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Thread: The Free Company - Book VII: Closure

  1. #1
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    The Free Company - Book VII: Closure


    The Chronicles of the Free Company - Book VII: Closure





    Overture


    May 15, 1450: Ancona – Just Before Noon

    Prior to the decision that allowed the Chin to return to their homeland with volunteers from the Free Company, John Brandon, Captain of the Company, and his mother Constance, had painstakingly coordinated a series of events that would coincide with the planned date of departure. Letters were drawn and messengers dispatched to the various cities and towns in Europe and beyond.

    The response was overwhelming.

    For days, rumours had swirled over ale and games of dice that something big was about to happen. And as morning lengthened to noon, the Company sergeants ordered the assembled men to report to the Cathedral of San Ciriaco, Ancona’s premiere church.

    The rumours became excited murmurs when Frederik Hviid appeared at the church leading a small entourage of retired Company men. They flared with the appearance of Stroph Héberté, the crippled veteran who had lost two sons in past campaigns. He was immediately surrounded and embraced by old friends and comrades at arms.

    Héberté was closely followed by Henry Jameson, Roger Du Pont, Nykodem Prazsky, Valentin Luhtanen, Frederik Pohlmann, his brother Otto and his venerable sidekick Spiro. Frederik’s son Dieter embraced his father tightly with much backslapping and wiping of tears.

    And still they came. Gaius Severus, Armin Schauenburg, Robert O'Glaigh and more.

    All aged veterans, many had witnessed the birth of the Free Company, had fought with Jean sans Peur, Henry the Warrior King, Francesco Sforza, and more. They had sacked Orleans, defeated the French at Janville, crushed the Berbers on the African coast, humbled Venice, and held the Turks at Belgrade.

    Above all, they had become legends at the Siege of Constantinople.

    By now Ancona was abuzz with word that something important was happening. Shops closed as merchants joined peasants and traders, nobles both minor and major, all gathered excitedly in the massive forum that faced the Cathedral of San Ciriaco, waiting expectedly under the late morning sun.

    Movement from the docks caused the growing crowd to spread, allowing passage to a smartly marching escort. At their head strode a woman of average height. Her once dark curly hair, now flecked with grey, was worn up and bound with a simple circlet of gold. Distinctly Mediterranean in complexion, she was still attractive, drawing gasps of admiration from the men in the crowd.

    Maria Alonzo Carlotta de Medici ignored the looks and suppressed a smile. A flash of her hand brought the escort to a halt. Without breaking stride, she walked the massive steps of the Cathedral to enter a small door, passing from sight.

    By now the men of the Company had taken position in disciplined ranks before the structure. Behind them the citizens of Ancona milled, waiting with barely contained anticipation.

    And when the wide gold-inlaid oaken doors of the Cathedral swung ponderously open, their excited chatter turned to silence.

    Captain was the first to emerge, striding purposefully along the portico. He was dressed in a simple grey shirt, grey trousers and leather boots. His blackened leather breastplate displayed a white skull clutching a red rose in its bony mouth. The mercenaries gave up a rousing cheer, growing in crescendo until John raised his hands for silence.

    Casting his eyes about the throng, he began in a clear, strong voice, “Men of the Free Company, today is a momentous period in our existence. For today we honour our Eastern brethren in their time of need. 800 men and women will undertake the arduous journey to the land of the Chin. Know that I admire and envy each and every one of you, and pray to God for your safe and victorious return. To mark this occasion, the Honourable Chen Hui is hereby awarded the rank of Captain for the duration of the campaign. You shall honour his command as you have honoured mine.”

    John Brandon paused as the men gave up cheers to a clearly humbled Chen. As the cheering subsided, he continued. “And while we applaud that noble undertaking, it is not the sole reason we gather here today. Though Ancona has been our home for many years, it is now our decision to move on. We have unfinished business elsewhere, and it is past time The Free Company had closure.”

    The crowd mumbled, unsure what to make of that announcement. Many of the men and women of the Company had family in Ancona.

    Once again Captain raised his hands for silence. “While our move is necessary, it will not be permanent, I promise you.” His voice trailed off, and the Captain of the Free Company stepped back. Moments later his sister Kathleen exited the Cathedral to join him. They hugged briefly before standing side by side.

    Time passed and the crowd murmured; a sound that grew with anticipation.

    And then she appeared.

    Thin and noble she was, dressed in a simple gown drawn at the waist by a silk belt. Gracefully she stepped along the portico to the edge of the upper step. Her long black hair, streaked grey with age, cascaded past her shoulders. Her deep brown eyes, peaceful and serene, swept the men and women crowding the plaza, her thin lips drawn into a humble smile.

    A woman in the crowd cried, “God bless you My Lady!”

    The cry was taken up, and the citizens of Ancona doffed their hats and bent knees in reverence. Many mercenaries suddenly complained of dust, and dabbed at their eyes unashamedly.

    The cry sounded again and grew in volume. “God bless you Countess! God bless!”

    Constance Brandon, the former Countess d’Abbeville, mother to John and Kathleen, and wife to the legendary Robert of Brandon, founder of the Free Company, inclined her head in acknowledgment. Eyes moist with gratitude, she quietly joined her children.

    As if responding to some unspoken signal, the sergeants sprang to action, arranging the men into two lines, forming a corridor from Cathedral to docks. They waited at attention.

    A figure stepped from the church doors, his appearance drawing collective gasps. His arrival had been a complete surprise, his entry into the city a perfectly kept secret.

    Pope Nicholas V of Rome strode along the wide portico accompanied by an entourage of high ranking Archbishops and Bishops. With great ceremony he blessed the crowd, turned and blessed the Brandon family, and then faced the Cathedral entrance.

    It was noon. The bells tolled; a deep, clear reverberation that echoed into the countryside--a sound that was repeated throughout Christendom.

    Artur de Bloomfield marched slowly from the building, the legendary black on black banner of the Free Company held proudly in his firm grip. The fierce skull, over a set of crossed swords, its mouth clutching a blood-red rose, the words Death Rides With Us emblazoned beneath--words that had struck fear in the hearts of enemies for over thirty years.

    The crowd sensed something monumental coming.

    Five men and one woman entered the portico at a slow cadence bearing a simple casket, three on a side. Draped on the burnished wood lay a replica of the Free Company banner. At their head were Father Falkenberg and Father Holmes.

    To the initiated the pallbearers were no ordinary people. They were among the greatest heroes of Christendom: Jacque LeClerc, Amric Al'Aeshir, Maria Alonzo Carlotta de Medici, Frederik Hviid, Erik Jaeger and the near-mythical Lochlan.

    ”It's him,” came the whispers, spreading swiftly through the crowd in an excited buzz. Heads bowed in respect, many mumbled prayers and kissed crosses. The mercenaries raised their weapons in salute.

    The procession followed the passageway from Cathedral to docks and halted before Maria’s flagship, the Athene. With the ship rocking gently against the stone wharf, Pope Nicholas V performed mass, pronouncing his blessing for the upcoming journey.

    John Brandon and his mother carefully removed the flag from the coffin and folded it. With a nod from John, the pallbearers took the casket aboard.

    John and Constance approached Chen and his gathered officers. He noted Kate standing with them and asked, “You still going, sis?”

    Kathleen nodded solemnly. “I understand their tongue. It could prove useful. Besides, someone has to chronicle these adventures.”

    Constance took her daughter’s hands. “Even as I wish you would reconsider and join us, I understand and approve your decision.”

    Kate looked at the ground. “Thank you, Mother. I really want this. I’ll return, I promise.” She glanced at Artur de Bloomfield. “Anyway, someone has to look after this buffoon.”

    De Bloomfield had the good grace to remain silent.

    John Brandon nodded. He turned and motioned to Glendower. The small Welshman approached smartly. John asked, “Are they ready?”

    The Welshman grinned. “Aye. My men are champing at the bit.”

    “Very good. Captain Chen?”

    Chen Hui started, unused to the honorific. “Captain?”

    “Would you accept the services of Lieutenant Glendower and 200 Welsh longbowmen?”

    Chen and his men talked excitedly in their language. Li Tie stood perplexed.

    Kathleen volunteered, “I don’t think Li Tie understands the reputation of the Welsh.”

    Captain laughed. “Then I assume he’ll find out.”

    Constance coughed gently. All conversation stopped as eyes turned to her. They were not put off by the interruption. The mercenaries held the Lady in awe. Where Captain had been the soul of the Free Company, Constance was its heart.

    And now she stepped out to Chen and held forth the replica banner. “As this adorned my husband’s casket, let it adorn your standard and bring you success. And never forget its motto.”

