Crash Course VI

Welcome back to Crash Course! 

It's been a while since my last entry in this series. If you haven't discovered it before, Crash Course is a series of blog posts that explain aspects of The Bone Season and its world in more detail, so you can jog your memory between books and discover more about Scion and its inhabitants. I was prompted to do this entry by an ask I got on Tumblr a few days ago, requesting that I explain how the clairvoyant syndicate works in more detail. I realised I never did an entry on the syndicate, which is one of the more complicated elements of the Bone Season world, so it's high time I told you more about the tangled web of mime-lords, mime-queens, mollishers and mobsters in the underworld of the Scion Citadel of London. 

The London Syndicate


For clairvoyants in Scion, there are three ways to survive. You can try to hide your gift and lead a double life; you can enlist in the Night Vigilance Division and work for Scion, which will give you thirty years of guaranteed work before you're executed for unnaturalness . . . or you can try to join the clairvoyant syndicate.

The syndicate of the Scion Citadel of London, thought to be the largest in existence, was founded in 1964 on the idea of mime-crime – using clairvoyance to earn money illegally. Its first Underlord, Thomas Ebon Merritt, wanted voyants to be able to survive and embrace who they were, rather than have to get a conventional job, where their clairvoyance might be discovered by sharp-eyed colleagues or Vigiles, or sell out to the enemy. The syndicate allowed you to disappear into the underworld and find protection with like-minded people. Here's an excerpt from Merritt's famous Declaration to the Unnatural Assembly (1964): 

I have raised you to Roles of great Importance, so you shall be called the Lords and Queens of these wretched Folk; yet see that I have humbled you anew with a prefix, mime. For though you are a Monarch, remember that you are only a Mimic. The Spirits of the Dead have granted us their Knowledge so that we may whore it on the Streets for Coin, sacrificing their Secrets for the sake of our continued Existence. You, the Unnatural, can only ever imitate their Greatness. 

Merritt, who was sometimes known as ‘Good Tom’, intended the mime-lords and mime-queens to serve their people, and to ensure that all voyants were treated as equals. It was a noble cause – but when Merritt died, his beloved organisation swiftly became a breeding ground for corruption and cruelty, culminating in the ‘grey market’ scandal of 2059.

Since its early days, the syndicate's official administrative body has been the Spiritus Club, a voyant publishing house based in Grub Street. The Spiritus Club records the history and laws of the syndicate and organises official events. Even the Underlord or Underqueen is supposed to be held accountable by the Club. The Club historically communicated with the syndicate using the Victorian language of flowers, which is still used in some syndicate circles to send coded messages – most famously before a scrimmage (see Hierarchy). 

Getting your chance to join the syndicate is reasonably easy. If you're voyant and live on the territory of a mime-lord or mime-queen, it won't be long until you get a visit from one of their representatives, asking if you plan to join. If you don't, some mime-lords will still expect you to pay the syndicate rent (see Money). If you do join, you'll be left to your own devices for a while. A member of the section's dominant gang – the gang led by the local mime-lord or mime-queen – will assess you quietly and decide if you're worthy of a place in the organisation. If you are, you'll be assigned to a gang in the section. If you're not, you're left out to dry. People who are rejected from the syndicate and have no other means of income will usually join the NVD, or if they're too afraid or proud to do that, resort to begging. 

There is no official limit on the number of gangs that can operate in a section, but if you want to form a new gang, you must ask permission from both the Underlord and the mime-lord or mime-queen whose territory you mean to live and work in. Not doing this will result in punishment. Under Haymarket Hector, who often didn't reply to requests, there were numerous killings of ‘illegitimate’ gang leaders, who had asked for permission to form a new gang and never received an answer. Hector did not take kindly to discovering that they had proceeded anyway.

