Lethal and elusive
Moving swiftly with practised skill, First-To-See climbed back down the tree. They were tall here, great pines that reached up towards the clouds, but the branches were thin and treacherous. Several of the smaller ones had threatened to snap beneath his weight. Not for the first time he longed for the familiar trees of his home.
Foolish. They were gone now. The young and the old longed for what could not be. Those who were of age lived in the world that was or they died.
Died or worse. This was their land. The old ones. The ones who had chained the world. The Feni remembered them. One wrong step here and his sept would find themselves in chains again. That must not happen.
"What did you see?" someone hissed at him as he approached the ground. The hunters were waiting for him at the base of the tree, eager for word, so he dropped the last ten feet landing lightly.
"A settlement, a small one, but well defended. Not the North People - one of the Wood-Chainers I'm certain."
"Could we raid it?" his sister asked it, already starting to string her bow. He smiled at her eagerness but he shook his head. "No - it's too strong - maybe if we gathered the clan we might - but not now. We need'll to keep moving - get past it under cover of darkness."
"What of the gods? Was there any sign of the Swift?" the hunters fell silent to let First answer the Wyrd Walker's question.
First looked down and shook his head. "Nothing. I looked everywhere - but there is no trace of him here..." First's voice trailed off. Everyone was thinking the same thing - but nobody had the courage to say it to the Wyrd Walker's face.
The Wyrd Walker held his gaze for a moment before turning away, the barest indication for First and the other hunters to go about their plans. Night would be on them soon, they had best make ready.
Where Brocéliande is stirring, Liathaven is becoming quiescent. Following a period of unexpectedly high activity that saw Marcher and Navarr armies fighting to keep the vallorn contained, the malignant threat at the heat of Liathaven seems to be sliding into a deeper into slumber.
One reason for this relative lack of activity is the casing of a potent curse. During the Summer Solstice 382YE, the Voice of the Quiet Forest worked the ritual Wither the Seed on Liathaven. For the next thirty years the life of Liathaven will be stifled; and that includes the unnatural vitality of the vallorn. It will take potent magic indeed to rouse it while the thirty year winter lies across Liathaven.
In Weakness, Opportunity
The Liathaven vallorn is weak. Its recent attempt at expansion has depleted its strength - and the Winter magic that now smothers the territory makes it more difficult for it to replenish that strength. The vates had already identified an opportunity to strike against the vallorn in Westwood, potentially driving it out and leaving it in possession only of Liath's Heart. The vallorn is a thing of unfettered fecundity however, and that window of opportunity is closing. By the start of the Summer Solstice 383YE the energies of the vallorn will be once again strong enough to resist attempts to clear them with martial force and the opportunity to do is is unlikely to come again any time soon.
Fortunately, the Empire controls a beachhead in Liathaven - if they had not secured West Ranging from the Jotun the challenge of fighting the vallorn would be dramatically more difficult. Even so claiming the Westwood from its clutches will require significant effort. They have only six months to do so, and would need to claim the entire region of Westwood before the start of the Summer Solstice. If even a tenth of the region is still controlled by the vallorn when the Solstice dawns it will slowly expand back to its full strength. It would be possible to delay that expansion, perhaps with similar techniques to those used in Brocéliande, but it would not be possible to prevent it reclaiming its lost area.
Westwood could be cleared of vallorn influence but the entire region must be claimed by the Empire before the start of the Summer Solstice 383YE. This will require a successful military campaign using Imperial armies.
The fact Westwood is infused with the vallorn miasma means any casualties suffered in this campaign would be doubled - but orders and magic might be used to mitigate these losses.
Any military unit assigned to support one of the armies in Liathaven will likewise be depleted; it will suffer the loss of 40 points of effective strength for the next six months.
Clearing the Westwood
To claim Westwood will require the Empire to overcome the effective strength of the vallorn and generate sufficient victory points to claim the entire region before the start of the Summer Solstice. Determining how much resistance the Empire would face will require the use of magical scrying - Eyes of the Sun and Moon should be sufficient to estimate the effective strength of the vallorn in Westwood.
