With a beat of wings the large black crow settled on the post. Tilda wrinkled her nose and stared at it. Would it bring bad fortune to drive it off? Or worse if she let it be? She tried to think what the Keeper would have said.

She missed Walter - he used to make everyone laugh at harvest time, putting straw in his coat and pretending to be a scarecrow. Gone now - like the others. She hadn't been allowed to see him. No-one had. He uncle said no-one could see the Keeper cuz he'd gotten sick but Tilda knew her Uncle was lyin' because he did that thing grown-ups do when they're lyin' where they don't look at you proper. Anyway the Keeper could do magic so he woulda fixed himself up quicker than a rainstorm in July.

Maybe he weren't dead she thought... Maybe he had turned himself into a crow and flown away! Maybe the crow was Walter the Landskeeper come back to them... She stared at the crow - and it stared back - each of them waiting for the other to say something.

The crow gave a loud craw and began to peck at the body nailed to the post. Disgusting! Horrible! Walter would never do that. Marchers treated their dead with respect. She picked up a stone and threw it at the crow and it quickly flew away.

Overview

Over the last six months, several national assemblies have expressed opinions on the nature of the Iron Helms - the third Varushkan army recently restored to full strength and deployed in service of the Empire. The Throne has also weighed in, with messages carrying a statement on the subject written by Empress Lisabetta to all.

Even before their action against the rebel Dogri Thulebane in Skarsind, the Wintermark. Marcher, and Freeborn Assemblies had condemned them. After their successful apprehension of Dogri, and the suppression of his rebellion, the Varushkan and Navarr assemblies expressed clear support for the Iron Helms, and the validity of their sometimes unpalatable tactics.

Significance

As a result of the actions of the Iron Helms, and in particular the statements of principle made on the matter, there are now opportunities for several national assemblies to issue a mandate to encourage their citizens to react appropriately.

The Freeborn Assembly considers that the use of the cruel tactics of the Iron Helm Army of Varushka is unvirtuous ... We aspire to be better than this and lead by example.

Mazo i Zabala i Erigo, Freeborn Assembly, 380YE Winter Solstice

The Marcher Assembly ... consider the use of ... torture and mutilation ... as being opposed to the principles of the Seven Virtues.

Sister Meredith, Marcher Assembly, 380YE Winter Solstice

The Wintermark Assembly believe the excessive cruelty of the Iron Helms army to be unvirtuous.

Ylmiska Ferbow, Wintermark Assembly, 380YE Winter Solstice (Lesser Majority)

At a High Price, But Not At Any Price

In Winter 380YE, the Freeborn and Marchers denounced the Iron Helms in judgements passed by their national assemblies with a greater majority. They declared the use of extreme cruelty, even against the enemies of the Empire, to be unacceptable. The Wintermark assembly echoed their words - and while their judgement did not receive a greater majority, that season the Iron Helms went on to arrest Dogri Thulebane and destroy Crow's Keep. They may not have shown their true cruelty during that engagement, but few Winterfolk relish the idea of dying at the jaws of savage hounds.

This season past, the Iron Helms fought in the Mourn, their general ordering a merciless onslaught against the Jotun forces seeking to try and break them with their use of the most cruel tactics imaginable. Those Winterfolk, Freeborn, and Marchers who saw them were reminded of the warnings of their national assemblies. Here at last was clear evidence of the unspeakable savagery of the Iron Helms - on display for all to see. Now all the soldiers of these nations are looking to their priests for advice on how they should respond to this barbarism.

Each national assembly may now choose to pass a mandate urging their soldiers to show their disdain for the Iron Helms and their cruel ways. If this mandate is passed by a national assembly, then regardless of what orders are given by the generals of the Military Council the soldiers of their nation will acknowledge the unvirtuous nature of the Iron Helms. They will shun them, or refuse them comfort or aid when they campaign together.

The cruelty of the Iron Helms is unvirtuous, it demeans our Empire to use such tactics and it betrays the ideals of our people to fight alongside those who do so. The assembly sends X with 25 doses of liao to urge our soldiers to reject the Iron Helms and their cruelty."

