House DunsanyThe fair lady Adelida Dunsany had apparently gone missing whilst riding in the countryside. Having given her custodian the slip (who now resided within the house Dunsany citadel dungeons) she had last been seen by hunters in the vicinity of the Ravenwood.
Such youth! Such bloody folly!
The augurs had deemed the fire in the sky the night before an ill omen; an understatement if ever there were one in young Ambrose’s opinion but such words could not be voiced, for lord Dullahan Dunsany hung the House’s fate on their prophesying, particularly that of old Kantada and his apprentice Delvir. Never the less, the girl had gone riding, and gone riding near no lesser place than the Ravenwood. Legends told of it being the den of ogres, trolls and worse; the denizens of Anwyn from before the coming of man, before living memory.
Ambrose halted his mount atop a hill overlooking the vast expanse of the Ravenwood. The sea of trees. The canopy was a dark green, the same hue used by the rival Barthiels (for beyond the Ravenwood lay their lands), while little could be seen of the trunks, so thick were the shadows. The young warrior’s attention was immediately drawn to a column of thin smoke rising from within the wood. Not a forest fire for it was too small, concentrated, but...something. A camp? But who would be foolish enough to camp within the Ravenwood? His mind went once more to the shooting stars of the previous night and he suppressed a shiver beneath his armour. He gripped his sword and drew it from its sheath, urging his horse onward. Into the Ravenwood.
Ambrose soon found he had to dismount as the entwined roots of the trees underfoot were too hazardous and uneven. Twice he would have been thrown from his saddle were he a lesser equestrian. The boughs hung low too. Progress was slow, and cold. Very little sunlight penetrated the canopy and he was glad for the thick tunic he wore under his platemail. Sword in his right hand, his shield in his left, its face displaying the Dunsany colours: his patron house - Azure et Or, a blue serpent upon a field of gold - he advanced in the direction of the smoke. Or as best in its direction as he could, for once within the Ravenwood, direction became capricious. The spirits of the Wood bewitched those foolish enough to enter, and few returned to the light.
The land rose and he was forced to tether his mount as the ground underfoot became too uneven, and the low branches of the trees obstructive. It was like no other forest he had ever encountered. For truth he was no woodsman, rather an aspiring knight, but he knew that trees quested for light as knights did for honour. There was as much light down here as a Sir would find honour in a tavern brawl. The trees merely sought to ensnare. He hacked at them with his sword, spiting curses at the imps residing within the trees and praying forgiveness for using his father’s blade in such a way. On his sire’s deathbed the young Ambrose had sworn to succeed where the elder had failed. He would win a title.
And he came upon a clearing before a cave. The ground before the cave was scorched black, the grass and trees at the edge smoldered: the source of the smoke. As he stepped out into the blasted glade the ground cracked underfoot: it was as smooth and as brittle as glass. What heat, greater than all the furnaces of the Dunsany smithies, could have done this?
He stepped as quickly and as quietly as he could across the ground toward the dark portal of the cave. Yet it was not as dark as Ambrose expected, for from within came a dull red glow.
The lair of a wyrm? His mind raced, awash with thoughts of monsters from the stories of his childhood and images from Kantada’s bestiary. The camp fire of a family of trolls, perhaps? He said a prayer asking his ancestors to preserve the lady Dunsany. If she had already been roasted and consumed then he would be denied his fate.
As if in answer to his prayers there came a scream from within the cave! She was alive! He raced toward the cave mouth, reaching it as the young princess rounded a corner deeper inside. Her pale blue dress was torn and he averted his eyes from her flesh, catching glimpses of many-coloured threads which appeared to flow from points on her limbs, chest and head, beaded with scarlet blood where they entered her plump body.
“This way, my lady!” Ambrose called out and his quarry pumped her short, stocky legs as fast as they would carry her.
As she collapsed into him, huffing and panting, her brown locks a tangled mess, knocking him to the ground and his helmet from his head, there came from the bowels of the cave a screeching cry. The bellow of some foul wyrm or daemon! Extricating himself from the stout girl’s embrace as best he could without disgracing her or himself, he raised his shield and his blade.
The sound came again, a harsh, chittering cry, skipping up and down in tone like the cry of no beast Ambrose Darkmane had ever encountered before.
