In the Shadow of Leaves 1: Literature

There is an old book in the Chasseur family. François Chasseur had called it his grandpappy’s War Journal. Of course, if he had paid just a bit more attention, he would have known that *his* grandpappy had called it the same thing. There really was no telling how old the thing was. The paper was wrinkled, and of a deep brown that felt delightful to the touch. The leather was of an even darker brown and had the dry look of well cared for leather that should have long since turned to dust. The writing had been in charcoal, and much had faded over the years. None in the Family could remember how to sound the letters, but they all liked to look at it from time to time and pretend. Henri’s recollection of his Uncle before he’d left for military work included a wide array of the book being brandished and thumped for emphasis, spouting tales of knights battling great monsters of old.

The dirty figure hunched over it ran a filthy fingernail over the page lovingly, imagining in the complexity of his mind’s eye, that the words made sense.

** … we have chased the beast through the wood and into the hills. Its voice drive them to madness. I swear to the Almighty God, in whom I have entrusted my soul, never have I witnessed such horrors. It spoke of hunger, and we were hungry. Some of the men turned on each other, eating of their flesh and drinking of their blood. Their minds warped; there was no saving them after. Their screams haunt my dreams. The bliss in their eyes as they chewed the intestines of their children haunt me. There can be no redemption after such things. I pray to God for forgiveness for what I have seen and done in this war.

We have sealed the beast in with the sacred rites. The King has decreed…**

He knew what it said, in his heart he knew. It was talking about a dragon sitting atop a horde, and the brave knights that slew it. Something noble and pretty, like his when the girls dance in the spring with flowers in their hair. A smile splits the weathered face of the man. He dips a corner of the rag into the shallow dish of water and gently rubs it along the page to pull off the words. Gently, he blows on the page to dry it once more. Then the tip of charcoal touches the page and he closes his eyes.

“How den dat go? La-th-eye-a had a youngin’ fer a king, who was called Benny-lass. Benny-lass raised up as a king of this scary city, was protector of them bad religions and their exotic rites. La-th-eye-a had cults with great wealth to its king for dis protection of der sacred places where their differen’ worship could do their endless circle of sacrifice and orgy,” he said with his brow furrowed. “Alright den.”

The charcoal tip started to draw simple images. Lethia was a tower with a halo. Benalus was lion in a crown. There is a pause. This was a young king. The image is wiped away, and the tip drew a lion in a crown without a mane. A shield comes after the lion cub in a crown. Then three simple robes wearing spiked halos. Then a coin. Then an alter with a robed figure behind it.

It felt good to write down the good book. The dirty figure smiled as he accented the halo over the lion.

“Das good,” he said, feeling warm inside.

War Journals 3: Honor in Battle; Dishonor in War

Sven bent armored knees to pluck an apple from the cold hands of a Cold Hand. He polished it on the corpse’s coat before he tilted his head to examine the face of the dead man. His eyelids were unnaturally puffed, lips swollen and blue, and the tip of a tongue protruded from his mouth grotesquely. Poison was a miserable way to die. The first bite of the apple is delightfully sweet as the knight straightened.

“Troels,” he said, speaking around the fibrous fruit currently occupying his mouth. “How sits the tally?”

Finally, he wrests his eyes away from the blue-hued corpse to the commander of his forces.

“Just over five hundred dead,” he says, sniffing in a disapproving way at the poisoned body. “Including… them.”

Sven nods, taking another bite and munching slowly.

“Our losses?” he asks, swallowed and took another bite.

“Some wounded, but they’ll recover. All still capable of fighting, but I’d give the spears a chance to catch their breath,” he carefully schooled the disapproval off his face before the knight before him could see it. They were both of the Bear Hide and had strong opinions on forth-right action. Sven took the tally in stride and nodded before tossing the remains of the apple on the corpse he’d taken it from.

“We won’t have much rest, I’m afraid. We need to press east hard to get to this land bridge before winter falls upon us,” he says, wiping juice from his mouth with the back of a hand and turning back towards his troops. They had hit hard and utterly destroyed this force before they were even aware they were under attack. Laying in wait, as they had been, had blinded them to the Imperial force’s approach. All the better, really. Hard marching troops through unpatrolled woods was typically a recipe for disaster.

Troels for his part nodded, accepting the necessity.

“We will need to find a secure footing before winter snows fall, my Lord. Or cut the Southerners loose,” he said. They were both keenly aware that the northern winters were debilitating to the Gothics in their ranks. The knight just shrugs without answering.

“Find me a rider. Sir Ingvar’s forces are some miles to the West handling the rest of the Unseen’s forces. I wish to know how they fared. Ask if there is any word from the Avalanche and his boys with their orc fiasco,” Sven intoned, striding out of the killing fields towards his horse. Troels snaps a salute and turns on his heels, barking orders to those soldiers too foolish to see the foul mood that had claimed him.

