A Recent History of Tilea, Part 3Miragliano
eventually thrived after the Tilean Terror, although initially faltering for a while as an ill-governed Republic. In 2322 the condottiere general Ludo Sforta took possession of the city in one terrible night of violence and riot. Ruling at first with a heavy fist, his most loyal mercenary captains rewarded with the best titles and mot profitable commands, he ensured the city-state was securely his, but later he encouraged art and natural philosophy to flourish. Many wonders created during this time, including machines apparently magical in nature. After Ludo’s death in 2343, his brother Lord Francesco Sforta became regent during the minority of Ludo’s son Duke Marsilio Sforta. Lord Francesco enjoyed a much wider array of sports and pleasures, indulging in luxuries of every imaginable kind, and many who had once busied themselves with more serene arts and careful fabrications were now caught up in a swirl of pomp and festival, spectacular jousts and cavalcades. Lord Francesco was jealous of his own power, very cruel to those who displeased him, and even when the young Duke came of age in 2348 and should have taken the reigns himself, Lord Francesco continued his rule, while the city’s magistrates and captains strove all the harder to prove their loyalty to him. The young Duke Marsilio walking the walls of Miragliano in 2347 with his favourite companion, Gellafno the Halfling, who was in truth (like all his servants) a spy for Lord Francesco.
Lord Francesco’s nephew remained merely Duke by name, and then not even that, for young Marsilio finally lost his wits and became a gibbering fool. Surrounded by luxury and toys, but no-one he could trust, he lived a long life of insanity, and bore no heirs.
Lord Francesco was aided in his rule by his brother Lord Gianpaolo Sforta, governor of Udolpho
. This once beautiful city had been rebuilt from the ruins left by the skaven siege of 2303. Udolpho’s walls were not just repaired but improved, and the palace made twice as grand as previously, yet much of the city’s populace continued to dwell in ramshackle huts atop the ruins and rubble, or down in amongst cellars and dungeons buried beneath. Lord Gianpaolo Sforta’s governorship of Udolpho began in 2341, and he became famous for his interest in alchemy, constructing a castle-laboratory of extraordinary proportions from which strangely hued smoke constantly belched forth, wreathing the bubbling moats about it in noisome miasmas.
In the ten years from 2363 to 2373 three successive wars were fought against the skaven. Each time the skaven would splash and scuttle forth from the marshes in great numbers, a wave of fur and fangs, slave warriors set on carving a swathe of destruction. Each time the army of Miragliano, bolstered by condottiere mercenaries, and cleverly commanded by Francesco and Gianpaolo, would find some weak point at which to strike: once it was the enemy commander, next the explosive destruction of a store of warpstone, then finally an attack at the foe’s rear during the brightest hour of the day. Each time panic would be caused, spreading like an infection through the ratto uomo rank and file. From there on in the war would become a matter of chasing and breaking the disarrayed rats in their thousands. Clan legions would make a stand here, or become bottled up there, resulting in bloody of engagements, but in the end they too would yield to fear and flight.
Upon Lord Francesco’s death in 2375, his own son, Allessandro, became regent in his place. And when Allessandro’s cousin Marsilio died in 2377, he inherited the title of Duke to go with his actual power. Duke Allesandro proved to have inherited some of his father’s and grandfather’s interest in the arts and natural philosophy, but his true fascination was in the application of such for war. Rumours abound concerning his activities and methods, including that he and his now ancient uncle Gianpaolo used captured ratto uomo to bring to life the diabolical machines captured from the foe during the Tilean Terror and the War of the Tilean Sea, and that they poisoned the already foul waters of the Blighted marshes in such a way that for several leagues no life at all, neither beast, fowl, fish nor flora, none of the foul creatures that used to call the brackish waters home, could survive. In 2384, after a plague that finally killed his uncle, and threatened to end Duke Allesandro’s life, the famous Miraglianese Doctor Jacopo was commanded to administer solely to the Duke, and was kept prisoner for this purpose in the palace. The Duke made a full recovery the week after Doctor Jacopo took his own life. It was reported that the doctor had been slowly poisoning Alessandro until eventually the guilt of his deed drove him to suicide. The subsequent lack of poisoned potions allowed the Duke to recover.
