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  1. THE WINTER CROWS: Volume IV; Petyr II - The Ill Written by Demetrius Barrow Petyr II - The Ill "When my students were quizzed on their kings, it was he who eluded their memory most persistently” - A schoolteacher in New Reza on Petyr II It must be said that the tale of Petyr II is more aptly described as the story of the rise of House Ruthern and the fall of House Kovachev. A boy confined to the Mardonic palace, the brief king played no part in the great events of the year 1611, nor could he have. Still, while the king himself may not have been an important figure in his own right, his importance lay in what he represented. To Franz Kovachev, Archduke of Akovia, he was the one threat to the solidification of House Kovahchev’s rule of the north. There had been a time once, generations ago, when it was Jan Kovachev, Duke of Carnatia, who led the men of the north under his banner. A hero of several wars and a revered leader of the Raevir and Haeseni, their line’s progenitor had occupied a greater space than Petyr Barbanov, but he died too soon and without a sufficient heir to take it. Instead, it was Petyr Barbanov and his line, not the Kovachevs, who became the Kings of Haense under John III and were given the entirety of the north to rule. Now, having proven their loyal service first to King Tobias of Courland, then to his son, King Joseph, Franz Kovachev and his family hoped that they would be the next to be given the crown of Hanseti-Ruska. Only Petyr II stood in their way. To Vladrick var Ruthern, regent and cousin of the Count of Metterden, the young Joren var Ruthern, so long as the line of Barbanov lived, there would be hope. His cousin Viktor’s betrayal of King Marus during the Great Northern War had been an unforgivable sin that stained the honor of the proud family, not least because the King of Haense was wed to one of their own. In the autumn of 1607, Count Viktor had gone out elk hunting in the Greyspine Mountains with Vladrick and the captain of the Ruthern household guard, a man named Harren. Vladrick and Harren returned home four days later, claiming that during their hunt Count Viktor had slipped and fallen to his death off of a particularly steep cliff. His body was never found, and Vladrick was made castellan of Metterden and regent for the late count’s son. Petyr II, all the way in Mardon, knew little of what was happening back in Haense at this time. The letters to him were infrequent, but it was not as if he cared much. Born on the 3rd of Harren’s Folly, 1596, to King Marus of Haense and Queen Adelaide vas Ruthern, Petyr Mark emerged into a world that had been shaped by the Coalition War. Heir to a young king ruling over an independent Haense, Prince Petyr hardly had any recollection of his time in St. Karlsburg by the time of his death. The records seem to know a little more now than he did then. As a boy, Prince Petyr inclined more towards his father’s quieter, milder demeanor than that of his grandfather. He preferred to play dolls or household with some of the serving girls, or watch the chefs and bakers in the kitchens and enjoy the sweets they gave him (though he was no glutton). This behavior seems to be the natural product of his sickly condition. Some accounts say that he was bedridden three months every year, more reasonable estimates give two, and the highest claim up to six. He simply lacked much of the strength and will needed to play outside, pretending to be a knight or a lion tamer or an adventurer. Throughout his life, Prince Petyr gravitated towards the softer expressions. The Great Northern War changed Petyr’s life for the worse. While he had been a content, if overshadowed, figure at the court of Ottosgrad, his family’s exile to Mardon made him a curiosity to the courtiers there. The sons and daughters of the Mardonic nobility mostly kept to themselves, but when they did speak to him all they asked about was the home he had lost, how his father had lost it, and what they were going to do now, all questions that the young prince could not answer. It distressed him so greatly that, according to Sir Nicholas Mullen, a knight in the personal guard of House Barbanov, he refused to speak to any others his age for at least a year. This period of shyness subsided by 1605, and for most of his life he remained a quiet, obscure, but present figure in Auguston, dwarfed in all capacities by his father and his brother, Stefan, who was tall, athletic, and charismatic- everything Petyr was not. That said, the young prince was well-regarded and possessed, if not great intelligence, a respectable grasp on most subjects. He was also a fine dancer and often taught his peers how to conduct themselves during balls and festivals, which brought him some small reputation to the court. As Prince Petyr lived in comfort in Mardon, dancing half of his days away and spending the other half trying to ensure that his increasingly-drunken father did not make an embarrassment, new developments were growing back in Haense. Although the Great Northern War had resulted in Tobias Staunton’s control of Haense, cemented by his appointment of Franz Kovachev as governor, this did not mean that the brief war had ended all resistance to Courlanidc hegemony. Prince Otto, the younger brother of King Marus, had served as a cavalry lieutenant in the Battle of Elba and the Battle of Curon, giving him some experience in combat and mobile tactics. The proud prince was incensed at the Peace of St. Karlsburg and those who had signed it, as the following quote, supposedly said by him as he received news of the treaty, proves. "It cannot be that twenty thousand Haeseni should have died in vain. We do not pardon, we demand - vengeance!” He was the only member of the royal family to not follow his older brother into exile in Mardon, even as his wife and young son, who both shall be introduced in his chronicle, joined the royal family. The youthful prince had a taste for combat and a minor following of fifteen men from his cavalry unit. Together, they formed the first guerilla resistance group in Haense, and they spent years attacking Kovachev detachments, raiding caravans from Courland, and recruiting other dissident Haeseni from the towns and villages of the realm. By 1609, this force had grown to three hundred men and women. Try as he might to stamp out this resistance, the Archduke of Akovia could never decisively defeat Prince Otto’s band, even if he triumphed in most minor engagements. Prince Otto and his roving army were not the only ones mounting a resistance. South of the ruins of St. Karlsburg was the Rothswood, a great, dark forest that was hardly settled and used primarily as hunting grounds, best to be avoided otherwise if at all possible. Those who did live there were short, poor, backwards people who survived mostly on hunting and logging. The principal clans styled themselves as lords, but they held no titles and were hardly more than extensive family networks. They swore to Canonism, but also spoke of ‘old gods’ that lingered in the trees, rocks, and springs of the quiet, still forest. Twelve families, principal among them the Tosalis, the Blackwoods, the Dunes, and the Grimrichs, held some authority and lived in mean, cramped manors that were in constant disrepair due to a lack of funds. Some small hamlets sprung up around these manors, creating local centers of power that were mostly overlooked by the authority of the Barbanov Crown. The people of the Rothswood had mostly been loyal to House Barbanov, providing soldiers for war and wood for construction, and were generally left to their ways in return. Archduke Franz and his councilors wished to tax them and bring revenues to Turov that could fund their fight against Prince Otto’s insurgency, so collectors and soldiers were sent to bring order and enforce tax policy. The people of the Rothswood resisted, but as more soldiers were sent in they were forced to scrape through their roughskin sacks to find the coin they needed. All grumbled at this new wave of enforced order from the Kovachevs, whose soldiers and officials treated them as savages, and so they turned to the more powerful clans for guidance. The twelve clans met in secret in the Tosali manor of Mortesviel in the village of Dunarsund, the largest in the Rothswood at thirteen households. Under the leadership of Brynden Tosali, talks of an uprising began in earnest. The final, and most important, of the coming rebels were House Ruthern. With the traitorous Count Viktor killed in 1607, and the quietly pro-Barbanov leadership of Vladrick var Ruthern and Captain Harren now in control of Metterden, a staging ground for a potential revolution was now present. House Ruthern was one of the few vassals to have remained in Haense after the Great Northern War, and while their power did not equal that of the Kovachevs, they were the clear seconds. Most importantly, the Rutherns were an ambitious family, yet they did not allow it to overcome their loyalty. While Franz Kovachev and his supporters had stained themselves with the dishonor of supplanting the Barbanovs in order to return their house to its primacy in the north, Vladrick var Ruthern had no designs to rule Haense. He wanted House Barbanov to retake the throne and for the loyal Rutherns to be the new bedrock of their support. By 1608, he began establishing connections with Prince Otto and the Haeseni exiles in Mardon, although his desire to lead a future rebellion was only implied and never outright stated. Captain Harren of Metterden, c. 1632. Although he had come from humble origins as an executioner’s son, Harren of Metterden found success in the Ruthern guard before he became captain in 1598. A veteran of the Coalition War, Brawm Rebellion, and Great Northern War, he was one of the few men in Haense with command experience by the time of the Greyspine Rebellion Prince Petyr, back in Auguston, was only vaguely aware of the Great Northern Conspiracy from the Mardonic capital. In the words of Ludvik of Vasiland, a clerk in service of House Vanir who had followed them into exile in Mardon, “King Marus, in his sorry state, was thought to be effectively dead where he sat. It was not expected that he would live much longer, nor be fit to rule in any capacity if he did.” Other options would have to be sought after for a future king. Thankfully, himself being a member of the conspiracy, Ludvik of Vasiland gives us insight into the candidates that were discussed as possible figures to be put on the throne of a revived Hanseti-Ruska around 1610. "...The first was the natural heir himself, Prince Petyr. He was by no means disagreeable, but Lord Owyn [Amador, Baron of Mondstadt] thought him too weak-willed to be the face of a rebellion and rule the realm that would be built in its aftermath. These concerns were shared with many, but most came to agree that a regency council would suffice, as he was almost of age. I privately hoped that manhood would turn him into a figure more akin to his grandfather, or even his father, but having known the prince since his earliest days, thought such a transformation would come only from God…” "...The second was the younger brother, Prince Stefan, who despite his age had shown the vigor and spiritedness that his older brother lacked. It was thought by almost all that he would make for a greater king, perhaps since his great-grandfather. Nearly all in contact with us were in agreement, but just before we were to finalize raising the second son to the throne, Lord Otto [Baruch, Count of Ayr], made his protest. By ignoring the elder son, no matter the purpose, we would be setting a poor precedent in the future. King Marus had officially signed away his rights, allowing himself to be bypassed, but Prince Petyr had done no such thing. To crown the younger brother over the elder would be a violation of rights, and this argument persuaded the lords into looking elsewhere...” "...The third was Lord Sergei [Kovachev, Duke of Carnatia]. Although he was not of House Barbanov, he possessed some blood of the line through his father, and he was married to Princess Katherine, herself Marus’s sister. House Kovachev had ruled the north once before, some argued, so why could it not do so again? While this idea gained some favor in the circles of the lords, it too was ultimately rejected. Although it was not his line, Lord Sergei’s kin had betrayed King Marus and made themselves rulers of the north. To replace one Kovachev for another would not sit well in the eyes of many, said the regent of Metterden…” "...Prince Otto and Josef Bihar were also considered, but the former refused, while the latter had a poor reputation. Thus, it was decided that at the conclusion of the rebellion a National Duma would be convened to decide the matter.” With King Marus’s death on the 15th of Sun’s Smile, 1611, Prince Petyr was the natural inheritor of the Haeseni Crown, even if the Courlandic claim on it could be enforced with arms. Although King Peter of Mardon saw King Tobias’s death in 1608 as a perfect opportunity to undermine the authority of the Courlandic government, he refused King Petyr II’s request for a coronation in Auguston. Although King Joseph of Courland was a boy, and the regency council in Aleksandria at constant odds with each other, he felt that the time was not yet right to provoke the wrath of the hegemon. Disheartened at this denial, King Petyr was only resolved to retake his realm by force. By this point, it seems accurate that he was made aware of a conspiracy, if not the exact details of what his uncle, the regent of Metterden, and the exiled lords in Mardon were planning. Believing that the king may accidentally divulge the plot to others by accident, information was kept from him under order from Metterden, which by now had begun to take a far more overt role and had committed themselves to Barbanov restoration. No fool, King Petyr knew that he was being treated as a child, but with no allies in the court of Auguston or back in Haense, he was forced to sit and stew. He no longer attended the balls and parties of the King of Mardon for long, only making a brief appearance at the beginning for the sake of showing courtesy to his host. He also spent long hours walking the ramparts of the palace, away from others. The one person he could confide in was Lukas Vanir, his father’s Lord Palatine. A member of the plot himself, though not necessarily the driving force, the old statesman did his best to try and assure the king that any conspiracy was likely in its infancy, and the lack of detailed information was the result of a lack of formalized plans rather than a concerted effort to restrict access to them. The boy-king seemed to believe this, and he inquired less and returned to courtly life. However, Lukas Vanir, perhaps in the king’s interest, had lied quite immensely. House Ruthern had begun to openly question House Kovachev’s rule of the north. The Archduke of Akovia had resorted to increasingly-brutal tactics to try and counter Prince Otto’s insurgency, most infamously torturing suspected traitors for information and burning villages suspected of harboring fugitives. More often than not, the executed were mere citizens unaware of Prince Otto’s band, and the villages had not housed any army. This only drove more supporters to the rebel prince, which gave Vladrick var Ruthern grounds to accuse Archduke Franz of cruelty and mishandling the insurgency. During the month of Harren’s Folly, the regent made his move. The County of Istria, held by Conrad Roswell, one of the Courlandic noblemen settled in Haense after the Great Northern War, had been subject to several attacks by Prince Otto and had proven unable to defend itself. On the 16th of Harren’s Folly, the Archduke of Akovia had driven off a Barbanov raiding party outside of the town of New Pasnia, the seat of the Count of Istria. He then gave chase to the raiders, hoping to pursue them into finding Prince Otto, over the course of a day. Taking advantage of this, Captain Harren of Metterden led a small force to occupy New Pasnia on the 19th of Harren’s Folly. Although this was officially to protect it from any further raids, Count Conrad protested and in an ensuing fight was killed, thus ending the line of House Roswell. Captain Harren claimed that the Count of Istria had died by accident, and after making many sincere apologies proceeded to occupy the rest of the region and effectively bring it into the fold of House Ruthern. Franz Kovachev knew that the Rutherns intended to replace him- their occupation of Istria was the first test against his authority, quite obviously- but he believed it was so that they could be governors of the north. Where he ought to have seen the beginning of the support for a Barbanov restoration, he only saw naked opportunism, and thus did not believe he needed to risk civil war by using military force. He wrote to the Courlandic regency council and requested that they deal with the insubordination from Metterden, which would allow him to cement his hold on Haense and end all rebellion against Courland’s rule. King Joseph and his council agreed, and soon Count Joren of Metterden and Vladrick var Ruthern were requested to come to Aleksandria to answer for their conduct. It is not known whether Count Joren and his regent knew they were walking into a trap, or if they seriously believed that they could convince Courland to remove Franz Kovachev from his post, but their willingness to venture to Aleksandria with only a small retinue suggests the latter. On the 4th of Sigismund’s End, 1611, they arrived in the capital to seek an audience with King Joseph. There are two different accounts of what happened next. The first, written ten years after the event by Santegian chroniclers, says that Count Joren and his retinue were arrested immediately upon entering the city, as they were met by King Joseph himself and the city guard. Resistance was futile, so none was made, and the Rutherns were dragged into the square of Aleksandria. It was there that Count Joren, only eleven years old, was beaten before cheering mobs. He was then beheaded in the square and his body kept in a raised cage so that any possible rebels would know the consequence of disobedience. Vladrick var Ruthern and the rest of the Metterden guard were allowed to return to Haense with this warning. The second, recounted by King Tobias II of Courland in 1667 to a Haeseni envoy in his court, gives a different series of events. According to Tobias II, the Rutherns were given an audience with the regency council, though King Joseph was not present. During this meeting, the regency council requested that Count Joren return Istria to Archduke Franz and give recompense for the death of Conrad Roswell. Vladrick var Ruthern used his authority as his cousin’s regent to refuse, and instead demanded that Archduke Franz be removed as governor and have Count Joren be named in his place. With both sides refusing to compromise, the regency council eventually called for the arrest of the Ruthern party. They resisted, and in the resulting scuffle Count Joren was accidentally shot by a crossbowman from the city walls. The rest of the Ruthern party was killed or captured, but Vladrick was able to escape and flee back to Metterden. The truth of the encounter does little to change the fact that Count Joren’s death was the final straw for House Ruthern. Although his brother Uhtred officially succeeded him, Vladrick was effectively the Count of Metterden in all but name. He opened talks with a number of mercenary bands, namely the Dunamis Company and the Knights of the Black Sepulchre, both well-regarded, and he began to recruit men and women within Metterden to join the Ruthern levy. While it seemed that he would go into open revolt at any moment, a fact that the Archduke of Akovia was well-aware of, for he hired dwarven mercenaries and began to raise more of his own forces, he did not make his move. Even at full strength, House Ruthern could only raise some two thousand soldiers and Prince Otto had perhaps seven hundred more. It would not be nearly enough to defeat Franz Kovachev- allies needed to be found elsewhere. If there was one thing that King Petyr II did of note, it was in this moment. On the 19th of Sigismund’s End, 1611, word came to Mardon of the death of Count Joren. Believing, as did most others, that rebellion was imminent, King Petyr prepared to make his return to the realm and reclaim the throne of Hanseti-Ruska. Knowing that an isolated rebellion in Haense could easily be crushed by Courland, the king believed that his only chance of victory lay in a general rebellion. He remained in Auguston to try and persuade King Peter into taking up arms against King Joseph, and he sent Lukas Vanir to Lothairingia to try and convince King Hughes d’Amaury of the same. The spark that lit the Greyspine Rebellion did not come from Vladrick var Ruthern in Metterden, nor Prince Otto in the Haeseni countryside. It did not come from a Mardon-backed invasion led by the Haense exiles. It did not come from a general uprising across the Kingdom of Courland. The start of the Greyspine Rebellion came from the one place that all of the conspirators, kings, and rebels had forgotten: the Rothswood. Ignorant to much of what was happening outside of their own lands, and much less Haense, the clans of the Rothswood still chafed under the weight of Akovia’s oppressive taxation. These poor woodsmen were seeing their few coins sent to Turov, and even paying their taxes as required did not result in the despised Kovachev soldiers being recalled. Tired of the brunt of tyranny, Brynden Tosali, the most prominent of the Rothswood leaders, called all of the other clans to his keep of Mortesviel in the village of Dunarsund to discuss what was to be done. Men, women, and children flocked to Dunarsund in the hundreds, far beyond the capacity of the meager village, alerting local officials. When Franz Kovachev received word of this gathering, he mistakenly believed it to be the assembling of an army. Wishing to stomp out what was assuredly a rebel army, he raised an army of three thousand and rode from Turov to deal with the threat. He also demanded another one thousand from House Ruthern to assist him, as he wished to force his enemies to fight one another in the hopes of inspiring hatred among potential allied revolutionaries. Vladrick var Ruthern obliged, seeing opportunity in this folly of a decision, and sent Captain Harren along with the requested amount of soldiers. Franz Kovachev, Archduke of Akovia, c. 1609. A distant cousin of the Dukes of Carnatia, Franz Kovachev possessed the most significant combat experience in Haense by the time of the Greyspine Rebellion. He had fought in every conflict since the War of Orcish Submission, but his reputation as a general was heightened during the Brawm Rebellion On the morning of the 26th of Horen’s Calling, 1611, the combined Kovachev-Ruthern army of four thousand arrived at Dunarsund. The people of the Rothswood had been alerted of their advance hours before by scouts posted throughout the woods, so the elderly, infirm, and children had long been evacuated. Those of fighting age, around five hundred, stayed in the decrepit keep of Mortesviel, filling it far past capacity, where they boarded it up, erected makeshift defenses, and prepared for a siege. The Archduke of Akovia, confident that the poor manor could be assaulted with ease, arrayed his army in columns before it, with his loyal soldiers in the front ranks and the mistrusted Rutherns in the back. He then sent forth Sir Louis de Felsen, a knight sent from Courland to aid him in governing the north, to demand the surrender of the people of the Rothswood. It was here that Brynden Tosali gave his great speech that turned the tide of history against the Kingdom of Courland and began the end of their hegemony over the world. It was recorded in full by his son, Andren Tosali, one of the only men in all of the Rothswood who knew how to read and write. "Men of Haense, hear me now: do you not feel shame? I lost three sons at Elba, an uncle at Curon, and a brother at Vasiland, yet I have not cowered and shamed myself at the feet of these usurpers as the rest of you have! I have not fled east to Mardon neither, for this land is my home and I shall only part from it in death. The Dunes saw their daughters stolen by the bandits that came to plague our realm after King Marus left. The Grimrichs weep for their boy Othor, killed by a man wearing that accursed red griffin for fishing in the wrong stream. The Blackwoods have had their stables burned by soldiers in an act of senseless, meaningless cruelty, and when they asked for just repayment from Lord Kovachev, the traitor who dug a knife into our backs so he could kiss the feet of the Conqueror, he laughed at them. I say no more! If it means my death to stand against this tyrannical rule, then so be it. We of the Rothswood, looked down upon by all, remain the last men and women of Haense. We are Barbanov men through and through, and our fealty to them will never be broken. You will run over each and every one of our bodies- our men, our women, our children, our old, and our young, before a single one of us kneels to another. If any true son or daughter of the north has even the slimmest ray of hope in their dreams, or a thin shred of love for the Barbanovs that have treated them fairer than any other, then rise with me and throw off the pretenders so we may be free again!” This speech was met with mocks and jeers from the Kovachevs, who began to prepare their weapons for an immediate assault on the manor. The disheartened men and women of the Rothswoods, believing that they were the only ones who kept the candle lit for House Barbanov, prepared to die resisting the force of a north united against them. As the Archduke of Akovia gave orders to commence the assault, it seemed that he would soon end any hope of a unified resistance to his rule. What he and his men did not see was that Brynden Tosali’s words had stirred something in the Ruthern ranks behind them. It is not known whether Captain Harren and his contingent had planned on betraying the Kovachevs from the beginning, simply took advantage of the opportunity they had been given, or had serious reservations about making battle the far larger Kovachev force until the Tosalis speech and the resistance of the Rothswood clans shamed them into action. What is known is that the cry for them to rise up against the usurpers of the Barbanovs marked their turn into open rebellion. As Archduke Franz and his soldiers marched forward to storm Mortesviel, they heard shouting and the clash of steel from their rear. Captain Harren had given the order, and the Ruthern spearmen had begun to pummel into the Kovachev line. The First Battle of the Rothswood lasted under an hour. Stunned at the betrayal from the Rutherns, even if they ought to have expected it, the first lines of the Kovachevs broke and fled. By the time Archduke Franz had managed to turn his ranks around to meet Captain Harren’s smaller force, Brynden Tosali and the Rothswood clans had sortied from the manor and attacked his army from the other side. Caught between the two, more fled. By mid day, the archduke knew that victory was out of reach, as half of his original army had fled, so he gave the signal to retreat and retired in good order to Turov. The battle had not been particularly bloody, with perhaps one hundred total having fallen, but it marked the start of the Greyspine Rebellion and was a sound victory for the rebels. Word of this victory spread through Axios as fast as news of the destruction of Johannesburg had sixteen years earlier. A new war was to be fought, and it seemed the side that opposed Courland had now gotten the upper hand. The Dumanis Company and the Knights of the Black Sepulchre signed contracts with House Ruthern in the days after the battle. A new alliance between House Ruthern, Prince Otto, and the clans of the Rothswood was formed, and it was called the Greyspine Coalition. The regency council in Courland was just as shocked to hear of their loyal governor’s defeat. They began to raise an expeditionary force to send to Haense to assist Archduke Franz, but they informed the governor of the north that it would be some time before it could be assembled and sent. He was told that, as he still possessed numerical superiority, his orders were to go on the offensive and box the rebellion in at Metterden. By the time the Courlandic army arrived, they would be able to assist him in the siege. Archduke Franz was humiliated at his defeat and pledged revenge against the Rutherns for their betrayal. Luckily for him it was not crushing, so he still had the opportunity to regain his lost honor and reestablish control over the north. He promised to eradicate the line from existence and have the heads of all of the family put on spikes above Turov. He called for all of the vassals of the north to raise their levies and join him. As most were Courlandic lords who had been settled there, they agreed and joined the archduke in reinforcing the army of Akovia. Lukas Vanir was in the court of King Hughes of Lothairingia at this time in his mission to recruit the proud monarch into a pan-Axios rebellion against King Joseph’s rule. The haughty king flatly refused these overtures, but the old Vanir was insistent and spoke at length about it in the court of Metz. Word of the First Battle of the Rothswood reached the Lothairingian court two days before a letter from the King of Courland addressing this new rebellion. The King of Lothairingia was ordered to assemble an army to assist the Archduke of Akovia in defeating the Greyspine Coalition, as he would be able to assist the Kovachevs sooner. King Hughes agreed and imprisoned Lukas Vanir as a display of loyalty, then called for one thousand knights and squires of Lotharingia to assemble in Metz so they could march to aid House Kovachev. In Mardon, King Petyr was jubilant as he heard the news of this great victory. Knowing that the time to make his triumphant return was now, he requested a coach be prepared to take him and some of the exiled Haesnei lords to Metterden on the 2nd of Owyn’s Flame. However, the day before they were scheduled to depart, a violent fever incapacitated the king. The next day, sores and rashes appeared over his body and he had a terrible cough. A day later, he slipped into death’s brink and was entirely unresponsive. The King of Mardon sent his best doctors to try and alleviate the King of Haense’s symptoms, but despite their best efforts they did not subside. Sickly and frail all his life, the measles that had come so suddenly to the boy ravaged him within days, and he never awoke from the coma it inflicted upon him. King Petyr II died in the evening of the 7th of Owyn’s Flame, 1611. He was fifteen years old and had ruled Hanseti-Ruska just shy of four months, although he had not set foot in the north for the entirety of it. There would be no triumphant return for King Petyr, no great war to see his throne taken from the Courlandic usurpers. That work would have to be done by the living. King Petyr was buried the next day, the 8th, in Auguston, to a crowd of just a few hundred, by far the smallest of all Barbanov burials. The service was short, with some prayers and words given, but the eulogy by Duke Sergei of Carnatia was concluded with some touching words. "He, like all of us, wished to return home. To see the land that he loved. To avenge his father’s loss and the betrayal he suffered. It is the duty of us now to ensure that all those who have dreamed for our kingdom’s return, yet not lived to see it, will not have died with dreams made in vain. Let King Petyr be the last man of the north to be buried in a southern grave.” The hope of the exiles in Mardon rested on the rebels in Haense, scattered and diverse as they were. Franz Kovachev had assembled the full strength of Akovia, and a thousand knights and squires from Lotharingia, with King Hughes at the forefront, were riding to assist him. Vladrick var Ruthern and Prince Otto met in Metterden on the 10th of Owyn’s Flame and joined their armies into one, which was put under the command of Captain Harren. The clans of the Rothswood assembled their own warbands to support the rebellion. The rest of the world watched the events in the north with held breath, anxious to see what would come of this, for if the Gresypine Rebellion failed, then Courland’s strength would be assured for a generation. The final battle between House Ruthern and House Kovachev would not just decide the fate of Haense- it would decide the course of history itself. Dravi, Petyr II ‘the Ill’ 3rd of Harren’s Folly, 1596-7th of Owyn’s Flame, 1611 (r. 15th of Sun’s Smile, 1611-7th of Owyn’s Flame, 1611) O Ágioi Kristoff, Jude kai Pius. Dóste mas gnósi ópos sas ékane o Theós. Poté min afísoume na doúme to skotádi, allá as doúme móno to fos tis sofías kai tis alítheias. O Theós na se evlogeí. The reign of Stefan I shall be covered in the next volume of The Winter Crows.
