While other empires are far older and shaped the fate of their people for ages to come only Balmoral dared to shape the fate of Tairos. They were majesty and hope incarnate; a beacon for all races and all creeds to rally around. Tairos rewards all such paragons the same way... dust
The Balmoran Empire was once the pinnacle of human achievement. It stood for over a millennia acting; acting as a bulwark to turn back threats from the The Serpent Lands, the southern desert, and from the open plains at the center of Tairos. This nation was built on the -coming-together of lesser tribes to form a single, powerful force for hope and as such it has a long history of shielding the weak from predatory evils.
However; good will and the best of intentions are often not enough. The Balmoran Empire is no more, one of the many casualties of the Queen's War two centuries ago. And though the Empire itself didn't survive to see the downfall of the Autumn Queen and her Fae thousands of displaced refugees fought in the final battle. In fact, it was a Balmoran Knight who struck the fatal blow against the Autumn Queen.
Balmoral's beginnings can be traced back to the ancient tribes of humanity that roamed the central plains of Tairos long ago. In those early days there were no maps, no nations, and no borders. only open land and the struggle for survival in the face of countless threats. Very little from this time still endures today. Simple cave paintings and stone etches are all that's left to tell the tale of these forgotten peoples. The speak of Dragons, of a Golden God and an empire of the dead. It was an age of nature and the rule of the totem spirits. Tairos' pantheon would not make this world their home for thousands of years to come and only the primordial deities of old prowled the lands. The heroes and monsters of those distant times exist now only in faded paintings on the cavern walls they once called home.
wide-spread as the human tribes were they were still humbled by greater threats like marauding orcs, goblins, kobolds, gnolls, and anything else stronger or numerous enough to take what they have. Tribes began to consolidate; some willingly, others by force, but strength in numbers was the only way to repel the creatures that threatened them. It also was the only means by which they could stand on equal footing with two new threats emerging both to their east and west: the kingdoms of Melanthris and Ghal Ankhar.
Neither the Elves nor the Dwarves were beyond exterminating a species if it stood in their way but as humanity quickly lumped together into larger and larger groups it became increasingly obvious they could not be swept aside but instead but instead would have to be negotiated with.
Over the centuries these countless communities became a handful of powerful independent kingdoms dotting what would later be known as the Balmoran Plains. Each commanded their small nation and each looked upon their neighbor with deep rooted suspicion. Some were eager to become vassals of the elves or dwarves, others wished to absorb their neighbors by force, and a rare few wished nothing more than to be left alone. Many of those isolationist groups withered and died on their own or fell victim to Tairos' many horrors. Some not only managed to survive but thrive. Several of these groups banded together and traveled north, eventually founding the nation of Frostmere.
Those that remained in the plains would soon come face to face with a threat to their survival greater than any yet encountered.
The Sepulcher Awakens
Few could imagine that the nation of Balmoral was nearly undone by something as low and miserable as Troglodytes. This rancid, gluttonous, and deeply primitive species lurked in the marshlands and cave systems under the plains for as long as the human tribes had lived there. They'd emerge from time to time, harassing travelers, striking at small communities, and generally acting as a dangerous pest.
As the amphibious creatures scuttled and scurried to find new hidden places to nest in they discovered something buried in the flooded lowlands under thousands of years of mud and sediment. A structure alien to their primeval mind carved from stone inlaid with gold, silver, and precious stones. Their simple-minded shamans could sense powerful magic within and they could not resist the temptation to dig it up and unleash whatever they find upon the human tribes.
The Troglodytes had unknowingly discovered one of the many outpost tombs of The Empire of Skyrir. It had sunken into the earth and became entombed within the rock and filth that these creatures so loved. The Skyrirans lorded over Tairos once, long before even this distant time. Their empire fell when they dared to encroach upon magics meant only for gods yet many of the nobility survived by embracing undeath and taking refuge in distant bastions. There, they hoped to wait out the long eons until they could find the means of reclaiming their shattered dominion. It is one such sepulcher that the Troglodyte hoard stumbled upon.
