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A Southerly Wind


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Two hours before the Tagmatine ultimatum elapsed.

“At the moment, as you all know, the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion is waiting on an answer to the ultimatum. Tagmatika is yet to receive an answer, either positively or negatively. The Epistrategaion – and by inference, his Aroman Majesty – expect that the Makhairakeioi will allow it to elapse without a response. They have threatened every nation around them and, with the Angleioi backing them up, they are unlikely to back down now.”

Navarkhos – the Tagmatine equivalent of a full admiral – Stylianos Ethelred stood with his arms crossed and his gaze sweeping around the room as he spoke. He was dressed a black woollen jersey and white shirt, with shoulder boards displaying his rank insignia. A short dark brown beard with a full moustache slightly obscured his mouth as he talked. Both beard and short hair were speckled with grey, as might be expected of a man in his early fifties. In front of him was a map of the southern coast of Dolchland. He stood within the conference room attached to the admiral's facilities on board the aircraft carrier, BPP Agios Pantaleon. A dozen or so men and women, most of who were similarly uniformed to the Navarkhos, stood around the table at various points, either looking at the map as well or watching the admiral's face.

A faint scent of incense wafted through the air, a reminder that the room had just been blessed in order to facilitate a successful briefing for the operations that were to take place in the near future. The carrier's head chaplain had led a small procession around the room before the briefing took place, bearing several relics purported to be from the namesake saint of the aircraft carrier. As commander of the operation, Ethelred had been blessed by the chaplain and had reverently kissed the reliquary that bore the holy remains. The reliquary was then placed on a shelf overlooking the room, with a candle burning on either side.

The senior officers of the strike group under Ethelred's command stood around the map table, looking at the map. It showed positions of several radar stations, as well as air bases interpreted as military, naval bases and other sites had been tentatively raised as possible missile batteries but there were likely numerous unknowns in and around the area. The air bases that had been deemed to be military was because of the the traffic that had been observed using them. Much of the military aircraft had been moving eastwards, towards the combat on Iwenland. Some still seemed to remain on the southern coast, however, as even the usual arrogance of the barbaroi did not extend to removing all of their nation's air cover of an entire coastal area.

“Operations are to take place within the Bight of Flunder and we will be striking military targets on the southern coast of Makhairakeia.” This was going over old ground. Since the ultimatum had been sent to Schlammburg the previous morning, all of the officers present had attended several such briefings and had been able to study the plans laid out for the coming conflict by the Epistrategaion, the Tagmatine High Command. “The outcome of this will be twofold – it will directly hurt the Dolch ability to engage in naval warfare against anything within the Dolch Sea and it will force them to turn their attention away from Ivenlandeia. That, in turn, will help our friends in the east turn back this invasion.”

And their northern front, too, but that would just be an added bonus in the grand scheme of things. No Tagmatine really gave much of a f*ck about what happened to the massed Velaherian ( @DPR Velaheria) conscripts that were being sent into the Dolchic guns. Their brutal and incompetent government had ordered terror bombing of civilians in the last war that they had been in. This was seemingly because they were too inept, both morally and technically, to be able to to do anything but that. As far as both the Holy Imperial Government and the average Tagmatine were concerned, both the Dolch and the Velaherians could bleed themselves white fighting their war against each other.

“Intelligence does point towards the Makhairakeioi receiving significant supplies from the Angleioi over the past eleven months, although the size of that help and nature of it is somewhat unknown.” The failure of intelligence that that represented was somewhat awkward and it had the potential to threaten the Tagmatine operation considerably. The Navarkhos looked around the room. He wasn't telling anyone anything that they didn't already know. They'd seen the news reports of container ships arriving at Dolch ports. Most of them had even seen the ships themselves and knew that their arrival on Dolchic shores did not bode anything pleasant.

“It is expected by the Epistrategaion that their air defences will have been upgraded by the Angeleioi but it is also thought likely that much of this will now be focussed on their eastern coast, to attempt to cover their landings on Ivenlandeia. They seem to have decided that we are not a pressing threat, or at least that is what is surmised by our intelligence analysts.”

Alongside the collection of Basilikoploimon officers, there were two Basilikoaeroporia officers, dressed in blue grey jerseys and dark blue trousers. They were from the units stationed in Secryae, which had been significantly reduced from the height of Tagmatine activity during the Ceris War. Three squadrons remained, one of which was a ground attack unit, along with a smattering of reconnaissance and transport aircraft. The ground attack unit wasn't judged to be useful in the coming operation, although the other two, an interceptor squadron and an electronic warfare squadron, were. They would be providing additional air cover for the Tagmatine naval forces in the Dolch Sea. Three of the other people in the room stood out from all the others, as they were wearing uniforms stylised after those of the Dolchic military. They were from Tagmatium's ally in Ceris, the Noble Republic of Secryae.

