The Steam Saint: A Quixotic Journey for the Modern Aeon
Chapter 1 – In Which I Offer a Prelude
Principium Cavalierro Errante § Ω: When in doubt, discard all rules and simply love.
Water is a truly miraculous substance.
Without it, all plants and animals on the planet are little more than tough, stringy, inanimate husks. Sinew, wood, bone, muscle… all are given vivacity and true form by water.
But it is not just water in its liquid form, that which we imagine first when we speak of water, that makes it so remarkable.
Frozen water works at even the most sturdy masonry. It whittles castles, obliterates the strongest oaks.
Steam, though, is the substance that perhaps has defined our world the most.
Who knew that a simple tea kettle boiling could contain such power, not just the power to steep the nutrition hidden within leaves and stems but also the power to propel machines of war and transports of peace?
As you undoubtedly were taught at least by your reactor before your sixth year of primera, monarchs and republicans alike settled the scores of honor and ideology on the battlefield with the Steam Knights.
The days of chivalry of the last millennium were defined by these men (and, rarely, when manners allowed or when desperation required, women). They enforced the peace; aided in the processes of taxation; banished bandits; quelled rebellions; repelled invaders; even slew bears, miedolagarto, and wild beasts that village militias could not handle. Wars were decided by which kings could bring the strongest knights to bear.
Fire breeding with water to produce steam, air, contained by the metal quarried from the earth… the Steam Knights wielding their gleaming weapons, clad in their scintillating armor, were formed from the balance of the four elements.
This led these knights to create codes of honor and chivalry emphasizing the same balance.
Of course, these knights were few and far between. Though we do not like to admit it, it is clear from history that every feudal class in history emerged because those few men who had the fortitude, strength, and wherewithal to battle at the highest level could by that very dint elect themselves rulers of men. Weapons and armor were expensive, tin and iron and copper and bronze and nickel rare.
The steam knights, virtually men of nobility, were raised from birth, paged and squired, armed and trained, to be warriors. Their noble blood entitled them to the hell that was the apprenticeship of the steam knight.
I can say with little fear of contradiction that, of every pair of hands that clasps this book, it will take a thousand before a pair that has operated steam armor will flip the pages.
Those of you who have never seen the innards of these suits of metal, boilers, valves, gears, pistons, cylinders and turbines will struggle to comprehend the deftness of skill and the hale heart it required to battle within steam armor. One knight, Grewain of Vilia, likened an hour in a suit to being dangled over a spit roast and forced to taste sparks and coal for two hours.
The earliest steam armors were often only cuirasses with lighter chain, ring or stud armors below it. But the steam armor that we imagine thinking of those days of noble warriors were the most durable and strongest metals available, head to toe.
A warrior fighting in such a contraption would feel the sun beating down, each inch of metal a conductor of the rays of heat. They would need to maintain their composure as steam boiled and flowed mere fingertips away from their flesh. Because the armor was form-fitting, these men often had to control the operational features of the armor, ranging from vents that would allow their legs greater locomotive celerity and their arms greater force of blows to retractable edges and weapons hidden amidst the steel and titanium, with cords put upon their fingers and even toes, or switches activated by moving in a specific fashion with their shoulders or knees.
In order to avoid accidentally triggering any of these features, perfect discipline of motion was required. An errant motion could lead one to unwittingly discharge a weapon.
Training a warrior who could not only maintain morale and formation, not break rank, swing a sword and aim a bow with skill, fight on horseback, and otherwise battle as warriors always have, but also operate these machines was an immense undertaking. It was no surprise that these warriors were venerated as the comrades of kings and the slayers of monsters.
Operating and maintaining such suits required wealth, expense and expertise. Men and women known as Steam Squires would help improve, maintain and repair these suits of armor. The small kingdom of Hakle kept the peace with a mere twenty knights alongside town militias and guards. The expense of the armors kept their operation the province of a tiny elite.
This story is not about this age of chivalry, where these elite warriors defined our history.
