"So beautiful," said Chiara. She sighed deeply.

Certando blinked incredulously. He peered out across the river toward the twisted wilderness of the Wunderkind Woods, trying to spot what Chiara was talking about. He could see nothing he would consider "beautiful". The barren trees were twisted into unnatural shapes that made him uneasy just to look at them, and he couldn't shake the feeling some of the branches had moved in the moment he had looked away They seemed to be reaching out towards the pavilion - towards Chiara and himself - across the slow-flowing waterway. Reaching like the grasping claws of some terrible beast from a Sarvosan fright-pamphlet. A shiver ran down his spine.

Now and again, the flicker of a blue-white flame could be seen moving between the warped trunks. As near as he could see those haunted ignis fatuus were the only light in the park, apart from the sporadic scattering of lightstone lamps that marked the path from the Prosperity Gate to the pavilion on Looking Glass Lake. Other attempts to try and bring light to the cursed parkland had been abandoned several months ago - mostly because the lamp posts kept rotting and corroding away at unnatural speed. Or being bitten in half by... something... that liked the pathways to remain dark.

"Beautiful?" he said uncertainly, his voice low even though they were the only two people present. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," said Chiara. She took his chin in one hand and gently tilted his head upwards, away from the corrupted forest, toward the cloudless night sky.

She was right. It was beautiful. A breath-taking black blanket, dusted with lights, the thick river of stars winding between the flickering constellations. He let out a little breath, half a gasp, and felt the power of the pavilion's aura rising around him. This time he gave in to it, let it wash over and through him. In that moment he was profoundly aware not of the cursed parkland, or the unsettling darkness that surrounded them, but of the lights above them. The wonder that hung above their heads every night, that he had somehow forgotten existed. The memory of sitting with his grandfather on the hill above the lodge, naming the stars, and of how his ten-year-old self had vowed to go to Urizen to study with the masters of astronomancy. Certando wondered what that boy would make of him now, and for a moment the glorious vista swam and blurred.

"It's the darkness," whispered Chiara as they drank in the resplendent sky. "It lets you see the stars so much more clearly."

He laid his head on Chiara's shoulder, and she slipped her arm around his waist. They stood together on the edge of the lake, drinking in that celestial splendour until well after the distant clocks of Holfried had rung out their dull reminder that it was midnight.
Holberg Great Park Redux.png
The park is a twisted mockery of its former glory.
Click for audio version


During the Summer Solstice, Hembeneth i Guerra of the Brass Coast, Cardinal of Wisdom, called on the virtuous to find a practical solution to the problem of Holmauer Park in Holberg. The beautiful park was cursed during the Summer Solstice 383YE; at the same time the mirrors of Sarvos were shattering a terrible corruption fell upon Holmauer. Only the Imperial Menagerie and the Marcher Memorial Garden were spared. The waters were fouled, and everything in the park twisted and warped by the power of the Hag Queen Skathe. There have been a few attempts to deal with or at least benefit from the warping of the park, but now the Cardinal has asked the Wisest minds in Holberg and the Empire to turn their attention to the situation.

As a consequence of the Cardinal's words, dozens of Wise pilgrims have descended on Holberg from all nations of the Empire, despite the supernatural storms battering the Empire this season. Working closely with the innovators and problem-solvers of Holberg, they have also taken the opportunity to visit the miraculously blessed Holmauer Gate, and visited the consecrated gallery above it. Putting their heads together they have considered the problem of the cursed park from every angle, and come up with some practical solutions to the problem.

I call upon the people of Holberg and followers of wisdom throughout the Empire to focus their wisdom. I send Hembeneth I guerra with 25 doses of liao to urge the faithful to find a practical solution to the ravages caused by the curse placed by Skathe on Holmauer Park.