As they bumbled about in the dark of the tomb-fortress the light of their living essence, as twisted and cruel as it might be, shined like the morning sun into a sleeper's chamber. The deeper they delved the more of the inhabitants of the fortress woke. First, it was mindless skeletal automatons taking spear and shield to the intruders, acting on commands issued to them in a language not spoken in thousands of years. Then, wights in the form of armored corpses bedecked in golden armor and wearing cracked masked in the visage of forgotten gods. Hungry specters belonging to those the tomb-inhabitants feed upon soon followed, driven on like shoals of hungry Razor Fish to rip and rend any living light they could find. That brief moment of violence the only thing that offered any succor from their suffering. The more the tomb fought back, the more Troglodytes were called in to push further into the structure.
Soon, this cacophonous invasion woke the master of this ancient redoubt, Qhetteshra. One of Skyrir's most renown conquerors and a perilous foe for any warrior to face in direct combat. When Skyrir fell she, like many of the other survivors fled to a distant safe house to wait for a rally cry that never came. Instead of a call from the empire reborn welcoming her back to the waking world, it was the fetid life essence of the Troglodytes and the sudden realization that the cattle-races now claimed this world. With her, the tombs greatest warriors, death cultists, oracles, and mummified war beasts woke as well. Thousands upon thousands of silent, withered ranks of soldiers marched out, slaughtering the Troglodyte invaders with beneath their impossible numbers. The Oracles and Death Cultists used the lifeblood of the slaughter to raise the buried tomb back to the surface once more and from its zenith Qhetteshra looked out upon the world in disgust. She realized that the destiny of the Skyriran Empire rests not in the hands of others but upon her shoulders alone. With that, she turned her gaze upon the closest target. The human tribes of the Balmoran Plains.
The Sepulcher War and Rise of the Adamantite King
The tribes of men had never bore witness to such horrors before. Unliving legions of corpses clad in gold and silver. Magics crafted for war, atrocity, and death on scale unlike anything their shamanism was capable of. Only the elves to the west were said to be capable of such feats and even that was but rumor told among the Balmoran plainswalkers. Entire tribal villages vanished overnight; thousands of innocent lives lost to the abattoirs of Qhetteshra's legions. The fortunate ones died quickly, defending their homes. Others became meals for the dead; and what little wasn't consumed was reanimated into mangled puppets for the entertainment of the tomb's nobility.
Weaker communities fled for distant parts of the world or perished in the wake of the undead. Soon; only a core group of the most powerful tribal nations remained. Little of the minutia of that war remains today but remaining sources indicate that these groups unified their efforts to blunt the advance of Qhetteshra's forces. Individual tribes merged their lands, coordinated their efforts, and soon rallied around a single figure known only as the Adamantite King.
His exact name is lost to history but this first Adamantite King was said to have been born from multiple tribal bloodlines and to have spoken the language of several communities. Legend says he was clad in an armor so pure and powerful that it could turn aside any blow. And, that when the sun shown upon it the gleam was near blinding. The truth, as elven scholars speculate, is that this king learned the superior smithing secrets to forge this armor by reverse-engineering the highly advanced armor of the Skyriran undead themselves. If true, this would mean that the Balmoran Steel Weapons and Armor that empire is so famous for owes its secret origin to The Empire of Skyrir.
Whatever the case, this first king leg the fragmented people to a decisive victory that struck at Qhetteshra directly in the heart of her fortress-tomb. Records are spotty at best but if legends are to be believed the king plunged his silvered blade into the black heart of his enemy and in doing so her entire bastion collapsed into ruin. And from those ruins the first stones of the city of Balmoral were laid. The many magical wonders within Qhettreshra's tomb would go on to form basis for Balmoral's understanding of high magic. The weapons and armor from her legions would be melted down and recast into those used by the first knights of Balmoral. The wretched symbols of Skyrir were scoured from the plains and replaced by golden lion, the symbol that would become the most recognized promise of hope for ages to come.
That is, if legends are to be believed.
