A Tale of Two Armies – The Prologue

TaleOfTwoArmies copyPart of A Tale of Two Armies will be a story running along side the battle reports that Lee & I will be writing as our respective armies grow. It was a foregone conclusion that Lee’s army commander would be none other than Baron Ludwig von Bomburg, his captain of his Marienburger warband.

As we discussed the narrative we decided to set this story a few short years before the hapless noblemen found his way to the City of the Damned. It is a tale of ruin and betrayal and although we know Bomburg ends up within the walls of Mordheim, the how is the important part of this story. So without further ado I give you I give you the prologue to the Ruin of House von Bomburg…

The two forces collided with a clash of steel, the thud of muscle and the cry of a thousand voices shouting their denial that Morr had come for them all. Amongst the slopes of the Midden Moors the soldiers of Altdorf and Marienburg smote their ruin upon one another in the name of those that would be their rulers. 

All around Baron Ludwig von Bomburg his men hacked with swords and stabbed with spears, each action met with a scream and the spray of vital fluids. Next to him his bodyguard, Viktor, swatted aside assailants with a shield that had no place on that side of the grey mountains, and caved in skulls with a spiked mace. An immovable man of unparalleled brutality, he was ever-present at von Bomburg’s side and had saved the Baron’s life countless times.

von Bomburg hacked and stabbed with his own blade. He had spent years studying the art of the sword but had long ago learned that in the press of combat the person who survived was entirely down to how quickly you could raise and drop your sword arm. It was an unsavoury business but necessary if order was to be restored to the Empire. von Bomburg side-stepped a clumsy thrust from a soldier in the red & blue of Altdorf and split the man’s head open with an over-arm swing of his sword. The soldier crumpled taking von Bomburg’s bldae with him. Momentarily defenceless he yanked his antique duelling pistols free from their chest holsters and fired them point-blank in to the chests of two warriors swinging notched and tarnished great swords as they charged towards him.

As the greatswords crumpled with ragged holes blown in their chests, two more swordsmen took their place lunging forward with savage stabs. von Bomburg batted one blade aside with the barrel of one pistol, flipping the other in his grip and shattering his attacker’s skull with its grip. The second blade plunged forward unabated and von Bomburg braced for the deep, burning, pain and a slow death drowning in his own blood. The blade met the solid oak of an over sized, brightly coloured shield, sticking fast in the thick wood. A spiked mace arched downwards and the startled soldier’s expression was ruined as it connected and burst open his head. Viktor nodded to his lord before turning and laying into fresh targets.

von Bomburg knew the Altdorf force was doomed. The Marienburgers out numbered them five to one and already the carrion birds began to circle, eager for the living to be clear of their meal. It was a pointless waste of life, von Bomburg thought, as he split the belly of a man open, stepping past as the hapless soul fell to his knees in an effort to scoop up his guts. Honour demanded little more than the surrender of the army commander and a percentage of his force taken as prisoners. Nothing more, nothing less. And everyone got to go home with their pride in tact and their heads attached.

Yet here they were, in the thick of it killing soldiers of the Empire all because the Grand Theogonist couldn’t accept that Empress Magritta was the rightful heir to the Imperial throne. von Bomburg had met the woman several times and had no doubt she was fearsome enough to unite the Empire. No one would be damn fool enough to defy her.

von Bomburg was snapped from his musings by the sudden absence of an opponent. He cast his gaze about him to see only his own men left standing. The moors were littered with the blue and red of Altdorf soldiers like a lurid carpet. He noted with regret that too many of his own men had fallen. Despite the Marienburgers taking the initiative the men of Imperial capital had fought bravely and to the last man. Cries of victory rippled through the Marienburg army. Oathes to the Empress, Sigmar and the great city of Marienburg being offered to the bird chocked sky.

‘Such a waste.’ He said a loud.

‘Sir?’ Viktor looked up from the grizzly business of giving the mortally wounded their peace.

