History of the Etruscan Empire
Remus and Romulus
The hobnailed sandals of Etruscan soldiers have left their mark from the snowy north to the sandy south, the windswept west to the deep forests of the east. The great empire traces its beginnings to two brothers who washed up on the shores of the Etruscan peninsula. The brothers, according to the histories of the Remulan Cult, were descendants of the great Myrmidian hero Achilles and Rhea, former virgin Oracle-Queen of Old Pythos. The Oracles of Old Pythos, much the same as those of Pythia today, drew their power from their connection to the far-seeing goddess of wisdom, knowledge and chastity, Minerva – virginity was at the heart of their power. Rhea, however, was helpless to withstand the charm and prowess of Achilles advances, and left her office and the gifts of Minerva. That night under the moon she received one final vision showing the fate she had wrought for herself, Achilles and their children. Achilles would perish, she would be driven to despair, and their children would seek to murder one another.
Achilles went to war to throw the might of Myrmidos against the mighty walls of Orichalk which surround the city state of Troas, their rival. That war echoes still through the centuries and its saga is much too large to speak of here, but Achilles did perish to a Trojan arrow through his heel. Without the leadership of Achilles, the Myrmidian forces stood little chance against Trojan counterattack. The retreat across the waters was long and a storm brewed, knocking ships off course. Shipwrecked, lost at sea and bereft of her love, the pregnant Rhea chose to open her wrists instead of dying thirsty, surrounded by water. As she took her last breath, her sight was of a foreign shore just on the horizon – Etrusca. Her body washed ashore, but her children had the blood of Achilles and found their own way out of the prison of their mother's rapidly chilling body. The brothers were naked and alone and surrounded by the creatures of the wild. They were close to death when a great white wolf took them in and fed them at her breast.
Remus and Romulus each went on to found cities on the banks of the river Tiber: Rome and Remus. For a while, the brothers and the cities flourished, but the tendrils of fate had already been writ. Romulus was a better farmer, craftsman and strategist; he was popular and Rome grew in size and power. Whilst Remus and his city were poor by comparison, Romulus feared his brother's power – he too had the blood of Achilles – and plotted to kill him. Remus was burned to the ground by Roman soldiers, but Romulus' brother could not be taken down by force of arms and escaped to the wild. Returning to the cave of his childhood, the Lupercal, Remus once again found the white wolf who had become his mother. Seeing his wounds, she instantly knew what had happened. Her form flowed and shifted, and standing before Remus was a matronly woman, naked and with wild hair. Drawing Remus into an embrace, she sank her teeth into Remus' shoulder.
Weeks passed, and most thought Remus has perished from his wounds, but Romulus knew this could not be the case. Romulus doubled the guard, built ditches lined with stakes and had his priests consult the entrails. The omens were ill. The full moon which rose that month was blood red. With the red moon's rising came a blood curdling howl which frightened livestock and curdled milk. Bounding through the night came a black wolf, twice the height of a man. Shield and spear were powerless to stand against him, and the night echoed to the sounds of the dying. Remus stood in his great hall, surrounded by his best men. The torchlight in the hall sputtered, casting the hall into darkness. When the light returned, a man had gone. This happened five more times until Remus found himself alone and face to face with a growling wolf. Seeing in the wolf the eyes of his brother, Remus pleaded for mercy. None was shown.
Remus, first of the Lupercan wolf Kings, oversaw the reconstruction of Remus and sired many sons and daughters. After two centuries of rule, Remus felt the call of the wild once more and he, with the greater part of his family left the cities to step into the mists of legend. In his stead Remus left his son Tarquinius to govern in his name. Remus had never been as natural a ruler as Romulus, but he had ruled wisely through council with others, forming the senate. Tarquinius, however, was not like his father. After over a century of terror and despotism, the senate decided that enough was enough. Unlike his father, Tarquinius had not sired any wolf children. Not wishing to have any rivals to his power, though his sexual conquests were many, his children were thoroughly human. Forging eight silver blades under the light of a blue moon, the senators led by the honourable consul Lucius Junius Brutus led men loyal to them into battle against the wolf king.
