Castle Roland


by Arthur


Chapter 8

Posted: 23 Nov 15



The next morning found Eventide up early. He had slept well but wanted some fresh air without the usual numbers of guards around him; it was a time to think.

Eventide saw a group of young teens practicing in the early morning mistiness. There was a feeling in the air of freshness even though the ground was covered with the faint swirling tendrils from the surrounding moor.

Eventide walked towards the group of teens and immediately saw Gerard in line with the others. Staying back a little; he watched as the teens went through their practice. To Eventide's eye they were shooting at a great distance and the target was barely visible in the mist.

All the teens seemed to be having a friendly rivalry as they threw riballed remarks at the boys who missed or did not perform as well as the others. It was noticeable that Gerard was treated as one of them and not the future holder of the black bow.

After a few minutes; Gerard turned and saw Eventide standing back watching them; he immediately went to a knee and bowed, soon to be followed by the other teens as they saw their Prince standing alone and watching. Eventide called to Gerard.

"Gerard, there's no need for you to bow to me; we are friends and nothing has changed."

"My Liege, when we first met we did not know of your station; it would be most disrespectful for me to treat you as any other than My Lord and Liege."

"Oh bosh; stand up and come and tell me about your stay with the Emir and where is Marchant; I fully expected to see him here with you; and you can tell your friends to carry on with their practice and stop bowing all the time."

"Yes My Liege."

Gerard turned and told the others to continue as he went to stand with Eventide and watch.

"So my friend, where is your brother?"

"The Emir asked him to stay and train a full regiment of archers. Marchant is now Captain of the Royal Archers and has one thousand men under him."

"Where will they get enough long bows for that many?"

"The Emir asked Marchant to train bow makers in a special armoury; with the right wood not available in those lands; Marchant found another type to make them with.

The Emir has spent a fortune on importing a special cane from the Far East and Marchant is using it to make the bows with. It was difficult for him to find the right glue for the lathes of cane but they are far more flexible and stronger than even the Yew we use. I have trained some smiths to make the metal tips for the bows and now I am home to make the more improved metal for ours."

As the morning light grew stronger; Eventide saw the mists lifting quickly as he and Gerard watched the teens practicing. As they watched; both boys heard the sound of a number of horses coming towards the camp.

Through the mist they saw a number of moors runners guiding what appeared to be a small group of outsiders; at their head was the small figure of Robin holding a red banner with a gold arrow surrounded by what appeared to a rolled parchment. Behind Robin rode six of the Kings own guard.

On seeing their prince at the practice range; the guides turned towards where he stood. The six runners took a knee and bowed as Robin pulled his horse to a halt close by; one of the runners looked up at Eventide.

"My Liege; the King sends a messenger for you."

Eventide nodded and smiled up at Robin.

"Now I recognise the banner; it is the banner of a Royal Messenger; have you been promoted Robin?"

"No Your Highness; the King has said this message is too important to give to someone that does not know you; he has asked me to relay it by mouth as he did not want any written words to be found."

"What's this Highness business Robin; we are old friends and have stood side by side in battle."

"Never the less Your Highness; it is not my place to belittle your title as true Prince of the old ones; the King was most insistent that I follow protocol."

"Rubbish, come on then Robin and you too Gerard, let's go inside and see if we have anything to eat yet; these early mornings have made me hungry."

The morning fare was not as fine as what had been served in the Palace at Sufaria, but Eventide had little qualms about hungrily starting his first meal of the day; he still could remember the thin times as a pot boy.

Once their fast was broken; Robin began to relate the King's message. Once he had finished he handed a rolled scroll in a heavy leather tube to Eventide; it was to verify what he had just been told although not all of the conversation was on the scroll.

Eventide began to unroll the scroll and read it just as they were joined by Kendrik and Bodan.

"Good morning My Liege." Both men said as they sat at the rough wooden table and began to fill their bowls with the hot oatmeal.

"We have much to discuss this morning; I am hoping you can both give me your council when I need it."

"We are at your command, My Liege." Kendrik replied through a mouthful of the oatmeal.

"As you can see we have the King's messenger with us; he has brought news that is good for us all but, it will need some men of the Moors to go with me to the King's castle, if they would."

"Tell us what you need and it will be done, My Liege" Bodan said.

"The King has asked for one hundred long bowmen of the moors to take a commission in his army; they will be trainers and then officers of his new archers, He said he was very impressed with the showing at the Squire's Melee and would like to have a special archers regiment. It appears that the Emir has talked with him. The King has said he wants five thousand bowmen. He will supply the men needed to make the bows but under the instruction of the Moors Runners. Next he has said if we can do this he will return to the Iceni people the lands that were taken from them in the war with Wessex. Those lands are to be then known as free lands and will be from the eastern border of Dummonia to Gwent and then north to Powys and then onto the lands of Gwynedd which borders the old lands of Mercia. These lands will be ours in perpetuity although he asks that they be known by the new Saxon name of Cornwall and Walesa. The boundary is to be at the old battle site of the Tamar River and Wessex. What do you advise?"

"Is that written in the scroll, My Liege?"

"Yes, it even has a hand drawn map of that area with all the details as stated."

"Then if that is your command then it shall be done. There will be one hundred bowmen ready for when you return to the King's lands."

"Now what do we do about protecting our people. I did think about a council of five with one Regent to watch over them and make decisions for when I am not here."

"That sounds good; did you have anyone in mind for Regent and how do we select the right council members?"