One of those was from the nascent Secryaean air force and another two from their navy, if the collection of coastal defence vessels could be called such a thing. They would also take part in the war against Dolchland. Ethelred had been briefed by the Protologothetes for Wider Wurld Affairs, Konstantinian Makarios, about the Noble Republic and its intentions. It was politically expedient for Tagmatium to allow the Secryaeans to take part but, as Makarios said, it was suspected that Secryae was not just aiming to be seen as a useful partner to Tagmatium. Certainly, it was the case that it wanted to be a useful partner to the Europan nation, but what the Ceriser nation really wanted to do was to show that it could be of worth to the North Adlantic Union. It was coming to be suspected by the Logothesion ton Barbaron that path the Ceriser nation now saw for itself was closer cooperation with the North Adlantic Union, rather than being used as a stepping stone into Argic affairs by a faraway country on another continent.

“Whether Makhairakiki inattention is what plays out will remain to be seen, of course,” continued the Navarkhos. “And we will be the ones who find out about that. God willing, their pants will be around their ankles.”

Since the invasion of Iwenland and the aggressive action against both @Seylosand @Delamaria had started, the Tagmatine forces on Ceris and Dolch Sea had been champing at the bit to get to grips with Dolchland. It was clear that war had been looming between Tagmatium and Dolchland since the start of the invasion of Iwenland. Although the Agios Basilikon Kounsistorion had forbade any aggressive action against the Dolch by Ethelred's forces, Tagmatika had given the go-ahead for increased reconnaissance flights along the southern limit of Dolchic airspace. It had helped that the attention of the Dolch seemed to be entirely focussed to their east, where they were dealing with Delamaria, Seylos and Iwenland and to their north, where they were facing the Velaherians.

“And, more specifically, it will be your air crews that have to find out whether they have been so incautious, Droungarios Kamelaukios,” said Ethelred, looking over a naval captain whose insignia denoted membership of the Aeroporeia tou Ploimou, the naval aviation branch of the Tagmatine navy. “You will be hitting sites identified as enemy radar stations and anything else that tries to target us. I imagine your people are ready.”

The officer nodded. “Absolutely, Navarkhos. We are just awaiting the order. We'll render the Makhairakeioi blind and take down anything that tries to stop us.”

“Good.” Turning back from Droungarios Kamelaukios, the admiral produced a laser pointer and highlighted several targets marked on the map. “Simultaneously, the missile-capable ships of the rest of the group will be hitting the military air bases. This will disrupt their attempts at striking back at us. Anything that looks like it might be capable of launching a military aircraft will get a crater in it. Several craters in it.”

Possible military air bases, a nagging thought said in Ethelred's mind but he put it aside. God would guide the Tagmatine military to hit the right targets. It would be unfortunate if they did hit anything else but that was not going to be of concern to him at this moment.

“This will happen as soon as we get the order from the Epistrategaion. Either when the Makhairakeioi reject the ultimatum or when it times out, which ever happens first.”

Ethelred made an ostentatious play of looking at his watch.

“And considering we have been waiting for roughly the last twenty-two hours now for a reply from Schlammburg, I expect that we will get that order in about two hours and one minute.”

“And if we don't get the order, Kyrios?” asked Trierarkha Makroioannissa, captain of the BPP Defensor, one of the three Hippikos class destroyers that were part of the strike group of the BPP Agios Pantaleon. Her ship had been the one from the Tagmatine forces that had investigated the destruction of Liechnenfax. “If the Makhairakeioi realise they're about to get their teeth kicked in by Arhomaneia?”

“Then we forget this ever happened, Trierarkha,” replied Ethelred, with a shrug. He was now fiddling with the laser pointer, rather than shining it at anything particular on the map. “If the mud-eaters decide that they actually have a brain and not just cheese between their ears. We'll throw all these operational plans in the bin and keep lurking here, just off their southern shore.”

If the admiral had noticed that he had touched two of the somewhat mutually exclusive stereotypes of Dolch cuisine, he didn't make it obvious. It seemed to have gone over the head of the rest of the officers present as well. All he had needed to do was reference sausages as well and he would have scored a hat trick.

“I can't imagine that they'd like that, considering Arhomaneia's support for Delamareia and Seiloseia,” the Trierarkha said. “Although they seem to have been happy with ignoring us so far.”

The admiral shrugged again. “Unless they come and try to force us out of the area, then they will just have to put up with us here.”

“And the Agios Ioulianos? What will they be doing?” Another one of the other officers, the captain of the BPP Konstantinos Panaretos, spoke up. His vessel was the Protosebastos guided missile cruiser of the carrier strike group. That ship would be one of the ones that was going to trying reduce any length of flat tarmac in southern Dolchland to collections of the worst sorts of pot-holes imaginable.

The BPP Agios Ioulianos was the second of the Tagmatine carrier strike groups that had been deployed to eastern Argis over the last several years. It had been in the Geltic Sea, known in Laimiaic as the Geltiki Thalassa, after tensions in the area had raised significantly, due to a rogue nation in the area making threatening actions against its neighbours.

“They will be moving down through the Geltiki Thalassa and to the south of Seiloseia.” Ceasing to fiddle with the laser pointer, Ethelred use it to sketch a route on a smaller map of southern Argis that was inset on a corner on the larger map of Dolchland. “They will be reinforcing our operations here once they arrive.”