Alessandro went back to his works and experiments. A new tower was constructed in the palace that rose nearly a hundred feet higher than any other tower in the city, and many other lesser buildings which were still more magnificent than everything in the surrounding streets. Another strange experiment spilled a potent magic into the swamps, until the vast mass of dead things lying with the foetid stink stirred themselves and began splashing westwards. Even the ratto uomo grew afraid of the Lord of Miragliano then, believing he had taken their own already tainted magics and horribly twisted them in new ways. Life for the people of Miragliano became strangely contradictory, for all were glad that such a deadly blow had been dealt against the skaven, a race previously known to swarm back in double the numbers whatever was done to them, but at the same time terrible darkness seemed to shroud the city as their ruler engaged in ever darker experiments and engaged ever more fearful servants. The fears would soon prove well founded!
The Duchess Maria Colleoni of Ebino
(granddaughter of Duke Ludo Sforta of Miragliano), aided by her court of Miraglianese advisers, also grew concerned regarding events in Miragliano. It was the Duchess who first recognised what her cousin had actually become, and she acted quickly. Employing the famous regiment of ‘Ironside’ dwarfs, as well as several companies of experienced condottieri mercenaries, she had watchtowers made and defences dug to defend the roads and settlements of her realm, and summoned all the clerics and priests of Morr she could to assist in warding off the evil. It is said that even Ebino’s old enemy, the Arrabiatti Brotherhood, the ragged brigands who hold occasional court in the ruins of Toscania, have promised to lend their arms if it comes to battle. And so she and her people wait for the day when the vampire Duke turns his gaze eastward, praying morning, noon and night to Morr that he will deliver them in their hour of need.
Soon all of Tilea learned that Duke Alessandro was a vampire, and that all who dwelt in his city lived in fear of the undead who now guarded their gates and patrolled their walls. With all the wars that had been fought within the boundaries of Miragliano, there was no shortage of the dead to revive. It is said now that the vampire Duke has an army of the dead that rivals any mortal army in the realm. And if it is commanded to war, then all it can do is grow – for every soldier who dies in battle against it will surely rise to swell its ranks.
-----A Weakening of the Faith
Like many Ridraffan tradesmen, for that was what he was even though he traded in
gold rather than for
gold, Master Boldshin had servants who left every evening to return to their own homes. Noblemen had servants packed in cellars and attics, or tucked under the stairs, who could be called upon even in the night, but in the city of Ridraffa such practise was considered above the station of a tradesmen. Besides, the fact that Master Boldshin was a dwarf in itself made it more difficult for him to employ manservants - few humans would wish to live under his roof. Nor would most of the rather limited supply of dwarfs in the city be willing to serve him either. Most young dwarfs yearned to find their fortune in engineering, masonry, carpentry, smithing – making things. Usury was not a common ambition among them. As the decades went by those same young dwarfs might well realise the error of their ways as the profits to be made became apparent, but by then they would look to become their own master and not serve some other dwarf.
Right now, as he struggled down the stone stairs in his grey night-shirt and blue striped bed hat, a spluttering candlestick in one hand and Arnholf clutched tight in the other, his famously long beard not just reaching the floor but straying dangerously underfoot, Master Boldshin was regretting his lack of nocturnal help.
His house was strong, built of grey stone with walls as thick as those on a watchtower, as any counting house should be considering the coffers of gold and silver often stored within. The surrounding houses were more traditionally Tilean in style, built in stone, but with shuttered windows and red tiled roofs, rather than the barred windows and strengthened slates on his house. It was not guards he needed, just someone to run down the stairs and answer the door.
He strongly suspected it was a dwarf banging at his door – there was something dwarven about the steady persistence of the rapping. Of course, he himself would not normally knock in such a manner, for he had adapted to Tilean fashions and the ways of men. Only when he was calling about a long, unpaid debt, would the wood take such a beating, often from the clubs carried by the heavies he had hired for the purpose.
