886: THE ATLANTEANS OUTNUMBERED BY THEIR ENEMIES
During the winter of 885 to 886, the Rabarrans and Ughans tried to co-ordinate their strategy for the first time for several years. Both remained highly suspicious of each other, and the negotiations were made much more difficult because both sides wanted to end up controlling as much of the Crolden Hills, with Dravizzi and Atlandravizzi, as they could. They agreed to try to fix the Atlanteans' attention on the Crolden Hills, which they had attacked so desperately in 885, and then by an ambitious double manoeuvre from the Rabarran position east of the Dodolla and the Rabarran-Ughan positions north and south of the Crolden Hills, to strike east and west to cut off all the enemy south of roughly the Yellis-Gasirotto line. In the west, the Rabarrans collected three armies south of Cennatlantis as secretly as they were able. To the east, they dug in strongly on the Crolden Hills with one army, and concentrated three others behind the Burastoura. The Ughans also concentrated three armies south of Dravidos, facing south-westwards. It was intended that these two sets of armies would between them smash the Atlanteans on the Crolden Hills, then strike west to join up with the three Rabarran armies from Cennatlantis, which would simultaneously move north-east towards Gilliso and Yellis. The exact directions of the manoeuvres would depend on the Atlantean attack - the allies were sure that this would take place, as it was essential for the Atlanteans to break the allied front, if they were ever to avoid ultimate defeat.
In fact, the Atlanteans were already too late to win the war. In this area in March 886, they had just two armies facing Cennatlantis against three Rabarrans, and in the east, there were three Atlantean armies trying to storm the Crolden Hills, and one other army south along the Burastoura. These faced four Rabarran armies, with three Ughan armies to the north. In other words, six Atlantean armies, or about 540000 men, against ten Rabarran and Ughan armies, about 900000 in all. Despite their incredible victories the previous year against both allies, the latter, especially the Rabarrans, had concentrated their forces, weakened though they were. The outlook for Atlantis was indeed even bleaker in the future, as in March 886, Rabarrieh concluded peace with Yciel Tuaince Mandagge, and would be able to move troops and ships north later in the year to face the Atlanteans.
THE THIRD BATTLE OF DRAVIZZI AND THE END OF THE ATLANTEAN DREAM, MARCH-APRIL 886
Low-scale fighting on the Crolden Hills never really ceased during the winter, and picked up again after February. As their enemies had surmised, General Norindel intended to go all out to seize the Crolden Hills, whatever the casualties. His blunt, unsubtle plans were fully supported by the Emperor. Both were persuaded that once this position was taken, the Rabarrans and Ughans would be split in two, and would be forced to retreat in opposite directions: the Ughans east and north-east towards the upper Gestes, the Rabarrans south-east along their communications to the lower Gestes. This, after all, was what had happened in the Great Continental War to the Ughans and the Basquecs. The Rabarrans in the west, around Cennatlantis and in Helvrieh, would then also be forced to move back south. However, this plan assumed that the enemy had not moved his forces, or concentrated them around the Crolden Hills. The Third Battle of Dravizzi began on 20th March, and after three weeks, the Atlanteans had barely penetrated more than a few miles south of Dravizzi itself, already taken in the previous autumn, and had suffered tremendous casualties already. The Ughans put two armies in to defend the hills, and by April, they and the Ughans agreed that the time for the counter-attack was at hand.
On April 7th, three Rabarran armies attacked the southern Atlantean flank across the Burastoura from Giestisso, while to the north, three Ughan armies moved westwards between Dravidos and the Thyggis, against the Atlantean northern flank. The Atlanteans caved in in both areas, as so many of their forces had been committed to the fighting on the Crolden Hills. The Rabarrans closed in on Yellis, and counter-attacked on the hills themselves, while the Ughans moved on to Micazzo and the north-western tip of the hills, in rear of the main Atlantean position. It can be seen how closely this manoeuvre resembled that of the Second battle of the Crolden Hills and the Battle of Yellis in 880, and it was just as successful. On the previous occasion, the Atlanteans were fixed on the Hills by continual attacks there by the Rabarrans. This time, it was the Atlanteans themselves who blindly maintained their offensive there, but on both occasions, they were culpably negligent about their flanks. The result this time was that nearly a whole Atlantean army was surrounded on the Hills.
Part two of the allied plan now moved smoothly into sequence. Part of this again was similar to what took place in 880, namely exploitation by the Rabarrans westwards from Yellis towards the Dodolla. But this time it was much more devastating, because it was combined with an offensive eastwards, to meet it, by the three Rabarran armies which had been waiting patiently on the seemingly quiescent front between Snattarona and Gilliso. At the same time, the Ughans exploited westwards and north-westwards to regain the ground taken by the Atlanteans in 885. The Rabarran manoeuvre, the Battle of Rontisso, was faced by only two armies, and one of these was quickly cut off south of the Rontisso hills by 17th April. It was forced back south to Lake Trannolla, where, as all retreat was now impossible, it surrendered on April 22nd. The other army managed to retreat north and west to find salvation eventually in the fortress of Gasirotto, but only after the loss of half its forces.
