samwise writes "
When the Oeridians first entered the Sheldomar, their numbers and power were nearly as great as that of their Rhola and Neheli combined, For most of the first century of the Kingdom that power grew, reaching its peak with the election of Mandros as King. Following his death it would decline for the next century, reaching its low point during the reign of Senestal I. It would not recover for centuries, until well into the Slumbering. This article examines the rise and fall of that power, and the chief architect of both - Mandros, the only Oeridian to ever be elected King of Keoland.
Mandros and the Rise and Fall of Oeridian Power in the Sheldomar
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The Keogh and the Balance of Power
With the fall of Vecna, the Oeridian migrations which had long been forced exclusively east were now able to head south. The largest group of Oeridians that turned south was an association of several smaller clans known as the Keogh. (Indeed "keogh" means simply "allies" in their dialect of Old Oeridian. The clans were the Mearthe, Mandishehr, Maremehk, Blerkhaven, and Sedenna.) Their power came mostly from their cavalry, which while only light cavalry by modern standards, greatly exceeded that available to anyone in the valley. Further, their horses were already of the exceptional quality that would improve over the centuries into the famous Keobred warhorses.
After fighting their way through the chaotic remnants of Vecna’s former center of power, they crossed the Sheldomar, and made peaceful contact with the Neheli. The Neheli gladly allowed them passage, directing them to the heartlands between the Sheldomar and Javan Rivers, hoping they would weaken the Firstcomer Houses there. This they did, but they also came into contact and conflict with House Linth, putative allies of the Neheli, although that was also to the advantage of the Neheli. But, they also came into contact and conflict with the Rhola, and this was definitely not to the advantage of the Neheli. As war loomed, the Neheli organized a meeting in their capital, the epic Council of Niole Dra. There, an alliance between the Keogh and Houses Rhola and Neheli was formed, and the Kingdom of Keoland was formed, the name taken from the Oeridian alliance, "Keogh Rond," the "Land of the Allies."
Under the plan conceived at the Council of Niole Dra, rulership of the new Kingdom would alternate between House Neheli and House Rhola (House Linth, while part of the Kingdom, was reduced to a secondary status), while the representatives of the four groups would meet as a permanent advisory and legislative body, the Court of the Land. Representation was set so that the Keogh would be the swing votes in critical decisions where the Neheli and Rhola were split, which, given their natures, was expected to be most everything. The Keogh would not rule, but they would determine whose policies, the expansionist Rhola or the isolationist Neheli, would be followed. But, when Nyhan the Forlorn was chosen to follow Lorgyr the Seer, they demonstrated how far that could be taken. Not merely arbitrators of policy, they could also be the king makers, and the Rhola and Neheli would have to court them constantly if they wished the prestige of the Lion Throne.
The Hetman of the Keogh
As a federation of allied tribes, the Keogh had an internal system similar to that which had been adopted by the Kingdom as a whole. The clans making up the Keogh were led by Heldenmeisters, chosen from the heads of powerful families, who led their cavalry in the field. The Heldenmeisters would choose one of their number to speak for all of the Keogh during time of uncertain peace, but more profoundly for war. During the negotiations at the Council of Niole Dra, much time was spent deciding on the equivalent of each title, and their precedence. In the end, the Heldenmeisters would be of higher rank than the heads of allied Houses and cadet branches of the main Suel Houses, though of lower status than head of House Linth. The Hetman though would be of equal rank to the heads of House Rhola and Neheli, although he would not be considered when voting for the King. Indeed, in the oldest records of those families he is referred to with the same title as they are, Duke instead of Hetman.
As with most such positions, certain families came to be chosen as Hetman regularly. At the time of the migration, it was Family Kharn, of Clan Mearthe, who would become the rulers of Middlemead, that made the Hetmanship nearly hereditary. Fehvelin of Kharn was the Hetman who led the Keogh into the Sheldomar, and at the Council of Niole Dra. His son Sierinar of Kharn followed him as Hetman, and led the Keogh beside Malv the Defender in the later House Wars. When Sierinar died shortly after the ascension of Lorgyr the Seer, his son Mandros of Kharn replaced him as both Heldenmeister of the Mead, and Hetman of all the Keogh.
