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Thread: The Free Company- Book V: Bloody Retribution

  1. #1
    The Father of AARland Lord Durham's Avatar
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    The Free Company - Book V: Bloody Retribution

    June 23, 1926 - Florence, Italy

    The clouds were twisted streamers of white, crawling lazily in the distance. The sun was low, casting rippled reflections off the Arno River. It was a morning sun, warm, yet foretelling a hot day. Gulls circled a cluster of fishing skiffs, boats drifting slowly down the centre of the waterway. Their calls of protest mingled with the growing myriad city-sounds of Florence.

    Sir Jonathan paid them all scant attention, his focus centered on the cobbled walkway that skirted the river. His ancient frame ambled with a shuffling gait, his pale features hidden beneath a white fedora, and behind an even whiter beard.

    Clutched under one arm was a package, a fresh supply of tobacco from the local confectionery. Swinging from his free hand was bag filled with groceries - a stick of bread, a wedge of cheese, fruit, tea bags and a selection of jams.

    Several locals and shop owners raised their hand in greeting, but he passed with little acknowledgment. They shook their heads in mirth. The aging scholar was in his own world - again.

    * * *

    The door opened into an opulent room. It was said the villa once belonged to a mighty Florentine noble. The professor's attention was immediately drawn to the thickly bound book, the tome that had so captivated him two days past. With deliberate control, he laid on a pot of tea, filled his favorite pipe, and prepared himself for a long sit.

    Seated once more, Sir Jonathan took the book and laid it gently in his lap. For the hundredth time he silently thanked his friend at the University of Florence - the same friend who had produced this very book that had so stolen his life. He closed his eyes. He would have to do something special for the man...
    Last edited by Lord Durham; 15-09-2003 at 20:32.
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  2. #2
    Field Marshal MrT's Avatar

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    February 12th, 1861 – Florence, Italy

    His tread was slow and measured as he climbed the narrow stairs that led up to the family wing of the manor house. He took care to keep them as light as he possibly could for he did not wish to disturb those who rested…or those who were dying.

    The winter had been a harsh one for even the wealthy and noble families of that ancient and opulent city. The previous year’s war had stripped the land bare of vital grain and meat, and all were now in a near-permanent state of hunger. For this family in particular, who were blessed with generous hearts, it had been a tribulation. All that they had, they had given to the poor to help them survive the uncharacteristically cold season. They were much loved and much blessed by all…

    And yet God chose that time to test them even further, striking terror in their hearts as, one by one, the family had been stricken with a deadly disease. First the mother and daughter, then a son, then another son. Even now the father lay on his deathbed and was not expected to last the night.

    And so it fell to him, old beyond his years, to climb these well worn stairs…to pace the length of the hall to the now disused library…to scour the shelves until he found what he sought…and then to return part way to a door. He stopped, listening, as a child cried out and then coughed pitifully. His hand raised, and he knocked gently. Once. Twice. Then opened the door.

    The room was dimly lit – the blinds thrown wide to permit what little light the grey overcast skies allowed to enter the chamber. A fire sputtered half-heartedly in the hearth, untended for some time and near to gutting itself on the terrible, cold draught that winter blew back down the chimney. On the floor, in a surprisingly accurate formation, were dozens of small wooden soldiers painted in Wellington red and Napoleon grey; their muskets raised against one another, their bayonettes fixed, their supporting batteries of artillery perched precariously on pillows.

    No hand guided them, though, nor had done so for more than a week. Instead, their “general” lay nearly lifeless in the nearby bed; wan and pale from the simple exertion of heaving his chest up and down against the fluid that filled his little lungs. He was a lad of ten – nearly eleven, he would have pronounced proudly – with straight brown hair and a jaw that could easily have been chiselled by Donatello or Michelangelo. In spite of his young age he bore, in fact, a striking resemblance to a statue in the nearby Cathedral – and to countless paintings that hung upon the walls of the house and also in the Palace.

    “Grampapa!” the child exclaimed in a soft voice, a glimmer of joy showing suddenly on his sickly face. He moved to get out of bed to greet his visitor as he had been taught, but had barely shifted before a new fit of coughing tormented his frail body.

    The old man waved to the child to lie back and not excite himself, and then set his burden on a nearby table and crossing to the hearth. There, he rummaged around for several blocks of coal which he threw on the fire. He watched them carefully, an expression of relief crossing his features when they began to burn with gusto, before turning back to the sickbed.

    “And how are you feeling today?” he enquired of the lad.

    The child’s face crinkled into a frown. “A bit better?” he lied with childish innocence. He already knew that others would shun him at the slightest hint that his ailment was worse. It had been like that for his siblings and his mother, and he was already aware that the servants came far too infrequently now…but he as still a little to young to know what it meant.

    “That’s good,” said his grandfather in a lighter voice than he felt inside. It would require a miracle for the child to survive the coming night. The last of his line, he sighed. “You’ll be better soon…able to play with your soldiers again in no time.”

    The boy nodded weakly, looking mournfully down to the waiting and unfinished battle.

    Through the window came the muffled sound of ringing and, as always, the old man stopped in frozen silence to listen to them. It was the chiming of the early morning bells from the Cathedral, calling the faithful to prayer. His expression darkened in thought for a moment, and then took on a whole new determination.

    As the last faint echoes faded away, the ancient wrinkled face looked down at the child once more, as though coming back from a great distance and seeing the lad for the first time. “Do you think you are up to hearing a story?”

    The child almost managed to beam his genuine delight. His grandfather’s stories were like no other. “Yes please, Grampapa.”

    “Then I shall do so.”

    It took him a few minutes to go to the fire once more, light a taper, and then adjust the ornate table-lamp’s smoking light to his satisfaction. Having done so, he retrieved the heavy object that he had deposited there upon his entry. It was a leather-bound book – a collection of yellowed parchments of immeasurable value and obvious antiquity. Slowly, he leafed through the tightly spaced, handwritten pages until he came to the place he sought. “Ah…here it is.” He looked up for a moment. “Your father has told you the story of the Free Company and the Last Bastion of Empire, hasn’t he?”

    The child nodded, eyes widening as he remembered the sad ending.

    “I can see that you do. Good. Well I think this might be an appropriate time to tell you another story about the Company – one that you should know although many, if not most, have forgotten it. This one comes a little after the one your father told you. It starts some months later, when Sir Robert had been gravely wounded and the remains of the Free Company had been forced to retreat from the doomed City of Constantinople – you probably know it better as Istanbul - to the relative safety of the Island of Rhodes. That was more than four hundred years ago, you might recall, in the summer of 1439.”

    The old man looked down once more to the ancient tome.

    “Now later that year…”
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  3. #3
    Prodigal Son Craig Ashley's Avatar

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    December 12, 1439 - Constantinople

    He stood on the palace balcony and watched the sun rise over his city. Constantinople, the jewel of the east, was his. Just a few months ago, it had been a decaying and dying city, but now it was alive again. Once again it's markets bustled with business. Once again the walls stood proud and defiant. Once again Constantinople was the capital of the greatest empire in the world. In no small part due to the treachery of the Venetians

    The Sultan had rewarded his Italian Judas by granting them favorable trading rights. The rest of the western world was not so lucky. Austria and Hungary in particular felt the sting of the Turkish trade policies. The Danube, lifeline of the northern Balkans, was now completely blocked by the Ottoman control of the Bosporus Straits. Murad could sense his empire was on the verge of greatness. A new Roman Empire, only this time led by the worshipers of Allah. The next move was to control the Danube itself. With the river secured, it would provide an easy supply line for campaigns further north.

