Vox Populi Forum
His Eminence, Wischard Percy, Archbishop of Marseilles,
We continue along the coast for Paris, but progress remains frustratingly slow. By the time we had reached Seville, tempers were short, bellies were rumbling, and we set to shore to raid a Spanish fortress to obtain, as Hector Szelbano put it, “proper provisions, over this Infidel swill!”
I functioned as “Colonel” for out ad-hoc “regiment.” Enough English and Moorish soldiers were to be found to form three “companies” of Musketeers, whilst enough common sailors, oarsmen and hands remained to form three “companies” or what can be charitably described as “Rabble.”
The fortress fielded eight companies of Pikemen, and possessed two batteries of Artillery. Yet the fortress was set atop a steep, craggy rise, littered with boulders and scrub brush. The fortress cannon were placed to shell ships at sea, and not angled so well to bombard their own backyard. The rocky terrain impaired the ability of the Spanish Pike to close ranks while providing our Musketeers and Rabble cover. The late afternoon sun at our backs offered concealment.
Szelbano and McMoridin became “Majors” of Musketeers, Brighteyes and Guy “Majors” of Rabble, while I kept back one company of each - for I determined to fight this battle along the lines of a “General,” leading from the rear to keep watch over the chaotic terrain, and holding a force back in reserve to assist or reinforce when needed.
Brighteyes’ men were nervous, out of position and slow to Rally. Brighteyes eventually restored order and brought them into the fight. His men came as a surprise to the, by then, beleaguered Spanish.
McMoridin English Musketeers were tasked with destroying the westernmost of the Spanish Artillery, Szelbano’s soldier’s, the Pikemen arrayed before the eastern Artillery. McMoridin’s men had steadfast aim, but their hearts were less so. Initially a disciplined line, when they came under return fire, they faltered. McMoridin managed to inspire his troops, and their firepower eventually prevailed, but before then Szelbano’s Moorish fighters had shot down one company of Spanish Pike and gutted a second at bayonet range!
Thomas Guy’s horde, by his own request, contained the very crewmen who had taken him at knifepoint during the first of the two earlier attacks by the Galleon Skullagjari. I know not how Guy gave his orders, but after some quick and spirited argument, and a few blows from Guy, his men split into two smaller forces, and moved rapidly up the slope, staying low to the ground and darting across the space between boulders more like criminals seeking to escape justice than soldiers on a battlefield - as, indeed, they were, in a way! The tactic was successful, and Guy’s men accomplished their task twice over. The Spanish Pike were being trimmed away.
With the poor visibility of terrain and with the setting sun mostly in their faces, two units of Spanish Pike stormed the beach. Either our men and the Spanish had completely missed each other in passing or the Spanish Commandant was more Cunning than realized and had sent these troops in concealment to try to surprise ours from behind. No matter, for my Rabble took prisoner a unit of Spanish Pike (and their weapons) while my Musketeers took down a second.
Szelbano’s Musketeers had, by then, reloaded, finished off a third unit of Spanish Pike and were turning to the eastern artillery when Brighteyes' men launched, screaming from the scrub. The surprised Fusiliers bolted. Brighteyes turn the cannon on the fortress wall and fired. The flash lit the dusk. Within minutes a white flag flew. The Spanish had been cowed by our attack and felt our numbers greater than they were, and did not wish to enter into siege. I took the Spanish Colonel’s surrender, and I and my “Majors” shared a hearty laugh when, following his Oath as a Gentleman to surrender such supplies as we were to demand, the Colonel realized his fortress had been captured by such a small and rag-tag bunch. Only Szelbano’s Musketeers carried themselves like trained soldiers. The Moors seemed inspired by their leader in arms, for they surrounded the man, cheering and delivering slaps to his back that made Szelbano stagger.
While Thomas Guy supervised taking inventory of the fortress’s larder a rider approached and hailed. We were uncertain what to do, when the rider let out a cry of “Je sers le roi absent
!” Birmingham Brown had arrived with your dispatch dated __ of ___.
Your Eminence, I note your latest news left me most pleasantly surprised. I am pleased to have been wrong, and look forward to the next opportunity I might have to speak with your guest.
