The Duchess Departs (A Battle Report)
Summer 2401, Ebino, northern Tilea
Game Notes concerning this ‘Capture the Duchess’ Wargame Scenario
The Vampire Duke Allesandro Sforta of Miragliano is attempting to capture the Duchess Maria of Ebino (his first cousin once removed). She is concealed amongst her Ebinan forces, disguised as one of the soldiers, and is attempting to get away from her city to safety. The vampire player will not know which figure represents her. Her own soldiers are committed to helping her escape, for they are hoping she can persuade neighbouring rulers to send a relief force to their aid.
To escape successfully (and thus ‘win’ the game) the duchess must get from her deployment zone to the opposite table-edge. The vampire Duke’s deployment zone intersects with the Duchess’s escape zone.
To make things more challenging – otherwise this would be way too easy for the vampire player – two small, additional forces coming to help. Both have already featured in the stories already produced for the campaign. First, Maria’s second cousin (the vampire Duke’s nephew) Lord Guglielmo is racing to her aid. Second, she has an agreement with the shadowy Arrabiatti Brotherhood, who are also on their way to assist in whatever way they can. What she has promised them in return, only they, she and her closest advisers know. Their arrival zones are shown on the long edges of the table.
The Arrabiatti (light horsemen) are the closest to the city, so they will arrive in turn 2 on a D6 roll of 4+, in turn 3 on 3+, and from turn 4 onwards on 2+. Lord Guglielmo has further to travel, so he arrives in turn 2 on 6+, in turn 3 on 5+, in turn 4 on 4+ and in the remaining turns on 3+. It is therefore possible that one or both may not actually arrive during the game at all.
If the duchess successfully escapes over the opposite table edge, she avoids capture. If she makes it off one of the other table edges, she will only count as escaping if her forces kill one of the two Vampires in the Undead army during the 6 turn battle. This is because if one vampire dies, the other will be too concerned with maintaining the army’s manifestation in the world of the living to chase after her.
If the Duchess is captured early, or killed, then the more of the enemy forces the vampire player destroys, the easier it will be for the undead army subsequently to capture the town of Ebino by assault &/or siege.
(Note: The following pictures include the original tabletop game images and some additional ones made for the story.)
Summer, 2401, Ebino
The preparations were made, and the Duchess declared she was as ready as she could be for the dangers ahead. Thankfully, she was an experienced rider, for if not so then her disguise would have been an ineffective ruse. Cloaked in green and carrying a spear, she was armoured in mail and wore an iron helm just like the other horsemen in the little company she had joined. It had been suggested she instead rode with the knights, clothed in full-plate armour, upon a barded warhorse, the better to protect her from enemy blows. This was an idea the knights themselves had keenly supported, for then they would have the honour of personally defending their lady. But she had refused, knowing she would be discomfited by the disguise – unstable in the saddle and unable to ride anything like as fast as needed for a successful escape. Once the knights realised that by not accompanying her they would instead have the ominous honour of sacrificing themselves in combat to fend off the foe rather than simply pelting from the city as fast as their mounts could carry them, they readily, if somewhat sombrely, accepted the idea that the duchess would ride with the light horsemen.
If the duchess had heeded the advice of her council and left already, then this desperate ploy would not have been necessary, but she could not be moved (in any sense of the word). Most stubbornly, she had insisted she would stay with her people as long as possible, and only when it was certain that Ebino could not hope to survive alone would she leave in an attempt to fetch help. Now was indeed that time, for the enemy was closing on Ebino in strength.
The city’s walls were strong, moated and in good repair.
Against any other foe, such defences would prove a considerable challenge, and a bloody one too. Against the already dead, however, they could only delay the inevitable. As long as the vampire commanders could re-animate their fallen, the shambling masses of their fly-ridden rank and file would press on remorselessly. They would not even need to collect faggots and billets to fill the moat as a living army might attempt, but could simply pour in piles of walking corpses, until a stretch of moat was filled. Then, after the rest had crossed, the sodden corpses they had trodden over could claw their own way up the banks to reinforce them! And even if an assault was not attempted, but rather a blockade, the city’s ample stores of food would have counted for little against such an enemy as this. Not only would there be disease to contend with, but the sheer terror of being surrounded by such hellish foes day and night would drive many within to a nightmarish despair. The duchess had been forced to accept that unless a substantial relief force were to come, a most cruel fate for Ebino was sealed.
The foe proved to be not only terrifying, but numerous as well. Thanks to a westerly breeze, the stench of the zombies and ghouls amongst their ranks preceded them. Yet these proved to be the least of the threats they had to offer, for there were also monstrous horrors with blue-tinged flesh and black armoured knights illuminated from within by a evilly-hued glow.
A brace of vampires led them, including Duke Alessandro himself. No-one in Ebino knew who his companion had been when alive, perhaps some accursed visitor to Tilea, come to serve the duke in undeath, or the duke’s vampiric sire, or some captain of the guard whom the duke himself had inflicted with the curse of vampirism? The latter possibility seemed best to suit his current role within the army, as his golden armour marked him out leading the ranks of a heavily armoured unit of foot soldiers. Their blades glowed green and unnatural, engendered by the potent necromantic energies coursing through shrunken veins of long-dried blood.
The vampire duke himself rode with a band of hellish knights. Their steeds were long since bereft of flesh, their eye sockets burned blue and eerie, and ragged remnants of ancient cloth barding fluttered about their legs. Each rider clutched a sturdy lance, and sported the age-russeted armour of archaic design in which they had been so carefully interred centuries before.
Upon the far the right of the vampire duke’s line strode a band of hideous monstrosities, as big as ogres, but ganglier, with dried, drawn flesh making their faces much more horrible to behold than that of any living brute. Their flesh was pierced with shards of bone, perhaps to stimulate their rigor mortis ridden muscles, or just to appear more ghastly?
From a tower top near the town gate, the dwarfen engineer Welleg could hear the clanking of the levers and wheels that raised the portcullis.
From beneath the hood of his red-woollen cloak puffs of smoke emerged, as the cannon crew he commanded busied themselves to ready their machine, stripping off the lead apron from the touch hole, pouring and bruising the powder, then knocking the ash from the slow-match in the linstock over the parapet. Welleg peered over the walls to decide what should be his first target.
The gates swung open, and out came the Duchess Maria’s soldiers. One of her two companies of mercenary crossbowmen led the way, rushing off to the right to find a spot from which to launch their bolts. Behind them, marching steady and purposefully to the sound of a brass kettle drum, came the famous Ironsides – each dwarf sporting a fluttering banner upon his back. Behind them came her knights, almost wholly armoured from hoof to head.
The race was on!
Welleg’s cannon boomed, its ball smashing one of the Black Riders to pieces. The crossbowmen moved boldly off towards the right flank, between the moat and the road, while the Ironsides regiment marched directly forwards down the road, thus allowing the knights and the light horse to cross the bridge before the gatehouse. Unknown to the foe, the Duchess was now outside the walls. Captain Sir Giorgio, however, was only too aware. He rode ahead of her, in command of the knights, and now began scrutinising the foe’s disposition, desperately determining how best to get the Duchess safely past the foe and away.
The vampire duke’s army moved straight forwards, maintaining its neat front – a goal made easier by the fact that the Black Riders could move directly towards the house before them, knowing their ethereal nature meant they could move right through it whenever they liked. The broken bones of the rider shattered by iron shot moments before now re-knitted themselves together until the rider rode with his comrades once more, as if nothing had occurred. The dwarfen engineer Welleg, peering through a pocket perspective glass, swore to himself, quietly. If a direct hit from 9lb of iron roundshot had proven so ineffective, then what use was he and his gun? Still, he thought, if he could hit the vampire duke, surely that might prove distracting at the least, and distraction was everything considering the Duchess’s attempt to escape.
Suddenly, ahead of the undead army, five rotting, blood-smeared zombies burst out of the ground …
… a sight which caught Captain Sir Giorgio’s eye immediately. He too swore. There were already too many enemies, and here even more were being summoned. He brought to mind a prayer to Morr, and began repeating the first line over and over as he rode,
“Mighty Morr, Lord of the Afterlife, deliver us from the corruption of Undeath.”
In front of the captain, the dwarfs had finally cleared the junction before the bridge, creating a gap sufficient for him and his company. Spurring his horse, he led his knights through it, glancing behind to ensure that the light horsemen were following as had been the plan. They were. Just as he began to turn to face the foe once more, he caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye, something beyond the crossbowmen, within the shadow of the walls.
At first his stomach knotted as he thought it must be more undead, but then he saw it was living men on living horses! They possessed no banner to mark them out and sported a veritable mish-mash of arms and armour. The Arrabiatti! They had come as they had promised.
He saw now that one amongst the riders was looking his way, raising a staff as if to signal him, as if to say, ‘Good Morrow’! White haired, white bearded and robed in faded blue, it must be Lord Totto himself.
Perhaps, thought Sir Giorgio – quite surprising himself in the proc,ess – perhaps we can succeed? Lord Totto was a wizard, and apart from a blessed priest of Morr, there was surely no better ally to have when fighting the already dead. He was beginning to believe the duchess had every chance of escaping, and that Ebino could actually be saved!
Lord Totto and his riders were, of course, ignorant of the plan. But a man such as he could not be so foolish as to not realise something was afoot. Why would so weak a force issue forth from the safety of the walls if not to attempt some sort of breakout, or to target a particular foe? The enemy was far too strong to beat in open battle. Whatever was happening, Lord Totto had given his word to come to the Duchess’s aid, and he would surely do all that he could. His spells were already prepared, and, rather appropriately, considering the Arrabiatti were commonly known as the ‘Brotherhood of shadows’, his magics were drawn from the Lore of Shadow. Conjuring a Penumbral Pendulum, he threw it at the vampire on foot ahead of him. But its strength fell so short of what was needed, it immediately seemed a pathetic gesture, and with foe’s massed ranks shambling ever closer, the wizard began to wonder whether he had joined in with some great folly.
A flurry of crossbow bolts flew over Lord Totto’s head to fell all but one of the recently raised zombies, while Welleg’s second cannon ball ploughed into the earth before the same vampire Totto’s spell had failed to harm. It seemed the demonic creature was blessed with wickedly good fortune. (Game note: I knew he would use ‘Look out sir’ even if I did hit him, but I was desperately clutching at any chance to kill one of the vampires and thus – as per the scenario rules – allow the duchess to leave by any table edge. She could simply stroll off the side.)
The massed regiment of skeletons looked to be preparing to charge Lord Totto’s company, lurching forwards suddenly, but their progress began to slow until they resumed their previous, lethargic pace.
As the Black Riders did indeed move through the house as if it were nothing more than mist …
… the vampires redoubled their efforts to conjure up necromantic magics. They were rewarded by the death of one Ironside dwarf as the Curse of Years took hold, and the summoning of eight more zombies to reinforce the lone one stumbling up ahead. The horror that had once been Duke Alessandro watched with dead eyes set in pallid flesh, his snarling mouth revealing two wickedly sharp fangs.
