Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Crusading in the Dark Country

The Sword Brothers were originally founded to battle the foes of Law in the Desert Lands.  They, along with countless other holy orders and a number of laymen who wished to atone for their sins poured into that distant land, only to be ultimately sent back when resistance became too fierce.  The Men of the West blamed the decadent citizens of Zenopolis who, despite theoretically worshiping the God of Law were too enraptured with their strange drugs and sinister rites to lend troops.  Indeed, Westerners claim that the Emperor did all in his power to hinder these crusaders, a sure sign of his allegiance to the Pit.  Of course, those men of Zenopolis have a very different version of events, but that is beyond the scope of this entry.

After the failure of the crusades into the Desert Lands, the Sword Brothers turned their blades closer to home.  The Dark Country was once part of the Empire before it was smashed by the barbarian onslaught.  They decided it should return to the Law.  They set out to convert the population, by force if necessary.  This tale is a sad one and it is well known to those who know of the Dark country.

The cities they founded remained even after the great crusade that annihilated the Brothers, and they still wished to bring the Light of the Law to that benighted country.  Indeed, thousands of pagans still hide in the dark forests and high mountains, and they seek to return their land to Darkness.  There is also the threat of the heretics in Novgova and Muscgorod whose armies skulk along the foot hills of the Nameless Mountains waiting for the moment when they might strike and do devils' work.  One should not forget the threat of the nomads who lie in the great steppe just north of the Blood Red Sea.  While it is rare for these bloodthirsty raiders to cross the mountains, it is not unheard of.

Perhaps now more than ever it is important that the Seven Cities be bolstered by a stream of soldiers and settlers from the West.  Sadly, this stream has become a mere trickle after the destruction of the Sword Brothers and a number of infamous losses to the pagan warlords.  As such, the Seven Cities have attempted to make the idea of crusade more appealing to their Western neighbors.  For the past few decades they have tried to turn crusading into the equivalent of a winter holiday for Western Lords.*  Lords bring their troops from the West are treated to a tour of the Seven Cities, with a grand tournament being held in each with both jousts and melees.  Feasts are held each night, both in the cities and in the field.  The climax of all this is usually the token burning of a village, sometimes not even a pagan one.

All this is done in hopes of convincing the lord to move in permanently; however, it is difficult to hide the land's haunted nature.  Visitors who return to the West often comment on the level of brutality used even in the mock wars held by the Cities.  The inhabitants of the Seven Cities rarely show quarter to enemies, be they pagan or not.  Bodies are hung from city walls, men and women are burned alive in the streets, and children are roasted on spits.

And this is only the human terrors.  There has never been a more haunted land than the Dark Country, and the horrors found in its more remote reaches are things brave men shudder to mention.  They are things that prey on both the body and the soul.  Ultimately few who go on such crusades come back unaffected.  Only those who are most unhinged take up residency in the Seven Cities, and their savagery and fanaticism is infamous.

*Fall and winter are the usual seasons for military campaigns in the Dark Country because the cold temperatures freeze the fetid swamps so that armies might be moved across them.

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