    Jihad was not far away. The Venetians were preparing wage a new war in Italy. The entire region would become embroiled in the conflict. The time was approaching. Soon enough his armies would be replenished. The very walls that protected the Sultan now had been the death of thousands upon thousands of Turks only a few short months ago.

    Murad away from the balcony. He plucked a grape and savored its sweetness. Suddenly inspired, Murad sat down and began to write.

    I savor the sweetness of a grape,
    I savor the sweet taste of victory,
    One by one, I pluck the grapes,
    One by one, I humble their kings,

    The time has come for a new harvest,
    A new collection of sweets,
    The world is my vineyard,
    The . . . .


    Murad raised his eyes.

    “Forgive me oh glorious and mighty Sultan, but Ishak Pasha is here as you requested.”

    “Show him in . . . and shut the door behind you.” Poetry will have to wait for another time.

    The servant/guard bowed deeply and turned to carry out his master's wishes. Within a few moments, Ishak was present and they were alone.

    The second Vizier bowed and then spoke, “You have summoned me?”

    “Yes. Come and sit.” Ishak crossed the ornate room and took a seat directly across Murad's own. “Please help yourself.” Murad gestured to the table filled not only with grapes, but cheese, dates, and other assorted foods.

    “Thank you, but I have already had breakfast.”

    “Any news from the west?”

    “None. The Doge has not yet acted, but it is only a matter of time.”

    “Our agents will keep us informed. This war will cripple any opposition to our own ambitions.”

    “In deed. Our time is coming soon.”

    “What of the north?”

    “Little word from there as well. Though no one is pleased with our new policies.”

    “Tell me, do you think their displeasure will turn into open hostilities?”

    “Perhaps, but perhaps not.”

    “I was thinking about doubling the tariffs.”

    “But that will surely . . .” Ishak trailed off as he saw the whole picture.

    “Yes. I imagine it would, but we will wait until the Doge makes his move. Its best to keep the Italians distracted. I need you to take what forces we can spare and secure Varna. From there we can control the Danube and the flow of trade coming in and out of the north. We must be prepared in case the infidel strikes.” Murad smiled. “You never know when they might attack."
    Slipping into maddness is good for the sake of comparison

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  4. #4
    The Father of AARland Lord Durham's Avatar
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    CHAPTER ONE - RESPITE


    March 3, 1440 - Morning - Trianda, Rhodes


    Constance loved Trianda. Standing on a shallow beach, her deep brown eyes swept across the blue-green waters of the Aegean. Fishing boats dotted the calm sea, nets strung taut as they drifted aimlessly under a clear sky.

    Here and there she saw the local inhabitants, moving about their business. She smiled gently. They were simple people - friendly and polite. Peaceful, carefree, giving...

    Constance brushed away a tear.

    * * *

    It has been eight long months now since the Free Company escaped Constantinople. Eight months to mourn the dead and console the living. I still have trouble putting into words what I saw back there - how I witnessed the demise of that majestic, decadent city. I still remember the screaming, the brutality, the utter barbaric slaughter of so many innocent people. I still remember watching helplessly as we were forced to leave them all behind. Forced to leave them because we had no more room on our ships. I saw their pleading eyes, and listened to their frantic cries for mercy. I saw families throw their children into the Golden Horn, or smother them under woolen tunics. Cruel, wicked fates. Though not as cruel as the fate they would have suffered if they had fallen into the hands of the rampaging Turks.

    I watched so many people die that God-forsaken day. And, as Company Annalist, recording the dead was the hardest duty I had ever performed in my life.

    But alas, forgive me, dear reader. For I have ied. It was
    almost the hardest.

    I should confess that watching my husband linger near death for so many weeks came near to unnerving me. However, I digress from my duties.

    It is important to know that we escaped the city, dodged the Sultan's fleet, sailed south through the Sea of Marmara, through the Dardanelles and south into the Aegean Sea. Eventually we made landfall in Rhodes.

    The Knights of St. John have forever been a most honourable Order, and took us into their harbour, treating the wounded and seeing to the dead. They installed us in the town of Trianda, a coastal community some 6 miles southeast of Rhodes.

    Here we recovered and lived, as ships came and went. We learned that the Turkish Sultan, Murad, moved his capital to Constantinople, and bragged of his greatness. We learned that Venice had risen against our dear friend Francesco Sforza, and inflicted a crushing defeat - a defeat that had cost the life of Guillaume, friend of Syban and my husband.

    We learned that war was brewing on the Italian mainland, and was threatening to explode momentarily. And we learned...


    "... Constance?"

    "Robert."

    The man called Captain eased his body onto the bench where Constance sat writing. He grimaced and sighed, then leaned over to plant a kiss on his wife's cheek. "What you writing?"

    She closed the book, smiled. "Just updating. I've been away from it for a while. The day was so peaceful, I thought it would be a good time to tackle unfinished business."

    Captain nodded, placed his hand over hers. A serving girl, one of the Company women, came over. Captain ordered breakfast.

    Over the years the Free Company had traveled across most of Europe. However, no matter how large the city, or how small the town, they always managed to find a tavern. Trianda was no different. And this particular tavern proved to be nicer than most. It sat near the beach, and sported a wide open deck where the surviving men and women of the Company spent many hours in peaceful repose.

    Constance slid closer, careful not to jar Robert's still tender side. She wrapped her arms around one of his. "I think I would like to live here."

    "Would you? You'd get bored. I'd get bored."

    "Aren't you too old for this, Robert?"

    "Am I?" He glanced at the Annal. "What have you been writing in there?"

    Constance shivered. "I don't want to lose you."

    He thought back the breach in Constantinople. He remembered fighting, then pain. "Nor I you, Con. No worry, I have no intention of dying. Lochlan would never forgive me if I did."

    She hit him playfully in the shoulder. "Lochlan? Lochlan would never forgive you?"

    "Careful with the abuse, I may be forced to punish you."

    "Like you did last night?"

    "Uh-huh... say, new blood. Seen them before?"

    Constance followed his gaze. "No. They must be mercenaries from those ships that docked in Rhodes a few days past." She frowned. "They're probably looking for work."

    Captain sensed her disappointment. He wasn't quite sure what to say. At that moment Lochlan stepped onto the deck, cast a wary glance at him. Captain shrugged, "Sorry, my love, it seems we can't outrun who we are..."
    Last edited by Lord Durham; 24-04-2003 at 01:13.
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  5. #5
    Unusually Foolish Rath Jones's Avatar

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    March 3, 1440 - Morning - Trianda, Rhodes

    The startling blue of the Agean sweapt up along the beach, and it brought with it a warm wind that made Lochlan smile as he dressed.

    He glanced at the armor on the table, but didn't reach for it. Instead he finished pulling on his boots, and grabbed the simple belt he used when he didn't feel like wearing the full weapons harness.

    He pulled it tight, then opened the door, casting one last glance out his window to the blue sea. This time no smile appeared, and instead of beautiful ocean Lochlan saw a burning city, and red streets. His eyes closed for a long moment, then he shook his head. "Rest well my brothers." He whispered, and he pulled his door open.

    The tavern was quiet in the morning, and most of the truly early risers in the Company liked to sleep outside. So it was to an empty common room that Lochlan came as he reached the bottom of the staircase, a quick questioning glance to the bartender, who was polishing glasses told him all he needed to know. They were on the deck. He moved towards the door, he could hear the murmers of their conversation, but not the words themselves until he came right to the door, and opened it quietly.

    "Lochlan? Lochlan would never forgive you?" The man in question paused in the entranceway, and smiled slightly.