The captain of the Konstantinos Panaretos nodded. It wasn't exactly new information to the man, or any of the others present. A concentration of the Tagmatine resources in Argis represented the best way to break the back of the OCA in the area and deny Anglia a foothold there. In fairness, there was a good chance that Tagmatine involvement might not even be necessary – the Dolch had willingly thrown themselves into a two front war, one of which was against two of the most powerful nations in south-eastern Argis. The largest unknown factor would be precisely how Anglia was going to respond to the Holy Imperial Government's declaration of war against Dolchland, if that happened. If they didn't, then it would be a huge show of weakness. Perhaps one that undermined the strength of the whole alliance. That wasn't something that the Navarkhos was going to concern himself with, however. Southern Dolchland and the surrounding sea was going to be his focus.

“Well, I believe that just about covers it for the moment,” said the Navarkhos. “I think it is time that everyone got back to their ships. May the blessing of God be with you.”

 


 

One minute after the Tagmatine ultimatum elapsed.

To: Navarkhos Stylianos Ethelred, Commander of Arhomaiki Forces, Makhaira Thalassa

From: The Epistrategaion

Ultimatum unanswered; commence operation.

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  • 4 weeks later...

It seemed like the Dolchic plan was relatively simple – ignore the presence of the Tagmatine forces to their south as best as possible whilst conducting military operations against their northern neighbour and on Iwenland. Likely, they hoped that they could defeat one of the two as quickly as possible and hang onto their gains long enough that Great Anglia made its move in Argis. Or, now, Europa. The @Gallambrian declaration of war had probably come out of the blue for most of the nations and governments involved in the war in Argis. War was increasingly spreading out across Eurth, although it was probably true that it had never properly died down since the start of Great Anglia's campaign across western Europa.

“We estimate that Makhairakiki radar effectiveness is down to about 20% of what it was before our attacks started,” said Navarkhos Ethelred, directing the attention of Protologothetes Konstaninian Makarios to several areas of a map with a broad sweep of his laser pointer. “Most of their fixed installations have been destroyed but some of the more mobile ones have been eluding us so far. It doesn't matter in the short term, however – we've rendered the Makhairakeioi virtually blind across the entire Bight of Flunder and much of their south-eastern seaboard.”

He didn't want to be giving this brief personally but protocol demanded that a Protologothetes could not be briefed by someone holding a rank lower than that of a Heminavarkhos, a Rear Admiral in Anglish rank terms. Since the Protologothetes was still the main representative of the Holy Imperial Government in southern Argis and held something of a position between ambassador and governor, the Tagmatine High Command had recommended that Ethelred keep the man in the loop of the ongoing campaign. Out of courtesy to the Imperial Army, he had also invited the commanding officer of the Tagmatine forces on Ceris, Taxiarkhissa (Lieutenant General) Theodoula Parsakountena. There had been some consideration as to whether to involve someone from Secryae in this but it was decided that it would be better suited to go through more proper channels. Anyway, they already had officers attached to the Tagmatine forces in the Dolch Sea and their own naval vessels taking part, as best as they could.

“We have also managed to put out of action all of the airfields that are within striking distance of the Makhaira Thalassa, as well as many of their anti-shipping missile batteries that we have been able to engage,” continued the Navarkhos. “Although we expect that the mud-eaters have withdrawn numerous others out of our range or are hiding those that are still there.”

The Foreign Ministry official sat at the head of the table in a room large enough for the sort of long table that Tagmatines loved to have in their meeting rooms. The room was located on the ground floor of the town house that had been given over to Tagmatium as its chancery in Secryae, although the building was quite generously sized, even if not necessarily of a style high officials of the Holy Imperial Government were used to. A smattering of more junior officials and officers – attachés to one officer and official or another – were sat behind them, their presence away from the table making it clear that the briefing wasn't truly aimed at them and they were merely there to take notes for their superiors.

“It has not been a bloodless campaign on our end, of course. In the initial stages, the Aeroporeia tou Ploimou and the Basilikoaeroporia have both suffered losses and we've had several ships damaged by missiles before we were able to silence their batteries.” The expression of the foreign minister and the army officer didn't change. They probably didn't know anyone in the Imperial Navy personally. “We lost five aircraft in the initial suppression of enemy air defences, as well as seven more in combat against Makhairakiki fighters and ground defences. Two ships, the destroyers BPP Prokoursator and BPP Koursor, suffered damage, with both having to return to our facilities in Sekriaeia for repairs.”

The Protologothetes was dressed in the dark, conservative business suit with a dark green tie, which denoted ministerial rank. His rat-like face was furrowed as if in deep concentration and he had his elbows on the table in front of him, his fingers steepled together. It was a pose that was characteristic of the Tagmatine monarch and it struck the Navarkhos as someone trying to mimic the body language of a more successful person. Faking it until you made it didn't always work.

“Does this mark the campaign as over then, Navarkhos?” asked Makarios, looking at the naval officer from over the tops of his fingers.

It was a stupid question and one that he had expected the foreign minister to say. Ethelred had a low opinion of him, one that had only become more cemented in place over the few years of having to deal with the man regularly during the war against the Sentists. However, he caught the look in Makarios' eye and guessed that the man didn't really think that the campaign was over. Only a truly naïve person would have thought that and those sorts of people didn't rise near the summit of a ministry of the Holy Imperial Government.

