"It varies from mercenary company to mercenary company, but most do consider themselves qualitatively better than pirates. They generally claim to honor their contracts and to adhere to recognized rules of warfare, which to their minds gives them an ethical foundation that pirate bands lack.
(The view is somewhat complicated by the fact that most of the major merc companies have long and storied histories of breaking contracts more or less at will when better offers come along, but they don't focus on those... discrepancies when making their cases.)
It's worth noting that aristocratic society broadly agrees. There are plenty of cases of mercenaries marrying into noble families in exchange for exceptional service (i.e., if they capture and control useful towns), and that's generally not done with out-and-out pirates. The cynical might say that the main difference is which parties one gets invited to between raids, but it is what it is."
"1. Let's just say that Catherine, Flore and Durand (who between them know quite a lot about the heights of power in Mineta and in the Merilien north) would all say that it's extremely likely that such caches exist - but, if so, they certainly aren't public knowledge.
2. You're about half-right. It's perfectly legal for a Negation lecturer to teach techniques that manipulate local ley lines in ways that would make creating gates more difficult - that doesn't require or convey any detailed Gates knowledge, just general magical theory and application. Similarly, Astrological techniques meant to attune a subject to his/her/their guiding stars tend also to be very good at breaking some Mastery effects, but that doesn't make them legally suspect.
But, yeah, classes that teach you how to recognize and counter specific Mastery/Gates phemes or spells could only be taught in Mineta with specific dispensation from the Captain.
3. Yeah, absolutely."
"Oh, yeah. Even at the Academy, a solid majority of the profs wouldn't call Rixenda's work "art." She's even had some demoralizing conversations with Piaxenza - despite the fact that he isn't her Regent or an art teacher - about "taking art seriously," just because he fears she reflects badly on the school."
And for Yuri:
"I'd say that the Stranger figures no more directly in Minetan religious lore than, say, Baal in the Bible; he's not much discussed and he's not well understood. He's known mostly for his most terrible work, bringing the Dragons - though there are some influential treatises (ex., Rudovici's On the Harmony of Spheres) that argue that he created Gates magic more generally to corrupt just societies from within. If he ever had major cults, either during or before the time of the Dragons, it's fair to say that the New Gods and the early Empire wiped them pretty decisively from the face of the known world."