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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Director

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salvaging something out of the Trafalgar of your taste!

Now there's confirmation that we're not in an English-dominated world!

I liked the last update for its dark tone. Perhaps Charles the bartender is another tribute - has he red hair, one wonders?

Here's wishing Bjorn luck in his quest.
 

Nil-The-Frogg

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Director said:
Perhaps Charles the bartender is another tribute - has he red hair, one wonders?
Nah, "auburn". And he's French. But of course, a bartender named Charles having influence in the underground must have an alter-ego in some parallel universe, eh? ;)

Glad to see you hoping by this AAR in spite of your little green men, Director (or tall yellow ones, if you prefer :D ).
 

Rensslaer

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Nil,

I'm in serious need of catching up... And I will do so at some point. But I just read your most recent update, and I am attracted and intrigued! :D

I just love the atmosphere you have going in these scenes (the beginning, and now). The '30s are my favorite time in all history, and you capture the mood and the general sense of talk very well.

I think my favorite phrase was "salient cheekbones".

I can't think of a better way to learn English than to write in such a rich and elaborate way!

That last couple of lines of the last scene, though... Wow! I don't even have the slightest idea what came before it (yet) but I'm on the edge of my seat!

Rensslaer
 

Nil-The-Frogg

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That is very high praise Sir! :eek:o Take your time to catch up, and then again, don’t hesitate to comment along the way if you wish: I try to keep the whole story in mind anyway, in order to avoid getting lost in the plot.

I can't think of a better way to learn English than to write in such a rich and elaborate way!
Me neither, except perhaps living in an English speaking country. So, I suppose that I’ll have to begin a German AAR as well… Aber mein Deutsch ist fast wertloss. (And I’m not even sure of such a short sentence… :rolleyes: ).

Here is an update: I won’t let you fall from your chair. ;) I’m working on several following installments, but none of them will be available really soon because I’ll have guests next week and can hardly imagine diving myself into writing while they’re at home… Not to mention that I have to catch up with Director. Let's also put a note to self : "Find time to read other AARs" :cool:
 

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#13b




A la Tante joyeuse: Friday, soon in the morning. (Continued)

Thunder roared in the street. The windows blew in, sending thousands of shards flying through the room. Several red tufts of blood erupted from the back of the starlet, through her white trench coat. Hitchgins was already throwing himself to the floor and just had time to see Charles’ startled expression as he was pushed back by a the hit of a bullet. Myriads of wooden splinters were ripped off the bar while the big mirror was shattered in a falling down of glass. Short screams barely managed to cover the racket before dying away like the customers who uttered them as they were mowed down.

Hitchgins crawled as fast as he could along the counter. Fragments of glass, wood and plaster were falling all around him. Sharp debris bit badly in his bare hands with each stridden inch. He felt an impact on his left calf. He had to reach this open door. Three meters… Might as well be a world away! The bar above him already looked like a ragged shroud and projectiles kept smashing new holes in it.

Then everything stopped as suddenly as it had started. It wasn't silence though: the car went away with a roar, its tires squealing on the asphalt, countless objects were still falling down in the pub and there was a quickly growing rumbling of busybodies gathering in a thickening crowd. Hitchgins had to get out of this noose as soon as possible. He tried to stand but his left leg gave way and he fell upon the counter, which crumbled under his weight. The still erect bottom parts of the planks took his breath away but miraculously didn’t pierce his belly. He rolled on his bum, gasping for air and frenetically checked his suit jacket’s pocket. Thanks all Ladies Luck in the universe: it was intact! He heard footsteps in the backroom, probably armed goons of the French Connection climbing up the stairs to check the mess. He hurried to open the bottle, poured some of the precious nectar in his hand, where it melted with blood, plaster, sawdust and ashes. He lapped up the mixture, ending up spilling as much liquid on the floor as he had drunk, which would have infuriated him in other circumstances. He recapped the flask, making his best to transcend the wave of heat and temporary disorientation. He forced himself to focus on the need to stand. The ecstatic water washed pain away, strengthening his resolution.

He stood indeed, leaning on the crumbling planks, and even ran toward this side door. He crossed it just as gunshots burst behind him: the French henchmen must have reached the main room, discovered the mess, and mistaken him for an assailant. Since he had not the slightest of inclination for taking the time to settle the confusion, he rushed along the dark corridor in front of him reached the door at the opposite side, smoothly turned the key that was fortunately in the lock and fled in the alleyways.

Damn, he had not even begun his job for the Judge that he was already shot at. Twice. It wasn’t his day.
 

