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The Last Free Soul of Dalemark

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The Rebel and the King


(Mark Wood – 19 June 2811)

'Excuse me, sir. There's a man outside the camp asking to speak to a "Mitt Alhammittsson". At this morning's briefing, the Commander said we were to inform you immediately.'

'You see, Moril,' said Mitt, uncoiling from the stool. 'I told you he'd come to us.'

'You should stay here,' said Navis, loosing his pistol from its holster and cocking it in one smooth move as he headed for the door. 'It's probably a trap.'

'I'll take my chances,' said Mitt, but Navis had already disappeared. 'Coming, Moril?'

Moril trotted out his usual 'a King needs a Singer by his side' in response, but really he wouldn't have missed it for, well, a hot dinner that wasn't stew. Who was this fighter whose capture was so important that Mitt had left his half-built capital behind him to spend months living in a series of military encampments, even though they'd been at peace for years now? He followed his King out of the hut and across the camp, dodging round huts, tents, horses, provisions, bales of silk for Alk's latest project, Navis barking orders and soldiers running to obey them, the cwidder beating time against his chest as he struggled to keep up with Mitt's longer stride. At the gate, the guards took one look at Mitt's face and threw it open.

The clearing beyond the palisade was usually a leafy respite from all the bustle of the camp, but now some twenty people were huddled there, guarded by twice that number of soldiers. Most were so ragged and dirty it was hard to tell whether they were men or women. Moril thought they looked more exhausted than dangerous. Then the one nearest the gate turned – a man with a beard, dressed in a peculiar mixture of furs and rags. He had the look of someone who'd once been bulky but now was his own ghost. Moril clutched the cwidder tighter. Hatred that concentrated hurt.

The man walked up to Mitt. Mitt stepped forward. Navis, who'd appeared out of nowhere as usual, moved to flank him but Mitt waved him back. The two stood face to face. It was a performance, Moril realised, and he and Navis and the others were the audience.

'Hello, son,' said the man.

'You were never my father,' said Mitt.

'If you hadn't murdered your mother, she'd teach you more respect. Stepson, then.'

Mitt made a sweeping bow. 'Hello, stepfather.'

Shocked exclamations rang out on both sides of the clearing. Only Navis' face didn't alter. Either he'd known, or he was covering his emotions even more effectively than usual.

'When did I murder Milda?' continued Mitt conversationally, as if no one else in the clearing existed but the two of them.

'Your mother was raped and raped again and then beaten to death in the sack of Holand,' said the man in the same conversational tone. 'Oh, I forgot, that was the southern earls. So hard to tell the difference with that bastard Haddsson standing right behind you. It was your little sister Enna that you murdered. She starved to death in the siege.'

'I'm sorry.'

'You'll be glad to know, your other sister survived the siege. Being the older she had a bit more reserves. We escaped together. You got to murder her too.'

'She was at your camp.' Moril couldn't see Mitt's face, but his voice sounded bleak.

'You can't even remember her name, can you? Died screaming and her own brother, her own murderer, can't remember her name.'

'It was a long time ago.'

'A long time indeed!' The man threw back his head and laughed. 'Long enough to forget all your fine ideals, long enough to forget all your old friends. You'd like to forget you ever knew any of us! "A free soul" you used to call yourself.' He spat on the ground. 'You wouldn't know freedom if it fucked you up the arse!'

'I never forgot you, Hobin. And as for freedom—'

The man – Hobin – reached into a leather pouch slung from his belt, half hidden among all his strange clothes. 'I'll make sure you never forget me,' he said.

'If that's a threat,' interjected Navis, moving deliberately to Mitt's side without taking his eyes off Hobin for a second, 'then there are fifty men with guns trained on you, and I promise that they will drop you where you stand before you could ever touch the King. Give yourself up and the King will guarantee you – all of you – a fair trial.'

