The History of Ierendi and Minrothad
Part 2: From the Lycanthropic Plague to the Ierendian Independence
by Simone Neri (Zendrolion)
The Fifth Century
The 5th century AC is remembered in the Known World and surrounding regions as the century in which the dreadful plagues of lycanthropy and vampirism hit with unprecedented virulence the population of the coastal countries. Those regions which had more frequent contacts with the outside world – coastal countries with trade ties to eastern lands, like the Colony Islands and Thyatis – took the brunt of the plague spread. Werecreatures and vampires sprung up among the human population, sowing panic in the cities and towns, terrorizing villages and hamlets, and ultimately finding places to hide in the borderland and wilderness areas; at the same time, the demihuman realms closed their borders to avoid the contagion of a plague which could erase their races from the face of the Outer World1.
The spread of the “modern” strains of lycanthropy and vampirism began around AC 400 in the Alphatian mainland, following the experiments in shapeshifting of some Alphatian wizards2. What they were experimenting with, unfortunately, got out of their hands, and caused the development of dozens of lycanthropy strains which killed thousands of people and affected thousands more in their homeland. Traders from the Known World, in particular Minrothian ones - who were some of the most far-ranging merchants of this age, and some of the few to trade directly with the Alphatian homeland - unknowingly brought the plague to the Sea of Dread region, from where it then spread into the surrounding countries.
Modern historians trace back the first cases of “Alphatian” lycanthropy in the Known World to AC 410, when some Minrothian ships came back to Harbortown from the ports of mainland Alphatia, carrying on board someone affected by the curse. The Minrothians’ wide-ranging trade network also contributed to introduce the disease in many other regions they traded with. Strains of bat, fox, bear, wolf, boar, tiger, and giant hawk lycanthropy spread in the Colony Islands, which by AC 450 hosted a sizeable number of werecreatures; wererats also appeared at the same time in great numbers in Thyatis. The underwater realms of the Sunlit Sea did not pass this age unharmed, either: in AC 415 weresharks appeared among the merrow and triton populations, and this lycanthropic strain spread underwater to an extent not unlike that of the land strains.
While the spread of lycanthropy affected the history of most coastal nations of the Known World, it had a deeper impact on the society of the Colony Islands, triggering the events which would later upset the old balance which saw the humans as the main race of the archipelago, and led to the rise of the elves. It is ironical that this dramatic turn of events happened right in middle of the age of greater prosperity, wealth, and trading influence which the Colony Islands’ elven-human alliance had ever enjoyed until now.
The Colony Islands in the Fifth Century
At the beginning of the 5th century AC, the trading combine formed by Harbortown, New Alphatia, and Alfeisle’s water and wood elves was one of the most wealthy realms of the Sea of Dread. The combine’s merchant ships ranged from the Serpent Peninsula to the west, to the Darokinian and Traladaran ports to the north, to the Alatian Islands and Alphatian mainland to the east, selling there the products of the wood elves’ and New Alphatians’ fine crafts and bringing back to the Colony Islands luxuries from those exotic places. The combine’s ships were among the most swift and seaworthy of the Known World, thanks to the lucky combination of the water elves’ weather magic, shipbuilding skills, and seamanship, to the wood elves’ ability to grow and work quality timber, and to New Alphatians’ water magic. The combine allowed the three parties to exchange developments, techniques, and lore, thus making any advancement available to each one of them. The Minrothians of Harbortown were among the richest members of the combine: they profited not only thanks to the trade routes, but also to the financial loans they ensured to the Thyatian Empire and to favorable agreements which had allowed them to enter the Thyatian Empire’s trade system.
Harbortown’s Dominance and the First Traladaran War
Despite the existence of the combine, the Minrothians’ fortunes were greatly envied by the New Alphatians and by the elves. Indeed, Harbortown also prospered thanks to the practice of slave trade: trading in ethnic Alphatian peoples had been forbidden to them since a treaty of AC 284, but in the last decades the Minrothians had largely ignored that old treaty, and with a sort of tacit agreement with their allies in the combine, the Minrothians had managed to continue their slave trade undisturbed by obtaining from the Thyatian Empire limited access to its markets for New Alphatia and Alfeisle.
Money which ended up in the coffers of New Alphatia was enough to make them favorable to the current state of things; in fact, New Alphatia was more and more politically dominated by Harbortown’s elites from AC 400 on, effectively being reduced to a vassal of the most powerful nearby city. The elves did not comply with the situation in the same way, and continued to make pressure - albeit without success - on Harbortown’s government regarding the ceasing of the slave trade and also the Minrothians’ custom - borrowed from the Thyatians - to use slaves for themselves, to carry on domestic duties or to work in plantations. Nevertheless Harbortown was by far the most opulent city of the archipelago in this age, with thousands of halfling slaves working for their Minrothian masters both in the city and in surrounding plantations.
Harbortown’s trading power and her link with the Thyatian Empire allowed her to defend her sphere of influence much more aggressively than before. In AC 412 a new player threatened to upset the Minrothians’ influence over trade in Traladara, as the King of Darokin, Corwyn VIII, had reduced to vassal status many noble clans of the northern region of that country through a swift military campaign. Fearing that the Darokinian conquest of Traladara might oust them from that region’s markets, Harbortown and New Alphatia financed the southern Traladaran clans’ attempt to assassinate the king to get rid of this threat. The plan was carried on successfully in the same year AC 412, when Corwyn VIII was poisoned. The assassination, however, made the son of the last Darokinian king, Corwyn IX, eager to take revenge on the Traladarans; the new king then decided to spark the First Traladaran War (AC 412-417)3 by declaring war on the southern Tradalaran clans. At first, Harbortown and New Alphatia only sent money to finance the allied clans’ resistance against the Darokinian armies, then (AC 415) they had to intervene directly in the war in order to make the tide of the conflict turn against the invaders . King Corwyn IX died in battle in AC 415, and his son was forced to sign with the allies the Peace of Marilenev (AC 417), relinquishing all claims on Darokin’s Traladaran holdings. The Minrothians had successfully defended their influence over trade in Traladara, which further increased in the following years.
The Spread of Lycanthropy
Meanwhile, the Minrothians had to cope with a much greater threat than Darokin. Lycanthropy and vampirism had begun to spread too much to be further ignored by Trader’s Isle Minrothian and New Alphatian authorities, mostly because clerical countermeasures they had taken proved to be of limited effect in fighting these diseases.
Unrest burst out among the halfling slaves of Trader’s Isle, who – differently from the humans – began to die when the disease affected them; despite this, the Minrothians brutally quelled any unrest from the halflings. The same concern matured among Alfeisle’s elves, who in AC 416 drastically decided to close their borders to anyone coming from the outside world, only opening a single port to foreign trade, and began to strictly patrol the waters around their island to discover and ruthlessly destroy any trespasser. All the while, the Minrothians blamed the New Alphatians for the spread of the disease, while the New Alphatians accused Harbortown authorities to be unable to deal with the problem. Panic was beginning to spread in the archipelago.
In AC 423 mortality in Harbortown among the halfling slaves ran so high that a violent uprising took place and the government had to call in the army and put it down bloodily with the force of arms. A commission devoted to find a solution to the continued spread of this disease was installed, but its work proceeded slowly. People did not know that this slowness was caused by the fact that some of the commission’s members had relatives affected by lycanthropy, and they feared that – if it was discovered that a proper cure did not exist at all – the final decision may fall on extermination of all the afflicted; thus they tried to delay the commission’s works as much as possible.
Eventually, in AC 429, dramatic rise of lycanthropy cases forced Harbortown’s government to enact an extreme solution, instituting under the urging of Alfeisle’s elves a special military unit to fight the disease; as it had been feared, the unit is tasked with the extermination of any afflicted individual discovered. The measure was strongly opposed by a minority of Harbortown’s and New Alphatia’s elites, and at the end it was approved only in Harbortown. Many people there were executed in the first weeks, and some more fled to other lands beyond the grasp of Harbortown’s special unit. For a couple of years the spread of lycanthropy seemed to stop and the disease appeared to be in check, but thereafter new cases sprung up again on Trader’s Isle, and the special unit became increasingly unable to track the afflicted ones and hunt them down. As it would become apparent later, that was because some members of Harbortown’s government were lycanthropes themselves, and set things in order to avoid drawing attention on themselves and other afflicted individuals who were their friends or relatives.
Again, many people began voicing against the government’s inability to stop the disease, and their number and influence increased as protests were joined by plantation owners and other upper class peoples - who possessed many halfling slaves and were seeing them dying with increasing financial losses for themselves. Gradually, the intransigent faction got the upper hand and, between AC 433 and AC 436, Harbortown’s government was purged from lycanthrope members; additional special measures were taken to shield the halfling slaves from the danger of the contagion.
The result of this strict anti-lycanthrope policy in Harbortown was the relocation of many lycanthropes in New Alphatia. The latter town had not approved any special measure, and in the course of the AC 430s had seen a rising number of lycanthropes fleeing from the rest of Trader’s Isle migrating or hiding within its territory and walls. Moreover, the political elites of New Alphatia - many members of which were lycanthropes - favored the adoption of a humane treatment of the afflicted people, upholding that it was not necessary to kill all the afflicted and that it was sufficient to take measures just to restrain them while in beast form. Thus, the New Alphatian government fiercely opposed the intransigent policy which Harbortown was carrying on, not letting any special squad or werehunters in her territory. On the other hand, the “restrainment measures” advocated by New Alphatia did not decrease death cases and killings due to lycanthropy, nor the spread of the disease; and this hampered the solution of the problem in the whole of Trader’s Isle.