Amric

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Poor starlet...in the wrong place at the wrong time...poor girl...Well sometimes there has to be a few casualties along the way.....Hitchgins had better find a good place to clean up...blood stained clothing tends to make authorities somewhat suspicious....
 

Storey

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Nil-The-Frogg said:
She headed for the exit under Martine’s hateful gaze.


Damn, he had not even begun his job for the Judge that he was already shot at. Twice. It wasn’t his day.

I like the little touch of Martine's distaste for the beautiful blonde. :cool:

Someone wants him dead and isn't concerned with how ham-handed, pedal to the metal, shoot from the hip and don't worry about how the cookie crumbles, to attack in broad daylight and take out anyone and everyone who happens to be between Hitchgins and his date with a bullet with his name on it. :eek:

I see you have a new job! :cool: Congrats!

Joe
 

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It was a gangsters' hideout, so it could be that Hitchgins simply got caught in the midst of a brutal gang war. However, if that particular welcome was meant for him, then he's in deep trouble, regardless of the fact that he has acquired a new supply of 'ecstatic water'. If his opponents do not care about killing a cop, indeed do not even care if they kill a bunch of civilians to get at him, then he'll be at risk pretty much anywhere he goes.

Did Hitchgins get shot in the leg, or was it simply some flying debris that injured him?
 

Nil-The-Frogg

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Well, this WoW has convinced me to try and lay an update in spite of what I wrote earlier... I promise that you will know more about this attack and Hitchgins situation right after a little roundabout by Alexandria.

But first, some feedback to your feedback (we should not play with food, you know that?)

Duke: Well, I would say he has quite an addiction already :cool:

Amric said:
Poor starlet...in the wrong place at the wrong time...
Yeah, pretty much like all the customers in fact. But surely they did not catch your attention as she did, heh? :D

Storey: Welcome back Storey! Yeah, they're quite a bunch of bruisers. Oh, and thanks :) .

Stuyvesant: You have some good points here, and it was definitely a bullet.
 

Nil-The-Frogg

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#14a


Alexandria: September, 1420


Heat. Why was he always lurking in hot overcrowded places like that, just when summer was at last fading away in Byzantium? At least, he had easily crossed the Mediterranean. Granted he had been forced to borrow money from a couple of travelers in addition to what he had been able to loot from the soldiers' corpses, but he had quickly found a Venetian ship accepting him on its board for a reasonable price. He had even negotiated for a discount in exchange of his blade to help defend the crew against pirates. The crossing had been quiet, fortunately, since Bjorn never felt at ease fighting on sea, which was a shame for a Viking.

The arrival in Alexandria had been more of a challenge though. The authorities had confiscated his sword and it had required a bribe not to be purely and simply thrown out. Alexandria was about as big as the City, but way more populous, with most streets full of stands displaying all kinds of merchandises and hosts of humans and animals wandering with an apparent lack of pattern. An overall hostile attitude toward strangers made the situation delicate, all the more since he could hardly blend in the mob. Even covering his blond hair and disguising his pale skin under any kind of dark makeup would not prevent his colossal build and clear blue eyes from attracting attention. And then was the problem of the language. The sizable but somewhat oppressed Greek community had been his best hope to find a shelter and a new weapon.

alexandrieup6.jpg

He had taken residence in a Coptic smith’s house at the outskirts of the city in a mostly orthodox district. The man, named Marc, was married to a Greek spouse. His family was relatively well-off but rather discrete about it and keeping a low profile to minimize the risks of theft or other kinds of mistreatments. Bjorn had developed some sympathy for this afraid, peace-loving family and spent hours discussing with Marc and his friends in the dark hours of the night. He had learned that three hospitals could be found in Alexandria, among which only one took care of Christians under normal circumstances. His host, who was mostly forging small equipments like crockery or belt buckles, had squarely refused to provide him with any weapon, but only agreed to hint him toward possible sellers. Bjorn eventually managed to find a long dagger. Not remotely as good as a sword, but more discrete and still deadly in experienced hands.

This morning, he woke up early, lit up the clay oil-lamp on the small table in his bedroom and anointed his coarse cheeks and chin with a thin skin of olive oil. He took the dagger he had spent his evening to sharpen and began to shave off, staring himself in a circular copper mirror. His image looked like a ghost. The deep shadows of the room were dispelled by the warm light of the flame only on the edges of his face and thrown back with a golden blur by the orange metallic surface. This sensation of evanescence was increased by the pins and needles in his left arm, which was weak and lethargic. In spite of his good care, the wound didn’t look nice and was regularly oozing pus. He might have to consult one of those Muslim physicians...

