One of the more significant additions to the history of the Sheldomar by Gary Holian is the conflict with the rulers of Port Toli in the third and fourth centuries of the Kingdom of Keoland. For nearly two hundred years a series of wars occupied the main focus of the two nations. This article will explore the background of that conflict and how it affected Keoland.
The Rhola and the Toli: the Battle for Jeklea Bay
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Eight wars were fought with the Toli, seven of them in the two hundred years before the Slumbering, the last under Tavish the Great. These wars, and the kings who fought them, are as follows, noted in Common Years:
Sanduchar the Navigator
First War: -154 to -148
Second War: -146 to -141
Third War: -129 to -121
Fourth War: -15 to -8
Fifth War: 1 to 9
Sixth War: 22 to 30
Seventh War: 41 to 43
Tavish the Great
Last War: 303 to 306
All of the wars were fought by Rholan Kings. Indeed, the wars were more the personal conflicts of the Rhola, with the rest of the Kingdom paying little heed to them. It was only because the Duke of Gradsul was also traditionally the High Admiral of the Keoish Navy, not to mention being the heir if the King was a Rhola, that they acquired a significant national character. This would be a key element in the inability to bring a final resolution until more than four and a half centuries after the first war broke out.
Origins of the Conflict - The Toli
In -368 CY a small group of mercenaries and slavers that had been operating in the Sheldomar, serving various Firstcomer Houses in their incessant wars, decided to try their luck and make the perilous trip beyond the mouth of the Sheldomar River. That they had recently betrayed yet another employer, and that a small coalition of rivals had finally united against them, likely spurred their decision. They settled on a small bluff at the foot of the Kampf Mountains, and surveyed their new home. They discovered that the Firstcomers who had preceded them were even more disorganized than the ones back home, content to let their slaves run their plantations while they sat indoors, avoiding the blistering southern sun. They also noted that the jungles across the bay were filled with other Suel battling a red skinned race they believed native to the region. These battles were rapidly destroying the remnants of the civilization of those red-skinned people which had collapsed due to some unknown cause. The large numbers of refugees created by this conflict would be an easy source of slaves for anyone willing to make the effort to collect them and transport them. They also realized that their reputation had definitely not preceded them, and that they would be free to establish themselves any way they saw fit.
At first they acted independently, building a few ships and collecting cargoes of Olman they transported back and sold to other Suel petty lords, and hiring out as mercenaries in a few minor conflicts as their various leaders saw fit. Eventually one captain managed to unite the others with an idea to become more. He realized that with control of the slave trade they could control the expansion of the other petty lords, and even undermine them by selling them unruly slaves. He demonstrated this, and with the mercenary captains organized into a single force, made their first conquest of a Suel neighbor. Within twenty years he would be murdered, but the alliance was sound, and would eventually take his name, giving it to their home and capital - Port Toli.
As the Kingdom of Keoland was growing to the north, the nation of Toli slowly expanded until it dominated all of the fertile plains south and east of the Hool River, as well as the islands just off the coast, and large areas of the coast of the Amedio. The only place nearby they never conquered was Berghof, a small Flan nation around Lake Spendlowe, high in the mountains. Their nation and society were built on slaves, both the rapidly dying Flan and the seemingly endless stream of Olman they captured and brought back. More, they began enslaving their distant cousins, the Amedi Suel, who were losing their grip on civilization as they battled the Olman, and becoming fit for nothing more than slavery to the cruel lords of the Toli. And, as is typical of the worst of the Suel, as their power grew so did their cruelty. Their leaders made use of the immense supply of slaves as fuel for their researches into the most horrific of necromancies, their leaders accumulating even greater power as a result. Combined, these two elements were everything the Rhola hated.
Origins of the Conflict - The Rhola
When they had first come to the Sheldomar, the Rhola chose to settle on the Azure Sea at the mouth of the Sheldomar River. They had from the beginning intended to expand along the coast, and eventually across the sea, however the needs of the Kingdom, and the conflicts within it, during the first two centuries constantly distracted them from pursuing this. The most recent of these had been the 31 year long conflict with the Yaheetes led by Nolhast the Unforgiven wielding the Hand and Eye of Vecna. Barely five years after the end of that war Sanduchar, later called the Navigator, became King on the death of his father, and turned his attention to the now centuries old hope of his family. The Rhola hoped to build a commercial empire, and with the wealth they gained from that, dominate the politics of the Kingdom.
