Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Scene Nine - The value of the Badge...

"What??  What did he say ??" Vollsanger stiffened as he ran the conversation back through his mind.

Sitting at the gnarled wooden table, a goblet in front of each of them, Colour Sergeant Snatch looked across the table into the eyes of the French Captain, who was seemingly oblivious of any offence he may be  causing..... 

"And in what particular way do you think that I have been disgraced by wearing the badge?" the old bard asked in a quiet voice.... "

"Ees it not obvious?" queried the captain, "You take a great bard", he spoke to the sergeant, " and you enslave him to your troop, you make him less than he was ...  another of your riff raff.."

It was not just his slightly foppish mannerisms, and his annoying accent that grated. His whole attitude wreaked of insubordination and pretended superiority. Captain Caladan, of the Knights of  Dorn, exuded a religious fervour. 

Vollsanger had no real objection to a man's religion. It was a matter for personal choice. After all, he followed the Norse Gods in general and Bragi, God of song and Verse in particular. No, a man's religion was a personal thing...  but not something to be stuffed down another person's throat.

He had seen the Captain fighting in the courtyard during the day and had to admit that he showed a fair amount of skill as he sparred with Captain Marshall. The courtyard of Castle Quarrel had resounded with the clash of weapons, the hearty grunts of the Black Company Leader, and the incomprehensible french exclamations as the flat of a sword caught the red and yellow tabard.
He had skill to be sure, and by all accounts had fought for his Order under the guidance of the Grand Master with honour in many battles. His reason for being in the castle would be known only to Captain Marshall and the Grand Master who had penned the letter that still sat, seal unbroken at the Captain's table in the Officer's Mess. The Captain was a man of order. A time for everything and everything in its time.... No, he would read the letter later - after the banquet...

"Enslave......   Riff Raff...... " The sergeant pondered over the words as though testing the texture of a foul french Fricassée.....

Vollsanger was wearing his normal finery for the evening banquet. A fine woven shirt in light green, what other colour could he wear? with neat embroidery in the collar and sleeves, a boar on one, the mark of the Oathsworn of Dunholme and a fine depiction of a lute on the collar front.  Around his neck hung the numerous necklets, amulets, talismans and  hangings that represent awards and safe passage to the peoples of many lands. About his waist hung a broad leather belt with his music pouch and the Blades of Berkana, the finely matched pair of master-crafted daggers that he carried as a gift from the "Widow". But the most important item of clothing this evening was the black sash that he wore from right shoulder to left hip. The sash was emblazoned with the Death Head of the Black Company Badge.

A badge that had been awarded and was worn with pride. The only Honorary Fully Badged member of the black Company in the annals...  Normally, a recruit would lose his name and his identity - become a recruit with a number. Some may never achieve a name. But if they persevered and proved worthy, then they may be given a name and the rank of private. But each would hold the day he or she achieved the Badge as their greatest day .... regardless of the promotions that may follow ..

Some of the words that the Frenchman uttered were true ... Many who wore the badge would leave the Company feet first. Many would die. Most were not heroes, they did not crave honours, but would fight to the last with the possibility of being mentioned in the Glorious Dead... perhaps a few lines in the annals..  but always to fight alongside their comrades in arms... But to suggest that it was dishonourable....

Vollsanger sat to the left of the Frenchman, also facing the Colour Sergeant. While the Frenchman had uttered his broad statements, arms flailing in latin fashion, the bard's hands had dropped quietly to his sides, and covered the hilts of the daggers..... In one fluid motion he shrugged his shoulders and leaned forward across the table, his body covering the actions of his hands, which deftly eased the two daggers from sheath and reversed them so the blades were held against the forearm. The Blades of Berkana.. Razor sharp, narrow bladed, etched with the Rune of Berkana, an angular "B" on the hilt. Vollsanger reached out his left hand across the table - palm down - the reversed blade held close to the arm and hidden from view sandwiched between arm and table. Hand open, the hilt palmed in a manner even the Company Fool Devilstick Peat would have been proud of...  As the right hand extended behind the back of the Captain, reversing the dagger, point down, with the tip angled to the that point on top of the chainmail where the neck was exposed...

The Colour sergeant could clearly see the action behind the Frenchman, who, with the experience of a veteran fighter sensed the blade and tensed, yet smiled and said "I have no fear of these ? I am a guest and subject to the hospitality of the Company.." He shrugged. An action as annoying as all that had gone before and Vollsanger held himself back...

The bard looked to the Colour Sergeant. Honorary member of the Company. Company Bard... He had a unique place in the Company, but it was not his call. Every part of his being said that the dagger should slide into the 3rd cervical vertebrae, now !! and without listening to another word...

The Colour Sergeant passed his hand over the arm of the Bard who slowly retracted the limb - leaving Snatch ready with a dagger immediately to hand...  There was no doubt that the soldier was already well armed, but the opportunity to have a surprise dagger in hand would prevent any defensive action from the braggard...

Both company men were now fully armed... but the guest was not heeding a word ...
"Eet is always the same with you ...  you give each a death sentence when they come, look at these idiots and pathetic souls... they are the dregs..."

