Military of Elvendeep
The Elvendeepish military reached its current state in the wake of the Second Zul Kiran War. Then Governor Sidastriel Frostfall put forth a strongly centralist agenda, bending the nation's map to fit his so-called "Grand Design" of an effective resistance against the ever-increasing might of Zul Kiras.
Sidastriel The Ever-Ready, as he is called nowadays (posthumously as he was killed in the Fourth Zul Kiran War), developed both previously existing Deepish military structures and innovative new ones. The army was organized into four parts, called Columns, each with a Lord Martial in charge. The Lords Martial, in turn, answer directly to the Governor and may sit in and vote in Council meetings during wartime.
Sidastriel's reorganization extended not only to the army itself, however. Frostfall's government set in place numerous taxes and controls on Elvendeep's imports and exports. Certain percentages of imports must be set aside to stock and provision the nation in case of long sieges, and gold from government coffers must make up the shortfall in lean years.
The First Column, The Sorani
The First Column of Elvendeep consists of hundreds of cells of sylvan elf warriors and shamans, those folk who inhabit the outer three quarters of the Soranion. These painted and feathered Sorani, alongside the Knights Emissary, form the first line of defense. Not only do they handle smaller threats and act as scouts and border guards for the nation (again, alongside the Knights Emissary) but in the event of invasion they function as invaluable guerilla fighters.
After their non-combatants have retreated to Elfspire, the warriors of each small tribe form one or more war groups, called cells. Each cell is effectively independent, able to melt invisibly into the thick forest of their home, and possessing a near infinite number of prepared caches of weapons and food. Incredibly mobile, the cells regroup and coordinate their hit-and-run attacks from an equal number of hidden strongholds: caves behind waterfalls, platforms high up among branches, bunkers among the roots and the like. Each is prepared and well-stocked. In this way, invading armies are "given" the outer three-quarters of Elvendeep, in that its borders are not heavily defended, but the gift is not one any army should take lightly.
The Sorani are renowned experts at booby traps and do not shrink away from including magic in some of their more heinous. Orcs and griffons speak fearfully of impenetrable thorn hedges cutting off retreats, poisonous vines suddenly erupting in the middle of a camp, and artificial swamps giving off deadly fumes.
Magic also finds its place here, as among all the various Columns, in the form of communication. Outsiders have marveled at the uncanny ability of the many diverse elves to act as one unit, with various cells and armies following ever-changing strategies exactly, and each aware of even the furthest events. This is because the druid-like magic of the Deepish allows them to utilize the birds and beasts of the forest as couriers. Small, deft creatures like sparrows and squirrels dart from enclave to outpost to front, communicating in their chitters and birdsong short and simple messages. Lacking a hard-copy in the form of a note, intercepted creatures cannot be forced to reveal their secrets. And because the Sorani and the Thithers of the Order Emissariat are such accomplished scouts and spies, Elfspire is kept well aware of enemy troop movements. This has been described as one of the elves' most vital resources.
Though most nations would balk at surrendering over half their territory instantaneously, the elves have learned that the art of defense requires sacrifice. With such thick, impenetrable forest to get through, all of it littered with traps and guerillas, and containing few decent roads, invading armies often spend years moving a few miles. Even with faster moving armies, the delaying tactics of Sidastriel provide Elfspire with a chance to prepare for siege and battle and mobilize their armies. The Wild Elves bear a great deal of the war on their shoulders, but because they build few permanent villages or structures, they acknowledge that they have less to lose. And should the nerve centre of Elfspire and the Council be destroyed, they agree that the coordinated defense of Elvendeep will fail and the Soranion be lost.
In addition, the Sorani are probably the most prepared to face the initial onslaught of orcs or griffons. For while they share many aspects of Spiri culture, in their love of peace and beauty, they are more ready to fight and find more honour in it than their city-dwelling brothers. Living on the outskirts of Elvendeep as they have for so many centuries, they are used to skirmishing with the griffons to the west, the orcs and Caernian bandits to the north, and (until recently) the Sresarian monsters from the east.
A typical Sorani warrior eschews armour in favour of mobility and stealth, choosing instead camouflaging clothing and body paint. Those few warriors who depart from this often wear only a flexible breast covering of hardened bones, or one of boiled leather. Shields, not uncommon, are also made of hardened leather stretched across a circular frame of wood and are decorated with black feathers. Weapons like bows, spears, long-bladed knives, clubs, and hatchets are the most typical arms. Usually only those that were once Hithers will wield swords, and those usually short. Most of the heads of these weapons are of the highest quality from Elfspire, though they are blackened with oils and such in order to eliminate glinting. Sorani make the most use of native materials as well, both in place of and alongside metals. Obsidian is commonly used to augment clubs and axes, as the edges are often sharper than any material save enchanted steel. Because it shatters easily, however, only small shards are used.
A battle group of sylvan elves is made up of a mix of spearelves, bowelves, hatchetelves and magic users, with no real distinctive divisions. A cell's numbers will usually not exceed thirty, and are most often around a score.
The Second Column, The Grand Army of Elfspire
The Second Column of the Deepish military is the main Spiri infantry. Unlike the small cells of guerilla fighters in the First Column, this section is much more equivalent to the infantry of such nations as Arangoth and Rondis. Their polished chainmail and tight formations are impressive, but it is largely from this Column's speed and mobility that their strength comes.
The Second Column, composed of ordered troops of heavy and light infantry, as well as heavy and light archers, protect the inner core of Elfspire. They are not designed to fight in the thick of the forest, like the First, but more on the increasing number of roads and passes one finds as one nears the nation's only city. Because Elfspire is located in a region of highlands, and cradled between the branches of the Mal and Chur headwaters (which merge to form the Malchur River), there are a limited number of proper passes and fords -choke points, at which small numbers may defeat much larger forces- which allow access to the inner province. It is at these fortified sites that the Grand Army meets the enemy and commits to battle. However, each path to Elfspire is lined with fortified fallback positions, reaching to within sight of the great metropolis. Like the First Column, the Second has had centuries to prepare. Fortifications, granaries, armories, strongholds, caches, and booby traps dot the inner landscape. Defending armies can fight a retreating battle with foreknowledge of every nook, cranny and ravine which can be used to their advantage. With this advantage, a small army of Deepish can hold against vastly superior numbers.
Although these are numerous, there are a number of primary Fortresses at which the Second Column is regularly headquartered. After Elfspire, the nerve centre of the Grand Army is in the treetop fortress of Thassalon, which commands the primary entrance into the vale of Elfspire. Guarding the northeastern road into lawless (and recently Zul Kiran occupied) Outer Arangoth is Dindrathil. Towards Griffon's Aerie, Pinewolf's Ford stands beside the river crossing point which shares its name. Finally, Highport sits south of Elfspire, barring the river's northernmost navigable depths.
This strategy is further bolstered by the Deepish proclivity towards using rivers as their highways. Canals and tributaries of the Mal and Chur rivers crisscross the Inner Province, and on these the Spiri regulars can be shuttled back and forth on troop barges with startling speed. Aided by magic in their movements up and downstream, a Second Column army can be at a new front within days. On top of these highways, the Spiri are drilled relentlessly at the march, and are widely considered the fastest moving army in the known world, despite their homeland's difficult terrain. This speed and mobility has often led attackers the conclusion that there are more Second Column armies than is true, and the elves do not dissuade this assumption.
This division is a combination of both regular, professional officers and Elfspire reserves. The reserves, however, consist of nearly the entire population of healthy Common Elves. Despite their hatred of war and veneration of life, necessity has driven the beleaguered elves into policies of mandatory military service. After an elf reaches adulthood, he or she must spend ten years in the Deepish military in that division he or she is best suited for. Every decade following this ten year period, he or she must return for a year of service. This ensures that the Second, Third, and Fourth Columns have a permanent number of elves-at-arms, as well as a reserve base of trained soldiers. As it has turned out, with so many wars and the long elvish lifespan, a majority of the Deepish population are combat veterans.
And, just like the First Column, magic is integrated into the basic fighting. Basic enchantments and augmentations of attack, defense and speed as well as offensive spells. Unlike many human and orcish armies, where magic is given its own division, or is uncomfortably integrated among soldiers who are unused or unwilling to fight in its presence, elves live with magic every day, and using it for battle is second nature. Many of the meanest rank-and-file soldiers know a few minor spells.
Additionally, the use of small, fleet animals as messengers is a continuing tradition in this column. 'Hithers' from the Order Emissariat act as this column's scouts, with at least one attached to every division.
Types of Second Column Soldiers
There are four primary types of typical Second Column soldier.
- Light Infantry. These elves, usually younger and nimbler than others, are armed with swords, bucklers and javelins and wear leather armour. They are lightly armed and armoured because they act as skirmishers and flankers, darting back and forth along the flanks to reinforce, outmaneuver, and empty their javelin bundles continually into enemy formations. If a battle takes place upon a road, the Light Infantry is free to move through the side woods without worrying about bulky armour or weapons.
