of the Eighth Mercenary Wars
as told originally by Lady Ceolmhor an Lochard in the Red Book of Years
In those days, when it was the custom for the Black Falcon Mercenary Company and the White Wolf Mercenary Company to yearly meet for sport and merriment, they dwelled still in the far-flung lands of sun and snow. And, as was the custom, when the days were at their longest the two parties met at the Raedstan Weald.
The company of the Black Falcons was made up of Ser Maelgrim Crowther, Lady Cynara deWakelegh, Lady Ceolmhor an Lochard, Herr Lanze von Lancaster, Rowena Lancaster, Thomas Phinney and Demian the Smith.
And the company of the White Wolves numbered Ser Owen Godwinesson, Sir Ralamean of Ramsey, Lady Faelan, Nicholas deNetley, Vlademir Ylseniv, Erick Blood-Axe and Siegfried von Gemen.
When the Black Falcons arrived at the meeting place, they found that many members of the White Wolves were already present, and had taken the closest and best campground for themselves. This was unforeseen by the Falcons, who usually arrived first and therefore camped in that spot, and so they protested.
“See how it pours in torrents from the sky, and we are not prepared to walk further than this camp-spot,” protested Ceolmhor and Thomas Phinney.
“That is too bad, because we were here first, and besides, Maelgrim, your sword-captain, has already been here and has gone on ahead to set up your own camp. You had better follow him.” replied the Wolves, while they hurriedly set up their tents, to avoid the wet.
And so the Black Falcons went after their captain, and when they found him they helped him to set up their own camp in the rain, and returned to the central meeting place to find the White Wolves huddled in their tents against the weather.
And the whole of both companies did come out then, and the War Charter was read, whose contents are given here:
Let it be known that upon the Feast of Saints Ravennus and Rasiphus, war shall be declared between the Black Falcon Mercenary Company and the White Wolf Mercenary Company in the far-flung and debatable lands of sun and snow in the Rædstan Weald.
Upon the Feast of Saint Lupus, in the first hour past Tierce, the 2 companies shall make war. All acts of espionage, battle and negotiation shall begin at this time, in accordance with the hours laid down here:
The Battle in the Woods shall begin one hour before Sixte.
The Battle at the Wall shall begin one hour after Sixte.
The Hourglass Battle shall begin at Nonnes.
The Herald Battle shall begin one hour before Vespers.
The Hill Battle shall begin one hour after Vespers.
At the hour of Compline upon the Feast of Saint Lupus, each Company shall declare a truce to last until the end of the festivities that accompany the Bardic Circle.
The Night Battle shall begin one hour before Matines and shall continue until one hour before Laudes.
Upon the Feast of James the Great, on the hour after Tierce, the Archery Tournament shall begin. Following that, the Challengers’ Tourney shall begin upon the Hour of Sixte.
An hour before Nonnes, the 8th Mercenary Wars shall be concluded.
Victory in the Mercenary Wars shall be determined by War Points. Each battle won shall count for three War Points. Successful completion of the Spy Challenge shall count for two War Points. Individual challenges may be issued for 1 War Point each. Successful acquisition or theft of livestock shall be worth 1 War Point for each time stolen.
Every combatant shall submit their weapons and armor to the Arms Marshall for inspection upon the Feast of Saints Ravennus and Rasiphus. If a weapon or piece of armor shall be damaged, it shall be fixed and resubmitted to the Arms Marshall before further use.
Every combatant shall acknowledge defeat after receiving three sufficient strikes to their person, or upon taking a sufficiently deadly strike to justify instant death.
Conditions for victory in each battle are as follows:
Woods Battle: Kill all enemy soldiers.
Wall Battle: Defenders kill all attackers, or hold wall for 20 minutes. Attackers kill all defenders, or breach wall and hold position for at least 5 minutes.
Hourglass Battle: Company’s fatalities number less than enemy company’s fatalities.
Herald Battle: Kill herald.
Hill Battle: Kill all enemy soldiers.
Night Battle: Capture and keep enemy banner.
If a mercenary is defeated in the woods between battles, he or she shall return either to their camp, or to the neutral base area before engaging in combat once more.
Signed this day upon the Feast of Saints Ravennus and Rasiphus.”
