During the Spring Equinox, while the heroes of the Empire were fighting in western Liathaven, the Jotun forces in the Mournwold completed their push to drive Imperial forces out of the Greensward. Overwhelmed, the armies were pushed back across the border into Tassato. The Jotun again controlled the entire Mourn. A fleeting victory, but a victory nonetheless. A grim victory, given how much blood had been spilled.
The Drakes, the Fist of the Mountains, the Hounds of Glory, and the orcs of the Winter Sun regroup in Tassato and immediately march north through the forests of Madeiras and Tower March into Upwold. The Golden Axe are already waiting for them - as are the Iron Helms fresh from their militia engagement in Skarsind. An armed camp is established on the Heath not far from Sutton Stone Quarries.
There, the Imperial armies await reinforcements. Over the next few weeks they are joined by the Bounders,the Strong Reeds, and the Tusks. There is an air of celebration - it will be the first time that the four Marcher armies have fought together in the Mournwold and the moment has not come too soon for some. Soldiers and commanders alike laugh about who will be the first into Freemoor, who will be the first to break a Jotun army, who will be the first to liberate a Mournwold village.
Some eight thousand soldiers loyal to independent captains swell the already sizable force gathered on the Heath. Next-to-last to arrive are the Navarr of the Quiet Step, and then the Gryphon’s Pride. The arrival of a second Dawnish is met with some muttering - with the exception of the Winter Sun, all the other armies present belong to nations that have declared opposition to the vision of the Land without Tears - but the Dawnish nation has embraced it. The commanders tolerate muttering, but nothing more. Still, there is something tense in the air as one last discussion of strategy gives way to a gloomy morning, and the armies begin to move…
The Imperial forces cross into Freemoor, retracing the route the Golden Axe took
last season. Banners snap in the wind, but the soldiers for the most part march in silence. As the Old Pig comes in sight, however, the Drakes raise their voices in the Marches Battle Song. After the first ragged chorus, the Bounders, and the Tusks, and the Strong Reeds join in. The Marcher armies pick up the pace.
Initially, the Empire encounters surprisingly little resistance from the orcs. Perhaps the Jotun commanders are expecting the Empire to attack from Tassato again, as they have so many times before. Perhaps they do not believe the Empire will be so quick to engage them again after the slaughter at the Fall of the Greensward.
Either way it is three days before the first orc forces are spotted - Hierro orcs marching under the Jotun banners. Along with the Skjalderborn, they engage the Empire. They fight cautiously - withdrawing from any major engagement almost before it begins. Even with the support of the two Jotun castles - of Hillstop and the Tribute - the Jotun orcs are greatly outnumbered by the Imperial forces. Battle after battle, they fall back - but they do not rout. They give ground in a disciplined fashion - and whenever they spot an opening in the Imperial strategy they strike hard and fast at the exposed force before continuing their withdrawal. Still, that simmering undercurrent of uncertainty continues to stew. While some of the Imperial armies seize this opportunity for glory or heroism, some of the Imperial forces employ unorthodox tactics that invite open criticism from their allies.
Freemoor is liberated. The Chalkdowns are liberated.
Those who have fought alongside the Quiet Step in particular notice a change in their behaviour. Navarr thorns have always been fond of poison, of ambush, and of traps. That fondness appears amplified this seasons. They seem to have procured prodigious amounts of oil of blackthorn and redwillow paste. They share their venomous bounty with any who will accept it - especially those Marcher bounders, and warriors from the Varushkan armies who appreciate such things. They
create brutal and efficient traps, and lure the Jotun into them. Their scouts seem disinterested in gathering information about the Jotun - rather they sneak out at night to slip through the Jotun armies and assassinate the enemy commanders wherever they can - a tactic that proves especially effective against the Hierro. Whenever the Jotun are engaged with other Imperial forces, the Quiet Step flank them and butcher as many as they can with arrows and poison blades.
