Aphonion Tales (New posts 6/13, 6/15, 6/19)

Abigail entered and informed the Council that Lord Davion had arrived. The Council adjourned to one of the thronerooms to meet with him-- they would not use the regular meeting room until Lord Silverleaves informed them that he had removed the psionic effect, and Lord Davion was more likely to prefer excessive formality to insufficient.

Lord Davion bowed deeply as he approached the throne. “You wished to see me, your grace?”

“Indeed, and our thanks for your prompt attendance. We have several questions for you. First, I know that your son is serving as one of our generals. How would you assess his abilities?”

Lord Davion thought about the question carefully. “I am proud of what my son has accomplished in the short time of his life. Though he has chosen to embrace his Noldar parentage rather than his human ancestry, he is still very young. He is a good general, although not yet a great one. It remains to be seen if he can learn the hardest lesson of command.”

“What would you say the hardest lesson of command is, Lord Davion?” asked Dame Brionna.

“The hardest lesson that all good commanders learn is that they must spend their men’s lives that others need not spend theirs. It is one thing to learn to plan a battle so that you will lose the least number of troops possible. It is a much more difficult task to learn to send your troops to their deaths, knowing that is what you do, so that they can save a civilian population, or even the lives of other troops. My son has no shortage of courage, and he is devoted to the principles of the Lord of Light, but many try so hard to avoid making certain difficult choices that they end up making worse ones. As I said, it remains to be seen whether he will learn that lesson.”

“How is your son at the aspects of being a general that do not directly involve strategy?”

“He is an excellent administrator, your grace. He maintains his troops in a high state of readiness and strikes a very good balance between avoiding waste and making prudent preparations for the future.”

“Thank you. That assessment will be very helpful as we consider him for certain other tasks.” Alistair paused as he considered how to raise one of the main reasons they had summoned Lord Davion. “We know that you command Gateways’s field army currently. What other command experience do you have?”

“I’ve commanded forces both large and small, both in the time of my service to Aufaugauthal’arim, then as a commander of mercenaries, and then here.”

“How would you assess your own capabilities as a commander?”

In measured tones, careful to not make any overstatements, Lord Davion said, “I am a good field commander, a competent administrator, a good strategist, although not nearly as good as the Bleeding Lady.”

Recognizing that as the title of one of the greatest Noldar generals, Alistair probed a little further. “Are you familiar with our current field marshals? How would you say that you compare to their abilities?”

“Ah, when compared to human officers… Only one of your field marshals will ever be better than me-- Lord Brightspan. He needs to mature more, develop his patience and his finesse, to surpass me, but in time he will. At the present, Field Marshal Broadfields is your best commander, but he will not improve and is below my abilities. His mind is sharp and able, but I can see it begin to harden and to slow. When I first noticed it, I spoke to a redactor and to my chaplain about whether they could heal him, but they said that it is an effect of aging, and that while aging can be slowed with great magics, it cannot be reversed. And he is so young-- scarcely into his seventh decade! For all that humans shine brightly, you pay a heavy price by burning so fast.”

“Indeed. Many humans have made terrible choices because they fear aging. But you must try not to view Field Marshal Broadfields as overly young. By human standards, he has already lived a good life and his death is not yet at hand.”

“I understand, your grace, but it is difficult. I am fond of Lord Broadfields. I served with him at one battle. And I can see in his aging my wife’s fate, and that of my children who have chosen to follow their mother’s ancestry.”

“You said you expect the field marshal to decline,” said Dame Brionna. “Through the normal process of aging, or faster?”

“The healers say that some human minds go stiff and then decline rapidly, while others diminish more gradually. Lord Broadfields will be in the first category. Within ten years, the decline will begin in earnest. When it comes, it will be rapid. He will lose his abilities and may even lose his ability to recognize his friends and families.” Lord Davion paused. “It troubles me even to think of it.”

Dame Brionna made a note to have Lord Broadfields watched carefully. They would need to act quickly when the decline comes.

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My apologies for missing yesterday's post. Also, just so it's not a surprise, I will probably be posting tomorrow and then not posting again for a little over a week while we're on vacation. Regular posts should then resume, although things may be a little irregular until mid-August.

* * *

Alistair glanced at each of his advisors. They both nodded, and he spoke again. “Lord Davion, you may be aware that we face the dangers of much more war. Lord Brightspan has already engaged one set of enemies, while orcish hordes attack on another flank, and the great battle with the forces of the Abomination of Shur lies ahead. We have recently decided to raise five full field armies to meet these threats. We are working to arrange for officers for the field armies, but we need a fourth field marshal for overall command. We would like to offer you that position.”

Lord Davion pursed his lips before reluctantly speaking. “My thanks for your confidence, your grace. I will accept this position. However… I am concerned about matters of discipline. Some of the things permitted with our troops may not be appropriate with human troops. I am most concerned about how to handle the most egregious offenders.”

“After a court-martial, you may execute soldiers who engage in particularly egregious misconduct such as murder, rape, or mutiny,” said Alistair. “And I understand the need to maintain military discipline. Torture is forbidden, and even executions should be done as painlessly as possible. I won’t condone unnecessary cruelty. But if you need to authorize corporal punishment to maintain order, that is permissible. Likewise, making an example out of a few early offenders is fine. We understand that matters are different in the military than among the ordinary subjects of the Archduchy.”

“Ah. I think that I will be able to maintain discipline adequately, then. I had been concerned that even that level of discipline would be considered too much. I have not found cruelty or wanton conduct necessary, or indeed helpful, even when dealing with orcs and uruks. I will accept this command. I do not wish to serve indefinitely as one of the field marshals, but I would be more than happy to serve for a decade or so to aid during the current crisis. With your grace’s permission, I will begin making preparations to bring my family to the capital. I will have to be separated from them when I am in the field, but I would prefer them to be closer to my command than Gateways would be.”

“Of course. Make whatever preparations you see fit, but we will want you to take on your new duties essentially immediately.

“We also have a question about an unrelated matter. We received this odd message from one of the renegade drowan houses, purporting to ‘give’ us the Supreme Matron Mother’s Sixth Daughter. We want to understand whether she should be understood as free, as one does not give free people. We are concerned that even she should be considered a slave of the Supreme Matron Mother, in which case we would need to respond, but we don’t want to give offense unnecessarily.”

“The Supreme Matron Mother is doing as much to honor you as she knows how. The rebel structure is extremely striated, so there is something to what you say, but the Sixth Daughter is the member of the ruling house of a great house. While she is closer to the status of a slave than any child of your house would be, she is as free as anyone besides a ruler would be within their society. Indeed, I doubt that her house has any slaves at all, except for battle prisoners. To be more precise: they would have lesser race slaves, but they would not consider any drow except prisoners to be slaves. She is free. She can also be trusted. As long as she remains in your service, she will obey you alone and will keep your confidences secret.” Lord Davion looked over the message. “She is probably most helpful working with the head of your intelligence service. That was probably the intent of her Matron Mother.”

“We had already reached that conclusion,” replied Kit. “The only question was whether we were going to accept at all.”

