Percival handed back Katie’s binoculars and spoke softly. “I always thought the southwest corner of the fort-hill was the weakest part. If we can get close enough on horseback, we might be able to breach the wall.”
“They will expect ladders,” Gwillim said.
“The southwest wall is shorter because the hill is steeper, but no one thought to compensate after they put the road in. Men can sling ropes with hooks on that wall, and it should be no worse than a farmer clambering up to the roof of a barn to fix a leak.”
“Slim chance,” Decker said. “But it might work if we can keep the defenders busy and make them keep their heads down.”
“We go with it,” Percival said.
After the dwarf supper, about two hours before dark, three hundred horsemen sounded like thunder along the road. Every man had a rope with a makeshift metal hook attached to their saddles. The road zig-zagged up the hill and watchers were surprised the arrows did not start on the last zig before the zag that ran along beside the wall.
“We have caught them napping,” Tristam said. Percival knew better. He kept his mouth closed and waited. When the men were committed, the Saxon defenders rose up all along the wall and let off a volley of gunfire. It was a ragged volley, but enough to be affective. Some men and horses went down, throwing the charge into confusion. The sound of thunder badly frightened the horses. Many bucked or ran, bumped others or stumbled over the fallen ones. Only one fell off the road down to the road below, but the attack faltered before the first rope got thrown to the top.
The defenders began to fire at will, picking out individual targets, though their muskets were not very accurate. The horsemen still on horses picked up all of the fallen comrades they could, and leaving the dead behind, headed down the road back to the woods. By then, the men on the wall pretty much stopped firing out of fear for their lives.
Decker and Katie fired three-shot bursts and slowly cleared the wall. The others all fired their handguns a couple of times, though handguns at that distance were not much help. Lockhart fired a few extra shots with his police special, but even he was not sure if he hit anything. Most of the men made it back to safety, but they likely left a few wounded there on the hill. No one said anything, but that was the way of it. They felt terrible about that fact, but there was nothing they could do about it.
Up in the fort, Odacer yelled. “What do you mean they got guns? They aren’t supposed to have any guns.”
“Good ones, too. Much better than our matchlocks,” Harwic said.
“They are the ones you must kill,” the wraith screamed as she appeared. “Kill them. Kill them.”
When the Saxons first took over, they grabbed some of the villagers, the ones who did not move fast enough. They put the women to work cooking and cleaning. They kept some men in the barn for heavy labor and fed them once a day. The guards were too dangerous for such use. They stayed locked up in the new dungeon rooms beneath the tower and were used for target practice.
Scorch and Spark fit themselves in, and nobody said anything about them being strangers. Scorch helped keep the cattle penned and fed until they were ready to be slaughtered. He tried hard not to set the hay on fire. Spark kept the kitchen fires burning, and one older woman noticed and asked.
Spark nodded, but her eyes looked at the barracks where the powder got stored in a room separated from the Saxon sleeping quarters. Gerraint told her and Scorch that they needed to set a fuse long enough to get away before the powder exploded. Thus far, she did not know if either had been able to do such a thing. She tried to go earlier with the women who cleaned the Saxon quarters, but got told to stay in the kitchen. She felt frustrated, and imagine Scorch felt the same way. Of course, she could not know, since the men and women were kept separated.
Spark and Scorch watched the men load those weapons and shoot at still targets, at first. They practiced shooting altogether in what one of the head men called a volley. Scorch felt fascinated by the fire and explosion that sent the projectile reeling into the distance, but he knew, somehow instinctively, that it was too early in history for these weapons. He would blow up the powder if he could. They could make more powder, but he felt one step at a time.
Scorch did feel the frustration, but he bided his time. When all the men rushed to the south and west walls, and the fort got generally in an uproar, Scorch took the chance. He left the cattle and ran to the powder room. He found a small piece of old, rotted rope that he knew would burn well, quickly, and easily. He honestly did not make nearly a long enough fuse for a human, but Scorch was not human. He could transform into flame and fly to the nearest campfire, where he could chew on some wood while the powder exploded. He wanted to see that but decided to wait until dark.
Scorch backed out of the room, only to come face to face with the wraith and a dozen men down from the wall. The wraith did something as the men grabbed him. Somehow, he got stuck in human form and could not transform back into flame for a few minutes. He could not even burn the hands of the men holding him.
“A fire sprite,” the wraith said. “It seems we caught him before he could burn your powder.”
