THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE HOLY ORENIAN EMPIRE: Volume I; Introduction and the New Age
Written by Justinian Nafis, heir to the County of Susa
Adolphus Gloriana, Earl of Suffolk, Prince of Sutica
“As I will it, it shall be: Novellen. I die a pauper of spirit, yet to them I can bequeath an Empire.”
- Lord Protector Adrian de Sarkozy on his deathbed
The Novellen Dynasty has produced a cast of monarchs whose impact upon history has been felt greater than any other, save perhaps the Pertinaxi and the Johannians. Long-living, innovative, and storied, the Novellens are as much a product of the relatively liberal environment our world knows today as they are the architects of it. However, to mistake liberality for passiveness would do any study of the dynasty a great disservice. Descending from the unified lines of Sarkozy and Pertinaxi, the Novellens boast soldiers, statesmen, priests, reformers, reactionaries, peacemakers and conquerors in the same mold as their predecessors. The Empire that sprung from their statecraft rivaled all that came before them where breadth, scale, prestige, and power are to be considered.
The story of the ruin of the Novellen Empire is simple and obvious; and, instead of inquiring why the Novellen empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long. The Imperial State Army, despite enjoying some victories throughout its long history, paled in comparison to the legions of the Johannians, Pertinaxi, and Chivays. Its institutions, while innovative and unparalleled when first introduced, were showing signs of needing reform even during the sole reign of Joseph II; by the time of Philip II, the entire administrative apparatus of the Empire had found itself in decline. Isolated throughout most of its existence, the Empire frequently saw itself against coalitions compromising most of the continent.
Yet, despite the many calamities that threatened to tear the Novellen Empire asunder from the moment of its birth to its death, none slew the home of man. It could not even be said that the empire was slain at all, for had its further existence been willed by those powers that ordered its end, then it would have lived through our modern day. However, upon closer examination, one will find that it was not the empire that fell victim to the many threats within and without, but the imperial civic virtue that laid the foundation of its society. Although most of the regnants of the Petrine Empire, save perhaps Philip II, displayed exemplary conduct, virtue, and honor, such values were not forcibly instilled in the rest of the Imperial population, perhaps owing to the liberal sentiments that guided them. In their general deference to what was deemed the general will, the general good was left ignored.
Still, the Petrine Empire not only persevered, but ascended during its long life, surpassing all previous iterations. The story weaved from the reign of Joseph I to the final days of Philip III tells of a series of passionate thinkers undertaking the most ambitious experiment the known world has seen. To the amateur and professional historian alike, the story of the Novellens and the wider Petrine Empire leaves one with a profound sense of awe, for it is a reflection of the good of the human spirit, and the heights that may be reached should a common vision drive all diligent actors to utilize their arts for the highest good.
The New Age
“These are the sins of the Pertinaxi, whose chains bind the subjects of the Empire. Cast them off- so I call! Let a new era be born, for we must depart from tyranny lest we be consumed by it.”
- Emperor Joseph I to a crowd in Reza
While there are few within the current scholastic communities that claim the start of the Decline of the Holy Orenian Empire began with Emperor Joseph I, and while this is a consensus among the more elven scholars, this is disagreed upon by these writers. However, the story will begin with the death of the Marna Empire, where the principles that gave rise to the ‘Novellen philosophy’ were first laid.
The War of the Two Emperors was the defining, cataclysmic event that engulfed nearly the entirety of Arcas. The jingoistic Pertinaxi Empire, while still the preeminent military power on the continent, had faced a period of sharp military decline since the reign of Emperor Aurelius. The Empire, now led by Emperor Antonius, a man considered by many to be mad, found itself splitting at the seams. He was considered by many to be a brutal tyrant, loving wanton bloodshed wherever it could be found. Whispers even emerged that he had slain his own father to obtain the throne. With no greater enjoyment than pillaging and raiding the fiefs of his own vassals, Antonius drove his disgruntled subjects to form an alliance known as the Nenzing Conspiracy, named after the castle where they first met. The conspirators, led by King Marius II of Haense, King Alfred II of Curonia, Alfred Myre, the Prince of Ves, and Conrad de Falstaff, the Count of Leuven, plotted the overthrow of the Pertinaxi Dynasty, believing it to be the embodiment of tyranny and oppression against the liberties of the subjects of the Empire.