But Mandros had already set his sights higher. Once he had the titles, he began making deals with various nobles, building connections, exchanging favors, and accumulating a reserve of favors owed to him. He moved slowly so as to keep his network a secret, and avoid tipping his hand to the Rhola or Neheli. Finally, on the death of Lorgyr the Seer, he tested the strength of his connections, engineering the election of Lorgyr’s son instead of the Rhola Duke as the next King. With that success he knew he could manipulate the Court to the degree needed, and having made the full extent of the power of the Keogh clear, he began putting his full plan into motion. One by one, as Lorgyr’s reign dragged on, he gathered the obligations he would need to get a single vote in the next election for King. Merely as a sign of "distinction" or "respect," he arranged for those nobles who would cast votes to write his name for just one round of voting. When the time came, none suspected just how many such "symbolic" votes he had arranged. And when the votes were tallied, Keoland had an Oeridian King.
His Peerless Majesty, Mandros
And so Mandros was King. He immediately began to consolidate his power, taking advantage of the disarray between the Rhola and Neheli to secure his position before they could present a united front against him. Using the same techniques he had to become King, he continued to play the Rhola and Neheli off against each other, casually setting each up to blame the other for "allowing" his plan to succeed.
And the Rhola and Neheli were stunned. While they were less than sanguine about sharing power with each other, the thought of being ruled by anyone else, particularly a non-Suel, even an ally, shocked them to their core. They hadn’t even conceived that one of them could manage to get elected. This left them vulnerable to Mandros for several years after his election, as they investigated both their own families, and each other, trying to figure out what went wrong, and who to blame. In the end, they were left with the simple truth - Mandros was that good, and they had been that blind.
By the time they were ready to deal with the situation instead of just analyzing it, Mandros had maneuvered many of his cronies into positions of power in the bureaucracy, while arranging for supporters of both families to delay any opposition. A generation would pass before the Rhola and Neheli were able to present a semblance of a united front. In that time, the power of Mandros, and the power of the Keogh, had grown to where they were more than the swing vote in deciding how soon his policies would be put into effect. It was here that Mandros overplayed his hand.
The Siege of the Silent Tower
Mandros understood the power of controlling key resources as well as the best of the Rhola merchants. The one resource that was lacking on the open plains of Keoish heartlands where the Keogh had settled was lumber. Mandros decided to correct that by appointing some of his followers to new lands with more abundant forests. For that, he looked south, to the towering trees of the Dreadwood. He figured it would be simple. The Dreadwood was a Royal Protectorate. As King, he could simply march in, divide it up, and appoint whom he pleased as governors. What he didn’t appreciate was why this hadn’t been done before.
The representatives of the Dreadwood Wood Olve made it clear in the Court that such a plan violated the agreements they had made with Lorgyr the Seer, and that if Mandros insisted, he would find himself explaining the deaths of any governors and settlers he sent. Not realizing this was meant more as a warning of the dangers the wood held than a threat of war, which is certainly was, Mandros ordered troops to mobilize to teach the Olve a lesson. He received his second surprise when the emissary of the Silent Tower informed him that the Silent Ones would not be providing any assistance, citing the autonomy provisions of the Charter. Mandros demanded they submit to his authority, and when they refused, he ordered the army to besiege the Silent Tower, thinking to force their compliance.
For two years the army of Keoland sat around the Silent Tower, blocking all access. During that time, no candidates were admitted to the Silent Tower. While this hurt the order, as they depended on a steady of the best of Keoish youth to bolster their numbers and secure their position as a source of arcane instruction and power in the Sheldomar, it also gave the Silent Ones leverage on the nation. All tutors and advisors of the order disappeared from their assignments. Nobles were left without teachers for their children, or wizards to gather the information they relied on to know what their rivals were up to. More, the armies of the Kingdom that patrolled the borders were left without support, making them vulnerable to more powerful creatures, particularly giants, that lurked in the mountains surrounding the Kingdom. It was this that gave the Rhola and Neheli the leverage they needed to take control of the Court again.
