Enrico Cristofori and the High Guard

by Fed

OOC comment: These are the IC memoirs of Enrico Cristofori – it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is all true and canon. After all, the poor chap may be failing in his old age, adding extra details and snide remarks, or even making the whole thing up to brighten those long, dull days. As for the editor, well, what does he know of the truth? So think of it what you will.

Enrico Cristofori and the High Guard - 22RdC

An amazing discovery was made in the basement of a small house outside the City of Crossroads by Vincentio Bucceli, a relation of Duke Cristofori, which has shed light on the fascinating adventures of the renowned White City hero Enrico ‘Flash’ Cristofori. Vincentio Bucceli has entrusted me with the packets containing the memoirs of Enrcio Cristofori which appear to have been written by him shortly before his death twenty years ago. The claims made within are truly startling and incredible and, if true and we have no cause to believe they are not, they reveal an entirely different side to the gentleman, soldier and adventurer which only a few could have suspected. ‘Flash’ is however an amazing observer and reporter of some of the most fascinating events to have occurred around the White City and City of Crossroads (and indeed far beyond) and has set them down in amazing detail which is surely a feat of memory. I have edited the memoirs lightly, correcting spelling mistakes and occasionally commenting on Cristofori’s historical inaccuracies (they are very few) and confirming some of the most extraordinary events.

Theodoro Saelanos, City of Crossroads, 98RdC

From the comfort of my own home many years after these events, I can perhaps now recount some of the fascinating events of the White City and the City of Crossroads, and some of the lesser known ones that happened further East. Of course, it may shock the reader to realize that while performing many of my heroic acts and derring-do, I was mortally terrified, and likely as not thinking of how to get out of it. It is a curious thing that I have been taken on so much praise for being such a coward. And I admit that I am a coward, scoundrel and cheat, because any right-minded man or woman must surely understand that their life is worth far more than some stupid ideas about honour, justice or any number of things people have gotten killed for. That’s why I’m still alive I suppose, that and buckets of luck, but I’ve seen many men and women killed for their resolve to stand and fight in the face of overwhelming odds (though I admit I’d run in the face of even slightly heightened odds for my opponent).

I have suffered in the most amazing ways and have come through some mind-baffling situations despite this. I suppose it all started with Antonina De Almedia, women being troublesome creatures, especially when they fall in love with you. So I’ll tell the story straight and you can make of it what you will, but this is how all my troubles began.

The old man, Bucceli Cristofori, had been some distant relation of Duke Ario, the gods know what the connection was, but he wasn’t a Cristofori until the Duke had to be seen to have an extensive family, new money as us Cristoforis are.1 Well, they all profited from it and the old man had some pull with the family, so he tried me in the arts. I can say that by that time I’d already been set and useless at trade, getting a taste for women and alcohol too, so that at 18 the tutor that had been hired to teach me kicked my arse for drunkenness (and laziness I don’t doubt) and walked out saying he’d never teach me again. I damned his eyes and had to go tell my father (after I’d sobered up) and he didn’t take it well of course, I’d expected nothing else, but he was ready to throw me out on the streets there and then.

I did have luck on my side though, and he’d listened to milady Honoria (as I’d call his little strumpet, and she enjoyed it at that) who counseled something better, which was getting me into the service. It was the High Guard for me, which in those days, you must understand, had some prestige attached to it, especially if you were an officer and from one of the noble families (however new and faintly related our branch was).

I suppose there was some time spent in training, which showed me some extra tricks beyond what I’d know from my tutors, but it was poor fare to what I was able to pick up in the East. Not that I wanted to of course, but it was necessary to learn some good tricks just to survive there. I quickly moved onto observing my post, which was mostly a dawdle and the Captain liked me at the time, I was quite tall and strong and looked the part.

“You’re a good lad, Enrico,” he said when getting my appointment sorted, “We need a cool head on strong shoulders in these parts, so just do what I tell you and things shall go excellently.”

“Yes sir,” I said, and then added, “Your counsel will serve well, Captain,” to toady up to him. It’s not something that goes amiss really, and I was looking forward to an easy time without my family, which I would have hoped this De Almedia Captain would provide. If I had known, at the time, it would have been ‘Yes sir!’ and a speedy trot back to public life without a further thought, without meeting the sweet but thrice-cursed Antonina and without having to run away from the Captain, who turned out to be a crazed maniac. Oh, he didn’t show it, I don’t imagine many people knew it, but I got the brunt of it and mark my words, he was lethal and wrong in the head.

It was about half a year that I spent lazing, whoring and drinking, either in the officer’s quarters, or around the City, plenty of sport that it offered. I picked up a hanger-on too, Georgi Velocitagli was his name, some distant relation of the Velazquez family, and he was bad sort like me, and knew me for the scoundrel I was. I still can’t see why he hung around, and almost worshiped me too, but I have had this effect on people, I don’t argue anyway, he helped me pass the dull days.

So Velocitagli and I were playing cards as usual on an off night, and one of the other blasted officers was making an idiot of himself trying to show he’d won.

“Damn you Ingo, everyone can see you’ve only two snakes, so cough up like an honest fellow and leave quietly,” I said and growled at him. The idiot just sneered and dropped the hexas on the table.

