The two Beaters sat on the low stone wall, contentedly puffing on their pipes.

It had been a long walk along roads and trods, from Ashill through King's Stoke, past Old Pig and through the Chalkdowns. The pair, drawn by news of fighting and borders needing patrolling, had come to Alderly. But for all the magical refreshment of the trods, they were weary from walking without stopping a while, and so they sat, patiently. Watching. Waiting.

Laura, the taller of the two, craned a hand around her back to scratch an itch and adjust her gambeson. As she did so, her eyes caught the flicker of movement - a curtain shifting behind a shutter in the little cottage across the way. She nudged her companion.

"Looks like they're on the move, Bert."

Silently now, they watched as the front door of the cottage opened, and out stepped the occupants - two adult Marcherfolk, one a draughir, both dressed in simple greens and tans, and their child, a young lad of maybe sixteen with a rack of surgeon's tools sticking out of a pouch at his belt.

Bert nodded in their direction. "Aye. That'll be Imogen and Beck. Which one's clever and which one's wise again?"

"Wise Imogen they call her. So I guess Beck, they must be the clever one?"

"Hmph," responded Bert, frowning. He tapped out the ash from his pipe into a dirty pouch, not wanting to contaminate the carefully tilled soil. Beneath his feet grew rows of Imperial Roseweald, reddish-brown flowers bobbing in the breeze like the instruments of a marching band.

Strange folk, he thought, to dress half-Navarr and stay quiet as Highborn before Midwinter.

The three Marchers walked to the dirt lane outside their cottage and glanced over at their observers. Wise Imogen across her torso a rough leather satchel, Clever Beck a large hessian sack slung over their shoulder, dropping empty. Alfred carried a neater-looking backpack carefully upon his back, a dram or two of dried vervain jutting out of an exposed pocket. They walked stoically as a group, following the track into the deeper woods of Alderly, speaking not a word.

Behind them, the cottage sat in silence, but for the muted birdsong. In the back garden, a mound of turf issued an ever-so-tiny jet of smoke into the air.

"Odd, that," murmured Laura. "They've left their charcoal burning. Without someone to watch it."

Bert nodded. "Where d'you suppose they're going?"

Overview

The Feni, the human barbarians the dwell in the western territories of the Empire, have never been much viewed as a significant threat on the scale of the neighbouring barbarian nations. Their raids - usually for food, herbs and other useful resources - have troubled the communities of Wintermark, the Marches and the Brass Coast, possibly for as long as those nations have existed, but their settlements have proven surprisingly difficult to locate. So difficult in fact, that they are long suspected of using magic to hide their homes in some way, although Night magicians all agree that such a thing ought to be impossible.

Their culture and customs are little understood. There are rumours of the odd Marcher household or Wintermark merchant making peaceful contact with small groups of Feni, but those who do have contacts are always circumspect about them. They are known to engage in trade as often as they raid - but as they are barbarians, Imperial citizens who buy and sell from them rarely talk openly about it.

As a result, little is known about why there has been a distinct upswing in Feni activity over the last two seasons. Feni raiding flared up in Hahnmark before the Winter Solstice, before calming down noticeably in the run up to Spring. Now the raids have become commonplace once more, and the Feni warbands appear to be extending their reach from Southridge, Hahnmark into neighbouring Valasmark and Kalpamark.

Meanwhile, the large Feni warband sighted traveling across Upwold and northern Mournwold is continuing to raid settlements as they pass. Apparently the attempts to deal with them at the Spring Equinox were not enough. While they are focused primarily in the Chalkdowns, they are venturing across the entire territory; the only region that does not report much in the way of Feni raiding is Alderly - which is curious, as it is the only region known for sure to harbour a long-standing enclave of Feni.

The Feni on the Downs

The Feni in the Chalkdowns appear to be formed into one or more closely-knit clans. Folk who have examined the bodies of fallen raiders have noted consistent patterns of swirls painted in plant-based dyes on their faces, and a fair number bore small yellow flowers woven into their hair. Crucially, whatever magic the Feni normally use to conceal themselves appears to have failed them. These Feni are setting makeshift camps carefully disguised to try and conceal any trace of their passage, but they are being forced to use mundane methods to cover their tracks. Bereft of their normal tricks, the Imperial scouts have been able to get close enough to observe the camps and assess their forces.

Breaking Eggs

  • An Imperial army could deal with the Feni raiders
  • If not dealt with every farm and business in the Mournwold will lose 36 rings of production, and all herb gardens will produce two fewer herbs

Prognosticators have keenly scoured for conjunctions for locations which might indicate engagement with these raiders, but are dismayed to find none. It seems that if the Empire wishes to deal with this threat, they will now need to consider other means of doing so. Unless that situation changes, realistically that would mean moving an army to the Marches to engage the Feni. While it is clear that these Feni warbands do not constitute a campaign army and are raiding not trying to conquer the area, they could be decisively engaged and defeated by one or more Imperial armies.

