He handed his helmet to the young man beside him and immediately began his instructions. “I have been tending this animal for a week.” He turned to Concord and laid a hand gently on the horse’s neck. Margueritte had discovered what the Princess knew all the way in the deep past. Horses were intuitive. Any horse she bonded with would be bonded with whatever person of the Kairos she happened to be at the moment, male or female, it did not matter. The horse knew.
“I have already tested him with myself and the equipment, though we have not yet charged anything, per se. These are strong animals, not too high strung, but sensitive in several ways. If you mistreat the animal, they will not forget and may refuse to perform. If you treat the animal well, it will remember and work his heart out for you.” Gerraint began to walk, and Grimly made the selections, matching horse to rider as well as he could figure, with a little magic, and he made sure each man got an animal by the lead. Gerraint led them down the road toward Paris, down the small, gradual hill that rose-up to the Manor house and infant village, down to the long, flat field where Margueritte would not let them plant two months earlier or let the men camp when they first arrived.
A dozen scarecrows stood some distance out in the field. They were lined up in three rows of four dummies each. They left about three scarecrows of space between each dummy. It was way too much space between straw soldiers to simulate real combat, but these men were nowhere near ready to simulate combat conditions.
“Stay on your feet for the moment and just watch. Touch your horses and talk to them. Name them if you want, so they can get used to their name. These part Arabians will get attached to a rider if you give them a chance, and the perfect combination would be man and horse working like a single unit.” Gerraint brought his horse to the ready. “Now, Concord.” He spoke to his horse and patted the horse’s neck. Concord had already been saddled, so all Gerraint had to do was point to the stirrup. “Left foot,” he said and mounted. “You keep your foot in the stirrups. You will note how it puts your legs and knees at the right place to properly grip the horse. If it is not right, you can lengthen or shorten the stirrup.
“I will show you how, later.” The chief saddler, invited to watch, spoke quietly to the men.
Gerraint continued. “The saddle has a high back for support in combat, but it is wood, so if you take a sharp blow from an enemy, the saddle back should break rather than your own back. Now, one at a time.” He got back down as he had mounted, foot in stirrup, and he waved to the young man who had volunteered. The man, Greffen, about eighteen and a good friend of Owien brought the helmet. Gerraint put it on to model it before he took it off again to speak.
“Your helmet will protect your head and neck and keep your eyes on the enemy. I don’t expect to have to fend off any arrows during this demonstration.” He pointed down the hill to the open field where the bulk of the young men stood behind a rope Gerraint put up. “But just in case you do not know the rule, you are not permitted to ride into trouble without your helmet.” He set it on the table they had set up, while the young man fetched his gloves.
“These are gauntlets,” he said. “They will protect your hands and forearms, but notice the inside is plain leather, not too thick, so you can get a good grip on your lance and shield or sword, as the case may be, not to mention holding the reigns and being able to guide your best friend.” He handed them back before he took his shield and thought to say something different.
“The golden Fleur-de-lis,” he said, though it really looked like a stylized cross with fleur-de-lis type ends. “At the center, we fight for king and country. One leaf stands for all the people, the workers, the women and children we defend. The other leaf stands for the church and the purity of the faith. Never forget you are Christian warriors.” He put on his helmet, his gauntlets and mounted Concord again, his shield at the ready, he reached for his lance. “The lance is balanced where you grip it.” He spoke up nice and loud. “It has its own stirrup, like a cup of leather to hold it straight up when at rest. When I charge, watch my feet as well. You will see how I push hard on the stirrups which will do two things. First, it will put the full weight and strength of your horse into the lance, which is far better than just my arm strength alone. Second, it will hopefully keep me from losing my seat.” He smiled for the group even if they could hardly see it. “Now this lance is far longer and meaner than anything I am used to, but the principle is the same. You see how I can tuck it under my arm. Pray I make a good demonstration.” He kept the smile and put his lance back into its leather cup holder, as he called it, and started out at a walk.
Gerraint and Concord walked the road. When they reached the flat ground, Gerraint pulled up his lance and stared at the boys to be sure they were staying behind the rope. Then they trotted for a second before they started to canter, and the horse built some speed. A hundred yards out and Gerraint bent forward, and Concord leaned in with him at a gallop. He lowered his lance, and they quickly reached the target. Gerraint drove his lance through the first, second and third straw men like they were straw men, then took his time to slow and turn. He dropped his lance, pointed to the excited boys to retrieve it, drew his sword, and galloped back through the ranks of straw enemies, slashing outwards, until he came out the other side where again he took his time to slow down. He cantered back up the shallow hill and dismounted. Then he paid attention to Concord before he took off his helmet and spoke again to the men.
“I think I scared him when I lowered the lance right beside his eye, and we practiced that to help him get used to it, too.” He removed his gauntlets and gave them to the young man while he spied the boys down on the field putting the straw men back together. “I don’t know if any of you men want to try that today. You might spend the next couple of days getting to know your horses and letting them get to know you. These are not just some rich man’s horse handed to you before you go into battle. You can learn to lance and shield, but you need to bond with your horse.” He looked at Wulfram, Peppin, who was Lord Barth’s sergeant at arms, and Owien who looked like he couldn’t wait to get started.
“A very unusual use of horsemen,” Wulfram said.
“Yes. But imagine a thousand such men cutting through enemy infantry like the proverbial hot knife through butter.” A touch of lag time followed before Wulfram’s face it up. Gerraint could almost see the light bulb turn on.
Peppin grinned. “I can only imagine Saxons wetting their pants.”
“A colorful suggestion. Owien?”
“What happens when they face other cavalry?”
Gerraint smiled. The young man was bright. “We have much to work on, but let us take one step at a time, please.” He looked to Concord where Pipes led the horse away. “Tell Concord I’ll be there after a while,” he said, and Pipes waved while Gerraint turned back to Wulfram with command in his voice. “You are in charge. You need to decide what your men are ready for and when. There is time. No need to push them too fast. Now we have about thirty horses that are old enough to ride, and about twenty that may be old enough to start training if you can figure out how to do that. The rest of your men, and sorry Peppin, you will have to do your best with the chargers you have.”
“They won’t be as strong and fast, but we will make it work,” Peppin said.
“You want big, strong animals to carry the weight, but don’t forget the horseshoes. And you need smart animals, too. Horses that can bond with a rider will do things that any old horse picked out of a line will not do. Now, I am sorry, but I need to borrow Owien for a bit.” He carted Owien off, with only minimal protest, and traded back to Margueritte when they reached the old oak outside the front door.
“Margueritte.” Owien jumped, but not too badly. He had seen her do that before.
Margueritte came in her own clothes. She had not started showing yet, but Jennifer had a little bump and Margo looked big as a house and due any day. “What is it, July thirteenth, there about?” Owien shrugged. “Owien dear, please fetch Elsbeth and Jennifer if they are not in the house. We have to have a family conference.” Owien looked at her and realized she was serious. He went without a word.
Margueritte stepped into the house and found Brittany crying. “The diaper is clean,” Mother said right off. “Even your father’s funny faces don’t help.”
“It makes her scream, er, sort of like you were.” Father’s words were much improved once he realized he could fight this thing. Margueritte picked up Brittany and paced. She needed to wait for the others.
“Margo?” she asked.
“Coming.” Margo got to the top of the stairs, grabbed the railing, and waddled down.