Campaigns of Emperor Guntherm
A document was compiled by the civil service in Spring 378YE at the request of the Minister of Historical Research, focusing on the military campaigns of Emperor Guntherm. After the Autumn Equinox 381YE, details of their research were made available to interested Imperial scholars.
The Jotun Offensive
In 235YE, a major Jotun offensive began into western Wintermark. This was perhaps the defining campaign of Guntherm's early career.
The Jotun first came down the Gullet into West Marsh, sweeping aside the Kallavesi patrols and smashing a foothold into Kallavesa, extending their reach throughout Skymark. From there, they tested the Empire's defences to the north in Stark, but quickly pulled back after the Navarr defended Rest with great tenacity; instead they pushed across into the plains of Kronemark, whilst raiding south into Bregasland and Mitwold over the Westmere.
Before the Empire could rally and push them back, the Jotun were already building a great fortification in West Marsh and a smaller outpost in Kronemark. Imperial hesitation was often blamed on the timidity in military financing that Empress Mariika had encouraged and her death having left a power vacuum in which bickering could slow the Imperial response to such a threat, especially as her enemies had poisoned the generals against Wintermark in particular.
Eventually, the Wintermark, Marcher and Freeborn armies were deployed to counter the offensive; however, they spent some time split between defending Bregasland and Mitwold against any incursion, keeping the Jotun away from Kalpaheim, and ensuring the roads to the ancestral swamps were kept open in Kallavesa, and the Jotun had time to complete their fortifications.
The histories generally agree that Guntherm eventually persuaded the Marchers to fully commit to driving the Jotun out of Wintermark by demonstrating the magic of the circle of runesmiths known as the Bloodgold Hammer, who used Summer magic to empower the Green Shield in crushing the fortification at Kronemark. Details of the magic they used are sketchy, but the Marchers were convinced.
The larger fortification in West Marsh proved more resilient, however, and a slow grinding campaign seemed assured until the Western Wind hakima emerged, using the power of Spring to ruin key points in the vast fortification so that the Summer-empowered troops could finish the task. The Jotun appear to have been caught somewhat off guard by the extensive use of ritual magic, and with the loss of their second fortification they fell back across the Gullet.
In the wake of their defeat, Guntherm petitioned the Imperial Senate to construct fortifications in Wintermark and the Marches to prevent a repeat occurrence, but the Senate was still extremely conservative with spending at the time and refused his requests.
Invasion of Jotun
In 238YE, Guntherm led the victorious Imperial armies west of Wintermark, taking the battle to the Jotun on their own ground. The Imperial forces split in several directions to harry the crippled Jotun armies wherever they ran. Orders record that Guntherm led the Green Shield north into Kalsea, followed by the Fire of the South, which could afford to be led so far afield due to its great speed.
The Green Shield headed up into the territory that the Jotun name Skallahn, and took the low-lying farmland and fisheries of Greenwall along the northern shores of the Gullet as the Jotun tried desperately to unload their forces from their ships, before chasing the wounded armies across the great plains of the Iron Stand. Meanwhile the Fire of the South pressed even further north into the territory that the Jotun name Tromsa, and made their foothold in the forest of Icewood; they took no further territory, carefully balancing the retention of their foothold with damaging the Jotun without running out their tenuous supply lines. The Marchers headed down the southern coast of the Gullet, into Narkyst, and made a spirited attempt to capture the territory named Hordalant on the border of Bregasland; they successfully overran the marshes of Blutgahn and the plains of Ashahohn but were incapable of making further progress.
These actions enabled the Empire to recapture a great many prisoners taken from Wintermark and the Marches during the invasion, but there is some evidence that efforts to liberate the humans of Kalsea and Narkyst did not go so well. The human thralls were found to be unexpectedly loyal to their Jotun masters, and slowed the advance and capture of Jotun territory. The armies had no choice but to treat those who that had chosen to be come Jotun "citizens" as enemies, and were forced to drive them out of Imperial-controlled regions. They were replaced by adventurous settlers from Wintermark or the Marches as appropriate.
While this offensive was being undertaken, the rest of the Imperial armies were engaged with the Thule in Miekarova and Volodmartz - indeed, there was some considerable unrest that Guntherm and those loyal to him were engaging in military adventures along the coast of the Gullet when long-held Imperial territories were in danger.
Against the Thule
In 239 YE, having pursued the defeat of the Jotun as far as it would reasonably go, Guntherm finally agreed to contribute to the campaign against the Thule, so long as decisive action was taken rather than the grinding stalemate that the Thule magics had brought to the main front.