“Give an old dwarf a moment,” he cried somewhat breathlessly, almost at the bottom. “The hour is late, I am tired and in no fit state to rush.” The beating ceased, hopefully just in time to forestall shouted complaints from his nearest neighbours. He dragged the three solid, iron bolts back, taking satisfaction from the reassuringly heavy clunk they made, then, just before turning the huge key, he stopped. Best take a look see first.
Leaning forwards he placed his eye at the peek hole and peered through. He could see a green hat, a large and floppy thing, and the fingers of a brass hand clutching a smooth and milky rock. Is that what was bashing on my door?
he wondered. What sort of visitor is this?
It was definitely a dwarf, for otherwise Boldshin would have found himself looking at the fellow’s chest, not his hat.
“Who is it?” he asked, his hand resting on the key but yet to turn.
“Cousin Glammerscale, that’s who it is. And I am wondering when you became so timid, Boldshin, and afraid to so much as open a door.”
Master Boldshin was so surprised to hear the name that at first the insult did not register with him. He had not seen his cousin for many a decade, and they had parted on bad terms. Then the echo of Glammerscale’s words in his mind finally caught his attention.“Timid!” he snapped, beginning the two turns of the key that would be required to unlock the door. “My caution is not timidity but common sense. Have you forgotten my trade, cousin?” He pulled upon the door. “An unwary moneylender is not likely to thrive.”
Even though he had already glimpsed the floppy hat, the sight of his cousin caught him by surprise. The brass fingers and the orb they held proved to be the head of a wizard’s staff, which in the hands of a dwarf seemed to him ridiculous. And it was not just the staff that marked his cousin out as a wizard. The hem of Glammerscale’s orange coat was decorated with silver moons and suns, and beneath his arm he clutched two large tomes bound in leather, no doubt stuffed with arcane knowledge of a most undwarfen kind. The ensemble was not improved by the red tinted eye glasses he had perched on his nose, his eyes peering over their horned rims.
It was not that Boldshin did not know Glammerscale claimed to be a practitioner of the magical arts – it was the very thing that had caused them to part their ways all those years ago – just that actually witnessing his cousin garbed and accoutred as a wizard took his breath away.
“Erm …” he said.
“The word you are looking for," suggested Glammerscale, "is ‘Hello’, or maybe ‘Good day’, or if I may be so bold as to advise you on the etiquette appropriate for such an occasion, perhaps ‘Welcome’ followed quickly, and this is merely a suggestion, with ‘Come in’.”
“You did it?”
The wizard dwarf’s eyes narrowed as they looked over the top of his strange spectacles. “You talk less than I remember, but make as little sense. Cousin, will you let us in? I must speak with you.”
Boldshin looked past Glammerscale at the two dwarfs behind him. They were plainly clad, neatly trimmed, silent and obviously well fed. It irked him that his insane cousin turned wizard could apparently find dwarfen servants while a prosperous fellow such as himself had to make do with part-time men. This thought added a tinge of frustration to his confusion, and did nothing to improve his foul mood. Better get them of the doorstep
he decided, before the neighbours see them.
“Come inside, quick now. Do not linger there.”
Glammerscale grinned knowingly, then he and his two companions followed Boldshin in. After some kafuffle over where best to lay the books, where exactly everyone should sit or stand and some embarrassing questions concerning Arnulf the stuffed bear, the little company settled to drink some ale and talk.
“I have to ask, cousin,” enquired Glammerscale. “What is it I have done?”
The question meant nothing to Boldshin.
“At the threshold,” clarified the wizard dwarf, “you said I ‘did it’? Such a statement demands a response, I reckon, and I willing to give one I can assure you. If only I knew what was being said.”
“Oh,” said Boldshin. “I meant only that you are a wizard. Or at least, you appear to be one.”
one,” Glammerscale replied quickly. “Surely you remember me well enough to know that I am not the sort if dwarf to feign accomplishments I have not earned, nor claim abilities I do not possess. I do not claim to be a wizard merely because my name sounds right. And before you ask, no, I will not cast a spell to prove the truth of my claim.”
