Benvolio and the Brigands Attack
|Chapter 7 The Battle
Lorenzo Benvolio was a Captain in the Hermandad. He sat on the seat of a wagon attired as a merchant. He was a big man wearing a foofy hat and a colorful tan and yellow tunic. The dress had been loaned by a grateful dealer. The merchants were delighted with the additional security which they saw as a form of restitution on the taxes levied by the king. Lorenzo was not alone for many of his officers were similarly disguised and still others appeared as clerics and tradesmen. This was a wealthy caravan and because the wagons concealed men at arms did not belay the fact that most were filled with the valuable goods of commerce. Similarly attired was Carlos by his side. He was a Lieutenant of Dragoons . Carlos had insisted on accompanying the wagons and sharing the dangers with his friend Lorenzo.
In the distance was the sprawling forest of El Bierzo that ran for twenty square miles. O Cebreio stood at its edge and less than a mile inside ran a road south to Barco which continued into Portugal. They anticipated that the intersection would be focus of the attack. This Southern axis they concluded, would be the route of withdrawal, once the raiders completed their mission. Their plan was to circle the wagons of the edge of the forest, on the pretext of having discovered the ambush and force the brigands attack into the open. This would give the caravan a chance at survival until reinforcements arrived. Standing by the roadside was someone Benvolio recognized and he handed the reins to Carlos and stepped to the ground. As the wagon rolled past Carlos saw his friend and the stranger speaking in furtive tones. A moment later Lorenzo was back in the seat wearing a grim smile.
“So what’s the good word?” asked the Dragoon.
“Good and not so good….What do you wish to hear first?”
“The good of course,” answered Carlos, the eternal optimist.
“The good is that we’re to be attacked at the Barco crossing.”
“The bad is that we face a larger force than anticipated.”
“Close to a thousand….”
“Not very encouraging....Glad now you listened?"
“Yes my friend, very glad….”
“It’s getting close to that time,” said Carlos….“By your leave I'll dispatch my scouts and let those keen eyed rascals discover the ambush”
“A good a time as any.”
Carlos nodded to a skinny looking sergeant riding a few feet away. Pointing forward he nodded his head and motioned with his hand. The NCO acknowledged the gesture nervously and spurred his horse…Four Lancers followed him galloping off down the road.
Benvolio looked about….These were the familiar places. Paramo lay just to the North….where his father’s estate once stood. The town had rebuilt but all that remained of his childhood home was an overgrown tangle of rubble. He thought about his parents, sisters and brother…raped and murdered. It helped him to think such thoughts on the eve of battle, especially where the Portuguese were concerned. It helped him focus on the task and bear the specterof his old friend death.
“Such a gloomy disposition,” said his friend, “…have no fear for I am with you…”
Benvolio smiled from beneath his war face…Carlos was such an insufferable fellow, a real gallows jester.
“'Fear' is a familiar companion,” said the Captain, “I’m beginning to feel at home in his presence. However, his cousin, 'Revenge' I like even more. That one is a great comfort, especially in dealing with bad memories.”
His words made Carlos uncomfortable and the lieutenant changed the subject. “So this is old and familiar territory…?”
Benvolio nodded….“Ten years ago Count Gutierrez, cousin to Alonzo of Portugal, laid waste to these lands. My family perished and I survived by being at my Uncles' in Auritz .”
“Is he the same one called the 'Commandante' alleged to be behind the incessant raiding that continues endlessly across the border?”
“Yes, the bandit Caliente is but an instrument of the Commandante...but a trusted subordinate. He was involved in the slaughter of my family and the burning of our village.”
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and see his head on a pike…”
Sergeant Cartagena rode at a cantor into the forest. Sweat poured down his forehead. He could feel the oppression and could almost visualized the many eyes that watched from hiding. He looked over at Private Yarza as they rode along to the Barco cutoff. Arriving he pulled back on the reins and circled his charger. An unnerving silence hung in the air; Not a bird chirped or creature stirred.
