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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Nil-The-Frogg

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Wallachia can't come to the rescue every time, can she? ;) Well, she at least threw away her alliance with me, as did all my allies, except Albania (even though I didn't cal them in the fight).

Regarding this sad meeting, I'm afraid that the show is not over, for I'll post an update tonight... Mmm, what about a newcomer in this council, eh? :rolleyes:

Oh, BTW, I'm a little surprised that no one has jumped at ... something. :p
 
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#16c


Byzantium: October, 1420 AD (continued).


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

“What is it?”

“We have a man called Alexios Xanthopoulus asking for an audience, my lord.”

“We're in the middle of a council, I can't be bothered.”

The guard hesitated.

“Well, that's what I told him, my lord, but he has insisted that he could help and had an offer to submit.”

“An offer?”

“That's what he said.”

“I know him.” Paulos uttered. “He’s a trader, and a wealthy one. Always intriguing to squeeze out any coin he can, including the state’s finances. As far as I know, he has managed to win the monopoly on the legion’s equipment.”

The tone made it clear that the horeiarios was rather upset by such a favor given to a competitor. Ermanes had heard about him too. That a Byzantine merchant could have been so successful these days was quite a feat by itself, but that he was still in the City was simply startling. A courtier snorted and let out his disdain.

“A trader! Surely all we need at the moment! Tell him we have no time to bargain for his petty wares!”

Ermanes was expecting a new pointless discussion to begin when Mauropus made an intervention that was so unexpected that it silenced everyone.

“Yeah, I know the man too. He’s indeed a greedy little bastard that would sell you dungs for gold while persuading you that you made a good buy. But as much as he acts like a sponge as far as money is concerned, he still provided the legion with quality weapons and delivered everything on due time. And most importantly, his parents didn’t forget to put a brain between his ears. I can’t see how receiving him could be a waste of time…”

Ermanes smiled at the unsaid pike. He nodded to the guard who turned tail and soon came back with a small man in a puffed out multi-colored silk outfit sparkling with jewels. A pepper and salt ring of thin beard outlined his olive-brown round face, reinforcing the benevolent aura of his peaceful expression. The first image that stroke Ermanes’ mind was a harmless version of a fluffy janissary. The newcomer bowed respectfully before addressing the assistance.

“I present you my humble respects, my lords.”

And then with a perfectly exquisite smile to Verina:

“And I’m glad to meet the most radiant lady of Constantinople.”

That said, he stood and added:

“My name is Alexios Xanthopoulus, trader… well, by trade, and loyal subject of the Empire through heart and duty.”

Remaining silent and forthcoming, he then waited for the counsel members to give him the floor or interrogate him. “A brilliant huckster he might be” Ermanes thought “but one who knows his place.

“What is this ‘offer’ you mentioned to the guards?”

If Alexios had expected a more conventional -that is convoluted- approach, he did not let see. He chose to set up the background of his offer before actually answering the inquiry.

“It is related to our supplies. I’ve heard that our current situation is alarming and thought I might lend a helping hand to the Empire and offer my modest contribution.”

“What –and how- do you know about the supplies?”

“My lord, these things are bound to leak if not carefully kept under scrutiny…”

Ermanes felt the urge to strangle the horeiarios, but this would have to wait.

“So, I suppose that you have set up some hidden storehouse for contraband?”

Alexios’ smile did not vanish.

“I must admit I had indeed the idea, but for some reason it hasn’t proven very profitable anyway…”

Ermanes chose not to follow the hint too far –for now. Alexios was already giving more details:

“In addition, those stores are far too big for mere smuggling. There are literally dozens of tons of food.”

“Then why haven’t you proposed to sell them to the state when the mobilization orders came? It’s plain nonsense.”

“I beg your pardon, but I did. I’m still waiting for feedback though.”

Ermanes would probably have to swiftly flay Paulos after the meeting if he didn’t want one of the strategos to do it first. His voice was ice cold when he asked:

“And how long do you expect your stuff to last?”

“Well, I certainly don’t have all the necessary data to estimate, but several months.”

Ermanes’ eyebrows rose.

“Looks like you don’t do things in half, do you?”

Alexios widened his good-natured smile, creasing his round cheeks.

“Oh, I’ve organized feasts in the past and supplied armies as well. Suffice to say that respective profits taught me it was quite not the same thing.”

Good Lord!” Ermanes thought “this guy does know how to spit burning venom wrapped in candy.” He didn’t look at Paulos but could almost feel his radiating hatred. This Mr Xanthopoulus was certainly a seasoned businessman but he also had an obvious knack for building up deadly enemies.

“There is still a little… difficulty, however.” Alexios said, fondling his goatee. “The goods are stored in a basement under a sturdy building north of the western part of the port. Problem is that said building has collapsed under a nasty boulder from this mammoth cannon the Turks are using, so I’ll need a good deal of workers to clear the mess up and extract the stuff from below.”

Gordion shook his head.

“That will not be possible. We do not have enough valid men to hold the walls, not even mentioning repairing them. There’s no way we can afford to mobilize a team for you.”

Alexios shrugged.

“I’m afraid that I could not excavate the crates and jars by myself, even if I was willing to try.”

“Of course” Ermanes answered “this is vital that we dispatch a team for this.”

“Why not send in those pesky nobles enjoying life in their palaces while willing men are risking their lives?” Mauropus bitterly snapped.

The Legas Domestikos sighed.

