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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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That music is never too modern. :D

I'll find some that would be appropriate sometime XD

You got it wrong



Valmont would have been even better. :D

(As I cannot decide between John Malkovich and Colin Firth, there's no pic, alàs).

:D

Haha I was planning on doing a tribute to Dangerous Liaisons in the next Season since it would be better suited in the 1700s XD

This could have been so much better ;)

Do suggest !
 

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chapter162tile.gif


Chapter CLXII: Natasha/Katja/Lilith​

17 June 1643 – Somewhere near Oslo

Lope addressed Íñigo's tender bruise lightly. The young boy winced as Lope inspected the wall-smashed flesh, but agreed that it was not particularly serious. His eyes, however, gazed back at the back of Belmont who stood at the edge of the staircase that led to the tower up ahead. Lope stole yet another glance at the dead bodies on the floor, remarking once more at their faces.

Belmont's explanation had been a lengthy one: or so it seemed to the disoriented Lope. Diego was listening intently as well while Amatallah and Alia, off to the side, did not seem at all interested: as if this whole affair was no revelation to them. Lope grunted as he stood up again and helped Íñigo to his feet. He was unsatisfied with the explanation. It seemed as if the whole thing was a contrivance, but nothing else seemed to explain the replicated faces on the floor. Diego gave him a glance which he returned tentatively.

“What do you think?” Lope asked the other soldier as Diego stepped closer.

“He expects me to believe witchcraft with more witchcraft,” Diego replied gruffly as he fitted his parrying dagger back onto his left hand.

“It is not witchcraft,” Amatallah broke in sideways into their circle, “he speaks the truth: albeit in a form that I would not have been able to describe.”

“And how do you know about this, Amatallah?” Lope asked with a mixture of surprise and frustration, creasing his face painfully.

“A comfortable life in the Netherlands can be bought by trading secrets. I know things even Madrid would be surprised about,” she replied from behind her black veil.

“Madrid is exactly where we should be if he is telling the truth about... his kinsmen,” Lope nearly hissed to the two.

“Regardless, if this Lilith person has Matthijs in that tower, I have to go to him,” Diego gripped his weapons tightly.

“It is too late now, even for your boy,” Amatallah enjoined, striking her eyes at Íñigo. “We can only move forward and finish this. We must face the 'witch' herself.”

---
Mood Music

The Spanish cavaliers had their armour sparkle in the afternoon sun like a sea of quicksilver. Their helmets, ornate with the designs of eagles and lions rose high into the Belgian sky: a golden parade of noble creatures menacing their claws and talons. “Form up! Form up!” the commander's voice roared as his steed sped through the front of the cavaliers, saber held high in desperate resolve. His lieutenants, and the colour guard hurried behind him as he inspected the front line of his division. The banner of Spain and France snapped tightly against the wind like a martial drum.

Wheeling around, the commander laid his saber forward like the setting of an ancient ballista ready to be unhooked. He watched, steady with his slanted arm in the air: the flower of Iberian horsemen steady behind him also looking onward at the struggle ahead of them. Kevin van der Kooi, commander of the third horse division waited with arm raised to the heavens. His steady wall of men with their sharpened blades behind him barely moved as cannonball after cannonball began to fall around them, setting up a flurry of dirt and smoke on their hill. A half dead horseman rose up from the bottom of the hill to him, holding the tattered banner of a messenger.

“Now, young master,” was the breathless courier's shout, “the General says it is time.”

Kevin's eyes narrowed against the afternoon light. He followed the waving banners until the four crowns of Schenkhuizen's personal flag could be seen deep in the field. The four lions of Frederick Henry were directly opposite the master's banners. The opening had occurred: the crack of the whip must accompany. Kevin turned around quickly to his aligned men.

“Sons of Spain, France, and the Low Countries!” he shouted as his horse reared up in the air. His saber seemed like it was piercing the veil of the sky. “The hammer is falling! The world is coming to an end today! You who do not survive will continue riding until Judgment! See the sparkle of fear in the enemy's eyes! Cut it down like a newborn flower! See the halt of hearts as your hooves thunder! Beat it until it fertilizes the red earth! We ride for the glory of a crown that will give you riches beyond your imagining! We ride for the power of a nation that keeps the world from cracking open! Today you fight your final battle to determine the fate of this rich land. Glory to God in the Highest and may your sabers bring irresistible peace to the people of this Earth!”

