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Thread: The Free Company and the Last Bastion of Empire: Book IV

  1. #1
    The Father of AARland Lord Durham's Avatar
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    The Free Company and the Last Bastion of Empire: Book IV

    The Free Company is almost about 16 months old. What began as an experiment has grown into a form of writer's workshop for those who wish to share in an on-going chronicle based in the world of EU II.

    Over its history the Free Company has brought together some of the best writers on the forum; people who have collaborated to produce extremely memorable story lines and fascinating characters. Many of the contributors have used the experience to create their own AARs.

    The Free Company is plot driven - an ever-evolving tale that features RPG interaction among characters, their surroundings and historical events.

    For those of you familiar with the concept from Burgundy: Origin of the Free Company, King Harry and the Free Company, or The Free Company in Italy: Vae Victis, no further explanation is required.

    For any newcomers who wish to join, or for those who want to read for enjoyment, you'll find the closest similarity is D&D. I sketch out a story line and introduce elements from which the writers respond and interact. Typically one writer will post and leave a 'hook' so another writer can step in and pick up the conversation or action. I refer to this as the 'tag-team' approach. More often than not the writers will have their own subplots, adding further richness to the Free Company world.

    The stories' range from war, campaigns, political situations, quests, battles, even marriages. They will be serious and lighthearted, gripping, sad, and funny.

    The rules are few: Stay within the spirit of the story-telling (i.e. - no silliness or introducing characters who fail to interact, or act in an illogical manner) and no killing off another person's character unless prearranged. Additionally I ask that dates/times be used in the headings for the sake of continuity and less confusion.

    In the past I have asked that any OOC post be accompanied by a legitimate post to cut down on thread clutter. This time around I have introduced an OOC Thread for that purpose. I encourage everyone to use it for conversation, clarification, or questions out side of the game.

    Two additional rules deal with writers who introduce a character, hang around for a few posts then disappear. If it appears the writer will not return, then the character will be assumed to have departed the Company's employ. I know the pace of this AAR is fast and can be complicated at times, so I ask that potential writers who wish to join think about what they're getting into.

    The other rule involves the use of ESP. That is, one person taking a private conversation between two other people and twisting it for their own use, or gain. If it's supposed to be private, how would they know about it?

    Even though the latest version won't be ready until after launch and the all the characters are in place, there will be a rather primitive webpage that shall contain as much background information as possible. Additionally, I will continue the tradition of campaign and battle maps and other maps of interest.

    This is not a closed shop, and new writers are always welcome. If you have an idea for a character then I recommend that you PM me so we can work up an introduction.

    Now, a quick word about the setting:

    This Book takes place approximately 15 years after The Free Company in Italy chronicle. That means you don't have to know the history of the Company if you're starting with a fresh character.

    Past knowledge is a plus, but not a necessity, and I can always fill in some background information by PM, e-mail or on the OOC Thread if you feel overwhelmed.

    I hope you enjoy Book IV.



    NOTE: The first five posts have been prearranged for story setup, so I ask everyone not involved to hold off posting until I give the go ahead. Thanks in advance.
    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.

  2. #2
    Lt. General driftwood's Avatar

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    PRELUDE


    "How fascinating," Sir Jonathan murmurred. "A transcript of the events leading up to the Turco-Roman War of 1438." He sat down on his favorite easy chair, carefully opening the codex. But he landed lower and much harder than he expected; he dropped the codex and yelped in pain.

    "Hasan! HASAN!!!" he bellowed as he levered himself back up with his walking stick. His lazy Mohammedan manservant, whom he had taken in at the age of 7 and brought with him from Alexandria after his travels there, scurried over. He had hoped that Hasan would be a welcome improvement over Abdul, but the latter appeared to have passed on many of his less desirable traits, especially his taste in music.

    "Sir?" he asked innocently.

    "Hasan, where's is my sitting cushion?"

    "It wore through, sir, so you sent it out t'be recovered."

    Sir Jonathan stomped his walking stick in irritation. "By Jove, that was three weeks ago! Where is the infernal thing?"

    "Oh, y'see sir," Hasan began without concern, "first it came back with these hard buttons in a square on the top, an' I knew how sensitive your buttocks are, so I sent it back, an' then it came back in mulberry blue, which looked like mulberry BROWN if y'ask me," - he paused to chortle - "an' I knew how you like your decor
    *just* *so* an' so I---"

    "Hasan! Enough!" Sir Jonathan pulled out his hankerchief and dabbed his forehead. "Just bring me one of my other cushions. AND TURN DOWN THAT BLASTED JAZZ!!!" he shouted after the rapidly disappearing figure.

    "Blessed stars and garters, that racket will be the ruin of everyone who survived the Great War," he murmurred as he slowly stooped to pick up the codex. Luckily, it was undamaged. When he was at last settled, he flipped it open and began to read...


    10 April 1438, by the Christian reckoning

    "I did not lose a father, two uncles, and an eye on the fields of Kosovo to watch lazy peasants tend my herds!" Musa, the ghazi lord, growled. So old that he appeared barely capable of breathing, he nonetheless waved a sword around in front of him with alarming vigor.

    The assembled ghazi roared their agreement. They were united in this: the beys (lords), sipahis (cavalry), and of course the janisseries (the elite corps).

    Murad raised his voice, which easily commanded silence. "Have I not led you to victory time and again? Against the Bosnians and Serbs, against the Hungarians and Greeks, against jealous emirs and khans - you have prospered more than the minds of your lackwitted grandfathers could ever imagine!"

    There was a round of laughter, genuine if reluctant.

    "Ahhhh, the Greeks," Old Musa mused aloud. "Stubborn bastards, never losing a chance to swear oathes to you or your ancestors, great Sultan, then stab you in the eye as you approached to embrace them." He chortled to himself. "Wily, too. Who would have thought they would sell Salonika to the Venetians?"

    Murad gritted his teeth. Musa played the senile fool, but he had cast his barbs with a master's precision. Thessalonica had only fallen to the Turks in 1430, 9 years after the siege began and 7 years after the Venetians had bought the city from the Byzantine Emperor.

    "I remember," Murad said in a deceptively friendly tone, "how they gave money to my brother Mustafa, who rallied quite a few of the warriors here against me in my first days on the throne. I also recall that they led you down the same self-destructive path just two years later. It is a good thing I am here to point out such foolishness, lest you fall into another trap and some less compassionate soul seperates you from your heads."

    Several of the main agitators suddenly thought of some other pressing matter and the gathering broke up as quickly as it had formed. Murad sighed and walked back into his palace at Edirne, thinking troubled thoughts.

    11 April

    Murad reclined on the couch, his quill lifted to write the next line of his poem. His beloved wife Mara, daughter of the Serbian king, reclined beside him, gently running her cool fingers along his neck. Murad strained to express his thoughts in words, but nothing would come. At last, he put aside the paper in exasperation.

    "Another embassy came last night," Mara said when she say that her husband had given up for the time being. "They say that John Palaelogus is taken by the devil and that is why he is trafficking with the western warlock in Rome." As she said this, she devoutly crossed herself.

    Murad sighed. For months now, ever since the Emperor and his brother Demetrios had sailed off to Ferrara, disaffected peasants had been migrating from the almost-vacant Byzantine lands in Thrace.

    "But I suppose that's not their sole complaint?" he asked, knowing the answer.

    Mara smiled. "No, they also saw the Emperor taxes them too much, so they can't eat, and when they try to farm the rich, abandonned land on the plain, the magnates send their guards down from Constantinople to chase them off."

    "I'll tell Hilal to take care of it," Murad said.

    "You're most generous, you know," Mara murmurred as she replaced her cool fingers with her warm lips.

    "Remind me," Murad replied.

    15 April

    "What do you mean you won't trade in Salonika?" Ala ed-Din, heir of the Sultan, shrieked.

    "So sorry, m'lord," the Venetian said unapologetically, "but all our contracts dictate that the trade in furs be conducted via Constantinople. The Emperor just granted extremely generous commercial privileges."

    "But there's no one there to buy any furs!" the prince repeated for the tenth time.

    The Venetian shrugged. "There are enough people. And a contract's a contract. Maybe if the Turkish navy permitted freer traffic through the Bosphorus...."

