Tilea, Autumn IC 2401
The Viadazan Terror
Rapallo, North East of Viadaza
As soon as he returned to the camp, Biagino was met by the Lector’s secretary, who told him he had been summoned to an audience with the Lector. He already suspected the reason, for he had been with a small company of militia, scouring the land for supplies, and had encountered two Viadazans in such a state of terror that they could barely explain themselves. They spoke, incoherently, of the fall of Viadaza, and of the dead rising. Biagino quickly recognised that their vocabulary was inadequate to the task of describing the horrors they witnessed. At the time, he earnestly hoped that they had simply been fooled by circumstances, perhaps describing events in only one village, or some nightmarish encounter with a scouting element from the vampire duke’s army, or maybe just repeating the words of some mad prophet. But as soon as Biagino saw the secretary’s face, he knew that the two peasants had, in their own, broken, muddled way, spoken the truth.
The secretary was mounted, and Biagino was forced to walk quickly to keep up with him.
“They say the enemy are everywhere,” yabbered the secretary. “And I mean all over the city and surrounding villages. There’s not a single safe place left. Some of the walled palazzos may be holding out, but who knows? Besides, the undead might not yet have entered, but those inside are surely trapped. And I doubt they’ll hold out for long, as it seems every ward and quarter of has been overwhelmed. The undead roam free, in large companies, killing everyone they can find.”
Biagino could barely take it in. To save Viadaza, the crusaders had killed the vampire duke in battle, at a terrible cost to themselves. They had served holy Morr most bravely in the face of a mighty and truly nightmarish foe. They had watched the last remnants of the undead army scuttling away northwards.
Yet still, despite all these things, Viadaza had fallen.
“What of Lord Adolfo’s soldiers?” Biagino asked. “Did they not attempt to defend the city?”
The secretary waved his hand dismissively.
“Apparently, Lord Adolfo’s men were nowhere to be seen,” he said. “Not alive anyway. If they did make a stand, no-one witnessed it. There was no battle like we fought, no defence of the walls and gates. They said that some among the walking dead looked like his marines; and some of the more brutish creatures might once have been his ogres. But as to where Adolfo’s living men are, none can say.”
“How can an entire army disappear?” said Biagino. “Did they leave the city? Did Adolfo flee, taking them with him?”
The secretary shook his head. “How could an army could possibly do so without being seen.”
“Well, what of Lord Adolfo?” asked Biagino. “Is he still alive?”
“It seems likely there has been some great act of treachery,” said the secretary. “Some people reported Lord Adolfo’s assassination. One in particular told of a monstrous fiend roaming the corridors of the grand palazzo. Maybe the soldiers were lured away, or poisoned, or otherwise duped into their own destruction? The fleet certainly fled – the hurried departure of almost every ship from the harbour seems to have been one of the first signs that something was amiss. Maybe the threat came from the sea, so the sailors saw it for what it was first? One old fellow described a cabal of necromancers leading the uprising, both the raising of the dead and their capture of the city. Another fellow claimed traitors had allowed the dead to enter; another that wicked men had dug the dead up.”
He went quiet for a moment, then added, “So many different stories. The Lector has insisted on hearing each and every account.”
This struck Biagino as odd, for such an exercise would take time, when quick action was surely the better response. The secretary could see Biagino was vexed, and so added,
“I believe it to be the Lector’s act of penance, for leaving his city.”
Biagino nodded, accepting that could indeed be the case.
“No-one can fault him for leading our crusade,” he said. “He did what he must do.”
The lector was probably hoping that by listening to everyone the truth would emerge from their accounts. Biagino’s frown felt as if it had locked into place, and his head ached as a consequence.
“These events could have been planned to coincide with the vampire duke’s advance on the city. And they would have done, more or less, if we hadn’t prevented him crossing the river.”
The secretary pondered a while, then spoke.
“Whatever was intended, the living dead have successfully taken the city, without the vampire duke’s guidance.”
For a brief moment Biagino remembered his nightmares about his meeting with Lord Adolfo and the Duchess Maria, their words evil, their faces monstrous. Maybe, he thought, the Duke already had agents in the city? Maybe – and here his stomach knotted with regret – maybe Morr sent the nightmare as a portent? If so, he had failed entirely to recognise it for what it was.
When they arrived at the Lector’s tent, their spiritual leader was still questioning those who had escaped the city. Before him was a grey cloaked fellow, who at first sight might have been taken for a country vagabond, clad as he was in a rough brown tunic, his cloak as misshapen as a sack, but the clasp on his chest was a silver bound jewel and his stiff posture was that of a gentleman.
The Lector was standing, which was unusual for such a situation as this. One might reasonably expect him to be seated upon a throne, or some satisfactorily sturdy substitute, while those being examined or presenting petitions were humbly brought before him. It soon became obvious, however, from his pacing back and forth, that the Lector was too agitated to sit.
As Biagino entered, the lector was asking a question.
“Where did they come from?”
The raggedy man twitched and Biagino saw his eyes become wide and staring, as if he was still witnessing some horror this very moment.
“Some from the sea, my lord.”
“In boats? Ships?”
“Aye, some, my lord. I saw one rise out of the water beneath Execution Dock, and drag himself up onto the wharf. The rope he’d been hanged with was still about his neck, his belly bloated. He carried a blade, which he must have found … down there in the waters.”
“And the rest, the ones from the ships?”
“The ships did not sail into the harbour, my lord. They’d been docked a while. I heard fighting aboard – shouts and shots. Then, a little while later, when it grew quiet, they came onto the jetties. Those hanging at the shore line were twitching and writhing, and the others cut them loose .”
“Surely the guards and marines were ordered against them?”
“I know not, my lord. There was fighting aplenty, but I can tell you nothing concerning orders given. The dead seemed to know what they were doing, where they were going. They looked to arm themselves, each and every one, at every opportunity. Then they gathered in strength by the Mariners’ Gate, through which they swarmed into the city streets.”
“And then?” asked the Lector.
“I cannot say, my lord. That’s when I left.”
The Lector waved the man away without even looking at him, and another witness was invited before him, this time a young woman, her black hair tied tight behind her head. Her skirts were so filthy she looked to have waded through a mire.
Of course she had, thought Biagino. What would one not be willing to do to escape the clutches of an army of walking corpses?
“My lord, this maid is from the eastern quarter,” said the priest who had ushered her forward, “She saw a pack of ghouls.”
“Ghouls?” repeated the Lector, spitting the word out. “Where exactly did you see them?”
The girl did not hesitate. “First in the graveyard on the Colle Orientale, my lord. I can see it from my chamber window. Later, when I ran away, they were everywhere. And everyone was screaming, men and boys fighting, dying, then … then fighting again. If they hadn’t all been fighting, the monsters would have seen me.”
She spoke quickly, almost keenly, perhaps hoping to expunge some part of the horror by reporting what she had seen? Biagino could see the Lector had not heard her last words, but was instead mulling his next questions.
“What exactly were they? And who commanded them?”