  2. MC-Name: Nectorist RP-Name: Numerian Visaj Persona-ID: 50172
  3. THE WINTER CROWS: Volume III; Marus I - The Unfortunate Written by Demetrius Barrow Marus I - The Unfortunate "The only thing that stood between the Conqueror and us is now a frost-covered ruin.” - Lukas Vanir on the Siege of Johannesburg The last thing a kingdom on death’s door needed was a boy upon the throne, so believed the weary men of Haense in the autumn of 1586. The monkey’s paw curled and their wish was granted: Marus I was too young to sit on the throne of Ottosgrad. Little can be said of the mere year and a half of Marus Andrik’s life that came before his sudden ascension to the throne in the wake of his father’s abdication. Born on the 12th of Owyn’s Flame, 1584, to King Andrik II and Queen Reza alongside his twin sister, Princess Katherine Aleksandra, Marus was fated to only have his brother, Otto Heinrik (b. 1586) as a true familial companion. The king would spend the early years of his reign claiming to have fond, vivid memories of his father as they played and laughed. In vivid detail he could describe being bounced on his knee or fed mashed peas from a gilded spoon. Near the end of his life, the drunk and depressed king admitted that he did not have a hint of a memory of his father. While there is not much to be said of the king during his earliest years, there is far more of the kingdom he reigned over and the men who truly governed it. His uncle and regent, Prince Karl Sigmar, himself only twenty, faced the impossible task of bringing Haense back into the Imperial fold in the aftermath of the Deep Cold Uprising. To assist him were the elderly, but respected and trustworthy Fiske Vanir and the mistrusted, but powerful and rich Sergei Kovachev, Count of Turov. The former had aided in brokering a peace while the latter had been instrumental in overthrowing Andrik II and bringing an end to the rebellion. Few others could be remotely trusted. Brynden Vanir, Marquis of Vasiland, was said to have been broken by his liege’s execution and the removal of his hand. He was unfit to sit on the council as he slipped into madness. Demetrius Ruthern, Count of Metterden, had betrayed his old friend in order to save his vast estates and properties. Although he claimed to not regret the deed, he soon developed a severe melancholy and refused offers to serve on the king’s council. Ruslan Amador, Baron of Mondstadt, reeled from the confiscation of many of his lands and pledged vengeance against the Rutherns and Kovachevs. Princess Juliya had departed the kingdom to wed Charles Martin, Baron of Wett, a bastard son of the former Emperor, John II. Queen Reza was despised by everyone. Outside of the capital, the rifts from the uprising remained. Families who had remained devoted to King Andrik’s rebellion quarreled with those who had joined Count Sergei’s counter-rebellion. These embers were not yet fires, but with the rebellion generally having been a bloodless affair, the passions of inflamed men and women could not be stoked by any loss they had suffered. The higher lords did their best to keep order but did not always do so fairly, nor always with great speed. To make matters worse, there was no stable head of the Empire who could see matters through. The Year of the Four Emperors had brought another boy to the throne, Emperor Philip I, who was far too concerned with ensuring the Empire’s strong image was still projected abroad to discourage outside opportunists from testing its depleted strength and questionable unity. His Archchancellor, Prince Leopold, was frequently in the Westerlands to settle the region. Prince Karl would find little help from the Imperial Crown, but it at least enabled him to act with some independence. The first order of business was disbanding the many militias and levies that were scattered about the realm. Alongside the Imperial Legion garrison, which numbered around five thousand soldiers, another four thousand, mainly the personal armies of the Haeseni lords, family retinues, and town guards, remained mobilized. No fighting among them had erupted, but Prince Karl wished all the same to prevent the possibility of it. On the 4th of Horen’s Calling, 1586, the regent announced that all non-Legion soldiers were to stand down and return home. Some grumbling came from those made to lay down their arms, but there was no serious resistance. Next came the necessary reconciliation with the nobility of the realm. Those who had supported King Andrik’s rebellion abominated the regent and his council for their betrayal of the late king. Those who had opposed the rebellion resented the Emperor for the cruel and humiliating execution of the late king. It was here that Fiske Vanir proved his worth, for he had incurred no great disdain from either faction due to his neutrality, so he was best-fit to spend the rest of that year traveling around the realm to ensure that peace was kept and the law was upheld. An uneasy stillness fell over the realm for the next four years. The regent and his advisors performed ably in managing much of the daily administration while repairing many of the fractures in Haeseni society. Some resisted, such as Hektor Brawn, a minor lord in the service of House Kovachev, who had been an ardent supporter of Andrik II and feuded with his liege over his betrayal of the Deep Cold Uprising. Others, such as Ruslan Amador, Prince Karl’s father-in-law, returned to the central government to continue their service. Sergei Kovachev’s death in 1589 was the first significant blow to the regency. He had been a strong ally to Prince Karl and had spent nearly all of his time in St. Karlsburg, leaving the management of Turov and his other estates to his son, Henrik, who came to succeed him. Although he had followed in his father’s footsteps in opposing King Andrik’s rebellion and promised to maintain his loyalty to king and Emperor, Henrik Kovachev spent more focus on growing his estates and turning Turov into a city that rivaled the capital. To appease the new Lord Kovachev, Prince Karl granted him the Duchy of Carnatia, returning the title to the family it had initially belonged to. Contented, Duke Henrik also accepted the position of Lord Chancellor and began to split his time between Turov and St. Karlsburg. Fiske Vanir died soon after in 1590. Aged sixty six, he was the last of the great lords who had fought alongside Petyr I throughout his wars of unification. The kingdom mourned greatly for the former Lord Protector of the Carnatian League, but none more than the regent himself. Lord Vanir had been a most capable man whose wisdom was heard by almost all. There was no replacement for him. Part of what made Fiske Vanir’s death such a loss for the kingdom was due to information that the Haeseni Crown had been receiving from the Imperial administration since the spring of 1589. By then, Philip I was nineteen and of age to rule on his own. Owing to his status as a third son, he had been untrained in the craft of ruling an Empire, and by the time of his ascension he had grown too arrogant and prideful to heed advice from anyone besides his Archchancellor, Prince Leopold of the Westerlands. What he lacked in knowledge he far made up for in ambition, and he desired to complete his father’s conquests. Through the reigns of John I, John II, and John III, the great enemies of the Empire had been conquered or at least greatly reduced. All that stood by the spring of 1589 was the Kingdom of Urguan. The Urguanites had been encouraged by King Andrik’s rebellion in 1586, but its quick failure and the subsequent strengthening of the Emperor’s authority struck fear into their hearts. Knowing that a unified Empire would turn its eyes towards them for conquest, they had begun to give lands to the snow elves and the orcs, openly inviting many enemies of House Horen while engaging in more furtive talks with others. Spies of the Nauzican Brigade had informed Emperor Philip of these migrations, which stood in clear violation of the terms signed at the end of the Eighteen Years’ War. By 1589, he had informed his vassals that preparations for war against Urguan were being made in order to finish his father’s work. Crownlanders, Haeseni, Savoyards, Westerlanders, and Lothairingians would join ranks for the first time since the War of Orcish Submission. Even the elves of the Dominion of Malin were called to follow the Empire in what was to become the final great war, that which would unite the continent and stamp out all threats to the forces of order. The regent and his council did not take the news well. Their king was not yet five and thus far too young to lead an army. Prince Karl was not a military man and had only fought in a minor skirmish in his brother’s uprising. Count Sergei was dead, Duke Henrik was too old, Marquis Brynden had gone mad, and no other lords either possessed the necessary experience or commanded the necessary respect to lead the army. Only Fiske Vanir had both, and therefore he was chosen to lead the Haeseni contingent when it came time for the invasion of Urguan. That is why his death in the middle of 1590, mere months before the invasion was set to begin, was so devastating for Haense’s fortunes. With no other options, Prince Karl reluctantly assumed command of the Haeseni host. On the 20th of Owyn’s Flame he called all of the banners of the realm to join him. The crow of Barbanov, the Griffin of Kovachev, the Mountains of Ruthern, the Bear of Baruch, the Wolf of Vyronov, the Cross of Amador, the Elk of Pasquier, and dozens of other standards and sigils fluttered proudly in the cold northern winds as an army seven thousand strong marched south to meet with the Imperial Legions and other assembled armies of the Empire. Only the Sea Serpents of Vanir were not present, for they had been tasked to guard Haense’s eastern border with Urguan, as Emperor Philip’s invasion was to take place through the south where resupply from the Crownlands would be easier. The details of the movements, battles, and other actions of the infamous Coalition War (1590-1595) shall only be described in the most general of terms, and only as they bear some relevance to Haense. The history of the Johannians is to be left to others. On the 2nd of Tobias’s Bounty, 1590, Philip I led an army of forty five thousand into the Kingdom of Urguan and towards the great Mount Gorgon, where the Dwarven-Snow Elven-Orcish army or around thirty thousand awaited them. After several days of maneuvering, battle was made on the 9th. With Prince Leopold of the Westerlands, a reliable general, holding actual command, the battle was well-fought and eventually won over the course of ten hours. The enemy army was scattered and fled to the keep atop Mount Gorgon. Prince Karl and the Haeseni had not necessarily distinguished themselves in the fight, but they had not brought shame either. Stunningly, Emperor Philip chose not to follow up on his victory, even against the advice of his war council. Prince Karl, knowing little of strategy himself, wrote to Duke Henrik calling the Emperor’s decision a “...foolish choice that is the natural consequence of someone of his disposition having authority over the direction of his campaign.” While the regent’s bewildered thoughts were not shared to his fellow commanders, they are now shared with historians who continue to debate the reason behind the Emperor’s withdrawal. The army disbanded for the winter of 1590 and did not reconvene until well over two years later. It was another great strategic blunder by the Imperial high command, but it did allow Prince Karl to return home something of a hero, as crowds gathered in the Haeseni capital to warmly welcome their countrymen back home. In a small ceremony, the young King Marus named Prince Karl the Count of Bihar, though it took at least four attempts for him to say the words correctly if the account of Adam of Friedland, the political theorist, is to be relied upon. By this point, King Marus, who has been quite absent from his own history, was grown enough that some details of his early life begin to appear in the sources. With much of the leading nobility off on campaign with his uncle during the Coalition War, the king’s upbringing was mostly left to his mother, Queen Reza, and aunt, Princess Tatiana. With the former an enemy of most of the kingdom and the latter busy with her own children, King Marus was raised far better than one could expect. In between her infamous fits, his mother taught her son letters and numbers by herself, and the constant gaggle of priests in Castle Ottosgrad filled in the gaps of his knowledge. Try as he might to remove the queen’s influence from her son, Prince Karl rarely had the time or availability to see that his orders to keep his hated rival from the king were enforced. Many of the traits that King Marus became known for manifested in his early days. He was quiet and dutiful, and on one occasion, according to Adam of Friedland in 1592, “... so upset Father Dmitry with his silence during his tutoring, much like I was at his age, that he was instructed to scream from the window of his room each night so loudly that all of the capital would think him a wolf howling at the moon, much like I did after eating the red mushroom in the Cave of Enlightenment. He did as instructed, and each night the town heard his howl. He remained soft-spoken, much like myself, but was no longer an unresponsive pupil.” He was also prone to fixations on oddities, as Father Harald of Turov noted in 1597: "His Majesty has become enthralled with the movement of caterpillars along the ice that gathers at his windows that he has kept a great many in a glass container that he made. One side of it is dirt, the other is ice. He watches the movements of the caterpillars on the two surfaces and takes note of the differences that he spots. He informed me a week ago that he intends to build a container that can fit fifty two different surfaces so he may note the differences for each.” He had a fondness for eating so ceaselessly that he grew rotund at a young age and remained that way until the end of his life. While never bloated or incapable of walking about the city or riding a horse, he was portly and stout in stature. Kitchen payment rolls confirm this, as he hired culinary experts from across Axios to sate his curiosity for exotic delicacies. Other bills of purchase show that, on average, he spent nearly three percent of all Crown revenues on food by 1599. Despite Marus’s apparent happiness, which was well-noted, as he truly loved his mother and the priests of the castle and spoke fondly of them even in later life, the Empire continued to fall into a habit of repetitive mistakes. After his abortive invasion of Urguan in 1590, Emperor Philip planned to march on orcish lands, which lay far to the east and were a mere cluster of tribal huts and wooden forts strewn about inhospitable lands that the dwarves readily settled the Krugmarian Horde on. There was little value to the conquest of these lands, but none could dissuade the Emperor, who cited a desire to put an end to orcish slaving practices, from his decision. Unfortunately, the erratic Imperial government had caught wind of a plot against the Emperor led by Jon Renault de Savoie, Duke of Savoy. The Savoyards had long been enemies of the Crownlands and House Horen since the time of the assassination of King Guy de Bar, but had mostly been obedient since the Taxman’s Conspiracy in 1546. Why the Duke of Savoy chose now to oppose the Emperor, or to what degree a true plot existed at all, is still a matter of historical debate. What is important to Haense is that this investigation took the greater part of a year, with Philip I himself suspending the invasion so that he could personally partake. Meanwhile, across eastern Haense and the northern Crownlands, dwarven and snow elven raiding parties clashed with border garrisons, fanning the flames of ire and malcontent. By the end of 1591, the Emperor made the belated decision to summon the Duke of Savoy to Johannesburg to personally affirm his fealty to the Imperial Crown. On the 28th of Tobias’s Bounty, Jon Renault arrived with his retinue, but he refused to bend the knee and assaulted the throne room of the Palace of St. Adrian in an attempt to kill Philip I. The attack failed and the Duke of Savoy was executed. The Duchy of Savoy was officially dissolved and partitioned, with the Archduke of Lothairingia receiving the titular Duchy of Savoy and Prince Peter Sigismund, second son of the Emperor who was mere months old, being given the former Savoyard lands under the Duchy of Mardon. The Savoyards did not appreciate being dispossessed of their lands, nor did the execution of their duke sit well with them. They entered into open revolt against the Empire and pledged themselves to the Urguanites as they rallied under the banners of Houses de Savoie, d’Aryn, and Crast. Undeterred by this, Philip I informed his vassals that the planned invasion of Krugmar would continue. By the end of Godfrey’s Triumph, 1592, the great hosts of the Empire, save that of Savoy, had reunited in Johannesburg and set off from the capital in a great parade. Little to the Emperor’s knowledge, much had changed over the past year. The death of a minor, childless nobleman in Lotharingia, John Vimmark, had led to disputes among those eyeing his many properties. The specifics of this may be skipped, but it is important for the student of Haeseni history to know that Tobias Staunton, son of Duke Alexander of Courland, he who so bitterly opposed the Carnatian League in the Riga War and the Empire in the Krajian Rebellion, came into possession of the tiny castle of Ostwick. What was not tiny was the amassed following of Courlanders that he was now leading, and in a great ruse he took possession of this castle and from it proclaimed the birth of the Kingdom of Courland and promised to topple the Empire. Few regarded this upstart’s proclamation seriously, save Prince Karl. As a son of Haense and Petyr I, he knew well the danger that Courland could pose. He urged the Emperor and his council to abandon their plans against Krugmar and instead march to take Ostwick, but he was ignored. Ever-dutiful, he did not protest and swiftly returned to his soldiers, though not without a great pit in his stomach, fearing that the worst was to come. Prince Karl Sigmar, founder of the Bihar line of House Barbanov and regent for Marus I, c. 1592 Had they listened to Prince Karl, the Imperial high command may have avoided the disaster of the Battle of the Gorge, fought on the 12th of Sun’s Smile, 1593 in a hot, arid mountain pass into the desert lands of Krugmar. With just under forty thousand soldiers at their command, the Emperor and Prince Leopold felt confident in their chances of victory, for the army they faced was a motley assortment of thirty thousand dwarves, snow elves, orcs, Courlanders, and Savoyards under the command of Tobias Staunton. Marching towards a small orcish war camp, the Emperor confidently announced to his soldiers that victory would be had and the orcs subjugated again. Mere minutes after his speech, the sights of the banners of the Axionite Coalition were spotted by freeriders. Tobias Staunton, the greatest general of his age, was far more than a match for any of the Imperial commanders, even Prince Leopold. With the gorge serving as a funnelneck, he was able to negate the Imperial manpower advantage while his orcish soldiers conducted flanking maneuvers and threw boulders from the sides of the ravine. After a few well-timed avalanches, the Imperial army was in disarray and began fleeing from the battlefield. It was here that Prince Karl, fateful in his early predictions, fell during the rout. Despite never wishing to be a soldier like his brother or father, the regent of Haense no doubt made them both proud. The last eyewitness accounts of him unanimously agree that he stayed behind with the Barbanov house guard and the levies of House Kovachev to delay an advancing Courlander division to buy the rest of the Imperial army time to escape. Legends have it that Tobias Staunton and Prince Karl personally dueled on the battlefield for fifteen minutes before the former cut down his dynastic enemy, but there are no sources to attest to this. Most likely, the Count of Bihar, who had dutifully served his brother, then his nephew, all without sedition, corruption, or complaint, died anonymously on the field of battle with the thousands of other Imperial soldiers. His body was never recovered. The impact of this great defeat cannot be overstated. The tide of war had now shifted decisively in favor of Tobias Staunton’s coalition, and the vassals of the Empire began to wonder if victory could be achieved. Haense, far from the east where most of the campaigning was being done, had far less to fear, but that is not to say there was no suffering. Of the seven thousand that marched from St. Karlsburg, five and a half thousand returned, and of those few had emerged from the battle without injury. The regent had died, as had many other young noblemen, and the only man who could fill this void, the Duke of Carnatia, had lost almost all of his own levy. King Marus, still only seven, had little comprehension of the scale of this defeat. When news of the defeat at the Battle of the Gorge arrived in Haense, the streets of the capital flooded with tears of despair. Despair turned to mourning as the army returned by the end of Harren’s Folly, bringing with them the bodies of the dead and wounded. In a surprising turn that was uncharacteristic of him, the young king chose to walk the streets with his mother and talk with the children whose fathers and mothers had been casualties of the battle. It was a touching gesture from a king who possessed great kindness, yet was rarely one to express it so outwardly. In this time of uncertainty and trouble, it was perhaps the most effective act anyone could take to ensure the crown’s stability, for he earned the adoration of the people of Haense with that deed. The Duke of Carnatia immediately took control of the government and was named regent. Despite possessing little military experience himself, the dire circumstances abated much of the animosity towards him from the nobility and people of Haense. He quickly formed a new army of around six thousand and prepared to join the Imperial Legion in the march on Ostwick. After his great defeat, Emperor Philip decided to heed the advice of the late Prince Karl and eliminate King Tobias’s seat. A new offensive was announced for the spring of 1594 and preparations were made accordingly. Unfortunately for Philip I, it was a decision made too late. By this point, King Tobias was drawing support