Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Interesting times in Bohemia

It was midsummer in the year of our lord 1419 when all hell broke loose in Prag. While what took place had a number of causes, the cause that came to be the most important was the death of the old King and the the prospect of Sigismund, King of the Romans, taking over the throne. Sigismund had guaranteed Jan Hus, a Bohemian religious teacher much loved by his countrymen, safe conduct to Constanz in 1415. But while the Emperor elect was absent, the assembled Bishops tried and convicted Hus of heresy and (deeming the safe conduct to not apply to heretics), had him burnt at the stake....

So in the hot months of 1419, Sigismund as their new king was one indignity too many for the Bohemians. News of his succession saw the good citizens of the Bohemian capital ejecting royal officials from high windows and once that business was done, they organised in open revolt. The old Queen, acting as regent managed to hold the royal palace with her guard and since November has maintained an uneasy truce with the rebels.

It can't last though, the rebels offend the Emperor-elect by refusing him his crown , they offend the Pope by espousing heresy and they offend the German nobility with their lawlessness and raiding. Against all of Christendom, the Hussites would have to be military geniuses to prevail... However, as future events will show, those dramatic happenings were merely context. The most important event in 1419 was that Miklos a novice Teutonic Knight, the Sapper Seighard of Zurich and Thom Ecke an agile young noble from the Bayerischer Wald, were employed by one Stefano de Medici. This would be a brief liaison of striking consequence.

Stefano, the Medici Resident in Prag, needed nothing more than some skilled blades to provide a little extra "security" in case the more zealous revolutionaries gained the upper hand. He knew Miklos through the reputation of his father, the Archbishop of Kalocsa-Bacs and entrusted this young man to gather two other worthy individuals, so as to provide a discrete but effective guard. So followed many months sitting a round in the front rooms of the Medici Residence waiting for Christmas. Once it was clear the truce would hold until spring, all that remained was to enjoy the Christmas feast, observe the twelve days as closely as was prudent and join a caravan westward over the Bohmerwald and out of Bohemia toward Regensburg.

I have recovered Giocomo's (the Medici's trusted secretary) log of the journey and I believe this final extract is most enlightening:

January 4th, in year of our lord fourteen hundred and twenty. My master Stefano de Medici and his foppish brother, Cosimo, clearly chafe to be quit of Bohemia. I don't blame them, full of Czechs. It was worth putting up with their potato smell when there was money to be had in Prag but now those Hussites and their ringleader Zelivsky have control of the place. What wealth, breeding and any good taste Bohmeia might have had left are now long gone. I overheard my master inquiring with Thom Ecke yesterday, whether perhaps some of the more "rustic" nobles might be interested in good arms and armour at a special rate for fighting heretics. Cosimo meanwhile has been "thick as thieves" with that boorish Seighard, if I know him, he is up to something. I must apologise for not expanding more on the what took place yesterday between Stefano, that Dominican Piero and Jans Fugger, I lacked the serenity of mind to pen a proper entry while so infuriated by that damnable footman Henry. The nerve of that man is unbelievable!

I will write more on that I assure you! It's much too dark for that now, it's past Compline and everyone has found a fire, some wine and is wrapped in their cloaks swapping tales and gossip. I am hunched over a guttering candle trying to write this while keeping my back warm near the fire. What in the name of our creator is Piero up to? He's like a crow in that black habit of his and I can see him glancing over at my master like a he is ready to pick over his bones when he's done genially interrogating our escorts. Miklos, Thom and Seighard certainly have plenty to say. However I doubt so discerning a man as my master has entrusted any secrets to such clods! There he is, playing up being a man of the cloth and "blessing" the ruffians before taking his leave. Good riddance. It is many more days until we reach Regensburg, the Germans account it a great city, I think it's a backwater and if they are impressed by that great bridge they need to come to Rome and see what our ancestors could build! I will write some more after our day's journey is completed tomorrow on the vigil of the Epiphany.

