Fletcher was awoken before the first light of dawn by the noise of a cannon ball flying overhead with the sound of a canvas grave cloth being torn in two.
“Bloody hell - the Vatican boys are starting the party early this morning!”, he remarked as he shook off his blanket, soaked from the overnight rain. One of the adjutants slogged through the mud and handed him a mug of water and a hunk of bread that was obviously past its best. He chewed on it thoughtfully.
“I thought that this was just supposed to be a show of strength? Rattle our swords until the diplomats and politicians bang their heads together and then we can all go home and put our feet up. Why are they in such a god damned hurry to start a shooting war?”
“Don’t know sir”, said the adjutant
“But that bugger might know”, said Fletcher gesturing down the hill.
An office of the Papal army was riding up the hill towards the camp, his horse picking its way gingerly through the mud. He was resplendent in his formal uniform and looked down at the dishevelled and mud splattered mercenaries with obvious disdain.
“Captain John Fletcher of the Black Company, I presume?” he said, hauling back on his horse’s bridle as yet another cannon ball flying overhead made her skittish. She settled to cropping the meagre grass under foot.
“That would be me, sir. Would you care to tell me what the hell is going on here? All I know is that we ordered to show up here and make camp. Nobody said anything about the heavy guns being brought into play.”
“We have heavy guns and much more, signor. His holiness the Pope is most keen to see this conflict concluded swiftly, to send a clear and unambiguous message to all of those who would dare to defy the will of Rome.”
The man on the horse cleared his throat and continued speaking.
“I have two messages for you. We are seeking two men - a merchant from Venice called Antonio di Rossini and a capuchin monk called Alonso who was instrumental in abetting his escape from our lawful custody. The Inquisition are most eager to speak to both of them. If you should encounter either of them you are under orders to deliver them to us without delay.”
Fletcher acknowledged this statement with a non-committal grunt.
“Secondly, we expect a breach to opened in the city wall later on today.”
He indicated the section of wall that Fletcher had noted previously - the section of stone that was a different colour to the rest was evidently a weak spot, and it was now being pounded by highly accurate cannon fire. Loose stone was starting to pile up against the wall, and eventually it would be possible to scale the rubble and effect and entry into the city.
“Your troop will have the honour of leading the initial assault on the breach”
Fletcher exploded with anger.
“That’s a forlorn hope! We’ll be shredded by fire from both sides - it’s bloody suicide to mount an attack like that at this stage. Why not wait until the siege has been in force for longer? The defenders in the city aren’t going anywhere after all.”
“Nevertheless, you are being paid handsomely for this job and you will follow orders given by your employer. It is dangerous, but if you succeed in the assault you will earn a substantial bonus and the first share of any loot from within the city. Prepare your men - you will receive written orders later in the day.”
Fletcher knew that further protest at this stage was futile. These orders would have been passed through the ultimate commander of the Black Company. The Papal army evidently wished to make the point that they were in charge, and they wanted quick results, no matter how bloody the cost, and not a prolonged siege.
There was also the other point to consider. He was currently harbouring two fugitives from the Inquisition, and they were surrounded in all directions by one of the largest papal armies mobilised in an age.
Fletcher and his small band of brothers was caught in a diabolical trap.