The dwarfs, marching as best they could down the road, could sense the malignant potency of the debilitating magics wreathing them, yet their pace, slow as it necessarily was, did not lessen one jot.
Captain Sir Giorgio commanded his knights to reform as swiftly as they could, hoping to do so whilst moving forward the better to screen the light horse behind him from the enemy’s attention. His knights might have succeeded too, if it were not for the horrors amassed before them – they reformed well enough, but took too long over the action. The light horse funnelled through behind them and took position on the far left (in plain view of the foe), while the dwarfs – although the least well equipped for the task – marched on in their own attempt to screen the duchess’s escape.
Lord Totto sensed that whatever the Ebinan’s were up to, they were doing it on the other side of the road, so he ordered the Arrabiatti to ride behind the crossbowmen, then to halt facing the foe while he attempted to fathom how best to assist. He could just make out Sir Giorgio shouting encouragement to his men, telling them that their moment had come, and that here and now they would prove their true worth.
Once again Welleg’s artillery piece sent an iron ball within a whisker of the vampire leading the Grave Guard, and once again the dwarf cursed. A handful of zombies were felled by crossbow bolts, but this was not enough, and as all the undead came on, the remaining zombies charging into the dwarves’ flank.
The ghouls tried but failed to join them. The shambling monstrosities on the far right of the undead line now traded places with the Black Knights, as the vampire duke himself looked suspiciously at the nimble, green-cloaked light horsemen and wondered whether his cousin must be amongst them.
The massed regiments on the undead left, including an ever-swelling horde of zombies, came on too, disheartening all who could see them.
Wicked magics emanated from the vampires: two more dwarfs succumbed to another curse, while a cruelly enchanted gaze killed five of the Arrabiatti, sending the rest, including Lord Totto, galloping towards the town gates perhaps if only to remove themselves from the horror of their fallen comrades tortured, lifeless faces.
The dwarfs killed the last of the zombies and now prepared themselves for the real test – before them stood the snarling, viciously clawed crypt-horrors. The Ironsides knew they could not allow such a foe to get close to the duchess. Vanhel’s Dance Macabre magically moved the Black Knights even closer, forcing Sir Giorgio’s hand. If he did not charge now he would lose his chance. He could not afford to allow the enemy knights to charge him and his men, so, with a desperate cry (and with the dwarfs also charging by their side) he urged his men on and they thundered boldly into the much more numerous foe.
The Duchess Maria watched grimly and knew this was likely to be her one and only chance. If her knights could stand for but a few moments, if their armour could protect them against the first blows, she might just be able to make it past the foe and escape. So, breaking off from her escort, she dug her spurs deep into her mount’s flanks and dashed forwards.
Both units of crossbow, on the wall and on the field below, send a flurry of bolts at the Grave Guard and brought down seven. Welleg’s curses grew louder as another shot from his cannon ploughed into the dirt only a foot or so from the vampire. The dwarfs crewing his gun flinched at the fury of his voice, yet busied themselves with reloading regardless, for it is in a dwarf’s nature to see things through to the bitter end.
On the field below the Ironsides were certainly doing so, not only standing firm …
… but even felling one of the horrors. The knights did not fare so well. When they came to grips with the foe, they were also gripped with fear. Sir Giorgio was no longer shouting, but screaming, his bellowing commands having twisted into a tortured and wordless sound.
The foe proved too much for him and his men, and as three knights died, the rest broke and fled. The vampire duke commanded his Black Knights to stand, then turned the body about. He now knew exactly where his cousin was, and he did not intend to lose her.
As the ghouls crashed into the beleaguered dwarfs’ flank, a gust of magical wind allowed a mass of newly summoned undead appeared on the field, reinforcing every unit that had so far been damaged, as well as creating yet another body of zombies. Umpteen ironsides now fell, and the last few remaining finally succumbed to fear and fled, pell-mell, away. There was no-one to help the duchess now – every unit on her side of the field, apart from the light horse, were broken, battered, beaten; and the light horsemen were too far away to help.
She was all alone.
The vampire duke grinned, revealing his razor-sharp fangs, evil intent writ upon his face. He began to raise his hand, ready to signal the chase, when suddenly the sound of thundering hooves caught his attention.
His nephew, Lord Guglielmo, had arrived. (Game Note: Turn 5 – better late than never).
Without hesitation, Guglielmo galloped his veteran knights right up to the undead, while the duchess desperately rode on behind. (Game note: I was cursing the no march move within 8” of the enemy rule!)
The green cloaked horsemen, for want of a better way to sacrifice themselves, now charged into the newly raised zombies. Lord Totto had rallied the last of the shadowy brothers and cast a withering spell against the foe, but it proved weak. Welleg cheered as his next shot flew directly at the vampire, then collapsed to his knees in frustration as he watched a skeleton push the vampire out of harm’s way at the last moment.
When the horrors broke into a run, Lord Totto turned and fled yet again. Foul magics curled after him, bringing down three of his companions and grievously wounding him. He hurtled over the bridge and through the gate, entering the town. He did not linger, however, not even to tend his wounds, but rode straight through to leave by the far gate. Lord Guglielmo, however, would not flee, and instead braced himself as his uncle and the Black Knights charged, vowing not to yield to fear. (Game Note: Pass fear test, now 568 points of undead were fighting 185 points of knights and Lord!)
The vampire duke laughed gleefully as he closed upon his nephew, and the two joined in personal combat. As living horses whinnied and snorted in terror, their undead counterparts simply ground their teeth. Steel rang as blade clattered against blade. And in the midst of the struggle, two Sforta lords, from either of the seam dividing the living and the dead, fought. The outcome was inevitable, even Lord Guglielmo had accepted that, but all that really mattered was how long he could keep the vampire duke occupied.
Somehow, although no living witnesses can explain how it was so, he apparently survived long enough to save the duchess. It is said that the very moment she disappeared into the hills, the vampire’s cold blade, a horribly curved butchery tool, carved Guglielmo in twain.
The duchess rode into complete obscurity, for several weeks, as she presumably, desperately, crept from hiding place to hiding place.
To see a modelling article on the Arrabiatti horsemen figures, go to Converted Horsemen.
An Excerpt from Bonacorso Fidelibus’s Work: The Many Wars of the Early 25th Century
The Summer of 2401
For many in Tilea it was not a happy time, indeed there were even some for whom things could not be any worse. The fears concerning the Vampire Duke of Miragliano had turned out to be very well founded – his dreadful army of walking corpses had laid siege to Ebino. Battle was joined before its gate as the Duchess Maria attempted to escape, perhaps hoping to plead for relief from some neighbouring power.
The duchess’s subsequent whereabouts were, for many weeks, unknown. No-one knew what fate had befallen her, although it was whispered she may have escaped one danger only to fall into some new peril.
Accordingly, the Archlector Calictus II of the Holy Church of Morr commanded that the following be proclaimed by his priests throughout Tilea:
Good people of Tilea, faithful servants of Morr and all the lawful gods, take heed, for I bring not warnings and fearful predictions, but dire news of things that have come to pass. The wickedness in the North is no longer brooding and preparing, but has marched forth even in the bright light of day, to begin clawing and tearing at the world of the living. Even now a vast throng of abominations surrounds Ebino, and has perhaps already devoured ithe brave people within. This will not, however, satisfy such as the Vampire Duke, Morr’s curse be upon him. If he is not stopped he will march on to conquer, corrupt and consume the entirety of the north. What was our duty has become also a dire necessity, not only to please Holy Morr and ensure his jurisdiction over the souls of the dead is restored, but because our very survival depends on it.
Without further delay, all who can must immediately take up arms and join in the stand against the vampire and his army. Poor Ravola cannot ride against him, for brute ogre mercenaries have laid waste to that land. And in the south the a great Waagh is raging. And so, we hereby call upon Viadaza, Urbimo, Remas, Trantio, Pavona, and yeah, even Campogrotta and the wizard lord, to lay aside all differences and march forth together to put an end to this terror before it devours us all. We call on nobles and militia-men, condottieri and foreign mercenaries, to muster and march with sword and spear, crossbow and handgun, lance and mace. Now is the time – we must destroy the threat before it grows too strong.
May Morr bless all those brave warriors who obey this command, and curse all those base cowards who seek to shirk this duty.
In the south, far from the threat of undead domination, armies manoeuvred and merchants bickered, and all was as it ever was. The infamous band of mercenary raiders known as the Greenskin Corsairs had moved inland, for it seemed some city state had contracted them to raid their enemies. Many warned that it did not bode well to have a Waagh raging in the south-east while Greenskin mercenaries like these were active in the south-west.
Interlude: The Greenskin Corsairs
As ever, they were the last to arrive at the camp. When the mules were alive, they were always behind the rest of the mob, and now the beasts had been eaten, the marrow sucked from their bones (and all agreed very nice it was too), they were that little bit further back. The goblin, Toggler, knew that Hafdi did most of the heavy work, but without Toggler’s constant encouragement they would probably never reach the camp by nightfall.
Hafdi, not the brightest of orcs – which is saying something considering the level of wit possessed by your average orc – was easily distracted. For an hour he had been complaining about his swollen toe.
“It’s not just ‘urtin, it’s itchin’ too!” Hafdi said.
“Well,” sighed Toggler, “pull a bit faster, an’ we’ll get to where we’re goin’, an’ then you can get to scratching.”
“I in’t gonna scratch at it, not when it ‘urts this much.”
Not for the first time that day, Toggler rolled his eyes.
“That, my big toed friend, is what you call a dilemma.”
Hafdi stopped, so suddenly that Doodo the snot nearly fell from the front of the wagon. The orc looked confused, moreso than usual.
“You talkin’ to my toe?” he asked.
Toggler had no idea where this new nonsense came from.
“What’ya mean, talkin’ to yer toe?”
“You just said he was your friend, and told him about the dilella.”
“’Dilemma’” corrected the goblin. “The word’s ‘dilemma’, ain’t that right Doodo?”
“Go faster. Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!” shouted the snot, as he always did.
“Come on, Toe,” said Toggler, “’tain’t much further. You can bring Hafdi along too if you like.”
Hafdi’s pained expression vanished to be replaced by a grin. “You is talking to my toe!”
Hefting the pole, and once again nearly tipping out Doodo the snot (he never learned), they set off for the final stretch.
Before long they had reached the camp’s outermost tents of sewed skins.
There, a bunch of Big Boss Poglin Fangface’s goblins were gathered around a trestle table they had dragged from an abandoned woodsman’s hut nearby. Upon the table lay a murderous looking five-barreled pistol.
“I told ya you’d never get the thing to work, so don’t go acting all surprised,” one of them was shouting, a goblin by the name of Murda Crustychin.
His companion, Splitfinger, who clutched a bent ramrod in lieu of any useful sort of tool, was snarling.
“It’ll work alright, Murda. An’ if you don’t stop yer shoutin’, I’ll be tryin’ it out on you first.”
Another goblin standing nearby, Aggler, hefted an impressively wide-muzzled blunderbuss and glared at the other two.
