A blessing in disguise
"It's impossible!" He exhaled sharply, a little more sharply than he intended perhaps. But he was frustrated by this discussion, it just wasn't going where he wanted.
"What happened to aiming high and pursuing your dreams? Should we perhaps amend the catechism to aim high and pursue your dreams so long as it doesn't look too difficult?"
"Droll. Very droll."
"This is - without a doubt - the fairest plan we've come up with. And - if everyone buys in - then it's also easily the most effective solution we've identified."
"That's a pretty big if! Fine if they all come on board - but every nation will baulk - nobody will want to go first. We should go back and look at the bathhouse again - I'm telling you it's a better option."
"Oh yes because 500 white granite will be trivial for everyone to find. I suspect they'll ask us if they can make it bigger."
The sarcasm in his colleagues voice was biting. "It wouldn't have to be the full amount..." he retorted but his voice trailed off slightly and he looked away.
"Your plan gets increasingly expensive, the more effective it is, mine works the other way. It's a better plan. We go with this. I accept it will be difficult - it has a high chance of failure - but if everyone throws themselves into this then it will work perfectly."
"Fine! But I'm telling you it's impossible! So when it gets thrown out.... then we try my idea."
Over the Summer Solstice summit of 382YE, the Highborn nation took a momentous decision. Spurred perhaps by the news that some part of the soul remains trapped in the bodies of those slain by the vallorn who rise again as husks, they elected to commit themselves to the battle. The decision was not without controversy, the Throne used their authority as Custodian of Virtue to require a greater majority for the mandate to pass, and there were many in Highguard who felt that the cost was too high, or perhaps simply that now was not the time.
There were two different Highborn priests competing to pass the mandate, Kerem, Daughter of the Chantry and Hazelelponi of the Shattered Tower, and the decision remained in doubt for some time. It seemed possible that the two priests might split the votes between them and that neither would achieve the greater majority required. However when the votes were counted, Kerem's mandate had the most support and had reached the required threshold. Perhaps Hazelelponi's briar heritage counted against her - an old prejudice in a land that has long distrusted those with heritage.
The monstrous infestation that is the vallorn is a danger beyond any other that now faces us. There is no sacrifice so great that we cannot meet it to defeat this terror. We send Lilith of the Chantry with 500 liao to urge every Highborn citizen to consider if they could assist in defeating this threat by undertaking an extended pilgrimage to walk the trods.Highborn National Assembly, Kerem, Daughter of the Chantry, Summer Solstice 382YE, Upheld 595 - 244
Charged with undertaking the mandate by Kerem, empowered by the Highborn Assembly, Lilith of the Chantry has discharged her virtuous duty in the months since, travelling the length and breadth of Highguard carrying the message of a new pilgrimage, a sacred journey for every Highborn citizen to consider. This mandate will change the face of Highguard, but the scions of Atuman and Atun have never shirked from sacrifice. Those who can have begun to put their affairs in order so that they may begin the great journey.
The vallorn is a threat to the Empire; as every Highborn child is taught - the Empire is their destiny.
The impact of thousands of Highborn citizens setting out on a great pilgrimage around the Empire cannot be understated. The naive assumption would be that the Navarr manage just fine with this lifestyle. It is true that the Navarr people are able to support the stridings - but the Navarr have had well over five hundred years to adapt their entire way of life to a migratory existence. Even given the slightly smaller scale of what the Highborn are attempting, it is still a gargantuan task to undertake.
The civil service who were asked to calculate the impact of the pilgrimage described it as ruinous. Their initial economic assessment was that every farm and business in Highguard would see a permanent loss of 72 rings of income, while every military unit would suffer a loss of effectiveness equal to two ranks. The problem is that people walking the trods need food, money, and protection.
Food is obvious - people need to eat. The civil service anticipate that Highborn farms would be some portion of their production to create dried and smoked or otherwise treated provisions to support their friends and family on parts of their pilgrimage. Of course the pilgrims cannot carry all their food with them - and will need to purchase food and lodgings where they can from the people of the lands they pass through. That would need Highborn families counting every coin carefully, for everything that could be spared would be needed to support the pilgrims. Such effects would be too dispersed to have a noticeable effect on the businesses of the lands they travelled through - but it would be felt keenly in Highguard.
The final truth is the saddest. The Empire is a beacon of law and order, a shining light of a just and fair society that is unrivalled in this world. But that does not mean that the trods are safe. There are bandits and brigands that prey on unwary travellers who use the trods. And the trods pass through some of the most dangerous parts of the Empire, lands where groups of hostile orcs still dwell - or worse where the vile spawn of the Vallorn roam. The pilgrims will need protection when they walk the trods - and hence the loss of soldiers to the military units of Highguard.
So great is the Highborn belief in their manifest destiny that they embraced this sacrifice, even knowing the cost. But with the summit passed and the decision taken, the people of Highguard have asked what if anything might be done to try and alleviate the impact. Might it not somehow be compensated for? People are already making preparations to leave, they are committed to this great cause, but if the price of the pilgrimage is something that can be addressed then it would be unvirtuous not to do so. So the wisest Highborn minds have dedicated themselves to this idea - and they have identified something that would help considerably... if the nation can convince their allies to share the burden.
It is no surprise that though an equivalent mandate was requested for the General Assembly, it did not see popular support. Maybe other nations are not as persuaded as Highguard of the burning need for this crusade to take place now. Perhaps it is something in the character of the Highborn people - to commit themselves utterly to their cause. Perhaps people simply didn't imagine that it could be done across the Empire - and so they elected not to try.
Whatever those reasons are, they are likely to become very important this coming season, because having assessed the situation meticulously, the civil service have identified that the clearest, most effective way to address the economic impacts of the pilgrimage would be to persuade one or more nations to contribute towards the effort.
The chance to take part in the pilgrimage is largely passed, but every nation of the Empire will soon see Highborn pilgrims travelling through their lands - in numbers that have not been seen since the founding of the Empire and the spreading of the Way. If each nation committed to providing those pilgrims with food, shelter, and protection - then the need for the Highborn people to support their pilgrims on their long journey would be significantly reduced. To support the pilgrims any nation assembly could pass the following mandate.
The war against the vallorn demands all the support of all of us. We send (named priest) with 50 doses of liao to urge every (nation) citizen to offer food, shelter, and protection to the pilgrims as they travel through our lands and beyond. We will shoulder this burden together.Synod Mandate, National Assembly
If this mandate were passed, then the burden would be shared. Beaters could meet the pilgrims at the borders of the Marches and escort them safely across the land. Freeborn paradors might put out signs saying "Pilgrims welcome, 1 ring per party, eat as much as you like". Merchant princes of the League could press their tavern keepers to set aside rooms for the pilgrims. Varushkan wardens could guide the pilgrims through the dark places in the north. Wintermark halls could take them in and offer them seats by the fire. The Dawnish could welcome them with a feast. Urizeni stargazers could use their arts to find the safest, easiest routes through their land. Orc bonesetters could manage arrangements to offer the pilgrims the same support they give their legions. And every Navarr wayhouse could be persuaded to reach out to their new brothers and sisters in pilgrimage and welcome them in.
The precise form would not matter - the reality is that every land in the Empire has some tradition of hospitality, they could all find a way to provide support and succour to the pilgrims as they travel the trods. It would cost of course - the burden would be shared - but it wouldn't go away. Every single nation that endorsed this mandate would experience half the penalty of the Highborn - a loss of 36 rings to every farm and business in the nation - and a loss of one rank from every military unit.
But the more nations that can be convinced to shoulder the burden, the easier it will be for everyone to adjust to the cost. Crucially that will make it easier and quicker for the Highborn and everyone who supports them to accommodate the situation. If no Imperial nation supports the Highborn, then the civil service estimate that the current penalties will continue for the next ten years at least (although at that point Highborn civil servants are likely to go back and look for some other less effective way to mitigate the costs). But if even a single Imperial nation supports the Highborn pilgrimage - then the time required to adjust will be halved - to five years.
