Nations of the Dead are not particularly new ideas. Even the ancient Egyptians believed that the lands on the other bank of the Nile belonged to the dead. The idea is also quite common in fantasy fiction of all kinds. But what could cause an entire nation or domain become undead? Powerful necromancers building empires and rulers seeking immortality are the most common cause. But what if undeath was voluntary, a form of ultimate post-humous patriotism for citizens, maybe as a workforce or as a buffer against a looming threat. Undead as cheap labor is something I will be returning in the future, today I give you the Dead Marches.
The Grim Border
During the disintegration of the Old Empire, the successor states fought each other and the many outsiders with tooth and nail. For over a hundred years the wars raged and alliances shifted along with borders. In the North, around the old Imperial Capital, the remains of the loyal legions formed the New Empire and fought hard to retain their hold on the Capital. When times looked grim for the legions, a cabal of necromancers, feared for their power and vilified for their craft, came to the legion with a macabre offer.
In return for lands and recognition, the necromancers would form a group of small border duchies facing the most contested border of the empire, across which the red republic’s forces kept raiding imperial lands. The borderlands had been devastated by decades of fighting and only scattered small settlements and border fortifications remained. Without the burden of guarding a worthles border, the imperial legions could focus more of their troops east and west.
Even with their backs against a wall, most of the remaining imperial lords were loath to give lands and imperial titles to “filthy” necromancers. They were quite worried about the few remaining inhabitants of the borderlands and their own holding there. And how would the necromancers hold their land against the republic’s feared armies? Dark magics and zombies were powerful deterrents, but without a fresh supply of bodies, the undead armies would be depleted soon, even if all graveyards were raided. And the civil outrage at such a recruitment drive would be large too.
The necromancers had prepared for these arguments and presented their cause well. instead of robbing imperial cemeteries the initial batch of corpses would come from enemy war graves and from volunteers who signed their bodies for posthumous reanimation. Since the Imperial Temple’s doctrine regarded dead bodies as nothing more than piles of bone and rotting meat, there wouldn’t be many moral objections. The cabal’s five senior members would each accept a grant of a borderland duchy and defend their imperial ally from invasions from the south while also providing forces for military campaigns elsewhere.
After much wrangling, the decision to grant the lands was made. and thus were born the Dead Marches. Five small duchies guarding the New empire’s southern border. independent in all but name, the lands were soon fortified with powerful undead regiments, replenished by enemy casualties and dead volunteers, the number of which surprised many. The generous cash reimbursement for signing your dead remains over to defend the borders motivated many soldiers and civilians to accept the Black Pact, as it became known.
When the fighting eventually died down, the marches and their five duchies remained. Eventually becoming important trade depots between the empire and the republic. While increasing number of the duchies’ inhabitants now breathe, the dead guardians and workers still remind everyone of the “Wall of Bone” that stood between the struggling empire and the new republic.