“Do not let your animosity blind you, strategos! We’re discussing serious matters here. I have already dispatched them to the walls. The only ones who are still in their homes are too old…” at this point, he discretely eyed at the fancy whale filling a chair a little further along the table “…or disabled for one reason or another.”

A courtier stepped into the conversation.

“Don’t make me laugh! We surely can dispatch a mere dozen men for that, even if they need weeks to get through! This would certainly not modify the defensive situation.”

“My opinion, exactly.” Ermanes confirmed.

“Yes, you’re right. But I do not like that.” Gordion said stubbornly.

“Let’s use the women then.”

Everyone turned to Verina.

“What do you mean?”

She laughed.

“You’ve put all the men to work. But while common women are attending the wounded and cooking, nobler ones simply hang up in their households, weeping all day long and getting on the nerves of people who would certainly have more important things to do. Putting these delicate creatures on this task would not only gain us their –limited- workforce, but also their servant’s.”

Ermanes was appalled.

“Do you really expect them to act without constraint?”

“I’ll put flamboyant sermons to good use.”

Seeing that the counselors seemed rather dubious, she added with a mischievous grin:

“Oh, and I know a few matrons who would be more than happy to supervise them.”

Then to Alexios:

“I’m looking forward to collaborate with you, Mr Xanthopoulus.”

While the merchant seemed impassible under her undressing gaze, she certainly did not miss his slightly pinking cheeks.
 

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Duke of Wellington said:
Hmmm, getting the noble women to carry out physical labour. An interesting and I fear all too novel concept. But tough times call for desperate measures.
Indeed. It's not Alexios' first appearence BTW (check the characters list ;) ).

Here comes an update before I leave for the week-end.
 

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#16d


Byzantium: January 16th, 1421 AD


The night had been incredibly clear, offering a dark opalescent sky dome glowing with a myriad of sparkling stars. This also meant the air was icily cold. And the breeze coming from the East just before dawn wasn't making it any better. Captain Gregorios Pheltros was chilling under his heavy blanket. There was no way he could sleep until pure exhaustion made him literally fall, but he tried nonetheless, lying in foetal position, focusing on the small seed of warmth nested in his belly.

“Captain! Captain! Please come! I think we have a problem.”

Gregorios grunted, but he crawled out of his shelter. The sentinel was obviously very worried. He joined him on the allure and followed his motion toward the Golden Horn below. Fog banks were deriving on the dark waters as the first glow of the sun was just enshrouding the Eastern skyline. Squinting, he soon discerned the shadow of a galley glossing in the mist, then another one.

“What the hell?”

He was gaping.

“Go wake everyone! Hurry up! We're under attack!”

“How the heck have they come here? Have they broken the Chrysokeras boom?”

“We would have been warned. But who cares? They're here in any case. Now go.”

By the time all the defenders had been thrown out of their beds, five more galleys had appeared and were closing in. They were barely about one hundred men to hold a seven kilometers long wall. Gregorios caught one of the young teenagers who were assuming messaging through the City.

AAR_Land_Walls.jpg

“Go to the West gate and tell Strategos Critopoulo that we need reinforcements. And they have better come quickly!”

The boy nodded and ran away. The captain headed back to the wall and that's when the apocalypse began. A formidable blast shook them as the artillery on the galleys fired the first salvo. Volleys of rock pellets smashed the walls and chopped off the soldiers that had been unwary enough to stand on top of the merlons. Tiles flied from the roofs of nearby houses as the rain of projectiles fell on them.

Gregorios waited for the thunder to wane and shouted: “Keep your heads down! No fire back! We can't afford the losses. Wait for them here.”

He cursed for himself. He would have ordered his gunners to pound the enemy ships while they were reloading their own weapons, but both of the two light cannons of the Golden Horn wall had been re-dispatched to the western gate.

He heard the scraping of wood against the shore, orders barked and there, the knock of ladders against stone. He saw his men crawl to get in position in front of the incoming assailants.

“Good guys.” He thought.

He could hear the ladders bending, squeaking and groaning under the climbing soldiers.

“Now!”

They rose like jacks in the box, slaying the Turks who were near enough and hurriedly began to push the ladders away. Few ghazis successfully stepped on the allure, but did not achieve much and were killed quickly.

We will throw the first wave back with supportable casualties.” Gregorios thought. A dangerous thought it was, because it's exactly the type of statement that can be proved wrong within a heartbeat.

Turkish artillery roared again, smashing friends and foes alike at the top of the walls, annihilating the attacking wave. Gregorios just had time to duck behind a merlon. He took a look around. Corpses had been projected below by the dozen. Obviously, Ottoman commanders were ready to sacrifice their men, knowing that the defenders couldn't afford such a luxury.

Gregorios took the time to run along the allure to encourage the able and show his compassion to the wounded. Minutes ticked by and his horror grew with each one as he saw more mutilated corpses and the groaning dying. After about a quarter, he heard the clamor of a new attack wave as two other galleys were closing in. Officers yelping orders and cracking their whips were trying to canalize their troops. “After what they did, it would take quite a bunch of whiplashes to make me assault the place.” Gregorios thought. Ladders came against the wall again, but this time there were hardly enough defenders left to face them all.

