House Mercere, the House of Knowledge
Time to read: 7 Minutes
To Serve The Order and Make It One
Livy Catullus Mercurius, a post-Roman patrician and priest of Mercury resident in the region of Marseilles in the mid-700s. A sometime ally and friend of both Guernicus and Flambeau, they formed an informal league to resist the advance of the Moors in Spain and were among the first magicians approached to join the Order.
Mercere's enthusiasm for this new Order knew no bounds and he was the first and most enthusiastic in sharing magical knowledge with Bonisagus, including his extensive library of the ancient rituals of his cult. Mercere's gifts were for transformations, and he continued to pursue his own quasi-religious and philosophical beliefs into the magic of transformation after learning Hermetic magic.
An often-told but apocryphal tale of the times immediately before the Founding credits Mercere with being the impetus that brought Tytalus, the last of the Twelve, to Durenmar. After Trianoma had tried and failed repeated attempts at diplomacy and Flambeau had tried force, Mercere went out alone to face the rampaging magus, vowing to convince him to swear the Code or not return. What passed between them is unknown, but Tytalus agreed to the Order a week later.
In 785ad, Mercere suffered – according to the orthodox history of the House – a magical accident that stripped him of his Gift. He had, by this time, trained two apprentices in his own Arts, and was halfway through training a third. Bonisagus laboured for months to try to restore Mercere's gift, but both Criamon and Merinita counselled him against further efforts, and Mercere himself seemed uncharacteristically unflustered by such a life-changing experience. He continued to train apprentices but in the ways of the Order, the road and the mundanes, to serve as a "buffer" between the Order and the world at large. These became, eventually, the Redcaps, so named for the hat Verditius made for Mercere after he lost his gift.
"Don't talk about it. Talk about it, and you'll warn your enemies and let your allies steal your thunder. Talk is cheap and wastes time and lives.
Do it. Talk about it afterwards. To be challenged for a thing I have done is music to my ears compared to debating whether I should.
I have no time for ditherers."
- Livy Catullus Mercurius
Symbol and Iconography
A scarlet badged hat; Mercere, after he lost his gift, had his hat imbued with many spells by Verditius, and his House took it as their symbol. Of late, the symbol on the badge of the hat – an inverted hollow red triangle in a copper circle – has increasingly come to represent the House instead of the hat itself.
Mercere is traditionally depicted with a black toga over dark red garments with a golden hem, with a red hat. In depictions from before the loss of his gift, he holds a butterfly cupped in his hand and a staff, as is traditional in depictions of the Founders. In later depictions, his staff is depicted as broken at his feet, and he holds a quill in his right hand and a horn in his left. A cat is visible peering from behind his robes.
What The House Is All About
Most underrated of the Houses, none works so hard as House Mercere for the Order. Less than half of the Mercere are spellcasting Hermetic magi; the bulk of the House are known as redcaps, people with their own special or unique gifts trained in the Order as magi and given Magus status, they carry items created by House Mercere or purchased from House Verditius to compensate for their lack of magical capability and have a vote the same as other magi. In the eyes of House Mercere, there is no difference whatsoever between a spellcasting member of the House and a Redcap, and they actively obfuscate who has which status to ensure the rest of the Order takes the same view.
In House Mercere, magic is hidden or occult wisdom and the ability and willingness to use it. The House delights in the discovery of, and exploration of, the magic of new ages – they have their fingers deep into the mechanisms of international finance which were created by the Knights Templar and left abandoned by the French King who did not understand them, and the new world of trade between nations. The Mercere view their ability to stop a war by strangling a King’s access to money, or to make a city prosper by authoring a trade monopoly as no less magical than the ability to make it rain, and just as wondrous and occult to the eyes of those without the wisdom to understand them. Understanding this attitude is key to understanding the House – anything is magical if you use it in an occult way.
For many years, House Mercere’s philosophy in this regard was expressed in their role as the messengers and spies of the Order – Mercere’s apprentices took it upon themselves to map routes between covenants and set up regular messenger runs between them to ensure all magi had the chance to communicate with one another. It was Mercere’s rituals that allowed the development of the Hermes Portal, a gateway connecting two far-flung locations in an instant. And control of information, and messages, was the hidden power the House used – sparingly, but to effect – to bring both the Schism War and the Massassa Wars to an end.
Mercere’s discretion is assured; there is a guarantee that anything in a letter they carry is protected and is between you, your correspondent and the redcap that delivers the letter. House Mercere does not let the Quaesitori in on its secrets; nevertheless, in times of real crisis such as a diabolism scandal, House Mercere might, quietly and privately, point the Quaesitori in the right direction.
Since Mercere magi are required by the House’s internal laws to serve one year in ten as a messenger, all members of the House are well used to the rigours of life on the road. Many are known to try and fudge a few years here and there to just ramble and explore; wanderlust is a common trait in the House. House Mercere is also the keeper of records for the Order; Mercere libraries have escaped the Quaesitori purges over the years, and Harco is recognised as the premier site for historical, genealogical or geographical research, including the largest collection of maps and travel commentaries in Europe.
Many forget that though Mercury was the God of Magic, he was also the god of commerce, and messenger of the Gods. Some also point out dourly that he was the god of thieves and tricksters. Most Mercere magi regard themselves as having a special connection to the old Roman deity. In times past, there was an active religious cult in the House pursuing worship of the god as in Roman times, although that is believed to have petered out in the last few centuries. If the Mercere worship anything as a god now, it is the future.
