Battle of Tresova: Interlude
Non-combat scene, difficulty of checks begins at Hard.
July 27, 2022, 8 p.m.
Outside Arx - Mourning Isles near Tresova - Tresova - Veiled Harbor
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Battle of Tresova: Interlude has started at Outside Arx - Mourning Isles near Tresova - Tresova - Veiled Harbor.
The Compact army had been battered in recent actions against the rebels, even before being reduced by half with the departure of Kennex forces. Those remaining have occupied the large majority of the walled city of Tresova, with more rebel fighters slipping away into the countryside every day. Hundreds of the Black Vanguard are spread throughout the city, walking the walls and holding the barred city gates, with the White Raven tavern serving as a command post for Baron Aedric, with the looming bastion of Bloodstone Keep occasionally glimpsed through the mists to the south-west.
The outlook was grim: just over five hundred soldiers and a single siege weapon remained after the withdrawal of Kennex, the overwhelming majority being Blackshores, with some dozens of Redreef soldiers and East Light crusaders, facing the daunting prospect of storming Bloodstone with its intact walls and gates held by Caius Carideo with his best troops.
With all this hanging like a cloud over the common hall of the White Raven where Baron and Baroness were addressing the army's daily business, word arrived amid commotion: the gates of Bloodstone Keep had opened just long enough for a quartet of wounded men to emerge, with word quickly reaching the court that they were soldiers of the Black Vanguard, bearing letters for the Baron and Baroness. That meeting with the newly arrived merchant would have to wait.
The brisk trip to make herself known on the besieged isle of Tresova served as a reminder of the season. It was not bundled in cloth that weighed heavy in salt spray but leathers that were oiled with lining against the ocean's wintery bite. The first mate turned Baroness had arrived only to be bombarded physically by the sight of her home in tatters, a deep breath inhaled of air that had not the pine infusion Scylla had been hoping for but tinged with a metallic putrescence of carrion.
With the initial shock worn off, the female Blackshore nee Stormblood nee Carideo stands a quiet tempesting force at her husband's side.
Aedric Blackshore, a grim man by trade and nature, is /uncharacteristically/ gloomy. With Kennex' forces withdrawn, and only a handful of Redreef's sailors and East Light's knights remaining, it had become clear to him that the fate of Bloodstone Keep, if not the entire island, was now left in the hands of the barony and the barony alone. Could the Black Vanguard successfully initiate and sustain a siege? Certainly. But would they then be capable of securing rebuilding the structure? A more pressing question, perhaps: and what of Tresova at large? The costs, from the perspective of silver alone, were staggering. Especially for a family that could at any moment be expected to sail to the aid of Lady Azova Darkwater or Duke Aethan Kennex.
This unpleasant thought process is interrupted by news of emissaries from the keep. "Send them in," the baron commands, waving a gauntlet toward the nearest officer.
Although bereft of armor and weapons, the four who walked out of the castle and into the Blackshore camp wore the tattered remains of Black Vanguard surcoats, their injuries all to the head and arms. One with a bandaged head and eye leaned for stability on the shoulder of another, who had lost a hand. When brought before the baronial couple, efforts were made to salute, before two letters were offered: one to Aedric, the other to Scylla.
The letter for Aedric:
To His Excellency, Baron Aedric Blackshore, Lord of New Hope, I send greeting.
Bloodstone Bastion now lies wholly within my power. From its walls I have seen your allies of Kennex depart, and I have seen the strength you have lost in trying to hold what is no longer yours.
I am skilled enough in the arts of war and siege to know that every advantage is mine, and even if you prevail here, your strength will be broken beyond repair. So, I offer you this:
Take your ships and soldiers, and depart our land. Give me your oath that you will not return, and I will send you what remains of your garrison, alive. Else, I will send them to the Deep in sacrifice, one every dawn.
So swears Caius Carideo, Lord of Tresova and Defender of the Burning Mountain.
