Tilea Campaign Part 7

Battle of the Princes, Epilogue: We Surrender

A few miles south of the city of Trantio, Winter IC2401-2

Even before he opened the chest’s lid, Ruggero knew it would be waste of time. He raised it anyway, in the process almost snapping one of the rusted hinges. The lid fell backwards with a thump, to hang ungainly. Inside lay a mass of dirty rags, tangled clumps of hempen cord and the cracked remains of an ancient poppet’s head, its neck tied with string to hold the two halves together.

Part30 Pic 1 Chest

“There’s nothing here of any use,” he said, not for the first time.

Placido was crouching down to look beneath the table, lifting up the woollen cloth, his armour clattering as he did so.

Part 30 Pic 2 Piss Pot

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 chipped piss-pot beneath. By the look on Placido’s face, its contents had been festering there for some time.

“Nothing we can eat, anyway,” said Placido.

Ruggero suppressed a grin.

“Whoever lived here must’ve taken all the food with them,” he said, then sat himself down on a rickety stool. He dragged the blue and maroon cap from his head, clutching it in the same hand in which he held his dagger, while using the other hand to scratch behind his ear.

Part 30 Pic 3 Cap In Hand

If last night had not been so cold, and this night was not likely to be so again, he would have discarded both the cap and his similarly liveried tunic. 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 they had even more of a grudge to settle with the Compagnia. As for the cold, maybe he ought to try the rags in the chest? Perhaps they could keep him warm tonight? Or perhaps he could wrap himself in the cloth from the table?

“Could have been some other soldiers got here before us,” suggested Placido.

Ruggero pulled his cap back onto his head. “No, I don’t reckon that’s it. This place is too tidy. This chest would have been open already, and all the rest scattered higgledy-piggedy.” Much as it is now, he thought, after his and Placido’s desperate 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.

Part 30 Pic 7 Placido Inside Close

“There’s a pot under there if you need to go,” he said.

“Ha!” laughed Ruggero. “I’d need food in my belly sometime in the last three days for that to happen, or something to drink since noon yesterday.”

“We should have stayed 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, Placido, it’s 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, then. We don’t want to tarry here too long.”

Ruggero stayed put on his stool.

Part 30 Pic 6 Ruggero Inside Close

“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?”

Part 30 Pic 4 Reach for the door handle Better

Placido was standing by the back door, his hand resting on the latch.

“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, hopefully before we die through want 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 lifted the latch, but when he pushed the door did not budge. So he pulled instead.

“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.

“Huh?”

“When you rattled the latch  – I heard something.”

“Oh, it’s always my fault, isn’t it?”

“Sshh!”

Ruggero stood up and looked at the other door.

Part 30 Pic 5 Looking at the other door

As the window was shuttered, it made no difference whether he opened the door or the shutter – if there was someone outside they would see him 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 to be trouble, 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 more tightly onto his head (force of habit), then stepped boldly to and through the door. Dazzled by the sudden sunlight, he could not help but close his eyes momentarily. When he opened them, blinking, blue and white shapes took form before him. His eyes grew wide.

Part 30 Pic 10 Ruggero Outside Really Close

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. He let his dagger drop to the ground.

“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 spoke.

“Anyone else?”

“Placido,” he shouted, his voice faltering a little as he raised his hands. “Best come out, and best hold your hands up.”

Any other time, the clattering of Placido’s approach might have seemed comical. Just now, such jollity was far from Ruggero’s mind.

Part 30 Pic 9 Ruggero Outside Close

As Placido emerged through the door …

Part 30 Pic 8 Placido Outside Close

… the steel tips came a little closer, and Ruggero noticed a pistol muzzle in their midst.

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It was levelled right at his breast, held in the armoured hand of a dismounted pistolier.

Part 30 Pic 13 Outside Armoured Pistolier From Behind

Another voice spoke.

“Looks like we’ve got a brace of bad ‘uns here, lads. The same naughty thieves who thought to plunder and burn our villages, then run away.”

Part 30 Pic 15 Outside Pistolier Unarmoured Behind

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, but had not bothered to raise it yet.

