Mouseguard: Fifth Patrol
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Barkstone, first and foremost, is a city of Old Money. Despite all its labels and self-claimed title of a “working class town,” power has always resided with those in the plenty.
In the time before the Weasel War, Barkstone enjoyed its position as the “Gateway to the West” for the trade caravans passing from the eastern ports through Lockhaven to the border territories, serving as both a reliable sojourn and thriving marketplace. The pottery and glass works of the city were commonly found across the western half of the Territories, and were in demand as far away as Port Sumac. It was in the formative years of the town the great artisanal guilds emerged, each controlling a specific market. In time, within each guild, a powerful family or families would rise, founding de facto dynasties that ruled each guild, with power and wealth passing from parent to child.
Barkstone is divided into four estates: 1) the Guildmasters, 2) the Artisans, 3) the Ancillaries, and 4) the Laborers. Social prestige is accorded by one’s estate, which in turn determines the political sway and economic opportunities a mouse or family can have in public affairs. The Guildmasters are the ruling families of the Six Guilds of Barkstone, and serve as the ruling elite of the city. The truly wealthy Guildmasters command personal fortunes that dwarf the annual revenues of some towns. The Artisans form the rank-and-file of the Guilds, a well-respected and often well-enough off middle class that serves as the true engine of Barkstone’s export market. Artisans also have the right to vote and take the floor in Guild meetings, giving them an actual access into the political process of Barkstone. The Ancillaries are the non-Guild business owners and skilled laborers, such as the bakers, painters, brewers, etc. The professional soldiers of the Barkstone Guard also reside within this social class. Ancillaries have more social prestige than the unskilled Laboring class, but lack a true medium to make their voices heard inside Barkstone’s political apparatus. Finally, the Laborers bring up the vast majority of unskilled labor that the Guilds rely upon and mobilize for their own ends. The social classes of Barkstone are primarily a social construct rather than a legal or codified one, and while there is often free-mixing between the classes, upward mobility is often rare.
Finally, Barkstone has the Lyceum. An archive of notable size, if not exactly in the same league as the vast archive at Lockhaven, Barkstone’s archive began as a repository for business ledgers and records, but grew over the years to become a true library of some repute. However, it is not the books themselves that carry the greatest reputation, but the Librarians of Barkstone. The Librarians, sometimes called “the Wise Mice” by the local denizens, are a group of professional scholars who debate matters of small and great importance with each other, taking turns recording what their arguments and research efforts uncover. The Librarians’ debates and lectures are open to anyone, although their animosity towards the Gilded Council has led to strained relations in the past.
While Barkstone is “ruled” by a Mayor, everyone knows the true power resides with the Gilded Council, an “economic advisory body” comprised of the Guildmasters of the Potters, Glassblowers, Carpenters, Metal-smiths, Merchants, and Stonemasons. The Mayor is merely a rubber stamp-mouse that issues the edicts the Gilded Council authors. In general, the Mayor is typically a family friend or relative to one of the Guildmasters, and occasionally is actually a scion of one the Guild families being groomed for a position of greater sway as a Guildmaster, although this practice has generally fallen into disuse.
The Gilded Council was, as a whole, publicly opposed to Midnight’s insurrection, seeing it as a gross disruption of order, and by extension trade routes and thus their profit margins. That said, the Metal-smiths Guild and Carpenters Guild quietly but forcefully supported Midnight’s movement, bankrolling and arming his fighting force. In exchange, it is commonly rumored that Midnight was to offer up a series of mammoth trade concessions to the ruling elite of Barkstone, positioning the city as the preeminent trade mecca in all mice land west of Lockhaven. The renegade actions of these two Guilds in the wake of the Rebellion’s failure has led to lingering tension within the Council, although great pains are taken to keep any signs of internal division well-concealed. The Council even made a great public display of continued fidelity to Lockhaven, going so far as to execute the “traitorous” Mayor and Guard Captain that had authorized Midnight’s usurpation of Barkstone’s war host after a drumhead trial found both mice summarily guilty.
That said, Midnight’s influence is still deeply felt within Barkstone, and in turn, causes deep divisions. There is no clear cut sector of the city that was (or is) overwhelmingly pro-Rebel or pro-Guard/Lockhaven, although most of the working classes within the city agree that all of them would equally screw over the laboring classes of Barkstone if given the chance. In general, resentment and bitterness is the mood of the Ancillary and Laboring estates, especially given the soft censure Barkstone received from the other Territories after the Rebellion’s failure. In general, few mice of the lower 2 estates care who reigns in Lockhaven when securing food for another night is a far more pressing issue.
The Gilded Council has done its best to diffuse these simmering tensions, sponsoring the Great Races at a grand, freshly constructed Hippodrome. Each of the Guilds supports its own stable of racers, often riding Hares or trained insects, and the crowd is aligned with a particular racer/Guild depending on what color banner they choose to pick up when entering the stadium. The colors are: 1) Glassblower = Red, 2) Potter = Green, 3) Carpenter = Blue, 4) Metal-smith = Gold, 5) Stonemason = Gray, and 6) Merchant = Purple. Depending on which colored racer wins the race, any mouse waving that banner receives free bread thrown into that particular Guild’s supporting stands. The weekly Great Races have quickly become the central focus of post-Rebellion life in Barkstone, and stand as a testament to the vast wealth and cunning of the Guilds that bankroll the events.
The most influential Librarians are undoubtedly Thom Darkfur, a mouse originally from Walnutpeck that settled in Barkstone after the Winter War ended, and Rowan Tornbark, an oldfur of advanced years hailing from Barkstone itself. The followers of Thom Darkfur espouse his teachings of “the Great Cycle,” which holds that all life is interconnected and that in death the body and spirit of a mouse returns to the Earth, where both become something new and contribute to life in a new way. In the wake of the Winter War, the Great Cycle became a popular ideology in Barkstone, but it fell from favor in the time leading up to Midnight’s Rebellion, as its focus on the metaphysical and “big picture” deemphasized action in the here and now, which did not suit Midnight’s populist sermons. Since the end of the Black Axe Movement, Darkfur’s disciples have recovered some of their lost numbers, but are not as prominent as they were before the Rebellion, although their teachings have begun to disseminate out into the Territories.
Rowan Tornbark on the other hand is the founder of the Skeptics, which hold that the key action a mouse can do is to question the order of things in order to begin drilling down to the “truth” of the matter. The Skeptics are the natural foes of the Guildmasters on the Gilded Council, which has been borne out by the Skeptics’ traditional scathing dissidence of Barkstone politics. The Skeptics are also viewed as “mystics” by some, as they question why laws and “ethics” exist at all, unless there is a “higher order” that forms an absolute foundation which necessitates the existence of such things. While the Skeptics rarely agree as a whole on many matters, it is the questioning of proposed ideas and views that drives their school of thought.
Noelan himself was influenced greatly by the Skeptic school of thought, as during his imprisonment, he shared a cell with a Skeptic who had been jailed for making a habitual nuisance of himself.