Saturday 12 January 2013

The White Raven

Shortly after arriving in Cathnaeron, we asked Cai Lai Bro Ol what he knew about the fall of Sinarqua. He gave us a very detailed history.

History, geography and political structure of Sinarqua

The city of Sinarqua was founded by a Kranthori Grand Duke who left Kranthor with a fleet of followers twelve generations prior to the events which led to the fall of the city. There was no universally accepted view of why he did so, other than the obvious desire to conquer new territories. The Grand Duke established the city beside the river Sinarqua, and, driving off the primitive humans who lived in the vicinity, established himself as King.

In the ensuing generations, the Kingdom had expanded to cover an area which in later times would be recognised as the eastern third of Kalmar and the Fontarbrian Kalmarese marches. At the time of the events in question, the Fontarbrians were a loose cultural confederation of counties, less developed than Sinarqua but better developed than the primitives to the west. The Kranthori settlement of greater Histra had not yet occurred.

Sinarqua had fought periodic wars of expansion into Fontarbrian territory.

There were no civilised kingdoms within Sinarqua's range of diplomacy. The Niban Empire was far to the north and the old Kingdom was too distant to have regular communications.

Sinarqua had also prosecuted a constant low level war against the Cathnaeron Danavans to the north. The structure of that war was that, every few years, a royal army of up to 5,000 men cleared a piece of territory occupied by Danavans. Experience had taught them that territories of a certain size tend to hold settlements of perhaps 50 to 100 Danavans. Exterminating the demons would typically be achieved at a loss of ten men for every Danavan. Danavan territory, once cleared, was held by the crown and developed over time.

The Kingdom was run by a powerful monarchy, of which King Uttwar II was the twelfth ruler. The Temple was a powerful institution within the Kingdom, maintaining the ancient rules of the religion, which was based on the Seven Pillars (seven core principles of faith). The major and minor gods of which we are aware were respected within the structures of the Temple, but their cults were of less significance than the Seven Pillars. The Sinarquan word for pillar was “Arok”.

The nobility of the Kingdom was made up of about 150 barons of varying degrees of wealth and influence. The house of lords was of relatively lesser influence than the institutions of the monarchy or the Temple.

Mages were uncommon and the potentates in the kingdom did not have any strong feelings about them.

There were two castes. Those of Kranthori heritage were the ruling caste; all others are slaves and servitors.

King Uttwar's new era

Cai Lai Bro Ol's intelligence seemed to come primarily from a group of courtier close to the King. Thiis comprised Ingeld, a veteran exarch (military commander); Taraben, his vicar; Osreyd, a baron of the middle rank of nobility; Diavron, a stern rector of the Temple; and Enomis, a vicar of the royal institutions.

The events in question commenced with word that the King was to make a major speech announcing a new era in the history of the Kingdom. In advance of the announcement, the group of courtiers were summoned by the Kings chief counselor, Dradon, and briefed on the King's plans with a view to assisting him in their implementation. Dradon was well but simply dressed and has a plain, simple office.

Uttwe proposed to launch a war of extermination against the Cathnaeron Danavans. He planned to suspend the wars against the Fontarbrians so that all could focus on that task. He intended that, once the divine work of annihilation was complete, the boundaries of the Kingdom would have been greatly expanded and Sinarqua would have a powerful place in the world.

To start the new model of war, Dradon explained, the King proposed a campaign against a much greater area of Danavan territory than had ever before been attempted. This would entail an assault on a salient which lay between Sinarquan territories and the river Blackwater. The number of men required for such an operation was greater than that which could be expected to be raised from royal lands, so the group of courtiers set about a plan to persuade the nobles (or a significant fraction of them) to provide the majority of the army.

The group's plan was to request the nobles to produce full-strength, properly equipped companies of 200 men. In return, the nobles would be rewarded by being granted the administration of royal holdings, which they would administer for the duration of their involvement in the campaign. The rate of exchange would be one well-developed mature holding for the provision and maintenance of three full strength companies; the provision of fewer companies would attract less well-developed holdings.

