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

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New Stories: The Siege Is Broken, the Battle Begins(Happened)

I hope you are all noticing that I started getting more accurately Anglo Saxon a little while before this.

Ethelberga had been accurate in her description of the downpour. The rain continued for that full day and the next dawned as soggy. The King was delighted. As miserable as it was to tramp around in the mud of the encampment, he knew that the heavy rain veiled his army's preparations from the fortress. The timing of the deluge was perfect.

Earl Jehan's men had been efficient and fast. In the cover of a rainy dusk they had taken the carts brought by the men of Affynshire and fetched back the logs that would be rolled into the pitfalls along the seven rod length of the outer palisade of Ratherwood. They were lying just outside the inner earthwork having been rolled there silently as possible in the dark of night.

Now they knew which length of wall as well. The deserter from Malcolm's camp had delivered up the layout of the two walls readily enough. Edred's techniques had been used not to gain the intelligence but to verify its veracity. Lawrence had been interested at how the inner wall had changed little from what he remembered from two years prior. The outer wall was so different that he had considered the possibility that it had an inner duplicate replacing the former palisades. The man's information had turned out to be quite complete save for some knowledge of Malcolm's own defensive tower. But they now knew that there was one section of the southeastern wall abutting the River Don where the outer wall was more than a bowshot from the inner. If they could break through there their forces would have a better chance of making it through to assault the more vulnerable inner fortress.

Under the cover of predawn darkness and the continuing downpour Lawrence gathered his armies. His own confessor gave the blessing and prayed that right be done that day. Lawrence earned a subdued laugh from the men as he told them, "I know not if I should live or die this day but either end will mean the end of life in this goddamned stinking shit hole." He smiled and turned to Ruallauh and the other warlords. One simple nod set them on their tasks.

Before first light any of Malcolm's lookouts on the outer walls would have heard an odd rumbling coming from the direction not of the King's army but more to the river's edge where the road from Lincoln crossed it by bridge. Two days of cold heavy rain had made the already lax watchers less observant. The siege had offered them no challenge and little diversion. The rain which had soaked their cloaks had driven them into the shelter of guard towers whenever their officers were not looking.

One guard looked curiously in the direction of the sound. "What is it?"

His companion, shivering in the added damp of morning muttered, "The river is swollen and flooding the bridge. That is all."

The first man shook his head. "I suppose you are right, but why is the sound coming closer?" He thought a moment. "Is the river flooding enough to reach here?"

The second man snorted. "If it comes this way it will have already drowned the Saxon and his whole camp. Now that is something that would be worth standing out here in this fucking rain to see."

"Still, I'd better tell the captain." He ignored the second man's obscene comment about the captain and went to wake his captain.

Jehan's men had felled the trees from which the logs were taken and insisted they have the right to deliver them to their purpose. In the dark and downpour they quietly as possible rolled them forward. The damp ground made rolling them up the outer side of the innermost earthwork difficult as the logs slipped and rolled back, crushing one man's legs s he failed to get out of the way. On the other side, where it sloped down again, the logs took off on their own and the men had to suppress laughter as they chased them towards the barely perceptible walls of the fortress. Here the land sloped to the river and as the logs were rolled athwart the incline it neither helped nor hurt their progress. The earth close to the pitfalls had been somewhat leveled by the digging of the holes so it was no challenge to roll the logs, some thick and some not so thick, into the area where a pole prodded revealed the edge of the pitfall. As more soldiers flocked to Jehan's logrollers, dawn was just breaking but to no effect. The rain was simply too heavy.

The men on the palisade could not miss the meaning of the next sounds they heard. The logs crushed the thin framework that had been placed over the stake-filled trenches. They crashed through and fell on the pointed stakes. Where a log was stout and heavy, the stakes themselves snapped. There they were lighter, the logs fell against the stakes and parts of the cover and simply made more of a framework for crossing the trench. It was clear to all who could hear that the hazard the pitfalls were to present had been neutralized. Now there was no reason to be quiet and shouting erupted on both sides of the ensuing battle.

Had there not been a sudden commotion, the archers who rushed to the spot to fire on the attackers below would have heard a sound that would tell them their arrows did no harm. That sound was the thud that followed the zip their fletched arrows made as they hit solid wood. The men below now armed with spears and swords were using these weapons to push bits of the cover framework and loosened earth into the pits, but they were doing this under a sow, a shield of solid wood held over the heads of the men to protect them from just the sort of defense the archers mounted. The arrows were thudding thickly into the top of the sow. None found their mark in human flesh.

Not so the archers under Earl Ruallauh, the most renowned archer in all England himself. They had come up behind the log rollers and their reinforcements and defenders and were now crouched just within bowshot, shielded by some of the logs that had not been needed to fill the traps. Their carefully trained bowmanship picked off one of the fortress's soldiers and archers after another as the first light overcame the veil of rain. The sun struggling through the clouds low in the east illuminated the faces of the men on the palisade just enough to suggest their shock and consternation as they realized how large the King's army had suddenly become.

Malcolm in his chamber had been awakened by his aide when the man came in to tell him of the strange sounds to the southeast. He emerged into the courtyard just as the shouts rose. "To the command tower," he ordered his aide, "but first bring the commanders.. and Aetheric." He buckled his sword belt tighter, chuckled at an urge to say a quick prayer, and dashed for the ladder that led up inside the wooden command tower.

Casting his eyes towards the sound of fighting from the vantage point of the wooden structure, he could see only those of the King's troops who were yet advancing and positioning themselves. He shouted orders for more archers to be sent to the ramparts, for continuous reports on the status of the enemy, for an accounting of what commanders were in position and where, and for ale and bread to be brought to him where he was.

He waited for Aetheric but hardly needed the man to know that his allies, his co-conspirators, had deserted him. He muttered under his breath, "When you lie down with dogs, you get fleas."

Next: Breacch!

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About the author

Nan Hawthorne now writes under the name Christopher Hawthorne Moss. You can contact Christopher at .