Weight of the world
This has all seemed such a good idea when they'd set off. He'd pictured himself preaching to some down-trodden new Varushkans about the Virtues, teaching them about the Labyrinth and bring them to the Way. Instead here he was trying to convince a group of angry looking orcs that they needed to have Pride in their traditions. He wasn't even sure how you could tell these weren't actually Druj - frankly they looked like little better than bandits.
But even as those thoughts flickered through his mind he felt a surge of anger. These orcs had been subjugated by the Druj for so long, they had been left with nothing, and yet somehow they had endured and survived privation he could only dream of. If he couldn't see the value of these people when he looked at them then the problem was with him, not them.
He knew of course that it was his anointing that was making him angry at himself, but that didn't make the feelings any less real. When he'd heard that Vasili Zoryakovich Zverokaz had been given a mandate to teach the inhabitants of Ossium to the Way, he'd volunteered to be one of those who helped spread the mandate. The Affirmation of Pride would help him live up to that weighty responsibility.
He took a deep breath and looked again at the faces of the orcs staring back at him. Now that he was looking at them differently, he imagined he could see curiosity and interest where before he had seen suspicion. He was good at this he reminded himself, he could convince others when he put his mind to it. He just needed to have faith. He took another breath and then he began.
"The Virtuous inspire others to greatness; they do not demean them..."
The Empire has conquered the territory of Ossium and assigned it to the nation of Varushka. In support of this noble endeavour, the Imperial Synod have passed a number of important statements and judgements. These include statements designed to welcome the people of Ossium to Varushka, and mandates to encourage them to embrace the Way of Virtue.
The work of making Ossium part of the Empire is hindered by the presence of the Druj miasma that still lingers, threatening to suffocate the life from the people of the land. Fortunately thanks to the virtuous work of Ser Ancél Watcher, the Empire has managed to find the first two of the pillars that anchor the miasma. From experience there is likely to be one in each region in the territory, so this is only the beginning - but it is an important step forward nonetheless.
We the Pride Assembly send Vasili Zoryakovich Zverokaz to Ossium with 75 doses of liao to preach that "The virtues inspire others to greatness; they do not demean them".Vasili Zoryakovich Zverokaz, Pride Assembly, Spring Equinox 383YE, Upheld (227 - 0 Greater Majority)
The Imperial Synod have elected to bring the people of Ossium to the Way using the Virtue of Pride. The civil service identified that any attempt to proselytise the virtues would be significantly more effective if a priest chose a single clear virtue to preach. Of course these people will need educating in all the virtues, but they have no knowledge of the Virtues or the Way and no reason to embrace it. By giving Vasili the authority to use liao to demonstrate the virtue of Pride to the people of Ossium, he has left a permanent impression on the inhabitants.
At first, Vasili and his fellow priests struggle to convince people of the value of their words. The idea that you should not demean others is not something that everyone here can easily grasp. Most of them have spent their life toiling in slavery to the Druj - the daily struggle for survival has presented less opportunities for demeaning others than you might expect. It is not outside everyone's experience though - the Druj positively encouraged rivalry between their subjects and different groups would often work to bring another down. Vasili makes clear that that approach is unvirtuous - that they must inspire others to greatness so that everyone can rise together. This is a tough sell to the Ketsov, and to almost everyone else in Ossium, but over three months there is a grudging acceptance that this part of their new lives in the Empire and it is clear that Vasili is getting through to people. Slowly they begin to look at themselves and particularly at each other differently.
The turning point comes when people think to ask him if this also applies to the Empire itself? The question seems odd at first, but what soon becomes clear is that despite everything, the people of Ossium are finding it hard to understand the idea that they have not simply swapped one group of conquerors for another. If the Ketsov seem ambitious and happy to work with the Empire, it is not because they dream of a future that is prosperous, dignified, and free - it is because that is how they managed to survive under the Druj. The Sand Fishers are emblematic of this attitude, many of them struggle to comprehend the idea that the Empire will not begin to oppress them the way the Druj have done for centuries.