    Ala ed-Din snorted. "What, so that John can buy back his pawned crown jewels? Didn't they end up in Venice?"

    The Venetian flushed. "I would have to check. I believe our business is done here."

    As the Italian showed himself out, Ala ed-Din glared at an unfurled map of his father's empire. A land of great wealth, full of farms, herds, and craftsmen, but all stymied by that one obstinate city filled with nothing more than ghosts and mercenaries. Clenching his fists, he stormed off to see his father.

    17 April

    Murad poured cups of wine for his two friends, who knew better than to mention the breach of Muslim doctrine. Halil Pasha, the Grand Vizier, and Ishak Pasha, the Second Vizier, had been friends for many years now. Such foibles were no longer even worth mention. Ala ed-Din, however, appeared more uncomfortable.

    "So, you managed to tear yourself away from your Serbian beauty long enough to attend to affairs of state?" Halil asked with a twinkle in his eye.

    Murad kept a straight face. "My business with my Serbian beauty is an affair of state!" The three older men laughed together.

    "Father!" Ala ed-Din interrupted, his face flushed. He put down the untouched wine with distaste. "The Venetians won't trade with us!"

    Murad raised a placating hand. "Yes, Hilal has told me. I will send an ambassador, I'm sure this can be worked out. Oh, Hilal, I need you to settle another group of refugees somewhere in Macedonia."

    Hilal frowned. "All the prime land has been alloted to beys and pashas. There's not even any that the sipahis will take. I will have to put them near Smyrna. Soon there will be no Greeks in Europe and no Turks in Asia!" No one laughed this time.

    "I know ..." Murad sighed. "Do you know that I've often dreamed of leaving all this behind, of retiring to some monastery where I could meditate and write my poetry? Of course, I would have to find a sheikh who would not object to Mara's presence," he added with a weak smile.

    There was a long moment of silence. "Very well. Summon my council for tomorrow."

    18 April

    Ibrahim rode hard along the old Roman road leading east from Edirne. He had to fight a flood of nobles and warriors coming the opposite direction, for the Sultan's council.

    The gathering was as boisterous as the week before, even if it was smaller. Old Musa was sitting near the front, proudly wearing the colors of the Emir of Karaman. Several other ghazi lords were clustered about him. A bad sign.

    Hilal Pasha twisted his fingers unhappily. Like his master, he had no taste for war, although also like his master he had won every campaign resoundingly. Now, he was more concerned with the fractious coalition of emirs and beys which supported Murad. Time and again he had urged the Sultan to do away with them and rule their lands directly, but Murad had no desire to usurp their powers, as he put it.

    Suddenly he stumbled on something and sprawled forward, cursing loudly. "What!"

    A boy of seven, with a toy sword in his hand, thwacked him in the shin as hard as he could. Hilal had to bite his lip not to howl. "Get away from me!" he shouted, kicking the boy hard in the back.

    Mehmed went tumbling away, screaming through tears of rage. Murad's son by an unfavored slave girl, Huma Hatun, he was universally ignored. But he remembered the mean vizier; he would get him one day!

    "Order! Order!" Murad was shouting. Gradually, the group settled down. "I have come to tell you that your swords will not be idle this spring!"

    There was a loud roar. "We, the sons of Orghuz the Turk, of Osman Bey, of Orhan and Murad and Bayezid the Thunderbolt, Sultans of the Ghazi all, Khans and Hetmans, will ride out once more! And this time, for the greatest prize on Earth: Constantinople herself!"

    There was a sudden silence. "The city cannot be taken! Let us attack someplace weaker, like Serbia!" cried a man from Candar. He was greeted by murmurs of agreement.

    "We will not attack Serbia. We have a treaty with the king, which he has honored. I will not be the first to---"

    "Perhaps your pretty Serbian girl has you under her powers, instead?" sneered another from Karaman.

    "I think you had best consider your remarks more carefully, Kemal," Murad said in a thin tone. Instantly, the janisseries lining the hall snapped to attention, their hands going to their swords. The room fell deathly quiet.

    "Do not presume to threaten us, ghazi lord!" Old Musa spoke into the silence. "We are not your slave-boys, like the janisseries, and you are not our king. So go fight your doomed war without the men of Karaman and Candar." As if that had been a signal, a solid third of the men rose and left the hall.

    Murad watched them go in shock, only now realizing that the whole thing had been staged. Another man, sumptuously attired, rose.

    "Do not worry, my friend. You will not fight your foes - Christian or Muslim - alone. So speaks the Emir of Teke." Murad nodded his thanks, his expression slowly hardening.

    "Grand Vizier, put out the standard of seven horses' tails. We march to war - and first we go to Anatolia."

    *******************************


    Ibrahim was led to the palace of the Blacherae, where he was forced to endure the long and torturous ceremonial for an imperial audience. At last, he was allowed to hand his message over to a courtier, who gave it to the Domestic, who gave it to the Hypersebastocrator, who gave it to the Constantine, the Emperor's brother and regent. It read:

    Ioannes VIII Palaeologos, Emperor of the Romans, Basileos Rhomaoi, Co-Equal of the Apostles and God's Vice-Regent on Earth;
    Constantine, Regent in his absence;

    In the days of our fathers, Mehmed and Manuel, there was friendship between our peoples. My grandfather and your grandfather fought the same enemies who would have placed their puppet usurper on your throne. My father put down a revolt by your brother against your father. I have offered you nothing but friendship.

    Yet for each embrace we have attempted, you have responded with a harsh rebuke. Treacherous attacks, support for pretenders to the throne, extortion of ransom, a slow stranglation of the trade which is rightfully ours through our possession of the Marmara and Aegean seas; these are not the acts of friends. You are already fighting a war in all but name, perhaps waiting only for whatever help you can beg for from the uncaring Aragonese or Burgundians.

    No more. There will be order in the world, as Allah intended it. Constantinople, called by my people The City, Istanbul, shall be reunited with its rightful empire. I will restore its walls, its aqueducts, its markets, and its schools. The docks will once more be thronged with merchants and fishermen. I will even grant you an honorable life, free from restraints, lacking no creature or spiritual comfort. Simply open your gates and put an end to this conflict before it begins.

    For I warn you that I will not be turned back. I have new weapons, the likes of which you have never seen. I have soldiers more numerous than the grains of sand in the Mediterranean. My armada will sink any ship that attempts to bring even a letter of comfort to your disease-ridden, demoralized garrison. And should I be forced to knock aside your decrepit walls by force, I will have no choice but to grant my army the traditional three days of pillage.

    Think wisely, John, for the fate of your city and all who dwell therein lies in the balance.

    Slave of God, powerful with the power of God, deputy of God on earth, obeying the commands of the Qur'an and enforcing them throughout the world, master of all lands, the shadow of God over all nations, Sultan of Sultans in all the lands of the Romans and the Ghazi, the seventh Sultan of the Ottoman Khans, Sultan, son of Sultan, Bearing the Name of the Victor at the Field of Blackbirds, Murad Khan
    Last edited by Lord Durham; 09-09-2002 at 00:07.

  3. #3
    not a beta for HoI3 Moderator Derek Pullem's Avatar
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    Frederick Pohlman wiped the sweat from his brow and cursed the Arab holding the ladle.

    “Slowly, slowly, fool. Much heat make gun crack!” he shouted in execrable Arabic. The Arab looked at him blankly but stopped pouring the metal into mould. Pohlman sighed and grabbing a pair of heavy gloves took the molten metal from the hapless smith and carefully finished the delicate process of casting the gun. He signalled his assistant to close off the mould and wandered out of the foundry into the sunlight. The glare of the late afternoon sun forced him to shade his eyes and he did not see Spiros waiting for him until the wiry Greek spoke to him.

    “All done?” asked Spiros

    “Can’t tell till we break the mould. Best if we let it cool slowly, I don’t think I could face another attempt at casting the gun again. What brings you here?” replied Pohlman.

    “The Turks want to know when their guns will be ready. I said I’d enquire. It stopped those damned Janissaries from crawling all over the foundry any way”

    “Good man! The less those Janissaries understand about gun making the longer we retain our value to the Sultan. How did we get into this mess, Spiros?”

