The Wrath of the Nomads is at its end. With winter gone, the horde has returned north to the steppes, leaving behind burning cities and those of their brethren that have taken up service in the local nobility. While the Free Houses and the Imperial Legions slug it out in an endless back-and-forth, the warlords the horde defeated turn to a new force to take back their lands.
A New Land and a New Era
Far to the south-west of Ungverija, surrounded by the Sea of Tranquility, lies the boot-shaped peninsula called Sicania, and it is a hilly, fractured land ruled over by a multitude of independent city-states.
In this land the nobility gain most of their wealth from direct trade rather than taxes levied on their vassals, and accordingly war and trade go hand in hand. The wealthiest merchants, known as patricians, employ armies of heavily-armed condottieri (“contractors”) to guard their trade caravans and storehouses, while cities are policed by companies of crossbowmen paid by the day for their service. Everywhere in Sicania cash flows freely: This land boasts the largest harbours in the west and its ancient and extensive roads allow traders, pilgrims, and armies alike free passage over the entire peninsula. Sicanian banks lend money to cash-strapped kings, and frequently hedge their bets by funding upstarts and rebellions. A time of chaos can be profitable, if a merchant is wise and daring.
The patricians of Sicania commonly band together in alliances to further their mutual business interests, and these associations can rival entire kingdoms in wealth, power and prestige. For instance, the “trade colonies” found in almost every land across the continent were founded by one such company, and the so-called smugglers found in most fiefs are almost certainly working for one patrician or another.
The Sellswords of Sicania
The most famous captain of the mercenary armies was Mastino Fortebracci, a once-impoverished knight turned banker turned mercenary commander. Fortebracci’s campaigns took him across the continent, fighting in the service of many lords, and sacking many castles. His preferred clients were the city-states of Sicania, although like the Black Dragon Mercenaries of the east he was not too choosy when the fee offered was right.
Fortebracci’s troops specialised in the use of one particular weapon, either the pike, the sword, or the crossbow, and he employed skilled craftsmen and engineers when he needed to take a walled settlement by siege, or used his business contacts as spies if he needed to capture a fief by treachery. When his army went on the march every soldier was issued food for three days, while anything large or heavy was carried in a baggage train of wagons built to a standardised design. Out went the piecemeal methods of the feudal lords, in came the patrician’s business methods of ruthless efficiency. His reputation grew, and soldiers flocked to his banner seeking regular pay, provisions, and a share in the plunder. This fame allowed him to select only the best, and within a year his company ran its own camps, farms, workshops, and mines in what was fast becoming a mercantile republic.
The battle that sealed Fortebracci’s place in history took place during the war against the Sea Raiders. His company was tasked with clearing a company of fearsome pirates from a coastal valley wherein they had set up a stockade. His troops were fighting on their home terrain: swordsmen from the same villages the raiders had plundered, pikemen and crossbowmen drawn from city garrisons that had been besieged. The soldiers of fortune eschewed the use of cavalry in such a narrow valley and in any case the hillsides were too steep to be of much use to flanking manoeuvres. When Fortebracci’s troops met the pirates in open battle, they struck like the blow of a mailed fist. The raiders broke and fled to their fortified camp, but this gave them no respite. A militia formed of local craftsmen armed with nothing but a thirst for vengeance and the hammers of their trade brought forth a battering ram and broke down the gate. The mercenaries flooded in, and within the hour the pirates were vanquished. Alas, Fortebracci did not live to see the celebrations, having taken a bullet to the chest during the final assault.
With their captain dead, the directors of Fortebracci’s company dissolved the partnership, split up the company’s properties into smaller concerns, and paid off his troops. These soldiers soon found they could find work easily by just mentioning the name of their late commander, so it came to pass that the veterans of his campaigns kept his memory alive by taking on his name for themselves.