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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Duke of Wellington

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Glad to hear you are going well and enjoying the job, as Director mentions we do care how you are doing (perhaps something of a rarity on the internet). A strange coincidence with the street name.

As always I eagerly anticipate the next update, this AAR is one of my favourites that I really enjoy, keep up the excellent work.
 

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Ah, good to hear from you and nice to know things are working out. Whenever you have time, post away! And if you can't post updates, just drop in occasionally. Again, it's nice to hear from you. :)
 

coz1

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I have a street named after me? :cool:

Enjoyed the last update, Nil. Bjorn impresses with both his sense of humor and his steadfastedness.

Great luck in the new endeavor. And hey - why doesn't the girlfriend move with you? If you are going to be away for a period of years, maybe a change of scenary will be good for you both. (I'm sure it's been discussed, but it just came to my mind. ;) )
 

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Happy belated (was yesterday) birthday Mr AAR!



Oh well, one year already and I don't seem to be able to make it take off... Never mind, here comes a small update I wrote in French at home and translated bit by bit at work when workload allowed.

Duke: Thanks. I too feel someting special about these boards (not that I'm regular of many others anyway). Anyone has news about people disapearing so suddenly like MacRaith or Quintillian? It's frustrating not to know if they simply got bored or if something more serious happened. :(

Stuyvesant: Well, here comes one, as I wrote earlier. I have found an appartment (will eat up about half of my wages!) and should achieve my third and hopefully last relocation on March, probably getting an internet connection in the middle of the month or so.

coz1: Yes, you do. I can't say it's a big street, but it's not an alley either. Would be pleasant if not overcrowded with stinking cars: you should do something about it. :D Regarding my personal dilemmas, all I will say for now is that things are taking an unexpected turn.

Oh, BTW, I got my hands on EU3 and spent the week-end on it. I suppose I will have to hop by the "patch request thread" one day, but it's a good game. :p
 

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#15




Hitchgins' house, Friday in the morning


Once more, Hitchgins wiped away the heavy drops accumulating among his eyebrows and threatening to flood his eyes. He stood there, stooped, a shoulder leaning against the porch of his building. He noticed the milkman had finally come by but that the homeless children had stolen one of the bottles again. At least, they had the correction to leave him the other one. He knew some richer and better educated people who wouldn't have shown such consideration. Having only one bottle to carry this day was better anyway. He had hitched along the most sordid and unpopulated alleys to carry his wounded leg back home and had labored hard to climb the five steps of the stoop. Now, he was there, panting, offering his unfashionable trench-coat to the icy drizzle, much like an old dented carapace still as tough as ever. He was waiting there for some time already and looked like he had sunk in deep apathy, refusing to see the trial ahead of him: three stories to climb. He growled what was supposed to be a sniggering as he realized how this scene could be a faithful metaphor of his life. Never mind, he had to move because the rain did not manage to dissipate the red puddle that was slowly flowing from under his trousers.




“Onward and upward me dear Hitch...” He muttered.

He took the bottle of milk and opened the door, which swayed silently thanks to the generous amounts of lubricants the hinges were always enjoying. The caretaker was such a maniac that it wasn’t uncommon to stain your clothes just by inconsiderately leaning against a doorframe. But while the door did not squeak, the wooden floor didn’t deprive itself of the pleasure, instantly warning the Cerberus of this place.

“Ah, it’s you Mister Hitchgins! Isn’t that very early to get back home? Oh my! You’re gimping!”

“Err… Don’t worry ‘bout me Miss Blausenthal. I’ll be fine, just got me leg bruised a little coz I missed a step. Not’in serious, really.”

The old woman shook her head.

“Here’s what happens with your habit of fumbling in the dark! I bet you haven’t even noticed that the light bulb on your floor had blown.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes, I had it changed by David.”

“Vat a helpful little guy. X’cuse me Miss Blausenthal, but I gotta fix dis mess ‘bout me leg…”

She nodded with a compassionate grim on her face. Hitchgins began his daunting climb, leaning heavily on the handrail. He closed his eyes just before the light in the staircase could blind him.

“You had forgotten again. Is it absolutely necessary for you to get hurt again?”

“Bah, ya know I’m just like any rat or cockroach: always fleein’ light, eh?”

The caretaker showed her sorrow.

“You shouldn’t speak like that Mister Hitchgins, nor sink in such dereliction. I’ll tell you: you really need a wife to care after you.”

Hitchgins opened his eyes wide for a second and laughed. It wasn’t upbeat but his amusement was disarmingly genuine nonetheless. He resumed his climb before the old woman could have a chance to notice that his claudication had nothing to do with a strained ankle.

