Battle of the Princes Epilogue: I Surrender
A few miles south of Trantio City, Winter IC2401-2
Even before he opened the lid of the battered chest, Ruggero knew it would be waste of time. He raised it anyway, snapping one of the rusted hinges in the process. The lid fell backwards with a clump to hang ungainly and twisted. Inside lay moth-eaten rags and the ugly remains of a child’s poppet. A dead spider lay on a dusty web decorating the gaping hole in its mouldy, papermache head.
“There’s absolutely nothing here of any use,” he said, not for the first time.
Placido was crouching down to look beneath the table, lifting the cloth to see better, his armour clattering as he did so. After little more than a glance he pulled his head away with a disgusted cough and let the cloth drop back, but not before Ruggero caught a glimpse of the pot beneath. By the look on Placido’s face it had obviously not been emptied in a while.
“Nothing we can eat, anyway,” said Placido.
Ruggero suppressed a grin.
“Whoever lives here must’ve taken it all with them,” he said, then sat himself down on a rickety stool and dragged the blue and maroon cap from his head to scratch behind his ear. If last night had not been so cold, and this night was not likely to be so again, he would have discarded the cap and his similarly liveried tunic too. If he was going to be caught he would rather be taken for a Trantian soldier than a mercenary of the Compagnia del Sole. Duke Guidobaldo and his Pavonans hated the Trantians, but had much more of a grudge to settle with the Compagnia. Maybe he ought to try the rags in the chest, see if they could keep him warm tonight? Maybe he could wrap himself in the cloth from the table?
“Could have been some other soldiers got here before us,” suggested Placido.
Ruggero shook his head. “No, I don’t reckon that’s it. The place was too tidy. This chest would have been smashed open already, and all the rest scattered higgledy-piggedy.” Much as it was now, he thought, after his and Placido’s search.
Placido slumped in the one chair by the table, causing it to creak loudly at the unaccustomed weight of a fully armoured man. He grinned, like he always did before saying something daft.
“There’s a pot under there if you need to go,” he said.
“I’d need food in my belly sometime in the last three days for that to happen.”
“We should have gone with the others,” said Placido. “Renato il Famelico was with them, and he can smell food out like a hound can sniff out a hare.”
“No, it was – and is – best we’re on our own. The others’ll be leaving a trail behind them a blind man could follow, never mind hounds. We’ll do better making our own way.”
“Right then,” said Placido with enthusiasm, as if all of a sudden he was fully rested. Getting to his feet once more he gestured to the door. “Let’s make our own way. We don’t want to tarry here too long.”
Ruggero stayed put on his stool. “Tell me, Placido, if you’re so keen to move quickly, why are you still wearing your armour? We’re on foot, just the two of us, fleeing for our lives from a victorious foe who wants our guts for garters, and you’re still sporting plate steel from head to toe. How in Myrmidia’s name does that make any sense?”
Placido was standing by the back door, his hand resting on the bar. “It makes plenty of sense. For a start if we have to fight, or if someone sees us from afar and thinks to send a quarrel our way, then I’d rather have the armour on than off. And, when we get away, we’ve got nothing else to sell. This armour will sell for silver. And that will buy us food, and plenty of it.”
“If we get away, not when,” corrected Ruggero. “Right now, getting away is far more important than what we do after we get away.”
“Then let’s get away,” said Placido, a note of frustration in his voice from having to repeat himself. He hefted the bar from its hooks and dropped it to the ground. When he turned the handle and pushed however, the door did not budge. “Locked,” he announced. “So …” (he glanced around) “we go out the way we came in.”
Ruggero hushed him, and raised a hand to tell him not to move either. “I just heard something outside,” he whispered.
“When you dropped the bar – I heard something.”
“Oh, it’s always my fault, isn’t it?”
As the window was shuttered, Ruggero moved to the front door instead. It made no difference whether he opened the door or the shutter, if there was someone outside they would notice either way. Might as well be bold and use the door. That way, there would already be a means for a quick exit. If there was trouble outside, staying inside would simply delay the inevitable, but stepping out might just catch whoever was out there by surprise.
“I’ll go take a look,” he whispered. He pulled his cap back down on his head (force of habit), then stepped boldly through the door. Dazzled by the sudden sunlight, he could not help but close his eyes momentarily. As he opened them slowly, blinking, blue and white shapes before him took form. His eyes grew wide.
He gulped. The shapes were Pavonan soldiers, and lots of them. The bright light was glittering upon the polished, sharpened steel of the halberd points they lowered towards him.
“Good morrow,” he said, trying to sound unafraid.
A question came from somewhere among the crowd, although Ruggero was too dazzled and discomfited to identify who exactly said it.
“Placido,” he shouted, his voice faltering a little as he raised his hands. “Best come out, and best hold your hands up.”
Another time the clattering of Placido’s approach might have seemed comical. Just now, such jollity was far from Ruggero’s mind.
As Placido emerged through the door, the steel tips came a little closer, and Ruggero noticed a pistol muzzle in their midst.
It was levelled right at his breast, held in the armoured hand of a dismounted pistolier.
Another voice spoke. “Looks like we’ve got a brace of bad ‘uns here, lads. The same naughty thieves who thought they might plunder and burn our villages, then run away.”
This time Ruggero had enough wits about him to see who it was – a Pavonan officer, a young man with an orange and blue panache sprouting flamboyantly from his cap. Somewhere in the back of his mind he remembered orange and blue were also the colours of the Morrite Guard in Remas.
The officer also clutched a pistol.
“This one isn’t running anymore, though” the Pavonan continued. “I suppose, what with all that running, from Venafro, from Astiano, from the Little Carrena, your legs must be tired?”
It was not the sort of question one was expected to answer. Behind the already plentiful blades, even more Pavonan soldiers were arriving, joining the throng outside the cottage to see what had been found.
The Pistolier stepped even closer. “You dogs have a lot to answer for.” He formed his words slowly, as if it pained him to say them. “Good men died trying to teach you a lesson. I reckon if you can’t learn it, then there’s no point in the lesson continuing.”
He turned the pistol on its side, the way riders often did to make a mere flash in the pan a little less likely.
Ruggero knew there was little he could do to save himself. Whether he spoke or held his tongue, just like the choice between the door and the window, it made no difference. It was not his way, however, simply to give in.
“I don’t suppose,” he asked, grimacing pathetically, “there’s any way we can make these words not my last?”
