Chapter 36: Siege of Lorness – 160 AK, Early Spring
Jeremiah 17:9-10 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
Approaching Lorness Castle
Norin sat easily in the saddle. There was no need to hurry. Drake was doing exactly as he wanted. Well, as he and Sunak wanted.
The despicable Drake, Earl of Caswell, had held Norin’s and others’ families hostage for too many years. David O’Toole was not the only former knight who had been ‘lavished’ with a house, lands and servants as tokens of Drake’s largesse.
No, the pattern was all too common and all too stark. An on-the-run knight sought aid in Caswell. Aid that Drake was all too willing to give. Even after erasing his knightly past and shunning all local circles, Drake considered himself the archetype to which all aspired. His solutions were always the most perfect. His generosity beyond equal. His wisdom not to be questioned.
Yet, once safely established within a house that was beautiful beyond imagining to someone who had been living off the land, it soon became obvious there was a price to pay. Drake, or worse his wife, knew of every indiscretion, of every disagreement between spouses, and of every rebellious young adult. Those who obeyed the Earl’s and Countess’ guidance were permitted to live quiet comfortable lives. Those who did not, suffered.
The servants that Drake provided were the informants. Servants that could not be dismissed or replaced without incurring the Earl of Caswell’s wrath.
Yet, it had turned out there was something Drake had overlooked. There were boys living rough in the forests, wilderness and woods that surrounded Caswell. Lads that were remarkably disciplined, inexplicably well-trained, and – it became increasingly impossible to miss over the years – far too expensively equipped with swords, bows, and all manner of other paraphernalia.
A year-and-a-half earlier…
Norin had entered his home to find a particularly nosy serving girl bound to a chair. His daughter and a scruffily-dressed young man of perhaps eighteen were having a hissed-yet-heated argument nearby.
“She knows,” Debryn scowled. “She’ll tell. She’ll—”
The young man’s easy smile silenced her. “She’s as terrified as you are. If she does not report on you, her younger brother and sister will be punished.”
“No. She’s a nosy, manipulative hundn who—”
“Deb, shhh.” He wrapped his arms around her. “I’m here for you. What say we—”
“What’s going on?” Norin had interrupted, striding into the room so he was visible to all three.
The unnamed youngster stepped clear of Debryn. “Sir.” He bowed. “I—”
“Let’s start with your name, son.”
“Egalt, sir. Although most just call me Galt. I mean no harm.”
“He’s…” Debryn’s voice withered at her father’s glare.
“If he’s man enough to hold you, he’s man enough to speak for himself.”
“Why is the serving girl…?” Norin gestured. “I’m asking my daughter, Galt. I’ll have questions for you shortly.”
The young man stood at ease as if he was a trainee knight. It brought back memories and hope within Norin’s mind.
“She… that is, father… I want to leave this… this… prison. I can’t take being spied upon every day and night. I won’t be married off to whomever the Countess of Caswell selects for me. I can’t even talk to… Galt… without risking… and she…” Debryn scowled at the bound servant.
“I think we should hear the girl’s side of this.” Norin strode over to the struggling housemaid and pulled the gag from her mouth.
“Please, sir, I wasn’t—”
He gripped her chin and tilted her face toward his. “One lie and I give you to the lad. Two lies and I give you to my daughter. Three…” he smiled cruelly, “…and I give you to my wife. Do you understand?”
She nodded timidly.
“Do you have younger siblings?”
“Why will they be punished?”
“If I don’t have anything to report at the end of each day, I’m punished. If I have nothing for three days, they are. If…”
“Yes…?” Norin growled, undecided if she had lied.
“If I’ve nothing to report for a week, we’ll all be expelled from Caswell… or worse.”
“Hmmm…” Norin put the gag back into place.
“Galt, from what you’ve seen, is this true?”
“It’s incomplete.” He took a step closer to Debryn. “The servants are also rewarded for every consecutive day they have something to report. But the punishments? That’s true. My friends and I have been wondering what to do about it.”
