The Imperial Almanack [Updated 28/01/14]

This is a dark age, a bloody age, an age of daemons and of sorcery.

Re: The Imperial Almanack (sneak peek)

Postby Athelassan » Thu Jun 28, 2012 6:59 pm

Another preview for y'all, this time on the tribes of the Empire prior to the unification by Sigmar. This represents probably about a third of the relevant section.

As usual, this is first draft and there may be revisions; there are also some references which don't appear here and some more I will need to add. C&C welcomed as always.

Ath



Asoborns

The Asoborns are of unclear origin, probably more closely related to the plains tribes of the north than the Ulrican tribes of much of the rest of the Empire. In the pre-unification era they were renowned for their strange and permissive customs, and were the only significant tribe in the Empire to maintain a matriarchal culture. It has been suggested that this was as a result of their descent from the ancient Belthani tribes who worshipped the Earth Mother, but it seems more likely that it stemmed from their heavy focus on the worship of Rhya.1

Under a series of powerful warrior queens, the Asoborns carved out a territory, initially around the Stirhugel, which they then extended further east. They were particularly well-known for their chariots, which proved effective on the plains of their territory, although their reliance on them probably hampered their expansion into the Great Forest to the west. By the time of Sigmar, the Asoborns, and their ruler Queen Freya, maintained friendly relations with the Taleutens to the west and the Siggurd-aligned tribes to the south.

An independent-minded people, the Asoborns were not easy converts to Sigmar's cause. Early in his rule over the Unberogens, Freya and the Taleuten chief Krugar attempted to make the Unberogens their vassals, a ploy which was foiled by the shrewd Unberogen king.2 Legend has it that Sigmar was forced to seduce Freya in order to win her allegiance.3 However their allegiance was won, the Asoborns proved powerful and loyal allies, their chariots making a decisive impact at the battle of Black Fire Pass and many subsequent campaigns.

In recognition for their contribution towards the victory, Sigmar named the Asoborns one of the Great Tribes and Freya was made a Count of the Empire. The lands of the Asoborns formed the basis for the province of Stirnebland.

Avermanni


Not a unified tribe as such, the Avermanni constituted a loose collection of smaller tribes who occupied land along the Aver: the three principal tribes being the Agbards, Tratten and Geschebi.4 It is unknown whether they arrived in the Empire with Ulric, or whether they arrived in some earlier migration, but the last of the Aver tribes seems to have established themselves in their territory several years before the time of Sigmar.

Threatened by the usual menace of goblins and other, larger, neighbouring tribes, the Avermanni formed a coalition of mutual dependency and established a common system of law which was considered advanced by pre-unification standards. They are known to have had extensive contact with the Dwarf population of the World's Edge Mountains, which may account for their level of sophistication. Like the neighbouring Brigundians, they were famed for the quality of their horses, which in warfare they used to propel their fearsome chariot divisions.

The Avermanni were the first tribes to join the confederacy of Siggurd when the Brigundians began to expand their power base in around -35. The last independent ruler of the Avermanni was Brunngerta, who swore fealty to Siggurd as high king at around the time of Sigmar's birth. A powerful warrior queen, she is reported to have fought alongside Siggurd at Black Fire Pass, although she is not mentioned in most Sigmarite legends, and her fate following the battle is unknown.

Following the establishment of the Empire, the lands of the Avermanni were incorporated into the province of Averland. Modern scholars tend to use the names “Avermanni” and “Brigundians” interchangeably to refer to the population of the province.


Bretonni

One of the largest tribes in the pre-unification Empire, the Bretonni are believed to have traversed the World's Edge Mountains with Ulric and made their way westwards where they settled in the unforested areas in the foothills of the Grey Mountains. Following sporadic conflict with greenskins and with neighbouring tribes – principally the Unberogens – the tribe began to explore the land on the other side of the Grey Mountains, discovering it to be rich and fertile.

The tribe expanded into this new area, becoming proficient in the breeding of horses, which in turn became a valued commodity in the east. It has been suggested that the famous horses of Averland are originally of Bretonni stock, although never within the hearing of an Averlander. The relatively peaceful lands led to a gradual abandonment of the older gods among the Bretonni, with more of a focus on the classical gods, Shallya in particular.

By the time that Sigmar called upon the tribes to unite to fight the orc horde of Bloodstorm, the Bretonni had grown so large that the nominal king had little control over the furthest reaches of its territory, and individual war leaders were establishing themselves as petty kings. Rather than try to maintain a divided kingdom on both sides of the mountains, the Bretonni chose to depart the Reik basin and leave Sigmar to face the greenskins without their support.

The eastern Bretonni lands were incorporated into the provinces of Weysterland and Reikland, but what was seen as the betrayal of the Bretonni was not forgotten, and much of the Bretonni land in the west was later seized and established as the Imperial province of Westermark. Eventually, with the dissolution of Westermark and the unification of the Bretonni dukedoms, the tribe was again reunited as the Kingdom of Bretonnia in 995.


Brigundians


The Brigundians are listed as one of the tribes who accompanied Ulric on his passage across the World's Edge Mountains, as the “Brigundkin”. They did not travel far from Black Fire Pass, establishing their territory inland from the confluence of the rivers Aver and Reik. Settlements soon grew up along the old Dwarf roads, where the Brigundians found their vocation as traders.

The cosmopolitan outlook of the Brigundians led to extensive contact with the Dwarfs of the mountains, and the Tileans further south. The cult of Myrmidia gained some early adherents at the court of the Brigundian kings and the advanced tactics and strategy promoted by Myrmidian priests found effective use at the hands of Brigundian armies.