“My lord, the ones I saw in Morr’s Garden were half naked, horrible. They had pale flesh, black lips, sharp teeth, wearing only rags. No-one commanded them, my lord. They were like a pack of savage dogs; not like soldiers, not like men. When they came to the garden there was no one to stop them. More came, clambering over the walls …
“… until the garden was filled with them. They tore at the gates and the doors of the crypts. They wanted the corpses. I watched them.” Here she hesitated for a moment. “Just watched. I was too afraid to leave the house. And not just me. I think everyone was, at first anyway. When the ghouls had dragged out all the bones they could find in the crypts, they set about the graves. I swear I saw a hand reach up out of the soil, and one of the fiends ran over to tug at it.”
“Others scratched at the dirt, digging with their hands until they could pull the coffins out. Bent and twisted they might have been, but they were awful strong. Or some enchantment lay on the ground – for it seemed to part for them, as if it wanted to yield the bones.
“Then, your grace … it was hard to look but I could not turn away … they chewed the bones. I heard them sucking out the rotten marrow.
“I saw a corpse climb out of the ground, moving of its own accord but awful clumsy. The worms still feasted on its corrupted flesh, and its face was swollen and much bloodied.
“This the ghouls allowed to walk away, as they watched, almost like they were wishing they could eat of its foul flesh.
“The gristled bones they had yet to chew they piled up in a corner, snarling and snatching at each other as they laboured.”
“The stench was horrid, my lord. The whole city smells like that now. You’ll know it if the wind changes.”
The Lector’s face registered disgust. Perhaps, thought Biagino, he remembers the foul miasma we all breathed in the battle?
The girl was led away to be replaced by yet another refugee, an old, bent man with a walking stick and only a few wisps of grey-hair left, who must surely have been helped to leave the city for it seemed unlikely he could have escaped alone.
“This man saw that which came from the crypts,” the priest by his side announced.
“Which crypts?” asked the Lector. He looked doubtful and Biagino knew why. The city’s ancient crypts were protected by powerful wards – locked by decades of prayer to ensure Morr’s hand alone held the key.
The old man coughed to clear his throat – a rather long business that might have annoyed or bemused those present were they not so concerned to hear what he had to say. Finally he spoke.
“’Twas the old crypt by Le Panche, my lord. My companions left me near there while they searched to find a safe passage for us all.”
“Le Panche?” said the Lector. “So, not within the city bounds? Go on.”
The old man coughed again, not taking so long this time.
“I heard a clattering from inside and thought to look through the bars. My eyes are not what they used to be, though, my lord, so I couldn’t see much. Then there it was, in the deepest of shadows – a face.”
“I thought it to be a statue, except I saw it was looking at me. Well, the bars were iron – good and strong – so I was not afraid, and I wanted a better look. My companions had left a lantern hanging from a tree branch, so that they could more easily find me again. I took it and shined its light down the steps.”
He stopped, as if he were telling a bed time story to a child and intending to create suspense. Once again, no-one complained, for they wanted to know what he saw and cared not a jot how he told them.
“Then I saw them. Three there were and not statues but bones. The front-most wore a helm and held a shield before him, his lower jaw gone, his upper resting on the rim of the shield. The one behind carried a staff and made as if to shout at me. O’course, there was no sound. The third I couldn’t see that well, and nor did I want to. I left them there, behind the bars, and I pray to Morr, my lord, that they are still there.”
Biagino had heard enough. Ghouls, zombies, skeletons: it was the Battle of Pontremola all over again, but this time engulfing Viadaza, and the undead had won. He felt sick. It was not fear that made him so, however. It was frustration and doubt. Had he not done all he could to serve both Morr and Tilea? Had he not helped raise an army and then fought a mighty foe? All for nothing – the undead were both north and south of them, and the army was broken and dispersed.
He had lost his home when Miragliano had fallen, then the Ebinans had lost theirs, and now the Viadazans too. Would the whole of Tilea succumb to this wickedness?
Had Morr given the Viadazan crusaders victory, hard won as it was, only to abandon them now?
Is it Done?
Late Autumn, 2401. Near the City of Trantio, Central Tilea
It was perhaps true that most other Tilean rulers would, by now, have been raging about the state of affairs, shouting their frustration at their courtiers, complaining at the dishonesty, laziness and cowardice of mercenaries. Not Prince Girenzo of Trantio, however. His demeanor rarely seemed to change, and it was only the fact he had inquired four times that day for news that revealed the matter was weighing upon his mind. The mercenaries of the Compagnia del Sole had had all the time they needed to strike at Pavona, time enough even to have returned laden with loot. Yet they were still out there, slinking around the realm of Pavona like a scavenging fox looking for a cunning opportunity to strike, without risk of harm to itself.
Every report they sent to the prince gave a different excuse. First, there was the threat of the Pavonan army, reckoned to be far greater in strength than the Compagnia. Then there was trouble with moving the artillery. Then it was camp fever and the flux. Eventually, news came that at last they intended to strike at the newly developed settlement in Venafro, just east of the conquered city of Astiano.
Since then, nothing. Until now.
The prince was mounted and armoured, having been engaged in military exercises with his gentlemen-at-arms in the open fields to the east of the city.
It was a bright, blue sky day and he and his knights, bedecked as they were in plumes and their elaborately fluted armour, atop brightly barded horses, looked as if they had stepped out of the pages of a book of heroic tales.
A handful of noblemen and officers, the prince’s ever-present councilors, stood chatting to one side, for the most part clad in the traditional burgundy and green of Trantio.
Upon sight of an approaching party, the prince had halted, ordering his men-at-arms to form a rank. He removed his exuberantly plumed helmet and watched as one man stepped forwards from the newly arrived company.
It was the Compagnia del Sole captain, Duilio Citti, the same man who had brought the first set of excuses to be presented over six weeks ago.
The captain was burdened with a chest under one arm, but nevertheless bowed, apparently a dab hand at that particular courtly etiquette, and then awaited the prince’s command.
“Do not tarry. Say what you’ve come to say,” the prince ordered in his quiet, clipped voice.
Whether a felon was being led in for judgement or a newly acquired horse was being brought before him for inspection, his voice was always the same.
“Your grace, I bring better news this time. The Compagnia is victorious. Venafro is laid waste and a good deal of loot taken. We successfully outmanoeuvred the Pavonan army so that they failed to catch us. I have here a gift for your grace. A box of the most delectable trinkets we took, to serve as an aperitif for the more substantial meal we shall serve upon our return.”
This might be considered unusually flowery language for a mercenary, but then again, Captain Citti had been chosen to liaise with a prince and so ought to be expected to have a polite way with words.
The prince did not respond immediately. It was not his way to rush. Like the others there, Captain Citti was forced to wait. The subsequent silence was interrupted only by the snorting of a horse and the pawing of another’s hooves on the ground.
The captain wore a travelling cloak of soft leather over his blue and red tunic and hose. His own cap sported yellow and white feathers – the colours of the Compagnia’s Myrmidian emblem.