from all corners of the world, and his army only grew while the Empire’s shrunk. When rumors swirled about the now-paranoid Emperor Philip that Archduke John of Lothairingia was planning to join the coalition, he effectively made the choice for the man by ordering the Imperial garrison in the Lotharingian capital of Metz to take over the city and arrest any and all traitors. This simply drove the Archduke d’Amaury and most of his nobility into the arms of King Tobias, who welcomed them eagerly and turned his armies towards besieging the Imperial-held Metz. Now, in the beginning days of 1594, only the Crownlands, Haense, and the Westerlands, numbering some twenty five thousands, marched against King Tobias, his army just under forty thousand strong, in order to relieve Metz. This next campaign fared little-better, as at the Battle of the Goldfields on the 12th of Sun’s Smile, the Imperial army suffered yet another great loss. Unlike the Gorge, this was a severe and irrecoverable defeat, not just a mere setback, for over half of the army was dead, wounded, or captured. The Haeseni had disgraced themselves during the battle as their cavalry was thrashed by the Savoyards and their infantry on the right broke and fled at the climax of the battle. Duke Henrik returned to Haense after the battle to try and alleviate the political situation back home. It was evident to all that the war had been lost and the Empire would soon fall to King Tobias and his great army, which only grew by the day. The regency council of Mardon managed to flee Johannesburg with Duke Peter in hand, where they made peace with King Tobias and swore fealty to him. The Westerlands and many of the Crownlands vassals were released of their oaths by the Emperor. The Dominion of Malin withdrew their armies from Oren and signed a peace treaty with the coalition. By the end of Sun’s Smile, only Haense remained as part of the Empire, but this too would come to change. On the 26th of Sun’s Smile, though dates ranging from the 15th to the 31st are found in sources, the Kingdom of Hanseti-Ruska was released from its vows to the Holy Orenian Empire by Philip I, marking the first period of Haense’s independence. Peace was quickly made with King Tobias, who promised Duke Henrik that he only cared about taking Johannesburg and the Imperial Crownlands. It was to Haense’s fortune that peace had been made so soon. Only four thousand of their six thousand strong army returned to the north alive, and had they been in Johannesburg in 1595, the war’s final year, they would have perished in the thanium explosion that Emperor Philip had set to ensure that he and the capital were destroyed before they were conquered by the coalition. While Haense was now independent, free to chart its own course, the price had been dear. Thousands had died in the war, no outside aid could come from the networks of the wider Empire, and there was no protection to be had against an ascendant Courland. By good fortune, Tobias ‘the Conqueror’ held to his word, as instead of turning against Haense he sailed south to conquer the Imperial colonies on Asul. By 1598 he had completed this and had his capital, Aleksandria, constructed there. Quite ill-fittingly for the occasion, and a matter that is of great misfortune to any historian, it was decided by the higher nobility of Haense that King Marus needed to be wed despite still being a youth. His mother protested on the grounds that he was far too young, but the decision was made to have him marry Adelaide Ruthern, daughter of Count Demetrius of Metterden. This match was most likely made due to the Ruthern’s vast business empire and the wealth they extracted from it, though the destruction of Johannesburg had eliminated a critical market. Due to the costs the Royal Crown incurred from the war, they needed to secure funding to pay off their debts, which could be done through a hefty dowry on the part of House Ruthern. The wedding was held on the 5th of Harren’s Folly, 1595. Lady Adelaide, only a year older than her to-be husband, bawled and nearly ran from the cathedral, but was pulled back in by her father. The king was similarly pale, and looked to be close to vomiting, but he kept his composure and proceeded with the ceremony. Despite the intention of it being a happy occasion, one to forget the horrors of the past five years, the many empty seats in the temple, left for the missing in the hopes that they would arrive, could not be obscured, nor could Queen Reza’s utter disgust. The wedding was performed quickly and without splendor, and a large dinner, but no great feast, came after. The king was still young, but was now of age to begin some of his more formal tutoring and training on how to fulfill his duties. This began with learning many of the ceremonies and traditions that he would have to partake in as king. His coronation on the 12th of Tobias’s Bounty, 1595, served as a practical lesson for him. Despite being only nine, and accompanied by his mother during the somber ceremony, the boy-king held himself well and showed no signs of fear or shyness as he was crowned. According to Adam of Friedland, this soon changed as King Marus was taken back to his room hours after the ceremony, where he held his collection of seashells to his chest to calm his nerves. The next great challenge in his life came with his mother’s death in 1596. Deprived of a father at an early age, Marus I had always looked towards his mother for guidance and advice, even if she was not the most learned. A great void overtook the boy’s large heart, and it would never be filled. He stayed locked in his room for a week in sorrow, refusing food, water, or the presence of anyone. When he finally did emerge, he only attended the necessary functions he needed to as king, and only consulted with the Duke of Carnatia over some matters of state, which he had begun to show a greater understanding of. Records also have it that, despite their youth, the royal couple had their first child, Prince Petyr Mark, on the 3rd of Harren’s Folly, less than three weeks after Queen Reza’s death. He was a sickly child and the nurses feared he would not survive the night of his birth, but by the morning his crying still rang through the halls. Although this author would suspect that the official accounts are flawed or tampered in some manner, and Petyr Mark’s birth actually came some years later, there are no means of verifying this. The good news of his son’s birth did draw the king out of his reclusiveness, but it did nothing to bring him near his queen. Their marriage was not as volatile as his mother and father’s had been, but it was cold, distant, and almost forgotten. Queen Reza’s protests were no doubt true: married too young, King Marus and Queen Adelaide were simply unready and unprepared to play the role meant for them. The birth of the couple’s second son was the last known instance of any interaction between the two. Again, according to doctor’s records, Prince Stefan Karl was born just over a year later on the 15th of Godfrey’s Triumph, 1597. Far healthier than his older brother, it is said by the nurses that he tried to bite everyone who held him when he was born. Another legend has it that when he was born, two birds descended from the sky and flew through the nursery window of the Castle Ottosgrad. The first, a mourning dove, landed on the cradle of Prince Petyr. The second, an eagle, landed on the cradle of Prince Stefan. For three days and three nights the birds perched over their respective princess, motionless as they did not sleep, eat, or drink. On the fourth morning, the nurses entered the room to find the mourning dove dead by exhaustion and the eagle gone. A painting of a mourning dove by Carolus Wallis, a painter sponsored by King Marus, who was known to be a patron of the arts, c. 1599 It must also be noted that in 1597, Demetrius Ruthern, Count of Metterden and father-in-law of the king, took his own life. He had betrayed his oldest friend in order to keep his vast empire of businesses and properties, many of which were lost with the Coalition War. The guilt of such a decision no doubt weighed heavily upon him. His son, Boris, just a boy, succeeded him. Despite the mild happiness the birth of his two sons brought, further challenges plagued the king’s rule. House Brawn continued to be a thorn in the side of Turov, and with the virtual destruction of the Kovachev forces in the Battle of Goldfields, what had begun as petty insults hurled at soldiers turned into bolder confrontations and attacks. With the feud with the men of Houndsden turning deadly, the Duka of Carnatia resigned his post as Lord Palatine and regent in order to return to Turov to deal with the situation. To succeed the capable duke, in 1598 Lukas Vanir, the mayor of St. Karlsburg, was named Lord Palatine and regent by the council. Already sixty five by the time of his ascension, Lukas Vanir had served Haense since before the kingdom’s formation, as he had fought alongside his brother, Fiske Vanir, through all of Petyr I’s wars. Although he had accrued a good reputation as the commander of the levy of House Vanir and as an officer in the War of Orcish Submission, he had mostly been an obscure figure until his unexpected victory in the St. Karlsburg mayoral race of 1592, which saw his only competitor withdraw after a stunning defeat in the first debate. As mayor of the capital, Lukas Vanir oversaw the expansion of the city’s tax base, guard force, civil officials, and welcomed thousands of refugees from Johannesburg and other parts of the Crownlands, settling them in the suburbs and farmsteads surrounding the growing city. As an experienced soldier and a successful administrator, the new Lord Palatine began implementing new policies to strengthen Haense. House Brawn’s unruliness reflected the same decentralization and disunity that plagued the Empire in its darkest hours, and Lukas Vanir had no intention of seeing Haense meet the same fate. Under the express permission of King Marus, the Lord Palatine embarked on a centralization campaign that saw the destruction of over seventy two prominent towns and villages across Haense and the resettling of those populations either in and around St. Karlsburg or Turov, which was too large to be dismantled. This was met with outcry from the Haeseni vassals, but Lukas Vanir had gambled that little resistance would manifest, given the general complacency of the lords of Haense and the fear that weakening the Barbanov Crown would invite Courlandic intervention. This gamble mostly paid off. To the surprise of few, least not the Lord Palatine, the Brawns of Houndsden, who themselves owned two middling villages, resisted. Brawn men went beyond Turov and began to cause commotion within the capital, which often ended in arrest or expulsion after a brawl. Although open rebellion was not yet their option, it was an open secret that Reeve Brawm, son of the late Hektor Brawm, was maintaining contact with the King of Courland, as the latter sent his nephew, Meric Staunton, to monitor the situation. Meric Staunton, the official emissary of King Tobias, was an ill-liked man in Haense, and his presence in the court of Ottosgrad was likened to an Imperial agent. He was a persistent advocate for House Brawm, and he frequently implied that to weaken the Brawn’s would not be seen favorably by Courland. As Courlandic narratives allege, the Lord Emissary’s championing of the Brawm cause was met with hostility by the people of Haense. On the 10th of Harren’s Folly, 1599, he was slain by the Haeseni Minister of the Interior named Diedrik Barrow who, despite not having been seen by anyone else in St. Karlsburg that day, was labeled as a known conspirator against Courland by King Tobias and his officials. Lukas Vanir did not believe any of this for an instant, and he urged King Marus to allow him to draft an accusation in response, for he believed that Prince Maric had been assassinated by agents of the Conqueror in order to give himself justification to launch a punitive invasion against Haense. In one of the few disagreements he had with his trusted Palatine, and an early display of his growing resolve, King Marus refused, and instead calmed the situation by writing back to King Tobias and offering apologies and the return of his nephew’s body. Deprived of a casus belli, the King of Courland was forced to accept and delay his invasion of Haense lest it come across as naked aggression. The date of the assassination of the Duke of Carnatia is imprecise, dated at either 1599 or 1600. While official Haeseni history puts Henrik Kovachev’s death at the 15th of Owyn’s Flame, 1600, and the Siege of Houndsden from the 29th of Owyn’s Flame to the 25th of Tobias’s Bounty, 1600, recent discoveries may put 1599 as the correct year. This mainly comes from rolls of conscription from House Vyronov dated to 1599. Given the quickly-assembled army and the brief siege itself, there would be no reason why House Vyronov’s forces would have had to be assembled for a whole year. This author shall use 1599 as the official date, but it must be noted that this contradicts official narratives. Returning to the narrative, the assassination of the Duke of Carnatia, the infamous deed occurred on the 15th of Owyn’s Flame, 1599, as stated previously. He was visiting the capital at the time in an effort to appeal to the Haeseni court and request a formal intervention against the Brawms, who were now outright raiding farmsteads sworn to the Kovachevs. Much like Meric Staunton months before, Henrik Kovachev’s body was found on the streets, and sources confirmed that the men who drove daggers into his back wore the hound of House Brawm. The assassination of the former Lord Palatine only furthered the realm’s collective outrage against the Brawms. They had barely tolerated their raids and overtures with the King of Courland, but assassination, especially one they took no care to hide, could not go unpunished. Even the normally peace-loving King Marus was in agreement that House Brawm presented a clear internal danger for the kingdom and needed to be dealt with forcibly. On the 17th of Owyn’s Flame he formally stripped them of all lands and titles, named them traitors to the realm, and ordered the Lord Palatine to raise an army. The Kovachevs, most desiring to enact revenge against the Brawms, were the quickest to answer the summons. Duke Sergei, Duke Henrik’s successor and the husband of Princess Katherine Aleksandra, King Marus’s sister, was still a boy. Franz Kovachev, his distant cousin and a known rogue, was given the rights of regency by the family and allowed to lead the armies of Turov. Without waiting for the Crown’s assistance, he and a force of one thousand Kovachev soldiers marched against the Brawms and scattered their disunited raiding parties. By the time Reeve Brawm could consolidate his forces and order a retreat, Franz Kovachev had killed or captured two hundred rebels. Outmatched and knowing that soon the armies of Haense would gather, Reeve Brawm retreated to Houndsden and sent frantic letters to the King of Courland asking for assistance. By the 29th of Owyn’s Flame, 1599, the Kovachev armies invested the Brawm keep and put it to siege. Over the next weeks, Lukas Vanir directed the various lordly levies of Haense to Houndsden to join the besieging army and led the Barbanov host himself. He arrived by the 10th of Godfrey’s Triumph, and by the 12th of that month the Haeseni army numbered around six thousand, while the Brawms had only eighteen hundred to their ranks. With the royal army growing in number by the day, Lord Brawm knew that his only hope was Courland’s intervention, and so his letters continued in fervor. However, the Lord Palatine had suspected that the Conqueror may try and make his play while the bulk of Haense’s forces were distracted. Fortifications along Haense’s southern border were built and manned by an additional two thousand men. His concerns were well-placed, as on the 20th of Godfrey’s Triumph a small Courlandic party, led by Prince Svenald Staunton, father of Prince Meric and Chancellor of Courland, was seen scouting the border between the two kingdoms. He made no incursion, no doubt due to the reinforced defenses. With no assistance from Courland, and now against an army of nearly ten thousand, Reeve Brawm could hold out no longer. On the 25th of Tobias’s Bounty, 1599, he surrendered unconditionally to Lukas Vanir and the rest of the Haense army. In all, some two thousand Brawms were killed or captured during the brief rebellion. Thirty Kovachev soldiers were killed or wounded, while one levyman from House Pasquier was killed by a stray arrow shot from Houndsden. The Lord Palatine’s handling of the siege was masterful, and both House Barbanov and House Kovachev had regained some of their lost honor from the Coalition War. King Marus initially wished to spare the men of House Brawm and exile them from the realm, but the Lord Palatine fiercely argued that they needed to be put to death. After nearly a week of debate within the royal council, King Marus relented and gave permission to his trusted regent to execute all of the principal leaders of the rebellion. King Marus, though not having participated in any of the fighting due to his age, had observed the Siege of Houndsden from a safe distance and thus was given official credit for the victory. In honor of this, a feast was thrown in St. Karlsburg at the beginning of the year 1600 to mark both that and the new century. Despite their victory over the Brawms, the king and his Lord Palatine knew that it did not mean peace would last long. It was evident that Courland had favored the Brawms and were poised to intervene on their behalf. On the 8th of Sun’s Smile, 1601, King Tobias himself along with Prince Svenald arrived at Metterden to meet with King Marus and Lukas Vanir. The summit, ostensibly to avoid war, did anything but. King Marus accused King Tobias of fomenting rebellion within Haense to weaken the realm, King Tobias belittled King Marus for his age, the Lord Palatine questioned why Prince Svenald had an army stationed in the desolate lands of the former Orenian Crowlands, and Prince Svenald said that the return of his son’s body did not go far enough in terms of reparations from Haense. News of this meeting could not be kept from spreading, and soon the peoples of Haense and Courland clambered for war with the other. By the spring of 1601, it seemed that only King Marus and the Lord Palatine wished to avoid war, for both were keenly aware of the ruin it would bring. Few followed their train of thought, though, and soon border skirmishes began to take place between Prince Svenald’s army and the soldiers of House Ruthern. King Marus urged his brother-in-law, Count Boris of Metterden, to exercise caution, but he did not command a cessation of hostilities. It seemed that even the peace-loving king had resigned himself to the fact that war was inevitable. He quietly authorized the Lord Palatine to begin strengthening the defenses of the realm and to bolster the Barbanov army. The point of no return was reached on the 12th of Sigismund’s End. House Ivanovich, vassals under the Duke of Carnatia, were among the fiercest warhawks in the kingdom. With Duke Sergei still just a boy, unable to exercise proper control, and his regent, Franz, occupied with other matters, the Baron of Godansk, Otto Ivanovich, sent his brother, Arpad, with twenty men to capture Princess Annabelle of Courland, daughter of Prince Svenald. The mission was successful, and on the 4th of Horen’s Calling Arpad Ivanovich and his men returned with the Courlandic princess in chains. Having lost one son to Haense, and now faced with losing a daughter, Prince Svenald intensified his attacks. Towns and farms were raided and burned, caravans were seized and plundered, and access into and out of the kingdom from the south was prevented. King Marus tried to order the Baron of Godansk to release the Courlandic princess so that war could be prevented, but these attempts were half-hearted, for he had not the will to oppose what all of his vassals desired. He made a final attempt to broker some peace on the 5th of Godfrey’s Triumph, 1601, by sending his brother-in-law, Count Boris of Metterden, to Aleksandria. Before he could even reach King Tobias, Lord Ruthern was seized outside the gates of Courland’s capital and beheaded to a cheering crowd. The worst had come out of his entreaties, and King Marus and the Lord Palatine faced little other option. The king was now sixteen, and with the end of his regency there was no excuse for inaction or the perception of weakness from him. On the 13th of Tobias’s Bounty, 1601, he sent King Tobias an ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of all Courlandic armies from the Haeseni border, reparations for Count Boris’s murder, a formal apology from the Conqueror, and the promise to never encroach on Haeseni sovereignty again. Although an ultimatum such as this was almost certainly what the King of Courland wanted, the King of Haense had no choice but to issue it. A depiction of lightly armored horse archers in the Haeseni army, c. 1602. Units such as these were unfortunately rare in a war that demanded Haense pursue innovative strategies Unfortunately for those who wanted war, Haense was ill-prepared for it. The cream of the nobility of King Andrik’s generation was now mostly dead, and left behind were young, unprepared sons. Furthermore, King Marus’s early ascension had created a barrier of sorts between him and his principal vassals. A crown prince was able to meet with the lords and ladies of the realm without the burdens and duties of kingship, something that, as seen in the previous volume, King Andrik used to great extent. King Marus never had that opportunity, and while he was well-liked, he had never built the close relationships needed to instill undying loyalty among his subjects. Lukas Vanir had tried to compensate for this through his centralization programme, but by 1601 it was only partially complete. The disastrous consequences of this were evident by the summer of 1602, far before King Tobias and his army reached Haense. Viktor Ruthern, Count of Metterden and younger brother to the late Boris Ruthern, rose up in revolt against the King of Haense, fearing the dispossession of his family if Courland achieved victory. Franz Kovachev was next, as he took power from Duke Sergei and named himself Duke of Carnatia, with many of his supporters being former Brawn soldiers and vassals. He also declares in favor of King Tobias, no doubt hoping to benefit from the war. Other vassals of Haense remained formally loyal, but when the Lord Palatine summoned