By the time of Sigmar's birth, the Brigundians were the most powerful tribe of the south-east, and one of the most powerful in the Empire. The tribes of the Avermanni to the north swore fealty to the Brigundian king Siggurd, and the tribes of the Menogoths and Merogens to the south also joined his confederacy of mutual protection. Although initially suspicious of Sigmar's motives and intentions, Siggurd agreed to join his confederacy with that of Sigmar after the Unberogen king slew the dragon ogre Skaranorak. From that point onwards, Siggurd was one of Sigmar's closest allies, reported in various legends as fighting side by side with him at Black Fire Pass and as being the first king to acclaim Sigmar as Emperor.

The lands of the Brigundians were incorporated together with those of the Avermanni into the province of Averland under Count Siggurd. Siggurd did not long survive the battle of Black Fire Pass, and is believed to have perished or disappeared around the time of Nagash's invasion. By the time of his death the tribe had already largely abandoned the old capital of Siggurdheim for a new site near the river Aver, where Siggurd's castle forms the basis of the modern Averburg.


Cherusens

The Cherusens are believed to have been one of the tribes to make the Great Migration with Ulric, based on the inscription indicating the presence of a tribe named the “Kirruskin” present at that time. They appear first to have migrated north through what is now Ostermark and then westwards towards the coast. Never a large tribe, they were hemmed in by more powerful neighbours such as the Teutognens and Jutones and settled in the forests in and to the south of the Middle Mountains.

Expert hunters and woodsmen, the Cherusens remained relatively isolated and backward compared to the tribes of the plains. This was reflected in their worship: one of the principal gods of the Cherusens was the wolf god Lupos, apparently unique to that region and later assimilated by the cult of Ulric. Attempts to expand their territory east of the river Talabec led to disastrous reverses at the hands of Taleuten cavalry and a bitter rivalry between the two tribes.

Long beset by beastmen and goblins of the forest, the Cherusens, under their king Aloysius, were enthusiastic in joining Sigmar's alliance. Although a small tribe, they contributed a significant number of troops to the Black Fire Pass campaign and were rewarded with recognition as a Great Tribe and the naming of Aloysius as a Count of the Empire. Following unification the Cherusen territories became the province of Hochenland.


Endals

The origin of the Endals is unknown. They are not recorded in the tribes who accompanied Ulric, so they may have been present in the Empire before the Great Migration, or have arrived with a separate group of tribes. Analysis of some of the few examples of the original Endal language have led some scholars to speculate that they are related to the Ungol tribe of Kislev.

The original homeland of the Endals is similarly mysterious, but about fifty years before the time of Sigmar they were established in the north-western portion of the Drakwald, near the Laurelorn and with some settlements in the eastern Wasteland. Here they came into conflict with the migrating tribe of the Jutones, a larger and more powerful tribe, and, following a short but vicious conflict, the Endals were driven out of their lands towards the marshes to the west. There their king, Marbad, established the settlement of Marburg.

Relations with the Jutones remained hostile for many years, and Marbad sought an alliance with the Unberogens to protect against any further invasions. As such, there was an established friendly relationship between the tribes by the time Sigmar came to power, and the Endals were one of Sigmar's earliest and most loyal supporters. King Marbad was slain at the battle of Black Fire Pass, the major casualty of the tribes that day; this was a source of some bitterness between Marbad's son Aldred and the Unberogen chieftain for some years thereafter, as Aldred blamed Sigmar for his father's death. Nevertheless, the Endals were named a Great Tribe and Aldred became a Count of the Empire. Following unification the Endal lands became the basis for the province of Weysterland.


Fennones

An ancient and degenerate people, the Fennones are widely believed to have been among the original inhabitants of the Empire when the tribes of the Great Migration arrived; perhaps even the descendants of one of the fabled Belthani tribes. Certainly the Fennones have their own language, distinct from Reikspiel which is still widely spoken in their lands. Their original holdings are unclear, but appear to have encompassed most of the land of the eastern Stir and Talabec. Centuries before the time of Sigmar, they had been driven out of these lands by more aggressive and virile tribes, and were largely confined to the poor soil in the shadow of the World's Edge Mountains.

Although by the time of Sigmar the Fennones were not in active conflict with any of their neighbours, nor were they particularly beloved of them. It has been suggested that this was to do with the Fennone practice of keeping slaves, which had long since died out elsewhere in the Reik basin, although it might simply have been that the Fennones possessed nothing to interest the other tribes.

It is unrecorded whether the Fennones were invited to send troops to join Sigmar's campaign against the greenskins and no Fennone participation is known. As such they were not invited to join the nascent Empire, and they also seem to have escaped serious retribution for their absence, as visited upon some of the northern tribes. The Fennone lands thus endured as an independent state on the borders of the Empire.

By the reign of Emperor Sigismund II, the Fennones had organised themselves into the semblance of a state, which they called the Voivodeship of Sylvania (known elsewhere as the County of the Fennones). Already almost entirely dependent upon the Empire for its trade and any food not grown within the province, the Voivode applied to the Emperor to be permitted to join the Empire as a non-electoral province. This was accepted, although the new province of Sylvania soon fell under the rule of the neighbouring grand province of Stirland.


Frikings

Believed to be closely related to the Norsii, the Frikings had been resident in the Empire prior to the Great Migration, the product of an earlier migration out of the eastern steppes. Although they lacked the vigour and ferocity of their western cousins, they were a renowned warrior tribe for centuries before the time of Sigmar, with only their relatively small size preventing them from exerting significant influence over their neighbours.

Little is known about the Frikings as they left few written records, but they seem to have been skilled metalworkers and to have worshipped a god named Olric, and another named Ishernos, who it is widely believed represent alternative or earlier forms of worship of the familiar old gods Ulric, Taal and Rhya. That they worshipped a version of the old gods as opposed to the dark powers of the Norsii probably spared them from the fate that befell their cousins at Sigmar's hands.

However, the Frikings did not long survive the Norsii. Following their refusal to contribute troops to Sigmar's cause during the greenskin campaign, and the subsequent raiding of the exiled Norsii tribes, Sigmar launched a war in the north-east, encouraging his followers to drive out the inhabitants and occupy their land. The Frikings came under a sustained attack from the Ostagoths in particular and, after a series of heavy defeats, the remnants of the tribes fled northwards where their ultimate fate is unknown. It is likely they were either assimilated into the Roppsmenn or Ungol population or simply died out on the oblast.

