The Machinery of Government

Note: In case you are just starting to read my blogs, this is part of my ongoing campaign, set in Tilea. See my campaign web site for the whole thing.  I’ll return to stories from my old All That Glitters campaign tomorrow.

The End of Spring, IC2403 

Part Four: The Machinery of Government
(The City of Remas)

After a momentary delay in an ante-chamber, whilst word of his visit was sent aloft, a servant had led Brother Marsilio up the stairs and let him into the studio, opening the door in silence. Upon entering, Marsilio was pleased to discover a spacious, brightly lit chamber, infused with an aura of calm. It contained several well-stocked bookshelves. Manuscripts, maps and books littered a large, central table and intriguing technical schemata adorned the walls. One might expect such a profusion of papers to create a cluttered effect, but here they advertised the operations of a creative mind, the product of orderly, organised thought. After the tension of the streets, with every interaction, even the merest, momentary glance, either fearful or suspicious it was a blessed relief to step into this room.

The occupant, hunched over the table whilst perusing a thick tome, was so deep in contemplation that he did not look up. Marsilio stepped in, lightly, and used the opportunity to take a deep breath, soothing his excitable heart. A combination of nervousness, the disturbing world outside, and the climbing of the steep stairs, had worked together to put a strain upon his sanguine organ. The air tasted of books – of paper and the mite-ridden dust raised whenever it is disturbed after a long slumber, of old leather bindings and the mould harboured within. There was peace even in the smell of the room. Marsilio had not thought he would find such calm in any part of the city, such was his fear of being discovered at least as an emissary from the arch-lector, at worst as a prospective thief. His enjoyment lasted no longer than that breath, however, for upon remembering he must now reveal his true purpose, the fear returned.

The leaded glass of the windows was thick enough to dull the sound of the street below, so that when Marsilio’s next step drew forth a groaning creak from a wooden board, the noise was startling enough for the maestro to look up from his studies.

“Oh, good brother. Forgive me my distraction, please. The written word entrances me as well as any enchantment, conjuring a tumbling torrent of ideas in which I am like to drown. Who knows how long I would have splashed helplessly in those scholarly waters had you not saved me?”

Maestro Angelo smiled, apparently enjoying his little joke. “Come hither,” he instructed, “so that I may see you a little better. My eyes grow lazy when reading so long.”

Marsilio walked over to the table. The maestro wore a tight-fitting hood and a surcoat of Reman livery, with a heavy silver chain about his shoulders. His neatly trimmed beard had almost succumbed entirely to grey, but it was his widely spaced eyes and flattened nose that drew people’s immediate notice. He was clutching his book in one hand, as if the weight were of no consequence.

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“It is you who must forgive my intrusion, maestro. I am Brother Marsilio, and I am here upon a matter of some import.”

“Isn’t everyone, these days?” said Angelo with a smile. “Death hangs over us all. Not that it ever leaves mortal man’s side, but of late it has inched a good deal closer, and now we smell its foul breath each and every moment. Do you know, it has even found its way into my dreams?”

Marsilio was not surprised. He knew that Angelo had been present at the Battle of Ebino when the arch-lector Calictus had died, his army scattered, and all at the hands of monstrous legions of undead.

“If you please,” offered Marsilio, “I could offer a prayer to help you sleep a little easier, for Morr rules over our nightly slumbers as well as out eternal repose.”

“Why not, brother? Of late, it seems the only prayers spoken are meant to disturb, not soothe.”

Maestro Angelo now gave Marsilio a piercing gaze, studying him intently.

“You were not sent by the Praepositus Generalis,” he said.

“No, maestro. I think all his fanatics are out upon the streets, to witness your new machine. Indeed, I hope that is all of them, for if there are more then surely the entire citizenry has succumbed to the fury.”

Angelo smiled at this. He was not a handsome man, not least because his flat nose looked like that of an experienced pit fighter, being the result of a famous injury received in youth during a somewhat impetuous experiment to test human flight by the use of artificial wings. Marsilio had noticed one of the large papers upon the wall showed just such an artefact.

“I have come from the arch-lector, his Holiness Bernado,” continued Marsilio, hesitantly. “I was sent … sent to ask you …”

Here he faltered, and Maestro Angelo’s smile grew broader.

“There is not much that is easy these days, brother, not even the asking of a question, eh? You need not rush. First, I would like to ask you a thing or two, if you will oblige me.”

“Yes, maester. Whatever you wish to know.”

“I heard Duke Scaringella died upon the Via Diocleta, but what of our army? None have returned to the city. Is it decimated?”

“No, it survived almost wholly intact. The arch-lector has command of it.”

“So easily? And he a churchman?”

“He had precedent enough,” explained Marsilio. “His holiness led several parts of the army before, as well as fighting by their side at Viadaza and upon the Via Diocleta. He has both the soldiers’ respect and their willing obedience.”

“Their obedience? I heard our soldiers razed Frascoti, looting it as thoroughly as Razger’s Ogres would have done had they not rushed by so hurriedly.”

Marsilio had not realised the depth of the lies being told in the city. “That is not true, maestro. We have set up camp there, to defend it and the rest of Remas from any further aggression by the Razger’s brutes. The people there have not been harmed. They’re thankful of our presence. Some of our soldiers are themselves Frascotans.”

“I do know our Pavonan allies are not with the army,” said Angelo. “Duke Guidobaldo brought his wounded son here, and his army too. Was there no room at Frascoti? Or perhaps there was some disagreement between him and the arch-lector?”

“None that I know of. The Pavonan army was very badly mauled, and their departure was not considered a great loss to the defence of Frascoti. Besides, in such times, why shouldn’t Duke Guidobaldo keep the last of his soldiers near?” Marsilio paused, then asked. “You mentioned the duke’s son. How fares the young Lord Polcario? His holiness bade me ask.”

“Oh, sadly he has lost an eye, but otherwise should recover well enough. I myself have visited him, advising his doctors as best I could,” said Angelo.

It cheered Marsilio to know he could can return with at least one happy thing to tell the arch-lector.

“One might ask,” said Angelo, fixing Marsilio in his gaze, “why the duke and the arch-lector would want the Pavonan army camped so close to the city. Their presence is generally considered unwelcome. What few Pavonan soldiers have snuck into the city, breaking their agreement, have been dealt with roughly, in accordance with Carradalio’s orders. It seems he does not trust them even to enter the city singly.”

Was the maestro trying to get military intelligence from him? And if so, then perhaps his allegiance did indeed lie with the fanatics. “I will not lie and claim to know that which I do not,” he said, “but I do not believe the Pavonans’ proximity is a tactical ruse. I know the Duke wanted the best doctors to attend Lord Polcario. And as a healthy, strong Remas makes a better friend for him in his time of dire need, then why would he do anything other than foster harmony between the divided factions of Remas. I greatly doubt he intends to fan the flames of civil war.”

“He does not need to, that fire burns well enough without any help,” mused Angelo. “He does not appear to be in any rush to return to his own ruined realm. Carradalio sent a father superior to minister to the duke’s army – one Rosello di Franchi, a Pavonan himself, although of a somewhat dubious background. By Rosello’s leave Duke Guidobaldo’s soldiers can forage to feed themselves, but must in return attend the father superior’s services, and harken to his sermons. Perhaps Carradalio thinks thus to bend the Pavonans to his will rather than their own lord’s? Even to make dedicants of them?”

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Marsilio frowned, for this all sounded very familiar. “He sent just such a man to our army at Frascoti, who preaches fulsome praise for our victory and our brave defence of Remas, ensuring all and sundry hear his words, from the greatest to the least. Of course, woven amongst his words are all the old Sagrannalian heresies.”

“Well, Carradalio successfully wrested control of great and ancient Remas. Why stop there? His star is in the ascendant and the gods obviously favour him. Both armies have good reasons to hear his message: the Pavonans share his predilection to worship Holy Morr Supreme, while many amongst our own army have friends and family in the city.”

“Of that I am not too sure, maestro,” said Marsilio. He had heard the sermons himself, and seen the soldiers’ disdain. “It seems to me that our soldiers do not enjoy being preached to about the war by those who have not fought in it. Do I take it from your words that you do not like Father Carradalio, then?” he asked the maestro.

A reluctant grin spread upon Angelo’s face. “Now there’s a real question. Affection is not required for respect. And in a time of war, men of action are required. He is definitely that. He and his followers can stir a pot to the very dregs. They can turn a whole city upside down.”

“You have made a war engine for them,” said Marsilio. “I saw it myself on my way here, being pulled through crowded streets. I was surprised you were not with it. You rode your steam engine before Calictus.”

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Angelo shook his head. “I could not bear to accompany it, to be in those crowds. When I returned to the city I found what I found, whether I liked it or not. Yet Remas is my home. I offered the Praepositus Generalis a new engine to buy his favour, so that I might not suffer whatever ignominies he would otherwise demand of me. The work was as nothing compared to my steam engine, but he does not know that. In truth this engine was already almost completed, having been laid aside when I commenced work upon the last. The glasses were ground, the mounting done. All that was required was to assemble the parts. I had originally envisaged it as armament for the steam engine, but then Remas acquired a remarkable artillery piece, and when I saw what it could do I chose instead to mount that.”

“However it was made,” asked Marsilio, “will this new engine not wreak destruction upon the foe?”

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“Oh, I assure you, it is capable of truly awful effect. As to how reliable it is, I cannot say. The artillery piece depended upon the quality of the black powder and the expertise of the gunners. This machine relies on the vagaries of the winds of magic, and the mathematical cunning with which its glasses are deployed.”

“It looks impressive, I can assure you.”

The maestro narrowed his eyes, then asked, “Did you see who rode upon it?”

“Two men, both in clerical robes. One fellow, an old man, bald on top with tufts of hair sticking out from the side, was holding a skull aloft.”

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“Oh yes, he came with them for the machine. I showed him as best I could how it should be used. I heard they tested it yesterday upon a blaspheming heretic – some drunken fool who questioned aloud whether Morr had abandoned us. They tied him to a stake at a hundred paces distance and in a few moments burned his body to ashes from the neck down. Only his head remained, and that fleshless.”

“Thus the skull?” suggested Marsilio.

“Aye, thus the skull,” said Angelo.

“How does it work?

“By an ingenious alignment of dioptrical glasses and prismatical crystals through which both natural and aetheric light are conjoined and congelated, refracted, multiplied and projected. The central glass is mounted upon a helical axle, allowing subtle adjustments of the interspatial lengths, so that the glasses can be arranged perfectly to concentrate and maximise the emitted heat. Or, to put it more bluntly” – here the smile returned, but in a pained form – “it burns people. Let us hope it burns the undead just as well.”

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“Unlike my previous creation, this is no automaton, for it requires a team of draught animals to pull it, with all their inherent weaknesses. In truth, the work was done in great haste, which seemed to please Father Carradalio and his strange companions more than care or craftsmanship would.”

“They have found good, strong horses, maestro, and armoured them well.”

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“Well they might,” said Angelo, the bitterness plain in his voice. “For they killed all those left in the city who might otherwise have had the skill to ride them.”

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Marsilio could see the maestro’s anguish and thought it best to speak an appropriate prayer.

“Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis,” he intoned, quietly.

“Amen,” Angelo said. “I see you know these dedicants exactly for what they are. I confess, I was too afraid to be there today. I thought only to spend some time here, in contemplation, hoping their present satisfaction would mean I was undisturbed. Yet, my part in all this weighs on me. Tell me, what else did you see?”

“They chanted as they accompanied the machine, carrying a holy relic before it …

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… and a ragged banner behind.

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I saw it pass down the Via del Marcutto, the entire street lined with dedicants.

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Father Carradalio himself watched it, standing upon the roof of the Cappella dei Santo Corvo.

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His Admonitor was beside him. His hooded guards behind.”

“That is all?” asked Angelo. “They hauled it through the streets. Nothing more?”

Marsilio could not fathom what concerned the maestro. “Just that.”

“Good. Would that I could ensure it was only ever used upon Remas’s enemies.”

Now Marsilio understood. The Maestro felt guilt about gifting such an engine of war to such a faction.

A smile, tinged with regret, returned to Angelo’s face. “Brother, what exactly have you come to ask of me?”

“The arch-lector wants you to leave the city with me. He believes your place is with the true army of Remas, the true church of Morr, and not with an unsanctioned, schismatical and rebellious fraternity of thugs. Remas and Tilea stand upon the brink of destruction, and the fate of every living soul is in the balance. Carradalio and his fanatics are a symptom of these terrible times. They are not the cure.”

“And yet,” interrupted Angelo, “they possess a faith strong enough to make them fearless in battle, and would to die to a man facing any monstrous foe. I myself witnessed their kind in battle at Ebino. Our horse fought bravely, but were finally overwhelmed and fled. Knights, Arabyans, even elves, all galloped pell-mell from the field. Not the flagellants – they strode boldly forth to plung deep into the foe. Not one turned to run. And this was done when the battle was surely lost. They feared neither death nor defeat.”

“Does such martydom win wars?” asked Marsilio. “Their flagellatory frenzies mean that even in victory they suffer terrible losses. And when they look to replenish their ranks, they will discover the realm they themselves ravaged has very little left to offer. I do not doubt they could win a battle. But the war?”

“You have just seen their host swarming on the streets, certainly sufficient to field an army. Everyone knows they are capable of terrible and bloody cruelties. Whatever horrors they face, and whatever horrible deeds they themselves must commit, they will not falter.”

“But do they have the military discipline and cunning to gain victory in a war? Do they even remember Myrmidia’s name? I grant you, their numbers have swollen. Yet to achieve this they have wreaked havoc, divided Remas, slaughtered the best citizens, and destroyed much in the way of industry and husbandry. And all this they did while the ogres burned Stiani.”

“Well, no one can doubt their fervour. They’re willing to do anything for the love of Morr. Father Carradalio seems filled with the spirit of Morr.”

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“As is the arch-lector,” countered Marsilio. “Perhaps Carradalio even hears the same words when Morr whispers in his dreams? But there is a great difference between the praepositus generalis and the arch-lector. Both have accepted Morr’s command to act, immediately and decisively. In this they are the same. But what his holiness has done in response to that call is not at all the same. As Carradalio fermented civil upset, his holiness led armies against foul foes. As the Disciplinati stirred Sagrannalian schisms, the church’s true clergy inspired soldiers to face almost certain death fighting monsters. For every riot Carradalio’s followers instigated, for every massacre they inflicted, the Reman army fought vampires, ogres and monsters. Carradalio watched the streets of Remas and Palomtrina run with the blood of innocents, while his holiness rode sword in hand at Pontremola, at Viadaza and upon the Via Diocleta. The Disciplinati di Morr have inflicted their frenzied fury upon the weak, while the army of Remas stood firm and faithful, even unto death, against the true foe. You yourself were at Viadaza and Ebino.”

Angelo was not smiling now. He stared into space, at a sight his memory had conjured for him. “Father Carradalio fears what is coming. I know what is coming,” he said.

“As does his holiness. Carradalio, in his own way, thinks to prepare Remas for the fight ahead. But the army, his holiness, yourself, are already in the fight, and have been for a long time. Remas must made strong if it is to survive, by fostering unity, not division. Soldiers, militia, priests and brothers must serve together, under one command, otherwise disorder and disharmony will lead to destruction.”

“And how would that unity be achieved? Is the army to fight the Disciplinati? There’s disorder. And only more destruction.”

“Carradalio holds Remas in his grip. If he took it in the hope of saving it, then there is still hope. If his true intention is tyrannical rule, Remas’ ruin is certain. His holiness cannot accept Carradalio’s secular authority, no matter how complete – not unless the Overlord Matuzzi personally, and whilst under no form of duress whatsoever, asks him to do so.”

“That’s unlikely,” said Angelo. “I was allowed to tend the overlord’s injuries after they took him hostage. However old and frail he might be, there’s spirit enough left in him to hate Carradalio for what he has done.”

“No matter,” said Marsilio. “Even without the overlord’s blessing, his holiness is willing to accept Carradalio’s authority over his own followers.”

“Despite all he has done?”

“Only a fool would refuse the Disciplinati’s fighting strength and fervour in this time of need. All Carradalio need do is declare his obedience to the orthodox and Holy Church of Morr, bending his knee to Morr’s anointed pontiff.”

“And just like that, all his past transgressions will be forgiven?”

The maestro was being facetious, but Marsilio chose to ignore the fact. “And the praepositus generalis and his dedicants will be declared to be true servants of Morr, accepted into the fold of the church, that they might pursue exactly that which it they have always declared to be their sole, true purpose – to defeat the evil foe.”

“So why am I to come with you now?” asked Angelo.

“In case it all goes wrong,” said Marsilio, without a hint of irony.

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