of the Ninth Mercenary Wars
as told originally by Ser Maelgrim Crowther in the Red Book of Years
In those days, the Black Falcon Mercenary Company and the White Wolf Mercenary Company ranged far and wide. Their wanderings brought them to many lands strange and marvelous, from the Barren Wastes to the far East to the flame-baked fastness of the Phoenix-Lands, to the cloud-shadowed lands of Mist and Rain in the north and east.
In the far-flung lands of sun and snow, Ser Owen Godwinesson discovered a secret and hidden place of great beauty. Nestled between green mountains, crystal-rushing streams, and high wooded hills, the great wilderness beckoned. And it was called for the name of a creature that had roamed its valleys of old: the Buffalo.
And Owen gathered together his friends and sword-kindred, and spake, saying, “Yea, I have found a place in the wilderness called Buffalo Creek. And though it be far from the Rædstan Weald wherein we are wont to hold our annual battles at the Mercenary Wars, I feel a great affection for this place. Let us go forth this summer and hold our melees there.”
And so it came to pass that the Black Falcons and the White Wolves went forth to hold the ninth Mercenary Wars in the wilderness of Buffalo Creek.
And the numbers of the Black Falcons were: Ser Maelgrim Crowther, Ser Owen Godwinesson and his wife Merewyn, Lady Cynara deWakelegh, Herr Lantz von Falkenstein, Sir Flynn Sureshot and Faydra.
And the numbers of the White Wolves were: Lady Faelan, Vlademir Ylseniv, Erick Blood-Axe, Thomas Phinney and betrothed Corina Phinney, Jarl Snorri, Smauss and James Swift.
So it was that upon the twenty-second day of that month which is named for Julius Caesar, that the Black Falcons and the White Wolves loaded their wains and caravanned high into the far remote mountainous regions of the far-flung lands of sun and snow. And when the first of the Companies arrived, they marveled to find Ser Owen already present, with his fair wife Merewyn.
“Behold,” spake the White Lion, “I have discovered certain marks and ciphers upon the lands hereabout, and have marked them upon a map for all to see. If I am not greatly mistaken, we may have found signs of more of the Northmen’s treasure which was hidden many years past.”
This was in sooth pleasant news to all, for the Mercenary Wars’ traditions had now become as enmeshed with the seeking of treasure as with the more bellicose arts for which the worthy Companies yearned. And Owen said, “When all are assembled at this night’s moot, then I shall speak more of what I have discovered.”
Now it came to pass that Maelgrim, Cynara, Lantz and Thomas and Corinna Phinney had caravanned together in their attempts to locate the remote and distant regions of the Buffalo Creek wilderness area. And in their care to be certain that no item was left behind in their preparation, the group did take many an hour. So it was that their arrival at that place was greatly delayed, and the rest of the mercenaries there gathered spake, saying, “What giveth?”
But at last, their great-wheeled wagons hove into view upon the dusty road that snaked deep into the uncharted areas in the far-flung lands of sun and snow. And the gathered mercenaries of the White Wolves said, “Lo, we waited for many an hour upon your arrival. And because you came not hence, we took the great field here and the nearby woodlands for our own encampment. If we hold to tradition, you must needs pitch your camp in the thick woodland hills yonder.”
And there was a great grumbling and pointing of fingers amongst the assembled Black Falcons. Many protested the tradition of setting the camps so far apart. But eventually, the muttering voices receded into the high woodlands as the Black Falcons departed with their gear and tents.
When finally that Company stopped for rest, they found themselves upon a high hill, fronted by pine-covered slopes and backed by large rocks that jutted from the earth like the broken fangs of giant trolls. And upon the flat crown of that tor, the Black Falcons said, “In sooth, we have found a well-guarded place. See how Nature itself hath conspired to form walls and sentinel posts for us!”
And so they made camp in that place, and displayed their proud banner. And its appearance, described here after the manner of the heralds, was even thus: Gules, a bend or, three pheons inverted in chief sinister, a falcon statant in base dexter sable, a bordure embattled and counterchanged.
And in the encampment of the White Wolves, the blazon upon their banner was: Vert, a chevron or, three crescents in chief, a wolf statant in base argent, a bordure embattled and counterchanged.
Now it happened that the Black Falcons and the White Wolves met all together near a central fire ring for their supper in the evening. For the rangers of that wild place had warned of bears and other beasts which might be attracted by the smell of food, should the mercenaries take their meals in the remote woods.
And as all were gathered around, Owen spake, saying:
“A year gone by, we searched long for the hidden hoards of the Northmen of Old, buried deep in the dark fastness of the earth in the lands of the Rædstanweald. Merry was the hunt, and long was the search. And though in the end we found the treasure marked in the place of the old Summer Lords, yet it seemed but little compared to the fabled wealth of the reavers of yore.”
“When I first came to this place, I felt naught but a great affection for it. Yet since then, I have felt the hand of Wyrd moving our fates. For if I am not greatly mistaken, another cache of treasure lies hidden hereabout somewhere. While we waited for the ponderous train of Maelgrim and Thomas to arrive,” here he paused for a pointed look, “I took the liberty of mapping out this area so that none might wander lost in the wilderness.”
So saying, he handed a pair of maps to the captains of the two companies, and made clear to them the markings which noted strange land-masses and other things strange and wonderful. Much else was said that evening, and when it was done, both companies felt a great eagerness to search again for treasure as they had done in years past.
And so when they had supped and departed to their camps, the two companies labored to decipher the strange markings and clues left behind by the Northmen. Of the four, two seemed relatively simple, being rearrangements of certain letters and numerals, or picture-riddles.
But they grew more and more frustrated as they struggled to remember certain scraps of history. Indeed, nobody could remember exactly where the great hero Siegfried had passed from this world, though the story was a famous one.
To pass the time, and their frustration, the Black Falcons gathered around a table within Owen’s tent and played at dice. The game was called meier, which was an old Viking word meaning “liar.” The stakes in each game grew higher and higher, until somebody said, “’S truth, I believe I hear something outside, as if some creature prowls through our encampment.”
“’Tis but the wind,” the others scoffed. “Or a bear.”
But indeed, it was no wind, nor any brother to that great creature which lumbers in the sky and points to the wheel-star. For in the darkness of night, Vlademir, Erik and James Swift thought to make sport of the Falcons by removing their tall banner.
And because this deed was done under the shroud of shadow, none of the Black Falcons noticed until the break of day the next morning. And it was well done.
Meanwhile, the other White Wolves were not content either to place at gambling as the Black Falcons did, or to while away the starlight hours in idleness. So while Vlademir, Erik and James Swift stole the Black Falcon banner, Thomas Phinney and Jarl Snorri took up the map that Owen had provided and strode into the umbral forest to find the Sentinel Tree.
Perhaps the trickster-god of the Northmen still held some sway in this remote area long-forgotten by men. Perhaps the ale flowed too freely at the Wolves’ camp. Or perhaps the darkness merely conspired to hood the eyes of the two searchers as a huntsman hoods his falcon after the kill. Whatever the reason, Thomas and Snorri wandered long in those woods fruitlessly, until they waxed wroth. And they said, “Surely, Owen is a knave for producing this map!”
So passed the first night of the ninth Mercenary Wars.
When the sun rose and bathed that far-flung place in gold, Maelgrim, Owen, Flynn and Lantz rose from the camp of the Black Falcons, and determined to the find the Sentinel Tree themselves. For they, too had had unlocked the word-knot that guarded the location of that particular waypoint left behind by the Northlanders.
And though they wandered long, their luck was the same as that of Snorri and Thomas. Maelgrim oft heard to say, “I think we’re finally about to turn the bend that the map shows.” And Owen was oft heard to chortle into his sleeve.
Finally, disheartened and footsore, they trudged back to the great field in the center of the area, for it was nigh upon the time when both companies had agreed to hold their customary archery tournament.
Within the central clearing, the mercenaries erected straw mounds, and placed upon them roughspun cloth with a target painted upon it. The creak of crooked sticks and twice-curved bows filled the warming morning air as the contestants prepared to shoot.