The former territory of the Frikings lay mostly in the modern territory of Ostermark, although there appear to have been a small population in modern Talabecland and their original territory may have expanded as far north as Kislev.
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Re: The Imperial Almanack (sneak peek) [Updated 15/07]

Postby Athelassan » Sun Jul 15, 2012 7:02 pm

Another snippet for you lovely people. This time a brief history of the Karoline War, colloquially known as the Battles of the Horn. This was inspired by a throwaway line in Uniforms and Heraldry of the Empire and is otherwise an original creation, although I've tried to tie it into other historical events. As usual the forum has eaten the footnotes and formatting, so apologies for that.

Ath



The Battles of the Horn

1891 - 1894

Belligerents:


Ottilian Empire
Grand Duchy of Talabecland
Grand Barony of Hochland
Ottilian Ostermark
Grand Duchy of Stirland
County of Sylvania
League of Free Ostermark Towns

Commanders:

Emperor Karl V (II) of Talabecland
Grand Baron Godomar Ludenhof of Hochland +
Johannes Schliffen
Grand Duke Matthias VI of Stirland
Herman Posner


Colloquially known as the “Battles of the Horn” after the famous events in its conclusive engagement, the Karoline War was a resurgence of open conflict in Ostermark, disputed since the 14th century between the Ottilian Empire and the Grand Duchy of Stirland. Ottilian Emperor Karl V (II) and his ally Count Godomar of Hochland had amassed a large army and launched a surprise assault on the border of Imperial Ostermark in late 1891. Although the power of Talabecland had waned in the previous centuries, Hochland was near its apogee of military strength. Despite rumours of a dangerous strain of madness in the Ludenhof family, Godomar and his sons Ludovic “the Lunatic” and “Crazy” Karloman were all experienced and accomplished generals with many victories to each of their names.

A large portion of the Stirland army was garrisoning the Averland border at the time of the first assaults, and the depleted garrisons in the north were taken by surprise. The militia of Free Ostermark (although in reality the Free Ostermarkers were just as much vassals of Stirland as their occupied counterparts were of Talabecland) put up only token resistance before being swept aside. Only winter stopped the Talabecland advance, buying time for Duke Matthias of Stirland to regroup and redeploy his armies. By the spring of 1892 enough troops had been raised to garrison fortresses to stall the Ottilians' progress. While Karl laid siege to Essen, his Hochland allies invested Mordheim and Bissendorf.

Meanwhile Duke Matthias raised a second army, including a large number of southern mercenaries, and formed an alliance with Count Vlad of Sylvania. Sylvania was at this point one of the wealthiest provinces in the Empire and the addition of several companies of Sylvanian troops made a substantial difference to the potency of Matthias's forces. In early 1894, this army crossed the Sylvanian border and marched on the besieging forces at Essen.

The move caught the Ottilians off guard. Karl himself had returned to Bechafen, leaving his nephew Count Johannes Schliffen in command of the Talabecland forces. The Ottilian commanders had expected any response from Matthias to come across the Stirland border and attempt to relieve one of the larger besieged cities. When the siegeworks at Essen were attacked, the Talabeclanders quickly retreated and constructed temporary fortifications at the nearby village of Radinan, sending urgent requests for aid to their Hochland allies. The Ludenhofs lifted their sieges and made for Essen, as did Karl with a reserve force of heavy cavalry.

Ultimately, the fate of the war was decided through luck. A thick fog descended over Radinan, reducing visibility dramatically, just as the Stirlanders launched their assault. At the time, both Stirland and Hochland used the symbol of a horn as their principal heraldic device, and the similarity of the banners was confusing enough to lead to disaster. Early in the battle, Schliffen's men, expecting Hochland reinforcements, were ambushed by Stirland troops and forced to retreat. On hearing the news that Stirland was in the field, Karl then ordered his cavalry to advance: in the confusion, the Order of the Black Rose once again confused the two banners and charged the Hochland troops in the rear. Caught between the advancing forces of Stirland and their allied cavalry in the rear, the Hochlanders were massacred.

The Battle of Radinan ended in decisive defeat for the forces of the Ottilians, who ultimately lost all the gains they had made in the war and subsequently abandoned many of their own towns along the border. For Hochland it was a catastrophe, with Godomar, Ludovic and Karloman, all fighting in the front ranks, killed in the melee, and over three quarters of their troops lost as casualties or prisoners. The death of the Count and both his sons brought an end to four hundred years of Ludenhof rule in Hochland and the end of the province's pretensions to power.

The war led directly to the creation of the League of Ostermark in 1905: once again threatened by war with Ostland and Kislev, the Duke of Talabecland was finally forced to abandon his imperial ambitions in Ostermark after nearly 1500 years and the province finally recovered a degree of autonomy. A darker consequence of the war could not have been foreseen at the time. In 2010, the invasion route used by the forces of Sylvania in their attack on the Empire was almost identical to that used in 1894. It seems that Count Vlad used this conflict as practice for his future campaigns, which were to bring the Empire to its knees.
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Re: The Imperial Almanack (sneak peek) [Updated 15/07]

Postby Athelassan » Sat Nov 17, 2012 4:14 am

This is one I wrote a while ago in an attempt to flesh out some of the cosmology of the WHF gods and their pantheon. Not sure whether there's any mileage in doing this for all the deities, though.

Ath



Dyrath

When they first came to the land, Taal and his brother Ulric and his sister and consort Rhya lived together in a forest in his kingdom. One day Taal heard news of a great stag who boasted that he was even mightier than King Taal and that he was the true lord of the forest. Taal was driven into a great rage and vowed that he would hunt down the stag and bring back his horns to prove the falsehood of his claim. He left his home in the care of his brother and set off in pursuit of the stag.

