Saving Lady Margaret.
Chapter 1.Morgan advanced and struck Baldwin’s sword. Baldwin blocked the next blow, but had to take a step back as Morgan advanced. “It will soon be over,” Morgan said.
Baldwin laughed and blocked two more blows and then with a mighty upward strike knocked Morgan’s sword from his hand. “You’re dead, Morgan.”
Morgan pushed Baldwin's sword aside and swept his leg before pushing him over. Making sure to avoid the blade, he dropped onto Baldwin’s chest and held a dagger to his throat. “I win, I think.”
“You cheated,” Baldwin said. “Had this been a real fight you would not have got near me.”
Morgan laughed. "Cheated! You can't stop a fight on the battlefield because you think someone cheated." He laughed again as he stood up. “Don’t be such a bad loser. Let’s get to the inn. It’s your forfeit to get the ale.”
Sir Foxley hired these mercenary fighters for a specific task and after seeing them practising again, he walked over. “I pay good money for you two. If you injure each other, or worse, in this silliness, you will be of no use to me.”
“You are paying us for boredom,” Morgan said. “We sat in a field for three days before coming to the village. When are we to get on with the job?”
“I have my informants, and they tell me that the Count will be crossing the Old Wintown Bridge tomorrow on his way to the quay. We will stop him at the bridge and rescue the woman he has kidnapped. He is asking the Baron for a huge ransom. We need to make sure no harm comes to her when we rescue her. So keep sharp and don’t drink too much ale tonight.”
“Thinks he’s our dad, Morgan.”
“With his unblemished chubby face, he looks more like my mother.”
“Very funny. You will be roused just before dawn.” Sir Foxley walked off to his tent located on a green behind the village inn. There were three other tents for Sir Foxley's men but the two friends paid for beds at the inn rather than share Sir Foxley's tents again. The inn was the only one in this small village which is no more than a cluster of houses on a through track-way. A dilapidated barn at the end served as a village store selling everything from vegetables to tools and animal feedstuffs. The inn seemed a more modern place and its stone tiled roof stood out from all the thatched roofs of the other buildings. The locals congregated in the side rooms leaving the boisterous Duke’s men in the large room drinking their ale around a blazing log fire.
The two men entered the inn and sat with some of the other warriors. "Two more tankards of ale, wench," Morgan called out to a woman serving tables.
"Yes sir," the woman said and soon returned and put the tankards on the table.
Morgan slapped the woman's rear. "And a fine well-built buxom wench you are too. I'll wager you like your oats."
"I do, sir," she said and walked off wondering what they were laughing at.
"Always having an eye for the serving girls," Baldwin said. "Even the old ones."
Morgan looked across to the woman who was smiling at him. "Well, Baldwin, unlike you, I won't be sleeping on my own tonight."
"Oh, so you've changed your mind and decided to sleep with the men in the tents after all then?"
Morgan grinned and shook his head without comment.
“So, Morgan, who is this woman we are to rescue?” one of the men asked.
“I don’t know. It’s all very secret. Must be someone special though, we don’t come cheap.”
“What if she is killed in the fight? Will we still get paid?”
“Probably not,” Baldwin said. “You've an advance of your pay but you could forget the rest if she dies. Bear it in mind, a dead woman will cost us all.”
Early the next morning the men got to Wintown Bridge just as the sun was rising. The ancient high single-arch stone bridge was only wide enough for one cart. It ran over a stream which became quite fierce in times of storm but at the moment it just meandered through. Six men went to hide under the bridge and Sir Foxley, Baldwin, Morgan, and two others were hiding just off the road. A wooden barrier had been erected at the foot of the bridge but could not be seen from the other side until the travellers were on the bridge.
We've been here over two hours," Baldwin said. "It seems your informant may have got it wrong, Sir Foxley."
"No, they will cross here soon, I'm sure of it."
"Glad we're not under the bridge like the others," Morgan said. "I don't like getting my feet wet. If they have no big stones to stand on their feet will be all wrinkled up, and a bit cold."
"What, like your serving girl partner at the inn last night?" Baldwin said.
"At least I had a partner for the night."
Baldwin laughed. "I think I'd rather do without," he said.
"Quiet!" Sir Foxley said. "I can hear someone coming."
"Well, let's hope it's them then," Baldwin said.
As the horses stopped at the barrier Sir Foxley's men came out from hiding and Sir Foxley drew a pistol. "Just stop there," he shouted.
