Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Journal of Cara Thiele

The festive season has been sitting on my hobby productivity like a sumo on a kitten, but finally, have this: a slab of fictional endeavour. I've not tried to tell a story with a journal before, and it's pretty fudging different to writing your garden-variety prose, but for those of you willing to venture inward it'll hopefully provide some comedy charm.

A brief reminder: Cara Thiele is my army's battle standard bearer, so obviously, what follows is her origin story. By the end of the story, she looks like this:


Oh, also, this is intended to read like an edited collection of highlights (rather than a record of every single entry Cara wrote from 2253-2254).

Journal
(Property of Cara Thiele of Koerin, Hochland)

12th Sigmarzeit 2253 I.C.
I’ve come back home to Koerin for the first time in a year, and Papa told me he’d made something to celebrate my promotion. “Something to keep you safe,” he said when he bustled me into his workshop. Bit of an understatement: he’s made me a suit of full plate!

Moving about in it is really hard.

Things to do with new armour:
-Get someone to hit me with a stick.
-Run around the camp twice every morning.
-Learn the sound of different bits of the armour when I hit it (so that I can play a tune).
-Wake up Sergeant Fleischmann by ‘accidentally’ falling over next to him.

I don’t think the armour means Papa’s any happier about my job. I understand why he felt that way when I joined at fifteen, but it's been seven... no, eight years now! Still, can’t thank him enough.


4th Sommerzeit 2253 I.C.
I was called by Marshal Fallschturm into my first meeting as a captain today. The other officers are all nobles - graduates of military academies in Nuln and Altdorf. They know about Gottlieb’s Gambit and Kruger’s Refused Flank and a hundred other special phrases, but I’ve had eight years in the field... that’s probably more than the lot of them combined. I can’t wait to show them the value of experience over textbooks.

We’re being dispatched to Ostland, on the orders of the Emperor himself; there’s been word of a Norse attack that’s too big for the locals to handle.

I’ve never fought the northers, but we’ll handle them. Nothing is fiercer than the beastmen we hunt through the Drakwald Forest.

9th Vorgeheim 2253 I.C.
Ostland is gone. Nothing but columns of smoke on the horizon.

Grand Master von Rüdiger is leading the army back across the Wolf’s Run, and says we’ll make a stand on the border. Apparently we’re supposed to slow the enemy down, but I don’t see what one battlegroup can do against those numbers.

All the other captains I’ve spoken to agree: we need to retreat and regroup with the rest of our forces, evacuating towns as we go. People need to be warned. Koerin needs to be warned.

10th Vorgeheim 2253 I.C.
Today was spent digging earthworks for the artillery. Von Rüdiger talked about duty and honour a lot as he rode around the encampment. “Our sacrifice gives the next Imperial army an easier fight,” he said. It all sounded a bit useless when we saw the enemy vanguard arrive on the far side of the river. Sergeant Thulemann said it was like watching oil spill out of a broken lamp, which everyone except me agreed with (broken glass doesn’t look anything like a forest, and the enemy army isn’t a liquid).

At first the Norse just jeered at us from the far bank, and some of the men jeered back. Wilhelm said they’d never get across the ford under so much cannon fire. Then we realised what they were waiting for. As the daylight died, they started felling trees. They’re building rafts just out of cannon range. This battle’s going to be over in hours, not days.

They say the enemy are marching for Middenheim. If that’s true, all I can think is that Koerin lies right in their path. Everyone I’ve known since I’m a child is going to die. My father is going to die, and I’m just sitting here.


12th Vorgeheim 2253 I.C.
If I never make it to Koerin, this is my confession: I disobeyed von Rüdiger’s order to stay and fight. I left whilst it was still dark. Didn’t tell anyone. Couldn’t risk it.

The Heedenhof Surefoots, the Hergig 31st, the Bergendorf Blackshields, thousands more... all gone. They were all good boys, and it’s not the enemy I blame. It’s von Rüdiger.

At least he’ll be just as dead as the soldiers he wasted.

My only hope now is that I reach Koerin before the enemy catch up. It would be easier without my armour, but I think I’m going to need that later.

I know I should be more upset about deserting, about the people I left behind, but right now all I care about is saving Papa. That, and I don’t want the Northmen getting their hands on the sword locked away in the town chapel.

15th Vorgeheim 2253 I.C.
Everyone in Koerin has carried whatever provisions they could up into the mountains, but it’s not even harvest month yet. I took the chieftain’s sword from the chapel; Father Matthaus agreed it would be safer with me.

There’s a spot on the western slope of Mount Nahzacken where you can look down on the town. I remember being there one summer when I was ten, maybe eleven. I could see all the fields stretching between the town wall and the forest. Papa told me they looked like a blanket with too many patches on it, and I told him they looked more like fields.


Today I sat there with him again, and we watched the Norse burn the crops.


19th Vorgeheim 2253 I.C.
We’ve cut down some trees, and started building cabins. They’ll be pretty basic, but a lot better than nothing when the snows come.

30th  Vorgeheim 2253 I.C.
It’s been two weeks, and there are still more Norse heading west along the road. I doubt there’s anyone left in Norsca.

3rd Ulriczeit 2253 I.C.
Old Tomasz died last night. That makes six, after Malthe’s baby last week. We just can’t keep the shelters warm enough.

There was the usual argument over what to do with the body. The ground’s too frozen for digging, and cremation’s too risky. Someone (I’ll not name them here) even pointed out that the bodies have good meat on them. That’s how hungry we are.

19th Ulriczeit 2253 I.C.
I’ve given up trying to train the able-bodied men and women. None of us have the strength.

29th Jahrdrung 2254 I.C.
There’s been no sign of the enemy or anyone else for months now. Far as we know, the Empire doesn’t exist anymore. If the Norse had been defeated, we would’ve seen some sign of their retreat. So, we’ve come down from the mountains and planted the seeds we took up with us.

Most of Koerin’s houses are damaged or destroyed, and something has blown a big hole in the curtain wall. We’re going to rebuild the houses before we worry about the wall; we’re all sick of the cold.

17th Erntzeit 2254 I.C.
We were attacked by a band of ungor raiders last night. We saw them off easily enough. If we’re very, very lucky, that’s the last we’ll see of them.

23rd Erntzeit 2254 I.C.
The ungor raiders came back, and they brought a herd of gor with them. With nothing but axes they had no way to get through the gate, but that damn breach in the wall...

Some of the townsfolk remembered a little of what I taught them last winter, and we held the breach, but Ralf and Josepha were badly hurt. I’m not sure if they’ll last until the next dawn. After a few hours the beasts retreated, but they’ve got our scent now, and it’s not like we can send word to the next town asking for help. I doubt the other towns are still there.

Papa’s been helping the others since dawn, filling up the breach with whatever detritus we can find. The rest of us are getting as much rest as we can, but it’s hard to sleep when you’re wearing armour.

24th Erntzeit 2254 I.C.
They came back again last night. I asked Father Mattaus for his blessing to use the Chieftain’s Sword, but he said no. It’s cursed, apparently, but he wouldn’t say what the curse was. Probably doesn’t even know.

On the upside, I had no trouble sleeping in my armour today.

25th Erntzeit 2254 I.C.
Three more died defending the breach last night. That’s eleven now. Even if the Chieftain’s Sword is cursed, I don’t see how being cursed is worse than being dead.

26th Erntzeit 2254 I.C.
When I came walking out of the chapel with the Sword in my hand, Mattaus and Papa both begged me to put it back. Unnatural steel, they said. True enough: it’s a Cherusen piece made before Koerin was even a town. Two thousand years old, and not a single speck of rust. The hilt tingles when you grip it. Of course it scares me, but not as much as the beastmen do.

The first time I took a swing at one of the gor I didn’t even feel the impact, but it went right through his torso. When I looked at the blade by the light of the moon, there wasn’t a single drop of blood on it. I put down a few more gor and the rest backed away, scared. Some of the townsfolk were scared too, but glad to be alive.

28th Erntzeit 2254 I.C.
Bastards. We up our game, they up theirs. The beasts came back last night, even more than last time. Even with the sword I couldn’t hold the breach on my own, I needed help, and the people either side of me didn’t have a suit of armour to keep them safe. I can’t be everywhere at once. We’re being bled dry.

We survived the winter, we survived the Norse, and we survived the hunger, just for this instead. It’s disgusting.

[transcriber’s note: the entry below is an approximation due to the poor quality of the handwriting]
32nd Erntzeit 2254 I.C.
[...] luck, at last. [...] afternoon [...] jade wizard by the name of Ruprecht Grundwald. Strange man. Keen on his pipeweed, talks to his pet raven. Younger than most wizards I’ve seen. Inexperienced [...] some basic healing spells.

[...] encouraged [poss. ‘by the news that’] Hochland endures. Count Ludenhof is alive! There are still towns in the west that survived. [...] to keep going.

The rest of Hochland thinks [poss. ‘the people of’] Koerin were killed when the town was sacked. The rest of the state thinks we’re dead, and we’ve no way to get word out. The only reason Ruprecht found us [...] plant that only grows on the southern slopes of the [poss. ‘Middle Mountains’].

We’re tired [...] chance.

[transcriber’s note: short of total conjecture, the next two entries are unreadable, and the ink of one of them is smeared, apparently by water]

3rd Brauzeit 2254 I.C.
We’re alive!

Help arrived. A band of dwarf rangers and allied troops from Nordland came looking for Ruprecht (so they didn’t arrive intending to help, but still). They said he was needed to sort out another wizard called Amelia von Somethingorother. She’s been cursed, and they thought a healer like Ruprecht could lift it.

And that’s when the hairy bastard earned my undying respect: he refused to leave until Koerin was safe.

This Amelia woman must be important, because Dwalin (the dwarf leader) didn’t even spend that long thinking about it before he agreed to defend the town. Seeing the dwarfs pitch in, the Nordlanders followed suit, and all of a sudden, we went from me and four villagers to over twenty trained soldiers.

Good thing too; that night would’ve been the one that broke us. Over seventy gor, and this time, they had a minotaur. But between the rangers’ steadiness and a few poison arrows from their halfling assassin (little man called Cedric, I think) we’ve finished them off! The minotaur smashed the gates before the hemlock overcame it, and there’s still a hole in the wall, but the beastman tribe has been wiped out. We’re going to stay for another night just to check it’s clear, and then I’m going with the dwarfs and Nordlanders to Bergsburg to get reinforcements and provisions.

Cara holds the breach with Stromni's Wanderers
and the Salzenmund Chancers.


4th Brauzeit 2254 I.C.
I’ve been speaking to Dwalin. He says Grand Templar Bastard von Rüdiger survived the Battle of the Wolf’s Run, and he’s STILL in charge of the army. No-one could have survived that battle. No-one.

I don’t know what to do. If he ever lays eyes on me, I’ll be executed for desertion.

We buried the dead today. “Going back to the stone,” that’s what the dwarfs called it. Four of them died in the last assault. Apparently one of them was over four hundred years old. I doubt he thought he’d fight his last battle so that a wizard would help another wizard.

5th Brauzeit 2254 I.C.
I left Koerin this morning with the dwarfs and Captain Rainer’s men. When I hugged Papa goodbye, he mumbled something. I asked him to repeat himself. He said, “It still amazes me that anyone would volunteer for a soldier’s life, but if you were a blacksmith, we’d all be dead. Thank you.”

Turns out his approval meant a bit more to me than I realised. Might’ve cried. Pretty embarrassing in front of all the dwarfs.

I left Koerin in high spirits, despite my suicidal plan. Gods willing, I’ll not cross paths with von Rüdiger before I find Count Ludenhof. The Count needs to know why six thousand men and women died, and that his top general is a liability.

If doing that gets me executed, it’ll still be worth it.

* * *

Epilogue

The tale of Koerin’s survival, first told in a Bergsburg tavern by a drunken Nordlander, quickly spread through the refugee camps, and was carried down the River Drakwasser by merchants keen to lift people’s moods (good moods being famous for loosening purse strings).

When Cara arrived in the Tussenhof docks two weeks later, she was immediately accosted by a bard offering a “thoroughly rousing” rendition of The Beast-slaying Beauty of Koerin. She pointed out that he had no way of knowing if the beast-slayer was pretty or not, before adding that she thought lutes were silly instruments.

She headed straight to the Margrave’s palace and requested an audience with the Count. Ludenhof, having already received a pigeon-note from von Rüdiger informing him that the “hero” everyone was talking about was in fact a deserter, was curious to judge Captain Thiele for himself.

After hearing her story, Ludenhof was left in a tricky position. His commander-in-chief wanted this woman’s head on the block, and his people – knowing nothing of her desertion – wanted a figurehead.

He had to concede that von Rüdiger’s strategies had become ever more callous in recent years, but he couldn’t dismiss such a prominent figure on the testimony of one officer. The Grand Master of the Silver Drakes would remain in command of the North, although the Count would be keeping a close eye on him. As for Cara, the answer was obvious: make her the State Ensign. The position had been empty since Archaon’s invasion, and the people needed someone to look up to. Von Rüdiger would just have to keep his grievance a secret.

“What say you, Captain?” Ludenhof asked. Cara sustained her look of amazement. “Yes? No? You seem shocked.”
“I thought you’d ask for my head, Your Grace.”
“And I would, if I thought you were going to disobey another order. But you’re not, are you?”
“No, Your Grace,” she replied.

She hoped it wasn’t a lie.

* * *

That's all, folks. Hopefully you've enjoyed yourselves. We'll be back in the new year with more painting, more waffling, and more whimsy.

~Charlie

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Hochland Gazette [Issue 1]

Good morrow all! The last update on our little war in Hochland was in July, and rather unsurprisingly, an assload of stuff has occurred in the interim. To keep things fresh (so fresh) this post will present some of said happenings via the medium of bullet points, prose, and a fake newspaper.

First, the bullet points. Like the written equivalent of those clips they play at the start of any given HBO series. Previously, in Hochland...

- The Hochland state army laid siege to the de Crécy’s stronghold at Hovelhof and has kept them contained there for the last four months, despite several breakout attempts. Said breakout attempts were quite meaty. See below:

Maisey observes his minions from behind the safety of Hovelhof's gate.

- The Bittermoon Goblins still control a big chunk of the Drakwald and the Old Forest Road.
- The Skaven still lurk in Hergig, apparently lurking for the sake of lurking.
- Splendiferus the Magnificent has been hiding in the woods for months now.
- The Stormbournes have started serious renovation work on Karak Hoch.
- During one of the de Crécy’s early attempts to break out of Hovelhof, Amelia von Lessing and Phillippe de Crécy engaged each other in a magical duel. Phillippe was better prepared this time and, keen to get his revenge for suffering the Fate of Bjuna, put Amelia in a death-like coma.

What with Amelia being – so far – one of Hochland’s most effective defences against the vampires, her loss was not one the Empire was prepared to suffer. Naturally, the only option was a HEROIC QUEST OF HEROICNESS. Cue Cedric, Dwalin, Captain Rainer, Captain Thiele, Stromni's Wanderers and seventy dead beastmen outside the walls of Koerin. Good times.

Night-time shenanigans!

And now, here’s a bit of stuff that says... stuff. About what done happened. To Amelia.

* * *

Amelia von Lessing awoke to the sight of a weird-smelling druid wreathed in pipe smoke. As she stared blearily up at him, her last memory rolled back into her mind: a pale-faced knight swathed in a tattered black cloak galloping towards her, bellowing a curse in Ancient Khemrian.

She was in an unfamiliar bedroom. Beneath the cloying musk of meadowsweet there was a suggestion of embalming fluid.

With an awkward smile, the druid stood aside. Behind him, filling the lower half of the doorway, was Dwalin. Amelia tried to speak, but her dry tongue caught against the back of her mouth.

“Three months,” Dwalin said in answer to her unspoken question. Her eyes widened in panic. If she’d been gone for three months, anything could have... “Don’t worry, the bastard’s not been able to get out of Hovelhof,” Dwalin added, tamping his pipe. She slumped back onto the pillow with relief. Slowly, as she emerged from the long sleep, her body started to send signals to her mind. Her limbs were cold, and tingling. She felt empty. At first she took it for hunger, but she soon realised it was more than that. Something was missing.

For the first time in her life, she couldn’t sense the winds of magic.
               
She needed to get back to the Amethyst College as quickly as possible. Seeing Dwalin’s bitter disappointment, she promised that when – and if – her abilities returned, she would travel to Karak Hoch and do whatever was needed to repay her debt to the Stormbournes. First, though, she needed to buy passage down the River Drakwasser, and then the Talabec, all the way to Altdorf.

Captain Rainer, who (like Dwalin) had been involved in finding the druid, offered to escort her to the docks. She’d been wary of his motives when she first met him, but it felt unfair to remain suspicious of someone after they’d risked their life for hers.

Having dressed, and eaten her first meal in three months, she left the boarding house with Rainer and his band of halberdiers. Outside, it was painfully bright. Now, the guilt was starting to sink in; people had lost their lives just to wake her up. She leaned heavily on her staff as she shuffled down the road, struggling to pay attention to Rainer’s faltering small talk.

They entered a narrow street. “A shortcut,” Rainer explained. She didn’t recognise it, but then, she barely knew the town. Indeed, a town that named itself ‘Bergsburg’ hardly seemed to know itself.

Halfway down the road, Rainer gave a hand signal, at which the halberdiers rushed up alongside and around the two of them, their grips nervously tightening around their weapons. Her shoulders slumped, and she gazed south in the direction of Altdorf. Yep, that was stupid of me.