At the same time, the Iron Helms demonstrate how they once earned such a merciless reputation. Some soldiers have heard stories of what happened in the north with Dogri Thulebane - the hounds, and the ravens, and the drums. In Skarsind, the Iron Helms were fighting fellow humans, Imperial citizens. Here, they are fighting barbarian orcs, here they are finally let off the leash…
The Jotun are known to place much stock in respecting the dead - so the Iron Helms mutilate and despoil the bodies of their fallen opponents. Bodies are burned beyond recognition and then the charred remains hung from trees and signposts. There are stories of prisoners torn apart by dogs, of captured Jotun warriors impaled on rough stakes in front of their fellow orcs. The Iron Helms are scrupulous to obey the orders of their general - no civilian is harmed by design - but any enemy who dares to raise a weapon against the Empire finds an agonizing death awaits them if they fall into the hands of the Iron Helms. Word soon spreads throughout the territory - the Empire has come… and brought a bloody murder with them to the Mourn.
With so few Jotun arrayed against them, the Empire advances quickly; as the Summer Solstice draws closer, the Empire even manages to make inroads into the forest of Alderly. Here they encounter new foes of an entirely different nature, as Feni ambushers attack several patrols. They snipe at scouts and launch surprise attacks against smaller forces camped under the trees. Always, they run as soon as they lose the element of surprise, melting back into the trees. The truth is that they are little more than a nuisance - and it appears they are a nuisance that seems just as interested in taking pot-shots at the Jotun at that. Yet some die to their arrows, and their poisoned blades, and there are precious few Feni corpses to show for it.
As the days grow warmer and the nights grow shorter, the Empire has driven the Jotun out of two regions, and is close to conquering a third - in spite of Feni resistance.
Much of the north-eastern Mourn is liberated but if the Imperial forces had expected a joyous welcome they are sorely disappointed. In every settlement soldiers are met with cold sullen faces. Lines of Marchers in plain homespun clothes, stand mutely staring at the advancing soldiers, arms crossed over their chest. Once they have made their point, they return to their houses, turning their backs on the newcomers and barring their doors against them. From that point on, they pointedly refuse all contact with the armies of the Empire, rebuffing all attempts to engage them - whether to buy essential supplies or simply just to talk.
In other places the reception is different but just as unwelcoming. In the village of Charcoal on the edge of Alderly, the Empire is met with a line of tight-lipped Marchers armed with pans and ladles. As the soldiers draw near the wood burners and their families begin beating the pans over and over producing a riot of noise that assails the ears and simply does not stop. Only when the Empire pulls back far enough back that the houses are out of site does the racket finally cease. In Blackheath, a small community of leather workers on the edge of Freemoor, several tanners makes their displeasure plain by heating cauldrons in advance of the column, letting the wind carry the curse of the tanners craft towards the advancing army.
The shunning is particularly painful for the Marcher soldiers. Many of them try to reason, or argue, with their fellow yeomen. Some get through. Most do not. In at least one case, a group of Tusks are reduced to angry tears by the hurled accusations of “murderer” and “coward” and the oft-voiced hope that the soldiers are reborn as rats and crows.
Still … whatever metric one uses the Empire is victorious. Despite the advantages the Jotun had, despite the problems of securing a beachhead and the fortifications arrayed against them, the Empire frees several regions. The orc forces fall back south to their castles in Ore Hills and Southmoor, and west to Green March. Yet it is impossible not to notice that the Empire is facing a significantly smaller force than they fought last season. The majority of the Jotun are conspicuous by their absence.
The Emire has conquered two regions and is almost three-quarters of the way towards taking a third (Alderley). They have suffered perhaps a thousand casualties, if that. The Jotun have lost perhaps three times that many troops - probably the only thing that has kept their token forces alive has been their decision to give ground.
What is very clear however is that the Empire may have won the battle for territory this season, but the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Mournwold has only just begun. The civilians - those folk who have dwelt here all their lives - are extremely angry with the Empire. While this has not particularly harmed the Imperial advance it does not bode well for the future.
Empire is winning the land war in the Mournwold, but it does appear as if the majority of the Jotun where were there before Spring are not fighting there this season.
You can read this a bit better here -> https://www.profounddecisions.co.uk/empire-wiki/381YE_Summer_Solstice_winds_of_war#You_Can.27t_Go_Home_Again_.28Mournwold.29 although I suspect it will take the rest of the night to fix all the broken links and fill the generals in …
Photo is a lovely shot from Oliver Facey of defiant Marchers.