The War of the Tainted, and the Storm Years that followed, saw the complete breakdown of order. People of every kind and calling came to desire above all an end to the tumult that rendered so many of them destitute or bereaved, left countless towns and villages in ruins and turned fertile farmland into waste ground. The Bloods, and the oaths of personal loyalty and obedience upon which they were built, promised a return to peace and stability, insofar as those things could ever be attained in the absence of the Gods.
In such a context, it is not surprising that those who remained outside this new structure of duty and fidelity, those who took no bloodoath and acknowledged no overlord, quickly became the subject of much mistrust and ill will. Whatever their particular circumstances, such outsiders soon became collectively known as ‘masterless’. The newborn Bloods forced many of them to submit, but that effort dwindled, and eventually ceased.
Those few masterless men who remained – largely confined to a handful of enclaves and peripheral territories – came to be tolerated, but never entirely trusted. In the eyes of the Bloods, a man living without a lord inevitably also lives without law and honour. (The status and allegiance of women, amongst the True Bloods if not the Bloods of the Black Road, is seen as a matter of less import). Masterless men are regarded as both a perennial reminder of disorder – fear of which remains a faint, often unrecognised, undercurrent permeating the society the Bloods have built – and a potential source of its return.
Even at the time of Gryvan oc Haig’s rule as High Thane, when the Bloods have been in existence for 250 years, some masterless communities persist, including:
Dihrve Valley: just beyond the established borders of the True Bloods, a few hundred families eke out a living in this great vale, sharing much of the land with the Fox Kyrinin.
Vare Waste: barely more than two days’ travel south of Kolkyre itself, the bandits, smugglers and shepherds of the Vare Waste remain obdurate in their refusal to fully submit to rule by the Kilkry Blood, their obduracy greatly aided by the rocky, gorge-riven and trackless character of their wild lands.
Eastern Shores of Vaywater: the Taral Blood has occasionally tried to extend its dominion across this great lake and claim the eastern shores, but the hunters and fishermen whose villages dot the water’s edge have proved so violently resistant and so impoverished that the effort has never been worth sustaining.
Il Van Daren: this small island off the western shores of the Ayth Blood (many of its inhabitants claiming, without clear evidence, descent from the family of the last Aygll King) maintains a stubborn independence, as do a few hamlets in the bleak hills of the nearby mainland.