    “You know better than me, sir. After all it was you who took the contract from the Empire”

    “I know, you’re right. But it seemed so sensible at the time……”

    Pohlman recalled the day of his departure from the Free Company’s employ, three years ago. He and Spiros had agreed to work for the Eastern Emperor to upgrade the guns in the great city of Constantinople. It was Hobson’s choice really. Europe had quietened down after the anarchy of the early 20’s. France had been divided between England, Burgundy and the King of France. All sides appeared happy to consolidate their positions. Young King Henry had passed on before his son could claim the birthright that the Free Company had helped win in France and the French King had abrogated the Treaty he signed. Burgundy was playing both sides against each other as usual.

    Italy had settled down into a protracted war of manoeuvre and politics, which did not suit the indiscriminate approach of a bombardier. In fact Pohlman wasn’t sure if there had been any casualties in the last two skirmishes. He was sure that the Sforza’s had forbid him to bring his cannon to the field.

    In Germany, the Hussite wars continued their bloody way through Bohemia and the Empire. Pohlman might have craved some action but going up against the Hussites did not appeal to his sense of self preservation.

    So when the offer of employment arrived from the East, it seemed like a heaven sent opportunity. The only drawback was Dieter, his son. At 11 years old he was too young to accompany his father to Constantinople and as the contract was only for a year there was really no need. His mother had tragically died in childbirth, so the Company adopted him as one of its own. Otto had helped Frederick raise the young boy, tutoring him in all the arts and histories he had learnt at University. So Frederick had been happy to leave the lad in the care of the Company.

    But Constantinople proved to be a very different place from the promises of the contract. Almost from the start the Emperor’s bureaucrats had refused to provide the materials required, had charged him extortionate rates for provisions and had refused to give him free access around the city. After six months, after Spiros had been badly beaten by some over zealous captain on suspicion of heresy, they resolved to escape from the city. But they were forced to flee with nothing apart from the clothes on their back and a miserable sackful of possessions.

    With no money for passage on a boat and no desire to risk recapture by the Byzantines, they were forced to brave the land route through Thrace and Macedonia. They had made only a few days travel from Constantinople when they were apprehended by a local Turkish patrol. Fortunately the local commander had a good command of Greek and Spiros was able to convince him that they were not Byzantine spies. They had thought that the galley was to deliver them to Brindisi but the commander had other ideas.

    They were taken to Edirne, where the Sultan was gathering a new army. There the Sultan offered them a deal they could not refuse. Help him cast the largest siege guns in the world and they would be returned to Italy, richly rewarded. Or don’t and suffer the displeasure of the Sultan.

    That was over two years ago, Pohlman mused. He had not seen Dieter in over three years. He’d be a young man now.

    A shout interrupted his thoughts.

    “Hungarian. Come here!” A Janissary officer called to him in Greek.

    “Bavarian, sir, Bavarian” corrected Pohlman

    “Come. Murad meets with his generals. They need to know about the guns”
    "I NOW INFORM YOU THAT YOU ARE TOO FAR FROM REALITY."

    Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, (ex-) Iraqi Minister for Information

  4. #4
    Field Marshal MrT's Avatar

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    CHAPTER ONE: THE GATHERING


    July 16th, 1438 ? Mid Afternoon - The Cathedral of Ferrara

    John VIII Palaeologus, Emperor of the Byzantine ?Empire? (although this was little more, now, than a large walled city full of Romanoi and displaced Greeks), shifted slightly in his throne to ease the ache that has begun to spread throughout his lower back.

    The ornate seat had been brought all the way to Italy in the Emperor?s ship - most carefully packed in a large crate ? from its usual resting place in the great audience chamber of his palace in Constantinople, and now occupied a space on the Epistle side of the magnificently carved and beautifully appointed altar in the Cathedral of Ferrara. A second throne - currently vacant - sat on the Gospel side of the Altar, awaiting the election of the next Holy Roman Emperor alter the recent death of its previous occupant ? Emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg. Rumour had it that the Austrian child, Arch Duke Ladislaus, was the most likely candidate; although given the whispers that floated around regarding the lack of support for the questionable regency of the lad?s uncle, Friedrich von Habsburg, it was anyone?s guess who the Electors might eventually select in the currently session of the Reichstag.

    Ultimately, he supposed, it would matter very little, although the thought of a young and malleable Ladilaus sent shivers down his spine. There was a distinct possibility, he had been told, that a civil war was in the offing between Austria and her vassals. While he usually cared very little for internal foreign political matters, this particular situation was one that could have the gravest of consequences?for war within the Germanies meant that the Sultan would feel less pressure to control his always aggressive and land-hungry beys, and this could ultimately cause his current anti-Ottoman policy to backfire?

    It gave him a headache just thinking about it. And a back ache.

    Another thing that was contributing to John?s increasingly foul temperament and discomfort was the seemingly endlessly circular heated debate unfolding before him. The Cathedral?s nave - usually a large open space that permitted the faithful to worship their God without physical or visual obstruction ? was now blocked by a large, heavy, long, rectangular oaken table, with its perfectly polished and parchment-covered top, and many intricately carved legs. The hard wooden chairs, placed on opposing sides of the table, were occupied by a mixed sea of Episcopal purple, Cardinal red, and an assortment of the latest fashions from such near and far-flung regions as Italy, Muscowy, France, Rhodes, Forli, Ragusa?.and of course his own beloved Constantinople.

    The current speaker - Cardinal Niccolo Albergati - had a strong, resonating voice that echoed loudly from the high arched ceiling of the cathedral and was easily heard?although John?s Latin was a little weak and he frequently had to lean over to the translator, who knelt beside his throne, to get the specific details of the man?s presentation. Even in such preliminary council sessions as this, it simply didn?t suffice to merely get the ?gist? of an argument; for any concessions that he made, ill-advisedly or out of hand, would almost certainly bring down recriminations and wrath from Joasaph, the Patriarch of John?s city and de facto head of the Orthodox Church.

    There was no doubt about it, either. The Catholic Church?s two principal speakers - this Cardinal Niccolo and his seeming partner, the Cardinal Giuliano Cesarini ? were slippery orators who could have you agree to something that seemed so harmless, but could easily have unforeseen and far-reaching repercussions. John shuddered to think what terrible mistakes he might have made had he not been accompanied by some of his spiritual and liturgical advisors.

    To ?protect? him from making egregious errors, John?s massive 700-man retinue included many of the Empires greatest theological minds. Besides Joasaph, Patriarch of Constantinople, one of the more vocal members was the irascible Isidore of Kiev who seemed, to John, to be almost excessively zealous in his representations on behalf of the Patriarch of Antioch. Certainly there were matters of faith that should be discussed until both sides were satisfied; but to spend the better part of a week ? as they were now - simply butting heads over a single word?well, he would never have dreamed that ?purgitorio? could be this large or divisive an issue?

    Looking down at ?his? side of the table, and noticing the sudden red flush in Isodore?s face, John came to the sinking realisation that this was indeed going to be something that involved even more debate and heated discussion. He almost smiled as the thought struck him that at this rate the Council threatened to give them all a perfect understanding of ?purgatory?, whether they wanted to or not - for John was thoroughly convinced that he was already experiencing the greatest depths it. He contemplated signalling to Joasaph to try to forestall Isodore from responding to whatever it was the Cardinal has said to infuriate him, but decided not to bother. The attempt would almost certainly be futile since, knowing Isodore, he would have his say one way or another.

    A door opening at the back of the cathedral, suddenly spilling a wedge of sunlight on the cool flagstone floors that immediately distracted him, and he was surprised to see his chief?now what did the Italians call him?ah yes?major domo had enter the hallowed building. The man seemed to be carrying a scroll of some sort, and quickly ? irreverently so, in fact ? made his way up the side of the aisle to stop at the corner of the table. There, he leaned down to whisper something in Demetrius? ear.

    John watched as his brother listened to the major domo?s words, and then accepted the scroll from the man?s hand. Thereupon Demetrius excused himself quietly to the assembly, pushed back his chair, and rose to his feet. In an incredible breach of protocol, he crossed in front of the altar without stopping to cross himself, and immediately strode up the broad shallow stairs to stand before John?s throne.

    ?This is an urgent message for you from our brother Constantine. His instructions to the messenger, apparently, were to interrupt you ? regardless of where you were or what you were doing ? and to tell you that this is a matter of the most extreme urgency and that it demands your immediate attention.?