the kingdom’s banners, only ten thousand had rallied in St. Karlsburg. Some were engaged around Metterden and Turov, where civil war had effectively broken out, but others simply refused the call to arms. The kingdom’s shortcomings in diplomacy were also exposed by the Great Northern War. The Kingdom of Lotharingia, the Kingdom of Mardon, the Kingdom of the Westerlands, and the old vassals of the former Imperial Crownlands all chafed under Courlandic domination, but none had close ties with Haense. Inquiries were sent to all to gauge interest in a great rebellion against King Tobias’s rule, but all were denied. Some volunteers from the Kingdom of the Westerlands and the Kingdom of Mardon came, and in all three thousand from outside of the realm joined King Marus’s cause, but when word came that King Tobias had hired the same number of dwarven mercenaries what brief hope this gave was diminished. On the 4th of Horen’s Calling, 1603, word reached Ottosgrad that King Tobias and an army of over twenty thousand had landed in Tahn and were marching north. Agents of the Haeseni Crown also notified the war council that thousands more were being trained and prepared to reinforce the main host. With this information in hand, the Lord Palatine concluded that the best chance at victory was meeting King Tobias’s army as quickly as possible before more troops could be added to his ranks. With the Courlandic army defeated, Haense could then turn back and deal with the rebels in its own ranks who, despite the initial shock of their uprising, had failed to gain much ground since the previous year. With Lukas Vanir in command, the Haeseni army, numbering around thirteen thousand, marched south to face King Tobias’s army of twenty thousand. As they left the streets of St. Karlsburg, cheering crowds sent them off, elatedly believing that a great victory over the despised Courlanders was soon to come, and the yoke of tyranny would be overthrown. King Marus, though only in nominal command, joined the army as well, and as he led the banners of his fractured kingdom to meet the Conqueror, he was hailed by his subjects for his bravery and defiance. A few weeks later, the two armies met on the plains west of the ruins of Johannesburg in the former Imperial Crownlands. After a few days of maneuvering and skirmishing, with neither side wishing to make the first assault, King Tobias finally arrayed his army on the 5th of Godfrey’s Triumph, 1603, and prepared for battle. The Battle of the Elba proved as disastrous as Lukas Vanir had feared, and stands as one of the greater defeats in Haeseni history. Outnumbered greatly, the Lord Palatine hoped that the quality of his cavalry could make up the difference, as despite the disparity in the two armies, their cavalry wings were similar in number. If the Courlandic knights under Prince Svenald could be driven from the field, he would have better control of the battlefield. For this task, he gave his nephew Brynden Vanir, Marquis of Vasiland, he who had stood by King Andrik in the Deep Cold Uprising years ago, his full faith. With few other subordinate commanders of merit, the Lord Palatine himself, seventy years old, donned his armor and prepared to lead the infantry. His competence in military matters did not keep the Lord Palatine from making a woeful mistake in choosing the Marquis of Vasiland as his commander of cavalry. Far from the dashing, bold knight that he was in his early youth, Brynden Vanir’s failures in his rebellion with Andrik, which led to his beloved friend’s death and the loss of his hand, had broken him. Never a match for Prince Svenald, Lord Vanir had no hope of ensuring the victory that his kingdom desperately needed, and it is here that historians question the Lord Palatine’s judgment, with accusations ranging from nepotism to incompetence, though it is more likely that he was desperate for anyone with command experience and turned to the one of the few men who possessed any of it. Regardless, this choice meant that the battle was decided in its first moments. As the three thousand Haeseni riders came thundering towards the four thousand Courlandic knights, the infantry in both ranks held their breath. The shine of armor glowed brightly that morning as one, two, then three passes were made between the cavalry units. Charge and counter-charge came from both sides, but within ten minutes the Marquis of Vasiland, fearing that the battle was already lost, fled the field. It is said that he did not stop riding until he had reached the safety of Haense. With their commander fleeing, confusion swept through the Haeseni cavalry as other units began to chase after the marquis. Ten minutes after Brynden Vanir’s flight, the banners of the many lords and knights of Haense either fell to the ground or disappeared in the forest going north. What few remained pulled back behind the safety of the infantry, who themselves braced for impact as the Courlandic cavalry, hardly bloodied, made their advance. The main host under King Tobias followed slowly, and three units of infantry spread out, moving to envelop the Haeseni army. At this point, it was known that the battle was lost. King Marus was advised to flee with his retinue and he obliged, making for the safety of his kingdom. The Haeseni infantry met the Courlandic riders boldly, and for some time held firm, but as the Conqueror and his own foot troops arrived, this resistance turned for the worse. Being surrounded on three sides, thousands of Haeseni broke and fled, and those who remained were captured or killed. The Lord Palatine saw the futility in remaining, so he ordered a retreat to those who could and withdrew from the battlefield himself. Others were far less fortunate. Caught between the three prongs of the Courlandic army, thousands surrendered. The scattered pockets of resistance were mopped up, and within an hour of the opening engagement King Tobias had thoroughly routed his northern foes. Some four thousand Haeseni were captured, with another five thousand killed, wounded, or missing. Two hundred Courlanders had been killed during the fighting, and another thousand had been injured. The victory was so complete that King Tobias needed little time to rest his army, and the march north resumed. To circumvent the Haeseni border defenses, King Tobias struck a deal with the King of Urguan to allow his army free passage through the dwarven lands. Instead of south, where Lukas Vanir had assumed the Courlanders would strike, he and King Marus received panicked messages from the Marquis of Vasiland on the 7th of Tobias’s Bounty, 1603, that the Conqueror’s army was coming from the east. With the remainder of his army, now numbered some six thousand five hundred after emergency conscription, the Lord Palatine raced north to try and reinforce Vasiland before King Tobias could get there. He was not quick enough, though, and on the 16th of Tobias’s Bounty, he arrived to see twenty four thousand Courlanders, dwarven mercenaries, and Ruthern and Kovachev levymen. The Siege of Vasiland was another sorry affair in what had been a disastrous war so far. Brynden Vanir, with a garrison of some five hundred, had little hope in repulsing the Courlandic army, so he attempted to surrender to King Tobias in order to keep his lands. According to Adam of Friedland, Princess Tatiana, the marquis’s wife and King Marus’s aunt, did not wish to suffer the stain of dishonor for surrendering, and threatened to fall on her sword if her husband capitulated to the enemy. When the marquis still attempted to surrender, his garrison, inspired by his wife’s words and not wanting to betray their kingdom, threw their cowardly lord over the walls and onto the spikes below. Thus ended the life of a man who showed great promise, much like King Andrik, but had not been given death at the height of his dignity, and thus squandered his second chance at life with disgrace. Despite this initial encouragement, the death of the Marquis of Vasiland did little to affect the final outcome. Lukas Vanir was simply unable to break the Courlandic siege lines to get to Vasiland, and the defenders of the keep could not hope to break out. By the 2nd of Sigismund’s End, 1604, King Tobias started making preparations for the final assault. On the 9th, he divided his army into two. Seven thousand under Prince Svenald would assault the keep, while seventeen thousand under himself would engage the Haeseni host under the Lord Palatine. The Battle of Curon came on the 11th of Sigismund’s End, 1604. Facing impossible odds, King Marus and his loyal Lord Palatine both knew that the coming fight would be for honor, not for victory. With no cavalry, the royal army formed into pike squares to ward off the Courlandic riders. Their hope was that, if Vasiland could hold, they might be able to fight the main army to a standstill and force some of Prince Svenald’s men to be sent to the battlefield, depriving him of available units to assault the walls. At first, this strategy bore some fruit, as the five thousand Courlandic horses were unable to break the pike squares and some hundred were killed trying. This did not last long, as King Tobias withdrew them and brought over three trebuchets and ten ballistae that were being used in the assault of Vasiland. He turned this siege weaponry on the exposed Haeseni squares, which made for east targets, and had his artillerymen fire at will. A great cascade of bolts, rocks, and other projectiles slammed into these pike squares, killing a great many. The Lord Palatine ordered his men to hold their ground despite what came, and so they did. This show of bravery was only temporary, and when the Haeseni army saw the flags of Courland being raised over Vasiland in the distance, the bulk of the army simply dropped their weapons and surrendered. King Marus, Lukas Vanir, and a handful of other noblemen and personal guards managed to escape the field and flee back to St. Karlsburg, but the whole of Haense’s army had been destroyed. Two thousand were killed in both the Battle of Curon and the Siege of Vasiland, while the remaining five thousand were taken captive. Six hundred Courlanders were killed or wounded in the simultaneous engagements. No loyal army was left in Haense, and the path to the capital was undefended. In the span of a few months, King Tobias had thrashed Haense and destroyed its army. Courlandic raiding parties scoured the realm, rebels in Turow and Metterden took control over large swathes of the kingdom, and a blockade placed by Courland deprived the kingdom of many of its necessary food shipments. Bread riots broke out in St. Karlsburg as the hungry populace demanded an end to the war. By the 11th of Horen’s Calling, nearly all of Haense had been subjugated by the Courlandic, Ruthern, and Kovachev armies. As the Conqueror and his host, nearly twenty thousand strong, marched towards the capital, King Marus and Lukas Vanir agreed that they had no choice but to make peace. The Peace of St. Karlsburg, signed on the 13th of Horen’s Calling, 1604, stands as the greatest humiliation in Haense’s history in what was its darkest chapter. The Kingdom of Haense was formally dissolved and all lands and titles of House Barbanov were stripped. Franz Kovachev was named Archduke of Akovia and became Governor of the North for a Courlandic kingdom that now spanned the size of the former Empire. The royal family was sent into exile in the neutral Kingdom of Mardon, and nearly all vassals of the realm, save the rebellious branches of House Kovachev and House Ruthern, joined them. Those properties held by the exiles were confiscated and doled out to King Tobias’s supporters. King Tobias had one final blow to deal to his northern foes. On the 18th of Horen’s Calling, all citizens of the capital were forcibly removed from the city and told to either depart for the countryside or remain outside the city walls. A procession was held where King Marus and the royal family, forced inside carriages, were paraded outside of their home as they made their way south to Mardon. Adam of Friedland writes: "The many thousands who gathered wept openly as the young, sorrowful king pressed against the glass windows of his finely-decorated cage. Women and children huddled together for warmth as a great snowfall, fitting for an occasion as hopeless as this, set in. Try as they might to return to their homes for food, fire, or additional clothing, the soldiers guarding all entrances to the city refused to let them pass. After nearly an hour, the king’s carriage, and the golden crow mounted above it, became obscured in the distance. It was then, as we all turned back to return to our homes, our tears frozen to our cheeks, that we found the city had been set ablaze. Columns of smoke and great forests of fire overtook the city. Some screaming figures ran in, trying to rescue children, household objects, or anything else, but as the cold fire raged for hours few returned. By the time it subsided, leaving a husk of what was once St. Karlsburg, an officer of King Tobias Staunton’s army came before us all and announced that we must relocate to Turov or any other settlement in the realm.” King Marus did not witness the destruction of his city, but two hours into his carriage ride south, he was informed of King Tobias’s revenge for what had occurred at Riga some forty years earlier. He cried out in dismay and attempted to turn the cart around, but Lukas Vanir urged him against it. There was nothing he could do now, and to return could mean his death. With great reluctance, the young king buried his face in his arms and silently relented. A few weeks later, he and his entourage, comprised of the Barbanov family and most of the Haeseni nobility, arrived in Mardon. For the remaining seven years of his life, King Marus, who never ceased to call himself King of Hanseti-Ruska despite the terms of the Peace of St. Karlsburg, was kept in comfortable confinement. Allowed to walk freely around the palace of Auguston, the home of King Peter of Mardon, Marus contented himself with dining and hunting with fellow courtiers, many of which included the former nobility of Haense, as well as occasionally venturing out into the streets of Auguston to mingle with the commonfolk there, earning their devotion and love as he had back in St. Karlsburg. Although he never forgave himself for the loss of his kingdom, and forever pined for a return to his old home, he seemed far more at ease now than he ever had been. It was also at this time that he was able to spend time with his family, which he had been in great want of during his rule, for he rarely had an occasion to do so. While never the wisest father or brother, he was loving and devoted as he could be given the circumstances: he simply had not been allowed to be anything but a king, eternally detached from those below him despite his desires otherwise. Princess Katherine Aleksandra would later remark that she would trade Haense again for the few years she was able to spend with her brother. The two spoke at length about the arts, which both shared a passion for, and with their wealth they sponsored a number of painters, musicians, sculptors, and playwrights in Mardon. King Tobias even allowed them to send some of their funds back to Haense to promote creators of art there, and they happily took that opportunity. The only one of his family he could never reconcile with was his wife, who died unhappily in the autumn of 1609 from a wasting disease. King Peter of Mardon had declared his independence back in 1601, but due to his realm’s poverty and small army, King Tobias had mostly ignored this in order to focus on the greater threat in Haense. With that now dealt with, he turned his attention back to the rebellious Mardonites. In 1607, King Tobias and his army returned to Mardon to conquer the final realm that still resisted his rule. Much of the kingdom was overrun throughout the year, despite the many Haeseni volunteers that bolstered the floundering Mardonite army. On the 15th of Godfrey’s Triumph, 1607, the Conqueror culminated his final campaign at the Battle of the Blackwater, where he thoroughly thrashed the rebel army and forced King Peter to return to the Courlandic fold. In the fighting, Count Eirik of Ayr and Baron Hughes of Laval perished. Watching the battle some leagues away from the ramparts of the palace, King Marus lost heart as the last hope for resistance against the undefeated Courland died on the fields of the Blackmarsh. Over the past years, he had received many letters from loyalists within Haense begging for their king’s return. Franz Kovachev was a cruel, abusive governor who confiscated properties at will and filled positions of authority with loyal relatives. With the rebuilt Kovachev army, he had Haense under constant surveillance and brutally crushed any hint of rebellion through violent action, warranted or not. King Marus’s heart broke as he heard of the plight of his former subjects, but he feared that returning to Haense would only start an unwinnable civil war that would see the realm be thoroughly destroyed by the Conqueror and his limitless armies. Some relief would come to King Marus, who was slipping into a great depression by this time despite his earlier spirits. On the 12th of Tobias’s Bounty, 1608, a year after his final war, King Tobias Staunton died after a long fever. The feared Conqueror who had brought the world to his heel was dead, and now he would no longer be the great foe to all civilized humans that those of the former Empire regarded him as. His successor, his son Joseph, was young and lacked his father’s natural charisma and intelligence. The regency council that governed the realm in his name had great difficulty keeping the overextended Courlandic empire together. There was some hope that a general uprising would overthrow Courland’s power, but it did not come. All that came were letters for King Marus from his old subjects, still pleading for him to return and throw off the Archduke of Akovia’s tyrannical rule. Despairing at his inability to anything but watch the world he knew change for the worse, King Marus took to heavy drinking. His health deteriorated over the next years, as did his mood, and by the winter of 1610 he was bedridden. King Peter of Mardon sent his finest doctors and surgeons, but his condition did not improve. On the morning of the 15th of Sun’s Smile, 1611, the King of Haense stirred some, sparking hope in those around him that he was on the road to recovery, but it seems to have been a last gasp at life. Fifteen minutes later, he was dead. He was twenty six years old and had ruled Hanseti-Ruska for fifteen years, with seven of those spent in exile. As he was laid to rest in the graveyard of Auguston, a sizable crowd came, though it numbered in the hundreds, not the thousands as had been the case for his father and grandfather. Still, the spectators grieved as was owed to the young king, and Lukas Vanir, his loyal, capable Lord Palatine, gave a final eulogy. Some of it has been preserved today: "Although he may go down in history as the king who lost Haense, I can only hope that his goodness and generosity exonerate him of that flaw. It was by no fault of his own that he was born into a fractured realm, in an Empire on the brink of destruction, and facing forces of destruction that consumed all. Our’s is a cruel world, as our present state has made clear. It is not a world meant for kind young boys to sit a throne, or young maidens be forced to be mothers before they are ready, yet still these evils manifest. I desire a means for a change of this order, even if the outlook for such a remedy to our human condition is bleak, for it will mean that Marus Andrik would have been able to play with his siblings in the halls of our now-burned Ottosgrad, or been a valiant knight trained with other squires his age, or have been able to learn the methods of rulership so he was prepared for its harsh reality when he ascended to the throne. It is a great tragedy that fate gave him no such opportunity as all children ought to have.” Most tragically of all, King Marus had died mere months before the war to liberate his homeland was launched in earnest by those who had not forgotten him. Resistance to Franz Kovachev’s harsh rule was only growing, and House Ruthern was prepared to avenge the grave sins they had committed against their late liege regardless of the consequences they may face. Although none knew it yet, the coming war between House Ruthern and House Kovachev to decide the fate of Haense was nigh. Dravi, Marus I ‘the Unfortunate’ 12th of Owyn’s Flame, 1584-15th of Sun’s Smile, 1611 (r. 3rd of Sun’s Smile, 1586-15th of Sun’s Smile, 1611) O Ágioi Kristoff, Jude kai Pius. Dóste mas gnósi ópos sas ékane o Theós. Poté min afísoume na doúme to skotádi, allá as doúme móno to fos tis sofías kai tis alítheias. O Theós na se evlogeí. The reign of Petyr II shall be covered in the next volume of The Winter Crows.
  4. Demetrius Barrow writes back to Amleth van der Grendok. "I am only a passive reader of the histories of the Novellens and leave the study of the dynasty to my esteemed contemporaries. However, as a proud Haeseni and a student of the history of my people, I find that, ironically, in attempts to denigrate the Novellen line in the name of rewriting the historical record, one simply heightens the perceived importance of that dynasty. The agency of a people may be expressed in numerous capacities: free of slave, subject or master, great or petty. Let the Novellens of Balian celebrate their history as the Barbanovs of Haense celebrate their own. And where the two may interact, let us scholars celebrate the opportunity to parcel through the complex narratives that flow throughout the expansive story of our shared human history. Your address is a most correct one, and for it I commend the bravery of your position, for denying the historical record prevents our ability to critique it and learn from it for our shared betterment."
  5. "It is a blight upon our time that no peoples can define their essence, their justification for being, unless it is in relation to an entity that bounds out of living memory as a deer does from a field that has little left to offer. Who are we? What are we? What may we be?" Demetrius Barrow asks Milena as the two share cold tea in the melting square of Valdev. @JoanOfArc
  6. Sir Joseph Vasile, laying dead in an Almarian ditch, is certainly pleased by this account as he reads it in the high heavens.
  7. Come on, to our homes

    Let's march back,

    to free our people from the tyrants,

    because only tyrants need to wage wars.

    I want to be a soldier of freedom.

    I want to be a soldier of freedom!