Bonus length for last post for a while!

* * *

Lord Davion nodded. “And now, a question for you.” He opened a small bag, which kept on opening wider than would have been possible without magic, and dragged a humanoid cat out by the scruff of the neck. “Do you want this, or should I just kill it? It was spying last night, at my lord’s townhouse.”

“I should think we would want to at least interrogate it first.”

“It had spells that it thought would conceal it from my sight, foolish thing. It is a half-breed; half-rakasta and half-rakshasa. I took away its magic, its communication crystal, and this odd note. I am afraid that I do not recognize the language in which it is written.”

Dame Brionna held up her sun disc and concentrated for a moment. “It is clearly evil.”

“Thank you, Lord Davion. We will question the prisoner and have the note deciphered. If we find anything of interest, we will let you know.”

Lord Davion bowed seriously and prepared to depart.

“Oh, Lord Davion, we had one other question,” added Kit. “Do you know what these coins are? We know they’re from Krashmere, but…” She showed him the crystalline coins that the Master Unbidden had left with the city guard’s body.

He chuckled. “How remarkable to see such here. These are laen hoard tuals.”

“Do you know how much they are worth?”

Lord Davion drew a small abacus out of his bag of holding and made a rapid series of calculations. “Well, at present value, if you market them carefully… about 275 gold each. The Noldar keep much of their wealth in this form, but they are very rare outside of Noldar lands because they are never spent. These are among the middle-value coins. Besides the various common metals that humans use as coins, there are also osmium coins below the value of laen tuals. Osmium is a bone-white metal, like ivory. Those coins are worth about 125 gold. And both the osmium and the laen coins are much less valuable than adamantium, but adamantium is rarely used publicly.”

“Really? I thought I had heard of adamantium coins in more common circulation than these,” said Alistair.

“Ah, but the small rebel adamantium coins are adulterated, of course. I was referring to the pure adamantium coins that the Noldar use, not the rebel counterfeits.” Lord Davion thought for a moment. “The key with these will be figuring out how to get full value. Your best bet would probably be to sell them back to the embassy.”

“Thank you, Lord Davion. That is most helpful.”

The Forsaken bowed deeply and departed.

“I like him,” said Kit with a smile after he left.

“I’m certainly glad he’s one of ours,” replied Alistair. “I asked the questions about his son because I think he might be a reasonable candidate to receive the Earldom of Caldra or Caligshire. We’ll need to verify Lord Davion’s statements, but if he is a skilled general and an excellent administrator, that would make him a good choice. It would also be a good way to honor Lord Davion for his service-- I think he would appreciate it.”

Dame Brionna nodded thoughtfully. “And his son is a paladin of Glor’diadel, so we can both trust his integrity and expect him to be good at rooting out corruption.”

“Plus, as a half-elf, he’ll live a long time, which will be good for stability. I like it,” said Kit. “Anything we can do to hold down succession issues is a good thing.”

“Actually, my understanding is that he has chosen to take after his father’s heritage even though he’s Glor’diadelian. As a half-Noldar who embraces his elven blood, he’ll be immortal, or all but.”

“He might still choose to abdicate at some point, your grace. But I agree that we could expect him to reign for a millennium or more, which would make it more stable than any of the rest of the Archduchy.”

“As I said, we will need to do some more research. Also, it’s ultimately the Duke of Furrows choice, not ours, but I think that he will be likely to take our counsel very seriously.”

After checking it for traps and confirming that the only psionic effect on the cat-being was the mental malaise that Lord Davion had put on it, the Council sent it off to the dungeon to be interrogated. They also sent the note to a sage for translation, and quickly received a report. The note was the equivalent of a wanted poster, describing a female catperson and two kittens.

Kit immediately set her network on the task of locating and securing the rakasta family. Based on the details included in the note, she should have arrived in Canberry City about a day earlier. Kit also made sure that her people understood that the rakasta might have sufficient magic to conceal its appearance. They also sent for Reverend Canon Toddle in the hopes that he would be able to help locate the rakasta before the agents of the Abomination of Shur could.

The diviner arrived soon after the message for him had been sent. He was holding a cat as he entered, petting it calmly. The Council was immediately suspicious, but the cat gave off no signs of psionics or evil, and appeared to simply be a cat.

“May I ask how you ended up with a cat?” said Dame Brionna.

“Of course, Dame Brionna,” replied the Reverend Canon. “It was meowing in an alleyway for several days, and I shared my dinner of fish with it. It purred happily and has been clinging to me ever since.” The cat meowed contentedly as the diviner continued petting it. He seemed mellower and less agitated than on any of the previous occasions they had seen him. Reverend Canon Toddle then continued firmly. “You wished to see me because of the branching of the prolipses.”

Not exactly, thought Alistair, but if the prolipses is branching, we should probably know. “Indeed, in part. Can you tell us about this branching?”

“Three great branches lie directly ahead. One leads to the place where the stone boat has gone. That branch must not be taken.” His tone was unusually emphatic, and the Council noted that that was the first time he had ever definitively rejected a choice. “Of the other two: Both lie before the Archduchy like fields at the feet of the farmer. You can have one or the other. Before you lies either growth to the South and war to the West and Southwest, or growth to the East and loss to the West. The path before your feet is crystal clear, but a middle way would yet avail you.

“You must commit your energies, though you do not wish to, to one of the two. Your heart you will never commit, but your energies you must. If you commit to the one to the South, then the Archduchy will gain great lands, and those who seek their demise will become an implacable foe. If you choose the one to the East, who is still a more viable one than you think, you will gain lands to the East, but give offense to the ones in the South. Because of the offense of the one to the South, the West will crumble.”

“What about the middle way?”

“You take neither. You make alliances, and you choose another from far away. You keep all that you now have. The war that comes eventually ends. And what you pass on is greater than what you have, but less than what it could be.”

Alistair thought for a moment. “Will war come to the South either way, with the only question whether we are involved?”

“Indeed. The enemies of the South will strike at it regardless of your choices. If you stand with the South, our armies will be pulled into these battles, but will triumph after much war. If you do not, Canberry will remain secure, but the refugees will suffer greatly.”

“And what about the stone boat?” asked Dame Brionna. “Why must we not choose that?”

“Its sending will come soon. Its allies have brought forth the one that is to seduce.” Reverend Canon Toddle looked at Alistair intently. “If you take that path, their last hope, the kingdom falls. It is not one that has been spoken of before. You will know her by that.

“Is there aught else?” he asked. “My vision is clear today. I can see nothing else but the branching.”

“Have you seen a female catperson and her two children?” asked Kit.

“Yes, she steps here and there. There is great power within her, but great power seeks her. She has taken refuge in the poor quarter, where he will not think to search for her. There are assassins sent for her. Three entered the City. One watches the palace, one searches the noble houses, one watches the gate. They hope to still catch her; traitor they call her, though true she is.”

Kit grimaced at the mention of assassins. “We’ll need to catch them first and deal with them quietly.”

“If you take out the assassins yourself, they will know that you know that they know she’s here.”

“We’ll just have to be more subtle, then,” replied Kit. “Things happen by chance at times. If we work carefully, we should be able to create incidents that will appear more general, but will engulf the assassins anyway.”

Reverend Canon Toddle nodded. “That could fool them, at least for a time. But now, I must ask. There is a baby in the nursery.”

“Yes. What about him?” responded Dame Brionna.

“He confuses me. Because he is, but he is not, the Archduke’s child.”

“There is an imposter,” answered Alistair. “We think the imposter might be a clone.”

“A clone? A clone…” Reverend Canon Toddle’s voice faded away as that word triggered memories of other visions. A moment later, he slipped back into a trance and began talking emphatically but without any conscious though. “A nest of clones below the hunting lodge has been disturbed. Many have been brought forth. Some died when they were raised, but some walk. Three walk! He walks, a mindless general walks, and another, a woman. A woman I have seen before. A member of the royal family, but not a member of the royal family. I see her clearly, dimly. But she passes out of time. I cannot see her footprint in time. It is like seeing a ghost, but it is not even like seeing a ghost. It is a horrible thing they have done. The one in the north, the one in the north walks to Ecsilias now. Now!” He tottered forward and fell. For a moment it seemed he would land on the cat, but Dame Brionna and Kit leapt forward and caught him before he could. The cat looked worried, for the first time.

After an hour, the Reverend Canon recovered and could be led back to his dormitory. A note from the Archdeacon informed the palace that they had seen a similar pattern before and that it would be weeks or months before he could foresee again.

The Council quickly dispatched warnings to Ecsilias and to Lyneham warning them about the imposter. Ecsilias was the highest threat--the Archbaron had daughters, nieces, and granddaughters, any of whom the false Alistair might target, and an incident involving Ecsilias could easily develop into a diplomatic nightmare. The warning for Lyneham was more personal. Without a warning, the people of Lyneham would welcome Alistair as their liege, and the people the imposter would attack would be people that the Council had met and grown to like during their visit there. Any atrocities in Lyneham would be all the worse because of the betrayal of trust involved.

The Council then discussed what to do about the Sixth Daughter. They agreed, based on Lord Davion’s assessment, that she was free. At the same time, the notion of being given her services still rankled, as did the notion that upon Alistair’s death she would return to her mother’s house, regardless of her preferences. Finally, they decided that they would accept her services, but upon their terms, not upon the terms of the drow. They sent a message to the matron mother informing her that her Sixth Daughter would be accepted into service through a relationship of fealty, as with the knights of Canberry, and that upon Alistair’s death, she would be given the choice between returning to her homeland or continuing to serve as a vassal of Alistair’s heir. The messenger reported that the matron mother was not displeased by this, and if anything seemed amused.

They then sent for the Sixth Daughter and met her in a throne room, where they asked her if she wished to enter into service to the House of Ashberry. When she said that she did, not without some confusion, Dame Brionna instructed her in taking an oath of fealty to the Archduke. Alistair, for his part, swore to carry out the duties of a liege to a vassal and presented her weapons back to her, as she was now an honored vassal. She remained confused, but at the same time was honored and beginning to understand that surface societies were even more different than she had realized, and perhaps better. Alistair also offered to have a redactor cure the extensive scarring if she wished. She decided to consider the offer rather than deciding immediately--there were advantages to being underestimated and shunned, but it had its costs as well.

[End Session 22]

We're back from vacation, so I'm going to resume posting. I may not have access over the weekend-- we'll see. But other than that, it should be back to daily updates for the foreseeable future.

[Session 23]

Later that afternoon, Dame Brionna set forth from the palace to discuss various matters with her family. She set out to speak with her sister first about taking a role in the court. The Council had agreed that she could be useful for gathering information, especially with regards to the refugees from the Southlands and the process of vetting Princess Kaitlyn. Lady Elaine received Dame Brionna in her salon.

“It is good to see you again, Brionna. I trust that Abigail is behaving herself?” she asked, a little tentatively-- Abigail had been a trying child at times.

“Indeed. Dame Katherine has mentioned no complaints about her service as a page.”

“Excellent. I remain grateful to you for finding a place for her-- it would have been difficult to arrange for her to meet the right people without your sponsorship. I’m afraid that the rest of the family has little place in these lands.”

“That was what I wished to discuss, Elaine. His Grace would like to ask you to provide some assistance to the crown. We don’t have as many sources of information about the talk among the nobles, and among the nobles of the old Kingdoms, as we would like. We thought that you might be able to develop some useful sources of information.”

Lady Elaine nodded, a shrewd smile on her face. “I think I could, at that. But of course I would be unable to hear much of interest while a mere refugee… would the Archduke be willing to give me a more established place within proper society?”

“He would. He will be holding open court next week and would be happy to formally receive you. He would even receive you according to our family’s old title, rather than just with the courtesy of ‘Lady Elaine.’ I think that would provide you with the entry to polite society that you would need?”

“Indeed. And in return for that, and for the service of giving my daughter a place of honor in the court, I will be happy to listen carefully and to ask a few of my friends to listen as well.” Lady Elaine lifted an eyebrow to be certain that her sister understood that she was in effect promising to build a small intelligence network, although of course she would never be so gauche as to directly speak of it that way, and continued after Dame Brionna gave a short nod of understanding. “Are there specific topics His Grace would be particularly interested in?”

“There are. We would like to hear of the talk among Princess Kaitlyn’s retinue. As you may know, she is among His Grace’s suitors, and we wish to know more about her companions and whether they pose any dangers.”

Lady Elaine nodded. “It should be a simple enough matter to arrange for a friend from the Confederation to join at least the outskirts of Princess Kaitlyn’s court, such as it is. I’ll make certain that it is a friend with no familial connection to us, so that an investigation of your kin and allies will not turn up any ties. I also know some of the people in her retinue and should be able to get the public gossip of the court in exile directly.”

“Excellent. The other issues are more a matter of observing the mood of the court and rumors about Alistair, among all the nobles, but particularly the ladies. We would wish you to apprise us of anything of consequence that you hear, but we are most interested in three specific matters. First, there is an impostor pretending to be His Grace who has been committing atrocities and offenses against women in various foreign courts.”

Lady Elaine pursed her lips thoughtfully. “I see. That could be particularly disruptive, with the path that Canberry is on, towards becoming the dominant power on the continent.”

“Any information that aided us in apprehending the imposter would be most useful. We also wish to know if the rumors begin souring opinions of His Grace.”

Lady Elaine nodded. “Of course. The next matter?”

“We wish to know of any potential brides for His Grace, and of the opinions of the nobles about the various possibilities that are already being considered. In particular, any information on Princess Kaitlyn would be most appreciated.”

“I take it then that His Grace does intend to wed quickly if a suitable dynastic match can be arranged?”

“Indeed. His Grace remains very aware of the need to ensure a smooth succession and wishes to arrange for an heir as quickly as possible-- but we need to be certain that we have the right match.”

“That will of course be a key topic of conversation among all of the Canberran nobles, and among any other nobles who hope or fear that their sovereigns might contract a marriage with His Grace. It should be the simplest matter to hear extensive reports.”

“Finally, we need to gather more information about his grace’s half-siblings and other relations. They are likely to be used as marriage prospects.”

“Of course. Without doubt, noble houses will already be sizing them up and beginning to lay the groundwork for more overt negotiations.”

“We need to know how loyal and reliable each of them are. Some of them we know to be supporters of His Grace, and we have imprisoned those we know would seek to lead a rebellion, but we want to minimize the possibility of giving a disloyal vassal or a foreign power a cadet line that they might use as a pretext for a succession war. At the same time, if we can use a marriage with a prince of Canberry to draw in neighboring realms or to cement the loyalty of one of the duchies, that would be a great opportunity.”

“I understand completely. Again, this will be a focus of gossip among the noble ladies for the next many years-- I daresay that it will be a major topic of discussion until every last one is married off and unavailable or until His Grace’s own children begin coming of age. I should be able to assemble detailed information without arousing any suspicion.”

Dame Brionna thanked her sister and moved on to a more delicate task: discussing the Old Ones with her parents. Dame Brionna’s father was out of the townhouse when she arrived, but her mother quickly met with her.

“Ah, Brionna! We’re so proud of all that you have accomplished. Captain of the Archducal Guard! I am sorry that I ever doubted your decision to join that knightly order.”

“Thank you, Mother. I have been fortunate in my ability to serve Lord Glor’diadel well.”

“And to have made close ties to the greatest people in this land. To think-- a confidant of the Archduke himself.”

Dame Brionna cleared her throat. “It is because of my position in the court that I have come here today. I remembered something from long ago that we thought might be relevant to some recent developments. We dismissed one of our maids, many years ago. I think it had something to do with the Old Ones. Can you tell me anything about it?”

“Now, Brionna, that’s not the sort of matter that is wise to spend much time dwelling on. She was a follower of the Old Gods. When we discovered this, we sent her forth from our service immediately. What more could you need to know?”

“What can you tell me about the Old Gods? We worry that their followers pose a threat to the Archduchy.”

Dame Brionna’s mother sighed. “I would not have wished to speak of it, but I suppose you are old enough now… In their time, it is said that there were four that preceded the Great Lady of Chaos. In those early days, when all rose out of the sea of being, there were four beings who arose, or who some say came from elsewhere in the first days. Those four dominated creation for a long time. Eventually one of them subsumed another, and gained a great hunger for her brothers and sisters. Other gods arose, and war broke out among the planes. The other gods prevailed, which drove the Old Gods out of time, but never out of their hunger. In the faith of Berta, there was a remembrance of them, for we were closest to where they came from. Three remained, and there was a continuation of the cults.”


Cerebral Paladin said:
[Session 23]

He would even receive you according to our family’s old title, rather than just with the courtesy of ‘Lady Elaine.’ I think that would provide you with the entry to polite society that you would need?

With their mother still alive? Might be a bit of a faux pas on the etiquette side. And anyway, wouldn't she have the title of her husband? Or didn't she marry Abigail's father?

We actually discussed that out of game, but I didn't include it in the Storyhour. Our assumption is that Lady Elaine has a courtesy title as the heir-apparent of her parents (much like how Alistair's father was Marquis Belconnen as the heir-apparent of the Archduchess of Canberry, and his eldest child will be styled Marquis or Marchioness Belconnen). She could use a dowager title (from her husband) if that were higher, but it is fairly clear that her husband was at best a manor lord or landed knight, because otherwise Abigail would have inherited a higher title than "Lady" upon her father's death. This would all be clearer if we knew exactly what title Dame Brionna's parents held, but we don't, so... (At least in Canberry, succession order is not dependent on gender.)

* * *

“Do the three Old Gods have names?”

“They had many names, but the most common names were titles: the One Beside; the One Other; and many titles for the last one who consumed her brother, the Devourer of All, the Goddess of the Pale Bone. It is said that so great is her hunger, that all of her creations are intended only for one purpose, to consume the world so that she can consume them and everything. Her cult exists in other lands but it has always been strongest in the lands devoted to Berta.”

Dame Brionna bit back curses at Berta-- her mother might still be offended by criticisms of the family’s traditional religion. “What did our maid do?”

“She offered blood sacrifice to the Goddess of the Pale Bone, slaying various animals. She had killed several animals, probably in an attempt to bring a here’ku through.”


“One of the chief servants of the Goddess of the Pale Bone. I do not believe she brought them through. The here’ku are like dopplegangers, but substantially more powerful. They might take the place of anything. The only way to tell is to cut them. They do not bleed blood, but a colorless ichor. They can mimic perfectly besides that test, even mimicking mannerisms and reading the surface thoughts of those within fifty feet, allowing them to tailor responses to match expectations. The here’ku nearly toppled the South Kingdoms eight-hundred years ago.”

“Do they have weaknesses? Could we fight them?”

“While they are potent in combat, they are not as potent as the demons of the Horned Rat. They can be slain as anything else, but you need to hit them hard because weapons do not bite as deeply into them as you would expect.”

“What of the other Old Gods? Would they seek to infiltrate as well?”

“No. The One Other and the One Beside also have their servants, but they cannot pass within human society, so they raise up their mountains and fortresses. But you cannot treat them as separate threats; they work as a triumvirate frequently. Many years ago, a temple of the One Beside arose to the east of the Kingdoms. It was the cause of long-term combat, particularly with the fey of the Silentwood. Then the sea rose up and consumed the island, and not seen since. If the island were seen again, would mean he had enough cultists and power to raise it from the ocean. I can’t imagine that would happen, even with the desperation of the refugees.”

“The refugees? Surely they would not follow the Old Gods.”

“Not originally, but many believed the Lady of Chaos failed us. They might turn to the other gods they knew of, the One Other and the One Beside.”

Dame Brionna thought about that for a moment. It was insane, but she could understand, if only barely, how they could have reached that point. After all, she had rejected Berta after the fall of the South Kingdoms as well.

“We’ll have to take steps to deal with that, then. What do the cultists seek to do?”

“The Goddess of the Pale Bone was cast out to a different universe. There are doors from that universe to this, but opening the doors has to be paid for with blood. The sacrifices of the cultists are meant as those payments. A single worshipper could bring someone through, but it would take many offerings.”

“Do you know what happened to the maid after you dismissed her?”

“I’m afraid not. It was only two days later that we found she was trying to bring a here’ku through, but we could not find her then. We reported her to the Office of Heresy, but the priests did not devote enough time to such things.”

“We might be able to locate her. Would you allow us to take an image of her from your mind for use in scrying?”

Dame Brionna’s mother hesitated, clearly troubled, before answering. “It does not please me, but I would permit a psion to take an image from my mind for scrying. Your father would probably not. It is probable that I should meet you elsewhere with the psion. I do not think he would approve.”

“Thank you, Mother. Our priests will be able to do more to prevent the further progress of the Old Ones than the priests of Berta did. They could not even prevent the attack of the demons.”

