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August 19, 2018, 08:32:07 PM
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Author Topic: New Short Story.  (Read 68 times)
Dark Alex
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« on: August 12, 2018, 07:57:44 AM »

Been working on this on and off for the past year (mostly off it has to be said). Anyway, here is the first chapter.

      I have taken some mild liberties with history, but a lot of the stuff here is historically accurate. Louis XII did indeed take Milan on the 5th of January and the Duke of Milan was handed over to him by the Dukes own men. It was a cold winter that year as Europe was undergoing what has been referred to as a mini ice age, although the cause of the cooling temperatures at this time are still unknown.

The crew.

MÁrten. A condottieri employed by the city state of Milan.
Solvig. A rival for the leadership of the group. A skilled axe man who likes to complain and argue.
Anders. A crossbowman.
Mira. A female member of the group who often goes disguised as a man.
Gunther. A long-time companion of MÁrten. Injured in the flight from Milan.
Pieter. A Germanic Landsknecht.
The Forsaken.
By Alex Corbett.

The rewards of loyalty.

An eagle soared high of the valley. Even the lower lying parts were shrouded in snow, and the far off peaks of the Alps were certainly no less so. The north western end of this valley marked the furthest end of the conquests by the Kingdom of France, taken from the Duchy of Milan. Not that the bird knew anything of this, nor would it have cared if it did. It was simply hunting, looking for the tiniest movement that would betray the position of its prey. In the distance other birds were feasting on the carrion left over from a battle but the eagle sought fresher fare. Perhaps even one of the birds now feeding on the dead soldiers would be its next meal. The land was deep in winters grip Its sharp eyes caught movement on a hillside, the glint of weak sunlight on metal, both worn and carried by figures making their way through the snow touched hills. It ignored them as too large to be an easy kill and flew on in search of warm bloody, flesh to eat.

Something else the bird would not have cared about was that as the figures below measured such things, it was the year of our Lord 1500, although the year was not yet a week old. The army of Duke Ludovico Sforza (mainly made up of Swiss mercenaries) had taken Milan, only for King Louis XII to march in with an army also containing such men. The mercenaries had mostly refused to fight their countrymen and had handed the Duke over to his enemy. A few had made a stand and had been thoroughly routed by the French and men who the day before had been their own comrades-in-arms, it was the last that stung so bitterly, there fellow condottieri turning on them. Of course such things in Italian warfare were commonplace, but this made it no easier to swallow.

These figures were some of the only survivors of those who had stayed loyal. When things had become totally hopeless, they had at first sought to cross the Alps and return home, but the mountain passes are not welcoming to travellers in winter, especially those unprepared for such conditions and they had been forced to turn back. Harried by French cavalry their course had been bent to the west until they ended up heading back towards the French lines. Under cover of night they had slipped past enemy sentries and patrols and were now deep in enemy territory, now hoping to head further south into Italy and pick up a new employer, although what they really wanted right now was to get warmed up.

“Hey MÁrten, you sure this is the way to Florence?” asked one man, a large, heavily bearded man carrying an axe in one hand. His trousers were soaking wet from wading through the hip deep snow. On his broad chest he wore an iron breastplate, dented and streaked through with rust, a hodgepodge of other pieces of armour covering his shoulders and arms

“Solvig, the only way I know this isn’t the way to hell is because it would be warmer. Beyond that what I do know is that it is away from those damnable Franks.”
 
The man called MÁrten spat into the snow, and continued making his way through the snow drift. He was of average height, but handsome with the build of a professional warrior. A sword was carried by his side through an iron ring on his belt. His precious mail shirt was stashed in his backpack while his expensive silk shirt, with its puffed and slashed sleeves that were the latest fashion was torn, ripped and smudged with the stains of battle. While it had been useful for attracting the wenches of Milan (of which there were many), he was now wishing he had worn something warmer.
   
“Hey MÁrten, why did we fight to defend the duke again when everyone else abandoned him?”

