Events: The 6th Annal
 

Annals of the Sixth Mercenary Wars

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

In those days, the Black Falcon Mercenary Company lived in fear. The Rædstan Weald, their summer war-ground, was threatened by the all-consuming Great Fire, which devoured timber, tree and shrub, flower, beast and bird alike in its voracious advance. The smoke of destruction hung heavy that season upon the horizon, and in the hearts of that Company.

And their numbers were Ser Maelgrim Crowther, Lady Cynara deWakelegh, Sir Ralamean of Ramsey, Ceolmhor an Lochard, Jarl Snorri and Thomas Phinney.

That flameburned season, another Company stalked the soot-scorched earth and the heat-dried heather of the far-flung lands of sun and snow. None other than Sol Invictus was it, that selfsame company of fell repute that had done worthy battle with the Black Falcons the year prior.

And their numbers were Sir Flynn the Swift, Faelan, Trian Gaeth the Smith, Aaron, Vlademir Ylseniv, Erik Blood-Axe and James, called Santiago.

Now because the smoke-dark specter of the Great Fire crept through the far reaches of the Rædstan Weald, the captains of the two Companies were sought out by Rangers of that smoke-choked land. And the message they delivered was this:

“Though it be tradition for the Mercenary Wars to be fought in these ancestral woods, this season the Rædstan Weald must lie deaf to the song of steel and the echo of iron. For the Great Fire approaches, and though many have given much to halt its advance, still it may raze and blacken the wood.”

And the hearts and minds of the Black Falcons and Sol Invictus were troubled and filled with grief. “Where now shall we meet to do battle?” asked they, “For within the far-flung land of sun and snow, there is no war field to which our hearts hearken like unto that of the Rædstan Weald.”

So it was that Maelgrim and Cynara searched far and wide for another place to do battle. For despite the grim fate that hovered over the traditional battlegrounds of Mercenary Wars, none had even entertained the idea that the Great Fire might put a halt to the war.

And it came to pass that Cynara discovered a distant place known as the Canyon of the Lost Burro. And it seemed to be a fair place in which to hold the Mercenary Wars, for it was nestled in between a pair of mountain ranges on either side, whose wooded slopes cast shade into the valley below. A stream gurgled through the valley also, and left a mazework of dried streambeds across the low hills that dotted the valley floor.

“Now,” said she to the Rangers who held this land, “is it certain that we may bring our Companies hither and do battle, and have no fear of disturbing villeins or the local peasantry? For the Mercenary Wars produce battles of legend, and it would be an ill fate if some poor serf wandered hapless into the fell storm of iron -tipped arrows.”

And the Rangers said, “Oh, sure.”

And there was an uneasy silence.

And Cynara said, “Truly?”

And the Rangers said, “Yeah.”

“Excellent,” said Cynara. “Then we shall require the use of the Canyon of the Lost Burro for two Mercenary Companies, that we may encamp in its shaded glens and sing the songs of war as ever we have done this season.”

Then there was much rejoicing amongst the Companies, for now they could not only continue their tradition of meeting for the Mercenary Wars, but they could do so on new and interesting ground, the likes of which none of them had yet beheld within the far-flung lands of sun and snow.

Now it was a long and ponderous march to the Canyon of the Lost Burro—far more so than the march to the Rædstan Weald—and thus, when the Mercenary Companies finally arrived, it was early in the month of August, rather than late in the month of June, when they were usually wont to do battle in years gone by.

The Black Falcons arrived first, laden with sword, shield and spear. That grim Company made their camp in a small clearing between the mountain- slope and an encircling wood and stream. Their shields were stacked underneath the pavilions, and their spears leaned against their tents.

“Because we made better time,” said Maelgrim, “let us erect defenses, so that we may surprise Sol Invictus upon their arrival.”

This seemed to all a grand plan, for though the Mercenary Wars were no longer held with lethal intent, still it would be sweet to drink mead upon the bench and boast of victory, and the hastily assembled wall of the past year had performed well enough.

They set to work gathering lumber and rope, while the engineers made measurements and drafted cunning designs of defense that would baffle spear and blunt arrow. Such a stockade it was planned to be as the March Lords of the West might envy for its solid pillars and stalwart means of defense.