The Great Works of Golden Lion
While Balmoral has been the source of hope through much of Tairos' history most scholars agree their are three great works that truly define this nation.The Second Age of Magic
Up until the birth of Balmoral as a single, unified nation, only the elves had truly enjoyed the benefits of magic's greatest gifts. Humans, halflings, and other simple peoples still clung to the ways of shamanism. When Balmoral finally gained mastery over the fundamentals of high magic found in the Skyriran texts they shared what they discovered. Ambassadors were sent to human and halfling tribes both large and small. They offered basic principles of magic and asked nothing in return. Many human tribes chose to assimilate into Balmoral because of this offering. And others were able to maintain their independence and safety thanks to this gift. Only the tribes in what would later be Frostmere refused the Balmoran ambassadors. For they believed that the stain of undeath could never be washed away from the knowledge being offered.
The dwarves of Ghal Ankhar were developing magic of their own at this time and Balmoral used this as an opportunity to open trade and dialog with the mountain nation. Balmoran gained the means of building truly mighty and enduring cities while Ghal Ankhar benefited from the access to new materials not found in their peaks or deep caverns.
This would culminate in the birth of the College of Magic and the construction of the College's grand library in the center of Balmoral itself.
The Silver Roads of Balmoral
Balmoral's origins were steeped in the the tribal territories of old. While all united behind the Adamantite King and the building of the great city of Balmoral itself the many human settlements of the plains were not forgotten. They became the colonies and city-states that made of the backbone the empire's commerce and industry. The most notable of these roads being the passage to Bilik, the largest of Balmoral's city-states. There's also the Theawood road which leads to the Halfling community there. And, of course the Weeping Road which leads all the way to the burial site of the Adamantite Kings in Mount Eternal.
There are many unfinished roads as well. There were ambitious plans to connect passage to Melanthris and even distant Frial. The roads, even the unfinished ones, served as a means of connecting every community in the open plains and making the great expanse into a much tighter network of allies able to respond to each other during times of need. While other nations had their walled and impregnable cities only Balmoral could claim to have truly had an empire. And the roads are what made that possible.
Today, very little of these roads remain. Most have been lost to erosion and lack of maintenance but one stretch does still stand to this day. The road that connected Ghal Pelor , Theawood and Balmoral. Ghal Pelor maintains the stretch between it and the Halfling community. And, the halflings maintain as much as they can beyond that. It's their means of honoring the memory of their old allies in the plains.
Entire sagas have been written about the many crusades launched by the Adamantite Kings to champion some cause or confront a worthy foe. Each produced its share of mythic heroes and fabled battles; and each helped change the fate of Tairos. The most famous of these crusades are the Hoard Hammer Crusade, the Judgement of Orabad, and of course the Fang Crusades that united all of Tairos against the Ximezci .
The Hoard Hammer Crusade was fought only a short century or so after the completion of the city of Balmoral. An old threat was slowly gathering strength in the jungle penisula south of Bilik and taking aim directly at young nation... the Orcs. Most of the plains dwelling goblinoids had fled to this tangled region after their defeat by the human tribes and here they squabbled for power and petty fiefdoms with each other. That changed when a powerful orc shaman was struck with visions foretelling of the goblinoid hoards uniting under one banner and bringing about a war so vast that it breaks the very world itself. The shaman's visions led him to an orc chieftain named Gorfang, a devout follower of the Totem Spirits of Corruption. He became known as Warlord Worldbreaker and led his warbands north. The Balmorans met this threat head on in the fields, rolling hills, and the streets of their city-states for four long years until Adamantite King Rouse Gale II broke the goblinoid lines and slew Worldbreaker in single combat. Had the Balmorans failed or simply decided not to intervene the hoard would have swept north till it reached Ghal Ankhar and Frostmere.
The crusade known as the Judgement of Orabad took place only a hundred and fifty or so years before the Fang Crusades themselves. This particular conflict would see the gallant knights and shining legionaaries of Balmoral march through the burning sands of Scorchlands to confront an old foe once more... the undead. An artificer calling himself Count Bolsiver Fenring and claiming to hail from a distant future began delving into the half-buried tombs of Orabad looking seize control of the undead hoards sleeping there. Fenring began a series of gruesome experimintations on the flesh hunger dregs within the dead city. Many of these creatures would escape and travel north to the life-rich regions outside of the desert to feast on nearby communities. Many of the victims were colonists belonging to Balmoral and word quickly reached the court of the Adamantite King that his people were falling victim to grim new threat growing in the Scorch. Knights and biomechanical flesh eaters clashed all throughout the burning sands of the barren wastes but in the end it was the champions of Balmoral that stood victorious. The ruins of Orabad were set aflame and Fenring destroyed along with his laboratory.
