That Other Place
The Rattan Shields are a mercenary corporation based somewhere in the East, perhaps a midway point between the Indys and the Oryen. Little about their origins and history are common knowledge, but any child in Nava can recognize the spiral snake insignia of the Shields as easily as they might identify their own city flag or the sun symbols bedecking the Cathedral downtown. Like them or not, the Eastern mercenaries are an integral part of the rise of the West, and will probably continue to remain so.
Four things in particular distinguish the Rattan Shields from other mercenaries. One, they wear no armor. Trusting only to speed, training, and a large steel-plated wooden shield to protect them, the simply robed Rattans are unusual figures in the pantheon of fighting styles, especially as their training includes no monastic teachings and confers no Wisdom bonus to AC. However, it does have a practical value to the employer; good armor costs 50 gold a pop, new Rattans can be trained from childhood for half that, and enemies can’t loot and wear a skill set from a dead body.
Two, Rattan Shields hire in squads. A seasoned mercenary will long ago have signed his name to a soldier’s union, of course, and there is no such thing as a balanced party of one. But hiring Rattan Shields is closer to buying livestock than negotiating a contract with individuals directly. All transactions take place in an office bought by the corporation, or conducted with a specially appointed agent in extreme cases (those of the very rich). The purchased soldiers will turn up the next morning in one or more squads of four, ready for instructions.
Three, the Shields are cheap. Dead cheap. A squad of four highly trained, obedient, versatile swordsmen (Rattan shields carry a scimitar and a sling apiece) can cost as little as one-and-a-half times the price of a single armored fighter working freelance. This price gap only increases when purchased in bulk, so that, going by the Rattan price chart, a merchant can hire forty soldiers in an hour for the price of one dozen Western mercenaries in three days and know he’d got a good deal.
Four, and perhaps strangest, Rattan Shields do not speak. They understand spoken and written commands, and have a nonverbal code of gestures that seems to vary from squad to squad, but do not vocalize at all except when wounded in battle. Guards working alongside Rattans have described them as “unnerving” and “slightly unhuman”.
A typical Rattan Shield stands 5’9 or 5’10, with South Asian features and skin and hair cut close to the scalp or worn in dreadlocks. He or she wears leather sandals, an orange robe with golden-yellow trim, a black waist sash, a black scabbard across the back, and a woven rice hat. His or her shield is polished steel, with a central pommel depicting a spiraling green snake.