Faithfulness unto death.
As should be obvious, the Ghesites are not organized as a conventional army in any sense of the word. Indeed, the concept of a conventional army is largely unknown to them. The closest thing to it that they would recognize is the loose peasant formations of their Alechi fellows, a far cry from an organized, disciplined army at best. As such, their primary means of warfare is limited raiding and pillaging, with a reliance on fear tactics to minimize their losses and maximize the effectiveness of their relatively small forces. Fiercely determined and motivated but often lightly equipped, with even less armor than their contemporaries, the Ghesites strike quickly, utilizing the mobility offered by fighting on horseback to limit the time they are engaged with their enemies to the shortest possible interval. The life of every warrior in a Ghesite warband is precious to that band, and is not to be wasted. Combined with the Ghesite practice of letting nothing go to waste, it is not uncommon for the Ghesites to style themselves as horrifying beasts in times of war, in order to terrify a foe into fleeing and thus gain victory with little effusion of blood.
If the people of Ghes can be said to have a military, it is undeniably Ari's host. However, it would be hard to call that an army at best of times, as it only rarely is assembled for war. Each host the Ghesites muster for an objective is unique, and tends to dissolve after that objective has been completed. In the meantime, each band is its own little military, with every member who has come of age generally competent enough with a bow or spear to help defend their people in case of an attack. These bands are able to fight off most threats that would face them in daily life on their own, be it bandits, other bands, or wild animals, but in the face of any organized force they are bound to fail based on numerical inferiority alone. This is where the formation of hosts comes into play, and the nomadic nature of Ghesite society. A band in the path of an oncoming army can simply pack up tents and move, and thanks to the fact that there are more horses than people in the Basin, they can move quickly. Riders will be sent out to neighboring bands, who will in turn send out riders and warriors, and within days a force of hundreds of Ghesite warriors mounted on horseback will have assembled to counter the oncoming threat, which can almost assuredly blunt any threat contemporary to the times. These forces are not professional armies, but they are nonetheless effective, as their members have been in "training" to fight all their lives. Hunting with a bow from horseback is effectively similar to fighting with one, the use of a spear is a rather simple thing, and fighting and martial skills are prized among the Ghesites, making training in their practice commonplace.
A stereotypical Ghesite warrior, then, is a strange figure. They can age anywhere from fifteen to forty, eligible to fight from the time they come of age to when they are on the verge of old age. They may be male or female, as the Ghesites will not hesitate to allow any to join the defense of their people, if they so choose, though only males, and especially males who traditionally hunt for their bands, are expected to fight in a war of tribute. They will be meagerly equipped, with often little more than a bow, a spear, a shield, a leather vest, and the horse they rode in on. They will be fierce, willing to kill in the service of their people, though perhaps more hesitant to give their own lives in war. If on a raid, they might be poor, but they will surely be seeking glory and wealth through battle.
But all this information is useless if we do not know what they fight with- after all, a man is only as effective as his tools, and an army that wrestles its enemies to death will not go far, no matter how entertaining it may be to watch. So, without further ado- the very extensive, in a sense, and very, very primitive armory of the Ghesites:
A Ghesite composite recurve bow.
For a moment, if you will, allow me to indulge my obsessive side when discussing the humble composite bow, "a traditional bow made from horn, wood, and sinew laminated together", which thanks to the added strength such materials provide, is able to deliver an arrow with a similar speed and penetrating power to one launched from a much longer "self" bow. This makes it an ideal weapon for horse archers and other ancient combatants, as a larger, more cumbersome bow would get in the way of directing or controlling the horse, and would be difficult to aim thanks to the constant motion of the horse and the fact that it would simply be so long that it would strike the animal's flanks. A composite bow, then, is perfect for such a role- it retains the power of a longer bow, but loses the disadvantage of size. However, composite bows take much longer to create (about a week for construction, months to properly dry), and thanks to the glue used in their construction, must be kept dry or risk that glue weakening and the bow falling apart.
