Lessons of Gavin Tael

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The ruthless Baron of Ghoere took over the rulership of that realm a little over two decades ago and has turned it from a collection of provinces only loosely allied to an imperial interest, resounding in strength and unity. The baronets, knights, and other lords of Ghoran provinces once ruled their small lands and united only to keep their realms from breaking into smaller and weaker states. Even though Ghoere itself was formed out of two lesser kingdoms, the realm lay truly in chaos when heir-apparent Gavin Tael, then a royal soldier, assumed the throne. No mysteries surround the iron-handed baron's coronation. The late regent died of natural causes, and no arguments over right of ascension ever occurred. Still, the new baron used his armies to bring the other lords of the land to heel.

Gavin Tael first formed the Iron Guard, a combination police force and army, before he assumed the throne. Knowing he was heir-apparent, Tael surrounded himself with trusted men and women who distinguished themselves in campaigns Tael himself led. He wanted only those few he could trust close to his banner. When the old baron died, these men and women made certain no opposition to Tael's ascension existed. Early on in Tael's reign, however, a few of the barons did object to his heavy-handed approach to rulership. They suggested the Baron of Ghoere set up an advisory panel -- a council of lords -- to oversee his political decisions and ratify them or reject them according to majority vote.

The Iron Guard surprised the nobles in their beds, dragging them from their castles, and whipping them soundly in the public square. The baron had known that such a tactic would either humiliate and silence his critics, or drive them into rebellion where they could be crushed and replaced with more loyal men. The nobles were silenced and no mention of an "advisory council" was ever heard again.

Now, the baron rules Ghoere with a literal iron fist. All his elite units and cavalry must spend time serving in his Iron Guard, and those who distinguish themselves gain honors and promotions. Strength and power serve the baron's needs. He does not want to shepherd his realm along, building a nation for a son, daughter, or other heir to inherit. He wants to take over the world (or as much of it as possible) now, so that he can enjoy it.

But Gavin Tael knows patience. He learned many things from his initial years in power. His ascension succeeded so smoothly because he trusted minions and lieutenants to carry out his wishes? His foes did not have protectors of the same stature, or armies to defend them, and so he won their first round of 'negotiations'. The realm of Ghoere always fell short of conquest -- or even true unity -- because it never had a strong head supported by a network of strong lieutenants. Gavin Tael moved to correct that void. He sees himself as the strongest ruler in Anuirean obvious choice for emperor, should the occasion arise, and he encourages his lieutenants and vassals to serve him faithfully and gain reward.

Gavin Tael uses survival and fear as motivators. Cross him, and you won't survive. Serve him well, and you have nothing to fear. He uses the law of his land to protect those who do not oppose him -- and to motivate people who may wish to stand aside. Gavin Tael's strategies can be summarized as follows:

Be patient -- put yourself in the right position, and then wait.
A regent who has not first laid his foundations may be able with great ability to lay them afterwards, but he will find that they will be laid with trouble to the regent and danger to the realm. If all the steps taken by the Baron of Ghoere are considered, it will be seen that he laid solid foundations for his future power.

While Tael may be evil, he knows how to follow the rules when he must. If Tael had taken the throne of Ghoere prematurely, he would have set himself up as an obvious usurper and despot, provoking and unifying his minor nobles and causing a popular revolt. Instead he used the years when he was heir to build his base of power, select his able assistants, and make his plans.

In the years since his ascension, Tael hasn't so much conquered or destroyed his rivals as he has intimidated them. Roesone, to the south, and Mhoried, to the north, could be threats to his dreams of conquest, but by not provoking them until he is ready, he makes them play the game on his field instead of theirs.

Direct action speaks louder than words.
By quickly chastising the nobles who proposed the council of advisers, Tael opened himself up to some trouble, but mostly awed the common-folk more than he disturbed them.

Even the nobles were rebuked and fell silent, though the baron was prepared to fight them since they would bear the onus of rebellion by rousing themselves.

Nevertheless a ruler ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women. But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. Besides, pretexts for taking away the property are never wanting; for he who has once begun to live by robbery will always find pretexts for seizing what belongs to others; but reasons for taking life, on the contrary, are more difficult to find and sooner lapse.

However when a ruler is with his army, things are quite different. He has under control a multitude of soldiers, and it is quite necessary for him to disregard the reputation of cruelty, for without discipline he would never hold his army united or disposed to its duties.

