The Day of Mourning
Part One: Outside the Palazzo Montini, Official Residence of the Arch-lector of Morr
Early Winter, 2402-2403
The street was quiet, more so than it should have been, for today the city was to mourn the passing of the arch-lector Calictus II, and as was traditional a procession of high clergy and nobility would make its way through the crowds to the Church of San Jacopo at the gate of the Giardino Reale di Morr. There was no corpse to carry, for Calictus had died in distant defeat, with none remaining to retrieve his remains, and this fact made the day’s holy rites even more important. Prodigious and powerful prayers were necessary to ensure that his holiness’ (wherever he was) would lie, ‘quiete et pacifice‘, undisturbed by foul necromancy, even though not interred within the blessedly protective boundaries of Morr’s garden.
Despite the absence of a body, there should still have been crowds. Lector Luigi of Verezzo, Calictus’ deputy and now the foremost contender for the office of arch-lector, found himself almost alone outside the palace. Two acolytes attended him, one bearing a holy staff containing a potent collection of ancient relic-fragments, the other a golden chalice. Two palace guards stood a little behind, but the street was otherwise deserted.
He knew that his little company would begin the journey alone, to be joined at the church of Saint Ettore of the Flayed Arm by a much larger procession of Morrite, Myrmidian and Mercopian clergy, as well as the Reman Overlord Domenico Matuzzi and a large muster of nobility clad in dark-hued mourning clothes of velvet and satin. Thus the procession-proper would begin. It was the absence of any observers, apart from a few wrinkled faces peering from dark windows, that struck him as odd.
So far, despite his servants fussing about the need to prepare for the holy procession, he had spent the morning distracted by a series of frantic discussions attempting both to assess his rivals for the arch-lector’s seat, as well as to lay the ground work for his own bid. The College of Lectors consisted of a somewhat disparate membership, each Lector having his own, unique collection of concerns, loyalties and ambitions. Some of the competition he could dismiss immediately, as for example the Trantian Lector Erkhart. Yes, Erkhart once had considerable influence in Remas as foremost ambassador for the arch-lector, but this did not compensate for the unsavoury facts that his see was in a state of ruin, his absent flock scattered or butchered, and most damagingly his office had been attained in rather violent (and somewhat dubious) circumstances , nvolving the convenient deaths of both his predecessor Lector Silvestro Marrufi and his ambassadorial colleague Fra Franco de Pistoni!
A much more challenging candidate was the Viadazan Lector Bernado Ugolini, the highest-ranking clergyman currently active in fighting the war. Although legally all lectors were of equal rank, some were more equal than others. Ordinarily, in more peaceful times, Lector Luigi would definitely have had the advantage, being the previous arch-lector’s deputy, but in this time of war against the church’s own particular enemy, and indeed the most terrifying of foes, then a warrior-lector was obviously the more appropriate candidate. Luigi might have the edge if Bernado could be painted as merely a soldier with nothing more to offer, but everyone knew the Viadazan to be clever, resourceful, and likable.
Then there was the added difficulty of the other players in the game, even those who could not themselves become arch-lector. What if the Reman Overlord Domenico Matuzzi, the legal ruler of the secular state, decided he had handed de-facto secular power over to Calictus in particular, rather than to whomsoever held the office? If Matuzzi were publicly to declare a favoured candidate, that alone could sway the lectors’ votes, for they would thus be voting for a man who would maintain the church’s doubled authority. Or what if Matuzzi decided to re-assert his right to rule, in light of Calictus’ failure? The overlord could then claim that Luigi, as Calictus’ deputy, was tarred with the same brush.
Lector Luigi had no idea who Captain-General Scaringella, the field-commander of all Reman forces, would favour. The general was currently marching with the city’s garrison to rendezvous with Lector Bernado and another Reman force, as per the deceased arch-lector’s orders. If he was kept busy in the field, thus absent from the city, then Luigi could dismiss these concerns, but if – in light of the defeat in the north – the general chose to return home, then that could upset every plan, unbalancing all that had so far been put in place. Worse still, if the general decided now was the time for martial rule, and proved capable of bringing it about, the whole game could change altogether, as the fate of Remas would lie in the hands of a pompous and proud buffoon whose office was gained through merit of rank rather than any evident ability. The general believed himself to be an expert manipulator and a natural strategist, and in a time of dire emergency, with the arch-lector dead and the overlord dithering, might thus assume he was the obvious answer to Remas’ prayers.
And these were just a few of the balls Luigi was juggling. Several times over the centuries an almost unknown lector from a minor state had somehow attained the arch-lectorship. Occasionally, during times of upheaval, even lesser clergy had been thrust onto the throne, for there was no canon law prohibiting such a promotion, only usual practise. Was this current emergency one of those moments in history? The surge in cults, either new or re-invigorated, however understandable in light of the dire threat facing Tilea, was particularly worrying to Luigi. Flagellants and dedicants, sectaries and schismatics, the Disciplinati di Morr and the Carrafians – there was barely a household in Remas unaffected by these movements. For months, Luigi had received daily reports of incidents, including unofficial processions, petty riots, and unlicensed preachers addressing large gatherings and collecting illegal offerings. Heretical pamphlets were so common as to be blowing around the streets like autumn leaves, while the clergy were promoting or joining the unsanctioned cults. The houses of the rich were being plundered for ‘alms and offerings’, regardless of whether the master or mistress of the house wished to make such donations. On one recent occasion, powerfully magical prayers – the like of which should not be accessible to mere street preachers – had whipped a mob into a frenzy so wild that many had torn each other and themselves to pieces, for want of any undead to launch their fury against! Even the graveyards were being disturbed – not by ghouls looking for bones to gnaw upon but by cultists digging up corpses to burn and so prevent them ever being as undead. Such cremation was against all strictures of the church, which allowed only the burning of those corpses that had already been raised from the dead and those who were stubbornly impenitent of their blasphemies and heresies, for in both cases their souls were stained for all time and so forever unwelcome in Morr’s garden.
“Ah, here now,” he said, gesturing to a little group of three lesser clergy approaching. “Look here, Juanito. We shall have an explanation.”
“Yes, my lord,” muttered Jaunito, the rotund cleric bearing the golden chalice.
The new arrivals approached with their hands clasped before them, and bowed respectfully when they halted.
“Well,” said Lector Luigi, too impatient to wait for them to speak. “What is it? What has happened? Why are we not being watched by citizens?”
The foremost of the little knot of clergy, Brother Balthasar, was wringing his hands, with beads of sweat across his brow. “My lord, the people are … elsewhere.”
“They await the full procession at the Garden?”
“By your leave, my lord, they do not. They attend another gathering.”
Lector Luigi shook his hand as if admonishing a young child. “I have to say that is most irregular, most inappropriate, altogether unworthy.” Then, as if expressing an idle afterthought, he asked, “Pray tell, Brother Balthazar, where are they?”