He had reached his floor at long last and was about to put down the bottle of milk in order to dig in his wide crowded pockets for the key when he noticed a tiny scrape on the lock. It was slightly shinier than the rest and he was sure he hadn’t noticed it when he went out this very morning. He sighed with resignation and simply turned the knob and took a step in the living-room. He smelled, cocked his ears and briefly peered through the room before calling out:

“Haroumpf! What d’ya do in me home and where dida learn’o make such a slapdash’o a lockpickin’, eh?”

A black man in his thirties with a face ravaged by ancient acne – unless it had been small pox- came in from the kitchen.

“Shit! I didn’t hear you come in man. Hey, you’re jazzing, man: I took care of your door! You’ll even be able to close and open it just like before.”

As Hitchgins did not seem willing to answer, he went on:

“You do have guts anyway. I would have been freakin’ out if I had found a guy in my kitchen like that.”

Hitchgins headed to a small closet whose content disgorged down to the floor.

“Yeah, and ya’re gonna freak out to death if ya don’t explain pronto vhy ya searched me flat.”

“What are you speakin’ about man?”

Hitchgins was foraging through the heap of bottles, drums, cans and cardboard boxes collapsing at his feet.

“Did ya really think I wouldn’t notice?”

The stranger cast a circular glance at the hilly mass of clothes, approximately intact dishes, old books, stained papers, crumbling folders and a host of other weird objects surrounding him.

“Well, frankly: yes.”

Hitchgins took a brown stained-glass bottle and showed it to the black man:

“Were lookin’ for sumthin’ like that?”

The other one read the label.

“Denaturated alcohol? What d’you think man? I wouldn’t drink that! Now, if I had put my hand on some tasty rum of course…”

“Dat’better coz’ I’ll need it.”

Hitchgins went to the kitchen where he grabbed a pair of chopsticks jabbed in the remnants of a bowl of rice forgotten near the sink about a week ago. He also picked the pair of rusty scissors masterfully hidden under the cobwebs that dressed an abandoned broom in a wedding veil. Those tools equipped, he came back to the living-room.

“Oh, by the way, I did ask’ya a couple o’questions, didn’t I?”

“Oh, that. Well, I was in trouble in the neighborhood. There’s a hell of a mess out there. I was around for business, see? But everything’s getting tail over head since the Kamilet began to strike out at the Ruskies. Each and every single minor gang has deserted, just as if they had agreed upon it.”

“Pfft… The Ruskies…”

“Ruskies, Slavs, Boches… Why should I care?”

“Greek. They’re Greek.”

“Well, if you want, man. As soon as it began, however, all of them have forsaken the Kamilet and my little business made a flop. That’s why I decided it would be better to hide somewhere and let the storm pass.”

“Sumewhere was me flat, o’course.”

“Err… That’s my boss who said that in case of real trouble…”

Hitchgins had begun to cut his trousers to reach the wound, forcing like a mule on the mostly jammed scissors.

“Damn! You’re seriously banged up man.”

Hitchgins did not seem to notice the comment.

“Luis. Musta be Luis. Why does he feel like he can send his losers takin’ refuge in me kitchen, eh?”

“Easy, man! And how do you know it’s Luis anyway?”

“Ya just told me.”

“What?”

“Never mind. I do know vat’s goin’on. If Luis is int’rested, then I may pay him a little visit just to know vat it’s worth to him…”

Having unscrewed the bottle cap, Hitchgins generously washed his wound. While the black stranger winced in commiseration, Hitchgins himself just grit his teeth and grabbed the chopsticks he had left lying.

“Hey man, you’re crazy or what? You won’t put these disgusting things in your leg, will you?”

“Mind your own business.”

As a matter of fact, Hitchgins slipped the chopsticks in his injury, probing for the bullet. It was deep and would take days to heal, perhaps even weeks. Being an half breed wasn’t a sinecure, indeed. He finally located it: it had been stopped by the femur. He pinched it between the sticks and took on extracting it, millimeter after millimeter. His unknown visitor watched him in horror, gaping at the wounded cop’s concentration and at the blood gushing in small jerks.

The bullet finally emerged with a tiny sucking noise. It was huge and must have been fired by a machine gun. It was miraculous that the bone had withstood. Well, an expected miracle, but still. Hitchgins thought that being even just a half breed wasn’t that bad after all.
 
Last edited:

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With some luck, those chopsticks were growing a variant of penicillin and they might actually help Hitchgins recover. Otherwise... It does seem very risky to stick some old, festering chopsticks into an open wound. Oh well, Hitchgins is a tough one, that much we know already. :)

Liked your description of 'Cerberus'. Hitchgins seemed more worried about facing her than the goon in his apartment! :D

Some nice work establishing the mood, both outside of the building and in the stairwell.

Good to see you pick this up again and congratulations on the anniversary! Looking forward to seeing you around again in the future. :)
 

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It's a good thing the intruder was not there to hurt Hitchgins as he was certainly in no shape to fight back. And his method of bullet retreival...as Stuyvesant mentions - seems rather dangerous. Hope it doesn't get infected.

