The approach 6th of the Twelfth Moon706ATN
For once Morgana allowed her menie the luxury of breakfasting after dawn. Felinora and Scary had departed in the night, following the roars of other lions. Sir Jean, who had the early morning watch, reported that several carts and pack animals had headed along the track towards Zarza Tanque. They appeared to be innocent civilians so he had not stopped them. Morgana and her menie bade farewell to the Doughty Squires and their prisoners and eventually set off towards the jungle to the south. Morgana dredged her memory for what she knew about Oblivia. Most of it came from conversations with her old comrade Squire Menino Ligadura. Theoretically Oblivia was ruled by decisions of the Crail, that was a meeting of all the male aristocracy and gentry of the country. Power had then been devolved to the aristocratic Dozen who still rarely met. Doze Handor was one of the Dozen. Immediate decisions were taken by the Nizander assisted by counsellors titled Counts at the city of Amnaesia. Menino had come from the agricultural part of Oblivia west of Stetia. He had taken part in Tiger hunts in the jungle, which he said were very dangerous enterprises. She had visualised tigers as feral animals the size of a sheep but the large size of the lions at Quimica caused her to doubt this. Alas Menino had died at Verreric and she had no other Oblivian guide to replace him. She must hire a guide in Zarza Tanque. One who knew where the Valley of Bones was!
Initially the ground rose up to a flat plateau which was covered in man high tangled Selva grass. They had to string out in a very long double file following the track. In half an hour they reached a large menhir which they realised marked the border with Oblivia. Ahead lay a large field of short grass and facing them were nine riders! A rider on a green caparisoned horse shouted “Halt! What army are you that invades Oblivia?” In the lead were Sir Dino Rinocero and his squad, who stopped forcing the whole column to halt. “We are on a mission from Bara Sir, but we will call up our leader its Marshal, to parley with you.”
“See that the rest of you stay at the halt and we will await him.” the leader commanded. Sir Dino realised that the riders could give them a hard fight if they emerged two by two from the Selva grass. So he waited until Morgana came up so she and he could ride up to the Oblivian leader. “I am Doze Arran Orishnos of Zarza Tanque. I ask you again, what army are you that invades Oblivia?”
“I am Dame Morgana Lefey Marshal of Bara. This is no army but a mission to seek out Doze Handor of your country. We intend to inform him that his suit for Grand Duchess Maudette’s hand in marriage has been accepted.”
“Indeed. What you say may be true but you a woman bring an overlarge party for such a mission. In fact an the tales be true you are a notorious witch! I fear the Nizander could be wroth an I allowed so powerful a force to enter Oblivia without his permission. A force moreover that fought with knights of Thentis but yesterday! Oblivia has ever been an ally of Thentis!”
“Bara too has sent forces on the crusade to assist King Eudes and Count Anghered of Phove against the Chaotics!”
“That is as maybe but yesterday your party slew the knights Sir Geofroi Grasset, Sir Renier Penthievre and the giant Sir Geraint, all hailing from Thentis. Their graves lie near the Decaer Marjal Temple.”
“They, with Baratrean dissidents sought to prevent our mission. They are fanatic Eruvians who like not the freedom of worship practiced in Oblivia, Stetia and now Bara. They do not wish our ruler to marry an Oblivian! Do you know where Doze Handor can be found?”
“No. I fear that I must send to the Nizander to obtain his views on your presence. It may be that he too frowns upon the intended match. You may camp to the west of the market place outside the stockades until I receive permission to let you proceed. It is Marketday so you are at liberty to make such deals as you wish there. None of you are to venture inside the burgh without my permission. My messenger pigeons should reach Amnaesia tonight but how soon the Nizander replies, is up to him.”
Morgana was disappointed by his patent hostility when she had hoped for assistance. She expected to be easily able to obtain a guide to lead them to the Valley of Bones.
“I mislike yon fellow, he lacked enough respect for us!” whispered Sir Dino to Morgana. “Yes and his eyes have a purple tinge! However Oblivia is a Lawic ally and it seems that he is its representative around here.” She thought perhaps, with it being Marketday it might still be easy to find a guide. When one was travelling in the wilds it was easy to forget the days of the week but the sixth of the Moon was always Marketday, where they had one. It would also give Dame Anise and Mistress Hedkah an opportunity to purchase more food supplies. They must have consumed at least a week’s worth since leaving Charles. Perhaps it would give her a chance to purchase some scents or other items as New Year Gifts for when she returned. She mused on why Doze Arran did not wish her people inside his burgh. Probably he really was suspicious of her intentions. Zarza Tanque must be a rich place, as she had never heard of it being raided so far from the Chaotic lands. On the other hand, it may well have been one of the sources of the tales of Oblivian debauchery and depravity related by those living north of the River Arwyn. Perhaps it was just as well they were not to go inside the palisades!
