The Great Kingdom Crumbles
The Great Kingdom survived some 250 years before it began to lose lands in the west. The Viceroyalty of Furyondy was established in 100 CY, and over the coming decades it bore the brunt of challenges from non-Aerdi Oeridians allied with Bakluni horsemen who raided from the north and west. Resentment grew in the lands far from Rauxes, and a perception that the Overking did not do enough to protect the western lands also grew.
A Long, Slow Fall
The subsequent inexorable decline of the Great Kingdom can be seen in two phases. The first is the beginning in 254 CY, Thrommel I of Furyondy was crowned in Dyvers, taking a whole range of secondary titles which loudly announced his people’s goals; Prince of Veluna, Marshall of the Shield Lands, Warden General of the Vesve Forest, and more. Furyondy and Veluna both became independent states, Perrenland reasserted its independence, and to the north, the rulers of the Duchy of Tenh took their cue from events to the west and asserted independence also. The Overking could not reestablish control over his distant former dominions. The break-up of the Great Kingdom, which would take over three centuries to complete and would end in madness and terror, had begun.
The decisive phase in the break-up of this mighty empire can be dated precisely to 356 CY. In this year, the ruling Aerdi dynasty, the House of Rax, was sundered by an internal feud. The attempts of the then-overking, Portillan, to reconquer Nyrond were stymied by an assault on the North Province of Aerdy from Flan barbarians which forced Portillan to defend his own lands rather than reconquer Nyrond. With the Urnst states and the Theocracy of the Pale swiftly following Nyrond’s path, Aerdy’s dominance was broken. The junior branch of the ruling house declared its lands free of the Overking’s rule, and the kingdom of Nyrond was born.
The Overking reacted swiftly, amassing a great army to crush the separatists. But he had the misfortune of encountering a powerful Flan barbarian foray into the North Province of the Great Kingdom itself that same winter. The Overking’s armies beat off the invasion, but were too weakened to assault Nyrond. Feints, skirmishes, and small battles were plenty, but Nyrond could not be brought back into the Overking’s domain.
The Theocracy of the Pale seceded at the same time, and the Urnst states likewise; Nyrond held both at one time, but accepted their independence at the Council of Rel Mord in return for pledges of mutual cooperation. While further secession would follow, such as Almorian independence and a relatively short-lived attempt to ally the South Province with the Iron League, these would not be of major importance.
To the west, the oldest of all the major kingdoms established in the Flanaess, Keoland, grew more powerful and predatory in the mid-fourth century. Expanding its influence to the north, it ultimately became involved in the so-called “Small War” (or Short War) with Furyondy and Veluna. Military reverses and the objections of the small but powerful demihuman enclaves in Ulek and Celene soon put an end to that expansionism.
The troubles of the times tended to be those of skirmishing; the Bandit Kingdoms had formed as a group of petty fiefdoms in the vacuum left between Furyondy to the west and Tenh and the Theocracy to the east, and in response, good nobles to the south began to coalesce their forces in the Shield Lands.
Elsewhere, the Free City of Greyhawk, already in existence for centuries as a trading town, entered its arguably most glorious (and certainly most infamous) phase of development under the mad Archmage Zagig Yragerne, who began the building of Castle Greyhawk in 375 CY. It seemed a strange folly at the time. Yet two centuries later, the changes in the city of Greyhawk and those back within the Great Kingdom would be pivotal in the future history of all the Flanaess.
Paradoxically, the disintegration of the Great Kingdom paused a while, despite a wretched change at its very crown. While some overkings had been less than masters of warfare or diplomacy, the House of Rax produced a succession of inept rulers that were decadent, self-absorbed, weak, and ineffectual. Galren, Portillan’s son, was a half-wit. In turn, Galren’s son and heir, Sonnend, was a drunkard who left all affairs of state to his advisers. Further ineffectual and weak rulers followed their dismal reigns. Some were said to be insane, but this was mostly untrue—save for feeble-mindedness now and again.
This produced a vital change in Aerdi society. Local rulers who were members of other royal houses began to use their titles of prince rather more aggressively. Petty nobles began to scheme, to openly flout the Overking’s edicts, and to enact their own laws and pursue their own mean-minded grudges. They began to administer local taxes increasingly independently of the overking, to build fortifications not only for themselves but for their own leigemen who came less and less to answer to the overking and more and more to obey only their own local lords.
Mercenary armies became more common, and some princes conquered slices of other princes’ lands. The drunken, enfeebled, or effete overkings allowed this to happen. The House of Naelax was the first to use humanoid mercenary troops around the Adri Forest for provisioning raids late in the fourth century. And it was this royal house which came increasingly to the fore.
At this time, the Great Kingdom still had a relative freedom and equality of many priesthoods, although those of Lawful alignments were dominant. In Rauxes itself, the priesthood of Pholtus still played a commanding role as advisers, judges, and mediators. However, Naelax aligned itself firmly with the burgeoning priesthood of Hextor. In a land with increasing strife and struggle, this aggressive evil priesthood became more influential as the decades passed. Before many years went by, Prince Ivid of Naelax acted decisively to oust the wretched Rax ruler.
It was only a matter of time before Rax was overthrown and a new tyrant installed as Overking and, in truth, many petty nobles were glad when it happened. After decades of pointless strife, it was almost a relief to have central power and authority again. However, few of them would have chosen Ivid I as their new master.
The Turmoil Between Crowns
No direct evidence links Ivid, ruler of the North Province at the time, with the assassination of the entire House of Rax in 446 CY. But Ivid ensured his ascension by the simple expedient of killing every other minor princeling who made a claim on the throne, and plenty more besides. Madness had gripped the Malachite Throne when Ivid I, scion of the House of Naelax, was proclaimed His Celestial Transcendency, Overking of Aerdy, and many knew it.