And once more, I am reminded of the paralleles between Hitchgins and Bjorn - both injured but pushing on as if it were only a minor concern.
 

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Stuyvesant: Penicillin? Hey, why not? Hitchgins may have that "luck" flag attached to him after all... Oh, never mind... :eek:o

I'm glad you see the characters as you wish, but I intended to create the caretaker as a kind person, actually. That's just that she's... well, a caretaker and as such inquisitive like a concierge! :D

As I wrote ages ago: the seventh (IIRC) warning will have to punch me hard for me to quit. Still, I have to find a way to advance this story faster, but it breaks my heart to simply cut away some elements I had planned to put in. :(

coz1: How could that be? You have noticed that Hitchgins could sometimes have odd behaviours!? :eek: Now, he admitedly enjoys some buffs against pain. :rolleyes:

You do not seem to have noticed, but I've put in some more clues about something, thinking that the anniversary post could be the occasion. ;)

The next installment is well under way since it is complete :D ... in French :( That's about a third or half the work done. I wanted to attach another drawing to it as well but both laziness and the lack of a digital camera will prevent this.
 

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#15b


French Connection's headquarter, Sunday in the morning

This basement had been hastily converted into a meeting room. The main light source was a naked electric bulb. Its crude shining was too weak to repel the grayness flowing from the cellar windows that no one had ever bothered to clean for ages. Four persons –three men and a woman- were waiting there, gazes nervously dodging each others in the deep silence that had invaded the place. They generally had courteous or even friendly relations but the perils of the moment had brought to life more or less buried suspicions and enmities.

Only Philippe Bruel, a short distinguished man whose thin moustache was rising like a fork around his narrow nostrils, was absolutely impassive, but that was part of his job. Rainwater slowly dripped from the trench coats the three men had kept on. As to Germaine Mayenne d’Autremont-Latour, she had judged more elegant to hang her fur coat to a worm-eaten peg, at the risk of seeing it fall on the dusty floor.

Less haughty, or simply less composed, Louis Lafleur and Ferdinand Frayetèdes weren’t trying very hard to hide their growing impatience. The second one reached for a packet of cigarettes in his pocket and started to draw one before frowning and thinking better of it. He put it back in his pocket with visible embarrassment: he must have remembered how Marianne abhorred the stench of tobacco. Philippe would have smiled if he still had such natural reactions. He was fond of such opponents as Frayetèdes at his card table. Granted they did not provided for the adrenaline you could expect from good players but they had the merit of giving away their money fairly quickly.

Footsteps in the stairs... They turned to the door as it swung open under Lady Marianne’s frank pushing. The young woman stepped in and crossed the room without more formality, her damned manservant on her heels. His name was Dranul but the others had adopted the nickname of “Bawon Samedi” given to him by Lafleur both because of his aspect and because of what he did to anyone upsetting Lady Marianne a little too much. The four lieutenants slightly bowed, but Marianne dismissed the formal greeting with an irritated wave of the hand.

“Yeah, yeah… Bad news lady and gentlemen: Charles has finally died from his injuries at dawn.”

Her voice misleadingly sounded like a teen. She headed to the makeshift table at the opposite side of the room and sat on an old cask of beer, leaning against the wall and putting her feet on the wonky desk. She was unmistakably feminine in appearance but had the gait of a tomboy.


“Now, make use of your gray cells, it’s time to give your advice.”

She drew a knife from one of her suede black boots and began to clean her pearly-varnished short nails. ‘Bawon Samedi’ took position to her left and coldly looked at the other men as if they were barely useful heaps of meat. He remained silent though, as he would never say anything without Lady Marianne’s prompting anyway.

Their precise relation was quite a mystery for Germaine. Dranul was the archetype of the cold blooded monster totally lacking any hint of empathy. His rather elegant and old fashioned style didn’t conceal anything about his inherent savagery. He looked every man as an inferior being or, at best, as a rival. Women were nothing but preys to him, and this had no erotic connotation anywhere else than, perhaps, in his own mad mind. Germaine’s temper had been forged by almost fifty years of a somewhat battered life and she wasn’t exactly impressionable, but nothing in the world would have ever convinced her to stay alone with him. His devotion toward Lady Marianne had always intrigued her and she had spent much time studying them. She had reached the conclusion that he was probably beating her in private and enjoying the unquestioned authority of his submissive victim in public. This hypothesis kept strengthening as months passed by until one day Lady Marianne expressed her discontentment after one of Dranul’s blunders. On that occasion, Germaine was certain she had caught a glimpse of deep terror in the henchman’s eyes. From that time on, she hadn’t been sure what to think about it. Damn it! She must have watched him too intently for too long and he had noticed. Here, he was returning the gaze, screwing up his eyes like a big cat. She answered Lady Marianne, hoping for a diversion.