Morgana and the party have to decide how to react to Doze Arran’s attitude. Remember they do not have a guide to lead them through the jungle. If it is decided to camp as he suggests, pick the site and lay out the wagon, steeds, tents and cooking areas. Tents and fires provided. Then who goes to the market looking for guides, food supplies and bargain gifts etc?
Then the whole force advanced over a small stone bridge a little short of the palisaded town gate tower and turned right. Seeing that there were three fire blackened vestiges of earlier camp sites, Morgana agreed to suggestions that they use the one closest to the stream and furthest from the jungle. On a more petty level it was not truly to the west of the market place as the Doze had decreed. Many of the party were excited, attracted by the colourful stalls of the market set up beside the burgh stockade. Morgana however ensured that they set up their camp with unusual care. Between them they had ten tents, thirty-four beasts and the wagon. Oblivia might officially be an ally but did all its wild creatures and indeed its people understand that? The fact that the horsemen, hippolites as they were called, were lined up to watch them maintained her feeling of unease. The Doze however, had departed inside the burgh, hopefully to send his messenger doves to Amnaesia. She decreed that only half the party, those with viable reasons should visit the market. She herself would remain helping guard the camp. Dame Anise and Mistress Hedkah with a suitable escort would go to purchase food supplies. Tancred, Clarisse and Sergeant Neville would go seeking guides who knew the way to the Valley of Bones. Clarisse was also entrusted with purchasing bottles of scent as New Year presents for Morgana. She had Grand Duchess Maudette, Dame Melusine, Donna Hesqueza, Donna Sancia, Donna Robyn in mind at least. Some spares for perhaps, her two mothers, her two half-sisters and Bronwyn the Sektarar of Narchad. Changed days! A year ago she had only her stepmother, her father and her half-brother Arthur to cater for. She entrusted 120 Gilden Pezzi to Clarisse for these purchases. The Dimini anxious to keep in her good graces sent only half their number, Wandril the peddler, Spune the Cook and five legionnaires. Apart from replenishing their own food stocks they hoped to find exotic herbs and spices to take back to Delvon. Donna Prominencia took both her attendants looking for Oblivian silks and jewellery.
Dame Anise and Hedkah were principally interested in purchasing flour and oatmeal and having purchased some olive oil, they were told that a suitable stall was at the South end of the right hand row of stalls. On the way to it they passed a crocodile of women followed by one armed with a sword and shield. These had been making small purchases and were being hurried away when one threw a piece of cloth at Sir Louis Cocodil. He picked it up and saw that some writing had been embroidered on it! The woman with the sword demanded that he give it to her! Annoyed by her attitude he said he would give it back to whoever had thrown it. “Do you know who threw it?” he challenged and then quickly read it.
Noble Strangers please rescue me
From this durance vile! I with
Others am held in the pink prison.
I am a Thentian from Landerneau
The swordswoman indicated a woman clothed in green as the thrower, so he gave it back to her. She said something he could not hear to her as the group were hustled away. His chivalrous instincts aroused, Sir Louis decided to follow the crocodile, wondering if he should try to rescue the woman. The rest of his party stayed with Dame Anise ready to help carry her purchases back to the camp. He ran to overtake the crocodile and stood blocking its passage close to the Town gate. As he did, another similar crocodile emerged from it heading towards the market. The old woman at the head of the first crocodile demanded that he make way for them. He refused, demanding that he be allowed to speak to the woman in the green gown. “Archon Pluvo! We have a problem here, this stranger is insisting that he speak to one of the Doze’s Seraglio women!”
Archon Pluvo stood behind him with two hoplites in front of the gate. On the tower above, two archers trained their bows on Sir Louis. Behind of him stood the line of mounted hippolites. The Archon spoke “The townspeople have been ordered not to speak to you strangers Sir! I suggest that you move out of the way?”
The swordswoman behind the crocodile exclaimed “It is you who has caused all this trouble!” and she took a swing with her sword at the woman in the green gown. Fortunately the latter dodged the blow and the old woman ordered “That is enough Sporre!” So Sir Louis thought it best to step aside and let them pass. He then went to report his tale to Marshal Morgana.
Meanwhile Tancred, Clarisse and Sergeant Neville had been accosted by a beggar who wished to tell them a story. “I know all the stories! Find someone else!” boasted Tancred.
