Fourteen Years Strife, Part 3

Years 7-10  (+4 years)

         The Savage Kings are rulers as fluid as their constituents, vying for the loyalty of independent Barons in order to form military and trade coalitions.  One King may have loyal Barons scattered all over the Coast, supported by multiple Houses irrespective of those Houses own politics.  These Kings were once the most powerful, influential or wealthy members of a given House, but upon attaining Royal status they quickly abandoned family ties as they ascended into the highest political and social groups.  Over time they have become their own entities, both the aspiration, targets and pawns of the Savage Barons.  A commoner, half starved, blighted by the Red Curse and sifting through the mud for Steel Seed may never see, know or care which King their lord has pledged their allegiance to.  Such concerns are the business of the Priests and Nobility.  Sometimes, however, events are interesting enough that the gossip reaches even into the slave pits.
         King Uthan Relegan, a minor king who had been pivotal in the downfall of the House of Thane, has reinstated the Thanes with backing from Palanis Barons.  Two other minor kings, Penin and Talltos have also lifted their banishment of the House of Thane and invite them to Court.  The gray and black banners of Thane now appear over a growing number of their old holding in the southwest as petty lords and knights renew their vows of fealty.
         One of the three High Kings, King Yorik Savoy, passed away.  This unexpected but also unremarkable- that his three sons managed to simultaneously kill each other in a bout to claim title to the throne captured the interest of the masses.  One of the Kings illegitimate daughters now claims the seat, though she has not eliminated all competition.  Rumors say she's a tiefling, born to a whore in the Pirate Isles, or worse.
         This left two High Kings, one of which had already announced his intention to retire and divide his crown between his beloved daughters, who were courted by Barons from House Balek, House Palanis and Princes of Yasa and Hurlon.  King Werehaus Ithica had been supported in this by the Church of Bane, who insured a clear and binding separation of powers and did indeed draw up the most elaborate will.  The Church, however, had not considered the old kings temperament.  At the ceremony itself he found cause to banish his favorite daughter, eliminating her from an inheritance.  The more romantic bards say she fled to Hurlon with the suitor that would still have her.  Over the next few years, the ailing King was passed back and forth between his two remaining daughters, suffering the incredulity of children who, though meaning well, took delight in their new positions of power.  Stripped of his dignity and raving mad, King Ithica disappeared.  Most of this would have been forgotten by now, but just recently the eldest princesses was hanged for treason along with her lover, one of the Priests of Bane that had composed the will.  House Palanis has stopped short of declaring the will illegitimate, at least until the mad old King can be found.
         On the 18th of Aubon, on St. Jesop's Day, two years after the Banites used the severed hand of a mutilated Ilmater priest to dedicate the Degrasse church, Twenty Saints of the Celtinbrook Archdiocese issued an edict to be read in every Cathedral in the Archdiocese.  The next day two thousand ships embarked twenty thousand paladins and sailed south.  Hell had came knocking on The Gates of the Savage Coast.
         At least that's how the bards sing of it. 
         It actually took some time for the armies to form up and set sail, nearly two years in all, but it was still a dreadful day when the Kings of the Savage Coast first heard of the Crusade announced against the fortresses of Taloor, Melba, Sansea, St. Augustin and Degrasse.  At least three of the Saints personally led their own Guard into the teeth of the Coast and though there were far more than twenty thousand armed men in all, there were nowhere near that many paladins.  Never the less, the massive religious backing of the armies was enough to put the fear of the Gods into the garrisons of House Balek, Uthan and Palanis alike. 
         Though fierce enough in capabilities, these Houses are at best ragged bands of disorganized nobles who, though hardened by centuries of infighting, disease and the Red Curse, were still only used to small actions against their neighbors- brutal but quickly resolved.  What came at them, they were told, was like the ocean when the moons are high- an unstoppable wave that would rise against them on all fronts, cut off their trade with Hurlon and Nentha and make the occasional Yasan or Pirate raid look like ripples in a pond.  The garrison of Sansea, first to face an ocean filled with the gleaming white sails of the Celtinbrook bishops, surrendered without a fight.  The Lord of the fortress, Palanis Francois, though then diposed, was allowed to remain a Constable of the Port and became a very wealthy man very quickly.  Word of this spread, enticing others.  The Banite church declared him a Traitor and a Curse Upon the Faithful.  Six months later he was found gutted and piked, the gulls picking at his entrails on the very warf where the first Crusaders landed.  Two weeks later his children's eyes inexplicably burned out of their skulls.  Celtinbrook authorities were too busy elsewhere to attend to the matter; the crusade was going badly.
          The first sign of trouble was the loss of the greater part of St. Ingleton's army in a hurricane off the Mermaid's Tale, a series of rocky shallows north of the Savage Coast.  Successful sieges of the ports of Taldoor and Melba, the sprawling fortress of St. Augustin were humbled by a catastrophic defeat of the army besieging Degrasse.  King Balek Bern, the last of the High Kings left in the Savage Coast, was killed by a catapult stone during a naval action, but his eldest son, dubbed "The Tyrant" and an avid supporter of the Church of Bane, assumed the throne quickly and without opposition- bringing Bane to the highest Courts of the Land.  King Balek Ainvar has proven himself a brilliant political tactician but has yet to prove himself in the field, content to let his Barons from Houses Balek, Uthan and Yorik fight back as individuals.  The young King Taltos, however, has managed to unite a few Barons from almost every House into a single, cohesive force.  Though not the largest force the Savage Coast has ever seen under one flag, the young Kings amiable character and martial skill has made him the most dangerous opponent of the Crusades and earning him a reputation.  They say not a month passes without at least one defection to his banner.
          Celtinbrook ships have also been unable to establish a blockade of the Coast, so outgoing trade has merely been hampered but the supply of Cynabryl and steel seed coming into the Celtinbrook has withered, making the crusaders limit their use of firearms to only the most highly prized units.  In turn, the Baronies of the Sword Coast have been hording their own stockpiles and though the Sword Coast lacks skilled gunmakers, Handcannons and other easily manufactured firearms are being produced in vast quantities.  Nearly every garrison can now equip at least half their troops with basic guns and even finicky weapons called grenades have exploded in popularity amungst Barons eager to relieve themselves of a few Cursed peasant "volunteers." 
          After three years of fighting, the Crusade has secured a few main ports, one or two dozen outlying islands and four of its five objectives.  For the Harpers, it was good to have the Church of Bane's attention drawn elsewhere, but it has come at the cost of increased awareness of spies and violent acts against foreigners, especially those with accents or names reminiscent of the Archdiocese.           