Becoming a member of the syndicate gives you unrestricted access to the black market. Known as the Garden, the black market is located in a secret chamber beneath the central market hall in Covent Garden, and is accessed through a mirror in a clothes shop. A lantern outside glows a slightly different shade of blue to other Scion street-lamps. The black market has many different sections, some of which focus on different kinds of clairvoyance (e.g. stalls that stock products specifically for mediums), and sells a wide range of items, including:

  • Weapons – mostly old-fashioned
  • Blacklisted music, literature, and film
  • Numa – for soothsayers and augurs
  • Antiques and curios 
  • Items and information from the free world (non-Scion countries)
  • Musical instruments 
  • Flowers – to send messages in the language of flowers 

With the friendship and respect of other voyants, and a local den to hide in, you're much less likely to be arrested. Now to climb the ladder – and earn some coin. 

Hierarchy and power

The official categorisation system of the syndicate is the the Seven Orders of Clairvoyance (see On the Merits of Unnaturalness). If you're from a higher order of clairvoyance, you'll be far more in-demand than a soothsayer or augur and will have a much easier time joining the syndicate.

Higher-order voyants may find themselves being asked by rival mime-lords or mime-queens if they'd like to do some work for them on the quiet, a practice known as moonlighting. While moonlighting allows voyants to earn extra money, it doesn't usually go down well with their legitimate employer if they discover it. Some close their eyes to their voyants moonlighting, while others forbid it on pain of banishment.

The most common form of mime-crime is doing readings for clients about their future and charging for it. This is usually carried out by soothsayers and augurs. Writing and art mediums can forge lost works and sell them. Whisperers and polyglots, who connect to the æther through playing music or singing, often work as high-class buskers. Busking is common, but not particularly respectable and not officially allowed by some mime-lords and mime-queens, as it's considered to be something that amaurotics can do as well as clairvoyants. Begging is illegal but tolerated.

The syndicate also deals in more conventional crime, such as pickpocketing and drug dealing. Nightwalking – engaging in sex acts in exchange for information from the æther – is its equivalent of prostitution. Nightwalkers may work individually, but more commonly work in groups in a night parlour. Nightwalking is a legitimate syndicate profession, and, like other voyant businesses, is taxed. 

Note: Vile augurs were forbidden from the syndicate several years after the publication of On the Merits of Unnaturalness. This rule was overturned by Paige Mahoney in November 2059. 

Voyant activity in one section is kept in check by the local mime-lord or mime-queen. Any attempts to withhold tax money, disobey local rules, or cause trouble will be met with punishment. Most mime-lords and mime-queens punish transgression brutally in order to maintain control through fear, but a small number are reasonable and forgiving. 

The hierarchy of syndicate professions looks something like this: 

Underlord or Underqueen
Leader of the syndicate 
Mollisher supreme
Mollisher of the Underlord or Underqueen
The Unnatural Assembly
Mime-lords and mime-queens
Trusted seconds-in-command of 
mime-lords and mime-queens
Dominant gangs
Gangs led by mime-lords or mime-queens
Gang leaders
Gang members
Also known as mobsters 
Train gutterlings in the arts of the syndicate
Carry out errands for dominant gangs
Carry messages between gangs
Voyant businesses and traders
Pay taxes and draw business to a section;
some are based in the black market
Footpads and pickpockets
Specialise in conventional crime
Not considered part of the syndicate by some,
but tolerated if they pay extra tax
Gutterlings and beggars
Not officially part of the syndicate,
but often exploited or forced to pay tax

The Unnatural Assembly wields much of the power in the voyant hierarchy. Mime-lords and mime-queens were originally meant to actively serve their people, providing voyants in their section with opportunities and protection from Scion (e.g. giving them dens to hide in, sending their mobsters to help fight off Vigiles) in exchange for a cut of their earnings – but by the time Paige joins the syndicate, many have become lazy, allowing their voyants to do the work while they soak up more and more money. Paige's intention as Underqueen is to give them more active roles, which will not allow them to shirk their responsibilities.  

