Dated: 31 Jul, 2023
[Being a short and slightly tongue-in-cheek work of fiction intended as a demonstration of the wealth of possibilities presented in one small corner of the fabulous World of Barnaynia]
The series of encounters and confrontations of CY538-543 that became to be known as the Paladin wars are a significant piece of history in terms of the nature of the Land of the Young, the city of Dunromin and, most significantly, the fate of the Royal Family, the Lufthearts, of this realm. It has not, however, been examined or recorded in any detail in the publications, to date, of the Dunromin University Press.
This is, perhaps, not so surprising as there are no less than twelve different accounts of the events, nine written by eye-witnesses, none of which agree on several fundamental details. To this end this account is, while painstakingly researched and checked, an amalgam of the most commonly referenced elements of the war. We include, mainly for the entertainment value, extra details and stories discovered in these twelve, and other, records.
The events started, as such things often do, with a prophecy. In CY537 no less than seven well-respected mystics and seers reported that a “Force of Darkness” lurked in the far west of the Wild LandsThey all declared that signs and portents suggested that this Force would bring great calamity to Dunromin and probably the downfall of the house of Luftheart. The Seers suggested the nature of this Force was an evil and powerful entity that held a great grudge against the people of Dunromin and wished to destroy them. King Marioch, 45th King of Dunromin, resolved that something must be done and charged his commanders to come up with a plan to defend his realm.
Thus were put into action a sequence of events that would, ironically, come close to making these dire prophecies come true. It with the faultless wisdom of hindsight we know now that, at the time, the personage of this Evil Entity had little knowledge of Dunromin and its royalty, and really couldn’t have given a Booka’s fart for their fate. It is only by the actions of King Marioch’s Paladins that the Evil Force became first aware, then offended and finally to be the mortal enemy of the realm.
The Evil Entity was named, confusingly, by the city’s soothsayers as being Garym the Great Gorger, Kzenzakai the Witch-King or the Mighty Wunn. This puzzle was quickly resolved when it was discovered that they probably all referred to the same person. As is pretty common knowledge now, Garym the Great Gorger was the name of a mighty barbarian warrior-necromancer from the far west, alive some 1000 years ago. In the service of a legendary Magic-User, the Mighty Wunn, Garym rose to become a terrible king of a significant territory, possibly as much as two-thirds of the vastness that is now the Wild Lands. The legend goes that Garym became so powerful that he turned upon his master over some trivial disagreement and killed him, taking the source of his power, the Wunn Ring, from his finger.
Thus was the Mighty Wunn, perhaps greatest Human mage of all time, laid low by his closest ally. In doing so Garym was also dealt a mortal wound but, combining his necromantic arts and the power of the Ring, was able to survive as a powerful undead entity. Reborn as the Witch-King Kzenzakai, this spirit set himself upon a black throne of death in the eldritch fortress of Doomdank, in the twilight realms far to the west, assisted by his equally fell and sinister younger brother and sister.
Kzenzakai’s dominance lasted for nigh 1000 years until the strange prophecies of King Marioch’s seers in Dunromin in CY537 started an inevitable string of events leading into the Paladin wars and, eventually, the cataclysmic events of the War of the Ring in CY580, barely 5 years ago.
The noble knights of Dunromin decided, after some considerable debate, navel gazing, inquisition and wine drinking, that offence was the best form of defence. Consequently, a Royal Charter was issued that the best knights and magicians of the kingdom should gather and set out on an expedition into the Western Wild Lands to find and kill the Witch King. Many be-knighted sons of Barons and their studiously arcane friends were thus assembled and supported by many men-at-arms.
At the start of the campaigning season of CY538 this body of Humans and Elves set forth, led by the King’s own eldest son, Prince Morev, himself a Paladin of great renown. Records of this great host vary but the numbers seem to be about 400 knights, mostly Human and Half-Elven but with some High Elves and even a few Dwarves and a Halfling or two. This spearhead was supported by four-score Magic-Users of various hues, in the main Human and Grey Elf but also including Half- and High-Elves. Of Gnomes and Half-Orcs there were none as the fashions of the time precluded these races from appropriate social status. This glittering phalanx was supported by some 2000 armed supporters and a baggage train of perhaps 1000 more individuals.
