Out where the town met the castle, the walls that came down from the Paris gate was nine feet for almost a hundred yards before it dropped down to less than seven feet. DuBois was backing up slowly, trying to make the ground as costly as he could. Michael and his men were ready to fight and had a hard time keeping still when they saw the men at the back of duBois’ troop coming down through the streets. Olderon the elf had three hundred elves on top of the short wall to back up Michael. He, and his command group of six elf lords followed the action as duBois backed away from the castle corner and got into the streets.
“Brave man,” Olderon said quietly. The others kept silent. They were on the wall when Ragenfrid’s catapults sent the first volley of stones over the castle wall. “To your posts,” Olderon ordered as fairies came speeding down the lane Michael made in front of the wall.
“Keep back. Keep your heads down. Keep to your places,” the fairies shouted, until they reached duBois. Then they shouted, “Get in the houses. Get out of the street. Get back against the house walls.”
Six hundred lancers, squires, and few knights among them, came roaring down the streets and roads. Ragenfrid’s men fled back the way they had come, poured out of the town and raced down the Paris Road. The lancers stopped at the head of the road. They did not appear the best organized or most impressive looking group, but Ragenfrid’s army wanted no part of those lancers, after they heard what they did to the men of LeMans.
At the same time, Bedwin slowly pulled his men back, like duBois, as Talliso concentrated on the end of King David’s line in the hope of turning it. Peppin, with three hundred men from the County who came up, and in Tomberlain’s name, drove back the men of Anjou. When Talliso saw his own flank being turned, and the men of Ragenfrid fleeing, he pulled his men back and retreated carefully to his own camp.
LeMans did not get away with such ease. His men assaulted the front wall in vain, as Birch and his fairies easily thrust down their ladders, cut their ropes, and kept them away with arrows that rarely missed hitting somewhere. They saw Creasy withdraw and Talliso follow, so they pulled back without waiting to be told. But LeMans was around the corner, among the apple trees, concentrating on the postern door. Unfortunately, he could not figure out how to stick his head out from the trees without getting shot at by the kobold, the brownies, or both.
“Can’t stay in here,” Luckless responded, and pointed at the sky where the rocks were falling.
“They busted the forge,” a red headed dwarf said as he cradled a two-headed axe as big as himself. Childemund did not doubt these dwarfs were ready for battle.
“On condition,” Childemund said. “If you succeed in driving LeMans off, let him go and come back into the castle. You must promise.”
Luckless and all the dwarfs promised with great and colorful language. After they were let loose, Ringwald the brownie Lord heard that the dwarfs promised, and he laughed and laughed.
“And you believed them?” he asked. When Childemund nodded, Ringwald laughed harder.
“Heurst,” Childemund called to the kobold lord. “Bring some men if you want to participate. We need to go get the dwarfs.”
“They promised to be right back,” Ringwald said, barely, before he laughed some more.
In the end, they got Luckless, and everyone back behind the postern door, but in the meanwhile, Luckless and his dwarfs not only chased off LeMans, they also took a chunk out of the man’s leg. The man made it back to Ragenfrid’s camp, but he would not live for many days.
Ragenfrid saw his men pulling back and decided on an early lunch. He would have to revise his attack plans for the afternoon. The sun would not be favorable by then, so he would have to make some change in direction. He would also have to decide what to do about Count Amager and Baron Bouchart. They promised to hold the camp and stay in reserve, but Ragenfrid doubted they would fight.
“What to do?” he said, even as a series of explosions occurred in his line. He stood and saw the nearest catapult broken to pieces and burning. He seriously underestimated the resources of the witch. He would have to finish this quickly. His source said Rotrude and her children were in the castle. That was all he wanted. He knew he could not get her by stealth. It was going to have to be brute force and manpower. He still felt confident he would succeed, but first he would have a good lunch.
Lord Yellow Leaf and his warrior fairies flew from Ragenfrid’s lines back to the Paris gate. He laughed as he spoke. “Those cat-of-puts won’t be bothering us anymore.” He let out a Cherokee war cry, and Childemund’s men on the gate all applauded.