A few men helped Sven mount the armored warhorse before he heeled away and made a slow cantor to the servants setting up his tent. What old age and countless battles had taught the grizzled knight was this: there was no honor in war. There was only the living and the dead. In duels? In boasts? In Courtly love and politics? There, much honor could be found. Far from this… slaughter. What difference did it make to these men whose blood soaked the earth, to die from sword or spear or poison? What difference did it make, if Sven had loudly declared to them that he brought troops against them and to form ranks for the charge? They were just as dead. And the dishonorable action of one knight had likely saved hundreds of lives.

No. The ‘honorable’ war was one quickly lost. To survive, you needed to understand just how far your enemy was willing to go to kill you, then go further to make him die. Always have one more knife than your enemy believed you to possess. Never let them take your full measure. The first priority of any battle was to survive. The *second* was to kill the enemy. And the third was to weaken your true opponent sufficiently that politics can resume. War without a political exit was doomed to extend forever.

So he would teach the Rimelands just who it was they faced. Just how brutal he could be. And when enough of the Clans had been put to the sword, the others would capitulate. And once again, there would be peace. He would make the very thought of raising a sword against the Empire so disgusting, so horrifying, that the Rime would gleefully abandon their horrific monstrosities they had enslaved themselves to.

Then, they would all find warmth and love in the kind and gentle embrace of the Emperor and the kind and gentle redemption of Benalus.

“A thought so sweet, I just may weep,” he grunts to himself with a laugh as he heels his mount to greater speeds.

In the Shadow of Leaves 1: Family

Nestled deep in the swamp stood a house. The house was old, far older than folks might realize. The support beams sagged. Thick sweeps of moss hung from the eaves. The back porch had long since slipped into the boggy mud. While the primary resident was far too polite to ever tell mamma (again), the sitting room also slanted heavily, causing any vaguely circular object placed on it to immediately make a mad dash for the front door. No glass stood in any of the windows. And there were large patches in the roof that, even from a distance, it was quite obvious kept out precisely nothing.

It was home, and had housed the still proud Chasseur family for so many generations, that the family’s meager math skills were sorely tested with the counting of them. There was a small buzz of activity around the house’s only fireplace. The hearthstones had been sunk deep, deep into the mire around them. Great grandpappy had often boasted through a toothless grin that the whole house was built around that chimney; the hearth built on top of some ancient pillar now hidden under the crumbling house. Either way, the white stone had long trails of black soot lapping up the sides to disappear in the creaky stone tunnel, ushering away the smoke into the night air. The night bugs flew around the dirty figure singing quietly to himself.

“Uncle Henri!” a small voice called from the other room. The hunched figure muttering over the pot straightened and turned towards the voice with a broad smile splitting his face.

“Oh cher,” he cried. “What you doin’ up at dis hour?” he pronounced it nearly as ‘her’.

The small voice giggled, and whispered on in a conspiratorial whisper, “Nanna See is cursin’ up a storm somethin’ fierce, Uncle Henri. She sayin’ you done burned the stew again, an’ that yous gonna leave the shell in der too long and foul it up.”

A pale, dirty face with the most beautiful watery eyes that God had ever graced in a child, dipped into the light. She giggled again in that way she always did when causing some small degree of chaos. “Ain’t none of us ken sleep up der with her howlin’ after ya.”

Henri sighed in an overly dramatic way, placing hands on his hips. “Noémie, what did ya pa say bout tattlin’? You keep up with that, yous gonna be cuttin’ a switch before the sun peeps over dem trees. Now get back ta bed, scat! Yous know the floor too cold fer ya sickies! Soup will be along directly, its done. I ain’t got na bread, but we make due.”

The girl looked forlornly at Henri before nodding and sulking back upstairs. The one who had answered to Uncle Henri started to ladle the chunky stew, a color not unreminiscent of swamp water, into the wood bowl deep enough to nearly be a cauldron in its own right. Humming softly, he mounted the stairs himself, a stack of splintering bowls and spoons under his arm. One always had to mind the third and seventh stair in the old swamp house. The third because it was simply missing, and the seventh because, no matter how often it was nailed down or replaced, it always seemed to pop up along the left side. Normally, there were always folks in the house. Ma and Pa had themselves two children besides Henri, and Pa’s sister was still about. Henri’s brother, Francis, who was named for Pa’s younger brother, a brave man who’d left the family near twenty years before and had stopped sending letters nearly a decade ago, had himself a wife and three children of his own. Among them, Noémie was Henri’s favorite. Aunt Beatrice had her own kit, and their house wasn’t too far north from them. There had been more of them at one point, but a few years back, the rest had just stopped visiting or sending along word. There was a proud certainty in the house that these others were fine, but some general concern that they had forgotten Family Sundays.

The second floor of the dilapidated house was where the young and sick were always shepherded. Great grandpappy had always said that those who were frailest needed to be kept in the best air. Hence, the second floor. Past the broken banister was a large central room, broken only by sturdy blocks of wood holding up the roof. Night air came in through the window and roof alike. Night bugs making nests in the blankets of the ill. The noble soup bearer was greeted by a series of happy shouts and waves. They were a family of huggers, and had they been feeling more themselves, they likely would have leapt from their beds to wrap him in a series of tight embraces.

“How y’all are?” was their responding call. The fellow couldn’t wave for desire to not drop the stew. But he did offer a broad and happy smile to the crowd.

“Henri!” the voice of the man’s mother cut through the joy around her, which died off with good natured chuckles. “I know you w’rn’t born with sense God gave a squirrel, but I *know* you didn’t burn my dinner. Again!” There was no venom in her words, it was just her way. Too many children, and if you didn’t speak to them firmly, soon enough there was chaos in the house.

“Na, mama,” he said, tugging his forelock her direction once the soup was settled on a table that was surprisingly level, given the state of its fellows. “I stirred it the whole time, and set the pot just on the embers overnight. Just like yous said ta.”

She gave a withering glare for a moment before the pale figure nodded contently and crossed her thin arms across her chest. “Good. Glad ta see yous ain’t beyond learnin’.”

Henri, the noble soup bearer and wrestler of turtles, bowed his head her direction before gesturing to Noémie.

“Cher, you hand out the bowls,” he said with a smile. She immediately stamped a foot in protest.

“Uncle Henri, if ice hand out da bowls, den I gotta eat last. I never get a lump a meat when I go last,” she said, clearly unable to decide if she wants to fold her arm in indignance, or reach out to accept the immediately offered bowl her direction. Henri didn’t wait for her to settle on a choice before he gestured with the handle of the ladle towards the farthest cot, her father.

“Go on nao,” he said, gesturing a second time. She huffed, but did as she was hold. Her father accepted the bowl and spoon, giving his daughter a playful ruffle of her hair. Henri had seen her carried across his shoulders through the fields where the marshes dried out a bit. The sun had caught in her eyes, dew in her dimples. He’d never seen his brother so happy. Francis had always been a sullen figure, prone to sulking and fits of slothfulness. But since the day she’d been born? Since he had bundled her into his arms and strutted around the family home, just as proud as you please? Since that day, he’d never been without a smile. Henri’s heart could nearly break at remembering that day. Discretely, a tear is wiped away before Noémie can notice.

The ritual is repeated half a dozen times before the child was allowed to settle into a chair not far from Henri and dive into her stew. Once she was seen to, Henri hovered near his mother. She had a bowl of the soup settled in her lap. Gingerly, he helps her sit up, adjusting the pillow behind her shoulders so her neck didn’t have to crane at a sever angle to drink in the soup. She hadn’t been able to really feed herself of months now, and his father didn’t even have the energy to speak. He’d never been a verbose man, but as the years had worn on, it seemed his vocabulary and desire to exercise it diminished every season. These last few years, aside from headshakes and some grunts, he’d nearly given up on speaking to anyone at all.

“Yous a good boy, Henri,” she said, reaching up to pat his cheek with a gaunt hand that was always too cold. “Always was. Never gave me a lick a trouble. Is hard on ya sometimes ta make sure the mettle in ya is keen.”

Henri offered her a smile and nod, pulling up a stool to settle his weight on before scooping some of the stew onto a spoon and bringing it to her lips.

“Hush now, mama. I love you with my whole heart,” he said. She smiled before nodding and her lips parted to accept the soup. She recoiled a bit as she chewed, her brow furrowing immediately into a sign of disapproval bordering on disgust.

“Boy, you ain’t salted this atall!” she shrilled at him. Henri looked confused, scooping some of the soup onto the spoon and give it a try himself. It tasted… fine. His was never as good as his mothers. She was a mighty fine cook, everyone said.

“Its fine, momma,” he said. “I salted it. Give it another go.”

She resigned herself to the inferior meal, though she still scooted a bit closer to her son. Sometimes it was hard for folks to speak their feelings for fear of appearing weak. His mother was one such person. She patted his knee as if acknowledging her own failure before settling back to be fed her meal.

And so it went; one spoon for her, one spoon for him. She had never been a good eater, but he had devised this scheme once it became clear that was was more concerned that her son ate. Their bargain had been that she would eat precisely as much as he did, no more, no less. So they shared a meal.

“Ya know mama,” he said. “I been back ta town the other night. Cousin Thomas passed. Or seemed ta say he did.”

She gasped and covered her mouth, “How dare ya speak of so dark a topic over dinner. Who raised you, boy?”

He nodded sadly, spooning another bit of stew into her mouth. It was her turn, after all. “I’m sorry mama, I just feel so bad about it. I was just over an auntie’s house, and they was fine. Still under the weather, but this cold won’t kick. I’s gonna check on em tamarra. I’ll be sure ta leave extra soup with Noémie, and I’s sorry ta leave so soon after gettin’ back. I won’t be long.”

Granny See nodded after a moment. “You give Olivia ma love now. And don’t dally; I won’t abide you passin’ off yer chores ta Noémie, since she can’t seem ta say no ta you.”

Henri offered her a broad smile and nodded. He stood, straightening and picking up the wooden pot. He had a system with the girl, where she would collect up the dishes and bring them back down, and he in turn would give her some small treasure of the swamp. She was partial to flowers of a blue or purple hue, or wild honeycomb. He ruffled her hair, more gently than her father’s had, as he passed her by. They continued their quiet murmuring conversation as he slipped away. The pot was put back by the hearth, and he wrapped a mud soaked bit of dangling fabric around his shoulders. The spear he favored when hunting boar or gator was left by the door; ma didn’t like big weapons in the house. Boys always got to them and couldn’t be trusted not to break every little thing they crossed.

“Be good now,” he called to Noémie. She waved from the top of the stairs. By the time he was a half dozen steps away from the front porch, his ankles were lost in the muck. It was a full day’s walk to his Aunt’s home; his goal was to be there by midday. He’d never had much trouble walking through the night. Family came first, after all, and he wanted to make good time.

The house fell back in the darkness. Silent save for the buzz of flies and the quiet dribble of soup colliding at top speeds with the floor.

War Journals 2: The Shadow Wall Has Fallen

The cacophony of camp being struck had died down. It wasn’t precisely still, with the shifting of armored bodies, and the quiet murmur of fellows speaking softly to one another. Lord Sven had done his inspections of the ranks and the site to ensure that muster had been handled in the most appropriate manner. The servants would follow the fighting men in their train, and the quartermaster would draft their reports.

The various plans were still gently tumbling about in his mind. It would be months until the next forum, which meant that he was able to be where he was most comfortable, among the fighting men and women under his command. He and Sir Ingvar had worked out the bulk of the particulars for this season. That fucking witch had raised the Karls under Longstrider that he had already massacred once, and their odd brand of shambling order had put the monstrosities between his forces and the settlement of Runeheim. The Lord Marshal was chomping at the bit to get back to the town.

Sir Ingvar was to take his force and move through the hills to the forests to the South. Word that the bastard Overturner had put them into a political bind… not un-artistically, at least, had reached them via a courier in the forum. Supplies, they had said, were coming from Overturner to secure a landbridge somewhere to their East in the yet uncharted areas of the local theater. How Vidar, the detestable cunt, had knowledge of this bridge was beyond him, but he’d found a way to force his actions almost immediately with Sven’s return to the North. The highborn snorts and spat noisily in disgust.

Sven, for his part, was to assist in the destruction of the undead horde encroaching on the settlement and allow the Lord Marshal to fall back and secure the town. Then he was to move further East to explore along the river to find this bridge he was to secure. It was a reasonable plan, if boring. With the inspection of the lines done, he shouted to Eda to bring around his horse. Already clad in his armor, it took two men to help settle him into his saddle, but already he was feeling better about the day. He gestured to the two figures tasked with the day-to-day of managing his troops, and calls were immediately given for the army to advance towards the shambling undead. They would wait at the tree line for the Lord Marshal and that Hothands fellow to strike their camp and join him. Perhaps he would alleviate his boredom with a playful attack to their flank. A… training exercise. Just to get the blood pumping. The idea amused him.

Sven wheeled his horse around and began riding up and down the length of his line, shouting to his men and joking as he passed. The troops liked him; but it was hard for soldiers not to like him. He was proper and noble when he needed to be, but he could drink most in the camp under a table, and knew more bawdy lyrics and course jokes than half the legion combined. The rank and file liked a little spit and dirt on their officers. He was just preparing to give the order to playfully encircle the firemages camp and begin sparing with the unprepared soldiers when a scout rode up, his horse in a lather with blood on his temple. The scout jerked his horse to a skidding stop and issued a distressed salute.

“My Lord, the town is under siege!” he panted, once his salute was acknowledged. Sven furrowed his brow. That seemed… unlikely. The only force they had been aware of within striking distance of Runeheim was the six hundred or so risen Karls, the stench of which wafted up after the scout like some horrid perfume.

“At ease, soldier. Take a breath,” he said, raising a calming hand to the scout whose name was escaping him. Lief? Erik? He couldn’t remember. “Start at the beginning, how does the town find itself under attack?”

The scout took a deep breath, which helped him find his center, before he began again.

“I was scouting out along the river to find the line of the dead things as ordered,” he began. Sven nodded patiently; he remembered issuing the order. “When on the horizon I noted the sails and pennants of ships crossing the river. Longboats, my lord. Dozens of them.”

Sven frowned again. That seemed… unlikely, though not impossible. The other side of the river had been difficult to scout or find a foothold in. Still… to cross through those unforgiving mountains, onto boats, across the river, land and lay an assault… whoever this Warlord was, they were talented.

“Do you know more?” he asked, rolling the situation around in his mind. The scout nodded, but didn’t seem pleased.

“When I saw the troops leaving the longboats, I rode closer. They moved to attack Runeheim, milord! The town itself!” he seemed in a near panic again. Sven raised a calming hand.

“What of the defenders?” he asked in that same placid tone. “What banners did you see? Think man, take your time and remember.”

“I saw the pennants of the Shadow Wall,” that was what the locals called Shadows of Nemesis organized under Sir Niven. “Sir Ingvar, Dame Solace, and someone I didn’t recognize. All of them were pushed out of the town and fell back to the hills, milord. The town is undefended!”

Sven raised a gauntleted hand to his chin and pondered for a moment.

“Carry this message on to the Lord Marshal’s forces,” he said after a few moments. “Tell whomever you find there that I will punch through this undead horde and carry on to the town. They can catch up when they finish striking their camps.”

The scout saluted and rode off, his horse thundering into the distance.

“Pushing through the dead without support will be hazardous, my lord,” a voice called from the horse next to him. Sven looked over to see one of his Commanders, Troels Hadvarson. A good man; he’d been with him for years. The grave features of the Bear Hide weren’t afraid, just aware of the peril. “Those dead aren’t simple. They hold their weapons with confidence and are unsettling to look upon. If there were just living Karls, that would be a tough battle. But as they are…?”

Sven shrugged, “We’ve little choice in the matter, Commander. Issue the orders, I want a brisk march to the enemy. I can smell them from here, and I’d like this done with.”

The Commander snapped a salute without further comment and began issuing the orders. Sven drew his sword and looked back to his line. Vengeance, the massive black stallion under him did a small excited side prance for a few steps. It could smell the unnatural terrors that they were about to engage, and it had no love for the idea. But it was also one that had been drilled from birth to obey. All it took was the gentle heel to the ribs, and the horse leapt towards the enemy. The roar of his men behind him rolled through the forest.

Ahead of them, the dead turned their vacant gaze towards the sound and formed up in surprisingly orderly ranks. They issued no commands that he could hear. They bellowed no challenges. The only sound from that side of the battlefield were the bloated flies and the click of armor. Of all the terrors of the undead, their echoing silence was the most unnerving.

The battle was thick and intense. The dead did not retreat, but rather fought until the very last of them were downed and dismembered. They had been tough and terrifying and not at all the bumbling ghouls he had cut his teeth on to the South. These had been touched by Sveas, may the good Lord smite her wretched essence back to whatever darkness had birthed her. Still, they had been rudderless. Their lines had held, but not responded well. Whatever witch had empowered them had abandoned them to their own devices. The angle responses of the bellowing Sven and his Commanders had easily outmaneuvered, overrun, and massacred the forces of Longstrider a second time. Covered in rotted blood and viscera, reeking of month old decay made fresh and sprayed across the bodies of his triumphant soldiers, they had been afforded no rest. Rather, they had marched directly on to the city without pause.

The intention had been to attack the Warlord from across the river before he could deal much damage to the innocent people of Runeheim. But, at the sight of the enraged Fenris forces cutting through the dead and barreling his direction, they had issued orders to fall back to their longboats and retreat across the river. Sven had reigned up his horse impotently, staring at the sails of the retreating ships just out of reach. He had no archers, and even if he had, he wasn’t sure they could have landed a shot against the wind coming off the sea. Sven grit his teeth and spat again. First from the frustration. Then a second time from the rotted stench coming off his armor.

“Secure the beach,” he snapped, irritated, to Troels. “And send a runner to Ingvar and Solace to return to town.”

The Commander snapped another salute and began issuing orders.

“And tell the men to wash their armor, this stench is unbearable,” he shouted to his retreating subordinate’s back. Long years of experience told him that this missed engagement would haunt him the rest of the season. He ground his teeth in rage, casting a final look to the retreating sails of the longboats before wheeling his stallion around and trotting back to town. If he and his men were going to be spending the next few months this close to town, he was going to find a proper drink and maybe a fuck to vent his rage. “And tell the Epoch to start burying these fucking bodies!”

War Journals 1: A Certain Perfume

The tent was a familiar space. Certainly, he’d spent enough time on campaigns over the years for it to be more of a home than whatever passed for his actual home these days. The well oiled canvas had a few patches here and there from travel pains, but was largely in good order. Sif was handy with a needle, and Svetlanka hand set up and torn down the large tent more times than either of them cared to remember.

The trappings of the tent were sparse. A set of folding chairs, a collapsible table, the armor stand, and a cot in the corner stacked high with skins and blankets. Outside, the cacophony of a victorious army was at work. Drinking and revelry were abounding. The cook fires were still high with spring offerings; a welcomed change from the dried rations of winter. Their scent was nearly enough to cover the smell of the battle. Blood and bowels always marked a battlefield, when it was fresh. But as the heat took it, the scent would change towards something even less pleasant.

Sven chuckled to himself and pushed himself up from the table, striding to the tent and pushing himself out into the daylight. Men had cordoned off a proper campsite, but it was really broken into two parts. The area immediately around his tent were the sworn men of Runeheim, newly anointed in battle and still a bit wobbly in their expected duties. Ultimately the weaker of the two forces, but the more loyal. The second area was a bit less orderly, but rapidly growing in the afterglow of victory. These were the Karls; fierce warriors of the North drawn to victory as shit drew flies. Half of the assembled force had defected from the failing Hadvar Longstrider forces. Such was the way of soldiers of fortune; when things grew boring or the spoils thin, they would disappear in the night as shadows in the noonday sun. The old warrior let out a sigh, but still smiled happily.

“Eda!” he bellowed, looking about for the diminutive squire recently assigned to his command. She came up from behind a tent a few rows down, wiping her mouth and looking ill. The older fellow squinted at her. “Bit green around the gills?”

She nodded and opened her mouth to speak, but Sven waved her off. He found her wide-eyed trepidation charming, if overly naïve.

“We’ll talk inside, I need you to take a letter to Sir Ingvar,” he said, holding the flap open for her and gesturing to the writing kit on the table. The pages were blank, and clearly he intended her to write his dictations.

“Yes, sir,” she muttered, pulling quill and inkwell from the box. Sven turned his eyes back out on the field until he recognized one of the fellows from earlier.

“Lief,” he bellowed, pointing to a fellow who jumped in a startled fashion and scrambled towards the commander, bowing. “Has anyone found Hadvar Longstrider yet?”

Lief shook his head, “I don’t think so, sir.”

Sven gave a considering nod before speaking.

“Double the men looking for him. If his corpse is recovered, I want his bow and head,” he said. Lief gave a nod.

“And if he is alive, sir?” he asked, taking mental notes.

“Put him to the question. I want to know everything there is to know about this Lionslayer or killer or whatever he calls himself,” he said. “I believe Harold finds the work rewarding. You’ll find him in my kitchen deployment.”

Without further word, Sven slipped inside the tent again, catching the barest hint of perfume on the air. A slow smile set about his lips as he eyed the skins adorning his cot. When he noticed Eda looking at him expectantly, he cleared his throat and began pacing.

“Sir Ingvar,” he began as Eda scratched on the parchment. The task seemed to have grounded her a bit, though she still smelled faintly of sick and disappointment. “My force is currently East of Runeheim, along with those of the fire wizard and Lord Marshal. After our forces went their separate ways, I engaged Longstrider twice, and have decimated his forces. Casualties are negligible. As Runeheim lacks the infrastructure to support prisoners of war, I have instructed survivors to be put to the sword.”

There was a pause in the scratching along the paper as Eda faltered with the order he had given. She had been present when he issued it, of course, and she hadn’t seemed to care for it now either.

“Something wrong, Squire?” he asked in an amused, if cool, tone.

“It seems… unnecessary to kill these troops. Where is the honor in it?” she looked up at him with too big eyes. There was almost a plea to them that would have moved a younger man. Alas, for her, the grizzled figure before her had seen entirely too much blood to be swayed by the tears of youth.

“There is no honor in war, Eda,” he said. Frowning a moment, he settled in the other chair to be more at her eye level. It was important to educate squires in their knightly duties. “Honor is for duels and skald’s poems. We won’t sully ourselves by boasting of this victory in grotesque terms, but killing the enemy is always the objective in war.”

She frowned a bit and seemed unconvinced. Sven nods, and continued.

“Let us consider a moment,” he said. “Our enemy numbered roughly 800 fighting men and women, not to speak to their scouts, cooks, travel slaves and so forth. Of those 800, at least 500 lay dead in the field just an hour’s walk from here. The rest have fled or been wounded or joined with my forces here. Of the wounded and surrendered, reports have it at just over a hundred men and women who are enemies of the Throne.”

He cleared a small section of the table, so that he could draw with his finger and tap to elucidate his points.

“Runeheim has no prisons. Their stockyard is a literal tree with a chain wrapped about it. They are discussing if there are sufficient prospects to support the war effort through the winter. Further, I saw no priests or secular doctors in town, though I heard rumor of one,” he said, his tone growing more patient as she paled out before him. “Such as it is, these prisoners have wounds that will go untreated simply because we lack the capacity to heal them. They would be chained outdoors for want of a prison or camp. They would suffer from starvation from lack of harvest.”

Pausing a moment to consider if she was appreciating what he was saying. She nodded, but seemed hesitant.

“Our force will not be able to move if we are securing over a hundred warriors. And they would cast our own ranks in chaos if they managed to break free,” he said. “Our own force is made up of citizens that were farmers and merchants a few weeks ago. Hardly trained to the task of prison warden. And the rest of our forces are their former comrades-in-arms; not the most trustworthy wardens, I think you’d agree.”

For a long moment, the two were silent as she fidgeted with the quill.

“Can’t we just… release them?” she asked. It wasn’t a timid voice she used, but it was quiet.

“And give them a chance to raise up arms against us in the future? Seems foolish to me,” he said.

“How are we to win the North over if we slaughter their men?” she asked a bit more forcefully. He smiled.

“It is not my job to win the populace,” he explained. “It is my job to disarm and emasculate them to such a degree that the thought of rebellion sickens their stomach. Anything beyond that is a matter for the clergy.”

Sven clapped her shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze as if that settled the matter. Regardless of her mouth opening to voice further protest, Sven rose to his feet and continued the dictation.