“Worked anything out, son?”
“The problem is… sorry, there’s a word our helper taught us. Has to do with feeding all the people we’d have to capture… and having enough of us in one place to do so.”
“Logistics,” Norin noted, feeling hope grow within. He did not like the way his daughter was taking comfort from the young man standing near her. Yet the lad would be a better match than any Norin would consider from within Caswell’s boundaries. “What if it wasn’t just you and your friends?”
“We’ve considered that too. We’re waiting for an answer.”
“Can’t… sorry, won’t… say, sir.”
“I like you more and more.” Then Norin frowned at his daughter. He did not want her taking that as approval for… but that would have to wait. “I take it that you, Debryn, tied—”
“Yes, father. She saw Galt approaching the house and…” she blushed. “I hit her over the head and… uh…”
It had been a ridiculous start to an insurgency. Norin had demanded of Drake that the single servant girl he had was insufficient. Had told him that his wife, Olvera, wanted more, wanted them young, and wanted to train them herself.
Then it had been Olvera’s turn. She’d caused merry hell until she got the girl’s younger siblings. She also demonstrated that she was even stricter and more righteous than Drake’s wife, Taryssa. Or, so the girl’s reports and periodic bruises conveyed. That, in turn, had caused several other spied-upon households to demand control over the entire families of their servants. Drake’s and Taryssa’s control had begun slipping.
As for the number of friends Galt had access to, that was something Norin had to revise ever upwards, until it was many hundreds, at the very least.
In regard to whom Galt’s unidentified assistants were, that had only been answered two moons ago. An armed Alexandrian trader, barely old enough to be Galt’s father, had appeared one evening. It had been an eye-opening night. Not for what was said but for what was left unsaid.
A moon later, four Knights of Joshua had been slipped into Caswell Castle to kidnap Drake. Unbeknownst to three of those four, over two hundred Alexandrians and several hundred more still-scruffily-dressed lads had seized key locations throughout Caswell.
The last of those four knights – the youthful-looking Sir Egalt – had carried word of the operation’s success to Norin, who’d set out for Dunis Glen a week earlier as he could no longer ride as fast or as far as when he’d been a young man.
Upon arriving, Norin had set out to find an ally. He would have preferred Jonathan O’Toole but had not expected him to put in an appearance so close to Lorness. Instead, he found Sunak Abreth, whose fiery persona hid a canny mind. Neither wanted Drake put to death by the Fellowship, he was far more useful in other ways. For example, driving him toward Melazera created tactical opportunities that could not be overlooked.
Jonathan O’Toole’s arrival had almost derailed their plans. Neither had expected anyone to stand up and defend Drake. Then, David O’Toole’s unpredictable actions had brought the knights together more effectively than anything Sunak or Norin had considered.
As Norin rode south, having joined up with O’Toole’s command force, Sunak was driving southwest. The still small voice repeated yet again, tell no one yet of what has happened in Caswell.
Outside Lorness Castle
David and forty-or-so other knights rode hard for Lorness Castle. There had been unavoidable delays due to his…
How could I have let my emotions override my judgment so?
Attacking Blackhawk had been stupid. Not merely on a personal level. The man had the king’s pardon, and it could have broken apart the alliance of forces that had been assembled to combat Melazera.
My stupid petty need could have—
“Don’t lag behind, One-Hand!” A painfully young knight yelled.
Distracted by his thoughts, David had slipped toward the rear of the troupe. That would not do. He spurred his horse onwards.
Act now. Think later.
As the wind whipped through his hair, he took in his fellow knights. All of those with him were young, fit, aggressive. They’d been chosen to establish a watch around Lorness Castle. Their job was to ensure Melazera did not flee.
The cavalry force accompanying David’s knights was falling behind. Their numbers were great enough to block the road to High Castle and the numerous paths heading south to River Town.
David had no idea where they would get the soldiers necessary to lay siege to Lorness… or didn’t until Blackhawk’s face yet again came to mind. How many men did the Commander have at his disposal?