A serpent, no: a tentacle of the greater beast, slithered round the bend the lady Dunsany had just came round. It shone in what light penetrated this far into the cave passage and Ambrose realized that he was metal. Steel, like his arm and armour. He leapt at it with a cry, swung his father’s blade and severed it clean in a spray of sparks. Black ichor sprayed from the stump and it withdrew out of sight, only to be replaced by two, then four then six more as the beast came into sight.
Though its body seemed to be no larger than that of a man, it held itself aloft atop the writhing mass of tentacles which protruded from beneath the white-edged red robes it hung over its skeletal form. The young warrior caught a glimpse of an emblem upon the ghoul’s sleeve: a jagged marking resembling ebony and ivory crenellations surrounding a humanoid skull. Neither the markings of the Barthiels nor the Peveril. Some hidden house from ancient days, twisted by fell majicks? From beneath its voluminous hood glowed three eyes, one a baleful green, two as red as Anwyn’s own suns.
He raised his blade once more, his spirit steeled, prepared to face his fate, when the metallic wraith gave another blare of binaric before switching to Gothic.
“Invective: vulgar youth! Command: Cease your destructive activity and return the female to me. Supposition: The Magos will have my drives wiped if your people’s purity is not confirmed within two cycles!”
And thus the priesthood of Mars came to Anwyn; a small feudal world orbiting a dying binary, until that point a lost colony of mankind settled before the Age of Strife. Deals were struck between the Mechanicus and the three ruling houses: the Dunsany, the Barthiels and the smaller Peveril: their lands a wedge almost entirely separating the two larger rivals, but for the expanse of the Ravenwood.
Young nobles and warriors were all too keen to take up the advanced arms of their new benefactors, in exchange for mining rights on household land. Those of particular skill, such as Ambrose Dunsany (he gaining the house’s family name upon his `rescue` of the lord’s only daughter) were chosen to become pilots of the towering walkers soon known as Knights. The best of their smiths were inducted and in time returned to Anwyn as sacristans, maintaining the towering warmachines.
The technology the Mechanicus brought to Anwyn, and the setting up of forges and orbitals, enabled the enginseers to venture forth to neighbouring worlds both within the same starsystem and surrounding systems. Knights were called upon to accompany (and provide groundside protection for) the Mechanicum assets on these `quests` as the Knights referred to the voyages. Often violent confrontations resulted: clashes with greenskin raiders, Eldar exodites and myriad other races the Knights crushed underfoot or blasted apart with their cannons.Fas’thi Nine
At first the Knights of Anywn, gathered from all three houses believed themselves to be as gods until, facing a drop onto the planet Fasthi-9 to face a large greenskin colony, they came to fight alongside a true god of the battlefield: the Mechanicus deemed it fit to deploy a warlord titan, the Andarta
. As they had learned to use their new mechanical mounts back on Anwyn to coral and herd that world’s great predators, so they did with the greenskin, both mobs of their brutal warriors and their ramshackle jalopies, Andarta
raining down death in great swathes. It was on Fas’thi-9 too that they came to test themselves against enemies of similar size. Clanking monstrosities, lumbering shrines dedicated to the barbarian aliens’ gods some surmised, which stood as tall as their own Knights and were festooned with weaponry. This was the first test of the mettle of the knights of Dunsany, Barthiel and Peveril.
The knights of Anwyn did not ride to war alone for, as well as the skitarii and Mechanicum forces, the knights of the Dunsany were also accompanied by a coterie of seers assigned by their lord to advise and assist the baron. None of the Peveril or Barthiels were permitted within baron Aethrel’s tent whilst he discussed tactics with his knights, the Mechanicum representatives and these augurs. The rival knights spat at the feet of these wyches and would not meet their gazes.
Not all knights returned to Anwyn alive. Some of those who did did so after undergoing the ministrations of Adeptus Mechanicus apothecaries and cyberneticists. Many of these were restored to an imitation of the human form, while others would never again step from their mounts.
Whilst the knights of Anwyn would go to war for the priests of Mars on countless occasions in the following years, it was memories of the combat against the greenskin machines on Fas’thi that revived the old traditions of jousting on Anwyn. Though the priesthood representatives forbade the use of their boon for such sport, the houses struck new deals, offering the Magos more lands and lost secrets to turn a blind eye.
