News from the north
The Steinr nodded, smiled, and gestured to him to sit down. Svoli poured both of them a generous measure of beer and raised his mug in a silent toast.
"Ikka's tears," he said solemnly. The Steinr woman echoed the toast, dipped her fingers in the beer foam and flicked them to one side before taking a deep gulp. She sighed appreciatively.
"This is the good stuff," she said. "For Navarr beer, of course."
Svoli smiled, introduced himself. She was Inga Firebrand, travelling south towards Necropolis on a pilgrimage to the tomb of Emperor Guntherm - a distant ancestor of her family. They exchanged a few pleasantries as around them the Navarr got on with the various tasks associated with running a wayhouse, giving them plenty of space. As the twilight deepened, someone struck up a pleasant fiddle-tune, and the atmosphere became more festive.
Svoli asked about news from home again. He had been on the road with the striding for nearly a year now, and was hungry for stories of the north. Ingar frowned, and put her drink down.
"Where to start! It is all terrible." She shook her head. "First you must know about the great curse that has riven the three peoples since Winter? Of the schemes of the Thule to tear apart the Steinr and the Kallavesi and the Suaq. The good news is that the curse is no more, and already the rifts caused by orc magic are starting to heal. The crown of Wintermark has been recovered also, which is a cause for celebration I suppose. Yet the bad news is that the Thule sorcerer who tried to curse us all has escaped, and that Erkenbrand has been crowned champion and so will be dead soon."
Svoli looked surprised. "Surely a champion is a cause for celebration also?"
Inga actually blushed - a deep crimson creeping up her face. She drained her mug to cover her embarrassment and gestured for Svoli to refill it. She muttered something indistinct about Erkenbrand and death and then changed the subject.
"Grim news from Sermersuaq also."
"The war against the Thule? Does it go badly?" Svoli had many friends and blood-kin in Sermersuaq.
"No, no. The war is going about the same I hear - the Thule are driven back, but it is a painful costly business. Worse though ... there are curses laid thick on the land of the Suaq like blankets on a sickbed. With each defeat it seems the Thule lay another curse. They are draining the magic from the wind and the soil, and great misfortune strikes all who live there. It is terrible, dark sorcery."
"And now there is word of Jotun raids all along the western borders. Into Stark, and even the Suaq Wastes they have come reaving. The armies in Sermersuaq were enough to drive them off with their tails between their legs but I fear for our cousins in Kallavesa and the nations in the South if the raids grow worse."
Svoli felt a pang of guilt that he was not there alongside his fellow Suaq facing these curses, but he was just one hunter.
"Have you heard about Skarsind?"
Inga became quite animated then, leaning forward, and explaining in great detail the momentous decision of the WIntermark people - that they had chosen to honour their allies among the Imperial Orcs by giving them the greatest gift of all - the gift of a homeland.
"I have heard that at Anvil where the decision was made there was a great crowd of Orcs who carried the four Senators of the Winterfolk on their shoulders, and a great feast afterwards. I grieve to have missed it - it will be one of the defining moments of our age, mark my words. Not that everyone is happy of course. One thane, Topi, of Eowyn's Hall, has been riling up folk about it. He intends to head to Anvil and make his case to the senators and the other winterfolk there."
She frowned a little.
"I can see his point, at least a little - two hundred years and more of tradition lie behind each man and woman of Skarsind. To have your land gifted to another must be a painful experience, especially so soon after it was liberated from the orcs of the north. Still. It is not as if they will not be welcome among their sisters and brothers in Hahnmark, Sermersuaq and Kallavesi. I am sure it will all be sorted out.
"Of course if they come to Kallavesi they will need to be prepared for the curse there also - it is a season of curses. The magic has drained out of the swamps, I hear, and the mystics are deeply concerned. It is being stolen away by the Highborn somehow. I do not understand it all; it is something to do with the Young Empress. You must ask a Kallavesi, if you wish to understand.
"There are Jotun there also - a few raids into Westmark and Skymarsh I hear. Nothing too serious, but they grow more bold with every day. Perhaps they will provide a distraction for the Kallavesi from all that brooding they are doing."
"And what of Hahnmark? How does the heartland of the Steinr fare?"
Inga drained the dregs of her beer.
"A few minor raids, easily handled by the warriors of the 'Mark. Oh and some business with the power of Prosperity, telling us what any Steinr already knows in her heart - that mining is fitter work than bookeeping and selling furs. They should have let sleeping dogs lie, but its caused a song and dance once folk started spreading the auras to Skarsind. As if that territory didn't have enough trouble of its own. But it's nothing we can't handle."It sounded as if the Wintermark homelands were in a terrible state, Svoli thought privately, despite Inga's defiant words. He leant back in his chair, watching the Navarr sing and dance, and decided that in the morning he would tell Angharat that it was time for their paths to diverge.