City of Trantio, Late Winter IC2401-2
The war between Pavona and Trantio had raged for six months. Now, for the first time, one of the two cities itself was directly threatened. Prince Girenzo of Trantio, having fled home from his crushing defeat at the Little Carrena, mustered his last remaining mercenaries and militia soldiers to man the city walls. He vowed that despite the odds, the enemy would not take his city. His officers set about stockpiling supplies for the forthcoming siege, sought out potential saboteurs and spies, and ordered labourers to repair and strengthen the gates. Crossbowmen patrolled the huge stone walls and halberdiers guarded the gates, while artillery pieces were hauled up earthen ramps to be emplaced upon the more solidly constructed towers. Trantio was a hive of desperate activity. Although many were frightened and some were panicked, few among the populace begrudged the labours. When threatened with ruin, most people toil willingly for their own defence.
Duke Guidobaldo of Pavona had also been busy as his forces neared Trantio. While his light troops scouted the approaches to Trantio city, he ordered the land scoured to gather sufficient fodder for his horses and provisions for his men (thus also preventing the foe from taking the same). Many trees were felled also, to fashion sufficient scaling ladders. Before his siege camp was completed, he received numerous reinforcements from his own realm to swell the ranks of his victorious but battered force. Then, when satisfied that he was ready to assault the city, he sent a herald unto the very walls of Trantio to issue a summons to yield. When no answer was forthcoming, the Duke ordered his army to array in the fields before the southern gate, while his huntsmen and pistoliers moved boldly within range of the walls as if they cared nothing for the crossbowmen and cannons upon them.
Such rashness seemed to have become the way of the Pavonans, for they believed themselves to be the favoured servants of Morr, and further that Morr was the greatest of gods, a combination which raised them above all other states in worthiness, bravery and honour. Some of the older soldiers may well have muttered that such rashness was more to do with the Duke’s tyrannical nature, secretly praying to Myrmidia as they and always done before battle was joined. Others were happy simply to revel in their string of victories and the plentiful loot gained thereby. All seemed happy to put aside the niggling fears concerning the dire threat of the undead armies in the north – that was something to worry about later. As the wisest among the soldiery put it: when the evil enemy did come, they would find Pavona defended behind a ring of conquered cities and towns, so that the fighting could be done there, far from the blessed streets of fair Pavona.
As the Pavonans arrayed themselves, inside the ramparts of the southern gate Prince Girenzo directed messengers hither and thither along the walls to deliver his orders. He was flanked by the two last surviving gentlemen at arms who had accompanied him from the Little Carrena, the rest having been brutally slain by a bloodily brutal combination of the mystical and mundane (magical fire and roundshot). Thus it was that Prince Girenzo knew full well what the Pavonans were capable of – how they cared not a jot for the quality of a man, nor respected the unwritten laws dictating the nature of civilised warfare between city states in Tilea, but instead happily employed wizardry and black powder to slay noble knights. Such behaviour might be expected of the basest sort of mercenaries, or northerners, and certainly of the wicked races of greenskins or ratmen, but Tileans ought to know better. The prince still reeled at the cruel loss of such good men, never mind his army, and had determined to exact vengeance in whatever way he could. Yet to look at him, none would know he harboured such fury and hatred. He was the very essence of calm as he quietly issued his commands.
Upon the towers of Trantio the artillerymen hefted their iron-shot into the muzzles of their pieces …
… while in the fields beyond the walls the enemy’s gunners did exactly the same.
Duke Guidobaldo’s plan was simple: Batter down the gate, (surely?) the weakest spot in the city’s defences, and then assault through the gap thus created. Such was his determination that he was not troubled by the fact the enemy would no doubt have prepared for exactly such an attack, nor that his army would thus inevitably suffer great casualties. When his son, Lord Polcario, questioned the order (being the only person in the Duke’s army who would dare to do so) the Duke answered that soldiers were fools if they did not expect to die upon the field of battle, and besides, those who died would all the sooner receive the tender care of Morr, dwelling eternally in his favour because of the service they had done him.
Nevertheless, while his artillery battery was placed directly before the gate, and several companies ordered towards it …
… he himself, and his son, marched on foot with two regiments towards the walls to the east of the gate. He had no intention of personally joining the deadly assault through the shattered gate, but instead intended to scale the walls left weakly defended by the foe’s need to mass soldiers at the gate.
The Duke’s army now not only contained Pavonans. He had never been particularly reliant on mercenaries, and nor was he now, for bolstering his blue and white liveried native soldiers was a new-raised regiment of Astianan swordsmen, recruited from those thugs and bravi dwelling in his recently conquered possession who had no qualms about serving their tyrannical conqueror, provided they were paid.
Still, he did not wholly trust them, nor consider them yet worthy of full acceptance into his army. So it was they did not carry a blue and white Pavonan standard, but rather bore their own city’s standard, fastened upside down upon the staff to symbolise their subjection. By proving themselves to him I battle, he had promised they would earn the right to carry the arms of Astiano in the proper manner.
Amongst the duke’s ranks strolled two wizards, one of which had arrived with the reinforcements, having travelled from the distant and mysterious realm of Cathay. He was a skilled wielder of fire magic and would prove himself an asset several times in the fight to come, bathing the walls in streams of fire, although it was the Pavonan wizard who would to become closely involved in Lord Polcario’s fate.
The battle began with a thunderous volley from the Trantian artillery which proved very effective indeed. As the roar reverberated around the walls, Duke Guidobaldo was shocked to see that two of his three great-cannons had been destroyed before even firing a shot. The Trantian crossbowmen lining the walls failed to add much more harm to this destructive start, however, as they were frantically running from wall to tower to wall to better position themselves to receive the foes’ ladder assaults.