Kevin turned to the enemy and his boots hit the side of his horse like flint against stone. His steed sparked forward followed by the thunderbolt of his unleashed division. The rush of men onto the fertile land of Belgium's shallow hills pulverized the earth underneath them into mud and clumps of grass. Sabers, glimmering like shooting stars, were turned forward. A cloud of dust: the origin of this equestrian thunderbolt, rose vehemently behind the deadly crew.

As metal and muscle struck against the Dutch line, the pang of metal against spear and the crush of bone against flesh rippled across the battlefield. Screaming like the desperate cry of hatred distilled by courage conjured a chorus of commotion. Swords and sabers catapulted against each other. Pistols and Arquebus joined infernal sounds as dust covered the path of the chargers.

Pikemen from the left: cannons from the rear. The concentration of energy seemed to well up at the very centre of the field. Fields of spears gravitated towards this point and it seemed as if the whole earth was brimming with this crop of war. Horses circled round once and then again before finding some entry into the melee. Explosions heaved onto the centre did not discriminate from friend or foe. The sound of boots against the earth threatened to crush the surface of that plain into the very cavern of Hell below.

The trembling hands of man after man held up their division banners. The cross of St. Andrew against checkered backgrounds swayed back and forth desperately. Banners on both sides began to fall: their carriers succumbing to the shot of pistols or the thrusts of pikes only to rise again defiantly. No one retreated. No one budged from the now engaged line on all sides. What had started as a tactical dance now entered into the unwavering cataclysm of hand to hand combat.

Divisions were cut in half. Men fell by the hundreds. The centre of gravity had to move to the next flank and then back again: the tally of men and armour and horses along the field started to make natural barriers between the combatants. Dutch dragoons marched in. Spanish Arquebusiers returned fire. Pikemen charged: Orange infantry stood their ground. Turenne's guard advanced: Enghien came to meet him.

---​

Arturo breathed slowly in through his nose and out through his mouth which bubbled the crude water washing inward towards Brighton. The rest of his body, stayed perfectly still in the water. Woodhouse shivered in the cold water as he passed the threshold of air to liquid. Arturo descended next and the rest of Woodhouse's team followed behind them quietly as they treaded the Brighton bay's waters. Slowly, they moved underneath the piers until they approached that ship which they had marked earlier that afternoon: the ship that did not sway with the tossing of the waves.

Starting with Woodhouse, the men descended into the dark nightly water and followed the edge of that boat until the bottom opened out. As they passed underneath the wooden threshold, their eyes adjusted to a terrifying sight. Even in the darkness of the night, the blackness of the submerged boat ahead of them seemed like a portal into some endless void. Woodhouse turned to his fellows and pointed upward identifying the hidden pier next to the metal construction.

As their heads ascended past the watermark, their hands reached for the chafing wood of the loading platform attached to the side of the hollowed out ship. As the water drained from their ears, they could hear the steady movement of men above passing with booted steps from one end of the hidden pier to the next. Woodhouse could see through the slits in the planks heavy crates and other supplies that were being carried transiting between a small portal at the top of the metal boat's tower and then over the platform to the stairs above.

“It won't be long now,” Arturo whispered, “the men we set outside will start the distraction and then--”

There was a commotion and screaming in German accompanied a rush of feet. “Just in time,” Woodhouse smiled as he waited for most of the officers to ascend the staircase on the far left. He stealthily moved from underneath the platform and climbed the side of the metal boat. The others followed him and they quietly approached the black tower where a small set of handles led upward. “I'll go in first,” Woodhouse said as he took hold of one of the handles. Arturo was the next to ascend the metal bars.

“We'll be right behind you,” Fawkes reassured him as he started going up as well. “Whoever's left inside should start saying their prayers,” he smirked as he adjusted his pistol strapped to his belt.

Play time's over, little Fawkes!” suddenly came from the platform-side of the hidden pier. All eyes turned towards the four individuals standing on the loading platform.

“Hmm, I think I'll torture you all for a while” a Frenchman cackled amongst the four. Immediately, Fawkes's breathing quickened as he recognized O'Donnell and his mercenary team—including that fat traitor the Greek Pygmalion...

That Greek, almost as if recognizing the blazing hatred in Fawkes's eyes showed his dark teeth as he grinned and muttered: “Your daddy screamed real good before he died.”

The fourth of the group: a rough looking ruffian with his sideburns menacing down into a rough beard raised a finger at Woodhouse directly. “You'll be sorry you crossed us!”

“Good,” Fawkes suddenly announced as he hopped off onto the pier, “just who I wanted to see.” Falconi, the Toad, and Peregrin formed up behind him as well. Woodhouse was about to descend from the tower when Arturo grabbed his boot and pushed it back upward.

“Let them work this out themselves: we have a mission to accomplish,” the cold Spaniard stared upward at the conflicted Woodhouse. Swords were drawn in the background as Woodhouse flashed his gaze from the platform back to Arturo's changeless expression. Bevan grit his teeth as a brawl started to erupt, but he knew Arturo was right.

He climbed the last bit of the dark tower with Arturo quickly following. He hopped into the tubular opening and slid his way down. Arturo followed, but paused a moment to close the hatch above. Woodhouse looked upward as the light dimmed to a shadow but pressed on. His feet finally hit solid bottom to the surprise of two or three men dressed in uniforms. “Alarm!” one of them shouted as another drew what seemed like a pistol.

For a second, Woodhouse stood there perplexed in the midst of the metal machinery all around him hanging about and piping around like the dark innards of some synthetic beast. In his disorientation, a shot discharged. It was only then that he realized that it was Arturo shooting from the hole leading up to the top. One of the officers twirled dead while the other two fled.

“Stay alert and don't hesitate,” Arturo chided as he hopped down onto the metal deck. “Draw your sword: we'll have a small advantage being inside and in close quarters. Just stay away from the long corridors and we can ambush anyone--”

Another shot discharged and Arturo immediately pushed Woodhouse to the left while Arturo's own body jolted right. Crashing behind a console, both were now hidden from the source of the gunshot. “If you're looking for that troublesome brother of yours, he isn't here,” a German accented English growled from the portal. Arturo was already reloading his pistol. Woodhouse steadied himself behind the console and pressed his ear up against it as he unsheathed his saber. A second discharge of the enemy pistol rang through the metal interior and Woodhouse recoiled painfully from the noise.

Arturo quickly moved his hand to one of the consoles and depressed some of the levers. A jolt, like a small tremor, tugged all of them to one side. Arturo took the opportunity to stand up and discharge his pistol. The German officer let out a growl as he stepped back into the portal's shadow, holding his shoulder firmly. There was a string of German profanity erupting down the hallway.

“What did you just do?” Woodhouse looked at Arturo in surprise.

“I released the docking clamps,” Arturo explained as he quickly began reloading his pistol.

“You know how to operate this thing?” Woodhouse demanded. When he didn't receive an immediate response from the one reloading, he asked, “How?”

“There are lots of things that little rat knows,” the voice from the corridor grunted out painfully. “Are you really so naïve, Woodhouse, that you believe this Spanish pawn is being honest with you?” was the snickering addendum.

“If you go backward through that hatch behind us,” Arturo began to relay instructions, “you'll find the objective we came here for.”

“I thought we were here for my brother and to find out about my father?” Woodhouse expressed his confusion openly.

“You will find all of that in what we came here to procure: in that next room,” Arturo replied coldly as Woodhouse's expression continued to sour.

“More empty promises,” the man at the doorway challenged. “Do you really think that he brought you here to help you, Woodhouse? He's just here to get what he needs. He's just here for what Spain needs!”

Woodhouse's eyes searched Arturo's only to find his gaze reflecting off those cold pupils. Woodhouse was about to speak, but Arturo's mouth moved first. “You don't need to like me or my methods, Mr. Woodhouse,” Arturo grimaced, “but I have not yet led you to information or evidence you did not find important or relevant. Now get to that next room.”

Woodhouse continued to stare for a few more seconds until his lids narrowed over his glance at Arturo. A small nod from Woodhouse and Arturo lifted a hand over the console and discharged the pistol once more. Woodhouse simultaneously vaulted behind some of the other consoles towards the open chamber behind the two of them. Shots rang out from the hallway in pursuit, but he ducked into the sidechamber in time.

The compartment that he had jumped into seemed like a monk's cell. Compressed against the side of the boat, the wall rolled along with the curve. A simple desk was fitted against the wall while a chair was slightly off-center and rotated open. Papers were strewn along the tabletop which was barely illuminated from a small lamp bolted above it on the bulkhead. “What am I looking for exactly?” he asked suddenly aware that he didn't even know what it was he was supposed to retrieve.