    "Careful with the abuse, I may be forced to punish you." The smile deepened for a moment, then disappeared, he would have to play the game as well.

    "Like you did last night?"

    "Uh-huh... say, new blood. Seen them before?" It was just another move, he knew she hadn't. Just as he knew Lochlan would be interrupting them presently.

    Constance followed his gaze. "No. They must be mercenaries from those ships that docked in Rhodes a few days past." She frowned. "They're probably looking for work." Indeed they are my friends, indeed they are. He thought somewhat sadly. I can feel the carrion crows beginning to gather. This will end sooner than we'd like. And with that thought the ranger stepped forward into the room.

    Captain sensed her disappointment. He wasn't quite sure what to say. At that moment Lochlan stepped onto the deck, cast a wary glance at him. Captain shrugged, "Sorry, my love, it seems we can't outrun who we are, good morning Lochlan."

    "Good morning sir, m'lady" Lochlan said politely, and nodded to Constance, who arched an eyebrow at him, but said nothing. "They're starting to arrive sir."

    "Ill be inside dear." Constance said as she left the men alone on the deck." A swirl of air blew Lochlans hair around his face as she opened the door into the quiet atmosphere of the taverns common room, disappearing again as the door shut.

    "I can see that." Captain said, and stood, putting his hands on the railing of the deck. "I wonder how many know what they're getting themselves into."

    "If they don't sir. They won't become brothers." Lochlan joined his friend and leader at the rail. "Some of them look like they know which end of a sword to hold." He pointed at one enterprising group. "They can at least get on their horses." He chuckled slightly, and brushed his hair away from his face.

    Captain just shook his head and sighed. "Lets get some breakfast." He said, and stepped inside. Lochlan locked eyes with Erik, who was making his way towards the tavern, and nodded, then he shifted his gaze to watch the men unloading another moment as if looking for something or someone, then followed Captain into the tavern.
    Last edited by Rath Jones; 09-04-2003 at 06:35.
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  6. #6
    Field Marshal MrT's Avatar

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    March 3, 1440 – Early morning, Rhodes, Rhodes

    The early morning sun peeked happily and warmly through the windows of the dingy inn, falling squarely on the nearly perfect face of a young man. His lids began to flutter, slowly at first, and then faster. Then they shot open, revealing eyes that were an oddly compelling blue-green shade.

    “Fuck!” he swore.

    Artur reached over, shaking the harlot awake.

    “Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck!”

    “Again?” asked the young lady of rather-better-than-ill repute, coyly yet somehow at the same time pleadingly...longingly.

    “No! My God, woman! I told you had to be gone before dawn.”

    She frowned petulantly - they all did – as the tall muscular man leapt out of the bed and began hastily donning his hose and stained jerkin. She admired his frame, mentally running her hands all over it as she had for much of the previous night. She shivered. “Please stay,” she begged.

    A firm knock sounded, at that moment, on the bedroom door.

    “Fuck!” The man looked frantically around, scooped up his sword belt and began cinching it around his waste. “Coming!” he called, trying not to sound out of breath, then raced to the window.

    “Why must you leave?” she weeped.

    “Oi! You in there! You owe me two nights’ lodgings and I wants my money now,” demanded the muffled voice of the innkeeper from the hallway.

    “Fuck!”

    He wrenched the window open, then reached to retrieve one final object from the chair, and then plunged to the ground below. Simultaneously, the innkeeper decided that brute force was required, and forced his way into the chamber.

    “Where is he?” he demanded.

    She pointed wistfully at the road where a man could be seen trying – with only a modicum of success – to mount a rather non-descript horse that was tied to a post.

    The lack of success might easily have been attributed to the fact that the stallion had been left saddled in this position all night – something that no horse enjoys and is almost invariably intent on making quite clear to its owner at the first possible opportunity. In this particular instance, however, this was not the case. The stallion had grown used to this treatment and to these daring morning escapes; but its owner had never really quite gotten the knack of vaulting into the saddle – particularly with his hose not quite properly tied.

    After a struggle of some moments, however, the youth was finally astride the beast and, jamming a large, Floppy Hat™ down hard on his head, was soon galloping in whatever direction appeared to be the one that would take him out of Rhodes as fast as possible. By only slight coincidence it was also the one that led towards Trianda.

    “Damn you, de Bloomfielde!” yelled the innkeeper in his wake, then turned angrily on his daughter. "And you! I bet he didn't give you so much as a copper either...”
    Last edited by MrT; 09-04-2003 at 06:21.
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  7. #7
    Major Erik Jaeger's Avatar
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    March 3, 1440 - Morning - Trianda, Rhodes

    Erik walked among the quiet streets of Trianda. People came and went about their business with a slight smile to the scarred veteran and a simple nod of greeting. He responded to their greetings in kind and continued to enjoy the solitude and peace that the morning offered.

    Ahhhh, this is a nice place. Peaceful, quiet, and the people are very generous and honorable. Perhaps this would be a nice place to rest for the rest of my life.

    Erik heaved a deep sigh and wandered the streets some more. Not particularly going anywhere, just enjoying being lost. He looked at the hawkers and the simple citizens as they went about their morning rituals. Slowly a grin broke on his face. Standing above a group of wild-eyed boys was none other then the very large Baer. Chuckling to himself Erik approached the group of boys and Baer.

    I wonder if his family realized Lukas would grow into the meaning of Baer. He truly is as large as a bear and fights like one as well.

    “So there I was, facing thirty Azebs with only three other companions. We stood upon the wall and there, across the way was Lieutenant Lochlan. You see, Hauptmann Jaeger ordered me to watch over the man, and these Turks stood between me and him. So I had no choice I charged….”

    There was a collective gasp as Baer let out a dramatic pause and looked wild-eyed about himself.

    “We crashed into the Azebs and we broke their back. They crumbled before the might of German tenacity and good German steel. Why if it wasn’t for my breastplate I most likely would not be here today. Why just take a look,” Baer raised his shirt for the boys to see scars. Baer pointed to several and said, “Any of these could of killed me, but thanks to the good German smiths the breastplate prevailed.”

    Erik held back a snicker, almost all of the scars he showed were from different battlefields and places. Why one was even from an old bar brawl back in Tuscony. He approached the group and stood slightly removed and listened as Baer continued.

    “Anyway, we smashed through the Turkish men and I was able to drag that mad man Lochlan back to safety. It was a near thing…” Baer caught sight of Erik and jumped to his feet. This caused his audience to squeal in delight and fear. They looked around to see why the big man seemed suddenly subdued and a little fearful. All heads turned eventually to Erik.

    “Uh, Hauptmann, I was just relating some of the events that transpired on the walls.”

    “I see that, and I’m no longer Hauptmann, I am not sure what I am anymore…” Erik looked off into the distance not really seeing anything. “Anyway, I came to see what poor boys you were corrupting with that tongue of yours.”

    The boys all gasped and made to move away. If this man was enough to put some fear into this monster of a man, then he truly was a man to be feared. All the boys slunk off to return to their neglected chores or to find someplace to re-enact the mighty battle of the Wall.

    “You will have them all enlisting into the Company by the age of 12 Baer.”

    “They are a good lot sir. If not the Company, they dream of joining the Knights.” Baer shrugged and looked as the boys split up and went in several different directions. His face turned serious and looked once more at Erik, “What’s to become of us sir?”

    Erik let out a deep sigh, “That’s what I’m trying to figure out Lukas, as a pike unit we are finished. We have maybe twenty Pikemen left that are able to stand in formation, perhaps ten swiss. Not much of a regiment with only 30 Pikemen.”

