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One Ring
[07/08/2002] [Randall]

Symbols matter a lot to Amtgarders. They’re the embodiment of who we are and what we do. The classes have special garb, the knights have their belts, and companies have colors to jealously protect. Even the current clash between the Wetlands and the BLBOD is about symbols; the Burning Lands leadership has a Lord of the Rings fetish, and they adamantly (and literally) believe they are waging war against the orcs in Houston, Las Cruces, and Denver… and if all that ring and goblin imagery isn’t enough, we all know that the BLBOD claims to be defending knighthood, the greatest of Amtgard symbols.

I even remember finding one of Amtgard’s most significant symbols when I was a kid. It was a Barad-duin coin that someone left in the dirt of the 11th-year Clan field. Barad-duin, for those of you who have been living under a rock, is the Grand Duchy that left Amtgard to form the High Fantasy Society. They were the first Amtgard chapter outside of El Paso and the first group to defy the Burning Lands. Their departure was final; they took the rules and left the game. The coins, which were made out of some kind of clay, had stars, castles, ‘Barad-duin’ and ‘Amtgard’ stamped into them.

With all the emphasis on symbols, I couldn’t help but wonder what it meant when a faceless man presented me with the bag of betrayal.

It was during the coronation feast of King Phywren, the current sovereign of Dragonspine. Prince Trent was hosting a costume ball for the populace and everyone was all dressed up – Sir Egil was a bear or a lion or something, Elessario was a dark fairy of some sort, and so on. Everyone really got into it. As for me, I was stepping down from the throne and had on an appropriate costume. I was Julius Caesar, complete with a knife sticking out of my back.

A few people wore masks, but they didn’t hide anything. Sir Feral, for instance, was the man in black (and so was Andromeda, and she pulled it off quite nicely), but most people could tell it was him. A few people just went with the masquerade theme and wore a mask with court garb. The masks were all quite nice… but the one who stood out was the faceless man.

He wore black boots, black gloves, and had a black hood pulled over his thickly-armored frame. A wide belt was wrapped around his waist and his face was hidden by a black cloth. He stood by Verana, then Queen of the Burning Lands, and paced the area between the door and her side constantly. I vaguely recall a furry blade in his hands – the sword of the Champion of the Burning Lands – but I knew this wasn’t Kurse. It was someone else, and he made his center-stage debut near the end of the feast.

Sir Feral called for business before the court and the faceless man stepped forward. He pushed the guards slowly aside as he approached the throne. Quietly, he pulled something from his belt and began to speak. Only he and I could hear what was said.

The first thing he gave me was a small ring with a bit of leather attached. He explained that it was given to him when he earned the title of Grand Duke, and that I would soon become one. I didn’t understand the significance of the ring… it seemed to be a sort of hematite, and wasn’t large enough to wear on any finger. The dark coloring of the ring was very sunken and subdued, and seemed to capture all the light around it. Pretty mysterious stuff, but pretty inexplicable as well.

He then took my hand and held it open, and told me that he had such hopes for me when I assumed the throne… and then forcefully planted a small leather bag in the palm of my hand. He said I had been nothing but a betrayer. And then he left.

Kings get gifts -- that’s pretty standard in Dragonspine, so I was used to it. I handed the bag, contents unseen, to my Regent, and proceeded with court. I got one final act of betrayal in by officially making Dragonspine part of the IRCA, and then I stepped down.

It was later that I finally got to see what was in the bag. The faceless man had given me Barad-duin coins -- the similarity to Judas’ thirty pieces of silver should be immediately obvious. These coins were telling me that I betrayed someone good for personal gain. Amused, I slipped the bag onto my squire’s belt and went on with life. Whenever anyone asked, I’d show them the coins and the ring and tell them this story… but I could never explain what the ring meant.

Then one day, Elessario and Alucard were at my house and I was explaining the bag. I was just about to launch into the story when I noticed that the ring – this ring that represents the height of nobility, this ring that symbolized the faceless man’s ascension to the greatest Amtgard rank, this ring that evoked the rings of power given by Sauron – was broken in two.

And then I understood what it meant. It means power is corrupting, but it can be broken. It means there’s evil in even the best parts of this game, but it can be defeated. It means we are not slaves.

Sir Feral mockingly described the faceless man as a ring-wraith. The ring-wraith gave me a ring – a symbol of servitude to evil – and I broke it.

There’s a postscript to this story. It took me awhile to ponder the ring and its meaning, so I had this essay kicking around in my head for a few days. A feeling of triumph was starting to sink in as I came to grips with the idea that the broken ring meant something. It wasn’t until I was showing the two shards to someone a few days later that I noticed something else broken in the bag. One of the Barad-duin coins had been chipped.

That didn’t happen until after I decided to write this article. If I can find hope in a shattered ring, then I must see despair in damaged coins. I was eager to write this article, but wars aren’t won by those who enjoy fighting; they’re won by those who hate it.

These coins prove that adversaries can work together towards something good. They’re the only place left where Barad-duin and Amtgard, split all those years ago, stand together. Betrayal and loyalty? They’re two sides of the same coin. What matters is honor, and the dream.

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