A gentle breeze slowly sweeps its way across the rolling land, gently stirring the grass and trees as it moves past. The sun shines down on the plants, a beautiful summer’s day in this picturesque little corner of the world, away from the hustle of towns and castles. Across its surface, a few fields sit, crops of wine grapes ripen in the warmth. A few animals scurry about, making the most of the day. A few birds offer a song, almost in celebration of the serenity.
A small explosion rips through the peaceful uplands. A few birds scatter, disturbed at the unnatural noise, terrorised by what dreadful possibilities it might be. Silence returns once more.
Another crash of sound breaks the quiet again. It comes from a field nestled in the hills, away from anyone else. In it, stands a young man addressing a group. He’s simply dressed a comfortable white shirt and trousers, his black hair tied back. In his hand, he holds a musket, gentle smoky wisps floating out of the end. He addresses the group, pointing to targets further down the field:
“So, you need to be mindful that, the further you’re aiming, the worse the accuracy of the shot. This range factor serves as an important tactical consideration when fighting. Stand too far away, you won’t hit a damn thing. But if you get too close, we run the risk of losing the range advantage. A lot of armies still have notable sword and spear units, who would cleave through you. Being at range is your best defence in that scenario.”
The group of men behind listen closely. All are dressed in armour and uniform, the colours of the Condottiere, armed with their own muskets. The man turns back to face the soldiers, their attention back on the man, no longer on the targets twice struck that sits quietly down the range.
“Alright, now who can tell me, what we can do, to improve the effectiveness of this weapon?”
“You can fire it as a group sir, same as when we used crossbows.” One of the men speaks up.
“Correct. Massed fire of this weapon works well when facing an opposing force. Though this does nothing to help is when facing off against a singular foe.”
This time, a much younger man, barely a man, answers. “Account for wind sir?”
“What’s your name?”
A small laugh escapes the man stood in front.
“Let’s hope your name holds true! Good answer Aloisio, yes, winds and the weather in general, has an effect on the flight of the musket ball. This factor comes more into play the further the target you’re attempting to hit is. Keep an eye on objects like flags, they will tell you the wind’s behaviour. Anything else?”
There is a pause, the group stood quietly, before another pipes up.
“Rate of fire.”
The man stood in front points to the speaker, an officer, grizzled and older looking, stood to the side of the line of men.
“Thank you Tenente. Rate of fire is the most important thing that improves the effectiveness with this weapon. Getting 4 shots off a minute vs 2 or 3 makes a big difference on how likely it is you’ll survive.” A smile breaks the instructor’s lips. “Though as the Tenente can tell you from personal experience, you can’t rush it, else you might blow something off.” The tenente grins, lifts his hand to show a missing little finger. A nervous laugh ripples through some of the younger men present. The instructor allows it to pass, along with his smile, before continuing.
“I’m joking of course. But, respect the weapon and powder in your hands. You’re holding a device that directs a small explosion every time you use it. Be calm and confident with it. Shaky hands and nerves will be your undoing on the field. Practice with it, get it right. There is no substitute for it.”
The man allows the words to sink in, looking at each of the men assembled, studying them.
A brief moment, before the young man, Aloisio, speaks up.
“Have you ever had the weapon misfire on you sir?”
The man nods “I have, when I was younger. The barrel of the gun split open, ripped itself apart. Scared the shit out of me when it happened.” He laughs at the memory, smiling at the young man, who briefly shares in the moment. “Turns out the metal used for the barrel was very poor quality, that smith hasn’t worked since, I’ve been told.”
He steps forward and places a hand on the shoulder of the young man. “Odds are something like that won’t happen to you, but you will misfire your weapon at some point; don’t worry about it too much. Good practice and maintenance will help keep you safe. Misfires are the exception, not the normal. First time it happens, odds are you’ll panic a bit. But remember your training; we’ve all been there at some point.”
There are a few nods of agreement from the seniors present. The young man steps back, but before he can speak again, the sound of hooves begin to dominate the setting. The man waits patiently to see who it is, before another man, well dressed, bald with small facial hair, rides into view from further down the road. He travels with a small entourage of guards, before bringing his horse to a slow, finally a halt as he notices the younger man stood in front of them. The younger man approaches and addresses the traveller, grinning.
“Uncle Alfonso! I didn’t think you’d be back for another week. What news do you bring from the capital? Has something terrible happened?”
“No, thankfully. Though I do need to speak to you my Duque. Matters of the House need addressing, sooner rather than later.”
A small sigh escapes the lips of the Duque Fernando. Once again, his day is swept away from him.
“Very well uncle, I’ll join you in just a moment.”
He turns to face men still holding their muskets.
“I leave you in the very capable hands of the Tenente here, listen well to his advice, he’s seen enough action that the orators would have an easier time recounting the times he wasn’t in the thick of it. You don’t live that long if you’re not good at what you do.”
The Duque nods to the officer, who nods back.
“Thank you sir.” The officer turns. “RIGHT YOU LOT, FORM UP, WE’VE GOT A LOT MORE PRACTICE VOLLEYS TO DO BEFORE YOU GET TO GO HOME TONIGHT, SO YOU BEST BE GETTING ON WITH THEM!”
The duque steps away, walking to a nearby tree where his horse is tied up. He undoes the knot, guiding the horse from the low canopy before swiftly mounting his stallion. He gently tugs the reins, walking him over to the path where his uncle waits.
“Alright Uncle, let us be on our way. You can tell me what’s so important that you came all this way in person to fetch me.”