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The exodus from Dawn gives the nation its name, and defines their stubborn independence.

The creation of the Marches

The history of the Marchers begins with a rebellion in Dawn. A group of disaffected yeofolk determined to leave their lord's lands and make a better life for themselves. Their complaints were numerous and varied; the lack of opportunities for those of low-birth, the failure to recognise the importance of hard work or to adequately reward it. Personal disagreements inflamed these inequities, petty rivalries and personal snubs exacerbated the tension.

The March began relatively peacefully, with petitions to the monarch of Dawn for greater opportunity and recognition of the yeofolk. When there requests were refused the rebels laid their plan. With no other opportunities, and nowhere else to go, they marched across the country heading for the western border, intent on claiming land outside of Dawn. This initial disapora was joined on their pilgrimage by thousands more, until they became known as the Marchers. Not all were driven by disgruntlement, a few joined the March because they imagined it would lead to glory and more than a few marched for love.

After leaving Dawn, the Marchers entered the woods of Miaren. At this time, much of the territory was still dominated by the vallorn, and the March nearly ended in disaster. The local Navarr, however, offered aid and support to the Marchers. After all, the Navarr have a long tradition of helping those who are unhappy with their situation find a new place to live, or a new way of life. While some chose to join the Navarr, the majority of the former yeofolk wanted a land of their own. With some aid from sympathetic stridings and steadings, the former Dawnish folk passed through Greenfalls and Oakways to what is now Upwold

The first Marchers had few real weapons or pieces of armour between them. The Dawnish nobility fully expected them to flee the oncoming winter or die at the hands of the orcs. The traditional view is that the Marchers confounded these expectations by taking their farm tools and padded jacks and carving out a kingdom for themselves, slaughtering the orc clans they encountered and driving them before them with grim determination. In addition to their Ambition, the Marchers benefited from a unity of purpose that the orcs broadly lacked. While the barbarians as a whole outnumbered the Marchers, they failed to present any cohesive resistance to the invading humans.

Some historians believe that the Marchers were also given some support by the Navarr, supplementing their armaments with the bows and spears both nations favoured. The benefits to the Navarr are obvious; with a friendly human nation to the west they would be able to expand the trods and hasten the destruction of the vallorn. Indeed, the Marchers succeeded beyond anything the Navarr could have hoped, ultimately providing an opportunity to reconnect with the steadings of distant Liathaven, isolated since the fall of Terunael by hostile tribes of orcs.

Regardless of how they did it, the Marchers carved out a patchwork of cleared lands controlled by a score of independent-minded yeoman households; first Upwold, and later Mitwold. Attempts to conquer the Mournwold were inconclusive; unlike their cousins in the northern regions, the orcs of the Mournwold presented a much more united front. The Mournwold clans not only found it easier put aside their differences and resist attempts to conquer them, they were more open to the idea of assimilating those orcs defeated by the Marchers. There is also evidence that they enjoyed some support from the orc clans of Kahraman to the south. While the Marchers were able to hold Freemoor, the Chalkdowns, and Green March at various points they were never able to hold all three simultaneously nor push the orcs out of the Mourn.

The first forays west into Bregasland began later, after Upwold and Mitwold had been settled for several generations. Those parts of the territory that were dry and fertile at this time were under the firm control of the orcs, but the estuary of the river Od had always been a treacherous marsh and the orcs gave the whole area a wide berth. It was inhabited by several Feni tribes, but they proved no match for the heavily armed and armoured Marchers and were soon driven out of the few areas of high ground. The land would support no great households, but the hostile marsh was an effective deterrent keeping the new occupants safe from the orcs and over time it became a haven for Marchers who tired of the internecine feuding between the households. To this day, the archetypal Bregas is seen as aloof and standoffish by the rest of the Marchers - while the people of Mitwold and Upwold were caught up in feuds and alliances they remained broadly independent.

In between fights with the orcs. there were sporadic conflicts with Dawn. Occasionally one or the other would attempt to expand into the neighbouring nation's territory, passing through Miaren to attack Upwold or Astolat respectively. They occasionally clashed in Miaren, but large-scale conflict in the woodlands often attracted the attention of the vallorn, or opposition from the local Navarr. To this day the easternmost parts of the Marches, the westernmost parts of Dawn, and central Miaren are scattered with battlefields and ruined forts built as part of this long-running rivalry between the nations. Despite the conflicts and the tension, the two nations often refer to moving to the other; Marchers who put on airs and graces are told to "Piss off to Dawn", while Dawn nobility or yeomen who question the validity of their ancient traditions are given equally earthy advice to move to the Marches.

After the March

Even as the Marches spread and established a thriving nation, there were frequent battles between the Marchers themselves. Although Marcher households found it easy to unite against a common enemy, they often fell to quarrelling amongst themselves. Bitter feuds and grudges developed, usually over land and often paid in blood. By the time the First Empress began her crusade the Marches was split into half a dozen great households, each supported by the loyalties of countless minor households. While the Marchers were culturally united, these great households (at least two of which, the Talbots and the Bolholts still endure to this day) each ruled their lands independently. Negotiations between households were usually arranged at fairs where powerful and wealthy Marchers would meet up to make deals and alliances and to discuss trade, politics and war. The most important of these was the Stockland Fair held every Autumn equinox on the village green. As the Stockland Fair grew in size and importance it became an essential forum for households to air grievances with each other, make alliances, and broadly agree the defence of the Marches against the southern orcs of Mournwold.

The Marchers had no armies as the Empire would recognise them at this time. Rather, each household undertook to equip and train themselves for war. If a household was threatened by orcs, the neighbouring stewards would meet and select a prominent yeoman to act as field marshal for the coming battle. The marshal was required to make the final decision on what strategy to employ for a battle and to provide appropriate leadership once the fighting began. An experienced and successful field marshal was a huge asset to any household, allowing them to dictate terms when negotiating a potential attack on orc lands with other households.

This resistance to establishing any formal permanent leadership was a consequence of the independent and stubborn nature of the Marchers. They were in broad agreement that no single individual would be in charge - they had quit Dawn, after all, to get away from a system where the nobles ruled over those who toiled and the idea that someone would set themselves up as "monarch of the Marches" was anathema to them. Choosing their own stewards to run a household and a Field Marshal to run a battle was the pragmatic compromise that enabled leadership when it was essential, but it was a system with numerous obvious flaws. Attempts to create some more formal method of providing unity to the Marches were made, but each one quickly fell apart.

In the last years before the foundation of the Empire, this resistance to unification nearly spelled the downfall of the Marches. The Marchers were slowly driven out of their holdings in Mournwold - not an uncommon situation at a time when battle waged back-and-forth across the borders of Upwold and Mitwold. This time, however, the southern barbarians continued to push. They captured Graven March in Bregasland - then a source of a significant amount of the Marches green iron. They captured The Heath in Upwold, wresting control of Sutton Stone Quarries, and launched numerous probing raids into Golden Downs and Oddmire - the latter having the potential to cut Bregasland off from the rest of the Marches entirely.

Those yeomen who had not lost land to the orcs were not overly concerned - the barbarians regularly raiding the southern Marches and were always turned back - but this time something was different. The orcs fought with a singular purpose, and their internal divisions seemed significantly less pressing in stark contrast to the Marchers themselves. Historians point to a similar situation in Kahraman, and to the rise of the first kings and queens of Narkyst exerting a strong unifying influence over orcs displaced by the Marchers and the Freeborn in previous centuries.

Joining the Empire

It is perhaps unsurprising that in the face of the barbarian threat, when Landskeeper Brigit of Dourfen brought word to the Stockland Fair of the meeting arranged by the First Empress, only a small handful of Stewards were prepared to leave their estates to make the journey to distant Anvil. While a number of other households sent representatives along, they were largely more interested in "keeping an eye on whatever it is the Dawnish are up to now" as one of them put it.

After hearing the Empress' proposal, the Marchers who attended withdrew to consider the matter. Most of the stewards who had attended in person were in favour of the proposed alliance, but there was little agreement among the remainder. The contrary, stubborn, and vengeful nature of the Marchers was a well-known stereotype even in pre-Imperial times and the mere fact that some households were prepared to support the nascent Empire seemed to be enough to ensure that their rivals opposed it. Eventually the group nominated Henry of Meade to present their decision to the Empress and the other gathered dignitaries - some of the Marchers were prepared to join, but the remainder were not prepared to sacrifice their freedom for the security on offer.

