In the end everything collides
He was aware of a pale presence behind him, and quickly straightened up. A susurration of white wool and white fur, and Grand Warlock Sleer herself leant over the parapet. Her shaved head was marked with intricate runic designs, echoing those that curved gracefully across her beautiful weltsilver mage armour. Power radiated from her like waves of heat. Tahvis stood to attention, eye fixed straight ahead.
After a few moments, he was aware that the Grand Warlock was studying him with mild interest and curiosity. It made him nervous. It rarely did a warrior good to attract the attention of those chosen of the Dragons.
"What do you see, warrior?" she asked suddenly. "Tell me."
"Riches." He answered immediately, still staring ahead. "Wood, stone, metal."
Sleer favoured him with a quick smile, gone before it had truly arrived.
He struggled for a moment, but he knew better than to refuse to answer, or to try and dissemble.
"We should take it. For the Dragons. It should be ours." He said, slowly. He might have said more, but he knew that saying too much was worse than saying too little. Presumption could see him sent to the mines.
The Grand Warlock laughed, a brittle sound in the cold mountain air. Tahvis relaxed a little.
"So straightforward!" she laughed. "I like it. Oh make no mistake, warrior, we will take their riches. But the glory of the Dragons' plan is that they will give them to us. Their wood, their stone, their metal. They will give it to us without another drop of blood being spilled."
She narrowed her eyes suddenly. "You don't approve?"
Tahvis swallowed. "I do not question the Dragons." he said flatly.
"Nor should you. Peace, after all, is just war fought with different weapons, on different battlefields. If it brings us what we want - what the Dragons want - then it will serve us just as well as war. Perhaps better."
She watched him for a few more moments, weighing him up, and then flashed another of those sharp smiles that showed her teeth.
"I have my eye on you, warrior," she said. And then swept back into the dilapidated fortress.Tahvis let out another explosive gust of breath, and tried to work out if her parting words had been a threat... or a promise.
During the Summer Solstice, with only hours remaining before the current peace with the Thule expired, the Imperial Senate ratified a new treaty compiled by Yevgeni Katzev and his advisors. The new treaty echoes the earlier agreement, but with some significant additions.
The new treaty not only guarantees Thule control of the land they currently hold in the Silver Peaks and Lestazny, but it also cedes control of the region of Crow's Ridge in Skarsind. A week after the Summer Solstice, without any fanfare, an army of Thule soldiers moves south from Urdur in Otkodov and takes control of the mountains there.
Transition is bloodless. A harsh, unforgiving region of steep hills and brooding mountains, Crow's Ridge has never had much in the way of population. Outside of the ramshackle old fort of Crow's Keep, and a few scattered mines, the only real settlements were a handful of minor Wintermark halls. Most of the halls were abandoned during the original Thule invasion of 373YE, and the rest fell vacant when the Iron Helms broke Dogri Thulebane's rebellion at the start of last year. While the treaty guarantees the safety of any Imperial Orcs who choose to stay, those few Imperial Orcs who had attempted to settle in Crow's Ridge after the Winterfolk left pack up their bags and move south. Not everyone is pleased with these new neighbours to the north - to give up even a portion of their land so soon after they acquired it sticks in the throat - but the general consensus seems to be that if Wintermark and Varushka can give up land for the good of the Empire, the Imperial Orcs will not be the ones to complain.
The Thule now control Crow's Ridge. By all accounts they have set about restoring and expanding Crow's Keep, and establishing garrisons overlooking the passes into Urdur to the north and the Silver Peaks to the west.
The orcs of Otkodov have further agreed to "liberate all Imperial citizens and their descendants that they hold as slaves and return them safe and well to the Empire provided an appropriate and mutually agreed ransom can be arranged between the Thule and the Empire." This section is somewhat ambiguous - but the Thule have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to release slaves in return for reimbursement by the Empire. The main bone of contention appears to be the fate of the runesmiths and Navarr artisans captured during the Thule occupation of Skarsind and Treji; Rak Who-Speaks-For-The-Dragons-Undivided has agreed to discuss the issue, but has been adamant throughout the negotiations that returning these valuable assets will require extensive negotiations.
The Thule claim they require time to identify exactly which slaves owned by their warlocks are Imperials, and are prepared to begin negotiations at the Winter Solstice.
The Thule have also agreed notionally to the idea of a military alliance against the Druj. The treaty sets down the principle that the Thule will "provide the Empire with strategic information regarding the Druj" but during the treaty negotiations there was talk of some more immediate arrangement if the Empire committed to an attack of their own against the orcs of the Mallum.
Following an invitation from the ambassador, Rak Who-Speaks-For-The-Dragons-Undivided has sent word that a grand warlock - Fljajokull, who visited Anvil with Rak last summit - will attend the Anvil summit to speak with the generals of the Imperial Military Council about possibilities for direct military aid in Ossium. He should be expected around half-past one in the afternoon on Saturday.