“The money’s cursed, so take it who will,” he added before going to pour himself some wine, the miserable sod. I scooped up the money I’d won fair, damning all and not thinking about stupid curses. Knowing what was in store for me, I more readily believe in such things.

“Come Giorgi, let’s take a turn at the table, I’m done with cards,” I said to my friend.

“Do that Enrico, I’m going to quarters I think, bloody dull day it’s been, I’ve no mind for more ‘entertainment’,” he replied and made to leave, which was unusual for Velocitagli, so I suggested what might cheer him up.

“There’s always Lady Isabella’s establishment, fine sport for anyone bored,” I said with a wink. This unsettled Giorgi, which it’d never done, but I didn’t give it much though then and told him do what he pleased. That’s when the fateful happened and before Giorgi could leave Captain Matteus barged through the door and kept it open for someone else to come through, and when they did, I did not expect it. A lady slid through and glided into the middle of the room rather carefully, but like she owned the place. She was certainly looking stunning then, that delicate face, with a straight nose and gleaming eyes framed with luscious black locks of hair, all on a fabulously shapely body. She was certainly of the type I’d enjoyed most, not too small and sickly-looking, with enough to really get to grips with, especially in the bosom area.

Fabulous creature, and quite deadly as I discovered, but right there and then I was thinking of how I was going to get her playing to me. She hadn’t even looked at me yet, but I that she wouldn’t be able to resist me, after a while. As a rule I didn’t try too hard unless a lass really gets to me, and there’s only one who I’ve chased after even despite many failures, and she certainly wasn’t up there with Heeley Arling and Lady Fendart2 for hard to get.

“Gentlemen, I’d like you to meet my cousin, Antonina De Almedia,” Captain Matteus announced, “She’s expressed interest in what I do and I have offered her a tour.” She smiled and looked around. I was questioning what he was doing brining her in without warning, every man, and woman, of us was staring at her with our mouths practically open, even Bella Liorici, who’d had the privilege of being the first officer to give me a ride, was gawping. He began introducing us all in turn, and finally came to me.

“Enrico Cristofori, Antonina De Almedia, a most promising young officer Enrico, and an excellent fellow, too,” Matteus said and I came eye-to-eye with her for the first time. She looked at me much as at the others, with a certain amount of indifference despite her excitement, but unlike the others she spent longer and looked me up and down.

“I am charmed, it’s rare to see such dashing Cristoforis in our guard,” she said to me with a little smile.

“Well, I’m a rather special exception, more than glad to do my bit,” I replied smiling also, but warmer than hers and putting on all my charm. “I rather feel I must make up for the rest of my family, and I hope that I do not fail, what do you say lady?”

She hesitated a bit, thinking of exactly how to reply, and she turned to smile at Matteus before giving it. “You do well, Cristofori, though perhaps my cousin is the better judge of the whole matter, I can only judge that you are gentlemanly and flash, and certainly look the part.” I took it for what it was and smiled while giving her a cold look. This was proving to be the sort of challenge I expected.

That was the last of her I saw for a couple of days, and I was getting ready to inquire as to her whereabouts within the city to continue my pursuit when and unexpected turn placed her straight into my grasp.

“Come in Enrico, I have a favour to ask you,” Matteus said when I’d answered his summons, he motioned me to a seat and poured me a large brandy. Remaining standing himself, but he’d always be awkward like that and he was damned if I’d grovel in this situation by standing myself.

“How can I assist you, High Captain?”

“My dear cousin Antonina, you met her, if you remember, is persistent and wants to learn more of the High Guard,” he said flatly, looking past me at some painting on the wall. “I can’t oblige her any time soon as I must be away and busy for a week, but she’s rather determined.”

“If I might say,” I interrupted, “She’s rather popular to be looked at, being most good looking.”

“As if I don’t know that, which is why I need someone with her, or the bloody bastards will be all over. Then the Duke won’t be happy and I have to deal with family relations.”

“I appreciate the difficulties, but surely she’s got her own life and can do as she pleases,” I said, though I didn’t imagine he’d hop to and bless our marriage then and there. Not that I wanted a marriage in any case.

“Well it’s more difficult when you’re that closely related to the Duke. So I want you to go with her, and show her the Guard, she has ideas that she might join, you know, so I’d appreciate if you knocked that out of her.”

“Well Captain, I appreciate the praise and honour of guiding her,” I had begun to answer when Matteus, perhaps sensing something finally lowered his gaze to me and bent down with a mean look. I had it in mind to yelp with the suddenness, but just looked stern instead.

“Listen here though Cristofori, don’t try and impress her with the glamour and excitement of the High Guard, d’you hear? Don’t make it seem like an officer’s life is too great, even if you think it is. What did she call you? Flash, well, aye, it might be fitting.” He continued to glare at me. I bit back a curse, thinking that he’d have me there, reading my mind and said something else, about affection for her, but he didn’t, thank gods.3

I left the Captain’s room shaking, perhaps even noticeably, but I quickly composed myself and by the next day was thinking of having my way with Antonina again. I checked that Matteus was really out of town for a while, which one of the other High Captains happily confirmed, so I set off to the rendezvous with Antonina on the Via Courci humming some merry tune.

