Capture of Zarthalin
The Capture of Zarthalin (Trellinese: Vurisan Zarthalika; Urbonic: Zarthalkon Pera) was the culmination of the First Siege of Zarthalin, a major action early in the War of the Velaran Succession. Forty thousand soldiers took part in the siege, which saw the key port city, Retikh's capital, fall to the pro-Trellin armies of Kenti of Ja'ekha after a six-week siege.
Zarthalin was a staunchly Miróist city; even before the death of Queen Tarien its political elite had denounced the union of the Trellinese and Velaran crowns and petitioned to be granted independence. The commander of its garrison, Atnas Laidakon, was the most senior commander in Velar's mainland territories and had pledged to defend Zarthalin against any effort to deprive it of its unique civic liberties. Zarthalin was also regarded as the most strategically important city in either Retikh or Pelna and was thus the main target for Grand Duke Kenti's campaign.
Miróists in Parthenope and Txir hoped that a lengthy siege of Zarthalin would buy them time to land armies in their mainland provinces and prosecute a counter-offensive. To their horror, Kenti captured the city in less than six weeks, when all had expected it to last at least six months. Laidakon abandoned the citadel while street-fighting continued, acquired reinforcements and began his own siege of Zarthalin. This attempt to recapture the city was repulsed after two months; his second attempt, assisted by general Kúfet Heruyel, was similarly rebuffed. A fourth and final skirmish the following year was the last Velaran attempt to retake the Retikan capital before the province was abandoned.
Zarthalin was a chartered city, one of only two in the province of Retikh, meaning that its burghers enjoyed considerable autonomy from the parliament and crown. A rich political tradition of estates, with petty merchant-princes, the city's clergy and the general public voting on civic laws, had evolved in the centuries since its cession from Nersika in 1276, and Zarthalin was often vocally dissident in the nation's politics. No city under the Sidereal Crown enjoyed comparable freedoms, and other independent (or quasi-independent) cities had seen their privileges stripped when annexed by Trellin in centuries passed. Even while Tarien remained alive, emissaries from the city had unsuccessfully petitioned the royal court to grant Zarthalin its formal independence from the "frightening and ill-boding union of our crown to the Trellinese tyranny." These fears lessened over time but did not disappear, and they were brought abruptly back to the fore when Tarien died suddenly. As one burgher summarised their fears in the run-up to the siege, "Should Elcmar's daughter wear our crown, it will not go well for us."
Princess Azara, Elcmar IV's sole child by his first marriage, was not initially expected to inherit the Velaran throne. The Velaran nobles had been counting on Elcmar predeceasing Queen Tarien, whereupon she would presumably have named her second daughter, Ryarna, Duchess of Tkena (the elder daughter having married a minor Nikolian nobleman), or her son Modriq as heir to the Velaran throne. Tarien's sudden death in January 1769 plunged the court and parliament into chaos; they sought reassurances from Elcmar that Azara would not be named as Velar's heir. A Zarthaline prince was among the delegation that travelled to Mar'theqa. Elcmar refused the petition, however, and the Velarans selected Tarien's first cousin Prince Miró of Txir to claim the throne instead. War was now inevitable, and it was formally declared on 23 January 1769.
Zarthalin had been heavily fortified in the late middle ages but, like many other Velaran cities, its fortifications had only been upgraded piecemeal in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Considerable urbanisation had taken place outside the existing circuit of walls, which nevertheless encircled the entire city proper, and a clear pale was maintained between the walls and any outbuildings. Formidable bastions overlooked the main approaches, on the east and west roads, and the comparatively modern Vingate Fortress (Urbonic: Timarsamaron Veron), built in the 1720s, guarded the north road to Kyeret.
When war broke out, General Atnas Laidakon held seniority in Velar's northern, mainland provinces, where he had been stationed for about twenty years. His command post was in Zarthalin, and had come to sympathise with the local population's fear of foreign interference. Before his appointment as senior, Laidakon had promised Zarthaline leaders that he would defend their city's ancient privileges. He stated on several occasions that his highest loyalty was to the integrity of Velaran constitutional instruments and the freedoms that existed beside it. Thus, when war loomed, there was a strong expectation that Laidakon would declare his support for Miró. Within days of its outbreak, commanders from across the province had rallied at Zarthalin. Laidakon reassured the citizenry that he would uphold his promise to defend Zarthalin. After consulting with his subordinates, he set out on 27 January with 20,000 men, marching east to stave off the most immediate threat: Kenti of Ja'ekha.
Kenti, the grand duke of Ja'ekha, was a close ally of the Trellinese king and was among the first to act on the outbreak of war. He gathered an army at Meharz and advanced on Laidakon, who had crossed the Flotir. The two armies clashed on 6 February in the Battles of the Fords of Flotir, the first major land battle of the war. The battle was a disaster for Laidakon, as Kenti inflicted four thousand casualties on the Velarans and took over a thousand more prisoner. Laidakon barely managed to prevent a rout, and he was unable to make a second stand against the Ja'ekhans. Instead, he continued to withdraw before Kenti's advance, offering minimal resistance throughout his 200-kilometre (120 mi) retreat, all the way to Zarthalin. The result stunned the Velaran provinces and smothered any possibility of resistance in its cot. The city of Konoros, despite having declared for Miró when Laidakon marched east to the Flotir, left its gates open to Kenti's army as he marched west. Retikh east of the Sarma was quiet as the armies marched to Zarthalin.
Laidakon reached the city on 20 February with more than 14,000 men. This brought its garrison to 16,200. As Kenti drew close to the city he had some 23,300 men under his command, and had forty cannon with him.