Somehow the gunners on the last surviving Pavonan piece were not disheartened by the loss of their comrades, and busied themselves all the more to do what their Lord had presumed he needed three cannons to do. They sent a ball to crunch into the stones beside the wooden gate (Game note: We were using the old 6th ed. siege rules, thus the random assignment of either the actual gate or the wall section in which the gate was set – does seem an odd rule, considering the way cannons normally target down a very fixed line, but that’s what the book says!) The Pavonans marched closer to the walls, their pistoliers firing clattering volleys at the men atop them, while crossbow bolts finally began to rain down from them. The Trantian cannons fired agai, but this time one ball ploughed into the ground before the last Pavonan cannon, while the other merely clipped it. With loud prayers to Morr that the barrel had not been cracked (and silent prayers to Myrmidia to protect them from such a flaw), the attackers reloaded with extra powder and fired again at the gate. This time their ball hit almost exactly the same spot and in so doing, perhaps due to some flaw in the construction or a weakness which manifested over the centuries, collapsed one entire side of the gate tower. (Game Note: Roll of 10 on damage, +10 strength, +1 for extra charge of powder, +1 for previous damage inflicted, result = 22 – collapse.) Luckily, Prince Girenzo had already left that part of the wall to make his way over to the parts where the enemy’s ladders would be placed. Of the eight crossbowmen atop that part of the wall, only two managed to leap to safety. Afterwards, they scrambled into the rubble, while glancing back to see if those inside were rushing to do the same.
With the creation of such a gaping hole in the defences, and the arrival of the massed regiments of foot at the base of the walls, whilst magical fire and volleys of helblaster shot burst through the crenellations to topple the grievously injured defenders backwards, it was obvious that the Trantians would certainly take the city. Whilst the last surviving defenders fought on as best they could …
… Prince Girenzo tore off his richly embroidered surcoat, unsheathed his sword and leapt up to stand at parapet, his last surviving guard by his side. Below he saw a veritable sea of blue and white clad swordsmen setting ladders to the wall, the Duke and Lord Polcario visible amongst them. At last his pent-up rage could no longer be contained. Just as another prince might consider flight, or surrender, or at least a desperate offer of parley, he could think only of vengeance for deeds done, and for what the loss he was about to suffer. He knew his city was lost. He knew his life was forfeit. And he knew he would make the Duke pay dearly.
A stream of shouted curses came pouring forth from his lips. He called the men below rogues and robbers for the taking of Astiano; vile, base men, the worst sort of scum, for the butchery of his nobles. He saw how the Duke was ordering his men onto the ladders, whilst holding his son back, so he laughed and mocked and dared either ‘creature’ to face him. Already his last companion was fighting one, then two, then three of the attackers as they poured up the ladders and over the wall, but Prince Girenzo did not notice, so engrossed was he in insulting the two noblemen below, declaring the Duke a madman, a lunatic, for thinking himself the most blessed of Morr, and if not that, then a liar for claiming such nonsense. His companion now fell to the enemy’s blades and yet still the prince did not notice.
He saw Duke Guidobaldo holding his son by his shoulders to speak a few words, then release him. Lord Polcario stood as if in a daze, then with a slight nod, began to ascend the ladder. Falling silent at last, Prince Girenzo pulled his helm on and lifted the visor to watch with sick fascination as the young lord climbed with an unnatural, inhuman grace. In fact, every Pavonan soldier now climbing seemed to be similarly imbued with an uncanny nimbleness. For a moment Prince Girenzo wondered whether he had somehow unknowingly suffered a blow, and that it was he himself who was disorientated. When he saw the wizard amongst the mass of soldiers below, his hands dancing as he conjured spells, he knew that either Polcario and the others had been imbued with magical power, or he himself cursed. (Game Note: Pha’s Protection and Speed of Light at play here, as well as the Helm of Discord and the Terrifying Mask of Eee! Not so good for Prince Girenzo.)
Girenzo shook his head to clear it, clenched his teeth and steeled himself for what was to come. Bursting with hatred he did not wait until Lord Polcario had mounted the wall, but hacked at him even while he was still on the ladder. The time for honourable gestures had long since passed. The magical energies woven around Polcario, however, proved disorientating enough to mean that despite the prince’s blows, the Pavonan lord still managed to mount the wall.
As the two noblemen hacked hard and fast at each other, parrying, feinting and clattering blades upon armour, a crowd of soldiers arrived upon either side, while more kept appearing at the top of the ladders.
The fight was not a quick one, both men stumbling and slipping more than once, as their armour stopped blow after blow (Game Note: full plate plus enchanted shield and both with 4+ ward saves). The men on the walls and ladders backed away from the fight, lest they be injured by the swirling blades. Down below, the Pavonan wizard was kept busy maintaining his magic, until suddenly the winds of magic weakened and he could not stop the spell melting away.
Lord Polcario was momentarily slowed, and Prince Girenzo noticed.
Both lords, dizzied by exertion and the dissipating magical energies crackling around them, stepped back, their breaths gasping loudly. Then, with all their might, they both lunged, their heavy blades squealing down each other to plunge through their breastplates at one and the same time. For a moment they stood, locked by both their deathly grips upon the hilts and the blades piercing right through them, then they collapsed against the parapet wall into a tangled heap of steel.
Slipping on the puddle of blood beneath them, two Pavonan soldiers tore them apart. They rolled Prince Girenzo over the side to crash into the yard below, while others shouted to the Duke that his son was grievously wounded. Elsewhere the remaining defenders were fleeing the walls and running into the city streets, while Pavonan halberdiers, handgunners and swordsmen climbed ladders or clambered over the rubble.
Around Lord Polcario, however, only one man moved, kneeling down to lift Polcario’s head and remove his helm. He looked into the young lord’s eyes, then said only one word: “Dead.”
1. A letter from Urbimo
A letter from the Council of Urbimo to the Princes and Rulers of Tilea
In which we lay bare the Terror of the North, and in so doing warn all those living souls dwelling south of our desperate and besieged city of the threat now facing each and every one of them.
This is no exercise in scare-mongering, nor the skewed account of a people living in fear, exaggerating and lying in the hope of convincing others to come to their aid. Our bravest men have sailed the coasts and crept through the wildernesses to look upon these things with their own eyes. Those who returned – and sadly this included less than half of those who ventured forth – have reported what they witnessed. And now we report the same to you.
Despite the demise of the vampire Duke Alessandro Sforta, the undead threat is not merely undiminished, but instead growing. The reins of power in Miragliano remain in the clutches of vampiric hands, with the once-captain of the guard Theobald Hackspit declaring his new and eternal rule of both that realm and the city of Ebino. Viadaza has also fallen, its ruler Lord Adolfo succumbing both to undeath and the vampire Duchess Maria, who sired him. If Duchess Maria were living she would be the heir to Miragliano, as well as continuing her rule of Ebino. Considering Miragliano, Ebino and Viadaza have all become corrupt and cursed realms, perhaps in undeath she will come to rule all three?