On the way however I met a future acquaintance (though I knew it not then) who was to save my skin, indirectly, more than once. He taught me, in good time, a great deal of his language, which was to come in useful much later, and of course survival. I can admit freely that those two were my only real talents, an ability to pick up enough language quickly to get by and keep myself alive in unfortunate surroundings. Which is where I most often ended up, no thanks to anybody around me, including this resourceful chap. At the time however, he was in the guise of a most obnoxious Easterner, wrapped in rags, smelling awfully, but carrying himself with an air of authority and command.

He beckoned to me, spotting me in the crowd, but I chose to ignore him, carrying on.

“Ah, a soldier and officer if I am not mistaken?” he said when he was in front of me. I scowled at him and tried to walk past him but he moved to shadow him. “The Guard of the Brilliant City are not know for their rudeness, yes? Only a moment good officer!”

“Damn your eyes, if you don’t get out of my way I’ll show you guard hospitality,” I scowled at him and placed my hand on my sword. I hoped to scare him away because I was not about to start hacking at anyone in the middle of the Via Arcini with hundreds of passers by, High Guard or not.

“No need for hostilities, I merely wish to offer you a, how to say it, lucrative opportunity? Yes? You look like just the man I need, a healthy and strong traveler,” his smile was becoming broader with every word and, d’you know, something endeared him to me then. Not enough to stop me cursing him, but I did reign in a second and waited for what he might say next.

“I would pay good money for a good escort. I am, a… how would you say it here? Entrepreneur, a trader, a warrior, a sailor, a little of everything, perhaps like you, and I have a good many goods waiting to go far out East,” he said herding me closer to what appeared a small cart, guarded by another Easterner. I was getting a little wary and kept the grip on my sword.

“Well get yourself a few mercenaries then, there are many in the White City and you’ve got the money I take it? What the damn do you need me for?”

“Ah! It is easy to hire men for coin, but are they the right men? See, I was coming from Haverford here and paid good moneys for guides and warriors, but where are they now, you might ask?”

“What’s it to me?” I replied, getting hostile for he had a most roundabout way of telling things and I felt was wasting my time. My mind was on lovely Antonina and I wanted to be at the Via Courci grabbing her fine attention.

“They went! They took the money and went in the night, leaving poor me defenseless and free to the elements. The journey was blessed and I passed safely, but what would I have done if attacked? See, it is important to have the right man for the job, and I have a feeling you are right, do you not think? And I pay highly,” he said the last while jangling a large purse which I suppose was filled with pieces of poor metal rather than hexas.

“Well you’re wrong, d’ye hear, I have no plan in gallivanting off to the East, where are you going anyway?” I asked out of sheer curiosity, for I realized I couldn’t quite place where from the East he was from.

“Ah, beyond the tribes, a little town of shining rubies and sharp spices, I have a delivery for a lady there. A beautiful lady I might add,” he said with a smile that threatened to break his face. The beautiful lady tempted me for a moment too.

“Well if I was going I’d not go further than Crossroads, I’ve no business going into territory nobody knows about,” I said and ended the meeting there, leaving the man standing there. I didn’t even find out his name then, but it was revealed later to be Crizina ay Braad and it was a name that I was thankful to hear called out a few times in my life.

That was all to come a little later though since now I was speeding off to meet the lovely Antonina what the High Guard were up to, from my very special perspective of course.

“Ah, so my cousin has sent ‘Flash’ for me as expected,” she said as I approached her at a bench near some sort of coffee shop. The way she said it made me like the name, I suppose that’s why it stuck, and Matteus calling me that in front of everyone later.4 Then I was too enamoured with her (and I hoped she was with me), but I contained myself and knew I should try play it slowly, which was rather hard considering her and my age and inexperience.

“I am honoured, milady, to have been chosen by the High Captain to accompany you in his absence. I hope to be your obedient guide and give you as much as I know,” I said being all dashing and slid in to give her hand a kiss. She was dressed in green brocade shirt and tight leather trousers, though dressed for rough work rather than a court dance, she was still every bit the beauty.

“Well indeed? I should hope so, Lieutenant Cristofori,” she said withdrawing her hand teasingly. “Where shall we begin, I’ve already seen the officer quarters and yard, perhaps you would show me where your men train and patrol?”

I spent that afternoon showing her around and taking her places, and she spent the afternoon teasing me and leading me, salivating, all over. That’s how I understand it now of course, but back then I was just chasing after an elusive lass, and it pained me, more the fool me. We did visit a most fascinating place of the White City which to my mind no longer exists. I have a soft spot for beauty and especially parks, not that I spend much time there, but anything new and beautiful I do genuinely marvel at. She’d decided we had to take a break and suggested the Vincini Parks and I readily complied, initially only to please her. Let me tell you though that they were quite wonderful, entirely man-made, being in the middle of the city, but beautiful in a natural way. There were all kinds of trees from firs to great oaks to pines and birches and other trees I couldn’t quite identify, but you didn’t much see in the White City area, on the other side there were great shrubs cut into creatures and fountains and other odd shapes. I particularly remember a great boar which was positioned such that as you turned a corner in the path and went past a hedge it almost leapt out at you and if you were a little kid, running fast, might even startle you.

