“You’re Highness!” There was a sense of urgency in Captain Wallace voice. “You must be out of the open and well into the swamp before their forces emerge from the town. If they see you”, Wallace frowned, “They’ll know to come after you. Leushia nodded her agreement. “Yes Wallace I know.” She looked to captain Raichelle.
Captain Raichelle rallied the party and all were present and ready to move within a few minutes. “I have a small war party going into the city to distract them from you M’lady”. Captain Wallace gave a stern look to the sentinels guarding the rear gate. The nearest of them picked up a bow and fired an arrow in the direction of the front gates.
The main gate to South Haven Keep was opened and a small raiding party of twenty five sentinels charged out on their war horses and full speed towards the city. They were covering the distance quickly and would soon meet enemy resistance. “Now is the time Your Highness”. Wallace signaled the guards to open the rear gate of the fortress to allow Leushia and her party to make a run for it.
Leushia looked down at Captain Wallace with a stern look he knew well. “Do not die here today good captain. We have need of you many days beyond this.” Wallace gave her a heartfelt fist to breast salute. “I shall not good lady, but I must report that I fear we will lose the fortress”. Wallace showed visible remorse having given this report. “Do what you can and fall back then to Portsmouth. They will need your defenses.” Leushia turned her horse to the gate gave it a kick. The dust swirled high as they ran for the swamp.
Wallace ordered the gates closed and made his way to the commander’s deck. It was the battlement from which he would survey the progress of the enemy and their defenses. Wallace reached beneath his cloak and pulled out a leather bound looking glass. When he reached the deck he first used his glass to see Leushias progress to the swamp. Wallace could see they were almost to the edge of the thick swamp. Leushia and her party would soon disappear and hopefully get away unnoticed.
The Sentinal war party was well into the town and Wallace eagerly waited for their report. He needed a better idea what they were up against. He watched Leushia and her party until they were well out of sight. Wallace wondered how much time they would be able to buy for their escape.
Captain Wallace turned his attention to the besieged town and used his looking glass to scan the landing where the ships had come in. The ships were the biggest he had ever seen. At least a dozen large war galleys with hundreds of oars protruding from each side. They looked like enormous centipedes swimming in from the sea and landing just beyond the harbor. Wallace could see the enemy warriors milling around where the ships had come to landing. Some of them were forming up and moving off into the town.
Wallace could see many of the dark skinned warriors were staying near the ships, unloading equipment and setting up siege engines. He could see some large black hounds being hooked up to carts while others trailed along behind groups of warriors. They were preparing for siege.
The bulk of the army consisted of dark skinned, muscular men with black hair. Many of them wore their hair in tails or braids down their backs. They were clad in modern looking armor and carried weapons which from a distance looked to be formidable indeed.
A large bonfire immediately caught his attention when he peered through the glass. It looked as if the generals had convened their council. These knights were the only ones who didn’t seem to be in a hurry. Dark skinned, black haired, well-muscled and heavily armored, these knights wore a fierce demeanor as they considered how best to make their conquest. Wallace would need to consider well and respond in kind.
The men in their command moved swiftly and with purpose. They were unpacking crates and assembling equipment that Wallace had never seen. Large iron castings were being loaded onto frames set with wheels to move them. Wallace considered what they could be. He had a feeling he would soon find out.
It was clear these first waves of attacks were merely diversions, designed to keep them busy while the main forces prepared for an all-out assault. Wallace and his regiment were terribly outnumbered. South Haven Keep was not prepared in such a way to fend off a real siege.
They had near a dozen ballista and archers on the walls. The gates and portcullis were secure for now. They had managed so far to keep them out but the attacks had been small. Wallace could see now they would not survive this battle. It was then that Wallace began to plan their escape.
Wallace could see more of them gathering in the distance between the keep and the town with each failed attempt at the keep’s gates. There were way too many of them out there now for them to try to make a run for it, besides, Leushia and her party needed more of a head start he mused silently. They couldn’t run now.
The town behind them was ablaze. Smoke darkened the night sky in great billows and plumes of grey and black glowing orange and yellow and out of control. It cast eerie shadows that would catch your eye and make you think there was something where there was not.
They would take the keep. Wallace knew it. The question now for Wallace to answer is what shape he would give it. And what will be the fate of himself and his men? What started as a regiment of one hundred and fifty men was fast dwindling.
Wallace estimated they had so far lost about thirty to thirty-five men, not counting the raiders that never returned. He knew in his bones this was a losing fight and he felt guilty about the men he had seemingly sent to their deaths. He needed to focus on giving Leushia as much time as possible and how to safely retreat.