They scanned the crowds looking for any possible guides. As Sir Louis had discovered the local townspeople refused to speak to them. Then Sergeant Neville pointed to a tall fellow with a staff. “He has just come from the track into the jungle. He looks a likely prospect?” So Tancred and Clarisse set to question him. “Yes I know the jungle like the back of my hand!” His name was Depuis Jean, although originally a Thentian he had joined the Nizander’s army at Filomar until it was disbanded. Since then he had been a messenger and a pedlar in Oblivia. He had some raw Herbs and spices that he expected to sell to one of the stalls. He said that he could guide them to the Valley of Bones for five Gilden Pezzi per day. Tancred demanded proof that he was a reliable guide. “You saw that elephant passing through? That is a track clearing elephant. In the jungle tracks can be swallowed up by the fast growing bushes so the main ones are maintained by elephants.”
“That does not seem like proof!” snorted Tancred.
“But it is something that we did not know before!” temporised Clarisse. Eventually Depuis Jean agreed to become their guide for five Gilden Pezzi in hand, his rations and four Gilden Pezzi a day to be paid on completion of the mission. Clarisse then led them to a stall selling perfumes. There were a vast selection and Tancred appeared to be quite enthusiastically knowledgeable about them. Clarisse having spent most of her adult life as a convent cook felt a bit out of her depth. It crossed her mind that some of the scents pressed on her might be more appropriate for cheres amie’s than aristocratic Ladies. Fortunately she managed obtain the help of Mistress Hedkah, when Dame Anise went to purchase some meat at the butcher’s stall. Hedkah had had considerable court experience and also had a good idea of fair prices.
Meanwhile back at the camp a rider who had come from the track leading to the Royal Tumuli asked “Take me to your leader?”
Brought before Morgana he said “I am Guido Orishnos a knight of Oblivia. I believe that you are ‘Two Unicorns Morgana’ the famous Lady Errant. I wish to assist you on whatever quest you are on now. I know well the jungles here. In fact I am related to the Doze of Zarza Tanque.”
“Do you know the way to the Valley of Bones?”
“Indeed I do.”
“How long will it take us to get there?”
“About a week but in the jungle travel is uncertain and you have a wagon with you.”
So despite suspicions that he might be a spy she agreed to allow him to stay with them but as yet kept away from their councils.
Sir Louis reported his story of the cloth with the plea for help on it to her. Then Dame Anise produced a letter given to her by Mistress Petia of the Grains and Flours stall. It was written on a faded Palm leaf dark brown on a lighter brown, as much used by the elves.
Noble Strangers, pray pity me a
Noble Azeladii, sold into slavery
by mine Uncle Don Zwine for
not marrying his son Zwingo.
I am Donna Isolda Calibre of
Parthero Azelad, held in the pink
prison. If you are true knights
please help me!
They could see a pink building from the camp in the southwest corner of the town. “Sorry though I am for these foreign ladies, I am not sure that you should risk our mission on their behalf?” said Dame Anise.
“Perhaps not, although I am sure Sir Louis would disagree with you. But with the Lambert rebels, that Order of Rudolphus and the Larete Balokha smugglers, we do have enemies enough!”
Donna Prominencia returned laden with bone jewellery and bales of silks. Apparently much of it was spun, woven and dyed by the Zarza Tanque helots. She had been disappointed that there was no shimmering silk but apparently that was an Amnaesian monopoly. However what they had was so cheap that she had to buy as much as she could afford! The Dimini too had returned well laden with basic foodstuffs and some of the exotic spices that they had been hoping for.
Then Clarisse and Tancred brought the guide Depuis Jean in. Naturally he was made to stand aside as the ladies examined the assorted scents and fragrances selected by Clarisse and Hedkah. These were then taken away to be packed securely. Morgana, Dame Anise, Sir Gilbert, Sir Dino and Tancred remained to question Depuis Jean. “How long would it take you to guide us to the Valley of Bones?” asked Morgana.
“What all of you? I had envisaged a smaller party. Perhaps three days, perhaps four. Do you intend taking the wagon with you? It should manage the elephant tracks but you would need to hack back the jungle beyond them. There again if you go mounted it will stretch out your force a tremendous amount. It will leave you vulnerable to attack by beasts and even brigands.”
“Are there many brigands in the Jungle?” asked Dame Anise.
“There are tribal feuds and they always accuse their opponents as being brigands. Also as foreigners some less lawful ones may consider you fair game!”
Sir Gilbert then spoke from his couch. “I saw a ruined tower beside the bridge and there looketh to be another beyond the market. Were they destroyed in fighting?”