- Light Archers accompany the Light Infantry and similar in attributes and armour. They are armed with short compound bows as their primary weapon, backed up by short-swords, daggers, and hatchets. Their role is nearly identical to the Light Infantry.
- Heavy infantry, usually chosen from the more experienced and steady of the Common Elves, dress in elven chainmail, helmets and other armour accoutrements. They march in phalanx together, wielding halberds, spears, pikes, glaives and other pole-arms according to unit. The Elven halberdiers in particular are renowned throughout the lands and take a central role. These phalanxes are exceptionally skilled at breaking up the tight formation of attackers, especially the strict orders of Zul Kirans. With their ranks broken, the enemy are easier targets for the archers to mow down.
- Heavy Archers are a unit type rarely found outside Elvendeep (or more precisely, the distinguishing between light and heavy archer). A typical Heavy Archer is armoured with chainmail and protected by an oval pavise shield with a spike and hinged pole that allow it to be imbedded solidly in front of the archer for protection. The unit of heavy archers may then arc their fire over the shieldwalls, unlike the orcish crossbowmen, whose weapons must shoot straight. The heavy archer is armed with the famed giant Elvish longbow, and weighed down with multiple quivers of heavy sheaf arrows. They are unable to move as fast the lighter soldiers, but their arrows blacken the sky and cut through steel like paper.
All the various types of Second Column soldiers pride themselves on their well-maintained armour and bright heraldry. However, if the need arises, all wear specially enchanted cloaks that can be used to hide all their bright colours and shining mail for increased stealth.
The Third Column, Terrestrial and Aerial Cavalry
The smaller Third Column is organized much as the second, though subdivided into two Divisions. The first is the Cavaliers Terrestrial, those cavalry-elves based upon the ground. The second is the Cavaliers Aerial, those based in the air.
The Cavaliers Terrestrial are those elves who ride upon a deer-like beast called a Malchurian Stag. These beasts are fleet and strong steeds for the light elves, and are accomplished at dashes through the thickest woods at breakneck speed. It is by this advantage that the Terrestrial Cavalry may perform its function of supporting the First and Second Columns on their flanks and accomplishing its own attacks.
Unlike horses or rints, however, the Malchurian stag is not trained, or even able, to charge or engage in lancing knightly battle. As opposed to an Arangothian Templar's horse, for instance, the stag cannot stand the blow of head-on combat. Instead, they are used much like light cavalry, to carry javelineers, swords-elves, mages, bow-elves, and the like into battle, and to occasionally fight with their antlers and hooves.
The Cavaliers Aerial are mounted upon different kinds of flying beasts. The majority ride Giant Eagles, Giant Owls, and other raptors into battle. These are the backbone of the force, and the most typical image seen abroad. The eagles are devastating in aerial battle if they can gain enough height to divebomb their foes, and their stamina and strength are legendary. Owls are noted for their night vision, silent flight and corresponding ability as scouts as well as fighters. The giant birds have stables in the highlands of the Spiri territory, but their home territory are the Grey Fang Mountains of eastern Elvendeep.
Some Third Columnists, particularly the Dindri tatilven ride Giant Dragonflies into battle. The dragonflies' real advantage is in maneuverability, where they can fly circles around soaring creatures like Griffons and Wyverns, who tend to make long, swooping passes or dives for attacks. Dragonflies can suddenly change directions, hover in place, or even fly laterally, which can help dragonfly riders avoid their enemies, and get into advantageous positions to fire missiles or launch magic. Dragonfly cavaliers, who can often be overly zealous, award among themselves great honour to those who succeed in a "daisy pick," a gruesome tactic wherein the goal is to snatch an enemy rider right from his saddle and let the dragonfly feast. The chief disadvantage of these Knights is their mounts' cold blood, which becomes torpid in cold weather or when exposed to ice magic, rendering them near useless. They are also more susceptible to injury than the eagles, as a tear in their gossamer wings can more severely hamper their flight.
A minority ride other assorted beasts, including griffons (the low, or unintelligent breed), and pegasi. Because there are few proper places for these beasts to roost or graze, they are not as common.
