DargonZine 11, Issue 2

Deliverance: Praeludium



This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Deliverance

I

 

In the Spring of 1012 B.Y., the Beinison Empire was looking to expand. For centuries, the Empire had been continuously increasing its holdings bit by bit until, by 1012, it had become one of the premier powers on the continent.

 

Now, Untar II, Beinison’s newest, and youngest, Emperor, decided the time was right for Beinison to make a bid for absolute and undisputed mastery of northwestern Cherisk and from there go on to dominate the entire continent. To do this, Untar would have to conquer or otherwise control the Kingdom of Baranur and the Galician Empire. Untar and his advisors quietly began sending agents into both of Beinison’s larger neighbours, having already ruled out any action against the tiny kingdoms of Lederia and Comarr as an unwarranted diversion of resources. The information coming out of Galicia was sparse and unreliable. Many agents failed to return and those that did barel y managed even that. The Galicians had closed their borders some centuries before and were, apparently, very determined to maintain the current state of affairs. Untar’s agents in Baranur, however, reported much different results. The information flowing into Untar’s Summer Palace in Cabildo was both exhaustive and accurate. Untar and his inner circle decided that Baranur would be dealt with first before turning Beinison’s attention to the problem of Galicia.

 

As Autumn, 1012, approached, Beinisonian agents were slowly making their way north, for it was in Baranur’s Northern Marches that Untar had detected just the right kind of weakness he could exploit. The Northern Marches were sparsely populated and, more importantly, far from Magnus, Baranur’s capital. As well, the people of the Northern Marches were not particularly war-like, the last serious conflict to occur there being the fighting in the Great Houses War nearly a century-and-a-half ago. This was in sharp contrast to the Southern Marches, long a target for Beinisonian raids.

 

Untar’s agents sought out those whose ambition and desire for wealth or power outweighed their loyalty to King and Country. One such was Baron Coranabo, a minor lord with holdings in the Duchy of Kiliaen very near to the Barony of Shipbrook in Duchy Dargon. Coranabo had long coveted the now-vacant Coronet of the Barony of Shipbrook, and the agents of Beinison offered money and the promise of more land should Coranabo work for Beinison against Baranur.

 

Coranabo agreed and together with Untar’s agents, set about a campaign to destabilize Duchy Dargon sufficiently that a power struggle in the north, possibly even outright warfare, would erupt, distracting King Haralan’s attentions from his southern border.

 

While this was going on, Untar summoned his generals and admirals to him in Cabildo. There, he informed his officers that the Beinison Empire would undertake a concerted effort to conquer Baranur by force of arms and that this would begin in the Summer of 1014, perhaps as early as Autumn, 1013, and that he, the Emperor, wished to have a plan for such a campaign presented to him as soon as possible.

 

By early 1013, Untar’s agents had sufficiently infiltrated Baranur’s Northern Marches that the second part of the plan to destabilize Duchy Dargon could proceed. Also at this time, Untar’s generals had come back to their Emperor with a plan as bold and audacious as it was simple: Baranur would be subjected to a two-pronged attack, the main effort in the south with a strong diversion/raid in the north. The exact details had yet to be worked out, but Untar gave his approval and the armies of Beinison began to quietly mobilize.

 

II

 

Events now began to move rapidly forward as Untar’s agents put the second phase of their plan to destabilize Duchy Dargon in motion. An attempt to assassinate Duke Dargon as Winter drew to a close was a partial success. Though the Duke was not harmed, nor was the secondary target of the assassins, in the confusion of the botched assassination attempt’s aftermath, Beinisonian agents were able to plant documents indicating that Duke Dargon, then in the midst of a dispute with King Haralan over taxes, had been in contact with agents of the Beinison Empire and was prepared to sell-out to Beinison.

 

This fabricated evidence was “discovered” with the “aid” of Baron Coranabo and, in the Summer of 1013, Duke Dargon was summoned to Magnus to be tried before the King on the charge of treason. The evidence was discovered to be false by Baron Luthias Connall, the prosecutor, and that not only was the evidence false, but that Baron Coranabo had been working for Beinison all along.

