2019/07/14

Sci-Fi: Space 1977

It's May, 1977. For the past twenty years, there have been two kinds of space-based science fiction films:
  • The adventurous, shiny-chrome-bright, wholesome-to-horror sort (the black and white Buck Rogers serial, Forbidden Planet, Lost In Space, etc.) 
  • The philosophical, hexagon-dome near-future what-if view (2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dark Star, Silent Running, etc.) 
These categories aren't exact (Star Trek sits between them), but if you're a B-movie producer, those are the two wells you're drawing from. And then, on May 25th, 1977, Star Wars: A New Hope is released. It's outrageously popular. Every other B-movie director sits up, salivates, and starts taking notes. What do people like? Spaceships and robots? Ok, we can do spaceships and robots. A princess? Got it. Some weird costumes? Grab some stuff from the Western and the Medieval section. And someone find me a distinguished British actor!

A whole slew of films took the plot elements of Star Wars, changed the order, and tried their luck.

Star Wars is a canon juggernaut today. The average character from the cantina scene has more backstory than I do. It's part of the cultural lexicon. But before canon solidifies, before Star Wars becomes a universe, other films moved in parallel.

Most nerds have thought "what if only the first Star Wars film was canon. Luke never uses a lightsaber. The Force doesn't move objects. Nobody's anybody's relative. What's a Jedi? What were the Clone Wars? Who is the Emperor?" In 1977, the facts are fluid.
Check out the "Soldiers of the Empire" article for the state of canon in 1977.
This blog article - this setting - assumes that all films directly inspired by Star Wars: A New Hope coexist in one shared universe: Space: 1977.

Film Criteria:

  • Release date between May 1977 (Star Wars: A New Hope) and May 1980 (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back).
  • Cannot be inspired by Alien (May 1979). A lot of films were; the special effects were less demanding.
  • No parodies. The film's worldbuilding has to take itself seriously. There needs to be a sense that the director hoped, somehow, that it'd spawn a line of action figures and lunchboxes.
  • Cannot take place mostly on Earth (or the moon). Earth can be mentioned, even visited, but it shouldn't be the whole setting.
The criteria are flexible. In this post, I'm going to review the potentially useful films. The next post will contain a synthesis of the ones that makes the cut, and the third post will contain some rules. I've got no particular timeline on this project. It's just a fun thought experiment.

And yes I've watched everything listed here while preparing this post and writing other content. If you want to fund my recovery, here's a link to my Patreon.

Unconditionally Canonical


Message from Space Battlestar Galactica Starcrash The Humanoid Battle Beyond the Stars Escape from Galaxy 3

1978/04 1978-1979 1979/03 1979/04 1980/05 1981/02
Sequences            
-Opening Text Crawl
x X X

-Opening Narration
X
X

-Slow Pan Under Giant Starship X X X X X X
-Diverse Rubber Alien Bar X




-Streaky Hyperspace



X
-Starfighters In Formation X X X x X X
-Trench Run X
X


Protagonists            
-Heroic Farmboy x x

X
-Plucky Smuggler x x X X X
-Furry Bear-Person





-Princess x x X
X X
-Wise Old Mentor x X X X X
-Non-Speaking Robot x X X X

-Cowardly Emotional Robot

X


-Other Robot X X X
X
Antagonists            
-Dark Helmet X x X X
x
-Emperor X X X x
x
-Faceless Goons X X
X X
-Giant Evil Space Base

X

X
Setting            
-Slightly on Earth





-Mostly on Earth





-Earth Mentioned
x
X X x
Tropes            
-Diverse Rubber Aliens X x

x
-Mysterious Mind Powers X x X X X
-Lightsabers

X


-Light-weapons


X

-Stirring Orchestral Theme X X X X x
-Leitmotifs





Texture            
-Used Future X X

x
-Shiny and Chrome X X X
X X

Capital X indicates a strong theme, small x is a dubious or minor reference.


Message from Space
1978/04
The soundtrack, in places, lifts whole stanzas from Star Wars. The costumes are excellent. Some (but not all) of the spaceships are... literally space-ships, with sails and everything. But the starfighter sequences are surprisingly vivid. The special effects artists must have had experience with miniature plane battles, because they use clouds and asteroids to create very dynamic turns and maneuvers. The non-miniature special effects, especially the green-screen sequences, are... very poor. But hey, it fits Space: 1977.

Battlestar Galactica
1978/09-1979/04
Just the first season. It prompted a lawsuit, so there are definitely similarities between it and Star Wars. There are aliens (and at least one Satan), factions, politics, starfighters, etc.

Starcrash
1979/03
  • Soundtrack by John Barry. A bumbling robot with a southern accent. Released nine months before The Black Hole.
  • A protagonist is captured and suspended upside-down in a cave. A protagonist gets frozen and has to be carefully thawed via timelapse. A protagonist's arm is injured in a lightsaber duel. A floating city has to be evacuated. Released a year before Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. 
  • A protagonist tosses his lightsaber to another protagonist, who proves unexpectedly proficient. The only way to save the day is to crash a ship into another ship in hyperspace. Released 32 years before the latest Star Wars trilogy.
Remarkably prescient, you might think. But on the other hand you've got janky stop-motion robots (both large and small), Christopher Plummer delivering some of the most ridiculous lines ever written, truly bizarre costume choices, very shoddy special effects, and young David Hasselhoff

The Humanoid

1979/04
After 3 minutes of credits, we get the opening crawl (also read aloud by an obliging narrator). The evil Lord Graal wears a black samurai helmet and commands a giant wedge-shaped spaceship. Floating landspeeders. Mysterious mind-powers (Tibetan mind-powers, no less). Laser bows.
Wait, what?
Anyway, this film is unquestionably Space: 1977.

Battle Beyond The Stars
1980/05
Seven Samurai.. in space! A plucky young hero forges a band of rebels, falls in love, flies a starship, etc. I'm going to combine this with Space Raiders (1983), which resuses most of the orignal effects and adds even more Star Wars elements.

Escape from Galaxy 3
1981/02
Technically it's outside the date range, but it's pure Star Wars inspiration. Space kings.  Planets exploding. All the miniature sequences are stock footage from Starcrash, just desaturated. Some of the props were recycled (or possibly remade). Even the protagonists have have similar names and costumes (Stella Star and Akton vs. Belle Star and Lithan).

Canon-Adjacent 


Buck Rogers in the 25th Century The Black Hole Galaxina Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone The Ice Pirates

1979/03 1979/12 1980/06 1983 1984
Sequences          
-Opening Text Crawl

X

-Opening Narration




-Slow Pan Under Giant Starship
X X   X
-Diverse Rubber Alien Bar

X
X
-Streaky Hyperspace
x
X X
-Starfighters In Formation X



-Trench Run X



Protagonists          
-Heroic Farmboy




-Plucky Smuggler

x X X
-Furry Bear-Person




-Princess X

x X
-Wise Old Mentor X x

x
-Non-Speaking Robot X X

X
-Cowardly Emotional Robot X X

X
-Other Robot
X X X X
Antagonists          
-Dark Helmet
x X x
-Emperor X


X
-Faceless Goons
X
x
-Giant Evil Space Base




Setting          
-Slightly on Earth




-Mostly on Earth X



-Earth Mentioned X X x X X
Tropes          
-Diverse Rubber Aliens

X
X
-Mysterious Mind Powers
X


-Lightsabers




-Light-weapons




-Stirring Orchestral Theme
X X X
-Leitmotifs
X
X
Texture          
-Used Future x X
X X
-Shiny and Chrome X
X


Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
1979/03
Too earth-based to qualify despite ticking a surprising number of boxes. The Draconians and their dynastic politics could be included without any issues. The political maneuvering is worth stealing. The rest, nah.

