Castaways 3 – Of Quests and Kings by Adams Robert
Castaways 3 – Of Quests and Kings by Adams Robert
The big, burly man in halt-armor and plumed, open-faced net strolled, seemingly aimlessly, along the top of the outer wall of the city, glancing from time to time at the massive bombards ranged at odd intervals. Each of the archaic pieces was covered with waxed tarpaulins against the frequent misty drizzles, and under them, thick, tarred tompions sealed the gaping muzzles, while waxed plugs stopped the touchholes atop the breeches. Wooden sheds thrown up on either side of each bombard held the multitudinous items of supplies and equipment needed to maintain, serve, and clean the antique weapons. Beyond range of the bombards’ hellacious recoils stood stacks of four to five of the granite balls which were the heaviest things that the weak-walled tubes would throw, even charged with the weak serpentine powder that had to be mixed on the spot to the individual requirements of each bombard.
The big armored man. Captain Timoteo, il Duce di Bolgia, could not imagine just what had gone through the brain—admittedly, a quite often addled brain—of King Tamhas FitzGerald, his erstwhile employer. The man had had the foresight to mount decent, modern guns that were strong enough to be charged with corned powder and would accurately throw iron ball and shell, grape, langrage, or what-have-you farther than all but the very largest of the
bombards, could be reloaded in much less time, and could be easily moved about the walls to the spots of most immediate need; but these guns all were mounted on the landward approaches of the fortified city of Tamhas’burh— the walls and other strong points overlooking the river and anchorages were armed with nothing of any size better or newer than these abominations of world-heavy, barely manageable relics.
Now true, a single massive stone ball from any one of them would go far to crack like a pigeon egg the oaken ribs of even the biggest and best-found ship, but in order for that to take place, the ship would have to be in just the right place at just the right time, a happenstance that was seen very, very infrequently in warfare. Had the ancient tubes been more maneuverable and faster to clean and recharge, they might have been some bare protection against a river packed with ships as thickly as a barrel with Lenten herrings.
But such was not the case. There was no slightest degree of uniformity to these guns—each of them took a different size of stone ball, a different charge of powdery serpentine mixed especially for it, on the spot, by a gunmaster who knew no other gun but the one and was responsible for no other, and each had its own particular and often peculiar quirks with regard to cleaning or charging, recharging or laying. Moreover, the old bombards could be more dangerous to their crews and to those round about than they were to those at whom they chanced to be aimed. Twice, now, since the siege had commenced, bombards still mounted on landward walls had burst, killing their entire crews, setting off mixed powder and maiming men standing far down the stretches of walls with shards or chunks of bronze or iron. Timoteo was of the firm opinion that all of the bombards should long since have been rendered into something useful, such as bells, plowshares, or brass pisspots.
But Righ T&mhas would not hear of gracefully retiring even a single bombard for stupidly emotional reasons. He frequently pointed out that such and such a gun—he had pet names for each of more than twoscore of the things— had had a part in such and such a “great triumph” over such and such foes during the “illustrious reign” of his great-great-grandfather and gave such inanities as the firm reasons why the venerable piece could not be replaced with a new tube that would throw iron safely for a much greater distance, use less powder, foul less thickly and frequently, be traversed when need be, fire faster than a couple of shots per hour, and imperil less the lives and well-being of those who served it and served around it.
Pragmatic and more than a little cynical, il Duce di Bolgia had never been able to fathom or relate to the thinking processes of those who allowed their emotions to make their decisions for them. His brother, Robert, was and had always been far the better at doing any necc handling of such types; moreover, the Righ had taken a liking to the younger of the brothers, and so Timoteo had left the management of the none-too-bright, self-deluded kinglet to Roberto and to Sir Ugo D’Orsini, who had traveled with the di Bolgia condotta from Palermo.
Aside from his ongoing difficulties with the temperamental, often childish, but powerful and unbelievably arrogant pocket king, Righ Tamhas de FitzGerald—whose “kingdom,” even at the most far-flung boundaries claimed by him and his cousin-advisers, was not quite so large as the Duchy of Bolgia, and less than half the size of the Duchy of D’Este—Timoteo thought that he could almost come to like this kind of warfare, this variety of investment and siege.
He had lost a bare handful of men from his own condotta, and there had been perhaps that many more lost from the Ifriqan condotta of Sir Alariq al-lswid, and almost all of them had fallen in the sally that had convinced the Ard-righ. Brian VIII, that another frontal assault against Tamhas’burh would cost more than he cared to pay. After that, with other fish to fry, the Ard-Righ had wisely marched his army off, leaving his trains to continue a passive investment of Tamhas’burh.
Upon the withdrawal of the Ard-Righ’s main force, Righ Tamhas had been hot to lead a sally-forth against the siege lines to capture all the guns and engines, butcher the gunners and engineers, and sack the camps, but after a few nights of quiet, professional reconnaissances led by Timoteo and Sir Alariq, Sir Roberto and Sir Ugo had had to convince the hot-blooded, thick-headed monarch that Brian the Burly had left behind more than enough quality soldiers to make any sally a risky to bloody business, beyond any safe capability of the much-shrunken Royal Army of Munster.
Tamhas had railed and shouted and stomped up and down the length of the audience chamber, thrown a cathedra chair through a window, snapped the etched and inletted blade of a gold-hilted dress dagger by trying to drive it into the top of a polished oaken table. As he stared at the broken bauble, the big, muscular man began to cry and moan of how the Holy See and its chosen captain, di Bolgia, had ruined him and Munster, driving loyal bonaghts and galloglaiches and even noble FitzGerald kinsmen away from their loving sovran, leaving him and Munster now defenseless except for craven, money-grubbing oversea mercenaries, with no true loyalty of bravery in them not reckoned in grams of gold and ounces of silver. On hearing this last, it was only Sir Ugo’s firm grip on his thick, solid upper arm that kept Sir Roberto from stalking out unbidden.
But at length, while the Righ moaned and sobbed on with his litany of his totally undeserved abuses at the hands of those he had trusted and those who had been sent to aid him. Sir Roberto regained enough self-control to step forward and say, “Your majesty, the di Bolgia condotta and that of Sir Alariq al-lswid were sent here to hold this city, to try to make a modem army of the Munster forces, also, but first and foremost to keep open this port. My illustrious brother. Sir Alariq, and Le Chevalier Marc have unanimously agreed that the city cannot be held, the port cannot be kept open, if the best of the now available forces are frittered away in open assault on entrenched foemen for the possible capture of a few guns, trebuchets, and catapults and a bit of common camp loot.
“However, these strictures apply only to the companies not to noble-born individuals. If your majesty and his councillors and his gentlemen-at-arms wish to ride out against the siege lines, both Sir Ugo and I will ride behind your banner.”
Righ Tamhas, after using his long fingers to blow mucus from his nostrils onto the Persian carpet, snuffled and looked up. “And your brother and that blackamoor, what will they do. Sir Roberto?”
The younger di Bolgia shrugged. “Most likely they will bar the city gates behind us, observe the combat from the walls, let any survivors back in and haggle with the victors for the return of any wounded, work out ransoms, and buy noble bodies back for honorable, Christian interments.”
The Righ snuffled once again, used a silken sleeve to wipe his nose, and nodded profoundly. “I knew that I had chosen aright. Sir Robert, Sir Ugo, I knew from first meeting that you two, alone of all the pack of new-model cravens who fight what little they do only for specie, were both good old-fashioned knights who valued your honor above all else in this world. I will be most happy to have you both ride out in my warband, but first I must meet with my full council. You will be summoned. You have my leave to now depart. May our Savior bless and keep