The Marchers and the Brass Coast held the Jotun front while Guntherm took the Green Shield across to join up with Highguard and the League gathering in Karsk. Orders from this time show them committing strongly to a heavy offensive pushing into Skuld.
The Thule were forced to spend some of their attention repulsing this advance, and the Varushkan, Urizen and Navarr armies committed in Miekarova and Volodmartz successfully pushed their assailants back over the mountains.
However, tragedy struck - an intervention through the Sentinel Gate to smash a key Thule fortification in Miechernya ended in disaster after it turned out to be a trap set by the Thule for the hakima of the Western Wind. The Thule threw everything they had at the coven, and they were slaughtered in their entirety, their kohan overrun by the sudden assault. The Imperial forces destroyed Thule resistance in the area, as the forces had no plan for a retreat, but the Empire had lost a vital military asset.
Seeking the Throne
After the victory against the Thule, the Varushkans added their support to the voices of Wintermark and the Marches who had been clamouring for Guntherm's accession to the Throne. There is some evidence that the Varushkans in particular were enamoured of opportunities to gain new national Bourse seats based on mithril and ilium resources in Verthandi and Skuld, and saw Guntherm as a way to gain them.
Immediately after his coronation, he used his power to continue to serve as general of the Green Shield, and wrangled with the Senate in favour of reforms that would grant more power to the Military Council to pursue the conquest of barbarian territory.
Invasion of Otkodov
In 241YE, Varushkan armies, supported by the generals of Dawnish, finally managed to secure a foothold in Verthandi. Together they captured a significant mithril mine. Unfortunately, the Varushkan intention to claim the mine as a National Bourse seat was denied by the Senate. Their stewardship of the Eternal Shafts of Time is often cited as a reason for this failure, and resulted in outrage from the Varushkans. This incident inspired several generations of maneuvering by Varushkan senators to try and have the other Bourse seats physically within the borders of their nation reallocated as national seats - without success largely due to the complex constitutional issues around such a move.
The Varushkan armies grimly hung on to their foothold, but the Thule seemed quite happy to curse the whole of Verthandi so long as the Varushkans were suffering from it - and appeared to be able to predict their every move almost before the Varushkans knew it themselves.
The Jarl of Kierheim
In 242YE, the Jotun launched an assault across the frozen Lake Nutjuitoq, bypassing the Empire's holdings entirely, and carving out a beachhead in the Suaq Fount. They were led by Kjorvak, Jarl of Kierheim, whose willingness to risk the untested ice allowed him to take the Wintermark defenders by surprise.
Guntherm moved to engage, again leading the Green Shield army. Once both Imperial and Jotun forces were heavily committed however, a Thule army named the Shard of Winter attacked both sides under cover of a great storm of snow and ice summoned by the orc warlocks. The Shard of Winter were also reported to have a 'great rune-clad Artok' accompanying it. Many military intelligence reports disagree strongly on the rune-markings, or the number of such beasts. However, what is clear is that at least one of them is tamed enough to be ridden by a Warlock, because this is the one which they use to try to assassinate Kjorvak.
In the storm, Kjorvak was separated from his Skjaldborg warriors and by chance ended up facing the Emperor directly. Instead of slaying his enemy while he was distracted by the Thule, Guntherm saved his life. The details of their alliance are a matter of song and story, but the outcome is generally agreed by historians - as the storm cleared, the Artok and its warlock master lay dead. The Thule fled north back into Otkodov, and shortly after the Jotun armies retreated back across the lake.
The grimnir Haalstan the Green attended Emperor Guntherm immediately after the battle; it is from his diaries that we know that Guntherm told him about the encounter with the Jarl, and with the Artok and its Warlock master. After the fight, Kjorvak swore a blood-oath to Guntherm, on Guntherm's sword - if a Steinr calls on the debt with Guntherm's sword in hand, "the blood of Kierheim will come to their aid against the Thule". Haalstan wrote that he was very interested in the precise phrasing of the oath, and records that it was to be carried "in the blood of Kierheim".
Guntherm is widely held to have kept in contact with the Jotun by Winged Messenger extensively after this incident, particularly the northern Jotun, even though he still held footholds in their territories. For his part, Kjorvak was reasonably successful at home despite the failed invasion, and his bloodline still rules Kierheim today - the current Jarl, Ustigar, is a direct descendant.
Failure in Otkodov; the Druj stir
In 243YE, the Varushkans finally lost their foothold in Verthandi. As the armies retreated, the Thule invaded Karsk and Skarsind in force. At the same time, Guntherm continued the campaigns along the coast of the Gullet, seeking to comprehensively deny the inlet to the Jotun.