AAR_J991897.jpg

He waited to see the tip of the first attacker’s spear and rose, catching it in his left hand, trying to destabilize him. He did not really hope to succeed, but used the delay to furiously hack the ladder’s frame with his broadsword. The second Turk in line used his own pike and hit Gregorios on the shoulder, ripping his iron spaulder off. The captain struggled like a madman to keep the climbers at bay until the ladder finally gave in. He grabbed it and pulled with all his strength to make it slide along the wall. The Turks went down, cursing and screaming, but his armor was in bad shapes and his cheek, shoulder and belly were bleeding badly. Instead of wasting time to check what was happening on the beach, he quickly took refuge behind the thick merlons. About half a minute later, the artillery cleared the battlefield again.

Their numbers had been cut in half again, but there was nothing he could do, except perhaps pray for the reinforcements to arrive soon. He was still waiting, his back leaning against the stone, trying to ignore the pain in his guts when he saw a panting boy hurrying toward them, zigging and zagging between the housewrecks littering the streets. Gregorios ran down the stairs as fast as he could. This messenger might have news from their backups. He had already opened his mouth to ask when the kid breathed out his message:

“Strategos Critopoulo wants you to send everything you can to the western gate as soon as possible! They're being swamped by the Turks assaults there.”

From the beach came the outcry of the third wave.
 
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#17a

municipalflagofnotchicagosmall.jpg


LaSalle Police Station, Monday in the morning


Pinelvy’s office was probably the best lit room of the police station. The wall section between the two windows had been pulled down, to the architects’ great displeasure. They had frowned upon such a weakening of the weight-bearing wall, but in the end, the low compact brick building had nicely withstood. However, the bottom wall was now mainly made of a picture window. But despite the commander’s hopes, this wasn’t playing a substantial role in the ambient lighting: the sky was so leaden that one might have doubted the very presence of a sun behind the thick mantle of clouds. For the time being, thin liquid scars were striping the panes in slanted salvos. Coming in contact with each others, they swelled up, their paunches made them heavier until they finally fell down in sinuous cascades.

Speaking about paunches, Hitchgin’s presence was certainly not helping to improve his mood, already made execrable by the inextricable Dass case against which he had been beating his head for days. Although… Given what he had to announce to his subordinate, this meeting might be worth the ordeal of viewing the repugnant Sergeant. Nevertheless, he did not invite him to sit down when he came in. It was well enough to watch water drop from his defiled clothes, not even mentioning those vague crusts of leather that were supposed to be service shoes. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if a permanent stain remained on the creamy soft carpet after his passage. What was most surprising to Pinelvy in this personage really was that he did not emit any noticeable scent. As to Hitchgins, he kept his nostrils narrowed, apparently not enjoying the perfumed aftershave’s emanations that where floating around, with what was admittedly not ethereal lightness.

The commander comfortably leaned back in his armchair, not only showing he was the boss but also that he was about to enjoy it. He still not indulged himself any gloating smile. Pointing his nacre pen at the newcomer’s left leg, he noticed:

“You’re hitching?”

Hitchgins shrugged.

“Yeah, I wallowed in da stairs. Waxed parquet's nasty wid'all that water.”

“Of course. I suppose it's the reason why we haven't seen you on Friday, isn't it?”

“Yeah, sure. Woulda like see you twirlin'round wida damn whooshin'leg.”

“You should have opted for the neck instead of the leg. Oh, well, I guess you feel obliged to botch even your falls.

That’s when he noticed the Sergeant shabbily eyeballing at the documents spread across the desk. Exasperated, he gathered the papers and photographs and put them in a drawer. Leaving them in such disorder was unpleasant, but he would take them out as soon as Hitchgins would have left. Peeved as he was now, the commander decided to go straight to the point:

“Know that your last blunder has been enough of a mess for me to be allowed some disciplinary measures. You seem to enjoy too much consideration to be tossed off even now, but still…”

He did not deem important to specify who was giving those instructions. Facing his interlocutor’s lifelessness, he decided to go on.

“I’ve been told you were occasionally complaining about the dullness and uselessness of your current missions, which of course dragged my attention…”

Hitchgins puffed out his cheeks and blew slowly.

“Pray don’t tell me ya’ll got me become an orderly?”

“Orderly?” Pinelvy almost strangled in laugh. “No, I ain’t that cruel.”

Which his smile contradicted as clearly as possible as he went on.

“Plus it would force me to see you each time I would step in or out the building, not even mentioning the lamentable image you would give of our station. No, I do have a way more exciting position for you. Your wish for action will be fulfilled. And more importantly: I won’t be dumped with you anymore.”

“Lemme guess… Orderly at the Judiciary Tower then?”

“I hadn’t thought about it. Could be amusing though. But you would be deprived of the climate’s pleasures, which would admittedly be a shame, wouldn’t it? Your present task as a community police officer is the perfect one. All you really need is some better playground. I have luckily found you just that, since you will from now on patrol the south and south-east suburbs, including the docks. Mister Bredin will remain your team-mate, if only he happens to be mad enough to accept.”

The Sergeant chuckled.

“Haroupf! Me guess ya’re jocking, aren’t ya? These are way outa our jurisdiction. Ya can’t send me that far.”

Pinelvy leaned his elbows on his desk, joining his manicured fingers. He was grinning like a gourmet savoring some old cognac.

“Oh, but I’ve recently stumbled upon a very interesting circular from the Mayor’s office and countersigned by Judge Peter. It’s numbered AM865-BVF4-61 and states that every police station must dedicate a substantial part of its overstaff to help fight crime in the most difficult districts in order to, I quote, restore public order in the lawless areas that have developed in the outskirts of the city. This document is rather little-known because, frankly, no one can boast an overstaffed station. That is no one except me, since you’re the very incarnation of overstaff.”