Needing a suitable candidate to contest the claim of the Pertinaxi, the Count of Leuven proposed the middle-aged Joseph Leopold, a descendent of the scion of the Marnan branch of the Horens. While it has been claimed that Joseph Leopold lived his whole life in Aeldin, the authors of this work thoroughly reject this theory. It is well-known that in events where the birth and upbringing of an individual are unknown, either they or later historians will claim lineage from ‘Aeldin’ - a mythical continent without geographical, historical, or literary evidence. From the verbal account of Joseph Leopold’s barber, recorded by a Reiver mercenary during the march to Helena in 1716, the future Emperor was born in a country estate outside of Senntisten in 1668 to John Marna and Margarita de Falstaff, two minor nobles whose prestigious lineages were too distant to be considered significant. Little is known of Joseph Leopold’s upbringing, but it may be assumed that he served as a court functionary during the reigns of Aurelius and Augustus, and was possibly even a page.
With few other options, the Nenzing conspirators agreed to put forth Joseph Leopold as their candidate. Although inexperienced in matters of warfare and statecraft, the man was bright and charismatic with a penchant for authorship (his poems during the War of the Two Emperors were widely-read, even among the Pertinaxi loyalists). Furthermore, being of middling age, the man did not possess the erratic, energetic disposition of a youth, ensuring that he would not be prone to rash decision-making. However, this lack of spiritedness frequently gave way to lethargy and apathy, and Joseph’s ill-advised attention to his poetry and arts over the practical matters of managing a realm and war, would spell his later downfall.
However, during the autumn of 1714, all looked well for the Nenzing conspirators. The men moved with great haste, eager to spark their rebellion within the coming months. They first signed an alliance with Grand Prince Aelthir Tundrak of Fenn, a longstanding enemy of the Pertinaxi and a respected figure among the elven realms, bringing to their side the vaunted snow elven cavalry. Immediately after, they hired the services of the feared Reiver mercenaries, a band who found themselves in a state of constant war with the Pertinaxi. Dozens of other smaller vassals were brought into the conspiracy, though none so noteworthy as to be named here. Unfortunately for the Nenzing conspirators, their attempts to recruit the King Alvar I of Norland were foiled by the Count of Leuven’s cousin, Arthur de Falstaff, who, as the future general of the Marnan army, refused to fight by the side of the Norlanders. This would prove to be a crucial blunder for the Nenzing conspirators, as the Norlandic forces would have bolstered the Marnan army decisively.
By the winter of 1714, the lines had been drawn. In Reza, before a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands, Joseph Leopold Marna was crowned as Joseph I, Holy Orenian Emperor. Having rallied the banners of most of the Empire to his cause, Emperor Joseph began a slow, steady march to the Imperial capital of Helena. First, he stopped by Ves, where, after giving a speech to the assembled crowd, the boy-King Alfred II of Curon, one of the conspirators, swore fealty along with five thousand of his bannermen. The display, which, according to the former King of Curon, Wilhelm I, was planned beforehand, became a symbol of the Marnan cause. Emperor Antonius, hearing of the rebellion, immediately called on his remaining vassals and allies to defend the capital. However, most of his vassals, save those in the Crownlands and Norland, had defected to the Marnan cause, and his allies in Krugmar and Haelun’or would not be able to arrive in time to meet the approaching army. Mere weeks before the Marnan army arrived in the Imperial Crownlands, Emperor Antonius had disappeared, never to be heard from again.
