(Tilean Campaign) Summer 2403
A Letter from Antonio Mugello to my most noble Lord Lucca Vescucci of Verezzo
I pray to all the gods that you, my lord, are well and that the realm of Verezzo remains untouched by the brute hands that have so ravaged the city states to the north and north-east.
As I promised in my previous missive, I remained for a while in the proximity of Ridraffa in order to confirm the ogres had indeed crossed the River Riatti and marched northwards. Baring the unlikely decision to retrace their steps, it seemed to me that they were now homeward bound, and indeed that which I have learned since confirms this belief. If my estimation and understanding concerning this prove wrong, I beg that you forgive me. Rather than bide my time unnecessarily in such quiet ruins, I honestly believed that I would serve you better by learning what I could of the disturbances in Remas and the situation to the north.
Upon arrival in Remas I found all in turmoil, the realm having become divided. The Reman army was encamped at Frascoti, under the command of the arch-lector Bernado Ugolini, while the city itself remained in the hands of Father Carradalio’s fanatical Disciplinati di Morr. The Pavonan army sat between the two, as Duke Guidobaldo apparently busied himself with attempting to promote peace between the antagonistic factions. Yet neither the high church nor the low, if I might describe them thus, showed any sign of yielding, which sowed great fear amongst the Reman people, and many talked of civil war as if it were not only inevitable but had already begun. If indeed the Reman army does besiege the city (Remans within and Remans without), then it would likely be a long, drawn out business. On the one hand, the city walls are strong and the army weakened by its long fight against the undead and the ogres, while on the other hand the defenders are religious fanatics, not soldiers, and the army might be well supplied by Frascoti to the south.
Such is the madness of Remas, embroiled in a misery entirely of its own making as all the while its enemies grow stronger. The ogres may well have begun their homeward journey, battered and bruised by umpteen battles, but they are laden with plunder, grown fat from feeding upon man-flesh, and have left all behind them in ruin. I fear that now the vampires will follow in the Razger’s wake, eyeing such devastated places with their own intent, for what to us appears barren and burned, is as a feast laid out for them. We see only a wasted land, but they see rich pickings. They need no crops nor cattle, no water nor wine – they feed instead upon rotten remains, turning the very corpses into warriors for their armies. Who will prevent them from summoning legions from the graveyards and necropolises?
I chose not to linger in the daily-changing chaos and instead to travel further to the small city of Urbimo, the most northern bastion of the living along the western coast. Remas’ troubles are sad, and I prayed hard for the holy city’s redemption, but it is not Remas that threatens Verezzo, rather it is the enemy that has fuelled their madness – an enemy made more dangerous by the Remans’ spiralling weakness. The Morrite church is as divided as Remas, indeed it is the very cause of the citizens’ division. Morr’s priests, the best placed to defend Tilea against the vampires, have by their own failings become worse than useless, squabbling murderously among themselves instead of preparing for the oncoming onslaught. How many will survive to stand against the undead?
I wished to learn what I could of the threat of the vampires, and where better than a place so close to their hellish domain? There I discovered the desperate depths to which men can sink when terrified, for the madness that grips Remas has also tainted this neighbouring realms. I had thought the recent bloody coup in Remas, when the Disciplinati seized the city from within, was bad, but the Urbimans have been driven to take even more terrible measures in pursuit of Morr’s holy protection. For years they had petitioned and begged Remas for military aid, yet none was forthcoming. They felt safe only for the few weeks when the Compagnia del Sole were lodged in their city. Once all the mercenaries had finally made the crossing from Estalia, however, they left to fulfil their contract for the dwarfs of Karak Borgo ([i]being to assist in the war against the wizard-lord Nicolo of Campogrotta and his brutes – which may well be why Razger finally turned back[/i]). Since then, the Urbimans’ fear has swelled beyond sanity, for they know that the undead could come upon any night. And in that one night all will surely die, after which an even more terrible nightmare will unfold as they themselves become the vampires’ rotting, puppet-slaves.
Consequently, they too have cultivated a new religious fervour, beyond even the flagellating extremes of the Reman Disciplinati. They have dedicated themselves body and soul to Morr’s service and begun cleansing Urbimo of all they consider corrupted, and even some they believe are merely corruptible. They have turned against every practitioner of the magical arts, including the pettiest of conjurers – hedge wizards, alchemists, wise women, even tumblers and masters of legerdemain. All such who failed to flee have been put to death. The very day I arrived I witnessed the burning of a maid accused of nothing more than casting a cantrip meant to soothe a poorly child in her care, a deed twisted by the people’s fears into a wicked curse.
