Monday, 13 December 2021

a footnote on the Water-Horse Wars

 Main Text
Historiographies of the Water-Horse Wars* have waxed and waned like tides from age to age. In the first magisterial histories of the opening battles of the Prescience Wars; "Our World War" by Kausker Wood, "The Dharma of Care", scrolls 3 to 333 by Priest-Viscount Apsanalan, and the epic poem "The Chaos of the Waves" by Chevalier Eastscource-Tan, (a much later work but one drawing upon direct sources long since lost to us), the Water-Horse wars are regarded as the _ending_ of a period, not its start.
For those alive at the time, or recording in the years directly afterwards, it must have seemed that the resolution of these conflicts had brought an end to what Apsanalan called "Our wars of twisted fate"
What few writing at the time could guess, that the shattered Pathist consensus which resulted from the Wars and the long-delayed counter-reaction to their resolution by elements which had so far, played little part, were instrumental in the initial formation the Amber Court of the King Beneath the Time, which would dominate the early-middle period of the Prescience Wars as a whole, and secondly, that the methods used to close the Water-Horse Wars only heralded, in vitro, strategies, weapons and sacrifices that would become all-too commonplace in "The Time of Great Workings"


*I believe I must make a brief footnote and regress in time somewhat for the benefit of those few for whom this book might be their first History of the early Prescience Wars and who may have little, or no, knowledge of the strange endings of the Water-Horse Wars. I will make a small description;
In two quite different wars, and three battles across two continents, cavalry groups, largely Pathist, though only one, under Flax and his Conclave can be truly said to be 'Canticaleers' at least at the start of their battles, (though, arguably, all three were by the end), faced opposing naval forces, formations they were unable to reach, let alone attack, and while the Naval forces, (some have said proto-Auric though at this time it is more true to call them "Secular" or simply "early" or "pre-prescience" forces), were able to bombard or assault the Pathists, this was likewise ineffective as the mounted warriors would simply retreat.
In three different and seemingly disconnected battles, and on nearly, through not quite the same day, all the Pathist Cavalry forces attacked and defeated the naval forces opposing them. It is this strange event that gave the Wars their name.
The Three Stalemates As They Stood
In the North, at the bay of Hoöghst , the Peasant-General Marshall Oderlane (Originally "Tom-Of-The-Lane", his story, appropriately enough, now told only through a cycle of folk tales), with perhaps between 5,000 and 20,000 Pathist Cavalry and Dragoons, faced the Expeditionary Fleet of the Southern League (which was not Southern, or a League), under Her Ladyship Vice-Admiral Fosse.
(These numbers may seem paltry but it must be remembered that this was long before conscription en-masse, of even mortal and sentient population, let alone the Dreaming, the Dead, the Imagined and the Other. Artistic relations of later periods inflate the numbers and alter the nature of the participants in accordance with their expectations drawn from the battles of the Later Prescience Wars. Nevertheless, these somewhat Gogmagogic paintings and engravings may well accurately represent the psychological impact felt by the participants. For most of those involved these were the largest armies they had ever seen and, for those in the North, this was to be the first of the Great Workings, though at the time they, the common soldiery at least, remained blissfully unaware of the true nature of events.)
An Hundred miles South the Pathist Siege of Regaar was fracturing. After flooding the lowlands around the Three Cities to, in some way, make up for their own paucity of troops, unable to exercise an encirclement, the "Iron Conclave" under the tenuous command of Flax, found they had merely displaced their siege into a different form. Facing, perhaps fifty to a hundred square miles of flooded lowland, interspersed with islands of villages and mills, impassable for oceanic ships, near-impossible for infantry and difficult for cavalry and river vessels, the Crafstmen of Redgaar famously deconstructed many of their own homes, taking down the roofs and re-purposing the beams and timbers into shallow-draught boats and canoes, the famous 'House Boats' of Redgaar. This small fleet was used as a guerrilla force to preserve communications with the outside world and to smuggle vital supplies through the siege.
While the Redgaar forces were starving and demoralised, the Pathists were little better off and the siege had decayed, or evolved, into a semi-aquatic war with Pathist cavalry swimming their horses between small hills, now islands, in an attempt to hunt and repress the Houseboats of Redgaar.
