The Age of Kings
Long is the litany of wars within the Dusklands – a record of victories so long as to be nearly uncountable. On the fringes of the people’s memory, the Bastards War, a conflict between the would-be Queen, Eleanor of House Bannon and her many unworthy bastard siblings. The Bannons joined with their long-time allies, the Richters, and the combined armies, led by Lord Paragon and Primehammer Cillian Richter routed the upstarts and rebels over the next six years. Eleanor joined in marriage with her half-brother Royce Wolf, who was crowned King Miles I and she, Queen Eleanor. What happened between the Richters and the Bannons in the wake of the Bastard War is unknown, but both Houses had a falling out. House Richter largely retreated to their lands. There they grew new alliances among Houses not often considered friendly, including the much-maligned Rourkes. Queen Eleanor worked to rebuild a kingdom torn asunder by decades of war, but without Richter iron and engineering, she struggled to do so and was unsuccessful. Though she is well thought of in the Kingdom, many of the Dusklanders are loathe to speak of Queen Eleanor Bannon and when they do, they curse her name as a breaker of oaths. Similarly, the Dusklands were left largely unrepaired during Cillian’s reign. Largely ignored by the Kingdom as well, the Dusklanders struggled in the isolation. It is said that structures damaged during that war still lie abandoned and unrepaired.
A new Lord Paragon and Primehammer, Drachard Richter rose to power. His mother taken by the Lady of Death, King Giles I, the son of Queen Eleanor Bannon assumed the throne. Primerhammer Drachard opened talks with other realms again and seeking to reestablish political alliances. Health began to return to the Dusklands once again even as the Kingdom of Arnesse grew in wealth and prosperity beneath the rule of wise King Giles. Giles I enacted a number of administrative reforms and made fundamental changes to the King’s Laws that gives more rights to the people but also gives more power to the nobles. Both the restoration of the realm’s prosperity and the further empowerment of the local nobles sat well with the lords and ladies of the Dusklands, but the people grew increasingly restless as their rulers funnelled vast sums of coin into the Richter war machine for a war that never came.
King Giles’ personal life was plagued by trouble. He married Lady Rosalind of House Bannon shortly after his coronation and had a son by her, Giles. When he made legal changes, he enabled couples to annul marriages and shortly after, he ended his marriage to Queen Rosalind, who took her son and fled through Richter lands to the Everfrost. King Giles took Lady Elysande Corveaux as his second wife and in less than a year she bore him a daughter, Emma. Some years later, Elysande was accused of adultery, put on trial, and executed for her crimes. About the same time, tensions began to rise on the southern border of the Dusklands over a border dispute with House Bannon over the town of Hollowmere. The dispute quickly escalated into a wider conflict, culminating in one of the bloodiest battles in modern memory – the Battle of Vale; over four thousand soldiers were killed in the multi-day battle.
The conflict may have expanded were it not for a disaster of titanic proportions. The mighty volcano known as the Shardmount, erupted in 743, sending a wave of devastation across the Dusklands. Those nearest the Shardmount were incinerated, swept away in a roiling cloud of ash and flame. Plumes of ash and smoke rose miles into the air and blotted out the sun itself for months. Without the sun the crops died and as the ash fell to earth it tainted the soil and made it so that nothing could grow. Almost overnight the protectorate fell into a panic. Some tried to flee the Dusklands for other protectorates; some would find homes while others paid with their lives. The Woodfolk of Thornwood killed hundreds of innocent men, women, and children who tried to seek refuge there for no other reason than daring to cross their borders. Many were turned away, but some showed great kindness, including the Bannons and Corveaux, who gave coin, food, water, and other resources to aid the stricken Dusklanders.
The next decade was a time of darkness, famine, and disease. All that was green in the Dusklands withered and died, the trees themselves becoming little more than barren husks. The people had to learn to live again – to find food where none could be grown and water that was not tainted by the taste of ash. Thousands died and whole Vassal Houses collapsed into nothing but dust. The world moved on, and in the eyes of many, the mighty House Richter withered into a shadow of its former self. King Giles I would take another wife, Lady Alice, also of House Corveaux. She bore him a son, but both mother and child perished in childbirth even as the Dusklands languished in darkness. Into this chaos and despair, a new Primehammer took the seat of the Nocutary – Hawken Richter, the son of Drachard. Bent but not broken, the Dusklands began to salvage what remained of their homeland.