Although now a place of eerie shadows, Miragliano is not still, nor entirely quiet. Few speak there, no-one sings, and barely a breath is taken, but footsteps can be heard, and the creaking of doors and gates, and the sound of picks and shovels tearing at the ground. For the dead are busy with labours. Hackspitt, desirous of an ever-stronger army, beyond that which the city’s graveyards can provide, has sent his foul servants into the forgotten and ruinous corners of his realm to dig up the most ancient charnel pits and the most ruinous of tumbledown temples, and so acquire the bleached and brittle bones of the long dead.
Fleshless carcasses are being collected in great piles, then carried by tireless slaves to Hackspitt’s necromantic minions, who employ foul magics to conjure the cold spark of un-life into them, thus swelling the ranks and files of his terrible legions. Our spies have seen skeletons clambering through crumbling ruins hefting baskets almost the size of gabions upon their shoulders, as well as trains of rickety carts hauled by rotting, fly-blown nags.
More than this, Hackspitt’s lifeless legions have scoured the realm for everything and anything of value: gold, silver and treasures of all kinds. Clattering carts carry heavy chests containing every silver florin, scudo and lira that can be found. Even casks of wine are being carried to Hackspitt’s palace, or if not wine, then perhaps blood to feed the evil appetite of the vampiric rulers.
And worse than all these things is the continued suffering of the living. Not every poor soul in Miragliano has yet succumbed either to death or undeath, but some few unlucky inhabitants hide even now in terror, squatting in shadows, ever trembling with the knowledge that at any moment they might be seen by eyeless sockets and grabbed by fleshless hands. Our spies have helped all they can to escape, but every village, hamlet and farm is being scoured and ransacked, and while all are robbed, and some are killed …
… the rest – the unluckiest of all – are taken prisoner. We cannot claim that we know their fate, but we can state with certainty that we do not [i]want[/i] to know it, neither to be told it nor to suffer that same fate ourselves.
And so we hereby add our cry to that of His Holiness Calictus II, and call on all god-fearing Tileans, for the love of the gods, family and neighbours, and for the love of all that is right and good, to arm themselves and make haste to face these most terrible of foes before their evil consumes so much of the realm that it can no longer be defeated.
2. A letter from Trantio
This Letter to His Holiness Calictus II, Arch-Lector of the Most Worthy Church of Morr & de facto ruler of the Ancient City State of Remas, from Your Most Loyal and Obedient Servant Father Erkhart, Your Ambassador to the City State of Pavona
Published openly for the perusal of all well-affected subjects and citizens of the Tilean states, that they might know the good news contained herein, and that it may give hope to each and everyone.
I have good news to deliver unto you which will without doubt please you greatly, as it is certain to further the cause of the church of Morr in Tilea in its fight against the foul foe to the north. As you commanded, I made my way towards the city state of Pavona accompanied by the fine elven horse soldiers you sent to guard me, but soon discovered that Duke Guidobaldo was not currently at his home city, instead commanding his army in the war his enemy the tyrant Prince Girenzo de Medizi of Trantio. Thus I immediately altered my course to search out the Pavonan army and met with it at the very walls of Trantio only hours after the Duke had taken the city. Although victory had been achieved, the soldiers’ celebrations were somewhat muted in light of the sad death of Lord Polcario, the Duke’s eldest son, who was killed even as he dispatched the tyrant prince by his own hand. Thus it was that I found myself only hours too late to deliver your Holiness’s words and the call to crusade in which Tilea’s desperate need for peace amongst princes was so clearly stipulated, and indeed in which the threat of excommunication was made should any prince continue with aggression against his living neighbours. When I delivered the letter and your spoken intentions to my lord Guidobaldo, he was much saddened that I had not arrived in time to prevent the continuation of the war, or even to make the tyrant Prince Girenzo recognise his folly in ordering the looting of the noble realm of Pavona. Such was Duke Guidobaldo’s sorrow that he would most surely have cried, had he any tears left after weeping so much for the loss of his son and heir.
Yet there is joy to be had, nevertheless. For the Duke has taken your call to crusade to heart, being much pleased that you thought to send me as an ambassador to deliver your words rather than a mere letter as has been dispatched to all other princes and rulers. He even went so far as to explain to me that his war against Trantio was not merely done in a spirit of vengeance for the evil crimes committed by the debased mercenaries in Prince Girenzo’s pay, but that first and foremost Duke Guidobaldo had always had in mind the need to prepare Tilea to defend itself against the undead threat. By taking Trantio he has consolidated his power, much increased his revenue, and will thus now be able to raise even more soldiers for the real war to come. Furthermore, he has tested his soldiers in battle, therefore forging a force of experienced, loyal and battle-hardened veterans who will neither flinch from the foe nor fail to do what must be done to save Tilea. And most of all he has removed the weakness that was Prince Girenzo’s rule, a state which relied far too much on mercenaries to conduct its wars and perform its defence, and as such a state that would have been easily toppled by the vampires of the north, subsequently gifting them a foothold in central Tilea from which to threaten all the realms around.
And so it is plain that the capture of Trantio by Duke Guidobaldo much strengthens our holy cause. The Duke intends the battle for central Tilea to take place at Trantio, so that neither Remas nor Pavona nor any of the realms to the south need be corrupted by the presence of the walking dead. It may seem cruel to some that he has presumed this fate for the people of state of Trantio, but their previous lord was a weak and wicked tyrant, who would have brought this same ruin, and more, upon his subjects with no subsequent gain for the rest of Tilea. This is not to say that the Duke intends the city of Trantio itself to fall to the foe, rather that his armies will be mustered here to fight in the lands around, and that this city, made holy in its purpose, will be the bastion against which the wicked legions will be broken and scattered.
The good news continues, for it pleases me much to tell you that the Morrite Lector of Trantio, Silvestro Maruffi, who was one of the principal advisers urging Prince Girenzo on in his wrongful war against Pavona, whispering lies to him and offering misguided council merely to inflate his own importance, perished in the conquest of the city, killed by vengeful people of Trantio who took the opportunity to right some of the wrongs done to them by the tryant and his advisers even as their city fell around them. Yet fear not, all is well for the church of Morr in Trantio: Duke Guidobaldo has proffered me the post of Lector, and furthermore has ordered the building of a new grand palace much better suited to the holy office I am to perform than the previous building (badly damaged during the aforementioned riots). Obviously, the position is subject to your confirmation, but the Duke wants me and me alone, as it is I who have done him the honour of bringing his call to crusade, and he believes that by having me serving here I will act as his conscience and good guide, ensuring that he always serves the cause of the church in the most perfect way possible.
