This is a short background piece to an upcoming e-book of mine, The Young Hounds. It details a pivotal moment in the setting’s history: the Battle of Manghurta. In this battle, the last vitality of a great empire is finally lost. Also enjoy a little preview of the book’s cover image by K Thor Jensen!
The ruin of a great empire was sown on the field of Manghurta, it is said.
The tragedy of Manghurta began many years before its consummation. It began in The City, with the Senate and with the emperor Lysistos Theros.
When Lysistos Theros was elected consul of the calendar and began his imperium, the legions divided the realm.
Before his time, the borders of the empire were expanded by the conquest of many provinces west of the Gylos. The cost of keeping the legions had vastly multiplied.
Yet those esteemed Senators who had gained so much in western wars now refused every plea and every command to deliver what the emperor was due.
Vexed, the emperor took what he could from his people.
Year by year he gained less and the people cried out louder. His demands to the Senate increased but their ears remained just as closed.
On the western frontier, the legions withered and faltered. Barbarian Paers and Kydians drove past border forts and raided the villages freshly civilized.
Young, strong people who may have become soldiers instead sought other paths to worth and glory.
Year by year, the strength of the empire waned.
Lysistos Theros did not wish it so.
To defeat those esteemed Senators, Lysistos Theros wished to call upon the great mass of centurions who held sway over the legions. Yet they distrusted him.
The lines of Tullios, of Edax, of Feles, and of Arene before his had come from the legates, noble commanders of the legions.
Ethame Theros, ancestor of Lysistos Theros, was the first emperor to be elected by the Senate without acclaim by the legions.
For fifty years, the Senate had stood with the Theros emperors in all things and ensured their power.
Even as their rivals had abandoned the emperor, the army was not quick to give succor to the family which had robbed them.
It was rumored that the commanders may even support a rival claim, a truer claim than that of the Therodes.
Lysistos Theros, doomed emperor, devised a stratagem to gain advantage over the Senate and to bring the army to his side.
In one stroke he would prove that he alone ruled and decided power in the empire of Arma.
By his own powers as guardian of the provinces, the emperor forced the war consul Cordates to relinquish his seat.
By his powers as chief of the Imperial Cult, he forced the priest consul Iskarene to do the same.
Already sitting as consul of the calendar, the emperor arranged that he also be elected consuls of war and religion. He then dissolved the great colleges which controlled and directed The City, replacing them with temporary magistrates of his own choosing.
Without access to the colleges, the Senate became a gathering of yapping dogs. If they wished any care to be given them, they would have to plead with their master. This gambit would, Lysistos was sure, bring the Senate to heel.
Yet if the emperor did not succeed in the east, this grand scheme would fall to dust.
Loyalty from the legions was the key for Lysistos to regain control over the Senate. To win this loyalty, he would give the legions what they had been denied for generations: honor and victory.
For the Armadan legions, there was little glory to be found in the west fighting against barbarian raiders. The great rivalry was to the east, against the successors to the Kusurian Empire of ancient wars.
There the Peacock Crown of the Kusurians sat upon the head of a lord resurgent: Umeqran, sultan of the Malgari.
It was known that even the Sortogans, long allies of Arma on their eastern border, now entertained emissaries from the Malgari court.
Lysistos Theros, accursed master, sought to gain the respect of his legions by doing what no emperor in one hundred years had done. He would take a city of the Malgari’s and raze it to the ground. In the process, he would cow the Sortogans and bring them back to the obedience of the emperors.
To do this, Lysistos Theros drew up three legions from the realm itself. He then drew three more from the eastern provinces. Each was centered by stout veterans of many campaigns.
Sixty leading Senators were also compelled to join Lysistos on this unfortunate campaign. Divided, the Senate in Arma had little hope of overturning the emperor’s appointments.
Aspirations of glory by those Senators so compelled were also quickly crushed. Though the Senators sat on a so-called council of war, Lysistos Theros conferred only with his legates and so shut them out entirely.
All glory, and all shame, would belong to Lysistos Theros alone.
In total, Lysistos Theros had summoned some 13 thousand soldiers. The provinces supplied archers and riders, but the vast majority of his warriors were mightily armored legionnaires wielding spears, darts, and swords.
Despite the deaths in both east and west, the faith of the Armadan people remained strong in the legions and their gleaming eagles.
It was in the ninth year of Lysistos Theros’s imperium that he and his legions and the captive Senators processed in great splendor from The City.
Often in later years would Lysistos dream of it but never would he see The City again.
Three weeks they traveled and by the time they came to the lands of Sortoga, the army of Lysistos was at its full strength.
Lysistos Theros ordered his army to march to the Sortogan capital Gaste. Outside the high walls of that ancient city, Lysistos demanded an audience with the one who called themselves anax and master of the Sortogans. The one who presented herself was called Shuwar, descended of Elabaasha.
For nearly two centuries, the anakes of Sortoga had looked to the emperors for confirmation of their position.
The first anax so elevated was called Elabaasha, a great friend of Arma. Elabaasha’s elder brother Hadadezer had claimed the title himself but was compelled to give in to the greater power of Arma.
Through shrewdness, the descendants of Elabaasha had kept the dignity of anax to themselves over the years. The rivalry between the two houses, Elabaasha and Hadadezer, had never ended.
Yet the appearance of a scion of Elabaasha surprised the emperor. It was well known that the family of Hadadezer had allied with the Malgari and gained the realm. This reversal puzzled all.
At length, it was told to the Armadans that the Hadadezerites had fled the capital as the legions arrived. They were even now tight in their fortresses and watching the main roads.