To which all peers and warriors present affixed their own seals. After which, Maelgrim told a wondrous tale: how the Vikings of old had been in these far flung lands, and, in need of haste, had left some of their treasure buried there. As fortune turned against the Northmen, their treasure remained for generations safely hidden, whilst the memories of them grew cold. The good captain had learned this tale, and had in consequence gathered all information and clues he could find concerning the whereabouts of this treasure. He distributed the clues, scratched in haste on parchment as he hurried to learn yet more, and the mercenaries were awed at the thought that they could find this treasure and make it their own.
"Here, I have an idea," said Owen, "why should we sunder this treasure, that has been so long together in the ground? Let us make this part of our sport; that whichever company first finds the treasure, shall keep it all - and the other company shall have none of it." As both companies were convinced that they alone would find the hoard, both agreed whole-heartedly.
And the festivities and merriment thus began in earnest. The two companies agreed that there would be no fighting until the next morning, and so they greedily separated from each other to pore over the clues Maelgrim had collected. It was decided, at the council, that for purposes of fairness Maelgrim himself should not help his company in the search for the treasure-hoard. And so, as each company puzzled over the bits of clue, he twitted around them impatiently, hoping his own company would decipher first, but delighting in both group's frustrations.
Upon opening one clue in particular, both companies were heard to exclaim in woe. "In the names of all the gods and the saints, how are we supposed to read this? Does anyone here speak the Nordic tongue?" No one did, at least not well. One in the number of the White Wolves could read enough to piece the strange letters together, although there was much guess-work involved. When the Falcons opened their rune-riddle, after a short time of puzzling over the writing, Demian said, "Wait! I know the key to this code, see here!" And he pulled down his tunic, to reveal a beautiful design drawn upon his chest, laced with like runes. "Why did you not reveal this before? Do you know what it says?" asked his arms-brothers. And Demian said, "Of course I know what it says; why else would it be painted on my body? Hurry and compare the runes; I'm cold." And so the Falcons were also able to read the ancient language, and they went in search of the place of which it spoke.
The opening of another clue revealed musical notation; and although many in both companies were skilled at song and music, and many could read the melody to that fair song, and recognized it, only Ceolmhor knew the name of the song - a peasant folk song, the Ash Grove. The Falcons knew, then, to search the ash groves (no easy task, for there were many!), but the Wolves did not know what to make of the notes. The woods were soon filled with humming, as they racked their minds and memories for the name or words to that song, but to no avail. It happened that the Wolves learned that Ceolmhor had known the name of the song, and so they began to pester her. But she would not budge. Great was the wrath of the Wolves, and they continued on their hunt without that clue, until Maelgrim took pity on them and told them the song’s name.
That night, wet though it was, was filled with treasure hunting. And as each clue was deciphered, a new clue was found, which the companies supposed would be fit together into a map or statement of the treasure's resting-place. Owen and Ralemean were soaked through when they returned from searching for two trees dubbed "the Sentinels", fruitlessly, hours after dark had fallen. Likewise, Cynara and a small band following her sought the "Grey Guardians" unsuccessfully. After the sun had well and truly left the day and the moon was high in the night sky, both parties went to sleep, rain still pounding on their tents.
As the next morning dawned, both companies arose to find their belongings still soaked through. All were excited for the planned games and battles, though, and so spirits were high as the companies breakfasted together. While the companies were eating, six horses approached the encampment. The companies were wary, for they knew not who these strangers could be; until one of them said: "Good friends, we mean you no harm. We are students of your art, taught well and truly by Ser Maelgrim Crowther. It is in search of him that we have come; tell me, have you knowledge of our teacher's whereabouts?" And Maelgrim looked up from his meal and said, "Good lord, students of mine have actually taken interest and bothered to learn what I taught! Welcome, friends, join in our sport!" And so the new mercenaries were divided among the companies, so that one might not have the advantage over the other through new numbers. To the White Wolves went Master James and Mistress Kayla; Masters Alejandro and Andrew joined the Black Falcons.
After the meal-truce ended, the teams again split to search for the much-coveted treasure. Members of both teams were scattered throughout the woods, when all heard a long horn-call. Knowing it to be the call of trouble, they ran to the source, where they found Maelgrim and Owen, swords drawn and threatening each other. "What is the meaning of this?" Herr Lanze demanded. "We are here for games and fun, and here we find our captains at each others' sword points?"
“Truly,” said Owen, “I have quarrel with this pompous jackanapes, who makes his own mirth at the expense of my stolid Company.”
To which Maelgrim replied, “I meant no offense to your Company in particular. I merely laugh because I have watched you pace within feet of the Sentinels for which you searched so vainly upon yester eve.”