The commander was a little disappointed to see that Hitchgin's surprise and consternation weren't as intense as expected. To tell the truth, they even had a faint lingering feel of sham and in all events seemed superficial. It should not have come as a surprise from this hopeless drunkard who had nothing left to communicate with the world but a make up. And an awful one, to boot. He was so disgusted that he decided to cut the conversation short.

“You begin tomorrow. And believe me when I tell you that you have better not cop out. Any question?”

“Nope. Just wanna wish ya good luck for da Heebom Hall's murder. I'd bet ya'll need it more than a little...”

Squinted eyes and stiff lips, Pinelvy spat a despising: “Scarper!”

The Sergeant turned tail and went out, hiding an appreciative smile beneath his soaking wet moustache. This unrehearsed circular was a nice trick. He would have bet one against nine that it hadn't ended up in the commander's hands by accident. The best way to make an idiot full of himself do something is to make him believe he has got the idea by his own: hats off to the Judge.
 
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Duke of Wellington said:
Shit, that is about the worst possible message one could receive.
Indeed.

Duke of Wellington said:
Will you enlightening us with what Gregorios' exact words of response are? ;)
I have. I mean that I have tried to guess what I would have answered myself and came up with a carp-like gaping mouth. Now, if you can imagine some colorful words, I'd be glad to hear them (might fuel my inspiration for later use either in the AAR or in RL :rofl: ). That is to read them, of course. :cool:

As a side note, no one as been able to tell me what I should use instead of "overstaff" (which I suspect is not correct) in the last update, although my sister has suggested "extra-staff". But this one didn't sound too well in my ears. :wacko:
 

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Duke of Wellington said:
Learning from the Judge eh? Interesting, I hope he shan't pick up too many characteristics of that despicable person.
Interesting comment, really. :rolleyes:

Duke of Wellington said:
Not a perfect word to use but I wonder if excess staff might be more appropriate than overstaff.
Thanks, I might fix it soon (I was hoping for other suggestions so that I could pick my favourite ;) )

Here comes an update.
 

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#17b

municipalflagofnotchicagosmall.jpg


LaSalle Police Station, Monday in the middle of the afternoon


Upon his arrival, Matt found the police station completely upside down. Even the secretaries Sally and Molly had interrupted their work to have a look at the brawl raging in the hall. Colleagues coming to the rescue shoved him and his still sore leg betrayed him. That's half lying on the cold tiled floor with an arm leaning on a wooden bench polished by two successive generations of detainees' rumps that he stared at the fight. A man and a woman who had just been arrested for ecstatic water consumption were rebelling against half a dozen policemen in uniform trying to bring them under control and this wasn't a nice show. Billy hits were raining in an eruption of invectives. Visitors who had come for simple formalities or to register complaints ebbed in panic. A woman passed out. Babies started to cry.

The man gripped one of the cops and threw him over the wooden reception's counter, shattering its brushed glass window. Shoving them with an enraged howl and a most inelegant thread of drool, he violently brought down to the floor the three other men escorting him. He had no time to harm them more though, for sergeant Cook, who had just arrived on the scene, struck him hard on the occiput with his club. The blow would probably leave after effects but had the nice advantage of putting the frenzied man out of the action.

For the woman, she had managed to get rid of one of her guardians thanks to a headbutt just as powerful as it was clumsy. While she had actually knocked him down, her nose was broken as well, which did not seem to bother her very much. She put the second one off the fight by planting her hand in his crotch in a very unlady-like fashion. Once free, she nimbly jumped on the counter, sending around the glass shards left by her stooge's first feat. From there, she began to climb up one of the pillars supporting the second floor gallery. She wasn't as gracious a climber as a monkey, but rather efficient, nonetheless. The first cop who tried to catch her was floored by a kick in the chin. However, another one successfully grabbed her before she went to high. She fell, heavily bumping against the counter before rolling on the gray paving. The man who had brought her down jumped on her, only to be snatched by her grasp. She bestially bit his forearm not to release it anymore. The poor guy shrilled in pain while his colleagues were going at the woman fiercely, beating her up, until she loosed consciousness.

That was a shattered doll which was carried to the sobering cells in the basement. These cages had much in common with those used for big dangerous animals. Their steel bars had been dented on many points by drug-addicts in last stage crisis before the police had finally been officially allowed to shoot them on the spot, even in the middle of the street. The two maniacs of the day were locked up until the ecstatic water's effects wore off. After that, they would probably be sent to Miskatonic Sanatorium to the attention of Doctor Barachiel.

Having been warned by the fuss, Commander Pinelvy soon burst in the hall. He did not need many explanations to understand what had happened and to be very upset about it. The officer who had taken the risk of crossing the public area with two ecstatic water addicts would probably have a hell of a bad time sooner than later. But for the moment, the Commander concentrated on comforting the visitors and yelling orders for the wounded to be evacuated and the hall to be fixed up as much as possible. scanning the gallery, he cast an ireful glance at the curious agents and employees who were still watching at the mess downside. All of them hastily got back to their respective tasks, including Sally, throning in front of her enormous black cast iron writing machine and Molly, who had to struggle with her flowered antique one.