'Go on, Haddsson, protect your precious little puppet. I'm sure he'll make you an earl if you crawl at his feet for long enough.' Quick as lightning, Hobin snatched something out of the pouch and thrust it high above his head in one square fist. 'There's only one way for a man to be free in Dalemark now.'

The Question of the 'Man in Furs'

The ceiling fresco of the ballroom, formerly the Great Hall, dates from Amil II's reign. Its striking design, bold execution and unique contribution to the historical record place it amongst the most valuable artworks of the palace. [...] Prominent in the southern grouping of the main panel is the so-called 'Man in Furs', whose identity has generated considerable debate. The tall, bearded figure, depicted greater than life-sized, is clad entirely in furs and carries an unidentified rod-like object. Early scholars concluded, based primarily on the comparative size and primitive clothing, that the image represents a mythological figure, perhaps the Earth Shaker. A donation to the Tannoreth Palace archive in 2968 of notes and sketches attributed to Harilla Flissdaughter, the artist responsible for parts of the Great Hall frieze, shed fresh light on the question. The Flissdaughter material supports a tentative identification of the figure with the leader of Dalemark for the Free, a small band which fought across Southern Dalemark during the final years of the Civil War, indiscriminately opposing both Amil I's army and those of the southern earls. The group continued to operate sporadically until June 2811, three years after the signing of the Treaty of Neathdale.

The late Professor Anor Orilson argues in his book Hobin: Man & Myth that the figure depicts Hobin of Waywold, innovative gunsmith and leader of the Holand insurrection, and identifies the object the figure holds as an early example of the rifle that Hobin invented. Orilson concludes that Hobin joined Dalemark for the Free after Holand was taken by Amil I, and rose to become its leader. The fact that he is not named in contemporary sources after 2804 has, however, led the majority of contemporary scholars to consider that Hobin perished either in the sacking of Holand by the armies of Waywold and Dermath, or in the later siege of the city by Amil I's forces.

From Singer, L. Art Treasures of Tannoreth Palace (Royal Kernsburgh Press; 2999)

The Seventies: Hobin's Way

The late seventies and eighties saw historical drama hit the mainstream. Ahead of the pack was Hobin's Way, a low-budget docudrama created by historian Anor Orilson, which ran for three series between 2977 and 2980. Set during the Civil War, it was loosely adapted from Orilson's best-selling books on the life of Hobin the Bloody. Orilson first offered the concept to Royal Dalemark Broadcasting, going to Mount Tanil only after they turned it down. It was to become one of MTTV's most successful series, with a particular following in Nepstan. The theme music, based on the song 'Hobin the Free' (believed by many fans of the show to have been written by Amil the Great himself), reached number two in the charts.

The series is remembered for its bleak tone and realistic depiction of the atrocities committed by both sides during the five years of conflict. Featuring starvation, cannibalism, rape, torture and every manner of gruesome death, the programme always pushed the limits of what was acceptable to the board of censors, but captured the public imagination during a period of economic downturn. The shocking final episode, 'The Rebel and the King', attracted a record-breaking 9 million viewers, despite being moved from its usual early evening slot because of 'extreme images of violence'. Just over 30 seconds of footage were cut from the episode by the censors; the uncut version was not shown in Dalemark until 2995.

Generally positively received by reviewers, with particular praise for Ham Amilson's mesmeric Hobin – proud, brilliant, savage and ultimately self-destructive – the show attracted criticism from academics for playing fast and loose with history. 'The programme brought the Civil War alive,' said one. 'It's a pity it's more fiction than fact.' Another went further. 'Inventing human interest stories about Hobin's wife and daughters is one thing. Inventing the notion that Hobin was Amil the Great's stepfather is quite another.' Some viewers were even less forgiving: Orilson received death threats after 'The Rebel and the King' first aired.