Part 30 Pic 12 Outside Pistolier Unarmoured Close

“This one ain’t running anymore, though” the Pavonan continued in a sarcastic tone. “I suppose, after all that running, from Venafro, from Astiano, from the Little Carrena, your legs must be ever so 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.

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The pistolier stepped even closer, as did all the rest.

“You dogs have a lot to answer for,” said the pistolier, forming his words slowly, as if it pained him to say them. “Good men died trying to teach you a lesson. As you don’t seem capable of learning, 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.

Part 30 Pic 13 Outside Armoured Pistolier Close and Aiming

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.

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“I don’t suppose,” he asked, grimacing pathetically, “there’s any way we can make these words not my last?”

Part 30 Pic 19 Outside Bang!

Trantio Tested
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 from his crushing defeat at the Little Carrena, where he himself had almost been incinerated by magical fire, mustered his last remaining mercenaries and militia to man his city’s walls.

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He vowed that despite the odds, the enemy would never take his city. His officers set about stockpiling supplies for the forthcoming siege, ordered labourers to repair and speedily strengthen the gates and walls wherever necessary …

Part 31 6 Inside the Gates. Preparing

… and sought out potential saboteurs and spies. Crossbowmen, both his own militia and the very last surviving Compagnia del Sole, patrolled the huge stone walls, while halberdier companies guarded the gates.

Part 31 3 Xbow on Wall C

Artillery pieces were hauled up earthen ramps to be emplaced upon the more solidly constructed towers. Trantio became a hive of desperate activity. Although many were frightened, some terrified, few among the populace begrudged their forced labours. When threatened with ruin, most people will toil willingly for their own defence.

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Duke Guidobaldo of Pavona had not rushed to pursue the defeated enemy after the battle at the Little Carrena, as he had done after the previous fight at Astiano.

Part 31 11 Duke Guidobaldo Close

This time he tarried until most of the reinforcements he had ordered from Pavona had arrived to swell the ranks of his victorious but battered force – greeting them as they came in to satisfy himself of their worth.

Part 31 8 Marching Pavonans, Lots

As each new company passed directly in front of him and his guards, they offered a salute – the handgunners doffing their caps with a flourish, the halberdiers porting their weapons.

Part 31 9 Marching Pavonans, Ground Level

Few of these men were new recruits, for the duke liked to maintain a sizeable standing army, having a dislike of mercenaries, and even those among the soldiers who had not seen battle before, had nevertheless drilled regularly for several many years in preparation for their almost inevitable service.

Part 31 12 Marching Saluters close

As the duke approached Trantio, rather than rushing to assault the city, he busied his army with preparations. A suitably fortified camp was built, while his light troops scouted the approaches to the city, as well as a wide perimeter around the camp.

Part 31 17 Galloping Scouts

He ordered the land scoured for provisions for his men and sufficient fodder for his horses (thus preventing the foe from taking the same).

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Many trees were felled, to fashion sufficient scaling ladders for his planned assault, although some soldiers believed this was done for show, all the better to instill fear in the Trantians, and encourage them to yield their city and so avoid the horrors of a storming.

Meanwhile, the Trantians could only watch from the city …

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… recognising the disparity in numbers, which meant their only hope lay in the employment of the walls to even the odds in the forthcoming fight. Sallying out to face the Pavonans in the field, even simply to attempt to take more supplies for their own stockpiles, would surely lead to defeat.

As his siege camp was completed, Duke Guidobaldo received the rest of the reinforcements, including several much needed artillery pieces, which had traveled more slowly from his realm than the marching soldiers.

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Then, when satisfied that all was ready for the assault, he sent a cloaked herald unto the gate of Trantio to issue a summons to yield.

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When no answer was forthcoming …

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… friend and foe learned quickly that the duke did not intend to blockade the city and starve the Trantians into submission, for he ordered his army to array in the fields before the southern gate. As they began to gather accordingly, his huntsmen and pistoliers moved boldly within range of the walls, as if they cared nothing for the crossbowmen and cannons upon them.

