[Mock-Fiction] III - In Amore et Bellum

Note: Please read the Formal Notice movella. It should be on the list on the right hand side.

Protest piece. Third in the series after 'I - Requiescat in Pace' & 'II - Memento Mori'. Enjoy x

Cover by Secrets Unfold

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2. Prologue - Blow the Man Down

Some twenty miles from Masyaf, the dust rose up as Mentore Richard sped through the Syrian desert. The tyres of his striking red Harley were almost soundless against the soft desert grains. Almost.

It wasn’t ideal for an assassination – anyone who was careful, would hear the confounded machine from a mile away – but he wasn’t on a mission of murder. He was going to see the mercenaries.

There barracks was exactly twenty-one miles away from Masyaf, the complex almost as big as Masyaf’s own. Except, the mercenary barracks had several bunkers underground, to accommodate more soldiers. In total, it held 800 mercenaries of varying ranks, some 20 garages, a handful of stables [the horses only used for parades] and 200 servants – also training to be mercenaries.

 

Richard slowed up as the building appeared, planting both feet down on the slightly firmer ground. He pried off his helmet and squinted as he looked up at the hot afternoon sun. Dazed, Richard pulled up his hood, and got off his bike leaving it where it was.

These are assassin lands, he thought, No-one would take it.

Four guards were posted outside the entrance and he nodded a greeting to each of them. He wasn’t going inside. He was looking for their leader, Midnight Rogue. She wasn’t inside. She was busy preparing Masyaf for war. Because she was that paranoid. Richard continued onwards until he began to hear singing.

 

“Come all ye young fellows that follows the sea,” said one voice, “To me, way hey.”

“Blow the man down!” said a collection of about one-hundred voices.

“Now please pay attention and listen to me; Give me some time to–”

“Blow the man down!”

 

The song was punctuated by the beating of hammers on wood and scraping. Richard furrowed a brow, kept in his place for a moment, but then tarried on in that direction.

Singing? he thought incredulously.

As Richard neared the work site, he saw men scattered along the border of a deep trench. He knew of this trench, of course. It was Lia’s idea – the Persians used trenches as a line of defense, which was later taken up by the Arabs. Rogue had decided to give it a little Roman twist, but she didn’t specify. She never specified. But Richard had learnt to trust her over the years – she may have been annoying as hell, bent on criticizing everything about the Brotherhood’s deficiencies, and a complete and utter nutcase – but she was trustworthy… or at least, as trustworthy as nutcases get.

 

Men sat, bare-chested, on sandbags – sweating and drinking from flasks of what Richard assumed was ice-cold water. He recognized one of them – one of Rogue’s lieutenants [or ‘tribunes’, as she liked to call them] – and Richard strode up to the man briskly. The man was about six and a half feet tall, and was burly [which wasn’t saying much as almost all the mercenaries were burly]. He had dark hair and a well-kept beard. His bright brown eyes glistened in the sunshine.

Ma fa’alt?” said the tribune, smiling at Richard.

Richard’s Arabic wasn’t great, but he got the gist of what the soldier was trying to say.

“Rogue,” he replied simply.

Fil khandaq,” said the man.

Richard stared at him, to the point where the tribune thought the leaner man hadn’t understood him.

The tribune had said: In the trench.

“She’s in the trench?” repeated Richard. The tribune looked at him blankly, uncomprehending, and responded to the remark by pointing at the location.

Richard sucked in his cheeks, annoyed for good measure, and nodded, tersely saying his ‘thank you’s, “Shukran.”

 

“Pay attention to orders, now, you one and all,” Rogue sang on, “For see high above there flies the–” pausing, she looked up instinctively at the trench’s banks, knowing someone else had arrived and was watching her, and then smiled, “Ah, hello, Richard. I wasn’t expecting you.”

Richard glowered at her. The trench was five feet wide and six feet deep. It had long splints of wood hammered into the sand. They stood slanted, crossing over, and Richard could see that one by one the tips were being sharpened into vicious spikes. If that wasn’t enough, there was powdered cement on the other side of the trench, and buckets of tar.