The Black Hole
1979/12
Look, I love this film. I really do. The Cygnus is one of the greatest haunted houses ever made. The score is bombastic. The robots should be corny but they feel real, not like props supported on wires. There's a chilling 3-minute-long unbroken camera flight through literal Hell. Yet, for all that, the film is less Star-Wars-adjacent and more of a sequel to Forbidden Planet. Some elements will make their way into Space: 1977.

Galaxina
1980/06
This film should be disqualified as a parody, but it's pulled out of the dustbin for two reasons: the bumbling crew, lead by Avery Schreiber's mustachioed captain in a uniform straight out of Rogue Trader, are clearly player characters, and the sets are pure Space: 1977. The film feels like someone's Traveller sessions.
C: Where did you get that egg McKinley? Is that an authorized egg?
M: I found it with the rock-eater's belongings. He probably stole it from somewhere. What do you think laid it, sir?
C: Let me have it.
M: Sure sir.
C: A real egg... you know, people used to eat these things. Difficult to imagine, isn't it?
T: It sure is.
M: I can't imagine it. In fact, the whole idea is revolting. Makes me nauseous. Turns my stomach.
T: Enough, private.
C: May I?
M: You're not going to eat it, are you sir?
C: Why not?
M: Well it makes me nauseous, turns my stomach, I really don't think you should eat it.
T: He's right sir. You don't know what kind of an egg that is. You don't know where it's been or who made it.
C: Nonsense. If people concerned themselves about where eggs came from they never would have eaten them.
[Cracks avacado-like egg, pours green goop into wineglass. Drinks. Giggles. Wipes lips. Convulses violently.]
Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone
1983/05
Alright, it's more of a Mad Max 2: Road Warrior film, and there's a grating teenage sidekick, and it's from 1983. Why is this on the list? First, the spaceships were clearly inspired by Stewart Cowley, which automatically bumps it up a category. Second, it's Canadian. Third, the sets are sometimes gorgeous. And fourth, it's got a very used-future PC-adventure vibe to it.

The Ice Pirates

1984/03
This really should be disqualified for being outside the date range, including elements from Alien and Mad Max 2: Road Warrior, and arguably being a parody, but come on! Fighting robots to combat the other side's fighting robots, repaired in the middle of combat! Piracy! Silly costumes! Ron Perlman!

Disqualified

The 4 films of Alfonso Brescia: 
Cosmos: War of the Planets - 1977/09
Battle of the Stars - 1978/02
War of the Robots - 1978/04
Star Odyssey - 1979/10 

The first of four attempts by director Alfonso Brescia (a.k.a Al Bradley) to cash in. Delightfully low-budget but, sadly, aside from the title, it's got nothing to do with Star Wars. The first film is a riff on Forbidden Planet or Planet of the Vampires; the rest are Buck Rogers in all respects. The aliens have golden bowl cuts and everyone has lightsabers.

The fourth film, Star Odyssey is the only one that even comes close to consideration. Earth gets sold to a despot, sight unseen. He turns up to collect it. Yeah, it's a Buck Rogers plot full of black-and-white stock footage, but it's got R2-D2, mind-powers, lightsabers, robots making an adorable suicide pact...

The Bunglers in the War of the Planets
(Brazilian Star Wars)

1978/12
Disqualified for being a parody.


War In Space

1977/12

Despite the name, this film has very little conceptual overlap with Star Wars. There are a few starfighter sequences, but it's almost entirely a blend of the 2 types of pre-Star Wars space films listed above: a Buck Rogers plot with 2001 space suits, with a Space Battleship Yamato twist.

Blake's 7
1978-1981
 

A classic British sci-fi series. So British. In the event of a murderous government coverup and brainwashing scheme, seek legal representation and go to your supervisor. Disqualified because despite having a rebellion and spaceships, it's really more of a slow-burn western in space.

The series has one really unusual trick. The alien spaceship stolen by the main characters is very advanced, but not so advanced that it can't be tinkered with or repaired by human experts. It's like giving Robert Stephenson a Haynes manual and telling him to change a head gasket on a modern car. Sure, it might take him ages, but he could probably figure it out. But do the same to Pythagoras? He wouldn't stand a chance. I like that... even if the sets do wobble alarmingly when the actors push buttons, and some of the panels are just gaffer tape on particleboard.

H. G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come
1979/05
Canadian, but that's not enough to save it. All Earth, all chrome and '50s robots with big pincher hands and dryer duct arms. Nothing to do with H.G. Wells' original story, and nothing to do with Star Wars iether.


Gamera: Super Monster
1980/03
Despite prominently featuring a knock-off star destroyer on the cover and in the title sequence, the rest of the film is standard giant monster fights and singing children.

Flash Gordon
1980/12
Don't get me wrong, I love the film... but it's definitely closer to a parody than to a serious attempt at worldbuilding.

The Man Who Saved The World (Turkish Star Wars)
1982/11
Disqualified for containing shots of Star Wars, sound cues from Battlestar Galactica, etc, etc, etc. It's absolutely bonkers and well worth watching, but as worldbuilding material it's got... issues.

If there are films or TV series that fit the criteria that I've missed, let me know. Some potential candidates (like the superb Kin-dza-dza! and the dreadful Space Mutiny) ended up being cut entirely. The rules can't be bent too far or every film will get included.

Future Posts

The Setting (synthesizing and tabulating the canon and canon-adjacent films).
Rules (probably based on SWN or Mothership or something).


2019/07/11

OSR: Pirates of the Merabaha, Session 10, 11, & 12


Last session, the adventure capitalists of the good sloop Magnificent visited the Isle of Dread. It went about as well as the name suggests. The survivors are:
Captain Margarita Duerte
, Tarraconese blacksmith and practitioner of the dark arts. Newly elected captain.

Thorfina von Dusseldorf
, banker and adventurer from the Ranstead League. Elected quartermaster for her financial literacy.

Celeste
, princess from the Isle of Dread, stowaway, and diplomat.

The Crew
. Yes, the Crew are a PC. Some are seasoned pirates, some are Chultan villagers.

With a hold full of rubies and assorted other treasures, the Magnificent sailed east, trying to catch the equatorial winds back to Chult. With hurricane season beginning, their journey was risky, but Thorfina seemed to have almost supernatural command of the winds and weather. She explained it as "accurate charts", yet never seemed to be entirely sure which way was north.

One week out from the Isle of Dread, the crew spotted a sail on the horizon. Tacking rapidly, the pirate sloop drew up, fired a few warning shots, and rapidly boarded the merchant vessel. It was a Ranstead League ship full of building supplies and glass trade goods. While the crew picked through the cargo holds, Captain Margarita interrogated the Venture's officers. It turned out they'd been sent to set up a trading post on the Isle of Dread,

"We were just there," Margarita said. "You don't want to go."
"Why not?" their Captain, Oris Ghant, asked peevishly.
"It's called the Isle of Dread! Not the 'Isle of Vast Profits, Women, And Palm Wine!' " 

Margarita proceeded to spin a tale of woe, assisted by the crew (and their jars of captured spiders). Giant venemous snakes. Crocodiles the size of frigates. Lizards the size of castles. Volcanoes, floods, hail. Belligerent men and astonishingly ugly women (Celeste was kept out of sight). They'd been lucky to escape with only half the crew dead, Margarita lied, and no profit whatsoever.

They'd let the Venture and her crew go free, of course, but they'd be going to an early grave. Why not take up piracy instead? The Venture wouldn't need to fight, just haul supplies and assist with deceptions. The crew would receive full shares, plus a bonus once they reached Port Nyanzaru.

The Ranstead league sailors debated for several hours, watched by a few pirate guards but otherwise free to associate and plan. On the advice of their captain, they decided to turn pirate.

A month later, the grey line of the Mistcliff appeared on the horizon. With supplies still high, the Captain decided to follow the cliffs north, as much as the wind allowed, and sail straight for Port Nyanzaru.

One cold night, when the fog was lighter than usual, the lookouts spotted lights in the fog. The charts revealed no settlement on the coast; the whole Mistcliff was one long line of ship-wrecking cliffs and false bays as far as cartographers were concerned. After taking accurate star-charts, the Magnificent moved closer to the cliffs.

They sailed, unopposed, into a broad bay. The stump of an ancient castle or lighthouse, built from cyclopean stone blocks, loomed over a small city.  

"A secret Tarraconese fortress?" Thorfina asked, staring through the spyglass.
"Could be a slaver port, but look at those docks. Small, even for our ships," Margarita replied. "No cannons on the fort. I think this is a Chultan city. Tell the crew to wash. We'll anchor in the bay and land at first light."

That night, the crew rested uneasily, their cannons pointed at the Isle of Barzon.

Isle of Barzon Mini-Review

The adventure/location is very short, just 2.5 pages. The language is evocative. There's no need to get up to speed with the backstory of the world. "So it was on the Isle of Barzon, a small island ruled by an empire not much larger..." The writing is slightly disjointed, but I supposed it has to be to describe an entire city in a few lines of text.

I'm not sure why, but this location feels so much more alive than The God Unmoving. It could be the rivalries implied (never stated) by the text: the citizens against their overlords, the ruler against the powerful merchant, ruler against the elites. It feels like it's set up to explode; almost everyone the PCs talk to has a use for some cunning rogues. It could be the little hints for adventurers: weird insects, strange drugs, powerful magic items.

I don't know. But it worked very well, especially since I needed to adapt it to a low-magic setting on the fly. Go check out the Knockspell zines.

Adventures in Barzon or The Great Wasp Caper


1. With the Venture's dozen cannons aimed at the city, the Majestic moored to one of the docks. Her crew was met by an enormous crowd: soldiers, artisans, curious onlookers, nobles under woven umbrellas.

2. In her best outfit, augmented by a few rubies and gold chains, Margarita stepped onto the dock. A Chultan crewmember acted as translator (badly; the languages shared a few words but very little else). The Captain explained that they were "peaceful traders" from "across the sea."

3. The Barzonites explained that any visitors to the city would need a military escort, and that the strangers could not carry weapons. The Captain agreed, hoping the isolated Barzonites would not recognize flintlock pistols. Though they seemed unfamiliar with gunpowder, they seemed to know what a pistol was. The crew had to content themselves with dozens of smuggled daggers, grenades, strangling wire, poison spiders, and incendiaries.

4. While official gifts were sent to the city's mysterious ruler (a certain Svanth Dorl, who remained hidden in his fortress-palace) and Margarita did her best to distract the bulk of the soldiers, a small delegation was invited to the home of the richest merchant in town.

5. Ullkmaran the Polyarch provided wine, strange mind-dulling drugs, and samples of the local tapestries and "God-Fragments". The "Gods" were giant wasps who descended on "the unworthy." Subtly, Ullkmaran hinted that the wasps might not be divinely guided, and that somehow Trademaster Dorl's enemies always ended up as wasp-food.

6. Thorfina negotiated a trade deal: glass and iron goods from the Venture for tapestries, insect parts, and a whole lot of drugs. The crew explored the city, trying not to get into any fights or steal anything. They discovered that trade with the "world beyond" was very rare, and sailing ships completely unknown. Barzon was a coastal outpost of a large and fractured empire.

7. The next day, the party was invited to dine with the Trademaster. Wary of a trap, they ensured all cannons were loaded and discreetly aimed at the castle. Margarita, Thorfina, Celeste, and two Chultan translators dressed in their finest stolen clothes and, with a few more small gifts, proceeded in grand style to their appointed meeting.

8. The half-collapsed palace of the Trademaster was, it seemed, also the home of the wasps. The Trademaster, a dumpy fur-clad Chultan and his vacant-eyed wives, greeted the traders with ceremony and reciprocal gifts. At dinner, roast meat and strange vegetables were served between courses of mind-numbing drugs. To avoid rudeness, the pirates inhaled thick grey clouds of the drug, and their ambitious plans became fuzzy and distorted.

9. With an amorous look in his eyes, Svanth Dorl invited the crew to share the "cool air" of his balcony. On soft couches, with servants bringing in plates of candied fruit and fresh drugs, the pirates attempted to put their plan into action. They fed the Trademaster rum (distilled liquor being unknown on the island), while pretending to imbibe more drugs and extra rum. Once the Trademaster was in a near catatonic state, Margarita stumbled off "to use the little lady-captain's room". She immediately started searching rooms.

10. The Captain found the Trademaster's bedroom, but was spotted by a servant. With amorous designs of his own he advanced towards the Captain. To allay suspicion, she flopped onto the bed, clearly inviting the very excited servant closer. Then she brained him with a candlestick.

11. Searching the room, stepping over the groaning and very confused servant, she found a cabinet containing some local currency, a few bottles of drugs, and a mysterious grey cube. As one familiar with strangeness and the hidden ways of the world, she immediately identified it as valuable loot, and probably the item used to control the giant wasps.

12. Hastily making their apologies, the pirates fled. They anchored the Magnificent a few hundred feet off the docks and waited for dawn.

13. The next day, every soldier in the city menaced the pirates from the docks. The Trademaster was apoplectic, demanding their immediate surrender. Margarita retaliated, saying that the gods would punish the erring Trademaster.

14. The witch-captain used the wasp control cube to draw a huge swarm from the fortress and directly onto the Trademaster. His remains were scattered into the sea.

15. The city panicked. Citizens remained indoors unless promised safe passage by a pirate. The Magnificent and the Venture docked, loaded up the last of the trade goods, and explored the city in full safety. The crew, terrified of the Captain's unnatural powers, kept their hands to themselves. They found Ullkmaran the Polyarch and his servants were already looting the fortress. A hastily negotiated trade deal saw the pirates sail away with chests full of silver and an ancient mummy in a casket, while Ullkmaran the Polyarch discreetly received the wasp-controlling cube... and a long list of gunpowder-based threats should he ever turn the wasps on the pirates.