    Chen’s eyes watered as he whispered, “Death Rides With Us.” He took the banner, passed it reverently to Amric. Facing Constance, he bowed deeply. “You do us great honour, my lady.”

    “As you have done us. May God go with you and keep you safe.”

    “My Lady, it has been my privilege.” He looked at the Athene, his forehead creasing with puzzlement. “If I may, where do you go?”

    “Maria takes us to St. Malo.” Constance looked at John, and for a moment she saw so much of Robert in his features. She took her son's hand and squeezed it tightly.

    Turning back to Chen, she smiled. “My husband and I are going home.”

    __________________
    Last edited by Lord Durham; 06-01-2009 at 19:24.
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  2. #2
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    May 26, 1930 – St. Malo

    Madelyn Mary York stood before the Chateau de St. Malo, hands on hips, lips pursed. For this particular trip she had eschewed her usual long dress and flophat for beige trousers, white shirt and felt fedora. Her pert nose wrinkled at the overpowering smell of fish emanating from the local market located by the busy docks. The main entrance to the town, beside the chateau, bustled with people on various errands.

    “Allo!” The door to the old keep had swung open and a man nearly twice her age appeared. His broad face split into a wide smile as he rushed over to take her hand, pumping it several times before letting go.

    “Mademoiselle York, oui?”

    “Oui, monsieur Bourque. Thank you for writing.”

    “My pleasure, my dear. It was the least I could do when I discovered you had taken up your uncle’s interests. He was a great scholar and a wonderful friend. He is missed.” The old man stepped back and appraised the girl with a sweeping glance. “Last time we met you were this high.” His age-spotted hand indicated a height near his waist. “I daresay you have blossomed into a beautiful woman.”

    Madelyn blushed. “Merci. You are too kind. Now, you said you had found something?”

    Bourque’s smile broadened. “To the point, like your uncle. Follow me.”

    The scholar led her into the chateau, once the seat of power for the medieval port town, and into a tower that housed the museum. A trip down a circling flight of stairs brought them to the musty underbelly of the building. Here they saw research desks tucked into tight corners, occupied by bespectacled clerks who fastidiously inspected artifacts or itemized age-old objects. Weapons, armor and assorted artifacts lay in haphazard piles or stacked on shelves. Bookcases held priceless volumes yet to be catalogued and placed on display.

    Bourque hurried past and opened another door. This led into a smaller room with an ornate desk, two chairs, a bookshelf and a safe. He waved at a chair for Madelyn to sit and went directly to the safe. A series of clockwise and counterclockwise spins released the combination. Bourque opened the steel door and reached in.

    He stepped away and turned to Madelyn. Held reverently in his hands was a Book, a heavy tome written on parchment, bound with leather thongs and protected by leather-clad wooden book-covers with metal corner pieces. Carefully he set it on the desk.

    Madelyn leaned forward to study the artifact. Her heart suddenly skipped a beat and her palms grew moist with excitement. On the cover was a faded drawing etched into the worn leather. She had seen it before, in her uncle’s study in Florence. An image she knew only too well.

    A skull on crossed swords, a red rose clutched in bony jaws. The words Free Company in bold script along the top and their motto Death Rides With Us below.

    She looked up at Bourque, her brow raised in expectation, her eyes asking silently for permission.

    The old man smiled sagely and nodded.

    Nervously, Madelyn took the wood cover in gentle hands and spread it back. She gasped at an intricate illumination depicting men in various styles of arms and armour. One soldier clutched the now familiar black on black banner in one gauntleted hand.

    With anticipation she turned the page, and in a soft voice read, “Being the Annals of the Free Company: The Book of Constance.

    It was the year 1450 when the Free Company departed Ancona with the body of my husband, Robert of Brandon. Even now I can hear the surf pound against the rocks, the call of the birds, the excited talk of the men and women on deck. We are near St. Malo.”


    __________________
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    Follow the link to read The Pariah. For more Lovecraft style horror, try The Crane Horror and my Holmes/Lovecraft story The Case of the Galloway Eidolon. All are free to read in the Lovecraft eZine.

    Available: The Saglek Incident in the anthology Sha'Daa: Pawns and Witiko in the anthology Bigfoot Terror Tales: Vol 1

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    For a complete list of my AARs go to The Ink Well. Visit my Website for news, reviews and story excerpts.

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    Prologue



    Oct 12, 1450: Near St. Malo – Morning

    It was the year 1450 when the Free Company departed Ancona with the body of my husband, Robert of Brandon.

    Even now I can hear the surf pound against the rocks, the call of the birds, the excited talk of the men and women on deck. We are near St. Malo.

    The journey has been uneventful, a time of peace and reflection, a time to speak of past deeds and drink to fallen comrades. A time to reminisce over our 30 year existence. A strange existence, a violent existence. We have lived a near-nomadic life, moving from town to city, camp to castle, serving one master after another. Serving, yes, but forever on our terms. Answerable to no one, beholden to none.

    We have made friends, valuable friends. And we have made enemies. Oh, so many enemies. But we have survived. Even during our bleakest times, our most desperate moments, we have survived. The Company is home. The Company is our strength. The Company looks after its own.

    The Company looks after its own. Our unofficial motto. So unlike those simple words on our banner. The words that have struck fear into our enemies for so many decades. The Company looks after its own. Such powerful words. Their meaning clear. Kill one of us, and there is no place on earth you can hide.

    I sit beside my husband’s casket, writing these words under the flickering flame of a solitary candle. We are bound for England, for my husband’s hometown of Brandon, near York. Though he had little recollection of Brandon, having been sent away at a very young age by his father, John of Gaunt, I felt it appropriate he be laid to rest in the place of his birth, away from the lands where he made his mark, in a country where the Free Company has never tread.

    I hear the sounds from the harbour. We must be docking. Though St. Malo was granted to us by King Henry V years back, we have not been here for decades, and these are troubled times. I have never liked the place. It holds too many terrible memories. It was here I almost lost my husband to the insane Blu Morte, one of the Company’s greatest foes. But that is in the long ago past. I pray our stopover will be swift.

    I wish to bury my husband, and give the Free Company closure.

    __________________
    Current AAR: The Sons of Ragnar Lodbrok: In the Shadow of the Great Old Ones

    Follow the link to read The Pariah. For more Lovecraft style horror, try The Crane Horror and my Holmes/Lovecraft story The Case of the Galloway Eidolon. All are free to read in the Lovecraft eZine.

    Available: The Saglek Incident in the anthology Sha'Daa: Pawns and Witiko in the anthology Bigfoot Terror Tales: Vol 1

    Also: Plains of Hell in the anthology Lawyers in Hell & Colony in the anthology Rogues in Hell, continuing the HUGO award winning Heroes in Hell series, edited by Janet Morris

    For a complete list of my AARs go to The Ink Well. Visit my Website for news, reviews and story excerpts.

  4. #4
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    Oct 12, 1450: Chateau de St. Malo – Morning

    Tannequy du Bois gazed thoughtfully from the window of his study, and wondered if today he was going to die.

    On the one hand, the view from his high vantage in St. Malo’s castle showed a fleet of ships making for the harbor – led by a ship with an enormous black mainsail, showing a skull clenching a rose in its teeth over two crossed swords. People who went around featuring imagery like that were not merchants, craftsmen, or anything else peaceful. And there was something about the black-on-black image that stirred a memory from his long-ago childhood…

    On the other hand – that little memory seemed to remind him – life was full of twists and turns, and one could never be entirely sure what may come. Who would have thought that a son of one of St. Malo’s more successful silversmiths would rise to be knighted and made Mayor? But then, nobility was always accessible to the wealthy, in France; and what was wealth but fortune made tangible? So the father’s fortune and the son’s success had led to the son’s revered position, and perhaps that same position was about to get him killed. And so du Bois watched the harbor, and wondered what fate held for him today.

    If the morning’s developments had caused du Bois to ruminate, however, they had made his squire, Antoine d’Aubagne, panic. The younger man paced across his study, wearing a tread in the lush imported rug. After a few moments, he stumbled to a halt, overwhelmed. “Who are they? Pirates? They’re pirates, aren’t they?”

    Startled out of his reverie, du Bois half-turned and looked over his shoulder. “I don’t know.”

    “You don—”

    “I don’t remember.” He rose, smoothing his robes, adjusting the heavy silver chain holding the seal of his office, and went to the wall of shelves, scanning the stacks for a specific book.

    “When was the last time we had a pirate raid?” d’Aubagne said, resuming his pacing and adding a little hand-wringing for good measure.

    “Not since I was a child,” du Bois murmured. With a muffled “ah”, he grabbed a leather-bound volume and flipped it open. “But they’re not pirates.”

