The Night Shade of Greyhawk and the Hallowed Revenant Amphoras
Philosophers say that war is always born of lust – - lust for power and loot. Perhaps this holds true for the petty forays and border raids that have plagued the Flanaess through history. However, the grand carnage of recent years cannot be explained by mere lust. Rather, the complex alchemy of mortal passions, foibles, and dementia is what hurtled nation against nation in the wars that reworked the Flanaess.
To understand the so – called Greyhawk Wars, therefore, one must understand the cast of characters. The cast ranges widely- – from demi-gods to outcasts and from heroic warriors to red-hooded spies. Together they comprise a grand dramatis personae, the cast of a great tragedy.
Dramatis Personae: Antagonists
Iuz the Old
"His Most Profane Eminence, Lord of Pain, Fiend of the North, Child of the Evil One, Master of the Dread and Awful Presences, Iuz the Evil, Iuz the Old"- – so was this foul demi-god hailed by the corrupt and evil things that served him. Ruling from blood-black Dorakaa, City of Skulls, Iuz harbored an undisguised desire to dominate all of the Flanaess. He first gained notice, however, a century before the Greyhawk Wars.
In 479 CY, the land now called Iuz was a fractious collection of independent fiefs. The petty princes who ruled these plots of land vied to inherit the lands of Furyondy, which at that time reached far north. Among these princes was a paltry despot of the Howling Hills, who died in that year and left the land to a son of questionable origin- – Iuz. Oddly, rumors alternately described the "son" as an old man and a 7-foot-tall, feral-faced fiend.
After the incipient Lord of Evil reorganized his small estate into a military camp, his attention swung to neighboring fiefs. Feigning a merely defensive stance, Iuz worked covertly to pit his despotic neighbors against each other. In time the resources and wills of these princes were whittled away by conflict, and Iuz seized the land. By the end of his first year on the throne Iuz had assimilated the three fiefs surrounding his.
Iuz's domain began to spread like mold upon an overripe peach, primarily due to his use of humanoid tribes. Most human princes considered orcs and goblins vermin-ridden inferiors, an attitude best typified by His Eminence Count Vordav, who swore to "burn on sight any hovel of those miserable scum."1 Though this attitude allowed the petty princes to "maintain a false sense of purity for the old Aerdi traditions,"2 it also meant their armies were quickly overmatched by Iuz, who made full use of orcish cruelty and fecundity.
As more and more fiefs fell to the humanoids, a swelling stream of refugees carried wild tales of Iuz's powers to Furyondy in the south. According to such rumors, Iuz had constructed a road paved with skulls between the Howling Hills and Dorakaa, his new capital. The watchtowers guarding the road were said to be fueled on the flesh of living men. Iuz himself had sloughed off his withered form and grown to colossal size- – or so the tales said. Though hindsight may dismiss the most outlandish of such claims, the rumors at that time spread panic along the southern shores of Whyestil Lake.3
The King of Furyondy, Avras III, shifted attention to his northern frontier to prevent expansion of Iuz's power into the heartlands of Furyondy.4
Yet King Avras's position was compromised by the independence of his nobles- – particularly the Great Lords of the south, who remained unthreatened by Iuz. Many of these southern lords seized the opportunity to wring concessions from their hard-pressed king, depriving him of the taxes and control he was soon to need.5 Such concessions roused the ire of the northern-border margraves, who felt betrayed by the Great Lords. In reaction, the margraves infiltrated the Order of the Hart, a small religious faction at the time, and patiently, deliberately transformed it into a military brotherhood loyal to them.
So it was that Iuz's external threat sundered Furyondy internally. By 505 CY, a three-way split had grown in the ranks of the nobility. The most powerful faction was the Great Lords of the south, who used Iuz's threat to lever their lands from the king's control. Second in power was the Order of the Hart, which grew in unity and strength to oppose Iuz's border raids. Least in power was King Avras III with his estates and kin. Trapped in the lands between the more powerful factions, the king futilely strove to appease both.
At this crisis point, however, Iuz's growing power was checked. Whether by luck, wisdom, or courage, a small party of adventurers managed to seize the Lord of Evil and imprison him beneath the towers of Castle Greyhawk. How or why they undertook this feat has long been lost to the tides of time- – lost along with all but one of the heroes' names: the wizard Zagyg the Mad.6
Whatever the adventurers' motives and means, their labors resulted in salvation for Furyondy. Deprived of their lord, the orc and goblin armies massing on Furyondy's borders rapidly dissolved. The barbarous creatures fought the regents of Iuz and won for themselves the east and west shores of Whyestil Lake. East of the lake, savage chieftains and unscrupulous humans founded the Horned Society by 513 CY, but the depths of the Vesve Forest remained untamed up to the Greyhawk Wars over half a century later.
Though the humanoid armies had retreated from the borders, Furyondy was too wracked by internal dissension to give chase. As pressure from the north ebbed, Prince Belvor III, King Avras's son, energetically courted the Order of the Hart. By playing on the suspicions of the Great Lords of the south, Belvor III swung the Order of the Hart into the royal faction. After his father's death, Belvor used his monarchial power to force the Great Lords back into the fold as well. Though his reign was relatively short,7 Belvor's coalition lasted, holding the fractious kingdom together during the years of his son's regency.
Since assuming the throne from Lord Throstin, Regent of the Realm, Belvor IV has striven to strengthen Furyondy, planning the eventual conquest of the Horned Society and Iuz. Relations within the kingdom are far from settled, though. The rival factions, though much weaker, still remain and have found new causes to champion. In Belvor's efforts to reform and strengthen the empire, he has undone much of his regent's handiwork. Disgruntled, Lord Throstin has gained increasing control over the Order of the Hart and thus slowed the king's reassumption of full power.
With all the turmoil within his borders, King Belvor IV virtually ignored Iuz's return in 570 CY. Iuz, for his own part, had not sought to draw the attention of the southern lands. His sudden departure left disorder in the kingdom and until he could reassert absolute authority over the quarrelsome humanoid tribes, he was content to be ignored by his enemies.
