NPCs: the Headless Guard
I wrote this one up a while ago as part of some stuff Zoe and I are working on in the background. I posted it on social media, but didn't realize at the time that all this stuff should be going in the blog to make it easier for folks to find. So, here's an NPC organization (or PC, if you're nasty) -- they are, of course, inspired by the Varangian Guard that famously served the Byzantine emperors.
The Headless Guard
In the oasis city of Maragdon, palace intrigue is constant. The High Magister, sovereign & autocratic ruler of this small but wealthy city-state, is justifiably paranoid & constantly in fear of being assassinated, dethroned, imprisoned, exiled, or mutilated.* Naturally, the High Magister is therefore in need of a vigilant bodyguard – but in a court so inundated with backstabbing & power-plays, where can you find anyone you trust enough to guard you while you sleep?
Hence, the Headless Guard: an organization composed entirely of Blemmyes (aka Akephaloi). The Blemmyes in question come from a fairly isolationist island nation that has no interaction with Maragdon or its trade interests other than the goods brought back by returning members of the Guard; they have no stake in who runs the city. They’re also suitably imposing in stature (averaging eight feet tall). A Blemmye volunteering for the guard** must take a blood oath (functions as geas) of loyalty, which does not expire until the oath-taker has (1) formally resigned their position, (2) left through the main gate of the city, & (3) not been within the walls of Maragdon for a year & a day.
It is, of course, essential that the oath is sworn to the position of High Magister rather than the person who holds the office. If the High Magister is successfully deposed – as does happen – the Headless Guard are just as loyal to the new High Magister.***
There is no fixed term of service for the Headless Guard. Each year, on the anniversary of their taking of the blood oath, members of the Guard either formally affirm their service for another year, or begin the process of formal resignation. Some Blemmyes only serve a single year, then blithely head back home with their payment; some get accustomed to life in Maragdon, & stay for the rest of their lives.****
* It is an established practice among the aristocracy in Maragdon to blind, cripple, or otherwise severely mutilate someone who has committed a severe offense against them. It is considered an alternative to execution that, though slightly more risky, has the benefit of being a constant reminder to others of the aristocrat’s power. Most old-money aristocratic families even have special implements stashed away somewhere, enchanted to make the wounds resist regeneration.
** The pay is excellent, & it’s considered very prestigious to spend some time in the Headless Guard; it’s become a natural first choice for a Blemmye looking to seek their fortune in the wider world.
*** Even setting aside the oath, most members of the Headless Guard honestly couldn’t care less who the High Magister is. They’re just doing their jobs; they’re no more invested in who holds the magisterial office than a cashier at a chain store is in who holds the executive positions at corporate.
**** There’s actually a very nice pension scheme for anyone who serves more than 30 years in the Headless Guard & wishes to spend their retirement in Maragdon. It includes a land grant, & guards who retire after serving with distinction are sometimes elevated into the minor nobility.