    “But the ship, all the black, the skull…”

    “I know. Would be a little obvious, don’t you think? No, they’re not pirates. They’re mercenaries.”

    du Bois turned the book around – d’Aubagne could see it was an illustrated copy of Le Chronique de Monstrelet – and pointed to a full-page image showing a bridge in the heavy rain. A great melee was in progress on the bridge, but the chief figures stood out – on one side, a body in the livery of Burgundy was dragged away, led by a horseman in the livery of France. In the middle of the bridge, a man on a rearing horse led his troops into battle against the French – and among those troops, plainly visible despite the rain, that same skull, rose clenched in its teeth, grinned at the slaughter. The caption, beautifully calligraphied, read Le Compagnie Libre à L’Assassinat de Jean sans Peur.

    d’Aubagne looked up and blanched. “They killed John of Burgundy?”

    du Bois shook his head sadly. “They rescued his body. A dark day for France – and for our late King, God rest his soul.”

    “But who are they?”

    du Bois looked up in surprise. “You’re from St. Malo, and you’ve never heard of the Free Company?”

    d’Aubagne shook his head, and with a snort the Mayor went back to rifling through old scrolls. “Survivors of Constantinople?”

    “No.”

    “Scourge of the Turks?”

    “No.”

    “Slayers of the great Sultan Murad?”

    d’Aubagne shifted nervously. “No… never…”

    “Victors of Janville?”

    The younger man started pacing again. “No…!”

    “The men who killed the Honeyed Cat…?”

    With something falling just short of a shriek, d’Aubagne sank his hands into his palms. “Stop! Stop! My god! They sound horrible!”

    “They’re supposed to be quite honorable, if the stories are true,” du Bois said, offhandedly.

    The squire moaned. “Oh, my mother told me this would happen…”

    du Bois halted his search and stared into the middle distance, lost in thought. “Of course, I suppose the stories are told by the survivors…”

    “…she said this would happen if I took up the sword. ‘Those who live by the sword die by the sword!’, she said!”

    “…and most of the survivors are their allies, so I don’t suppose there would be many bad stories about them…” With a shrug, du Bois resumed his hunt, trying to avoid enjoying d'Aubagne's discomfort too much. “Anyway, be a man, Antoine!”

    d’Aubagne looked up, his face red from the force of his palms. “But why would they just sail up? What do they want?!”

    With another sotto voce “ah!”, du Bois produced a scroll triumphantly. Unrolling it atop a stack of books, he pinned it down with a candelabrum. d’Aubagne saw “CARTA” scribed at the top, just above the emblems of both the Crown of England and the Free Company. “I think they might own the place,” du Bois said simply.

    Looking up at his stunned squire, he continued, “Find a messenger and have him ride for the King’s court. The message is simple – the Free Company has returned to France.” He paused, and held up a hand. “And we beg to know the King’s will in this matter.”

    d’Aubagne swallowed. “And what will we do until he replies, m’lord?”

    du Bois took a seat and stared down at the ships creeping ever closer to St. Malo’s docks. He watched it for long moments in silence – something d’Aubagne knew, from experience, meant his master was formulating a plan. Finally, du Bois spoke. “Either they have come to attack us, or they have not – but I think not, for why sail up to the harbor on a sunny morning? So we give them someone else to attack.” He looked over at d’Aubagne, half a grin on his lips. “That’s it. We have a brigand problem, with all the castles the English are losing in Normandy, and armed men wandering about? The Free Company is our solution. We hire them.”

    “But... but you just showed me, they fought the Crown. Why would they ever agree to such an arrangement?” d’Aubagne stammered.

    du Bois leaned back, pursing his lips in thought before answering. “They are mercenaries. War is their wine and their bread. They must have someone to fight. God forbid it is us. If they are here to right some perceived wrong on the people of St. Malo, our lives are already forfeit, and no man living can stop them.”
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  5. #5
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    Oct 12, 1450: St. Malo – Late Morning

    The Athene was lashed to a stone wharf, creaking gently under an easterly breeze. From the foredeck Maria di Medici supervised her crew as they unloaded the essential stores of gear required for a short stay. The sailors cursed good-naturedly as they handled wooden crates and iron-braced chests, many pausing to call out to friends among the departing mercenaries.

    Captain, Constance and Lochlan watched the men and women of the Free Company descend the plank leading from their wooden home of several months. The majority of mercenaries were new to St. Malo, and while sucking in great lungfuls of not-so-fresh air and stretching life into legs accustomed to the sea, took in the high stone walls and the port’s shallow harbour with obvious interest.

    The few veterans who had been here in the early days reacted with indifference, though it wasn’t long before they renewed their old complaints over the predominately fishy smell that permeated the port-town.

    This was no Ancona.

    Amidst the bustle of the disembarking mercenaries a curious population eyed the newcomers with mixed reactions. Many remembered the old days, and many did not. But what was obvious based on the hushed conversations and the whispered asides was that the reputation of the Free Company had not necessarily preceded them.

    Constance slipped her arm around John’s and leaned in close. “When we left some 30 years ago they were at war with the English. And here we are, and they still war with the English. I sense we are an unknown factor, and not overly welcome.”

    John nodded. “I suppose we can’t blame them. The surrounding lands were English until recently. Now they are French in name thanks some recent victory, though I’ve heard the French still campaign further to the east. I warrant the population is not sure which side the coin will fall.”

    “If you ask me, I would wager the French,” Lochlan said. The scout’s eyes were always in motion, a habit formed from years of studying the terrain, searching for traps and ambushes. “Annette said the English lands to the north, Normandy and Calais, are in open revolt. I think the days of the English on the mainland are numbered.”

    Constance looked back to the Athene. “Well, none of it is our concern. We will soon be off to England and York. Let us see to billeting the men.”

    “Yes, Mother.” Captain winked at Lochlan. “Lochlan, take Annette and go introduce yourselves to the Mayor. Tell him our stay will be a short one.”

    Lochlan nodded, saw Annette and raised a hand to catch her attention. “How long a stay?”

    “Long enough for Frederik to return from Le Mans. But don’t tell the Mayor that.

    “Of course. You think Hviid will have success?”

    “Hviid could convince the Pope to turn pagan.”

    Lochlan chuckled, and went off to join Annette.

    Captain said, “Well, Mother, let’s go find this tavern Frederik owns. The men will need a place to stay.”

    “Surely you don’t expect me to…”

    “All things considered, I do. With the uncertain climate I think it best we stay together. Though St. Malo is supposed to be our home, somehow it just doesn’t feel like it…”


    Oct 12, 1450: Near St. Malo – Late Morning

    The rider burst from the nearby undergrowth and reigned in sharply, his grey mount rising on its hind legs and snorting with protest.

    Kent started and relaxed, removing his hand from the sword at his side. It was Lim Nui, one of the few Chin who had not made the journey East with the balance of the Company. The man was definitely agitated, an emotion not lost on the 25 heavy horse and 50 light cavalry under Kent’s command. “What is it?” he growled.

    Lim had trouble responding in English, and took several deep breaths before continuing. He pointed. “This way, quick!”

    Before Kent could answer, the Chin brought his horse about and bolted back through the undergrowth, leaving the grizzled lieutenant with no choice but to follow. He barked, “Weapons ready. Light cavalry, spread out. Heavy cavalry advance.”

    Moving cautiously, the Company cavalry eased off the road leading to St. Malo and pushed into the light undergrowth of the adjoining forest. They picked their way carefully, eyes alert to trouble.

    Suddenly the undergrowth gave way to a meadow. In the meadow was Lim Hui, waiting beside a wagon. Kent ordered the light cavalry to scout the area before he approached, and almost immediately spotted several bodies strewn on the ground. It was a family, each gutted, their throats slit and faces mutilated beyond recognition. Kent scowled and looked away. This was butcher’s work.

    Wilhelm pushed his mount closer, casually adjusting the double-bladed axe hanging from his saddle-horn. “Merchants, by the looks of it. Strange, none of their goods appear missing. Strange indeed.”

    Kent grunted agreement, and then grunted again. One of the bodies moved. Gruffly he said, “That one lives. See to him.”

    Wilhelm and Lin Hui dismounted and rushed over to a figure that had begun to moan. Wilhelm knelt and propped the head in his lap while Lim Hui pushed a water sack to the barely moving lips.

    Wilhelm looked back at Kent. “It’s a girl, sir. A young woman. Was hard to tell at first. Her hair's been hacked off. She’s pretty bloody. Been beaten good. Probably raped.”