The letter for Scylla:
My dear sister,
It seems you regained your wits well before I did, as my path back home was longer and less kind, leading through distant lands and harsh company, before I remembered myself.%
By the time I set foot back on our home island, the cult had been swept away, Tresova had knelt to the Compact, and Templars were saying it was the duty of our youths to forswear their families and serve the Dominus of Arx, all while a Churchman preached that we and our ancestors were all damned as heretics.
My one kindness was the discovery that you were alive, and to all appearances, content.
Our people asked this of me, sister.
The path you chose for Tresova is not the path they all wanted. You did well by them, unmade the damage of that damnable cult, and tried your best, but being swallowed by the Compact with their names and ways erased was a step they could not accept. With the best of intentions, you gave Tresova to Blackshore. We have both seen enough of Arvum to know that people of the Compact never release their property lightly. Rebellion was the last way left.
I've died, Scylla.
More than once since we parted, and each time I come back, I forget another piece of myself. I wonder if you'd even recognize me now, but I still remember that sack of kittens, And I remember that the lash never frightened me.
I'll send you another sack of four kittens with this letter, in hopes that your heart will be eased, even for a moment. I've missed you terribly little sister, and even if you hate me now, I will always remain:
Your loving brother,
Aedric checks composure at hard. Aedric fails.
Scylla checks composure at hard. Scylla fails.
There is a hesitation before opening the missive and soon Scylla's fingers pry it open to reveal the textual message within. Tempestuous blues roamed with silver limn flashing like lightening at the words found within, a visible inhale taken before it released in a feline hiss of breath and handed over to Aedric for his private viewing, "Have either of you personally seen Caius?" Asked of the two who delivered the message, a softness to the asking despite the way jaw clenched to in an attempt to keep tone tight.
Aedric studies each of the soldiers closely before reaching forward to accept one of the two missives they had been entrusted to deliver. He uses the tip of a finger to unseal the parchment and then returns to a small table situated at the center of the chamber. Here, beneath the dim yellow light produced by an oil lantern, he skims its contents.
'...and even if you prevail here, your strength will be broken beyond repair.'
It is a a simple statement. Factual. Without tone. And yet somehow it elicits something incredibly rare -- anger. Genuine, unbridled, visceral. The baron extends his right arm forward, the motion swift, and knocks a stack of neatly-aligned ledgers onto the floor. Cerulean gaze lifts to the wounded men. Scylla's letter, spotted in his periphery, is wordlessly accepted.
"How many in the keep yet survive?"
All four of the wounded soldiers nod to Scylla's inquiry. One, a serjeant by his uniform, is the one to answer. "We did, Baroness. The-" there's a reflexive pause as the man is clear aware of the relation, before he carries on, "The pretender slew Sir Ealdred in storming the keep, and addressed us all after the last bastion fell." None of the soldiers seem to notice Aedric's momentary outburst. The serjeant answers his Baron, "Perhaps two dozen, my Lord. Some grievously wounded." As if to suggest this quartet were not considered so badly hurt.
There is only a hand that comes to rest on Aedric's shoulder and the gesture is fleeting before it returns to her side, Scylla straightens for a moment and eyes close as if seeing something in the hazed dark of lidded underside, "Was he alone? Were there any other colors or sigils seen at his arrival or that you noticed when Bloodstone was lost?"
The soldier's response is acknowledged with a single nod. Then, briefly, the baron's attention returns to the table. The missive written to Scylla lacks Carideo's familiar antagonism. Once he has finished his review, he folds the letter in two and rests it near the first. He, at least for now, defers any further inquiries to the baroness. Aedric collects a fresh sheet of paper from a neighboring folio and begins to draft an order that would ensure these four men were provided adequate medical care and prioritized passage to New Hope.
The serjeant answers Scylla, "There were ever a number of his warriors with the red plumes at hard -" the Tresovan elites, "Often a woman with a bow, one of the native woodsfolk. One or two of the native clergy, at times. But of colors? Neither blazon nor emblem of any house or order known to me." He looks aside to the others three, inviting any to add more, but none have seen anything worth mention.