“I don’t know Solvig. Why don’t you tell me? Or better yet hold your breath inside. You are letting out so much hot air you’ll freeze to death before the rest of us!”
   
Solvig could be overheard by several others muttering “Because we are fools and idiots, that’s why.”

The half dozen figures trudged on through the snow in silence for a while. Five men and one woman, none of them prepared for the long trek. Once as finally equipped as any other condottieri with splendid weapons and armour they had been forced to leave most of that behind, taking only what they could carry as they fled into the night, the French and Swiss dogs at their heels every step of the way. MÁrten feared no man in a fair fight, but he did not like the odds of them facing men on horseback while trapped on foot. No one had eaten since the previous morning, or slept and they’d been struggling through the cold and wet. The dark and heavy clouds hanging overhead said it was going to get worse soon. It would soon be getting dark. He raised his fist to call a halt and ordered the others to make camp. Although he wasn’t the captain of the company, he had always been an unofficial leader amongst his closest friends, although Solvig clearly thought the position should be his, always looking for any way to undermine his authority. This would not be their first night spent under such conditions he grimly reflected. The life of a mercenary was not as glamourous as many (himself included) made it out to be.

The men dug a pit in the snow, building three walls of a square to keep the worst of the wind off and reinforcing the rear wall with their shields. It would do nothing to stop any falling snow however. Yves had searched for some wood for a fire, but hadn’t found enough for even a meagre one. MÁrten sighed and shrugged. A fire would only have alerted any roving patrols to their position. Doubtless it was for the best. Inside he thought though “Dearest lord, I have always remained true to your teachings, why have you abandoned me so?” and unconsciously grabbed at the crucifix that hung around his neck. The six of them sat huddled together sharing body heat as much as possible and slept fitfully at best.

MÁrten awoke and was covered in a blanket of gentle snow much as were the others. He did not feel at all rested from what sleep he had snatched through the night. His body felt stiff and sore, protesting at its ill-treatment. Standing up, he shook the snow from his body nudging the others awake, but kicking Solvig hard enough to be painful. Solvig swore and cursed at him in return. When he nudged the last of his group awake a man he had campaigned with for the last five years called Gunther, he fell over stiffly, unmoving in the snow. His eyes were frozen open and it was obvious Gunther’s travels were now over. The others quickly stripped him of his clothes, revealing he’d taken a wound to the gut at some point and had simply bled to death, the blood clustered in frozen crystals around the wound. It was not a particularly big one, perhaps from a dagger or the tip of a sword and normally would have been survivable… Such a waste. His clothes shared amongst the group they headed off in silence once more leaving his naked body for the elements and animals to do with as they wished. He had been a good man, but they had no time to dig through the frozen earth for a proper funeral and neither could they carry his body with them.

Mira, the only woman in the group half screamed and half yelled a warning, and everyone turned around. In the distance a lone figure on horseback stood on the horizon watching them. It was too far away to make out any details, but none of them could think of any good reason for a horseman out alone like this unless it was a French scout.
   
Swearing an unholy oath MÁrten, yelled at everyone to gather their gear and move. If that was a scout then depending on how was his troop was, they could be on them in hours. They were tired, hungry and exhausted, but would have to push even harder if they were to have any chance.
   
“Let’s move out!” The small group started pushing again through the snow, expecting at any time to hear the hoof beats of pursuit. MÁrten was missing a warm bed, the company of a woman or two, his horses, his fine clothes, his carefully saved money. All he had now was four frie… make that three friends and Solvig plus the clothes he was wearing. Oh and the uncomfortable hunk of armour he was lugging around on his back that represented his best chance of surviving any fights.

The snow that had been falling all night seemed to be getting heavier and they could soon only see a few feet in front of themselves. It might as well have been the middle of the night for all they could see. At least it would cover their tracks from anyone following, if anyone was foolish enough to be travelling through this storm. The wind whipped them cruelly, cutting straight through their meagre clothing.
   
