|“||You were a hero round these parts. That’s what they call you when you kill so many people the word murderer falls short.||”|
Monzcarro "Monza" Murcatto is the notorious leader of The Thousand Swords. She has brought victory after victory to Grand Duke Orso of Talins, and become wealthy and popular as a result. Perhaps too popular. Unfortunately for Monza, he has her thrown down a mountain. Unfortunately for Orso, she survives. And now The Snake of Talins wants vengeance.
Appearance and Personality[edit | edit source]
Monza is a tall, lean, pale skinned woman, with tar-black hair and cold blue eyes. Her face is strong, with hard bones in it, and a fierce line of jaw. After her... ordeal, Monza believes she looks disfigured, but a lot of men seem to consider her "quite fine".
She is a good leader, a capable fighter, and an excellent tactician, but possibly her most impressive trait is her stubborn determination and single-mindedness. She has a cruel reputation, but she was manipulated into most of the infamous actions by her amoral brother. She tries to evoke the image of a coldly ruthless woman, so she can live with the things she's had to do, but deep down she is actually a good person. She cared deeply about the welfare of her troops and deserved her popularity.
It is revealed that she and her brother Benna were actually incestuous lovers. Her preferred weapon is her trusty Calvez rapier, not a showy blade but of the highest quality.
History[edit | edit source]
Monza was born on a farm along with her beloved brother, Benna. Her mother died giving birth to Benna, and after their father died of a fever, Monza worked her hands to the bone to singlehandedly manage their tiny farm. She barely got any money for her work, and was setting up for the second harvest when looters from Musselia pillaged their home. An ex-soldier who lived in the village got a group together to raid the looters in return, which Monza and Benna joined up with. They killed and robbed, and got more money than even the best harvest would.
After this lesson, Monza met Nicomo Cosca, a captain in the mercenary company The Thousand Swords. Cosca gave Monza and Benna a home, taught her to fight, and them both to read; she still quotes the maxims of famous scholars who wrote about military strategy. When Captain General Sazine was killed by an arrow, Cosca was voted to the captain general's chair. However, Cosca was often drunk, and Monza took a greater and greater role in leading the company. Eventually, Cosca spread rumours that he and Monza had argued, and split the brigade. For two years, each brigade pretended to fight for different employers, while making money from both.
However, when Monza's latest employer Grand Duke Orso of Talins found out, her ambitious brother saw an opportunity to depose Cosca. Benna charmed the other captains behind her back, until she had no choice but to follow through on his plan. Her supposedly feigned charge, turned into an actual rout, and she replaced him as the new Captain General.
In the eight years they have fought for Duke Orso against The League of Eight, Monza has proved an exeptional general. At Sweet Pines, Duke Salier rashly engaged the Talinese forces and lost, before Duke Rogont could arrive, allowing Duke Cantain of Borletta to be crushed. At Musselia, Monza sacked the city the day before Duke Rogont arrived; it was there that Benna robbed the immense wealth of the merchant Somenu Hermon. After the mercenaries captured the city of Caprile, Monza left Benna in charge while she reported on their victory, with orders to grant mercy to the populace. However, Benna got smashed on husk, and in his absence the mercenaries brutally sacked the city. They later spun the story that it was done intentionally, to build Monza a ruthless reputation; the Butcher of Caprile.
Best Served Cold[edit | edit source]
After Monza's most recent victory as the High Bank, where Duke Salier again suffered defeat, The League of Eight is on the verge of defeat, with Visserine next under threat, then Puranti and Ospria. On the way to Grand Duke Orso's fortress of Fontezarmo to report on their victory, Benna makes a casual remark that one day she should be Grand Duchess Monza of ... wherever; little does she know his true meaning. Duke Orso is a suspicious man, and fears Monza's popularity may tempt her to usurp him, as his great-grandfather had done. At the meeting, he orders them killed. Benna is run through, but Monza catches her hand under the garrote that Orso's bodyguard pull around her neck, before being thrown off the battlements.
Monza manages to survive, thanks to landing on Benna's corpse and the help of a mysterious healer. She takes her brother's death very personally, and sets off to wreak revenge against the seven men responsible; Orso's bodyguard Gobba, his banker Mauthis, General Ganmark, Faithful Carpi, his sons Prince Ario and Count Foscar, and finally Orso himself. First, Monza hires an idealistic Northman named Caul Shivers, and a numbers-obsessed ex-convict called Friendly via her old friend Sajaam. Together they abduct Gobba, and take him to an isolated shed, where Monza brutally kills him with a hammer.
In Westport, Monza adds the master poisoner Castor Morveer and his assistant Day to her oddball carnival of psychopaths. Their target is Mauthis from Valint & Balk. Under cover of night, Shivers scales the bank, and uses a crossbow and rope to haul the poisoners onto the building's roof. Friendly then lowers Morveer and Day into the bank through the skylight, where they poison every ledger in order to be sure; Mauthis is killed, along with dozens of other banking staff and clients. Monza is horrified by the wholesale slaughter, and warns Morveer to follow her orders in future. It is in Westport that Monza and Shivers start their on again, off again sexual relationship; she is trying to recreate her relationship with Benna. Monza also systematically criticizes Shivers' desire to be a better person; something she would live to regret.
In Sipani, where King Jezal of The Union has arranged a peace conference between the factions in Styria, Monza adds Nicomo Cosca and ex-torturer Shylo Vitari to her crew. They blackmail Prince Ario's mistress Carlot dan Eider, with a slow acting poison, into getting close to him in Cardotti’s House of Leisure. They set a trap for him in the whorehouse, disguised as entertainers, with Monza and Vitari dressed as high-classed prostitutes. Things quickly start to go wrong with Ario bringing King Jezal with him rather than his brother. Monza convinces Jezal to smoke husk until he passes out, and then kills Ario, who totters to the window and drops to the courtyard below. As chaos ensues, Shivers helps her escape as Cardotti’s burns to the ground.