Ivid may have won a kingdom, but he paid a high price his ascension to the throne. While North Province now ruled by Ivid’s nephew of House Naelax, soon established independence, as did the wily Herzog of Ahlissa in the the South Province. He allied himself with the seceding Iron League: the lands of Onnwal, Idee, Sunndi, and the Free City of Irongate.
Almor grew in strength and freedom, supported by Nyrond as a buffer state between itself and the declining power of Rauxes. The Holy Censor, High Priest to the Overking, sought freedom for Medegia and became increasingly independent and often failed to support the more aggressive schemes of later overkings, although Ivid managed to drag it back under his influence in later years. But the independence of these sub-states could only delay the final fate of the Aerdi. Momentous change beset the Great Kingdom as civil war erupted.
The House of Naelax changed Aerdy forever. The five overkings it produced, and most of its noblemen and women, were dangerously insane and “fiend-seeing.” Dangerously insane because the typically paranoid form their madness took did not take any toll of their intellect; they were usually smart, piercingly observant, especially with fiendish aid, and utterly ruthless.
The Malachite Throne became known as the “Fiend-seeing Throne.” It was whispered that the House of Naelax had willingly entered into a pact with fiends—lords of the infernal tanar’ri—a pact that would endure down all the generations of their descendants. A time of terror had begun. Blood would wash the feet and hands of the madman enthroned in Rauxes. Little wonder that further secession beset his lands.
The title “fiend-seeing” ascribed so often to them is, nowadays, not such an unusual aspect of Aerdi. Many rulers traffic with fiends, have fiends in their armies, or are themselves undead. However, at the time, the House of Naelax assumed dominance by being very unusual and pre-eminent in such fell dealings, and it gave them a decisive edge.
Ivid V ascended to the Malachite Throne in Rauxes in CY 556 by the traditional manner of murdering his father and others who got in his way. This was accepted practice in many royal houses in Aerdi. The moral degeneracy which the House of Naelax actively encouraged had taken a firm rooting in Aerdi aristocracy.
Ivid was no military genius, but he was a brilliant intriguer and politician, and he knew how to stage a good public execution or, still better, utilize torture to encourage any possible rivals to re-think their plans to oust him. The Screaming Column in Rauxes is one of the most colorful testimonies to Ivid V’s innovation in the realm of cowing opposition by fear.
Had he remained content with such masterful acts within his own lands—for Ivid successfully ensured that his kingdom remained intact despite bids for secession by certain provinces—he might have been a highly effective ruler. As it happened, his megalomania got the better of him.
The Beginning of the End
The first major naval skirmishes between the Great Kingdom and the powerful Nyrondese navy took place in Relmor Bay in CY 578. Some say the Nyrondese engineered these skirmishes, preparing for what they considered to be an inevitable war. Certainly, Ivid V was making noises at court about reclaiming Aerdy’s great imperial heritage, and Nyrond was the first major power heading west.
To be sure, the ruler of South Province coveted Onnwal and Irongate, even Idee—but these were small worries to Ivid. He did have designs on Nyrond, but it may well be that the Nyrondese forced his hand. Both sides actually shied away from a major land war, but when Iuz’s puppets in Stonefist swarmed into Tenh with barbarian help in CY 582, something snapped within Ivid.
The reports of war, blood, and great conquests being made by the hated barbarians and barely-civilized Fists of the North excited and enraged the overking. Egged on by the priesthood of Hextor, Ivid entered the fray by storming into Nyrond and its ally Almor.
However, even before the Great Kingdom went to war, dangerous changes had occurred within its borders. It was an open secret that Ivid V had baatezu within his Companion Guard, and the forbidding figures of the Fiend-Knights of Doom struck fear into all. Their name itself was a flamboyant, excessively-stated mockery as were their uniforms. They wore gold visors to mock knights and warrior-priests of good deities such as Heironeous.
There was worse, of course. Ivid’s hateful court wizard, Xaene, creator of the fiend-knights, disappeared. It is believed he turned to lichdom, but his successor, Karoolck, turned out to be an even darker and more dangerous mage than Xaene. Karoolck is known for his development of the fiend armors worn by elite soldiery within Ivid’s Companion Guard. The wizard’s rise corresponds closely with Ivid’s development of a slowly progressive wasting disease.
Ivid confronted important priesthoods in the Great Kingdom. He proclaimed the worship of “Baalzy,” an alleged power of prosperity and wealth. The name was but an alias for a powerful arch-fiend allied with Ivid (and, more importantly, with Karoolck).
Temple taxes were greatly increased, and when priests and worshipers tried to get around them by holding simple services of reverence in private homes, Ivid proclaimed a “worship tax” on such gatherings. Around the Great Kingdom, priests of non-evil deities were harassed, assassinated, and persecuted. An inevitable showdown followed.
The Patriarch of Pholtus in Rauxes, Emasstus Carcosa, pronounced heresy on Ivid, denouncing him openly as being insane and allied with fiends. He called upon the servants of all non-evil powers to ally and oppose the overking.
Perhaps the old patriarch-sage thought that by stopping short of openly inciting insurrection and overthrowing Ivid he might escape with his life—he did not. Ivid had him arrested for treason and subversion and organized the systematic looting of temples of Pholtus in all lands (though in Ahlissa and Medegia he was defied in this matter).
So, when the Greyhawk Wars came, there was foment enough within the Great Kingdom. Perhaps Ivid thought that a war against foreign states might take the heat out of the situation at home.