Following the storm that wracked northern Varushka before the Winter Solstice last year, scouts high in the northern mountains uncovered a hidden mine apparently built and worked by the Terunael, dubbed Sungold Pass. Vuk the Wolfeater, the senator for Karov raised a motion in the Senate during the Summer Solstice claiming Sungold Pass for the Empire. "The Senate reasserts that the Sungold Pass and the mountain known as the Traveller are part of the region of Opascari, in Volodmartz" the motion declares. It goes on to announce that "the exploitation of resources in Imperial Land by foreigners without the direct invitation of the Empire is not acceptable."
The motion may in part have been prompted by reports of Thule scouts exploring the pass. In the wake of the declaration by the Senate, some Varushkan soldiers have taken it on themselves to keep an eye on the Pass. They report that two months ago, a similar force of orc warriors arrived from the other side of the pass, accompanied by wagons and slaves equipped with building tools. They seemed surprised to see Imperial forces there, and a flurry of messages between the Imperial and Otkodov embassies ensured during which the Thule were informed of the Senate's decision.
Rak Who-Speaks-For-The-Dragons-Undivided has formally announced that the Thule do not accept the Imperial claim. They believe that the mountain known as the Traveller lies partially in Opascari in Volodmartz and partially in Kógur in Sküld, and that the "Sungold Pass" is on their side of the mountain. As such, the resources there are theirs to exploit and the presence of Imperial forces is neither welcomed nor appropriate.
The Thule ambassador has agreed that the orcs will not begin to build there until the dispute is settled; he expects the Empire to provide the same assurances. Given that he is due to attend Anvil during the Winter Solstice to discuss the matter of slaves, the Civil Service have suggested that negotiation about Sungold Pass may be included in the agenda then. They are quick to caution, however, that the Senate declaration has a certain weight of law behind it - it would not be illegal under Imperial Law to begin work on exploiting the resources of Sungold Pass in light of that declaration.
Participation: Any Varushkan commander of a military unit who took the paid work action this downtime is free to roleplay that they have been stationed overlooking Sungold Pass, and were present when the Thule arrived. It is clear the orcs are not expecting Imperials - they have set up camp just across the pass from the Imperial camp and both sides are effectively preventing the other from exploring further into the ruins.
Trouble in the Silver Peaks
There is one more problem. As arrangements are being made for the Fljajokull's visit are being finalised, word comes that the recently dead have risen in Sermersuaq and seek to consume the living. Rak Who-Speaks-For-The-Dragons wastes no time expressing his outrage. After everything the Thule have said over the last year, the Empire still unleashes a murderous curse in Sermersuaq? Without consulting with the Thule? Two patrols along the southern borders of the Peaks have been attacked, as has a mining settlement. Twenty orcs are dead, and nearly twice that number injured. Is this what the Empire thinks a peace treaty looks like?
Obviously, the hungry dead present no significant military threat to the Thule in Sermersuaq, but that is hardly the point. It does not bode well for the peace treaty if the Empire is harming Thule interests before the ink on the paper is properly dry. A demand for reparations has been dispatched to the ambassador. Rak Who-Speaks-For-The-Dragons-Undivided further expects to hear that the person or persons responsible have been dealt with appropriately, in line with the treaty.
We the Navarr welcome the orcs of the Great Forest Tribe to walk the trods with us. We ask the guides of Navarr to assist them. We ask they walk with respect and urge Navarr to do the same.Meredith Nighthaven, Statement of Principle, Navarr National Assembly, Summer Solstice 382YE, Upheld with a Great Majority 158 - 0
Great Forest Orcs
Prior to the Summer Solstice, a number of Great Forest Orcs had expressed an interest in walking the trods alongside the Navarr. the Navarr National assembly provided them with a clear invitation to do so. Shortly after the news reaches the guides of Therunin, it is communicated to the orcs there and the first of them seek out stridings prepared to accept them. It's hard to say precisely how many Great Forest orcs take up the opportunity to walk the trods - mostly because no more than a handful accompany any one striding - but after some discussion the guides estimate it might be as many as a hundred. A little more worryingly, a handful of briars are believed to have joined them on their quest to see more of the Empire.
Obviously, the number of Great Forest orcs walking the trods is nothing compared to the number of Highborn who have begun to set aside their previous lives and take up the mantle of the pilgrim in the wake of the grand sacrifice of Highguard. But unlike the Highborn, the Great Forest orcs are explicitly traveling alongside the Navarr.
The reception has been broadly positive. These orcs are used to hard travel, and possess any number of useful skills that help them work alongside the Navarr as they travel. Many are experienced hunters; some demonstrate solid knowledge of herbs and medicine; a few are skilled storytellers, drummers, singers. They seem sincere in their desire to share their abilities with their hosts - for the most part they are seeking to travel as part of the stridings, not alongside them.
There are misunderstandings of course, and some occasional friction with the people of the lands the stridings pass through. The Great Forest orcs are clearly not Imperial Orcs. There are even a few incidents in which more parochial citizens accuse the Navarr of harbouring Druj among them! For the most part, however, the Great Forest orcs integrate into the stridings that accept them with minimal conflict.
