|Groups of Note:|
“Took the new aide for a brief jolly. The local aristocracy have a truly charming set of quaint and archaic customs; we were treated to the sight of an honour duel fought with solid-slug flintlocks over a matter of dinner etiquette. Delightful view from the scarp above the western Visick estates.” – Travel Diary of Lucius di Firro, 576.M41
Merewald is a world of few natural threats and a generally warm, equable climate suitable for cultivation. Its population of eight hundred million are spread widely across its continents; there are few towns and no cities as such, and most of the inhabitants are peasants ruled from the castles and palaces of the noble Houses.
The planet was cut off from much of the Prosperitas Sector, apparently by warp storms, and gradually regressed. Its technology was slowly lost to time and ignorance, and swathes of the southern hemisphere fell into outright barbarism. The office of the Planetary Governor devolved into a system of Great Houses, all competing for prestige and land through skirmishes of musketeers and lancers, ritualised diplomatic missions, and the exchange of luxuries and marriage contracts. Independent of the formation of the Imperial Cult, the Emperor was still worshipped, but only as a distant – some even dared to say “symbolic” – figure. Nobody imagined that the emissaries of Him on Terra would ever actually set foot on Merewald.
The Rediscovery of Merewald
All of this changed abruptly in the early years of the Prosperitas Crusade, when the private flotilla of Rogue Trader Seraiah Visick discovered a safe Warp route to this previously isolated world. He found a world ready for exploitation. But he was also a canny man, and realised that even with an Imperial cruiser at his command, open war would deny him the wealth he so dearly craved. His solution was one of shock and awe: he landed one of his escorts, the Chalice, on the planet’s surface and made an offer of fealty and Imperial service to any of the Houses that were wise enough not to attack him.
It worked. Within a decade he had established himself as the head of a new Ruling House, and his entourage married, bribed, or extorted their way into positions in every other House of note – and for the rest of his life, Seraiah ruled the world as his private fief, making no mention of it to the Imperial authorities.
His heirs and successors were, however, more aware of their obligations. They submitted their claim to the Administratum, were congratulated by the adepts of the Prosperitas Sector, and found themselves immediately faced with the problem of how to pay their tithes. Merewald had no industry to speak of, few mineral reserves, and a meagre food surplus. The answer lay in one of the planet’s few luxury goods: tea.
Over the course of M41, increasing swathes of the planet were turned over to the production of this otherwise rare delicacy. The fortunes of Houses have waxed and waned along with the booms and busts of the plantations; for instance, House Honeysett gained immense prestige by leading a campaign to conquer the southern barbarians and clear their territory for cultivation, while House Ab Rosveare and House Teague were reduced to penury when a hurricane devastated their estates.
Merewald as it Stands
The fundamental ethos of “knowing your place” has kept the highly stratified society of Merewald peaceful (at least for now) while allowing the Great Houses to retreat into a world of wealth, leisure, and ever more elaborate formality. Nonetheless, the system is far from static. The Administratum continue to pressure the ruling House Ab Visick to increase its tithe – there is talk of uprating Merewald to Decuma Extremis, and perhaps even reassessing it as an Agri World – and some offworld traders have found a market in supplying technology such as mechanical harvesters and gene-engineered seeds to desperate overseers.
Unfortunately, there remains a strong resistance to modernisation. The nobility are hostile to anything that allows their subjects to gain any tangible sort of power. Even amongst the peasantry, the Adeptus Mechanicus are viewed with extreme suspicion, and some believe (not without reason) that they are a threat to the orthodox faith that has served the planet so well for the last nine thousand years. Some progress has occurred – the PDF and local Guard regiment are now equipped with autoguns and steam-powered Chimeras, and Merewald even has a System Defence Force – but these developments are still largely ignored or considered irrelevant by the Houses.
Despite the backwards local attitude to technology, the local Imperial Guard unit, the 18th Merewaldian Fusiliers, have a strong reputation across the Subsector. Their excellent foot drill, line discipline and courage under fire have been remarked upon by Crusade High Command as the pinnacle of everything a light infantry regiment should hope to achieve. Their distinctive bright red uniform tunics and tan topi helmets are a sight to stir Imperial pride and piety among civilians from the Rimward Marches to the Tertius border.