churl Beast worm and shift there in the black soil, licking at the rusty creeks still running with the rust of those Cyclopean conflicts.
The peasant class have long been accustomed to keep their own Churl Beasts and it’s not unusual to see one tied up outside a hovel or ale-wifes home. Packs of feral Churl Beasts often roam the edges of large villages and 'Churl Beast Fights' are one of the few sources of entertainment the peasant class have (other than thinking about decay, see below).
No true knight would lower themselves to physical combat with someone else’s Churls (though they may have to use force of arms to exercise justice upon their own), neither would they ever be vile enough to make use of such a villayns-pet in combat or to gain advantage over another knight, but the wide spread of the creatures and their general commonality cannot but have had some effect on the validity of metalwork as a technology.
Most peasant villages have little or no metal for instance, their door hinges being leather and rope and their ploughs being black oak. (The story of the unwatched Churl-Beast eating the pots and the Churls returning home to find their food all over the hovel floor and the utensils gone is an always-hilarious and well-worn punchline.)
3. Rust Bloods
(See 'human races’). Whether Rust Bloods exist as a result of Fey Ancestry or as a result of Churls becoming too intimate with their beasts over several generations, they present another barrier as, if they are the target of metal weapons, they may decay them when struck, and if they seek to make use of metal armour, they may destroy their own protection by bleeding on it.
4. Magnetic Sands
The Iron Sands to the south of the Eclipsed Kingdom where the Bottle Knights and the Emir of Crows range across the red dunes are, in some places, partially magnetic. This presents a challenge for the metal-clad knight. These sands are sometimes collected and sold, they can be placed in bags and used as handy 'spoiling weapons' against those who wear or wield metal as a tool.
5. Acidic Rain And Microwave Storms
The weather and pressure fronts that emerge and condense while the black form of Azathoth is in the sky, blotting out the sun, often have unusual effects. Rains from these storms are mildly acidic and cause various complex kinds of rust and decay (see Rust - a peasant obsession), there are also seasonal winter Microwave storms emanating from the body of the black god causing water-based beings to suffer heatstroke in the snow and making all metal arc with dangerous sparks.
Metal; It’s Occasional Use
Despite all of this, metal is still occasionally used in weapons and armour. It is an extremely cheap and easily worked material. Arms and armour are often brought in from outside the kingdom and if a foreign noble of high status wears it then a knight can hardly ask them to abandon it. It must have been in more use in the past as Barrow Mounds and the battlefields of the Apocalypse War have huge metal deposits and, while it is noxious to Fey, it is also very useful against Fey and while no decent Lord would be see using it for that purpose, they could certainly have the occasional piece lying about, and if they were attacked by wild criminal fey, and if they happened to use to to defend themselves, who could argue? Peasants are allowed to wield weapons (one per household) and some have swords or hunt with metal-tipped arrows. It can be useful in armouring men-at-arms cheaply and forest criminals often use fragments of it.
In the major towns Craftsmen do exist who can lacquer and coat arms and armour so that it might better resist the touch of the Churl Beast and the Acidic rains. It can be extremely expensive.
(Side Note; Decay - A Peasant Obsession)
(With thanks to Scrap Princess)
Since there is almost nothing entertaining or interesting for a Peasant to do, and with the active encouragement of the Black Church, who view contemplation of decay as a reasonable form of lay-worship of the Black God, the Peasant or Churl class of the Ecllipsed Kingdom have developed an obsession with, and complex folklore of, Rust.
A well-known pastime in a poor village is simply watching something very slowly decay. Groups of both ancient and very young peasants can be seen around ale-homes, quietly drinking and watching an inanimate object slowly succumb to time. The various states and levels of decay are sometimes the only real news or source of novelty in a village.
Folk wisdom states that as wood rots to form fungus, metal rots to form rust, and as there are many kinds of fungus, there are many kinds of rust, made up not only of the 'pure' or essential nature of the decay itself, but of the transmission of memory or selfhood from the decaying object into the substance of the decay. One kind of rust affecting a metal sword, for instance, with its memory of murder and power, being quite different to the same rust affecting a pot, with its experience of cooking and food, and this will be expressed in the nature of the Churl Beast that hatches from such an item, which is what gives those beasts their names; “Cook Pot”, “Door Key” etc.
