Chapter 7 – What is Freedom?
For the first few weeks after the events of the festival, Montalban lived in fear of the Knights Excelsior coming back. They had promised to return and kill every living being in the city. The mood in the city was of that of complete anguish and every day funerals were held for those who had been slain by the Knights Excelsior and for those who perished in the panicked stampede that followed their attack.
Stadthouder Adriaanus Manstien was a changed man; that much was clear to everyone. For the first two days after the carnival he had not said a word, nor had he left his cabinet room in the town hall. When Albertus came to report to him the number of casualties among the guard, the citizens and the festival goers from outside town, Manstien decided to visit every family affected and to attend every burial; from the elaborate funeral processions of the wealthy to the mass burials of the destitute. It was as if he wanted to bear witness to every single injustice done.
When it became clear that the Knights Excelsior were not returning any time soon, the mood in the city began to shift from fear to anger. People started to discuss what had happened and soon people argued that Montalban was meant to be an example to the other free cities. An example of what it means to be ruled over by Sigmar. Slogans began to appear on the walls of public buildings “Sigmar is a liar” and Manstien was now increasingly accosted by citizens who grew bolder by the day and wanted to know what he was going to do about it.
The answer to that question came soon enough. A month after the carnival, large groups of refugees appeared before the walls of Montalban, bringing with them tales of a large battle where the forces of Sigmar had been defeated. Now it became clear why the Knights Excelsior were forced to abandon their slaughter at the carnival and had left the city in such a hurry. Many openly said the knights deserved what had been coming to them.
Manstien and Albertus understood this meant only one thing: war was coming to Montalban. When shortly after the first refugees showing up, a messenger arrived from the city of Hammerhal on horseback, they knew the game was up. The messenger carried a summons from the Lord Veritant of Hammerhal, to assemble the army of the free city of Montalban and to march immediately to the aid of the forces of Sigmar.
Manstien called a meeting of the town’s consigniliari to discuss the summons. But the meeting was short-lived as the consigniliari refused to endorse the summons. Feelings of anger ran too high in the city and they did not want to risk a popular uprising. It was up to Manstien to order it, he was the Stadthouder and he had the ultimate say. The consequences of this decision would be on his head.
After the council meeting, Manstien sat with Albertus in his cabinet room. They had to come to a decision.
“We cannot escape this war, Albertus.” Manstien began. “Yes, I know, my Lord.” was his reply.
Manstien watched Albertus in silence for a moment.
“What else do you know, Albertus? Nothing ever seems to bother you. They slaughter your guard and still, you do not speak out.”
Manstien drew his chair closer to the cabinet table. “You know, Albertus, I know nothing of you when I come to think about it. Tell me, and do call me Adriaanus, where were you before you became Sheriff of this city?”
Albertus looked at Manstien. “I have been to see Nostro when the Knights Excelsior were in town.”
The comment took Manstien by surprise and now he raised an eyebrow. “Ah I see, and what did he tell you?”
Albertus shrugged “That war was coming. That we would soon be in an awful lot of trouble. That something bad happened in Shyish and that we had agents of chaos in our town.”
Manstien couldn't believe what he was hearing. “And you did not think it proper to tell me this?”
Now Albertus drew nearer to Manstien. “Adriaanus...war is always coming...we are always in trouble. There is always something bad happening in Shyish, or Ghur, or Chamon or wherever. And there are always agents of chaos running loose in towns like Montalban. Are you that naïve?”
Manstien looked at Albertus sharply. “You have not answered my question, Albertus. Where were you before you became Sheriff of Montalban?”
“I was once a soldier in Azyr. I left Azyr and I joined a band of rogues that fought its way throughout the realms.” Albertus told him.
“So, you were a deserter, Albertus. A rebel turned mercenary. You deserted those who protect us and ensure our freedom. You have forsaken your oath to Sigmar himself.”
Now Albertus hissed back at Manstien: “Is a slave free because his master protects him from the beatings of other masters?”
Manstien sat in silence. Albertus had a point. All the freedom the city had right now, was to choose who was going to give them a beating. Sigmar and his zealots or the forces of chaos and their gruesome armies. He could make a choice between those two evils but could you call that freedom or even a free choice?
“I have made a decision, Albertus.” Manstien suddenly exclaimed. “We will call the free city army up, all of it. Every man, all the machines, all the animals and even Nostro with his devilish contraptions. I will go as well and you, you will be its general. But...the people of Montalban will decide who we will fight. Will we join the forces of Sigmar or will we rebel and fight anyone who wants to invade our lands, whoever they may be.”
And so the next day Manstien made his decision known to the citizens of Montalban. That war was coming, was now clear to everyone. But what was best for the city? Every fighting man had a vote on whether to join the forces of Sigmar, who had only recently tried to annihilate them, or rebel against the summons and face on their own whoever that may be.
There was much debate in the city and on the morning of the vote, long queues of men formed up before the town hall. Manstien and the city's scribes were seated outside behind a long table in front of the town hall. Each man walked up to the Stadthouder and gave him his vote. In the evening the tally was made in front of Manstien, Albertus and the consigniliari. The result was read out to the gathered citizens. Montalban had decided to rebel.