The head man swallowed at the prospect of a fire sprite touching the powder. The wraith had no idea how dangerous that would be. “Take him to the tower and lock him in one of the lower rooms. I will want to question him.”
They dragged Scorch off, and Spark saw from the kitchen area and wondered what she could do now.”
Down in the dungeon under the great hall, Bedivere opened the door to look out to be sure no Saxons were presently guarding the door. He closed it quietly again and gave the all clear.
“What did you do?” Gerraint asked, still sitting on the edge of his bed.
Arthur smiled. “Bedivere and I picked the lock just after you went back to sleep, after Scorch and Spark squeezed through the crack under the door.”
“And nearly set the door on fire,” Bedivere added.
“I helped,” Gwynyvar said.
“She actually succeeded with her delicate touch,” Arthur admitted.
“You were right,” Bedivere said. “These skeleton locks are too easy.”
“So, why are we still here?”
“You were unconscious,” Enid scolded him, whatever he was thinking. “We couldn’t exactly carry you.”
“It would not have been right for us to all escape and leave you here,” Arthur said, plainly.
“I’m awake now,” Gerraint answered. “I have wings to fly, and all that rot… Allow me to borrow Diogenes.” Gerraint vanished and a different man appeared sitting in the exact same place. This man was tall enough for Gerraint’s height, and still had blue eyes, but his hair appeared a light golden brown in place of Gerraint’s darker brown. He appeared wearing the armor of the Kairos, with the sword called Salvation across his back, and the long knife called Defender across the small of his back. He spoke right away. “I used to sneak around forts all the time when I spied for Alexander the Great.”
“Alexander?” Arthur asked, unable to place the name.
“Greek fellow,” Diogenes answered as he walked to the door. “Overthrew the Persian Empire.”
“Persian Empire?” Gwynyvar asked.
“Nothing like a classical education,” Diogenes said. He pulled Salvation, handed Defender to Arthur, found the knife he used to cut meat at the table and handed it Bedivere, shrugged for the women, as if to say he was out of weapons, and stepped out into the hall, motioning the others to follow and keep quiet.
Outside the fort, Elder Stow stepped into the meeting of the minds. Lockhart, Katie, Decker, Percival, Tristam, Gwillim, Thomas, and Gerraint’s son all sat and tried hard to think of what to do. Decker finished his comment before they all stopped speaking.
“Now that we know they have guns we need to do something. The Kairos was clear about that. Only the Masters would be making guns before they are supposed to be made, and that makes them enemy combatants.”
People nodded, but then waited. Elder Stow spoke when he got their full attention. “I would not have suggested this, but in light of what Colonel Decker said, which is what I remember the Kairos said about guns, I may have a way. Sukki and I could fly up there, invisible, and working together, I believe we can take down a section of wall.” He pulled out is scanner device and projected a three-dimensional view of the fort and environs, with the travelers as red dots, Arthur’s men as blue dots, and the men inside the fort as yellow dots because, he said, yellow was for danger.
“Remarkable,” Sir Thomas said. The others kept quiet, not sure what he was suggesting.
“Here,” Elder Stow said. “The east side of the hill appears less steep than the rest. I’ve ridden enough to know you should be able to get up to the wall quickly. You will have to dismount and climb over the rubble when you get there, but that should not be too difficult.”
“What do you mean, invisible?” Gwillim asked. Elder Stow touched his belt and vanished. Thomas spoke over his younger brother.
“Oh. You mean invisible.”
“Father?” Sukki came up with Boston and Nanette. Boston overheard the conversation and warned Sukki they were talking about her.
Elder Stow reappeared and spoke kindly to Sukki. “I thought we might do as we did to the pirate ship back when we met the bishop. I can make the top of the wall unstable. You can cut it near the bottom. I can cut out the ground beneath the wall if needed, and the wall should tumble right down.”
“No,” Lockhart countered. “There is an hour of daylight left. We should travel openly, so they see, in order to draw as many men as possible to the east wall, so they will tumble with the wall when it falls.”
Arthur’s men agreed, though they did not exactly understand the way it would work. While the men galloped the road within sight, but well beyond bowshot from the fort, Lincoln and Alexis brought the wagon more slowly. When they arrived beyond the east wall, they found a hundred and twenty men newly arrived from Caerleon and eastern Wales. They were mostly rapid defense force trained and more than ready for a good charge.