One thing to keep in mind is that you only get matched with armies that are your strength rating (still being tweaked). This should prevent the "ganged up on" situation no one wants to find themselves in. I agree that starting the timer after the battle makes more sense. Over all most battles in dof don't last more then 15 minutes unless it's a siege battle. I believe the cheapest protection in the shop starts at 4 crowns (could be wrong). This is easily gotten simply by sacking a major npc town if desired. You can always just pay off instead of accepting the battle invite which will also start the protection timer.
When I'm not in my right mind my left gets kind of crowded.