A Tale of Two Armies: Genesis of a Hero

TaleOfTwoArmies copy

As part of A Tale of Two Armies one of the things we wanted to look at, as part of the wider narrative, was how hero and villain of the piece evolved from our early conversations to the characters they’ll become at the series’ conclusion. I elected to go first as I had the luxury of having much of my character’s back story long ago established.

‘It all started with a game of Mordheim’ I guess is the best way to begin explaining the almost sentient growth of a humble assembly of plastic pieces into a character worthy enough to actually write about.

When The Chaps decided to run a Mordheim Campaign and we were deciding who would do which warband, I plumped for the rich boys of Marienburg figuring the extra gold pieces they had would give me a significant head start to turn them into a dominant force – even if they were a bit lacking in the rules department.  That gold enabled me to tool up my Captain with all the cool toys he could want including a pair of very shiny, and very expensive, Duelling Pistols.  I had the image of a lethal sharpshooter in my mind, wading through combat, picking off enemies one after the other with deadly accurate head shots – none able to get close for fear of ending up face down in the dirt in an expanding pool of their own vital fluids. But it never really happened like that, quite the opposite really.

During the campaign von Bomburg wasn’t exactly living up to those expectations I had when gleefully listing his equipment I invested so heavily in. Dice are fickle at best of times but he could almost be guaranteed to roll a ‘1’ when it really mattered.  During the early days of a character’s progression you forgive poor performances knowing that experience will no doubt improve through skills and stat increases. von Bomburg had now accumulated a few of these (through the rest of his warband performing quite well – love those crossbows), most notably an extra point of Ballistic Skill taking him to a very healthy 5 and the Pistolier skill letting him shoot both of his pistols together if needed.  And a suit Gromril armour – very handy indeed. With the firepower at his disposal he should have been kicking asses and taking names, but it just wasn’t happening for him.

The specific game in question has been mentioned before in other posts and relates specifically to Bomburg’s lack of shooting accuracy.  As this game was playing out he was demonstrating his usual ineptitude with all things ballistic only this time he happened to be in the beer garden of the town tavern.  Standing upon a table acting all heroic like, he took careful aim at the horde of enemies rushing towards him and his fellow Marienburgers, and then proceeded to miss both his shots despite hitting on 2’s as if bestowed with eyes that stared at each other. As this stage his sub par performances could go unnoticed no longer and the rest of The Chaps threw their 2 pence/cents/maple leaves worth into the mire of my disappointment. Amongst the usual tit for tat one comment was latched upon which was he must have been enjoying the beer garden a bit too much and thus impaired his vision [That may have been me… – Ed.].  It stuck and so began the effervescent evolution of Ludwig von Bomburg – the wealthy drunkard fallen on hard times. The son of a wealthy family looking for adventure whilst slowly drinking his fortune away. Somewhere between Paul Whitehouse’s 13th Duke of Wybourne and Rowley Birkin QC (for those of you that watch The Fast Show) – he no doubt possessed the sleazy suaveness of the former but was far more inebriated like the latter.

As the campaign continued, von Bomburg’s performance did improve under the avalanche of additional skills he acquired but he was always below what was expected – the others feared his potential, but never surprised by his failure.  As Bomburg’s ability had improved somewhat during the campaign it seemed natural that he would once have been a formidable foe – the kind of which I wanted at the start, but impact of life’s vices had dulled his skills. The constant state of combat he endures in Mordheim being enough to reawaken some of the potential he lost to the drink, drugs and women.

Another of von Bomburg’s traits were brought to light when he seized on an opportunity to take down Ian’s Vampire who had got a little isolated – von Bomburg stepped forward pistols in hand and proceeded to miss with both shots. von Bomburg and Ian’s Vampire have a little history as way back in the first games of the campaign von Bomburg critically wounded him which resulted in him losing his hand. With us being the fun guys we are, we decided to let Ian graft the crossbow pistol he possessed permanently onto the stump to mitigate such a severe blow so early in the campaign and add a bit of character to proceedings.  This had not been forgotten and so the tables now reversed as Ian managed to distract von Bomburg’s guards and charge him with said Vampire in retaliation. Bomburg was easily out matched but through a healthy dose of luck he managed to survive several rounds of combat and long enough for Ian to fail his route test as my Marienburgers dispatched his minions – sparing Bomburg his doom.  The outcome highlighted that he’s really really lucky when it comes to staying alive. There’s the time he got brained by the handgun only for me to remember his Lucky Charm at the very last second prior to removing the model, or the time he side stepped that Strength 5 lightning bolt.  He rarely dies and always seems to have a way out a sticky situation – often thanks to his long-suffering bodyguard, Viktor holding the enemy up long enough for him make his escape.