They envisaged persuading 20-24 nobles to participate, raising a force of 14,000 to complement a royal force of 7,000. Dradon was agreeable to their plan.

Diplomacy subsequent to the King's announcement.

The King announced his policy change. The members of the group set about canvassing the list of nobles which they had drawn up as representing their best chance of producing the men they needed.

They enlisted the enthusiastic support of Baron Siganor, a magnate of about 60 years with some military experience. He committed to bringing nobles of his faction on board. He expressed a desire to be made a sub-commander of the army, which Ingeld could not grant but did suggest he would support.

They spoke with Harodar, an untested young magnate in his early thirties who seemed a clever and thoughtful man. He sought assurances about what would happen if there were intervening events, and was given such assurances. He mused about how this campaign might affect the kingdom in the distant future, a matter about which they group could not offer any assurances. He was not enthusiastic but said that if the King asked he would answer.

They enlisted the support of Baron Ultan, a minor lord who required cash advances from the royal treasury to equip even one company.

They enlisted others in due course, such that they became confident of assembling the 14,000 from noble sources.

The military plans

The King invited Ingeld to take command of the force, an invitation which Ingeld accepted. Ingeld appointed Lord Harodar's younger brother his aide de camp.

The courtiers heard that the Temple proposed to raise troops to assist the campaign, an unprecedented event. They were approached by Decanis of the Temple, a senior figure who (unusually) wore nothing to indicate the cult to which he is devoted He said that the Temple would provide 7,000 men, split into two divisions.

The first, to be known as “the Eternals”, would comprise 700 priests (not all of Korak), equipped as knights or nobles would be.

The second would be a force known as “the Forsaken”, who would be members of cults who had become apostate, or slaves, or those who had committed crimes or fallen into religious bad practices. The Forsaken would not be well equipped but would be subjected to a rite which numbs them to the reality of their situation, such that they might be useful as shock troops, or a storming force against a stronghold.

Decanis said he himself would lead the Temple forces.

Ingweld gave some thought to the disposition of his forces. His initial thought is to split them into three battles.

  • The largest would be led by him, and would include an element designated as reserves available to assist the other two battles. This battle would include the royal force and a segment of the noble forces, and would number 12,000. He will have one or two sub-exarchs leading segments of this force.
  • The second battle would be led by Lord Siganor comprising 8,000 men, all from noble forces.
  • The third battle, under Decanis, will be the 7,000 comprised of the Temple forces, supplemented by 1,000 men from the noble forces.

The first campaign

The first campaign was a success.

Ingeld chose to attack a salient between previously conquered lands and the Blackwater which from previous experience he guessed would contain 10-12 settlements. He encircled the territories; ensured his supply lines were secure and began to encroach into the forested Danavan districts.

The Danavan resistance was fierce but localised. They fought as individuals or small groups, but never appeared to pool the resources of their small salient. Ingeld's losses were grievous relative to the number of adult Danavans destroyed, but in line with his expectations. One by one, he located their villages and slaughtered the inhabitants. Some Danavans would stand, fight and be destroyed in their dwellings. Others would raid in small numbers, which tactic was initially quite effective.

Ingeld quickly improved the disposition of his camps and the manner of his watches, for example by constructing rude overhead shelters as well as mantlets for his watchmen, having learned to his cost that Danavan archery is devastatingly effective. Their arrows, in common with their other weapons, were poisoned, such that even minor wounds could be fatal. Their range and accuracy was hard to credit and Danavan night vision is superior to human.

Ingeld carefully collected, documented and preserved all captured Danavan weapons, and gave them to the Temple authorities who were present in the possibility that the Temple could learn to defend us better against Danavan poison, or could learn to use their weapons against them.

Ahead of schedule he destroyed all settlements to the south of the river and set about clearing the land for human habitation. He improved paths to allow better access to the territories. Leaving significant force behind to man newly built fortifications along the river, he led his army home to Sinarqua for the winter.