Murda, his red eyes gleaming with a malice that was never quite absent, drew his cutlass and raised it threateningly.
“You’ll not be pointing it at me if you ain’t got hands to hold it, will ya, Splits?” he said.
Splitfinger, his back to his friend, stiffened, his crooked fangs sliding over his taught lips as he grimaced. He clenched his fist, making sure it was hidden from Murda by the bulk of his not insubstantial head.
Just before he could launch the surprise punch he was planning, Aggler coughed.
“’Member, boys, no arguin’,” he said, then blew upon the smouldering matchcord of his blunderbuss to remove the ash and make it sparkle. “Poglin said I could shoot ya if ya got to fightin’ again, an’ I mean to follow orders. I knows how to be a good gob.”
Murda and Splitfinger froze. As the cutlass was lowered and thrust into the dirt, the fist was unclenched.
“’Sbetter,” said Aggler. If you get that fixed before it’s dark den I don’t need to tell Poglin anyfink about no naughtiness. He wants that ready real quick just in case the fun starts tomorrow. You don’t want the boss to miss out on his fun, do ya boys?”
Bonacorso Fidelibus, The Summer of 2401 continued
Other, even more powerful, mercenary forces were also on the move, including the renowned Compagnia del Sole. Compared to other most condottiere armies this company had a long history, serving many different states. They remained, for now, in the service of Trantio, having resumed their manoeuvres in the Trantine hills, though to what purpose (beyond keeping them busy and ensuring they work for their pay) only they and the Prince of Trantio knew. They never camped in one spot for more than a few days, and their camp usually consisted of several palisaded compounds in fairly close vicinity so that should the alarm be raised in one, the others might sally forth to their aid.
Interlude: The Compagnia del Sole
It was evening and the company was preparing to change watches, to replace the guards on the gates and those patrolling the bounds with the poor sods who would have to stay awake through the graveyard shift. A rumour had gone around earlier that this was almost certainly the last night they would camp here. In the last few weeks they had never stayed in one place more than two nights in a row, until they had got here, where they had lingered for five nights. Many presumed this was because the difficult decision was being made concerning how best to employ them – certainly riders went to and fro at every hour of the day, scouring the lands around for intelligence. It was generally hoped that whatever they found would lead to some good looting, for nearly every fellow in the company was itching to get their hands on some plunder. All the better to enjoy themselves when at last they returned to Trantio.
The southern most stockade had been palisaded partly with stakes, partly with wooden pavaises, and with the occasional gabion here and there to add some extra stability. All these were carried from camp to camp bundled in wagons, the stakes replaced as and when necessary, the earth or rubble for filling the gabions got from wherever they camped. There was no shortage of crossbowmen in the company, each possessing his own pavaise for use in battle should it so be ordered, which meant there were plenty of pavaises to fill the gaps. It was intended that once loot had been acquired, the wagoneers would dump their timber burdens and fill up with rather more exciting loads.
About half the dwellings were tents of waxed linen, the rest being huts fashioned from deal boards and turf. The officers had pavilions of cloth in the company colours, bearing the white rod and half-sun emblem of the company.
The guards were vigilant, ready at any moment to let loose both a volley and the cry, “All arm”.
Each of the gates had an officer and a drummer in attendance, plus a good half dozen or more crossbowmen. Being a company of good repute, which General Mazallini did not want to tarnish, there was not one purblind man amongst the crossbowmen. This made them the first and best choice as sentinels, although whenever they were expected to guard through the night they weren’t exactly happy to be chosen!
Somewhere within the camp …
It was a good sized piglet, which had been roasting for three hours already. Every mouth within two dozen yards radius was watering, and not a man amongst them failed to wonder how long it might be before they could partake of its flesh. Most were busy with some task or another, whether it was oiling armour, sharpening a blade, or preparing their hut or tent, while the rest were chatting. Tending the spit was Donno, one of the lads who looked after the draught horses and mules, while Ottaviano and Baccio stood close to the fire, sipping not too sour wine from pewter goblets, and discussing the company’s business, as they often did. Both had had their hair trimmed by the company barber, the better to suit the hardships of campaign, and both were dressed somewhat more practically compared to the clothes they favoured when representing the company as chancellors.
Everyone in the Compagnia del Sole was expected to serve in the field, to be soldiers first and foremost, whatever other office they held or responsibilities they had. Ottaviano wore both padded leather and a short-sleeved shirt of mail beneath the company’s purple. His companion was un-armoured, but also wore the livery colours of the company, in his case the blue and red, as well as an embroidered badge upon his chest. A heavy blade hung from his waist.
“I cannot say I am surprised that Prince Girenzo was so keen to re-employ us for another term,” said Baccio. “What with the threats north and south of his realm – he’s between a rock and a hard place.”
“The rock, I take it, is made of bones and the hard place happens to have green skin,” suggested Ottaviano.
“You get my drift. So yes, it must be reassuring to have a company such as ours in his employ. Yet, then to send us about this business, merely to quarrel with his neighbour, that’s the part I don’t understand.”
“The threats you speak of are very real, but they also happen also to be far away. Why shouldn’t the prince tend to his own house first, the better to ensure he is ready to face those threats?”
Baccio took a gulp of his wine, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“So he isn’t just keeping us busy in the meantime?”
“Oh no. Nor, I believe, is he trying to keep us happy, even if the lads are very content to indulge in a bit of pillaging. He’s hoping to ensure that no-one else takes advantage of the present situation at his cost. Consider this Duke Guidobaldo of Pavona – it seems to me, and I reckon to most others who’ve given it any thought, that he thinks he can take what he likes right now because everyone is preoccupied with your rock and hard place. This might well be true, and it could serve Pavona very well when it comes to their own defence, but how does it help Trantio, or Remas, or Verezzo? If either the undead or the greenskins do reach this far then they will indeed be powers to contend with, and if so then these city states will need to stand together, as the Morrite church had decreed. That won’t be so easy if Pavona has been busy stealing their castles and swallowing up their towns.”
Baccio frowned. “Won’t Pavona simply have to do the lion’s share of the fighting then? The more Duke Guidobaldo has, the more he can raise for the defence of the land.”
“I don’t doubt at all that his numerous armies will fight most courageously against both foes, and should it happen we will likely be amongst his forces,” agreed Ottaviano. “Nor do I doubt that he will require payment from all those who need him to fight. It’s all about the sequence of events, my friend: Right now, everyone is distracted, fearful, so the duke of Pavona snatches this, steals that, conquers the other. The rest are offended, but those to the north dare not turn their backs on the undead, and those to the south cannot show their arses to the greenskins. In the middle, meanwhile, Pavona’s power grows. Then the threats draw closer still, and the duke of Pavona, now made mightier by his conquests, offers – for a suitable price – to be the lion you spoke of and protect his neighbours. He then does so, probably swallowing a few more choice tracts of land in the process and consolidating his hold on what he has got. But winning nevertheless.”
Baccio smiled. “And everyone says thank you?”
“Oh yes. They will be so grateful they will likely forget his past crimes, at least for a little while. It is hard to be angry at your heroic protector.”
The smile had gone from Baccio’s face, replaced by a frown.
“So Prince Girenzo, by sending us, is making sure all that doesn’t happen?” he asked. “I think I preferred the happy ending where there was a mighty and heroic protector looking after everyone.”
“I think that is also exactly the ending Prince Girenzo desires. The difference is, in his story he is the hero, not Duke Guidobaldo.”
“Arrogant, aren’t they these nobles?” continued Ottavanio. “You have to love them, though. Without men such as these we would not have our living. Our only employ would be against swarming greenskin hordes or the horrors of every hell – a miserable and likely very short existence. I’d rather have roast pork, wine, a bed of dry hay and dreams of pretty wenches and gold after the fighting.” He turned to look over at the fire. “What say you, Donno?”
The mukeskinner looked up, as if awakening from a dream. “Huh?”
“I want to know your opinion,” said Ottavannio.
“Pig’s ready,” came the answer.
“See?” Ottavanio said to Baccio. “There’s another man who likes his roast pork.”
The Little Waagh! (A Battle Report)
Summer 2401, two miles west of Pavezzano, southern Tilea
The day before
“We can do it ourselves, boss, smash ‘em good and proper. Us gobs don’t need no Orcs when we got a mob dis size.”
All the goblins nodded or grunted their agreement of Booglebors’s optimistic appraisal. Except for Big Boss Gurmliss. He didn’t look convinced at all.
“We ain’t so big as you fink, Boog,” said Gurmliss. “Put it like dis, if Khurnag’s big mob is a mountain den we’re nuffin more’n a rat’s droppin’.”
Gurmliss could see anger on some faces, fear on others. The first probably thought he was insulting them, by implying they were not fit for a fight. The latter would be thinking that little bit further and realising that if Gurmliss commanded them to run, then Warlord Khurnag would make them pay for their cowardice.
Let them be afraid, thought Gurmliss, but not about the orc warlord’s punishment.
“Still,” he said, “orders is orders. We ‘av to fight ‘cos we was told to mess up anyone trying to sneak up on Khurnag from behind. That don’t mean we ‘av to win. Just take a few of ’em down with us.”
Booglebor snorted derisively. “Great speech, boss.”
Gurmliss looked back at him, his scowling mouth revealing bloodied gums and fangs, then looked around at the gathered goblin bosses.
“Aye, well,” he said. “I ain’t no poet. Look, all of you, keep what I said between you lot an’ me, otherwise I’ll be ‘aving a different kind of word with ya. Get the rag-tags together right now, an’ I mean all of ’em. You can tell ‘em what you like – whatever makes ‘em ‘appy. Just make sure they’s ready to move as soon as Clanger rings his bell.”
As forces went, the ‘Little Waagh‘ looked impressive enough – if you were purblind, that is, standing some distance away, with the sun in your eyes. It was at least big in numbers, and sported several war machines – basically whichever ones happened to have grease enough on their axles to be dragged out of the town.
Gurmliss rode a chariot, adorned with a mucky-brown banner painted with what an old goblin shaman had told him was a protectively magical emblem. He was on the left of the battle line, with the two other chariots clattering beside his.
Two bands of wolf riders came up on the right flank, with a pump wagon to their left, while the really big mobs, carrying short bows and pikes took the centre, with a couple of spear chukkas between them.
On the very far left, beside Gurmliss’ three chariots, another pumper trundled forwards.
A portly old veteran called Clanger led the pike. Of all the goblin mobs present, this was the only one that looked like it might really sting.
Everyone knew gobbo’s with bows usually did little more than annoy the foe and pepper the ground with splintered shafts, and that although wolves were mean enough mounts, their riders often let them down when it really came to it. The pike regiment, however, was a mobile forest of hafts tipped with vicious iron barbs, and had a properly nasty look about it. Clanger himself had trained his lads in the pikes’ use, having served as a scout for a condottiere army in the Border Princes and observed the Tilean pikemen drilling.
All the goblins in the Little Waagh agreed the pike mob was their hardest hitter.