The guards behind him, also garbed in blue and red accentuated with white and yellow, looked grimy and tired. One had removed his helmet like a peasant might remove his cap in front of his betters, but in the mercenary’s case, he likely did so only for his own comfort. Indeed, it would normally be considered inappropriate for soldiers to doff their headgear in the presence of officers, or to adopt such a lazy posture. Veteran mercenaries, however, went by different rules.
“How far behind you are they?” asked the prince.
Captain Citti looked a little confused, as if he did not, at first, understand the question.
“Your Grace, the Compagnia is not yet returning. We have laid siege to Astiano, that we might cause further harm to Pavona.”
Prince Girenzo’s own captain, Sir Gino Saltaramenda, laughed. “So now, all of a sudden, the Compagnia has found courage?”
Captain Citti directed his answer to the prince, “We seek only to satisfy the terms of our contract, your grace, and to obey our orders.”
One of the attending courtiers coughed, strangely, apparently stifling a laugh.
This turned a few heads, but not Prince Girenzo’s.
“You seek only to enrich yourselves,” said the prince, “which you can do best by not only being paid but taking a share of an even bigger haul of loot. I take it, then, that the Pavonan army are far removed, otherwise I doubt you would tarry so close to their realm.”
“No-one knows exactly where the enemy is, your grace, but General Fortebraccio seems satisfied that the risk is well worth taking. He does not intend to stay long before Astiano.”
“How so?” demanded the prince. “It is a walled town, is it not? Sieges take time.”
“It is walled, your grace, but there is little garrison to speak of, and they were previously conquered quickly and easily by the Pavonans.”
Again, Sir Gino laughed.
“The Pavonans were no doubt willing to take casualties,” he said. “Which is why they carried the day with their storm. I very much doubt your own soldiers would wish to climb ladders as their comrades fall on all sides to lie heaped and dying in the ditches below.”
The mercenary captain flashed a defiant look at Sir Gino, giving a glimpse, perhaps, of just what he was capable of. A man such as he, a veteran of many wars, had most likely been through hell several times over, and himself created hell for others as often.
“The Compagnia’s fighting reputation is unblemished these past ten years. Myrmidia’s blessing is upon us. We fight only when it proves necessary, in strict accordance with our orders.”
“And will it?” asked the prince. “Will it ‘prove necessary’?”
“I greatly doubt it, your grace. General Fortebraccio and the army council believe we can quickly extract a heavy fine from the Astianans. Once that is obtained, we can leave.”
“Let us hope the people of Astiano do not realise you don’t actually intend to attack,” said Sir Gino.
“And let us hope that the Pavonan army does not arrive in time to catch you,” added the prince. “For then I would lose the fine, the Compagnia and the plunder already taken.”
Captain Citti smiled, as if considering the comment to be entirely warranted, then gestured lazily to one of the men in the company behind him.
“Pietro, the list,” he said.
A young man, unarmoured but sporting the Compagnia’s livery and girded with a heavy blade, strode forwards with a rolled paper in his hand and bowed in a much more awkward manner than the captain.
The captain continued, “This is a complete list of the plunder taken from Venafro, your grace.”
Prince Girenzo fixed his eyes upon Captain Citti. “Upon receipt of my own agents’ inventory of your baggage train, we shall see just how complete this is, shall we not?”
Pietro walked towards the prince himself, eliciting smirks from the mercenaries and annoyed looks from the Trantian councillors. He proffered the paper but Prince Girenzo ignored him. A man such as he did not simply stuff a note into the hand of a prince like Girenzo.
One of the councilors stepped forwards, coughed to catch Pietro’s attention, then beckoned him over with a finger. The soldier again bowed nervously to the prince, then strode over to hand the paper to the councilor.
“Now,” said the prince. “I suggest, good captain, that you make haste and return to your company. Perhaps your presence among the brave besiegers will add a silver coin or two to the ransom yielded?”
To see a post concerning the painting of the figures featured in this article, go to Tilean Nobility.
A Short Treatise upon Tilean Religion by Master Lamberto Petruzzi of Astiano. Presented to his Grace Duke Guidobaldo Gondi of Pavona in the Summer of IC 2401. Adapted with corrections from the work of the Empire scholar Uther von Gelburg
May the glory of Morr shine wisdom into the hearts of all good men.
No less than any of the human realms, the worship of the lawful gods plays a part in almost every Tilean’s life. Public and private beliefs cultivate a healthy fear of the blessed deities, which is bolstered by tradition, law and the powerful authority of churchmen, both spiritual and worldly, and not least by the mysterious workings of the gods themselves. The world of men is so ordered that each has his place in the great scheme of things, authority stems from the gods down to princes and the highest clergy, then to noblemen of all ranks, further to gentlemen and priests of all degrees, to citizens and merchants, and finally reaches common labourers and peasants. Each bows only to the powers above them. As the gods hold council, presided by he who will one day rule them all, so too great princes must treat with other princes, clergy with clergy, nobles with nobles, and so on amongst peers downwards through creation.
The exercise of faith does not always yield peace and harmony, however, for it has so often been expressed in conflicting ways. Noble priests conduct high ceremonies in the grandest temples accompanied by serene hymns, yet outside ranting preachers stir the common people’s fears with apocalyptic warnings to conjure dire visions and elicit the discordant sound of wailing. Our realm also boasts numerous, humble, godly folk who only quietly complain about nepotistic priests, and ascetic hermits whose lives contrast starkly with the wayward activities of hedonistic clerics. And as the wildest men of faith openly bare the scars of their self-scourging, the most gentle of believers simply give offerings so that priests may pray for their souls, while the rich gift golden fortunes to build temples and so ensure their names are ever after remembered.
The most influential churches remain those of Morr, Myrmidia and Mercopio – commonly know as ‘the Three’. When, upon rare occasions, an edict is jointly issued by the rulers of these churches, it is sealed with the symbol ‘MMM’. Of course, the most favoured church in Tilea is rightfully that of Morr. It came to prominence a little over a hundred and fifty years ago, when Morr was finally recognised by all truly enlightened Tileans as outranking every other god. It was then, and is now, accepted that as all mortal things must die, and as Morr rules over death, he should therefore be the most respected and feared of all the deities. Furthermore, as the other gods rule over mortals, all of whom will ultimately yield their souls onto Morr, then the gods themselves surely recognise his supernatural authority over even them.
It is Morr who must be placated if one’s soul is not to suffer eternal torments in the afterlife.
Those who, either by neglect or wilfulness, fall out of favour with him are doomed to become troubled spirits – sorrowful, fragmented souls dwelling in the shadows of the darkest nights. Or worse, they might be resurrected by wicked practitioners of the black arts as walking corpses, forced to un-live a fate most definitely worse than death. So it is that the church of Morr has always been gifted the greatest bequests and offerings, its holy ceremonies attended by the largest crowds. Wealth begets wealth: as the church acquires land so to it acquires rental income; as it acquires gold, so too can it invest in enterprises to yield ever more gold. Now its ornate edifices tower above those of all other temples, its priests are more richly adorned, and its influence in worldly affairs much more widely felt than that of any other church. All is as it should be for the greater glory of Morr.