From Pennsdaughter, E. Mount Tanil Television: The Early Years (Neathdale Publishing; 3000)

Lessons in Dalemark History (I)

During the Civil War, Alk turned his attention to flying machines. The Aberath Archive has a series of early sketches which reveal that he considered and rejected as infeasible several designs involving flapping wings before hitting on the idea of the hot-air balloon, according to some anecdotal accounts while observing soap bubbles in the bath. The first balloon flight was launched in 2806 from the observation tower of Aberath Fort in the presence of Amil the Great, and carried a tabby cat named Ginger. The flight lasted nineteen minutes, rising to the unexpectedly great height of 2000 feet. Ginger survived his ordeal and was renamed Eagle in commemoration. The first manned flight followed eight days later, carrying two kitchen boys whose names have been lost to history. Alk recorded his sorrow that his great bulk made him unsuitable for the role of the first human aeronaut.

Hot-air balloons of similar designs soon began to be used for reconnaissance, but their dependence on wind speed and direction placed severe restrictions on their use, especially in mountainous regions. After several fatalities in crashes, Alk wrote in his journal 'power, power, POWER!' and set about designing what came to be called 'Alk's Flying Fish', a whale-shaped dirigible with a fin-like rudder, from which was suspended a slender basket with a large rear propeller. Powered by four pedalling aeronauts, the Fish could fly at almost eight knots. The design was not completed until after the Treaty of Neathdale, but was used during the early years of the reconstruction to seek out pockets of rebel fighters. In 2811, Alk returned to his first love, steam locomotives, and it was left to an apprentice to perfect the steam-powered dirigible over a decade later.

From Andersson, K. Great Geniuses of the 29th Century, 3rd edn (New Holand Press; 3003)

The Rebel and the King


(Mark Wood – 16 June 2811)

The dirigibles lumbered through the air like monstrous sturgeon, their bellies fat with roe.

'They certainly know how to catch 'em early, don't they?' said Pali. He was peering down at the cluster of huts huddled in a clearing that was today's target. 'That red-headed one taking pot shots at us doesn't look a day older than twelve.'

'Younger, mebbe,' panted out Rastil. He had ten years and as many pounds on all the others, and the pedalling was beginning to feel like hard work. 'Looks no more than my Freda's age.' A shot whistled through the dirigible's rigging, just above their heads. 'She's a right fine shot, however old she is.'

'For fuck's sake, take that girl out before she grounds you!' yelled the captain from the second dirigible, a hundred yards or so behind them.

Rastil thought the captain was a sadist, but no one but a fool would want to meet General Haddsson at a court martial hearing, so he kept his thoughts to himself. Orders were orders, after all, and these came right from the top.

The glass globes looked innocent enough, like a pile of fishing floats at Holand dock, where Rastil had been born. At first they hit roofs. The thatch kindled instantly, and flames jumped from hut to hut. Rastil prays the girl will run, but she stands her ground and when one smashes at her feet, she just looks startled, too startled to make a sound. Then the flames engulf her and she's screaming but the sound's deadened by the rip and roar of the flames, and she runs at last but the flames run after her, and she's running and burning, running and burning—

Rastil looked away.

~*~

(Kernsburgh – 19 June 2995)

Jenro Rithson: That was a clip from the opening of 'The Rebel and the King', the finale of the seventies historical drama, Hobin's Way. It's fifteen years today since that episode first hit our screens, believe it or not, and in honour of the anniversary, I'm joined in the studio by Anor Orilson, the show's creator, Mareth Greendale, who directed some of the most controversial episodes, Dr Luthan Singer from the University of Dropwater, an expert on the Civil War when the series is set – and we're particularly pleased that Ham Amilson has agreed to join us in his first ever television interview. [Applause] As I'm sure you all know, Ham played the show's central character Hobin. Are you all right, Ham? You're looking a bit pale. [Laughter]

Ham Amilson: I haven't watched that episode in quite a while, Jenro.

Mareth Greendale: That scene always got to you, didn't it? More than the last one, surprisingly. I remember when we were filming it on location – well, actually in a plantation on the edge of the National Park, long story – you stumbled past me and threw up under a tree. You weren't even supposed to be on set until the afternoon!