The Rhola, while certainly ambitious, and capable of being quite ruthless in politics and war, were, like the Neheli, atypical of the Suel. They did not merely reject slavery, they violently opposed it. During the early years of the Kingdom the Rhola led the fights against the most violent and oppressive slavers among the Firstcomers, preferring to destroy them utterly rather than allow them to flee. They had also developed a violent reaction to necromancy during the Insurrection of the Yaheetes, as the power of the Hand and Eye grew, and Nolhast began to rely more and more on necromancy to bolster his forces. When a mapping expedition at the mouth of the Javan River first encountered the Toli and reported their practices back to the Duke of Gradsul, at the time Sanduchar II, son of Sanduchar the Navigator, the revulsion it would engender made a conflict that would end only with the total destruction of one side or the other inevitable.
While both sides had other reasons to hate each other, in the end it was simple geography that made the bloody conflict mandatory for both sides. While the Rholan merchants had free access to Aerdy lands across the Azure Sea, new goods to supply them would come primarily from across the seas to the south. For the Toli, their entire economy was based on the slave trade from the Amedio, and access to the scattered Firstcomer outposts scattered through the islands of the Densac Gulf, and the other civilizations beyond. Jeklea Bay is the key to the Amedio, and through it to the Densac Gulf. Both Houses needed to control it to thrive and expand. And neither would tolerate sharing it with the other.
The Wars of Sanduchar
The exploration fleets of Sanduchar first encountered ships from Toli in -153 CY. Incidents followed, with Toli ships harassing Rhola ships attempting to map the coast, and Rhola merchants making tentative overtures to markets long a monopoly of the Toli. The tension increased along with the incidents, and war finally broke out in -154 when the Toli attacked a merchant ship returning from the Amedio. The ship survived, reported the incident, and full scale war broke out. It was fought exclusively between the Rhola and the Toli, the rest of the Kingdom of Keoland barely aware of the conflict despite the constant absence of the King from the Court. Even had they known, they were still recovering from the Insurrection of the Yaheetes, the Neheli were occupied with organizing the Knights of the March and sending them to conquer the Gran March, while the Keogh simply had no intention of fighting another war for the Rhola. With only the resources of the Duchy of Gradsul (which at that time included parts of what are now the Principality and County of Ulek), and those severely depleted by the Insurrection of the Yaheetes, the results were far from a foregone conclusion, and the war dragged on incessantly. Finally Sanduchar arranged for funding a massive expansion of the naval docks at Gradsul. Within a year of their completion, the new fleets swamped the Toli, and forced them to agree to a peace allowing the free passage of Keoish ships through the Jeklea Bay. Neither side had achieved anything resembling a dramatic victory, and neither side expected the peace to last long.
The year after the end of the war, Sanduchar led a major exploration fleet past the Olman Islands and into the Densac Gulf. They discovered numerous settlements of Firstcomer Suel, degenerate Amedi, and even some Olman still clinging to a moderate level of social organization and technology. They also discovered the reach of the influence of the Toli, and the extent of their slaving operations. Outraged, Sanduchar immediately began making plans to disrupt those operations. He secured the support of the representatives of the Confederation of Free Farmers, then still an independent nation, and soon ships filled with Confederate infantry were sailing along the coast, visiting various Olman settlements to "trade" with them, but really protecting them from Toli slaving parties. The peace lasted less than a year beyond that. For the next five years a brutal war was fought along the coasts of the Amedio, the Rhola and the Confederate fighters fighting to break the Toli slavers. It was during this period that numerous freed Amedi slaves were taken into service by the Duke of Gradsul, forming the Duke’s Amedi Corps, fighting against the slavers that had long preyed upon them. It was also during this time that the Rhola were exposed to some of the worst among the Olman, and they were soon being regarded as little better than the Toli, a bias that remains to the current time. In the end, the superior strength of the Rhola forced the Toli to agree to an end to the slave trade, though their power remained.
This time the peace lasted a full dozen years before evidence that the Toli had not ended their slaving operations was uncovered. During that time Sanduchar had continued the explorations of the Amedi coast, and trading missions were soon supplanting the Toli in the areas beyond the Olman Islands. The additional information would prove critical, as the early stages of the war favored the Toli. Fortunately Sanduchar had also been setting the groundwork for additional support from the rest of the Kingdom. When the first Toli ship laden with zombies raided up the Sheldomar, the Neheli joined the fray, and the Toli were soon hard pressed. Unfortunately a plague struck near the end of the war, racing through Keoland, decimating the population. Many suspected it was some unnatural disease unleashed by the Toli to prevent their destruction. But Sanduchar would not be deterred, pressing the war, and besieging Toli. Then, on the verge of final victory, Sanduchar was slain by an errant catapult missile, and the Toli were able to secure a peace at the cost of surrendering their entire fleet, and paying a massive indemnity. The Toli were broken for most of a century.