The second campaign

The success of the first season's campaign made it possible to recruit, with relative ease, sufficient forces to return the following season in greater numbers. These would be needed as his next campaign would pose a greater challenge – that of crossing the river and establishing fortified positions across it.

Ingeld surveyed the site and chose two landing points a short march apart, which sites he thought would provide good locations for forts once the territories had been cleared. Most of his army would remain on the southern banks to protect our supply lines. His garrisons had used the winter to prepare several jetties and had brought boats upriver to allow him to cross the river in force.

On the eve of the main attack, he sent a small group of soldiers, led by a knight, across the river to examine one of the landing sites more closely. Immediately on landing, the group were attacked. The knight was captured by Danavans. He was later released with a message that the Danavans wished to parley.

Ingeld accepted an ambassador into his camp, a lilac-haired Danavan called Elas. He spoke Sinarquan as fluently as a native. He questioned Ingeld and the other courtiers as to their objectives in the war, but they told him little. He advised them that, if they agreed not to cross the river, they could retain the lands captured the previous season, but if they insisted in pressing the attack, their losses would be tenfold.

They asked him to demonstrate the Danavans ability to inflict such losses. He signaled the far bank, and about 200 arrows were loosed from as many concealed positions along the far bank. Elas promised that, for as long as the Sinarquan army remained here, a knight or noble would die every single day.

Constrained by his orders and the royal policy, Ingeld refused Elas's entreaties, but did allow him to leave our camp unmolested. He commenced his attack. His losses were fearsome. Danavans in small boats caused significant losses among the humans' less maneuverable craft. Landing sites were well defended, especially one which appeared to be very close to a Danavan settlement. A force of Danavans was seen crossing the river, landing in Ingeld'srear.

Assassins and sorcery

Nevertheless, Ingeld took the landing sites and began to clear the surrounding areas. In the days which followed, a knight or noble was assassinated every night in the camp on the southern bank. Considerable panic developed at the Danavans apparent ability to strike without trace. In the first few days, the Sinarquans assumed that the assassins were stealing into the camp from the south and that they were part of the force that had struck across the river. They dedicated considerable forces patrolling the wider area, but found nothing.

In time, having found no evidence of nightly infiltration, they suspected that the assassin might be hiding in the camp. They searched it carefully but found nothing. They then started a detailed process of investigation, speaking at length to all of those who had been in the company of each victim on the night that they died. It appeared that one person, a squire, had been present on at least some of the occasions. When they approached him to put him to the question, he – it – panicked and started to run. In the process of running, it changed to a true form; the squire was not human, but was a Danavan sorcerer who had taken human form. They slaughtered it with crossbow bolts.

The campaign of assassination – and its bloody denouement – had an extremely demoralising effect of the army. So too did the bloody cost of conquering the small art of the north bank. Resistance was far more fierce, and far better organised, than it had been the previous season. By the end of the twelfth day, the Sinarquans had destroyed 200 Danavans for the loss of 5,000 men.

Aside from the ferocious fighting, they also faced other terrifying threats. Men were found dead, apparently beheaded by the trees themselves; others were poisoned by hellish weeds.

At the end of the campaign, Ingeld had secured the objective of his campaign. He had captured two settlements and built two strong forts on the riverbank. The land between the two forts were denuded of vegetation to deny cover to the enemy. Each fort had an operable jetty to permit resupply by river.

The cost in lives of the “successful” campaign exceeded expectations. The revelations that Danavans could speak Sinarquan; take human form; assassinate nobles and turn the forest into a weapon were terrifying developments. Enthusiasm for the war was likely to wane.

The third campaign

During the winter, the courtiers' diplomatic efforts to maintain the war effort were challenging but not insurmountable. The price they had to pay for support increased. They made plans to increase enthusiasm for the war by honouring veterans, glorifying the dead, and terrorising those who opposed the war. The ranks of the Forsaken were expanded. They sent out word among cognoscenti that they wished to communicate with mages abroad who may know something about Danavan ways. Despite the more daunting situation, they had not received any instruction to desist from their efforts and did not raise our voices against prosecuting the war.

