Most of Lionel’s army was made up of conscripts. He had two hundred soldier-looking men on horseback, only a few of whom were knights, like his captains. The rest of his army consisted of some seven hundred merchants and farmers. Some were freemen, but some were serfs or indentured servants, or slaves paid to serve in the place of their freemen owners. Lionel said most were acceptable archers, having to hunt when the winters got long and lean, but they were not much good in a melee. About four of the five hundred had pikes, but the rest had shields and swords or just long knives. The horsemen in the rear, and those near the center front and the center back behind the ox-drawn wagons encouraged the conscripts to keep up, but even so, they strung out for a mile or more down the road.
Toward the beginning of the third day out front where the travelers and Lionel trotted along well ahead of the others, they found the road blocked by troops from the Holy Roman Empire. Katie sensed the enemy from a distance, and Nanette stopped to put out her hand to try and read the disposition of the troops.
“They are with the French, set out to hold the Paris Road while the French army is attacking the main Burgundian outpost.” She frowned. “That is about all I see, except the Germans are not trying to hide. They are hoping they don’t have to fight, that anyone coming down the road will back away or go around.”
Lionel put Jobaire and the company of men directly behind them on alert, with strict orders to keep up, but then he insisted the travelers, and himself, continue to lead the procession. When they got near the roadblock, which they saw at a good distance, they found some hidden archers with arrows—probably warning arrows sent in their direction. They had to scurry for cover. Lionel watched from behind the bushes to see how the travelers handled themselves. No doubt, he expected great things. He looked a little disappointed when Lockhart explained.
“Normally, I would go out with a white flag and talk to whoever is in charge. I would explain that we are mere pilgrims from Sweden and further east, traveling with a couple of Africans, and we have no interest in their war, we are not taking sides, and we pose them no threat.”
“How would that work?” Lionel asked.
“It has not worked yet,” Katie admitted.
“I can’t remember even one time it worked,” Lockhart agreed. “And I tried lots of different variations.”
“My father,” Elder Stow came up holding his scanner. He pulled up a holographic projection of the enemy positions. It showed the enemy as yellow dots and included blue dots for the Burgundian conscripts that were closest. The travelers were in red.
“We have some sneaking up on our position. There…” Elder Stow turned and pointed.
“Someone did not get the memo about not fighting,” Lockhart said.
“Tony.” Decker called. Their horses and Ghost were already tied off, so Decker and Tony scooted off to disappear in the bushes.
“Germans?” Nanette asked, and Lionel nodded. “Lincoln,” she called. “Jobaire is captain-sergeant of the front group. We will hurry them.”
Lincoln nodded to agree. He did not mind the errand if it took him further away from the fighting.
Katie interrupted. “I recommend the little ridge here,” she said, pointing to Elder Stow’s picture that showed a small rise on the other side of the road. She turned her head and squinted. “You can’t quite see it from here.”
“I see the hologram,” Lincoln said, and he and Nanette rode back toward the first company of men.
Katie got out her binoculars and it hardly took a second to pinpoint what she was after. “I think I see the commander, or at least the one that appears to be shouting out orders.” She handed the binoculars to Lockhart and got out her rifle and scope. Lockhart looked equally briefly before he handed the binoculars to Lionel. Lionel looked and gawked, as Katie fired. Lionel saw the man fall.
Gunfire began from the side. It did not take long before a dozen soldiers ran back to their own lines at the roadblock. Tony’s voice came over the wristwatch radio. “All clear.”
“Roger,” Katie responded before she turned her head. One of the men who tried to sneak up on their flank got close. He came around a tree, but Katie did not get surprised, so the others looked as well. Lockhart blasted the man with his shotgun. The man slammed back into the tree and collapsed. Lionel let out a shout at the noise. It was not exactly a scream, but he held his chest, like his heart started beating extra fast.