The first time Dunsany, Barthiel and Peveril knights faced each other in combat (and it would not be the last) was the tournament on Saint Aramathus’ Day.Saint Aramathus’ Day
The three finest knights of each of the three houses gathered at the intersection of their lands, an area which had been used for the settling of interhouse disputes since man had come to Anwyn in the times before memory. Vast terraces were constructed for spectators, with elevated boxes for the nobility to view the tourney from the same level as the knights they sponsored, household standards and those of their vassal lords fluttering in the wind. The blue dragon upon gold of the Dunsany (the serpent’s pose changing with the ruling lord), the white axe on a field of dark green representing the Barthiel, and the Peveril crimson portcullis upon white.
It had always been the way of the Dunsany, even after the coming of the priests of Mars and their distrust of and advising against the unpredictable scrying arts, to maintain a coterie of seers who advised the reigning lord. This tendency was well known to their rivals also, and one of the conditions of the tourney was that no knight of any house should consort with diviners before or during the event. Thus it was that the jousting was fought fair, or as far as could be seen.
Ambrose Dunsany, champion of his house, came to face a young knight of the Peveril by the name of Arundel in one of the semi-final jousts. Afterwards there were rumours that the Barthiels had bought Arundel’s loyalty, for the hotheaded youth broke the rules of the joust: some argued he deliberately redirected his engine’s reaper chainsword at the last moment, others claim it was an accident. Dunsany’s engine was nonetheless struck a severe blow, his cockpit penetrated and Ambrose himself whisked away to the chirurgeons.
The lord Dunsany and his attendants, seer Kantada naturally accompanying him, immediately attended to their chosen knight and, fortuitously he was able to return to his hastily repaired engine for the final tilt against the Barthiel champion. Ambrose fought as a man possessed and never since has such a joust been recorded in Anwyn records. Derleth of Barthiel was unable to land a blow upon the Dunsany champion. It was as if he were toyed with before finally being struck down, Dunsany’s reaper somehow getting close enough to cleave straight through the right thigh of his foe’s engine.
It was a title Adelida Dunsany’s savior (and now spouse) would defend several times in following years, finally retiring from the sport, dedicating himself to serving the house on the behalf of the Mechanicum. Lord Dullahan Dunsany himself granted the victorious knight the favour of bearing a new crest upon his shield, of Ambrose’ own design. An ouroboros was decided upon, signifying his never-ended honour.
The St. Aramathus Day tournament continued as an annual event on Anwn attracting, in later years, offworld Freeblades and visitors from Knight houses on other planets.The End of the Peveril
Always the minor house of Anwyn, sandwiched between the Dunsany and Barthiel lands, house Peveril held one ace: the rana mines. A rare element, initially used simply in jewelry and greatly desired by the nobility of Anwyn, upon the coming of the Mechanicum it was discovered that rana crystals could be used in the construction of high-powered laser cannons. The Peveril, having traditionally always allotted a tithe to the Dunsany and the Barthiel were loath to continue this trade while the Mechanicum offered them so much more but the lesser house was unable to break with the tradition.
Thus, when Peveril agents met in secret with their opposite numbers of the Dunsany house, only for one to reveal himself to be Ambrose Dunsany, by this time lord of the house, the Peveril spies were intrigued by his offer.”I seek to tip the balance upon which our world and our ways rest,” he began, leaning across the table in the dimly lit chamber, his guards with their hands resting on laspistol holsters, eyes on the door and the Peverils. “The Dunsany and the Barthiel have been rivals since mankind came to Anwyn. That ends.”
The Peveril spymaster was cautious, “And you are informing us because…?”
“Because an attack through the Ravenwood would be fruitless. Slow, cumbersome and the enemy could not fail to see it coming.” He turned the ring upon his right index finger, revealing the ouroboros signet.
“Your augurs have seen as much?”
The lord Dunsany smiled and sat back in his chair, “One does not need the second sight to make such predictions.”
“Then you intend to go via the western sea?”
The knight, champion of several tourneys and countless offworld battles shook his head. “I intend to march east.”
