Chapter One: The Anti-Hesper Alliance - Meeting in Edessa
Edessa, the capital of Pandosia, was a beautiful sprawling city of over two hundred thousand inhabitants. Located near the northern tip of the Great Koroneia Lake, the largest lake in Yggdra, it was prosperous and valued by many as a treasure of the empire. Tall walls and a wide moat, siphoned from the lake, made it a nigh impregnable fortress, one that had not been taken even once in its nearly three century old history.
The Anti-Hesper Alliance’s leaders met here, their armies camping on the vast plains surrounding the city. Over the past two weeks almost two hundred thousand soldiers had gathered outside the walls, ready to march on the capital at a moment’s notice. Even then, minor nobles bringing their personal troops and volunteers from farther away towns steadily streamed in to bolster the army’s numbers further.
The person who proposed the alliance was Duke Paramonos of Olynthus, who had brought fifty thousand troops from his territory north of Pandosia. He was a man with an impressive family background that dated back as far as the Grand Marshal under the very first emperor of Zenter. His family has since held the fiefdom of Olynthus, while those who did not become the direct heirs oftentimes worked in high positions at the imperial court or as governors of major cities across the continent. However, Paramonos himself was a mediocre man with no outstanding capabilities, save for his eye for choosing the right people for various duties.
Count Iason of Herolus was the younger brother of Paramonos, who had been granted a small fiefdom to the south of the capital, based on his lineage rather than his merits. He was even less outstanding than his older brother, surrounding himself with yes-men who praised him at every opportunity, no matter how infantile or inept he oftentimes acted. He had brought few troops, because he had to travel for a long way to join the alliance, and because he opted to scrounge off Paramonos’ better trained soldiers.
Marquis Galeno of Rhamnus, the first to rebel against the Mad Emperor, had brought an army of ten thousand soldiers from his faraway southern fiefdom of Rhamnus. Even though his previous rebellion had been suppressed only half a year prior, he had collected a considerable force and travelled almost the entire length of the continent to join the alliance. From a proud line of governors of Rhamnus, Galeno was a father of four; he had brought his two sons, Drakon and Agathon, who were twenty and fifteen respectively, while his daughters, seventeen and ten, remained at home.
Baroness Myrrine of Stagirus, a woman of advanced age who was hailed as a genius warrior during her youth, had brought an army of eight thousand. She had been one of the reasons why Galeno’s rebellion could advance so far on the capital over a considerably short amount of time and with nearly unstoppable momentum. She had been the one to keep their neighboring fiefdom of Apamea in check, which could have struck Galeno’s supply routes or the back of his army, while he was marching eastward.
Count Straton of Abila, the governor of a small fiefdom located between the much bigger Olynthus and Naxos, was a benevolent leader of an upstanding personality. While more powerful nations sat idly by or supported the Mad Emperor’s reign of terror, Straton was helping Countess Alexis of Aegae in holding back the armies of the fiefdoms of Kios and Dorylaion from invading the north of the Jotnar Territories. Their combined efforts resulted in the fact that the Jotnar only had to defend in the South. They each brought an army of five thousand battle-hardened soldiers.
Lord Kyron of Thronion surprised everyone with his presence, when he brought an army of seven thousand from his father’s fiefdom of Thronion. By now his plan to assassinate Chancellor Hesper, and his subsequent imprisonment, had become a well-known rumor, and the will he wrote while awaiting execution had been duplicated as propaganda. The elaborate and skillful use of phrases and expressions, all meant to condemn and scorn the chancellor, had helped spread Kyron’s name far and wide. Nobody had expected that a man with such an artful streak would join the alliance as a warlord.
On the morning of the Third Day of the Bull, in the Month of the Vanir, a messenger came from Olynthus and informed Duke Paramonos that scouts had seen an army of roughly a hundred thousand troops marching towards the capital, only a day away from Edessa. They flew the flag of Naxos, specifically that of Hypatios of Naxos, one of the chief generals under the chancellor, a man rumored to rival Baltsar in combat skills. Paramonos called for an emergency meeting of those who contributed substantial troop numbers to the cause, knowing that if he invited all those who thought themselves worthy to sit at the table of leaders, the result would be a chaotic assembly of hundreds.
The same day, Lahya Eventyr arrived at the front of her troops of two hundred brave volunteers who followed her not for riches or glory, but for righteousness. Alexander of Thoryvodis had sold his family carpentry business and used the money to buy equipment and horses, while Leontis of Dion personally trained the troops to march in formation and in the handling of various weapons. He was a talented warrior who had mastered several different arms, although his weapon of choice was a nine measures long halberd that was too heavy to be carried by a man of normal height. Alexander had no formal military training, but what he lacked in fine motor skills he made up with brute strength; he wielded a sledgehammer, made to demolish houses, that was even heavier than Leontis’ weapon.