The Silver Purge
By AC 440, Trader’s Isle had become again the home of a substantial number of werecreatures, a vast concentration of which was found in New Alphatia and in the surrounding countryside. The combine’s trade and wealth had suffered a steep decline in the recent decades, because of the trouble with the disease and the unrest at home, the closure of Alfeisle’s ports to humans and alleged disease-carriers, and the strict limitations on trade with Minrothians and New Alphatians imposed by many mainland ports which feared they might bring a further spread of the disease in their own lands.
As trade continued to decline and the number of lycanthropes on Trader’s Isle to increase, an informal group of elven hunters called “The Beastslayers” appeared on Trader’s Isle, with the goal to do what the human governments were unable to carry on: the slaying of all lycanthropes. It was led by a young wood elf, Ruaidhri, whose family had been exterminated by a group of bloody werehawks some years before. Harbortown’s and New Alphatia’s authorities fiercely protested against the group’s violent actions, which they considered illegal. In AC 442, one of the Beastslayers was indeed captured by New Alphatia’s guards and held responsible for homicide; he was swiftly executed.
Ruaidhri went back to Alfeisle and spoke in front of the elven clanmasters: he told the elven elders what he had seen on Trader’s Isle, and succeeded in persuading them that it was only a matter of time before the disease spread with pandemic proportions to the whole human population of the Known World, thus inevitably sealing also the elves’ fate. Their trade in decline, their trust in the future of the combine broken, the water and wood elven clanmasters ultimately decided to gather their forces to put an end to the threat of lycanthropy once and for all with a drastic and ruthless action. They gathered hundreds of silver-armed elven warriors, put them under the leadership of Ruaidhri himself, and sent such a strike force against Trader’s Isle in AC 443. The Silver Purge had begun4.
Trader’s Isle fell into anarchy as part of the human population sided with the elves in order to get rid of the lycanthropes. Both human governments of the isle fell into chaos. The conflict, which was a true civil war, lasted two years. Lycanthrope attacks became fiercer and more desperate, because they knew their only alternative was death. On their part, the elves were even too zealous in pursuing their goal, for they were guilty of slaughtering helpless human families and people who were only suspected of being lycanthropes. After a bloody internal civil war, the faction favorable to the Silver Purge took the lead in Harbortown and tried to help the elves carry on the extermination of lycanthropes, but mostly had to cope with the reestablishment of order in its territory and undertook only limited actions.
The war reached a climax in AC 445, when the elves attacked New Alphatia, where a high number of lycanthropes was known to have hidden. The city was besieged while the elven fleet killed anyone seeking to escape through the sea. When the elven army finally breached through the city’s defenses, the elven general ordered to put the city to flames to avoid any of the lycanthropes escaping. Many thousands of innocent people died in the torching of New Alphatia, which was left as a blackened ruin to remember the fate of the lycanthropes on Trader’s Isle. Fightings continued for some months, but at the end of AC 445 the elven force had rid the island of most werecreatures. A few of them survived though, hiding in the deep forests and mountains, always on the run to avoid being tracked down by elven rangers and hunters5.
Other islands of the Colony archipelago under Harbortown’s control were scarcely affected by the Purge. Fortress, Blackrock, and Fire islands were nearly uninhabited, while the few cases of lycanthropy affliction which were discovered on Open Isle, North Island, and Terentias had been swiftly dealt with. Nevertheless, in AC 444 an unusually high number of afflictions was discovered on the island of Terentias - likely caused by lycanthropes who had managed to evade the elves’ blockade around Trader’s Isle. The water elf minority living in Terentias was favorable to call in the aid of Alfeisle’s elves to carry on the Silver Purge in the island, but the human majority feared more the excesses perpetrated by the elves on Trader’s Isle than the lycanthropes. When rumors spread that a brigade of elven werehunters was about to set sail to Terentias, the human leaders of the town of Crossbones decided to petition the Thyatian Empire for protection against the elves’ wrath. The water elf minority was forced to accept this development, and in AC 445 Thyatian cohorts landed on Terentias and on North Island to “protect” those places6; the empire ensured the elves that it would have taken care to dispose of the lycanthropy-afflicted population - without excessive bloodshed. The elves complied, still keeping alert for further cases of affliction, and still watching closely their borders.
It is worth noting that the war against the werecreatures did not leave the Sunlit Sea untouched, either. The spread of lycanthropy among tritons and merrows had threatened to overrun the whole underwater realms with the foul werecreatures. Moreover, the spread of the plague had opened a rift in Undersea’s triton society, with two factions accusing each other of hosting werecreatures within its ranks. Informed by the Aquarendi elves of what was happening above the surface, the tritons and merrows started their own werehunt in AC 443, with what is known as the “Night of Long Knives”7. Thousands of tritons and merrows died during this two years’ purge, which was prevented from escalating into a full civil war only through Aquarendi mediation. Nevertheless, the annihilation of lycanthropes in Undersea did nothing to heal the hates and enmities which the purge had created in the triton society - and which to some extent still endure today.
At the end of the Purge, Harbortown’s power was broken, and New Alphatia was no more. The elves’ economy had suffered as well, due to the breakup of their trading combine with the humans - even if they were able to make up for some of the losses substituting their own influence to Harbortown’s vanished one in some of the mainland markets, it was the Thyatian Empire’s trade network which mostly benefited from the decline of the Minrothians. With Trader’s Isle’s political and trade power disrupted, in the next forty years (also thanks to a time of relative peace in the relations of their empire with Alphatia) Thyatian merchants exploited the gap opened by the formers’ demise, seizing the slave trade in the western sea routes and pushing themselves up to the Serpent Peninsula and even to the Green Coast of Davania8.
Afterwards, the Thyatian Empire and the clanmasters of Alfeisle signed a treaty in Pilion (AC 446), under which Thyatis got control of Terentias, North Island, and the atoll of Fire Island, while the elves assumed control over Open Isle - something they seemingly coveted for some unknown purpose. The treaty ruled that the rest of the archipelago - the whole Trader’s Isle, and the two minor and nearly uninhabited Fortress and Blackrock islands - were put under the rule of a Guardianship Council seated in Harbortown, whose members were jointly selected by the elven clanmasters and by the Thyatian Empire; all local governments of Trader’s Isle - including Harbortown’s - had to submit to the authority of the Guardianship Council. The Treaty of Pilion stated that the purpose of the Council was to ease the restoration of social peace, order, and prosperity in Trader’s Isle after the Silver Purge, thus its rule was planned as temporary and lasting ten years, after which Harbortown’s government should ideally take care of itself again.
The Halflings’ Uprising
The situation on Trader’s Isle, however, was still tense. Unrest had dominated the halfling slave population during the Silver Purge, and their wish to be freed could be only barely controlled now that the island’s political leadership was in turmoil. Numerous slave uprisings occurred, but the Guardianship Council was divided over the issue: pro-Thyatian members wanted to keep halflings as slaves or at best as indentured servants, while pro-Alfeisle ones wanted them free. Meanwhile, many Minrothian landowners, in front of the Council’s inability to decide the fate of the halflings, decided to use mercenaries and their own armed guards to put down those uprisings with force. Troops, however, were sent by the Council to disarm those forces, because it feared that social tensions and disorder may allow again for a spread of lycanthropy. Some landowners responsible for the violence against the halfling slaves, and some of the uprisings’ slave leaders were imprisoned or executed, further exasperating the discontent both of the Minrothian landowners and of the halfling slaves.
The elves of Alfeisle had always hated slavery, had fully realized that the Thyatians would have never allowed the formal freeing of the halflings (Thyatis’ economy was centered on slave labor, after all), and were unable to tolerate the halflings’ slavery in their archipelago anymore, most of all in the wretched conditions they had to suffer. Since the time of the Treaty of Pilion, they had come up with their own plan, and had assumed control of Open Isle just for this purpose. They had selected one free halfling, Malf Quickhand, born in Harbortown from slave parents who had died before the Silver Purge. During the Purge, Malf had helped defend and free groups of former halfling slaves who had fled from the plantations or were seeking shelter from lycanthrope attacks. Malf was wanted by Harbortown’s authorities after the Silver Purge, so he accepted the elves’ offer to hide him on Alfeisle. There, he was educated to elven and mainland culture - including that of his own people in the Shires - and trained in seamanship, combat, trade, and administration. The elven clanmasters wanted to make him the instrument to bring about the end of the halfling slavery on Trader’s Isle, and Malf was more than happy to play this role.
In AC 449, Malf and the elves agreed upon the details of a plan for a great halfling uprising on Trader’s Isle, and then he traveled again to Harbortown. He spent some months making contacts with various slave groups and with their leaders, putting together the plans for an uprising. Then, in AC 450, the rebellion broke out as planned in the city of Harbortown itself; Malf took immediately the leadership of the uprising, which saw the contemporary rise of halfling slaves in many plantations, and the formation of an halfling army which marched on Harbortown, freeing any halfling slave found on its route. Weapons secretly shipped to them by the elves gave the rebel army the necessary tools to achieve victory.