“No, we are nowhere near finished,” replied the naval officer, shrugging a bit. He pulled out a chair and sat down behind the table himself, placing the laser pointer in front of him. “We've managed to suppress the Makhairakiki defences to the point that we can almost operate with impunity on their southern coast, but we don't think that that will last for long. So far, they haven't taken the bait that we – the Epistrategaion, that is – expected that they would. It was assumed that they would have to be forced to either withdraw forces from their northern front or from the Iwenlandiki front to attempt to fend off our attacks.”

“I doubt that they would show their faces again, not unless forced to,” said the Taxiarkhissa. Where Makarios sat forward in his chair, the general sat straight, her back stiff. She seemed to be almost buzzing with that sense of arrogance and superiority towards foreigners that rarely endeared Tagmatines to people from other nations. “The might of Arhomaiki arms has undoubtedly dashed whatever schemes that they were planning.”

Parsakountena lightly thumped the table with a fist to punctuate her words. The foreign minister looked down at her hand with a look of distaste in his eyes before he looked over at the Navarkhos. In a moment of rare commiseration, Ethelred caught Makarios' gaze and rolled his eyes at the army officer. She didn't notice, as she was still staring at the map, no doubt imagining the might of Aroman arms sweeping the Dolch from Iwenland and all the way back to their own coasts.

“Maybe, Taxiarkhissa,” replied Ethelred in an agreeing tone. “I do not doubt that that is the case, at least in the immediate term. But there's a chance that they think that they can weather whatever storm we throw at them long enough for other factors to come into play.”

Megas Angleia.” Makarios didn't need to say anything more than that. The look of patriotic fervour on Parsakountena's face dimmed a bit as the implication of that sunk into her.

“Exactly,” the Navarkhos agreed.

Ethelred sat back in his chair and gripped the armrests. “We currently have the Makhairakeioi over a barrel. If they want us to clear us out, then they would have to devote significant resources to do so. We've got two carrier strike groups here. Common sense would dictate that they withdraw forces from either of their attacks in order to stop us having the run of their southern coasts. At the very least, they should take aircraft from where they appear to be focussed – against the Velahereioi (@DPR Velaheria) – so that they can try to gain back some of that control. But they haven't. And, to an extent, that was the Epistrategaion's plan, to draw forces away from their other attacks.”

“Heinrich thinks that his forces can ignore us, ignore whatever damage we're doing, long enough for Angleia to come to their aid.” The Taxiarkhissa looked at the pad of paper sat in front of her. She had been using it to take notes at the start of the meeting. Now she was poking at it a bit restlessly.

The Navarkhos nodded. “It's massive gamble on their part. There are our two carriers, two of the Seiloseioi (@Seylos) – well, one of them and one of NAU, which is basically the same thing – one of the Delamareioi (@Delamaria) and the Iberikiki (@Iverica) ships now. Or soon. Whether the Angleioi can do anything will be unknown until they show their hand.”

“The Ghallamvrioi have declared war on the Angleioi.” Makarios didn't necessarily need to state that as both of the two officers were aware of the fact. It was going to be the turning point in the crisis, Ethelred guessed. He also reckoned that it would not be too long before Tagmatika followed suit and declared war as well. The Epistrategaion were likely putting the last minute touches to positioning and plans that they might not have been able to do with open war being in effect.

Ethelred drummed his fingers on the table for a moment. The instinctive reaction, the reaction borne of the perception of the civilian government of Tagmatium of the military and inter-arm squabbling, was to tell the foreign ministry official and the army officer that the Tagmatine navy had everything in hand. However, making the situation clear would be much more conducive to relations between the different services and the political machinery of the Tagmatine government. Anyway, Parsakountena would be able to find out through the Epistrategaion herself and Makarios undoubtedly had his own contacts to find out what was going on.

“Our biggest immediate problem will be supplies,” the Navarkhos began. He picked up the cup of tea that had been placed near him and took a small sip before continuing. “The Basilikoploimon stockpiled enough to keep a single strike group going for several months at the levels that we were expecting prior to the declaration of war against Makhairakeia. The stockpiles were increased as tensions rose in the Makhaira Thalassa. Now that the Agios Ioulianos and her strike group are here, we are burning through that all the more quickly. The Epistrategaion began to supply more as war became more likely. They have also been sending over supplies as quickly as they can but they are unsure just how much that Angleiki intervention will interfere with that. If the Adlantikos becomes too unstable, they may not be able to send anything else without significant escort. Ultimately, if war does break out between Arhomaneia and Megas Angleia, then we will have to work hard to make sure that our operations are not threatened here.”

“We have commitments to our allies in Argis that we cannot ignore.” There was a surprising warning tone in Makarios' voice, something that the Navarkhos had never thought the wheedling, blond rat would ever show towards anyone. The foreign minister sat up straight in his chair and gave a hard expression towards Ethelred. “I hope you're not suggesting that the Basilikoploimon is considering throwing our allies under the bus. His Aroman Majesty, may God guide him, would not allow it.”

“Absolutely not, Endoxos.” Ethelred shook his head. He used the courtesy title that Makarios was “I'm merely outlining to you both, as the highest-ranking representative of the civilian administration and the commander of the Basilikostratos on Ceris, the current thinking of the Basilikoploimon. We will continue to prosecute this war against Makhairakeia until victory.”