  8. THE WINTER CROWS: Volume II; Andrik II - The Soldier Written by Demetrius Barrow Andrik II - The Soldier "It was done for honor.” - Brynden Vanir, Marquis of Vasiland on the murder of Emperor John IV Although short and ultimately ill-fated, the bold escapades and daring life of Andrik II have made him one of the best-remembered early Kings of Haense. Born in the waning days of the Riga War on the 11th of Sun’s Smile, 1564, to the newly-made Duke Petyr of Haense and Elizaveta Ruthern, Andrik Otto was now the infant heir of a man whose fortunes only seemed to be rising. Not to be alone, his sister Julyia Katerina (born in 1565), brothers Karl Sigmar and Heinrik Petyr (born in 1566), and youngest sister Tatiana Aleksandra (born in 1567) provided him with constant companionship throughout his life. In addition, the young heirlings Brynden Vanir and Demetrius var Ruthern, his peers, would also come to be close friends and confidants. It was doubtless a good thing that the young Andrik was able to grow up with a number of siblings and courtiers close in age. His mother’s death in childbirth in 1567, and his father’s duties both to Haense and the Empire, meant that the abatement of loneliness required youthful companionship. That being said, the Duke of Haense was by no means inattentive, and there are plenty of accounts of him overseeing some of his son’s tutoring, taking him on hunts and visits to vassal lords, and the occasional game of hide-and-seek around Ottosgrad Castle. Although never inclined to scholarly pursuits, Andrik was a bright pupil, and was especially well-versed in arithmetic and geology. One account from Alric of Rytsburg, a tax collector in the service of House Vyronov, dated to 1574, makes mention of a rock collecting habit formed by the young heir, which eventually manifested in a friendly rivalry with his brother Karl. Both would set out from St. Karlsburg at first light and not return home until dusk, whereupon they emptied out their bags and compared the minerals they had gathered that day. Quick to anger, and never one to back down from a fight, the boy’s warrior instincts were also apparent from his earliest days. Taking the role as his siblings’ defender, he came to challenge any insult or blow to body or honor towards he or his siblings. One notable incident came in the winter of 1576, where it was recorded in the ledgers of St. Karlsburg that packs of hungry dogs had taken to roving around the outside of the city, attacking livestock. A rare break in the heavy storms and snowfalls encouraged Juliya to venture beyond the walls, wanting to escape the monotony of being holed up inside of the city. However, not far outside of the city, a trio of ravenous dogs began to chase her, as the girl was small enough to be their next meal. Andrik, hearing his sister’s cries for help, rushed outside of the city walls, armed only with a stick, and fought viciously to protect her. She was able to escape and alert a few guards who drove off the dogs. The boy had been bitten nearly thirty times over, which left him bedridden until that next spring, but the sound of laughter could be heard throughout the halls of the keep as the grateful Juliyana kept him company until he had recovered. Such a protective spirit was not only afforded to his family. His good friend, Demetrius var Ruthern, the heir to Metterden, was said to be a mild-mannered boy who was inclined to numbers and words more than fists and sticks. Alric of Rytsburg writes of Andrik’s intervention during an encounter between Ruthern and Franz Kovachev, a poor relation of Count Sergei of Turov: "The wicked Franz [Kovachev], a known scourge of priests, tutors, and courtiers, the leader of a gang of ruffians, took to throwing rocks at the boy Demetrius Ruthern after the latter, said to have inherited his uncle’s clumsiness, had accidentally knocked over a statue in the gardens. Despite being pelted with large stones, enough to draw blood, the boy kept where he was, hurled into a ball. It continued for a few minutes until Prince Andrik, having heard the commotion, charged into the garden grounds and attacked Kovachev and his ill-doers. Despite his royal status, the boy was severely beaten by the gang, though Demetrius was able to escape and warn the guards. For their crimes, the lowly Kovachev and his fellow delinquents were exiled back to Turov, not to set foot back in St. Karlsburg under threat of hanging.” Around the age of twelve, two years before his father’s ascension to the throne of Haense, Andrik was sent to Vasiland to be squired to Marquis Fiske Vanir, one of the staunchest supporters of House Barbanov. Little is known of his time in Vasiland, though tales from a fisherman, recounted through his sister’s friend to Ugo Amadi, an Illatian merchant who often docked at the port near the region, says that Andrik’s natural talents as a soldier became apparent during this time, and by the age of fourteen he was the finest swordsman in Vasiland. His confirmed knighthood in 1578 in Imperial rolls attest to this, as he had achieved in mere months what took most men his age years. His close friendship with Fiske’s son, Brynden, is also attested to at this time. Both were cut from the same cloth- brave, reckless, and honor-driven. A fine soldier in his own right, Brynden’s skill at arms was second only to Andrik’s, though he lacked much of the latter’s tactical acumen and natural charisma. Despite this, he too was well-regarded, and the pair, along with Demetrius var Ruthern, were said to be promising young men and suitable successors to their fathers. 1578 also brought the Duke of Haense’s fortunes to their greatest heights when he was named King of Haense by his good friend and liege, Emperor John III. Now the princely heir to a great realm of the Empire, the newly-knighted Andrik was recalled to St. Karlsburg to fulfill his duties. Haense had entered a period of flourishing, as its elevation in standing had coincided with the end of the Krajian Rebellion, which stimulated economic activity and brought many newcomers to the northern kingdom who wished to make their own fortunes in the blossoming realm. Prince Andrik, now officially at the age of majority, was tasked to settle many of the kingdom’s new frontier lands with villages and forts. For the better part of a year he worked with local lords and magnates to tame the wilds of the Haeseni borders. The job was done well by all reports, which endeared the young prince to many of the notables he had worked with and proved his competency in administrative affairs to the realm. Prince Andrik saw his first true combat in the War of Orcish Submission a year later, as he was called to his father’s side when the latter answered John III’s summoning of his vassals to march on Krugmar. Given command of the Haeseni cavalry, the prince did well conducting scouting and foraging operations at the beginning of the campaign. He also oversaw a few minor skirmishes, but was forbidden by his father from joining the fray, much to the son’s anger. Their shouting matches from within the king’s tent could be heard nearly each night until King Petyr finally relented. The Battle of Altay was Prince Andrik’s first glory on the battlefield. Facing a small force of some seven hundred orcs, left behind by Rex Vorgo’Yar to buy time for the defenses of San’Kharak to be prepared, it was clear from the beginning that much of the fighting was going to be left to the Imperial vanguard, which was mostly comprised of the Haeseni contingent. As commander of the cavalry, it would fall to Prince Andrik to ensure that the coming fight was won with minimal casualties. He spent much of the night of the 4th of Godfrey’s Triumph, 1579, conferring with the Marquis of Vasiland and his heir over the next day’s plans. At the Battle of Altay, on the 5th of Godfrey’s Triumph, post-action reports speak well to the prince’s performance. At the head of two hundred Haeseni knights, the young Andrik, with his good friend Brynden Vanir at his side, led his troops to disperse the seven hundred orcs. A flanking force led by the Marquis of Vasiland then sent them scattering. By the time the main host under Petyr I arrived, the battle had virtually been won. Andrik had fought admirably, slaying three foes himself and capturing another, and Brynden was knighted by his king on the battlefield. Imperial bulletins commended the Haeseni for their performance, as only a handful of soldiers had even been injured. The Emperor also lauded the heir of Haense’s personal leadership and valor, and named him Baron of Altay for his victory. As the Imperial army marched on San’Kharak, King Petyr fell increasingly ill. He had been wounded during the battle and while it was little more than a shallow cut, infection had set in. By the time that the orcish capital was encircled he was confined to his tent and unable to oversee his section of the siegeworks. This command was given to Sergei Kovachev, the leading Haeseni bannermen, but Prince Andrik was allowed a seat at the greater Imperial war council alongside the Count of Turov. While his voice here was minimal compared to the great lords that he sat with- the Emperor himself, the Duke of Lorraine, the Duke of Savoy, among others- he was a bright and observant lieutenant. Within the camps themselves he was adored by the soldiers and frequently mingled with the ranks, where he took to drinking and boasting and jesting with the rest. This is not to say he was neglectful of his duties, though, and the Haeseni camps were among the best-kept. The chosen date for the storming of San’Kharak was the 25th of Sun’s Smile, 1580, after several months of sustained siege. It was a costly and difficult endeavor to supply the large Imperial army in the wastes of the hordelands. The Emperor had no desire to indebt the Crown over what was a foregone conclusion: San’Kharak would fall. Intimately involved in the planning leading to the assault, Prince Andrik, who by this time had learned greatly from John III and gained his complete trust, was tasked with leading his Haeseni soldiers over the walls. They would be the first, for their fierceness would be needed to secure a bridgehead whereby the rest of the army could follow. The dashing young prince accepted this honor with jubilation, and it is said that he immediately ran back to the camps to excitedly inform his men of what was to come. An Oyashimin painting of the Siege of San’Kharak, c. 1711 The assault itself went as well as could be hoped for Prince Andrik. Said to be one of the first men over the walls of the citadel, he and his fellow Haeseni pushed through the first line of beleaguered orcs from their ladders and siege towers. As they cleared a way into the fortress, Crownlanders, Lorrainians, and Savoyards followed. Within a few hours, the gates of San’Kharak were thrown open for the victorious Emperor and his entourage, who rounded up the few remaining prisoners and set about destroying the city to ensure that it would not be used again as a home for enemies of the Empire and its allies. Prince Andrik was once again commended, and by the time his father recovered from his illness a few days later he was given leave to return home. Nearly two years of campaigning, and the glories he had won while on it, had completed the prince’s transition to manhood. He returned to St. Karlsburg a hero of war and feasts were thrown in his honor. When Petyr I and the main body of the army arrived weeks later, five days were set aside for games and banquets, of which the young heir was said to have shown himself to be a charismatic and genial prince. One account from court fool Bartosz claims that he wooed the court ladies by bending thirty horseshoes into the shapes of ducks, then impressed the grizzled old men by winning three drinking contests in the same night. For the next two years, Prince Andrik was given a greater role in his father’s government. Although King Petyr had recovered from his illness at San’Kharak, his general constitution had not greatly improved. It was not known quite when the aging king would perish, but it was presumed that it would come soon. Not wishing to have his young son inherit the throne without experience in councils and dealings with higher lords, the king sought to have him by his side at nearly every hour. From dawn until dusk, the heir dutifully assisted his father in nearly every capacity, effectively becoming his secretary as he watched, listened, and occasionally contributed on his own. What few free moments the prince had were often spent touring the realm with his closest confidants, as several sources confirm. From the priest of Metterden, Father Alric of Vsenk, c. 1589: "And, in the year 1581, our good lord Maric died after consuming so many seeds of a melon that one grew within him and tore his stomach asunder. His son, Demetrius, he of keen mind but passive disposition, became Count of Metterden. He desired to wed his betrothed, Sofia Amador, daughter of his vassal Ruslan Amador, Baron of Mondstadt, and host a reception by a nearby hot spring. However, a clan of bandits had taken possession of it, and it was feared that the location would need to be changed if they were not driven out, as the wedding was only a month away. It was on the 2nd of Harren’s Folly that the proud prince, Andrik, and the reckless Brynden Vanir, son of Fiske Vanir, Marquis of Vasiland, came to visit their dear friend and be present at his wedding. The three embraced and talked at length, for the former two had not seen our dear lord while they had been at campaign against the orcs. The conversation turned to the dilemma that faced our lord’s wedding, and our good prince Andrik and Brandon Vanir both offered their blades. They took twenty soldiers from the garrison and cleared the bandits from the hot springs, allowing the wedding and later reception to continue unimpeded. For their good deed, they were given the second highest seats near our lord’s table, only below the Count and Countess themselves.” From Erik Baruch, Count of Ayr, writing to King Petyr, c. 1581: "I had the honore of hosting your honorable Son, Prince Andrik, who louked evry bit the warryor I saw at Altae and San Carack, and your Daughter, Princess Juliya, whos beuty is surpassd onlee by that of your late Wife, may she Rest In Pieace. It was peculiere to see them arryve with out anouncment or lettre, but they were of Goode companie and brought merryllment to my younge baebe, Otto, my future heire, who laffed giddilie in Their presentce. Your Children did me the dutie of tremming my garrdin hedjis, of which my wife had complayned bitterlye and inflicted upon my saneity a great maladie. When they departed, They asked for nout but graine for their horses.” From Roseia Staunton, Countess of Turov, c. 1582: "This morning I, most surprisingly, came upon the two princes Andrik and Karl. Inquiring why they had come such a long way out from St. Karlsburg, they answered that Andrik was teaching his younger brother how to train a goose hawk he had received for his birthday. Knowing little of falconry myself, I asked him to explain some of it to me. His handsome face warmed as he, unable to suppress what was assuredly the natural excitement of a youth explaining some beloved hobby, told me all of it. I learned that the goose hawk is favored because it is willing to charge into brush after prey on foot if needed, but can also take to the skies to attack from above. By the end of it, I could hardly hide my own delight and began to laugh. Puzzled, the prince Karl asked me why I found it so funny when I had been listening attentively. I remarked that his older brother reminded me every bit of their father, who once before had launched into a great speech about a new type of saddle he had designed for my lord husband.” Such escapades came to an end in 1582 with his father’s death. Having died in Johannesburg on the 4th of Sigismund’s End of that year, the old king left his son a prosperous realm, a series of carefully-prepared alliances, and the good favor of the Imperial court. Andrik, now King Andrik II of Haense, oversaw both his father’s funeral processions and his own coronation, the latter of which coming on the 9th of Sigismund’s End. It was said to be a somber event, as the death of the beloved King Petyr was not something to be easily overcome, but all had faith that the new king, young as he may be, only a man of eighteen, could match his predecessor’s accomplishments. While he was still brash and quick to anger, he had already displayed courage in battle, wisdom, and a charismatic brand of leadership, and praises were made of him as the lords of Haense swore fealty to their new king. The first necessity of Andrik II’s reign was his marriage to Reza Elizaveta, the eldest daughter of the powerful Sergei Kovachev, Count of Turov. Having expanded his lands and fortunes in recent years with which he settled many vassals and household knights, the veteran bannerman had become the foremost vassal of King Petyr. Although the Count of Turov had been a loyal subject, the late king wanted to ensure his unwavering fealty continued through his son’s reign, thus the match was made. Although Andrik and Reza Elizaveta were not intended to marry until 1586, the former’s ascension meant that an earlier date was needed to both give Haense a queen and to ensure an heir was born sooner. Reza Elizaveta, born on the 30th of Harren’s Folly, 1565, was by no means the typical Haeseni woman of the time. The ideal woman then was thought to be gentle, submissive, and motherly, while a queen needed to embody a chaste virtue and humble, muted disposition. King Andrik, much a traditionalist in the vein of nearly all men of the age, desired in his queen a woman who would provide a softer public face for his reign. He wished for Reza Elizaveta to support his rule by playing the role of the devoted wife who never contradicted or challenged him, but could give him a means of showing mercy or tenderness in public, so as to not have his subjects think him a cruel, cold man without also appearing weak. Reza Elizaveta was not to be a mere actor, as their earliest days of contact show. Meeting on the 10th of Horen’s Calling, 1582, the pair made cordial introductions and agreed on a wedding date set for three months from then. Unfortunately, that was the only point of agreement during that meeting, as the two bickered incessantly about how the ceremony was to be planned and conducted. Where King Andrik favored something quick, inexpensive, and modest, the to-be Queen wanted her marriage to come with the greatest splendor the realm had seen and wished to spare no cost to see it done. For hours the two fought, even coming to screaming, until they. retired for the eve. Reza Elizaveta, showing what was to become a characteristic defiance, returned home and would only communicate with her betrothed through letters. It took over half a year of negotiations until a compromise could be reached. Although the Count of Turov did not approve of his daughter’s misconduct, he was not so cruel a man as to force her to marry King Andrik against her will. Instead, he operated as the principal go-between, and as the bickering drew out, he became increasingly frustrated at the stubbornness from the both of them. By the end of the year, though, an agreement was reached. The expenses for the wedding would be small, but the bride would be allowed the most luxurious, expensive dress that Turov could afford, which given Lord Kovachev’s expanding lands and fortunes, was great. Held on the 15th of Sun’s Smile, 1583, the wedding of Andrik II and Reza Elizaveta took place in the central cathedral of St. Karlsburg. It was generally unremarkable save for the new queen’s wedding dress, which was noted by nearly all attendants who remarked that it stained such an honorable seat with decadence and pomp. The one who liked it least of all was the presiding priest, who halted the ceremony to give a long sermon on humility and charity. His loudest applause came from the groom himself. This inauspicious start marked the beginning of a short, tumultuous marriage. While the king was a proud northman who wished to keep to his lands and serve the Empire loyally, but never intimately, the queen was more than comfortable introducing court trends from Johannesburg and fraternizing with the noblewomen of the south. She struck up a particular friendship with Empress Julia, the beloved wife of John III. The two agreed to organize a “Unity Ball” to take place in Johannesburg and celebrate the ties of the Haeseni and the Crownlanders. Prince Karl vehemently opposed the idea and the two argued incessantly, with their screams being heard throughout Ottosgrad. Although King Andrik eventually sided with his wife, one of the rare occasions on which he did, it is believed by some that he privately supported his brother, as payments to the household showed that he tried to deny the queen and the Empress as much funding as possible for this ball. While many believe that King Andrik’s famed opposition to the Empire existed all his life, it is clear that he was simply trying to delicately balance his desire to uphold his vows to the Emperor, who he greatly respected, while appeasing the populace of Haense which had recently began to shift its favor away from Oren. The precise reasons for this are unknown, as mere years before they had fought loyally in the Krajian Rebellion and the War of Orcish Submission, and the Kingdom of Haense itself had been created by the same Emperor who sat the throne. The best answer that we can give will be shown later, but what is apparent is that King Andrik thought these sentiments to be very serious. The first great sign came with the Unity Ball itself, which was well-attended by the Crownlanders, but was only attended by a few Haeseni, namely the King and Queen themselves and House Kovachev. Even King Andrik only stayed long enough to pay his respects before promptly departing. This insult was not taken lightly by the Imperial Court, and an embarrassed Count Sergei and Queen Reza apologized profusely. By all accounts the rest of the ball went well for all aspects save the celebration of unity, but just as the Kovachevs’s moods began to lift, they were shattered again when they were informed that King Andrik had left them behind, having taken all the carriages back to Haense. When they returned home, needing to borrow a few Imperial carriages to finally make it back to Haense, the Kovachevs virtually withdrew from court life. Queen Reza openly insulted courtiers of St. Karlsburg and vassals of the Haeseni Crown, earning her the ire from nearly all the population. Meanwhile, Count Sergei returned to Turov and refused to leave. King Andrik did little to smooth over this fractured relationship with his wife’s family and began to turn further to many of the rest of his vassals, who applauded his stand and accused House Kovachev of being Imperial lackeys. At this time, King Andrik’s principal advisors were the men that he had grown up with as a boy and had come to trust greatly. The first of these was Brynden Vanir, now the Marquise of Vasiland, who was absolutely loyal to his liege and was perhaps the fiercest anti-Imperial voice; he had outright forbidden his family to attend the Unity Ball under threat of disownment. His own marriage to Princess Tatiana, King Andrik’s youngest sister, had only strengthened ties between the two. While he never went so far as to advocate outright independence from the Empire, even in these times such talk was dangerous, he openly and loudly questioned the purpose their fealty to the Horens gave to them. Krajia and Courland had been long-defeated and with them the Houses of Staunton and Ivanovich had fallen into ruin. With these great threats gone, there was no need for Imperial protection and much less for service to them. Although King Andrik never openly heeded the radical advice of his closest friend, he did little to try and temper his forceful arguments. The second was his own brother, Prince Karl who, while still young, was said to be one of the brightest lads in all of Haense. He was far more tactful than the Marquis of Vasiland, and he opposed what he thought to be needless antagonism. Instead, he believed in a sort of cultural autonomy for Haense, so that their customs and traditions could be preserved. This is why he clashed so bitterly with Queen Reza, but was by all accounts cordial to those who visited Haense from other parts of the Empire. He saw no problem with sharing an Empire with the Crownlanders, Savoyards, and Lothairingians so long as Haeseni customs were not supplanted. It was perhaps his brother that the King took counsel from the most, for he saw him the most moderate of all the influences that pulled on him. The third was Count Demetrius of Metterden, who was thought of as nearly as pro-Imperial as the Count of Turov, though his close friendship with the king prevented his own loss in standing in the court. An owner of many properties across the Empire, especially several inns and taverns in great Johannesburg, the Count of Metterden noted the economic benefits gained from being in the Empire. Peace now reigned across the land and trade was plentiful. Commerce and progress ought to be the order of the day, so he argued, and the attention of Haense was better put there than in frivolous demonstrations against the Empire. Some of the more volatile men at court, led of course by the Marquis of Vasiland, ridiculed him for what they thought to be a cowardly and self-serving perspective, but such talk was quickly silenced by the king. Others certainly had their place in King Andrik’s court. Fiske Vanir, the previous Marquis of Vasiland, stressed that antagonism against the Empire would simply bring its might upon Haense and urged the king to make amends with Lord Kovachev. Ruslan Amador, the Baron of Mondstadt and father of Maria Amador, wife of Prince Karl, advocated for a strengthening of the royal army, though only implied what end it would achieve. Eirik Baruch, the Count of Ayr, said that Haense owed a great deal to the Empire and to slight it would be a great dishonor. These three men, among many others, show the wide range of voices in the Haeseni court on the question of relations with the Imperial Crown alone, but they were not heeded to nearly the same degree. A painting of the Rothswood south of Karosgrad by Davey Wockett, c. 1602. These were Andrik II’s favorite hunting grounds due to their accessibility from St. Karlsburg. The second great event that turned King Andrik’s heart against the Empire came in the waning months of 1584 when his frequent letters with his beloved sister, Princess Juliya, turned for the worse. The beautiful young woman had been fostered for some time now in the Imperial Court to become accustomed to life in the Crownlands and familiarize herself with her betrothed, Prince John Augustus, the heir to the Empire. Although he was recognized as a brilliant youth, the Imperial heir had a streak of cruelty that embittered all to him, even his own brothers. He treated his betrothed with open disdain as he mocked, threatened, and berated her. While he never raised a hand against her, he made it clear that if she were to ever cross him he would harm her. Scared and isolated at the Imperial Court, Princess Juliya turned to the one person she could always confide in: her brother. Grigory of Vsenk, an explorer of Axios, was present at the Haeseni court when King Andrik received word from his sister of her abuses. He writes: "...the Hansa King’s wroth, which I had thought to be mere legend, was put on full display. He burst into the hall, pledging to ride to Johannesburg himself and beat this insolent prince until he begged forgiveness. He ordered that letters be sent to the Emperor to demand his sister’s immediate return. Then he returned to his chambers to confer with his council, but all could hear his rage for hours still.” Despite his words, the king’s display was more bluster than decision. His first two children, the twins Marus Andrik and Katherine Aleksandra, had been born on the 12th of Owyn’s Flame of that year. The more tender side of his heart won out, and the new father wished instead to spend his time with his newborn children than to provoke an incident with the Emperor, who he still held respect for and did not wish to come to blows with. His time with his children eased his heart, and according to Grigory of Vsenk, who departed by the 7th of Tobias’s Bounty, 1584, the young king’s “...demeanor had relaxed greatly over these few weeks, and he played with his children as much as he spent time attending to his duties. The former brought laughter to the halls of Ottosgrad, which did well to abate, though not extinguish, the fiery anger that had consumed his eyes that horrible day. He entrusted me with a letter to present to the Emperor requesting that a bodyguard be assigned to Princess Juliya. I obliged, for I was needing to head south regardless.” Fatefully, this letter never reached the Emperor. On the 25th of Sun’s Smile, 1585, the court of St. Karlsburg was informed by a frantic messenger that Emperor John III had been killed by high elven assassins just a week earlier. Shock engulfed the court, with some even crying out in dismay, for the young Emperor, still only thirty six, had been expected to rule for a great many years. Although opinions on the Empire had soured in just a short period, John III was a well-respected liege by nearly