"Cross the Lord of Darkwater," the saying goes, "and you may be sunk." Sinking you deeper, the saying implies, are Darkwater's agents: members of the rowdy fleet, they are called Deepers after their intended purpose.
The Keep's liberal employment policies ensure that there are no shortage of candidates for its small navy; Darkwater is a home for orphans of all classes, wayward children of Noble houses sent away to become someone else's problem, men fleeing service in the Blades (or those who find the Blades too restrictive or disciplined), wandering mercenaries, displaced Ducal Guards, and all sorts of outcasts. An egalitarian organization, Darkwater has women in power - not least among them its latest Admiral, Vaynor Zahir. One of the Lord of Darkwater's personal guard is also a woman. This egalitarianism has its limits, however - Darkwater has never been property of a female, and while the odd Peasant may inhabit the keep, they do not serve in combat roles (as opposed to Freelanders, who form the bulk of Darkwater's forces).
Deepers are known for their love of the water, love of conflict, and loyalty to the Lord of Darkwater himself. They are generally skilled with light and quick weapons such as swords and small axes, archery, swimming, and waterway navigation. Their more unofficial proficiencies in drinking, whoring, and cantankerous behavior are also well-known.
Introduction: The Ravens Come to DarkwaterEdit
In approximately 560 ATA, Duke Zelon Zahir bequeathed Darkwater Keep to his younger brother Count Dolmor Zahir. Zelon had won the keep from an unlucky Lomasa in one of his gambling dens, but already had a keep and had no intention of moving from his ancestral home in the Forest District to this Keep. Dolmor, on the other hand, had no chance of inheriting anything of merit -- although he was a bright, competent man and, for a Zahir, remarkably loyal. What's more, Darkwater was really accessible only by water, and Dolmor was one of those rare nobles with a knack for piloting a boat. Bequeathing the keep to Dolmor was a means of securing that loyalty more than anything else. What Zelon didn't anticipate was how Dolmor was going to put the keep to use.
In these times, piracy was rampant on the rivers. Zelon himself benefited from some illicit activity on the waterways, as his Shadow District businesses had side rackets in smuggling and the occasional act of plundering. The Blades' navy, stretched across the entire length and breadth of the rivers, could not spare the resources to concentrate on activity around the Shadow Wall.
The enterprising Dolmor saw an opportunity, and invested his meager fortunes in building boats of unique construction: fast-keeled, sturdy-hulled, low-riding ships, with high sides to protect against arrows and room for archers of their own. River cutters, the boatwrights called them. Dolmor purchased two, the 'Riversnake' and the 'Pride of Darkwater'. Shortly afterward, the Emperor granted him letters of marquee he could pass on to his heir, and his heir's heir, in perpetuity, establishing his vassals as Privateers. Zelon was not happy.
To crew the boats, Dolmor recruited where he thought he'd have the best chance: dockside bars in Aegisport, in Hawk's Aerie, even in the Shadow District itself. As word spread that there was work for rivergoing hire-swords, retired (and more than a few dishonorably discharged) Blades made their way to Darkwater by land and river.
The men Dolmor saw on his pier at the arranged date and time to select his crews were a fearsome bunch: salts and unsavories of all varieties, with their own weapons ranging from daggers and bows to axes and clubs. All looked like the kind of people he would least like to run across in a back alley. Earlier in their lives some of them had been heroes, some prominent nobles, others had long since grown frustrated with life as a nobody. Dolmor saw that they all had something in common -- they all no longer had anything to lose, and would seize immediately at the opportunity for a second chance.
Dolmor made them an offer: Pledge their loyalty to him, become his warriors, and he would steer their work in a way that would keep them all well-fed and well-clothed. So long as they were willing to die for him, Dolmor said, he would live for them.
The men were uneasy. Muttering and unsure, one younger man asked if it would be like the Blades service he had left, with curfews, barked orders, sharp salutes and stupid rules getting in the way of business.
Dolmor saw an immediate opportunity. No, he replied. So long as you bring me more ships and fill my coffers with prize money and the assets confiscated from pirates and smugglers -- all contraband duly dumped overboard, of course -- and I do not have to settle your debts with the Blades or anyone else, do as you like in the dock towns and the barracks.
To a man they accepted the chance to fight for a living -- legally -- without restrictions against drinking, whoring, and gambling.