    “I know sir, but surely something can be done.”

    “I know Lukas, it’s time for me to go talk to Captain and see what he has in mind for us.” Erik made a half grin, “Tell all the stories you want Baer, but none of the breech. That is still too horrible, even in one of your dressed up tales.”

    Baer broke into a big grin, “Well Erik, it will be told someday, and by someone much better then me.” He frowned a bit and continued, “Besides, I want to make sure that Trenen is honored for his bravery and I would hate to think of his sacrifice as ‘just another casualty in the breech’”

    Erik nodded and slapped the man on the arm. “I’m off Lukas, do me a favor. Check on Adler, he seems a bit distant lately.”

    “Yes sir, I’ll go look for him and see what’s on his mind.” Baer moved off in the opposite direction from the way Erik began walking.

    Once more he walked lost in thought. Although his thoughts were aimed at a single question… What now?

    He wandered over to where the Company officers usually took their meals and saw men arriving for the thrill of serving with The Free Company.

    Do they know what it means to be here? Will they be true to the Company or will their personal agendas come to play? Damn this, I can not trust these new men, too many good Germans have died to protect those who spat on us and cursed our names. Perhaps it’s time to look out after our own and the good of the Company.

    Erik scowled as he walked by a man fresh and bright eyed new recruit. The man jumped back as the glaring eyes locked on him. The man watched as the German walked on towards the inn where two men were talking and thought, Oh my, that man looks pissed and I sure hope it’s not at me.

    Walking up towards the building Erik saw Captain walk inside and then saw Lochlan look around, lock eyes with him, nod slightly and look around once more before entering behind Captain. Seeing the men enter the building reminded Erik’s belly that he had not eaten yet.

    Erik quickly walked up to the building and entered looking around for the two senior officers of the Company.

  8. #8
    Field Marshal MrT's Avatar

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    March 3, 1440 – Morning, near Trianda, Rhodes

    Fritz sighed with pleasure. These many months that the Free Company had spent on this idyllic island had almost erased the painful memories of the recent fall of Constantinople…had almost washed away the young Swiss pikeman’s guilt at knowing that he was only one of a handful of his countrymen who had survived that terrible night, and that his commander and all of his fellow keil-mates now lay in their graces.

    He stood for a time on the sea shore, watching the seagulls wheel and soar on the updrafts...plunging now and then to scoop an unwary fish from the light, choppy waves. He had taken to beginning his mornings with a gentle stroll along the somewhat overgrown and largely disused road. It settled his mind and eased his pain.

    He flexed his arm, noticing that for the first time since that horrible night it was no longer stiff and sore. He was now, he realised, fully healed in body – if not in mind. So, too, were most of the others…and those few who were not would never serve under a military command again.

    A swallow darted among the branches of a nearby tree, and Fritz stopped to watch it with delight. It made a series of trips back and forth from the ground to one of the branches, and he realised that is was building a nest. That could only mean one thing: spring was in the air. Soon, far too soon he feared, the Free Company would have to be on the move once more…and he with it.

    It wasn’t that he resented having been assigned to join the devastated German pike squad. They were good men…solid, dependable, skilled, and commanded by a good man - Hauptmann Jaeger - whose talents even reminded him of Lieutenant Roos at times. It was simply that he suddenly felt himself reluctant to enter the fray once more. Had he been a man of means, he would have preferred to remain here and build a small house on this beautiful shore.

    The swallow dipped once more to pick up a beak full of grass.

    It was a that instant that a horse came careening, wildly out of control, around the bend in the road. In his horror, Fritz froze.

    “Watch out!” screamed the rider as Fritz was sent flying to the side…sprawling to the ground in a shallow puddle of mud. As he picked himself up he looked angrily down the road, his mood shattered. All he could see was the retreating back of the rider, and the man’s absurd Floppy Hat™.

    Sadly, he began limping back towards Trianda. He hoped that this wasn’t indicative of something…
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  9. #9
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    March 3, 1440 -- Below the Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes

    The blow was a ringing sound, echoing for long seconds off the dimly lit stones of the long-disused torture chamber. It was punctuated with the rattle of chains as the prisoner struggled feebly against his bonds.

    Maria de Medici leaned closer. "Now tell me..." she hissed, and delivered a ringing backhand, "...what I want...." Another blow. The prisoner grunted this time, and Maria grinned in satisfaction. "...to know."

    It had taken a long time to arrange all this. The prisoner had virtually been forgotten during the escape from Constantinople, and only Frederik's quick thinking had prevented the valuable prize from falling back into Turkish hands. After the journey back to Rhodes, few considered what they had, so involved were they in recuperating from the horrible losses of the City. And so he waited in a cell, forgotten.

    It was the Knights who finally remembered him, questioned him, and found him recalcitrant. All they had gotten was a name. Weeks passed before Maria and Frederik approached de Lastic about the possibility of using... harsher measures. As the one who had captured the prisoner in the first place, Frederik had a strong argument. The entire discussion had been carried on quietly at Maria's insistence, out of the hearing of the recuperating Captain.

    And wisely, too. He wouldn't approve of this, she thought, watching a trickle of blood descend from the prisoner's split lip. Her smile widened ever so slightly.

    Frederik's voice startled her out of her reverie. "Maria." Almost as an automatic reaction, she gave the prisoner another ringing slap.

    "Maria!"

    She turned.

    "Sanchelima is here."

    Maria nodded, and looked back to her captive. "Just as well. My wrist was starting to hurt." She motioned the Spaniard in. The short man entered quietly and moved to stoke the fire. A blaze of heat washed across the small room as he laid out the tools of his trade. Maria addressed the prisoner in Greek. "This is Pedro Sanchelima." He has certain... skills which he occasionally turns to the service of the Knights. You will find that their honor is impeachable, but they need not be as stringent when it comes to their friends." She glanced at Pedro as he laid a metal rod across the flame. "Perhaps, then, there is something you'd like to tell me?"

    The prisoner answered with spittle. Maria stepped aside and let the mixture -- half saliva, half blood -- fall to the stones. She stared at it for a long second before giving her captive a cold smile.

    "Make no mistake, Osman, you will talk. You held a hope of rescue in Constantinople, and rightly, but you are far from home --and far from hope." She turned to Pedro. "Be gentle. Start slow. We have no shortage of time."

    As she made for the door, Frederik pulled her aside. "Are you sure we should be doing this?" he whispered.

    Maria gave the prisoner a long glance over her shoulder. "He is a Turk. He deserves nothing else."

    The metal-shod door closed behind the pair just in time to muffle Osman's first screams.
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  10. #10
    Unusually Foolish Rath Jones's Avatar

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    March 3, 1440 - Morning - Trianda, Rhodes

    The quiet of the room seemed to fill the air, even the bartender, who had a habit off dropping glasses seemed to be making an effort to preserve it.

    The table was off on the right side, opposite the stairs, which gave the trio a decent view of the room. Captain sat with his back to the bar, Constance on his on his right, and Lochlan on his left, the ranger sitting with his back to the wall.

    "You still do that after all these years." Constance observed.

    Lochlan chuckled softly. "Some habits are harder than others to break."

    "Indeed." She said, glancing at her husband in the superior fashion women are taught at birth. "You do pick the most intelligent friends Robert."

    Wisely Captain, her husband chose to stay silent, and whatever Lochlan might have been about to say was lost as the door opened. Old habits died hard, and both Constance and Captain saw the ranger tense, and relax as Erik walked through the door. Captain waved him over, and the german nodded, stopping at the bar to pick up a pitcher of water, and another glass.