The trouble was the enemy had pikes too, and they were longer, more ordered and gleamed that little bit sharper. They also had guns, lots of guns, both big and small: demi-culverins, muskets, pistols. They had horses too, with armoured men on their backs. More than that, they had defences. Not only had they occupied the goblins’ abandoned, rickety watchtower, they’d shifted the stone ruins around to fashion up proper walls.
Gurmliss cursed when he saw the enemy’s true disposition. His patently useless outriders had reported none of this, merely saying the enemy marched to the beat of drums and dressed in matching colours. They had not lied, but they had hardly gone out of their way to impart the important stuff.
There were more enemy horsemen on the field than goblin wolf-riders, which did not bode well at all, considering that outnumbering the enemy was usually the only thing gobbos had going for them. One band of horsemen were led by a man with brighter armour than the rest, sporting an orange sash and riding a grey mount. Gurmliss decided the brightly coloured sash most likely signalled the man’s authority, indeed he was probably the enemy’s war boss.
Squinting, Gurmliss shielded the sun from his eyes and studied the man. He seemed to be in conversation with the fellow next to him. Both were clutching shiny goblets from which they sipped, as if the ensuing battle were to be nothing more than a sporting hunt. Gurmliss fumed – he would like to take that goblet and stuff it down the man’s throat. Here he was, very likely about to die because he was more afraid of Khurnag than these men, while they supped wine as if they were on a dainty picnic.
Looking along the lines, Gurmliss strained his eyes to learn whatever else he could. The foe’s bronze-barrelled field pieces gleamed, while their orderly soldiers manned the defences. It was plainly obvious the foe was just going to wait for him and his goblins to advance. Behind the defenders he could make out their camp – umpteen mules laden with supplies, which meant they no doubt had plenty of the noisome black powder that fuelled their guns.
Was nothing going to go his way today?
A creaking and clattering sound broke his miserable reverie, and he glanced to his left to see the pump wagon picking up its pace, despite the fact he had not given any signals yet.
‘Bugger it!’ he swore, and lifted his hand to give the signal anyway. Might as well see the day through. Maybe the enemy’s powder was wet? Maybe their men were untrained youths? Maybe Khurnag would forgive him if he ran away after the first volley? Maybe the snotlings on the pump wagon were proofed against cannonballs?
But the only thing the snotlings were proofed against was common sense!
As the main bodies shuffled about in an only partly successful attempt to sort their ranks and files, far to the right the two bands of wolf-riders separated to travel either side of the hovel before them …
… while bold as brass one of the enemy horse regiments trotted forwards as if the goblin pikes and chariots weren’t even there, clutching pistols in their raised hands in a gesture at one and the same time both threatening yet strangely delicate.
The flag mounted on Gurmliss’s chariot snapped in a sudden gust of wind, making Gurmliss wince. He turned to his driver and snarled, “Go on den!”
All the enemy’s riders had begun moving up – their knights staying together to round the hovel and thus counter the wolf-riders’ surprisingly bold advance.
Then, before a single foot-slogging goblin had begun to march, a magical blast of burning energy came spurting out of the upper reaches of the tower, proving the enemy had brought at least one wizard. The enchanted flames wreathed the pump wagon nearest the chariots, spewing umpteen squealing snotlings from it, some trailing smoke as they staggered about in agony, two bursting like gooseberries roasting on a griddle.
It was, even for goblins who usually derive cruel amusement from such sights, a horribly dismaying start to the battle. Both the chariots beside Gurmliss’s turned and fled, leaving Gurmliss alone out on the left flank apart from the rock thrower, the crew of which had apparently failed to notice the pump wagon’s awful demise due to a heated squabbling over whose turn it was to pull the lever and so launch the first boulder.
Then came the rolling thunder of the enemy’s guns, opening with a ripple of staggered cracks, melding into a roaring blast, punctuated by the even louder retorts of the cannons. So much lead and iron was hurled into the wolfriders that as the sound faded to transform into a ringing in the gunners’ ears, only two riders remained – Booglebor and his standard bearer.
Booglebor turned to look at his last warrior with a mad grin. “Oh good, you still got de flag den?” he said, one eye twitching. He was very much regretting his bold words of earlier in the day.
The goblin standard bearer, hunched and cowering behind his heavy round shield, the pole of the wolf-pack’s flag tucked between his shield and shoulder, was stunned by what had just happened. Nevertheless, he nodded.
“Dat’s great,” said Booglebor, his sarcastic tone not in the least bit subtle. “It’ll be bloomin’ useful now there’s no flippin’ pack left to follow it.”
The goblin grimaced foolishly, then pointed forwards with his hooked blade.
“Boss, look,” he squeaked. “We is gubbed.”
Booglebor laughed maniacally. “Oh, ya noticed! Clever git.”
Quickly balancing the range of almost certainly suicidal options available to him, he chose the only one he thought might actually have a chance of keeping him alive. Spurring his shaggy furred wolf and twisting its head with his reigns, he shouted, “Follow me!” and sped off around the knights’ flank.
As he did so, the other wolf-pack came around the hovel towards the knights’ rear.
Gurmliss was not in the mood to sneak about looking for the enemy’s rear, and drove his chariot hard and fast at the pistol-bearing riders ahead of him. They simply trotted away as if he were some mild annoyance, or a bad smell they were more than happy to keep their distance from. Meanwhile, the rest of Gurmliss’s Little Waagh marched and shuffled while sending magic, arrows and bolts at the foe. Nothing at all seemed to come of all their efforts – the enemy seemed entirely unharmed, nor even agitated.
Beside the goblin archers the second pump wagon trundled along, powered by the frantic pumping of two snotlings named Eeriwig and Mudbelly.
The machine was a surprisingly robust design, almost sleek in its shape, sporting a very vicious set of spiky rollers and blades powered by the same set of pumping bars that propelled it.
“Faster,” ordered Mudbelly. “Faster an’ faster.”
Eeriwig grunted acknowledgement and pumped harder than he had ever done , the bar lifting him off the floor on the upstrokes.
“S’good. Dat’s good,” shouted Mudbelly. Eeriwig grinned, sweat dripping from the end of his sharp nose, while spittle and snot conjoined to congeal upon his lips. In between grunts he issued giggles and squeaks.
At that very same moment, across the space that still divided the two forces, an artillery officer of the VMC was pointing at a spot a little ahead of the pump wagon with his short-sword. The piece he commanded, a demi-culverin by the Marienburg reckoning, had the company’s colours of blue and orange prettily painted on its wheels, while its crew, veteran soldiers of several campaigns, wore matching red coats.
The piece’s gunner and matrosses lifted the rear of the gun and swung it around to aim exactly where the officer had indicated. Within moments the burning match had been applied, the gun had fired and 9 lb of iron shot bounced right through the speeding, snotling contraption, tearing the pumping mechanism right out, along with Eeriwig – who failed to let go of the bars even as they were violently yanked away – while one of the snapped chains swung violently around to cut Mudbelly in two. The gutted wagon slowed to a halt. Weeks later, one goblin archer (one of the very few to survive the battle) would swear that Eeriwig was still pumping even as he flew through the air, leaving a splattering trail of blood and snot behind him!
It was not a cannon ball that did for Big Boss Gurmliss, but more magic.
Once again magical fire lashed out from the eyes of the wizard atop the tower to sear the fur off the two wolves drawing Gurmliss’s chariot. Howling pathetically, they fell to the ground in writhing agony, tipping the chariot over and throwing Gurmliss out. He picked himself up and limped over to a little clump of bushes. There he stopped, and with his unsheathed blade across his mailed shoulder, he glowered helplessly at the foe.
Nothing unexpected had happened. In fact, Gurmliss was mildly surprised still to be alive, and very juch relieved that he might actually be so tomorrow too. It was not anger at his misfortune that filled him, but malice towards the foe. Let them have their pathetic victory, he fumed. Wait ‘til they meet the big Waagh! They’ll find out quick enough then what Greenskins can do. Killing gobbos, snots and scraggy wolves is one thing, but orcs, boars and wyverns is another.
He did not run, but rather waited and watched the fight some more. If he was going to face Khurnag, he would at least give the most accurate report he could of the foe. Khurnag was mighty and cruel, but he was no fool. He would know from Gurmliss’ report that a rag-tag, petty force of goblins, put together with only a bit of extra looting in mind, was no match for this kind of foe. But Khurnag could also learn of the foe’s exact composition, all the better to plan how exactly he would to tear them to pieces.
In the centre of the field, and quite possibly still ignorant of the hopelessness of their position, the two main regiments of goblins began to advance a little quicker.
Perhaps it was sheer numbers that so clouded their judgement, or their memories of victories serving as merely one small part of Khurnag’s Great Waagh? Whatever the cause, they advanced directly towards the muzzles of the enemy massed guns.
The VMC’s knights had reformed in a most professional manner and now trotted towards the last surviving wolf-pack.
Just as they arrived, with the goblins bemused as to why the heavily armoured foe was not charging, they unleashed a hail of pistol balls to fell almost half of the greenskins. More than a little dismayed that the foe could do such harm against them without even unsheathing blades, the surviving goblins turned and fled the field for good. Once again, the cuirassier’s simply reformed, turned and set off back towards the centre of the field.
The pike goblins were now beginning to receive casualties as the foe stopped shooting at pump wagons and wolf packs and instead turned their attention on the sluggardly brace of regiments in the midst of the otherwise shattered goblin line.
The cuirassiers charged headlong into the shortbows, the countershot of arrows bouncing from the steel plates of their lobster-like armour.
Which left the pike goblins all alone in the advance towards the enemy defences.
Cannons, muskets and pistols now all blasted almost as one, and tore the pike-goblins apart. What few remained fled away pell-mell. From atop a little mound of rocks Gurmliss watched them.
Suddenly, his attention was caught by the blaring of hunting horns to his right, and he turned to witness the shortbow goblins being trodden under the hooves of the foes heavy horses as they too (inevitably) ran.
Satisfied that there was no more to see, and happy in the knowledge that he was now merely one greenskin amongst the many pouring from the field, Gurmliss hopped down from the rocks to join the general flight.
Thus ended the battle which the VMC went on to describe as their ‘Glorious Victory’ against a ‘foul horde’ serving ‘dark gods’.
Game Note: Thank you to Ant the VMC player for bringing his army to the field. And thanks to Claire for volunteering to command the goblins. I think she learned a lesson regarding just how useless gobs can be – even when we all forgot to apply animosity! Perhaps some failed animosity rolls might have hampered the goblins, but tbh, it is hard to see how they could have done any worse. After casualty recovery rules were applied, Ant lost merely one knight and 3 handgunners. Not bad. Some might indeed say ‘glorious’!
Note: To see a post on the scratchbuilding of the two snotling pump wagons in the above story, click on Pump Wagons
Another Excerpt from Bonacorso Fidelibus’s Work: The Many Wars of the Early 25th Century
The Summer of 2401
In the far north-east of Tilea, the realm of Ravola had been swallowed entirely by Wizard Lord Bentiglovio’s army of ogres. The few peasants who escaped the bloody turmoil reported that both Maratto and Terme castles were now nothing more than lamentable, smoking ruins. Every knightly warrior, no matter how skilled in arms, how well protected by armour, how well mounted, had been laid low, beaten into the ground by huge clubs and left to rot where they lay, uneaten by the brutes perhaps simply because of the inconvenience of having the strip off the layers of armour!