“Let’s see, where was I… ah yes, put the prisoners to the sword,” he nods and begins pacing, lacing his fingers behind his back as he does so. When he speaks again, it is the bold voice of dictation, from a man expecting his words to be captured. “I haven’t the time to construct crosses, else I would begin to line the roads with the crucified fallen. Not that there is much in the way of roads out here. Dispose of yours how best you see fit, though I imagine that Sister Solace will want to issue words over them or attempt to convert or liberate the thralls. When time is less pressing, we will formulate a plan to handle prisoners of war more efficiently in the future. Perhaps, if Sister Solace feels the pangs of guilt at the treatment of those laid low, she will utilize her forces into more of a prison camp managing system and we won’t have to worry about it further.”

The elder pauses a moment in thought, that wasn’t a bad idea. Perhaps that would solve both problems at once… Something to explore later.

“We haven’t been able to secure the body of Longstrider, though I will know directly if he survived the conflict. Named men taken will be put to the question before execution. We should see about developing our logistical support, and perhaps see if we can incentivize some of the locals to collect the weapons of the fallen for use within our forces. I expect the forces of the Lord Marshall to retreat back to Runeheim at the first opportunity, but I will meet with the leader of the Fire Wizards to see if it is their intention to continue on with us or fall back with the rest of the troops,” he said, continuing his pacing. “I expect a full report within a fortnight on the state of the farmers. Yours in triumph, Lord Bryjar, honorifics, and so forth. Dictated, but not read.”

He gestures in a ‘so-on’ way. Waiting until Eda finishes the letter, before signing the bottom and sealing it with his signet ring.

“Take the evening to settle yourself, Squire Eda,” he said, clapping her on the back again. “Then I expect you to deliver that without delay to Sir Ingvar. Travel along the road the army has passed. There will be some scavengers among the dead, but they won’t be trouble if you stay mounted. Longstrider might be in the wood, or some of his straggling soldiers that avoided capture. If you come across any resistance, return, don’t engage.”

Sven offers her a smile and formal nod of dismissal. Eda, to her credit, only hesitated a moment before saluting and exiting the tent. The old warrior smiled as she retreated before turning his eyes to the sheets of his cot and their sweet, guilt laden perfume. Whatever sweet heaven might be promised to humanity beyond this life, it wasn’t for him. He would just have to find his own heaven here, regardless of the protests of his soul.

MoC Decree- Lumber and Forestry

(Posted and cried about town in various forms)

Let it be known that gathering wood of any kind within the Stragosa parcel is hereby forbidden until further notice.

-Master of Coin, Bakara.

(OOC- That is to say, the Forest nodes of Parcel 71 are off limits)

Mechanical Advantage 13: Inertia.

Objects in motion tend to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.

So many people had argued that with him over the years, not understanding the bevy of nuance that existed in their world. People, at the hearts, were just well-meaning objects, and they tended to do whatever they had always done until someone forced them to do otherwise. Then there was a general outcry, and a scramble to defend what had been before without truly gauging the merit of the proposed change. The laws that governed all known bodies applied so beautifully to people that it was nearly ironic in its wonder.

More and more of his time was being pulled away by side projects, these days. Reviewing contracts. Approving tax rates. Assisting with land parcel development. Getting married. It was a wonder that he had time to think at all. Gone were the days-that-never-were of being able to blissfully sit carefree and think for hours on end. To mentally turn the world on its axis to examine a new idea or question an assumed reality. No, no, he was an honest man of this strange new faith in an old decayed city.

The tavern was noisy these days. Too noisy. His apprentices wanted for work, and he hadn’t time to direct them like he used to. So the other ones drank the day away, or caroused with the Hestrali strumpets about town while the youngest doodled in the corner. Jehanne had taken to them, at least, in her bright smiled way.

Such a smile.

An agitated puff of smoke left his lips and bounced off the confining wall opposite him. The one remaining room in his world that was firmly his, the quiet study at the top of the Metalli Guildhall. Below him, he could hear the work of hammers and saws, improved for efficiency by his own design. If he sat long enough, he even believed he could hear the bellow of Borso echoing off the halls. The old miner had proven to be an exceptional investment, but if the equally old Engineer was being honest, the Metalli hadn’t felt the same since Thorn had departed. She had been the… heart of them.

He sighs and turns the page of his weathered tome.

It was strange how long the winter had felt. The Cappacian beauty wrapped in his sheets, the warmth of her filling the room nearly to bursting. A genuine laugh before eyes hungry for answers latched onto him. She had a way of drawing him deeper and deeper into her wants. Before long, she’d have wrung every answer she could ever desire from him. What a blissful prison he had built. Soft and pale and witty. A small part of him wondered when this young lady would tire of so… grumpy a companion. Odd that his mind hadn’t turned towards its usual routes.

He cough a hurrumph of scented smoke into the room and turns another unread page.

It promised to be a busy Spring, he could already hear the clamor of the city as it slowly roused itself from the lethargy of Winter. Soon construction would begin. Soon he would find time to touch his quill to paper and allow the creations to flow. Soon the carefully set pieces would form the desires he wished.