When Lahya and her soldiers approached the camp outside the city, a man quickly came out to greet them personally. It was none other than Kyron, who had posted scouts several miles outside the camp, so that they may inform him of important arrivals. Followed by Methodios and Androkles in full armor, the former minister hastily walked up to the half-Alf and welcomed her warmly.
“Lahya Eventyr, you are as the rumors say,” Kyron stated and gave a bow. Surprised at the welcoming, Lahya dismounted her horse and returned the gesture.
“I am honored, lord...” She began, waiting for an introduction.
“Kyron of Thronion.”
“Lord Kyron, thank you for coming out to personally greet me. I have heard of you and have read your letter against the self-proclaimed chancellor. I must say, you have impressive penmanship,” Lahya continued, a smile on her lips. “And what do the rumors say about me?” She knew that her appearance was the most-discussed characteristic about her, and she could not blame the common folk. Despite the fact that she was aware of her own beauty, complacency did not take root in her heart; before a woman, she was now a warlord, riding at the forefront of her own army, no matter how small. However, Kyron’s response caught her unawares.
“I heard of your valor and fervor for righteousness. You are of royal blood, so of course you cannot watch idly when the empire is torn apart from the inside by the usurper Hesper,” The former minister stated, making no mention of her physical appearance. He was a pragmatic man who would see beyond the outwards shell to appreciate the talents and skills of a person regardless of gender or looks. Androkles, who had become Kyron’s personal guard, was only twenty-seven years of age and was already completely bald, and he had the face of a feral beast; seeing past all that, Kyron valued the warrior’s loyalty.
“I am flattered, Lord Kyron.”
“Please, follow me to the meeting of the alliance leaders,” He said, offering to lead the way. “Duke Paramonos has called for an emergency meeting.”
“Lord Kyron, I am but the leader of a small band of soldiers. I could not sit as an equal at the same table as those heroic commanders who have brought thousands of troops and many generals of valor,” The half-Alf assessed, refusing the offer. “I am willing to offer mine and my men’s services under your lead, as a contingent within your army.”
“No, Lady Lahya, I do not believe you are an equal of those leaders that you call heroic, for they are not. You are above their kind, and deserve better treatment. However, forgive me if I cannot provide such, and can only offer a seat at the table of lesser men. That is the lot the times have dealt to people like you and me,” Kyron conveyed, as he gestured to Lahya to follow him. Moved by his words, she finally yielded and joined him on his way to the alliance meeting.
On the way, she left her troops in Alexander’s care, who would find a spot to set up their own camp, and only had Leontis accompany her. In front of the entrance to Duke Paramonos’ encampment, where the meeting was held, Lahya turned around to speak to the giant behind her.
“Please remember that we are here as Lord Kyron’s guests. Our position is very small among those leaders inside, so we should not be making any demands,” She said to Leontis, who nodded with an understanding expression. Over the past few weeks Lahya had learned some of her two sworn companions’ quirks, and understood that they were not paragons of virtue. Alexander liked to indulge in alcohol, and although he was not the type to start a fight when drunk, he would speak his mind without thinking of the consequences and easily offend people. Leontis was a quiet and reflective person, but he had his moments of arrogance when he was aware of his superiority, or at least believed himself to be so. Lahya, despite being the youngest of the three, was the most mature, and had to reign them in on several occasions.
At the large wooden table at the center of Duke Paramonos’ encampment, the various warlords who contributed the largest number of troops and supplies to the alliance sat, staring at Lahya Eventyr with various expressions. They had heard of the number of troops she had brought and many were wondering why she deserved a seat at their table. However, Leontis’ presence and vigilant expression, standing like a monument behind the Ljosalfar princess, made them keep their thoughts to themselves. Only one person could not read the mood and complained openly to everyone present and no one in particular.
“Why is she here? With only two hundred measly troops, how can she presume the right to be among us?” Count Iason of Herolus blabbered, earning many angry looks. He had only brought a thousand troops himself, but felt entitled by the fact that he was Paramonos’ younger brother, to sit in a position of power. Aware of that fact, his older brother remained silent, hoping that Iason would tire of the matter soon and cease his arrogance.
“Count Iason, please cease your complaints. Lady Lahya is royalty, and having her with us lends our alliance more credibility,” Marquis Galeno cut in, when nobody else seemed to be willing to speak up.
