Events: The 2nd Annal
 
Annals of the Second Mercenary Wars

As told originally by Ser Mælgrim Crouthur in the Red Book of Shadows

In those days, the Black Falcon Mercenary Company lived in exile.  They wandered the empty, grim lands far to the North of the far-flung lands of sun and snow.  They lived at that time for revenge. 

For Owen Cwiran had most bitterly betrayed them, and joined the ranks of the Company of the Mists.  And yea, so great was his skill in battle, and so learned was he in the Arts of Mars, that he rose to the rank of Captain amongst the soldiers of the Company of the Mists. 

And in his heart, Maelgrim nursed a dark and bitter hatred, so that even though the Black Falcons be locked in the ice-glazed forests of the North, the thought for vengeance burned flamebright.

And day by day, the frost-mantled mountains grew warmer.  The snow melted to cold streams as the season of bursting green grew near.  And day by day, a plan formed in the hearts and thoughts of the warriors of the Black Falcon Mercenary Company.

And spring arrived. 

As Winter released its hold on the land, Maelgrim began to recruit warriors from the frost-brindled North.  And they trained in use of spear, and bow, and axe.  In the far-flung land of sun and snow, the far-off rumor of war was heard.

To the south, in the lands pertaining to that area near the Rædstan Weald, the soldiers of the Company of the Mists sat upon the mead-bench and boasted their great boasts, and told their tales of victory in the Mercenary Wars.  For not one knew what wyrd was in store for them, nor that the smoke from the fires of war blew from Cær Galen to the north. 

And principal amongst the numbers of the Black Falcons were Maelgrim, Cynara, Flynn the Swift, Ralamean of Ramsey, Lance of the True Winds, Chris the Angry, Daryoon y Darres, Jarrod the Maceman, Darren Hammer, Melanie, and Michael Elliot.

And principal amongst those of the Company of the Mists were Owen Cwiran, Ceolmhor an Lochard, Aldric Talvalin, Isaac the Mouthy, Kristy Baker, Farlin of the Woods, Cora the Shrew and A.J., and Rebecca Winedraught and Malcom the Englishman. 

Now it has been told in the tale of the first Mercenary Wars that Maelgrim and Cynara had knowledge of the Rædstan Weald, and it was no great marvel that after the events of the Mercenary Wars that a number of others in that grim war-band knew also the lay of that wood. 

So it was that when the winds of spring blew away the last shreds of winter from that far-flung land of sun and snow, that the Black Falcon Mercenary Company hefted their mighty brands and marched to the south.

And when the rays of the summer sun first stretched their golden fingers to the shaded hollows of the Rædstan Weald, so too came the sound of marching feet to the land.

Upon their mead-benches and revel halls, the Company of the Mists perceived the winds of battle that precede the storm of war.  And they betook it unto themselves to take up arms and shields, and to make ready for melee.

Thus is came to pass that upon reaching the outskirts of the forest, Maelgrim called a halt.  He and his goodly war band broke their fast once again at the Inn of the Golden Crescents.  There, worried folk and patrons whispered amongst one another.  And the Black Falcons were spotted by a scout of the Company of the Mists.

Now, Owen Cwiran, the Red Lion, devised unto himself a plan to save his troops from the Black Falcons' vengeance.

Therefore, he called together his sergeants: one Aldric Talvalin and one Isaac the Mouthy.  And he laid out his plan before them, saying:

"Behold; the Black Falcons shall soon be upon us.  Therefore, I propose we meet them warily, but without rancor.  For the ills between us are full twelve moons past, and there need be no cause for strife."

"When they arrive, I shall propose a tournament, for if they are given reason to try their blades á plaisance, perhaps thoughts of war shall leave them."

And so it passed; that when the Black Falcons arrived in the Rædstan Weald's heart, they were met by the Company of the Mists in good cheer.  Indeed, one would never guess that a year past, the two had been in mortal combat locked.

"What goes on here?" demanded Maelgrim, for he held suspicion in his heart, and thirsted for redress for his defeat in the Mercenary Wars.

"Naught," replied the Red Lion, "Naught at all.  We merely seek to welcome our worthy once-adversaries to the mead-hall.  But come, why comest thou armed for war when all this land is at peace?"

Said Maelgrim, "For vengeance."

"Vengeance?" asked Owen, "For what wrongs must needs you be avenged?  Surely, not for your defeat last summer?  For that is merely the fortune of any mercenary."

"Nay," answered Maelgrim, "Not for defeat in the Mercenary Wars do I seek redress, but for that betrayal which would choke even Lucifer; the breaking of word-bond with your sworn sword-kindred."

