The walls of the ancient fortress groaned; that groan became a whine and the whine rose to a tortured keening as cracks - some the size of Ema’s arms - blossomed upon the silvery marbling of the white granite walls. Explosions of rock shards and choking dust rained down and the screech of the dying enchantments woven into Maragladia’s fastness were suddenly joined with the wails of rebels and denizens alike.

“They have reached the walls! Move, move! To the inner gatehouse - go!” Sevlus’ voice - the voice of a Plenumo - carried above the din. Even here, even now - it carried an authority that demanded attention.

Ema raised her pelta instinctively to shield herself as the rain of stone grew more intense - the fist-sized missiles sloughing from the widening strain on the battlement to dash themselves on the pavement far below. Above, the morning sun blinded her to the struggle on the walls - but not to the limp bodies tumbling streetward among the marble. One of her contubernium screamed - their face split by falling rubble. It took all of Ema’s Courage not to cast down her javelin to help him.

“Leave them - Ema, with me - get moving, move!” Selvus’ face - or what she could see of it within the narrow space between the bronze cheeks of his helm - seemed to mouth the words. Everything was happening so slowly - the pool of blood spreading from Andreo’s ruined head, her worn-through sandals against the cobblestones - all too slow, too slow, blurring at the edges.

The gatehouse - now she was before it: its bands of green iron and mithril, corroded by a hero’s age of defiance against the briny caress of the sea wind - the flood of people pressing, struggling towards the imagined safety within: some were like her - clinging to weapons they barely knew to wield with nothing but their breechcloths and tunics to turn aside Nemorian blades - others too young, too old or with too much to lose in choosing to fight. Ema was no soldier - but she could sense that her contubernium was close to breaking - only their Loyalty to Selvus was keeping them here - to the noble who would die with slaves to make them free. Her heart swelled with Pride: ”Through Virtue All Is Possible”.

Disorientation again - the outer wall, distant now - being pushed apart like a child among ripe grain by a titan of obsidian and fire. Her heart quailed at the sight of the false god given form - but then it is gone - the wall instead crumbling beneath boulders sent raining down from afar.

“Hold - get as many through as we can - keep the gate open until the last moment!” Selvus again - why did she not speak? She had to warn him - the enemy was already here! The heat of summer oppressed Ema’s senses - but she - and the other four who still lived stood fast: whether out of fear or Courage, she did not know.

Selvus was signalling now, arms cast wide to the gatehouse - Lower the bracket - Seal the gate! - she remembered him calling, calling to guards who were already dead. Far along the western concourse soldiers in every sort of armour and garb, with many flags, many banners - poured through the fresh rift in the seaward wall: they bore heraldry unlike any in Asavea - strange beasts, symbols of the Virtues, foreign runes…

It took all of her might to tear her eyes away from those advancing foes and face what she knows comes next - what she has seen every night since seeing those flags anew among the tents of Anvil:

Troops press into view behind the crenellations of the gatehouse and Selvus - Selvus Rivero - reaches for his shield too slow - always too slow. The mercenaries - with their feathered helms and cuirasses of steel, with their ruffed sleeves and their mechanical bows - the Imperials do not hesitate and with a chorus of oiled triggers, Selvus - Selvus Rivero, Sara the serving girl, Nikalaso from the fields, Kajla the tutor and Jozefo who sang are pinioned to the ground by mithril fangs. On cue, Ema obliges the memory and screams - screams for her lost eye and her lost friends. Screams them through the labyrinth of return. But to her shame she cannot scream herself back to their side.

The chamber is dark and her chest aches from the very real scream that had pulled her from the dream. She shivers, clutching the pendant of ashes at her neck and dimly registers the sound of Yeoman Gandry fumbling in his chambers to light a candle, woken at yet another early hour by his guest. Beyond the window, Caer Faucon sleeps and the sigh of ripe grain in the autumn wind sounds like the sea. Finally, there in the darkness of a foreign land, Ema Pride closes her eye and mourns.