Kenti was wary as he besieged Zarthalin, expecting to be harried by Miróist insurgents or to be attacked by the large army of Kúfet Heruyel, who was based in Zynaza. He therefore kept large numbers of scouts active throughout the region, refusing to be caught unawares. Even his tenuous supply lines remained largely unharried, however. The Velarans of eastern Retikh had been overawed by Kenti's victory at the Flotir, and many, particularly near the frontier, preferred to acquiesce to Trellinese rule rather than risk their lives or livelihoods in resistance. A significant minority even chose to fight in support of Elcmar's claim. Heruyel initially marched to relieve the siege, but he turned aside after reports that northern Retikh was falling into enemy hands and instead busied himself subduing rebels across the province.
There was thus minimal opposition to Kenti, even from within the city. At first he committed most of his forces to holding the roads north of the Vingate Fortress, which led to the towns of Kyeret, Vortún and Avar, but when word reached him that Kyeret's ruling Timraet family had declared for Elcmar he moved his focus to the west road, leading to the Miróist fortresses of Gahaiyid and Niboret. Kenti put three thousand troops guarding the eastern approaches, by which he had arrived, and nine thousand guarding the north, and he took the remaining eleven thousand men and most of his cannon and secured the western outskirts.
Laidakon anticipated a long siege of his stronghold, and communicated to his besieger that he would not attempt to hold the suburbs if Kenti did not loot them. A major fire had ravaged nearby Asketon in 1763, and the burghers of Zarthalin worried that there would be similar devastation if fighting extended into the suburbs. Kenti assented, and Laidakon pulled his army inside the walls, planning to await a relief army under Heruyel or the commander of west Pelna, Deiras Barykoi. But Kenti was an aggressive attacker and moved his mortars into range of the walls on the third day of the siege. Beginning on 24 February, Zarthalin would suffer three weeks of daily bombardment.
On 28 February, the besiegers were joined by an army under Duke Szatas of Tisiyra. In several letters to the Pelnan legislature, Szatas had insisted that Elcmar's succession and Azara's were legal, and he became a prominent dissenter from the Miróist cause. As Tisiyra was an important market town in northeast Pelna, Szatas' defection was a serious blow to the Miróists. He brought two thousand men to join Kenti, who met him with enthusiasm, and the two commanders conferred on a course of action. Szatas worried that his men lacked the discipline to persist through a long siege. He felt that if they began to desert it would encourage even the trained Ja'ekhan soldiers to abandon the siege, and so Kenti agreed to provide them with some action within a week. On 5 March, he proposed to take the Vingate Fortress.
Taking of the Vingate
The Vingate Fortress was a small but modern construction guarding the north road out of Zarthalin, standing just under a mile outside the city. Beyond it, this road forked northeast toward Kyeret and northwest Vortún and Avar. Although garrisoned by only 110 men, half its design complement, it had a formidable command of the road that forced Kenti to maintain a much wider encirclement than he would have liked, and it forced his troop movements to take a lengthy route out of sight and range of its guns. He had been reluctant to risk his men assaulting the fortress, but Szatas' support made him reconsider, and he decided it could be taken more easily than he had thought.
Storming the breach
Despite being defeated, Laidakon denied Kenti any reprieve after the fall of Zarthalin. He evacuated as much of his army as he could while fighting continued in the streets and fell back outside the city limits, where he encamped and began the Second Siege of Zarthalin. The Miróist commander attempted to muster support from across the province, but only small numbers trickled in to join him, and his forces remained insufficient to entirely control Zarthalin's hinterland. Ja'ekhan sorties gradually dismantled Laidakon's encirclement, and after a minor defeat on 27 May he abandoned the siege and moved west into Pelna.
Kúfet Heruyel had been campaigning in central and eastern Retikh during this time, bringing most of eastern Retikh back under Miróist control. He suppressed small pro-Trellinese armies in battles at Kyeret and the Sarma before moving to rendezvous with Laidakon. The two generals advanced on Zarthalin in early September with 18,000 men. In the intervening two months, Kenti had consolidated his control along the coast and laid siege to Gahaiyid, but when he received word of the Velarans' approach on 4 September he quickly broke the siege and hastened to defend the city. The Third Siege of Zarthalin began on 8 September and was the longest siege of the beleaguered city, but it also ended in defeat for the Miróist commanders. They withdrew on 2 February and withdrew west toward Vrinon Pelna, pursued by Kenti's army, who would engage them one last time in the major Battle of the Plain of Marúna.
Kenti left 1,500 men under Pahrek Limiykla to garrison Zarthalin. Several Miróist armies remained at large in the province still, but none tried to recapture the provincial capital. However, a band of over three hundred deserters gathered in the hills above Zarthalin and plotted with Miróist sympathisers in the city to have it delivered into their control. The plot was revealed the night before it was to be carried out, and Limiykla led a cavalry charge that routed the attackers in a skirmish that became known humorously as Limiykla's Tryst.
Treatment of Zarthalin
After the pacification of Pelna and Retikh, Princess Azara travelled in person to Zarthalin and spoke with the burghers. She assured them that there would be a royal commission established to determine the city's status within her father's dominions, as it was still unclear whether Velar's colonies would be transferred to Trellinese rule. When the war ended, Azara was given the task of selecting the commission's members, and she appointed a Zarthaline prince, as well as two of its burghers and the Marquess of Ersa to the nine-member board. Her generosity in providing Velaran representation on the committee earned her the respect of Zarthalin's citizenry. Many of Zarthalin's former Miróists also benefited from the general amnesty that Azara promulgated on her accession to the throne in 1780. Ultimately, the city was given largely autonomous local government within Trellinese Pelna, but the commission refused to give it city-province status like Asketon or the Trophy Ports, noting the danger this could hold for political stability in the enlarged Trellinese Empire.