“Nay they were brought down by great beasts from the jungle. They were watch towers wrecked several times. The burgh now has wooden defences because they are more easily replaced than masonry walls.”
“Well Master Depuis Jean, I think you can be useful to us and I confirm the terms you agreed with Master Tancred and Mistress Clarisse! You may share our coming lunch.”
The activities at the market tailed off, the last visitors of interest were some orange clad men who came along the track from the west. There were a priest and officer (archon) and three hoplites. Depuis Jean told Sir Jean Lotine, who was duty officer, that they were from the Vertos clan. They lived in scattered small settlements to the west and had strained relations with the Orishnos’ of Zarza Tanque. However a Vicca Vertos had married Sacrados Appolon Orishnos the priest of Valarian there. Marriages are rare amongst the Orishnos’!
As the market stalls began packing up in the early afternoon, a blind piper came tootling towards the encampment. His head was protected by what appeared to be a bee hive. On being challenged by Arbalister Lyd he gave his name as Kolmeno and he was hoping to entertain the company with his piping. Lyd took him to Sir Jean who suspiciously asked him why he was hiding his face? “Alas sir my face is hideous to look upon. I was sore burnt by the Chaotics in the wars when my sight was all but destroyed. I can reveal it if you wish? I sometimes perform at the palace but thought I might give pleasure to some of your people here this afternoon?”
“Yes well we have some of the Dimini, the midget people with us and doubtless your tunes may entertain them.” and he pointed to the Dimini tents. As the piper left to go there he slipped a small roll of parchment to Sir Jean. Sir Jean read it and immediately took it to Morgana still in her tent. Morgana read it out.
“Fair knights from Bara prithee release me
from my imprisonment? Doze Arran has
held me here against mine will these seven
moons ! I am Lady Blanche Plonquet
widow of Guy D’Alphonse of Matham.
My husband was murdered and I was
kidnapped. I do not know what has
happened to my three children! I with many
other women am held in the pink building.
Another one! Sir Jean, Sir Louis had for a short while another such appeal from a woman from Landerneau and Dame Anise has one from a Donna Isolda Calibre from Azelad.”
“That sounds the basis for a fine tale!” commented Tancred.
“But they are damsels in distress now, not in a tale! Can we not free them Madam Marshal?” asked Sir Dino.
“Perchance that knight Guido Orishnos, might gain us entry into the burgh?” suggested Sir Gilbert.
“Surely Madam Marshal you will not risk our mission by attacking these Oblivians?” objected Dame Anise.
“But these Oblivians hold captive women from both Azelad and Thentis!” declared Sir Jean. I have visited Landerneau in Aquitaine and I think I once met Sir Guy D’Alphonse!”
“It would be a knight’s Devoir to right the wrongs done to these ladies!” exclaimed Tancred “And create a fine tale in the doing!”
“A fine tragedy perhaps!” commented Dame Anise.
Sir Jean shook his head, “Alas, Thentian adventures are barred to me now but perchance I could try to right the Azeladian wrong!”
“You seek to desert us Sir Jean?” asked Morgana.
“Nay Madam Marshal not until your mission is fulfilled at least but surely in honour we must free these imprisoned women?”
Sir Dino added “You liked not that Doze Arran when we met him Madam, would it not give you pleasure to do him a disservice?”
“If you do free some of these women what are you going to do with them?” demanded Dame Anise.
Morgana admitted “It could be a problem but Sir Jean is right, rescuing them is the honourable thing to do. For them to have been transported so far suggests that the Larete Balokha smugglers are involved. It may be even that Doze Arran is involved with them for he does not seem to be an honourable man. I think we had best plan how to do it tonight, for I am minded to go on our way whether or no, the Nizander wishes it. We have no evidence that any message was sent to him anyway!”
“But surely Morgana you will not involve yourself in such an enterprise?” pleaded Dame Anise. “If it results in hostilities between Oblivia and Bara, Maudette will not thank you! It could make it very awkward for Doze Handor Culip when we find him.”
“True. I had best remain guarding the camp whilst the knights have all the excitement.”
“Thank you Madam Marshal!” said Sir Dino. “It should not be too difficult to climb over the palisades when they are undefended. We could start a fire in the far corner of the town to draw the watch away!”
Morgana shook her head. “We do not want to draw out too many people onto the streets. It may be that the common townspeople do not care to get involved in quarrels between the gentry if we can limit the fighting. Likely there will be other foreigners staying in Inns in there, who might spread evil tales an we manage it not well. Depuis Jean’s tale of the jungle beasts destroying those towers has given me ideas. First we must put out flambeaus or warning fires around the camp to protect us. Second, how if we manage to drive some jungle beasts to break a hole in the palisade to let us in? Then we could pretend to ‘rescue’ whoever we wanted from the beasts.”
“The jungle beasts might be hard to find. I think getting Sir Guido to let us in the gate would be easier.” Objected Sir Gilbert.
“No I intend to keep him and Depuis Jean ignorant of what we are up to until after dark. Being related to Doze Arran, the action you have assigned to him would make him a rank traitor and we should not ask it of him. He must be kept out of it. Unofficially I must plan the action. Depuis Jean might well assist us in finding some likely wild beasts. I suppose a lady will be needed to assure the women that they are not exchanging one kidnapper from another?”
“Do not look at me Madam Marshal!” retorted Dame Anise, “I do not support this rash adventure!”
“Oh. Well I expect Donna Prominencia will be eager to go. Her groom is a torch bearing expert I believe. Possibly Mistress Primrose too? We must have enough fires and torches ready. I must have a look at the situation outside.” Morgana with Sir Dino, Sir Jean and Tancred went to view the scene. The market stalls were all packed up and being moved away on carts or pack beasts. As they dispersed Archon Blouse led his hippolites after some of them down the track to the Royal Tumuli.
So the party must set out their defensive fires or flambeaus and who is left on watch in the camp. Then decide who is to seek the wild beasts and who is to attempt the raid.
It was in the dense jungles of Oblivia that I observed at first hand a notable act of chivalry by brave knights and followers of the illustrious Dame Marshal Morgana of Bara. It had come to her attention that some women including at least one of gentle birth were held in durance vile by the Doze of Zarza Tanque. A tragic missive from the Lady Blanche Plonquet of Matham claimed that her husband had been murdered and herself carried off to be brought into the Doze’s clutches! Naturally all Morgana’s noble knights clamoured to right these dastardly wrongs. Whilst agreeing to allow the task, Marshal Morgana was conscious that her force was beset by many dangers, both from human enemies and the wild beasts of the jungle. Some of her menie must remain to guard the camp and indeed pack it up ready for removal in the darkness of the night! She ordered the setting out of six warning fires six hets from the camp which also made it harder for those in the town to see their packing up actions. A conversation with a hired guide, a Master Depuis Jean, gave her the idea of seeking wild beasts to breach the Burgh’s palisades. He told her that nearby lived Mushe a large Mammoth, semi-tame as the Dozen of Oblivia had decreed that such were a protected species. Accordingly sixteen of us set out, well scattered creeping to the dense man high Selva Grass bordering the jungle. Some carried torches, unlit as yet for fear of alerting the watchers from the town.
Depius Jean led us to the path leading southwest into the jungle when we spotted glimpses of torches coming along it towards us! We immediately hid as best we could, some in the Selva grass and some behind the massive Oblivian Palms and some in an old ruined tower. In front of the torches was an absolutely massive hairy creature with long curly tusks driven along by the torch bearers. It was larger than many a house! Someone had got to Mushe before us! One of the men spotted Miss Tuffa trying to hide in a Selva thicket. “What are you doing out here?” he demanded pointing his spear at her.
“I am lost Sir.”
“You should not be outside the Burgh at all!”
Then another voice called “Leave her for now! We have more important things to do!”
Then the Oblivians, by waving their torches and prodding her with spears had turned Mushe round to the left, when Sir Jean shouted charge! Afterthoughts hath convinced us that they intended to stampede her through our camp! Our people all leapt out from their hides taking the Oblivian spearmen by surprise. Though helmeted they wore no armour and five went down immediately. The other two cried for quarter and were gagged and bound to a nearby palm. Picking up the enemies dropped torches, I with others managed in time to make the great monster turn back to her former direction.
We drove her forward towards the burgh palisade where she struck it a mighty dint to the right of a wooden tower. Alas it fell not down and the enemy cast down fire pots at Mushe hoping to drive her back. The earlier fight must have alerted them as there were soldiers on the tower and the roof of the pink prison which was our objective. Arbalister Lyd went down receiving an arrow through his thigh whilst we goaded the Mammoth back for another effort. Desperately she wrought at the timbers with her great tusks and a great section of the palisade was cast aside. Our knights and squires rushed through it. Then “Zauber Schlag!” Donna Prominencia, a lady from Azelad, threw down one of those on the roof with a magic bolt. It was a bit unnerving to hear that command as it is the Chaotic Kharsh version. I discovered later that her magical baton was of Chaotic origin captured long ago. I am informed that the Lawic Command is Sagitta Magicus! for those that have the power. Her abigail Signorina Relamida loosed arrows at the enemy whilst the Lady’s groom Encendo assisted me in urging the Mammoth to greater efforts. Then the heartless persons on the prison roof hurled down the bound figure of a woman. The woman in a green gown who had earlier given a plea for rescue to Sir Louis Cocodil! Since the building was three stories high I fear that every bone in her body was broken! Through the breach round the side of the Mammoth I could see hoplites hurrying towards us.