Satisfied with the cutting edge of the blade, he put it aside and rinsed the remaining oil out with the help of a rough block of crackled soap. Then he whipped on his newly acquired local regular clothes, fastened the message sheath to his belt where the cape would hide it, slipped the dagger in his boot and went downstairs. Marc and his youngest son, Annas, were there already, eating their breakfast in the pale light of the nascent day. Bjorn saluted and sat with them, taking his share of bread, cheese and dates. Marc’s wife brought him a smoking bowl of milk.

Marc, who had just finished his meal, ran his hand through the uncombable forest of brown and silver bristles that formed his beard.

“So, I guess that you will try to meet your Croatian preacher today?”

His voice had been made hoarse and faint by years of exposure to forge's smokes. Bjorn nodded:

“Yes and I take the opportunity to thank you for your hospitality and your help. If I may be of assistance in return...”

“It was my pleasure, and besides I don’t need assistance at the moment. All I ask is that you don’t bring troubles with you in this house and I would be content if you fare well and find your personal fulfillment.” He rose. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have to open my shop and oversee my apprentices.”

He went and left Bjorn head to head with the six years old boy. The latter had finished too, but stayed there, staring silently at Bjorn, batting his wide eyes periodically. Snivel was peeping out his nostril but he did not seem to care: something was obviously absorbing his thoughts. He suddenly asked his question:

“Will you come back?”

His mother frowned in the background, but the boy did as he hadn’t seen her. Bjorn shrugged.

“I don’t know, really. It will depend if I find the man I want to meet or not.”

The boy took a couple of seconds to assimilate the information and abruptly went on with another premeditated question:

“Are you a warrior? Do you kill people?”

“Annas!” His mother uttered, but the kid stubbornly carried on:

“Daddy said you are a warrior.”

Bjorn smiled kindly.

“You father is right.”

“If you come back, could you teach me?”

“Why?”

“Because they always beat me, and my sisters too. Can I beat them if you show me?”

“Oh, yes. I can teach you how to beat them. I can even teach you how to kill them.”

The mother interjected in alarm:

“Hear…”

But Bjorn shushed her with an appeasing gesture. Annas was looking at him, gaping.
 

Stuyvesant

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Bjorn's putting some dangerous ideas into the kid's head. I think it would be better for him to focus on the task at hand, rather than teaching Annas how to fight. It's bound to lead to tragedy.

Nice touch to have Bjorn lose his sword and having him spend a while to find a replacement weapon. It adds a bit of realism that our Superhero Viking Bjorn still finds obstacles in his way. :)
 

Nil-The-Frogg

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Answers to your comments will be embedded in next updates (one is due tonight or tomorow, I think).

I have an observation to submit though... Translating appears to be an interesting exercise because I’m forced to reread my instalments in-depth. For instance, I’m currently translating chapter 5 and have noticed something. This is supposed to be a tale by the baron, right? Well, in spite of what I intended, I found myself telling part of it in history-book style, which pretty much spoil the thing. Could have been interesting to stick strictly to his own view on the spot: would have made the tale more vivid and perhaps more detailed (and probably longer)…

I don’t intend to rewrite it, but if any of you may give his opinion, this might be of use for similar situations in later chapters.
 

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#14b


Alexandria: September, 1420 (continued)


Bjorn put his forearm on the table, slightly bending forward and stared at Annas in the eyes, as if he wanted to lock some kind of invisible bond between them. The child was fascinated and even forgot to breathe for a few seconds.

“As I said, I don't know if I'll come back, but here is your first lesson anyway. It may be the more important one, so I want you to make sure you think about it long enough and understand it thoroughly. Okay?”

The boy slowly nodded.

“I did not hear anything.” Bjorn noted.

“Yes sir, I understand.”

“Very well. If you really want to become a good fighter, you will, eventually. The problem is that you need to know the price. Everything in life comes with a price and consequences. So whatever your choices, you should always be ready to bear the consequences. Only the fool makes important decisions only to cry later because he is unable or unwilling to face the outcome. In this case, a man either becomes mediocre, depressed or even worse than that.”

Annas was obviously willing to understand but did not seem to grasp those abstract considerations. Bjorn decided it would be good to tie his explanations to the ground:

“Suppose for instance that you're harassed by a band of Muslim kids and you severely beat some of them down.”

“They will be afraid and leave us alone!”