Synod Mandate, national assembly

If this mandate is enacted then for the next year, if the Iron Helms are deployed in a territory alongside a Imperial army from a nation that has passed this mandate, they will suffer a reduction of one tenth in the number of victory points they contribute to that campaign. This bonus is cumulative for each additional nation (not individual army) that has passed the mandate that are present in the territory. Thus, if the Marches, Wintermark, and the Freeborn all pass this mandate, and the Iron Helms were engaged in a territory where there were armies from the Marches, the Brass Coast, and Wintermark, the Varushkan army would suffer a penalty of three-tenths to victory points.

The Thulebane's Legacy

For some in Wintermark, the cruelty of the Iron Helms is more than just unvirtuous, it is an insult to their heroism. Dogri Thulebane made clear he would have surrendered to a Wintermark army had they be sent to Crows Keep to take him. Instead the dogs of the Iron Helms stormed his castle and slew his people and then the Helms carried him in chains to Anvil. That he died as he should have, a hero fighting the barbarians, is no thanks to the Iron Helms.

It is one thing to show the Iron Helms the disdain and contempt that their actions have earned them - but a better way to honour the Thulebane - and indeed all the great figures of Wintermark's past is to show the Varushkans how a real warrior fights. Not by impaling people on stakes or setting your dogs on them - but as a hero - with weapons in hand - unbowed before the storm.

No true hero of the Mark should stand with the Iron Helms - those who use their dogs for war have become dogs themselves. The assembly sends X with 50 doses of liao to urge every hero of Wintermark to show them the heroism that a true hero of the Empire should aspire to.

Synod Mandate, Wintermark Assembly

If the Wintermark Assembly passes this mandate then it will automatically incorporate all the benefits of the first mandate urging people to shun the Iron Helms - but in addition for the next year the general of any Wintermark army that fights alongside the Iron Helms may choose to give the order for a triumphant charge or final stand.

A Weevil in the Grain

The Marcher Assembly has made clear that while the Jotun are their mortal enemies, there is no place for Hatred in this fight. The Assembly of Wisdom can claim it is virtuous to impale people on spikes, but "A stool stinks just as bad no matter what you call it" - as the saying goes. Torturing the Jotun to break their spirit looks an awful lot like Hate to those who had the misfortune to encounter the false virtue up close recently.

What is needed is some good old fashioned Marcher common sense and fair play. The Jotun might have taken Marcher lands - and no good Marcher will rest while their land is ruled by another - but they never did a cruel deed to a Marcher for the sake of it. The Marchers could choose to take a stand and show everyone in the Mournewold, Jotun, Varushkan, Mournewolder, that there is more to war than body counts.

The Iron Helms have shown their cruelty. As our assembly has said time and again although the Jotun are our enemies, we do not Hate them and we will shun those who do. The Marcher assembly sends X with 50 doses of liao to urge all good Marchers to fight for every inch of their land but not an inch more. If the Jotun pull back - we let 'em go with our blessing."

Synod Mandate, Marcher Assembly

If the Marcher Assembly passes this mandate then it will automatically incorporate all the benefits of the first mandate urging people to shun the Iron Helms - but in addition, for the next year any Marcher army that fights the Jotun will inflict 20% less casualties. The change of tactics that causes this loss of casualties will be apparent to everyone present in the territory where the campaign takes place.

We the Navarr National Assembly fully support the use of cruel tactics by the Varushkan Iron Helms army against our enemies, for these tactics are how we of Navarr have survived since the dance of Navarr and Thorn. These tactics are virtuous and hold no bar for true followers of the Way.

Brat, Navarr Assembly. 381YE Spring Equinox (Lesser Majority)

Actions have Consequences

The Navarr assembly has expressed their support for the Iron Helms, and for the people of Varushka. They have made it clear that they consider the merciless cruelty of the Varushkans not only effective, but also virtuous. While this statement of principle did not achieve a greater majority, it has prompted further discussion among the Navarr - as have the recent tactics of General Brennos Brackensong of the Quiet Step in the Mournwold. Now there is an opportunity to pass a mandate that would allow the general of the army to seize an opportunity to permanently embrace similar tactics.

