Events: The 10th Annal
 

Annals of the Tenth Mercenary Wars

as told originally by Ser Maelgrim Crowther in the Red Book of Years

In those days, the Black Falcon Mercenary Company dwelt in comfort in the far-flung lands of sun and snow. Their college of war had waxed and waned throughout the turns of the sun and moon, producing eager new recruits for said Company. As told in the Chronicles of the Fourth Frostwar, the warriors had kept their wits and their weapons battle-ready throughout the winter in anticipation of this time. Day by day, the Black Falcons practiced their craft, honing their skills as diligently as they honed their blades, for the tenth anniversary of the Mercenary Wars approached, and none wished to disgrace himself upon the field of battle.

And the numbers of the Black Falcons were: Captein Ser Maelgrim Crowther, Ser Owen Godwinesson, Archer Lady Cynara deWakelegh, Sir Gengulphus, Lady Faelan, Erick Blood-Axe, Vlademir Ylseniv, Katja Roterwind and Nikki.

And the numbers of the White Wolves were: Captein Trian Gaeth, Herr Lantz von Falkenstein, Sir Flynn Sureshot, Thomas Phinney escuier and his wife Corina Phinney, Faydra, Jarl Snorri, Madoc Finch, and Georgia Rose Malmsey.

Now because the last Mercenary War held in the wilderness of Buffalo Creek had been such a great success, the warriors chose to again revisit that remote battleground. Their hearts had warmed to the towering shadow of the Giant’s Cairn, and the meadows, hills, forests and rivers of the same country. It was truly said that the wondrous variety of that place more than made up for its distance from the towns in which the Black Falcons and White Wolves made their homes throughout the rest of the year.

However, the mountain rains that drove upon the face of the rock like a hammer against the anvil had conspired to wash away the roads in the South Pass through which the Black Falcons and White Wolves had customarily made their journey to their grounds of war. Entire villages were cut off from the rest of the country—the sheriffs and Counts of that place could oft be seen driving their serfs and villeins to rebuild the roads which carried goods into their towns.

So it was that with much grumbling, the Black Falcons drove their heavy-laden wagons to the north and through the Great City whence came many of the trade goods in that far-flung land of sun and snow. Such a long trek the mercenaries had not had to endure since the Great Fire drove them far to the west in the days of the Sixth Mercenary Wars.

Now Trian Gaeth had offered the use of space in his wagon to the new recruit Georgia Rose Malmsey, who displayed great enthusiasm in all that she did. And it was said in later days that Trian Gaeth did sorely wish to plug his ears with the tip of his basilard after many hours’ worth of Georgia’s exclamations. For Georgia had been raised by good burgesses of the town, and took great delight in the observation of cows and aurochs and swine and chickens and sheep and all other manner of livestock, which to her were as rare as polished jewels. And Trian Gaeth did grind his teeth and wax patient.

So it came to pass that the caravan of mercenaries did wind its way through wood and stream, through village and forgotten trail, until at last they reached the lonely fastness of the Buffalo Creek Wild-Lands. And there was much rejoicing.

The Black Falcons, having driven their oxen harder and having sharp-sighted Ser Owen leading their train, arrived first at that land of war. And this being so, they had first choice of camp. They strode here and there, sweeping their gaze across the land until they found a suitable place in which to pitch their tents and cover their wagons.

Atop a low hill backed by dim thickets of pine, the Black Falcons raised their red banner. From its height, they beheld the roads and the rills and the heath below. To the north, a broad, shallow vale spread out until it kissed the base of the Giant’s Cairn (which tor had been a place of some import a year past, as is told in the Annals of the Ninth Mercenary Wars).

When the White Wolves arrived, they chose to make their camp upon the heath bordering the stream-watered woodlands to the south and east. There they planted their green banner, surmounted by a wolf the color of snow. They placed their tents round their fire in a shape which recalled the weapon most noted in the grip of that Huntress best revered by mighty Rome.

The mercenaries having pitched their tents and made their preparations for the coming day, they soon fell to merrymaking. Sir Gengulphus drew forth a small bauble from his pouch and spake, saying “Let us make sport these following days by engaging in contests of skill. One amongst us shall be given this token in secret, and the mercenaries of both companies shall compete singly with one another to attempt to acquire it.”