Hembeneth i Guerra, Wisdom Assembly, Summer Solstice 384YE, Upheld (Upheld 304-0)

Rip It Up and Start Again

  • Removing the curse from Holmauer Park will require that every piece of vegetation, and every warped sculpture, be removed and destroyed
  • Clearing the park will require 20 wains of weirwood, 10 wains of white granite, a total of 160 crowns in labour costs, and will take nine months
  • The project requires someone to perform Wind of Mundane Silence to close the regio at the heart of Wunderkind Woods
  • Once the park were restored, it would again function as a great work
  • Restoring the park will remove the Pavilion on Looking Glass Lake
Restore Holmauer Park
Commission Type: Special (Amend Great Work)
Location: Holmauer, Holberg
Cost: 20 wains of weirwood, 10 wains of white granite, 160 Crowns, nine months
Special: Before the commission can be completed, Wind of Mundane Silence must be cast in Wunderkind Woods
Effect: Restores the great work, Destroys the Pavilion on Looking Glass Lake
Options: See Blood wood below

"The first thing to do when trying to solve a problem is to work out what the actual problem is," said Avigliana di Sarvos. She always claimed she was quoting the paragon Atun, but these words have been repeated again and again by the Wise through the centuries. The problem is that the Park is cursed; to remove the curse one must first remove the Park. When the curse began "almost every plant, flower and tree suffered under the blight becoming defiled and withered, a corruption of what they were before." This indicates that the curse is rooted (pun intended) in the vegetation of the park. The Wunderkind Woods - believed to be where the curse originated - will need to be felled and every stump ripped out. Likewise, the Duelling Field will need to be completely cleared. The stones in the Sculpture Garden will all need to be removed. Everything taken from the park will need to be destroyed, lest the corruptive influence spread in a new location.

Thanks to the business folk of Highguard the waters at least are safe. The ratters of Georgie's House have done an excellent job keeping the verminous infestation in the park under control. There's no sign the corruption of the park is seeping into them - not at the moment at least. The apple orchard and Memorial to General Flowers likewise remain untouched by the curse. But everything else will have to be torn out. It will all have to go - and it will not be cheap. Once the current corrupted material is removed and destroyed, the park will need to be replanted and the splendid statuary replaced, at considerable cost.

Furthermore, before the commission can be completed the Winter-aligned regio at the heart of the Wunderkind Woods will need to be destroyed. This will require a casting of Wind of Mundane Silence. This is a powerful Winter ritual of magnitude 150 - expensive in terms of crystal mana and requiring a potent coven. It is likely that there may be attempts to interfere with it - while Skathe may be under enmity it is not impossible she might be able to deploy mortal agents to help protect "her" regio. Once all this is done, it will once again provide inspiration to the people of Holberg however, and resume its function as a great work.

Blood Wood

  • Sofia Rebeshi van Homauer and her coven can perform Wind of Mundane Silence if the Senate asks them to
  • They will only do so if they are given permission to claim the lumber cut down from the blood orchard - the former Wunderkind Woods
  • They will also provide three wooden foci to the Conclave, made from the cursed wood, to endow as they see fit

At the moment, the Wunderkind Woods are being "looked after" by Sofia Rebeshi van Holmauer. She and her troupe, the Rebeshi Players, have arranged for a small patrol to keep the public safe, and are benefiting from the Winter vis that forms in the park. They will be very sad to see it go, but accept the desire to restore the Park to its former glory. However, they too have a proposal for the Senate, after consultation with the Wise. They are capable of performing the Wind of Mundane Silence, and are quite prepared to do so. All they ask in return is that they be given custody of all the lumber created when the Blood Orchard is cleared. It is their opinion that the wood will be ideal for producing magical staves and foci associated with Winter magic. They are prepared to provide the mana themselves - it seems only fair given they expect to harvest a bounty of the oozing red sap from the trees when they are cut down - and will go further. If they are invited to claim the wood and asked to perform the ritual, they will provide three foci made from the "cursed winter wood" to the Imperial Conclave to dispose of with the declaration of Endowment as they see fit.

For all that they are allies, Tharim seems to have little actual affection for his fellow members of the Thrice-cursed Court.
The Swan currently has the enmity of the Imperial Conclave, but there is no doubt that purifying something which has been corrupted is entirely within her area of expertise.

