La Colle's Last Ride in Aeteria - The Shattered World | World Anvil
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La Colle's Last Ride

He who wants to prove himself a hero of the land, follow me!
— last recorded words of Jeanne Count de La Colle
  Excerpt from "Guerre Finale - Downfall of the a Dynasty" by Rene Vescard:  
"Last stands and hail mary maneuvers often hold a special kind of fascination. Their unique combination of despair and hope makes for the most amazing of stories. La Colle's final campaign combines it with a unique dimension of dread so well shown by its alternative name: The march of the living dead."  

A Dying Kingdom

  "By mid 1644, the war had clearly and undeniably turned against the Merowingians. Defeats at St.-Eleane and Carbonne, as well as a short but vicious civil war within the Merowingian Military High Command, had seen Carolingian forces surge forward. On the 1st of August, advanced elements stood within sight of the old capital of La Rochelle. Only a miracle seemed capable of saving them decaying dynasty now."   "A miracle that Jeanne Varou, First Count de La Colle and Royal Marshal, stood ready to deliver. His Fifth Army remained the largest army available to the beleaguered kingdom, was well supplied and retained a potent artillery battery. It had never suffered defeat, was led by what many considered a military genius and consisted of battle-hardened veterans. If anyone could deliver a final victory, it was the Fifth."  

One Last Push

  "Extensive preparations and bad weather would see the attack postponed several times. It was only on the 11th of November that massed artillery fire near the village of Sebasté would signal the onset of the war's final offensive. Massed artillery and furious infantry assaults caused the Carolingian front to evaporate on a stretch over thirty kilometers wide."   "Elite Merowingian cavalry raced into the gaps and wrought havoc throughout the enemy's rear lines. By mid-December, more than 30.000 soldiers had been captured and advanced elements of the Fifth Army had liberated nearly a dozen provinces from the rebels. Any resistance seemingly melted as the Fifth pushed ever onward."   "As the weather turned increasingly cold, most expected the offensive to pause. But it kept going. Kept on pushing even as temperatures reached -20 degrees Celsius and snow fell so heavy it blocked all sight in a wall of white. Victory ever so close at hand, Jeanne de La Colle rode forward at the head of his men."   "What began as a lightning offensive turned into a slog through mud, snow and ice. Thousands died every day, their corpses piling in frozen mountains as the earth was too hard for graves to be dug. Yet de La Colle drove his men forward, ever stalwart in the belief that he was destined to safe the kingdom."   "He probably continued to belief so even as a bolt of light blew his skull apart while he lead a charge during the Second Battle of Etenné on January 14th 1645. With the "hero" of the realm dead, many believed the offensive to be finally over. Now was the time pull back and consolidate."  

March of the Dead

  "Yet the soldiers marched on. Continued to push, to attack, to fight the enemy wherever they could. It did not matter that their original number of 130.000 men had dwindled to barely 40.000. That ammunition had long since run out. That all but a few horses had been killed and eaten. They marched on into death."   "What had once been a unified formation had long since broken into dozens of small groups. Haggard columns of men with frozen faces and dead eyes marched on through frozen woods and icy marches. There was no aim, no goal but to kill more of the enemy. Nothing but death could stop them and even then some claimed to have seen frozen bodies twitch as if trying to rise."   "It was only in late march that the last of these groups was destroyed. What became known as "La Colle's last ride" had finally ended. It left a kingdom utterly exhausted and a century-long nightmare of haggard men with dead eyes, marching ever onward towards death to the manic rhythm of an invisible drum."   "The kingdom would not survive its "hero" for long. By the end of July, Carolingian forces had regained all all they had lost and encircled La Rochelle. Five years of civil war finally ended on the 13th of August 1645 and a dynasty of a thousand years came to an end."
They were men no longer. Nothing was alive behind those cold eyes. Dead men walking, no other word could describe them better.
— Unknown Eyewitness
Start Date: 11.11.1644
End Date: 24.03.1645

Conflict Result:
Carolingian Victory. Royal Fifth Army annihilated. Large swaths of Terénne devastated.

led by Royal Marshal Jeanne Varou

~ 130.000 Soldiers

Destroy Rebel Forces.

Army annihilated.

led by General Count Charles de Valois

~ 315.000 Soldiers

Halt Royal Advance.

Heavy Casualties.
    Hero of the Kingdom  
Jeanne de La Colle was seen by many as the future of the Merowingian Kingdom. Handsome, charismatic and a genius on the field of battle, he had risen to the rank of Royal Marshal at barely 21 years of age. At the head of the Fifth Army, he had crushed dozens of the kingdom's enemies and was said to be unbeatable. Many even whispered that he was preparing to take the throne for himself when he set off for his final campaign that winter.
  Day of the Dead  
Even a century and a half later, the events of that dreadful winter still echo in the minds of Terénne's people. And left its mark on their traditions. December has become a month of death. Mournful ceremonies dedicated to those that have passed away mix with colourful celebrations and costumed parades.   Death is honoured, defied and remembered in equal measure. The commotion reaches its peak in the week leading up to December 21st, when La Colle's Last Ride is reenacted in a grand parade of mockery and celebration. Across the world, this days has become known as the "Day of the Dead".
by H.k

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Cover image: by Mauro Belfiore


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