(For maximum effect, read this post in this voice)
I cannot. I cannot do this. My friends, I…
They’re all gone.
All of them.
I… I apologise for my undignified temper. I just… I could not…
Allow me a moment to explain. The war is over, of course. The Great Battle has been fought, and the new shape of the land has formed. Before combat took place, we too the scryers, the augurs, the soothsayers, and divined the outcome of every battle which would occur. While glimpsing into events yet to come in itself may affect and even change those events, our predictions are uncanny in their accuracy. There was always a possibility to change the future in small ways, to make a more favourable outcome. But what we saw… what we saw…
Let me tell you of the final day, as it happened.
The chief of the soothsayers, the Haruspex Down-Ashes, formulated a consensus based on reading of animal entrails, tet leaves, the lay of the stones. It was beyond belief: the Order of the Hardworking Oak were predicted to triumph over the Knights of the Red Rose by a comfortable distance. The Oakmen would turn upon their allies, the Guild of the Liberty Bird, and take a dozen Rose strongholds. The Green Commune have amassed the largest force they’ve ever raised, yet failed to capture a single fort – though Sister Caroline of Malvern would successfully defend the Bright Pavillion. The Priory of the Purple Pound would muster a host many times the Commune’s number, yet not only may fail to capture a position, but actually lose two of their own.
Caledonia… My friends, if the augurs are correct… Caledonia will be lost to us. The Nationalist Horde were seen to capture all Caledonia’s castles save one. Fifty-eight. Almost every one.
Prior to this war, a secret society was created with the express purpose of wiping the Nationalists out once and for all – the S’n Pout. Agents of the S’n Pout would travel the length and breadth of Caledonia to support any of the grand forces best suited to stem the tide, be they Oak, Rose, or Bird. Thus S’n Pout from the Oakmen travelled to the West to aid the Roses, Birds aided the Oakmen of the Borderdales, and Roses lent their swords to the Birds of the Northern Isles. We knew, then, how important the S’n Pout would be in this very election.
Down-Ashes was incredulous, and promised to devour his beloved cap should this future come to pass. Alastair of the Claret, too, refused to believe the augurs, and threatened to consume his kilt. Countless more promised to caper nude around the streets.
Word of the first battles reached us through the Aetherial Twittering. The Oakmen defended Castle Swindon-in-the-North, Putelei, and Patricesy with even larger armies than the previous war – and the Red Rose armies were smaller than feared. The Catman of Broad Ford has been ousted by the Roses: even after a recount of the dead, the result was clear. And the walls of Tuican Hom – the stronghold of Vincent the Wire, the Birds’ Business Secretary – were crumbling under the Oakmen’s assault. The Oakmen were faring well, with only Esther the Cruel defeated.
News from the Rosemen in Caledonia is horrific. Michael the Unmusical refused to communicate with the Chroniclers, as “he is not a general anymore.” Whispers from the Clydemouth’s Rosemen plead “is there not a single corner of the Bank which isn’t under Cowan the Barbarian’s iron fist?” The Lady Margaret Friend-Slayer was seen weeping at the sight of the Nationalist Hordes on the horizon. And strange, terrible sounds have reverberated down the glens and moors past the Wall – like the roars of a great lion.
Then the first Caledonian battles ended. A blood-soaked Roseman staggered into the Red King’s war camp. The Valley of Irvine had fallen to the Horde. The battle to take the Western Isles had failed – Angus the Younger repulsed the combined might of all other forces in a crushing victory. In the lands of the still river, Dùbh ghlas the Defender, the Giant of the Glennifer Braes, the master strategist of the Red Roses and the League of the Thankless, the Kinslayer, Ambassador-in-the-Shadows, He-Who-Speaks-To-Caledonia, a true champion of the Red Roses with a mighty host that seems indestructible… Vanquished, resoundingly, by a feral child of the Horde.
“Black Mhairi,” they called her: barely a woman, uncouth, no noble blood in her veins nor seasoning in battle, she nonetheless led thousands upon thousands of Nationalists upon the shores of the Great Lagoon and smote the Red Roses like a thunderbolt. What was once among the staunchest and most unassailable Red Rose strongholds in all Caledonia fell: the Giant fell to his knees under the rush, and young Mhairi finally laid him low with a cracking headbutt to the skull.
The Red King was stupefied. He relied upon the Caledonian chapter as safe strongholds: how could he not only lose, but lose one of his biggest beasts to a mere child? A ruffian, a scallywag, a ned – now a Giant-Slayer? How was it possible? The roars came then to his war camp, rattling the bones of all who heard: three roars that cascaded from Caledonia all the way into the heart of Anglia.
Another roar thundered in the sky. Somewhere in Anglia, the beleaguered pavilion of Nicholas the Betrayer was frantically trying to find enough gold to pay off the debts they incurred in fielding armies that could barely even survive on their own, let alone win. The Birdmen’s augurs were no less bleak than those of the Rosemen – Charles of the Chatterings, the previous leader of the Birdmen, preparing a carriage to take flight; Michael of Dún Dónaill, former Speaker-to-the-Caledonians, failing to even keep in contention against the Horde and the Oakmen; even Daniel the Red, Keeper of Treasures, Champion of the North, second in command only to Nicholas himself in the hierarchy, was feared to be preparing a white flag with which to appease the roaring hordes. Menzies the Merciless and Brave Sir Malcolm looked to their own former lands with ashen faces.
A battered and bruised Birdman rushed in from the night, gasping in bewildered terror: Jo of Milngavie, the Golden Child of the Great House, was defeated at the Drome of Leisure by the Nationalist Chronicler of Bearsden. Nicholas knew of the Giant-slaying, but even he did not truly consider that one of the Liberty Bird’s brightest hopes – indeed, one thought able to lead the guild as his heir – could fall.
The roars came again, louder and more frequently, as Rose and Bird stronghold fell under the onslaught of the Horde. The Great Rex; extinct. Ian the Giver of Doings; bayoneted. Lady Margaret Friend-Slayer, Speaker-to-the-Caledonians-from-the-Shadows; silenced. Sarwar the Second; last of his dynasty. William the Principal, castellan of the most impregnable Red Rose fortress; fallen. John of Annie’s Land, elector-knight to Father Donald; landless. Brian the Trident-bearer; skewered. Anne of the Two Parliaments; now of no parliament. Dame Anne; swept away. Pamela of the Chapel; broken. Sandra the Resigner; resigned. Tom the Ancient; expired. Gregg the Devolver; ousted. Russell the Shadow-Defender; blacked out. Thomas the Accountable; held to account. Michael the Unmusical; written his coda. Fiona of New Caledonia; razed. Sheila the Granite; crumbled. Mark the Sustainer; unsustained. Tom the Ungracious; defenestrated. Iain the Unequal; conquered. Cathy the Economist-of-the-Shadows; spent. Jimmy the Hood; wiped out. Michael the Scrutiniser; scrapped. Graeme the Orange; colourless. Frank the Flagellant; whipped. Katy the Rebel; ousted. Gordon the Builder; levelled. Jim the Trader; liquidated. Gemma of the Rock; rocked.
Even the new fighting generals failed in the end. The chosen of Frank the Jumper of Queues; unchosen. The successor to Alistair of Cockaigne; nevermore. The heir of Gordon of Giffnock; routed. Would it have been different, if they had remained? Could the Saviour of Albion’s banks have done even a thing to stop the Horde? Could even the former Grandmaster of the Red Roses and Master of All Albion have halted their advance? Is this why they abandoned us – because they knew even they could not emerge victorious?
Yet the enormity of the slaughter in Caledonia only became manifest when news of Renfrew-in-the-East arrived. James, Saviour of the Union, Crate-Strider, the Iron Brewer, Captain of the Red Roses in Caledonia… Even their own leader could not stand against the Horde. All his promises of mead and song came to naught. All his warnings of the Separatist Menace unheeded. All the power at his disposal, and he could not succeed.
Roar upon roar thundered throughout Albion. The Wall trembled. A golden light – like the fires of a million and a half warriors filled with terrible resolve – burned into the night.
The Order of the Hardworking Oak are triumphant: over half the cities and castles of Albion have raised the Tree Standard, with an Oakman as their new master. The Red Roses had failed: more warriors chose not to fight at all than support them. The Liberty Birds are routed, having lost more campaign resources than ever. The Greenfolk and the Poundmen can take pride in that they found plenty of warriors for their cause, though they were spread far too thin, far too far, to truly conquer. It was believed the Oakmen would win the most battles, but to win the war outright with no pact with another force? That stunned the strategists, the observers, the soothsayers. They conquered all the old kingdoms of Anglia, and much of Cymru. Ulster remained in their allies’ capable hands. Caledonia, however…
The League of the Thankless were not totally routed in Caledonia. The Rose’s Ian, Knave of Hearts used everything at his disposal to survive the Battle of Morning’s Side; The Bird’s Bear of Shetland just survived against the Danus; the Oak’s David the Flocculent only barely repulsed his Hermitage from one of the largest Hordes of all. The S’n Pout achieved at least that. But there are too few left of their forces to survive another battle – not after this. Three Thankless remain, one of each colour – perhaps only allowed to remain, so that they can tell their masters exactly what the Horde are planning. They have no power now. The forty-one Red Roses of Caledonia, reduced to one. The Eleven Liberty Birds, now one. The Oakman remains alone. Once they were fifty-three against six; now they are three against fifty-six.
The Tyrant of Eton stretched contentedly on his gilt throne. The Red King fell upon his sword. The Betrayer, too, having betrayed his last, swallowed his own poison. Nigel the Foreign blundered into his own mace. Natalie of the Under-Downs remains steadfast, but with no more castles than she started with; Leanne Gwrones also retreated back into the wilds of Cymru with a larger host, but no more strongholds. A wicked smile crept across the Tyrant’s face as he strode forward to reclaim his crown, safe in the knowledge that the power of the Oak was now unquestionable: no more alliances with the flighty Birds, no fear from the Red King, no need to concern himself with the scattered Poundmen. The chroniclers, the gazetteers, the couriers, the criers, the magnates, the barons, all sided with the Oak. Let the hungry, the poor, the frail, the old, the weak, and the crippled protest and riot: they will eventually despair, or they will perish. After all, there is no alternative.
None in Anglia remain to oppose his will. Yet what is that niggling worry in the back of his mind, like a small but determined spider nipping at his scalp?
In the far north beyond the wall, the lion roars…