The Whisperer in Darkness
The origins of the Maeran Confederation lay in a private agreement between four tribes, living along a lush valley in central Isalfyrne, that they would cease their regular feuds and instead lay out rules for peaceful conduct which would be guaranteed by the election of the most trustworthy chieftain of the clans to act as an arbiter of disputes. Fighting did not cease entirely but was noticeably reduced. After a couple of centuries the first new tribes were added, after being promised trade concessions, and further expansion occurred through a mixture of diplomacy, extortion and outright warfare. As more disparate groups were added, some more powerful than the original four, the rules and regulations became unwieldy and, when the outmoded model threatened to end the whole project, the Assembly of Hurock was called. The member tribes negotiated for a whole year before setting out the broad definitions of a new agreement. Central to this was the creation of a new quasi-state: Maera. The leaders of this new entity, the Grand Chietains, were selected to provide a unified approach in foreign affairs and to guarantee the safety and independence of each constituent in domestic matters.
As Maera was first constituted (now known as the Classical Age), lasting political power was concentrated in a few Electors, tribes who organised the weaker groups around them and voted ‘on their behalf’ in succession ballots. As the confederation expanded new Electors were added and at Maera’s greatest historical extent there were 20 settlements recognised as such (including the cities of Charn, Sessalia and the Hergerfort), representing around a hundred different tribes. In addition to selecting leaders, their primary role was to ensure a level of uniformity and compatibility amongst the disparate groups, particularly in legal and military matters. Maeran law defined certain crimes and also set out certain rights that were applicable to citizens across the confederation. To encourage trade, members of each tribe had limited protection from the penalties of unfamiliar codes of conduct, necessary since many of these were unwritten and it would have been easy for a travelling merchant to be executed for violating an obscure taboo.
The early Maeran army was composed primarily of spearmen with a reasonable amount of cavalry, the latter predominantly provided by the Electors. The Maerans did not put as much emphasis on archery as some other nations but were still able to field both foot and horse bowmen capable of supporting the other sections of the military. Standards and manuals were produced and enforced by the Electors for their districts, so that the mixed tribes would be able to fight as a single group. For example, the equipment required by an infantry soldier was codified as: a spear of around 2.5 metres, a short sword, a round shield, a Chobham helmet and thin Chobam breastplate. Cavalry equipment was similar but with a longer lance and the various items required for the horse. In laying out minimum standards the Electors sought to ensure that there would be no weak links in the battle line but they were also careful not to set the bar too high. By limiting expensive items to short swords, helmets and breastplates rather than the longswords and full plate favoured by warriors in other cultures, the cost of the equipment required to become a soldier was kept low. This meant that the martial professions remained within the financial reach of families with even a small amount of wealth and also enabled Electors and richer tribal chieftains to subsidise or purchase multiple sets for bondsmen and followers, allowing the Maerans to field large and uniform armies when required.
Though successful for several centuries, the governmental and military characteristics of the early confederation were severely tested by the War of the Burning Steppes. The slow phalanx infantry formations favoured by the Maerans were vulnerable to bow fire from the elves and once the spear wall was disorganised the medium armour worn by the soldiers put them at a disadvantage in close combat with heavily armoured swordsmen. Furthermore, the Battle of Covaas saw the trained Maeran cavalry cut down in atrociously high numbers. The loss of this force left the infantry more vulnerable to the sort of flank attacks which their foe favoured. Corvaas was also a political disaster for the confederation. The nobility of the Electors, who held in their hands its long term future, were decimated upon the field of battle. Without the guarantees of the traditional powerbrokers, faith in the established leader broke down and for a period it appeared that the whole confederation would fall apart. But despite a brief mutiny by parts of the army, the then Grand Chieftain, Icarius, managed to hold the tribes together through charisma, force of will and, most importantly, victory.
His first act was to reorganise the military to address the particular challenges of the war. From this point on the Maerans would shift their focus from large forces of general purpose soldiers to well drilled and equipped specialists. Due to the increased cost of the much more specialist items of equipment, such as thick dwarven plate armour, that the new doctrine required, fewer fighting men could be sustained and soldiering became a more elite occupation, affordable mostly to the clan leaders and their families with tithes paid by the rest of the faction. The changes didn’t occur instantly and for much of the remainder of the war the confederation was heavily reliant upon mercenaries to provide it with men trained in the new methods of warfare. But in the decades that followed the warrior nobility fully embraced the new styles, beginning the ‘Heroic’ Age of Maeran history where almost every soldier was a person of note and their deeds were recorded by the bard of their tribe. Different clans chose to specialise in different styles of combat, emphasising heavy infantry or archery for example, but an effective leader would be able to meld them together into a single force capable of effectively defeating opposing armies.
This became the role of the Grand Chietain, whose position became much more important after the fall of the Electors. But the rank and file clans also gained more control and leverage over their leader. They used this to acquire more lands and power for themselves. Historians believe that, given time, a new group of Electors might have formed and gathered tribes around them in the manner of the Classical Age. There was never any opportunity for this however, as Maera was later to fight against, and lose to, the Kingdom of Alba. Though large portions of the confederation lay outside the area conquered, Maera was unable to sustain the confidence of its members and ceased to exist in any meaningful sense.