“A grand scheme,” agreed Ser Owen. I shall put aside a certain treasure from my hoard with which to reward the warrior who last holds the bauble when this war has drawn to a close.” At that time, Sir Gengulphus presented the token to Lady Faelan, though this was done in secret so that none amongst those gathered knew of said deed.

Thus it was that many challenges were issued between the mercenaries that evening for possession of this token of skill. Katja and Georgia did battle before the wains, whilst Madoc challenged many. His great war board was emblazoned thus: sable, a bat argent, its wings spread.

Now it came to pass that Madoc issued his challenge to Sir Gengulphus. And Gengulphus drew forth his blade and strode from the encampment of the Black Falcons to do battle. For the space of several moments, no sound could be heard in that land but the ring of warlike steel upon steel. Then Gengulphus appeared at the crest of the hill.

“Gentlemen,” spake he, “I have done the impossible.”

“What is this mighty deed you have done?” asked the Black Falcons.

And Gengulphus replied, “I have killed Batman.”

And there was much mirth.

The contest for the bauble continued, but the assembled mercenaries began to grow restless. So they spoke amongst themselves, saying, “Let us have another contest of skill—ever has that proved an entertainment for us in years past.”

And Owen leaned upon his long-shafted battle-dart, and said, “Why not practice at hurling the spear? It would be no great travail to set targets about. See, my spear has not seen enough flight since I won it in the last Mercenary Wars.”

Thus those gathered conceived between one another to set up hoops and rings suspended from the boughs of the trees of the forest, through which spears might be cast for sport and challenge.

Then they all convened beneath the sheltering boughs of a great dark pine, whence they might rest at their ease while watching their comrades cast that war-serpent that bites the shield of heroes.

The hiss of thrown spear filled the glade for a time, then. But when all had taken their turn at throwing three spears at the hoops in the trees, there was a great silence. For among all the assembled warriors, only Thomas Phinney and Cynara deWakelegh had stricken their targets true.

And Maelgrim looked sheepish, and said, “Perhaps we should all practice this skill further.”

And Owen said, “Didn’t you say that last year?”

And there was another silence.

“It crosses my mind,” said Maelgrim, “that Thomas Phinney escuier is in need of testing this season. For did we not decree that he should undergo the Trials of Knighthood at this time?”

“Don’t change the subject,” muttered Owen. “However, you are correct. Let us prepare to test our fine shield-bearer.”

There followed a great clamor, and most dispersed to make ready for the Trials, excepting Herr Lantz von Falkenstein who took Maelgrim’s advice to heart, and cast the spear many times in practice until it was no great swink for him to send it neatly through whichever hoop he so desired.

Twilight drew her gloaming net across the sky, so that the jeweled stars sprinkled the deep azure of that distant glittering bowl. The Black Falcons and the White Wolves alike lit fires at their camps and settled by their tents to relax and tell stories of campaigns past.

Ser Maelgrim and Ser Owen sought out Thomas Phinney and led him to a lonely glade. “Here,” said Owen, “You must start a fire for your vigil and labor to keep it burning while you contemplate the virtues of knighthood.”

So saying, they left him alone with his thoughts and the glittering blade-dance of his fledgling fire. Now Thomas had received as a gift from the Peerage a book by that most famous of masters in the realm of chivalric virtue, Ramon Lull. Many hours had Thomas spent poring over that book, so that his mind and heart were filled with those wise teachings.

While he pondered these things, his longtime friend Jarl Snorri came to sit with him, so that they passed the wineskin back and forth many times and spoke of many things that had come to pass since Thomas had left to dwell in the flame-baked Phoenix Lands. Thus it was that when the Ser Owen and Ser Maelgrim returned to find him for his first Trial, they found him in a most companionable mood.

“Thy first Trial of Knighthood,” spake they, “shall be a test of your knowledge of chivalry. Meet us at the gate which leads into the darkling woods south of here. Bring nothing except truth, justice and the desire to defend your prince.”

Thomas knew this to be knightly code, and armed himself accordingly. Thence he strode under starlight, his truth and defense of his prince in his hands, ready to face his first Trial of Knighthood. Of that Trial no more may be said, for it pertains to the secret rites known only to those who have donned the spurs of the fighting Peerage. It is enough to know that Thomas Phinney escuier acquitted himself well and honorably during his Trial, and that Maelgrim and Owen sent him back to his vigil fire to await the second Trial.

When the hours had passed into deep night, Maelgrim and Owen came again to Thomas’s fire, and questioned him long about the duties and responsibilities of a knight. Then having been answered to their satisfaction, they retired to speak between one another, and to take counsel with the rest of the knights there present.

Now while Thomas underwent his second Trial, Gengulphus moved here and there about the camp of the White Wolves, lashing them with his scornful wit and making himself most unloved by those within. Thus the White Wolves finally forsook patience and fell upon Gengulphus, binding him and claiming him as their lawful prisoner.

But as time passed, the Wolves perceived that Gengulphus would fetch them little ransom so early in the war—swords had not even been drawn, except to challenge one another for possession of the bauble. So they did not trouble themselves greatly when they found that Gengulphus has slipped his bonds and hied away to safer climes.

At this time, Maelgrim and Owen felt restlessness gnawing at them, and proposed to one another that it might make merry sport to taunt the White Wolves. So it was that they donned their dark cloaks and sneaked towards the enemy camp. Vigilant Flynn Sure-Shot stood as they approached, and quoth, “Stand and be recognized.”

To which demand, both knights replied, “I’m Georgia.” And this they said in a high voice, the better to deceive their adversary. But Flynn had studied long, and was wise in many respects. And he rolled his eyes, saying “Fie. You are two fools. Georgia is within our camp.”

But Maelgrim and Owen were much amused by their own antics nonetheless. And they came into the encampment of the White Wolves to converse and make merry with those who would be their mortal enemies on the morrow. And it was well.

Now the stars wheeled in their courses, and it came to pass that Snorri felt a great need to keep Thomas’s vigil fire burning, though Thomas himself had been released to sleep in the early hours of the morning. So it was that Snorri took in hand a small axe and began to chop wood for the fire. He chopped. And he chopped.

And he chopped.

And many a warrior woke from their sleep, mazed with fatigue, and quoth, “What the hell?”

And when Snorri had chopped down enough timber to fuel Thomas’s fire until the end of the war and beyond, he said “Now I have done such a deed as is worthy of song,” and retired for the night.

A bright-plumed choir welcomed the morning not long after, and the mercenaries rose. They went about their morning chores, fetching water from the well and breaking their fast. The air was filled with the smoky smell of flame-seared sausage.

Before those two worthy Companies sought their customary battles, Lady Faelan stood forth, a sheaf of vellum in one hand and a pair of quills in another. “See,” she said, “what I have wrought. A year gone by, we mercenaries sought for the last hidden hoard of the Northmen in this far-flung land of sun and snow. Up the rocky slope of the Giant’s Cairn, Ser Owen, Ser Maelgrim and I toiled, until at last we uncovered the treasure from the very Earth itself.”

“This year, I have sat in counsel with lords and clerics alike, so that I might devise sport for the White Wolves and the Black Falcons. So I have caused a great treasure to be gathered together, like unto the golden hoards of old, and I have hidden it in the surrounding wilds. Here in my hands, I hold the keys for discovering the gold.”

Here she held forth the vellum and the quills, together with small horns of ink. “Behold,” she said. “The lock that holds the treasure can be undone only with words and wit. Now fall to, and let your thoughts be bent to this task. Show me that your thoughts are as keen as your steel.” And to inspire the companies, she spun a tale about a loyal gazehound, faithful to is master until the end of its days.

And so the two companies took from her the parchment, upon which were written strange glyphs and riddles and runes of all sorts, and they fell to discussion amongst themselves, each company striving to defeat the other in a trial of wit. At the Black Falcons’ encampment, Katja Roterwind and Nikki pored over the marks and puzzled. Presently, the riddle unfolded before them, and they began to comprehend the design laid out in Faelan’s clues.

But ere they could bring their discovery to the attention of their comrades, a long horn note wound through the trees and echoed from the sides of the hills and mountains about. Upon the field at the bottom of the hill, the White Wolves stood ready for battle.

Being warriors of stout courage, the Black falcons arrayed themselves to meet that worthy Company in combat. Their ranks bristled with the sharp edges of sword, glaive, halberd and arrow. Forth they advanced upon the White Wolves, and many deeds of great renown were done in that field.

With the hooked edge of his glaive, Ser Maelgrim seized upon Madoc’s shield and wrenched, snapping the enarmes of that great black war-board. The silver bat graven thereupon fell to the ground, and Maelgrim wrought great ruin upon Madoc’s mailed body.

Ser Owen struck here and there with his halberd, striking whomsoever he chose with impunity. Like the lion of his crest he fought, until all who stood before him were filled with a great fear.

Trian Gaeth strode forth, swathed in mail and leather and plated in steel. A mighty figure was he, like a Giant out of legend. With his mighty shield of green and black, he cleared a path through the ranks of the Black Falcons, and with his sharp sword, he left ruin behind him. But Maelgrim smote him a great blow on the helm so that his glaive shattered, and Ser Owen stabbed him so deeply with the spike of his halberd that the stout Irishman was forced to retire to see to his wounds.

Others played their part in that great battle. Lady Faelan and Sir Gengulphus bore forward with sword and shield against Herr Lantz, who slashed back and forth like the golden lion on his surcoat with a wave-bladed glaive of fearsome design. Madoc and Georgia strove against the Black Falcons most valorously. Lady Cynara and Sir Flynn loosed so many arrows that it seemed a rain of iron fell upon both companies.

As the battle wore on, the Black Falcons gained the advantage, and drove their enemies into submission. Yet still it was said amongst all present that the White Wolves had comported themselves with much bravery and chivalry.

The Black Falcons went thence to the small river that cut a silver scar through the mountains nearby to slake their great thirst and to splash water on their faces. For the day was hot and Sirius coursed alongside the Sun in its splendor.

But as the Falcons finished their drinking and ablutions, Lady Cynara called “’ware the ford!”

Across the ford, the White Wolves approached, girt for battle. Thomas Phinney bore his shield striped crimson and white, and Trian Gaeth wore his gleaming helm. Faydra all in black bore a long sword, and Sir Flynn bent his bow in warlike readiness.

“What means this intrusion?” demanded Owen.

“We came but to slake our thirst,” said Trian Gaeth.

“For a sooth,” said Jarl Snorri, “if you would object to such a peaceable request, we must needs do battle.”

“Hey!” shouted Maelgrim. “They’re trying to steal our water! Let’s get them!”

Thus began the Battle of the Ford. And the streambed was churned to mud where the mercenaries strode through the water. Crystal arcs of gleaming water sprung forth in the warriors’ wake, so that the shining water and the bright blades of the mercenaries dazzled the eye.

And it came to pass that Faydra was overmastered in that struggle, and fell backwards into the rush of the stream, which event was of great concern to Sir Flynn, who worried over the state of a wound Faydra had acquired while traveling with a troupe of players some weeks past. But she was drawn forth from the water with no lasting harm done.

And when the battle had ended, the Black Falcons again claimed the victory. And Trian Gaeth swore and said, “’s blood, where is mine boot?” For it had come to pass that the dark mud of that streambed had conspired to pull away the very boot from that fair-haired craftsman’s foot. And so he waxed wroth.

Now Maelgrim remembered well the plays of arms which had been declared last year in this stream. So he hefted his longsword and turned to Herr Lantz. And he said, “Prithee, sir, if thou hast still vigor, wouldst thou cross blades?”

And thus Maelgrim and Lantz did declare a pas d’armes within the stream. And many blows were stricken back and forth, until Herr Lantz, being deprived of alternatives in combat, smote Ser Maelgrim in the helm with his armored first. And Maelgrim being already weary and much surprised by this act did fall backwards into the stream, armor and all.

And there was much mirth.

Now it came to pass that the river in which Lantz and Maelgrim had performed their play of arms ran slowly and sluggishly through the deeps, and that moss and lichen and weeds of all sorts grew upon the bottom of the riverbed there, as well as other noisome things. And after being in the water for such a time, Maelgrim said, “I feel I must be rid of my armor and gambeson for a while, for they smell like a moat.” And Herr Lantz said, “This water did not agree with me; see how I am stricken with ague!”

And while those two warriors unburdened themselves of armor and aketon, their comrades in arms labored further to decipher the clues Faelan had devised. They toiled long in their attempts to unravel that knot of words.

