The Whisperer in Darkness
Fall of the Number 3 Chimney
The Fall of the No.3 Chimney is an event which occurred during the siege of the city of Charn by the armed forces of Alba. It is also sometimes used by residents to refer to the entire period from the liquidation of Maera through to the establishment of the Duchy of Charn as an Alban administrative region, roughly eight months in total.
As the second century of Unification drew to a close, the Kingdom of Alba and the Maeran Confederation had been locked in low level conflict for decades. Alba had gradually acquired more and more territory for itself but battles had been few and the conquered clans had been assimilated relatively peacefully. This changed in 192 P.U. when an Alban army advanced to and stormed the city of Hurrock. Though not essential to the economy of the Maerans, the loss of the city in which their alliance had first been formally declared was a tremendous moral blow and clearly signalled that the confederation was no longer capable of defending itself. At this point Maera practically ceased to exist as each clan set about looking after themselves. Though Hurrock was to become the most northerly point of the plains to be fully incorporated into Alba, to the triumphant generals and frightened clansmen it appeared that the whole continent was ripe for the taking. The king ordered his grand army split up into various columns to bring the scattered settlements into line and one of these columns was despatched in the direction of Charn.
At that time there were three great smokestacks which towered over the city. The sight of these unnerved the approaching army and they decided to encamp a short distance from the walls and erect the siege engines they had brought. The Charnians took the opportunity given by the delay to begin dismantling and disposing of items and constructs which they did not want to fall into foreign hands.
After two days without contact, and having setup for a bombardment, the Alban heralds finally approached the city gates to offer terms of surrender. These included the handing over of various technologies that the Duke, Farn Caelhagan, was unwilling to part with. For this reason, though agreeing in principle to the capitulation of the city, he stalled with the heralds over the actual opening of the city gates. The hesitation did not go unnoticed by the messengers but they were prepared to overlook it to avoid having to storm the city walls and it was agreed that the army would be allowed to enter the following morning.
Throughout that day the boiler houses had been used to burn some objects which could not be hidden. As afternoon wore on, sets of resin straps used for machine linkages were piled in and ignited. These materials burned with a thick black smoke which poured ominously from the great chimneys. Prevailing winds blew the fumes over the besiegers and the foul smell caused them to gag and wretch. Caelhagan was summoned to the battlements to explain this and, unwilling to admit that his people were actively attempting to prevent the Albans from taking their full prize, he lied to the heralds, claiming that the city had run low on firewood and the inhabitants were simply burning different fuels to stay warm. The messengers returned to the encampment and reported the story, along with the fact that they believed Caelhagan to be lying. Undecided on whether the smoke was to cover a surprise attack from the city, a biological weapon to choke them or some sort of infernal curse, the Alban commanders decided they must attack and in the early evening the artillerymen were given the order to begin bombarding the city with their trebuchets.
The early salvos did little damage against the walls but as darkness fell the catapults switched to casting incendiary pots into the interior of the city. This was much more effective, particularly when a flaming missile hit the coal store. The resulting blaze spread quickly and threatened to engulf Duke Farn’s palace, while also giving off enough light for the attackers to make out individual buildings. They began to hurl rocks at identified targets and, after a while, scored a glancing strike on the No. 2 chimney. To resounding cheers from the Albans the great structure began to topple sideways, falling heavily into the Sharnaruss. The engineers redoubled their efforts and were soon rewarded with the No. 1 chimney also collapsing into the river.
Shortly after the start of the mid-watch, Farn Caelhagan’s advisors forced him to accept their recommendation that he and the rest of the royal family be removed from the palace, now threatened by fire, artillery and falling rubble from the nearby smoke stacks, and taken to the newly built main sewer, the safest place in Charn by that point. The Duke, Duchess and their five children were hustled out of the building by their guards and across the royal gardens in the direction of the nearest sewer entrance. When they were half way across a stone whistled overhead, striking the base of chimney 3 with a crack. Briefly it appeared the stack would hold together but to the dismay of onlookers the great mass of bricks began to tilt and fall towards the palace lawns. Farn and his wife were concentrating on shepherding their half-asleep children and neither they nor the guards noticed the looming chimney until moments before it came crashing down in the middle of the garden. A group of nearby soldiers rushed to dig survivors from the rubble but the task was hopeless. The Charnians had lost their dynasty and were on the cusp of losing their freedom too.
Alban infantry charged towards the walls the next morning. They met with no opposition and were able to force the gate with ease. Inside the leader of the city guard surrendered unconditionally and Charn was fully occupied. It remained under military rule for several months before the Albans selected Kingsman Ross to become the new duke, ‘advised’ by a council of Alban knights. The loss of the Caelhagans was felt bitterly, and the collapse of an industrial building soon became a symbol of a much greater tragedy. The Fall of the No. 3 Chimney is the title of unnumbered books, poems, operas and plays about the end of Maera. The event is the defining tragedy of the city, whereas Corvaas is barely thought of at all.
But every year the Charnians gain a little. Alba was incapable of holding the far reaches of the former Maeran Confederation and eventually relinquished de facto control of the duchy. The Ross family have been proved capable and ambitious. And today the skies above Charn once again echo to the sound of tools and workmen’s laughter: over the city, the No. 3 chimney rises again.