Newly enriched, the pirates sailed north. The great Tarraconese city of Port Nyanzaru beckoned. The three terror-folk captured, hatched, and reared by the former captain were now as large and as intelligent as parrots. Many crewmembers sported scars or stump-fingers from their razor-sharp bites.

Rounding the top of the Mistcliff, the party sailed into Port Nyanzaru as fully legitimate traders. After all, Captain Margarita spoke fluent Tarraconese, and with a bit of forged paperwork the Venture could pass for one as well. Customs officers were heavily bribed.

At last, the pirates had returned to a "proper" civilization. While the crew spent money unwisely and freely, Thorfina sold their tapestries and insect parts for a tidy profit, buying ivory, gold, and indigo to trade in the Merabaha Islands.

In an elaborate scheme, the pirates sold the ancient mummy to a rich Tarraconese collector. The mummy came with an ominous black wax candle. The Captain spread a rumour that the candle, once lit, would lead the bearer to great wealth. Either the collector or one of his servants lit the candle one evening. Pirate spies reported screams and thumping from inside the mansion.

The Captain and officers raced to the scene, broke in through the kitchen, and (to universal horror) discovered the mummy had come to life! Its dried remains proved night-impervious to shot and sword. Thinking quickly, the Captain grabbed the still-lit black candle and used an ancient spell to trap the mummy's soul inside. The corpse collapsed; the Captain snuffed out the candle flame.

Note: When I wrote the Weather Witch class, I didn't have a definitive canonical use for draw out soul. The player pointed out that the target must be "dying or extremely recently dead". Since the mummy was indisputably extremely recently dead (why, it was dead as a doornail only a few hours ago), the spell should work on it.
The crew set the mansion on fire and, assisted by a few servants, hastily "rescued" all the valuables. A few days later, the Captain locked the candle in an iron chest and threw it into the sea.

After a botched ransom scheme, the Captain tested her soul-drawing powers again. This time, she bound the soul of a dead Tarraconese merchant into a "a small item that belonged to them"; the merchant's heart. The merchant sat upright, moved, and viciously attacked the crew like a rabid animal. Chopping it to fragments helped, but the individual parts kept moving. Convinced and terrified by the Captain's unnatural powers, the crew locked the fragments in a chest and stored it in the hold.

While waiting for hurricane season to end, the pirates looked for costal work. A merchant hired them to investigate a settlement on Chult's northwest coast. According to passing merchants, Port Castigliar had taken a direct hit from a hurricane. The "merchant sailors" of the Majestic and the Venture were to make a full report, recover any of the merchant's property, and return.

Before departing, the pirates picked up a very unusual passenger. Charles Derwent, Wexlish naturalist, had arrived in Port Nyanzaru while Tarracon and Wexland were at peace. Now they were at war, and the slightly distractable naturalist had languished under a mild form of house arrest. The pirates offered him a job aboard the Majestic. He was fascinated by the leather-winged terror-folk and agreed without even haggling for payment.

And so, holds lightened but purses full, the Majestic and the Venture set sail once more. What would the find on the far coast of Chult? Would the Captain's blatant witchery catch up with her?

Find out next time.

2019/07/04

Book Notes: Captains of Fortune - Profiles of Six Italian Condottieri

Captains of Fortune - Profiles of Six Italian Condottieri, isn't available as an e-book anywhere. Since notes and quotations are scarce, I've pulled out some relevant passages, mostly related to supernatural, surprising, or D&D-adjacent events. The book isn't particularly well written or well researched, but there aren't many books in English on the topic. If you want an editorial exercise, go through the sentences below and mercilessly cut words. All eccentricities of punctuation are the author's. All spelling mistakes are transcription errors.

Ezzelino da Romano (1149-1259)

The Devil, it seems, became so fond of his son Ezzelino that he assigned a demon to sleep near the boy - and, as Ezzelino grew into manhood, to counsel him in every crisis, to help him avoid dangers, to accompany him on all his travels, and to predict future events on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays (certainly no demon could issue predictions on Saturdays and Sundays, for these were, respectively, dedicated to the Madonna and to God).
[...]
The peasants who now inhabit the lands once part of their domains, one in the north and the other in the south of Italy, affirm that their ghosts prowl through the ruined castles and cry with the winds in mortal pain.
[...]
The hair on his head was coal black, straight, almost stiff, and very abundant, giving rise to the story that his hair stood up straight like a dog's when in anger... In after years, this darkness of aspect was cited by Ezzelino's enemies not only as proof of his infernal paternity, but also as proof that he was part dog. Though he spoke softly and with much eloquence, it was said that he could never start a conversation without first barking. It was said, as further indication of his canine nature, that he had a special predilection for dogs, and that he taught them to tear apart the unfortunates in his prisons.
[...]
Once, at a tournament dedicated to feasting and jousting, a mock siege of a castle was portrayed. A wooden tower, called the "Castle of Love", had been built. It was large enough to contain two hundred beautiful young women, adorned with rich silks, furs, jewels, and perfume. The young men were expected to attack with flowers and confetti, and free the maidens from imprisonment. So successful was the performance that the maidens were taken by storm; but somehow insults were exchanged, and sham turned suddenly into reality. Male shouts became curses, ladylike cries for rescue became screams for help, daggers were whipped from their sheaths, swords drew blood and the wooden castle was, in fact, about to be sacked. But Ezzelino, adroit with his weapons, whether attacker or defender, escaped with a whole skin in this brawl.
[...]
From over the Alps, in the spring of 1236, came five hundred German knights, massive armed, accompanied by one hundred of Federico's faithful Saracen archers, wearing flowing trousers, turbans, and carrying the deadly Eastern short bow... the Emperor brought with him not only his Saracen bodyguard and dancing girls, his trumpeters, astrologers, eunuch and wizards, but also his menagerie of lions, leopards on leash, apes, camels, bears, peacocks, falcons, and an elephant and a giraffe (the latter an animal then completely unknown in Europe).
The memory of Frederick II's giraffe stuck around... and happily, gives me another chance to whip out my favorite Gibbon quotation.
Commodus killed a camelopardalis or Giraffe, the tallest, the most gentle, and the most useless of the large quadrupeds. This singular animal, a native only of the interior parts of Africa, has not been seen in Europe since the revival of letters; and though M. de Buffon has endeavored to describe, he has not ventured to delineate, the Giraffe.
 H. H. Milman adds:
Note: The naturalists of our days have been more fortunate. London probably now contains more specimens of this animal than have been seen in Europe since the fall of the Roman empire, unless in the pleasure gardens of the emperor Frederic II., in Sicily, which possessed several. Frederic's collections of wild beasts were exhibited, for the popular amusement, in many parts of Italy.
Back to the book:
Ezzelino kept at his court such impressive astrologers as the wizard Sallion Buzaccherino, and the log-bearded Paolo Saracino, "a Negro from the boundaries of the Orient". But despite their best efforts at picking the most favourable dates, and Ezzelino's own ardour, no child was conceived... It was noted, sotto voce, that this union, like [Ezzelino]'s first, had not been blessed with children - and the reason: as a son of the Devil, he indulged in "unnatural" sexual behavior.


