Rise of the Battlemaster: Book I

Forward

“The dawn of the Third Age must begin with the rise of my lord and companion, the Battlemaster. Many view him as a savior and builder, comparing him to Astan the Brave or Astalin the Proud, while others see him as heralding the destruction of the Empire – a modern Kerezain. Some even whisper that it is Carath himself who walks amonsgt us.

He is all of these things and more. I have travelled with him, and sat at his side, for longer than any other – save my brother Badron.I have witnessed the way people become stronger around him. I have witnessed the breaking of traditions and barriers. I have witnessed the savage fury with which he fights to defend an Empire whose very laws condemn him to exile or death.

I have stood in the shadow of greatness and change. Its name is Kiernan Thirn.”
  – Audra Telesthyr, Loremaster

“None who watched the Emperor’s coronation could have believed they were witnessing the end of the Second Age of Man. That ancient powers – vast, incalculable and unsympathetic – turned their jealous gaze upon our eternal Empire. And slowly, but surely, they drew their plans against us.”
  – Berennis, Justiciar of the Second Tower of the Congregation.

3011

It is the third year of the twenty third Dynasty of House Rihalla under Emperor Eddelen the Seer. The drought that started ten years ago in western Midmarch has persisted, growing to encompass much of the Midmarch and Westmarch. Farmers and townsfolk are desperate for relief, though there is little that can be done. Despite the best efforts of the Church of the Congregation many villages are abandoned as their inhabitants head towards the cities or the southlands.

In the autumn the Emperor Eddelen informs the Assemblage of Lords that he has been granted a vision by the Ancestors. In his ‘seeing’, there was a dark and powerful force at work in the Chaos March. It was this force, he claimed, that was at the root of the drought. He called for the Seven Cohorts to be assembled – the main strength of the Tower – a call not heard since the Winter of Decay. He retired then to the winter wing of the Imperial Palace to meditate and prepare for spring.

3012

The spring sees the Cohorts begin their march north, Emperor Eddelen at their head. Setting out alongside are scions of Houses Ruwen, Liann and Orwen, detachments of their household guards and skitarii, and a force of Imperial Pathfinders. Not in a millennia has such a force set out from Tor Carath – there is no doubt that the Emperor would prevail in his quest. The streets are lined with cheering citizens, the full panoply of the Eternal City on display.

As summer begins, Eddelen’s army – now moving at pace through the Northmarch, encounters small bands of raiders from the Chaos March. Scouts and outriders confirm that a Host is massing in the hills. Messengers arriving in Tor Carath request that the Assemblage of Lords raise the legions to support Tor Nordia against this threat. They are slow to react, however, believing that the Emperor’s force will defeat a Chaos incursion in short order.

They are wrong. For reasons known only to him the Emperor orders his forces to push around the flank of the gathering Host. There are reports of limited skirmishes but the Cohorts and auxilia never engage the enemy in strength. By the beginning of autumn, reports reach Tor Carath that Eddelen’s force has bypassed the Host entirely and passed into the Chaos March.

3013

A dry winter allows the Host to steal a march on Imperial forces and, emboldened by the apparant cowardice of the Emperor, they quickly lay siege to Tor Nordia. In contrast, the legions being raised in the Midmarch and Westmarch are hampered by supply problems and poor leadership. Although they have ample stores to resist a siege, the garrison at Tor Nordia do not have the strength to break the Chaos lines without aid. A stalemate is reached, but the rest of the Northmarch is savaged by raiders.

Autumn brings rain for the first time in nearly six years. While the rain is heralded as a miracle it severly reduces the mobility of Imperial forces assembling at Tor Carath. Winter is earlier than expected this year, with heavy snows. This has further reduced the ability of the legions to prepare for war, and the prospect of a famine looms over the embattled citizens of the Midmarch.

3014

Esten ban-Amadris, Warmaster of the Empire in the Emperor’s absence, bypasses the Assemblage of Lords to ready the legions. Depleting his House’s coffers and stores, he is able to rally the Imperial generals and marches for Tor Nordia before first thaw. Through strict discipline and strategic acumen worthy of the hiers of Carath, Esten is able to suprise the chaos Host with an attack in early spring. The garrison, under Marshall Gerrick, sallies during the Imperial assault, shattering the chaos siege. The Host does not scatter as expected, however, but retreats east.

Even as the legions are burying their dead, messengers arrive calling the Warmaster back to Tor Carath. They carry word of a blackblood force, of unprecedented size, massing beyond the Dragon Gate. Esten opts to send his second in command, General Gravus ban-Liann, in his stead while he focuses on defeating the remaining chaos forces. This will become a costly mistake.

General Gravus, conservative in the extreme, is unwilling to recall troops from the Northmarch. Confident in the strength of the Dragon Gate, he dismisses claims that the Empire is vulnerable to blackblood threat and recommends only that the Younglings of the Tower be mobilised.

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