Rise of the Battlemaster: Book II

“The people, the priests, the lords, they cling to their bastions  – their monuments to Order and law – as if they will last forever. But, like all things, these too will crumble to dust.”
– Audra Telesthyr, Loremaster.

3015

In the spring of 3015 the three Cohorts-in-training – called the Younglings – prepare for war. They are, like most of the Tower-trained, second or third scions of lesser houses. The third company, however, are all foundlings. Orphans taken in by the Congregation who show a talent for Order or an aptitude for battle are given over to the care of the Temple at an early age. Among these is Kiernan Thirn.

By late spring the Dragon Wall garrisons are hard pressed to hold the sheer numbers of the blackblood horde. It is only through the timely intervention of the Younglings that they prevail at all. The fighting is constant through summer and autumn, only ebbing as the winter snows descend. Even though the blackblood dead litter the ground in mounds higher than a man’s head, still their campfires stretch to the horizon. And still General Gravus sends no further aid.

The summer campaign in the north is frustrating for Warmaster Esten as the main force of the Host refuses to give battle. They live off the land, pillaging the smaller northern holds for supplies, and Esten has not the numbers to force a confrontation. His legions return to winter at Tor Nordia. Scouts sent north to search for the Emperor return with the news that all trace of his passing has vanished.

3016

On the evening of the Winter Solstice the blackblood clans begin a great ritual in the wastes before the Dragon Gate. They chant and dance and stomp and sacrifice until, an hour before dawn, a shrieking black shape descends on to the Wall. The enemy have summoned a dragon – a legendary creature full of spite, venom and unparalleled fury! Tethered somehow to the blackbloods’ Circle of Magi, the beast smashes apart the Gatehouse of Ordu. The Dragon Gate has been breached – the first such in three thousand years – and an unstoppable tide of the enemy pours through.

The garrison is shattered in an instant but the Younglings stand, attempting to stem the tide and buy time for the townsfolk to win free. Such is the fury of their counter attack that the horde is laid aback and pushed almost past the breach. It is all for naught. With a terrible cry and a crash of flame, the dragon smashes into the Tower lines. The best of the Empire’s youth are scattered like chaff. The foe is beyond them the Dragon Gate lost. What few survive attempt to fall back and link up with the reinforcements that are surely coming from North and East.

A massive blizzard howls in from the north, halting the blackblood advance. Kiernan Thirn becomes seperated from his companions and lost. He is near death, alone and exposed in the hills of the Westmarch, when rescue comes in an unlikely form. He is saved by Esgedir, a hermit, and nursed back to health. During his convalesance Kiernan learns of the true nature of the Three Pillars and of the imbalance in the world. He is a natural study of Creation magic, quickly mastering Esgedir’s teachings.

The blackbloods have wintered in the shattered Dragon Wall, but spring sees wave after wave of raiding parties heading north and east. The western sky is black with smoke as farmstead and town burn, and refugees pour into Tor Egan. The advance of the enemy is not swift, but it is implacable. By winter only the auxilia at Tor Egan stands to protect the West March. Governor Almeth ban-Fiann closes his gates and prepares for a siege. Thousands of refugees are stranded outside the city walls.

3017

The Assemblage of Lords is crippled without the firm leadership of an Emperor. Despite repeated pleas for assistance from the embattled Westmarch, they delay sending troops. Many fear that doing so will leave their holdings vulnerable to predation by the chaos Host that is still at large in the Northmarch. Warmaster Esten, once again disregarding the orders of the Assemblage, marches his legions west at first thaw, leaving the defence of the north to Marshall Gerrick and the garrison at Tor Nordia.

Reports have reached Tor Carath telling of the Tower. A staunch resistance by the Grey Cohort – the teachers and servants of the Tower – was not enough to prevent it from being sacked and razed by blackblood marauders. Almost nothing now remains of the finest fighting force in the world, a military tradition as old as the Empire itself. Some still hold out hope that the Emperor will return with the Seven Cohorts but that is a dim prospect.

As summer draws to a close, Warmaster Esten’s legions meet the blackbloods at the Battle of Glimerin Fords. The clash of armies lasts for three days until the enemy horde is finally routed. The cost is high – only one in three men stand uninjured – and the blackbloods have been put to flight for a time, not defeated. “Of the dragon there was no sign”, Esten mentions in his correspondence, “else the battle would surely have turned against us”.

The situation in the north has become ever more desperate as the Host scatters into large warbands. They raid and plunder at will, easily staying one step ahead of Marshall Gerrick’s limted forces.


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