Chronicles of the Nova English - 2

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Chronicles of the Nova English - Part Two; Baptism of Ale

With special thanks to Ardy for his input and work on the first section of this story

Waldemar Zinkgraven was a man who, for various reasons that are widely known, was a most wanted man, a marked man, a man who was obliged to be somewhat circumspect in his movements. For this reason he never went anywhere ashore without armed bodyguards in sufficient number to deal with practically any threat he was likely to encounter – whether it be vengeful Nova English or Bretts, or a posse of Imperial Marshals come to finally deliver the long evaded summons back to Shirekeep and the doubtful justice that awaited him there.

His dreams of conquering the eastern seaboard of Keltia might have vanished in a moment of betrayal by his erstwhile allies on the Imperial Advisory Council, but the Burgrave had still managed to live a charmed existence since the day his fleet had been caught in an air raid by his own side.

He had narrowly evaded capture at Hempton in the year 1657 and avoided being bundled off to the grim island fortress of New Blackstone by the Prefect Jeremiah Avon-El. These straightened circumstances had however now obliged him to throw his lot in permanently with the Sea-Reavers, his now sadly depleted band of Auxiliaries turned privateers.

With his Steward’s pay at an end, his estates and offices in Batavia confiscated, and the earnings from piracy being something he was obliged to share with his somewhat reluctant protectors, Waldemar decided that the most reliable method for acquiring money was to make it himself. A former official of the Office of Bounties and Factorage, it transpired that the forging of counterfeit credit notes and travellers cheques was something well within the competence of an ex-Imperial with access to the right headed notepaper and stamps. Whilst he’d proved himself modestly successful in the realms of financial fraud, sufficient of his counterfeit promissory notes had arrived in the ledgers of the Iron Company as to welcome their decidedly unwelcome interest. Officers from the Iron Company, armed with the tools of their trade reserved for those so foolhardy as to attempt to defraud them, were duly dispatched and made their landing at Dietsberg. By then however, forewarned by his Reaver custodians, Zinkgraven had already flown the coop.

His time ashore at an end, Zinkgraven returned to the maritime depredations of old. A squadron of five ships, armed merchantmen salvaged from the debacle on the Warring Isles, and three hundred reavers. It was at this time that his last remaining hostage, a journalist from the Shirekeep Gazette, jumped overboard and swam ashore, having by then endured the Burgrave’s company for several years longer than he’d anticipated. With this force he’d ranged far and wide across the Western Seas. Attempting to avoid Imperial and Nova English interest, he’d focused his attentions on the Jing and the Palliscians, less sympathetic targets to be sure. Unloading in one instance a haul worthy of Captain Hatch himself, comprising of Rouge spider-silks, Cinnamon brandies, barrels of mead, and also cages containing two sea-sick Bijeko-Lisea-Nas, into the care of his distinctly alarmed intermediaries.

The thought of what he’d lost however continued to gnaw away at Zinkgraven and, as the controversy of the Great Enterprise of Keltia had died down, he applied to Shirekeep for a pardon via the contacts he’d maintained in the Sxiro-Natopian Keltia Command. Their response had led him to believe that the pardon would be readily granted if he was prepared to resign himself to an appropriate anonymity. With the Batavian situation hotting up, Shireroth was hardly going to want to aggravate matters by executing one of its most famous sons, so his contacts assured him.

After several months in which the wheels of officialdom revolved in their usual sluggishness, the pardon duly materialised – in New Blackstone, the seat of Prefect Avon-El, the Burgrave’s nemesis. Unperturbed, Zinkgraven relished the prospect of making his former insubordinate underling eat humble pie as he was obliged to welcome Zinkgraven back into the fold.

Indeed, Avon-El appeared to have swallowed his pride, informing Zinkgraven that the pardon awaited his personal collection, in exchange for a bond of five-hundred Kalgarrands, the Erb having endured a slight crisis of confidence since certain ill-considered remarks by the King of Goldshire concerning its worth had become widely known, and the nominal surrender of his ships and prizes.

Zinkgraven accepted the terms, and on the 7th of the fifth month in the year 1660 arrived off New Blackstone in his flagship, the armed merchantman “Defiance”, followed by the rest of his fleet and twelve captured vessels in tow, and cast anchor under the shadow of the island’s ramshackle fortress and ziggurat.

Minutes later, the former Steward and the island’s Prefect were face to face. Zinkgraven formally surrendered himself, ships, and goods, to the Prefect and made him a gift of six packs of Steward's Micge, a Nova English beer brewed in his own dubious honour. The Lord Jeremiah Avon-El in turn presented Waldemar with the pardon. Then he arrested him.

‘But the pardon!’ Zinkgraven exclaimed, brandishing it under the younger man’s nose.

‘I suggest that you read it.’ Answered the Prefect, curtly.

