In 213 YE, Isaella was declared an exemplar of the Virtue of Courage - despite some extremely vocal opposition from the Assembly of Loyalty.
Isaella was a Navarr thorn who served as the captain of Emperor Nicovar's personal guard. She is best known as the person who executed the mad Emperor at the height of his destructive rampage against the libraries of the Empire.
While she is most famous for that defining moment and its aftermath, her life leading up to that point is hardly uneventful. She spent most of her formative years in the western and south-western Empire, walking the trods with her parents through much of the Brass Coast and the southern Marches. She grew up an honest, forthright woman whose no-nonsense approach won her many admirers. She left her parents' striding at 17 to dedicate herself to fighting the enemies of the Empire, and over the next five years was involved in most of the major conflicts of the time both as a commander of thorns, and a true hero of the Empire.
Never particularly political, she often questioned the decisions of the Imperial Senate and Imperial Synod. She was several times approached about serving as General of the Black Thorns, but never showed any interest in high office preferring to fight her enemies face-to-face with shield and spear. There was never a shortage of volunteers to fight in her warband - her courage, and uncompromising nature inspired all those who fought alongside her.
In 205YE, Emperor Nicovar asked her to become the captain of his personal bodyguard and to the surprise of many, she accepted. She is believed to have thwarted at least one assassination attempt aimed at the Throne in 207YE, although official details are sketchy at best. Finally, in 209YE when Nicovar finally snapped, it was Isaella who struck him down during the siege of the School of Epistemology in Tassato. According to witnesses, she tried to reason with him first - asking him to turn aside what he was doing. When he refused, she is said to have killed him in the next breath. With a single blow of her spear, the Emperor fell. He made no effort to defend himself - taken completely by surprise. He was dead within moments.
Isaella then instructed the men and women of the Emperor's guard - her own soldiers - to arrest her and deliver her to a magistrate. The Imperial Synod attempted to plead clemency on her behalf but she refused. According to one version of the story, she is said to have shamed the Synod by pointing out that they could have stopped Nicovar at any point but chose to allow him to continue his rampage in service to their own political goals - and she would not take their "mercy" because they had shown none to Nicovar, or to the Empire. She was duly found guilty of treason and executed.
The official account records that when her body was laid out to await an honour guard of Navarr to take it to the corpse glades of her people, it vanished along with her enchanted shield and the spear with which she struck down the Emperor. The shroud beneath which she rested is said to have gained a powerful spontaneous aura that urged all who held it to do what they knew to be right regardless of consequences - to this day the hallowing previously known as the Hallow of True Conviction (or more commonly as the Hallow of the Yeoman) is known as the Hallowing of Isaella's Resolve in her honour.
Her path to exemplarhood was not smooth - the Assembly of Loyalty in particular opposed her Recognition due to her obvious betrayal of the Throne she was sworn to protect. Her supporters argued that she was never disloyal - but that her loyalty was to the Empire, rather than to the one who sat on its throne. To this day there are a few members of the Loyalty assembly who despise her name; but they are greatly outnumbered by those who praise her, and recognise her loyalty for what it was.
The Assembly of Courage cited the following signs of Isaella's exemplardom:
- By putting an end to the madness of Emperor Nicovar when all others were paralysed by indecision and self-interest, Isaella demonstrated her Benevolence. Without her, it is likely Nicovar would not have stopped until the entire Empire was in flames.
- Isaella was a figure who truly inspired others. She had many students and companions in life, and since her death her bold action has inspired countless others to take a stand against corruption regardless of the cost.
- The disappearance of her body, and the spontaneous auras that remained in its wake, have been recognised as proof that she ascended after her death, proving that she achieved Liberation from the cycle of reincarnation.
- As both a Navarr and a member of Emperor Nicovar's entourage, Isaella made several Pilgrimages to the White City.
- Several Navarr priests spoke fervently about the Sacrifice that Isaella made - she stood by her actions in the face of certain conviction as a traitor. While the priests who spoke on her behalf were passionate, the Synod repeatedly reminded them that "sacrifice" is not a true sign of the paragon or exemplar. Despite that, their explanation that Isaella sacrificed herself to demonstrate her true loyalty - to the Empire as a whole rather than to the Emperor - went some way toward mollifying the outrage of the Assembly of Loyalty and is repeatedly referenced in historical works recounting the stories of the exemplars.