Ingeld assembled another large force and proceeded north for another campaign.

The Danavan resistance had increased by another order of magnitude. As they pushed out from our cleared area, they humans were attacked in greater numbers than ever before. One attack, comprising 200-300 Danavans, slaughtered significant number of men who had been working. A fast-response force (numbering thousands) sallied but the Danavans retreated in good order before the Sinarquans inflicted any significant damage on them.

While encamped, the army was joined by an elderly Carthagi man called Niowa, a young Tibulani woman and a Niban boy. Niowa claimed to be a mage with knowledge of Danavans. In return for sharing his knowledge, he requested the right to live in Sinarqua and to practice his magic unmolested. He also wished to have regular audience with King Uttwe.

The courtiers put the following to him, subject to Decanis's agreement:

  • They were officials, not plenipotentiaries, so any agreement they reached with him needed to be confirmed by the King. However, any agreement would be on the understanding that the courtiers were close in the counsels of the war and their recommendation was likely to be acceptable to the King (especially – though this was for their information, not his – since the courtier would not make any agreement which was opposed by Decanis of the Temple).
  • Niowa would be accredited as an ambassador from any Kingdom, nation, tribe or order which he believes himself entitled to represent.
  • As an ambassador, he would enjoy diplomatic immunity, which would include freedom from interference (by royal, noble or Temple authorities) in the practice of his magic or his religion, subject to his observing the obligations of an ambassador, such as refraining from conspiring against the person of the King or the armies of the Kingdom in time of war
  • His accreditation could be revoked for reasonable cause in future, but no revocation would be retrospective, such that he would not be made accountable for any actions taken by him during the period of his accreditation.
  • His accreditation as an ambassador would extend the normal rights of audience with the King, but no greater a right of audience than any other ambassador would enjoy. That is to say, all audiences would be with the King accompanied by the Kings chosen courtiers; would be at places and times of the King's choosing; and though he may request any number of audiences, he would be granted only a reasonable number of audiences at reasonable times – he should not make any presumptions on the time of the King.
  • He could keep a modest household, but would not under any circumstances expose any Sinarquan subjects to his magic or his religion. If he did so, his accreditation could be revoked. His household could include Sinarquan or foreign subjects, but the members of his household must be identified to royal authorities. Members of his household would be extended the same privileges and immunities as he was, save the right of audience with the King (which was his alone, though he could be accompanied) and the right to unmolested religion (which did not extend to any Sinarquan subjects in his household). 

Niowa was agreeable to those terms. He told the courtiers many things about the Danavans, including that there are:

  • 49 tribes
  • 7 Great Players (each with 7 apprentices), each of whom plays a “role” and 
  • 7 great ancestors.

“The Warlock” is a great player. The shape-shifting Danavan was probably an apprentice warlock.

He mentioned “harlequins”, another demon race. There could be others, though the Danavans and the Shanir were by far the most populous races. All other demons blame Danavans for the rebellion which had the effect of losing most of the world to human control. Their rebellion took the form of the Danavans leaving their homeland.

There are three nations of Danavans – Cathnaeron (here); Moldaeron and “a third nation, beyond Timor”. (Timor is a place far to the east).

Human mages were unwilling to fight Danavans, for reasons which include the fact that Danavan sorcerers could steal human souls, and the soul of a mage was especially “juicy”. There were many Danavan sorcerers; their magic was recognisable as such (that is, it was not unlike human magic and could be spectacular). Their sorcerers could be thousands of years old.

Great players had gifts associated with their roles, which are more like priestly abilities.

Niowa had previously traveled to “The Mountain”, which he described as the centre of the Danavan nation. The tribes were more numerous there. He believed that the Danavan country was far bigger than Sinarqua and his implication was that there may be more Danavans than Sinarquans.

Danavans had taken human prisoners. Niowa believed some were kept in The Mountain. This may be the reason why Danavans could speak Sinarquan.

Danavans grew their weapons from plants which are poisonous. They fought between tribes and villages. In such conflicts, they used war arrows. Against humans, they used hunting arrows, which were barbed and made of the poison plant. These weapons are not poisonous to Danavans.