The Tilean church of Morr no longer concerns itself solely with funerary rites as it did in the distant past and still does in the northern realms of the Old World, instead its temples ring daily with the sound of chanting and hymns as cannons and choristers petition Morr to protect the souls in his care. Few Morrite priestly orders garb themselves in the old, traditional black robes. Most wear a grey habit, with dark red surplices, hoods and caps to represent the colours of the late evening sky, a sign that they alone can intercede between mortals and the god of death, between daylight and the dark of night, between life and death. Whether their robes are plain linen or wool, or silk or satin, whether adorned with gold braid or silver lace, they remain outward signs of the role they play in every mortal’s passage into the afterlife.
Certain ignoble events have undoubtedly shaken the Morrite church in the past: the most famous scandal being the shame and dishonour brought about in IC 2343 by Frederigo Ordini. This arch lector and overlord of Remas hatched a diabolical plot with the enemies of all mankind, the ratto uomo, and sent many thousands of brave men to their deaths in a false war. Yet although this shameful conspiracy had long term consequences in the realm of Remas, as well as amongst the princely rulers of all the city states who innocently sent their own soldiers to support the doomed venture, it did not shake the beliefs of the vast majority of common Tileans. It is a simple fact the church of Morr has never claimed that any priests, lectors and even arch lectors, are infallible. Frederigo was declared insanely wicked, the victim of spiritual assault by demonic beings whose greed and pride had caused his terrible fall from grace. This decree did not quite satisfy all Morrite clergymen, however, and the infamous, ranting reformer Sagrannalo of Trantio used the doubts concerning the true nature of the church’s higher clergy to gather an army-sized mob of schismatic peasants, who set about ‘cleansing’ temples (by ransacking and robbing them). Once this violent and misplaced reaction to the Frederigo plot was finally dealt with, the church regained its proper place in the hearts of men and resumed its growth.
According to the established Tilean churches’ laws, the rulers of the three main churches – the arch-lector of Morr, the arch-priest of Myrmidia and the high priest of Mercopia – wield great influence when acting in concert. They can bless the investiture of princes. They can excommunicate heretics, even rulers, theoretically removing all authority those princes might claim over their subjects. They can declare holy war against states, noble houses or peoples serving unlawful gods. This traditional cooperation is still practised for matters of great import, involving the great nobles and principalities, but in many matters of a more minor nature, the Morrite arch-lector rarely concerns himself with the formal ceremonies required to express other churches’ willing acceptance, knowing full well that the Mercopian high priest and Myrmidian archpriest do not care to go through the whole rigmarole upon every occasion it is theoretically required. If these church rulers would also accept the Morrite arch-lector’s rightful authority as the direct servant of the most senior deity, then such ceremonies could much simplified to become merely a matter of acknowledging and accepting the holy church of Morr’s rulings.
The church of Myrmidia is very well respected in Tilea, and indeed there are few soldiers, whether militia or mercenary, who do not pray to her, even if many are only earnest when bloody battle is imminent. Many priests and priestesses of Myrmidia still wear the traditional robes of white and red, but there are several well established regional orders who garb themselves in different colours, such as the Reman Myrmidian clergy in their greys, yellows and greens. Mercopio could be considered the god of day-to-day life for a vast number of Tileans, as nearly every purchase or deal involves a whispered prayer to him, and his name is invoked upon deeds, bills and receipts. Mercopian clerics are to be found residing over civil law court matters such as inheritance, sales, mortgages, endowments, leases and trusts, as well as matters of debt, foreclosure and bankruptcy. The goddess Verena is of course invoked in criminal law trails, herself worshiped by magistrates and clerks throughout the realm, but with considerable overlap in civil and criminal law both she and Mercopio are often called upon to bless and guide all those involved in legal matters.
Most of the other lawful gods of the Old World are worshiped somewhere in Tilea, having shrines and chapels, guardians and priests. These ‘lesser’ faith priests and priestesses are often called brothers or sisters rather than fathers or mothers. Along with Verena, the gods Manaan, Shallya, and Taal are the most prominent outside of the Three. Manaan’s has a shrine in every dock harbour, Shallyan sisters have hospitals in every city and major town, as well as country hospitals for those in need of isolation, and there are quiet places for offerings to Taal hidden away in the forests and wild places. It is widely believed that secret shrines to the trickster Ranald lie concealed in the slums of all the biggest settlements, and although his more devout followers are distrusted and unwelcomed by most people, they have never yet been put under edict of excommunication. Followers of Khaine the Murderer, or the vile gods of Chaos, as well as all wicked gods, are all by law subject to excommunication, making it every lawful Tilean’s duty to thwart, arrest and if necessary, kill them. Petty shrines to foreign deities, like Ulric and Sigmar are tolerated in the cities and ports commonly frequented by foreigners, in light of the reciprocal respect shown to the Three in most other civilised realms.
As a final note, I must mention a trend in evidence in our realm of Tilea, which is novel and philosophic in nature, however foolish and false, and is of a kind not commonly found elsewhere in the realms of men. Perhaps it is an inevitable error, considering the frantic swirl of ideas and invention stirred in our enlightened realms? Artists conjure illusions worthy of wizards, performers can inspire as effectively as priests, while architects, guided by novel mathematical principles, create buildings to rival those made by elves or dwarfs. Such are the successes of these endeavours that misguided men begin to wonder whether their own marvellous works might equal those of the gods. I have myself heard, upon several occasions, scholars discussing deities as if they were metaphors rather than reality, as if they were merely the stuff of myth, superstition or literature. Some consider magic not to be the work of the gods, but instead a mysterious, dangerous, yet entirely natural phenomenon, conjured from sympathetic resonances and alchemical admixtures of potent ingredients, given form by powerful and disciplined minds. Others suggest it arises from etheric currents flowing both above and below ground like air and water might do, or as the manifestations of a neighbouring yet quite alien plane of reality. All this despite the evidence that priests can channel potent blessings through their prayers. Many such people would rather recognise ‘Fortuna’ as their only goddess, not in the form of a heavenly, immortal being, but rather as an all-pervading and unthinking force, a spun web upon which all our lives are caught. I would not wish to labour this point overmuch, however, for such irreligious men are thankfully few in number, their misguided beliefs cannot prosper, and they themselves will surely dwindle to nought in time.
What to do with Caution on a Still Day
(A Battle Report)
Very Late Autumn IC2401, Near Astiano, Central Tilea
As evening fell, all was quiet in the peaceful hamlet of Farina, a simple cluster of houses, little bigger than an inn, which lay two miles north-east of the town of Astiano.
Its inhabitants had had their fair share of troubles of late, what with Duke Guidobaldo of Pavona’s recent conquest of Astiano, and the inevitable looting by scavenging bands of soldiers. Now they had learned that the infamous Compagnia del Sole, reputedly the largest free company active in Tilea, were outside Astiano’s walls.
Happily, the mercenaries seemed keener to extract a ransom from the town’s citizens than to threaten the surrounding land. Perhaps the soldiers were afraid to disperse too widely? Whatever the reason, if the council of Astiano chose to pay promptly, the people of Farina dared to hope that they might this time remain relatively undisturbed.
The Astianans were indeed willing to raise the necessary monies, but their new over-lord, Duke Guidobaldo, was moving quickly. He had been riding at the head of his army, hoping to catch the Compagnia del Sole before they could do too much of what mercenaries were famous for doing – looting and burning.
He had already failed to prevent their destructive raid on his newly built settlement of Venafro, which sat astride the road joining his old realm with the conquered town, and he had no intention of allowing the robbers to rob even more from Astiano. His desire to drive off the mercenary invaders did not bode well for Farina’s future.
Upon the approach of an outnumbering foe, another mercenary company would most likely have retreated, and fast. The condottiere General Micheletto Fortebraccio …
… and his officers had no intention of doing so, however, for their baggage train, overflowing with stolen goods, was not capable of sufficiently speedy movement. And they were loathe to lose it.
Every officer agreed that the loot took precedence, and the fact they were on the verge of being made even richer by the terrified populace of Astiano simply increased their greed.
When the Compagnia’s council of war considered the matter of their reputation …
… they were not overly worried concerning what would become of it should they turn tail and flee, but instead were encouraged by the fact that it was surely good enough to make the Pavonans think twice before committing to battle? Had not the Duke of Pavona spent the last six weeks hesitantly probing and manoeuvring, attempting to scare them off without needing to meet them on the field? His actions had hardly been that of a confident general.
So it was that the Compagnia, sensibly concentrated in one camp for just such a turn of events, marched boldly towards the advancing Pavonans. They did not intend to fight defensively, with Astiano at their rear. Instead they would attack, and in so doing hopefully fuel the Duke of Pavona’s doubts.
Upon learning of the approach of two armies, the people of Farina wisely (and hastily) fled their houses, taking only their most precious and easily carried belongings. With them gone, the settlement fell very quiet.
Then, from both east and west simultaneously, came sounds – of drums, and horns, and shouting. The two armies approached, each already arraying themselves from line of march to line of battle.
Captain Brizzio Scarpa led the Compagnia’s mounted men at arms on their far-right flank, advancing over the low hill towards Farina. Every man wore full plate armour and rode a steel-barded horse, and all but Scarpa carried a yellow and white striped lance, lending the regiment a pleasantly pretty appearance.
General Fortebraccio had instructed the heavy horsemen to chase off whatever was out there, then turn to attack the enemy’s bulk on its flank, just as they became engaged against his own massed foot regiments to their fore.
Upon the other side of Farina, on the flatter, less woody ground, came the Compagnia’s main strength. The gunners hauled the company’s two artillery pieces onto the last of the little hills, which was conveniently flat-topped as if it had been carved into a gun bastion in some past conflict …
… while below them the foot-slogging men at arms and the large regiment of halberdiers marched, in line and in step. General Fortebraccio commanded the halberdiers, accompanied by his old friend, the standard bearer, Banhaltte.
While the men at arms, the most veteran soldiers in the company (bar their mounted equivalents) were commanded by the white haired Captain Gaetano.
Out on the far left flank a large company of crossbowmen rushed forwards to plant their protective pavaises and began the skilled business of preparing and spanning their crossbows.
While these three large bodies of foot arrayed in line …
… the Pavonans came on in a not dissimilar array.
Mirroring the mercenaries, they planted one of their own artillery pieces on a hill, upon the other side of Farina …
… while their horse soldiers were arrayed on their line’s left flank, with Duke Guidobaldo and his eldest son Lord Polcario personally commanding.
A large body of handgunners came up on the right, with a deadly looking engine on the farthest flank. Desiring that his forces not only be drilled but also equipped in a modern and Imperial manner, Duke Guidobaldo had acquired the multibarreled novelty from Nuln. General Fortebraccio was thankful that he had not attempted to outflank the enemy upon that side, for heavily armoured horse would surely fare badly against such a mass of shot!
The Pavonan’s main foot regiments were in the centre, with a regiment of swordsmen to the left of the handgunners ….
… then a small company of archers …
… then their two regiments of halberdiers.
Between the massed foot and the horse General Fortebraccio was surprised to see yet another body of handgunners. This preponderance of gunpowder weapons was further proof of Duke Guidobaldo’s urge to command a most modern army.
The Pavonans’ line easily overlapped the Compagnia’s, for they had nearly twice the number of regiments of foot, two of which also possessed sizeable detachments, although in balance, the Compagnia’s individual regiments were substantially larger.
Despite the disparity in numbers, the Compagnia del Sole’s light horse, a small body of crossbowmen mounted upon horses little better than nags, rushed to the far flank in an attempt to match the foe’s line …
… which meant they would face a much larger body of pistoliers on the enemy’s far left, who were already trotting boldly forwards, beside the hamlet.
General Micheletto Fortebraccio surveyed the enemy, noting their numbers, their arms, their deployment. The Pavonans’ blue and white banners fluttered prettily above the glittering steel of their helms and halberd blades. One thing that caught his eye immediately was their uniformity – in their livery …
… but also in the steady ease of their advance, the neatness of their ranks and files. This was certainly no hurriedly mustered force of ill-trained militia, but soldiers practiced in drill and apparently sure of themselves. Their leader, Duke Guidobaldo, famously claimed to be the most favoured of the god Morr. Could it be that his soldiers were similarly emboldened, even disciplined, by religious fervour?
General Fortebraccio now wondered if he and his officers had been very wrong about the Duke’s reluctance to commit to battle. Not wanting his new concerns to show, he turned to address Banhaltte, the black-bearded and wild-eyed northerner who carried the halberdiers’ magically imbued standard.
“What do you think of the foe, brave Bann? Are they the blessed servants of a god?”
Banhaltte grinned. “Well they dress well enough. ‘Twill be a shame to besmear such pretty clothes with blood.”
Fortebraccio expected nothing less than such bravado from the ensign. Many other men were within earshot, and Banhaltte would know what they needed to hear. Pondering aloud whether or not the enemy were watched over by the god of death was perhaps not the best conversation to have right now. Taking the ensign’s lead, the general laughed. Then, spotting the movement of wagons behind the enemy lines, he declared,
“Oh look, brave Bann, they brought even more baggage. At this rate, we’re going to have too much to carry.”
What happened next was not at all what the general expected. Rather than advance in line, to bring all their strength to bear as one, the Pavonan handgunners and archers moved ahead, while the main fighting units stayed put. In doing so, their missile troops blocked their heavy horse’s line of advance! Maybe the foe was not as confident as he had feared? Could it be they planned to fight this battle from a distance, with ball and arrow, too afraid to engage in melee? Or was it that they knew something he did not?
It now dawned on him that the Pavonans might have more units moving up on the Compagnia’s right, obscured by the hamlet, trees and hills, with which they intended to outflank the Compagnia and gain the advantage, just as he had thought his own heavy horse might do. If so, they would want to buy time, which would explain their maneouvres. All he could do, however, was hope Captain Scarpa would deal with whatever was on the right, or if not, that the captain would find a way to warn him about it.
What exactly did the enemy have upon that flank?
