It's been many years since Imperial troops laid a claim to the territory of a barbarian orc nation. It is true that the recent Dawnish advances in the Barrens briefly gained new ground but that ancient wilderness was not under control of the Druj when the conquest began - and Dawn has made temporary advances in the Barrens before. Not since the reign of Empress Brannan has the Empire really made a serious attempt to attack the Druj, the Jotun, the Thule, or the Grendel at home. Arguably it has been only a little under two centuries since the Empire last successfully attacked and conquered any new lands claimed by barbarians.
The attempt to regain the Empire's former might begins a week after the end of the Spring Equinox; as the Black Thorns cross the western borders of Liathaven into the Jotun territory of Hordalant.
Lying just to the west of the Empire, Hordalant has been a staging ground for Jotun aggression in the south almost for as long as there has been an Empire. Spies report that the territory is fortified, with a large population of Jotun orcs. It is perhaps not what the Empire would imagine when they think of barbarian lands. The territory is crisscrossed by well-maintained roads. There are many well-defended settlements; great numbers of farms; watchtowers; palaces and memorials; merchants plying their trades; fisherfolk casting their nets. If not for the fact the people living her are primarily orcs, it would be easy to mistake Hordalant for Hahnmark, or even Mitwold.
So the Black Thorns duck across the border from the forests of West Ranging to the forests of Vallorberg, and begin their steady conquest of Hordalant.
Even the best laid plans oft go awry, and the first major fly in the ointment of this bold plan is when the Black Thorns scouts detect a sizable Jotun force moving in the opposite direction. But, just as they slipped from Kahraman into southern Liathaven in the Summer of last year, the Navarr use their speed, woodcraft and supernatural strategic sense to avoid any major engagement. It is possible that the Jotun do not immediately recognise their enemies, being set on traveling east into Liathaven. Though a small measure of strategic skill, and a large dose of luck, the Black Thorns are able to avoid the orc forces and enter Hordalant.
Vallorberg is a largely uninhabited region under the grip of what the Jotun term the "Dead Forest" - their name for the great forest that spreads across Liathaven and the eastern borders of the southern Jotun kingdoms. Some of the forest has been cleared for farming - mainly around the Hellis river in the north and the Volg river in the south. The Black Thorns encounter minimal resistance - at least at first. It seems that the farmers of Vallorberg would rather flee than fight. Those who cannot flee are forced to surrender; becoming surly prisoners stubbornly refusing to cooperate with their captors.
Battles are sporadic and short - there are small scattered bands of Jotun warriors on most of the farmsteads and some of them make a stand despite the overwhelming odds arrayed against them. They put up a spirited fight however, giving their lives to protect what they own - apparently determined to be the last to leave. Only those farmsteads where the occupants have had time to completely flee are undefended.
Some of the thralls are orcs, but there are many humans among their number. Despite the deaths of their masters, neither group seems appreciative of their liberators. Indeed, apart from the obvious physical details the human thralls are nearly indistinguishable from the others. Both groups appear intimidated by the Navarr, as if expecting summary execution at any moment.
A fortnight sees the Black Thorns make steady gains in Vallorberg ... and then the situation begins to turn.
Two wide scouting patrols fail to return. When the third finally appears, half its number are dead and half the rest are walking wounded. They provide a dire warning - at least one significant Jotun force is camped nearby, supported by the garrison of a major fortification. As near as the scouts can tell, the Jotun force that passed by as they slipped into Hordalant had left one or more armies behind with orders to resupply. Convoys of food and essential supplies are being moved to the Jotun armies including wagons filled with mithril presumably intended for emergency resupply. All those attempts have been utterly thwarted by the expected presence of the Black Thorns in Hordalant - a strategic victory of sorts... but now they are coming for the Navarr in force.
Three days later, the Jotun hammer falls. The first major engagement in western Vallorberg goes to the Black Thorns. A significant force of Jotun move to reinforce a village near the Hellis river, but they are heavily outnumbered and retreat once the majority of thralls have been evacuated. This represents the last gain the Navarr make in Hordalant. Two days later, a much larger force attacks the Black Thorns from the south-east, pushing them back across the Volg. Then at dawn the following day, the force in the north attacks again, pushing the Navarr westward. Their strategy is straightforward - but even though the powerful enchantment on their army provides insight into how best to counter it, the Black Thorns are hard pressed to take advantage of the insight it offers. The orcs attack with the rhythm of the smith at the anvil; a hard strike in one place and then retreat and attack somewhere else the next day. They leave few openings for the outnumbered Navarr to exploit.
Exact numbers of orcs opposing the Imperial army are difficult to estimate even for the Navarr scouts. Independant captains have swelled the depleted Black Throns to nearly double their size and at first it appears that the orc and Imperial forces might almost be matched in size... but as the days wear on that hope fades. The Jotun generals are carefully rotating their forces driving the Navarr back even while they minimize their own casualties. By the final month of the campaign, there is little doubt that the defenders of Hordalant outnumber the Black Thorns and their auxilliaries; although how many of these troops are part of an army and how many are "home guard" forces attached to a fortification is impossible to say. Hopefully any scouts attached to the spy network in Hordalant may have more information.
The Black Thorns are outmatched nearly two-to-one, and they are steadily forced back. The Jotun defense is careful but relentless and they harry the Navarr night and day driving them out. Less than a month before the Summer Solstice it becomes painfully clear that they are certain to lose all the gains they have made, and scouts are increasingly assigned to seek out paths by which the bulk of the army might escape Hordalant intact.
Rather than rout, the Black Thorns stage a disciplined retreat. Once they decide to move, they move fast and sure. The best thorns fight a delaying action to let the Navarr gather their forces together, and then the entire army moves back east into Liathaven, abandoning Hordalant to its Jotun masters.
Only then does the true horror of their position become clear.
In West Ranging, they discover an immense force of Jotun orcs. A force that massively outnumbers them, perhaps as much as five to one. A force that has been waiting for them.
A week before the Summer Solstice, the situation for the Black Thorns in Liathaven is dire. They are surrounded by Jotun forces on all sides - with an impenetrable wall of Jotun stone and steel at their back in Hordalant. If not for their facility for fast movement it is likely that they would have suffered catastrophic losses already. While the Hordalant adventure only saw the loss of five hundred or so Navarr soldiers, once the Jotun press the attack, they are almost certain to lose many times that number.
If the forces in Hordalant were like the smith's hammer, the forces in Liathaven are like a raging forest fire, eager to reduce the Black Thorns to ashes.
The situation looks ... very bad indeed.
Basically, it's about to get messy. The game information is pretty complex so I suggest you check out https://www.profounddecisions.co.uk/empire-wiki/381YE_Summer_Solstice_winds_of_war#Game_Information_:_Hordalant_and_Liathaven which has bullet points.
Essentially, there are two crisis points that might see the Black Thorns disband - one during the event, and one if the army tries to move. It's all fun and games etc etc.
So the short version ... Jotun armies caught with pants down but backed up by castles push the Navarr back into Liathaven ... and the waiting arms of quite a sizable Jotun force who are, metaphorically, grinning and making neck-slashing gestures.
Serious possibility that this event may see another Imperial recent-history first ...
The photo is by Tom Garnett and I understand shows some elite Sawbones engaging in the new "Steady Conquest" (https://www.profounddecisions.co.uk/empire-wiki/Army_orders#Steady_Conquest) order.
#Nowforwrath, #nowforruinandthereddawn, #ButwhatabouttheJotunqueen?