This story is about the next age, the age where the steam knights began to die. The cost of building and maintaining such armor, and training these men, began to be so obviously impractical that the engineers and generals began to abandon the romantic notion of their knights for the cruel exigencies of war. Training soldiers to wear lighter steam cuirasses and suits, use propelling weapons of firepowder and steam crossbows, and otherwise fight with the techniques fo mass conscription made the knights a dying breed.
I am Shad Ashan ban Biol.
And I have condemned myself to the executioners’ flames for writing these words.
I am a researcher at Ahualim Polytechnic. I specialize in the history and sociology of the Age of Chivalry, now over two centuries past us.
Of course most of you are aware of the “Principium Cavalierro Errante”, the list of precepts that Rejara Contante of Alcana, a dispossessed adventurer and scion of a noble house of glorified accountants, dictated to his squire Isabella Adroital. The book, short as it is, is a description of how a knight should behave, but also a guide to life that was apparently sincerely meant to be adopted by everyone.
I had always, like many of you, viewed this text as being a queer aberration. The statement of a dying culture, a romanticized defense of the old system of the steam-knights. Many even suspect Contante suffered from the same madness born amongst men with miniscule importance that Rejara’s father Saavedra was stricken with. Rejara Contante’s precepts speak of a naivete about the true nature of the steam knights and of the time of war into which he was born.
In my ignorant eyes, this text was below the threshold of any serious importance.
And then I contracted a great fever.
And then, after days, in the throes of my pain, with gripping fingers of heat burning every fraction of my body, I had a peaceful respite.
Shadow and smoke came from the common room and enveloped my door.
The smoke rose higher and higher. Even in my fever-addled mind, with rules of proportion and perspective devastated by the pain of illness, I knew that the scale of my room would simply not allow the smoke to grow further. And yet it did. The smoke pulsed with a fire as of life. It swirled and spun into a column, then took the shape of a man as perfect as a statue, as flawless as a diamond.
This man, this djinn, told me that I needed to look again in my library. I needed to again look at Rejara Contante’s history, with the mind of a man reborn from illness.
It was only after this visit that the fever subsided.
Today, war with the djinn looms. We have spread our dominion of Earth such that their hidden lands can no longer be anywhere but in our path.
But this state of affairs had not always transpired. There was one time, at least, that the djinn had considered peace.
To understand how this could be the case, to understand why the Church of Veritan only began to preach a new gospel of peace two centuries ago under Capitos Chiennus the I, to understand why the “Body of Our God” movement changed so suddenly and was replaced by Chiennus’ “New Light” teaching, to understand the death of Capitos Caskus the IV, to understand the nature of things in Newland, it is necessary to revisit Rejara Contante and his silly book.
I discovered from letters and correspondence, from lost accounts and newspaper trimmings, from the testimony of a traveling Peacegunner of Newland, that Rejara Contante is only a footnote in our history for the same reason many of the greatest men and women are forgotten by our texts. He served no lord, he did not do what was politically expedient, and the battles that he won were not popular with those who give patronage to scholars. He embarrassed churches, kings and heads of state.
And, upon the completion of my research, my shadowy interlocutor returned, my djinn visitor. He told me that Rejara Contante had been man’s true friend to the djinni, and imparted upon me the tale of heroism that will emerge from this paper and this ink, pouring from these old hands. I have in these pages tried to render the tale of this man as honestly and completely as I can, as if from his own eyes.
For telling this man’s story, I have no doubt that I will be condemned to the ordeal of the incendiary horse. I and my beloved steed will be burnt alive, sent to ride in panic, until we are both immolated to the gristle and bone.
Many of you will think I am the victim of devils, manipulators with whispers of fire and forked tongues of licking smoke.
No matter what you think of me, though, I hope you see that the principles of the knight-errant laid out by Contante are no less relevant today than they have ever been. Far from speaking madness, he bellowed truth to ears that could not hear it and interpreted it with false hearts as lunacy.
And I believe that the story laid out in these pages truly is the story of a forgotten saint, one responsible for much of the dying goodness still left in this world about to embrace the madness of war.
And it all began, as so few stories do, with the reading of a will…