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The Free Folk are hard workers, but their approach to the Way is seen as problematic in some quarters.
Click for audio version


At the Summer Equinox, the Imperial Synod passed several judgements relating to the Free Folk as Anvil played host to these eager foreigners as they sought to share their Prosperity and Loyalty to the Way with the Heroes of the Empire. The summit was also the anniversary of the arrival of these people upon the shores of their spiritual home - the birthplace of the Way. Responses have varied from the cryptic to the curious and contained calls for tolerance tempered with caution. But those that have resonated the greatest with the laity have been invitations to share stories and engage in dialog.

As crops all across the Empire have ripened and the days have begun to grow shorter once again, the Free Folk have returned to their diligent work wherever they are welcomed to apply their labour Prosperously - their heads full of thoughts, increasingly on the future. They have not, as some may have hoped, ceased speaking of figures from their culture in terms that style them as Paragons or Exemplars - but when pressed they are clear and direct that they have been asked to call them such - not to call them 'Divines' - a request that they have apparently taken to heart given, in their words 'the word has other meanings in the Empire'.

But increasingly there is a sense of finality to their demeanour - an unwillingness to denounce their beliefs or smother their Pride, edged with a restraint that seems to ill-fit them: like a thin cloak draped over the ebullient love they hold for the nation whose lands they live in. It seems inevitable that they will seek to find a place where they can be free of its chafing - and live true to themselves.

Stories from the West

  • The Free Folk continue to work diligently wherever they travel in the Empire.
  • Having eagerly learned to read and write in Imperial, many of these former field slaves and labourers have begun writing pamphlets of their beliefs.

Wherever the Free Folk travel they are tireless in seeking work and paying their way. As the seasons have passed they have been found gutting the catch from Siroc, taming the undergrowth in the forests of Highrod, fixing walls and digging ditches in Mornwald and now, helping reap the autumn harvest all across Astolat and Semmerholm. The wages they receive are no sooner in their palms than spent - with that not used for food and lodging being left as offerings at statuary of the Paragons, used to make paper flowers to adorn the tombs of Empresses and Emperors and, increasingly, to make and distribute hand-written pamphlets.

These take the form of stories of the Free Folk's ancestors: Asavean slaves and the lives they led. While the pamphlets describe the actions of these forbearers in terms of the Virtues they do not claim that they are Paragons, Exemplars or Gods. Less widely circulated - only being given to priests, or those who ask for it directly - is an attempt to mark the signs of the paragons and exemplar that some of the qualities these ancestors have shown.


  • Any character who has passed though the Marches may have spoken with the Free Folk and received a pamphlet from them if you wish
  • Any character who considers themselves to be a priest can have received a pamphlet from the Free Folk if you wish

Any character with a farm, forest or herb garden personal resource is free to roleplay that they have interacted with or employed some of the Freefolk to help bring in the harvest, especially in the Marches and Dawn. Their Imperial is generally quite good, and they are scrupulously respectful, polite, and honest in their dealings with Imperial citizens. Their character is marked by a strong work ethic, balanced by an apparently genuine joy at the freedoms they experience and the marvels they see as they travel the Empire. Many are very interested in the Imperial nations - they know the most about Dawn and the Brass Coast but are excited to learn more about the other Imperial nations. They freely share of their Love and Loyalty to the Way and by extension, the Empire - but are less certain about their future in either - a situation they describe as being 'at a crossroads'. They speak freely about their faith with anyone who asks them first - and they are always happy to hear stories of Imperial paragons, exemplars, heroes, and champions they are unfamiliar with.

If your character employed the Free Folk or was passing through the Marches at any point then you may choose to have encountered one or more of these pamphlets. The following files may be downloaded and printed for use on the field. The first three are given freely to anyone who can pay a ring or two, while the fourth is only given to someone who says they are a priest.