Dame Brionna’s mother winced. “But how were they to have even seen it coming? It caught everyone by surprise. Or perhaps not everyone-- some time before the fall, I met a priest of Paranswarm who predicted the destruction of the Southern Kingdoms. He was a powerful psion-- I think his name was Canon Deloren. But I had no reason to believe him, especially as priests of Paranswarm would always tend to predict the worst for Bertan kingdoms.”

Dame Brionna listened carefully. Someone who had figured out what was coming could be a useful ally--and someone who knew the demons’ plans in advance might be an extremely dangerous foe. “Do you remember how you met him? I would not have thought you would have met many Paranswarmian priests.”

“No, I should say not. He was a member of the entourage of Lady Castilia Mandrath. She paid a visit to the court, and everyone of consequence attended the state functions.” Dame Brionna’s mother smiled a little as she recalled a happier time.

Dame Brionna thanked her mother and returned to the palace, where she reported on what she had learned.

“That’s another story about a dead god, like what the Seachen are involved with,” said Kit with concern. “Maybe they’re trying to bring back the god that was eaten? And even if they’re not, maybe somebody else is.”

“We’ll have to investigate it further,” said Dame Brionna. “My concern is more about the here’ku.”

“Do you think the imposter is a here’ku instead of a clone?” asked Kit.

“No-- we know that the imposter is His Grace’s clone.”

“Not necessarily,” replied Alistair. “We know that there are clones, including clones of me, and we know that they have been disturbed, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t also here’ku. For all we know, it could have even started out as a clone and then been replaced.”

“Be that as it may, we also need to focus on the problems among the refugees. We need to cut off the ability of the Old Ones to recruit among the people who have lost faith in Berta, which means we need to work on converting them to a new religion.”

“Agreed. Really, even if they became Paranswarmian, it would be better. I’m not saying that would be good-- but better than following the Old Gods.”

“I was thinking we could send down some priests to convert them to Glor’diadel, and perhaps some bards to tell them encouraging stories. Tales of knighthood and chivalry and the like.”

Kit shook her head with a derisive smile. “Or give them food and protection. People who are safe may be interested in stories. People who are worried about starving, or being carried off by slavers, just want safety and food. Right now, actual knights would make a difference, but tales of knighthood would be worthless.”

“Kit’s right,” said Alistair. “We’ll need to get as many troops down there as we can, although we’ve already sent the armies we can spare. Maybe the temple can provide some church troops, along with some priests who can provide actual protection.”

“I’ll ask the Archbishop for an audience, Your Grace.”

While Dame Brionna made arrangements with the Archbishop, Kit ordered her people to investigate the sales of krif. She knew the basics: taking krif produces hallucinations, delusions, and a sense of hyper-activity. It is also extraordinarily addictive, with regular users becoming increasingly emaciated as their metabolism accelerates. Kit’s secretary quickly agreed to pull together the relevant reports. She then informed him that she wanted to see her lower city people in person.

At that, her secretary produced a magical silver mask. “You will find that this will change your form to any you may desire, to keep your true identity secure. Most Mouths select a small number of preferred forms, so that the form they use can serve as a recognition signal. Dame Esmerelda favored a husky middle aged man with one leg or a small pig. I really can’t imagine why, but there you have it.”

Kit thought about it for a while and then chose to be a hawk. She wanted to take on a bird form, both for aesthetics and because the ability to fly might be useful, but at the same time, she wanted a bird that gets taken seriously.

Kit quickly located her head agent in the lower city and sent a message requesting his appearance at a safe house. He was a man of middle-age, totally beaten down by a hard life. At least that’s what he looked like at first, but his eyes were sharp, alert, and probing, giving lie to the despair that covered the rest of his face. The hawk flew into the room where he slumped and landed on a rafter. He bowed deeply to the hawk, without asking questions. “I have come as you asked.”

Kit replied, “Thank you. I am trying to find out if anyone in the City is on krif.”

“Krif? Let me think. I know the symptoms, but there are not many people with them. I’ll have to do some active investigation, then. Should I use the standard contact protocols when I learn more?”

“Yes,” answered Kit, without a clue as to what the standard contact protocols were. “We know that enemies of the realm smuggled a sizeable amount into the City. We are most worried that it might be the beginning of a group spreading it here directly.”

“I understand. It would be essential to cut it off quickly. I can’t say that it seems likely, but I won’t discount the possibility.”

“We don’t think they would dare do that here, either, but we need to keep an eye on it. If Canberry is just being used as a waystation, we want to know that as well.”

He nodded. “Either way, we’ll find out and let you know. If that is all?”

The hawk nodded, and he slipped out, staggering as he went. Kit returned to the palace and met with her secretary again, back in her natural form. “What are the ‘standard contact protocols’?”

“Ah. No use of force, information gathering only, with a reporting chain back to you. They would not contact you directly, of course, for security reasons. I am glad that you are not escalating the instructions-- there was concern in some quarters that you were too inexperienced, or that you would be overzealous and pursue bloodier tactics.”

“No! I want the least bloody tactics possible.” Kit paused and then amended that a little. “Or the least bloody tactics that will accomplish our goals--I know that we can’t always avoid bloodshed altogether.”

Her secretary smiled. “Good, good. It can be a delicate balance, but too many people have a first instinct to err too far in one direction or the other. I knew from your earlier efforts that you could act firmly when necessary, but it’s good to see that you have a sense of that as well.”

“I have another matter I want to discuss with you. Do you know anything about this fan? It’s linked to a group of agents-- are they the main part of our network?”

“Ah. I had not realized you had taken that directly. The fan belonged to one of the people who ran a subpart of your predecessor’s operation. It has been generations since the Mouth used it directly. Dame Esmerelda put it in the hands of one of her most trusted agents, who was also something of a friend to the Archduchess. So she is the one who built the network of agents on the fan. Have any of the other prime agents checked in?”

“No, I don’t think so. Who are they?”

“There were four all told; we know what happened to this one, so three remain unaccounted for and presumably still active. They’re all somewhat independent, of course. One was sent to Khamista to infiltrate the temple of Paranswarm. Dame Esmerelda was most worried when the Inquisition swept the continent. He reported about once every sixth months, so it is unsurprising that you have not yet heard from him. When last I heard, he remained embedded in the hierarchy of the Inquisition and the Inquisitor General. Second: a close friend traveled north in the guise of a merchant, who set up a network in Hanal. Over time, she was able to set up as both a merchant and a strommess.” Kit raised an eyebrow at that. “She married into the title, and her husband was suddenly and fatally ill shortly after the marriage. The third remaining prime agent is in Brightspan, but she has been singularly unsuccessful in creating a network thus far, making the reports of minimal worth.”

“The Brightspan prime agent is also a woman?” asked Kit. When her secretary nodded, a little hesitantly, Kit asked, “What was her cover?”

“Ah… you see… well, m’lady, it was hoped she could get close to the Duke… She… umm… She was a very beautiful woman!”

Kit did her best to cover a smile at her secretary’s prudishness. “I take it she might be a good leader for the Naughty Bits, then?” She also reflected that the psionic effect on the Duke of Brightspan would have made the plan of infiltrating a mistress all but impossible--his paranoia would cause him to suspect the truth even without any evidence.

“Yes, m’lady. I suppose we will need someone coordinating that effort,” he said with distaste. “But in any event, those are the prime agents.”

“Did the fan-bearer put the other prime agents on the crystals?”

“Perhaps. The uses of the fan’s crystals was left to her discretion-- you will have to check the crystals directly to be sure.”

Kit nodded. “I’ll make that a priority. With the Brightspan agent-- what was her supposed reason for being there?”

“Ah. She was ostensibly in flight from her family, the Overfifers. The story was that she was ‘dishonoring the family name.’ There was nothing to it, of course; her branch of the family has been merchants for year, solid grain merchants. Lady Mayor Overfifer probably doesn’t even know they exist, and there is no actual rift within the family even if she does. But it provided a convenient excuse for her to be traveling lightly and quietly, while still letting her use her rank to gain entrée.”

Kit drummed her fingers. She would have to consider whether to recall the agent. She could serve as a very useful leader for the Naughty Bits. At the same time, once the psionic effect on the Duke of Brightspan dissolved, she might be able to accomplish her original mission. Kit didn’t trust the Duke enough to want to reduce the Archduchy’s surveillance of him.

Once Kit returned to the Council, Alistair brought up a longer term concern.

“We keep getting caught unaware by developments in foreign countries. We really need to start getting regular briefings by a foreign policy advisor.”

“Indeed, Your Grace,” responded Dame Brionna, perhaps with a bit of surprise at Alistair actually showing an interest.

“Who’s our current Foreign Minister?”

“I’m afraid that’s another vacancy, Your Grace. The last one was among the many ministers who killed themselves by the funeral.”

Alistair grimaced. “For protocol reasons, we should probably appoint a noble to the post. As a practical matter, most of the work will be done by an aide, but a foreign minister who is not a noble won’t have enough clout with foreign powers.”

“Makes sense,” said Kit. “Besides, then we’ll have another way to encourage the loyalty of our nobles by having their relatives serve in high positions. Who are the reasonable choices?”

“The clearest pick would be Dame Olga Bigglesberg, I think. She’s the younger sister of the ruler of the City of Bigglesberg in Tusslefields. She’s experienced, well-regarded, and was formerly captain of the house guard. If we wanted a more daring pick, I suppose we could go with the cousin of the Count of Gateways. He has dealt with combinations of uruks, dwarves, orcs, and gnomes at the same time.”

“Wow. That is impressive. Is he a high enough noble for purposes of appearances?”

Dame Brionna thought for a moment. “I think it would be accepted if the Archduke appointed him, and viewed as an appropriate award for service. Still, I’m not sure that’s the best use for him. He won’t fit in as well with human realms, and he might be better used as an ambassador to Underdark powers when we need one.”

“Are there any other possibilities you can think of?”

“What about the older children, or nieces or nephews, of Lord Kelven and Lady Bibi, the Duke and Duchess of Westmarch, Your Grace?”

“They certainly have the rank. Even one of the bastards would do. That might be best-- high enough rank to be taken seriously, and a reward to Westmarch for their loyalty.”

“Who are the possibilities?” asked Kit.

“The Duke and Duchess have eleven children, as well as fourteen nieces and nephews they’ve adopted, all from Lady Bibi’s deceased sister. There are also four recognized bastards, along with other children who are presumed but not acknowledged.”

“Eleven children? And fourteen nieces and nephews from one sister?” asked Alistair incredulously. “Are they Gunnoran or something?”

“Yes, Your Grace. The only nobles of any meaningful status who are Gunnoran. All accounts are that they are remarkably happy family, but looking for marriages. They are also known for keeping hunting dogs in the manor, along with trained lions.”

“Hmm. I think about the five oldest children would be old enough to serve-- the other six are all sixteen or younger. I think the second oldest child has a reputation for being intelligent?”

Dame Brionna checked some of the files that the Archduchess maintained on the nobility of Canberry and nodded. “That’s right, your grace. Based on what we know, their second child and eldest daughter is quite smart, perceptive, and level-headed. She should do admirably.”

“Does she have current responsibilities?” asked Kit.

“Not substantial ones. She is in her early to mid-twenties, married, but with no children. She doesn’t have any substantial land of her own to administer.” Dame Brionna looked up from the file with a smile. “And she’s Glor’diadelian, rather than following her parents’ faith.”

“Fine. We’ll make her foreign minister. Does she have a title of her own?”

“No-- only her older brother inherited a title, and her husband is the younger child of an earl without any title of his own.”

“We’ll make her Countess Westreach, then, to give her more rank. A comital title for the child of one of our direct vassals shouldn’t offend any of the existing nobles. If anything, it will motivate them to serve better in the hopes that their children will be similarly preferred.”

Dame Brionna nodded. “Should we look for lands to grant her as well, Your Grace?”

“Not at this point. We can make her a carpet noble for the time being. If she serves well, and if we expand as we expect, we can then land her later.”

When the Council informed Countess Westreach of her appointment, it triggered rejoicing throughout the Westmarch family. Her parents were ecstatic, and her husband was floored by the shock-- he had expected that they would never hold titles loftier than “lord” and “lady.” In addition to the appointment, the Council informed her that she would be expected to provide a briefing promptly. Her predecessor had been less thoughtful than some of the royal officers about giving a significant time before suicide, and thus the files and records were in a certain amount of disarray. The Countess spent a day or two studying before coming to the Council with her predecessor’s privy secretary.

“Your Grace, honored counselors. May I ask what sort of information you will be wanting from my office?”

“On an ongoing basis, we’ll need regular updates and assessments,” replied Alistair. “Regular briefings, perhaps once a fortnight, should do for most of it, along with additional meetings when something urgent arises. For now, we simply need an overview of the current situation.”

“Of course, Your Grace. Starting with our immediate region: nothing is stable south of the Barrier Mountains, except for us, Singing Leaves, and the Silent Wood. None of the other realms are large enough to be able to weather serious problems. The most serious threats of disruptions to Canberry are in the South: the refugee crisis, the appearance of war in the southwest, and the fact that the economics of the kingdoms that previously bordered Confederacy have been severely disrupted. My assessment of the gathering conflicts around the refugees and the Spice Lands are bleak: there will be war, regardless of what anyone does. Nonetheless, the long term seems bright for us. Twenty years from now, we will likely rule an Archduchy twice this size.”

“Did your predecessor consider the possibility of using our resources to stabilize the economies of some of the neighboring realms?”

“Yes, Your Grace. He did not believe that the amount of money we have in the treasury is enough to reverse the financial damage.”

Alistair whistled softly while Kit boggled. Dame Brionna alone remained impassive. Canberry had an enormous amount of treasure in the royal accounts--the problems in neighboring realms had to be deep indeed for Canberry to be unable to help.

“Let me ask another question. We are considering two possible courses of action with regard to the refugees. One would be to seek to annex them, probably with a dynastic marriage to support the claim. That would almost certainly pull us into the midst of war. The other would be to provide some support, but avoid any close ties. We would presumably be able to avoid fighting the war ourselves, even if we could not prevent it. Would our involvement make the war worse? Or would it simply mean that we would bear some of the costs?”