Niowa said that Danavans took long time to make decisions about important issues, so it was not surprising that they had taken several seasons to respond to the Sinarquan's increased war efforts. The courtiers asked how other humans had fought the Danavans. He described how the great Niban empire had fought them for generations, including by training special demon-hunting warriors. These specialists included a thousand champions armed with magic swords , crafted by a great master them long ago. The skill is extremely rare even among mages – Niowa knows of only one other living mage who can make them, and he is working for someone else. The Nibans eventually stopped trying to eliminate the Danavans some time ago.

The courtiers began considering tactical innovations to help fight the Danavans. These could have included heavier armoured units; unarmoured Forsaken, armed with barbed nets, and others armed with tridents; and a cadre of speedy, skilled swordsmen.

They had no time to develop these ideas. There was an attack on the two forts. There were about 1,500 men in each fort, but about 60% died in each when poison plants grew up overnight. All who were touched by the plants went mad and died.

Ingeld moved across the river to restore order and reinforce. The Danavans attacked. 400 came from the forest on the northern shore of the river. At the same time, 50-60 boats crossed the river to the southern shore on which Ingeld's army was encamped. The boats were of a type which can hold 8-10 Danavans. There was an equal division between the east and west of the army's camp. The debarked Danavans immediately started to take watchtowers as the army readied to defend itself.

A white-haired Danavan called Cai Lai Bro Ol came to Ingeld on the northern shore to parley. He claimed to represent the Cathnaeron nation. Facing a battle that could, at worst, result in utter defeat (and, at best, a crippling victory) Ingeld negotiated terms of surrender. After negotiations, he agreed that:

  • he would retreat from the northern bank
  • he would destroy all forts and watchtowers on that part of the southern bank which he had captured two seasons ago
  • he would not navigate the river along that part of the river abutting that part except for the purposes of withdrawing our forces. 

We sought out Decanis under the banner of the seven-spoked wheel, and he agreed that the terms seemed reasonable. Ingeld signed his agreement to the terms and withdrew his forces.

Niowa told us that he had heard of Cai Lai Bro Ol but not previously met him. His white hair indicating that he is a “revenant”, a Danavan who has returned to the land of Darazi, the ancestral homeland of the Danavans from whence they fled. (The term “revenant” may apply to all of those who travel to Darazi, or only to those few who survive the round trip to Darazi and back to Cathnaeron.) The rumour was that Cai Lai Bro Ol was a boy when the Danavans fled Darazi, meaning that he is old beyond the reckoning of humanity.

The army returned to Sinarqua. The King, while not happy with the terms of our surrender, understood them. He gave Ingeld three years to prepare another campaign against the Danavans. He also accepted Niowa as an ambassador from Karthagikeen.

Rumours of disquiet in the east

While making preparations for a fourth campaign against the Danavans the courtiers came to hear vague rumours of conspiracy between the Fontarbrians and Sinarquan marcher lords. They traveled to the Fontarbrian marches to investigate and spoke to several of the main marcher lords, their courtiers and anyone who might enlighten them.

They first met Baron Luscanor, who gave every impression of being a competent lord. He described in detail numerous intrigues among Fontarbrian chieftains. He said he used bribery, coercion and persuasion to court some chieftains to fight others and thereby prevent strong combinations of Fontarbrians from emerging. His retainers reported rare good luck in recent campaigns – including a chest of unprotected treasure taken at the construction site of a Fontarbrian fort. The courtiers discovered no evidence – and heard no accusations – of treachery.

They visited Batoran, a relative of the King and the pre-eminent magnate among the marcher lords. He seemed competent and composed and gave no hint of treachery.

They visited Rosasna, a firebrand who displayed nothing but the most violent hatred of the Fontarbrians and his willingness to fight them.

Their survey disclosed no evidence to support rumours of treachery. They returned to Sinarqua for what was to be the final period of preparation for the fourth – and largest – Danavan campaign.

