Tilea, Autumn IC 2401
The Viadazan Terror
Biagino was met by the Lector’s secretary as soon as he returned to the camp, and learned he had been summoned to an audience with the Lector. He had been out with a small company of militia, scouring the land for supplies, where he 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 to kill the living. Biagino recognised that their vocabulary was simply too inadequate to describe the horrors they had witnessed. At the time, Biagino had hoped that they were simply fooled by circumstances, and were describing events in only one village, perhaps a nightmarish encounter with a scouting company from the vampire duke’s army, or maybe just repeating what some mad prophet had foretold. But as soon as Biagino saw the secretary’s face he knew that the two peasants had, in their own, broken way, told the truth.
The secretary was mounted, and Biagino was forced to walk quickly to keep up with him and so hear his words.
“They say the enemy are everywhere,” yabbered the secretary. “I mean all over the city. There’s no safe place left. Some palazzos may have kept them out, but who knows? Although the undead might not yet have entered, those inside can’t leave. Perhaps there is a palazzo still held by the living? Perhaps more? I doubt they’ll hold for long, however, as it seems every ward and quarter of the rest of the city has been taken. The undead roam free, in large companies, killing everyone they can find.”
Biagino could barely take it in. The crusaders had killed the vampire duke, at great cost to themselves. They had served Morr bravely in the face of a truly nightmarish foe. They had watched the remaining undead scuttling back northwards. And still Viadaza had fallen.
“What of Lord Adolfo’s men?” he asked. “Did they not attempt to defend the city?”
The secretary waved his hand dismissively. “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. Some amongst the walking dead looked like his marines; and some brutes who might once have been his ogres. But as to where Adolfo’s living men are, no-one can say.”
“How can an entire army disappear? How?” demanded Biagino. “Did they leave the city? Did Adolfo flee south and take them with him? But no – I can’t see how he could possibly do and not be seen. What reports of Lord Adolfo? Is he still alive?”
“I think there’s been some great act of treachery,” said the secretary. “Some people reported Lord Adolfo’s assassination. One 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 has certainly fled – the hurried departure of nearly every ship in the harbour seems to have been one of the first signs that something was amiss. Maybe the threat came from the sea, and 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 told us that saboteurs led the dead in, and dug the dead up. There are so many different stories.” He went quiet for a moment, then added, “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 is more likely 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, deciding that could indeed be the case.
“No-one can fault him for leading our crusade,” he said. “He did what he must do.”
Biagino’s frown, and his furrowed brow, felt as if they had locked into place, and his head aching as a consequence. “Maybe what had happened was meant to coincide with the vampire duke’s advance on the city? And it would have done, more or less, if we hadn’t stopped him crossing the river.”
The secretary pondered a while, then spoke. “Whatever the original intention, the living dead have succeeded in taking the city, even without the duke.”
They had arrived at the Lector’s tent, where their spiritual leader was still questioning a series of witnesses who had escaped the city. Before him was a bedraggled fellow, who at first sight might be taken for a country vagabond, but his rags were the remnants of city fashions and his beard had recently been trimmed in the style of the swaggering city watch. The Lector was standing, which was unusual for such a situation as this. One would expect him to be seated upon a throne, while those being examined or bringing petitions humbly stood before him. It was obvious, however, that the Lector was simply too agitated to sit. He was pacing back and forth, and at this moment asking a question.
“Where did they come from?”
The raggedy man’s head twitched and Biagino caught sight of his eyes – wide and staring, as if he was still witnessing some horror right now.
“Some came from the sea, my lord.”
“In boats? Ships?”
“Some, yes. I saw one rise up from the water itself, to drag itself up onto the wharf. The rope he’d been hanged with still around his neck, his belly bloated.”
“But the rest, the ones from the ships?”
“They did not sail into the harbour, but came from ships that had been docked a while. There was fighting aboard – I heard the shots, the shouting. Then a while later, they came. More came from the Sea Garden, and those hanging at the shore line were cut loose by the others.”
“Surely the guards and marines were ordered against them?”
“I don’t know. There was fighting aplenty, but I don’t know anything about orders. The dead seemed to know what they were doing. They looked to arm themselves, each and every one, and they gathered in strength by the Sea gate. Then they swarmed through into the city itself.”
“And then?” asked the Lector.
“I know not, my lord. That’s when I left.”
The Lector waved the man away without even looking at him, and another witness was brought before him, this time a young woman. 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 suffer to escape the clutches of an army of walking corpses?