    John arched an eybrow, taking the scroll from his sibling, and examined the seal. It bore the correct markings of the regent?s office ? the heavy ring he had given to Constantine upon his departure for this Seventeenth Ecumenical Council in Ferrara, at the invitation of Pope Eugene IV ? and it appeared that no efforts had been made to tamper with it.

    He cracked the red wax blob and unravelled the document, only to find a second message rolled up inside it that fell out to lie precariously on his lap. It took him only a few moments to read his brother Constantine?s neat script, and then he quickly scanned the other scroll, written in the sloped and awkward script of one who was obviously more accustomed to communicating in Arabic.

    Holy mother of God! The fucking bastard!

    The voices below him suddenly came to an abrupt halt and John realised, to his horro and embarrassment, that he had spoken these words aloud. Clearing his throat noisily, he handed the parchments back to Demetrius - motioning that it was his wish that his brother read them as well ? and stood to address the assembly.

    ?We must most humbly beg your pardon, but We have just received a very great shock. It appears that the heathen dog who is Our neighbour ? Murad Khan, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire ? has declared war on Our people. Under the circumstances you will understand that We must insist that this day?s session be brought to an immediate close so that We might consult with Our advisors ? both spiritual and temporal. We thank you for your indulgence, and We will wish to address you on the morrow when We have had time to consider Our necessary course.?

    With that, John bowed shortly to the Latin Cardinals, Bishops, and lay-brethren, descended the steps from his throne, turned and crossed himself in front of the altar, and then swept down the nave to exit the main doors where he trusted he would find his horse and carriage waiting. The sound of chair legs scraping on stone behind him told John that his council was quickly falling in behind.

    * * * * *

    Later that evening

    ??so we are all agreed then??

    ?Yes, my Emperor,? replied Demetrius; and the balance of the men in the gathering at John?s temporary residence also nodded their assent to his plans.

    On the morrow, John would address the assembly at the Cathedral of Ferrara and request a two week hiatus from the Council?s preliminary proceedings. He would then quickly depart for Venice where he would seek an immediate audience with the Doge and his highly influential ? not to mention wealthy - Council of Ten.

    With any luck the Venetians would agree to risk running Murad?s threatened blockade, and would continue shipping goods and supplies into Constantinople. With even greater fortune ? a bad choice of wards, that - perhaps they would also agree to offer men and equipment?although John shuddered to think of the exorbitant prices they would demand for their services.

    A Venetian declaration of all-out war with the Ottoman Empire would be ideal, but given the current situation he felt that such support was highly unlikely ? particularly as the ?Eastern Schismatics?, as the Catholics referred to he and his Orthodox brethren, were not exactly in favour at the moment and their ?relief? would not merit a holy crusade. Perhaps some sort of treaty of access might be negotiated, though, which would be a start.

    It was also just possible, John mused, plotting, that he could find a way to leverage his discussions and ultimate disposition to the Catholic Council to bring about such a crusade. By promising a return of Catholicism to Constantinople, thus bringing an end to the centuries-old schism between the churches, perhaps he could convince Pope Eugene IV to call for a general crusade and thus light a religious fire under the westerners. With the Catholic Church sanctioning reprisals against the heathens, this holy incentive might be enough to bring some of the Kings of Europe to Anatolia to mount an offensive against the overly-aggressive and acquisitive Sultan. This would have to wait until the Council reconvened, though, and John was not looking forward to the next couple of weeks where he would likely be treated as little better than a religious pariah.

    Dismissing the men, John caught a signal from Demetrius who indicated that he wished to remain behind to speak privately to his Emperor. Nodding assent, he then saw his brother move to speak briefly with one of the cataphracts commanders ? A ?Sir Severus?, if John recalled the man?s name ? who then also stayed in the room as the others filed out.

    ?My brother,? Demetrius began when the three men were alone. ?This is Lord Commander Sir Severus.?

    ?Yes??

    ?He wishes to accompany me on the mission I am assigned?more specifically, he wishes to travel to Florence as a member of my embassy to Duke Cosimo di Medici. While we are there, he suggests that we should pay a visit to a mercenary company that he believes is currently in residence in or about the city. Their commander goes simply by the name of ?Captain?, and apparently he leads a small but highly trained force of fighting men that Sir Severus asserts could be of very great value to our cause - if their services may be retained.?

    ?Tell Us more, Sir Severus.?

    ?My Emperor,? said the cataphract bowing deeply. ?I once served under this man, ?Captain?, in a war against Sienna and then against the Venetians. He worked very closely, at the time, with both Florence?s Duke di Medici, and also with a man that I later learned was none other than Francesco Sforza. His men were fearsome warriors, possessing of great bravery and incredible discipline - even when faced with overwhelming odds ? and Captain?s abilities as a commander of men are almost without parallel ? excepting, of course, my Emperor?s obvious superiority in such matters. I would trust him with my life, and the lives of my men, if it came to a pitched battle against the heathens.?

    ?This man sounds interesting, but why does he remain in Florence??

    ?After the campaign that I mentioned, my Emperor, he decided to ?retire? and settle down. His company ? called ?The Free Company? ? was transformed into a teaching cadre. I believe that many of his veterans chose to stay with him for a time ? although some have undoubtedly drifted away over the fifteen or so years since the school was formed ? and I have no doubt that he has replaced those who departed with men of equal quality. In short, my Emperor, if he could be moved to aid us I believe that he would be an immense boon to Byzantium?s cause.?

    ?Very well, then, Sir Severus. You will accompany my brother Demetrius? embassy to Florence and then guide him to a place where he may meet this ?Captain?. Demetrius, you will both speak to this man and inquire as to his availability and the price of his services. If he is truly as good as Sir Severus says ? perhaps he would be willing to have his men display their talents to you? ? then We authorise you to enter into a contract with his Free Company. Try not to offer him too much up front, for it is Our fear that We will need every ounce of gold to pay the exorbitant rates that the Venetians are likely to extort from Us.?

    Demetrius nodded grimly.

    ?No matter what happens, though, We will expect you to return here to Ferrara with all haste ? and certainly by no later than the end of the first week of October. It is most likely that We will then send you to return to Our city and assist with the defences. If you feel it prudent, you may leave Sir Severus with this Free Company to act as Our liaison with him ? although We will leave the details up to you to work out.?

    Sir Severus, John noticed, seemed secretly delighted at the possibility that he might reacquaint himself with the Captain?s company. This would bear watching.

    ?Is there ought else??

    ?Not at this time, my Emperor and brother. I will go and make my preparations, and I will leave for Florence with tomorrow?s dawn.?

    ?We wish you luck with both of your embassies, brother. We are sorely in need of any aid you are able to secure.?
    Last edited by Lord Durham; 09-09-2002 at 00:08.
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  5. #5
    Major EmprorCoopinius's Avatar
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    July 21'st, Florence

    Lord Commander Gaius Septimius Severus, strategos of the Empire rode alongside the Emperor's brother as they wound through the Florentine outskirts. The retinue behind them, 20 hand picked men rode in column behind the two, 10 to each side, resplendant in their lamellar armor. The illusion of strength, even when everyone knew you were not strong, was key. Reining his mount in slightly, he scanned the Italians bustling about their daily business.

    "This Captain of who you speak...how was it you came to be in Italy at all to make his acquaintance?"

    Demetrius looked at Gaius quizzically, slowing his horse to keep pace with Severus'

    "It was in 1423. I came west after the catephract I had commanded was disbanded. The familial lands I had title to had been confiscated by the Athenians after ther revolt," He shrugged slightly. "I had no wish for some....bureaucratic post, and so I came to the West. I even assembled a catephract here, of a sort."

    Demetrius raised an eyebrow and looked at him. "Seriously?"

    "Of course, my liege. They were steppelanders, the majority, but they melded well enough for a time."

    The traffic of the city was now considerably congested, with wagons, horses, and milling throngs on foot making the formation of the Byzantines hard to maintain.

    "The Free Company Military Academyl should be close by now. I heard that Captain had set up in an old fortress, rather close to the de Medici palace. If Your Excellency would prefer I to make the initial arrangements with Captain while you rest and await the remainder of your train?"