By this time I had themed all of the Marienburg warband around what would have been members of his household guard; Viktor was the head of the Household Guard with the Halberdiers being members, one of the Young bloods was his disturbed cousin etc. but Viktor with his role as bodyguard stood out as a key figure in Bomburg’s development – constantly being the difference between him living and dying.  We started to fill out why Viktor accompanied von Bomburg and why Bomburg was even in Mordheim in the first place, a fall from grace seemed to fit the bill and tied in with his truly outrageous drinking, overall poor performance punctuated with flourishes of mad skills.

As Phil and I started to make our foray into the wider Old World in the ‘A Tale of Two Armies’ series it was a no-brainer to expand the Marienburg warband into a fully fledged army of the Empire, but that would then need an explanation as to where any such army he would have been part of had gone and then led to him coming to the cursed city. Part of this story has been told in the articles Phil has been writing and without wishing to spoil anything I can only say so much – the short of it being he loses much and leads his final few followers into Mordheim as a final gambit.

Bomburg has come a long way from the original model I created for my captain using parts from the old Mordheim box.  After the Pub Garden incident I remodelled him to have a wine glass in hand and moved the second pistol to his belt to better represent his character.  He’s tremendous fun to play and almost takes the decision-making out of my hands with his personality deciding what he should do. I’m now getting just as much enjoyment bringing his supporting cast up to a similar level with the dour Viktor and perverted relative having already been mentioned and accumulating their own anecdotes.

Playing games in A Tale of Two Armies allows me to see von Bomburg as a young man, before years of war and booze ruined his mind and as the narrative develops we’ll learn more just what brings von Bomburg to his fate of a tortured existence amidst the ruins of Mordheim.

I’ve also come into possession of a few plastic wine bottles and have designs in mind to add them to the Captain of the Land Ship from Forgeworld and give the young von Bomburg the model he deserves.  It’s an absolutely ace piece and comes with a fantastic looking crew – particularly said Captain.  It would be perfectly fitting as his chariot of choosing, being overly wealthy (at the time) he would no doubt select the biggest and most expensive vehicle he could find.  I can’t wait to send it careening across the battlefield with him loose at the wheel, it’s practically what Warhammer was made for!

A Tale of Two Armies – Chapter 1

TaleOfTwoArmies copyLee and I finally got around to playing the first game of A Tale of Two Armies. 500 points a piece for a bit of Fantasy Battle fisty-cuffs. To say it was a blood bath is a bit like saying Khorne quite likes skulls. Rather than write battle reports we’ll be writing an expanding narrative chronicling the exploits of von Bomburg and his nemesis, von Strauss the Red. The prologue can be read here.

The city gates of Middenheim ground open just wide enough for Ludwig and the other household guard to carry through the body borne aloft on an oversized shield. City guard hurried down steps and from their posts at the towering city walls. Some ran to help carry the body, others to alert the city’s apothecary and surgeon. The captain of the watch approached, unhelming his head and letting ropes of plaited hair tumble free. Viktor nodded in respect to the man, he knew better than to let the barbaric appearance of Middenheimers deceive him. They were, to a man disciplined and brutal warriors. Sweat beaded Viktor’s brow as he struggled with his burden: it had been a long walk up to the mountain keep’s great gates and he wanted nothing more than to see his charge in expert hands of the city’s medicine men.

‘What happened?’ The Captain demanded.

‘An ambush. Warriors from the distant North.’ Viktor muttered through gritted teeth. ‘We arrived in time to drive off the remnants of their force.’

The Captain cursed under his breath. He pointed a gauntletted hand at the prostrate form as a group of guards finally took the burden from Viktor’s failing grip. ‘And he was the only survivor?’ Asked the Captain.

Viktor worked his quivering, aching limbs and nodded. ‘He is a Baron of Middenheim. And he made damn sure the whoresons of the fell Gods faired no better Captain, be made sure of that.’

***

6 Hours Earlier:

‘Where the bloody hell is Viktor?’ von Bomburg bellowed throwing his helmet at Sergeant Helmut. The grizzled veteran caught the helmet deftly and said nothing, letting the Baron vent his frustrations. ‘I mean how hard can it be to follow our trail? The sodding cannon crew managed it! A cannon, Helmut! What do you have to say to that?’

von Bomburg scooped up a stone from the damp, grassy, ground and hurled it through the window of the abandoned cottage with a satisfying crass of glass. von Bomburg paced the clearing between the cottage and the old broken down watch tower whilst those few men that had kept pace with him stood at uneasy attention. Boettcher and his knights all but ignored the ranting Baron: if he’d dealt with one spoilt noble he’d dealt with them all. Behind them the cannon crew unlatched the gun carriage from their horses and stood nervously, at a loss as to what to do.