Bjorn shook his head.

“Perhaps. Or they could be mad at you and catch you in an ambush. They could also change your family's life in a living hell. Now, what if, as a grown up, you kill one of those fanatics devastating your house and possessions as I've heard it sometimes happen?”

Annas was horrified.

“Hum... Maybe I could just... I don't know, punch him in the head to make him stop?”

Bjorn shook his head again.

“I have a rule, and I think it's a good one, most of the time: it's better not to injure a dangerous enemy. Either leave him be or kill him once and for good.”

There was a lull in the conversation.

“So, if you intend to become a warrior and truly love your family, you should not get them involved and rather go live your life far away. Acting otherwise would bring doom upon them.”

“So, you think I must stay here and let them harass us?”

Bjorn smiled.

“Not necessarily. There are many means of resistance, taking arms is only one of them. On the other hand, if you are really made for adventure and violence, you would grow bored and unhappy as a settled husband and father. The only important thing is to be sure of what you really crave for and stick with it. I'd say you're still way too young to know though.”

Annas put his head between his hands, lips pursed, in an attitude that could pass either for intense reflection or sulkiness.

“What about you then?”

“Uh? What about me?”

“Did you abandon your family and all that?”

“I had no family, actually. And you can tell I'm currently far away from anything resembling a home.”

“You could stay here then.”

“No. I've just explained why.”

“But we are not your family, are we?”

Bjorn frowned angrily.

“Don't play dumb with me, Annas.”

The child looked down. The Varangian rose, pulled his hood up, gave a farewell nod to Marc's wife and headed to the door, but The boy called him as he reached the threshold.

“I'd really like you come back, Bjorn.”

“I can't promise. I'll do if I reasonably can. But I may be dead or having hunting dogs on my heels as soon as this afternoon.” He paused and added: “Besides, I doubt you need me anymore. Bye...”

He turned tail and did not look back.
 

Stuyvesant

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A very important point Bjorn is trying to make. I fear Annas might be too young to fully take it in: once the shock wears off, once the bullying resumes in a few days, he'll wish to be a strong fighter again.

But in all likelihood that will not be relevant for this story. I doubt that Bjorn will return to that family and I doubt we'll hear about them again. Bjorn has a tendency of suddenly showing up and leaving just as suddenly. He's off to find his contact: if past experience is anything to go by, he'll be looking for passage out of Alexandria within a day. Probably to some place far away. Say, Granada, simply because it's on the other side of the Mediterreanean. ;)
 

coz1

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An interesting series of updates and good to see what is happening once more in the past. I truly enjoyed the life lessons Bjorn was giving to the boy. Very interesting concepts. It is clear that Bjorn has much figured out as far as his own life is concerned.

Rather interesting to compare with Hitchgins who seems to be, yet again, in a mess of trouble. The gun ambush certainly stopped short the lovely scene prior to it.

Excellent work of late, Nil!
 

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#14c


Alexandria: September, 1420 (continued)


The hospital was located in a populous district, full of noise and smells, full of life and activity. Bjorn spent the better part of the morning wandering in the alleys in order to memorize their pattern, just in case he would have to get through them in a hurry. Escaping pursuers in an unknown city where anyone could recognize him easily would be near impossible, which all the more meant he had to be prepared. He particularly watched out his steps for the last think he wanted was to stumble on a food seller’s dishes or some potteries’ stand. As always, the crowd got on his nerves, particularly in his feverish state, to the point that he almost counterattacked when a goat bumped him on the bottom. Accidentally killing the animal in self-defense would not only have been ridiculous, but truly disastrous. He seriously missed the emptied streets of the City, specially now that Constantinople was about to disappear.

He finally made up his mind a little before noon and headed for the hospital. It was a big squared white building featuring two stories and widely opened to the world through four unguarded gates. As much as the passages were kept clean, the flaking off lime of the outer walls suggested a prolonged lack of maintenance. Bjorn cautiously stepped in one of the shadowed paths, where three bearded men in white casual clothes were chatting in Arabic. They barely seem to notice him as he passed by them.

The inner courts took him by surprise: they were fresh gardens dotted with fountains and covered by the lace of palm trees leaves. Plants were everywhere between these walls of white marble and red clay. Fading gilts even decorated the columns of the peristyles. Granted, many tiles were either broken or completely missing, but the place still looked like a Muslim official private garden rather than a hospice.




