Ona was born in 399, into the royal family of a nation, whose power was at its nadir. Beset on all sides, the Grand Duchy of Taylach was slowly being torn apart like an old bear caught by hunting dogs. The rich, productive land to the west of the Yalga had been almost entirely overrun by the Order of the Knights Penitent and in the east the Tuja Clans were in a state of almost perpetual insurrection and disorder. Worse, many of the larger magnates, believing the end of the kingdom was nigh, had withdrawn to their estates or even fled the nation. Only the ferocious energy of Ona’s father, Grand Duke Casimir, was preventing the Grand Duchy’s complete dissolution.
In the spring of 411, realising that his time to strike a decisive blow was disappearing, Casimir gathered together his remaining loyal vassals and crossed the Yalga. Abandoning his baggage train he undertook one of the most gruelling marches in history and caught the Knights Penitent unprepared as they mustered on the plains before Tarenburg, crushing their field army. With their army scattered and most of their men-at-arms dead or captured, the Knight’s citadels quickly swore allegiance to Casimir. Taking his victorious army east, Casimir savagely put down Tuja clans and forced their hetman to renew his oath of loyalty to the crown. For the first time in almost one hundred years the Grand Duchy was secure.
Despite these great victories Casimir was far from content. Although uneducated, the Grand Duke was an intelligent man and he was acutely aware that Taylach was lagging behind the western Circillian Nations both culturally and technologically. In an effort to address this, he resolved for Ona to have the most modern education possible. In the summer of 415, very much against her wishes, Ona was uprooted from her friends and family and sent into the west with only a few faithful retainers for support.
Leaving court, they journeyed over the Asaal Pass and down the mighty river Bar to the coast. Although Ona had fiercely resisted her father’s efforts to send her away, she was shocked by what confronted her. She had always been proud of her people and her family, but in Levestar and Dovinae she saw that her father had been right – hers was a backward nation. With that realisation the last of her resentment burnt away and she threw herself into studying of these modern states.
The years of 416 and 417 she spent in Dovinae, observing the workings of their guilds and their vast merchant fleet. It was here, by the wide, laden docks of Dovinae that she first realised how badly Taylach’s lack of a blue water port was impoverishing her nation. As she described it in her later years; “A trapper would sell his furs to a Bar caravaneer for coppers, the caravneer would then undertake the perilous journey to the coast where he would sell the furs for silver to a Dov merchant. The rich Dov merchant would fill his cavernous holds with the furs and sail south to sell it for a thousand times what the poor trapper had originally earned.” It was clear that her people were undertaking much of the labour, for almost none of the rewards.
For many long, sleepless nights Ona dreamed of ways she might link the Bay of Tagris to the Circilian Ocean and her nation into maritime trade, but the challenge seemed insurmountable. Even in summer the tip of the Auerswald peninsular was perpetually blanketed in sea ice more than thick enough to crush any merchantman. The Tagris may as well have been landlocked for all the good it did her nation. Eventually Ona gave up on this obviously impossible riddle.
418 and 419 she spent studying at the Royal University in the Realm. She was an eager student and read widely in theology and classics. Her quick wit and strange impetuous ways also made her a favourite at court and she was often a guest of King Harold III. In her later life she would often describe these two years as her simplest and happiest.
This idyllic period ended suddenly when in the winter of 420, Ona received word that her father had been poisoned.