“Well, I think they seriously got into a muddle with their fireworks, to begin with.”

“Got into a muddle? Do I need to remember you they managed to kill Charles, just a little wee bit?”

She had raised an eyebrow, but her tone was more interrogative than riled, which probed Germaine to go on.

“Indeed. But the amount of collateral casualties and the brutality of the assault are too big for them to get away from serious judiciary inquiries, not to mention radical unpopularity. The biggest blow was the killing of this Marilyn. She was very popular: the rising star of the show-business, I would say. I don’t think many politicians would take the risk of covering the Roses after that, given how angry public opinion is. The papers and their readership will be very attentive to the development of this particular case.”

“I completely agree with that.” Ferdinand nodded. “Public contempt can bring the Roses very substantial troubles.”

Lady Marianne nodded and thoughtfully leant the head on her left hand for a few seconds.

“You are probably right, but it is up to us to put even more pressure on them through all our contacts, both in newspapers, police and even clubs, bars and shops. Ferdinand can certainly take care of the clubs, but Germaine is undoubtedly the best regarding newspapers and the show-business in general. Let’s strike while the iron is hot.”

Germaine generally insisted on being called “Miss d’Autremont-Latour”, even though she could tolerate “Miss Mayenne” or “Miss d’Autremont” from her long-time collaborators. Lady Marianne never cared about this little manifestation of pride, which had grown so natural over time that Germaine didn’t take offence anymore. The only other person who could have gotten away with it had been Charles. She would miss him.

But Lady Marianne was speaking again.

“In addition, there is another killing that will unfortunately not cause so much emotion. Lafleur has lost a team…”

She turned to him and gave him the floor. Lafleur was a pleasant fellow, more often in good spirits than not. He always wore the trendiest costumes, generally bordering on weirdness. He had kept his old habits and accent though, not that he wasn’t able to change, but he was very proud and just laughed at anyone growing irritated because of that. He had joined the French Connection back when Lady Marianne had tried to settle a formal alliance with Luis. The negotiations had petered out, but Lafleur stayed. This morning, his chocolate skin contrasted sharply with an immaculate creamy suit whose hemline where discreet lace. His mood, though, left no doubt that it was actually a mourning outfit.

“Yes. Fouw of my guys have been muwdewed by the bwutes of the Woses. Fow what I know, they we’we taking a delivewy when thwee awmed men wushed in and fiwed wandomly at them. They even took theiw time to shoot the cowpses in owdew to be suwe.”

“What about the delivery?” Philippe asked.

“The delivewy! The delivewy! Is that all you’we intewested in? My men have been shot and that’s what weally bothew me, see?”

“Pray don’t be silly, Lafleur. I have understood your guys are cold dead, and believe me, I’m sad. But there is no way we could resurrect them –this word made Lady Marianne slightly blink. We have gathered today in order to thoroughly evaluate the situation. So again: what about the delivery?”

It grieved Lafleur a little that he did not look very affected in spite of his affirmation, even if that didn’t necessarily mean much. He answered nonetheless.

“It’s lost, but then again, they awe in twouble. One of Luis’ guys was with my chaps and they killed him as well. He won’t like that. We’we still in deep shit though, because anothew delivewy might take a long time, especially given the ciwcumstances and we’we getting low on cash.”

Ferdinand took the opportunity to step in the conversation:

“The time to negotiate might have come. I admit their exactions can potentially cause them all kinds of problems. But we do have our own worries anyway. They have slowly but surely pushed us away from most of the key sites. Many of our clients are also beginning to pay their contribution to the Roses as well because they are afraid we could not guarantee their security if they refused. In several occasions, our own collectors have been severely bruised.”

He cleared his throat, nervously gauged the cold silence that had greeted his words and finally resolved to go on.

“We might have to negotiate, all the more since there is the issue of Charles' death. His demise might cause tensions, or even splits in the gang so I would advise...”

His phrase was cut in the middle by a knife jabbing almost two inches deep in the wooden doorframe right before his nose. It made a big thud, similar to a gunshot, as the wood splintered. Gaping, he turned to Marianne, who was looking at him with fiery eyes.

I am the gang.” She coldly muttered.

He swallowed, his goiter quivering like a frightened custard tart.

“Well... I... I did not mean... I mean...”

He remained open-mouthed for a few seconds and finally chose the best option: he shut up completely.

Marianne leaned back in her jury-rigged armchair.

“All right. To sum up: we’re overrun on all sides, our purse is empty and our best executive is dead, all that in the middle of a bloody war...”

She smiled.

“Great! Victory is thus at our fingertips. I love interesting situations.”