Here, the ill or the wounded was walking in the light, sitting on benches, breathing fresh outdoor air and keeping in touch with the world of the livings. Bjorn saw several blind men, others that had skin diseases, were mutilated, some were lying, sleeping or mumbling. Others were seemingly in good health, either because they were visitors or because their illness wasn’t conspicuous.

A dirty man in ragged clothes came to him and grabbed his left forearm, triggering fierce waves of pain. Bjorn tried to force him to release his grip, but it was frenetically contracted, fingers diving in the Varangian’s flesh. The man started to shout in a jerky fast-paced Arabic. Bjorn could see his demented eyes, smell the foul stench blown from between his yellow stumps. He kept trying to ease the demented grasp off while fighting the suffering in his arm and repeating to himself “Keep it easy, it’s too early to wreak havoc. Don’t hit him…”. The mad man kept shouting what seemed to be questions, hysterically shaking his head. Bloodshot eyes… Trickle of drool… Food remnants in the beard… “Don’t strike, Bjorn, don’t strike…

Finally, another man in his forties, dressed in black and yellow, came and gently put his hands on the crazy one’s shoulders. He murmured appeasing words and, progressively, the crisis wore out. The newcomer addressed a few words to Bjorn, nodding in greeting, and went away with the loony, who was now half-mumbling and half-weeping.

Everyone was looking at the Viking now. He had already managed to come on stage more discretely… Leaning against a column, he took a minute to allow his sore arm to recover and let the attention wane. He had to find a physician before trying to locate Tzourillas. He wasn’t used enough to local customs to determine who was Greek, Arab, or Copt, so he headed toward a small group of chatting men, cleared his throat to catch their attention and simply asked:

“Excuse me good sirs, but does one of you speak Greek?”

All returned him interrogative glances, except one young scrawny man with glassy eyes who answered:

“I do, stranger. How can I help?”

“I need medical care, but can’t speak Arabic. Would you please lead me to a doctor and translate for me?”

“I can translate, but I obviously can’t lead.”

He bent toward a battered legless man in a wooden carriage and asked him a question. The other one nodded enthusiastically and showed his approval through meaningless gurglings. The blind one explained:

“Ahmed will direct you if you push him. I’ll follow.”

Bjorn stepped behind Ahmed and gently pushed him forward. The other man took his sleeve and followed them. They crossed two inner courts, Ahmed’s dirty finger vehemently pointing to the right direction until they found a nicely dressed big pot-bellied man with a sparse ruff of beard. He was examining a choking patient, but glanced at the newcomers. The blind man asked him a question and explained the answer in Greek for Bjorn:

“He will look after you in a few minutes.”

Bjorn nodded.

“Oh, by the way, I’m Petronos…” The other indicated after a lull.

“Bjorn.”

“So, what brings you here, you’re ill?”

“Wounded.”

“Oh my god! Had an accident?”

“No: robbers.”

“That’s abominable! But you at least had some luck in your misfortune, since you escaped.”

“Yes.”

“Well, hum… Let’s hope Marzuq will be able to alley you.”

“Thanks.”

After that, they waited in silence until the doctor came back to them. He said something and Petronos translated:

“What’s the problem with you?”

Bjorn undressed his left arm and presented it. Marzuq frowned, closed in and palpated delicately, which was painful. He asked a swiftly translated question.

“He wants to know when you got this: more than a week?”

“Several months actually.”

Upon hearing the translation, Marzuq gaped, opening his eyes widely, looking much like a carp. He just gave a short comment.

“You’re tough.”

“Yeah. Now, can he heal me? And what will it cost?”

The doctor shook his head while he answered.

“He will take care of you for free, but the hospital would welcome any gift you could provide. He can’t promise to be able to cure this though. You may die, unless he amputates you.” Petronos explained.

Bjorn was not pleased, but not exactly surprised since he had already considered the possibility.

“What are my chances if he just tries to cure the wound?”

The other made a short answer where the word “Allah” could be heard. Bjorn cut Petronos short:

“I understood, thanks. I'll go with the cure then. I would rather risk to die than loose my arm.”

.
 
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Nil-The-Frogg

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Duke of Wellington: Excellent guess sir! But since I've not made up my mind about Annas, I still have an opportunity to prove you wrong. :cool:

Stuyvesant: You also have some good points, but I won't be able to prove both Duke and you true, I'm afraid. :(
Not as far as Granada, but that's the spirit :p .

coz1: You might have learnt a bit more about Bjorn's temper and way of life in the update I just posted. And even more in the next one. We will come back to Hitchgins and his little worries then. But he would be lost if he wasn't in trouble, wouldn't he? :D