Matt rose, trying to figure out how he could help. To his astonishment, not only did the Commander see him, but he even came to him. He went as far as to offer him a warm smile in spite of the obvious vexation caused by the incident.

“Dear Mister Bredin! I do hope you're recovering. I've been told you had declined the offer to take a few days off work...”

“Yes sir, indeed. As you see, I can walk and want to perform my duty.”

“Oh. We have obviously found a dedicated agent. You can be proud.”

“Thank you sir.”

Pinelvy paternally padded him on the shoulder.

“Can we speak in private?”

“Certainly sir. I mean, I stand at your disposal sir.”

“Oh no... No need to be so formal, really. I just want to discuss your career. You are obviously brilliant.”

The commander saw what he had been expecting: a flush making Matt's long face look like a thermometer and a spark of pride and satisfaction lighting his eyes.

“I would be glad to get you a promotion, actually. Would you have enough abnegation to keep working with Sergeant Hitchgins?”

Matt was obviously startled. His Adam's apple went up and down again, a little like a shotgun being armed.

“Why, of course sir. I would be honored to keep serving under such a seasoned investigator.”

Pinelvy made a face.

“No need to bother, you know. I don't particularly like this drunkard myself anyway.”

Matt's face elongated in a not so clever looking horse-like manner.

“But... He doesn't drink.”

“No? Never mind anyway. I want to catch him. For police's honor. You understand that, don't you?”

There was a lull. Unsure, Matt nodded without overwhelming conviction.

“Well, it doesn't matter much. I just want you to report any punishable action from mister Hitchgins. It shouldn't be that hard, actually.”

“Yes... I'll see to it sir.”

“Oh, and it's of course unnecessary to let him know about our little conversation.”

He took his subordinate's hand and clutched it between his, as if it could seal their agreement. That done, he adopted a confidential tone:

“I put my trust in you and am confident you won't disappoint. Do not even overlook the slightest peccadillo! If you help me to have him sacked, I'll make sure you get promoted to... say, assistant investigator!”

That said, he gave a last pad on the young man's arm and went back to the fixing of the public's reception premises, leaving Matt standing there dumbstruck, hand still half raised.
 
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Miskatonic Sanitarium? Oh, my, that is serious. Whatever ecstatic water may be it is clearly potent stuff.

I would tell Hitchgins to watch his back but he rarely notices much it seems. I'd bet that Matt won't be able to carry-through with any treachery.
 

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Director said:
Miskatonic Sanitarium? Oh, my, that is serious. Whatever ecstatic water may be it is clearly potent stuff.
Well, I don't even need to know what you have to tell you it's not good for that.
marteau.gif


Director said:
I would tell Hitchgins to watch his back but he rarely notices much it seems.
Are you sure of that?
hum.gif


Duke of Wellington said:
Sounds like that pair were sticking to health advice of eight glasses of water a day rather faithfully.
Indeed. No need to drink much of this water though...
0001.gif



I have modified the first post again, giving different colors to the chapters according to their respective timelines. If you have any idea that may help to make the read more comfortable and the story easier to follow and/or to remember, I'll be glad to read from it.

Sorry for the delay, but I'm trying to write in French first then to translate in English, which takes much more time and efforts than to write directly in English, but has a few different advantages as well... BTW, the last two posts have been created in this way already. I don't know if it's noticeable in comparison with the previous ones. :confused:
 

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#18

Crete, March 1421 AD


Maro was dissecting the accounts of overseas businesses under the scarce light of oil lamps. The air was rather cold because of the North wind, the meltemi, that was pushing waves of rain against the windows. Rain had been pouring down for three long days already, considerably limiting the panoramic interest of those panes looking over the Egean sea. Alexios had paid them awfully expensively because he wanted them very wide and transparent, which only the glass makers from Murano had been able to guarantee. At the moment, they were mostly effective at cooling the office, absorbing the already pathetic heat radiating from the hearth. Even though the cold wasn't all that intense, it was still too much for the young businessman whose fingers were getting clumsy and aching. He decided he would have thick curtains installed, and possibly shutters as well. For the moment, his eyes were working hard to read the squiggles in the accounts books under the poor light of this winter day combined to the tiny trembling glow of the flames.

He had studied the last Venetian innovations regarding accounting and had exposed them to Alexios. The latter had been faithful to his avant-gardist reputation in that he had immediately decided these should be implemented and hopefully perfected. It had not been easy however, for it was undesirable to train employees both at Greek and proper accounting, be it in Egypt or in the Middle East. They had been forced to hire Byzantine employees to serve both as accountants and observers. This had of course caused some hassle with the locals and was bound to provoke some more in a near future. Even so, income and expenses reports remained tainted by some artistic blur. Reading them, and above all understanding them, was indeed quite a challenge. Yet, some meticulous analysis backed up by a touch of intuition still allowed to outline some trends or even detect possible nasty mischiefs. Now, Maro was precisely beginning to suspect something that was quite not right in their Jerusalem holdings. He was not able to tell exactly what it was and he wouldn't before investigating the case on the premises. His presumption kept growing with each new column of figures scrolling under his tired eyes however.

Light knocks against the office walnut door interrupted his esoteric read. He sighed but thought that, after all, some distraction would be welcomed.

“What is it?”

The door opened to reveal his secretary, Giacomo.

“Captain Popouletes has jus arrived. I thought you would like to meet him as soon as possible.”

