EXCERPT FROM A LETTER TO DURGA SYN FROM SISTER MAUDE KHLESL
(PART 3 OF 4)
[CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS SESSION SUMMARY]
Following our relaxed and convivial dinner, I ventured to the village of Toth itself to make the acquaintance of Bodor’s daughter, Angyalka, who had married the local blacksmith. She was gracious and helpful, despite quickly recognising that I was a vampire. From her I learnt more about the Toth family and about the circumstances of Bodor’s Embrace. There were still many unanswered questions but, as it turned out, these would all be answered in the weeks to come (more on that later).
When I returned to the castle, it was in turmoil. A vampire assassin – some unfortunate wretch, recently Embraced, and “gifted” with a horrifically distended jaw – had been sent to ritually murder Devald. He failed, although he slew several of the castle guard in the attempt. Bernhard was quickly on the scene and, heavy-handed as always, killed the assassin rather than incapacitating him. On his corpse, we discovered a ritual blade and some papers outlining a Koldunic declaration of trial by war. By using Spirit’s Touch on the blade, Myca learnt the identity of the antagonist: Koban, voivode of Vrancea, childe of Noriz. For reasons still unclear to us, some insane Koldun Prince had declared war on Toth. In two weeks the settlement would face an onslaught from whatever horrific forces this Koban would bring to bear.
Realising Bodor was desperately in need of our assistance, I quickly obtained from him a promise to call off any further attacks in Zara in return for our aid in defending against the upcoming siege. (In truth, I would have willingly assisted in the defence regardless if only to ensure the safety of the mortal population, but nothing was to be gained by making Bodor aware of that.)
The following night we held a council of war. My first thought was to evacuate all the non-combatants to a neighbouring settlement. However, Bodor knew with his Auspex that there was a massive oncoming blizzard that would make travel fatal for all but the hardiest of mortals. This meant that during the siege the entire population of the village would instead have to be crammed into the castle’s walls, and that their fates rested entirely on us successfully withstanding the enemy’s assault. Having experienced firsthand a Tzimisce trial by war, I knew the sorts of horrors that would befall the people of Toth if the defences fell. Failing them could not be countenanced. This fight had to be won.
With that in mind, I bent my thoughts to practical matters. As we have learned, in any protracted fight it is the supply of blood that remains key. Distasteful and parasitic though it seemed, our best hope for victory was to methodically bleed the people of Toth over the next two weeks, turn the blood into vitae, and then use my ritual magic to strip it of its identity so that anyone could imbibe it – vampire, ghoul or even mortal – and not be hampered by a blood bond. It would be a massive undertaking and would be best achieved through benign duplicity, but it was a necessary evil if we were to save the villagers from enslavement, torture and murder. I put this to Angyalka in as clear and practical terms as possible, as she would be instrumental in gaining the villagers’ cooperation. While understandably discomforted by the plan, she saw the sense in it and agreed to help.
Other plans were made during the council, though I had little more to contribute. Bernhard would return to Kronstadt to fetch his Pecheneg mercenaries, though it would mean them travelling through the oncoming blizzard to get here, and they would also bring some weapons and supplies that Bernhard would procure. All men of fighting age would be trained and drilled in the two weeks leading to the attack. And plans were made to scout and harry the enemy forces as they neared Toth.
The two weeks leading up to the siege passed in a blur of wind and snow, frantic activity, and a simmering, pernicious dread. The people of Toth had been told that the “forces of hell” would soon be besieging them, but many were starting to ask uncomfortable questions about why Toth was being targeted at all. It was all Angyalka could do to keep their morale up and to deflect questions about the peculiarities of the Toth family.
With my improved Nigrimancy, I was able to summon George to our location in a way that enabled him to remain with us. I found his presence immensely reassuring. We put his experience and military genius to use immediately: Iulia and I would make “suggestions” that Veceslav and Bernhard knew to be George’s, and so the preparations proceeded with maximal efficiency.
George was also able to scout the advancing enemy. Compared to the paltry force of a few dozen defending the castle, our opposition seemed overwhelming: 350 men (mostly foot soldiers with a few light cavalry and archers), 40 szlachta, two of the horrific vozhd, four of Koban’s childe, and Koban himself. Also, worryingly, George was harassed by strange spirit assailants when he drew too close to the enemy’s encampments, which suggested that Koban could bring otherworldly forces to bear in the upcoming conflict.
After learning all this and fearing the worst, I discretely asked George for an honest appraisal of our chances of success. He replied that there were too many unknowns to make an accurate assessment. When I pressed him, he replied, “If it were genuinely hopeless, Maude, do you think I would counsel my wife – or you – to remain and face your doom?” Somehow, that brought me little comfort.
As Koban’s forces drew near, Bernhard and Erzebet set out into the blizzard with the intention of waging guerrilla strikes against them. Despite all his posturing and vainglory, this sort of thing is clearly what Bernhard does best. In the days leading up to the battle, they managed to kill sixty of the enemy troops. Sixty! It really was a staggering achievement, and would undoubtedly have a profound effect on the outcome of the siege. For all my tricks and medical knowledge and blood magic, I doubt my efforts will have nearly so much impact. But then I suppose it’s little surprise that I’m not at my best in the middle of an orgy of war and violence.
Buoyed by Bernhard’s success, we conceived of a plan to ambush and kill Koban’s master of Animalism. Unfortunately, our plan backfired when he lured us into an ambush of his own. Not willing to let the opportunity pass, Bernhard nonetheless pressed the attack and very nearly succeeded in bringing down our quarry, but we were eventually forced to flee. I was comparatively safe throughout the skirmish, as I had taken my spectral form, but I nevertheless got battered by spiritual assailants that Koban had no doubt summoned with his Koldunism.
Shortly before Koban’s forces arrived, Gortav and what remained of the hired mercenaries trudged into Toth castle. Six of the nineteen that originally set out had died en route, unable to endure the blizzard. Nevertheless, they brought with them some much needed food, as well as some crossbows and quarrels.
Finally, two weeks after the attempt on Devald’s life, we saw the firelight of the enemy forces as they occupied the empty buildings of Toth village. The true horror was about to begin.
[CONTINUED IN NEXT SESSION SUMMARY]