A Bondsman (or Bondswoman) was a prisoner taken during combat by a Clan, of any caste or rank, who was held as an indentured servant. Bondsmen were bound by tradition, rather than chains, to work dutifully for their new masters. For a bondsman to purposefully neglect their responsibilities or even attempt escape stained not just their personal honor but the honor of their original Clan. Typically, a bondsman would either be released from their bond and sent back home, with little honor lost, or after a given period of time, be adopted and become a free, full member of their new Clan. When and whether an individual was released from their servitude varied between Clans and individuals: some only spent a token amount of time before being freed from their bondcord, while others would live out the rest of their lives as bondsmen.
Members of the Warrior Caste were the most frequent targets taken as bondsmen. Once captured, they served as either laborers or technicians depending on their skill set, though they were held in less regard than natural laborers. The warrior who captured a bondsman and to whom they "belonged" was known as the bondholder. Bondholders were charged with the education of their bondsmen, held responsible for their actions, and determined any appropriate punishment.
Bondholders determined how long a bondsman remained in service via their bondcord. A woven bracelet worn around the right wrist of the bondsman, the bondcord consisted of three colored strands. The color and pattern of the cords signified which Clan and unit had captured the warrior, while each cord represented three different virtues: combat talent, integrity, and loyalty. Whenever the bondholder felt the bondsman had sufficiently demonstrated one of these virtues, they would cut the associating cord. Once the final cord was cut, the bondsman was freed and reinstated into the new Clan's warrior caste as an abtakha.
A warrior whose personal honor would not allow them to serve as a bondsman could avoid this fate through ritual suicide known as bondsref. Prior to being claimed by the victor and given a bondcord, a warrior could take their own life or have an accomplice kill them and so "refuse the bond." Once a bondcord had been given, the bondsref could only be performed with the permission of the bondholder; to do otherwise was considered a cowardly and dishonorable act.
Civilian bondsmen were treated slightly differently to their warrior counterparts. They were assigned to the same caste as they had served their previous Clan and wore a two-strand bondcord for a "probationary" period of at least one year. Additionally, while few chose this option, civilians taken as prisoners but who had not been specifically targeted for capture could refuse the bond and request repatriation back to their original Clan.
Bondsmen Practices by Clan
Clans Coyote, Star Adder and Wolf were generally accepting and willingly adopted bondsmen who proved their worthiness and fidelity. The Jade Falcons could be fairly welcoming, though they tended to treat bondsmen more harshly in the process and only adopted those who showed exceptional skill, while the Diamond Sharks readily sought to capture bondsmen and just as readily "sold back" troublesome prospects in order to make a profit. Despite their insular nature, the Steel Vipers were also welcoming of bondsmen, seeing it a chance to convince other Clansmen of their truth regarding Kerensky's vision.
While not unwelcoming per se, the theological nature of life within Clan Cloud Cobra made it hard for bondsmen to adapt to their new environment. At the same time, Cloud Cobra bondsmen rarely gave up their faith when they joined a new Clan, which helped with the spread of their religion. For similar reasons, the focus on quickness and agility within Ice Hellion society also made it hard for outsiders to be adopted, though the Clan was always eager to capture as many bondsmen as possible as a sign of their military prowess. Clan Hell's Horses only accepted bondsmen from "honorable" sources and, given their rivalry with Clan Ghost Bear, often humiliated and mistreated Ghost Bear bondsmen, a practice adopted in kind by the Ghost Bears.
Clan Blood Spirit's intolerance of outsiders caused them to rarely take bondsmen while more often initiating bondsref themselves; those who were taken were famous for their uncooperative nature. The Fire Mandrills were equal to the Blood Spirits in their unwillingness to collaborate with their captors, and while generally accepting of civilians for practical reasons, rarely adopted warriors. The Snow Ravens' distrust of outsiders meant bondsmen were typically forced to wear their bondcords for many years, and very few warriors were accepted as abtakha. Even adopted warriors were legally barred from any rank higher than Star Colonel.
Given that many of their warriors were physically and psychologically addicted to necrosia, bondsmen were rarely taken from Clan Goliath Scorpion. Meanwhile, Clan Smoke Jaguar was positively abusive to any bondsmen they took and only adopted trueborns into their ranks, using the rest as perpetual forced labor.
- The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, p. 36-37
- MechWarrior Guide to the Clans, p. 79
- Wolf Clan Sourcebook, p. 20-21
- The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, p. 74
- The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, p. 92
- The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, p. 97
- The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, p. 87
- The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, p. 77
- The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, p. 94
- The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, p. 72
- The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, p. 86
- The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, p. 84
- The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, p. 70
- The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, p. 78
- The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, p. 91
- The Clans: Warriors of Kerensky, p. 81