The battle against the ogre’s had ended in a rout, the Empire force being scattered across the field, the main body of the army in full retreat. Only a few pockets of resistance had stalwartly remained, refusing to run. Here and there the crimson and white of his own Greatswords in sword rings, Ulrich amongst them, mixed with the jet black of Carroburg and Nuln, now surrounded by the Ogre horde, painful death moving inextricably closer. What had started as an uneasy alliance between the two regions had ended as a stalwart fighting force, resolute in its respect for one another and united to the last.
A single Ogre, stomped forward form the throng “Morlag” the creature growled in a voice like a bag of rocks, “Me Morlag” “food fight well”
Ulrich’s stomach turned at the nonchalant description of his brothers as simple fodder for the Ogres. Of course, he had heard of their preference for human flesh but to be faced with an Afterlife in the bowels of these creatures was more than he could bear. As the closest fighting ring to this Morlag, he could clearly see the human heads and hands hanging from Morlag’s belt and vowed silently to avenge his brothers in this life or the next...
“We eat now” Morlag boomed and the horde rushed forward enveloping the remaining survivors. Ulrich’s last thoughts were of home as he was trampled into unconsciousness by 300lbs of rank flesh a rumbling of thunder the last sound he had heard....
Ulrich smiled now at the memory of how he had been so sure of death and yet had been dragged clear of the field as the guns of Nuln had been brought up to pound the enemy lines and relieve what was left of the fighting force. He allowed his thoughts to drift through the decades of a glittering military career, rising though the Greatswords to eventual high command at the Emperor’s side never once forgetting his vow of vengeance, and now he had his chance.
He allowed the memory to pass as the cacophony of the War Room once more pressed itself in on his consciousness. Though he had only been lost in thought for a few scant moments, he might just as well have been asleep for hours given the progress that the council had made this past week. Sometimes, he longed to put the rigours of command behind him and once more take up a simple Greatsword and join his old regiment once again. No such simple pleasures for First General Ulrich Midwinter, Hero of Heartbreak pass and Commander in chief of the Forces of Altdorf; "The Stormhand". He smiled briefly at the memory of so long a go
"Silence brothers", Ulric's calm tone not betraying the sense of growing anger he felt towards this bunch of sycophants and naysayers. Whilst the Birthday celebrations for the Emperor continued on the streets of Altdorf, an impromptu war council had been called upon hearing the news that the vile hordes were on the move. As was the law, anyone of status or indeed substantial wealth was involved although the politicking made Ulrich sick to his stomach when it was action that was required. He looked towards his old friend Siegfried and as always, seeming to feel the intensity of his gaze, he glanced up and smiled wryly, knowing what was to come next having seen this moment of theatre a dozen times or more. Looking deep into the shadows beyond the flickering sconces on either side of the chamber, he sensed an agreement to his thoughts from the presence of his first counsellor, a presence just out of sight and yet in plain view to all were of a mind to see. Ulrich felt the prickle of energy creep from the nape of his neck and tingle his tongue.
"SILENCE" he bellowed, causing some to cover their ears, some to fall into their seats but all to feel the dangerous chill of the Stormhand’s fury and to a man, silence indeed, instantly consumed the room, the flickering torches the only thing that dare move, the crackle of exhumed fuel the only sound until the Empire’s second in command spoke again...
“While we sit here and bicker brothers, and you vie for place amongst the Emperor’s favour, dark forces are already on the move” Ulrich’s voice only slightly subdued, reverberated around the pavilion. Ulrich spared a moment’s glance to the shadow, acknowledging the assistance that ‘The Reaper’ had provided. Siegfried’s face a mask of calm that his ageing eyes betrayed with a deep and comfortable humour at such a carefully orchestrated move.
“The orcs you would expect to respond to a move from the mountains, but the Chaos hordes, the Vampire counts; it is whispered that even the insidious Dark Elves are also mustering along the northern borders”
“and you would have me cower behind these walls?”, “why? to protect your coin”
“There will be nothing left to save if an alliance is forged no matter how unholy“. Ulrich shouted rising to his feet his grey eyes meeting the gaze of all in the room seeking challenge to his words...
“Do not seek to sway us with talk of massed hordes and foul creatures my lord” the thin reedy voice of Heinrich Klemper, head of the guild of merchants hissed, “we all know of your desire for an opportunity to exact revenge against ‘The Mountain Crusher’ I believe is what they are calling him now, all we ask is that you do not see our Empire burn to fulfil your personal aims”
All eyes focussed on different points in the room, most of them near the floor as Ulrich drew breath.
“You think this is about personal vendetta Heinrich, you think I would muster the banners to march forth from the gates of Altdorf to fulfil my personal goals as you so put it?” “Then you are a bloody fool” “The fact that the ogre’s have come down from the mountains and are once more on our borders, feeding on the flesh of our brothers and sisters is the issue at hand; that, and the mustering of so many of the old enemy” “the fact that Morlag is with them is a mere coincidence” Ulrich spat
“and you expect this council to believe that do you Ulrich?” Heinrich sneered
“I do not give a Skaven’s scat what you believe you leprous little worm” Ulrich roared, “and unless you want to take your chances in the imperial dungeon, you will address me as General or Earl” “hell, if you were a man, you might even try ‘Stormhand’ although you would not dare to issue such a challenge”
“Come brothers, this is getting us nowhere”, the flames guttered for a moment and Magnus Gundersson, Lord Wizard of the Amethyst college, advisor and friend to Ulrich Midwinter stepped from the shadows where he had been all along. “That we march to war is inevitable, but an army cannot march on zeal and bloodthirst alone” his voice seeming to come from everywhere at once. “We must have an accord”
The room once more erupted into argument and Ulrich sighed and shook his head. He looked once more to his friend Siegfried Lighthammer seated at the opposite head of the table; The Arch Lector of the cult of Sigmar simply nodded resignedly.