The Protologothetes sat back in his chair. “Good, Navarkhos. Obviously, these decisions are above us and concern God's representative on Eurth and the decisions that he makes.”

There was an awkward pause for a moment before Makarios broke the silence of his own making.

“What about an invasion of Makhairakeia?” The man's eyes looked from the naval to the army officer. “Taxiarkhissa, you and the Sekriaeioi have enough forces to do that?”

Parsakountena shook her head. “Although I don't doubt that Aroman élan will be able destroy the mud-eaters in any situation, my troops don't have the training to mount any sort of landing. They're here to protect Sekriaeia from a possible resurgent Sentist threat. Neither, I believe, do we have the vessels capable of doing so.”

“It's a bit of a dead end, Endoxos.” Ethelred kept his face carefully blank. He decided he ought not point out the hypocrisy of the Protologothetes planning on invading Dolchland off his own back moments after accusing the navy of running away less than five minutes before. It would not be conducive to further productive relations between them. “It may be something that our superiors decide on in the future, but not something that we can do off our own backs.”

Now that things were drifting into theoretical plans and schemes, it was probably time that Ethelred drew this meeting to a close.

Protologothetes, Taxiarkhissa, thank you for meeting with me today,” said the naval officer, rising from his seat. The other two, out of expected courtesy, rose from their seats as well. The naval officer made a gesture to one of his subordinates, who began to gather the files that he had brought with him. “I need to get back to my ships, after all.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

To: Navarkhos Stylianos Ethelred, Commander of Arhomaiki Forces, Makhaira Thalassa

From: The Epistrategaion

 

Navarkhos,

In light of success of the operation in the Bight of Flunder, his Aroman Majesty, Kommodos III, has given his blessing to an expansion of the current operation. It is felt by the Epistrategaion that for the war against Makhairakeia to be truly effective, the operation must be expanded to take in Morthal Bay as well. Ultimately, the aim will be to enact similar attacks against the western seaboard of Makhairakeia, in order to reduce their capacity for warfare and to force them to withdraw forces from the Ivenlandiki front.

To this end, the following ships will be dispatched to allow the scope of the operation to be expanded:

 

3rd Surface Action Group, commanded by Heminavarkhos Mikhael Dionotos.

BPP Proklos Markianos, Protosebastos-class guided mission cruiser (CG)

BPP Nystras, Limanion-class light aircraft carrier (CVL)

BPP Katafraktos, Hippikos-class destroyer (DD)

BPP Afraktos, Hippikos-class destroyer (DD)

BPP Politikos, Hippikos-class destroyer (DD)

BPP Venatios, Pneumatikos-class frigate (FFG)

BPP K-D, Karcharías-class submarine (SS)

 

12th Frigate Squadron, commanded by Droungaria Iosefina Krinippa

BPP Alexios, Pneumatikos-class frigate (FFG)

BPP Eulalios, Pneumatikos-class frigate (FFG)

BPP Leontios, Pneumatikos-class frigate (FFG)

 

9th Submarine Squadron, commanded by Droungarios Trofimos Sostratos

BPP K-B, Karcharías-class submarine (SS)

BPP K-H, Karcharías-class submarine (SS)

BPP K-I, Karcharías-class submarine (SS)

BPP K-M, Karcharías-class submarine (SS)


The BPP Haruspex, Prognostikator-class information/cyberwarfare cruiser (CC), will be attached to your command for the duration of this conflict, or until further developments take place.

Alongside this will be an increase in supply vessels to increase stockpiled munitions, fuel, spare parts, etc, to allow the Arhomaiki forces in the Makhaira Thalassa to continue to operate and force the Makhairakeioi to cease their offensive against Ivenlandeia, as well as Delamareia and Seiloseia.

You will receive further orders and specific targets when the reinforcements arrive and can begin operations. They are currently grouping in the Rhankes Thalassa and should arrive in-theatre in 4 (four) to 6 (six) days.

May God see to it that our actions are successful and the Makhairakeioi see the error of their ways.

 


 

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To: His Excellency, Volkhardt Isenhour, State President of the Free State of Gadutea (@Stedoria)

From: the Holy Imperial Government of the Greater Holy Empire of the Aromans

 

Your Excellency,

As yourself, the government and people of Gadutea may well be aware, my nation declared war on the Empire of Dolchland several weeks ago, after presenting the Dolch government with an ultimatum to withdraw their forces from Iwenland and to cease conflict against the Commonwealth of @Delamaria, the Commonwealth of Iweland and the Kingdom of @Seylos. This ultimatum went unanswered and so Aromania declared war against Dolchland.

The Imperial Navy has been undertaking a campaign against the forces of Dolchland since that declaration of war. This campaign has inflicted a significant amount of damage against their military infrastructure on their southern coast, primarily along the Bight of Flunder. So far, this campaign has been successful but it is clear that the Dolch are not stopping their assault against their neighbours. Therefore, the Holy Imperial Government feels that more pressure – and force – must be brought to bear against them, in order to get them to reconsider their foolish actions. More blows must be struck, if freedom and democracy are to be safeguarded in Argis, and the wider wurld, as well as the independence of the smaller nations of your continent.