This is proved to be true by the existence of multifarious forms of rust. Green Rust, Cherenkov Blue Rust (which decays metal so quickly that it pops out of existence), Umbral Common Rust, Orange Speckle, Rainbow-Stainer, Duller, Smot Yellow, and many many more. Certain kinds of black verdigris naturally form an eight-pointed star on smooth metal and are known to protect against rust, held as being a blessing from Azathoth, confirming that the owner is faithful to the black god. (The armour of the Grail Knights is prepared specifically to form a base for this effect.)
Some rusts are fast growing crystals that are dangerously sharp. There are also ethereal rusts that spread from metal to the senses making them unable to perceive or process certain impressions and Tetanus is known to be rust trying to control the body of the sufferer. Various different kinds of diseases are thought of as Flesh Rust, including "Rust Lung", "Rust Eye", "Red-Bone" and "Rust-Waste" in which, on death, the body collapses and swarms of woodlouse-like Churl-Beasts swarm out from the corpse, or, it is whispered, sometimes animate the corpse in the night, creating the mythical and much-feared "Man-Of-Rust", A “Rust Knight” is a heavily rusted suit of metal armour which, unable to birth its beast, or perhaps poisoned by the dark memory of its use, animates in a similar way. While its reasonable for a Churl to attempt the destroy a “Man of Rust”, a “Rust Knight” can only be fought and defeated by a knight, the situation must be analysed to see which of these is the case.
None of this is of any consequence or interest to the Knightly classes who are universally indifferent of, and contemptuous of, the peasent obsession with rust.
Finally we come to the primary point.
Feathersmithing is the art of making arms and armour from the soft.
There are laws and limits to the art, sumptuary, social and supernatural and a firm hierarchy of materials and craftsmanship which denote the status and power of the wearer, with the usual complex and sometimes counter-intuitive interpretations. It is, of course, always good to have very high status armour, but it is very bad to wear armour "above your station". Conversely, very old low-status forms of terracotta or glass can, because of their age and storied past, be considered very high-status. Knights are often in disguise as lower-status knights for various complex chivalric reasons and plenty of stories are about knights who foolishly or arrogantly judge their opponents on the basis of their armour. The 'green-leaf' mail of the forest knight has an association with criminality, but also with glamour, speed and daring. A wealthy knight might wear their great-great-great grandfathers stoneware plate, a very callow knight may be able to afford a mouse-embryo skin cloak. Status is an obsession for all but counter-messages and the concept of the 'Fair Unknown' is a continual opposing theme.
Attaining Feathersmithed Work
Feathersmithed arms and armour can only be produced by the Goblinish savants of the Eclipsed Kingdom, each piece is an individual work of art for a particular person. The price for the construction of a piece of feathersmithed armour is usually significant either in coin, broken hearts, service or simply impossible conceptual items (a worms cough, for example).
The only respected means of attaining feathersmithed work are;
· Win it in a joust or duel.
· Inherit an ancestral piece.
· ‘Retrieve' some from the horde of a monster of some kind (so long as it is quite clear that the Knight in question was there primarily to defeat the monster and only picked up its horde afterwards to stop it falling into the wrong hands).
· Be presented with it by your feudal (or in some cases, religious) lord.
· Perform an impossible deed.
· Retrieve an impossible conceptual object (a worm’s cough, for instance).
· Pay for it in broken hearts.
· Pay for it in coin.
The standard rule of enchantment is that the more frail, brittle, expensive and rare a material is, the more powerful the enchantment that can be cast on it. The more of its strength and force the item receives from its actual material form, the less powerful the magic and the lower the status.