The idea that the Empire will not demean the inhabitants of Ossium, that they will instead inspire them to greatness, is not easy for everyone to accept. Cynicism, a belief that life consists of nothing but domination of the weak by the strong, pervades their thinking. Slowly though Vasili is able to persuade those who are prepared to listen to him that the Empire's ambition is to help them achieve their ambitions. Vasili stresses that the Empire wants these people to grow strong and powerful - for them to become great.
It is a humbling moment for many of the priests working with Vasili. The Empire is often forced to make difficult choices and sometimes questions the morality and virtue of its actions. To see how grateful the people of Ossium are when they realise that their is a chance for a life outside the drudgery of existence as minions of the Druj reminds everyone that the Orcs of the Mallum represent an embodiment of evil that the Empire has never stooped to even in its darkest hours. Perhaps there is even something in that to inspire the Empire to greatness.
By the end of the season Vasili's work is largely complete. He has spread his mandate across the territory to great effect. People are receptive to the idea of the virtues and keen to know more of this greatness to which they could aspire. It will still take time for the Varushkan wise ones and storytellers to convert the people to the Way, but the people have been set on the path to Pride and from there to all the virtues.
Only two things now stand in the way of the people eagerly embracing the Way - the threat of the Druj and the cloying fear of the miasma.
The Ever-Present Threat
- There is a great deal of concern that the Druj will return and punish those who have aided the Empire
The Ketsov are delighted by the construction of the trade exchange which will provide the community with an important source of income now the Druj are gone.
But merely to speak the words "the Druj are gone" is to invite the obvious question "but for how long?" The Sand Fishers in particular have a rather telling body of children's tales, clearly intended to educate young Sand Fishers in the ways of the world all of which end with the same key phrase - "and then the Druj returned and everyone was slaughtered". The people of Ossium think the Druj will attempt to reclaim their lands the way the people of the Empire think the sun will come up tomorrow.
This certainty is now the biggest obstacle to them embracing the Empire and the Way. That fear is useful for some purposes - it is easier than many expected to persuade the Sand Fishers to give up their ancestral lands and set sail for Holberg precisely because they are keen to put as much distance between themselves and the returning Druj as possible.
Those who are staying do not have that luxury. The Ketsov are grateful for their exchange - but it won't protect them from a Druj army. They are frank about what will happen - the Druj will return - they will conquer Ossium. And then every single living being that is suspected of working with the Empire will be publicly tortured and executed. Not surprisingly this fear inhibits their desire to embrace the new regime.
One solution the Ketsov have already suggested would be to build a fortification here. That would be expensive though - and it would need to be substantial to provide the kind of reassurance that these people need to overcome their fears.
In theory, the Empire could permanently station one or more armies in Ossium. That would give people the confidence that the Empire plans to fight when the Druj return. The problem is that armies can be withdrawn at any time. Indeed this season every Imperial army has left Ossium, leaving the territory completely defenceless. That Ossium is now vulnerable to invasion has not escaped the notice of anyone living here. At the moment they assume the armies are coming back at some point - but that is far from certain. The longer the territory remains unprotected, the more their fears are likely to grow.
There are certainly Thule armies in Ossium, but the inhabitants of the territory do not take much comfort in this. The Thule are a powerful, unknown force that lurks in the northern woodlands. Without approval from the Empire the orcs of Otkodov have not made much attempt to speak to the people of the conquered territory outside of the Bonewood. Worse, the Ketsov have apparently heard tell of the Thule's relentless thirst for artisans and that has made them extremely nervous in an entirely new direction.
Ultimately the problem might resolve itself - if left long enough. The issue is not that the Ketsov and others believe that the Empire cannot beat the Druj - they have seen proof of that when the Empire attacked. The problem is that they are not yet convinced that the Empire is going to bleed to defend them when the Druj is on the offensive. If the Empire moves swiftly to engage any Druj forces in Ossium - and is able to convincingly win a major defensive campaign against the Druj that extends over two or more seasons then that will be enough to convince many that the Empire is here to stay.
But until something is done to demonstrate the Empire's military commitment to protect these people from the Druj further attempts to integrate them will struggle. The next step to make Ossium part of the Empire is to ensure that the people feel adequately defended - either by building a major fortification or by finding a way to ensure an army is permanently stationed here. Without one of those solutions the only option is to wait for the Druj to carry out a determined invasion - and then to find the military strength to fend them off.
The taint of the Druj spills forth from the pillars they have constructed with their foul magic, choking the thirst for glory with fear and dread. We send Ser Ancél Watcher with 25 doses of liao to urge troubadours and questing knights to seek out the source of this vile corruption.Ser Ancél Watcher, Dawn Assembly, Spring Equinox 383YE, Upheld (134 - 0 Greater Majority)
The Ever-Present Fear
- The Druj miasma impedes Imperial efforts to settle Ossium and communicate with the local people
Conditions in Ossium are made much worse by the lingering miasma which oppresses the spirit of every living thing that dwells here. Those who served in the Reikos campaign remember this cruel miasma well - it issues forth from pillars erected by the Druj. They can be destroyed using magic or other means - but only if they can be located. If the pillars can be found and destroyed - then the miasma will slowly lift. The taint of the Druj will slowly be removed from the land.
Experience in Reikos, suggests that there are likely to be seven pillars in all, one in each region in the territory. It is to be hoped that the Thule intend to deal with the pillar in their lands, but that still leaves five for the Empire to find and destroy (one was located in the Bittershore and destroyed during the invasion). The Druj hide the pillars well, placing them in obscure locations and protecting them with soldiers and worse. It is no easy task - simply finding one is a great undertaking.
Fortunately Ser Ancél Watcher and those who have been called to his glorious quest, laugh in the face of danger. They have worked tirelessly, combing the dangerous, unexplored wilderness of Ossium - without any maps or idea of where to even begin their search - to find the miasma pillars. They have triumphed, finding two more pillars, one located in the Galath Fields and another in the Nearweald. Those who accompanied Ser Ancél have provided details of what they have found to the Imperial war scouts and asked them to provide him and the Empire with information about conjunctions that might present an opportunity to destroy the pillars.
Finding the other pillars will be even harder - but the construction of a new spy network presents the opportunity to use that to create maps of the territory and perform a more exacting search. Indeed, assuming that the search begins immediately following the Summer Solstice it is likely that those still inspired by Ancel's mandate will be able to find at least some or all of the remaining pillars through the auspices of the spy network.
The more pillars that are removed, the more the miasma is weakened and the more the Druj hold over their minds of these people is weakened.
Details of the conjunctions to deal with the miasma pillars can be found here.
The Ever-Present Weakness
- Any region with a miasma pillar is significantly easier for the Druj to conquer
The two problems, the miasma and the return of the Druj, are separate but they are linked. The civil service have been examining the miasma and they believe it will prove a crucial weakness when the Druj return if it is still in place.
According to their calculations every region that contains a miasma pillar will be easier for the Druj to conquer - a reflection of the broken and cowed spirits of the occupants and even the defenders as the miasma takes its toll. The miasma made it twenty percent harder for the Empire to conquer Ossium - if it is still present when the Druj attack it will work the opposite way round, making it twenty percent easier for them to conquer each region that is affected by the pestilent curse.