In actuality, it was the pistoliers, who advanced confidently over the hilly ground to the west of the hamlet. Each was furnished with a brace of pistols, and at least a cuirass and tassets, although some were plated from crown to knee in metal. Their mastery of horsemanship was obvious as they came on in close order despite the rough ground.
Captain Brizzio Scarpa, commanding the Compagnia’s heavy horse, quickly realised he could not simply choose to ignore the pistoliers and continue his attempt to outflank the enemy’s main line. To do so would most certainly leave the enemy free to wreak havoc at the Compagnia’s rear – perhaps attacking the artillery crews on the hill, or even capturing the precious baggage train. And so, reluctantly, he ordered his regiment to turn and face them. His heart sank as he did so, for he knew full well how difficult it could be for a body of heavily armoured riders such as his own to get to grips with such a slippery opponent – light horsemen could perform a nimble dance when they had to.
As his men turned, the enemy unleashed a loud volley of pistol shots at the Compagnia’s mounted crossbowmen (Game note: 24 shots!) Unsurprisingly, several of the Compagnia soldiers fell as a consequence, leaving only one pair alive. These two, stunned and entirely unsure of themselves, nevertheless remained before the foe. (Game Note: I got lucky with the panic test!).
Scarpa noted all this as his men reformed. What he did not notice was the enemy cannon upon the hill on the other side of the hamlet. The men crewing that cannon were more observant, however, and spotted sunlight glinting off the mount’s steel carapaces as they turned into position.
Grinning, the gunners hefted the piece around to aim its muzzle through a gap between the buildings, directly at the horsemen’s rear rank.
The ball whizzed through the hamlet of Farina to decapitate two of the riders, much to the confusion of the rest, who heard the gun’s blast only the briefest moment before the awful ‘thud, thud’ of their comrades’ demise. Keen to vacate their current position, they spurred their horses on to attack the rear of the pistoliers who had, while Scarpa’s men had been distracted by the round-shot, cut down the last two crossbowmen. When the Pavonan pistoliers realised the heavy horsemen were about to close on them, all show of bravery dissipated and they fled away, pell-mell, not to return to the battle. (Game Note: A chancy flee roll took them too far and thus off the table.)
The mounted men at arms let loose a ‘Huzzah!’ and, under Captain Scarpa’s orders, began the business of reforming so that they could go about their original intentions. Captain Scarpa prayed that they were not too late.
The Compagnia del Sole’s maroon flags fluttered in the blustery wind as their two main bodies of foot soldiers awaited orders. Already a cannon shot had killed an entire file of halberdiers, and along the whole line there had been a scattering of injuries received from smaller missiles. Their own cannons and crossbows had felled a few of the enemy’s knights, as well as some handgunners, but the Pavonan’s seemed unshaken. What magical duels there were between the wizards had proved unspectacular.
General Fortebraccio was growing worried.
Captain Scarpa and the heavy-horse should have made their appearance by now, yet there was no sight of them. A little while ago he had heard the sound of a volley of firearms from beyond the hamlet, either pistols or handguns – he could not be sure. Since then, nothing. If the horsemen did not come up on the flank, it would leave his two regiments facing three enemy regiments of foot and a regiment of heavy horse. The enemy line would extend far beyond his own, allowing them to overlap, flank and so engulf the Compagnia foot. Fine soldiers as General Fortebraccio’s men were, it was not likely they would stand their ground if attacked on both sides while simultaneously pressed to the front. He needed Scarpa’s riders.
Not a man to delay when a decision was needed, the general glanced over at Captain Gaetano over on the front and left of the foot men at arms to his right.
Gaetano’s white hair was blowing wildly, while his heavy blade was held before him, shining sharply.
General Fortebraccio knew the old soldier would follow his command without question, and already – even before he had fully formed his intention – a pang of guilt played through him. He was damned if he was going to lose the plunder they had already taken, and doubly damned if he would risk the Compagnia’s complete annihilation to boot. It was time to leave, while there was still a chance of taking the loot with them. Not later, not soon, but right now, and Gaetano’s men at arms could hinder the enemy’s inevitable pursuit.
The guilt Fortebraccio had felt before now surged – not because he was going to ask Gaetano to fight, nor even because it was a fight the captain would surely lose, but rather because he would have to lie to his old companion, and cruelly too. He could not reveal he was sending Gaetano and the men at arms to their death, simply so that he could abandon the field and save his own skin, and so he had to order the advance in such a way that Gaetano and his men did not realise what was truly intended. In a sense, it was a lie only by omission, but that did not make the general feel any better.
He commanded the drummer by his side to beat up a ‘right-hand advance-oblique’, a manuoevre the Compagnia had practised on several occasions: the right-most unit would march on, the next waiting a moment before doing so, resulting in a staggered arrival at the foe’s line of battle, hopefully allowing the second and subsequent units time to respond to the enemy’s actions and so better protect the flank of the first unit. Except now, after the order was given and the men at arms moved on, General Fortebraccio held up his hand to order his own regiment to halt.
And so they stood, watching the other regiment march out alone. Having already lost five men to the enemy’s magic and seven more to a well-placed cannon ball, the halberdiers were sufficiently stunned enough not to question the order.
The men at arms’ advance turned into something of a charge at the little body of handgunners ahead of them, but they did not reach as the enemy fled away through their own knights. (See Game Note #1 below)
Banhaltte the ensign frowned, then revealed his confusion to General Fortebraccio by asking: “We’re not advancing?”
General Fortebraccio stood, silent, watching, his hand held aloft. His guilt welled to unbearable levels, mixed with anxiety and regret. All his men were hardened mercenaries – his men at arms skilled warriors clad in plate steel, his halberdiers emboldened in any fight by the magical aura of their blessed banner. They could fight, and fight well. He looked again at the enemy. Yes, they had more bodies of men, but those bodies were smaller than his, even after all the damage his halberdiers had received, and they were not so well armoured.
Had he been foolish?
Nevertheless, he now found himself signalling to his halberdiers to fall back, facing the foe, in good order. As the drum beat the command, he heard Banhaltte repeat his words of before, but this time said with bitterness: “We’re not advancing.”
Just then, Fortebraccio spotted something between the trees and the hamlet, something yellow and white.
Lances! It was Scarpa and his heavy horsemen.
The general had to stop himself from crying “No!” His thoughts were half prayer, half anguish: Myrmidia forgive me. What have I done?
Banhaltte sniffed, a mundane sort of sound that would well suit the task of gaining a fellow’s attention on a lazy summer’s evening in an alehouse. General Fortebraccio looked at him.
Raising his eyebrows, a bitterness in his eyes, Banhaltte announced, “We should have advanced.” (See Game Note #2)
Captain Gaetano and his men at arms had apparently not yet noticed the general’s deception, for they marched boldly on – some even let out a cheer when they spotted their own heavy horsemen off on the flank.
Captain Scarpa could see something was wrong, and halted his horsemen, if only to work out what was happening.
He watched as the men at arms were charged by not one, not two, but three enemy regiments – halberdiers and horse!
