The Pirates Return.
Chapter 6Baldwin and Elfwine reached the small gate which was, as expected, closed with the walkway withdrawn.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.
* * * * *
After their meal the following day, Baldwin and Erica set of for Mossley. They arrived at the small gate just after six in the evening and Baldwin asked the guard about his friend Morgan. "You have just missed him," the guard said. "He's just gone off duty. But you will probably find him at The Bull Inn."
They were soon there and saw their friend sitting at a table with Flora.
“Thought you had abandoned me,” Morgan said. “Sit down with us while I fetch a fresh jug of ale." He turned to Flora this is Erica,” he said.
“Hello, Flora. I think I've seen you about town," Erica said.
“Yes, and I you. It's nice to meet you properly," Flora said.
"I'll go and get some ale, as the serving wench is not working tonight," Morgan said.
Flora laughed "I don't have to work so many hours now Morgan has moved in.”
Morgan was soon back. "Your boss said he would bring it over."
"Do you two live here at the inn then?" Erica asked.
"No, I have a small place over the road."
“I’d like to live in a proper dwelling one day,” Erica said.
“Like she said, it’s only over the road," Morgan said. "Flora can take you over for a nosey.”
Flora stood up. “Come on then, Erica,” She said.
Although Erica felt a little awkward because she didn't know Flora that well, she was eager to see the dwelling.
"I'm glad they have gone," Morgan said. "Look past me and you will see a man with a long beard sitting on his own. Do you recognise him?"
“Not really, no.”
“No, nor did I. He’s a stranger in town and I was talking to him yesterday while waiting for Flora.”
“He’s dressed like a hunter,” Baldwin said.
“He does claim to be a hunter. But he also said he's just returned from the Pavillion uprising. There are many I wouldn’t recognise. But I was with the Duke a lot so I would have thought he would recognise me.”
"Maybe he was on the other side."
"What with that scruffy long beard. I don't think so. Beards seem popular with the Pavillion folk, but the ones I've seen keep them trimmed."
“So you didn’t say you were there.”
“No, I don’t want to alert him, but I will be keeping an eye on him because I think he might be up to something.”
“Well, Morgan, if you want me to take him out hunting, just let me know. And I’ll make sure he doesn’t return.”
Morgan laughed. “It hasn’t come to that yet, but if it does, I'll deal with him myself." Morgan looked to the door. "The women are back." He smiled at Erica as she sat down. "Well, Erica, would you like Flora to look for a place for you and Baldwin?"
“It’s a nice thought, but I could never leave my family.”
Morgan looked at Baldwin and raised his eyebrows.
The evening went well and it was late when they left the inn.
“We’ll have to go out the main gate now and walk around the outside,” Baldwin said.
“I’ll go to the small gate with you and the sentry will let you out,” Morgan said.
“Are they allowed to do that?” Erica asked.
“They are if I tell them to. But why don’t you stay with us for the night and go home in the daylight.”
“We’ll be all right,” Baldwin said. “I quite like walking in the moonlight and if there are any outlaws or wolves about; my sword has never let me down yet. Anyway, Erica's parents would be worried if we didn't return and Dunstan might come looking for her.”
They said there goodbyes and set off but Baldwin stopped when they got to the second area of woodlands. "There is a nice piece of lush grass here. Shall we rest and have some starlight love?"
"Starlight love, what's that?" Erica asked.
Baldwin laid his cloak on the grass. "I'll show you."
Erica was curious, but the nearby howl of a wolf startled her and she pulled out her short sword. "Another time, perhaps. We had better get back to The Flashers."
Baldwin looked at her sword and the stern look on her face and wondered if the sword were for the wolf, or for him. He picked up his cloak and they hurried off.
* * * * *
Elfwine and Osbert had cut the timber for the gates. The following day Baldwin helped them to build the new stronger gates with some narrow gaps should they want to fire arrows through. "That should stop anybody trying to break through," Elfwine said. "The tide is out. We'll have a rest and then go out and get some seafood for ourselves. It'll be too late for the market."
"Go out now," Matilda said. "I'm about to start dinner. Osbert, go and fetch some water."
Osbert took the jug outside but then came running back in. "There's a ship in the bay," he shouted.
The men ran to the cave entrance. "The pirates are back," Elfwine said.
"The girls," Matilda said. "They are in the woods gathering herbs and berries."
Baldwin picked up his sword. "I'll go out and get them," he said.
"No!" Elfwine yelled. "You might be needed here, Baldwin. Osbert, you go and find them and hurry back. But if you're too late then you must all hide in the woods until they have gone."
Elfwine turned to Baldwin again. "Let's get our weapons, it looks like you might get a fight with the pirates after all."