For all their expansionist drive, the Caladians of the Arentan Empire were never confident sailors and the history of the early Republic is littered with accounts of fleets lost to storm and heavy seas. The situation only grew more desperate once the Republic outgrew the confines of the Tenebrarum Sea. While life on the Tenebrarum had always been dangerous for Caladian sailors, voyages on the wild Circilian Ocean proved almost suicidal.
Nevertheless there was money to be made on those inhospitable waters and the more enterprising Caladian captains soon worked out a way to claim it.
The Age of Adventurers
By the time the Caladians began to try their hand at sailing upon the Circilian Ocean, use of the taint was increasingly becoming part of the fabric of the Republic and, in an effort to combat the woeful inadequacies of their vessels, explorers and inventive merchants took to hiring weather mages as part of their crews. While employing a tainted mage was obviously exorbitantly expensive, returning with a hold full of northern wonders more than covered a entrepreneurial merchant’s outlay. Although voyages were still risky, a weather mage’s taint would generally be able to hold back a storm long enough for a ship to escape the weather or reach a sheltered anchorage.
Within forty years of the first weather mage going to sea, Caladian merchants were regularly visiting Dov and Invastir. By 1200 BCI the bravest or most foolhardy captains were already risking the long and cruel crossing to the Central Isles. Soon afterwards merchants begin forming informal fleets for the crossing. These fleets allowed the captain’s to pool the powers of their weather mages and greatly heighten the chance of their surviving a tempest. Some merchants also began to levy a tool for escorting a mageless captain across the seas.
Wild stories also began to circulate of the great merchants acting little better than pirates once they were out of sight of Caladia and, while this small group of adventurers grew steadily richer, resentment against them simmered and then boiled. The majority of merchants, who could not afford a weather mage, simply hated them for their wealth. The old landowners of the Senate on the other hand hated this new and wild aristocracy of the sea for the power and autonomy they had won themselves.
In 1078 the Senate struck. Led by the great orator Sabinus, a set of laws were quickly passed forbidding private ownership of a weather mage freedman. Simultaneously all weather mages were (forcibly) enlisted in the Republican Fleet – with conditions, pay and prestige far superior to what most of the adventurers had paid them.
At a single stroke the power of the great merchants had been smashed.
Those splendid fleets
While the Senate was only too happy to crush the merchants, the Republic had no intention of losing the wealth its distant trading posts generated and Sabinus had already hatched a plan to use the mages.
The newly enlisted weather mages were instructed to serve upon four enormous fleets. These fleets were to sail two routes. The first was to snake up the coast to Ivanstir, leaving merchant ships at the more southerly destinations as it went. The second would strike out across the wild ocean, make port in Stormhaven and then hug the coast of the Central Isles all the way west. Each route was served by two fleets and each fleet would make a yearlong round trip – heading out one summer, wintering at the end of their voyage and then returning home the next year. Merchant captains with connections or business on these distant shores could either pay a toll to accompany the fleet, or chance their luck on the wild ocean with no mage to save them.
The adventurers hated that the Senate had stolen their power and freedom from them but they had no choice and they soon paid the reviled toll.
For almost five hundred incredible years, the fleets toiled back and forth across the trackless sea, sustaining the provinces and brining unbelievable wealth back to the Caladian Peninsular. Soon Misenum, from where the fleets departed and returned, had outstripped even Arenta herself in wealth, pomp and splendor. An idea of the scale of these Middle Empire fleets is provided by the geographer Vegetius. He sailed out to the Central Isles in 744 and he reports the fleet his ship accompanied was made up of no less than 1047 vessels. The fleet of 744 was unusually large as XI Legion was going out to replace IV Legion, but this incredible figure should still give readers some idea of the sheer size of these convoys.
The Birth of Madness in 697 killed the great fleets. Imperial records indicate of the 311 weather mages employed in the fleets in 697, four fifths were even driven mad or slaughtered in the following pogroms. Even if more mages had survived, the Empire was so disorganized during the following 80 years of the anarchy and civil war that it’s unlikely any fleets would have sailed anyway. Without their yearly link to the imperial homeland the distant provinces that depended on the fleets moldered or burnt.
By the time the hardworking Mucianus-Paullus emperors returned some measure of stability to the empire the once proud mages guilds had disappeared. A few mages could be found here and there to carry a small convoy out to the provinces, but even these trips were dangerous and countless vessels were lost.
The great arterys of empire had been cut.
The provinces never recovered. One by one, like the branches of a dying tree, they fell away from the imperial fold and into the waiting jaws of raiders, barbarians and worse.