Harbortown’s government fled from the town, fearing slaughter, while the Guardianship Council was still too much divided between pro-Thyatians and pro-elves to act. The rebel army occupied the city and, under the leadership of Malf, took possession of a series of disused ships found in Harbortown’s harbor. Using some special tackle provided by the elves, the halflings managed to embark on those ships, set sail, and take the sea undisturbed. As Malf had agreed with the elven clanmasters, the halfling flotilla was to land on Open Isle, which the elves had previously secured for themselves at Pilion in order to make it the former slaves’ new homeland.
On Open Isle, Malf and the other halfling leaders met with representatives of Alfeisle’s clanmasters, and the Pacts of Highston were signed in a village along the banks of the isle’s main river. The Pacts recognized the halflings as an independent people, and gave them the full possession of Open Isle, over which the elves relinquished control; as a free people, the halflings would decide autonomously the best way to rule themselves; also, the Pacts established a new trading combine between the elves of Alfeisle and the halflings of Open Isle, and established a steady flow of elven aid which would have allowed the building of infrastructures, villages, and the start of manufacturing activities.
The Decades of the Thyatian Protectorate
Malf’s uprising had left Trader’s Isle further damaged from an economic and social point of view; demographic and economic decline had crippled many activities and businesses, many of which had fallen directly or indirectly into the hands of foreign people, mostly Thyatians and elves from Alfeisle. Many members of the Minrothian and New Alphatian aristocracy had to sell their lands due to the loss of halfling manpower, or had seen their merchant activities disrupted; they begin to marry into well-off, non-noble families in order to join fortunes together and restore the wealth of their clans. This gradually blurred the identity of the old merchant and land owning aristocracies, and opened the social landscape to the rise of new families from the middle classes. Moreover, the following decades saw the gradual blending of the two main ethnic groups of Trader’s Isle - the more numerous Minrothians, and the much depleted New Alphatians - who slowly began to think of themselves as a single people.
Harbortown’s authorities regained control of their territory, but in the Guardianship Council accusations run high between the pro-Thyatian members who denounced the elves’ direction of the slave uprising behind the scenes, and the pro-Alfeisle members who saw what had happened positively and wanted to carry it further on to total abolition of slavery on the isle.
The Thyatian Empire had not taken too kindly the hit scored by the elves. In the previous years following the Silver Purge, Thyatian moneylenders had invested considerable sums of money in the support of Harbortown’s economy, lending funds to help damaged landowners to rebuild their plantations and local governments and aristocracy to repair infrastructures in villages and towns; Thyatian money had also helped Harbortown government to restore order and trade through recruitment of a Thyatian mercenary force, repairing of the city’s shipyards, and rebuilding of a merchant fleet. In sum, the empire had tried to keep Trader’s Isle under its own influence while elven presence on it was mostly focused on tracking the last lycanthropes hidden in the wilderness. After the elves had staged the halfling uprising, however, Thyatis feared that Alfeisle’s clanmasters were trying to oust the empire from the isle.
Thus, the Thyatian government protested against the Pacts of Highston, demanding reparations to Harbortown’s damaged families, and foreshadowing the use of force to bring the halflings back under Minrothian rule. The elves, on the other hand, did not wish to make war against the empire - most of all because they were unlikely to resist the full might of the empire - and managed to bargain the halflings’ new status with control over Trader’s Isle, bringing Thyatis to an agreement. According to this paper, the empire recognized Open Isle’s independence, the halflings’ control over the island, the ceasing of halfling slave trade, and the right guaranteed to halflings still left on Trader’s Isle to migrate to Open Isle. In exchange, the elves allowed Thyatis to keep troops on Trader’s Isle, and to lend advisors and administrative personnel to Harbortown’s government, also after the end of the Guardianship Council’s mandate in AC 456.
The agreement effectively allowed Thyatis to establish a protectorate over Trader’s Isle9. Already deeply involved in the isle’s economic rebuilding and in Harbortown’s government, when the Guardianship Council was dismissed in AC 456, the Thyatian Empire was able to persuade the local aristocracy to accept the installment of an imperial legate to oversee the government of the whole island. This is considered by historians the de facto beginning of the Thyatian protectorate over Trader’s Isle, which was to last until AC 488.
Most of the human families of Trader’s Isle were favorable to receive the aid of Thyatis to rebuild their wealth; in the years prior to AC 456, Thyatis had been shrewd to establish strong financial links with many major families of Harbortown, which were not willing to trade independence with the loss of those funds at the time. Some other, in particular those of New Alphatian descent, were opposed to this development, but had not enough strength to challenge the Thyatian protectorate.
Trader’s Isle’s economy was quickly rebuilt in the following years, and integrated into the empire’s trading network; however, Thyatians and elves continued, for the most part, to control the island’s main economic activities. Many towns and villages were rebuilt and repopulated, and population losses suffered during the Silver Purge began to slowly recover through a demographic raise and some immigration from the mainland. Thyatis helped reorganize the isle’s local governments around assemblies formed by representatives of the wealthier noble and merchant families from the countryside and the towns, respectively. Many nobles also began to take titles borrowed from those of the Thyatian nobility, like “baron” and “lord”.
Harbortown formally continued to be a sovereign nation, even if general trade and foreign policies were strictly overseen by the imperial legate. For example, Thyatis opposed the inclusion of Harbortown in the Alfeisle-Open Isle trading combine, as proposed by the elves, and subsequently hampered direct intervention in Traladara when Duke Demara of Vaion proclaimed himself King of Traladara (AC 474) - with the result that only some private families of Harbortown with interests in Traladaran trade lent money to the local clans to fight this umpteenth hegemonic attempt10.
Terentias saw a great development under Thyatian rule, and was fully integrated into the empire’s administration; however the other small island attached to Terentias, North Island, saw only very limited development under Thyatian rule - a few coastal villages and lighthouses, and a fort - while the volcanic atoll of Fire Island was left uninhabited. The other small and unproductive islands under Harbortown’s formal control - Fortress and Blackrock islands - received scarce development as well.
On Open Isle, the Minrothian families who lived there had to submit to the rule of their former slaves, being subject to some discrimination by the halflings and being kept out of local government. Malf Quickhand imposed a swift “Hinization” of the island, adopting a government structure reminiscent of that of the Five Shires, with shires and sheriffs, and renaming many geographical features of the island, such as its main river which became the Quickhand River. The island remained a rural country, however, where the halflings began to grow spices and other agricultural products, the surplus of which they traded mostly with Alfeisle’s elves. Despite this, Open Isle saw a relevant immigration from Trader’s Isle as the last halflings abandoned the place of their former slavery to join their free kin.
Alfeisle’s trade prospered again in those decades, as the elves gradually reopened their borders to foreign traders and again began visiting ports abroad in the Thyatian and Alphatian empires. Their trade mostly concentrated on the eastern regions, because growing Thyatian interest in trade routes opened to the Serpent Peninsula led the empire to discourage the penetration of foreign merchants in those regions. Elven and halfling trade with Trader’s Isle was not as limited, and the elves controlled many local businesses and guilds in the island, which brought sizeable sums of money in the clanmasters’ chests. Shipbuilding activity and trade in precious timber and quality woodcraft also spurred the aloof wood elves to establish their own port town to trade with foreign merchants, the way the water elves had done almost two centuries before; thus, the town of Verdon was born in AC 475.
The Struggle for Independence
In the latter decades of the 5th century AC, however, due to the growth of their mercantile interests and to the overall prosperity of the island, many Harbortown families began to perceive the Thyatian protectorate as an excessive restraint to the region’s further economic development. Inclusion in the Thyatian trade network benefited largely a small number of local noble families who had rebuilt their fortunes thanks to Thyatian money, but on the other hand it hampered the rise of new families. As many of the traditional trades were now controlled by Thyatians and elves, and chance to emerge in new trade areas was hampered by Thyatian trade limitations, new families had little hope to raise their fortunes.
The latter began opposing the amount of trade limitations, tariffs, and dues imposed by the Thyatians on Trader’s Isle trade routes and products. The presence of Thyatian troops and bureaucrats on the island, paid through local taxation, was an additional reason of discontent, further heated by the fact that the Thyatians controlled many key offices of the government, directly or through proxies. The elves of Alfeisle and their halfling allies of Open Isle, who resented prolonged Thyatian control over Trader’s Isle and imperial limitations on trade as well, were supporting behind the scenes this growing opposition to the Thyatian protectorate.
In AC 485 - after a quarrel between local nobles and Thyatian mercenaries in Harbortown had degenerated into a street riot, which had been quelled by the imperial troops with some deaths among the noblemen - a delegation of Trader’s Isle nobles led by Hadric Corser, a wealthy Harbortown nobleman and merchant, reached the imperial capital and asked the Thyatian emperor to loosen the trade limitations and open access to a larger number of the island’s natives to government duties and charges. The emperor agreed to think about the issue but preferred to take time, in the meantime removing the legate responsible for quelling the riot. Emboldened by this success, Corser and his allied nobles then asked for the fulfillment of their requests, also adding in the abolition of taxation to support Thyatian troops on the island. But the Thyatian throne ultimately rejected all the requests. The noblemen were divided between a powerful but small minority which supported the continuation of the Thyatian protectorate, and a larger number of nobles who opposed it.