Between the Wars I
Sanduchar’s family had perished in the plague. With domestic unrest growing, Senestal I Neheli was chosen to succeed him. The troubles grew and spread, first in the north, then with the Yeomanry, and finally with the rise of Vecna II at Tyrus. It would be just over a century before another Rhola King would have the time to turn to the south again. And by then the Toli had recovered their power.
The Wars of Luschan III
Luschan had hoped to have the time to build relations with the Dwur of the Lortmils. They had long been courted by the Rhola, and despite the failures to settle the region around Tyrus, he hoped to secure an alliance with them. Unfortunately the situation with the Toli would blow up before he could.
With the rebuilding of their power the Toli had resumed their slaving operations. They had also begun to raid Keoish expeditions into the Amedio, slaughtering them to a man to prevent word being carried. In -15 CY a survivor carried word to Luschan. A series of back and forth retaliations soon erupted into open war. As with Sanduchar, Luschan was only able to involve the Rhola in the conflict, and the war ended in an armistice after seven years of bloody fighting in the Amedio.
The armistice lasted less than a decade, and this time the focus was on naval warfare. Raids and outright piracy dominated the fighting until near the end when a massive invasion force seized Flotsom Island in 7 CY. With the new base, the Keoish forces prepared to again carry the siege to Port Toli itself when the same plague that devastated Keoland during the reign of Sanduchar struck again. Luschan III died, and his son Malv the Navigator was forced to agree to yet another peace two years later. But the balance of power had shifted, and Malv prepared his family for a final end to the conflict.
The Wars of Malv the Navigator
Malv soon proved to be as great a naval leader as his ancestor Sanduchar. From the base on Flotsom Island he resumed the exploration missions beyond the Azure Sea, and expanded merchant expeditions throughout the Azure Sea and Amedio. When the nation had finally recovered from the plague he declared war, and over ten years destroyed the Toli presence beyond the Jeklea Bay. Every colony, trading mission, and slaving outpost was systematically hunted down and destroyed, and the Toli fleet restricted to the Jeklea Bay. Malv then agreed to a peace to refit and reorganize his forces, and plan for another naval base at Port Remdi, the anchorage that would later become the city of Monmurg. The Toli saw his plans and struck first. But by now they were too weak to do more than inconvenience his plans. The naval base was built in 42 CY, and by the end of the next year the Toli were defeated, allowed to keep their city, but will all of their land holdings stripped from them.
With the war finally appearing to be over Malv turned back to exploration, and disappeared in 49 CY on an expedition to the Densac Gulf.
Between the Wars II
With the disappearance of Malv the Navigator the throne again passed to the Neheli. For more than two centuries they would rule in the period known as the Slumbering. During those long years the Toli would gradually rebuild a small echo of their strength, primarily as pirates, lurking in the Jeklea Bay, raiding the ships that still crossed it to explore and trade in the Amedio. Although they never grew to be more than a minor threat, they still prevented the Rhola from fully integrating the lands south of the Hool into the Kingdom. The final end to the war would have to wait.
The War of Tavish the Great
In many ways this war is a footnote to the centuries long conflict between the Rhola and the Toli. Tavish the Great did not favor unresolved conflicts. When he expanded the naval basin at Port Remdi into the city of Monmurg he realized the Toli were still a problem, the source of the majority of pirates still plaguing the region. When they attacked the settlers at Monmurg, he resolved to end the problem once and for all. With the army that had conquered the Pomarj and Bissel, he crossed the Hool Marsh, established a fortress and city at Westkeep, and marched on Port Toli. In 306 CY the city was taken by storm, and the Toli leaders put to the sword. The greatest scion of the Rhola had ended the war with the greatest enemy they had ever faced over a period of more than three centuries.
Of course such endings rarely ever occur. With Port Toli in his hands, Tavish the Great directed an increasing number of trading missions into the depths of the Amedio, and Keoish fleets again returned to the Densac Gulf. Over the year, Tavish set the groundwork for further expansion into the Amedio, hoping that his son would focus both family and national efforts there in the future. It was his failure to do so, turning to Vet and Veluna instead, that would lose the prize fought over for so long. With the civil war led by the Sea Prince it became obvious that at least some part of the nature if not the bloodlines of the Toli had survived. Their attitudes showed clearly in the nature and behavior of the lords of Port Toli in the Hold of the Sea Princes. And it is likely they have managed to survive the takeover of the Scarlet Brotherhood, hiding in the catacombs of Port Toli as their ancestors likely did when Tavish the Great stormed the city. Whether they will return to plague the Rhola in the future is still unknown to any save Istus.
Appendix I - Technology of War
The naval technology employed during the wars evolved slowly due to the slow pace of the continuing conflict. Throughout the period the Rhola always enjoyed the advantage of superior ship designs and sailing proficiency. Even with that, the periods of warfare regularly turned when they introduced new ship designs.