In Ravola itself an awful new tyranny had begun, as Razger Bouldergut’s monstrous thugs and their petty goblin servants swaggered drunkenly through the streets, playing cruel games with the cowering – and slowly diminishing – populace. It was feared that such easy victories and the loot so taken would draw ever more ogres from the east. No-one knew how the wizard lord of Campogrotta intended to control his growing horde, or even if he intended to try. It was commonly assumed he must either be entirely insane, unbalanced by his desire for revenge against the people of Tilea, or perhaps that he had ambitions to forge himself an empire encompassing the whole of northern Tilea? Or both? Others believed that the dearth of public sightings revealed he had retreated into his palace to busy himself with some secret purpose, caring not a jot about the present activities of the brute army that enabled his return to Campogrotta.
In the far south the army of the VMC had marched in strength from Alcente against Warlord Khurnag’s Waagh! They declared their first battle a great victory and to advertise their achievement, the Marienburgers printed a broadside to be distributed by their agents and merchants throughout Tilea. Their pride shined through!
(Thank you, Ant, for forwarding this broadside to me. Victory is indeed sweet, eh?)
In Verezzo, the news of the VMC’s victory arrived first in a muddled report, declaring not that they had defeated one of the Waagh’s forces, but that they had actually defeated the entire Waagh and driven all the greenskins into the very sea, there to drown! Joyous celebrations spread across the city state, and in every street, alleyway and yard, drunken revellers were to be found.
Several riots, fuelled by the high spirits, broke out. These were not the only things to ‘break out’: the prisoners held in the famous Le Stonche fortress joined in the merriment, loudly proclaiming that they too should celebrate such good news. Overcoming their inebriated guards, they vanished into the equally befuddled crowd swarming through the streets.
Turmoil of a different kind erupted in the northern city of Viadaza, where the populace feared the approach of the vampire Duke Alessandro Sforta of Miragliano. If the duke’s horde of abominations were to march south from Ebino and cross the river Tarano at the bridge of Pontremola, then Viadaza would surely become their next prey. Lord Adolfo hastily mustered an army of mariners, militia, mercenaries and brutes, and commandeered several vessels in the port to increase the size of his already substantial fleet.
The city became a dizzy mix of drunken sailors, brawling ogres and swaggering condottiere, and every alehouse and tavern in the city was inhabited by a host of bearded seamen of suspicious origins and intentions.
In amongst this heady swirl of brash bragadoccio and salty slang, a somewhat incongruous religious movement was being born, focused upon the exiled Miraglianan priest Biagino Bolzano.
Interlude: The Viadazan Crusade
Biagino would be the first to admit he had never expected to become one of the leaders of a crusade. An unlikely agitator, unskilled in rhetoric and unaccustomed as he was to giving speeches to the ragged masses, he had instead begun his work by approaching the city’s Morrite clergy. His intention was, via priestly intervention, to convince Lord Adolfo to do something more than merely improve Viadaza’s defences. Biagino sought a much more aggressive response, just as the holy Church of Morr’s arch-lector Calictus II had called for in his decrees, with large armies allying to wipe Duke Alessandro and his undead minions from the face of Tilea.
The Morrite church in Viadazza, however, was rather neglected by the secular authorities. The ruling classes considered it simply to be just one of the churches serving the ‘Three gods’ at the pinnacle of the Tilean pantheon. To most nobles, it was the church a family turned to when a member died, with Morr the focus of prayers and dedications solely during the time of mourning. As in so many city states across Tilea, the Church of Morr was served far more keenly by the common folk. The poor, labouring classes had little need of Myrmidia or Mercopio, for war strategies and mercantile fortune, but Morr was important to them. Death comes to everyone, and for the poor it can be almost always present, whether it be through disease, starvation, punishment or violence. The hard nature of their existence put prayers to Morr, for themselves or their loved ones, on the lips of the poor on an almost daily basis.
Thus it was that Biagino’s efforts resulted in the birth of a movement, first amongst his brother priests and then the common people. He spoke of the need to act quickly, assuredly and without division, against a wicked enemy that threatened not just the rule of princes and dukes, replacing one lord with another, but the life of every Tilean. This chimed with the fears of the common people of Viadaza, from the middling merchants, sea artists and craftsmen down to the lowliest of Lord Adolfo’s subjects. Such unswerving conviction won over the priests and brothers, who took up his call. Soon every church and temple to Morr was filled with eager supplicants as the priests’ spread the message and people turned to Morr for salvation.
As he began his second month in the city, Biagino found himself in Garlasco Square, in Viadaza’s eastern quarter, standing beside Gonzalvo Cerci, the local temple’s incumbent. A crowd had gathered, much bigger than could fit within the temple building, a veritable sea of folk.
The very old and the very young were there, citizens of every kind, even some ladies, but it was the men of fighting age who Biagino scrutinised. They were the ones who must respond to the church’s call; this battle would be their burden. As Gonzalvo began his sermon, Biagino turned his attention onto him, recognising quickly that the spirit of the famous radical Morrite reformer Sagrannalo was flowing through his brother priest.
Gonzalvo’s widened eyes lent his gaze a piercing quality, and although he was tonsured like most of the lesser clergy of Morr, the remainder of his flowing, black hair swished about wildly as he gesticulated and pointed. He raised his hand to the skies when he spoke of Morr, and swept both arms outwards as if to embrace the entire crowd when talking of the people.
He began by announcing that even though a great threat loomed over all in Tilea, there was hope, for the god Morr was with them and that they themselves were the vessels which that hope would fill. They were to become the soldiers of Morr, servants of not only the church, but of the greatest of gods, and there was no better god to serve in a war against the undead.
By now the crowd was hooked, and Gonzalvo was in full flight …
“Lord Guglielmo, holy Morr protect him now and forever, was ruled by honour. He rode against the foul foe for the sake of his family name, for his own inheritance and to save his noble cousin the Duchess Maria. No-one can fault him for that. But he had only a handful of companions, hoping that instead of an holy cause and numbers, surprise and speed might grant him victory. Our own efforts will be very different from his doomed quest, for we will be many, ready in both body and soul, and we shall directly serve the great god Morr, yeah, even becoming his brandished blade to smite the corruption that mocks his rightful rule over the dead. More than this, even though no more is required for our eternal reward, we will serve earthly Viadazza by driving the invaders far from its lands, and we will serve our families, friends and neighbours all. As blessed warriors of Morr we will face what so many run from, and so fight that which if allowed to flourish would bring eternal ruin to all those we love.
“It is the only course open to us, the one sure and certain way to save ourselves and serve our god, for if we do not do so then all those we love are doomed to everlasting torment, their souls forced to remain in this world even after death, animating their own rotting corpses in thrall to wicked masters.”
Biagino could see fear on many of the faces below in the square. Gonzalvo’s words were unsettling them. Of course they were! These were unsettling times and Gonzalvo was simply telling things as they were. Yet Biagino guessed there was more to it. His brother priest knew exactly how his words would be received. This speech was to be a journey, in which doubts would be addressed, fears removed, until in the end the happy destination was reached.
At least, that was what Biagino hoped.
“You can be afraid,” continued Gonzalvo. “You should be afraid. But you must use that fear rather than let it rule you. It can fuel a fire in your belly. A fearful warrior can either run or fight. Those who choose to run from this enemy will never be counted amongst the blessed of Morr, nor can they expect his favour, and as holy Morr turns his loving gaze from them, they run towards everlasting doom, for the foul servants of vampires and necromancers never grow weary, and when the living start to stumble, breathless and aching, the undead draw steadily, inevitably closer. If, on the other hand, you choose to stand and fight, you will do so as holy instruments, as Morr sees full well your fear, understands the heroic effort it takes to master it and make it yours, and he will love you all the more for it. Morr’s love, expressed through his divine blessing, is the greatest weapon a man can employ against the undead – it will hone your blades, steady your aim and strengthen your armour.
“His will shall inspire our commanders; his presence shall dismay the foe; his power, made manifest through his priests’ prayers, shall entirely unravel the vampire duke’s enchantments. Fear does not make you weak, not if you have the courage of conviction. You are not alone, for look – you have each other; nor are you helpless, because Morr himself will guide you, shield you and make you strong.”
Biagino was impressed. Gonzalvo had a talent for this. Looking at the crowd, who stood silently, awestruck, he wondered whether instead of Sagrannalo’s spirit it was Morr himself working through his brother priest. If Biagino, a mere clerk of the church who happened to be lucky enough to escape the fall of Miragliano, could dream of visitations by Morr’s servants, why couldn’t such a man as Gonzalvo, a priest of imposing stature and real authority, momentarily manifest divine enlightment?
“Perhaps you are thinking, ‘But I am unskilled in the art of war. I have never prayed to Myrmidia, swung a sword, or drilled to learn my place in rank and file’?
“Well I say this to you: Every able-bodied man here has strength enough in his arm to lift a blade, and but one strike of that blade is all that is required to fell a walking corpse. You do not need the nimble skill of a gladiator or the honed practise of a duellist, simply a strong heart. All you need is to stand resolute before the vileness and stench of the undead, for in so doing, Morr’s blessing will wax strong in you. If you can do this, then the foe cannot win. As easily as a butcher wields his cleaver, a woodsman wields an axe, a fisherman wields a gutting knife, your blades will do their bloody work. And blow by blow the horror will diminish. Holy Morr will laugh with glee and his joy will fill you with bliss. You will be lifted above other men, blessed both in this life and in death.
“We will win because Morr will guide us. Morr’s spirit will work within us. And victorious, Morr will reward us, now and for evermore.”
A cheer went up, and Biagino could see that men, mostly the younger sort, were pushing to the fore. They were ready, in this very moment, to join the cause, to fight the fight.
Gonzalvo leaned across to him and muttered, “Waste not, want not,” then joined the priests, both those before and amongst the crowd, in greeting, accepting and ushering the willing volunteers in the right direction. Within an hour a new regiment was formed. Soon, very soon by the looks of it, an entire army would be ready. Not Lord Adolfo’s army, but Morr’s army.
Bonacorso Fidelibus, The Summer of 2401 continued
Elsewhere in Tilea, strange and intriguing events were occurring. It was reported that an ambassadorial party had been thrown from the city of Trantio, while another such party, in order to escape gaol in Raverno, had been forced to hurl themselves out of the windows. Rumours of arcane magical constructions emanated from Portomaggiore: some claimed that a clock tower of solid brass was being built, able to suck bolts of lightning from the sky so that none could harm the citizens below; others said a magical statue had been fashioned that could speak truthful (if cryptic) answers to all questions put to it; while the rest believed a massive cannon had been forged with the power to send an 80 lb round-shot of iron more than a mile. Confused accounts spread through the south that an Arabyan army had invaded the peninsula, although in truth it was merely that Arabyan mercenaries were still being hired by the boy king of Luccini. He was supposed to have said (in private) that Tileans make poor soldiers compared to the men of the southern deserts, although many retorted that even an immature boy would not believe such nonsense.