Such is the happiness engendered by this victory against the tyrant prince, as well as my own rise in fortune, that the soldiers you ordered to accompany me, the mercenary elven horse, begged to remain as my guard and to serve myself and Duke Guidobaldo here in Trantio where they might be amongst the very vanguard of the crusading forces being mustered. At first, Duke Guidobaldo was quite deaf to their pleading, for he expects complete loyalty in soldiers, whatever sort they might be, and told them that they were obliged to serve only you, for reasons of a financial, legal and moral nature. But I myself was pleased to devise a happy solution that would suit all parties concerned, and the Duke agreed. So it is that the Duke is to send to you, in the wake of this letter (but traveling slower as it is under guard) the full cost you paid for the service of the elven horse company, as well as more gold besides, so that you are amply compensated for their loss with funds that will allow you to raise not only replacements, but even more soldiers for the holy cause of crusade.
Praise be to the great god Morr, and all honour and respect be given you, Morr’s highest servant in the mortal realm.
3. Big Boys
A river in the northern part of Tilea
It had been a long and lonely journey for Fazzio, despite the fact he was not alone. He had travelled with the young herald Vittore, who was quiet to the point of rudeness, and so could hardly be called good company. Fazzio had so far been unable to fathom exactly why the lad was so taciturn.
The lad had a tongue, but beyond the occasional (and long delayed) yes or no, he did not use it for much beyond the licking of his lips. As the days went by Fazzio played out in his mind every possible reason for his companion’s silence: Could it be his youth, or perhaps a certain nervousness arising from the same? Or had the lad been ordered to stay silent? If so, then he seemed to have taken the order quite literally. Perhaps, Fazzio mused, it was some affliction, or a curse conjured by some ancient crone? In the end Fazzio decided it was likely a consequence of fear, or a madness born of that fear. As they travelled further from the safety of Remas, the lad’s eyes grew wider, more staring, until they were fixed that way during every waking hour. And when he slept he was so fitful one might think he was dancing a jig in each and every dream.
One could not, however, fault young Vittore on his attention to his duty. He was fastidious to the point of obsession about the care of the golden topped ensign he carried. The flag bore the crossed keys of the Arch-Lector of Morr and Vittore treated it as if it were as precious as a holy relic. Fazzio knew full well the etiquette involved in honouring a company’s colours, and the care with which they should be defended in battle – certainly by soldiers who wished to retain their reputation. His own company, being part of the Arch-Lector’s palace guard, played many a fancy game saluting and marching back and forth before the colours whenever the guard was changed. But Vittore took his care of the pretty, silken cloth to new levels. He folded it meticulously every night, in a carefully considered manner so that no crease would be in the same place as the previous night, thus ensuring no single part of its delicate fabric would be troubled by creasing two nights in a row. As he rode he held it by his side exactly perpendicular to the ground, and had several ways, each performed with practised precision, in which to furl it, either fully or partially, whether mounted or on foot.
None of which would have particularly troubled Fazzio were it not for the fact that Vittore treated his cross-key emblazoned tabard in like manner, and even fiddled just as ludicrously with the little silken pennant hanging from his brass horn. It was as if his body had become the altar of some high church upon which was draped rich, ornate and holy images. Their departure had been delayed every morning by Fazzio’s need to get each and every part of his accoutrements and paraphernalia in its proper place, and they would stop every mile or so for some adjustment to this or a straightening of that.
Now as they approached the river’s edge, and caught sight of the soldiers who had already crossed, Fazzio was actually surprised to see that Vittore was capable of a further degree of stiffness beyond any he had adopted before. The flag was unfurled to flutter perfectly in the breeze, and Vittore lifted the brass horn to his puckered lips to begin a long, loud and yet (as it could only ever have been) perfect musical flourish.
Fazzio tried to ignore the somewhat bizarrely neat combination of herald, page, trumpeter and ensign exhibiting both visually and audibly by his side, and looked instead at the force they had come here to meet.
It was not what he had expected. Perhaps he should have done, for they did hail from Campogrotta, and everyone had heard the stories about the immortal Wizard Lord Bentiglovio and his monstrous army of brutes led by the all-conquering tyrant-general Razger Boulderguts. Yet he had never thought that Razger’s ogres would actually join the crusade. Throughout the journey he had supposed the force they were travelling to escort to Remas would consist of men not only here for the holy cause, but also to escape the tyrannical regime of their homeland.
There were men amongst the Campogrottans – almost all archers by the looks of them. Perhaps every noble and gentleman in both Campogrotta and Ravola had been killed, and these ragged, peasant soldiers were all that was left? But it was the ogres who drew his eyes. Both men and ogres were still in the process of crossing the river, which was no surprise as apparently they only had two boats. In fact, most of them were still waiting on the far bank where they built a ramshackle camp of earthen huts for the men and rolled boulders covered with felled trees and skins for the ogres.
Only a handful were on this side of the river. One boat had apparently already landed a little cart and a mule, while the other was approaching the shore. It was not being rowed, instead a particularly burly, grey skinned brute was hauling it over the murky waters with a dripping wet rope, while the boat’s occupants just stood idly upon it as if it were quite normal to have a heavily armed ogre drag you along for a ride.
Fazzio saw one of the ogres was lugging a cannon barrel – a huge thing of iron that would surely crush a man instantly. He was wondering whether the gun carriage had yet to be brought across, and even began to look for it, when it suddenly dawned on him there was no such thing. The ogre was hefting the iron piece as if it were nothing more than a large handgun, and when Fazzio noticed the brute was missing an eye on the very same side that he now held the piece, it all became very clear. The ogre had actually fired it whilst holding it!
That must be some sight to see, he mused. I wonder what the living dead will do when faced with such weapons? Fall to pieces, I hope.
