Battle of the Fords of Flotir
The Battle of the Fords of Flotir was the first major land battle of the War of the Velaran Succession. Fought on 6 February 1769, it saw an army under Kenti of Ja'ekha engage a large Velaran force under Atnas Laidakon on the eastern bank of the Flotir. The two commanders hastened to the frontier as soon as war broke out, with Laidakon gaining the ford two days before the Ja'ekhans' arrival. He positioned himself between Kenti and the river, hoping to stop their advance there, but found himself outnumbered. His army suffered heavy losses under withering cannon fire and was unable to launch a counter-assault, breaking by mid-afternoon and abandoning the field.
Laidakon nevertheless managed to form a rearguard out of the rout, which prevented Kenti from quickly gaining the river and seizing land in Retikh, although Velaran resistance in the province melted away until the first siege of Zarthalin two weeks later. Modern consensus is now that Kenti's victory at the Flotir effectively guaranteed Trellin's victory on the mainland.
The Flotir had long been a scene of conflict between the Velaran and Ja'ekhan spheres. As early as 1220, the city-states of the Flotir valley had provoked a major conflict involving Ja'ekha against Nersika and its Velaran allies. The following centuries had seen the border shift back and forth across the river. By 1710, the boundary was thirty miles inland on the eastern bank, but, in the War of the Delta, Ja'ekha reversed the Velaran gains. The 1714 Treaty of Asketon, in addition to guaranteeing that city's independence, set Flotir firmly as the Ja'ekhan-Velaran border.
After the death of Tarien, Queen of Velar, a large movement among the Velaran princes decided to dissolve the union that had existed with Trellin for thirty years, electing Prince Miró of Txir to lead them. Kenti of Ja'ekha, a personal friend of Elcmar IV of Trellin, opted to intercede against the Velaran rebellion, and moved quickly to subdue the Velarans in Pelna and Retikh. Velar's mainland territories were all contained in this coastal belt extending westward from the Flotir, and their long frontier with Trellin made them extremely vulnerable to attack from both land and sea; consequently, some of the first actions of the war were Velaran squadrons sailing into Trellinese ports to burn their ships at anchor and gain naval supremacy early on.
Atnas Laidakon, the senior Velaran general in Retikh, sided with the Miróists in their rebellion. Deciding that the most immediate danger was from the east, he mustered his army near Zarthalin on 27 January and then marched them to the Flotir. On 2 February he pitched his camp on the west bank, three miles northeast of the river delta, and deployed his scouts on the far bank.
Kenti had received news of the rebellion on 28 January while at Pedalin, and he promptly sent messengers out to assemble the garrisons of western Ja'ekha at Meharz, the chief stronghold on the Flotir frontier. He reached Meharz on 31 January and two days later marched north with 26,000 men and seventy cannon. Laidakon's scouts reported Kenti's approach on 4 February. The Velaran general brought his men across the river that evening and spent the following afternoon studying the land in preparation for a battle. His forces assumed a defensive position on the east bank of the Flotir, intent on keeping his rear secure from the flanking attacks that were Kenti's preference.
Kenti came upon the Velaran position shortly after dawn on the 6th. On seeing Laidakon's defensive posture, he is reported to have remarked to one of his companions, "I did not think I was known for assailing my foes in the rear, but perhaps we can convince Atnas to present his to us" - a remark which has led many commentators to question Kenti's sexuality. He drew up his artillery on an area of slight elevation and arrayed his infantry at the base of the slope. His cavalry he positioned on his northern flank under Pahrek Limiykla.
Laidakon had expected emissaries, or even Kenti himself, to come to parlay before the outset of conflict, as this would be the first engagement between the two states in several decades. Kenti surprised him by ordering his artillery to open fire as soon as it was deployed. Laidakon was further dismayed to realise his artillery were heavily outnumbered, although they were unassailable in their position on the west bank. The two armies exchanged cannon and musket fire for just seven minutes before Laidakon decided to advance on the Ja'ekhan battle line. Historians generally agree that this move was a mistake.
The Velaran line, ruthlessly drilled, marched unwaveringly towards the Ja'ekhans, covering the first hundred paces in less than a minute. At this point they stopped to return a fusillade, as they had been under fire for the duration of their approach. Velaran military strategy dictated that they would then fix their bayonets for a charge against the Ja'ekhan position, forcing their way through the centre of the line. "They loosed one volley, each shot finding its mark with the customary precision of the Pelnan battalions ... and then three thousand horse under Limiykla tore through their left flank with sabres drawn," wrote Trellinese war historian Halmed Tzantek. The consequences of this charge were devastating for Laidakon's army. The flank of his battle line withered instantly, unable to manoeuvre or offer resistance. He hurriedly sent his second and third rows into the fray, and their concerted volley fire inflicted significant casualties on Limiykla's cavalry, but the worst of the damage was already done. The Velaran line came within thirty paces of the Ja'ekhan army before it collapsed into a melee against the cavalry.
The arrival of fresh troops decimated the Ja'ekhan cavalry, and they fought bitterly to extricate themselves from the morass. Laidakon sent his last reserves to attempt to reform his vanguard, but it proved to be too little too late as Kenti ordered his infantry to surround the Velarans, now exposed and away from the river.
Seeing the severity of his situation, Laidakon rode into the fray, hoping to inspire his troops into assuming a defensive position. His officers surrounded him, imploring him to order a retreat as the weight of Kenti's infantry bore down on their embattled soldiers. The Velaran commander hesitated, and threatened to court-martial the officers and try them for treason. Before he had time to reconsider, his army had broken into a rout, only a few hundred men still attempting to fight. He ordered a general retreat, riding about the battlefield on horseback and mustering those he could to form a fighting a withdrawal. This last effort has been credited with saving the bulk of his army, which by now had lost almost a fifth of its men. Kenti opted to gather his own forces as well, rather than pursue Laidakon into the shallows. The Velaran cavalry, which had seen only minor combat on the southern flank, came between the two armies to cover the retreat, and Laidakon crossed and abandoned the fords.
The battle proved disastrous for Velar's Retikan campaign. In just two hours Laidakon had gone from a position of strength, holding the key crossing on the Flotir, to retreating almost directly to his stronghold at Zarthalin. His defeat, and the loss of five thousand men as casualties and prisoners of war, meant that Velar could no longer contest the Ja'ekhan frontier. He would put up no more serious resistance until he came under siege at Zarthalin fifteen days later.
While far from amiable towards Ja'ekha, the general populace in eastern Retikh did not sympathise with the rebellion. Kenti met little resistance and found the gates of Konoros opened to him when he crossed the river in pursuit of Laidakon. As Tzantek wrote, "The Flotir was Laidakon's first and last chance to defend Velaran Pelna." The Retikan campaign from this point on would see Kenti achieve a string of major victories that consigned Velar's mainland holdings to Trellinese rule.