Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fiction: The Hired Blade

This is another Giancarlo story, inspired by one of Black Vulmea's Field of Honor entries. As always, I hope you enjoy reading it!

I, Giancarlo, often find myself in places that would set other men to trembling. I do not recall what led to my imprisonment, but I was released from the castle dungeons of Bajnski Dvori in April of the year seventeen hundred and twenty of our lord. My purse was light again, as it always was between wars. I seem to recall some affair with a Croat noblewoman but by the time I stumbled into daylight that was all over. I blinked away the cruel lances of the sun that prickled my eyes. How strange to be dry as a bone in a place called Vincia, of all the lands on God's earth! The Romans, those noble ancestors of ours, had once tilled this land as wine fields and when I came forth from the miserable little ch√Ęteau that the Both dared to call a castle, I hadn't had a drink in months.

The landscape was covered in firs and pines, one of the reasons I despise Croatia. I have no use for trees unless they've been made into a mast or hacked down and fashioned into a carriage for a culverin. I gave them the figs as I stumbled forth into the Croatian spring. My legs were still weak from my time beneath the Both manor and I must confess that I looked drunk as I lurched across the well-trimmed lawn. Servants eyed me unpleasantly, that much I remember, and I recall biting my thumb and grabbing my cock at more than one of them. Croats! May God take them all down into hell! There is no race so perversely servile and yet at the same time so grotesquely determined to do harm to the body of Italy!

I had, of course, lost all of my worldly possessions. Peter Both, may God rot his teeth and scourge his flesh, had my sword, my cloak, my daggers, and even my boots! I walked barefoot, like some mad penitent, through the Croatian countryside. I decided not to go back to the town on the grounds that whatever I had done to offend their lord was probably something they wouldn't be all too happy about as well. I knew for a fact that I owed a rather outrageous sum at a little Croatian inn and coaching house just down the way. I had been unable to pay due to the fact that I was apprehended by Both's men and had my purse and belongings stripped from me. I've never known an innkeep in all the wide world who would take that excuse, however, and I had no desire to meet his truncheon face to face.

I wandered far afield that first day, surviving off berries and boiled acorns. Nothing is as disgusting as living from the wild, let me tell you, but my time marching with as many armies as there have been European wars had taught me what I could put in my mouth without killing myself. Never mushrooms! I watched a wild English fellow once, down by Cremona, eat a mushroom and die of a twisting belly. It was an agonizing way to go, and if I had not been given the option to earn a few ducats by abandoning the poor sap and go on to fight in Milan I would have seen him through to the end.

I lived very poorly that first day, as I said, but I was more fortunate on my second day. I was wandering through the woods without purpose and my feet had begun to bleed from the strain. I wondered if this was the end of me. Me, Giancarlo, mercenary swordsman extraordinaire! Venetian adventurer supreme! I had been thrown out of more lord's gatherings and thrown in through the breach in a city's walls more times than I could count! I was a condottiero of old, a conquering specter, the very embodiment of Mars Gradivus, Ares triumphant! Yet here I was, alone in the woods, living like a man outside the law.

I could feel the weakness in my limbs from my long imprisonment. There was dirt and offal smeared upon my clothes, which themselves were reduced to a most pitiable state. As far as I could tell I did indeed face the final oblivion. I could hear no choirs of angels calling for me so as I stumbled over root and stone, battering my toes bloody, I could only imagine one thing: that I was destined for l'inferno.

I imagined it in vivid and unforgiving detail. I wondered if I would see other condottieri there. I saw the fork of Satan himself, and the endless condotta we would serve against God. I witnessed myself riding the unholy elephants to battle, pulling in train the great guns of Mohammet with which we would batter the walls of the sacred Citadel itself. There were rivers of blood, and bright shining swords of the angels, but we black soldiers were armed with darts of poison and fire. There was the Englishman, Giovanni Acutto, his legs straddling a gun the size of a cathedral bell. And there also was Sigismundo Malatesta, blazing pistoles in both hands firing hot globs of molten sulfur.

But amongst us came the angels, and we were thrown into disarray. Hot steaming blood ran down my face where Gabriel's blazing sword sliced my ear from my head. I gave that creature such a ripost as to shiver his wings, my own black hell-forged steel driving deep through his polished breastplate. Behind me, Pontius Pilate roared his approval, for he served as Satanic Legate to our whole army. I laughed triumphantly as I thrust the angel of the Lord from my sword and stood to revel in my victory. I could see we were taking the walls, the very Citadel of Heaven was ours!

But then, Acutto's gun thundered, and the blast sent me tumbling from my feet. I swooned and fell from the back of my daemonicial elephant and crashed to the ground. Blood poured over my face, filling my nose and mouth, offal clogging my sight and viscera pounding against my ears. I sat bolt upright to find that I had, in truth, blundered into a river in the midst of whatever prophetic fever-dream had produced such horrible vistas.

The laughter of Pilate, it appeared, was the laughter of a group of old men in colorful vests and high boots who were pissing into the river a little way upstream of me. I smiled faintly and spit the piss-water from my mouth before gaining my feet. I started to fall and arms wrapped around me from behind, supporting me. The voice of a woman, not soft and feathery like a courtesan of Venice, but hard and bold, said to me, "Shh, rest. You're safe."

I am certain I passed out. What can you expect! I was imprisoned for months, maybe more, and then I ate nothing but nuts and berries and some acorns for a day and a half! I was tired, and still weak. I was certainly in no state to be wandering about the Croatian woods alone, as it turned out. If I had happened upon some bandits they would have killed me for sport, for I had nothing to steal. Luckily, I had not met bandits; I had met gypsies.

I cannot say that I have ever been the guest of a gypsy in the past. Her name was Helene, and you could almost take her for a Greek. Curly dark hair, dark skin, and bedecked with earrings and jewelery made from some form of debased silver. She wore a colorful vest, just like the men, and high leather pants that outlined her form exquisitely, hard though it was. And oh, was she a hard woman! Pert little breasts, barely more than nubs, firm strong arms... almost a young boy! I woke with my head on the stony ground, her over me ministering to my wounds.

"You were a prisoner," she said matter-of-factly as I opened my eyes. "Lord Peter had you," she went on.

"Yes," I managed weakly.

"Why?" she asked me, her face suddenly all questions. It was a beautiful face, even for all its broadness. Her flat cheeks, her questing brown eyes, they spoke to me and moved me in ways I had not been moved in all my long days of dark imprisonment.

"I don't remember," I said truthfully.

She shrugged. "Lord Peter is a fool," she said.

"He is," I agreed readily.

"But are you a fool? You were out there like a hermit, like a mad-man." She shook her head. "You could have died."

I smirked despite myself. "What?" she asked. "What is so funny? That you would nearly perish?"

"No," said I, and I laid my hand upon her arm. She drew it away.

"A sword," she said. "You are good with a sword, yes?" She glanced around furtively. "I was told that you were a duelist."

"Not a duelist, signorina," I said, "A soldier."

She frowned. "But you have dueled?"

"Yes," I said. "I have dueled. How do you know all this?"

She shook her head again. "It is our business to keep track of Lord Peter's enemies. And because I have need of a good duelist."

I shrugged. "A duelist will do, but I have lost my sword."

"Never fear," she said, "One will be delivered to you."

(The conclusion can be found here)

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