The Bane of Tradition that beset the people of Wintermark has faded rapidly, the power draining away with the recovery of the Crown of Three Tears by the heroes of the Empire during the Spring Equinox. There is still a little bad feeling - there are places in Wintermark where the curse merely brought to the surface generations-old grievances - but the threat of the nation being rent apart has dissipated with the crowning of Erkenbrand as the new champion of Wintermark.
The Thule have not given up, however. They continue to fight the forces of the Empire for control of the Silver Peaks, and to pour dark magic into Sermersuaq. A wave of ill-fortune has swept across the territory. Crops are failing; animals sicken and die; the people themselves suffer malaise and nightmares, and several mystics claim to have seen sinister twisted spirits haunting the shadows. Preserved foodstuffs have been ravaged by rot and mould. There have been several unfortunate fires, and several of the lakes have received unseasonable amounts of snowmelt from the mountains causing them to flood the settlements that lie along their banks. The mammoths in particular are angry, and there has been a tragic tale from Suaq Font of a large hunting camp trampled by an angry herd. Misfortune, weakness, hunger and dread run rampant. Tempers fray, and everything goes wrong at once. it is a poor time to be in Sermersuaq.
The marshes of Kallavesi continue under the effect of a more subtle but no less potent curse. The slow draining of the mana flows has not worsened, but it also has not got any better. Crystal mana is in some demand now, after several seasons of shortage. A few mystics have reported seeing eerie dancing lights over the Kallavesa Marsh, and mutter grimly about what they portend.
In Skarsind, response to the announcement that the people of Wintermark will relinquish their claim to the territory has been met with mixed feeling. While some accept it, they are by no means all. There is confusion about what this will mean, and more than a few feel betrayed by their senators. The recent effort to spread the miraculous auras from Hahnmark has slightly exacerbated the situation; while it has seen improved production in many mines, it has also lead to vigorous debate about whether it is right that the reward for generations of hard work is having their land and their identity taken away from them. It is likely that some of the doubters will be attending Anvil to discuss the matter with their fellow Skarsind inhabitants.
The auras of prosperity have had a significant impact in Hahnmark, seeing a major increase in the profits enjoyed by mine owners and a comparable down turn in the money made by those in less "heroic" work. The natural auras are slowly fading out, but several still remain. There has been some idle chatter about building a major shrine or large cathedral in the territory dedicated to prosperity - some sort of great work that will help to keep auras of prosperity supporting the mines in the absence of the natural auras.
Finally, every Wintermark citizen has heard about the increase in raids by the Jotun. Thus far they have been minor in scope but they are growing in intensity and information gathered by the Freeborn points to major attacks against western Kallavesa in the coming months.
While war continues to rage in Sermersuaq, the magic of the Thule has unleashed a plague of unseen spirits across the land. The production of every farm, forest, business, mine, mana site and herb garden in the territory has dropped by a quarter. Sensitive individuals - especially children, or those near death - have spoken of glimpsing emaciated shapes with heads that appear as the skulls of reindeer or cattle, and with glowing eyes who lurk in the shadows. Other stories tell of howling winds that come from nowhere, and whispered threats heard when one is alone. These rare presences never do anything more than threaten - but where they pass misfortune follows.
Suaq icewalkers are quick to appraise the people that Sermersuaq has fallen under the effect of the ritual known in the Empire as Winter's Ghosts. There is not much to be done about it at this time - save to endure - but a couple have expressed concerns that these spirits are the same ones bound into the dead to create husks with the ritual Quickening Cold Meat - and given that there is an army in Wintermark with just that enchantment on it, a combination of the two might be an additional cause for concern.
The production of all mana sites in Kallavesi continues to be halved. The situation seems not to have worsened, but has certainly not improved.
In Hahnmark and Skarsind, all mines enjoy a major increase in production; four additional ingots of material this season. Likewise, all congregations enjoy increased attendance, and enjoy an additional liao and two additional votes in the Imperial Synod this season as a consequence. Unfortunately, the focus on mining has damaged many businesses, and all such resources in these territories receive 33 fewer rings than they might have expected. The effects have largely faded by the start of the Summer Solstice, and barring further developments will be gone completely by it's end.
While there is some unrest in Skarsind, this is not having an effect on the people who live there at this time.
The powerful curse on Sermersuaq appears to have run it's course. The curse that is destroying mana crystals in Kallavesa continues unchanged. The immediate effects of the miracle in Hahnmark and Skarsind have likewise come to an end.
Strip mining in Skarsind
In Skarsind, however, the message of Prosperity lingers - but takes on a decidedly more damaging tone. Convinced that the rest of Wintermark has sold them out - even though the motion is still unratified - miners are ignoring basic maintenance work in favour of getting as much out of their mines before they have to give them up. They say they have no problem with the Imperial Orcs that are coming - but the orcs have not worked to build these mines and they don't deserve to profit from the miners' time and industry when they come and take them.
If this continues unchecked, the hills and mountains will be littered with unsafe passageways and it will become increasingly difficult to get anything out of them without a serious clean-up effort.
OOC Note: More information about this event will be forthcoming shortly before the Autumn Equinox.