God’s great golden chariot wheeled o’er the firmament above, and the two companies met once again in the great field at the center of that land. And both captains conferred, deciding that a melee lasting the space of an hour would be a grand way to pass the early afternoon. So an hour-glass was set beneath a tree, and each company strove to beat the other into submission.

Tempers smoldered there in the field, slowly and inexorably as the fuse of a great gonne. It came to pass that Faydra, being attacked near the verge atop a hill by a stream, did tumble from sight, which event was of great concern to Sir Flynn. His good humor already soured by his worry over the risk to a new bow of fine craftsmanship, his swift blades carved a swath of destruction as he hurried to his wounded lady’s side.

When half the decreed time had passed, the captains again conferred, and agreed that although victory belonged to the Black Falcons in this battle, that both companies should take their ease and fight alongside and amongst one another in a more relaxed play of arms. And thus did the hourglass battle end.

After having toiled and fought under the sun, both companies sought the shade of the nearby woods. It was not long before fighting broke out again. Maelgrim, in his folly, led his band of warriors to a clearing the woods beside a freshet, thinking to make use of the space to maneuver around the White Wolves. But Trian Gaeth ordered his archers to wreak ruin upon the Falcons.

Thus were the Black Falcons scattered, Most of those who still had a heart for fighting were driven to a steep wooded hillside, where they prepared to make a stand. There they fared better, pushing their enemies back many times. At the last, Erik Blood-Axe rushed upon Herr Lantz, and the two grappled fiercely. Erik, seeing his axe to be useless at such close quarters, snatched Lantz’s own dagger from its sheath and used it to strike the final blow of that battle.

So it came to pass that the White Wolves recouped their loss in the hourglass battle by claiming victory in the woods there in that far-flung land of sun and snow.

At that time, Maelgrim and Trian Gaeth—both sorely feeling the weight of their armor and the sting of many blows taken in the day’s fighting—made a pact of peace between the two bands until the evening’s minstrelsy be concluded.

As the Huntress rose in the sky, clasping her great bow, the mercenaries shed their weapons and armor, and bent their thought once again upon the clues provided by Lady Faelan. This they did until a great fire was lit, and the sound of pipes and lutes echoed from the green boughs and dark rock of the countryside.

That evening, many were the song sung and the tales told. Lady Faelan sang a song of pride for the land of her birth, and Sir Gengulphus spun a yarn of great merriment about Maelgrim and Owen. Maelgrim and Cynara performed a song of the trials of the prophet Jonas, and Owen joined Maelgrim in the song Edi beo Thu. Flynn, Faelan and Maelgrim wove melody and harmony together to perform a song of bittersweet longing for the wines of France. And finally Sir Flynn sang alone, a comedic song of love.

Thus entertained, the mercenaries prepared for the night battle—for all agreed that many of the deeds greatest in the telling took place in the night battles of Mercenary Wars past. Blades were muffled and many cloaked themselves in black and grey, the better to escape the watchful eyes of enemy sentries.

The White Wolves began, sweeping out from the night-blackened woods upon the camp of the Black Falcons, their blades flashing in the starlight. Time and again they pressed forward, and time and again, the Black Falcons strove to throw them back.

Meanwhile, Gengulphus devised a cunning plan. “See,” he said, “how Nature in her bounty hath cheated me of sight in the darkness. My sword will not find its mark here—but mayhap I can be of use in confusing the enemy sentries at their camp.”

So saying, he made for the encampment of the White Wolves, where he strode back and forth in the darkness, always at the edge of their sight. Such behavior did indeed sow confusion amongst the Wolves’ sentries, so that Owen devised a second plan.

Herr Lantz—having taken some puissant strikes during his part in the raids in the Black Falcon’s camp, had stayed behind to speak with the officers of that camp while his sword-mates returned to their own. Thus is was that when he returned to camp, Owen and Maelgrim followed beside him—walking as companionably as if they all fought under a single banner.

And upon their approach and challenge to the White Wolves’ camp, Owen simply stated, “We’re with Lantz,” which ruse was of momentary use. But he and Maelgrim were quickly driven away by the guards resolutely posted to defend the flag.

Many other tales are told of that battle—of Faelan’s disappearance from the eyes of both her enemies and her allies, of Thomas Phinney’s resounding snores that could be heard nearly as far away as his enemies’ encampment, and of Faydra’s clever ruse which bought her company time to retrieve their banner from Maelgrim when he had almost escaped with it.

But the tale that is told most often of the night battle of that Mercenary Wars is this.

Their other options exhausted, and Maelgrim and Owen both feeling that some levity was in order, the pair devised a trick. Knowing that Georgia and Madoc guarded the Wolves’ banner by the fire, the two knights approached the camp in darkness.

“Stand and be recognized,” quoth Sir Flynn, ever vigilant for those who would make mischief in his company’s camp.

“I’m Georgia,” quoth the knights. So complete was their disguise that many remarked that even their voices sounded much like Georgia’s. Not since the year before, when the two knights had taken the form of bushes to confuse their enemies, had such subterfuge been seen.

And then—marvelous to behold—the night came alive with the voices of many others, all claiming, and “I’m Georgia!”

It was with no little difficulty that Sir Flynn was able to check his tears of mirth and strike down Maelgrim as he tried to escape with the banner. Some still say that Georgia had accepted a secret contract from the Black Falcons to deliver her own company’s banner, and that Sir Flynn actually struck her rather than Maelgrim. The disguise was so complete, none know in sooth what happened that night.

Night’s dark mantle slowly became to pale grey before giving way entirely to the rose of dawn. And as the lark sang, Ser Owen, Katja and Nikki—having finally deciphered Faelan’s clues—departed on a journey to find the hidden treasure.

It was with great gladness that the Black Falcons beheld the return of those warriors later in the morning, laden as they were with coins, precious goblets, jewels and fine weapons. A princely treasure it was, and there was much rejoicing.

“A good war it has been,” declared Maelgrim, and Trian Gaeth agreed. Thus the two captains concluded the fighting, and urged their worthy companies to make ready for the tourneys of skill that have accompanied each Mercenary Wars.

As the sun rose higher, many gathered to bend their bows and loose their flocks of arrows at the painted archery butts. Trian Gaeth and Owen, Flynn and Maelgrim, and of course Lady Cynara—all took their turns at sending that foe of mail towards the target. Lady Cynara impressed all stood near by striking the target from one hundred yards away. But when the hour had passed, it was Sir Flynn who had scored the most points, and claimed victory in the archery tournament.

At that time also, the last of the duels was fought for possession of the bauble, and Thomas Phinney claimed possession.

At last it was time for the tourney of Arms.  Maelgrim and Owen—having both distinguished themselves sufficiently in years past and wishing for others to share in the glory—decided to observe and judge the proceedings rather than to fight as they had done in years previous.

Many great and terrible duels were fought on that soil, then.

Erik Blood-Axe, Katja Roterwind, and Nikki stood together to challenge Sir Flynn, Sir Gengulphus and Trian Gaeth in a Trial of Three. Flynn and Nikki fought long and valiantly with a sword in each hand, so that the flashing of their blades dazzled onlookers. Gengulphus tested Thomas Phinney’s mettle at sword and shield, while Lady Faelan took a single sword and faced Erik Blood Axe.

Georgia and Madoc each fought for the first time at tourney there, and Nikki cut a swath through her opponents wielding two swords, so that many marveled and said that her prowess recalled the promise of a younger Sir Flynn—he being famous for his skill with that combination of weapons.

The most vigorous battle, though, was between Lady Faelan and Trian Gaeth, each holding a long dagger. To and fro they dodged, slashed and stabbed. Their contest was long and bitterly fought, until at last Trian Gaeth wrestled her to the ground and struck the final blow.

When the last fight had ended, it was Sir Gengulphus who claimed the victory, his sword blade oft-notched with the many duels of the morning.

“Before we take our leave of these lands,” Maelgrim stated, “One trial yet remains for Thomas Phinney, escuier. In time past, it has been our custom to test candidates for knighthood at the last by having them face all the Peerage.”

And so the Ordeal of Arms began. Thomas Phinney hefted his red-and-white-striped round shield, and gripped his sword. Then he did battle with all the Peerage assembled—singly at first, and then two at a time, No rest was afforded him, and by the end, his face was the color of his shield. Herr Lantz in particular drove upon him so mercilessly that the assembled mercenaries could not help but chuckle at Thomas’s oaths of exasperation.