Much further South, at the ends of the earth, the distant stronghold of the mountaintop Star Kingdoms, allies to, supplying, and being re-supplied by, the southern League, a very different Proto, or Pseudo-Pathist leader faced a very different challenge.
While the Warlord Milgar Reeve had somewhat unified the Plains Tribes beneath the Star Mountains under a somewhat-Pathist creed, and rampaged almost from sea-to-sea, he had been unable to either attack the Star Kingdoms in their mountain fastnesses, being driven back by massed fire, or to sever the link between the Kingdoms and the League. The continent-spanning Pen-Meol river remained highly navigable  (Reeves forces attempts to block or damn it had been swept away or easily destroyed by League ships) and the League was able to sail from Hoöghst, across the world-ocean, up the deep Pen-Meol almost to the borders of the Star Kingdoms themselves, blasting away with cannon at any attempts to raid or hinder them
The Battle Of Meteor Falls
The Pen-Meol narrowed and branched as its tributaries climbed and spread into the river-valleys at the base of the Star Kingdoms. Here the Kingdoms must send down columns and carts to make the vital exchange of materiel with the ships of the Southern League. This accomplished they could quickly retreat into their networks of defensible valley cantons and mountaintop temples, now converted into fortifications which had faced down the bravest assaults of Reeves horde.
It was amongst this maze of valleys and winding tributaries that both Reeve and his opponents identified their weakest point, and it was here that Reeve concentrated his efforts, sending out riders into the difficult country, looking for any sign that might indicate to him when and how the forces of his enemies would meet.
Guided, perhaps by intuition, by signs (Apsanalan claims "by the movements of birds") or perhaps simply by reasonable prediction or good scouting, Reeve discovered the League forces in the rapids above the meteor falls.
This should not be considered as necessarily as ill a position for the Leaguers as some have claimed. Commodore Schott, (claimed to be corrupt, bilious, mad and drunk, though a careful analysis of his actions belies this over-negative view), in charge of the Leagues small fleet, had ordered the portage of all available small boats, up around the falls, to an island on the brink of the falls themselves, and moved all necessary goods into them, to be convoyed upriver, pulled by pack beasts on each shore and aided, and warded from rocks by strong crews.
A risky endeavour but not without reason. Schott would have known that if he were to await the Eagle Columns of the Star Kingdoms, who would reinforce his efforts and guard any zone of portage, the movement of the column itself would expose their position to Reeves riders, then a battle would have to be fought, likely under complex and uncontrollable circumstances, and perhaps the Eagle Columns would have had to fight, as well as carry cargoes, all the way back to their nearest defensive line, losing men and materiel all the while.
By porting his own cargoes he could do so un a so-far undiscovered position, directly under the shadow of his own guns. Sending his forces up the cliffs of the Meteor falls would have been supremely difficult, but Schotts sailors had exactly the skills and equipment to attempt such a difficult piece of vertical logistics, and the vertiginous and rocky nature of the cliffs meant that, if discovered, it would be very hard for Reeves cavalry to directly attack. He would be oing so, across a rocky cliff, while in range of Shotts cannon. It was a risk, but a risk of like type would have to be taken somewhere and this was the one Schott chose.
Neither was it a poor one. As Reeve saw the League convoy carefully pulling and picking their way up through the rapids below him he would have been aware of the steep banks of the bending river and the complexity of the terrain which would impede any interruption from his aggressive but under-equipped force. He sent forth skirmishers who were able to overwhelm the shore groups on both sides, driving off and killing the draught animals pulling the convoy upriver. This prevented their progress but the Leaguers responded well, they immediately cut the cables between their heavily laden boats and in an piece of fine watercraft, the whole group re-oriented and reversed course, carefully fending off the rocks. No easy task in such difficult conditions.