There was a small fountain in the middle too, a peeing boy, as is customary, but it was beautiful in a way and had various coloured stones stuck around its base on both the outside and the inside so that the water and light played with each other and cast little lights. D’you know, I think I even forgot about my desire of Antonina for a while then.5 By evening I’d shown her everything that was mildly interesting and plenty that was not, just to get a chance to entice her. Even now I’m not sure who was going after whom, not that it matters of course, because that evening I became tired of the games when we joined the other officers, including a rather dour Velocitagli, at the quarters.

I should have paid him more attention then, but I was too busy with Antonina, so I barely asked him what his troubles were. My patience expired when Georgi started getting attention from Antonina, who seemed bent on snubbing me and playing hard to get to the end. He wasn’t taking my hints either and devoted himself to her fully, answering and smiling and occasionally staring, damn his eyes.

I feigned forgetfulness and apology and slapped the table, “Oh my dear lady, I have forgotten to show you one of the most important sights, when the day and night shifts swap over, why, it’s a great ceremony.” I was of course making it sound more exciting than it really was, but it was quick and loud and Antonina didn’t even notice as I swept her up and out of the door. She couldn’t get a word in until we were outside and Velocitagli was too slow, or may have taken the hint, I didn’t care which.

I mumbled something of an apology for taking her out of the building in such a way, but needs must, and pressed her against a wall outside. It was already dark and I only needed to get started, there was little danger, and so I gave her the full Enrico, or what passed for it then. Her lips were delicious and her bosom as full and exciting as I’d expected, she struggled a little, probably out of shock, but settled after giving a muffled yelp and became quite the compliant little thing. After a while she pushed me off and smiled. “Not here Flash, we’ll go to my house and you can finish the job,” she was thinking surprisingly clearly, more or less.

“What the damn for? We’re likely to get caught there and as your cousin explained the Duke’s not going to take well to it, eh? My bed’s the nearest and it’s far safer,” I said and dived in for another go, but she stood back.

“And have us spotted by the other officers who’d be more than happy to tell Matteus and get their own back on your luck? I know how to be safe and subtle in my own home, it’s not the first time I’d have to slip in,” and she beckoned me. Well, when a lady’s ready to go and entices you like that, you’ve got no choice but to follow, so we picked our way through the streets to a small sort of mansion somewhere on the north side, fumbling at each other all the way.

After she was happy we were safe she’d pulled all the stops loose and left nothing to remember of the careful and reserved mistress of minutes earlier. She was quite a gallop for my largely inexperienced self, and I count her among the most surprising of my acquaintances, she bloomed and flowered and went beyond what I was expecting out her.

She confessed quickly enough that she was tempted by me, but was expecting me to be far more timid and careful. Then she decided we’d go again and I was quite fagged out by the middle of the night, and could do nothing more, falling asleep almost on top of her with sighs and feelings of satisfaction.

I awoke early the next morning, it was hardly light at the point and Antonina was still asleep beside me, not stirring. I was feeling damned hungry and got out of bed, thinking how I could get something to eat without being noticed. I wasn’t about to go out on the landing where a servant might see me (though I would have hoped Antonina kept obedient servants she’d trained to accept strangers in her bedroom) and remembered there had been a platter of something on the table in the room. I stumbled around in the semi-dark and eventually found candle to light with which I took a look at the table, where there was indeed a dish of fruits and meat.

My gaze fell on something else and I froze. My mind raced to conclusions and various thoughts crowded into my head in a very short time for I had the life scared out of me, and with good cause. There, on the edge of the table and underneath it, was a pile of ash – there could be no doubt that it was a product of Ash magic since I’d seen it before twice and my line of service and it was unmistakable. With no burn marks or other charred remains, together with a neat distribution of it, it could be little else. Things weren’t commended to ash at random, less the ash left lying around the house and there could be few explanations. Antonina could be a careless Ash priestess who’d got upset with some part of her room, or worse, some Ash sorcerer had been involved here recently, indeed during the night, and was still around waiting for something. Even worse, and a thought I pushed from my mind as much as I could, but being a coward it was the one that came back with strength – that Antonina was, or consorted with, a necromancer.

You may question my logic there, but it was something that struck me as logical then. In any case, I had no wish to be anywhere near an Ash sorcerer or priest, certainly a necromancer, and thought of the best way to make it out sharpish. I quietly pulled my clothes on and stopped at every creak and sound in the early morning, the city was only waking up (though some were going to sleep) and I could hear almost everything in the house. As I pulled my boots on, Antonina stirred and I knew this was hardly a position to get caught in, though at worst she’d think me a discourteous lover (she had no real reason to think me courteous in the first place though) and I made a leap to the door, turned the handle and slid through the next two rooms as quietly as I could.

