First and foremost, I believe you are owed an apology: I was warned that the lackwit I hired to drive the wagonload of maids to your country house was a drunkard, but, seeing as how he came at a very reasonable price, I thought it was worth the gamble.
My ears in the village tell me that before he drove himself, his adorable mutt, team of fine horses, and the load of twelve scullery maids off the cliff to the jagged rocks below, the song he sang along the road was quite a merry one.
I am terribly vexed by these events.
Needless to say, another cartload has been sent for, so you can rest easy. I’m also told that even the grandest of homes needs but one or perhaps two scullery maids at most, but I believe a man of your standing deserves a few more.
On now to more important business.
A distant relation of mine has arrived in our land: Baron Von Wardstein, a distinguished mercenary (or so I’m told), can speak for himself, but I thought it prudent to mention him in brief.
I am unsure why I was sent lo these long sentences of village gossip which are of no concern to me, Baron Von Wardstein.
If it be in your interest to introduce me, carry on forthwith and spare your ink on the subject of scullery maids – of which I have many, of course, and who are both friendly and liberal with their affections. As the Romans say, such pleasure is in flagrante delicto!
Firstly allow me to extend a warm and heartfelt greeting to the good Baron! I am sure that you earned your position through displays of competency and honor, much as I did. The Duke’s standards for excellence are what keeps our company so exclusive, ludicrous as they may seem to an outsider. They are high watermarks, for certain.
I will, however, now admonish the good sir for his crass indication of being uninterested in the tragedy relayed to me by the Duke. Even if you were not directly involved, a loss of life of this magnitude should not be simply overlooked. An entourage that large certainly consisted of six or more horses, and the loss of good steeds is something we can ill afford. We all know scullery maids and drunkards are replaceable ad infinitum, but horses are a valuable resource and their deaths should be suitably mourned. My condolences to you and your harriers, my good Duke. I shall send you a mare or two to replenish the stock, should you require.
As for my news, I had an interesting run in with a heathen on the edges of my estate two days past. Me and a handful of men were out in the hopes of finding some arable land for my cattle, and we happened upon a man enacting some sort of strange ritual upon a large outcropping of rock. When we queried him, he replied that he was “meditating to contemplate the meaning of life.”
I informed him that only God is capable of bestowing that knowledge, but he replied that he was getting closer to God through this deranged nonsense. Curiouser and curiouser.
I had one of my men stake him to a tree, telling him that he would soon be as close to God as one can possibly get. Without being the Duke himself, of course.
Most Noble Brethren!
Sir Kyle, you do impress! Despite being known throughout the land by such dastardly names as “The Windowmaker,” “The Skull-Splitter,” and—perhaps the most terrifying moniker of them all— “Harvester of Bollocks,” I found your compassionate offer of replacement mares to be a welcome display of generosity!
As you are no doubt aware however, my fortune is nearly limitless, and while I appreciate the gesture, I’m sure I will be able to source more horses in…oh, I don’t know—the village?
I will dispatch my henchmen at once to requisition some unguarded steeds from the townfolk and have them re-branded as my own. A penny saved is a penny earned, I always say! Ha-ha!
You were quite right to tack the charlatan you encountered to the nearest tree, but I do have one concern: I pray he was pinned aggressively enough to restrict all movement and maximize his torment, but lightly enough as to do as little damage as possible to the bark as possible. As a member of the warrior elite, you are no doubt aware that our craftsmen require both the heartwood and outermost layers of the tree to be undamaged in order to produce quality longbows, as they must have both elastic and rigid properties. But I digress.
It seems Baron Von Wardstein is away without notice…again. As a soldier of fortune, I can only imagine what ferocity he is inflicting in far off lands. Perhaps he will relate his exploits upon his return?
Lady and Gentleman,
In the midst of a periodic Marblecutter’s meeting in a distant city-state, I was alerted by an (apparent) urgent summons by the Duke.
After beating the messenger mercilessly with my paddle, I read the scroll clutched in his stiffening hand – and I saw was nothing other than another annoying plea for attention. Mayhap I should remind the Duke who else wants my attention – everybody. Because I am the most ruthless and successful Baron mercenary in the land. And in all the others you have undoubtedly never visited because you are otherwise occupied demonstrating card tricks the varying lapdogs of your incestuous court.