"Betrayal?" replied Owen.  "Think you so?  I say not.  For was I not abandoned in the thick of hostile territory by those same blade-brothers?  And did not the Company of the Mists treat me with honor thence?"

"Well," answered Maelgrim, "That is so."

"Besides," finished Owen, "What means betrayal to a mercenary?  Does such a word exist?"

"As to that," spake Maelgrim, "By God, we shall see.  But you speak fairly, my old friend, and see, my thoughts of vengeance grow cold."

Then the two companies met gladly, and shared the mead horn, and spoke of battles long ended, and campaigns long decided, and of feats of arms, and the like.

But cordial though their meeting, both Maelgrim and Owen sent scouts to set camp on opposite sides of that canopied and sylvan land.

And both the Black Falcons and the Company of the Mists kept their weapons and war-boards close at hand; for what is a mercenary without them?  Cynara only took merely a bow, for she was with child, and could not fight.

So it happened that Owen then drew forth his mighty stave of yew; that red-bellied snake that spits such venom as even the iron-linked byrnie fears.  Owen strung his longbow, and spoke.

"To pass the time," he suggested, "Why not shoot at the archery butts for sport?"

This seemed to all assembled a grand idea, for as has been said before, all warriors love to prove their skill in contest of arms or bow.  And thus, the woods filled with the sound of creaking bows bent to string.

And after all had shot their sheaves at the target, Owen once again stepped forward and spoke.

"Still," said he, "a lesson you need."

And, as before, he placed his arrows one by one into the target from afar, besting all others before him.

"Fie," chuckled Maelgrim, "An' thou hast but bent bow since last we met, I shall eat mine own boot leather."

"Truly," answered Owen, "thou speakest.  I hadn't the heart for it until now."

So the sun wheeled above in its course, and the morning lengthened into afternoon.  And the gathered bands betook it unto themselves to try their skill again in contests of arms.

First before all was fought the tournament of the sword.  For all were eager to prove their mettle and show the skill that hard winter had forged.

Many a battle and duel of great repute was fought then.  Young Ralamean distinguished himself in combat against Isaac the Mouthy, and Owen Cwiran himself rained mighty blows as might hew the ancient oak upon his opponents.

And when all had else been dispatched in the tourney, only Maelgrim and Flynn the Swift remained upon the field of sport.

It has been said by those who saw that so fierce and swift was the combat between those two, that onlookers feared for their dueling comrades' lives.  The woods rang with the shattering echoes of their fight. 

Finally, when it seemed that neither could triumph, Maelgrim leaped forward and, seizing upon Flynn's blade at the base, pulled forward and struck his worthy adversary down. 

As was the custom, the other mercenaries who had not participated in the sword tourney took up their double-handed greatswords to try their skill and their luck.

That was a fell and terrible battle.  Twice did Malcom the Englishman sunder his opponents' blades; once against Ralamean, and once against A.J.

Ceolmhor also struck A.J. soundly; once upon the head, once in the cottes.  And Daryoon's terrible blade Justakara swept a curved path of death through all that it touched.

But mightiest of all in skill with the greatsword was Aldric Talvalin of the Company of the Mists.  When the dust settled in a mantle upon the broken ground of the tourney field, only Aldric in his black and blue surcoat and wide-brimmed hat remained. 

These were the deeds done in tourney, and here ends the account of the tournaments at the Second Mercenary Wars.

As prize, Aldric chose bracers of black leather to wear upon his arms.  Owen found himself a bowl of wood.  And Maelgrim selected a waterskin of black.

*          *          *          *          *

That evening, the bands of warriors sat in revelry.  Meat pies, and pease porridge and fruit pies were served upon trenchers.  All told of their involvement in the tournaments.

It was now that trouble again began.  For during the feast, Owen discovered his eating dagger gone.  He and Maelgrim searched across the ground and through the fire pit to no avail.

At last, it was discovered that Cora the Shrew had pilfered it for amusement.  But in the meantime, tempers had frayed, and accusations passed back and forth.

So it came to pass that a slow mistrust grew once again between the Black Falcons and the Company of the Mists.  To be sure, the anger and bloodlust of the first Mercenary Wars were not present; however, a mischievous plan began to form in the minds of the Black Falcons.

Thus, when the singing and music and revelry of the feast and bardic circle had subsided, Maelgrim spake.

"The tournaments were fine," said he, "But why not stage a melee of peace this night?  If we were to use rebated weapons as if in tourney, we could show our skill in war without fatality."

