He tumbled into the bed and fell asleep in seconds, to be awoken hours later by a very surprised knight with an even more surprised wench, who was quickly shooed away with a coin for her time, her discomfiture, and her silence.
“So what news have you got?” asked the knight of his feral-looking and unexpected guest.
“What have you got to eat?” replied Jispin. “I’ve come a long way.”
“Such a way to greet your lord and employer, my young friend. But I suppose a growing boy needs to eat more than mice to grow big.” Sir Andronikos returned to the door, and shouted down to the departing wench. “I think I’m still hungry. A joint, and a loaf of fine bread should do! Bring it up, on the double, lass!” Turning back to the Kurgen, he asked again. “Well?”
Jispin briefly recounted his adventure, and as he finished up his current mission to seek aid, he handed the message pouch to Andronikos.
“Shouldn’t this go to the castle, and the commander of the city guard?” he asked, puzzled.
“I don’t trust him, but I cannot read the message. And the skill to reseal it properly I do not have.”
“Ah, I see. Yes. Well, let’s have a closer look, shall we?”
In a few minutes, after examining it by the light of several candles, the knight had carefully opened it and unfolded the message. “Ah, the benefits of my own misspent youth trying to keep ahead of my kin.” He read it, muttering under his breath. “Yes, short report of actions, estimates of numbers and disposition, etc. Request for a relief force of at least a legion in strength, with horse and heavy on the archers… makes sense. Difficult, too, as there is no full legion, reinforced or not, anywhere nearby. Ah, and isn’t that a gem?” He looked up at Jispin, then lowered his eyes to read the passage. “I would direct the paymaster to reward the Kurgen boy carrying this message, who risked getting skinned alive by the Thune when bringing you this message, the one hundred gold crowns I offered for anyone who would volunteer and who made it. Then fine him one hundred gold crowns and execute him for getting us into this situation with bad advice on the original attack on their encampment. Distribute that reward to the widows.”
Andronikos looked up. “He offered a hundred gold to carry a message? That’s a great deal of money to carry a message a week’s ride.”
Jispin told of what they’d watched the Thune do to the scouts and the first messenger. The knight didn’t press for more details. “Nobody else volunteered,” he ended.
“I wouldn’t doubt it. So…. I think. Hmmm. Yes, I think I can forge that hand.” He found a pen and paper, then spent a half hour practicing the centurion’s simple script. He was soon satisfied, and started to recopy the missive, leaving occasional mangled syntax, grammar, and spelling mistakes uncorrected, and only editing out the last portion. When done and dry, he resealed it in it’s envelope.
“Now then, my dear boy – don’t eat any more!” Jispin looked at his unfinished meal. “You see, if you come in from town, full and clean, they’ll suspect something. So when the ink is dry and the wax has cooled you’ll have to sneak out of the town, get wet in the rain and fields again, and come in to the front gate, then go straight to the captain of the guard as though you just ran in. Be humble, or at least not as blasted cocky as you normally are, lest they smell a rouse and do what the original suggested out of spite and the fact that you’re Kurgen. Play down your role – just a humble scout and messenger, and can you finally have something to eat? They’ll get their hackles up enough over a hundred gold. If they offer only ten, argue a little but back down fast, or you’ll likely get nothing. You’re tough, but even you can’t take on a whole army in their own tower.”
Five minutes later, Jispin was back out the window and disappearing into the night once again.
The night watch at the gate didn’t want to let him in, but when he clearly knew the names of the missing cohort’s centurions and optio, as well as others and their mission, they finally let him in. It took another hour to find and rouse the captain of the guard and separate him from his planed nocturnal tryst with Centurion Junius Petronius’ wife. It took another hour to reach the First Cohort’s Primus Centurion, Laurentius Aquila, who looked like he was like as not flay a few guards himself for the delay once he got the gist of Jispin’s message. He choked at the hundred gold reward, and asked for details on why a message might be worth so much.
Jispin told them, in flat, unemotional tones, exactly what had happened to the scouts and messenger, sparing no relevant details in this retelling. “That fate is what I risked to bring you word so they don’t die to a man, by suicide or torture. I don’t like Argentains. They’ve killed some of my own family. But I hate Thune more – they enslaved me. Centurions Glaucia, Maximus Aelianus, and the rest are men. They deserve a chance to die like men, not die to fill a Thune slaver’s stew-pot.”
Primus Centurion Laurentius Aquila nodded curtly. “Finances are devilishly tight. All I can give is twenty, and my deepest thanks on the behalf of their families.”
“TWENTY? BUT- I… He said…” Jispin looked back and forth between the others present. “Damn. All right. When I see them again I’ll tell him he owes a debt. Eighty gold. Twenty for now, then….”
Mobilizing a partial legion and preparing for a fast war against a faster opponent wasn’t Jispin’s problem, and not one he could really help with even it it was. So he didn’t do much but enjoy hot food, cold beer, warm baths, short talks with Sir Andronikos, and sleep for the next week.
-=-=-=-=-=-=- FINI -=-=-=-=-=-=-
End of another episode. As always, thoughts, comments, feedback, etc., welcome