It quickly became apparent that such a huge army could not be supported on such a long march and, after some hasty re-planning, most of the baggage train was sent home along with more than half of the men-at-arms. The remaining force was then split into six bodies, each tasked with a different route through the hinterland with the aim of reuniting before the gates of Doomdank in the high Summer. The reasoning behind this was that such large forces would be pretty immune to the efforts of all the known hostile entities on the way but also small enough to maintain themselves by plundering the lands they passed through.
Many suggested that this was an ill-conceived plan but, as it proved, the main idea proved sound and, even as Autumnal colours started to stain the forests of the west a mere four and a half years later, the great host was made one again. Reunited and emboldened by their experiences, they arrayed themselves within sight of Doomdank and girded their collective loins for the epic confrontation to come.
Before we describe those bloody days, we will pause a moment to give some indication of the intervening years, wherein the six hosts journeyed through lands hostile and friendly, strange and mundane. Not one host escaped this period unaffected by the trials and tribulations of the journey and the tales of these adventures have become the sustenance of many fables, legends, epic poems and stories plied by minstrels throughout the Land of the Young and beyond. Anyone offering coin to such storytellers and musicians can soon get a vast and varied array of versions, some wild and some slanderous. One tale, indeed, is treasonous.
One of these war-bands drove a direct path westward but in doing so found itself fighting through several realms loyal to the Witch-King and peopled by many and varied Humanoids. This proved a difficult task and instead the wily Paladins used subterfuge and spread rumours among their enemies of such foul betrayal that they triggered a sizable civil war between them. It took a few years but the cunning knights were able to attend the final battle in good order.
Another of the armies, commanded by Sir Shirley Dragonsbane, took a northerly route, seeking to pass through less well-defended lands in haste in order to make the longer journey in a similar time. Their encounters included some friendly civilisations and they made good time until arriving on some wild moors where they found themselves in running skirmishes with Orcs and Half-men mounted on fast ponies and armed with strong bows. This enemy took longer to put down but were eventually bribed into leaving Sir Shirley’s force alone.
Of the other warbands similar strange antics were experienced, with one force becoming besieged in a ruined citadel for several moths and suffering terrible casualties. We will not tell of these adventures here but instead focus on the more important Warband led by the Prince himself.
The first tale that comes from this group is also confusingly recorded in the memories of those of the Prince’s bodyguard who were present. It pertains to his host passing through the eaves of the ancient and magical Greywood. There are several accounts of the weeks spent in this fey woodland and no two match completely with other in the facts and nature of the creatures and events experienced therein. They do, broadly fall into two camps, however, which we will record here.
Both camps pertain to the Queen of the Greywood, a magical creature of ancient legend, thought to be a fiction or myth of the fey until Prince Morev and his loyal bodyguards happened to encroach on her realm. The first version tells of how the travellers found themselves in a glade one evening bedecked with colourful lanterns and tables loaded with food and wine to satisfy the most slovenly glutton. Obviously cautious, the knight were welcomed by the Queen herself, magnificent but ancient in rivers of silver and white silks melding with her long locks and illuminated by a glorious smile, framed in lines as old as the forest itself. At last convinced of her generosity, Prince Morev and his warriors relaxed and partook of the delights of the magical feyland for several weeks, without hurt nor hazard. When the time came they left good friends and with many promises of continuing loyalty then and after the war.
The other version of this encounter is far more sinister. In this version the force was reluctant to enter the woods in the first place, forced to enter the trees by flooding in the valleys to the north preventing a more direct path. Once into the forests the band were blinded and confused by mists, pathless tangles of briars, trees that seemed to move and, as they wandered deeper, by trailing mosses and vast clouds of spiderweb. They were set upon by all manner of fey enchantment and spent weeks spiralling about the endless twilight green knowing not where they were. Only when the most powerful mage in the retinue, Prince Mozgad, was able to brandish a powerful enchantment did they finally force the Queen from the shadows and confront her. Mozgad, younger brother of the king and uncle to Prince Morev, was a young and ambitious Magic-User but even then had an ambition to become one of the Board of Three of the Magic College.
