30 August 2000. Tarnobrzeg.
Clearing the rest of the ground floor of Dzików Castle, they entered each room methodically, flash-bang grenade going in first. The party found that these thugs were also cannibals. The kitchen was a revolting scene.
Questioning the townsfolk held as slaves, they learned that the stairs to the second floor were used more often by their captors. The basement saw less traffic.
Maks called up the stairs, gave the few remaining marauders a “last chance” warning in Russian. There couldn’t be more than two or three of them up there.
A voice in Russian called down… [Maks got an Outstanding Success] with a Ukrainian accent, “So Pole, you any good with that sword?”
Szczerbiec is a sword that LTC Maksymilian Zając acquired under strange circumstances the night before the 256th Brigade was plowed under at Łask. It’s not “The” Szczerbiec of course, but one of many copies made over the centuries. I tossed it into the mix at campaign open. The note I sent my brother is at the end of this post.
I’ve got no grand plan with the sword; we’ll see what happens. Perhaps nothing.
Szczerbiec always seems to be at hand, making Maks question his sanity at times. In some practice sparring back in Raciborz, the sword showed itself to be very well balanced and good steel. But it hasn’t really come into play thus far.
I decided that the psychopath marauder boss tormenting Tarnobrzeg… liked swords.
My best guess was that my brother would promptly – bang! – Indiana Jones this guy.
Maks accepted the duel.
A man came down the stairs, slowly, with an unadorned Norman longsword in hand. He was bald, shirtless through his open jacket, with occult tattoos. Defiant, he took off his leather jacket and draped it on the railing. Maks agreed to the duel so long as the man’s remaining troops surrendered first. The boss called them down. Two hard men came downstairs.
Their confidence in their leader’s swordsmanship was unnerving. Maks was acquainted with swords, but hardly an expert.
The conditions of the duel were agreed on, but nobody was relying on the other side to hold up the deal.
The two men set to it, circling in the entrance foyer of the castle, never even stating their names. As they jabbed and feinted, it became noticeable that the marauder chief was more skilled. They exchanged blows, some thrusts getting past blocks and dodges. Maks was getting the worse share of the injuries, including two jabs to the abdomen, only slowed somewhat by his kevlar vest.
A lucky hit for Maks ended that downward spiral. The warchief went down, bleeding from his face. His two cronies were stunned.
The former abusers of Tarnobrzeg, now prisoners, were handed over to the townsfolk. It would not go well for them.
As the party explored the now-empty castle, the second floor revealed more depravities. The leader apparently had been a devotee of Tchernobog, a dark Slavic deity. The marauders were also hoarders of a sort, with odd weapons and gear for Russian deserters. There were G11 rifles, Krugerrand gold coins, and consumer goods of West German manufacture.
The basement revealed similar oddities. In the boss’ room was a file cabinet, with an eclectic variety of documents: Soviet deployment orders 2 years old, maintenance schedules, and the like.
There was also a map to – and inventories of – something called Object 266. Best guess is that it was some kind of Soviet bunker or depot in the mountains south of Lublin. The ledgers contained a miscellany of items; many appeared to be captured West German war booty, both military and civilian.
The party couldn’t linger however. This matter would have to wait. At this moment, the Battle for Sandomierz was raging, and their tug – the Visla Krolowa – had been commandeered for the city’s defense…
I sent this to my brother way back as the campaign opened, as a “hook” for his native Polish character.
Łask, Poland. US 5th Division (mech.), 256th Brigade HQ. 00:30 16 July 2000
Leaning up against a stack of MRE cases is an anomaly. A scabbarded sword.
As you approach, you can see the sword is not one of the famous Polish cavalry sabers of the last few centuries. No, this is a medieval long sword.
The scabbard is apparently black leather, with a small golden Polish Eagle symbol on a red shield up near the hilt, which itself is also a dull black, perhaps plastic except for the metal crossguard. The pommel, grip, and crossguard are inset with Catholic decorative imagery, faintly visible in the camp lights.
You already have a fair guess as to the identity of the sword:
Szczerbiec. (English approximation: “Ssher-byets”).
The royal coronation sword is known to all Poles, and is still perhaps in safekeeping in Wawel Castle in Krakow.
The coronation sword has a gold hilt. This one is black, not gold. Plenty of replicas have been made over the years, mostly cheap wall-hangers. Probably this one as well.
Still, you are drawn to the sword. You reach out, and hesitate. Surely the owner is nearby. But the noise and tumult of an encampment pulling up stakes… is now somewhat muted. Nobody is around. You are alone with the sword.
Lifting the sword with two hands, you grasp the hilt and draw the blade from the thick leather scabbard. The blade emerges, glints in the camp lights. The same Polish Eagle symbol is also affixed to the blade near the hilt. The bright steel has been lovingly maintained, and has a razor double edge. It feels perfect, sturdy, like an extension of your arm. The balance is exquisite.
This is no wall hanger.
You stumble backwards a step, as imagery fills your head.
Victory. Defeat. Loss. Resurgence. A beautiful woman of pure innocence. Soldiers marching, led by knights on horseback. A winding river. A ruined city. A Polish flag raised. A locomotive. A magnificent sailing ship. Another strange, vaguely American, flag being lowered. Hundreds, nay, thousands of images in between.
You suddenly return to the hubbub of the camp. Your mind is reeling with seemingly hundreds of years of imagery, not all of it in the past. Seen in a fraction of a second. Like a dream, it swiftly disappears from your mind, like water drying on a sunny sidewalk.
You return the blade silently to its sheath. The sword is yours.