The Mercenaries Guild is an international cartel of mercenary companies operating throughout most of Enland, popularly held to be the second most formidable fighting force in the known world, after the military of the Halyan Empire. It is estimated that total membership in the Mercenaries Guild, prior to the departure of the separatists in 795 OTK, exceeded 250,000 fighting men, and many thousands more in its support infrastructure, including scribes, porters, legal advocates, animal handlers, and craftsmen.
The Guild was unofficially founded in the Kingdom of Eostre in 612 OTK when the Sons of Winter (to this day, the Guild's most prominent and prestigious member) struck a deal with the Third Sons to control prices and exclude new competitors from entering the market in Eostre. As both companies grew more powerful, wealthy, and influential thanks to this agreement, other companies took notice, either attempting to join or to disrupt the cartel. Rivals were quickly snuffed out by the combined might of the cartel's members.
After the inclusion of the Godsmen in 620 OTK, the cartel sought its letter patent from King Svein II of Eostre and formally founded the Mercenaries Guild. Over the following two decades, the Guild successfully acquire letters patent from every ruling monarch in Enland, and extended its reach to all corners of the continent. Its power grew steadily, and eventually became sufficient that no mercenary company in Enland could exist without the Guild's permission and regulation.
In 795 OTK, however, a loose alliance of 33 "free companies" (roughly 115,000 men in total) headed by the Red Coursers broke away from Guild rule and demanded the right to manage their own affairs, incensed by an increase in membership dues. Negotiations between the two camps broke down swiftly, and descended into open fighting. The conflict became popularly known as the Sellswords War, and wracked all of Enland with fighting. Both sides engaged in widespread looting and pillaging to sustain their war efforts, and only the Halyan Empire, thanks to its unparalleled standing army, was able to successfully bar them from their borders. After the Halyan border village of Lys was extorted for its grain by Guild forces, an enraged Emperor Miron revoked the letter patent that Emperor Maksym had granted the Guild in 631 OTK, and seized all Guild assets within the Empire's borders. This was a particularly devastating blow to the Hounds of Halya, who had long held their base of operations in the city of Janek.
The Guild still operates out of its original - although greatly expanded - guildhall in the market town of Vybergh in the Kingdom of Eostre.
The Mercenaries Guild is led by a council of fifteen representatives, ten of which are elected from the leadership of the member companies, while the remaining five are permanently held by the leaders of the first five companies to form the Guild. Elections are held every five years, with each company that cares to providing a candidate. However, no man may vote for his own company's candidate, a policy designed to force men to vote for the most qualified candidates (and to prevent company size from determining leadership). Each man votes for three candidates, and the ten with the most votes join the council. Should a representative die in office, he is succeeded by a man of his own company, chosen in whatever manner the company should choose, commonly a popular election.
The five companies with permanent council representation are (approximate manpower in parentheses):
- The Sons of Winter (≈18,500)
- The Third Sons (≈13,200)
- Fortune's Favored (≈10,500)
- The Hounds of Halya (≈9,000)
- The Godsmen (≈8,300)
The council has the authority to set membership dues and Guild-wide prices, permit the entrance of new member companies, mediate conflict between members, set quality standards that members are expected to meet, expand or shrink the council, and mete out punishment to deviant or substandard members. The council also acts as the commanders of the Guild's collective forces when circumstances require that the Guild as a whole go to war, as during the Sellswords War.
The Guild currently comprises 46 member companies, ranging in size from as few as 500 men to as many as 18,500, with most companies boasting between one and two thousand. Notable companies include the above-noted permanent council members and the following: