The Second Assault Upon Viadaza

Prequel

Excerpt from: The Holiest of Armies, A History of the Disciplinati di Morr

As spring came to a close in the year 2403 it seemed inevitable that bloody, civil war would engulf the state of Remas, despite the threats presented by both Razger’s brutes and the foul armies of the vampire duchess. Two factions, very different in nature, vied to wrest complete control of the realm from each other. Father Carradalio now ruled the city and eastern district of Palomtrina with an iron rod. The noble houses were powerless, the overlord held hostage, the streets, and indeed the very houses, patrolled and policed by his fanatical dedicants. But he did not rule the entire realm, for the Arch-Lector Bernado and the veteran army of Remas held the south-western district of Frascoti. Duke Guidobaldi of Pavona, his own realm brutally ravaged by the double army of ogres that had so recently threatened Remas, busied himself with brokering a peace between the Reman factions, while his son’s grievous wounds were tended by the city’s finest (surviving) doctors. His efforts seemed to be of no avail, however, for eventually the Reman army left its fortified camp and marched aggressively upon the city, intending that their erstwhile allies the Pavonans would join them in their enterprise.

Rumours were rife. Were one to give equal countenance to all that was said, it seemed each and every party intended to harm each and every other, and that not one, single honest agreement had been made. Every lord and priest plotted assassinations and treachery, so that each in return was the target of the same, and that the factions were divided even within themselves – what with Reman soldiers being secret Morrite dedicants and some of the Disciplinati inwardly yearning for the return of the church-proper and secular authority. Although the Reman army now advanced against the city, its walls manned by Disciplinati defenders, some said both sides had secretly agreed to turn upon the Pavonans, while others claimed the Pavonans had sided with both factions, leaving their true intentions a mystery but treacherous either way. The truth will never be known, for even those who plotted could not be certain of others’ minds, and perhaps had not even decided what they themselves would really do when push came to the shove. The outcome balanced upon a knife’s edge, and everyone had a well-honed knife to hand.

Yet out of all this suspicion and turmoil, just as everything seemed to come to a head, an agreement was reached, as unexpected as it was sudden. The Praepositus Generalis of the Disciplinati di Morr, Father Carradalio, accepted the terms offered by the Arch-Lector Bernado, and both sides despite suspicions and distrust, remained true to their promises. War was averted. While Duke Guidobaldo and his ragged army of Pavonans slinked away, perhaps simply to remove themselves from any repercussions arising from the exposure of their duplicity, the two ‘most holy’ Morrite clergy in Tilea – one the radical, fanatical leader of the low church, the other the official, noble ruler of the high church – embraced each other.

Father Carradalio knelt before the holy pontiff, humbly confessed his sins and professed obedience to the Church of Morr. In return he was not only granted forgiveness but praised for his steadfast obedience to Morr’s revealed will and given command of the now officially recognised Disciplinati di Morr brotherhood. The arch-lector had personally witnessed what such dedicants were capable of in battle – how they alone could be relied upon to stand and fight to a man even in the face of all the terrors the vampires’ armies possessed – so he now commanded them to march forthwith from the city to seek battle with the foe.

Perhaps Father Carradalio knew full well that to attempt to hold the city against the Reman army, the anointed father of the church and the will of the majority of citizens, would prove disastrous? Why would he allow such turmoil to distract him when all he ever wanted was to serve the great god Morr in the war against the undead, and all he had ever done was in pursuit of that goal? (This included the cruelties a truly hard-heart required.) As for the arch-lector, a man experienced in politics, who had himself faced the undead in battle, perhaps he too saw the folly of engaging in a war that would weaken both the army under his command and the very fanatics best suited to fight against the true and terrible enemy? They both knew this was a time for war, but not civil war. Their common enemy threatened a fate much worse than that they presented to each other, a threat so great it made any disagreements between them seem trivial, despite having caused such turmoil and suffering.