The Mad Overking
Before the conflict between Iuz and Furyondy began its slow festering, events of equal import developed in the east. In the palace of Rauxes at the heart of the Great Kingdom, scions of House Naelax swept through the halls, brutally slaying every last member of the ruling House of Rax. Brought to power by blood and treachery, the House of Naelax was destined to rule by terror, for madness flowed in the blood of its progeny.8
The tale of the Great Kingdom of Aerdi begins almost 40 years prior to Iuz's rise. In those days, the North Province was ruled by Prince Ivid, a charismatic and able- – though thoroughly debauched- – nobleman. Because decades of weak kingship under the House of Rax had eroded imperial power, nobles such as Prince Ivid grew bold in their claims, pressing demands upon the Malachite Throne. The kingship, weak as it was, folded beneath the pressure and the Great Kingdom plunged into the Turmoil Between Crowns.
When Nalif, the only remaining heir of Rax, was assassinated,9 a host of rival princes claimed right to the Malachite Throne. Through a campaign of diplomacy, war, and assassination, Prince Ivid solved the problem of succession by eliminating all contenders and leaving himself the sole surviving prince of blood. Thus, the House of Naelax achieved the throne and Prince Ivid became His Celestial Transcendency, Overking of Aerdy, Grand Prince Ivid.
Included in his chain of titles were Herzog of the North; Archduke of Ahlissa, Idee, and Sunndi; Suzerain of Medegia; Commander of the Bone March; and Protector of Almor and Onnwal. Fate, however, quickly made these titles little more than grandiose claims. The chaos unleashed with the assassination of Nalif did not cease when Ivid seized the throne. Indeed, the peasants of Onnwal, Idee, and Sunndi rebelled, and the Herzog of Ahlissa asserted his own independence.
Ivid hurried to deal with his southern cousin (the nobility of the Great Kingdom were all related) only to find his lands exhausted and ill-administered after years of civil war. Unable to raise a sufficient army from his own fiefs, the Overking reluctantly called upon his remaining cousins for aid. Like sharks scenting blood, they closed in on the seemingly helpless king, intent on a kill.
The history of this second wave of civil war is even more confused and incomplete than that of the first. The sack of the University of Rauxes in 449 CY destroyed all imperial records of the war.11 Likewise, Duke Astrin's considerable library at Eastfair went out in rucksacks and up in flames during the final imperial campaign. Though some fairly complete histories survived in the monasteries of Medegia, they are heavily tinged with the Holy Censor's degenerate philosophies. Their accuracy is highly questionable, especially concerning their main topic: the battles between Rauxes and Medegia.
Though reliable accounts of the battles are lost to time, the results stand clear: the Overking retained his throne but suffered losses of territory and power. A nephew that Ivid left as steward of the North Province rebelled against his uncle and established his fief as a sovereign state. So too, the chief prelate of Ivid's empire- – the Holy Censor of Medegia- – defied the Overking and established an independent see. The Sea Barons were not as successful: though they gained control over the Aerdi fleet, the Overking closed all mainland ports to them. Left with only hostile non-Aerdi neighbors, the Sea Barons sued for peace.
Little is known of the campaigns in the heartlands of the Great Kingdom, though certainly Ivid earned the title "the fiend-seeing" during these battles. When Almor rebelled, the Overking struck back with a vengeance, demonstrating his "fiend-seeing" abilities. Drawing upon hellish aid, the Overking's armies routed the rebels. Even in the empire's weakened state, Almor could not stand to the diabolical fury of the Companion Guard12 until Nyrond sent its aid. In the end, the exhausted armies fought to a draw along the current borders.
Since that time, the Great Kingdom has seen a progression of Overkings. Ivid ruled for 48 years and, though he never regained control of his lost provinces, he bound the rest of Aerdi to him through fear aath his fingernails, Ivid III imprisoned his children in richly appointed cages. He provided his heirs with tutors and countless lavish debaucheries lest he seem the neglectful father. When he reached advanced age, however, Ivid III declared that his surviving child would succeed him. The announcement unleashed a bloodbath of fratricide in his children's velvet prison. The sole survivor became Ivid IV.
The new ruler of Aerdi emulated his father: those children not slain at birth were imprisoned, and their mothers monstrously tortured for the Overking's amusement. With their father's throat out of reach, the children practiced their Naelaxan butcheries on a succession of nursemaids and governesses. Some survivors of the children sadly came to the Overking's attention and joined his ever-changing stable of concubines. After a brief dalliance or pleasing interlude, these women disappeared into the bowels of the torturers' dungeons: the Overking loved pain more than passion.
Otherwise Ivid IV's reign accomplished little. The Overking excelled in debauchery, not administration. He perennially launched military campaigns to retake Almor and Nyrond and always managed only to shift the borders a few miles in either direction. No matter- – the battles provided a summer spectacle to occupy the Overking, who was more interested in fury and thunder than real military gain.
While Ivid IV dallied, his someday successor, Ivid V, set to work. Second among the Overking's sons, Ivid V thought to simplify the appointment of an heir by exterminating his siblings.14 Though Ivid V completed this task with skill and dispatch, his father still refused to yield the throne to him. The heir apparent therefore hired the Overking's latest favorite to pour acid in the emperor's ear.15
Ivid V ascended the throne and has held it for 28 years. Though as a commander of armies he is dissolute and weak, Ivid V ruthlessly governs his empire with a genius for political machinations. Undeniably, the few campaigns he has fought ended in disaster, but madness has not obscured his diplomatic skill. The North and South Provinces have once again fallen into line behind the Overking's banner and his emissaries have even brought the humanoids of the Bone March closer to the imperial fold. With his strength growing, the Overking looks for an excuse to again press his claims on the rebellious western lands.
The Father of Obedience
The third and perhaps most decisive figure in the looming tragedy of war was also the most mysterious. Known only by a title- – His Peerless Serenity, the Father of Obedience- – the head of the Scarlet Brotherhood purposely fostered secrecy and rumor about himself and his followers. Most of what is known is only unfounded speculation.16
Though this organization of the Suel humans is purported to be ancient,17 the Scarlet Brotherhood only came to the notice of the rest of the Flanaess in 573 CY.18 This year also saw the abduction of the Prince of Furyondy and the Provost of Veluna. The coincidence of these events seems significant, particularly to conspiracy theorists who suspect the hand of the Scarlet Brotherhood in all dark and mysterious deeds.19 Whether or not a connection exists, the Brotherhood has remained notoriously silent on the subject.