Leushia had been gone only a few hours, and Wallace thought he maybe had until near dawn before he would lead the remnants of his regiment through the wine cellar and out through the aqueduct the let our near the edge of the swamp. They would retreat into the swamp but on foot they would not catch her highness before she boarded the river ship.
Wallace looked up as his man at arms appeared before him “Tell the men to ready the pitch.” Wallace said with conviction. “Throw everything of wood and fabric to the keep walls.” Wallace frowned at the next. “Tell the men to position their fallen comrades along the wall in key fighting positions. Prop them up if necessary and try to make it look like their ready to fight.” He let out an exasperated breath. “Then cover it all in pitch. Have archers and flame at the ready”.
The trooper hurried off to carry out Wallace orders. Wallace took another look with his glass. The flurry of activity by their ships was beginning to look more organized. It also looked like they were establishing claims on key positions inside of the town, likely sources of food, drinks and other supplies they would need to keep their forces moving. Wallace felt sorry for the town’s people and wondered if any of them made it out alive.
Captain Wallace made his way down to the courtyard where his sentinels were busy following his orders. He could make out the fallen sentinels along the wall to the inner keep and noted in many cases they were propped by wooden furniture that would fast go up in flames once fire was put to pitch. Chairs, benches, paintings, draperies and all manner of wood and fabric had been thrown into a heap at the base of the inner wall around the entire inner compound.
The courtyard was bustling with fervered activity. The base for the fire was being built high and now men with buckets were sloshing pitch along the length of the heap, saturating it in sticky black pitch oil. It wouldn’t be long before it was ready. Wallace made his way to the wine cellar where the entrance to the aqueduct to check the men on station. He wanted to make sure their escape route was secure and that they would be able to pass through it swiftly to the swamp.
The young sentinel snapped to attention when Captain Wallace approached him. “The aqueduct is secure captain” the young man said respectfully. “It will only take ten to fifteen minutes for us to reach the swamp. We have a couple of guards at the exit to the swamp ready to let us know if anything goes awry.”
Wallace nodded. “Good work sentinel. Now, I have a job for you. Find another to be on guard here and gather a group of fifteen men. Each of you fill a pack with all the food you can carry, only things that are roadworthy, dried meat, cheese, bread and any dried fruits or nuts you can find.” Wallace gave the sentinel a stern look. “Assemble here with the supplies and those men, and be ready to move.” The young man nodded. “Yes Captain Wallace.” He snapped Wallace a quick salute and left immediately to follow his captain’s orders.
As Wallace made his way out of the wine cellar two sentinels were headed down to replace the young man he had sent off for supplies. The captain made his way back to his vantage point so he could direct his men and assess their current situation. He needed to buy Leushia as much time as possible and wouldn’t commit to the fire until the last possible minute if he could help it. Once the fire was lit it would grow quickly and hopefully cover their escape.
The bulk of sentinels were on guard at the outer defensive wall of the keep. Two men at each of the ballista that stood atop a dozen stone towers spread along the out wall. More sentinels were spread out along the rampart. They were pushing over the enemy’s ladders and keeping them from getting hooks locked into place. It had been a little while since the enemy had rallied for a real attack.
Wallace noticed a group of the dark skinned warriors moving in the direction of the keep. He shouted at the sentinels to keep alert and trained his glass on them. Some of them were pushing a huge ram that was affixed to a cart with large wooden wheels. The front of the ram was crowned with an enormous iron spike.
Wallace signaled the nearest sentinel and the young man came running. Wallace grabbed the young sentinel by the shoulder. “Gather some men, get to the station above the main gate and turn up the heat on the pitch. They’re going to try for the gate.” The young soldier snapped a salute, and then ran to obey.
Wallace scanned all around the keep looking for another group of them. He didn’t know if they would try to split their forces or if it would just be another head on attack. There were small groups of them at key locations watching in case the sentinels tried to escape but the group with the ram seemed to the only current threat.
Wallace watched them with the looking glass and looked for weakness. The loud thud of bastille firing met his ears and through his glass he could see the first bolt hit the ram. The warriors never flinched and kept on coming. There must be hundreds of them pushing that beast. Wallace frowned. Huge iron shields were affixed to the ram to protect the warriors from direct arrow or bastille fire.
The enemy stopped the ram a couple hundred paces from the main gate. Wallace could see the crowd of men positioning the ram for a run at the gate. Within a few minutes the warriors let loose a war cry and with a mighty heave began a slow run towards the outer gate. The first impact rocked the keep. Dust and debris flew everywhere. Wallace had no idea their ram would be so effective. It was like an explosion ripping through the entire fortress.
