At last, at long and perilous last, I am ready to approach the common clay of Poland with my gallant band of wealth appropriation artisans. I have weathered many difficulties in getting here, and frankly, my faith in free enterprise is waning. I demand nothing less than total victory in Illyintsy. If there is no room for an enterprising man like myself to exploit a nation’s industry after several days of very difficult freelance clerking, then we have come to a pretty pass and Erik and I shall go no further. I will go to the nearest town, sell my Fanny, and with the proceeds purchase an accountant’s shingle and have done with it.
I send my lieutenant along with the rest of the lads to conduct an impromptu survey re: the village surrendering. After a few long, quiet minutes, he returns.
“There you are,” I say. “Now; twenty-one men proved insufficient to terrify Illyinitsy. Don’t tell me twenty-six isn’t enough.
“Well, sir, we asked around, and the general feeling there is that it is.”
“The village had a look, and they took a headcount, and they seem to have sort of reckoned, ‘Fair play, you win this one.’ Generally they set about with the grabbing of loved ones, legging it through back gardens, and leaving their homes to be burned and looted by godless outlaws.”
“Really.” I raise my eyes to heaven. “Finally, the little guy gets a break. Call the two thousand thaler I burned for this expedition money well spent. Now, what does the take seem to be?”
“It would seem to be, all considered…two hundred and ninety-eight thaler.”
The money is provided in quite a small sack.
And all at once, as my spirits wither on the vine, the cackling hellish goblins of folly crash full-force onto my shoulders. What have I done? Three hundred thaler? Three hundred thaler? I’d broke stale bread with these vermin for three hundred stinking thaler? I’d gunned down farmers on a dirt track and made an enemy of an empire for the chance to make three hundred stinking flea-ridden thaler? I sold my honor, my dignity, and my standing in the eyes of the world, all for…
“Three hundred thaler,” I say.
“Very nearly, sir.” He wipes a boogey away. “That, and all the stuff.”
“Yeah. The stuff.”
He waves me over to the pile of exotic spices, oil, fine tools, furs, salt, dyes, wine, leather, and miscellaneous valuable trade goods.
I wipe my brow. “Ah. The stuff. As you say.”
Well, that’s alright, then.
I’m having an awful week. I was just nipping back from Poland to sell the fantastically valuable loot we stole this week when–I should say rather rudely–an army of Polish soldiers sprang out and demanded justice for the homes we’ve burned and lives we’ve ruined. They outnumbered us four to one, rode far better horses than my men, and brandished far cleverer pistols.
They say that no man can evade justice forever. Well, in fact, I say it–generally to the handful of men I task with holding the Poles off so that the rest of us can go run away. This is not something I do regularly, you understand. Just every week or so when we get caught.
You might ask, “Why would mercenaries willingly sacrifice their own lives to protect you, Rutger?” I don’t presume to know that. All I can say is that there’s a quality to my mentorship which inspires men to ride directly into enemy fire.
Sometimes the men’s morale suffers for my perceived misuse, but I am always quick to offer them an olive branch. I do mean an actual, literal olive branch. These men are fanatically obsessed with olives. Throw them some olives and a bottle of vodka and they’re happy as kittens at a loom. It seems to erase all ill will instantaneously. I don’t claim to understand it.
What I mean to say is that it’s not that our run-ins with Polish law are catastrophic, or worrisome, or in any way financially or logistically inconvenient. It’s just a bit…well, a bit embarrassing, I suppose. Makes you feel a bit sheepish cashing in a small fortune in booty knowing that several mercenaries you don’t care about gave their lives for it. And my Dutch mastercraft double-barreled prize pistol isn’t back from the gunsmith, so what do I have to console myself with? Just a new wardrobe, a round of drinks for the entire tavern for the entire night, and a quiet evening calculating the interest on my new bank account.
It’s times like this where I wonder if I’ve chosen the most enriching and emotionally fulfilling path for myself. There has to something else I can do to make my name ring out in these war-torn lands.
Perhaps it’s this melancholy which draws my eye to the woman in the corner of the tavern. She seems unassuming enough.
I ask what brings a beautiful maid such as herself to this humble drinking hall. She says:
A single lacrimal discharge rolls down my cheek. “Well, my dear, I am moved. Your story has put tears in my eyes–has bored me, in actuality, to tears. You are endowed abundantly with problems no-one cares about. Now, please excuse me. I am going through a minor emotional crisis have decided to alleviate this by skewering that man over there in a duel.”
|Yes, you in the hat. That collar makes you look like a shaved garden mole in the midst of surfacing.|
Yes, I’ve dabbled in swordplay lately. It’s not exactly my métier, but it’s rather more pleasant than pistols and easy to practice with my men. Having tarried with blunts for weeks, I have total confidence in my ability to best a single pub drunk in a live duel.
Yes, it’s a mean thing to be known as a bandit and a thief, but I’ve every confidence that famously killing a few men will brighten things up a bit.
I insult him until his famous Swedish honor compels him to duel me. I send him outside, finish my drink, and stride forward to destiny.
Interesting choice to begin the bout some hundred paces from me, but apparently he likes a bit of a run-up before being skewered. Tally ho, brigand!
Ah. He’s brought an accomplice. Dueling two men at once certainly will test my skills to their limits.
And so ends the legend of Rutger, prince of bandits, terror of the commons. His crimes will echo throughout history as “among the things that happened in Poland during the 17th century.“