    "Not at all Sir Severus. Let us go directly to the Academyl. I already know what the Venetians will say, all that will be negotiated is how much they mean to extort."

    "As Your Excellency wishes." Spurring his horse forward, Severus waved four of the catephracti forward and let them surround Demetrius while he led the way through the Florentine streets. It had been some time since he had been here, but his memeory was quite vivid. Taking a final turn, Severus saw the side of a large stone wall, running perhaps 500 feet behind the street. A gatehouse was visible further down the road, and the clanging of arms could easily be heard, even over the din of the street.

    Riding forward purposefully, Septimius stopped at the gate. The portcullis was open, and he awaited Demetrius, who bade his protectors to reform behind the two of them in column. Riding through the stone gate, Septimius led them all into a large courtyard where al least a hundred men were training, some with polearms, others with swords, bows, axes, halberds, and some weapons he could only begin to recognize. Looking about for someone in command, he saw the pathway leading to the interior of the fort, as well as another path, presumably leading to stables and armories.

    "Gaius Septimius Severus. It's been a long time."

    Turning, a smile already beginning to play across his lips, Severus faced Captain, who had appeared from the mass of men, some he had apparently been tutoring.

    "Captain. It has indeed. If I may present Demetrius, brother of the Emperor of the Romanoi, John VIII"

    Captain bowed and addressed Demetrius in his fluent Greek, eliciting another look of surprise from Demetrius in turn.

    "It is a rare honor to entertain both a member of the Byzantine royalty and a former officer of mine. To what do I owe the occasion?'

    "Unfortunately, the situation is a grave one. The Ottoman Emperor has begun to marshal his armies, and seeks to extinguish forever the light of Rome. We are here, Captain, to ask for your help."
    Last edited by EmprorCoopinius; 05-09-2002 at 00:20.

  6. #6
    The Father of AARland Lord Durham's Avatar
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    July 21, 1438 - Florence

    Captain scratched at the back of his neck, idly watching Lieutenant Lochlan and Sergeant Alv move through the chaotic mass of bodies that filled the center courtyard. His well practiced eye grazed across the latest batch of students, separating the hopeful from the hopeless, the average from the bad, and the good from the most promising - the few who displayed the greatest potential.

    Here the trainees knew no rank or class distinction. That was Captain's first rule of admittance. It was a rule carried from the days when the Free Company fought across Europe and carved a name for itself on the blood of their enemies. The Company was home. The Company looked after its own.

    But now the Company was a school. It was an institution that trained the sons of Dukes, Knights, Lords, land-owners, merchants, and no small amount of wanderers and adventurers - anyone willing to pay for the privilege of having their martial knowledge and pride stripped away and rebuilt through hours and days of rigorous training.

    A drop of sweat stung Captain's eye and he wiped at his brow, glancing up at the mid-afternoon summer sky. It was near time to call a break. He caught Lochlan's eye and flashed a hand signal, a subtle message to be wary of the heat. The seasoned Ranger nodded, almost imperceptibly, then flicked his jaw in a direction behind the Company commander.

    Captain turned and saw an entourage enter through the open gates of the Academy, their livery betraying the retinue as Byzantines. He arched an eyebrow and moved to intercept. At the last moment Captain recognized a face he hadn't seen in years. "Gaius Septimius Severus. It's been a long time."

    Severus faced Captain, a smile playing on his lips. "Captain. It has indeed. If I may present Demetrius, brother of the Emperor of the Romanoi, John VIII."

    Captain bowed and addressed Demetrius in fluent Greek, eliciting a look of surprise from the Emperor's brother. "It is a rare honor to entertain both a member of the Byzantine royalty and a former officer of mine. To what do I owe the occasion?"

    "Unfortunately, the situation is a grave one. The Ottoman Emperor has begun to marshal his armies, and seeks to extinguish forever the light of Rome. We are here, Captain, to ask for your help."

    Captain seldom showed emotion when it suited him, but he couldn't help his surprise at the simple pronouncement. "You talk of war?"

    Demetrius nodded gently, his head regally inclined. "The Infidel has seen fit to strike us down. It is his wish to rid the world of the Byzantine and threaten the west with their heathen teachings. As the last bastion of all that is holy we must not allow that to happen. We must face the coming evil and throw it back."

    Captain crossed his arms. "And to do that you need my help?"

    "Lord Commander Severus has spoken highly of you. He claims you have knowledge of the Turk. He claims you have fought the Turk. You know their methods of warfare."

    "Aye, Severus speaks the truth. I know the Turk, and I know the Mameluks. God knows I have butchered enough of them in my younger years."

    "Your words do little to hide your bitterness. Surely God has forgiven you!"

    "Forgiveness? Yes, God has forgiven me. It was God whose name I murdered in - man, woman, and child. Yes, God has indeed forgiven me, he had no choice. But I haven't forgiven myself, or Him."

    As regal as his bearing was, Demetrius stiffened at the sacrilege. "Perhaps you were in error, Lord Commander Severus. I believe this man will not help us."

    Captain looked from Demetrius to Severus. He saw the pleading look in the cataphract's eye. His gaze shifted to the men, now milling about casually in the grand courtyard. He saw curious looks from Lochlan and Alv, from Otto and the few veterans who had remained behind. Finally he settled on the flag...

    The Free Company flag stood in the center of the courtyard, a silent reminder of a long ago past. A gentle, gusting breeze stirred the black on black standard, snapping the material to display a silver skull with crossed broadswords, a black rose gripped in a dead mouth - the words Free Company splayed boldly across the top. And across the bottom, their unholy motto: Death Rides With You

    Captain closed his eyes, his mind racing back to those years after his loss of faith and before he began the life of a mercenary. He thought of his mentor, Syban, and the lessons in life the old man had imparted, his knowledge and wisdom. He thought of their journey to Constantinople - that majestic city, decadent in all it's splendor, the last vestige of a once mighty empire.

    A horse whinnied.

    Captain opened his eyes and glanced up at Demetrius, brother to the Byzantine Emperor. He cracked a half smile, "Constance is going to be mighty pissed at me."


    * * *


    Later in the day Captain stood with Lochlan, Alv and Otto, watching the Byzantine delegation ride off to meet with Cosimo di Medici. The men looked neither pleased nor displeased at the news.

    "When do we leave?" Alv asked, his small frame deceptive in its wiry strength and veteran reflexes.

    The mercenary commander shrugged, "We have to get the word out first."

    Lochlan thumbed in the general direction of the Academy barracks, "There's a lot of good men in there. Some of them may be willing."

    Captain grunted, "We'll see." He rubbed his forehead, pushing back a shock of brown hair streaked with grey. "We have lots to do yet. We'll need to recruit some decent numbers, arrange arms and supplies, coordinate with the Byzantines, plan a strategy..."

    "Arrange transportation."

    "Aye, I have plans for that. I've already sent Dieter to Livorno. I believe Jonasz Piediwicz is currently docked in the port town."

    "Will the Cypriot help us, after all these years?"

    "I think so."

    There was a long moment of silence. Finally Alv said, "We'll need a meeting place to screen the men. Somewhere with a relaxed atmosphere and good ale."

    Lochlan and Otto rolled their eyes. Lochlan made to smack Alv on the back of the head. "That's no problem. Stroph owns the 'Locanda del Edgewater' in town, over by the Arno. I'm sure he won't mind letting us use it for recruiting. The successful applicants can be billeted and trained here, if need be."

    The Commander grinned, "This is starting to sound like the old days."

    Alv looked wistful. "Speaking of the old days, I wonder how many will respond to the call."

    The men took on somber expressions, each lost in old memories. Finally, Captain said, "Let's go. We have much to do."

    And the word went out...
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  7. #7
    Prodigal Son Craig Ashley's Avatar

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    July 16th - Venice

    Stroking the long hairs on his chin, the stranger poured another drink. The saloon wasn't very busy, and he had a table all to himself. He was drinking whiskey, but not too much. It never paid to have one's senses dulled. He was also thinking about the days events.