We the national assembly of Varushka welcome the Ketsov and all those in Ossium who would call themselves Varushkan with open arms and hospitality. We will teach them to be Varushkan, and show them the virtues of the Way.Belakov, Wolf of Karsk, Varushka Assembly, Spring Equinox 383YE, Upheld (172- 0 Greater Majority)
- There are pressing questions about what to do with the thousands of orcs living in Ossium who are not Druj
- If the Senate does not recognise them as foreigners, the orc population will legally be considered barbarians
The Varushkan Assembly has made a clear statement that it welcomes the Ketsov and all those in Ossium who would call themselves Varushkan with open arms. Combined with the proselytising of the Pride Assembly, this has done much to convince the human population of Ossium to engage with the Empire, albeit tentatively. If the problems with the miasma and the fear of the Druj's return can be dealt with then the humans who live here will soon become full Varushkan.
That still leaves the issue of the orcs who live here. The largest tribe that the Empire have so far encountered, the Sand Fishers, have been evacuated from their lands to Misericorde - to make way for Varushkan settlers coming here from Miekarova, Karsk, and elsewhere. But there are numerous other tribes of orcs living here, albeit most of them smaller than the Sand Fishers. Without a good quality map of the territory, it's difficult to tell how many orcs are living there - but it is likely to be many thousands. All of whom are legally barbarians at the moment.
These orcs are not going to become Varushkan citizens anytime soon. When asked about the matter the Varushkan egregore just shakes her head sadly. It is not a matter of personal choice, it's not even a matter of what the orcs want. The magic of the egregore bond just seems incapable of accepting orcs as Varushkans. The Varushkan Assembly may wish to take them, but at present that is not an option.
Here to Stay
- The Senate could declare the orcs of Ossium to be foreigners and encourage them to remain in Ossium
- Allowing the orcs to trade with and work for Varushkan settlers will improve the growth of the territory and make it easier for Varushkan settlers to become established
In theory this need not present an insurmountable challenge. The Empire has dealt with this problem a number of times in recent years and there is a known solution. The Imperial Senate could declare the orc inhabitants of Ossium to be foreigners, just as they did with the Sand Fishers. That would grant them the same legal rights as the Great Forest Orcs and the thralls in the Mourn. They would not be Varushkan, and they may feel increasingly out of place as Ossium becomes more Varushkan, but they would have the same rights as any Asavean or Sarcophan trader who comes to the Empire and chooses to settle here. They would have no representation in the Senate, they would have no egregore to bond to, but they would enjoy the full protection of the law.
Their presence need not be a problem for the Ketsov or the Varushkans settling here. There is work for everyone now that the Druj are gone, the orcs could be hired to work farms and fields. Miners are needed to work the Crawling Depths - some of these orcs are experienced at working the mithril mine at Lomaa and could be paid to return to their former occupation. There are few roads here yet, so drovers and labourers are needed to accompany trade wagons to keep them moving over the difficult terrain. Anything the Empire builds here will need people to provide the labour needed to construct it.
At present it's not clear that it is legal to employ these people as they are technically barbarians. If the Imperial Senate passed a motion to declare them foreigners it would stabilise the situation in Ossium, allowing the Ketsov and other Varushkans to put the orcs to work. That would speed the development of the territory, allowing new businesses and similar to flourish, providing taxes to support the Imperial treasury - and without these orcs to carry out this physical labour the development of Ossium will be considerably slower.
Over the Hills
- The Imperial Senate could declare the orcs foreigners and encourage them to move to Skarsind
- The orcs will require a significant escort to pass through the dangerous wilderness of Varushka - an escort that can only be provided by an Imperial army
- Construction costs would increase in Ossium, and growth of the territory would be slowed.
There is an alternative however that is at least theoretically possible. The Sand Fishers have shown that at least some of the orcs are prepared to leave Ossium - especially if that presents an opportunity to get further away from the Druj. The Sand Fishers were prepared to move to Misericorde, where they could continue to live as they always have done, fishing the Semmerlak and searching the coastal shores and adjacent wetlands for eels, crabs, oysters and other food. However that meant ceding a region to the Sand Fishers, a considerable sacrifice by the Empire and the inhabitants of Holberg. There is no ready available land that would be ideally suited to the remaining orcs, especially not if it had to be ceded to them.
In discussion with Vasili and the preachers from the Pride Assembly who are supporting him, the suggestion is raised that these orcs might move to Skarsind and become Imperial Orcs. It is not clear that the Imperial Orcs want them - there is no clear cultural affinity with these people because they a rag-tag mix of minor tribes and independent groups each with their own way of life. But it is at least physically possible that some of them could become Imperial Orcs and if they moved en masse to Skarsind then likely many of them would choose that - if they were encouraged to do so by their new neighbours.
That would mean a significant loss for Ossium. Workers would be hard to come by in the territory, so construction costs would soar here as a result and the tax returns for the territory would improve much more slowly. Ossium would recover in time - there are more Varushkans moving here every day. But it would be many years before it recovered from the loss of so many people.
But Ossium's loss might be Skarsind's gain. There are thousands of orcs here, many more than were freed in the recent raids on the Grendel settlements. If even half of them joined the Imperial Orcs, it would be a huge boost to the strength of the nation. And Skarsind, currently a sparsely populated territory with settlements few and far between would overflow with life. Indeed it might literally overflow - there might be so many people moving to Skarsind that it would create pressure for the Imperial Orcs to gain a new territory - as it suddenly became difficult to find land for everyone.
Many of the orcs themselves are surprisingly willing to attempt the journey. What seems to convince them is showing them a map of the Empire and letting them get a feel for just how far Skarsind is away from the Druj. They are not even put-off by the proximity of the Thule, or the Jotun. Those are unknown threats - threats that the orcs of Ossium cannot imagine are note even mildly as terrible as the imminent return of the Druj. While most people might baulk at such a long dangerous journey into the unknown, there is a view here that the further they can get from the Druj the better.
However there is a clear note of caution from the civil service. When the first slaves were rescued from the Grendel and freed on the docks of Sarvos they were told "Skarsind is that way" and left to get on with it and that did not end well. There were only a few thousand of them however, and the problem was eventually rectified.
There are more than ten times that number of orcs involved here... and worse, the route to Skarsind is not an easy journey for the unwary. They don't have a way to get across the Semmerlak, so the only way they could reach Skarsind is going via Karsk and Karov. In the view of the Imperial civil service, if these orcs attempt to reach Skarsind via such a dangerous route, without any help, only a fraction of them will ever make it. The ones that don't get eaten by wolves or murdered by bandits will end up hopelessly lost.
The only practical way to move these people to Skarsind would be to escort them there and only an Imperial army would have the disciplined people required to handle the logistics of moving so many civilians. That would mean an army would have to spend a season in Ossium gathering as many orcs as were prepared to make the journey. The next season they would need to accompany them across Varushka and the Empire to Skarsind. Costs to supply the army would be doubled - to feed so many people in addition to the soldiers - and the army would be vulnerable to attack.
To carry out the evacuation an Imperial army would need to submit appropriately worded orders to carry out a solid defence of Ossium while gathering the orcs together. That army - or another army if it was replaced - would then need to submit appropriately worded orders to march to Skarsind, escorting the orcs all the way. The army would be able to defend the territory if it was attacked at any point, but would be at half effective strength given that their focus was elsewhere.
Whichever option the Empire chooses, the decision is likely to be final. Once the Empire declares the orcs to be foreigners and they begin to adapt to the new way of life working for the Ketsov and the other Varushkans then they are likely to be increasingly difficult to persuade to flee these lands. Contrariwise, if the Empire signals that there is a homeland for the orcs in Skarsind as full members of the Empire, then many will fix their hopes on departing these shores and leave the memories of the Druj and their cruelty far behind them.
Neither option will have any impact on the ability of the Varushkans to potentially field a fourth army.
During the Summer Solstice 383YE, the Imperial Senate raised and passed a motion to declare the orcs of Ossium to be foreigners. The Varushkan assembly welcomed Imperial orc preachers to come to Ossium and speak about the Way.
- The continuing adventures of the Sand Fishers can be found here.