The "simplest" way to reclaim the region would be to bring to bear sufficient force to overcome the vallorn and generate a further ten victory points in a single season, but that is no trivial matter.
It is not possible for military units alone to achieve this task - clearing Westwood is a matter for Imperial armies. The general of any army that moves to Liathaven will need to take an attacking order and make clear that they are seeking to clear Westwood. Liathaven is still divided - in the unlikely event that an army is only able to reach the southern side of the territory they will be unable to take advantage of the beach head in West Ranging and their ability to contribute to the campaign will be affected accordingly.
The fighting will be taking place in a region infused with the vallorn miasma. As a consequence, any casualties suffered by a the army will be doubled. While there is a new ritual in Imperial lore that might help mitigate the effects of the miasma (Why Sulemaine Walked Away From The Baker), even that powerful enchantment cannot entirely remove the sting of the vallorn's choking atmosphere. Numbers of casualties could be mitigated by army orders as normal - but many orders that reduce casualties also reduce the number of victory points generated.
Furthermore, any military unit that is assigned to assist the battle in Broceliande likewise risks suffering serious casualties. All military units assigned to the campaign will suffer a reduction of 40 to their effective fighting strength for the next six months, representing soldiers lost or crippled in the vallorn maisma.
Finally, while it will be possible to inflict casualties on the vallorn forces, which may serve to somewhat weaken them in the second season, the irrepressible nature of the vallorn means that they will be completely restored at the start of the Summer Solstice.
From past experience, when Surut talks of "devouring a forest" he means that he will unleash magical fire that consumes both trees and Spring regio in the region. Destruction is likely to be widespread - but under the terms of amity it is likely that loss of life will be minimal. The effected region will certainly lose the forest quality, and gain the Burnt quality instead as seen in West Ranging.
The Knight of Ashes
When the Quiet Step, the Tusks, and the Bounders fought the expansion of the vallorn in Liathaven in Spring 382YE, the Navarr army was infused with an enchantment of devastating fire. The Winter magic, drawn from the Burnt Prince of the Thrice-cursed Court devoured vallornspawn and consumed spring regio with equal ferocity. During the Summer Solstice, Surut sent sent one of his barons to negotiate further aid. The Navarr politely refused the offer that was made and Surut's emissary returned empty-handed.
Shortly before the Winter Solstice, the Baron of the Bone Orchard visits the Empire again at the command of his charred master. The Knight of Ashes is not entirely pleased with the Empire - after accepting his offer of aid for the Navarr with amity during the Spring Equinox - and acquiring the boon as payment - they then removed that amity almost immediately afterwards.
Still, Surut is not one to bear a grudge (or so claims the Baron of the Bone Orchard). He will of course honour the boon that he gave to the Navarr - but if the Empire desires further aid they will need to pay in advance. If the Imperial Conclave grants amity to Surut again during the Winter Solstice, he will prepare significant boons to aid the Navarr in an assault against Liathaven to be delivered at the start of the Spring Equinox. In return, however, Surut will consume the forests of either Birchland, Tower March or Alderly to sate his hunger. The Winter archmage is free to use their power of plenipotentiary to suggest which forest they would prefer Surut devour - and if they choose to do so and request parley then Surut will prepare additional boons that will offer assistance to the Empire in dealing with their enemies in the west.
Or the Empire could continue to spurn his aid - whichever they wish.
The Severed Trods
Shortly after the Summer solstice, the forest of Liathaven was severed from the network of trods that crisscrosses the Empire by unknown magic. As it is not Imperial territory, it is extremely difficult to restore those trods - indeed due to the limitations of the ritual a band of magicians would need to find a powerful Spring regio in either Westwood or Liath's Heart to restore that connection and doing so is no trivial proposition.
- The Feni of the Woods that Fell are foreigners
- One group have left the Mournwold and disappeared into Liathaven
- The other group have left Hahnmark and entered Hercynia
- Some survivors from the Feni of Alderly have also entered Liathaven
In the West
The southern branch of the Woods that Fell, after several months of disruption in the Marches, have left the Mournwold and passed into Liaven's Glen. They are followed a few weeks later by what appear to be the survivors of the Imperial attack on the Feni camp in the depths of Alderly. Both groups have passed beyond the ken of the Navarr - Liaven's Glen is after all still technically in the hands of the Jotun, and the Navarr presence in Liathaven has been significantly depleted in recent years.
