Private Tales the Sum Total

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer
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There was not a sliver of sky to be seen, the high afternoon sun a dull, barely visible blot of light amidst a blanket of grey hanging above. For it, the air was cooler than it had been for days — a godsend. Amidst the fields the wind had grown stronger from a previously pleasant breeze, in it the sound of shifting hay and a scent that threatened rain. Or was the latter just hopeful thinking, in behalf of the dirt made dry by past weeks’ heatwave?

Oliver peered up past the upturned visor of his sallet, lips twisted with contemplation. He was settled against a freshly built fence, leaning against it, whilst his company had remained positively steadfast on the wayside to watch the distance. They’d come mounted, but had left their horses with one the peasants in the village. The one at the end of this particular road not fifty paces away, the shapes of little houses hiding within the abrupt copse like rabbits in tall grass.

In a scrape of dry earth, Syr Leinas adjusted on his spot in an agitated rotation, shoe soles raising dust. It eased none of the pressure hanging in the atmosphere, nor the wait itself.

“ What idiots will we appear, should they not come. “ The man said suddenly, horned head keeling as a fiery amber look escaped to the fields, like seeking refuge. He wasn’t expecting an answer, but Oliver responded regardless, voice echoing from within the bevor.

“ You concern yourself with all the wrong things, Kaarle " He started, watching the one addressed make a sharp turn that suggested barely contained dismay. " They will turn up — the professionals they are. Which to me is of more substance than the minutia of their schedule. “ He shrugged one shoulder rather dismissively, prying a weary sigh from Syr Leinas’ respective direction.

“ So the old devil had gone hiring — And you had such a fact in confidence from whom, again? “ There was disbelief in it, which went unappreciated. They met eyes, equally discontented, Oliver's tone diving with purpose as he answered.

“ Everyone. “
 
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The wheels of the wagon creaked. It began as a dull whine, slowly building in pitch and intensity until it peaked just before the point of piercing, before falling quiet. A lazy cartwright’s apprentice, or perhaps the cartwright themself, had not squared an axle bracket on with the chassis, and so with each turn of the wheel it squealed thus. The grind of metal on metal. It took three beats of Gaston’s heart to squeal thus. For the past three days it had squealed thus. Gaston knew precisely which wheel it was, and what caused it, but he lacked the will to fix it. The driver, a spindly old man named Cipolla, lacked the strength. The noise continued.

Gaston’s eyes gazed about, for what seemed to be the thousandth time that day. They lazed over the fields either side, over the dirt road, and onto the two mounted figures before him – Reynald on his left and Francisco on the right. Reynald, the hearth-knight, by far the best clothed and armoured of the party though he rode a swaybacked mare, spoke loudly and frequently. Francisco, a squire, gave bashful smiles from beneath his sallet to Reynald’s constant condescension. Behind the wagon, out of sight, rode the two sellswords Marcellus and Bernardo. Sun-weathered and leather clad, they seemed as much bandits as mercenaries.

A chattering and a sudden flutter of wings interrupted the familiar noise of the procession. A black-and-white shape appeared on a rustic fencepost and gave a merry caw. A soft curse hissed from between Gaston’s lips at the sight of the magpie.

“Eh? Why’re you swearin’?” the old man chirped.
“That’s the third one.” The mercenary replied, after a pause.
“Ah, so we are rich now, yeah? One sorrow, two joy? Three gold?”

Gaston set his jaw and didn’t reply. Three single magpies over the course of the morning gave this journey a terrible aspect. Three magpies, three sorrows. The mercenary’s broad digits moved to the haft of his billhook as if for comfort. In the distance, the village came into view.
 
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A new silence had fallen betwixt them several minutes since. Unlike most other times, this wasn’t a particularly pleasant one, but rather the kind that kept something hidden. A cacophony of unsaid things, which he couldn’t wait to be rid of.

Let this all have been a—

“ Oliver — There’s a wagon. “

He was roused from inspecting his notes, the small stack of loose paper held in one gauntlet rustling against the wind as he straightened. They were folded in half thrice as he approached his company, settling to the man’s side.