Mercy is a luxury that the Empire cannot afford when faced with enemies that seek to destroy it; we must not cast aside any weapon that may bring victory. The Navarr assembly sends X with 75 doses of liao to urge the Quiet Step to build on the opportunity presented by Arhallogen, and find new and effective tactics for dealing with our enemies.

Synod Mandate

If the Navarr assembly enact this mandate this season, then at the following summit, the General of the Quiet Step can include instructions for their troops to focus on developing new tactics, and recruiting apothecaries versed in the creation of blade venoms, as part of their normal order submission. If the general can supplement this with 50 wains of weirwood then the quality of the Quiet Step will permanently shift from scouting to Cunning. (The general should ensure the wains of weirwood are in their inventory, then e-mail Profound Decisions after the event).

Cunning

  • Can use the Whatever it takes order when attacking

A cunning army contains soldiers adept at employing unorthodox - but effective - tactics. The force makes great use of venom and poison (both mundane and magical), as well as setting traps and luring enemies into ambushes. They take advantage of situations where an ally has engaged an enemy to launch surprise attacks against their weak spots, taking particular pains to kill enemy healers, magicians, and supply trains.

Whatever it takes
  • All casualties inflicted by this army are increased by a tenth.
  • All casualties suffered by this army are increased by a tenth.
  • All casualties inflicted by allied armies in the same territory who have issued attacking orders are increased by a tenth.
The army employs vicious tactics to set up ambushes, lay traps, and kill high-value targets such as healers and magicians. The army takes every opportunity to punish their opponents. At the same time, they weaken and distract their enemies, so that their allies can gain the opportunity to kill front line troops.

The Varushkan National Assembly support the use of the Iron Helms. They are cruel when necessary. They are an army comprised of people from a hard land who make the hard choices. Our enemies deserve no mercy; “nice” is not a Virtue.

Father Nikolovich Drakov, Varushkan Assembly. Spring 381YE Spring Equinox

Hard Land, Hard Choices

Fuck You Then!

The Military Council might want Varushkan assistance to deal with their Jotun problem, but the people of Wintermark, the Marches and the Brass Coast seem to feel it is appropriate to dictate terms for the nature of that aid. Perhaps they are well positioned to resolve the problem of the Jotun by themselves and the Varushkans should leave them to it... Everyone seems to swallow this myth of that the Jotun are some kind of honourable enemy, but presumably people are not so unwise when faced off against the Druj. Better to urge the Varushkan armies to turn east and face an enemy that they can fight without some wet-behind-the-ears childling trying to tie their hands.

Wintermark, the Marchers and the Brass Coast have made it clear that they do not want Varushkan aid in their battles against the Jotun. The Varushkan assembly sends X with 25 doses of liao to remind the people of Varushka that we do not fight to protect those who do not want our assistance. There are other threats facing our people, let us fight where our aid is welcome.

Synod Mandate, Varushkan Assembly

If the Varushkan assembly passes this mandate, they make it clear that if the Wintermark, Freeborn, and Marchers do not want their help, they do not have to have it. With the resurgence of the Druj in the east, Karsk is once again directly threatened by orc barbarians - the same barbarian forces that have attacked Dawn and Urizen. For the next year, every Varushkan army will suffer a penalty of 20% to the victory points it generates in any battle against the Jotun, and no Varushkan general can issue the Overwhelming Assault, Heroic Stand, or Solid Defence orders while fighting in the Mournwold, Liathaven, or in any Jotun, Marcher, Wintermark, or Brass Coast territory. However any Varushkan army receives a 10% bonus to its ability to defend territory if it takes any defending order in Holberg, Therunin, the Barrens, or in any current or former territory of Varushka, Urizen, or Dawn.

