The tale I tell is one of woe, of blackest deeds and divine retribution. Long ago, the kingdom of Wallovia waxed mightily, its armies strong of arm, its forges burning night and day. Wallovia’s people were industrious, hardy, dour and serious folk. Jesters, clowns and travelling players learned to avoid the kingdom, given the Wallovians’ lack of interest in frivolity. Its ruling class kept to themselves and while outwardly they appeared noble and possessed of martial virtues in abundance, over generations of courtly intrigue family trees became dense and tangled, with cousin marrying cousin. This bred into the royal line a terrible temper that when provoked could rage like a burning fire and leave only ashes in its wake.
Despite its wealth and power, Wallovia was at a crossroads for the new king, formerly Prince Valentine of the Western Marches, had spent much of his life abroad, travelling the realms and learning of the new ways, until his father’s untimely death forced him to return and assume the crown. His attempts to reform the kingdom sat ill with much of his subjects, for many and old were the traditions that they clung to.
All too often, the young King would propose a grand new project only to be told by the priests and priestesses of Mortaine — the God of Death — that the ancestor-spirits advised against it. Always they gave sage council, for in truth Valentine knew little of his kingdom. He knew even less of the floods and storms that struck once every 10-score years or so and had made a ruin of many a promising architect. To the spirits of the long departed and by extension the priesthood, such events could be recalled at a whim. Over time Valentine grew obstinate and sour, made worse by his queen Katherina’s insinuation that the priesthood were the true rulers of the kingdom, not he.
Matters came to a head when in one council meeting the priesthood had dismissed Valentine’s plans for new grain silos on grounds that his proposed site was too close to the marshes, so the grain would rot. The next item on the agenda, his decision to grant a trading delegation of the Khardron Overlords the right to build a sky port on land that had once been mined for tin again met with dismay bordering on derision. Surely, said Father Dou’gall – the oldest and wisest of the priests, the young king must see that such a heavy structure would quickly fall victim to sink holes and subsidence if built upon such ground? Finally, the priesthood dared to argue that Valentine’s proposed annexation of the nearby (and much weaker) kingdom of Ostvanland would quickly become bogged down due to the rains that frequently turned the roads between the two nations into seas of stinking mud. Father Dou’gall took great pains to explain that such had been the fate of an army led by Valentine’s great-great-grandfather over two hundred years ago and even summoned the shade of the young king’s ancestor to tell the tale.
After the meeting had concluded, four of the king’s most loyal — and unscrupulous — knights overheard their liege lord mutter “who will rid me of these troublesome priests?”. Keen to serve his will, the knights rode out and put every last one of the priests to the sword and spilled Father Dou’gall’s brains across his own altar.
Valentine appeared to be shocked to hear of his bondsmen’s deeds but was secretly pleased to be free of the priesthood’s prattling. As two of the knights were relatives of his queen he could not punish them to the fullest extent of the law, instead settling for posting them to guard the most remote corners of the kingdom.
Despite a grim sense of foreboding among many, at first all was well and the people seemed blessed rather than cursed, their elders seemingly endowed with long life. It wasn’t until a series of bizarre instances began that the Wallovians understood what Mortaine had in store for them.
It began with a simple case of bad luck. Gregor, a young clumsy squire, was riding his horse in a practise joust when it fell and crushed his leg. Despite the best efforts of the healers, it became infected and while they immediately amputated the now useless limb gangrene had spread to his body. Despite untold agony, Gregor simply wouldn’t die. It wasn’t until he bit off his own tongue that his screaming stopped. Gregor was the first for whom the sweet mercy of death would prove elusive, but he was by no means the last.
At first there were a few cases, then before long everyone in the kingdom who simply wouldn’t die. Elders that would have died due to natural causes became crippled, unable to move and slowly going mad with thirst, hunger and pain unless someone was there to look after their every need. Some of the afflicted’s loved ones resorted to desperate measures, yet even after their screaming kin had been smothered and no longer breathed, still they screamed. Some piled their living dead with strong spirits and attempted to set them alight, reasoning that a brief period of bright agony would be better than years of the same, but each time they tried to start the pyres, a chill mist would appear from nowhere and smother the flames. Mortaine even spurred those that were beheaded, with their fellows forced to sew up the heads’ mouths to stop the endless screaming.
To make matters worse, this curse coincided with Valentine’s long-delayed invasion of Ostvanland. While fatalities were inexplicably light in the opening battles and the Wallovians won many great victories, the number of incapacitated and walking wounded began to spiral out of control and the constant screams of those whose wounds had gone septic or had gut wounds that would drive them insane with agony started to make sleep impossible and shattered morale. Then the rains came and the choking mud plains that had once been roads made it almost impossible to keep the army provisioned. Men began to desert, first in ones and twos, then in a steady stream.
Valentine found himself shaking his fist at the walls of Ostheim, Ostvanland’s capital, before he had to ride home with too few men left to commit to a siege. That night, a raid by Ostvanland skirmishers managed to sneak past Valentine’s exhausted guards and stabbed him to what they assumed was death. His last coherent words were to curse the knights that had brought this doom upon him and to beg Mortaine for a mercy that would never come.
Back in Wallovia, things had gone from bad to worse, the harvest had failed and there were simply too many mouths to feed. In desperation, some sacrificed their last morsels of food on makeshift altars to Mortaine but their prayers for forgiveness fell on deaf ears, with a rare few — those known to have a smattering of witchery in their veins — swore blind that for a moment they heard hollow laughter in response to their pleads.
Years passed and Wallovia fell into ruin. Mercy of a kind came in the form of the Ghouls of the Hollow Mountain as while men, women and children all had to endure the agony of being eaten alive, it meant that their bodily suffering was at last at an end. By that point, however, the entire kingdom had been driven irreconcilably insane. Once the ghouls had feasted, they returned to the Hollow Mountain, leaving a blighted and haunted ruin.
It wasn’t until the Necroquake – that time when Nagash’s great design caused waves of death magic to spill across the mortal realms — that Mortaine’s vengeance was fully unveiled. From every tomb and corpse rose the spirits of the tormented dead. Filled with hatred of the living, they descended upon nearby settlements and towns, their rampage only checked when a full host of the Emerald Wardens’ Sacrosanct Chamber brought them to battle on the outskirts of Steepacre. Defeated by the might of Sigmar’s Stormcast Eternals, the Nighthaunt of Wallovia returned to their home and are to this day a malignant blight upon the Tallowlands.