“ That’s them? “
“ Yeah — “ Oliver responded quickly, almost interrupting, glancing down to tuck the tiny rectangle of paper into one of the pockets on his belt. “ That’s them. “

The chilling air moved past them in a gust, humming within his helm and betwixt the metal plates. Syr Leinas’ garments flapped wildly for a spell, his curls alive like fire. At this range, shoulder to shoulder, Oliver could hear the man grind his jaw.

“ A band of six. “ Spoken like an accusation. He wouldn’t fight.
“ It would appear so. I wasn’t expecting this many — seems a little excessive, don’t you think. “
“ I think nothing of how it seems. “ Visibly irritated by his casual tone, Syr Leinas whipped his glare at him. ” It remains a fact, which I’d suggest you take seriously. “

“ You’re expecting a fight. “ He responded, some feigned surprise in his voice. It did nothing to his companion’s flaring anger.
“ If you weren’t, whyever did you don your plate? “
“ For fun. The weather was cool enough for once. “ He lied in a shrug, getting a sturdy groan from Syr Leinas for it. To spite him, the man spoke no more.

The wagon was drawing closer. And with it, came the noise, a pitiful moan accompanying the agonizingly slow approach of their quarry. There was a comedy to it, Oliver found, specifically in the way it filled the pressuring silence.

“ I’ll speak. “ He stated of a sudden. There was no protest from his side, which he took as mere lack of preference, rather than actual admittance. Their number concerned him too, but he wouldn’t let himself be discouraged by it. If anything, he’d observe it all a trial of tempers and whether Syr Leinas could, for once in his life, keep his respective one subdued.

A whisper was muttered as Syr Leinas adjusted, one hand on the hilt of a sword — an incantation. Oliver took a step forward, inclining his head to watch the two leading men and their horses.

“ Good day, gentlemen. “ He greeted in a smile, voice elevated. “ You’re arriving to the village of Kaukaho, presently, to whom we are an appointed guard. “

A half a lie. He was rather — self-appointed.

“ As such, it behooves me to inquire— what business brings a party as yours to our little settlement? “
 
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The party continued on, the village growing in view – the wattle huts becoming more distinct, along with two figures on the road. The sounds of chopping hooves, creaking armour and the incessant whinge of the wagon accompanied them. Reynald, the leader of the expedition, opened his armet with a rough clank, his pale eyes narrowing as he studied the road ahead. The hearth-knight spat, before his nasal voice burst forth.

“Ah, Francisco, it appears they are waiting for us. Who is that, do we think? The elder?”

“They are standing straight – maybe a pair of shepherd boys,” The younger man ventured in response.

“I’d rather a pair of shepherd lasses, that would make this waste of three days almost worth it!”

Gaston grimaced. The swaggering braggart of the leader had rubbed him the wrong way ever since he had met him, but he tugged the forelock out of necessity. Bernardo and Marcellus were scum, but at least they didn’t have half a connection to nobility giving them delusions of grandeur. Reynald’s egoistic pride, along with the prophesied three sorrows, made the big man uneasy.

As they drew nearer, the nature of the two figures became apparent. Even in the dull overcast sun, their armour gleamed.

“Eh, guards you think? They have trouble with bandits?” the old man Cipolla chirped.

Gaston said nothing, but kept his eyes on the figures and his billhook close. Modest villages like this didn’t usually have guards, and if they did they would be poorly armed with spears and leather. These two wore plate and looked professional. The unease twisted in his belly. Three sorrows.

Reynald called a halt to the proceedings with a raised hand about twenty paces from the figures, and he and Francisco continued at a short trot. They stopped as soon as the figure on foot approached and announced himself, provoking a derisive laugh from the hearth-knight.

“You have been appointed have you? On whose authority? The village of Kaukaho owes fealty to Syr Ortinn, and so men of his service are the only ones appointed guard. You are clearly not in that service, or I would know you, orc.”

