Chapter 18, the Reign of Nalaster the Clever: Part 1

 Nalaster the Clever, 5th Grand Prince of the Kingdom of Aerdy

Born -164 CY, Died -152 CY
Reigned -179 CY to -152 CY

The Sarcophagus of the
Hidden Empress, Mentrey

Sidimara Sarcophagus, Roman period, 2nd half of the 3rd century AD,
from Konya, Turkey. Now in Istanbul Archaelogical Museums
His older brother Gennor having died without any surviving issue, the 28 year old Nalaster(1) was crowned as Grand Prince. He had echoed the policy of his brother in exiling the dissident Naelax to the north, but had also argued that the church of Hextor shared a large part of the blame for the recent rising. Gennor had opposed such a policy, afraid of alienating the large number of Hextoran nobles in Medegia. Nalaster, bolder and now holding the title of Grand Prince, acted against the leadership of the Hextoran priesthood. But rather than using the assassination of his brother as the excuse he needed to attack the Naelax of Medegia, he went about this with the guile exhibited by so many of the Garasteth, by directly punishing only the family of the assassin. Ever quarrelsome as dictated by the dogma of their patron god, divisions had already arisen among the Hextoran faithful of Medegia. Given to war they were nonetheless thankful at not having to engage the forces of the new Grand Prince. The more moderate Hextoran faction, cognizant of Nalaster's thoughts on the matter was anxious to prove their loyalty. These were the Hextorans who, led by Prince Leo Naelax, had chosen exile in the Flannish Marches of the north and were intent on carving out new homes from the lands of the Flan and Ur-Flan tribes still hostile to Aerdy. Remaining in Medegia, the majority of the priesthood led the conservative faction which had voiced their hostility to even the mild attempts by Grand Prince Gennor to suppress them. Supported by a still sizeable number of the Medegian nobility, they pledged their loyalty to the Garasteth but made plain just how far they would allow themselves to be pushed.
Rather than directly using force against them, Nalaster undertook a project of rebuilding and expanding the grounds of Mentrey’s most holy site, the Tomb of the Hidden Empress, believed to be the final resting place of the mortal remains of Johydee before she ascended to godhood. As the primary religious body in Mentrey, Hextor’s cult was taxed heavily to pay for this project. Their protests to the Grand Prince brushed aside for months, they and the Medegian lords still loyal to the priesthood finally rose in revolt in Coldeven of -177 CY.
In this they played into Nalaster's hands, giving him the excuse he had been waiting and preparing for. The Grand Prince swiftly gathered his forces and marched on Medegia, putting the rebellion down within a month. He then purged the Hextoran priesthood of hostile clergy, replacing them with members loyal to him. Lastly he culled the ranks of the Medegian Naelax lords who had supported the rising, their lands to nobles from other houses with unquestioned loyalty to the Garasteth.