Facing her lieutenants’ unenthusiastic moods, she added a sibylline precision:

“This war has several fronts. Some are obvious, others are not. I have a plan. If it works, the Roses won't know what hit them and I can assure you they will kick themselves for this aggression.”

Her devilish smile made them shiver.
 
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I used the same accent for Lafleur in English than in French, which might not be appropriate since we do not pronounce “r” the same way. African people generally do not pronounce them at all or turn them into “w”… If you have a better idea, don’t hesitate to tell.

Now, I guess that a little summarization of the state of the various threads in this story might come in handy, all the more after so long an interruption. So, we have:

1) An old Serbian baron who probably had more than enough time to reveal his dark secret to the mercenary captain.
2) A senior Byzantine trader giving his heritage to his youngster associate because he chose to face the fate of his doomed City. We wonder how the youngster will handle this honor.
3) A shy sissy Viking on his way to deliver a message and possibly fight the forces of Hell ™
4) A bloody war opposing a Greek gang to the mysterious Kamilet
5) Another bloody gang war opposing the French Connection to the Roses
6) A defenestrated populist politician
7) A fat dirty stuffed pig getting his snout in the middle of every shady event going on
8) A merry Judge pulling some strings
9) Some non Euclidian parallels

Did I forget anything?
 

Duke of Wellington

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Wow, well done keeping so many threads going. Thanks for the summary it can be a little hard to follow at times. I like this Lady Marianne character. Perhaps not to meet in real life but at least in the story she is great. Will she meet the Judge at some time? I believe they have many traits in common.
 

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Duke of Wellington said:
Wow, well done keeping so many threads going.
Err... I wish I was actually keeping them going though. :( Oh well I guess that the best I can do is to write and update, eh?

Duke of Wellington said:
I like this Lady Marianne character. Perhaps not to meet in real life but at least in the story she is great. Will she meet the Judge at some time? I believe they have many traits in common.
Well I can't see how the hell they could *not* meet at some point... :D
 
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#16a

Byzantium: May, 1420 AD.


“You decerebrated lot of asthmatic bagpipes! Is that what you call propping up?”

Sean Grant's high pitched squeaking did not impress anyone. He was pointing at a wooden beam resting upon merely a quarter of its base. The scarce light emanating from an oil lamp was projecting the shadow of his long nose on his emaciated cheeks and made his bony finger appear like some knobby claw.

“Do you even realize that all this stuff above our heads can collapse just anytime?”

His Greek was not that bad actually, but a strong accent made it hard to understand. The young man accompanying him came to the rescue:

“Let's do as the engineer says sirs: give a few mallet knocks on this beam and fix it with wedges.”

Two of the six workers reluctantly obeyed, letting their colleagues take care of the dig. Sweat was gleaming on their naked torsos and they looked like they were absolutely exhausted. The air was suffocating, saturated with the stench or perspiration, rotting muddy earth and other unpleasant smells. Their moves could barely be distinguished in the dark. The young officer took Grant aside.

“They are bound to make mistakes. They're tired and it's so dark here that they can hardly tell when they’re hitting a wedge or their own hands!”

“Yeah, they're tired, but I can't do anything about it. I'd like to have another bloody team to organize turns, but that's not possible. Everyone is dead exhausted anyway.”

“Couldn't they at least have torches?”

Grant shook is head vigorously.

“No way. It's already suffocating in this tunnel.”

“Heat from a couple of torches won't make such a change though...”

“Oh please, don’t play dumb. I mean, I don't give a shit about heat!”

Sean Grant's voice was climbing even higher.

“Flames make air unbreathable, see? No one will be able to work down there if we bring in more than those tiny lamps.”

Two dry knocks put the stays in place but caused small rubbles to fall down. Sean Grant didn't mind for he thought such little incidents could force the team to be more careful. He asked for silence and lengthily applied one ear against the wall, plugging the other one. Determining the direction or even the distance of underground sounds wasn't easy, even for someone as experimented as him. He finally pointed at a point of the wall.

“We must dig there. And we have better hurry because they sound to be rather close to the fortifications already.”

Without a word the young Byzantine officer took his tunic off and began to help his men. A few minutes later, he was already covered with sweat and panting in this passageway so small that it wasn't even possible to stand. He blessed Grant for the instruction he had given to the dirt carriers to regularly bring back gourds of water. Their work lasted for hours. His actions became mechanical: raising the pick, striking, pulling out the earth, raising the pick and so on and so forth. He had to forget his bleeding hands, his pain-screaming muscles, his aching back and his wrists who threatened to break with each new hit.

He had always expected to endure thirst, exhaustion and the cruel bite of the sun while fighting the enemy on burning battlefields all over Thrace and Macedonia. But he would have never imagined that joining the legion would ultimately turn him into a mole rat suffering in the darkness and dampness of a subterranean. But here he was nonetheless. The Turks had driven the Empire from land and from sea. No option was left but to defend the City Walls, and to fight both on the allure and beneath the foundations of the antique fortification.

