Order of the Thorned Wreath

When Invictus Kindred are threatened and trouble looms from without, it is the Knights of the Most Honorable Order of the Thorned Wreath who inevitably step to the fore and defend the Kindred. Professional soldiers and rescue specialists bound by a strict oath of humble self-sacrifice, these Knights are feared and admired in equal proportion. Founded as a small martial Guild in the ninth century by a Daeva named Artus Le Jumel, the Order is said to have grown from his teachings, taking on the trappings of Knighthood some 400 years later as chivalry came into full fashion. It is said that Le Jumel was an unparalleled swordsman in his nights, yet he lived with a humility and unfailing civility that astonished many. For centuries, he dedicated himself to the service of his Invictus kinsmen, always coming to their aid in times of want and always putting their needs before his own. He made his home in Rouen, in the Haute-Normandie region of France, and though his fame would eventually grow well beyond the borders of the domain, he never left it. Le Jumel became a figure of renown after tensions between the Invictus and the Lancea Sanctum in his home domain flared into violence in the year AD 866, all centered on a dispute regarding the dispensation of territory. Although battle broke out on more than one occasion, Le Jumel and his two apprentices were the only Invictus Kindred who are said to have shed blood. These three faced the enemy with fierce and fervent energy, defending the covenant as its champions and drawing all attacks to themselves. All three were grievously wounded on more than one occasion, but none would surrender the fight. Le Jumel himself slew the Sanctified Bishop who had initiated the conflict, putting an end to it and securing the supremacy of the Invictus in the domain for some time thereafter. Le Jumel followed this act with a diplomatic pledge to the Lancea Sanctum, promising that he would never again raise his sword to them unless they struck at the Invictus first. For his actions, he was endowed with the coveted title of “Marquis of Rouen” by the Inner Circle of the domain. No other Kindred has held the title since. factions and bloodlines chapter four 144 Le Jumel is said to have been sent to his Final Death by an unknown enemy some time around AD 1350. Records of the event have been lost to the ages, but it is known that he perished on the field of battle with sword in hand. Competing accounts of his final battle have surfaced on more than one occasion, but all so far have been hotly disputed by at least one prominent member of the Order, and none have been accepted as truth. Depending on which “unverified” version one reads, Le Jumel met his end either at the claws of a mad unaligned Gangrel, a mortal mob intent on slaying one of his charges or another Ventrue swordsman looking to best him for notoriety’s sake. Some say that it is best left unknown, since identifying his killer could engender prejudice within the ranks of the Order, and might even lead to a call for vengeance. This is not a frivolous worry: the Order has twice exploded into violent crusade, in two different domains, for precisely this reason. In the early 18th century, based on the research of an Invictus Steward in possession of certain archaic texts, the Thorned Wreath Knights in Florence initiated an aggressive campaign to wipe out one particular Gangrel line, convinced that it was descended from Le Jumel’s killer. The attacks led to an escalation of conflict that cost the Invictus a significant amount of territory and led to the suicide of several shamed Knights. Later, near the close of the 19th century, “evidence” was once again unearthed by a scholar, this time in Moscow, pointing towards a certain Ventrue and his line. The Knights were prompted to action once more (against the orders of their Meister) and actually managed to slay the entire line in that domain. Later research proved that the accusation was false — made only to further the ends of the scholar involved. Despite these occasional errors in judgment, Le Jumel’s Order takes his teachings and his motto (“courage, courtesy, loyalty”) seriously and pass them faithfully down through the Guilds founded by the Order’s members. The teachings have been carried with the Order wherever it goes, throughout the territories of the Invictus. Modern variations on Le Jumel’s personal fighting style (named la guirlande épineuse for the distinctive stance and concentration on parry-riposte tactics) are still taught even now, with surprising adherence to the philosophy of the original. Tonight, the Most Honorable Order of the Thorned Wreath (as it has become known) numbers its membership in the high hundreds, with chapters all around the globe. Certain chapters of the Order have been instrumental in the conquest of domains, while other chapters have become the linchpins of Invictus defense strategy in cities of rule. A good many Knights earn the titles of tribute afforded only to great heroes and conquerors. To join the Knights, a vampire must endure the schooling of one of the Order’s martial Guilds — extremely rigorous programs of tactical and physical exercise without rival. Harsh battle training is intertwined with impassioned treatises on the virtues of a soldier: courage, honor and strength of will. Any students who demonstrate a mercenary outlook are weeded out, as are those who fail to face the challenges of their schooling with passionate force. Those who graduate are Knighted in an elaborate ceremony, taking on the renowned Oath of the Thorned Wreath: a declaration that the unlife of every “civilian” Invictus vampire (i.e., all who are not members of the Order) is more important than one’s own and that the oath-taker will readily sacrifice herself unto Final Death for any one of them. Furthermore, the Knight promises that she will stand with her compatriots when the Invictus is challenged, becoming the impassable wall, the “thorned wreath” that surrounds the covenant and destroys any who would bring it harm. The Knight also promises that she will not fail to respond if called upon and will dedicate herself in undeath to the defense of the covenant. To realize this oath, every Knight is joined with two others in an operative cell and instructed to make her membership in the Order known to the Invictus of the city, so that the covenant may call upon her in times of need. This cell operates as a quick-response unit, its members always prepared to drop whatever they’re doing and rush to the aid of their charges. The Knights can be expected to provide protection during delicate negotiations with members of other covenants, to escort Kindred on dangerous travels through enemy domain (or even outside the city limits) and to join battle when a violent threat presents itself to a member of the Invictus. No Knight should ever complain that a call is frivolous or unnecessary. Every call to assist must always be heeded. It is left to the Kindred outside the Order to discipline any vampire who calls upon the Knights without need. They are, after all, a valuable tactical resource, and can only respond to one call at a time. While it might be fantastic for a neonate to have three of the toughest vampires he’s ever seen coming around to his neighborhood once a week and scaring off a rival, nobody wants to be the one to explain why he was occupying a cell of Knights while an elder was being attacked across town. The Knights are, however, often used as a powerful recruiting tool for the Invictus. Many a neonate who has to choose between fending for himself on the city streets or enjoying the capable protection of the Order will jump at the chance to join up. In this case, a simple demonstration is usually arranged — a threat averted when the Knights “happen” across the neonate’s path often gets the message across quite well — especially if the Knights threaten to stop intervening when they “realize” the neonate is not yet a member of the covenant. The fact is that the Knights don’t care if they’re being used, so long as it strengthens the Invictus. They understand that although the covenant is not founded on warlike precepts, it must be prepared for war. The Knights believe that they must step up to the threats presented by outsiders, ensuring that the Kindred of the Invictus are free to better themselves in peaceful pursuit, unencumbered by the hostility of strangers. As the Order has grown, its character has begun to change. While the French chapters are notoriously strict in their adherence to the chivalric principles laid out by Le Jumel, some of the more far-flung chapters are very different in quality. Knights of the Order in the American Southwest seem to have thrown most of the traditional trappings of the faction away, preferring a New World pickups-and-shotguns approach. These Knights hold onto the basic fundamentals of honor and courtesy, though, as do all units, no matter how outlandish they may seem to their founder. Since la guirlande épineuse is a sword-based martial art, the members of nearly every cell tend to rely on archaic weaponry in combat. A few surprising variations have arisen, though. One cell in England has begun teaching a firearms-based form of the art, working a trigger-pull into the complex parrying maneuvers. In modern nights, the members of the Order are a comfort to Invictus Kindred. Standing proudly at Elysium or patrolling the streets, the Knights act as both a deterrent to would-be enemies and a dedicated service to every member of the covenant, no matter how weak or insignificant. Clans: Originally exclusively Daeva, the Order is now made up of members of all clans. Nickname: The Line Covenant: Every member of the Order of the Thorned Wreath is pledged to the Invictus with all her heart and soul. To abandon the covenant is to betray the Order. Those few who do leave the Invictus are invariably stripped of their Knighthoods and treated with absolute contempt. There is rumored to be a single cell of former Knights of the Order who defected in the early nights of the 20th century to join with the Lancea Sanctum in the south of Spain. It is believed that they have established an underground Guild, seeking to translate Le Jumel’s vision to the service of the Sanctified Church. Any such Kindred, if they do in fact exist, cannot reasonably refer to themselves as Thorned Wreath Knights unless they’re looking for open war with their former compatriots. Appearance: The Knights of the Order of the Thorned Wreath are the paragon guardians of the Invictus, and they generally dress themselves in a solemn, well-tailored style appropriate to that designation. A Knight is free to choose the mode of her appearance, though, and some Knights become quite flamboyant. It’s rare to see Knights with extremely loose-fitting or heavily accessorized garments though, since they can’t risk getting tangled up in a battle. For convenience, almost every Knight makes it a practice to conceal any weapons he might be carrying, so fitted overcoats, trick canes and specially rigged sleeves are not that unusual. Every member of the Order wears the symbol of the thorned wreath somewhere on her person, placed so that she can display it if necessary. Some choose rings, bracelets, or pins, while others are tattooed with the mark. Over the last century, younger Knights have adopted a fashion of approximating the traditional wreath with a loop of barbed wire. The response from elder Knights has been mixed, but there has been no official move to put a stop to the trend. While the thorned wreath is clearly the favored symbol of the Order, it isn’t the only one. Some Knights wear a stylized ALJ badge or tattoo, referring to Artus Le Jumel. Individual units will often create their own symbols, usually referring to some kind of impassable barrier. Flames and hooked blades are common. Finally, Knights of French heritage often wear the fleur-de-lis as well. One