Last week's instalment of Captain Smith saw my bookish, ambitious mercenary captain having some actual success. Would it last, or would the game once again cast me into the gutter like a cigarette butt? No prizes for guessing that one.
They say that pride comes before a fall. Pish, I say. What "they" don't realise is that pride is what makes you stand up again.
I manage to reunite the mayor and his kidnapped daughter, though only just. On the way there I had to chase off some bandits on the way home and as the battle began, who should I see rushing into battle with the rest of my rag-tag force than the girl herself. With an axe. Which at least cleared up the mystery of how she'd gotten kidnapped in the first place.
Seeing as I'd solved the problem of getting shot off my horse by selling the sodding thing my only option is to go jogging into battle after her. Seeing as she was fitter than me, too, she soon disappeared from my sight. I let out a sigh of relief like the air being let out of a zepplin when I spotted her cheering with the rest of my men after the battle.
I spend the next week idly hunting looters down for a different, Swedish mayor. Seeing as these days I visit the pub like pensioners visit the toilet, I manage to find and recruit some cheap and (occasionally) cheerful heroes- special soldiers who, unlike your regular men, level up and develop skills. Though "hero" is, perhaps, an overstatement.
LOOKS LIKE: Hercule Poirot played by a decaying grapefruit
SPECIAL SKILLS: First aid.
BACK STORY: I'm not entirely sure. I wasn't giving him my full attention when we started talking and only pricked up my ears when he informed me that the Cossacks apparently "treat fever by mixing vodka with gunpowder". Ours is a working relationship.
LOOKS LIKE: A banker suffering through the. world's worst fancy dress stag party
SPECIAL SKILLS: Non-specific
BACK STORY: Yelisei claims to be descended of noble birth, and when I met him he agreed to sign up with my warband if I just gave him 300 thaler for a new coat. So there's a chance he might just be a liar and a bum, but I like his enthusiasm. I just kind point him in a direction and off he goes, waving his sword in the air like he was ringing an imaginary bell.
LOOKS LIKE: A disgraced Danish TV presenter
SPECIAL SKILLS: Engineer
BACK STORY: Algirdas also claims to be descended of noble birth. Unlike Yelisei, he hasn't somehow lived a life developing no skills whatsoever, and can tell me how to build siege engines. He is therefore my favourite. We'll need those skills one day, Algirdas! Mark my words.
Sarabun likes Yelisei.
Sarabun doesn't like Algirdas.
Shut up, Sarabun.
I complete my contract to hunt down the looters and then escort yet another caravan, but after that I decide I've had enough. I was born to protect more than barrels of beer, and I was born to do battle with greater foes than stinky mono-testicled scum who inhabit the ditches and tall trees of this land.
I have a very slightly positive reputation with the Polish folk around here for rescuing that mayor's daughter. I decide that I'll make my start with them. No more mayors! From now on, Captain Smith does business with lords and nobles.
The Polish lords are like something out of a David Lynch movie. In every castle they can be found standing in the far corner of identical rooms, and they all want the same thing from me- to deliver a letter to one of the other Polish lords. For a week I become a miserable, simpering, unpaid postman, performing these errands in such a daze that at one point I click three or four times to try and initiate conversation with an empty suit of armour. See below.
Eventually I catch a break. One of the lords, Jan Skrzetuski, wants me to collect a debt from another lord, Cornet Siegmund Slushka. Be still my beating heart. On the way there I get the feeling that this can't possibly end well.
There he is! Alright, here I go.
Ah. Cock. Wait, what happens if I click the 'Persuade' button again?
I click Persuade over and over again (each time lowering the amount I'll be expected to bribe him) without actually considering whether this will have any kind of consequence. It will. Abruptly after my fifth or sixth impassioned speech, the good Cornet Siegmund Slushka fucking explodes, telling me he's had enough of my gibbering and to shut up immediately. Meekly, I hand over some 300 thaler and go transporting the rest of the debt back to Jan. This working for lords instead of nobles really isn't working out for me.