Colour Sergeant Snatch almost bit off the stem of his pipe. Even the flickering candle light suggested that his finely twisted moustache was curling with outrage.. He made his decision... he was a veteran of the Black Company and would neither sully the reputation of the Company by the death of the insolent upstart, nor would he let the insult lie..

He left the blade on the table and rose to his feet, peering down at the French Captain who was still held in place by a dagger at his neck.... He took out his pipe and gesturing with his right hand accentuated each line.

"Dregs??? " Spluttered the Colour Sergeant... his Badge glinting on the sash of bright crimson across his black leather armour... "Dregs .. Pathetic Souls and Riff Raff ??"

The muscles on his neck tensed with anger, his eyes blazed as he addressed the Knight of Dorn ..

"These Dregs are my Privates" He announced in his best parade ground snarl..
"MY Privates!!! They are precious to me ! I look after my Privates. I keep them close to me! My privates are not to be played with by others, or mocked!! I will groom them and nurture them and let them grow. They are Snatch's Privates!!!  They are the Company Privates...  And one day you may find out how precious my Privates can be!!!"

He glared once more at the Frenchman - nodded to Vollsanger - leaving the blade upon the table.

Vollsanger accepted the decision of the rank and placed his own blade alongside its pair... He got up from the table without a word and walked off to find a tankard of ale to wash the bad taste from his mouth..

The Knight of Dorn sat there awhile... I know not what went through his mind...

Next day, after the Tribunal, the floggings went on for an hour. The entire Company was in attendance as penalties were exacted..  Towards the end, a messenger requested the presence of Captain Caladan to the courtyard. Vollsanger had been keeping a surreptitious eye on him - in case he stole the company silver or molested the serving wenches or abused the animals, he had such a small regard for the man, and followed into the winter sunshine..

Captain Marshall was officiating. "Ah. Yes .. Captain Caladan.. Please come forward"
The Frenchman was obviously a little disconcerted, after all, a series of soldiers had just received  a public flogging..
"I hope eet is not for zee punishment  mon Capitan?"
"Of course not dear boy. Front and Center - there's a good chap!"
The flamboyant figure swaggered into the centre of the circle and stood by the Captain who towered above him.
"Right. Captain Caladan. Knight of Dorn. I have read the letter sent by your Grand Master. And it seems that you have been a little excessive in your religious excesses!"
"Quoi??" Sputtered the Knight..  "I may be a leetle enthusiastic - urr..."
"Over - zealous I think is the expression of your Grand Master.." Continued Captain Marshall, hands behind his back in a stance well known to every recruit of the Black Company ...  Everyone knew now that some bad news was coming for the annoying interloper, and even those nursing their wounds were ready to find out what it was...

"Yes indeed. Over zealous !!  Seem that you - Captain Caladan " he pronounced the name with as much disgust as he would use in discussing a venereal disease " have been a bit of a naughty boy .. Tut Tut!!!
Moreover, seems that your Grand Master wants to be rid of you for a period of time ..  and has given you to us for at least a year - if you survive that long!"

"Mais non. C'est n'est pas possible!" Spluttered the Frenchman and lunged towards the Captain. A bad move. He was immediately seized and dragged back as he yelled and shouted in his incomprehensible tongue .. He was held firmly as the Captain explained that the letter from the Grand Master allowed no confusion or alternative interpretation.... the former Knight of Dorn would now be Recruit No 9 - not even a name, but a number until he proved otherwise...

Volsanger leaned back and pondered that this seemed a much better outcome than the alternative considered the previous night, though it still irked him to have let the insult lie..

Having calmed down a little, Caladan, or rather Recruit no 9 asked permission to speak, which was granted.
"Mon Capitan" said the Frenchman, in far more contrite terms than before. He shrugged off those who held him and slowly pulled out his fine French Crafted Axe and held it aloft..
"Mon Capitan.. You see here a fine Axe n'est pas?"
"Indeed I do" replied the Captain
"Well, mon Capitan, would you use this to dig latrines and graves? or would you use a ... what do you call the thing.. urr  .. a Spade??"
"We always call a Spade a Spade in the Black Company - we would use that " replied the Captain...
"Then please Mon Capitan, consider me!!  I am ...    I was  Knight of Dorn ...   I am like this axe...  Make use of me for what I am good at,, I am an axe not a spade"
"Yes. Well. We shall see. We shall keep a close eye on you and see if you have any value.."

The captain looked around and with a glance at his newly promoted  Lieutenant Snatch, wearing his new Veteran Medal, said " Right Oh.. Jolly Good!!  Carry on then .. " and went back to the Officer's mess for lunch...

The Company slowly drifted away, leaving a rather forlorn figure slumped against a wall. Recruit No 9, formerly Captain Caladan of the Knights of Dorn, now nameless until he proved himself sufficiently to be given a name. And then, if he survived, and not all did, he may warrant to a position where he could be eligible to wear the Badge of the Black Company...

"Nothing is certain in this world" mused Vollsanger..  but somehow here in the Black Company there seemed to be a touch of balance and a little fairness...  Perhaps I should write a song he thought as he hummed to himself " My sword is sharp it's here with me - I'm fighting with the Black Company. "

1 comment:

  1. Yep that's how it was. The Captain says if you meet any who want to sign up to the Black Company, send em ere https://m.facebook.com/Join.BlackCompany?ref=bookmark