Thus it was I found myself amongst the gathered crowd, upon what would otherwise have been called a pleasant summer’s day, by an apple orchard in an othertime’s peaceful place, watching with horror as the deed was done.
Morrite priests officiated, turning suspicions and accusations into conviction and sentence, while cultists chanted their pain-prayers and jangled their chains. Although neither judge nor jury were present, the Barone Pietro Cybo attended with a handful of retainers, and along with his executioner lent a degree of lawful authority to the proceedings. He was somewhat transformed from the man I had met upon several occasions previously, clad in armour atop his horse, his expression stern as he waved aloft a Morrite catechism. Beside him his brother Carlo and several gentlemen looked on inscrutably, having perhaps grown accustomed to such horrors?
On all the other occasions I have met with him, twice in Remas and twice before here, the Barone has been a man of scholarly patience and shrewd wit. I know, my lord, that you and he have corresponded concerning matters political and philosophical, for he himself told me so, with evident satisfaction. And yet this time he seemed not even to see me, despite looking directly at me several times. As you ordered me always to write honestly concerning what I witnessed, then I will say that despite his past friendship with you, in truth he seemed no less gripped by frenzy than the wildest of the populace, and although he did not go so far as to lash his own flesh as the dedicants do, his wide-eyes and fixed expression belied a state of mind no less frantic with fear and hate.
The charge was read by a confessor, imbued with such disgust as to make the wench’s action sound like infanticide, or worse, like she had been party to necromantic machinations intended to transform the child into a very devil.
Beside the priest, and throughout his cruel speech, a hooded acolyte pointed at the poor wench, as if to drill the accusations deep into her soul. In Urbimo, any and all magic, any prayer, either thought or spoken (unless to Morr Supreme) has become an abhorrence. Every such deed is supposed to be the first step on the slippy slope to damnation, cutting a chink into the bulwark of Morr’s most holy blessing, exposing our mortal souls to the first caress of the vampires.
As the crime was detailed, exhaustively, a Morrite monk interjected with encouragements and lessons for the crowd, raising his hands now and then to call on Morr’s blessing and protection. His words, even his merest glance, elicited a flurry of Morrite gestures from those gathered.
And none amongst the watchers spoke, neither to cry out shame on her or shame on those accusing her. There were no jeers nor any tears. Never before have I seen a crowd behave in such a way at a public execution.
All the while, in between her sobs, the poor wench tied to the post prayed aloud as best she could to Morr, begging his forgiveness and pleading that Urbimo would not suffer because of her error. So great a fear grips this realm that she did not seek forgiveness for herself, nor plead to be admitted to his garden despite her crime, but instead she prayed for Urbimo. The executioner, a giant of a man bearing an axe the like of which I have only before seen carried by ogres, watched her intently, his bearded face twisted into a monstrous grimace, though whether this was because he considered her the most despicable of creatures, or whether he recognised the true horror of her situation, I know not.
Behind her stood two more prisoners, due to receive the attentions of the executioner’s axe after they had witnessed the maid’s horrible death. I learned later that they had thrice arrived late to work upon the city’s defences, a crime transformed by the people’s heightened fears from mere misdemeanour to detestable felony. They were guarded by a soldier, who alone in the crowd seemed unable to look upon the spectacle. Instead he hung his head to stare at the ground before him, clutching his helm by his side.
The soldier was liveried in the colours of the Compagnia del Sole, and I have seen more of the same in Urbimo. Not all the Compagnia del Sole went east – perhaps a kindness on the part of their commander so that the city would not be left entirely unprotected?
I write all this, my noble lord, that you may know the truth concerning these realms. It seems to me that Remas cannot be expected to defeat the vampires. The Remans tried once already, to great loss, and their city is now locked in suicidal civil war. Now the same self-destruction, the same self-loathing, that wracks Remas has spread to Urbimo.
I have heard that armies are gathering in the south to face Razger’s brutes, yet it seems likely he has turned away. Will those same armies be prepared instead to face the vampires now that Remas is proved wanting? Is there an alliance between the vampires and brutes? Where will the unliving Duchess Maria strike? Is the Compagnia del Sole, having so unexpectedly marched east, part of some grand plan? I cannot know these things, nor would my guesses be of much value.
I end by asking, most noble lord, that you send instructions concerning what you would have me do, and whither you would send me.
Your loyal and humble servant, Antonio Mugello.