The Empress publicly refused to accept the offer. "I will take all of you, or none of you." she announced. It fell to wise Brigit to explain the Empress pronouncement - that the Empire had no use for a divided land. It would not take some of the Marcher Households, and let the others squabble among themselves. The Empress was eager to embrace the Marches but any attempt by her to unite the nation by force would be a disaster. The Empire could not afford to become embroiled in a civil war and worse the Marcher ability to hold grudges would leave the Empire viewed not as liberators but as conquerors. If the Marchers were serious about joining, they would need to be united in doing so.

Another of the Empress' close confidants, Barell, Merchant Prince of Tassato, approached Henry of Meade with an alternative. The cities of Tassato and Sarvos were looking to join forces with others to form a league of like-minded city states. Meade could "cut their losses" and join the Empire as part of this new league. The offer might have been appealing to the alders of Meade, but it was given short shrift by the stewards of Upwold and their representatives. The city might be an important source of trade and wealth for many yeomen but by long tradition it was land that ruled the Marches, and not coin.

The Cousin's War

The Marchers returned home, and brought word of the Empress and her plans to the next grand fair at Stockland. The news was divisive; there were many who argued passionately that this was a chance for the Marches to unite as a nation and that that, and their new allies, would give them the strength to finally drive the orcs from Mitwold and potentially conquer the Mourne. The detractors were just as adamant that the Empire would spell the end of Marcher independence, that they would be ruled over by foreigners, including the widely disparaged nobles of Dawn. The Fair descended into arguments, and in some cases brawling, as drunken Marchers spat insults at each other. It was a relief to many when the Fair managed to close without open fighting breaking out, but the two factions withdrew, hostile and angry, and a descent into civil war began.

Following the dissolution of the Fair, those Marcher households and landskeepers who supported the idea of joining the Empire tried to recruit as many Marchers as possible to their side. Steadily the number of Marcher households remaining neutral was whittled away, with more and more feeling the need to choose one side or the other, or risk being considered an enemy by both sides. There were numerous armed clashes between rival households and old grudges came to the fore, leading to open skirmishes and bloody exchanges. It was always common for a household to call on allies when a grudge turned to open-fighting but the matter of the Empire split the Marches and the bloodshed escalated like never before. There were a few minor battles, but though the losers lost their lands and in many cases their lives, for the most part they were inconclusive, neither side could shift the balance firmly enough to settle the matter.

While there were certainly folk on both sides motivated by the grudges and rivalries that underpinned Marcher society, others had more idealistic inspiration. Tom Drake, for example, wrote of his certainty that if the Marches could not be united, they would be conquered either by the orcs, or by a newly-invigorated Dawn. With the might of Highguard and the southern city-states behind them, the Marchers would be unable to resist the Empire's hunger for their rich farmlands. Even if they did not ultimately end up joining the Empire, the Marches could no longer afford to be a divided nation of petty households squabbling with each other. Henry of Meade spoke several times of the danger of an Empire where the elitist notions of Dawn were allowed to reign unchecked, and of what such an alliance might look like without any Marcher common sense to balance our Dawnish pig-headedness.

By contrast his main rival on the opposite side of the matter, the fiery Agnes Tiller of Wayford, argued that the Marches would simply be swallowed up if they attempted to join the new alliance. Instead of going cap in hand to this Dawnish monarch and her Highborn allies, the Marchers should look north to their friendly rivals in Wintermark - after all the Winterfolk king Alof Beorning had also declined to join the proposed Empire. She and her supporters actively sought a military alliance between the Marches, Wintermark, and the Navarr of Miaren and Hercynia, with the Winterfolk serving as liaisons to those Varushkans who were also unconvinced by the First Empress' vision.

After a year of escalation, the stewards again came together at Stockland but this time there was no appetite for trade and celebration. The two factions and their supporters camped separately on either side of Hepton Bridge. Those who sided with the Empress were led by Brigit, Henry, and the canny military commander, Tom Drake. They established an armed camp on Monk's Heath on the northern bank of the River Meade. Those who believed the Marches should remain independent were lea by Gregory of Ashill and Mary Hay. They pitched camp south of the river, on the commons at Maiden's Run. The fair itself was cancelled for the first time in living memory, and as the sun rose over the fields both armies began to move.

