Gilda Ashwine was recognised as an exemplar of Courage by the Highborn Assembly of the Virtuous, after pilgrims and Wayfarers brought tales and evidence to Bastion in the time before the Synod. Her recognition was removed during the reign of Empress Aenea, but ultimately restored in 186YE.
Gilda was born as a yeofolk in pre-Imperial Dawn. Scholars agree her parents were part of a family of retainers in service to Earl Charles De Gacher. According to the commonly accepted tale, Gilda discovered that the De Gacher were corrupt; their tests of mettle in particular were as often as not merely a front for disposing of "troublesome" yeofolk.
When Gilda attempted to reveal the inglorious practices of the De Gacher, however, she was widely ridiculed. The noble house was powerful, influential, and popular - and she was just one disgruntled yeofolk. Eventually, however, through perseverance and a refusal to back down from the truth, she exposed the wicked noble house and rallied the glorious nobles of Dawn to bring them down and put an end to their corrupt practices. In due course the De Gacher were brought down.
The King and many of the Earls desired to expunge the De Gacher stain by executing everyone in the house. Gilda argued for mercy, however. She claimed that not everyone was involved in or aware of the house's crimes - there were many good and glorious nobles who were as horrified as any to discover the secret rot at the heart of their house. Heeding her words, the Earls council set Gilda a Test of Mettle - first to separate the innocent from the guilty and then to help those untainted by ignominy to find houses prepared to set them a new Test. For the next seven years Gilda and her Knights-errant traveled Dawn and beyond performing heroic deeds until each of the former De Gacher had found a new home in one of Dawn's noble houses.
Several of these tasks involved traveling far beyond the borders of Dawn to the other nascent kingdoms, even as far afield as Faraden and Skoura. She and her companions appear in several old stories across the Bay of Catazar. In each case, they combine glory with themes of supporting and helping the weak and the defenceless against powerful opponents; exposing injustice and corruption; and a stubborn refusal to stand back or compromise in the face of power. Their exemplary courage gave others the conviction to confront tyranny wherever it was found and provided a voice to the voiceless.
Her Test of Mettle complete, the King suggested that Gilda would make an excellent Earl. Despite opposition from some of the other Earls, still embarrassed by the corruption she had exposed, she claimed the title but refused to form a traditional household. Instead, she remained a questing knight and her Test of Mettle always involved spending time as a knight-errant spreading the highest ideals of glory and righteousness throughout the lands. She never married, but is believed to have had at least three children; if any of them followed her in her life of glory and courage, history does not record them; neither is it recorded how she finally met her end.
Gilda Ashwine Today
Gilda is an exemplar who inspires the courageous to speak the truth to those who refuse to acknowledge it, or who turn a blind eye to corruption, injustice, and moral weakness. She has a small but dedicated following, and is especially popular with many knights-errant of Dawn.
While Gilda is best known for her life as a knight, most who look to her for inspiration cite the denunciation of the De Gacher as her greatest deed. Her refusal to keep quiet, to bow to threats or accept 'hush money' and her commitment to uncovering and exposing the truth drive many of her modern spiritual descendants to involve themselves in the politics of the Empire, demanding high moral and ethical standards of the rich and powerful.
It has been claimed by some Freeborn that Emperor Ahraz discovered himself to be the reincarnation of Gilda Ashwine through a past life vision, and that he wore a blue rose pendant when meeting with the orcs and when presenting his agreement with the rebel orcs to the Senate. There is no evidence for this claim, and it is widely believed to be a fanciful attempt to improve Ahraz' reputation.
- The Inspiring symbol of the Blue Rose is held to be a sign of courage of conviction, rather than courage of a more martial nature, and has been adopted outside of Gilda's immediate followers
- Gilda's time in the wilderness brought her to Bastion where she received a vision that sent her back to Dawn to confront those who had wronged her. This is taken to have been a Pilgrimage.
- Although the details of Gilda Ashwine's vision are lost to history, the claim that she was the reincarnation of a courageous hero has been Recognized, and it was this that gave her the courage to return to Dawn.
- Gilda's courage is held to have given Salvation to the people who lived under Earl de Gacher and other yeofolk who might otherwise have met a similar fate to her brother.
- The signs of Miracle and Liberation have been claimed for Gilda Ashwine, but are contested and disputed.