I have been asked by his Aroman Majesty, Kommodos III, by the Grace of Christ, Holy Emperor and Autocrat of the Aromans and Equal-to-the-Apostles, to enquire about the possibility of utilising the port facilities of your nation. It is well placed within Morthal Bay to act as a resupply base for the Imperial Navy, should they need to do so. My government is aware of your nation's history as a naval base for your former occupying power and that this means that the Free State has port facilities that may be of use to Aromania's ongoing campaign against Dolchland. The Holy Imperial Government would be interested in utilising these facilities for the possible expansion of the campaign against Dolchland. Aromania asks this, as both of our nations are part of the Argic Defence Coalition and are taking a stand against the warmongering and imperialist ways of both Dolchland and the Kingdom of Great Anglia, their ultimate puppet masters.

Of course, it is well understood by the Holy Imperial Government that the usage of such facilities does not come without cost. Therefore, Aromania would be willing to lease the port facilities from your government for the period that they are used, if your government is willing to do so. Although my nation's actions are in the common interest of not just Gadutea, but all of the wurld, recompense for using them will be willingly given by my nation.

Through cooperation and faith in Christ, the threat of the Dolch will be removed from the people of Argis.

Eugenios Goulielmos,

Grand Minister

of the

Ministry for Foreign Affairs

of the

Greater Holy Empire of the Aromans

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Once the Holy Imperial Government had received the request of the Argic Defence Council, there had been a period whilst both the Epistrategaion and the Tagmatine government digested the request. The government and the High Command were keen on carrying it out but were equally concerned about what it might represent, considering the on-going Bight of Flunder and Morthal Bay operations. But the fact that severing the lines of communication between would totally cripple the Dolch operations in Iwenland meant that the request could not be ignored. And so it would not be. Preventing the retreat of the large Dolch forces in Iwenland would mean that their position there was completely untenable and potentially force them to surrender. Considering the victories the @Seylosian, @Iverican and Iwish armies were inflicting on them, they did not seem to have much choice.

“Does it remind you of anything, Navarkhos?” Droungarios Kamelaukios, the commander of the BPP Agios Pantaleon's air wing asked. He was looking towards Stylianos Ethelred, who returned the look with a slightly raised eyebrow.

The Tagmatine naval commander was stood in his quarters on the BPP Agios Pantaleon, along with the senior officers of the naval forces under his command. All of the officers present wore the standard uniform of a jacket, shirt and trousers, all with flame-retardant properties. Ethelred was the only one who wore a black pullover instead of the jacket. The rest were only really differentiated by the rank insignia and name tabs. They weren't the only occupants of the room, of course – the gentle clank of chains and the wisps of incense smoke in the room showed that there were several priests present, murmuring prayers for a successful meeting between the officers of the Imperial Navy.

The maps that Ethelred preferred over the electronic tablets were spread across his desk but another was projected onto the wall at far end of the room. The maps mainly showed eastern Dolchland, as the western part of the country didn't matter too much for the next stage of the operation as Ethelred had expected it. Those few maps that showed eastern Dolchland had no red crosses on them. The Tagmatine navy had left that part of the theatre in the hands of the Ivericans and the Seylosians. An arc of red crosses did creep along the southern coast of the country, edging their way along towards the west. They were a visual emphasis on how much damage the Imperial Navy had done to the Empire of Dolchland.

Ethelred shook his head, not being able to guess at what his officer meant.

“I'm not sure what you're getting at, Droungarios,” replied Ethelred. “What we're looking at is the defeat of an aggressive enemy that has bitten off more that they could chew.”

And Dolchland had been totally thrown under the bus by its OCA allies. Beyond some more advanced weapons systems being sent to the Argic nation, there had been very little genuine support by @Great Anglia. This was something that Tagmatium was certainly thankful for and it likely had sown seeds of resentment and distrust between the alliance. If this was how they were treated then perhaps Dolchland would think twice about joining in in a grand scheme of wurld conquest, assuming that another head of state had the delusions of King Creighton and the means to set those schemes in motion.

“It's quite like the run up to Operation Nikeforos, during the Long War.” The captain's tone of voice was not wholly serious, however, but there was a silence crept into the room as he finished speaking.

“Except from the other side,” pointed Trierarkha Makroioannissa, the captain of the BPP Defensor. She broke the awkward silence. “We're the attacking force this time, trying to trap an army on an island.”

Stylianos frowned, trying to show both of his officers his opinion without actually mentioning it. The destroyer captain buckled a bit under the navarkhos' gaze and tried to act as if Kamelaukios was the main problem. The air arm officer just gave a shrug back in reply. The more informal relationship that he liked to cultivate between his officers meant that dark glances didn't mean that much. It didn't help that Kamelaukios was a veteran pilot and officer, one of the few fleet air arm pilots who had fired their guns in anger before the start of the Dolch campaign.

“It's not exactly the sort of parallel I want drawing, Droungarios.” His withering stare hadn't made an impact on Kamelaukios, although Makroioannissa had shuffled back into the pack of destroyer commanders. “The local defeat of the Imperial Navy was overcome by the small boats going over and rescuing all of the Aroman and @Gaellician forces that were isolated by the Volsci.”