“East lies Peveril land, and beyond that mountains impenetrable to engines.”
The lord nodded knowingly.
The spymaster pursed his lips. All in the room realized what the master of the Dunsany suggested. It was treasonous. It was to spit on oaths that had held peace over the three houses for centuries.
“You would march through Peveril lands, to attack the Barthiel from their least-defended border.”
“You trust your seers in this?”
Yet another nod.
“And what would be the benefit of such treason to my house?”
The Dunsany pledged to not only release the Peveril from their rana tithe to the Barthiels, freeing it to be traded more profitably with the Mechanicum, but also to grant to the Peveril a portion of the lands which would be captured.
The pact was made with one condition: that lord Ambrose Dunsany himself be present in the Peveril capital at the time of the attack, overtly as a guest of the city’s dueling academy. Dunsany also realized that should his forces fail, the Peverils would immediately arrest him and offer him to the Barthiels in order to pardon their own treason.
And what of the priests of Mars? They cared not who permitted them to reap the wealth of the seas and the mountains, only that they could, though they refused to sabotage the engines of the Barthiel. It is not recorded whether such an action had been suggested by Dunsany or not.
And so it was that two dozen Knights: paladins and errants in the majority, though with lancers scouting ahead and on the flanks, a pair of Magaera, an Acheron and a single Styrix piloted by Dunsany’s own son, Tobias, marched at speed across the Dunsany-Peveril border and through Peveril lands. Moving wide past the neutral ground at the center of the houses’ territory, it was as the force passed closest to the rana mines that they halted.”What is the meaning of this?” demanded the Peveril baron Arundel, rounding on lord Dunsany, his herald having received word via the vox built into his enlarged cranium.
“It is the end of the Peveril,” Ambrose Dunsany replied with a grim smile, his hands now outstretched to the sides.
“Whoreson!” spat Arundel, drawing his sword as Peveril guardsmen raised their lasrifles at the Dunsany head and his unarmed attendees.
Ambrose admired the fine point of the blade pointed at his face, and pushed it aside with finely manicured fingers.
“You shall not pierce me this time, baron Arundel, as you did on Saint Aramathus’ Day so long ago. Lower your arms, signal for your Knights to stand down...oh and send for that craven lord of yours. I’ll have his surrender within the hour.”
“Cocky bastard!” the baron spat though he did not raise his sword again, “You’re in no position to nego-“
“With my finest Knights within minutes marching distance of your cherished mines?”
“The Peverils would rather none have the rana!”
The Dunsany lord leaned forward conspiratorially and lower his voice, “Are you quite sure of that, baron? What would become of your people then?”
Thus the Peveril became a vassal of the Dunsany. Lord Peveril’s only daughter became the bride of Tobias Dunsany and, within the decade, the lord’s male heirs were forced to spearhead an assault during an offworld quest against the greenskin upon the planet Gasalae IV, to their deaths.Visions of the End
With the Peveril lands now theirs, the Dunsany held some sixty percent of the land on Anwyn, and with the rana mines theirs they struck new deals with the priests of Mars to their advantage. The surviving knights of the Peveril, now houseless, were given the choice of either riding in Dunsany colours or being exiled as Freeblades. The majority chose the latter option, leaving aboard Mechanicum freighters, many swearing secret oaths against the Dunsany, their witchcraft and their treachery.
Their old foes now having risen to a preeminent position, the Barthiel were quick to renew standing treaties and push for peace before war truly broke out. Thusly Anwyn entered a state of détente which lasted a century.
Though there was no outright warfare during that century, it was an uneasy peace. Many of the Dunsany household called to finish what they had started with the Peveril, claiming that they would gladly ride out and seize the world for their lord to hold in its entirety. But Tobias Dunsany, now lord, always looked to Delvir and his other augurs. They had the lord’s ear and he made no move without their say so. Similarly the Barthiels doubted their neighbours could rein in their warlike knights forever. The Dunsany had grown greedy and envious. Voices called for a preemptive strike on the behalf of the Barthiels, for Dunsany treachery was inevitable.