“My lord, this girl 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. “I saw them 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. Everyone was screaming, men and boys were fighting, dying, then … then fighting again. If everyone hadn’t been fighting, the creatures would have seen me.”
She spoke quickly, almost keenly, perhaps hoping to expunge some of the horror by reporting what she had seen. It was obvious to Biagino that the Lector had not heard her last words, but was instead mulling his next questions.
“What exactly did you see? Who commanded them?”
“The ones I saw in the Garden of Morr were half naked, horrible. They had pale flesh, black lips, sharp teeth, and were dressed only in rags. No-one commanded them, my lord. Like a pack of savage dogs they were, not soldiers, not men. When they came to the garden there was no one to stop them. More and more came, clambering over the walls …
“… until the garden swarmed with them. They tore at the gates, at 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 ghousl 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 them fiends ran over to it to tug at it.”
“Others scratched at the soil, digging with their hands until they could pull the coffins up and out. Bent and twisted they might have been, but either they were awful strong or some enchantment lay on the ground – it seemed to part for them, as if it wanted to yield its crop of bones. Then … it was hard to look but I could not turn away … they chewed on the bones. I could hear them sucking out the rotten marrow. Other corpses came out of the ground moving of their own accord, the worms still feasting on their corrupted flesh. These the ghouls allowed to walk away.”
“Still other gristled bones they piled up in a corner, snarling and snatching at each other all the time.”
“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, grey-bearded man, who must surely have been helped to leave the city for it was plain he could not have run away himself.
“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 so that 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.”
“It seemed like a statue, except that 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 the branch of a tree so that they could more easily find me again. So I took it and shined the light down the steps.”
He stopped, as if he were merely telling a bed time story to a child, and intending to create suspense. Once again, no-one complained, they merely 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 foremost wore a helm and held a shield before him, his lower jaw gone, his upper resting on the rim of his shield. The one behind carried a staff and made as if to shout at me. Of course, there was no sound. The third I couldn’t really 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, the Ebinans had lost theirs, and now the Viadazans too. Would the whole of Tilea succumb to this wickedness? Had Morr given them victory, hard won as it was, only to abandon them now?
Is it Done?
Late Autumn in the City of Trantio, Central Tilea
It was perhaps true that any other Tilean ruler would by now have been raging about the state of affairs, shouting his frustration at his council, complaining at the dishonesty, laziness or cowardice of mercenaries. Not Prince Girenzo of Trantio, however. His demeanour rarely seemed to change, and only the fact that he enquired four times a day for news had revealed how the matter weighed upon his mind. The condotta mercenaries of the Compagnia del Sole had had all the time they needed to strike at Pavona, time enough to have returned laden with loot. Yet they were still out there, skirting around the realm of Pavona like a scavenging fox looking for a cunning opportunity to strike without risk 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 they were at last to strike at the newly developed settlement in Venafro just east of the conquered city of Astiano. Since then, nothing. That is until now.
The prince was mounted and armoured, being engaged in military exercises with his gentlemen in the open field 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 little body of noblemen and officers, the prince’s ever-present councillors, 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 rest of the newly arrived company. It was a Compagnia del Sole captain called Duilio Citti who had brought the first set of excuses to be presented to the Duke over six weeks ago. The captain 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 dragged before him for judgement or a newly acquired horse was being led in for his inspection, the 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. The Pavonan army was outmanoeuvred and failed to catch us.”
The prince did not respond immediately, as 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 at the dirt.
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 little company behind him, also garbed in blue and red accentuated with white and yellow, looked grimy and tired. Some had removed their helmets like peasants might remove their caps in front of their betters, but in the mercenaries’ case, they did so only for 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. They have laid siege to Astiano, that they might further harm 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.”
“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.”
“I know not exactly where the enemy is, but General Fortebraccio seemed satisfied that the risk was well worth taking. He does not intend to stay long at 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, which is why they carried the day in a 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 condottiere soldier, 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 ever upon us. We fight when it proves necessary.”
“And will it?” asked the prince. “Will it ‘prove necessary’?”
“No, your grace. General Fortebraccio and his army council believe we can quickly extract a heavy fine from the Astianans. Once that is obtained, we can leave.”
“Let’s 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, then gestured lazily to one of the men in the company behind him. “Sergino, the list.” 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. The captain continued, “This is a complete list of the plunder taken from Venafro, your grace.”
Prince Girenzo fixed his eyes upon Captain Citti. “We shall see when my agents inventory your baggage train, just how complete it is, shall we not?”