At the following noblemen’s assembly in Harbortown, the opposing faction presented a petition asking for the removal of all Thyatian troops from the island, and protests against the legate were so loud that neither he nor anyone of the supporting faction were allowed to speak to the assembly; the legate had to be escorted to his residence by the troops, under fear of being attacked. It was evident that the majority of the noblemen favored the end of the protectorate, but Thyatis was not willing to give up Trader’s Isle, mostly because of the financial interests which some important Thyatian families had there.
At the beginning of AC 486, the imperial Senate authorized the legate to use force to suppress any uprising, if necessary. Unrest began as many noblemen, adhering to the proposal of Hadric Corser, stopped paying taxes to the central government in Harbortown. Skirmishes broke out in the countryside and in the city as the Thyatian troops were sent to arrest those wrongdoers; some were captured and confined in a recently-built prison on Blackrock Island. But weeks later Hadric Corser, who had escaped imprisonment, with the secret aid of Alfeisle’s elves, led a daring naval action against the prison, freeing the confined noblemen and razing the place to the ground. The group of rebellious nobles thus went to the sea, using hidden bays and coves on the most uninhabited islands (as well as halfling and elven hospitality on their islands), and began hitting with swift piratical raids the vessels of the Thyatian Empire and of Trader’s Isle families who supported it.
The situation was degenerating, but the Thyatian naval patrols did not manage to locate the rebels’ hidden hideouts easily, so skirmishes went on both on the sea and on land. At the end of AC 487, despite Thyatian military presence on Trader’s Isle, most of the land was beyond the reach of Thyatian-controlled government in Harbortown; a reform of the protectorate, loosening imperial control over the island and abolishing taxes to support the troops came too late to win back some support for the government. Thus, barring outright military conquest, it seemed impossible to the Thyatians to restore order on the island, and even the island’s families who supported Thyatis began to pressure for an agreement with the rebels. Moreover, the successor to the Thyatian imperial throne was utterly opposed to continued imperial commitment on the isle to further the interests of a bunch of senatorial families. Road was paved toward an agreement which put an end to the undeclared war.
At the beginning of AC 488, a delegation of Trader’s Isle noblemen led by Hadric Corser met with Thyatian diplomats in Seahome, where the elves mediated the agreement. Thyatis consented to quit its protectorate over Trader’s Isle, withdrawing most of the troops and administration personnel, to recognize the country’s effective sovereignty, to avoid prosecuting any individual responsible for the pirate actions or the uprisings, and to establish new trade relations to allow Trader’s Isle merchants to preserve access to some of the empire’s markets; in exchange, Thyatis wanted the new government to compensate the loss of Thyatian families’ interests in the island through payment of an indemnity. After some quarrels, thanks to the elves it was agreed that the payment was to be done in installments for the next twenty years, and that the empire was allowed to keep garrisons in Harbortown and in a couple of other strongholds as guarantee.
At home, Corser was hailed as a hero. Despite the payment due to Thyatis and the continued presence of the imperial garrisons, Trader’s Island now considered herself an independent nation. Striking deals with the most important noble and merchant families of the island, Corser laid the foundations of a new, federal and united government of Trader’s Isle. Under Corser’s reform, each domain and district in which Trader’s Isle was divided would have its own hereditary noble ruler or elected representative, and an assembly representing its most important families; in turn, delegates from each of those assemblies, called “Provincial Estates”, took part in the federal assembly, the “General Estates”. The system ensured a seat in local government and possibly in the federal ones even to families who had opposed the rebel faction, so the reform was quite popular among the whole elite class of the island.
Still in AC 488, as part of his reform bill, Corser decreed the foundation of a new capital city of the island, as seat of the General Estates and symbol of the recovered unity of its inhabitants. He laid the first foundation stone of the new city in the Alphatian Caldera, on the site where the city of New Alphatia stood only fifty years before. The new capital was called Minrothad - that is, “Minroth’s Home” in local tongue, to remember the ancient mythic hero who had first settled the island and whose return was still awaited by the people who worshipped him as Immortal. After the foundation of the new city, the united people born from the union between the Minrothians and the New Alphatians began calling themselves “Minrothaddans”.
One of the first acts of the new government was to sign agreements with the elves of Alfeisle to become part of the trading combine together with the halflings of Open Isle. An important consequence of this - and something that the elves and the halflings had strongly required - was the total abolition of slavery in Trader’s Isle. Corser and most families were willing to allow this, because, even if they owned lands and kept some slaves, the number of servile manpower had been decreasing in the past decades, and the island’s elite felt it better to let slavery go if this meant inclusion in the trading combine and thus access to more profitable markets to sell their lands’ produces.
Due to his successes, the General Estates decreed to confer Hadric Corser the honorific appellation of “Great Uniter”. But despite those good omens, Corser’s rule had yet to face some tough tests, as Thyatian interference in Trader’s Isle inner matters was not still ended.
After the reform of AC 488, order was restored on Trader’s Isle and peaceful - if wary - relations with the Thyatian Empire were established. The Thyatians, seeing that payment of the indemnity was steady during the course of the years, slowly disbanded their garrisons in Trader’s Isle, keeping only the one at Harbortown, albeit reduced in size. The independence the Minrothaddans had won from the empire, however, had its downsides. Trader’s Isle merchants had until now enjoyed limited access to Thyatian markets, and even if their trade was subject to Thyatian control, the island’s economy had somewhat benefited from this.
Now, the Thyatian government did not hesitate to use its own trading power to embarrass and destabilize Corser’s new government, carrying on a protectionist policy against Minrothaddan merchandise, and making it more difficult for its merchants to do business with Trader’s Isle ones. To enact this, the empire also pushed for a revision of its trade agreements with the peoples of Alfeisle and Open Isle, bargaining limitations on their trade with imperial assent to Trader’s Isle inclusion in the Colony Islands’ trade combine.
Thus, in the next few years the inner political and social climate of Trader’s Isle improved, but its families’ trade did not improve as they expected since the lifting of the Thyatian protectorate. Payments of the indemnity to the empire, moreover, began to be quite burdening for the government in Minrothad as the years passed. As it could be expected, smuggling and infringement of the trade limitations began to be practiced by the most unscrupulous human and elven merchants of the Colony Islands’ combine.
By AC 495, Minrothaddan and elven smuggling activities were taking place even on the shores of the Isle of Dawn and Ochalea; the matter could be no longer ignored by Thyatis, which had to spend considerable resources in a campaign to combat smuggling activities, with mixed results as the empire got no collaboration from the combine. In AC 497, on the eve of renewed tensions with Alphatia on the eastern and Alasiyan borders, the Thyatian government decided to persuade the combine to do something against smuggling by doubling the garrison at Harbortown. The decision was followed by sharp protests by the Minrothaddans and the elves, who saw it as an attempt to restore the Thyatian protectorate over the island. Hadric Corser, still the leader of the Minrothad government, decided to halt payment of the indemnity to the empire (which was still halfway from completion).
Tensions were on the rise; once Thyatis would rid itself of the Alphatian problem on its borders, the combine would have had to comply with the empire’s wishes or try resisting alone, and likely fall again under Thyatian domination. Then Corser, together with the elven and halfling clanmasters, decided to play an hazardous card and secretly met Alphatian emissaries who had come to in Minrothad under disguise in AC 498.
Skirmishes in Alasiya had begun between Thyatian colonies, Alphatian colonies and their respective allies since AC 497. The Alphatian Empire was busy in its effort to conquer Norwold11, and the likely outbreak of a war against Thyatis both in Alasiya and on the Isle of Dawn would distract too many of their resources from their campaign in the north - where they were encountering some resistance from the local barbarian tribes, elven clans, and dragons. Having an ally who could keep a part of the Thyatian forces busy on the western borders of the empire would have been very useful to the Alphatians - so they made contact with the Minrothaddans and the elves led by Hadric Corser.
The result was a military alliance according to which the Alphatians would send a group of seasoned wizards and eventually a fleet to support the Minrothians’ and elves’ struggle to expel the Thyatian garrison from Harbortown and brake the trading limitations the empire was imposing over them. In exchange, they offered very good trade conditions within their territories to the combine’s merchants.
War effectively burst out in AC 499, when intense fighting began on the Isle of Dawn and Alasiya. While the Alphatians committed their forces against the Thyatians, a flying ship filled with a brigade of battle mages sailed from Alasiya to Minrothad, helping local forces to siege and oust the Thyatian garrison in Harbortown from Trader’s Isle; elven and Minrothaddan vessels then moved to strike the Thyatian-held islands, Terentias in particular. This move caught the Thyatians off-guard, and forced them to halt their offensive on the Isle of Dawn to send a fleet against the Colony Islands. In the meantime, one of the sons of the Alphatian emperor, Prince Varzathram, led the sizeable Alphatian fleet which, with a daring action, breached through Thyatian defenses in the Strait of Furmenglaive and managed to reach the Colony Islands as promised by the empire’s treaty with Corser. As the war raged in the west, on the Isle of Dawn military operations stalled - and this was exactly what the Alphatians had been wishing for, in order to focus their efforts on the Norwold campaign.