The actions of Aroman civilian vessels was one of the most celebrated events of an otherwise brutal and relentless war. The name itself was a common modern Aroman first name meaning “bringer of victory”. It had been used for the name of the operation to rescue the trapped forces and it was supposed to emphasise that the victory of the operation was brought by the actions of the ordinary civilians of the Aroman Empire. One of the last things that the Aroman government – and by extension, the Argic Defence Council – wanted to do was give the Dolch such a rallying point. Or allow the evacuation of their ground forces, which might give the Dolch the means to continue fighting for months to come. If not longer...

“We don't really want to be forced to blow up a load of civilians,” agreed the fleet air arm officer. “Although it won't be us, will it, kyrios? It will be Navarkhos Kamytzes.”

The admiral nodded. “The BPP Agios Ioulianos and its group under Navarkhos Kamytzes will be moving towards the Iwenland strait to seal it off, in order to prevent anything sallies by the Dolch navy.”

He paused for a moment and looked over at Kamelaukios again. “No civilian ships will get sunk.”

The unspoken words were at least not intentionally.

Kamelaukios nodded and gave a shrug.

At the moment, there was no plan to deal with the situation if the Dolch government did try to rescue its ground forces by attempting something similar. The optics on the Tagmatine navy blowing up fishing boats, ferries and pleasure craft would be pretty damn awful. The Seylosians would probably shit a brick, too. Now that Kamelaukios had helpfully seeded that thought into everyone's mind, Ethelred was pretty damn sure that all of the other officers were thinking along the same lines he was. Once this meeting was over, he would raise the possibility with the Epistrategaion. Considering the unwritten order that that f*cking rat, Protologothetes Makarios, had passed on at the end of the last meeting between himself and the foreign minister, he guessed what the Holy Imperial Government might suggest.

Dolchland must pay the price. If we can strike it, it must be struck.

It was all well and good them issuing such an order; it wasn't those sat in Tagmatika getting their hands dirty. It was tantamount being given a green light to commit war crimes. The admiral did not want to be in the position of ordering his forces to do anything that regrettable. He was an Aroman, after all, even if it was by choice and not by blood. Not some savage Velaherian.

“Hypotheticals based on events during the Long War aside...” said Navarkhos Metrofanes Kamytzes. The man's slightly ginger beard hid the set of his mouth. Nonetheless, the look in his eye suggested that he was amused by the fact that both Ethelred and Kamelaukios had been talking about what would happen in eastern Dolchland as if Kamytzes himself wasn't there. “The Seylosians are indicating that most of the Dolch anti-ship systems have been neutralised by actions by themselves and the Ivericans. May I take the laser pointer, Navarkhos?”

The other admiral gestured towards the laser pointer that had been left on the top of the table by Ethelred, who nodded. Once he had taken it, Kamytzes fiddled with it, rather than using it. Instead, the man continued to speak.

“Our intelligence and the active reconnaissance that we have been carrying out suggests that the Dolch navy aren't likely to be anything of threat. This has been confirmed by what intelligence we have been given by the Ivericans and the Seylosians. My group arriving at the south of the Iwenland Strait is likely to force what remains of the Dolch navy to skulk in their ports.”

This time, Kamytzes did turn on the laser pointer. The admiral turned towards the map and he used it to make several swirling gestures it, indicating the set of two islands that lay between Dolchland and Iweland and then the Bay of Panedonia.

“The Perle Islands are to be our initial focus, as well as the Bay of Panedonia. Whilst there is the indication that the Dolch morale is at the point where our presence might be enough to cause them, as I said before, skulk in their ports, I do not plan on risking that. Once my carrier group, accompanied by the 12th Frigate and the 9th Submarine Squadrons, has moved into the northern end of the Dolch Sea, I will begin to neutralise any naval facility and military airfield, following strategy that Navarkhos Ethelred used in the west of Dolchland.”

“Are there any of those left after the Ivericans and the Seylosians have finished with them?” asked Droungaria Krinippa, the commander of the 12th Frigate Squadron. She would have been informed ahead of time that her squadron was being detached from its duties in the west and moved eastward but still wanted to ask the question in the general briefing.

“Yes. Some, at least,” conceded Kamytzes, who now stood in front of the map with his arms crossed in front of his chest. “The Dolch anti-ship capabilities have been destroyed but we need to totally put the fear of God and Arome into them. If we do not, then there is the chance that they might view their impending defeat as merely a setback, not an end to their schemes.”

“The main aim is to link up with the ships of the North Adlantic Union,” said Ethelred mildly. It shouldn't really have needed to be pointed out. The other admiral was being surprisingly ferocious in what should have just been moving his forces in between Dolchland and Iwenland but Ethelred knew that the Epistrategaion had given the go-ahead to this. Again, it was part of Tagmatika's plan for Dolchland to pay for what they had started in Argis. Another part of it was probably that Kamytzes had been operating in Ethelred's shadow since the 3rd Carrier Strike Group had arrived in Argic waters. This was Kamytzes' chance to show that he was capable to leading his forces to victory, even if it was at the late stage of the conflict. Equally, as the officer in command of the Tagmatine forces in Argis, he had signed off on the other admiral's plan when he had presented it to him earlier. Ethelred turned and nodded towards the other admiral. “Although Tagmatika is in favour of the 'fear of God and Arome' approach.”