Arabyans, Marienburgers, Ogres, Greenskin corsairs – these were the kind of warriors lured to the realm to fight the battles of the unfolding wars of the north and south, and more than a few Tileans grew afraid, worried that these mercenary armies might themselves become the new enemies.
Praemonitus praemunitus* cried the scholars, but such was the general clamour that few heard.
* Forewarned, forearmed
Miracolo a Viadazza
The city of Viadaza, north-west Tilea, Autumn 2401
Gonzalvo seemed hurt that Biagino might doubt him.
“She has come,” he insisted. “I tell you brother, it was her. I had to push through the crowd cheering her arrival, and they cried out her name.”
“But there have been many refugees, noble and common,” countered Biagino. “Are you sure it was not simply a lady affecting Ebinan fashions?”
The two clerics were sat at the large table in the upper lodging chamber of the Garlasco Temple. Biagino was clad in his usual grey, woollen habit, his carmine cowl adding the contrast favoured by priests of the church of Morr. Gonzalvo, on the other hand, had taken to wearing a scarlet cap, the better to be seen by, and a linen jack containing iron plates, so as to appear more military.
“I saw her face,” said Gonzalvo. “Only briefly, as she had already passed by, but she did turn to look behind, just long enough for me to know it was her. Besides, when they cried out her name, she raised her hand to acknowledge them.”
Biagino still found it hard to believe.
“Did she arrive alone? Was she injured? Was she mounted?” he asked, stopping only to give Gonzalvo time to answer, not because of a shortage of other questions.
Gonzalvo frowned, then spoke, “She rode upon a fierce looking mount, a fighting horse without doubt, and though her skirts were spattered with mud, her hair undressed, she looked well enough, I think, if her posture is anything to go by. She had two servants with her, one carrying a shield and mounted well, the other in ragged robes, riding a nag.”
“That is all that remains of her army?” asked Biagino.
“Perhaps?” said Gonzalvo uncertainly. “I doubt they were palazzo guards, nor officers by the look of them. They were sallow of complexion, weather beaten and hard-looking fellows. One turned when the duchess did and he had the cold, cruel eyes of someone who has seen too many battles. Maybe they were the last survivors of a company, the rest dying to keep the duchess safe? Maybe they were among the few who escaped Ebino? ”
“Where is she now?”
“She was met by some of Lord Adolfo’s courtiers and escorted to the palace. They had a company of brutes with them who cleared a way through the crowd.”
Biagino had to admit this all sounded convincing. The Duchess Maria had been missing for nigh upon two months, and in the second month it had become generally presumed she must have been killed or captured after her flight from the battle outside her city of Ebino. Now it seemed that those few who had claimed she was hiding, waiting until it was safe to continue her journey, had been right. Sadly, her enforced delay meant that it was far too late to gather a relief force to save her city – Ebino had fallen to the undead weeks ago.
Momentarily distracted by his thoughts, Biagino suddenly noticed Gonzalvo watching him intently.
“So,” said Gonzalvo, “Now she is here, will she lead our crusade?”
“Lead the crusade?” questioned Biagino.
“With her at our head surely even those uninspired by a faith in Morr will join us?” said Gonzalvo. “She’s the rightful ruler of Ebino, and by inheritance perhaps of Miragliano. When victorious, she could reward all those who helped her recover her realm. Mercenaries like to know they will be paid in gold and silver, in the here and now, rather than with Morr’s love and favour in the hereafter.”
“I am not sure she is a general, nor even a soldier,” Biagino answered. “But she is noble. She might not lead us in battle, but in other ways, perhaps yes. At the least, and it would be no little thing, she might be persuaded to assist our raising of an army. The peasants, labourers and seamen we have now are keen enough, but they are neither well-armed nor skilled in war. If our army is to win victories, it needs seasoning with real fighters. But … best not get ahead of ourselves.”
Gonzalvo frowned. “Brother Biagino, we must act quickly. The enemy will only grow stronger with time.”
“Oh, we must indeed act as quickly as possible. What I meant was we cannot appear to be commanding her, nor rushing her. No, rather we should humbly seek an audience with her, and politely present our case. She has Sforta blood and ruled her own city. She must not think we are making demands or attempting to command her. We must offer ourselves to her as allies and servants, giving her hope, while explaining that we need her help. And we must do all in such a way as not to make our cause appear weak.”
“That, brother, seems entirely possible,” said Gonzalvo, through a weak smile. “We can say we’ve already begun the work of raising an army, but that she might aid us to speed up the process, ensuring that the army is ready soon enough to prevent the wicked vampire duke from taking too many more lives.”
“That sort of thing, yes. But treading gently throughout.”
The next day
The two of them had returned in silence. Everyone on the streets had made way for them, either because they knew them and respected them, or because they could see they were priests of Morr and in a foul mood. Once back at their temple lodgings, they threw themselves into the high backed chairs. Both knew they must talk despite how difficult the words would be.
Finally, it was Biagino who broke the silence.
“Does she think our cause is not just? Does she not believe that we are inspired by Morr? I could have unleashed his wrath in that very chamber.”
Gonzalvo had never seen his brother priest so angry.
“You could have, but thankfully did not,” he said. “They might all have thought us no better than practitioners of dark magic.”
“They had no respect for us anyway,” spat Biagino. “Lord Adolfo looked at us with barely concealed contempt, as if we were mere rabble-rousers. I’m surprised he didn’t have us arrested there and then.”
Gonzalvo nodded. “We have the duchess to thank for that.”
“Aye, maybe so. But for nothing else,” said Biagino.
This was what most vexed Biagino – that the duchess should offer them so little support. He had expected nothing better from Lord Adolfo, who was his father’s son. From the start of Gonzalvo and Biagino’s preaching in Viadaza, throughout the growth of the military Morrite movement and the birth of the army, Lord Adolfo had offered no support at all. Indeed, he had only just stopped short of putting them down. His militia had dispersed several of the spontaneous gatherings, those unsanctioned by the church of Morr. His marines had been implicated in the killing of no less than four peasant crusaders. Lord Adolfo had two marines hanged for the crime, but it was generally held that this was a mere token punishment to satisfy the priests, and that the particular men executed were chosen because of Adolfo’s dislike of them rather than any proven guilt.
They had been escorted by two worldless men at arms bearing great swords upon their shoulders, and brought before the Duchess Maria and Lord Adolfo in the palazzo’s great hall, as if they were prisoners to be questioned, or begging supplicants reluctantly granted an audience. The palazzo was one of the few buildings in Viadaza to be constructed in the southern fashion. The nobles had been sat at a large table upon the dias at the eastern end of the hall, and looked down upon the priests (in more ways than one).
Although the duchess treated the two priests better, hers had been a cold civility. She addressed them correctly, listened politely, but otherwise offered them the bare minimum of respect required, as if listening to them was simply a duty of her office.
At first, Biagino had thought it was due to a distracted state of mind born of her dreadful loss and the trials and tribulations of her flight. As time went by, however, he changed his mind. Her haughty manner, her aloofness, were deep-rooted, not merely an affectation to hide a traumatised soul. And beyond all that, there was something else, which Biagino could not put his finger on. The duchess seemed, to him, to be hiding something. Something dreadful.
“Perhaps it would have gone better if we had spoken to her before Lord Adolfo and his cronies could do so?” suggested Gonzalvo. “I think he must have painted a sorry picture of our crusade. He might not have been bold enough to slander Morr in her presence, but he could have belittled our army as nothing more than a mob. It has been reported that he has said as much in public, and on more than one occasion.”
“That much is certain,” agreed Biagino. “She might want to fight, just not by our side.”
“She did say we could fight under the standard of Miragliano.”
“No, you misremember – we said we would fight under the standard of Miragliano, in her service, and she granted us that wish. Nothing more, just: ‘Take the standard and go. I have more important duties elsewhere.’”
“Not in those words,” countered Gonzalvo.
“No, she put it more politely. She was politic throughout. But I think that was her meaning. We would go and begin our petty crusade, then she would bring a real army to complete the work.”
They fell silent again. After a little while Gonzalvo, in a somewhat dejected tone, asked, “So, what do we do now?” He sounded nothing like the firebrand priest who had delivered a string of stirring sermons to the crowds.
“We begin our crusade,” answered Biagino. “As Morr wishes and Tilea needs. We make our army as fit for war as we can make it. If she brings an army, well and good. If not, then we fight that bit harder.”
Bad Timing, Bad Intelligence and Bad Behaviour.
Prologue to the Battle Report, Part 1
Upon the Eastern Coast of Tilea, Autumn 2401
Having crossed all the way from the far west, Sea Boss Scarback’s Greenskin Corsairs had finally reached the eastern coast of Tilea, causing (and receiving) surprisingly little trouble en route. They could not travel as the crow flies, for that would have really slowed them down, considering most Tileans’ attitude towards greenskins, even contracted mercenaries in the employ of a native lord who carried a banner to show their contractual allegiance. Indeed, had they not skirted this place and circumnavigated that realm, the chances are they would not have made it across at all.
Now they halted, for although they had been employed to cause difficulties for Khurnag’s ‘Waagh’, Scarback wanted to ensure he had a means of escape, should such prove necessary. His was not a big force, and he had no intention of biting off more than he could chew – or at least, if he did do so, he wanted to be able to spit it out before it choked him, then leg it! So it was, he ordered the building of a defensive compound to protect his little force, while the somewhat more time-consuming labour of repairing several wrecked vessels they had discovered on the beach was begun. (The Bay of Wrecks was not inappropriately named!) Once he had seaworthy boats – at least, seaworthy in an orc’s opinion – then he would commence scouting for opportunities to cause trouble.
Hafdi was not having the best of days. It seemed to him that he was the only one doing hard work. Since the first light of dawn, he had been lugging heavy timbers, necessarily one at a time, up the rocky slope from the beach to where Sea Boss Scarback wanted his fort. His legs ached, his back moreso, and he had more splinters in his arms than he could count (more than six, then).
Despite the fact he was an orc, Hafdi did not consider himself foolish, no matter what Toggler said. On first being ordered upon the task it had occurred to him, almost straight away, that they should load their wagon with timbers, then he and Toggler could lug it over the dunes and up the hill together. That way they would only need to make the climb four or five times. But Toggler, by his own admission amply imbued with the renowned cunning of a goblin, had pointed out that pulling wagon loads of timber up such a slope would be back-breaking work, whereas hefting one plank was no worse than carrying three or four half-pikes. At the time Hafdi could see no fault with this argument and so had begun the labour with enthusiasm and a friendly slap from Toggler.
It was well past noon and having hauled more than a dozen planks in succession up the slope, a flaw was becoming apparent in Toggler’s argument.
Every time Hafdi descended back to the dunes he was welcomed by the sight of his goblin mate, heavy cutlass in hand, skilfully hacking another timber off the raft-like bundle lying there.