    Kent nodded. “Ask her what happened.” The lieutenant waited while the large German carried on a quiet conversation. Finally Kent asked, “Well? You making a date? Out with it!”

    “She says her family was attacked by brigands. They tortured and killed them and we’re planning the same for her when we arrived.”

    Kent chewed his lip. Brigands, was it? Given the state of the land he wasn’t surprised. He looked about until he spotted Jan Van den Verg returning with a troop of light cavalry. He shouted, “Find anything? Brigands? Bandits? French? English?”

    The young cavalryman shrugged. “Nothing, sir. We saw nothing.”

    Kent looked to the girl. “Very well. Bring her along. We’re not far from St. Malo. We can drop her off with a leech on arrival.”

    Wilhelm helped the girl to her feet and led her to his mount.

    Kent thought she would be attractive, once the dirt and blood was stripped from her face and body. At that moment she caught his eye. He shuddered. He had never seen such lifeless eyes in his life. “I suppose seeing your family murdered will do that to you,” he mumbled. In a louder voice he said, “We’ll give these bodies a proper burial, then we’re off to St. Malo. We should arrive by evening.”
    __________________
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  6. #6
    What? The_Hawk's Avatar
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    Oct 12, 1450: Chateau de St. Malo – Late Morning

    Mayor du Bois smiled genuinely, showing Annette and Lochlan a row of white, well-cared-for teeth. At his elbow, d'Aubagne barely troubled to conceal his relief. "I am happy, of course, to know the Free Company comes in peace, m'lady, monsieur Lieutenant," du Bois said. And that you will be leaving soon, he thought to himself. "These are uncertain times for France, and one must always be cautious when armed men appear at the border with unknown purpose. We have built much here" -- he waved ambiguously at the otherwise empty council chamber -- "and are loath to see any of the troubles that war brings. It is a problem that St. Malo has seen much of lately..." He trailed off.

    Lochlan raised an eyebrow. "The English?"

    du Bois shook his head and waved away the concern with a flourish. "Nothing so dramatic, my good sir. Merely common criminals. Nothing a company as auspicious -- dare I say, legendary -- as yours need concern itself with."

    Annette, as she often did, wore a perfectly flat expression, her hands folded in the long arms of her gown. "I am intrigued that you seem to know of the Free Company, Lord Mayor," she said without a hint of suggestion. "Not many of your people seem to remember the city's old overlords."

    du Bois glanced sheepishly at his feet. "A failing in the education of the common folk, then, my lady. I wager that anyone who knows of Christendom's struggle with the Turk in the last decade should know of the Free Company." Solemnly, he said, "I am sorry to hear that you go to bury Robert of Brandon. It is a travesty that so few know of so great a hero."

    Annette inclined her head respectfully. "I will pass your kind words along to Captain and the Countess, m'lord. In the meantime, we seek only to buy fresh supplies, perhaps collect some news, and enjoy a few days off ship. I assure you that we will keep our men in order."

    "I have no doubt of it. You shall have access to everything our merchants can provide, of course." He bowed. "Now if you will pardon me, m'lady, I fear I have an appointment with the weaver's guild. Antoine will show you out."

    "Of course." Annette curtseyed, while Lochlan looked on wryly at the usual dance of polite society.

    Only after du Bois had left, and Annette and Lochlan made to go, did d'Aubagne speak. "A moment of your time, m'lady..."

    Annette turned. Here we go. "Yes, sir?"

    The squire sighed heavily before speaking. "You have heard my lord Mayor mention these... criminals that trouble us, yes?"

    "Yes. Of course." Annette shared a sidelong glance with Lochlan.

    "It pains me to speak of it, but I fear he might be understating the case. Or underestimating the enemy. These are no irate peasants turned to outlawry -- we have been attacked by bandits, former English soldiers. Perhaps French, too, I know not. Outlying villages have been burnt, trade disrupted, crops destroyed -- in a good harvest year, no less. And they are growing in numbers as the battles in Normandy grind on, and more men set themselves free."

    Lochlan leaned into the conversation. "And what do you expect us to do about it?"

    d'Aubagne looked scandalized. "You are the lords of... of this city! You..."

    "...were the lords of this city." Lochlan glanced around, taking in the thick tapestries hanging from the walls, at the marble floors, the brass fixtures on the doors. "You and the lord Mayor seem to have things running pretty smoothly. So I wonder again, what do you expect us to do about your problem?"

    d'Aubagne grew flushed. When he spoke again, it was apart he had himself on a short leash. "I see I was... misinformed. I was told you were honorable men, your Free Company. I must presume that you are nothing more than common lucre-warriors, if you will not even consider helping innocents in need..."

    Lochlan stood dangerously still. For a brief second, Annette feared he was going to produce one of his many knives and attack the squire. "You're on dangerous ground, boy," he finally growled. "What do you know of the Free Company?"

    "Only what I have been told. That more than likely, my sister would be a whore to some English knight if not for your reputation keeping them away from St. Malo." d'Aubagne paused. "Whose sister do you sacrifice if you refuse to even hear my words?"

    Lochlan's eyes turned hard, and his fingertips brushed his tunic gently -- a gesture anyone who knew the ranger, and his penchant for being weighted down with blades, knew as the first gesture toward someone's bloody end.

    "Enough." Annette spoke softly, but the word was like a whipcrack. Both men froze, their heads rotating toward her.

    Lochlan rocked back into his usual state of tense relaxation. "Annette..."

    "Lochlan." She silenced her old friend with a glance, then turned back to the Frenchman. "Monsieur Antoine, you say St. Malo needs the Free Company's help. I will give you my ear, at least, but no promises. What are we talking about, exactly?"
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  7. #7
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    Oct 12, 1450: Chateau de St. Malo – Late Morning

    "Lochlan." She silenced her old friend with a glance, then turned back to the Frenchman. "Monsieur Antoine, you say St. Malo needs the Free Company's help. I will give you my ear, at least, but no promises. What are we talking about, exactly?"

    “Just what we said,” the man returned, his English clipped in consternation. “Bandits. They are as common now in France as grapes.”

    “The French King does not police his lands?”

    “Some of the bandits are his own soldiers. Some,” he said, “are his Knights. The wars made many men warriors. When the wars move elsewhere, what becomes of the warriors?”

    “I presume they do not beat their swords back into ploughshares.”

    Antoine snorted.

    “Farming does not pay. And besides,” he said with a sweep of his hand, “what use is there in farming or trading when the countryside burns with the torches of one’s enemies? And one’s comrades.”

    “A worthy question,” Annette said. “And a chief source of the evil.”

    “The mercenary companies are the source of the evil. They come from Italy and Germany as well as France and England. The lords pay them to fight. But they are not all so honorable as the Free Company. Some switch sides. Some do not fight at all. They decide it is easier to take from farms and monasteries, to force the towns to pay them ransoms. Now they turn on the lords. They sack castles. The lords did not protect their subjects, some even joined the bandits, and now they reap what they have sown.”

    “It is a tragedy,” Annette said in a tone that said otherwise, “but it has little to do with us. We have seen many tragedies but caused none. The Company is, as you say, honorable. It does not rob peasants and priests. “

    “And it always keeps its contracts,” Lochlan added, the balance of steel still in his voice.

    “What is more, it has been gone from this country for thirty years. Longer than my children have lived.” She smiled. “Longer than you have lived, I suspect.”

    “Is your Captain not John of Brandon, son of Robert of Brandon, Lord of St. Malo? Are you not the masters of this place? Whither you go, do you not keep your oath?”

    Lochlan stiffened, but again Annette silenced him with a glance. She was quiet for a long moment before she smiled gently at Antoine and thought, briefly, of her father.

    “We are mercenaries, Monsieur. We fight with honor, but we do not fight for free.”

    Antoine’s lip twisted.

    “So we come to it.” He paused and rubbed his hand along the ridge of his scabbard. Finally, he sighed and said, “What do you want?

    “We will need accommodations in town. You know we do not have to ask for it, but you will give it gladly and without interference. We will need supplies enough for several hundred men, as well as grain. We will need your most recent maps, particularly of the coast. As long as we fight in your service, we will require all relevant information you have on the French and English both.” She leaned forward, her voice suddenly hard. “Above all, I want to know all you know about the state of affairs in the Court of Henry VI.”

    Lochlan raised an eyebrow. Annette gave him a slight shake of her head.

    “Is that all?” Antoine asked.

    “No,” Annette said. “That is the down payment. The price is silver.”

    “How much?”

    “Five hundred pounds.” She dropped a silver penny on the table. “English coin.”

    “Are you mad? Five hundred pounds? This hall and its-“

    “Five hundred pounds for its equivalent in Florins.” Annette slid the penny halfway across. “I trust your merchants will have use for gold? Italian gold?”