The most famous and perhaps most pivotal of all of Balmoral's military endeavors took place during the Fang Crusades. While the elves were the first to recognize a threat and march to war they did so without truly fathoming the scope of the danger. When Melanthris alerted the rest of Tairos' nations to Ximezci, many debated the merit of joining the elves or how best to support them. Not Balmoral. The kingdom of men committed fully to this cause knowing full well what evil these serpents truly represented. The Golden Lions galloped to battle upon their mighty warhorses along side bannermen from all of the noble houses. While all the nations would eventually take part and spill blood in those accursed jungles it was the numbers and the courage of Balmoral's stalwart armies that provided the backbone of The Grand Concordance's armies during the war and paving the way to final victory.
The Queen's War and the Fall of Balmoral
Countless works have been written by legions of scholars on the demise of Balmoral; each with their own theories, perspective, and agendas. Few truly managed to capture the entirety of the fall and Balmoral's part in the Queen's War. This lack of true objective facts has been a major contributor to the mystique and legend that surrounds the lost empire today.
Some facts are consistent however. When the presence of the Fae in Tairos was revealed Balmorans remained welcoming yet cautious of the newcomers. The elves and dwarves were all too willing to invite The Autumn Queen's influence into their realms but Balmoral never accepted any of the gifts offered by her. When Melanthris sponsored the fae joining the Grand Concordance the Adamantite King saw no reason to directly oppose such a measure but he made no effort to open the way for them either. When the truth about the Autumn Queen was revealed the Balmorans were quick to oppose her. It was their armies that allowed the Gnomish refugees to escape annihilation at the hands of the Fae. It was their knights that struck out Fae holdings all across the plains and as far north as the borders of Frostmere. They even sent an army west to edge of Melanthris' territory to be ready should the duplicitous elves choose the Queen's side in the war. And, of course, the fall of Balmoral is a tragic fact none can escape. Their part in the war earned them the Queen's deepest spite. The gnomes spoke out against the Queen because they knew better but Balmoral had outright rejected her from the moment she arrived. So, she set loose a living apocalypse upon their empire. The Jabberwock.
Those are the facts. There was a war, Balmoral resisted, a monster was set loose upon them, and in their great city became a tomb for beast, man, and fae alike. The speculation, rumor and hearsay that lies between is where legends are found. Tales of the siege of Balmoral have become the inspiration for every wooden sword fight between children. Ballads have been written about the fiery battle between the last Adamantite King riding upon the back of regal griffon in a final duel with the dread Jabberwock amid the ruins of the silver city of man. The handful of surviving warriors who helped lead the final attack on the Queen's Castle and end the war are the subject of poems and myth told as far south as Baradrad and even in the great frozen halls of the Frostmerites in the north.
In most cases such stories are built only around of kernel of truth but in the case of Balmoral and its brave warriors truth and myth are not very far apart.
Balmoral was ruled by the Adamantite King, a position chosen by popular vote among the recognized citizens (as opposed to Balmoran civilians-those who have not served at least three years in some form of public work) of the Empire. The Adamantite King holds absolute authority but that authority was often delegated to a series of vassals, generals, priests, and other such appointed figures.
The Adamantite King's most important appointments were that of the Grand Dukes. The Grand Duke of the Western Empire and the Grand Duke of the Eastern Empire; each one held absolute power and answered only to the Adamantite King. They were tasked with administrating over each half of the empire so that the King could concentrate on matters of diplomacy, law, and military campaigns. These positions often went to the ruling lord of truly powerful houses which offered considerable support to the King. There was no stipulation that prevented one house from holding both duchies though in practice this was rarely done and often seen as a sign of corruption.
Beneath the Grand Dukes were the colonial rulers who oversaw the safety, security, and obedience of their jurisdictions to Balmoral. Local populations in the colonies were allowed to elect their governors by popular vote (again, only citizens were allowed to vote) though these officials could be replaced by the Adamantite King or his Dukes for periods of up to two years. After that time period a local election was required. These locally elected leaders were often members of Balmoran aristocracy though equally likely they could come from the priesthood, military, or business sector. There were no term limits on these elected officials and many of them served for decades. Local lords were in turn allowed to appoint their own overseers to whatever positions they chose; this often leading to colony cities dominated by one bloodline, company, faith, or military unit.