Anders, struggling to be heard over the howling wind tried to attract the attention of MÁrten. Finally he had to grasp his shoulder. Turning around , but still couldn’t make out what Anders was saying. In frustration he waved over to the distant hills. Between flurries of snow, he could just about make out a cleft in the hillside. If it kept snowing, then their tracks would be covered and the French would surely miss this narrow passage in the storm. Finally the Lord above was showing them his favour.
   
The cleft was little more than a crack between the hills barely wide enough for a man to walk single file. The broader shouldered members of the party would struggle a little. Fortunately the crack was too narrow and deep for the snow to fall down and they were sheltered from the wind, although should the direction change they would feel its fury with a vengeance. Solveig cursed and swore as his shoulders battered off the rocky walls of their shelter making Martyn smile. He was a good man with a sword or axe, but his constant complaining was tiresome. A priest had once told Martyn than a bit of suffering was good for the soul. Well Solvig’s suffering certainly made his soul feel lighter.

In spite of the situation MÁrten chuckled. The noise of the howling wind still prevented anyone hearing anything quieter than a shout so he had no worries about starting a fight with Solvig. It was not unusual for the pair of them to end up at blows, and even in such dire circumstances as they were in now, Martyn did not trust his companion to keep his temper. He knew he could take Solvig in a fight despite the man’s bigger size, but he didn’t fancy the bruises that would come along with such a struggle. Plus, he needed all his energy to keep on going. They all did.

Unable to see much of the sky, MÁrten had no idea how long they had been walking through this rocky passage. It felt like days. His legs ached and he felt cold all over. Would have it been better to surrender and trust to the mercy of the French than this? He shuddered at that thought. He had no wealthy family to pay a ransom for him and poor prisoners could expect only a quick death if they were lucky. Some generals liked to get creative with how they killed prisoners though. Every so often now and again they could hear strange echo’s which may have been the shouts of men distorted by the rocky walls, or the noises of animals.

Straining to see ahead, he could see something strange. The narrow passage appeared to be filled with a mist, bluish in colour which seemed to glow slightly. He couldn’t understand how a mist could form in such a narrow passage, but none the less it was welcome. Should the French still be pursuing them it would provide extra cover, perhaps even persuade them to give up the chase. The echoing noises still came now and again but it seemed less often to MÁrten’s ears. It was still impossible to tell what they came from. The group reached the strange mist and plunged into its clammy embrace.
« Last Edit: Today at 12:44:17 PM by Dark Alex » Logged

There is a secret song at the center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh.
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The world becomes a dream....


« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2018, 09:37:40 AM »

I enjoy your stories, Alex, please keep writing!  Cheers Thumbup
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« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2018, 03:09:27 PM »

Oooh, ending on a cliffhanger!  I like it . . . keep going!
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« Reply #3 on: August 18, 2018, 03:54:20 PM »

very good so far!  Cheers
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Dark Alex
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« Reply #4 on: Today at 12:13:27 PM »

Into The Mist.

Quickly once inside the bluish mist visibility dropped to only a few feet. Barely able to see the man (or woman) in front of them they all stopped long enough to make a crude rope from their belts which they held in a line to prevent anyone getting lost. If someone was to wander off, they could only be found by yelling and that was a sure way of bringing any nearby enemy troops down on their heads.

With a start MÁrten realised they were no longer in the rocky passage. He had been so busy concentrating on other things and exhausted by their flight he hadn’t noticed the passage widening. The snow hadn’t been as heavy on this side of the passage although the air was cold. Dead leaves crunched underfoot, leading him to assume they were in, or near some forest. A sound somewhere between a bark or a cough came floating on the mist. If it was a dog, then hopefully it meant there was a village nearby where they could rest up. If it was a lone wolf… well perhaps they would have meat to eat tonight if they could find the beast. At this point he’d even be willing to risk a fire rather than eat raw dog meat, a meal he had been forced to eat on more than one occasion and none of them pleasant.

He wondered how far they were from the coast? Hopefully they’d come across some fishing village where they could beg, borrow, barter or steal passage to warmer climes and better employment prospects. Maybe he could find some rich widow and give up this soldiering game once and for all.

For hours they roamed through a sparse forest, a thick carpet of leaves crunching beneath their tired feet. It felt more like autumn here than winter and the air while still chilled was nowhere near as cold as it had been much to MÁrten’s relief. He looked around to check his companions were still with him, their figures mere dark outlines in the thick mist. Even then he could still tell one from the other. There was the massive form of Solvig no doubt complaining to himself, wearing the cobbled together remnants of a dozen different suits of armour, all taken from dead men, his axe slung over his back. Anders who out of all of them had the presence of mind to carry most of his gear with him including his crossbow. He had his leather jack on, lighter armour than the rest preferred to wear, but he rarely saw the kind of close combat the others were habitually involved in. If they saw any game he was their best chance at bringing it down, but he had precious little ammunition left for it. Mira, dressed as usual in the clothes of a man and her hair cut short. She had as many scars as any of the rest of them and had spent her fair share of time on the front row of a battle line. Pieter was from one of the Germanic states, MÁrten could never remember which one. He was a Landsknecht, but had been forced to leave his pike behind. It was simply too heavy to take with them in a rout. Between them they had a sorry collection of hand weapons and a single crossbow with four bolts.

The day dragged on, never seeming to get lighter or darker… just dragging on. With no idea of the time and without a word they stopped for a meal, sharing the sorry remains of their provisions. If they didn’t find something soon tomorrow would be a very hungry day. As they ate, he watched their faces. More one looked to be in any great condition to continue on. Once they had fed no one stood up to move on. They slept there. MÁrten never saw if it got dark or not and despite the howling of animals in the vicinity no one stood guard over them while they slept. It was a fitful sleep at best, the familiar sounds of a forest somehow strange in this place dragged him back to a state of semi wakefullness everytime he was close to entering a deep sleep. Despite this it seemed he dreamed. He was a creature of the forest being hunted, or was he one of the hunters? At times he was a man with a sword. But then dreams are oft confusing.

He awoke to more of the same grey bluish mist blocking any view of the sky. His hand asHe woke the others with the toe of his boot, making sure of course to kick Solvig a little harder than was strictly required. It would give the man something to complain about and he was never happy otherwise. While the others finished waking up, MÁrten gathered up some broken branches and prepared a small fire. Wordlessly they ate the very last of their food, then stood up and prepared to continue their long trudge. MÁrten said nothing to the others but with no sun in the sky, he could not tell what direction they should be heading in. Perhaps the others guessed this already, but he decided against mentioning it. Picking what he thought was the right way to go he started off walking followed one by one by his companions.

As they walked through this endless wood, he tightened his belt to keep the hunger pangs at bay. He couldn’t even melt some snow for a drink. Who would have thought he’d be missing snow? Just this damnable endless forest, thick fog and its howling animals. He cursed his fate at accepting a job in the north instead of sticking to his usual haunts along the southern coast.

There! For a second MÁrten thought he caught some movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head to follow it, but whatever had attracted his attention had gone, or his tired eyes were playing tricks on him. Something else was out there though. He could see a large squat shape looming there. For a second he stared trying to figure out what he was seeing, then with a laugh that startled the others he realised it was the bulk of some building. Other shapes outlined in the mist promised more houses. They were saved!
« Last Edit: Today at 12:54:41 PM by Dark Alex » Logged

There is a secret song at the center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh.
316zombie
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« Reply #5 on: Today at 05:32:26 PM »

 Thumbup Cheers
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indianasmith
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« Reply #6 on: Today at 06:35:53 PM »

Nice!!!  Can't wait for the next installment.
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