Much of Gilda's fame is based on tales and hearsay - she (or a reasonable facsimile of her) appears in far too many heroic tales for them all to be true. On many occasions the deeds of later followers inspired by her legend are wrongly attributed to her - something which particularly offends scholars who support the virtuous histography school of thought. Several attempts have been made to disentangle the various tales and determine exactly which events the historical Gilda was involved with.
Gilda holds the dubious "honour" of having had her Exemplar status removed by the General Assembly during the reign of Empress Aenea. The events leading to her having been stripped of her status are unclear - the majority of the records burned during the reign of Emperor Nicovar. The most commonly accepted theory is that her stories had unfortunately inspired a number of her followers to dabble with the corrupt and dangerous spiritual force of anarchy, leading them to begin actively opposing the Synod and the Imperial Senate. She was eventually recognised for a second time during the reign of Emperor Barabbas, and has been widely accepted thereafter. Regardless, her followers largely ignored the ruling of the Imperial Synod, continuing to tell her stories and hold her up as an inspiration even in the face of Synod opposition.
In several versions of the story, it is a Freeborn priest who counsels Gilda and inspires her epiphany; in some parts of the north it is a wise Kallavesi mystic or Varushkan wise one who takes this key role. Almost all versions of the story agree that it is after receiving wise advice that Gilda finds the strength to take action against the De Gacher. Some of those who look to Gilda for inspiration reject this element of the story, however, claiming it is a transparent attempt to constrain and subjugate her raw conviction with a cynical political subtext that courage must always be guided - and constrained - by other virtues.
A particularly enduring controversy surrounding the story of Gilda Ashwine concerns the true extent of the DeGauchier crimes. Some historians claim that there is circumstantial evidence that the corruption in Dawn at this time reached considerably further than a single noble household. They claim there are rumours that other houses were profiting from the DeGauchier willingness to dispose of "troublesome" yeofolk, or engaging in similar practices of their own that threatened the relationship between noble and yeofolk. Gilda encountered difficulties in getting others to listen to her tale not because she was exposing a single house, but because she was challenging an entire system that was becoming corrupted and inglorious. Her story, they say, has been sanitized for later generations. If there is any actual evidence of this, it has not been presented in any convincing fashion but there are usually one or two scholars combing old archives and poking around abandoned manors in Dawn searching for proof.
Inspirational Tomb and Basilica
An inspirational tomb was built in 23YE in the White City by her followers with extensive investment from Dawn and the Marches and the assitance of the Custodes Clavium. A simple structure of white granite surrounded by a small but beautifully arranged garden, pilgrims devoted to Courage would visit the structure to contemplate the lessons of Gilda Ashwine, or to strengthen their resolve before a particularly challenging confrontation with the unvirtuous. The prelate of Gilda Ashwine was most often either an outspoken Marcher friar, or a Dawnish troubadour dedicated to supporting those who opposed the corruption of the powerful.
When Gilda Ashwine's status as an exemplar was removed by the Imperial Synod in 106YE, the basilica was effectively decommissioned. In 134YE, after her followers refused to stop honouring her name, the basilica was deconsecrated (a costly endeavour, given it required a dose of True Liao) and the structure torn down. A granary now stands on the site where the tomb once stood. The wherabouts of Gilda's actual physical remains, believed to have been interred in the tomb, are currently unknown. When she was again recognised as an exemplar in 186YE, the lack of physical remains and difficulty securing a dose of true liao meant that her inspirational tomb was not restored.
Gilda Ashwine in Play
Although the core of Gilda's story is of a heroic Dawnish yeofolk against a villainous Dawnish noble, the story was warped into propaganda (or recounted as inspiration, depending on who one asks) in the period leading up to the exodus of the Marchers. The refusal of the nobility to accept her original denouncement of the De Gacher in particular was cited as a reason that yeofolk could not trust nobles. Several of Gilda's spiritual descendants supported the Marcher exodus; they argued that there was neither glory nor virtue in forcing a group of people to keep living somewhere they no longer wished to dwell, and accompanied the yeofolk on their long March.
How much these followers influenced the early politics of the Marches is a matter for speculation, but traditions of plain-speaking and of giving a voice to as many people as possible are both very much in keeping with the beliefs of many of those who honour the exemplar.
