My adventures in Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword arrive at their grand finale! Last we saw Captain Smith he was recovering from the indignity of being shanked clean off his horse by some sordid enemy of the state styling himself Barnabas the Squint. Dropping his servitude to the Polish kings like a hot stone, our hero heads East, towards the territory of the Cossacks. It is here that Captain Smith would finally find his place.
Warsaw to Lublin. Lublin to Minsk. Minsk to Slutsk. Myself and my forty men are pushing East towards the Cossacks, who I'm pinning the last of my hopes on like some dusty, rusty, primary-coloured button.
Slutsk. I remember when I first spotted it on the map, all those weeks ago. I vowed I would one day tear down its gate and claim the fortress as my own. I think I also planned to studiously topple whatever ridiculous hat the Lord of the keep was wearing.
That was so long ago. Look at me now. LOOK AT ME.
The last of the gunpowder in my veins fizzled out somewhere in those last few awful battles. I'm spent. I wander from town to town like the saddest Santa Claus, buying linen and oils low and selling high, tramping into every single tavern on the way, but not to drink.
Oh, no. I can't be frittering away my hard-won thaler on drinking. Clearly it's much better spent recruiting whatever mouth-breather with a sharp stick is currently propping up the bar, so I can add him to the entourage that dutifully follows me around like the vestigal tail of some enormous, cowardly, sluggish beast.
"Sorry, guy. You have a face like somebody took a poop in your sandwich, and I respect that, but what help could I be? I haven't won a battle since... well, I suppose getting up this morning was a bit of a battle. But brother, let me tell you about this one man called Barnabas the Squint. He-"
"...oh, never mind. It's not like I have any dignity left to lose."
It turns out that rather than just robbing this farmer's village, the bandits have actually set up camp in it. What little humanity I have left is outraged, let me tell you.
And so I set off to the farmer's nearby town, and to battle. Oh, God.
The battle starts with my mob sprinting off in the direction of the bandits in their inimitable fashion. I'm telling you, if the 100 Metre Clusterfuck was an Olympic event, these guys would be competitors. They would get gold medals and lucrative contracts for product endorsements.
Abruptly, I decide that I've had it with this shit. I know how to bring up the Order menu, having accidentally hit it about a dozen times, and scream for my troops to follow me.
The result is incredible. My warband wheels and surges back towards me, a bristling tidal wave of arms and armour. Holy shit. I go charging off towards the peak of a nearby hill and start to experiment more with the various Order menus at my disposal. Within twenty seconds I've arranged my men in defensive battle lines.
Unbelievable. Is this... is this what leadership feels like? I feel incredible! Look at this power at my disposal! I must have sex with something immediately! Algirdas, come here! No, stop! What am I thinking? Algirdas, return to your position!
For the first time, the enemy come to us. Immediately my lines of musketmen open fire, dropping the brigands as they sprint forward into the jaws of death.
Unthinkingly, I begin racing up and down my defenses, because that's what leaders do. I'm so busy barreling around on my horse that I almost forget to issue an order for my men to charge when the shattered bandits finally reach the bottom of my hill, winning me the fight in a matter of seconds.
I'm elated. And here's where the magic happens.
Looking at my map to plan the return trip, I realise that I was fighting in the village of Zamoshye. I was fighting the same bandits that toppled me from my horse three times when I first started playing With Fire & Sword. The bandits that shot at me with such proficiency that I was scared away from riding horses for a month. And who should finally put a stop to them but me! Ha! Sucks to be them! Because I killed them! I am a good captain.
Continuing on my way, I reach Cossack territory. Their leader treats me with customary respect.
But he gives me a job delivering a letter anway. This is it. I know how to fight now. Man, my prospects could only get better if I found a vampire to fight for me, or something.
I hire Tepes, as well as forty other men. Now confident that I can actually win battles, I'm not longer being frugal with my money. I hire all the way up to my charisma limit of 94 men and ride out, confident that I'll find the money to actually pay all these men with on the way to deliver this letter. That's definitely the sort of decision a leader would make.
On the way I encounter a handful of deserters attacking a caravan (where's their leader? Shocking). I command my forces up to a suitable patch of high ground and soften the deserters up with musket fire before ordering a charge from my cavalry.
The deserters crumble. How did I know that would happen? Let me tell you- it's a leader thing.
"Who, me? Why..."
"...lover. Soldier. Leader. Do you like my hat? It is the Cossack fashion. Word of advice, my friend. You may want to get rid of that tiny hat of yours. It makes you look ridiculous."
A little further down the way I come across a town, utterly ransacked, with a small host riding away from it. At once, I'm filled with a strange fear, but not fear of the army in the distance. No- fear that he's the better man than me, perhaps.
And then it hits me. I don't need to be working for nobles. I don't need to be asking missions from anyone. How far am I going to get in life as the dogsbody of some man with his own ambitions and problems? I need to look after myself, and I need to be inventing my own missions.