    Antoine stared at the penny. Lochlan eyed him hard. Annette sat back and smiled. Finally, he picked up it up and held it in his fist.

    “We are agreed, then? You will fight the bandits?” he asked with just too much eagerness.

    “Oh, no,” Annette said, her smile broadening. “You will have to take the proposal to our Captain. We merely came to tell you our stay will be short.”

    Antoine’s eyes widened. He dropped the penny in his hand as if burned.

    “Women know nothing of honor,” he spat. “If he is honorable, why does your Captain send a woman to men’s business?”

    Lochlan grinned as they stood.

    “Because no one knows men’s business like women.”

    ~

    “You remind me of someone,” Lochlan said, not for the first time, as they came out onto the street.

    “And you remind me of an old mule too stubborn to die,” Annette said, smoothing her coats against the slight chill. “Or to mind his tongue.”

    Lochlan laughed.

    “Why the Court of Henry VI?”

    “A variety of reasons.”

    “None of which you’ll share?”

    “No, and at any rate I don’t expect that man to tell us a thing. I wanted to make certain word of my interest circulated.”

    “Just as you wanted to make certain his concern for the bandits was genuine?”

    “I’m not certain, but they are willing to give us what we want. For now. That tells us much. And regardless, the terms were seriously meant.”

    Lochlan glanced down at her face, wondering for a still moment at how much of its beauty it retained in the midst of all the other things it had acquired.

    “Seriously meant? The Company doesn’t have the Florins you offered, as much as we could use the English silver.”

    “I do,” she said, “brought with us on the journey under guard of my husband and my son. And so the Company does, too.”

    He whistled low and shook his ahead.

    “The Free Company in action again. You think Captain will fight bandits for the price?”

    “He is his father’s son. To the contrary, I think he would have done it for far less.”

    “For what, then?”

    Annette sighed and shook her head.

    “Honor,” she said. “Always for honor.”
    HG

    You want to live where the suffering is/I want to get out of town/Come on, baby, give me a kiss/Stop writing everything down/Both of us say there are laws to obey/Yeah, but frankly I don't like your tone/You want to change the way I make love/I want to leave it alone
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  8. #8
    The Father of AARland Lord Durham's Avatar
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    Part One: St. Malo






    Oct 12, 1450: Outside St. Malo – Late Afternoon

    The town of St. Malo rose like a fist of stone from the surrounding sea as Kent and the Free Company cavalry thundered along a narrow causeway separating the island port from the Breton mainland--the causeway being the sole access to St. Malo during high tide. A brief exchange with the watch at St. Vincent’s Gate saw the portcullis rise and the massive iron-bound doors swing open, allowing entry to the weary men.

    Milo the Company Quartermaster met them outside the citadel and offered quick directions to the stables. After seeing to their mounts, the men split into groups, some heading for The Twisted Sole while others searched out accommodations at neighbouring inns. Wilhelm and Lim Hui left the girl with a local doctor, her sad tale quickly explained, and as they left to join their comrades, tossed her a silver coin. They received no word of thanks, nor sign of recognition, just a baleful look from those lifeless eyes.



    Oct 12, 1450: St. Malo – Late Afternoon

    Antoine d'Aubagne shot Annette an angry glance as he stormed from the main hall of The Twisted Sole, leaving Captain and Constance to exchange curious looks.

    “What was that about?” Constance asked a smiling Lochlan.

    The ranger shrugged and produced a knife, casually tested its weight and balance. “He was outmanoeuvred and didn’t like it. Best to watch that one.”

    Captain leaned back in his chair. “I’ll leave the watching to the likes of Annette and Frederik—and you.” He paused as he took in the confined space of their latest unofficial headquarters. The Twisted Sole was located just inside the main entrance of St. Malo, within brief walking distance to the chateau/citadel and the town’s busy harbour. It had a low ceiling supported by broad oak beams and a stone hearth set against an interior wall. Captain made sure he claimed a long table nearest the hearth, one of the perks of command. The main floor was capable of accommodating perhaps 100 men and women. A second floor dining area could hold another 50. The innkeeper, a mousey looking man named Francoise, tended bar opposite the main entrance. Beside the bar was the kitchen. The smell of smoked fish drifted from beyond its thin door.

    Jacques LeClerc rubbed at his eyes. “I forgot how much I loathed this place.” He glared at the kitchen as the door swung open and a serving lady appeared with a platter of food-- steaming sole, sea bass and mussels. “Haven’t they heard of meat?”

    “We’re on an island,” Dieter Pohlmann said slowly, as if explaining something important to a child. “You’ll not find much game here. It’s too busy dodging hungry peasants on the mainland.”

    Lochlan put his knife away and produced another, began the same routine all over again. “At least the ale is passable.”

    Annette sat down next to Lochlan. Her look was a cross between trepidation and smugness as she glanced from Captain to Constance and back. “Well, you asked me to go speak to the mayor,” she explained into the silence.

    Captain frowned. “I didn’t ask you to accept a contract.”

    Her eyes widened in a show of innocence. “But I didn’t. I merely set the terms. You could have said no.”

    Lochlan chuckled. LeClerc snorted. Constance crossed her arms and glared at Annette.

    Captain avoided her mother’s dark stare and shrugged. “Yeah, I suppose I could have.” He reached for a mug of ale. “Well, it’s only bandits.” He took a drink and continued. “It shouldn’t take us long to root them out. The men…”

    “… could use the exercise after such a long trip,” Sergeant Baer finished.

    There was long pause as eyes darted from one to another, and then everyone burst into laughter. Even Constance managed a smile.

    The laughter died down and Captain said, “Look, I’m not happy we’ve been dragged into this any more than the rest of you, except maybe Baer, but that Antoine character has a point. We are obligated to protect the town. So, protect it we shall.” He turned to Constance. “Sorry, Mother.”

    Constance looked away, a slight smile playing at her lips. She mumbled, “So like your father.”

    “What was that?”

    “I said--no bother.” She pointed at the entrance. A handful of men stood there. “It appears word of our arrival has spread already.” She stood and ran her slender hands along her skirts. “I’ll leave the hiring business to you gentlemen. I have some rats to chase from my quarters.”

    Annette asked, “Two legged or four legged?”

    “Probably both.”

    The men chuckled quietly, and as one turned to face the door. If they were to root out bandits, it was time to hire…
    __________________
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  9. #9
    Soul Reaper von Streusser's Avatar
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    October 12th, 1450 - St. Malo, The Twisted Sole - Late Afternoon

    "Am I a warrior or an undertaker?" Bogdan Viteazul grumbled, tossing himself into a seat at an empty table in the tavern. "Ever since you convinced me to sign up for this, we've been on a damned funeral procession, and then, what happens the instant we get a chance for some action? We're burying merchants instead." The light cavalryman was in a foul mood, waving for a drink as he groused.

    He was of middling height and build, a heavy moustache dancing around on his lip as he complained. His skin was a little darker than his comrades from farther west, and his arms and armor made him look a bit like a cross between a Mongol and a Turk...a comparison that probably would have made him seethe. He had left his light, golden-scaled mail in his quarters along with his weapons, and now wore a long, bright blue silken shirt, belted at the waist, and comfortable trousers and boots. "Sit down, Mihai, you're making me nervous" he finally said, acknowledging the fair-haired boy standing at the seat across from him.

    Mihai, Bogdan's attendant, had also left his arms and armor behind, but was dressed far more plainly, at least as far as could be told. Above his boots, little could be seen past the black hooded cloak, bundled shut against the chill in the air to be found in France's autumn. He had long blonde hair, tied back in a simple ponytail, and a clean-shaven face. On being so ordered, he sat, wordlessly.

    It had in fact been Mihai's suggestion that they join the Free Company. "You want to fight for honor and glory? You'll not find it here among this mercenary rabble. Let us seek out the Free Company...the men who held the Turk at Belgrade, slayers of the Sultan. Enemies of our enemies."

    His master had nodded. "They are legends, and I am a legend. It is fate." It had taken little to convince Bogdan, and far more to convince the sergeant, whose name Mihai had long since forgotten. At least, far more to convince him that Bogdan was a legend of any sort.

    "We ain't hiring. And even if we were, what makes you think we'd want you?" Bogdan had looked aghast, but Mihai, some 10 paces away with the horses, came to his rescue with a single silver coin. "Not much of a bribe, son."