The second impact sounded the same as the first. The portcullis strained under the abuse. Wallace gave the signal and when the third impact came the enemy was drenched in thick, hot pitch. They screamed in agony as the pitch worked into their armor and cooked their flesh. Orange streaks flew from above the gate and the ram and all those around it burst into flames. The enemy’s screams could be heard throughout the keep.
The rest of the warriors fell back. They set up patrols at a safe distance to be sure the sentinels didn’t escape. It had been 3 hours now that Lou had been gone. Wallace had seen no sign of the enemy go anywhere but after the keep. They had successfully gained the invading army’s attention. Her highness and her party had gotten away. At least there was that.
Wallace raised his looking glass and peered in the direction of the burning town. He could see the survivors from the town were being rounded up and put into chains. Men, women and children were bound in iron collars and hooked to each other with chains. They were being led towards the ships. Wallace wondered what would become of them.
Once the cook fires began to spring up along the shoreline Wallace was fairly certain they wouldn’t come at them again until first light. He ordered his men to sleep in shifts and be ready in a few hours to move. Wallace went to his quarters to rest in his bed one last time. He ordered the sentinel at his door to give him no more than three hours and to wake him the instant he was needed.
Wallace kicked off his boots and lay back for a fitful sleep. It seemed he had no sooner closed his eyes than he was being gently shaken awake. “Captain Wallace. It’s been a full three hours sir.” The sentinel informed him. When he could see that Wallace was indeed awake he moved back to his post.
Wallace had terrible dreams. He was in a pit, clothed in rags and had seemed to be there an eternity. He couldn’t remember how he got there or if he escaped. Wallace knew this would not be his fate. “Not today”, he muttered out loud. “Excuse me sir?” The sentinel asked. “Nothing”, Wallace pulled on his boots. “Run and tell everyone to get ready. We’ll be moving soon.” The sentinel didn’t hesitate and in a flash was gone.
Wallace went immediately to the commander’s deck. Through his glass he could see the enemy was beginning to stir. He could see the siege equipment being set up and the ranks being formed. They were coming then, at dawn. “Order the men to fall back to the inner walls”, Wallace told the nearby sentinel. “Make a final check of our preparations and report back to me quickly”. The sentinel gave a salute and was off.
Wallace stayed on deck and watched the enemy place their siege equipment and form their ranks. He took particular notice of their weapons and armor, looking for weakness and vulnerability. He wondered still about their siege engines and what damage they might do to the fortress.
The siege wagons had two wheels with wooden spokes bound into an iron rim. Each of the wagons carried a large round tube cast of steel. Wallace didn’t know what they were. He wasn’t sure he wanted to. Captain Wallace turned to the sound of the sentinel coming on deck.
“The passage is clear, the foodstuffs are ready, the men have fallen back to the inner walls and the archers are in position M’lord” the young sentinel saluted smartly. “Now we wait.” Wallace said smugly. He peered through his glass waiting now for the enemy to move.
Their front line was too far for the keeps bastille to fire. Wallace feared they wouldn’t be much use anyway. There were a few of them along the inner wall and he was sure they would get off a few shots. Once the enemy broke the outer wall they would have precious little time to enact their plans.
The relative silence was broken by a thunderous explosion. Captain Wallace looked in the direction of the enemy ranks just as the outer wall was rocked by a huge crash. Wallace had never seen this power in an attack. He looked again at the enemy siege equipment. They were loading them with round irons as large as a man’s head.
The fortress was again assaulted with another direct hit to the main gate of the outer wall. “Fire the outer wall” Wallace shouted. Archers in position dipped their cloth tipped arrows into a pail of pitch and set them to the torch. The flames caught quickly and the arrows were in flight. The base of the outer wall began to flicker and smoke. The flames licking up higher and higher and the black smoke rolling out in huge waves that blocked their view of the invaders.
The outer wall was soon engulfed in flames and the enemy could not be seen over the wall of flame between them. The fire would burn for hours and Wallace hoped would prevent them from coming further into the keep for now.
Captain Wallace watched the wall and waited. The fire blazed high and black smoke billowed. Out of the smoke he saw the shapes emerging. He ordered the sentinel to blow the horn sounding the alarm. Arrows were fired upon the enemy and still they came. Bastille fired successively hitting their mark. More and more of them poured into the outer bailey and the giant war dogs followed.
Wallace gave the order to sound retreat and signaled the archers to fire the inner walls. Captain Wallace and the sentinels on deck hurriedly made their way to the wine cellar where the fortress sewage tunnel would lead them to escape.