February 23, 2012

Syrene: Manda Zemba the Great

The hero-king Manda Zemba the Great united the northern Axuman tribes, performing many heroic feats and difficult tasks to win the trust of the chieftains, and led a crusade against the necromancers’ kingdom of Kuthaan, destroying it utterly and founding in the liberated lands the kingdom of Gran Zembar.

It is said Manda Zemba tamed a huge four-tusked bull elephant, and on this mount he taught his people the arts of fighting on elephant back. With an army of elephant riders, Merawid cavalry, and Shakanda spearmen and mail-clad infantry drawn from a score of Axuman tribes, Manda Zemba crushed the Kuthaanese armies at the Battle of Tamba Gorge. The surviving necromancers fled, and took over the kingdom of Taharqa in the highlands.

But to get the free tribes to fight, Manda Zemba had to offer pay - and in those days the universal measure of value in Axuma was the cow. The king needed great numbers of cattle to pay off his debts, but Kuthaanese depredations had left very few in the kingdom. The king turned to the Shakandas, who refused to give up as much of their herds as the king required, for such a reduction would cause hunger among them. Embassy after embassy returned empty-handed, and the northern tribes were threatening to revolt unless the king settled his debts. In desperation, Manda Zemba led a great raid into Shakandaland in the year 569.

The raid was a disaster. The Shakandas appealed to the beastlords of the Barangeti Plain, and there all the horses of Manda Zemba's cavalry were turned into untameable, unrideable zebras. Without these, his foot soldiers and the few elephants he dared to pull from the capital were defeated by the sheer bravery and prowess of the Shakanda impis, or spear-regiments, and the Zembari were forced to retreat.

Manda Zemba himself died during the retreat, some say of a wound, some say of a failed heart. He was succeeded by his son Manda Ignosi, who made peace with the Shakandas, and minted the first Zembari coinage to pay his chieftains. The rise of Gran Zembar and the destruction of Kuthaan opened up the trade routes to the south, and soon Palmarians were voyaging to Jennaro and up the Nuba, to Shakandaland, up the jungle rivers to the kingdoms of Oro and Tana, and by 800 CR had reached Ceram, in the Perfumed Isles.

The Zembari themselves came to rule the hinterlands and inland trade routes of the Nuba River, the Gondar highlands, and the gold-rich Cayori Hills. Soon they were making a reputation for themselves as traders and daring explorers, and for the wealth and high levels of art and craftsmanship gilding their great cities.

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