Without question, though, the Scarlet Brotherhood is a fanatical people. Their harshly monastic society has earned for them the epithet "monks," though the religion practiced by the Brotherhood remains a mystery. They deem all other races as inferior to the Suel People, and with cold, methodic evil set these beliefs to practice. Despite unfailing stealth and treachery when dealing with those beyond the pale, members of the Brotherhood apparently obey their leader- – the Father of Obedience—unto death.
Though vague rumors of the Brotherhood had existed for centuries, the first official act of the organization was the dispatching of emissaries to the courts of the Iron League in 573 CY. Traveling robed and hooded in red, these strangers claimed to be ambassadors from the Land of Purity. Most were excellent scholars and sages who observed in the courts of the Iron League and generously offered their talents to those who needed them. Through this insidious process, the robed strangers patiently wormed into sensitive and even vital offices in the courts of many southern lords.
While the robed sages became confidants to kings, assassins of the sect infiltrated the courts under subtler guises. The time when this silent invasion actually began remains unknown, and estimates of the number of assassins are pure guesswork. Some revealed themselves prior to the war, advancing the Brotherhood's cause through assassination and terror. Even in these strikes, though, the extent of the Brotherhood's role remains in doubt: assassins seldom proclaimed allegiance as they struck the blow. Was the roof tile that slew the Steward of the Principality of Ulek wielded by an assassin, or by the capricious hand of fortune?20
Of the Brotherhood's other prewar activities, only rumors speak. In the last years before the war, reports reached the southern Flanaess that red-hooded mystics were enslaving and martialing vast savage empires in Hepmonaland. Travelers described these savages in the most horrific terms, mercilessly detailing their cruel rites and debased customs.21 According to travelers' tales, vast nations following the ancient ways of the Suloise were mustering in the steamy gardens of Hepmonaland.
Still, Hepmonaland was too far from the beleaguered borders of the Flanaess kingdoms to cause much concern. Travelers' tales fell on deaf ears, and no one noticed the growing stranglehold of the red-hooded sages. Had anyone taken note, countless lives could have been saved.
The Course of the War
Given the delicate balance of good and evil in the Flanaess and the tragically flawed natures of the land's tyrants and kings, the question was not whether a war would erupt, but how, when, and where it would. By 582 CY, these questions had met with some startling answers.
Rise of Stonefist
In the frozen north, far removed from the power struggles of the ancient Aerdi kingdoms, dwelt several tribes of barbaric folk: the Fruztii, Schnai, and Cruski, and the raiders of the Hold of Stonefist. For centuries these bands attacked anything or anyone that moved across their barren lands or seas. Three of the four groups- – Fruztii, Schnai, and Cruski- – claimed Suloise heritage and common foes. Numbered first among their foes were the folk of the fourth group, the raiders in the Hold of Stonefist.
The squabbling skirmishes of these small and primitive peoples should have remained merely a parenthetical aside in the epic chronicle of the Flanaess. Rumors surfaced, however, concerning an ancient artifact- – the Five Blades of Corusk: the barbarian birthright of five swords imbued with otherworldly magic and lost for all ages. Four of the blades had purportedly been found in the heart of the Corusk Mountains. When the final sword was united with its mates in the proper ritual, the Five Blades of Corusk would combine their power and invoke the Great God of the North. This supernatural being would then muster the barbarian tribes and lead them to victory over the warm lands farther south.
Though countless young warriors died upon vision quests in the high mountains, no one discovered the fifth blade. Regardless, in 582 CY, a leader of great power and charisma arose among the barbarians. He called himself Vatun, Great God of the North – - and had the power to support his claim. Vatun's appearance surprised even those most convinced by the rumors of the Five Blades, including the barbarian kings who had used the rumors to further their power. Vatun must have somehow proved his power to these doubtful rulers, for the kings of Fruztii, Schnai, and Cruski each surrendered their ancestral sovereignty to "all-powerful" Vatun.
Vatun, though, was hardly what he seemed: The entire episode was a fraud. Iuz, with his evil cunning and demi-god powers, fabricated the god Vatun and masqueraded as messiah of the barbarians. Perhaps the Five Blades of Corusk were genuine and perhaps the Great God of the North might really have appeared were the fifth blade found, but Iuz's evil schemes ended all search.
Vatun wasted no time deliberating. War was imminent between the barbarians and Stonefist. Even as Vatun appeared before his dread-filled followers, the Fists converged upon them to stop the ceremony. In the brief battle that ensued, Vatun easily routed the Fists and thereby won the prostrate praise of the barbarians. However, instead of completely crushing the Fists, Vatun sought them as allies. Over the course of a few weeks, Sevvord Redbeard – - once noted for his stubborn independence – - underwent a radical (if not magical) change of heart and joined forces with Vatun and his barbarian hordes.
The Rovers of the Barrens, perhaps scenting the familiar stench of Iuz's evil upon winds from the east, proved less pious toward Vatun. Fiercely independent, the leaders of the few surviving wardogs refused Vatun's offer to ally. Retreating into the great plain between Stonefist and Iuz, the Rovers were both protected and plagued by their icy and forbidding lands.
Though Vatun seemed inconsequential to sages in civilized lands and though the Great God was in fact a sham, his appearing irretrievable unbalanced the delicate scales of good and evil. Iuz's alter ego clutched the northern tribes in a fist of iron, and with a single gesture he flung them southward.
The Hold of Stonefist, now ally rather than enemy of the barbarians, massed for an assault to the south. Demonstrating a savagery that surpassed even his reputation, Sevvord Redbeard, Master of the Hold, bloodily crushed all opposition to his rule. He turned the yearly Rite of Battle Fitness into a massacre to prove his ascendancy, then gathered his cowed forces for war talk. He said the time had come for the Fists, robbed of their lands and glory, to bring their southern neighbors to task.
With such demagoguery, the Master of the Hold assembled a huge and loyal barbarian army. The Fists were hungry for war and Sevvord Redbeard planned to let them feast. Under Vatun's orders, the Master of the Hold led his army through Thunder Pass and swept down on Calbut in the Duchy of Tenh.
The Fall of Tenh
For decades upon decades, the atamans of Stonefist had coveted the Duchy of Tenh – - a land warm and lush by the severe standards of the barbarians. Yet for as many years, the Duke of Tenh and his armies blocked the way into those wealthy lands. Based in the walled city of Calbut,22 Duke Ehyeh's patrols watched and guarded Thunder Pass, repelling small forays and delaying larger raids until reinforcements from the city garrison could arrive. For centuries the walled cities and garrisons of Tenh limited the Fists to minor border raids. Preoccupied by skirmishes with the Fruztii, the Fists had not mounted a major attack through the pass for over 30 years.
In that time the Tenhas grew complacent. Believing the northern frontier secure, Duke Ehyeh siphoned warriors from Thunder Pass to more pressing assignments: patrols to intercept foul creatures from the Griff Mountains and the Troll Fens, task forces to hunt down desperados of Rookroost and the Bandit Kingdoms, and standing armies along the increasingly hostile border with the Theocracy of the Pale. With Thunder Pass quiet and the Hold preoccupied, Ehyeh allowed the Tenhas guard in Calbut to dwindle dangerously.
By 582 CY, Calbut lay completely unprepared for the storm of barbarians sweeping through Thunder Pass. The once – great gorge wall that sealed the heights of the pass toppled before the Fists' onslaught and Tenhas runners bearing word of the attack fell between footfalls. The relentless tide of Fists flooded through the pass, inundated the walls of Calbut, and stormed the still- open gates, catching the garrison commander completely unawares.23 Every man among the townsfolk was slaughtered and many women and children carried off to captivity.
Though the loss of Calbut grieved the Duke of Tenh, he expected the invasion to follow the course of previous incursions: the advance would grind to a halt while the undisciplined hordes looted Calbut. During the days- – perhaps weeks- – the Fists would spend in savage plunder, Duke Ehyeh would carefully muster his army and trap the barbarians in their camps. Slowly the duke drew the army of Tenh together, secretly withdrawing troops from other fronts.
This invasion, however, did not follow the same course as past attacks. While Tenh's forces mustered to waylay the Fists, Sevvord Redbeard pushed his troops forward again. In the brief campaign that followed, the Fists marched down a branch of the Zumker River, easily overwhelming the thin ranks of the Tenhas militia in their path. Within five days of the fall of Calbut, Sevvord's horde laid siege to the walled capital of Tenh, Nevond Nevnend.
Without the assuring presence of Duke Ehyeh, the citizens panicked. Rumors of empty granaries ignited a mob of fearful peasants, who marched on the citadel. In grotesque overreaction, the Council of Lords loosed the citadel guard upon the mob. The protest festered into a riot that spread to every corner of the city. As mob panic reach a rolling boil within the walls of Nevond Nevnend, Sevvord Redbeard laid siege to the walls without. The capital fell, and with it all authority in Tenh.
After the twin disasters of Calbut and Nevond Nevnend, the armies of Tenh were decimated. Sevvord's Fists easily fanned out through the countryside and into the Phostwood. The Duke and Duchess, along with their children, fled their homeland, finding refuge in the court of Countess Belissica of Urnst.
News of the fall of Tenh spread through the Flanaess like a rolling cloud of doom, triggering reaction on all sides. Sevvord Redbeard's conquest rung like a death knell across the land. The messengers whispered the news in the ears of kings and emperors, saying "The hammer has fallen. The time has come." The great war had drawn its first blood.
Most devastated by the fall of that hammer was deposed Duke Ehyeh. In Radigast City, he and his courtiers cobbled together a court-in-exile. The decisiveness of the defeat left the duke's reputation hobbled. Miscalculations were magnified into character flaws, misfortunes considered ineptitude, desperation labeled despotism. The shattered duke appealed to his benefactress for funds and an army to regain his homeland. The Countess of Urnst, unwilling to abuse the age-old traditions and rights of the nobility, provided him refuge and even funded his court, but refused further aid.
Other nations were no more obliging. The Theocracy of the Pale, though unhappy to have Sevvord Redbeard next door, had long distrusted and disliked the Tenhas anyway. The Supreme Prelate of the Pale refused to volunteer an army for Duke Ehyeh to command, choosing instead to strengthen his own borders and prepare to seize Tenh for himself. The king of Nyrond, though sympathetic to Duke Ehyeh's cause, reserved his troops and funds to counter the ominous rumbles coming from its old rival, the Great Kingdom.
At the same time, Iuz suffered his first reverse. The folk of Fruztii, Cruski, and Schnai, long-time rivals of Stonefist, took exception to Sevvord's bold stroke. Tenh had always supported the barbarians in their struggles against the Great Kingdom and the Bone March. As part of that support, Duke Ehyeh customarily turned a blind eye to the arms trade traveling across Tenh from Rookroost to Krakenheim. Now, however, the Master of the Hold closed the caravan routes, seizing all weapon shipments for his own people. Angered by their loss and feeling betrayed by the "Great God of the North," the barbarians began to doubt Vatun. Iuz's alliance of trickery had begun to erode.
The barbarian kings resisted Vatun's call to overrun Ratik and invade the Bone March. Though the humanoids of the March were bitter foes, the barbarians were loathe to swarm Ratik. The tiny archbarony had cooperated with the barbarians for many years, developing strong ties between it and the lands of the north.24 Though quite willing to launch sea raids against the Bone March and Great Kingdom, the barbarians refused even Vatun's orders to march through Ratik. As the first few months of the war drew to a close, the northern alliance collapsed altogether.
And so the deception that triggered the great war met its end, but not before Iuz had firmly allied Stonefist to his cause. Though the alliance farther east collapsed, Iuz had successfully turned the barbarians' attention away from the west: instead of pouring though the mountain passes, the barbarians launched daring longship raids along the coast of the Great Kingdom.
Martyrs of the Holy Shielding
In 583 CY, Iuz returned to his homeland. The short absence he had taken to work his deceptions upon the barbarians threatened to reduce his evil empire to turmoil once more. Stung by setbacks in the east and determined to silence internal unrest, Iuz savagely restructured his nation. The straggling human nobles from the old Furyondy houses- – worms of men, too weak to oppose Iuz and too morally bankrupt to flee- – were deposed or executed. In their stead, Iuz placed unholy things from the Abyss: nabassu, cambions, hezrou, mariliths, and vrock. Somehow he forced them to his will.25
Nor did the Lord of Evil stop at rebuilding his own lands, but reached also into the Horned Society to replace leaders there. The Dread and Awful Presences, the Hierarchs, made the task easy for him. The Hierarchs reigned in veiled seclusion, hiding their human identities from their humanoid minions. Rumors that the Hierarchs were fiendish overlords arose among the humanoids of the Horned Society- – rumors the Hierarchs fostered to cement their power. Iuz decided merely to make the rumors reality. In the month of Coldeven, at the height of the Blood-Moon Festival, the citadels of Molag ran red with blood as Iuz staged his coup. In less than a fortnight, the Hierarchs became creatures of mere legend and Iuz held absolute control over the Horned Society.