And the Black Falcons did labor together for many an hour in raising the beams of the palisade, and lashing its stout timbers together with rope. In a lonely field they placed it, so that they might see any attackers approaching from far beyond before they should reach the entrance to the enclosure.

And when they finished, the Black Falcons stood back to behold their handiwork.

And there was a great silence.

“By my troth, did it not stand straighter in the diagrams?” remarked Sir Ralamean, whose great-wheeled cart had been instrumental in hauling much of the raw lumber.

And there was an uncomfortable muttering.

“Has that wall fallen over again?” asked Ceolmhor.

“Shut up,” answered Maelgrim.

From afar there came the rumor of a great host approaching through the steep-sided walls of the valley, and the Black Falcons perceived that their comrades and rivals Sol Invictus had arrived from their wearying journey.

The glare of evening-reddened sunlight glinted on the helms and hauberks of that worthy company, so that their advance was wrought of mingled light and trail dust. Presently, they drew near and perceived the earthen breastworks and timber gates of the Black Falcons’ palisade.

And there was a long pause.

“Truly,” spake Aaron, in all charity, “this work you have done is a great marvel for all to behold. But see, this wall cants to the left a bit.” And so saying, he brought forth rope and lashed the timbers more securely. For Aaron was well-learned in all manner of woodcraft and survival lore, so that some whispered that his was the wisdom of an eagle.

The Black Falcons heartily thanked Aaron for his works, and stood back to admire once more their defenses.

“It’s still not quite straight, is it?” observed Trian Gaeth. “Give me good iron and steel, and I could fortify these walls such that the mighty Titans might contest with the strength of their foundations.”

“Forget it,” muttered Maelgrim.

“Peace,” said Sir Flynn. “I thought to find my sword-brother Sir Lance of the True Winds in this place? Whither hast he gone? Say not that we shall hold battle without him?”

Maelgrim bowed his head. “Alas,” he answered, “Sir Lance has departed to travel in distant lands. In the Holy Roman Empire to the east he seeks for wisdom and peace of mind and heart.”

“My heart is saddened to learn of it,” replied Flynn. “Truly, this is a year of change.”

But then Maelgrim and Flynn perceived that their companies grew restless. For mercenaries are at their best when surrounded by the shriek of steel and the hissing of clothyard shafts. This melancholy exchange sobered them sorely. Therefore, the two captains proposed a bardic celebration and feast in common camps to raise the spirits of their companies.

As the last red rays of the fallen sun shone through the crisp highland air, Sol Invictus pitched their camp in amongst the tents of the Black Falcons. For in this new and strange land, they thought it wisest to stay close, lest some unknown enemy fall upon them.

Now it happened that Cynara, in her search through moldering archives and ancients texts in her attempt to find a place of war other than the fire- besieged Rædstan Weald, had discovered a great marvel. And as the cloud-shaded stars wheeled overhead, she revealed this thing to the wondering eyes of the Black Falcons and Sol Invictus.

It was a scroll of vellum, and upon it writ in letters of red and black was a legend out of the years when Giants strode the earth and the God-cursed descendants of Cain held sway over fen, moor and field. This legend spoke of a mighty hoard of treasure, hidden away somewhere within the hills nearby.

And in her laboring, Cynara had unlocked the word-trove guarded by that secret legend, and discovered clues of great cunning and cleverness. And so she said unto the gathered Companies that if these riddles could only be deciphered, then the frozen fire of the earth and the precious sunbeams made metal might be found.

This seemed to all a grand idea, and so it was agreed that each Company should set a scribe to work at copying down its own set of clues. And Maelgrim and Flynn did thus agree that whichever Company first discovered the hidden treasure might then keep it for their own amusement.

Then those assembled began to make merry, for this thought of treasure-seeking brightened their hearts and emboldened their spirits—for what spurs a mercenary to deeds of greatness more than silver-lust? Therefore many a tune floated through the star-glittered woods and hills.

But when the turn came for Maelgrim and Snorri to draw forth their recorders and play Estampie, Maelgrim fell into a silent melancholy, and would not play. Therefore Snorri played that merry tune himself, and the ancient satyrs might have pranced with glee to hear its joyous refrain.

Then Cynara told a sad and solemn story known through the marches of Wales. It was the tale of Bedd Gelehrt, the hound slain by his own master while defending his master’s infant from a ravening wolf.

Thomas sang, then. He had written a song of unrequited love and his search for happiness through the lands in which he had campaigned these many years. And Ralamean finished the night’s festivities by singing that old drinking tune, the Wild Rover. But presently, he began to frown.

“For a sooth,” spake Ralamean, “I fear that my ears deliver me a falsehood. For I hear the report of uncouth merriment. It is as though a whole village of bourel peasants makes its rough entertainment beyond this ridge.”

“I hear it also,” answered Aaron.

“Faith, that cannot be,” said Cynara. “I spoke with the Rangers of this wilderness myself, and they assured me that this place was free from habitation and should be our abode alone whilst the Mercenary Wars continue.”

“Indeed,” answered Maelgrim. “It must be howling of the wind. Let us give no more heed to it.” However, it seemed to the gathered mercenaries that night that the howling wind was particularly drunken and raucous.

The stars wheeled in their crystal spheres above and the nighted firmament soon gave way to the rose-and-fire of a mountain dawn. Then the Black Falcons and Sol Invictus rose and broke their fast together. And Maelgrim strode through the fields and stream, searching for a place in which the two companies might meet for their first play of arms.

And so it happened that under the rising sun, shaded by the green branches of a wooded strip, Maelgrim beheld a dry streambed and a timbered bridge spanning its width. And he smiled to himself, for some of his fondest memories of battle were those fought beside his blade-brothers upon bridges.

Thus he returned to the main encampment to report his discovery, and the Black Falcons and Sol Invictus both readied themselves for the trek to the bridge and the battle that would follow. Maelgrim and Trian Gaeth both donned their glittering mail, girt round with sword-belts and war-shields, and Aaron clothed himself in a tough jerkin reinforced with cunningly-wrought iron plates.

And so both Companies marched to the bridge, girded for battle and prepared for war. Maelgrim led the Black Falcons to one side of the streambed, whereupon they locked together their shields and smote the pommels of their swords upon the backsides thereof, shouting. And Sir Flynn drew up Sol Invictus upon the opposite bank, and strung his bow, and called words of encouragement to his Company.

For a few tense moments, the two groups faced one another across the wooden span. Then both Captains sounded the charge, and the report of blades smashing upon broad shield-faces and arrows hissing through the morning air echoed across the near mountains and the valley wherein the Companies contested.

And in the midst of the fighting, Flynn’s arched battle-viper spat its swift poison across the span of the bridge, striking Maelgrim a solid blow upon his armor. And he did fall to his knees with the force of its impact, and many of the Black Falcons also fell to the blades of their enemies. So it was that Sol Invictus swarmed over the bridge, until Maelgrim shouted, “Hold! We are truly beaten in this melee. The victory goes to you, Sir Flynn.”

“Well fought,” said Sir Flynn. “And now I think it meet to take some rest, for see, our warriors are weary from the toil of battle in the heat of the sun. Perhaps this would be a good time to decipher these clues found by Lady Cynara and send our warriors looking for the fabled treasure.”

“Indeed,” answered Maelgrim, “I would as lief look upon the sparkle of gold and silver ere we depart from this place. Let us go forth, then.” And so they did.

So it was that through this strange new land, the Black Falcons and Sol Invictus did search high and low for places which looked like those displayed upon the map which Cynara had given to each Company. And lo, it was noted often, in muttering tones, that this canyon’s sides were steep and treacherous.

A marvel was then shown to the mercenaries, for an arrow of strange design and thick shaft was discovered trampled into the earth. And the mercenaries, in their search for treasure, did discover evidence of ancient battles fought by companies other than themselves in days gone by. “Truly,” said Maelgrim, “I believe that this sort of war arrow is used by the doughty archers in that place called Dragon’s Spine.”

And though but few understood the import of that, still it was cause for wonder that knights and warriors of old had once done battle in these selfsame hills through which the two companies now wandered.

And it came to pass that atop the canyon wall, well-wooded and shielded by bough and bark from prying eyes, that the searching Black Falcons found a fissure filled with the detritus of storms and past landslides.

And further down the ridge, Sol Invictus discovered the remains of ancient ruins, long-crumbled and deserted. Now the haunt of mice and lonely winds, the ruins were filled with red gravel and moss-gowned boulders.

And while the two Companies marveled at these sites, their scouts encountered one another upon the road atop the ridge. So doing, each drew his blade, and dashed back to his own Company to tell of what he had seen.

Thus it transpired, that certain members of the Black Falcons and of Sol Invictus did meet amidst the trees and boulders upon the hillside of the Canyon of the Lost Burro, between the boulder-strewn ruins and gaping maw in the earth.

Bitter weapons were drawn and moon-bright blades were unsheathed. The song of shrilling steel shrieked through the pillared pines, and the two Companies clashed together there in the shaded woods. Sword bit into the stolid war-board and the sibilant hiss of the arched battle-serpent crossed the contested roadway.

When finally the dust of the road settled upon the broken ground, the Black Falcons had recompensed Sol Invictus for their earlier defeat, and sent that Company stumbling down the steep hillside to the sun-baked valley below.

Indeed, such was the heat in those hills that Maelgrim wilted in his heavy armor and sought refuge under a tree. There seated, he spake, saying, “Why shall we endure this heat when the time for our midday meal draws nigh? Let all who would enjoy respite from this brazen fire of the heavens follow me to the nearby inn.”

Now the nearest town to that remote and distant canyon there in the far-flung lands of sun and snow was a settlement named for the creek which ran through it, and for the great number of injured soldiers who had made their homes their after some long-forgotten crusade.

Therefore, when the Black Falcons’ caravan drew nigh unto the small town, they beheld the words “Cripple Creek” emblazoned upon a sign near the local inn. About the inn, a great number of wagons were gathered, and it was made plain that the simple and the gentry from many miles around had chosen to meet in that place for the purpose of most sinful gambling.

“Mercy upon these misguided souls,” said Ceolmhor as the Black Falcons approached, for it was clear that the excess to which the people had gone in their heedless gaming would lead them to no good end.

Perhaps it was her piety which attracted the guardsman’s eye as the company entered the great double doors that led into the inn. For though Maelgrim, Cynara and Lanze all bore daggers upon their backs, and Maelgrim in particular was clasped in mail and leather, the guardsman took no notice of them as they passed. But it happened that—upon seeing Ceolmhor’s modest eating dagger at her belt—the gate guard detained her and asked many a question concerning her intentions and the number of winters she had counted since her birth.

That being finished, the Black Falcons strode into the common room of the inn, where a great many travelers turned to marvel at that war-wily Company. Awed whispers followed their backs like a cloak of chattering wind. And so the Black Falcons did set themselves at the mead-bench, and were served with good food and drink.

Their repast consumed, the Black Falcons did then leave coinage enough to pay for their meal upon the table, and departed from the inn, still subject to the stares of wonderment from the common masses who had gathered to celebrate in excess.

And that is how the Black Falcons took their midday meal in the settlement of Cripple Creek.

Now it happened that upon the Black Falcons’ return to their encampment, they did meet with Sol Invictus, who asked, “Where have you been? We have long searched the hills and dales of this countryside in search of you.”

And Maelgrim shrugged and said, “A great hunger was upon us, and we desired to leave the heat of the sun behind us.” Therefore was great grumbling amongst the assembled members of Sol Invictus heard, and tempers simmered.

At that time, Fate saw fit to test the patience of the mercenaries. For into their encampments wandered a small urchin, unwashed and uncouth after the manner of some base villein. And he did sorely pester first Sol Invictus and then the Black Falcons, following them this way and that, and asking them all manner of question, and trying to sneak off with their weapons for sport.

Many there assembled openly wondered, “Where are the parents of this squalling brat?”

Thus it came to pass that the child was coerced to lead the mercenaries back to his home. And lo, there on the other side of a low ridge had camped a great gathering of rough peasantry and rabble, under the banner of an Elk.

And Maelgrim did exclaim in wonderment, and uttered many crude phrases which are not, through the grace of God, repeated here. And he said, “What the hell? What are these people doing here? This is our site!”

And the mercenaries did return the child to his parents’ camp, and said, “Your little son was wandering around; it would be unfortunate should he wander into a battle and be injured.”

And the peasants did grin and nod vacantly. It did not escape the notice of the assembled mercenaries that many empty wine and beer casks lay scattered about the ramshackle huts of the rude peasants.

