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(Fic) The History of the Watchers' Council - Chapter Four

18th January 2011 (21:12)

This is Chapter Four of my account of the Council's history, and this time they're dealing with Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Crusaders. They also invent the Cruciamentum, maxime Romano sacro. For the introduction and contents, go here.

The Council's sojourn at Antioch was just as interesting (in the Chinese sense ) as their stay in Babylon.
Here, the city is besieged by the forces of the First Crusade.

Boulē Phúlakōn Antiócheiās - Watchers' Council of Antioch 275 BC - AD 1268


In the end none of Alexandros Argeid's generals were able to take his place: half a dozen Hellenic warlords divided the God-King's heritage between them. During the course of these endless wars, the Council was forced to move its base of operations for the second time. Babylon was at the heart of the fighting, and the city was sacked several times and its citizens scattered. Finally in the year 275 BC Antiochus, the local Greek warlord, ordered the city to be abandoned and the inhabitants moved to the nearby new city of Seleucia, founded by (and named after) Antiochus's father, which needed more population.

Recognising that if they stayed in an empty city any pretence at secrecy would be lost, the Council agreed to move its headquarters - but rather than go where they were ordered, they decided to shift their base of operations to the city of Antioch on the shores of the Mediterranean. (Antioch was named after King Antiochus's grandfather, and was his capital city. Macedonians clearly weren't very original when it came to naming things.) The Watchers took as much of their records and documents with them as they could, but the old Shadow Archives of Babylon had to be sealed and abandoned. Rumours still persist of the treasures and powerful magicks to be discovered there, although as mentioned previously, most of the really valuable documents were on clay tablets which were ruined when the Euphrates flooded the cellars.

Antioch was a thriving port and commercial centre, and from small beginnings was quickly growing to be one of the largest cities in the world, with a population of over half a million by the first century BC. It was the centre of the Hellenic world, with trade links reaching from Rome and Carthage in the west to India in the east. As such, it was the ideal place for the Council to set up its headquarters. One result of this move was to turn the Council's focus more towards Europe, a region it had largely ignored in the past but with which it could now establish stronger and more direct links. To the outside world, the Council gave the appearance of a network of merchants and scholars, though there were frequent rumours that they worshipped a mysterious foreign religion with bizarre rituals. (Much like the popular perception of the Jews in later years, in other words.) They were wealthy and seemed harmless, however, and most of their neighbours were happy to sell them the occasional girl-slave, or let their daughters become servants or wards in their households in return for the usual gifts.

Since Greek was now becoming the lingua franca (or koiné - Κοινή - if you prefer) of the known world, the Council decided to formally adopt it as its official language. It had been commonplace to translate the organisation's name into whatever local language was used by its members, but officially it was still referred to as the Kilib Lu'ennugi, even though that language had been dead for nearly a millennium. In 275, therefore, the Council decided to mark its new beginning by taking a new name in Greek - βουλή φύλακων Ἀντιόχειᾱς (Boulē Phúlakōn Antiócheiās). Boulē Phúlakōn was a direct translation of "Watchers' Council", but a sense of romantic tradition and scruples made them add the word "of Antioch" officially to their name. The Council had once been a worldwide organisation, with branches in every nation; but all the more distant ones had now been long lost and forgotten except in legend. Nevertheless, the Council was reluctant to claim universality; it would be the Watchers' Council of Antioch until such time as it could reunite all its scattered and lost children, at which point it would proudly take up the unadorned title of Watchers' Council once again.

It was during its sojourn at Antioch that the Council's system of assigning a Watcher permanently to a Potential evolved into its modern form. Of course, only a minority of Potentials were ever contacted by the Council: the magical divination techniques used to locate them were chancy at best, and while Watchers were stationed in major population centres and trade hubs, there were far too few of them and travel times were far too long for comprehensive coverage. A result, most Watchers had several Potentials of different ages under their care instead of a single one at a time, while many other Potentials went undetected. Some Watchers began the practice of training their girls in fighting techniques and demonology, to better prepare them should they be Called as Slayers, and eventually this became formalised and official. The first draft of the Slayer's Handbook was written in Greek in the year 127 BC, setting out rules for what a Slayer should know; it was translated into Latin in AD 12. (The expanding Roman Republic took control of Antioch in the year 64 BC.)