- Salvestro de’Medici, Magus and Mercurius ex Mercere (Covenant of Carthago in Montibus)
- Averado de’Medici, known as Sieur Everard, Magus ex Mercere (Covenant of Carthago in Montibus)
- Ovid, Archmage ex Mercere (Covenant of Carthago in Montibus)
- Zammit the Oliphaunt, Magus ex Mercere (Covenant of Carthago in Montibus)
- Albannach, known as Michael Scot, Magus ex Mercere (Covenant of Carthago in Montibus)
- Elissa, known as Old Woman of the Mountains, Maga ex Mercere (Covenant of Carthago in Montibus)
- Hawisia, Magum ex Mercere (Covenant of Carthago in Montibus)
- Rogitien, Magus ex Mercere (Covenant of the Icy North)
- Mary, Maga ex Mercere (Covenant of the Icy North)
Also of Interest
- Kobe van Rijn, Magus and Primus Mercere – expected to attend for at least some of the proceedings as observer from Harco and on House business
- Phalene ex Criamon (Cave of Twisting Shadows) - known to be philosophically aligned with the House, with a similar view on transformation.
A New World Order
Bonisagus’ grand theory of magic was a revolutionary, awe-inspiring creation for the eighth century, but that was six hundred years ago and it’s starting to look a bit ragged. The Criamon claim an end of the world is coming and there is no reason not to believe them. There is a growing schism among the House membership between those who are not prepared to let go of their traditional role as a “magus” and those who are embracing the new magics of the world to come – of finance, of trade, of industry and of commerce. This goes to the heart of what Mercere preached – that to grow and survive, you have to be prepared to change, and change can be painful and can mean leaving behind things you love and desire above all else – like Hermetic magical power.
Some in the House want to try and preserve what is good in the Order of Hermes and carry it forward; others are resigned to the fact that like the Cult of Mercury, it’s time has come and now is the time to look to a New Bonisagus. This battle for the soul of the House comes to a head at the Tribunal. Beliefs are deeply held, and fear is in the hearts of some who have known a life of magic for centuries. This debate is starting to show some signs of rancour; it could become a bitter schism or could be a chance for a family to come together in love and help itself transform.
The Domus Magna
Tribunal after Tribunal falls; so many catastrophes, such a confluence of ill luck, so many blunders and missteps by other Houses. House Mercere has focussed on gathering what might otherwise have been lost back to Harco – but even that location is not safe forever. The covenants of the Alps are isolated, hard to reach, largely invisible to the mortal eye – like every other House, the Mercere are trying to consolidate and move assets to safe harbour. Piedmont is unstable and likely to be affected by the instability in France and Italy. It’s time to consider options…
An Old Debt Come Due
For six hundred years, House Verditius have been friends and allies to the Mercere – creators of magical items and devices given to the less magical members of the House and a fellow-traveller among the so-called “second string” Houses. Yet the Verditius have their own gifts that sit outside the field of Hermetic Magic. Their skill with machina and engines is so intricate and great that it transcends the hermetica, and grows ever more relevant and applicable to the new world that is beginning to form in Europe. Both Houses are largely of a mind about the future, but for the moment, the Verditius still rely heavily on supplies of raw vis to create their devices and potions. House Mercere has, increasingly, been bankrolling the Verditius – both to keep them onside for the future, and because the House regards it as a debt due for the support the Verditius have given in the past. The forthcoming marriage of Jacopa Spini and Averado de’Medici is a symbolic (some might say alchymical) union of the two Houses, and part of a broader plan to unite their traditions – to transform them into something new.
Black powder. The Verditius source it – though none really know how or where from – and the Mercere see to its sale and distribution. This alone has given both Houses a stranglehold on a brand new “magic” which everyone in Europe wants piece of – especially after the demonstration of its efficacy at the Battle of Crecy. The Flambeau Prima died at that battle, which will have repercussions – but she was killed by mundanes, not magi. Black powder is, to the best of anyone’s Hermetic assessment, not magical. So if she died in a black powder explosion House Mercere is no more responsible for that than if she’d died at the hands of a dagger bought from a merchant. And if it was magical, her parma magica should have stopped it.
The Role of the Mercurius and Salvestro
The Mercurius of the Tribunal serves two purposes – to act as High priest of Mercury during the Tribunal’s ceremonies, and to co-ordinate the distribution of information to the attendees. Salvestro is the Mercurius and has fulfilled those roles at previous Tribunals – although he is an at best unenthusiastic High Priest. This last year Salvestro has been struck with an affliction which has defied the best magics the House can throw at it, and he is fading fast in spite of being of an age where he might be expected to have a further century ahead of him. Salvestro is desperate that his son Averado succeeds him as Mercurius; Elissa and Rogitien want the role back in the hands of the traditionalist, Mercury-worshipping part of the House. Ovid, a very traditional magus who might have been expected to side with Elissa, is torn. It’s expected the Mercere Primus will attend to name a successor Mercurius and to bring a new possible treatment for Salvestro, and arguments may be put to him.
Player Guidance for Playing Into the Tropes for House Mercere
Mercere Magi have no overall “style”; though younger ones are more likely to be seen sporting “practical”, durable clothing that will not make them stand out on the road rather than robes or wizardly accoutrements. The only thing that is constant among them is a scarlet piece of headgear, whether it be a bandana, a hair band, a hat, a hood or a headscarf.
Mercere magi are often more proficient in the use of mundane weapons than other magi, and some even go armoured.
Those who are steeped in the Hermetic tradition favour robes of a more traditional, Roman cut – togas or large wraparound multipurpose cloaks are not uncommon, and those from the new mercantile families will dress to show off their money.
Mercere magi, as a rule, have travelled widely in the course of their lives, and are not afraid of the idea of self-reliance, mundane life, travel or distances.
Last of all, Mercere magi like to see themselves as the embodiment of Mercury - quicksilver fast, dynamic, fluid, a trickster, a thief, a merchant and, if they must, finally a magician.