A Letter to the Arch-Lector Bernado

 

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To His Holiness Bernado Ugolini, Most Highly Favoured of Morr, from your faithful servant, Brother Migliore
Upon the second day of summer, 2404

If it pleases your holiness, I hereby and humbly present that which I have learned from my correspondence with the servants of our Holy Church of Morr, scattered throughout Tilea.

Several great battles were fought this Spring, and as one old enemy was pushed further from Tilea’s heart, another revealed itself to present an open threat. Two undead armies were annihilated by the Lord Alessio’s alliance force, in which your own Reman soldiers honourably serve, but even as these great victories were obtained, a swarm of ratto uomo emerged to the east to capture Ravola, driving out the Bretonnian Brabanzon mercenaries who had only recently taken possession of the walled city from the last of Razger Boulderguts’ ogres. What few Brabanzon survived, led by the wizard Perette, escape to find refuge in the forests, there meeting with the outlawed Arrabiatti Brotherhood, before making their way south to the city of Campogrotta.

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It is possible the Arrabiati brotherhood of shadows grew in strength during the time of Razger Bouldergut’s rule, as those who fled slavery joined them to strike at the ogre tyrant’s forces wherever and whenever they could. I can report that they have amongst them at least one Morrite priest, whose name I do not know. Once the ogres departed Tilea, it seems they intended to contribute to the war against the vampires, but now the rat-men present a more immediate threat to their traditional home. The people of Campogrotta have joked that the Arrabiatti would accept with open arms all those they once called tyrants, if it meant that rats, brutes and walking corpses were finally gone!

Campogrotta’s ruler, the condottiere General Mazallini, was awarded governorship of the city realm by the dwarf King Jaldeog as part-payment for his service in the war against the ogres. The general had already dispatched relief north to Ravola after receiving a report that the ogres had returned to lay siege there. That force soon learned it was rat-men not ogres, and that Ravola had already fallen, then travelled back to the city with the wizard Perette and the surviving Brabanzon to report on the situation.

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Mazallini has apparently failed to send out another, larger force as yet. It may well be that he is awaiting advice or assistance from his patron, King Jaldeog of the mountain realm, or perhaps he is instead simply preparing for the defence of Campogrotta in the struggle ahead?

The general has published the sent the following missive to all Tilea’s rulers and governors:

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A warning freely given to all the lawful rulers and powers of Tilea, concerning a new threat in the north.

I, General Bruno Mazallini, commander of the Compagnia del Sole and Governor of the city realm of Campogrotta, do hereby advertise to all those with ears to hear that once again the wretched Ratto Uomo have poured forth in strength from their vile lairs to taint the land of Tilea. They have already taken the realm of Ravola, and doubtless intend to swarm further south. Reports of their forces have also come from the vicinity of Trantio, where they were sighted by Lord Alessio of Portomaggiore’s soldiers, despite a complete lack of reports from the lands between Ravola and Trantio. From this, two inferences can be made:

First, that the ratto uomo assuredly seize and befoul much more than Ravola alone.

Second, that they have tunnelled under a significant stretch of the realm.

These undeniable facts mean that every Tilean state needs to ensure its preparedness for the oncoming fight, and to join in alliance to bolster the strength of arms that can be brought to bear. Tilea, Estalia and the Border Princes have suffered greatly at the hands of the rat-men throughout history, sometimes caught by surprise due the adversary’s cunning ways, but here is a warning – their hand has been shown. We must act quickly and assuredly. Forewarned is only forearmed if each and every state ensures it preparedness, making what efforts are required, spending the necessary gold and mustering sufficient forces. A forewarning ignored forespells only doom.

No engines were used in the assault on Ravola, instead they arrived only after the city was taken. Whether their tardiness was deliberate or the result of some delay, we know not, but any general would surely consider an assault against a city whilst lacking war machines a foolhardy exercise.

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Their noxious catapults and incinerating cannons are only too well known from the many occasions they have been used in the past. Furthermore, my own scouts and others have reported that the ratto uomo have in their possession a poison that can taint large swathes of land, and indeed has already done so, despite not yet being deployed in battle. This is something new, housed in some kind of engine, able to kill every living close to it, even before it is brought to bear against a foe. Something so destructive that it bleeds poison merely by its passage. Its true nature can only be guessed at, but every blade of grass, every tiny, crawling creature upon the ground over which it passed, withers and dies. Those of my men who spent only a short time at the site of its passage have sickened and remain in perilous health. All of which suggests that great ruin and terror might result should this weapon’s potential be unleashed.

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Even now brave scouts are attempting to discover the engine’s true nature. I have ordered my own servants and soldiers to do all they can to learn more and am preparing for the battle ahead. But if Ravola, defended by a not inconsiderable garrison, failed against what seems to have been nothing more than an advance force of their main strength, then all should know that any one state alone is unlikely to withstand this enemy.

If you do not wish to see Campogrotta fall, so allowing the enemy to take a step closer to your own realms, and to be made bolder by their victory, then I would advise you act decisively and swiftly, immediately sending what relief you can to assist mine own forces in thwarting this threat. The ogres have ravaged city after city, and the vampires also cut deep, but let not a final, fatal blow be delivered by the ratto-uomo. There remains in Tilea strength sufficient to the task in hand, now is not the time to let it lie idle, nor to squander it for want of trust and cooperation among us.

May all the gods pour their blessings upon us their dutiful servants and may brave Myrmidia inspire sound strategy in our commanders, and true courage among our soldiers.

…….

As I have already alluded to, in the north west, Lord Alessio Falconi’s alliance army fought two great battles, first defeating the vampire duchess at the Second Battle of Pontremola, then driving out the last of the undead forces from the city of Ebino. Not only were the undead armies annihilated, but the vampire duchess herself and nearly all her lieutenants were finally, truly killed. Determined to see his grim task through to its conclusion, despite the threat to his own realm presented by the Sartosan pirates raiding the peninsula’s southern coasts, Lord Alessio forces are even now probing the nightmare realm of Miragliano …

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… intending to cleanse the city state of all corruption. In his first victory, the Portomaggioran and Reman soldiers recaptured the carroccio looted by the vampires’ servants from Arch-Lector Calictus II’s defeated army. Lord Alessio has ordered that this be re-sanctified to holy Morr, so it can be used to help in the cleansing necessary in the rotten realm of Miragliano. A young priest from Campogrotta has travelled to assist Father Bendali in this task.

Lord Alessio’s efforts are to be further assisted by the somewhat late arrival of the army of the VMC to join his alliance force, or, more accurately, by the arrival of half of the VMC’s marching army. The VMC general, Jan Valckenburgh, shortly after being entertained in Remas by Arch-Lector Bernado Ugolini and having received the gift of the greatest piece of artillery in Remas, learned of the depredations of the Sartosan pirates in his realm of Alcente, including the razing of his town of Mintopua. So it was that he decided to return post-haste with half his army …

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… to the relief of his beleaguered realm, while the Mryrmiddian priestess Luccia La Fanciulla led the remainder of his forces northwards to rendezvous as promised with Lord Alessio and assist in the war against the vampires.

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It is said that General Valckenburgh saw fit to take the mighty cannon he was gifted by the leader of the Morrite church with him towards home, despite the fact that it would surely slow him down, or that it was intended for the war against the Morrite church’s old enemy, the undead. Many a Tilean is unsurprised by this, what with the callous, profit-centred nature of the VMC widely spoken of.

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Nevertheless, Luccia la Fanciulla, the wizard Johannes Deeter and his apprentice Serafina Rosa and a considerable force of pike, shot and brutes, have joined the Portomaggiorans and your Reman army in the camp outside Ebino, perhaps thus forming the mightiest army mustered in Tilea for an hundred years.

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This great army now ready to advance boldly into Miragliano, and it is widely assumed that it will surely sweep all enemies before it, cleansing the realm and exterminating this current line of vampires.

In the far south, Admiral Volker’s army of Sartosan pirates has looted its way through no less than three settlements in the realm of Alcente. They began with the town of Mintopua, where their arrival caught the inhabitants entirely by surprise, then marched on to raze both Motolla and Sersale, facing only minimal resistance at the first and more stubborn but ultimately futile resistance at the second. Made rich by the plunder of all three settlements, Admiral Volker is presumably now weighing up his chances of taking the richest prize, the city of Alcente itself. At Sersale his ordnance was much reduced by mishaps, and one of his two wizards suffered almost catastrophic consequences of his mishandling of magic, thus reducing exactly the elements the Sartosans might need to assail the walls of a major city successfully.

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Meanwhile, in the city itself, despite the fact most of the militia tasked with defending the city had already died at Sersale, a compliment of battle-hardened mercenaries survived, while supplies and reinforcements were able to reach the city almost entirely freely, as the Sartosan fleet, stripped of most of its manpower to form Volker’s land army, was unable to hinder the VMC vessels’ passage to and from the port.

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Three Alcentian settlements may lie in ruins, their populaces mauled and bruised, anything of value stolen, but the VMC possess several other settlements to the north and east, from which supplies came by way of road and sea, which should allow the VMC to recruit, arm and train new militia and even bring in new mercenary forces. And better still, half of the VMC’s marching army, still a considerable force in its own right, is marching home and is generally believed to be no more than a few weeks away. All of which means the citizens are confident that the enemy cannot take their city, and once again – after a period of some doubt – are of the opinion that their city council made the right decision when requesting the VMC’s protection from their enemies. The orc warlord Khurnag barely harmed their realm, and now, it seems, despite having done more harm, the Sartosan sea dogs’ stride has been broken, and their chance of taking the richest prize has possibly slipped out of their grasp.

It is generally presumed, for want of any report to the contrary, that the Sartosans still possess the person of the Luccinan king, Ferronso. A ransom was neither agreed nor forthcoming, and the young, royal hostage’s uncle, the wizard Duke Ercole Perrotto, remains resident in Portomaggiore, pleading daily for aid in raising the required sum in gold. The duke’s requests have fallen on worse than deaf ears, but rather no ears at all, as Lord Alessio is campaigning far to the north against the vampires. Such a sum as would be required to satisfy the Sartosans could never be raised nor released without the ruler’s express command, and he has many more immediate concerns to occupy him!

General Marsilio da Fermo, once commander of Luccini’s army, has returned to Luccini to take charge of the healing of the grievous wounds inflicted by the pirates. Very little of value escaped their avarice, from precious gems and metals to livestock, but crops remain in the fields and vines still have grapes to harvest, for the Sartosans’ goal was theft, not complete destruction. They took anything of value which could be carried, and all the meat and drink they could find, but grain and grape remain, and enough people to harvest it.

Meanwhile the realm of Pavona continues its own recovery from its mauling by Bouldergut’s grand chevauchee. Much of the city state lays in ruins, but the town of Scozzese has become an almost thriving market and promises the chance yet again for Duke Guidobaldo to raise tax revenues from his subjects – a very necessary source of income now that no banking house will loan him even a copper token. His own, much diminished, army remains intact and retains a core of fanatical, veteran soldiers of several campaigns from which he could possibly, given time, begin to rebuild the sort of army he once commanded. This reassures the people of Pavona and worries the neighbouring realms in equal measure!

As a consequence, there has been much activity in the neighbouring realm of Verezzo, where Barone Iacopo, Lord of Poliena and now the realm’s Capitano del Popolo, is raising new forces to counter any future threat from Pavona. The barone served in the allied army at the Valley of Norochia, then later rushed home to Verezzo when he heard of the death of his beloved lord, Lucca.

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Duke Guidobaldo was never punished for his most treacherous murder Lord Lucca of Verezzo, nor his subsequent attempt to have either the Portomaggiorans or the army of the VMC blamed for the crime. The VMC general, Valckenburgh, did not see his retaliatory siege of Pavona through to completion, and although once-mighty Pavona has been much battered by Boulderguts’ brutes, and its recovery subsequently slowed by the short-lived siege of the army of the VMC, it seems that Guidobaldo still rules with an iron grip. The barone has warned all his neighbours that if Guidobaldo was willing to attack Astiano and Trantio when his realm was prosperous and powerful, out of a simple greed for more power, then now that his realm has been much diminished and he has become desperate and friendless, he is hardly likely to be less dangerous. The duke of Pavona was always a proud man – his own subjects were taught to call him ‘Morr’s chosen prince’. Now that he had been humiliated by the forced apology he had to make in order to convince the VMC to leave, he could become an even greater danger. He attacked and looted Verezzo out of mere lust for gold and was willing to have others blamed for his evil actions. Having failed in that (and suffered further as a consequence) his want has only increased. What terrible, faithless deeds is he willing to contemplate now?

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So it is that a new regiment of pike has been formed to bolster Verezzo’s forces; or, more accurately, half-pike, for it is halflings who carry them. They drill almost daily, under Iacopo’s watchful eye, while the entire realm is kept in perpetual readiness should the Pavonans raid again.

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While the populace of the realm of Verezzo busy themselves with waiting …

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… there is one Verezzan who is most keen to exact vengeance on Duke Guidobaldo more immediately – the famous ‘Pettirosso’, Roberto Cappuccio. It is widely reported that this brigand turned captain turned outlaw has pleaded with Iacopo to attack the Pavonans immediately, while they are weak and before the righteous anger at their crimes diminishes (although Cappuccio claims it can never fade for him). The Capitano del Popolo, however, refuses to launch a hasty attack, instead busying himself with ensuring Verezzo’s defences, whilst raising and drilling an army able to face the Pavonans in the field of battle head on. Which leaves the Pettirosso and his dwindling band of outlaws fighting their own petty war of ambushes and assassinations, picking off Pavonans, firing farms and stealing supplies.

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Barone Iacopo has even sent secret missives to several Pavonan nobles, even the heir Lord Silvano, in which he declares that perpetual peace and even amity between the two realms is achievable in return for merely handing over Duke Guidobaldo to be tried for his crimes by a jury of peers from neighbouring realms. So far, every missive has been ignored. Indeed, it is said that the duke’s own family and servants have ensured he remains entirely ignorant of the letters, for fear that he might suspect them of treachery simply for the act of receiving them!

So it is, in the very heart of Tilea, while vampires and rat-men threaten the north and Sartosans ravage the south, two once-noble realms are wholly lost in mutual hatred, their long-lived animosity now locked into a desperate squabble over the death of one nobleman.

I hope, your holiness, my letter proves of some use to you. Should you require more particulars, then you have only to ask and if I myself cannot answer I will do my utmost to learn from those who can do so.

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