At the start of the wars of Sanduchar the Navigator, the Toli fleets were exclusively composed of galleys. Jeklea Bay is calm enough in season, and shoreline accommodating enough that they never felt the need to develop deep draft ocean going vessels. Their galleys could row across to the Amedio, beach, pick up a load of slaves, and head back without the need for a real dock. Even on longer voyages, the shore of the Amedio provided sufficient shelter against most storms that blew up suddenly. The Rholan navy was primarily galleys at the time, with most cogs serving as commercial vessels, either fishing or merchant vessels. This allowed them to continually outflank the Toli by crossing the depths of the Azure Sea, taking them from behind, and allowing them to disrupt supply lines with impunity. Cogs also provide a significant tactical advantage over galleys. Their high sides and even higher fore and aft castles provided a line of sight and field of fire advantage that allowed them to dominate the battles. They also neutralized the abilities of the Toli to ram and board, as clambering up the sides of a cog from a galley is typically futile. It was the expanded docks turning out masses of cogs that allowed Sanduchar to win the first war, and dominate during the second and third, despite the Toli gradually adopting cogs throughout the period.
By the time of Luschan III galleys were obsolete in the Rholan navy. Anything they could do cogs could do as well, and they could cross the Azure Sea with ease. The Toli had switched virtually all of their military fleet to cogs, but their merchant fleets were still predominantly galleys. This left them highly vulnerable to raids during the fifth war. More, while the Toli had upgraded to cogs, they still eschewed deep sea technology. The Rhola had embraced it during the interval, and the war spurred them to greater efforts, resulting in the development of caravels during the long peace, and carracks by the time of Luschan’s death. The Toli desperately attempted to copy these, but most of their efforts were unsuccessful. They also experimented with a number of hybrid designs, including several attempts at a galleass and dromond, but none were effective in open water. While they managed to launch a number of rather well designed caravels toward the end of the wars of Malv the Explorer, Rholan naval dominance was so great at this time that few did more than clear the inner harbor of Port Toli before being sent to the bottom.
Naval technology again stagnated after the disappearance of Malv the Explorer, and did not resume until Tavish the Great became Duke of Gradsul. At his direction, the shipwrights again began experimenting with new designs, and he was able to field a number of early galleons in his war. Once again, despite having fully adopted caravels and carracks, the Toli found themselves on the losing end of the technology race, and their fleet was destroyed.
Naval weapons of the period were predominantly individual arms. The Toli preferred melee troops, looking to board and cut down all opposition directly. The Rhola preferred archers, using the high fore and aft castles of their ships to great advantage, particularly against Toli galleys. Siege engines were considered secondary until the time of Malv the Explorer, when full fledged broadsides of heavy ballistae were introduced. In addition to these mundane weapons, both side made heavy use of magical support.
Appendix II - Evocation versus Necromancy
Both sides favored the use of magic to support their naval forces.
For the Rhola, their ship’s mages concentrated on evocations to destroy enemy ships and troops as quickly as possible, along with weather control magic to avoid the worst effects of storms. They also favored certain transmutations to enhance the speed and maneuverability of their vessels. The legendary ability of certain captain’s to change direction around a leaping dolphin, sail directly into a gale wind, or bounce a volley of ballista bolts off the sides of their ship was due to magic rather than construction or sailing ability. This intensive use of magic was begun under Malv II, who created the Guild of Sea Mages following the Insurrection of the Yaheetes.
The Toli on the other hand took their necromancy to sea with them. Boarding actions are greatly enhanced when the ship’s holds are packed full of zombies, waiting the command to rush on deck and storm an enemy ship. They also provided untiring rowers on the galleys, as well as certain unskilled tasks on sailing ships. As they required no food, they enabled Toli ships to sail further and stay at sea longer than their Rholan counterparts.
In direct combat, the effects of the different styles were quite dramatic. Zombie crewmen could take more arrows than living humans, and their greater numbers all too often allowed Toli ships to close for the boarding actions they preferred. The Toli were also known for enhancing their servitors in numerous ways, often leaving them able to endure the massive damage even a single fireball could wreak on a ship, and still continue to fight. The undead also had a severe effect on the morale of Rholan crews, particularly during the early years of the wars of Sanduchar the Navigator and Luschan III, when men still bore memories of the horrific ends of the wars with the Yaheetes and Tyrus. In the long run though, the basic limits of mindless undead versus living intelligent crews gave the victory to the living time and again. The ability of the lowest Rholan naval rating to innovate in a moment of desperation to save his life from an undead horror provided enough of an advantage to overcome their greater numbers.