Sunday, February 18, 2018

Mortal Empires, Part XIII - The Treaty of Wurtbad

Previous: Mortal Empires, Part XII - Hochland and Nordland

With the northern provinces of Middenland, Hochland and Nordland united under one banner, Franz was finally able to turn his attention to the southern lands of the Empire. While the northern lords had been frittering away their strength fighting each other, the southern lords were fighting for their lives against enemies beyond the Empire. Stirland remained under the most duress, fighting for its life against the resurgent vampire counts of Sylvania. Alberich Haupt-Anderssen, the Elector Count of Stirland, was unable to save the Moot, the ancestral home of the Halflings, and was forced to evacuate the populace to Wurtbad, the provincial capital. Haupt-Anderssen conducted several defenses of Wurtbad to repel the Von Carsteins, and while the city held, Haupt-Anderssen's position remained desperately tenuous. 

Stirland's plight was made worse by the erratic behavior of their southern neighbor. Ruled by the infamous Mad Lord Marius Leitdorf, Averland vacillated between solidarity and hostility depending on the mercurial moods of the Elector Count. Leitdorf was a formidable swordsman and able general in his more lucid moments, however, and he was able to resist the encroachment of the vampire counts for a long time. His failure to unite with the other provinces spelled his doom, however. His army was caught in the open by the armies of Mannfred Von Carstein, and utterly destroyed. Leitdorf was mortally wounded, and given a choice by Mannfred - turn or die. Hans Gruber, a surviving member of Leitdorf's personal guard, stated that the Mad Lord spat in the vampire's face, and shouted, "To me, Daisy!", before finally expiring at the vampire's feet.

The Mad Lord of Averland, Marius Leitdorf, atop his trusted steed, Daisy Kurt Von Helboring II.

Gruber was released by Mannfred and bidden to ride ahead to Averheim and deliver an ultimatum to the city. With their army destroyed Averheim was defenseless against the ever-growing army of the vampire counts, and desperate pleas for assistance were sent to all Electors within the Empire. Franz and his armies were tied up in the campaign against the Norscans, however, and were unable to march south to relieve them. The other Electors were similarly constrained. Stirland could spare no men from its own defense, while Wissenland was being raided by orcs and goblins of the Crooked Moon tribe. Talabecland, Ostland and Ostermark were in the process of being destroyed by the Varg. Averheim was on its own.

Mannfred Von Carstein, the most cunning of the Vampire Counts.

All was not lost for all the inhabitants crowding desperately into the city, however. The armies of the vampire counts differed greatly from the mortal armies in several respects. For one, the vast majority of the rank and file of the vampire counts needed no supplies, and did not sack or loot or commit murder or rape, unless specifically bidden to by their masters. Sustained by the dark magic drawn to the lands under the vampire's control, skeleton infantry and cavalry were given mobility and purpose by the eldritch rituals of necromancy. The price for this power was paid by the land itself. Forests and pastures withered and died, and life was leeched away from the countryside and its inhabitants, leaving darkness and desolation in its wake.

Secondly, only the leadership caste of the vampire counts could be reckoned as true vampires. The vampire counts kept their numbers down deliberately and actively fostered the relative well-being of the humans under their control, as they understood better than most the relationship between themselves and their prey. As the land withered and died, the night kin spared enough of the land from despoilment so that the humans could maintain a meager subsistence. The Von Carsteins did not want the end of humanity, because the demise of humanity also meant the demise of the vampire race. What they did want was the end of human resistance to their rule. To this end they permitted limited autonomy from their herds, gave incentives for talented and loyal humans to advance in wealth and position, and kept their atrocities hidden from public sight, lest it incite open rebellion.

The land under the Vampire Counts.

The Burgomeister of Averheim understood this, and with no aid forthcoming, he bowed to the inevitable and opened the gates to the forces of Mannfred. In return Mannfred spared the citizens from a bloodbath, and allowed the townfolk to go on with their lives. The occupation exacted a bloody tithe, though, in the form of the luckless citizens who were chosen to satiate the blood thirst of the vampire leadership. But by guaranteeing the safety and continuing prosperity of the merchants and aristocracy, Mannfred was able to preserve the infrastructure of the city and at the same time make them complicit in the systematic slaughter of the powerless.

By the time Franz was able to return to the south Averheim had fallen, and the Von Carsteins were in Stirland, preparing to march on to Wurtbad. He wasted no time in reinforcing Wurtbad, and what remained of Stirland was confederated into the Empire. It was at this time that the young Emperor would make one of his most controversial edicts. Faced with seemingly endless numbers of Norscans pouring into the north Franz dispatched a message to Mannfred, proposing a non-aggression pact. Franz faced widespread opposition to this decision, but his prestige was at an all time high, having successfully consolidated Reikland, Middenland, Nordland, Hochland and Stirland into the rump of a nascent Empire. When asked by Volkmar as to his reasons, the Emperor stated simply: "If we fight both the Norscans and the undead, we will lose everything."

Franz showed no surprise when an envoy of the Vampire Counts appeared at Wurtbad to convey a letter from Mannfred himself several days later. The envoy was a stunning ethereal beauty with dark mysterious eyes, raven curls and a ghostly porcelain complexion named Isoulde Von Carstein. Mannfred adopted the long standing Sylvanian tradition of giving their vampire progeny his last name, and Isoulde was no exception. She gave Mannfred's reply. Not only would he grant the Emperor's request, but he was also willing to forge a defensive alliance between their "two great nations in this Age of Reckoning", provided that the existing boundaries were adhered to. What astonished both the court and Isoulde herself was the warm and familiar reception she received from the Emperor. Dispatched to the Empire as a diplomat, envoy and spy, she was caught off guard by Franz's warmth and openness, which contrasted starkly with the suspicion, fear and loathing emanating from the remainder of the Imperial court.

Franz knew that acceding to the vampire's terms meant abdicating control over Averland. But with Talabecland, Ostland and Ostermark still being threatened by the Norscans, and Wisseland plagued by greenskin raids, he saw the wisdom of sacrificing the province in return for time. And thus in 2504 IC, the Emperor signed the Treaty of Wurtbad, later known in history by its critics as the infamous "Blood Pact". In a small country estate just south of Wurtbad the Emperor would meet Mannfred Von Carstein in person for the first time, and the two of them would affix their respective seals on this agreement. They also spoke at length, out of earshot of their advisers. Most of what they spoke about was lost, but both were unanimous in their declarations to their advisers that they would meet again.

Many Averlanders would see this as a betrayal of the Emperor's duty to protect his subjects, especially against occupiers as hateful, sinister and murderous as the vampires. But as Franz's coterie of Electors were learning, the Emperor was being guided by a sight which they were not privy to, but had thus far led them to victory after victory in the battle field. They were willing to follow his lead for the immediate future. In return for the continued security of Stirland, Haupt-Anderssen agreed to confederate with the Empire, joining Todbringer and Ludenhof as the third Elector to bend the knee to Franz.

Another confederation. Stirland joins the fold, giving me another general, Alberich Haupt-Anderssen. I have a surfeit of generals now - six in total - but only three armies. As written in the fluff I've concluded a defensive pact with the Vampire Counts. I don't know how long this will last - this faction is notorious for breaking treaties, especially when your military strength is weak - but the focus now is to really go after the Norscans and drive them out of the Empire before we get stabbed in the back. Or before we stab them. I called the "treaty" the Treaty of Wurtbad, based on the historical Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the 30 Years War in the 17th century. The Empire part of Warhammer is based on wars of the Holy Roman Empire in the 1600s, when Germany as a united entity did not exist, and armies of disparate nations, factions and denominations marched all over Europe. The dress, weapons and units of the Empire is lifted from this period, but given a liberal sprinkling of the fantastic. The Thirty Years War was ceaseless, never ending war over religion and power, and by its end, according to the text books, over a quarter of the European population had died as a result of it. In fact, the saying, "Sigmar is with us" is a direct conflation of a common Germanic battle cry during the 30 Years War - "Gott mit uns", or "God is with us" - and the sad thing is that both the Catholics and the Lutherans/Protestants used it while killing each other.

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