Thane Aldo, Lord of Tilldown Hole, Harper Secretary General to the Savage Coast, Father and Husband:
         In the first six years, the Harper effort in the Savage Coast languished, Churches to Bane rose and their influence solidified and came out into the open.  Though the Chuch of Oppression was now an easier target, it was a bigger and more powerful one as well and it's shear scale and complexity laid like a crushing stone upon Aldo.  It didn't help that the House of Thane rejected the Church, who's views are popular in the King's courts, cutting off easy pathways of influence.  Though some of Aldo's Court "facades" were popular and effective in getting him close to the Kings or the more powerful nobles, the pressure of the job and other distractions have diminished Aldo's effect. 
         There was also a valley of grief that has been his to bear.  Aldo's grandmothers passing, plus two of his cousins and an uncle falling in battle added to the weight of nearly sixty Harper agents gone missing, dead or deserted.  Aldo's chamber darkened with his mood and he began to see visions.  He remains quiet about them but close friends know that he is haunted by the past, in particular his youngest brother, Thane Cleo, who was slain on the deck of the Felon Steel so many years ago.  Whenever Aldo travels by sea with Guy, Cleo seems to be constantly in the shadows.  Guy has yet to tell Aldo where he too began seeing Cleo- in the marshes to the west of Piss Pot, long before Guy brought him to Aldo.
         What was left of Aldo's strength has been sapped by Thane business.  The family has officially reinstated Aldo as Lord of Tilldown Hole, a large tract of swamp and rocky high grounds recently reacquired by the family near the Savage Road.  Strapped for noble blood, the land and its care was veritably forced upon Aldo, while the family set about knighting every eager gentlemen that approaches in order to secure their hold on their old territory.  
          There has been a spark of light in the east, as Aragorn might say, for unlike Guy, who's beleaguered property has generated more debts than income, Aldo's seemingly useless property quickly turned profitable, though no one has had time to find out why.  Another, even greater surprise was Aldo's secret marriage to a Lady of Good Standing, the second daughter of Balek Betanard.  This news was the rage of King Balek Ainvar's court (and the amusement of King Uthan Relegan's) for almost a month, not just due to the web of intrigues and cloud of disgrace surrounding the marriage but also because Balek Senya, now Thane Senya, was slated for the Kings harem before she was plucked by this impertinent bastard of a dead House.  Prominent noblemen claim that King has been slighted, even if He has not mentioned it, for Senya's merits were well known in Court.  Soft spoken in public but with a wickedly sharp wit in private, it is rumored that a Banite Inquisitor had gotten hold of her a year before and that after only a few hours it was he who left the room weeping.  The darkly beautiful Thane Senya is one of the few people who can bring a smile to Aldo's face these days, which she does with such power and fervor that it reminds Aldo's family of his younger day.  Aldo's two year old twins reinforce this image- two boys who's darkly handsome features are the best combination of their parents gifts.
          With crusading armies sacking northern ports, Kings calling up their retainers to defend the lands, the southern nobles gutting trade to make a profit and Banite Inquisitors scouring the land for treachery, the fortress of Tilldown Hole somehow manages to float peacefully along in anonymity.  As do many other overlooked backwaters…