Castruccio Castracani (1281-1328)

They nurtured him carefully, and are not known to have left him lying untended in grape arbours - from fear, probably, of the fauns and satyrs, in whose existence they certainly firmly believed.
[...]
Perhaps in his bitterness Castruccio then said for the first time that phrase he so often repeated in after years: "God is a lover of strong men, because He always punished the weak with the strong."
[...]
He engaged himself, instead, to act for mercantile groups, guarding their persons and their goods with small bands of soldiers. The pay was poor and the responsibility suited dullards. Castruccio was made for bigger things.
That's right, OSR folks. Guarding caravans is for level 1 suckers.
[He] set himself up in great style among the young blades of the English court. He introduced Italian fashion for gentlemen: conical hats with rolled brims pointed in front; soft leather shoes, multi-coloured with long pointed tips; long hose (tights), form-fitting to the wait and parti-coloured; elegantly-worked belts for purse and dagger; brief tunics and cloaks of velvet and silks, richly brocaded and embroidered; rings on the forefinger, bracelets, and necklaces made of gold chains. But Castruccio continued to cut his hair short, not following the prevailing style of rolled in front, on the sides, and on the nape of the neck.
medioevoitaliano.org
"Medieval" doesn't mean "everyone wears brown practical clothes."

Uguccione, informed of  Neri's failure to kill Castruccio, cursed his son for his indecision and weakness, and made a dash for Lucca with four hundred heavily-armed horsemen. He had not yet arrived when he was overtaken by messengers on foam-flecked horses, bringing him word that Pisa had rebelled, killed all the members of his family, and acclaimed a new signore who was Castruccio's friend. Uguccione did not turn back, but resolved to push ahead before Lucca could hear the news and shut its gates against him.
[...]
But the rising had failed chiefly because Messer Stefano di Poggio, the wisest and most dignified elder of the House, had insisted that the insurrectionists lay down their arms. He came at once to Castruccio, not to plead for himself, because he did not judge that necessary, but to pray for pardon for his relatives on the grounds of their youth, their quick tempers, their long friendship, and the obligations which Castruccio had to their House. Castruccio heard him out, then praised him for his wisdom and prudence... Indeed, he thanked God for having given him the opportunity to demonstrate his clemency and liberality. - he urged Stefano to have all the men of the Poggio come to him, that he might express to them his gratitude in person.

They came. Castruccio arrested them, imprisoned them, executed them all - including old Stefano.
[...]
He used the occasion to ferret out all who had opposed him. The strong he killed; the weak he exiled. He broke the back of the opposition by seizing all the goods and assets of entire families. He razed their palaces and towers to the ground, and used the stones to build himself an impregnable fortress within the city of Lucca.
[...]
Finally, he camped just outside the city. In insult to the Florentines, he coined money with their emblem (St. John the Baptist on one side, and the lily on the other), and "raced horses, men, and whores."
[...]
Now the Papacy, sunk to its lowest level, chose once again to challenge the Empire, also sunk to the depths. Both Pope and Emperor were but feeble parodies of the great Popes and great Emperors who were their predecessors; and the duel they waged had neither the grandeur nor the tragedy of the past. Though the phrases of invective were much the same, the words rang hollow. No one, including the principals, seemed terribly to care.


Sir John Hawkwood (1323-1394)

I've already done a Book Notes post on Hawkwood. It's probably worth re-reading.
...but on New Year's Eve, while the Milanese were celebrating, the Company raided within six miles of the city. They did not stop to burn or (this time) entertain themselves with women. They collected all the goods and chattels they could lay their hands on, and took over 600 nobles as prisoners - until the supply of rope gave out. From the ransoms they collected some 100,000 gold florins - a tidy fee for a night's work.
[...]
As the fame of the ferocious English had reached their ears, [the Pisans] decided to hire the White Company and loose it against the Florentines. The Florentines, in their turn, were stricken with terror at the news, and quickly hired  a formidable German mercenary force of their own. After some months of inconclusive fighting, the Pisans found that they could free themselves of neither the Florentines nor the English. It was Hawkwood who recognized that the Company was for the moment indispensable, and urged the men to make the most of it. So pleased were they with Hawkwood's advice that 150,000 gold florins were demanded, and received, as the next six months' pay; all spoils were assigned to the Company; free transit permitted in all Pisan territories; and the gates of Pisa itself opened for winter quarters - a riotous opportunity.
[...]
As a joke, drummers and trumpeters were sent down the hill to "assault" Florence - and so great was the racket that the bewildered and hysterical Florentines thought a night attack was imminent. Torches and oil lamps suddenly blazed in all houses; women screamed and fled to the top of towers.
[...]
Urban let loose a blast from Avignon which, had words been bombards, would have blown every mercenary soldier off the peninsula and into the sea. The Pope urged that all honest men seize arms against "that multitude of villains of diverse nations, associated in arms by avidity in appropriating to themselves the fruit of the labours of innocent and defenseless people; unbridled in every kind of cruelty, extorting money, and methodically devastating the country and the open towns, burning houses and barns, destroying trees and vines, obliging poor peasants to fly; assaulting, besieging, invading, spoiling, and ruining even fortresses and walled cities; torturing and maiming those from whom they expect to obtain ransom, without regard to ecclesiastical dignity or sex or age; violating wives, virgins, nuns, and constraining even gentlewomen to follow their camp, to do their pleasure and carry their arms and baggage."
[...]
For the Pontiff, whose efforts were wholly genuine and sincere, there remained only the objectionable method of fighting robbers with robbers; and it was not long before the Church found itself one of the chief employers of the detested mercenaries.
[...]
"We have in our own heart to regard with serene countenance and to anticipate at all times with our best favours your most amiable person, who rests nearest to our heart." The author of these words, addressed to Dilecto filio nobili viro Johanni Acuti, was the new occupant of the Apostolic Throne in Avignon, Gregory XI.

The letter was one of warm praise for Hawkwood's first big victory over the Visconti, tempered only slightly by the regret that "Bernabò, that son of Belial, had lost neither city, fortress, nor town of any sort". Nor did the Pope, for all his liberality with words, send any money for arrears of pay.
[...]
The Florentines, thus temporarily relieved of this threat, vented their feelings in an emotional explosion: they declared war on the Church. The impact in Italy was hardly less than if the sun and the moon suddenly had been reversed in their orbits. It was unthinkable, unbelievable that the leading Guelf city for so many generations could thus reverse itself.
[...]
Hawkwood meanwhile had removed himself temporarily from the conflict. He made a leisurely tour of Tuscany with the Holy Company, visiting Pisa, Lucca, Siena, Arezzo, and smaller towns. Within little more than three months he collected 174,800 florins of gold - payments advanced him not to fight.
[...]
As the Holy Company marched through the main gate, the people - well aware of Hawkwood's reputation - began to cry out, "Long live the Church!" Hawkwood looked at them grimly, then issued a proclamation that every citizen must consign his arms. This done, he ordered a sack, to compensate his soldiers for pay they had not received.

The English mercenaries drove the men, the old, and the children outside the walls; they kept inside the young women and the girls. A hostile chronicler... describes the following incident: two English captains were dueling for possession of a nun, when Hawkwood, in disgust, drew his sword and sliced her in two, exclaiming, "Half for each . . .!"
[...]
In Bologna, the chronicler sadly summed up: "People no longer believe in Pope or cardinals - for these are the things to crush one's faith . . ."
[...]
Meanwhile, to show his good faith, he notified them that he had secret information of a plot to overthrow their government. There would be, certainly, a  slight fee for the service: 50,000 florins for complete revelation of the intrigue, plus the names of the conspirators . . . or 20,000 florins without the names. The Signora, though quavering and fearful, sent a representative to haggle about the price. In the end, a deal was made for 12,000 florins, omitting the names.
[...]
...the Verona forces were equipped with three machines on wheels, carrying between them 402 very small mortars (bombards) mounted on different levels. The bombards, utilizing gunpowder, hurled "stones as large as hens eggs".
[...]
Magic also entered into this campaign. It was said that as the Padovans retreated, they found all their wine had been poisoned. But "Ser Giovanni Acuto, with his ring, put it right again". Worse still, a little later they found that the wells were poisoned. But, "hearing this, Acuto, who had with him an unicorn horn five feet long, had let it down into the wells - and cutting it in many portions he gave to drink from it those injured, and thus remedied the cursed scheme of the enemy."
[...]
But, on the coming of darkness, Hawkwood quietly broke camp, leaving empty tents with banners flying, and a group of trumpeters with instructions to blow reveille as usual at daybreak. At intervals along the route of his retreat he shrewdly left wagons and asses loaded with booty - the surest way to slow the advance of mercenary soldiers.


Francesco Bussone da Carmagnola (1382-1432)

The news spread through the streets of Milano with shouts of joy: the young Duke was dead, murdered on the steps of the Church of San Gottardo. A band of equally youthful conspirators, all nobles, had stabbed him in the heart, the abdomen, the neck. His bleeding body, left where it fell, had been covered with red roses by a prostitute - a spot of brilliant colour in the hazy Lombard sunlight that May morning of 1412.

Giovannia Maria Visconti was only twenty-four, but he had reigned as Duke for ten troubled years. In that decade he had accumulated such a loathing for himself as could hardly have been exceeded in a century.
[...]
Nor was the situation made any more hopeful by the news that Facino Cane, commander of the young Duke's armies, lay dying in Pavia, the ancestral stronghold of the Visconti. During the very moments when the young Duke was struck down with mortal wounds, Facino Cane expired, leaving chaos and on chaos. Cane had been one of the most successful of the old Duke's condottieri - an astute general, an effective campaigner. Though loyal many years to the House of Visconti, at the old Duke's death he too had seized lands and towns for himself during the general disintegration . . . and thus had become one of the richest mercenary soldiers in Italy.
[...]
His armies were organized with meticulous care, his discipline rigorous, his captains inspired by his own example to surmount every obstacle.He scrupulously kept all his promises, and was greatly admired by his men. "To military science," wrote a commentator, "he added an abundance of sagacity, using, according to the occasion, now force, now means hidden and deceptive, and sometimes also cruelty."
[...]
The peculiarities of Filippo Maria had intensified through the years. He so feared death that he would never permit the word to be uttered in his presence; and at the approach of death even his favourites were removed from the castle, regardless of their agonies. He himself was protected from bodily harm by devices of the most elaborate nature. All who entered the castle were watched by "hundreds of eyes"; all who entered his presence were kept surrounded by burly guards. He built secret chambers, so secret that he seemed completely to disappear for weeks at a time.
Sounds like a proper OSR dungeon if I've ever seen one.

The details of negotiating a condottiero's services are fairly interesting, especially with the fussy and bureaucratic Venetians.
Carmagnola reccomended that he be given a condotta of 500 lances, to serve under his personal orders, with a stipend of 13 ducats per lance per month. The Venetians replied that they deemed a total of 300 lances sufficient for a condotta - but for the present they could authorize only 200 lances.

In times of war, said Carmagnola, the condotta would require the services of 300 foot soldiers. Very well, said the Venetians, in case of war he would be provided in a manner to make him content. And out outfit the condotta of 500 lances, an advance payment of 60 ducats per lance would be needed. Oh no, said the Venetians, an advance of 50 ducats per lance should be more than enough - though after a review of the question, the additional 10 ducats might be added. Furthermore, each month one-half the regular stipend must be withheld until the advance was fully repaid.

As the regulations required one page per lance, Carmagnola noted that it would simplify the records to inscribe them by units. Do as you like, said the Venetians, so long as the name of every page was listed. [Carrying "dead lances" or padding the rolls with unnamed pages were apparently common tactics.]

Fugitives or soldiers absent without leave should be allowed fifteen days in which to return, without prejudice to their stipend, proposed Carmagnola. No - ten days absence was the maximum, said the Venetians.

When brawls arose among the soldiers, Carmagnola advised that he should have full authority for adjudicating such conflicts. No, said the Venetians, the official rectors were the natural administrators of justice in both civil and criminal cases, and their authority should extend also to mercenary services.

No soldier was to be dismissed arbitrarily, said Carmagnola -  to him should be reserved the right of dismissal, and also of augmenting or diminishing the number of horses. The Venetians replied that in these manners it would be satisfactory to receive written reports for the council's perusal.

Full dress military reviews should not be required more than once a month, nor should corporals or sappers be required to wear gorget or dagger, Carmagnola recommended. Agreed, said the Venetians.

In the matter of lodgings for himself and his staff, Carmagnola asked for exemption from paying rent. The Venetians responded that he and his aides must pay rent like anyone else.

Prisoners should remain under the jurisdiction of his company, Carmagnola proposed; but all the towns, lands, fortresses, munitions, and arms captured should be given over to the Venetian Republic. To this crucial point the Venetians replied that the Republic demanded for itself the custody of all noble or important prisoners, but in the case of officers (who were not traitors) the Republic was willing to consign one-half the ransom money to the condottiero and his band.
[...]
At his disposal, as Captain General, Carmagnola had 16,000 heavily armed horsemen and 6,000 foot soldiers. These included all his special units - the artillery, the sappers, the wall scalers. The pages, the armourers, the grooms, the commissary and the supply units boosted the total considerably above that figure.
[...]
Though the month was late April, Carmagnola asserted that the army could not move because the grass was insufficient for the horses. The Venetians replied that by the time he could get his army on the move, the grass would have grown.
[...]
Also used for the first time was a highly mobile and threatening new weapon - massive crossbows mounted one above the other, to the number of three, on wheeled carriages. The javelins they flung were longer than the height of a man.
And this in 1427, when cannons were becoming increasingly common.


Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (1417-1468)

Ah, the Malatesta!
From the earliest mention of the Malatesta family in history, in the twelfth century, it was renown for its eccentricity. All its members seemed relentlessly compelled to live up to the family nickname - the "Evil-Heads". The true name was forgotten.

The first names, too, were revealing. Mastin the elder, the "Mastiff" - immortalized by Dante, growled and snarled like his namesake. Ancestor Galeotto, whose name in the dim past meant "Galley-Slave" was transmuted by some process unknown into "Pimp" or "Panderer". Since the Malatesta were either notorious libertines or celibates, the name must have fit.
[...]
In the fourteenth century, the old dinner-party trick was tried by Ramberto Malatesta in an effort to be rid of his relations. He invited them all, and all came to dinner except a young woman named Polentesia (a Malatesta married to a Malatesta) whom Ramberto considered unimportant. At the dinner, Ramberto's nose began to bleed, and he excused himself from the table. He returned with armed men and took his relatives prisoner. When Polentesia heard of the trick, she armed herself and rushed to the piazza. When the treacherous Ramberto rode through, expecting to be hailed by his people, he was greeted instead with the cry of "Betrayer!" He fled for his life, and left Polentesia behind him victorious.
[...]
No sooner had he bowed than Malatestino whipped out a large knife, and Ramberto was very nearly split. Because the body cluttered the room, Malatestino ordered it thrown out the window.
[...]
If the Malatesta were notorious as lovers, as soldiers they were no less vigorous. So tough were they that the chroniclers avow that not one of them died of the Black Death. A later Galeotto was so hardened a campaigner that he was called simply "the Warrior".
[...]
Regards for books was a marked Malatesta characteristic... The library building still stands today, one of the architectural jewels of the Italian Renaissance - the Malatesta elephant carved on its facade yet proclaiming in Latin, "The Indian Elephant Does not Fear Mosquitoes." Such was the contempt of the bellicose, turbulent, fierce, ascetic, licentious Malatesta brood for their intellectual inferiors.
The subject of this chapter, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, thoroughly lived up to the family's reputation. Even in an eccentric time he was exceptional.
...the willful, impetuous, passionate young married man of twenty-eight who plunged, on first acquaintance, desperately in love with a girl of twelve. He adored her delicate features and swept back, long blonde hair. He marveled at her laughter, the extent of her learning, the charm of her conversation. By the time she was thirteen, she was pregnant with his child; by the time she was fourteen he had begun work on her tomb.
In fact, Isotta would outlive Sigismondo and die (of slow poison, if you believe the chroniclers) in either 1474 (according to Wikipedia) or 1470 (according to the book).
Already in 1437, Sigismondo had cleared away houses to begin the foundations of his first great building enterprise: the Castel Sismondo. Now he hastened to the work, for he had urgent need of an impregnable fortress. He designed six towers eighty feet high, to rise at intervals above the castle walls. In between were many small towers and bastions. Around walls fifty-five feet thick he dug a moat one hundred feet wide and thirty-five feet deep. Each gate was protected by a drawbridge and portcullis. Above the main gate the Malatesta arms were carved, and in Gothic letters, SIGISMUNDUS PANDULFUS. Eight years were required for the castle's completion. The whole impression was stern, forbidding, grim. But for all its frowning aspect, soon this castle would become the seat of one of the gayest and most brilliant courts in Renaissance Italy.
[...]
All was topsy-turvy. Now Sigismondo was supported by Naples and the Pope, and opposed by [his father-in-law] Francesco Sforza . . . secretly aided by Federigo of Urbino. And things would have gone hard with Sigismondo had not reinforcements arrived from Venice. The Serene Republic had no wish to be squeezed by a Sforza who was potentially a Duke of Milano . . . though Sforza was on the Venetian payroll!
[...]
While the Milanese situation remained undecided, plague broke out in Rimini. The court shut itself up in the Castel Sismondo, and denied all comings and goings. Sigismondo, frantic with fear for Isotta, took every possible precaution to protect her health. His wife Polissena, on the other hand, he ignored. Polissena, to escape from the disease which ravaged the city, fled to the hills behind Rimini, to the Convent of Scolca. Safety, she thought, lay behind the sacred walls.

One morning in June, 1449, the body of the unloved Polissena was found could and inert. She had been - announced the Mother Superior - strangled to death. Quickly she was buried in a nameless grave.
[...]
To his clerical deputies the Pope wrote: "For the humiliation of Sigismondo put into operation all your projects and all your courage. Night and day think on the means of rendering, in the most efficacious manner, damage to the enemy. Sigismondo is a contagion which it is necessary to annihilate: he is inveterate in evil - he has neither faith nor soul."

Giovanni de' Medici (1498-1526)

As this chapter deals entirely with Renaissance politics (the Medici, the Borgias, etc.), it's not really relevant to the pointcrawl project, so I've decided to omit it. The film The Profession of Arms (Il mestiere delle armi) covers a portion of his life.