This attempt to join with the Star Kingdoms had failed, but by adding their oars to the rivers flow and navigating speedily, but with some risk, downstream, the Leagues knew would reach again the isle on the brink of the Meteor Falls, an imperfect defensive spot, yet one very hard for Reeve to approach. The convoy could refuge there while mortars and cannon fire from the ships below could disperse Reeves formations, already broken up by the difficult terrain. Perhaps even waiting for the Eagle Columns to arrive, turning the tables on Reeve and catching the notoriously slippery rough rider between the guns of the League and the Columns of the Stars. As much as Reeve had trapped his enemies in position, he in turn was trapped, he could not afford to simply leave them be.
Wood relates Reeves subsequent decision  to the 'flokks of birds' seen earlier that day. Wood claims that, as Reeve believed the League and the Star Kingdoms to communicate via birds, that the Kingdoms may have already received a message of the Leagues position and intent and that the Eagle Columns were already on their way.
They were not. At least, not yet, but it is curious that this slight over-estimation of his opponent, in a way, thinking ahead of their strategy before they themselves had finalised it, impelled Reeve into his suicidal course.
Another element in informing Reeves decision is the phycology and the nature of the morale of the Plainsmen he lead. Hard riding, incredibly tough and capable of journeys which would cripple more organised formations, the Plainsmen wore almost no armour, carried only swords, light lances, bows and slings, (short-ranged instruments, though with these they could be monstrously accurate). They would hold to no steady defence, could not be left on guard (they would leave or fall asleep), could barely be disciplined by anything other than death or mutilation delivered directly from the hand of a superior, and were almost impossible to organised on a strategic scale, needing to be lead from the front, in person, by a highly charismatic and personally dangerous general. Insanely greedy and rapacious when raiding, they eschewed monetary pay as "cowards sweat". But, if lead directly, they would attack anything. Plainsmen had jumped off cliffs to catch eagles flying below and, though they died in the attempt, were accounted heroes for doing so, their mangled bodies scraped off the rocks and untangled from that of the flattened raptor, were propped up and feted in great ceremonies before being tearfully burnt.
They were men of a kind such that, to turn back before their friends, they brothers, from a risk, or a doom, with their sworn captain visibly hurling himself into its teeth before their eyes, would have been a deeper death than that of just the flesh.
All this must be considered when we examine Reeves decision. And we must remember that, though educated, Reeve had been born, and lived the first few years of his boyhood, as a Plainsman.
As the League barges began to reorient and turn back, Reeve gave a great howl and lead his force, in full and fully mounted, over the lip of the river, into the rapids, and into the fleet of barges.
What death and chaos there ensued, the broken bodies, screaming horses, cracked bones and moaning timbers in the roaring waters, can barely be described. The river choked with the bodies of men and horses, dead and alive, horses screamed and thrashed through swimming and drowning crowds of men, men clambered over the backs of screaming close-packed horses while other men were crushed between them. In all this someone cut the rudder of the lead, now rear, craft. As crazed plainsmen clambered over its side, it listed and began to spin. Desultory musket fire from the crew did not save them from the plainsmens whetted blades and nothing saved either as the barge crunched, splintered, capsized and was smashed against the rocks of the rapids, cushioned only by the drowning bodies which covered its surface.
The barges were still closely arranged. A chain reaction set in. The wreckage and chaos of one catastrophe piled with all the rest and thundered into the undamaged, un-boarded boats, stoving in sides, crashing against hulls, carrying like ants on flood-borne leaves their cargo of crazed and screaming barbarians, mad to live, mad to die, mad to kill.
Reeve did not survive perhaps even the initial charge, yet his last command as leader of what passed for the Iron Path forces under the shadow of the Star, had yet to play out as the tide of blood and screaming flesh surged downriver.
The Leagues Main ships, anchored in the deep tributary by the Meteor falls, anxiously kept watch, awaiting news of their relief attempt and trying to avoid sand backs in the river. Even largely unloaded the Galleons were operating much further upriver than their builders had ever intended and for their captains comfort. Only Schotts exuberant and damming speech of a few nights previously had impelled them, out of shame, to proceed so far. They must have realised that to run aground in such circumstances would mean their deaths.
