From inside the house, a man's voice called out. "Sun! Storm! Down! Leave Master Sullivan alone!"
The dogs immediately dropped prone, tongues lolling. Jonas Quayle entered through the doors of the conservatory, with a disapproving expression on his face.
"This is not the front door, Master Sullivan." He said coldly. For all his years living in Holberg, his Upwold accent was still noticeable.
Sullivan smiled disarmingly but it was lost on Quayle. He gestured for the investigator to follow him, and lead the way through into the main part of the house.
"I trust you and your companions were successful, Master Sullivan?" He asked as they walked. Sullivan nodded.
"A nice place you have here," he said conversationally as they passed along a short weirwood-paneled hall. Quayle's frosty attitude did not thaw.
"It is not my house, Master Sullivan. I am merely looking after it for a ... for a friend. Mind where you put your feet, please. That rug is not for walking on."
Sullivan stopped, looked down at the brightly coloured carpet, and stepped pointedly round it. It looked expensive, he mused. But then everything in the Nest looked expensive. And probably was expensive.
Quayle lead him into an open-plan study, and closed the door behind him. Despite the warm Spring evening, there was a fire burning in the grate. His host noticed him noticing it.
"I am over sixty years old, Master Sullivan. I feel the cold. Shall we get down to business."
Sullivan nodded, and swung his satchel round. Carefully, he withdrew the oilskin wrapped package. The three of the had risked a great deal to acquire this prize from a ruined villa in southern Rebeshof, right on the edge of the stinking Morass. Or at least, the villa used to be on the edge of the Morass. These days, the marshes were well on their way to drowning the entire estate. Not that there had been much of the estate left to swallow.
"Here we go," he said, unwrapping the bottle and placing it on the low table. "I have to say though that it was a good deal more difficult than you'd lead us to believe. There were rats ..."
Quayle cut him off. "Don't worry, Master Sullivan. You will be well compensated for your time and that of your team. I assume master Calvin and master Wright are both still alive?"
Sullivan cracked a grin. "It'll take more than some rats, a nest of marsh vipers, a couple of orcs, and a lot of mud to slow us down."
He nodded towards the bottle "I take it you're happy?"
Quayle just looked at it. His face was unreadable.
"The Kröger '21," he said in a quiet voice. "We always planned to drink this when the orcs were finally driven back. It looks like it's just going to be me, now."
Sullivan turned away and made a show of examining one of the dragonbone statuettes on the mantelpiece, to give his host time to collect himself. He caught sight of himself in the mirror. He looked sharp in his new red and gold coat, even if he did say so himself. He smoothed his bushy moustache, and winked at his reflection.
Mr Quayle cleared his throat. Sullivan turned back round to find that the dapper, older man was now quite calm. There was no sign of his earlier emotion. The taller man noticed that the bottle had vanished, however.
Jonas Quayle was all business.
"You've exceeded expectations, Master Sullivan, you and your little gang. I am cautiously impressed. I'll have your money brought through in a moment. But before I do ... I don't suppose you might be interested in another commission? I've recently heard rumours about a certain ring that I'd be quite interested in having in my possession. But it might be dangerous - very dangerous. And the kind of rats you're likely to run into if you start looking for it walk on two legs and are more likely to shoot crossbows at you than to scurry away."
Thomas Sullivan made a show of thinking carefully about the offer but he already knew the answer - and he knew that while Calvin and Wright might make a great show of wanting no part of it but he could talk them round. He treated Jonas Quayle to his broadest, most convincing smile.
"I think I would definitely be interested, Quayle - the only problem is that with the Towerjacks in Dawn, I find myself in need of somewhere to stay."
Quayle didn't catch on immediately, and then his expression became mildly horrified."You say this isn't your house? Will the real owner mind if I stay here for a few months. I mean days? Days, definitely ..."
Now that the Druj have been driven from Holberg, and the animate trees have subsided, the focus has inevitably turned to rebuilding the territory. The destruction wrought by the Druj is widespread. The suburbs of Holmauer are in ruins - barely one stone left atop another. Not only is it an eyesore, but it has begun to develop something of a problem with dangerous vermin. Holmauer is perhaps the worst, but it is by no means the only site of devastation. The general damage caused by the Druj in their three-decades of occupation, culminating in the war to drive them out, and then the angry trees who have spent the last year ravaging the territory, has left the entire territory in a bad state.
