Crusade Year 4 (1765): The Battle of Bul Maren and the Regicide
While the Army of Tok was a field in Toulmore and Craesil, most of the officers who remained on the home front were loyal to Duke Icho and various court factions. Duke Icho consolidated their loyalty to him, promising a return to the old order. They began to siphon recruits into formations under their own control, creating a smaller army, though one loyal to them, rather than Alykinder.
Alykinder was in Toulmore, signing the Crusader Alliance between the nations taken by Tok during his tenure as an officer. Among its other provisions, it unified the organization of the armies, created common supply and acquisition systems, and formalized military command in Alykinder himself, now styled Marshal of the Crusade. This was accompanied by trade and border agreements, and a great number of other political issues which diminished the power of the aristocracy in those nations. A great number of these families would, in time, emigrate to Coftyr and Fidwog.
As the Crusader Alliance was proceeding, Duke Icho suspended parliament and declared martial law with the covertly-raised Provisional Imperial Army backing him. His first act was to convene a sham court to convict Alykinder of treason.
Alykinder’s response was swift and furious. The Provisional Imperial Army was less than half the size of the regular Army of Tok, and now Alykinder could draw on the resources of his allied nations. The Provisional Imperial Army marched out to meet the Crusader Army, whose ground forces Alykinder left in the hands of syl-Caenerol Mygr of Toulmore. Alykinder put himself at the head of the largest single airborne force assembled by Quar, and advanced on Bul Maren.
Syl-Caenerol Mygr dealt the Provisional Imperial Army a mortal blow at the Battle of Gul Lorch, doubly enveloping the unprepared army and their incompetent Caenerol, the Marquis of Bul Maren. Duke Icho is believed to have correctly surmised the complete destruction of the field army before the Marquis did, and ordered those surviving forces in the district to return to Bul Maren and prepare for assault.
The Crusader forces found that the outer defenses around Bul Maren had been prepared, but then abandoned. They advanced cautiously, not entering Bul Maren itself until some days after landing. Once inside, they found that Royalist forces had dug in the city itself. A seven-century prohibition on war in urban areas was broken.
A number of stories of that time have emerged, and their truth cannot be determined. All histories agree that the Royalists centered their defenses on the Imperial Palace. They were no match for the veteran Crusader Army, the Royalist defenders including military cadets and armed civilians commanded by inexperienced officers. Duke Icho died in the palace, leading a doomed assault at the head of a formation of young cadets from the King Venk Military Institute, still wearing their ceremonial uniforms.
King Venk himself was found dead in the palace. The Crusaders have long claimed he was killed by his bodyguard to prevent the Crusaders from taking him alive. Royalists claim that King Venk was summarily executed by the First Crusader Guard, and this charge has stuck to the First Guard. Many Royalist units, particularly the Black Watch of Fidwog, will execute surrendered soldiers from this Catrawd.
This heinous battle might have led to general insurrection in Tok, if Alykinder had not immediately continued martial law and locked down the cities with his forces, often ordering units of Lower Barro and Toulmore to the task, while keeping the Tokish Catrawds (who might be tempted to form the core of a rebellion) far a field. While the citizens of Tok acquiesced, they mourned their dead king and the destruction of their capital. Though the Crusader faction heaped blame on the Royalists, they lost significant support among the people. Emigration began in earnest.
The Battle of Bul Maren was the last time Alykinder led troops into battle, and by the end of Crusade Year 4, he had resigned his post as Marshal and instead been appointed Chancellor of the Crusader Republics. Though he still eschewed the title of king, he was the undisputed ruler of many nations.
From the personal journal of Syrnol Lyttl—
Did you know that the retaking of the Palace was the last operation Alykinder led in person?
I was with the First Guards, a Caerten at that point. Alykinder wanted the Guard to handle the capital, not for the symbolism of the matter (we assure you, the point was not lost on us) but because we were the best trained of the ground troops at that point.
I remember that taking the outer ring of defenses went much easier than we imagined. The armor punched its way through the strongpoints, and we swept after, securing the routes needed to bring up reinforcements. We spent a few days checking to make sure there weren’t leave-behind nests of anti-aircraft or machineguns. We found one or two, the Royalists in them fighting with the tenacity of the already dead. The gates of the city were open—there was no fight there. They let us penetrate the outer neighborhoods and industries before they opened fire.
What a horrible affair! We were veteran fighters, and we were sorely pressed. Machinegun nests were everywhere, as were mines and traps. But they were amateurs, and it didn’t take us long before we learned their tricks before they learned to abandon these tricks. It should have occurred to me that such clinging to technique spoke to raw defenders, but at the time all I cared about was silencing the huge number of machineguns that had been laid to take us.
Oh, how horrible it was when we encountered the first wave of counterattacks! They had armed the civilians, whipped them into a frenzy, and then sent them at us. It was a wave of Quar, a furious mob, and it stood no chance against well-trained troops with good fire discipline. Many didn’t even have guns. Some carried clubs, others improvised pikes and lances. It was a slaughter.
Alykinder grew furious. He came to the area where we had stopped the first counterattack, and his face was stricken when he saw the piles of corpses. These were simple citizens of Tok, many of whom had lived in the capital for generations, and now forced to fight against the best-trained army in the history of the Quar. Alykinder had striven to preserve the lives of his troops, and the wanton and callous attitude that sent a wave of armed civilians to die made him sick.
There were at least two of these counterattacks that I remember. I can no longer remember the details. It has taken many years of willful forgetting.
The Royalist troops had chosen to make a last stand at the palace. It was a stupid, futile, worthless waste of troops, defending a position with symbolic value and limited military worth. If the Royalists had chosen, they might have broken our weak encirclement and fought their way to link up with the remnants of the Provisional Imperial Army. Instead they chose to send civilians to die in droves to weaken our numbers, but not to the point where success was ever in the balance. They chose to make their palace their funerary chapel, and the city the ossuary of the commoner.
The sprawling Palace could never have been completely sealed from intrusion, and they tried to defend too many places at once, spreading themselves too thin. Small squads of ours took out checkpoints, broke in through storm drains, scaled blind corners to gain access to interior chambers, all with token resistance. The outer curtain was breached within hours of arriving at the palace. We broke through the resistance at the Inner Gate without having to call up our armor. Then, once again, it was room-to-room fighting in the Keep. Deafening noise, the stinging splinter of stone and masonry, thick and acrid smoke which refused to clear—these are my memories of those hours.
Duke Icho died when his guard, the cadets of the King Venk Military Institute, launched a suicidal charge at us. They had fed so long on the lies and slogans of the Royalists that they accepted their death with pleasure. They died led by old Quar nobility, who had never to that point seen bloodshed up close, but who loudly professed the purifying virtues of warfare, and the necessity to die for the king and nation. For them, dying was easy—a little pain and it was all over. For those of us who murdered them, the pain has continued in the decades that followed.
Alykinder was there, too, to witness the removal of Duke Icho’s body. He saw his nemesis surrounded by the young men—no, children—who had died for the privilege of the First Families and he wept.
Next: The Alliance of Creevin