‘Nothing, nothing.’ von Bomburg waved Viktor back to his task. Although it wasn’t nothing. It didn’t make sense for the Altdorf army to fight to the last. They were never going to survive, let alone prevail against such numbers. And von Bomburg’s reputation surely preceded him. He would honour terms of a surrender. But maybe that was the point. Had there been a surrender he would have moved his army out of the Moors. And that would mean…

‘Form ranks!’ He bellowed. ‘Reform damn you!’ von Bomburg was hauling men to their feet, kicking the backsides of those moving too slowly. Viktor, ever obedient immediately started shouting and shoving men into formation, von Bomburg’s lieutenants following in good order. Banners were once more raised and his ranged units frantically readied their weapons for a volley. Horns sounded and the men roared in ascent. Despite his pre-occupation von Bomburg was filled with pride. Despite their losses and the fatigue that was no dount gripping every soul under his command, they had mustered in good order.

von Bomburg moved amongst the rank and file, boots slurping through the churned up mud or the moors and scanned every hill and rise for a sign of movement. The engagement had been a diversion, designed to keep them on the low ground and drain his men of their fighting strength. They were weakened and vulnerable. He kept scanning until he heard it. The tramp of boots and the jangle of armour-plate. Then with a unified roar an Altdorf army twice the size of his own crested the hills of the Midden Moor on three sides.

At the head of the army, on foot but unmistakably the army general, stood a man in red and silver plate army. Clutched in his hands was ornate greatsword that seemed too big to hold let alone swing without the elevation that a warhorse granted. Despite the distance von Bomburg could feel the warriors gaze bore into him and he failed to repress a shudder. Something primitive in him told him that there was something fundamentally wrong with the man and that honourable surrender would not be an option.

Drawing his sword once more, feeling its weight in his aching limbs he readied himself. Being butchered on the field of battle is not the end von Bomburg had envisioned for himself. If he were honest he had always hoped it involved old age, a large bed and at least three concubines.

It all became academic as the warrior in red and silver hefted his sword and issued a wordless roar of challenge before surging forward with his army at his heels. von Bomburg let out a world-weary sigh, lifted his own blade and gave the order to charge.

***

von Bomburg was dumped unceremoniously in front of a grand throne raised on marble steps. On the throne a man use to good living and wealthy indulgences, reclined, a ring encrusted hand loosely cupping a golden chalice from which slopped wine that spilled onto the white marble with wet slapping sounds.

von Bomburg slowly pulled himself upright, the oversized shackles at his wrists rubbing them raw, his muscles protesting from the pummelling he’d taken at the hands of the warrior in silver and red. He was currently stood behind von Bomburg, hand casually rested on the pommel of the sword he had used to cut down dozens of  von Bomburg’s men.

He tried not to relive it but it was all too fresh. von Strauss had cut left and right in great, sweeping, arcs; breaking and bursting bodies as he charged heedless into the mass of the Marienburg lines. His mouth had been open in a soundless roar, eyes ablaze with crazed blood lust. He butchered any and all that stood in his way. When he reached von Bomburg, the enemy general was little more than a blood drenched berserker and attacked with equal fury. It was all von Bomburg could do defend himself his enemy moved impossibly fast. It was only his years of training that kept von Bomburg alive. Were it not for Viktor, his death would have been all but assured. Hid bodyguard’s mace had smashed into the red and silver breast plate of his attacker just as his blade had found a hole in von Bomburg’s guard and had bit into his ribs.

Viktor’s blow had halted the slice short of smashing von Bomburg’s ribs apart and pulping his lungs. The victory was short-lived however as Viktor was smashed aside with near superhuman force. It gave von Bomburg the chance he needed and hauled himself onto quivering feet. He had turned and ran screaming an order he’d never had to give in his entire life. ‘Retreat!’

von Bomburg shook his head free of the memory as a voice called his name. He raised his red rimmed eyes from the exquisitely crafted floor to the man lounging on the throne.

‘Ludwig!’ The voice said.

‘I don’t think Siegfried would appreciate you sitting in his chair, brother.’