Taal was gone for many months and both Rhya and Ulric grew lonely and became very close with one another. All the creatures of the forest knew of their illicit love and as Taal continued his chase they began to laugh and mock him as he passed, and he knew not why. Eventually he found and defeated the stag and returned in triumph to his home, to find Ulric and Rhya in a most passionate embrace.

“Brother!” cried Taal, “What treachery is this? I leave my wife in your care, and you abuse my trust!”

“No, brother,” replied Ulric, “it was you who abandoned us. We did not know if you would return, and sought companionship in each other's arms.”

“Alas!” cried Taal. “I have been remiss. The pursuit of these horns has blinded me to my neglect of my family. Forgive me, brother, sister. I shall ensure that this never happens again.”

So Taal took a bone from his sister and created a new woman, who he called also his sister and was called Dyrath, and Ulric took her for a wife and Rhya for a companion when their husbands were absent. Thus was honour satisfied, and ever after did Taal wear the horns of the stag to remind him of his folly.

- Solland folk tale, late 12th century


In the modern era, Dyrath's worship is confined mostly to rural areas of the Reikland, but it seems that in the pre-Imperial period she was one of the most important gods of the Reik basin. She appears in relatively few of the religious texts published in the years after unification, suggesting that by the time the Classical gods became widespread in the Empire her worship was already in serious decline.

A fertility goddess distinct from Rhya, although sometimes credited as her sister, Dyrath's worship focusses more on the family and home than on nature and animals. Some scholars have suggested that the distinction drawn represents a fracturing of the original worship of Rhya, possibly in her earliest form as the Earth Mother. One folk tale in particular (here reprinted) suggests that Dyrath was created “out of” Rhya, which may indicate the origin of her worship. It is likely that she came about at the time of, or shortly after, the separation of the Ishernos cult into an individual pantheon, and in this case may be a rather older deity, in terms of her Imperial heritage, than later Classical arrivals such as Morr and Verena.

Carvings and paintings that have been recovered from the pre-Imperial period indicate that Dyrath was central to the worship of the Unberogen tribe in particular, and if the modern theory proposed by Prof. Esting is to be believed, she may have been the patron deity of that tribe. It appears that she was supplanted as the dominant deity of the Unberogens by Ulric in the time of Sigmar's grandfather, which may reflect the increasing preoccupation by the men of that period with war, both with neighbouring tribes and with the orcs of the mountains.

According to some traditions, Dyrath is the consort of Ulric, although the cult of Ulric has no clear stance on the issue. Dyrath-as-consort is not expressly disavowed, but nor is it fully endorsed. The reasons for the confusion are manifold. Where Taal and Rhya developed as separate but linked cults relatively quickly, the cult of Ulric took a different path and adopted various different aspects unrelated to his initial role, so it is unlikely that he was paired up with Dyrath at such an early stage. If Ulric were to have children, though, as in some traditions, he needed a consort, and while it would be perhaps inappropriate for Rhya to be used for this purpose, Dyrath, as an “unclaimed” god of the Old pantheon, would fit the purpose well. It is also possible that the match was made for political reasons, either within the Unberogen noble hierarchy or shortly after Sigmar's unification. The symbolic unification of the Unberogen patron goddess with the Teutognen patron, and the dominant deity of the Empire at the time, would have carried a potent political message.

There remains also the issue of a fertility goddess having no recognised children, which seems rather incongruous. In truth this is more to do with the general problem, described elsewhere, of devising a consistent genealogy for all the gods and is not specific to Dyrath. Some traditions to ascribe various children to her, and it is generally accepted among even most priests of Dyrath that Katya and Rudric are her children.
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Re: The Imperial Almanack (sneak peek) [Updated 15/07]

Postby Athelassan » Wed Jan 29, 2014 8:08 am

Not sure where the inspiration for this came from, but I suppose with the imminent release of Wolf of Sigmar I've been thinking about the period. I didn't intend for it to be this long! I originally planned for this to cover the whole period up to the Black Death, but I think I'll leave it here at least in this level of detail. The events over the ensuing sixty years are, I think, either well-known or better left to the imagination.

N.B. that the forum code has eaten the footnotes. In almost all instances this is just to note that I have taken a name and brief outline from Warpstone 29 and expanded upon it; there are one or two references to the Black Plague trilogy too.

As always, C&C welcomed.

Ath



The Later House of Hohenbach – The Reign of Ludwig II

Early Reign

The sudden death of Emperor Humfried in 996 came as a relatively small surprise to the Electors of the Empire, who were used to the internecine squabbles within the Hohenbach dynasty that had already seen several Emperors die relatively young (although few would say before their time).1 Given that members of the bloodline seemed to have a propensity to live to an advanced age if not cut short, however, several senior nobles might have had cause to regret the death of an Emperor who, while by no means capable, had at least been mostly harmless in comparison with his predecessors.

The somewhat rash assumption on the part of many of the Electors that Humfried would live to see old age on the basis that nobody had much of a reason to kill him had prevented extensive political manoeuvrings prior to his death, and this combined with the elimination of rivals under the reign of Humfried's predecessor Quintus meant there was still virtually no opposition to the Hohenbachs at an Imperial level. Humfried's eldest surviving son Ludwig – three elder sons having predeceased him – thus emerged as one of the few credible candidates for election.2 When it became apparent to the Electors that Ludwig had struck a pact with the Grand Princes of Ostland to support his election, he was named Emperor unopposed.

Ludwig II, one of the mightiest rulers the Empire would ever see, was at that point twenty-six years old. Surviving images of his election and coronation show a dashing figure of a man, accompanied by his young and striking wife, Johanna of Ostland (the Grand Prince having insisted on the marriage's being formalised before Ludwig's election). Whether these images bear any approximation to reality is open to debate, but it is certainly possible that Ludwig's famous physique did not manifest itself until later in his reign. Indeed, the energy and decisiveness that characterised his early reign might have placed him among the ranks of the greatest of Emperors, and there are those who still believe he deserves his place in that pantheon.