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Such rashness had become expected of Pavonans, perhaps because they commonly believed themselves to be the favoured servants of Morr and that Morr was the greatest of all the gods – a theological combination which (in their eyes) clearly raised them above all other city states in worthiness, bravery and honour. Some of the oldest soldiers had quietly muttered that the Pavonans’ rashness in war was more a consequence of the duke’s tyrannical nature, both his proud faith and his occasional carelessness concerning his soldiers’ lives – although they were very careful about who they allowed to hear their words.

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And so, equally quietly, they prayed to Myrmidia, just as they had always done before battle, secretly dedicating themselves to the goddess they believed would have much more interest in their fate, considering this was a war between civilised Tilean states, not between the living and the undead.

Many of the younger soldiers’ confidence had nothing to do with theology, being instead born of their recent string of victories. The promise of loot yet to be gained further lifted their spirits.

Part 31 13 Marching Saluter real closeAll the Pavonans had put aside any niggling fears concerning the dire threat of the undead armies mustering in the north, for, due to the distance alone, that was surely something to worry about later?

Part 31 18 Undead

As the soldiers who fancied themselves as strategists put it: if the evil enemy eventually did come this far south, then they would find Pavona defended by a ring of conquered cities and towns, a march-land where the worst of the fighting could take place, far from the blessed heartland of fair Pavona where their families dwelt.

As the Pavonans arrayed themselves for the assault, upon the ramparts of the southern gate Prince Girenzo issued his final orders to his officers and directed messengers hither and thither along the walls to further disseminate his instructions.

Part 31 4 Prince Directing Officers

After sternly addressing the captain in which he had the least confidence, explaining how necessity had made of him a beggar, and beggars could not be choosers, otherwise he would surely dismiss the fellow and appoint another …

Part 31 5 Prince Directing Officers Closer

… he ordered the last two of his surviving gentlemen-at-arms to join him, to assist removing his richly embroidered surcoat and fixing his helmet into place. Hefting a broadsword, he led them along the battlements towards the southern gate.

Part 32 32 Prince walks the walls to the gate Close

These were the men who had accompanied him from the Little Carrena, the rest of their company having been slain by a bloodily brutal combination of the mystical and mundane, in the form of magical fire and iron-shot. Prince Girenzo had so learned, full well, what the Pavonans were capable of – how they cared not a jot for the quality of a man, nor respected the unwritten but traditional laws dictating the nature of civilised warfare between the city states of Tilea, but instead happily employed wizardry and black powder to slay noble knights. Such behaviour might be expected of the basest sort of mercenaries, brute ogres or northerners, and certainly of the wicked races of goblinoids and ratmen, but Tileans ought to know better.

Part 32 32 Prince walks the walls to the gate

The prince still reeled at the cruel loss of such good and noble 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 had been the very essence of calm as he quietly issued his commands.

He took his place at the rear of the gate’s battlement, while the crossbowmen at the outer wall began spanning their weapons.

Part 32 35 Replacement Girenzo waits on Gate

Upon the towers of Trantio the artillerymen hefted their iron-shot into their pieces’ muzzles …

Part 32 34 Replacement Defenders Cannon Pic

… while in the fields beyond the walls the enemy’s gunners did exactly the same.

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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, while scaling the walls elsewhere as distraction, or, should the assault on the gate go badly, as an alternative way into the city. Such was his determination that he was not troubled by the fact the enemy would certainly have prepared for exactly such attacks, 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), suggesting that perhaps it would be better to besiege and blockade the city, starving the foe into submission, the duke answered that he was not willing to wait to teach ‘such a creature as Girenzo’ a lesson, and his soldiers were fools if they did not expect some deaths upon the field of battle. Besides, he added, as if he had thought of something that would reassure his son, 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. Lord Polcario had said nothing in reply, but all could see he was somewhat disturbed by his father’s words.

When it came to the advance, while his artillery battery was placed directly before the gate, and several companies ordered towards it …

Part 32 25 Improved Advance on Gate

… the duke 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 supervise the scaling of the walls hopefully left weakly defended by the foe’s need to mass soldiers at the gate.

Part 31 16 Improved Pic, two Pav Foot

The duke’s army now contained more than just Pavonans. Having never been fond of  mercenaries, nevertheless he had been happy to gain in whatever ways he could from his recent conquest of Astiano. Now, bolstering his blue and white liveried native soldiers, was a newly-raised regiment of swordsmen, recruited from those Astianan thugs and bravi who had no qualms about serving their tyrannical conqueror, provided they were paid. As their home was now his possession, he considered them subjects and not mercenaries.