The only words that Richard could say were, “Blow the Man Down?”

 

Rogue cocked her head to a side. She was only wearing the top half of her mask – the gold Venetian concealing her forehead, eyes, and nose – but the bone-white lower-half she must have left behind in the barracks. Understandable, considering the heat. She wore a loose brown tunic, which was drenched at the neck-line, and loose white pajama bottoms tucked into leather socks. In one of her hands was a hammer and in the other a carving knife.

“Yes,” she said, her full lips smiling and crinkling the brown skin of her cheeks, taking little or no heed of Richard’s annoyance, “Vesp taught it to me. The mercenaries like it.”

 

Richard shook his head, “Can we talk?”
“We are talking.”
“Rogue!”
“Hey, you said it right this time,” she pointed at him.

“Please!”

“Alright, alright,” laughed Rogue, “I’m just messing with you,” she raised a hand and signaled to the mercenaries, “Take a break guys!” she called.

The mercenaries grumbled as they left their tools behind and glared at Richard for interrupting their song.

“Khadir!” she called, and the Arab tribune that had given Richard the directions stood up and nodded. He gave out some instructions in Arabic, and one hundred of the resting mercenaries stood up and climbed into the trench. They resumed the hammering and carving, singing an Arabic song this time.

 

Rogue climbed out and stood in front of Richard.

“You told me they were disciplined,” he said.

Rogue frowned, “They are.”
“Then what’s with the singing and the grumbling?”
Rogue stared at him for a while, “Richard, they’re working their asses off, not standing attention for a parade! What? It’s not like they were disturbing anyone – it’s a desert. What have you got against singing anyway, eh? You should know that–”

Richard raised his hands, “I get it, I get it,” he said quickly, “It just seemed out of place. Can you explain to me, now, what’s going on with our trench?”
“The wood is to discourage your enemies from crossing it,” said Rogue, “and the cement will keep the spikes in place. The tar is a last-resort weapon. It’s going to be poured over the spikes, and that stuff stinks like hell. You set it on fire, and nobody gets in or out.”

“And how exactly are we going get out anyway?”

“Why do you look so angry, Richard?” Rogue shook her head, “I have a good fifty soldiers working on mobile draw-bridges in the barracks’ mess hall.”

 

“Why do I look angry? I look angry because a little bird told me you were going campaigning in India!”

“Bengal, actually.”
“When was this planned?”
“Two months ago.”
“And when are you leaving?”
“Tomorrow.”

“So why was I informed yesterday?”
Rogue frown deepened, “Yesterday? I sent you a message about a month and a half ago.”
Richard paused, “…” and then he sighed, “You did?”
“Yes. I have no reason not to.”

That’s strange… thought Richard.

 

“Is this why you came all the way from Masyaf?” said Rogue, laughing, “To yell at me? We all know how rare that occurrence is.”
Richard sighed, “No, I have more… personal matters to discuss with you. But we can cover that later,” he pinched his nose, “After you have a shower.”

Rogue laughed again, “Don’t pinch your nose at me. When was the last time you were six feet under in a trench making an angry-looking picket fence?” she paused, “And speaking of personal matters, how is going with you and Sartor?”
“For the last time: her surname is not Sartor!”

“Oh, look at you go all red! That’s no easy feat with your skin-color, and don’t give me that contempt-filled ‘racist’ look – my skin’s the same color,” she sighed, “You fashion yourself as Ezio, so I’ll call whoever it is you’re pursuing but adamantly keeping from me ‘Sartor’,” she paused, putting a finger to her chin, “Or ‘Mrs. Auditore’ if you prefer.”

Richard smacked his forehead, “How long are you going to be out here?”

“This ‘personal matter’ is that urgent, is it?”
“No…” Richard mumbled, “Uh… just…”
Rogue laughed again, “Oh, stop worrying. You’re not going to war. I’ll go take a shower, for your benefit, and then we can discuss this ‘matter’ over dinner in my study. I won’t take long. Meet me in the mess hall in around ten minutes,” without waiting for a reply, Rogue turned around and headed back to the barracks.

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