The fighting was bloody, and continued until close to sundown. Although they marginally outnumbered their rivals, Tom Drake's strategy was widely credited with carrying the day. The defeated stewards were forced to accept the outcome to keep their lands, those who refused either fled the Marches or were executed. The Battle of Hepton Bridge was not strictly the last battle of the Cousin's War, but with the deaths of so many opposing stewards on the fields of Stockmarch, the outcome was never in doubt. Some of the defeated households bowed their heads to inevitability, while others refused to capitulate and lost their lands. A few, led by Agnes Tiller's surviving daughter Hazel, quit the Marches with their soldiers and fled north.

Within weeks of the victory at Stockland, Henry and Drake drew up their forces on the fields in Ashbrook and dispatched an invitation to the Empress to meet them there. The popular version of events tells of how First Empress marched out of southern Miaren, along the road guarded by Brock's Toll, on foot with her standard bearer, and accepted the Marcher request to join the Empire. There is plenty of evidence in the Marches however that this version of events owes more to fancy than fact. The Marchers bargained with the representatives of the putative new alliance not as humble supplicants but as people who had just won a war of unification. Henry and Tom laid down several very specific demands regarding the nature of the alliance, the position of the nations within it, the adoption of the field marshal to provide battlefield leadership where soldiers from multiple nations worked together, and crucially the requirements for how the military of the member nations would operate. Legend has it that Henry is reported to have thrown the Empress own words back at her when presenting the demands ending with the phrase "we want all of them, or none of them" - presenting the very real chance that the Marches would not join the Empire and would seek their own path.

The first foundations of the Imperial Military Council were laid during this meeting, with the Marchers receiving unexpected support from both representatives of the Brass Coast, the early League, and several factions of the Navarr. In the end, the Marcher demands were met and the newly-united Marches became part of the Empire.

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The Marches in the Empire

The first thing the newly united Marchers did was turn their armies south and with the assistance of League mercenaries and bands of soldiers from the Brass Coast and Highguard, drive the orcs out of Graven Rock. By removing the immediate threat to Bregasland, the Marchers of Mitwold and Upwold went some way toward reinforcing their claims to have put the past behind them and unified under a single banner. The Bregasland households officially joined the unified Marches shortly afterward.

The barbarians in Upwold and Mitwold could not hold out against Marchers supported by the Empire, and retreated south into the Mournwold. Their raids continued, but the Marchers were in a much better position to rebuff them. Still, the southern orcs remained a constant threat to the Marches, until 74YE when the conquest of Mournwold drove the surviving forces down into Kahraman.

Almost immediately after securing their southern borders, however, the new armies were called away to fight in the first campaign of the new Empire. Tom Drake of Redston led his household and a band of landskeepers to Varushka along with one of the first Imperial armies - the Drakes. They fought through unfamiliar forests, alongside all those who opposed Alderei the Fair and brought Varushka into the Empire. Historians say that Tom faced the boyar-king on the battlefield and ultimately defeated him. The Redston folk wear a broken crown on their livery to this day.

Entry to the Empire brought some changes. Pious Marcher folk returning from pilgrimages to Highguard founded the monasteries which now dot the landscape. Friars have become an important part of most Households and few powerful Marcher households do not have one or more of these learned folk by their side. Imperial writ created the market towns, outside the control of the households. Yet the traditional beliefs that give the Marchers their strength have endured every transformation brought by the Empire.

Marchers on the Throne

Two Marchers have sat on the Imperial Throne, and their reigns could not have been more different.

The first Marcher to take the Throne was Emperor James of Mournwold. Appointed in 257YE, he was crowned as the Empire was in real danger of being destroyed by the barbarian orcs after decades of fruitless back-and-forth conquest and liberation. He is perhaps most famous for "fixing the borders", making it illegal for the Empire to add new territory until such time as the Senate and the Synod were both in agreement that the Empire was sufficiently strengthened as to be able to hold those territories. His reign ushered in the Second Interregnum, just under twenty years of relative peace and prosperity for the entire Empire during which the Throne remained vacant.

The second Marcher Throne was Emperor Walter of Upwold. An effective businessman and alder, he was appointed only a short time ago in 371YE. His reign was very short, and very chaotic - he attempted to run the Empire like a business with near disastrous consequences. He is largely viewed as a failure and an embarrassment by the rest of the Marches. About the only good thing to come out of his reign was an awareness of just how much trouble the Empire was in - laying the groundwork for the appointment of Empress Britta and the resurgence that continues to this day.

Further Reading

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