Giocomo never had a chance to write those entries. Amidst lightly falling snow in the morning of Epiphany's eve, popping sounds and the screams of dying men heralded a Hussite ambush. Giocomo fell in the first volley, the entire left side of his face a bloodied mess. At the head of the four wagons, the merchants Jobst and his sons lost their nerve and quickly took flight. So abandoned, the two Fugger wagons and the Medici wagon gathered their escorts and charged the Hussites, aiming to drive them off. However, the Hussites were well led by a shaggy haired blond giant, bearing a chalice device on his tabard and swinging a mighty pick about him with both hands., He rallied his spearmen to resist the charge of the Fugger's men-at-arms and swiftly brought them low. Their deaths did buy time for Jans Fugger's son Thomas to be dragged into the woods by his manservant Henry. The boy's Dominican tutor Piero also followed his charge into the trees, but only after spending a long while clearly torn about whether to go to the Medici instead.

The Medici's escorts had skillfully dispatched the spearmen threatening their wagon through impressive horsemanship, not to mention fearsome blade work by Thom Ecke and well placed crossbow bolts from Miklos. Seighard unstoppered his flasks and mixed some powders to create a terrible smoke and smell of brimstone. The spearmen who sought to take the wagon were shocked to find them selves burning as a result of the strange magic's and though they got some good hits in, were clearly too unnerved even to handle a lone man between them before Thom and Miklos rode to Seighard's rescue. The shaggy Hussite captain took careful note of Seighard's wizardry before he called his men to advance on the Medici wagon. Meanwhile Cosimo, bleeding from a gunshot wound in his side, retrieved a small package from poor Giocomo's body and supported by his brother, limped for the tree line. A third volley of gun-fire lent weight to Stefano's calls to withdraw and the Medici party disappeared into the trees of the Bohmerwald.

The took their breath and cleansed their wounds nearby the scene of the ambush, reasoning the Hussites seemed more interested in booty than further murder. Thom Ecke was quite familiar with the Bohmerwald and suggested they either proceed the easier way down the valley near the trail keeping near the road to Regensburg or take the harder road over the mountain pass in the snow to avoid the Hussites completely. Preferring snow and wolves to Hussites, they set out across the valley and made their camp within a bell's journey of the pass before nightfall. However, none had the skill to heal the grievous wounds Seighard had sustained protecting the Medici wagon and with tow men of five wounded, their progress was slow. Thom proved his usefulness again by hunting fresh hares for their supper and they settled down to hot food and a warm fire.

Since his hurts made it difficult to get comfortable and sleep, Seighard took the first watch. As his eyes finally began to grow heavy, he heard the oddest noises. Instead of a still snow blanketed night, he heard gravel and grit being tossed about in the wind rolling down a hillside. Except this noise was seemed to be getting closer and originating downhill. Perplexed and unsure as to what to do, he decided to wake Thom (the next on watch) on pretense of having him take his turn in order to let him make the decision about what to do. Shaking his head at Seighard's foolishness, Thom scouted downhill and what he saw made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. A great wolf strode toward their camp, however it was no natural beast. It's form shifted in shape as if it were a swarm of insects and it were not flesh and blood but swirling snow and leaves. Taking care to make no noise, Thom returned to camp, woke his companions and they prepared an ambush. Thom readied a burning brand, Miklos his trusty crossbow and the wounded Seighard took up his place guarding the Medici. When the uncanny beast charged into their clearing, Miklos let loose from hiding, his crossbow bolt cleaving the monstrosity into two smaller beasts. Thom had more success, the fire from his brand seemed to quench whatever substance the infernal creature possessed and with a few well placed blows, it was defeated.

The Medici were almost pathetically grateful at their deliverance, having been quite overcome in the face of such "deviltry" as they termed it. Their escorts were promised hefty bonuses in addition to their pay. All they had to do now was actually reach civilization and collect. Between them and their goal lay midwinter snow, wolves, bandits and perhaps more infernal creatures abroad in the woods. Were these creatures sent by the devil as Stefano believed? Were they part of the Bohmerwald's unfriendly nature as Thom supposed or, did something more lie at the root of that nights events?

No comments: