The Seaborn are poor record-keepers on their best days. With low literacy rates and even poorer methods of storing or retaining records, most history is kept via oral tradition, ship’s log, or stories. Many of these tales are kept or told by a ship’s Maelstrom, who in quite a few cases has become something of a keeper of lore, tales, and secrets. This has led to the Seaborn becoming a people of tales, stories, and legends rather than keepers of records or lineages. Still, there are seminal events that all Seaborn remember, though it often is a challenge to find any two who can agree on the exact details.
The Great Drowning
All Seaborn know the legend of Argos. In the days before the Great War it was their home, a shining island amid waters as blue as the sky on a clear, sunny day. Now Argos is a place cursed, its once proud towers and castle now lie flooded and empty, haunted by the ghosts of ages past. What caused the sinking of Argos is a source of much speculation and wild tavern tales. Some say House Rourke angered the Gods themselves, who sank the island beneath the waves as a lesson to mortals who dared to defy them. Still others insist a great Sea Witch rose from the waves and claimed the island as her own, cursing the shining isle to be drug into the icy depths.
Known only as the Drowned Isle throughout most of Arnesse, it is a place surrounded by bloated wooden hulls, drifting and rotten, and decaying sails on jagged masts that protrude from the water like the sharpened spikes in a moat surrounding some dreaded keep. Indeed, the sea reclaimed much of the land, leaving naught but a few towers of the Rourke’s ancestral castle exposed above the waves as though they were barnacle encrusted gravestones floating amidst a field of blue.
It has, over the years, become the temporary refuge of bands of degenerate crews, seeking sanctuary from the long reach of the king’s justice. Of them that return, they are soon to fill portside taverns with ghastly tales of shadow haunted halls and stories of a terrible, roiling black fog that rolls in under the light of the full moon, consuming all that it engulfs. Whether the tales are to be believed, none willingly travel to the Drowned Isle. The histories of the Rourke island home speak of attempts at its reclamation, though none have met with success. The Maelstroms of old were all said to have tried at one time or another. All failed or died in their trying.
The Fleets Divided
The talespinners of speak of a time when a division began to fester and grow amid the ranks of the Seaborn. Many have speculated as to the nature of why this happened. Some say that it was an old argument over the direction of the house. Others say it was over a lover’s quarrel. Still others say it was about a great treasure that none of the captains could decide how to split, so it was hidden and then lost to time. Whatever the true cause, the fleets of the High Armada were scattered and each of the captains began to develop their own plans and goals. Several factions began to grow, but the two that were strongest were led by House Rourke, based out of Scyld in the north and a coalition, led by the Blackwaters of Blackwatch Bay in the southeast. Over the years, various captains of the High Armada have aligned with these factions as was convenient, but the lines of allegiances have blurred over the years, with some ships choose to be allied to neither group. The one thing that many of the other houses of Arnesse rely upon is that the Seaborn are rarely ever united behind a cause.
The Age of Kings
The Seaborn are sometimes referred to as “Phantoms”, for so few records exist that document their participation in one event or another. This has led to many of Arnesse’s more established powers judging them as a people of very little worth. But the truth is very different. Throughout the time when Bannon Kings struggled for supremacy and came to dominate the Realm of Arnesse, the Seaborn have always played a quiet but important role in affairs of the Kingdom.
When Giles Bannon I rose to the throne in 727, the Kingdom surged with newfound wealth and prosperity as the King focused on several social changes that brought unprecedented growth. With that growth came the raiders that wanted to plunder it and Giles I’s reign was marked by a crackdown on thievery, particularly piracy and smuggling of stolen or illegal goods. Though the crackdown failed to stop the illegal behavior, it did much to isolate and villainize the Seaborn as a people. As a result, the Seaborn and House Rourke simply vanished from civilized society in Arnesse during the reign of Giles I. Though they were still regarded as a great house and held the title of Paragon, their seat in Highcourt sat empty and their voice was rarely, if ever, heard in the halls or rulership.
Late in his reign Giles I slipped deeper into melancholy and madness, and by 749 the Kingdom inched towards civil war. His son, Giles the Younger, had risen a rebellion against his father in the lands of House Hale. The tales were that Giles I had turned to witchcraft after marrying a woman from House Innis, Lady Maeve, and then making her with child. Not a few rumors were that elements of House Rourke also backed the would-be usurper. This was supported by the report that Rourke ships were seen transporting supplies for Giles the Younger’s army into Serpent’s Bay and up the Living River.
The battle between father and son was decided on land, at Lanton, where Giles the Younger won a decisive victory over his father. Both King Giles I and his wife, Queen Maeve were burned alive at the stake and Giles the Younger was crowned Giles Bannon II. The Seaborn’s involvement in the ascension of King Giles II to the throne is shrouded in mystery, but tales abound of Seaborn brigands being involved in the murder of King Giles I’s infant son, Reynard, and of several treasure galleys laden with spoils from House Hale’s sack of the Sovereignlands going missing several days out of Highcourt.
The Seaborn remain a people apart. Their self-imposed exile has created within them a culture that is almost entirely different than the landed courts of more ‘civilized’ society. Most residents of Arnesse have never met a Seaborn, and from the tales that are told of them, most don’t want to. At best they are spoken of as mercenaries who serve the highest bidder but more often raiders and pirates who serve no master and take what they wish from those they victimize.
Giles II sees himself as a moral King and while for different reasons than his father, has sought to bring many of the most lawless Seaborn to justice. This has consistently made them a target and to live as a Seaborn, one is always sleeping with one eye open or a upon the horizon searching for the sails of an enemy. Some have found it odd that, to date, no one has truly been able to stamp out the threat of the Seaborn or their culture in Arnesse. Rumors abound that the most powerful of Arnesse, including the Bannons, have a vested interest in the Seaborn and Rourkes remaining a real threat, if for no other reason than to employ them as a weapon against their rivals.
As King Giles II has expanded his reign and embraced the Aurorym faith, his decisions have had little impact on the Seaborn. Most of them are largely irrelevant politically. The benefit of that status is that the decisions of Kings rarely affect them, but at the cost of potentially controlling one’s own destiny. But the Seaborn have never been one to try to control the winds of Fate. They are masters of letting those winds blow them where they will and then making the best of where they land. But times are changing in Arnesse and the new King challenges the old ways, threatening to turn the whole Kingdom on end in the name of his faith. There are some among the Seaborn who feel that even they cannot weather that kind of storm without taking some precautions.
Of late, reports have been drifting in of more and more Seaborn ships being seen in ports throughout the Kingdom. What they are doing there and why, is not clear. If rumors are to be believed, these are exploratory missions and the Seaborn and the nobles of House Rourke may be seeking to formally interact with the outside world. If this is true, their entrance into the current political climate could risk upsetting the delicate balance that exists, especially if they reclaim their rightful place as a Great House in the Kingdom of Arnesse.