There are damaged and destroyed buildings throughout Holberg and much of Holmauer in particular lies in ruins. The ruins impact the prosperity of Holberg, while individual businesses still flourish there are simply less of them there might otherwise be. As a result the taxation drawn from the province is considerably curtailed - something that hurts the pride of many Holberg citizens and the coffers of the Imperial treasury. In time, new businesses will be established, so the situation will gradually improve even if no action is taken, but there is an opportunity to speed the recovery and create a lasting great work in Holberg in the process.
The proposal drawn up by the aging Piet Van Holberg is to focus the restoration on Holmauer - the worst affected region. As part of the work - it would rebuild several civic structures, and repurpose the ruins as building materials for roads and walls as well as reclaiming some of the public parks and restoring some of the old buildings. By clearing the ruins from the approach to the city, the builders could create a long sweeping thoroughfare that would be lined with statues and culminate in a vast triumphal arch. Such a construction would rival some of the most impressive architecture found in Highguard and bring pilgrims from far and wide to see it.
The clearance and the arch work would require 40 wains of white granite and 10 thrones and take two seasons to complete. Once done, the ruins quality would be removed, the taxation restored to normal, and the resulting flow of pilgrims to the city would produce 50 Synod votes and 25 liao spread between the congregations of the city.
However there is a counter proposal from Katarzyna Von Carstein, a Jarmish immigrant to the city twenty years ago. A former lover of Piet and now his most vocal critic, Kasia has called his plans "stodgy", "traditional" and most cuttingly "pedestrian". Kasia proposes a much more bold construction - clearing the ruins from around Holmauer would allow this area of the city to be laid out in such a way that there would be plenty of space for parks and greenery; a beautiful open-air theatre; fine civic buildings; entirely new sewers; and all in all transform Holmauer into one of the richest, most beautiful, and most desirable areas to live in in the entire League.
The proposal for the reconstruction would require 40 wains of white granite, 60 wains of weirwood, 25 thrones and take three seasons to complete. The work would restore the taxation and remove the ruins but the improved opportunities for business and commerce in the city would bring a dividend of 1500 rings shared between every business in the territory.
The only other alternative being proposed is to do nothing. Such a course would not be popular with the citizens of Holberg - it would leave the region of Holmauer permanently scarred by the ruins and depress the taxation returned to the Imperial coffers. This choice means that the ruins quality would be permanent and it would take eighteen months for the taxation to recover to "normal" levels.
Holberg was once the most fortified territory in the Empire - a testimony to the skills of some of the Empire's greatest military architects. The walls still stand around Holfried, protecting the great city as they have always done - but the fortifications at Rebeshof and Holmauer are gone. The grim reality is that these fortifications have kept Holberg safe when the armies of the Empire could not always be relied on. As one Holberg Prince once commented - "armies are fine in their way but the thing about stout walls is that you never wake up one morning to find they have been deployed to the other side of the Empire...". Holberg has never fallen to the Druj - but most wise inhabitants of the city are all too aware that they have been defeated - not destroyed. They will return - and when they do, walls may be the only thing that be relied on to preserve the ancient boast that the city has never been taken.
Consequently the enterprising citizens of Holberg have been drawing up plans - not just to restore Holberg to its former impregnable glory - but to scale new heights.
The walls of Holmauer are absolutely shattered. They could be rebuilt as a typical fortification - but a more exciting opportunity presents itself. Brechtje Van Holberg, chief architect of the Holmauer Lodge, has worked with the architects and engineers of the University of Holberg (many of them retired veterans of the Towerjacks who spent thirty years garrisoning the walls of Holberg) to present an ambitious set of plans for new defences around the outer city. These plans make great use of the unique geography in the area, crucially the narrow approaches that lead to the outskirts of the city - to make Holmauer even more deadly to assault.
Employing these plans would require 160 wains of white granite, 40 wains of mithril and 20 wains of weirwood. The total cost would be 55 thrones, and construction would take two years. The resulting fortification would have a strength of 6,000 and an upkeep of 18 Thrones but it would be a wonder of the world on par with the Docks at Caricomare in their prime, with built in ballistae, reinforced pneumatic gates, mechanical blades designed to destroy siege ladders, and pits and traps designed to slaughter any attacking force. The ruthless nature of the design means that the fortification would inflict 25% more casualties than normal on any force attacking the Holmauer.
Holberg has long prided itself as the centre of military architecture in the Empire - the university houses a number of experts on siege warfare and the library includes books on military constructions from across the world. For generations the brightest minds of the city have earned applause for helping to devise new ways to keep her safe. No territory in the world was ever as fortified as Holberg - and to the minds of many in the League it is only the walls of this greatest of all military cities that has kept the eastern borders of the Empire safe as army after after of Druj barbarians have died on her walls. And yet for all their boasts to be the greatest there was always the unpalatable truth that Holberg might be the greatest fortification in the known world... but it was not the biggest. That prize went to another...
And so Menno Van Ritsjhof has drawn up plans for what would be the most ambitious fortification ever seen in the Empire. He has gained support from many of the finest craftsman and workers in the city for the project to demonstrate convincingly that he could carry out the work much quicker than would normally be possible.
Building on the existing defences, but substantially upgrading them would need 200 wains of white granite and 50 thrones - but the work would be completed in a year and would raise the walls of the fortification to extraordinary new heights, giving it a defensive military strength of 12,000 and increasing the upkeep to 28 Thrones a season. More importantly it would restore the pre-eminence of Holberg as the location of the most important fortification in the Empire - and crucially as the biggest!
This opportunity is no longer available - but see here.
In the earliest days of Holberg, the Morass spread across much of Rebeshof and Ennerlund. One of the first large-scale projects undertaken in Holberg after it joined the League was draining the marshes and building a series of dykes and dams to keep the water and mud contained. The Druj have destroyed these defences and - thanks to the extensive use of Spring magic in the territory - the marshes are quickly spreading to reclaim their old haunts.
With the expenditure of 40 wains of weirwood, and 10 Thrones, the dykes could be restored and some effort made to replace the paths and bridges the Druj have destroyed. This great work would add 75 random herbs to the production of herb gardens owned by League citizens in Holberg. The only risk here is that such extensive construction may rouse the ire of the marshwalkers of the deeper marsh.
Alternatively, the Empire could allow the morass to spread into Rebeshof and Ennerlund, returning to its natural size. After all, very few league citizens care about farms and since the Druj have departed the farmland of Rebeshof has been further devastated by angry trees. There would still be the need for some construction - if only to stop the marsh swallowing Kröger Steading and similar farms - but the result would be a vast, teeming marsh tended by skilled herbalists and doctors that would rival the Kallavesa marshes for valuable healing herbs. This project would take six months to complete, and would cost 64 wains of weirwood and 128 crowns. It would cause both Rebeshof and Ennerlund to gain the marsh quality, but it would split 130 herbs between every herb garden in Holberg each season.
There are only two slight drawbacks to letting the marsh spread. The first is the need to add additional pumps, and the work needed to combat the rise in the water table, would increase the upkeep of the Great Pits of Ennerlund by 2 Thrones each season. The other is that it would permanently reduce the production of all farms in the territory of Holberg - both current farms and any future farms claimed in the territory, costing every farm 36 rings a season in lost production.
The Twisted Briars of Misericorde
The northern forests of Misericorde and Utterlund continue to labour under a sinister atmosphere. The scattered bands of orcs that haunt the northern forests continue to avoid contact with Imperial troops. Yet all is not well in the forests; the vines and briars that sprouted over Autumn. They have grown stronger, and they continue to evidence a grim vitality that marks them as something other than natural. They appear to be restricted to the northern forests and have not spread into Rebeshof or Ennerlund.
Small groups can generally move through areas where the plants are found without too much difficulty, as long as they are mindful. Any sort of large scale deployment of troops, such as a campaign army, could be significantly impeded by the presence of this unfamiliar creeping bush. There is little doubt that there is something unnatural at work here.