The colony of S’Mary’s World was originally established as a number of politically independent but economically interdependent settlements, all under the general guidance of the Prefecture. The system worked well in the earliest years of the Hard Times, when the colonists were reasonably united in purpose and the fight for survival necessarily took precedence over internecine squabbling. As agriculture was established and the next generation grew to maturity, eroding that unity, friction between settlements inevitably arose, and sometimes led to bloodshed.
Well versed in history, Prefect Consolmagno Higgins and his successor, Fr. Timothy Martin, were determined to be pastors and teachers rather than rulers, leading by example rather than by force. This new strife posed a challenge which Martin met with characteristic creativity by championing the use of trial-by-combat when arbitration and common sense failed to resolve disputes between settlements. Each settlement brought forth its champion to the ring of single combat; the dispute was resolved in favor of the victor. This system, though barbaric, limited the degree of bloodshed; and surviving records indicate that such combats were rarely to the death, whatever tales might live in song and story.
Moreover, the trial-by-combat system gave the Prefecture an opportunity to play a role in the resolution of disputes. Martin and his successors recruited a small body of men, skilled fighters, and dubbed them the Knights of St. George, or, as they came to be popularly known, the Knights Particular, so called because they fought only as individuals. These served as the Prefect’s champions in the Prefecture’s disputes with the secular authorities; and when the Prefect had an interest in the outcome of some dispute between secular parties he would send one of his Knights Particular to champion the side he favored. In time, individual Knights Particular were given the freedom to investigate the disputes and come to their own conclusions, which they would then support in single combat.
This proved remarkably effective. The Knights Particular were as well trained as any, and better outfitted than most, and they rarely lost their bouts; they were known to be honest, insightful, and determined; and in time the mere arrival of one of the Knights Particular was often enough to send the disputants back to the conference table.
The era of trial-by-combat ended with the advent of the Wars of Irreligion in the 5th century YOE; by that time, however, it was settled that the Knights Particular were the Prefecture’s good right arm in dealing with the secular authorities, and throughout the Times of Exile the Knights remained the Prefect’s agents, investigators, and troubleshooters.