As promised, a little snippet from my work in progress (the novel, Despenser). It is still in first draft so may alter between now and when the book is finished. The actual historical event that inspired the happenings in this chapter is detailed in this post. This will also be posted on my fiction blog, Scribe’s Den
Rescuing Lady Badlesmere
His men armed and mounted, supplemented by four men from the abbey, Hugh rode out of the abbey precincts and took the road towards Cheshunt. His group consisted of twenty men at arms and two archers as well as his sergeants John le Keu and Adam de Sturmy and his squire, Janekyn: enough of a show of force, Hugh considered, for the task ahead. They kept to an easy canter and soon reached the manor which was just as the servant had described. What he hadn’t said though, was just how badly in need of repair it was: the wood of the palisade and gate looked rotten enough to be caved in with a kick.
He sent the lay brothers off to fell a suitable tree and fashion it into a battering ram. The he sent John le Keu up to the gate. His sergeant hammered on the wood. At first there was no answer, then an arrow flew from the palisade over their heads, landing in the grass beyond. As all eyes fixed on where it had come from, a head ducked down behind the wood.
‘Fall back,’ Hugh shouted and, as one, the men retreated to where they judged was beyond the range of the archer. Le Keu realising what danger he was in, ran like a man possessed back to their lines.
‘God’s teeth!’ Hugh exclaimed as his sergeant reached him, ‘the arrogant bastards! Do they think they can take us on and win?’
Le Keu, still panting from his run, gave an appraising look at the palisade. ‘I think they’re desperate precisely because they know they can’t win. I’ll wager they only have one archer with them – two at the most – and nowhere near as well trained as ours. They are trying to bluff it out: see if they can frighten us away.’
‘With one arrow?’ Hugh snorted. ‘They’ll have to try better than that!’ He called out behind him: ‘Is that battering ram ready yet?’
‘Yes my lord,’ answered one of his men. ‘It’s coming through now.’
The ram was made from what looked to Hugh like a young oak. It wasn’t the thickest one he had ever seen, but then it didn’t need to be. Five lengths of rope had been wrapped around it at intervals to form a sling and so would only need ten men to operate it.
Hugh motioned to John, Adam and Janekyn to come close. ‘Adam, I want to you station our archers to give cover to the men on the ram. If anybody’s head pops up over that palisade I want it taken off. John, I’m putting you in charge of the ram. Janekyn, you will come with me when the gate is breached.’
They nodded and went away to organise their various parties. At Hugh’s command, the ram party picked it up and carried it forward to the gate.
‘You have one more chance to surrender’, Hugh shouted out. As if in reply another arrow winged its way from the manor before ploughing harmlessly into a puddle before the gate. It was answered by a volley from Hugh’s archers, several of the arrows ploughing into the palisade whilst others overshot into the manor grounds. They did not appear to hit their target, but the man on the other side would be left in no doubt that if he tried to aim at them again it would be his last attempt.
Hugh raised his hand and the battering ram swung into action, the men picking it up by the ropes and starting it swinging, until its arc was big enough to connect with the wood of the door. The first contact split the air with the sound of splintering and the gates appeared to bulge inwards. The second swing burst them open completely, to a huge cheer. John ordered the men to stop and they dragged the ram to one side to allow the horses through before following on behind.
Hugh and Janekyn led the charge into the manor grounds. Hugh, gripping his axe, swung his head left and right, trying to find a target through the narrow slit in his helm, but all he could see were his own men. Drawing his horse in a circle he scoured the palisade for the archer but he had vanished, seemingly along with the rest of the miscreants. He lifted his visor and found Janekyn.
‘The bastards have fled. Take Adam’s troop and scour the grounds; they can’t have gone far.’
‘They could be in the house sire,’ John le Keu strode up to him.
‘In that case we really could have a fight on our hands. Handpick your best men and tell them to prepare for close quarter combat.’