Pieta stared at the tiny lump of silver metal. A boyar's fortune in the palm of their hand. Gold and silver were valuable, green iron and weltsilver were precious, but no substance could rival the price of the star-metal. Their great-grandfather had once told them that the White King had worn a crown fashioned completely from ilium. Hard to imagine such riches.

"Do you know why the Thule give us their ilium?" It was an idle question, seemingly addressed to the empty room. Behind them, two schlacta stood guard. The pair cast glances at each other, wondering if they were supposed to answer, but neither wished to risk Pieta's anger by interrupting.

"They do it to enslave us. To chain us. To tie us to them." Pieta's face broke into a grim smile. "They do it to buy us off."

They pushed the heavy oak chair back and stood up before continuing "It was cleverly done but our Northern friends have made a mistake."

"The Thule have made peace... we had done well by our deals with them. They keep their bargains." The voice appeared unseen, from the dark shadows in the corner of the room. Snježana, their wise woman, was one of the few people with the authority to tell Pieta when they were being a fool.

"Chains - that's all their deals are. They give us their crumbs. I want the feast. And I tell you again they have made a mistake."

Snježana snorted in derision, to put her boyar in place but her curiosity was piqued now. "What is this mistake?" she was forced to ask.

"Our magicians cast the ritual. They brought the star down in Keyursal in Skuld."

"So?"

The grim smile returned to Pieta's face. "So... So that means we know where it is. We know where the dragons are keeping their hoard..."


Overview

The Varushkan National Assembly has sent clear messages to their people. Varushka stands by the Iron Helms, who reflect the ways of the people of Varushka since time immemorial. The citizens stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Iron Helms, proud of the great victories they have achieved.

Yet there are other customs rooted in Varushkan soil, other ways of doing things, that the Empire struggles to acknowledge. Varushka is a hard land, and its people need to be harder still to thrive in the shadow of the mountains, in the gloom beneath the trees. In the heart of each Varushkan beats blood from two parents, from the cunning Ushka, and the bold Vard. The wise blood of the quiet bargainers and the ambitious blood of the starborn warlords.

One People

Every established nation of the Empire has traditions that go back to the founding and before. Let all our people look to their past, and let our soldiers remember who they are and where they came from. We send Bogdan Bogdanovich with 50 liao to encourage all Varushkan soldiers to embrace our rich heritage.

Bogdan Bogdanovich, Varushkan National Assembly, Winter 381YE, Upheld 100 - 0

The assembly has made it clear to the Empire that their people stand together as one nation. Following the mandate, all Varushkan armies are now affected by the penalties for fighting alongside Wintermark, and the Brass Coast, rather than just the Iron Helms. This applies not only to the current penalties, but to any future penalties arising as the result of a Synod mandate as well - in effect it is impossible to single out the Iron Helms, or any other Varushkan army, for special treatment. What effects one, effects all.

In the months since the Winter Solstice, as Bogdan Bogdanovich spreads the words of the assembly through Volodmartz, Karov, Miekarova, and Karsk, the soldiers of the Northern Eagle and the Golden Axe look to the lessons of history. The people of the nation dust off old stories of war and conflict, and look to them for inspiration.

As a consequence, the two generals of the Northern Eagle and the Golden Axe have an opportunity to permanently change the nature of their army by embracing their heritage, by adopting new tactics, tried and tested since pre-Imperial times. To take advantage of these opportunities, they must explicitly include their decision in the orders they submit at the end of the summit - and must make available an amount of valuable weirwood or mithril as appropriate to facilitate the change.

The Eagle by Night

The Northern Eagle is the "elder sibling" of the Golden Axe and the Iron Helms. Founded officially at the beginning of the Empire, its troops were drawn heavily from the Ushkan people who dwelt in the vales of Volodmartz and Miekarova. They have a long history - they lead the conquest of Karsk back in the reign of the Sun Queen, and while the shining knights of Dawn grumbled about the lack of glory fighting in such a dark place, and the brave warriors of Wintermark bemoaned the lack of heroism in such a long, dawn out campaign it was was suited to the particular talents of the Ushkans.

Varushkan heritage is rooted in the ancient wisdom of the Ushkan people. The old ways are practiced still by those Ushkans. Those Ushkans who hold to their Ushkan traditions should be proud of this and accepted as a vital part of the Varushkan nation.

