he question has occasionally been put to me collator of law and of lore that I am whether or not I would be willing to engage in a study of one subject or another and then publish my findings in the Herald. I have usually denied such requests but alas a debt of honour towards an ally of my father has led me to revise my normal policy. I thus present for your edification a study I recently engaged upon of Messengers, Heralds and their Etiquette within Nirath.
What is a Messenger?
At its core, the role of a messenger is to deliver information from a source to a recipient. Of course, the reality is more complex: there are as many types of messenger as there are messages to be delivered – from the military dispatch rider delivering orders and delivering news of victory or defeat to the country, a courier carrying a parcel from one village to another for a pittance of coin and a mug of ale. Messengers tend to be easily dividable into three types: fast, incidental and slow. Fast messengers deliver missives or items that have a time-sensitive component to them, slow messengers tend to deliver bulk items or large numbers of messages with no severe time constraint. Incidental messengers are those traders who, for a few extra coins, take missives or packages along a trade route which they are already travelling.
What is a Herald?
Heralds are, at the core of their role, messengers. What separates the herald from the lay messenger is who they deliver messages for, a herald is a messenger for a court. Heralds deliver proclamations from a ruler to the ruled and act as go-betweens for nobles wishing to negotiate. Heralds are trained in the recognition of coats of arms, which is sometimes called heraldry for this reason, meaning that heralds of all the court’s officers are most likely to know the most about different noble houses and dynasties. Heralds are often given powers of adjudication or negotiation as part of their role as messenger for the court and some duchies even use their heralds as a form of informal census.
The Etiquette of Messengers
The etiquette of messengers can be divided into two types: road etiquette and contract etiquette. Contract etiquette being the form most encountered by the ordinary citizen will be examined first. When making a contract with a messenger it is important to first determine what type of messenger you are dealing with and to set a reasonable timeframe for their abilities and prices. Fast messengers riding post haste will not be able to carry bulky objects and will, quite reasonably, charge a premium for their services. Slower couriers with carts will take longer, but are generally cheaper and allow for transportation of bulk items. Incidental messengers will be slow and cheap but will likely not have the room to spare for large packages.
It can be expected by the contract issuer that no attempt will be made to interfere with or read any written missive or to open any package save in the utmost need. Most messengers will accept a half payment up front with the rest of the payment upon delivery. Faster deliverymen or those travelling dangerous routes may demand full payment upfront, I would suggest checking the reputation of any who do so very carefully. Upon receipt of a package or missive much quicker than would be expected, it is common, but not expected, to tip the messenger. It is also conversely frowned upon to excessively punish a messenger for a late delivery if there are mitigating circumstances such as weather.
On the road the etiquette of messengers is simple, faster messengers have the right of way, this tends to manifest itself as a hierarchy of the road. Military dispatch riders and other government messengers go first, followed by private messengers at speed, followed by progressively slower and slower travellers. It is also considered impolite to question a messenger about their contracts and who they are delivering messages for.
The Etiquette of Heralds
The etiquette of heralds is almost entirely based on their presence in court. There is a hierarchy to heralds based upon the court that they work for and their seniority, the most common type of herald is the pursuivant. Pursuivants usually serve as an apprentice to a full herald, learning their duties and acting as roving messengers. Occasionally an especially rich or powerful aristocrat will hire a pursuivant to act as their court herald though this is often remarked upon with derision by the nobility. The title of Herald tends to be given to the most senior heralds in most courts, giving rise to the name for their profession. Usually, a county court will have just one or two full heralds but richer counties and duchies can have as many as ten or twenty. Heralds act as officers of the court and in most demesnes are granted some authority by the noble in whose court they serve. King of Arms are the highest ranking heralds and serve the king exclusively, the king of arms is usually a nobleman by birth and is in charge of issuing the king’s proclamations, keeping a record of all the nobility and their arms and ensuring that the king’s justice is upheld by the nobility. There is also a fourth rank of heraldry, though it is rarely used. Provincial kings of arms are the middle rank between full heralds and kings of arms, the right to promote the senior most herald in your court to a provincial king of arms can only be granted by the king. At this time there are only three provincial kings of arms in Nirath, the Provincial King of Arms for Asebe’ia Thunar, the Provincial King of Arms for the Zabi Demesne and the Provincial King of Arms for Audran.
When a herald is in the court of his master he acts as an advisor on noble affairs and acts to announce visitors and supplicants into the court. When riding the demesne of his master, and delivering proclamations, the herald often acts as an arbitrator and is treated as an official of the court, often with the customary deferential ‘my lord.’ When travelling between courts, heralds are generally held by all lawful men and women to be sacrosanct and will often wear a specific uniform or carry a specific banner acknowledging them as such. Heralds are customarily exempt from road tolls and customs taxes but this depends more on regional sensibilities than any actual legal basis. When in a court other than that of his master, a herald speaks with his master’s voice and is usually treated appropriately. Often times this means a seat at or near the high table and treatment akin to how his lord would be treated as long as the herald obeys the local court taboos. In particular, it is considered extremely bad form to kill a herald, an act which has in the past started wars and generational feuds. In case of misbehaviour or offense in any way, a herald is generally returned to their master, having relieved them of their horse.
What about the Royal Herald?
Readers will have noted that I have avoided mention of this publication while talking about heralds and will rightly wonder what the relationship is between this infrequent prose and the heralds that serve King Dragor, and whether or not the authors and editors that write for us are heralds. The answer is that the Royal Herald was founded to fulfil the same functions as royal heralds, namely to bring the proclamations of the king to the people but we are not heralds as we do not fulfil their many courtly functions.
((This article was penned at the request of GhettoMaster of the Kingdom of Al-Khezam. If you would like a short exploratory article of around 1000-2000 words penned on a subject of your choice, please PM me via discord and I’ll see what I can do.))