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Still, he did not wholly trust them, nor thought 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.

Part 32 33 Astianan Flag Close

If they proved themselves worthy in battle, he had promised they would earn the right to carry the arms of Astiano in the proper manner.

Among the Pavonan ranks strolled two wizards, one of whom had arrived with the reinforcements, originally hailing from the far-distant and mysterious land 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. It was the Pavonan wizard, however, who would be remembered for his influence on the day’s events.

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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 astounded to see that two of his three great-cannons had been destroyed before even firing a shot. He had delayed his attack for more than a week so that these guns could reach him! While some of his officers became concerned that the plan had already gone badly awry, and a good number of his soldiers wondered whether this meant that neither holy Morr or Myrmidia favoured them, what annoyed the duke most was that the easy loss of his guns might make him appear foolish. It certainly fueled his hatred for the enemy, a raging emotion faintly laced with a new caution concerning the foe’s abilities.

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 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.

Part 32 36 Pavonan Cannon 1

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!) … while conjured sheets of flame washed against the walls to inflict further misery upon the defenders.

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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.

Part 32 26 Xbow On Wall Shooting

The Trantian cannons fired again, but this time one ball ploughed into the ground before the last Pavonan cannon, while the other merely clipped it.

Part 32 31 Cannon Fires From Wall

With a loud prayer to Morr that the barrel had not been cracked (and a silent prayer to Myrmidia to protect them from such a flaw), the attackers reloaded with extra powder and fired again at the gate.

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This time their ball hit almost exactly the same spot as before, 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 for him, Prince Girenzo had already left that part of the wall to make his way over to where the enemy’s ladders would be placed. Of the eight crossbowmen atop the gate, 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.

Part 32 24 Xbows in Rubble

With the creation of a large, gaping hole in the defences, the arrival of the massed regiments of foot at the base of the walls, and both magical fire and volleys of helblaster shot bursting through the crenellations to topple grievously injured defenders, it was now becoming clear that the Trantians would take the city. This was not to be a long fight, but swift and brutal. Whilst the last surviving defenders fought on as best they could …

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… Prince Girenzo clutched his great sword tight and leapt up to stand at parapet.

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Below he saw a veritable sea of blue and white clad swordsmen setting ladders to the wall.

Part 32 22 Swords Below Wall

The Duke and Lord Polcario were visible behind them, presumably because hefting ladders like labourers would disparage the height of a man in them! At last, Prince Girenzo’s 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, even for the defeat 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 making such ridiculous claims. His companion now fell to the enemy’s blades, yet the prince failed to 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, moved through the press of men at the foot of the wall and began ascending the ladder. Falling silent at last, Prince Girenzo watched 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 spied the wizard amongst the mass of soldiers below, hands a-dancing as he conjured …

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… 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 thrust 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 that despite the prince’s furious blows, the Pavonan lord successfully mounted the battlement and the two noblemen became engaged in a duel.

As they 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.

Part 32 21 The Duel Closer Up With Ladder Climbers

The fight was not a quick one, both men stumbling and slipping more than once, their armour thwarting blow after blow (Game Note: full plate plus enchanted shield and both with 4+ ward saves). The Pavonan swordsmen backed away from the fight, not only to avoid being injured by the swirling blades, but also because they understood that Lord Polcario would not want their help in such a personal combat.

Part 31 20 The Duel

Down below, the Pavonan wizard had been busy maintaining his magical influence, until suddenly the winds of magic faded and he could not stop his spell melting away.

Lord Polcario was momentarily slowed, and Prince Girenzo noticed.

Part 31 21 The Duel Close Up

Both lords, dizzied by exertion and the dissipating magical energies crackling around them, stepped back, gasping loudly for breath.

Part 32 21 The Duel Closer Up

Then, with all their might, at one and the same time, they both lunged, their heavy blades squealing passed each other to plunge simultaneously through their breastplates. For the briefest moment they stood, held fast both by the deathly grips upon their hilts and the blades piercing through them, then they collapsed into a tangled heap of steel at the very edge of the battlement.

Reaching for Lord Polcario, one of the Pavonan soldiers slipped on the puddle of blood, and so knocked the young lord causing him to slide with a metallic squeal from the prince’s blade and tumble over the edge, to land with a clattering crunch in the yard below!

Part 32 22 Young Lord Dead

The swordsmen closest stood transfixed in horror at what had just happened, while someone shouted through a crenel down 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.

Part 32 23 Young Lord Dead Close

The first swordsman to reach the yard knelt down to lift Polcario’s head and remove his helm. Looking into the young lord’s eyes, he said only one word: “Dead.”

………

Spring 2402
Part 1. Lifeless Legions

A Missive 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 not only us but 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 lend 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  – have reported honestly what they witnessed. And now we report accurately the same to you.

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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.

Part 32 3 Hackspitt reviews troops Close

Viadaza has also fallen, its ruler Lord Adolfo succumbing both to undeath and the vampire Duchess Maria, who sired him. If the duchess were still living, she would be the heir to Miragliano, as well as continuing her rule of Ebino. Now, in undeath, she rules Viadaza, and none can know whether this will satisfy her, for even those who remember her in life cannot claim to understand the mind of the demon who has ousted her soul.

Part 32 4 Maria at Window

Miragliano, Ebino and Viadaza have all thus become corrupt and cursed realms. Perhaps the duchess yearns to rule all three? Whether she is able to gain quick possession, however, is unknown, for it is equally possible that she and Captain Hackspitt are allies, indifferent neighbours or bitter enemies.

Although now a place of eerie shadows, Miragliano is not still, nor entirely quiet.

Part 32 5 Undead Castle

Few speak there, no-one sings, and barely a breath is taken, but footsteps can be heard, the creaking of doors and gates, even the sound of picks and shovels tearing at the ground. For the undead are busy with labours. Hackspitt, desirous of an ever-stronger army, beyond that which the city’s graveyards can provide, has dispatched his foul servants into the forgotten and ruinous corners of his realm, there to dig up the ancient charnel pits and the most ruinous of tumbledown temples, and so acquire the bleached and brittle bones of the long dead.

Part 32 6 Basket Skeletons

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 awful army. 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.

Part 32 9 Skeleton Supply column

More than this, Hackspitt’s lifeless legions have scoured the realm for everything and anything of value: gold, silver and treasures of every kind. Clattering carts carry heavy chests containing every florin, scudo and lira found.

Part 32 8 Cart Skeleton

Even casks of wine are being carried to Hackspitt’s palace, or if not wine, then perhaps blood to feed both his and his lieutenants’ evil appetites.

Part 32 7 Barrel Skeletons

And worse than all these things is the continued suffering of the living – for not every poor soul in Miragliano has yet succumbed either to death or undeath. Some few unlucky inhabitants hide even now in terror, squatting in shadows, ever trembling with the knowledge that at any moment they might be scried by eyeless sockets, grabbed by fleshless hands, or hewed with ancient, rusted blades.

Part 32 11 Skeleton Looters All

While every village, hamlet and farm is scoured and ransacked, our spies have helped all they can to escape. The vampires’ servants murder and rob, then haul off all they can carry.

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A great many have been killed, but some, the unluckiest of all, were taken prisoner. We cannot claim to know their fate, but we can state with certainty that we do not want to know it, neither to have it burden our minds nor to suffer that same fate ourselves.

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So it is we hereby add our cry to that of His Holiness Calictus II, and call on every god-fearing Tilean, for the love of the gods, family and neighbours, and for the love of all that is right and good, to take up arms and assemble, then march promptly and hastily to face these most terrible of foes, before the evil consumes so much of the realm that it can no longer be defeated.

Spring 2402
Part 2 of 5. Good News!

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.

Part 32 14 Reman Emissary Travelling in Coach

I have happy 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, your holiness, I made my way towards the city state of Pavona, accompanied by the fine elven horse soldiers you sent to protect me.

Part 32 15 Reman Emissary Travelling in Coach Close

I soon discovered that Duke Guidobaldo was not currently resident in his home city, instead commanding his army in the field, against 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.