The Thyatian counterattack against the Colony Island was led by none less than the son of the Thyatian emperor himself. A series of naval clashes took place in the Colony Islands during the following year. The Thyatians had planned a twofold strike - from the north and from the east - against Trader’s Isle capital, but their intentions were discovered by the Alphatians and their allies, who took countermeasures. Thus, the Thyatian fleet attacking from the east and commanded by the imperial prince, was faced by the combined force of Alfeisle’s elves and a half of the Alphatian fleet led by Varzathram; in the ensuing battle, known as the Clash of the Princes (AC 500), both princes met their deaths but the Thyatian fleet did not manage to penetrate into the Colony Islands’ waters to carry on its attack on Minrothad; at the same time, the other half of the Alphatian fleet, together with the Minrothaddan navy, defended Minrothad from the fierce assault of the Thyatian fleet in the huge Battle of Minrothad (AC 500), which saw a very large number of vessels employed. After one and a half days of maneuvering and naval actions which saw the Thyatians generally prevailing, the defending fleet - despite heavy losses - managed to prevent the Thyatians from disembarking and attacking the capital directly. When the Thyatian fleet decided to withdraw, units of the Minrothaddan navy, joined by elven vessels, harassed it, managing to isolate a part of the Thyatian convoy and capture it in the Battle of the Storm (AC 500), thanks to the use of the elves’ weather magics12.
The heavy fighting of AC 500 had depleted the resource of both sides on the western front; the Thyatians had lost many ships in battle and had withdrawn to Terentias, while the Alphatian supporting fleet had lost its commander and was in disarray, and the native fleets had suffered heavy losses. The Alphatian Empire would have liked the war in the west to continue, but was not able to send additional reinforcements to the Colony Islands’ trading combine; so, when the Minrothaddan and elven allies decided to make peace overtures to Thyatis, the Alphatian emissaries had to comply. The Peace of Crossbones was signed in AC 501 in Terentias’ capital and put an end to what had been known as the “War of the Princes” (AC 499-501) due to the direct involvement of a Thyatian and an Alphatian prince. Thyatis was willing to make concessions to the trading combine of the Colony Islands, because it hoped to commit its whole resources against the Alphatians in order to break their Norwold campaign and conquer some territories on the Isle of Dawn. So the treaty was basically a Minrothaddan and elven success. The agreement required the Thyatians to definitely recognize Trader’s Isle independence and its membership in the Colony Islands’ trading combine, to withdraw any troop or garrison from the islands, and to avoid further interference in the combine’s internal affairs; on the other hand the allies agreed to cease any alliance with the Alphatian Empire, proclaim perpetual neutrality in the struggle between the two empires, and pay a quarter of what was still left of indemnity due to Thyatis in a single installment, but they also obtained favored access to the Thyatian Empire’s markets and special trading conditions within the territories of the empire.
All in all, the War of the Princes had been a costly and hazardous bet on Corser’s part, but marked an important turning point in the combine’s trading relations with the two major empires of the Known World, as it presented the Colony Islands’ combine as a neutral nation interested only in trade and gave the alliance special trading rights in both empires - something which would have determined the rise of the combine’s wealth in the very next years. When Hadric Corser died in AC 505, the country he had left was independent, stable, and confident about its future.
The Ierendi Islands in the 5th century
After the disgregation of the Makai Kingdom of Ierendi in the late 4th century AC, the Ierendi Islands had undergone a time of troubles, during which warfare between Makai tribes increased, further augmented by the spread of lycanthropy at the beginning of the 5th century AC, which brought many werecreature refugees from the Colony Islands to hide in the western archipelago, adding to the chaos reigning in those islands.
During the course of the 5th century AC, werehunters from the Colony Islands foraged through the Ierendi archipelago, searching for surviving lycanthropes, and often coming into conflict with local Makai tribes, which resented intrusion by such outsiders.
At the end of the century, the islands were again fragmented in a number of small tribal kingdoms and hundreds of independent tribes. The rise of anything like the kingdom of Kapena Ikaika appeared decisively unlikely in the near future13. On the other hand, pirates and slavers who had plagued the Ierendi Islands in the past centuries, out of fear of the lycanthropic contagion, decreased their activities in those islands.
The 5th century AC had been a time of great political and economical transformations in the Sea of Dread: it had seen the decline of the old trading combine in the Colony Islands, only to see it restored again and strengthened after some decades of Thyatian control; it also had seen the slow expansion of the Thyatian trade network westward, toward the Serpent Peninsula, virtually unchallenged due to the outright trading weakness of eventual competitors - like the Traladaran states, the Kingdom of Darokin, the Five Shires, or the Sindhi realms - and to the decline of the Colony Islands’ trading combine due to the Silver Purge and its aftereffects.
Even if now that the Colony Islands’ combine had achieved independence and was again becoming a relevant trading competitor for the Thyatian Empire in the east, the 6th century AC saw the continued enlargement of the imperial trading interest to the west, with the gradual establishment of political influence over the Five Shires, the control over the Ierendi archipelago, and the expansion of the westernmost trade routes to the Green Coast of Davania, south-west of Thanegia Island. The Ierendi archipelago was at the center of this Thyatian expansion, whose effects would result at the end of the century in the establishment of the second independent island realm of the Sea of Dread.
The new century opened with great prospects for the Colony Islands’ trading combine. The trading allies, thanks to their neutrality between Thyatis and Alphatia, managed to exploit the trading agreement they had signed with the two imperial powers to legally penetrate again into both empires’ trade networks, expanding their trades to Ochalea and the Pearl Islands, to the Isle of Dawn, to the Alatian Islands, and most of all to the Alphatian mainland itself. Thanks to them, trade goods coming from those faraway places began to be introduced among the higher classes of other countries of the Known World - the Thyatian markets had been the domain of Thyatian merchants, but the latter had seemed unable or unwilling to further import the eastern trade goods in other countries, so that definitely became an area of interest of the combine’s merchants.
The rise of sea trade by the Colony Islands’ trading combine was also due to the intense exchange of discoveries and techniques which was taking place between the combine’s members; this allowed the Colony Islands’ merchants to often be the most up-to-date in the field of navigation, ship design, shipbuilding techniques, sea and weather magic, trading innovations, and so on. Moreover, the ability to merge together the best results of the Alphatian water magics, and of the water elves’ weather and sea magics, allowed them to usually be one step ahead of other countries’ merchants.
The 6th century AC was an age of internal and external peace for the Colony Islands, something which allowed a positive political climate of stability and dedication to the expansion of settlements and trade. Trader’s Isle, which had suffered much in terms of population loss in the past century, gradually recovered from the demographic decline; important guilds and activities continued to be in the hands of elven families, but the economic importance of many human families rebuilt their fortunes around the lands’ agricultural produces and by exploring new areas of trade, such as winemaking, glassblowing, or spice dealing. With the abolition of slavery on the island, many landowners turned to rentiers who leased part of their lands to free farmers, investing the profit in trade; some others, who possessed greater sums, invested them in agriculture, relying on hired labor and introducing some innovative and very productive techniques in this field. Urban life flourished as well; Minrothad, which counted only some thousands of people at the beginning of the century, had risen to become the main and most populous urban center of the archipelago a hundred years after. Some existing towns, like Verdon and Seahome, enlarged, while new ones sprung up - such as Malfton, built in AC 520, which became the main town of Open Isle. In towns and cities, trade and crafts organized themselves around new and old guilds, which became very numerous and came to exert a relevant level of influence on the political stage as well.
Inter-island trade was also swiftly developing in these decades, linking even more the various islands’ economic activities among themselves. Close economic ties thus matured and strengthened between the various racial communities, bringing to a gradual suppression the old enmities and hates - such as that between Alphatians and Minrothians, that between the humans and the elves due to the Silver Purge, and that between the halflings and the humans due to the issue of slavery.
This century of prosperity had two important effects for the future of the Colony Islands. First of all, the growing stronger of economic and trading ties between the various islands gave birth to factions which advocated greater political ties between them as well; this would pave the way for the confederation project carried on by Gregus Verdier in the 7th century AC. Second, ever closer connection between peoples who managed the guilds and the peoples who controlled politics in the islands - often they were the same peoples - led to the birth of a quite attached oligarchic block, which began to concentrate in its hand all the real power - political and economical - within the combine.
[Image: Map of the Ierendi and Colony Islands archipelagos during the 5th and 6th centuries AC]
The Settlement of the Ierendi Islands
While the Minrothaddans and their allies, the elves of Alfeisle and the halflings of Open Isle, were again expanding their trade network in the east thanks to their combine’s neutrality between Alphatia and Thyatis, the Ierendi Islands to the west had returned to be a backward place inhabited by quarreling Makai kingdoms and tribes, with few on interest for outsider eyes apart from the most daring merchants and pirates, who occasionally traded with the natives or raided their villages to capture slaves.
In this troubled age, it was the Hin of the Five Shires who first took interest in the islands. According to the legend, around AC 500 the High Sheriff of the Shires sent adrift a large boat carrying about seventy criminals sentenced to death; the Sheriff took this unusual means of sentencing to death because he unexpectedly discovered that one of the criminals sentenced to death was his own brother - he hoped that this way his relative could have greater chances of survival.
The boat was left in the high seas without food and drink, and many criminals died of starvation or at the hand of their kin. In the third week of drifting in the high seas, a storm carried the boat toward Ierendi Island, where the surviving criminals - 23 individuals (11 humans, 5 elves, 4 halflings, and 3 dwarves), that is less than a third of the original number - landed. In the following years these individuals managed to get along, established a community at the mouth of the Ierendi River, and made friendly contact with the local Makai natives.