The foot soldiers received the charge defiantly, barely budging an inch, and after taking some casualties from the foes’ first thrusts, they brought down their own heavy blades, pole-arms and hammers to return the favour.
Captain Scarpa knew this should have been the moment he and his company joined the fray. But where were the others? Had the enemy somehow broken the general’s large regiment of Halberdiers with magic and missiles? Scrutinizing the field, he spotted General Fortebraccio and most of the halberdiers – they were still present, just not where they should be! Worse than that, they were – albeit slowly – falling back.
Then, just as the melee in the centre of the field became a furious, clattering mess of screams and blood …
… the halberdiers turned and began a much more vigorous march away.
Clearly, the battle was lost. Captain Scarpa now realised General Fortebraccio must have already decided it was over some time ago, and was in the process of ensuring that neither the Compagnia nor the loot was also lost. Scarpa vented a cry of anguish. If only the general had more trust in him and his riders. Yet still, he knew there was no point in staying now and ordered his men to wheel around and gallop away.
A handful of crossbowmen and the gunners also moved away, the former hastily, the latter as quickly as they dare, considering they were dragging guns down a slope! It was almost, but not quite, disorderly.
As General Fortebraccio approached the baggage train, he urged them on as best they could, ensuring the loot left with him. Behind, the foot men at arms, with no real chance to escape, fought almost to the last, with only a handful trying (and failing) to escape.
It was not the Compagnia del Sole’s finest moment. Yet, however diminished in strength, the company had survived, along with their plunder, and that, thought General Fortebraccio, was what mattered most. Hopefully the rest of his officers would agree.
Game Note #1: At the point I made this decision I did not realise that the heavy horse where going to successfully drive off the Pavonan pistoliers, and also have time to get up to where I originally wanted them. So, being the campaign GM, commanding an NPC mercenary force, I rolled a dice to decide if the Compagnia might take the campaign-rules option of a fighting withdrawal from the field. For this tactic to work, one has to have a unit of suitable strength fight for more than one round against the enemy. If successful, this counts as a ‘holding action’ and allows a player to retreat units off their own table edge to begin flight from the battlefield. It’s a risky manoeuvre, involving rolling on various campaign-rules’ charts, but it seemed my only option in light of what I thought was almost certain defeat otherwise. I wish I had realised the horse could still make it, however, because with them coming around to support the flank, I reckon I had a good chance of victory!
Game Note #2: I felt stupid at this point, blaming my tactical rubbishness on the fact that I was taking photos and making notes and such. If only the halberdiers were at the men at arms’ side! I consoled myself with the fact that the enemy knights had not one but two well equipped lords in their body (Duke Guidobaldo and Lord Polcario), so probably would have ‘gubbed’ my boys. But in truth I knew I had turned an exciting drama full of possibility into a desperate sort of drama, full of running away!
This link takes you to an article about painting the Condottiere mounted men at arms.
All Roads Lead to Remas
Ridraffa, Early Winter, IC 2401-2
It had been a long afternoon. The leaders of the exiled Pavonan dwarfs had been discussing their future, along with their Ridraffan host, Master Boldshin, working their way through all the possibilities for their new home, and one by one dismissing them. Now, as the sky darkened on this late Autumn day, they addressed yet another possibility – Remas.
“Surely, Remas would be no more welcoming to you than Pavona?” asked Master Boldshin, his voice beginning to strain after the long and oft’ heated discussion.
“Would they not also refuse you hospitality? Duke Guidobaldo is Morrite to the marrow of his bones, while Remas is the very seat of the Church of Morr. If the duke believes dwarfs and their own gods are a corrupting presence in his city, then how much more must we be hated in Remas?”
Glammerscale, apparently still thriving upon the debate, shook his head.
“No, good cousin, that is not so,” he said. “The Church of Morr is a broad church. And the difference between the Morrite faith of Remas and Pavona is not merely one of degree, but rather one of doctrine. Indeed, I have heard it said that the arch-lector has seriously considered declaring the Pavonan Church of Morr to be schismatical, and that in truth he would already have done so were it not for the evil in the north and the desperate need for Tilean unity.”
Master Boldshin tugged tightly at his copious whiskers, as if trying to reign in the welling frustration building inside his frame.
“You say ‘no’, cousin, then you prove the very point I was making! If the arch-lector yearns for unity, then he will hardly act in such a way that would upset Duke Guidobaldo. The Pavonan army is large, with a history of assisting the church. Welcoming those exiled by the duke is no way to endear oneself to him.”
Raising his hand whilst delivering a token cough …
… Norgrug Borgosson, servant to Master Gallibrag Honourbeard, craved attention. As he himself had only yesterday returned from Remas, no-one thought it odd that he might have something to say. Once Gallibrag had gestured his consent, Norgrug spoke quietly and assuredly.
“As well as the dwarfs who already dwell within its walls, Remas has dwarfs in its standing army – entire regiments no less. The Remans would not turn us away – not for being dwarfs, at least. They might have other reasons, I grant you, but not a dislike of dwarfs.”
“The Reman overlord, Matuzzi, commands the city state’s army, not the arch-lector,” said Boldshin, almost falling over his words he was in such a rush to disagree.
“For all we know the arch-lector is even now suggesting a termination of contract for the dwarfen mercenaries, as well as banishment for all the rest. You cannot act so foolishly as to settle yourselves in another city so likely to be on the brink of banishing our kind. It would be bad enough if they merely intended to hinder your prosperity, but it would be your utter ruin if they also drove you away .”
Norgrug smiled, perhaps in an attempt to mollify Boldshin. If so, he failed, for the most of the company took it as a mocking sort of expression, some being shocked at a mere servant’s audacity.
“Not so, master Boldshin. The day before my departure I witnessed the arch-lector himself, and several high clergy of the triumvirate churches, blessing the Reman army, dwarfs included.”
Boldshin’s pessimism was not to be defeated so easily.
“Then what if it is the overlord who is of a like mind with Duke Guidobaldo? Maybe he will move against the dwarfs, despite a contrary priestly attitude?”
“He will not, for he is merely overlord in name. It is Arch-Lector Calictus who rules in Remas.”
“No, Norgrug,” countered Boldshin. “That cannot be. The Remans have made laws against such a thing. Not since the infamous Arch-Lector Frederigo have they allowed a priest to hold both spiritual and secular office. It is forbidden ”
“Nevertheless,” interjected Master Gallibrag, “my servant speaks the truth.”
“This I know to be true from more than just Norgrug’s report. Consider this – what you say concerning the holding of offices could still be Reman law, for the overlord remains overlord. He has, however, named Arch-Lector Calictus his captain general, his first minister, and several more offices besides. I can assure you, my servant is correct – Calictus now rules in Remas, both spiritually and worldly.”
The assembled dwarfs became agitated. Confusion was mixed with disbelief, contrariness with doubt, and the questions came tumbling out: Were Norgrug and Gallibrag certain? Why did no one else know this? How did it come about?
With a “By your leave, Master Gallibrag,” Norgrug set about explaining as best he could …
“The outside world believes Remas to have been comparatively inactive of late. Calictus seemed to have restricted himself to making proclamations commanding the people of Tilea to unite against the vampire duke, while the Reman overlord himself was particularly conspicuous in his lack of action.”
