Sunday, 16 November 2008

Chapter Twenty

To Fletcher's mind the situation was at becoming clearer. They were caught in the middle of a plot by agents of the Inquisition to acquire a large amount of gold for some unknown purpose connected to the members of the grand council of Venice. The same Inquisition had also hired Fletcher's mercenary company to march to the gates of the city and wait. Fletcher smelled a rat, but he was sure that he didn't yet have the full picture.

The trio approached the camp for Fletcher's company. He commanded a unit of around a hundred and twenty men with a mix of light skirmishers armed with bows for hit and run attacks, and an equal number of heavy infantry troops - hard bastards, armed to the teeth, who could hold a line for as long as it took or storm a position and put the fear of the devil into whoever they happened to be fighting this week.

They were the advance guard for Roger de Montfort's Black company, responsible for ranging ahead of the main force to get the lie of the land and harry the opposition. They were fast enough to be mobile, but tough enough to get the fighting done when necessary, until the artillery and cavalry could be brought into play.

Fletcher summoned his unit commanders to discuss the situation - Alain de Bouton, a wiry Frenchman who commanded the light troops and Karl Bergman of the heavy company, another veteran whose hard bitten exterior hid a surprisingly sensitive soul with a fine appreciation for art and music.

"Right lads, we've been ordered to march within sight of the gates of the Venice and pitch up making ourselves visible. I don't like it, particularly as I think our erstwhile employers have an agenda that they are not telling us about. We are going to do as we have been told, but I want a fall back position for when it all goes to hell. Just keep your eyes and ears open, and if you get any inkling of trouble get your men to safety. You know what to do - get your men organised, we're moving out within the hour."

His commanders nodded their assent and went about their duties. The company had been waiting for orders to move and they ready for action. Squads lined up, equipment was checked, the baggage carts were loaded and given a once over. Swords were sharpened, armour straps pulled tight, bows restrung and quivers of arrows slung over shoulders. Some of the men that were religious offered a silent prayer for safekeeping, and those that weren't observed some ritual or habit that they had become accustomed to over the years. There was an atmosphere of palpable anticipation in the air. They were getting ready to do a job that they were good at - bloody good at.

Fletcher walked through the camp, keeping an eye on things, but content to trust his troops to get on with their assigned duties. The company was like a well oiled machine with each man playing his part and meshing perfectly with the others. Fletcher was truly proud of them.

He turned to Alonso and Antonio who had been following him through the organised chaos of a professional mercenary company breaking camp.

"Well, boys. You have a choice. We are heading for Venice. You can either stick with us and see what happens, or make your own way but I have to say that I don't rate your chances on your own."

Alonso replied for the pair of them.

"We will travel with you, if that is acceptable? We should be able to find our way into the city when the time comes. Antonio will want to return to his family"

"Very well. Go and see the quarter master in that tent over there - he'll be able to kit you out with something a little less conspicuous than those monks' habits that you are currently wearing. You'll want some decent boots as well."

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