There were three more gunshots and the sound of a metal clang. There was a low groan and then a thud before Arturo, almost with an irritated sigh, yelled out: “The metal box!” Immediately, Woodhouse's attention focused on the small tin container near the leg of the table. His hands grappled for it, but as soon as his flesh touched the metal sides of the small box, his entire body recoiled and a short yelp escaped his mouth. His hands buried themselves in his armpits and for a moment he contemplated the strange object.

“So cold!” he was shouting.

“Try not to touch the metal itself—it can be quite... uncomfortable!” Arturo conveniently warned him ex post facto.

Quickly unfastening his leather jacket (still a bit wet from the underwater journey), he wrapped it around the metal object careful not to touch the exposed portions. He could already feel the transfer of heat moving from his clothing, but he was able to comfortably lift it onto his chest. With the cargo in hand, he slammed his back against the edge of the portal without exposing himself for fear of the strange, quick weapons of the enemy. “So now what?” Woodhouse shouted into the main hall. A short pang of bullets shocked the air right next to him.

“What do you mean?” Arturo clinically replied.

“I mean... how are we getting out of here?”

interlude2.gif


Interlude​

“And how exactly are you going to spring me from this prison?” Julian Belmont snidely remarked as he put his arms behind his head and leaned back until his forearms bumped against the wall.

For a moment, Juliana reached into her briefcase and, with the detachment of a young lady looking for a pencil during class, she pulled out a pink translucent piece of paper and handed it over with the clipboard to Julian. “I was told not to give you my pen so you'll have to sign it outside,” Agent Andriessen instructed quietly.

Julian eyed the bright piece of paper suspiciously before sliding one of his arms out from behind him and pulling the clipboard to himself. He scanned the paperwork, rolling his eyes around the imprinted seal and motto. He looked at where his name was specifically listed and to the agent his custody would go to. He looked up to Juliana as if to challenge here with his eyes. “Release me into your custody? This is some kind of entrapment--”

“In the back of my car, I've set up some saline, an IV, and a small dialytic pump. I also brought your whip,” she interrupted as if she was reading an invisible shopping list.

Julian leaned forward almost menacingly and widened his grin. “Do you really think that just providing me with some tools will be enough to do the dirty work you're asking me to accomplish?” Julian cocked his head to the side as he spoke. “Do you know what it is you're fighting against, Agent Andriessen?”

Juliana just stared at the Belmont boy clinically as if she was watching the mutation of some bacteria before her eyes. His violent smile crashed against the steady foundation of her expression. Juliana's even lips remained unchanged even while she spoke the words: “What are we fighting against, Mr. Belmont?”

“We're fighting against the owl of the night,” Belmont hissed through his teeth. “Lilith: the first wife of Adam.”

“Natasha?”

“Yes, that is her name, but they are all Lilith. We are born from Adam, Agent Andriessen. Eve was from Adam's rib: we all come from him. But the Lilith: they were made from the same primordial earth that we were made from.” Juliana's eyebrows ruffled slightly at the cryptic explanation. Belmont could sense her confusion and continued. “What you have to understand is that they are our equals. They do not come from somewhere as a part of this world like Eve came from the rib of Adam. No, they were also made from the ground up: at the beginning of time, God created two bodies. They have their own Eden, Agent Andriessen. This is why we call them Lilith because these intruders into our world are not from the toe of Adam or the forehead of Adam but from a different body altogether...”

Chapter CLXIII: The Body (coming soon)
 

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Man , I come back from a nice little cruise down Baja California expecting some nice comments on the latest update , but nothing's about ! Oh well , time to wrap the ole girl up anyway , I suppose .
 

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Now that I know there was an update...

LOVED the battle scene... gritty, evocative language really set up a great mental picture in my head!
 

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Now that I know there was an update...

LOVED the battle scene... gritty, evocative language really set up a great mental picture in my head!

Thank you ! It was a fun battle scene to do . And helping to wrap up yet more loose ends XD
 

Kapt Torbjorn

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Mood music :D

Very well written battle scene as well, hot damn.
 
Last edited:

unmerged(59077)

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The music is kind of fatalistic, which suits the battle description so; what with men falling by the hundreds and clenching their banners in trembling hands, but not retreating.

I was thinking of Alatriste when I was reading both the battle and the canal crawling scene.

Gods, I'd have named your update "Garden of Death" or something. You have so many agricultural images - rich soil, crops, flowers, seeds, fertilising the field. A really continuous theme, and I really like it.