Mistress Tufa pulled out the arrow and bound up the wound in Lyd’s thigh. Then she went to tend Hobilar Roald who had an arrow in his right forearm. After that she applied balm to Sergeant Neville’s chest where it had been burned by a fire pot. Though painful he stoutly reckoned that he would be fully fighting fit by morning! Then a gong began to be sounded from on top of the palace the other side of the town. We had set off the general alarm!
Our efforts in goading on the Mammoth now succeeded only too well as she speedily lumbered into the town with the enemy hoplites leaping out of her way. Seeing our force one fled, one cried for quarter whilst the last was cut down by Sir Louis Cocodil. Then the four men in the palisade tower seeing us at the foot of their ladder surrendered. We found that the wooden shutters of the Pink Prison had iron bars behind them. Sir Fier Feuille hacked the door to it open with his axe, whilst Sir Jean led some hobilars to attempt another one at the back. Through the door was a corridor filled with armed fighting women that they called Viragae. The first was the Makgh, with whom Sir Louis had quarrelled at the market. Sir Fier soon cut her down but the one clad in a long silk gown behind her thrust her sword betwixt his helmet and breastplate. Undaunted Squire Fulque leapt over the two bodies to hack her left leg off! It seemeth that his sword is of ancient elvish make and exceptionally sharp. At this horrendous sight the three women yet remaining in the corridor surrendered and Sir Jean was let in the back door. On the roof the surviving woman declared that she was Sacrada Nite Orishnos, Commander of the Seraglio and offered the building’s surrender. Sir Louis Cocodil demanded that all women wishing their freedom be immediately surrendered. Donna Prominencia with her abigail then went in to seek these out backed by Squire Gauntlet.
Meanwhile the alarm gong had brought out four more hoplites to attack us. Sir Jean and Sir Louis faced them in a narrow way. Sir Louis slew one and the other three backed away towards the palace. The gong stopped beating and the fighting was over. Donna Prominencia brought down nine rescued damsels whom she made to carry Sir Fier’s body away with us. Marshal Morgana joined us to organise our retreat. The wounded were put in the wagon and damsels and prisoners followed it. Then we mounted as our steeds arrived and joined the column walking down the track into the jungle.
+ + +
Meanwhile back at the camp Marshal Morgana and the Dimini were quietly packing up the camp. The tents furthest from the town were taken down first. They heard the fighting and saw the wild torch movements of the skirmish at the edge of the jungle. When all was packed ready she delayed moving off. Their movement would be seen when they passed in front of the westernmost guard fire. Seeing the torches close to the palisades and the fire-pots thrown down by the defenders, she was thinking that further delay might be pointless. Then in front of the Dimini wagon which had been manoeuvring to face south, rose a figure to throw a knife at Hermanez its driver! Striking him above one knee it penetrated even through to the other and he fainted away with the pain. Sir Gilbert, on watch nearby immediately rode forward piercing the figures head with his lance and riding over him. A Dimini legionnaire leapt down from the wagon to finish off the assassin with his spear. Marshal Morgana ordered Mistress Clarisse with the First Aid satchel, forward to tend to the wagon driver. On the body of the dark clad assassin were only a short sword and another throwing knife.
Marshal Morgana could see from the moving torches and the flashes of bursting fire pots that the Burgh must be fully occupied with the damsel’s rescue mission. So she ordered all the camp party forward with the wagon in the lead. With the rescuers all on foot they had many mounts to lead. In fact Morgana realised that the Dimini had become an asset after all. She left the body of the assassin and the still burning guard fires behind. They crossed over the first track into the jungle knowing from Depuis Jean that their best route was down the second. They could see that the Mammoth had gone into the town and there was still fighting within. As they neared the jungle they could hear a loud buzzing which got louder and louder but then died away. Then came the bonging of a gong from the Burgh, obviously the alarm had been triggered. “Just keep going, I am sure our forces will come away safely once they have rescued the captives!” declared Marshal Morgana. “We may have to cater for being pursued, so the further down the track we are the better!”
