"Can't we just set off in a different direction in the morning? We could just tell them we've changed our mind. No - I don't mean that - I mean we could just change our minds. We could turn westward slightly and head for Void. We haven't been there for years."

Hywel smiled at his headstrong sister. She was always the same, always wanting to get there in a hurry. Sometimes he worried she might be a briar... she was always in such a rush.

"Well reach Opascari in good time - we're not changing course. We need time for the thaw to melt the mountain snows anyway - I want to try and press on this time, to go north. We need to walk the new trods to firmly establish them. We carry on as we are."

Megan wasn't remotely ready to give up the argument. "We'd have reached the border a week ago if we weren't slowed down by those two. If they can't keep up we should leave them behind."

Hywel looked at his sister disapprovingly. "Leave them behind? In Volodmartz? This isn't Reikos or Sarvos, it's not even Temeschwar. They don't have the faintest idea what they're doing, they wouldn't last a day on the trods of Varushka."

"So! That's not our concern! They're not Navarr. They've no business walking the trods. They should stick to their bathhouses. They're slowing us down."

Hywel tried to smile, but his sister's heartless words had wounded him. Time to nip this in the bud. He stood up and looked at the faces round the fire. "No... they're not Navarr... but they are walking the trods with us. That makes them my allies, as much as anyone here. Virtue knows we've few enough allies in these times. When are we going to learn that we can't do this alone? We either defeat the Vallorn as part of the Empire - or we try it alone and fail. This striding walks at the pace of the slowest. That's my rule - same today as it was when we first set-out. Nobody has to walk the trods with me."

Megan opened her mouth to argue, but Hywel wasn't finished. "Enough Megan. When there's fighting to be done - we follow your lead. But I decide where the striding goes. That's the way of it. Besides... a few more weeks and we'll reach the border. If they think it's cold now, then I doubt they've any stomach for the long march into Skuld. Maybe they'll choose to turn back then..."

Overview

The great Highborn pilgrimage has now begun, with growing numbers of grey pilgrims seen walking the trods that criss-cross the Empire. The simple act of walking the trods will help the Navarr in their great quest to defeat the vallorn, though their numbers are still small compared to the number of stridings walking the Empire, this is the biggest increase in travellers in anyone's lifetime. The vates predict the effects of this action will take time to build, but if enough Highborn take up the pilgramage then the impacts could be dramatic.

However, the Highborn are not content to simply walk the trods and the idea has quickly taken hold that the pilgrimage can serve another purpose. The goal is a second great flowering of the Way, to bring more people to the true faith. At the Winter Solstice, the Highborn National Assembly endorsed a number of important mandates that will define the nature of the pilgrimage for years to come.

The Mandates

Three crucial mandates were passed, raised by Shadrach, Yarona of the Chantry, and Dinah of Jeremiah's Welcome respectively.

The purpose of our pilgrimage is to save souls, those who have fallen to the vallorn, but also those who are lost to malign forces and who bend the knee to eternals. We send Shadrach with 25 liao to urge the grey pilgrims to preach the rejection of False Virtues and idolatrous behaviour.

Shadrach, Highborn National Assembly, Winter Solstice 382YE, Upheld (343 - 20).

Heresy and Idolatry

Shadrach asked the grey pilgrims to urge Imperial citizens to turn their back on false virtues and the veneration of eternals. This message is eagerly embraced by the pilgrims. The Highborn have long known of the dangers that dealing with eternals and are well placed to warn people of the risks and to keep an eye for those who have fallen into the clutches of these sinister beings. As a result it will be more difficult for eternals to gain a foothold in the Empire.

The pilgrims will also warn of the dangers of false virtues, preaching to all to turn their back on Fear, Hate, Anarchy, Peace, and Vengeance. The most pernicious route for such false beliefs at the moment is the Faraden traders who travel the Empire who are known to espouse the virtue of Vengeance to those who talk to them. But there are countless other important risks, there are anarchists believed to be amongst the Great Forest Orcs travelling the trods; and folk who cling to Hatred in Tassato and Whittle. The grey pilgrims will warn people of the dangers of these false beliefs, making it more difficult for them to invade the Empire.

Perversely, although the grey pilgrims will categorically make it more difficult for heretical or idolatrous cults to be established and to spread, it may look like the opposite effect is happening. The civil service warn that the Empire has never had an organized body of people proactively searching for blasphemy - but with the grey pilgrims zealously pursuing this duty far more, such cults are likely to come to light in the coming years than have been discovered in the past.

Highguard founded The Way and first spread it to the peoples of the Empire's nations. They have now shown their Loyalty in kind for this great enlightenment Highguard gave to them, and it is time to spread The Way further afield through the people of foreign nations. We send Able of the Shattered Tower with 25 liao to urge the grey pilgrims to convert traveling foreigners to The Way, so that they may go back to their lands and pass on the truth.

Dinah of Jeremiah's Welcome, Highborn National Assembly, Winter Solstice 382YE, Upheld with a Greater Majority (511 - 25).

Convert the Heathens

Able of the Shattered Tower has asked the grey pilgrims to bring the benefits of the Way to the people of foreign nations. Although the ideal of spreading the Way to the whole world appeals to many Highborn, there are significant practical problems involved. With one notable exception, the trods do not currently take the pilgrims outside the boundaries of the Empire. The opportunity for the pilgrims to spread the true faith are thus limited to their interactions with those foreigners they encounter in the Empire.

Of course that is still a significant number of people! There have been steadily increasing numbers of Faraden traders travelling the Empire in recent years. Although the Faraden claim to follow the Way they knowledge of the true virtues is irredeemably flawed. There are also Asavean and Jarmish merchants in every port on the Bay of Catazar, as well as occasional visitors from the Iron Confederacy, Axos, and the Commonwealth. These nations are hopelessly mired in false beliefs, their people are ripe for conversion to the true faith, and the grey pilgrims are looking forward to engaging with them.

For a long time there have been some concerns about the impact of foreign beliefs on the Empire, with worries about the Asavean temples, the trading halls built by the Faraden and so on. The focus has very much been on preventing these false beliefs leading people astray. The grey pilgrimage will give the Empire an opportunity to fight back - proactively engaging with visitors from foreign lands and attempting to convert them to the truth faith. This will bear fruit, but the civil service warn that in doing so, it may exacerbate tensions between the Empire and the nations affected, some of whom will oppose this active attempt to proselytize their people to give up their false beliefs.

The purpose of our Pilgrimage is to save souls; certainly those who have fallen to the Vallorn, but also those who are in danger of being lost to false beliefs. We the Highborn Assembly acknowledge that no citizen follows the Way perfectly. We all have room to grow, and faults to address. We send Lilith of the Chantry with 25 liao to urge the Grey Pilgrims to act as guides for all the human nations of this great Empire. As they walk the trods in the years to come, let there be no dark corner into which they cannot shine the light of Virtue.

Yarona of the Chantry, Highborn National Assembly, Winter Solstice 382YE, Upheld (410 - 192).

Room To Grow

  • As a result of the grey pilgrimage, every congregation in the Empire, except those run by Imperial Orcs, suffers a 1 rank penalty to production (that is, the loss of 1 liao and 2 votes).

Lilith of the Chantry has urged the grey pilgrims to remember that no citizen follows the Way perfectly, that anyone's faith can be corrupted by superstition and false beliefs and that the pilgrims must leave no stone unturned as they question the faith of those they encounter. This mandate is already have a striking impact, causing Imperial humanity to question their beliefs and to search for deeper answers. Lilith's careful wording has ensured that the impacts of this have been felt in every human nation in the Empire which has meant a small decline in attendance at established congregations as people question accepted wisdom and seek out new answers.

It is impossible to say how long these effects will last. On the face of it they will endure until the nations of the Empire take clear steps to abandon their heretical beliefs. Now that the grey pilgrims have embraced their mission with zeal, it will be no simple matter to convince them that a nation no longer has room to grow, that it no longer has faults to address. It is possible that the effects may continue as long as the pilgrimage does, potentially years to come.

The only way it could end is if the Highborn National Assembly passed a statement of principle with a greater majority clearly identifying genuine faults and the steps that had been taken to address them. Provided the pilgrims agreed with their assembly on the matter, then that might create an opportunity to exempt a nation from the Highborn's exhortation to perfect human understanding and embrace the Way.

A Step Too Far

As mentioned, there is one notable exception to the limits of the Imperial trods. The Navarr took advantage of the peace deal with the Thule to negotiate an extension of the trods into the territory of Skuld in the Thule lands of Otkodov. That means it would be possible for the grey pilgrims to cross the border and enter the land of the Dragons as part of their pilgrimage. While there they could attempt to bring the Thule people to the Way.

Not all the pilgrims are currently fully convinced of the wisdom of such a move. There are some among the Highborn who retain mixed feelings regarding the inclusion of orcs within the Empire and the Way. They may be the minority and certainly few people are keen to only denounce the Imperial Orcs in light of their recent efforts on behalf of the Empire. But it is much easier to denounce the Thule orcs who appear to venerate their undying dragon rulers as something akin to gods. Cowed and fearful of their sorcerous masters, some people have difficulty seeing what possible benefits could come from bringing the Way to such people.

Others argue that the Way can have a positive impact on any mortal being. The Lasambrians were brought to the Way - and that had a profound on them. Admittedly it made them flee the Empire to join the Jotun - so the effects weren't entirely positive - but it's almost impossible to argue philosophically that accepting the revelations of the Way didn't have a dramatic impact on them. Like the Thule, the Lasambrians were cowed and weak, arguably the biggest difference was only their lack of powerful rulers. By embracing the Way they became Proud, Courageous, and Ambitious - they remembered their history and they dreamed of what might be if they could reclaim everything they had lost.

Not everyone agrees that it would be the best possible outcome if the Thule underwent a similar transformation. As a result there is some indecision on how to proceed. A clear mandate from the Highborn National Assembly could settle the matter.

The Way of Virtue is the right path for all mortal beings. Our true legacy to the world is the Way, not the Empire. We send {named priest} with 25 liao to urge the grey pilgrims to convert every mortal being they can to the truth faith regardless of the consequences.

Synod Mandate, Highborn National Assembly


Alternatively the Highborn could pass a more circumspect mandate (which is in competition with the previous mandate).

The Way of Virtue is the faith of the Empire. The strength of our true faith is what makes the Empire powerful. We send {named priest} with 25 liao to urge the grey pilgrims to bring all humanity to the true faith but to leave the orcs to find their own way across the abyss.

Synod Mandate, Highborn National Assembly


The civil service advise that if the Highborn choose to deliberately proselytize their faith to the Thule then this could impact relations with the Thule, once they realize what is happening.

Not Just Highguard

The grey pilgrims have responded naturally to the recent judgements by the Highborn Assembly due to their shared national identity and understanding. Under the leadership of the Assembly, the pilgrimage has evolved into a means to help the Empire fight false beliefs and spread devotion to the Way.

Of course such goals go far beyond mere Highborn interests - the entire Imperial Synod has a vested interest in the activities of the grey pilgrims. Now that the people of Highguard have made their decision on the nature of the pilgrimage, there is an opportunity for either the General Assembly or the Assembly of Nine to add their own blessing to this mission.

The grey pilgrimage will help spread the Way and weed out the corruption of false beliefs in the Empire. We send {named priest} with 25 liao to spread the news that the pilgrims enjoy the support and blessing of this assembly

Synod Mandate, General Assembly or Assembly of Nine.


The mandate would encourage Imperial citizens to accept the sermons of the grey pilgrims which would make their mission more effective. But it would also remind the pilgrims that they act with the blessing of the entire Imperial Synod - and that the guidance of the entire Synod was available to them when needed. Any assembly that chose to pass the mandate would be viewed positively by the pilgrims, making it possible for that assembly to issue statements of principle that had a significant impact on the actions of the pilgrims.

After careful consideration, the Tribune has announced that these two mandates are not in competition - both assemblies could choose to pass the mandate if they chose, both assemblies would benefit exactly as described if they chose to do so.

(OOC Note: When we talk of an assembly being able to issue statements of principle that have an impact on the grey pilgrims, we explicitly mean the NPC pilgrims. Player characters can accept or reject the statements of the assemblies as they wish, as always.)

Resolution

During the Spring Equinox 383YE, the Assembly of the Nine passed a mandate indicating that they endorse the Grey Pilgrims.