1d100 Condottieri Events


1d100 100 Condottieri Events
1 Shrewdly, he leagued himself with his father's old enemy...
2 ...announced that he had been forced to flee to save his life; but this was part of a maneuver to arouse public opinion.
3 With each victory he replaced one more missing piece of the great realm which belonged to the old Duke.
4 Despite these honours and affections, he seems to have felt little affection for his paymasters.
5 When he caught friars in armour, they were hanged, sometimes with cow dung covering their tonsures.
6 ...the town spirit quickly reversed itself, and the citizens were filled with despair and anger.
7 He expressed his disgust by abducting (with her consent) a beautiful young widow from a nearby castle...
8 He so feared death that he would never permit the word to be uttered in his presence.
9 They succeed in breaking the enemy's ranks, driving them back to camp, and taking 1,200 prisoners.
10 All proclaimed piously their respect for the Holy Father and his high office, and totally ignored his injunctions.
11 His strategy was not to sustain a siege, but to meet the enemy where his forces had room to maneuver.
12 He was wined and feted, and ladies blushed or became ecstatic in his presence.
13 But an illness, coupled with despair, drained his strength; soon husband and wife were dead.
14 The Emperor called a halt to the uproar, feeling that the town had suffered enough.
15 He was a creature of innumerable "poor" relations, who saw in him means for advancing their hopes.
16 He accused the captain of not following orders, of the improper assumption of leadership, of personal dishonesty.
17 He returned with armed men and took his relatives prisoner. 
18 They were seen only by occasional peasants or wandering friars, who either were friendly or fled in fright.
19 He got no further than a small village, where he succumbed to malaria and died.
20 Except for the most rabid partisans of the old feuds, all were relieved at the return to tranquility.
21 To the astonishment of everyone, he did not lay siege. Instead he halted five miles outside the town...
22 He saved himself by quick flight into a swamp, where he hid among canes in water up to his neck.
23 But this was to be only the first in a series of half-failures, errors in  judgement, and outright defeats...
24 If they wanted him, it would cost them dear - far more, in fact, than they were currently willing to pay.
25 Grasping, ruthless, officially pious, and ferociously ignorant...
26 They appeared unaware that garrisons, disease, and desertion were taking a daily toll from their ranks.
27 Since they had not the steel to subdue their enemies, they turned to gold.
28 Defeat turned into rout, rout into slaughter, slaughter into disaster.
29 To the Pope he was "a heretic and emasculator of boys."
30 He himself was protected from bodily harm by devices of the most elaborate nature.
31 She redoubled her bombardment of the enemy, aiming particularly at the palace...
32 But not once - not for a day or even an hour - did the sun shine. It was a bad omen, said the astrologers.
33 But the horse sprouted wings, people claimed, and the young King crossed the river bone dry.
34 He was, thereafter, the darling of the oligarchy; his perpetual employment was guaranteed.
35 The town was well defended, "with high spirits and virility" - as the chronicler wrote. But to no avail.
36 Now he was over seventy, but he entered the field fully armed and buoyant as a young knight at a tourney.
37 He had been given an elaborate feast, quantities of wax and sweetmeats, and draperies of silk and wool.
38 ...besieged the castle of the young Count, took it, then set the boy free with all his arms, goods, and retinue.
39 It was whispered, falsely, that he set his hounds on his enemies, allowing dogs to feast on human flesh.
40 Their confidence became insolence, and they advanced carelessly to skirmish.
41 Along the route at intervals were gibbets; from some hung bodies, hands bound behind the back...
42 ...at the rescue of his concubine by her relatives, he gave up at last and entered a monastery.
43 An ambitious merchant seized power during the municipal confusion and unrest which followed the defeat.
44 Torches and oil lamps suddenly blazed in all houses; women screamed and fled to the top of towers.
45 ...and in the night took the castle (by bribing the gatekeeper) which dominated the road.
46 ...abduction had turned into seduction, adulation into adultery.
47 His bewilderment began to give way to an overwhelming bitterness. He was being left in limbo.
48 ...marched out of the western gate to the sound of trumpets and pealing church bells, as if on parade.
49 At the councils of war, they all talked at once while the competent commanders remained silent.
50 Now priests actively buckled on armour, and the mendicant monks went up and down the land preaching crusade.
51 ...they sacked farmhouses, spent their time playing dice, and faked reports when they returned.
52 ...he imprisoned their women and children as hostages, and confiscated their property.
53 He ignored completely the rumours which sprang up on the subject of his wife's grotesque and mysterious end.
54 Salvation did not trouble him; his earthly enemies were more real than the Devil.
55 His untouched wife had been disposed of by an accusation of adultery with a page (admitted under torture)...
56 ...and selling the rest of the furniture to the people of the neighboring towns.
57 ...and secretly made arrangements for a double assault - one from without and one from within.
58 The occupation of his mother is uncertain, though she may have entertained gentlemen on the side.
59 ...to retrieve the boy-hostages, agreed not only to a sixteen-month truce, but restored every prisoner...
60 Many other agreements awarded the Duke castles and towns with only the effort of a signature.
61 ...sedentary, fat, embarrassingly ugly, too timid to hunt.
62 Part of his men he sent to the plain, as bait; with the other part, by forced march, he occupied hillsides.
63 Nor did the Pope, for all his liberality with words, send any money for arrears of pay.
64 ...who had seemed temporarily paralyzed by her unexpected return from the dead.
65 A week later, an irreparable breach was made in the castle walls.
66 One would-be assassin, when seized, bit off his own tongue in the expectation of bleeding to death.
67 He could hardly have been prepared, in view of his later actions, for the letter which one day arrived from the Duke.
68 She felt compelled to confess the true paternity of her two sons, not to a priest, but to her sons themselves.
69 The people were divided, though the majority wanted to open the gates, and bedlam arose.
70 By the single act of the mine's seizure, they impoverished  the family.
71 The prisoners were uncounted, and more than ten thousand men lay dead upon the battlefield.
72 A subject, speaking after his death, called him "a just man, of great valour, and without peer."
73 Carefully the merchant-nobles divided the spoils in advance...
74 Hand-in-hand the pair vanished, probably in that most effective of all disguises - the habits of monks.
75 By her father she was regarded with despair, by her husband with secret disgust.
76 He hurled himself against the opposing line, and, without guarding himself, sought the enemy captain.
77 This dream was interpreted as forewarning of disasters about to overtake the House...
78 All who were seriously wounded were drowned from the weight of their armour.
79 Water was scarce, the hills dry, the nights almost as breathlessly hot as the days.
80 With insidious effect they used astrologers to colour the Duke's attitudes and dilute his enthusiasms...
81 They decamped like madmen, scrambling for horses, leaving baggage and equipment behind.
82 No troops showed except a few rapacious adventurers; nor did the promised fleet arrive.
83 ...hated almost as much for his clemencies as for his repressions.
84 Because the body cluttered the room, he ordered it thrown out the window.
85 At this moment she was more concerned with the health of her baby boy than with affairs of state.
86 While the Mass was in progress, the troops began sacking the city - a sack which lasted eight days.
87 Lack of exercise and self-indulgence in food had not approved his appearance.
88 Upon the death of the old Marquis, both of his sons rejoiced at being free of his restraining hand.
89 His professed admiration could only conceal jealousy and envy.
90 ...stricken with violent stomach pains, and calmly announced his own approaching end.
91 ...she had begun to acquire that lurid reputation which would one day cause her name to rival her brother's.
92 But the explosion failed to destroy the tower, and she did not die, as she had planned.
93 The captured arms were stacked before the general's tent in a mountain of steel...
94 No compromise was admissible... or possible. He ordered new armour, and sharpened his sword.
95 After the celebration, he felt ill and feverish. Within a few days he slipped into a coma and died.
96 He "cut through the air like a swallow", people said, and invested the town by surprise.
97 ...but suddenly he stopped and entrenched himself on a hillock with a ruined castle in his rear.
98 Now followed a period of busy comings and goings of ambassadors, with much talk of peace.
99 Outflanked and surrounded, pushed into valleys from heights, cut off in segments and herded like cattle...
100 However great his rages, it was always in his character to be self-controlled.


Side Note: There's not a lot of biographical information on the author, Joseph Jay Deiss, out there. He was married, had children, had a fairly successful career... yet I get the sense from this book that he was (consciously or not) slightly romantically fond of young athletic men with tousled hair. Bits of description remind me of Mr. Pedigree from Darkness Visible.

One example can stand for many:
The ex-peasant boy was delighted at being promoted to the command of a castle and the defense of a duke. He was proud that the new Duke had recognized him personally, and had praised his appearance and spoken favourably of his future. But in the Duke's presence he sometimes felt more than a little flustered - perhaps because their ages were almost exactly the same. His own body, in contrast to the Duke's, was muscled and well-shaped, and both on foot and on horseback he was graceful and poised in a simple, natural way. But the Duke, with a quip, could make him feel awkward and stiff. Then the ruddy colour of his sunburned cheeks deepened, and the clear, calm chestnut eyes clouded with a trace of a frown. Certainly he admired the Duke - almost extravagantly, in spite of Filippo's ugliness. He admired his cleverness of tongue, his sagacity, his knowledge of books and art, his title and the fame of his House. The Duke, for his part, professed to admire Francesco's bravery, strength, skill at arms, honesty and loyalty. Yet from the very beginning of the relationship a curious, hidden tension existed between them, as if invisibly they wrestled together.

It is not impossible that the cultivated Duke and the gifted soldier, each appraising the other, longed for some of the other's characteristics. If in body and mind each was the antithesis of the other, they also complemented one another. Each needed from the other what he himself lacked. And, face to face, no doubt each recognized their dominant trait in common: personal ambition, restless and seeking. In the fulfillment, what might be described as love would turn to hate.