Leo, Prince of the Naelax
Danila Koslovsky in Viking (2016)
With very few exceptions, despite the suppression of their fellows in the south, the Hextor-worshiping Naelax exiled to the Flannish Marches remained loyal to the crown. Those priests and nobles who railed against the Grand Prince were personally dispatched by Prince Leo as a show of his loyalty. These northern Naelax were also busy battling against the Ur-Flan and expanding their land-holdings. Now, much more confident in Prince Leo’s loyalty, Grand Prince Nalaster allowed him to pursue the conquest of the Flan tribes in his own way. Prince Leo faced considerable resistance from the Ur-Flan, in the lands closer to the coast. They were increasingly consolidated under the Necromancers of Trask and proved to be tough opponents. Instead, he pursued an easier conquest of the non-Ur-Flan tribes of the Upper Flanmi Valley. The death of Gennor and the reduction of influence of Princess Yanaymi of the Kho’lam Flan provoked a cooling of relations between their king, Man’khu toward the Aerdi. Using Man'khu's demands for her return along with her dowry as an excuse for war, Leo marched against the Kho’lam. He swiftly overran them and had secured their lands by -176 CY. This left the Sim’chian Confederation, on the left bank of the  Flanmi with hostile Aerdi lords to the south and to the east. After just over a year of war the Naelax had conquered the Sim’chian, leaving only a few small, independent tribes. From -175 CY Prince Leo returned his attention to the Ur-Flan, leaving his half-brother, Mazos to defeat the remnant of the Flan tribes of the Upper Flanmi. The Torquann, also situated in the north and rich from their numerous fiefs scattered around the Kingdom, and the wealth in trade brought in by the city of Winetha, had lost much of their interest in expanding into the lands of the Flan tribes. They had also recently come under a new prince who thought it better to let the Naelax die wresting land inch-by-inch from the savage Ur-Flan. The Naelax for their part lived happily in this frontier, swimming in the carnage of near constant battle with the Ur-Flan. They had become accustomed to launching deep raids into Ur-Flan territory to sow terror and bring back captives to serve as serfs on their farms or be sold further south to the Torquann and beyond. Over the rest of the decade the Naelax advanced north toward the Trask. By -171 CY the northern border of the Naelax lands was formed by that river, with keeps at what are today Eastfair, Luvern, Bortrend, Marder, and Atirr anchoring their conquests.

The Massacre at Chokestone
Art by Artem Demura
Also in-171 CY, an unfortunate incident occurred that would have unforeseen repercussions throughout the Kingdom. At a location now known as Chokestone(2), a battle took place against a small Flan tribe that Mazos had pursued northeast, although many describe the event more as a massacre. The Flan were vastly outnumbered and taken by surprise by a large Naelax raiding force, and the tribe’s few warriors were easily slain, leaving a mass of women, children and the elderly. Rather that claiming them as serfs as was the norm, Mazos ordered them all sacrificed in an orgy of slaughter dedicated to his patron god, Erythnul. 
By that time, Erythnul was rarely worshiped among the Aerdi, but a few still adhered to his cult, and Mazos was one of those. Some in the army objected and when their pleas were unheard, departed. But the majority joined in. Their disgusting rituals continued long into the night and it is said that a ghastly apparition of The Many appeared. Whether it was merely that god displaying his fickleness and cruelty, the action of other gods, or dark magic brought down by the Flan, the resulting curse revealed itself to the Aerdian army the next morning. The fertile plain upon which they had gone to sleep was now transformed into a barren waste of rock. As they stirred and moved about the camp, the stone cracked, breaking into dust and setting up clouds of oily choking smoke. Over half the host succumbed before they were able to retreat; vomiting up blood and clumps of worms that writhed upon the lifeless ground. Of those that survived the march south, almost all ended their days prematurely, coughing up bloody phlegm. The fate of Mazos was unknown among them as his body was not found, though this mystery would resolve itself later.
The area remains deserted to this day, haunted by the occasional appearance of a giant black serpent, seemingly composed of smoke. Few are those who have seen it and lived to tell the tale. With the events at Chokestone, Nalaster decided it was time to put an end to the worship of Erythnul, officially outlawing The Many's cult in that same year, driving his priests and worshipers into hiding.

Art Notes:

The Sarcophagus of the Hidden Empress This coffin was crafted as part of the reconstruction of the Shrine of the Hidden Empress undertaken by Grand Prince Nalaster. It is said to have held the remains of the mortal body the hero-goddess Johydee inhabited before she ascended to immortality. The wooden coffin of the long-lived prophetess had been a sacred object among the Aerdi since before the migrations although some tales say that Johydee still secretly lived among them at that time, with the coffin there to serve as a ruse. As befits a deity of deception, no one is ever sure there was anything in it, and her small priesthood has never told. The stone sarcophagus commissioned by Nalaster held the original coffin but that object disappeared during the Turmoil Between Crowns for fear it would fall into the hands of one or other of the warring factions and be used as a totem to bolster their cause. Though the Shrine of the Hidden Empress still stands in Mentrey and is a site of pilgrimage, it is said that the real Shrine lays somewhere under that city, unknown to any but her priesthood(3). As for the empty stone sarcophagus that remains at the Shrine, it may be noted that pieces of of the friezes decorating it have been chipped off. Doubtless this is to feed the lucrative trade in holy objects.

