“Stripping Bark and Imperial Expansion”
The EotSF is the most populated human nation in the world due to Silver Fruit. Silver Fruit shapes the entire nature of the EotSF, from it's town design to its birth rate.
The SF is a rare weed in the rest of the world, but massively cultivated in the EotSF. It grows as a highly valuable bush, with bark that is useful for clothing and medicinal sap. Most importantly is its extremely rare silver fruit, which is silver in color and high in protein and fat. Except for the rarity with which the fruit is produced the bush is a perfect crop.
In the EotSF the bushes produce fruit almost constantly due to a well known “secret.” The bush panics when its bark is eaten by Caliborns, a cricket like animal that injects its young into the bushes heart and kills it. The SF bush responds to having its bark so stripped by expending resources to produce fruit and so reproduce before it dies.
The bush can distinguish between other pests and the cricket because the cricket removes the bark without injuring the bush in the slightest, and so the immense labor of the farmers of the EotSF began. The farmers maintain a large number of carefully tended bushes which must be carefully scraped in intervals to induce fruit production without killing the bushes. This work is constant and labor intensive, and produces just enough yield to have a small surplus per worker.
And so was born the Empire. Every person in a village must farm their 20 bushes carefully, and work a second job as their surplus doesn't cover enough for separation of duties. The smith, carpenter, painted, lawyer, guards, and even government officials must all produce their own food as well as other goods. The Empire takes a small amount of both as taxes, a tribute of some food and some produce, and the rest is traded locally at the barter level. The Imperial Government then takes the tribute and sells what isn't needed, creating a secondary market of low priced goods that mostly drains into surrounding nations.
Families in the EotSF tend to be large as protecting the bushes from parasites is labor intensive but not difficult and children eat less. Large families of children lead to large families of adults, and soon the province is overrun by landless workers. The additional children after the eldest's family are expected to begin the Third Job in their mid-20s, joining the Imperial Army. The Thirders expand into new territory by a very simple and repetitive process.
First an excuse is found to expand. Then Thirders are gathered from across the Empire and built into a more or less coherent force. This army is massive but amateurish, being mostly farmer-workers. The strategy and tactics employed are simple but often effective; the army uses a combination of crossbows, pikes and wagons to carry supplies into the new territory. Open battle is handled by making wagons forts and defending with their pikes and crossbows until the enemy retreats, and then a fortress is built of stone at a central location. A garrison is left, and the army begins to make a great march across the land making and garrisoning forts in a circle around the initial fort. If these are besieged forces are pulled from the central fort to relieve them, and roads are constructed. Along the roads are constructed walled villages where Thirders begin to settle and plant Silver Fruit to relive pressure on the armies production. From these villages are built new unwalled villages as pressure is reduced on the area and reproduction takes hold. The central fort slowly becomes an imperial city, and a province is born. Within a few centuries the entire wheel is filled in by Thirders from across the Empire, and then a new Expansion begins.
There are currently 65 provinces in the EotSF, averaging a million inhabitants each. The Empire is held together by the need for resources that are not general. Salt, iron, copper, horses, wood, nearly every resource is generated within only a few provinces. The Imperial Government encourages this, giving provincial monopolies to goods like pipes in order to keep the empire together by economic interlocking. The Imperial Center maintains its grip by the simple expedient of being the only province with horsemen and one of only a few older provinces that has universities. These require the tribute from middle colonies to exist due to the structure of EotSF society, which often irritates the middle colonies' local governments. The younger colonies are dependent on a constant influx of Thirders to thrive and so normally are the most loyal to the scheme as a whole.
Civil wars are fairly common, often preceded by and then followed by famines. Drought, locusts, floods lead to bushes being destroyed, which take decades to grow and so lead to widespread famine. The provinces so hit are helped by tribute from surrounding provinces, but deteriorating conditions can break down the social order and so lead to attempts to leave the Empire or claim control. Bloody fighting between slipshod armies follows, large formations of crossbows and pikes pushing wooden walls into close range and exchanging arrow fire that devolves into horrific pushing matches.
In all cases order is eventually restored by the need for trade and the disruption to farming caused by moving soldiers in those numbers (“you can't tend bushes if you are marching”) and then the destroyed provinces are rebuilt by influxes of Thirders from the healthier ones. The slow march of imperial expansion is taken up again within a century.
Provinces are lost permanently, either failing to take hold or being invaded by outsiders. Almost 30 attempted provinces have failed, which solves the issue of overpopulation almost as neatly as a successful province. The new attempt comes much quicker without the pressure release of settling grinding at the obstacle until it gives way.
Battle Doctrine: Rake and Break
The Empire of the Silver Fruit's analysis of warfare views battles as being the juxtaposition between two different killing forces: Raking fire, and line breaking.
Raking fire is seen as being the superior option for numerous reasons by the Capital Generals. Since ranged weapons increase the overlapping attack area of troops it allows more troops to participate in combat. This allows it to benefit from numbers more directly then line breaking, as well as being better able to utilize terrain and defenses. For this reason the doctrine of the SF Empire is geared towards maximizing cover and ranged combat, while trying to minimize the effectiveness of charges and shield walls.
Line Breaking, the splintering of an opponent's shield wall or flanking of it to expose troops to side and rear attacks, is seen as the inferior option in almost all circumstances. It relies on more professional soldiers in order to maneuver correctly, requires intricate strategies that often turn on the attacker, and the morale of troops is always in question. For these reasons the breaking or turning of lines in melee is seen as a last ditch effort. The SF Empire can afford to fight the same battle if the enemy retreats and recovers, grinding them down is the preferred option.
As a result the effort of the SF Empire goes towards making every battle into a siege. Specialized Wall-Wagons were invented that push wooden walls on the fronts of wagons designed like siege rams together as a mobile fortress. Crossbow troops fire out of slits in these walls, heavier crossbows used to exchange fire with enemy archers and rapid firing crossbows to slow infantry and cavalry attacks. Mantles are are carried in the joints between the wagons, making the movement of the whole more flexible, behind which stand lines of halberd and pike troops that deploy to push back enemy infantry and cavalry. On the defense the fort hunkers down and defends, on offense the wagons are pushed close together and physically shoved into the enemy lines under a hail of arrow fire.
Against cavalry the large wall is instead deployed as a series of boxes that stop and position outwards when the cavalry gets within reach. Offering supporting fire to each other, the boxes are difficult to attack via bow or lance. Enemy cavalry are often forced to dismount and attack the forts on foot, while the closest forts turn and begin to push towards them to offer support.
The Capital Cavalry represent the sole major exception to this. Deployed to provinces that are under invasion or deployed with invasions into new regions, the CC are medium cavalry that act as anti-cavalry and counter-charge forces. They use short lances and horsebows and maneuver to slow flanking attacks and fill breaches in the lines, shoring up the large groups of infantry. The CC are almost never deployed offensively in open battle, but do act in supply raid and scouting capacities.
The EotSF is in the most fertile belt of a dry plain that grows wetter as it moves east and drier west. It's expansion to the east terminates near but not at the coast, where the climate moves to rain clogged clay that the bushes do poorly in. The people here are made of a mix of descendants of Thirders from previous expansions, former Thirders attempting to build less onerous lives, and people's who have moved into the area for jobs. The crops here are more seasonal, taking the rainey season off.