ith the success of filling the pitfalls along a stretch of the fortification of Ratherwood, the men who had rolled the logs and pushed the dirt and debris into the traps reached for another weapon they had brought with them within bowshot of the enemy. Hooked spears, not unlike shepherd’s crooks with an embedded blade, did double duty this day.
Under the sow men stabbed into the wall and pulled. Along the river the ground was yielding. The blades tore the bindings of the vertical timbers, and the hooks loosened their hold in the damp earth made damper by three days of heavy rain. Men atop the palisade looked down in horror as they saw and felt their purchase failing.
Their commanders did not waste time. They called for soldiers to prepare to attack and slaughter the men who sought to breach their walls when they removed the very walls that shielded them from inside. Soldiers ran to obey, forming a shield wall facing the crumbling timbers that was several men deep.
Meanwhile the King, acting on intelligence gained from the deserter his men had intercepted, swept his arm to indicate that Earl Sagar’s Lincoln housecarls and fyrd should move in to where he now knew a gap existed to the right in the wall. The Queen herself had pointed to a spot near the river where an old burial mound had been. It seemed that not only had some of that collapsed when she herself was a child in the fortress but that Malcolm’s own men had been chary about angering the dead by building part of the outer wall above the graves. As a result, where the outer wall should have shielded the inner where it came closest to the river’s edge there was a gap obscured but not plugged by brush. It would be a matter of little effort to cut that down and pass through into the gap between the walls.
Sagar nodded acknowledgement and sent his force streaming to the right of the earlier attackers in Jehan’s troops. There were not even any pitfalls here, though the soldiers knew to tread carefully over the graves in case of further collapse. They quickly chopped away the brush using their swords and axes as scythes and streamed into the inner sanctum.
The defenders who had formed the shield wall against invasion from the broken fortification found themselves attacked from their left by the flood of Sagar’s men who had taken advantage of the gap. Looks of astonishment were on their faces as the shield wall broke, unable to regroup quickly enough to face two fronts of attackers.
These fleeing men scattered, some to join the defense on the inner wall, others to no one knew where. A shout from one of the fortress’s garrison commanders to his men to defend the inner wall was taken up by virtually every soldier. They made for the inner wall and its defenses leaving the archers atop the outer wall to their fate. As the timbers were pulled out of the wall, it gave way, the catwalk at its top collapsing with it. The archers fell, the archers falling with it, some onto uncovered stakes in the near side of the pitfall but more to the weapons of the King’s own fighters.
Seeing how disastrous the mistaken order had been, many of Malcolm’s garrison, already afraid, already seeing little or nothing to be gained from their unfortunate choice of causes, started to back away and disappear, only a few falling to the outraged rebuke of their own commanders’ swords.
Nevertheless, many of the garrison have remained, and Sagar’s numbers fall with each of their men who faced the superior force on the inner wall. It was too late to pull them out. A few of Sagar’s men escape to fight alongside Jehan’s men who have broken through the fortification and killed the archers. There they received an equal hammering from Malcolm’s army in retaliation for their slaughter of the men on the outer wall.
Lawrence ground his teeth together as he watched his men fall all at once. He whipped to Edred who was at his side, about to tell him to assemble a large party of reinforcements when he looked past him and saw the Queen’s warrior cousin Ioruert hurrying to him on foot.
“Sire, sire,” the young man called breathlessly. “Forces coming from south of the village. O’Donnell’s.”
“God’s teeth!” spat the King peering through the rain to try to see the horsemen coming. “You take yours and your brothers’ forces and slow them down.” He turned back to his aide. “Get Botopher and tell Luco Treni to assemble half of his countrymen to overwhelm the garrison. Keep the other half in reserve for the final wave.”
Ioruert on his own two legs and Edred on his mount sped away to communicate the King’s orders.
On his tower Malcolm had the first smile on his face in days. He had seen the party of horses and heard them too. “The Irish!” he congratulated himself. A messenger dashed up the ladder and told him of the decimation of the King’s attackers in the breach of the south east wall. The confederate leader had a spring in his step as he went from side to side of the tower feasting his eyes on his impending victories.
“Lord, it seems we are not entirely deserted,” Aetheric effused at his side. “The messages got through and O’Donnell has kept his oath.”
“So it seems,” smiled Malcolm, clapping Aetheric on the shoulder. “Go get Maegwig. Why not let the sniveling fool see his own victory.”
Aetheric had not yet returned with the puppet king when Malcolm’s smile faltered. He could see Lawrence on his warhorse sending off with a wave of his arm a huge phalanx of soldiers in a tightly assembled shield wall. They were starting to advance on the stronghold. With no archers and no wall at this strategic point, he knew the shields would mow down the garrison on the inner wall.
“Where did he get all these troops?” Malcolm wondered as Aetheric returned to say that Maegwig could not be found anywhere.
Next: Gaylorde Lays It Out for the Queen
Before there was the novel, there were the stories...
by Nan Hawthorne, who also writes under Christopher Hawthorne Moss, Books and Stories b ChristopherHawthorne Moss at http://authorchristophermoss.vlogspot.com