Ludwig's first decree as Emperor was that he would spread the wealth of his office around the provinces rather than concentrating it in the capital at Carroburg as his predecessors had. A huge tranche of gold was set aside for the reconstruction of the Cathedral of Sigmar in Altdorf, with the intention that the new building would stand complete in the thousandth year of the Empire. Ludwig also uprooted the capital from the palace complex at Carroburg – known variously by courtiers as the “rats' nest” and “the warren” and returned it to the traditional site at Nuln.3

In the last years of the reign of Emperor Albert the Despoiler, a movement known as Millenniallism had grown up in the laity of the cult of Sigmar, which prophesied that in the thousandth year of Sigmar's reign, he would return and purge the Empire of his unworthy successors.4 Previous Hohenbach Emperors had attempted to suppress the movement, but Ludwig instead attempted to harness it, with the intention of having himself recognised as Sigmar returned. To this end he sponsored the cult heavily, to the point of granting the Grand Theogonist an electoral vote. While the cult never officially proclaimed Ludwig the heir of Sigmar as he had perhaps desired, the senior clergy remained firm supporters of Ludwig's for the remainder of his reign, even as the rival Ulricans choked down their outrage.

Whether inspired by the Millennial movement or not, Ludwig's early reign undoubtedly saw a great increase in the personal majesty of the Emperor. Where even the most potent Emperors of previous centuries had been regarded largely as governors or first among equals, the emergence of the theory of “divine right” - that the Emperor ruled by holy mandate from Sigmar – began to take hold in Ludwig's reign. Modes of address around the court began to alter, with the titles accruing to the Emperor becoming ever grander and more distant. Perhaps to assist with the severance of the Emperor from the remaining nobility, Ludwig took the unprecedented step of divesting himself of his province. Announcing that the Emperor required no temporal fiefdom, for the whole of the Empire was his responsibility, Ludwig claimed he took only the grounds of the Imperial Palace at Nuln as his own, and appointed his brother successor as Grand Duke of Drakwald.

“Ludwig the Fat”

The year 1000 and the anniversary of Sigmar's coronation arrived with great ceremony and jubilation; the streets of Altdorf and Nuln thronged with the ranks of the faithful, while the cult served a grand banquet for the Emperor in the newly completed cathedral. By this stage, whatever the intentions of Ludwig's early policies, few would compare him to Sigmar, for it was becoming apparent the young Emperor was all too human. His appetites had already earned him a substantial belly, and the moniker of “the Fat”, coined in response to his self-styled sobriquet “the Great” (or “der Grosse” as it appeared on his coinage) was already current across most of the land.

Ludwig's appetites in other directions were no less restrained. When Leofric had returned to govern the Drakwald, many had passed comment on the fact that Leofric's wife remained behind at court in Nuln, and rumours grew ever louder when it became clear she was with child. Nor was she the only court lady to catch the Emperor's eye. Such was the extent of Ludwig's proclivities that, for centuries afterwards, Nulners were known colloquially as “Ludwigsens” by denizens of other Imperial provinces.

Despite Ludwig's obvious cuckolding of Leofric, however, the two brothers seemed to remain on good terms, and upon the birth of the child, Leofric recognised him as his own son. His wife was in fact to bear the Emperor at least two more sons, each of whom was again officially accepted into the family as a child of Leofric. Early in the 1000s, an Imperial grant was made for further clearance and settlement of the eastern Drakwald forest.5 Previous rulers had not made clearance of the forest a priority, with the result it had become ever more dangerous and again begun to encroach upon settlements. The land given over to Leofric for settlement included a portion belonging to the Duke of Middenland, and it may be this was intended to mollify Leofric for Ludwig's disport with his wife. Alternatively it might have been simply a ploy of Ludwig's to weaken a potentially dangerous adversary, and sow discord between Middenland and Drakwald.

Ludwig was indeed starting to become increasingly paranoid about rivals to his throne. Most Emperors for the past century had died violently, often at the hands of their own family, and he was apparently beginning to fear that he would follow in their footsteps. At a banquet in 1004, not liking the taste of a dish of lampreys, he accused the Imperial chef of attempting to poison him, and had the man summarily executed. More chefs and stewards followed with increasing haste, until it reached the stage that any dish which Ludwig did not care for became a virtual death sentence for the cook.

Fearful not just of assassins but of armed revolt, Ludwig was also wary of the armed forces commanded by the Electors, especially now he had no province of his own from which to draw troops. His suggestion of the formulation of an Imperial army from state funds was shut down by the Electors, so instead he recruited an increasing number of private bodyguards, a formation which later became its own regiment.

Having stressed the need for Imperial unity at his coronation, Ludwig started to promote factionalism among the various Counts, handing out titles to favourites and stripping others of rights and lands. A delegation of Ostermark burghers and nobles was met with great favour and rewarded grandly, to tie up the resources of Talabecland in garrisoning the territory. After the daughter of the Stirland Count spurned his advances, he became a great patron of Sylvania. The Count of Averland's daughter likewise rejected him, so he took his revenge on both provinces when he created the new Electorate of the Mootland, to be ruled henceforth by his former chef Emmer as a reward for consistently satisfying the Emperor's palate.