Preparations interrupted

They spoke with the King about preparations for the campaign. He asked their views on our chances of success. They said that the chance of a catastrophic defeat – not excluding the possibility that the entire kingdom would be wiped out – was not insignificant. They had, in the previous campaign, seen an unprecedented level of coordination and strength from the Danavans. They had devised a strategy for an army that could possibly defeat the hundreds of mobilised Danavans which had defeated them in the last campaign.

However, if the Danavans responded to this by raising an even greater host, the human army could be overmatched. Even a modest force, if deployed in their rear could cause devastation in large parts of the Kingdom. They pointed out that they had no verifiable estimate of the true strength of Danavan arms – only the assertion of the magus Niowa that he believed Cathnaeron to be at least as vast and populous as the kingdom of Sinarqua. The King gave the impression that he would consider a reversal of course. Eager to avoid disaster for the Kingdom, the courtiers sought arguments in favour of a reversal and spoke to Niowa.

He made his view plain. He believed that war with the Danavans would be suicidal. He described them as a species bred for unending war. They had settled down to a sedentary existence but they could, if riled, cause devastating damage.

Later that night, they received word that a Danavan had appeared at the city gates and asked for them. They hurried to meet it. It was Cai Lai Bo Ol. They treated with him in an inn outside the city. He made plain his knowledge of their preparations for war. He intimated that he was part of a faction which desired peace with Sinarqua in opposition to another faction which proposed to unleash a devastating war. He asked what might be done to avoid a war. The courtiers devised a plan whereby they would announce that the Danavans had sued for peace and the King had grudgingly accepted. Cai Lai Bo Ol promised to return all human hostages held in Cathnaeron at a ceremony which the parties (later) confirmed would take place at an appointed pace on the Danavan frontier, on an important human religious festival nine months from the night the agreement had been reached.

The courtiers advised the King to accept this offer. They constructed a story whereby the proposed Danavavn campaign could not now proceed because they had learned of a nefarious Fontarbrian plot to invade Sinarqua in a few years' time, at a date when (they thought) Sinarqua would be deeply engaged against the demons. Their story was to be that the Fontarbrian threat had to be crushed once and for all.

The King accepted our counsel and we made the final agreement with Cai Lai Bro Ol.

They made plans to divert the planned campaign against the Danavans to instead attack the Fontarbrians. Decanis, the senior Temple leader in their consels, did not demur from our plan, but other Temple leaders remained silent. The nobility was even more supportive of the plan than they had been of the proposed Danavan campaign.

The courtier's initial plan included a provision that Luscanor, the marcher lord, would be wrongly accused of conspiring with the Fontarbrians and has was treated coldly in the planning. However, in time they decided against scapegoating him and began to correspond with him as though he was trusted.

The army departs; chaos enters

An army, 45,000 strong (about one third of which was comprised of Temple forces) was assembled at Sinarqua; divided into three battles; and prepared to march separately to the Fontarbrian front.

The first two battles had departed and the third was preparing to depart when rioting erupted in the Temple quarter. The courtiers first took it for a minor disturbance and sent a detachment to quell it. The rioters were better organised than the courtiers had expected and overcame the detachment. Temple authorities friendlky to the courtiers were besieged in the Temple itself by dissident clergy.

They dispatched a large force to quell the riot and relieve the Temple. It was too late. The Temple building had already fallen to dissident clergy and was held against the royal forces. They prepared to force entry. The King insisted on personally attending to demand the surrender of the Temple. The magus Niowa counseled that this might be a dangerous course and made the King a gift of an amulet embossed with a hawk symbol bearing the legend “Through amity and eternity”. He said that the amulet would protect the King against any but the most perfect assassination attempt.

Royal forces prepared to storm the Temple. Someone inside it shot an arrow at the King, but the arrow swerved astonishingly around the King's head and shot (and killed) a knight behind the King.

Royal forces stormed the Temple. Resistance was not strong, but the cleric who had led the traitorous rioting, one Tokumat, escaped through a side door with unknown accomplices, killing several soldiers. The magus Niowa could find no trace of Tokumat by magical means, saying that it was as if Tokumat no longer existed.