other feature that marks every member of the Order is a thorough dedication to polite conduct. The Knights never taunt or curse their enemies, and will show unfailing courtesy, even unto their own destruction. The Knights don’t let etiquette hamper them on the battlefield — since less scrupulous enemies would take advantage of such an obvious weakness — but Knights are never rude. Nor will they wear any symbols, accoutrements or equipment that is likely to cause offense in their communities. Haven: Since the Line usually operates in units of three, each unit tends to share a single haven. A central location is of paramount importance to these Knights, since they may be called out to a developing threat anywhere in the city. Many prefer understated homes, choosing a humble existence in line with the oaths of the Order. Domiciles of the Knights do need to be somewhat spacious so that the cell can train together and practice their coordinated techniques. Gyms and warehouses make obvious sense, but theaters, garages and even shopping malls can provide the necessary environment for the cell’s “drills.” In cities ruled by the Invictus, some of the Knights of the Order may actually make their homes in buildings adjoining the haven of a powerful vampire. There are a few Princes out there who work to make sure that at least three Knights are made welcome in their havens just to keep them close at hand. Background: Knights of the Line look for two things when embracing new members: physical fitness and a self-sacrificing spirit. Soldiers, police and paramedics are obvious choices, but athletes and criminal gang members can be just as promising. Survivors of catastrophe are often singled out for Embrace as well, most especially those who show a will to assist others in need. It is a great shame if a childe of a Knight fails to qualify for the Order (or, worse yet, chooses not to petition for membership). Because of the pressure to create successful candidates, some Knights will go so far as to subject their childer to the Vinculum so as to guarantee loyalty. This practice is neither encouraged nor discouraged. The Order is not troubled by tyranny, since most members firmly believe that freedom of choice leads to degradation. There are a number of Knights who are so fanatical in their dedication to the Invictus that they will commission full genealogical studies of any candidate for potential Embrace. Not only will this study demonstrate whether the mortal is descended from a noble family (which is always a plus), but it also ensures that no connection whatsoever exists between the subject and a vampire with loyalty to another covenant. The detailed study is unnecessary in very nearly all cases, but every once in a while it does catch a link, however tenuous, that could be exploited. In some domains, the Knights of the Order adhere to a very strict interpretation of Le Jumel’s teachings and have translated his personal prejudices into their way of thought. In these domains, they will not Embrace a mortal of English descent or a non-Catholic, no matter how good a fit the mortal appears to be. Disciplines: The preferred Disciplines of the Order vary depending on the member’s clan. The Knights do tend to focus on physical disciplines, and la guirlande épineuse is a fighting style that employs both Celerity and Vigor in most schools. As a result, vampires of the Order who do not possess these Disciplines naturally will often undertake to learn them in the martial Guild schooling. Weakness: The weakness of the Order lies in the bonds of duty. No Knight of the Order of the Thorned Wreath may refuse a call for help from any Invictus vampire, no matter how insignificant or inconvenient it seems. No task of assistance may be abandoned until completion, either. If another call for help comes in while one call is currently being answered, the Knight must pass it on to the next available member of the Order. If there is none, he must “queue” it, responding as soon as his current mission is complete. It is not possible for a Thorned Wreath Knights to overrule any Invictus’ vampire’s request for help; the Knights must rely upon the officials of the Invictus to intervene when a call is inappropriate. There is no stricture on reporting abusive demands, but the Knight must still come to the aid of the vampire in question until that vampire withdraws the request or is satisfied. Thus is the nature of the Oath of the Thorned Wreath. Because of this Oath, most Knights of the Order are kept very busy. They may have trouble maintaining Allies or Contacts that aren’t actively assisting them, and many Knights are forced to completely abandon friendly interaction with mortals. This can, of course, have a detrimental effect on the Knights’ Humanity. Character Creation: Priority is assigned to Physical Attributes and Skills in all cases: Athletics, Brawl, Drive and Weaponry are most common. The Knights of the Thorned Wreath are trained to put themselves in harm’s way without hesitation, and they need to be able to survive the threats they face. There is no second priority: Mental and Social Attributes and Skills are equally appreciated, as either can prove useful in a crisis. A number of Physical Merits reflect the special training most Knights went through in life: speed and staying power can make all the difference in life-and-death situations, and all Knights are skilled in at least one specialized fighting style. It may be appropriate to sell off Humanity dots to reflect the demands of the character’s background: many Knights have had frequent brushes with death even if they are not violent themselves. Organization: Almost every member of the Line works in a cell with two others — living, training and fighting night to night. One Knight is the “point,” operating as the commanding officer of the cell, and makes all reports to a locally based Meister (who will also head any martial Guild associated with the city’s Knights). These units are