 

The trial turned into a Council of State, called by King Haralan to determine what action, if any, should be taken against Beinison. As this Council got underway, Baron Connall (now newly-created Count) was sent to Beinison as Ambassador with instructions to negotiate and attempt to puzzle out Beinison’s true intentions towards Baranur.

 

By late Autumn, 1013, the Council had dead-locked on the issue of whether or not to take action. The Knight Commander of the Armies, Sir Edward Sothos, head of the Royal Army, argued, surprisingly, against a military response. He knew the Kingdom was in no state to take on Beinison.

 

All debate was closed, however, when Untar sent an Ambassador to Haralan bearing the head of Luthias Connall as Untar’s answer to what he thought of bringing the crisis to a peaceful conclusion. Haralan ordered a War Council to be struck at once and all through the long winter, the Council debated, and, in a session marked by an assault on the Ambassador from Galicia by political enemies at home that left several guards dead and the Ambassador fled, the decision was taken to go to war and to attack Beinison in the Summer of 1014.

 

During the Winter, Baranur’s Knight Commander, Sir Edward, began sending more and more troops south to meet the threat posed by the armies of Beinison. At full mobilization, Baranur could field 114,000 to Beinison’s 120,000, a figure which gave Sir Edward confidence that Beinison would not be able to defeat Baranur with such a small margin of difference.

 

Baranur’s strength was deceptive, however. Her standing army numbered 42,000, not counting the troops the various nobles could raise on short notice. The Militia, which comprised 50,000 troops, could be raised fairly quickly, but the quality of the troops varied widely, from the battle-hardened and competent Militias along Baranur’s border with Beinison to the very green and untested Militias of the Northern Marches. An additional 10,000 troops could be mustered within a few weeks of an emergency by recalling discharged veterans to the colours, but these troops, too, would take time to get re-accustomed to life under the war-banner. Even given these obstacles, Sir Edward felt confident that all his troops would be fully trained and ready to fight by Summer.

 

Unbeknownst to Sir Edward, Untar had already set in motion the machinery of invasion. Untar’s generals had refined their earlier plan of attack. One hundred thousand of Beinison’s one hundred-twenty would be hurled at Baranur as soon as the snow began to melt from the roadways and the ice began to break up on the sea. Beinison would not wait for the traditional Summer campaigning season.

 

III

 

As the violent storms of late Winter and early Spring coming in off the Valenfaer Ocean began to lessen both in frequency and strength, 35,000 soldiers of the Beinison Empire, including Beinison’s famed elite Light Infantry Regiments, boarded ship and, escorted by the bulk of the Beinisonian navy, headed north.

 

At the same time, 65,000 troops, among them the feared Knights of the Star, crossed the Baranur-Beinison border all the way from the tiny kingdoms of Lederia and Comarr, perched ever-so-precariously between Baranur, Beinison, and Galicia, to the Valenfaer Ocean, driving the unprepared and scattered Baranurian forces before them.

 

In position facing them were the 20,000 troops under command of the Knight Captain of the Southern Marches, Dame Martis Westbrook. During the Winter, Sir Edward had stripped the garrisons of the Northern Marches to send to Dame Martis the reinforcements he knew she would need for the planned attack on Beinison that coming Summer. Winter, 1014, was the coldest, most brutal Winter in living memory and movement in the deep snows and bitter cold had been near-impossible. The result was that when the Beinison invasion force crossed the border, the majority of the 15 Regiments, 15,000 troops, sent south by Sir Edward were not yet half-way to the border, forcing Dame Martis to deploy her available forces in a thin screen that only served to delay the advance of the Beinisonians.