Any collusions between Zelon and Dolmor for the distribution of illicit goods remains, to this day, a closely guarded secret.
Evolution of the DeepersEdit
Dolmor raised his son, Moldor, in the Keep. His tutors in philosophy were poet rogues; in numbers, privateer Captains with inventories of arrows and confiscated cargoes. When Moldor assumed command of the Keep, he led with the ruthless cunning of a man born to privateering from birth.
It was when Dolmor and Moldor were both alive that the term "Deeper" was coined. A Mikin privateer craft had ventured on the wrong side of Hawk's Aerie and attempted to claim a pirate vessel as prize. Dolmor and Moldor, both on the same boat, saw a signal arrow from one of their boats indicating that it was going to intervene. The pair were not close enough to issue orders.
They didn't have to. The Darkwater captain rammed the already damaged pirate ship and set the Mikin boat alight with flaming arrows. Both ships were nowhere to be seen, survivors paddling frantically for shelter, by the time the Lord of Darkwater and his son had come within eyeshot. "Where are they?" Moldor called to the Captain. The reply: "Deeper." Moldor began to refer to his men as "Deepers" and the tradition stuck.
It was also under Moldor that the first women came to work at the Keep; first disguised as women, but later, when they had proven their worth time and again, Darkwater openly accepted female Deepers and dared the realm to challenge them on it.
- Swab - The lowliest position aboard a Darkwater vessel is the highest position a Peasant can hope to attain in the Keep's organization. A swab is charged with just that - swabbing the deck. This task is generally extended to include everything the rest of the crew wants done and thinks requires a minimal amount of intelligence, including (but not limited to) cleaning beer mugs, carrying ammunition/rigging/lumber/anything across the cramped decks, and being the only member of a crew that a Ship's Boy may order around. Generally found on ships without a Ship's Boy, however, as vessels are too cramped for useless bodies to occupy.
- Ship's Boy - The youngest Deepers deemed waterworthy plead their case to Captains of Deeper boats, and should the Captain decide the young man or woman is able enough and ready enough, then he or she becomes the Ship's Boy. It doesn't matter if they're male or female; two hundred years of tradition dictates that the Ship's Boy is, Light take it, the Ship's damn Boy. No questions asked. This member of the crew may be asked to polish weapons and armor and do other menial tasks, but not out of laziness on the part of the crew - it would be to teach the Ship's Boy to get in the habit of performing maintenance he or she would need to do for his or her own equipment later on. A Ship's Boy is also tasked with the carrying of ammunition to the archers in battle, and even the grim task of assisting in tending to the wounded. Ship's Boys are also encouraged to learn to cook at this phase of their training, usually beginning when they are between nine and twelve.
- Poleman - While Polemen may have different specializations (and may be women), such as tending to rigging, navigation, or mending leaks, every deckhand without rank is called Poleman because on a ship on the river, where wind is often finicky, they will to a man (and woman) be called to push a pole or an oar when the boat needs to move. The Poleman is the general infantry of the Deeper organization; a sailor of intermediate skill, to advance from Ship's Boy or landside guard or dockworker to Poleman requires the demonstration of proficiency in weapons and close-quarters fighting, a strong back, endurance, agility, and the beginnings of river knowledge. A steadily increasing tolerance for alcohol is also important. As with all other members of a ship crew, the Captain picks his (or her) Polemen by hand.
- Carpenter - Revered to the point of ranking "with but after" Lieutenants and Bosuns, a Carpenter is a valuable person aboard a ship, because if the ship suffers damage, the Carpenter is the only one definitely competent enough to repair it. During battle, the Carpenter might fight, but any Captain would much rather keep his Carpenter hidden out of danger to mend the ship after the fray - or make repairs on the fly, to keep the ship outmaneuvering her opponent.
- Lieutenant/Bosun - The chief quality of these people is toughness. The second in command of a ship, these people are called Lieutenants if they are Noble or Bosuns if they are not; however, the ranks are equal in pay, prestige, and respect. They lead the charge when boarding other ships, maintain order among the ranks, and handle the divvying of prizes and pay. In case of dispute, the Lieutenant or Bosun is generally the mediator, especially disputes between the crew as a whole and the Captain. It takes a strong leadership ability, a firm hand, and years of experience to earn this rank. The Captain may request a Lieutenant or Bosun for his ship, but the Lord or Admiral will have final say. Generally, Noble Captains are paired with Freelander Bosuns, and Freelander Captains with Noble Lieutenants, to lend the ship's command more flexibility.
