Way of the Wicked
History of House Darius
As I believe you already know, King Markadian V the Brave is the current beloved monarch of Talingarde. How his house came to power and the achievements of those that preceded him though is a truly fascinating story…
The Rise of House Darius
Talingarde may be a peaceful and prosperous kingdom, but the nation has certainly had a troubled past. Only eighty years ago, the kingdom weathered a bitter war of succession fought between the largely half-elven nobility of House Barca and the human dynasty of House Darius. Both had claim to the throne and their supporters amongst the fractured nobility of the isle.
On the Plains of Tamberlyn just north of the capital city, two great armies met and decided the future of this dominion. One army was commanded by King Jaraad of House Barca, a great half-elven hero mounted on a griffon, the symbol of his house. The other was led by Markadian of House Darius, a young upstart paladin who would not bow before all the gods of the Talirean pantheon (in particular Asmodeus).
The Battle of Tamberlyn remains the most famous conflict in all of Talingarde’s history. House Darius was gravely outnumbered but far more fiercely committed to their holy cause. Much of House Barca’s army was paid mercenaries fighting for nothing more than gold.
The Battle was fought between two large stone spires (the so-called Lords of Tamberlyn) that rise from otherwise level ground. A small brook splits the spires crossed only in one place by an ancient stone bridge. The brook is not deep but still would be difficult for men in armor to cross.
Markadian took to the field first, seizing the bridge with his knights and positioning infantry on both his right and left flank. The famed archers of Barrington and Embryl, with their mighty longbows of yew, were positioned behind the infantry.
Outnumbering his foe many times, King Jaraad hoped for a quick victory and sent his mercenary crossbowmen forward to bombard the knights on the bridge. The hope was that a few volleys of crossbow shot would kill many of the knights and paladins of House Darius. Deprived of their leadership, the rest of the soldiery would likely flee from the battlefield when the king moved the bulk of Barca’s army forward.
However, the crossbowmen advanced too close and the infantry on Darius’ right flank performed a surprise charge. The charge caught the mercenaries off guard and they fled with hardly a shot fired.
So disgusted was the knight commander of Barca behind the mercenaries that he ordered his knights to charge forward through the “cowardly retreating rabble” to attack the relatively exposed Darian infantry. The result was a chaotic muddle of panicked mercenary and tangled knights. It was then that the Darian archers begin to fire their volleys. The arrows rained down on the knights and took a princely toll on the Barcan force.
King Jaraad saw the muddle that his left had become and ordered the other pincer of his army forward. They moved swiftly at first along the banks of the brook but soon found themselves equally bogged down in mud. They too began to receive a hail of arrows.
Finally the Barcan left pushed through the mercenaries and charged the bridge. It was here that the heaviest fighting of the battle took place. On the bridge of Tamberlyn the knights of Darius met the full might of the Barcan army and held the line. The Barcan army was packed in so tight trying to cross the bridge that there rear ranks were at the mercy of the Embryllian archers.
King Jaraad could watch the slaughter no longer. He flew his elite personal command – a dozen knights on griffons to the other side of the bridge hoping to flank the defenders and break their line. What he encountered instead was the young Lord Markadian and his personal guard.
The battle between Markadian’s knights and the griffon riders has been immortalized in several songs and plays. Suffice to say that after a great battle, a dozen dead griffons littered the field and only Markadian of Darius and King Jaraad of Barca remained combatant. They fought fiercely and in the end, Markadian slew Jaraad upon the banks of the Tamberlyn brook and claimed the throne of Talingarde.
At the end of the day, the battle had proved to be a slaughter. The military might of House Barca was broken and House Darius came to power. It would have been easy then for House Darius to seek revenge against their former enemies but instead King Markadian I called the Victorious showed mercy.
He allowed the nobles of House Barca to keep their lands if they would only swear loyalty to the new king and bow before the great god Mitra. The offer was accepted and peace once more came to Talingarde. The crisis of succession was over and the religion of the isle was decided. Mitra the Shining Lord became head of the Talirean pantheon.
The Victor upon the Throne
When Markadian I came to power there was great uncertainty of how capable a king he would prove. While he was a great warrior, he had never ruled and there was reason to doubt this young paladin could control this divided land. He soon put those doubts to rest.
Markadian I called the Victorious (usually simply The Victor these days) was the sort of ruler that only comes once every thousand years. At the battle of Farholde he dealt the bugbears of the north a savage defeat and scattered them for a generation. He confronted the pirates who had made the western coast of Talingarde their stronghold and burnt them out. It seemed that the Victor was undefeatable upon the field of battle.
So fearsome was his reputation that by the later years of his reign, he merely sent a letter to a rebellious warlord in the west that read, “Must we meet on the fields on war?” The warlord relented and became a loyal subject. By the end of the Victor’s reign, almost all of the island south of the Watch Wall was firmly a part of Talingarde. Only a few parts of the great and trackless forest, the Caer Bryr, remained wild and unmapped.