The same cannot quite be said for the small handful of briars who travel with the Great Forest orcs. Few stridings are prepared to take the briars in the first place, for obvious reasons - they are after all widely believed to be heretics. Despite this reputation, however, the briars who travel with their orc allies remain generally respectful of their hosts. They ask questions, and there are occasional heated arguments, but their criticisms of the Empire through which they travel are almost entirely political rather than religious in nature. They don't make any attempt to preach their particular heresy... or rather nobody sees any sign that they are doing so.
Most of them are the great-grand-children of Imperial citizens, and they seem mostly interested in exploring the Empire and in updating their understanding of how it works. They are often interested in the workings of the Senate and the Synod in particular - although they rarely bother to conceal their criticism of these bodies.
During the Summer Solstice, the Imperial Conclave reached out to the orcs to offer them additional magical lore. In this case, Cybi Farkas arranged for the dissemination of a ritual text detailing Vitality of Rushing Water. The orc magicians have gratefully accepted this ritual, and shortly before the Autumn Equinox there are reports from Therunin that they have apparently put it to use...
According to some scouts, a band of Great Forest orcs have been exploring the vallorn infested Sweetglades in southern Therunin. They have been proceeding cautiously, and it seems that they are mostly simply curious about the vallorn, but their presence has prompted some concern among the steadings there. There's no sign that they are disturbing the vallorn unduly, but the presence of strangers in Sweetglades is enough to make people nervous.
The Jotun thralls in the Mourn are our neighbours, all disputes between Marchers and Thralls must be referred to the magistrates or Mournwold senator.Anna Pernn, Statement of Principle, Marcher National Assembly, Summer Solstice 382YE, Upheld with a Great Majority 90 - 0
Life continues as normal for the ex-Jotun thralls in the Mournwold. In spite of problems with the Feni, they have tended their fields, herds, flocks, and orchards. They have brought their produce to markets, bought the goods they need from their neighbours, paid their taxes, and generally got on with things.
There have been a few hiccups, of course. Last summit there was an unfortunate legal case involving a thrall accused of murder, executed by the magistrates after he fled to Anvil. Some of those Mournwolder's critical of what they call the "appeasement policies" of the Empire towards the Jotun use this tragic story to "prove" that the orcs cannot be trusted. A few of the orcs apparently have argued among their own people that the outcome of this trial proves that the Imperials cannot be trusted, and that no orc will receive justice from their magistrates. Not many people on either side are listening to them, however. Hap the Soft has apparently listened to the statement of principle raised by Anna Pernn in the Marcher National assembly and advised that thralls in dispute with their neighbours should do what she suggests and seek out the human senator for Mournwold rather than bother with the magistrates. The senator is a neighbour, he says. The magistrates obviously know neither the orcs nor the people of the Mourn, so they can go to the Abyss for all Hap the Soft cares. This obviously causes some nervousness - the Senator for Mournwold has no legal ability to resolve criminal disputes - but the orcs shrug and get on with their work.
At the same time, the Synod has passed a powerful mandate. Eska Crowspeaker has urged the faithful across the Empire to reach out to slaves and offer them succour. The Thralls, of course, do not think of themselves as slaves but that has not prevented a number of well-meaning souls in the northern Marches, Tassato, and the Brass Coast reaching out to them. These people have traveled to the Mourn to offer to help the "escaped slaves" living there. For the most part, the orcs have accepted this sudden interest form outsiders with equanimity, but have left their visitors in no doubt that they don't want it. They're not "escaped slaves", they're farmers, thank you very much.
There are other developments that might influence the situation here - the various building projects that create a firmer connection between the Mournwold and the northern Marches have implications for the thralls, as does the discussion around Sarcombe Register. The Empire is still no closer to reaching a resolution of the various problems surrounding the thrall presence in the Mournwold, their issues with the Way in particular, but as the nights grow longer and Autumn approaches, the status quo - at least for now - appears to be maintained.
The bold actions of the Grendel - their armada off the coast of Sarvos - have already been documented. Independent Grendel privateers continue to harry merchant vessels in the Bay of Catazar wherever they can, although for the moment Imperial magic is proving more than a match for them.
Providing something of a footnote to that ongoing conflict, it appears an emissary has been dispatched from the Broken Shore to the Empire, although apparently not to discuss the situation with the armada, nor the threats to the southern trading fleet. Rather an orc empowered to negotiate on the behalf of Salt Lord Moorvain of Vorlach is apparently intending to come to Anvil to negotiate the ransom of commander Innevia and her troops, who surrendered to Will Talbot during clean up operations in Madruga before the Summer Solstice. The emissary apparently wishes to meet with the Talbot general during the coming summit; it is not clear when they are due to arrive. John Cooper, the Secretary to the Diplomatic Corps is looking into it and will do his best to ensure that General Talbot and the Imperial Consul are kept informed.