Amris Johan Merikovich, Varushkan National Assembly, Winter 380YE, Upheld 82 - 20

The Ushka were the first people to live in the dark forests that are today northern Varushka. They were a cunning, clever people who valued wisdom over all things. They knew they were outmatched by the the spirits that dwelt among them and outnumbered by the savage orc tribes of the northern wastes. They learned to run when they could not parley, to parley when they could not run. And when they could do neither they learned to hide and bide their time until the chance came to strike without warning. And most importantly they learned to bargain - to treat with the spirits of this haunted land - to make pacts that allow them to turn that power against their enemies. The cabalists are the heirs to their ancient traditions, but the volhov also know how to treat with dangerous powers and emerge intact.

Encouraged by the Varushkan Assembly, the Northern Eagle has the chance to reach out to the Ushkan cabalists, those already among their ranks and those who dwell still in their vales. With their help it would be possible for the Eagle to develop an entirely new strategy, but one that draws on the uniquely Ushkan heritage. The night is a dangerous time in Varushka - when sensible people are long in bed with their doors soundly bolted. The only way to survive the things that walk abroad when the sun sets is either to avoid them... or to join them.

At the Spring Equinox, the general of the Northern Eagle can choose to embrace the army's Ushkan legacy. At the cost of 25 wains of weirwood and an appropriately worded order, they can permanently change the army's quality from Guerilla to Plighted.

Plighted

  • Can issue an order to attack under cover of darkness when defending

With the aid of the cabalists of Void, the mystics of the Painted Caves, and the wisest volhov of Karsk and Karov, the Nothern Eagle can forge pacts with the primeval forces that inhabit the dark places of Varushka. By such pledges they bind themselves to the sovereigns, to the creatures of the night. There is always a cost to be paid for such a pledge but in return the army may choose to embrace the darkness to become creatures of the night. Rather than simply hiding among the trees, or the hills, or the marshes, and emerging to make hit-and-run raids against their enemies they gain the ability to move and fight effectively under cover of darkness, striking hard and then allowing the night to cover their retreat.

Under Cover of Darkness
  • The ability of this army to defend territory is increased by a tenth
  • Casualties inflicted by this army are increased by a tenth
  • If there is one or more allied armies in the territory then half of the casualties the army would suffer as a result of combat are redistributed to those armies instead. These casualties are not increased or reduced by any orders taken by the other armies

Using this order the Northern Eagle draw on the power of their pacts with the fell powers of Varushka to gain draw a little closer to the creatures that walk abroad at night. Yellow-eyed scouts struggle by day but see clearly at night even when the clouds cover the stars. Sharp-toothed soldiers sleep in when the sun is abroad, but rise from their beds when it sets, rested and ready. Any desperate army can attempt a few night raids - but it is usually an act of desperation against overwhelming odds. Night fighting is nothing but chaos for most, blinded by the darkness so that you cannot tell friend from foe. But a plighted army attacking under cover of darkness is comfortable marching, manoeuvring, and fighting at night. By drawing on the power of their pact they can move unseen to attack their enemies where they are weakest, eliminating scouts, destroying baggage trains, picking off magicians, physics, apothecaries and healers.

If the army fights alone then it will gain the advantages of attacking under cover of darkness, allowing it to to inflict more casualties and to defend more effectively. However if it fights alongside an allied army that is not also attacking under cover of darkness then it will be much harder for the enemy to catch the army and bring them to battle. Instead they will be forced to focus their attacks on those who armies they can catch. As a result, half of the casualties the army would suffer as a result of combat are redistributed to the allies armies instead. These casualties are not increased or reduced by any orders taken by the other armies

Axe of Gold and Bone

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 National Assembly, Spring 381YE, Upheld 104 - 0

The Golden Axe was formed in the early decades after the Empire was founded. The core of the army was drawn from the vales of Karov, but a significant number of soldiers were also drawn from the children of those boyar and schlacta who were slain fighting in the war with Alderei the Fair. The Axe first saw action in the campaign to conquer Karsk; they drenched themselves in the blood of the Thule, grinding implacably forward and crushing the warriors and warlocks of the northern orcs beneath their iron shod boots. Throughout Imperial history, they have proved their will to fight, conquering territory, and eradicating their enemies. Their soldiers are known for their dour, cynical humour, and for their ruthless ambition, crushing all opposition during their slow grinding advance through enemy territory. While the Eagle has the Ushkan spirit in its bones, the Axe is the weapon of the Vard.