built for quick response and adaptable operations, and are thus composed of Kindred who are so familiar with one another that acting in concert is second nature to them. In some cities, the cell size is larger (up to five, in some cities) or smaller, but most cells keep to the standard because of its relative mobility and the somewhat unobtrusive presence a cell of three warriors presents. Officially speaking, no single cell is supposed to be honored above the rest, but circumstances (and Status-minded Kindred) can push this rule aside in the event of outstanding conduct. Making claims to superior lineage, however — especially ones that trace back to the Order’s founder — is acceptable, but suggesting that superior lineage deserves special treatment is extremely discouraged. Some cells are organized around a specialty service such as ferrying and protecting travelers, impersonating potential targets or organizing emergency haven security. These specialists work to perfect their field of focus, laying down a support structure through a network of Allies and equipment stores. These Knights may be called upon to perform the standard tasks of the Order at any time, though, and must respond when they are. At least once every six months, the Knights of the Order participate in a private ceremony (usually held at Elysium) called the Declaration. Every member of the local Invictus is invited to watch as the Knights of the Order line up and perform a short synchronized drill, followed by a recitation of the Oath of the Thorned Wreath in unison. The purpose of this rite is twofold: to remind the Knights of their purpose, even in times of peace, and to make sure Invictus members know who the Knights are so the members can call upon them if necessary. While the ceremony is a sight to see, most Kindred who go to watch the Declaration do so more out of a sense of appreciation for the service of the Order than a need for entertainment. It’s not an insult to decline the invitation, but it doesn’t hurt to show a little gratitude. In some cities, most notably those ruled by the Invictus, the Declaration is a pompous, long-winded affair replete with banners, a formation march and imperious speeches. Such is only the case when so ordered by the Prince, though. The Declaration is very nearly a sacred practice to the Order. Even if the Knights are outlaws (as is not unusual when the Prince is not Invictus and believes she has reason to fear the Thorned Wreath), they find a way to meet and declare themselves to the Invictus who remain. A chapter in Greece was eliminated by mercenary Carthians during one furtive ceremony, but word spread soon after: each Knight met his end proudly, defiantly declaring himself to the covenant before taking up arms. Once a year, the Knights gather in each city for a ritual exclusive to the Order known as “the Reading.” Each Knight stands at attention in full battle garb, her favored weapon laid at her feet, while the Meister of the local Order names each of the Knights who have fallen in the city’s history. The Knights stand in silent contemplation, remembering their lost comrades. The last name spoken is always Artus Le Jumel, who is paid the same honor as those the Knights have fought beside. If no Knight has fallen in the history of the city, Le Jumel is still named, and the Knights still stand to pay tribute. When the Reading is done, the Meister ends the silence with a request that each Knight take up his arms and do right by his predecessors. One by one, the Knights lift their weapons from the floor, sheathe or holster them (or, in the case of unarmed warriors, take stance and then return to attention), leaving the Meister the last to do so. When all the Knights are armed and ready, the ceremony is complete and they are dismissed. In Rouen, the Reading takes two full hours, as 47 names are read, with full title, and each is given a moment’s pause for remembrance. Any and all disputes between members of the Order are handled behind closed doors, away from the eyes of non-member Kindred. In the interest of presenting a unified and capable front, it is considered extremely improper to question or insult another Knight in public. If the Knights in conflict are in the same unit, they are expected to settle their differences in the privacy of their haven. If not, the units of both members must agree to meet and debate, negotiate an exchange of favors or fight until they reach a satisfactory conclusion. If the two units cannot or will not agree, the aggrieved party complains to the Meister, who arranges a meeting. If the Meister is forced to intervene, he is likely to call all of the local Knights to the meeting and may employ them to ensure a workable outcome. If a Knight of the Order undertakes a personal vendetta, she can expect her fellow Knights to aid her in the enterprise. If they do not, she can simply call upon them to perform their duties as Thorned Wreath Knights, assisting in the elimination of an enemy of the Invictus. It is noteworthy to mention that any vampire who declares himself an enemy of a member of the Order is, in the minds of the Knights, declaring himself an enemy of the covenant they so love. Before battle, the Thorned Wreath Knights of some domains enact a purifying ritual meant to prepare the warrior for the possibility of Final Death. Some Knights bathe in a prescribed manner or tie mourning bands to their arms, while others simply meditate for a few moments, clearing their minds of obstruction or worry. Of course, it’s not always possible to pause for ceremony before entering battle, but these Knights will take the chance whenever it arises. Concepts: Battlefield medic, dedicated bodyguard, fanatic self-sacrificing lover, gentleman warrior, grizzled veteran of calamity, suicidal glory hound, sword-toting suit, tough-as-nails emergency rescue driver, vigilant brother-in-arms, willing decoy

Order of the Thorned Wreath

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