“They are in the market field by the Parco del Sapienza, listening to Father Aldo Carradalio,” the brother answered.
Luigi’s brow furrowed. “The master of the Reman Disciplinati? What is he saying?”
“I know not, my lord, but he has a small army of guards, and last night he was all that the common folk were talking about.”
Brother Pasquale, standing a little behind Balthazar, suddenly piped up. “My lord, it is said that he would put himself forward as a candidate for the Holy Seat.”
Lector Luigi laughed, consequently having to straighten his mitre. “How can he make such a claim if he refuses to attend the mourning parade of the last arch-lector?”
For a moment there was silence, until Balthazar realised that Brother Pasquale was not going to offer an answer and said, “I think, my lord lector, there is little Carradalio or his followers do or say that is respectful of tradition.”
Then Pasquale did speak. “Carradalio preaches schism at best, heresy at worst. What he proposes is more radical than anything Sagrannalo ever commanded. Nothing but Morr is sacred to him.” Here he made the holy gesture of Morr’s protection, then added, “My lord, ought not soldiers be sent to disperse the Disciplinati?”
Lector Luigi clapped both his hands upon his face and began rubbing his eyes as if trying to wake himself up. When his hands fell away he was blinking furiously. Eventually he said, “No, no! We have insufficient soldiers. The Palace Guard are dispersed along the processional route, barely numerous to protect the dignitaries as it is, while General Scaringella has taken the rest.”
“Then, my lord,” asked Balthazar, “what are your orders?”
“I shall have to speak with Cararadalio myself, perhaps tomorrow.” said the lector. “In the meantime, we shall not forget tradition. Morr is honoured by such, and his church made holy by proper practices. Come, brethren, let us join in prayer before we go where we must.”
The Day of Mourning
Part Two: Beside the Parco del Sapienza
A company of Disciplinati dedicants had formed a ring around the wooden platform. Unusually for such lay-brothers many carried crossbows, which they held ready-spanned as they scrutinised the crowd.
Some among the watching crowd pondered the reason behind the crossbowmen. Was it intended that they would shoot any who approached too close, or perhaps at anyone who made a nuisance of themselves by shouting abuse, complaints or comments of any kind contrary to Father Carradalio’s speech?
No-one was willing to test these theories, and instead all listened in silence, almost motionless. Most of the guards also stood stock-still, their eyes alone moving to scrutinise the little portion of the encircling crowd before them, while a handful of guards strode menacingly back and forth, as if to better see whoever they suspected of being trouble-causers.
Nearly all the Disciplinati wore hoods to their robes. Some had not pulled them up, all the better (perhaps) to inspect the multitude before them. Others, however, made use of them, so that their eyes were concealed in shadow to appear even more threatening.
Immediately beside the platform supporting Father Carradalio stood a brace of torch bearers. Considering the afternoon’s bright sun, their presence had to be symbolic. Of exactly what, time would tell, for Carradalio intended to talk a little of burnings, and had thought it right and proper that the flames should be ready-lit.
The crowd was kept at a distance that seemed inconvenient for an open-air speech, but Father Carradalio was no ordinary speaker. His voice carried impressively far, so much that there had to be magic wound into it. Although several scriptures spoke of holy men who could perform such a feat, it was not something that had been experienced in recent years. Sagrannalo, more than fifty years previously, was the last known to have employed such an holy enchantment. Few listeners were surprised, however, for it was commonly held that the spirit of Sagrannalo was reborn in Carradalio, returned from Morr’s garden to the mortal realm just when he was needed, grown more powerful than before to suit a more dangerous time. The first time, it was said, he had been defeated by Tilea’s own corruption, proving the realm was unworthy of him. Now time again would tell whether the realm was ready for his guidance.
This was Father Carradalio’s speech:
“Calictus is dead, his grand army scattered, the abhorrent foe victorious. Remas is threatened with oblivion.
“But know this – a threat is not fate. Defeat is not inevitable. Remas need not be weakened by these losses. We can instead grow stronger. We simply need to do what must be done.
“Should we perpetuate Calictus’s mistakes? Are we forced to repeat his errors? No! But we can learn from them. He strayed from true religion, possessing only a feeble understanding of Morr’s glory, for he was mired in ages-old ignorance, swayed by the scholarly teachings of those who attempt to balance the powers of every lawful god. We must not wallow in such obfuscations, but lift ourselves above all that has gone before, above the murky eminence of other gods, to see Morr’s light, bright and clear. With full faith in Morr we can attain true understanding, becoming stronger than ever before. Morr the Supreme is our destination, our eternal end, the god of gods. He is everything and all we need, for now and evermore. Through him, with him, we cannot be defeated.
“I need not prettify up my words for political gains, nor do I bend them to serve the plans of mortal masters. I serve only Morr, and so need never lie. Neither do I guess, nor gamble, nor grasp at hope. I speak only the truth, and I speak it plainly.
“To serve Morr fully, with all due reverence, our own house must be put in order. All those priests who pander to the nobility, or who play at politics, have lost touch with true faith. They know neither Morr nor those who dwell in his garden. Arch lectors and lectors alike have sought worldly wealth and power, patronised artistic endeavours and lived luxuriously. None of this satisfies Morr.
“The vampires are the dark truth of nobility, for they seek worldly power beyond even death. Robed eternally in silks, wallowing in riches, and ruling their downtrodden servants with a cruelty beyond measure, they are the very epitome of greed, lust and pride. How can we expect to defeat their vile extremity of wickedness while we remain obsessed with our own wealth and power? If we fail to divest ourselves of such yearnings, and prove unwilling to discard all gaudy trappings of wealth, then we become merely pale imitations of the evil that is vampirism. We become as naughty little children faced with wicked monsters.
“Our Tilean lords, in every principality, care not for the people, nor how they might best serve Morr, but rather seek only to squeeze gold from their realms, to conquer new territories and to steal more from their neighbours. In pursuit of such, they are spendthrift with their subject people’s lives, while miserly in the piling up of treasures. How many towns and villages have been plundered by rampaging armies or razed to the ground to deny plunder to the enemy? These wars of spoliation, more suited to brute ogres and bickering greenskins, enrich the rich but weaken the land. In behaving this way, our nobility reveal their true nature as pale imitations of true evil and apprentices to vampirism.
“The poor are forced to watch their children starve, their daughters raped and their sons mustered to fight for some lord’s pride and ambition. And what becomes of all this wickedness? Only more wickedness, as Tilea, reeling from her wounds, is now attacked and overwhelmed by the foul undead hordes. And then all the children die, our daughters become vampires’ playthings, and every soldier is transformed into a putrid puppet manipulated by dark magics. We shall all be nothing more than shambling, mindless slaves, cursed never to dwell in peace in Morr’s garden, but to spend eternity lost in the hell between life and death.
“Yet I say to you, if we are willing and able to endure all that must be done, to remain steadfast in the cause, to give ourselves wholly and humbly to Morr, then such horrors shall not be our fate.
“Until now the holy war has been fought by the likes of Sigmarites and Ulricians, dwarfs and elves, even Arabyans – mercenaries all, who would fight for any cause, whether good or bad, if pay were forthcoming. They have grown accustomed to fighting their own kind. This time, however, the enemy is not as a mirror to them, sharing the same goals of wealth, success, power or adventure, but rather a foe of unbounded wickedness, bereft all compassion, contrary to all that is natural and heavenly, set directly against the laws of men and gods. And so the condottieri have failed – their lack of faith their undoing. When faced by the living dead, all lucre loses its promising glitter, all pride pales, and all professed honour and skill is found wanting. How can such dogs of war stand firm in the face of such a foe? They cannot! Their arms and armour, their drilling and postures, their hurried prayers to Myrmidia, Sigmar or some desert devil – all these things are entirely insufficient for the task.
“This war is Morr’s war, our war, and it can only be fought by those truly dedicated to him, whose every thought is of him, whose every act is in his service. Who are these saviours, you ask? They are you! All of you! For you shall be warriors of Morr.
“There are those few among you descended from families of faith, possessing a purity of lineage that makes you his perfect servants, who have been taught from infancy to embrace the truth. You are ready to fight now, your mortal frames ripe to channel Morr’s mighty will. And then there are the rest of you, the vast throng. Perhaps your blood is tainted through no fault of your own? Or your understanding is weakened by false teachings? Or your merits stained by past deeds and thoughts. Yet you too can be made just as perfect in the eyes of Morr, fashioned into his weapons, by nothing more nor less than scourging yourselves of all weaknesses and doubts, mortifying your flesh until all contrary desires and distractions slough away, relieving yourselves of all material distractions, and focusing your bodies, minds and souls on Morr and Morr alone.
“All those who cannot be so purified must be destroyed, for our purpose is pure and oneness is the very nature of purity. One god, one people, fearlessly striking the foe as one. We must weed out the unworthy not merely to save their souls, but foremost to prepare Tilea for war, by ensuring that only the pure, the tried and tested, remain, and that Morr’s army is a perfectly honed blade. Who can doubt that our deadly justice is in fact a medicine, ordained by both mercy and necessity, for the good of all, be they sinners in peril or the blessed of Morr, be they living or dead? How else can we become the limbs of Morr, by which he can smite his enemies?
“Rank and nobility, offices and preferments, are of no consequence to Morr. Anyone and everyone, no matter their title, must accept the truth, and gold buys nothing from Morr the Supreme. Straying souls must be punished, that they might be purified, and if they cannot correct themselves, then they must yield to Dedicati’s attentions. The irredeemably wicked and sinfully weak among us taint Tilea, nor are they welcome in Morr’s heavenly garden, so they must burned, just as the undead are burned, for neither are welcome in the afterlife. Purity – regardless of wealth, power and office – is all that matters. It is all that will save Tilea from the approaching evil.
“So I say to you, if you yourself have, or anyone else you know has, committed an error in the faith, then you must come before the inquisitors of the Dedicati di Morr to confess or denounce.
“And I say to you, if you yourself, or anyone else you know, covets the glitter of gold, the gleam of gems and the fangles and baubles of material prosperity, then rid yourself and others of such distractions.
“Tear up both sinful flesh and fancy fripperies. Burn away both evil thoughts and rich distractions.
“In this way we shall cleanse Remas of corruption, cure it of weakness, and so prepare it for the fight to save all that is good. Now more than ever we must nurture the vine that is the church supreme, cutting out all heresies, all vices and all weaknesses from our hearts.
“When we are all made equal before Morr, in humility and purpose, cleansed of wickedness through penitential acts, he will pour his blessings on us. Some will be gifted the strength to fight fearlessly, for they will know that heaven awaits them. Some will become the blessed channels of Morr’s unstoppable power to destroy the undead.
“Made strong together our victory is inevitable, and we shall win salvation for all our souls and the souls of all those who come after.
“All praise and thanksgiving to Supreme Morr!
“Let the purification begin!”
The End of Winter 2402-3
A Letter to my most noble Lord Lucca Vescucci of Verezzo, from your loyal servant Antonio Mugello, sent from the city of Pavona, recently delivered of the threat of destruction at the hands of Razger Boulderguts’ brutes.
I pray this missive finds you blessed by all the gods, and that the realm of Verezzo lies both happy and secure, untouched by the misfortune suffered by so many other Tilean principalities.
It seems the brute horde has at last departed the realm of Pavona, having circumnavigated the city in a most murderous and destructive fashion, razing Montorio and Todi to the ground. This being so, and now that such communication is possible, I took the first available opportunity to dispatch unto you this missive. Duke Guidobaldo has proclaimed to his subjects a kind of victory, for although no battle was fought by his army, yet he has somehow seen off Boulderguts and Mangler’s double army of ogres. I cannot claim to know the truth, but even Razger Boulderguts must a have baulked at the thought of attacking a mightily-walled city garrisoned by a very substantial and veteran army. The duke is not short of artillery, so that the walls bristle with muzzles. And more than these, there are novel engines of war the like of which I have never seen, including a collection of monstrosities bearing rank upon rank of fireworks, a kind of explosive rocchetto. Having witnessed one demonstration it seems to me that successful employment in battle would leave the field reeking of burnt ogre-flesh.
The mood in the city is not one of celebration, however, for all joy has been tempered by the first pangs of real hunger, and all relief is soured by the knowledge that the fields of both Todi and Casoli are lain waste, the livestock stolen, and the city’s storehouses almost empty. The town of Scozzese avoided destruction at the ogres’ hands, for the duke ordered the demolition of the bridge at Casoli and the winter waters were too deep and fast flowing even for Razger’s brutes to cross. Yet word has come only today that Scozzese was nevertheless threatened by a greenskin force, most likely the ogres’ gnoblar servants, and had to pay a ransom in gold and all-too precious vittles to avoid a similar fate to those Pavonan settlements north of the river.
It is commonly said that the double army of brutes has moved away westwards, along the Via Aurelia, the very same road that brought them here. No-one knows if they plan to wreak further devastation in the vicinity of Remas or if they intend to return northwards, whence they came.
Beni Mobili (Goods and Chattels)
“’Tain’t right,” complained Mags, catching his breath in the moment he and Brindill felt their burden lighten a little (the ground was levelling out after a long incline). “This ain’t fit work for the likes of us. This is for runts and burden beasts.”
“There ain’t no runts or beasts left,” said Brindill. “They’re all gobbled up.”
“I know that. Still don’t make it right.” Glancing to the side he growled under his breath. “Looks like Mangler’s boys have plenty enough to haul their wagons.”
“That’s ‘cos they’ve got nearly all the loot, gold and grub, which buys ‘em whatever they want,” said Brindill. “They can pay more than a runt’s weight in good fleshmeat, so they’re getting’ the irongut’s share.” Then he slammed his gut plate. “We gotta eat, which means they get all the runts we catch, an’ all the ones they catch.”
“We’ve got loot. What’ya think we’re dragging?”
“We’re dragging the loot Razger’s got left after paying Mangler. Mangler’s service don’t come cheap, and for reasons he’s keeping to himself, Razger’s willing to pay.”
“So why don’t Razger use this loot to buy us some burden beasts or runts?”
Brindill was shaking his head. “You ‘aven’t thought it through, Mags. If we use the loot to buy ‘em, then we ain’t got any loot for ‘em to pull, see?”
Mags panted through gritted teeth while he pondered the conundrum, a sound that joined in rhythmically with the creaking of the wagon wheels and the clattering of the chains.
He and Brindill had been hauling the heavily laden wagon since daybreak, their only rest having been to swap places when Mags complained about his aching arm. Now they were passing Mangler’s equally burdened but much more numerous wagons, which had halted for some reason. Several companies of ogres flanked them, providing walls of muscle and steel to protect the precious convoy tucked between.
Suddenly a shout came from the front of the flanking wagons.
“Proud of yerselves, boys? Doing gnoblies’ work?”
It was Gordok, one of Mangler’s bully boys. Brindil and Mags both chose not to acknowledge him, not even to look at him. This did not stop Gordok.
“Fair sweating, ain’t ya, ‘spite the cold? I almost feel sorry for ya. Then I remember how much loot we’re pullin’, an’ I feel ‘appy instead!”
“Just ignore him, Mags” hissed Brindil.
“If you’re getting’ tired, you want me to whip you?” shouted Gordok. “Works wonders on this ‘ere pack o’ runts.”
As he spoke Gordok handled his long whip, the cord so thick it could serve as the anchor cable of a not insubstantial ship, while the slaves he was tending made a point of not looking at him either. Some wore only the ragged remnant of clothes, but the blue and white livery of Pavona was still evident amongst them as most had been captured either at the fall of Astiano or in one of several skirmishes since. Some even retained helmets – their cruel new masters being un-interested in armour of such a diminutive size. Gordok prided himself in knowing his runts well. He had worked out, for example, how to distinguish those recently captured from those who had served him longer, simply by looking at the length of their beards, and he had learned (after a number of very bloody incidents) that if he employed all his strength then merely one lash of his whip could almost cut a runt in two.
“You think we should let the likes of him threaten us?” asked Mags.
“I think we should do what Razger told us to do,” said Brindil, his voice lowered. “And not cause trouble with Mangler’s boys until the time is right. Like I said, Razger’s willing to pay all they ask just now, but that don’t mean he’s gonna let Mangler keep it all. Seems to me that once we’re done fighting there‘ll be a reckoning.”
“Can’t come soon enough,” said Mags. “I’m ready any time. An’ if Gordok lives through it, let’s see how he does harnessed like a burden beast.” He glanced back at the oxen pulling the wagon behind Gordok’s.
“It’ll be a tight fit,” he chuckled. “But I’ll get it on him, even if it kills him.”
“You’ll get your chance. Seems to me that there’ll be more fighting yet, otherwise we’d have turned north by now,” observed Brindill. “An’ it’s about time Mangler’s boys got stuck in and did something to earn what they’ve got. Don’t get me wrong, I like the fighting, and there’s been good feasting of the enemy’s flesh after, but Mangler’s boys have yet to show us anything worth boasting about. They’ve got the numbers right now, no doubt, but only ‘cos they’ve avoided any real scrapping.”
“Just like they’ve avoided any work too,” said Mags. “They’re good for nothing.”
“Once they’ve been properly bloodied in battle, then we’ll see how good they are,” said Brindill. “It’s not all bad, you know. If they’re letting us take the lead, then we can set the pace.”
“Aye, and save our strength for when Razger finally tells us to show them who’s boss.”
Antonio Mugello’s Letter Continued
As all in Tilea now know, my Lord, the war against the vampires has taken a turn for the worse. His Holiness Calictus II is reported to have perished in the great battle at Ebino, his army having been utterly broken and what few survivors there were fleeing southwards in desperate haste. None of this bodes well for Tilea, especially in light of the terrible destruction wreaked by Razger Boulderguts’ brute army in the heart of the peninsula. The military might of Remas is a mere shadow of its former self, consisting of little more than the garrison army commanded by Captain General Scaringella, so that the southern realms of Portomaggiore and Alcente are the only great states still able to muster full armies in the field. Yet here in Pavona it is commonly held that all is far from lost, for it is now known that the young lord Silvano, Duke Guidobaldo’s sole surviving heir, a bold and noble youth who chose to honour his vows to fight the wickedness in the north despite the threat presented to his father’s realm by the ogres, survived the battle at Ebino and is even now returning home. More than that, the small but veteran Pavonan army Lord Silvano commanded is still largely intact, for the arch-lector sent them away to assist in Pavona’s struggle against the ogres, being satisfied that he could replace their numbers in his army with the mercenary Sons of the Desert.
Thus it is that Duke Guidobaldo has marched westwards from Pavona intent upon rendezvousing with his son’s army, perhaps even the young lord himself, thereby re-constituting the sort of conquering force the duke used to win his several victories against Astiano and Trantio. The army left the city to the sound of cheers from the crowd, perhaps made all the louder by the heartening fact that the soldiers would no longer need to be fed from what supplies remain in the storehouses? I cannot presume to know Duke Guidobaldo’s exact purpose, but at the least he must intend to drive the ogres away, if not to exact bloody revenge upon them for what they have done. Whatever his purpose it means that the Pavonan army most likely constitutes the greatest force in the north, and one able (perhaps bolstered by whatever allies join them) to make a stand against the undead in the field of battle. In accordance, my lord, with the wishes you expressed in your last missive to me, I intend to follow the Pavonan army to learn what I can of the duke’s whereabouts, intentions and fate. In light of the angry nature of the duke’s previous correspondence with you, I will do my utmost to forewarn you of any signs of aggression towards Verezzo. Be assured, however, what with his own subjects and soldiers facing many months of hunger, and with the threat of both ogres and vampires looming, the duke must surely have enough to keep him occupied without looking to fight upon any other fronts.
I am almost loathe to report this next matter to you, my noble lord, for I have but rumours and travellers’ gossip to rely upon, including a man who claimed once to have been a brother of the Arrabiatti. He told me, and all others who would listen, that Lord Totto, commander of said brotherhood, lives, and is even now working to recruit warriors to the brotherhood. This man, whose name it is pointless for me to repeat for it cannot have been his true name, spoke in a most contradictory manner, as if he had been driven mad by what he had suffered and witnessed. At one and the same time he encouraged all young men he met to travel north to join the brothers, whilst also swearing that very few would do so, for the north was home only to manifested nightmares. Such stuff I would never have thought worthy of report, except that he spoke of something else, which seems to be confirmed by reports from other sources. He said that the Estalian Compagnia del Sole, commanded by Capitano Bruno Mazallini, has crossed the Tilean Sea to disembark at Urbimo, brought there by contract. Neither he nor any other could tell me anything but idle speculation concerning the identity of Mazallini’s employer. But if true, then perhaps Tilea can draw encouragement from the presence of another army able join the fight against either or both vampires and ogres. If common sense is of any worth in this time of war, then the Compagnia can only have been brought here for that purpose, for it would surely be madness to suppose that Mazallini would agree to serve either a vampire or an ogre tyrant. Unless, that is, it is the Wizard Lord of Campogrotta who has bought them, perhaps to replace his army in the field should Boulderguts decide he is sated and it is finally time to quit Tilea?
By the Bay of Urbimo
“I don’t know about you,” said Baccio, “but I never expected to be back in Tilea so soon.”
Ottaviano chuckled. “We certainly returned a lot quicker than it took us to leave.”
“Good to be back in the saddle though,” said Baccio. “And with Myrmidia’s blessings, let’s hope we’ll fare somewhat better this time.”
The smile left Ottaviano’s face.
“Fare better? We were defeated and chased away by nothing more than men. Now we return to a realm swarming with rampaging brutes and unthinking undead,” said Ottaviano. “Yet you think it might go better for us this time?”
“I said I hoped so,” countered Baccio. “Besides, Razger Boulderguts and the vampire duchess were already busy enough when we were here before.”
“Oh yes, they were busy – in the distant north, far away from us. Since then Boulderguts has stomped his way into the very heart of Tilea, and there’s nothing I know of to stop the undead following on behind.”
Baccio sniffed. “Good job we’re here then, eh?”
Ottaviano gave his companion a despairing look. “You think we could stop them? Fortebracchio’s Compagnia was utterly defeated in nothing more than a petty war between tyrants – the same old same old for Tilea. Since then, however, the apparently unstoppable army of Pavona has been humbled by a double army of Ogres, the Duke’s rich realm ransacked and razed while the holy Morrite army of Remas, despite being bolstered by the famed Sons of the Desert, has been torn to pieces by unliving armies of the northern vampires. Mazallini’s Compagnia ain’t that much stronger than Fortebracchio’s was, yet you think it can take on the sort of armies that can bring Pavona and Remas to their knees?”
“So the enemy has changed,” said Baccio dismissively. “Different times, different employer, different enemy. Forewarned is forearmed, and Captain Mazallini is not Fortebracchio.”
“When we served Fortebracchio we had but one enemy to contend with, whereas now just about everyone is our enemy. The Pavonan duke is hardly likely to embrace us as friends, the ogres attack and pillage everything they encounter, and the vampires are an enemy to anyone alive.”
Baccio rolled his eyes. “I’m glad you’re mentioning this just now, Ottaviano. It would have made for a miserable sea journey to hear you whining in such a manner. So much better that you waited for us to land right in the thick of it before pointing out the dire folly of our coming.”
“I’m just telling it like it is.”
“Ever the pessimist! Look, to my mind there’s more to it. As far as we know, the Pavonan duke is not defeated, and if Renzelli’s crossbows do serve in his army, then his hatred of the Compagnia must surely have waned. We are Capitano Mazallini’s men, not General Fortebraccio’s. Does it matter that our emblem is the same? We’re not the Pavonans’ enemy. They don’t want more enemies, old or new, but instead plead for help and allies from any quarter. As for the Remans, even though the arch-lector is dead, the city state itself has not fallen, and still has an army in the field. It’s not like we’re the only force left. Then there’s the fact that our new employers can’t be defenceless. The mountain dwarfs have always been renowned as warriors, and the Bretonnians will fight even when not paid to do so, for nothing but honour alone.”
“There’s probably some truth to what you say. But you’re forgetting that they say Duke Guidobaldo’s realm has been burned. If so, then the Pavonan army is hungry. Remember what Edoardo Cuoco wrote: ‘Victuals is the soul of an army: money but the sinews. Without the first your army cannot fight, without the second but indifferently. But with both admirably well‘”
“Oh, if it’s written in a book it must be true,” said Baccio sarcastically.
“Common sense tells you it’s true. You yourself have seen it to be so!”
“Point taken. I apologise. What else?”
“Ottavanio, you’re always so thorough in your dismantling of my arguments. Can I take it this time you agree with my assessment of Remas and our new employers.”
“Remas remains free, yes, but I strongly doubt the arch-lector left the best of his soldiers at home when he personally led an army north to face the vampires ….
“ …Whatever rump of an army remains probably isn’t fit to call itself so. It’ll be little more than garrison troops, pressed men and a mob of Morrite fanatics. As for the mountain dwarfs and this Bretonnian lord, if they did have any real forces to speak of then they wouldn’t have hired us on such generous terms, would they? What the mountain dwarfs have – at least we all hope they have – is plenty of gold, but we’d be foolish to assume anything more. And this noble Baron Gregoire, I’d be surprised if he commanded anything more than a handful of over-eager tourney knights and a gang of filthy peasants.
The two fell silent, both lost in their thoughts. For a few moments, the world around them shared in their silence, until the sound of galloping hooves broke the spell.
“They’re coming,” said Ottaviano.
Baccio looked towards the gap in the rocky ridge, then spoke. “Well, at least the folk round here are pleased to see us. They bent over backwards to offer their port for our landing.”
“They did,” agreed Ottaviano. “A sign of their desperation, which further proves my point. The Urbimans have been begging Remas for aid for many seasons, desperate to bolster their defences, but to no avail. Now Remas has nothing to give. Of course they’re happy to see us, even if we don’t intend to stay, for while we’re here they are safe.”
“You mean ‘safer’,” suggested Baccio.
Ottaviano smiled. “Yes, that’s the more pessimistic way of putting it. Still, they’ll be very glad that it’ll take a while for the whole company to cross the sea.”
The first riders of a troop of mounted crossbowmen now emerged through the gap, garbed in the same livery as the two chancellors, being the blue and vermillion of the Compagnia del Sole.
“D’you think, Ottaviano, it’s possible the Urbimans had a hand in ensuring there weren’t enough ships to bring us all over as one, just so we would be forced to stay here longer?”
“No, Baccio, I don’t think that. It seems to me that the fear of ogres, vampires and ratto uomo is a perfectly satisfactory reason for ship’s captains to feel reluctant about sailing in the more northern waters of the Tilean Sea.”
“Hmm,” muttered Baccio. “That would do it.”
The horsemen, preceded by a cornet bearing the Compagnia’s Myrmidian white rod and half sun insignia and a lieutenant distinguished by the large yellow panache sprouting from his cap, rode by with barely a glance at the two chancellors.
Considering the perilous situation in Tilea, Capitano Mazallini had no intention of dropping his guard, not even for a moment, which is why these and several other companies of light horse had been dispatched to watch every approach to Urbimo, at some distance from the town. Baccio and Ottaviano watched them pass, and then, without further words, made their own way back through the gap in the rocks. Lodging under the gods on the cold, hard earth was not for them this night. Instead spiced wine, a warm fire and a straw bed awaited them in the biggest inn Urbimo had to offer. Both had decided that there was plenty enough hardship to come soon enough, and neither wished to bring it about any earlier than necessary.
Antonio Mugello’s Letter Continued
I know, my lord, you understand how distance decreases the reliability of reports, so that I would never presume to suggest that you should wholly trust the information I have gleaned concerning faraway places. I also know, however, that anything potentially important ought still to be passed on to you so that you and your advisers can compare what I have written to that reported by your other servants across Tilea. In this manner, by sifting out bias, geographical distortions and the like, in order to uncover the similarities and therefore, perhaps, take a step closer to the truth. So it is that I now turn to more distant events, for which I rely upon the tales of less reliable sources, such as the second or third hand accounts of travellers or the tavern talk of those who have received communication from distant family or associates. Pavona is no sea port, and has effectively endured a blockade whilst the brute, double army circumambulated its environs, yet in recent days there has been a renewed flow of traffic.
I will begin with the far south, where the soldiers of the VMC are said to have recaptured all that had been seized by goblins. Pavezzano is being repopulated, that it might once again become a prosperous port. The town of Pugno, which were it not for the Gargese mountains would be so close to Pavona, has been cleansed of goblins. Several mountain men, until recently frustrated in their efforts to gain passage by the ogres, have now come into the city with their mule trains carrying furs. It is from these that I learned that Pugno was taken only a month or so ago, the last surviving goblins fleeing into the mountains. So it seems that the VMC now governs a vast swathe of territory, from Pugno and Monte Castello upon the Bay of Wrecks in the east, to the town of Mintopua overlooking the Pirate’s Current in the west, and as far north as Capelli by Sussurio Forest. Furthermore, their novel admixture or mercantile and military has not necessarily been diminished at all by the fight against Khurnag and his foul minions, for little in the way of real fighting was done apart from the battle at Tursi. It would perhaps be prudent to presume that their forces have swollen in proportion to the size of the realm they now rule. Surely no native Alcentian could have known what would happen as a consequence of their request for aid from the Vereenigde Marienburg Compagnie? What they thought was an offer of very generous trade rights in return for military assistance, has become effectively complete domination by a foreign power. And yet the company’s forces contain plenty of Tileans. The VMC has even begun work repairing and (perhaps in light of its failure to withstand the goblins’ siege) improving the mighty fortress of Monte Castello. Perhaps they see their now substantial Tilean possessions as a mere footstep to even greater wealth, and power? Are they planning to monopolise all trade with the Border Princes, as well as oust all other northern interests from the Black Gulf routes to Araby? Who can measure the limits of their greed and ambition?
On Stony Ground
Monte Castello, south-eastern Tilea
The double walled fortress of Monte Castello had seen better days. The outer wall was breached in several places, including the main gate tower. Its previous occupants, Big Boss Grutlad and his goblins, had made repairs of a kind, although it was debatable whether or not their repairs constituted any actual improvement to the castle’s defensibility. From the sea, many hundreds of braccia below the cliffs upon which the castle was perched, the place looked deserted, apart from a couple of columns of smoke arising from within the inner wall. Taking a landward approach, however, you would see one or two blue-coated handgunners patrolling the walls, while a scattering of labourers clambered over the rubble mounds, operating make-shift cranes to shift the stones hither and thither.
At the gate tower Captain Singel’s chief assistant Adolar Gansz was inspecting the progress made by two of the shore party men left behind to make a start on proper repairs. They had spent hours already clearing rubble away with no particularly discernible effect.
Bernt Reitter, a balding Marienburger who had been at sea since before he could grow a beard and having served the VMC for more than a decade, leaned on the stick he was using to pry the rocks out and spoke.
“Master Gansz, I have to ask, considering the paltry number of men we have here and the enormity of the work needing done, wouldn’t we be better finishing what the greenskins began, instead o’ starting afresh?”
Gansz, a tubby sort of fellow wearing the loose breeches, short waistcoat and simple woollen hat favoured by many a northern seaman, looked over his spectacles at Bernt. “No,” he said bluntly. “What the goblins built won’t do at all, not even as the foundation for something better. Look at it. It’s nothing more than rickety, rubble filled hoardings, half nailed and half tied into place. Fire could bring it down in half an hour, and artillery could shiver the whole thing to splinters with only one or two shots. Why, with nothing more than a gully knife I could cut one of these ropes and make this whole side collapse.”
“I told you Bernd,” said Heiner, the other man present. “The goblins did nothing good here, apart from leaving, and even then they left a right stink behind.”
“I wasn’t praising their efforts,” complained Bernd. “Just pointing out the impossibility of us few making any real improvements.”
“Just be glad that you’re here shifting rocks and not in there shifting dung,” said Gansz, gesturing with his thumb towards the inner wall.
“If I was going to complain it wouldn’t be about that,” said Bernd.
Gansz’ face took on a pained expression. He took off his glasses and began wiping them upon his shirt. “Go on then, spit it out. What would you complain about?”
“I don’t see why the general took the greenskins away with him when they could have been put to work here, shifting this lot and shovelling their own sh …”
“Ha!” laughed Heiner, cutting short Bernd’s words. “A small army of goblins, renowned across the world for treachery and base cunning, with only us few to guard them. What could go wrong?”
Bernd narrowed his eyes, but said nothing. Heiner hefted the hammer he’d been using with a chisel to break some of the bigger rocks onto his shoulder. He was quite a contrast to his workmate, for where Bernd had a bald pate and stark cheekbones, Heiner had hair and jowls enough for the both of them.
“The general had other ideas for the goblins,” added Heiner. “Let them fight their own kind to retake Pugno. Goblins fighting goblins means less losses for us.”
“I don’t think the general needs a commentary upon his tactics from the likes of you two,” said Gansz. He replaced his glasses and, hands on hips, took the measure of the complaining seaman. “This is heavy labour, granted, but you’re a labourer. You might not be winding a windlass nor hauling a halyard like you’re used to as a labourer-at-sea, but instead hefting stones. What’s the difference to the sweat on your back? Those who marched away, they’re labourers too – labourers in arms. Would you rather be out there marching for miles and day and all so you be bloodied at the end of it? We get paid either way, and here we have shelter and plenty of grub …”
“If you like fish,” interrupted Heiner.
Gansz furrowed his brow and fixed his over the spectacles stare upon Heiner.
“Which of course we do,” laughed Heiner. “Like you said, we’re sailors.”
“Just get on with it, won’t you?” ordered Gansz …
… “I’ll come back before nightfall to see how you’ve done.”
The two seamen fell silent and recommenced their slow labour. Gansz took his leave, slipping and cursing several times as he scrabbled over the rocks back into the castle’s outer ward. As soon as he had gone Berd and Heiner stopped working.
“You know,” said Bernd, “he was a mere grommet when I served as bo’s’un on a Marie bark.”
“I did know,” said Heiner. “Then, while he mastered the art of gunnery you got plastered studying the art of drinking ale.”
“Very funny. Still, I’d rather take orders from Captain Singel, at least he’s a proper engineer – a gentleman who has studied his mathematicals. I’d like to see Gansz explain the rule of the sun.”
Heinar laughed. “The captain’s head is full o’ nonsense. You know where he is right now? He’s out looking for better stone! Here we are surrounded by the stuff, with more of the same beneath the earth, and he’s off to look for a better kind. An’ if he finds it then it’ll have to be quarried, then carved, then lugged up here. That’s work on top of work, and all unnecessary. He believes himself an architect.”
“And you think you know if he is or not?” scoffed Bernd. “You think you know what needs doing to rebuild a fortress?”
“I’ve done a fair bit of soldiering – plenty enough to know that a military engineer ought to be satisfied with building effective defences. Fancy flourishes and pretty carvings aren’t required. Patch what needs patching, pile up some earth to make it better proof against shot, and be done. Once the general gets wind of it, he’ll make Singel see sense. General Valckenburgh is a man for getting things done – why else would the company employ him, give him so much authority? We turned the watchtower at Tursi into a fort overnight, and Khurnag’s army broke against it.”
“Tursi was mere earthworks. It was the guns and men on the works that smashed the orcs.”
“I’m not saying it was anything more than earthworks. What I’m saying is that it wasn’t shoddy work – it was exactly what was required for the job in hand. No time, effort or money wasted. The VMC intends to profit from Tilea, as much as they can, and so far they’ve playing a very clever game laying the groundwork. A city state bought, towns and fortresses happy to be subjugated, the rest of Tilea thankful for the defeat of Khurnag’s Waagh, and goblin armies defeated with barely a blow dealt. The general even put the last lot of goblins to work serving the company’s purpose. The whole of southern Tilea is likely to fall under the company’s control, and the gulf along with it. The profits and dividends will be vast. Monte Castello doesn’t have to look pretty to play its part in commanding the Bay of Wrecks.”
Antonio Mugello’s Letter Continued
From Alcente, I will plot a course northward. You, my lord, are almost certainly aware of the following news, but I include it that you might know all I have learned here in Pavona. Earlier this week an emissary from Luccini arrived, missing the duke by a matter of days, and today departed in the hope of catching up with the duke upon the road. The emissary carries an invitation to King Ferronso III’s confirmation ceremony. The regent, Ferronso’s uncle Duke Ercole Perrotto, has apparently grown ill over the last few months, which most likely explains why the ceremony is being done at the earliest possible opportunity, to officially recognise the 15 year-old monarch as ruler in practise as well as name.
King Ferronso III, the boy-king, son of the ‘Lion’ of Luccini, King Ferronso II, here seen in his family’s famous Palazzo di Luce
The ceremony will take place at the close of Spring, and it is presumed that all the neighbouring rulers will be invited, including the Reman Overlord Matuzzi, the arch-lector of Morr (whomsoever that is), Lord Alessio Falconi of Portomaggiori and various lesser nobles neighbouring Luccini, such as current Gonfalonieri of Ridraffa, perhaps even the commander of the VMC in Alcente. I cannot see how Duke Guidobaldo of Pavona can possibly attend considering the precarious and dire state of his realm, and it would seem a similar species of madness were Overlord Matuzzi to attend, what with the immediate threat presented by Razger Boulderguts’ double-army. I have heard it suggested, cruelly, that Overlord Matuzzi, along with other nobility, might use the invite as an excuse to escape danger during this time of troubles? He did, after all, previously divest himself of his proper authority simply to shirk the responsibility of rule.
King Ferronso’s sister, Princess Mariangella, two years younger than he and of an age to be betrothed, is likely to become the focus of a second political concern in Luccini. It occurs to me now that young Lord Silvano is unmarried, and might well be considered a very eligible candidate. Whether or not the proud Duke Guidobaldo would wish to promote alliance with a far away and relatively weak state such as Luccini, however, is another matter. Besides, Lord Silvano has yet to safely return from his perilous adventures.
Again, my lord, you are probably more informed concerning the following matter than myself, but I intend to be thorough in my report on Tilea, and so will proceed in the confidence that you will not take my words as worthless. Lord Alessio of Portomaggiore seems to have finally quelled the unrest infecting Raverno, by taking it under his military rule. As to why he should do so, I think it very likely that he harbours doubts concerning the VMC’s intentions. After all, it was the VMC who sent a force to raze Camponeffro to punish Raverno for its treatment of their ambassadors. Lord Alessio’s own realm apparently enjoys peaceful prosperity, the profits of which enabled him to send forces of various kinds to assist in both the war against Khurnag’s Waagh and the Vampires of the north. While all these mercenary expeditions failed, smashed and scattered against much greater foes, Portomaggiore has nevertheless extended its dominion, acquiring control of Raverno and thus gaining a dependent marche to hinder and absorb any landward attack. If Lord Alessio were similarly to gain lordship of Luccinni, Ridraffa and even (may all the gods shield you) your own Verezzo, he would possess a great and wealthy state indeed, with his beloved Portomaggiore effectively fortified by an outer ring of petty states. Considering his own forces have yet to be committed to any real conflict, it is no wild supposition to assume he commands an army of considerable strength, making him perhaps the most powerful, living Tilean lord in the realm, not including stranieri, vampiri or bruti. I tell you this not to conjure unnecessary fears, but rather to reveal what seems possible, perhaps likely, to such an observer as myself.