Each additional nation whose national assembly endorses the mandate will reduce the time dramatically - the civil service have calculated the impact for each nation that offers its support in this way. Sadly the costs cannot be completely eliminated - there will always be some disruption - but the adjustment could be handled with a single seasons impact - if enough nations can be persuaded to share the sacrifice. (Highguard cannot pass this mandate - as their nation is already doing everything possible to support the pilgrimage).
The civil service have estimate that it is not possible to produce the kind of national sacrifice needed via a mandate in the General Assembly - each national assembly would have to persuade their nations to support the pilgrimage, at a cost of 50 liao each. However two nations, Navarr and Urizen, would be easier to persuade needing only 25 liao each. The Urizen have just seen the Highborn armies bleed in defence of their lands in Zenith and Morrow and though they have troubles of their own some are already well-inclined to support their neighbours. And of course the Navarr understand better than any nation the need to combat the vallorn - and they alone can truly understand the sacrifice that the Highborn are embracing.
Civil Service Summary
- Each nation (exception Highguard) can pass a mandate in their national assembly to support the pilgrims
- Each nation that endorses the mandate will incur a penalty of 36 rings to every farm and business and one rank lost from each military unit
- Each mandate must be endorsed with 50 liao in the coming season, the penalties would take effect from the Winter Solstice onwards
- The Navarr and Urizen would need only 25 liao each to persuade their people to support the Highborn in this way
- An option exists for the Highborn to enlarge one of their existing armies.
The other significant impact of the pilgrimage is the reduction in the ability of the Highborn nation to support a fourth army. The Imperial Senate had approved a fourth army, and plans were already underway to raise the mithril needed to arm and equip it. All of that has had to be abandoned, with so many Highborn citizens committed to the pilgrimage, there simply won't be sufficient people to support an additional army in the foreseeable future - at least not until Highguard expands substantially.
This loss has been a significant frustration for those tasked with planning the wars of the Empire - many of whom disagreed with the decision to embrace the pilgrimage. But it has also been a great disappointment for the Highborn people, for whom the army would have been a source of great Pride. Many enthusiastic volunteers were already looking to join the new army as soon as the mithril could be secured. Most of them are young, fit and healthy - and many will now embrace the mandate and take the chance to travel the Empire on the pilgrimage. But the volunteers also included a number of very experienced soldiers, grizzled veterans who had graduated from army years earlier, but who welcomed a chance to return to their former life of military service.
Nothing can be done about the loss of the fourth army, that is not a problem that can be solved. But the disappointment of those experienced soldiers who had hoped to put their weapons in service to the Empire once more is something that could be addressed. Highguard cannot now raise a fourth army - but they could find a place for those soldiers in the military - by enlarging one of their existing armies.
Enlargement is not cheap - and would require a successful Senate motion to permit it. But if nation they take advantage of the current opportunity then a single Highborn army could be enlarged more quickly and at less cost than usual by inducting those veterans eager to return to military service who had gathered with the intention of joining the fourth army.
If Highguard take advantage of this opportunity then the final cost to make the army large will be 100 mithril and 25 thrones, and require two seasons. The first season of work may begin with a payment of 50 mithril and 15 thrones.
All the opportunities listed here are only valid at the Autumn Equinox 382YE. Any interest in supporting the Highborn pilgrimage is likely to diminish substantially after the summit has passed. The veterans who would form the core of any enlarged army will lose interest and join the pilgrimage or return to their former lives.
Kerem, Lilith, and Hazelelponi in play
It is worth bearing in mind that Kerem, Lilith, and Hazelelponi are all player characters, and not members of our NPC crew. Their decisions have influenced the game, but their decision to engage with plot presented by Profound Decisions, and undertake contentious and risky actions, should be respected,