In the Common parlance of the Kithain, a Vassal is a sworn servant of a Liege. They are different from Retainers, who serve the Household, in that they are often nobles and swear the Oath of Fealty to their Liege.
Vassal & Liege
Within Feudal structure, almost every noble owes fealty to a higher noble. Even the kings and queens of Concordia owe fealty to High King David Ardry. Similarly every noble is someone else's liege. Only squires, who occupy the lowest place in noble society, have no vassals, though they may have some dominion over lesser pages. Nobles at the top of the hierarchy do everything they can to remain there and to enlarge their holdings (short of theft) and power. Alliances shift easily and only the laws of the Escheat keep things moderated. Nobles below do everything they can to increase their status by earning recognition and respect.
Commoners fall outside of the noble hierarchy. Traditionalists consider them no better than peasants and therefore subjects; every last one of them. While some commoners took on noble rank after the Accordance War, most sidhe consider them upstarts and rarely take them seriously.
Some nobles only wish to acquire power, often Unseelie but not only, but some truly see their bonds as liege as a sacred duty, the maintaining of which promotes stability and a Glamourous atmosphere that allows the fae to survive. Even these considerate nobles are still liable to play at court intrigue, though, because its expected as part of the system, was is seeking higher status.
Rights and privileges are important in the system as well. Lords have rights but they have duties to those under them, protection and sanctuary from outside threats among them. Vassals, in turn, owe their lieges loyalty and service. If they are mistreated they are entirely within their rights to rise up and overthrow them or to appeal to his or her liege to correct the issue.
Nobility makes demands. A Liege owes their vassals certain obligations. They may not abuse their vassals or treat them as thralls, slaves, or even servants. They must protect them from harm whether from rival households or Banality itself. He or she owes their vassals sanctuary in time of need. They must provide fair judgement in all disputes and cannot decree punishment without right cause. His or her justice is supreme and no outsider may usurp those rights. The noble acts as administrator over the property of the commoners resides in their fief. The Noble is also obliged to provide for the festivals of Glamour and strengthening ties to the Dreaming.
Judgments deemed unfair or unjust may be appealed by going to a higher lord or lady. A violation of the bond between liege and vassal gives them vassal the right to turn against their liege, who forfeited their honor by breaking the oaths of loyalty. While noble society abhors a despot, that doesn't mean they don't arise from time to time and if no one steps in to stop them they can continue to terrorize their vassals and everyone under them.
There are 2 main oaths that enforce this system:
- The Oath of Fealty is sworn by a Vassal to their Liege.
- The Oath of Escheat is sworn by a Liege to his or her Vassal.