The Relic of Caer Faucon

  • Many Free Folk have returned to Astolat as autumn has approached to help the yeofolk there bring in the harvest.
  • The Free Folk spend breaks from the harvest visiting The Lady of the Proffered Hand in Caer Faucon.
  • The story of an effigy in the House bearing an unusual aura has become a minor curiosity.

The greatest concentration of the Free Folk can be found in the farmlands surrounding Caer Faucon, Astolat - having begun their lives in the Empire under the sanctuary of The Lady of the Proffered Hand. It is within the grounds of that House that a supposed relic has been housed. Little more than a collection of old unspun wool, the dried limbs of a sapling and a mish-mash of oddments, it is an effigy of a human figure - a strangely-assembled scarecrow that would likely do little to dissuade the jackdaws of Coombe. However, despite the best efforts of the House's attendants, it has become a gathering place for the Free Folk - with every one of their number having visited the out of the way alcove where it has been set, amidst the (regularly cleared by disapproving House attendants) collection of coins, paper flowers and candles. Those who live locally visit once a week to worship with their scattered peers between hard days in the fields.

When questioned by curious yeofolk or suspicious members of the nobility the Free Folk excitedly describe a figure from their history known as La Parolanto de Morto - 'the Speaker for the Dead' in Imperial. Apparently, as they celebrated an annual tradition of inviting an effigy (La Malgrande Parolanto - 'The Little Speaker') to a feast, they experienced a miraculous sense of belonging - of their shared Pride. They claim that those who are Wise in such things have called this 'miracle' a spontaneous hallowing. Access to the effigy has been restricted, but those who have touched the tattered cloth report experiencing a unusual aura.

Foreigners Still

  • None of the Free Folk have taken an oath of citizenship to the Empire since arriving a year ago.
  • Though effusive in their admiration of the Empire and dedication to the Way, many have ceased progressing towards citizenship.
  • The Free Folk appear to be saving for some great undertaking to make their case for their culture and beliefs.

The Free Folk have been foreigners in the Empire for almost a year. Upon first arriving, they ravenously devoured every scrap of knowledge they could about citizenship and how an individual lives in the Empire. Just as eagerly they spread out to satisfy their long-suppressed desire to see and experience all that the world and the Way had to offer. As time passed and many set down what might pass for roots among their travel-loving kind - beginning to study the skills of a priest and what one is expected to know before they pledge an oath to an egregore - it seemed inevitable that these people would join the Empire: if not settling within Dawn - where they received their first welcome as distant kin, then perhaps in the Marches where they had received a warm welcome and appreciation for their hard work.

However, this has not happened: those who had settled have upped sticks, those who had studied have set aside their learning. All have turned to hard work and saving. Increasingly, the Folk travel in larger gatherings and work and share in common. When asked, they share a truism they have learned from their time in the Marches - a phrase they seem to have taken a liking to and have adapted: "The Empire will have All of Us or None of Us." This statement is never made with overtures of finality or undue pride - and the Folk are quick to explain that, if it was that the First Empress recognized the Wisdom that a people are a people when embraced in their entirety - then their Loyalty to one-another and their Pride in their culture demands the same.

But that is not to say that the Free Folk see this expectation falling on the Empire to satisfy: more and more the Folk share that they have a strong desire to speak with as many people of the Empire as they can and to make their case plainly: they will make themselves understood to each nation and accept whatever decision comes from that.

Questions in the Abbeys, Queries in the Cathedrals

  • Imperial priests await guidance from the Synod beyond listening to the tales told by the Free Folk
  • Some priests question whether there is real controversy to the Free Folk's beliefs
  • Other priests question why the Free Folk are not being treated like any other people with unorthodox beliefs
  • A group of priests wishing to argue the Free Folk cause are visiting the Hub at 1330 on Saturday afternoon

The Imperial Synod has indicated that investigation into the Free Folk interpretation of the Way will take time. Unfortunately, priests in many parts of the Empire are faced with groups of enthusiastic Free Folk wanting to talk about their beliefs and congregations looking to them for guidance. In the absence of a definitive statement from the Imperial Synod, priests with different opinions on the situation are sharing their views and further muddying the waters. Some question whether there is any heresy or blasphemy in the words of the Free Folk. Others point out that there are any number of schisms and heresies among those who claim to follow the Way, and the Synod is not required to tolerate any of them.

Some Highborn wayfarers of Shimi's Orchard Chapter have probed the stories of Free Folk paragons and exemplars in much the same way as they have investigated countless other foreign figures. They claim to have found a few oddities outside of Imperial doctrine, but nothing overtly dangerous in these tales. Esau of Shimi's Orchard writes: It is true that the Free Folk speak of paragons and exemplars outside of Imperial doctrine, but the Sumaah also have paragons and exemplars we are unfamiliar with. Regardless of one's opinions on Universalism, surely we cannot approach Free Folk religious figures differently to the paragons and exemplars recognised in Sumaah based on differences of nationality alone?

On the other hand, Bishop Jago Heshel di Temeschwar, head of the Church of the Golden Orator in Temeschwar takes a different approach. "While the Sumaah may recognise different paragons and exemplars, we are broadly united in what that means. The Free Folk claim there is a "Divine Family", and seem to believe that the paragons are interventionalist god-like figures. There is no place for that in our understanding of the Way." Bishop Heshel likens what he has read of the Free Folk beliefs to those that lead to the Yaelian Schism. "Even if we accept the Free Folk beliefs, they are still at odds with the Doctrines of the Way. There are plenty of peculiar beliefs about the Way and when those who hold them visit the Empire we ask them to either hold their tongues, or leave. The General Assembly must take action."

Of course, the existence of exemplars or even paragons outside of Imperial doctrine is far from the only controversial claim made by Free Folk. One conviction held by the Free Folk that is particularly difficult to reconcile is intervention: paragons reaching back through the labyrinth to cause effects in the mundane world. This has not been a concept well received by Imperial priests, despite not contradicting Imperial doctrine. However, a few Urizeni questors have called for reason from the Synod. If the Way is an unfinished work, they insist, there must always be space to investigate potential limitations of existing doctrine.

Fear of change is the refuge only of Hate. Yes, the Free Folk's claims must be approached with Wisdom and Vigilance, but they cannot be discounted thoughtlessly without also discounting Virtue.

Alexios Steelfall

More practical in their approach, some Navarr guides say that, regardless of the specificities of Free Folk beliefs, everyone has a place in the Great Dance. This means that there is a home for the Free Folk without a need for them to change themselves. Of course, these guides accept that such a home may not be within the Empire, but they argue that this doesn't stop it from being their responsibility to help the Free Folk to reach it, nor to at least explore the idea that there is a place in Imperial doctrine for Free Folk practices.

Then there are friars of the Marches who have perhaps the most direct experience of engaging with Free Folk thanks to the aid they offered during the recent harvest season. Several of them simply wish to remind priests of the Doctrine of the Labyrinth: that the Labyrinth is explicitly beyond comprehension for all but paragons. They encourage their fellow priests to look within the Empire's own stories and practices, rather than focusing on those of the Free Folk simply because they seem strange and unfamiliar. They point particularly to the story of Kethry, who shows that it is Proud not to give up your traditions in the face of adversity.

The only people in the Empire who can decide if the Free Folk beliefs are acceptable, or are heresy. are the General Assembly. Not the individual national assemblies, not the magistrates, not the Senate. Only the General Assembly has that kind of authority. If they refuse to act they are choosing to allow chaos and uncertainty to spread.

