The Orc thief-taker scratched his nose and tried not to agree with his old friend. "She's an oath-breaker, a sorcerer, a murderer, and worse. You know what I'm like. It drives me nuts if one of them gets away. I just have to keep at it, otherwise the voices won't leave me alone."
"So she was from Brocéliande originally? From the Bracken Steading?"
"You're not listening - I said she was from near there. She was one of a whole big group of them that murdered a bunch of Navarr. They got declared sorcerer and the leaders were executed, but the rest of them fled. That's how I got involved, the voices just kept telling me to keep on after this one."
"Must mean something if the ancestors are telling you to pursue her?"
"Nah - it doesn't usually. It's just how it is. I get some criminals face stuck in my mind and then the voices won't hush until I bring them in. Anyway - the point is I tracked her the length and breadth of the Empire. I'd lose the trail time and again - but each time I'd get a lucky break and pick it up. She was up north for a good long time, moving around, up to something. Spoke to loads of people but never managed to catch up with her. Then the trail went cold - but I couldn't give it up. The voices just kept on at me."
"That's tough." Hent, the younger orc sympathised with his old friend. The ancestors were rarely that close to him, but he knew what it could be like when they were trying to tell you something you didn't want to hear.
"Yeah - anyway - I put up with the that for the best part of two years - then out of the blue a month ago I bumped into Reller in Tassato. You remember Reller yeah? Well anyway she mentioned she'd seen her in Tevia heading east. Part of a big group apparently. So I hightailed it down there as quick as possible, but they were all well gone long before I got there. But that's what I love about the trods see - they make tailing people a breeze. You just have to know which way they're going and hope you get to them before they turn off." Palt stopped talking long enough to take a deep drink.
"And did you?... Get to her before the turn off?" Palt's friend was hooked now - dead keen to know how the story ended.
"Nah - she was too fast for me - so I had to take a guess. I picked the route to Anvil though, figured it's the most important trod, so it was the best guess. And luck was with me, I was making a helluva time too, even given it was a trod, I felt like I could just walk for a month. Never moved so fast on a trod before in my whole life! I felt sure I was gonna catch up with her, they were a big group and there were signs of their passing now - but damn me if she didn't stay a day or two ahead the whole time. Drove me nuts."
"Did she go to Anvil?"
"Nah - they skirted right round it. Probably the whole lot of them were criminals I'll bet. Where you find one, you usually find a pack. They won't have wanted any Anvil troubles. Anyway, they carried on fast as they could, like an entire pack of hounds were after them, rather than just one old thief-taker! I caught sight of them then, right on the edge of the forest. Big bunch of them there were, maybe twenty or thirty in all. Navarr by their clothes I reckon. Did I say she was a Navarr? I said that bit didn't I?"
"Yeah you said that already - go on - what happened next?"
"Lost em. Still can't believe it. I weren't shadowing them then, it was just a flat out sprint. Wasn't worrying about how many there were, the voices had me ready to take them all on just to lay hands on her. Couldn't see them in the forest of course - but you got the trods to guide you haven't you? Dangerous mind - that part of the Empire is - Brockie's one of the really old ones - still active. You have to be damn careful. She weren't taking care though. I followed their tracks all the way to the edge of the heart. And chain me up if they didn't just march right in there without a care in the world. The whole lot of them - just carried on running straight in, like they were trying to jump over the Abyss. Now the vallorn's got 'em and I'll never get my bounty - or any peace!"
"You still got the voices?" Hent asked. "What are they saying?" he asked when his old friend nodded, more out sympathy than curiosity.
Palt closed his eyes in mock meditation. He slowly opened them, with a look of astonishment on his face. "They're saying... they're saying... it's your round Hent!"
- 1 Overview
- 2 New Feet on the Trods
- 3 Strange Behaviour
- 4 Liathaven
- 5 Brocéliande
- 6 The Slow Ruin
The trods have never been busier. The grey pilgrims of Highguard, a multitude of new travelers taking their first faltering steps in a dance that will lead them across the Empire and back again. The curious walkers of the Great Forest and a handful of their briar brethren, walking alongside the Navarr. Merchants from the west, with ox wagons and brightly coloured coats, eager to take the fastest route to the markets that make their hearts sing.
