Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Vol. 2: Fields Running Red--Part 62

Sir Jerome Chashamallim regarded the letter before him with the sort of numbness that comes when disbelief and shock have failed to insulate the mind from what it is now dealing with, but acceptance has not yet found a place to nestle. He went over the letter again. He’d long given up any hopes that he could change what the message said, or even find another… less offensive meaning to what it said, buried in its words, and was now merely making stray observances upon it.

Whoever wrote it had exquisite handwriting. And had used high quality ink. Sir Jerome was wondering if they’d had a professional scribe write it down, when a loud throat-clearing intruded on his thoughts. He glanced up to see Squire Yacob Erelim looking at him nervously from among the small crowd of his subordinates that had gathered there. “Sir,” stated Yacob, “what are their terms?”

“Unconditional surrender,” said Sir Jerome. “We will turn over our arms, they will take us into custody, and then we will go in durance to the Palace of Repentance.”

The initial response to this was rather what Jerome had imagined it would be--a great deal of rather nervous chatter, horrified look and at least one man breaking into tears. “So… what… what will you do?” said Squire Yacob.

“What else can he do?” stated Sir Anton, stepping forward boldly. “He will lead us into battle against these impious wretches! They will see what happens, when the Poor Knights of the Faith are threatened by the apostate! We go forth into battle, clad in the armor of the Seven!”

Sir Jerome had a horrible feeling that Sir Anton was going to bust into a hymn, and so stood up. “Actually… I believe… we will have to accept these terms.” Anton turned, clearly furious, but also rather flabbergasted, and Jerome decided to press his advantage. “We are outnumbered to the point of being undermanned, and undersupplied. If we attempt to resist, we could, perhaps, hold this little citadel for a week, at the outside, at which point, we would all be slaughtered by them. This at least gives us a chance to escape with our lives.”

There was a surprisingly large amount of quiet nodding at this, which Jerome took as a rather hopeful sign. Sir Anton scowled and shook his fist at him. “Coward!” he shouted. “Traitor!” He looked at his fellow Eremites. “Will you let this man lead you into error?” Most of them flinched at that. Anton turned to Jerome. “When I inform the Prince of your treachery, it will not go well for you, wretch.”

Jerome nodded. “Well, if you feel you must. I can provide you with a fast horse, to take you out of the city. I think I can even ensure that you make it out unharmed.” He glanced at the others. “Do any of you wish to accompany Sir Anton?” Three other Eremites stepped forward, glancing at the rest with thinly-veiled contempt. Jerome waved at a squire. “I’ll have them get your horses and supplies ready.”

Sir Anton snorted. “When we return with troops, I will do everything I can to make sure your body hangs from the chapterhouse gates.”

Sir Jerome folded the letter before him, as he picked up a quill. “Well, I admit freely and without a hint of hesitation, Sir Anton, that you are the braver man.” Sir Anton strode out of the room, followed by his fellow volunteers. And also, the stupider, thought Jerome, as he tried to find the most dignified way to tell the Count and the other rebels that he accepted their terms, and indeed, threw himself and his men on their mercy.

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