Teodora Bezavina of Delev

Again, their opinions do not go uncontested. Sometimes controversial scholar of religion and constitutional matters Teodora Bezavina of Delev argues that there is no requirement for the General Assembly to accept heresy or blasphemy simply because it is "customary." Otherwise, the Empire would be forced to allow Asaveans to openly worship their gods, or to allow the Whittle folk to spread their hatred wherever they wished. The Synod is charged by the Constitution that they "shall ensure the virtuous behaviour of the Empire" after all. If the Synod believes this talk of a "Divine Family" and the peculiar qualities ascribed to them by the Free Folk is dangerous, or spiritually misleading, then as the final authority on the matter they have a duty to take steps.

Some priests who wish to discuss these points and more have are intending to visit Anvil together this Autumn Equinox. They wish, where possible, to speak with their national assemblies and with any other Imperial priests willing to debate the Free Folk interpretation of the Way and what it means for the Synod. They will be found outside the Hub at 13:30 on the Saturday of the summit.


  • It is certain the Free Folk will not give up their beliefs
  • They enthusiastically share stories of their "Divine Family" with anyone they interact with
  • Questions about their beliefs are causing some disruption to congregations

The arguments are civil for the moment, but as with other major questions of Doctrine, heresy, blasphemy, and idolatry in recent years there is potential for disruption. One thing is vey clear; there are no circumstances under which the Free Folk will abandon their deeply held faith. There is absolutely no doubt to their sincerity. Their beliefs have helped them endure centuries of oppression by the Asaveans. While the Empire is encountering the "Divine Family" for the first time, for the Free Folk the inspirations of their paragons and exemplars are fundamental to their identity, and entwined inextricably with their history.

If the situation is allowed to continue as it is, the presence of the Free Folk cannot help to become disruptive. They are hard workers but their customs and practices are odd compared to those of the Imperial citizens they labour alongside. Eventually, however, things will come to a head. The only question will be whether the disruption is caused by Imperial citizens eager to learn more about the Divine Family and embrace the pageantry of the Free Folk religious practices, or whether it is caused by orthodox pilgrims of the Way reacting poorly to perceived blasphemy, heresy, and idolatry. There seem to be only three ways that this can go that does not lead to chaos, and it falls on the General Assembly of the Imperial Synod to decide which path is taken.

The Imperial Synod might find a way to integrate the Free Folk beliefs, making a clear statement of principle accepting their religion and explaining to the people of the Empire that while strange it is not blasphemous. Individual paragons and exemplars might be recognised - indeed the Free Folk are likely to immediately begin pushing for this - but as at least one Urizen priest has pointed out there is some precedence for inspirational figures who are not recognised by the Synod. This will defuse the situation but will categorically lead to more interest in their stories, and potentially lead to more heterodoxy within the Empire.

The Synod might make it clear to the Free Folk that their beliefs are not welcome in the Empire; they are heretical, blasphemous, idolatrous or some combination of all three. While they can believe what they like in private they must stop proselytising, and must stop practicing their peculiar ceremonies in public. Some of the actual paragons and exemplars might be recognised, but they will have to be shorn of all trappings of the Free Folk's allegedly idolatrous faith. This will likely remove any enthusiasm the Free Folk have for becoming Imperial citizens, and will see a shift in attitudes to idolatry (in that arguments that reverence of human spirits is acceptable will be undermined). It will encourage foreigners and Imperial citizens with beliefs that might not be considered orthodox to be much more circumspect about making those beliefs known publicly.

Finally, the Synod could declare that the Free Folk are blasphemers, idolaters, or heretics, that they cannot continue to remain in the Empire, and must leave. If that happens, the the Free Folk will depart the Empire en masse. It will send a clear message that the Synod is not prepared to tolerate foreigners with unorthodox beliefs, reducing the likelihood that such people will seek a home in the Empire in the future. It will likely influence attitudes to organisations such as the House of the Proffered Hand and the House of Guerra - the expectation will be that any foreigner seeking to become part of the Empire will need to convert to the Way before they can become an Imperial citizen.

Regardless of what they choose, the Synod's position must be clear or it will simply contribute to the confusion. If the Synod does not act, then the situation will certainly deteriorate in the coming months.

Further Reading