Only Sergeant William Godwin knows just how tense is the situation in Cesena.
Ever since the multi-national army of His Holiness Pope Gregory XI retreated to the small eastern Italian city to spend the winter, relations between soldiers and citizens have been eroding, so that by February 1377 all trust is gone.
Food is scarce and expensive, and the smell of defeat hangs in the frigid air. As the intelligence agent for the famous White Company, Godwin is responsible for keeping his captain, the English condottiere John Hawkwood, apprised of the local mood, yet his position has become uncertain.
Then, a night of violence escalates into a confrontation that might lead to the deaths of thousands.
Sergeant Godwin is a man of faith and fidelity, but he is not so blinded by strict devotion that he cannot see that he must make a choice. Should he obey the pope's man in Italy and aid in the senseless ruin of the city? Would he be better served by standing by his now distant companion-in-arms, John Hawkwood, the man who paid him and once appreciated his talents? Or should he take the most selfish path and abandon all but the widow Maria, the person the most worthy of his trust?
Cesena, Romagna, Italy
William Godwin knocked open the shutters of the chancellery with an angry fist and shoved his face into the icy breath of February. The cold wind twisted through his greying hair and flowed down his back, awakening his senses to the young day.
“Those Bretons will be the end of me one day,” he mumbled at the open sky. “What I don’t do for this company, and who has to pay? Me, that’s who. Bloody ale ain’t cheap now, but at least I quieted down those beggars.” Although, as the chief intelligence collector for the White Company, he should not be spending his nights breaking up fights, he reasoned. A raven pierced the air with its plaintive cry, causing Godwin’s head to slam against the stone lintel.
“For all that is holy!” He checked the back of his scalp for blood, squinted into the clear heavens and imagined himself shooting down the obnoxious animal with a crossbow. “That’s right! You had better flee from this old sergeant!” Godwin shouted as the raven soared out of sight.
It had been a long and boisterous night, and the Bretons complained about everything, from high prices to low morale and poor command, until frustration got the better of them and they starting breaking into shops and beating citizens. The men of Cesena had responded with force of their own, killing several Bretons in the process, and the sergeant had nearly run his legs off pulling the sides apart. He finished the night by locking himself in the citadel to keep watch over company property.
He looked back at the desk, where he had fallen asleep just a few hours ago. A servant had already brought in his breakfast, but Godwin was more concerned about the mess of parchment strewn on and around the desk. Robert Genevois, Papal Legate to Italy and vicar-general of the papal host was expecting him soon and he had yet to compose a report for his grace’s ears. He had all the information well-ordered in his head, as usual, yet Godwin was nervous about meeting with the papal legate.
In the year and a half they had been campaigning together in order to bring the Patrimony of St. Peter back under papal control, Robert Genevois rarely gave an audience to anyone below the rank of knight, and even then he restricted his council to a handful of close companions. Normal protocol dictated that he give his report to his companion-in-arms and iron-fisted captain of the White Company, John Hawkwood, and herein lay the problem: the good captain was not in Cesena and no one had heard from him in a week.