Arrows began to fly from the ridge area. It made the German’s work difficult, but they managed to remove the blockage to make a wide opening on the road. Katie spoke. “I smell cavalry.” The Germans had about a hundred men on horseback, and while they could not ride more than two abreast through the gap in the roadblock, they came on fast.
Katie saw Nanette stand on what she figured was the ridge she had seen in the holograph. Nanette had her wand and threw her hands forward, sharply. Dozens of rocks, stones, fallen tree branches and the like raced forward at bullet speed. She struck and put down ten or fifteen horses and horsemen all at once before some of the bigger stones crashed into the roadblock itself.
“Screen is up,” Elder Stow said, as Decker and Tony returned.
“Brace yourselves,” Katie yelled, and Elder Stow only glanced at the horsemen before he set his screen device against the base of a tree.
“Decker wall?” Decker asked, wondering if he could shoot the horses while the horsemen would be completely blocked from getting at them.
“Yes,” Elder Stow said, as he braced for impact. Some twenty-five horses ran smack into the screens, and the horses behind could hardly stop. It could not have been worse to charge straight into a brick wall, but the screens were invisible so the travelers could see the devastation. All the front horses had to be put down, and plenty of the ones who came behind as well. Some of the Germans also died on impact, and many more were killed, crushed, or died of their broken bodies within a short time. Surprisingly, Decker did not kill that many.
All the Germans that could, some helping friends who were not wounded so badly, ran away at all speed. The roadblock got abandoned. Some Germans screamed as they ran away, and Jules and his little troop could not blame them. Most of Jules’ little troop cleaned out the hidden archers, but one seemed preoccupied with praying, especially when the German cavalry charged. Jules himself kept repeating. “I believe you. I believe you. I believe every word of it…”
Lionel just smiled and nodded. He laughed out loud when Elder Stow and Suki rose into the sky. They said they would make sure the Germans were gone from the road. Lionel gulped when Elder Stow and Sukki went invisible. Katie reminded Lockhart.
“She still has the disc Elder Stow tuned for her.”
“Oh,” Lockhart nodded, to say he remembered now that she mentioned it.
Decker got Lionel’s attention even as Katie was about to say the same thing. “You need to let the main army know, your Lord Jean or his second, about the Germans blocking the road. They need to know many escaped, so we have to assume the French now know we are coming.”
“French?” Lionel said. “We are the French, but I know what you mean.” He went down to the road where his front third of horsemen hurried to arrive. He would select some to ride and warn Liebulf. Hopefully, they would have a way of informing Lord Jean de Luxembourg. Then he made the ones in front wait while word went down the train of his army and they tightened up the ranks. From here on, stragglers would be whipped.
By the time Elder Stow and Sukki returned, Decker was much higher in the sky, taken up by his eagle totem, spying out the enemy. Elder Stow reported the Germans went off the road on a trail, headed north. He suggested they sent men rushing down the trail, like maybe there were other French soldiers around that they needed to warn. Decker reported on the French, though Lionel insisted the Burgundians were the true French and these others were the Armagnac faction with Charles. Decker said they immediately started to withdraw from their attack on the English outpost that watched where the Paris Road and the road to Rouen divided. The Paris Road they were on eventually went south of Compiegne while the Rouen Road went north. He said, “The Armagnacians, or whatever, are gathering in front of us and moving up the Paris Road, back toward the city, or maybe to a fortress. Some appear to have stopped by a farmhouse, about half-a-day from here. It looks mostly like a big barn. I guess about two hundred men. They must be the rear guard. They will probably wait until the end of the day to let the army get out before they hurry to join the others.”
Lionel nodded and spoke frankly as he judged the sun. “We should get there tonight, but if we hurry, we may reach that place before sundown. You said half-a-day distance? Maybe we will catch them napping, do you think?”
Decker agreed. “The rest of not-the-only-French army will probably finish their withdraw in the evening, twilight, seeing how armies travel in these days. Maybe we can time it right.”
Katie looked at Decker. “Colonel,” she said, not sounding happy, but she did not say anything more. She imagined what was going to happen.