An Excerpt from Bonacorso Fidelibus’s Work: The Many Wars of the Early 25th Century
Having tried but failed to rid the marshes surrounding the city of Miragliano of the foul undead …
… the grand alliance army, under the command of Captain-General Lord Alessio Falconi of Portomaggiore, had constructed raft-mounted siege towers and a ram …
… while fresh water was carried from the vicinity of Soncino to the army’s camp every day …
… hoping thus to stave off the sickness bred by the foul, miasmic vapours. Those who did fall ill were sent the other away to the watchtower, there to breathe untainted air.
All these sensible measures bought his army just enough time to complete the construction of the rafts, after which Lord Alessio ordered the assault to commence forthwith.
The battle was hard, but not over-costly to the living. Most of the army’s soldiers praised their general for his haste, for they knew full well that had they tarried longer then sickness would surely have killed many more than died in the assault. The enemy’s walls were captured. The city was taken.
Many hundreds of the undead were slain, and at long last, notwithstanding the vampire priest Biagino’s escape, it seemed the war against the vampires was finally won.
Despite the foulness of their surroundings, the victorious army was in a celebratory mood, incredulous at their very light losses and glad simply to be alive. The Remans had suffered worst – their commander Lukyan Soldatovya, the priest Bendali and the mercenary dwarfs having all sunk to the bottom of the moats foul waters ….
… while the VMC brigade was almost entirely unharmed.
Lord Alessio now intended that his soldiers should live – it seemed the least reward they could expect from their grateful commander – but he could not risk wasting his long campaign and hard-won victory. Staying in, or even close to, the tainted city for any length of time, even a few days, would most likely decimate his army or worse. Sixty years before, when the notorious Reman Arch-Lector Frederigo Ordini’s massive alliance army journeyed into the Blighted Marshes, they died almost to a man. The Remans serving Lord Alessio were most concerned, for the story of the army in the marshes was very familiar to them. Nonetheless, Lord Alessio knew full well he could not leave without thoroughly cleansing the city of corruption.
Command of the surviving Remans had fallen to the captain of the mercenary dwarven crossbows, who was unwilling to tarry even one day more, despite the VMC’s Myrmiddian commander, Luccia La Fanciulla’s attempts at persuasion. (Her pleading was not helped by the fact that her second in command, the wizard Johannes Deeter, was just as keen as the Remans to depart immediately.)
Every drop of water was unsafe, every intake of breath filled the soldiers’ mouths with the rank taste of death. The entire city and the noisome waters surrounding it, stank of rotting flesh. Fat, sluggish, swamp-flies infested the whole land, while not a scrap of edible food remained in the city, nor for leagues around.
The army’s supplies had been stretched to the limits and were now almost wholly depleted, as the soldiers’ homelands were so distant that re-supply had long since become a sporadic, insufficient affair. While the army had passed through living lands, it had supplemented its limited stores by foraging from its surroundings. But that had not been the case since it drew close to Miragliano.
Lord Marcus Portelli, the captain-general’s most trusted adviser, declared this accursed realm to be the sort of place in which vile uomini ratto might breed, or goblins would scavenge, or lizard creatures from beyond the seas could dwell, but for men (he waxed poetically) it was:
“A map of misery, a world of woe, a microcosmos of miasmas; with more disease in it than the pest house at plague-time, and a stink worse than the Mayor of Olessi’s dog-house on mid-summer’s day!”
He then suggested that with the wizards’ help, and what flammable supplies still lay within the city (oil, pitch, tar and all such stocks, which he doubted the undead had had any use for), then even such a sodden place might be wholly consumed by fire, leaving only charred and cracked stones.
He also suggested that a new settlement could be built some safe distance to the south or east, to serve as a bastion against any further disturbance in these parts, and as a base from which the slow recovery of the land might be directed. Perhaps from there the work of repairing the dykes and damns might be done, so that gradually, over years, the marsh’s recent expansion would be pushed back.
The captain-general agreed to consider the matter. In the meantime, he ordered the speedy, but thorough, burning of the city, aiming to leave only when it was properly ablaze. Nevertheless, the Remans now marched away – their only Morrite cleric had died in the assault, so there were no magical prayers or blessings they could offer in the cleansing of the city. Nor did they have any black-powder, or any wizard to conjure fire from the etheric winds.