Some of the Wise worry that the wood of the trees in the park is horribly tainted and will provide only cursed magic items - it should be burnt along with all the other vegetation. Sofia Rebeshi van Holmauer appears broadly unconcerned.

The Eternal Question

  • The eternal Tharim offers to remove the curse from Holmauer Park in return for two more years of guaranteed amity
  • The Winter Archmage would need to pass a declaration of Concord in the Conclave asking him to do so
  • The "price" is that the orchard and memorial to General Flowers will also be destroyed
  • There is a suggestion the eternal Ylenrith might also be able to help - but she is currently the subject of enmity

Tearing everything down is the most practical solution to the park. The magister Rebecca of Haroswatch, one of the Wise who came to Holberg, has an alternative suggestion. The Hag Queen is part of the Thrice-Cursed Court, but there is no indication that the Court like one another. Currently she is under enmity of the Conclave - and rightly so. The Bound King Tharim however, enjoys the amity of the Conclave. In the past there are plenty of stories of one or other of the court working against the interests of the other. Some of her chapter have already made enquiries at the Copse of the Bone Birch in Upwold. The creature that sits there - the herald Oglifatus - has confirmed that Tharim is prepared to remove the Hag Queen's curse from Holberg. All he requires in return is for the Winter Archmage to guarantee that the Conclave will him another two years of amity. In return he will remove every plant and every piece of sculpture from the Park, and close the regio. The Senate will still need to approve replanting the park, but the curse will be gone within a season.

The Highborn are wise enough not to take anything a Winter eternal (or their herald) says at face value. Further enquiries indicate that the slightly niggle here is that Tharim will take every plant and statue in the Park. This will include the apple orchard, and the memorial to General Flowers. "Everything, or nothing," says Obligatus candidly. "And before the start of Winter, at that." If the Conclave wishes to take advantage of this offer the Archmage of Winter will need to raise a declaration of Concord during the Autumn Equinox, supported by the Conclave, and specifying that they agree to ensure at least two more years of amity to the Bound King.

Rebecca of Haroswatch points out however that the Conclave might not wish to take up the first offer - if Tharim is prepared to remove the curse from the Park, and it is within his power to do so, then it might be possible to negotiate a different price with him. He is unlikely to move on the two years of amity, but it might be possible to persuade him to leave the memorial garden and the orchard alone. Anyone attempting such a negotiation will begin in a difficult position however; Tharim is overwhelmingly arrogant and negotiating a different arrangement will mean not taking up the offer he has so magnanimously made. If the park is cleared by Tharim there will be no need to leave it fallow, and it could be replanted immediately (costing 20 wains of weirwood, 10 wains of white granite, and 60 crowns).

What one eternal has done, another can undo. Tharim is not the only eternal that might be persuaded to offer their power to help cleanse the park of its curse. One other whose name comes up regularly is Ylenrith, the Swan. Among her other qualities, she is known to have the power to cleanse corruption from people, places and things. There is no doubt the curse of Skathe would count as corruption. Unfortunately, Ylenrith is currently under enmity of the Conclave, apparently for kidnapping Imperial citizens. She will be unlikely to offer aid - and indeed unable to do anything - while under enmity. It might be possible, however, for the Archmage of Day to speak to her and gauge her current state of mind and willingness to assist in Holberg. Asking, after all, is not a crime.

The Problem of the Pavilion

  • Restoring the park will destroy the special aura of the Pavilion on the Lake
  • The League Assembly could allow the use of a dose of true liao to create a new aura on the pavilion

There is one other school of thought among the Wise, and it revolves around those who have been especially moved by a visit to the Pavilion on the Lake. When the Park was cursed, a powerful inspirational aura spontaneously manifested there. Study suggests it might have been a manifestation of the defiance of the people of Holberg - a refusal to allow the curse to break their morale or bow their spirits. It is currently a popular place of pilgrimage.

Unfortunately, the Wise believe that the aura is tied inexorably to the curse. If the Park is cleansed, and restored, they say, the spiritual aura will fade. Careful and thorough insight supports this assertion. If the aura fades, then the pilgrims coming here to consider who they are and where they are going will dwindle, and eventually cease. People will still visit the park, but they will do so to relax and take in its beauty - just as they did before the curse descended. Once the aura is gone, the Patron of the Pavilion would lose their bounty of liao and voice in the synod.

A dose of true liao might be used to consecrate the pavilion. The aura would still be inspirational, although in a different way. The Wise believe that if this is done, then the place would remain a site of pilgrimage - although the number of pilgrims would be greatly reduced and most would actually be in Holberg to see the Gate and the Gallery rather than the Pavilion. The Patron of the Pavilion would be left with 10 votes in the Synod and 5 doses of liao each season. The advantage is that this does not require any Senate involvement. A statement of principle in the League assembly would be enough to set the process in motion once the aura collapses entirely, provided the True Liao were provided.

Regardless of what is or is not done, there is no way to save the Pavilion's special spiritual aura if the curse is removed.

Let It Lie

  • Instead of remodelling the park, the people of Holberg could embrace its new situation
  • Securing the Wunderkind Woods requires a Senate motion recognising the Rebeshi Players as guardians of the wood, and a payment of 32 Crowns for supplies, and would take three months
  • The Imperial Title Tender of the Blood Orchard would be created allowing the purchase of vis and magic items at reasonable prices

While Sofia Rebeshi seems resigned to the park being remodelled, that has not prevented her meeting with several of the Wise, and putting forward an alternative suggestion. "We could just accept we have a cursed park in Holberg," she says. "None of the other League cities have a cursed park after all." Rather than expend a great deal of money, time, and resources, she proposes that her fellow burghers simply live with it, and make the most of the Park's new qualities. Exploring her suggestion, the pilgrims who have come to examine the park have come up with two proposals - one old and one new.

Blood Orchard

Exploit the Warped Woods
Commission Type: Ministry
Location: Holmauer, Holberg
Cost: 32 Crowns, three months
Effect: Secures the Wunderkind Woods, creates the Imperial title Tender of the Blood Orchard
Tender of the Blood Orchard
* Appointment: League national title; annual; Tally of the Votes
* Alternative Appointment: Imperial; Conclave appointment
* Powers:Trade Opportunities (Vis and Magic Item Ministries)
* Responsibilities: Liase with the Rebeshi Players, protect Wunderkind Woods, protect people from Wunderkind Woods
Blood Red Blood
105 rings3 Winter vis
255 rings6 Winter vis
450 rings9 Winter vis
690 rings12 Winter vis
Warped Wooden Staffs
720 rings1 Phlegmatic Staff
1440 rings2 Phlegmatic Staffs
  • Sofia Rebeshi proposes renaming the Wunderkind Woods the Blood Orchard and harvesting the valuable sap that wells there
  • Establishing a ministry in the Wunderkind Woods would cost 32 Crowns, and take three months to complete
  • Recognising the Rebeshi Players would create the title Tender of the Blood Orchard

This is not the first time Sofia Rebeshi has proposed cultivating the Blood Orchard. The Wunderkind Woods in the centre of the park have been warped beyond recognition by the curse. Where before the trees were beautiful - a variety of different species that worked together to create a harmonious whole - now they are twisted unholy things, their naked branches grasping toward the sky like grasping claws. Each tree has a single hollow from which oozes a sweet smelling, sticky, bright red sap. Those few brave enough to venture into the woods have reported sightings of half eaten small animals in the roots of many of the trees, but no sign of any predators - although odd blue-white lights are sometimes seen bobbing among the trees on nights when the sky is particularly clear.