- Two other contentions signs have been debated with regard to Isaella. Her rejection of the Synod's offer of clemency, and her commitment to taking the consequences of her action, are often quoted as inspiring magistrates and members of the militia, and reinforcing the importance of the rule of law in the Empire - actions which are sometimes described as reflecting Salvation. Other supporters of Isaella claim that killing the Emperor with a single powerful blow, her bodily ascension, and the shroud she left behind are all Miracles. They also point to various incidents in her life as a warrior and claim that several of her escapes and victories were likewise miracles. The Synod has not upheld either of these claims - cynics suggest it is due to the long memories of the priests she allegedly denounced as cowards before her trial, and their disinclination to see her named a paragon.
Isaella in Play
Execution and Resolution
In Spring 379YE, Yael of Felix's Watch arranged for historical research into the relationship between Isaella and the hallowing that bears her name. The results were eventually made public after the Autumn Equinox 382YE on the instructions of Leontes the Scribe, the Imperial Archivist.
According to the research, the story of Isaella's Resolve begins with Cardinal Raelyn of the Swift Dance Striding. A close friend of Isaella in her youth, she was chosen to serve as Cardinal by the Assembly of Courage in 198YE. She served competently - though without distinction - for three years until 201YE. She was replaced by an Urizen illuminate named Hadrian - an ally of Emperor Nicovar. Hadrian was a strong advocate of the Emperor in the early years publicly supporting the efforts to expand the depth and scope of the Empire's logistical strength. It is unclear what role the newly crowned Throne played in Hadrrian's appointment - but he was one of Nicovar's close supporters. To the end he supported his friend against all attempts to remove him, defending his actions in impassioned speeches and resisting all attempts to remove him. Hadrian stayed in post as Cardinal throughout the Emperor's reign, resigning his post only after Nicovar was murdered. Raelyn was appointed by the Courage assembly as his replacement.
The Navarr priest appears to have been profoundly affected by the death of Isaella. Several priests had urged the thorn to seek clemency for her actions – but Isaella refused to do so. This refusal angered some within the Imperial Synod at the time; the emotions of many were raw following Nicovar's murder and many publicly questioned Isaella's true motivation for her actions in light of her clear refusal to claim a virtuous defence.
It was Raelyn who answered those questions. She had been close with Isaella when the pair had first come to Anvil with their striding, and although they had grown apart over the years, their friendship remained strong. She was the last priest to spend time with the thorn before her trial, and it was assumed that if anyone could persuade the Navarr to see sense it would be her. However it appears Raelyn did not even try to persuade the thorn. When pressed on the matter afterwards she would reply only with the old Navarr axiom, “actions have consequences”.
After the execution, Raelyn attempted to explain Isaella's resolve. She was unequivocal in lauding the virtue of her friend's actions – adamant that Isaella had done what had to be done, that she had done what she knew to be right, but that she had done it knowing what the consequences of the murder would be. The Courage of her action was not to murder the mad Emperor – it was to act with acceptance that the consequences of doing so would be her own death. Isaella did not refuse clemency due to a lack of Courage – rather she was refusing it because of her Courage.
The thorn's refusal to seek clemency also had practical benefits. Her execution helped to heal rifts between those who lauded Isaella for her Virtue and those who denounced her as a traitor. Even after his death the Emperor still had many supporters in Anvil and beyond.
Perhaps this is why Raelyn waited a year before she first began referring to the Hallowing of the Yeoman as the Hallowing of Isaella's Resolve. The new name was contentious at first – those who had not approved of the murder were unimpressed by the idea of naming an important hallowing after her, but the name caught on with those who viewed the Empire as delivered of a madman. Over time, as their view became the one that endured, so the name stuck. The Assembly of Courage no doubt played a part in the eventual acceptance of the name; several statements of principle were made in support of such a change becoming "official".
Raelyn continued as Cardinal for a further three years after the execution of Isaella, before stepping down. She became more reclusive as she grew older, and while she still attended Anvil she disavowed the business of the Synod and the politics of the Empire in favour of tending to the spiritual needs of her nation. She was not universally popular among the Navarr – some found her lectures on the importance of facing up to the consequences of their actions to be tiresome – but she never yielded. Actions have consequences, she said. The Navarr should use night to hide them from their enemies – not their Empire. She would only ever give the hallowing of Isaella's Resolve to those she felt needed the Courage to face the consequences of their actions... not to hide from them.