Friday, August 9, 2013

The Armies of Light

The true threat of the Witches’ invasion was not felt throughout Morden until the Outlands were fully overrun; this signaled the beginning of the Bane War. With the border realms completely under the Witches’ domination, the rulers of Morden's nations knew that something had to be done lest they face the same fate. King Stefan Hightower II of Valkenholm sent couriers to all the other realms of Morden, soliciting support for building a military alliance to face the Witches’ army. Under King Stefan’s leadership, Valkenholm became the staging ground for a counterattack against the Grand Coven.

One of the first steps for creating the Alliance was King Stefan’s call to form a council of representatives from all the other realms. Most nations sent troops as well as envoys, but the troubled realms of Hyphrates and Hebron struggled to provide more than a token presence. When the combined forces took the field near Kulidar, King Stefan declared them the Armies of Light and charged them with a mission that every nation in the alliance could agree to without hesitation: throw back the Witches’ invasion and destroy the Grand Coven at its head.

King Stefan’s natural authority as ruler of Valkenholm, his personal charisma, and his considerable martial accomplishments made him the only logical choice to lead the Armies of Light. This is not to say his appointment was unanimous. Boyar Nikolai Yeltsev of Steppengrad considered himself a better leader and campaigned tirelessly for the position. Nikolai had a long and storied career serving in Steppengrad as the Tsar’s right-hand general, having personally slain numerous Banes in battle. In the end, King Stefan chose the Boyar to act as his second-in-command, smoothing things over with the prickly Gradniki. Many nobles in the Alliance quietly discussed appointing High King Gaelan of Caer Kainen—a well-known leader and commander in his own right whose absence from the Alliance councils had caused a great deal of discussion.

In addition to the presence of the King and the use of its lands as a staging ground, Valkenholm provided several orders of veteran knights and light cavalry units to the Armies of Light. Boyar Nikolai had brought with him a sizable force from Steppengrad, including the famous winged hussars, fierce groups of Cossack warriors, and several units of Gradniki musketeers. Despite the confusing lack of High King Gaelan’s presence, Caer Kainen sent numerous bands of highlander scouts and irregulars. These forces proved invaluable to keep track of the Witches’ armies and their progress through the devastated Outlands.

While most of the refugees from the Outlands made their way south to Port Sorrow, a few remained behind and offered their services to the Armies of Light, desiring a chance to strike back against the Banes ravaging their homeland. These Outlanders were formed into the Free Militia, a force of raiders and skirmishers that King Stefan hoped would provide key knowledge of the land occupied by the enemy. Another addition came from Mainreia, as the council there dispatched a force of Mounted Riflemen wielding the latest design in that nation’s firearms technology. Even the famously unpredictable Seelie Fey sent a small force of warriors clad in glittering mail, led by King Auberon himself.

The Armies of Light depended upon expert caravaneers from Hyphrates to coordinate their need for water and supplies. Farriers, blacksmiths, and quartermasters were sent from Hebron to assist with keeping the large forces of men and horses ready for battle. The Enochian faith sent hundreds of priests to help as well, and these holy men did not confine themselves to spiritual matters—whenever a wagon needed to be unloaded, whenever there were soldiers hurt or sick, wherever the need was greatest—the Enochians pitched in.

Over forty years, the Armies of Light defended Morden from the Witches’ army, fighting back waves of inhuman Banes, foreign mercenaries, and the Accursed shock troops. King Stefan and Boyar Nikolai led hundreds of raids, hit-and-run attacks, and sallies against the growing threat. Although the Armies of Light racked up an impressive number of minor victories, the Banes and Accursed they fought were simply too numerous to defeat. Supported by the immense power of the Witches, the dark army pushed forward until the forests of Valkenholm were constantly under siege from horizon to horizon. Cauldron-born poured over the highland passes from Caer Kainen, forcing the Armies of Light to suspend offensive operations to focus on defending a border long though secure.

Faced with the prospect of defeat after four decades of constant war, King Stefan made preparations for one final battle—a desperate plan, relying upon King Auberon, was hatched to give the Armies of Light one last hope for victory.

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