Monza's misfit crew head to Visserine, which is put to siege by Grand Duke Orso’s army. The plan is to kill General Ganmark by disguising themselves as Talinese soldiers. However, Duke Salier has Monza, Shivers, and Day arrested as spies. Shivers gets one of his eyes burned out during a torture session, before Nicomo Cosca saves them thanks to his old friendship with Salier. When Ganmark and his forces breach Salier's art gallery, Monza's crew drop the portcullis sealing them inside. Monza faces off against Ganmark, but she is outmatched against the masterful swordsman. Even when Cosca joins the fray, Ganmark mortally wounds him and is about to kill Monza when a statue collapses on top of him. In the aftermath of the fight, Cosca insists they should leave him and flee.
After Visserine, Monza notices a change in Shivers who has become far more dour, and no longer talks about doing the right thing anymore. Feeling guilty for the part she played in it, she begins to distance herself from him. In Puranti, Shivers pretends to betray Monza to Faithful Carpi in order to claim the bounty on her head. Shivers leads Carpi into a trap, where Osprian soldiers dispatch the mercenaries. However, Monza's plan to take over The Thousand Swords fail, when Cosca miraculously turns up alive with his own plans. It is in Puranti that Morveer finally betrays Monza, and switches to Duke Orso.
In Ospria, Monza makes an alliance with Duke Rogont despite the fact that she had always mocked him as the Duke of Delay, and even becoming his lover. Duke Rogont meets the Talinese in battle across a river ford, with The Thousand Swords expected to flank his forces. However, Rogont has planned some surprises. The Thousand Swords fail to engage because Cosca has been paid off by the Gurkish agent Ishri. And then, a Sipanese force suddenly appears on the horizon; Rogont brought Chancellor Sotorius over to his side, after Monza killed Orso’s son in Sipani. However, the smugness is swept from Rogont's face as the Osprians forces at the ford begin to break. Duke Rogont considers retreat, but Monza scoffs at his caution. She gathers the cavalry and charges into the fray. The charge stops the Talinese long enough for the Sipanese to join the battle and turn the tide. Duke Orso's force is utterly routed. In the aftermath, Count Foscar is captured, however Monza can’t bring herself to kill the young man. Nevertheless, Shivers steps forward and smashes his skull to a bloody pulp.
After the defeat of the Talanese army, Duke Rogont names Monza the Grand Duchess of Talins, and plans to crown himself King of all Styria. However, Morveer has poisoned the crown, and Rogont and all the remaining city-state rulers drop dead, except for Monza who is saved by the glove she always wears on her crippled hand. Meanwhile, Grand Duke Orso is put to siege in his fortress of Fontezarmo. During the final assault, Shivers turns on Monza having been convinced by Carlot dan Eider to kill her. However, before he can kill her, Friendly intervenes. Monza continues to make her way through the chaos to the Duke’s private study. As the first mercenaries burst through the doors, Orso's personal guard cut them down. An awkward standoff ensues between Monza and Orso. When Monza snaps that Orso deserves this end for killing her brother, Orso states that Benna had it coming, since he really was planning to usurp him. They both slowly realise the truth; Monza wasn't complicit in Benna's plan. Suddenly, the assassin Shenkt steps into the room. Orso order him to kill her, but Shenkt reveals that he has actually been protect her for his own reasons, and instead dispatches all his guards. Monza casually sidles up to Orso and stabs him through the heart with little fanfare.
Monza is now Grand Duchess of Talins just as Benna had planned, which is thriving thanks to merchants flooding to the city as one of the only stable state in Styria. She gets a visit from Yoru Sulfur, who offers the backing of Valint & Balk. When she refuses, Sulfur’s sweet smiles hardens into thinly veiled threats, until Shenkt steps out from the shadows. Shenkt and Sulfur stalk each other like predators, clearly there is a long and sordid history between these two. Shenkt reveals that Monza has fulfilled his plan all along, a strong leader in Styria, supported by neither Bayaz nor Khalul.
In the end, Monza is pregnant, although whether by Rogont or Shivers is unclear; officially, it's King Rogont of all Styria. As for Shivers, he is allowed to go free and return to The North.
Other Standalones[edit | edit source]
In The Heroes, in the interim five years, Grand Duchess Monza of Talins has tightened her grip on Styria. The Union send Marshal Mitterick to support Sipani in their fight with her. In Red Country, it is revealed that Sipani has fallen to Grand Duchess Monza. In the short story Three's a Crowd in the collection Sharp Ends, set seven years after the events in Best Served Cold, Monza is now all powerful in Styria. She has outmaneuvered The Union both politically and militarily, stripping away their allies one by one, and then defeating them three times in the field. Monza finally crowns her son Jappo mon Rogont Murcatto the King of all Styria.
The Age of Madness[edit | edit source]
Styrian machinations are stirring discord in The Union's Protectorate of Westport, having enticed the Aldermen to schedule a vote which could see the city secede from The Union and join Styria. Monza sends Shylo Vitari and Shenkt to Westport, to secure a vote to leave The Union. Alas, they are outsmarted by Inquisitor Teufel, and the Aldermen vote to stay by a landslide. Meanwhile, Monza's son, King Jappo, is now in his mid-twenties, and rumoured to be keen to step from his mother’s shadow. He appears rather less warlike and more political than the formidable Monza,