Maro's face brightened, almost completely conjuring away the faint wrinkles that were beginning to sketch their future furrows.

“At last! Yes, I'll see him immediately. Thanks.”

Giacomo went away. Maro put his sheets in a chest of drawers. Accounting would wait; he had tortured his eyes on it enough for this day, anyway. It didn't take long before someone knocked again.

“Come in, come in!”

Georgios Popouletes entered, indeed. His moves were full of an affected softness. He closed the door, making sure it did not slam. Maro did not like his nonchalance and cautiousness very much, but the man had been working for Alexios for years, and his skills both as a sailor and as a negotiant were worthy of note. The newcomer sat as delicately as he could in the leather chair Maro was pointing at. The wooden frame barely squeaked. The captain had bony cheeks, a developed baldness and a black beard as thick as it was badly trimmed. And of course, is face was craggy.

“I am delighted to see you, Captain. I was beginning to fear you may had encountered serious problems in Constantinople. Pray tell me about your trip. Oh, but you may wish some refreshment before?”

Georgios shook his head.

“I thank you, but refreshments really are unnecessary these days. I would rather crave for a warm roaring fire.”

“I'll have you served a cup of hot spiced wine, then. But for now, please tell me about Constantinople. How are things turning out over there? And most importantly: do you have any news from Alexios?”

Georgios fumbled his thick fingers through his beard.

“There is every reason to believe he has died, I'm afraid.”

Maro tried to keep his feelings for himself but he had tightened and unconsciously took one of his quills, making it roll between his fingers.

“Are you certain of that?”

“Well, in all honesty, I haven't seen his corpse. But many died during the siege and even more during the plunder. The Ottomans have buried hundreds of corpses in communal graves in order to prevents epidemics. There's no way to know if he's in one of them. In any case, I've been unable to find him in his house, which has been temporarily sealed. A witness told me he had seen him alive the day before the assault but no one has seen him after that, and I have asked to all the survivors, or at least almost all of them. Took me weeks. Besides, he's not the like to hide or remain unnoticed.”

“Have you tried to check the Merchants House?”

Georgios put his hands back on his knees.

“There's no Merchants House anymore, sir.”

Maro was too affected to blame himself for asking such a stupid question. He made the effort of putting the quill aside and decided to jump to another topic.

“What's left of the City?”

“It's weird but it's pretty much intact. The destructions mostly concerned the walls and nearby buildings and the Turcs have quickly rebuilt them, just in case of a crusade.”

“What about the plunder then? And what about the inhabitants?”

“Well, given that the Turks are flowing in the city to settle in, all the scars from the pillage are quickly disappearing. As to the inhabitants... Many have died, many more have fled, but the remaining ones do not seem to be mistreated. To tell the truth, there are more people in the streets than a few years ago. With rumors saying that the Sultan wants to move his capital to Constantinople, new inhabitants are rushing in from everywhere.”

Maro leaned forward, his predatory instincts coming back to the surface.

“The City will resuscitate then. Everything has to be rebuilt there, so to speak. Opportunities will grow everywhere like mushrooms after the rain. How are the new authorities inclined toward strangers?”

“Rather open for what I've been able to gather. As much as they drive Anatolian businessmen to settle in, they still regard favorably anyone who is ready to be part of the new boom. Plus you're not necessarily a stranger. I mean... Constantinople now belongs to the Ottoman Empire, right? So her citizens qualify as subjects of the Sultan. Maybe you could go that way?”

“The suggestion has its merits, indeed. I'm afraid this would close many doors right before my nose throughout the Western world, however. Including here, in Crete. Who is still active in Constantinople?”

“No one. They're all dead or on the run. There's Paulos, the former horeiarios, all right, but he's rather some shameless go-getter than a business genius. The man used to drive Alexios nuts, and it was reciprocal. Apparently, he's enough of a bootlicker to have wheedled his new masters.”

“In short he does have a leg up but has neither the talent nor the means of taking advantage of this. A deal with him might prove very profitable.”

Georgios uneasily scratched his head just behind the ear.

“Pardon me, sir, but this guy really is despicable scum. His behavior during the siege even earned him an assassination attempt about a month ago.”

Maro leaned back in his armchair, smiling with what was obviously made-up bonhomie.

“That's all the better! This way, remorse will not be too hard on us, should we betray him for any reason.”

Georgios opened his eyes wide before smiling too.

“I see we will each drop a little tear for him if such a tragedy happened.”

“Indeed. Thank you for your informations, Captain. Pray visit the kitchen to get this mulled wine I promised you. We shall meet again before you set sail for Grenade anyway. I will most certainly have further instructions for you by then.”

“Thanks, sir, have a nice day.”

“Goodbye Georgios, see you soon.”

The Captain rose, waved some ungainly goodbye and left as discretely as he had entered. Maro remained alone in his cold office. He had much paperwork to do. He mainly had to ensure his heritage by sending letters to relevant authorities, not to mention his own establishments. It gave him a strange feeling not to think about them as Alexios’ establishments anymore. He drew a sheet of rag paper from the bottom of the chest of drawers and spread it out on the desk. He grabbed the quill he had mistreated a few minutes earlier and dipped it in the inkwell. Only then did he realise that he had no idea where to begin. To his own surprise he found himself asking Alexios: “How would you handle this, you old rascal?” This gave him food for further thought.