HA: Even though it's getting on for two hundred years ago, I can't stop thinking of all the people – men, women, children – who died so horrifically that day.

Anor Orilson: You've got to appreciate, Ham, that what's referred to now as the 'Mark Wood massacre' happened long after the peace treaty, so Dalemark for the Free was technically acting as a terrorist organisation by then.

Luthan Singer: 'Technically' doesn't come into it, Orilson! The well-documented terrorist actions attributed to the group during the early years of the reconstruction must run into the... let's see... the explosion that destroyed the first Flenn Tunnel Project—

MG: Oh, yes – that trapped fifty of the construction workers underground, didn't it?

HA: Fifty-three.

LS: —the bombings of New Holand Port, Hark Lighthouse and a whole series of bridges, Canderack— [JR coughs] Well, I see we don't have time to list them all.

MG: I've always been interested in how the event was considered at the time. I think I'm right in saying that it wasn't even called the Mark Wood massacre until after 'The Rebel and the King' aired.

LS: That's correct. The phrase first appeared in reviews of the series.

AO: The massacre didn't seem to dent Amil's popularity – he enjoyed considerable popular support throughout his reign, but it was especially strong at the start. Of course, all the Kernsburgh newspapers and even the Dalemark Daily were essentially palace organs at that time, so it's difficult to know what people really thought.

HA: The Gazette perhaps, but the KT and the DD were never censored by the palace! At least, I'm no expert, but I've never heard that suggested.

LS: I'm afraid that Dalemark's independent press didn't really emerge until Amil the Third's reign, with the growth of the universities.

AO: But to get back to Mareth's question, the massacre seems to have passed almost unnoticed at the time. Amil was never directly criticised for his actions.

LS: In so far as the historical record shows—

AO: There were so many atrocities during the Civil War, of course, so many murders that went unpunished.

LS: —however, the fact that the first Duke of Kernsburgh devotes five or six pages to justifying the attack on the compound in his memoirs seems significant. Volume 3, part 2, I believe.

HA [simultaneous with LS]: Atrocities on both sides.

MG: You think that might suggest there'd been some public criticism?

AO [simultaneous with MG]: On both sides, of course, but—

LS: Perhaps, Ms Greendale. If so, no record has survived.

HA [simultaneous with LS]: Hobin's soldiers beheaded the entire population of White Hill in an attempt to stamp out the Earl of Dermath's relatives!

LS: Of course, the memoirs weren't published until the Duke's retirement, which would suggest a date in the 2830s, much later in Amil the Great's reign.

AO [simultaneous with LS]: —one really can't equate the actions of rebel factions with those of the legitimate army of the King!

JR: I think the discussion's getting a little sidetracked here. Let's all get back to talking about the show. Mareth, you mentioned the problems of filming on location...

Extract from transcript of interview on TV 2995 with Jenro Rithson (19 June 2995) for the 'Man in Furs' website by KingHobin101

Lessons in Dalemark History (II)

Liquid fire, commonly known as Amil's fire or the King's fire, is a historical type of incendiary liquid usually described as a wet, dark, sticky fire. Contemporary sources suggest that it self-ignited, clung to the target, burned fiercely on water, and could only be extinguished by the application of sand or vinegar. Ranging in consistency from a viscous liquid to a jelly or paste, liquid fire was very flexible in terms of delivery system, with siphons, syringes, pumps, blowpipes, catapults, trebuchets and glass or earthenware hand grenades all being used.