There is a nod of head, glancing sidelong to Aedric for a moment if anything sticks out to him in particular and while he writes, "Why you four? Were you chosen at random or was there a reason for sending you?" A pause, offering a hand and an apologetic smile, "Though I'm glad to see you all alive but I'm certainly puzzling out over him halting at all."
A pause, glancing to the letter folded and set aside, "You're the sack of kittens." Spoken in a dawning realization.
"Carideo. How did he fight? Did anything seem," a pause, "-off- about him? The way he moved, for example. Or the manner in which he spoke to you." A strange series of questions, certainly. The baron stands and approaches the sergeant, offering him the drafted order. "Think carefully, and answer truthfully."
"Of course, your Excellency," the soldier answera Scylla when the Baroness assures them she is glad for their release. No offense taken. "I know not why we four, except that he noted 'one eye' and 'one hand' in particular. The others were simply as to manage the walk, to my best guess." The sack of kittens makes no sense to him.
To Aedric, "The Pretender is large. Physically powerful, and very skilled with the native style of poleaxe. A professional soldier by my measure, and a talented one. Full armor. A large voice. Jovial and well liked among the rebels. Seems to consider himself charming. Spoke to us in a.. familiar manner, I would say. Casual, rather than formal." He accepts the drafted order but does not read it while answering. Another soldier- the one with the head bandage- adds, "Liked to make his warriors laugh, Excellency."
Quickly, before the baron forgets:
"How many occupy the castle? An estimate is sufficient."
A nod of the head, a hand raising to drift lithe fingers through the fallen umber waves, "And where did they enter from?" Scylla adds in addition to Aedric's query.
"Dozens of the armored axemen with the red plumes.. Hundreds of the peasantry. Woodsfolk in the main, with bows. Some of the fisherfolk with spears and harpoons, but little armor among the peasantry. As to entry-" He looks to Scylla, "They came at the walls in the darkest hour of night, with ladders, at a dozen different points on the wall. The alarm was raised, and for a time we held the towers and gate, but they won a foothold on the walls, and then their heavy infantry forced into the tower, Sir Ealdred died in duel atop the gate, and once their bows gained the towers we could no longer hold the yard. Captain Spiehr rallied us to hold the inner keep for many days, but there numbers were too great and we had too many wounded. They harried us every few hours, to deny sleep, and at last they were able to storm the inner bastion, behind the Pretender."
"That you managed to hold the bastion against those odds is testament enough to your training, sergeant. Thank you. All of you," the baron murmurs, gaze shifting between the men. "You shall be fed and tended to before being transported back to New Hope and your families. I promise you that we will do what we can to safely extract your brothers and sisters from within." Aedric smiles and, though small, it is no less sincere. "Carideo will face justice. That is as certain to me as the defeat of the Traitor Prince and his sympathizers." The baron's tone, muted, has lost all traces of the anger that tinged it moments before. He gestures politely toward the White Raven's entrance.
There is a respectful bow of head from The Omen, knowing that there was a debt that sorely needed to be repaid. No more words would be spoken before the wounded men, the mind of Scylla seemed to be besieged much like their captive soldiers within Bloodstone.
The four salute, three bow (head wound doesn't push his luck, but does lower his gaze respectfully), voicing, "Hail, Blackshore," before withdrawing. With their departure, Ethan Mirari begins clearing the hall, sending that the Baronial couple need the room. Still, before he too withdraws, Ethan voices to Aedric, "Your pardon, Excellency, but the trader whose ship had last braved the channel awaits audience. He claims the matter is of great importance, but refuses to tell me what it is. Will you hear him now, or later?"
Aedric returns to the table. "We will hear him." What was the old adage? 'When it rains, it pours.' Mentally, the baron has already begun to prepare for the worst.
When another supplicant is to be admitted, the baronial guards also linger. Because of course they do. The merchant, a middle aged man with the look of a lifetime mariner, is dressed in common but well made clothing in an old fashioned Isles style. He is shown in and bows with flawless etiquette, well above his apparent station. "I thank your Excellencies for hearing me. I have been sent here with a message your ears alone. Have I the throne's permission to approach?"