We Haven't Even Started

Varushka is a hard land, and the people who live there are more familiar than perhaps any other Imperial nation with the danger of excessive mercy, and the lure of easy answers. The Varushkan assembly has made very plain that it supports the Iron Helms, that they are scions of Varushka, a deadly weapon forged in a deadly land. There is no need for a mandate to show the support of the Varushkans for their general and for their soldiers - the assembly has spoken.

Now that the Druj have done what everyone knew the Druj would do, a quick victory against the Jotun is more needed than ever. Varushkans aren't cruel for the sake of it - but the harsh truth that nobody wants to admit is that every Jotun impaled on a spike is one less Imperial going to an early grave. And yet still people bleat like lambs at the slaughter and accusations of a lack of virtue fly...

Well then - why not show them what Varushka can really do. There are worse fates than being impaled on spikes, there are worse ends than being eaten by dogs. Those who think that's bad would be well advised not to wander abroad at night in the far north.

The Iron Helms only do what is necessary to defeat their enemies quickly. We do not have the luxury of mercy when facing what comes out of the darkness. The Assembly sends X with 100 doses of liao to urge every inhabitant of Varushka to seize the opportunity to support the Iron Helms and show the enemies of the Empire what real cruelty looks like.

Synod Mandate, Varushkan Assembly

If this mandate is enacted, then until the beginning of the Spring Equinox 382YE, all manner of dark spirits will travel with the Iron Helms. Varushkan cabals who spend their time in service to sovereigns rather than travelling to Anvil will attend the army, along with wolves and other fell beings. For as long as the effect lasts, the general of the Iron Helms will have the opportunity to issue the order "Terror in the Night". This order will require 25 mana crystals, to power fell magics that send night terrors to invade the Jotun's dreams and drive them mad. Thus far the Iron Helms have only managed to kill those Jotun they can get their hands on... but that's only a limit if you let it be...

Of course such a tactic is likely to cause even more unhappiness from those who cry tears for the Jotun. Such an order will be an act of cruelty that will make putting the Jotun on spikes look like a school lesson at the Academy. It will not be pleasant... what it will be is effective...

Terror in the Night

  • Requires 25 mana crystals
  • An enemy force that takes casualties from this army will break if their military strength falls below 2,000 (or below 3,000 if they are large)
In addition to the cruel actions involved in a merciless onslaught, the army uses dark magics and calls on the fell powers that lurk in the dark places of Varushka to terrorize their enemies, invading their dreams and driving them into madness.

If the Varushkan assembly were to successfully pass both judgements, then the Iron Helms would not be able to issue the Terror in the Night order in any area they would not be able to issue the Overwhelming Assault, Heroic Stand, or Solid Defence orders (that is, while fighting in the Mournwold, Liathaven, or in any Jotun, Marcher, Wintermark, or Brass Coast territory).

Limited Opportunity

These mandates are only available at the Summer Solstice 381YE. While some of them may take a little longer to play out, the option is only available if the mandate is enacted in the appropriate assembly during the event, and the correct amount of liao provided in the downtime period following.

Resolution

During the Summer Solstice several mandates were successfully raised as a result of these opportunities. Gunnbrand Ironwill was sent by the WIntermark assembly with 50 doses of liao to urge every hero of Wintermark to show the heroism that a true hero of the Empire should aspire to, and to denounce the tactics of the Iron helms. At the same time, Constanza i Kalamar i Guerra was sent by the Freeborn assembly with 25 liao to urge the soldiers of the Brass Coasst to reject the Iron Helms and their cruelty.

Amris Johan Merikovich was sent by the Varushkan national assembly with 100 doses of liao, to urge every inhabitant of Varushka to seize the opportunity to support the Iron Helms and show the enemies of the Empire what real cruelty looks like.

Simultanoeusly, the Navarr national assembly sent Corey Wayfarer with 75 doses of liao to urge the Quiet Step to build on the opportunity presented by Arhallogen and find new and effective tactics for dealing with our enemies. (OOC Note: As a consequence, the general of the Quiet Step has the ability to permanently change the army quality of that army to cunning by indicating as much in their orders and ensuring they have the appropriate amount of weirwood in their inventory.)