By the time the Romans replaced the Greeks as the dominant power in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Council had well over a hundred Potentials under its tutelage... and the problem of what to do with them was becoming increasingly urgent. After all, only a small minority would ever be Called as a Slayer; but the remainder now had advanced combat training and lots of esoteric scholarship, but little knowledge of the real world or the skills expected of a wife and mother. They were an expensive liability - and potentially a threat, since if the Roman authorities found that the Council was training a private army of women warriors, it might be seen as an act of rebellion. The Romans were harsh on rebels. More subtly, some in the Council worried that many of the field Watchers were forming ties of affection and even love with the girls under their care for so many continuous years. While this might be a natural human reaction, the critics argued that a Watcher must be ready to see his Slayer fight and die at his command. If he cared about her, he might hesitate to give the necessary orders; not to mention letting himself in for much grief when she was inevitably killed. Even more dangerously, any feelings for the girls might distract the Watcher from his loyalty to the Council, and lead to it falling apart again into numerous splinter groups.

The debate over what policy to adopt raged for many years at the start of the first century AD. Some even advocated killing the Potentials if they reached the age of 18 without becoming a Slayer. While this sounds absurd to modern ears, Roman law stated that the patriarch - paterfamilias - of a household did indeed have absolute power of life and death over all his family and dependents. A Watcher could quite legally kill a Potential under his tutelage with no repercussions. The proponents of this policy also suggested that it would be the perfect test of the Watcher's ultimate loyalty to the Council, and a reassurance that he was not letting his soft, un-Roman feelings for the child overcome his devotion to duty. Opponents of the policy condemned it as far too harsh, not to mention dangerous if the Potential heard what was going to happen to her and decided to use her highly-trained combat skills to fight back. They still needed an alternative, however.

At this point, a radical young firebrand from Alexandria in Egypt came up with an idea that shocked even the most liberal Watchers. Why not let the Potentials join the Council themselves? Become Watchers? After all, they had all the fighting skills and arcane knowledge needed; they would make excellent trainers for the next generation. The idea was laughed off at first. Ever since the days of the legendary Shadowmen in prehistoric times, all Watchers had been men and all Slayers women. It was the way of things; to defy it would be blasphemy! But the idea continued to circulate, and the people who'd at first condemned it out of hand started to look more thoughtful.

Things came to a head at the fourth conference to be held to debate this question, in the year AD 30 at Council headquarters in Antioch, after three previous meetings had broken up inconclusively. The suggestion to allow women to become Watchers was put forward once again, and everybody expected it to be voted down by a landslide. But instead, the leader of the "Kill all the Potentials!" faction stood up to offer a compromise. He was, he declared, willing to change his vote and admit women to the sacred ranks of the Council... but only if they could prove they were worthy of such an honour. How could they do that? Well, he suggested, the traditional Roman way would be to pit them in one-on-one combat against a dangerous opponent - a vampire, for example. Let them use all their fighting skills and knowledge; and if they succeeded in defeating their foe, they would be welcome among the ranks of the Council. Think of it as an initiation ritual to weed out the unsuitable, he argued. What went unstated - but was clearly understood by all present - was that few if any of the Potentials would survive such a test, and the embarrassing surplus of them would be winnowed out nicely without anyone having the guilt of killing them out of hand.

The proposal was voted through, and work was begun on the unfamiliar task of capturing, rather than killing, a group of vampires to be used in the test. Officially it was known as the initiation rites - initia - but some Watchers with more honesty called it the torture - cruciamentum - and that name was the one that stuck. It was a harsh trial, and those who suggested it fully anticipated that almost all - or even absolutely all - of those who took it would die. What they hadn't bargained for was the determination of many of those Potentials to beat the odds and survive - and the fact that their Watchers did their best to prepare and equip them for the test. Soon an embarrassingly large number (relatively speaking) of young women were demanding membership in the Watchers' Council by right of battle, and the Council's own rules gave them little choice but to accept.

