Pride and Money
by Rob Vaux
The man in the eyepatch didn't look Montaigne, even though he wore the uniform of their navy. He sat at the bar with a drink in his hand, his ill-fitting wig perched awkwardly atop his head. A large square box lay next to his wine, locked securely with stout iron. He seemed morbidly fixated on it, staring unblinking at its wooden top and ignoring the rest of San Augustin pressing around him. Unfortunately, the rest of San Augustin wasn't willing to return the favor.
A drunk Castillian, arms corded with muscles, staggered over to his seat and gave him a nasty shove.
"You. Pendejo. You're the one they call the General?"
"Go away." His voice betrayed his Eisen origins. 'I have no quarrel with you."
"You work for the Montaigne. You sink our ships. You helped them capture our beautiful city. I have every reason to quarrel with you."
The General gritted his teeth. ''Mein freund, you are drunk. I suggest you go back to your table -"
"No!" The Castillian screamed, drawing the attention of the other patrons. "My people suffer under the yoke of your masters and you have the nerve to sit there and drink our wine!" A blade flashed in his hand and the General's eyes narrowed. "Perhaps your blood can cleanse the sins against Castille!"
The General tensed, but his wine-soaked reflexes were not what they should have been. He could see the knife falling even before he turned and braced himself for the blow. If he were lucky, it would glance off his ribs, or...
A panzerhand crashed on the Castillian's head with a mug-rattling thud. The knife clattered harmlessly to the floor as its owner dropped like a lead weight. A huge blonde Eisen with a bushy moustache towered over him, wiping the blood off of his steel-covered fingers. He turned to the on looking bar and treated it to a ferocious snarl.
"Go back to your drinks. Now."
The patrons knew better than to disobey. He kicked the unconscious Castillian out of the way and plopped down next to the surprised?looking naval officer.
"Thomas Metzger." He held out his hand. "And you are the infamous General."
"Ja," he grimaced. "Thank you for your assistance."
"It was nothing I assure you," Metzger returned. "We Eisen have to watch out for each other."
The General laughed bitterly. "I suppose you weren't listening to our Castillian friend here. I haven't worked for the Eisen in a long, long time. I serve Montaigne now. Or at least I did."
"You needn't explain to me," Metzger shrugged. "I'm a mercenary as well. All the more reason to lend a fellow countryman a hand. Reminds us of who we are."
The older man gauged that for a moment, then nodded.
"I suppose it's my own fault, drinking in a bar full of Castillians. I should have found somewhere closer to the garrison, but I don't find Montaigne company particularly comforting now."
Silence reigned between them for a moment.
"What happened?" Metzger asked at last.
"Apparently, I no longer lead l'Empereur's navy. They have found someone much more suited to the task. I have been recommissioned, left with but a single ship and ordered to stay out of the way."
"Your position mattered to you, did it?"
"No," he sneered, "but it means that my pay has been lessened considerably."
Metzger nodded. "I see. And your crew?"
"Montiagne nationals, most of them. They changed ships they instant a new admiral was named."
"More than a few, which surprises me." The General stared philosophically into his wine. "Apparently, they think more of me than I do them."
Silence fell again. Metzger watched him unblinking, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"I'm going to betray them," the General said at last.
"Betray them? Why?"
"Money of course." He patted the box "There are enough Guilder notes in here to live on for the rest of my life. All I have to do is turn my crew over to the Castillians. The Inquisition wants a show trial to assuage the populace, and the crew of the infamous General would fit the bill nicely."
Metzger's jaw tightened.
"In three days," the General continued. "I will meet with Admiral Orduņo and fire a single shot into the air. They will board my vessel and take all hands, leaving me with the ship and a nice stipend in return.."
He laughed again, a sound full of bile and self-loathing. Metzger nodded slowly.
"It doesn't sound like you're convinced."
"As you said, we're mercenaries. The Castillians currently wish to pay me more than the Montaigne. So I work for them now."
"And that's why you're drinking yourself into a stupor."
The General's fist slammed into the bar. "I don't care a whit about this war, or the countries involved! Whoever pays me the most earns my services." His voice lowered to a bitter whisper. "I serve the Empereur, a bloated pig of a man whose appetites destroy everything they touch. Or I serve the Inquisition, torch-wielding fanatics who attack everything they don't understand. Two evils, equally balanced. I therefore should serve the one which rewards me the most."
Metzger smiled, a sad smile his countrymen were rapidly becoming famous for. "That's a mercenary's life, and it has its own honour. But I fear you no longer embrace it the way you once did. Is that a fair assessment of your dilemma?"
A brooding glare answered him.
"I see that money there," Metzger continued. "That's a lot of money. If it's what you want, you should take it with no regrets. I don't know your crew, but from what you've told me, the ones left are loyal to you. If that's what you want, you should honour them with no regrets. You're not a Castillian, mein freund, nor a Montaigne. You're an Eisen. We bend our necks for no one, we call no men our master. Stop thinking about what matters to l'Empereur or the Inquisition. What matters to you?"
The General's lone eye squeezed shut. "I don't know."
"You'll find out. In three days if not sooner." Metzger stood and stretched. "Thank you for speaking to me. It was good to talk to a fellow countryman again."
The blonde man turned and walked out of the bar, leaving the General alone with his thoughts.