    "You're about to lose it anyway. Toss that into the air, sergeant, if you would be so kind." The boy drew his bow and a lone arrow, awaiting the man's reaction. It had been just what he hoped, as the sergeant flipped the coin high into the air with a sneer. There was the growl of a bowstring, and the sudden 'ping' of a coin struck in mid-flight, before Mihai sheathed his bow once again. And that had been that.


    "Lord Master" Mihai finally breathed "only a fool goes looking for trouble. It will find us, I've no doubt. Men who stoop to deeds such as we witnessed today tend to draw the ire of others. You may have your 'action' soon."

    "Good God, you're always so damned dour" Bogdan replied, tossing back half a mug of his ale. "Still won't have a drink?" The boy shook his head. "Fine, have it your way. It's a bit weak. Here's hoping French women aren't as disappointing, eh?" he said with a wink, his disposition clearly rising.

    Mihai knew that, no matter what else he could say about his Lord, nothing kept the man down for long. He also knew that no seat in a tavern stayed empty long when a mercenary company came to town. As more company men piled in the door, he saw Bogdan waving them over with a laugh and an offer of a drink. If they were going to have to share a table anyway, it might as well be amicably. Besides, ever since they'd joined, they'd had precious little time to meet their comrades.
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  10. #10
    October 12th, 1450, The Twisted Sole, Saint-Malo

    Lasko Sagarra gulped down the last of his ale and dropped the mug on the bar beside his papers. "So I told those goddamned Flemings to take their things and leave, before I got angry. Or angrier than I was." He poked at the papers again. "'Improperly sealed,' my left foot's rotten toenails. They wanted to get out of paying, and it's their bloody insurance that they themselves signed." Francoise looked at him and moved to refill the mug as he said "So only the week before you are out of money? I know someone who is looking for a horse."

    "I'm not looking to sell the bleeding son of a Spanish whore. Something will turn up." Lasko took a draft from his now full mug and looked around. "Who are those people over there?" He pointed at a group that had just entered and was now seated near the fireplace. "Some mercenaries. Free Company, just came in. That fellow with them, don't know him. Actually, I don't know any of them, personally, but some of them I saw coming of their ship."

    Lasko grunted. "Got any fish for me, Francoise? I'm getting hungry." Francoise guessed Lasko was weary of talking for the moment, and turned away to yell at the cooks. Lasko peered over his papers again, muttering to himself about prospects that would get him the money he was owed, even if it wasn't from the goddamned Flemings. When his food came, he turned to it and ate rapidly. Finally he sat up straight, and looked up. "Well, Francoise, I might as well do something with myself. I've got bills to pay, after all, and I'm sure you want to have them paid." Francoise, who was at the other end of the bar, hadn't heard him, but saw him speaking and guessing the subject walked down to determine the amount he was owed and clear up the dishes. Lasko Sagarra stood and stepped towards the mercenaries.

  11. #11
    Off Again Alfred Packer's Avatar
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    October 12th, 1450, The Twisted Sole, Saint-Malo

    Gunther was sitting only a few feet away from Lasko and Francoise, slowly downing his ale and just wasting away the days. As usual, he was half-eavesdropping on the conversation around him, but his ears perked up when he heard the discussion switch to the mercenaries.

    The older man absently stroked his great muttonchops with one hand while he watched Lasko approach the small group.

    "Huh," he said to no one in particular, "I suppose it's time I got a new contract." He tossed a coin onto the bar behind him. "Think they'll be here a while Francoise?" The barkeep shrugged absently and Gunther stood and stretched, weighing contracts and coins in his mind. "I sure as hell hope so." Then he strode purposefully out the door.

    He had his own steel breastplate and he knew that some companies paid a premium to soldiers they didn't need to equip.

  12. #12
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    October 12th, 1450, The Twisted Sole, Saint-Malo

    Thomas Hulne sat at the back of the inn watching the people come and go, his coin was low and being an Englishman he tried to avoid the inns of St.Malo as much as he could. Today, however, he had ventured into The Twisted Sole to buy a meal he could stomach and the fish stew was more palatable than living off the turnips he had managed to steal earlier that week.

    Had it only been 3 days since the vessel he was on struck ill winds and was forced to berth in St.Malo rather than continue onward to England and safety. Pushing the plate away he watched as a group of men walked into the inn, he could see by their demeanour the manner of their business and slowly a thought rose in his mind, if he could could join them then the coin gained would be enough to get a berth back to England. Watching the hit the coin Thomas nodded in appreciation, "a fine archer there though the bow is a little small" he thought.

    Slowly he rose from his stool, hefted his pack over is shoulder and started to walk across to the newcomers.

    AUDERE EST FACERE

  13. #13
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    October 10 late afternoon outside Le Mans (Note the date)

    Frederik rubbed his leg and leaned back in the saddle relaxing slightly.

    The travel had gone surprisingly well, despite his slight feeling of apprehension when Captain had asked him to go over land.

    Around him his small group of guards and a single clerk paused their horses as they looked down upon Le Mans.

    Frederik smiled slightly at his own discomfort. Going to France had never been his favourite destination. Despite running a whorehouse in Orleans at one point, learning quite a few valuable lessons along the way, he had never really gotten to like the French.

    Travelling had always been part of his life, ever since he left Holstein, but he felt far more at home in Germany and Austria than he had ever done in France.

    The connection with the Free Company and the now late Captain had brought him further south into Italy than he had expected all those years ago when he accepted employment in Firenze. The cause of events had given him insight and access to the network of the old Irishman and Guillaume and had expanded his influence in the Italian states far beyond his trade network.

    Not so in France. Strange how the further North he went, the less his influence became, despite his native birthplace in the trading junction between Germany, Scandinavia and Friesen.

    He had off course agents in place in the trading centres and in the southern harbours, just like he had in most of the harbours on the Mediterranean coast. But no network of influential men and women, no easy access less polished, but yet powerful, guilds of criminals.

    No, France, Burgundy in part, and the English in particular were not amongst his favourite haunts.

    He sighed, it seemed the Free Company was about to change that like it had done for him in Italy.

    The Dane nudged his horse forward. There wasn't much clandestine about this assignment, and he would gladly do it for Captain, the old and dead, or his successor.

    He rubbed his leg again, it still stiffened up when riding, he looked forward to a good inn with a warm room. Hopefully the ointment the Chins had given him would work its magic again.



    The small party made it to Le Mans without any incidents and it was well before sundown when they booked rooms at a comfortable inn on the main square, making sure his guards got sleeping arrangements in or near the stables and the clerk one in the servants' quarters.

    The fire crackled gently in the spacious room as he finally eased himself into a soft chair with a deep sigh of relief. His clerk stood by the dying light at the window, pen readily hovering over a large wad of parchment.

    "Send a note to the local traders' guild, the usual pleasantries, I will do a bit of trading in their market tomorrow, just to create a flimsy excuse for my presence."

    The clerk nodded slowly and jotted a note on a paper already covered in unreadable small notations.

    "Then, please ask around and find out where this man is staying."

    He recalled the name from memory, Jean d’Aulon.

    "Be discreet about it, but it is no secret as such. If you find him, please send a note inviting him here for a meal. His curiosity should be enough to get him to show up."

    He leaned back, stretching his legs towards the small fire,

    "Here in France my affiliations with the Company are not so well known as in Italy, let us strive to keep it that way. My reach is shorter here so let us not complicate things by dragging a world of old conflicts into it."

    The young clerk nodded, he was mainly employed to keep track of his master's merchant and trade affairs, that however didn't stop him from having a good understanding of his employer's other associations. Without a sound he withdrew to get the messages out.


    October 11 late morning (Note the date)

    Frederik allowed himself a late morning with a luxurious meal in a secluded private dining room at the inn. As the servant withdrew the clerk silently slipped inside and took up station at a small desk in the corner, opening the grand ledger and began making notes.

    The merchant smiled slightly, he kept the important figures in his head, even more so the important information, but it kept his factors and trading partners on their toes when they felt he had a hand in their business and the clerk's tallying kept the skimming to a minimum.

    "Did you deliver the message to the Burgundian?"

    The clerk nodded without missing a beat, still adding columns of the last quarter's grain trade,

    "Yes master, I found him with his sister, at first he was reluctant, but curiosity won out I think. I told him of a favourable business proposition and invited him here at the strike of the noon bell. He didn't say aye or nay, but I think he will come."

    Frederik nodded, the clerk was a good judge of character, a careful merchant, not quite enough of that certain something that made up the rest of the Dane's world, but a good aid in the trade and completely loyal towards his employer.

  14. #14
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    Oct 12, 1450: St. Malo, countryside – Early Morning

    Tylo Dirske looked down at what was truly a revolting sight. He quickly looked side to side sweeping the forested area for any enemies that still might be lurking.