I didn’t look behind as I quitted the house through a back door and disappeared down an alley, hoping that nobody had seen me and that Antonina wouldn’t fly into a rage. As you can imagine things were on my mind that morning, but I’d recovered a little and considered my initial shock and horror exaggerated. Still, I made my way loathingly to the Temple of Ash and made inquiries which one of the priest curtly answered. Antonina De Almedia was no priest of Ash and was not associated with the Temple in any way, but the priest had reason to dislike the mention of De Almedias. He informed me that they had to deal with two cases in the year of necromancers related to the De Almedia family, which had apparently put some strain on relationships all round. I cursed my luck and thanked the loose-tongued priest, if I was in charge of the Temple I’d certainly give this man a thrashing, or feed him to a zombie, or whatever the damn the servants of the Burned Lords do.6

I tried not to think about Antonina for the day, and hoped she’d never turn up. Beauty and a good ride is one thing, but staying away from necromancers was another and I had no wish to risk my life any more than was necessary. Or indeed at all of course. Velocitagli was still looking grey as the Burned Realm and I finally took notice

“What’s wrong with you then, got the pox what?” I said jokingly, because there was really no other way to talk between ourselves.

“Good of you to notice Enrico, things haven’t been going well with me the past couple of days,” he sighed. “I’ve run up a debt old chap, and with the wrong kind of people.”

“Well, I’d bail you out of course, but see, I’m not all that well set myself,” I mumbled to him and cursed the idiot for getting a debt, though I myself had come close myself since joining the Guard. “And where have you bloody been playing anyway? Best keep your cards with the guard and let the money-houses take the rich fools of the streets.”

“It’s a family thing, see, my great uncle was giving a dinner and had various sods invited.”

“Why don’t the family damn well pay it back and you nosey up the uncle of yours?” I asked and lit up a cheroot and offered one to Giorgi because he was losing more colour in his face.

“He might not, he thinks I should get myself out of this myself, ‘specially considering it was a loathed guest I’d lost it to,” he said twisting and turning in his chair, poor chap, and then he was silent for a moment before speaking a little more decisively. “You were with the De Almedia lady, the Captain’s cousing?” I shot him the darkest look I could.

“Listen here Giorgi,” I began.

“Look, I won’t tell, I just need a favour.” I started turning red with anger but listened him out, whatever else, I trusted him not to tell. “See Enrico, it was her father I’ve got to pay back.”

All the red must have left my face in a second, my innards turned and damn well dropped the cheroot on the table and burned a finger. I cursed loudly and fixed my gaze on Velocitagli.

“Look, he sent a couple of men to my house and asked about the repayment. I stalled and blubbered and they got upset, then one of the men started with threats and demonstrated what they do and,” here he paused and looked around, I swallowed and waited for what I’d guessed to be said, “… he turned my door, I mean, commended my door to ash.”

“Dammit Giorgi but,” I begun again but couldn’t finish because my mind was racing and my feet of thinking of the fastest way to put some distance between the De Almedias and myself, and Velocitagli be damned.

“He didn’t look like a priest either, I mean… Enrico, this man could have been a necromancer.”

“I know,” I said pushing down my fear as much as possible, “but you’re best off looking to your family or, even the Temple of Ash, I think they dislike the De Almedias. It’s a tough thing but, look here, they can’t hurt you, officer of the Guard you are. Just repay the money, give them assurance and…”

“Can you talk to Antonina? Please, she can, something, she can do something surely, and you know how to charm women,” Giorgi said pleadingly, but it hardly swayed me.

“No, it didn’t really go well, y’see, ended poorly, and I hardly think she’ll listen to me,” I said, all apologetic and got up. My legs were carrying me and I could only think of getting home and finding some way out of it all, I couldn’t be sure the De Almedias would do anything to, or that Antonina would take offence at my departure, but it all felt like a closing web to me, don’t ask why. Fears were confirmed when I reached my lodgings and was stopped by a cold sharp point at my waist. I turned to see Antonina’s serene face and looked down to see a crossbow. I started sweating and twitched, but she told me to be quiet and open the door, so I did, thinking of ways to get out of the situation, after all – she might only want a little talk, or maybe some entertainment.

Once inside she motioned for me to an armchair and I slowly sat down, I was terrified, but managed to keep my face neutral and fumbled for a brandy from the table.

“You know, it was awfully rude of you to leave this morning without saying goodbye,” she began, quite the cool one, which didn’t make me feel any better.

“Well see, don’t take it as an offense, but I had duty and you were sleeping and what with one thing and another…” I trailed off.

“It was also foolish, someone could have seen you, even my servants, they’re employed by father you know, he sometimes pays them extra to watch me,” she said. I fixed my gaze on the tip of the crossbow bolt and took a few gulps of the brandy.

“I was careful, I ain’t incompetent, and slipped out the back door. Look here, just put that blasted thing down, it’s dangerous, and let’s work things out like adults,” I swallowed and tried to look more bold and carefree, “There are ways to entertain ourselves, no? You certainly enjoyed last night, and you are a most stunning lady Antonina.”