At any rate, I campaign to enhance the wealth and riches of the kingdom, and to not-coincidentally quench my endless bloodlust. I shall return subject to my intemperate whimsy. Perhaps also to paddle Sir Kyle, who in these times of trouble finds solitude in resting beneath apple trees. Unlike the undersigned – a rampaging Renaissance Man in all senses of the word.
-Wardstein The Great
I admit I was the victim of some confusion previously as I had no idea from whence this ‘Baron mercenary’ cousin of yours had come. Luckily, this most recent correspondence has greatly improved my clarity.
At first I thought, “Why would a ‘great mercenary’ feel the need to proclaim himself with such voracity? Wouldn’t his deeds sow his legend for him? Why the bluster? And why the uncalled for and undeserved threats? Should we be promoting division in our land?”
…but I later came to different understanding: clearly this a “special” case.
As I was not born into the elite stations that the Duke and the Baron were, I can only provide conjecture and speculation, but I think I have a firm grasp on the situation now and can make sense of the preceding ramblings. When marrying and preserving the ‘purity’ of your noble lines I understand it is sometimes necessary to stay “in the family,” to borrow a turn of phrase. The estimable Wardstein has apparently felt the burden of this more than most.
But do not despair, my good Wardstein. Truly you are touched by God.
And as for you, noble Duke, this is yet another example of your peerless empathy. Kudos are deserved.
Luckily this comprehension has also led me to uncover the mystery surrounding who attacked one of the rudimentary schools I had set up for the village children near the border that divides my lands from the Baron’s.
Sir Wardstein, I urge you to keep your “campaigning” on your side of our mutual boundary and will remind you that slaying 11 and 12 year olds does little to add to your already shining legacy.
Before I ready the executioner, would you be so kind as to explain how Baron Von Wardstein, who shares the same bloodline and myself, might have some sort of—I confess, I can barely bring myself to write the words—some sort of “corruption” in his family history?
I will of course give you the benefit of the doubt, but if you are casting that one stone, you have unintentionally cast two.
As Archduke, I have never been known to make a mistake, but this might be the first.
At your leisure, Sir Kyle.
…but I’d hurry.
Quite the opposite, I assure you. The Baron has, if anything, received too much of your bloodlines nobility and greatness, but is limited by his earthly body. As evidenced by his most recent email he continues to kill and maim without regard. This is obviously his right, but one must conclude that he is driven to distraction. Too much fire in his blood, I would suppose. The methods of bloodletting have come a long way recently, perhaps it should be investigated? I’m sure that my reference to science will have me lampooned once again, but I feel obligated to make the attempt.
No matter, I was of the impression that I would not be simply another lackey, and allowed to speak my mind. If this is not the case I am sorely disappointed. On that note I worry that the Baron’s constant plundering is both weakening our nation and gaining us enemies. Remember Wardstein, discretion is the better part of valor.
Dictated but not read,
You forget yourself. When employing 10th-grade Shakespearian quotes to make your point, you forget you must indeed be the most virtuous man in all the kingdom, so discreet you are in hiding in the castle. Look to the window – it is the east. And I, Baron Von Wardstein, am coming. From the east.
I have just executed a sheep I named Kyle! It was great fun, and I shall plunder to my heart’s content as I make my way back to the keep.
My Dear friends,
If you wish to test your mettle, I encourage it. My charges will rigorously defend my fife. You shall learn the difference between terrified peasants and slightly less terrified peasants very quickly! And you shall know terror. (Though not to the extent of either aforementioned groups of peasants.)
A better and less destructive idea may be for the good Duke to have a tourney, perhaps in Beth’s honour? That way we could prove our might on the field of battle without sacrificing many men, horses and supplies. Especially with the possible invasion from the north, I feel we would be ill advised to escalate this conflict further. What say you, Duke?
With that said, I will abide no more sullying of my good name or shameless slaughtering of animals. Should the good Baron still not stand down in the East I will release the dogs of war upon him. And he shall know my wrath. And the land shall weep.
Your fellow servant in Christ,
I believe you have missed the true meaning of my gruff entreaties.
As men of the sword, we take what we please from those unable to defend it. That which we acquire, we take, unlike inheritors of the throne.
My words are meant to rouse your ire – quite so! As a challenge to your people, to rise against the “noble” oppressors who have their spotless boot upon your neck. Shall you truly turn to the Duke for protection, or join me in this escapade?