All foreigners who walk the trods should be escorted by a guide to ensure their words support the virtues as they travel the Empire.Talek Dancewalker, Statement of Principle, Navarr National Assembly, Summer Solstice 382YE, Upheld 168- 0
Yet the vallorn stirs. Oh, it has been beaten back in Liathaven. Weakened. Contained. Even there, though, some green power still twists fitfully. Something that is not the vallorn, that seeks to use it for its own ends. And there are more vallorn than the one that lies like a wall across the ruined forests of Liathaven.
New Feet on the Trods
During the Summer Solstice, the Navarr national assembly passed a statement of principle urging guides across the nation to commit themselves to intercepting foreigners waking the trods, to ensure that "their words support the virtues as they travel the Empire". This statement has raised some eyebrows. The Great Forest Orcs are already happily traveling the trods with various stridings, most of whom have a guide or priest with them already. The Highborn by contrast are unlikely to accept a guide telling them what they can say, and many will take offence at the idea of being lectured about the virtues by the Navarr should any try.
However the focus on these newcomers has revealed a different problem. There are a fair number of Sarcophan, Iron Confederacy, and even Asavean or Jarmish merchants using the trods as they explore the business opportunities offered by the Empire. Yet the numbers of these visitors pale in significance next to the number of Faraden traders cheerfully now using the trods alongside the Blood Red Roads as they travel from market to market. For most of the Empire's existence foreign visitors to the Empire have been able to travel the trods freely - the idea that the Navarr can ensure that every single one of them is accompanied by a guide... its very ambitious.
All foreigners who walk the trods should be escorted by a guide to ensure their words support the virtues as they travel the Empire. We send (named priest) with 75 liao to urge all Navarr guides to attend to this vital duty.Synod Mandate, Navarr National assembly
If the Navarr national assembly enacts this mandate, their guides will commit themselves to ensuring that foreign visitors do not spread heresy, blasphemy, or idolatry while walking the trods. They have no legal ability to stop people using the green paths, nor to force them to take a guide with them. But they will be able to bring word of any heresy to the attention of the Imperial Synod, and their presence may well be enough to ensure compliance with the law. At the very least, they will be able to challenge any a foreigner that does say things that are not in support of the virtues, which means any attempt to preach anything other than the Way will be significantly mitigated.
There are two potential drawbacks to this mandate. First, every Navarr congregation in the Empire will suffer a one rank penalty for as long as this mandate is in effect - potentially permanently - as priests patrol the trods rather than tending to the faithful. Secondly, the number of foreigners using the trods, especially Faraden, will decline as these merchants seek routes across the Empire that are free from Navarr interference.
The discussion around controlling access to the trods also turns up some odd stories about eerie behaviour on a few of the southern trods. The wider discussions around the proposed mandate mean these stories get a wider audience than they might otherwise have receive. About a month after the Summer Solstice, a curious disturbance in a handful of the trods. It's probably nothing. Still, in times like these, when the vallorn is stirring, wise vates take note of things like this even if they cannot be sure what they might mean.
The disturbance seems innocuous enough; if anything it represents a strengthening of the trods for a period of time. Experienced travelers who notice the effect say that the trods are even more effective than usual, allowing them to walk a little farther and a little faster than normal. What makes it interesting is that not all the trods are affected - and that the effects are definitely observed and confirmed in a handful of locations.
The reports cite the trod that runs east-west through Foracci (although not the one that runs north oddly); the trod that runs through the market town of Sarcombe, and the trod that joins the Broch to Anvil. The effect may have happened elsewhere of course - these are just the reasonably well-traveled trods where the effect has been noticed.
By the time anyone has a chance to properly investigate the phenomena, it has disappeared as suddenly as it appeared. It is probably something and nothing - but it is worrying. The trods are normally very stable; they generally do not fluctuate like this on their own.
Its attempt to expand thwarted, and potent Winter magic brought to bear, the vallorn of Liathaven begins to slip back into slumber.
The Withered Seed
During the Summer Solstice 382YE, a pall began to settle over Liathaven. Powerful Winter magic begins oh-so-gently to smother the life force in the former Navarr territory. The curse known as Wither the Seed is one of the most powerful and durable works of Winter magic known in the Empire and has a number of persistent effects.
For the next thirty years, the life of Liathaven will be stifled. Fewer and fewer animals will be born there, and while the trees and plants are not as seriously effected, they will produce fewer blossoms, and thus fewer fruit, and so fewer seeds. Cereal crops become sparser, and less fruitful. Hunting will become more difficult. The few people who remain there may see cold, hungry winters ahead of them - and even the people will not escape the worst of it. Fewer and fewer children will be born to them. Some will never be blessed with children, no matter how they may try. The wellspring of life in Liathaven will be blighted for a generation.
The curse brings benefits, sour as they may be. Already the vallorn and its spawn are becoming slothful, lazy, slow moving. The pestilence at the heart of Liathaven has grown restless, but now it begins to slip back toward deeper slumber, wrapping its beasts, its poisons, and its questing tendrils around itself as sleep begins to over take it. A thirty year winter for the vallorn of Liathaven is beginning. It will take potent magic indeed to rouse it while the curse still lies across Liathaven.
The effect of the curse is small at first, but as time passes it gathers strength and its effect becomes more marked. Each year there will be a little less life, and by the time the curse has run its course, the population of people and animals will have dropped dramatically.
With the Liathavorn vallorn already weakened from its recent exertion, there is another effect as well. The vates had already identified an opportunity to strike against the vallorn in Westwood. With sufficient martial force, they were confident that the vallorn could be permanently uprooted from western Liathaven. Unfortunately, the vallorn is a thing of unfettered fecundity, and that door - that window of opportunity - is closing. The vallorn is recovering its spent energies, reinfusing the vegetation an the beasts of Westwood with its fecund energy.
The curse slows this recovery, but cannot stop it altogether. Previously, the vates had predicted that the opportunity to clear West Ranging would be lost by the start of the Winter Solstice. The power of Wither the Seed has slowed the rate of the vallorn's replenishment, but it has not stopped it entirely - it is possible nothing beyond the slow draining of the trods could ever achieve such a feat. The vallorn will have restored itself to full strength in Westwood by the start of the Summer Solstice 383YE - if it has not been rooted out in its entirety from the Westwood by that time, this opportunity will be conclusively lost.
There is one additional ray of hope, however. The curse also weakens vallornspawn, making them slow and sleepy. It is possible that in addition to granting an extra six months in which to complete the cleansing of the Westwood the Winter magic may have reduced the opposition such an attempt would face. One way to determine would be to employ scrying magic on Liathaven.
The Trods of Liathaven
Six weeks after the Summer solstice, those vates traveling through Liathaven report an unexpected magical disruption. It is not the vallorn, nor the effect of the Winter curse. Something else rips through the forests - a burst of wild Spring magic that assaults the trods connected to the vallorn's heart, only recently restored by the Navarr, ripping them to shreds.
There is no doubt that this was an intentional act by something sentient. All the work done during the Spring Equinox to reconnect Liathaven to the trod network has been undone in an hour or less. Some of the vates weep with frustration. With Liathaven still at least notionally in the hands of the Jotun, there is only one reliable way to restore the trods here - to find a suitably strong Spring regio within the forests, and thanks in part to the hunger of the Navarr's erstwhile ally that is becoming a more challenging proposition.
While Liathaven subsides into deeper slumber, however, something unlooked for is happening on the other side of the Empire, in lost Brocéliande. The vallorn there appears to be rousing from its sleep. The vallorn covers the vast majority of the land here, choking any Terunael ruins or artefacts, and drowning those who venture too far with its powerful, deadly miasma. There are things in the heart of Brocéliande that even the Navarr have never seen, and the signs point to one or more of those things moving to awaken the vallorn.
Sealing the Crack
During the Summer Solstice, a team of Navarr ritualists made the perilous journey to Brocéliande via the Sentinel Gate and using The Dance of Navarr and Thorn smoothed over a unique crack, a kink through which an unknown power was perverting the nature of the trods. While the trods were slowly leeching the power of the vallorn, that kink was allowing someone - or something - in Liathaven to draw power directly to it, fuelling the sudden awakening of the vallorn there. That opportunity has been denied to the enemy, and whatever corrupting influence had been exerted over the trods of Brocéliande had been brought to an end.
Opening the Gates
There are Navarr in Brocéliande, primarily in Boar's Dell in the north. A few brave the dangerous miasma and live at The Broch deep in the Black Boughs. When the Druj withdrew from Elerael, the Black Thorns took their precipitous dash through the Barrens and Dark Ranging to prevent the vallorn reclaiming the region, and now there are some fragile new Navarr steadings there as well.
Now they are all under threat.
Over the last month, the steadings of Brocéliande, and the stridings that pass through them, have reported a marked increase in vallorn activity along the borders of both Boar's Dell and Elerael. It is not on a scale of the sudden expansion into West Ranging at the end of the last year - it is slower, quieter - but it is none the less terrifying for all that.
The first thing to spread is the miasma. It seeps through the trees, a few more feet every day, sometimes surging forward sometimes falling back. Then come the odd plants that seem to sprout overnight choking the more wholesome vegetation. Sometimes there is simply a burst of growth among the natural plants, that invariably leaves them a little twisted and unnatural. Next come the vallornspawn husks - and this is Brocéliande where Terunael itself once stood. Some of these husks are very old indeed. After the husks come the ettercaps, ranging from small harmless beasts to terrible giant behemoths of the deep forest that devour all in their path.
Yet the progress is slow. Assuming nothing is done, assuming the Navarr of the steadings are left to deal with this slow green tide by itself, the vallorn will claim perhaps a tenth of Elerael and the same amount of Boar's Dell in the coming season.
This advance is not natural. Of course nothing that the vallorn does is natural - but this pattern is definitely unusual, and also feels very different to the events that saw elements of the vallorn expanding into Astolat and Casinea three years ago. The "focus" of the vallorn - if it can truly be said to have focus - is on Brocéliande and there is no sign of expansion into any of the adjoining territories.
Those Navarr vates who are in a position to examine the area using magic soon confirm their worst fear - there are other powers at work here beside the vallorn. Ritual magic has been used to provoke this spread. They are able to locate the fading influence of a potent working of Spring magic - around the sixtieth magnitude - which has either set this expansion in progress, or contributed to it in some other way. Whoever performed the ritual has not acted alone - there are signs that the magic draws on the power of the Spring eternal Yaw'nagrah in some fashion - and that is something that can only be achieved with the eternal's complicity.
Holding back the tide
The vallorn's pressure on Boar's Dell and Elerael is slow and steady; more a gentle pressure than a violent wave. It could be held back. A thousand effective force of military might would be enough hold back the green tide in Elerael, and a thousand force would hold it back in Boar's Dell. Much like Liathaven, there is no connection between the regions on the southern side of the vallorn and those on the northern side - two separate forces will be needed to hold the vallorn of Brocéliande in check in the coming season.
A single healthy Imperial army in each location would be more than sufficient to turn back the threat. There would be some casualties of course, but the support of the local Navarr steadings should mean they are minimal.
However as Liathaven showed, getting the support of Imperial armies to fight the vallorn may prove tricky in these difficult times. It seems unlikely that the political and military situation will have improved much since then given that Sermersuaq has fallen to the Jotun and the Druj are rampaging across Urizen enslaving or slaughtering any who get in their way. Given how precarious the strategic position is, it seems entirely possible that the Empire might decide that it is better to let the vallorn reclaim Brocéliande.
The people who dwell here are not yet ready to let that happen. They have put together a desperate plan to enable a frantic defence against the advance of the vallorn. Greenstead, a stone-walled steading built with support from Rucastle is nothing like a fortification but it is just almost enough to act as a central point for defenders to rally around. It will be a desperate thing - but combined with the unwavering commitment of the Navarr who dwell here, and given their many years experience fighting the vallorn, it could be used to mount a desperate defence, provided that enough Navarr military units were assigned to defend it. The situation is similar in Elerael, where the large and influential Brackensong Steading is sited. Brackensong lacks the stone wall of Greenstead but is much larger which would make it easier for military units stationed here. Taken together the two steadings are just enough to grant independent captains a chance to hold the line.
Neither of these settlements should be assumed to represent an actual fortification, they would not be sufficient to stop a normal army and would struggle to prove effective against a violent wave of expansion such as that launched into West Ranging. They do not contribute any effective military strength to the defence of the territory. But the settlements, and their inhabitants have years of experience fighting the vallorn and that is sufficient to allow military units to be assigned to them for the duration of this battle against the vallorn's slow spread.
Any character with a military unit can contribute to the defence of Brocéliande. The option to "Slow the Vallorn" will appear on the paid work dropdown after the event. A standard military unit will contribute 100 effective force if assigned to support this action, plus an additional 20 force for each rank of upgrade or enchantment. Magic that enhances a military unit's effectiveness with paid work such as Merciless Wrath of the Reaver will be helpful, but rituals that empower a warband to work with an army, fortification, or spy network (for example) will not effect this opportunity.
The prospect of fighting the vallorn in a territory it controls is a daunting one.
- If at least 2,000 force is assigned support the action in the coming season the vallorn will not expand into Elerael or Boar's Dell before the Winter Solstice.
- If less than 2,000 effective force, but at least 1,000 effective force is assigned, the vallorn will push into Elerael but will be held back in Boar's Dell.
- If less than 1,000 effective force is assigned, the vallorn's slow spread will go unimpeded.
The Navarr of the steadings will support those prepared to help defend them. Any military unit that takes this action will receive the usual amount of production they would expect, but it will automatically be in the form of random herbs.
Civil Service Summary
- This coming season military units will be able to select Slow the Vallorn as if it were a fortification they can help defend
- If the Empire can muster a military strength of 1000 that will be enough to defend Boars Dell
- If the Empire can muster a military strength of 2000 that will be enough to defend Boars Dell and Elerael
- The presence of an Imperial army in the territory reduces the military units required by 1000 but the army will suffer casualties
- Military units will receive payment in herbs from the grateful Navarr people who live here
A Grim Alternative
There is an alternative to attempting an effective defence of Brocéliande. The Navarr could pull back and abandon the territory to the vallorn. It would be a bitter blow to the nation to lose the footholds that they have established in the territory, but it would allow them to focus their efforts elsewhere. If the Jotun and the Druj can be defeated quickly there may still be time to stop the vallorn expanding to completely cover Elerael and the Dell.
The vates and experienced scouts of Brocéliande do sound a note of caution. They cannot be absolutely certain but they think that the vallorn's urge to expand is getting stronger - that the slow green tide moving into Elerael and Boar's Dell is gaining momentum. There is definitely some time yet to save the steadings and preserve Navarr control of the regions - at least a year. But if this advance is not stopped some time before the end of the second year then the vallorn will have completely infested these regions making it a much harder prospect to recover them. How much time there is, no-one can say for certain. The vates would need more time to study the advance to know precisely how long the Navarr have.
Even that need not prove entirely disastrous. The vallorn is advancing, but it may take years to lay down its deep roots and completely consume these regions, to make the forests as impregnable as the vallorn's heart. Seeing their homes would be a terrible blow to the people of Boar's Dell and Elerael, but it would not be impossible to return. A determined Imperial force of armies could still force a beachhead at Boars Dell or Elerael to retake what was lost when the time was right, but the longer the vallorn exerted uncontested dominion over the territory the harder that victory would be to achieve.
There are clear risks involved in allowing the vallorn to claim Brocéliande. In theory whatever force is urging it to spread could cause it to continue to expand beyond its borders, but in practice that is not likely. The trod network is still active - even with the loss of Sermersuaq and Zenith it is still sapping the energy of the vallorn; and with thousands of Highborn pilgrims due to begin walking the trods soon, the impact will only grow heavier. The vallorn is a threat to Brocéliande, but it is unlikely to expand into new territory unless something significantly changes.
A War Is Made Up Of Battles
Whatever else happens in the wake of the Autumn Equinox, the situation in Brocéliande will continue to develop. Fighting a vallorn incursion or excursion is more about outlasting its fecund energy than killing the creatures it spawns. Whether the Empire does nothing and the vallorn begins its slow spread into Elerael and Boar's Dell, or puts up a spirited defence, the green tide will continue. This is by no means a case of one-and-done.
The Slow Ruin
- The eternal Llofir is sending a representative to the Hall of Worlds at ten o'clock on Saturday night to talk about the vallorn; it wishes to speak with the Advisor on the Vallorn, a representative of the Highborn. and the Archmage of Spring if they wish to attend
During the Summer Solstice, the Spring Archmage Fabienne Accoucheur spoke with the eternal Llofir in a formal parley. During the meeting, there was apparently much discussion of the interest the Rot Lord has in the vallorn, particularly the Brocéliande vallorn. With the recent developments, a single green herald of the enigmatic eternal emerges across the border from Tamarbode into Elerael bearing a message for any vate prepared to speak with it.
Llofir is apparently keen to meet with the Advisor on the Vallorn; with a representative of the Highborn pilgrims; and with the Archmage of Spring should they wish to attend. Its intention is to have a more direct talk about the vallorn, to explore what the mortals have uncovered in their thousand years of opposing it that the eternal has not discovered in his few scant seasons of observation. The herald is a little cagey - but the implication is that Llofir is interested in talking about ways it might be able to help the Navarr. Regardless, Llofir's representative will be in the Hall of the Worlds at around ten o'clock on Saturday night.