It was noon then, and the mercenaries loaded their great wains and wagons, and made ready to depart. Many looked forward to meeting at the Inn of the Red-Haired Maiden as they had done in years past.

On the journey back, Owen led the mercenaries through the wild country and the tortuous back-ways that were the quickest route, now that the main roads had been destroyed. And it came to pass that Faelan and Gengulphus’s wagon could not be easily drawn up a particular hill, so that much time and toil were taken in ensuring their safe passage. Fortune smiled, though, as many of the local franklins and yeomen of the land appeared to help them. So it was that they all eventually arrived at their accustomed inn, where talk turned to future wars, and the exploits all planned for the coming seasons.

That evening, according to custom, the two companies met at Ser Owen’s manor for feasting and merriment. And to Ser Maelgrim’s delight, his brother Sir Ralamean had arrived in those far-flung lands after a long journey from the lands of Rain and Mist, and thus shared in the feasting.

When the trenchers had been cleared of good food, and much mead and wine had flowed, the time arrived for the awarding of prizes for skill and valor in the tournaments. First, Owen presented Thomas Phinney a ring of gold from his own hoard, set with a ruby—for such was the prize Ser Owen had determined the award the warrior who last held the bauble when the war ended. And that worthy escuier—as any good lord would—presented the prize to his lady wife as a token of his love for her.

Having also bested all others at the hurling of that foe of armor, Thomas Phinney was given a sword, with crosses punched into the guard, and its blade tapering to a needle-like point. And he was well content.

To Sir Flynn, whose arrows had unerringly found their mark in the archery tourney, was presented a coat of plates like unto the kind worn by those doughty guards of the town of Wisby during its doomed defense. Ser Owen and Ser Maelgrim had worked long hours in the crafting of said armor, and were well-pleased to see their friend earn its protection. And hefting it, he said, “This will serve, for its weight will not hinder me.” And it was good.

Then Sir Gengulphus stepped forward to claim his prize for victory in the tourney of arms. And so Trian Gaeth unveiled a glittering hauberk of mail he had wrought, each ring hard and hand-linked. The firelight gleamed from its polished rings, and many there present exclaimed in wonder. Sir Gengulphus took the mail with many words of thanks.

“Now,” spake Maelgrim, “we must speak of a responsibility given one year past. Thomas Phinney, escuier, come forth. At the end of last year’s Mercenary War, we the Peerage agreed that you had shown the qualities of knighthood, and you accepted the rank of knight-candidate, which is Shield Bearer.”

“These days past, you underwent the Trial of Knighthood, and have been adjudged by the Peerage here assembled to be worthy of the same accolade. Members of the Peerage, is it your wish that this man be made a knight?”

And the knights of those far-flung lands of sun and snow raised their voices as one, and answered, “Aye.”

Then Maelgrim took his sword Bitterthorn, and bade Thomas Phinney to kneel. So doing, he smote him twice upon the shoulders with the flat of his blade, and then gave him a buffet upon the head with his fist. “Accept that blow,” he said, “and no other. Before these witnesses, we find this man to be a knight. Arise Sir Thomas Phinney, Knight at Arms.”

Thus was Sir Thomas Phinney’s device completed as well, being a bendy of eight gules and argent, a cross clechee sable, with the motto underwritten: Amor vincit omnia.

And there was much rejoicing. But Maelgrim—as was his wont—had not finished speaking.

“One item yet remains that the Peerage has discussed.

“Trian Gaeth, the chivalry has observed you for this past year, and most especially during this war in your service as Captain of the White Wolves. It is the agreement of the Peerage that you have shown the qualities required of a Knight of Arms. Therefore, we offer you now the choice to become a knight-candidate.  If you accept this responsibility and this honor, kneel.”

Trian Gaeth did so, and Maelgrim struck him once upon the shoulder with the longsword Bitterthorn, and said, “In one year’s time, you shall undergo the Trials of Knighthood, and be judged by the Peerage. Henceforth, I name you Trian Gaeth, escuier.”

Thus runs the tale of the Tenth Mercenary Wars, and many other tales are told of that time besides.  But for these Annals, such is the length of our yarn.

Hearken well and be content, for my tale is well and truly done.

(here endeth the story)

 
 
     
   

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