Sergino 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 councillors stepped forwards and coughed to catch Sergino’s attention, then beckoned him over with his finger.
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. Simply a cluster of houses, little bigger than an inn, Farina lay two miles north-east of the town of Astiano. Its inhabitants had had their fair share of troubles of late, what with the Duke Guidobaldo of Pavona’s recent conquest of Astiano, and the inevitable looting and protection payment demands by scavenging bands of soldiers. Now they had learned that the infamous Compagnia del Sole, reputedly the largest condottieri force currently active in Tilea, were outside Astiano’s walls. Happily, the mercenaries seemed keener to extract money from the town’s citizens than to threaten the surrounding land. If the council of Astiano chose to pay promptly, the people of Farino dared to hope that Farina might this time remain relatively undisturbed, merely losing livestock and food stores.
The Astianans were indeed willing to raise the necessary bribe quickly, but their new lord, Duke Guidobaldo was moving even more quickly. He had been riding at the head of his state’s army trying 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 completed settlement of Venafro, which sat astride the road joining his old realm with his new possession, and had no intention of allowing the robbers to rob even more from Astiano.
Upon the approach of an outnumbering foe, any other mercenary company would most likely have retreated, and fast. General Micheletto Fortebraccio and his officers had no intention of doing so, however, for their baggage train, filled with the goods stolen from Venafro, was not exactly capable of speedy movement. 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 worried over what would become of it should they turn tail and flee, but rather 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 away without actually having to meet them in the field? So it was that the Compagnia, sensibly concentrated in one camp for just such a situation, marched boldly towards the advancing Pavonans. They would not wait to fight defensively with Astiano to their rear, but chose to attack, and in so doing hopefully fuel the enemy’s doubts the enemy concerning battle.
The people of Farina fled their houses, taking only what precious belongings they could easily carry, and as the sky darkened, the abandoned settlement grew very quiet indeed.
Then, from both east and west simultaneously, came sounds – drums, horns, shouts. The two armies approached, both already arraying from line of march to line of battle. Captain Brizzio Scarpa led the Compagnia’s mounted men at arms on the far-right flank, advancing over the low hill towards Farina. Every man wore full plate armour and rode a barded horse, and all but Scarpa carried a yellow and white striped lance, lending the regiment a most pretty appearance.
Upon the other side of Farina, on the flatter, less woody ground, came the Compagnia’s main strength. The gunners hauled the two artillery pieces onto the last of the little hills, while below them the foot-slogging men at arms and the large regiment of halberdiers marched in line and in step. Out on the far left flank a large company of crossbowmen rushed forwards to plant their protective pavises and begin the skilled business of preparing and spanning their crossbows.
The Pavonans came on in a not dissimilar array. Mirroring the mercenaries, they planted one of their own artillery pieces on a hill, while their horse soldiers were arrayed on their left and a large body of handgunners on the right, with their massed foot regiments in the centre. Their line, however, overlapped the Compagnia’s, for they had two large bodies of mounted soldiers, not two but four regiments of foot, and three of those with detachments. They were also equipped in a most modern manner, for on their far right they placed a helblaster, a novelty acquired by Duke Guidobaldo from Nuln.
Despite the obvious disparity in numbers, the Compagnia del Sole’s light horse, a small body of crossbowmen mounted upon horses little better than nags, moved also to the far flank in an attempt to match the foe’s line.
This meant they would face a much larger body of pistoliers who were already trotting boldly forwards past the little hamlet.
General Micheletto Fortebraccio surveyed the enemy, noting their numbers, their arms, their disposition. Their blue and white banners fluttered prettily above the glittering steel of their helms and halberds. One thing that caught his eye immediately was their uniformity – not just in their livery, but also 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 an army both practised in drill and sure of their cause. Perhaps it was not only their leader Duke Guidobaldo who thought himself favoured of Morr? Could it be that the soldiers were also emboldened and discplined by religious fervour?
The general turned to address the man at his side – 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. “They dress well enough. ‘Twill be a shame to besmear such pretty clothes with blood.”
Fortebraccio should not have expected anything but bravado from the ensign. Many other men were within earshot, and Banhaltte knew what they needed to hear – pondering aloud whether or not they served the god of death was perhaps not the best conversation to have right now. Taking the ensign’s lead, the general laughed. 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 end up with too much to carry!”
What happened next was not what the general expected. Rather than advance in line to bring all their strength to bear as one, the Pavonan line broke up as their handgunners and archers moved ahead, while the main fighting units stayed put. In doing so, their missile troops even blocked their heavy horse’s line of advance! Maybe, he thought, the foe was not so confident after all? Could it be they thought they could fight this battle from a distance, afraid to engage in melee? Or maybe they knew something he didn’t know?