Kamytzes nodded in reply. “May God have mercy upon the Dolch.”

Every officer in the room spoke at once. “Amen.”

“But, equally, we are at the point where we can see the end of this conflict being in sight,” Ethelred said, trying to remind his officers of that fact. “It is likely that the Dolch forces in Iwenland will surrender once their escape has been cut off. What we don't know, however, is what Schlammburg will do once that has happened. The Velaherians have crossed their northern border and are making their way south, in their haphazard fashion.”

He pitied those Imperial Navy officers that had been sent to direct the Tagmatine strikes against targets in support of the Velaherians (@DPR Velaheria) . Not only were they barbarians – albeit, so were the Dolch – but they suffered under a totalitarian regime that was blind to the pain that they inflicted on their own people, let alone those of other nations. That the Greater Holy Empire was acting in support of the Democratic People's Republic was one of the most shocking turns of events of this war. Not so long ago, Tagmatium had placed sanctions against that shit-hole.

“If the Dolch government does not surrender after the defeat of its attack on Iwenland, then the full brunt of our forces well be brought against their eastern coast, too.”

“But no talk of any landings?” asked the captain of the BPP Nystras, Thomas Akaounos. It was a question that had consistently come up. As much as the navy didn't especially like the army, it was being recognised that this was a route that might finally put the Dolch back in their box. Personally, Ethelred was getting a bit fed up of having to field that question.

“No, Droungarios,” said Tagmatine commanding officer, keeping his irritation out of his voice. “The Epistrategaion have been clear that there is not likely to be any landings on Dolchland, at least any time soon. The army – and units from the Nauklarioi – will be involved in the imminent attack on the OCA in Europa and so cannot be spared. And withdrawing army units from Secryae will potentially put the security of Ceris at risk.”

A slight ripple of surprise went around the room at the mention of a Europan front in the war opening, although it probably shouldn't have. The Europan front of the war had been brewing for months. The precise timetable wasn't known by anyone other than those involved in the planning of the operation. The commanding admiral himself had not been given much information, just this as a reason why no ground forces would be sent to the Argic theatre in support of his naval forces.

“Well, I think that's everything,” said Ethelred. He turned towards Kamytzes, who was still standing in front of the map with the laser pointer. “Navarkhos, your carrier group, as well as the 9th and the 12th, are to begin moving at 18:00 hours. May God be with you.”

The other admiral gave him a half-bow. “And with you.”

Most of the officers filed out of the room, with Kamytzes leading the way. They would be heading back to their own vessels. The only ones left in the room, bar the ever-present priests, were Ethelred, Kamelaukios and Alexios Tagaris, the captain of the Pantaleon.

“I hear this pretty much cements your promotion, Stylianos,” said Kamelaukios, pulling out one of the chairs that were arranged around the map-covered table and sat down. “Albeit I'm surprised you didn't get Epinavarkhos at the start of this, when Tagmatika declared war against Dolchland.”

Ethelred shrugged. He'd been surprised by that as well. His own seniority wasn't much higher than that of Kamytzes. It had caused some momentary friction between the two, as the other admiral had chafed a bit at being under the command of someone who didn't outrank him. Then the man had seen the sense, mainly due to the fact that Ethelred had been in command of the Tagmatine forces in the Dolch Sea for several years now.

“The Protologothetes implied that he would lobby Grafeion Arx on your behalf at one point,” said Tagaris, following the lead of the air wing commander and sitting down at the table. “To get the seniority backdated to the declaration of war, I mean. Although he said so indirectly, of course. I'm not sure I'd necessarily trust the f*cker as far as I could throw him.”

That blond rat was probably lying, or at least saying something that was in that moment true. If it was true, that was great. There was also a good chance that the Ministry for War or the High Command would totally disregard what someone from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs had to say on the matter. Tagmatine ministries tended to be quite jealous over another ministry attempting to meddle in their own business.

“How is Trierarkha Symbatia doing, Droungarios?” asked Ethelred, abruptly changing the subject. He walked over and helped himself to a cup of tea. The refreshments available had been surprisingly untouched during the briefing. The trierarkha was an officer of the fleet air arm who was on the ground with the Velaherians, acting as a forward observer. The reason why Ethelred asked was because the other two had a relationship that had always been towards the level of unprofessional when considering the conduct of Aroman naval officers who weren't married. Not twenty years before, they could well have been drummed out of the navy for living in sin.

“She is doing about as well as you would imagine, Navarkhos,” the other officer replied, ignoring the awkwardness that the conversation seemed to have for the admiral. “She'd prefer to be not be working with those savages. But it's for the greater good of defeating Anglia and its minions.”

The assignment had not been a popular one, to say the least. Volunteers had been asked for, with the implication that it would be a good way to quickly defeat the OCA and it was hinted that the navy would look favourably upon it. And there was no way that Tagmatium was going to let communications equipment go into the hands of the Velaherians without someone watching over it. They would likely try to steal it or otherwise try to use it to boost their own lacklustre technology.

“Well, the end is in sight, Leokrates,” the admiral said, using Kamelaukios' first name.

At least in Argis, thought Ethelred. The conflict was still ongoing in Aurelia and it seemed that the Europan theatre was just beginning to ramp up.

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