Karameikos and Beyond
The Forging of a Nation
NOTE: The following is part of a chapter from a book titled “A Brief History of Karameikos: A Nation in the Making” by Kaius von Scheiderlig.
Stefan Karameikos III
The “modern” history of Karameikos began 30 years ago, in the empire of Thyatis. Stefan Karameikos III was born in 948, the heir to the small but unusually wealthy duchy of Machetos. His mother had died when he was nine, his father when he was twenty, and he became ruler of his duchy at that time. He’d already been an officer in the Thyatis cavalry for three years, and had been participating in adventures and horoic exploits even longer. He was a friend of the Emperor of Thyatis. His future seemed predictable: Years of service in the Thyatis military and adventuring on the side, then retirement to wise rule of his duchy and to advising the Emperor on matters of war and state. But Karameikos wasn’t content with that fate. He wanted to rule territory shaped by his hands and formed in his own image – and that description fitted neither the duchy of his fathers or the empire of his friend the Emperor.
Karameikos approached the Emperor with an offer. He’d trade the Emperor most of ancestral lands and properties for ownership of the Traladara region – and a guarantee of autonomy. It was an attractive offer. Traldara had substantial potential to become a wealthy region, but it would take more time and effort than the Emperor was willing to devote at that time. Karameikos’ lands were here, now, and valuable. The Emperor and Karameikos came to terms and came out of their conference each convinced that he’d emerged with the better deal.
Karameikos surrendered his ancestral lands to the Emperor. The few properties he had remaining he sold for the ships and goods he’d need to rule the region properly. The Emperor, in return, recognized Traldara as the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, a sovereign region under the rule of Stefan Karameikos III. Both rulers signed decrees of eternal friendship and mutual defense in times of invasion, and the deal was set.
It may seem peculiar to today’s students that Karameikos took the title of Duke instead of King, but he had compelling reasons for his course of action. Foremost amont them was the fact that, by defining Karameikos as a duchy, Duke Stefan created the impression in surrounding nations that the duchy was beholden to, and protected by the empire of Thyatis. This was of critical importance in forstalling invasion by outside nations. In spite of the public announcement of the Grand Duchy’s autonomy and the signing of all documents to that effect, in spite of the fact that Thyatis sent an ambassador with Duke Stefan and recalled his tax collectors, the common impression in the region’s early years was that it was just another duchy belonging to Thyatis.
Settling the Duchy
Immediately after his agreement was signed into law, Duke Stefan sailed for his new duchy, making landfall in Specularum two weeks later. No fool, he presented his articles and order to the city garrison before assembling the city leaders and then announcing his agreement with the Emperor.
The powerful Traladaran families in Specularum saw the political change as an opportunity to reestablish Traladaran independence. If they could kill the Duke when he was the most vulnerable, perhaps they could then erect a spirited enough defense to make it economically unfeasible for the cost-conscious Thyatians to conquer them again. The Marilenev clan, however, prematurely led an armed revolt against the Duke and was decisively beaten by the Duke and the garrison. Most of the Marilenev men died in the attack. Naturally, from that point on the Duke had his eyes on the other powerful families, especially the Radu and Torensescu clans.
A second attempt was made on the Duke, an assault by hooded assassins in his very bedchamber. They also underestimated Duke Stefan. A seasoned campaigner, they failed to take into account that he slept lightly and ever with his weapons within easy reach. Stefan managed to seize his weapons and slay his attackers. He never found who had sent them, though the wealthy Traladaran families were naturally suspected. The Traladaran clans, offended by the Duke’s stubborn refusal to accept assassination and overthrow, slowly and resentfully swore loyalty to him. They turned to other methods of combat and began to oppose him in the political, economic, and mercantile arenas.
The Duke, meanwhile, began luring talented and ambitious young nobles from Thyatis. He concentrated his attention on the second and third sons and daughters of Thyatis aristocracy: The young men and women who would have been properly trained to rule and hold land, but who would never inherit their own ancestral lands due to their siblings’ continued good health. Many flocked to him, nobles and adventurers and merchants and common folk alike, ranging from single men and women to entire clans. Notable among these new retainers were:
- Ludwig von Hendriks, Duke Stefan’s aggressive and theatrical first cousin, who received a baronial title and lands in the western part of the Duchy.
- Philip Vorloi, a succesful merchant who provided substantial economic support to Duke Stefan and received a baronial title and lands to the east of the Marilenev state
- Sherlane Halaran, a nobleman and cleric of note, who received baronial rank and lands in the luchly wooded norther region of the duchy
- Desmond Kelvin, an officer and gentleman who was of crucial importance to Karameikos during the Marilenev rebellion and received baronial rank and lands north of Specularum, where the Highreach (Volaga) River forks.
Duke Stefan spent some uncomfortable years in Specularum after his arrival because his spent almost all his tax revenues on the maintenance of his army and the building of fine roads to span the Grand Duchy.
While he was about these tasks, the new breed of Thyatian settlers spread out from Specularum, founding homesteads, flooding into existing villages, often slashing with the native Traladari, sometimes fraudulently using the homesteading documents issued by Duke Stefan to seize land from its current holders. Duke Stefan, in his youthful exhuberance to cement his claim to the duchy and to push along the process of settlement and civilization, was not as thorough as he should have been about guarding against abuses of this type, and so early resentment against him and his followers was harsh … and frequently deserved.
Not all situations where Thyatians moved into Traladari areas were violent or even antagonistic. Though Baron Sherlane established himself as lord of the village of Threshold, his rule was firm but fair, treating Thytatian and Traladari with equal justice. His policies also prospered the settlement, turning a sleepy logging village into a bustling minor city. Desmond Kelvin created a new settlement and named it for himself; since he seized no land and kept his followers in line in stern military fashion, he earned the respect rather than enmity of the surrounding Traldari residents.
Baron Vorloi stole no lands, but began undercutting the prices of the Specularum merchant families and effectively stole much of their business. These families, already bitter against Karameikos’ followers, now took great pains to oppose the Duke and his followers at every point, publicly or secretly, as revenge for what they’d suffered through at his followers’ hands.
Worse still, Ludwig von Hendriks, the Duke’s bizarre young cousin, caused immediate and unending troubles for the Duke as soon as he settled in his western lands. He seized Halad, the largest village on the Gulf of the same name, by force. Once it was conquered, he celebrated by announcing to the population his appointment as its new baron. He renamed the village “Fort Doom” to suit his sense of the theatrical, dubbing the barony the “Black Eagle Barony” after his ancestral coat of arms. He pressed many of Halag’s residents into service to begin construction of a castle suited to his tastes. He stripped Traladari landowners of their properties and installed his own followers in their place. He installed guards on the roads out of the region and forbade his subjects to leave the barony. He was openly contemptuous of “those ignorant, foul-smelling Traladari swine” and took every opportunity to oppress them.
Reports of his activities did reach the Duke, but Stefan was dealing with similar reports from all over the duchy; most were so exaggerated that they resembled the accurate descriptions emerging from Ludwig’s territory, so he assumed that they, too, were exaggerations.
Fortunately, after the Marilenev rebellion in Specularum there was no further armed resistance to the rule of Karameikos or his subordinate lords. But Traladari resentment started off high and was fanned by the callousness of many Thyatian lords for years to come.