The wolf king was not blind, however, and had secretly corrupted Brutus' sons to his cause through the promises of riches and power. Forewarned, the wolf king called all men loyal to him and prepared to give battle on high ground. Fearing for the safety of their father, Brutus' sons returned to their father on the eve of battle to convince him out of the fight. Brutus, however, was a man of impartiality and justice – his sons had committed high treason against the senate and people of Remus, and though he wept, he ordered their execution.
The wolf king, however, had not made many friends and fear can only keep men loyal for so long. Though he had been forewarned and had the high ground, the king's army was badly outnumbered. Tarquinius in his bestial form, however, was more than a match for any army and scores of men died to his claws as they charged again and again up the hill. The battle had lasted, in fits and starts, through the whole day and the night was soon closing in. Relishing the thought of fighting under the invigorating light of the moon, Tarquin charged down the hill with his men. Tarquinius, however, did not reckon for the power of the moonblades. The pale light of the moon seemed to be magnified in their slender blades, which shone with blue light against the blackness of the night, and whose silver edges bit deep into his hide. His eyes fixing on Brutus, Tarquinius gave a murderous growl and pounced upon him. Knowing his time was at an end, Brutus braced himself and raised his moonblade in one final thrust. Brutus died horribly, but Tarquinius was impaled upon a blade which contained within it the very essence of his unmaking. The era of the wolf kings was over.
Senatus Populusque Remulus
In the absence of the wolf kings, the senate considered how the land was best to be governed. With men still being buried and burned, the senate decided that never again would Remus ever have a king. Inspired by the people of Troas (who had in the intervening centuries since the war instated democracy - never again would the fate of so many be subject to the lusts of one man), Remus introduced a form of voting, where the people of Remus would find themselves represented and governed by the senate. Holding great power in this new political realm was the house of Brutus, the Brutii. Venerated as a hero and as a martyr to the cause of justice, anybody with any connection to Brutus at all was hot political property. His sons' treachery only added to the legend of the man.
During this time, conquests brought the realm under the control of Remus to the borders of the Etruscan peninsula. In the interests of fairness and democracy, this empire was no longer to be known as Remulan but instead as Etruscan as each new city added had the opportunity for representation in the senate. It was at this time that the Etruscan empire spread across the mountains to the north and over the sea to the south. In the south, the Etruscans encountered the Phoenicians, a maritime people of traders, but whose hands could quickly be turned to war should the need arise. As rival peoples competing for control over the Mare Mediterraneus, they began a series of bitter wars against one another. The Phoenecians' trading fleet doubled for a more than capable navy and the Etruscans soon found themselves outmatched on the waves. On the land, however, Etruscan military doctrine was already beginning to take shape and the Phoenecians suffered a series of bitter defeats. The wars continued for nigh on a hundred years, and ultimate power hung in the balance. The Etruscan Empire was almost destroyed when King Hannibal led an army of Elephants over the mountains to the north. The Phoenecian Empire however was destroyed. There was no honour given to worthy foes however, when Qart-Hadast fell into the hands of Publius Cornelius Scipio, the capital was burned to the ground, its land salted, and its people raped and killed and scattered.
With the Phoenecians gone, Etruscan reach seemed to be almost infinite. With the lessons from the wars against the Phoenecians learned, the army was reformed and stronger than ever. The rest of the world quaked. The people of Troas closed their gates. The seers and scholars of Pythia returned to their veiled isle. The Magi of the Aegyptian deserts worked their great rubric and conjured up great storms of dust, isolating their ancient realm. The barbarians of the north fought bravely, but were pushed back again and again by Etruscan arms, and the stratagems of a commander called Caesar. Alone, the warriors of Myrmidos stood their ground.