The black earth beneath the hooves was sown with bones, and was watered with blood; on Russian soil these sprang up as grief.

There's just really something about that.

On the Nemíga the sheaves are laid out with heads; men thresh with flails in hedgerows; on the barn-floor they spread out life; they winnow the soul from the body.

On the blood-stained Nemíga the banks were sown with bane,--sown with the bones of the sons of Rus.


Seriously.
 

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Mood music :D

Very well written battle scene as well, hot damn.

Thank you so much :D ! I don't think I've seen you comment around before ! Always great to see a new commentator !

The music is kind of fatalistic, which suits the battle description so; what with men falling by the hundreds and clenching their banners in trembling hands, but not retreating.

I was thinking of Alatriste when I was reading both the battle and the canal crawling scene.

Gods, I'd have named your update "Garden of Death" or something. You have so many agricultural images - rich soil, crops, flowers, seeds, fertilising the field. A really continuous theme, and I really like it.

The black earth beneath the hooves was sown with bones, and was watered with blood; on Russian soil these sprang up as grief.

There's just really something about that.

On the Nemíga the sheaves are laid out with heads; men thresh with flails in hedgerows; on the barn-floor they spread out life; they winnow the soul from the body.

On the blood-stained Nemíga the banks were sown with bane,--sown with the bones of the sons of Rus.


Seriously.

Haha , oh dear . I'm glad it struck a chord with you ! A very unique perspective indeed :D Thank you very much !
 

Kurt_Steiner

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ROFL . Somehow the strangest thing is that I could totally imagine that .

Not at all. Peti has an uncanny 8th sense -don't ask about the rest- to feel where danger is and where isn't and to run to the safest place. Then you only have to follow him.

Dead easy ;).
 

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HOLY! I just started reading this, got to the part when both Tom and Rodrigo talk about the rock. I have to say it is an Awesome AAR!
 

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Not at all. Peti has an uncanny 8th sense -don't ask about the rest- to feel where danger is and where isn't and to run to the safest place. Then you only have to follow him.

Dead easy ;).

haha , I definitely need to find some way of having Peti guest star in the next few updates XD

HOLY! I just started reading this, got to the part when both Tom and Rodrigo talk about the rock. I have to say it is an Awesome AAR!

Thank you very much :D I feel rather blessed this week to have two new commentators ! I'm so very glad you're enjoying it and please feel free to comment as you go along i always encourage new readers to do that :D
 

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That is a truly wonderful piece of phrasing!

Another great update (as always).

Who's the chica in the picture btw?

Thank you very much :D and that's Kaya Scodelario . A bit too young for you to dote over , I'm afraid ! XD

And lucky stars you guys ! Update will be uploaded in the next 30 min !
 

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chapter163tile.gif


Chapter CLXIII: The Body​

17 June 1643 – Brussels

“Is this the body?” Enghien asked quietly as he took off his gloves.

“I'm afraid so,” Kevin replied dolefully as he lowered his head.

The grey fixtures of this wing of the palace would have been more at home in the past centuries of quiet monasteries than of the seat of local government in the Spanish Netherlands. A raised dais in the middle of the chamber, like some old chapel altar, held the body in question.

“Where did you find it?” Enghien frowned visibly.

“In a ditch. The horse was still with him when we dispatched the guards.”

“They did not try to surrender?” Enghien was puzzled.

“I believe he had died a few moments before we intercepted them,” Kevin replied. “They were in an emotional state during the short skirmish.”

“Who else knows?”

“Only Turenne, I think. The rest of the captured regiments and most people in the city believe him to have either fled or have been captured. Naturally our staff knows—the other generals.”

“Melo will talk,” Enghien looked to Kevin.

“I've made sure he doesn't say a word,” Kevin replied quickly.

“You didn't threaten a superior officer did you?” Enghien almost smiled despite the gravitas of the situation.

“I didn't need to. My master offered to recommend Melo to replace him.”

“A hefty favour from the Duke of Schenkhuizen,” Enghien commented as he turned back to the corpse on the table. “I suspect Schenkhuizen is retiring because of what's happened?”

“It's nothing like that,” Kevin spoke up, “my master is probably more loyal to the Spanish crown than any of us Dutchmen. But you can't blame a man who's been fighting in two centuries to keep on going forever, can you?”

Enghien nodded slowly. “There are of course, still the Persians.”

“He already bested the Persians once before. Nearly cost him his life. I think he's reassured that you can continue anything with the army from here on, sir. But you are right about one thing. If he kept his commission he would not be able to be here for the funeral. He wants to remain in our home. He wants to make sure peace returns here.”

“And you, Mr. Van Der Kooi? Will you be following in the funeral procession with your master as well?”

“I'm heading south with you, sir. If you'll have me. My master is a bit mad that I won't be seeing his daughter my wife any time soon, but I told him that she's young enough for me to die quickly in battle and for her to be remarried. It's either that or just wait a year and I'll return with enough glory to deserve the daughter of the famed General Schenkhuizen.”

“You're that confident we'll be finished with the Persians in a year?” Enghien looked at the eager young man with a calculated glance.

“I've set it as my goal. Being at war while being married also means being as celibate as a monk. I don't think I could stand that for over a year with my bride back home. Only the worst generals indulge in the whorehouses of Europe.”

Enghien couldn't help but grin slightly. “So what do you suggest we do about this situation right now?” Enghien asked quietly.

“I'm not so good with politics, sir. My master told me that if you asked for his advice all he would say is that respect is of the utmost importance for a permanent solution.”

“Frederick Henry was a traitor to his King, but also a champion of the taxed. It can't be helped, I suppose,” Enghien conceded while holding his gloves lightly in his fists. “Draft a message north requesting a cease fire of fourteen days. We will hold a funeral for this fallen hero while holding negotiations for the rest of the rebels to surrender. Make the pronouncement of the funeral public but keep the negotiations quiet.”

“I'm also guessing you are going to keep the way he died quiet,” Kevin looked at the taller general with a visible frown.

“Dying in battle is too heroic and too risky. Dying in a ditch is too offensive and unbelievable. We'll use the truth of how he died and stretch it a little. He was ill on his retreat. It was his own fault, really, for charging so desperately at our line.”

“I suppose he had no choice. With the army from England coming in from the rear--”

“Yes: he and Turenne had to make this assault work or everything would have crumbled. We will say that he died of wounds and disease. Terrible enough to not glorify him any further and reasonable enough to not humiliate him.”

“Speaking of Turenne: he requested to see you.”

Enghien glanced at Kevin for a second and then looked forward again at the corpse. “I figured he would,” Enghien turned around and proceeded to the door. “Have him sent to my office.”

---​

“A hearty congratulations to your victory,” Turenne bowed in the presence of the sitting Enghien. Kevin watched the well kept general pay his homage to the victor. Kevin had interest glinting in his eye at the spectacle. “You have bested me today, Your Grace,” Turenne continued.

“If only that were so,” Enghien replied from behind his desk. Kevin looked quickly at the sitting general and Turenne pulled his eyes upward though his body was still in the motion of rising from the bow. Enghien looked at Turenne squarely and the absence of any smile on the general's face only reiterated the strange reply. Enghien stood up. “A desperate final assault. In some ways it was almost too easy though it did cost us dearly.”

Turenne stood up straight in a little bit of shock. Kevin silently watched the exchange. “We were hoping you'd try to take advantage of our desperation,” Turenne replied slowly at first. “That is why I recognize your genius at playing into that. Making it a battle of time and attrition—you purposefully avoided a decisive blow and avoided my traps.”

Enghien shaked his head slowly. “It was probably Orange that convinced you. To make one final push,” Enghien continued unabated. “You favour the small battles. You never put everything you have on the table. Your record doesn't reflect that kind of recklessness. This was not you today, sir. I was robbed of defeating you.”

Turenne raised a simple eyebrow. His voice suddenly became more even. He spoke in their native French. “You're as intelligent as I suspected,” he communicated to Enghien.

“And a little bit insulted. Did you think you'd have to play on my vanity like that?” Enghien replied also in their tongue.

“I wanted to see what the kind of man, barely twenty, who is famed throughout France is like,” Turenne explained with an apologetic bow.

“And you let yourself get captured?” Enghien asked, pulling up his chin slightly as if he was appraising a rare jewel.

“Only Schenkhuizen can win against impossible odds. The day England fell, I knew it was a matter of time. Being captured now is better than the prolonged resistance in the northern provinces. Hopefully I can negotiate my way back onto the field somewhere again.”

“Why didn't you just abandon the rebel cause?” Enghien asked although he seemed to have guessed the answer already.

“Every commander in chief wants to know that his general will not betray him. If I turned my back on Frederick Henry then I am a double traitor. No one wants a general who turns with the winds.” Turenne turned slightly to the bewildered Kevin before looking back at Enghien.

“Life will not be easy for you until you are rehabilitated,” Enghien warned him.

“Perhaps not, but I'm not unused to the rigours of being deprived. I may ride out again when the time comes.”

“Until that time then, My Lord Vicomte,” Enghien allowed himself a smile.

“Until then, Your Grace,” Turenne bowed.

---​

The passengers stiffened as the carriage lurched forward. Hazy glass partitions separated the four travelers from the thundering greyness outside. Another bump on the fast moving vehicle coincided with the crash of thunder. “We will reach Tarragona shortly, Your Grace,” one of the four said tersely as he inspected the mileposts along the road through the cloudy glass.

“Very good, Geraldo. Have the dispatches ready and pass them off as soon as we arrive. The Cardinal and I will make our way to the castle,” the man said in return as he rubbed his gauntlets together tightly. He then moved his eyes to the man clothed in scarlet across from him. “You seem calm,” he commented to the prelate who was gazing out the window closest to him.

Cardinal Rimini returned his gaze to the inquisitor. “Pensive might be a better word,” the Italian replied cooly.

“Let's hope your contemplations and prayers prevent a panic. It has been centuries since a Muslim army invaded this Peninsula. To think it would happen on my watch,” the man looked down angrily and his fists were balling tightly.

“It may not be the last time either, Alvaro. It was not an impossibility that this would happen. But you are indeed faced with an 'impossible' situation. We had to divert north to quell the English but now at least they're satisfied. Because of that we can finally relieve Scandinavia. You've put men on the field against the Dutch. England was the key to outmanoeuvre the entire northern front.”

“At the cost of what?” Alvaro nearly snapped in return. His eyes locked solidly with the unwavering gaze of the Cardinal. “Rome is still in the hands of the infidel. Our fleet could not even defend our home coasts. Cadiz is still recovering from the fire. Wallenstein has only a skeleton army to hold off a push into Vienna--”

“A beautiful calculation if I might say so,” the Cardinal seemed to shrug the litany off. It immediately caught Alvaro off guard. “You purposefully did not bother wasting making levies in Germany except what was needed because we needed them in England. You told me yourself as I recall that you believed Wallenstein to be as hungry for power as he is a military genius. Giving him a skeleton army in Vienna means that the only thing he can do is defend. He cannot go out and make a name for himself or gain any more prestige than he already has. You told me yourself that this would mean keeping Germany safe with Vienna as the gateway to Central Europe while keeping Wallenstein busy and impotent.”

“I suppose that was the original plan,” Alvaro conceded. “But Barcelona--”

“Barcelona was a risk you were bold enough to take,” Rimini interrupted. “We underestimated the cleverness of these Persians. The Persians, however, are also desperate to try a move like this. They mean to attempt to win this war quickly. This will mean that they will assault that city with everything they have before our armies surround them. They need it to resupply their boats: they need it to protect their soldiers: they need it to force a peace. We have forced the enemy to show his hand. It means they will be exhausted, blooded, and unready for us to smash the hammer on their backs against the anvil of Barcelona's walls.”

---​

Jafar uneasily sipped his coffee as he watched the cannons fire another volley into the city. His quick eyes searched right to watch the Persian galleys smoke their own shot into the beleaguered citadel. A thundering peal replied from the Christian bastion and smoke erupted along the lines. The dirt below Jafar's seat trembled and he caught some of the scalding liquid on one of his fingers. He disguised a grunt as he placed the cup back on the side table.

He fanned his hand with a snap before focusing his attention back to the stubborn city. He watched as ladders approached and rise only to have a heaving swarm on the walls batter them back down. “They did not send me enough cannons nor did they give me enough time for this,” he muttered. “The reports of this city are wrong!” he turned to some of his aides who all looked downward or at each other wondering if the answer rested somewhere in the ground or hidden behind each others' eyes. “There are ten times as many defenders behind those walls than what they've told me,” Jafar pointed to his aides accusingly.

Jafar received no answer, but he didn't need any. He knew who it was to blame for the faulty reports. All he needed to know now was: why the deception?

Jafar knew that the assault was meant to be a distraction. He knew that it might very well fail, but if he had known about the capabilities and defenses of Barcelona, he would not have dared to set foot on the Peninsula without more firepower and men. But perhaps that snake that provided him with the information had calculated his opposition and lied to bring him to this killing field nonetheless. He chafed in his seat as he watched his soldiers drop dead at the bottom of the walls of the city.