She shifted a little and obviously, something was working on her because she let the crossbow drop a little. I was a coward, sure, but that young I was also a little rash and could be prone to trying something desperate on occasions. I’d put the glass down, leapt from my chair knocking the crossbow out of her hand with my right and drew myself into a passionate embrace around her. She reacted, I suppose, but my lips were already closing around hers and for a second she lost track of what was going on and kissed back, relaxing, and I was sure it was all going to be okay. Then I felt a sharp pain on my back and my head and was pulled back from her by some firm grip. I thrashed and cursed, but to no avail, there was someone else in the room and I had proven to be entirely incautious.

“Oh you damn fool, you don’t understand do you,” she said, leaning over me. I could now see the hooded head of the man behind me, it frightened me since it was dark and the hood black. “Now, I’m sure you wouldn’t like me going to tell Matteus about all the inappropriate advances you’ve made. What, with me so sweet and innocent and waiting for an appropriate husband… I think he’s explained how angry he and the Duke would be.”

I nodded, silently, there was no point flinging curses at this point, I’d been had and that was that. “What do you want then.”

“Well, money, favours. Or perhaps I want your humiliation, to die at the hands of Matteus in a duel. Wouldn’t that be nice?” Her voice was cruel and cold. She was clearly barmy, considering I hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary, or anything that actually deserved revenge. It tried to struggle out of the grip and somehow slip away, but the man was holding me down hard.

“I wouldn’t try that Enrico, my friend could leave you just a pile of ash on the floor if I asked. That would be no fun for your or me,” I saw her mouth curl a little in a smile. It had also confirmed that this man was a bloody necromancer and it almost made me scream.

“You’re mad, crazy, I’ll get you the money, however much you need, but just let me go for the gods’ sake! I don’t even want anything to do with you De Almedias or Ash priests or necromancers,” I raved, but fear had taken me, and knowing myself, it probably sounded like anger. I should not have mentioned the last word though because the necromancer’s grip tightened and damn well nearly pierced my flesh.

“I’ll see,” she said and lifted me by the shirt then nodded to the man behind me and it all went dark.

I must have been unconscious for a good couple of hours for when I woke up, with a strong headache to boot, I was somewhere else, tied to a chair. I struggled briefly, but when convinced it was futile, looked at my surroundings. It was a small room with almost no furniture, just a wardrobe and table, apart from the chair I was on, I supposed it was some house or mansion in town, but I couldn’t see any windows, or hear anything from the world outside, so it was either right in the middle, or else in a cellar.

The door opened and two figures filed in, neither of whom I initially recognized, then the lady in the blue dress revealed herself to be Antonina, looking quite charming. The other was Captain Matteus which made me almost fall back in my chair.

“I am, Lieutenant, most disappointed,” he paused and moved forward, lighting another lantern in the room, “My cousin informs me of your most ungallant conduct, as well as flaunting your High Guard position. While the latter goes against our agreement, the former is an affront not only to her, but to me and our entire family.”

He was obviously waiting for me to say something but I’d been struck dumb for Antonina was watching me with an icy gaze that was entirely unmatched with the rest of her complexion.

“So when she came to your house, to demand your apologies, it was even worse for you to try seduce her again,” the Captain was glaring at me barely a foot way from my face, yet what he’d said had given me a glimmer of hope, “it’s just as well she had brought a servant with her who could disable you and bring it all to my attention.” The Captain clearly wasn’t involved, he was just being used by the wench to get at me, for her own crazy purposes.

“Sir, High Captain, see,” I began and took my eyes of Antonina and tried to think as clearly as I could, “there is something you must know, about your cousin, and your uncle.” I made a stern face that would befit a guardsman reporting in to his superior. It made the Captain frown and I was sure he’d consider what I had to say. “I have found evidence, Captain, that,” I had begun but Antonina, damn her, saw what was coming and flew in a feigned tantrum, screaming and thrashing, saying I was about to pour lies into his ears and further dishonour her, the filthy cur that I was. Well, she was right with everything apart from the lies.

Matteus, loving his cousin, drew back and tried to console her and when she’d calmed down and whispered words to him and he’d listened, I knew that I was a goner. Sure enough, I was challenged to a duel. There was nothing like the prospect of a duel to fire up the Captain, and there wasn’t a damn bit of sense he was about to listen to. He made to leave and tried to entreat him, shouting about conspiracy and necromancy but I don’t think he heard me, for I shouted for a while after he was gone and nothing happened.

I struggled fruitlessly and was by this point so tired that I just slipped into sleep without thinking. I dreamt of the duel and being run through by Matteus without even having a chance to defend myself and then Antonina was over me, kissing me and sticking daggers into my belly and laughing, and then wrapping herself around me and I didn’t understand anything. Then I realized I was already awake and in a cold sweat, and the mad woman as indeed wrapped around me, which made me shriek.

“Curse you, bloody bitch, you and your daddy running some sort of cartel with a necromancer and your cousin don’t even know. So let me go, d’ya hear, or he’ll hear it in full, at the duel, and you won’t be able to stop me with your sweet moaning,” I spluttered.