More than a soldier, he also proved a great builder and statesman. He raised the capital Matharyn from a small city into a great metropolis. He reinforced the watch wall, commissioning three new fortresses. He eased tariffs bringing merchants from the mainland to the oft-isolated isle once more. He personally visited the Lands of the Yutak tribesmen in the north and made peace with their great chiefs. And though the paladin spread the religion of Mitra and discouraged devotion to Asmodeus he tolerated the Prince of Nessus’ temples as long as they were discrete.
For forty six years the Victor sat upon the throne bringing a golden age to Talingarde. Today, his statues are to be found in almost every town and hamlet throughout the kingdom. He did have his faults though. Like so many great rulers – he was a great soldier and king but a poor father.
The Scholar and the Monster
After the death of the Victor, his oldest son Martius ascended to the throne as King Markadian II called the Learned. More a scholar than a king, Martius proved largely disinterested in affairs of state. He commissioned the great library at Matharyn and began renovation of an old family castle into the great palace known as the Adarium. As the first wing of the Adarium was completed, he retreated there and was rarely seen in public.
The other son, Prince Hallen, was not so reserved. Though he had no official power, he often ruled in the king’s absence and commanded great loyalty from the knights of the realm. This might have been an acceptable arrangement. After all, Prince Hallen was a soldier and an heir of the Victor. He could have become the de facto ruler while the official king sat in his distant pleasure palace and library. Alas, that Prince Hallen was also mad.
Prince Hallen became convinced that his mother (who had died in childbirth) was not the queen but an angel of Mitra. He believed himself a demigod and incapable of wrong. At first the Prince’s madness was subtle. He often dressed all in white and even had a magic set of wings made for himself that allowed him to soar over the capital.
But in time the visions began. He communed with these so-called angels and they whispered that he should replace his brother and become the true and immortal master of Talingarde. The king received disturbing reports of the prince’s madness and plots but refused to believe them. “My brother but jests,” is famously what Markadian II replied to the reports.
Finally the “angel” prince would wait no longer. He flew to the Adarium and with a flaming sword slew his own brother amidst his books and proclaimed himself Markadian III called the Immortal. His brother’s six year reign was at an end.
For a brief time, it was possible that Markadian III’s claim of kingship might have been acknowledged. His brother after all was little loved and tongues wagged that getting rid of the absent king was a blessing. Maybe the new king was a divine messenger of Mitra’s will. But within days the mad decrees began from the Adarium. The king decreed that Mitra’s high holy day would no longer be the summer solstice but instead would become his own birthday. He ordered the military to prepare to invade Hell and commanded his wizards to research opening a great gate. First, he explained to his flabbergasted advisors, the army would go through the gate to the shining realm of Mitra himself to call forth an army of angels. Then he personally would lead the host to invade the nine hells and overthrow Asmodeus himself.
Finally the people had enough of this madness. Officially, the histories record that after only five months in power Markadian III called the Mad tried to fly from the highest spire of the Adarium without his magic wings. More likely, he was thrown from the spire by paladins who would tolerate no more of this madman’s blasphemies. Whatever the truth, his reign was over.
Blame the Devil
Fortunately for Talingarde, Martius (Markadian II) had a son — Marcus. The grandson of the Victor was neither mad nor a recluse. He had been clever enough to avoid the Adarium and the capital during Prince Hallen’s angelic rampage. Marcus was a handsome knight twenty nine years of age and closely resembled his grandfather the Victor. Thus was Talingarde spared another disastrous war of succession.
Marcus returned to the capital and was crowned Markadian IV called the Zealous. The new king quickly realized that he needed to solidify his power and explain away the difficulties of the last six and a half years. In short, he needed an enemy to unify this fractured Talirean nation. He found one – in the Temple of Asmodeus.
King Markadian IV blamed the cult of Asmodeus for using their black magic to summon a devil to possess the former king thus driving him mad. It was a brilliant political solution (though an utter fiction). It removed blame from the royal house of Darius and instead placed guilt squarely upon a small, unpopular, marginalized cult. This was the beginning of the Asmodean Purges.
The Knights of the Alerion took the lead in destroying the temples. High priests were burned at the stake and the sect was driven underground. For twelve years, the Zealot sat upon the throne and during that time he did his best to annihilate the cult of Asmodeus. He very nearly succeeded.
Markadian IV died comparatively young, only 41 years old of a mysterious illness. There were rumors that the Cult of Asmodeus had placed a curse upon the king. These rumors only fuelled the purges further.
A Brave New King
Markadian IV was followed by Markadian V, his son. Twenty-two when he took the throne (the same age as the Victor), he has ruled for sixteen years as a capable, energetic king who has done much to put bad memories in the past. Beloved by his people, he has proven again and again he is the true heir of the Victor. Early in his reign, he personally led the army to relieve the Watch Wall after another bugbear incursion. It was on the watchtower walls that he earned himself the title The Brave.
Markadian V has continued the prohibition against the cult of Asmodeus but does not pursue the purges with the same vigor as his father. After all, that battle is largely won. No one has heard of an Asmodean cultist in Talingarde for years. Instead, he turns his attention to the west and the north hoping to be the king who brings the entire island of Talingarde under his dynasty’s dominion.
He has failed in one duty however. He has failed to yet produce a son. Instead, he has only one child — a beautiful, brilliant young princess named Bellinda.