Can we truly blame the reaction of Commodore Schott when, as evening fell, the river spoke its truth and the Meteor falls vomited forth the wreckage, the screamed-bloody horses, the bodies, the glot of foul and bloody stuff that was the death of all their hopes? And, riding and clambered onto the hulls of the capsized boats , clinging to barrels and clutching the corpses of enemies and friends, the blood-man survivors of Reeves Last Charge? Swimming now, beneath the ships big guns, crawling up anchor lines and rudders as the river filled with wreckage. and in that foul and darkening bricolage, who amongst the Captains could say how many there were or how much threat they represented? or if this were the disaster it seemed or yet another of Reeves mad schemes playing out?
Some have represented the retreat as cowardice, the ships weighing anchor and, blasting off clinging plainsmen with small arms fire, marking time downriver, as "fearful tigers fleeing half-drowned mice" (Wood). In truth, with their supplies, barges and men lost, even if Schotts fleet had met with the Eagle Columns, only now just setting off, there is little they could have done but exchange letters.
Schotts tragic and epic journey back down the Pen-Meol, across the world-sea, in search of home and the harbour of Hoöghst , would not end well for him. he would return, but to a homeland he no longer knew.
When the Lords of the Star Kingdoms arrived, they found the river empty but for the dead, the Pen-Meol had eaten their greatest enemy and most of his army, along with all of their own needed supplies. But in the place of Reeve, the river had birthed something even more dangerous - his memory. The Last Charge of Milgar Reeve and his defeat of a Navy of the Living with the Riders of the Dead, spread across the plains like wildfire.
In life Reeve had shown that the plains tribes could be wielded, however tentatively, as a unified force. In death he gave the Plains something more than a hero, unifying in deed and action, in ways a thousand scratched screeds had been unable to accomplish, the culture of the Plains with the creed of the Iron Path.
The War Upon The Flood
Far to the north, in another half-sphere of the world, yet only an hundred leagues south of Hoöghst, Flax, and the Conclave, harried their men in pursuit of the House-Boats of Redgaar. Moving by night and silently going from hilltop isle to hilltop isle, the smugglers of the Three Cities dodged the swimming cavalry patrols of the Pathists. The small remaining population of the Hill-Isles was by firmly in favour of the Three Cities, the humiliation and dispossession of their lands via flood and subsequent patrols had destroyed most willing support for the Pathist cause and most of those who might have supported it had already enlisted in the months after Albraneth. The Pathists found few informers and the boats of Redgaar many allies. The damp, cold and sick cavalry of the pathists struggled, walked and swam across the fields they themselves had drowned, spreading out in small patrols.
The Redgaarese had, perhaps grown too casual in their deceptions, or perhaps their plans were too far in advance. Winter was coming and the forces of the Three-Cities realised they stood in nearly as much need of heat and light as of food. Clearly they intended to take one great risk, and to move a large amount of smuggled fuels, together, in a series of leapfrogs from isle to isle. The Burghers of Redgaar must have realised that combining their forces in this was a matter of extreme danger. Likely we shall never know what prompted them to the decision.
It was at this time and on this night that they were discovered by the Pathists. The location of the incident was unusual, two old hilltops, close together, were now islands, and a stretch of water ran between them, hidden by the curve of the isles from easy view. One patrol, under Captain Mead, approached the larger of the two isles in question from the opposite side and, perhaps by stealth, or by accident, and the foolishness of their foe, encountered the nearly-complete transfer of goods to the House-Boats of Redgaar, along with a substantial number of smugglers.
A battle broke out in the half-lit dark on the top of the hilltop-isle. The Pathists quickly drove off the smugglers who retreated, down the slope to their boats, leaving behind only a few barrels of pitch.
Realising that the smugglers must surely have completed the majority of their work, and that all they now to do was escape into the darkness, Mead, our one source on his thinking claims for religious reasons, made a radical decision. He ordered his men to tip the barrels of pitch down the hill and light them. Then, singing canticles, his patrol blindfolded their horses and charged them down the hill, into the burning flood.
The utter chaos and terror they created simultaneously destroyed the discipline of the houseboat fleet and also trapped the divided it as crew alternate tried to escape the fire, before bravely rowing and punting back into range in attempts to rescue survivors and recover material, itself usually flammable and dangerous. The location of the fire itself lit up the smugglers fleet for miles around. The Flax was not slow to summon his forces and all of the Conclaves remining cavalry elements converged.
Firsthand accounts are lacking but Wood, Apsanalan and Eastsource-Tan all include variations on the phrasing "They swam the smoke on smoke-black steeds" or "on black steeds swam". (It is unlikely the horses were truly all black though the Pathists, an irregular force, had come to favour black armour and barding where they could get it.) The Conclave forces were able to isolate and destroy one half of the surviving fleet before riding through the smoke of the dying flames and assaulting the remaining force
Winter, in the coming months, finished the siege for them. With a major component of Redgaars supply, fleet, and able men, destroyed, the Three Cities had little ability remaining to defend themselves, or even to heat their homes, many of which now had no roofs, the joists being removed to make boats.
Two of the Three Cities sued for peace before the winter equinox and, seeing them possessed by the enemy, the last surrendered a few days later.
Flaxes men recovered the bodies of "The Burninge Charge" and valorised them, refusing to removed them from their burnt black armour.
They must have been surprised indeed when one moved and spluttered. The survivor, as historians of the Wars will know, was Ensign Day, later Marshall and Commander Ovram Day, or "Burned Black Day" to his enemies, of whom there is much to be told at a later time.
The Miracle Of Hoöghst
Oderlane and his army had entered Hoöghst with ease, able to rampage at will through the town they were unable to control ground there, lest they be blasted by the heavy guns of Fosse, whose fleet matured freely and well in the Bay of Hoöghst.
At low tide the riders of Oderlane advanced into the city,, but should they pause to fortify or make camp, signals would be sent by means-invisible and as they tide came in any such hideaways would be imperilled by the cannons of Fosse, creeping closer as the waves made safe the way, or appearing as a sudden storm after the Admiral held her fire
Neither did the League fleet forbear from bombarding even the wonders and treasures of Hoöghst , its great temple, ancient guild hall and Library, all smashed to bits, raining stone and burning books upon the riders of Oderlane
Nor did the people of Hoöghst  hesitate in signalling the destruction of their home, such was their hatred for the Pathist forces that they eagerly signalled to the fleet the exact location of any resting or fortifying Pathist groups (It should be remembered that it was the citizen of Hoöghst  who had spiked and drowned their own guns as Oderlannes forces overran their initial positions). Unable to defend their own city they proved adept at making the same city indefensible for their oppressors
Oppression there was. The initial investiture of Hoöghst  had been accomplished by the standards of civilised war for that perhaps, simple yet more enlightened time. The first signal to the waiting fleet by partisans (initially only a small minority) and the bombardment which collapsed the Library, Guild Hall and Guild stables where the army of Oderlane had set up their initial billets (with possible strange consequences later described), signalled also an end to the civil conduct of war. Oderlane instituted a policy of summary execution foy any suspected of partisan activity, as well as hunting parties set to rove through the town in an attempt to stop signals to the fleet.
The incompetent and over-brutal effect of these orders, in fact hugely stiffened and deepened resistance to his presence in the city. Successive bombardments and repeated purges had cycled the investiture of Hoöghst  into an utterly brutal , personal and close-quarters grind. The civilian partisans of Hoöghst , unable to directly face concentrations of Pathist forces, could still signal their position, should they pause to fortify any position to rest, and soon cannonballs and mortar shells would rain down (if the tide allowed it). As the Pathists broke for cover, the citizens of Hoöghst  would worm from the ruins of their homes like rats, flocking isolated soldiers, inflicting terrible mutilations and shameful deaths. This in turn provoked brutal punitive raids in response.
So wound the war in Hoöghst , the city itself gradually becoming more and more uninhabitable and both sides hardening and changing in character so much that, if either were to pee across the bridge of time and encounter their younger self, they would find themselves unrecognisable. (So much for "Tom-of-the-Lane who, as a young man years before has been startled by a vision of "A manne moste blacke and terribil, hewed well wyth scarrs as cut wood, and he haubeurk and gorget blacke with bloode and spirites did sircle him as whyrling shadowe mighte"- Tan. A vision which had set him on his way even before the massacre of Albraneth. Such are the ways.)
A third commander, and a greater army, haunted the thoughts of all belligerents - General Winter.
Hoöghst, located an hundred leagues north of besieged Redgaar, already suffered the cold which would collapse the defences of the three cities in a month or so, and here as there, warfare had severely depleted the Pathist forces. The same was not true of the ships of Fosse, they had been prepared and equipped by the League to perform a trans-oceanic crossing and, at the end of it, to lend the support of their guns to the settlement of Xap (a thorn which would bedevil all sides for many year to come, see later chapters). Exactly such a journey and support Oderlane had suspected and rushed to prevent, (his forces minimal artillery would spend winter trapped in the snowbound passes of Nihei and suffer their own tragic fate as described in the song “Snows on Nihei”).
Well armed, well provisioned, well supplied, animated by a state of righteous anger and soundly lead by the careful Fosse, the League ships lacked the power to contest Hoöghst  on land, but, with the cities guns spiked and drowned, they could tack and bombard at will and Oderlane could nether reach nor hinder them.
Here, time favoured the League. The people of Hoöghst  had suffered and were prepared to suffer more, but having no place to retreat to, they could equalise that suffering with the Pathist occupiers. All things being even, Oderlane and Winter would annihilate Hoöghst . In return, Hoöghst , and Winter, would eat Oderlane and his army, and when all the spinning coins had fallen, Fosse would re-enter Hoöghst  and with her healthy and wrathful sailors, complete the destruction of the Pathist force and succour what remained of any civilian survivors.
Such is likely to have been Oderlanes calculation also. The city untameable, his enemy unreachable and his forces whittling away as the trap of his victory slowly closed around him. Perhaps he hoped for his slow, small artillery, currently labouring in Nihei, but even if they were to arrive, how would they perform in a duel with the ships of Fosse?
Here sorcery enters out history, with it come it baggage train of sacrifice and the long, deep stain of ruin in its lee. This was the 'Miracle of Hoöghst '.
Of the true 'Great Workings before this time we know little but that they occurred, that they happened long ago, as history is counted by the chroniclers of these wars, they speak of them little, and then as archea, legend, or myth. These myths would now be real once more.
Of where and how Oderlane, or whomever, or whatever, was advising him, gained the knowledge and understanding to perform the Working, we can only speculate. Eastscource-Tan outright sates that Oderlane was the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, that his mother was a Witch and that he was fated to bring about a black dawn. Wood produces the most detailed theory; he points out that the first camp of the Pathists in Hoöghst  was its famed library (perhaps hoping that Fosse would hesitate to fire upon it). The building was bombarded in the early hours of the morning, with cannon, mortar and incendiaries. As the books burnt and the library collapsed into its old foundations, the Pathists running for safety, Wood claims that certain "ancien techts" describe an older incarnation of the library at "Hoost", accepting many "fragmentary recordings" and "strange device" from a refugee group fleeing south (unlikely as no great cities or meaningful nations exist in the freezing lands directly north of Hoöghst). Wood makes much of little and interprets the terseness and paucity of his "techts" as a deliberate act of coded secrecy, in that "Lay these by ye said that many and speak not nor dream of what so lies" - indicating some old, sealed and deliberately forgotten vault beneath the library in the old foundations, exposed only by the chance of war and explored in foul and brief circumstances - Pathist troopers being dumped into the cells below as the place burnet and collapsed, with some of the more witful few grabbingg, in an opportunistic way, what may have seemed like treasures or valuables, as they climbed to escape the disaster. All of this he draws from a handful of lines in a source Wood himself refuses to name "for thine owne care and cleen sleepinge". Apsanalan says simply that "With Winters Knights a working came upon them" .. "and was made". The reader may choose their preference for interpretation, or even persist in the pleasing but foolish claim of a kinder, more secular age, that of a "rare climatological event".
Very rare if so, for while little comes down to us from the age of the Prescience Wars, the Ice of Hoöghst  is still there, and the keels of the Ships of Fosse, still held within, though Hoöghst  itself is but a memory. The reader may visit if they wish, though it is not a sight for kind souls, or those who desire "cleen sleepinge".
On the 23rd night of the investiture of Hoöghst , (the same night as the Burning Charge of Redgaar), the entirety of the Pathist forces advanced their camp to just outside the range of Fosse's guns. Deep enough into Hoöghst  that their pickets suffered continual attack from partisan bands. They burnt there great pyres of supreme scale and gathered around them in close order "In vile patterns" - Apsanalan "Flank to flak and tooth to tooth" - Wood. A wind sprang up from the shore but despite this, Fosse tacked against it, maintaining range and watch on Hoöghst . Then began "A great winde and a tumulte which came done oute of the empty aire" - Wood. Fosses' ships lost formation and nearly scattered. “Then came Drythelms Men, Winters Knights" - Apsanalan.
The temperature around Hoöghst  plummeted quickly. As observers of the ice may see today, fast enough to freeze some people in place, trapping boots and horses hooves beneath its surface.
It must be assumed that Oderlanes fire-bound army suffered the least for this, though even they must have taken casualties.
Then "the see kraked" - Wood. No simile is inferred, all sources report the terrible crackling, smashing unearthly sound as the waters of the bay of Hoöghst  froze solid in the time it takes to sing a song.
The terrible noise had not ceased when Oderlane signalled a full charge. The Pathists hurled themselves though Hoöghst  in a great mass, thundering and thudding, smashing through the ruins of once great buildings, trampling any who stood before them, crunching over frozen ash, followed by the chiming of tinkling bells as the great gusts of their panted breath rose up over the charging army and froze in the air, falling to the earth behind them as a triling rain of crystals.
They did not pause even to kill but carried their charge to the harbour and then out over the ice, towards the frozen fleet.
It is to the credit of Foss that several ships resisted and overcame both the shock of the cold and the terror of the charge and maneuvered their frosted cannon enough to bombard their attackers as they advanced across the ice. They inflicted meaningful damage upon the Canticaleers, but not enough.
The weight in numbers and the prepared ladders of Oderlanes troops were enough. As he rode his black horse back and forth over ice so hard and so cold that some said his horses hooves "struck fire from the ice", roving from ship to ship and screaming orders and imprecations at his men, the Pathists surrounded, boarded and assaulted each in turn, climbing their hulls like wooden walls.
One by one the ships of Fosse burnt in the frozen night, a second constellation of bonfires to match that beyond the gates of the frozen city. Of the Admirals fate, no record remains. Perhaps she is in the ice still.
Come daybreak and the ships no more than black columns of smoke barring the air, Oderlane lead his remaining forces back across the ice, into Hoöghst , cavalry coming from the sea. All remaining resistance was crushed. Hoöghst  was denied to the League for the rest of the war, and whatever became of it is little spoken of. The ice of the bay, imperishable, still remains.
So fell out the last major battles of the Water-Horse wars, those for which those wars are named. And happy indeed were the chroniclers, though they laboured now under strange kings, yet at least, finally, they all hoped and assumed, the cycle of violence which began with a scratched message on the temple door of Albraneth was now closed and cut. Peace would reign.
O foolish hopes of mortal men.


  1. It is interesting how intuition of Reeve (the Pathist) borders on prescience itself and how his observation of flocks could be compared to augury.

    Fosse's ships stuck in enchanted flash-ice is very vivid picture.

    Did 'meeting your older/younger self' become more prominent in later wars?

    1. "Did 'meeting your older/younger self' become more prominent in later wars?" I don't know yet but seems like it might do!

  2. I stumbled in here from a link somebody carelessly left lying around on /tg/. So, forgive me for not dispensing an appropriate response in line with your usual readers (I popped in at the "40k is satire" post). They seem quite educated, verbose...and not a little bit quarrelsome. And I found myself agreeing with your article completely; you put my impressions in better words than I could hope to muster for myself. And there was a strange synchronicity with Sertraline. Auspicious.

    Anyway, this reads like the output generated by some AI crafted by a master dungeon master hobbyist. I confess, I have no idea what any of this is for. And I only read the first half. But, I quite enjoyed this chance encounter. Like opening a book at random in some cosmic library in a fever dream. Sorry if that is not constructive enough, but this is all rather abstract to me. At a glance it's all quite congenial however.

    Merry Christmas! I may wander around here for a bit longer.