By 750, the reign of Giles I was in jeopardy as he took Lady Maeve Innis, the sister of the Lady Paragon of House Innis as his Queen. Rumors spread throughout the Dusklands that the King has been bewitched and that he was now in the thrall of a crone from the Thornwood. Cries for rebellion spread and unrest gripped a land still suffering badly. Heeding the call of his faith, the son of King Giles I, Giles the Younger, made his way South in 751 with a massive force of Hale splinter clans and Blayne knights, bent on taking the throne from his father. King Giles I called for his banners to aid him in defending the throne. Against the counsel of his advisors, Lord Paragon Hawken sent 10,000 elite Iron Guard to join Giles I, a move seen as widely unpopular among many people in the Dusklands.
The Iron Guard were sure to win Giles I a resounding victory, save that two thirds of them came down with a virulent illness shortly before the battle and were unable to fight. Rumors ran rampant of Aragon sabotage as a similarly large contingent of the Tarkathi troops were also at the battle but forbidden to fight by the King. As a result, Giles the Younger won the day at the Battle of Lanton against King Giles I’s numerically superior force. It is said that the knights of the Fervent Order of the Vellatora carried the victory that day almost singlehandedly, a rumor which empowered the nascent Aurorym faith within the Dusklands. King Giles I and Queen Maeve were put on trial and found guilty of using witchcraft. Both of them were burned at the stake mere days before Giles the Younger was crowned King Giles II. The King cemented his alliance by wedding Lady Aline Blayne, the daughter of Lord Paragon Frederick Blayne and gifting the Blaynes the Hearthlands Protectorate.
Once a people defined by their love of fire, the Dusklanders have become slaves to it. Dusklanders often refer to the fact that they ‘live in the shadow of the mountain’, a sign of just how oppressive and impactful the Shardmount is to their lives. Once, they were a people of industry, craftsmen and engineers who invented wonders never before seen in the Kingdom of Arnesse. Their armies never knew defeat and the very mention of their name invoked fear and awe in allies and enemies alike. But in a single cataclysmic moment, everything changed, and in the aftermath, the mighty were brought to their knees. Now, they are a people whose litany is written in ashes. They often hunger and thirst, struggling to accomplish things that are trivial to many others, but the Dusklanders were born with iron in their souls and the fire that enslaves them only tempers and hardens their resolve.
Life in the Dusklands is hard for most and even the wealthy struggle to get what they need. Desires or luxuries are often little more than a dream. The problem isn’t coin, it’s a lack of basic resources. Even before the Shardmount erupted, the Richters strained the natural resources of the Dusklands to the limit to feed the fires of industry and their relentless desire to create. The eruption was the tipping point that sent the protectorate into a truly desperate state. While in the twenty years since the Dusklands has stabilized, it is a place where hunger and disease are common and the nobles only retain control through an iron hand upon their subjects. This has transformed the Dusklands from one of the most orderly protectorates into one of the most dangerous. Thievery is a common threat throughout the protectorate, but the deadliest elements are desperate commoners and despotic rulers, all of whom will do whatever they can to survive.
The Dusklands has little time or will to focus on the world beyond their borders; most are just trying to survive. King Giles II has been on the throne for twelve years and spent much of his time focused on morality and the Aurorym faith. House Bannon’s aid to the Dusklands in the years following the cataclysm are not forgotten and most Dusklanders are positively disposed towards the King. This is helped along by the growth of the Aurorym faith within the Dusklands. In their time of desperation, the people turned to religion and the Aurorym faith, with its empowering message, gave hope to many. Over the last twenty years, adoption of the faith has grown faster in the Dusklands than any place else in Arnesse. This has caused significant friction with many nobles in the Dusklands, as they disapprove of the rebellious overtones of the faith. Every time the Richters have tried to stamp out the flame of the Aurorym, it has come back even stronger, and the nobles of the Dusklands can ill afford full-fledged revolt.
However, only the unwise would underestimate the Richters and the industrious Dusklanders. Even now, their mighty forges burn within Ember and a hundred workshops throughout the Dusklands. The Dusklanders were born of war and there are many among them who feel it is to war they should return; that they must take what they need to restore themselves to greatness once again. The border dispute with House Innis in the Western Thornwood has seen Richter troops set foot into the Northern Marches for the first time in as long as anyone can remember. The Dusklands is bled dry and its people are tired of being fed upon dust and dreams. They have grown weary of their ruler’s excuses and empty promises. Hope has turned to bitterness, bitterness to malcontent, and malcontent into a desire to act. The Richters must direct this insatiable desire for action somewhere and all Arnesse waits with bated breath to see where the Dusklanders will turn their attention.