You may recall that most of the Shine Cycle began (and still remains, at this point, for that matter) in the form of an “Outline of History.” This is one of the exceptions. While Castle Commander clearly belongs in the Shine Cycle, and some of my favorite characters soon started demanding to appear, it began with a scene that, at that point, wasn’t definitely connected to anything in the outline.
In any case, Castle Commander is the story of (or, rather, one of the stories of) the “First Peninsular Campaign” of the Seventh War of the Dragon. The last peace had become more of a cold war, which was starting to turn “hot,” as you may recall from my introduction to New Ground. And on the peninsula on which this story is set, hostilities had already begun. But because neither side wished to commit too many resources to this somewhat-distant theater when other closer and more important ones were likely to also erupt at any time, an unspoken agreement developed that neither side would openly send further troops or major matériel to the peninsula—an agreement enforced by the understanding that any breach of it would likely provoke a disproportionate response.
The setting is a peninsula within the world of the Shine Cycle. If it’s on one of the two continents, I don’t know where, but it’s more likely some distance away across the water. Because of the expense of transporting things there, the abundance of stone, wood, and other “simple” resources but not of those needed for heavy industry, and the low local “tech level,” each side went with a more or less “medieval” or “ancient” pattern for its fortresses and forces: castles, bows and spears, and so on.
The title character, and the main point-of-view character, is Horatio, a young man who had been second- or third-in-command of one of the castles belonging to the Shine and Wild Empire. His commanding officers are killed, and he takes command to repel the attack, then works to repair and strengthen the castle’s defenses.
But because he understands the way the campaign is likely to go, he is not satisfied to merely reinforce his own castle. Instead, he develops trade and other connections to other allied fortresses in the region, creates innovative ways of using the materials, labor, and supplies available to him, and even starts construction of new castles to cover vulnerable areas. (I should mention that in my mind this story sometimes seems strongly connected to Strategic Primer, the strategy game I’m developing.)
Throughout this time, the Dragon Empire’s forces in the peninsula have not been idle either. New fortresses, larger and better-trained armies, and other unexpected challenges make freedom and even survival difficult, until Horatio’s preparations are tested in a thorough and climactic siege.