Part 32 16 Reman Emissary Meets Pavonans Wide View

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.

Part 32 17 Reman Emissary Meets Pavonans Closer on Pavonans

So it was that I found myself only hours too late to deliver your Holiness’s call for an holy war, in which the desperate need for peace amongst Tilea’s princes was so clearly stipulated …

Part 32 17 Reman Emissary Meets Pavonans Close on Emissary

… 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 as well as your spoken intentions to my Lord Guidobaldo, he was greatly saddened that I had not arrived in time to prevent the continuation of the war, or 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 eldest son and heir.

Yet there is joy to be had, nevertheless. For the duke has taken your call to holy war to heart, being much pleased that you thought to send me as an ambassador to deliver your words rather than merely dispatch a letter as you have to almost all other princes and ruling councils.

Part 33 19 City Captured 1

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 always had in mind the need to prepare Tilea adequately to defend itself against the undead. By taking Trantio, he has consolidated his power, much increased his revenues, and will thus now be able to raise even more soldiers for the real war to come.

Part 33 20 City Captured 2

Furthermore, he has tested his soldiers in battle, so forging a force of experienced, loyal and battle-hardened veterans who will neither flinch from the foe nor fail to do all that must be done to save Tilea. And most of all he has removed the weakness that was Prince Girenzo’s rule, which relied far too much on mercenaries to conduct its wars and perform its defence, and as such would have been easily toppled by the vampires, subsequently gifting them a foothold in central Tilea from which to threaten all the surrounding realms.

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 proximity of the walking dead. To some it may seem cruel that he has presumed this fate for the people of Trantio, but their previous lord was a weak and wicked tyrant, who would have brought this same ruin, and more, upon his own subjects with no subsequent gain for the rest of Tilea.

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However, 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, and that this city, made holy in its purpose, will be the bastion against which the wicked legions will be broken and scattered, thus saving many who dwell here also.

Part 33 21 City Captured Street 1

Furthermore, 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 to pursue his wrongful war against Pavona, whispering lies unto him and offering misguided council merely to inflate his own importance, perished in the conquest of the city.

Part 32 18 Maruffi Assassination

He was killed by the vengeful people of Trantio, who took the opportunity to right some of the wrongs done to them by the tyrant and his advisers, even as their city fell. Yet fear not, for all is well in the Trantine church of Morr: 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). Of course, the position is necessarily subject to your holy confirmation, but the duke wants me and me alone, as it is I who have done him the honour of bringing your call to holy war, and furthermore he believes that I can most ably act as his conscience and good guide, ensuring 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 mercenaries you ordered to accompany me, the elven horse, begged to remain as my guard and to serve myself and Duke Guidobaldo here in Trantio, where they might be among the very vanguard of the blessed forces being mustered.

Part 32 22 Elves Sign Up!

At first, as was to be expected, Duke Guidobaldo was quite deaf to their pleading, for he demands 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.

Part 32 23 Elves Sign Up! B

But I myself was pleased to devise a happy solution that would suit all parties concerned, to which my Lord Guidobaldo was pleased to agree. 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, 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 war.

.Part 32 23 Elves Sign Up! C

Praise be to the great god Morr, and all honour and respect be given unto you, Morr’s highest and holiest servant in the mortal realm.

Spring 2402
Part 3. Big Boys
A river in the northern part of Central Tilea

Part 32 24 Reman Escort 1

It had been a long and lonely journey for Fazzio, despite the fact he was not actually alone. He had traveled 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 entirely unable to fathom just why the youngster was so taciturn.

Vittore 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 hours then days went by Fazzio played out in his mind every possible reason for his companion’s silence: Could it be his youth, having not lived enough years to have anything of worth to say? Or perhaps a certain nervousness arising from his immaturity? 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 worry. On the third day, as they traveled further from the safety of Remas, his young companion’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 fancy he was dancing a jig in his dreams.

Fazzio could not, however, fault young Vittore on his attention to his duty. He was fastidious to the point of obsession concerning the care of the golden topped ensign he carried.

Part 32 25 Reman Escort 2 Flag

The flag bore the crossed keys of the Arch-Lector of Morr, and Vittore treated it as if it were as precious as an 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 watches were changed. But Vittore took his care of the emblazoned, 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 succession. As he rode, he held its staff by his side exactly perpendicular to the ground, and had several ways, each performed with practiced precision, in which to furl it, either fully or partially, whether mounted or on foot.

Part 32 26 Reman Escort Both

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 fiddled just as ludicrously with the similarly painted, small, silken pennant hanging from his brass horn. It was as if his body had become the altar of some high church, adorned with expensive and holy images. Their departure was delayed every morning by Vittore’s need to ensure each and every part of his accoutrements and paraphernalia was in its proper place, and they stopped often for some adjustment to this, or a straightening of that.

As they approached the river’s edge and caught sight of the soldiers who had already crossed, Fazzio was surprised to see that Vittore was capable of a degree of stiffness beyond that he had previously adopted. 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 Fazzio knew it could only ever have been) perfect musical flourish.

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Fazzio tried to ignore the bizarre combination of herald, page, trumpeter and ensign exhibiting both visually and audibly by his side, like a peacock heralding the day with both a cry and a flourish of its feathers, and looked instead at the force they had come here to meet.

Part 32 29 Reman Escort River 1 All

For some reason the force had not traveled on the roads, nor did they intend to cross the river by way of the settlements with bridges, but had instead traversed the wilderness. Now that he saw exactly what the force consisted of, he guessed the likely reasoning behind their chosen route.

It was not what he had expected, although 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 infamous tyrant-general Razger Boulderguts. Yet it simply had not occurred to Fazzio that the ogres would also join the holy war. Until now Fazzio had supposed the force they were to meet and escort to Remas would consist of men wishing to serve the holy cause, but also to escape the tyrannical regime newly stamped upon their homeland. Now he saw the ogres, he presumed their countryside course had been stipulated as part of some agreement, perhaps intended to limit the disruption caused by the passage of such brutes through Tilean settlements.

Needless to say, it was the ogres who first caught his eyes, yet there were men among the Campogrottans – mostly labouring types, mailed thugs and a handful of archers. No knights upon fine steeds, however, as the stories he remembered from childhood would have led him to expect. Campogrotta was home to many Bretonnian knights, and he had presumed such men would be the keenest to commit to a quest to fight against the evil undead. Perhaps the nobility and gentle folk of both Campogrotta and Ravola had suffered worst in their recent war, and these few ragged, peasants and foot soldiers were all that was left?

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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, presumably as lodgings while they sought out suitable boats. Only a handful had already reached this side of the river. They had already brought their standard over with them, a grisly affair in the shape of a giant, blue brute’s face, with a gaping maw filled with bleached human skulls. He wondered what the arch-lector would think of such a foul totem among the ranks and files of the holy army!

Part 32 32 Reman Escort River 4 Ogre Standard

One boat had already landed, while the other was approaching the shore. Both contained sacks and barrels of a size that men would struggle to handle even with winches and cranes. The boat 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 an ogre drag you along for a ride.

Part 32 30 Reman Escort River 2 Boat Pulling

Fazzio saw one of the ogres was lugging a cannon barrel – a huge thing of iron that if dropped would entirely crush a man. He was wondering whether the gun carriage had yet to be brought across, and indeed began to look around for it, when it suddenly dawned on him there was no such thing.

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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 as the piece, it all became very clear. The ogre must actually have fired it whilst holding it!

That must be something to witness, he mused, then pondered what the living dead will do when faced with such weapons? Fall to pieces, hopefully.

……..

Early 2402
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 into 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, with foot and horse, handguns, crossbows and spears.

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Now it is reported that the Waagh has been broken and scattered by the Marienburger mercenaries currently occupying Alcente …

Part27RunGobbos

… 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 his city lies so far south, with the great states of Remas and Portomaggiore lying betwixt it and the undead threat, 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 to pay them, for the consequences could be ruinous. Such men would not hesitate to extract, by cruel force, all that they were owed, and more besides, in the process likely to tear the city apart. 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 the 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 considerable 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 sun by a delicate, silken parasol.

