Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Burning of Messina

"We're doing what?" The corporal is incredulous. Surely King Richard - he'd been king for barely a year - wouldn't risk an army of crusaders to free his sister.

The Man-at-Arms leading the flank turns to the corporal, grim-faced, though with a glint of humor. "What do you expect? Him to leave Joan in the hands of that bastard, Tancred? Don't be stupid."

Any other superior would have expected the corporal to hang his head in embarrassment, but Sergeant John Bower is known for encouraging his men to ask questions... and question ridiculous orders (as long as those questions were directed to John Bower himself, naturally... other Men-at-Arms and Knights were not so encouraging).

"Prepare the archers, Corporal," John orders. "Separate them into smaller squads. They'll need to remain as mobile as possible when we enter Messina."

"Yes, Sergeant," the corporal replies, then leaves to conduct his duties.

John finishes writing some tactical amendments on a scroll, rolls and seals it, and hands it to a messenger. "Ensure King Philip's men are informed of these changes, as well." Richard, John knows, will want full credit for capturing the Sicilian capital, but it will be strategically advantageous for the French contingent to be on the same page as the English. Rivals make poor partners, after all. And John is far too pragmatic to let competition get in the way of victory.

In addition to his pragmatism, John is also a proponent of irregular and unconventional warfare. Unlike the Lords and Knights he serves, he is uninhibited by chivalry, and often takes full advantage of his plebeian station. It is one reason he is highly sought after as a Man-at-Arms. He will do what it takes to win, regardless of anyone's perspective of his methods. He is confident his flank will move through Messina quite rapidly, his men consisting of the best archer/hunters in all of Britain.

***

Robin of Nottinghamshire is, above all else, an archer and a hunter. The best, in fact. At least in the eyes of everyone who knows him and, indeed, everyone who's heard of him. Which isn't all that many people, to say the least. Still, his reputation is strong enough that John Bower personally requested Robin to lead his contingent of archers. Though the two share a great deal of respect for one another - John in awe of Robin's skill with the bow, as well as his ability to motivate people... Robin in awe of John's tactical and strategic mind - they don't particularly care for each other. Still, Robin loves serving under John's command, as it not only increases Robin's chances of victory, but chances of survival, as well. In all of the ridiculous engagements he's been forced into by nobles, Robin has never come across a better leader.

After the corporal leaves, Robin turns to his small band of men - known as the Merry Makers among the armies here, for various reasons - and smiles. His men love it when he smiles. "Drink up, lads. We're to be wolves in the fold."

***

The timing couldn't have been better. Messina's populace revolted against Tancred in protest of the presence of foreign troops, and King Richard initiated the assault shortly after. The combination of civil unrest and foreign invasion were, by themselves, enough to foster the capture of the city. John Bower's strategy and Robin's execution of it only made the capture seem unfair. Even to Robin.

Robin is not, by definition, a ruthless man, though his small reputation is suggestive to the contrary. He has killed men - quite many - but only because he's told to. His aim with the arrow is always true and he prefers to make shots that are as quickly fatal as possible. The inherent irony is that this is the very action responsible for his reputation. It bothers him a little, but he knows he has to live with it lest he truly become a ruthless, unmerciful soldier.

Soldier. The very term drives him crazy. He is a simple man and would much prefer to be tilling the land of his employer rather than shooting enemies of his king who he cares nothing about. He had been stuck on this God-forsaken island for nearly six months and quietly longed for a return to England. Word had come that Eleanor of Aquitaine - who had arrived to help smooth over Tancred's surrender and Joan's return - would be returning home and that John Bower would accompany her as part of a military escort. Robin hoped that, despite their differences, Bower would bring him, as well.

But it was not to be.

*To be continued...

5 comments:

  1. nice. the robin hood story is one of my favs...nicely done playing off of it...

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  2. I loves me a man in tights and a damsel in distress! Nice twist with John Bower too a bit different to the 'Little John' we've come to know through popular fiction.

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  3. I liked this line:
    His men love it when he smiles.

    Oh the places your mind can go, Jeff. Perhaps there is high fiction after all ;).

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  4. really good writing, this is a drastic retelling of the old tale...no saying where you'll take it.

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  5. I thought the characterization was on the heavy-handed side. Everyone in awe of everyone else and "the best". I suppose the female heroines are the medieval equivalent of cover models too. ;)

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