The First Myrmidian War
Pythia, Troas and Myrmidos have a special connection – each in their own way has had the tutelage and council of Far Athos. In ages past, when the mists receded from the lands still, the Athosians strode the land and chose those three nations to learn their ways. Pythia was taught something of their talents for the arcane and in seeing the gossamer strings of fate. Troas gleaned something of their powers as artificers. Myrmidos was taught a philosophy and a way of life – the discipline of the warrior. Gradually, as the years and centuries wore on, the Athosians spent less and less time with their adopted charges, their numbers dwindling to a solitary ambassador amongst all three, and then dwindling to nothing. Athos became Far Athos as its people passed into legend. The stories of everburning fire, great drakes and walking gods became children's stories. The only tangible evidence that Athos had ever existed were great dark standing stones dotted around the world – most bearing strange indecipherable runes. Those in Pythia, Troas and Myrmidos however were not indecipherable, but nor were they written in any particular language. Instead, these standing stones would tell any who looked upon them in their own language that these nations were under the protection of Athos. Still, the threats of legends and myths held little fear for adults – most assumed that the Athosians had long since perished, with some even saying their island home had slipped beneath the waves in a great catastrophe. Caesar was no different.
Returning triumphant from his conquest of the northern Celts in Gallia, the war hero Caesar refused to disband his army and marched upon Remus. Casting aside centuries of law and order, he seized control of the Republic. Caesar had marched the length and breadth of the world, from the burning south, to the freezing north. Caesar had seen the blistering sandstorms of Aegypt's great rubric, he had heard the whispers of seers, witches and wisemen. He had slain kings, bedded queens, and plundered the homes of the living and the dead. Returning from beyond the edge of the world, from a land veiled mist called Avalonia, Caesar wore a King's circlet of deepest black, and none would tell him that it was not his right to wear it. Sitting atop his throne in Remus, he demanded tax, tithe and tribute from all in his new empire and beyond as foreign Kings showed deference. The Athosian League, however, showed no respect at all and sent only an empty box with a message saying 'That crown does not belong to you.'
Myrmidos had a small colony in the south of Gallia named Masyllia. The colony was a cosmopolitan city state with Celtic inhabitants, as well as people from around the Athosian League. With thick walls built by Trojan engineers and with the spears of 5000 Myrmidian hoplites as well as their Celtic auxiliaries, the city had long been considered a far too costly target to besiege – especially since it already enjoyed friendly trading relations with Etrusca. However, Caesar was incensed, and the nearby Masyllia was within easy reach. 25,000 Etruscan Legionnaires were immediately despatched to besiege the city, along with the largest fleet assembled since the wars with the Phoenecians to prevent it being resupplied by sea. Forewarned by Pythian seers, the majority of Masyllia's inhabitants left well in advance of the advancing tide of Etruscans, but the men and women of Myrmidos, as well as many of their auxiliaries remained. Through a network of sally ports and secret tunnels, over the course of a ten-year siege, the Myrmidians reaped a fearsome toll on the Etruscan soldiers. What was supposed to have been an easy victory was turning into a brutal war of attrition.
Even with granaries built by the artisans of Troas, Caesar was sure that the Myrmidians could not last forever, and indeed he was right. Within days, Caesar expected a white flag of surrender. With food stocks running low, the Myrmidians were forced to unveil their final stratagem – one final tunnel remained. As the sun rose that morning, the gates of Masyllia lay open. Riding cautiously through the city, the Etruscan legionaries found no sign of Myrmidian soldiers. With a wordless howl of rage, Caesar ordered the city and the surrounding countryside searched. A day later a tunnel was found, as well as the same message writ in charcoal - 'That crown does not belong to you'. In rage, and without his usual concern for strategy, Caesar ordered a full legion down the tunnel. One man returned. The city was ordered to be burned to the ground, but even this proved difficult. Very little of the city was made from wood, and their walls would not tumble. After a day's efforts, the city was simply abandoned.
Caesar returned back to Remus with a hollow victory that tasted like defeat. His popular support ebbed, and his enemies circled. Whilst having declared himself Supreme Leader unto death, he had not fully abolished the Senate – not even Caesar could rule alone, and this was especially true now. Having tasted defeat for the first time, Caesar wanted only one thing – another war with Myrmidos, except this time he wanted to head for their homeland itself. The Senate, however, would not hear of it, a full legion had already been lost against a mere colony. Some more superstitious senators also whispered that attacking a colony was one thing, but Myrmidos itself was under the protection of Far Athos, and that they had no wish to test the reality of that legend. Thwarted abroad, and now thwarted at home, Caesar stooped to ever baser stratagems: he engaged in bribery, conspiracy and poison to turn the Senate to his will, but to no avail. The Senate would not be cowed.