The disappearance of Emperor Antonius is a controversial topic among scholars of the late Pertinaxi period. The traditional narrative is that, upon hearing of Joseph Marna’s approach, Antonius boarded a ship and fled to Aeldin, fearing what would become of him if he were captured by the Marnan forces. However, this can safely be discredited as fiction. The truth, as reported by a number of palace courtiers after the war, is that a coup, led by the Emperor’s brother Romulus, the Duke of Cascadia, deposed and executed him. Then, the Duke of Cascadia’s young son, Remus Godfrey, was raised to the throne as Emperor Godfrey II. Why the Duke of Cascadia himself did not name himself Emperor is unknown, but it is alleged, in the diary of Sasha of Helena, a local ‘woman of the night’ oft-frequented by Imperial councilors and officials, that the Emperor’s council deemed the Duke of Cascadia too unreliable to lead the defense of the Empire. The handling of the war would be left to Emperor Godfrey’s regency council, led primarily by Edvard Edvardsson, future King of Norland, Pierce Devereux, future King of Curonia, and Dimaethor Visaj, the Sohaer of Haelun’or. Immediately, the regency council scrambled to assemble an army to defend Helena, a task they gave to the capable general Martinus Horen.
The two armies first met on the outskirts of Helena on the 30th of Horen’s Calling, 1715, at the town of Rodenberg. The Marnan army, led in person by Emperor Joseph (though this was only nominal; Arthur de Falstaff held actual command), decisively outmatched the hastily-assembled Pertinaxi forces, which numbered only half their size. At a decisive point in the battle, General Martinus, leading a cavalry charge against the right of the Marnan line, was unhorsed and captured, demoralizing his troops and leading to a general rout. However, logistical issues within the Marnan army forced its retreat back to Reza, thereby sparing Helena from assured conquest. In the immediate aftermath of this victory, Emperor Joseph published the Nenzig Proclamation, a radical document that denounced Emperor Antonius and the Pertinaxi Dynasty and, even more importantly to the later Petrine Empire, enumerated the ‘Rights of Man’. The ‘Rights of Man’, consisting of the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to trial, was an unprecedented document that asserted that these rights, derived from God himself, could not be infringed upon, even by the Emperor himself. This departure from the commonly-accepted doctrine of Horenic, i.e Imperial, supremacy over its subjects, if not all of humanity itself, is significant.
A depiction of the trial of Martinus Horen.
The first test of these principles came with the now-controversial trial of Martinus Horen. Given a right to trial before Emperor Joseph, General Martinus and his defense counsel argued that his service to Emperor Godfrey was legal, and that he should not be executed for treason on those grounds. In a decision much-maligned by later legal scholars, Emperor Joseph declared General Martinus innocent and allowed him to depart from Reza a free man. Although the trial of Martinus Horen proved Emperor Joseph’s unwavering commitment to the Rights of Man, his decision to free Martinus due to those principles would come back to haunt him.
For the next year, a number of smaller skirmishes and engagements were fought between the Pertinaxi and Marnan armies. While the regular Marnan levies, under the command of their local lords and appointed generals, were frequently bested by their Pertinaxi counterparts, the Reiver mercenaries fared far better. However, overall command of the Marnan army was never given to the talented Lucius Daemyr, as the esteemed vassals of Emperor Joseph scoffed at the notion of serving under the command of a general who was not one of their own. Thus, Arthur de Falstaff, an extremely popular man among the nobility, who by all accounts was a mediocre field commander, faced neither replacement nor reprisal for his failures. None of the setbacks faced by the Marnan army were serious enough to stop their eventual resumed advance towards Helena. At the head of the largest army seen on Arcas at the time (accounts number it to be around twenty five thousand men), Emperor Joseph promised his loyal followers that soon the Empire would be theirs and the Rights of Man could truly be guaranteed to all subjects of the Empire.
That being said, all was not well for the Marnan army. The army, burdened by a large supply train and a swarm of camp followers, moved at a snail’s pace. Having departed from Reza in the spring of 1716, it was not until late fall that they arrived at Helena. Despite having the previous year to stockpile supplies (including the death of a commander, Baron de Guise and his peasants by dogs used by the Pertinaxi in the ‘Spring Incident"), Arthur de Falstaff knew that winter would wreak havoc on the army. He immediately invested in the city, putting it under siege. The Pertinaxi had used the time leading up to the siege well, and General Martinus had transformed the capital into a fortress of now-infamous lethality. Furthermore, reinforcements from Haelun’or and Krugmar had bolstered the Pertinaxi army, which now numbered around seventeen thousand. By the time the Marnan trebuchets began to pound the city, the Pertinaxi army within Helena was well-supplied, well-armed, and well-prepared.