    Seeing none he focused himself to look at the victims, scattered around a central wagon that was leaning on two broken wheels. They were naked, stripped of all valuables, left to die a miserable death if not already dead. Tylo cursed the local peasantry for their ignorance.

    A movement caught Tylo’s eye, and he strangely felt compelled to leave his safe observing spot of the dense foliage. Being so far away from home had taught him not to get meddled into the affairs of others, but the feeling of humanity took hold.

    Shouldering his composite bow he carefully left his lookout.

    Someone must have heard him as a groaning noise filled the air.

    Tylo froze and listened, locating the groaner and making sure no one else was making movements either. There was no sound so Tylo followed his ears, cautious to step around the bodies. Soon he arrived of a man propped up against the wagon looking more dead than alive.

    “Water…, throat…dry,” the man could barely hold out his hand in askance.

    Against his better judgment, Tylo reached behind his back and grabbed his canteen of the precious liquid. With not much food or water, he knew the decision would hurt him. Then he tenderly held the lid to the man’s mouth and lifted slightly.

    More water was falling out of the mouth than in, and Tylo was starting to have feelings of regret, but when he took away the water, the man sighed in contentment.

    With the last strength, the man gave thanks by pointing feebly to a nearby bush. When Tylo looked back the man had already slumped, dead.

    Wondering why the man had pointed, Tylo un-slung his bow, thinking that he was being led to the enemy. When he arrived at the bush, there was an odd breakage of the branches, as if someone had stashed items in there for safe keeping.

    Prodding with one hand, he felt the touch of wood. For an instance, Tylo was going to take it for another branch, but the wood was too smooth and followed a pattern. Becoming intrigued Tylo put his bow down and gingerly took the item out with both hands.

    To his amazement he had pulled out an English Longbow. Tylo choked back his surprise at having a genuine longbow. This was the last thing the Silesian man expected to find. Now he could compete with others who had a longbow but lacked Tylo’s skill.

    Turning around, he posthumously thanked the man and absentmindedly slung both bows over his shoulders.



    Oct 12, 1450: St. Malo – Late Morning

    With a new sense of pride found, Tylo walked the streets of St. Malo. He had only been in the city for a few days now and he had already had a hard time finding a fitting in for the time being.

    Today was going to be his lucky day though. Everyday he went down to the main square to see if the Free Company had arrived, and everyday they didn’t, he had the urge to pack up and head back to his little village in Silesia, and pick up the plow again. But today was going to be the day, he had his new found bow, and an air of optimism around him.

    The square was busy in the morning, like it was normally, but there was a lot less bartering and a lot more gossiping going on more than usual. Sneakily hovering around conversations, Tylo tried to listen in with his limited French to aide him, but being a good height above the average man, made it extremely difficult.

    “Mercenaries. It’s the last thing we need. We already have brigands, the last thing we need are unruly soldiers.” A man muttered darkly to his fellows.

    Tylo immediately stopped, closed his eyes in concentration, and acted as out of the way as he could.

    “You sure?” Another man inquired, “I’ve heard that the flag of their ship said, ‘Death rides with us’. Since when have pirates ridden on land?”

    That was all Tylo needed and he sped towards the nearest tavern. He had heard stories.
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  15. #15
    October 11th, noon, Le Mans

    „Please, uncle, can’t I come and watch? I won’t disturb you, promise.”

    Jean d’Aulon ruffled the boy’s unruly mop of reddish blond hair, its coppery hue a family trait of the d’Aulons’ his sister had passed on to all her children, though most prominetly to Henri. “No”, he said firmly, despite his affectionate gesture. “I am invited to do business, and that’s none of a little boy’s affairs.”

    “I already turn eleven next summer”, Henri protested. “Mayhap I can help you.”

    “You’ve already helped me guiding me here. Now run along home.”

    With a last reluctant glance at his uncle, Henri turned and sauntered sullenly across the main square of Le Mans, back to his parent’s house. Jean waited, seeing to it that his nephew did indeed go home and not linger or sneak up on his appointment for luncheon. It had been the first time in a dozen years that he had had the opportunity to see his sister again, and the very first time that he had met any of his nephews and nieces. They were a lively bunch, but it was Henri to whom he had taken a special liking. Something in that little rascal’s manner reminded Jean of his own son, of what Philippe might have grown into if the fever had not taken him two winters ago. First Philippe, he thought, and half a year later Margot, poisoned by that other son of his who had died and rotted while still in his mother’s womb. Dijon had become a cold place to Jean since his sons’s and wife’s death, and his townhouse there a mere tomb for fond memories.

    The maître de l’artillerie’s orders to procure more salpeter to sate the ever-growing demand of the powerful Burgundian artillery had been most welcome to Jean, an opportunity to get away from the haunting memories and also from the Burgundian court and Marshal’s office with its petty intrigues and endless jockeying for the new maître’s favour. If recently appointed maître de l’Angouille had thought to spite his former colleague d’Aulon with his order, he had been wrong. What many would have thought of as an uncomfortable journey and a tedious duty had been a respite for Jean. His head had felt vented and cleared after the long voyage from Dijon to Paris, and his stay at the city had rekindled old memories of his student days there and the many raucuous adventures he and his colleagues had had at the whorehouses.

    These had been the days! They had not had much money then, at least not by the standards Jean was used to today, but somehow they had always managed to scrape one more penny to pay for that one more flagon of cheap wine, and also for a quick tumble on the pallet. Jean had retraced his footsteps from over fifteen years ago and revisited his old haunts. He had drunk with the students, shared with them in their baudy songs, and whored with them, and they had welcomed him readily enough, just like he and his friends had once welcomed anybody with coin and a mind to spend it on paying for drink and women. It had been nice reliving these old times, but after a few days had begun leaving a sour aftertaste. Jean’s wild days were over, and while he had seen his share of hardship on campaign with Duke Philippe the Good, he had come to realize that he did still very much prefer his own house’s luxuriously soft feather mattress to some hovel’s flea-infested pallet every day.

    Having thus once again tasted the pleasures of Paris only to find them this time strangely wanting, he had decided not to stay on while the salpeter he had ordered was procured, refined and packaged. Le Mans was not far, and with it his sister, whom he hadn’t seen since before he had taken up service with the Duke of Burgundy. With but one of his attendants, he had set out for Le Mans.

    And then, yesterday, this strange message. How could anybody have a ‘favourable business proposition’ for him? Nobody was even supposed to know that he was here at Le Mans at all. But the clerk who had brought he message had professed ignorance and refused to tell him anything more about it. At first, Jean had been reluctant, but the name of the clerk’s master had intrigued Jean. Frederik Hviid. That name had rung some bell. One night, while amiably sharing the campfire of some common soldiers, Jean had heard tales of this Frederik Hviid, he seemed to remember. Some kind of mercenary, a Danish sellsword of high reknown, if his memory had not deserted him. It must be him – surely, there could not be two men with such a barbaric name.

    But what business could a mere mercenary, no matter wether famous or not, have with a Burgundian maître des canons? The question had puzzled Jean d’Aulon and kept him awake through half the night. Maybe this Dane’s masters had learned of the Burgundian order for salpeter and were trying to bribe Jean into forgoing Duke Philippe’s rights to it so they could buy it themselves? Possible, but not very likely.

    Well, Jean was going to find out. He had had his nephew lead him to the inn where this Frederik Hviid was staying, and once he had seen to Henri leaving, he approached the impressive timber framed building’s front door and pushed it open with a resolute shove of his hand.

  16. #16
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    Oct 12, 1450: St. Malo – The Twisted Sole - Late Afternoon

    Thaddeus Kent entered the tavern and stood poised at the door like some Hellenistic statute. His blue eyes swept the room under bushy red eyebrows, taking in familiar faces and new. The timber of the activity brought a smile to his bearded face. “Something’s up,” he mumbled. In the corner he spotted Captain, Lochlan, LeClerc, Pohlmann, Baer and Nikolai in casual conversation. Nodding sharply at Bogdan Viteazul and the boy Mihai, he strode past their table and presented himself to the seated officers.

    Lochlan looked up. “Glad you made it. Any trouble?”

    Kent shrugged. “Not really. Some ruffians, a knight or two knocked down a peg. A lot of pillaged homes, burnt villages. Bodies, displaced peasants. The usual.” He looked around. “The Twisted Sole?”

    Captain smiled. “Frederik’s place.”

    Kent nodded. “What doesn’t that man own?”

    LeClerc waved to Francoise for a tankard of ale. “A good barber?”

    Kent grinned and pointed at the large collection of empty mugs on the table. “I could use a half a dozen of those.”