For the Ghesites, the composite bow is a perfect weapon, albeit a difficult-to-produce one, and often represents a Ghesite warrior's most prized possession. It is a common ritual to gift a new member of one's band with a composite bow on their fifteenth birthday, coupling with their coming-of-age, and for the new band member to engrave the bow with a personal symbol and paint it bright and garish colors. When not in use, they keep their bows in leather sheathes made from yak hide, and will often emboss these sheathes with devices purchased from traders passing from north to south through their territory.
In combat, the composite bow will not necessarily be a Ghesite's primary weapon. Rather, they will prefer to fight from afar with it while they have the chance, and when necessary switch to a lance carried alongside their bow and join a charge. Upon withdrawing from the charge, they will once again bombard their enemies from afar with their bows before returning to the fray once more. An example of this can be found quite clearly depicted on the Stele of the Battle without End, a Berghi carving depicting a conflict in 998 when the Ghesites first began to move into Alechi (then the Alchi) territory, when it was still closely tied to Berghi interests. The Ghesites are depicted in the stele as maintaining a great distance between themselves and Berghi forces, shown particularly in Panel VI as holding a position above the Berghi where they then showered them with arrows. The Ghesites are arrayed at the very top of the panel, firing what appears to be thick darts or arrows down at a morass of Berghi at the bottom of the panel, with a number of Ghesites armed with lances closing the gap in the middle-ground. The attitude of the Berghi on this style of fighting is made clear, as the glyphs carved around the Ghesite figures include the Berghi characters for "butcher", "coward", and "monster", in addition to... less appetizing phrases, primarily allusions to the reproductive process and horses.
A Ghesite hunting spear.
Primitive, but lethal.
The Ghesites may prize themselves on their skills as archers, but a single weapon does not an army make. As such, when it comes to fighting at close ranges, they have found an affinity for long spears, lances, and other such cavalry weapons. In addition to being much easier to cheaply produce en masse than composite bows, with enough speed and the strength of a warhorse behind it, even a wooden-tipped spear is able to penetrate the stiff leather tunics and bronze breastplates of the day. The Ghesites, with the added carrying capacity their horses provide, will often carry three, four, or five spears into battle with them, in sheathes and saddlebags hung over the horse's rear, and will use these spears as javelins or lances. Occasionally, a warrior will bring with him or her bronze-tipped spears over bone, wood, or stone-tipped spears, but these are considered exorbitant symbols of status more than increasingly effective weapons of war, given how the Ghesites view spears as disposable tools comparable to ammunition in a modern-day army rather than true weapons like bows or blades.
Of course, this attitude does not prevail in all facets of Ghesite warfare. A smaller band is likely to maintain some bronze spears if they can afford them, and will treat them as valuable weapons, given how making more will take time if they are lost. These small groups will often not have many spears on them, making each spear far more precious, and its waste an unacceptable cost. Thus, on the small scale, spears will often be thrown rather than used as lances, as to avoid unnecessarily shattering them, and they will more often be used as quarter-staffs or as pikes in close combat, in addition to their standard horseback role.
It is worth mentioning that the Ghesites view other peoples who are more apt to use spears and pikes in formations and phalanxes as being inflexible and making use of a sub-optimal strategy in the weapon's implementation.
A bronze knife,
While the Ghesites prefer to use weapons that place some distance between themselves and the enemy, valuing their lives to the extent that they do, a number of them possess bronze knives and short swords purchased from traders or commissioned from peoples bordering their ranges, and an even greater number make use of knives made from flint, bone, and other makeshift sharp, pointy objects. Even if they are never used in battle, they represent an immense sign of status to the Ghesites, as though they understand metallurgy to a degree, they rarely actually use that knowledge, making bronze tools even scarcer than they can be in settled regions. Nonetheless, be it for purposes of fighting challenges, flensing and flaying dead creatures for their hides, cutting through whatever needs to be cut, as tools of general utility, or simply as symbols of status, all manner of short blades have proliferated throughout Ghesite society, and can be found in the possession of at least a single individual in nearly every band within the Basin. The types of blades preferred by Ghesites vary from role to role, as certain shapes and levels of sharpness will function differently from role to role- for example, a hooked blade is excellent for cutting cords, as it can catch a long, narrow object with its tip and more easily apply pressure to it- and as such a number of styles of knives can be found in service amongst the warbands of the steppe, though the most common is a type of long, straight-bladed short sword, similar to the one pictured to the left.