Although the merchant had already been checked for weapons before the audience, the Blackshore guards look warily to their Baron and Baroness at the presumptuous request.
Scylla checks perception and investigation at hard. Scylla is successful.
"Leave us," the sailor instructs. It is a gamble, of course -- but Aedric is confident enough in he and the Omen's capability to defend themselves should the situation truly call for it. When the guards and Ethan depart, an uncomfortable silence settles over the chamber. "Speak freely."
There is a cursory glance given over the merchant as he arrives, making note of the overt attempts to not appear threatening. There is a glance towards Aedric, a raise of brow briefly.
The mariner bows a second time, holding the gesture until Ethan and the guards grudgingly obey their Baron. Once the doors close again, the suspicious guest rises from his bow, and speaks quiet, level, and clear: "My Lord Regulus bade me bring you his words, so: Greywalke is willing to send what is needed to subdue Tresova on our cousin's behalf."
To say that Aedric Blackshore was surprised by this revelation would be an understatement. Though it takes him a moment, he does quickly come to his senses. "Under what conditions?" To aid Blackshore would put Greywalke in a potentially compromising position. Surely there was a price.
"How does your Lord Regulus know how Tresova is faring?" There is a smile that forms on Scylla's lips but while it curves with a subtle hint of sincerity, the warmth doesn't reach eyes that now rest on the still suspicious fellow. This is followed after Aedric's question, surely the man could adequately answer both.
The mariner addresses Scylla first: "All of the Mourning Sea knows of the bloody nature of the Tresovan revolt. As well, the withdrawal of Kennex. Beyond even that, it is known that even should this city and castle fall, subduing the entire island will require more power than Blackshore alone can muster. My Lord Regulus would be a fool not to keep skilled spies, Excellency. He is no fool." To Aedric, "My Lord is aware that open endorsement of Prince Dagon's cause remains dangerous for his cousin. He asks your private support, to be followed with a public pledge when your present overlord is removed."
A glance to Aedric, singular and deep plunging like a newly smithed blade. Scylla remains quiet, ponderous and intense despite the liquid line of posture.
"We cannot accept aid under such conditions. That the Count was willing to offer us assistance in our time of need will not soon be forgotten, but our loyalties must remain to Darkwater, Kennex, and Maelstrom," the baron replies, words diplomatic and tone flat. "House Blackshore has committed itself completely to the security Tresova. Our fates are now intertwined. I will not abandon it to the whims of a prodigal warlord and those who openly worship the Abyss. As your Lord understands, blood is the price of civilization," Aedric continues, bringing his palms, and weight, to rest against the table's surface, "...and so we will bleed, for its people and our institutions."
The mariner bows once again at Aedric's answer. "As your Excellency says. I shall bring these words to my Lord in turn, and part in peace, with prayers to Gloria for your victory over the barbarian." A final bow, and he appropriately waits to be dismissed before departing the tavern hall turned throne room.
There is a moment where Scylla is content to let the merchant walk away before head cants at a particular nomenclature, "The barbarian?"
"Safe travels, and please convey the Count my sincerest thanks." For now, it was all that the Blackshore could offer. He suspected that declining Greywalke's assistance would one day produce repercussions, but he could ill afford to consider those consequences while Bloodstone Bastion remained occupied. Following Scylla's inquiry, he reaches outward and places the palm of his left gauntlet against her hip, wordlessly discouraging her from continuing. "Your brother," the baron answers.
Dismissed by the Baron, it would not be polite to speak further, and thus the mariner backs up two places before turning to withdraw. A wary look into the room by an over protective bodyguard to verify that both Baron and baroness are un-murdered, and the guard ducks back out, leaving the pair alone.
The touch seems to draw her back, glancing briefly to Aedric and issuing a nod. Offering a smile towards the departing merchant, "Silly me." Is muttered as the doors close.
"The war will end," Aedric says, retreating to one of the chairs nearest the table. "One day, the war will end." The repetition is intentional. These words aren't intended to reassure Scylla -- instead, the elder Blackshore, tired and weary, aims mostly to convince himself.
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