Although the clairvoyant syndicate is largely self-sufficient, it also occasionally works with sympathetic amaurotics. Glym jacks (hired bodyguards), buck cabbies (cab drivers who will give voyant clients a significant discount) and screevers (experts in forging documents) are the most common sorts of amaurotic to engage in syndicate work. 

If a mime-lord or mime-queen is arrested or dies, control of the section is automatically transferred to their mollisher, who is the heir to their position and fortune. If the mollisher is also unable to rule for any reason, a power vacuum forms and an internal struggle begins. Voyants will fight to prove that they are the strongest candidate for the role. Members of a dominant gang will usually be involved in these fights, but are not guaranteed to win. Finally, when one person has come out on top – whether by skill or intimidation – and is no longer facing any serious challenges, they will announce themselves to the Unnatural Assembly, and the Underlord or Underqueen will declare them as the new leader of the section. 

When an Underlord or Underqueen dies or is unable to rule, their mollisher supreme takes over. If they can't, the process becomes more complex. A scrimmage – a public battle for control of the syndicate – is announced by the Spiritus Club. Candidates send the Club a message in the language of flowers to declare their intention to participate. Only mime-lords, mime-queens and mollishers are officially allowed to enter, but independent candidates may also be approved, based on how interesting the Club finds their floral messages. 

Here are the official rules of the scrimmage, from The Mime Order: 

The Scrimmage is based on the medieval art of mêlée. Mime-Lords, Mime-Queens and their Mollishers fight in close Combat in a 'Rose Ring', an enduring symbol of the Plague of Unnaturalness. Each of the Combatants fights for his- or herself, but a Mollisher may work with his or her Mime-Lord or Mime-Queen at any time during the battle. The last Candidate standing is declared Victor and is presented with the ceremonial Crown. From that moment, the Victor rules the syndicate, and bears the title of Underlord or Underqueen, depending upon their Preference.  
When there are only two Combatants left in the Rose Ring, and they are not a Mime-Lord or Mime-Queen and Mollisher duo, they must do battle to the Death in order for a final Victor to be declared. Only by using a specific invocation – ‘in the name of the æther, I, [name or alias], yield’ – can a Combatant end the last fight without bloodshed. Once this word is spoken, the other Party is automatically declared Victor. This rule was introduced by the Golden Baroness, first Underqueen of the Scion Citadel of London (ruled 1976-1980).  


The raison d'être of the clairvoyant syndicate is money. Money is earned through busking, begging, extortion, the sale of goods and knowledge, and the sale and auction of spirits – and it all flows upward by means of taxes. All syndicate voyants must pay syndicate rent and syndicate tax.

Syndicate rent is charged by mime-lords and mime-queens, who are themselves immune to it. Locations with more clairvoyant activity, and more opportunity for business, tend to charge higher syndicate rent.

Syndicate tax is paid by everyone but the Underlord or Underqueen. Every time a voyant earns money through their syndicate activities, they must give a certain percentage of it to their local mime-lord or mime-queen. Businesses pay more than individuals. That mime-lord or mime-queen then pays a certain percentage of that money, and the collected syndicate rent, to the Underlord or Underqueen, who is supposed to use it to make life better in the syndicate. Corruption is so rife in the syndicate, however, that its leaders often keep large sums for their own use. Not paying rent or tax can result in a number of punishments, from a beating to banishment to death. Flower and Dean Street in East London, where many voyants had their throats slit for not coughing up, was notorious during Haymarket Hector's reign.

Only one establishment in London is immune to syndicate tax. The Juditheon – an auction house in Cheapside – was founded by Didion Waite, and allows spirits to be sold by auction for more money than they would usually get. The Underlord allowed Waite to set up this establishment without paying any tax to his local mime-queen, Ognena Maria. The money would instead go straight into the Underlord's personal coffers.

I hope that was helpful. Let me know if I've missed anything, or if you're curious about any other aspect of syndicate culture. 

More news about The Song Rising on its way soon . . .


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