    "Guten Tag." the german said, setting his burdens down, and pulling a chair away from the table.

    "Good Morning Erik." Captain said, and Constance echoed him, then the smiled as her husband took the pitcher out of her hands and poured the cool water into her mug, then handed it too her.

    "Such a gentleman." She murmured approvingly. "Are you two paying attention?" She looked directly at Lochlan. "You could have married that woman if you'd been willing to sweep her of her feet."

    Lochlan smiled slightly, and shook his head. "She didn't want that, and I respected it." His voice low, thick with memory.

    "Whats this?" Erik said, pretending to look Lochlan over as if he'd never seen him before. "A woman? You?" the ranger didn't respond, instead he stared into his mug, seeing something there.

    Captain spoke into his friends silence, in him as well habits were hard to shake, and rescuing his men was one of them. "How are your men Erik?" He asked, changing the topic, and bringing Lochlans head back up to level with the rest of them.
    Last edited by Rath Jones; 09-04-2003 at 08:59.
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  11. #11
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    March 3rd, Rhodes
    Midmorning-The Company Stables


    The heat and temperament of a fight, threatening in its worst hour on endlessness, forges, fuses men and women into lovers, warriors into brothers, old soldiers into fathers and young soldiers into sons. It makes sons into fathers and fathers into dust. It creates the myth of permanence, the vaunted camaraderie, out of desperation, trust out of hopelessness, hope out of fear. For in that din and_rubble and blood, there is death on one side and killing on the other, and in between those who know it too.

    But then, as it subsided, the same forces that brought the world together are seen to have torn it apart. Friends, fallen en masse, so many brothers and fathers and sons and lovers gone the next day, and forever after. Uncertainty becoming dread becoming discovery, and then desolation. As the rulers who brought it into being went on with their plots and their ambition and their riches, as Foscari reveled in the delights of his lagoon kingdom and Murad in his boundless empire, present and future, and Sforza retired to his many estates and Syban watched thoughtfully from Florence, there were few among the Company, even still, who had recovered a moment. Most continued to stumble and grasp for their senses in the thick smoke of Constantinople. It had blown through them all, leaving their hair mused and their skin pale and their eyes bitter with ash.

    More than battle, more than war, the feeling of terrible defeat clasping their ankles at the very point of victory, out of their own ranks, brought a haunted, echoing misery to their souls. The religious, fewer of them than before, bemoaned the loss of the great city to the heathens, and the rest simply to the enemy, which was, in truth, the same. They had returned to the training ground, mixing with the famous and infamous Knights of St. John, lying with women or with men, writing to their children, eating leisurely meals again. The Mediterranean winds suffused their Every Day with a larger pleasure than glory, and they laughed and spoke easily.

    But the breeze masked a stench. It stitched it up and buried it away, for quiet moments in dark places. Reflection. Grief, guilt and rage. Paces for comrades, for friends, for those they'd met and loved within the walls lost to them by betrayal. Silent tears and hidden sobs. And screams. And vows. And hatred and bile and revenge. In the corners of barracks rooms. In dungeons. In torture chambers.

    In stables.

    As the mists of morning began to burn away in the rising heat of spring, the mists of mourning settled anew around the bedroom of a woman not young anymore. A woman, who through many toils and many struggles, through child birth during wars and making love to her husband during wars and wars, remained fervent and overjoyed. Who looked death in the face with a smile and a wink and a toss of her tousled, brown curls. Who lost sisters of the soul and friends and years and lovers and almost, almost, her mate, who never denied the life she led and, indeed, embraced it with all her heart.

    The girl born to a Warrior King in the windswept desert sands and raised by a Knight secretly, so secretly, Templar, a crusader happily whiling away at having missed the crusades. From Al-Salaam to Orleans, taught to make money and ride horses and watch men die with placid eyes. A beauty courted by bitter children and sad-eyed killers, a whore and a master, who followed a father she rarely saw to St. Malo on the deep blue seas of England. Who followed his friends everywhere, to Provence and to the acid land of Tunis.

    The woman who suffered the vilest indignity of her sex all alone and kept the glimmer of it around her pupils. A daughter beyond the help of her savage father, but not his glowering, volcanic vengeance, who forgave every man, woman and child he buried beneath that acid land. She had followed his friends even still, until they were her friends, until one of them was her husband and gave her children, to Florence, to Sienna, to Venice and a hundred other cities where they made war, and to Constantinople. With a feminine joy of adversity and her lion's fortitude, she made home wherever she happened to be.

    But not now. Never again.

    Annette was not young anymore.
    Last edited by HolisticGod; 09-04-2003 at 09:34.
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  12. #12
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    December 1439, Apulia

    The lone rider was slowly making is way down the deserted inland road. The peasants tending the fields and getting ready for spring sowing only spare him a cursory glance, lone knights are not that uncommon, and he poses no threat.

    To the eye of the casual observer he looks like any other errant knight. He rides on a big horse, larger than the one the local noble uses on his daily rounds. A shield is strapped to one side of his saddle and a large battleaxe to the other side. A serviceable sword hangs from his belt.

    Slowly he disappears behind a dip in the road heading to the faraway sea, a place most of them will never see.

    Closer to the sea, the road broadens, the number of villages grows and slowly a small town appears up ahead, on the coast.

    The rider looks up at the sky, seeing the darkening clouds he turns aside and enters a sleepy hamlet, a few hours ride away from the town. He turns the great horse into the small yard of the local inn, avoiding the city. The owner leans on the half door and looks at the man as the stable boy cautiously approaches the horse.

    The Barkeep is no peasant; he is a veteran from one of the many armies that has haunted Italy for decades. His trained eye quickly takes in the scene, the magnificent beast, the riders trained ease at handling him, the cared for weapons, the coat of arms on the shield covered with leather, the riders lack of proper armor, only dressed in chain mail.

    An errant knight, perhaps a deserter from one of the armies? He has lost his armor in a joust or something, I can still see the marks on his chain mail. He also lacks a lance. I wonder what he expects to find in this backwater place?

    The man nods to the Barkeep, not saying a word. As the evening progresses, he eats a small meal and takes a humble room, without saying one unnecessary word.

    The following morning the rider is up early, he eats a frugal meal and pays the landlord, the barkeep notices his blemished skin, the man cannot have been in the south for long.

    ---------

    March 3, 1440, Tiranda, Rhodes.

    Frederik was slowly making his way through the streets from the small harbor to the Tavern where the remaining Company officers where lodged. He and Maria had taken up room near the harbor to be near the ships, but Frederik has begun a habit of participating in the Company meetings as an observer until he could figure out what the future holds for him and the Company.

    A new ship has arrived this morning and that often brings news and perhaps a recruit or two, Frederik is certain that whatever they brought would be today’s topic.

    He enters the dark and shady taproom of the tavern and seats him self with familiar ease in the shadows at the main table. It still brings back many memories, both pleasant and sad and strangely enough it is Alv he misses the most.

    The usual group sits at the table, dominated by the presence of Captain.

    A trickle of newcomers sit at a table just inside the door and Frederik doesn’t pay much attention to them, they will be presented soon enough, and he still isn’t certain whether he should stay with the Company, go on the ship with Maria or go back, if not to his old ways, then at least to a more peaceful existence.

    He is so lost in thought, that he doesn’t notice the man approaching the table, until he speaks,

    “I am Johan.”

    Only years of self-control stops Frederik from flinching, but he cannot stop a whispered, “you?”

