The Uprising is Lost
“Well, what have we here then? A rebel spy. And by the looks of it, a foreign fighter working for the enemies of our land.”
“I’m no fighter just a traveller,” Baldwin said. “I stopped for a rest while passing through.”
The stoutest of the men laughed. “You have a drawn sword lying at your side and it looks to me to be a warrior’s sword, and you look more like a warrior than a traveller.”
"I keep my sword by my side because I've heard of all the trouble here."
The man laughed again. “I’m sure you have some information for us, like who is this Morgan you spoke of? Another traveller, perhaps?"
"Just someone I met on the way. He's gone on his own way now."
"We are not fools. In our camp, we have people who will have the skills to make you tell us what you are doing here. Or if you chose, you can die slowly in excruciating pain. Stand up, and don’t touch your sword. My archer has the ability to cause you pain and suffering without killing you.”
As Baldwin stood up a dagger hit the archer in the back causing him to yell and fall to his knees, his arrow flying wildly off target before he fell forward onto the ground. Baldwin swiftly scooped up his sword. Morgan rushed forward and the two friends engaged the enemy swordsmen. The swordfight was soon over; the enemy being no match for these battle experienced mercenaries.
“Thanks, Morgan, I thought I was in trouble there, and I could have been if that arrow hit me."
“But it would have been the better of two evils had I not returned. I saw our friends heading for the copse and I thought I would follow them, just in case.”
The men were startled when the archer began giving out a large blast on a horn. “I thought he was dead,” Morgan said. He dashed over and kicked the horn out of the man’s hand before running his sword through his back. “Do you think they heard him, Baldwin?”
“Well, there's a dozen or so men rushing towards us. Best get away from here.”
They just started to make their escape when they heard the sound of multiple horns sounding off and they stopped running. “What’s going on?” Morgan said. “Surely they are not sending hundreds of warriors after us.”
Baldwin ran back and looked over at the camp. “Something’s going on, those men are heading back to the camp and all the others are running out of the tents.”
Morgan joined him. “Look the Duke's men running out of the woods. They are attacking. They're attacking without the use of the archers first. The idiots think they are attacking a few hundred men. Why the hell didn’t the Duke wait for us to get back.”
"I can't see the Duke. No doubt he is leading from the back as always."
"It's a slaughter," Morgan said. "They are swarming over our men in great numbers. They have no chance; most of our archers have no experience in close combat."
"We have some good friends out there and we can only watch," Baldwin said. "There's nothing we can do for them."
The Duke soon realised his error and sounded a retreat but the enemy was amongst them and would pursue them through the woods until they killed or dispersed them all.
“I feel so helpless, Baldwin. So what do we do now?”
“We can do nothing. It's time to leave this land and go home. The Duke’s war is lost and, to be sure, we will not be paid the rest of our coins this month.”
"We won't get paid, but we are better off than the men down there," Morgan said.
Reluctantly, the two men set off towards the coast. They passed woodland and farmland and tried to avoid being noticed from the farmhouses. It was late afternoon when they came to their first village. “You know, Baldwin, despite the Duke’s uprising this is a much more civilised country than our own. Look at this place, It's pretty isolated but it has nothing to protect it.”
“Not much to protect anyway. A dozen ramshackle buildings with a blacksmith's forge that looks like it doubles as an inn."
"It’s a different culture, Baldwin. They have the horsemen to keep order but more importantly, every young man in this country is made to serve time in the army. I think the horsemen rounded up the retired soldiers to re-join the ranks again and fight. I did notice when there were only about two hundred most of them were young men. Later the ages were more diverse, some of them even seemed to be quite old.”
“So if there is trouble anywhere, the horsemen go to all the nearby towns and mobilise all the men to take up arms with the army. That would explain the surge in numbers because I am sure now that the two hundred figure was right, at the start of the uprising. Whereas the Duke was a paid man, paid by a cousin of the country's ruler. Very few of our men were from this country, so it would be difficult to add to our numbers.”
“Pity we didn’t work that out earlier,” Morgan said. “All our work and now we won’t get paid and a lot of good men have perished.”
Just as Morgan guessed, there was a small inn attached to the blacksmith's shop and the men went inside. A woman was behind the serving counter and two older women sat around a blazing log fire. Morgan hit his head on a low bean causing him to curse and Baldwin to laugh. But there was no response from the women. Morgan ordered the ale. "Do you have any food?" he asked.
"Bread and cheese," the woman asked.
"With some butter and onions?"
"Just bread and cheese."
"All right we'll have a plate of that, and it better not be stale."
"The thick straw on this floor can hide many things," Baldwin said. "It looks like a stable and smells of horse manure."
"The smell is more likely to be coming from those two old women toasting themselves by the fire," Morgan said. " But going by the size of the back door, it probably is used as a stable as well." He looked at the fire. "It's a wonder this place hasn't gone up in flames by now."
The woman started to fill two mugs of ale. “Strangers round here?” she asked.
“Yes, just passing through,” Baldwin said.
“Come from the battle have you?”
"The battle," Morgan said. "What battle?"
"North of here, some foreign invaders tried to take over our country. You must know about it."
“No, we don’t.”
“Our menfolk were victorious and they will return soon. So, where are you headed?”
“Too many questions,” Morgan said. “Just serve us the ale.”
The two old women looked over on hearing the remark. They looked away again and began whispering to each other. The serving woman stared at the men and when they looked at her she looked away only to stare at them again a little later. The men sensed the unfriendly atmosphere and soon ate their food and left the inn.
“How does she get the information so quick?” Morgan said.
“Maybe the two old girls are witches,” Baldwin said and they both laughed.
"Evil ones," one of the old women said after they left the inn. "Up to no good. I think they are a couple of defeated enemies fleeing from their evil deeds."
"Don't worry," the barwoman said. "They won't get far. I need to let the sheriffs know." She went out to the back of the inn and to a line of pigeon coops. She tied two bits of red ribbon to the legs of a pigeon from one of the four coops and let the pigeon fly off.