Part V: The Silent Heroes
Part V: The Silent Heroes
Protected by their Archons and ruled by their hero-Kings, the Kingdoms prospered. Beyond the Wall of Ehrenland, far to the south, the monumental evil of Murmanityed still festered. The Archons, even with their great powers, knew they were no match for the Witch-Queen of Murmanityed should she decide to come north. They concealed their power, aided their Realms, and waited.
In 71 TC, the revered old King Aruthien I died in his sleep. His wife Lysa bel-Navalus assumed the regency until her Half Elven daughter, Casta, could reach her majority and assume the throne. When she did so in the year 74, she found herself called to a council of war. Thadus and Arn, being the most closely tied to Aruthien, brought the young Queen aside and revealed to the Princess Casta her terrible destiny. Invasion was coming, an invasion that would make Nagul's assault look like a border skirmish. The Witch-Queen of Murmanityed had stumbled upon the existence of the Crystals -- and would stop at nothing to obtain them for herself. If Casta did nothing, she was told, her Father's Kingdom would be conquered within three years. Somehow, the forces of the Kingdoms must rally themselves from the torpor of peace, and strike at the Empire before the Empire could crush them beneath its military juggernaut.
The Crown Princess sent out the five magical flying ships of the Kingdom, seeking what allies could be found in the far corners of the world. Across the Gulf of Ordred, one of the flying ships discovered the Kingdom of Aligindel, a nation of mixed Elves and Men, who promised to come to the aid of their newfound friends and allies. The other Kingdoms rose to the call for a crusade. Old King Alhandro of Barloz sent every man and wizard his realm could spare. Regent Jareth of Spaartha sent thousands of Kespon horsemen and hundreds of footmen to join the Kingdom host. Tantathia sent small bands of wiry highlanders and scouts. King Alt, who wore the crown of Ehrenland upon his troubled brow, could not order his subjects to war, but many of his great captains ached to strike beyond the wall and slay those who had once wrecked their kingdom. These men formed warbands and followed the Kingdom army as they slowly moved south. Other powers sent their aid: The Amazons of Sabatia, unharmed by Nagul and often disinterested in the affairs of the other realms, sent volunteers from their warrior septs. The mysterious folk of the Misten Islands – which they call Newholm – sent a handful of spellcasters to aid the army.
Queen Casta called together several small bands of volunteers to infiltrate Murmanityed and do what harm they could, much as her father had done against the Ice Queen twenty years before. Her adopted sister, Princess Sia bel-Aruthien, joined one of these groups, intent on doing her duty as an adopted daughter of Aruthien I and as a hospitalier of Mishya. From Barloz came the seeker Greco, a fearless paladin of Chatalize. From Spaartha came the stalwart ranger Fynn. From Ehrenland, the powerful warrior Del. Newholm sent an uncanny draconis knight called Marcus. From the Amazon isle of Sabatia came Milleo, a fearless fighter. Unbidden, from beyond Rothgorod, came the strange warrior Shin. From the waste of southern Rothgorod, a tough spear-maiden called Athenra. Finally, from Aligindel came a pious Templar called Avaril.
This small band – of all those who went south and gave their lives for the Kingdoms – would alone win everlasting glory. It took more than a year for the host to gather, slowly moving southwards as more and more men joined Casta’s crusade. In 72 TC, the Aruthien Princess led her growing army beyond the Wall of Ehrenland, to attack the largest Empire in the known world. Casta's crusade plunged south into Murmanityed, destroying the border Legions which were preparing for the invasion of the Kingdoms in a desperate surprise assault. Her allied army marched southward, leaving Free Companies to reduce the Murmanityedi fortresses, pressing always southward to Murdamiya, the Witch-Queen's fortress capital.
Two days from the city, Casta's army was met on the plains of Deregod by seven Murmanityedi Legions – nearly seventy thousand troops. Outnumbered nearly four to one, the Kingdom troops fought hard, and finally broke the enemy after two long days of fighting. The battered army advanced on the enemy capital, to find the gates open and waiting for them, the enemy in disarray. One of the volunteer bands – those who would later be called the Silent Heroes - had made their way through Rothgorod, and into the Empire. Their original orders were to disrupt what of the Empire's infrastructure they could, but the brave company exceeded their orders, and went to Murdamiya itself. They braved many dangers to do so, but finally, they reached the city.
In a dashing assault, the small band attacked the Witch-Queen in her lair, and with the direct aid of the Gods, managed to slay her. Queen Casta had the city razed, and she and her weary army returned home. The Empire began to fragment, with its central authority in ruins. Though the Shadow King was able to keep perhaps a third of the Empire under his control, opposing the Realms of the Free Kings in the far south, the rest of the Empire shattered. In the east, a great necropolis rose up out of one of the great cities. Other cities lost in the deep jungle simply ceased to communicate with the rest of the Empire. The massive fortress-cities of the central Empire rebelled and became independent, though wicked, city-states of their own. Though parts of Murmanityed endured, the power of the dark Empire was broken. The crusade had succeeded -- the Kingdoms were safe.
The Silent Heroes earned their name upon their return to the Kingdoms. Something terrible must have happened in the throne room of the Witch-Queen, for not one of them would ever speak of the battle or their time in Murdamiya afterwards. Fynn, made Baron of Timbreton by a grateful Regent, retired into seclusion. Marcus returned to Newholm and after many trials became Lord Chancellor of those islands. Greco, at the last, removed his Seeker’s mask to declare himself Alhandro’s heir – he would never have been allowed to go on so dangerous a mission if his true identity had been known. Athenra returned to her solitary desert. Milleo, the halberdier warrior of the Amazons, was made a Duchess in Aruthien, and granted an enormous fief nearly the size of Aruthien itself, in the eastern wilds of Rothgorod. During the sad civil war to come in Sabatia, many Amazons would flee to Milleo’s Duchy to escape the fighting. The Ehrenlander, Del, returned to his homeland and declared himself King upon the death of Alt. Sia, the adopted Princess of Aruthien, spent many years in meditation in Mishya’s temples, finally building the enchanted flying ship ''Wisdom'' and making many voyages of discovery. Avaril, the noble Templar, returned to Aligindel and served out the rest of his days. Finally, brave Shin gave his life in the final battle with the Witch-Queen, the only one of the heroes slain in that battle.
For all the sacrifices made and battles won, victory was far from complete. Krag, the ancient, wicked Dracoliche said to dwell beneath Murdamiya, was never found. The Shadow King still ruled part of the Empire. The Crystals and their power had been revealed to a wider world. The crusade had won a great victory - so great it would take a hundred years for the golden age it ushered in to tarnish - but evil still lurked beyond the edges of the light.