The New Livonian Order are an independent militia styling themselves after the medieval Livonian Order (which was itself a branch of the Teutonic Order). Primarily active in what was the Vidzeme region of Latvia, they have taken it upon themselves to maintain order, defend and aid the area's civilian population, and deal with bandits, gangs and assorted other trouble makers.
Although taking their name from and styling themselves after the medieval Livonian Order, the organization lacks a fount of honour and is therefore not a true chivalric order, merely a self-styled one. However this does not seem to have deterred them in the slightest. The choice of the Livonian Order as a name has been pointed out as being somewhat inappropriate over the years, given the considerable problems caused by their historical namesakes; although the Order's members are somewhat embarrassed about admitting it, their founder most likely didn't have the best grasp of history (the very fact that he decided to found a chivalric order suggests that his ideas regarding the past were somewhat romanticised) and by the time anyone had explained why the name may have not been the best choice it had already stuck.
Due to a combination of a lack of written records and the 'Chinese whispers' effect, the Order's exact origins are unclear. The only details that can be believed with a decent amount of certainty are that it was founded by a man named Valdis Apinis at some point during the mid-eighties in a refugee camp south-east of Valmiera, near the village of Mūrmuiža. Apinis' reasons for doing so vary from one account to another, with the more devout members claiming that he was told by god himself to defend the innocent from the evil-doers of the world. A less religiously-oriented and more likely explanation is that he was merely someone with an interest in medieval history who turned to a somewhat idealised idea of the age of chivalry as a means of coping with the post-Doomsday chaos. Whatever his motivation, he had enough charisma to attract followers, with the first major act of the fledgling order being to overthrow a group of former Soviet soldiers who had been treating the refugees and villagers as their slaves, over-working, starving (as the soldiers claimed the lion's share of the food for themselves) and generally abusing them.
Following the successful revolt, things seemed to have snowballed. Apinis' reputation was no longer due to charisma alone; to the long-suffering and down-trodden civilians the 'knights' victory over the soldiers elevated them to the status of saviours and dramatically increased the number of members.
From then on, things get rather hazy for several years. Very few written reports exist and with regards to oral accounts it is often hard to distinguish fact from rumour and hearsay. Never the less, the Order's conduct appears to have been admirable, with numerous accounts of men in white and black armbands or surcoats escorting groups of refugees, protecting settlements, and fighting raiders. Apinis seems to have had little tolerance for bad behaviour; one of the few verifiable accounts regards the execution of two of his men for an attack on a local girl, another involves a man who was caught stealing being kicked out from the Order.
The standard operating procedure of the Order seems to have been to send out small scouting parties to settlements to offer their assistance. If the offer was accepted, more men would be set for, a base would be established in the settlement in question, and recruiting from the local population would commence, although getting in wasn't particularly easy. In order to be accepted, the recruit had to be Catholic, of good character, and physically fit. The first was due to Apinis' own religious beliefs and ideals, the second due to the high standards of behaviour, and the third due to the physical demands of Order life.
None the less, they managed to acquire enough new recruits to grow, despite taking their share of losses. Apinis himself was killed in battle in 1989. In the manner of the knights they styled themselves after, the Order elected his successor, a man named Aivars Bite who'd been Apinis' friend and right-hand man.
Although as much of an idealist as Apinis, Bite was somewhat more practical about it in that while Apinis had more or less envisioned the Order as a modern day approximation of a medieval chivalric order, Bite saw it as more of an aid organisation with weapons, although still adhering to the chivalric ideals of mercy, courage, valor, fairness, protection of the weak and the poor, and being the champion of good against evil. Realising that people needed more then protection from attack, he started to expand the Order's area of operations. While the militant arm continued to make up the bulk of the Order's membership, under Bite's leadership the medical and logistical support arms were greatly expanded. In order to do so, in 1993 Bite relaxed the religious requirement to allow Orthodox and Protestant recruits to join, provided that they had skills that were in demand, such as medical training or experience in engineering or vehicle maintenance, and allowed women to join, albeit only in non-combatant support roles. He also made an effort to improve record keeping.