There were two riders. A woman tied to one horse and the Count, a well-dressed man, on the other. Eight armed men followed behind on foot.
The Count also pulled out a pistol as his men came forward. Sir Foxley was quicker to raise his pistol and he shot the Count. The Count took a mortal blow and fell from his horse as the woman's horse bolted and jumped the fence. Sir Foxley managed to hold onto the Count's horse. He mounted the horse and chased after the woman.
The men under the bridge arch came out onto the bridge behind the Count's men. Morgan straight away took one of the men out with his throwing knife. The remaining seven men stood little chance against the ten professional swordsmen. They were blocked in and were quickly put to the sword with only the loss of one of the Sir Foxley's men, though two others were wounded.
Baldwin looked at the dead Count. "A lucky shot. But I don't think these new-fangled things will catch on. If you fire at a swordsman and miss, by the time you have messed about reloading the thing you'll be run through."
Sir Foxley returned with the woman. He had untied her and they dismounted. "This is the Baron's daughter, Lady Margaret. She assures me there will be a reward for all of you on top of what you are owed. Baldwin and Morgan you can accompany us to the Baron's castle. The rest of you get back to town with the casualties and we'll meet up at the inn tomorrow night."
They had been walking for two hours and Sir Foxley asked the two men if one of them would like to ride the horse for a while. Lady Margaret also offered but the two men declined saying they would rather walk, neither of them ever having been on a horse. It took the rest of the day to get to the Baron's castle getting there just before dusk. The Baron was overjoyed to see the safe return of his daughter. They dined well in the main hall with the Baron and his family and slept the night in luxurious beds. The next morning they left one of the horses with the Baron and they set off on their way back.
They were passing through some woods just before Wintown Bridge when four bandits stepped out from the trees and stood in their path. Three of the men were holding swords and the other was aiming an arrow at Sir Foxley.
"Our lucky day," one of the men said. "A nobleman and his two servants."
Morgan and Baldwin looked at each other. "Servants!" Morgan said.
Sir Foxley stopped just in front of the men. "If you wish us to pay a toll to pass through your land I will accommodate you."
"You will accommodate us by giving us all your money. Pass that satchel down and you can be on your way."
"I need to dismount to unhook the satchel strap from under the saddle. But I'll not do it while you have an arrow pointed at me. And if you shoot me now the horse will bolt and gallop to town and you will see none of the gold."
"Gold, we are lucky today." The man motioned to the archer to drop his bow down. The archer responded by moving the bow to the side and off-target. As soon as he did Sir Foxley raised his pistol and shot the archer in the head. The horse reared up and bolted and the three swordsmen scattered in panic. Morgan took the opportunity to throw his dagger taking another one of them down.
They advanced towards the two bandits and Morgan retrieved his dagger. "You have two choices," Morgan said. "You can go back in the woods and live, or you can stay here and die. I can drop one of you with this dagger before you even see my arm move and that would leave two of us onto one. Also, our horse rider has re-loaded his pistol and is on his way back. So what's it to be?"
The two bandits looked at each other and turned and hurried off. "That was very generous of you, Morgan."
"Generous indeed, Baldwin. Like they said, this is their lucky day but not for the other two."
Baldwin struck the archer's bow three times with his sword and then snapped it in half. Sir Foxley came back. "Good work, men," was all he said and they set off once more for the town.
* * * * *
Morgan and Baldwin collected the rest of their payment and went to rent a room at a tavern in a nearby coastal town. It had been a week since the battle at Winton Bridge and Baldwin and Morgan were starting to get bored. “Not much going on in this country now the crooked Count is dead,” Morgan said. "The Baron said he wasn't even a proper Count."
“Maybe we should go to the dock and see if we can get a ride on a ship to Advent. Worst ways we could do a bit of bounty hunting for the Advent militia until something else comes along.”
They got to the dock and there were three ships in. “Look, the one at the end is flying the Duke of Lovat’s flag,“ Morgan said. “Worth a look.”
They walked up to the ship and two of the men who were with them at Winton Bridge were on their way ashore.
“What’s happening?” Baldwin asked.
“The Duke’s leaving tomorrow for the Pavillion Uprising. He’s got fifty men on board and another hundred and fifty at Blouton near the border of Pavillion.”
“Pavillion Uprising, what’s that about?” Morgan said.
“The president died without a son to take over so it fell to his brothers’ sons. One of two cousins took over but the other cousin is not happy and wants to overthrow him. Families eh.”