The siege drew on for two weeks, with no major attempts from either side to storm the city or sally out. However, by the 14th of Tobias’s Bounty, Arthur de Falstaff reported to Emperor Joseph’s war council that if the city was not stormed within the next two weeks, the Marnan army would be forced to lift the siege and retreat back to Reza. Not wishing to repeat the events of the previous year, Emperor Joseph approved a plan put forth by his war council to storm the city on the 23rd of Tobias’s Bounty. All the remaining artillery was to be used to create breaches in the walls and smash the defenses while the Reiver mercenaries scaled the walls in order to drive the defenders into the middle of the city and into the oncoming trebuchet shots. When the Pertinaxi forces were deemed battered enough, the main Marnan army would advance into the city, slaughtering the remaining defenders. On the night of the 22nd of Tobias’s Bounty, all of the subordinate commanders of the Marnan army were informed of the plan. The attack would begin at dawn the next day.
In the morning of the 23rd of Tobias’s Bounty, 1716, the opening artillery volleys were launched upon Helena to great effect. Over the course of the day, the city was reduced nearly to rubble as the trebuchets, led by the Reiver captain Albatross Volaren and Crown Prince Aelthos Tundrak of Fenn, struck with deadly accuracy on nearly every shot. The Reiver mercenaries sent forth to skirmish within the city also succeeded at their task, pushing back the defenders into the main palace, where the whole of the Pertinaxi army made their stand to defend Emperor Godfrey. However, despite the successes of his artillery and skirmishers, Arthur de Falstaff had grown impatient. Dusk was approaching, and with nightfall, the defenders of the city would have the time to emerge from the main palace and repair their defenses. Captain Volaren and the Crown Prince of Fenn urged de Falstaff to wait until the last of the artillery had been expended, as they had a clear line of fire into the palace itself. These pleas fell on deaf ears, and within minutes, de Falstaff ordered the general advance of the Marnan army. Believing the Pertinaxi army to be on the verge of collapse, all organization within Emperor Joseph’s army broke down as they swarmed into the city. They were fatefully wrong.
Although much of the city had been reduced to ruins, the body of the Pertinaxi army had remained intact. The moment the disorganized Marnan mob entered the city, General Martinus led a swift counterattack to meet them. A great, swirling battle was fought in the middle of the city, with indiscriminate slaughter being perpetuated by both sides. It is at this point in the battle that Martinus Horen met his end, though the circumstances are unclear. Although nearly every primary written and verbal source from the Marnan side during the Great Siege of Helena claims that they were the ones who slew General Martinus, consulting the pro-Pertinaxi sources divulges more accurate information. A butcher who had been pressed into the Pertinaxi cause later reported that General Martinus had gone down fighting as he was surrounded by five bannermen from Haense. Another source, from a private in the Pertinaxi Legion, asserts that Martinus engaged in a duel with Arthur de Falstaff, but fell from his horse and was stampeded by the mass of soldiers fighting. Yet another source relays an account that it was a stray arrow from a Reiver crossbowman that ended the esteemed general’s life. Whatever his end may have been, General Martinus’s death did not turn the tide of the battle, as in the confusion his demise went unnoticed until his body was found the next day.
An artist depiction of the Siege of Helena.
Having met stiffer resistance than they were prepared for, facing the well-organized Pertinaxi charge as an incoherent mass, the larger Marnan army began to buckle, then break, then disintegrate into a general rout. From atop a hill overlooking Helena, Emperor Joseph is reported to have fainted atop his horse, needing to be carried away by his retainers. Subordinate commanders and vassal lords quickly rounded up the remnants that they could and led an orderly retreat from the city. The Pertinaxi forces, too exhausted and bloodied to pursue, merely set to work constructing field hospitals for the wounded. While later Pertinaxi mythos relays that only four hundred men remained standing at the end of the battle, this is merely legend. In truth, around five thousand Pertinaxi escaped death or serious injury during the fight. The Marnan losses were similarly catastrophic, with only four thousand escaping the city. The rest were either killed or taken prisoner after the battle. It was a victory for the Pertinaxi cause, to be sure, but its decisiveness was not known in the moment.