For a span of time, the hiss and whistle of the battle-serpent’s iron-tipped poison echoed against the leafy woods and the far-off Giant’s Cairn. There was Ser Owen, with his great bow of yew and horn, and Archer Lady Cynara, whose ash stave spat arrows like unto an angry viper. Ser Maelgrim’s great red bow of knotty elm buzzed like a steel-stinging wasp, Erick Blood-Axe put his small, double-bent bow to good use.
But it was Sir Flynn whose arrows found their mark most often—especially in the test of speed. And so to him went the victory in the archery tournament, though it was a hard-contested struggle. Cynara shot well that day also, claiming the second place in that tournament. And Maelgrim was third.
Such were the deeds done in the archery tournament of the Ninth Mercenary Wars. And because Cynara was generous with the loan of her arrows, one was lost when Erick Blood-Axe shot it into a tree behind the targets.
The sun climbed higher, and both companies prepared for the first battle of the day. And Maelgrim and Herr Lantz both donned their harness of cunningly-wrought plate and mail. And each wore over their armor a surcoat emblazoned with their own heraldry. Cynara wore a stout jerkin of leather, sewn with iron rings and braced her arms with steel and leather as well.
And amongst the Wolves, Thomas Phinney put upon his back a byrnie of well-wrought rings and strapped to his legs a pair of greaves, and Erick Blood-Axe also wore greaves fashioned by himself, such as the mighty Romans once wore.
And so the two companies arrayed themselves across the field from one another. Now Ser Owen had been studying the way in which his forefathers made war, and from the lessons passed on to him, he had woven a pair of slings, and gathered many fine stones, well-weighted, to use as shot. And so he handed a sling to Faydra, and each made ready to rain stone upon the Wolves.
Lady Faelan of the Wolves hefted her shield and sword, and led the Wolves into battle with a cry. Their ferocity well-matched their namesake, for Thomas Phinney and Jarl Snorri remembered well their frustration in trying to follow Owen’s map the night before. Vlademir Ylseniv carried a great sword the height of a man that made fearsome cuts wheresoever it struck, nigh unto cleaving a man in twain. Erick fought with a great shield and spear, though he carried also a curved sword at his side. James Swift used well that foe of mail, the spear, and Smauss carried a sword as black as the raven’s wing.
But when Owen and Faydra loosed the shot from their slings upon the Wolves, there was great confusion and dismay, and their line weakened. And when Flynn shot scores of arrows into their ranks, the Wolves’ line broke, and they made as if to flank the Black Falcons. But the armor worn by Lantz and Maelgrim proved its mettle against the blades of their foes, and Cynara used her swift sword and buckler to great effect.
So at last, Lady Faelan alone stood amongst enemies, and fought like the wolf on her badge. But in the end, she was overcome by the numbers of the Black Falcons. And so the Black Falcons claimed the victory in that battle.
Now it was deemed suitable that each company should take rest after the battle, for such strain under the punishing flames of the summer sun were taxing—especially to those who bore the extra weight of armor upon themselves.
So while some rested, others departed once more to unlock the riddle of the Northmen and so locate their hidden treasure. And through the shade of a thousand trees under the twin shadows of the Green Mountain and the Giant’s Cairn, both companies sent searchers to seek out the coveted silver. But neither could yet locate its resting place.
And it came to pass that after much wandering, the Black Falcons found themselves upon the west side of a river bank, and the White Wolves found themselves upon the east side of the same bank. And because each company thought to itself that the other had followed them to that place in order to find the treasure, the companies made as if to do battle, so that the other might be delayed in its search.
Then it happened that Maelgrim said, “I have a thought; I shall stand guard here at the ford of this river and hold it against all who would cross, for surely the high ground will afford me great defense. And the rest of you may use spear or arrow to offend whomever climbs the base of this ford from further back.” And it was agreed, and Lantz, also girt in much armor, stood as secondary defense for the knot of archers and spearmen clustered about him.
It seemed to all a cunning plan, but Lady Faelan looked long at the ford and said, “’Tis not so deep. Let us rush across and overwhelm Maelgrim while he stands foolishly alone, and then the rest shall be the more easily dealt with.”