He nodded a signal for his men to get ready and reared up in his saddle. He raised his hand to his forehead and looked about. Carlos had rehearsed him the evening before on exactly what to do. Then he pointed and called out loudly…
“Is that the glint of a sword?….see it over there?”
“Look, there’s another,” replied the corporal pointing in agreement….
“Sound the warning!”
Yarza blew the bugle and they spurred their steeds back up the road. Arrows began to fly as they rode for their lives. Sergeant Cartagena took a bolt through the back.
“Ride! Ride!” he exhorted as Yarza continued to trumpet the warning.
As the lead wagon came abreast the turnaround they heard the distant blare of the bugle.
"So it begins," said Lorenzo pulling left and cracking the whip. With a maddening slowness the wagons began moving as planned into a huge circle. Carlos stood and began shouting orders. Down the road raced three Dragoons, one with an arrow in his saddle bag.
“Rejoin the squadron,” Carlos ordered the Corporal, “Tell them the battle is imminent.” Yarza spurred his mount and rode off to the West.
Fifteen minutes later the perimeter was drawn. Almost immediately came the sound of hoofs and over the rise came a hundred riders. They drew to a halt just out of range. Orders were given and one was dispatched back down the road to give report. Then the others circled to the West taking up blocking positions along the road.
Benvolio was everywhere, positioning his archers and pike men….Carlos was everywhere else, calming the merchants. He reminded them of their role and positioned them as a hasty militia in behind the men at arms. He welcomed the respite knowing that every minute was another breath of hope….It didn’t last long;….Over the hill came suddenly a surge of the renegades.. The archers cut loose and still the bandits poured from the forest, closingon the wagons. Pikemen men stood between the tongues and traces, slowing the onslaught ,as the bowmen fired point blank. More and more poured from behind until completely surrounded the brigands were attacking from all sides. The perimeter held briefly and then ruptured as a hoard of raiders broke through ….Benvolio rallied the reserve and Carlos bolstered the line with the merchants. Hand to hand the fighting joined and the balance wavered until the Dragoons arrived….the first troop was met by the brigands mounted horsemen. They held for a moment until the following echelons closed from behind.
A bugle sounded and the attackers fell back retreating to the forest….The dragoons swept down from the flanks and few were able to escape. The remnants of the Raiders fell back down the Barco road in a semblance of organized resistance. They were able to keep the Dragoons at bay until reaching the main highway between Toro and Puebla de Sanabria. There they were flanked by two companies of foot converging from the East and West. Of the thousand that set out two days earlier only a handful made it back to Portugal. The bandit El Caliente fell among the wagons and his head was raised on a pike but the best news was that Count Gutierrez was captured just north of the Border. The following morning he was led into Astorga where the caravan had moved during the Night.
Benvolio was dozing when awakened by the news. He collected himself and watched as the King’s nephew was led in… a rope around his neck. He was still defiant. “Do you know who I am?” sneered the prisoner.
“No, tell me…”
“I’m Count Rodrigo Gutierrez, Cousin to Alphonso the Fifth…”
“A pleasure,” said Benvolio, ominously.
Carlos didn’t like hearing that tone of voice….Count Rodrigo Gutierrez was a high ranking political prisoner whose capture would give great leverage to King Ferdinand.
“These scoundrels have treated me like an animal….I demand respect.”
“Take the rope from around his neck,” Benvolio ordered.
The soldiers groaned in disappointment. Carlos sighed in relief.
“Bring this ‘Noble’ a horse.”
This one's a gold mine,” thought Carlos, his hopes starting to rise. A horse was brought and El Commandante climbed into the saddle.
"Now throw the other end over that limb," Lorenzo continued.
“Don’t do this Carlos pleaded,” realizing the worst was about to happen, “The Bastard’s not worth it…”
When the rope was dangling, Benvolio led the horse underneath.
“Put the dog’s collar back on.”
The soldiers cheered and one jumped atop another’s shoulders and affixed the noose.
“You wouldn’t dare,” said the Count…
“Please don’t do this my friend, the king will have your head…"
“Don’t try and gull me," said the Commandante, his voice quavering... “Take me down this instant."
“As you wish,” said Benvolio and slapped the horse’s flank.