Astounded, Zinkgraven glanced down at the paper clutched in his hands. It was a cargo manifest.

“SS Spereholm – Cargo Manifest

Ergonian Labourers – 10,000. Composition; Female – 7,852 Male – 2,148 Age Range – 16-30 (As specified) All supplied disease free and checked by the National Health Institute.

40 No. 9 gallon casks of Fréamiht Traditional Dark Ale”

‘The dark ale is a consideration for your crew.’ added Avon-El with a supercilious smirk.

‘My crew?’ Zinkgraven began to ask dumbly, turning round to glance at his bodyguards just in time to see one of them raise the stock of their rifle and bring it crashing down onto his skull.

An ironic cheer had risen from the troops mustered on the shore and from the reavers in their boats as the Burgrave went limp and slumped to the floor. Those present on the shore gathered round to give the ritual kicking reserved by loyal subjects for any member of the nobility careless enough to lose consciousness in their vicinity. The gag and zip-ties had been applied, none too gently, once his captors had enjoyed their fill of kicking the sprawled man bloody. No-one had forgotten that before Waldemar had become a great lord, he had once been the Imperial Republic’s most ruthless tax-collector. If ever a man was deserving of a kicking on the way down it was he.

Trussed up like a hog ready for roasting, Zinkgraven had been dumped into the hold of a trawler for the journey to West Grinstead, hidden under a great and stinking heap of mackerel for the duration of the journey.

The Mercurian Nova English noted curiously that the Shirerithian fishing community in that city was extra boisterous and exuberant in its drunken revels on the evening that the trawler hove into harbour. The reason as to the why would not become widely known for some time after.

Port Neil Airport was a hive of activity, soldiers in Grendals and on foot patrolled the chain-link outer fence. In the air above the cracked and patched asphalt runway a flight of NERAF jets patrolled the sky awaiting the ominous arrival of a most precious cargo. The airport still held the scars of the recent conflict, great clods of earth blemished the otherwise pristine turf of the airport and stacks of construction equipment and scaffolding illustrated the ongoing reconstruction.

Alric Daeg leaned against the fuselage of a parked L-15 Helicopter, watching events playout as he chain smoked his way through a pack of B&H Platinum. His recent promotion to Lieutenant and connections elsewhere had enabled him to be part of a historic event.

Without warning a series of barked orders from around the facility sent soldiers and armoured vehicles scattering to their pre-designated positions. Alric dropped his cigarette, stubbing it out with the heel of his combat boots as he looked across the ocean and saw a black smudge increasing in size.

Within a few moments a non-descript plane descended onto the runway, its tyres bouncing on the patches of fresh tarmac and screeching as the breaks were applied. By the time it came to a halt, a Grendal had already screamed across the runway coming to a stop by the plane’s door. From his position Alric could make out a small squad of men dressed in black and faces covered in balaclavas escort a dishevelled and hooded figure from the plane. Faint cries of foreign curses emanated from the hooded man as he was roughly shoved into the back of the Grendal. Alric could only guess the identity of the balaclavas as he watched them shake hands with a senior officer before boarding their plane.

As the plane made ready to take-off, the Grendal sped off to join a convoy of five other Grendels and two R-06 tanks. Behind Alric the pilot of his L-15 had begun to spin-up its rotors, blasting him with dust and the remnants of his earlier cigarettes. He quickly climbed abroad, strapping himself inside the helicopter that would be helping to provide over watch. The two door gunners racked the bolts of the door mounted GPMGs as the craft began to lift off.

The convoy rushed out of the airport, speeding through country roads that had been earlier closed by officers of the Beweardian. Bemused onlookers waited patiently at the checkpoints as they watched the armoured vehicles rumble past. Eventually the convoy turned onto a track leading to a non-descript farmhouse. Within the courtyard of the farm were a small collection of civilian and military vehicles and a platoon of heavily armed Royal Commandos. By the time that Alric’s helicopter had landed and disgorged him the prisoner had already been whisked away into the farm’s imposing stone barn.

Near its entrance Alric caught sight of a familiar looking Royal Commando. ‘Fuller?’ he said.

The soldier turned, his rifle tightly held, eyeing Alric with a fierce stare and grimace before recognition turned it into a smile. Fuller slapped Alric on the back as he responded ‘Christ! Daeg, it’s been years!’

‘Aye too long! You on duty after the trial?’ Asked Alric.

Fuller chuckled as he replied ‘I’m not due back to Newcastle until tomorrow, so I’m sure that I can sneak off for a few pints.’

‘Good! I’ll catch you later!’ Replied Alric, as he entered the barn. Inside the stone edifice of the barn two more Royal Commandos stood guard at a set of open steel trapdoors. Alric passed them his Military ID, which they scrutinised before waving him down the steel staircase of the trapdoor.