Realising how far their leader had fallen, and having lost some of their number to poison, some amongst the Senate were eager to rid the Republic of the scourge of Caesar. In an echo of the past, it was another Brutus who led a plot to assassinate Caesar. Five men laid at Caesar in the night with wicked daggers, but none were able to find their mark, being thwarted by some magical protection. Unarmed save a small dagger himself, but now amused, Caesar spat at them saying 'I am a King, and Kings die not to daggers'. Striding forth a sixth man unsheathed a blade which shone with a piercing, yet pale, blue light, saying 'Nay, you are right. But tyrants and Kings do die to swords'. With one fluid motion the man plunged the sword deep into Caesar's chest. With his dying breath, Caesar croaked 'Et tu Brute?'
Except Caesar did not die. As his body was laid in a tomb as honourable and dishonourable men discussed what to do with the bones of an empire, Caesar felt everything. He felt the heat leave his body, he felt the maggots begin to gnaw his flesh, and he felt the heat again as he was burned on the funeral pyre. Twenty one days had passed since his assassination and his burning, and wars were being fought for control of all of the Empire. Remus was in the control of a man who at least professed to have been loyal to Caesar, and had given him a very public funeral to curry support amongst the people. As Caesar felt the agony of the fire consume his body, he began to feel something different. Wishing to distance themselves from Kings and tyrants, his assailants had been content for his crown to be buried with him, and the same crown still lay on his head as the flames billowed all around. The crown lay heavy on his brow, but in the heat the blackness of its surface opened to reveal golden runes. The fire swirled around, but somehow the crown seemed to feed off the tongues of heat. Burning and facing the excruciating pain, an altogether different kind of heat began to emanate from his brow. Instead of the fire consuming him, instead it was somehow entering him, making him stronger. Casting off the denarii from his eyes, Caesar stood, a golden figure wreathed in flame, fully eight feet tall.
The crowd fell silent and fell to their knees before their emperor, their golden one - Aurelian.
The Second Myrmidian War
Caesar Aurellian moved swiftly. With the force of a breaking wave the enraptured mob made to capture those who would dare to lay hands upon their leader who was clearly favoured of the gods. It was Brutus' sense of honour which led him to give Caesar a proper funeral, and it was this sense of honour which led to his death. Horrified at the towering, smoking spectre which loomed over the baying mob, Brutus stood atop the balcony from which he had been watching the proceedings. The flood of the Remulan people would soon batter down the iron-bound doors of the manse he was in and, after a life spent serving the people of Remus he felt there could be no greater defeat than being torn apart by the people he had sought to save, at the instigation of the one from which he had sought to save them. He held his moonblade up to the light, seeing the interwoven patterns of cold blue runes struck to end tyranny, and seeing the angry red reflection of fury incarnate, the reflection of a golden tyrant god. There was now only honour left in an end of his own choosing. Thwarted, bitter, and fearful, Brutus fell on his sword.
It was not, and has not ever since, been a good time to have the name of Brutus. The Brutii were driven out from Remus – their property seized, and the family forever forbidden from holding any public office. Brutus' co-conspirators were also quickly rounded up. Some were killed by way of example, the others each had to provide 'guests' to wait on Aurellian to ensure their loyalty. In one fell swoop, Aurellian had the senate in his hand, and the people of Remus lapping at his feet. The temples, with such a clear sign of divine favour needed little encouragement to place golden statues of their leader alongside those of Mars, Venus, and Jupiter. Crowning himself Imperator for all time, Pontifex Maximus, and Warmaster, Aurellian stretched out his golden arm, encompassing the gathered people and soldiers – at the motion of his fingers armies would march, at the furrowing of his brow cities would burn, and with the words of his mouth an empire of millions would bend their backs to honour his will. Raising the pale blue sword which had only days before pierced the breast of his most hated foe, Aurellian ordered the beginning of the Second Myrmidian war. The crowd cried out in jubilation, phoenix-topped banners were raised, oars lowered to the water.
