Baron Javor Dokovic, a well-dressed and well-built man in his thirties with carefully-tended good looks betraying a certain vanity, black hair and a close-cropped black beard, lolled in his chair in the Duke’s hall in Douma. It was the largest chair at a table set up in front of the hall’s great hearth and the Baron had come to find it quite a comfortable place since he had installed himself in the hall two days earlier. To his right, at the far end of the hall, stood the empty Ducal throne on a low dias. It was an ornate, Roman-style affair carved with the forms of animals and gazing at it had started Dokovic thinking, as would any man of similar ambition. However, the stress of his present situation was hard to ignore. The Baron looked down at the table in front of him and toyed with a plate of fruit and sipped from a cup of watered wine while he reflected on the last few days and those just ahead. He was, in fact, in a pickle. He had been sent by his superior, Count Branko Nikolic governor of Djordjevaro, with 150 soldiers to scour the duchy of Hum of conspirators plotting against the Bordurian regime. These orders came ultimately from the Viceroy himself. The Monastery of St. Narcissus in Starisveta, like many others in Syldavia, was believed to be a nest of plotters loyal to the old kingdom. Javor’s orders were to enter the monastery, determine which “brothers” were members of old noble families and arrest them. This the Baron had done; he had arrived at Starisveta at the head of fifty soldiers, put his hands on all of six likely suspects and, well, if a few heads were broken along the way, how better to send a message? Having cowed the town, the Baron and his troop marched away without further ado. So far so good, but things went awry from that point on.
Only a day later, news came of a sudden uprising west of Starisveta along with disturbing tales of Bordurian officials having been taken seized. Dokovic sent his prisoners on to Djordjevaro, gathered up all of his troops and marched back to Starisveta, where he stopped to obtain information about the rebels and their location, and then they continued westward. This territory was unfamiliar to the Baron and the guides he conscripted in Starisveta must have been conspirators as well, for he walked straight into an ambush. The Baron’s small force was confronted with a much larger body of troops and, dissolving quickly into panic and disorder, they fared very poorly. He lost essentially all of his infantry in a few minutes. The Baron beat a hasty retreat with his cavalry and a few infantrymen who were lucky enough to have been picked up by the riders; he had now perhaps seventy men, with many now injured. Fortunately for him, most of the rebel force was composed of infantry and missle troops who could not close on the Bordurian cavalry. Dokovic and his horsemen got away without much pursuit. Dokovic paused once again at Starisveta to regain his breath and, hoping to rekindle the spirit of his shaken troops, he ordered them to burn the St. Narcissus monastery in revenge. This gesture seems to have failed however as many of his soldiers grew even more fearful of reprisals and others seem to have gained a thirst for pillaging…
The Baron and his men were wary of potential enemies everywhere they went in and everyone they met. Arriving, spent and fearful, before the gates of Douma, the Baron had menaced and coaxed his way in. His men were now recovering their spirits in seclusion and in relative safety and the wounded were being treated. Soon, reinforcements from Djordjevaro were likely to arrive. The Baron and his men would be safe at that point but there would also be a second commander in the picture as well, no doubt that upstart Luben Jurvec. But how to master the situation before the reinforcements arrive? If I could get control of some of Hum’s forces, that could be enough, even just of the levy... It is pretty much an emergency anyhow, the levy ought to be raised and in the absence of the Duke (ha! what luck!), who better than me to command them?
