[RP Episode] The Company of the Golden Skull


#1

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The sun shined high in the sky that day. Spring time had arrived, and with it the planting season had started. Already the vast fields of Midland, many left fallow the previous year, were dotted with green orderly rows of plants. The cypress hedges around each field were as green as ever, their boughs no longer weighed down with the snow of the past winter.

The plains were alive with the hissing of cicadas, birds singing their songs among the tall grasses, and the smell was intoxicatingly wonderful. The previous night’s rain had soaked into all the crops and seedlings and smelled like life itself.

A lone horseman crested the southern hills overlooking the outskirts of Fordham. He took in the view and paused for a moment, awed by the sight and filled with nostalgia. His white stallion stamped and snorted impatiently, tossing its feathery white mane side to side. The silver armored fellow atop the horse spoke soothingly to it, patting it affectionately on the neck.

“There there, Falcon. Look, we’re home now.”

The knight drew an old yellowed horn that hung on his saddle and put it to his lips. The tone of the horn was low and mellow, like a morning dove, only grander. A distant rumble answered the knight’s call, causing the hills to tremble. Several horns answered the call and the rumble grew louder and closer. The thundering of hundreds of hooves upon the earth. A brilliant company of cavalry surfaced at the top of the hill. The sun glinted off their metal visors and tall pointed lances, and many lances carried fluttering crimson banners, bearing the stark symbol of a golden skull.

Three riders rode up next to the first knight, each from a different sector of the army of horsemen.

“Mon capitaine! What are your orders?”

The yellow knight spoke as he reined his horse in to stop right next to his leader.

The captain still had his helmet on and his voice sounded hollow and strangely high under the visor. “We will construct an encampment here, at the foot of this hill. The town residents should be able to see us from here, that’s what matters.”

The yellow knight nodded, and turned back to relay the order to the others. The other two knights approached the captain, waiting silently until he made a decision.

The captain turned to look at his companions. “I think we’ve already caused quite a scandal, so I plan to go straight to the gates to explain, will you accompany me?”

“Aye”
“Would be proper.”

“Should we bring anyone as backup, captain?” The red knight asked.

“That won’t be necessary. But do call Sir Passpartout to join us again, he should be there too.”

“At once, sir.” The red knight rode off to find the knight in question.

When the red knight was a far enough distance away, the remaining rider drew closer to the captain. “Not bad.” The captain could sense a bitterness in his voice even though they both had their faces obscured by their helmets. “Not bloody bad at all. I’m surprised they listen to ye despite yer voice sounding like a broken bag pipe half the time”

The captain winced. “It’s not my fault my voice is changing…father.”


#2

The older rider looked towards the castle. “It’s been so long, and I’ve made more money down south than we ever did here.”

“I want more than just money, father.” The captain answered. “Having a fat purse and a full stomach is alright, but titles, land. That’s where it’s at.”

“And you expect the king to jes look at yer army and shiny banners and instantly grant ye all ye want?”

“No…but the army helps.”

“Fucking miracle they even listen to ye. Here come the louts now.”

The two knights returned together. Behind them, the army of the Golden Skull was milling about, unpacking horses, starting cooking fires, and setting up tents.

“Shall we be off then?” The captain asked his knights.
His three companions nodded and they all galloped of towards the gates of Fordham.


Many helmeted heads peered suspiciously over the town walls as the four riders approached. As the riders approached the western gate, a group of soldiers stood guarding every window and opening with crossbows. “Who approaches the city of the king armed for war?” A voice called out from the top of the gatehouse. The older rider spat instinctively, recognizing the voice immediately.

The young captain gently spurred his horse to move forward. He spoke “I, Crowley, a free man born here in the Midlands.”


#3

“Free for the present. What business do you and your company of men, geared as if for battle, have in the capitol? Speak swiftly!” The voice was old, but cracked like a whip. Wilham grimaced, and hauled himself atop the battlement, clad in a brown leather jerkin with plates of steel sown into the cloth. A long straight sword in a jeweled scabbard hung from his belt, and his fists were covered in gauntlets of black leather.


#4

Young Crowley squinted through the slits of his helmet at the knight up on the battlements. “We’ve come to the aid of the king. It’s already well known that the north of Midland suffers from annual raids from elves. I believe we could put a stop to that.”