I decide on my plan as the sun sets. Deserters and bandits are too cowardly to do battle with my band now, but ever since I wiped out those Crimean raiders months ago I've noticed that the Crimeans are the least technologically advanced of all the factions in this Easterly part of Europe. I intend to make an enemy of them.
I'll learn martial prowess in battle with their armies, and grow rich on the pickings from their caravans. It's a bold plan, but I've been cautious in my dealings with the major nations here thus far, and it's been like riding a slow train up a damp hill. This? This is just crazy enough to work.
I launch my first attack that night. A raid on a caravan that ends up being the most terrifying battle of my career. It being dark somehow catches me off guard despite me choosing to attack at night, and the field is covered in trees, further obfuscating my view of the situation. My tactical grasp thusly lubricated, I end up getting shot in the forehead by something and stumbling half-blind into a copse of trees with only a properly mental Crimean soldier for company.
After waiting long enough for me to receive two or three axe wounds my horse carries me out of the forest, and despite all of this the battle is a great success. I'm not even seriously wounded, and I only lost a few men. Again, myself and Sarabun's surgical skills keep tens of injured men alive to fight another day.
This battle proves to be the start of an entire campaign against the Crimeans. For three days and nights I conduct further raids against caravans, forging ever deeper into Crimean territory where far larger Polish and Cossack armies scare the Crimean armies away. It's a beautiful, beautiful situation. True, the Crimean caravans rarely carry very much, but my army is amassing invaluable combat experience.
On the fourth day I set out across a river, into territory where my infamy precedes me. A Crimean noble with an army precisely the size of mine is waiting for me just on the other side of the bridge.
This noble's name is Mirza Yanmamed.
Really though, I'm thrilled. I've never fought a noble before. This is more evidence that I'm on the right track. I've just moved up to the big leagues. The lines are set. My men are battle hardened. I have a very tall hat. The rest is... wait, what are they doing
What! Do you see them there, in the distance? They're lining up opposite me, just as I'm lining my troops opposite them. This has genuinely never happened before. This is it. A real battle with real tactics and real leaders and real men lining up opposite one another. Mirza Yanmamed of the Crimean Khanate Vs. Captain Smith (Between jobs)
I spent all this time wanting to be a general, and now I finally am one. I'm here.
The first arrows begin falling on myself and my band like Hell's own weather. The Crimeans might not be technologically advanced, but it never occurred to me that bows are far scarier things to be face down than guns. My musketmen start repling with volleys of bullets, and a brief, mortifying firefight follows. Are we losing more men than them? Should I order a charge? No, that would be madness.
My heart's pounding. I've yet to make my decision as to what would be wise when I realise that Yanmamed's army is, in fact, creeping towards me. Is that good? When the Crimean force breaks into a jog, it's all I can do not to run screaming away from the PC. With a couple of key presses I order my forces to charge as well. In the seconds before the impact, I grip the mouse and keyboard like a man holding onto the edge of a cliff.
The battle proper starts and my consciousness shrinks to include nothing but myself, my gun and the enemy. Reload, aim, shoot. Reload, aim, shoot. A stray arrow drops out of the sky to plunge into my chest, its hostile geometry having found a place in my tiny world like a passenger leaping onto a train as the doors close.
The battle takes on the nauseating form of some huge, crushing mathematical equation- the sum of us versus the sum of them. The only unknown quantity is me. From this, some quirk of logic has me thinking that whether we win or lose this battle, it'll be down to me. Reload, aim, shoot. Reload, aim, oh Jesus, where are my boys? I have to fall back
This is madness. This is terrifying. This is... this is the most heroic moment of my entire career. BOOM! Take that! Attacking the Crimeans was the smartest thing I ever did! A hero is only ever as great as his opponents! To be a real hero, I was always going to have to go out and find myself some terrifying opponents. Mirza Yanmamed? Where are you! I want to find you and kill you myself!
No- I must survey the field and issue orders. My men are directionless.
The adrenaline has me feeling like a ghost as I go galloping around the field. It's an incredibly ugly scene. The remaining Crimeans are cutting apart my forces with their horrible curved swords wherever they can find them. Screw it. Where are you, Mirza! I've got a bullet with your name on it! Is my gun even loaded? It's not. Reloa--
A second arrow slaps into my body. With the sounds of battle dying down all around me, I tilt sideways like a drunkard and slump gracefully to the ground. But I'm not dead! I clamber to my feet, only for a Crimean warrior to come sprinting up and deliver a cut with his sword that travels from my neck to my legs and sits me down permanently.
The battle is lost, my thieving host is shattered, and Captain Smith is taken prisoner. Again.
I couldn't be happier.
This whole time, all I wanted was to be a hero. Now I am one. I'm in chains, yes, and, no, I have no army to speak of, but I faced down the Crimean Khanate. I was such a menance that Mirza Yanmamed was sent to do battle with my army on the banks of the Dniester river, and I, Captain Smith, was right there in the thick of it, one of the last men standing and fighting.
So take me away, Mirza. Lock me up, execute me, whatever you please.
In the end, I didn't need others to know my name. It's enough to finally know myself.