The Feni of the Woods that Fell and the refugees from Alderly are separate groups. It is difficult to be sure whether they will prove to be allies, or fight bitterly, or simply ignore one another. Regardless, the treaty prepared by Imperial Consul Skywise Fal and ratified by the Senate gives approval for the Feni to live in eastern Liathaven for the next thirty years. As long as they refrain from raiding into the Empire - and provisions are made for them to request assistance rather than to take it by force - they will be left in peace by Imperial citizens.
In the North
Only half of the Woods that Fell went south when their home fell into Lorenzo's Deep Pockets. The other half traveled north into Hahnmark where their raids brought disruption to the halls of Wintermark. They spent some time southern Southridge, and when they moved again their numbers had been bolstered by Feni that dwellt in the gulleys and woodlands of Hahnmark. Despite some attempt by a peaceful Suaq grimnir named Kaukana Broken Wing find a peaceful solution, no resolution was achieved by the end of the Autumn Equinox. Over the next few months, the nomadic Feni crossed the border out of Hahnmark into Old Ranging in Hercynia, making them now a Navarr problem.
The Feni have spread out a little as they travel through Old Ranging, but their warbands maintain a high degree of communication with one another. The steadings of southern Hercynia are prosperous, largely unprepared for the raids of these green-and-yellow invaders. Old Ranging is also an important trade route - with Kalpaheim at one end and Gildenheim at the other. Merchants traveling the trods are in immediate danger of being attacked and robbed by these bandits. While comparatively minor, these raids range as far east as Summersend and have knock-on effects for people living across the territory.
Interestingly, while the Feni are primarily interested in food and resources they also seem to be making a point to raid mana sites rather than herb gardens as they have done previously. Its unclear why they are suddenly so interested in crystal mana. Furthermore, their advance northwards seems to have slowed - there is no indication that they are interested in moving en masse into Summrsend or (perhaps unsurprisingly) to risk the vallorn at Deer'sFolly.
If the Feni are still in Hercynia at the end of the Winter Solstice - and every indication is that they will be - every farm and business in Hercynia will suffer a 36 ring penalty to their production, and each mana site will produce 1 fewer crystal mana.
A Practical Solution
The Senate has declared the Feni of the Woods-that-fell to be foreigners, but those in the north continue to act like bandits. While the Feni bands in Hercynia are a nuisance, neither group represents a significant military threat. For all their woodcraft, the Feni are moving through unfamiliar territory and are vulnerable to a decisive strike from an Imperial army.
A single campaign army in Hercynia whose general explicitly includes instructions to destroy the Feni of the Woods-that-fell in their orders would easily break them. Imperial prognosticators have calculated that the army doing so would suffer no more than fifty casualties, dependent on the nature of the orders given. The Feni band would be wiped out, any that survived would be scattered and forced to flee, and the threat of any raids would end immediately.
Of course it would not be legal to do that while the Feni are foreigners. It is true that many of their number are engaging in raiding, but there are some who are not. Any general considering taking the fight to the Feni would do well to consult with the head magistrate Stanislav Karkovich. But what the Senate has granted, it could revoke were it minded to do so. If the Imperatrix or the Senate declared these Feni in Hercynia to be barbarians then they could be wiped out without any legal complications at all (and without changing the status of the Woods-that-fell in Liathaven).
As before, there is absolutely no need to resolve this matter in this way - but the Feni of the northern band have shown much less interest in negotiating directly with the Empire than the southern contingent. Imperial forces are stretched at the moment - but there should be little doubt that the Empire could swiftly neutralise any Feni threat were they so inclined..
There was little movement regarding the situation in either Liathaven or Hercynia during the Winter Solstice. While the Imperial Senate discussed the possibility of instructing the Civil Service to look into ways to disperse the Feni in the north, they ultimately chose not to support this proposal. The Feni of the Woods-that-Fell remain foreigners, and their raids will impact the citizens of Hercynia in the coming months.