Popular materials include ceramics, glass, paper (poetised), tree bark, (wooden items with actual non-magical structural integrity are described as 'Thick Wood', so a shield of the bark of a silver birch is different to a 'thick wood' shield), flower petals, feathers, embryo skins, corneas, spider webs, ice and sometimes snake skin.
A popular mail equivalent is a hauberk of autumn leaves held together with thorns. Mail of rose petals or water-lily petals. Spider-webs kept whole and attacked at the web-ends with the spiders own broken limbs are an expensive mail. Snake skins with the heads left dangling can make a savage 'wild mail' and glass beads are a cheap version.
Feathersmithed cloaks are popular, provide protection equivalent to mail and are often made of a similar range of materials but feather cloaks and cloaks of embryo-skins are popular (mouse embryo skins are sufficient for a common knight, only high nobility can afford a cloak of human embryo skins). Human or animal Corneas stitched together with virgin-hair make a noble cloak.
It's rare for knights to wear a full-head helm of any kind. Feathersmithed Crowns or Circlets fill the same role. Crowns of Flowers, crowns of thorns and crowns of Ice are popular. Masks of crystal, of carved ebony or bone, of ceramic and of glass will only protect the front of the face (a True Knight should always be head-on to their enemies anyway so this is acceptable).
Helms made from the same materials as plate are sometimes worn.
‘Full’ Gothic plate is incredibly rare and most knights wear a breastplate, along with some vambraces and greaves, over mail.
Ceramic is a popular material and comes in several forms;
- Earthenware. Thicker, heavier, cheaper, typically darker, orange or red. (Though, some ancient Earthenware pieces have storied descent.) Is usually glazed. Can be given an iridescent glaze.
- Stoneware. Slightly more expensive and slightly lighter. The lightest is still dark grey. May or may not be glazed.
- Porcelain. Almost always white and often translucent. Often painted in blue-on-white patterns with a transparent glaze but can be un-glazed. Can be painted in any colours.
- Bone China. Always made with bone dust from human bones. The whitest, thinnest and most translucent as well as the strongest. Often left its original colour to confirm its quality.
Glass is another common material, often used for shields. Glass can be clear, crystal, smoky and stained either with one colour or, for wealthy and storied knights, a full stained-glass image.
Ice can be a material equivalent to glass and is favoured by knights of the Winter Court.
Bone itself is an occasional material, more often used in weapons than armour, though the scrimshawed bones of a mighty beast can be a (somewhat unfashionable) suit of plate.
The bark of the silver birch is sometimes used, usually for shields rather than plate.
Paper is commonly used in Shields and Swords. Some paper armour is relatively common, but, 'Poetised' paper can be extremely uncommon and valued. Paper inked with a poem describing the qualities of the object in question, be it shield or sword, is considered to be imbued with the power of the verse, the quality of the item therefore depending on the quality of the poem (poetry is considered a chivalric value). Poems by the most respected or brilliant poets are therefore much sought-after. (A poem will only work once for the item it is written for). Poems written by the Knights Lady (if she has a talent for it) are a respected source of power for a Feathersmith. Some stories involve poor knights having only paper arms nevertheless achieving great deeds due to the poetic abilities of their True Love.
We might therefore imagine a 'Common' Knight of the low nobility wearing a hauberk of autumn leaves with a painted stoneware plate, a shield of silver birch bark and a paper sword with a common poem by a Monk of St Gorgoth.
A 'high' knight could wear a mail of orchid petals held together with the cut fingernails of his Sworn Love, translucent plate of Bone China with the bone powder provided by a beast or person killed by an ancestor, a cloak of stitched-together human embryo skins, a crown of thorns (to symbolise humility) and wield a shield of smoking ice and a sword of stained glass.
A low, criminal or 'forest' knight might wear a mail of green leaves (green being the colour of criminality in the Eclipsed Kingdom), a terracotta breastplate, a metal helm, a bronze-reinforced thick-wood shield and a club made from a hardwood root, topped off by a cloak of stolen silks.
Though each of these knights would, in game terms, have a very similar 'armour class', in terms of status and chivalry they would barely be considered the same kind of being.