Chaos in the North
The reverses in Furyondy, though troubling to Iuz, were hardly mortal to the demigod’s grand empire. However, the Great Northern Crusade was the start of a series of counterattacks that have gone on to the present day. These attacks have broken off part of Iuz’s empire to the far east, and generally have put the demigod on the defensive, a position he does not tolerate well.
One of the most peculiar counteroffensives apparently began in the Shield Lands when a unit of light cavalry mercenaries employed by a Shield Lands’ lord managed to escape the armies of Iuz. This cavalry was led by a renegade Dry Steppes nomad warrior named Tang the Horrific, who was probably the finest mercenary in the area at the time. According to unreliable folktales about him, Tang led a fighting retreat north to the Icy Sea, then crossed west to the lands of the Wolf Barbarians. There, in the winter of 586-587 CY, Tang summoned a war council and told the tribal khans that the time was at hand to deal Iuz a telling blow. Upon learning that the ancient burial caves of the Wolf Nomads (Wegwiur) lay within Iuz’s main homeland, Tang proposed that an army be raised to go to these caves and recover the ancient bodies and relics for reburial in safer regions.
The Wolf Nomads were reportedly astonished at the audacity, courage, and natural charisma of this fellow nomad. The council and the tarkhan himself agreed to the attack immediately, perhaps sensing the importance of this moment in history. In the late spring of 587 CY, the Wegwiur’s Relentless Horde rode from Eru-Tovar and attacked the unsuspecting orcs of the Howling Hills, driving them back in chaos from the Wegwiur Thralls caverns and surrounding area. Shamans carefully removed the bodies of their forefathers and packed the caves’ many treasures, while Tang and Tarkhan Bargru hounded the humanoids of this miserable land. Two days later, a retreat was called and the cavalry force returned home in triumph. By chance, this attack came just before the Shield Lands assault began to the south, and Iuz’s attention was thus diverted from the important action at Critwall Iuz lost no land in the fighting, but his orcs suffered many casualties and a stupendous loss of face in the eyes of Iuz and the Wegwiur, who thereafter raided the border more frequently. Tang and a small force of cavalry were last seen riding into the Lands of Iuz, leading an advancing orc army away from the retreating Wegwiur.
The year 588 CY saw another reversal for the Empire. It was supposed by many in the Flanaess that Iuz had managed to gain some sort of magical influence over the bloodthirsty Master of the Hold of Stonefist (now Stonehold), Sevvord Redbeard The Master’s warriors had looted Tenh years earlier but held it as a slave state afterward, acting as unknowing proxies of Iuz. Many warriors returned to Stonehold later to defend their lands from attacks by other barbarians. Iuz had more of his soldiers and spellcasters take charge of the remains of Tenh as the Stoneholders left.
By means not yet known, Iuz’s charm-like control over Sevvord Redbeard was broken in mid-588 CY. Enraged at the abuse he suffered, Redbeard vowed revenge. Iuz’s priests, soldiers, and advisors in the area were slaughtered on sight, and Tenh was plunged into bloodshed once again. The Master then ordered a final looting of Tenh and a retreat to Nevond Nevnend and Calbut. Stonefist warriors meant to keep this area so as to guard Thunder Pass (called Rockegg Pass by the Tenha), the route through the Griff Mountains back to Stonefist. Reports were already filtering back to the Stonefist troops that a force of Ice and Snow Barbarians was raiding and burning its way across the eastern Hold, and all wished to go home and do battle.
The Master also made public certain political changes enacted in Stonefist a decade earlier that had not yet been fully implemented or shared with the outside world, thanks to the paranoid and violent nature of the inhabitants. To resolve a long-standing tribal conflict, Sevvord essentially introduced feudalism to the Hold. He had himself declared Rhelt (“king” in the Cold Tongue), and his own position and those of his Atamen were made hereditary. Thus, the Atamen became nobles and Redbeard’s line became royalty. The chieftains of Stonefist were allowed to elect warband leaders instead of having them chosen by the brutal Rite of Battle Fitness. The Rite itself was modified to become more survivable while remaining physically challenging and dangerous. (Some tales said the Rite was often turned into a massacre to rid Sevvord of potential rivals.) A standing army was also established, made up of warriors who survived the Rite. The war chiefs were tasked with expanding the Hold of Stonefist through conquest using their Fists (warbands). The efficiency of this new system was proven when Stonefist troops conquered Tenh.
The Hold of Stonefist was also renamed. Now openly calling itself Stonehold, this quasi-kingdom is composed of four Atamanships: Vlekstaad (west), Purmill (south), Kelten (east), and Bastro (north). Four Great Chieftains were named, each equal to an Ataman (Reindeer, White Bear, Walrus, and Forest [Hraak] People). Stonehold has become a force that is greatly feared by all in this region.
The retreat of Rhelt Sevvord and the Stonehold troops to the northern foothills of Tenh pleased Iuz, even if the battering of his forces did not. In late 588 CY, Iuz’s humanoid armies moved out of Rookroost to pick over the ruins in Tenh. At that point, eastern Tenh was invaded by two armies, commanded by Theocrat Tillit, from the Theocracy of the Pale which had quietly converted and trained many expatriate Tenhas as warriors in the church of Pholtus. These converts, once homeless refugees, planned to retake their country and make it an allied subject state of the Pale. Other expatriate Tenhas returned to Tenh for the fight, but these were not well organized at first. The exiled Duke Ehyeh now “commands” the latter from his new home in the County of Urnst. As a result, four mutually hostile groups now make war over the bloody fields of Tenh, led by Iuz, Rhelt Sevvord, Duke Ehyeh, and Theocrat Tillit. Rhelt Sevvord’s force has the strongest defenses; Duke Ehyeh’s group is weakest, and some of those have defected to the Pale. The mage Nystul of the Circle of Eight is said to support Duke Ehyeh.
Iuz’s control over the Bandit Lands has slipped over the years as the region sinks into its old habits. About a dozen minor arlords, human and humanoid, have arisen in the nine years since this land fell to Iuz in 582, CY. Many orcs and hobgoblins from Iuz’s armies have allied themselves along old tribal lines with these warlords, and a considerable amount of chaotic feuding, power-grabbing, and infighting goes on. The Bandit Lands still respond to most of Iuz’s commands. Of the old Bandit Kingdom “realms” here, Stoink has survived best.
Iuz’s control over the Barrens, the Horned Lands, and the Shield Lands is strong, though Molag has been attacked numerous times by adventurers bent on destroying it during the Crusade. Stonehold’s men have pulled back from the Barrens, and no one challenges the humanoids here. The current condition of the decimated Rovers of the Barrens is unknown. They may be extinct, in hiding, or joined with another people to recover their terrible losses.
Many parts of the old Shield Lands are uninhabited and undefended, fertile ground awaiting settlers who can hold the land against savage humanoid assaults. Everywhere in these lands, Iuz’s forces are well entrenched and supplied. Battles and skirmishes continue with the Wolf Nomads, Furyondy, returning Shield Landers, the County of Urnst, the Pale, Stoneholders, and more.