Runequest Thursday #23: The Black Horse Company!

Clint Staples

One of the things I love about Glorantha is that there is so much background to draw on! And one of the things that I hate most about Glorantha is that there is so much background to know! In print in one fashion or another, almost  continually since 1978, it has spawned a tremendous amount of fan involvement, fiction and development over that time.

Yet Glorantha often has a tremendous amount of room for GMs to add their own touched, whether with an under-represented section of the world, like portions of Pamaltela, the southern continent, or things that have been part of the corpus of published material for decades. In truth, Pamaltela has been in the Gloranthan corpus for a long time, but it has remained largely unexplored in print for much of that time.

One of the 'things' that has been around for so long is the enigmatic Black Horse Troop or Company of Sir Ethilhrist. Details about him and his mercenary company are few and difficult to tease out of the vast body of Gloranthan literature. One of my players chose to have been a member of the Black Horse Company before play began. This particular player really enjoys backstory and exploring aspects of that in play, so I knew I would have to develop something that both of us would be happy with.

So here is what I have come up with. it is a blend of the details from the Gloranthan corpus, and my own extrapolations and imaginings. It is by no means official, contradicts certain cryptic published references at points, but hopefully, is evocative and useful to GMs other than myself. Use it as you wish.

One of the primary aspects of the Black Horse Company, repeated in every source, is their use of demonic horses bound to Sir Ethihrist himself, who is a powerful sorcerer and harrower of Hell, where he bound the first of these black steeds to him. Since I recently statted out a Demonic Horse for my Mythos Society Guide to New England, Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition, and for Runequest, it is only natural to use it here. The write-up makes mention of the Black Horse Company and the decisions that should probably be made regarding powers of the demons horses for this purpose. Certainly there should be a Mastery of the Demon Horse involved in anyone hoping to ride one. Beyond that, the exact powers could easily be related to the degree of dilution of the blood of the original demon mare. The closer generationally to the original the more or more powerful the abilities a particular horse might have.

Those of you with an eye for classical myth will certainly recognize the references to the Eighth Labor of Herakles, the Diomedan Mares. 

Count Sir Ethilhrist’s Black Horse Company
Perhaps the most famous mercenary company in Glorantha, The Black Horse is also the personal army and guard of its founder Sir Ethilhrist, Heroquester of Black Horse County, within the Grazelands. Famed for their ferocity and their professionalism, the Black Horse commands premium wages. They are most famous for the demonic flesh-eating horses upon which some of their members ride.

His origins are not widely known, but Ethilhrist began as a sword-master and wizard of the Malkioni White Horse Battalion. This is undoubtedly where his affiliation with the cult of the Atroxi began. Currently, at least two centuries after his birth, Ethilhrist is a Count with theoretical loyalties to the Lunar Empire, from which he theoretically holds the County. In truth, he is far enough, secure enough, and tough enough, that the Lunars, even the Red Emperor and Hon-eel the Dancer, do not care to trouble him much. Ethilhrist accepts contracts to fight as he chooses, for and against the Lunars or elsewhere entirely. Of late he has carefully balanced his loyalties, siding with the Grazelanders when they razed Dunstop, but lending some of his ‘Stradiotoi’ to the recent disastrous Lunar effort to bring the trolls of Dagori Inkarth to heel.

The origin of the horses is not widely known, but they are descended from Deinis [the Terrible], one of the immortal mares of the dead goddess Diomeda. This mare is the personal mount of the Count, though she is with foal almost continuously, and Ethilhrist generally contents himself with one of her half-demonic offspring. 

The Company consists of several units, all cavalry, organized in the Lunar fashion [in fact, Lunar military organization mirrors that of Ethilhrist’s army rather than the other way around]:

  • Agema [‘Elite’] – The Count and his personal guard of experienced cataphracts, a sizable percentage of whom are extremely powerful sorcerers [500].
  • Hetairoi [‘Companions’] – Two units of highly trained cataphracts, a sizable percentage of which are sorcerers [each 1000]. The Hell Sisters, Lunar sorcerous heavy cavalry, are modeled on the Hetairoi.
  • Stradiotoi [‘Wayfarers’] – six units of light or heavy cavalry, some bow and lance armed, others carrying sword and the Lunar Crossbow, used primarily as skirmishers and flankers but occasionally in sieges. [each 500].
  • Total in arms – 5500 cavalry

In Black Horse County, besides the Company itself, there are another few thousands of people, some of whom are retired members, and a large number of whom are able to fight.

Muse Roost – the citadel of Ethilhrist is all but impregnable, and is rumored to have subterranean halls that extend into the Underworld. In its depths, Deinis is laired and sired. According to more than one source, Deinis and a portion of her brood are responsible for securing this route against infernal invasion.

The Demon Horses of the Black Horse Company are of varying degrees of purity from the progenitrix of the line – Deinis, and different stallions, some of which have her blood in their veins, occasionally literally. For some reason, there are no female foals from Deinis, so breeding has been necessarily slow, especially considering the time in gestation, which is longer than normal for horses. Since breeding began, a few thousand offspring or descendants have been born. Currently, the whole of the Agema, one of the Hetairoi and key personnel of other units are mounted on ‘half-breed’ Demon Horses. Though long-lived and very tough, these creatures can be, and have been, killed. Many of the ones in active service are technically mules, since they are sterile. Count Ethilhrist has, on the rare occasions where it has arisen, vigorously and painfully, enforced a policy that keeps the Offspring of Deinis from the control of others. This includes attempts at breeding to normal mares. On other occasions, he has granted demon horses as favors or gifts, generally to friends of long standing.

The Black Horse Company is one of the most potent private armies on Genertela. Their disposition in the Hero Wars of the Third Age will likely play a crucial role in the reshaping of the world.