Franciso had stopped his mount now, fright draining his face of colour. In contrast, Reynald trotted haughtily to and fro, in front of the figures. His nasal tone rang out, an edge of hostility in its timbre.

“I am Reynald Chambron, hearth knight to Syr Ortinn. I am here to collect the tithe owed to the knight and master of this place – ten bushels of wheat and three sheep. Do be good servants and fetch it for us and I can forget about lowborn sellswords impeaching on the rights of a knight.”
 
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A laugh. Under any other circumstance, he would’ve thought that a great start. Today, it was not so.

He mirrored the amusement some, baring teeth in a smile that despite being wide, remained vacant. While the frontman took to posturing, with so many words, he kept his unbothered stance with some satisfaction. The man was announcing exactly who he was, in disposition and conduct both, which about fell in line with what had been expected.

Gazing past Chambron’s pacing horse, he took in the rest of the procession. From this range, it was what he could only describe as a largely hacked-together group of people prepared for violence.

Save for the driver, maybe. But that still tallied up to five, of which at least one he deemed likely to employ force. He didn’t much like that, but made a point to keep his pleasant expression as his lazy attention landed back on the hearth knight. The man had taken to ordering him around at haste, to which he gave but a hum and a slow nod.

In direct contradiction, the rest of him remained firmly planted in place. Behind him, Syr Leinas was equally statuesque, if significantly more grim.

“ I am afraid I cannot execute upon your order, my good Reynald Chambron, hearth knight to Syr Ortinn. “ Oliver started, chin lifting a little. “ For not only am I no servant, but more importantly, what you seek to collect cannot be spared. “

To emphasize, he gave a spread of the arms, palms empty.

“ Not presently, anyway. So why waste your time going further? “ His head tilted, one hand rising in a toss as the other settled back on his hammer.

“ Surely, if your Lord be of any reason, he’ll accommodate his subordinates. Or is he of the ilk that’d rather they starve? “
 
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The exchange unfolded, and the whole party descended into a quiet. Even Reynald was at a loss for words, although a cloud of malice emanated from him like flies around a cowpat. Francisco glanced between Reynald and the knights skittishly, his untried hand reaching for his scabbarded sword, then retreating. Cipolla had let the reins slacken, giving his horses a rest. The silence was broken by the sharp hollow sounds of hooves, as Bernardo and Marcellus rode abreast of the wagon, craning their filthy necks to see what had caused the delay.

“They don’t have it, eh? Or they don’t want to give it? What do you think, big man?” the old man turned to his companion, his milky eyes gleaming. Perhaps it was fear, perhaps excitement.

Gaston held his gaze for a pair of heartbeats before turning away to take in the tableau of the preening Reynald and the two knights. His jaw tightened, then relaxed again. Three sorrows? The big man hefted the billhook, then sprang from the hard wooden seat of the wagon to the ground below. Using the polearm as a walking staff, he advanced two paces.

The hearth knight paced another two lengths, a sneer painted on his pallid features. Twice he opened his mouth to speak, but instead uttered a tut or a scoff at the pair before him. Finally, as if he had drawn his thoughts together, he spoke.

“Reason, you say? Reason? I ask then that you put your reason, keen and sharp as it is, to this situation. These goods are owed to Syr Ortinn. Why have they not been saved? How then is Syr Ortinn supposed to feed his household and the men like me who protect these lands?” the hearth-knight began, his nasal tone edging into shrill “And what if I do as you say? Do I offer up my own empty hands to Syr Ortinn? What shall happen to me then? What then does Syr Ortinn do about his tithe to the baron? Does the baron dine on apologies?”

Gaston stopped a number of paces behind Francisco, who was still shifting nervously in his saddle. The mercenary didn’t like where this was going. Reynald had a temper and the advantage in numbers, though Francisco was an untried squire and the sellsword brothers looked equally likely to run than join in a fracas. The mercenary was unsure if his nine silvers was worth his own hide. Reynald’s short tirade came to stop.

“Well? What say you?”
 