In the months after the loss at Helena, the political situation still could have been salvageable, as Emperor Joseph still enjoyed substantial support among the Empire and the siege had been equally devastating to both sides. However, instead of decisive action, the Emperor became inconsolable. The diary of his wife, Annunziata of Marna, claims that he was shut in his room for days at a time, only emerging to take the occasional bread and wine. Verses from various poems were etched upon the walls, some in a strange tongue that she had never seen before. Frequently he could be heard howling from his balcony at night, "Arthur, Arthur, give me back my legions!" Due to the known infidelities committed by Emperor Joseph, he and his wife were estranged, leading some historians to doubt the authenticity of Annunziata’s accounts. Regardless, his inaction in the aftermath is well-attested to by most sources around the time, and it was during this crucial period that the Marnan cause fell.
Arthur de Falstaff, disgraced after his defeat at Helena, similarly vanishes around this time, though his case is far more of an open question than his liege’s. He fought a few more losing battles during the winter of 1716, though these were mostly minor rearguard actions. Despite the relative insignificance of these defeats, it appears that the Marnan cause was fed up with their failures; Arthur de Falstaff vanishes from contemporary sources. An account from a disgruntled Vesian town guardsman says that de Falstaff was killed by a mutiny of his own soldiers. Members of Emperor Joseph’s court contest this, with their own versions of the story being that it was a conspiracy among the nobility that removed him from power and either killed him or sent him into exile. Popular belief is that he simply deserted the army, humiliated by his failures, to live the life of a shepherd within neutral Urguani territory. No matter the cause, by 1717 Arthur de Falstaff had been removed from his command, which soon devolved into a decentralized structure built around local lords and their levies.
Exploiting the broken command structure within the Marnan ranks, the Pertinaxi army, now led by Sir Donald Horen (1. incorrect accounts, likely jokes from historian’s assistants, relay his surname as ‘Dabber’ 2. It is falsely believed that General Martinus Horen was alive and in command of the army. This is similarly untrue, as almost all credible sources date his death at the Great Siege of Helena), began to advance upon Reza, swiftly conquering Leuven along the way. With Emperor Joseph unable to contain the political situation due to his absence, the Kingdom of Curonia defected to the Renatian cause after an army under the Sohaer of Haelun’or overran its border defenses. Similarly, assassins sent to the Golden City of Ves joined with local dissidents to slay Prince Alfred Myre, replacing him with a pro-Pertinaxi prince who immediately declared neutrality. With his allies abandoning him and his army falling to ruin, Emperor Joseph became governed by the depression that gripped him. By the time word came to him that Leuven had fallen, the Emperor had effectively abdicated, and reportedly fled the continent.
Once again, these accounts must fall into question. At this time, it was widely believed that Emperor Joseph was a prisoner in all but name within Reza, and for him to escape the city unnoticed is utterly unbelievable. While many historians hold faith in the allegations that Emperor Joseph fled Reza to an unknown place abroad, citing a poem, titled Miss You, supposedly published by him in 1725, the true answer to his fate lay in the verbal account of his mistress, Marguerite de Poncy, the daughter of one of his household knights, which was relayed to and recorded by Gretchen of Reza, a local tavernkeep’s wife. The tale from the distraught de Poncy alleges that Emperor Joseph was killed by agents of King Marius II of Haense, who had grown tired of his liege’s inaction and desired to take charge of the war effort himself, as by this point, the fight was not to establish a new Empire, but to ensure Haense’s survival.
