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The war's immediate cause was the death of the Phoenix King Aenarion the Defender and the Phoenix Court's decision to elect Bel Shanaar to succeed him instead of Aenarion's own son, Malekith. With the daemonic invasion defeated, the Princes of Ulthuan felt that it was time for a ruler who favoured diplomacy over battle and, as the Phoenix Throne was not hereditary, not all felt obliged to simply hand Malekith his father's title. Furthermore, it was revealed that Aenarion's children by his first wife, Astarielle the Everqueen, had survived the war, sheltered in the Gaen Vale by the treeman Oakheart whilst their mother died defending Avelorn. Although Aenarion's firstborn son Morelion had no interest in ruling and had left Ulthuan, the fact that his sister Yvraine had inherited the mantle of Everqueen made Malekith's bid to become Phoenix King impossible, for traditionally the Phoenix King takes the Everqueen as his bride, and Yvraine was Malekith's half-sister. For all these reasons, the princes turned to Bel Shanaar of Tiranoc to be their new ruler.
Outwardly Malekith took his defeat with grace, agreeing to abide by the council's decision and submit to the rule of Bel Shanaar. However, his ambition to become Phoenix King never truly died, and as the High Elves expanded their civilisation across the world Malekith was ever at the forefront of Nagarythe's armies, winning glory and renown in the lands of Elthin Arvan. It was Malekith who saved the colonists of Athel Toralien from an Orc siege, earning the people's undying gratitude, and Malekith who first made contact with the Dwarfs, becoming close friends with their High King Snorri Whitebeard. Working together, the Dwarfs and High Elves made the lands of Elthin Arvan so safe that Malekith grew bored and took his forces adventuring into the far north, where they discovered a ruined city of the Old Ones in the icebound wastes. There, Malekith found the Crown of Sorcery and took it for his own.
However, whilst the wealth of their colonies had created a golden age for the High Elves, not all was well. Malekith's mother Morathi had never forgiven the perceived slight of her son being passed over as Phoenix King, and in secret she dabbled in dark sorcery and daemonic pacts, founding cults devoted to to the cytharai, the darker gods of the elven pantheon. Eventually the activities of the cults grew so troublesome that word of them reached Malekith and he returned home to Nagarythe to restore order.
Campaign Against the Cults
Malekith's return to Ulthuan was carried out with utmost secrecy, and he surprised Bel Shanaar by arriving unannounced at court to volunteer to lead an army comprised of forces from all the kingdoms to root out the cults. However, the cults were forewarned of Malekith's coming and set a trap for him at the fortress of Ealith, where Malekith was stunned to discover that his mother Morathi was the leader of the cultists. As Morathi fled, armies of cultists descended on Ealith to trap Malekith there, but Malekith was warned of the threat and was able to escape. In this he was unknowingly aided by House Anar, whose forces attacked and drew off an army of cultists that would otherwise have joined the trap.
Malekith's campaign to crush the cults eventually came to a head when he besieged the fortress of Anlec, capitol of Nagarythe and Aenarion's bastion from his war against the daemons. Anlec was defended by the concentrated might of all the cults, including powerful sorcerers, Khainite berserkers and deadly beasts, but Malekith's army was the most elite fighting force in the world at that time, each of his warriors a skilled and experienced veteran who had survived many battles. Malekith's forces seized the gates and opened them, allowing their comrades to pour inside the city. Malekith faced the cultist lieutentant Kheranion in single combat and crippled him, breaking his spine but allowing the twisted enemy commander to live. Finally, Malekith confronted Morathi and forced her to surrender. Brought before the Phoenix King for judgement, Bel Shanaar decreed that Morathi would be imprisoned in Tor Anroc for her crimes.
Although Morathi's defeat and Malekith's return seemingly brought peace back to Ulthuan, Morathi was still able to influence her son and communicate with her followers from house arrest. Furthermore, while many rank-and-file cultists had been slain during the scouring of Nagarythe, many cult leaders had escaped and gone to ground amongst the populace, where they continued to spread their beliefs and carry out their vile practices whilst waiting for the moment to strike again. Many noble houses came under investigation for suspected cult activity during this time, and while many of the accusations were spurious, Malekith sent elves to investigate each one. The highest ranking elf to be caught out was none less than the prince of Eataine, who burned himself and his fellow cultists alive rather than face the shame of his transgressions. Houses that had supported the cults accused House Anar of being cultists as a deliberate ploy to muddy the waters, and eventually the young prince Alith Anar fled his home for the court at Tor Anroc to make his case before Bel Shanaar. Passing himself off as a servant, Alith worked his way into a private meeting with the Phoenix King, revealed his true identity and made his case, but ultimately Bel Shanaar decided that while he believed Alith he could not interfere in Nagarythe's business.