These Aerial knights carry out air-to-air combat against their age-old enemies the Griffons (the high breed), and the wyvern-riding Skyrender Clan of Zul Kiras. They also, however, support ground forces. The First and Fourth Columns often uses the devastating range of the Aerial Cavalry by calling in a magical bombardment of a key enemy position. The Second Column most often calls on them to be the first at a new front, delaying long enough for a ground force to arrive. The Fourth Column relies heavily on the eagles and dragonflies to deposit and extract lances of specialized soldiers into difficult terrain.
Aerial Cavalier tactics follow a similar line as those employed by the First column. First Column scouts communicate aerial party incursions to camouflaged stables of the giant birds located along the borders of the Spiri province. The Aerial Knights favourite tactic is to engage each attacking group at a time with overwhelming numbers before moving on the next. Because the Griffons, in particular, have greater numbers in their aerial units, this slow, steady strategy works well to use communication to its greatest advantage.
Other defenses against air assaults include utilizing the natural defenses of the Soranion itself. The thick canopy offers few decent places to land, making any attempt to reach Elfspire very difficult for lack of resting places. Those few suitable landing places are riddled with booby traps and regularly defended by Deepish forces. Splitting up and landing separately is also a dangerous tactic for griffons or wyverns, considering the deadly defenses of the elves. During times of war, a general blackout is understood, and an elf will never light a fire or a lantern without first ensuring it cannot be seen from above.
Having a good deal of time and clever minds to put to problems, the elves have spaced out likely places where griffons may try to force a landing and break through the canopy; judging from average stamina and likely routes from Griffon's Aerie. Whole quobs of forest are littered with sharpened tree branches and strung nets, which become invisible beneath the topmost cover of the forest and are more deadly to a landing force than an army of pikemen.
A typical Terrestrial Cavalier wears little or no armour save a shield to encumber his mount, but wears a distinctive leather garb topped by a Phrygian style cap. Beneath this outfit, he wears raw silk, which is no proof against blows, but aids in the clean pulling out of arrows. They wield javelins, sabres, short-bows and magic from stagback.
The Aerial Cavalier has more freedom in his armour, as his mount is usually capable of carrying greater weight. Of the Deepish forces, only the dragonfly-riders exceed mail and wear mixed-plate (mostly because they are the ones to land in raging battles). Many carry shields, and all wear large helms, each with a token. A pegasus-rider might wear horsehair streamers in his helmet, while an Eagle Cavalier wears feathers. Dragonfly riders' distinctive helmets have large, bulbous eyes of metal strips and blown glass. The Aerial Knight is almost exclusively an archer or a magic-user, and often both at once, or, in the case of the eagles, both in company. There is little use for typical melee weapons in aerial combat, though all may wear daggers or short-sabres as a last line of defense. The only exception to this case is the Pegasus Cavalier, who carries with him a sabre and lance to compliment his mount's small size.
The Fourth Column, The Column of Extraordinary Measures
The final column is typified by special forces and egregious action. A smaller division, it is nonetheless potent and fulfills a vital role. Often described as an "everything else" portfolio, the Fourth Column employs an incredible variety of elves for numerous purposes. Sappers, engineers, arch-mages, spies, assassins, bladesingers, and special purpose Lances (small squads) are all found under the Fourth Column.
Feared and respected, the Fourth Column is called upon when a task must be accomplished through ways other than brute force or other typical tactics. When the Lords Martial need prisoners retrieved, bridges destroyed, enemies assassinated, or powerful magics countered it falls to this elven corps.
Fourth Column Lances are particularly feared. Composed of small numbers of mixed specialists, they use magic, battle-skill and any other means available to accomplish tasks. Lances have been dropped off deep in enemy territory by high-flying eagles, descending with the aid of featherfall spells, or risen up out of the depths of a lake or river have used water-as-air spells to traverse secretly.
The Fourth Column recruits the cream of the crop from the other Columns and non-military organizations. The best of the best swordsmen, snipers, magic-users, engineers, or thieves are likely to be found among their number. Fourth Columnists believe quite rightly that their skills would be lesser utilized serving with the rank-and-file.
In addition, the Fourth Column liaises groups of Elven allies in battle. The Forest of the Soranion is home to many beings, including treants, fairies, and other magical beings. Most know that should the elves fall, the Soranion will not last long in the face of orcish or griffon expansion, and so throw their lot in with the Deepish. Treants are useful in battle, while fairies are often used as spies and emissaries. Whatever the task, a Fourth Columnist is most often their Deepish liaison.
As there are so many different agents of the Extraordinary Measures column, its not worth it to describe a typical soldier. When secrecy is not called for, however, they wear an armband with the elven character of 4 to identify their place.