Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Sudden Change of Fate

In the year Sixteen Hundred and Twenty-Two life had become very sweet indeed. The so-called 'Defenestration of Prague' - twice! - had created ample opportunity for a man of quality to demonstrate his abilities and come to the attention of any number of landed gentle men or even men of true power and authority. And so you had signed on as a mercenary to prove your worth. Though Bohemian, you held no great esteem for the Catholics and the crown prince, Ferdinand the Second. So under the banner of the English Colonel John Seton you marched through Bohemia herself doing yeoman service and never shirking when the blood was up. The last months of service were spent tenaciously holding the city of Trebon until her citizen's Rights could be secured. The fortunate ransom of a Bohemian prince, albeit a rascal and lesser prince, had filled your purse to bursting. And then word arrived that no less a man than Antonio Priuli had heard of your deeds and had asked you to join him. Priuli, the Doge of Venice himself! You and some small Company of men were to make haste to Venice to swear allegiance to that esteemed city. You would depart at first light making haste with your new horse and fine clothes to join the command of the finest mercenary force. A few drinks with the men, sleep, then off on the wings of the lark.

The men were in a fine state of merriment and the wenches were liberally delivering favors. The tavern was filled with soldiers coming and going, making the rounds. You felt no particular call to make rounds. This was your favorite tavern and had many a night spent your coin on the excellent Bohemian bier, dice, and the ready women, in particular the saucy Zdenka, with her jet hair and flashing blue eyes. After all, had you not protected the town from their own countrymen, the Catholic dogs who would have ground them like so much Protestant dirt under their boot heels? Indeed you did, and finely done as well. The hour stretched on and the horn was refilled a'plenty. Nearly four years afield called for more than a single bier to wash the stench of dirt and mud and blood out of a man's throat.

The hours wore on in a blur of camaraderie, dice, and dancing. Tales were told and re-told of heroic deeds performed in the service of epic men; of foes vanquished and narrow escapes from certain doom. At intervals the room would fall silent at the telling of a skirmish lost and the recitation of the names of those who fell. The room would grow melancholy for a time until one or another would roar and insist that this was a time to celebrate the victorious living and the room would once again ignite with happier spirits. And so it was that during one such moment of moody quiet you heard the call of the whippoorwill, the harbinger of dawn. And so, time to go, time to go, for all too soon would the lark sing her song and you must needs be on your way. To the service of Venice! To the Doge!

Verifying your purse and arranging your rapier, you make for the door. You curse as you stumble over the outstretched legs of a drunken lout more interested in the girl on his lap than the passing-by of his better. The thought of demanding satisfaction for the slight crosses your mind, but at that moment your constant comrade Jaromil slaps you upon the back and refills the silly drinking horn that someone thrust into your hands hours ago. More bier will not help your condition but it would be ill-mannered to refuse it from one who has had your back through so many battles. With thanks, you take your leave.

The the night air is bracing after the close warmth of the tavern. Realizing you are perhaps deeper in your cups than you realized you gather yourself up and make for your quarters. Certainly the unevenness of the street is the cause of your uncertain footing. You curse loudly at the sound of a very full chamberpot being emptied from a second storey window just ahead. That is the problem with these streets! The very surface is a slippery mess of shit and piss and horse-apples and wagon ruts. If you were in charge, by almighty God, things would be different! A scant dozen or so steps ahead as you are passing a narrow alley, you hear the unmistakable sound of a blade drawn. A cutpurse?! Having a go at you? The sheer madness of it has you whipping out your own blade in an instant. You will dispatch this knave and hardly break stride.

Alas, it is not to be so. Your envisioned cavalier response is dulled by drunkenness. In your haste to reply with steel, your fine Solingen steel rapier with its intricate swept hilt has become entangled with the cord from that damned drinking horn. One hand pulling one direction and the other contradictory leaves you stunned, unbalanced, and unable to defend.

With a growing sense of dread you realize your predicament. At the very least you are about to be robbed of your purse. There is a strong likelihood of being skewered in some unsavory manner. It is entirely possible that you will die, here, in the muck of Trebon at the hands of a common ruffian after having survived untold battlefield skirmishes. Even should you survive, the Doge will not be impressed and might not even admit you for service, much less a command.

It becomes soberingly clear.

You are undone.

Read the rest of the post!