King Marius, whether he ordered his liege’s death or not, would not be able to enjoy his newfound freedom for long, as only a year later, in the summer of 1719, he too was killed by pro-Pertinaxi assassins while walking in his palace gardens. As his son, Andrik, was only ten years old by the time of his death, the leadership of Haense, and the rebel cause as a whole (by 1718, around the disappearance of Emperor Joseph I, historians ceased to call the rebellion against the Pertinaxi the ‘Marnan’ cause anymore, instead designating the distinction as being between the rebels and the Empire), fell to the Lord Palatine, Prince Georg Stanimar of Alimar. Prince Georg, young and defiant, promised to fight the Empire to the last Haenseman. He led several delaying actions against the advancing Imperial Legion, hoping to buy enough time for the defenses at Reza to be refortified. The rebels were utterly outmanned and outsupplied in each of these engagements, with reports of unarmed peasant mobs desperately flinging themselves at Imperial soldiers during the battles of 1719-1720. However, at the Battle of the Koengswald on the 2nd of Tobias’s Bounty, 1720, the last field army the rebel cause could muster was completely shattered. To pour salt on the wound, Prince Georg was taken captive during the battle and later executed in Helena. Now, there was no force to oppose the Empire. The Reiver mercenaries, having taken the brunt of the fighting since 1718, were reduced to only a tenth of their former numbers. The snow elven army had pulled back to Fenn to prepare their own defenses. The remaining rebel lords, among them the Count of Leuven, had seen their lands conquered by the Imperial army. The Haenseti army, having fought and lost in countless battles, was now rendered inoperable, as no new recruits could be found from the devastated countryside. Victory was assured, and on the 13th of Tobias’s Bounty, 1721, the Treaty of Reza was signed. The Kingdom of Haense surrendered and was brought back into the Imperial fold.
Emperor Joseph I was a visionary by all accounts, something even his greatest enemies must admit to. His enumeration of the Rights of Man would serve as the foundation for the legal code and governing philosophy of the later Petrine Empire under Peter III and his successors, and the notion of absolute power being held in the sovereign, with little of it delegated to the people of the Empire at large, would come under question in later years. From this was born the Imperial Diet, an institution which sought to extend the powers of governing and legislating the realm to the subjects of the Empire, and thereby give them a voice in the instruments of the state. This radical change in government, departing from the traditional style of a monarch governing his dominion through the use of vassals, who themselves obtained exclusive privileges according to their noble status, can be directly traced back to the writings and principles of Emperor Joseph I. The prominent Josephite Party based its entire political philosophy off of his writings, and was met with immense popular support even when just mentioning the revered figure.
However, his performance as the Emperor leaves much to be desired. While idealistic and bright, his personal inexperience in governing a realm and managing a war proved disastrous for his cause. Without a central base of power to rely upon, Emperor Joseph frequently played the part of mediator in order to settle the factional disputes within his cause. Rarely did he think to order his vassals to comply with certain directives from his war council, rarer still did he take charge himself, opting to delegate his imperial authority, yet still he typically did not empower one person to make decisions in his stead. This was at its most detrimental in the aftermath of the Great Siege of Helena, where decisive political and military action may have allowed the Marnan cause to survive, but his frequent absence and reneging on his duties doomed his rebellion.
Additionally, although he rallied a large army to his cause, his reliance on the inexperienced Arthur de Falstaff and other local nobles as commanders, instead of the more battle-hardened Reiver mercenaries (who had fought against the Pertinaxi for years and were familiar with their style of warfare), meant that his army was comparatively poorly-led when matched against the Pertinaxi legions, which were led by vaunted generals Martinus Horen and Sir Donald Horen. Still, the Great Siege of Helena was, in Emperor Joseph’s own words, "a series of flipping coins until the very end." A Pertinaxi nobleman concurs, writing: "We could only rest the moment we saw the last banner of the Marnan army disappear in the distance."
While not a victor, the impact and legacy of Joseph I cannot be understated. He ranked among the most beloved Emperors among the citizens of the Petrine Empire, and his works were some of the most widely-circulated and cited documents up until the reign of Emperor John VIII. While he may have lost the War of the Two Emperors, the world created in its aftermath was undoubtedly molded in the vision that he first laid out before eager crowds ready to die for the cause he championed.
Vale, Joseph I ‘the Fiddler’
5th of Sigismund’s End, 1668-30th of the Sun’s Smile, 1718
(r. 6th of Harren’s Folly, 1715-30th of the Sun’s Smile, 1718)
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 aftermath of the War of the Two Emperors shall be covered in our next volume of The Decline and Fall of the Holy Orenian Empire.