And so the White Wolves dashed into the foaming water, and churned the very riverbed in their swift passage. And Maelgrim did utter an oath as the White Wolves quickly overwhelmed him, and though he bore a great stout shield, and swung his blade this way and that, yet soon he was driven down by the punishing blows dealt by Faelan’s band.
And Jarl Snorri with his pointed rapier and Smauss all in black like a shadow slipped forwards towards the remaining Black Falcons, and Vlademir hove his giant sword upon his shoulder and advanced, and Thomas Phinney struck his sword against his rounded shield.
But then Owen took his spear and felled many of the White Wolves as they approached, and Cynara and Flynn let loose many arrows, and though some found but scant purchase in the rushing stream, many others struck flesh and armor.
Thus it came to pass at the Battle at the Ford that nearly all the warriors were felled on each side. But the Black Falcons had proved victorious by a narrow margin. Then many remarked how pleasant it had been to shed the pressing heat of the summer sun by wading in the stream, and it was not long at all before all there assembled had walked back into the rushing waters.
And many did there declare plays of arms, to hold the ford or to fight against all, and so for much time the two companies did fight in jest, and much merriment was had by all.
But for all the refreshment of the fights in the ford, there remained now a long trek back to the great central field, for the ford lapped around the very base of the Giant’s Cairn. And so the mercenaries, now exhausted walked up the long and dusty road towards their camp.
And both Herr Lantz and Ser Maelgrim, being much weighed down by their toils and the weight of iron upon their backs, did sorely complain of the distance and the heat of the sun. And many a prayer was made for even a whisper from that Zephyr which torments the weary by its absence.
So it came to pass that in their return to the main encampment, the mercenaries passed by a large group of commoners gathered in the wilderness for sport; for though none there had seen fit to observe the sacrament of marriage, yet many had been stricken by the shaft of Venus’s cherubic son. And the peasants did marvel much at the appearance of the mercenaries, and asked after the whereabouts of a famous playwright from Stratford-upon-Avon.
When the companies arrived back at the camp, both Maelgrim and Lantz immediately shed their armor and consigned the bulk of it to their great wains wherein most of their gear was kept. And at that time, the companies searched anew for treasure.
And as the mercenaries searched, a rumbling was heard in the distance, and a great wagon appeared over the ridge. And lo! within the wagon were those two personages of Mercenary Wars past, Sir Ralamean of Ramsey and Lady Ceolmhor an Lochard.
And Sir Ralamean said, “By my troth, it was a great trial finding this remote place! Whose directions are these?”
And Owen said, “Shut up.”
By this time, Jarl Snorri felt he must depart, for the mountain air did not agree with him, and he waxed ill. And so Sir Ralamean offered to take his place in the shield wall and upon the mead bench in the ranks of the White Wolves.
And Lady Ceolmhor looked upon the frustration of the Black Falcons while they struggled to decipher the marks and clues upon their map and upon the wilderness around them, and said, “Faith, it appears as if this company could use the services of a Knight of the Scroll. I shall remain here.”
Thus each company gained a warrior that afternoon. Thus the search for the hidden trove continued, each company bending its full thought to the matter. Long did they search for the Four Sisters and cast about for the Sentinel. And when they had searched for a while, they said, “Come, let us hold a melee, for it would be good to strike something.”
Therefore, it was decreed that a melee should take place, lasting for the span of an hour. And thus it was dubbed the Hourglass Battle. And it was agreed that each warrior, having received enough blows to weary them would sit at the side of the field to recover for a certain time before returning once more to battle.
And during that hour, tempers flared and bile simmered. For the more the two companies contested, yet the more fiercely did they fight. And Faelan received a grievous wound to the back with a spear, and Faydra took on hurts so fearful that she sat to the side of the field to nurse her injuries for the duration of the battle. And Ralamean was sore stricken with the edge of a shield, so that his anger boiled.