all. King Andrik promptly ordered a period of mourning, but was privately distressed at the thought of John Augustus’s ascension to the throne and what it could mean for his sister and his kingdom. As the days passed, more news trickled in on the nature of the good Emperor’s killing. Some links were found between the high elven assassins and the Imperial heir. Speculation and rumor grew abound, as it was known that the impetuous John Augustus did not hesitate to loudly and frequently complain of the many years it would take until his turn to take the throne came. What began as whispers turned into court gossip, and soon it was accepted as fact that the now-Emperor John IV had murdered his own father to take the throne. This open secret created an uneasy tension between the new Emperor and his vassals, for his father had commanded the loyalty of his vassals and instilled fear in his enemies, while he, still a boy of sixteen, had few achievements to his name and even less love to it. In St. Karlsburg, King Andrik conferred with his council on what was to be done. He had no desire to play ignorance to John IV’s patricidal plot to gain the throne, but with his sister still at the Imperial Court and soon to be the Empress, he could not defy the Emperor openly. When the Count of Metterden began to advise his friend and liege that perhaps Princess Juliya’s marriage to the Emperor should continue in order to begin a mending of relations, King Andrik screamed that every moment in Johannesburg was a dangerous one for his sister. Additionally, to allow the crimes against John III to go unpunished would be a dishonor to the man who had been his father’s friend and a fair liege to Haense. For the only time in his life, King Andrik, his rage overcoming him, ordered Count Demetrius to return to his lands. Prince Karl’s advice, to wait until the Imperial Crown acted, was not met with nearly as much hostility, but was dismissed quickly. King Andrik was many things, but he was not a man to sit and wait. Quick action, if action bordering on rash, had always served him well. Besides, time given to John IV was time that would be used against Haense. Marquis Brynden’s words were what swayed the king most greatly, though one can certainly argue that he simply spoke what his liege had already been thinking. Haense was no friend of the Empire, and even less so of its new sovereign. In Haense his death would be met with cheers, not cries for justice. Indeed, the only justice to be done was killing the man who had ordered his father killed and threatened the life of Princess Juliya. Overruling Prince Karl’s protests, King Andrik agreed, and the three men began to plot their strike against the Emperor. The events of John IV’s death were set in motion on the 18th of Harren’s Folly, 1585, when he received a letter from Andrik II offering congratulations on his ascension and condolences for his father’s passing. The King of Haense expressed his excitement for the upcoming wedding between his daughter and the Emperor. He thought similarly of the coming coronation in the month of Tobias’s Bounty later that year, and he promised that he would bring every lord, lady, and knight in Haense, high and low, as a part of his retinue. He concluded the brief letter by inviting the young Emperor to come to St. Karlsburg so that King Andrik could proclaim his fealty before all the court of Haense in a grand showing that would signal to his vassals that his loyalty remained firm and dissent would not be tolerated. Despite his cunning, the Emperor, arrogantly believing that he had cowed the bold Andrik II, took the bait. He sent a letter back, promising that he would make his way north that next month after affairs in the Heartlands were settled and his rule there was secured. He also ordered that, because it would coincide with his birthday, that gifts be prepared and food stockpiled for a grand celebration thrown in his honor. King Andrik replied that he would, his short, formal words no doubt masking the desire for vengeance that wrapped itself around his heart. The Emperor and his entourage arrived in the Haeseni capital late in the evening on the 15th of Sigismund’s End, 1585. A recent avalanche had blocked their route, forcing many hours to be spent clearing it. Among the visiting party was Princess Juliya, who embraced her brother and came to tears. The king repressed his own as to not arouse suspicion, and joked that the scars he had borne from San’Kharak had given him a profile so ugly that his sister had grown frightened of him. This amused the Emperor, who promised that he and King Andrik could formally meet and discuss matters the next morning, as the hour was late. When the next morning came, a light breakfast of toast, cereals, spiced ham, eggs made of all varieties, fruits, bacon, sausage, various types of bread made from all corners of the kingdom, waffles, thirteen different flavors of syrup, and the finest coffee imported from the Dominion of Malin was served. After breakfast, the king and the Emperor retired to the former’s study. The Marquis of Vasiland asked to accompany the two and the Emperor, who was quite pleased with the reception that had been prepared for him, accepted. From this point until the later announcement of the Emperor’s death by King Andrik, little is known of what transpired. Aside from the three men in the study and two guards posted outside of it, there were no witnesses. Most of the Haeseni court was busy preparing for the belated birthday celebrations of the Emperor, which gave much activity to Ottosgrad and took attention away from the ongoing meeting. Despite the lack of evidence, three rumors have been given serious attention by historians as to how Emperor John IV met his infamous fate. The first comes from a castle maid named Agatha who was one of the first to arrive at the scene. She claimed that one of the guardsmen who took part in the act, a man named Horge of Voron, said that John IV almost immediately took to insulting his betrothed and made a mocking display of asking his vassal for advice on how to “contain her.” Enraged, the King of Haense and the Marquis of Vasiland drew their knives and stabbed the boy Emperor repeatedly. The two guards rushed in, hearing the commotion and cries for help. Bursting into the room, they saw the bleeding, dying Emperor. He tried to beg for mercy, but King Andrik drove a knife into his heart and swiftly ended his life. The second comes from a sage in Chambery who purportedly proclaimed the Emperor’s grisly fate mere hours after it occurred, even though news had not yet reached the wider Empire. By his words, John IV was beset on by King Andrik, Brynden Vanir, and the two guardsmen the moment the door to the room was closed. He had little time to react, and much less to say anything, for he was stabbed multiple times and killed within seconds. The third comes from Hughes Pasquier, the Baron of Laval and the uncle and vassal of Count Eirik of Ayr. By his official report to the court of Ayr, which used information derived from various courtiers at St. Karlsburg, the Baron of Laval claimed that the conversation among the three men had begun peacefully, with the Emperor and the Marquis of Vasiland particularly concerned with defensive fortifications along the border with Urguan. However, as talks turned to matters of reconciliation between Haense and the Imperial Crown, King Andrik demanded the return of his sister to Haense as a prerequisite for any further talks. The Emperor refused, prompting King Andrik and Marquis Brynden to draw their swords. John IV drew his and a duel ensued that lasted a few minutes. The young Emperor put up a valiant fight, but still young and outnumbered by two men, he was felled. As he lay dying, he cursed the name of the Barbanovs and with his last breath damned King Andrik to a fate worse than his own. The specific details matter little, for the King of Haense had a version of his own that determined the course of action for his realm moving forward. He and Marquis Brynden dragged the Emperor’s body to the dining room of the castle. Courtiers and staff could not hide their shock as the two threw the corpse down before them. Queen Reza was said to have gone pale for the first time in her life and promptly excused herself to her chambers. Paying little attention to his stunned audience, the king loudly proclaimed that the Emperor was a danger to the Barbanov Dynasty and wider Haense. He listed the many abuses John IV had committed against Princess Juliya, and said that the deed was necessary to both avenge John III and prevent Haense from being occupied by the Imperial Legion and subjugated by the Crownlands. What began as a timid, anxious crowd was quickly won over by their liege. Agape mouths turned to cheers, and even the serving boys and girls were calling for King Andrik to summon the banners to defend the realm. With the mandate of his people, the king, notably without summoning a wider council, ordered all vassals of the realm make for St. Karlsburg with their retinues. All came save the Count of Turov, who met the call to arms with silene.Word was spread throughout the realm that Emperor John IV had been killed at the hands of the King of Haense, and his successor was implicitly dared to attempt to avenge his death. His successor would not, in fact, attempt this. John IV’s younger brother, Robert Henry, ascended the throne as Robert II. Refusing to heed the advice of his warlike councilors, the new Emperor rode north to Haense in order to try and bring a peaceful resolution to the conflict and prevent the conflict from spilling into open war. He arrived in St. Karlsburg on the 30th of Sigismund’s End, 1585, mere weeks after his brother’s death there, and met with King Andrik- alone- in the council room of Ottosgrad. Even less is known of this meeting than of the assassination of John IV. It is generally agreed by historians that Robert II offered a number of compromises, each supposedly in favor of Haense and none requiring the arrest, abdication, or execution of its king. With each offer, the king left the room and conferred with some of his vassals in an adjacent one. It can be assumed that few provided a voice of reason, save the Count of Metterden and Prince Karl, for many believed that the kingdom hungered for war. It is established that three offers were made to the King of Haense, though were possibly more, and all were rejected. Despairing at his failure to seek a peaceful end to the conflict, Robert II rode back to the Imperial capital where he would soon abdicate to his brother, Philip Frederick. Back in the north, King Andrik, at the urging of his principal vassals and the army, proclaimed Haeseni independence from the Empire before a cheering crowd in St. Karlsburg. He said that no half-measure could be taken to ensure the safety of Haense and his family, and so their overlords needed to be overthrown by a necessary use of force. Patrols were sent to scour the realm and arrest known Imperial sympathizers, save the Count of Metterden and the Count of Turov, while the Marquis of Vasiland was ordered to lead detachments of men to strengthen and reinforce all fortifications around the kingdom and block all roads leading in and out. Logs cut by Haeseni soldiers to prepare for the blockade of all roads into Haense in preparation for an Imperial invasion, c. 1585 The initial weeks of what was to be called the Deep Cold Uprising were the highpoint of the rebellion. With most of the realm trusting in their liege, men, women, and children moved swiftly to do what was needed. Weapons were made, fortifications were constructed, food was stockpiled, and the army and accompanying local levies began to swell with volunteers. The Count of Turov, along with a few other minor dissident lords, did not join the effort, but nearly all, including the previously-reluctant Count of Metterden, rallied to their liege’s cause. The following months began to show the cracks in King Andrik’s cause. Emperor Philip I, or more accurately his Archchancellor, Prince Leopold, Baron of Senntisten, chose not to march on Haense with the Imperial Legion, nor did they call for the Imperial vassals to raise their own forces. Instead, the Imperial Crown was wholly silent towards the northern rebellion. As weeks dragged into months, levied soldiers began to return to their farmsteads, mines, and logger’s camps. Men-at-arms and hired mercenaries came before the throne to question when they would be paid. Some of the high nobility complained of the lack of luxury goods that were typically imported from the rest of the Empire but were now cut off. While this did not completely drive the spirit from the nascent rebellion, it did dampen it. This is not to say that the Imperials were completely silent. Throughout the months of Owyn’s Flame and Godfrey’s Triumph, news began to seep through the guarded borders of the terms that had been offered by the now-abdicated Robert II. It was claimed that the terms offered a full pardon to all involved with John IV’s assassination, favorable trading rights for Haesne, the fight for Haeseni law to supersede most of the Imperial Law, save some exemptions, and the guarantee that Imperial soldiers would not be allowed onto Haeseni soil except at the express permission of the king or when guarding a member of the Imperial family. Whether these terms were true or not, a matter which has undergone some debate but now leans more towards truth than exaggeration, they confirmed the doubts that still held some few within Haense. Was there a just cause to this rebellion? Was the Empire truly such an imminent threat? King Andrik tried his best to squash rumors of the contents of the peace offer he had been given- but to no avail. Vassals and bannermen that had once been fervent supporters of the cause urged their king to make peace. Some even disappeared in the night, returning to their homes. Records of precise counts are difficult to come by, but it is believed that at the start of the Deep Cold Uprising, King Andrik had a host of eight thousand in and around St. Karlsburg. By the late months of the rebellion, the number had dropped to just around one thousand. The killing blow to King Andrik’s rebellion was the Olive Branch Petition, formally published in the waning days of 1585. After months of effective silence, Emperor Philip I and his council offered full amnesty for all in Haense in exchange for their king’s deposition. When news of this offer reached Haense, likely around the 17th of Tobias’s Bounty, it was only a matter of time before the cards fell. Blocked from trade with the south, the shops and studios of the urban artisans had been suffering. Kept from access to powerful Lotharingian steeds and hardy Westerlands oxen, knights had been forced to take to their feet and farmers had to pull their own plows. With the threat of the confiscation of their lands hanging over their heads, the nobility feared what would come of a losing war. The first to give in was the Count of Turov, though this was to almost no one’s surprise. A friend of the Empire and personally at odds with his liege, Sergei Kovachev announced his support for Philip I on the 19th of Tobias’s Bounty and ordered his army to occupy the Castle Voron, held by House Baruch. This prompted Count Eirik of Ayr to follow suit in order to protect his lands, and he and Baron Hughes of Laval joined the counter-rebellion on the 20th of Tobias’s Bounty. Baron Rasputin of Rytsburg also tacitly gave his support that same day when he allowed a small squadron from House Baruch to enter Rytsburg. As news of the rebellion’s faltering support swept across the realm, St. Karlsburg broke out into riots, forcing King Andrik’s dwindling army to be recalled into the walls to quell it. The final nail in the coffin came when King Andrik’s old friend, Count Demetrius, snuck out of the capital on the 22nd of Tobais’s Bounty with his household guard. He met up with his host and returned to Metterden, publishing a missive of his support for the Emperor along the way. It is said by Sergeant Hrolf, a Norlander who had risen in the ranks of the Ruthern guard, that the young count wept as he rode away from St. Karlsburg and refused to look back on the city. So great was his guilt that he betrayed his liege, yet his wife consoled him, telling him that it was necessary to save their livelihood. The only fighting of the rebellion took place on the 25th of Tobias’s Bounty. A small detachment of Barbanov freeriders under Prince Karl, numbering fifty men and women, skirmished with a combined Vyronov-Baruch force around the same size. After thirty minutes the Barbanovs retreated, suffering one dead and seven wounded compared to ten wounded in the other camp. The objective had been to retake Rytsburg, but with this having failed it became evident that King Andrik did not have the ability to project power outside of the capital and Vasiland. On the 27th of Tobias’s Bounty, Baron Ruslan Amador, who still remained loyal to his king, informed the remaining council, thinly-manned as it was by now, that his home of Mondstadt had fallen to the Ruthern army. By the 28th word was reaching the council that the combined armies of the Houses Kovachev, Ruthern, Vyronov, and Baruch, alongside many other smaller lords, ladies, and landholders, were now marching on the capital. A day later, King Andrik, in a final address given to his skeleton court, announced his intention to abdicate. These months had been stressful for King Andrik, and it was a wonder then, as it is now, if he even believed in his own rebellion. He had desired, above all, to protect those he loved. In killing John IV he had saved his sister. In rejecting Robert II’s terms he had saved his kingdom. Now, out of his own rashness, all that he cared for was at risk. However, he saw the one means to undo most of what had been done. By abdicating, he could save everything except himself, but that was a price he was willing to pay. On the 3rd of Sun’s Smile, 1586, he formally abdicated the throne of Haenseti-Ruska to his son, Marus, and named Prince Karl as regent to oversee the coming surrender and occupation. He then fled from his beloved St. Karlsburg, the place where so many early memories had been made, with Ruslan Amador and Brynden Vanir. The three rebels departed from the capital mere hours before the first detachments of Lord Kovachev’s knights reached the opened gates. Under the cover of darkness, the three fled west in the hopes of reaching Norland where they could find passage to Sutica, a state known for housing rouges and the like. In order to get there, they would have to pass through the Westerlands, a mountainous, sparsely-populated region that had been settled just two years before by Prince Leopold of Senntisten and his followers. With Prince Leopold off in the capital, attending to his duties as regent and Archchancellor, Andrik Otto hoped that they could pass through his seat, the small fort of Death’s End, without arousing suspicion. During their flight south, both of Andrik’s companions noted that what life had remained in the former king had now mostly extinguished. His eyes that once flashed with brilliance had gone dull. His fiery temper had surrendered to a great melancholy. The only talk that came from him was how he longed to see his son and daughter, his sisters, his brother, but now could not. When those fears turned towards never being able to see them again so long as he lived, he would ride ahead of the two and cry out to God, begging to know why he had been cursed. The blank sky did not respond, nor did the empty fields of the Empire’s frontier. On the 14th of Harren’s Folly, the three men reached the keep and its village that marked the westernmost extent of the Empire. Death’s End was a poor, mean settlement, by that time garrisoned by twenty soldiers and protecting farms and hovels for twelve families. The Pumping Piston Tavern, dearth of visitors, was where the rebels stopped for a drink. They wanted to rest their weary legs, fill their hungry bellies, and make back out on the road within an hour. Unfortunately for them, an architect hired by Prince Leopold, a Savoyard named Amadeus, had reached the settlement at the same time. He had previously worked with Andrik Otto back in 1578, where he was a member of the young prince’s commission that was sent to settle the Haense frontier. Recognizing Andrik, Marquis Brynden, and Baron Ruslan, the architect ran out of the tavern and screamed for the garrison. The three rebels tried to make an escape, but before they could get to their horses a group of ten guards ran from the castle and surrounded them. They were thrown in the cramped, dark cells of the keep and kept there as word was sent to Johannesburg of their capture. On the 21st of that month, Andrik Otto and his companions were taken back to Johannesburg, where they arrived on the 30th. He was treated well during his captivity, but when they arrived in the capital the three were separated. The former king and the Marquis of Vasiland shared some parting words as they were led to the great cells of the Palace of St. Adrian, though history has not recorded them and Lord Vanir refused to tell what had been said. Brynden Vanir was brought before the Imperial Court on the 1st of Sigismund’s End. His charges were read to him and he was sentenced to death by hanging, but before the execution could be carried out his old father, Fiske Vanir, intervened. Now a man of sixty two and the last living supporter of Petyr I through the Riga War, the Krajian Rebellion, and the War of Orcish Submission, he was revered by Haeseni as one of the architects of unification and was respected in the Empire for having been a loyal Imperial. Withdrawn from politics since his abdication in 1583, Lord Fiske was one of the few men who emerged from the Deep Cold Uprising with his reputation unscathed. He promised Emperor Philip that if his son was allowed to live, then he would emerge from retirement to repair Haense and ensure it was reconciled with the Empire. The Emperor, in want of friendly voices within Haense, agreed. The Marquis of Vasiland initially begged for his life to be taken, doubtless wishing to make himself a martyr to the cause, but his pleas were refused and his right hand was removed. He was then sent home with his father, for he was allowed to keep his lands and titles. Ruslan Amador was brought next later that same day. Although he too was found to be a traitor, he was considered the least significant of the three rebels. Two mills were confiscated and given to House Kovachev, while a logger’s camp and the small village of Banva were given to House Ruthern. The Baron of Mondstadt was content with these terms and rode back to Haense without complaint. On the 2nd of Sigismund’s End, 1586, nearly a year after he had killed Emperor John IV, Andrik Otto, once the King of Haense, was brought before Emperor Philip I. As the Imperial Court hissed and jeered, he was read his charges and given his sentence. For the crime of high treason, he was sentenced to death. The solemn Andrik accepted his fate with a nod and did not try to protest it, but when he looked around for the noose or the headsman’s block, nothing was to be seen. The grisly, haunting fate of Andrik Otto was recorded by Vitallius de Sola, Count of Lewes, ten years after the event in 1596. "At the signal of the Archchancellor, the hall fell silent. All that could be heard was the shuffling of servants and the opening of doors as the materials were gathered. Certain individuals, I will not name them, told me of what was to come, but I had regarded it as nonsense. Surely this boy [Emperor Philip I] had no stomach for such a deed. But when I saw the logs assembled and set ablaze, then heard the scraping of a great metal tub as it was dragged down the palace steps, I almost choked on the thought of what was to come. Some in the hall gasped when they saw what was to come, though I believed then, and still now, that they did not know half of it. The tub was put over the flames. Then great canisters filled with milk were poured in until it reached about two thirds full. By this point it was gravely apparent, and what had been an excited crowd to see this young King’s death had now turned to horror. The King, who had been stoic and faced his death bravely, as had been expected of this known soldier, was bewildered at the sight before him. Removed of all but his plainclothes, he spat curses at the throne and the House of Horen, proclaiming its downfall. He promised that, by his blood, this would be the last great victory of Philip I, and while St. Karlsburg would live, Johannesburg would burn until it was ash. The Emperor simply remarked, quite cooly for one of his age, that no blood was to be spilt at all. Then, with a wave of the hand, he gave the order. Bound by his hands and feet, the King was hoisted above the tub of milk, which had been put over the flames and was now boiling, by four servants. At the word of the Archchancellor, he was dropped into the tub. I could almost hear the searing of his flesh as it was peeled and seared from his bones, but the screams of the King were far louder. They silenced the hall, pressing upon us like the howling winds of a storm over the plains, but none had even attempted to make a sound. Some fainted, others fled the hall, my own wife buried her face into my chest to avert her gaze, and I clamped my hands over her ears the best I could. As he boiled alive, the King thrashed and wailed, for the level of the milk was no higher than his stomach. Eventually, after a few moments, all fight was lost, and he plunged into the tub and was from then unseen, for we were all told to depart from the hall by then.” Andrik Otto, only months before Andrik II, King of Haense, died in the Imperial Court, boiled in a tub of milk. He was twenty one years of age and had ruled Hanseti-Ruska for, like his father before him, just shy of four years. News of Andrik’s death was met with outrage in Haense. Although most of the country had overthrown their liege and could reasonably conclude that doing so would mean his death, his manner of execution was cruel and dishonorable. Riots against the Emperor broke out in St. Karlsburg by the same people that had risen up in favor of him months ago. They were quelled within a few days by Prince Karl, reinforced by an Imperial garrison, but a lingering resentment remained between the people of Haense and the Imperial Crown. It would become the task of Prince Karl, Count Demetrius, Count Sergei, and Fiske Vanir to mend what had been broken. The first step towards reconciliation was made when Andrik’s body was returned to his homeland. In a procession led by Prince Leopold, the casket that held the former king was brought through the kingdom along the way to the capital. Although the great crowds that had been present at King Petyr’s procession four years earlier did not manifest, a great many thousand still came and wept for their dead king. For a few days the events of the past year were forgotten as all united in their mourning. On the 2th of Sigismund’s End, 1585, the body of King Andrik II was laid to rest in St. Karlsburg. Before a crowd of no less than four thousand, Princess Juliya gave a final speech for her brother. Not all of it is recorded, but some was recounted by a washerwoman sixty years later. "His love cannot be questioned, for it was as fearsome as it was warming to our hearts. For as long as I can remember, he stood to defend those he cared for and did not question the challenge he would face in doing so nor the consequences for failure. While his final act may have spelled his end, let none claim it was an act of cynicism. This great tragedy that engulfed him and our country was the result of a deed done in rash, foolish anger, yes, but also the purest sentiment that may allow one’s heart to overcome all rational thought in their mind. It is the thing that drives song, and may my brother’s never leave the lips of court singers and tavern bards alike until this world is brought to an end.” Queen Reza, now a widow (albeit to a husband she despised), was not present at the funeral. This is not because of their mutual dislike, for that would be an excuse so insufficient that the disgrace it would bring her would be so immeasurable that the thought would not even cross her mind, but because she was in labor. That evening, as her husband’s body was interred with his father’s, King Andrik’s final child was born. Named Otto Heinrik, the round, healthy boy was now the heir to a king that was not even two years old. This king, Marus I, could not have possibly known what he had inherited, nor the danger he was now in. All seemed well: the kingdom would soon mend and the greatest threat to the Empire’s stability since the Anarchy had been defeated. It seemed to many that this was a mere aberration in what had been several years of stability and peace within the Empire. Ten years later, all, including King Marus, would come to understand how hopelessly naive their idealism had been. Dravi, Andrik II ‘the Soldier’ 11th of Sun’s Smile, 1564-2nd of Sigismund’s End, 1586 (r. 4th of Sigismund’s End, 1582-3rd of Sun’s Smile, 1586) O Ágioi Kristoff, Jude kai Pius. Dóste mas gnósi ópos sas ékane o Theós. Poté min afísoume na doúme to skotádi, allá as doúme móno to fos tis sofías kai tis alítheias. O Theós na se evlogeí. The reign of Marus I shall be covered in the next volume of The Winter Crows.