Margueritte, Margo, Elsbeth and Jennifer all came upstairs to survey the damage. The chapel near the short wall looked undamaged. “I would guess Ragenfrid did not want the stones landing too close to the wall he expected his men to be crawling over,” Jennifer said.
The barn and stables took some hits, along with the manor house. The house, mostly the roof holes and one spot in the floor of Margueritte’s room all looked repairable. The stables looked solid, with holes, but the old barn looked ruined. One whole corner collapsed, the milk cows were out in the yard, one wounded, and the chickens were running wild while potatoes rolled around the yard. The men would be getting pork for a while as the hog pen looked crushed. It all looked like a real mess, but it could have been much worse. The women all showed stiff upper lips until they found the big old oak that had stood all their lives out in front of the house. It had a crack down the middle and could not have been killed cleaner if it had been struck by lightning.
Margo stared. Jennifer cried. Elsbeth wept. And Margueritte wailed. Her mother left the oak tree in the yard because it held mistletoe—the last gasp of her pagan, druidic days, when she first married and became a Christian. She kept the tree up, and it became a sign of stability at times for the whole family. Margueritte felt this atrocity too much, and everything felt broken in that moment. Her father got poisoned. Her baby got killed before he was even born. Her mother got murdered. This became too much.
Margueritte felt Elsbeth and Jennifer hold her as she sank to her knees.
Margueritte struggled in her funk, but finally resurfaced enough to pull back David’s troops. She put them on the edge of town where they could fall back to Michael’s position, and she made sure they put out as many obstacles as they could. On the one hand, it would give the enemy boxes to hide behind, but on the other hand, it would negate a concerted charge and make the enemy crawl around and over things, thus exposing themselves to arrow fire. It would also give her outnumbered troops plenty of cover.
Peppin complained that putting out all those obstacles would negate his chance to charge with his cavalry. Margueritte told him he already revealed himself and they now knew where he was. She told him to send his footmen to reinforce duBois and protect the Paris gate, while his horsemen, dismounted, protected the Breton gate. She told him, true knights had to be the best and fiercest of fighters, even when their horse got taken away. In this case, they had to keep a path of access to the gates if they could, in case David and Michael had to retreat behind the wall.
Finally, Margueritte got Ringwald to move down and spread out and hold the front wall, while Heurst and his kobold covered both sides around the postern gate. This freed Lord Birch and his fairies. Lord Larchmont went with Peppin, and Lord Yellow Leaf went with duBois, but she borrowed them all, about five hundred fairies, and sent them to the roofs in the line where King David and Count duBois had been. She knew fairies had to be big to fire their arrows, but she also knew they could get big, fire, and get small again quickly, and thus present a very little target for return fire. They were to harass the enemy, and not be caught, if possible. She knew she was tempting the enemy to burn the town to give the men over their heads no place to stand, but she wanted to make the taking of Potentius as costly as possible.
After that, she went back to her tears, but Margo and Elsbeth got her to climb again to the lookout roof which had miraculously survived the catapult bombardment. Margueritte even roused enough in the climb to comment.
“Yes, Lady,” Calista and Melanie echoed each other as they helped Margueritte climb.
Margueritte turned her eyes to Ragenfrid’s lines only long enough to see where he went. He did, in fact, what she expected. He concentrated his attack on the center of the town, and poured so many men up that easy incline, King David’s line would have busted open right in the middle.
As expected, Ragenfrid started burning the houses so Birch, Larchmont, and Yellow Leaf would have no place to land. The fairies got off a number of good shots, and Ragenfrid’s men had to be nervously scanning the skies as they spread out in the streets and came up on King David’s position.
Margueritte guessed Ragenfrid had as many as seven thousand men. He must have scraped the bottom of the barrel, since Count Amager and Baron Bouchart were holding their men back. But with those numbers, David’s eighteen hundred beat up men would not hold them back for long. They might do better when they fell back and got reinforced by Michael’s fresh five hundred, not to mention the elf archers on the wall itself, but they were still outnumbered by more than two to one.
Margueritte had six hundred men on each gate, and that should hold for a time, especially when Larchmont and Yellow Leaf got back into position. She did not specify where Birch should go, but she imagined he would join the elves under Olderon in the center. She did not want to watch.