In this version the Queen manifested as a tall and jagged hawthorn tree with bladed fingers on many tentacular arms. In a fraught battle of wits Mozgad and Morev’s guile and charm combined to defeat the malevolent presence and their army was delivered, unharmed in the end, out of the western eaves of the forest. Another version of the latter story also claims that the Queen identified herself as Kzenzakai’s estranged sister, although little credence can be given to any such inventions. It remains curious to note that Mozgad himself claims to have no recollection of ever being anywhere near the Greywood during their expedition and claims never to have met the Queen of the Greywood.
Later in the expedition it came to pass, in the heady summertime of CY543, that Prince Morev and his retinue came into the lands of a Barbarian King of cheery manner and generous mood, no friend of his erstwhile fane, the Witch-King enemy of the host. This King, whose name may have been Offlar, Kilgreese or Guthrey of Three Stomachs, had three sons and a daughter. His sons were wild and powerful warriors who loathed their sad fate as vassals of Kzenzakai. His daughter was also a wild and furious warrior as dangerous as her brothers, but also comely, charming and of a spirit such that she claimed the heart of the Prince Morev. The two were betrothed, records show, with the undertaking that once the campaign was successful this daughter, named Lillian the Crimsonbloom, would be brought by her father to Dunromin where Morev would make her his wife, uniting their kingdoms.
This is all well and good and letters and sanctified contracts were duly made and passed to Rangers to carry to Dunromin to confirm this arrangement. Many of the survivors confirm this but these writs were never received by King Marioch in Dunromin and the arrangement was never formally recognised.
Given that Morev perished in the war and that the land of King Offlar (or whatever) was razed by Kzenzakai’s avenging hordes some years later, this would seem to be of little import in the greater scheme of things. There is, however, an alternative narrative wherein Morev and Lillian were wed in that same summer in King Offler’s (or whatever his name was) court out in the Wild Lands. This same scandalous and treasonous tale claims they did consummate their coupling so thoroughly that Lillian was with child by the time Morev came to continue his journey to the locality of Doomdank. What happened to Lillian and the babe is not not explained in the version of the tale that this scribe was able to find. Of course, should the child have lived, it would be the rightful monarch of the Land of the Young.
These are but a sample of the dozens of tales that came from these strange times from all the separate forces but, as has been said, the plan worked and the six armies came, hale and hearty in the main, together in the Autumn to attack Doomdank. All the forces had suffered some losses of course, one was down to barely 60% of its original roster, but all were toughened and emboldened by their experiences and were a far more capable force than even when they set out.
For the final assault the great army swept through the fertile river-lands around Doomdank to the heart of the realm surprisingly easily. They encountered increasing resistance at every turn but none of these skirmishes were sufficient to delay their progress by much. In this manner they came at last to the final wasteland of broken stone and burnt earth that surrounded the castle and tower-keep of Fortress Doomdank itself. Wreathed in mist and low cloud the attackers sought divinations to learn more of their opponent’s powers and dispositions.
They discovered that while a vast force was stabled in the lower, outer curtain walls of the fortress and in the fathomless dungeon below, the major powers of Kzenzakai and his generals lurked in the middle of the main Keep at all times, and would be loath to come out to face any assailant.
The attackers came up with a plan and organised their vast force into two commands. The majority of the force, including all the warriors who were not paladins nor wizards, would engage the fortress in a pretty traditional assault, seeking to penetrate the gateways and move into the core of the castle by sheer brute force. The smaller force, entirely the Paladins and Magic-Users along with other spellcasters and specialists, would use flying spells, winged mounts, magical carpets and such to move, invisibly and under cover of clouds, to land on the top of the castle and push downwards as quickly and quietly as possible. The aim was to take the Witch-King by surprise or at least get close enough to him that a deluge of magical fire, lightning, poison gas and such, followed up by cold steel, would be enough to annihilate him.
It was a bold plan and very nearly worked perfectly.
The flying force made entry to the tower and closed to some vast chambers where Kzenzakai lurked, served by the Liches, Vampires, Ring-Wraiths and other fell creatures of his personal retinue. There a vast fight ensued and many of the evil hordes were slain but at a terrible cost. At the culmination Morev himself closed to personal combat with Kzenzakai. Morev’s sharp blade cut away the Witch-King’s left arm, which fell from the parapet into the boiling mass of war below them. But Kzenzakai was barely startled by this maiming and drove his own vorpal weapon through Morev’s heart killing him in an instant.