In 1013 Ludwig was visiting Wissenburg when a Dwarf, whose name has been lost to history, inexplicably leaped from a crowd and attempted to behead the Emperor with his axe. How the portly Emperor managed to avoid the weapon long enough for his bodyguards to come to his aid is a mystery; perhaps the Dwarf was simply drunk. The would-be assassin did not live long enough to disclose his motives, being skewered on the spot, but the paranoid Ludwig saw it as nothing so much as a conspiracy. He ordered all Dwarfs in his own realms arrested, starting with those in Carroburg, and sat in judgment on them himself. The sentences were universal and severe, and few Dwarfs escaped with their lives. Seeing conspirators everywhere, Ludwig ordered the net cast wider, and soon the madness had spread to the whole Empire. While some sympathetic rulers and communities were able to protect their Dwarven citizens or help them flee to their mountain cousins, thousands of Dwarfs were slaughtered in one of the worst peacetime eruptions of violence in Imperial history. Only in Middenheim and Averland did substantial Dwarf populations survive, and it would take centuries for relations between humans and Dwarfs in much of the Empire to recover.6

The Question of Succession

Nevertheless, despite the debaucheries, the atrocities, and the politicking, Ludwig managed to keep the Empire in relative balance, and commerce and culture boomed like never before. The coinage from Ludwig's reign is among the purest and most consistent of any Emperor, reflecting the great prosperity it attained under his rule. The seizure of Dwarven assets assisted with this, and was widely viewed as a good policy, increasing the sum of human wealth. As he advanced further into middle age, the pressing issue on the mind of many of the Empire's statesmen was not how to curtail the Emperor, but how to replace him when he eventually died.

Empress Johanna had stubbornly remained childless and by 1020 it was clear she would bear no children. Chroniclers disagree on the reasons for this: Erhardt of Streissen reports that Ludwig referred to her as “that Ostland mule” and neglected his spousal duty, but many contemporaries state that Ludwig was in fact fond of his wife, and that she was one of the few people at court he seemed to hold a genuine affection and trust for. Given Ludwig's proven fertility elsewhere, this would suggest that Johanna was simply barren. Whatever the reason, Ludwig had no son, but needed an heir. That the Empress was of the house of Ostland, perhaps the only family in the Empire Ludwig could not afford to offend, ruled out the possibility of divorce.

The bloody history of his family made Ludwig wary of naming an heir, but equally he was for all his faults a patriot and dynastic loyalist and recognised that the existing situation was unsatisfactory. Many of the Emperor's oldest illegitimate sons – both those recorded as his nephews and those just known to be his bastards – were coming of age, and their numbers, squabbles and entitlement had already earned them the derisive title of “Hohenbrat” or “Hohenbastard” among the remaining courtiers.

The eldest of these was Ludwig's favourite “nephew” Leofric, and it was he who Ludwig began grooming to succeed him, appointing him Chancellor of the Imperial Fisc in 1022, and in 1025 Imperial Chancellor, in theory giving him control over the finances and intelligence of the entire Empire.7 Leofric almost immediately began to try to augment the already healthy Imperial finances, raising taxation on trade and merchant activities year on year. By 1029 the taxes were considered wholly punitive and a delegation of burghers petitioned the Emperor to repeal Leofric's taxes. Among the nobility, however, the taxes were largely popular, as they curtailed any threat to their position from the merchant classes, and Ludwig declined the petition. The economy held, just, though many small traders were driven to destitution.

In 1029 Leofric the elder died, and Ludwig allowed his “son” to succeed to the Grand Duchy. Leofric continued his policies in Drakwald proper, where the years of bounty from the river trade had made the cities and merchants alike fat and prosperous. Leofric was no more popular in Carroburg than he had been in Nuln, but the coffers were soon overflowing, especially when Leofric increased feudal dues from the provincial nobility as well as trade duties.

Opposition to the Hohenbachs within Drakwald itself, which had been building almost ever since they first took the Imperial crown, became thunderous. Leofric responded with heavy investment in soldiery, reinforcement of the fortifications around the old Imperial palace, and increasingly repressive measures against public assembly. The Drakwald nobles, led by the von Bildhofen family, sent increasingly urgent representations to the Emperor pleading with him to rein Leofric in, but Ludwig, increasingly lethargic and troubled by illness, was happy to let his favourite continue in post.

In 1038, however, the situation was to change completely, as Johanna of Ostland died following a short illness. Deputations of nobles, alarmed by events in Drakwald, and burghers alike descended on Nuln, petitioning the Emperor to take a new wife and conceive a legitimate heir. Ludwig's policies had successfully promoted enough division among the Electors that no individual among them had enough support to stand against the wealth of Carroburg, but it was clear that nobody wanted Leofric.

Ludwig finally assented, and took Mathilde von Bildhofen as his new bride in early 1039. While Mathilde was young and, reportedly, highly attractive, she was also Ludwig's cousin, and the decision was almost certainly politically motivated. Mathilde would make a hostage against any future agitations by the Bildhofens, while the marriage alliance between the Hohenbachs and their most powerful vassals would help to sever the Bildhofens from the resistance in Drakwald. The marriage itself, however, was a poor affair. Ludwig was nearly seventy years old, obese and suffering from crippling gout, almost certainly diabetic and impotent. Few expected the marriage to bear fruit before Ludwig's death.


The Late Reign

Early in 1040, Leofric's body was found in an antechamber of the palace at Nuln, riddled with stab wounds. There was little sign of a struggle, and it was concluded his bodyguards must have been paid off. Clearly, the risk of his succession had been too great for one party to bear. Suspicion immediately fell on Leofric's brother Hergard, who was in Carroburg to stake his claim to the Duchy almost before Leofric's body was cold. Knowing that his brother's policies had caused great anxiety, Hergard sought to garner support for his own position by reversing all of them. Having bought over Leofric's troops to his side, Hergard returned to Nuln to request of the Emperor that he be appointed to Leofric's other roles.

When Hergard arrived back in the capital, however, he was met by the news that the Empress Mathilde was with child. There could be little doubt whether the child was Ludwig's: court rumour had it that the Empress's bed could be rented by the hour (all revenues, naturally, accruing to the Emperor). It was a child nonetheless, though, which had the potential to cut Hergard and his brothers out of the succession altogether. At the same time, Ludwig had fallen gravely ill and, while never spoken aloud, it seemed common consensus was that he was imminently to die.