Order restored, most of the army departed, leaving a larger than normal garrison (5,000 men) to maintain order in the city. Ingeld and Taraben traveled with the lead battle of the army; Osreyd, Diavron and Enomis, remained in the city for the time being.

Diavon asserted control over the Temple, placing men loyal to him in positions of authority and seizing some suspected elements. Several suspect clerics remained at large.

Slaughter in the army; treason in the East

Several days out of Sinarqua, sentries of the lead battle of the army intercepted a spy carrying a message to the leaders of the Temple forces within that battle. It was a message – presumably from Tokumat or his adherents – that Temple forces should kill all non-Temple forces in the army. Ingeld summoned the leading clerics to his tent to give them a chance to explain themselves, and took precautions for his own safety.

On seeing the message, the six or seven leading clerics, without exception, drew their weapons and tried to kill Ingeld. They were killed in the attempt. Ingeld organised his secular forces to kill all Temple troops in his battle. He was successful, but – messengers he had sent to the other two battles having arrived too late – the Temple elements in the other two battles had massacred all secular forces and set out for Sinarqua.

Ingeld set out in pursuit. Word soon reached him that he was himself pursued. Batoran, the Kings kinsman, had formed an alliance with many of the marcher lords and many Fontarbrian chieftains. Rising in rebellion against the King, Batoran and his allies were marching on Sinarqua.

Several days later, the Temple army arrived at Sinarqua with loyalist forces and a secessionist / Fontarbrian army in sequence behind. The Temple forces demanded, but were refused, the surrender of the city, and prepared to assault it. Ingeld moved to dispose his forces so that they would be arrayed in the field between Sinarqua and its port city Torpedis, several miles south and thus be facing both enemies.

Assassins attack; a dragon lays waste to large swathes of the city

During the days of chaos, the Kings court remained in contact with the magus Niowa. That contact led Niowa to meet Osreyd and Enomis in an open square outside Niowe's tower. He imparted two pieces of information. The first was that the King's trusted counselor Dradon was in communication with Temple forces. The second was that the port city Torpedis had been taken by one or other opposing force.

During the conversation, assassins attacked from several sides. The courtiers' small guard was insufficient and the group sought to flee. In the chaos, Niowa was struck in the head by an arrow and apparently killed.

A mighty explosion destroyed Niowa's tower. Standing atop it was a dragon, as large as a house. It fell on the square, scattering and killing guards and assassins alike, and seized Niowa's body. After carrying the body away, the dragon proceeded to lay waste to a large quarter of the city, burning buildings, flattening the river-wall and causing large numbers to flee in utter panic.

Parley, assault, flight

Osreyd and Enomis made haste to the royal palace. They found the King preparing to flee the city with his bodyguard through secret tunnels under the palace which (allegedly) led to Torpedis. The courtiers told the King Niowa's intelligence (that the port had fallen) and persuaded the King to learn of the fate of the port before fleeing thence. The courtiers privately told the King what Niowa had said about Dradon, but he was loath to believe it, saying that Dradon had always offered him good and supportive counsel.

The courtiers watched Dradon closely from that point forward.

Ingeld's forces had by then redeployed close to the city and Taraben reached the palace. The King instructed him to ask Ingeld to reach terms with the secessionist / Fontarbrian forces. This Ingeld did, agreeing to recognise Batoran as a semi-autonomous Grand Duke of all territory east of the Blackwater with unlimited licence for expansion further eastward; and to pay an Batoran and his allies an enormous ransom in gold.

Before a treaty could be signed, the Temple forces assaulted the city. The inhuman commitment of the Forsaken troops, together with the terror of the dragon's rampage and the sight of a great secessionist army, soon panicked the defenders, and the wall was breached. Slaughterous fighting within the city commenced. At the same time, the dragon turned his attention on the palace, and began to destroy it. The King's attempts to join Ingeld's army was unsuccessful, and he was left no choice but to flee through the tunnels beneath the city, despite having learned that the secessionists had indeed taken Torpedis.

