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Achelos Storyby Patrick Sullivan
This story should be generally known to the characters, but they might need to go to a bard or sage, or even just a local, if they do not come from Karameikos or if the DM determines they don't know the story. Two stories are here: first the Traladaran version, second the Thyatian version. The differences are subtle, but important. This is the story of the conquest of the Cruth Lowlands of Traladara by the Thyatian invaders around 900 AC These stories are fairly well-known in Karameikos, each race knowing its own version, but the facts of the conquest outweigh it: no significant magic was used in the conquest of Traladara except at Marlinev, and even there they used nothing comparable to this "magic army" which has since disappeared. People everywhere, especially Thyatians, view the magic army as sheer fiction, and this is viewed as a children's story.
King Achelos II was a great king of his land more than a hundred years ago. Things were different then. The Traladaran people ruled themselves, living free in the woods and hills of their beautiful homeland. King Achelos II ruled wisely and honourably, and there were those who said that, perhaps, the great King Achelos of old had returned in this, his descendent. The Traladaran people lived free lives in the wilds, protected by their generous king and queen, Achelos and Darilla, his beautiful wife.
However, the peace of the Traldarans was not to last. Invaders came from the land of Thyatis. They desired to take the land of Traladara, to use it to further the aims of their emperor. King Achelos II led his people in the fight to defend their land against the invaders. The forces of Achelos held the Thyatians off, repelling their attacks. The Thyatians would occasionally win a battle against isolated villages of small groups they ambushed, but every time the Traldaran heroes of the time tried to stand against the Thyatians in a fair fight, the craven enemies simply fled. The Thyatians did not seem to have any chance against the honourable Achelos.
But then came the Thyatian General, Mahmud. He took over the army invading Achelos' lands, and he forced them to fight. Mahmud personally led the charges against the Traladarans, standing his ground, even against the odds. The cowardly Thyatian soldiers were forced to fight by this fearless leader. The Traldarans resolved to fight even harder against this new threat.
For years the war slowly continued, with each side winning and losing victories. The Thyatians brought in a never-ending stream of soldiers and equipment from their empire, but the Traladarans fought on bravely. They fought to defend every inch of their land, making the Thyatians pay dearly for every victory.
One day, in the shadows of Achelos' Mountain, General Mahmud led a battle against a much larger force of defenders. The Traldarans were routing the Thyatians when Mahmud, for the first time in his life, called a retreat. The General stayed behind defending the escape each of his soldiers, but in his valiant attempt to protect his men, he was captured by King Achelos II, himself.
All the king's advisers told him that he must kill Mahmud. But Achelos was honourable, and he had been impressed with the general's valiant behaviour. The two leaders spoke in private for many hours, and then Achelos let Mahmud go.
Mahmud returned to his camp, and soon repaid Achelos' kindness by sending a magical army against the Traladarans. Mahmud wanted to defeat the Traladarans with the magical army, but he insisted that the army not kill the King. The magical army did its job quickly, before the Traladarans even knew what was happening, King Achelos had surrendered to the rule of the Thyatians. The king retreated into the depths of the earth, where he sleeps in his stronghold, with his ancestor and namesake, until the time when Traladara needs him again.
Now there are rumours that Achelos has returned to save his people from the burdensome yoke of oppression under the Thyatians...
Now the Thyatian version:
The effort to add Traladara to the Thyatian Empire began over a century ago. Nowhere was the struggle as fierce as in the Cruth Lowlands of what is now western Karameikos. The legions fighting in this area were predominantly bands from the Duchy of Tel Akbir, and they met fierce resistance from the natives. Elsewhere in Traldara, the aboriginal inhabitants skulked around, sabotaging the Thyatian war effort. The dogs also tried these tactics in the Cruth, but their king, Achelos II, did not allow this. He taught his subjects to stand up and fight like men, and the legions were at a disadvantage because they did not know the territory.
The emperor, in his great wisdom, sent a new general to the Cruth, General Mahmud the Valiant. He tough the soldiers fighting in Traladara that they must be strong and brave to fight against these armies. He personally led them into battle against the Traladarans, standing his ground, even against the odds.
But the Traladarans continued to fight, and the Thyatians lost many men. But they continued to press forward, forcing the Traldarans to retreat ever farther in the face of progress and civilisation. One day, in the foothills of the Black Peak Mountains, the brave General Mahmud led a battle against a much larger force of natives. The Traldarans were routing the Thyatians when Mahmud, for the first time in his life, called a retreat. The General stayed behind defending the escape each of his soldiers, but in his valiant attempt to protect his men, he allowed himself to be take prisoner by Achelos so that the king would allow his forces to escape.
All the Achelos' advisers told him that he must kill Mahmud. But Achelos was honourable, and he had been impressed with the general's valiant behaviour. The two leaders spoke in private for many hours, and then the honourable Achelos let Mahmud go.
Mahmud returned to Camp Riverfork. A few days after his return, he received an ultimatum from the Emperor: either force the surrender of Traladara in three months or face Hattian legions sent to defeat both the Traldarans and the Thyatian soldiers who, by failing, had proved their disloyalty to the emperor. Although the brave general cared not for his own life, he worried about his own men. He squandered his entire family fortune on a magic army to send to civilise the Traladarans. When he learned that the Hattian legion had landed only a few days' march away, he redoubled his efforts, sending the magical army with orders only to spare King Achelos II. Mahmud's efforts paid off, and he finally conquered the resistance effort.
Western Traldara could now take its place as a great part of the empire under the guidance of Mahmud, but this was not to be. Soon after his victory, someone attempted to assassinate the general at a ceremony celebrating the conquest. A guard attacked the assassin just as a quarrel was fired, sending it off course. Mahmud saw the quarrel speeding toward a priest celebrating the ceremony, and he dove into its path. The quarrel was coated with a deadly poison, and Mahmud was instantly slain.
The party should somehow learn from a magic-user or sage studying this tale who believes that there must be some truth to the legend of a magical army. An accomplice of the NPC recently investigated: he thought that it must still exist, but he was never heard from again. What is known is that he was somehow interested in some sort of horse festival in the village of Allia-Colba. The party should either be hired to investigate the magic army or else decide to investigate themselves. On the other hand, the party could begin the adventure simply trying to fix the corruption and hatred in this part of Karameikos.