A form of liquid fire was developed in prehistoric times by the Haligland Empire. Early sources link its discovery with the legend of Kankredin, which perhaps has its roots in a primitive Haligland chemist. Its composition remained a closely guarded secret, and was lost with the empire's decline. Harchad Haddsson is credited with its rediscovery in modern times; after his death it was developed by his brother, Navis, later Duke of Kernsburgh. The ingredients used in the liquid fire of Amil the Great's time were classed as a state secret and were never recorded. The majority of modern experts consider the most likely composition to have been naphtha (derived from petroleum distillation) mixed with sulphur and thickened with pine resin. The petroleum source remains unknown, but it is probable that small-scale exploitation of the Marshes oil field began significantly earlier in Amil the Great's reign than has been recorded.

The first known use of liquid fire in modern times was at the Siege of Neathdale in 2808, and many military historians consider its development to have been the most important factor in Amil the Great's defeat of the southern earls in the Civil War. Liquid fire (also termed sea fire in this context) was used extensively in naval battles during the early years of Amil's reign, notably at the Battle of Hark in 2817, which led to the total destruction of the Nepstan Navy. Its naval use declined after 2825, as iron increasingly replaced wood in the construction of warships.

From Thatcher, WR, ed. Gardale Encyclopaedia of Military History, 12th edn (Gardale University Press; 3004)

Fragments from Three Conversations in Kernsburgh


(August 2811)

'You've made me into a murderer!'

Shit, thought Moril. Mitt had been spoiling for a fight with Navis for weeks now, but he could scarcely have picked a more public spot for it than the Great Hall Quad.

'That's a bit ironic, don't you think,' said Navis smoothly, 'given that on our first meeting you planted a bomb at my feet!'

'That was different!' Mitt's shout reverberated across the entire court. People were beginning to stop and watch.

'If you count killing people who are trying to kill you as murder,' said Navis as softly as Mitt's words had been loud, 'then you've been a murderer since early in our acquaintance. I expect you think that was also different.'

Mitt seemed to have acquired a fascination with the cobbles at his feet.

'I could reiterate the sound military reasons for eliminating the rebel base in terms of disruption to the reconstruction work,' said Navis, 'not to mention the mounting civilian death toll, but an open cloister is hardly the place.'

By now there must have been twenty or more loiterers, Moril estimated, admiring the new Great Hall windows or retying their bootlaces or even just staring.

'You might recall that I explained them all in considerable detail before,' Navis continued. 'That's why you decided that eliminating their base was a good idea. It was the correct decision. It is still the correct decision.'

'That's not the point!'

'It's precisely the point. I thought you'd realised by now – all your rings and cups and swords, even Hern's crown, they're only the trappings of kingship. To be a King means taking hard decisions. It means setting taxation levels. It means bullying the earls into doing what's best for the country. And sometimes it means taking responsibility for the deaths of innocents.' Navis stepped closer till Mitt could scarcely avoid meeting his eyes. Then, despite all the onlookers, he very deliberately dropped to one knee. 'If I've made you into anything,' he said, 'I've made you into a King.'

~*~

(September 2811)

'I used to hate him, you know.'

Mitt didn't need to say who he meant. Since that summer, Moril knew there'd only been one 'him'.

'Not the way you think. He used to make Milda – my mother – smile, and I always resented that.' Mitt sighed. 'He wasn't always mad.'

'Alk said he was a technical genius,' said Moril. 'The cleverest gunsmith in all of Dalemark.'

'The way he used to look at a gun that shot true! He'd stroke it like a cat. I think he must have loved his guns as much as his daughters.' Mitt stopped, and Moril wished he knew a way to wipe that peculiar empty look from his face. 'He's right, I don't remember their names.'

'I don't really know my half-sister,' said Moril. Distraction sometimes helped. 'I think of her as Lenina's baby, but Lenina's my mother. Brid says I'm unnatural. Dagner just says that men can't understand children until they have their own.' He stopped. Babbling definitely wasn't helping.

'Flaming Ammet! I should remember their names.'

'Enna,' Moril said cautiously. Even if he could never think of his little half-sister as more than a distant cousin, he couldn't imagine how he'd feel if Ganner had turned up one day and told him he'd murdered her.