Leo, Prince of the Naelax The direct ancestor of the current Naelax Overkings, he was known for being a tireless and cunning warrior and leader. Here he appears fresh from the field of battle for an audience with Grand Prince Nalaster. Despite the role Leo played in the rebellion that saw the death of Nalaster’s father, the Grand Prince came to trust Leo and relied on him to pacify the Flan tribes of the North with relatively little oversight. While the title used by the Celestial Houses for their prince was interchangeable in the form of, for example, Prince of Garasteth and Prince of THE Garasteth, Leo was the the first prince to be styled only as Prince of the Naelax. This was in acknowledgement of Gennor's breaking up of the Principality of Naelax as a political entity as part of the retributions taken for the actions of Baldo. Despite this loss, the Naelax still retained a seat in the Diet of the Six Houses, which acted as an advisory council for the Grand Prince. Of those lands formerly making up the Principality of Naelax the majority were folded into an expanded Medegia, which became even more a patchwork of counties, viscounties, and baronies. A narrow band encompassing Strinken, the ancient Naelax capital, was absorbed by the Principality of Garasteth.

The Massacre at Chokestone One of the darkest events in the history of the Kingdom of Aerdy and Great Kingdom. The resulting suppression of Erythnul’s cult in Aerdy drove his worshipers and priests either into hiding or exile. Most of them went north into the wilds and the Rakers Mountains, inhabited by savage humanoid tribes. There the priests of The Many spread his worship, through awful means, displacing the native gods of Orc, Ogre, Gnoll, and Goblinoid. In this depiction of the Massacre, an avatar of Erythnul appears behind Mazos who prepares to cut the throat of the tribe's priestess. She was said to have been a renegade Ur-Flan who had rejected her caste and taken up the faith of Pelor. One theory of the Curse of Chokestone is that she repented of her apostasy and in her final moments called down the vengeance of the dark gods she had previously served.

End Notes:

1. As stated in previous chapters the names of Gennor and Nalaster both come from the fan-created “Timeline of AerdiGrand Princes and Overkings” by Canonfire! member Taras Guarhoth and posted on that site in 2001. While I’ve diverged from this timeline in my own writing I do want to honor the creativity of Taras, one of the earlier Canonfire! members and the author of a wealth of material on the Great Kingdom.

2. Ivid the Undying (IVID) p. 53 "This place, and the lands around it (one hex in each direction), are deserted, not farmed by anyone. The site is that of a great battle between Aerdi men and a small Flan tribe in -171 CY. The Oeridians were easily triumphant, and an excessively brutal general ordered the torture and sacrifice of all surrendering Flan folk in thanks to Erythnul. The following day, the Aerdi army woke from its camp to find that the land for several square miles around had been stripped of vegetation. Only slate-like stone remained. As they trod upon the stone, it cracked as if it were brittle paper, releasing clouds of oily, choking smoke. Less than a third of the army managed to march away from the accursed area, and those who survived suffered lung infections and disease which brought their lives to very premature ends.
From time to time since this slaughter, a huge black smoky serpentine shape has been spotted prowling the lands around Chokestone, slaying any who dare approach the land where the Flan were slaughtered. Astrologer-sages can predict this wandering; it occurs around once every 17 years, with the 'snake' manifesting for 2d12 days. At other times, mages will sometimes try to obtain some of the stone for use in making dust of sneezing and choking, but they invariably send servants to obtain it rather than risking entry themselves."

3. “In fact, I theorise that the mortal remains of the Hidden Empress are interred in a secret temple underneath Mentrey (and jealously guarded by her priesthood).” -- Paul Looby, aka Woesinger.


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