The Red Lion conferred with his troops, and decided that this could be a chance to settle with the Black Falcons once and for all.  Therefore, he spoke with Maelgrim, agreeing to the combat of peace, to take place during the hours of the night.

So it happened in the far-flung lands of sun and snow, the Company of the Mists and the Black Falcon Mercenary Company agreed in peace upon the beginning of the Second Mercenary Wars.

Now, the weather had turned soft during the hours of the evening, and that hidden jewel of the desert poured forth from the heavens.  The ground of the Rædstan Weald drank thirstily, until it was dark with rain and full sodden.

A shadow passed before the moon, and those glittering jewels of the night fell under misty shroud, so that the only light in that darkling wood was that cast by lantern or candle or torch.

Such were conditions when Maelgrim assembled the Black falcons and spoke to them in brave tones, saying:

"Hark!  Night hath fallen, and the time for battle draws nigh.  Therefore, let each among you arm as befits fell warriors.  But be sure to choose only rebated blades or muffled maces; for I shall brook no death this night.  Now go to!  And let us move silently, and come upon them in stealth."

So it was that the Black Falcons departed for war of peace that night, excepting Cynara, of whom it has already been said, was with child.  Also, Daryoon y Darres and the fair maid Melanie remained behind in their tent.  The phrase "like rabbits" was oft mockingly whispered at that time.

Thus it passed: that for many an hour, the Black falcons crept through the forest, through the gloom and the dark.  Their boots were sodden through, and their cloaks all glistening with rain water.

Many a time did that wary war band stop in haste and alarm, perceiving some small sound which they imagined to be the scouts and rangers of their adversaries.

Once, believing the Company of the Mists to be hidden in an encampment near the feasting grounds, the entirety of the Black Falcons fell upon the command tent with a great hue and cry, though there was naught within.

Finally, Flynn hissed to the band, "A light!  A light in the forest!"

And so it was, for the Company of the Mists' campfire, though small, cast its pinpoint of light far into the darkness.

So, gripping small blades in their teeth with their war swords on their backs, the Black Falcons crept and crawled through the rain-slick grass and brambles towards the distant camp.

Dead wraiths would have made more sound moving through the aether than the Black Falcon Mercenary Company made that night in their quiet approach to the enemy camp.  So great was their care, that they approached up to the very edge of that flamelit circle, hidden by brush and hedge, and the soft sound of gently pattering raindrops.  Truly, the gods of battle smiled upon that worthy company.

But even the most silent, clever ambush can fall prey to bad luck.  And so it was that as the Black Falcons lay in wait, the sergeant Aldric Talvalin arose to nature's call and wandering into the bush.

And as he finished his business, he turned and perceived Maelgrim hidden in a grove, and called the alarm. 

To which Malegrim said: 

"Scitte!  Charge!" 

The battle which ensured would surely have ended with many fatalities had not both Companies been armed with rebated weapons.  At its end, Owen Criwan stood and said: 

"Peace!  You have defeated us.  See, I give up my sword to your captain!"

And so saying, he handed to Maelgrim the sword Yxolydiann, sheath and blade both.

Then the Black Falcons perceived that the Company of the Mists had not only posted no sentry, but that their camp was strewn with bottles of wine and cheese rinds.  And both Malcom the Englishman's tent and that of Isaac the Mouthy and Kristy Baker, were slept in (though Malcom awoke in the fray and acquitted himself well).

"What is this?" asked Maelgrim.  "Was there not to be a melee tonight?  Why make you revel around the fire?"

And Owen answered, "The rain."

And there was a great silence in the wood.

And finally Maelgrim said, "Well, all right then."  For her perceived (or so he thought) that this was Owen's way of apologizing for his defection those twelve months past.  And the shadow of anger lifted then, and the two embraced as brothers.  So ended the Night Battle of the Second Mercenary Wars.

The next day dawned clear and bright, and those thousand jewelbright drops of dew reflected the gold fire that frets the overhanging firmament.

The mercenaries broke their fast with meals of sausage and biscuits and cold wassail.  No anger now lay between the Black Falcons and the Company of the Mists, and the warriors of each company sat upon the mead-benches and boasted to one another and the sky.

Presently, it came time to hold that most ancient of tournaments - the melee.  And the assembled warriors stood in a circle and fought like lions at the signal for combat.

When all contest of arms had finished, it was Flynn the Swift who claimed the prize for valor in the melee. 

So it was that the Second Mercenary Wars came to a close.  Hearken well and be content, for my tale is well and truly done.

(Here endeth the story)

 
 
     
   

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