Hergard remained in Nuln, waiting either for an audience with Ludwig or news of his “uncle”'s death. Neither was forthcoming, and when the Empress was delivered of a healthy son, the boy was presented from the palace walls without the Emperor present. When Mondstille came and went, Hergard lost his nerve, and elected to return to Carroburg to shore up his power base there. He left Nuln in early 1041, and was never seen again.8

There was still no sign of the Emperor, and early in Jahdrung a throng took to the streets of Nuln, proclaiming that Ludwig was dead. Their leader, and chosen candidate for the succession, was Paulus Hohenbach, another of Ludwig's “nephews”. This at last seemed to stir the Emperor from his torpor, and troops in his livery were dispatched to break up the throng. Ghastly pale and seated on a reinforced throne to bear his massive weight, Ludwig still made an imposing sight when Paulus was hauled before him for judgment.9 Hurled to the floor before the Imperial couple and Ludwig's son, he pled with humility for clemency, blaming malign counsellors and swearing his utmost loyalty to Ludwig and all his heirs.

Whether it was fatherly sentiment, pity, or whether he simply did not believe Paulus a credible threat, Ludwig agreed to spare his life. Speaking slowly and with great labour, Ludwig reiterated that the office of Emperor had been severed from that of Grand Duke of Drakwald. Paulus was welcome to the Grand Duchy, if he stood guarantor for the succession of Ludwig's infant son to the Empire. Paulus immediately swore on all the gods he could remember. When the Imperial prince was eventually taken for his naming ceremony in the first church of Sigmar, the Grand Theogonist, the Reiksmarshall, and Paulus himself were appointed his guardians. Each of them swore to support with their life if necessary the succession of Prince Boris.

While the Grand Duchy had been disposed of, the remainder of Leofric's offices remained vacant, and were beginning to break up into factions of their own, with departments of the Chancery setting spies on each other and embezzlement on a massive scale. Ludwig no longer had the energy to control them, and while he seemed almost to encourage the collapse of the Chancery into a mire of mutual suspicion, was not prepared to allow Imperial finances to fall into ruin. Much to the surprise of many courtiers, Paulus was appointed the new Chancellor of the Imperial Fisc.

The new Chancellor found that, while the coffers remained well-stuffed, revenues had all but collapsed following Leofric's death, and in Drakwald in particular Hergard's policies had caused income to cease almost altogether. While taking care not to antagonise the nobility or merchant classes more than necessary, he soon began hiking up the tax rates. His particular targets were those which had escaped his predecessors, the cults. An early raid on the cult of Sigmar, perhaps to try to reduce the power of the Grand Theogonist, was headed off, but the remaining cults were taxed heavily. By 1048, scarcely a month passed when some new delegation from a cult did not arrive in Nuln, requesting leniency on some new duty.

Paulus's policies sounded the death knell for much of the diversity of cults in the Empire. Many had disappeared in the first millennium, as they were swallowed by larger faiths, but his taxes began to drive many of those remaining to bankruptcy. Whether they would have remained viable in the long term is doubtful, but the rates were so punitive that much of the organised religion in the Empire at anything below a provincial level was exterminated. Many cults which are now confined to a single village, with no priest, may once have spread across entire counties.

Ludwig retained a healthy suspicion of Paulus, though his “nephew” was careful never to give him cause to doubt him. Nevertheless, the amount expended on espionage and security during that period from the Emperor's own pocket increased nearly four-fold. The princeling Boris was kept under the most secure guard, and, where Ludwig's health permitted, he began to move from city to city, cycling through accompanying courtiers apparently at random, never remaining in one place longer than necessary.

This period represented Ludwig's most extensive period of contact with his son. By all accounts, he took great care over Boris's education and expressed a great personal interest in the curriculum taught by his tutors. Almost from the time he could walk, Boris was present for court sessions, observing his father at work with the courtiers, and before making major policy decisions Ludwig would summon his son to him to discuss and explain the implications. Equally, sources indicate that on a personal level, Ludwig appeared to hold the boy in little more than contempt. He may have been keen to ensure his heir received the best possible political education, but despised Boris personally, probably certain in the knowledge he was not a true son.

As Boris grew, many expressed a (surprising) family resemblance, and, at least outwith the earshot of the Emperor, it was widely rumoured that perhaps the boy was a Hohenbach after all. The most likely candidate for the boy's father was Leofric the younger, who was known to have visited the Empress on at least one occasion, and who was killed only a few months before Boris's birth. On the other hand, Ludwig made an effort to have the boy dressed in Hohenbach colours, mirroring his own styles, and, since portraits of the Emperor still tended to depict him in a youthful aspect, and Ludwig was now half blind in any case, it is possible that the artists deliberately portrayed the youthful Ludwig as resembling Boris to flatter the young prince.


The Next Emperor

It is ironic, considering the number of bastards Ludwig sired, that his only recognised heir was almost certainly not his son at all. One individual who almost certainly was Ludwig's son, however, was Lorenz, another supposed son of Leofric the elder, this time by his second wife. As Paulus drove the cults away with his taxation policies, so Lorenz courted them. Young, handsome enough, and charismatic, Lorenz made a more attractive figurehead than the grasping Paulus, the aged, bloated Emperor, or the callow princeling Boris. Lorenz's badge of the winged lion became a popular one among disaffected younger sons of nobles in Carroburg and Nuln, and his wooing of the cults began to win priests to his banner too.

With Ludwig absent from Nuln and Paulus increasingly buried in responsibility, word began to spread that Lorenz was the true heir to the Empire, a hero who would usher in a new golden age. In 1049, Lorenz seemed to sense that his time had come. After gathering an army in Altdorf, comprised largely of templars and other soldiers of the cults, he marched to Nuln, his force swelling along the way. The Emperor's absence had denuded the city of many of its guards, and Paulus lost his nerve, fleeing the city, and, ultimately, the Empire.10 Bretonnian legend recounts the “deposed Emperor” who arrived at the court of King Louis with a handful of retainers.