In the past an enterprising mountebank Oskar di Holberg sold the unpleasant goo produced by the trees as the blood of the Empress Lisabetta. The militia soon put a stop to that - not least because the "blood red blood" is poisonous when consumed. When prepared appropriately, however, it is actually a form of Winter vis. With Oskar banned from the park, the renowned Sofia Rebeshi van Holmauer, and her troupe, have taken over temporary custodianship of the woods, apparently in order to prevent any more "foolish street pretenders" hurting themselves or others. Sofia arranged for a small patrol to keep the public safe, and remains confident that with a little investment a small number of tenders could be hired to harvest "blood" from the trees in relative safely, and prepare it for use by sensible practitioners of Winter magic - for a reasonable price of course. In the months since her original proposal, she has also discovered that the wood of the Blood Orchard trees is an excellent material for making ritual foci dealing with Winter magic, and intends to work with local artisans to turn some of it into magic items for sale - and of course the Tender would also enjoy the opportunity to buy these items at practically cost.

Sofia Rebeshi and the Rebeshi Players are prepared to continue looking after the woods, and processing the blood. All that would be required would be a Senate motion recognising the Rebeshi Players as guardians of the wood, and a minor investment of funds to "get the ball rolling". This would create the Tender of the Blood Orchard Imperial title that would liaise with the Rebeshi Players, and in return be able to purchase the valuable Winter vis at a reasonable price. They would be responsible for liaising with the Rebeshi Players, protecting the Wunderkind Woods, and protecting the people of Holmauer from the Wunderkind Woods should that become necessary.

The civil service have suggested that the most appropriate election path for the title would be through either the Imperial Bourse or the Imperial Senate, as a national position of the League. Alternatively, it could theoretically be appointed with a declaration of candidacy in the Imperial Conclave, but that would mean that candidates of any nation would vie for the title which might not sit well with the magicians of Holberg - although by itself it would not dissuade the Rebeshi Players from helping contain and protect the woodlands.

As the eternal Skathe is still considered an enemy of the Empire, the ritual Tribute to the Thrice-Cursed Court (the main source of Heart's Blood for Imperial magicians) is prohibited, Sofia believes this means there will surely be plenty of magicians prepared to pay a pretty penny to secure a new supply.

Closing the Gates

Closing the Gates
Commission Type: Great work
Location: Holmauer, Holberg
Cost: 20 wains mithril, 40 crowns, three months
Effect: Secures the Park, Shares 743 rings with business owners
Option: Could create title Holmauer Gatekeeper, halving money provided to businesses
  • The gates of Holmauer Park could be closed, and admittance charged
  • This would require 20 wains of mithril, 40 crowns, and three months of work
  • When complete, the Park would provide a share of additional income to businesses across the territory
  • A title could be created, receiving half of the funds generated by the great work

The Wise have built on Sofia's suggestions, and go further. If the decision is made to simply accept the curse on the Park, the sensible thing to do is to make sure it is secure. To do this, they propose that the eight gates that allow entry be secured, either sealed entirely or at least provided with sturdy mithril bars. A small garrison would be required to patrol the park - supplemented by magicians from the cities' troupes and priests from the churches - ensuring that the pathways remain safe and the visitors unmolested. Sofia Rebeshi is not wrong that Holberg is the only city in the League - in the Empire - with a genuinely cursed park. Between that, the Pavilion on Looking Glass Lake, the Memorial Orchard, and the Imperial Menagerie, there would be a steady stream of people visiting Holmauer, people who would be prepared to pay a small stipend towards their own safety.

It is calculated that sealing the park, and requiring a small payment to enter, would not only pay for the garrison but provide a healthy income. Pitches and concessions would be auctioned out to the business owners of Holberg, but thanks to the steady influx of visitors, practically every business in the territory would benefit - providing a share of 743 rings to those businesses each season, on top of that provided by the Blood Red Roads.

"And the best bit," says Sofia Rebeshi when she hears of the proposal, "is that the lovely pavilion will continue to inspire visitors."

Reclamation, Acceptance, Time

Obviously, one cannot both reclaim the cursed park and accept the changes, meaning that the two sets of projects are mutually exclusive. Both sets of projects remain available until the situation dramatically changes in some fashion. If mutually exclusive commissions were undertaken - perhaps due to the actions of a Bearer of an Imperial Wayleave - neither project would be able to progress until the Imperial Senate had resolved the conflict.

Further Reading