He had never really been able to get attached to anyone, not even his own parents, and that had naturally made him a rather cold and lonely man with his trading skills to build him a sociable facade. He had wanted to take Alexios' place for a long time. In fact, you could even say that he had plotted for it. And there he was, the official and legitimate heir without having had to resort to treachery. It was a dream come true. And yet... and yet he could not get rid of the feeling that a small bearded man was still about somewhere, waiting to advise him if he had problems.

He was suddenly struck by the revelation that to him, the living seemed deader than the dead. This idea first left him paralyzed by surprise. Then he looked at it, dared to stroke it, to fondle it and finally to turn it around in his mind to take a good look at it. For months he had been managing alone what was now to be his own financial empire and for all that time he had scarcely given a thought to Alexios since the latter, acting on an impulse, had got himself trapped in the City. Only now that he knew the old man was dead did Maro begin to feel his mentor’s presence and a gust of affection swelled his chest. It was impossible to love the living because they were always likely to disappoint or, even worse, to trap you into having feelings for them and then to throw theirs to your face in return. The only thing you could do with the living was to ignore them. The dead were docile; they remained quietly in a corner of your mind until you needed them, and then you could feel them bend over your shoulder and whisper advice in your ear. They never came unbidden and they never asked for more than you were willing to give. The dead, in short, had earned the right to exist. It was safe to love them.

He realized the ink was drying in his quill’s reserve. He must have been lost in introspection for a long time. Casting a slightly nauseated glance at the empty page and, he felt like he was unable to write anything. He decided to wash the quill. That done, he pulled the green velvet cord hanging behind him. Giacomo came in shortly after.

“You rang me, sir?”

“Indeed. I would like you to draft me a few letters regarding my assuming control of our dearly departed Alexios’ assets.”

Giacomo went pale.

“Ah, I see the Captain has not informed you.” Maro said. “Alas! He died when the City was captured by the Turcs.”

“I’ll do what is needed, sir.”

“Thank you. And please, I need you to set up a trip to Venice for me. I must have a delicate meeting there as soon as possible.”
 
Last edited:

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An good chapter. It is interesting to think of business being carried out so long ago and not really so different than it is today. I'm not sure if that makes sense but at least something along those lines appealed to me in that writing.

Did you write that chapter in French first or English? I think it flowed better than the previous two, which I believe you wrote in French then translated?
 

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CatKnight: Don't worry, we will indeed keep an eye on Maro.

Duke of Wellington: Well, to tell the truth, I don't have all that much details regarding the way trade actually worked. But the Venetians did invent the double entry accounting during the XVth century and it was then formalized in a book circa 1450... So, I guess that my description makes at least some sense for an avant-garde trader.

Regarding the writing, I did actually write it in French first, but I've received help, for the first time. I want to take the opportunity to thank all the people over the web who spend time helping learners. In this case, hats off to Suehil, who accepted to proofread two tricky paragraphs for me.
bonjour-97213.gif


You are right in that the processes of writing directly and translating are very different. I've learnt that thanks to this AAR. When I write directly in English, grammatical structures and vocabulary I already know flow in my mind, which leads to something that can sometimes fool natives. But I don't learn much that way. Writing in French first makes me use very convoluted sentences and varied vocabulary. The challenge is then to find out how the hell I could best reproduce them in English. It's good for learning, but the result is usually clumsy... I guess I'll try to switch from one to the other, depending of the mood.
 

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#19

municipalflagofnotchicagosmall.jpg


In front of LaSalle police station: Tuesday, early in the morning


The rain had strengthened, but the wind had slackened to make up for it. The torrents running along the gutters carried all sorts of rubbish from old newspapers to bottles, dead leaves and cigarette butts. It was as if no downpour could ever clean the streets completely. Pedestrians were already clogging the sidewalks like ghosts, scarcely awake but already late. Many were grousing under their umbrellas or hats, but most had accepted the fact that they would be sopping wet day after day, no matter what.

Waiting for Matt, Sergeant Hitchgins stood on the steps with the orderly. The latter was a good fellow nearing retirement who preferred standing there all day long welcoming visitors to stupidly risking his life on patrol such a short time before enjoying his pension. Hitchgins did not keep him company out of friendship, though. To tell the truth, he was being petty, hoping that Commander Pinelvy would pass and be outraged by seeing him there unshaven, uncombed and chewing his soggy cigarette butt under the yet indifferent gaze of passers-by. He was to be disappointed, because the Commander had a meeting with Judge Caryotte that morning.

Sally arrived, holding up her black dress to prevent it from dragging in the puddles. She noticed the sergeant through the constellation of drops dotting her almond-shaped glasses. She stepped closer, picking a lock of red hair from her wet nose.

“Ah! Dear Mister Hitchgins! I’ve been told…” She would never have dared to specify what she was speaking about, for she deemed that unbecoming. “What they are doing to you is dreadful.”

Hitchgins shrugged.

“Don’t worry Miss Sally. I’ve seen worse dan dat in me career. I guess I can help ya wid sumthin’, right?”

She pursed her lips. It was a fact that she only spoke to people when she had something to ask them but she didn't like anyone to point it out, be it explicitly or not.

“Well, in fact Inspector Harry asked me to check a few details regarding the murder at the Royal Hotel, six years ago. He wants everything I could gather about the killer and the precise timing of the crime. He believes it might have something to do with his current case and... Oh well, the folder must be somewhere in your office.”