The first few times, Hafdi merely pondered why he was doing all the lugging, while Toggler got to stay down on the beach. But the last couple of times he had grown suspicious about how Toggler’s planks were always just at the point of being pried off the very moment he returned. Surely removing a plank did not take the same length of time it took him to go all the way to the fort and back?
Now, about to deliver his fifteenth plank to the labouring gobbos at the flimsy fort…
… an idea was forming in his amply boned head: Toggler was obviously sitting around idle nearly all the time, only getting off his behind as Hafdi returned from each round trip, jumping up to knock another plank off. He looked busy, but only when he had to – which was only when Hafdi was there.
“Well,” Hafdi muttered to himself, “I ain’t carryin’ any more plankies. When I gets back we’ll play ‘swapsies’, an’ den I gets to tip-tap at the planks while Toggler can drag his lazy lump up and down ‘dis ‘ere hill.”
The boys up here had been busy, as the rows of stakes had increased in length since Hafdi’s last visit, and most of his previous planks were already attached to them. The three greenskins involved were arguing loudly over something or other. No surprise there.
Hafdi smiled. I’ll get loud wiv dat Toggler, he thought. I’ll shout me ‘ead off. Den when he comes up wiv some sort of clever gab to make me do all de work, I won’t hear it. His words can’t trick me if I don’t know what they are.
The three labourers busy with the last of the stakes consisted of two goblins and their stunted orc bully (the latter being a greenskin sort of supervisor). One goblin, Stenchel, had cut the ground then scooped dirt to form little holes, into each of which he had dropped a stake. The orc, Edbat, had proved willing to help with the work, but in a very minimal way, simply holding the stakes in place while the biggest goblin, Gooflig, hefted a large hammer to bash the stakes and drive them into the ground. Things had been going relatively well, until Gooflig missed the stake entirely on his last swipe. The hammer’s head had slid down the side of the stake and thumped into the ground.
“Oy!” shouted Edbat. “You watch it wiv dat ‘ammer’. If you is hitting me I’ll ‘ave yer guts fer garters.”
“’Tain’t my fault, see,” said Gooflig, grinning as he always seemed to do. “Me hands are gettin’ all sweaty, and the hammer all slippery as a consequential. Just stand back a bit further an’ you’ll be alright.”
Edbat stepped away, leaving only one hand holding the stake, and placing his other on his helmeted head.
Seeing this, the other goblin, Stenchel, placed both his hands upon his own red-hooded head.
Gooflig stopped for a moment and glared at the other two.
“Watcha think yer doin’?” he demanded.
Edbat answered without removing his hand from his helmet. “If yer feeling slippy I don’t wants you bashing my ‘ead in.”
“Me neevor,” said Stenchel.
Gooflig could not stifle the spluttering laugh that burst through his clenched teeth.
“So, let me get this straight, Edbat,” he said. “In order to prevent me batting your noddle,” (here he winked at Stenchel) “which is decorated so nicely with a helmet, you put yer hand on yer helmet, meaning I’ll bash yer hand instead.”
Edbat glared menacingly at Gooflig. “You’d better not,” he warned. “Not if you know what’s good fer ya.”
“Meanwhile you, Stenchel,” added Gooflig, his attention shifting to the red-hooded goblin, “are so worried that my hammer might somehow magically extend to five times its length and so knock you on the noddle, that you slap two hands on your own bonce. Am I right?”
“Erm,” said Stenchel.
Before he could add anything to his rather uninformative answer, Edbat butted in.
“Just get on wiv it, Gooflig. An’ no silly business. No sweaty mistakes. ‘Cos if you do, I’ll use you as a stake, an’ I’ll see whether me own hands gets sweaty or not.”
“Alright,” said Gooflig, still grinning. “Keep yer hair on.”
Edbat glowered at him, half aware that there was some sort of mockery involved in Gooflig’s last comment, but too distracted by the prospect of the hammer’s thump to get his thoughts in order.
Miserere Mei, Morr
Inside the city of Viadaza, northern Tilea, Autumn 2401
The Morrite Lector of Viadaza, Bernado Ugolini, had finally yielded to the inevitable. Until the previous week he had scrupulously avoided giving any encouragement, either open or private, to Biagino and the other lesser priests of Morr who were preaching the crusade. Now, however, the situation had gone beyond passionate sermons by a handful of inspired priests and become a very real movement – an actual army was taking shape. And so, Lector Bernado had come to pray for Morr’s blessing on the enterprise, to hear the soldiers make their oath of obedience, even to offer himself as their spiritual general. Biagino and the other priests were happy to have him. As the highest ranking Morrite clergyman in the city state they were already legally his servants, thus his adoption of command seemed to put their world to right again.
Lector Bernado’s earlier reluctance to join the crusade had perplexed Biagino considerably. He could understand why Viadaza’s ruler, Lord Adolfo, the tyrannical son of an equally tyrannical father, might refuse to support the cause. It was in Adolfo’s nature to suspect all popular movements, born of his upbringing, his noble arrogance and his desire to be the only true power in his city. There were no such excuses for Lector Bernado. For months now the Church of Morr had been preaching just such a crusade, and Arch-Lector Calictus II had issued not one, but two proclamations from Remas calling upon all Tileans to muster and fight the evil power growing in the north. Calictus even named Viadaza in the second proclamation. And still Lector Bernado, the highest ranking Morrite in the city, had kept his distance, preferring to attend upon Lord Adolfo, busying himself with petty affairs and courtly, ceremonial duties.
Still, Biagino was pleased to think, Morr has finally convinced him to join us, and at last we can expect to receive the monies and support necessary to march out upon campaign and commit a real force to the field of the battle.
Lector Bernado began by delivering a long sermon in which he praised the god Morr and those who served him in almost every conceivable way. He referred liberally to the two proclamations (the very same he had earlier been so quiet about), and argued convincingly as to why this Viadazan army was filled with exactly the sort of men who Morr would favour in battle. It was not as rousing a speech as those Father Gonzalvo had delivered in several city squares, but the soldiers cheered anyway, and in all the right places. Finally, the Lector has reached the part where the soldiers were to swear their oath. A young lad stepped from the ranks and beat a peel on his drum to signal in a satisfactorily military manner that the moment had come …
… while one of the Lector’s acolytes moved up to stand before him with an open book in hand, so that he could glance at the page to read the words.
He read the oath in its entirety:
“You shall swear by the blessed god Morr and all the lawful gods, and by all you hold dear in this world, that you will serve as soldiers in this righteous army upon this holy quest, obeying all civil command, respecting authority both military and priestly, fighting boldly, shirking no duties, and furthermore that you shall not desist from the execution thereof until the chief commanders shall give you leave.”
The acolyte then stepped away and another Morrite priest began to shout the oath in more manageable chunks so that the gathered soldiers could repeat the words …
“I swear by the blessed god Morr …”
The assembled soldiers roared their repetition.
“And by all the gods …”
Biagino had studied the army as it assembled. This particular gathering consisted only of Viadazans. It did not include the regiment of Arrabiatti horsemen or the large company of condottieri crossbowmen, paid for by the voluntary contributions that had poured in from the vast throng unfit for service due to age, sex or infirmity, yet who wanted to show their commitment to Morr’s cause. Of course, they also felt the very valid fear that their home might be conquered and destroyed by the nightmarish legion under the vampire duke’s command.
The crusaders had regimented themselves into several bodies, each formed into ranks and files as best they could, some doing so better than others. They were arrayed around an ancient, refurbished carroccio …
… which carried holy, Morrite relics intended to imbue the crusading soldiers with religiously inspired courage, and indeed there seemed to be a tangible aura all about the wagon, like that which pervades the mystical environs of holy shrines at twilight – a crepuscularly magical sensation.
Officers of the city’s militia had discovered an old clause in the regulations which allowed them to serve in the defence of their city if the ruler was incapacitated and no deputy duly appointed. In a bold move, the priests declared that Lord Adolfo was indeed incapacitated by his immersion in other affairs, and so a good portion of the militia had dared to muster – mostly those bold enough to go along with such a dangerous political move. Biagino saw this as no bad thing, for it was the boldest men he wanted in the army. Luckily, Lord Adolfo had not responded to the audacious legal usurpation of his command over these part-time soldiers, perhaps because he himself did not think them fit for purpose, having his own professional guards aplenty, or perhaps because he did not want to push such a large and armed mob of citizens into outright civil unrest, even rebellion. Either way, when they left the city to face the foe, he would no longer be troubled by them.
The militia, armed with pikes, made a colourful sight. Some upon the front rank and the flanking files even sported a smattering of armour.
A substantial band of dockworkers and seafarers had also joined the cause. Bristling with a wide array of weapons, from curved blades to pistols, blunderbusses to axes, even throwing knives, they certainly looked like they could deliver a torrent of stinging blows. Biagino did not think they were much like soldiers, but he convinced himself this was of no importance, at least not if they proved to be brave, loyal and good scrappers.
The noblest volunteers were a small body of knights, each a son of one of the ever dwindling noble Tilean families of Viadaza.
Encased in plate armour, they sported their own heraldic devices, with the Crusade’s Morrite emblem – the hourglass and raven wings – upon their banner (as did all other companies bearing a banner).
As would be the case in so many Tilean cities, a company of bravi had been formed, bearing their traditional armament of sword and shield …
… but otherwise garbed very much like the pikemen. Their multicoloured doublets, breeches and hats made for a pleasantly cheerful spectacle, but it was their skill with sword and shield which would (hopefully) be noticed by the foe.
There was a third, large body of militia – at least, militia of a sort. Insufficient swords, pikes or halberds had yet been acquired to equip them, and so they had armed themselves with almost every kind of bladed tool they could lay their hands on, as well as pitchforks and clubs. The majority had very little in the way of experience, having drilled only for a short time, gaining a proficiency sufficient to march in relative order into the square and take their place, but to do little else.
One particularly hefty fellow, known as Grasso Luigi, had joined the cause on the first day of Biagino and Gonzalvo’s preaching, subsequently taking it upon himself to provide protective muscle for the priests whenever they addressed the crowds. Now he took his place in the front rank of the ‘peasant’ regiment.
In an attempt to bolster their spirits, and make them feel as if they were just as much a part of the army as the rest, several of the lesser priests of Morr had taken to drilling and marching with them. One such priest, Father Antonello, had taken on his new military duties with gusto, and Biagino raised his eyebrows when he saw that even as the oath was being read the ‘fighting father’ (as he had become known) had raised his blade aloft as if the enemy were there before them at this very instant.
Bravo, thought Biagino, smiling. That’s the spirit. Then the smile left his face as he imagined Father Antonello, with his sandaled feet and his grey, woollen habit, facing the animated horror of the living dead. Perhaps, he worried silently, a strong spirit isn’t enough? Perhaps the wickedness of Vampires is too strong for an army of labourers and citizens to defeat, no matter how inspired they feel?