    After receiving word to ride back to Venice, he and his men left Budapest and made it back to Venice in less than two weeks. Mongolian horses were used to being ridden hard. Upon arriving at the lush home of Senor Leone, they were left to sit. Finally the fat, little merchant showed his arrogant face. He wasn't happy. It was true that the Hun hired by Leone's rival was getting the best of him, but how can anyone fight against such numbers? With less than 90 horsemen, it wasn't even a contest. Not when the opponent has 150 light cavalry, another 150 heavy, and 500 footmen. If that pompous ass didn't have a death grip on every ducat that passed his way, there may have been enough money to hire new men. Without reinforcements it was simply a question of math.

    Typical of the squat Italian, he blamed his hired hands. It took a fair amount of self control to not use the scimitar to trim that ridiculously thin mustache. Surprisingly Leone did pay them. Maybe he heard what happened in Narva. Of course it wasn't the full amount. Again the scimitar called to him. Resisting once again, he left. This would not be forgotten, but it was neither the time or the place. Out of work, he came here to sit and sulk a while.

    Suddenly a loud voice called out to him. A very large man came down the stairs with a big grin. When he sat down, he engulfed the rickety chair. Mercifully, it held. He spoke. No one else in the bar understood their strange language.

    “Seems there's some work over in Venice.”

    No reply.

    “The girl heard about it last night from some Greek. I love these Italian women.”

    “Remember that you pay for these women. They'll tell you anything you want to hear.”

    Laughter. “No, my friend, I know this one. Visited her the first time we were in town. Remember?” The heavy man paused for just a second. “And all the times in between.”

    The stranger replied with one word. “Details?”

    “Don't have 'em. Just something about the bastard Turks and something called the Free Company.”

    “Free Company? I've heard of them, once or twice.”

    “Good or bad?”

    “Mostly good. Spent a lot time fighting here in Italy. I remember Leone mentioning them.” The merchant's name caused a small flare in his nostrils. “Tell Gao to quit meditating and have him prepare the men. You prepare our horses. Tonight, we ride to Florence. It's better than rotting in this cess pool.”

    The large man got up and did as he was told. Alone again, the stranger sat with a menacing grin. Almost inaudibly he said to himself. “Well, Captain, are you ready to meet Huran Shu'tu?”

    With that he arose and left.
    Last edited by Craig Ashley; 06-09-2002 at 04:47.
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  8. #8
    An Arabian-looking man walked through the crowd, towards the flag of the Free Company. He had a beard hanging down to his waist, a turban adorned with jewels, and a long sword at his side. When he drew close, he stopped a man and asked if he knew the location of a man called Captain. The man said he would fetch him, and the Arabian leaned against the flagpole. Abdul Ali could wait a while longer. He was assured of pay, even if he and his Bedouin tribe weren't hired. He just had to stay near the Free Company.

  9. #9
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    Exclamation Livorno

    Yusuf stood on the deck of the galley, pacing. “What is going on?” he demanded of one of the Genoan sailors. “We were supposed to stop in Genoa to deliver the cargo, and then the convoy would sail for Alexandria. Instead we’re stopped over in some pissant Italian port.”

    The sailor shrugged. “The Captain’s sick, so we’ve stopped for a physician. Relax.”

    ”Do you always stop whenever a captain gets sick? Inshallah, no wonder you lost to the Venetians.” Ignoring the withering look from the sailor, Yusuf walked into the harbor.

    Behind him came his best friend and mentor, Nasir. “You must be calm, Yusuf. Things shall not remain as they are. Your men are brave, and their swords are sharp.”

    It was dusk now, and the two Moors stood in the twilight. “My crossbow is not stained with the blood of my brother or that damn Turk, Mustafa. I go to Mecca on the hajj, and to find a new life. Now I’m stranded in some Florentine port, and I should be calm?”

    Nasir smiled. “It is as God wills. The men could use a break, and your finances are stretched, but can afford a night on the town.” He grinned. “Even if it is Italian. Who knows? Maybe you were meant to be here.”

    The two walked through the streets of the town, looking for a respectable inn. Finally entering one, they sat down in a corner. The men inside looked up, and stared at the two Moors. Yusuf stared back, and put his hilt on his scimitar.

    They suddenly found their drinks interesting once more.

    Yusuf ordered a Chicken and a jar of wine. Taking a sip, he reflected. “There are advantages,” he mused, “to knowing when not to take your faith that seriously.” He took another large swallow.

    Over the course of the night, several more jars of wine went to the side of the table. Finally, things grew quiet. Yusuf stared at the fire for a moment, reflecting. “You know,” he said, “I wouldn’t have minded it so much if it was just my brother. But that Ottoman ambassador was slippery as an eel.”

    ”What will you do, then? An eye for an eye? Take down Murad?” Nasir had evidently drunk a bit of wine himself.

    “Oh, no. Just Mustafa. But it’s not like anyone’s going to pay me to lead my men into battle against the Turks, will they?”

    The two paid, and staggered back to the ship. Yusuf slept late, thinking of his home, his kingdom, and his father. Finally, towards the middle of the morning, there was a knock on the door of his cabin.

    “Yusuf,” began Abdul. “Remember what we talked about last night?”
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  10. #10
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    July 21, 1438

    Stroph looked over the tables at his inn, Locanda del Edgewater. His inn... he never would have believed that he would be here, with these men again. He limped over towards the front door and unlocked it. His bad leg had never healed and he would walk with a pronounced limp for the rest of his life.

    He thought back to those last hectic days in Italy. He had thought he had had enough of war and fighting. When he had been nursed back to health by his lovely Beck'i and had had to leave the Free Company, he had tearfully told the Captain that he felt like he was leaving his own Father. Each and every man in the FC was his brother. He would do anything for them.

    Back in Avergnon, he and Beck'i had bought a manor and had settled down. Nine children had followed quickly, proving that not everything was crippled with his leg. His pride and joy were his four daughters, but most of his time was spent working with his eldest son, Tomas. Tomas was a bundle of energy and half the time Stroph felt he was lecturing the boy and the other half of the thime he was trying to get him out of trouble. In the end, it was Tomas that caused Stroph to buy this Inn where the FC was based. He hoped that moving Tomas to a new environment where there were men of honor would help the boy.

    Enough silly dreaming, Stroph thought. It was time to open the Inn. He unlocked the door. To his surprise, he found the Captain and Lochlan standing outside his door....
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  11. #11
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    July 21, 1438 - Florence

    After Captain calls a break, the students all rest in whichever fashion they feel gets them the most rest. The training is gruling, and they are all happy to steal a break any chance they get. Every last one of them is exhausted, but they are all happy to be in the Free Company Academy. One who had especially benifitted from the school was one Dekkeret von Lichtenstein. In his short time at the school, his once lanky frame has filled with muscle. He rests, leaning against his hand-and-a-half sword, knowing that this break is just to let the students catch their breath. He looks up, and notices that Captain is nearby, speaking with some Greeks.

    "...extinguish forever... Rome. We... for your help."

    At this, Dekkeret leans a little closer. Like many young men his age he knows the stories of the earlier campaigns of the Free Company, especially because of all of the tales his father told him from when he fought for France. He listens, catching the rest of the conversation.

    "You talk of war?"

    "The infidel has seen fit to strike us down..."

    -------------------------

    After the day's instructions were over, Dekkeret set out to find Captain. He finds him as he is watching the Byzantines ride off. He inhales deeply, summoning up the courage to adress someone so legendary, but while he does this Captain sees him.

    "What do you want, boy?"

    "Umm... S.. sir, I overheard what you said earlier today, about going to war..."

    "And?"

    "Uh...umm... I would like to go with you. If it would be acceptable"

    Captain looks him up, and remembers how talented and driven this one seems on the training grounds. He answers,

    "We'll see, boy. We'll see."

    Captain leaves with Otto, Lochlan, and Alv. Dekkeret stands there amazed that Captain didn't reject him outright. Then he remembers some duties he has to attend to, and runs off to perform them.

  12. #12
    Unusually Foolish Rath Jones's Avatar

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    July 21st, 1438 - The Free Company Academy

    "Were actualy on the move again? After all these years? Where, in the name of God and his son, could we be going." Han's asked, taken completely by surprise.

    "Funny you should mention God." Lochlan said, running a hand through his hair. "Were going to Constantinople."

    "Your kidding." The burly german said. "What are we going to do there?"

