A small group of provincial infantry and dragoons were escorting a cart to Civita Maria, the central town of north-eastern Quattro Formaggi. Lately the highway had been festering with highwaymen. The two do not necessarily go together everytime, but on occasions when the provincial army is too busy preparing for war with the vile rebel Calvacasa, they have little time to smoke these criminals out of the woods.
On the cart there was a chest containing the soldiers' pay. From Civita Maria smaller groups would be sent out to distribute the money amongst local commanders. The central govermnent aided local nobles to raise provincial companies. This requires a brief explanation: the Formaggian army consists of the central and provisional corps. The central army is a professional body, but largely disarmed since the latest war. They number about sixteen thousand. The provincial army is recruited locally and serves at the same places it's recruited from. The provincial troopers wear old-fashioned uniforms and are usually poorly trained. They serve under petty nobles and the court pays part of their wages to ensure public safety. It seems Pietro di Calvacasa will be facing these men for the first few months of his campaign.
The cart also bore a heavy siege mortar brought up from the capital, courtesy of Don Giovanni di Lobstre, a professional cannon-maker. Calvacasa has a mighty fortress and such equipment would come handy once the loyalist army was on the offensive.
The cart was escorted by a sergeant, six footmen and four dragoons. The bandits who pounced upon them from the thick woods near the road were fewer in number, but determined to steal the loot.
The cavalry was to clash first and one dragoon was dismounted then killed. His comrades quickly avenged his fall.
Some infantrymen, unwilling to join the fray, were lagging behind. They had much better firearms than their foes and those aching for a fight shot their muskets quickly, causing great havoc amongst the group of bandits.
Although the attackers managed to take out four of the guards, they in turn lost five, and, dragging their wounded with them, vanished into the darkness of the forest without achieving their goal. The combat was swift and bloody, something the loyalist soldiers would not soon forget.
The bandits retreated to the north, and crossing very rough terrain, entered the lair of the northern highwaymen. There was a good hundred men from all classes of society huddled up in this hideout. After a great council they decided to send one of their ranks, an impoverished noble, to the rebel Calvacasa.
The messenger reached the Count's home town and found him inspecting his freshly raised troops. He already had three companies armed and equipped. The bandit presented himself and told the Count about the failed attack on the highway and the possible dire consequences. He asked the Count to take the outlaws under his protection, in return for which they would help his fight against the Chancellorette.
Calvacasa saw the disadvantage of the situation instantly. He was in need of more troops, and some of these bandits were hardened by skirmishes with the loyalists and life in the woods. But they were, in the end, criminals, and the Count needed to extend his territory and convince other municipalities to join him. If the news of this alliance reached the civilian leaders, they would instantly refuse to aid the rebels.
After some thinking the Count refused the bandits' help in its offered form. What he proposed instead was that the boundaries of his territory were free to cross for the outlaws, and he on his part would not persecute them until no act of violence was made against his subjects. Anything of a formal declaration of joint causes was out of the question, and this the bandits' representative understood. He got back to the hideout and his mates agreed on the terms, preparing to move their headquarters north.