Knights of the Blue Rose
The Blue Rose on a white field is generally believed to be the same emblem Gilda used when she returned to take the De Gacher Test. A number of questing-knights and knight-errants call themselves Knights of the Blue Rose, and use the heraldry as their own. These knights are dedicated to Courage, and spend their time traveling the Empire helping the weak and the defenceless. There is no particular organisation to the Knights of the Blue Rose, and while most members are Dawnish there are a smattering of champions from Highguard, Varushka and the Brass Coast who wear the blue rose and seek out opportunities to help those in need. The Knights are not universally popular - on occasion their members have claimed that courage and commitment to high ideals are more important than glory. Nevertheless, they often provide a rallying point for the needy and downtrodden who have been wronged by those in power.
Bearers of the Blue Rose
Unrelated to the Knights of the Blue Rose, the first Bearers of the Blue Rose appeared in the Marches, the League, and among the Freeborn during the reign of Empress Richilde. Primarily non-martial in nature, the bearers are priests and lay worshippers who dedicate themselves to the tenets of courage and to the protection of the weak and the innocent against miscarriages of justice. They are quick to call for clemency when they believe someone has acted from good intentions, or to oppose wickedness, regardless of how unpopular such behaviour may be.
Many members also consider are vocal supporters or opponents of various causes. They are committed to exposing corruption and unvirtuous behaviour, and to speaking the truth on all important matters. They encourage transparency and openness in politics, and refuse to be silenced or quashed when they believe a wrong needs to be exposed . A number of virtuous Torchbearers wear the blue rose pendant, drawing on Gilda's legacy in their self-imposed duty of exposing dangerous secrets.
The Bearers of the Blue Rose also have a reputation for openly discussing heresy and questioning dogma and tradition; in most cases, they approach from the basis that if the Way is strong then it cannot be damaged by frank discussion of other beliefs or philosophies. Priests should not be afraid to examine their own beliefs, nor fear those with different views. This attitude is sometimes suggested as a reason for Gilda Ashwine's de-recognition in the reign of Empess Aenea - along with accusations that some Bearers of the Blue Rose also embrace the dangerously anti-authoritarian spirit of anarchy.
The Fall of De Gacher
There are a number of different versions of the story of Gilda Ashwine and the De Gacher. The De Gacher definitely existed, and their manor stood in Weirwater. They were certainly powerful and influential, and they definitely suffered a catastrophic fall from grace at some point before the foundation of the Empire. The most commonly accepted version of the story of their decline and fall was penned in 47YE by the troubadour Geoffrey Lyongate. While it is well known, it should be taken with a pinch of salt - it is after all a story written by a troubadour intended to inspire, not a reliable historical record.
The De Gacher noble house was wealthy, influential and regarded as a fine example of what it was to be Dawnish. Their Tests of Ardour and Resolve were the source of many tales; they held extravagant celebrations; they fought tirelessly in the name of the monarch, and were instrumental in securing the borders of the territory of Weirwater. Many De Gaucher went on to become great questing knights, traveling across the wild lands that pre-dated the Empire and carrying the flame of Dawn to other nations.
The De Gacher were most famous for their Test of Mettle, which never varied. The candidate would travel with two knights into a forest of terrible creatures, and the yeofolk would have to come back with a trophy or die in the effort. This ensured that the nobles of the house were capable warriors, adding to the reputation and fame of the De Gaucher name. Scions of noble houses would travel some distance to take the De Gacher Test of Mettle.
Gilda, and her older brother Luaine, grew up each insisting that they would be the first of their family to pass the De Gacher Test of Mettle and become great heroes of Dawn. When Luaine's time came, he presented himself to Earl Charles for the Test. Gilda gave to him a favour, hoping to protect him and grant him good fortune. The favour took the form of a blue rose grown in her own garden.
Gilda also chose to follow her brother, and the two knights to watch her brother's moment of glory.
To Gilda's horror, once far into the woods, the knights turned on Luaine beat him bloody and bound him. Unarmed and unready, Gilda could only watch as her brother was sold to a foreigner as a slave. As the knights returned home, Gilda followed the slaver and her brother, intent on trying to free him stealthily. Yet Luaine was taken aboard a vessel and Gilda could not catch up.
