Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain (Volume 1: Raise the Black Banner)--Part 2

Richardet sucked up the drink before him. “This is amazing stuff!” he proclaimed.

“Cocoa,” said Palamedes. “We call it cocoa.”

“Well, it is amazing,” stated the young nobleman.

Amante rolled her eyes. “Can’t you think of any other words?”

“Exquisite,” said Richardet. “It’s also exquisite.”

His twin crossed her arms and grumbled to herself. Palamedes coughed. “Anyway, the Dark Lord of the Plains should see you shortly.” The Guard shrugged. “We’re sorry that he couldn’t be with you earlier, but you’ve found us at… a busy time.”

Amante nodded. “Yes, I understand the King of Goblins doesn’t like the Black Dragon.” She looked at Palamedes pointedly. “Are you some sort of exile from… Goblinland?”

Palamedes blinked. “I’m an Erl, miss. Born and raised here. In Castle Terribel.”

“I thought Erls were all, tall, and willowy, with fair white skin,” said Richardet.

“That would be the Highborns,” said Palamedes, glancing down at his slight gut. “The rest of us… vary. I’m an Erl, Sacripant is an Erl…”

“Is the silent blue one who wears all the robes an Erl?” asked Amante.

“Quiet’s a Ghoul,” said Palamedes, tiredly. “And Serjeant Grizzel is a Goblin.”

“Is he an exile from Goblinland?” asked Amante.

“Actually, pretty much, yes,” replied Palamedes.

“The shortish fellow with the bulldog face?” said Richardet. “I thought he was a Troll.”

“No, Trolls are… tall. Very tall.” Palamedes sighed. “Look, you people are just starting to figure all this out?”

“Well, we sort of thought you were going to eat us our first few days here,” said Richardet.

“Or something like that,” noted Amante.

Palamedes nodded to himself. “Well, glad you’re past that.”

“The cocoa definitely helped,” said Richardet, offering the Guard the empty cup. “Could I have another?”

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain (Volume 1: Raise the Black Banner)--Part 1

Simon tried to get his mind off his aching feet by keeping his eyes fixed on the man marching before him. This proved to be of little use, as it only made him think on them harder, which seemed to make them ache even more. And the ache in his feet reminded him of the ache in his legs, and the ache in his legs reminded him of the ache in his sides, and the ache in his sides reminded of the ache in his back. And so Simon marched on, a great aching thing.

It hadn’t seemed like it would be like this when he’d taken the King’s Penny. When he’d heard the Call with his friends in the White Hart, it had seemed grand and noble. The Nightfolk had attacked, once again--the faithless Free Cities had betrayed them, as they should have expected--and now, now the steadfast children of Leonais would gloriously defend their land and faith.

The first week of marching killed that belief in most people--or at least seriously maimed it. Oh, the steadfast children of Leonais would definitely be defending their land and faith, but the ‘glorious’ part seemed as if it would be lacking. At least, for most of them.

“Lovely day,” said Pierre as he suddenly moved to Simon’s side.

Simon rolled his eyes. Pierre was one of the few whose faith in the utter gloriousness of their endeavor no amount of marching seemed to dent. “I suppose,” Simon answered quietly.

“Yep, excellent weather,” said Pierre, nodding emphatically. “Hope it holds all the way to Montalban.”

“If the Seven will it,” replied Simon, feeling that some sort of response was indicated.

“And why shouldn’t They?” asked Pierre. “Aren’t we doing Their business, striking down the heretics and apostates who’ve betrayed Their sacred word in the Free Cities?”

Simon shrugged. “Their ways are mysterious,” he stated.

Pierre didn’t seem to be listening to him. “I tell you, when I heard that Duke Rainald had leagued himself with the Cthoniques, my blood ran cold--then hot! Such treachery! Such utter treachery!”

“What treachery?” came a sleepy voice behind them.

Simon glanced over his shoulder at his old friend, Jacques, the one man he was willing to state was more tired than himself. “Duke Rainald’s, I think.”

Jacques nodded dully. “Ahh. Yes. He is treacherous.”

“No, no!” stated Pierre. “The Free Cities! They’re the traitors! The whole lot!”

“Some of them are on our side,” said Simon, blinking to himself.

“Ain’t Monteriano providing us with food?” asked Jacques.

“Because we’re leaning on them!” stated Pierre. “Just wait when things really start up. We’ll see who our true friends are.”

The friends’ conversation was broken up by the sound of hoof beats on the road behind them. “Move along, you sluggards,” declared Sir Gerard de Breze, as he rode by on his fine white stallion. The men all saluted as they went by, as was due a Master of Horse. While the Eremites were in command of this force as a whole, de Breze was in command of its knights and men-at-arms, the grandest, noblest part of the army, and thus tended to treat the simple levies with a certain disdain.  Somehow, watching him ride daintily away made Simon’s feet ache more.

“Best do as the man says and hold your head high,” came the deep voice of the man who walked ahead of them. Simon and his friends called him ‘the old-timer’, and indeed, had forgotten the man’s name. He claimed he was an old hand at these things, who’d served against Lord Shaddad, and from the way he marched so easily, one could believe it. “The lords like to see a man who looks like he’s walking cheerfully and quickly. If you can manage that, they don’t care how fast you’re actually marching. And that keeps the Flagellants off your back.” And with that, the old-timer began to whistle that tune of his, that he would always whistle, and hum, and occasionally, even sing portions of.

Simon nodded to himself, and did his best to follow the old-timer’s advice. “That is shameful,” said Pierre. “That sounds like a plot to shirk and get away with it. Which is shameful.”

“Just do what the old-timer says, Pierre,” muttered Jacques, as he awkwardly tried to look alert.

“Where have all the young men gone? Gone to soldier, every one…” sang the old-timer, suddenly, then went back to whistling his tune.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Lands of Light: And the Years, They Passed.

And so, the Empire ended.  On one side of the river, nations and men fought to prove they were the true successor of it--on the other side, they fought to prove they had been its most tireless foes.  On both sides, a young minor power that had been seen as a nuisance by the old establishment suddenly emerged as a growing concern, and eventually, a dominant power.  Alliances emerged, and either grew stronger, or were discarded. 

There was never peace--not truly.  And some times the fighting spilled over the river, and the Nightfolk invaded the Lands of Light, or the Milesians invaded the Lands of Night.  And slowly, the conviction grew that there would come, one day, a Great War, a war where all the powers of Night and those of Light would stand against each other, until one side or the other won.  And the invasions grew rarer, but worse when they came.  And swords were sharpened and stored, and hatred took a deep root, in people's hearts, and the world grew used to horrific suffering....

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Lands of Light: Across the River

The fall of the Holy Empire in the Lands of Night had been astonishingly quick--a matter of Imperial governors and soldiers either fleeing to the other side of the  or being killed by their former subjects if they dared to stay.  A handful set up petty kingdoms that managed to persist for little while--the longest was one Argilius who ruled a section of the Fangs for an astonishing twenty years--but these did not last.  (Even Argilius was finally killed by his own men after managing to unite the Kings of the Stone and Ironfangs against him.)  Within a handful years, it was if the Lightland rule over the Lands of Night had never been.

Except of course, not really.  Speakers of the Dark Tongue had grown rare, few and sundered, the one thing that had truly united the Lands of Night now all but dead, with a dozen strange dialects in its place.  It was the Imperial tongue that the Nightfolk would speak now, and the Imperial names for their lands they would adopt. And their language was not the only thing dead.  In the north of the Plains and the whole of the Marsh what nobility that had existed was now dead.  For the Plains, that gave the Cthoniques a base of power that they would spread over unhindered, and use to gradually dominate the magnates of the south, the Kizeks, and in time, the remnant of the Southern Kingdoms in the Blasted Heath--for the Marsh, it left them entirely dependent on the Badb.  The rest of the Lands of Night had also been changed, often in subtle ways--though sometimes blatantly.

Further, just like their Milesian counterparts, the Nightfolk fell to fighting amongst themselves, the alliance that had formed to defeat the Emperor swiftly collapsing.  The Maganzas swiftly pursued a feud with the Cthoniques that would last on and off for centuries--the Ashuranas began to war on the Nibelung--and the Regnis and Utgardis had hated each other for a long time before the Empire invaded.  The world became smaller and more local for most who lived in it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Lands of Light--Dividing the Spoils

As the fighting slowly came to an end, the combatants settled into their own respective territories and prepared for the next round.  While it would come, the resulting wars would be astonishingly petty things, fought for a small scrap of territory here or there.  Though all the claimants made a great deal of their pretentions to Empire, after Baldizar Cettes' death,  no one claimant made any honest effort to truly take the place of the Holy Emperor, and reunited what would had been sundered.

King Ulrich of Tintagel crushed his cousin's rebellion, and then spent the remainder of his life and reign trying to secure the funds for a war to claim the Imperial throne for his son.  But the long years in the Imperial realm had made Ulrich a stranger to his kingdom, with its ancient bureaucracy and long-settled ways.  He remained at Ys, an odd presence in the land he ruled, a man simultaneously honored and ignored.

In the East, the situation was a chaotic jumble.  Theodoric Cettes defeated Rollo with Philibert's help, and married his brother's widow in an effort to cement his claim to the Empire.  The lady died within a year, and Theodoric fled his capital after that, forced out by an alliance of Rollo and Philibert.  The pair fell out thereafter, and Philibert attempted to bring back Theodoric, but was defeated.  Rollo ruled as "Emperor" in the East for fifteen years--punctuated by brief usurpations by Philibert's son--and would be considered by historians the first true "Easter King", though he would undoubtedly dislike that title as much as his successors.  Rollo's son would be forced out by Theodoric's son, whose son would be killed by Rollo's grandson, who would be poisoned by one of his own generals at a feast, who would take the throne, only to lose it to...

Well, suffice to say, the Easter King's rule has always been an interesting one and leave it that.

As for Seisyll Pescheour, he would spend the next few decades working to enlarge Leonais prestige.  At first, he did so in the name of his nominal sovereign, the Oriflamme 'Emperor', but when the lad died, he took the plunge, married his eldest son to the boy's sister, and had the Pescheours take the Imperial mantle.  His son, Pelleas II, would continue his father's methods, expanding Pescheour lands when possible, expanding the Pescheour prestige and influence when it was not.  It can truly be said that they did the work that transformed Leonais from a province into a kingdom.

Meanwhile, across the river, powers changed...

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Lands of Light--The Battle for Empire (3)

With his bid for the Empire collapsing around him, King Ulrich now found himself facing a rebellion at home, aiming to place his cousin on the throne.  Short on funds and men, he desperately needed to get back to Tintagel.  And then came a miracle--or a close enough for Ulrich's mind.  Seisyll Pescheour offered him money to by ships and soldiers--if he agreed to leave for Tintagel with his family.  Ulrich could hardly believe his luck--which, it has been noted says a lot about his abilities--and took the bargain eagerly.  He arrived back in his kingdom to destroy the rebellion he was facing, something that would occupy him for the next five years.

With Ulrich gone, and Cettes' Eastern army fighting among itself, the initial phases of the battle for the Holy Empire was finished...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Lands of Light: The Battle for Empire (2)

The death of Baldizar Cettes saw his own little empire dividing much as the Holy Empire was doing, as his various lieutenants each tried to either seize control of Baldizar's forces, or break off their own little chunk of his territories.  While the situation in the East proper was horrifically complicated--Cettes had basically spent his time creating elaborate treaties with various tribes, most of which were now using those treaties as an excuse to invade, and occasionally conquer their neighbors--in the west, it all boiled down to few key lieutenants--Theodoric Cettes, Baldizar's brother and right-hand man; Rollo the Wake, a chieftain who served as the head of Baldizar's native auxiliaries, and Philibert de Almace, Baldizar's ambitious chief-of-staff.

As those three competed amongst themselves, Seisyll Pescheour had his forces round up the Oriflammes and place them under his "protection".  With that done, the Leonais returned to the north for the moment, allowing their enemies fight amongst themselves as they gathered support.  Meanwhile, King Ulrich, on the shores of the Murkenmere, tried desperately to gain some more allies, only to receive news that would send him back to Tintagel--his cousin was making a bid for the Holly Throne...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Lands of Light: The Battle for Empire (1)

Cettes' forces crossed the frontier in early spring, and began their inexorable march to the capital.  Ulrich responded by trying to raise more troops, while arming what he had as best he could.  But as Cettes' army took fortress after fortress, the King's options ran out, and he was forced to confront the Warden of the East in battle.  That went about as he expected, with Ulrich's forces overwhelmed by Baldizar's.  The King of Tintagel fled towards the Murkenmere, while Baldizar Cettes' continued towards the capital.  It seemed that Cettes' victory would be complete--when Seisyll Pescheour forces began to raid his line of supply.  Cettes' turned back to face the 'nuisance'--and was caught in ambush by the Leonais forces.  While the battle was short, with Seisyll and his men retreating early, it achieved something monumental.

Baldizar Cettes, the man who could have been the next Emperor, was dead.  And the struggle changed, utterly.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Lands of Light: Seisyll I of Leonais

The House Pescheour was an unlikely defender of the Oaken Throne of Emperors.  The self-proclaimed kings of a rocky bit of territory on the northern coast, the Pescheours had been unwilling subjects for much of the Empire existence, prone to refusing to pay taxes and holing up in their forbidding fortress-capital of Corbenic when the Emperors sent their troops to collect them.  The Emperor Constans had once declared "Three implacable enemies do I know--the savages of the east, the Nightfolk of the south, and the Peschours of the north--the last are worst, for there's no reasoning with them."--his descendants had generally endorsed this view.   Numerous methods had been tried to keep the family under control--all had failed.  Efforts to eliminate them invariably proved too expensive--efforts to bribe them invariably succeeded in making them greedy and causing them to start performing acts of piracy--efforts to tie them to the Empire invariably saw them betraying their masters.

Seisyll Pescheour, destined to go down in history as 'Seisyll the First' and 'Seisyll the Shield-King', had been subjected to the latest variation of the this last one, brought up by the Emperor Ambrosius in the royal court and then sent back to Leonais with the idea of being their loyal man in the region, a Pescheour who saw himself as an Imperial subject.  Their success had been exceedingly limited--Seisyll sent Aurelian an exceedingly polite letter refusing to send the Emperor men and funds as opposed to his grandfather Caradoc's declaration of 'My men and my coin are in Corbenic, with many sharp axes--if you want them, come and get them,' to Ambrosius--still, the general thought seems to have been about the same.  If Seisyll mourned Aurelian, as he would later claim, then he had a softer heart at that time than he generally demonstrated.

However, as the succession crisis began, Seisyll seems to have seen an opportunity.  As Baldizar and Ulrich began their struggle for their throne, Seisyll suddenly declared for the young Count Oriflamme.  At the time, few thought much of it, the act of a minor lord on the fringes of the Empire from a family seen as little better than bandits.

This was a mistake.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Lands of Light: The Succession Crisis.

The troubles in the Holy Empire did not start because Aurelian's death without a clear heir was unanticipated--indeed, as the years rolled on and Aurelian failed to produce so much as a single bastard, the event became seen as increasingly likely. No, there were many plans of what to do when that happened, held by many people, and that--that was the problem, made worse by the situation of his prospective heirs, and the fact that the news didn't reach them all at the same time.

Aurelian's eldest sister, Julia had married the Count Oriflamme, an old family of excellent lineage. Unfortunately for her, her husband had angered Aurelian and been imprisoned, a situation he had the bad luck to die in.  Julia and her children were all far from the seats of power, and only learned of what had happened after the war began.

Aurelian's second sister, Lydia, had married Ulrich, King of Tintagel.  Aurelian had never trusted Ulrich, but even he had always had to be careful when dealing with the Holly Throne, one of the oldest traditions in the Lands of Light.  His plan for dealing with Ulrich had been to keep him near him--the King of Tintagel had accompanied Aurelian on his campaign as an officer.  Which meant that he was the first to learn of the Emperor's death--by many accounts, he actually witnessed it--and the first to declare himself Emperor.  (Or more precisely, to name his infant son Emperor, with Ulrich acting as Imperial Regent.) 

Aurelian's third sister, Augusta, had married Baldizar Cettes, a court favorite of Aurelian's at the time of the marriage.  Aurelian's mind had changed afterwards--Baldizar's relatively low-birth was joined with a genuine charm and military skill that the Emperor quickly came to see as a threat AFTER marrying him to Augusta.  Aurelian's way of dealing with this was to name Baldizar his Legate in the East, where Cettes spent his time trying to conquer, control and placate the hundred petty tribes and principalities of the region.  Baldizar learnt of Aurelian's death at the same time that he learned Ulrich had declared himself Imperial Regent, and was marching on the capital with the remnants of Aurelian's great army.  Baldizar's response was to declare himself Emperor--despite not even having had a child with Augusta yet--and rallying his own impressive army to meet with Ulrich's.