Glammerscale was nodding. “That much is certainly true. I myself have heard merchants joking at Remas’s expense, mocking the irony that while Viadaza assembled a crusading army at the behest of its lector, Remas itself failed to answer the arch-lector’s call. Yet I also heard rumours of upset in the Reman streets: demands for action, even violence.”
“They were more than rumours,” said Norgrug. “I learned much from the dwarfs of Remas. They told me that the citizens had gone quickly from speeches and complaints, petitions and paper combats to open riots, illegal assemblies and mutinous militia actions, in the space of little more than a week. Now there is indeed a new government – not a new form of government, rather an old sort, of a kind that until recently most Remans thought was no longer a possibility. The growing threat in the north, where entire towns and cities have fallen to loathsome undead armies and so succumbed to an unending, waking nightmare, has brought the Church of Morr into prominence, as it was in years gone by. Every human in Remas accepts that of all authorities in Tilea, either priestly or secular, the Morrites are surely best able to thwart the undead and cleanse the land of their corruption. As such, my informers suspected that the arch-lector would eventually have been begged to accept command of Remas’ army, if not the whole city state. That this came about so quickly seems to have been due to Calictus’ exceptional ability to manipulate the tangled web of Reman politics, deftly mixing well-placed bribes, warnings, promises and suggestions, so transforming this re-emergent desire for the church’s guidance into very real power.”
The company fell quiet, Boldshin included. It was the eccentric (and how can a dwarf wizard be described as anything but eccentric?) Master Glammerscale who broke the silence.
“I do not doubt you, Norgrug, for I do not doubt the wisdom of the Reman dwarfs. Yet, if such change is afoot, then we cannot take anything for granted. All that we think we know, is made uncertain by the tumbling multitude of events. We would be walking into the unknown.”
There was a general murmur of agreement. Apparently, Glammerscale thought that this was just the right moment to pull a paper from his sleeve.
“If, however, we are willing to contemplate such risks,” he continued, “then I believe there is another course of action, perhaps more certain, that we ought favourably to consider. I have a letter here which not only invites us to settle, but promises prosperity and protection. It appears our cousins in the mountains are aware of our plight … ”
For the Love of Morr
Remas, a week or so earlier
The arch-lector of the Tilean Church of Morr, His Holiness Calictus II, was not the only high cleric to attend the soldiers’ blessing. As his command of the Reman army had been confirmed by the Triumverate churches when they sealed the edict with ‘MMM’, the Mercopian high priest and Myrmidian arch-priest were also present. The three church rulers, their attendants and guards, as well as one or two clergy from the minor churches, now stood before the second oldest Morrite temple in the city, that of Saint Ettore of the Flayed Arm (itself built beside the sacred ruins of the oldest Morrite temple, where Saint Ettore’s arm had been flayed!)
Calictus II wore a cloak of vermillion, the traditional brimmed hat of a lector and a red and grey striped cassock adorned with solid gold roundels.
By his side was his captain of the guard, the mustachioed Kislevite Lukyan Soldatovya, clad in full plate armour …
… while his bodyguards stood behind, liveried in the orange, blue and red of Remas. They were garbed in the now traditional northern fashion, despite the fact that the days when they were exclusively foreign themselves were long since over.
Flavio Tognazzi, High Priest of the Church of Mercopio, carried a shoulder height staff of bullion silver, topped with a golden knob. His gold-rimmed mitre added a foot to his height and his heavy, multi-layered vestments – cassock, camisia, surplice and stole – added to his girth. He held his right hand aloft to deliver his blessing as the soldiers marched by.
His own flamboyantly slashed and puffed bodyguards stood boldly behind him.
The Myrmidian Arch-Priest Luccino De Sicca was attended by a novice priestess and three mercenary guards. He wore a heavy hood, gauntlets of thick leather, a robe trimmed in yellow and green and carried a staff fashioned from the preserved remains of the spear used by the hero Publius Cornelius to kill a three headed dragon during the time of the ancient Reman Empire – a staff now tipped with a golden reliquary containing the ashes of said Publius Cornelius, who perished in the fire gushing from all three mouths, even as his magical spear pierced the triple-headed beast’s single heart.
The representatives of the lesser churches included the lonely figure of the Abbotess Romina of the Shallyan Sisterhood, who may well have been contemplating what the future held for her order. War brought a plague of festering wounds and the misery of a multitude of lost limbs and lives, which made for a busy time for her sisters.
The first soldiers to pass the little crowd of high clergy and attendants were the dwarf regiment, a solid mass of iron and steel, armour layered over armour.
Their presence in the Reman army – acting as the General’s Lifeguard, usually deployed in the most privileged position on the right of the army’s vanguard, and almost always first in the column of march – was certain proof that the Remans were not of a like mind with the duke of Pavona.
Next in line was the Cathayan regiment, the foreign sound of its brass horns …
… no longer strange in the city.
The soldiers bore an ensign bearing an old emblem of Morr, a single key (to the heavenly garden), and beneath their scale armour they wore the blues and reds of Remas.
Their main fighting body, armed with a far eastern style of spear that could double as a halberd, was preceded and followed by crossbow companies.
These mercenaries, from such a far away land, were not Morrites, for the canonical church of Remas, unlike the schismatic movement spawned by Sagrannelo in the previous century, did not expect all believers to place Morr at the pinnacle of the heavenly pantheon. And so the people of Remas were uninterested in what gods the Cathayans prayed to – indeed very few had the slightest clue who those gods were, which was probably for the best!
The Cathayans were followed by the mercenary pikemen, two regiments, almost every man from the the great Empire to the north.
Their pikes, held in general salute at high-port, like a forest of young trees bending in a gale, had been painted near their tips with the city’s colours, while they themselves wore the same colours in and amongst their own attire. Their flags, however, were a confusion of colours, for they had added parts of the emblems of every state they had served in the past, including those of some they had served in as regular soldiers before becoming mercenaries.
They were led by their swaggering colonel, who had a huge, two handed-sword sloped upon his shoulder.
It was an entirely mercenary army of foreigners, and yet in permanent employment, not contracted merely for the usual periods of ferma and di respetto. This had been the case ever since the debacle of Arch-Lector Frederigo Ordini’s Holy War against the ratto uomo in IC 2343, being a further attempt to ensure that the captains and soldiers would never again be liable to fall for the preaching of a false priest. Only the arch-lector’s palazzo guard had begun to include an ever-growing proportion of Tileans and Remans.
Until recently the guard regiment had remained limited in size, sufficient merely to perform its custodial duties. That was now changing, however, in light of the threat in the north.
Yet even now, apart from the three soldiers attending His Holiness’s person, there were no palazzo guards marching in the parade. Calictus II was not the sort of commander to rock the boat too vigorously, and there were still people alive who remembered Arch-Lector Frederigo’s treachery. If he did have plans to recruit citizens for the standing army, then he was keeping them to himself.
Next Installment: Part 6