When Gilda returned she summoned the courage to confront Earl De Gacher with the actions of his knights, expecting him to in ignorance of their doing, or repentant on hearing her tale. Instead, to her disgust, he laughed in her face, telling her that he was well aware of what had happened. Moreover, it had happened before and would again. Luaine was but the latest of many. The Test of Mettle was a sham to allow the De Gachers to control who won nobility in their house, whilst lining their own pockets by selling promising yeofolk into slavery. Aspirant Dawnish nobles bought a fine price from corrupt Axou, venal Asaveans, and even the cruel masters of some cities of the Bay of Catazar.
Stiffened with resolve, shaking with anger, she vowed to expose the supposed virtue and glory of the De Gacher's for the travesty it was. The Earl appeared to find her resolve amusing, and told her she was welcome to try. Nobody would believe her. She was merely a yeofolk, while the De Gacher's were a well respected and powerful noble house. With that, he had her thrown off his estate, penniless and unarmed, expecting never to see her again.
In the years that followed, Gilda never once abandoned her vow. She traveled across Dawn and sought an audience with every noble house in the land. In each one, she spoke truth to power. None gave any credence to her story: they accused her of being in denial over her brother's failure, of having gone mad with grief. Most, she realised, refused to entertain the possibility of a noble house that would corrupt the traditions of Dawn so profoundly. They refused to accept that a house responsible for so many heroic deeds and so much glory could have grown from such base foundations.
Some she believed suspected the truth about House de Gacher but lacked the courage to lend her aid in exposing them. Some even had her beaten for her insolence in merely suggesting such a thing had happened once, let alone continued as a practice. She found no support even among other yeofolk; her own family refused to face the truth. They refused to believe that they had been deceived, and chastised her for constantly reminding them of her brother's failure.
Each refusal, each rebuttal, each castigation, each bruise, only emboldened her.and fired her quest to right the injustice done to her. With every noble house now closed to her, she left Dawn in search of her brother and to spread the news of the inglorious acts of House de Gacher of Dawn. She traveled far to try and learn Luaine's fate but none had heard of or seen of a young man matching his name and description. At her lowest moment, on the verge of despair, when she was beset by doubt that she would ever find her brother or be able to tackle the corruption at the heart of de Gacher, her journey took her to Bastion where an unnamed Highborn priest listened to Gilda - and believed her. Moved by the firey conviction of the Dawnish yeofolk, the priest offered her good counsel and urged her never to give up.
Her experiences in Highguard gave the young woman an epiphany. She donned armour, with a helm so that none could see her face, and adopted the Blue Rose as a heraldic emblem. Calling herself Mary Ashwyne, she went before Earl De Gacher in the guise of a knight-errant to seek a Test of Mettle.
Several years had passed, and Gilda was no longer the woman she had been. Earl De Gacher failed to recognise her and agreed to grant her the Test - and sent her forth with two knights. They turned on her, and overpowered her, and dragged her before the slaver. Only, when they got to the slaver, they found that he had been overpowered by two knights from the neighbouring House De Rondell.
Prior to her presentation for her Test of Mettle, Gilda had courageously sought a second audience to every noble house and repeated her story. Even though they could tell she was newly emboldened, most again turned her away. One House did not: Gilda's conviction had spoken to something in Garamond De Rondell whose desire to learn the truth made him agree to help Gilda. He saw the fire of courage within her, her unrelenting pursuit for truth and quest for justice not only for her brother but for all those the De Gacher had betrayed.
With proof provided by the arrest of the slaver, De Rondell brought Gilda before the King's court at the Castle of Thorns along with the slavers and the two captured knights. Confronted with indisputable evidence of the De Gacher's villainy, the King's court declared every noble of the house to be a traitor and led a short, bloody crusade against their holdings.
Their house was broken, and the Earl executed by the sword of the King himself, who cast every De Gacher from the ranks of the nobility for their crimes. Those who were not slain in battle, or executed for their crimes, either fled Dawn to live in the wilderness or sought penance as knights-errant under the banner of Gilda Ashwine herself.As to poor Luaine, history does not record what happened to Gilda's beloved brother. In some stories, Luaine is found and aids Gilda in exposing the De Gachers. In others, Gilda de Ashwine, knight of Dawn, goes and rescues him. In a few stories, Luaine is never found and Gilda spends the rest of her days trying to find him without success. And in a very few stories, she is hunting for him still - an eternal knight-errant who travels the wide world and brings succor to the defenseless and the innocent wherever she passes.The Fall of the De Gacher, by Geoffrey Lyongate