Such blades are chosen because of their efficiency in the mode of combat the Ghesites are most likely to find themselves using knives in. Obviously, horse-riding warriors preferring to fight from afar are not likely to find themselves in close combat unless they have chosen to put themselves there or things have gone incredibly wrong. As such, their blades are short, brutal things, designed not to cut but to puncture the most common hide armours, which cutting blades would fail to pierce. A Ghesite short sword is long enough to no longer be easily called a knife, but still too short to describe as a sword, its blade narrow yet thick, and its base wide, so as to create a wound that will not easily close. Its design is simple, no complex engravings adorning the hilt or pommel, and its grip is wrapped with cured leather hide, often tied to the wielder's wrist with thick rope or a leather strip. These knives, while not the most common weapon in the Ghesite arsenal, are by far the most worrying to see in direct combat, as Ghesites are fierce in their usage, and when pressured to draw blades are not hesitant to put them to the cruelest use. Take, for example, the following scenario: A Ghesite has been de-horsed, his mount dead behind him. He is encircled and can see no salvation in sight. It is here the blade will be used, and not before this point. One can be assured that it will be used with brutal efficiency, as the warrior knows that anything less will result in his death.
The most common technique coupled with the usage of a blade is a strange mixture of wrestling and dueling unique to the Ghesites. As their blades lack the range of a spear or a bow, their main goal in an engagement will be to close the gap between them and their enemy, and thanks to the short reach of these weapons, a warrior must be within a few feet or less of their target to do so. Within this small distance a warrior is in the greatest danger they will likely ever be at any point in their time in combat. As such, their fighting style is brutal, undignified to all but themselves, and reliant on fear and strength to be successful.
A horse of the breed
most commonly found
in the Basin.
As may be inferred by their mode of living, domesticated horses play an immensely important role in everyday life among the Ghesites, to the point that within the Basin there are more horses than people, when both wild and domesticated populations are considered. Naturally these animals can be found at use in warfare as often as they are found in other areas of society. To the Ghesites, horses are a tribe's lifeblood, and as a result their use in combat is rather more conservative than one might expect at first glance. They are, after all, the primary means of transport, the most convenient way to carry heavy loads, symbols of status, companion animals, and in a symbolic sense comrades in war- it would not do for a warrior to squander their mount needlessly.
As a result of their multifaceted role in tribal society, the Ghesites lack a dedicated breed of warhorse- rather, their mounts are bred for endurance and for general-purpose strength, rather than for pure muscle. A Ghesite horse is an animal that loves activity of any kind, is fit to survive extreme conditions, and which is capable of surviving for long periods of time with little food, thanks to the breed's habit of putting on and maintaining fat easily when inactive. They can be ridden for long periods of time with little rest and recover from these marathon-sprints quickly, making them well-suited to use as courier mounts and indeed the primary means of communication between tribes, and their stronger, stockier builds mean that they are able to be used as pack animals in addition to serving as mounts, a necessity for nomadic peoples such as the Ghesites and a compliment to their smaller domesticated companions such as pack and hunting dogs. The breed's sure-footedness ensures that they are not wont to stumble when riding hard or over rugged terrain, a valuable skill for both warhorses and courier horses and a trait that ensures they can easily navigate the western foothills and mountains of the Basin. The breed has also been noted as generally obedient and not easily spooked, a valuable ability for warhorses to possess, and as having an good sense of direction, a trait that has become less pronounced in the past four hundred years thanks to interbreeding with more northern herds.