“See, then, how you like my own jest!” exclaimed Owen, and drove upon Maelgrim with his gleaming sword and sturdy war-board.
Falcons and Wolves therefore fell to battle there in the woods, and though both sides fought manfully and valiantly, many of the Falcons fell to the arrows of the sure-sighted and distinguished archer, Nicholas. The White Wolves were victorious on the field that day, and the Black Falcons retreated.
While they recovered from their wounds, the Wolves continued their treasure hunt. And while on that hunt, Ralamean found treasure of a different kind - two beautiful sheep, with the whitest of wool. "See how well that wool would clothe us!" he exclaimed. And so he brought the sheep back to the Wolves' encampment, meaning to take them away after the wars were over.
But the Falcons were not idle long, and whilst the Wolves were gloating over the new fleeces they would soon have, they were planning a counterattack, to try to salve their wounded pride. They chose to attack the Wolves at their camp - a poor decision, as it turned out, for the walls of the palisade which the White Wolves quickly constructed proved strong, and they would not fall. The Falcons were again defeated. "Fine then!" Rowena said. "Let us in your palisade, and you attack! We could win too, if we were surrounded by such walls!" The Wolves agreed; and the Falcons were wrong. Again, the day went to the White Wolves. Owen was near bursting with pride at the strength of his band; Maelgrim was red with shame.
It was through this bitterness that the next turn of events - shameful to relate! - came to pass. Perhaps feeling that they would hurt their one-time friends in retaliation for their superior fighting abilities, the Falcons devised the following strategy. They met together, quite near the Wolves' camp, and pretended to be discussing mundane business. They were really preparing to attack the camp, though, and so they did, as the Wolves were finishing their lunch. Catching their enemy off guard, all were quickly distracted as they ran for arms and faced their assailants. And that was exactly the plan, for the apprentices Alejandro and Andrew cunningly crept behind the battle and led Ralamean's prize sheep away! None of the White Wolves realized that they were not among the attacking party, because they were new to the company and therefore not sought in the fray.
Running as fast as they could, with the sheep over their shoulders, the two apprentices made it back to the Black Falcons' hidden camp. And not a moment too soon! For the sheep (who were quite dear to all in the Wolves' company) were discovered missing soon after the battle, and the Wolves, stewing at their loss, sent their apprentices James and Kayla to retrieve it. Treachery again was the plan - woe for the honorable mercenaries that thus fell! The apprentices James and Kayla approached the Falcons' encampment under a false flag of truce. They entreated Alejandro and Andrew to come away with them - they wanted no more to do with such violent and quarrelsome mercenaries, and perhaps it would be better if they sought out Maelgrim's expertise at another time.
Alejandro and Andrew agreed, and packed their belongings to leave. The Falcons had their guard down completely, for why defend against students who wanted no more of their quarrels? When James, treacherous and conniving, stole the sheep back, and ran to the Wolves with his parting gift. The apprentices did leave then - none others knew of James' plan, and all really were ready to take leave of their master.
Maelgrim bade his students farewell, as did all the mercenaries, who no matter what their personal quarrels with each other, had enjoyed the company of the eager apprentices. Then Maelgrim turned to Owen and said, "Look, friend Owen, perhaps my students are right. We have been fighting, and over what? Not the gold that lies in these hills, or over honor, but over two silly sheep and a poor jest. Let us finish this, and then we can get on with our games." All thought this wise counsel, and it was decided that possession of the sheep would go to whichever company could have the most warriors remaining on the field of battle after one hour. An hour-glass was set, and the fighting began. The Black Falcons were finally victorious; there wounded egos salved. When the matter had been decided, it was also decided that the mock-battles that had been agreed upon earlier should now be cancelled, for everyone was exhausted after such hard fighting, and besides all were concerned that a mock battle could spawn real animosity again.
The companies again retired to treasure hunting, and it was not long before Lady Cynara and Thomas Phinney had found the treasure chest for the Black Falcons. The Wolves were saddened at the loss of such gold, of course, but they consoled themselves with betting on pente games in the dry space of their tents, for it had started raining again.