“Overall, Your Grace, our involvement would probably reduce the casualties and prevent the skaven from taking more land. They raid, and they attack in hordes, but those sorts of threats could be easily dealt with by our armies. The great clans are more organized but have their own agendas and conflicts. I believe this report was prepared for Her Grace the Late Archduchess on the matter but not delivered due to her decline.” Countess Westreach handed across a carefully drafted document. “If we do not intervene, it is difficult to say what will happen. If the neighboring lands bankrupt themselves of treasure and troops, they would gain additional lands. But the costs would be high. Alone among the skaven great clans, the Skree appear to be uninterested in more lands. Furthermore, they appear to be the most powerful of the great clans. If we have to deal with any of them, they seem the best, but our prior embassy never returned.”

“We have made direct contact with the Skree. We have reached a certain détente and have a line of communication if we need further contact.”

Countess Westreach arched an eyebrow. “Indeed, Your Grace? That is useful to know. It also greatly increases the likelihood that we could win a decisive war in the South and then create a true peace.

“There is one other thing we should discuss. There are several major powers that we have no ambassadors to at all. The Kingdom of Haunted Mountains, on Khamista, is one of the five great powers on the continent, mostly orcs and uruks, ruled over by the White Witch. We withdrew our ambassador in protest of the slave state, but they are Paranswarmian. There is also a question of whether there should be an ambassador to the capital of the ‘New Pardun.’ Likewise, we have no embassy to the Hastur-- the traditional assumption has been that the Temple of Light would represent our interests. Finally, we have no embassy to Lady Jane Peryton, whose forces withstood the attack of the great chaos dragon’s forces. We had considered Lady Jane’s demesne to be at best a minor power, but there recent success requires a re-evaluation.”

“I don’t like the idea of giving recognition to a slave state,” said Kit.

“Particularly not while we are pressuring other states, such as Korflok, to prohibit slavery,” added Alistair. “The White Witch may be powerful, but she’s also far away, so the slight should be just the right level. We can always communicate with her about any necessary diplomatic matters through the Temple of Paranswarm.”

“The other three all seem very sensible, Your Grace,” commented Dame Brionna. “I’m sure we could rely on the Temple for the Hastur, but even so…”

“Especially with the efforts of the Shadow on this continent and with our desire to develop more psionic resources, we should have a direct link.” Alistair turned back to Countess Westreach. “Please prepare a list of recommended ambassadors for New Pardun, the Hastur, and Lady Jane Peryton.”

“As you wish, Your Grace. Lady Jane will be the most difficult, since they hold courtesy in higher esteem there than anywhere else. We will need an ambassador who is unfailingly courteous without ever even needing to think about it. I am sure I will be able to find someone, however.”

“There is no particular hurry, so let’s make sure we do it right.”

“Will there be anything else, Your Grace?”

After a moment, Dame Brionna spoke up. “I would also like you to prepare a list of all the marriageable high and mid-level nobles on Drucien, and the high nobles on Khamista.”

“Is this specifically for His Grace, or should I include men as well?”

“Please do; His Grace has a half-sister and cousins who could still provide important relationships for us. I would also like an evaluation of current marriage and betrothal alliances among other powers.”

Countess Westreach nodded and her secretary wrote down a quick note. “Has Your Grace reached any conclusions about marriage? It would be useful for my office to be able to anticipate.”

“Nothing definite, although we have some thoughts both in general and specific,” said Alistair. Dame Brionna then filled Countess Westreach in on the details, including Rev. Canon Toddle’s prophecy.

Countess Westreach thought carefully. “I’ll see what we come up with as well.” She then curtsied and exited.

[End Session 23]

[Session 24]

A grim Dame Brionna met Alistair and Kit the following morning. “We’ve received a new report from Grokken, Your Grace.”


“Grokken has likely fallen by now. Last night, drow of the House of Qu’ellar’veld’larn joined the fight on the side of the uruks. There were only about a dozen drow, but Dame Hilda reported that Grokken would be unable to stand against them. She sent the message by squire, believing they would not be able to stand another attack.”

“She probably sent her squire to get him out before it fell,” commented Kit.

“Likely,” said Alistair. “It sounds like the sort of thing Dame Hilda would do. We’ll find him a new appointment, of course. Do you know if Dame Hilda has any children or other survivors?”

Dame Brionna nodded. “She leaves behind a sister and several nieces and nephews who have no other means of support. Perhaps a pension, your grace?”

“Find an appropriate manor and make her sister the lady of it. That should take care of the family.”

“What about the drow, Your Grace? They are the first definitive proof that the uruks are not just random marauding; should we inform Region 9 about it?”

“We need to understand more first. We should talk to Lord Davion about this; he said at the end of the duel that this settled the dispute between Quinliart and Canberry, but Quinliart seems to disagree. But I want to know how the Noldar will react before we pass this information on to them.” They quickly dispatched a messenger to ask Lord Davion to come to the palace, with the additional instruction that if Lord Davion was not available, he should ask Lord Silverleaves for an audience instead.

“And the strategic issue, Your Grace? Furrows is largely unprotected.”

“We need to get a protective force to the capital of Furrows as quickly as we can, since we sent their troops to Caldra and Caligshire. I don’t see any alternative to instructing all of our vassals to mobilize their troops. I don’t like it, but I don’t see a choice.”

“I agree, Your Grace. I’ll draw up appropriate orders.”

The discussion was interrupted by the sudden appearance of the projected image of an officer in the Sky Guard. “Your Grace, the Tether Towers report a voler in distress. The voler is Hanalian, coming from the west, and not going to make it to the tower. Clearing a street offers the best possibility for a landing.”

Dame Brionna dashed away barely without waiting for the officer to finish a report. Along with several other mounted guards, she quickly cleared a street, taking full advantage of the power horses have for clearing pedestrians. She quickly spotted the voler, covered with people and signaling distress as it came in fast and low.

Moments after the street had been mostly cleared, the voler hit. The voler’s captain tried to get it to land on its keel, traveling straight down the street, but its landing was not quite even, and in any event, full-sized volers are never meant to land. It did not ram any buildings, but ultimately rolled onto its side. As it rolled, many civilians in local garb spilled out, along with Hanalian knights in uniforms. Canberran healers rushed in before the voler had even stopped rocking.

Dame Brionna spotted two Hanalian knights assisting an older, rather frail looking man who was bleeding profusely. She hurried over as he finally got to his feet-- based on his insignia, he was a Hanalian strom. She quickly healed him, closing the most grievous wounds at least.

“Thank you, Dame Knight,” he gasped as she assisted him.

“I am Dame Brionna, Knight Captain of the Archducal Guard. What happened?”

“Ah! I can be candid then. We were en route to assist my liege, the Duke of Snatterkaz, when we saw a walled town to the west of here under heavy orkish assault.”