Iuz's assumption of power and armament for war did not pass unnoticed. Furyondy's spies headed back to King Belvor IV with word of the swelling humanoid armies. The news could well have been written in the spies' blood, though, for most of the human agents were discovered and slain, virtually closing King Belvor's eyes and ears. When the few spies did reach him, though, the Furyondy king heeded the fate of Tenh and immediately set to building his defense. The citadels along the Veng River were stocked and garrisoned in expectation of immediate attack. Belvor's vassals raised militia and shifted troops to the Veng border. Emissaries rode to the Shield Lands and Veluna to brace them for war. Belvor was determined that Furyondy would not fall.
King Belvor's emissaries to the Shield Lands met with an icy reception from Lord Holmer, Earl of Walworth and Commander of the Knights of the Holy Shielding. Relations between the two rulers had always been prickly. Though ostensibly allied with Furyondy, the earl long suspected that Belvor intended to annex the Shield Lands. Thus the messenger's news of the mustering of Molag struck Lord Holmer as suspicious: he did not entirely dismiss the warning, but suspected King Belvor of overstating the danger. Holmer felt it more perilous to admit powerful knights of Furyondy into his lands to aid in its defense than to face the rabble of the Horned Society with his own knights.
In the coming of Flocktime, Iuz struck. In the dead of night along the banks of the Veng and Ritensa, the humanoids of the Horned Society launched probing attacks. None made more than small headway against the knights of the Hart and Shielding, but the attacks still achieved their aim. While King Belvor and Lord Holmer peered myopically at their river frontiers, Iuz's true legions marched east, fording the Ritensa north of the Shield Lands and striking into the Bandit Kingdoms. The petty warlords were easily cowed by Iuz's might and, given the number of spies recently executed, the evil lord was confident that Belvor and Holmer were blind to his maneuvers.
Indeed they were. Lord Holmer learned of Iuz's flanking march only after the humanoid hordes had breached the eastern border. Raging like a grass fire across the open fields of the Shield Lands, they drove on Critwall. When this dark report reached Lord Holmer, he pulled all but a screen of knights from the river frontiers and personally fought his way back toward the undefended capital, Admundfort. More than half of the knights fell in the drive toward the island, but those who reached the Nyr Dyv set fire to as many vessels as they could, then sailed across the channel to the capital. Ragged and weary, the remaining knights could not hold the capital before the onslaught of humanoids, though they came across in dories and trawlers. Admundfort and Critwall fell, and so too did Lord Holmer, borne away in clawed hands to the dungeons beneath Dorakaa.
The fall of the Shield Lands left Furyondy's eastern flank exposed, a threat King Belvor moved quickly to block. Lords scoured the countryside, raising vast militias to complement the thin ranks of the Order of the Hart and troops were hurriedly transferred from the Vesve Forest frontier. The newly raised troops and reinforcements confronted the advancing humanoids at the Battle of Critwall Bridge, dealing Iuz's forces a severe blow. The armies of Furyondy repelled the humanoids and held the Veng River line against further advance.
Stroke and Counterstroke
Though ill-prepared, Furyondy was not complacent. King Belvor IV, while raising troops at home, dispatched his most silver-tongued advisors to the southern courts. Ambassadors bore the alarming news to Celene, Bissel, Veluna, the Uleks, and- – most important of all- – Keoland. With impassioned eloquence, the emissaries warned of dire consequences should the northern kingdoms fall. They urged the nations to ally and thus check the tide of evil, finally and forever. Nor were their words in vain: most of the leaders heeded the call, but wondered how little aid they could provide and how long they could delay before sending it.
Meanwhile in the east, Archbold III of Nyrond finally rallied himself from the shock of Tenh's defeat. Smarting from accusations that he had allowed the troublesome dukedom to collapse, King Archbold decided to undeniably prove his support for his former colonies. Armed with reports that the Fists were mercilessly pillaging the fallen duchy, Archbold marched north into the Nutherwood. Elven contingents in his army allowed him to easily infiltrate the Phostwood and overwhelm the few Fists posted there. Without further warning, the Nyrondese burst from the forest.
Unlike the Tenhas though, the Fists did not simply crumble: Archbold found himself facing a determined foe. Angered at the surprise attack, Sevvord executed a few lackluster commanders as examples to the others, then sacrificed Fists to delay the advance as he mustered his forces outside the village of Ternsmay. Though outnumbered, Sevvord held the advantageous ground. In the ensuing battle, neither side could gain the upper hand. After fighting well into the night, the Fists withdrew farther and fortified their position. Though Archbold had emerged victorious, the victory was bitter, for he could risk no further advance into Tenh. He had, however, forced Redbeard into a defensive stance as well. The battle ended in stalemate and the armies spent the next tedious weeks watching their enemies across a mile-wide no man's land.
Iuz had no intention of letting his string of victories end, however. Using loot captured in the Shield Lands, Iuz hired humanoid mercenaries in the Vesve Forest.27 The mercenary army descended from the Vesve, overrunning the frontier guard of Furyondy and capturing Crockport. Furyondy's capital, Chendl, lay open and unguarded across the belly of the land. But for a hasty confederation of Highfolk and knights, Chendl would have fallen by the next dusk. The ragged force of Highfolk and knights refused to grant the orcs an open fight, harrying them instead. Though the orcs' advance continued, it slowed sufficiently for the defenders of Chendl to prepare. By the month of Reaping, however, Chendl lay surrounded.
The news from Chendl struck a heavy blow on King Belvor IV. Iuz held the Shield Lands, the Horned Society probed constantly across the borders, and now Fairwain Province and Chendl; perhaps the most beautiful city in the whole Flanaess; lay besieged.
Worse yet, no help had come. The reports from the ambassadors were discouraging. Lord Kendall wrote from Celene to say that Her Fey Majesty, Yolande, was "distinctly ambiguous when pressed on how many troops she might consider as fulfilling her obligation, or when she might think fit to mobilize them." Word from Bissel was no better: the margrave expressed concern that the horsemen of Ket might attack his weakened frontier. The Commandant of the Gran March insisted it could only act in concert with Keoland and Keoland remained maddeningly silent.