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The silence was rather— unexpected. He’d fully been preparing for the swaggering bastard of a hearth knight to seize opportunity and ride his mount at him, to taunt and intimidate at the very least. As if to compensate for such a failure, another stepped in.

The large man’s landing and approach drew Oliver’s attention, one brow raising as curiousity and wariness dueled for purchase on his face. While Reynald wasn’t terribly pleasant, all textbook highborn twat in his pompous manner, the look of this other man he liked even less.

Mainly, for he’d come bearing a blade rather openly. Was this a predetermined tactic?

Another assault on his composure was the surprising course Reynald pivoted to, once he spoke again. It was at length, riddled with what one was fast to assume were a bunch of rhetoricals building unto some ultimatum, only for it to not be so. He blinked at the conclusion, genuinely taken aback by the inquiry.

Those sounded like a lot of problems that didn’t concern him, belongst to men that he’d sworn to not give a rat’s arse about. And yet, some empathy within him yet stirred, no matter the effort he put upon banishing it.

What say I —

“ If you care to hear — The wheat has not been saved, for last year’s harvest was left lacking. Similar was the case a year prior, deficiency compounding as tithes were indeed collected successfully then. “ He explained, staring at Reynald with some judgement.

“ As for the sheep — a number of them were lost. The spring flood broke some of these fences, which you must have noticed are new. “ His head jerked sideways to indicate, helm and mail clicking. Whether they were to believe him was out of his hands — for that he should’ve pulled only half of it out of his arse left his conscience clean as ever.

“ I do not know Syr Ortinn personally, so I cannot say how your relationship with him be affected. Let alone how the Baron will dine, having never set foot into halls of such men. “ And never will, if I can help it. “ But I doubt any of this be the death of him. Thus, we differ. “

Smile gone, he shrugged and let his hand fall off the hammer. He approached in one step, tone taking on a serious quality that sought to implore.

“ What I do know, is that you’ll be admitted to whatever hospitality we’ve to offer in this village yet, for we all know you’ve from afar. That is, if our request be met and no tithe be collected. “ In addition to no trouble made. Marking, he glanced at each assembled in turn.

“ As for what will become of you, should you go against our wishes — “ He glanced at Syr Leinas over his shoulder, who met eyes with him. There was naught, but the man’s signature expression of firm unenthusiasm.

“ I’ve a meager amount of ideas. “
 
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“I’ve a meager amount of ideas.”

The words of the knight drifted over the proceedings. Though spoken evenly, with a clear logic, behind them was a core of iron. It was clear that they would not move. Reynald sensed this, his hand moving very deliberately to his scabbarded sword. The sneer painted across his pallid features twisted into a snarl as a vicious laugh ripped from his throat, disrupting the uneasy peace of the proceeding.

“Ah! How honest of you! How sincere!” the hearth knight spat the words glibly, his tone mocking and his pale eyes wild “This village lacks to the courtesy to offer even some of what they owe. Instead they give us platemailed popinjays and poor excuses. The baron nor the knight will not accept nothing. They cannot.”

Francisco’s horse gave a nervous nicker, feeling the vexation of its rider. The squire gripped his sword-hilt more tightly, fully expecting violence to break out at a moments notice. Gaston’s broad hand gently patted the mare as he continued his slow advance, trying to calm the beast. The last thing they needed was a bolting horse - that would surely mean blood. Reynald’s nasal tone continued to rule the air, twisting with cruelty the longer he spoke.

“It is the prerogative of Syr Ortinn, the master of this land, to claim what is due. We can do this peaceably or we can take what is owed by force. Are you willing to gamble your lives on such a throw of the dice? The lives of those piteous serfs?”

Gaston had overtaken the squire’s horse by that point, half stepping to the right with each stride, keeping the fence to his shoulder. He wanted no part of a fight, and planned to keep out of the way of charging horses should one erupt. The mercenary had agreed to accompany the wagon for a month as it went collecting dues, and he hadn’t reckoned on bloodshed. The men before them were armed and were clearly indomitable, and Reynald was now becoming enraged.