Otto von Bomburg tutted noisily, wagging a playful finger as he swung his legs over the arm and turned to face his defeated sibling. Whereas his brother was average height but possessed the musculature of a warrior, Otto was tall, lean and sinewy. His blond hair was loose over his slender shoulders and woven with silver thread. Ludwig was no stranger to the benefits and indulgences his title entitled him to but Otto had always imbibed longer and deeper.

‘Now now, Ludwig, let’s not be petty. It’s the Imperial throne. One that, last I heard, you were fighting for control of.’

Ludwig rolled his eyes. Otto made the perfect candidate for Marienburg’s representative to the Imperial capital. He was a smarmy, silver-tongued fop who had a knack for embedding himself wherever he ended up, like a tick enjoying all the excesses his position – and diplomatic immunity – afforded him. 

‘Which begs the question, brother, why you are sat upon it?’ Ludwig tried to rise to his feet but a blow to the back of his head from the warrior that still loomed behind him dropped him hard to the marble floor, the crash of his shackles echoing around the vast and ostentatious throne room. Ludwig couldn’t help but consider how far the Empire had fallen from the glory days depicted in the tapestries that hung from the walls and ceiling. A wave of sadness struck him as his eyes fell upon a hanging depicting Sigmar’s defeat of the undead sorcerer, Nagash, and how ashamed the warrior God must be of his people.

Otto slid from the throne like a serpent made of quick silver and drained his goblet. ‘Oh come brother, it’s all in fun. Siegfried is elsewhere and he thought it political expedient that I receive you rather than he.’ He glanced up and waved a dismissive hand. ‘von Strauss, leave us.’

The warrior grunted, turned and marched out of the chamber, his armoured boots clanging against the ornate floor. Lugwig von Bomburg made a mental note of that name and vowed to never forget it. If only he knew how right he’d be.

‘Brother,’ He begun but Otto silenced him with an up held hand. It was long and elegant, pampered and with delicate ink work creeping out from his sleeves and around his hand like creepers. It was both beautiful and disturbing and quite at odds with Ludwig’s own course and scabbed hands. The different paths he and his brother had chosen couldn’t have been more divergent if they’d tried. He suspected the only common ground they shared was their love of fine wine and loose women.

‘Ludwig, you are in disgrace. You had fought wars against the would be Emperor and been defeated. You are lucky to still have your head attached to your neck. And you irksome bodyguard for that matter.’ Ludwig failed to hide his surprise and Otto made no effort to hide how much he was enjoying himself. ‘A little gift to you brother. I know how fond you are of your man and I’d hate for you to have to go to the trouble of training up another. Such things are so tiresome.’

‘Indeed.’ Ludwig managed, biting back a caustic reply. As representative of Marienburg, Otto held the rank of an ambassador which far outstripped his own title of Baron. Right now, shackled and humbled as Ludwig as he was, Otto held all the cards.

‘I’ve arranged your extradition back to Marienburg. You are to remain under house arrest for no less than a year. You are to be killed on site should you stray beyond its walls.’ Otto once again held up a hand to silence his brother’s protests. ‘And you are to forfeit fully half of your armies to atone for the losses you inflicted on the great city of Altdorf.’

Ludwig opened his mouth but paused, waiting for a sign from his brother that he may speak. Otto nodded with far more flamboyance than was really necessary. 

‘I would happily give up half my army, brother, but I have no army to give. That bastard von Strauss butchered them to a man. The men we killed drew us out and refused surrender or to flee. They gave us little choice. They were a diversion to allow von Strauss to strike. We sounded the retreat. We signalled our surrender and when the fighting stopped he betrayed us. It was a massacre the likes of which I’ve never seen before and pray to Sigmar and grim-faced Morr that I never will again.’

He reached up with shaking hands and tried to rub the visions from his mind.

‘There was no honour brother. No mercy. My men were hacked to the ground and set upon and that animal von Strauss was in the  thick of it. They made me watch Otto, they forced me to watch as von Strauss and his army tore mine apart. We’d surrendered dammit! We’d laid down arms. Sigmar bless Viktor, he tried to reach me but was struck a blow that I was sure had killed him. He’s a tough old bastard, that one.’ Ludwig added with a sad smile.

Otto’s good humour had, for the moment, dwindled as he listened to Ludwig’s account. His brother’s haunted, hollow, eyes looked at him pleadingly and any doubt that Ludwig’s story was anything but true vanished from his mind. Otto pursed his lips thoughtfully. Assuming what Ludwig had told him was true it meant that this pointless civil war had escalated into one of conquest rather than political rivalries. And butchering the good and hardy soldiery of the Empire would only hurt them in the long run. The Empire was not short of enemies and reports were already reaching him from the North and East that trouble was brewing.

‘Guard.’ Otto stalked down the steps from the throne to stand before his brother. He moved more like Elf than a man and even Ludwig found it unsettling. Too much grace, too much poise and far too much duplicity. The heavy oak doors of drew open and a two of the palace greatswords marched smartly in, standing ram-rod straight. ‘Unshackle this man and have him placed in my chambers. Put a guard at the door. Should he attempt to leave kill him.’ The men nodded and pulled Ludwig to his feet and a moment later the iron shackles dropped to the floor with a clang. ‘I will take your report to Siegfried. For all his posturing and boorish shouting he’s an honourable man. He never would have allowed this.’

Ludwig didn’t have time to respond before Otto left via an elegantly carved side door and he was all but dragged from the throne room of the Empire.

***

The next few days passed in a blur for Ludwig von Bomburg. The morning after his audience with his brother he’d been summoned before Siegfried the Pretender and he’d been forced to relive the ordeal yet again. Siegfried had flown into a rage and Ludwig was waiting for the inevitable order to end his life. But the order didn’t come. Instead he was placed in comfortable chambers and given clothes and food. Periodically aides to Siegfried would come and ask him details of the engagement. Often times asking the same questions at various points in the day, testing him for any holes or changes in his story.

On the fifth day he was once again summoned before Siegfried. And once again steeled himself for whatever may come. The victim of savagery he may be but in the eyes of Altdof he was a traitor to the crown and death was the obvious sentence were his accusations to be found false. He had stood to attention, flanked by twenty palace greatswords, weapons drawn and held rigidly before them at attention. He had waited patiently as Siegfried had prattled on about the nasty business of war, the disappointing turn of events and how he could use a man like von Bomburg should he be willing. von Bomburg had politely declined and Siegfried had nodded in understanding.

Eventually Siegfried got down to business and von Bomburg mentally prepared himself for the third or forth time that week to meet his maker. But instead he was told that von Strauss had all but confessed to the massacre at the Midden Moors. He had railed against Siegfried when questioned. He denied any wrong doing, arguing it was his job to decimate the enemy not let them scurry home to heal and return seeking revenge. von Strauss had became furious that he was being censured and only stopped short of striking Siegfried when his personal guard reached for their blades. Siefried had dismissed von Strauss and banished him from the Empire.

von Bomburg took the information in with growing disbelief. Not only did look like he would survive but the bastard von Strauss was getting what he deserved. The Pretender even offered von Bomburg the armies of von Strauss as recompense. von Bomburg answered instinctively and declined. Dragging hundreds of men from their homes only to be forced to fight their former comrades was no army at all. And Marienburgers had no trouble mustering armies with money purses as deep as theirs. What von Bomburg couldn’t have known was that upon his refusal, Siegfried banished them along side von Strauss.

***

Ludwig stood on his brother’s balcony, hands braced against the artisan hewn stone. The sun was setting over the capital city of the Empire and despite his mood he had to concede it was stunning city. The brass roof tops of the Reiksguard training houses glistened like the sun. Far below the exiled army marched through the streets in a long, winding line. Their banners hung limp in the wind, dipped low in a sign of mourning. At its head rode von Strauss, proud and tall, his oversized blade sheathed at his hip. Otto joined him on the balcony sipping a heady wine from a gold goblet. He offered Ludwig a goblet of his own but he declined. Otto shrugged and tipped the contents into his own before taking a deep draught.

