The Peace of Kings
That the expected war did not break out for a century and a half can be put down to a number of causes, but one among them is most prominent. On the 400th anniversary of the eruption of Dieras Daebas, the archmagus Wanderer broke his long seclusion and called the rulers of the north together for a great council, thereafter known as the Council of Kings. His reasons for doing so are unknown, but perhaps it is best to remember that the council for a time forestalled pointless warfare of the kind that destroyed the Theocracy of Pama.
The first council was held in Habbad-Dur, now the pre-eminent city of the Bay League and perhaps the richest and finest city in all the north. Not so old or storied as Re-Tian or Haakeln, it was now the equal of the former in wealth and the latter in size. Its relatively central location made it ideal for the council, but its choice also gave Habbad-Dur great prestige. The rulers who gathered there were the lords of the Bay League, Araganth and Lakeri, as well as the rulers of Haerlyr and Sedryas. The king of the elven homeland was invited but did not attend, and the Grand Magus of Catala also declined an invitation. However, the five rulers of the Isles of Chataen did come, as did the High Thane of Catarralan and the three Theocrats of Therant. The Karatonian Emperor and the Emir of Jaihan declined to attend, but both sent emissaries to make their wills known. Lastly, the seven clan chieftains of Gaelin arrived, each accompanied by one hundred of their finest warriors.
To add to all of this, many who had not been invited also attended. The great faiths of the north and many of the lessers sent delegates. The heads of the great colleges of magic in the north were all in attendance, including the new head of the Halls of Flame and two of the three Warlock Lords of Catarralan, leaders of the order that had been formed two centuries before. The aged head of the Grey College also attended, albeit as part of the Araganthan king’s retinue, a fact that raised scorn among the magi of other schools. There were even four masters from the School of the Four Winds in Karatonia.
Thus, although there would only be one true council of kings, chaired by Wanderer, the occasion of that council was the cause of many other meetings, many of which would have effects that lingered for a century and more. It is said that the Assassin’s Guild of Habbad-Dur had its birth in the hectic months before and after the first Council of Kings, and although that may not be true, it is certain that the guild was never in so much demand as it was then.
The week-long council itself was deemed by many to be a failure, for it produced little in the way of unexpected agreements or changes in attitude. Nonetheless, numerous small matters that stood between the three great powers and their lesser neighbours were aired, and the countless smaller meetings and arguments that accompanied the greater council fostered a greater sense of understanding between those who had viewed each other only as enemies beforehand. Nonetheless, arguments did occasionally break into violence, especially among the representatives of the various colleges of magic. The Warlocks, in particular, proved a fractious bunch, feuding with the representatives from the Halls of Flame and the Grey College. (It was at this council that the rumour first emerged that the warlocks were the servants of the Shadowed School on the Forlorn Isles, east of Catarralan. Undoubtedly, this contributed to the tension between them and the other schools.)
The first Council of Kings had two great effects. The first was a peace between nations that was to endure for the best part of a century. The second was a deepening of the intrigue that existed within and between nations. The long peace allowed many to prosper through trade between nations, and the Bay League in particular had the opportunity to reorder its system of rule to better suit its expanded size. Systems of roads were built across Chroniant, and it seemed that an era of wealth and peace had arrived.
The second council, which took place in Sakerd in 450 F.Y., was a more uneasy affair. Whereas peace had been a distant prospect at the previous council, it was now an enshrined fact, meaning that the representatives and rulers of the various nations had much more to lose. In truth, though, each nation seemed to approach the council with a desire to impress and participate. The delegations were more richly clad, and their number now included lords from the elven homeland and even strange mystics from far-off Catala, though the leaders of both nations still did not deign to attend. Moreover, the hangers-on and traders who accompanied the council were far more numerous than before, swamping the Salakeri city and flooding it with their wealth and goods.
Once more, the great council of rulers was of far less import than the many smaller events that accompanied it, during which merchants, mercenaries, mages and priests gathered and discussed and argued matters of import to them. Of most import in the great council was Lakeri’s declaration of its rulership over the islands of the archipelago that stretched west-northwest from Sakerd, saving only those with 20 leagues of Wanderer’s Isle. Surprisingly, the Bay League did not deny this claim, rather using the council to ensure that its ships would continue to have free passage in northern waters and even offering aid to the Salakeri in clearing the archipelago of the pirates which infested it. In truth, the League knew well that any claim to the archipelago would be tenuous at best, even for such fine sailors as the Salakeri.