Geleib strode out onto the battlements as dawn broke. Then laughed.
If his ancestors had intended to make Lorness Castle a militarily defensible fortress, they had done a spectacularly poor job of it.
There was no central keep to fall back into. For the sake of comfort and to project their power and prestige, if the keep had ever existed, it had long ago been demolished to create a bailey within which was a vast mansion house, set in exquisite lawns and gardens.
The inner bailey did have a curtain wall. Not that it was very high, nor did it have sufficient towers to cover all the potential blind spots against attackers. They would have ruined the desired aesthetic. There wasn’t sufficient accommodation within to house the Melazeras, their guests, servants, enough soldiers for defense, and all the provisions required for a siege. So, the soldiers and provisions had been moved outside.
There was a proper curtain wall around the outer bailey. It had towers, battlements, bastions, a pair of heavily reinforced gate houses each with its own barbican. There were arrow slits and murder holes for defense. The main problem was that it did not contain even a small fraction of the town of Lorness, which lay outside unprotected by even a decorative wall. A secondary problem was that, if Lorness ever became besieged, there was – again – insufficient space within the outer bailey to house the town’s population and the supplies to feed them. Thirdly, additional holes had been opened up through the curtain wall to improve trade, commerce and so on.
Geleib sighed. He remembered his grandfather scorning High Castle for its concentric design, layer upon layer of defenses and lack of living space for important people.
Grandfather Traneib’s opinion of Farr Castle had almost been as bad. Only ‘almost’ because the Melazeras had seen to its ‘improvement’ over recent generations. Even the king had acknowledged its superiority to High Castle by living there for a substantial part of each year.
As for the Alexandrian Castle, Traneib had not known where to begin. There certainly had not been an end to his complaints. First, it was built in the oddest of places. Second, it was as if it had been constructed backward, as if it was defending some non-existent path through the impassable Shining Mountains. Third, generation after generation of Alexandrians – people obsessed with money – had kept expanding it.
Yet none of Geleib’s musings soothed him.
There were a large number of Knights of Joshua out there, openly wearing their cloaks and proclaiming their presence. The townspeople were welcoming them, inviting them in, feeding them, and doing who knew what.
It was unacceptable.
But worse was the even larger formation of cavalry, flying King Sagen’s colors. They were not approaching Lorness. Instead, they were setting up camp across the road leading to High Castle.
Geleib did not know what their game was but did not like it.
There were large dust clouds approaching from both the north and south. The sort that, from the stories of his youth, indicated entire armies of soldiers on the move. Armies that seemed intent on intercepting each other at Lorness.
Are we being invaded? Who is coming from the south?
As he was about to withdraw inside, an ever-larger raggedly-dressed band of boys emerged from every point of the compass surrounding Lorness. They were waving dark flags. No, black flags.
No, no, no! This cannot be. Those are torn, cut and shredded black robes!
Geleib snarled but his angst dissolved into amusement.
The loss of the Black Robes as administrators was no more than an inconvenience. The loss of the incompetents who permitted themselves to be killed by raggedy-dressed boys? That was less than nothing.
I’m offended that my elegant Black Robes were bested by such gutter trash.
“Herald,” Geleib commanded, “send word to our people throughout the city. We are being surrounded by rogue knights, rebels and criminals. For their own sake, they must withdraw into Lorness Castle, where we can provide safety and weapons for those who would fight.”
Ha! Even as these fools attempt to besiege me, they play into my hands, giving me thousands of unwitting would-be-soldiers.
Soldiers. They’re no more than a distraction. As useless as building protective walls. My ancestors did something immensely more useful.
Something that many years of slave labor had permitted him to renovate, expand upon and improve.
What fool would waste money on defenses? Do these clumsy idiots think that they can capture me or make me surrender by stationing troops around me?
Geleib’s laughter bordered on hysterical.
Do these cretins think that armies change the course of history? That openly wielded power is the decisive factor? I’ll show them.