Mandros was forced to back down, lifting the siege, and rescinding his orders to divide the Dreadwood into estates for his friends. The high point of Oeridian power was passing. But he had not gotten as far as he by giving up so easily. He still had one more card to play.
The Javan Counties
On the 100th anniversary of the Kingdom, Mandros delivered a speech in which he declared all lands between the Sheldomar and Javan to be part of the Kingdom. Although this was more a pleasant thought than a reality at the time, particularly in regards to the Javan River, Mandros knew it would impress the more militant among the nobility, who measured success in victories and expansion. He also knew that people would expect those lands to be assigned, and many began seeking his favor, hoping to secure additional lands for themselves or their sons.
For four years Mandros kept them waiting, playing them off against each other, securing more promises of support for when he would need them. Then, having arranged for certain nobles to be absent, he announced the creation of five new provinces to be based around cities built on the Javan or its tributaries. With the Court filled with those owing him favors, or about to receive land, he divided them up. These would secure the borders he had proclaimed four years earlier, indeed they would go beyond them, and, with the new nobles, secure Keogh power in the Court. The five new cities to be founded were Flen, Cryllor, and Eor on the Javan itself, Hochoch on the Realstream, intended to serve as a base to expand into the northernmost vale of the Crystalmists, and Istivin on the Davish, likewise intended to expand to the mountains there.
When the nobles who had been absent returned they were outraged. All support for Mandros in the Court ended. Protests against the new lords were constant, and all activity in the Court came to a standstill. Many feared the crisis would grow enough to threaten the Kingdom itself as Mandros became increasingly belligerent in his demands that the Rhola and Neheli cease their objections, accept the new order, and get back to business. They refused, and tensions increased until Mandros resolved it finally by dying of old age, smug in the belief that he had won.
Luschan I and Sterich
As the Court gathered to elect a new King, the Dukes of Dorlin and Gradsul met in secret to assure that belief was mistaken. Neither had intention of ever seeing another share such power with them again, and an agreement was quickly reached. The Duke of Gradsul would be the next King, and preference would be given for an heir until a King left none, when the other family would take over. Neither imagined the Slumbering, nor the Tavishes, but that would be for their descendants to deal with. For now, they had to take control of "their" Kingdom again, and they did so with an agreement that would last eight centuries. When the vote was taken, Mandros’ heir was as shocked as the Rhola and Neheli had been 36 years earlier when the first vote made Mandros King.
But one election vote did not change what Mandros has done in his last years. As the Rhola and Neheli engaged in an unprecedented level of cooperation to shift their followers into positions of power, the new nobles of the Javan Counties became increasingly belligerent, refusing to turn over various royal castles to their new commanders, and resisting demands to repay the loans used to build their cities. The tensions that had been rising during edged closer and closer to a boiling point, as the older Keogh nobles make it clear that they won’t stand by and let their kinsmen be attacked, no matter what provocation they might be giving.
In the end, Luschan managed to forge a deal. Istivin will be expanded into a province to be named Sterich, the ruler given precedence equal to that of Linth. (The Linth protests being ignored by everyone.) The nobles of the new province would come from the other Javan Counties, with their lands doubled or more in the open plains of Sterich, their places taken by others, Suel and Oeridian, who supported the restored balance of power in the Kingdom. Once they had settled in though, they quickly found their power dissipating, as their people, outnumbered by the native Flan, began to integrate into their culture rather than retaining their own. Further, Luschan arranged for a large number of Suel migrants, all supporting the Flan rather than advancing their own cause, to migrate, further diminishing the Keogh power base.
Still, it was obvious to many that the deal was only a temporary resolution. Many who opposed the deal remained in power in Hochoch, and Luschan spent the greater part of his reign aiding the building of Sterich, putting off any thought of expanding into the woods beyond Hochoch.