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Merchants and traders vied for his attention, for there is profit to be made in the supplying of well-paid mercenaries’ wants and desires. These are not only Tilean merchants, however, but ever more of his own countrymen, who no doubt now find it much easier to trade with Luccini, what with such a host of Arabyans quartered there.

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I cannot say for certain, as such men as these have no reason to converse with the likes of me, and I possess not a single 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 his contract ends the Luccinans will surely be glad 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)? Perhaps he is already involved in negotiations with another Tilean state, or an even more distant realm, in order to acquire a new contract? It must be considered possible, however, especially in light of the significant threat to the north, that whatever his current dealings, Mamidous might intend, at the first hint of real trouble, to return whence he came.

Part 33 Gedik Close

Unwilling to tarry where I could learn little more, 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. I made a point of questioning as many as possible, so as to compare their accounts, 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 several many occasions, 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 among the ratmen, or preparations for some newly wicked 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 holy warriors 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 set for the drama, repairing the city’s ancient defences and practicing their military drill and postures from the earliest hour of the day. Martial law reigns in the streets, which swarm with the provost’s officers and common informers, in readiness perhaps for the rowdy crowds of holy warriors expected shortly. Furthermore – as you so wisely predicted 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 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 maestro Angelo da Leoni had laid down his painting 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 upon, I made my way to his workshop where (unsurprisingly) I 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.

Part 33 Guard

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 observe the efforts being made, and indeed the city’s streets are already rife with gossip about the deadly engine and how exactly it will help defeat the foe. Such debate raises 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 mechanical 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.

Part 33 Maestro

The machine itself had a heart of iron, enclosed in a growing case of timber. Large wheels lay strewn about the yard, presumably yet to be attached, although some wheels where of solid iron, akin to those contained within the workings of a clock, though bigger by far than any I have ever seen. I could discern no sign of armament, neither artillery pieces nor rams nor even a platform upon which fighting men might be carried. 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.

Part 33 Whole Yard

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 windlass or capstan, despite the lack of any evident cable to wind. 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 novelty.

Part 33 Engine Close

Every day the arch lector receives emissaries from foreign states, some to show their support for the great and holy war, 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 holy army 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 holy war fares, and I will, at every opportunity, send letters to you concerning developments.

I remain your most loyal and obedient servant.

Antonio Mugello

Click on Tilean Steam Tank to see the modelling of da Leoni’s engine.
……..

Early 2402
5. Gladius Morri super terram cito et velociter (‘The sword of Morr, striking and swift‘)

(I) A square in Trantio

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“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 blue and maroon 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.

Part 33 Gladius 2 Giovacchino Arrives

“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.”

Part 33 Gladius 3 Giovacchino Closer

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.”

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“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 he 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 …

Part 33 Gladius 7 Aldus

… “he needs to tell us where 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.”

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“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.

Part 33 Gladius 9 The captive

“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.

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“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. I 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 …”

Part 33 Gladius 10 Carlo Close

“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. Haven’t you heard what his kind have done, and only yesterday? 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.”

Part 33 Gladius 8 Other Handgunner

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.”

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(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 Gondi, Ruler of Pavona, Trantio and Astiano, Most Obedient Servant of Morr the Supreme

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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 masters, 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.

Part 33 Proclamation 2

If, however, you resist, deny or in any way hinder any part of my lawful and rightful authority, then I shall burn unto the ground your homes and fields, and leave you homeless and starving 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 Pavona, 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.

Part 33 Proclamation 3

Yet this cannot be done immediately, for first all taints of the tyrant prince’s corruption 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 previously been an elected one, but it is a necessary, if temporary, means to ensure the safe transfer of power and the steady establishment of a new republic, and it will ensure 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 Trantio, so that all within the Trantine 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 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. 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.

Part 33 Procession 1

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 melody of singularly sad beauty.

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The carriage upon which the coffin lay 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 by its sides …

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… 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.

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Slowly but surely, the little procession 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.

Part 33 Procession 5

The creaking of the wheels conjoined with the sorrowful sound of drums and flute, while every man present, as ordered, maintained strict silence.

Part 33 Procession 2

……..

Continues in Tilean Campaign Part 8

Next Installment: Part 8

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