[RP Episode] The March of Empire


#1

February 12th, in the year 1249 of the First Age of Allura
City of Glanaighre, Kingdom of Aldrain

A brisk, salty breeze whips through the window of a spacious room in the old fortress, a squat stone structure, weathered by decades of wind and water. Philos Annor III, King of Aldrain, rises from his bed to the raucous calls of gulls and the bellowing of sailors loading their ships in the early morning sunlight. Donning a rich woolen tunic against the chill air, he makes his way down into the bustling chaos of the town, where hundreds of merchants, sailors, craftsmen, soldiers, and builders go about their business in the muddy streets of the port. Only a few more days of this teeming city and its mundane parade of meetings, taxes, and petty criminal trials, and then the king will be able to return to his peaceful native highlands. Until then, plenty of time for a walk along the top of the low stone seawall.

Atop the wall, Philos gazes south at the horizon, where the pale gray sky meets the gray waves of the ocean. A line of fluttering white is just visible- a flock of some seabird, perhaps, or foaming waves. From the wall, one sees the frenzy of activity engulfing Glanaighre, the beating heart of Aldrain, straddling the mouth of the river Aighre and controlling the flow of commerce. Glancing up again, Philos catches once again the fluttering white flock on the horizon, but those were not wings or waves. They were sails.

Stretching out as far as the eye can see, a line of ships, some small, swift crafts and some towering warships, comes into focus. Guards on the wall notice it too- they are used to ships, but never so many, and sailing together like this. Philos, a sinking feeling in his gut, walks quickly back to his residence to gather his sword and bow and to don a mail hauberk and a steel cap. When he returns, the fleet is in clear view; hundreds of ships, all packed with men, and advancing rapidly. Purple banners with some symbol on them in inky black flutter from their masts, and their oars chop furiously at the water. With the ships only a few hundred meters from the port, the guards scramble to the walls and the townsfolk retreat indoors. Silently, a volley of arrows sails from the ships, clattering off stonework and splashing into the sea. Several muffled screams prove that a few have found their marks, and a soldier, with a long, heavy, black arrow sunken in below his collarbone, falls to the street below. In the coming years, other soldiers would envy him, for, in war, the first to die suffers the least.


#2

The Kingdom of Twangste in the year 1249 of the First Age.

Twangste. A small and insignificant island in the midst of a vast ocean. Home to only one city, itself also called Twangste, and a smattering of villages. In the year 1249, King Castor III sat upon an uneasy throne. A mere 20 years ago, the island had been unified for the first time in its history after a long struggle against invasion and occupation by the frost-demons from the West. Those blood-mad men, howling in their berserker frenzy, clashed with the then-unorganized forces of the various Twangstean houses. It was only after a generation of struggle that they were ousted, and even then some cultural legacy remained.

The House of Malgedein was one of the Twangstean noble houses, and not the most powerful either. Their holdings extended to but a few villages near the southern tip of the island. While they lacked in military power or in numbers, the Malgedeins were rich. Trade with the various sultanates and emirates across the sea had fattened their coffers. Thus they could afford a disproportionate number of the housecarl retainers employed by the Houses as a core for their fighting force. In times of war or emergency, these professionals would be reinforced with the lesser lords, known as thegns, and their retinues, as well as the levy of peasants known as the Fyrd. These Fyrd were not much good - poorly equipped, trained or motivated and prone to desertion. When defending a palisade, however, they could hold their own.

It had been under the inspired leadership of the Earl Waltheof Malgedein, Castor’s grandfather, that the war began. Waltheofs brother and nephews were murdered shortly after the invasion by unknown assassins, leaving him to assume the throne of the earldom. He understood that the key to defeating the foreigners was fortification. Waltheof instituted a programme of fort-building across his domain. Five towns were chosen to be fortified as ‘burhs’, given palisades and manned by the local fyrd. When raid parties drew near or invasion loomed, the population of surrounding villages fled to the safety of the burh with their belongings and valuables. The invaders, unskilled at siege warfare, did not manage to capture a burh during the entire invasion. While the lands and holdings of the other lords were ravaged time and again, the Malgedeins stood strong. They slowly expanded their holdings, offering other Twangsteans sanctuary in return for homage and loyalty. The process took years.

The day after the invaders were finally repelled, Earl Waltheof the Defender closed his eyes and slept. He did not wake again. He was borne upon his great shield towards his final resting place on the westermost cliff of the island, and the blade of his war sword was ritually bent and buried with him.