    Captain leans back and studies the agent, as he and the newcomer looks each other over.

    “Do you know him, Frederik?” The tone is casual, but Frederik can hear the underlying question.

    “Yes.” He stands and answers the unspoken question, “yes and I can vouch for him, I can vouch that he is as good a fighter as I am, but far more conventional.” Then he nods at the assembled officers and leaves the Tavern.

    Captain looks after him, and then turns to the newcomer with an eyebrow raised quizzically.

    “I find that is it not my place to tell that story. I have come here, because I heard that you where looking for soldiers, I sold my armor to pay for the transport for my horse and me. I am experienced and willing to fight.”

    Captain nods, he had the distinct feeling that the Free Company is not the only reason for the trip, but the man seems earnest enough when it comes to his employment and Captain is a good judge of character.

    “You can report to the camp, we will sort out your station later.”

  13. #13
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    This one was lucky to have survived. An inch or two higher and that spear would have tore into his lungs, instead of just making a horrendous mess.

    It was not the first time that Jan had thought such things. Indeed, most of the survivors were, in his opinions, incredibly lucky. Still, this one soldier - Heinrich, one of the pikemen - had healed well, and may even fight again. He stood up, the scar was fine.

    "Now tell me, how far can you walk?"

    "Out to the headland and back," the man said with a certain amount of pride. A year ago he would never have thought much of being able to walk just a couple of miles.

    Jan nodded once. "Good. And the other exercises?"

    At this Heinrich looked a little sheepish. "I, ah... " The exercises were boring in the extreme Jan knew, just simple exercises to bring strength back to a soldier after injury had wasted it away.

    Jan silenced him with a look. "Listen Heinrich, it matters not to me whether you get well enough to hold a pike again - but it better matter to you because at the moment you're useless. Now, if you keep to those exercises, and you keep up the walking, I'll talk to your commander about getting you started on training again."

    Heinrich nodded. He had noticed now that the Doktor's hands were shaking slightly. Previous experience had taught him at such times it was best to stay quiet.

    "Good. Incidentally, well done on that walk."

    Jan limped away as quickly as he could. His hands soon found their way to a small flask filled with a potent local brew. He fumbled at the top, and then hurridely raised it to his mouth and took two small gulps. He coughed as the harsh liquid went down, and took a deep slightly ragged breath. For a moment he just stood there, and then he stoppered the flask and returned it to his carry-bag. Then he cursed, and walked back to the soldiers hut and quickly retrieved his stick that had been left propped up against a wall. Heinrich looked a little surprised, and Jan chuckled.

    Jan had been at Rhodes when the Company had returned. He had been intending to go to Constantinople to offer his services, but had been distracted at Rhodes. When he arrived the main body of the Knights had just returned from an expedition against the mainland, and Jan had helped out in their hospital. Then he had stayed to learn more of their medicine, by way of payment for his services. All the while he kept quiet, hoping to leave for he found the company of the self-righteous monks ground on his nerves. When the Grandmaster suggested the Company relocate to Trianda Jan said he would go along with his patients, and he had stayed.

    One more person on his list, Sir Robert. The Captain was doing well, nearly done with healing. If they were not under enforced rest there was no doubt he would not submit to a physicians examination. Besides, Jan wanted to see Captain - and a check-up was as good an excuse as any.
    Last edited by stnylan; 09-04-2003 at 16:42.
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  14. #14
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    March 3, on the way to the tavern, Trianda, Rhodes

    The Free Company, such as it was, was beginning to congregate at the usual places. Soldiers, camp followers, the casualties of war, mingled in the town square with the residents. The usual gaggle of young boys congregated around a few of the veterans who spun them a few tales of the Company. Some true, some half true and a few wild stories thrown in to excite the lads.

    Otto, Frederick and Dieter ambled towards the tavern that formed the heart of the informal “quarter” of the town given over to the Company. As they passed a few of the veterans of Constantinople they could hear some low mutterings from the group and they could feel the anger in the eyes that followed them through the square to the tavern.

    “They haven’t forgiven me, you know” Frederick said turning to face his son and his friend outside the entrance to the bar. “Six months since I joined you again and they still haven’t forgotten or forgiven. Even though I killed more Turks than any of them when the cannons exploded. Even though I helped some of them through Orleans, Tunisia, Italy. Even though I served the Company for more years than most of them.”

    “Frederick, I know why you had to do what you did.” replied Otto. “From a rational logical viewpoint you had little choice. You didn’t even know until the breach that the Company were defending the city. But the Free Company lost its first battle at Constantinople. And you were not there – worse you were a part of the army, albeit unwillingly, that inflicted that defeat. You can’t expect them to forget that in a few months. Hundreds of their friends died but worse than that defeat stains the Company banner for the first time.”

    “Ach I see that every day” replied the big Bavarian. His ample frame had grown even larger since his Company days and the years hung heavy on him. Approaching sixty he looked tired. He turned to Dieter.

    “Dieter, I know I haven’t been a good father to you. Don’t interrupt lad! “he exclaimed pre-empting the denial from Dieter. “I know I haven’t been a good father and if I stay here with you, you will always be tainted with the touch of a traitor, as they see it. I’ve been thinking about this for some time. You have a good life here. The Company days were some of the best years of my life. Otto is a good man and has taught you more than I ever could.” He held Dieter by his shoulders.

    “I’m going to leave Rhodes. The Company has certain interests in St Malo which we have neglected for too long. They need a careful eye to ensure that the benefits from those investments still flow to their rightful owners.”

    “Aye, Frederick, we could do with someone to ensure that we get some proper weapons, armour and cannon from the foundry in St Malo. What with the chaos of the retreat from Constantinople half the men in the Company are virtually unarmoured.”

    “True, Otto. I’ve spoken to the Captain. He is agreed. All that remains is for us to say our goodbyes. I’ve arranged a passage to Marseillle leaving on the tide tomorrow.”

    “But I’ve only just got you back, Father” exclaimed Dieter, trying to fight back the tears welling in his eyes. “You can’t leave me again!”

    “It won’t be forever, son. Someone has to lead the supply convoy back to wherever the Captain has plans to base the Company. And I suspect it’s much closer to France than you are now” he winked.

    “Now….. Go! Leave me here. From this moment on you should make your own mark in the Company. Otto will look after you. The Captain knows you are coming today. We’ll dine together tonight and you can tell me what the Captain has planned for you. Make me proud, son, even prouder than I am now”

    With that Frederick Pohlman turned and retraced his steps back towards the Company lodgings. Otto turned to Dieter who was dabbing his eyes with his sleeve. “Come lad, chin up. We have an appointment with the Captain. Who knows what the next campaign will bring to us?”

    With that they continued into to the tavern, pushing open the door, searching for the Captains table. Otto pushed Dieter slightly ahead of him and followed the lad as he approached the Captain’s table.

    “Captain, sir! With my father’s blessing I would request that you formally consider Dieter Alphonsus Pohlman for a position in the Free Company.” He drew his sword and laid it on the table. “The Free Company – death rides with us!” he cried.

    Otto caught the Captain’s eye and smiled……
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  15. #15
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    March 3, 1440 - Early Morning – On the beach near Trianda, Rhodes

    Fyrsil had roused early to see the rising, as he was wont those days. He prayed in silence, he prayed for his fallen friends, his numerous fallen friends. Somehow prayer consoled him, eased his mind. At the very least, it kept his mind occupied.

    Let eternal light shine upon them, O Lord, with Thy saints
    forever, for Thou art merciful.