Therefore Maelgrim and Owen and Faelan stood aside and said to one another, “In truth, this battle has lasted long enough. Let us put an end to it before more are angered or injured in truth.” So it was agreed that the Hourglass Battle would end, having endured for a mere 45 minutes. And though the Black Falcons claimed victory in that battle, yet many in that Company felt it to be a somewhat hollow victory.
So those assembled spoke with Owen, who felt that perhaps it would save time and lengthen tempers if he were to guide them to those places in which he felt the Northlanders’ marks upon the land were most significant. And it came to pass that within an hour, both companies had discovered the final riddle which would lead them to the Northlanders’ ancient treasure.
In celebration of their achievements, the mercenaries there gathered said, “Let us hold another melee—one of less violent intent.” This was agreed upon by all to be a splendid idea, for none in that number wished to go long without the song of steel chiming through the wooded mountains.
So it was agreed that each company should designate a Herald for its use, and that this Herald would act both as figurehead and tactician. Each company would agree to follow only the orders given by its own Herald, and that without the Herald’s guidance, they would only fight as much as was necessary for their immediate survival. In this way, the Herald Battle would be both a test of tactical skill on the Herald’s part and skill at arms on the fighters’ parts.
The companies arrayed themselves across from one another. Ser Owen held the banner for the Black Falcons, and Lady Faelan held the banner for the White Wolves. Both companies stood ready, awaiting their Herald’s command.
And Owen shouted “Flynn, strike down Faelan!”
And Faelan shouted “James, strike down Owen!”
And there was much confusion—for both Heralds had devised the same plan, which was to send their fastest runner to dispatch the enemy Herald, thereby bringing victory. But Flynn’s blade proved the swifter. Therefore, the Black Falcons claimed victory.
Then many others clamored to be allowed a turn at acting as Herald on each side, so that many similar skirmishes were fought with many others acting as Herald for their own Company, and enjoying themselves and the fight immensely.
And it was good.
And presently, after the fighting was done, the wise amongst each Company labored long over the matter of unlocking the strange ciphered writing which guarded the location of the treasure. There was much scratching of heads, but for Owen, who smiled and said, “You’re close. You’re close.” And his smug grin was remarked upon by many at that time.
As the light grew dim, it was suggested that the mercenaries take turns hurling that foe of mail at a target, to see whose spear-hand was surest and who could cast that ash shaft the most cunningly. Maelgrim in particular had been much impressed by such displays in the previous year, and desired greatly to attempt such a contest.
And so many lined up to throw the spear. And only but few there possessing a spear of required sharpness, many asked the use of Ralamean’s short spear, and that of a spear crafted by Trian Gaeth from parts from afar.
And when the spear had been cast many times over, it was remarked that this skill in particular was one that perhaps the mercenaries should practice further. So it was agreed by many, with much shaking of heads.
And in that contest, Owen proved the most skillful, while Maelgrim, Lantz and Thomas all distinguished themselves as well. And thus did the second spear-casting tournament in the history of the Mercenary Wars conclude.
Then night fell, and the warriors dined modestly. And they then gathered about the fire as they had so done in years gone by to observe the tradition of the Bardic Circle. And though there was but little entertainment that night, those performances that did take place were well-done. Faelan sang for those there gathered, and Flynn played upon his recorder. James Swift entertained the companies with a game of four words, and Thomas recited a poem about his experiences in Mercenary Wars past.
Then all returned to their own encampments, for it drew nigh to the hour when the Night Battle would begin as agreed by both Captains and their warriors. Moon-pale blades were sharpened, and armor was discarded, for all wished to go stealthily in the darkness. Many donned raiment of a darkened shade so that they might be more easily missed in the night by the enemy scouts’ keen eyes.
Not an hour had passed beneath the watchful gaze of the moon before the Black Falcons in their encampment detected the approach of the White Wolf Mercenary Company. And the Black Falcons fell back into the shadows, for the bright torches of their camp flung black shapes here and there in the dense woods, and the warriors easily hid themselves therein.
Thus it came to pass that when the assembled White Wolves (excepting only Thomas Phinney, who had remained at his own camp in case of marauders) set foot in the Black Falcons’ camp in order to steal their proud banner, they were set upon by that same company.