Sir Guy Richeford of Whiterock, Harper Admiral (the Damned Heretic Pirate of Whiterock):
          The arson of Degrasse Church, though morally contrary to Harper beliefs, did achieve some good in the end.  Five months later, Harpers located the three rogue's hideout and searched for any Banite correspondences they might have collected hidden away before they were captured.  The cache that was eventually recovered, mostly intact, contained encoded fiscal reports and supply networks, which were taken back to the Celtinbrook Archdiocese and decoded by a team assembled by Thane Aldo.  Once legible, those documents supplied the names of the ships victualing the churchs of Bane in a number of fortifications along the Peninsula of Cathas, as well as the origins and nature of their cargoes.  Admiral Richeford was swift to disperse his fleet and began a series of cat and mouse campaigns spanning three years, thrashing the Banite lifelines while the Harper network sought to lay its hands on similar information elsewhere.  Vessels captured by Richeford's men added to the Harper Fleet, which rapidly expanded to eleven vessels in total, primarily armed merchants of various sizes and a few fast "message" cutters.  Guy was promoted to a Harper Admiral, tasked with smuggling goods to supporters and harassing ships flying Banite pendants, though his recent infamy has severely hampered his ability to feign neutrality.
          His political opinion of the Banites became known after his years spent at the tables of Palor, Uthan and Werehaus noblemen and it didn't take long for the Church to discover who was striking their shipping.  Sir Guy Richeford now has a new nickname, "The Pirate of Whiterock."  The Houses of Balek, Yorik and Uthan have declared their grievances caused by this errant Knight of Palor to King Balek Ainvar and King Uthan Relegan but as the Palor Lords no longer have any sway in Court and the first Crusaders, frothing with religious fervor, have begun landing in the north, the declarations have been a mere formality.  On the other hand, the Banite Church has declared Sir Richeford an Enemy of the Faith, a Heretic and Damned, making a hero of any who wish to pillage his property, hang his followers or murder his acquaintances.  Rumors that Guy travels with an Angel and an entire tower of powerful Mages has dampened any immediate reaction to this news.
          The irony of it all is that Guy Richeford had thought he'd earn his fame hunting pirates.  Now, with his own secure haven, permission from the Duke of Palor to raid shipping at will (so long as the proper portion is set aside for the House) and mounting pressure to fly false flags, he is the pirate he once hated.  Ha ha!  Dirty pirate…

Aragorn, Light to Nations, Bearer of the Mantle of Fire:
          Stretched between parties in Celtinbrook cathedrals and the sun-scorched plains of Yasa, Aragorn saw little of the Aldo's darkening chambers in the Savage Coast, relying on the occasional message from Aldo or Guy to bring him up to speed.  Despite the Harper effort collapsing in the Savage Coast, calls from the Temple of Pelor to hold back rising threats in Yasa kept the Light to Nations away for more than two years.  Oracles had seen the coming of a horde, a swift moving force from the east swamping Yasa with refugees bringing worship of false gods, pushing the shining light of Pelor low into the west.  Whatever the Oracles saw, it never developed into a recognizable form, but Aragorn's capabilities were still needed to address other issues.
          There was continual conflict with the hobgoblin and human tribes to the south, who tenaciously and persistently sallied forth from their infertile lands to enslave whole villages and small towns.  At the height of their insolence Aragorn and others set about burning their war camps and freeing slaves.  One of these expeditions led them into the heart of lands supposedly ruled by a Lord Dracna.  There they found that hundreds of slaves were penned together and starved until disease and infirmity took them.  The souls of these hapless folk were used as currency to summon demons to assist Lord Dracna's expansion into upper Yasa.   This plan was defeated easily, albeit in piecemeal, for many of Lord Dracna's lieutenants competed harshly or even violently with each other to appease their lord and advance their own agendas.  Some suggested that eventually the whole effort would just have collapsed in on itself, though certainly hundreds more would have perished first.
          Aragorn's attention quickly returned to the Sword Coast when the Twenty Saints of Celtinbrook announced the Third Crusade into the Savage Coast.  His fervent efforts to gain assistance in curbing Banite expansion in the Savage Coast fermented while he was away and the decision, though surprising, has gained the full support of the Temple of Pelor.  Aragorn is now tasked with assisting the Celtinbrook crusade with all his effort, earning powerful allies for the Temple…



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