    Lochlan chuckled. "We've been invited to a party, seems Gaius Severus thought we might be able to lend him a hand in defending his city."

    "His city?" Hans said, flabbergasted.

    "Well, he is a Lord Commander now." Lochlan said, his voice growing impatient.

    "Wait, you mean the Turk?"

    "Now you've caught on. Start getting your things together, we need to put the word out." With that, the two began to get organized in earnest.

    Evening, Stroph's inn

    Stroph looked surprised, but Lochlan couldn't blame him, he was still surprised himself. Nodding to Captain the ranger slipped over to the far end of the common room and sat down next too an Italian freesword, the two began to talk. He was spreading the word...
    RJ

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  13. #13
    The Father of AARland Lord Durham's Avatar
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    July 21st, 1438 - Locanda del Edgewater

    Captain nodded to Stroph. "A word?" They moved to a side table and the former Company man called for ale. It was delivered moments later by an eager Tomas.

    The boy stood around until the elder Storph shewed him away. "The training has convinced him that he should follow in my footsteps, bad leg and all."

    "You dissuade him?"

    "Every chance I get."

    "Good man. I need a favour."

    "You have to ask?"

    "War has broken out between the Turks and Byzantium. I've... decided to help."

    "Oh. Which side?"

    "Funny. I need a place..."

    "Of course. A tavern!" Stroph slapped his forehead. "The Company has always recruited at a tavern. It's tradition." He mumbled good naturedly. "You are more than welcome to use these humble facilities."

    "Good. I'll cover any damages."

    "Father?" It was Tomas, standing wide-eyed.

    Stroph groaned, "You heard?"

    "I would have known soon enough."

    "Excuse me, Captain. I must lecture my son." Stroph stood gingerly and led Tomas into a back room.

    Moments later Otto entered and sat down. A mug of draft appeared before him, courtesy of a serving girl. "I saw you talking to that Bedouin in the courtyard."

    Captain took a drink. "Yeah, his name's Abdul Ali. He claims to have a hundred horse. Says he wants to kill Turks."

    "Did you hire him on?"

    "Not yet. I want to see the mettle of his men. I hope they can fight. We'll need good, light cavalry where we're going."

    "And the boy? Dekkeret, isn't it?"

    "I think so. I'll ask Lochlan, or Alv." He noticed Lochlan seated nearby.

    Otto's answer was lost as the tavern door opened, and men from the Academy began to enter...
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  14. #14
    Unusually Foolish Rath Jones's Avatar

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    July 21st, Evening - Locanda del Edgewater

    "So you'll spread the word?" The Lieutenant asked quietly.

    "Si, not a problem Lochlan." the small Italian said genially. "Many people remember the Free Companies fame, especially those sellswords who come from the northwest."

    "I see, thanks, drop by tommorow and we'll talk compensation." Lochlan said, leaning his chair back against the wall.

    "As you wish, a good night to you then." Standing, then giving a half bow, the small mercenary left the tavern.

    Just as he exited the door, Otto, and Captain joined Lochlan at the table. "Putting the word out?" Captain asked, arching an eyebrow.

    Lochlan shrugged. "before tommrow night, every mercenary in the city will know, in a week, everyone in Italy."

    "Good." Otto said. "Were going to need all the help we can get on this one."

    Captain nodded, and ran hand across his eyes. "Constantinople, it's going to get interesting, probably faster than we'd like."

    The two other laughed, and Lochlan's eyes swept over the Academy students as they began to fill the tavern. They were a good lot, most of them younger, but there were a few seasoned mercenaries nearing thirty, it was from among those that Lochlan hoped they would find the most interest, the Turk would not be a gentle foe, and the naive would get in the way. "Captain." Lochlan said slowly, trying to form his fast moving thoughts into sentences. "Do you want me to send messages out to the contacts I made during the plains war?"

    Captain grunted non-commitally. "If they can get here as fast as were going to need them sure, otherwise, they might as well be in France."

    Otto spoke up then, his frown of concentration fading as he addressed Captain. "Just how long are we going to have anyway? Timing is going to be crucial on this one."

    As the two discussed it, Lochlan pondered who he should send messages to first. He had hired on with the Hungarians in '29, but left them because of the terminal idiocy of their commanders. Despite that, he had managed to make friends with some of the more competent leaders. If he sent the messages tonight, he could probably get word to them quickly, and then they might be able to get word to the other mercenaries in the southern Holy Roman Empire. If they were given enough time, the Company might even be able to field a decent sized force. Shaking his head, he brought his attention back to the present as Alv entered the tavern.
    RJ

    Remember, thou art mortal.

  15. #15
    Major EmprorCoopinius's Avatar
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    July 21, evening - Locanda del Edgewater


    Clicking his tongue softly, Gaius pulled his horse to a stop in front of the local tavern where Captain had begun gathering men back to the Company. After the initial discussions, he had accompanied Demetrius back to de Medici's palace and seen that he was both secure and comfortable. The smug grins on the de Medici clan's faces when they had greeted Demetrius told Gaius everything he needed to know about any "help" from them. It would be expensive, and they would probably add interest. Leaving the palace was as much to stop himself from sticking his spathion through a nobleman's throat as anything else.

    Dismounting, Severus opened the door and looked around as he stepped inside. The place was already mostly full, with mercenaries of all sorts. Making his way to the bar and slapping silver down for a bottle of wine, Severus looked around idly before taking a chair at an as yet unoccupied table. Pouring a full glass, he took a sip and sighed inaudibly, scratching his beard as he drank. His gaze swept round the room, and fell on Captain, sitting with Lochlan and a third man Severus wasn't familiar with. Nodding, he stood and approached their table, bringing the wine bottle with him.

    "Gentlemen, a drink? One shouldn't indulge alone."

    Captain nodded and Severus sat, calling a barmaid over with three more glasses.
    Last edited by EmprorCoopinius; 05-09-2002 at 07:19.

  16. #16
    LurkAAR Norgesvenn's Avatar
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    Florence, The Free Company Military Academy. July 21st, 1438.
    (Before RJ’s posts)

    “Hold it! I think you’ve had enough for today, lads… let me finish this lesson by reminding you to check yourselves for all the blue and black marks on your bodies from all the hits you’ve received. If these were real swords, not made out of wood, you’d all be dead by now. You’re terrible, terrible material! Not one of you would ever survive a battle!”

    The condottieri hopefuls shuffled off, a gloomy look on their faces. Some threw a few disapproving glances towards the slightly built blonde instructor.

    Alv picked up his equipment, and rubbed his left arm. One of the recruits had managed to hit him, and it was a clean hit. He was getting slow. Or maybe the recruits were in fact improving by the years. He remembered being taught a few hundred painful lessons by Knud in France many years ago. The very thought made him shudder, even though it seemed a small eternity since the big Dane laid his ham sized hands on Alv’s shoulder and said “you’re Free Company now, little one”.

    Leaving the courtyard, which until a few minutes ago had been bustling with activity, he noticed Lochlan having dismissed his recruits as well.

    “Hi, Alv! How was the day?”
    “Good. They’re quite good, these ones… and yours?”
    “They’re decent. They’ll be easy to train, I believe”
    “Time for a few ales tonight, perhaps?”
    ”That might be appropriate, yes…”, Lochlan smiled. “Where’s that useless sailor friend of yours?”
    ”Enrico? I think he’s off mending some fisherman’s boat. Said something about tar and cork this morning…”

    Lochlan was the scoutmaster of the Free Company, and had stayed with them even longer than Alv. They were roughly the same age, and Alv had begun his company career as a scout, before going off to sea for a few years with the Portuguese navy. The two men moved towards the quarters. Perhaps there would be fresh fish today, Alv mused, while observing the blacksmith sharpening and tuning some swords.

    “Any chance we’ll be back in action again, you think?” Lochlan asked all of a sudden.
    “What do you mean?”
    “I mean, we’ve hardly had any real assignments for ages. Granted, we’ve guarded a few counts and dukes, but no real warfare”
    “We’re getting old, that’s all”
    “Speak for yourself! I’m eager to do something again…”

    They arrived at the mess hall. No fish. Some pot dish including copious amounts of tomato and olive oil again. Oh, well. Perhaps Enrico was paid with fish.