Culturally, Ghesites feel a sort of kinship to their beasts of burden, and while they do not consider animals to be members of a band in any sense they nonetheless name their mounts and compatriots, treat them well, regard abuse of one's animals as a cruel and stupid thing to do, and are loathe to use either horses or dogs as food animals in all but the direst of circumstances. This is as much a matter of practicality as it is of emotional attachment- the Ghesites depend on their horses to allow them to herd their yaks and cattle and to enable them to hunt down big game, and their dogs serve as assistants in herding as well as trackers and hunters of small game and pests. While horses are to some extent used to make glue when they die, as glue is an essential component in constructing the bows they depend on to fight and hunt with, they prefer to use oxen and yak bones for the task when they are able to. In warfare as well the Ghesites are hesitant to put their animals in danger: As mentioned above, while they will charge their enemies with lances, they will often throw these lances at close distance rather than charge headfirst into disciplined pike formations, and refrain from engaging disciplined enemies in such a manner. A warrior will often bring two horses to a battle- one to ride to war on, and one to fight on, using their mount in times of peace to carry them to battle and taking a second beast they are less attached to and willing to see die for combat. This horse will be chosen especially for its strength and for its obedience, and if it survives the campaign, will be used as a stud or mare to breed other warhorses when returned to the camp.
Contrary to what one might expect, the Ghesites do not paint their horses for battle, nor do they brand them- a rider is expected to recognize their mounts and train them to come at their call. This does lead to issues where horse-thieves from other bands, if successful, are difficult to ever catch, an issue the Ghesites address by preemptively dissuading horse-thieves with incredibly punitive punishments. Nonetheless, more than a few long-lasting inter-band feuds have been started as a result of such thievery. Most notably, in 1195 an elder of Clan Khadusik attempted to muster a raiding host to reclaim a particularly prolific stud stolen by a hunter in the employ of an elder of Clan Pegharsik. While the beast was indeed returned after a furious exchange of threats, it nonetheless serves to demonstrate effectively how highly the Ghesites regard their animals and the value placed on them.
A pair of etsáhla,
armed with badges
The Alechi peoples, while dependent on the Ghesites, nonetheless retain a large degree of independence in their culture, lifestyle, and means of trade, and by agreement are only obligated to render a portion of their harvest to the Ghesites and to provide to them warriors in times of need. As such, the Alechi have maintained for the large part a style of fighting unique to their own. It is less mobile than what the Ghesites prefer, relying largely on infantry forces to constitute the bulk of its armies, but it is still an effective- and terrifying- means of combat. The Alechi military, while largely composed of unprofessional, part-time volunteer or levied forces, is still able to amass a large number of soldiers, and while they are proficient enough at open battle, they excel at making use of quick-moving foot soldiers, a skill adapted to their own style of fighting from observations of Ghesite warriors. Their armies are composed of lightly-armored skirmishers, equipped with bronze knives, clubs, throwing spears, and simple bows, and excel at up-close fighting against all but the tightest of formations, as their strategies of using javelins to disrupt enemies at a distance and then rushing in to attack are excellent ways of ensuring that combat takes place between individual combatants rather than formations, where the Alechi most excel.
The Alechi place great reward on success in warfare, and warriors who demonstrate prowess in their time on raids or in battle are inducted into their village or town's small circle of elites known as Etsáhla, or Uncovered. These warriors are given a position of honor that carries with it great danger, as etsáhla are expected to go into battle without wearing armor on their torso or arms, and without body paint. Etsáhla are also often made wealthy by their fighting, and thus possess the money to buy extravagant armor, large bronze weapons, and broad shields. While this represents a doctrinal flaw- an etsáhla's tan skin will stick out like a sore thumb among their fellows in armor or painted garish colors- it also presents an opportunity, as the reputation of an etsáhla ensures their enemies hold them, and by relation the rest of their fighting body of men, as truly dangerous. Etsáhla also traditionally engage in single combat or small-scale duels with their opponents' chosen firsts to determine the outcome of battle if their opponents are willing, a custom which in recent days has been co-opted by the Ghesites into a congenial tradition of ceremonial wrestling matches between the leaders of Ghesite and Alechi warbands that meet, with the loser rendering respects to the winner.
Gimme your money, bud.
It involves pointy things.