“Oh, that, I’ve told Matteus about your ravings and theories, he’s entirely discounted, seeing as how I couldn’t possibly consort with necromancers and my daddy’s an Ash Priest. Don’t you know? Oh well, there it is then, I’m going to enjoy watching you die, Flashy, it’ll be a little waste, but still, so sweet.” She bit at my ear and I knew she was entirely off her head, clearly the De Almedias were dysfunctional as a family and the very end product had been this little monster. I screamed out and then she hopped off me for there were footsteps and the door had opened.

Two men pulled me out of the seat and led me out into a sort of small dining room, my feet hardly being able to walk and dragging behind me half the time. I was surprised to find a large breakfast set out and realised it was for me only when the placed me on the seat and motioned to the piles of eggs and ham and bread.

I don’t have to tell you I gobbled it down instantly, taking the hot tea and almost burning my throat. Whatever else the Captain was he was generous and honourable, so confident in his skill the damn bastard was making sure I was in the pink as much as was possible.

As I finished the meal I considered the fact that I didn’t have to fight the duel. My refusal would have been binding enough to the Captain. The dishonour however, would be unbearable – I had no doubt that my old man would be disappointed again and this time renounce me, with which I’d lose the family name and any chance to have a cushy life. I’d be out of the High Guard too of course. None of this should have been weighed against my life without life coming tops whichever way you put it, but I was in a real bind, if I declined then Antonina and her lackeys would be after me. This would be the case even if I somehow escaped or won, but at least I would have my honour intact as I escaped and at least some help on offer from friends and family, and I sometimes like thinking for the future.

They led me out then, trembling and terrified despite the good food and the cold morning air only made me shiver and writhe more. The sun had begun to come up over the city when I was thrown onto the ground in a ring of people, I didn’t know who half of them were, though I suppose there were a good few De Almedias and other nobles, coming to gape at some entertainment. Matteus was already there in his shirt-sleeves, practicing strokes and pacing about, he even gave me a bow, reprimanded the guards for their rough treatment of me (“Don't damage the boy before we've even started!” he said, damn his eyes), and then motioned for me to be given a sword.

I got a grip of it and tried to get the balance, I was no fine swordsman, and I certainly had little time in my life to practice, but I did posses a bit of talent for swordplay. Not that this could make any different considering the swordsman that Matteus De Almedia was, I really did have no chance. My knees became even weaker when I spotted the necromancer in the ring of people to my left, looking at me casually, sporting a slight smile. It was damn unnerving, I can tell you. It occurred to me to try shouting something, but I couldn’t imagine anyone listening, all having come to see a duel, and I more or less consigned myself to the fate.

Someone called out and everyone went quiet and the reasons for the duel were read out. I listened through it looking at the Captain, standing straight, with almost a tear at his eye, almost like I’d given him my word not to touch the crazy bitch cousin of his.

Then all was ready and we began, Matteus coming straight for me and my feet carrying me straight back as I wildly parried his strokes and received two good nick on my arms for the troubles. I tried a counter-attack, doing my best, but he was too fine for me, a stroke pushed me back and I tripped and fell, sliding back into someone’s legs, and the Captain was above me, ready to deliver a killing stroke which I desperately tried to parry, his sword glancing off the tip of mine. A couple of onlookers gathered closer and the next few seconds were the most extraordinary aspect of the whole story. The Captain moved his sword back for another swing and I was ready to do a quick jab into his stomach before he could bring the blow to bear when suddenly the Captain’s face changed colour and expression and I saw ash was running through the fingers of the sword hand.

My stroke was already carrying forward into him and it was only sudden fear that saved me and saw the jab go left and miss him, merely tearing his shirt. He fell beside me and I scrambled up. There was all sorts of confusion happening now and Matteus came up roaring.

“Bloody sorcery, you just don’t know how to fight fair, why didn’t you finish me, eh?” Matteus cried and I stepped back. Winning the duel now would only cause accusation and certain trial, death and trouble, not least because Antonina would be watching over it all.

“It weren’t me damn you, your bloody cousin and her necromancers, I don’t want to kill you, dammit!” I tried, backing away again. Then someone threw him a sword, with which he lunged at me another man called out and someone pointed behind me and suddenly I couldn’t see. I caught on quickly that this was an ashen cloud so I threw down the sword, turned in the opposite direction of Matteus and started running.7 The key here was not to look behind, or falter, and I was soon out of the cloud, over the small fence, and running through a garden. I vaulted another fence, not looking back to see whether anyone was pursuing or not and ranged down the street with all the speed I could muster.

There was nothing for it now, I couldn’t stay back to face an inquiry or an investigation, and I knew Matteus was still probably out for my blood and reasoning wasn’t to stave him off. I had to get out of the city and quickly.8 I pushed down a few streets and alleys, through a shop and then a tavern, startling a barmaid, for the first time I heard some pursuit for the barmaid screamed again when I was past and I had to slide down the alley of Via Ulbina which opened onto dozens of other smaller alleys. I could lose my pursuers there, not that I’d done it successfully more than once before.

I somehow managed to hide myself away in one of the plazas, people had already been pouring in and it was busy. I chucked a few coins at a stall to buy a cloak, amazed that I still did posses the contents of my pockets and paused to think in some dark corner. I couldn’t go back anywhere like the Guard quarters or my own lodgings and it had to be somewhere out of the city before any notices were given the gates. I figured the North East Gate was my best point of exit and started picking my way there.