‘He’s a proud old dog I’ll give him that.’ Otto muttered before draining the goblet. Despite the distance they could make out what could only be a small girl in a red dress ran out to von Strauss. The column halted as he dismounted and scooped the little girl into his arms. Ludwig felt a wave of guilt hit him as he saw von Strauss hand the girl to another figure that could only be her mother. He then turned and drew his mighty sword and bellowed an oath. Ludwig couldn’t make out the words but he felt a chill pass through him and knew as sure as night followed day that he would meet that man again.

‘Where’s he heading?’ Asked Ludwig turning away from the seemingly endless procession of soldiers. Otto shrugged as he poured himself another concoction from a nearby ewer.

‘Troll country I suspect. It’s just about the only place a man like him can ever hope to redeem himself after what he did.’

‘Or indulge in those same desires beyond the eyes of men.’ Retorted Ludwig.

Otto shrugged again. ‘What different does it make? He’ll be dead within the year.’

Ludwig wasn’t so sure. Men that ferocious in combat didn’t just roll over and die.

‘But it’s not our concern any more brother.’ Otto placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder.

‘Oh?’

Otto nodded. ‘You’re being taken back to Marienburg by armoured coach. A gesture of good will, but let me be clear: if you find yourself at the mercy of Altdorf again, nothing can protect you.’

‘What about you?’

Otto smiled as much to himself as to his brother. ‘I’m being expelled from the city. It seems this whole incident has focussed Siegfried’s mind somewhat and the banishment of several hundred of the city’s sons has not gone down well with the citizenry. So I shall pack up my chattels and wears and heading off to pastures new.’

‘With this war escalating, I’m not likely to see you again, am I?’

It was Otto’s turn to look sad, but it was gone just as quickly as it arrived. ‘I wouldn’t say that brother. We’ll meet again, soon enough.’ He gave his brother a warm smile that troubled Ludwig rather than comforted him. ‘Now begone with you. You have battles to fight and I have diplomats to bend to my will.’

***

The wind whipped and howled around Hector von Strauss as he trudged ever closer to the Realm of Chaos. After the march across Troll Country and the journey across the sea, barely a hundred of his men had survived but they were, every one of them, relentless. As they crossed the Northern Wastes they had encountered roving bands of nomad barbarians. Any challenges were met with explosive violence. Those survivors that could, joined his growing warband so by now he commanded a force to even rival Altdorf. And for every man who fell to one of the foul creatures that lurked in the wilderness meant he was one step closer to the realm of darkness and limitless power. Frost limned his armour and turned his hair brittle but the fires of revenge kept him warm. He cast his mind back to when he last saw his daughter Izabella who had run to him and begged him not to go. He had had his wits about himself enough to lie and told him he was off on a great mission. It had been easier than the truth and the disgrace it would have heaped upon her. She had set her jaw and nodded in understanding and he had felt his heart break.

‘von Bomburg will play.’ It took a moment for von Strauss to realise it wasn’t his voice but it was his mouth moving. Something powerful and ancient lurked within his mind, whispering the promises of power, tremendous armies and most importantly his revenge. As he bartered away his soul he looked back at the way he came as he warriors struggled to keep pace. Some were being smote by lightning strikes and other set upon by beasts, but they all made for ample sacrifice. von Strauss could already feel the change  in his own body and then the voice spoke again.

‘Embrace me as your lord and I will grant upon thee the most bountiful gifts with which to inflict woe on your enemies.’

Looking to the horizon, knowing the distant Empire lay beyond his sight, he drew his sword and lifted it high in to the air bellowing at the top of his voice the name of Khorne, the blood God. And in that moment the winds died down and he roared a challenge to Ludwig von Bomburg. And high up the heavens a dark God chuckled his approval and commanded his armies forward.

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