Fourteen Years Strife, Part 4

Years 11-13 (+3 years)

          The crusade against Degrasse continued for another two months before a truce was drawn up.  The wet season had come again and their efforts were spent, so the armies retreated to fortify the gains they had made.  Rains bogged down invasions and supply routes, made missile weapons useless and encampments sink into the mud, while the winter dry months brought a heat so oppressive to the northern Celtinbrook armies that whole congregations were put to praying for relief.  Savage Coast garrisons, though no better able to weather either season were at least familiar with the territory and had the support of the populous.  The summer that year was particularly hot and wet and while the Celtinbrook invaders prayed, the Houses of the Savage Coast went begging to Yasa for help.
          They found little support.  Yasan mercenary groups had been repeatedly bullied, bribed, bridled or butchered into looking for employment elsewhere and the Church of Pelor was keeping a strong hand on as many of them as they could.  Some groups did slip through, shrugging the threats and curses of the priests and either abandoning their property or defending it so violently that none would seize it.  Some of these mercenaries came by sea, others walked up the coast on the dry road that winter.  Either way, garrisons were bolstered as the Savage Kings met to discuss where the Celtinbrook might attack next.  By the end of that winter, reports started coming in.
          It started in the south west, then appeared randomly amongst the islands but by the end of the summer it had the Peninsula of Cathas, the heart of the Savage Coast, in its grip.  Deadly within hours of diagnosis and with no known cure, the "bleeding halo" took the lives of a quarter of the humans in the Savage Coast in the first five months.  The sale of preventative poultices, wards and symbols skyrocketed and children sing songs and create dances inspired by the violent convulsions of the afflicted right before death.  By winter halflings, half elves and half orcs were being added to the overflowing graveyards.  Though most other races were spared the plague, nothing could spare them the ridicule, hatred, fear and grief of those who lost family and friends.  Hundreds of demi-humans were burned alive, lynched or stoned in mob reprisals.  Riots and violence came in between waves of grief and fear.  In these times, everyone was seeking to protect their closest friends and relatives and even the struggle over access, rights and privileges to Healers occasionally turned deadly. 
          The fortresses controlled by the Celtinbrook Paladins fared better, able to use their faith to protect their flock, but then they were soon overrun by hundreds seeking protection.  In Sansea the flow of ships, which set out full of passengers seeking help but arrived loaded with corpses, began to clog the large harbor.  A fire broke out and it was said that the flames from the burning ships in the bay could be seen on the other side of the island.  Three hundred hulls burned while the crowd cheered on the destruction of the plague ships.  In St. Augustin, the refugees filling the town turned out to be soldiers loyal to young King Taltos.  The ensuing butcher of the surprised garrison and anyone suspected of plague was epic, but the ransom offered for the two hundred Paladins of Tyr, a Bishop and two Lords who were captured was such a vast sum that many nobles in the Savage Coast thought King Taltos might just become the next High King.  In a queer move however, King Taltos declined the ransoms of the Paladins, granting them and their followers a portion of the fortress to set up a hospital to treat plague victims, so long as they surrendered their arms and armor.  It is rumored that the Saints of Celtinbrook sent an Angel to negotiate the ransoms and that the King was so moved that he made the offer himself.  Others say he was tricked into it by dark magic.  Either way, Paladins of Tyr are now working tirelessly in a city controlled by a Savage Coast King, yet another act by the Young King that has sent ripples through other Courts.
          Quarantines went into effect in some areas, in others Lords shut out their serfs in fear.  Churches, barbers, medicine men and witches had to choose between treating their own or sallying forth to seek out the affected and the dead.  Summits were held to discuss cures and preventions, but mostly led to talk of trade, supply and production.  Incidents of the Red Curse were rising among the gentry, clergy and merchants who could no longer afford the cost of Cynnabryl.  And then there was talk of the inevitable that would follow the plague.
          It was well known that those not buried on sanctified soil might rise again.  It is said that the more violent or sudden the death, or the poorer their bodies are treated after they pass, the more likely a soul will return to wreak havoc upon the living.  Sailors at sea, often unable to reach a port to bury their dead, envision a murky bottom crawling with their fallen friends.  Almost in proof, Sea Elves use the dumping of bodies into their waters as an excuse to relieve merchant vessels of their valuables and port towns have to keep a priest of Umberlee to turn them back when they come ashore in the night.    Now, as the body count begins and the numbers of missing corpses mount, merchants arm themselves with holy water for use against the packs of undead roaming the swamps and forests and even congenial Lords bar their doors against plague ridden villagers gathering around their keeps for protection.  Rumors abound that some have taken to profit from the availability of a free labor force.  Necromancers, though rare and secretive at that, are suddenly in high demand in many places.  Priest of Talona are also traveling the land, some of the few actually on the road, spreading fear but removing fever and instilling respect.  It is even rumored that a Carnivale Macabre is traveling the lowlands, offering a gruesome look at their "puppets without strings" and a skeleton band that plays their own bones.  Such rumors are among a long list of hideously captivating stories of revenge, greed, cursed souls and pyronecroanimalia.  Peasants are sick fucks.
Thane Aldo of Many Faces, Lord of Tilldown Hole, Harper Secretary General to the Savage Coast, Father and Husband:
          There is little talk about Bane these days.  The number of active agents in the region has dropped to the twenties, even after repeated reinforcements over the past thirteen years.  Palanis Julia went silent shortly after the burning of Sansea harbor and she was followed by a number of his own followers, advisers and family.  Aldo took great care of those he could, referring those he could save to "Cleo" the powerful mage that lived in a tower of Tilldown Fortress.  While Aldo quickly took the secret passage up to the tower to prepare for the journey, he prayed to Pelor, Sune or Ilmater that the priests would be at the temple and hadn't already done all they could that day.  Though Tilldown Hole has been ravaged and all of Aldo's family have shown the signs of the Bleeding Halo at least once, they have been spared the horrors of the worst stages of suffering and making past the darkest days of childhood.  In the last months, "Cleo" has often been seen in the swamps and forests around the remaining settlements, incinerating hordes of spirits and stumbling zombies with bolts of fire and flame.  These flamboyant displays are rare, however, for at least three assassination attempts have been made on "Cleo" and "suggestions" have been made by the Church of Bane to remove him from Thane Aldo's livery.  The Banites are getting very close to Aldo and the master of the Harper effort in the Savage Coast.  They might have been a lot closer if it weren't for the last few years distractions.
          Once raging firebrands of the Banite faith now spent most of their time stamping out the plague wherever it showed in their communities.  The relaxing of rhetoric has turned attention off the Harpers, but the quiet won't last long.  The Church has already declared that it will stop at nothing to seek out those that brought the plague and deliver them into the clawed fist of Bane for a lifetime of tortures.  The last reports that filtered in before the plague hit hinted at a place where such tortures would be conducted, a place that might also be where captured Harper agents had been taken.  Since then however, most of the Harper agents have been just as preoccupied as the Church of Bane…