In Pythia the Oracle-Queen Daphne awoke, her silk sheets sweat-soaked. Wide-eyed, she rose, cast her silver robe about her shoulders and bound her dark her back with the opal circlet of her office. Leaving a wordless command in their minds, Daphne was soon attended by acolytes in purple with rune-inlaid pitchers. Silently they moved to the balcony atop which sat a crystal basin. At a nod from their Queen, the acolytes began to pour quicksilver into the basin. The mercury settled and lay as a mirror, capturing the stars high above. The world seemed to take a breath. Daphne looked in.
Staggering back from the basin, the Oracle Queen clutched a pounding head – her porcelain features marred by a thin trail of blood ghosting its way from the corner of her eye. Composing herself and levelling her breath, the Oracle-Queen lowered herself into a golden chair. Around her, her acolytes quickly scribed a ritual circle and lit incense and candles. Daphne clasped her hands around the cold arm of her throne, centred herself and closed her eyes...
...and opened them in a white room with a ceiling which was almost impossibly high. The room was octagonally shaped with windows with patterned shutters which cast ever moving shapes across the room as a shifting white light penetrated the room from outside. Four seats were present. Atop the first, golden chair, Daphne herself sat and folded her hands on her lap. Atop the second, a leather reclining armchair, a weary looking man with a greying beard, half-moon spectacles and ebony skin slowly roused himself to wakefulness, he looked up towards Daphne's place with a look equal parts annoyance as concern. Atop the third, a carven throne covered in pelts, a broad shouldered and scarred woman lay slumped dressed in gleaming bronze warplate – with a start she awoke and stood from her place demanding,
'What is the meaning of this?! I will slay whoev…' she trailed off as she realised where she was.
'You had better have a damned good excuse this time Daphne. This is the second time you have plucked me from my body to have a little chit chat – I lost a tooth last time I went like a limp fish by your doing…'
Holding up placating hands, the Oracle queen said,
'Peace, peace Apolyta… there is good cause for me calling our council today. There is grave news for us all' The Oracle Queen paused and looked around to the vacant fourth chair – a simple and somehow alien chair of deep black stone which was somehow too slight and altogether too substantial. Sighing, she continued.
'I have had a vision – a golden figure wreathed in flame, marching across the waves to Myrmidos. It is Remus – it bestirs itself again for war, but this time, this time a god walks at their head.'
'A god? What do you mean sister? Surely you must be mistaken?' said the man in the measured tone of Troas.
'Nay, I wish I were, Phineas, but the creature who stands at the head of the armies of Etrusca is -'
'Not a god, but a thief' said a fourth voice – a voice at once weary and vital. The leaders of the Athosian league turned, and for the first time in 400 years found the chair of Far Athos occupied.
Aurellian’s plan was simple – send the legions in Gallia to cut off escape to the north and to encircle the ports of Myrmidos to the south. With the noose in place, it would be tightened as farms and dockyards were burned, eventually forcing the forces of Myrmidos to hide in the grand fortified polis of Myrmidia. With memories of Massylia in his mind, Aurelian was keen for there to be no further escape for his foes – this time he wanted one, long, final siege to end the threat of this petulant city state once and for all.
As Aurellian wished, it would be done; the largest warfleet the world had seen sailed the waters of the great middle sea. Banks of oars seemed almost to torture the waves into foam as they rose and fell by shout and sweat and whip’s crack. On the land, hobnailed sandals and iron shod hooves wore grooves into cobbled roads. Sails, pennants and war banners caught the air.
After days at sea, Aurellian stood atop the bridge of the great quinquirime Victoria Aurum, flagship of the Etruscan fleet, and gazed across the water. The sun had risen high in the sky, and only the scarcest wisps of cloud were suspended in the heavens. Whipped waves glistened, scattering the light of futures to be, of destiny being wrought. The warfleet was stretched across a wide channel, the Arcadian Gate – the entrance to the lands of the Athosian league, as well as the vast Outer Sea beyond. On the left and right banks of the channel were great pillars of dark stone, which for eons had been risen out of the sea, heedless of the sea’s tireless ministrations. Beyond the gate was another warfleet which, were it not for the fleet facing it, might well have been considered vast. Craft of different sizes and shapes, and under different flags and sigils rode at anchor at the edge of Aurellian’s sight. Some bore pointed sails, others square, a few bore no sails but instead were topped by great chimneys from which black smoke rose. Curious, Aurellian thought, he would have to discover what secrets they held after the battle.
Aurellian gave the order to advance and bass war drums gathered apace as backs were bent, oars were lowered, and a thousand ships like lean wolves stalked forwards towards their prey. As the Etruscan fleet gathered speed and made itself ready for war, the assembled flotilla of the Athosian league did not – their ships instead remaining at anchor, as though waiting. Perhaps they think I am merciful and they mean to treat with us, thought Aurellian. Nonetheless, fearing some stratagem and recalling stories of great chains the Phoenecians had used to safeguard their ports, Aurellian ordered his ships to halt and to send a solitary bireme forwards. As the bireme came between the pillars, the air between them suddenly became opaque and grey. The ship passed through, and for a moment was lost to sight. Then came the sound of splintering wood.
After some moments, the air began to clear, and in the place of the bireme floated an altogether different craft. Cresting the surface of the waves and streaming water from atop its dark silvered hull was a craft which seemed more shellfish than ship. Instead of a deck with a mast and mainsail was something akin to a clam’s shell, its surface curved and rippled as though grown and not made. Sitting proud of the water line and at intervals were giant burnished silver masks contorted into expressions of amusement, joy, surprise, anguish, sorrow and pain. At the front of the craft and atop its bow was a mask bigger still whose mercurial surface twisted as though alive. The gaze of the mask seemed to each man to rest briefly on him directly, giving each a momentary feeling of dread as though they stood alone against a great host, naked and shivering. The gaze roved until it settled atop the Victoria Aurum, locking eyes with Aurellian.
The sea stilled, becoming glassy and mirror smooth. The sounds of ropes and canvas and the breaths of men became quiet.
The light changed and somehow a different sun seemed to sit in the sky – its light cold, dim and faraway. Gazing around, Aurellian became aware that he was the only one who still moved – his soldiers like clay figurines atop toy boats.
Opening his mouth, Aurellian made to speak but found no breath on his lips. It was as though he was trapped between one heartbeat and the next.
What sorcery is this?! Aurellian’s mind thundered.
None such as you would understand, Caesar. Said a migraine voice somehow from within Aurellian’s mind.
Show yourself, witch! Face me!
I am. And suddenly Aurellian became aware of its origin – the ship.
Surely can you not see that I will crush you. I have the greatest fleet the world has seen, and you are but one boat.
I come with terms for you.
Terms?! You mistake your position. I will not negotiate with a nameless phantom with no hope save a watery grave.
I suppose you are right – I have forgotten my manners. My name is Sorrow of Athos.
Lies, witch! Lies. Athos is a dead legend.
Sometimes I wish that were true, but it is not. Athos lives. I have been sent to ask for the crown atop your brow – unhand it, return to your Remus and live.
You think me a fool to give up what is mine by right at the whisper of a witchling. I will not. Go on, I will test your power. If it must be so.
And suddenly the spell was broken. Life returned, the sound of the wind and the smell of the sea. Aurellian ordered the advance. A hundred thousand oars heaved. Marines stood at the ready with bow and shield and sword. Ballistae were cranked and bolts let fly to be dashed into splinters against the silver ship. As the armada approached, the masks opened their mouths and spewed forth everburning white flame – masks of comedy, tragedy, and death.
Fully half of the Etruscan fleet burned.
Like a sad parody of Rhea before him, Aurellian returned to Remus with an armada which was now little more than driftwood. Today, fury burns within Aurellian’s heart, but so too does a black circlet rest upon his brow.
Of the silver ship there has since been no sign. Sailors who survived that day simply say that at some point it stopped killing. Others say that all the masks on its side twisted themselves into emotions of disgust, pain, or torment, and that it suddenly sank beneath the waves. Whilst they were delivered, the Athosian league had no saviour to parade through the streets – in hushed whispers in Pythia, Myrmidos and Troas, voices worry whether their saviour will return.