#5

The old knight considered. It was true: the Angoni raids had not ceased. Despite the shaky pact with the Sorni elves farther north, the number of raids upon Midland villages had not decreased. Many of them had already been abandoned, the inhabitants who survived fleeing southwards and converging on the capitol in droves. The addition of several hundred well armed soldiers would provide a greatly needed boost to the manpower at the disposal of the royalty.

But Wilham still hesitated. Having seen the Helcelen warriors up close, he was in doubt that buying mercenaries would not be merely a waste of good coin. The few bands he had already hired had been scattered or destroyed by the Angoni, who were overjoyed to come across an enemy who stayed and fought, for however brief a time.

“How many men have you?” he shouted again. “How mounted and afoot?”


#6

Lod whispered something to Crowley, who listened attentively and then nodded.

“I would rather discuss that with the King, if possible? And at a table, with pen and paper.”


#7

A reasonable request indeed. WIlham nodded to himself. “You may pass. You may enter, but warned: I will not hesitate to hang you if there is bloodshed.” Despite his age, the aged knight still had steel beneath his wrinkled exterior. He waved a hand at the soldiers on the walls. “Raise the gate!”


#8

The portcullis raised with a metallic clatter of chains and iron and the four riders spurred their mounts onward, looking back and forth at the guards who awaited them. The town was unusually crowded, peasant folk milling through the streets, horses drawing carts brimming with hay. The crowd parted however for the newcomers as they entered, escorted by the town guards.


#9

While the mercenaries wound their way through the town, Wilham sent a runner directly to King Hendry. The man arrived ahead of Crowley and his companions, passing on the message to the monarch when he found him in the warroom, holding council with several of his generals.

Hendry was a tall man, with broad shoulders and burly arms. His hair was short, and well trimmed, along with his beard and mustache. His tunic was blue and yellow, in opposing triangles, with a black badger on his chest. His brown eyes were kind but firm, and his bare hands were neither soft nor sinewed.

The messenger went to one knee. “Sire. A message from Sir Quagmire.”

“Rise. What does the good knight send?” asked Hendry, gesturing with his hand. The messenger leaned forward, and handed over a scrap of parchement, before retreating to one side of the room. Swiftly passing his gaze over the words, Hendry looked up, a smile on his face.

“My lords, it appears there is a solution to our problem. Even now, a large band of soldiers for hire is at ours doors, to discuss by which means they mighty be enriched and the elves be brought to ruin.”

One of the knights smiled. “That is joyous news to hear, my king. We may thus ride out, and smite these elven dogs who so treacherously attack us!” A black horse on a green field was his sigil, and his face was flushed with the righteous anger of one who has been wronged. It was true. Sir Carden had been wronged, his lands overrun to such an extent by the warlike clan that he could not even claim to call them his anymore.

“I pray that we may do so, Lord Carden.” Hendry looked once more to the messenger. “Send for these mercenaries. I will speak with them here. And send Wilham to me as well. I would have him be present at this council.” The man bowed, and slipped back out the door.

He found Sir Wilham and the mercenaries eyeing on another in the anteroom within the keep, hands hovering near the hilts of their swords. “Milords, his Majesty is prepared to receive you.”

Wilham turned to Crowley, as he had been the company’s spokesperson during their previous exchange. The lad was very young he noticed, almost outrageously so for one in such a position. “Come.” he said. “Leave your weapons here.”


#10

Crowley seemed calm as he removed his helmet, revealing a mane of raven black hair that fell around his shoulders, but in his mind he was panicking. The king himself. I’m about to meet the king! Did I think this through? What am I supposed to say? He unbuckled his sword and handed it to the outstretched hands of the soldiers. The sword had a very exotic appearance, the blade being curved and the guard very small, and the handle was wrapped in red silk bands. Sir Passpartout, Lod, and the red knight, who’s name was Alonne, also discarded their weapons and followed Crowley into the meeting room. As soon as he saw king Hendry, Crowley bowed low as he had been raised to do. “Your Majesty.”


#11

”Welcome, gentlemen. Sir Quagmire has already advised me of your intentions.” returned the King, his dark eyes searching each man’s face. Like Wilham, he noticed the extraordinary youth of the mercenary. ”Might I know your names before we begin the business at hand?” Behind the request was an unspoken demand.


#12

“I…I…my name is Crowley, your Majesty. I’m a native born Midlander, born up the road North under the roof of the Velvet Unicorn.” The young captain stuttered slightly.