No time was wasted, the Disciplinati di Morr being ever ready for any action or order, driven by their fanatical desire to prove themselves (with every thought and action) the perfect servants of Morr, the agents of his righteous vengeance and anger, his very weapons. Of course, the arch-lector and the citizens were keen to see them go, for no city could endure their fervent scrutiny for long, nor could it thrive whilst subject to their attentions. Within half a week the ‘Holiest of Armies’ departed and began its march to Urbimo. There they met with an order of Morrite dedicants of almost exactly like minds, who they happily incorporated into the army, thus swelling to an even greater strength. They parted Urbimo only two days later, such was their keenness to face the foe. Besides, Father Carradalio knew full well that to tarry even a little while could bring disaster to such an army, its warriors filled to the brim with a lust for battle, barely able to contain a frenzied fury which made them wont to scourge their own flesh to the very bone.

They aimed to cross the River Trantino to the south of Viadaza, for they had not the patience to go by way of the bridge at Scorcio. Father Carradalio led the army, his admonitor Brother Vincenzo by his side. He refused any mount or carriage, and would have only the scouts ahead of him, being too fearless to demand his bodyguard stay ever-close, but too wise to forego the necessity of scouts to a marching army. Besides, the army itself was his bodyguard. Should any enemy have approached they would have found themselves overwhelmed by a great swarm of dedicants ecstatically happy to martyr themselves in the defence of such an instrument of Holy Morr as he.

Morr himself visited Carradalio’s dreams to reveal the enemy’s whereabouts. Carradalio thus announced to his lieutenants that two cities now contained the enemy’s armies, and that they would take Viadaza first for it had so long threatened Urbimo and was port through which the vampires could channel reinforcements elsewhere. Besides, he declared, the men to the south should and could face the other army, while he and the Disciplinati would strike at the vampires’ very hearts: Adolfo’s city of Viadaza, Maria’s city of Ebino and the foul origin of their current corruption, Miragliano.

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Carradalio marched with sword drawn, not just leading the column, but also the prayers they chanted and the hymns they sang.

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The prayers maintained the army’s fervour, lending them a strength which belied the meagre rations of the past days and weeks, for the words had sufficient power in them to stir the winds of magic. The hymns lifted the dedicants’ spirits too, just as any marching song might do in any army. These encouragements were bolstered further by the prayers being offered by the many priests and monks accompanying the army. Each body of dedicants had spiritual guides, either rectors assigned to them by Father Carradalio, or the shepherd’s marshals who had first guided them in their dedication to Morr, or both.

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Furthermore, there was barely a hill of significance they passed that did not have a knot of priests upon it, channelling the encouraging will of Morr to wash down upon his warriors.

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Marching immediately behind the Praepositus Generalis were a company of Reman citizen-dedicants. These were the men who had seized the city upon Father Carradalio’s command, tearing through the streets to slay any hired bravi or nobleman’s servant who stood in their way. Wholly obedient, they questioned no order, not even in their own hearts or minds, for they believed that their god spoke through Carradalio, that his words were divine in origin. Their robes still carried the blood stains from that struggle, as well as that of their own blood, born of the scars of their flagellations.

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Behind them marched the dedicants of Pontremola, who had been even more brutal than their Reman counterparts in purging their own villages. Indeed, they had gone too far, for in their fury many innocents had died, and so their self-proclaimed prophet had been executed and they had been admonished. Yet these events had served to strengthened their resolve to serve Morr in body and soul, and they were imbued with not one iota’s less fervour than the rest of the army.

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Next came Carradalio’s torch-bearing bodyguard, always ensuring that half their number carried flames, that they might be ready in but a moment to light the other torches. There was magic woven into the flames, so that they shone with a light both natural and other-worldly, capable of burning even creatures of the ether.

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Then came the tolling bell upon its carriage. This was brother to that which had been lost on the field at Ebino, and it sang with almost exactly the same sombre tone. Sacred texts adorned its mount, bearing the words that its accompanying guards quietly chanted over and over.

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Behind the bell marched more Reman dedicants, made up of those foreigners who had travelled from all over the Old World to live in the holy city. They carried enormous, heavy, and viciously barbed flails of iron, capable of killing a man merely by falling upon him, which they swung in hard-learned and painfully practiced motions. A much greater number had left Remas, and still more fell daily as a consequence of the slightest miss-step or a moment’s bad timing, yet still they continued for such was their dedication to martyrdom that they no longer cared for anything but their holy, wild and deadly cavortings. It was such as these who convinced Carradalio of the need to reach the foe as quickly as possible. To linger even a day too long could critically sap his army’s strength. As he famously said to the arch-lector during his public profession of his sins, in explanation of the Disciplinati’s hasty and violent seizure of the city: [i]“The fuse has been lit, and we needs must place the charge before it bursts.”[/i] To which the arch-lector had graciously agreed it would be a terrible waste to be hoist by one’s own petard.

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Next in the column trundled maestro Angelo da Leoni’s engine of war, his ‘[i]Cannone Luminoso[/i]’ with its impressive array of giant lenses. By now it had become common knowledge in the city that this machine had been abandoned by the maestro when he instead had chosen to work on his steam engine for the Arch-Lector Calictus II, yet it was also known that the lenses had since been proven effective enough to melt several men, and that da Leoni had declared with confidence that the piercing light it emitted would burn the undead even more readily than the living. Father Carradalio hoped it would wash its rays against Vaidaza’s parapets, scorching the foul flesh of whatever stood there, but although he had prayed for guidance upon how best to employ such an engine, Morr ignored his requests.

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Then came the most recent recruits to the holy army – the dedicants of Urbimo. They, like the Pontremolans, had gone to great and terrible lengths to cleanse their settlement of sin. In fact, they had gone much further, for they had not just run violently through the streets in a riot of religiously inspired hatred, fighting any opposition, but had calmly gathered up all those they considered guilty of even the most minor of crimes, including those merely suspected of such (even on the flimsiest of evidence), and put them to death. This they did to be certain of an effective purging, even if it was at the cost of the death of many innocents, even members of their own family. They had executed them publicly, one after the other, and in the grisliest of ways, by burnings and quarterings, or combinations thereof. They believed the suffering not only cleansed the guilty victims’ souls but ensured Morr would pour his righteous blessing upon the whole of Urbimo, especially the dedicants who proved themselves so thoroughly committed that they could punish even their own neighbours and family. Amongst their number were grey-robed monks from the Morrite monastery Sacra di San Antamo on the rocky promontory to the north-west of Urbimo. The rest, being the bulk of their number, were still garbed in their peasant clothes, albeit favouring the Morrite hues of grey and red.

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Marching behind the Urbiman dedicants was a substantial number of soldiers. Barone Pietro of Urbimo had brought his household guard of light horsemen with him, as well as the single small company of Compagnia del Sole crossbowmen left behind as a token act of mercy when the all the rest of the mercenaries marched away leaving the Urbimans unprotected in this time of need. Some of his horsemen rode with the barone, but most were acting as outriders and scouts, with the aforementioned blessing of Father Carradalio. Of course, many more of the barone’s subjects were part of the holy army, but he recognised that as Morrite dedicants any authority he had over them was little more than nominal. They had been willingly absorbed into the Disciplinati di Morr and were now Carradalios to command. Not that the barone cared over much, for he too shared enough fear to make him almost as much a Morrite cultist as them.

And there was the standing guard of the city of Remas, known as the Palace Guard, consisting almost entirely of mercenaries from the northern Empire, commanded by Captain Vogel. Their presence was something of an act of penance, for Vogel had not only failed to lift a finger to halt the Disciplinati’s uprising and seizure of the city but was known to have secretly agreed with Carradalio not to interfere beyond ensuring the personal safety of the highest clergymen. In return he had been promised the reward of becoming commander of the city’s entire regular forces, and a doubling in the size of his company, along with a proportionate increase in his pay. The arch-lector had decided he could hardly forgive Father Carradalio his sins and not Captain Vogel, nor did he want to dismiss and disperse a body of soldiers such as the guard in a time of war. So they too were forgiven and ordered to accompany the holy army upon the march to face the Vampire Duchess’s armies.

Their main company, men-at-arms carrying either halberds or great-swords, marched immediately behind the compagnia’s crossbowmen …

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… whilst at their rear came their own crossbow as well as the army’s artillery – Vogel’s brace of cannons. Captain Vogel had voiced his little confidence in the maestro’s war-machine, resurrected as it was from the scrap-heap, hoping instead his own pets, his ‘pocket pistols’ as he was wont to call them, would do what was required to punch a real hole in the enemy’s defences.

This was the army that marched to Viadaza to face the vampire duchess herself.

(Battle Report to follow)

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