While the major lords began to fancy themselves minor kings, in defiance of the High King, the nations found themselves under invasion. The Gatanean Empire, determined to conquer all the known worlds, launched a full attack through every remaining door in the Coliseum of Gates. With superior military force, sorcerous weaponry, and the element of surprise, they were largely successful in most of the worlds they invaded.
The royal family of the Twelve Kingdoms led the counter-charge against the Gataneans, but were simply outmanned and outarmed. One by one, the family of the High King, as well as the sons of the major lords began to fall. Until, seeing no hope but in future generations, the Duke of Llewellyn went and crowned the only surviving member of the royal family, the bookish and frail Prince Iorwyrdd, who had aspirations of being a monk. The Duke's own bastard daughter, Sidonwy, agreed to marry with the Prince in the hopes she she might bear a child to carry on the bloodline.
The gambit was successful - although barely, for Iorwyrdd was timid, and the Gatanean forces were advancing every day. When at last the Gatanean force breached Castell Gwyr, they immediately arrested Iorwyrdd and his Queen, in order to make the High King's execution public. During her imprisonment, it became apparent that Sidonwy was with child. She was brought before Captain Septimus Valentin, the Acting Commander of this field of conquest, who was impressed with the young woman's bravery and determination. Iorwyrdd was executed gruesomely, and his head paraded throughout all the nations - but Sidonwy, and the child she bore, were allowed to survive.
Over the years, as Gatanean forces began the far less interesting job of inhabiting the Twelve Kingdoms, Septimus' admiration for Sidonwy grew - even as he hoped to use her son as a political pawn to maintain control over the nations, and as she determined to raise her son a nationalist to one day drive the Gatanean army out.
Yet, Sidonwy could not deny her own attraction to Septimus, nor her admiration for his diplomacy and the technological innovations he brought to their world. Still, concerned that the nascent separatist lords might declare her son illegitimate if she ever acted on her attraction to Septimus, Sidonwy determined to remain chaste even where her heart was concerned.
Septimus himself had a political bride at home, and several children of his own - all of whom he had seen but rarely throughout his military career. Gatanea having never given much credence to their own Messengers, but keeping with their pagan gods of Dominance and Power, Septimus felt no particular moral impediment to taking Sidonwy to his bed. Yet his respect for this determined woman kept him at a distance and even, in the end, after more than one decade, finally convinced Septimus that his own imperial expansionism was at its heart destructive.
Allowing those Gataneans who wished to remain behind to stay, and with the promise that he would return to love his own family for as long as he walked the earth, Septimus at last retreated with a good portion of his army, collapsing the Gate behind them. But with this hope: that in the life hereafter, he might meet Sidonwy again on the slopes of the Mountains of Morning.
Ages of the Twelve Kingdoms
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(c) Emily C. A. Snyder