“Chevalier Passpartout D’Plume, votre Majesté!” The yellow knight pronounced his name proudly. “I hail from my father’s duchy far East. My unrelenting sense of adventure and desire for glory has brought me to where I stand, under command of our fine capitaine!”

Lod rolled his eyes. He had quite obstinately refused to remove his helmet like the others had, and had his face covered by his visor.

“I’m Allone, your Majesty.” The red knight bowed. He looked to be only sixteen or so, even younger than his captain. “Crownlands born and raised.”

Lod remained silent, but Crowley turned and stared at him angrily. Lod muttered something indistinguishable but also introduced himself. “Lod Durwael…yeah it’s me. Happy to see me Wilham? It’s been a wee bit hasn’t it?” He sounded annoyed.


#13

The knight ignored him, shoving down the feeling of his distaste in his stomach. Now was not the time to bring up their rivalry, particularly with the King watching. ”Sire, we have enough troops at our disposal. The men of your own house and the men at arms of these knights here present will be enough to push back these attacks. We need not drain the coffers for the likes of this rabble.” Despite his best efforts, Wilham’s anger still imbued his speech.

Hendry took notice of the choice of nouns, but paid it no momentary heed. He inclined his head slightly to the four captains. ”Thank you. Sir Quagmire, I say nay. If it were possible to throw these elven warriors back into their mountains without the help of others, we would have done so long ago. But they have proven a dangerous and wily foe. If we are to meet them in open battle, or even hope to push them back through a show of strength, we shall need every man.” He looked at the four. ”Which among you speaks for the whole? I accept your offer of service, though I do not doubt it will come at a price. But first I would know the manner of my goods. How many soldiers do you have, how many horse and how many foot? What is the state of their arms?”


#14

“Four hundred, your Majesty.” Said Crowley. “Three hundred heavy horsemen, and the rest archers and footmen.”

“As for our arms, we are funded by wealthy patrons in the South. They would prefer not to be named, as they have no intentions on owning lands in the Midlands or making advances in the political sphere. They have outfitted my troops with the very best weapons and armor money can buy.”

“Capitaine?” Passpartout interrupted.

Crowley nodded. “Go ahead.”

“Majeste, I have personally trained most of this army in the arts of war, and you will probably not find such skill and coordination in any common mercenary band. Indeed, we are not even all commoners. We tend to lay fancy titles aside and treat each-other like equals, but there are men of noble blood mixed with our troops. Lesser nobles of various nations who find a better future in the mercenary trade than languishing in their father’s houses, while their older brothers lord over them.”


#15

”Lord Carden, think you that three hundred heavy horse might suffice for your proposed maneuver?” asked Hendry, turning his troubled gaze to the refugee noble. Carden nodded, his fingers grasping for the hilt of the sword that normally hung at his side.

”It would indeed my liege.” Carden looked to the mercenaries. ”I have proposed a trap of sorts for our foe. We will give a show of force, with a host of men on foot, and feign battle. When the elves rush to meet us, overjoyed at the prospect of what they might call a worthy opponent, our cavalrymen shall cut them off from their lairs in the mountains. Do you think your men up to such a task?”

Hendry noticed Wilham’s distressed look, but gave no sign in response.


#16

"Not at all. " Crowley responded. “I would like to know who you plan on setting as bait, however. My men are trained to fight on foot, yes, but wouldn’t it be safer to send my men on horseback? They can retreat and draw the enemy after them a lot quicker and with little risk, that is, if the elves fall for it.”


#17

”That they could, but I think them too crafty to pursue mounted men on foot. We must bait the trap with infantry, that our foe might come to grips with them, and then, whilst the elves are embattled, we shall perform that most beloved of maneuvers, the double envelopment.” said Hendry. ”Lord Carden shall lead the right, and…” He gazed around the room for a moment, his eyes finally settling on a silent man standing in the background. ”Lord Grey, you shall take the left.”

Lord Grey stepped forward. He was old, his hair a silvery black, and his eyes were pale. Alone of the assembled company of nobles, he wore chain mail beneath his gambeson, the silver clashing with the black. Upon his chest, a tall tower gleamed, a shade of grey scarcely different from the dark color surrounding it. Hendry was not a short man, and neither of was Lord Carden, but Lord Grey overtopped them both. He bowed. ”As you will, my liege.” His voice was soft, but clear.