 

Sir Edward, accompanied by the Royal High Magist, Lord Marcellon, hurried south as best he could through the Spring mud in order to make a first-hand assessment of the developing situation. Upon arriving at Dame Martis’ field headquarters near a small crossroads town called Oron’s Crossroads, Sir Edward went into deep conference with Dame Martis and immediately issued orders for the activation of all Militia Regiments throughout Baranur. He also sent word to the local Dukes requesting that they make haste to Dame Martis’ headquarters without delay with as many troops as they could muster on short notice. As well, Sir Edward sent word to Magnus that the Royal Hussars, Baranur’s elite heavy hor se, should make immediate preparations to move south, a clear indication of the seriousness of the crisis.

 

It was at this time that a man, by his dress a noble of high rank, was brought into the headquarters in a state of near-total collapse and close to death. Marcellon examined the man, practicing his healer’s art to try and save the poor unfortunate. It was during this examination that Lord Marcellon discovered, to his utter shock, that the man before him was none other than Count Luthias Connall.

 

Luthias told a tale of being imprisoned, drugged, and tortured. The “head” that those at the War Council thought was his was, in reality, a magical construct of Beinison’s feared mage, the powerful Mon-Taerleor, like Lord Marcellon, a former student of Styles, one of the greatest magicians of the age. Luthias also imparted information he had overheard about the Beinisonian invasion plans. What he related spelled potential disaster for Baranur.

 

Luthias told Sir Edward that 35,000 troops, the very same ones that had boarded ship at Cabildo just as the invasion rolled across the border, were headed north under large escort. Their objective was to land at the mouth of the Laraka River, a vital economic and communications lifeline with Magnus, and to march on the capital, hoping to take the city before sufficient force could be brought to bear to stop them. What Luthias did not know was that the Beinisonian force was to spilt into one group of 20,000, which would march on Magnus, and a smaller group of 15,000, which would sail for Dargon City and use the city as a base from which to conquer the disorganized Northern Marches.

 

IV

 

Sir Edward hurried north, fast messengers preceding him, ordering the Hussars to turn ’round and make for Magnus with all speed. He also sent word of the impending attack on the North to the King, asking that the King order the forces of the various nobles in the Northern Marches to send what force they could to the aid of Knight Captain Sir Ailean of Bivar, who now prepared to face the coming invasion at Shark’s Cove, a port at the mouth of the Laraka, with just over five thousand men.

 

Knight Captain Sir Ailean, meanwhile, drew up his tiny force at what he determined was the most probable landing site for the Beinisonian force, a stretch of beach just north of Shark’s Cove. There he was joined by Lord Morion and a group of five hundred former students from Lord Morion’s warrior school.

 

As the Beinisonian invasion force approached, the Baranurian Fleet of the North, aided by the majority of the Laraka River Flotilla, sortied in an attempt to stop the Beinisonians. The attempt was a failure. Losses were high on both sides. The Baranurians were annihilated and the Beinisonian invasion force landed in safety.

 

Knight Captain Sir Ailean met the enemy literally at the water’s edge, his better-armoured troops succeeding, for a time, in holding back Beinison’s Light Infantry Regiments. Beinison’s greater weight of number ultimately prevailed, however. Knight Captain Sir Ailean perished leading a rearguard while Lord Morion led just over two thousand survivors away from the enemy.

 

Following the north bank of the Laraka, Lord Morion mercilessly forced-marched his troops to Port Sevlyn, a large port-city halfway between Shark’s Cove and Magnus. There, he attempted to convince the Lord Mayor to order the city’s two Militia Light Infantry Regiments to follow Lord Morion and declare Port Sevlyn an Open City in order to spare it from the wrath of the advancing Beinisonians.

 

The Lord Mayor refused, saying he could not give up Duke Quinnat’s home without a fight. He also pointed out to Lord Morion that if the two Militia Regiments stayed in the city, the Beinisonians might possibly be delayed a day or two, time that Lord Morion could use to reach and fortify Gateway Keep, a small military town that commanded the river approaches to Magnus. Lord Morion departed with his troops and the inexperienced Militia Regiments prepared to meet the enemy.

 

Lord Morion had barely departed when the Beinisonians arrived. The Beinisonian commander, General Joachim Vasquez, asked for the city’s surrender, and, when the Lord Mayor refused, ordered four of his best Regiments to attack. To everyone’s surprise, the Baranurian Regiments held off the enemy, though at great cost. General Vasquez attacked again and again, reluctant to commit too many of his troops, anxious that his force not be reduced too much — he still had to reach and take Gateway Keep and then move on Magnus, all before the enemy could mount an effective defence.

 

The increasingly-desperate defenders of Port Sevlyn fought as if they were possessed, holding off attack after attack for the better part of five days. Finally, on the sixth day of the siege, with fewer than 300 out of 2,000 troops left, the defenders were overrun as Vasquez threw his entire force at the Militia Regiments on the city walls.

 

Realizing the danger to his mission the delay the six-day siege represented and the absolute necessity of avoiding a repetition, General Vasquez ordered that half the population of Port Sevlyn be put to the sword in order to demonstrate the penalty for resisting the forces of the Beinisonian Emperor. After slaughtering 5,000 civilians, Vasquez departed after the fleeing Lord Morion, leaving two Regiments in the city as a garrison.

 

Lord Morion, meanwhile, was busily digging-in outside Gateway Keep. Lord Morion and the just-over two thousand survivors of Sir Ailean’s doomed attempt to stop the Beinisonians from landing, arrived at Gateway Keep as the siege of Port Sevlyn was entering its sixth day. Lord Morion’s troops had just completed a march worthy of note as a feat of arms. Ever since the defeat at Shark’s Cove, Lord Morion had driven his troops with unflagging ruthlessness, covering the 550 leagues to Gateway Keep in just over eleven days, an average of 50 leagues a day, an accomplishment that elite troops would be hard-pressed to match, much less a mostly-green force that had fought and suffered a terrible defeat.

 

Giving thanks to every deity he could think of, Morion prepared to move his troops into Gateway for some well-deserved rest only to find that the Keeper would not admit the Royal troops, saying that “this conflict does not concern Gateway Keep”. Furious, Lord Morion made camp and began the construction of field fortifications at the only ford giving ready access to Gateway Keep. Morion knew his preparations were more-than-likely futile, but he was sick of running.

 

V

 

Morion’s troops finished their fortifications certain in the knowledge that the pursuing Beinisonians were, at best, a day away. Lord Morion and the Regimental Commanders did what they could to keep up their troops’ morale and determination to hold the enemy as long as possible.

 

The Baranurians waited three days before their enemy made his appearance. Once again, the defenders faced the Light Infantry Regiments of the Beinisonian army, and once again, the Baranurians held the enemy off, but just barely. When night fell, Morion had lost nearly a third of his strength. He knew he would not hold his improvised fortifications for a second day.

 

As the second day of Morion’s desperate stand dawned, things were happening inside Gateway Keep that were to prove of tremendous importance to those facing the Beinisonians outside. Goren Winston, rightful Keeper of Gateway, slipped into the fortress to confront his brother, Ne’on, who had usurped Goren’s place. Goren found Ne’on to be possessed by a demon or spirit and was forced to kill his younger brother so that Goren might thwart the spirit’s plan and bring Gateway Keep back into the war against the Beinisonians.

 

Outside on his makeshift fortifications, Morion had committed the last of his reserves and knew that the end was near when the closed gates of the keep opened. Morion tried to conduct an orderly withdrawal but his troops, who had faced deepest adversity for so long, finally cracked. Almost as one, the entire defending force broke and ran for the inviting safety of Gateway’s stone walls. The Beinisonians, their discipline intact, pursued the fleeing Baranurians. Barely one thousand survived to gain the protection of the walls.

 

For the next three days, the garrison, augmented by the remnants of Morion’s force, held the enemy off as Gateway was slowly pounded to rubble by the siege engines Vasquez had brought up the Laraka by ship. On the third day, what was left of the defenders were preparing for the final stages of the siege when the Hussars, all eight Regiments, and a small contingent of samurai from Bichu, arrived from the south under the command of the new Knight Captain of the Northern Marches, Luthias Connall.