What say you, Sir Kyle? Perhaps we should visit the Duke together?
Baron (and to a lesser extent Duke),
Ah, now I perceive the thrust of your correspondence. And I daresay, you have only brought to the forefront a plan of mine that was already mid-hatched. You have yourself noted my penchant for ‘sitting idly’ in my castle, but I am in fact doing anything but. I have been consolidating my territory and procuring better arms and armaments for my people. I have been educating a small officer corps and I have been propagandizing among both my and the Duke’s villagers. Luckily this isn’t hard as he kills a score or more of them daily, and constantly sends his bastard children to them for upbringing. Truly a vicious cycle.
But I now rejoice. With your bloodlust and ruthlessness in the mix, the time is indeed nigh. I need no longer sit dishonestly loyal to this tyrant.
From my steed, fitted for battle,
Most hot-tempered gentlemen,
Though this is not very typical of your Archdukeness, I feel I must offer my apologies to you both. You see, it has been a most irksome morning, and I fear that by questioning Sir Kyle’s loyalty, I did instigate a chain reaction that is totally understandable among warriors as fine as yourselves. In my defense, let me take you through my morning so far, though reliving it for you will undoubtedly cause me much stress.
First, sitting down at my desk as the sun was rising, I consumed not one, but two vessels of the most horrid black coffee! Truly gentlemen, it was most awful! That pond I have shown each of you? The one I’ve since filled to capacity with subjects I’ve had to dispose of? Imagine if you will you had to drink what liquid their bloated corpses hadn’t absorbed. Then imagine it worse!
I summoned the Maid immediately and demanded an explanation, only to have her sheepishly suggest that I had consumed the contents of my ink wells. Ridiculous! Normally I’d have decorated the rot iron fence with her head, but being a merciful Master, I merely removed her tongue and hands and gave them to my hound, Kenneth. Normally he will eat most anything, but even he found her low born flesh to be most unsatisfactory. I daresay, do you any of you have need for a formerly beautiful servant girl with no hands or tongue? Ha ha! I wrote before I spoke! What use could she possibly have now? We already know she makes dreadful coffee! Fence!
Next, in an effort to calm my nerves, I decided to listen to the music of Aerosmith. Have either of you chanced upon the Fletcher from the village? In any event, he performed beautifully and I could feel my spirits lifting! However, when attempting to hit an incredibly high note which I have come to know and love from his thrice-daily performances, he…was a little flat. He too will accompany the maid on the fence now!
Horror of horrors, to cap things off, I had messengers arrive from the two of you, and upon opening their satchels to produce your correspondence, what did they have to offer? Nothing!
“I say, have you no word from my noble brethren?” I asked them.
They merely shrugged and pleaded that I be merciful for losing what you both no doubt spent a great deal of time and thought writing!
And I was merciful!
…for the now have pride of place atop the most ornate section of my beautiful, beautiful fence!
Along with this note, please know that you each have a new messenger waiting outside beside your separate carts, each of which contain SCORE of scullery maids!
Wardstein tossed the scroll into the fire and stared heroically into the flames.
“Well – what did it say?” Sir Kyle asked. “Do we fight, or what?”
“I dunno, he was saying something about a fence and that he looks like a girl. It’s like he’s begging us to attack with messages like those.”
He began to play air mandolin for no apparent reason.
Midday, the head of battle. Many unarmoured corpses litter the ground, but Sir Kyle and Baron von Wardstein stand untouched, encased in the finest armour.
“Blast these infernal fences, Wardstein!” Sir Kyle says as a footman comes to clean his sword. “I tire of them.”
“Me as well, good Sir Knight,” replies the Baron, thrusting his sword into an approaching (unarmed) man.
“Twas my footman, noble Baron.”
The two stand for a moment, as the mortally wounded man bleeds out. Blood courses down the Baron’s face, but he seems not to notice the rivulets that run across his mouth.
“No matter,” he says. “We must needs a way past these damned fences.”
Sir Kyle walks slowly over to one, cutting down the two pre-teen boys in his way mercilessly. “I have noticed that, being a fence, they are quite low to the ground.”
“Indeed, it also looks as if one could, with enough of a run, bowl right through it,” the Baron adds, nodding.
“Stand to reason, I suppose, given the men and materials that went into this. It appears to be held together in many spots by…hair?”