Although the story of it has no doubt travelled throughout Tilea, by your leave I shall tell you all that I have gleaned concerning the battle before Ebino. The battle was great indeed. Morr’s holy army, composed of Reman soldiers, mercenaries under long term contract to Remas, the mercenary army of Arabyans commanded by Gedik Mamidous (sent by Lord Alessio Falconi of Portomaggiore), and the Pavonan Lord Silvano (Duke Guidobaldo’s lone surviving son) had begun the construction of a huge fortified camp, at the heart of which stood a sanctified – if makeshift – shrine to Morr. The soldiers drilled and laboured, while the genius Angelo da Leoni attempted to convert his steam powered war-engine into a mobile ramp from which to assault the walls, and the throng of priests began chanting powerful prayers to weaken the necromantic magic holding the enemy forces in this world. But all was to no avail, for the vampire duchess’s army sallied forth unexpectedly, much larger than the Remans had believed it to be, containing truly monstrous and unnatural beasts and engines, and caught Morr’s army unprepared. Their camp incomplete, their mighty war machine weakened by the work being done upon it, and their army made up mostly of mercenary troops with little faith in Morr, all added together to cause disaster. The priests’ prayers, their suppliant rites barely begun, wrought little harm upon the foe, and the undead wreaked great slaughter.
A mere fraction of the arch-lector’s army survived to flee the field in disarray. Gedik Mamidous is rumoured to have escaped, along with perhaps half of his arabyans, as did Lord Silvano and the genius Master Angelo. The vampire duchess must surely have gained great strength from her enemies’ corpses, magically luring them from death to undeath and so into her service. It is said she is now establishing a mockery of the church of Morr, with lesser vampires masquerading as priests and mobs of shambling zombies gurgling foul hymns, claiming Nagash to be the god of gods.
Yet she has halted, and does not seem to have advanced any further south than Ebino. None (alive) can know what has delayed her, whether it is merely her own inclination and desires, or whether she has other obstacles to overcome before advancing further.
What few folk have been brave (or foolish) enough to remain in Viadaza now live in fear of what could come at any moment. Having only recently completed the horrible work of cleansing the city of corruption, they now face the prospect of Viadaza once more falling under the abominable rule of the unliving. The people of Urbimo are only a little less worried, having gained some reassurance from Viadaza being closer to the evil, thus acting as a buffer against the duchess’s reach, and that (as I have already mentioned) the soldiers of the Estalian Compagnia del Sole are currently quartered in the vicinity providing an accidental garrison of considerable strength. Needless to say, Capitano Bruno Mazallini’s soldiers have been warmly welcomed and generously provisioned, even to the hardship of the populace, who are happy to suffer hunger and even the usual ignominies that invariably accompany the presence of condottiere, in return for the presence of seasoned soldiers. The prospect of aching bellies, pilfered trinkets and a gaggle of disgraced damsels fades into insignificance compared to the horrors of conquest by the living dead!
As I explained earlier, there is no certainty regarding why the soldiers of the second Compagnia del Sole have returned to Tilea, only conflicting reports. Some say it is merely the fact that their Estalian contract has ended, and that they have returned either by order of their Estalian employers or because they want new employment in Tilea, where there is doubtless need for their aid. Whether or not they already have a new contract is uncertain, for it may be that they have several offers, or perhaps one offer yet to be signed and sealed. Some say that the arch-lector Calictus II invited them, and if so Captain Mazallini must now be wondering what to do. Perhaps the Reman Overlord Matuzzi, or whoever succeeds to the arch-lector’s throne, will re-affirm the offer of contract? Other suggestions concerning their new employer include Lord Alessio Falconi of Portomaggiore (who, after all, has previously employed such large mercenary companies, and who’s own state has remained relatively untouched, and consequently prosperous, by the wars recently ravaging the peninsula)? Or perhaps they are to serve Duke Guidobaldo, brought so low by the brutes of Campogrotta, and no doubt eager for revenge and to regain what he has lost? Still others believe that they are in the employ of whichever Bretonnian lord believes himself to be the heir of Ravola, where what little remains habitable is garrisoned by ogres; or the mountain dwarfs of Karak Borgo, whose rich trade with Tilea has ceased completely; or the VMC, perhaps the only employer with the resources to actually pay the no-doubt massive sums offered to gain the Compagnia’s service? All, however, is speculation, which is perhaps exactly what Captain Mazallini and/or his employer want.
It is reliably reported that there is turmoil in the great city of Remas, for as so often during the election of a new arch lector, a variety of factions are clashing over the decision. Even in times of peace there can be much upset, and all the moreso when the whole of Tilea is threatened with ruin. In theory, Overlord Domenico Matuzzi governs the state with signorial authority, and could not only influence the choice but could also rule the city with a strong hand whilst the election occurred, but as he voluntarily handed over the reins of power to the arch-lector he has made himself a weak candidate for de facto ruler even now that Calictus is dead. It is commonly expected that the new arch-lector will continue to rule both church and state. The Reman Captain-General Scaringella leads a force in the field, presumably in an attempt to prevent the tyrant Boulderguts’ double army troubling the city state, which limits his own ability to influence the government of the city or the election of the new arch-lector, and means the chances of him establishing martial rule are low.
The Church of Morr has yet to decide upon Calictus’ successor, a decision made difficult not only by the number of candidates (the foremost being the lectors of Verezzo and Viadaza, Luigi Grasica and Bernado Ugolini respectively) but also by the radicalisation of the church in response to the growing threat from the north. Powerful cults have formed, the populace swelling the number of their dedicati, imbued with Sagranalian tendencies and more than a smattering of the Pavonan heresy of Morr Supreme, and their leaders, particularly Father Carradalio and his Disciplinati di Morr, are also jostling for the arch-lectorship.
I shall return at the last to matters of which I am more reliably informed. Razger Boulderguts, his ravenous army swollen in size by Mangler’s band of brutes, is hauling a massive train of loot, plundered from Trantio, Astiano and the villages of Pavona. Until now all that Duke Guidobaldo’s soldiers have been able to do is slow his progress a little and (by razing some of their own lands) deny him some of the spoils he would otherwise have taken. Pavona now lies bruised and battered, which may well be the future fate of Remas if Boulderguts cannot be stopped. The duke commands a large army, which I myself saw mustered and marching from the city, as well as other forces like those sent away from Viadaza by the arch-lector as a gesture of solidarity concerning the ogre threat. But is his army sufficiently strong to defeat the brute double army? If only Prince Girenzo of Trantio were still alive, and commanding his armies. If only Remas had not lost the bulk of its forces in the war to the north. Then a grand alliance indeed could have been formed. As things stand, it may well be that all these once great powers can do is scrape together sufficient forces to defend their walls, and give thanks to the gods that they can do so. Again and again I have heard it said that the brutes and the vampires must be in league, the first growing rich upon all that they can steal, and sated on all the flesh they can eat, so that the latter can then take possession of the wasted land left in the brutes’ wake, turning the rotting remnants of the ogres’ victims into servants. And so, evil is piled upon evil as one hell begets another.
Your humble servant, Antonio Mugello
Next Installment: Part 15