The VMC’s wizards, Johannes Deeter and Serafina Rosa, and the ingenious siege master Captain Guccio, took charge of the preparations, being assigned a third of the army to assist, plus nearly all the remaining powder supplies.
The rest of the army was ordered to search the city for valuable goods, especially gold and silver, as well as locating all the flammable stocks to assist the arsonist contingent.
The resulting conflagration was impressive, as was the amount of plunder – the undead had left most such things as they lay.
When the army marched away, its officers agreed unanimously that the cleansing had been most effective. But any pride they felt was soon sapped, for lingering just those few extra days proved costly. As they marched east along the road to Ebino, the fever became fatal for many, so that every regiment and company suffered losses.
None knew the whereabouts or condition of the vampire Biagino. But, unlike his mistress the duchess Maria, or her sire Duke Alessandro, he had proved repeatedly weak, having fled from fight after fight, so that most were satisfied he had most likely become but one more desperate denizen of the Marshes; a foul monster haunting some noisome valley, like a wild, territorial beast.
The people of Urbimo, who had lived in fear for so long, had somewhat mixed feelings. The war was won, but a vampire still (un)lived. Pietro and Carlo Cybo began pressing the Reman arch-lector to establish some sort of permanent watch over the state of Miragliano, sufficient to thwart any resurgence of vampires.
In the north-east, General Mazallini of the Compagnia del Sole, the governor of Campogrotta, had lost a great many soldiers when the ratmen’s bombard had exploded – including entire regiments of halberdiers and crossbowmen, and two companies of horsemen. Only a handful of survivors had staggered out of the now deadly ground. After the explosion, the Karak Borgo dwarfs marched up the Iron Road …
… and Perrette and the last of the Brabanzon riders departed northwards.
Those who dwelt in Sermide and Buldio made their way to the walled city, fearful of another attack. There were bitter disputes between the Compagnia del Sole and the citizens, but, perhaps inevitably, what with the injuries already received, the lack of allies to assist, and the proximity of the rat-men with their terrible new weapons, Mazallini soon ordered what was left of his once army-sized company to march away along the road to the west.
As the Compagnia made its miserable progress …
… those few who had escaped the battle at the bridge died, after which many more grew similarly sickly …
… for the river Tarano, running beside the road for long stretches, and from which they had been drawing water, proved to have been tainted by the bombard’s poison.
They attempted to remedy this by taking water only from the northerly streams feeding the river. They had no new contract, nor any particular destination in mind, but their urge to avoid a miserable death in Campogrotta drove them on.
Despite the absence of soldiers to defend the city, apart from the dwarfs camped some distance away at Lugo, the ratmen moved cautiously. Perhaps they were fearful of a trap? Or their own army had suffered in the explosion? Whatever the reason, several weeks passed, while all remaining in Campogrotta feared another explosion, or an assault. When the wind blew southerly, the city air tasted foul, and flesh-meat, fish and fruit rotted unnaturally fast. The populace learned to use only water from upriver, and to eat nothing from south of the river or even close to its banks. Sickness was rife, and some died. None were foolish enough to venture into the poisoned land, where fatal illness could set in within an hour, while others hid their illness until they could do so no more, some even dying suddenly in the streets.
Then, half-way through the last month of summer, the attack came. Tarano Keep was suddenly captured, despite the meagre garrison blowing up part of the bridge with gunpowder.
From there, having made the bridge crossable for their many engines, the rat-men swarmed over.
With days the city was captured, its populace becoming prisoners. The dwarfs at Lugo did not come to the city’s aid, for they were already close to their mountain home. No riders came from the wilderness to the north, and the Compagnia del Sole was so far away that the blood in the river-water had thinned to nought by the time it passed them by.
None knew what the dwarfen king in Karak Borgo intended, but he had until recently invested a great deal of gold in the recovery of Campogrotta and Ravola from the Bentiglovio and Boulderguts’ rule, hiring not one but two mercenary armies to assist his own warriors in the fight.
Now all his efforts appeared to have come to nought, for both realms were now lost to a new enemy; one which was likely to prove far more troubling to trade and prosperity than the ogres ever were; one that could destroy an army with the launch of but one grenado.
Perhaps not unsurprisingly, there were signs that the sleeping, sylvan elves of Tettoverde had been awakened by poisoning of their forest’s northern-most tip. Having long since spurned nearly all interaction with human and dwarfen realms, other than the activities of the Sharlian Riders (a mercenary company of adventurers who were rumoured to have been outcasts from the forest) it they could not ignore such a threat. And indeed, there were reported sightings of animated trees lurking at the forest’s edge …
… and giant hawks bearing riders high in the sky over the forest canopy to the south-east of Campogrotta.
Such tales had, however, always been quite commonplace. Only time would tell whether, as in more ancient times, the elves would send a host out from the forest’s shadow to thwart their enemies, or whether, as many thought more likely, they would simply prepare to annihilate any and all who dared to trespass upon their realm.
Lord Silvano, heir to the bedridden Duke Guidobaldo Gondi, was now ruling Pavona as regent. While his father lay in his palazzio, visited only by physicians and his most trusted servants …
… the young lord was glad to see that the city realm had at long last begun to recover from the cruel battering it received at the ogres’ brute hands. The town of Scozzese was thriving, having extended its cultivated lands and stocks of sheep and kine, while the once fruitful lands of Casoli and Todi showed signs of natural recovery, as Pavonan gentry, traders and peasants flocked to them, there to repair, rebuild and replant. Many were keen to leave the overcrowded city, where hunger had become quite normal.
In the previously conquered realms of Trantio and Astiano, there were signs of a similar recovery, although both presently lay outside of Pavona’s control. Lord Silvano announced that he had never yielded his authority as ‘Gonfalonieri for Life’ (governor) in Trantio, and had only appointed a substitute governor because he himself had been required to fulfil his holy and heartfelt vow to serve the arch-lector against the vampires. That substitute – the wizard Bellastra – had failed to defend the city against Boulderguts’ double army. Lord Silvano declared that he took not just his vows but also his offices seriously, and so (unable to travel there himself due to his many and necessary duties as regent in Pavona) he sent a small force to ensure the safety of Trantio until he himself could return. These soldiers were ordered not just to protect the realm against an advance by the uomini ratto, but also to encourage the city’s healing and enforce the good behaviour of the populace. Trantio, he declared, was to become a bastion from which to thwart any advance by the foe into Tilea’s heartlands.
As a consequence of the attempted assassination of their duke by the Verezzan brigand known as the Pettirosso, a new hatred of halflings festered in the streets of Pavona.
It was said that the duke should have gone much further than banishing the dwarfs several years previously, and instead banished every kind of non-human, including halflings. Of course, this would not have stopped such enemies secretly infiltrating the realm, but it would have meant such assassins found none of their kind to help or harbour them. Indeed, it was presumed exactly such had been the case, which is why the few halflings living within the city state were arrested, either to be imprisoned or worse. The luckiest were thrown into dungeon cells, supposedly to await questioning, but oftentimes forgotten, while any considered able-bodied or quick-witted enough to have assisted Pavona’s enemies in some way, were hunted down by lynch mobs, to be most roughly handled.
This became a cruel sport in the realm, which Lord Silvano failed to rule against. Here was a first glimpse that perhaps he possessed some of his father’s notorious wrath? Or perhaps it was his love for his wounded father that spurred his own hatred? Many halflings were pilloried and branded, while those believed to have been part of the Pettirosso’s band were strung up, exhibited alive so that the people could see the fate awaiting all traitors. Some such poor souls were so treated for many days, so that once the baying mob grew bored and drifted away, the more genteel Pavonans might spend a while viewing them, laughing at their pathetic state and fate.
Some were alive when finally cut down, but most had died, as a consequence of the rough handling they had received from the crowd, the lack of food or drink, or a brutal combination of both.
Meanwhile, the city state of Verezzo, now (during Lord Lucca’s nephew’s minority) ruled in practise by the bitterly angry halfling noble, Barone Iacopo, continued to prepare for war against Pavona.
The barone bolstered the realm’s forces as best he could, mustering new pike and crossbow soldiers in the Tilean style …
… yet it remained commonly doubted that he had anywhere near enough strength to defeat the stoutly walled city of Pavona, defended by its still not insignificant army.
Barone Iacopo became further angered by the Pavonan accusation that a Verezzan agent (the Pettirosso) had attempted to assassinate Duke Guidobaldo, publicly declaring that the duke of Pavona had now most likely added slander to his litany of well-known and proven crimes, the worst of which was the murder of Lord Lucca Vescussi in an entirely unwarranted predatory attack on Verezzo at a time of emergency in all of Tilea. And even if the Pettirosso was responsible for the attempt, then it would be due punishment for Lord Lucca’s assassination, and no bad thing. Upon hearing of the maltreatment of halflings in Pavona, the barone became almost apoplectic with rage!
And so he declared publicly, that as Duke Guidobaldo was (perhaps mortally) wounded, and in light of his litany of crimes, the duke must urgently seek to prepare his soul for its journey into Morr’s heavenly garden. Furthermore, the barone demanded …
* That Duke Guidobaldo personally apologise for Lord Lucca’s cruel murder, by travelling to Verezzo to attend a public service in the Morrite Temple there.
* Or if he was too ill to do so, then he should send his son, Lord Silvano, as his proxy, just as he sent the same son to answer to General Valckenburgh of the Army of the VMC before the walls of Pavona, after he slandered the said general by claiming it was his forces that had killed Lord Lucca.
* Or if Duke Guidobaldo refused to apologise and beg for the forgiveness of Morr and the good people of Verezzo, that he should allow himself to be subjected to a church led, legal enquiry (in holy Remas) concerning his actions and claims, and if found guilty of any crime, should pay whatever reparations were judged appropriate and undertake whatever penance was deemed necessary.
* Or if he was too ill to do that, then he should send his son, Lord Silvano, to stand as his proxy in the church enquiry.
The Pavonan nobility advising Lord Silvano considered these demands outrageous, especially as they came from a petty noble ruling a city state that had committed numerous slights and slanders against Gondi family in the past. The Morrite Lector of Pavona, Mauro Capolicchio, thought the halfling lord was foolish to believe he could make such demands of the Reman Church of Morr.
Besides, he added, were Lord Silvano even to allow said enquiry, then as a part of the committee charged with the duty to discover the truth of the matter, then he could prove Duke Guidobaldo had only ever served Morr and the gods first, his own realm second and Tilea third – which was all that can rightly be asked of a noble, Tilean ruler.
The young Lord Silvano, however, being of his own mind, chose to satisfy Barone Iacopo’s demands by sending a proxy (Erkhart, the refugee lector of Trantio) to answer the summons and attend any judicial procedure.
This was indeed done. Upon arrival in Verezzo, Lector Erkhart met with the Barone Iacopo, who was attended by several of his newly raised guard companies.
The lector informed the halfling lord that Duke Guidobaldo was indeed far too ill to travel, or even to leave his bed, having been so badly wounded by the assassin-brigand Pettirosso, and that his son, Lord Silvano, could not possibly leave his many duties as regent, especially as Pavona itself also lies wounded still.
With father and son so disabled from attending, Erkhart was there to stand in place of both, to offer the duke of Pavona’s apologies for any and all assumed and proven offences. Bowing most humbly before the barone, he offered himself as Duke Guidobaldo’s substitute, to receive punishment.
Barone Iacopo was said to be lost for words, for he considered this sending of an unasked for proxy to be but another Pavonan insult. His advisors were equally stunned, and indeed afraid to offer advice to their obviously irate master.
When the barone finally spoke, it was to curse the lector, the duke, his son and all Pavonans, and in no uncertain terms.
At that very moment, one of the lector’s two Pavonan guards brought down his halberd’s blade and struck the back of Erkhart’s head, apparently attempting to lop it off. Prevented from completing his attempt by the Barone’s more numerous guards, both he and the other Pavonan guard were restrained. When questioned, the guard confessed that this act was a misunderstanding; that he thought that such a punishment was required and believed it only right and proper that a soldier of Pavona should carry out the execution.
Lector Erkhart subsequently lay unconscious under the care of a doctor of physic in Verezzo, who were doubtful he would ever recover. His attacker was imprisoned, as Barone Iacopo was not at all satisfied with the account offered. The second guard was sent back to Trantio, there to deliver the message that this response to Barone Iacopo’s justified demands was in every way entirely unacceptable.
What the Reman arch-lector, Bernado Ugolini, truly thought concerning this dispute was anyone’s guess, for his holiness did not reveal his mind when he learned of these events. He had fought beside both Duke Guidobaldo and his son in several battles, against both the vampires and the ogres, forging a strong alliance with Pavona. Yet at the same time, he had long respected Lord Lucca Vescussi of Verezzo, the two having been friends and fellow students under the same Reman tutor in their youth. During the vampire wars, Bernado, just as Calictus II before him, strove to avoid any division or conflict between the city states of Tilea, and now, with the threat presented by the rat-men, could not reasonably be expected to steer a contrary diplomatic course. Nevertheless, it was openly rumoured among the high clergy, that his holiness Bernado knew a good deal about the disagreement between Pavona and Verezzo, having a deep insight into the true nature of those concerned.
By the end of summer, having stripped Capelli of every horse available to replace his army’s broken mounts, General Valckenburgh of the VMC and his shattered men arrived at the ruins of Mottola. Much of his foot, with the artillery, were somewhere just south of Raverno, and he had yet to hear from Luccia la Fanciulla in the far, far north.
Leaving the bulk of his exhausted men at the ruins, Valckenburgh went ahead with a small party to the city of Alcente.
There he learned that the city’s hastily raised garrison force had not chosen to pursue the Sartosan army along the road east, as they suspected the enemy’s manoeuvre was a ruse to lure them away from the city, exactly as the Sartosans had previously (successfully) tried, leading to the losses incurred at the Battle of Sersale.
This time, however, it turned out not to be so, for it soon became clear that the pirates intended to sack the newly prosperous port-town of Pavezzano, where they could also embark upon their ships if it proved necessary. They razed the watchtower of Tursi as they passed, taking prisoners (which they later butchered) …
… and there was now nothing the general could do to stop them.
Pavezzano was indeed assaulted, while the Sartosan fleet, which had arrived offshore before the army, cannonaded the defences. There followed a cruelly comprehensive sacking.
Presumably, General Valckenburgh cursed his decision to take so much so far north. For the first time since the VMC had defeated Khurnag’s army, the native Alcentians had begun to wonder whether they really could expect prosperity and peace under VMC rule, and some began rueing the day that military governorship was granted to these foreign soldiers. None, however, were foolish enough to voice their concerns too loudly, for the VMC’s soldiers were still numerous, with more yet to return, and the mercantile company employing them was itself backed by investors with deep pockets, who knew full well just how much they could profit from possession of such a large swathe of fruitful lands in southern Tilea, and who were no doubt willing to send whatever was required to ensure that future income.
The Sartosan fleet, carrying Admiral Volker’s battered but still intact army and a vast quantity of plunder, passed by Alcente on its way back towards Sartosa, bearing some distance south. Even after a string of victories and so many settlements looted, they remained cautious of the VMC’s ships and soldiers, probably aware that if reinforcements had arrived by land or sea, then the enemy might well have regained sufficient strength to defeat them easily in battle.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite the vast wealth stolen from no less than five settlements under Alcentian (and thus VMC) rule, the Sartosan’s insatiable greed was not yet satisfied.
And so it was that the wizard, Duke Ercole Perotto, uncle to the hostage King Ferronso III of Luccini, became, at long last, involved in serious negotiations for his nephew’s release. He met with several of Admiral Volker’s emissaries at one of the coastal watchtowers studding the shore for several miles south of the city.
Luccini had begun to heal after the pirate’s incursion, and several Tilean banking families recognised that there was a profit to be made by lending Duke Ercole the sums of money required, underwritten by a share of the recovering realm’s future tax income. Of course, the Sartosans cared not a jot for these details, only getting as much gold as they could, while ensuring they gave no hint concerning just how much Admiral Volker wanted rid of his annoyingly troublesome prisoner.