In need of some light relaxation, I spot a band of deserters half my size a few miles away and decide to annihilate them for fun and profit. The game informs me that the deserters "retreat to their fort", but my mind's still clouded and impatient from fannying around as an errand boy for weeks on end. Ignorning the game's warning, I attack anyway.
What a sight it is to see my gang of mercenaries, heroes, opportunists and rescued prisoners go sprinting off towards victory. I'm telling you, every battle in this game feels like dropping your kids off at their first day of school. Joy, fear and pride go ricocheting around your head like pinballs in equal measure. "Come back to me safe, lads," I mumble at my monitor.
I've made the biggest mistake of my career so far and I don't even know it yet.
As my band goes lurching awkwardly towards the deserters the message "Mercenary rifleman killed by Zolnier" pops up once, then twice, then again and again. I sit there, trying to remember which of my three heroes is called Zolnier, because Jesus, he's a machine! Then I realise that none of my heroes is called Zolnier, and my blood starts running a little colder. "Zolnier" is the type of deserter I'm fighting, and I'm getting massacred.
The "fort" the deserters retreated to is a wagon fort, one of Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword's new features. It's little more than the group's baggage carts pulled into a circle, which sounds crap, but in practice I was discovering its absurd effectiveness. You see, by just standing on the inside of the circle with muskets equipped, they could shoot out with ease while my men would have incredible trouble hitting them. Worse, my melee troops couldn't touch them without running all the way round the circle, where they'd get shot on the way.
Thanks to the heroic surgical efforts of Sarabun and myself, almost twenty of my forty men survived. But it was a cruel lesson, like being beaten upside the face with a blackboard, and it left me shellshocked. I swore to myself that I would not lose a fight through stupidity again. I would learn tactics and strategy, I would learn to construct my own forts, and I might even try and learn the game's hotkey command system. Maybe.
The following week saw me performing another menial task for a Polish lord (Siegmund Slushka again, as it happens), collecting outstanding taxes from a village of peasants. Don't knock the hat, it gives me +2 armour. I'd been warned that the peasants were liable to fight back, but I wasn't expecting what happened next.
Abruptly the game cut to myself, Sarabun and a couple of my pikemen armed with what looked like overgrown breadsticks. What the shit? Oh, right- this represented us being surprised while collecting taxes? Or something? There was no time to think- six peasants were bearing down on us. I would use tactics to win this fight, whether it was with swords or sticks, whether it was against six men or sixty.
First things first- men! Get behind that house!
Dashing behind a cottage, the lot of us wait patiently for the first thug to round the corner, whereupon we all beat him like a dusty carpet. Success! A second thug comes around the corner and we deliver another surprise beating. Pow!
My plan is working! It's WORKING! Uh, I mean, of course my plan's working. These are commoners. Their brains are little more than sweat-soaked sawdust.
At the exact moment I'm congratulating myself, one of my pikemen is hit in the head by a stone and crumples to the ground like a slinky.
Turns out the rest of the peasants are throwing rocks, like savages. Actually that's not entirely correct- they're throwing rocks like those pitching machines you find in batting cages. I order my men to charge them, and I swear to you it was like the Normandy beach landings.
Myself and Sarabun were the only ones to reach them. There was only time for us to take a few maddened swipes, squinting through the blood in our eyes, before we ourselves were cut down.
Myself and my men go limping back to Slushka's keep with half the taxes- some 2,000 thaler. A small fortune, really. I expect a browbeating, but to my surprise, Slushka's not home. Idly, I visit another Polish lord who tells me to hunt a man called, no word of a lie, "Barnabas the Squint". Which sounds to me more like an obscure sexual position than anything else.
Following rumours, I quickly find Barnabas the Squint.
It goes well. By which I mean I forgot that I'd rebound the hotkey to draw my pistol and Barnabas shanked me with such animal momentum that I was knocked clean off my horse.
Screw this. Screw the Polish, and screw doing battle with furious peasants. Where's the honour in that? And honour is what I'm in this game for.
With this in mind, I carefully deposit the 2,000 thaler in taxes in my storage chest and head East. Perhaps the Cossacks are in need of a hero.