Gazetteer of the Speaking Lands: the Imperial Wars

The twitter poll for this week went one way and the patreon poll went another, but combining the two tallies brings us our winner: the Imperial Wars.  This bloody period of history is the primary landmark for the “middle distance” history of Ipieros.  It’s not ancient history; it’s not recent history; it nestles comfortably between.  It also explains why elves and dwarves have no shortage of hatred for each other.

The pitfall whenever writing this sort of background information is that, while you’ve got to make it grabby and entertaining, you can’t go all the way down the rabbit hole and detail every movement, every battle, every victory and loss.  It’s quite a challenge to paint in broad strokes while also keeping things interesting!

My hope is that the Imperial Wars forms a useful backdrop for the largest geopolitical aspects of the setting while still being occasionally mined for specific points of interest, like Hammerwright’s abandoned tunnels or the groves established far from Loratha Forest.

If that’s piqued your interest, read on!

The Imperial Wars

This period of history spans a series of six to eight wars (depending how one counts) that mark the farthest extent of the Lorathan and Kharzani empires as well as their falls. Often considered a golden age by both elves and dwarves, these years saw these cultures focused on fuelling war machines bent on establishing a lasting hegemony over the other. While both sides saw regime changes and broad restructuring of their political landscapes in this period, jingoism was a constant theme throughout. The last imperial war culminated in an all-out conflict and a pyrhic victory for the elves, destroying both war engines.

The wars are, in order: the First and Second Invasion of Loratha, the War of the Roads, The Hammerwright War, the Steward’s War, the Reconquest of Kharzan, and the First and Second Wars of Futility.

Loratha had wanted to extend its stewardship over the Kharzan forests for centuries, and the Kharzan dwarves had launched two lackluster invasions trying to get into the mountains under Loratha. These had occured while the elven states were balkanized and therefore vulnerable, and arguably led to the consolidation of power that birthed the Restored Elven Empire. The dwarven survivors of the second invasion did not return home but fled westward and eventually seized the ancient fortress of Tour Toriel. Nearly three generations later, the imperial elves pushed across the Norsteppes and into the Toriel Highlands, successfully seizing Tour Toriel in belated revenge.

Foothold thus established, the elves marched south along the Road of Heaven to assault Kharzan much further west than the dwarves had ever prepared for. This strike sundered the High Road in twain, collapsing the political apparatus of the King Under the Mountain and scattering dwarven defenses. Elven forces pushed eastward while its home reserves marched southward through Caer Larionad and onto the northern slopes of Kharzan. This war, thereafter known as the War of the Roads, formally ended with a council of dwarven lairds ceding the forests above their domains to the elves in exchange for the elves’ retreat from their tunnels.

The shaky foundation of the negotiated peace was obvious from the start, as lairds not party to the peace attempted to oust the elves from the forests. This led to elves invading dwarven tunnels again to maintain the peace, which was in contravention of the agreement. This erupted into organized hostilities in a mere twenty years. This war pushed elves northward again and, in a year of profound drought, saw the dwarves lighting extensive forest fires to deny elves any tactical advantage. This also entailed the destruction of a number of newly-established groves, which the elves took as an unforgivable desecration.

The dwarves, led by General Obsidian Hammerwright, pushed north to Caer Larionad and took that fortress. The elven Emporer, fearing that the dwarves would set fire to Loratha and its ancient groves if they marched any further, sued for peace. While many lairds wished to accept terms, Hammerwright refused to negotiate. This lost him significant support, and his thrust northward was underpowered from the start. He was saved by the Bucoli Rebellion, a domestic uprising within Loratha as satyrs and other sylvans objected to the gruelling war economy the elves had forced upon them. Taking advantage of the chaos of the uprising, Hammerwright’s invasion succeeded in reaching the mountains at the core of Loratha. They had pushed too far, however, and were cut off from Larionad; with no other options, the dwarves immediately set to digging.

Between the dwarven fortification established at the core of their territory and a uprising destabilizing its economy, the Restored Empire collapsed back into four kingdoms. The elves lost their always-tenuous control over the Norsteppes, cutting off Tour Toriel from the Lorathan homelands. The four elven kingdoms struggled to put down Bucoli insurgents while also maneuvering to gain the upper hand in the imperial succession. It was years before the dwarves in Kharzan even learned that Hammerwright’s army had survived, but shortly thereafter an army was mustered to at least rescue Hammerwright if not conquer the southern forest, connecting the newest dwarven stronghold to the High Road.