- Captain - Darkwater does not have many ships, but the ones it does have, Darkwater's Lord expects to go out and bring the Keep money (and occasionally more ships). A fighting boat is a precious commodity, and not one to be given lightly - especially given the isolated nature of a boat as it patrols the waters, Captains are carefully chosen from the ranks. The rank is an explicit demonstration of trust from the Lord of Darkwater, who hand-picks them on the recommendations of trusted advisors (and the small cadre of his other Captains). In order to maintain command of as rowdy and potentially mutinous a bunch as the explosive Deepers, a Captain needs a cool head, a quick wit, years of experience, and skill in fighting. A fearsome reputation certainly doesn't hurt, either. When the boat is out of port, the Captain is its sole master, charged with keeping the boat and the crew in full working order.
- Admiral - the Right Hand of the Lord. When Darkwater has an Admiral - usually only in times of great need, when not all the activities of the Keep can be handled by the Lord himself - that Admiral embodies physically all the discipline and forceful leadership the Lord of Darkwater generally assumes is implied. Darkwater's Admirals have complete command of a Fleet placed under his (or her) command, which may extend to the entire Darkwater Fleet. When the Lord is away, he may install an Admiral to tend to the daily maintenances (and combats) of Darkwater in his absence.
- Lord of Darkwater - for Deepers, the Lord of Darkwater has supreme authority second only to the Emperor. At least, that's what he'd like to think. He's the one who dispenses the cash, the equipment, the food, the roof, the boats, and, in many cases, the chance to begin again as a Deeper and cast aside whatever old life each member of Darkwater Keep may be leaving behind. Gratitude for this beneficence is expected, but traditionally, the Zahirs of Darkwater demand it be demonstrated only when necessary. Salutes, scraping and bowing, deferential language, and other frills have over the years been dispensed with. The privilege of a Deeper is the ability to speak candidly of and with his Lord, in exchange for unflagging loyalty.
Thayndor Zahir, Lord of Darkwater
Vaynor Zahir, Admiral of the Darkwater Fleet, who has lived at Darkwater all her life.
Palinar Lomasa, her trusted lieutenant, who grew up as a Ward of Darkwater and childhood friends of Thayndor and Vaynor both.
Toomes Hawkfeather (NPC), Darkwater's scribe and accountant.
Dalayna, Darkwater's master healer-at-large. As often away from the keep as she is there, thanks to the chief requests for treatment coming for ailments with names like "fire crotch" and "groin rot."
Otto Stonefish, Swab and Deeper hopeful. As Deepers-to-be are wont to do, Stonefish showed up one day and asked Thayndor Zahir to give him a chance. The aging river salt is even now having his mettle put to the test.
Kaiara Stormclaw, Swab. Stormclaw simply approached Thayndor one day and asked for a job -- any job. True to the geas of Darkwater -- grant a second chance to anyone who asks -- she's got the job. But what remains to be seen is whether or not she's getting more than she bargained for ...
Malia, Artisan. Perhaps a nod to the poncy days of Thayndor's youth, the painter Malia receives a stipend from Darkwater allowing her to pursue her art -- so long as she's willing to pick up odd jobs here and there along the way.
Mellion Mikin (NPC), Ward of Darkwater -- an orphan of the razing of Light's Reach, freelander merchants found him crying outside the gates of the levelled city. They brought him to the Market District and from there the only place they knew would take him: Darkwater Keep. Too young to know what his name meant when he arrived, he has spent most of his life now at Darkwater.
Thayndor Zahir's Personal GuardEdit
Shar Ashleather (NPC), Captain of the Guard. Shar has been with the Keep since she ran away from home at twelve (Thayndor was ten). Since almost the first moment after meeting him, Ashleather decided he was an errant boy who occasionally needed minding and some firm instruction. For her intelligence, skill with a blade, and tenacity -- and willingness to let Thayndor look dumb without helping him herself -- she is his most trusted guard and almost like an elder sister.