Their progression was irregular. They sometimes had to cope with dry zones stuffed with rocks that were sweeping away entire sections of the wall when you managed to pull them down. This was pleasantly speeding up their work, but it was dangerous too and big crumblings threatened their lives a couple of times. Other zones were damp, earth sticking to the tools and keeping them in its bosom like a plunger. Their clammy bodies soon ended up splattered with a crust of mud.

From time to time Sean Grant had them suspend their work just long enough to check that they were digging in the right direction and to try to estimate the distance. Those short pauses did not even allow them to really take a break. It was each time harder to get back to their task, actually. But finally, Grant muttered:

“We’re closing in. I would say only a dozen feet or so separate us from their tunnel.”

The young officer ordered the carriers to bring back a few soldiers from within the City and to ready the grenades. The engineer was enjoined to leave the underground for a safer position. While the workers were finishing off the remnants of the wall, fighters grabbed their short-swords –which would be the handiest weapons in that situation- and lit up the thick tow caps of the clay pots full of greek fire.

He heard and felt more than he saw the final outbreak in the enemy gallery, but he did not hesitate to plunge straight into the opening, closely followed by his men. The Turks had probably noticed their approach, given that a ghazi soldier was crawling toward them from the left, trying to handle both his scimitar and a torch. From the right, he could hear the Turkish diggers still at work.

“Eliminate them!” he snapped to his men before heading toward the enemy soldier.

But progressing on his four in this irregular gut of earth with both hands holding arms was extremely tricky. He stumbled, indeed, and instinctively thrust his left arm forward in a desperate attempt to throw the greek fire as far as possible. The pot crushed on a pebble and blew up. He felt a burning blast hit his head and shoulders and his ears busted up in a shrilling whistling. He did not pass out, unfortunately. Rubbles began to pour on his back, leading the way for the whole ceiling. Mission accomplished.
 

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Duke of Wellington said:
A great chapter there. Nicely described and a rather original story than the usual. I can't wait to find out if he has given the ultimate sacrifice for that gain.
Thanks. You may have noticed that I haven't even named him... Poor boy, he may be the first, but probably not the last.
 

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#16b


Byzantium: October, 1420 AD.


Ermanes' head was aching. And this council had begun not even an hour ago. The hall was way too large and way too cold in those rainy days for their small gathering but it held all the necessary maps and Ermanes had thought it would be better not to settle for a cozy room. The bursts of the current dispute were echoing on the ancient tapestries. He resisted the urge to clasp his temples. Most of the participants were either retired officers or high ranked courtiers who had been too dumb or too proud to flee the City. Either way, Ermanes considered all of them pretty much incompetent. As it was, he felt like he had to fight them just as hard as the Turcs.

It was more than time to bring some composure to the debates. He grabbed his scepter and slammed it once on the heavy polished table. Everyone jerked and a refreshing silence fell. His gaze ran around the assistance. Apparently, his contempt was reciprocal, which was hardly a surprise. He kept his voice even.

“Thank you, gentlemen...”

His gaze crossed Verina's pert eyes. He mentally cursed. That the Patriarch pretended to be ill in order to avoid the defense meeting could be forgiven, but was he forced to impose his daughter upon them as his representative? She was getting on his nerves. She was getting on everyone's nerves. Her mocking smiles and provocative winks were highly irritating. He started his sentence again anyway.

“Miss and gentlemen, I don't think we have neither the time nor the energy to spend on quarrels regarding past errors or offenses we can no longer do anything about.”

Not all of them seemed convinced but they kept silent nonetheless. Ermanes turned to Paulos.

“The horeiarios has important news for us to consider.”

He managed to hide his bitterness, but he visibly knew what was about to be said and was not pleased. Paulos rose. Everyone knew this tall balding dark haired man had gained his charge thanks to cleverly organized orgies attended by members of the Imperial family. For that, most of the military as well as Ermanes himself didn't look at him very kindly. Which was not about to improve whatsoever.

“Miss...” he began, his conniving smile being rewarded by a naughty gaze. “... and gentlemen. I have conduced a thorough evaluation of the food storages. Of course I can't tell what the inhabitants of the City may have left in their private houses.”

Here he paused one second while the courtiers shifted nervously on their chairs.

“But the state's reserves are worrying. Given the estimates of our current consumption, I would say that we will run out of food within a month, at most. I suggest we cut the rations down, which could allow a couple of weeks of respite.”