“Amelia von Lessing,” Captain Rainer said, “By the authority of Count Theoderic Gausser of Nordland, I am arresting you for the murder of your father, General von Lessing.”

* * *

Short version of the above: YAY.

On a more humorous note, I made an Imperial newspaper to cover a lot of what’s happened subsequently:


The above image is big enough to read when expanded (clicky click click), but if you don’t fancy reading Germanic fonts, the text is provided below:

THE HOCHLAND GAZETTE

Published by Ernst Drucker & Sons of Tussenhof on 12th Kaldezeit 2254 I.C.
[ Price: 4 shillings ]
Containing the surest news and firmest advice every Angestag & Aubentag



Calamity! De Crécy brothers break out of Hovelhof.
The state army’s four month besiegement of the most vile brothers de Crécy has been broken by underhanded trickery of the worst kind. The vampires’ minions dug tunnels beneath our honourable soldiers’ encampment, who were beset from below by all manner of foul creatures. Dismayed, the army was scattered, and the Brettonian devils are once again abroad in fair Hochland. Speaking from the Margrave’s palace in Tussenhof, the most hon. Count Ludenhof has urged our brothers and sisters in the north to hold steady whilst Grand Master von Rüdiger re-gathers our scattered but still highly effective and thoroughly glorious army.

Chaos cult captures Bergendorf.
The peaceful town of Bergendorf, home to the esteemed Baron Georg Helmholtz, has been usurped by worshippers of the ruinous powers. A witch proclaiming himself as “Splendiferus the Magnificent” has claimed lordship over the town and has made slaves of the people there. Bergendorf lies on the western end of the Flaschgang Bridge, opposite the town of Heedenhof, whose Watchmen are presently endeavouring to wrest control of Bergendorf’s Eastgate off Splendiferus’ Norse vagabonds. With Sigmar’s blessing, their perfidy will not be suffered for long, and the town’s people released from their unjust bondage.

Krudenwald overwhelmed by the walking dead!
A necromancer by the name of Konrad Schiller has rendered a most appalling fate on the town of Krudenwald. With Morrslieb’s green light at its strongest on Geheimnisnacht, Schiller blasted his way through the town gates atop an undertaker’s cart drawn by his undead servants and rode through the streets shouting black curses. The few survivors who reached Bergsburg claim that it is only the dead that move in Krudenwald’s streets. Access to the North Road has been shut off until further notice.

Cara Thiele, hero of Koerin, named as Hochland’s Ensign.
Not all news is ill news, fair citizens! Captain Cara Thiele, famous for almost single-handedly keeping the people of Koerin alive during the Storm of Chaos before their rescue by a band of Stormbourne rangers, has been named by Count Ludenhof as Hochland’s Ensign. Her predecessor, Captain Herman Liebemann, was slain at the Battle of the Wolf’s Run nigh on a year ago. She bears one of the oldest banners still in our possession: naught but a white templar cross in a field of red. Count Ludenhof’s message is clear; despite all we have suffered over the last two years, Hochland has—and will—endure through the centuries to come.

Human refugees welcomed in Karak Hoch.
An unexpected solution to the hardships of the refugees surrounding Bergsburg has been offered by Lord Stormbourne of Karak Hoch. Our Dwarf allies are in need of agricultural labourers and hard-working construction assistants to inhabit their outer holdings in the eastern foothills of the middle mountains. Almost a thousand men, women and children were successfully escorted across the province before the disaster at Hovelhof, and the Stormbournes assure us that they are settling into their new homes with great satisfaction.

Amelia von Lessing missing.
A respected representative of Altdorf’s Amethyst College, Miss von Lessing became popular with the army following her instrumental role in a string of victories over the de Crécy brothers that led to the vampires’ confinement in Hovelhof. She was last seen on the 12th Mittherbst in Bergsburg, having been lifted from the death-trance put upon her by Phillippe de Crécy. Any information relating to either her disappearance or current location should be reported immediately to the Watch.

Travel advisories.
-The Old Forest Road south of the ruins of Garssen remains infested with Bittermoon Goblins. Any wishing to travel south are advised to buy passage on only the most heavily armed ships sailing down the River Drakwasser.

-Travel along the Wolf’s Run is still not clear past Hergig.


That’s all for now. Another edition of the Gazette may follow shortly, probably with more whimsy. If you have suggestions of things you think would be funny/amusing in a newspaper of Ye Olde Worlde, leave them in the comments!


~Charlie