The Baron had indeed tried to put his hands on a force of levy soldiers arguing that he was acting in the name of the duchy’s ultimate liege lord but he had been met with resistance so far. That Castellan Drogo was a stubborn man who offered legal justifications for any and all of the arguments the Baron mounted to take control of Hum’s forces. His argument was mostly brute intimidation, but it was hard to intimidate with his battered force now more or less in the shelter of the Duke’s household. The previous evening Dokovic had tried as well to bluff and cajole the Duchess into seeing that the levy was called up, but the formal supper had turned into a long blurry night full of cups of wine, and his head was still a bit foggy because of it. The simpler plan would be to find evidence of complicity in the uprising here in the Duke’s household. With such evidence, the Duke’s authority could be officially expunged and the door would then be open for all sorts of opportunities, a new Count of Douma, at least... That Duchess Franka is thoroughly charming but a clever and wicked creature muttered the Baron to himself while feeling his pulse thudding away in his forehead. It would not surprise me in the least to learn that she was somehow involved in this uprising. It was at this point that Baron Javor Dokovic’s thoughts were interrupted by the doors of the Hall suddenly swinging wide open and striking against the stone walls. He started and winced, and while he looked up, he was hailed in a loud voice crackling with displeasure:
“BARON! To what do I owe the unexpected pleasure of your presence in my Keep?”
It was Duke Jiri striding straight for him, still wearing his spurs, which clattered and scraped on the stone floor. Baron Dokovic froze a moment “Duke… Duke Almazout … you can’t be… you were hunting in the north…”.
“Yes, it is indeed me, I am back now, and sooner than you thought, eh?” came Jiri’s icy reply. “Not a moment too soon at any rate. I am gone but a week and what happens? The Governor’s agents are raiding monasteries and setting off a rebellion in my home counties. Hum was quiet when I left but you have managed to tip it straight into chaos. What have you been up to? Surely these were not your orders?” Jiri’s frustration was finally getting the better of him.
Baron Dokovic, now on his feet and feeling his own temper rising, tried to mount a response saying, with brittleness “I am acting on the orders of the Governor and of the Viceroy. Hum is home to a network of conspiracy, it is my job to expose the plotters and root them out, and that is what I have done”. After a moment Dokovic added, insinuatingly: “Going into the monastery was a regrettable necessity, but it was something that might have been avoided if the present authorities in Hum had kept a better eye on its affairs instead of lavishing its time on deer and ducks…”.
Deer and ducks ? What incredible impertinence! Jiri fought to retain his cool “Exposing the rebels ? By what I have seen, it seems that they are happy to oblige you, having come out and attacked you in the light of day. You have clearly succeeded! And yet here you are, passing the day in my Hall with your force broken, while the rebels grow in strength daily. I am not impressed by your work so far!”
Baron Dokovic replied “The Governor requires that you aid in suppressing this revolt, nurtured in your Duchy. It cannot spread elsewhere. I will require, to begin with, the levy to be called up immediately. I will take command of them and then…
“You will do no such thing” Jiri snapped back. “I remind you that you are in the territory of Hum and I am lord here. The Governor is the Viceroy’s man and you are the Governor's man, but the Governor has no authority to call up the levy in my fiefdom, only in his own. Here, in the south of Hum, that right belongs to me and to the Viceroy. The levy must, in any case, fight under MY command, that is the law".
Rebuffed, the Baron resorted to his final argument, saying “To make myself clear, my lord, you remain in your fiefdom at the sufferance of the Viceroy. The Viceroy requires your diligence in the suppression of this revolt. You will therefore lead your troops against the rebels as soon as possible”. Seeing that these words had a sudden sobering effect on the Duke and, thinking quickly on his feet, the Baron quickly added “You are of course to lead your troops in the field. I am to coordinate your activities with those of the Governor…”.
Grinding his teeth, the Duke growled “I don't need supervision and you haven’t enough force to hold Hum without me. I shall meet the rebels with my men and see for myself what they are made of. I do not underestimate them and I won’t be running home with my tail between my legs”.
“So be it” said Baron Dokovic, icily. “I remind you, the Viceroy requires a victory and an end to the rebellion. I shall take my leave of you then, my lord Duke”.
Left alone in the hall, and overcome with frustration, Jiri took up the chair that the slippery Baron had been sitting in, his own banqueting chair, and struck it against the floor with all his force. The chair splintered with a resounding crack and fell into pieces. Jiri tossed the broken wood he held in his hands into the fireplace beside him and then stormed out of the room.