A Battle Report
As the Duchess Maria’s army progressed to the Bridge of Pontremola, Biagino rode upon his magnificent corpse-carroccio with plenty of time to think. When he was alive, he had fought at the very same bridge, during the somewhat unexpected victory of the Holy Army of Viadaza (known also as the ‘Peasant Army’), where he witnessed the vampire duke’s death at the hands of the hero, General Urbano D’Alessio.
Back then, Biagino had been fighting for the living, and while he waited nervously at the river, his future sire’s sire, the vampire Duke of Miragliano had presumably made this exact same journey, doubtlessly expecting victory in battle.
Here and now, Biagino was not so sure.
He remembered dreaming of that first battle, even before it, for the feeble god Morr had woven many a wretched vision into his slumbers. Those intangible, half-remembered riddles were all that Morr had gifted him, messages so nebulous he only ever seemed to recognise their prophetic nature in retrospect, and even then, without conviction. Now, however, he saw (felt, smelt, tasted and heard) the world much more clearly, and wielded real powers of consequence, even commanding an entire army of walking corpses – his unholy Church of Nagash. No more mumbling of prayers in the Classical tongue, hoping for some luck to come his way, or for the enemy to feel the slight rebuke of a somnolescent half-god. Now he could make his bambinos dance most sprightfully and spitefully, several hundres at a time. And should they fall to the foe’s blades, he could command them to rise again and fight on. He himself had become nimble, strong and resilient – quite the opposite of the sluggardly creature he had been in life, who ached in every march and winced at every scratch and scrape. Once prey, he was now predator. And most importantly, he had a purpose stronger than he had ever known before – to serve his mistress in every way possible.
Yet, despite all this, he was anxious. Pontremola was not at all an auspicious place for vampires. Worse still, he himself had already faced the enemy they were about to engage, in the Trantine necropolis valley of Norochia, when he had so swiftly recognised the certain defeat awaiting him that he was forced to abandon nearly his entire army and run for miles.
The enemy was commanded again by the Portomaggioran Lord Alessio D’Urbano, an experienced general capable of mustering grand alliances and renowned for his tactical prowess. They were upon the far side of a river in the full flow of spring, ensconced in a fortified camp from which they could spew cannon shot, bolts and bullets at their leisure …
(The fortified camp at Pontremola)
Their cannons had proved so numerous and powerful in Norochia that they had torn both his Mortis Engine and Terrorgheist to pieces with their balls of iron before they could even cross the valley floor. Here also they had a monstrous, magical construct, the same titan that had melted an entire company of hexwraiths at Norochia.
On approaching the duchess to reveal his trepidation, she laughed as soon as she saw the expression on his face, ordering him to put any and all concerns from his mind. Today, she said, they would break the back of the most powerful army in Tilea; and then tomorrow, so sated that they would surely cry sanguine tears of joy, they would raise that same army up into their own service and conquer the rest of the realm with it.
When his frown had lingered a moment longer, she caressed his cheek and said, “They sent an army of cultists to stop me, each and every one dedicated to Morr and entirely careless of their lives. I slaughtered all of them and made them into your toys. Now we can play together. Won’t that be so very nice?”
There was no arguing with his mistress.
And so, surrounded by his flock of followers, he now rode at the far right of the army’s line.
Maria was with her horse guard, flanked by the varghiests.
Her military lieutenant, the vampire Captain Bernhardt, commanded the second regiment of skeletal horse, out on the far left of the line.
At the heart of her army the Mortis Engine glided unnaturally forwards, the great weight of its ornate metal and bone carcass born aloft by a writhing mass of glowing, green ethereal spirits.
Beside the magical engine loped a large mob of dire wolves, then a body of brute-zombies.
And upon its other side, between it and the duchess, leapt the varghiests, their leathery wings flapping furiously.
Thus was the vanguard deployed. Behind this front line marched two further regiments, in the form of zombies and skeletons, between which a corpse cart, simple in comparison to Biagino’s majestic transport, trundled along.
This was the force that the Duchess Maria brought with her from Ebino.
The army of Portomaggiore and its Reman allies had marched many leagues to be here. Most felt relief that the enemy had chosen to attack them in their fortified and naturally moated camp rather than force them to attempt an assault of the formidable walls of Ebino. Some were just relieved that they would at last get to fight the enemy they had travelled so far to reach. Indeed, because so many had watched the ignominious defeat of the undead army at Norochia, they had less fear than mortals would usually feel upon facing such a foe.
Of course, when the enemy hove into view, a surge of doubt washed through them, for such a grisly sight forces the living to think of death, and at the very moment when the prospect of battle meant the subject already weighed heavily in their thoughts. To die at the hands of the undead, knowing that might then be doomed to share their horrible fate, is never something that inspires confidence!
Lord Alessio Falconi commanded them, as well as personally leading his armoured foot regiment of men at arms known as the ‘Sea Wolves’. Presuming that the enemy must surely concentrate their attack at the bridge itself, rather that throw everything they had into the rushing waters, he and his guard defended the barricade erected at its southern end – perhaps the most important spot in the line.
He had a Reman priest of Morr with him, Father Dado Bendali, as well as his battle standard bearer. The rest of his field officers were far to his right in the line. Lord Ned Black, his second in command, rode a demigryph with fearsome ‘The Hunting Pack’…
… while out on the farthest right flank the Tilean nobleman Marcus Portelli commanded the Black Guard, a large company of mounted men at arms.
The Knights of the Lady, led by Brother Libero Grossi, a priest of Myrmidiea, were beside the Hunting Pack. Next to them at the heart of the battle line, stood the Colossus …
… which had once guarded the landward gate of the city of Portomaggiore. His guns, a brace of brass barrelled cannon, where mounted upon his earthwork bastion, supported by his two companies of handgunners.
The Reman brigade, commanded to man the rest of the defences, consisted of two large bodies of crossbowmen (one mercenary dwarfs) as well as a small company of skirmishing bravi and the remnant of a regiment of dwarfs. Alessio’s own crossbow were placed at the wall behind his mounted men at arms.
This was the army that awaited Maria.
Deployment done. Battle to follow