The scouts who have assessed their camps calculate their fighting strength as equivalent to around a thousand Imperial soldeirs at most. If the Military Council so decided, these forces could be combated by any Imperial Army taking an offensive order in the Mournwold. A decisive engagement that inflicted at least 400 casualties would kill enough Feni to neutralise these warbands entirely. Of course the army would also suffer casualties as appropriate - and be unable to take advantage of natural resupply.

As it currently stands, the Empire has no means of directly communicating with these Feni. No-one can get close enough to them without the Feni either retreating or attacking ferociously, and any captives taken have proven violently uncooperative. Moreover, as anyone trading with the Feni would be guilty of treason, anyone who might be able to broker a meeting with these tribes is clearly unwilling to come forward.

Something needs to be done though - as long as these Feni warbands remain in the Mourn and continue to raid, all farms and business will lose 36 rings of production each season, and all herb gardens will produce two fewer herbs, determined randomly.

The Feni in the Forest

The Feni in the Chalkdowns are not the only Feni in the Mournwold currently. The enclave in Alderly is typical of Feni settlements in the Empire. Hidden away in the depths of the forests they have somehow been able to resist first the Jotun occupation and now the Imperial liberation of the area. The woods there are dense and full of tangled paths - groups of beaters that have entered and returned alive report that the air seems oddly sinister, but they were never able to find even the merest trace of a Feni settlement.

The local Marchers who live in the forest have always been considered peculiar, and three decades of isolation has intensified their strangeness. Insular and uncommunicative, the hamlets and small villages of charcoal burners and woodcutters are rumoured to include more than a few with Feni blood in their veins. It's not just the propensity for herbcraft, and the normal cold shoulder for strangers, it's the way they fall quiet or change the subject whenever the threat of the Feni are mentioned. Accusations of collusion are rife - but have never been proven. Indeed, to outsiders it almost seems as if the Alderly Marchers and Alderly Feni live side-by-side without ever crossing each others paths.

But now, the significant increase in Feni attacks outside of Alderly have drawn attention to these strange folk. They are not unified, and present no outward spokesperson to engage with them, but Marchers from the rest of the Mournwold and beyond have begun to question whether these Alderly folk are indeed Marchers at all - whether perhaps the streak of Feni blood said to flow through them has perhaps carried them too far from Marcher custom. Notably, whilst reports of raiding have spiked across the rest of the Mournwold, Alderly reports absolutely no attacks by Feni whatsoever. Whether this is due to some treasonous arrangement, ancient compact or mere happenstance, none are able to say.

Historic attempts to root the Feni from the woods have always met with abject failure. The woodlands are vast and difficult to traverse but even the most skilled Imperial forces that have tried to find the Feni settlement have always failed. Whatever magics the Feni have to hide themselves from the Imperial gaze they have been sufficient to thwart the best efforts of the Empire's scouts and magicians.

Deep, Dark Forest

  • Without further information, these seems to be no feasible way to locate the Feni enclave in Alderly

The only realistic way that anyone could bring force to bear on the Feni enclave is if someone could acquire the key to finding their settlement. If Ekaterijna Gremani, the Herald of the Council were given the means to find the settlement then she could pass that document to the civil servants who support the Military Council so that they could assess all the options for attacking the woods effectively. That would allow the civil service to present all the available options in time for the next summit at Anvil.

The Feni in the Mark

  • If the Feni continue to raid in Hahnmark, every farm and business will suffer a 36 ring penalty to production, and each herb garden will produce 2 fewer herbs

The Feni in Hahnmark have also increased their raiding activity in the months following the Spring Equinox. There are several Feni warbands in the area - quite what has triggered the sudden increase is unknown, but they are taking great advantage of the terrain to launch ambush attacks on numerous farms, businesses and herb gardens.

Their raids seem to be centred on Southridge, where a community of Feni have long been suspected of hiding amidst the hills and gullies of that region. They are not limited to raiding there, however - bands have been sighted in militant Valasmark to the west and prosperous Kalpamark to the east. Strangely, the Feni seem to be giving Wood Heath to the east a large berth - despite the comparatively limited defence that could be mustered by the folk there.

Civil Service prognosticators have identified two conjunctions associated with these Feni raids in Hahnmark, more of which can be read about here.

If nothing is done about the Feni raids in Hahnmark, then all farms and businesses will suffer a 36-ring penalty to their production, and all herb gardens will lose 2 drams of random herbs.

Participation

If your character has a resource in the Mournwold or Hahnmark, or controls a military unit that took the paid work action over this downtime, you are free to roleplay that you helped defend against a Feni raid. The Feni would have attacked suddenly and aggressively, but primarily sought to steal resources such as food, herbs,and other perishables before fleeing.