After him, his son Castor started rebuilding efforts. One exact month after the burial of the Earl Waltheof, Castor was crowned King Castor II, High Twangwalda and Lord of the Isle. Once again, Twangste bloomed and great fields of wheat and grains covered the fertile plains. The burhs expanded, with some lords allowing them to grow beyond their wooden walls. After all, now the time of peace had come, had it not? However, as the years went by, discontent stirred. King Castor II lived, ruled, died, and was succeeded. Peace made men soft, and some of the other houses muttered of rebellion and independence. With the threat of the invaders gone, why would they suffer the Malgedein yoke any longer? So they gathered weapons and formed alliances, forming a union known as the Hlafordan League.

The King sat not idle, and made his own counsel. The royal forces swelled in number, and the vast granaries of the capital city slowly filled.

In the Year 1249 of the First Age, Twangste made ready for war.


#3

Ebongrasp, the uncertain realm. Still heavily weakened from the War of Bulls a mere half decade ago, the empire now stands in Northern Shawia with trembling legs. Looking for easier expansion up North, the empire turns its’ gaze to the realm of Aldrain, a geographically massive broth of uneasy confederations and shady alliances. With their prey still at a terrible technological advantage, Ebongrasp musters its’ last battalions capable of conflict to overrun the weaker foe before it manages to develop.

However, tensions in the Crow’s End archipelago are tightening. The newly reformed and powerful Twangstinians pose a dangerous threat, the brunt of their force stationed intimately close to the royal capital. Concerned of a potential attack from the south-west, Xial II has opted for a two-pronged invasion. Employing help from the Holy Cantagian Empire to the west, he has prepared a noose to ensnare the newborn government, and subjugate the profitable isles of plenty.

With an invasion force fifty thousand strong, employing mostly heavy infantry, light cavalry, and long-bowmen, the Lord of Ash is impatient to bore down on his northern neighbour.


#4

March 17th, 1249

In the Royal palace of Twangste
King Castor the Third of the House of Malgedein, Lord of City of Burh Marlinghe and King of All Twangste, agitatedly paced the halls of his palace. From the braziers and roaring fires in the centre of the great hall, smoke billowed towards the hole in the roof. The palace, and indeed much of the city, were built on the remnants of a city left by a much older and grander people. The floors displayed magnificent mosaics, the remnants of pillars like broken teeth reached for the skies, and crisscrossing the island were the great roads, still in decent condition after half a millenium of disrepair. It was on these ruins that the Twangsteans had built in wood and beam and thatch, inhabiting them like a hermit crab.

With a snarl, the King turned away from his broodingly dark thoughts. He marched to the exit, throwing open the great doors even as four royal retainers fell in behind him. Their booted feet squelched in the mud and broken flagstones. Their hands were at the short swords on their belts, and on their backs hung the great bronze-covered round shields, painted with monstrous faces. Two-handed axes, a fearsome weapon first introduced by the frost daemons years ago, were slung over shoulders. The axe was a fearsome weapon, able to cleave a man from neck to stomach and damage him through heavy armour, but it was impractical in the close formations Twangsteans favoured.

Damn those traitors!, the King thought. News had just arrived that two more food shipments had been raided and confiscated by the robber barons in the forest. They had been preying on merchants for a month now, daring enough to ambush even military caravans. While the rich soils near the capital could provide a good supply of wheat and barley, and hunger therefore was not common, the King was dependent on caravans to ferry in other goods. Clothes, salt, and weapons. Most of all weapons. Swords, spears, axes, shields and leather cuirasses had all been imported in bulk, and the royal armories had been stocked to the brim.

The Houses were restless, and it would not do to be unprepared in times such as this.

The King’s oldest son, Ætheling Rufus Malgedein, had taken up command of the royal guard and prepared them for whatever may come. With a first grandchild born and a second underway, the royal lineage was secure. At least that would not become a further cause for trouble. In the Southlands, the King’s second son Austingaldis managed the mercantile colony of Shawceastre. There, Twangstean trinkets made of amber and wood, as well as farming equipment and salted fish were traded with the horse nomads for gold, ivory, and jet - commodities in great demand among the nobility.

Suddenly, the King became aware of a commotion behind him. A mud-splattered man had come charging down the street until being forcibly brought to a halt by his escorts. He heaved great, gasping breaths and wiped the sweat from his brow even as he extended a roll of parchment to the king. Frowning, Castor took it. Opening the document, his eyes slid over the writing and slowly widened.

It was a letter of demands, an ultimatum, and a declaration of war.

The Houses, it seemed, had had enough.