It now dawned on him that the enemy might have more units moving up on the Compagnia’s right flank, obscured by the hamlet. If so, they might want to buy time, which would explain their current posture. All he could do was hope Captain Scarpa could deal with it, or at the least find a way to warn him about it.
What exactly did the enemy have upon that flank?
A dozen Pavonan pistoleers advanced confidently over the hilly ground to the west of the hamlet. Each was furnished with at least a brace of pistols, and enclosed in well-fitted armour. Several sported blue and white plumes from their helmets. 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 them and continue his attempt to flank the enemy’s main line. To do so would most certainly leave these pistoliers free to wreak havoc at the Compagnia’s rear – perhaps killing the artillery crews on the hill, or even capturing the precious baggage train. And so, reluctantly, he ordered his regiment to turn and face the pistoliers. 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 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 remained before the foe, stunned and not exactly sure what to do (Game Note: I got lucky with the panic test!).
What Scarpa had not noticed was the enemy cannon upon the hill on the other side of the hamlet. The men crewing that cannon had, however, spotted the sunlight glinting off his horsemen’s 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, right 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 their comrades, who heard the awful ‘thud, thud’ some time before they heard the cannon’s distant blast. No doubt keen to vacate their current position, they spurred their horses on to attack the rear of the pistoliers who had just cut down the last two crossbowmen. When they realised heavy horse were about to close on them, the Pavonan pistoliers’ 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 mercenary 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. 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, either pistols or handguns – he could not be sure. Since then, nothing. If the horsemen did not come around the flank it would leave his two regiments facing three enemy regiments of foot [i]and[/i] their 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 pressed to the front. He needed Captain Scarpa’s and his riders.
Not a man to delay when events needed a decision, 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 realised what he was going to do – a pang of guilt played through him. He was damned if he was going to lose the loot they had already taken, and doubly damned if he would risk the Compagnia’s annihilation to boot. It was time to leave, taking the loot with them. Not later, nor soon, but right now, and Gaetano’s men at arms could be used to hinder the enemy’s inevitable pursuit. The guilt he 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. As he could hardly make it appear he was sending Gaetano and the men at arms to their death simply so that he could abandon them and save his own skin, he would thus have to order the advance in such a way that Gaetano and his men did not realise what was truly intended. It was a lie only by omission, but that did not make the general feel any better.
So, having commanded the drummer by his side, the beat went up for 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 their staggered arrival at the foe’s line of battle, hopefully allowing the second and subsequent units time to respond to whatever the enemy did and thus better protect the flank of the first unit. Except that after the order was given and the men at arms moved on, General Fortebraccio held up his hand to signal his own regiment to stay put. 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 with a gesture. “We’re not advancing?” he asked.
The general just stood, silent, watching, his hand still 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. He looked again at the foe. Yes, they had the 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.
Nevertheless, he found himself signalling to his halberdiers to fall back facing the foe. As the drum beat the command, he could just hear Banhaltte repeating his words, but this time said with bitterness: “We’re not advancing.”
Then the general spotted something between the trees and the hamlet, something coloured yellow and white.
It was Scarpa and his horse. General Fortebraccio 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 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, Banhaltte announced, “We should have advanced.” (See Game Note #2)
Captain Gaetano and his men at arms had apparently not noticed the general’s deception, for they marched boldly onwards – 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.
The foot soldiers received the charge defiantly, barely budging an inch, and after taking some casualties from the foes’ first thrusts, brought down their heavy blades, pole-arms and hammers to take down some of the foe. Scarpa knew this should have been the moment he and his company joined the fray. Where were the others? Had the enemy somehow broken the general’s large regiment of Halberdiers with magic and missiles? When he looked across the field, however, he saw the General Fortebraccio and most of the halberdiers were still present, just not where they should be. Worse than that, they were – albeit steadily – 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 marching away.
The battle was lost. Captain Scarpa now realised that Fortebraccio must have already decided it was lost 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. His hand was forced, so he too ordered a withdrawal, leading his horsemen away just before the foot-soldiers in the centre finally broke and the foe spilled over them and onwards in the grip of battle lust.
A handful of crossbowmen, and the surviving knights and halberdiers now moved hastily away, close to, but not quite, disorderly. They urged the baggage train on as best they could, ensuring their loot left with them.
It was not the Compagnia del Sole’s finest moment.
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.