Internally, the Seven Families (the noble houses of Furyondy) began to grumble at the costs of the war. In addition to the revenues spent, they lamented the revenues lost. The new militias had stripped the countryside of able young men, leaving the ripening harvest to rot in the fields. Meanwhile Iuz's agents permeated the land, stirring up unrest among the hungry poor. King Belvor hardened his face to these setbacks where any lesser man would have surrendered to despair.
Not all news was bleak, though. The knights had managed to stop the orcish advance into Fairwain and the humanoids could do little more than surround Chendl. The Horned Society's incursions across the Veng occurred less often and grew less concerted. Best of all, the Canon of Veluna sent word that his forces were hurrying to Furyondy's side. The news from Nyrond, too- – though not the best- – at least indicated that the Fists were contained. After considering these encouraging matters, King Belvor rallied his spirit and returned to the fight.
Furyondy's first task- – more political than strategic- – was to sunder the siege of Chendl. Gambling on the chaotic nature of the tribes surrounding the city,28 Belvor left most of his strength on the Veng border and personally led a picked command of elite units against the siege force. Belvor's knights were severely outnumbered, but by strategic cunning and sorcerers' aid, they gained the upper hand. The knights sliced through the humanoid lines and pinned the besiegers to the city walls. In short time, the fields around Chendl became a smoldering graveyard of goblinkind and the way to Chendl was open once more.
By this time both Iuz and Furyondy were stretched to their limits. The furious pace of the war had exhausted their reserves of trained manpower and supplies. Through the months of Patchwall, Ready'reat, and Sunsebb, both nations scrambled to reprovision their forces.
The Great Kingdom Wakes
To this point, the conflict that was to become the great Greyhawk War was viewed by most nations as just another regional dispute- – albeit a particularly volatile one- – between a few northern nations. The states of the Iron League and those around Keoland saw little reason to help the besieged nations, or even to fortify their own borders against attack. But the rulers of these nations were, as all mortal folk, blind to the plans of Fate.
Whether due to madness- – as some have suggested- – or political ambition, the Overking of the Great Kingdom chose that moment to enter the arena of war. The mad ruler had long coveted Nyrond and Almor, but the two nations had always stood united against his legions. The recent troubles in Tenh, though, provided the Overking a perfect distraction for Nyrond: King Archbold was away in the far north with a large contingent of his army, and the remaining troops, though not helpless, would be matched two to one by the Overking's forces.
Other factors convinced Ivid V that Nyrond and Almor were ripe for harvest. For some time, the Overking had courted the humanoids of the Bone March, but being blood-thirsty and primitive, they saw no gain in his offers. Now an ambassador flew north on one of the Overking's personal carpets to make a new proposal. In exchange for alliance, the orcs of the Bone March would gain both land and loot- – all from Nyrond.
While the emissary delivered this proposal, the Overking drummed up war fever in his own land to compel his independent-minded cousins to join the fray. The North Province, sensing a dangerous shift in the wind, stood by Ivid,29 reasoning that though he made an unreliable friend, he was a truly horrific enemy. The South Province dithered, fearing retribution for its past failures against Onnwal. The See of Medegia remained defiant, the Holy Censor confident in his power to keep the mad Ivid in check. Though the Overking was displeased by this refusal, he took no action against his chief prelate.30 To further expand his army ranks, the Overking reached into the state's depleted coffers and paid out huge sums for mercenary bands. News of his largess spread beyond the City of Greyhawk. Even the ranks of Furyondy and Nyrond thinned as hired soldiers sought better pay in the east.
With sizeable but unreliable armies, the Overking struck in several directions at once. His Glorioles Army crossed the Thelly River and entered the Glorioles. After hacking through stiff resistance there, the army broke south into the County of Sunndi. Ivid's Aerdi Army marched slowly toward Chathold in Almor. His Northern Army entered the Adri Forest near Edge Field, bound for Innspa in Nyrond. Meanwhile the Grand Field Force of the South Province marched into the Iron Hills, again intent on taking the city of Irongate.
The Great Kingdom's intentions could hardly pass unnoticed. One country that held an anything-but-casual interest was the Prelacy of Almor. This small nation had long witnessed the brutal ambition of the Overking at work and therefore knew not to be caught unawares. The Prelate Kevont had personally organized an extensive spy network to monitor the lands of the madman. That network now reported the mustering and movement of massive armies in all landed quarters of the kingdom. When he received this intelligence, Prelate Kevont dispatched messengers to Nyrond and the Iron League and sent the war banner throughout the country. With the speed of a people ever poised on the brink of war, Almor's defenses were fully manned.
A prudent ruler, Kevont did not personally take command of Almor's troops. The old prelate had long led his country by wisely recognizing the best man for every job. In this case, the best man was the Honorable Osson of Chathold. Kevont appointed the energetic young knight as Commandant of the Field, with every knight and yeoman of Almor's forces under his command.
Commandant Osson had little difficulty assessing the grave situation facing Almor. The Great Kingdom could squash the tiny country through sheer numbers- – and apparently intended to do so. Though the dilemma was clear, the solution was not. Recognizing that Almor could not be defended against such a foe, Osson decided to take the offensive- – committing a daring raid into the Great Kingdom's lands to keep its forces from attacking. The plan would have met with insurmountable objection from older and "wiser" knights had the prelate wavered even momentarily in support of his young protege.
The plan was simple and daring. Osson divided his army into two forces, posting the first along the border with the Great Kingdom. Too small to block a major attack, this army aggressively patrolled and probed the frontier. Their rigor would make them seem twice their actual number and thus hopefully forestall any major assault by the Aerdians.
The second half of the army consisted of all available cavalry, riding under Osson's personal command. Baggage, notoriously cumbersome and complicated for most armies, was all but forbidden. Osson ordered that each man live in the saddle, forsaking all the comforts normally carried. For the outnumbered forces of Almor, speed could make the difference between life and death.
Having divided his forces, Osson set his plan in motion. Knowing that neither of his armies could long withstand the full attention of the Great Kingdom, the commandant hoped to divert Ivid's armies away from Almor. Almor needed time for Nyrondese aid to arrive, and if Osson could fluster the mad Ivid like a wasp in the helmet, the Overlord might never attack. Either way, Osson preferred to keep the battle on Aerdian soil.