Lorenz sent a deputation to his uncle, informing him that he had taken action against the corruption and treachery of Paulus and would "humbly receive his predecessor's offices if the Emperor so desired". In effect, it was an ultimatum: Lorenz held the capital, and was wagering that Ludwig had neither the will nor the energy to recapture it by force. In this he was proven correct, and Ludwig duly returned to Nuln to invest Lorenz with the offices of state that Paulus had forfeited. What happened next astonished all those who witnessed it. After the wheezing Emperor read the bull that created Lorenz Grand Duke of Drakwald and Chancellor of the Imperial Fisc, Lorenz stood his ground, and all but demanded that he be named not only Imperial Chancellor, but a list of further offices. Most of the courtiers had grown up under Ludwig's rule and were used to the Imperial majesty: for the Emperor to submit to Lorenz's demands was in some ways less shocking than the bare fact of the demands themselves. As the chroniclers put it, Ludwig “reserved his crown and sceptre”, and Lorenz received the rest.

Lorenz's victory was not total, however, for only Ludwig had returned to Nuln, and Boris remained elsewhere under guard of the Reiksmarshall. Witnesses report seeing a slight smile creep over Ludwig's face as Lorenz realised that he had only the ailing Emperor in his power, and not the heir. It was at this stage that Lorenz revealed his true colours, angrily demanding he be told where Boris was. The Grand Theogonist frostily informed him that it was not within the power even of Lorenz's mighty offices to demand access to Ludwig's heir, and apparently only the intervention of two of the Reiksnecht prevented Lorenz from striking the priest down.

Having failed to learn Boris's location from Ludwig, Lorenz deployed his spies, sending them to all corners under the pretext of locating the heir so he could be placed under proper protection. Assassins were sent to Couronne to eliminate Paulus and his young son, an event recorded in the Bretonnian chanson “Caerleond and the Scoundrels”. Any egregious Hohenbrats in Nuln were arrested and executed on trumped-up charges. After two years of fruitless search, Lorenz finally permitted Ludwig to leave court, in the hope that he would lead him to Boris. It was a grave mistake. Not ten miles from Nuln, Ludwig's escort was ambushed and killed to a man. When Ludwig next reappeared, it was in Carroburg, where he established his court and began sending out summonses to the Electors.

Ludwig II finally died in 1053 in his bed. It reportedly took twenty men to carry him down the stairs to his funeral cortege. Most of the Electors had already assembled in Carroburg in accordance with his summons: Ludwig had not been a much-loved Emperor, but he had been well enough respected, and even Lorenz walked quietly behind his carriage as he was taken to his final resting-place. After the funeral, they assembled in the old Volkshalle at the Carroburg palace to elect his successor.

No single Elector could amass enough support to challenge the Hohenbach candidacy. Lorenz, as Elector of Drakwald, nominated himself, while the Grand Theogonist, fulfilling his vow to Ludwig, nominated Boris. The Ulricans, who had suffered under Paulus, threw their weight behind Lorenz, while the Sigmarite provinces of Reikland and Stirland voted for Boris. One by one the other provinces were won round to Boris's cause. Where Lorenz was a grown man of proven experience and power, the princeling was a boy of barely fourteen, had never governed so much as a village, nor had he any experience of managing money, and was unwed, making him a ripe prospect for a marriage alliance. The Electors had little doubt which candidate would be easier to manipulate once installed. When Ostland declared for Boris, the debate was effectively ended.

Lorenz was not prepared to leave it there. In front of the Imperial diet, he proclaimed that Boris was a bastard and not Ludwig's true son. A moment of shocked silence followed, broken by the Prince von Bildhofen, seated among the observers, leaping to his feet and demanding satisfaction for the slight on his sister's honour. Lorenz condemned the prince for treason, and had him dragged away by Drakwald guards. With the mood in the chamber growing uglier, he changed his approach and complained of Boris's youth and inexperience. No Emperor had ever been so young, he claimed, and therefore demanded he be allowed to retain his Imperial offices at least until Boris came of age.

Reluctantly, and increasingly aware of the fractious armed retainers packing the hall, the Electors agreed to Lorenz's terms, as did Boris. He was crowned the following day, at a ceremony where the Grand Prince of Ostland was heard to mutter that in consigning the boy to Lorenz's care they had signed the Emperor's death warrant.

Within a year, he might have made an entirely different complaint. He, and all the Electors, had underestimated the old Emperor and his young heir. Much of the intelligence establishment in the chancery had remained loyal to Ludwig throughout the upheavals in government, and Boris had inherited their fealty. For all that Boris's parentage was in doubt, in character he was a Hohenbach through and through. Less than two weeks after the return to Nuln, Lorenz's key followers were butchered, and Lorenz himself found dead, said to have been burned from within with a red-hot poker. Nor was Boris prepared to countenance the emergence of any other rivals: those Hohenbrats who had survived Lorenz's depredations were purged, with only a handful escaping into exile and obscurity. Although in truth few missed the entitled cabal of Imperial bastards and welcomed their removal from court, the slaughter was such that in some circles Boris became known as “the Butcher.” It would not be the last, nor the most damning, sobriquet that this Emperor would acquire.



Notes

There are several competing versions of the story of Drakwald, and addressing them has always presented something of a problem to those who care about such things. This version tries to reconcile all the existing versions as far as possible. Blighted Empire by C.L. Werner names Boris as Ludwig's son: the tale of Boris's conception so late in Ludwig's life is extrapolated from the author's comments on that interpretation. Warpstone 29, which attempted to name all the Drakwald Emperors, inserts a further generation of Emperors between Ludwig and Boris: this version reinterprets them as powerful favourites or effective regents late in Ludwig's reign. The separation of the titles of Emperor and Count of Drakwald also allows for the later death of the Drakwald Count Vilner during Boris's reign.
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