After a while, a great bonfire was lit, as was tradition. The mercenaries gathered round, glad for the warmth that it offered, and tried in vain to dry out their sopping clothing. Many even put their feet into the great firepit, and some put their feet in the fire itself, hoping to dry their soaked boots and warm their numbed feet. There was much talking and story telling of days gone by, but spirits were too dampened by the weather to sing any songs; and although the hot drink that was passed around roused spirits a little, for the first time in the memories of any present, the companies decided to forgo the night-battle. All were saddened by this breach in mercenary tradition, but all agreed that on a night such as this, it was best to stay close to fires or inside of warm tents. And so, after many stories, the companies split and retired to their campsites.
When they all awoke in the morning, the mercenaries found to their great relief that the rain had stopped, and their clothing and bodies were warm and dry. The initial joy of the Falcons at the happy turn of the weather was soon put aside, however, when it was discovered that Herr Lanze had been missing for many an hour. Said Rowena, "he left in the middle of the night and I know not where he is now." There was great scratching of heads, but not as great as may have been expected, for the Falcons had been companions with Herr Lanze for many years, and so all assumed he had gotten lost in the woods. It was no surprise when he was found, a bit disoriented, by the Wolves a few hours later. In the meantime, the Black Falcons struck their campsite and went to join their companions to break the night fast. Upon coming out of the forest, they found the Wolves engaged in spear-throwing games. Maelgrim, much impressed at their skill, asked for a turn. Soon many had done their best at the sport, but none excelled and so it was decided that perhaps more practice was necessary.
Afterwhich, the archers among the mercenaries thought it their turn to show their skill. Cynara, Nicholas, Ceolmhor, Owen, Maelgrim and Flynn lined up to compete with their bows; first from a short range, then from the same range but measuring speed as well as accuracy, and then from a great distance did they shoot their target. While shooting from afar, many a tree was pierced with arrows; indeed one arrow is still lodged high in the tree trunk to this day. Out of the contest, Lady Cynara proved the best archer - she was awarded a bundle of fine new bodkin arrows, made for the winner by Ser Owen.
Next the combatants gathered for the Champions' Tournament. The reigning champions were Ser Maelgrim, Ser Owen and Lady Faelan; at the end of the battles, the champions were first Ser Owen, next Ser Maelgrim, and third Thomas Phinney. The battles themselves were fierce and long - all the mercenaries tried their strength, and their fortunes rose and fell. Of note, Maelgrim and Lanze fought long and hard with pollaxes, and Demian challenged Maelgrim with glaives - but perhaps the fiercest battle was between Owen and Lanze, who fought with daggers to determine the winner of that bout. When the tournament was finished and the camps were stricken, the mercenaries left the land of the Redstaenwald for their customary inn, the Inn of the Red-Haired Maiden, where every attack and counterattack of their meeting was relived in detail - and many grew in the retelling. So it always is, when warriors tell of their own deeds, even if the deeds took place only that morning.
A break there was, then, and preparations for the feast that always ended their yearly meetings. And the warriors reconvened at the home of Ser Owen for their great feast - and there was salmon, baked and good, and meat pie, and fruit, and bread and cheeses, and all things good. As they were eating their fill, a new traveler approached - and all were amazed to see that it was Malcolm the Englishman, who had fought with them in days gone by, but had been absent at sea for long years. They welcomed him happily to their merriment, and he gladly listened to their tales, and shared a few of his own. The mercenaries were glad then, and they awarded recognition to those who had merited it.
Lady Cynara was made Knight-Archer, by agreement of all the Peers, for she had truly proved herself worthy of the title with her swift and true arrows. Demian was recognized for prowess in the Champions' Tourney, although he was not an ending champion - for Maelgrim said he had enough of prizes already, and so offered to buy Demian whatever he wished at the merchants' camp. Ser Owen took a beautifully wrought and sharp dagger for his prize as Champion, Thomas Phinney chose fine pewter feast ware. To Nick, who had also proved his worth as an archer, went a set of knuckle bones. And Maelgrim, ring-giver, gave to Erick a finely crafted ring of moon-like silver; for Erick was the first to fell him in the battles, and Maelgrim was always much awed by whosoever could bring him down.
When the feasting was over, the prizes given, and the wine and ale casks empty, the companies acknowledged that once again it was necessary for them to part. And so they did, but they will meet again in the far flung lands of sun and snow - for mercenary bands are never far apart and often meet on the field. God willing, they will again meet in peace and have their sport and battles, as is customary.
Thus end the Annales of Eighth Mercenary Wars, as given by Lady Ceolmhor an Lochard, Knight of the Scroll, on this fifth day of July in the year of our Lord two thousand and five. One winter has passed since the end of the wars and the beginning of these annales.
(here endeth the story)