In 244YE the situation worsened further. The Druj begin to send raiding parties into Therunin. Despite the potential consequences, these raids were mostly ignored at the time - dismissed as being a response to Navarr incursions into the Mallum. Within a year, however, the Druj caused a major embarrassment by ambushing a trading caravan run by a Brass Coast family at the border of Holberg, slaughtering not only the Freeborn but also their League guards. The scandal quickly escalated when it became apparent that the Freeborn were trading with the Druj, allegedly with tacit support from the popular Senator for Holberg. While questions were being asked in the Senate, and several important citizens in both nations were facing serious questions from the Magistrates, the Druj launched two massive invasions into Holberg and Therunin, and sent significant raiding parties sweeping across the Semmerlak into Weirwater and Semmerholm.
In 246YE, Guntherm arranged a two-year ceasefire with the Jotun, ratified by the Senate, Handling much of the negotiations personally (albeit with the support of several skilled diplomats from other nations). According to the treaty, the Jotun demanded no concessions - they were happy to fix the borders as they existed at the time, leaving several regions of Kalsea and Narkyst in Imperial hands.
Mysteriously, the Thule offensive in Karsk and Skarsind also wavered and ultimately withdrew around this time. Contemporary investigations suggest that the Thule may have become embroiled with a Jotun offensive along the north-western coast of Urdur. Modern historians question the likelihood of such an offensive - the Jotun are after all known to despise naval tactics, and the coast of Otkodov is extremely hostile to such assaults.
In order to avoid any accusation of appeasing the Jotun, Guntherm also pressed on with the construction of two fortifications in Jotun territories - the Nail in Ashahohn, and the Iron Banner on the Iron Stand.
Against the Druj
In 247YE, the Empire threw every army they could against the Druj in Holberg and Therunin, pushing them back into the Barrens and the Mallum. Guntherm refused to let the Imperial armies take the Barrens, or any territory in the Mallum. Instead, the armies focused exclusively on inflicting horrific casualties on the Druj - and suffering significant losses in return. This strategy earned Guntherm the sobriquet "the Bloodthirsty".
The Throne ended up facing an Inquisition by the Imperial Synod regarding his insistence that not only would no Druj prisoners should remain alive, and that they should copy the terror tactics of the Druj and turn them against themselves - denounced at the time as a major offence against the virtues of Prosperity, Courage, and Pride and dangerously close to encouraging the malign powers of .Fear, Vengeance, and Hatred.
Records of this Inquisition are patchy, but the main narrative that emerges is that Guntherm did not want the Empire to get attached to territory on the eastern front. Not only did he believe it would be costly to defend, but he saw little value in splitting Imperial forces between the east and the west - he still intended to conquer as much of Jotun nation as he could once the ceasefire ended.
Historians have speculated extensively about this decision to drive the Druj off, but to eschew conquest. Two main theories have emerged. The first is that Guntherm, contrary to his nickname, was sickened by the waste of human lives involved in the attempted conversion of the Jotun thralls, and did not want to have to repeat the experience on the Eastern side of the Empire. The second is that Guntherm simply did not care about expansion which did not directly benefit Wintermark.
Another Jotun Invasion; the death of Guntherm
In 248YE, the ceasefire with the Jotun expired, there was no attempt to extend it. The Jotun immediately launched a thorough offensive against the Imperial-held areas of Narkyst and Kalsea. to their surprise, they encountered lands that had largely been denuded of Imperial settlers. The Wintermark and Marcher civilians who had made an attempt to carve out new lives in the conquered regions had been quietly evacuated back to their original homelands to avoid them falling into the hands of the Jotun. All that remained were the fortifications, their garrisons, their supply chains - and the Imperial armies moving into position to defend them.
The Jotun were prepared for the fortifications too, however. The Iron Banner was allegedly destroyed by ice giants, summoned from the cold Summer domain of Cathan Canae to fight alongside the orc armies. The Nail was besieged for several months, and on the point of starvation the Jotun granted its garrison safe passage back to the Marches, on the condition that they left the fortification intact - and also that they left all their weapons behind them when they went.
Guntherm was recorded as having been confident that the Jotun would be content with regaining the Gullet - but he was proven wrong. Once they had cleaned up the coastal regions, the Jotun swept into Sermersuaq with thirty thousand orcish troops ready to return the Empire's challenge to their homelands.
This invasion marked the end of Guntherm's campaigns against the Jotun. He was killed on the Suaq Font defending the coastline of Sarda against the Burnt Claw tribe, who took several trophies of their victory, including his sword, back to their lands far to the west.