Time passed and the former criminals’ settlement became a flourishing town which, some years later, attracted the greedy eyes of the Five Shires again. But an expedition sent by the Hin to take control of the town was decisively defeated by the alliance between the criminals and the natives, and the Shires renounced any claim on Ierendi Island from then on14.
As can be expected, the historical truth is quite far from the Ierendians’ legends about the founding of their island nation. In fact, it was due to the influence and interference of the Five Shires and of the Thyatian Empire that the Ierendian history entered a new phase.
The 6th century AC was an age of renewal, change, and internal conflict for the Thyatian Empire, whose struggle against the rival Alphatian Empire entered a new phase from AC 500, since the beginning of the wars to control the Alasiyan colonies, wars which later transferred to the Isle of Dawn. It was also an age in which Thyatian influence was felt through many countries to the west of the empire, including the Colony Islands (despite the loss of its protectorate over the archipelago, Thyatian influence was still quite strong there), the southern Traladaran domains, and even the Five Shires, where the Thyatians had forced the High Sheriff to come to terms and open trade with imperial merchants after a failed attempt by the Hin to close their towns to outside traders following the issue of Minrothian halfling slave trade15. Thanks to the control the empire exercised over the Five Shires and Ierendi Islands area, Thyatian merchants began to venture abroad, opening trade routes with the Sindhi ports of the Great Waste, with Yavi towns on the coasts of the Serpent Peninsula, and ultimately with the Green Coast in Davania; Thyatian merchantmen sailed inshore and brought back the luxuries of those lands, in particular cocoa, exotic slaves, and local spices16.
The Thyatians were also backing the High Sheriff’s domain over the Five Shires, but his rule was facing strong opposition from various directions, in particular from local Hin merchants whose businesses were declining due to Thyatian trading influence over the country. Smuggling became a sort of national sport of the Hin who tried to bypass trading restrictions imposed by the government. The High Sheriff responded to these violations with an increasing level of repression, backed by the Thyatians. In order to avoid an escalation of discontent from his subjects, transgressors were exiled to the Ierendi Islands.
Thus, from AC 550 to AC 570 an increasing number of condemned halflings was exiled to the islands of Elegy, Fletcher, Alcove, and Safari. Sometimes the exiles were enslaved or killed by the Makai, but most often they were welcomed and developed friendly relations with the natives. As the number of condemned halflings increased, it was not long before small Hin settlements began to grow here and there on the coasts. With the passing of years, these exiles - using the Makai canoes - even began to trade with the Five Shires, violating trade restrictions, and to harass Thyatian merchantmen crossing nearby waters.
The High Sheriff, urged at by the Thyatian Empire, tried to establish control over these settlements, sending small detachments of troops and governors to exercise authority over the cast-offs; most of these settlements complied and were subdued, but one on Fletcher Island resisted. The High Sheriff mounted an expedition against this exiles’ settlement in AC 568, but the attack was repelled by the cast-offs, helped by native Makai tribesmen; a couple of other villages rebelled against the occupying Hin forces, one even killing the governor sent by the Shires17.
The victory of the cast-offs spurred Thyatis to direct action: if the High Sheriff was unable to subdue the cast-offs, then they could have endangered the Thyatian trade routes which led to the Serpent Peninsula and to Davania. When a new settlement was established on the mouth of the Ierendi River by a large number of cast-offs coming from the other islands in AC 570 - an event which marked the historical foundation of Ierendi town - the Thyatians decided it was time to act, even if in a subtle way.
In those years the empire itself was experiencing an increase in the number of prisoners, in particular due to the religious and social unrest still raging within its borders. In AC 571, the empire decided to lessen tensions in mainland jails by founding colonies of convicts on the Ierendi Islands, thus using the condemned individuals to exert control over the Ierendi archipelago. Unlike what the High Sheriff had done, the Thyatian program for the Ierendi Islands was carried out rigorously and rationally: convicts were divided in small controllable groups, accompanied by small garrisons, and put under the supervision of imperial officers. The prisoners had to build infrastructures - a manor house or mansion, generally, and homes for themselves - and to plow the land, planting, farming, and working in the plantations which were contemporaneously established. Plots of land were then sold to interested landowners, investors, and rich people in Thyatis18.
These “penal colonies” were established at first on the five islands where the cast-offs from the Shires had settled. Thyatis asked the High Sheriff beforehand to subdue the openly rebellious settlements, lending him the help he needed to ensure success. Within AC 571, all unrest by the Hin cast-offs was quelled; the empire established its own colonies on the islands, in order to watch closely the former cast-off settlements, whose possession was left to the Five Shires.
The next years saw a few interesting developments which would prove instrumental for the future of the archipelago. The Five Shires government never imposed strict control over the settlements inhabited by the halfling cast-offs; the High Sheriff was content to send an officer or two there with some troops, but tried not to further raise tensions with the cast-offs and his own subjects, rather handling political prisoners to the Thyatians than sending them among the cast-offs.
At the same time, the government of Shireton - with the Thyatians complying - decided to lessen restrictions over trade in order to decrease internal opposition to the High Sheriff’s rule and to his alliance with Thyatis, carried out by the anti-centralist and liberal faction of the Shires’ middle classes. This fact also led to the gradual rise of the Hin sea trade, which for the moment was active within the boundaries dictated by the High Sheriff’s rule.
The rise of the Hin sea trade was also due to development of an unusually intense shipbuilding activity in the cast-off settlements of the Ierendi Islands. The inhabitants used the plentiful local timber resources to build small, sturdy, round ships which mixed the Hin shipbuilding techniques with the Makai’s canoeing and traditional ship design. At first these boats were built and sold on individual basis to single merchants, but within a few years the government of the Shires built shipbuilding facilities in the most important of the cast-off settlements, and since AC 575 these were used as naval bases year-round, becoming in a short time the main shipbuilding sites of the Five Shires19. The High Sheriff’s government was not interested in creating a competitive navy for the Shires and preferred to sell the ships to selected Hin merchants in order to bring more money in his coffers. Thus, in the turn of a few years, the halflings’ “wallowing turtles” - as human sailors called the small ships of the Hin - became a common sight in the Ierendi waters and along the Shire Coast.
Worse for the Thyatians, the loosening of trade restrictions and the rise of the halflings’ shipbuilding craft were reinforcing the faction which, inside the Shires, opposed the High Sheriff’s rule. After AC 580, the High Sheriff experienced growing unrest at home by the opposers of his pro-Thyatian and centralist policy, mostly made up of middle-class merchants and craftsmen tired of trade restrictions imposed by the agreements with Thyatis. At the same time the halfling merchants began trading in defiance of restrictions and of agreements between the High Sheriff and Thyatis, often resorting to smuggling and even piracy. With the High Sheriff’s government unable to track these trespassers down, the Thyatians had to step in often, capturing and sentencing the criminals. This did not do anything but raise the anti-Thyatian feeling of many Hin. In the following years, the former cast-off settlements (and the wilderness around them) in the Ierendi Islands became the gathering places for underground opposers to the High Sheriff’s rule over the Shires, but also shelters safe enough for smugglers, pirates, and political refugees.
At the same time, Thyatian interest in the Ierendi Islands was spurred as well, well beyond the need to keep control over trade routes to the Serpent Peninsula and Davania. In the same years in which the halfling sea trade began to flourish and the former cast-off settlements on the islands were becoming hotbeds of opposition to the High Sheriff’s rule, the Thyatians discovered deposits of precious metals (gold and platinum) in the archipelago, as well as plentiful underwater sources of gemstones. Accordingly, many more upper class speculators from Thyatis showed interest in buying properties - lands and mines - on the islands, but their arrival in many cases escalated the conflict with the native Makai people, who resisted what they began to see as a full-fledged invasion of their ancestral lands. In the next few years, powerful individuals with interests in the islands obtained from the Thyatian government further involvement of the imperial military machine and administration in the management, control, and conquest of the islands.
This was further eased by the coup staged by the stepson of the current Thyatian emperor, who killed his predecessor. The new emperor managed to obtain the support of the Senate through bribes, and enacted a campaign of terror to suppress all political opposers to his rule; many of those condemned persons were sent to the Ierendi Islands as convicts. Thus, in the following years, the islands saw an influx of people from Thyatis, but differently from the past these were not only common criminals, but began to include people of higher social status - senators, noblemen, wealthy merchants - who had fallen on the wrong side of the struggle over the imperial throne. As we will see, their presence will have decisive consequences for the future of the archipelago.
Again, the tense situation in the Shires had repercussions on the Ierendi archipelago. In AC 585, growing discontent of the middle class of many towns against the rule of the High Sheriff, which in the last years had become more corrupt and authoritarian than ever, sparked an armed uprising in the streets of Shireton, which forced the High Sheriff to leave the town; within few days, the Shires were locked in a bitter civil war which saw the few supporters of the High Sheriff - mostly noble clan leaders and landowners - fighting the rebels, who had roots in the merchant classes and were strong in the coastal towns and in the former cast-off colonies established in the Ierendi archipelago.
The uprising could not happen at a worse time for Thyatis: the strength of the imperial fleet had declined in the last years due to internal troubles in the empire, giving way to the penetration of Northman and Alphatian raiders in the Western Sea of Dawn; also, war against the Alphatian Empire broke out in the Alasiyan colonies to the north, as well as on the Isle of Dawn to the east, locking Thyatian forces on many fronts at the same time.