    Baer slid over. “Then join us. We’re celebrating—of a sorts.”

    “Celebrating what?” He looked about again. Some new faces stood nearby, waiting to approach. “Don’t tell me we have a contract?”

    Lochlan said, “We have a contract.”

    Kent laughed. “That didn’t take long. What does Constance have to say about this?”

    “She’s killing rats.”

    “That happy, is she?” The lieutenant glanced over at Bogdan and Mihai. “Well, I guess we’ll be doing some hiring, then. What is it this time? The English? The French? Bretons? The Turks?”

    “Bandits.”

    “Bandits?”

    “Bandits.”

    “How the mighty have fallen.” Kent’s brows drew together in sudden remembrance, his face darkened. “Reminds me, we came across a butchered merchant family not far from here. The only survivor was a girl. She said they were attacked by bandits. It wasn’t a pretty site they left behind. Perhaps this is a good thing we do, after all.”

    LeClerc mumbled, “Perhaps so.”

    Kent turned to the men standing near by and grunted. “Well, I’ll be letting you do your work, then. Send any mounted types over to me.”

    “I ride.”

    “Eh?”

    “I said, I ride.”

    Kent stepped back. He saw a short man with brown hair, beard and an overly large nose. “And you are?”

    “Lasko Sagarra. Basque. I can ride and I can shoot. I understand you are hiring.”

    “Apparently so. Come with me.” With that he strode over to Bogdan and Mihai and sat opposite them. “Meet Lasko Sagarra. Lasko, meet Bogan and Mihai. Lads, looks like we have a job.”

    ***

    “Thomas Hulne”

    “Who?”

    “Thomas Hulne. I hear you’re looking to hire.”

    Captain exchanged a look with Lochlan. The man facing them was extremely pale, well muscled with stringy blond hair. The light hair added to his ghostly pallor, though there was nothing ghostly about the sword and dagger girded about his waist.

    Captain asked, “What can you do?”

    “I served with the English until recently. Mainly as a scout.”

    Lochlan cocked his head. “Weapons?”

    “I can use this sword and dagger. I can ride and I’m good with a longbow.”

    The ranger stared intently at the younger man. “You said you served with the English?”

    Thomas glanced at the wooden floor, a touch sheepishly. His pale skin reddened. “I was, er, separated from them not so long ago. Been looking to get across the channel ever since.”

    Lochlan raised a hand. “Good enough. You understand we have a contract?”

    “Yes.”

    “You understand we may have to fight your own?”

    “My own?”

    “English. Bandits. We’ve been told these bandits are a mixed lot. English, French, Scottish, Breton, God knows who else.”

    “I’ll fight whoever you ask me to, just so long as I’m paid.”

    “Consider yourself hired, then. Milo will see to any of your equipment needs. Allessandra will see to your pay. Now go enjoy yourself, we’ll be heading out in a few days.”

    Lochlan turned to Captain as Thomas wandered off. “Looks like a good one.”

    LeClerc chuckled. All eyes followed his to the tavern entrance. Standing there like a deer caught in a candle light was a young man, thin featured and fair-skinned. Over his shoulder were two bows--a composite bow and a longbow. The elder statesman of the Free Company smiled and said, “Now there’s a boy who likes to shoot.”
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  17. #17
    October 12th, 1450, The Twisted Sole, St. Malo, Late Afternoon

    Lasko sat across the table from the two men, and laughed nervously. He had been curious, beforehand, to know what sort of rundown the officers were going to give him, and it seemed he was in already.

    "Bogdan? Mihai? I'm pleased to meet you both."

    Bogdan lifted himself proudly. Lasko continued, "I understand we're going against bandits. About time someone dealt with them, I've seen things going on around here that are just awful. Bleeding French bastard sons of bastards, the lot of them." He was going on for the sake of conversation, and looking around to see if he could catch Francoise's attention for more drinks.

  18. #18
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    October 12th, 1450, The Twisted Sole, St. Malo, Late Afternoon



    Wilhelm and Lim Hui strolled into the tavern and stopped to assess the situation. Wilhelm looked around and saw that the tables were starting to fill up quickly as more and more men made their way to the new headquarters. The Captain and the officers were sitting at a long table in front of the hearth. Kent was already quaffing from what was no doubt his umpteenth cup at another table with other men.

    "Damn him," Wilhelm muttered.

    "What was that?" Lim Hui looked at the other man.

    "He beat us here and he's already gotten ahead of me in the drinking," Wilhelm complained.

    "You'll live," Lim Hui chuckled, "You could have some tea, instead."

    The other shuddered, "Bite your tongue. I'm off to report to Kent."

    "Good luck," Lim Hui smirked, "I'm off to see if I can get a game started."

    "Why am I not surprised?" Wilhelm growled.

    He made his way to the table where a line of men were already starting to queue up. Something was in the air. He could feel it. He'd find out soon enough, but if the company was recruiting it had to be some kind of contract. Already.

    "Lieutenant?" He looked directly at Kent and waited.

    "What d'ye want, Wilhelm?" he scowled back, "Can't you see I'm drinking?"

    "Yes, sir," Wilhelm nodded sagely, "I wanted to let you know that the girl has been settled with a local doctor."

    "Why are you bothering me with this?"

    "I thought you might like to question her," Wilhelm shrugged, "You being an officer and all...."

    He let his sentence trail off as he took a look at the other men at the table. Some he knew, the others he didn't.

    This could be interesting....
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  19. #19
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    Oct 12, 1450-Morning: St. Malo Waterfront

    Gaston de Valence took a swallow of wine and grimaced. By the taste, it was cheaper and rougher than the tavern, and the tavern was a dive at the wrong end of the waterfront. The girl who'd served it had a nice smile, but Gaston had been in enough cheap taverns to recognise a professional when he saw one and he doubted the coppers in his pouch would interest her.

    It was time to get out of St Malo. He'd only got in because he'd been so keen to get out of Brittany, and a few days had been enough to get him regretting that decision. At least in Brittany he'd have been paid to stick his neck in the noose. In St Malo, no-one was paying and his neck was just as much at risk, doubly so with no-one to watch his back.

    The problem was how to leave. The town was near enough an island, ships cost money - which was why he'd got off in St Malo in the first place - and the land road's weren't safe unless he could join up with an armed company. This being St Malo, there were no companies, or at least none that were taking outsiders.

    Gaston took another swallow and wondered if his remaning funds would stretch to something better. And then a boy ran in from the dockside shouting about a pirate ship with black sails and Gaston's prospects changed. The locals might not know the rose-and-sword from their own backsides, but you couldn't spend much time in the mercenary business without hearing tales of the Free Company. And if even half the tales were half true, the Free Company were something special. Something every ten-sou mercenary band dreamed of being. A legend.

    Let's just hope they're looking for a few good men...

    He tossed a coin to the girl and asked her directions to the nearest public well. He needed to get cleaned up, and it wasn't likely to happen in here.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    Afternoon

    Gaston strode through the streets of St Malo's richer district with his bill on his shoulder and a scowl on his face for anyone whose expression suggested he didn't belong. He'd debated leaving the halberd - toting it around the good part of town was an open challenge to the Mayor's guards - but he was here to impress soldiers, and you didn't do that with soft words and flowers. Besides he didn't have anywhere to leave it where he was likely to find it again.

    At least he knew where to go. The Free Company was a legend, and you didn't make legends by standing in the shadows. They'd be in the best place in town.
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  20. #20
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    October 12th, 1450, The Twisted Sole, St. Malo, Late Afternoon


    Baer said nothing at that opinion. He'd seen men who looked like they might be good in a fight turn out to be all flash and no stomach for a real battle. He'd reserve judgement until he saw the fellow in action. He flexed his fingers before taking along drink of his ale.

    He grimaced slightly. He'd gotten used to the stuff available at One Thumb's. This was different. He'd get used to it quick enough. He ruminated over the idea of the new contract. Bandits. No honor and less stomach for a stand up fight.

    It meant that it would be a long slogging campaign of hunting the rats down and killing them in dribbles and drabs. Not his favorite kind of work. But he wasn't going to complain.

    In fact it meant that it would give him a chance to work the men hard and get them back into true fighting shape. The voyage had made everyone flabby. Slow and flat footed. This....campaign would allow them the chance to work out and be ready for a real foe in the future.

    Damn Amric, he thought to himself, He'd love this....Cat and Mouse crap. But no, he's off to China to make those buggers pay for attacking the company. At some point he needed to leave and find a training field. It would have to be on the mainland. Doubt if there will be room on this island.

    The burly sergeant continued to size up the recruits who continued to line up in front of Captain and Lochlan.
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