“Sounds good,” Morgan said. “We’ll go and have a word with the Duke.”
“We will all be pleased to have you two with us.”
The two men went aboard the ship and after clearing it with the Duke, a seaman took them down to the Duke’s cabin. “Good to see you again. I was wondering where you two were.”
“So!” Morgan said. “Were you going to leave without us?”
“I didn’t even know you were here. Nobody told me. But you can be sure I am glad to have men of your calibre with us.”
“So, what is the uprising about?”
“Two cousins, one country and they both want control. Now, one is no better than the other in any way but we are being hired by the one who is not in control. It is our job to defeat the other cousin’s army and appoint our cousin to the presidency.”
“So there is no good cousin and bad cousin?” Baldwin said.
“No. Just one is paying us and the other is not.”
“So it is just about money,” Morgan said.
“As always, Morgan,” the Duke said. “As always, you should know me by now.”
“What about our payment?”
“Eight gold coins each. It's a lot more than the others are getting so keep it to yourself. Four now and four when the job is done. We should be back here in no more than two to three weeks.”
“I’m in,” Morgan said.
“And me,” Baldwin said. “So are you the captain of this boat?”
“No, and it’s a ship, not a boat. The Captain’s in the main cabin. I just hire the guest room in the ship when I need it.” The Duke poured some wine into three goblets. “Let’s drink to our success.”
* * * * *
The ship arrived at Blouton two days later. The Duke and his men marched twenty miles to a large residence where the rest of his troops were camped in the grounds.
“Has the man got no warriors of his own,” Morgan asked the Duke.
“Only about twenty and he likes to keep them around him.”
“So his cousin has two hundred men and he has twenty. Are you sure we are on the right side?”
“Morgan, we are on the side paying us. When we have dealt with the other cousin’s ramshackle army our man will take control of the country. I am going to see him now to make sure there are no changes or developments. You sort yourselves into one of the spare tents. We will march out at dawn tomorrow.”
Baldwin and Morgan walked out amongst the tents. As they walked through they acknowledged some of the men, all of them private warriors hired for their fighting skills by The Duke of Lovat. Some were skilled swordsmen, some were archers and a few were good at both. Some of the men were friends, some they knew only vaguely and some were strangers.
“There’s the cook’s tent,” Morgan said. “Let’s get something to eat and turn in for the night.” He looked at some of the tents in rolls on the grass. “The Duke said there were plenty of tents but he didn’t say we had to put them up ourselves.”
They were woken the following morning when it was still dark. They dressed and gathered their belonging and made their way to the cook’s tent. As soon as they left the tent men began taking it down to load onto a donkey cart. A mass of men stood around the cook’s tent. “Might give this a miss,” Baldwin said.
One of the leaders saw them and called across to them. “Baldwin, Morgan, come over here.”
The old friends shook hands. “Don’t queue up with that rabble the leader’s tent is round the back. You can sit in comfort and get served at the table.”
The men chatted about old conflicts and a short while later the Duke walked in. “All you leaders gather your men together ready to move. Baldwin and Morgan, you can come up the front with me.”
The men set off and after half an hour Baldwin turned to the Duke and asked. “Do you know where the enemy is, Duke?”
“Yes, and they know we are coming as well. I have it on good knowledge they are marching straight to meet us.”
“And when will we engage?”
“Probably in a day or two. We went over the border nearly as soon as we left camp, so we are in their territory now.”
They marched until near dusk with a few little breaks and then set up the camp in a clearing in the woods.
“Can you two scout ahead later and see if there is any sign of the enemy?”
“Yes,” Baldwin said. “But we’ll grab a couple of hours rest first.”
Two in the morning they were roused by a warrior and they set off into the woods. Forty-five minutes later they walked halfway down a bank and were looking across at the enemy camp. “Looks about the same size as our camp, Morgan. By the number of tents, probably about two hundred men.”
“Yeah, and they have plenty of sentries out. Let’s hope the few sentries the Duke has put out is enough.”
“I’ll count the tents,” Baldwin said.
Morgan laughed. “Don’t you trust your own estimation?”
“Yes but...” Baldwin stopped mid-sentence. “I heard something.” The words had just left his mouth when some armed men started running out from behind a line of bushes. Not knowing how many were following, the two men decided to make a hasty retreat and hurried back up the bank pursued by an unknown number of hostile warriors.