“No, do not.” Mild panic laced Boldshin’s voice as he imagined magically conjured flames washing through the room, singeing every precious thing in it in the process.
The wizard dwarf smiled. “Then we are agreed on what not to do. I am glad. But what concerns me is quite the opposite.”
Boldshin was beginning to wonder if his cousin was deliberately trying to confuse him. “The opposite being …?”
“What to do.”
Now Boldshin understood. He gulped down a large mouthful of ale, wiped his whiskers on the sleeve of his night-gown, and resolved, as it was his house and he was the host, to take more control of the conversation. “First things first. Cousin, why are you here? Last I heard you were living in Pavona, apprenticed to a grey beard Tilean who was nevertheless younger than you by many years.”
“Until a mere month ago I was indeed in Pavona, but no longer an apprentice, as I thought we had already established. Until quite suddenly it became apparent that I, along with every other dwarf in the city, had outstayed my welcome.”
“All of us, even those of less eccentric bents, being of course every other dwarf in the city. My good servants and I left the very day of Duke Guidobaldo’s decree. Those who stayed to voice complaint followed only days later, though in a rather less comfortable fashion.”
This news was as unexpected as just about everything else since Boldshin had opened the door to his cousin. “Why?” he asked.
“It seemed the sensible thing to do. I knew the way the wind was blowing, so to speak, and to linger would be most foolish.”
“No,” said Boldshin, now convinced his cousin was deliberately walking one step to the left of the conversation. “I mean why have the dwarfs been cast out?”
Glammerscale laughed again. “It’s a good thing you are asking me, for I believe most Pavonan dwarfs would struggle to make sense of their banishment – those who tarried when we left were surely having difficulty getting their heads around it. You see, the duke is a religious man, becoming ever moreso in latter years, and his faith has manifested as a most jealous love his own god to the cost of all other gods, especially those not of the Tilean churches of men. There is no longer a place for Grungi, Grimnir or Valaya in Pavona, nor for those who pray to them. You must have heard the boast that not one stone in any Pavonan temple was carved by a dwarf. Well, it would seem that now they don’t want dwarfs even near their precious temples.”
This was not good. Boldshin was already reckoning up what was owed to him by several Pavonans, and what losses would be incurred if they decided to take their dislike of dwarfs a step further and renege on their debts.
Glammerscale apparently failed to notice his cousin’s distraction. “Pavonans have never been known for their fondness of strangers. I do not think I have ever seen an elf in the city, though many a dwarf would say that was no bad thing, and the only ogres I have witnessed there were brought to die in a fighting pit. I have seen Bretonnians mocked by ruffians in the street, as if their very presence somehow besmirched the architecture of so fashionable a city. Duchess Elisabetta prettified the city, and made it a place of learning too. That’s the very reason I went there. But the Pavonans grew arrogant with it, thinking themselves better than others. The plague of 87 turned that arrogance into suspicion, and although no-one ever blamed the dwarfs for it, I think the Duke now believes that our continued presence so weakens the strength and purity of their faith that the curse left by the plague could not be lifted. It is a city dedicated to Morr, and yet every night is haunted by restless souls. That contradiction has gnawed away at the Pavonans until now they act desperately, and cruelly, to amend their ways.”That’s not so bad,
thought Boldshin. If the Pavonans were looking to purify themselves, and put things right before their god, then leaving lawful debts unpaid would not be the way to go about it. Among various duties, Morrites were supposed to settle their debts before they left this life, or put in place a means to honour them, so that their souls were not in any way lured back by the concerns of the living world.
He realised Glammerscale was still speaking. “… so I shan’t stay long, I imagine. Just until I can settle the matter of my property and possessions, and find a place to continue my studies.”
“In times like these I should think you would not want to remain so isolated. Let us hope the good people of Ridraffa don’t follow Pavona’s lead.”
Boldshin could not argue, not with his cousin. He was both stern and unforgiving when he had to be with debtors, but they were men, not dwarfs. Besides, his cousin was not only right, he had brought two servants. Being one of four dwarfs in times of trouble had to be better than being alone.