During the rest of April and May, the Rabarrans gradually closed up on Gasirotto, while the Ughans advanced steadily through the Chalcran Forests and Micazzo westwards towards the Cresskor Mountains and the river Chakratoura. This movement was far more terrible to the population than had been the first advance in 880-1, and many massacres were deliberately committed by the Ughans, who had suffered such heavy casualties during their retreat here in 885. The result of this behaviour was, however, unfortunate for the Ughans. Discipline collapsed, and the advance slowed right down. The hordes of refugees who now tried to escape westwards ahead of the Ughans also made a fast pursuit of Atlantean forces impossible.
THE LAST CHANCE FOR ATLANTIS
The Ughans in fact spent most of 886 gradually moving westwards. Although very slow at first, they were given a rude shock in July, when Skallandieh suddenly decided to rejoin the war against Atlantis. This decision was just as much a surprise to the Atlanteans, and a very disagreeable one, as it meant she had yet another huge front to defend. The Skallands made this sudden decision when they saw the Ughans once again approaching the Cresskor Mountains, and the areas which the Skallands had recently evacuated under the terms of the peace with Atlantis. Frightened that the Ughans would seize this whole area, and emboldened by the obvious collapse of the Atlanteans, Skallandieh sent its troops southwards across the Taichtaill. A month or so later, she also crossed the Ruphaio in the west, the agreed border with Atlantis. As the year went by, the Skallands this time conquered the whole of the Gedandolix and most of the Cresskor Mountains, as well as seizing the Cressdun Pass. Here was the potential for conflict between Ughan and Skalland, and there was further friction between Ughans and Rabarrans around possession of the Crolden Hills, which remained largely in Rabarran hands, but which Rabarrieh had vaguely promised to share with Ughrieh before the recent battles. Atlantis might thus have a last chance of exploiting its enemies' mistrust, and making peace once again with one or more of them, now that the battle-lines were returning to the position they had occupied before Atlantis' great offensive of 884.
Crehonerex could not fail to see the doom now facing Atlantis. His armies had now lost huge casualties - two and a half complete armies had vanished between March and June this year, and it was becoming impossible to replace such losses. Morale was falling fast, and more and more non-Atlanteans were surrendering or fleeing. Indeed, Atlantis' enemies had by the end of 886, deprived her of nearly all her empire, other than the Atlanteans themselves and some Lio-Marossans and West Kelts, and thus her pool of potential replacements for the army was diminishing very rapidly. He began diplomatic moves again after June, as his armies retired in disarray back to where they had been in 884. He believed that he could rely, as before, on his strong defences along the line of the Lakes, in the Meilox Mountains, and in the northern mountains. His real worries were the open Marossan plains, now threatened by the Skallands, and the Rabarran salient west of Cennatlantis, which similarly might burst open to allow the Rabarrans to rampage across the flat lands of Atlantidieh. He went to work on the Ughans first, offering them all the land they had taken up to the Cresskor Mountains, and offering them the parts now in Skalland hands, if they would accept a truce, while he fought back the Skallands. The Ughans did not trust him, of course, but were in any case forced to slow down their advance to a virtual halt, as their armies outran their supplies, and came up face to face with the Skallands. Crehonerex was simultaneously negotiating with the Rabarrans, offering them a truce on the line they had reached, including all the Helvran territory this time, though not Chalcrieh. But he said that he would aid the Rabarrans against the Ughans, and they could both share out the spoils.
However, the Ughans learned in August of these secret negotiations with the Rabarrans from the Rabarrans themselves. At a high level conference in Vulcanipand attended by the Ughan Emperor, Ladrubith, and the King of Rabarrieh, Athulco Alibixo, in September, they reiterated their determination not to make separate peace. For the first time, now, they decided, in secret, that they would definitely aim to conquer and dismember the whole Atlantean Empire. They would share out the territories between them, but though they agreed to split it roughly north and south, on a general line from the Crolden Hills west via Gasirotto and Tilrase to Atlantis, they could not decide which of them would in the end hold the major cities on this line, most especially Atlantis city and Dravizzi. After further discussion, they invited the King of Skallandieh, Sherecin Jenilkin Majal, to join them, which he did in November. He demanded a free hand in the north-west, in the Marossan lands and Yciel Atlantis, and did come to an agreement with the Ughans about the boundary between them in the Cresskor Mountains.
Crehonerex was left out in the cold throughout this period, as his enemies broke off all negotiations. Fighting, admittedly, ceased, apart from occasional sparring, after September. Then in November, the three monarchs gave him a joint ultimatum, which they knew he would refuse. This was to hand over ownership of all the territories currently occupied by the monarchs' armies to them in perpetuity; to withdraw all his armies back behind the rivers Rollepp and Fellepp; and to leave the intervening lands (Atlantidieh, Nundatlantidieh, etc) neutral and unarmed, as "independent" nations under the overall protection of one or other of the Great Powers (excluding Atlantis). Crehonerex did of course reject this, and now the next few months were spent by both sides in final frenzied preparations for a fight to the finish.
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