As the morning light crested the cities walls Nikolaus and his men were just finishing packing their camp. They had spent the night at the bottom of the wall waiting to be let in by the guards. Now that they had waited for hours the men were becoming bored with this. A few of them had gone into the woods to do some “exploring”. No doubt they were poaching rabbits and the such, something which Nikolaus disapproved of. The men knew this, but continued nonetheless, which could be considered one of the downsides of employing mercenaries. They followed orders to a point, but they in no way had the loyalty of the vanguard or even homegrown soldiers. These men were loyal to promises of land, and the purses filled with the coin that Nikolaus provided. This was the reason Nikolaus always had a few natives of Yhore in his guard details, just in case the mercenaries would not listen to commands...or worse. Nikolaus dreaded to think what that could do to everything he was working for. Shaking himself out of his thoughts he finished tightening the strap on his boots. With a loud groan, the Duke stood up and stretched his back, raising his arms as he did so.“Does anyone know when the others will return? I would hate to leave them outside for a few days.”
As Nikolaus said this one of his let out a soft chuckle from where he was standing.“It is not like they will avoid causing trouble in the city. I can’t imagine this being much worse.”
While the soldier said this in a joking manner Nikolaus knew that the man meant part of it. This man was obviously a native of the southern city, with his golden skin and dirty blonde hair, and his native soldiers have never quite gotten comfortable with the mercenaries. While Nikolaus’ father had employed them at times, it was the son who has fully integrated them into the city. He has even adapted some of the armor designs the company uses, including the black coloring.“They are better men than you give them credit for Adonis.”
As Nikolaus said these words he could begin to hear a voice shouting from the forest.“LORD! LORD NIKOLAUS!”
Turning to the voice Nikolaus could see one of the mercenaries sprinting out of the woods towards the camp. As he reached the camp he took a moment to gather his breath before speaking.“Enemies in the forest. Halim has engaged them. Told me to report, and bring you.”
Nikolaus sprinted to his horse and pulled his scabbard out of the saddle and waved to the native soldiers. “Two men come with me. The rest stay and guard the camp.”
Turning to the crier he gestured to the trees. “Lead on then”
The small group of men ran into the tree line, following a small path that wound through the forest. After jogging for about fifteen minutes the sounds of fighting could be heard a distance away and they picked up their pace. As they entered a small clearing they could see a small skirmish taking place amongst a campsite. About five of his guards were engaging what appeared to be two mysterious warriors. Even though they were outnumbered the fight appeared to be extremely even. As they neared the fight Nikolaus and his men spread into a single line and drew their weapons. Nikolaus raised his sword and said in a mild tone “Name on three.”
Once they were within fifteen feet he shouted, “1..2..3..”
Responding to the countdown his charging men all shouted “NIKOLAUS!”
Charging into the fight the balance immediately began to tip in the Duke’s favor. As the fight stretched on Nikolaus begin to respect his opponents' skill. They were all obviously knights, which made him suspect their identity. Quickly ducking a swing from the side he kicked his foot out at the man who nearly took his head off. Falling over the man looked like he was done for, but managed to quickly roll back to his feet and deflect a killing blow. Striking out with his sword he pierced one of the guards causing the man to stumble out of the combat. Before the knight could finish him another guard crashed into him, causing the knight to stumble backward. Nikolaus quickly turned his attention to another foe and lunged at him. The knight sidestepped and quickly countered, giving the duke a cut along the leg. Spinning to face his opponent they began to trade strikes. While the knight was obviously better the Duke managed to stay alive on wits alone. As the fight continued on neither ground was gained on either side, and the fight appeared to have no end.
Suddenly a scream pierced through the fight causing the forest to go silent. Looking up to a small hill that overlooked the clearing they could see a man in black armor holding a knife to a young girl. Behind them, a small group of women and children followed close behind corralled by two more black armored figures. A heavily accented voice came from the man holding the girl. “Put down your weapons or I spill blood.”
Even though there was a moment of hesitation the Knights dropped their weapons and held their hands up. Nikolaus’ men quickly picked up the weapons and forced the captives onto their knees.
Once they had been secured, Halim let the girl go and whispered something in her ear. As the little girl ran past Nikolaus he walked over to Halim giving him a solemn nod.“The women and children ran away once they saw us, said something about not going back to the tyrant. The women thought we were sent by the king.”
Nikolaus nodded as he was filled in by his second-in-command, putting the pieces together. “They are Vanguard, the king's personal Army. They are the only knights this good in the kingdom.”
As he spoke a spark seemed to light in his eyes. “The Vanguard is fractured… the rebellion is real.”
Quickly sprinting back to the captured knights he knelt down to look the nearest one in the eyes.“Why? Why did you decide to rebel? Tell me everything”
Nikolaus and his men had been staying at a tavern just outside the castle grounds that was overpriced to an extreme amount. He had paid for two rooms, one for him and one for his four guards. Laying on the bed in his room he thought back to the events in the forest. After hearing the man’s tale he had sent the rebel Vanguard along with Halim and most of his guard back to his ship off the coast to question them further. He had also sent the families along with Halim, knowing the knights would be co-operative if they were nearby.
Once he had entered the city he had gone to meet the steward of the keep who informed him of the king's call to rally his nobles. After being allowed to meet with certain officials he had been told to remain in the tavern until called upon. Hopefully, that time was coming soon as Nikolaus was beginning to become bored. With the captured Vanguard in his ship, he would have to quickly make his way back to Yhore once he was allowed to leave. Depending on what is said in the coming days by the king he might even send a few letters ahead to prepare for his arrival.
The first letter would be for the steward to prepare to raise the peasant levy if that became necessary. His steward would also have to issue orders to all the blacksmiths in the duchy to begin smithing armor and weapons, which would take a large portion out of the war chest. The second letter would go in a much different direction, across the sea to a mercenary company. In this letter, Nikolaus would call upon the captain to honor a contract previously agreed upon. With these letters, Nikolaus hoped he could weather the coming storm.