Baldwin improves his archery skills.
Chapter 11Baldwin and Elfwine reached the small gate which was, as expected, closed with the walkway withdrawn.
“Let us out, Morgan, we need to get back to the cave,” Baldwin said.
“Not a chance,” Morgan said. “Even with your skills Baldwin, the Vialians would cut you down before you got a hundred yards.”
“Vialians!” Elfwine said. “I thought they were pirates?”
“See for yourself. They are not dressed as pirates and some are on horseback. They must have circled through the forest and tried to catch us unawares. And they have had some success. We didn't have time to get all our cattle to safety and some of the townsfolk are out there, but are being butchered.”
Baldwin looked through a gap in the gate slats. He could only see two peasants still alive. One was running for the forest and the other running towards them and the gate. A raider on a white horse chased the man running to the forest and with one swift blow from his sword, took the man’s head clean off.
“You have more men than them,” Baldwin said. “Why don’t you attack them?”
“Our archers can stop them from getting in but in hand combat, we would have no chance against them. We would be defeated and then they could enter the town and would rape and massacre everyone they saw. Only a handful of the guards here have good combat experience, and even they don’t have the sword skills you and I have, Baldwin.”
Elfwine was looking through the gate slats. “You need to put out the walkway. The running man is nearly here. Baldwin, it looks like Alfred.”
“It’s too risky, Morgan said. "I can’t take the chance of Vialians getting through.”
“Leave that to us,” Baldwin said and pulled his sword out. “Put the walkway out or they will cut my friend Alfred to pieces in front of us.”
Morgan looked at Baldwin and shook his head, but gave the order and the plank went out just in time. As the gate opened, Alfred rushed in and collapsed a few yards into safety. The enemy was not far behind and although the gate was quickly secured the men ran onto the walkway before it could be retracted. “Too much weight, we can’t pull it in,” one of the other guards said in panic.
The first Vialian across the walkway struck the twine holding one of the slats and the top came loose. Morgan stabbed him through the slats and the man fell into the ditch, but the next one brought his axe across Morgan’s flimsy sword and snapped it. Baldwin stepped forward and put his broadsword through the slat and into the man’s stomach. The man yelled in pain but grabbed the loose slat as he fell into the ditch and snapped the top of the slat off.
“I told you it was too risky, Baldwin. They are all coming towards us now and no matter how many we kill, they will eventually break through the gate.”
The next man smashed his axe at the gate and was dispatched by Baldwin’s sword before he could take another swing.
“We only need to clear the walkway,” Elfwine said. “Leave it to me and get ready to haul it in.”
Elfwine pulled out the first arrow and Baldwin moved away from the gate. Elfwine sent a steady stream of arrows through the broken gap and in seconds all the men were in the ditch. The walkway was pulled in before any of the other raiders could get to it.
Alfred got his breath back and was sitting on the plank. "Thank you, Morgan," he said.
"Don't thank me, it was these two that saved you."
They turned when they heard the footsteps of two archers running up. “You took your time,” Morgan yelled.
“We were needed at the main gate. There was a major attack there but the raiders have pulled away now to load their carts.”
"Have we many dead?"
"Six that I know of, and a few more with arrow wounds, but we don't know yet how many townsfolk were caught outside. Any casualties here?"
"No, but there are plenty of raiders that won't raid again. Get up on the ledge and if you see anyone move in the ditch, finish them.” A few arrows were aimed at the guards by the retreating enemy but they were too far away now and the arrows fell short.
The Vialians were also out of range and knew it as they loaded their carts with crops and vegetables and anything else of use. The bodies of the unfortunate townsfolk, as well as their own dead, were looted of shoes and valuables and the loose cattle were rounded up and led away.
"Morgan, why do you use a flimsy sword instead of a proper sword?" Baldwin held up his sword as he spoke.
"Orders from the mayor, we have to use those thin ceremonial things."
"Orders," Baldwin said. "Orders from someone who has never been in combat. Do you still have your broadsword?"
Morgan pointed to a shed. "In there. If the Vialians ever get in I would use it, and to hell with the mayor." Morgan walked to the shed, opened the door, and took out a sheaf of arrows. "Here, Elfwine, to make up your loss."
"Thank you, Morgan, that will save me a lot of time making some replacements."
Morgan spoke to one of the guards. "Go and get a cart and some men to clear the bodies from the ditch."
Baldwin and Elfwine talked with Morgan about the attack for a while and when they were sure it was safe, they picked up their goods and set off to The Flashes.
* * * * *
The following day Elfwine took Baldwin out hunting rabbits again. He supplied a bow for Baldwin and encouraged him to improve his archery skills.
“There seems to be plenty rabbits,” Baldwin said.
“There is. As you know, I come out twice a week and usually get three or four. Although if there is an eagle about they seem to know somehow and I go back with an empty sack.”
“No dinner then?”
“We usually have something in store. If not we can always kill a chicken or cook some mussels.”
“So how did I do today?”
“You are doing all right. A few more hunting days, practising, and you will be as good as most.”
“But not as good as you.”
Elfwine laughed. “No one is as good as me. Anyway, I would have thought you would use a bow when you were in the wars?”
“No, warriors fight with the sword. Archers use a sword for defence.”
“So really, the archers are more skilled than the warriors?”
“I think not, Elfwine.”
Elfwine laughed again and Baldwin gave a wry smile in return. “We have our four rabbits, Baldwin and I am impressed one of them is yours. Let’s get back now.” They were about to set off when Elfwine put out his arm to stop Baldwin. “Quiet,” he said. He loaded his bow.
Baldwin looked but could see nothing where Elfwine was aiming.
He let fly the arrow then ran through some deep grass and lifted his prize. “A pheasant,” He shouted. “Dunstan will be pleased, he loves a pheasant.”
"Everyone loves a pheasant," Baldwin said. They set off back towards home. "I was thinking of going down the inn at Mossley tomorrow to meet up with my friend Morgan. Do you fancy coming with me?"
"No, not really, Baldwin. I've things to do. I want to cut some lengths of wood and make the gate stronger. But why don't you take Erica? I'm sure she would like a night out for a change."
"Or you could take Arabella and the four of us could go out."
"You just go with Erica and don't go putting ideas in Arabella's head."
Later they enjoyed the rabbit broth and as usual, had enough for the following day. But this day there was the added treat of a roasted pheasant.