The sergeant stared at her with a toad-like glaze over his fatigue-shadowed eyes. He took his cigarette butt between his thumb and index finger and quickly slipped his tongue between his lips to drive out a tobacco fragment.

“Seven years'n two months, actually. Da folder must be under me toolbox. Third from da bottom if me memory serves me right.”

Sally knew him too well to be in the least surprised. She thanked him and was about to step into the police station when he spoke again.

“Watch out though. There's a coffee stain coverin' da second paragraph of da second page. Da first witness arrived on da crime scene at'bout ten past 'leven in da evenin'. But Harry doesn't know which way's up anyway. Timothy Hanselholm hadn't got a record. Given who interrogated diz poor nutcase at the time, I can tell ya he'd have spilled da beans. And since then, ya can be sure he'sn't been in condition for any lousy trick. Poor little thing.”

That said, he put his ignoble cigarette butt back into his slack mouth. Sally thanked him again and went. About five minutes later, Matt arrived, limping slightly. He was trying to cover himself with his cape but it could not keep him from being soaked, if only because of the splashes from passing cars.

“Hi Matt. Ya're a little wee bit late dude, aren't ya?”

“Good morning Sergeant. I'm so sorry... I had not realized it would take more time than usual to come. This still hurts a bit, see?” He pointed at his ankle.

“Boarf! I'm hitchin' more dan ya today.”

Hitchgins stepped down the stairs with the gait of an arthritic hippopotamus.

“Oh my, that's true. What happened to you?”

“Lessay I've got sum kind of an altercation wid sumone who had more penetratin' arguments dan me.”

“I see.” The look on his face made it clear that he did not see at all but as usual Hitchgins paid no attention and headed for the nearest tram stop. Matt quickly caught up with him.

“Looks like we're going to pound the pavement together again, Sergeant... Where are we going today?”

Hitchgins stopped and raised an eyebrow.

“Haroupf! Don'ta tell me them sly dogs didn’t even bother tellin'ya?”

Matt looked rather surprised.

“Well... No. I mean, I don't know our mission yet, if we have one, that is.”

At this point they were interrupted by a man who suddenly planted himself right in front of them. He was tall, upright, displayed a smile straight from a tooth powder advertisement and wore a blue suit that was probably supposed to be elegant. He had a bundle of dripping tracts covered in big noisy letters.

“Good day to you, gentlemen! I'm delighted to meet you. Did you know that we, at 'Clean Streets, Clean Hands', have a special affection for lawmen. We think it is necessary to wipe out the scum that plagues our streets and we swear to leave no stone unturned to support you in your daily struggle. You are the hope of our splendid city!”

He shoved one of his flyers into the sergeant's hand. The latter hardly cast an absent-minded glance at it.

“Tell your colleagues about us! We want you to stop risking your lives for nothing. Local administrations must back you up. For a city uncluttered with rabble, vote for 'Clean Streets, Clean Hands' and get others to vote for us too!”

Hitchgins folded the paper and disdainfully slipped it into the man's breast pocket.

“Sorry to disappoint ya, me good sir, but as far as I'm concerned, ya can keep yar smelly bullshit to yarself. It's been nice talkin' wid ya.”

He walked away, not paying any more attention to the activist. Matt waited until they were out of earshot.

“Really, I wonder why you answered him like that. It's true that the city needs quite a clean-up, isn't it? I'd say it's our job.”

“I'll tell ya me little Matt. When “clean” means white, rich and tight-arsed, then I do feel a certain deep fondness for dirt.”

They had almost reached the tram stop when Hitchgins stopped again to look at Matt.

“I can't believe dis pesky manicured lavender-smelling ass-hole didn't even have da decency to tell ya. Sum people really needa buy themselves sum balls. We're headin' to the Wild Crescent, boy.”

Matt's eyes widened. The Wild Crescent was the far suburbs spanning from the South to the East of the agglomeration. This had always been a dangerous area, plagued by poverty and crime, but things were getting even worse these last years because the gangs had organized and federated to form a few crime empires. They had even seriously threatened the other parts of the City before Judge Peter's harsh and sometimes unconventional policies had pushed them back. Rumors said he had made a deal with the gangs already holding the city center to side them with the police against the intruders. Lately, the most active and reckless gang - though not the biggest - had been the Kamilet, from the Western part of the Crescent.

“But that's... that's...”

“Not as dangerous as they say... Ya shouldn't worry. No more than, what? Lessay a dozen'n a half colleagues've been wasted there in da last four months.”

“Twenty is still a big casualty roll, don't you think?”

“Nah, not twenty. A dozen and a half. One o'them had been caught by a maniac and we've only found half o'da corpse. So there's hope da oder half's fine and havin' a good time in the tropics, see?”

Matt made quite a funny face. Funny for the others, that is, because he was not laughing at all.

“Well, I guess things will never improve down there if we daren’t patrol the area, will they?”

Hitchgins chuckled and took the few steps to the stop where he waited, quietly ignoring the rain that would soak him to the bones for the rest of the day anyway. As Matt caught him up, he added:

“Oh, and by the way, dat would've been eighteen, not twenty.”

.
 

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If I haven't replied to this AAR in a day or two you better remind me Nil, I'd missed this update til now.

Well this assignment might be considered trivial and getting Hitchgins out of the way but I think from his current air he expects to find something quite useful on his way. Him and Matt make a nice pair. I'm very impressed by Hitchgins memory too.

By the way what is that little flag at the top of each chapter supposed to represent?