The Spice War, or more accurately, the last Great Spice War was a conflict fought between various pirates and adventurers of the Free Cities over a period of several years.
The spice Tiger's Blood is a highly prized strain of saffron that is grown solely in the southern areas of Yi-Ti. It was and is so well regarded and valuable, as well as difficult to make take root outside of its native soil, that it is worth it's weight many times over in gold or diamonds, with only a very small amount ever reaching the Free Cities.
The plants were, and still are jealously kept by those who grow it, but it was thought that outside the specially created gardens, that the seeds would not flourish. In the year 419, however, a merchant and pirate named Rindoon Revalo, and thereafter Rindoon the Red, was able to steal a few prized seeds during a trip to his supplier.
He would keep the seeds for a number of years, them remaining a prized possession, until in 424, when he would, in his cups plant one of them in his cove hideout in the Basilisk Isles. To his, and everyone's surprise, the seeds flourished. Although not quite as red as that from Yi-Ti, the spice was still characteristic of the pure Tiger's Blood.
Over the next two years, Rindoon would give up his piracy to tend his garden, keeping his cove a secret to all. This would all change, in the year 426.
The Pirate's Quest
Rindoon's younger brother, Melys Revalo, had recently attained the office of Archon in their native Tyrosh. The two had collaborated in business previous to his election, but it had been years since they had last communicated. As the knowledge of the secret garden spread, more and more pirates and treasure seekers went out in search of the hidden cove.
Rindoon, fearing for his life, sent a full box of wares to his brother by one of his swiftest junks. Unfortunately, it was not fast enough for Salys Saan, Scion of Saan and later, Salys the Illustrious, one of whose ships was able to take the vessel, along with its prize. The small box became a small fortune in Volantis, and torture of the men revealed more of the process. Rindoon had been clever, and the wares had not been shipped from the cove, and instead from neutral ground, but it was clear that the garden was upon the Basilisk Isles.
Soon, every pirate and merchant worth his salt was attempting to take Rindoon's bounty. The Saan family sent their entire pirate fleet to searching the islands, as did the dread Sunken King of the Isle of Toads. Flotillas and alliances formed day in, day out as various factions fought for control. Many, if not most of Rindoon's shippings were captured, giving wealth to those who had caught it and making those who had lost out even more hungry for a piece of the treasure.
Before long, the price of Tiger's Blood had halved in Volantis and Lys and the spice had become a second currency in the now war torn Basilisk Isles.
The Cities Intervene
This chaos did not escape the ear of Melys though. Hearing his brother in such fortune and peril, he dispatched the Tyroshi fleet to the Summer Sea, to retain this prize for his city. Before long, Volantis and Lys had each dispatched fleets, the Lyseni lead by the famed Admiral Leyo Sathi.
Several large battles would be fought between the painted war galleys, heightening the conflict massively. Amongst the pirates, four kings now held sway; the Sunken King, Salys Saan, Talon Tho the Ebon Prince and Lewys the Lewd, also called Jawbreaker.
At the battle at Plunder Bay, Leyo Sathi broke three fleets in a day as a tropical storm rolled across the islands, and drowned Lewys the Lewd upon his own ship's bilges.
Lys would therefore take much of the early spoils. But their victory was premature. Within a week of the battle, Volantis and Tyrosh would make a temporary peace to smash the Lyseni fleet at a previously neutral harbour, closing the fleet in and forcing the Lyseni to drag their remaining ships over the island on tree trunks to escape a slow death. To this day, the island is said to have no trees standing, and is called Stump Isle
To the Princes for whom growing Tiger's Blood was tradition, this was a dishonour paid to their wares, at once news reached the eternal empire, they petitioned the God Emperor for succor. Such might never had happened, had it not been for Gaimao Xi, a eunuch admiral in his service.
Gaimao begged the God Emperor for his favour, and after much supplication, was given a flotilla of massive Yi-Tish fortress ships to sail west and put an end to this false crop. To pass the Jade Gates unmolested, he split his fleet into several pieces and regrouped after on the easternmost of the Basilisk isles.
Going methodically and taking advantage of the size and provision of his vessels, Gaimao cleared the islands without any mercy. All who stumbled into his way were either destroyed, or sent running. This fury would last almost a year, as hideouts and anchorages burnt to the superior fortress ships.
Rindoon's garden, however, eluded him. Until it was noticed that the supply had stopped. Comparing charts with several captured captains, Gaimao discovered the location of the secret plantation.
Rindoon's enterprise had failed, in blood and disease. A slave uprising, in the face of a resurgent Red Death had cost the lives of much of his crew and workforce. He was found a broken man, desperately clinging to the last of his spice boxes, mad and rambling about "the red below."
The remaining plants were put to the flame. According to tellings, the eunuch admiral scoured the surrounding islands with fire for months, for reasons that are unclear to later scholars.
Gaimao prepared for his journey home. All too late.
In the face of his carnage, Lys, Tyrosh and Volantis had made joint cause with Salys Saan, in return for settling rights to Gallows Grey. The Pirate now led their combined fleet in full force along with his old enemy Leyo Sathi. They molested and harassed the Yi-Tish all the way through the isles, picking off stragglers and making misdirection attacks. By the time the fleet arrived back through the Jade Gates, there were merely two of the floating fortresses left.
The Quartheen, wroth at being denied access to cheap Tiger's Blood, refused to allow the ships through. Instead they were forced to stay, where eventually the combined fleet caught up with them and the only fleet ever sent west by Yi-Ti met it's final end.
Save for the great hulks upon the ocean floor, the sole remnants of that great fleet are of an inscription found upon one of the ruined beacons that guide the way to the corpse city of Goggosos. The words are hurried and indistinct, but are believed to be a warning.
"Everything grows here, save for ash. The red below is coming above."