Return of the Dark Ones
All folk belong to a social class, and each class has its own rights and responsibilities. However, in Ferelden, unlike nearly all other countries in Thedas, members of the nobility are not considered to be intrinsically better or afforded more rights than any other class; they just have different ones. It is true that nobles are generally treated with deference, but this is often due more to the (correct) assumption of martial ability than social status. Nobles from other lands frequently find Ferelden commoners to be phenomenally insolent in comparison to the fawning treatment that they are used to.
The primary purpose of the nobility of Ferelden is to fight for their people against all threats— human, darkspawn, or otherwise. While nearly all Fereldans boast some level of martial ability, nobles are expected to excel at warfare — it is, literally, their “job.” The nobles of Ferelden do not own the land. They likely have some small holdings, with more powerful or influential lords controlling progressively greater keeps or fortresses, but it is the freeholders that actually own the farms, the crops they produce, and the profits that come from selling their goods. In Ferelden this matters a great deal, because it is the commoners who are actually the patrons of the nobility. Each freehold chooses which bann or arl it gives allegiance to and the decision is renewed each year. A group of freeholders dissatisfied with the protection they are getting from their local bann can remove their patronage and give it to another bann — though likely one within a fairly short riding distance.
At the top of the noble structure sits the King of Ferelden, whose court is in the capital city, Denerim. The King is entrusted with advancing the interests of all the people of Ferelden in both war and trade. While the King can suggest new laws for the land, the “King’s Law” is in fact generally dictated by precedent and voted on by the Landsmeet, a legislative body made up of all the nobles of Ferelden that meets once a season within Denerim to deliberate on issues and bring grievances before the King. Not all of the nobility can regularly make the trip to Denerim, so many send a proxy, either a younger family member or a trusted commoner, to vote in their place. The present King of Ferelden is Cailan, son of the near-legendary Maric, who ended the long occupation of the Orlesian Empire. Most believe King Cailan must feel the weight of his father’s legacy keenly. Time will tell if he can bear it up, or if it will crush him.
Directly beneath the King are the teyrn, warlords of such power and influence that they have multiple banns sworn directly to them. There are two teyrn in Ferelden at present, Teyrn Bryce Cousland of Highever and Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir of Gwaren. Teyrn Loghain was once a commoner whose brilliant tactical skills eventually elevated him to become King Maric’s favored general, and his daughter Anora is Cailan’s wife, Queen of Ferelden. Loghain is widely regarded as a living example that anyone can rise as far as their abilities allow in Ferelden.
Beneath the teyrn are the arls, powerful banns who control critical fortifications or regions of land along the borders of Ferelden. Banns make up the bulk of Ferelden’s nobility. There are a great many banns with widely varying levels of power throughout the kingdom. When the banns speak with one voice, they are the greatest power in Ferelden, but this is rare, for they’re a quarrelsome lot. Trivial feuds, which occasionally give rise to petty wars, are far from unknown among the bann.
The least of the nobility is the Fereldan knight, a heavy infantry soldier sworn to serve a greater noble. The prestige of a given knight is greatly influenced by whom he is sworn to serve. They have no particular code of conduct, valuing fighting skills and leadership abilities before all else. While some knights do control land, it is never very significant, as anything more would mean they would be regarded as a bann. In Ferelden, commoner soldiers of exceptional fighting skill have a very real chance of being knighted and joining the ranks of the nobility. Fereldans are proud of this “social mobility,” which is rare in Thedas.