In 1991, the Order first made contact with the nation of Courland, having been receiving reports of a nation to the west of the area under their control for the past two years. Other, more pressing concerns had previously prevented them from investigating, but in June 1991 Bite sent a delegation westwards. Five days later, soldiers stationed at Courland's eastern border were somewhat bemused to see six obviously military men on horseback coming down the road, with the one in the lead carrying a banner consisting of a black cross on a white background. Upon reaching the border post, they stopped, identified themselves as members of the New Livonian Order, and politely requested to speak to someone in charge.
The structure of the New Livonian Order is based on Apinis' slightly misremembered knowledge of the Order's medieval namesake. The head of the order is the Master, who is elected by his fellow knights for a lifetime term. The Order itself is made up of numerous sub-groups called Komturei, each of which is responsible for the settlement they're based in and the surrounding area and commanded by a Komtur. While the Komtur answers to and takes orders from the Master, with regards to day-to-day affairs they are generally left to their own devices. The Komturei are supported by the area under their protection, generally in the form of a tithe. The Master and the Order's HQ is based in the town of Cēsis, making it the area's de facto capital.
Each Komturei consists of three loosely defined divisions;
- Militant - The dominant arm of the Order, charged with defending the area under the Komturei's protection, escorting travellers through potentially hostile territory, and if necessary hunting down attackers.
- Support - Logistical support troops. They handle weapons and vehicle maintenance, engineering duties, building projects, etc. Also includes other support personnel such as the quartermaster and dispatch riders/couriers.
- Medical - Exactly what it sounds like. Originally just medics for those injured in combat, although they often treated civilians as well (a necessity in areas where the Komturei's medics were often the nearest thing to a doctor that anyone had seen since Doomsday), under Bite's leadership this arm was greatly expanded with an ongoing recruiting drive for anyone with medical training and efforts to train people themselves. Today the medical arm includes everything from first aiders and combat medics to fully qualified doctors and surgeons, although the last two are in short supply. Consequently the quality of medical care available varies from one Komturei to another, although all run at least one affiliated hospital or clinic, which in the largest settlements are usually staffed by a doctor, medical assistants and nurses, while ones in more rural areas are usually run by someone roughly equivalent to a feldsher (the bulk of whose training was often gained informally), who is assisted by at least two nurses or assistants.
It should be noted that there's a general lack of clear divisions between the three groups. Logistical personnel double as combat troops and visa versa and even the medical arm is expected to be able to join the fight if necessary. The latter practice has received some criticism from those familiar with the Geneva Convention but it is usually countered by pointing out that those they're fighting don't care about the Geneva Convention.
The Order's impact on the area under its control is somewhat complicated. On one hand they have served as a stablising influence, allowing the area's inhabitants to live in relative safety and facilitating trade and other economic activities, not to mention being the primary source of medical care in the area. On the other hand, while the towns under their protection general have some form of civilian leadership separate from the local Komturei, it hasn't escaped notice that the Order's purpose, numbers, and level of organisation has in many ways made them the de facto rulers, which coupled with their religious emphasis (despite Bite relaxing the rules the Order's membership is still more then ninety-percent Catholic) has caused many to have mixed feelings. On one hand the population is almost universally grateful for the Order's protection and aid, but on the other there are many who are worried that the Order's influence could develop into a kind of neo-feudalism, with the Order as the 'nobility', not to mention the concerns raised by the idea of one religious group holding power over the others. The latter concern is made worse by the fact that while Bite is moderate, a number of his subordinates, including one or two possible successors, are not.
There is also the fact that while the Order has been effective in dealing with raiders and bandits, the presence of a formidable opponent has caused them to join together in larger groups and employ more aggressive tactics.