Senestal I and the Hochoch Rebellion
As the years passed the Kings of Keoland turned to other tasks. A dozen years after the death of Luschan I, the reign of his son was brought to an end by the Insurrection of the Yaheetes, a war that occupied the reign of his grandson Malv II. His great-grandson, Sanduchar the Navigator, would fight the first of a series of wars with Toli. During this time, the situation with the Keogh in Hochoch and Sterich refused to go away. In -120 CY Duke Senestal of Dorlin was elected King in the hopes that he would be better able to resolve the situation, having grown up closer to it.
The primary source of tension was becoming the growing power of the Knights of the March. For 60 years they had been subduing the Gran March. Now some were taking their mandate beyond its borders, into areas claimed by some of the nobles of Hochoch. That they were was obvious. Why was not, as the Knights of the March had a secret mandate that none outside the leaders of the Rhola and Neheli were aware of. The Gran March area had been the center of Vecna’s power. Many of the Flan there were eager followers of his, and the Knights were dedicated to ending that power for all time. Some of the nobles of Hochoch had uncovered ruins containing lost lore of Vecna, and were beginning to use it. But outsiders didn’t see this. To them, it appeared Suel knights were infringing on the rights of Keoish lords. The nobles of Sterich, with numerous family ties to the nobles remaining in Hochoch, began to agitate in their support. Senestal soon found the situation escalating beyond his control. Then, -112 CY, the Knights of the March struck, seizing the Count of Hochoch, and executing him in the courtyard of his own castle, along with nearly a hundred of his retainers. They had discovered a cult of Vecna with him as the head. It appeared nothing could prevent a civil war.
But Senestal was willing to do anything to prevent that. With no other option, he summoned the Keogh rulers of the heartlands and revealed the true story of the Knights of the March, showing them the evidence of what the Count of Hochoch had been up to. They were shocked. It was only 50 years since the Insurrection of the Yaheetes had ended. Some of them had been squires at the time, and remembered the abominations they had faced. They not only agreed to support Senestal, but they also consented to discretion in the manner. For his part, Senestal would publicly discipline the leaders of the Knights of the March, accepting their sacrifice as the cost of salvation for the whole Kingdom. The nobility of Hochoch were purged. Those who had joined the Count in the cult dying while resisting arrest, the rest exiled to Sterich to remove them from any temptation so close to the heart of Vecna’s fallen empire, replaced primarily by nobles from the Duchy of Gradsul. Those in Sterich who wished to complain were brought into line by their relatives among the heartlands Keogh, who made it clear that they supported Senestal, and would continue to do so even if meant war against their own cousins. Recognizing that they stood no chance against the entire Kingdom, Sterich subsided into sullen acquiescence.
Almost unnoticed was the end of the Duchy of Zol and the High Hetman of the Keogh. The strife between families engendered by this resolution, and the fact that the Count of Hochoch had been in line to be elected to the position next, shattered the unity of the Keogh. No one could be chosen in the next convocation, and by the time Lanchaster the Wise became King, no one cared for the title anyway. The power of the Keogh, raised to such grand heights little over a century ago by Mandros, had reached its low point.
The Seven Hundred Year Recovery
But just as power is fleeting, so a lack of power will eventually pass. As agreements of convenience passed into tradition, and traditions came to be considered unwritten laws, the power of the Keogh grew again, even as that identity disappeared in the melting pot of the Sheldomar. The power of the Keogh to decide on which House would rule came to be thought of as a responsibility entrusted to them. With the decline of Royal power during the two and a quarter centuries of the Slumbering, their prestige began to grow again. And in the three-quarters of a century of the Neheli resurgence following the Tavishes, their power returned and matured. Then, in 564 CY, during the extended debates following the death of Trevlyan the Afflicted, Lashton of Greyhill forged a deal with Kharn of Middlemead to place the nearly unknown Baron of Greyhill on the throne. The power of the "Oeridians" to make Kings above and beyond any agreements was back. What it would lead to this time remains to be seen."