  9. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.

    1. Borin


      Yeah nect! **** you!

  10. THE WINTER CROWS: Volume I; Introduction & Petyr I - The Founder Written by Demetrius Barrow Introduction "It was once a sickly, frail beast, this line of Barbov. I hope, if nothing else, I have given it the glory that it so deserves.” - King Andrik III of Haense as he lay dying of wounds he received from a boar The Barbanov Dynasty stands as one of the most storied and enduring families to have occupied a space in humanity’s history. Rivaling the great houses of Horen, Carrion, Rurikid, and Savoie, the legacy of the Barbanovs has transformed from one met with derision and scorn to one admired across the known world. Now, with the House of Barbanov standing triumphantly over the other families of the human realms, it is a useful practice to chronicle and document the lives of the Kings of Haenseti-Ruska that led their families and people along the course of ascension. In this series, we shall be examining the lives of the various Kings of Haense in the hopes of evaluating and answering a series of questions that have flurried around the studies of the Kingdom of Ice. Why has the Barbanov family been able to secure its place atop the hierarchy of Haense without serious internal opposition? How has Haense managed to survive for so long, barring a few aberrant exceptions, despite the many challenges it faced? How have the ruling practices of the Haeseni Kings reflected the cultural trends and developments among the wider populace? With these studies of the men who held the throne of Haense, we will explain the growing competence of the individual monarchs of the northern kingdom as well as the increasingly-sophisticated bureaucracy and administrative support structures around them. In adopting successful instruments of government practiced before them, while also retaining a ‘Haeseni flair’ that kept such institutions from stagnating too soon. We will chronicle the change in virtue of our national character, as exemplified in our leaders and important men and women throughout history. As the kingdom born to warriors in a feudal era has now embraced an idler, simpler practice of life, our present purpose and existence has grown increasingly clouded. Even in more recent years, our unparalleled hegemony over the human states has shifted into a balanced, cautious, yet presently peaceful co-existence with states of similar capacity. Over the arc of history, Haense’s fortunes have waxed and waned, and with each turn the national character has been reshaped. In writing this, we aim to look back to history to shed some light on our path forward. We wish to provide His Majesty, Aleksandr II and his descendents a chronicle of their ancestors with which they map wisely and astutely learn from both the mistakes and triumphs of the centuries before. We hope that, if given its due consideration, the past may breathe life into our present state and enable a cultural regeneration that may allow our kingdom to master its own ambitions. While these biographies are not sufficient histories of the Kingdom of Haense, nor the Haeseni culture, they will serve to faithfully depict the various trends and characters of the Barbanov Dynasty while also accounting for their rise among the realms of man. Petyr I - The Founder "Forward, Carnatia! Forward! Let our story be born today as we march against our foes!” - Hjalti of Seahelm’s account of Ser Petyr Barbanov’s rallying cry at the Battle of Curon Forest, 14th of Owyn’s Flame, 1561. It was not expected that young Petyr Barbanov would grow up to found one of the greatest dynasties, and kingdoms, that history has seen. The son of Duke Sigmar of Haense, a rebel leader who was exiled after the ill-fated “Duke’s War,” and Kamila Vladov, daughter of another prominent rebel family, Petyr Barbanov’s upbringing was certainly influenced by the circumstances surrounding his family’s exile. It is reported that Sigmar and Kamila, still pregnant with the future Petyr I, fled their confiscated lands to join distant kin in the court of Nova Horas in Aeldin. It was there, on the 23rd of Godfrey’s Triumph, 1522, that Petyr ‘Sigmarovic’ was born. In the court of a foreign lord far removed from the events of the continent of Vailor, Petyr’s upbringing was peaceful, but also unremarkable. According to several banking documents obtained from an Aeldenic boat washed ashore, Sigmar and Kamila had few means of making their own income and were forced to borrow from loaners and family members at every turn. Records from this time in Petyr’s life are scant, but a festival book from Nova Horas dated to around 1525 does not include any of the Barbanov trio’s names among the list of dignitaries, suggesting that, pursued by their unpaid creditors, they were forced to flee from Nova Horas. Another account, sourced from a dream that was written down by Sigmar Barbanov himself, says that he had been caught having an affair with a local princess, which forced the family’s flight. Their journey falls dark around this time, but they would not have to flee across Aeldin for long. In 1526, John Frederick Horen, coincidentally an Aeldenic exile himself, returned to the mainland to restore the Holy Orenian Empire as a part of the wider Horen Restoration movement that dethroned the Savoyard dynasty that had exiled the Barbanovs five years earlier. In the wake of his ascension to the Imperial throne, the now John I issued a general pardon to all those who had participated in the Duke’s War. Archival research from Richard Worworth, the court biographer under Emperor John V, in his Accounts from the Horen Restoration, reveals that Sigmar Barbanov and his family were exempt from this pardon for reasons unknown. Worworth further asserts that it was not until the reign of John II that the Barbanov family returned to the mainland. However, some controversy surrounds this theory, as soldier payment rolls from the late Eighteen Years’ War, along with recently-discovered charters issued by Jan Kovachev, Duke of Carnatia, suggest that Sigmar Barbanov and his family returned to Oren not long after the Horen Restoration. Despite conflicting evidence at hand, much of it leans towards the family’s return to Vailor no later than 1530. At this time, the Empire and its elven allies found themselves at war with the tribes of Urguan, all united under the Underking Midgor Ireheart. While the great battles that would come to define the war had yet to be fought, and the conflict was limited to minor raids and skirmishes across borders, the various lords of the Empire were eager to assemble levied armies of their own, both for their own protection and to endear themselves to the Emperor. While it is unknown whether Sigmar Barbanov participated in the Eighteen Years’ War (although it was claimed by a dwarven woman in Kal’Valen that he had taken a coffee from her shop without paying), it is historically certain that Petyr Sigmarovic did. Joining the ranks of Duke Jan Kovachev’s formidable host, the young Barbanov became a cadet at the age of sixteen. Aside from the many skirmishes of the war, he was cited for his bravery at the Battle of Cape Bronson in 1540 after he saved Lord Henry Rothesay from his burning vessel. It is assumed that he partook in many of the great battles and sieges of the war after 1538, but he is not mentioned again until 1546, where he was noted as being a part of the personal staff of Joseph Vladov, Baron of Franzenburg and commander of the Imperial armies. It was during this time that the young Petyr Barbanov grew into his own. Later accounts from soldiers who fought beside him during the war claim that he was a well-liked and competent officer. While he was no great strategist or tactician, and only rose modestly up the chain of command, eventually commanding an infantry battalion by the war’s end in 1547, he was a reliable and able junior officer. Also by the war’s end, he was personally knighted by Emperor John II for his merits on the field of battle, making him Ser Petyr Barbanov. Perhaps most importantly, this early experience in warfare gave him an invaluable knowledge that would serve him the rest of his life. After the Eighteen Years’ War, Ser Petyr returned to his family’s lands in Carnatia. However, while he had left the north a young cadet of sixteen, he had returned a seasoned knight of twenty five. A close ally and confidant of the Duke of Carnatia, Ser Petyr joined the ranks of his liege’s household knights and became an informal advisor to the esteemed Kovachev. Although he possessed little in the way of formal education, Ser Petyr’s inquisitive nature meant he learned quickly, and he soon found himself being given increasingly important administrative duties as Carnatia grew. The close relationship between Duke Jan and Ser Petyr cannot be understated. Having sworn to never marry, the Kovachev had no legitimate progeny of his own, and thus took the young Ser Petyr under his wing. Training him in the arts of warfare, politics, and administration, the revered Duke Jan molded Ser Petyr into the astute leader that he would prove himself to be. In later memoirs, King Petyr I would remark fondly on Duke Jan’s tutelage, saying: "I could do little better than having one of history’s greatest men as a second father.” It was also during this time that Ser Petyr’s personal influence grew. Although he was not a titled noble, the name Barbanov carried weight, and the man who bore it had not lost his natural charisma and good nature from the war. He quickly endeared himself to many of the leading men of Carnatia and soon he could count twenty knights sworn to him personally. With the outbreak of the Third Rurikid Uprising in 1556, Ser Petyr found himself pressed into service again. This time, though, he was not to begin as a lowly cadet. As one of John II’s most reputable commanders, Duke Jan Kovachev was called to join the Imperial host against the uprising at Avar. While this was not without controversy, as Duke Alexander of Courland was named the principal commander of the Imperial army over Duke Jan despite possessing a less impressive pedigree, the men of Carnatia eagerly rallied to the Emperor’s banner. Without a second thought, the Duke of Carnatia took his loyal Barbanov vassal with him, naming him his chief of staff. While the Imperial host gathered to launch an expedition to Avar, a personal tragedy struck the life of Ser Petyr. His father, Sigmar, having been ailing from a lingering bout of whooping cough, died on the 2nd of the Owyn’s Flame, 1557, at the age of 55. In later letters, King Petyr I of Haense would remark that despite his father’s personal failings, he had instilled values of honesty, integrity, and piety in his son that shaped him into the man that would one day become king. Ser Petyr had little time to grieve, for only a few weeks later the Imperial host set sail to Avar. On the 10th of the Grand Harvest, the Imperial fleet found a large portion of the rebel navy, which had been strung out as it attempted to blockade the many remaining Imperial garrisons scattered across Avar. Hjalti of Seahelm, a thane and chronicler under the service of the Rurikid family at this time, wrote of Ser Petyr: "Even as the tide of battle turned all the worse for us, the weight of the Imperial numbers crashing against us fiercer than the waves did to our ships, I came face to face with my captor. He was a stocky, short man with close-cropped brown hair. He must have lost his helmet during the fray, but the rest of his armor could not be missed. Wearing a steel breastplate, despite the danger it posed on the seas, the man proudly bore the sigil of a golden crow. For what felt like an hour he and I crossed blades, but as the men around me were cut down I felt compelled to lay down my own blade, knowing I would soon meet their fate.” Quite magnanimously, the captured Hjalti was offered a place in Ser Petyr’s own ranks, which he accepted. The chronicler would serve to record much of the Barbanov’s words and deeds, and the two formed a fast friendship that would last until the former’s death at the Sack of Riga in 1564. Ser Petyr presumably played a role in the Imperial campaign on Avar, and must have provided invaluable advice to Duke Jan as the Carnatian’s host was sent off to retake several of the rebel-held towns and castles. For the rest of 1557 and early 1558 they did just this, and by the month of Sigismund’s End, 1558, only the Avarite capital of Seahelm remained untaken. Duke Alexander and Duke Jan’s host joined again at Seahelm, beginning a two-month siege that would end with the city’s sacking on the 10th of Owyn’s Flame. While Ser Petyr was not officially noted as one of the first men over the walls of the city, Hjalti of Seahelm notes that the knight did capture Avalon Silversteed, one of the principal Avarite commanders, during the fight. For this, Ser Petyr received an official commendation. Ser Petyr Barbanov catching poachers on the lands of his liege, Duke Jan Kovachev, c. 1558. Returning home again, Ser Petyr finally pursued a topic that he did not have the time for over the events of the past two decades: marriage. Now the final living member of House Barbanov, and aged 36, the matured knight would need to marry and sire children in order to carry on his line. Although not officially a member of the nobility, both his deeds and his family name gave promise to the Barbanov bachelor, and he was soon paired with Elizaveta Ruthern, the sister of Count Maric of Metterden. Little is known about the early life of Elizaveta of Metterden. Even her date of birth is mistakenly-attributed to being the 2nd of Sun’s Smile, 1548, when it fact it was the 2nd of Sun’s Smile 1538, making her around 20-21 when she wed Ser Petyr in 1559. After their union, the picture becomes much clearer in large part due to Hjalti of Seahelm’s accounts. Elizaveta played an active role in the management of her husband’s estates and in the development of his political strategy. It was she who encouraged him to adopt the styling of ‘Duke of Haense’ on the eve of the Riga War in an effort to give the Highlander people a symbol to rally around. It was the Riga War itself that forced Ser Petyr to part from his wife less than a year into their marriage. The origins of the war lay in the Duchy of Courland. Britannus Vanir, Baron of Kraken’s Watch, had been granted tenure in Courland under the Treaty of Saltstone of 1556. Duke Alexander Staunton, who mistrusted and despised Baron Britannius due to the latter’s support for his brother, rival, and predecessor, Duke Andrew, constantly sought to undermine and unseat his unwanted vassal. Perceiving weakness in Emperor John II, who was perceived by all to be mad, the Duke of Courland sent a small force under his captain, Ser Demetrios Palaiologos, to storm Kraken’s Watch on the 12th of Sun’s Smile, 1558. Correctly surmising that the Emperor would not act to uphold the terms of the Treaty of Saltstone, Duke Alexander forced Britannius Vanir and his small, battered retinue to flee to the court of Carnatia. Alarmed by the aggression of his neighbor, and wishing to support a fellow northern Highlander, Duke Jan petitioned the Emperor to mediate the situation. John II finally convened the Second Diet of Saltstone in 1559, but merely approved an official vassal war between Carnatia and Courland. Duke Jan assembled the banners of his realm, first among them Ser Petyr, and requested aid from his ally and fellow Highlander, Hetman Sveneld of Krajia, who accepted. Along with the Barony of Kraken’s Watch, the three formed the Carnatian League, which named Fiske Vanir, a seasoned warrior and the son and heir of Britannus Vanir, as its Lord Paramount. It was during the Riga War that Ser Petyr Barbanov truly proved his merit. Although he was subordinate to men such as Lord Paramount Fiske, Duke Jan, Hetman Sveneld, and Baron Britannius, he was seen as a leader in his own right and led Duke Jan’s most sizable contingent, fielding fifty household knights and four hundred footmen. He was also given some agency to act independently, and frequently led his men in various skirmishes, minor sieges, and raids against Courland. The early days of the Riga War was marked by much of these smaller actions. From 1559-1560, neither side committed to any great siege or large battle, and instead chipped away at small keeps and villages near the other’s border. While no great glories came from these bouts of combat, Ser Petyr was commended for his leadership by the Carnatian League after he took a tower overlooking a series of mills. By 1561, the Carnatian League felt confident enough to press into Courlandic lands with the hope of retaking Kraken’s Watch. The first great action of the war was the Battle of Curon Forest on the 14th of Owyn’s Flame, 1561. In the thick woods of the Curon Forest, which covered the road to Kraken’s Watch, the host of the Carnatian League, numbering four thousand two hundred, met the Courlandic army, led in person by Duke Alexander, which numbered greater at four thousand seven hundred. Ser Petyr, leading the vanguard, performed masterfully that day. Official commendations from Lord Paramount Fiske state that Barbanov’s small force of mounted knights held the Courlandic center at bay in time for the main host under Duke Jan to arrive. Meanwhile, his infantry countered the Courlandic left and, with aid from the Krajian contingent, eventually broke it, sending the Courlanders fleeing. The battle, while hard-fought and bloody, was a certain victory for the Carnatian League. Able to advance on Kraken’s Watch, the League put the undermanned castle to siege on the 14th of Owyn’s Flame, 1562. Duke Alexander, shattered after his great loss, fled to Riga, leaving subordinates in charge of defending the castle. As the siege progressed the forces of the Carnatian League feasted and celebrated. A wedding was held between Lord Paramount Fiske and Halyna Ivanovich, the daughter of Hetman Sveneld. Duke Alexander had all but abandoned his wartime duties, instead, as recorded by Courlandic chronicler Michael Kosher, “playing the lyre whilst singing, dancing, and screaming atop the roof of his palace.” No threat would come from him. However, disaster struck the Carnatian League later that year. According to Hjalti of Seahelm, an affair was discovered between Hetman Sveneld’s son-in-law, Ser Jaromir Barrow, and Emilia Vanir, a daughter of Baron Britannius. A great argument ensued between the men, which soon spread to the camps. Although a full-scale fight was averted, the men of Krajia promptly departed. Marching to the gates of Riga, Hetman Sveneld pledged his army to Duke Alexander. This turn in fortune for Courland came too late to save Kraken’s Watch. On the 7th of Tobias’s Bounty the castle was finally liberated. Baron Britannius’s lands were restored, and another significant contingent of the Courlandic army had been neutralized. A week of feasting was ordered, and it is reported that Ser Petyr bought three rounds of drinks for all of the men in the Carnatian army (although some sources dispute this and claim it was only two). By the time of the Siege of Kraken’s Watch, blatant violations of the Diet of Saltsone had been committed by both sides. Believing the cause of the Carnatian League to be just, hundreds of volunteers from across the Empire had streamed into Lord Paramount Fiske’s army. At their peak they made up one thousand five hundred men in his ranks, nearly a third of his whole army. On the Courlandic side, former Avarite rebels, having coalesced into the Principality of the Dreadlands outside of Imperial borders, began to join the combined Krajian-Courlandic army. They too would make up a large contingent of the Courlandic force. These mixed armies met at the River Westmark on the 7th of Sun’s Smile, 1563. Now fielding a larger force, numbering around four thousand six hundred, Lord Paramount Fiske ignored the advice of some of Duke Jan’s outriders and marched against the Courlandic host, believing it to be smaller than it was. Little did he know that the Courlandic army, reformed, bolstered by men of Krajia and the Dreadlands, and led by Hetman Sveneld himself, numbered only one hundred fewer. As the men of the Carnatian League slowly crossed the Westmark, the carefully-laid trap was sprung. Ser Petyr, once again leading the vanguard, was subject to the brunt of this ambush. Hundreds of Krajian cossacks swarmed his knights and footmen. Elsewhere along the field of battle, Courlandic and Dreadlands soldiers crossed shallow fords along the river and attacked the crossing Carnatian army from both sides. In complete disarray, the Carnatian commanders could only muster a frenzied retreat, no doubt made all the easier by the brave stand of Ser Petyr and his men, who held up much of the Courlandic army by their refusal to surrender. It was here that Ser Petyr was taken captive, finally surrendering to save the rest of his host. Only ten knights and sixty footmen remained. He and his soldiers were led back to Riga in chains and thrown into the great dungeons of the city. For over a year, Ser Petyr remained in the dungeons of Riga, believing that any day could be his last. With his execution seemingly imminent, Ser Petyr had a series of letters sent to his wife back home in Carnatia, apologizing for his death that was to come. He lamented that he would not have the opportunity to tell her goodbye, or to see their son Andrik grow into a man, but he hoped that he had brought honor to the Barbanov name where it had been lost on the walls of Barrowyk a generation earlier. He even pined once again for the peaceful, if uncertain, days back in Nova Horas. Most of all, though, he accepted the death that was to come and prepared to face it bravely. His saving grace came months later. John II, receiving word of the Dreadlands’ assistance to Courland, grew enraged at Duke Alexander’s violation of the rules of the conflict (his overlooking of the Carnatian League’s safe offense is to be reserved for another book). He declared the war ended in favor of the Carnatian League, named Duke Alexander a traitor of the realm, and stripped Courland of much of its lands. Duke Alexander, with the support of the city of Riga and many of his vassals, rose up in rebellion against the Empire and named himself King of Courland. However, Duke Alexander and his Courlandic supporters were alone in this decision. Hetman Sveneld and his Krajians returned to their lands, not wishing to contest the power of the Emperor. Meanwhile, a pro-Imperial faction in the Courlandic court staged a coup against Duke Alexander and placed his young son Percival on the ducal throne. A peace was quickly negotiated with the Empire and the Carnatian League, which ceded great tracts of land to Carnatia, named Baron Britannius as Lord Regent of Courland, and released Ser Petyr and his men. An interpretation of the captivity of Ser Petyr by Courland, painted for an art contest in the small town of Raciborz in Haense, c. 1893 Ser Petyr’s release on the 20th of the Sun’s Smile, 1564, was quite a fortunate event. A day later the city of Riga rose up in protest against Duke Percival and his government, decrying the peace that they had made with the Carnatian League. The boy duke and his followers quickly fled the capital. Leaving the gates open, they granted permission for the League to march into Riga and occupy it in the duke’s name as the boy was brought to Felsen. Obliging in his duties as Lord Regent of Courland, Fiske Vanir and his host stormed Riga to brutally quash the rebellion. While Ser Petyr was nominally involved with the brutal Sacking of Riga, he had only recently been released from captivity and was in no condition to fight. Hjalti of Seahelm took command of the few of Ser Petyr’s men who could fight and led them into the city. The loyal soldier and chronicler of Ser Petyr would die that day from a stray bolt accidentally fired from a crossbowman in Ser Lerald Vyronov’s retinue. Although the Riga War had concluded, Ser Petyr was not yet able to return home. Much of the newly-acquired Carnatian lands had to be resettled and reorganized, and Duke Jan called upon his most competent, trustworthy vassal to aid