As Alric descended, he quickly got the feeling that this was a long abandoned bunker. There was a distinct musky smell and the florescent lighting flickered as old unreliable generators provided power for the first time in decades. Within the bunker there was a hustle of activity as soldiers, government officials and staff from the Office of Court Proceedings bundled into what would have been the bunker’s mess room. Alric followed the crowd into the room, which had been haphazardly converted into a courtroom. Steel benches were aligned in front of a set of heavy wooden desks, behind which sat the judge and the prosecutors from the Office of Court Proceedings. The prisoner still blinded by his hood was cuffed to a steel chair that had been bolted to the concrete utilitarian floor.

Alric quickly took a seat as the judge pounded his desk with his mallet, silencing the court in an instant. Two cameras recording the trial for later release to the media focused on the middle-aged man clad in the militaristic red uniform of a judge. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen of the Faedertellus, we are in attendance in this place today for the trial and judgement of Burgrave Zinkgraven. The disgraced former steward of Shireroth and commander of the forces that attacked our great nation without motive.’ Announced the gruff voice of the judge, as the guards beside the prisoner finally removed the hood.

The judge turned towards the prisoner before continuing ‘Waldemar Zinkgraven, you stand before this most gracious court to be sentenced for the crime of terrorism and attempted kidnap of two Nova English citizens. What say you?’

Zinkgraven responded with a tirade of abuse in his native tongue, anger seeping from every inch of his body as he strained at his restraints.

A slight smile crossed the face of the judge ‘Well let’s begin then.’

The trial lasted another two hours as the prosecutors displayed an array of documents, video footage and witness accounts. Eventually the judge smashed his mallet against his desk before speaking ‘Waldemar Zinkgraven, having judged the evidence held against you in the crime of attempted kidnapping of Nova English citizens and acts of terror against the Faedertellus. I hear by find you guilty of both crimes, as such through the powers given to me by the Anti-Terror Act and to reflect the greed that has led you to commit these crimes. You are sentenced to be baptised in a vat of Fréamiht Ale for your final judgement before God, thereafter your worldly body shall be held for display in the great cathedral in Newcastle-Upon-Eastmoor for five days before being transported to your homeland for burial.’

The crowd applauded the sentence before being brought to order by the judge. From a perch in the back of the room came a priest from the Church of the Holy Lance, dressed in the traditional black robe of his holy kin. Behind him followed two shadows who shoved against a large wooden cask bringing it to a rest next to Zinkgraven. The priest dipped his hand into a chalice of holy water, then flicked the water into the protesting face of the fallen steward. ‘Hallowed are we the soldiers of God, his sword arm on Micras and the chosen to carry out his will. Waldemar Zinkgraven despite your most sinful acts of greed, you have been given this most gracious opportunity to be judged by the lord almighty himself and seek his forgiveness as you stand before the battlements of heaven. Do you wish to proclaim your humility to God before you leave your worldly body?’ Said the priest as attendants placed a platform around the cask.

The priests question was met with spittle and abuse by Zinkgraven as he was hoisted from his chair by two burly guards. As the Zinkgraven’s arms were bound to his torso, the priest gave a non-chalent shrug and continued with the ceremony. ‘Brothers and Sisters of the Faedertellus, you will now bear witness to the holy baptism of a sinful man so that he may bow before God in penance for his wicked acts.’ As the priest spoke the guards hoist the bound Zinkgraven into the cask, barely able to move the dark liquid and froth hovered barely below his lips. The priest stepped onto the platform and placed his hand onto the head of Zinkgraven. As he began to speak again he thrust his hand down, the muscles in his arm straining as continued the service. ‘Lord Almighty, we your soldiers upon this world give unto you a sinner who’s corruption is so great, that it requires a final judgement by yourself. As we cleanse his worldly body of its sins, we send you his soul so that you may teach him humility as he witnesses your greatness. Let him be born again before you oh great lord, make him repent for his sins and bow before you.’

As the priest finished his sermon the strain against his arm had ceased and no further bubbles emanated from the liquid grave of Waldemar Zinkgraven. The priest held his hands towards the heavens ‘Let us finish with the pledge to our lord almighty.’

At his command all those within the court spoke the pledge in unison ‘Lord Almighty. Blessed are we your faithful soldiers. May our spears stay sharp and our shield walls unbreakable, as we defend your honour and truth. May our strength and dedication be unwavering, as we face the trials ahead. May our martyrdom and selflessness be awe-inspiring, as we battle the daemons of this world. Forever we pledge our allegiance as your warriors on Micras. Amen.’ With the pledge finished the priest took a seat.

‘This court is now dismissed.’ Said the judge as a pair of attendants hammered the lid of the cask into place.

Alric mused to himself as another chapter of history was finally closed, before the alluring smell of ale as Zinkgraven’s life was being extinguished had reminded him of his planned drinking session that evening.