4. All That I Could Learn
A letter sent from Remas
This to Lord Lucca Vescucci of Verezzo
My most noble lord, I pray to all the lawful gods that you are blessed with good health and prosperity, and that you will accept and welcome this dispatch as a truthful insight of events to the west of your realm. Knowing full well how you wished for improved intelligence concerning the Arabyan mercenaries encamped at Luccini, I took it upon myself to travel there in the early months of winter and found a city well prepared for war. Yet it is a war unlikely to come. In preparation to fight Khurnag’s Mighty Waagh, King Ferronso increased the fighting strength of his forces considerably, not least by purchasing the Southlandish ‘Sons of the Desert’ – an entire army of mercenaries, foot and horse, handgunners and spears. Now it is reported that the Waagh has been broken and scattered by the Marienburger mercenaries currently occupying Alcente, leaving the young King of Luccini at a loss concerning how to play with his soldiers. If the city of Luccini were further to the north and thus closer to the terrors there, then certainly the boy king would not feel bereft of enemies, but as the city lies so far south, with the great states of Remas and Portomaggiore lying betwixt it and the undead, then that particular fear has yet to take a deep root in the young king’s mind.
So it is that Luccini now finds itself playing host to an expensive army of Arabyans it could well do without. Of course, King Ferronso cannot risk refusing their pay, for the consequences could be ruinous. Such men would not hesitate to extract by cruel force all that they were owed, and more besides, tearing the city apart in the process. As the boy king’s own militia forces are greatly outnumbered by these mercenaries, then he could not hope to use them to maintain order. In the dark hours of night, when many Luccinans are red faced and reeling in flickering light of the tavern fires, it is a common joke that soon there will be a Caliphate here in Tilea, just like in ancient times, and that all native born inhabitants are doomed to become little more than slaves to their new masters.
And so the mercenaries do what such men enjoy most – swaggering through the streets, heavily armed, terrifying children and maids, while happily satisfied that they need not fight in the morrow, nor indeed for some time to come. The mercenaries’ general, Gedik Mamidous, is apparently in no rush to leave, and he rules an entire quarter of the city as if he is chief magistrate and mayor. I myself witnessed him holding court, surrounded by desert warriors in serried ranks, sheltered from the spattering raindrops by a silken parasol.
Merchants and traders vied for his attention, for there is profit to be made in the supplying of well-paid mercenaries’ wants. These are not only Tilean merchants, however, but ever more of his own countrymen, who have no doubt found it much easier than previously to trade with Luccini, now that an entire army of Arabyans are quartered there.
I cannot say for certain, as such men as these have no reason to converse with the likes of me, and I have not a word of their strange tongue, but it seems to me that a general as experienced as Mamidous would not sit idly as time passed, knowing that when the terms of his contract end the Luccinans will try every way possible to cease paying him. Perhaps he is already considering how to extract more money from them at that time, in return for their continued protection (no longer against greenskins but against his own soldiers)? Or perhaps he is already involved in negotiations with another Tilean state, or even a more distant realm, in order to acquire a new contract? It must be considered possible, however, especially in light of the rather more significant threat to the north, that whatever his current dealings, Mamidous intends at the first hint of real trouble, to return whence he came.
Unwilling to tarry where I could learn little else, I made arrangements to journey to the city of Remas by way of the sea. Being well travelled I know better than to put much stock in mariners’ tales, yet upon several occasions I heard the sailors talk of unusual sightings at sea. I made a point of questioning as many as possible and came to the conclusion that it is more likely than not that there is truth in what they said. They have espied with their own eyes, and on more than one occasion, ratto uomo slave galleys, of massive size and usually in groups of no less than half a dozen. These sightings occurred upon the Tilean Sea, and even close to the coast. No one claimed to have been attacked, but several muttered about ships going missing and glimpses of scuttling spies sneaking about in the docks. As to whether these events are due to another civil war amongst the ratmen, or preparations for some other enterprise, I know not, nor was there any reason to suspect anything in particular. Nevertheless, it seems to me that you ought to be informed.
Upon arrival in Remas I was surprised to discover no sign of the legions of crusaders I had expected. In truth, however, I think it unlikely that any who do intend to respond to the arch lector’s call can have both mustered together and completed the journey in the short time available. As for the Remans, if I may venture my own humble analogy, it seems to me that they are like actors before a play begins. Many speak of those who are coming, alive and undead, as if they are the heroes and villains who shall take to the stage. They are much busied with fashioning the stage for the drama, repairing the city’s ancient defences and practicing their military drill and postures from the earliest hour of daylight. Martial law reigns in the streets, which swarm with the provost’s officers and common informers, in readiness perhaps for the rowdy crowds of crusaders who will surely come to play their parts. Furthermore – as you so wisely suggested to me before my departure – it is indeed the case that the arch lector of the Church of Morr once again rules supreme in the city, wholly governing matters military, civil and spiritual. He has become director of all.
Perhaps as a consequence more of the arch lector’s return to full power than the great emergency, there are changes afoot. Remas’ famous army of foreign mercenaries is no longer so purely alien. A new artillery company has been raised, and a baggage guard, both of whom consist entirely of Reman citizens, wearing the city’s traditional orange and blue livery. They are listed merely as new companies of the palace guard, but it is plain to all that they are more suited in strength to support a large army in the field than stand duty at gates and doors.
I was intrigued to learn that in response to the great emergency the renowned artist Angelo da Leoni had laid down his brushes and turned his famous intelligence to the matter of engines of war once again, as he did in his more youthful years. Eager to see exactly what he was working on, I made my way to his workshop where I unsurprisingly discovered that already the great inventor’s efforts were being encouraged by the arch lector, for palace guardsmen guarded the workshop and yard in which da Leoni laboured.
Not that the guards were particularly keen to keep the maestro’s work secret, rather to ensure simply that he could go about it undisturbed. In fact, they were happy that those who came might look through the open gates to see the efforts being made, and indeed the city’s streets are already rife with gossip about the deadly engine and how exactly it would help defeat the foe. Such news helps raise the people’s spirits, and no doubt the arch lector intended from the start that it should do so. I myself cannot claim to have the mechanical understanding to guess at the workings of the machine, so I will simply explain what I saw.
The maestro himself was present when I visited, book in hand as he gave instructions to the craftsmen labouring upon his creation. He is a stout, stern looking fellow in his old age, no longer anything like the youthful figure shown in the self-portrait in your lordship’s palace. He too, like most of the workers in the yard, wore the arch-lector’s livery, as well as a chain of office which I later learned signified his rank as general of artillery.