him in this effort. As a reward for his services, a sizable chunk of territory was allotted to Ser Petyr, and he was allowed to officially bear the styling of Duke of Haense. The newly-reformed Duchy of Haense, while still subservient to the Duchy of Carnatia, would be the new home of Duke Petyr Barbanov. He excitedly sent letters to his wife and son back in Carnatia and called for them to join him. Upon his wife’s arrival, Duke Petyr was overjoyed to have found that they were blessed with their first child, a boy named Andrik Otto. Born on the 11th of Sun’s Smile, 1564, mere days before his father’s release from captivity, the parentage of young Andrik, the future King Andrik II, is subject to some debate. In historical circles it is commonly believed that Duke Petyr could not have possibly been his father, as he was on campaign around the time that he was conceived. Petyr’s capture at the Battle of Westmark on the 7th of Sun’s Smile, 1563, and his imprisonment for over a year, would also suggest that he could not have been physically present with his wife, whose presence with the Carnatian League army would have certainly been noted by Hjalti of Seahelm. However, recent archives from the municipal council of Riga may shine light on the truth. It is reported that around around the month of Owyn’s Flame there were talks of a prisoner’s exchange between the Carnatian League and Courland, which involved weeks of negotiations and a brief cessation of hostilities. It was during this time that the families of those captives on both sides were allowed to visit their captured loved ones. With this evidence having only recently resurfaced, it is sensible that past scholars would question the parentage of Andrik II. However, it can be well-assured that he was the legitimate son of Petyr. Despite their victory, peace still evaded the northern lords. Late in 1564, a quarrel between Duke Jan and Ser Jaromir Barrow resulted in the latter’s assault at the hands of the old, but still spry, Kovachev. Hetman Sveneld, having gathered his strength in Krajia, rose up in rebellion against the Empire and declared himself King of Ruska. He made common cause with the disgraced Courlanders, Dreadlanders, and other smaller allies across the world, namely Haelun’or, the tribes of Krugmar, and others to form a united front against the Empire. By 1565, raiding bands from Krajia and the other coalition members were penetrating into the borders of the Empire. With a duchy to build from the ground up and a family to care for, Duke Petyr was far from enthusiastic to raise his banners once again. His holdings, mostly ruined after the Riga War, showed promise, with a number of small towns and castles, and plenty of fertile lands for farming, but restoring them would be a mountain of a task. Furthermore, his wife had recently borne another child, a girl named Juliya Katerina. Fortunately, Duke Petyr was not alone. Elizaveta, taking charge as her husband rode to fight in Ruska, oversaw the resettlement and restoration of Haense. Within a few years, the fledgling duchy turned into a prosperous northern vassal. One of the reasons for Duke Petyr’s necessity in the Krajian Rebellion was the advanced age of the Duke of Carnatia. The great Jan Kovachev, by that point in his early seventies, was searching for a worthy successor to inherit Carnatia, and the Highlander legacy as a whole. Having never married, the old duke had no legitimate children of his own. There was no question that Duke Petyr, his loyal vassal and surrogate son, would be the inheritor. While the two men fought side-by-side against the Krajians for the first two years of the war, Duke Jan increasingly surrendered much of the control of the northern army to his protegee, allowing the now-experienced Duke Petyr to finally have complete control over a great army in his own right. Thankfully for Duke Petyr, the nature of the Krajian Rebellion did not force him to stay too long at the front at any given time. Marked by minor raids and skirmishes, the war featured seasonal, low-intensity conflict that allowed for the Duke of Haense to frequently return home. One of these visits bore twins in 1566: Karl Sigmar and Heinrik Petyr, though the latter was born two days later and exhibited a number of deformities according to notes taken by the Duke’s resident doctor. The year 1567 was one of both triumph and sorrow for Duke Petyr. On the 12th of Harren’s Folly, Jan Kovachev officially abdicated the Duchy of Carnatia to Petyr Barbanov, formally unifying the two realms under the personal control of House Barbanov. Jan Kovachev remained in the service of Duke Petyr, but would now play the supportive role that the latter had done for decades now. Still an invaluable advisor and knight in the Duke of Haense’s retinue, the two men completed a successful campaign against the Ruskans. Tragedy struck when Duke Petyr returned home. His wife, pregnant again, faced complications during labor. While she was finally able to give birth to a daughter, Tatiana Aleksandra, on the 10th of Tobias’s Bounty, 1567, the endeavor was taxing for Duchess Elizaveta. She would die from the complications she faced later that day. Her death formed a hole in the heart of Duke Petyr, who spent the rest of the year in mourning, inconsolable as he locked himself in his chambers. Although he was only forty five, and could have easily remarried given his station, he remained faithful to her memory for the rest of his life. He dedicated far more of his time to raising his children and only occasionally ventured out on campaign to Ruska. The death of the sickly Heinrik Petyr in late 1568 one again ruptured the heart of the Duke of Haense. Although it was well-expected that the young boy would not live long, two great losses within the span of a year weighed heavily on Duke Petyr. With Jan Kovachev, Ser Lerald Vyronov, and two hundred other freeriders, the Haensetians scorched the lands of Ruska in a series of great raids organized by the duke, no doubt to keep his mind away from the grief that haunted it. The campaign was only concluded when Duke Petyr received word of the abdication of John II to his son, John III, prompting his return to Felsen to swear fealty to his new liege. With John III promising a more aggressive campaign against the Ruskans in the coming months, Jan Kovachev took the opportunity to retire atop his laurels and return to his estate. Duke Petyr, now one of the more experienced commanders in the Empire, was called to support the Imperial campaign against the Dreadlands. From 1569-1570, Emperor and duke rode side-by-side as they pillaged the wastelands of the brigand princes. A close bond was formed between the two and in correspondence with his government back in Felsen, the young Emperor remarked: "None impressed me more than the man of the north, Duke Petyr of Haense. He is a fine vassal and a finer man. Great things will come of him and his line, and I ought to be the one to assure it. There is no doubt he has saved the Barbanov name from death by obscurity.” With the world’s flight to Axios in 1570, Duke Petyr was granted a significant stretch of territory around the Greyspine Mountains in the north of Tahn. It was from here that Haense would flourish. Now the dominant northern lord, thousands flocked to his lands. Many streamed into his capital at St. Karlsburg, while others took to the great fields and forests of the Haeseni lands. Many prominent knights and noble families were granted great stretches of lands throughout the north, adding to Duke Petyr’s ranks a great host of vassals and loyal supporters. The size of Haense only grew as more lands were settled, and the end of the Krajian Rebellion would only bring further benefit to the north. Exhausted from their campaigns against the Empire, and boasting far fewer resources and manpower reserves than the great armies of John III, the coalition collapsed. King Sveneld of Ruska fled his lands, while many of his people and retainers flocked to the court of Duke Petyr, owing to their cultural ties. The lands of Ruska were added to Duke Petyr’s own, while the Dreadlands were brought into the Imperial fold. For the next two years Duke Petyr’s realm continued to grow and prosper. The Krajian Rebellion, though a long war, had not brought any serious ruin to him. In fact, it was much the opposite. Navigating the political realm with a steady, even hand he was able to turn many of his former enemies into loyal subjects and resettle them throughout his ever-growing lands. The duchy’s meteoric rise had been a source of pride for the Imperial government, chief among them John III, and the once-minor vassal had quickly grown to become one of the principal banners of the great Johannian Empire. He also took this time of peace to care for his children, which had been made difficult with the constant affairs of war and politics that he was called to participate in. His young son, Andrik Otto, was a charismatic, intelligent young man. While he was a brash, rowdy youth, he was believed by many of the people of Haense to be a worthy son and successor to the good Duke Petyr. Less is said about the duke’s other children, but it was remarked by visiting nobles from other realms that his daughter, Juliya Katherine, was a pretty, spirited lass while his son, Karl Sigmar, was far more reserved, but possessed a keen awareness. It can be well-surmised that the Barbanov children were raised and taught well by their father and other tutors, and the duke’s love for his children is well-documented by all those close to him. On the 14th of Tobias’s Bounty, 1578, John III made the momentous, historic decision to elevate Duke Petyr to King of Haeseti-Ruska. Named after the dual-lands of Haense and Ruska that were in his possession, Petyr Barbanov’s new kingdom was the birth of the modern Haesenti-Ruska, or simply Haense, that we know today. In a coronation ceremony held in St. Karlsburg two days later, the now King Petyr I was officially crowned before the great, cheering crowds of northerners that had so loyally followed him and had prospered for it. The Coronation of King Petyr I of Haense, painted by Augustus Drieder, Haeseni court painter, during the reign of King Karl II, c. 1663 The War of Orcish Submission in 1579 was King Petyr’s last campaign. The tribes of Krugmar, one of the last surviving coalition members from the Krajian Rebellion, had continued to raid deeply into the territories of the Empire’s elven allies, taking slaves and pillaging towns. Having reached the height of his power, John III did not hesitate to send an ultimatum to the orcs, demanding that their raids cease. The tribes of Krugmar, uniting under Rex Vorgo, rejected the demands and began to attack villages along the outskirts of the Empire. Calling upon the full might of the Empire, John III summoned his armies to march into Krugmar. As one of the Emperor’s most powerful vassals, King Petyr was obliged to answer the call to arms, which he readily did. The mutual trust between Petyr I and John III was evident, as the army of Haense was called to lead the Imperial vanguard. Donning his armor for the last time, Petyr I rode from Karosgrad with his host. At his side was his son and heir, Prince Andrik, who was to see his first combat as a part of his education. Father and son took the helm of the Imperial vanguard and rode quickly to Krugmar, hoping to arrive there well before the orcs would be expecting them. Rex Vorgo, himself a vain and arrogant orc, had mistakenly believed that the Imperial army would take months to muster, so he did not properly concentrate his forces or prepare his defenses. Thus, Emperor John’s lightning-quick campaign caught him completely unawares. As the Imperial host surged into the rugged valleys of the orcish lands, they came across small, isolated orcish bands, all of which were rounded up and taken captive or cut down. Rex Vorgo, stunned by the speed of the Imperial campaign, retreated to his fortified capital of San’Kharak and sent a force of seven hundred orcish soldiers to block the road. At the Battle of Altay on the 5th of Godfrey’s Triumph, 1579, the Haeseni vanguard did battle with the orcish delaying force outside of the small village of Altay. King Petyr fought well that day, taking several prisoners, while Prince Andrik, who was given command of the cavalry, was said to have acquitted himself well in his first bout of combat. Older veterans of King Petyr’s army, those who had fought by his side back in the days of the Eighteen Years War, remarked that the young heir looked every bit the warrior that his father had been at the same age. The victorious Imperial army moved on to San’Kharak, which was put to siege. Although the cruel but effective defenses made taking the citadel difficult, the Imperial host was so great that it mattered little. Rex Vorgo, knowing that it was only a matter of time before his capital fell, escaped one night with his family and a handful of retainers. Demoralized orcish defenders began to follow their chief’s retreat, and soon only three thousand orcs remained to fight. On the 25th of Sun’s Smile, 1580, the final assault commenced against the citadel of San’Kharak. While King Petyr, having contracted an illness after the Battle of Altay, remained in his camp to direct the operations of the assault, Prince Andrik was given permission to lead the Haeseni host over the walls. It is said that he performed admirably in this ordeal, bravely taking the side of John III as the two advanced over the walls of the citadel. Within hours the city was taken, and it was said that the Emperor and the young prince were the day’s finest warriors. Thankful that the war had ended without great difficulty, King Petyr and his son returned home. Matters of family and statecraft had been calling for him over the past year, and the aging king was eager to finally be able to return and attend to those matters which had eluded him. The first was the arrangement of betrothals for his children. While none were yet old enough to marry, the establishment of ties between vassal and liege was of paramount importance. To House Kovachev, the Counts of Turov, the hand of Prince Andrik was pledged to their daughter, Reza Elizaveta. To the Imperial Crown, Princess Tatiana was promised to Prince Philip Frederick. To House Amador, the Barons of Monstadt, the hand of Prince Karl to their daughter, Maria. To House Vanir, the Margraves of Vasiland, marriage options for Princess Juliya were discussed. These marriage arrangements give insight into King Petyr’s political acumen, which continued even into his latest years. While Count Sergius Kovachev, Baron Ruslan Amador, and Margrave Fiske Vanir were all loyal and capable vassals of the Haeseni Crown, much of their loyalty had come from their long, shared histories serving beside or underneath King Petyr. The king had no wish for his realm to be dependent upon these personal ties and thus strived to build these close relations with his most important vassals. By the spring of 1582, King Petyr felt confident enough in the network of marriage ties and alliances he had established to take some time away from rulership. Haense’s ascent had not yet slowed, St. Karlsburg proved to be a bustling capital, and his children were now growing into their own. With his lingering illness from the war in Krugmar still ailing him, the king decided to venture south to warmer lands. Writing to his old friend and liege, Petyr I informed John III that he would be venturing to Johannesburg, the great Imperial capital, shortly. Leaving behind Prince Andrik as regent, the king departed for Johannesburg towards the end of the month of Sun’s Smile, 1582. After nearly a month’s travel, the king finally reached the great city. Having only seen it a handful of times since he had set foot on Axios, old King Petyr gladly received a tour from the Emperor himself around the bustling city, which was the only center of trade, culture, and vitality that surpassed St. Karlsburg. Although he enjoyed his time in Johannesburg, and was graciously received by his liege, the sickness that afflicted Petyr I did not subside. His condition worsened, and by the end of the month of Harren’s Folly he was confined to his chambers in the Imperial palace, unable to rise from his bed. Emperor John sent his personal physician and hired a litany of doctors in Johannesburg to try and cure the King of Haense, but all efforts failed. On the morning of the 4th of Sigismund’s End, 1582, King Petyr I of Haense was found dead in his bedchambers. He was 60 years of age and had ruled Hansetii-Ruska for just shy of four years. The cause of death for Petyr I is subject to debate. While he officially is recorded of having died from lingering effects of consumption that he contracted during the winter months of the War of Orcish Submission (a diagnosis that these authors believe match the symptoms he exhibited and historical consensus), other theories have emerged: From Krugmar, an orcish woman claimed that she had secretly married King Petyr during the war and that he had contracted a fatal disease from her. This tale can be safely disregarded, as it is well-known that King Petyr swore off remarrying after the death of his wife. Rene of Soubise, a Lothairingian chronicler, recounts certain rumors spread around the courts of Metz that alleged foul play in the death of King Petyr. Although few were fond of the Haeseni king, the courtiers of Metz whispered that the Emperor had a part to play in his friend and vassal’s death. Once again, this is merely baseless rumor, as none of the autopsy reports suggest any sort of poison was present. Almost immediately, a funeral service was held for the first King of Haense. As his body was marched through the streets of Johannesburg, the great crowds of onlookers shouted out cheers and prayers for the late king. Although the occasion was not one of great grief, for the Haeseni was foreign to the people of the Heartlands, nearly all knew of his deeds and service to the Empire, and took the occasion to celebrate his life. John III gave a final eulogy for his friend, which was said to have moved the crowd, which had then been more jubilant and celebrative, to tears. While a full transcript of this speech has not been preserved, we are given several excerpts: "...as we lay to rest a man I called friend, let us be reminded that his example is not solely one of the ideal liege or subject, but of the ideal man. Enduring exile, poverty, alienation, and trial, he restored his lineage in a matter of decades. It is rare that such a feat is accomplished, yet it proves that, both within our Empire, and in the greater story of humanity, one may be able to rise despite the odds and create for himself a legacy fit to be told and remembered. His loss will be missed, for such men only rarely emerge in history, and they cannot ever be replaced.” When the body was finally sent to Haense the occasion was far more somber. Great masses of northmen and women dressed from head to toe in black followed the procession of the body as it passed into the southern territories of Haense and was carted up to St. Karlsburg. At the capital of Haense, thousands took to the streets to openly weep for the good king that they so loved. As he was finally laid to rest within the city, the local bishop called for a week of mourning to be had. It was adhered to by all. Despite the king’s passing, and the sorrow it brought, his end brought with it some hope. The kingdom that he had left behind was powerful and still growing. His heir, while still inexperienced in the matters of state, had proven to be a brave, bright young prince. The vassals and leading officials of the realm promise to serve the son of King Petyr loyally, while the people were hopeful that Andrik would reign in the mold of his father. Despite the heartache that their good king’s death had brought, the horizon looked bright for the new kingdom. Within four years, all those hopes would be dashed and the very survival of Haense would be threatened. Dravi, Petyr I ‘the Founder’ 23rd of Godfrey’s Triumph, 1522-4th of Sigismund’s End, 1582 (r. 14th of Tobias’s Bounty, 1578-4th of Sigismund’s End, 1582) O Ágioi Kristoff, Jude kai Pius. Dóste mas gnósi ópos sas ékane o Theós. Poté min afísoume na doúme to skotádi, allá as doúme móno to fos tis sofías kai tis alítheias. O Theós na se evlogeí. The reign of Andrik II shall be covered in the next volume of The Winter Crows.
  11. this guy will never bowl another strike lol

    1. Nectorist


      just bowled another strike

  12. Yeah, I think this is probably at the core of a lot of it. The server right now is built for a generation that has mostly left and never really raised the newer generations to take over from them. It's like if a story written by an author from 1850 was handed over to someone born in 2003 and they were told to complete it (2016 -> 2023 in internet terms is about that same length of time imo). Their plot, prose, style, cultural references, themes, etc, would be vastly different than what came before and make for a jarring and probably inferior product. It's not that this generation is incapable of roleplaying, but they've inherited a server that's been built atop years of history that was influenced by a culture and community that's alien to them. I'm kind of in favor of a partial lore wipe (this includes nations, families, characters, and whatnot, basically wiping the slate clean for people to develop new projects. Standard lore like racial lore, many of the magics, etc, would remain) but that comes with its own issues and would also be bitterly resisted. Still, I do think a "new server" must be made to accommodate the new community culture we have instead of people feeling the obligation to don the ill-fitting clothes of the people that came before them.
  13. I have the urge to write a larger post about it that can't be condensed into a simple forum reply, but I don't think the issues on the server really stem from the mod team, techs, etc. The staff team and its conduct is arguably the best the server has had except for maybe 2021-ish. The rules that exist right now are among the friendliest towards RP. Degeneracy is clamped down on and not covered up nearly as much as it was before. The toxicity right now is at record lows. I've noticed that many points of criticism people have of the server right now were problems that were much worse years ago, even though the general consensus is that the server's peak was around 2014-2018 (and possibly stretching out until 2020). People often look back on those years with rose-tinted glasses and ignore a lot of flaws, but there's a reason that those who were around then long for a return to the good old days. The server's present problems lay almost entirely at the feet of the community, though I think it's a far more subtle, less malicious thing than people say. It's hard to pinpoint or express in simple terms, but there has been a cultural malaise that's overtaken LoTC for years now, and began to ramp up since around 2020. If I had to give a simplified cause, it's the server's older generation (those who knew how to make RP) moving away en masse and newer generations with radically different views of RP (probably influenced by a different pop culture/internet culture zeitgeist they've grown up in) taking their places and being unable to fill their shoes properly. Maybe it's just growing pains, and we'll need a few years for things to return to the vibrancy that was had years ago, or maybe it's a permanent problem that's just irreversible. I don't want to be pessimistic at all, but I also don't think there's a silver bullet solution. A lot of changes people have proposed here are good, don't get me wrong, but it feels like they're focused on tweaking the rudders while there's a gaping hole in the ship. People have always taken LoTC way too seriously (me too), but at least in years past it felt like people could have fun while doing it, as a way to justify the long hours spent online and the Friday nights devoted to RPing or scheming or grinding for tomorrow's warclaim or whatever. I don't get that vibe at all. Or maybe I'm just old
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