'Enna,' said Mitt, tasting the name as if he hadn't said it in a very long time. 'Enna and... Milla ... Milleth ... Something like that. I remember, whatever it was, she could never get her tongue around it. They were both just babies when I left.' Mitt shook his head, as if he couldn't quite work out where all the years had disappeared. 'She must've been nearly as old as I was when I threw the bomb at Hadd. When she died.' A tear rolled slowly down to the tip of his nose and stuck there. 'Marilla, that was her name. Milda said it was lucky.' He wiped his nose on the back of his hand, but another tear took its place. 'She was always wrong.'

~*~

(October 2811)

'Sometimes I think you're the only one who can possibly understand.'

Moril knew what Mitt was talking about, even though he thought Mitt in these moods sounded a bit like Brid when she was half his age. Sometimes he was glad, secretly, that there was someone else who had to bear the burden of having killed so many people. He just wished it didn't have to be Mitt.

'How do you forget, Moril? How do you ever forget?'

'I wrote a song for Tholian,' he said slowly, because the real answer was that you never forgot, you just remembered rather less often and rather less painfully. 'Not a lament, that wouldn't have been true, just a song.' Moril picked up the cwidder from the rack and strummed the angry opening chords. The cwidder began to make its muzzy noise, and he put it down again hastily. 'I don't know what you do if you're not a Singer.'

'Write me a song for Hobin.' Mitt shuddered. 'Not—not that.'

Moril knew exactly what Mitt was seeing. He didn't think that he'd ever be able to forget it either.

'And not Hobin the Bloody, or whatever people used to call him in Holand,' Mitt went on. 'Make him brave. Brave and free. He was always a free soul, I think, even when he was working for Hadd.'

Moril handed him the cwidder. 'I think you should write it,' he said.

FDA Claims Responsibility for Palace Blast

The Free Dalemark Army last night claimed responsibility for yesterday's blast at the Tannoreth Palace, which destroyed Amil I's mausoleum and severely damaged the palace's 200-year-old façade. In a statement posted to their website at 11 pm last night, the FDA say that the blast was 'a first blow for Dalemark's freedom'. The statement, accompanied by a loop tape repeating the final scene of the television series Hobin's Way, goes on to say that the action commemorated Hobin of Waywold, who the group claims was martyred by 'Amil the Usurper'. The organisation had previously been considered a non-violent pressure group supporting the abolition of the monarchy. 'We are treating the FDA as a serious threat to national security,' said a spokesman from the Queen's Office. 'Measures have been taken to ensure that the Queen and other members of the royal family remain safe.'

No one was injured in the explosion. Twenty-two people were treated for shock at the scene. Initial investigations into the incident have been hampered by a ruptured water main, which has caused extensive flooding in the King Street area.

Police are still seeking Wend Orilson, assistant curator at Tannoreth Palace, last seen leaving the palace shortly after the explosion. Mr Orilson, 29, son of the late Anor Orilson, creator of Hobin's Way, is wanted for questioning in connection with the blast. Professor Singer, head curator at the Palace, expressed his shock at Mr Orilson's disappearance. 'Orilson has always been devoted to the Palace and has never expressed any republican sympathies,' he said. 'I am sure that there will prove to be an innocent explanation for his behaviour. His close proximity to the blast might have led to disorientation.' Speculation that the FDA's actions might have been inspired by last month's 25th anniversary of the first airing of Hobin's Way's finale has been dismissed by the security services. 'A major blast such as this would take many months to plan,' explained the KT's counter-terrorism expert.

From Kernsburgh Times (2 July 3005)

The Rebel and the King: Reprise

There's only one way for a man to be free in Dalemark now.

Hobin turns to the camera. The globe in his hand glitters as the sun catches it, like an oversized bauble. There's a subdued crackle as the glass shatters.

For a moment it looks as if he's crowned with flames.

~*~


Hobin the brave, Hobin the free
The last free soul of Dalemark was he