Duke Jiri rode out to approach the two horsemen seeking to parley. He was mounted once again on his favourite horse, his gleaming black mare, which he allowed to prance for effect. One of the approaching men was Brother Velimir, who was now openly wearing his sword over his clothes. The other man, an extremely stocky man wearing simple armour, looked strangely familiar to Jiri. “Hail, my lord Duke!” said Velimir and Jiri nodding in return. “We are grateful that you have accepted to parley. Allow me to present the spokesman for the returning exiles, Ritter Gregor Mihailovic…”.
“Gregor Mihailovic? We have met before, I think”, Jiri interrupted. Then, as he looked over Gregor’s own fine horse, which he also recognized, he knew when and where.
Gregor replied “Yes my lord, we met on the road a week ago, you were on your way north from Douma on a hunting trip. You had the great charity to help my father and I with our broken wagon. We thank you again, my lord”.
Ah yes, that was you? By St. Vladimir! I took you for a farmer, or so you said you were. You were on your way to Travunia to see your father home, no? And yet here you are, in my duchy and at the head of an army. I ask myself if you were entirely truthful with me, my good knight Gregor”.
Gregor flushed a little, “Forgive me my lord, but I told you no lies. My goal is certainly to return with my father to our old home in Travunia, though our road is far from straight. And I am indeed a farmer. My father was granted a small domain from the Duke of Zadar as a reward for his service. It was nothing more than a farm really but it provided well for us, we raised the some of best horses in all of the Duchy! I have long done my father’s service to the Duke as a knight but we have been farmers for most of my life.
You were at the siege of Zadar then? How is it that you escaped?
My lord, the Venetians and the Crusaders arrived in ships and disembarked very quickly. There were so many of them; the siege was all over and the Duke was dead by the time I arrived with men from my district on the northern frontier. After the sack of the city, the Venetians started to seize the Duke’s lands and dispossessed his followers, like my family. We fled and lost everything of course, except what we could carry with us. There are some survivors of the sack of the city here with us, but not many escaped”.
“But there are over three thousand of you here, I am told. You cannot all be refugees from Zadar”, asked Jiri. “Not all my lord. We followed an inland route to stay away from the Venetians, on back roads through the hills and forests. Many Syldavian exiles have lived in those lawless places since the Bordurians came. They took us in during our passage, and most have joined us, as have some of your subjects”.
“Ah, the celebrated outlaws have come home too, there can be few Syldavians left abroad” repled Jiri, looking briefly over at Velimir who coughed impatiently. Turning back to Gregor, Jiri continued “Well, here you are in Hum. What is it that you want here? Are you here to offer me war? Jiri pulled himself up in his saddle and put his gloved fist on his hip beside his sword hilt.
“My lord, we have come to reclaim Syldavia from the Bordurians. We will start in Travunia for that is where they are weakest, and so we wish to go there immediately. We ask for your aid in this enterprise my lord, although we realize that this is difficult given the power of the Bordurians in your Duchy” said Gregor, Jiri flushed and scowled at the answer. “At the least, we wish to have your leave to pass through Hum on our way to Travunia. Hum is not our enemy but we are well prepared and capable of resisting anyone who tries to stop us. We are strong enough to force our way through…”.
|Image attributed to Duke Jiri Almazout, from the Rex Regis Syldavinae, by Abbot Remedio|
Jiri responded quickly and coldly “Are you indeed? It is well that you are confident but from my perspective you are caught between the hammer and the anvil and that is regrettable. You are driven from your homes but you arrive here as an armed force, unannounced and uninvited. An army does not pass through a foreign country like breeze, without effect. You have only to consider the misery that has befallen the “hosts” of the Venetians and the Crusaders this past year, in Zadar, here and in the Empire. Your presence here imperils everything for us. At worst, you invite the intervention of the Bordurians who will seek to destroy you and will willingly raze the whole Duchy to do so. At best, you will become robbers and sow discontent. You will surely run short of supplies before long and what will you do then? Your men will prey upon the common folk, who will turn against you. You will spoil the honour of your cause. I cannot allow that to happen. And mark my words – you have a formidable army, but you have a long march across open ground between here and Travunia, and your cavalry is ah… sparse. Are you prepared to try to fight me with my horsemen unopposed behind your lines? With your women and children accomanying you and your strength spent down, you have even less ability to sustain a defeat than I do!” Jiri glanced over at Velimir through narrowed eyes as he finished his sentence. Jiri continued “The only solution for you that I know of, one that saves the honour of your cause and that of Hum, and that will keep Borduria on the defensive, is for you to surrender to me”.
Gregor turned red and muttered as beads of sweat appeared on his brow. Velimir took in a sharp breath of air and looked on tensely.
“Yes, I said surrender. Accept my legitimate authority and leadership as Duke and I will be able to lead you myself to Travunia and against the Bordurians. With your surrender, and only with your surrender, we will have a clear and unified command, our two armies can fight together and the people will know to support you”. Jiri saw that Gregor and Velimir were somewhat mollified by his explanation. He continued “And, as Duke, I can ensure that the restoration of your lost lands and titles is legal and legitimate, or at least compensated. We can start in Travunia. This will probably be of interest to at least some of your number…”. Jiri looked quickly from one to the other of the men before him, catching them both making unconscious calculations and looking like hungry pups with meat waved in front of them. “These are my demands of you. Do you accept?”
Gregor answered soberly, looking reassured, “My lord, I will put your demand to my comrades. They are assembled and await my return”. Velimir looked relieved as well.
‘Well, good then. Let us go together and I will speak to them all. And I would take it as a great favour to be able to review your troops in person, they look quite fine from other other side of the valley”. Jiri spurred his horse forward to keep even with a surprised Gregor and Velimir, and gestured to his bodyguard and standard-bearer to follow.