“Are you saying we need to mind public image and add credibility to our righteous task to punish a traitor and usurper?” Count Iason turned his attention to the marquis. “Would that not mean that since you are not of royal blood, your rebellion against the previous emperor was baseless?”
“I would not say that, Count Iason. Standing up for the lives of the free folk is reason enough to oppose the madness of an emperor who would kill his own brother and have his family hunted down so that he may entertain a delusion of grandeur,” Baroness Myrrine came to Galeno’s aid. When he was faced two against one, Iason shifted his eyes to his brother to see if he would receive help. When Paramonos closed his eyes, as if to say that he would not join in on the conversation, the count finally conceded and went silent.
“We are here to discuss the matter of Hypatios of Naxos, who is on his way to the capital to bolster the usurper’s troops. He is only a day away and our armies may clash at that time, if he decides to take matters in his own hands. Our scouts estimate that he commands an army about half the size of ours, but unlike our soldiers, those from Naxos are battle-hardened veterans. Many in our camps are volunteer civilians who have had little military training,” Paramonos finally spoke up about the reason for the emergency meeting. “We have to decide whether we stay here and wait for Hypatios to pass by and then strike the back of his army, or go out and face him straight on.”
“Dear brother, I believe that our alliance army is of high morale and we outnumber the enemy, so we should strike them head on,” Count Iason was the first to offer his opinion.
“No, I have clashed with the armies of Naxos on open battlefields before, and their heavy cavalry is a force to be reckoned with. It would be better to fortify inside the city, lure Hypatios here and coax him into a siege battle, where horses would be useless. They are far from Naxos, so their supplies are limited,” Count Straton interjected.
“That is cowardice! We outnumber Hypatios’ army greatly, we should be meeting him in a direct confrontation and show our righteous superiority!”
“And incur unnecessary casualties? Easy for you to say, when you have brought only so few troops yourself!” Countess Alexis openly expressed her discontent at Iason’s audacity.
With this, the alliance leaders began a lengthy and chaotic dispute over differing opinions that lasted for hours with no end in sight. The only people who remained silent were Lahya, Leontis, Kyron and Androkles, watching on as the situation soon escalated into hostility. The half-Alf was aware that only few people acted on feelings of justice and righteousness, and many sought glory or material gains in this alliance, but she had not expected that the alliance was so splintered when faced with a potential battle.
“Lady Lahya, now you see what I mean? They may appear like heroes of our time to the outside, when only their great exploits are made known. But once viewed from the inside, you can witness their true faces,” Kyron leaned over and whispered to Lahya.
“I am amazed that even on the brink of a battle, the leaders can still be arguing over such trivialities. What I think is that this alliance needs a supreme leader,” She responded, but apparently it was loud enough for someone to hear.
“The lady makes a good point!” It was none other than Count Iason. “I believe that we have to elect someone to be the leader of the alliance, who makes the decisions without having to face constant questioning.” This motion was carried by others, who believed that it was the best opportunity for them to rise to power.
“I nominate Duke Paramonos as our supreme leader!” Kyron announced, turning everybody’s heads. He had not spoken up once since the beginning of the meeting, so some had forgotten his presence altogether. “He is a man of peerless valor and the one who called for this Anti-Hesper Alliance in the first place. His contributions in soldiers and supplies are inarguably the greatest, and he has many valorous generals under his command.”
Count Iason glanced over those present; he understood in that moment that nothing more had to be said from his own end. Others followed Kyron’s opinion, stifling their own ambitions when faced with the overwhelming odds stacked against them in this race. Duke Paramonos had indeed brought nearly a quarter of all troops and many more rations all by himself, more than many of those present had, together.
Ultimately, it was unanimously decided that Paramonos would become the supreme leader of the alliance.
“I will now hand out the positions and tasks to everybody,” He declared as his first act.
“Report! The Hypatios army is approaching from the North!” A messenger stormed into the meeting, knelt down on one knee, and announced quickly. General Hypatios had driven his cavalry onward when scouts reported the large army camping outside Edessa, leaving his foot soldiers behind to join him at a later time. Thus, he arrived with only sixty-thousand horsemen, but at a speed that took the alliance by surprise.
Everyone in the room went silent, until the messenger had left, upon which all eyes turned to the newly appointed supreme leader. Faced with such expectations, he was overwhelmed for a moment and stared back in impotence. Horns and war drums resounding from the distance drew him back to reality; the enemy was close to their camps and retreating the entire army inside the city was an impossibility at this point.