As they neared the track they came upon two figures gagged and bound to a palm tree. Beyond lay five bodies in similar linen smocks, lying on the ground. Since the two were obviously prisoners taken by Sir Jean’s party, Morgana ordered that they be tethered to the back of the wagon. “It may be a good idea to keep them as possible hostages.”
The noise of fighting in the town now died down. Cheering from the voices of their friends indicated that the pink prison objective had been taken.
As the wagon neared the track, Depuis Jean could be seen leading some prisoners towards them. “Mistress Primrosse keep moving up the track, you had best light some torches. I shall send Depuis Jean up to guide you as soon as possible!” shouted Morgana.
She ordered him to the front with Sir Gilbert as escort. Then the wounded arbalister Lyd and hobilar Roald were loaded onto the wagon with the dead body of Sir Fier Feuille. Five more men with three fighting women prisoners followed. The bonging of the gong fell silent as nine freed women were led out of the burgh by Donna Prominencia and her abigail. Then came the rear guard of knights, squires and a groggy Groom Encendo knocked silly by a magic bolt. Those with steeds mounted them and fed into the column. Marshal Morgana, Dame Anise and Sir Guido Orishnos brought up the rear. “I fear that you have made a very dangerous enemy with this rash action Madam!” said the last, looking back at the now silent town.
“My knights have just carried out their chivalric duty in rescuing these damsels.” replied Morgana.
“Doubtless, but now we are encumbered with nine bouche inutile to feed and hold us back. We do not have either mounts nor tents for them!” complained Dame Anise. “Then there are all these prisoners as well! I would that we had bought double amounts at the market today!”
“I do not anticipate that we will keep the prisoners long. I think that they at least can miss a breakfast.”
“When will that breakfast be Madam Marshal?” asked Sir Guido.
“Perhaps you can give me some guidance on that, expert guide. It will need to be a clearing where we can sort ourselves out.”
“Alas there are none such within many myles. The first I think will be at the Plumil mulberry farm. It is owned by Archon Takses who is most unfriendly to my family!”
“All the better! Yes we will stop there. Sir Gilbert pass up to the front and tell Depuis Jean we head for the Plumil mulberry farm! Ensure there are enough torches to keep the wild beasts at bay!”
“But at this walking pace it will take many hours Madam!” objected Sir Guido.
“Then many hours will we take!” and so they plodded on through the night.
They reached the mulberry plantation two hours before dawn. The great trees had had all undergrowth cleared away so there was plenty of space. They could see the farm a little further on but Morgana bade them set up camp without waking the occupants. As they did so it started to rain steadily.
The Vertos Lands 7th Twelfth Moon 706ATN
“Madam Marshal! Madam Marshal we have company!” Morgana awoke and grabbed Taglier in readiness. In the gloom she made out many other women sitting up in her silk pavilion tent? Then she remembered the actions of the night and the hasty bedding down. These must be some of the women the knights had rescued. “I am coming Sir Louis! What is this company?”
“Archon Takses Vertos with four hoplites Madam, it seems that this is his land.”
“Dame Anise, are you awake, we have courtesies to perform.”
“I am coming milady, you other ladies may rest awhile!”
Since they were going to a diplomatic meeting rather than straight into battle they both took a little time straightening their crumpled gowns and repairing their face make up. The shades of their lipstick were appropriate for a respectable spinster in Morgana’s case and a married lady of high rank in Dame Anise’s. Such matters interested Morgana little but under the influence of Dame Melusine Mistress of the Royal Household, Maudette had laid out a table of authorised lipstick shades, which entailed a small fine if broken. Since most young ladies were dependant on their fathers or husbands to pay the fine it was now rarely incurred. This law had been inspired when young ladies of the court were seen to be wearing the scandalously almost bright red, affected by Morgana’s half-sister Lady Willow. Lady Willow a Narchadian in the employ of Stetia, was now with Don Incio Fulminar at Agetsu, on the border of Hunara with Gelu. Fortunately in those wild and frequently Chaotic States, such niceties would be completely unnoticed. Dame Melusine herself wore the purplish shade appropriate for high ranking widows although her husband was yet alive. She had lost him years ago when he became a Simonite monk. Recently Bishop Uhtred of Charles had obtained a divorce for her from his brother the Monseigneur, at a quite reasonable price. (He knew Melusine, officially a Barbaran heretic, had the ear of Maudette in most things.) Morgana’s shade was the same worn by Grand Duchess Maudette herself and a little darker than that her stepmother had issued to her in years past.
Morgana donned Taglier with its scabbard on the outside of her gown and pinned on her great Hennin securely. Time was when Taglier had to be hidden within her skirts as women carrying blades of longer than three hands was illegal. Mistress Hedkah slipped into the tent to make further fussy adjustments to her appearance. Strictly this was her abigail Clarisse’s job but court trained Hedkah had no faith in her for such tasks as she had spent much of her life in a convent. When at last Hedkah admitted that they were ready, they emerged to find a dripping worried looking Sir Louis Cocodil. Sheltering beneath a large Mulberry tree was a glowering Archon with four men clad in orange hoplite’s garb. “Shimmer!” Morgana hissed to her gown and was relieved to find it glowing, lighting up the drizzling gloom. She curtsied saying “I am Marshal Morgana Lefey of Bara. I am here with my entourage on a state mission to find Doze Handor Culip. My sovereign Grand Duchess Maudette, has decided to accept his offer for her hand in marriage but we do not know where he is? I regret that we had some unpleasantness with Doze Arran at Zarza Tanque and travelled through the night to escape his enmity. We humbly seek your pardon for camping here unannounced. I did not think that you would thank me for waking you in the small night hours and my people were exhausted.”
This long and polite speech seemed to appease a little the Archon, who had been angered by having to wait too long in the drizzling rain. “I am Archon Takses Vertos owner of this farmstead. You say you have had some unpleasantness with Doze Arran, in what way if you please?”
“We discovered that in a building in the town were imprisoned a Thentian Lady Blanche Plonquet and some other women who had been kidnapped. My own mother was kidnapped years ago, so I do not take such evil deeds lightly. My knights liberated these unfortunate women but not without bloodshed on both sides. I deemed it more important to continue on our mission than stay to bicker with Doze Arran.”
“That does seem logical to me. Doze Arran holds suzerainty over us of the Vertos at present but we do not trust him. He is a dishonourable man who has cheated us over payments for our silk bolls. Alas that Amnaesia is so far away! You are welcome to camp here today and tonight should you so wish but ensure that your people do not damage the Mulberry trees.”
“We thank you for your generosity. I have not had time to take accounts of the skirmish but I know that we have both wounded and prisoners. The prisoners I would pay you to care for holding until we leave. The rescued damsels are like to be burden enough for us!”
“That is very true!” agreed Dame Anise vehemently. Archon Takses stood still thinking things over. “Will ransoms be due for your prisoners?” he asked.
“In truth I know not, they are soldiers of Doze Arran but I am aware that they will be Oblivian subjects. I have no wish to offend the Nizander. I am not certain of the status of all the women we have rescued but I believe that they will have been abducted from other states.”
“Very well Madam, you shall give me an account of the prisoners and recued women presently at my house and we shall make a deal then.” And he bowed.
Morgana and Dame Anise curtsied and said “So be it!”
The wounded Sir Gilbert came over then, “Madam Marshal I regret to say that Sir Guido Orishnos has deserted us.”
“Is there any indication as to where or when he went?”
“Not really, I think he slipped away when we were erecting the tents.”
“He will be no great loss! That is one mouth less to feed!” commented Dame Anise.
“Sir Gilbert, pass the word that we stay here today and tonight with the goodwill of the Vertos Oblivians who live in yon farmstead. I need to take a reckoning of our losses, the prisoners and what women we have rescued! We must keep a guard against any action by Doze Arran but I think if we hold our prisoners hostage we will be safe enough. We must question them and the damsels to find just what strength his remaining forces hold.”
So they made a tally of the casualties:
Sir Fier Feuille dead! Arbalister Lyd cannot walk because of an arrow through both thighs. Hobilar Roald had an arrow through his forearm but can ride and do light duties. Sergeant Neville had his chest scorched by a fire-pot but claims he is still fighting fit. The groom Encendo had been rendered dazed by a magic bolt but was fully recovered now.
The recued damsels were: Lady Blanche Ploquet, Donna Isolda Calibre, Mistress Ete Gualau, Mistress Gregoria, Mistress Akima, Miss Worre, Miss Were, Miss Claudia and Miss Pucia.
Taken prisoners were Archons Bes and Eshes, Doma Gladia, Viragae Sere and Helve, three archers, one hoplite and a spearman. Donna Prominencia talked the hoplite Thus and the archer Reses into entering her service. They had little faith in the Vertos treating them well once Morgana had left and expected little thanks from Doze Arran for allowing themselves to be captured.
Later Dame Morgana paid twenty-four Gilden Pezzi for feeding and caring for the eight remaining prisoners, a canvas tent for the damsels and three dozen pots of Mulberry conserves. Donna Prominencia also bought a canvas tent for Encendo and her two new soldiers.
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