“Excellency,” one of his aides came into his small tent. “A message from the Inquisitor.”

A small slip of paper was delivered to the general. Jafar opened it quickly and scanned the lines from right to left. After he reached the final inscription, his scalded hand collapsed the parchment roughly and he threw it to the side. “Iblis take that bastard of a man. If I had known, I would have used that pistol he gave me on him...” he roared as he looked at the next wave attempting to scale the walls. His head wheeled swiftly to his aides standing demurely by his side. “Send a message to Farazdaqi. Tell him to move three of his fastest vessels out of the battle zone and have them prepare to take the Inquisitor and his entourage back to Roma as soon as they return.” One of the young officers quickly ran off. Jafar returned to viewing the carnage ahead of him. “Whatever it is you're seeking amongst the enemy's most guarded citadels better be worth the lives of my men...”

---​

Shams ul-Din, the Grand Inquisitor sent by the Padishah Emperor of the East was not just “Sun of the Faith.” No. His circles wound even into the darkness under the earth. The alchemy labs of Esfahan were a second home to him. The towers of esoteric libraries were his rookeries. He had crossed the mountains of the Hindu Kush for the magical venom of Hindustan shamans. Some have even rumoured that his teacher had made counsel with a certain “Lord of Acid” from the Ming. There was a muttering of prayers from behind his parched and blistering lips. Rotten teeth ground some incantation as closed eyes wheeled behind wrinkled lids.

“Allah gives his blessing to our cause, I can assure you, brethren!” he cackled to the other riders next to him who raised their heads to harken him. “Soon the so called 'Timepiece' will be on its way to the Emperor and the world will be covered in the warm embrace of the Black Banner.”

The four others who looked at him from behind hoods and masks stared like dogs enthralled by their master's gibberish. Black eyes and black clothing rode on ebony horses as Shams ul-Din spurred his steed onward. The other dark riders followed behind him as quickly as the coming twilight.

interlude2.gif


Interlude​

The sun lingered quietly at the edge of the watery crest. The haze of the heat against the surface of the suburban asphalt distorted the view that Agent Andriessen took behind her binoculars. “It will be dark soon,” she commented clinically.

“We don't have much time, then,” Julian Belmont commented as he looked towards where Juliana was scouting. “Like the owl that is usually used to depict her, Lilith gains power in the night.”

Juliana turned to Belmont and frowned quietly. “power in the night?” she repeated.

Belmont grinned at her. “They have some natural advantages in the night. Perhaps their universe is one that is more shrouded in darkness.” He shrugged quickly.

“And you expect to just walk in there and kill her with that?” Juliana asked betraying a little bit of disbelief in her voice. Her eyes motioned to the strange stun-gun looking fixture that the boy held in his hand.

“Yes.” Belmont replied as he unlocked his door. He stepped out just as Juliana stepped out of the driver's seat.

“I was expecting something more medieval,” Juliana commented over the top of the car.

“I only whipped that Tepes boy to death because I wanted to send them a message that a Belmont was here. The whip is something of our calling card.” Juliana raised an eyebrow again. “Nowadays, though, we've since modernized our arsenal.”

“Did you enjoy it?” Juliana asked. “Killing him like that?”

Belmont maintained his grin rigidly. “If you're asking if I got some pleasure out--”

“I'm asking if you felt anything watching him die like that.”

Belmont ruffled his eyebrows at her for a moment. “You're just going to complicate things thinking about them like that. They are of Lilith... they're not like us. They shouldn't be here.”

“And why are they here anyway?” Juliana asked. Belmont paused for a second then looked down to his weapon and shrugged.

“You're asking the wrong person,” Belmont replied as he started walking towards the small mansion where they had parked in front of. “My father always told me they are like street beggars who hate the lord of the manor so they poison his dog.”

Juliana was slightly intrigued. “And killing them is how we protect our dog?” she asked with a bit of skepticism in her voice.

Belmont let out a genuine peal of laughter. “No, Miss Andriessen. We are the dog.”

Chapter CLXIV: The Dog (coming soon)
 

iain_a_wilson

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Thank you very much :D and that's Kaya Scodelario . A bit too young for you to dote over , I'm afraid !

Hey! She's 18, and given that I'm heading for a midlife crisis soon that makes her age range ideal! ;)