The key to inertia was to account for the forces that would draw away energy, not to invest more energy. A smile touched his lips as his eyes turned to the book again. Another few hours of solitude wouldn’t harm anyone.

Stragosa Economic Plan, Year 604

Good evening Lords and Ladies. There are a variety of topics that I wish to discuss with you, so I will be as brief as the gravity of these matters allow.

The first item to discuss shall be the taxation of Land Parcels. Those born to the upper classes, upon assuming the lands entitled them, will be beholden to the taxation of the Reich. Current taxation on Land Parcels shall be 20 silver coins, plus 10% of all gathered goods (be they from Villages or industrious individuals or Guilds) to be paid Seasonally. Coin may be paid, instead, by the supporting of House Heidrich via influence and favorable words. We are aware of certain Agents in the Valley that may ease the passing of Influence should they be so swayed to assist. Further, this influence needn’t be paid directly by the noble in question, simply on their behalf by another organization (a parent to the House, or a friendly Organization). As a further effort to allow those of noble birth to build on these rich lands, the first year of taxes may be suspended (though they are still accrued) so that these liquid funds might be directly reinvested. Further, the city may be able to support loans on a case-by-case basis to those with proper plans in place.
These numbers are historically low, but should there be concern on being able to meet these humble necessities, please direct yourself to Sir Sanguine of the White Lions. He has a keen head for numbers and a friendly disposition.

Land Parcel taxes will be evaluated every Winter for the following year.

The second item are Guild Charters. This has been a troubling topic for many, but I believe I have come to a compromise. Previously our estimation of guilds were, evidently, too draconian, so we have elected to create two categories of guild- Junior and Proper. To qualify for a Junior Guild, you need only a master of a given Trade, to pay your dues, and attempt to supply Stragosa with what it needs. Proper Guilds will require an organization sufficient to house city level Agents (though they don’t need to have any), a Master within their ranks, and the ability to furnish all the needs of Stragosa. Either charter has the same fee, and both entitle you to privileged pricing on city goods (though Juniors may not buy land- see below) and both grant you a monopoly on your Trade (though Junior contracts only receive first right of refusal on city contracts).
The price for Guild Charters is 20 silver coins, plus 10% of all city-guaranteed contracts (required on all contracts valued at 100 silver coins or more) to be paid seasonally. Junior Charters need to be renewed each Season, proper Guilds are renewed annually.

Third, we come to an exciting new topic- land ownership for those not born to the nobility. After much research in Law and tradition, we have found no barrier to those not born of nobility to owning some modest stretch of land. Within each District there are Lots and these Lots may be purchased to do with as you wish. The process will be simple- find the master of coin or a magistrate within whose district you wish to build and present a building you desire. Lots will have a set price (see below) and the fee will be paid to the magistrate directly. Staffing this building is your concern, though many Magistrates will assist with this for a modest fee.
Each Lot will be subject to an annual tax, currently valued at 1 silver per lot per year. This rate will be evaluated each Winter, but should be stable soon.

Our fourth item is also exciting. Our beloved Reichgrafin has decreed that Stragosa should sit as an equal among the other great cities of the world. Towards that end, we will be beginning a series of public works. It is our fervent hope to have a functional Sewer, Street Lanterns, Moat, and Paved Roads by the end of the year. Further, we are in early discussions with our much revered Church to sanctify the whole of the city. Coupled with our robust farming program and ruin-removal, we are all very hopeful for future prospects here.
For those who are particularly adept at generating Labor, or just wishing to lend a hand, please contact your local magistrate or the MoC to see where you might be of most assistance. Efforts will be rewarded for these projects.

Each Season the Master of Coin will be posting a list of commodity goods that it will deal in with a price listed a purchasing, selling, and privileged prices. The city will ‘purchase’ goods in exchange for city-wide rents, taxes, etc, as well as general coin for the good of the population
For the Spring Season, here are Stragosa’s prices (updated Seasonally)-
Item Purchase Price Sell Price Privileged Sell Price
Soft Iron: 1c 4c 3c
Soft Wood 1c 3c 2c
Scrap Leather 1c 6c 5c
Vegetables 1c 4c 3c
Hemp 1c 3c 2c
Hard Iron 3c 10c 6c
Hard Wood 3c 14c 12c
Heavy Leather 3c 12c 10c
Meat 2c 10c 8c
Wool 3c 10c 8c
Iron Beams 8c 12c 10c
Stone Slabs 8c 16c 12c
Leather Bundles 8c 20c 16c
Canvas 8c 19c 15c
Lumber 6c 12c 10c
City Lots (Desired) 450c 350c
City Lots (General) 600c 500c

The city is making an effort to not carry a stock of raw or finished goods as we do not wish to compete with the Guilds whose monopolies they control.

For those kind folks who have listened, thank you. As always, if you have questions I am but a humble servant awaiting your every whim.

Master of Coin; Bakara.