“Hack ‘em down and take what’s due! Then we move on!”

The voice, harsh and deeply rustic, cried from the back. It belonged to Marcellus, who was trotting his horse past the wagon. A rusty war pick was in his hand already, clutched tightly as he brandished it before him.
 
None of his words had mattered, the lot of them denied sway in short order. He could’ve waved it off, claimed he’d never had any hope for the contrary to begin with, but that would’ve been a filthy lie.

To have faith — a fool’s errand, yet again. As he stilled to attention, listening to the hearth knight toss it all back at his face, the remainder of his pleasant mien slowly faded away. His hand landed on his belt, by the hammer, in preparation as the rest of him shifted like a mechanism settling to place. Though his stare remained on Reynald, the expression regarding the man was vacant, a great smokescreen of indifference masking tension that coiled up.

The ways in which it was to release were narrowing in quantity. At his right shoulder, Syr Leinas soles huffed softly as the man adjusted, reminding of his presence. Somewhere beneath the shifting of garments was a click, like that of burned clay or rock colliding with its ilk. The self-aware silence and intentional stillness therein had an ominous quality, which preoccupied him.

While Oliver could’ve thought of multiple things to say when it came to throws of dice and pitiful serfs, some in feigned confidence as for the odds, he was beaten to disagreement with Reynald. A man suddenly sprung to movement from the tail end of the group, arresting the dreaded initiative.

Syr Leinas moved two sharp steps to his companion’s immediate vicinity, hand dropped in a readied gesture as his glare nailed upon the horseman. Something like sand gave a sound. Restraining his will to draw a weapon, Oliver shot a quick look at the hearth knight.

“ And here I was under the impression you were in charge, Reynald Chambron. “ Devoid of niceties, he spoke in grim mockery. “ My mistake. “

A snap of fingers lit a fuse. Syr Leinas’ arm was a blur, slinging something like a small piece of pottery betwixt the horses, square middle of the road. It exploded in a shattering of clay, more sound than actual danger, conjuring a great cloud of smoke and dust.
 
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“Hold your tongue, blackguard!”

Reynald wheeled in the saddle towards the impetuous Marcellus, his armour rattling with the speed of the effort. Meanwhile, Gaston had made his way to the fence on his right, equidistant of both Reynald and Francisco. The mercenary took his pawlike left and threw his ragged fur cloak over his right shoulder, leaving it unrestricted, and then became very still. The words came from the knight.

“And here I was under the impression you were in charge, Reynald Chambron.”

Then chaos erupted.

What began as a small ignition grew rapidly into whirling noise and motion. Francisco’s horse, just recently calmed, screamed and reared. Gaston could see the squire wrap an arm around the horses neck to calm it as it bucked, before he disappeared in a haze of smoke. Reynald’s voice cut through the haze, a litany of curses and insults, before being drowned out by the clatter of hooves. To Gaston’s ear, two horses were galloping at a pace away from him, back the way they had come.

The smoke stung Gaston’s eyes, and they misted with tears. Francisco’s horse continued to scream. The big man held his breath, grasping his billhook with both hands in a ready position though he could only see the vague outlines of shapes. If anything came to close he would strike, be it friend or foe. A sharp crack and panicked whinnies and the wagon rolled forward, the slow grind of metal on metal now comically fast – evidently Cipolla had decided discretion was the better part of valour and had charged his wagon towards and through the village.

Reynald continued to holler and hoot, screaming curses into the air between racking coughs. A savage rasp saw his sword brandished, waving impotently into the air. Francisco’s horse screamed again before leaping into a wild gallop after the wagon, the shape of the beast just now visible in the clearing smoke. In another four heartbeats, the haze had lifted.

Reynald steadied his horse expertly, having fully replaced his cursing with hacking wheezes. His eyes raked the scene – where there had been five and a wagon now stood only two. The hearth knight wheezed, spat, and wheeled his horse and kicked it savagely into a gallop. On the wind came his nasal tone.

“Enjoy your time, knaves! It shall not last!”

And so Gaston was alone, a breath slowly hissing from between his lips as he resisted the urge to suck air greedily. His eyes were wide, his hands steady on the billhook haft.
 
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Well, that’s not at all what—

Sharing a beat with the detonation, Syr Leinas’ hand caught his fellow knight by the shoulder to pull him into a retreat. A little disoriented, if fundamentally unsurprised by the newest twist, Oliver allowed it without protest. They took the shelter of the wayside just as a great clatter begun, besting the noise of the horses.

Oliver flattened himself against the fence instinctively, staring at the wagon as it shot out of the smoke and onwards on the road. In it’s wake went a rider, by which his face had fallen deadpan, a stunned silence upon him. A great contrast to this in his perpetual apathy, Syr Leinas’ kept his eye at where the rest of their adversaries yet remained.

With the smoke gone, came clarity over what it’d achieved. Oliver couldn’t but consider what he saw a roaring success — the field had become significantly more level, all with neither of them having to pull a weapon. He straightened, stilling to watch as the hearth knight appeared to assess the situation, only to find it lacking in favour. And so, they got to receive his parting words without delay.

The gale sought to steal the warning, but he heard it clear enough. Not terribly creative, but the truth hardly had to be. The man was of enough power and rank to grant such a promise, arrogant or not. Feeling strange for it, he left it unacknowledged and unanswered, no matter the insults he might’ve fancied yelling at the fleeing.

Sharing the road with him and Syr Leinas, was one. The quiet man with the billhook. Eyes narrowing, Oliver let his head keel inquisitively, animating into a stride that approached. He managed three steps, before wariness forced him to a halt.

“ A grand show of chivalry and comradeship — to have left you behind. “ He begun, slinging a look of visceral distaste at the fast distancing knight.

“ How does this— “ His gauntleted hand indicated the space betwixt them, tone and bearing nonchalant for effect. “ — Appear to you? Have you loyalty to a Lord and if so — in what capacity? “
 
The mist in the big man’s eyes welled, and then spilled forth from his eyes and down his cheeks, carving a channel through the film of dirt and grime that covered them. Blinking rapidly, the mercenary saw the knight in front of him turn and approach. Three strides. Three sorrows. Breath hissed out from behind his now bared teeth as he took two even steps to his left and stood side-on, bearing the bill before him.

“How does this appear to you? Have you loyalty to a Lord and if so — in what capacity?”

His weight shifted to his back leg, the point of the billhook poised to deadly intent. A sharp inhale – and then a cough rattled his substantial frame, upsetting his fighting form. He recovered, momentarily, with tears still streaming down his face. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse and harsh.

“One more step and I’ll pierce your gizzard. Then I’ll cleave your mate.”
 
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His eyes fell on the billhook pointedly, stare taking on a disbelieving severity as the man shifted with practiced movement. He didn’t like the look of it, the way a stance was assumed in a way that forced the blade to the fore. Was it for offense or defense? This opponent had left himself an enigma in his unspeaking and slow movements, at least when it came to temperament.

That is, until he finally did speak.

Oliver blinked, brows climbing with genuine surprise. Suppose it had been borderline idiotic to assume that his questions be answered of a sudden, after they’d just— after Kaarle had unceremoniously disappeared the rest of the party. Speaking of—

Behind him, was a sharp crackle of dirt as Syr Leinas turned to attention, bristling.

“ I’d like to see you try. “

“ Well, I don’t! “ Oliver interjected, voice elevated and shrill with his spontaneous sincerity, the lot of him shifting halfly to glare at his companion. The man had nailed his attention on the newly appointed enemy, not meeting his look. Damn it.

“ Have you need of assurance? Because I’ll give it. “ He continued in feeble attempt to herd unpredictable tempers, hands moving in an open palm gesture before his chest. Conflict and weariness made his inhale deep.

“ Elsewise — impasse. Walking away with my back turned is about the last thing I'll do. “