The Thyatians knew the High Sheriff was doomed unless the empire stepped in to aid him consistently, but now it was impossible to send a military expedition to the Shires. Nevertheless, Thyatis could not afford to risk losing control over the Ierendi Islands due to the hostile presence of a differently-oriented Hin realm to the north. Moreover, the Thyatian government had already begun to commission ships - which were sold to the empire at very favourable prices - to the Shires’ shipbuilding facilities in the Ierendi Islands, and intended to increase those commissions in order to cope with losses in the war against Alphatia; now the prospect of losing this shipbuilding resource due to the fall of the High Sheriff was alarming for the Thyatian performance in the ongoing war.
Thus, the Thyatian emperor decided to rely on the treachery his people was famous for. Thyatian emissaries secretly contacted the rebel Hin leaders, signing an agreement with them: Thyatis agreed not to help the High Sheriff in his struggle to hold his sway over the Shires - thus allowing the rebels to move forces from the islands to the mainland - while the rebels agreed to keep out of the trade routes toward the Serpent Peninsula and Davania; both parties agreed to recognize the current division of the Ierendi lands between Thyatis and the Shires, but no agreement was reached over the continuation of Thyatian ship commissions to the shipbuilding facilities in the islands.
But that did not matter, as for the Thyatians the agreement was only a decoy. In AC 586, as most of the rebel forces left the island colonies to help defeat the High Sheriff in the mainland, three Thyatian naval expeditions quickly and suddenly attacked by surprise the few halfling defenders left in the islands and defeated them in the three battles known as the Battle of Ierendi, the War of Fletcher, and the Battle of the Trap, taking control of the halflings’ shipbuilding facilities and towns on the islands20. The empire proclaimed the whole ten islands of the Ierendi archipelago a province of Thyatis, sending more troops and a governor to consolidate control over them. Construction of ships to replenish the imperial fleet was immediately started in the former Hin shipbuilding facilities on the islands.
The Hin rebels were shocked by the Thyatian surprise attack, but despite protesting against the Thyatian emissaries they were too engaged in their civil war to try to react directly. In the islands, however, some halfling clans - such as the Caulker and the Longkeel clans21 - managed to flee in the interior swamps, beginning from there a small-scale guerrilla war against the Thyatian occupants. Neither did Thyatian treachery go unopposed on the sea, where many halfling sea merchants went pirate and began harassing Thyatian trade routes and isolated ships crossing this sea region. Anyway, getting a little aid from the Kingdom of Darokin, the rebels were able to defeat the High Sheriff later in AC 586; a federal and decentralized government was established, and the new Shires took position against Thyatis in international relations (even if this opposition did not take official forms, besides piracy against Thyatian shipping which was nevertheless denied by the Shires’ new government).
The Thyatian domain over the Ierendi Islands turned out to be harsher than even the local convicts thought it to be. The influx of prisoners and convicts from Thyatis continued, as the throne carried on its campaign to suppress any opposition at home. Political prisoners and many more common criminals ended up in the Ierendi convict settlements, where their labor was put to use by local plantation- and mine-owners; many also ended up working in the shipbuilding facilities seized from the halflings, where - under the overseeing of Thyatian shipwrights - they built ships for the Thyatian imperial navy.
The living conditions of the convicts became harder as, in the course of the years, the Thyatian crown resolved to extract as many resources as possible from the archipelago. Thyatian penetration in the interior, which aimed at seizing the most profitable mining sites and at deforesting areas to convert them to farming lands. This indiscriminate invasion of the Makai native lands spurred conflicts between the Thyatian military and some local tribes in the islands of Safari, Utter, and Alcove - resistance of the Makai to the Thyatian domain was futile and quickly crushed, but rebellious tribes had to be tracked down in the wilderness and in impervious territory, so these “wars” became long series of skirmishes which did nothing but exasperate the conflict, forcing the empire to send more troops and its administrators in the islands to adopt harsher methods to put down unrest and discontent.
An especially vicious guerrilla war was fought intermittently over the course of those years in the interior lands of Ierendi Island, where some Makai tribes had been joined by halfling freedom fighters from clans who had escaped the former cast-off colonies in order to avoid submitting to Thyatian rule, such as the Caulker and Longkeel clans. This contributed to make the interior of the island insecure and forced caravans carrying loads of precious metals, plantation products, and timber to travel under heavy military escort.
As if this was not enough, the emperor of that time, a corrupt and unprincipled man, began cutting corners on the funding destined to the Ierendian colonies and garrisons, diverting them into the hands of his cronies and relatives. As a result, the situation in the Ierendi province grew gradually worse.
In the course of the thirteen years of Thyatian dominion, the imperial garrisons in the archipelago became unusually brutal and callous in their treatment of the native and convict populations. The corruption of the imperial bureaucracy concurred to the picture of an oppressive and ruthless rule under which, in the subjects’ eyes, no decent life was ever possible.
Anyway, the Thyatian owners of plantations and mines in the islands - most of which did not live there and were thus not exposed to the dangers of wilderness guerrilla and native hostility - were happy to receive high profits from their products, and had only to ask the throne for additional troops and funds to quell occasional disorders and unrest. The throne was satisfied as well, as it received a share from every profit made on goods extracted or produced in the archipelago, and was even able to further enrich itself by diverting in its pockets part of the money destined to the shipbuilding program which was taking place in the Ierendi yards.
Thyatians who had invested in trading enterprises toward the Serpent Peninsula and Davania, however, began to worry about the preservation of those trade routes, because they saw the Ierendian situation as increasingly unstable. Piracy against Thyatian shipping - carried on mostly by the Hin of the Five Shires, and occasionally also by the Minrothaddans - was on the rise, and the imperial navy was not always able to protect Thyatian merchant shipping and to track down the pirates. But the throne and the Senate, despite warnings by some of the wiser Thyatian politicians, were induced by bribes to carry on the interests of powerful potentates, such as that represented by slave traders. Thus, instead of spending funds to fight piracy and improve Thyatian control of western trade routes, the empire mounted an ill fated military expedition - led by General Bronicus Galbanus - against the Atruaghin peoples of the Children of the Turtle and of the Tiger (AC 595-598), which led to the capture of many slaves brought to the Thyatian markets, but which was ultimately repelled and did not bring any lasting territorial gain to the empire22.
Situation in the archipelago grew tenser toward the end of the 7th century AC. The failure of the Thyatian expedition against the Atruaghin Clans, rising in pirate activity in the Ierendi waters, mismanagement, corruption, and brutality by imperial bureaucracy and military in the Ierendi Islands, growing unrest in Makai and convict population in the ten islands - all these elements were taken into account by those who opposed the Thyatian rule - halfling guerrilla leaders and escaped prisoners, Makai tribal chiefs, pirate captains, and not a few Thyatian political prisoners and former senators or noblemen; slowly their interest in ousting the Thyatian presence from the archipelago intertwined together and they started to plan a coordinated uprising against the imperial rule.
The old enemy of Thyatis, the Alphatian Empire, did not fail to notice the troubles which the rival was experiencing in the west, either. Thus, another war between the two empires started in AC 598; the first skirmishes took place in Alasiya and on the Isle of Dawn, but escalated into a full war in AC 600, when the Thyatian navy was severely defeated by the Alphatian fleet, which had enlisted the aid of Ostlander longships, at the northern end of the Western Sea of Dawn. This defeat opened the Thyatian mainland to sea raids by the Alphatian and Ostlander warships, and threatened supply lines to the troops on the Isle of Dawn23.
The Thyatian defeat was the signal the resistance movement in Ierendi was waiting for to spark the rebellion. As news of the naval disaster reached the archipelago, guerrilla warriors led by the Caulker and Longkeel halfling clans and aided by Makai warriors launched an attack against one of the most crowded prison camps of Ierendi Island, inside which a prisoner uprising broke out at the same time. The uprising inside the camp was planned and led by a clever and brutal former Hattian pirate called Mad Creeg24, who had earned a certain degree of popularity among the prisoners due to his daring piratical actions before his capture, and to a daring, albeit failed, attempt at evasion. The coordinated attack and uprising was successful and, as a result, a small army of former prisoners, halfling guerrilla warriors, and Makai fighters gathered around Mad Creeg. In the next two weeks, uprising broke out in other places on the islands as well.
The archipelago’s situation and Thyatis’ problems were not a secret for Creeg. During his years as a prisoner in the Ierendi Islands, he had been transferred various times from one area to another, and during his stays in this or that area he had made contacts with charismatic or influential characters among the prisoners, and with corrupt garrison and administration officers. He knew that the empire’s first interest was the defense against Alphatia, and also knew the vulnerability of the local imperial bureaucracy to bribes.
After the initial uprising, Creeg managed to get money from interested parties in the Five Shires, Minrothad, and Darokin to further his attempt to free the islands from the Thyatian control. The former pirate used the money to bribe garrison commanders and officers into inaction, desertion, or leaving the islands, and the imperial bureaucrats into slowing and thwarting the reaction of the empire to the uprising. As the rebellion widened, charismatic prisoners who Creeg had become friends with during the past years decided to fight under his banner. Pirates hiding in the nearby waters flocked under his command, assaulting Thyatian ships or raiding plantations, mines, and camps in order to free other prisoners. Many Makai tribes, who had been subject to Thyatian oppression or who had seen nearby tribes dispossessed of lands and resources, were convinced that Creeg was a better choice than the Thyatians and threw their lot in with him.