You have to trust someone.
Many a strong-willed leader has been brought down by mistrust and betrayal. Distrust breeds disloyalty. If you reward and encourage subordinates, they tend to perform better and are less likely to betray you --- especially if you punish betrayal personally and harshly, but reward loyalty with equal fervor. A leader who cannot trust his subordinates is no leader at all.

For when a ruler has sent out one of his lieutenants on an important expedition, where that lieutenant, having won, has acquired great glory, that ruler is bound in turn to reward him. However, if the ruler is moved by jealousy or greed and refuses such a reward and either dishonor or offend him they make an error that has no excuse, but will leave behind for them an eternal infamy.

Control your own kingdom before you try to control another.
While Gavin Tael does not control all the law within the provinces he rules (he hasn't even managed to push out all outside rulership), he works toward this end. The Baron of Ghoere likely won't invade anyone until he feels certain that the land under his feet won't shift beneath him. But once he's sure, the regents of the Heartlands should watch out.

If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Early on in his rein, Gavin Tael studied a map of Anuire and saw how his kingdom compared to those around him. He glared hungrily at Endier, thinking that the rich, tiny one-province realm would make a nice southern province for his burgeoning empire. But he hesitated for good reason. If Gavin Tael had invaded Endier early on in his rein, the move might have proven as disastrous as starting a civil war in his own kingdom. An invasion of Endier would provide the neighboring realms with the motivation they needed to ally against Ghoere and reduce his kingdom to anarchic provinces again. By waiting and strengthening his position, he's watched Medoere and Diemed square off, and he finds it amusing that Boeruine and Avanil cannot settle their squabbles. Only Mhoried perceives him as the threat he truly is, and he needs to deal with the Mhor somehow before things get out of hand.

No one is perfect, and the Baron of Ghoere proves himself no exception. He has made mistakes, and they make good lessons for beginning regents.

Direct action provides a loud lesson.
When Gavin Tael dealt directly with his nobles, he may have spared and pleased the peasantry, but he alerted his own remaining nobles and his neighbors. The baron declared through that action his choice not to work within conventional rules of diplomacy. He would be obeyed, or else. Nobles proved slow to offer him true allegiance after that, and seeking vassals from other countries became more difficult.

As Tael consolidated his power in other ways too, he was bold and direct, contesting large numbers of holdings, and occasionally even using force. This alerted his neighbors that there was a new fox in the woods and when he moves now, nearly everyone responds to prevent him from gaining additional power.

A show of strength provokes a show of its own.
Before the barony of Ghoere became an expansionistic, unified power, the Mhor, the Baron of Roesone, and most of the other regents in the area seemed content to rule their own realms and ignore their neighbors. Wars occurred and territory exchanged hands, but never on more than a provincial basis. Gavin Tael, however, reminded everyone in the area that the Iron Throne still sits empty, and someone may soon make a play for the empire.

The kinds of tactics that Gavin Tael prefers are the kinds that you can expect to use once before everyone is prepared to resist them. Tael has law holdings in other realms. If he tried to contest the holdings in his realms, he not only gets into a bidding war, but his holdings elsewhere are contested in response as a coalition.

Brutality may be efficient, but it costs as well.
The most noble and respected aristocrats of the land had to be put to death or driven out by the Iron Guard after Gavin Tael's nature became apparent. Not all would bend knee to a tyrant, no matter how lawful or orderly his nature. Evil cannot forever placate good, and only attracts evil in the end. The baron might learn that his "loyal" subordinates are actually biding their time until he makes a critical mistake. While Gavin Tael may change his plans according to the actions of the realms around him, he continues to keep going as he has been up to this point. Slowly, he will build up all his law holdings and provinces to near their maximum levels, he'll intimidate the other regents of domains within his provinces into following his lead (or, in the case of the powerful Sword Mage, he will negotiate), and then he will make his army the most powerful in Anuire. Then, and only then, he will systematically conquer or otherwise control every realm within reach of his own kingdom, forging a new empire out of the fragmented ruins of the old.

When Tael was an unknown quantity, and his every move was a surprise, he was able to take bold and direct actions that he can no longer make without assembling a whole coalition of enemies dedicated to stopping him. Now he has to attempt to build his realm into a more centralized, more organized, and more powerful realm than his neighbors with the understanding that he'll be fighting a large number of opponents when he next confronts his rivals.

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