“But the men are already exhausted and running short on food. How do you expect them to hold on if you put further restrictions?” Gordion weighted in. With Ermanes, Gordion was the closer to the actual fighting, regularly visiting the walls and barracks to keep in touch with the action. He was an old one eyed strategos, so thin and frail that it was hard to believe he had ever been in the army. Ermanes had a soft spot for this steady man but did not lose sight of his mild record as a field officer.

Paulos shrugged.

“What would you want me to do?”

Another retired strategos, named Mauropus, cut him, his voice vibrating with cold restrained anger.

“We would have liked you to garner as much as possible long before the siege. It certainly wasn't so complicated, was it?”

“I wasn't expecting the enemy to reach us so quickly.” The horeiarios answered mulishly. “And the situation has aggravated after a Turkish cannonball partly destroyed the roof of a warehouse. With this rain, a big part of its content has rotten.”

Wrath sent a red wave up Mauropus' face, outlining his rough white hair and badly shaved beard.

“You're a bottomless pit of incompetence! Do you think we're playing a game here?”

“If you had any legitimacy to attack my lack of competence, then perhaps the enemy wouldn't be besieging the City at all, would he?”

Mauropus slammed his fists on the table and rose, apparently forgetting that he was supposed to need his crutch.

“You son of a bitch! I'll rip your tongue off!”

“Enough!” Ermanes interjected, even if he would have liked to see the threat coming into acts. He turned to Paulos. “How long would we stand if you apply the minimum ration to everyone, not only the common people?”

The horeiarios frowned.

“One, maybe two more weeks. But I would not take this responsibility.”

Ermanes looked daggers at him. This despicable schemer was still trying to be easy with his relations, even in the heart of what would most certainly be the Empire's last war.

“Then I personally take it. Do so, and don't forget that I did mean everyone.”

Paulos reluctantly nodded and sat down.

“That's all great and good, Legos Domestikos, but what will you do when the stores run empty?” a huge fat noble, squeezed between the arms of his chair and the table, asked with a falsetto voice. “Don't worry, you have reserves of your own.” Ermanes thought.

“Nothing, I'm afraid. I do not have the power of surrendering the City to the Sultan and won't do that.” he answered.

The fat man was about to add something but strategos Mauropus was quicker.

“This won't be! We must mount a counter offensive to break the siege. They surely don't expect such a move, giving us a slight chance of breaching their lines...”

Ermanes shook is head in exasperation.

“Magnificent, strategos, cunning plan. But even if you miraculously manage to do so with your tired soldiers and militia fighting against ten times their numbers, what would you do next? Run in rampage through Greece, leaving the City to the enemy? Until what?”

“What about your own strategy, Legos Domestikos? Tell me if it's anything more than waiting like a sitting duck on his eggs in a crumbling nest? Do you expect a miracle?”

He turned toward Verina Ospinas and added:

“The Patriarch isn't even among us to invoke divine favour...”

Verina had a bright smile.

“If you really think this could change our situation, I can pray as well as my father. You know, following him everywhere could turn anyone into an expert of each and every rite.”

The blasphemy caused an uproar in the ranks of the orthodox fundamentalists, but she ignored them superbly until Ermanes was forced to intervene again.

“Perhaps the Catholics can mount a crusade in the meantime, if we hold long enough?” Paulos suggested in the all relative calm.

Another noble disdainfully snorted.

“There's no way we would depend on the papists to rescue us! And I'm pretty sure the Emperor has sent their emissaries packing.”

Mitigated agreements were muttered around the table, starting a pointless debate that Ermanes did not even heard. He was boiling inside. “We're doomed. Your merry band of big fat pastries stuffed with laziness and dripping slimy silliness has ensured that. What do we have? Fancy generals who fight for honors rather than victory. Religious nut cases that are so eager to watch the power of their God in action that they do everything they possibly can to make His task harder. Oh, and a teasing brainless bitch who has nothing else to do than preying on any able man she sees. Even if we're miraculously saved, I'm confident that the next blow will be the last. Good riddance.” But he said nothing. He caught someone suggesting that rescue may come from another front as well, since the Turks had many rivals squinting on their lands.

“Who knows? The Mongols might come again.” Ermanes shrugged. “Now, if you allow, we have to discuss the actual defense efforts. I've carefully read your reports, strategos Gordion. The situation of the western wall is worrying...”

The thin one eyed man rose.

“Indeed, Legos Domestikos. My main concern is with our numbers. The men are barely enough to keep the whole length of the fortification, let alone to repair it as the Turks keep pounding it. The wall is in worsening shape and should they decide to launch an assault, we would be vastly outnumbered. My second concern is with the morale of our soldiers. They feel like they're fighting a desperate war without all the support they could expect from the nobility. I'm afraid the food restrictions will be a hard blow in that regard.”

He sat back.