So the mercenaries went to speak with the rangers of that land, saying, “We thought it was agreed that this land would be for our use alone during this time; for it is dangerous for peasants to live so close to the place where we intend to do battle.”

And the Rangers said, “Oh. Right. Well, we forgot.”

And there was a great muttering and gnashing of teeth. But the two worthy Companies knew that they held this land upon the Rangers’ sufferance, and it would be ill to draw their ire. So they retreated back to the open field.

There, it was proposed that each Company should once again gird itself for battle, and make war with the other. The field was wide and covered with rolling hills that backed into a dry stream-bed upon either end, surrounded by woods. And the mercenaries felt that it was meet to hold a battle there.

So the Black Falcons arrayed themselves at the top of a hill, and locked their shields together. And Sol Invictus stood across the field in like manner. And Maelgrim ordered his warriors to beat their swords upon their shields, and to make a great hue and cry with which to embolden themselves.

So amidst the clamor of the Black Falcons’ chant, Sol Invictus marched across the heat-browned grass and presently came to the bottom of the hill. Three times the contested the might of the Black Falcons’ shield wall, whilst Cynara’s bow spat iron-tipped punishment, and Flynn’s answered in kind. Three times, the Black Falcons threw Sol Invictus down the hill in frustration.

Then Maelgrim led a charge down the hill, just as Sol Invictus struggled to breast a ditch and rise out of the difficult terrain. That charge was mighty and fearful. But alas! for the Black Falcons, for their charge was too costly, and many of their number fell to the hacking blades of Sol Invictus.

When nearly all had perished, Jarl Snorri found himself surrounded on all sides by enemy mercenaries. Therefore, he turned his mightiest attack upon Santiago, who had drawn much ire from the Black Falcons, and rained down mighty blows upon his person.

And once Santiago had fallen (though some noticed some sign of life still in him), Jarl Snorri took his last stand, swinging his great sword about him like a wheel of fire, and many feared to come nigh unto that warrior who recalled the Bear-shirted of Old.

Yet fall he finally did, amidst the blades of Sol Invictus. And all agreed that he had met his end in that melee with boldness, though Faelan and Santiago remarked as they nursed their bruises that perhaps such zeal had been overmuch for a melee of peace.

The Black Falcons then retreated to their palisade, rudely constructed though it was. For the timbered walls provided some defense against the weapons of the enemy, and that Company felt the need of protection for some time whilst they recuperated from their loss in the field.

Their respite, however, was short-lived. For though they crouched behind the hewed timbers of the oaken walls, and bore their shields of oak and steel before them, the Black Falcons’ hurts were too keenly felt and their spirits stricken too deeply for them to repel the attack mounted by Sol Invictus. Forward marched that war-wise Company beneath a banner of blue and black, with intent to assail the palisade in its lonely field.

Within the wooden walls, the Black Falcons linked their war-boards together and thrust them into the palisade’s doorway, the better to withstand the onslaught of mighty Sol Invictus. For a while, they contended against the spears and arrows of that Company of the black sun. But the warriors of Sol Invictus soon found that they could cause great sorrow and care for the Black Falcons by thrusting their iron-tipped spears through the gaps in the timber walls of that wooden fortress.

“’s blood!” cried Ralamean, “Did the timbers not stand closer together in the designs so cunningly drawn by Ser Maelgrim? How comes this to pass?”

“Shut up, and kill that spearman,” answered Maelgrim in kind.

One by one, the numbers of the Black Falcons dwindled, until but few stood before the portal to the palisade. Then Thomas Phinney drew forth his grim spiked flail and dashed into the midst of his attackers. Like a burning star of vengeance, his flail smashed the shields and crushed the armor of the Sol Invictus mercenaries. However, as he struck Erik Blood-Axe, the chain of his flail broke asunder, and the spiked head soared spinning into the far field.

Then he was felled as the enemy Company converged upon him in a single mass and overthrew him. And a great cry went up from Sol Invictus when Thomas, the last of the Black Falcons, fell to his knees and cried pax.

And it came to pass at that time that both companies stopped still in wonderment. For across the field issued a great cheering and many drunken cries of “Do it again!” and “Go King Arthur!” Many were the puzzled looks exchanged amongst the gathered warriors.

Finally, the source of the merriment was discovered; several peasants and villeins from a nearby settlement had ridden a small wain to the field of battle in which the mercenaries contested, and had watched the battle. It was with no small amount of annoyance that Maelgrim and Cynara explained to the lost peasants that this was not the “Elk’s Lodge,” and that this was not their place.

The peasants merrily grinned and nodded, and inquired after the possible location of further refreshments—beer and ale and the like. One of them tumbled from the cart and laughed boisterously, so that many there gathered marveled that he did not dress in motley and carry a bell-capped stave.

Eventually, after much shaking of heads and many deep sighs, the mercenaries managed to convince the wayward churls that better sport might be had back at their own lodgings. And there was much rejoicing.

It was not long before that great golden coin which sees all began to sink towards the jagged mountain peaks which thrust at the sky. As the shadows lengthened and the light turned phoenix-colored, Sir Ralamean bethought it to himself that he might gain glory for himself and his Company if he were to undergo a play of arms.

So it was that he issued a challenge to Sir Flynn, captain of the company of the black sun, who being a true knight, did accept. Mantled by twilight and the song of evening birds, the two knights saluted, drew their blades, and laid on.

Those who beheld the combat were much amazed by the skill and hardiness of those two swordsmen, who exchanged many strokes of the blade, their cloaks swirling and billowing in the evening light. The song of steel upon steel was heard in every corner of that mountainous region.

At last, Sir Flynn put up his sword with a salute, and said, “In faith, that was a merry fight. Are you satisfied this evening?”

To which Sir Ralamean replied, “It is good; I am well content, sir.”

So it was that Sir Ralamean was given recognition for his deed, and the Black Falcons were reckoned to have gained in their standing by his valor.

Now it came to pass that the companies did refresh themselves and dress in their finest in preparation for the traditional feast of Mercenary Wars. And this year, Lady Cynara had spoken ahead of time with the rangers of that land concerning the way in which the mercenaries might dine that evening.

And lo! the rangers spoke to the franklins and woodsfolk who made that place their home, and did offer up food and drink in great quantities to the two worthy Companies. And Lady Cynara was heard to exclaim that the extra coin needed to pay was well worth the trouble saved in not needing to prepare the food herself.

When the mercenaries ended their feast amidst great merriment, several gathered up dishes and serving platters, in order to return them to the rangers who had provided the food. And when they rangers beheld their approach, they smiled and said, “We know we told you that the campground was yours alone, but we just told this traveler that he could make his camp in the great field.”

And there was a long silence. Finally, Maelgrim said, “That is well, so long as the traveler has no objection to being wakened in the night by the hammering of steel and iron together and the hue and cry of battle. For our battle at night has not yet been abandoned for any reason, and this year shall not be the first.”

And the rangers nodded and pocketed their gold and said, “Sure, whatever.”

The mercenaries then retired to their camps. Many donned clothing of nighted hue in order to blend more completely with the darkness that follows evening. And the many amongst the Black Falcons went in search of treasure further—for during the course of the day, they had gathered shreds of the ancient map which showed where the hoard might be found.

And night fell. The fixed stars in their wheel-like motion turned overhead, and the Black Falcons and Sol Invictus met upon the field of battle in shades of grey and black. And the words spoken were thus:

“Because our camps are one,” spake Maelgrim, “I propose that we set small stockades in the woods and hold our standards there. In such a manner may we still enjoy the Night Battle while searching for one another’s separate stockades though we have kept our encampments in common this year.”

This seemed to all a good plan, and thus it was that the two companies did depart into the needled forests strewn upon the mountainsides under the brave stars in that far-flung land of sun and snow. Their tracks were lost in shadow and their forms blended with the forest.

The Black Falcons followed a trail beside a dry stream bed until they came upon a place between the stream bed and the side of a steep embankment. There they put their torches in a circle and placed their red banner in a stand of aspen trees close by. And there they waited, swords drawn.

The crystal-torches shone in the firmament above, wheeling in their courses. A bitter mountain wind twisted the banners of both companies, and the night wore on.

“This sucks,” said Sir Ralamean. So he and Jarl Snorri departed with some others of the Black Falcons and crept towards the fort of Sol Invictus. Like soundless serpents they glided through the leafy glens of that mountainous region, until at last they came upon the enemy outpost.

From afar, Maelgrim and Cynara heard the shrill chime of steel in bitter contest, and the sound of blades meeting the hardened oak faces of the sturdy war-boards of Sol Invictus. And then there was a great silence.

Presently, the Black Falcons beheld the limping and battered forms of their sword-brethren, approaching their own outpost once more. And Maelgrim asked, “What news?”

“Naught,” replied Jarl Snorri. “All was well.”

“The report of hard-contested battle reached us here,” said Cynara. “Yet I see no evidence that you captured Sol Invictus’ banner as a token of victory.”

“As to that,” answered Sir Ralamean, “My memory is most unclear. But come, let us not natter over trifles. Sol Invictus surely approaches. We should make ready our defense.”

And so it was that when Sol Invictus rose like the black incarnation of their namesake over the crest of the humped hill before the Black Falcons, that company was ready, and had gathered anew about their crimson banner.

The fighting was fierce and swift. The starlight of that far- flung land reflected from the cold-edged blades of the two companies, and the hissing of arrows filled the night, as a nest of poisonous vipers nearby. But finally, Erik held up has hand, and said, “We are beaten. Truly, I had not counted on doing battle with so great a number of hardened foes.”

At that time, the warriors had grown weary under the hooded glare of that silver huntress who guards the night skies. So it was that the night battle of the sixth Mercenary Wars ended in a draw.

The next day, both companies resolved to find the fabled treasure once and for all, before the customary tournaments of the Mercenary Wars took precedence over their hearts and minds. So it was that each company pored over pieces of the map that each had located. In the end, it was the Black Falcons who unlocked the riddle of the buried treasure.

Indeed, once the chest containing that ancient silver had been unearthed, it was discovered that it lay beneath the very grove of aspens in which Sol Invictus had taken refuge at the beginning of the battle upon the hill the day before.

And so the Black Falcons made merry amidst their newfound wealth, and both companies swore peace for the remainder of the day. For at that time, the tournaments began.

As was the custom, the assembled warriors all gathered their crooked sticks, handbows, and horn-tipped bows of war to participate in the archery tournament. The rattle of clothyard shafts in their quivers and cases sounded throughout the valley as the gathered archers made ready to shoot.

“Faith,” muttered Maelgrim, “I would not take it amiss if those drunken villeins wandered into the field now.” And Cynara was heard to say, “Shush.”

Many worthy archers shot at the targets that day. Sir Ralamean, Ceolmhor, Lady Cynara, Faelan, Sir Flynn, all loosed the venom of that crooked serpent under the morning sun. However, at the end, it was Ser Maelgrim with his graven bow of wood and horn bent double who claimed championship of that contest.

Then it came to pass that both companies gathered for the Tournament of Arms. In that contest, Thomas Phinney acted as Herald, announcing the contestants in each round, and the outcome those battles fought.

Beside a trickling brook that ran down the side of the grey rocks, surrounded by the leafy boughs of the woodland there, many duels were fought, with many weapons of fell craft. Thomas Phinney acquitted himself well with his burnished shield and sword (and many breathed a sigh of relief that his mighty flail had been broken asunder the day before). Ser Maelgrim’s blade was swift, indeed.

At the end of many displays of martial prowess and skill with sword, mace and axe, three stood as champions of the Tournament of Arms. Lady Cynara claimed third place, Jarl Snorri claimed second place, and Sir Flynn of Knightshire (called Flynn the Swift) claimed championship with his twin blades.

Those were the deeds done in tourney at the sixth Mercenary Wars.

When the tournaments had ended, both companies packed their weapons and their tents into the lumbering wains which had brought them, and drove their caravan over the mountains towards their homes.

On the way back, they stopped at an inn that claimed to be the “Burger King,” a distinction which caused a great confusion amongst many there gathered. For how could one be both a burgher and a king? But there they ate, and Maelgrim recalled his old friend Treylane from years past who had once worked in a place like this one, but unlike.

And many tales were told at that time, and much was remembered through lenses the color of the rosy sky before sunset. And when the day had passed, all agreed that despite the Great Fire which raged to the north and west, it had been a splendid war after all. And this did the sixth Mercenary Wars draw to a companionable close.

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

(here endeth the story)

 
 
     
   

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