Further the expansion of Balmoran borders and better lives of the citizenry through public works, diplomacy, and crusades.
Balmoral had the largest military force among all the nations of Tairos leading up to the events of the Queen's War. These well-trained soldiers were particularly adept at disciplined battle formations and the use of heavy cavalry. They were known to be the most skilled mounted combatants in all of Tairos (though the bear and mammoth riders of Frostmere certainly posed a greater individual threat). This asset was made even more effective due to the Empire's extensive use of Balmoran Steel Weapons and Armor which were nearly as effective as masterworks of the Ghal Ankharan
The Empire of Balmoral is no more. It was one of the many casualties of the Queen's War. However, it does have two claimants hoping to be the heir to the empire's legacy. Frial , Balmoral's most distant colony which managed to survive the war and restore itself to the status of major power. And, Lockland, a small but highly militant city who's founders twisted the old teachings of Balmoral into a litany of racial purity and animosity toward anything impure.
Demography and Population
Only humans could become citizens. Non-humans could at best hope to be made civilians and thus afforded some benefits of the Empire's protection but this was not often granted. Halflings were the most likely to be granted civilian status and even then only a small percentage of the population of citizens was made up of their kind and that was mostly in the eastern half of the Empire.
The New Gods were the official faith of Balmoral and with a particular favor toward Sandor The Guardian of Tairos, Tatayne The Breath of Life , and Arroc The Raven King.
The center of faith in all of Balmoral was the Kreastos, a grand structure the size of a small city located within the capital. It housed temples to each of the new gods all arranged around a shrine dedicated to Vale The Architect. This was a popular place of pilgrimage for followers of the faith both within Balmoral and even from other nations. It was also one of the most frequently selected institutions to serve under for civilians hoping to earn citizenship.
Balmoral remained cautious with all of its non-human neighbors. They recognized that non-humans had grudges, schemes, and far reaching plans that eclipsed human lifespans; and dealings with such people could never truly be on equal footing. They also saw these races as mired in internal conflicts with tangled and unclear alliances. This is not to say the Balmorans were hostile to other nations or that they did not make alliances and even friendships. They just believed that such interactions came with risks that didn't exist when dealing with humans (and to some degree Halflings).
However; there was certainly a small minority that believed many of the problems plaguing Tairos were ones born of non-human actions. There was a sentiment among some that Balmoran blood was too often being split solving the problems brought to light by these other races. While this attitude never pushed the Empire to war with its neighboring nations it certainly contributed to its lack of racial diversity. In fact, numerous laws were enacted that prevent non-humans from establishing businesses of certain sizes within their borders, allowing them to be elected or even appointed to any position of importance, and even the establishment of buffer zones between their borders and those of non-humans.
Corins. Often found in several denominations and made of precious metal such as gold and silver. One face always bears the symbol of the empire, the year it was minted, and the name of the ruling Adamantite King. The reverse face is more specific to the colony it might have been minted in. Coins were only allowed to be minted in three places. The capital city and the cities where the Grand Dukes established their thrones. The creation of false currency or any crime against the minting houses often carried the harshest of punishments for the culprits and all co-conspirators.
Balmoral lacks a true legislative body. All lawmaking decisions were generally made by the Adamantite King along with input from his two Grand Dukes. The Grand Dukes were in charge of policy pertaining to their regions so long as their decisions did not overstep the rights granted to the citizens and civilians of the Empire by the Tribal Accord (the articles that act as the founding principles of the Balmoran Empire). The Dukes are also extremely limited in their authority treat with foreign powers though they can negotiate certain local trade matters. There is no local legislature either; again the closest would be the elected lords' council of advisers should they choose to keep such a thing.
Judges are appointed by the elected local lords and have the power to adjudicate over matters of law and punishment. These officials can of course be overruled by the local lords, Dukes, and of course the Adamantite King. Appeals were often sent to higher powers hoping for more favorable decisions to be made.