Houses of Color: The Cups of Cryssigens

Cryssigens was the first major city established by Argens outside his capital in the early years of his rule. Together with Cryss Altair, he built a modest-sized but magnificent metropolis overnight on the shores of the sea with dazzling architecture, destined to a history of wealth. From its earliest days, Cryssigens drew riches, trade and culture like a magnet quite regardless of its position, and the first elven rulers of this city also established a reputation for complexity in dealings and mystery in attitude.

One of the consequences of this unusual development, in which a city is built first, not merely as a fortress but as a population center, was a highly evolved guild structure that exerted strong influence on the economy and politics of the North Mark. Nowhere else are mercantile interests given such sway, as to actually hold votes for the election of a new Mark. The balloting rules and formulae are so complex and shifting that even the leaders joke no one knows them all. In the rare cases where succession to the Overlord’s throne has fallen vacant, the various leaders usually reach a consensus. But even in the first centuries after Cryss Altair’s strong unifying rule, there were always movements afoot to form the guilds (and sometimes even the feudal powers) into wider, more permanent alliance.

From this effort was born the House Cups. Certain powerful elves, of lordly or near-noble status, formed alliances through marriage and wealth that joined guilds, or chapters of guilds within the various cities and baronies of the Mark. No one recalls whether the use of color-names preceded the actual discoveries that cemented their power; and certainly there were fewer of these Houses in the early centuries.

But at some point before the first millennium, the Colors were born.

Passions run high around House Cup lore, and nothing is known with certainty. Most sources agree that either the Red or the Blue House was first, in discovering and displaying the extraordinary ability to augment certain manufactured items by a shade of vital color so redolent with clarity that it became irreplaceable. Both scarlet and azure appear in the flag of Cryssigens created around the same time, which seems to affirm this claim.

Mundane colors, available since the start of historical times, cover every shade of the spectrum but they “take” on different materials with varying efficacy. Most dyes, paints and stains fade with time, others last but only in paler shades; and some materials such as steel, even if painted brightly, will wear away under rough use, showing steel underneath.

But House Colors, whether through art or magic, show so brightly as to seem lit from within, and literally imbue the materials they are applied to. A crimson jacket may wear to shreds, but each thread will be bright as blood; a blue sword, if broken, will show cobalt across the grain. At first, it seemed there were limits on the extent of this craft, or sorcery; Red seemed most amenable to fabric, Blue took well on stone. In rapid succession, different shades of Blue and Red appeared, and then the sudden emergence of Yellow under a different coterie of leaders overtook the city. Within one human generation the secondary Colors appeared, and the skill of the House leaders found ways to apply the various shades of Color to all manner of goods. While certain leanings and natural alliances held, as with Green and wood, individual guild chapters began to align with the various Houses based on offers, threats, intrigue and the shifting fortunes of politics.

House Color is staggeringly expensive, at least ten times the normal cost of any finely made item. The wealthy clamor to show their rank and discernment through acquisition of as much Color as they can afford (and even beyond their means, to the ruin of some noble houses). The incredible wealth that poured into the coffers of the Cups, as the leaders of the various Houses were known, exceeded imagination; virtually all of them function as bankers, granting loans at interest to help cover the cost of their own products. {Cryssigens has the beginnings of a modern economy, with small uniform currency-gems, paper scrip and other certificates circulating as money.} Thus ties to a given House and its Color became common among the guilds, working classes and even many of the nobility. A knight or scribe wearing a blue hat or orange shoes would be marked as a House man or woman, a sign of attainment for the noble and allegiance for the commoner.

In modern times (among Elves, the last five hundred years or so), the spread of Color to all articles has become more common, and a wider variety of shades is available to all the major Colors. The small Brown house appeared during the rule of Overlord Toll’k’r, wielding very little clout politically but evidently able to apply its lore even to small separated items such as grains of sand or rice (making it a trendy choice among the wealthy pleasure-seeking set). There are rumors that a Black house exists, but none can confirm this; all are agreed there has never been a White or Grey Cup.

After more than ten centuries, there is still no proven theory as to how the various Houses have achieved their mastery. The results are obvious to the eye, but whether they source in guildcraft or magic cannot be proven. Merchants often report interest from one Cup or another in bizarre ingredients, of a sort sought by wizards of the Mages Guild, but in vast quantities. But others insist this is subterfuge designed to throw those after the secrets off the scent. Many of the common class hold to the notion that each House Cup itself- a chalice of wondrous beauty in the House Color, conferred on each new leader as the symbol of authority- is the true source of the ability in some mystical way.

Only a handful of persons are privy to the true lore of the Houses; those brought into the circle are sworn to secrecy in the Ancient tongue by a formula that cannot be broken (or even revealed). Various attempts to steal the secret of Color from one or another of the Houses have invariably met with failure, and death for those who tried. When noble customers come to place orders, they often must meet strange conditions, such as leaving a load of plain building stone in a guarded warehouse overnight, only to find it has changed to the required color though no person has entered or left the premise. Significantly, the various Colors cannot mix; a tunic or spear or paving-stone must be either blue, or purple, or red, but not partly one and partly another Color. Shades of Color Blue clearly appear to be “truly” blue, and so forth; only the mundane colors can mingle enough to cause confusion. Those who have not seen true Color find this difficult to grasp. This state of affairs in manufacture seems to have its reflection in politics, as the various Cups are always in competition. Thus the influence of the House Cups and their mastery of “true Color” greatly affect social, economic and political life in Cryssigens.

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