The Standard of lord Tobias Dunsany
Serpents, wyrms and dragons had always featured upon the household standards of house Dunsany, legend being that the first Dunsany noble to lead his people to Anwyn slew a great Azure beast in the southern deserts. Until Dullahan Dunsany’s granting of a unique ensign to the knight Ambrose, all had flown the flag of the ruling lord. Ambrose Dunsany’s ouroboros would set a precedent for future lords and their chosen champions: the household flag henceforth featured variations on the ouroboros such as Tobias Dunsany’s twisting Mobius-Strip-like serpent (and millennia later another fine example is Alixaren Dunsany’s trio of valknut wyrms). Each lord also granted his champion permission to fly an unique banner of their own design.
It was one hundred years to the very day when old Delvir whispered his hoarse words into lord Dunsany’s ear. The old prophet claimed to have foreseen the priests of Mars allying with the Barthiels against the Dunsany in a vision.
While in his youth Tobias had been a blood-thirsty warrior, far more impetuous than his father, he had with his years learned the benefit of cunning and preparation. Taxes were raised on shipments bound for the Mechanicum - the Dunsany would squeeze what they could from the cybernetic bastards before they betrayed them - and fewer smiths were sent for sacristan training. Brigands looted rana and other shipments bound for the Barthiels, forcing them to use more expensive means of transport, escorted by knights (and having to pay a tithe to have those knights step on Dunsany soil).
As Tobias Dunsany piled levies upon the Mechanicus and the Barthiels, Delvir and the other seers only saw the house’s future darkening. He ordered his agents - for did not all houses, no matter how honourable they were within the sun’s light, keep scores of deniable intermediaries for less tasteful duties? - to step up their acts of sabotage, while his own knights trained harder.
It was at that time that word of the Edict of Nikaea was disseminated across the Imperium. Whist the Legiones Astartes were to no longer operate Librarius departments, it also applied to the knight houses. But for navigators and astropaths none were to draw upon the power of the Warp.
The Barthiel were all too keen to call attention to the scryers of house Dunsany, believing that if their old rivals could be forced to give up their witchcraft and its inherent advantage, matters could be returned to a balance upon Anwyn. But Tobias Dunsany was not yet as patient nor as devious as the Crimson King, nor were Delvir and his kin keen to give up their sorcerous ways. This was the final straw for the Dunsany. They now believed the entire Imperium was trying to trample them down and so they went to war.
During the preparations of the Dunsany knights and other war machines, several key members of the priesthood of Mars on Anwyn were persuaded to join the cause. Once Anwyn was entirely theirs those enginseers who sided with the Dunsany would rise to the highest positions within their order on the planet, the war painted as a Barthiel uprising. Unknown to these traitors within the Mechanicum, the wizened Delvir revealed a secret to his lord. The visions of betrayal he and his scryers had been following had in fact been granted to them by a sentience from beyond the veil, one who claimed to serve the Architect of Fate. Upon the cusp of war, this being offered them more: powers beyond those of mere divination...
House Dunsany knights of all kinds marched on the Barthiel lands supported by lesser war machines: tanks, artillery, turncoat Mechanicum automata, skitarii and APCs filled with levy troops. Delvir’s sorcerors - for they were mere diviners no more - too went to war. No longer merely supporting the knights but casting bolts of fell warp energy which twisted the metal and flesh of that which they impacted. Sheets of fire were conjured from thin air. Time flowed and reversed at their will. The knights of house Dunsany were inscribed with baleful runes and despite the best marksmanship of Barthiel’s own warriors many precise shots failed to down the blue and gold war engines, shells vanishing into rifts in reality meters before they would impact. Lord Tobias Dunsany too rode out, his chainsword wreathed in lethiferous fire.
Victory finally came as the Dunsany knights strode through the Barthiel capital of Nalnye, towering over its buildings and pushing down those which they could not trample underfoot. The life and rule of lord Barthiel too was ended beneath the foot of lord Tobias Dunsany.
But fate had one more twist to play out, for the Mechanicum priests who had sided with the Barthiels had managed to broadcast a psychic distress call. The Dunsany believed they had played their last card and the game was up when Astartes vessels entered orbit overhead. On the planet their knights ruled supreme but they had naught to counter the potential bombardment of voidships.
Fortunate they were, then, when the ships announced they were vessels of the Sons of Horus, bound for Terra and the end of the Imperium...