    Alv and Lochlan ate in silence, except for a few nods and “hellos” to bypassers.
    ---

    Later... at the Locanda del Edgewater

    "Looking forward to getting back in action?", Captain asked.
    Alv nodded. It had been too long.
    "Why Byzantium, Captain? They're schismatics..."
    "Don't bother with that. I can assure you your old monastic piety will not be damaged, Alv", Captain winked.

    Alv drained his ale and nodded.
    "Fine. I was curious. Say, that cataphract commander looks familiar...?"

    Lochlan smacked Alv in the back of the head again.
    "He was with us in Florence when we fought for Cosimo, remember!"

    "Ah... well, I'll spread the word, then. First I have to deal with some very pertinent issues, though", Alv said, exiting for the latrines.
    Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.

    - John Kenneth Galbraith

  17. #17
    Banned Neil's Avatar

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    July 21st 1438. Florence.

    Antonio Malipiero had always hated Florence. Actually, he hated all of Italy for that matter, and no part of it more than his birthplace of Venice. That was probably what had got him out the canal-city in the first place, with it's self assured swagger and overweening sense of pride. Indeed, if Antonio had been a more agreeable fellow, then the last twenty-three years of his life would have gone differently indeed.

    If it were not for the fact that the silly merchant had paid him and his men twice their normal rate to guard his passage from Dresden to Florence, there was no way the Malipiero Swordsmen would be here in the first place. Of course, his band of 25 mercenaries were indeed happy to be here. As Antonio looked over the bustling street, his oldest comrade, Sergio Regi walked up next to him, smoothing his long, red beard.

    "Well Antonio, the men have just gotten paid, and are looking to enjoy the city. What do you say?" The irrepressible Sergio had been with him ever since that godawful mess of the 1417 Galley of Alexandria. And when Lord Nicolo had ran the ship aground, he had helped to save what he could of the precious cargos on board. And with it, they had earned just enough to gather a group of men and seek their fortune.

    Frowning for effect, Antonio turned to his men. They were good men, from young Nicolo, who was probably younger then Antonio had been when he left Venice, to old Andrea, who could tell stories about the Hundred Years War that could chill a man's blood, to the large and untalkative Rusman Grigor, who he had picked up from the ruins of a mercenary unit fighting the Hussites. And they were rich men, since they had just been payed a very large sum for a very simple task. It would not hurt to allow them to go and enjoy some good times and some loose women.

    "Alright men, you can go off and enjoy yourselves, but don't start any trouble! If I hear that one of you killed some simpleminded Florentine sot, I'll send the lot of us off to fight some Hussites! And we shall meet back here tomorrow evening, and then arange for some lodgings. Until then, have fun." Antonio said in a gruff voice.

    The Malipiero Swordsmen let out a cheer, and started to run off down the streets, eager to spend some of their new coins. Even Sergio had run off about his merry way, no doubt to find some raven-haired beauty to enjoy. Antonio Malipiero, swordsman and general curmudgeon, began to trudge down the streets, until he reached the first tavern there. Expecting to go in and drink himself into a stupor, he was amazed when he felt an almost tangiable atmosphere in the common room. Something important was afoot here.

    As the somewhat attractive serving girl came over, he ordered a wine, and then sat back to enjoy his drink, and ponder what to do with his little band...
    Last edited by Neil; 07-09-2002 at 00:16.

  18. #18
    Major TheF's Avatar
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    July 21st, evening - the Free Company Military Academy.

    The sun was already setting when he approached the famed Free Company Military Academy,

    "There at last!", he sighed.

    He got of his horse as he walked to the gate.

    "Halt, who goes there!?"

    "Fyrsil ap Faolan ap ...",

    "What is your business here?"

    "I am looking for a man commonly known as Captain, to seek out training with his Company."

    The guard's voice changed considerably.

    "Ah, you have come to the right place, lad, but I am afraid Captain is in the 'Locanda del Edgewater'."

    "What is it, and where can I find it?"

    "Not so impatient lad, it's right here in town, over by the Arno."

    "Thanks, I will find him there then."

    He jumped on his horse in a rather spectacular, though rather amateurish-looking move and made for the town, somehow he felt that the guard behind him could barely refrain from laughing.

    July 21st, evening - the Locanda del Edgewater.

    "Weird name for a tavern", he muttered to himself as he saw the tavern ahead. He left his horse in the care of a servant apperently belonging to the tavern.

    He entered the tavern and looked around, there were men from all parts of the world here, Arabs, Mongols, everything. He looked around again and saw three men sitting at a table, "That one must be Captain.". He walked up to the table and handed the man the letter he was supposed to give to him.

    The person in question opened the letter, read it, laughed and, to Fyrsil's emberrasment, yelled "Captain, I believe this letter is for you".

    Captain took the letter and read it,

    Most Esteemed Sir Robert,

    My son has recently come of age, and thus I decided to send him to Italy for further training in the arts of the mind and the arts of war. God willing he has already studied the arts of the mind enough to his satisfaction when you read this. Although he excells in archery and horsemenship, my son is some sort of a rookie in all other fields of the arts of war, even worse then that, he is horridly naïve. I kindly hope that a stay with you and your company will improve both his character and his skills.

    I kindly implore that you or a lieutenant keep an eye on him, not that I think he is going to get in trouble on his own, but just because I am concerned.

    Yours sincerely and with the kindest regards,

    Faolan ap Owain.

  19. #19
    Kaplander Barkdreg's Avatar
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    "Father, let's go."
    Melissa's soft voice disturbed his prayers. For the first time in many years he prayed. He prayed for the people in this town, for he could not help them.
    "The gate has been breached. Allready they are looting the town. Let's go father."
    Slowly he rose, gently she helped him up.
    Age and years of inactivity were slowly getting to him, allready his massive muscular frame had diminished.
    He looked at Melissa, his Melissa. Her ayes as bright as the day he saved her from the French looters all those years ago.

    *****

    A red glow came from the hills, the town was burning.
    Suddenly Barkdreg felt guilty. Could he have saved them?
    At least he could have tried. Trained their men, showed them the weaknesses in the defences. He looked at his hands. In the red glow they looked as covered with blood.
    He had killed him, for years he had searched. He had killed him and he didn't even know it. he remembered the dreadfull day.
    A burning town just like this, Turkish raiders, a duel.
    And death...
    He killed him, and when he found out he swore he'd never wield a sword again.
    Melissa gently tugged his arm.
    We should keep moving father. There could be Turks in these hills.
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    Ended due to savegame failure.

  20. #20
    LurkAAR Norgesvenn's Avatar
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    Evening, 21st of July, Locanda del Edgewater

    Re-entering the tavern after a quick visit to the provisional latrines, Alv felt strangely light-hearted. He’d settled into the everyday life at

    Alv ordered another ale, smiling as Stroph poured the mug.
    “You coming with us this time?”

    Stroph shrugged, and passed Alv his mug. Returning to the table where Lochlan was sitting, Alv noticed Enrico entering. Enrico merely raised an eyebrow.

    An unknown person seemed to have handed Captain a letter. The young man caught Alv’s gaze, and smiled. Alv smiled back. Being nice to potential mercenaries paid off, at least until he trained them. Many of the young Italians he had trained probably loathed him for his harshness and unrelenting nitpicking on their habits. Being a noble simply didn’t help when you arrived at the Free Company’s facilities. They were all equals.

    The Byzantine at the table introduced himself as Severus. Alv shook his hand, and smiled.
    “I’m Alv, sergeant with the Free Company for longer than I care to remember”, he said in a mixture of Italian and Greek.
    “Alv… that’s Nordic, isn’t it?”, Severus said.
    “Yes. I’m from Norway”
    “Norway… Norway… did you know, Alv, that several of your kings have served our Empire?”
    “Pardon?”
    “Ah, yes, your king Harold Hardrade was a commander in the Imperial army before returning to claim his birthright. It is no wonder you have become a mercenary. It is in your blood”

    Alv didn’t know whether to be offended or delighted by Severus’ words, and simply smiled and nodded.

    “How many men do you reckon we need?”, Alv said to no-one in particular. “There are many fresh ones. Like von Lichtenstein...“.

    Captain seemed to have concluded his business with the newcomer, and turned his attention back to the table.
    Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.

    - John Kenneth Galbraith

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