The machine itself had a heart of iron, enclosed in a growing case of timber. Massive wheels lay strewn about the yard, presumably yet to be attached, although some wheels where of solid iron and like unto those contained within the workings of a clock, though upon a much larger scale. I saw no sign of armament, neither artillery pieces nor rams nor even a platform upon which fighting men might be carried, and although it is probable such things will be added later, I would not dare to suggest that they most definitely will. For all I know, some sort of flail is to be fashioned, or perhaps a concoction of scything blades, like those described in the stories of goblin pump wagons, so that it can cut a swathe of destruction through the enemy’s ranks and files. Certainly, the people of Remas seem happy to make all of these suggestions and more.
My eyes lingered upon what I presumed to be the driving part of this machine. It consists of a great, iron kettle, shaped somewhat like a large barrel, out of which sprout arms, wheels and stove-like extensions. I saw no tiller, nor any obvious harness for a team of horses, but instead what I supposed was a form of steering wheel. It seemed to me that the whole was some time from completion, although I cannot say whether more work is being done elsewhere, behind closed doors, so that like a firearm is composed of the joining of barrel, stock and lock, perhaps several parts will come together quite quickly to complete this machine.
Every day the arch lector receives emissaries from foreign states, some to show their support for the great crusade, some merely to make promises concerning the same, but most to beg for aid against the foe. A large delegation of Urbinans plead daily and openly for forces to defend them now that the foe’s foul dominion borders their home. Remas also plays host to the celebrated heroes of the Viadazan crusade, who at such great a cost felled the vampire duke and drove back his army to buy time for the rest of Tilea. General D’Alessio has declared himself entirely willing to lead the new crusaders to victory, while the lector of Viadaza, Bernado Ugolini, is hosted by the arch lector and is daily in conference with him concerning how best to thwart the foe.
I shall remain here in Remas into the spring, all the better to observe how the great crusade fares, and I will, at every opportunity, send letters to you concerning developments.
I remain you most loyal and obedient servant.
Click on Tilean Steam Tank to see the modelling of da Leoni’s engine.
5. Gladius Morri super terram cito et velociter (‘The sword of Morr, striking and swift‘)
(I) A square in Trantio
“What have you got there then?” bellowed Giovacchino as he swaggered unsteadily from the alley, still clutching the wine jug responsible for his current inebriation. His words boomed around the little square, where four more Pavonan soldiers stood around the kneeling and pathetically hunched form of a man in the livery of the Compagnia del Sole. Several Trantian bystanders watched from under the jettying beams of the square’s main attraction – an alehouse – as Giovacchino strode up to join his comrades. His stockings hung loose upon his calves while his hat tottered upon his head at so heavy an angle it was a wonder it was still attached.
“Got yourselves a prisoner, eh?” he asked. “Big deal. You should have gone down there with me for richer pickings. What I have here is worth its weight in silver.” He jangled the clattering contents of his sack to prove his point. “Because …” he paused momentarily for effect “… it is silver! What you’ve got is worth only its weight in dirt.”
A whimpering sound came from the prisoner, expressing either fear or helplessness or a potent combination of the two. Giovacchino smiled in a self-satisfied manner, rolling his eyes mockingly, too drunk to care how annoying he would appear.
“Shut it, Chino,” said Mariano, his own slurred voice sounding no less drunk. “He ain’t told us all we need to know yet. We don’t want you upsetting him all unnecessary.”
“Why?” said Giovacchino loudly. “What you after? Is it good stuff? Does he know where there’s more?”
“We can find that out later,” said Aldus – sombre and sober despite having drunk as much, if not more, than the two much louder soldiers. Although quiet, he was the sort of man who was always heard. His stern face suited him – for he did bloody work in battle (a ‘soldier’s soldier’ was what many called him) and always seemed to have his wits about him whether fighting or drinking. His present sobriety was all the more impressive considering the blood he had lost from the head wound received during the assault upon Trantio. The others were all now looking at him.
“Right now,” he said …
… “he needs to tell us where the rest of his friends are hiding.”
“It don’t look to me,” said Giovacchino, “like he’s in a conversational frame of mind.”
“I can make him talk,” offered Carlo, prodding the squatting captive’s head with the muzzle of the handgun he had kept trained on him ever since they found him. “And if he don’t talk, then I can shoot him to teach his friends what happens when they don’t cooperate.”
The whimper was heard again, no different from the last time. Mariano raised his hand abruptly, spilling wine from the goblet he had forgotten he was holding. It was perhaps intended as a gesture to silence the others, but instead looked more like he was about to make a toast. He addressed the cowering man,
“We’re not going to have to shoot you, though, are we? Because you’re going to tell us where your friends are.”
“They’ll be coming out either way,” added Carlo, “whether you’re alive or not. For you, its better they come out now.”
This time the whimper had words wound into it.
“Just me … There’s just me.”
Then a woman’s voice was heard, and everyone turned in surprise – more wine being spilled as a consequence. It was a serving wench who had been watching from the start, and who had, until the captive was discovered, been busy fetching Mariano’s wine. “It’s true. He’s on his own. Him and two others were hiding in the old cellar, maybe since the fall. We didn’t know anyone was there until last night, when his friends ran out. My master told the watch, who went to tell whoever the watch tell. They’d been a-drinking down there, drowning their sorrows on foul beer too long in the cask. He got left behind and we only found him this morning. Don’t think he could get up the ladder.”
“If that’s so, then he’s no use to us,” declared Carlo. He blew upon the burning coals at the end of his slow-match and opened his pan. “May as well …”
“Wait!” Aldus snapped. “You’re not shooting him. He’s not our enemy. Not any more.”
Carlo snorted cruelly. “Why? Just because he’s cowering there unarmed and afraid? You know what the Compagnia del Sole have done – you’ve got a new scar to make sure you never forget. I never thought you such a compassionate soul, Aldus!”
Aldus showed no sign of offence at Carlo’s words, speaking with only his usual seriousness, and the ever present hint of potential threat.
“Because the Duke has offered employment to the last of the Compagnia del Sole,” Aldus said. “Now that his realm has swelled to such a great size he needs soldiers. And that …” he gestured towards the prone captive, “… despite appearances, is a soldier.”
Mariano snorted a laugh. “Of a sort. I say kill him. You haven’t heard what his kind have done? How they killed a priest to rob him of his beads and robes, the better to disguise themselves.”
“I heard,” said Carlo gravely. “We’re the army of Morr the Supreme. We’ve won victory after victory in his name, being both favoured and blessed and obviously so. While this man’s fellows, defeated in battle by Morr’s own will, chose to deny his judgement and kill Morr’s priests in petty revenge.”
