While the definition of the word has changed over the years, Empires are not just large kingdoms, they are traditionally nations covering more than one recognized domain. The ruler of a kingdom that conquers another may declare their new nation to be an empire, as it now governs more than one people. Empires have been formed through conquest and diplomacy throughout our history. Ambitious rulers have declared themselves to be emperors and styled themselves as successors of the ancient superstates.
Empires and their rises are excellent settings for fiction of any sort. Empires provide stories a strong power to fight for or against. The political field of a rapidly expanding empire provides opportunities for ambitious politicians by being usually quite empty and open offices being plentiful. The military is constantly on the move, conquering or pacifying new holdings, offering new places to explore and new people to meet. And the merchants of both the new empire and the conquered lands reap the profits of a larger playing field.
The Awakening Bear
After the fall of the Wizard king, the lands fell into a long period of chaos. During this dark age, many of the treasures and books of the Wizards were lost. Initially dozens of small states appeared, headed by warlords and other people with guts and strength to seize power in the chaos and power vacuum the wizards had left. Centered around the towns and cities, these small kingdoms and chiefdoms entered an era of bitter struggle for resources. Foreign invaders raided and migrated into the lands, forming new players on the board.
Eventually the small domains congealed into larger ones, through alliances and conquests. The victors were those with an ability to build alliances, not those with the largest single army. One of the successful nations was the kingdom of Thul, who had allied itself with its neighbors and with some of the migrating tribes for protection. Through a series of marriages, alliances and strong-arm excursion, the kingdom had consolidated its power in the central parts of the continent, on the banks of the Grand Rivers.
The great Thulian king, Pretorius III recognized the importance of logistics and easy travel to his growing nation and commissioned the building the Grand canal, linking the two great rivers for the first time. his daughter Julianne continued her father’s work by building an extensive road network in the kingdom, allowing the entire area to reap the benefits of the revitalized trade that flowed through the canal between the rivers. The taxes levied from the channel and from the enriched economy, allowed the next kings and queens to expand their armies and conquer more land.
Eventually the Thulian kingdom was spread across the entire plains and foothills, covering several prospering cities and peoples from different cultures, all brought under one banner. The Thulians had used politics wisely as a a tool and most of their subjects were satisfied. however, the fiercely independent mountain lords still resisted the expansion to the high mountain passes with their rich ore deposits. The lord of Eisenstad had gathered allies as well together they hadfortified their passes with strong castles and towers. To the Thulians, expansion to the mountains looked impossible.
When Pretorius IX rose to the throne, he was just 17 years old. his mentors had raised him the best they could, but the boy had lacked the physical prowess of his father. While Pretorius IIX had been a strong, hands-on ruler whose military campaigns against the Alamanni had brought their lands to Thulian fold, his son was a sickly, yet intelligent. With no military training, he was forced to delegate the command of his armies to able generals and instead focused on improving the technical prowess of the Thulians. Only after two years of rule, he had issued royal decrees on standardizing scales and measures, overhauled the mints with improved methods and eliminated wastage. In just a short span of time, he transferred lots of power from the local nobility back to the capital, centralizing the government.
To his predecessors, governing was something they were forced to do between conquest and alliance building. Something they had preferred to let the nobles of the conquered lands to do, as long as they paid their taxes and played good vassals. But to Pratorious IX, this was not satisfactory. Within the kingdom, local currencies dominated the weak central one, corruption was rampant and myriad local standards of measure made trade difficult. So he did something his forebears hadn’t, he started issuing decrees and orders to the local governors. understandably, this created a a lot of friction, but the king’s army was ready to pacify any mutiny and soon the governors were forced to accept the centralised government as a fact of life.
When he was 30, Pretorius decided to add the mountain lords’ lands to his own. But instead of full military conquest, he accomplished the seemingly impossible by diplomacy, intimidation and trade.
Choosing the weakest of the mountain lords, the king started sending them envoys and offering their merchants freedom from the tolls levied from other foreign merchants. This tactic was aimed at eroding the cohesion of the mountain lords and at redirecting the weaker lords’ trade routes to the lowlands.
After a few years the king’s patience was rewarded. the mountain lords’ alliance started to show cracks as Eisenstad scrambled to throw its weight around to keep the weaker lords in line. The riches of lowland trade and the promise of Thylian protection had emboldened some of the lords to leave the alliance and to ally with the Thylians instead. This was a foothold Pretorius wasn’t going to give up. With his new allies, he built roads to the mountains, bringing the Thylians’ infrastructure closer to the mountains and giving his armies a fast route to the mountains.
With his armies on the mountains, most of the lords decided to ally with Pretorius, forcing the lord of Eisenstad to a corner. As the lowland king had predicted, the mountain lord reacted violently when cornered, sending his troops to punish the “traitors”. This gave the king the excuse he had looked for and after a long and severe military campaign, the lands of the mountain lords all swore fealty to king Pretorius.
With this victory, the king became the first Pretorian Emperor and eventually his legacy was known only as the Empire.