Unlike Whitehall, there are relatively few mysteries in Stronghold’s past. The castle was originally built on top of a nexus point within the Ashkenazy Badlands (a region fully as dangerous as the Blighted Lands) by a nobleman in the early days of the Empire, who hoped that taming the nexus point would restore the Badlands to something usable. When it became apparent he was wrong, the castle was transferred to the Emperor and turned into a military academy. Since the fall of the Empire, it has remained neutral – taking promising students from all over the Allied Lands. Its graduates are in high demand all over the continent.
Stronghold itself is an immense castle, divided into the Keep, the Barracks and the Battlements. The Keep serves as the administrative and training hub; the Barracks serve as living space, the Battlements serve as training grounds.
Officially, the academy is run by a triumvirate; the General, the Admiral and the Mage, who report to the Officer’s Council (a sub-unit of the White Council). The General and Admiral titles have very little to do with their actual role. Only the Mage, charged with teaching combat magic, has a clearly-defined job. Below the triumvirate, there are the Officers (teachers), Sergeants (instructors) and Swords (seventh-year pupils, effectively prefects.)
Unlike the other schools, Stronghold picks and chooses its students carefully. The Allied Lands submit lists of candidates, former pupils put forward the names of their own children … rarely, strong talents from outside the nobility are permitted to apply. Nearly all of the students are male, with or without magic. It is rare for female students to attend the school, although not unknown.
Upon arrival at the castle, each student is sorted into one of six regiments. This process is not random. The staff attempt to ensure that each influx includes a number of students from all walks of life (aristocrats mingle with the children of former pupils, for example.) Each regiment is divided into companies (year groups); each company is further divided into platoons of five or six students. The students are rapidly introduced to the barracks hierarchy – senior students are charged with supervising the younger students – and told precisely to comport themselves. They are also warned that a student misbehaving will result in the entire platoon being punished, normally through extra push-ups or time in the stocks.
The regimental system pervades Stronghold. Platoon mates are expected to do everything together, from attending class to playing games. The older students show the youngsters how to behave, trading lessons in everything from shining shoes to sewing buttons on coats for chores and other minor services. Being in the same regiment is like being in a social network – former students are still expected to help one another out, even if they’re technically on opposing sides. Platoons compete intensely with other platoons, in and out of sports; prizes are awarded frequently for winning, losers get clean-up or other punishment duties. (There are no prizes for participation at Stronghold.)
It also has its downsides. Students who don’t fit in (for whatever reason) can be harassed unmercifully if they refuse to shape up. If a student literally cannot shape up, they are often pushed into quitting – or sometimes deliberately injured. This is officially forbidden, but sergeants are known to turn a blind eye if the student is genuinely unable or unwilling to pull their weight.
Students spend half their days learning how to march, use weapons, comport themselves in wartime, etc and the remainder studying military history and strategy. Stronghold prides itself in turning out the best soldiers on the Nameless World. Students with magical talents are taught how to use combat spells and suchlike, rather than the more generalist magical education students receive elsewhere. There’s very little actual free time – students are in class, training or doing outside work.
Stronghold offers a five-year basic course, then two additional years.
Stronghold looks unusually vulnerable for a castle. Indeed, it would be theoretically easy for a hostile army to threaten the castle. However, the combination of the nexus point and the poor terrain around the castle make it impossible for anyone to actually storm the defences and break into the castle itself. A small team might make it through the badlands, but an army would find it impossible.