Dradon had indeed betrayed the King. The royal party was assaulted in the tunnels by men not dressed as soldiers. The King escaped the attack but many of his retainers died, and Dradon was killed by the King's loyal courtiers.

Unable – because of the depredations of the dragon – to return to the palace, the King tried to find an alternative route to Torpedis. His party, in time, was taken by secessionist soldiers patrolling the tunnels. He was taken prisoner and his retainers were killed. The King was never seen or heard from in public again.

The death of Sinarqua

Ingeld's loyalist forces joined those of the secessionists to attack the Temple forces within and without the city. The fighting was unlike any normal battle. Each and every one of the Forsaken fought, inconsiderate of odds or grievous injury, to the death. Every follower of the Temple was killed, their skulls stacked high in the public places of the city. Their last stand was in the Temple building itself, which itself eventually fell with utter slaughter.

The dragon, having laid utter waste to the palace and its environs, became quiet, but it's location was unknown.

Those civilians who had not been killed had long since fled the city.

The secessionist forces, laden to the absolute limit of the booty they could carry, eventually went home. Batoran's new kingdom would grow to become the Kingdom of Fontarbria, and his war against Sinarqua was the origin of the wealth and power of Fontarbrian houses, such as Tobara and Tucinate.

Ingeld, devastated, committed suicide. Even if anyone had the will to restore the smoking, ruined, dragon-infested charnel-house that Sinarqua had become, there was no-one left to organise such a restoration. One of the great cities of the world had died.

Cai Lai Bro Ol shares further insights

After telling the group the story of the fall of Sinarqua, Cai Lai Bro Ol shared some further insights. He expressed disdain for the Artuli, including by suggesting that their dragon “familiars” may be the senior party in each pair's relationship. He suspects that the Artuli project may be the dragons' way of imitating the Danavan's trick of evading Harlequin tyranny. Bred dragons are not subject to Harlequin control, whereas wild dragons are. There are still wild dragons in the world in the dark and distant mountains, though not in Cathnaeron.

He expressed suspicion of the Artluli agenda, though he grudgingly accepted that the prophecies of Akherol did appear to be their main motivation. He said that Akherol was a Danavan. He was skeptical of whether the Artuli would be concerned by the rise of the Seventh, since the Seventh appears to be focused on destroying Danavans specifically, rather than demons in general. He suggested that the Artuli had coexisted with the Fontarbrians in the past. He said that the Artuli have a presence on every continent.

We told him what we knew of the magus Waltor and his involvement with the Tyrant blade. Cai Lai Bro Ol already had a degree of interest in Waltor – which was increased by what we told him – but he shared no information with us that we did not already possess.

Cai Lai Bro Ol told us that Danavans are no longer subject to Harlequins' power, confirming that the creation of humans had achieved its desired effect. We asked about the infestation of Cathnaeron by Harlequins; he said there were perhaps four of them in Cathnaeron, and that they are sufficiently tough to discourage Danavans from attacking them.

He did not think the fact that each major race of humans appears to have a significant apostate nation was significant.

He implied that the death of the Fontarbrian King Vanam was at the hands of a Karthagi royal assassin. He did not believe that the Seventh was necessarily behind the start of the civil war or its end. He did not seem unduly concerned by the possible imminent rise of Fontarbria, suggesting that if Fontarbria became a significant military threat, Cathnaeron might solve the problem by assassinating the King. We asked what the chances were of a “war party” emerging which might launch a pre-emptive war against Fontarbria. He gave the impression that this was unlikely.

He suggested that Karthagakeen would have a clear interest in opposing the restoration of the former extent of the Fontarbrian hegemony.

He said that the Sol Ka clan are not resident in Cathnaeron. The relations between Cathnaeron and Moldaeron appear to be neither friendly nor hostile, but indifferent. If one were seriously threatened, it might seek and possibly receive the aid of the other.

Cai Lai Bro Ol asserted that he is the divine servitor whom humans call Shalebrol.

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