In the morning, Peppin and Walaric lined up their hundred veterans in front of a hodgepodge of five hundred young men, some as young as sixteen, but who had been in training at least the summer before. Any young men who showed up that April, or the first two weeks in May for the first time, were left with the nine hundred men who stood facing the seven thousand across the big field. Fortunately, they were backed up by a secret thousand little ones who were mostly brownies, kobold, dwarfs and gnomes. The little ones took the edge of town and stood before the castle walls. It seemed still slim hope if Ragenfrid mounted an all-out attack, but it counted at least twice what Ragenfrid might have thought they had, even with his best guess. Of course, he had not been allowed close enough to know, and the men in the castle, just outside on the hill, and in the town, did their best to disguise their actual numbers. Uncertainty on Ragenfrid’s part would be an effective weapon against him, up to a point. Of course, she imagined Abd al-Makti might be able to discern exactly how many defenders she had. She only hoped his vision did not extend to the men from the south march and the Breton she had hidden in the woods. She wanted that to be a twenty-five-hundred-man surprise.
Of course, given Ragenfrid’s nearly three to one numbers, not counting the little ones, the logic of warfare dictated a strictly defensive battle on Margueritte’s part. Generals did not attack unless they had a number advantage. Margueritte thought to do the opposite of that thinking and surprise her enemy. Since Ragenfrid had been so kind to divide his forces and send LeMans up to her farm fields, the least she could do was take advantage of that.
Margueritte got up on the northern wall, not far from the postern door and the kitchens. Elsbeth came, and Margo brought chairs, but Margueritte preferred to pace. Perhaps Margueritte had a better idea of how uncertain everything could be in battle, and especially with her crew of conscripted farmers and children, as she thought of them. Her only hope was thinking LeMans’ conscripted farmers were not necessarily any better soldiers than her own. Rotrude wisely decided to stay in her room, and Jennifer stayed with her. Neither of them had any interest in watching the madness of war.
Margueritte assigned Childemund and duBois to watch Ragenfrid’s camp. At the last minute, she decided duBois’ three hundred would not be much help in the attack, but they were a solid group to hold the center spot facing Ragenfrid. She thought, no telling what that man might do once he found his wing in danger. Two thousand Breton, five hundred from the south march under Michael, and six hundred lancers, such as they were, would trip over themselves badly enough as it was.
This was not going to work, Margueritte thought. She should let Doctor Pincher give her a head examination. Maybe Doctor Mishka and Martok could work together to build a medieval MRI. Margueritte covered her eyes with her hands.
All at once, several hundred knights of the lance appeared on either side of the disorganized mass of young men. They walked their horses in perfect order until they met at the point, making two perfectly straight sides of a triangle. The young men inside the elongated triangle straightened up immediately as they passed, or at least their horses did, and by the time the knights of the lance were ready, the young men were ready. They actually looked like a disciplined troop of knights ready to charge the enemy, and the knights of the lance did not pause, but started the walk across the field.
“They will fall apart when they start to gallop,” Margo commented, casually.
Margueritte nodded, not really having heard. Her eyes were squinting at the far side of the field where LeMans had drawn his men up in a long line, shields forward, no doubt yelling insults, though the women on the wall were too far away to hear. Margueritte looked at Melanie and Calista for signs of what the distant men might be yelling, but their faces were unflinching, and their eyes focused on the action. They were both dressed this time in fine armor, ready for battle. Margueritte chose to stay in her dress, but she knew her armor was available at a call should she need it.
“Cantering,” Elsbeth reported, and the two thousand Breton began to march forward in the wake of the horses. It was hardly a march, but at least they were walking. Margueritte stressed over and over to King David and his captains that they needed to walk and be ready to form up in a shielded line if the foot men from Maine charged in panic, and they needed to walk, not run. Men and equipment running was a good way to get exhausted and get killed.
“Never run. Walk. The enemy will still be there when you get there.”
At least Margueritte did not see any running to catch up to the horsemen.
“Ready to gallop,” Elsbeth reported.
Margueritte covered her eyes with her hands again. She could not imagine how Greta watched so calmly. She could not imagine how Gerraint could be in the middle of it. She did not want to think about it, but it seemed all she could think about. She did not want to watch, even as she uncovered her eyes.
Her knights and young men lowered their lances in unison and began the charge. The men of Maine stood firm until then, but with the charge, they broke, and panic made them run for their lives. The knights cut a hole three hundred men wide in the enemy before they stopped just shy of the distant trees. There, they turned and took some time forming a line. The knights of the lance helped, but she still saw Walaric and Peppin, she assumed, riding up and down in front of the line trying in vain to make it straight. At last, they began to walk their horses forward, lances pointed at the enemy. They intended to force as many men of Maine as possible into the oncoming Bretons. It became a classic squeeze play, but Margueritte, not content with merely forcing the fight, had Michael at that point come with five hundred Franks from the woods. They hit the end of the line with almost as much impact as the lancers, and the already shaky line began to curl up.
The Breton formed up, for the most part, and moved forward in a line of their own. They repelled the men from Maine who were escaping the press of lancers on their rear. Soon enough, LeMans abandoned his camp altogether, and most of his men headed for Ragenfrid’s line. The Breton and young lancers were ordered not to follow. Michael’s men were ordered to take LeMans’ camp, tents, food, wagons and weapons. And they were told any mistreatment of the women and they would be crucified. Crucifixion by then was not literal, but a term used for punishment, and it meant serious punishment. The men understood. She warned them almost as much as she told the Breton to walk.
“That was quick,” Margo said, casually. “It is not even time for lunch.”
“Only now we will have a bunch of loose women camped in the castle. Not something I am looking forward to,” Elsbeth said as she stood and picked up her chair to take it back inside.
“Yes, but they are going to be mine if Margueritte can convince Charles to go with her plan,” Margo said. She picked up her own chair, but the sergeant on that part of the castle wall quickly called some soldiers to carry the chairs for the women, and Margueritte thought the Middle Ages were progressing. Who would have thought it? Then she heard what Elsbeth said.
“Margueritte has elves,” Margo said. “It doesn’t count. But I was thinking the same thing.”
“Yes, Lady,” Melanie said, and stepped up to walk beside her
“And we have you,” Calista said as she stepped up to Margueritte’s other side.