“Thanks for your dire, but somewhat expected news.” Ermanes began. “We can't do much to improve this, but I think it is vital to reinforce the western gate. I suggest we leave only the minimal watch on the Golden Horn's wall and re-dispatch those troops where they are more needed. We can also reduce the manning of the southern wall, but not that much. Regarding the morale, I will visit every billet and try to re-insufflate some hope and courage. Unfortunately, I may not have that much of an impact, I'm afraid.”

Left unsaid was the fact that he wasn't very popular, having gained his position thanks to his sister marrying the Emperor's nephew rather than through military or political prowess.

The meat loaf that was a courtier cleared his throat.

“I beg your pardon Legas Domestikos, but it would probably be better if the Emperor himself was directing the operations. No offense intended.”

“None taken. Believe me, I would happily leave him the honor.”

“Why does he remain barricaded in his private palace? Is he ill?”

The question had to come. No, the Emperor was not ill, not physically anyway. But his Legos Domestikos had kept an unsettling feeling after his last visit to the palace. The remaining varangians had entrenched the place and prevented everyone from entering. Ermanes himself had been forced to negotiate his admission. He had found the Emperor half drunk, lounging with half naked women and seemingly more than half disturbed in his head. Even more than the apparent mess, the foul odors reminding an unwashed brothel were giving a shocking impression of dereliction. He could remember the Emperor's words, for he had kept dwelling them on. He had said something like: “Leave me alone! We will soon die and I want to enjoy my last days as much as possible. The Empire has lived. Now the great war will rage on other fronts. I've taken my dispositions. The Enemy will discover that we were quite not the last to stand in front of him.

Ermanes had mentioned the Turks, he didn't remember what he exactly said, but he did remember the answer: “Yes, yes, go play with your pesky Turks! You know, they're pawns, like us. Bigger pawns, of course, perhaps even bishops or towers, but still. I'm tired and don't care anymore...

The assistance was growing impatient. He sighed.

“Well, he's not exactly ill. But I would be surprised if anyone here could meet him, let alone reason him.”

“I have met him, actually.”

Every eyes turned to Verina. She was gratifying Ermanes with a deep gaze combining compassion with glamorous teasing. The teasing part was natural to her. She wasn't the most beautiful woman, but each and every of her moves or expressions always seemed to aim at seduction.

“I admit that we should not depend on him, but I've been able to convince him to lead a great mass in Hagia Sophia, if we ask so. After a second thought, I'm not too sure it would be a good idea though...”

“We can't afford to let the defenders abandon their positions for a mass anyway.” Gordion intervened.

At this point, Ermanes noticed a guard trying to catch his attention from the main door.
 
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Amric

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Wow, having caught up again I am appalled at the complete seeming disintegration of the Empire. I am also surprised that there has been no talk of trying to impress masses of the commons into a kind of militia to help shore up the defenses.

I am also surprised that there haven't been efforts to resupply from the sea. Surely the Turk can't control the entire sea?

It's been a great read and a sad display of incompetence on virtually all levels of the government that you have managed to convey without it becoming silly. It all seems so sadly plausible that it is almost enough to make one weep. Well done, Nil....
 

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Duke of Wellington: Curse God in that case, cause after all, I'm the Evil Turks (tm) here. ;)

Amric: It's good to have you around! I'm sure Duke was begining to feel lonely. :p

I am also surprised that there has been no talk of trying to impress masses of the commons into a kind of militia to help shore up the defenses.
They are. But note that the City was largely depopulated long before the attack and that many among the remnants fled the invasion earlier. AFAIK, there were approximately 5,000 to 7,000 able men to defend the City in 1453, which really isn't much considering the total length of the fortifications and the 80,000 to 150,000 Ottomans massed around.

I am also surprised that there haven't been efforts to resupply from the sea. Surely the Turk can't control the entire sea?
Well, I've not taken notes about that but, gameplay wise, I think my fleet did blocade the City without much trouble... :cool:

It all seems so sadly plausible
Then again, reality seems to surpass fiction. It is said that the Turks broke through one of the gates on the 29th of May 1453 because the defenders had forgotten to lock it. :eek:



Another update is on the work (about half done so far). I thought this would go smoother, better and quicker with experience. It doesn't. :( Either things don't work that way or I'm not clever enough to learn. *shruggs*

Oh, I've also realized it was an error to call the City "Byzantium" since it was "Constantinople" since Emperor Constentine, a long time before this story. I must confess some laziness at the prospect of going back to fix every occurence though. :eek:o
 

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A nice description of the life of sappers. :) Before artillery were in common use, tunneling and mining were widely used siege techniques.

The council meeting doesn't seem to be all that productive. If the Emperor has given up, and the army commander isn't willing to invade the houses of the rich to look for hoarded supplies, then almost certainly one of those 'noble' men will cut a deal with the enemy and open a door.

Sad time, indeed. One hates to see the old empire go, but perhaps it is better this way.