December 18th -- Warmanoras
Cathal toyed with the heavy signet he wore on his left ring-finger as he studied the guttering flames of the tax office. The polished sardonyx seal of the Duchy of Alowca transmuted the fire-light to streaks of blood, glittering amidst its field of muted yellow.
There was a time when as Duke the defence of Warmanoras and her prized horseflesh was uppermost in his mind, before the famine and Oritolon's pogroms. Nothing however nothing remained in the province of the splendid Alowcan civilisation which had kept her safe from war until its very end. Instead everywhere were the arms and manners of Oritolon, full of pride and conceit, lacking in any virtues.
If these people would shake off the oppression under which they laboured then Minas Thalion would not be slow to support them, but he wondered if enough of their old spirit yet remained. And as he considered the changes which the years had wrought here in the Alowcan peninsula he found himself also pondering his recent exchanges with Lord Walker. The young knight had that same optimism which he'd possessed as a youth, before his time as general had taught him the true face of war.
And the more he thought of his own experiences, the more he wondered if Lord Walker knew the true origin of the tale he'd retold, disguised as it was behind such outlandish names and sketchy details. The Battle of Abaka Crossing they'd called it, also The Field Of Blood for the many men killed in that bloody melee, and The Last Stand of the Southern Alliance for it had been the last time Alowca and Alebad stood together in battle before the latter retreated into isolation and despair.
It was in the fourth year of 1008 according to the Gregorian calendar and three decades of life had passed since then, but still there were those who remembered the handful of brave Alowcan knights who refused to yield the river crossing to the might of Ortolan. For four days they'd stood knee-deep in blood and fought to defend both the lands of their ally and the holiest shrine of their sister faith Kamido.
Cathal did his duty as general of Alowca's small professional army, and in later years he would use the battle as the backdrop to the opening scene of the epic play-cycle The Fall Of Alowca with which he'd once held audiences spellbound in the playhouses of the north. In the play Lady Denariel tends to the young champion as he lies wounded in his tent on the third day of battle, revealing the destiny which has been laid before his people and the tragic events which must unfold before the Final Battle marks the end of this age of men.
The action then moves to the morning of the fourth day. Alowca's army has paid a heavy price to contest the passage of Abaka and is forced to withdraw by Alebadian inaction, their baggage-train overflowing with the wounded and dying. With all now at risk the partially-paralysed Cathal orders his captain Gregor to strap him to his horse and together with a small guard of knights and men-at-arms they charge the Oritolon lines one last time, buying the precious hours needed for their countrymen to escape and then melting into the night themselves.
Both sides had claimed a victory, though in truth the real loser was Alebad for having chosen to stand behind her mighty stone walls they sealed their fate. Perhaps now the nobles of Oritolon understood why Cathal and his knights had fought so determinedly...
Setting aside thoughts of war he wrapped his cloak about him to keep out the salt-heavy chill from the southern ocean and returned to his tent. Justice must now run its course, for good or ill.
December 21st - Irdalni
Cathal cleared his throat and a hush fell over the assembled troops. The Imperial Lord was dressed in a simple soldier's surcoat bearing the arms of Minas Thalion beneath which a discoloured hauberk told its own eloquent tale of war and fell deeds, his only concession to rank the purple woollen cloak fastened about his shoulders with a heavy gold clasp.
To Cathal's left the captain of his bodyguard Andred held aloft the Imperial Standard, the warm salt-laden breeze from the southern ocean giving vivid life to its golden eagle motif, whilst to his right stood his squire Emrys as ever bearing his sheathed sword.
"Good knights and gentle countrymen,
You have for many months stood resolute against the unwarranted treachery of our kindred in Oritolon, though all the odds have been against you. It is your courage and determination which have made this possible, and for this I owe you more than it is in the power of the Imperial Throne to ever fully repay. You stand my friends as heroes and those who rest yet in their beds will forever feel shame that they were not here amongst your company.
I know that many of you share the grief which burdens my heart that we must fight a people with whom for many years we enjoyed the closest of relations. Oritolon and Minas Thalion were as brothers, where one suffered the other was certain to offer relief without thought of cost or claim of imposition. Such we believed the eternal and binding charter of both our peoples and to such alliance we of Minas Thalion have ever stood loyal and true.
In recent months when Oritolon's true intent has been laid bare and her sly words discarded in favour of war we have yet withheld the full measure of our wrath in memory of this kinship. Even thus you have turned their every advance into a rout and at my behest driven deep into the territories from which they planned to usurp your patrimony, for justice favours our true cause with victory no matter the wealth nor majesty arrayed against it.
Mindful of the past, and believing that there were yet those in Oritolon who might reclaim the mantle of friendship, I have twice stopped you in your tracks that new Prime Ministers might pull their people back from the brink of disaster. Twice I have shown mercy without regard to whether it were merited, and twice that mercy has been treated with contempt.
Well the time when Minas Thalion seeks to lessen the distress of our former ally is past. Oritolon's leaders must offer just and complete recompense for all that has been done since they set their mind on treachery, and until such time as they realise this we will rebuke them most severely and without concern for the suffering their people endure.
In this matter the Ministry of Defence is of one mind and we have determined to set aside all tenderness with which until now this war has been prosecuted. We will chastise Oritolon with fire and the sword, wielding the rod of wrath with firmness and resolve until our enemies have no choice but to turn from their wilful treachery and plead for the mercy which previously they have scorned.
If honour and mildness can yet be wrung from the hate filled villein who stands before us, then such qualities shall we bring to the fore and set aside all animosity. But if the true character of Oritolon is now that of the serpent, then woe betide her mothers for their wails of anguish will shake the very foundations of the earth before justice is served in full.
So gird your loins my friends, and steel yourselves for what must be done. The work we are about will be bloody and brutal, but it is the work of providence against which no man may stand."