“Yes, I think that’s what the captain said its name was, from the maps. Some of the people had already escaped, and we evacuated many of the rest of the people, leaving behind some volunteers from my forces to augment the defenses and to free up additional room in the voler for the refugees. We then made for the City with as best speed as we could manage, but between the damage we sustained at Grokken and the added weight, we were not able to make it.” He surveyed the wreckage as the full scope of the damage sunk in.

“We thank you. Your bravery and that of your knights have saved many lives today. If we may assist you in any way, please let us know. I’m sure the Archduke will also want to meet with you.”

The strom nodded absently. “We must continue on to Snatterkaz as soon as we can. But… the voler is not reparable, after a landing such as that, and I believe the pilot is dead; he would have been in that chamber there, which was crushed entirely by the landing.”

“Perhaps we can assist. I’ll see what we can do about arranging for transportation. If you will excuse me, Your Excellence, I should report to the Archduke.”

As Dame Brionna turned to head back to the palace, the strom’s knight commander reached out a hand to pull her aside. “A word, Dame Brionna, if I may. We counted 16,000 orcish warriors; at least forty trolls, with what we think is a hill troll; and ten drow from a cadet house, one of whom we think is an archmage. As we departed, Grokken was being overwhelmed, and the outskirts of the army were already beginning to move on. We saw the direction they traveled: southeast. I believe that they were targeting another city.”

Dame Brionna quickly returned to the Council chamber and reported the new information.
“Immediately southeast of Grokken is Storr. In fairly short order beyond that, Cinderhaven.”

“Do either of them have a chance of withstanding the attack?” asked Kit.

“Cinderhaven has a substantial militia and is fairly defensible, but Storr has a one regiment garrison and only a fortified manor and wooden walls.”

“So they could basically destroy Storr without even stopping.”

“Yes, Your Grace. Cinderhaven is walled in stone; most of the buildings are also made from stone walls, and it has an actual castle. The garrison is 800 militia and 400 regular troops. They won’t be able to withstand a sustained siege or a determined assault, but it will still take the orcs time. The other matter you should consider is the implications of the size of that horde. Historically, the orc hordes didn’t cooperate like this. Based on the reports I’m receiving, one large horde and two small hordes are all working together.”

“Wait a moment. Before we deal with that, there are some immediate problems. We need to recall Furrows’s army. It’s only about 800 total.”

“They’d just get slaughtered,” said Kit.

“Although… most of Furrows’s army is cavalry. If the orcs are not mounted, they might be able to harry the horde effectively.”
The strom nodded absently. “We must continue on to Snatterkaz as soon as we can. But… the voler is not reparable, after a landing such as that, and I believe the pilot is dead; he would have been in that chamber there, which was crushed entirely by the landing.”

“Perhaps we can assist. I’ll see what we can do about arranging for transportation. If you will excuse me, Your Excellence, I should report to the Archduke.”

As Dame Brionna turned to head back to the palace, the strom’s knight commander reached out a hand to pull her aside. “A word, Dame Brionna, if I may. We counted 16,000 orcish warriors; at least forty trolls, with what we think is a hill troll; and ten drow from a cadet house, one of whom we think is an archmage. As we departed, Grokken was being overwhelmed, and the outskirts of the army were already beginning to move on. We saw the direction they traveled: southeast. I believe that they were targeting another city.”

Dame Brionna quickly returned to the Council chamber and reported the new information.
“Immediately southeast of Grokken is Storr. In fairly short order beyond that, Cinderhaven.”

“Do either of them have a chance of withstanding the attack?” asked Kit.

“Cinderhaven has a substantial militia and is fairly defensible, but Storr has a one regiment garrison and only a fortified manor and wooden walls.”

“So they could basically destroy Storr without even stopping.”

“Yes, Your Grace. Cinderhaven is walled in stone; most of the buildings are also made from stone walls, and it has an actual castle. The garrison is 800 militia and 400 regular troops. They won’t be able to withstand a sustained siege or a determined assault, but it will still take the orcs time. The other matter you should consider is the implications of the size of that horde. Historically, the orc hordes didn’t cooperate like this. Based on the reports I’m receiving, one large horde and two small hordes are all working together.”

“Wait a moment. Before we deal with that, there are some immediate problems. We need to recall Furrows’s army. It’s only about 800 total.”

“They’d just get slaughtered,” said Kit.

“Although… most of Furrows’s army is cavalry. If the orcs are not mounted, they might be able to harry the horde effectively.”

“There are worg riders, Your Grace.”

“Then there’s nothing for it. We’ll need to pull them back.”


Please keep this up! Though I must confess that I've lost track of who's who. I'm guessing that many of the people are named on the fly, both by the GM and the players.

Keeping track of names has been a chronic difficulty in this campaign. :) We often refer to people by their positions/roles rather than by their names (thus the references to "the Farsensor" and "the Eldar" instead of just calling him Lord Silverleaves). Also, the DM frequently introduces NPCs without giving them names-- "your sister" or the Minister of whatsit, which compounds the problem. Usually, if they appear often enough, we eventually attach a name to them.

Back to the Storyhour!


“Now, Your Grace, if I may turn to the details of the hordes? The Horde of Fury is the larger horde, consisting mostly of uruks. They are from the northwest, and we know where they left their dependants behind. The other two hordes are local. One has an uruk-hai bodyguard for its chief, but is otherwise all orcs. Dame Hilda also mentioned a band of stone giants with that horde, but the Strom’s knight commander did not. The third is the Horde of the Splintering Spine, about three thousand orogs with a few other creatures. The local hordes can usually be bought off or scared away, although that would probably be more difficult or impossible as long as the Horde of Fury is present.”

“You said that we have information about where the uruks’ dependants are? Perhaps we can use that to force a withdrawal. Capture them, hold them as hostages.”

“Ugh,” said Kit. “I really don’t like the idea of using children, even uruk children, as hostages to threaten their parents. There has to be a better way.”

“In principle, I agree,” replied Dame Brionna. “But we must find some way to stop that army and we don’t have the conventional military forces available to defeat it in the field. We would not be actually hurting the children, just taking them prisoner. In a way, it’s not so different from what we’re doing with young Lord Brightspan.”

“There’s a difference between giving a single child or two positions as pages, where we actually treat them well and are as concerned about making them allies as coercing their parents.”

“Still, it may offer us an opportunity we have to take,” maintained Dame Brionna. “However, I’m not certain that we will be able to convince the uruks to break, regardless of the reason, if we don’t deal with the drow first. The archmagus is likely the commander of the drow. We need to find some way to remove him.”

“So how do we take out a drow archmage?” asked Kit.

“I have no idea,” said Alistair. “We could try sending the Sixth Daughter, but her odds aren’t likely to be good against an archmage.”

Dame Brionna thought aloud. “We could hold a contest, where whoever kills him gets to be the head of the new magic academy we’re building. Somebody would succeed eventually.”

“And what about all of the people who would get killed trying?” asked Kit.

“Not to mention that it might saddle us with a completely unsuitable head for the academy. We’ll have to find a better way.” Alistair drummed his fingers as he tried to come up with a solution.

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