Shuwar, anax of Sortoga, pleaded with the emperor to stay and drive out the Hadadezerites. Lysistos Theros, that wretched ruler, refused.
Lysistos said to Shuwar that his victory over the Malgari would frighten the Hadadezerites and allow her to defeat them. Making no further excuses or delays, Lysistos Theros gathered his legions and began the march into Malgari lands.
It was imperative that Lysistos bring his legions back to The City before winter. If he did not, he would be trapped east of his realm, some strong hand would rise up in Arma, and this design of his would collapse. He felt he must strike into Malgaria and score a victory soon.
For seven days the legions trudged through Sortoga. The Hadadezerites harried the legions like a plague. Day and night the legions were set upon by riding archers, slingers, and even traps laid by hunters.
The legates demanded that they give battle to the Hadadezerites. Lysistos Theros, that foolish warrior, rejected their pleas.
By the time they reached the borders of Sortoga, one in every ten men had died. There was little time for burials.
Lysistos Theros, twice-damned monarch, twice-damned captain, saw the city called Manghurta as his prize. He planned to take it by siege and assault, drive out its people and burn it to the ground.
Seven days and then three more he marched through the arid land of the Rutah. Ever he watched behind him for the Hadadezerites.
The legions in full panoply came upon the city called Manghurta and began to build their engines. The people of Manghurta retreated behind their stone walls, fearful of the Armadan assault.
Not two days had passed before another army appeared on the horizon. These were Malgari warriors: footsoldiers with fearsome spears, riders on fleet-footed horse, knights encased in gleaming mail. They obeyed the word of Beselot, emir of Goulef, who rode among them in her own starry armor.
Lysistos Theros conferred with his legates. They told him that he had no option but to drive back the Malgari here.
At the emperor’s word, the legions drew themselves into battle array. They had their backs to Manghurta. The legions were therefore anxious, knowing that the people therein might sally out at any time and attack their rear.
Only the fact that the engineers continued their building kept Manghurta’s defenders from assailing the legions in the field.
The archers of Beselot Emir loosed volleys into the air which were received by the shields of the legions. Though these stout shields were effective, the arrows eventually began to bite and the ranks of the legions weakened.
The horse troops of the emir ranged out from the main body to either flank. Lysistos Theros, ill-fated commander, ordered his own lines to lengthen and confound the circling Malgari. Instead, the Malgari knights charged upon the stretched Armadan line and smashed it deeply.
Again and again the Malgari charged, and in places the legions broke. Quickly they reformed, but the Malgari returned to charge them again.
Lysistos Theros despaired. His legates took control of the situation and set into work an audacious strategy.
The best men of each unit were drawn out of the battle and moved to a central point. Having compiled this great fist of legionnaires, despite the keen eyes of the Malgari, the legates proposed to push straight forward and drive back the Malgari center.
The sky was red and darkening when this strong block was finally formed. Now the signal was given for the push.
Arrows failed against this well-armored regiment and the knights hesitated to charge its bristling spears. The Malgari center tensed in anticipation of the impact.
The two masses of infantry collided. Instantly the victory went to the legions. The Malgari infantry dissolved and the legates’ fist marched unscathed.
Without warning, this block of soldiery was engulfed by the sparkling knights who descended as one upon the rear of the charging legionnaires.
Flanked from all sides, the legates’ fist had no advantage and no escape.
A wall of arrows pinned the rest of the Armadan line in place until the brave marchers were utterly consumed.
The knights, in the red of the sun and of their enemies, turned back to face the legions again.
The legions breathed fear. The Malgari, ahorse and on foot, stormed in to make the final slaughter. They were terrible in victory.
Maybe ten hundred Armadans survived that day. Six legions had been annihilated. Those that fled alive did so heedless of direction.
Lysistos Theros, luckless consul, gave himself up to a mere peasant-soldier of the Malgari.
He and the Senators he had brought, his council of war, were delivered to the citadel of Manghurta that night. There Beselot Emir passed judgment over a divine emperor of Arma.
The Senators, as eternal enemies of the Malgari, were done to death by the sword.
The emperor would be kept alive as a symbol of his inferiority. His fate would be the full knowledge that his power had been an illusion and that his defeat was total.
Among the legionnaires captured and enslaved by the Malgari were several engineers. These were given the task of constructing a great house to serve in Armadan style as the emperor’s prison.
On the doors of this house were inscribed the names of the Senators killed in his stead. The golden eagles of the six legions were decapitated and turned into lamps that were hung around the house. Painted carvings in the walls depicted the emperor prostrating himself before the Malgari sultan, before Beselot Emir, and before Malgari divinities.
When the Armadan builders had finished their work, they too were executed. Their bodies were buried in front of the house in shallow and protruding graves.
Here the emperor Lysistos Theros lived his last days, mind and body oppressed by his many great defeats.
The Hadadezerites marched into Gaste, capital of Sortoga, and slaughtered Shuwar and the Elabaashites. This came to pass after Manghurta.
Three people would claim the imperial dignities, each scouring the empire entire, before Konander Palles made his rule right in the eyes of the gods. This came to pass after Manghurta.
Beselot Emir died by poison. Her death was decreed by the sultan Umeqran, fearful of her power. Her family was disinherited and her people scattered. This came to pass after Manghurta.
In the house of his humiliation, ten years after his great defeat at Manghurta, Lysistos Theros crossed over into death.
Greatness fled Arma to the east, never to return. The empire which had stood four hundred years never again saw any famous height. Slowly it crumbled, slowly it failed. This too came to pass.