Osson first struck south, passing through the Thelly Forest. With speed and surprise on their side, the horsemen brushed away Ahlissa's ill-trained troops and plunged into the South Province. The land fell quickly into disarray. The peasants, long oppressed by their Herzog, welcomed the Almorian forces. The Herzog himself was slow to respond, for the bulk of Ahlissa's troops were massed on her western border, preparing to assault Irongate. Rushing detachments of his army toward the east, the Herzog reluctantly accepted offers of aid from the Overking. The Aerdi army marched southwest to engage the intruders, but before either force could catch him, Osson advanced again.
Instead of returning to Almor, Osson led his horsemen into the Rieuwood. The Glorioles Army of the Overking, though victorious, had suffered badly in its conquest of Sunndi. Osson calculated that a defeat in Sunndi would swing Ivid's attention from Almor. Once through the wood, Commandant Osson found the Overking's forces arrayed and ready for him. Even badly hurt, the Glorioles Army would have proved an equal match for the Almorians but that the Aerdians did not have a general of genius on their side. At the Battle of Rieuwood, Osson initiated the tactic of false retreat that was to become his hallmark. Believing the cavalry routed, the Aerdians gave chase, only to blunder into a deadly trap. The Glorioles Army was decimated.
After a brief delay to reorganize, proclaim Sunndi's liberation, and recruit volunteers, Osson set off again. Crossing the Glorioles, the commandant made a stab at Nulbish on the Thelly River. Sadly, the good fortune that had followed him to this point fled. The garrison commander at Nulbish, Magistar Vlent, had the military training that other Aerdi commanders lacked. Refusing to fight outside the city, Magistar Vlent used a heavily armed river flotilla to maintain supplies and harry the Almorians. After several weeks of futile siege, Osson received word that the Aerdi Army was descending from the north. Any return to Almor was clearly impossible, for a massive army now blocked the path.
Many options- – all of them grim – - came under debate in Osson's war council.34 Some of the knights argued for fighting back to Almor, others suggested wintering over in Sunndi, and a handful even proposed a drive for Rauxes, capital of the Great Kingdom! In the end, Osson chose none of these, calling instead for a march on the See of Medegia. For Almor's sake, Osson argued, the cavalry must continue to pressure the Great Kingdom. If reports held true that the Lordship of the Isles and the Iron League were planning to ally, surely the Lordship's fleet could provide an escape to the Almorian cavalry.
Though the attack into Medegia surprised the Overking, his reaction was equally surprising. As soon as Osson's intentions were clear, Ivid ordered his armies to stop their pursuit. Rebellious Medegia would receive no aid from the Great Kingdom. In a series of stunning field battles, Osson's army crushed the forces of the Holy Censor and seized the land from Pontylver to Lone Heath. Spidasa, the Holy Censor, fled to Rauxes to beg his imperial majesty's forgiveness. Compassion failing him, Ivid V arrested the chief cleric and sentenced him to the Endless Death.
Aid from the South
The coming of winter brought respite to all the warring states. In the north, snow and ice covered the land and freezing wind whipped across the plain. Along the south rim of the Vesve Forest, Iuz's humanoids, far from their warm and secure caves when the frigid winter blasts descended, dug crude shelters as best they could. Once entrenched, the miserable humanoids refused to venture beyond their warm dens. King Belvor used the resulting quiet in the north to plan and reorganize.
In the east, rains had an equally retarding effect. Mired in mud and hamstrung by the Overking's pettiness, the Great Kingdom's armies massed on the borders of Medegia, Almor, and Nyrond. Osson's raid and the coming of the rains bought the Almorians time to fortify their borders and gather new reserves. Nyrond also raised new armies to meet the threat from the Great Kingdom.
Though the winter halted armies, it seemed to spur diplomatic efforts forward. The Bone March, fairly reeling from promises of gold and land, cast its lot with Ivid V, pledging to march when the snows lifted. Ahlissa, sensing its fate could have been like Medegia's, affirmed its intention to fight at the Overking's side. The Sea Barons too expressed their steadfast resolve, while the North Province crowed about its ever faithful loyalty to the crown.
The Overking's entry into the war simplified one task for Almor and Nyrond- – persuading the Iron League to join the alliance. With Irongate, Idee, and Sunndi threatened, the land-based members of the League met in Oldred at Archbold's invitation and signed the Eastern Pact, formally allying themselves against "the mad aggressions of the Great Kingdom." The County of Urnst also signed the pact, but the Theocracy, citing Nyrond's many heresies, efused to join.
However, the worst setback for the alliance came when a sudden coup replaced Prince Latmac Ranold of the Lordship of the Isles with his distant cousin, Prince Frolmar Ingerskatti. The new ruler surprisingly proclaimed his support of the Great and Hidden Empire of the Scarlet Brotherhood. This proclamation not only pulled the Lordship from the alliance, but effectively trapped Commandant Osson of Almor in Medegia. Though the Brotherhood's hand had heretofore gone unfelt, its effect would become increasingly undeniable.
In the west, the diplomats' alarms finally penetrated. Realizing that Iuz's threat was neither quick nor contained, the southern states consented to ally. First to sign the Treaty of Niole Dra came the largest and most important nation- – Keoland- – quickly followed by the Gran March, Yeomanry, Duchy of Ulek, and County of Ulek. Celene was last to agree, the elves begrudgingly consenting to send a token force. Citing threats on their borders, the remaining countries declined to aid, although all vowed they would give no aid to Iuz. With the treaty in hand, King Belvor returned to Chendl with hope for his people.
In his own heavy-handed fashion, Iuz concluded alliances- – all obscenely lopsided in his favor. After the Bandit Kingdoms were cowed into submission, agents traveled to Ket, Tusmit, and Perrenland, urging them to take up the sword. Ket and Tusmit responded favorably while Perrenland offered only mercenaries and a promise of neutrality in the coming years. Other agents penetrated into the Crystalmists, hoping to rouse the creatures there to attack and harry the good lands.
