Fall-Winter 803 AT – Walls
The violence and chaos of the recent conflicts gave way to a relative period of calm, a pause during which The Knightly Order of Westhold, The Knightly Order of Northhold, and the Riverwell Compact took the opportunity to consolidate their positions. Some saw this, even if grudgingly, as a trend that would finally lead back to relative peace and stability on the Airle.
In reality, the ‘war’ had simply shifted from the field of battle to other, more subtle modes of conflict.
This was first seen in early Freztiden 803 AT. Selected divisions from the Verveine and Azure Order were assigned tours of duty on the Line forts of Easthold under Sanguine commanders. This served an important diplomatic function, a demonstration of the Orders’ commitment to defend the Felusian Airle against the Horde threat despite their differences.
Things had changed significantly in the last few years, straining the functioning of the centuries old institution. The number of factions contributing forces had increased by two; the newly christened and controversial Argent Order, and extra created with the split of Verveine Knights into loyal and rebel factions. This led to the formation of two rival camps on the Line, with the neutral host Sanguine Knights caught in the middle. Tensions between the Orders had risen to a point not seen since the Settlement Wars, and it was only a matter of time before Easthold’s efforts to keep the peace would prove insufficient.
On Freztiden 22, a bar fight at Darrin’s Fort escalated into an armed skirmish during which twenty six soldiers were killed, and a significant section of town was burnt to the ground. Other lesser incidents would occur in increasing frequency along the line. In response, Easthold instituted a policy of assigning each line fort to specific factions rather than to meet actual tactical requirements. The viability of the Line was further put in jeopardy, when Grand Master Partaegas decided to reduce Westhold’s troop contribution in order to protect his soldiers “from the senseless violence perpetrated against them by their own brothers.”
The ‘Troubles on the Line’ were the best known, but not the only incidents in the undeclared conflict. Rebel forces in Maartenz, rumored to be supported by Helmmshold, launched three raids against Westhold forces stationed in the Duchy. Two weeks after burning an entire supply caravan to the ground in the south, rebel forces launched a two pronged attack; a feint and patrol ambush against a major encampment in the northwest provided cover for a daring raid on Fort Jovaz, where Maartenz forces opposed to the occupation were being held prisoner.
However, the biggest coup for the Westhold Rebels would be revealed a month later, when Duke Feldis Maartenz suddenly appeared in Vanguard. After confirming his opposition to Westhold’s presence and his virtual house arrest by Partaegas’s forces, he then exercised his ‘elector’s rights’, petitioning the Grand Master of Easthold to protect his Duchy. Grand Master Partaegas was left with the choice of either withdrawing from Maartenz, or further straining his relations with Easthold.
However, the Grand Master would not be the only one to suffer strategic setbacks. In early Ciftiden, raiders attacked critical supply caravans travelling up the Easthold-Northhold road. Wallingsly and Lemminsburg forces patrolling the road managed to foil some of the attacks, but the raider’s successes shook the confidence of the populace, bringing into question the Stadtholder’s ability to keep Northhold’s lifeline open.
The greater threat to Northhold’s survival was unseen by most, but deeply concerning the leadership in Oramsburg; Westhold’s harassment and capture of private merchant vessels in The ‘Drums, and their confiscation of ships carrying food destined for Northhold. Fears of another famine worse than that in 801 AT began to create a panic as the limited quantities of available food became more widely known. With the various duchies squabbling over who was entitled to the supplies available, Stadtholder Walling was being forced into the unenviable position of deciding who would live and who would die this winter.