Brown looked hard-ridden, and he quietly confirmed that he had been followed by Spanish spies. Guy and Szelbano continued to transfer foodstuffs to our galley, while Brown, McMoridin, Brighteyes and I rode forth to find and silence the Spanish informants. Also a-horse was Tonio le Frere, cabin boy to McMoridin. The boy had taken it into his head that his duties required him to stay at McMoridin’s beck and call, even whilst ashore. None felt the need to dissuade him.
We located the four spies by the light of their fire. We identified them by the badges on their saddlebags. Brighteyes was the first to attack. He was almost slashed for his impatience, but recognized the blades the spies used - Kris knives envenomed.
Brown attempted to parley with the Spaniards, “Battle, costs money, my friends, and my message stands delivered. Let us talk like reasonable men!” For his effort, he was rewarded with a knife flung towards his face. Brown was force to throw himself from his horse.
McMoridin rode forth, followed by loyal Tonio. Alas, McMoridin had failed to notice the trailing manservant who, obviously unfamiliar with matters of arms served merely to inhibit McMoridin from subduing his man. A second of the Spanish darted in and slashed the lad. At the blow Tonio jerked in his saddle, twisting the reins. His horse reared, pitched over and crushed the very Spaniard who had delivered a fatal blow. Tonio died, whimpering in McMoridin’s arms while the normally taciturn soldier assured the brave boy that he had done well, and had killed his man.
Meanwhile, I had charged in, long-sword drawn and had hacked the remaining three Spanish down like so many weeds.
We returned the the fortress, had it’s Colonel bury young Tonio, and returned to our galley. As we set to sea we conferred. It was probable the Spanish spies were in league with the English. If so, how long had we been watched, and was that why Admiral Humphries of England seemed so intent of harassing us? If so, no doubt it wouldn’t be long before the Colonel of the ransacked fortress sent word of our last known whereabouts.
Surely enough, a couple of days out from Seville Brown was in the crow’s nest with one of the Moorish soldiers, attempting to learn their language (one I had recently mastered myself), when the familiar form of Skullagjari appeared over the horizon.
At his time of year the prevailing winds are east-to-west on the south end of the continent, and we knew we couldn’t hop to outrun Skullagjari. We were aware her guns had longer reach than ours. We turned and rowed for the English galleon, determined to bring the fight to close quarters, lest Skullagjari merely blast us from the ocean. Humphries was willing to meet the challenge. After being driven back twice, the Admiral must have been craving a decisive victory, for the ships drew alongside each other without a single volley.
We were the first to cast lines. Szelbano and his Moors were the first to try traversing decks. The English on the rail had a surprise. Damaged sail was thrown over the front line of our Musketeers. Entangled and encumbered the Moors were pushed back to the galley - expect those unfortunates who fell between ships.
The English boiled across to our vessel, and it was all we could do keep from being overwhelmed. Ultimately, it seemed our party had held our men firm. It seemed, even, that Szelbano was able to organize his Musketeers and force the English back to Skullagjari. There was a cheer as the galleon tacked away and sped off over the west horizon, where, soon, we would surely encounter her again. Our satisfaction at another victory was short lived, for Louis Brighteyes, and Thomas Guy had both taken severe sword slashes, and lay unmoving in their own blood, while Nemo McMoridin and Birmingham Brown were nowhere to be found. No one remembered seeing if they were captured. No one knew if they had fallen overboard. With our true Captain injured, our ersatz “Captain” missing, and three of the officers wounded or missing it seemed Humphries’ third assault had finally inflicted lasting damage. With no recourse we rowed for Cartegena.
Humphries’ victory proved to be short lived. While badly injured, both Brighteyes and Guy were to live. Brown himself was picked up a mere two days later!. Like his cousin, Lord Bonadventure, Brown swims more like a fish than a man. Brown had been knocked overboard, struck out for shore, Stolen a series of horses, and and ridden most to death in a headlong rush along the coast to catch up. More incredibly, when we made port in Cartegena, Nemo McMoridin awaited us. He, too, had been knocked overboard, but had washed up on an uncharted islet, then, incredibly, found by a courier sloop out of the Netherlands! The sailors from Kleef had shared with McMoridin upsetting news. New Vert, that fine French colony you, yourself, Your Eminence had a hand in founding had been taken, by force, by the perfidious English.