    The sun arose in all it’s splendour and glory, the sea magnificently reflected it. Oh how different was this land from the land of his fathers. Remaining largely untouched by the vivid and impressive imagery, Fyrsil continued his prayers.

    Rest eternal grant them, O Lord;
    and let light perpetual shine upon them.


    At those days, he would also pray for himself, for his very soul. Even though the uncounted hordes of people that he had slain had been heathens, they still haunted him. At night they would come, suddenly, raging hordes of doomed souls accusing him.

    Deliver me, O Lord, from everlasting death on that
    dread day, when the heavens and earth shall quake;
    when Thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.


    A good while after the sun had fully risen, he arose as well. Trying to shake of the fear of doom and judgement, he decided to head down to the tavern again and meet his living friends. Walking down the road, he could see a horse in the distance. He instinctively reached for the place where his bow would have been, if he had carried it with him. The only thing he could make out from his distance was the rider’s rather large, rather ridiculous Floppy Hat™.

    He decided to think naught of it and he continued towards the tavern. Entering the tavern he saw some new faces, deciding to think naught of them too he sat down at the officer’s table.

  16. #16
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    March 3, 1440 - Morning - Trianda

    "You can report to the camp, we will sort out your station later."

    Johan nodded his thanks.

    Captain continued, "Most of the men prefer to live outdoors in the tent-city. See Milo. He'll be in the warehouse by the dock. He'll find you some armour. Heaven knows, we have lots of it at the moment."

    Johan nodded again; left the tavern.

    Lochlan sighed. "Johan. Reminds me of Recci. Remember him?"

    Captain's hand instinctively went to his waist, but the mini-crossbow that the engineer had crafted and presented to Captain so many years ago wasn't there. It was safely stored among his possessions. "Of course. I wonder how he's doing?"

    The Ranger didn't answer. His gaze had drifted to Otto and Dieter as the two entered the spacious building. Otto nudged the boy forward, then hung back.

    "Captain, sir! With my father's blessing I would request that you formally consider Dieter Alphonsus Pohlman for a position in the Free Company." Dieter drew his sword and laid it on the table. "The Free Company - death rides with us!" he cried.

    Otto caught Captain's eye and smiled.

    Captain winked in return. He understood the turmoil that young Dieter was undergoing - understood the need to prove himself to those who questioned his father's past deeds. The veterans had long ago accepted Frederik Pohlman back to their ranks. They understood it was the lot of the mercenary to work where the gold was plentiful.

    However, many among the younger men, those who didn't know the large Bavarian, were not so easy to forgive. Too many had died under the Bavarian's cannons. Captain realized the dilemma his friend faced, and it was mutually agreed that Pohlman could best serve the Company by returning to St. Malo.

    Presented almost 18 years ago by the young King Harry, St. Malo had remained a Company possession, more often than not ruled from arms-length, and entrusted to a local Mayor for day to day affairs. Frederik Pohlman would be the first official Company presence there in years. However, the foundries were excellent, and the Company could always use the extra money that Pohlman's craftsmanship commanded.

    Captain remembered that Dieter was waiting expectantly. He took the sword and handed it back, cleared his throat. "The Company is honoured to have you, Dieter Alphonsus Pohlman. Wear your sword with pride."

    The lad beamed. "Thank you... sir."

    "Remain with Otto, for now. I'll assign you a position once we sort everyone out."

    Otto placed his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Let's go, son."

    As they left the tavern, they passed Fyrsil, the Welsh longbowman. Fyrsil joined the rapidly expanding mass of bodies at the table, sat down. He looked about at all the activity, elbowed Erik and drew a nasty glance. "Whoever decided to name this place The Lazy Dolphin, anyway?"

    Before anyone could answer Captain groaned. Standing at the entrance was the doctor, Jan. His eyes searched out Captain, then made a beeline for the table.

    Constance chuckled, "You can run, but you can't hide, my dear."

    Captain groaned again.
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  17. #17
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    March 3, 1440, on the way to Rhodes.

    Frederik walked out of the Tavern, leaving the rest of the officers none the wiser. He slowly walked to the nearby stable where he had a mount, groomed and fed, courtesy of the Mongols.

    What is Johan doing here?

    He mounted the horse and steered it towards the coastal road to Rhodes and the Citadel.

    Off course, I know what he is doing here, he is here to fight, but why here, and why has he left his home?

    He rode for a while lost in thought. Then he visibly pushed the thought about Johan and his motives from his mind and focused on something more important. Maria.

    He was heading for the city, because he knew where she would be. She had been gone when he woke up and she hadn’t been at the docks and the Tavern.

    He had been a happy man when they had put that accursed city behind them, and had been more than willing to comfort her in her grief on the slow trip to Rhodes and the weeks after, while she tended her arm.

    But now? He didn’t really know, he still loved her off course and the time they spend together he relished, looked forward to all day, but something had changed. A sense of urgency had crept into her actions. When she came to him there was an unquenchable hunger in her actions, Frederik smiled to him self, it didn’t exactly make for a dull night, but there was an underlying current of anger, of a need to exhaust her self to avoid the demons he felt haunted her sleep.

    He shook his head, he could see where it was coming from. She had lost Jonasz, the last vestige of a family, the safe harbor of her life. Still, her thirst for revenge almost scared him and that was why he was heading to the citadel. Only days before had the Knights relinquished their hold on Osman and allowed Maria to “question” him and today, today they would enlist the aid of the local “persuader”.

    Frederik smiled mirthlessly, his money sure found a quick way of being spent here in Rhodes, especially in the company of a lady. He shook his head again, not much to do about it. His mind started to wander again as his horse walked as it wished, slowly following the winding road in and out of the small coves. He looked out over the water, so different from the flat marches of his childhood or the wild North Sea of his youth. This sea could also show its teeth as his last time in Rhodes could testify to, but on a day like this it was hard to imagine.

    He thought back to the months after their return, to the dispatches coming from Italy, to the tales of horror and defeat. Venice lost, Sforza beaten and Syban loosing control. Only some of it makes sense to Frederik, he knows of Sforza, has heard the whispered stories of Syban, so old that the stories border on myth. To the stories of Guillaume’s death.

    Guillaume, the man who contracted him in the first place to seek out Captain, now he will never get paid. He is torn between anger and revenge and an urge to rush north and salvage whatever he can of Guillaume’s network in Germany and the Balkans.

    He rides on and slowly approaches the citadel, the guard waves him through, he is now recognized as a Company man, he is uncertain whether to be proud or annoyed.

  18. #18
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    Autumn, 1439.


    Someone had whispered something in his ear about the fearsome mercenaries called ”The Free Company”, led by a certain Sir Robert. That they had returned from an ordeal in Constantinople. His home was now the poor quarters of the island. He had yet to board a ship and sail away, although every fibre in his body told him that she was gone. So was his dignity.

    It had been a good four months since he had been forced to leave the Order. His sin had been grave, and he had been stripped of his tunic, sword and armour. Bernhard didn’t hold it against the Order, as he knew he had committed a sin when he had let his heart decide. He had acted like a fool. Now the girl was probably gone as well.

    The reason Bernhard had first joined the Order was also a girl. Back in his native land, he had fallen madly in love with a servant girl. His father had not approved, particularly as this servant girl bore a very visual evidence of their consummation of the love they felt.

    Then he had seen her. The fisherman’s daughter, wandering around Rhodes. She was Greek, naturally, while he was English. Language had been a barrier, as his Greek was at best limited, and she did not speak a word of Latin.

    They had met in secret and been deliriously happy when the Order had assigned Bernhard to overseeing the purchases of food. Sometimes, Bernhard managed to sneak off for hours. Alas, it was not to last. Not because the Order had found out, but because girl’s father had caught them.