Over subsequent centuries the Cruciamentum would remain a fixed tradition of the Council, but its exact form and purpose would vary. Depressingly but predictably, the women who survived it were oddly reluctant to campaign to abolish it; after all, they'd gone through it themselves. Instead, they argued that if it were a test of worthiness to become a Watcher, shouldn't the men go through it too? That logic couldn't be refuted, although the male Watchers did their best for many years. Eventually, it was the implication that they were weaker and more cowardly than the women that convinced them to institute the ritual for all Watchers of either sex. Of course, since they had no intention of dying the lethality of the ritual was toned down considerably. New candidates might find themselves set against a mangy, half-starved and pitiable vampire with a chain around its leg, and two heavily-armed Watchers in full armour standing by to either side in case things went wrong. In extreme cases the new Watcher might be told to simply throw some holy water at the vampire rather than kill it, to let the next candidate have a go too. Capturing live vampires isn't always easy, after all, and they might have to be reused... Then again, a candidate who had powerful enemies in the Council might face the Cruciamentum as it was originally intended, and die of the experience.

Officially all Potentials were supposed to undergo the test, but in practice the principle soon developed that a blind eye could be turned - especially if her Watcher trusted her to keep the secret, and she could find some way of making a living as an adult once she left his care. In some regions the existence of the Council and the Slayer became something of an open secret, and Potentials married freely into the local community and lived lives there. (Being a Potential is not hereditary as such - it's magic, not genetics - but there's a greater than statistically-random chance that the daughter or granddaughter of a Potential will be a Potential herself.)

The idea of making the Slayer go through the Cruciamentum as well seems to have developed during the 7th century AD, perhaps even as a misunderstanding of the original purpose of the rite. The idea of poisoning her with a magical concoction of herbs and liquefied demon organs to render her as weak as a normal human was put forward in order to make the test "fair" - after all, if Watchers had to face vampires in "controlled circumstances" using only their human skills and knowledge, surely the Slayer should do no less? Eventually the wheel came full circle and the Cruciamentum was developed into a way of disposing of uppity or surplus Slayers - although those who were biddable and obedient might still only face the same watered-down version of the test that Watchers undergo.

The Council prospered under the Roman Empire, but ran into difficulties after Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official State religion. This marked an end to the relatively easy-going Roman attitude to odd religious cults and secret societies. Now strict religious orthodoxy was required by law: pagan temples were shut down, their lands confiscated and their walls knocked down for use as building materials. The Council's involvement in magic and arcane ritual made it an immediate target of suspicion. In fact, the Council has no formal policy on religion and its members tend to reflect whatever the local faith may be - but because they study and even occasionally interact with actual gods, most of them tend towards atheistic polytheism. That is, they believe that multiple gods exist, but they don't consider them worthy of worship, except perhaps in propitiation or as a straightforward bargaining for services.

The Council survived the coming of Christianity, but at the cost of withdrawing further into secrecy and hiding from the world; its operations were restricted, and a store of enmity and resentment laid up. In fact, when the Arab conquerors brought the banners of Islam to the region in 637, the Council welcomed them as liberators.

Unfortunately, this honeymoon was short-lived. Antioch was on the border between the Muslim Caliphate and the Christian Byzantine empire which was all that remained of Roman power, and the city changed hands frequently in the many wars fought between them. Much of it was laid waste, and plague and famine added to the desolation. By the time the Frankish armies of the First Crusade appeared outside its walls in 1098 the city was only a shadow of its former self. The Council's official headquarters was still located there, but many of its most valuable assets had been dispersed over the centuries for safekeeping, as far afield as Baghdad, Constantinople, Cordoba and Alexandria. The Inner Council travelled around, meeting in different places instead of staying in its headquarters all the time. Even so, Antioch was still important, and many of the artefacts and tomes kept there were too fragile or bulky to be moved. The establishment of the Principality of Antioch by the Crusaders brought some temporary stability to the region and permitted a recovery, but the writing was clearly on the wall.

Next Chapter: Consilium Custodum Venetiarum - Watchers' Council of Venice AD 1268 - 1563


Posted by: The Mezzanine (deird1)
Posted at: 19th January 2011 03:28 (UTC)

I'm finding all this so fascinating...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 19th January 2011 03:57 (UTC)

Yay! :-)

Was it the Latin phrase in my blurb that attracted you to this particular chapter? :-)

Posted by: none of the above (frogfarm)
Posted at: 19th January 2011 10:05 (UTC)
willow wesley fetal pigs



Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 19th January 2011 11:51 (UTC)

Wait till you see the next chapter with the actual Vatican...

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