I was sorry to leave the White City, but it had to be done. Perhaps after a few months things would calm down, and Matteus would see sense, but there was no business for me in the city right now. I left through the gate without being stopped and considered my actions, I wouldn’t survive on my own, certainly, so I would have to latch onto a caravan as a mercenary, or something like that. I was walking slowly and thinking when I heard a familiar voice behind me,

“Ah! My Guardsman, you do not look so well and gallant sir,” it came from behind me with a strong Eastern accent. “Perhaps you are down on your luck? Escaping the city, pursued for a crime you did not commit? Ah? That makes you a more valuable mercenary.” For it was Crizina ay Braad with a dozen grim-looking fellows and a cart pulled by some mules, laden with who knows what.

“Perhaps you would consider my offer again and travel beyond the Tribes to the East? I fear I cannot face the dangers without you,” he said with that sleek smile of his.

The packet ends abruptly here, ending the first adventure of Enrico ‘Flash’ Cristofori.

1. Bucceli Cristofori was originally Rinaldi Bucceli, from a family, closely related to the Cristoforis that was present in the White City for at least three generations. There were no notable Buccelis before Rinaldi who was made a more obvious and higher-placed relation in the Cristofori family by Duke Ario and represented their interests for a good while until his wife died and he started drinking. Enrico tells of further consequences, some years later, in full in a later packet. The surname was to resurface as another branch of the Cristofori family (related to Enrico) the current successor, Vincentio Bucceli, having discovered these memoirs.

2. Little is known about the Fendarts now, but they were a prominent City of Crossroads family that mysteriously ended with the early death of Lady Iriana Fendart’s (to whom we must assume Enrico is referring to) son with no apparent heirs in any branches. They had been know to be close supporters of General Holden during the revolution at the City of Crossroads and Lady Iriana’s father was one of the General’s Captain.

3. High Captain Matteus De Almedia was one of the most brilliant Champions of the White City. He was one of the four High Captains of the High Guard and a Priest of the Rose Princes, Matteus stood as the Champion of the White City since the Army of the Red Gryphon attacked and he stepped forward to face and defeat their champion, Sirius Panastra, in single combat. He was reportedly a brash and arrogant man who liked nothing more than a good duel (which Enrico more than confirms) and paid particular honour to the Rose Prince of the South. Known to be more interested in upholding the law within the White City and maintaining the status quo than in any abstract notions of “justice”, he found it hard to believe that anyone might knowingly disrespect his authority and is always ready to teach a sharp lesson to those who do, his temper occasionally getting the better of him. Nephew to Duke Vitaliano and older brother to Fal-Kar and Luciano. His right arm was made of living gold, apparently an unsought “blessing” of the Light gained on an expedition to the Breathing Isles.

4. An interesting explanation for Enrico’s nickname, since it only became widely used in the City of Crossroads when he was first there in 23 RdC and was assumed to have been given him by his friends (or enemies) there.

5. Enrico provides us with one of the few descriptions of the Vincini Park, the only other belonging to a description and painting by Eugene de Molta of the College of a Thousand Arts. It tallies well with the Flash description and gives and added description of the hedge animals which are missing from de Molta’s account. The Park met with an unfortunate fate when twenty years later it was burn down by an angry mob of trainee alchemists, the most trusted version suggesting that carelessness caused the ‘pissing boy’, actually modeled on the infant son of Afredo Vincini, the Park’s architect, to explode.

6. Enrico must have forgotten some details of this encounters since it is highly unlikely that a Priest of the Temple of Ash would have been so forthcoming with information. I would suggest that it was given in exchange for information Flash himself offered.

7. The events of the day had remained a mystery for a long time and various accounts had been supplied by those present though Enrico’s tallies best with Guardsman Willen who, standing at the edges of the courtyard had observed the event and remained outside the Ashen Cloud. It was he that spotted Enrico escaping and pursued him nearly all the way to the Plaza di Racconti, but was unable to catch him because he accidentally fell into a cart of chickens.

8. Curiously, a full investigation was started, helped by the Temple of Ash which discovered, in time, one of the most curious conspiracies in the White City of the time. Antonina De Almedia and her necromancer accomplice, Eritran Dergoi, were caught and put on trial which revealed their involvement in various crimes and scandals across the year, including in the case of Giorgi Velocitagli, who had passed his debt onto Antonina, rather than her father. Enrico was wrong in assuming that Benefaci De Almedia, Antonina’s father was in any way involved, and he was cleared in full by the investigation along with Enrico. The minor scandal in the De Almedia family was just one of many that seemed to plague them in those years and the constant association with Necromancers, culminating with the events concerning Roberto De Almedia which occurred in 26 RdC, but were kept under wraps briefly by the family. Roberto had been shipping steel-silk to Three Rivers and was eventually stopped by a party of adventurers which curiously included Enrico Flash. He tells the story in full in a later packet.

misc/fiction/enricohg.txt · Last modified: 2011/04/03 22:27 by osj01
Except where otherwise noted, content on this wiki is licensed under the following license:CC Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported