Imperial Keoland. The very name conjures so many images. But there is so much more that is overlooked as people focus on what ended the era rather than what started it. In doing so, people miss the grand tragedy of the entire era, the lives spent, those who kept faith and those who broke faith, and how both contributed to the tragedy. More, people often overlook that the Tavish era was the second major period of expansion for Keoland, the first having occurred during the period of the Explorer Kings before the Slumbering. This article will try and address those factors, pulling them out of the general history, and highlighting their significance. Overview
The Imperial Era is held to have begun with the ascension of Tavish I in 287 CY, and ended with the death of Tavish IV in 488 CY, a span of 201 years. During that time only five men sat on the Lion Throne, all save one for more than three decades. Over the course of that period seven provinces were added to the Kingdom, all added by the first King. Two others were conquered for a time, and then all but one was lost, while an older province broke away as well. Prelude to Empire
In 286, Gillum the Mad sat on the Lion Throne. His family, the House of Neheli, had held the throne for more than two hundred years. During that time they led the Kingdom through an artistic and technological renaissance, taking the Kingdom to new cultural heights. What they neglected was expansion. So many areas close to the Kingdom holding incredible wealth were ignored. Alliances that could have been made were spurned. Enemies that could have been eliminated were allowed to rebuild. While the Kingdom stood strong even as the Great Kingdom collapsed, it remained fragile, and had the Great Kingdom lasted another quarter century, or the Brazen Horde come a score of years earlier, the Kingdom would have been vulnerable.
Into this stepped Tavish Vilchar Rhola. When Gillum was removed from the throne by a Court unwilling to see him destroy the Kingdom in his madness, the only choice to replace him was the young Duke of Gradsul. Even before becoming King Tavish had reached out, expanding his Duchy south, rebuilding the ports between Gradsul and the Hool Marsh to use as bases against the resurgent Lords of Toli. And he had made a friend of the young Olinstaad of the Lortmils Dwur, Corond. Sharing a vision, they both looked to build an empire of man and demi-human.
The Birth of an Empire
Perhaps the only thing more shocking than the size of his expansion of Keoland is the speed with which he did it. Six of the seven provinces he added had been added by 306, a mere 19 years after he became King, the last joining a decade later, halfway through his reign. Further, of those seven provinces, four joined willingly, something that also surprises many people. Tavish was more a diplomat than a conqueror. Of the three provinces he took by force, one was occupied by centuries old rival of the Kingdom and his family, and another had been overrun by nomads.
Tavish the Great’s political victories were his first and last. In 292 he signed the treaties that brought the Ulek state into the Kingdom, a mere five years after he became King. In that, he was helped greatly by Olinstaad Corond. The demi-humans of the Lortmils had long had close ties, and typically acted in concert. They were also long dominated by Celene, and as the third century drew to a close, most of them had become fed up with the arrogant attitude of the Grey Olve rulers of that realm. It was enough that when Corond brought them the pledges of Tavish, and his intentions of working with the human, those living in the peaks and on the western slopes agreed to join him. That Tavish and Corond had already cooperated in building Stoneheim in the Drachensgrabs, as well as Corond’s new capital at Gryrax, made it little more of a formality for the Principality of Ulek to join, but it served to show the others that Tavish was committed to working with them. When he also agreed to cede the eastern fiefs of both his family and the Neheli to the new provinces, they saw his further commitment to a long and binding alliance. That his relative was recognized as Count Palatine of Ulek mattered little, as the Noniz and Hobniz of that region had long had good relations with that branch of the Rhola family. The High Olve of the new Duchy of Ulek were also pleased to have their independent power recognized by someone, if not the haughty Grey Olve of Celene. Still, the greatest gift the alliance brought to them was Keoish troops to help guard the passes of the Lortmils, and the entrances to the Underoerth that honeycombed them. Controlling the humanoid hordes that dwelled beneath them was a constant drain on the long lived, slow breeding demi-humans, and the military aid provided a great boost to their countries.
His second political victory was the last to expand the Kingdom under him. In 316 his representatives in the County of Hochoch signed an agreement with the independent Flan Clansmen of the upper vales, creating the March of Geoff, and bringing them into the Kingdom centuries after Sterich and the Yeomanry had been incorporated. The conflicts with the rulers of Hochoch had delayed the expansion for too many years during the years before the Slumbering, and the Neheli had no interest in pursuing the political missions necessary during the Slumbering. Finally incorporating it meant that the whole of the Sheldomar Valley, from the Hellfurnaces and Crystalmists to the Lortmils, from the Fals Gap to Jeklea Bay, were finally united under the Lion Banner.
His political victories stand in stark contrast to his military victories. Again, the speed with which he executed them is surprising. In eleven short years, the Pomarj, Bissel, and what is now the Hold of the Sea Princes all fell to his armies. And in each case, he used the same tactic. First he built a city, Thornward in 289, Stoneheim in 291, and Monmurg in 301. Each controlled valuable trade in the area, and to each he invited the various nobles of the Kingdom to send their family merchant companies to, to share in the profits that flowed in. Then as soon as a crisis broke out, he used their support to secure the areas through conquest to safeguard their new wealth.
The first, in Stoneheim, came from a minor incident with a trade caravan passing through the holding of one of the minor lords living in the region. Those nobles were all Firstcomers, refugees from the House Wars who went far enough to avoid being hunted down. They had enjoyed the wealth of the Drachensgrabs for centuries, and while decadent, had little desire to give it up. But that was all the excuse Tavish needed. With heavy infantry provided by Corond, he sent his family troops marching into the Pomarj. Within three years they were swept away. Those nobles that had sent troops to assist in the conquest were rewarded with some of the new fiefs created there, though the whole was made subject to Prince Corond.
The second conquest was in Bissel. In 301, as Tavish was overseeing the founding of Monmurg, the Brazen Horde swept through Ket in and into the Fals Gap. The trade through the Fals Gap, from Baklunish west, Ferrondian east, and Keoish south provided fabulous wealth. And after seeing the rewards doled out in the Pomarj. Nobles were nearly fighting to be in on the new conquest. As a result, the Brazen Hoard was expelled within the year, and Tavish attached the new area to the Gran March, charging the new order of the Knights of the Watch to ensure the Baklunish did not return.
The speed of that conquest was critical, as the next war began a year later in 303. The Lords of Toli, threatened by Keoish ships sailing to the Amedio from Monmurg, declared war, but by then it was too late. With Monmurg as a base, and the war in Bissel ended, and nobles still eager for new lands, Tavish raised his third army and marched south. It was then he engaged in probably the most legendary of his military feats. Marching through the Hool Marsh, he completely avoided the ships of the Toli besieging Monmurg. He then raised Westkeep, giving him control of the Javan River as it flowed through the Hool Marsh. Able to bring supplies in through there, his army marched overland, raising the siege of Monmurg, then storming Toli, ending a rivalry that began 460 years ago with his ancestor Sanduchar the Navigator. With Toli taken, the fleet had nowhere to resupply, and those who did not flee the region were hunted down and destroyed. Afterwards, Tavish made Monmurg a Duchy, and hoped his heirs would use it as a base to expand into the Amedio. Building an Empire
Having expanded to what he considered the most readily defensible, and profitable, borders possible, Tavish the Great now turned his attention to building the Kingdom internally, both to hold what had been taken, and to prepare for the next phase of expansion, beyond the Flanaess. The first phase consisted of building roads, which would serve the dual purpose of enhancing trade, as well as facilitating troop movements should such be necessary. While roads linking the main cities had long existed, Tavish the Great extended these to the capitals of each province, and even to most of the lesser towns throughout the Kingdom. The second phase consisted of building additional fortifications at vulnerable points, particularly on the border with Ket, in the Lortmils to guard against the humanoids that dwelled beneath them, and along the western mountains to guard against the incursions of giants. Fortunately the increased wealth of the Kingdom from the new provinces, as well as greater cooperation from the various nobles, made this massive building program possible. A further program, intended to secure these areas even further was planned, but was not completed before Tavish the Great died, and was never completed thereafter.
Despite these accomplishments, Tavish the Great missed one thing. He failed to note the increasing distress of his son. As he lived, and his renown grew and grew again, his son felt his chance to make his own name slipping ever further from his grasp. In the end, his son would increasingly reject the plans he was leaving for future expansion, focused on the Amedio and the south. Even when he realized this, as his son’s plans to move against Ket became more and more apparent, he focused on trying to change his mind rather than trying to secure the throne for a different heir. With the passing of Tavish the Great, Tavish the Blackguard became King.Breaking an Empire
Tavish the Blackguard had one goal - to be a greater conqueror than his father. Unfortunately, that was not the plan his father had set for him. Conquest in the Flanaess was cut off. Furyondy lay to the north and east, while Ket guarded the way to the Baklunish west. Either would require a war on a scale that Keoland was simply not ready to win at the time. It would be a war not of years, as were the campaigns of Tavish the Great, but of decades, or even centuries, as had been the conflict with Toli. Instead he had planned for his son to be an explorer and colonizer, expanding into the Amedio and beyond. But his son wanted more. And he began to set his plans in motion immediately.
Two years after becoming King, Tavish the Blackguard issued the Wealsun Proclamation, declaring Keoish sovereignty over the Sheldomar and Javan Rivers, and all lands touching them. This was considered both impolitic, and extremely peculiar, as Keoland already ruled all such lands. People took it as merely a prelude to campaigns beyond those borders. He also began expanding the forces stationed in Gran March, giving the Commandant greater and greater powers to levy troops, and encouraging the Knights of the Watch to expand their ranks. (And since the Commandant was also the Grandiose Imperious Wyvern, both plans proceeded apace.) He also increased his requests for troops from the various provinces of the Empire, particularly the League of Yeoman Freeholders, whose pikemen formed the core of the infantry in those days. Within another two years he had amassed a force that exceeded anything ever raised by his father, poised to strike into both Ket and Veluna. In 350 CY he unleashed them.
The First Expeditionary Force, led by the Knights of the Watch, and supported by masses of Yeomen pikemen. Ket was still in chaos from the aftermath of the invasion of the Brazen Horde, and the Keoish forces went through them like a hot knife through butter. Ket was overrun within three years. But while they were successful, problems arose immediately. The Knights of the Watch indulged themselves in a frenzy of slaughter as they “avenged” themselves on the hated Baklunish. Massacres, both of troops and civilians were common. The outrages they committed on helpless people offended the allied troops with them, particularly the demi-human troops from the Uleks. The Knights were equally offensive to the troops supporting them, often leaving them unsupported on flanking maneuvers, and using them as diversions without informing them. Losses among the Yeomen pikemen were especially high, and their complaints mocked as cowardice and incompetence.
The Second Expeditionary Force surged into Veluna, overrunning the frontier garrisons, but becoming bogged down in the breakout. It was only through the exceptional abilities of his cousin Maccabah Sellark that they finally broke through to Devarnish after ten long years. But with Veluna on the verge of total collapse, the offensive was equally spent, and Tavish the Blackguard agreed to a peace that gave him the lands the blood of his armies had bought for him. But as in Ket, the troops often engaged in outrages against the population that horrified those not directly answerable to the King.
With the end of the campaign in Veluna, the political situation exploded. The representatives of the League of Yeoman Freeholders declared that they would no longer support wars of offense like this, and that they were withdrawing all of their troops to protest their treatment. At the same time the ruler of Celene ordered the expulsion of Keoish garrisons, and an end to cooperation with them. And while Celene was ignored, the actions of the Yeomen were taken as a personal affront, and Tavish the Blackguard ordered Keoish troops to prevent them from leaving. The disorder this caused delayed the start of the road being built from Thornward to Molvar and Lopolla, and also gave the Ketites a chance to rise up. For the next thirty seven years they would fight a brutal campaign to liberate themselves from Keoish rule, the Knights of the Watch becoming increasingly savage as the campaign progressed, as two generations of the best of the Baklunish west and Keoish south fought and died for a forsaken cause.
The collapse of the campaign in Ket also led to the collapse of Tavish the Blackguard and his legacy. He ended his reign a bitter, resentful old man, cursing the world that had given him a father too great for anyone to match up to. The Failed Redemption
With the death of Tavish the Blackguard, the Court refused to acknowledge his infant son as King. Instead, they selected Nemonhas of Neheli. But in an unprecedented act, he spurned the crown, and declared he would join the Silent Ones. The Court was thrown into chaos, as no one could convince him to return, and the Neheli refused to sanction his removal. Finally, Luschan Sellark, son of the general who had taken Devarnish, stepped forward and forged a compromise among the factions. He was named Regent, with a promise of ending the wars, and rejecting any future plans of conquest.
He was as good as his work, completing the withdrawal from Ket in five years. And with that withdrawal, he split Bissel from the Gran March, setting it up under the rule of a secular noble with an eye on trade rather than conflict with the Baklunish. He also ended the conflict with the Yeomen, and began a diplomatic initiative to woo them back. Unfortunately, while his political policies were achieving the goals he desired, his personal affairs were deteriorating at an even more rapid pace. He had taken in the son of Tavish the Blackguard, Luschan Vilchar, and was raising him with his own son, Malv Sellark. But as the two reached adulthood, it was clear there would be a conflict between them for who would follow Luschan as King. Each had their supporters and detractors. Luschan was favored as the “true” heir, but tainted by the deeds of his father. Malv was favored as the son of the regent, but many feared he hid a madness worse than that of Tavish the Blackguard. And regrettably, they were correct, and fear of a memory overcame caution for what was present, including the rumors that he had hastened the election that raised him to the throne. Death of an Empire
Luschan the Regent held the throne for nineteen years before what many felt was a premature death. His son Malv was elected King, though he chose to rule as Tavish, third of the name, called the Boy King for his youthfulness. He revealed himself almost immediately, appointing the near-psychotic Berlikyn Commandant of the Northern Marches, which incorporated Gran March, Bissel, and Devarnish. Berlikyn had one mission, squeeze the people of those territories for every penny, and squeeze the merchants passing through even harder until wars with Veluna and Ket were inevitable. Berlikyn took to the task with glee, using the Knights of the Watch as his primary tool. Under him, their reputation sank even lower, until few regarded them as anything but night riding thugs.
Within Keoland itself, Tavish demanded greater and greater taxes to fund the army he hoped to unleash to finish the conquest of Veluna. His demands, and the excesses of Berlikyn drove the Olve, Noniz, and Hobniz of the Uleks to near revolt, and alienated everyone not bound to him by positions of power they had received from his hand to near revolt. All they needed was a leader. And in 433 CY, his own foster brother, Luschan V, Duke of Gradsul, acted to become that leader. Staging his disappearance within the Amedio, he began to organize forces, subverting the majority of the fleet (an easy task as he was Admiral of Keoland), and preparing for civil war. He began slowly, seeming to be a mere pirate plaguing the Jeklea Bay at first. But before he could make his move, Tavish, finally freed of his opposition in court, unleashed Berlikyn.
The result was the disaster known as the Short War. While the initial assault into Veluna in 436 CY achieved some success, Furyondy quickly came to the aid of Veluna, and by 438 CY they had not only pushed the Keoish forces out of Veluna, but had taken Bissel. Tavish was forced to cede both, and with the death of Berlikyn he had to agree to let the nobles of Gran March elect their own Commandant.
As the Kingdom reeled from the first real loss in an external war, Luschan, known as the Sea Prince, began overrunning the March of Monmurg, taking Port Toli and Monmurg, and closing the Jeklea Bay to merchants from Keoland. His ships began to harry merchants throughout the Azure Sea, and he issued a direct challenge to his foster brother. But as the campaign began, Tavish was distracted by events in Geoff. Discovering that the Royal Herald sent there during the Short War to demand reinforcements had been murdered, he diverted half of his army, under the command of his son and heir Luschan VI, to Gorna, to avenge the insult. The action drove the Margrave of Geoff to declare for Luschan the Sea Prince, and the civil war was now in the open, and consuming the entire Kingdom. At the Battle of Gorna, Vargalian, Archmage of Geoff, unleashed horrific magics that destroyed the entire Keoish army. Prince Luschan, crying out for vengeance for the betrayal and slaughter, called down a curse that transformed many of the dead into the unspeakable sword wraiths that plague the Stark Mounds to this day.
In the south, the final act was being carried out. Tavish marched his army across the Hool Marsh, losing thousands to disease along the way, to meet his foster brother at Westkeep. Responding to taunts, he led an attempt to storm the walls, and died before them, his body trampled in the mud, as the man he played with as a child looked down from the battlements, and ordered a counterattack. Born in glory, the Empire died in fratricide. Epitaph of an Empire
With the death of Tavish, the Boy King, the Kingdom was on the brink of collapse. The Court rejected all overtures of Luschan the Sea Prince, and demanded he lay down his arms and submit to judgement. The Neheli wished to make the disgrace of the Rhola complete, and so allowed the election of the younger son of Tavish III, the fourth and last Tavish to rule Keoland, called the Weary for the thankless tasks the Court set him. He was given one command, and told to fulfill it without limit. He was to make peace, at any cost. And he did so. In 460 CY he negotiated the separation of the Uleks from Keoland. (The Pomarj declared independence from the Prince of Ulek two years later.) In 461 CY he made the separation of the Yeomanry law as well as fact. Through the early 460s he began the construction of a line of forts intended to secure the Hool Marsh in an attempt to make the war with his uncle end in a stalemate. However, peace would come there in another way.
In 464 CY, leading a fleet, Tavish the Weary met the fleet of Luschan the Sea Prince off Jetsom Island. Despite Luschan having been known as the greatest Admiral since Malv the Explorer, his flagship went down as night approached to end the day long battle, ending the Keoish Civil War, and the Empire. It is said that Tavish the Weary couldn’t decide which to weep for more. Epilogue
Tavish the Weary would live for twenty four years after the Battle of Jetsom Island, his reign filled with little more than rubber stamping the declarations of the Court, and mourning his shattered family. The Court was sinking into the malaise which would rule it until election of Kimbertos. Of the Kingdom Tavish the Great had inherited, the Yeomanry was lost. Of the Empire he had built, nothing remained. Of two great families, the Vilchar were lost, exiled to Monmurg which would become their new name, and the Sellarks had lost their reputation as faithful generals, and were now mere players for the dominance of the Rhola. And Keoland would have to wait for another day.