 

Connall quickly formed his Regiments and threw all eight thousand heavy horse at the surprised Beinisonians. Nearly half the enemy force fell victim to the long, killing lances of the Hussars before Vasquez could affect a retreat.

 

Connall pursued the retreating Beinisonians all the way to Shark’s Cove, where he forced Vasquez to do battle. At the same time as Connall was arriving at Shark’s Cove, the Baranurian and Beinisonian navies were nearing the small port at the Laraka’s mouth, the Beinisonians intent on rescuing their expeditionary force, the Baranurians just as intent on preventing such a rescue.

 

The battle, when it occurred, lasted nearly all day, on land and at sea. The warships of the two navies savaged each other, dozens of ships and hundreds of sailors vanishing beneath the waves. On land, the desperate defenders held off attack after furious attack while the Beinisonian transports began loading troops.

 

Finally, his line threatening to break, the Baranurian navy endangering the transports, Vasquez called a halt to the evacuation and sailed for home. Seeing this, the Baranurian navy made one last attempt to crack the Beinisonian line. The remnants of the Beinisonian fighting navy gallantly put themselves in harm’s way to allow the transports to escape.

 

The battle came to an end, on land and at sea, when Duke Dargon’s flagship and the Beinisonian flagship became locked in battle. The Duke was severely wounded and fell overboard. He was rescued and eventually recovered, though the healers were forced to remove his badly-injured forearm. The Duke’s flagship defeated the enemy flagship and, upon seeing this, the Beinisonian navy’s resolve faltered and the remnants fled for home along with the transports. The Beinisonian troops left on shore fought on for a few bells more until, at sunset, stranded and facing destruction, the survivors surrendered.

 

VI

 

 

The immediate crisis on the Laraka was over. Magnus was safe, for a time, a very brief time, for Sir Edward had received word that a huge army under the direct command of Emperor Untar II himself was approaching the Crown City. The Knight Commander of the Armies sent messengers speeding throughout the kingdom, summoning all who could quickly reach Magnus to the capital’s defence.

 

An army of nearly 20,000 gathered at the capital, preparing to meet the enemy. The enemy they found, however, was not the Beinisonians. For many months, political maneouverings had been underway to get Sir Edward, a Galician, removed as Knight Commander. Most vocal in his opposition to Sir Edward was Duke Northfield, the most powerful of the Great Houses. King Haralan resisted the pressure until, with the bulk of the Beinisonian army bearing down on Magnus, Northfield threatened to take his troops out of the army if he was not given command of the defence of the Crown City. Knowing that Northfield would take not only his personal troops but those of other nobles as well, Haralan reluctantly assented to placing Northfield over Sir Edward.

 

The Baranurians met the enemy on several leagues outside Magnus. Outnumbered two-to-one and out-generalled, the Baranurians were hard-pressed. The end came when Northfield, seeing his flank turned, panicked and fled with his troops. Sir Edward took charge and managed to salvage the situation by getting the bulk of the army away from the field and to Magnus. Severely weakened, Magnus’ defenders manned the walls and prepared for a siege.

 

Not long after the disastrous attempt to meet the enemy outside Magnus’ walls, Connall reached the Crown City with the Hussars and as many foot soldiers as he could muster. These reinforcements brought the defenders’ numbers almost up to what they had been before Northfield’s debacle. Even so, Sir Edward did not hold out much hope. He did not have nearly enough men to properly defend fortifications as large as Magnus’ and moreover, the city was split by the Laraka.

 

Untar’s army arrived at Magnus and made camp. The Emperor was making his final preparations for the assault on Magnus. Untar knew that he could not simply throw his army at the walls, for, undermanned as Magnus’ fortifications were, the city would be a tough nut to crack.

 

Thus it stands. A Beinisonian army in the heart of Baranur with a battle and the fate of a kingdom to be decided …

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