The star-born Vard came to Varushka out of the west. Where their cousins the Steinr sought a home to call their own, the Vard reached out and took it. They conquered the Ushka, and subjugated them. They drove the orcs north forcing them to flee into the frozen wastes beyond the mountains. And they built stone duns to bar their door against the horrors that came under in the night. They were the first boyars, the first schlacta, the first wagon raiders, and with careful vigilance and bottomless ambition they conquered the rich lands of Karov and claimed them for their own. But it was in their nature to always hunger for more, the Vard were never satisfied with what they had...

The legacy of the Vard; to conquer what can be conquered, to bar their door against what cannot be defeated, and to endure what must be endured without flinching.

After the Spring Equinox, the general of the Golden Axe can draw on that legacy. At the cost of 50 wains of mithril and an appropriately worded order to permanently change the quality of their army from resilient to Driven.

Driven

  • Can use the order to take their land when attacking
  • Can use the grinding advance order when attacking

With the support of the boyars and schlacta, with the aid of the wagon raiders of Karov and Karsk, the Golden Axe can embrace the ambitious heritage of the Vard. Rather than grinding their enemies beneath their heels, they will instead focus on seizing their land - on establishing themselves in new territory, ripe for conquest. With steel in their fists and in their spirits, they will not care where they fight - they will take whatever they need from the land and the people and they will make it their own.

Take their Land
  • This army does not suffer a penalty when attempting to seize the first region in a territory
  • This army does not suffer a penalty when attacking a region that is not adjacent to an existing Imperial controlled region in the same territory.
Using this order, the Golden Axe are able to attack new territory without difficulty - twice as effectively as any normal army. They lead the way in battle, an irresistible advance across the land they have marked as their own, driving their enemies before them. The normal problems caused by having to maintain supply lines do not apply to them - what they do not carry with them they take from the land they conquer. Once the first region falls, they can turn their attention almost anywhere else in the territory without concern for its location, potentially surprising the enemy or seizing key locations of strategic importance before the enemy knows the danger.

The Wealth of Varushka

The people of Varushka are all Vard and all Ushkan. None of us are solely one or the other.

Alderai, Varushkan National Assembly, Autumn 381YE, Upheld 130 - 0

Varushka is rich. Oh, not in coin. There are enough wealthy merchants in Varushka, but the true wealth of the northern nation lies beneath its hills and among its trees. They are rich in raw materials, in precious metals, in iron, in stone. The people who control this wealth are no less proud of their heritage than the soldiers. When the words of the assembly reach them, and especially when they hear of the great victory the Iron helms have secured at Solen's Doubt, a resolve sweeps through them.

Lead by the miners of Morsvah in southern Karsk, a loose consortium of mine- and forest-owners have come together to offer a limited-time deal to the generals of the Golden Axe and the Northern Eagle. They will equip, for only a nominal fee, up to two and a half thousand new troops for one of the armies. They will provide the mundane metal and wood, and the expertise to make the weapons, but the generals and the senators must do the rest.

As an opportunity available at the Spring Equinox, should the Senate approve a commission to enlarge either the Northern Eagle or the Golden Axe, they will provide materials and expertise to the general of that army. As a consequence, the cost to enlarge the army would be 100 wains of mithril and 200 crowns and would take only two seasons to complete.

They are not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts of course. Several of them are apparently very pleased with the recent Senate decision to create the power of relinquishment. These wealthy men and women, descendants of ancient bloodlines, look at this new ability for the Empire to relinquish control of an Imperial resource and re-designate it as a national position with a great deal of interest and ambition. For the moment, however, they are not asking for anything in return for their support.

Prepare for Difficult Choices

While most Varushkans are immensely proud of the great victory that their armies have wrought in Spiral, that sentiment is not universal. As news spreads, there are many soldiers who believe that the awakening of Screed, the terrible wave of madness that swept that territory, and the resulting deaths, are down to the actions of the Iron Helms. Proof, they say, that Mazo i Zabala i Erigo and Ylmiska Ferbow were right to be concerned about the cruel tactics employed by the Varushkans. That Gunnbrand Ironwill and Constanza i Kalamar i Guerra were right to urge them to be cautious of their wicked ways.