When at last spring came, several new armies were on the march: Keoland's main force moved through passes of the Lortmil Mountains; a small but experienced army from the Gran March passed through the Lorridges; Celene sent a small detachment north through the forests; and the Iron League gathered in Idee and Irongate. Among the evil forces, Ket was poised to strike into Bissel; the Bone March threatened Ratik and Nyrond; and ships from the Sea Barons and the Lordship of the Isles raced to Grendep Bay to end the barbarians' longship raids.
An Empire Where None Has Stood
While fresh armies marched north, startling events unfolded in a long-neglected part of the world- – the Pomarj. Once part of the Keoland Empire, this wild tangle of mountains and woods had long since passed into the hands of savage humanoid tribes. Over the decades, the Principality of Ulek made numerous attempts to reclaim the region, but none could defeat the fierce resistance of the orcs and goblins who now sheltered in this wilderness. The Pomarj quickly earned the reputation of a place of death, slavery, degeneracy, and treasure. Only corrupt or adventurous humans and demihumans intentionally entered there.
This savage reputation hid from the neighboring lands of Celene and Ulek the events unfolding in the Pomarj. A revolution had occurred like none that land had ever seen: a half-orc leader had emerged. After claiming chieftainship of the Nedla peoples, Turrosh Mak seized control of the neighboring tribes.36 Proclaiming himself Despot, Turrosh Mak proceeded to forge the mismatched collection of tribes into a single confederation. What might have seemed folly to even attempt, Despot Mak achieved.
To gain a grip on this quarrelsome collection of orcs, goblins, gnolls, ogres, and the like, Turrosh united them behind a common cause. Tales of the Hateful Wars, which drove the tribes from the Lortmils, still circulated around the council fires, so Turrosh needed little persuading to convince his chieftains to reclaim their "birthright."
By a stroke of fortune, Turrosh struck at the most opportune time. Great crusading armies had just left the lands of the south, taking with them some of their nations' ablest men and generals. With others' attention focused to the north, the newly proclaimed orc nation found time to organize and grow.
Boastfully proclaiming that he would "forge an empire where none has stood," Turrosh fielded his savage armies in the month of Readying. He chose his first conquests carefully, looking for easy victories. In quick succession Elredd, Badwall, and Fax fell to the humanoid armies, and thus the southern Wild Coast was overrun. Flushed with victory, the tribes turned southwest, marching through the dreaded Suss Forest and into the Principality of Ulek.
As noted before, the stroke fell at an opportune time. Though the Principality had not joined the alliance, any neighbor who could have offered aid to the small nation had joined, sending the picked troops well north of the Lortmils. The Principality's small army, though determined and professional, was caught completely unawares by the united mass of tribes that assaulted it. The dwarven Warden of the Jewel, Augustos Clinkerfire, fought his best, but in the face of such numbers, could only manage a careful and organized retreat. Finally in the hills of the lower Lortmils where his dwarves were at their best, Lord Clinkerfire could make a stand, though by that time all of eastern Ulek was lost.
Recognizing the fragility of his tribal confederation, Turrosh did not press the assault. His orcs needed victories to maintain their enthusiasm and the Despot was determined to avoid a prolonged and inconclusive battle. Satisfied with his gains, Turrosh stationed his human contingents on the Ulek line and turned his orc hordes north. The time had come for the Despot to reclaim the ancient birthright of the Pomarj.
Avoiding the large tracts of forest due north, Turrosh swung his armies northwest, down the ridge of the Lortmils between Celene and the County of Ulek. The gnomes, halflings, and dwarves of the hills fought with courage and skill, but many of the boldest and best trained soldiers were away in Furyondy. The orcs drove further northwest, virtually unopposed until they reached Celene pass. There a combined force of reservists- – humans, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and even elves from Celene- – made their stand.
The Battle of Celene Pass was bloody and hard-fought. The advance scouts of the League of Right (as the defenders styled themselves) had just reached a sharp bend in the pass when they sighted the first orcs, advance scouts like themselves. By order of Rourk Splinterstone of the Ulek dwarves, the scouting party, no more than 200 strong, piled up a hasty barricade of dirt and stone- – a wedge-shaped redoubt along the far side of the pass. Realizing his command was hopelessly outnumbered, Splinterstone dispatched runners under the cover of night to both Celene and Ulek. Though the messengers risked the dangers of the pass, unknowing whether the orcs roamed there as well, those who remained faced a grimmer fate. If the messengers were slain, or reached civilized lands too late for relief parties to effect a rescue, Splinterstone and his men could do nothing save fight to the bitter end.
The first assault came under cover of darkness- – a standard orc tactic. The attack was nothing more than a wild charge, an attempt to overwhelm the defenders by sheer numbers. Under Splinterstone's cool command, though, the barricade held. Waves of orcs pounded the bulwark through the hours of darkness, only retreating with the dawn. The morning sun revealed a scene both stunning and horrifying: countless orc bodies lay in gory heaps before the rocky wall, as though adding their mass to the redoubt. The dwarven casualties, though far fewer, were still severe. Despite his troops' dire need of rest, Splinterstone ordered a second and even a third wall erected behind the first.
For the next three days, the Defenders of Right clung to their rocky position against wave after wave of orcs and goblins. When the relief column from Ulek finally arrived,38 the grim troops were astonished to find Splinterstone and 30 of his men still alive, tenaciously holding the pass behind the last redoubt. The relief force's commander had long since given then up for dead. For his bravery, Rourk Splinterstone received a small barony, and his troopers were gratefully pensioned for the remainder of their lives.
Rourk's defense halted the orcish advance. Once again the Despot of the Pomarj broke off his attacks, this time to deal with rebellious chieftains back home. Though Turrosh Mak could yet hold his empire together, further expansion would have to wait.
With Turrosh halted, the Uleks prepared to counterattack, but even combined their armies were too bruised and weak. Though Celene on the other side of the Lortmils could have virtually assured victory, Celene had no intention of assisting.
Long distrustful of outsiders, Her Fey Majesty Yolande now let fears and suspicions paralyze her nation. To her mind, humans from the north had "demanded" her aid and thus drained vital troops from her lands. Now dwarves and gnomes, no friends of the elves, pressed her for help in the mountains. No country offered to assist Celene in defending its woodlands from the Pomarj threat, she reasoned, so Celene would aid no others. In a brief and emphatic proclamation, the Queen of Celene recalled her troops from Furyondy and closed the borders of her nation. Others had started these wars and others would solve them- -without the loss of elvish lives.