A Blessed Army
Ridraffa, Early Winter, IC 2401-2
It had been a long afternoon. The leaders of the exiled Pavonan Dwarfs had been discussing their future, working their way through every place they might make their new home; 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 us than Pavona?” asked Master Boldshin, his voice beginning to strain after the long and oft’ heated discussion. “They too would refuse dwarfs all 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 we 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. The Church of Morr is a broad church. 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 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, the diminutive 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.
“Remas has dwarfs in its forces – entire regiments no less – not just those dwelling within its walls. The Remans would not turn us away – not for being dwarfs, at least. They might have other reasons, but that would not be their motive.”
“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 turning out our kind. It would be bad enough if they were merely to prevent your prosperity, and your utter ruin if they too 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 many priests 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 [i]he[/i] will move against the dwarfs despite priestly attitudes?”
“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 themselves ruled 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 their law.”
Norgrug pondered a moment. “I suppose it could well still be their law, for the Overlord remains Overlord. He has, however, named Arch-Lector Calictus his captain general, his first minister, and some more offices besides. I can assure you, Calictus rules in Remas.”
The assembled dwarfs became agitated. Confusion was mixed with disbelief, contrariness with doubt, and the questions came tumbling out: Was Norgrug certain? Why did no one else know this? How did it come about?
Norgrug attempted to acknowledge each query, then set about answering as best he could. “The outside world believes Remas to have been somewhat inactive of late. Calictus restricted himself to making proclamations ordering the people of Tilea to unite against the vampire duke, while the Reman Overlord Matuzzi 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’ expense, mocking the irony that while Viadaza assembled a crusading army, Remas itself failed to answer its own lector’s call. Yet I did also hear some rumours of upset in the Reman streets: demands for action and that sort of thing.”
“They were more than rumours,” said Norgrug. “I learned a lot from the dwarfs in Remas. They told me that the people of Remas went from speeches and complaints, petitions and paper combats to open riots, illegal assemblies, 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 all have 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 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, threats, 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 – [i]How can a dwarf wizard be described as anything but eccentric?[/i] – 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 can not take anything for granted. All that we think we know is made uncertain by the tumbling of events. We would be walking into the unknown.” There was a general murmur of agreement. “If we are willing to do so, then I believe there is another course of action, no more or less uncertain, that we ought to consider. I have a letter here which not only invites us to settle, but promises prosperity and protection … ”
Remas, a week or so earlier
Arch-Lector of the Tilean Church of Morr, His Magnificent Holiness Calictus II, was not the only high cleric to attend the blessing. As his command of the Reman army had been confirmed by the Triumverate churches and the edict sealed ‘MMM’, then the Mercopian High Priest and Myrmidian Arch-Priest were also present. The three church rulers, with the attendants and guards, as well as several clergy from the minor churches, stood before the oldest Morrite church in the city, that of Saint Ettore of the Flayed Arm.
Calictus II wore a cloak of vermillion, the traditional peaked hat of a lector, and a red and grey striped cassock bedecked with solid gold roundels. His two bodyguards, both northerners sworn to lifelong service, were liveried in the orange, blue and red of Remas, while his captain of the guard, the moustachioed Kislevite Lukyan Soldatovya, wore full plate armour.
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. He held his right hand aloft to deliver his blessing as the soldiers marched by, his own flamboyantly slashed and puffed bodyguard standing boldly behind him.
The Myrmidian Arch-Priest Luccino De Sicca was attended by a novice priestess and two 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, of course, perished in the fire gushing from all of three mouths even as his magical spear pierced the triple-headed beast’s single heart).
The first soldiers to pass the little crowd of high clergy and attendants were dwarfs, a solid mass of iron and steel, wearing armour over armour. Their presence in the Reman army, acting as the General’s Lifeguard, deployed in the most privileged position on the right of the army’s vanguard, and always first in the column of march, they were certain proof that the Remans were not of a like mind with the duke of Pavona.
Next in line was the Cathayan Company, the foreign sound of its brass horns no longer a strange one in the city. The soldiers bore an ensign bearing an old emblem of Morr, a single key (to the afterlife), 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.
The Cathayans were followed by the mercenary pikemen, a regiment of fifty northerners, nearly all from the most northern regions of the Empire. Their pikes, held at high-port like a forest of young trees bending in a gale – had been decorated with the city’s colours, while they themselves wore the same colours in and amongst their own attire. They were led by their swaggering major, who had a huge, two handed sword sloped upon his shoulder.
And the parade continued.
Next Installment: Part 6