Eventually, Malekith decided that his time had come. Striking in secret, Malekith had Bel Shanaar poisoned and planted a note from him confessing to being part of the cults. When the princes of Ulthuan gathered on the Isle of the Flame to name Bel Shanaar's successor, Malekith tried to seize the title by force. Those who resisted were slain, including the princes of Caledor, Chrace and Tiranoc. However, when Malekith walked into the flame of Asuryan to receive the god's blessing, he was rejected and burned to the bone. Malekith's knights fled with his body, leaving carnage in their wake.
The massacre at the shrine of Asuryan had far-reaching consequences. Upon seeing her son's body, Morathi departed Tor Anroc in wrath and none were willing to stop her. As soon as she returned to Anlec Morathi began the civil war, sending her armies to attack Ellyrion and Chrace. In Tiranoc rule had fallen to Bel Shanaar's nephew Yrianath, but the foolish and trusting prince quickly became no more than a figurehead for the Naggarothi nobleman Caenthras, who took control of the kingdom for Morathi. When the few surviving princes decided to elect Imrik of Caledor as the new Phoenix King, Morathi sent seven Khainite assassins to slay him.
Morathi's assassins found Imrik in the mountains of Chrace, where he had gone hunting with his cousin Koradrel rather than attend the council on the Isle of Flame. Thankfully Koradrel and his hunters were able to save Imrik, who took the name Caledor in honour of his grandfather, Caledor Dragontamer, upon learning that he was the new Phoenix King. In Nagarythe, Alith Anar had returned home and began to lead an organisation of guerrilla 'shadow warriors' in hit-and-run attacks on Morathi's loyalists, whom the Anar forces named 'druchii' or Dark Elves. After four years of fighting from the shadows, the forces of House Anar met the druchii in force in the Battle of Dark Fen. The battle initially went well for the Anars, who used the marshy terrain to their advantage, but the tide turned when Kheranion arrived on the back of a black dragon and slew Alith's father. Returning to Elanardris, Alith found his family, servants and all the refugees they had been sheltering massacred, and his home in ruins. This tragedy sent him on a dark path of revenge.
Ironically, the appearance of black dragons amongst the druchii's ranks turned the tide of the war against Morathi. Galvanised by their appearance, Caledor's dragon temporarily abandoned him to awaken his kin from their slumber. Twelve dragons joined with Caledor's forces, and with their aid he was able to lift the years-long siege of Lothern and stall the druchii's advance into Ellyrion, where Alith Anar and his surviving shadow warriors had joined Prince Finudel in defending the realm. Kheranion was killed in battle by King Caledor's cousin, but his swift death angered Alith, who had wanted to make him suffer.
With the druchii advance stalled in the west, Morathi turned her ire on the east. Fresh Naggarothi armies invaded and ravaged Avelorn, and Yvraine was forced to sacrifice her power to turn them back. Under the command of their new Prince Koradrel the warriors of Chrace finally managed to push their enemies out of their realm, but an armada of Dark Elves from Elthin Arvan made landfall in Cothique and subjugated the entire kingdom. They were led by Hellebron, High Priestess of Khaine, who had seized power in Athel Toralien but been forced to abandon it to Caledor's supporters in the colonies in order to come to Ulthuan. In Saphery civil war broke out amongst the kingdom's mages, with Prince Thyriol's own daughter leading a group of rebels who had chosen a dark path similar to Morathi's. Thyriol was able to defeat them, but the magical conflict left the countryside devastated and his daughter escaped.
Meanwhile, Alith Anar continued his campaign of revenge and terror, infiltrating Tor Anroc to murder Yrianath and Caenthras. His actions earned him the ire of Morathi, who sent Malekith's loyal lieutenant Alandrion and his daughters, Lirieth and Hellebron, to assassinate the newborn 'Shadow King'. Caught in a trap, Alith only managed to escape when one of his warriors forced him to swap clothes and died fighting in his place, killing Lirieth but falling to Hellebron's knives. With Alith Anar "dead" the druchii in Nagarythe regained their confidence, but Alith was only biding his time for a devastating strike.
Sensing that he would soon have a chance to defeat Morathi once and for all, Caledor began to coordinate his forces only to discover a crippling shortage in arms and armour coming from the Anvil of Vaul. Travelling there to investigate, he discovered that Hotek, Vaul's High Priest, was secretly in league with the druchii. Hotek escaped the confrontation and fled to Anlec, where Morathi set him to work in the final stages of a project he had secretly been working on for years. Producing a suit of enchanted armour, Hotek riveted it to the horribly burned but still living body of Prince Malekith, who had survived his trauma and now emerged as the new high commander of the druchii, the Witch King of Nagarythe.
- 1: Malekith (novel) by Gav Thorpe
- 2: Shadow King (novel) by Gav Thorpe
- 3: Caledor (novel) by Gav Thorpe
- 4: The Bloody-Handed (short story) by Gav Thorpe