Not even Greyson or Rosewood had glimpsed the truth. Cailleagh had never had the capacity to. She had been a tool sent to permit Geleib access to the Warrior’s power.
Build an army? I did so as a distraction. Phah!
I built tunnels and accessways. Had them constructed by people who could be, and were, then disposed of. Only I know of their existence. Only I know whose throats are waiting to be slit at my pleasure.
I built a spy network within a spy network
I know secrets that grant me power. Secrets whose value cannot be diminished.
Now, I will teach them all what true power is.
Outside Lorness Castle
It had been too long since Danyth had sat in the saddle and led men. He would not have missed today for all his father’s wealth. That his younger brother, Rodyn, commanded the force was an irrelevance.
“Are you up to speed, Danyth, or is your mind still immersed in the king’s finances?” Rodyn taunted. The fine black stallion he rode was an exceptional beast. Its trappings functional rather than gaudy.
“Assume I’m not,” Danyth responded, bringing his chestnut filly alongside Rodyn’s black. “I’m late to the party. Have you heard the king’s given O’Toole overall command?”
“I have, and look forward to meeting him again. His orders are to block all passages to the west and south. And, his agents have introduced us to some new… friends. Just wait until you face him across a chessboard. If his skills on a battlefield are even half that, this should be over quickly.”
“What are you expecting?”
“Let me set the scene, first. We set out from Alexandria over a moon ago. Our new friends isolated Fairness Crossing first. We’ve had little interaction with them directly but no couriers escaped to spread word of what was happening. Not by road. Not through the wilderness.”
“Don’t be impatient,” Rodyn scolded with a smile. “I don’t have all the answers yet. However, there’s a plow salesman, of all things, who carried messages to and from us. It can’t have been just the one person but whatever his organization is, it’s effective.”
“So am I. When the opportunity arises, I want to meet Tomas Beck, shake his hand, and buy him as much ale as he can drink. That said, our main force moved north from Fairness Crossing toward High Castle. Smaller groups were detached to deal with Caswell and River Town.”
“Your tone, brother dear”,” Danyth noted, “indicates something odd happened.”
“River Town was more… problematic. Our allies could not intercept all the boats headed downstream. Yet, somehow, the river itself became blocked in several places. We found two dozen boats that were merely stranded. We promised to help them out after matters have been resolved. However, we also found a handful of boats abandoned, except for recent marks of swordplay and no small amount of dried blood. Again, news did not drift north to Melazera.”
“What about Caswell? Its Earl is one of Melazera’s most open supporters.”
“That…” Rodyn’s smile was bleak. “…is something we’re still trying to understand. We were expecting open and covert opposition…”
Outside Lorness Castle
Drake had been too slow. The great portcullises had been lowered. Guards and barricades blocked the other entrances that would permit him to enter Castle Lorness’ outer bailey.
His horse was near exhaustion. He had no money. He had no friends. He…
A tiny, long-absent voice instructed, turn left.
Almost frightened by the experience, he did so.
Again, the still small voice whispered. Again, he did as instructed.
Again, and again, and again.
He lost count of how many times it had urged him onward.
He lost track of where he was.
Then he dismounted, as he’d been told to, and led his horse through a small door.
On its other side, a guard snapped to attention, “Lord Caswell, are you well? May I tend to your horse? Do you want me to inform the Duke of Lorness that you are here?”
“Yes, yes,” he’d responded in a dreamlike state. Then he’d been led through guarded doors, along dark unused passageways, and finally presented to the duke.
“Drake?” Geleib’s sharp tone cut through the haze clouding his mind. “What are you doing here?”
“Caswell has fallen.”
“Nonsense. It’s merely a temporary setback. The God of this Age is on our side. As are his hosts. What can the deluded followers of an illegal, disbanded religion do against them?”
“Nothing! They can do nothing! To demonstrate our power, I am going to remove this petulant boy who plays at being king. If he understood real power, he’d have had me killed. So, I shall exterminate him, along with his queen, his heirs, and every noble-born miscreant that does not understand that Freislicht is mine.”