Striking from the shadows and fading back again, the Black Falcons made fell use of the confusing influence of the darkness, and where one Falcon had fallen, another would spring up to take its place so that the members of White Wolf company could not keep track of their opponents or their movements.
Thus the Black Falcons repelled the first attack, and sent the White Wolves limping to their own encampment to treat their hurts and formulate a new plan.
Time dragged by, and it seemed to Maelgrim & Owen that the Wolves were long overdue for another sortie. But none came. So it was that each of the Falcons agreed that some should be sent to the camp of the White Wolves in order to stir up confusion and perhaps make off with their banner.
Thus Maelgrim & Owen set forth, feeling that they had left the camp under the protection of many, should the White Wolves seek to attack once more.
Not far from their own camp, Maelgrim & Owen heard the approach of warriors, and cleverly disguised themselves as bushes in the darkness. And when Vlademir Ylseniv, James Swift and Erik Blood-Axe approached, one said, “Faith, does it not appear that yon juniper bush bears a striking resemblance to Ser Maelgrim?”
“E’en so,” remarked another. “And does not that holly bush thither look very like Ser Owen?”
Fearing for the security of their disguises, Maelgrim and Owen spake, saying, “Nay, we are but two simple bushes growing deep within the darkling woods in this far-flung land of sun and snow.”
Now the White Wolves thought it a great marvel that these two shrubs should not only bear the countenances of their adversaries, but also speak with the voices of the same. And so, as a precaution, they soundly smote the bushes with sword, axe and spear.
And it was well done.
Maelgrim & Owen limped onward, unnerved by the supernatural way in which their enemies had seen through their deception. Meanwhile, Vlademir, Erik and James betook it unto themselves to come upon the camp of the Black Falcons in stealth.
Stealthily they stole towards the camp, through wood and shadow. However, upon their approach, they could not discern the number of defenders, for the selfsame shadows which covered the advance of the Wolves’ party also mazed their vision and obscured any protectors that might dwell therein.
Of the battle that took place, more shall be told later.
While all these things came to pass in the rocky heights where made the Black Falcons’ their warlike aerie, four flew close to the flames of the enemy in the valley. For in the shadows, Herr Lantz and Faydra stole silently through the bracken and the moonlight. In a great circle they moved, so as to avoid the watchful eyes of their enemies.
More directly, Ser Maelgrim and Ser Owen came upon the Wolves’ camp, in great secrecy (or so they thought). Sure and quiet, they approached the Wolves camp with the intention of coming upon their adversaries suddenly. Like rooks through a darkened wood they glided, until they reached the very gates of the enemy encampment.
And while they waited in the wood, they listened to the speech of their enemies around the fire. And they perceived that the raiding party that had stricken them before had returned and now spoke of their battle at the Black Falcons’ camp, of which Maelgrim and Owen yet knew naught.
“By the rood, I swear there must have been ten of them!” James exclaimed. “At every pace, another appeared from the dark to strike at us.”
“’S truth,” agreed Erick Blood-Axe. “And there rose amongst them a great shadow like unto the titans of old, who struck with such force as Thor himself might envy!”
“See,” said Vlademir, showing forth his arm, “How my very bones were nearly shivered! A fearsome wound, this.”
And Ser Owen looked at Ser Maelgrim. And Ser Maelgrim looked at Ser Owen. And there was a great raising of eyebrows and scratching of heads. “Here is a great marvel,” they said, “What mighty warrior has made our camp his home, to send back such dire reports?”
Now while they thought thus, Smauss in black passed close to them, quiet as a wight. For while the knights had approached, she marked their movements from the secrecy of the shadows, until she was poised to strike. So it came to pass that when James shone a light into the woods (for he perceived the sound of Maelgrim and Owen’s attack as they charged the camp), Smauss came from behind to strike as well.
Though the pair did indeed surprise a great many of those in the camp, they fell to the blades of their adversaries, until they called for quarter. And Smauss waxed sore wroth for the investment of her time—nigh unto half an hour did she track the enemy knights, only to have her efforts at stealth spoiled by her enemies’ impetuousness.
Then from the nighted woods came Herr Lantz and Faydra, who had come a longer way to the Wolves’ camp for surer chance of surprise. Forth they dashed to avenge their comrades’ defeat and to secure victory by their own might. But the combined forces of the White Wolves proved too mettlesome, and they too were vanquished.
Now Owen said, “Herr Lantz, you surely came by a quick road to have arrived here so speedily.”
And Herr Lantz furrowed his brow, and replied, “How mean you, Ser?”
“Surely,” said Owen, “the great warrior of whom our enemies spake was you. For are your driving charges not legendary amongst our sword-kindred?”
“Not I,” answered Lantz. “Faydra and I left camp ere you had departed yourself! We thought the talk we heard was of you and Ser Maelgrim.”
Now there was great confusion. Maelgrim said, “Well, one part of this riddle is plain, anyway. Sir Flynn moves so quickly that surely if he kept to the shadows, his one blade might be mistaken for many as he traversed. That explains the number of defenders our enemies thought they faced. But how now? Who was this great warrior cloaked in shadow who held them at bay and sent them into retreat?”
Amongst both the Wolves and the Falcons at that camp, it was declared a great riddle. For between them, Erick, James and Vlademir recounted by name the faces of all those at the Black Falcons’ camp who should have borne weapons.
So when Maelgrim, Owen, Lantz and Faydra returned to their own camp—the night’s warlike sport having been concluded—they asked for the tale of the White Wolves’ assault, and the name of the mystery warrior who had seemingly leapt from the very bones of the earth to do battle on behalf of the beleaguered Black Falcons.
This is what they heard.
It has already been told that the mix of light and shadow about the Black Falcons’ camp played tricks upon the eyes of the attackers, and twisted their vision this way and that. Forth they charged, blades glittering in the moonlight, to do battle with their foes.
Protecting the banner, Lady Cynara and Lady Ceolmhor stood with naked steel, and Sir Flynn kept to the covering darkness whence he might strike with impunity and deadly effect.
Thus, when they finally decided upon an assault, the night rang with cries of “How many are there?” and “There’s one!” and “They’re all around!” For Flynn struck from the shadows, here at one moment, and there at the next, like a blade-wraith. And Lady Cynara and Lady Ceolmhor steadfastly held their ground.
But most surprising was the mettle of Merewyn, who took up a sword proffered by Lady Cynara, and laid about her with such force and vigor that the Wolves fell back, amazed. And they exclaimed in dismay, “This is no mere mortal in our midst, but the very incarnation of blood-soaked Tiw himself! Let us away!”
And so they did. And thus many a retelling was born of Merewyn’s ferocity.
So ended the Night Battle of the Ninth Mercenary Wars.
When the lark sang, the mercenaries rose and broke their fast amidst the glowing beauty of the far-flung lands of sun and snow. And Owen strode towards them and said, “Time grows short—if you do not decipher the marks you have discovered soon, you may never find the treasure hidden in these lands.”
But the confusion and frustration of those gathered was so great that Owen eventually said, “See here—if you have some wine I will make this easier for you.” And so wine was brought forth (Owen’s own as it happened), and brushed across a certain area of the map.
To the great amazement of all about, letters appeared, naming the Giant’s Cairn as the resting place of the shining hoard. And the mercenaries looked upon the great rocky edifice of the Giant’s Cairn far off. Tall and lonesome it loomed amidst the green mountains about. There was a long silence.
“This may take some time,” Owen admitted.
And so it was decided that the Mercenary Wars’ traditional tournament of arms should be held at that time. And as in years past, it was a Champions’ Tourney, defended by those who had triumphed in the previous year, Ser Owen, Ser Maelgrim and Thomas Phinney. Many duels were fought and other tests of martial skill besides. Fortuna spun up and down, and those who did well one moment were bested the next.
Of particular note was a Trial of Six fought between Ser Maelgrim, Ser Owen, Herr Lantz, Sir Flynn, Lady Faelan and Thomas Phinney. It was a great show of skill and ferocity, for many of those on the field were Peers, and skilled in the ways of war. Also, Thomas Phinney and Sir Flynn dueled one another in an impressive match of sword and shield. Ser Owen and Lady Faelan dueled with longswords until Ser Owen tackled Lady Faelan, and she dragged him to the ground also.