A flicker of light and a noise like the slamming of a crypt door came from the opposite end of the table as Siegfried slammed the warhammer ‘Giant Bane’ on the war room table
“You have the support of the church, General” the high priest pledged, “it is a while since the Golden Griffon saw the sunlight my lord and I will not stand idly by and let this street rabble dictate what is right for the Empire”
“street rabble?” the head of the farrier’s guild objected “with words like that, I assume you have no use for horses my lord?”
‘ in truth’ thought Ulrich ‘knights are dogshit in the eight edition rules, so no’ but instead replied
“if you object Karl, I am sure the customs houses can be made to open their eyes in regards to the activities at the old Hippodrome not to mention your almost meteoric rise to wealth and status”
“mine own fortunes have not fared so well, but then I wouldn’t know a nag from a thoroughbred, or should I say a drugged down filly from a stallion with three balls”. Ulrich could hardly keep a straight face as all but a few people in the room turned dangerous gazes on the man in question.
“What of you Gunter”, Ulrich asked returning once more to the matter at hand “will the guns of Nuln sound once more in accord with Altdorf or will you sit here arguing like the old woman that the Hochland long rifles say you have become?”
Gunter ‘Flintlock’ Dortmund, governor of the gunnery school of Nuln snorted scornfully.
“old woman you say?” “why my boy, I think you forget who carried you from that battlefield all those years ago like a new born babe mewling for his mothers teat” old Flintlock remarked breaking the tension of the room.
“once we’ve made our customary salute for the yearly festivities, my boys will be going home” he said with a wink to Siegfried, “mind you, the Wissen is on the way, so why not, the guns are yours” “although you’ll need to find another leader as I’ll not be going home this time round” “too old, and my Jenevieve is on her way to join me.
“Retirement Gunter?, Ulrich said in a surprised tone “no longer have the Stamina?”
“Nothing to do with Stamina my boy” “long years since I had any time with my my wife and I can think of better things to do with my energies than to march once more on the campaign trail”
“She’s half your age so I understand?”
All eyes turned to look at the man who had quietly entered the tent. His blood red and white striped doublet and heavy breastplate marking him out as one of Carroburg’s finest, although the Greatsword over his back left little doubt as to the regiment with which he served. As he moved, black silk slashes in folds of the doublet marked the man as a Count’s Champion.
“You’ll be dead in a fortnight, less dangerous on the battlefield I would have said” said the newcomer in a ribald tone
As the group broke into laughter, the tension lifted from the room as Johann Rudiger, Champion of Carroburg strode forward to take a place at the table. He glanced down at the massive headed hammer in front of the Arch Lector.
“I see we have reached that point in the proceedings where friendships are forged and alliances lost” said Johann looking up at Ulrich at the far end of the room. With one single smooth movement, Johann grasped the hilt of his sword and laid it on the table in front of him
“You have the Greatswords my lord” Johann said solemnly “whether it is for vengeance for the past or to protect our future’s, I care not” “We will stand by you”
“My thanks Champion” Ulrich acknowledged
“You have the support of the colleges as well, Ulrich” came Magnus’ voice like a crypt wind “Whilst in times of peace I stand at your side as advisor, I have their leave to once more don the battle shroud and cry havoc from the skies” “Whilst the other colleges can only spare a handful of practitioners; you will not find us lacking”
“Then we have an accord” said Ulrich with a tone of closure.
“Accord?” sneered Heinrich “What Accord?” “All I see is a bunch of old men, sabre rattling for their own ends”
As the three men stormed to their feet Ulrich waved them down. “Take caution in your tone Heinrich” “you go too far in this”
“Too far?, Too far?; you are insane, all of you, marching out into the Midden to face Sigmar knows what” “let the horde tear themselves apart whilst we remain safe” “do not endanger the Capital Ulrich or it will be your undoing” “there will be no support from the guild
Ulrich’s face broke into an evil grin at the last comment. He glanced to Heinrich’s left at the richly attired man standing to his side “you there, what is your name?”
“Frederik Shultz” my Lord
“You are this idiot’s number two are you not?” Ulrich demanded
“Yes my Lord?” Frederik replied
“What think you of the situation” “and you may speak freely Frederik”
“I think our objections irrelevant my Lord. This is a council of war at which the State, the Armed Forces and the Church are agreed as to a course and the support of the guilds is not only right, but is mandated by law”
“and of the position of your Guildmaster?” Ulrich questioned.
Frederik thought quickly and saw a clear opportunity and with a smile that was an almost a reflection of the evil grin from Ulrich moments earlier replied;
“Treason my Lord”
“Just so Frederik” Ulrich boomed
“Guards, secure the former Guildmaster” “See that he has a fair meal, a fair trial and is ready for execution at dawn the day after tomorrow, so the last sound that I hear from this wretch as we sally forth, is his neck snap in the Hangmans noose.
Heinrich’s mournful pleas faded into the distance as he was led away in irons.
“My friends” said Ulrich rising to his feet. “I must brief the Emperor on what has transpired here tonight and then see that ‘Deathwing’ is made ready, it will be good to take to the skies above the battlefield once more“
“Gentlemen, make ready, for at dawn, the day after tomorrow, Altdorf marches to war !