All this, coupled with the Thyatian government’s choice to give precedence to the war against Alphatia rather than to the quelling of the Ierendi rebellion, made possible a swift success of Mad Creeg’s ragtag supporters. In a few months he had seized control the Ierendi Island, where the main imperial assets were located; within a year, his tactical mind and Thyatian inability to get the upper hand against Alphatia in the east allowed his forces to take one island after another. In AC 601, the rebellion led by Mad Creed had completely overturned the Thyatian provincial government, and the few imperial troops - left without aid from the mainland - had been at last recalled to Thyatis. This rapid success was also possible due to the fact that some of the prisoners who chose to help him were former Thyatian army officers or noblemen or functionaries, and had had experience in army, fleet, and administration management; one of these, for example, was Tiberius Alexander, a former senator who helped put together a fleet for Creeg25.
Creeg established his residence in Ierendi town. At the beginning of AC 602, he gathered there the various leaders who had supported his rebellion - prisoner leaders, halfling clanheads, Makai tribal chiefs, pirate captains, officers who had deserted from the Thyatian army, Thyatian bureaucrats who had been promised an appointment in the new government - in order to communicate to them his idea to make the archipelago a kingdom united under one monarch with strong authority in order to better resist future attempts by Thyatis to retake the islands. The flock of his supporters, without surprise from him, enthusiastically agreed and proclaimed him as the first King of Ierendi. Thus, the Kingdom of Ierendi, claiming all the ten islands - some of which were still uninhabited (White and Honor islands) - was born.
Thyatis was not any nearer to seeing the end of its conflict against Alphatia, and had no resources to spare for an attempt to retake the archipelago. In order to avoid exposing the empire’s western side to attacks by Mad Creeg’s pirate fleet, the Thyatian government chose to sign a ten-year truce with the newly-proclaimed King of Ierendi in AC 602, temporarily recognizing his possession of the archipelago but not his royal title in exchange for abstention on Creeg’s part to launch pirate attacks against Thyatis. This truce would have actually been renewed for many years until AC 643.
King Creeg effectively complied with the truce, forbidding his pirates any raid against Thyatian territory or any attack on Thyatian ships in Thyatian waters. But this excluded, from his point of view, attacks on Thyatian ships in Ierendian and nearby waters. Thus the result of the truce for Thyatis was the sudden severing of the empire’s trade routes toward the Serpent Peninsula and Davania, which passed through Ierendian and Hin waters made now impassable due to piratical activity. In order to preserve access to the Green Coast’s markets, the empire had to find another sea route, which this time went from Ochalea to the Serpent Peninsula through the Davanian Shallows - a route which would have revealed itself filled with unforeseen dangers in the future.
1 As known, lycanthropy is deadly to demihumans.
2 This is the origin of the curse told in PC4 Night Howlers; however, as it can be guessed by other canon references (like the background of Orcus in Wrath of the Immortals), lycathropy did already exist in the past, so the one originating in Alphatia around AC 400 has to be considered only one of the sources of this plague.
3 For further details about this conflict, see [http://pandius.com/A_Karameikan_Companion.pdf, A Karameikos Companion (by G. Agosta)], [http://pandius.com/darorule.html, Rulers of Darokin (by A. Nowack)], and The History of Karameikos, in “Threshold” issue no. 1.
4 Among lycanthropes, this event is known as the Great Persecution (see PC4 Night Howlers, DM’s Guide, page 4).
5 In particular, it may be worth noting that Ruaidhri continued his extermination of werehawks up to total accomplishment, in AC 582, when the elf slaughtered the last recorded members of this strain in a “tiny island of the Sea of Dread” (PC4 Night Holwers, DM’s Guide, page 4). The haven of the last werehawks might have been one of the myriad lesser islands not featured on 8-miles per hex poster maps of Minrothad and Ierendi, or one of the lesser, more distant atolls and keys of the Sea of Dread (see The Minor Islands of the Sea of Dread, in “Threshold” issue no. 3).
6 This passage of Terentias under Thyatian control was borrowed from [http://pandius.com/thy_hist.html#middcent, History of the Thyatian People (by J. Ruhland)]; I tried to make it fit within the context of the Silver Purge, also adding the extension of Thyatian control over North Island.
7 See PC3 The Sea People, The Sea People Book, page 42.
8 Thyatian expansion in the western Sea of Dread and in Davania draws on this passage found in Champions of Mystara boxed set, Explorer’s Manual, page 53: “The stretch of Davania’s coast closest to Yavdlom is inhabited by scattered city-states, the remnants of Thyatian and other nations’ colonies that have since lost ties with their mother countries”. A similar statement is found in the second and third volumes of the Poor Wizard’s Almanac (in the “Davania” entry). The fate of the Thyatian expansion in the western Sea of Dread and in the Green Coast of Davania will be hinted at in the subsequent paragraph and chapters of this article.
9 The Thyatian protectorate over Trader’s Isle has been included mostly to explain a number of sea battles featured on the 8-miles per hex poster map of the Sunlit Sea in PC3 The Sea People, taking place in AC 500 around the Colony Islands; Thyatian interest seemed to me the best way to explain a conflict in the archipelago. The battles and the events which will lead to them are detailed further on.
10 Again, see [http://pandius.com/A_Karameikan_Companion.pdf, A Karameikan Companion (by G. Agosta)] and The History of Karameikos in “Threshold” issue no. 1 for additional info about this character and his deeds.
11 This first (actually second, if Alinor’s one has to be considered) Alphatian colonization attempt in Norwold is detailed in the novel Dragonking of Mystara, by T. Gunnarsson, second book of the Dragonlord Trilogy. I assume that the events of the novel take place around AC 510. For an attempt to reconcile the info found within the novel with the Alphatian colonization of Norwold mentioned in CM3 The Sabre River and try them fit in the general history of Norwold, see [http://pandius.com/nrwldtml.html, Timeline of Norwold (by myself, with contribution of other Italian MMB members)]. Note that the latter file is somewhat out-to-date regarding many details, and will likely get a revision in one of the next issues of “Threshold”.
12 The Clash of the Princes, the Battle of Minrothad, and the Battle of the Storm are the three sea battles featured in the 8-miles per hex of the Sunlit Sea included in PC3 The Sea People and mentioned under note 8, above.
13 About Kapena Ikaika’s kingdom, see The History of Ierendi and Minrothad, Part One, in “Threshold” issue no. 3.
14 This is the legend of Ierendi’s foundation as told in GAZ4, pages 3-4.
15 According to GAZ4, page 4, the Five Shires were “at this time under political influence of Thyatis”. I tied this statement with the mention of a “High Sheriff” ruling the Shires in the 6th century AC, found in GAZ4, page 3. This story assumes that after the Hin had suffered from slaver raids in the preceding century, they decided to close their borders to sea trade, but the government of the Shires - led by a “High Sheriff” in this age - had to come to terms when the Thyatian Empire forced him to reopen trade with imperial merchants (think of the trade relationship between the US and Japan or between the United Kingdom and China in the 19th century).
16 See note 8, above.
17 I have tried to include some elements of Ierendi’s foundation legend included here; in my opinion the legend is in fact too recent (four centuries) to be totally fictitious.
18 This is akin to what happened in Australia and elsewhere in the real world. This version expands and modifies the reasons behind Thyatian colonization of the Ierendi Islands found in [http://pandius.com/thy_hist.html, History of the Thyatian People (by J. Ruhland)].
19 See GAZ8, Dungeon Master’s Booklet, page 8. Apart from some sparse details in the timeline, GAZ8 is lacking any relevant historical information about the Shires after BC 500; I think there is room to expand the Shires’ history - a country not subject to any change for a thousand and a half years is not very believable - as I have tried to do with the story of the High Sheriff mentioned in this part of the article.
20 These three battles are featured on the 8-miles per hex map of the Sunlit Sea included in PC3 The Sea People, where they are also marked as “underwater battles”. In fact, the triton Kingdom of Undersea - which at that time also controlled most of the underwater lands stretching around the Ierendi Islands - was worrying about the recklessness of the Ierendian halfling, who had already made some forays into the local merrows’ sacred underwater sites in order to get precious pearls and other resources from the bottom of the sea. Foreshadowing a worsening of this behavior should the halflings improve their presence in the Ierendi Islands, the tritons struck a deal with the Thyatian Empire, agreeing to send some triton warriors to help Thyatis seize the halfling settlements in the Ierendi Islands in exchange for the pledge to avoid trespassing into the merrows’ sacred places. Thus, the three battles saw also the involvement of small contingents of triton warriors on the Thyatian side.
21 About these clans, see G. Agosta’s Ierendian Government and Aristocracy, in “Threshold” issue no. 3.
24 The Hattian origin of Mad Creeg was devised in G. Agosta’s Ierendian Government and Aristocracy, in “Threshold” issue no.3. For a different take about the pirate leader’s background, see (http://pandius.com/dthyatis.html, The Dynasties of Thyatis (by J. Mishler)].
25 The character of Tiberius Alexander was created by G. Agosta (see Ierendian Government and Aristocracy, in “Threshold” issue no. 3, pages 45-46).