    He was a Greek. He didn’t want his daughter to be soiled by a man, and particularly not by a Latin. When he discovered that Bernhard bore the colours of the Knights, he did not hesitate to report him to the Order.

    Normally, the word of a Knight from the lower aristocracy would be enough to make such charges go away. Alas, Bernhard’s father had sent the Grand Master a letter, where he described in detail his son’s debauchery. So, Bernhard had to meet before a council and was thrown out. He was, however, allowed to stay on Rhodes for the foreseeable future, as the pillar of the English ‘langue’ had taken a liking to Bernhard, and asked the Grand Master to have mercy upon their fallen brother.



    March 3rd, Rhodes, 1440. Mid-morning.

    He had long contemplated to leave. But how? And for what? Bernhard wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. His training as a knight was hardly unique, and he knew no other trade. As the youngest son of his family, waiting for his father to die was useless – his older brother would inherit the land.

    Like most Knights of the Order, he had served both at sea and in the land units, and this was his only competence. Rumours had it that The Free Company were hiring mercenaries.

    Although the word “mercenary” made him cringe, Bernhard finally saw a way off the island. Any other place would be preferable to the daily tormenting of his heart he received here.

    Apparently, there was a tavern where the officers and some of the Free Company men would meet rather frequently. Bernhard decided to gather his fairly humble possessions from his small room in an attic and go to this tavern. At least he still had a sword.


    People no longer paid much attention to the Englishman walking in the city. His blonde hair no longer held any novelty value, and his frame wasn’t made to draw attention to him. In short, he could blend in most places.


    As Bernhard entered the tavern, nodding at someone apparently guarding the door, he noticed several men gathered around a table. One of them oozed from authority. Bernhard assumed he was the leader.

    Purposefully, he strode across the floor and up towards the table.

    “Hello, sirs! Excuse me for interrupting this way, but I need to know; are you gentlemen from the Free Company? If so, I was curious as to whether you would be interested in hiring me…”. Bernhard smiled. His teeth had kept their whiteness and he looked healthy enough.
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  19. #19
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    March 3, 1440 – Morning, Below the Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes

    She was beautiful. Terrifyingly beautiful as she towered over him; haughty, angry, indignant at his silence. Strange that he hadn’t noticed it before. Perhaps she had changed.

    “Now tell me what I want to know!” The punctuated the phrase with several hard slaps of her hand.

    Osman bit his tongue to draw blood – and to stop himself from laughing out loud at her feeble efforts – and struggled feebly against his chains as he thought she would expect him to. The accursed Frederik, watching closely from nearby, spoke her name and reflexively she delivered another stinging blow that actually split Osman’s lip.

    Interesting. This disturbs you and you hate yourself for your weakness. You fear that your lover will see this weakness and despise you for it. Yet there he stands, unknowing, and desperately trying to hide his own revulsion. Neither of you were schooled in torture – nor has either of you mastered the secret arts. Nevertheless, fear not my darling. I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you many things. But not yet. Not until you will be convinced at my words.

    “Maria,” the Dane repeated her name. “Sanchelima is here.”

    “Just as well,” she muttered as she looked back at Osman’s bloodied face. “My wrist was beginning to hurt.

    A man entered the damp, dark cell – a Spaniard by the look of him – and moved to stoke the fire. Osman watched as he laid out the many predictable tools he had learned were the Western tools of the trade. The Spaniard moved with an efficiency of purpose that led Osman to conclude that he was what passed for an expert in these lands.

    Maria spoke in Greek to Osman now, not realising – or perhaps not remembering – that he spoke many languages and had understood all of her words to date. “This is Pedro Sanchelima. He has certain... skills which he occasionally turns to the service of the Knights. You will find that their honour is impeccable, but they need not be as stringent when it comes to their friends. Perhaps, then, there is something you'd like to tell me?”

    Again Osman forced himself not to smile as the short man placed a metal rod across the flame with a certain measure of showmanship calculated to inspire fright in the intended victim.

    Because he knew it was expected of him, Osman spat into her beautiful, angry, pleading face. She dodged most, if not all of it, and then contemplated the stain it made on the hard stone floor. Looking up she issued her parting words. “Make no mistake, Osman, you will talk. You held a hope of rescue in Constantinople, and rightly, but you are far from home --and far from hope.” She turned, then, and said something softly to the inquisitor before she and Frederik hurried out of the cell, bolting the door behind them and leaving Osman alone with the Spaniard.

    Cannot bear to watch, my beauty? I’m so disappointed. I would have loved to see you squirm as I suffer, loved to drive that dagger deep into your heart. Sadly, I must now endure even more than I might wish – I must, if you are to believe me.

    He sighed, looking at the Spaniard as he approached with the now glowing red rod held carefully with a pair of tongs. In Spanish he said, conversationally, “I suppose you’ll let me know when it is time for me to talk?”

    The Spaniard spat. “Speak now, and save yourself immeasurable pain.”

    The heated rod came closer and closer to Osman’s bare chest as he shook his head. No. Not yet. You would not be convinced that I told all if I succumbed too soon – and besides, you would torture me anyway. You love your craft far too much. Fortunately that probably also means that you are overconfident in its effects.

    He screamed – and he was not over-acting – when the metal began to sear his flesh. In his mind he consoled himself. God is good. God is great. Allah will protect and preserve me against all evil doings. God is good. God is great. Allah will protect…”
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  20. #20
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    July 17, 1439, Late Afternoon, The Bosphorus

    For Constance, writing had always been a solace. Now however, it had become a task more arduous then anything. With the Captain down, it fell on the Captain’s wife to begin to write letters. Each letter tore at her and her heart broke once again. She looked down at the blank page before her and again dipped quill to ink.

    My Dearest Stroph,

    This pains me more then anything I have ever had to write. I must tell you of your son and the day he fell…


    Later that night, the wife of the famed Captain of the Free Company cried herself to sleep.

    August 13, 1439, Florence, Locanda del Edgewater

    Part of Stroph’s heart died that morning. In his hands, he clutched the letter from Constance. Each word had struck him like a dagger.

    His son was dead.

    Tomas was gone.

    He was gone from Stroph and Be’cki forever. Stroph fell to his knees for a moment of prayer. He then rose and went to find his wife and give the hardest news to her he had ever had to deliver. He saw his son, Hènri, coming in from the Inn, last night's receipts in his hand. The boy was a good lad, eager to please. He had been asking his Father for permission to join the Company in Constantinople. What should Stroph do?

    November 1, 1439, Florence, Locanda del Edgewater, evening

    Stroph and Hènri sat before the family fire and talked.

    “My son, the Company is everything to me. I have given much of my life to it. The Captain has been my friend for these many years. He and Constance are your Godparents and stood by you when you were baptised. There is no doubt that these people are among the best on this green Earth.”

    “Then you see, Père, why I feel I must join them. I need to learn that bond, that friendship. I have seen too much of the bad side of life. I have seen the worst sorts come and go in this Inn. I need to see a company of men who are there for the right reasons, who do the right things, in the right way.

    I would like your blessing to take my leave of you and Mama and join them. I will avenge the death of my brother by joining these men. Maybe the time will come that way that I can strike back at the Turks who did this to Tomas.

    I have never acted against your will. I will not act against your will in this matter. If you give me your blessing, I will join the Company. If you forbid it, I will stay here with you. The decision is yours…"

    A few weeks later Hènri took his leave of his parents and set sail on La Saberini for passage to Rhodes….
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