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:
(Property of Cara Thiele of Koerin, Hochland)
12th Sigmarzeit 2522 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 2522 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 2522 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 2522I.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 2522 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 2522 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 2522 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 2522 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 2522 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 2522 I.C.
I’ve given up trying to train the able-bodied men and women. None of us have the strength.
29th Jahrdrung 2523 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 2523 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 2523 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 2523 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 2523 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 2523 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 2523 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 2523 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 2523 I.C.
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 2523 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 2523 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.
* * *
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.