Sir Guy Richeford of Whiterock, Harper Admiral (the Damned Womanless Heretic Pirate of Whiterock):
          The days of the plague ended the height of the Pirate of Whiterock.  The loss of three ships to the sea witch Jalanis, Scourge of the Seas and his minions was his first major setback.  A shady conflict with a port authority over taxes cost Guy the largest ship he'd ever captured, two disappeared without a trace, lost to any number of possible factors- plague, storm, shallows.  Two were lost to a Banite Bishop and three more to privateers taking up the Banite offer to raid Whiterock shipping.  Others had been captured or purchased in the meantime, but finding crew and keeping them with the plague going added difficulties.  When the plagues came, pressure let up from the Banites but ports became very selective as to who they let in and Guy's attention was forced onto Whiterock.  The Harper fleet shrank to five vessels.
         Traversing the seas was at once an escape from the plague but also a trap if it came aboard, and Guy was no stranger to the losses caused by the plague, quite a few followers fell to either its ravages or the conflicts they engaged in.  Guy was often trapped at Whiterock, facing the same decisions that other landowners wrestled with and having to make the same sacrifices, one way or the other.  When signs of the plague would pass from Whiterock, Aldo would have "Cleo" bring his family to take in the sea air and offer advice on estate management.  Though Guy believed himself fair and his sailors idolized him, the villagers seemed to quietly hide their disdain.  Aldo tried mentioning that you can't rule a village like you rule a ship, but he knew the comment would be lost.  Guy was aging and like all wizened individuals, he was set in his ways.  He was too good a Captain to know how to be a Knight.  Aldo also understood that the stress of loss and failure was added to his dish of plague and undead and despite all his loyal followers, Guy didn't have someone like Thane Senya to support him.  What Guy wanted was a good woman.  His servants mention that he speaks of her in his sleep…

Aragorn, Light to Nations, Bearer of the Mantle of Fire, Battlepriest of the 4th Crusade:
         Harper work and then the Crusade had kept Aragorn busy and content, though death could have taken him at any turn and he reveled in the excitement and the looks in his allies faces, but the plague changed things.  Though constant exposure was of little threat, the shear weight of bodies pressing against his door, crying out for help or demanding assistance, incessant and unrelenting was enough to drive a normal man mad.  Aragorn was hounded everywhere he went, so much disturbed at times that he could not even pray to Pelor for the ability to dismiss the plague from its victims.  So many would come, he had to turn away those that did not appear to be afflicted, only to see their names on the mummers wall the next day.  Donations to the Temple of Pelor flooded in, for charity could not be given to such a flood of people.  On one day he had requests from Aldo, Guy, fellow Pelorians, Priests of Tyr, Harper Agents and Lords of the House of Palanis, Uthan, Werehaus and King Relegan to remove the plague from friends, family and followers.  On that day Aragorn had to decide who would die.  It would be the first of many such days during the height of the plague.  He saw so many blistering, bleeding faces restored that he never even realized he'd begun to see some of them more than once.  One thing that haunted Aragorn that he didn't tell the others.  He's seen these wounds before, in Yasa, in Lord Dracna's Cages.  This time at least there weren't any daemons, only the undead.
           Traveling the countryside, purging it of the walking dead would have been an easy, enjoyable task, but it wouldn't fall to him.  Aragorn's power was needed to keep the plague at bay- too many valuable individuals were still getting infected.  Often enough however, when he was supposed to be in private prayer, Aragorn would meet a cloaked figure at the edge of the church yard in the early evening and return just before morning, sapped of the strength of Pelor but with the knowledge that a hundred or more souls were now free from their shackles of hate. 
           These days, Aragorn is exhausted almost all the time, even restorative elixirs and prayers don't help much.  When asked he'll say he feels like the valley during a river at flood- so much power has flowed through him that he's been stripped of his banks, denuded of life and had deep channels ripped through him.  As the plague fades the undead reports rise and little relief is in sight, but every now and then Aragorn passes a street where the children laugh and dance, singing songs in the face of tragedy and he knows there will be good days again- it is only the mantle of fire he must bear for others…



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