This rescue invasion was the necessary stimulus to galvanize the Lorathan elves again. With the imperial succession hopelessly muddled, the chief craftmaster of the Ardengeal Grove rose to prominence in unifying and coordinating elven forces. The elves ousted Hammerwright from his new tunnels and chased his forces into the incoming rescue mission.

The morning after the elves surrounded the invading dwarves, the craftmaster was recognized as High Steward, an entirely new title and office. He ordered the wholesale slaughter of the pinned-down dwarves, exsanguinated the corpses, and used the blood to water the groves of Loratha, rededicating them to war. The forces of the High Steward swept southward with murderous intent. The elves took no prisoners, executing any who refused to accept elven stewardship. Their conquest also spilled over into the northern verge of Verdas, as well as Tallas in Outland.

Thus began a reign of terror that lasted an entire generation, called the Stewardship of Kharzan. The Lorathans maintained strict control inside dwarven settlements while they revitalized the scorched forests of the surface. More than a hundred groves were established on Kharzan during this period. The southern half of Kharzan escaped elven control through a careful dance of maintaining their borders and refraining from threatening the High Stewards’ forces.

Dwarven resistence throughout the Stewardship centered on Granite Hold, and boiled over when the local elven steward ordered the execution of the laird and her children. A common dwarf, Gretll Haer, organized an insurrection which was unsuccessful in forestalling the execution but succeeded in ousting the elves from the hold afterwards.

This spilled forward into a general uprising, as city after dwarven city rose up against the foreign occupation. Dwarven forces rallied behind Haer, proclaiming her King Under the Mountain before she formally controlled any tunnels at all, let alone the full transit of the High Road. This was almost certainly a political move of the northern lairds intended to blunt the aspirations of the southern lairds, whose forces were marching northward to join the nascent reconquest.

King Haer’s forces unknowingly marched northward as goblin forces pinned down the elven garrison occupying Xansillipse. This enabled Haer to displace elven occupation forces from the tunnels and cities under the easternmost extent of the mountain range. As elves retreated to the surface, Haer’s forces sealed the doors after them. The rugged terrain of Kharzan proved difficult if not impossible for the elves to traverse without the support of the underlying tunnels, and they were unable to reform their ranks before they were picked off by fresh and well-supplied dwarven outriders.

The Reconquest of Kharzan stopped before breaching Caer Larionad not out of a sense of restraint but due to military necessity. Haer focused on flushing out remaining pockets of elven occupiers, pacifying the surface forests, and consolidating her rule. In Loratha, the High Steward struggled to maintain control over the nobility and royalty of four elven kingdoms, making it impossible to respond. There were no large-scale military conflicts for decades.

Once her control over the High Road was secured, King Haer mustered Kharzani forces to retake Hammerwright’s fortress, the site of the High Steward’s new capital, Caer Llwyntal. This sparked what is now known as the Wars of Futility. These two wars occupied the remainder of Haer’s reign and, despite funneling an incredible amount of funds and lives into the war engine of both sides, saw no significant territorial changes at all. The second war, and the Imperial Wars period, ended with Haer’s death on the battlefield north of Caer Larionad. The High Steward had died a year prior, but not before annointing a successor and establishing the apostolic dynasty still enshrined at Ardengeal Grove.

The most significant impact of the Imperial Wars is the lasting enmity of elves and dwarves: numerous war crimes were committed by both sides. While Kharzan was never friendly to outsiders, this period saw a sharp increase in its xenophobia; there are some portions of the High Road where elves and other sylvans are still forbidden. Loratha’s internal politics were shattered and reformed repeatedly throughout this period, resulting in the fractured and byzantine power structure that persists to this day. Outside Kharzan and Loratha, the Imperial Wars are generally seen as an object lesson in the futility of empire, although there are always those who argue, if this leader had made this decision differently, they might have realized their dream of empire.

Let’s make next week’s poll interesting by making it four chunky regions.  That’s what global events are good for: name-dropping geographic areas!

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