And that was when a fourth player entered the drama--Seisyll Pescheour of Corbenic...

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Lands of Light: The Triumph of Night

As Enkidu Cthonique demolished his generals, the Emperor Aurelian found himself forced to face the young Dark Lord himself.  This was not to Aurelian's liking at all--while he, like all of his line before him, tended to present himself as a warrior-king, in truth Aurelian had no experience in battle--further, he was an indifferent horseman, unskilled at the lance and the sword, and had little aptitude for strategy.  Even worse from Aurelian's viewpoint were the dynastic matters--Aurelian had no heir.  He had had no children, not even an illegitimate one, and his only brother had died as a child.  Three of his sisters had made it to adulthood, and even borne children--however inheritance of the Imperial mantle by the female line had been barred on three separate occasions.    But so matters stood--Enkidu's victories required a direct response from the Emperor.    And so, Aurelian set out.

He first crossed at the Accursed Marsh--an unusual strategy as the Murkenmere's width is at its greatest there, but Aurelian felt he had the resources to do so, and that the surprise of attacking from that direction would more than make up for any inconvenience.  Unfortunately, once there, the harassment his army faced from the natives resulted in Aurelian's ordering sundry atrocities in a futile effort to pacify the area--when that failed, he retreated back across the river, to make a more traditional attack on the Plains from the Crossing.  The depth of Aurelian's strategic failure swiftly revealed itself--he had managed to lose the Marsh for the Empire, unite the Badb to Enkidu's cause, AND alert the Dark Lord of the Plains to his plans.  Instead of taking Enkidu by surprise, Aurelian's attack would face the full strength of his armies.

Despite this, things were closer than one might imagine--Aurelian still possessed a larger, more regularly-trained army, and Enkidu had enough doubts about his chances to attempt a parley, where he offered to pay the Emperor a tribute in return for being left in peace.  But Aurelian could accept nothing less than victory now, and so battle was met.  How close or how far Aurelian came to victory remains a matter of controversy--what is know that in a skirmish, he fell from his horse, and was slain by Enkidu Cthonique with a spear thrust to the stomach.

And then, like a piece of fine glass tossed to the floor, the Holy Empire shattered.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Lands of Light: Aurelian and Enkidu Cthonique

Enkidu Cthonique was born in the Plains of Dread, heir to what had been an unceasing war against foreign tyrants.  His grandfather Marduk Cthonique had fought first against Sutekh Amontides, then against the Alcides--his father Mushussu had inherited the latter struggle and bore its weight for all his short life.  Enkdiu stood at the head of an army that had not won an open battle for half a century, and a clan that was regarded as upstarts and pretenders at best, lunatics and traitors at worst, the possessor of a title recognized by no other Dark Lord.  It was thanks to Enkidu's skills that he survived long enough to lead his rebellion--but it was Aurelian's incompetence that gave him the opportunity he needed. 

Aurelian's "reforms" turned his own generals into potential enemies--many of the Empire's most distinguished, skilled officers were disgraced and even killed.  This was dangerous enough in the Nightlands, which had proven nearly impossible to truly pacify--their replacement by a group of incompetents close to the Emperor turned into a fatal error.  Within five years of the Emperor's accession to the throne, Enkidu had gone from a minor rebel to a regional power on the Plains.  This was something Aurelian could not leave unchallenged--the "glorious conquest" of the Nightlands had been used to promote Alcide rule for decades now, and its potential loss would have challenged the legitimacy of even a skilled Emperor. To one like Aurelian, it would be a death warrant if left unchallenged. 

Aurelian's first actions were a series of brutal reprisals that succeeded in doing the impossible--the Dark Lords began to unite against them, and even more remarkably, came to accept Cthonique legitimacy and more amazingly, Cthonique leadership.  Soon, Aurelian found himself pulled into what he'd hoped to avoid--a direct confrontation...