Now, the Wunn Ring was kept by the Witch King on his left middle finger and, with the loss of this limb, the link between the ancient undead entity and the source of so much of his power weakened the enchantments that held the entire fortress together. As the vast edifice started to crumble the survivors fled the ruination by flight or hasty feet, a great many of them making the safety of the lower workings in time. As it happened, while all this was happening the larger force had done an excellent job of penetrating the outer defences and were able to offer their allies a safe route out of the cataclysm.
A Pyrrhic Victory is a victory nonetheless, and the survivors made their way back to the Land of the Young resolute in their success but mourning greatly their dead, the good Prince among them. Morev’s body was never recovered, but neither was the body of the Witch-King leading to the assumption that he, too, had been destroyed in the ruination of his fortress. Likewise, the Wunn Ring was lost, dropped into the maelstrom of battle, covered in the wreckage of a castle and swept away by flood-waters released from a dam behind the castle. The expeditionary force that embarked upon the Paladin Wars returned as heroes and were lauded as the best and bravest of the world for the rest of their days, even though barely 4 in 10 of the magnificent force that set out actually came home and many of those were damaged in ways that are hard to discern.
The prophecy, it seemed, had been denied but at a terrible cost. King Marioch was so devastated by the loss of his eldest son that he died of a broken heart a few years later, succeeded by his second son, Mordred, who rules the land well and fairly to this day.
But things were not settled with the Witch-King. In fact, the whole expedition had only managed to encourage the very terrible fate it had been begun to avoid. Kzenzakai was not dead, although he was initially diminished. He rose again from the ruination of his capital and began building again anew. This time he sought not to rebuild the great empire he had once ruled but gathered his forces again with but one goal; the annihilation of the family and realm of his new enemy; the Lufthearts of Dunromin.
This is, of course, the beginning of the subsequent events that led to the War of the Ring, which is beyond the cope of this document save to summarise that first, Kzenzakai felt he had to locate the Wunn ring. He sought for it in vain for many years, sending his servants hither and yon in search of a trace of it. As the search continued the Witch-King recovered more and more of his own powers and at length, he decided that he had power and cunning enough to defeat Dunromin and the Land of the Young without it. He may have been correct and many suggest that he would indeed have been successful but for the efforts of Baron Garibaldi and his Heroes.
While any mention of Baron Garibaldi’s exploits is bound to solicit a bold Hurrah! From the masses, there is another reason why Kzenzakai was, perhaps, not in such a favourable disposition as he thought. It is worth mentioning the destruction of the Wunn Ring in the ruins of Creb Untool by a certain adventuring party whose identity seems to have slipped, somehow, from popular recollection. But such kill-joys who remind us of this cannot deny it was Baron Garibaldi’s brilliance that saved the city and delivered the Land from the military might of Kzenzakai the Witch-King, as the most fashionable minstrels claim.
These subsequent events are recorded well in the annals of the War of the Ring and recollected by many of the population in their living memory. If the reader wishes to learn more of these events or any of the personalities mentioned herein please refer to the publications of your modest publisher, Dunromin University Press, available here…
Footnote: When Baron Garibaldi did battle with Kzenzakai’s main host in the southwestern corner of the Land of the Young, he first had to defeat the Witch-King’s nine Ring Wraiths on their Black Dragon steeds. One of these creatures, Garibaldi discovered, was the reanimated cadaver of Prince Morev himself, found and enchanted as a powerful servant of darkness by Kzenzakai as a base and vicious taunt to his sworn enemy.
Disclaimer 1: The fictional tale of the impregnation of the barbarian Princess Lillian is included here purely from a standpoint of academic curiosity and is in NO WAY hinting that such an event really happened. Such a suggestion would be treasonous in the extreme and Dunromin University Press wishes to distance itself with LARGE AND PURPOSEFUL steps from any such conjecture.
Disclaimer 2: The above notes have been compiled from the written accounts of various witnesses to the actual events and the resemblance of any of the concepts, names, events and details there-in to any other popular stories about rings, wraiths and Witch-Kings is purely coincidental. A bit. But we do love Tolkien.