Eldred Finn (NPC), Bosun of the Guard. Finn was Thayndor's first instructor in the art of the sword. Moldor Zahir appointed him to be Thayndor's guard before the Zahir was wearing long pants. Though age is starting to take his edge, Finn is a cunning warrior. He refused Thayndor's promotion to captain of his guard when the Zahir succeeded his father, arguing that Ashleather would benefit more from the experience. And he could watch both their backs better from a distance.
Varick Sweetwater (NPC). Two years younger than Thayndor, Sweetwater was accepted as a ward of the keep at Finn's request. Finn maintains Varick impressed him by fighting off a group of older dockrat boys in an Aegisport back-alley, but popular wisdom is that Sweetwater is actually Finn's child by a Crescent Moon whore. Varick and Janley Boarhoof are the only two guards who prefer other weapons to some variety of sword; Varick leans towards the axe.
Lonis Oakleaf (NPC). Kicked out of the Blades for kanoodling his superior's wife, Oakleaf is not a natural river rat. His loyalty, sharp eye, and skill with a blade kept him in the Deepers, though. All three of those qualities landed him on Thayndor's guard when the choice came.
Rendis Darkwater (NPC). The son of a Deeper, Rendis was born under the Fastheld Bridge and spent his whole life at the Keep. Several years ago, Rendis had the choice between a spot as Bosun aboard a Deeper boat or a gig following Thayndor around. He chose the path with less responsibility and more travel as Thayndor's guard.
Janley Boarhoof (NPC). A large, outspoken man with a strong mace arm, Janley has always impressed his fellow Deepers with his ability to somehow scrape together an escape or a last-minute victory, regardless of the situation. This combined with his tendency to attract trouble makes him an apt -- and safe -- lightning rod. Boarhoof prefers the mace to the sword.
The Twelve Captains of Darkwater, one for each of Darkwater's twelve fighting craft (there are more, but they aren't specifically built for river combat).
The Freeboat Captains are each in charge of the various and sundry other boats in Darkwater's employ, ranging from fishing boats to cargo keelboats to simple rafts.
- Tanner Velvet, Captain, Merchanter Keelboat 'Gwenwyn's Wish' (NPC). Captain Velvet's first name fits him more than his last; 5'5, battle-scarred, with a raspy voice and a tendency to draw out his "arrs," Velvet oversees the boat that performs most of Darkwater's newfound participation in the jewel-hauling business. As the keelboat now plies the waters loaded to the gills with jewels, even the Darkwater flag is not enough to caution the desparate against trying for such an expensive prize. Velvet was hand-picked for the assignment for a combination of sophisticated intelligence, ruthlessness, and style. His bosun, known only as Master Gorem, does all the yelling.
- Master Tumen Gorem, Bosun, Merchanter Keelboat 'Gwenwyn's Wish' (NPC). A barrel-chested man with a booming voice and a knack for creative insults, Gorem is the blunt instrument to Captain Velvet's surgical tool. Where Velvet reasons, cajoles, and encourages, Gorem berates, threatens and instills abject fear. He grew up on the water and has been a Bosun longer than Thayndor Zahir has been alive.
- Grit Bunions, fisherman (NPC). Short-tempered and lazy, Grit skates by as part of Darkwater's fisherman fleet with his friend Narl Yonderpatch.
- Narl Yonderpatch, fisherman (NPC). Thinking quick on his feet has pulled Narl Yonderpatch out of more than his share scrapes in a less-than-storied career as a Freelander fisherman making his way day to day in the fishing fleets. He's worked for Hawk's Aerie but switched to Darkwater because he can drink more that way. He sticks close by Grit Bunions, the muscle for Narl's brains.
- Cyneray Coolweather, dockman. After years just getting by from job to job, Coolweather came to Darkwater as a hired hand on a fishing boat. When an argument with a coworker over pulling nets back onto the pier turned into a knife fight -- and Cyneray decided to fight even though he forgot his knife -- Thayndor Zahir paid attention. He was offered a job and a "second chance" at Darkwater and is just beginning his work there.
- Adaer Kahar, Poleman - After the Blades were disbanded, Adaer Kahar -- whose sister Mirabelle was briefly engaged to Thayndor Zahir, and who had lost his Keep, The Warren, long before -- found himself without direction or a home. At Thayndor's offer, he joined Darkwater for a second chance at glory. Thayndor was unwilling to grant three chances however, as Adaer was involved in the loss to two boats and an incident with the Zahir's betrothed.