James Swift distinguished himself in use of the spear during that tourney, but most of all Thomas Phinney with his sword and shield. Many amongst the chivalry spoke amongst themselves and looked with a watchful eye upon Thomas’ conduct at that time. At the end, the champions defended their titles successfully, ending as champions once more. Such were the deeds done in tournament at the Ninth Mercenary Wars.
At that time, many took leave in order to refresh themselves before the Feast. Maelgrim, Owen and Faelan took it upon themselves to climb the far-off Giant’s Cairn and retrieve the treasure left behind by the reavers of old. A long and arduous trek it was, and many a tale was told on that journey.
Finally, amidst the grey rocks, and fire-blasted trees they uncovered a silver hoard in a small cave. It glistened in the cool darkness, its luster undimmed by the long years it had spent in hiding. There they claimed the treasure for their own, and took it down the mountain to be shared amongst their blade-brothers and sisters.
The feast was held that night at Ser Maelgrim’s house, and many good things were laid upon the table to eat. Ale and mead were poured in goblets and drinking horns, and mutton and beef and pork were on the trenchers. When the feasting had slowed, and all those assembled were content, the time came to award prizes for skill and valor in the tournaments.
To Sir Flynn, the winner of the archery tourney, was awarded a crossbow, sturdy of stock and dark of span, forged and assembled by Trian Gaeth. With the crossbow came bolts of a design such that Sir Flynn might use the crossbow in combat without slaying his brothers of the sword.
Owen had triumphed in both the spear-throwing tournament and the Champions’ tourney. As the winner of the spear-throwing contest, he was awarded a straight ash spear with a slim, sharp point such as the Vikings of old carried on their dragon-ships. As winner of the Champion’s tourney, he was given a fine cloak made by Lady Cynara, which he gave to Merewyn his wife.
That being done, Owen spoke:
“Eleven years past, Maelgrim betook it unto himself to take sword in hand and gather together folk of like spirit. Thus did we mercenaries come to know one another and enjoy the fight and the feast together. Ser Maelgrim and myself were the first among those here to feel the touch of knighthood, but to this day we bear not one of the symbols of that office. Therefore, we knights gathered together our gold and caused spurs of silver to be wrought for thee, Ser.”
So saying, he presented Maelgrim with fine silver spurs. Maelgrim was much impressed and somewhat overwhelmed with his friends’ generosity. So he spoke in turn, saying “Now it is time for me to bestow gifts as well.”
To James Swift was given a pair of steel bracers, forged near the Phoenix-Lands where Thomas Phinney and Corina made their home. Maelgrim had had good use of these bracers in his younger years, and wished for the armor to be of use, he having new harness. James Swift, having been stricken many times upon the arm by Ser Maelgrim that year, received the armor gladly.
To Sir Flynn, Ser Maelgrim gave a sheath of black leather to hold his sword, stamped with the symbol of a diving eagle, which was Flynn’s own device. For Maelgrim had promised such a thing long ago, and spent much time in its fashioning.
Lady Cynara gave Smauss a hood the color of mist, or the fur of that beast which is named for sharp-eyed Lyncanus, which creature Cynara revered in her early years as a swordswoman.
And Faydra was given a blanket of finely-woven design to keep her warm through the winter that heralds Frostwar.
Owen gave a keen-edged dagger to Merewyn, jesting that it was to symbolize her role as a “dagger in the dark” during the Night Battle.
And when all these things had been given as tokens of respect and appreciation and friendship, then Maelgrim spoke once more, saying, “Now it is time, not to give an award, but to recognize a responsibility.”
“Thomas Phinney, the chivalry has observed you for this past year, and most especially during this war. 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.”
Thomas Phinney did so, and Maelgrim struck him once upon the shoulder with his sword 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 Thomas Phinney, escuier.”
And there was much rejoicing.
Thus runs the tale of the Ninth 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)