The reach of France shrivels and her light dims the longer the Realm is without a King. It was clear to all of us that our mission to ascertain the fitness of Prince Henri and determine if he and his pose a threat to the rise of the Absent King.
In Cartegena we encountered Gerbrand Bredero, renowned as the World’s Best Navigator. Bredero knew the deeds of the Valliant, and had formed a desire to hear, firsthand, tales of our circumnavigation of the globe. He invited those of the Vert Valliant aboard to dine with him at his hotel. The wounded Brighteyes and I were more than willing, and brought along our accomplices as well. The evening was a pleasant diversion from so much recent fighting and ill news. Cultured conversation left one and all feeling renewed, and Bredero lived up to his reputation. For, after hearing the tales of our voyage, he chuckled, informed us of where we had made errors, pointed out our luck in our successes, and invited us back the next day for instruction in the arts of navigation. As we parted for the evening, he passed over a thick tome. The volume proved to be Bredero’s own tales of exploration - for Bredero had visited Japan, Burma, and even the Pepper People!
Education is good for the mind, and the soul, for the learned can resist the dark siren song of superstition. Seafaring skills are vital for those who live out on the waves. I had learned the sailor’s skills, but not the arcane arts of the navigator. The following day became several, for Bredero taught all and sundry the secrets of reading the clouds and charting by the stars. His skills at instruction proved the equal of his navigation. The entire party benefited from the secrets spilled by this master of his craft.
Still, time passes inexorably, and the longer we took to accomplish our chosen mission, the more France would suffer. We took our leave of Bredero, thanked him for his kindness and set to sea. Several hours from shore we realized no one had seen Louis Brighteyes. A search revealed he was not aboard. The debate had just started on whether to turn back when the lookout spotted a second galley, rowing hard, approaching from behind. We decided to meet the oncoming vessel which proved to be commanded by the missing Brighteyes!
The soldier was welcomed warmly, and he told the tale of how he decided a second vessel would leave us less vulnerable to assault, and how he snuck aboard the second galley, surprised her commander and used the unfortunate as a human shield while he parleyed with the crew. The audacious plan shouldn’t have worked, but Brighteyes’ “Gentleman’s Luck” had held true.
Brighteyes’ caution proved founded, for, as we emerged from the Strait of Lisbon, once more we were faced with Skullagjari. Humphries closed to attack. The English Admiral was overconfident, for he still wrongly believed his prior assault had slain out Captain and other officers. Additionally, Humphries couldn’t account for our second vessel, or know of our newly won skills in the navigator’s art. The battle was quickly won, and Brighteyes was hailed by the crews of both ships for his brilliant tactics.
It is but to be hoped that once we pass Madrid - once we cross from English or Spanish waters into those of Genoa - Humphries will abandon his harassment, yet we remain vigilant. One attack is privateer action, two attacks coincidence. Three proves a purpose, and the fourth a vendetta. It is clear now we have been singled out by the English for destruction. Whether Humphries has, somehow, learned of our mission, if the attacks are part of the persecution of the Vert Valliant, or if Humphries is personally motivated, but it seems certain we shall encounter Humphries again. Perhaps we press our next battle and attempt to permanently remove the Admiral as obstacle?
One final note. The crew, and even some among our old party, held much discussion of the news of the fall of New Valliant to the English. The Moors held the view that one European governor was much like any other. The British aboard felt this would lower the cost of rum after years of “French inflation,” while the French grimaced and bit their tongues. Yet all seemed to agree that Viceroy Moridin had been derelict in his duty to protect French waters.
My resolve to resolve our current mission is thus redoubled. The homeland must be secured and restored to order under a Godly King that France might turn her gaze, once more, to the safety and security of her children. The Viceroy is an honorable man, loyal to the land, and, if he has “neglected” his duties to the west of Japan, it is because his concern is for the stability of Europe. Once the Absent King is enthroned, we can restore order to the French colonies.
Your humble servant,
Lord Bailey Bayley Baileigh