You catch a glimpse of movement from the roof, but when you look, you only see a large raven, beak laden with moss taking off.
Looking up to the roof, Merrick thinks to himself: Strange… I thought… I saw something up there…
He pushes the thought from his mind and briefly observes the soldiers huddled together. He does not wish to startle them, but at the same time he does not want to be perceived as eaves dropping.
He will see if there is a bench away from the group and have his squires sit with the goods they carry. He will then observe the status of the plants in the garden. Are they foreign or native? Are they well maintained? are questions he will think to himself. He makes sure the soldiers are aware he is there and will see if any approach him first. If not, he will give them a bit of time (a few minutes) to finish what they are saying and then introduce himself.
(If he has to introduce himself. Will delete if they move first)
“Forgive me for interrupting your conversation, I am Sir Merrick knight of Sir Roderick, Earl Salisbury. I was hoping to speak to the head of the garrison and was told to wait here in the garden. If you are in need of privacy, my squires and I will relocate ourselves to give you it…”
There are no plants in the gardens, they have been converted into a makeshift parade ground.
As you approach the group of soldiers, they straighten up. One of them asks “Can I help you Sir…” The question hangs, he is asking your name.
“No, it’s fine, it’s our passing out today. Sometimes parents watch, only none of us have any, so…” the silence hangs, then finally “but it’s fine, you can wait here.”
Owain will take care to be a polite guest, and if there is any dancing will be unable to resist joining in. However he will look to leave at a suitable point without any risk of causing offence so he can report back to the Earl.
Merrick will look over the soldiers to see if they are suited up properly and look for anything which sticks out to him as being odd or improperly done. He is unsure what the soldier meant by: it is their “passing out”, but he assumes it is something special by the fact parents usually attend.
“I must admit, things are a bit different here than at home… But then again, there are plenty of differences between Salisbury and Silchester, and we are neighbors!” he says with a grin.
“If you do not mind my asking, what is this ‘passing out’ you mentioned?”
I don’t think Merrick is familiar enough with the Roman armour they wear, and they are presented to a very high standard that nothing is obviously wrong with them.
“Passing out” says one “Is our final inspection. Once we pass our sixteenth year, the Evocatorem visits, if he approves, we are accepted and given a shilling and if he does not, we retire and go home without pay.”
Merrick regards the strange armour and nods to the words spoken. The Roman ways seem to still be present, and ceremonies such as this show a strong connection to the past. Merrick had always heard rumours of how the Kingdom of Malahaut still clung to the Roman past and a notion lightly drifts through his mind:Clearly this is similar to how we promote a page to squire… But done in a different way… I wonder if they get a second chance if they do not pass the inspection and are found to be lacking…
Showing genuine interest in the subject, he asks, “I see… is this an elevation in rank? …An honour only bestowed on a select few? Is that why there are only the three of you present? …Or is this a ceremony which is broader and scope, but conducted in smaller numbers? …Pardon my ignorance, it seems similar to the practice we have at home, and I would not wish to assume so if not the case…”
The boys look slightly uncomfortable “Er… we’re not really supposed to know what happens next, but I think we get sent out to the countryside…”
He is interrupted as the doors to the central palace swing open and they stand to attention, and two men appear. The first is a nobleman, gaunt and dressed in exquisite clothing, but the second man is a ranking officer in Syagrius’ mercenary company.
The mercenary, with little ceremony inspects the three boys, grasping their muscles and inspecting their teeth, tosses the nobleman a bag that clinks with coin and orders the boys to march through the doors that you entered by.
The nobleman approaches you, a satisfied look on his face. “They won’t know what hit them…” he murmurs, almost to himself “Syagrius won’t spare the rod as I did. What can I do for you Sir… Massen I presume.”
The countryside… Just as I thought! That is why there are no veterans in the city…
Just then, Merrick’s thoughts are brought to an abrupt halt as the doors are flung open. He watches as the two men enter the room and what happens next is a complete surprise as he witnesses the events unfold…
I see… they must be orphans, and they have been sold to Syagrius’ Company. How foolish of me to assume these people, who are in such a desperate situation after the siege, would not succumb to such behaviour… I wonder if this is what Sir Hamm was referring to when he was speaking of the destruction of culture. Is this to finance rebuilding and preservation of the city, or is the for this one’s own personal gain? Are they doing this to all those who are able to fight or just the ones they do not want to feed?
His stomach sours at the notion and he does his best to hide it. He cannot help but feel a burning pain on his shoulder and his knuckles instinctively crack softly as he squeezes his hand. He reminds himself: Perhaps this is not what it seems… I have been known to jump to conclusions and seeing the worse in people… Besides, I am not here representing myself… As part of Sir Roderick’s entourage, I represent the Earl, Uther Pendragon, and the entirety of Logres. What these ‘Romans’ wish to do to their own is their business and none of mine…
As the mercenary officer orders the boys to exit, Merrick finally speaks. Waving at the squire with the bottles of beer to come forward, he says to the mercenary as he passes by, “I promised these lads a drink for keeping me company while I waited… How about a bottle of ale for you and one for them to split for the road?”
He is curious about how the mercenary will react.
When approached by the nobleman, he calmly replies, “I am Sir Merrick and I was hoping to speak with someone in regards to a couple of matters. The first is the Saxon siege. As I have not experienced siege warfare and only have fought on the open field, I was wanting to gain some insight on how to defend against the Saxons just in case they manage to gain ground against us in the South.”
The mercenary stops and gives you a bow of respect on noticing he speaks with a knight “That’s thoroughly decent of you Sir” he says “Lads, an ale for the road… maybe Sir will permit them one each, a mouthful is no true generosity, not for beer.”
The nobleman listens to your question. “I’m sorry to say, I am no great scholar of war, but to my mind, the best defence we had was in our willingness to be flexible. We tore down our city and grew food within it’s walls, denying the Saxons the sting of their siege. It wasn’t perfect, but it kept many thousands alive who otherwise would have starved. Beyond that, a good well on every street corner. They managed to pollute some by means never made clear to me, so having many was a boon.”
He strokes his chin in thought “Aside from the bravery of our men, I’m afraid that’s all the insight I can truly offer.”
(Was not sure how big the bottles were! )
Merrick chuckles with a smile, “Very true! Always seems better with just a little more! Tewain, give them all three of the bottles of beer. Perhaps their journey may be a long one.”
Merrick is pensive for a moment and asks of the nobleman, “Are their any veterans of the siege still stationed in the city? On my initial observations, I did not see any on first glance. But then again, I was not looking very hard. I was distracted by a man who was following me around…”
He shakes his head “Syagrius drove a hard bargain, he was an army on our doorstep, a king without a country and here, an entire country ripe for the picking with no means to defend itself.” he laughs with bitterness “Vae Victis, we are lucky he did not throw his sword onto the scales as the accursed savage Brennus once did. Syagrius’ price was our fighting men. A price we paid to have those men guard our borders.”
Merrick nods in understanding, “I see. We encountered a group of them in the countryside before we arrived. I saw Syagrius’ men around one of the other villas here in the city… I assume Syagrius’ men have been behaving respectable, as my personal experiences with them have not shown them disreputable.”
“They are honourable men, and once terms were agreed they have behaved as any true Roman would, of course the benefit to bolstering his ranks with our own sons is that of course the mercenary band increasingly sees Malahaut as it’s true home. That won’t stop Syagrius taking them across the ocean to fight for his lands once more when he has enough men, but it certainly means that while they are here, they treat the people well, unlike most mercenary bands.”
“It is good to hear they are not prone to the typical ways of most mercenary companies…”
“As for the second matter I wished to ask you about. Earlier today, there was a man who was following me rather obviously, but when I went to approach him, he seemed to vanish and then reappear somewhere else… rather openly. Do you know who this person is and are they a threat to Sir Roderick’s safety?”
“Quite” He replies before your second question “Your Lord does then understand I trust, why I must oppose his King’s attempt to recreate the old treaty between Logres and Malahaut while Syagrius remains? If we have a treaty with you, then why would we need Syagrius and the heavy price we pay. If we no longer need Syagrius, then what does his army do next, where will he recruit from. I care for those boys, I never had sons of my own. While Syagrius remains, those boys build on their relationship with our land, with our people. They will go to fight the Franks, this is inevitable, but I want them to return, to have a life here to return too. That means keeping Syagrius here for as long as needs be.”
After hearing your second question “Oh, that sounds like the Iberian, pay no heed to that buffoon, his ludicrousnesses entertains the king, and he is only a danger to himself.”
(Sorry, wonky time warp ahead!)
“I can see how that can be an issue… I am but a simple soldier, and am not privy to details of Earl Roderick’s assignment… But what of the Saxons who still remain, even with a treaty wouldn’t Syagrius and him men still be needed?”
“Hrmm… In my experience, those are the ones you need to keep extra attention on…”
“In the immediate months following a signing, perhaps, but any treaty signed will include provision for Logres to respond to Malahauts need, and vice versa, as you once did already, and know, we are grateful for this. Once this is in place, Syagrius is a drain on the crown that can be cauterised, and will be in quick order. Should the Saxons invade, you will perhaps even be quicker to mobilise than his forces, and Lincoln alone will bring a better army than his, scattered and… well, less civilised as they are.”
“But I am looking to keep the Mercenary King here for years, perhaps longer, I want the boys to be men with families, something to return too. Without that, our future is lost anyway, any country needs children, and I look for the bigger picture than immediate needs, that is why I have the ear of the King, and that is why I shall be advising so.”
“If that be the case, then why would anyone in Malahaut want there to be a treaty with Logres?” Merrick asks with interest.
He replies dryly “What makes you think that there is?”