As a consequence, the soldiers of the Wintermark and Brass Coast armies will now shun the Varushkan armies indefinitely. If the rift cannot be healed, whenever a Varushkan army is involved in the same campaign as a Wintermark or Brass Coast army, the victory points they generate will be reduced by a tenth. If armies from both nations are present, the penalty will increase to a fifth.

Limited Opportunity

These three opportunities are only available during the Spring Equinox 382YE.

Resolution

Belakov Zakharovich Prochnost provided 50 mithril after the Spring Equinox 382YE, to begin the transition of the Golden Axe to the Driven quality. The enlargement of the Golden Axe was commissioned by the Imperial Senate.

"Once, when we all lived in the forest and nobody lived anywhere else, there was an old woman who lived in a cottage with her three grandchildren."

She continued to tuck little Javovic into his bed, before sitting down in the creaking old chair and blowing out one of the two candles on the little table to the side of it.

"Their father had been a powerful magician, as clever as he was beautiful. Their mother had been a brave warrior, who rode a mighty armoured fox into battle. But both were slain, killed by the Grim King who lived in the castle above their vale."

"When the eldest came of age, she went to their grandmother and told her she intended to kill the Grim King. She had sworn a powerful oath. An oath of vengeance."

Jacovic's eyes widened at the mention of the illicit, unvirtuous oath.

"The eldest took after her father. She had studied bargains and secrets, and knew the secret names of the beasts and the birds. She asked grandmother for a gift – for a cloak of shadows. Grandmother warned her that the Grim King did not need to see her to find her, but she gave her the cloak anyway, for the eldest child would not be dissuaded."

“She went then by secret roads, to the castle of the Grim King. She knew the secret words to say to pass his many wards. She answered the riddles of his guardian beasts, and bound the spirits of the dead to aid her with powerful oaths. So she came at last to his throne room, wrapped in the cloak shadows. The Grim King could not see her, but he could smell her, and hear the sound of the velvet cloak as she crept across the floor. He called to his archers, and they launched a hundred arrows and she fell, pierced through the heart.”

“A year later, the middle child came of age and he likewise came to his grandmother. The second child took after his mother. He was a bold warrior, practised in the arts of war, wrapped in mail with a helm of iron. He demanded of his grandmother a gift – an axe of moonsilver so sharp it could cut the wind. Grandmother warned him that the Grim King could not be felled by any mortal weapon, but she gave him the axe anyway, for the middle child would not be dissuaded.”

“I want to be a warrior,” said Jacovic, interrupting.

Nanna gave him the Look, and he subsided. But he was smiling – entertaining that dream of battle that children have, so unlike the truth.

“So the child came to the castle of the Grim King. His iron helm protected him from the many wards, and he strode through them untouched. He slew the guardian beasts with his moonsilver axe, and drove the spirits of the dead before him with his laughter. He came at last to the throne and told the Grim King that he would slay him and seize his throne. But with a word the Grim King turned into a living shadow, and fell upon the child, stealing the breath from their lips and the strength from their limbs. The axe fell from his helpless fingers and the Grim King overwhelmed him and ate his life.”

Jacovic looked unhappy - he was never happy when the middle child died.

“A year later the youngest child came to her. They took after both their father and their mother, and looked to the memory of each for strength. They knew enough of magic not to fear the shadows, and enough of war not to fear the wolves. They made no oaths, and instead of seeking a gift from their grandmother, they asked for her wisdom instead. And grandmother smiled, and talked long into the night with the youngest child, and together they hatched a plan.”

“And the next morning the youngest child came to the grim castle. They knew the secret words to pass the many wards and they slew the Grim King's guardians with the moonsilver axe. And they walked unmolested, to the throne room. But there they bowed deeply to the Grim King, and thanked him for his hospitality, and spoke pleasing words. The King did not know what to do, for even in those days to deny hospitality was to invite the wrath of the forest. And over the course of their talk, a bargain was struck. The youngest child, and their children, and their children's children, would bring a fat ox to the castle each year which they would leave for the Grim King and his courtiers to feast on, and in return the King would remain in his castle and leave the youngest child, and their children, and their children's children, to their own devices.”

“And the youngest child lived a long life, until at last they were laid to rest beneath the soil, surrounded by many of their children and grandchildren. And the Grim King remains still in his castle, thinking his deep and bitter thoughts, and feasting every year on the sour blood of a fat ox."

Jacovic's brow was furrowed as Nanna picked up the second candle, and walked quietly out of the room.