The League had its own problems to concern itself with, as the following decades were to show. It had successfully altered its system of rulership, giving the senate almost equal power to the Council of the Six, and in doing so, it had effectively cemented Habbad-Dur’s position as the heart of the League. However, these changes had caused many tensions within the League. The citizens of its newer territories remained jealous of the privileged position of the founder cities, and the founder cities resented the gradual erosion of their status. As the heart of the League, Habbad-Dur drew the best and brightest citizens to itself, and a new class emerged to vie for power, one which saw the three virtues of wealth, nobility and popularity as the keys to success. The triumvirate of government, church and army, which had long held power in the League, saw its hold weaken as these men and women turned the system to their own advantage.
However, the League was not the only state to be suffering upheavals. Twice during the 50-year period between the second and third councils, Haerlyr suffered rebellions and civil war. The revered line of Kellaran had failed, and numerous lesser houses now aspired to seize the winged throne of Haerlyr. Similarly, Araganth was convulsed by dissent, as a coven of magi of the Grey College were revealed to have been manipulating the king and his court for an unknown number of years. Magical war erupted in the south in 473 F.Y., culminating in the destruction of the Grey College in 479 F.Y. However, the king and his family had fallen victim to assassins’ blades and fatal magics, and turmoil wracked Araganth until the former royal general Marinvar defeated the last of his rivals in 492 F.Y., aided by forces from Karatonia, the first time they had been seen in Chroniant since the withdrawal centuries before.
Lakeri suffered no such upheavals during those five decades, other than the normal feuding between its various families, but some among the Salakeri believed that their nation was facing a graver threat. The Spiritspeakers of the Enwild, taletellers and guardians of the Salakeri heritage, had long had a strong voice within Lakeri, and they now spoke out against what they saw as “southern corruption” polluting their people. Wealth now flowed through Sakerd and a dozen smaller cities, and although Lakeri itself was not rich, it retained a strong grip on trade between north and east. The Spiritspeakers saw their people abandoning their traditional ways and adopting the garb and manner of the League to the south, and they feared for the future of the Salakeri. Moreover, their message found a ready audience with many of those who had not benefited from Lakeri’s enrichment.
Thus, on the occasion of the third Council of Kings, held in Haakeln in 500 F.Y., each of the three great powers of Chroniant was occupied with its own internal affairs and had become somewhat more desirous of isolation. The council itself was a bitter affair, the more so because it was attended by both the Emperor of Karatonia and the Emir of Jaihan, both of whom proved to be courting Araganth as an ally and desirous of a personal meeting with Wanderer. In the former, neither was wholly successful, though they greatly bolstered the position of Araganth in the process, and in the latter, only the young emperor was successful, causing much consternation among the delegation from Jaihan and leading their emir to depart from Haakeln prematurely.
Between Lakeri and the Bay League, matters were much more serious. The High Chieftan of the Salakeri had been forced to confront the League about restraining its traders in Sakerd, who were routinely flouting the rituals and observances of the Salakeri. In response, the League accused Lakeri of turning a blind eye to the pirates of the archipelago as long as they did not prey on Salakeri ships. Tensions between the two major powers of northern Chroniant escalated so swiftly that it seemed as though war might even be declared there and then. However, Wanderer defused the situation through diplomacy and threats and the council drew to a close without further trouble.
However, it was clear from the council that the tensions rising in Chroniant could not be easily defused. The war that had wracked Araganth in the latter half of the century had left it a riven country and scattered mages of great power and deceit across the land. In the decades to come, Araganth’s society would turn poisonous, with ten kings reigning during the first half of the sixth century F.Y. Although the accession of Kervarn Bloodwalker to the throne of Araganth in 561 F.Y. brought this period of turmoil to an end, rumours would continue to circulate of the bargains that he had struck to gain the throne and the refounding of the Grey College deep within the vast swamps that lay at the heart of Southern Chroniant. Tales of the “Grey Brotherhood” would become a mainstay of those lands.
In the north, the first half of the sixth century F.Y. was no less tumultuous. As the Bay League struggled to deal with the accession of a new generation of wealthy and influential nobles to power, Lakeri witnessed a heightening of tensions within the state that threatened to tear it apart. In 511 F.Y., the Spiritspeaker Revolt saw the conflict between the traditionalists and the tribal speakers who had profited greatly from trade with the south erupt into violence. Amid bitter clashes, the old order was overturned and the Spiritspeakers led their followers to victory on the streets of Sakerd, tearing down evidence of foreign influence and expelling or slaying all those who were not of Salakeri blood.
This event was to prove the downfall of the great peace that had endured since the first Council of Kings. At the time, the governorship of Hamarlaen, the wealthy northern port that was the closest major League city to Lakeri, was held by the ambitious priest and general Jevan Alustria. Deeming that the turmoil in Lakeri was a clear and present threat to the safety of the League, Alustria took the majority of the forces under his command and marched into the Enwild, claiming to be doing so in support of the deposed Salakeri leadership. In so doing, he initiated a conflict that would see the extinction of one of the great powers and determine the fate of Northern Chroniant for centuries to come.