Giovacchino, having drained the last drop of wine from his jug, wiped the back of his hand across his lips and frowned. “Mariano, what in Morr’s name are you talking about? What priest?”
“The arch-lector didn’t just send a priest to Duke Guidobaldo to beg him to end the war against Trantio because of the vampires in the north,” said Mariano, “but sent another to ask the same of the tyrant Prince Girenzo. The second priest arrived a bit late, though, didn’t he? What with Prince Girenzo being dead. Still, can’t complain as it was a happy ending after all, the war being ended already.”
“So what did the second priest do?” asked Giavacchino, growing frustrated.
Mariano rolled his eyes. “You don’t listen do you, Chino? I already told you – he got himself killed on his way back to Remas by Compagnia scum like him. Brave men, eh? Killing a priest and his servants with no soldiers to guard them. Still, they got their comeuppance, ‘cos some of our boys found them prancing about in priestly robes and killed every one of them. True judgement and justice, I say. Swift and summary too.”
Carlo nodded. “By Morr’s justice it was done, for we are his hand. Well, it so happens Morr is holding a handgun right now.” Once again he blew on the coals to clear the ash and make the saltpetred match fizzle with heat.
“Give rest to your piece,” ordered Aldus, who as corporal had every right so to command. “We serve Duke Guidobaldo first, while his grace answers to Morr. We’re the Duke’s soldiers, not his magistrates. And if you like then yes, we’re Morr’s holy warriors too. Doesn’t make us his inquisitors, though. Tell your stories round the camp fires as you wish, and believe them too for all I care. But never forget that we are sworn to obey, and that’s what we will do. We have orders. Now, pick him up, tie his hands, and let’s go.”
(II) Il reggimento e il governo della citta di Trantio (‘The rule and government of the city of Trantio’)
A Proclamation to be Read to all those who Dwell in the Villages of Preto and the Town of Scorccio
By Order of His Grace Duke Guidobaldo, Ruler of Pavona, Trantio, Astiano, Most Obedient Servant of Morr the Supreme
I rule Trantio by right of conquest. The palace is mine. The city is mine. I command all forces remaining in the realm, and all officers bow to me and obey my commands and mine alone. You have thus become my subjects, just as you were subjects of the tyrant I have defeated. Fear me in the way all lesser folk should respect their master, but do not be too fearful, for I would have you know that you will be kept safe from the threat in the north under my rule, as long as you obey my laws and my commands. I can and will defend this my realm from all outside evil.
If, however, you resist, deny or in any way hinder or refuse any part of my lawful, rightful authority, then I shall burn unto the ground your homes and fields, and leave you starving and homeless to face the evils that this way come. Alone and weak, helpless before the foe, you will surely perish at their hands. And this will be right and just, for you will have the mark of traitors upon you, and furthermore you will have refused the protection of the supreme god Morr.
Be not sad, however, nor let angry pride rule your hearts, for all this is only temporary. Indeed, rejoice, for my rule is merely a brief necessity. By my own son’s sacrifice the tyrant Prince Girenzo is defeated and slain, and to honour my son’s memory, as well as the fair traditions of the realm of Trantio, I intend to settle the rule of law upon this realm, and then promise to revive the glorious republic of old. It is not the way of things in my own realm of Trantio, for there I rule by my noble blood and hereditary right, but here in Trantio I accept the precedent of history and thus the right of Trantians to govern themselves, to debate in their committees, to vote in the councils, and so to create their own laws and decide their own fate.
Yet this cannot be done immediately, for first the corruption of the tyrant prince must be washed from Trantio. Once this is achieved, I shall leave the reins of power in the hands of a lawfully elected council. Furthermore, I shall ease the transition by having my own surviving son, Lord Silvano, serve as first Gonfaloniere of Trantio, to chair the ruling council and command the realm’s military forces. This may seem to go against historical precedent, for the office of gonfaloniere has usually been an elected one, but it is intended as simply a temporary means to ensure the safe transfer of power and steady establishment of a new republic, as well as my continued support and alliance until all is well again in Tilea and Trantio. The realm of Trantio must be defended against the terrible forces marching from the north, and what better and more certain way is there to do so than to forge a strong, even unbreakable, alliance between the realm of Trantio and Pavona, by having the love of father and son bond the two together.
So it is that I have the welfare of Trantio wholly in mind. Woe betide any and all who think to thwart these my plans, either to stir rebellion or fail to do all they can to support the cause of Trantio’s defence. Any who do will feel the full weight of my wrath.
Furthermore I have taken steps to ensure the care of your souls, elevating the priest Father Erkhart to the clerical office of Lector of Viadaza, so that all within the Viadazan diocese can rest assured that the church will be in safe and holy hands whilst facing the direct threat of the necromancy of vampires.
These things are being done in the name of the mighty and supreme god of gods, Morr. Praise him, thank him, and obey his servants as they work to make Tilea blessed in his eyes.
(III) The Beating of Solemn Drums
The western spur of the Trantine Hills
Lord Polcario Gondi, heir to the Duchy of Pavona, was dead. He died a hero, in single combat against no less a foe than a prince, whom he slew even as he himself was slain, thereby gaining the final victory for Pavona in its war of vengeance against Trantio.
Duke Guidobaldo ordered that his son would not be buried in Trantio, but in the Gondi family tomb in Pavona. Considering the rise of the undead in the north, great care was taken to ensure not only that Lord Polcario’s body was carried thence with dignity, but was guarded well, to prevent any attempt by the agents of vampires to steal it and use it for their own foul purposes. The column included several ensigns, each from regiments once commanded by the young lord. Eight drummers marched too, four before the coffin and four behind, beating a funerary march most sombre and solemn, while a single flute added a plaintive bird-song sound of singularly sad beauty.
The carriage upon which the coffin was lain was decorated with the blue and white of Pavona, and so too were the draught horses pulling it. Eight of the best halberdiers Pavona had to offer marched at its sides, while Lord Polcario’s own personal standard followed behind – unlike in life when it would go before him – sloped in the traditional manner of mourning.
Slowly but surely, the creaking of the wheels conjoined with the sorrowful sound of drums and flute, the little convoy made its way south towards the Via Aurelia, upon which Lord Polcario would travel the last stretch of this his final journey through the mortal realm of Tilea.
Continues in Tilean Campaign Part 8
Next Installment: Part 8