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Secret Empire in a Medieval Setting?


Hey everyone,

I hope the title isn't too misleading, haha. I'm a little stumped with a particular part of my story and how the world would react to the villain's existence. I'll try to summarize as clearly as possible.

Essentially, the bad guy (we'll call him BG) has achieved immortality, so he's been alive for a few hundred years. He rules a small but powerful empire that's hidden at the far end of the land. The empire keeps to itself and doesn't interact with others. BG is collecting a rare race of people, and when he has enough, they're powerful enough to (to simplify) end the world.

Right now, I'm stumped with figuring out how the other kings/queens/powerful people would react to him. His empire is really secluded, so you'd have to deliberately journey there to find it, but if it's been around for hundreds of years, I think it might be a little farfetched to assume nobody knows anything about it. The same applies to his plan of "ending the world". The race of people he's using are so rare, the average person doesn't know they exist. But if he's been looking for them for hundreds of years, would word eventually get out that he's up to no good? How secret do you have to be before your plan is leaked? Can you keep an evil plan secret for hundreds of years? Can you rule an empire the average person knows nothing about?

I think the best example would be similar to western society's view of North Korea, but in medieval times. Would governments get aggressive with BG if they know he's scheming something? Or do they leave him be and try not to "poke the bear"?

Hopefully this question isn't too vague. I know a lot rests on the world I've built, but I hoped some of you might have some good suggestions on how you'd work this scenario out if you were writing a story with a similar premise.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts/suggestions. I hope I made at least a little bit of sense here, at least. Haha.


Instead of looking at North Korea now I would recommend looking at Japan from 1603 to 1868. Under the Sakoku policies (Link) Japan was highly isolated from its neighbors with only a few, limited places where trade was allowed.

In your case, I'd think the other countries would know about the empire, but mostly shrouded in rumors and legend. Think of it like old beliefs in the existence of Atlantis or El Dorado or something.
Cliche but effective might be the classic "legendary evil" that most people don't believe in or think is so isolated it presents no threat. Spun properly to fit the scenario it sounds like it could work. Sooo many ways to go. The immortal could also be leveraging a campaign in distant lands to convince them he doesn't exist. That could be fun, but it all depends.


Myth Weaver
If the leaders of the other nations are competent, or have competent underlings, then they WILL know about this hidden empire. Those with the resources to do so will have histories of sending envoys and spy missions into said hidden empire. Likewise, their spymasters will be aware that the hidden empire sponsors a group of agents 'collecting' people and possibly assorted objects - and at a minimum, their people will be keeping tabs on said organization. It is entirely possible there might even have been some sort of covert war, or more than one.

What the leaders and top flunkies of the other nations might not be aware of is that the hidden emperor is, in fact, immortal. It is quite possible they might ascribe his rumored immortality to a succession of leaders assuming the same name.

That said, yes, there would be quite a few legends and dark rumors about said hidden empire.

Also worth noting - there is almost certain to be a steady trickle of exiles from said hidden empire.
I think history is awash in examples of "hidden" nations, groups, and so forth. I put "hidden" in scare quotes because there may not be total lack of awareness, but sometimes merely tall tales, whispers, rumors, or else lots of erroneous information.

Heck, even sub-Saharan Africa was a large mystery to Europe during the medieval ages.

The nomads of Asia were largely unknown to the ancient nations of the Middle East, and were only vaguely known to the Romans.

The most glaring example would be the discovery of the Americas, of course.

Geographical obstacles made a huge difference, and although some bits of knowledge might seep through via a trade route or two, this still left a lot to be imagined. So consider the geography carefully.

You might also make your other nations quite focused on their neighbors, probably through a long history of warfare and/or trade. If they can get what they want nearby, or must constantly fight against neighbors, they are far less likely to waste energy through exploration. Internal turmoil can also do this.

You can also create a kind of willful, religious ignorance, in some nation, in which all outsiders are considered vile and "lost to god" or some such, and this would lead to a lack of curiosity about the greater world.


Well, if he had crossed the ocean and setup with the Incas, pretty sure Europe would have been clueless. So, think its possible he could go unnoticed...cept, how would he know about the Incans? I think Fifth already offered many reasons he could go unnoticed.

As for reaction...

I think the Kings would likely be disbelieving, or think he is way the hell of over there, it is of no import to us.

If they knew he was doing something that might end the world, what are their options? Could a medieval society manage a war across an ocean? Maybe a reading party. If they were greatly concerned, they would need a decent period of ramping up....and doing so while their neighbors were still looking to take advantage. Would a king send their army across an ocean when their neighbor is still grumbling about that last incursion into their land? And if a King said, my people, we found a villain far away, and we need to gather ships and men to go deal with it, would the people go along with that?

Something convincing would have to happen, I think.
I think geography and having no reason to go somewhere are the two biggest factors.

Simply put, if you share a large land-border with another place, perhaps delineated by a river then people will know what's on the other side. The romans knew more or less what was across the Rhine, and they had contact and trade with the people from there, even if they didn't travel there extensively. However, if something is an island, or a 2 day treck across inhospitable mountains, then people are much less likely to make that journey.

This is even more the case if there is no reason to go there. If people don't know there is arrable land somewhere, or a place you can trade with, and people who do venture in that direction tend to disappear than a place is a lot more likely to remain hidden. Don't look at it from a modern perspective where you can get a satelite image on your phone of each place on earth. And where you can drive a few 100 km in a day without issue and fly all across the world. In a medieval setting travelling anywhere is hard. Especially if there are no or few roads.

As for keeping it secret. The ease with which you can keep something secret is inversely proportional to the number of people who know of the plan. Simply put, if you've told no one about your plan then it'll remain secret forever. If you've told 5 people you trust then you're pretty likely to keep it secret. If you've told 200 random people you can be fairly certain someone will talk and the rumor will get out.

In this case it really depends on how rare this race is and how many your BG needs. If he needs 10 and collects them over the course of 200 years then no one will blink an eye. Even with 50 over 200 years will probably just have people wonder why these rare creatures keep disappearing. And people will not care or realise what's happening if the collecting is spread over an entire continent. Again, in the middle ages people in the Netherlands wouldn't know about a random disappearance in southern Italy, or care about it. Even today it's unlikely to make much news. If you have 500 over the course of 10 years and they're all collected in the same city then people will talk.


Myth Weaver
'Reading party' across an ocean...

I have something like this on the secondary world, though it barely warrants a mention in the current tales set there. Short version was a bunch of scholars, tired of persecution and horrified at their knowledge being used in a devastating magical war, evacuated much of a city on one continent and fled to the Strand (a narrow ribbon of land that rings the planet) to establish an academically oriented city there. As the Strand was little more than a rumor to most folks on the continent, this stratagem solved that problem...but created others.


I think you have loads of scope to play around with intelligence, as in spies. Get a mole in there to spy on what he’s doing or even vice versa.


I think Japan would be a better example compared to North Korea too, as someone else has pointed out. They have such a unique culture now in part because they isolated themselves for so long. They traded with the Dutch for a while, but reluctantly, and even they had to live on their own island.

Mad Swede

This isn't so much about knowledge as it is about belief. Do the other leaders believe the rumours that the BGs empire exists? They may do, but it also depends how far fetched those rumours are. The Kings advisors maybe educated, in which case they might dismiss rumours of 5 metre high pale gorillas. On the higher than, more credible reports of an empire far away might be accepted - and brave merchants might make a journey to find it in the hope of making their fortune. Which then leads to another question - would the BG allow limited trade, in the hope that it would disguise his real intentions?


Thanks everyone, these are all great suggestions/ideas.

Japan is definitely a better metaphor. After reading a bit about it, I could see my bad guy doing the exact same thing. Prince of Spires makes a good point, too. He needs 14 of the rare people, has 12 at the current time in my book, and has been doing this for hundreds of years. So I imagine with a Japan-like isolation policy in effect, nobody would know a thing about his plan. He has a very hierarchical power structure within his empire too, so at most, maybe 50 or so people would ever interact with him.

I think this helps me iron out my story, too, because I don't want my main character to be like "Where's BG? I want revenge." And people say "Oh, he rules that secret empire up there, and is planning to destroy the world." It negates the impact of my story, if BG's intentions are common knowledge to everyone. I feel my main driving force of the story is the MC's search for answers.

Thanks again, everyone for the awesome insight!


What about a prophecy from a witch or warlock of sorts? The prophecy sends said person to these lands and confirms contraptions/assimilation of said people?

Or perhaps an enemy of BG from an Empire even further away but close to BG knows of their existence and has skirmishes with them. Said Empire could be brought to ruin, and fleeing refugees could land on the shores and tell them of the great evil which lies dormant?


There are a few ways you could go about it. I'd say the Big Bad has the power, or hasotten the power over his long life to just make a barrier of invisibility around his Empire. He sends a few of his advanced race out as scouts, and the kingdoms that they went to find out about them and their abilities, and try to ask questions. They send their own scouts out, they get killed, the other kingdoms don't want to take the risk of losing anymore people and then his Empire just fades into the background until he wants to be seen.

You could also say that in the beginning generations of the other Kingdoms, the monarchies knew about hi. But over the hundred year span of exstence, he became a rumor/spooky story that the ladder generations tell their children. Then they find out about him when he makes his plan start happenng, and everyone is like gasp he does exist!

But really, you could just let his existence stay a secret until you wat the big bad to berevealed. I've read stories that do that, and it never bothered me as long as there was a good enough lead u to the big bads plan and reveal.