Only the Halbediers and their nonplussed sergeant seemed to be paying their employer any notice what so ever. 

‘I believe they had horses sir.’ Helmut said flatly.

von Bomburg turned and wagged a finger at Helmut, the plated digit so close it disturbed the sergeant’s impeccably waxed moustache. ‘Don’t get clever with me sergeant. Whether they had horses or not they and Boettcher’s lot managed to keep up. And here we are at the feet of Middenheim without the army I promised Baron Heidegger.’

‘With due respect, lord, they are less than half a day behind us.’

‘Oh well, that’s all right then, Helmut,’ von Bomburg stormed. ‘That’s okay then. Well done Helmut! Well bloody done! I’ll tell old Heidegger that I’ll fulfil the debt my family owes his tomorrow morning shall I?’

Helmut couldn’t help but rolls his eyes. The year Baron von Bomburg had not been kind to him. A man of action forced into activity was as cruel as cutting the legs off a horse and giving it a field with which to gallop. He had tried everything he could to convince the Burgermeisters to ignore the edict from Altdorf but even with the civil war it did little good to provoke the Empire’s largest city. However when the Northern house of Heidegger summoned von Bomburg at the head of an army to fulfil a debt of honour not even the Burgermeisters could argue. It was one of the law ancient laws passed down by Sigmar that still held sway, especially in such mad times that the Empire now found itself in. Thanks to von Bomburg’s vast wealth he had an army raised within days and Helmut, charged with making sure the Baron stayed within the walls of his estate, saw it a logical extension of his duties and took commission to fight at the Baron’s side.

Helmut snapped out of his reminiscence as von Bomburg finished his long and colourful rant and stormed back towards the cannon, bellowing at them to make themselves useful and ready the gun for test firing. Helmut sighed, and returned to his regiment of halberdiers about to order them to forage amongst the wooded outcroppings for fruits and other food stuffs, when the small unit of archers acting as scouts came into view running as hard as they could.

***

von Strauss flinched as he felt the air displace around him. A second later the man next to him disappeared in a shower of blood, meat and shattered armour. He laughed as much from the violence of the warriors demise as his narrow escape from the cannon-shot. In the distance he could already see the crew frantically reloading, the muzzle pouring white smoke. It was a good opening volley and he did so prefer his opponents to make good sport. Though Khorne demanded blood and skulls, von Strauss demanded a challenge and as the latter begot the former his God was happy. It also kept the blood lust from clouding his mind fully. The blood God granted him just enough clarity of thought that he could at least attempt to direct his forces although he knew all too well that Khorne gave no such dispensation von Strauss’ followers.

It had proved thus as Chief Kaldrago had surged forward as soon as the order to advance had been given. He and his motley band of Marauders of the Red Hand had charged forward, picks and axes waving wildly in their air. Thick muscles, heavily marked in crimson, pumped furiously as they were driven mad by their need to kill. Their mangy pack of dogs bounded after them, baying and snapping their distended jaws at the air. von Strauss had to give credit to von Bomburg, he not only rallied his men quickly but commanded them well. Kaldrago and his marauders were currently being torn apart by von Bomburg and his unit of halberdiers. But that made no odds, the savage and his kinsman were there to die and little more. No, von Strauss had to fight the temptation to join the fray and deal with the cannon first. Then he’d have to do something about the knights that were fast approaching from the rear having butchered the hounds, albeit at the cost of one of their number.

The mighty cannon fired again. Another one of his warriors disappeared in an explosion of vital fluids. Smoke, dirtier than the last time, billowed from the barrel and the crew started paling water over the war machine in a frantic effort to cool it ahead of firing again. von Strauss smiled to himself. The pace of his men’s advance was forcing the crew to reload and fire far faster than was safe – out of fear presumably.

A growl rumbled from his throat as he felt the blood lust emanate from his men. They tasted the cannon crew’s fear and they wanted blood. As his lips parted to give the order to charge a whickering volley of arrows clattered against their armour. The scouts von Strauss had chased back to von Bomburg’s encampment had broken cover, feebly attempting to defend their comrades. Much to von Strauss’ irritation it only succeeded in sending his warriors into a frenzy. The unit surged forwards and descended on the bowmen. von Strauss butchered them all with a single sweep of his blade as much to demonstrate his dominance to his men as to vent his frustrations. The move had exposed the flank of his diminishing unit to the cannon. He glowered at the crew who frantically adjusted the position of the gun and he offered up a prayer to Khorne. A risky move as the lord of war was as likely to punish him for asking for aide as he was to grant it.

As von Strauss and his men came about to face the oncoming knights he risked a glance over his shoulder at the cannon. There was nothing he could do about the war machine now, the bowmen had delayed them enough that now their only hope would be to engage the Imperial knights and hope the cannon crew wouldn’t be fool enough to risk firing at their betters. The taper dropped and the cannon bucked and instead of the crack, boom and whoosh of a cannon ball, and the inevitable explosion of body parts there was the shriek of tortured metal and a rolling cloud of black smoke and flame.

von Strauss allowed himself a cruel smile. The cannon had misfired and with it the fate of the Empire soldiers had been sealed. von Strauss drew his sword once more and bellowed a challenge at the charging knights. His warriors surged forward with him clashing with the knights with a thunderous crack of blades on armour. Another of his warriors fell, his head split asunder by the heavy blade of a knight but the ferocity of the warriors was too much even for the Empire’s bravest and they turned tail and fled.

As the knights broke a explosion erupted behind the warriors. von Strauss turned in time to see the brass barrel of the great cannon come apart as it tore itself and its crew to pieces as the powder cooked off in the barrel, too eager were the crew to clear the jam and fire on their foes.

The champion of Khorne let his warriors chase after the knights, knowing they’d never catch them but letting their fury carry them South, back past the ruined, broken-down cottage and straight into the bearly reformed and battle weary halberdiers. von Strauss’ blood sang with the joyful fury of battle as ran at the halberdiers who frantically tried to close ranks around their leader, but he would not be denied his revenge.

He bellowed von Bomburg’s name as he swung his blades on a criss crossing motion ready to dismember the Imperial noble that had cost him his house, his lands and his family.

von Bomburg stared down the rampaging Chaos lord impressed and horrified by the power of the man-monster. He reacted instinctively, pulling his blade free and holding it out, arms rigid, lets braced. The Chaos champion was moving too fast to halt his charge and slammed bodily into the sword tip, the enchanted weapon easily piercing the warriors armour and impaling him fully. The weight of the man yanked the blade free from von Bomburg’s hands making him stumble. His fall was halted as a body fell into him. The halberdier crumpled to the ground the sword that had murdered him pulling free with set, sucking, sound.

All around him his men were butchered. Just six warriors had engaged fifteen of his own and they were killing each other with startling efficiency  In moments it was over: his men were burst and broken on the long grasses that had grown wild between the watch tower and it’s broken down cottage and amongst three grotesque and oversized warriors of the North. Before him stood three hulking men, their armour doused in blood, their blades dripping and notched. Behind them the champion tried to rise, von Bomburg’s blade still buried in his chest, but his strength was fleeing as quickly as his vital fluids.

von Bomburg nodded to the warriors in understanding and bent to pick up the sword that had belonged to Sergeant Helmut. The man had died badly, his arms had been severed and his face split open by a brutal axe blow. He raised the sword in mock salute.

‘Shall we?’ He said with a smile.

They came at him all at once, weapons raised and wordless roars blaring from their horned helms. von Bomburg blocked the flurry of attacks, briefly marvelling at the speed and ferocity with which they were dealt. Only his years of sword art saved his life. At least initially. The first blow that made it through his guard caught his vambrace and he felt his arm break. He howled in pain, backing off, defending furiously fighting for some breathing room.

He gained half a heartbeat but it was enough for him to duck below the guard of one of the warriors and lunge forward, thrusting his sword through the vision slit of another warrior’s helm. There was a gurgle and the warrior dropped. The remaining two renewed their attack. Blades flashed and another warrior fell, his throat spilling blood in squirt flurry of crimson just as an axe blade bit deep into von Bomburg’s side. He cried out in pain and dropped to the floor, a gauntleted hand stained red as he tried to stem the flow of blood.

He rolled onto his back as the last warrior loomed over him, axe held high. Around them dozens of bodies littered the floor, the soil already sodden with blood. He sighed and closed his eyes. ‘Come on you bastard,’ He muttered, ‘Get it over with.’

‘von Strauss is avenged.’ The warrior growled.

***

von Bomburg’s eyes snapped open pain flooding his body a moment later. He screamed in pain and anguish. Hands were upon him, pinning him to the operating table. His arm exploded in pain as he was restrained, and he instinctively went limp.

‘Lord, be calm!’

Viktor’s voice cut through the pain, von Bomburg grabbin his purple and grey tunic and pulling him close.

‘Viktor! Viktor!’ He babbled, he could feel hysteria gripping him. ‘von Strauss…’

‘He’s been exiled lord. To the far North.’ Viktor struggled in von Bomburg’s grip despite his weakened state.

‘No, no, you don’t understand.’ von Bomburg released his grip and wiped a shaking hand over his face. ‘von Strauss has returned.’

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.