Missive from the Alps 2: The Devil’s Tribunal
Number Two in an ongoing series of articles about the historical sources, underpinnings and concepts behind Dead Air
Readers of the wiki will note frequent mention of “The Devil’s Tribunal”. Here’s some context around why this, the Grand Tribunal of 1318, has assumed the reputation it has.
Traditionally, each geographical area of the Order of Hermes (a Tribunal) held a meeting (also, confusingly, a Tribunal) every seven years. Every thirty-three years, each region sent elected delegates to the Grand Tribunal, the Order’s supreme decision-making body, traditionally held at the covenant of Durenmar. Only the Grand tribunal, according to tradition and law, can speak for the whole Order of Hermes. 1318 was the las time such a meeting was held.
In 1318, as is traditional, the Praeco was the Prima Bonisagus, Malatesta. The presiding Quaesitor was the Primus Guernicus, Origen. Six main matters of import came before the Grand Tribunal; the disappearance of House Merinita in 1300; the loss of contact with the British Isles Tribunals; the collapse of the Iberian Tribunal in the wake of the Shadow Flambeau affair; the murder by papal forces of the Prima Jerbiton, Margherita Boninsegna; the exposure of the Knights Templar as a puppet organisation of House Guernicus; and the appeal for aid from House Bjornaer, facing attack by both pagan magicians and the Teutonic Order in Poland and Lithuania.
Malatesta exercised a lot of control over the agenda, with the British and Merinita issues being largely dismissed out of hand – no representatives of the British Tribunals came to speak, and it was in the interests of Malatesta to quiet the Merinita issue, as the many sources of vis originally claimed by the Merinita in the Rhineland now fell to Durenmar. She also shaped the debate around first the Flambeau, arguing the House had successfully policed itself and the loss of the Iberian covenants in the battle was a price worth paying, and then ensured no punishment fell on the Jerbiton for the acknowledged interference in mundane affairs that had brought the wrath of the Papacy down on them.
The remaining two votes are infamous. Where House Jerbiton’s interference was deemed acceptable, that of House Guernicus (which arguably started the whole mess between the Papacy and the Order in the 1300s) was not. Driven in some cases by long-simmering resentment against the Guernicus for their role in upholding and prosecuting the law and in others by accusations of hypocrisy and double standards, the Grand Tribunal voted to renounce House Guernicus, giving all members thereof one year to find a new House to join or be subject to lethal sanction. This was supported by Adriano ex Flambeau, Quaesitor for her House, who had taken over for the vote as Presiding Quaesitor as Origen had recused himself as a Guernicus.
The final vote was on whether to send support to the Bjornaer, invoking the College of Archmagi and their warleader to the defence of the House. With many magi reeling for the implications of the renunciation of the Guernicus, and with the impact of mundane interference ringing in their ears, the Grand Tribunal voted by a narrow margin to refuse to send aid, accounting the risk to the Bjornaer an acceptable price for the secrecy and safety of the rest of the Order.
Amidst uproar, and before the final vote ratifying all decisions of the Tribunal, Carpocrates, Archmage ex Bonisagus took to the floor and delivered what is generally believed to be one of the most rousing oratories of modern times, appealing to his fellows to overturn the Tribunal, to refuse the renunciation of the Guernicus and to rally to the support of the Bjornaer. People present describe the hair on the back of their necks rising even in memory of it. It was not enough, and the 1318 Grand Tribunal was ratified by a tiny margin – two votes.
Chaos followed. The Bjornaer walked out, and many of the Guernicus, believing the writing was on the wall, rallied and joined them, heading north to aid in their defence in defiance of the ruling. Many Flambeau – including Adriano, who seemed stunned at what she had presided over, joined them. Magi left the Tribunal in disgust at what they had done, or dismay at the votes of their fellows.
A year later, House Bjornaer was functionally gone – the battles up on the Baltic coast had been so pyrrhic little to nothing remained of any of the forces involved. Only Simeon, in Twilight during the period, survivied. Contact was lost with many of the outlying Tribunals; nine years later Durenmar itself was gone. Among those to whom history is important, the Grand Tribunal of 1318, the so-called Devil’s Tribunal, is the beginning of the end of the Order of Hermes.
The poorly-thought-through consequences of that Tribunal reverberate to the present day. With only a handful of covenants outside the Greater Alps still operating effectively, will there ever be another Grand Tribunal? Are all Greater Alps Tribunals now assumed to speak for the whole Order and if so, what of those who reside outside; are they denied a vote? Praeco of the Grand Tribunal is the Primum Bonisagus – as position currently vacant – and presiding Quaesitor Primum Guernicus – a position currently defunct.
Further, as some of the Order’s sharper minds point out, the position of Quaesitor and the authority that goes with it is reviewed and renewed for any magus bearing it every seven years – by the Monitors of House Guernicus. All new Quaesitori are formally ratified as such by the Primum Guernicus.
The last Quaesitor present to be inducted and ratified was Camelliard, a couple of years before the fall of Magvillus.
No assessment of any Quaesitor has been conducted by the Monitors since 1318. By the strict traditional interpretation of the law, none of the Quaesitori now present are legally able to claim that title and no new Quaesitori can be created.
On the one hand, some magi claim this forthcoming Tribunal must be a de-facto Grand Tribunal to allow for necessary changes for the Order’s survival – where others claim such is impossible, and the Alps can speak only for the Alps.
The consequences of the Devil’s Tribunal are not just administrative. There is a general perception that the Order failed the Bjornaer, and a lingering guilt that cannot be assuaged while Simeon stands as Praeco. Equally, that the Guernicus and Jerbiton were not treated equably, since their offences were largely the same. For some, it marked the end of adherence to the Code, and the beginning of a much more dangerous phase of the Order’s endgame.