In order to properly understand the setting at the time of the 10th Century of the Age of Kings (Fourth Age), one must understand the nature and elements of the warfare of the day.
First, it is important to understand the scale for the conflicts in this era. Massive movements of troops, as some tend to think of war, is not something that is not commonplace during this time. Even the Battle of Gelgadongo, which is the most notable battle in recent history, only saw roughly nine thousand on the battlefield on both sides combined. Such a force from either side is remarkable in that maintaining a standing army is not typically feasible as it would be a terrible financial drain, not to mention a logistical impracticality.
While each kingdom does have trained soldiers who certainly participate in the battles as officers as necessary, the bulk of the forces that comprise the defense came from militiamen and mercenaries. It’s common practice for kingdoms to expect local peasants to provide their own arms, which are often inherited and passed down generationally within families.
On the subject of trained soldiers, many of the kingdoms specialize in a particular type of troop. The most skilled archers of the Northern Kingdoms were once found in the kingdom of Aston, which was sacked by the Warathi invaders, and is now a stronghold for the South. While the Astonian bowmen were well-renowned and quite formidable, the Kingdom simply did not have enough strength to muster a defense against the Warathi troops. It is assumed the trade secrets of the Astonian archers are now lost to history.
With Aston fallen, there can be no question about which faction now claims the title of greatest archers – the Warathi forces, whose skill with the bow has been passed down since the Age of Monster (Third Age), now stand without peer. Stories of heroic hunting parties cleansing the land of the demons of the past age have been passed down as fairy tales still told in Torian and Warathi homes to this day. It is the Warathi forces who can trace their lineage to these great warriors, and among the legends told to children, there is likely much truth in the words, evident in the warfare of the Warathi Empire.
Another example of highly specialized soldiers are the hillrunners of Olenos. As Olenos is stationed on a nearly untraversable cliff of a large hill, it provides a distinct tactical advantage against attackers whose only feasible option for siege is the chokepoint of the heavily guarded front gate. While the sister city of Vestilla has an arguably more defensible front gate, which is nestled safely in the side of a mountain, Olenos holds another advantage in their own defense in the form of the hillrunners.
Hillrunners are exactly as they sound – they are highly skilled warriors trained from an early age to ascend and descend cliffs with ease. A properly mounted defense of Olenos would see any attacking force being flanked by the hillrunners as they are able to go where traditional troops cannot. Olenos has seen a relatively long period of peace, causing any would-be raiders to reconsider an attack because of the widespread understanding of the defensibility of the kingdom.
It is worth noting that knighthood is not a concept embraced by the inhabitants of Caelon. Chivalry is new in the East, centered in the city of Torium. While the concept of knights is picking up some steam in those lands, it simply does not exist in that form on Caelon.
Mercenaries and Raiding Parties
While there are trained soldiers and militiamen who comprise much of the defense of kingdoms when under siege, the other source of troops is hired men. Sellswords are not uncommon on the Caelon peninsula, and they often travel together in small bands, usually selling their services as a whole, rather than individually. There is little to no honor among the mercenary troops, as they will typically go wherever there is someone willing to pay them. Unlike soldiers and militiamen who swear allegiance to their kings, the mercenaries not only cross realm lines, but also they have been known to switch between Torian and Warathi employers at will.
Mercenaries operate both as bodyguards and bandits alike. It is not uncommon for sellswords to turn to a life of robbing travelers if they do not have steady streams of work and income. In an odd way, this creates an notable need for more sellswords being hired as bodyguards.
As mentioned above, large-scale battles are very uncommon in the land of Caelon. Skirmishes and raids on smaller towns, farms and villages are far more likely events, and this goes both ways. It’s worth noting that these battles are typically fought by mercenaries, as it is rare for banners to fly unless a proper war has been waged. Many times, this is done as a way to enforce the borders between the Northern and Southern realms.
When a proper war is waged, raiding parties will sometimes be led by officers and include other trained soldiers along with the mercenaries. When the goal is to capture an enemy establishment, the work is not left to mercenaries as there is little trust that they will not simply claim it for themselves.