He did not allow this sudden darkening of his thoughts to show upon his face, for he had been fighting such doubts for some time and was well practised in their concealment. The most obvious thing the crusaders lacked was Lord Adolfo’s professional soldiers: his numerous men-at-arms, his famed marines with their long-barrelled muskets; his hulking ogres who spent peacetime guarding warehouses and palazzos; his train of artillery, commanded by some of the most experienced gunners in Tilea. The crusaders had several ancient pieces of artillery, including a dangerous looking, six-barelled ribaudequin, but nothing of proven reliability, nor manned by skillful crew.
Some elements of Lord Adolfo’s forces would not be missed, such as the foul half-orcs who crewed half a dozen of his fighting galleys …
… or the privateer greenskins he had hired on several occasions in the past to prey upon the shipping of rival city states. Notwithstanding these latter elements, the former would have vastly improved the punching power of this crusading army, not just through numbers alone, but because experienced soldiers and marines were much more likely to stand their ground against the horrors the vampire Duke had under his command.
As Biagino and Gonzalvo had finally come to accept during their miserable audience with the Duchess Maria, Lord Adolfo really was entirely uninterested in supporting them. He had not formally protested against the crusaders’ cause, nor put any overt legal or financial obstacles in their way, for to do so would place him in direct opposition to the Arch-Lector of Morr’s proclamations (if not, at the time, those of the Lector of Viadaza). But neither had he made any active effort at all to assist the mustering crusaders – indeed he had voiced complaints at some of the first gatherings as if they were nothing more than illegal assemblies by the dregs of the city. He had contributed not one spoonful of powder, not one pike head, not one horse’s shoe nor a single nail. The militia regiment of pikemen was paid for with the religiously inspired contributions of rich merchants and respectable citizens, who had also encouraged their sons, servants and neighbours to muster despite no order from Lord Adolfo. Even the silk for the flags was gifted by a Cathayan merchant based in the city. Lord Adolfo’s utter lack of support, along with his public comments and rumoured slanders at court, had made it clear that he was commander of the ‘true’ army of Viadaza, defender of the city, who had no use at all for a rabble of loutish labourers and citizen zealots.
Recollecting the meeting with Lord Adolfo and the duchess stirred Biagino’s memory of the nightmare that had tormented him in the darkest hour of the previous night. In the dream he was once again petitioning the duchess …
… though this time her demeanour was twistedly disturbing. She scrutinised him with cold malice in her eyes, every trace of the gentle respect born of her nobility gone.
When he spoke, she smirked cruelly. When he pleaded, she laughed mockingly. Lord Adolfo sat beside her, gazing, in truth, gawping at her all the while, ignoring Biagino entirely. It was obvious he wanted her, perhaps as a wife, perhaps merely to satisfy his base lusts? The more Lord Adolfo stared, the more his face took on the semblance of an orcish demon – his teeth becoming crooked and overlarge, his eyes reddening in the shadow of a bulging, bony, misshapen brow topped by a tooth-like horn.
As Biagino’s faltering attempts at persuasion grew more feeble, Lord Adolfo, saliva dripping from his cracked and curled bottom lip, simply stared and stared some more. Then, when Biagino’s words finally dried up, just like they had in the waking world meeting, the duchess did not thank him for his concern and dismiss him politely – as she had done in reality – instead she launched into a tirade of abuse, listing his sins (both old and recent), his many faults and frequent mistakes, even his most private failings, to show that he was unworthy, too sinful to serve holy Morr or indeed any god, too weak to command men, to foolish to survive the onslaught of Miragliano. As her voice turned into a shriek, unpleasantly counter-pointed by Lord Adolfo’s grunts and groans, Biagino had fallen from the dream to arrive sweating and shivering in his bed.
He shook his head, breathed deep, then joined in the last words of the oath,
“… until the chief commanders shall give me leave.”
A letter …
This to the Most Revered and Holy Arch Lector Calictus II, sent from Pavona
Before I make known what I have to tell, I wish to profess my complete loyalty to the Holy Church of Morr and the Arch Lector Calictus II. I remain the church’s most humble and sincere servant and wish no one to think that I could ever harbour any schismatical tendencies nor heretical beliefs. I aim only to report what is being preached and promulgated, professedly in the name of holy Morr, by the priests and brothers who serve the Pavonan Lector, Mauro Capolicchio, and the civil officers who serve Duke Guidobaldo. I gain no satisfaction from what I have to report, only from the fact that I am able to reveal unto you the true state of affairs here in Pavona. I wish simply to appraise you of how things currently stand so that you may act in light of certain knowledge rather than relying solely upon muddled rumours and third or fourth-hand accounts.
The heretical movement here in Pavona began innocuously enough with the growth in adoration of holy Morr. Increasing numbers of Pavonans dedicated themselves to his praise, devoting ever more hours each day to this worship, while others took to scourging themselves to wash away the stain of unworthy thoughts and desires. They flocked to his temples on holy days, the gathered crowds swelling to such a size that those who came late could not even enter such was the press of people bursting from the doors.
If one had enquired as to why such a new and holy fervour had gripped the citizens, most honest men would have answered that it resulted from the fears conjured in the common mind by the several threats presented by the vile Vampire Duke, Khurnag’s Waagh and the Brutes of Campogrotta. Others, more proud than fearful, may have declared that such devotion was only right and proper amongst Morr’s favoured city and its blessed inhabitants. In light of my own experience, I would add that there was (and remains) also the need to show conformity to the will of the city’s rulers. None can hope to prosper in Pavona if they are not outwardly and firmly Morrite. Apprentices are examined upon the articles of their faith, servants instructed daily, and before admittance to the city all foreigners must be interrogated to discover if they possess the necessary understanding of the truths of Morr. All of which would be to the good – such that Pavona could be considered a model state that all of Tilea should aspire to emulate – if it had gone no further.
Yet this was only the beginning. What could have indeed been the best example of holy devotion grew into something more. Duke Guidobaldo, who all Pavonans look to please in hope of favour, let his own theological thoughts be known. He declared how he saw the heavenly realm as macrocosm to our earthly microcosm, which one might suppose is a commonly held and respected belief: how the gods rule over their heavenly domains like rulers govern their states here within the earthly realm. More accurately, however, Duke Guidobaldo likened heaven to a perfect form which his own city state mirrored, if imperfectly. He declared himself to be the worldly equivalent of Morr, and his officers a reflection of the other gods. Both gods and officers wielded power over their own domains, but all bowed to the authority of their rightful lords. As Pavonans bowed to him, the Duke declared that the gods bowed to Morr.
When this was met with barely concealed confusion, he explained his thinking further, and in so doing, re-awakened an ancient heresy. The Morrite Lector of Pavona, who ought to have guided the Duke as to the church’s divinely inspired teachings concerning the heavenly pantheon and its myriad spheres, each one being a particular god’s domain, each one reflected (for good or bad) in the mortal world, instead supported the Duke’s pronouncements. Furthermore, the Lector took it upon himself to seek out precedents in tomes both canonical and apocryphal, until he and his most scholarly priests could present a case that seemed to support the Duke’s beliefs completely. This so satisfied Duke Guidobaldo that he proudly declared his priests to be the most enlightened in the world and commanded them to instruct his people in the truth. “Preach and teach!” he cried. “Mine own people shall know the full glory of Morr.”
And so it was that the people of Pavona came to see the heavenly pantheon in a new light. Not the light of truth, nor wisdom, but a tainted light, dim and weak, which illuminated only that which their Duke (and now they themselves) wanted to see, and left in shadows much that they should know.
Put plainly, and as ever I strive to write so, they believe thus: Morr is the god of death, ruler of the afterlife, the realm of the dead, and all mortal souls belong to him. This far they have not strayed from the truth. But then they add that all other gods, whatever their domain – be it war, trade, the law, or elves and dwarfs, the mountains or the sea, even murder, corruption or chaos – are masters of something earthly, something that will end in time, either through the death of all mortals or the very end of the world. When their domains ceases to exist, then they become powerless and forgotten. The demise of the mortal races and the earthly realm is their death. There can be no king of Bretonnia if there is no longer a Bretonnia, only a pretender to a non-existent throne. Such a man would be a fool, clutching to a power not merely faded but no longer real. Thus fare the gods when their own domains are ended. Their office is their being: Myrmidia is war, Mercopio is trade. Without their office, they cease to be.
Morr, however, is no such creature, no such god. Morr is death. His domain is that which houses the souls of the dead – forever. His dominion exists for all time, immemorial and eternal, for there can be no second death. When a mortal dies, they are dead for eternity, and so are subject to Morr’s unending rule . Morr is the only eternal god, he remains when all the rest are lost in the mists of time, when the other gods themselves have forgotten what they once were. And finally, when the other gods’ souls give up all that is vital within them, then they too join the ranks of the dead and so fall under Morr’s dominion.
Morr, the Pavonans say in their every prayer, is the one, true god.
Such heretical beliefs are only made stronger by the Pavonans’ victorious conquest of Astiano, for this petty war was fought since they dedicated themselves wholly to Morr, and their success is considered a gift from Morr rewarding them for their faith.
They do not yet think of themselves as schismatic, having not denied the Arch Lector’s authority, nor declared themselves as separate from the Holy Church of Morr, rather they see themselves as its most perfect and enlightened servants of the true church. Yet such is their pride and arrogance that I think it will not be long before they break away from lawful authority. Their heresy is in some ways subtle, for even now they do not deny the living power of all the other gods. They do not tear down statues of the other gods, nor desecrate their shrines, nor even do they mock them and their servants. They accept that when merchants make the proper sacrifices to Mercopio while his priests intone the correct rites, that their business will indeed prosper. They understand that a soldier who prays to Myrmidia the night before a battle, then marches with like minded, prayerful soldiers, will indeed fare better on the field of bloody battle, with victory even more likely when their army is accompanied by Myrmidian priests. They know that even foreign gods can affect mortal lives should they choose to do so. None of this is denied by them, but they see these gods as lesser beings, their worldly manifestations as ultimately doomed. All gods but Morr have become in their eyes mere demigods, little more than demons or saints, for every god but Morr is diminished by their inherent mortality. Thus they have themselves left off the proper respect of all the lawful gods, merely praying to them to intercede in their worldly fate, while the only god they worship is Morr.
None of them seem to recognise the sin of pride in their attitude, which Morr ever frowns upon. None accept that Morr and his holy church command them to give unto all the lawful gods their due respect. None now accept the holy church’s teachings concerning the ordering of the universe, from the heavenly realm to our temporary abode. There is no balance to their faith. They have become like giddy fools at court who pour unwanted flattery at a wise king, who thrust titles upon him that he does not want nor rightfully possesses. They would serve up heaven as a feast to Morr and expect him gluttonously to devour it all.
If I were to be kind and forgiving I might say that the Pavonans’ faith simply burns too bright, but that would be to make them appear innocent and honest. No, they are vain and greedy: they wish Morr to be the only god, and they are his favoured children, being themselves equal unto the other gods because those same gods are no less mortal than they.
This is heresy.
Your humble and most obedient servant, Brother Callisto Valli of the Order of the Sorrowful Raven
Next Installment: Part 4