March 9th - Westmoor
Moira carefully disentangled herself from the handsome youth slumbering next to her, his fair locks plastered to his forehead with sweat. It was months since she'd last allowed herself a lover but the fleshpots of Westmoor were well known in the north, and he was such a beautiful boy. She sighed at the memory and shook her head to clear it as she stood naked in the early morning light filtering through the heavy drapes. The temptation to crawl back beneath the blankets and have him whisper her name again was so strong but there was no time now for that now, she had to round up her lads and get them back to duty.
They'd arrived in Westmoor early in the morning having marched most of the night from Poitiers. Normally she wouldn't have thought much of a night on the roads, and back when her company had comprised a dozen men they'd kept irregular hours - as long as they were in the field in time for battle little else mattered. But now they marched with the Lions it seemed a lot more emphasis was placed on timekeeping and regular soldiering. So when they'd rolled into town after several days of hard labouring Moira had decided to let the lads loose.
Of course Yfain had known a few choice dives to spend their coin in, and the men were soon three sheets to the wind and feasting like their lives depended on it. Hours passed and the ale flowed as they staggered from one tavern to another, her old Cagilan hands drinking the younger lads towards stupor. Cards were played and plates of meat consumed, rounds of beer quaffed and serving wenches groped as the troopers gave vent to their pent-up frustrations.
By the time they arrived at The Silken Purse, one of the city's more generously-appointed sporting houses, they were down to a hard-core of maybe fifteen and Moira was wondering what the hell she was doing tagging along. But she was already gripped by that delicious feeling she used to get when she and her sister Aoifa had snuck away from their tutors, leaving poor Brigdha to explain their absence, and the thought of another night spent poring over despatches left her cold inside.
The sound of the anonymous youth stirring in his sleep brought Moira back to the present and she hurriedly pulled her britches up, tucking her shift into the waistband and then tying her hair back. By the time her tunic was fastened and her boots pulled on all trace of tenderness was groomed away, and with stealthy bravura she slipped out into the hallway...
March 17th - Gadlock
"Considering they're not an army, they seem mighty well organised," Yfain studied the sketches and troop estimates Rollo had prepared.
"I agree," Carl had already read the report and his usually calm demeanour was black and seething, "this is everything that Duke Gregor was so unjustly accused of. These knights are nothing more than freebooters!"
"Freebooters? Hardly. These adventurers are more concerned about lands and titles than they are rapine and plunder," Moira paced fitfully as she spoke, "and they have their hearts set on founding a kingdom here in the peninsula."
"Founding a kingdom? But they're Fontanese nobility! Surely none of them could bear to bend a knee and kiss a ring!" Yfain grinned at the thought of the haughty Aeneas down on his knees like a servant.
"Well it's damn close to treason - maybe more than just close," Moira collapsed heavily on her stool with an audible sigh of frustration. "When our Duke tried to raise an army to protect the eastern seaboard he was accused of treason and all the knights of the Duchy were placed in a most uncomfortable position. My duty is to my Liege, Marchioness Abigail, and hers is to Duke Gregor: aye and in that one respect Fontan is like a kingdom. The Marchioness has never asked me to bend my knee to her, nor would I, but when battle is given I would gladly lay down my life to save hers and having seen her in battle I know that she would do likewise for her knights."
"But never has she asked me to curb my tongue in the Assembly or to hold an opinion against my conscience, and that is the core of this strange form of government we call Democracy. For whilst Dukes and Counts and the elected Government stand higher in degree than the rest of the nobility, they are still alike in kind. A Duke does not command the obedience of a Count because of the service he does for that Count, and likewise with the relationship between Count and Knight."
"In a Kingdom a Duke must serve the King for he is of lesser kind, and so forth down the hierarchy of the realm. Where the Knight of a Democracy may generally show politeness out of regard for the office another noble holds or out of personal respect, the same Knight living in a Kingdom would have no choice in the matter as lack of respect in and of itself would equate to treason."
"Well it makes little odds to the average peasant," Yfain discarded the sheaf of vellum leaves on the campaign table, "Whoever rules the land, they get little say in their own future."
"Really?" Moira eyed the hulking brute, "and were not your parents peasants Yfain?"
The warrior looked sheepish for a moment, "You know they were Moira. A good man my dad was, although I never told him that whilst he was alive."
"In some realms peasants are ground under foot and their land raped for all it's worth. Do you see that happening here in Fontan? The reports come in every day and I see the occasional grumble about taxes, but mostly the peasants are left to their own devices and the wealth that's taken from them is used to keep our borders strong. But if you cast your eye northward you'll see famine and seething unrest. Why? Because a King decided to make war and the last thing on his mind was the impact on his people whether noble or commoner."
"There are good Kings, but why take the risk when so many turn out greedy and vain? Better that we can dispose of our would be tyrants through the will of the nobility, as that way all are more likely to enjoy peace and prosperity."
"That's a fine ideal Ma'am, but it doesn't address the immediate concern," Carl was again poring over the disposition of troops. At length he looked up from the table, "this seems to be a full mustering of the Wolves - shy of a tenth of the realm's total might but still some prominent names amongst their captains. Still, on the practical matter of whether the realm can afford to lose them, I think we could manage."
"Then the real question is whether to nurse the Monarchist viper in our bosom, or let them go their separate way..."