Prologue: The eve of Battle
September 17th 1509. On the river Agno South-East of lake Garda
Sitting on a large flat rock I looked across the beauty of God’s creations spreading itself below. A beautifull valley, the rays of the evening sun, soon to dissapear and evolve into a red sky, touched the hills, streams and woods. I was thinking, pondering and wondering what the future might bring for me. At that, I was not the only one. Everywhere around me men where thinking of the day of tomorrow. They where wondering if they would survive, how worse it would be and if they would be brave enough. Some praid not to be wounded. And, if they where in a gruesome way, to have the Lord’s aid in their perillious time and the mercy of swift salvation.
It was always like that on the eve of battle. Surely it has been. I didn’t know it back then as I had never been in a proper battle before. I had drawn my sword, shot my crossbow and seen the dead and wounded fall into the grass. But, I had only been in minor skirmishes. Battles in which a few dozen men fought each other. Raids. Duels. Tomorrow I would see the real work.
As the other men I wondered if I would be brave, I needed to be brave. I could do nothing else, but be brave. Probably I would be wounded, I hoped I would make my first kill. But above all I told myself; I would be brave.
I would show those dogs whom I was. ‘The Nose’ wasn’t someone you could laugh at, make fun of and think of as one out of many. ‘The Nose’, as they called me, was a true soldier, a natural born fighter and leader. Tomorrow they would know, tomorrow they would know.
The sun had set and my thoughts drifted from this place, this valley in Northern Italy, to my home town of Brugges, Flanders. My mother and sisters would be eating a delicious meat-pie now. It was Saturday and to celebrate the comming day of the Lord that was their custom to do. My father was one of the rich merchants of the Flemish city. He had made his name and fortune and sent me out to do the same. Like him before me I would serve in the army, the Flemish crossbow company of Julles le Clerc, for three years. I would return from my journeys and adventures stronger, wiser with more knowledge and above all, a man.
He had seen to it I would not have to start as a common soldier, the lowest dirt. No, he had bought me a commision in Le Clerc’s mercenary corps. Thus, I would lead one tenth of the one hundred and eighty of them in the common battle.
On my way from Mainz to Trento I had learned a lot. Julles tought me and so Michiel Barentzoon, the old sergeant of my section, had told me the tricks. “I wouldn’t let a young sixteen year old lad like you die without a chance. I will be at your side. I will lead the section and you will give the commands. Back then it had all been strange to me. I wouldn’t listen to a sergeant, I had told myself. But, as we crossed the Alps I found myself doing just that. The journey had been tough and the Frisian segeant had dragged me through it. Now was the time for the final challenge, the battle. It would make me a man or leave me on the field a child.
I sighed as I pushed the heels of my boots deep into the grass. The grass was somewhat brownish here in Italy, scourched by the heath of the summer sun and completely different in color, lenght and structure from anything which grew on Flanders Fields. I sighed again. Still, the tough remarks made by one of the French knights I had visited that afternoon couldn’t leave my thoughts. But they had to, they had to. I had to sleep. I had to preserve my strength. I had to be fit for the next day. In the end I slept. I slept on the eve of battle.