"I would ask you, Kendrik; to take the place of Regent in my absence and that Bodan be one of the Councillors when the time for meetings comes. I know that Bodan has duties with my Father, but I am sure he would be allowed to come for important meetings. The other members I would suggest come from each of the four corners of the land and will leave it to you both to select honest men. I will be sending gold to you for the advancement of the people and will need men who have only the interest of the people at heart and not their own wealth."

"We shall only select the best and most honest of men My Liege." Kendrik replied "But where will you get gold and how will the people pay their tithe to you?"

"This also I have thought over; I have more gold than I could ever need. Each quarter I will send one chest to you and it is to be used for improvements to the lives of our people. There will be no tithe unless there are those that wish to work on building a small manor for my use when I come here. For those who would work to this end I will pay ten coppers per month and they are to give me twenty hours of time per month free of payment; that will be their tithe to the crown."

"That is more than generous My Liege; your Manor will be ready when you need it."

"I plan to return to Sufaria shortly; I have business there that cannot wait. The King has warned me that the Franks and the Church are trying to start another Crusade in the holy land. He is doing his best to stay out of it but that will mean they will also look across the water to his lands; that is why he wants a Regiment of archers formed."

"Tell the King that, if the need arises and as long as his word stays true to the freeing of our old lands; then the men of the Reaches and Moors will stand alongside his armies should he need them to repel any invaders. On this you have our word, My Liege."

"Thank you Kendrik; I will pass on your words to the King. Robin! I will give you a message to carry back to the King to tell him what we have decided; let him know I will follow in five days."

Robin nodded his head as he listened to what was discussed; it seemed that his Hero was as adept at council as he had proven to be on the battle field. Eventide himself was still wondering how he was able to make decisions that could impact a whole race of ancient people.

After the meeting was closed and Robin was on his way with the message; Eventide asked Kendrik about the things he had said and the decisions he had made; he found it hard to understand how he could know certain things were the right thing to do and others were not. He had never had much training apart from the little he had got under the tutelage of Freeman.

"My Liege, you are the blood descendant of a long line of Kings; the decisions you make are almost a part of your make up; it is a part of you. As long as you continue to put the needs of the people first, you cannot make a mistake. You have made good decisions today and will continue to do so; it's in your blood." Kendrik told him.

"Can you tell me about these borders? Looking at the King's map there seems to be a lot of land; I did not know there was so much in the hands of the People."

"It goes way back many generations. There was a time when the Iceni were the strongest tribe of Britannia. When the Romans came here we held most of the land up to the border of the Picts. After the invasion by the Romans and the death of Queen Boadicea; the tribes split and there was a lot of infighting. At the end, when the Romans were leaving and the Saxons were taking over; most of the land was held by the Mercian's. The Iceni were pushed back to a small piece of land in the east coastal region and only those who were here in the west held the borders. With the Saxon taking most of the land; those in the east travelled here and joined their brothers of Britannia in Dummonia and the reaches and moors of Walesa where we are today. Once the Saxons had power over the people; their leaders in Wessex wanted to tame our lands; this led to the battle that we lost at the Tamar River; that became the new border. The king has now confirmed for us that our lands, under his rule; will remain ours."

"If the King were to change his mind or others were to try to take what is rightfully ours; then i will stand at your side Kendrik, and we will defend what is ours."

"Then there is only one more thing to take care of My Prince."

Kendrik took the torc and opened it enough to place around Eventide's neck before closing it close enough so it could not fall off; much to Eventide's surprise; Kendrik then reached inside his cloak and produced a thin band of roughly formed gold. With a steady hand, Kendrik placed the thin band on Eventide's head.

"This My Liege is the crown of the Iceni; it is said it was wrought by the hand of the first King long before the arrival of the Romans; it is now yours by right and all who live in the reaches and Moors will know it as your right to ascension."

Eventide could not think of anything to say; while the thin band looked light and was very old, it still seemed to weigh heavy on his head; he knew he now had the responsibility of every man, woman and child of the Western lands; the fact he had just passed his fourteenth summer did not make it any easier.

Over the next five days, the four extra men for the council of Regents was selected; each had to swear an oath to care for the people and have men go to help the King if called upon. There was feasting each evening as the people continued to gather to see their returned Prince.

Eventide saw that most of those who had come to see him were poorly clothed and many showed signs of hunger; to this end, Eventide called for as much help for them as could be found; he also left orders for Kendrik to use the first consignment of gold for the people's needs. His Manor house could wait for another time as he planned to be in Sufaria for another year and would return in time for the next Squire's melee.

The travel back to the King's castle seemed faster this time; with him went the one hundred volunteer bowmen. Eventide was amazed that the moor runners could keep pace with the trotting pace he set. The runners carried only a small amount of food for the journey, their bows and a single quiver of arrows; their steady pace swallowed the miles with what seemed little effort.

As Eventide's small army approached the large castle of the King; he could not believe his eyes. Along each side of the roadway and up to the huge gates, stood many squires on each side leaving a passageway through the centre. Each Squire held the banner of his Knight and, as Eventide's small army passed them; they lowered the banner in salute.

At the gates inside the castle stood a contingent of the King's personal guards all standing at attention as he entered. Robin stood with the King's banner waiting for Eventide; close to Robin stood a number of grooms waiting to handle the few horses; it was Shaun once again that took control of Shaitan; the horses of the six brotherhood were taken by the young grooms.

Robin bowed low, even though he had a shy smile on his face as Eventide walked up to him; the brotherhood close by and the one hundred archers now standing to each side of the smaller group in a guard position.

""My Lord, the King asks that you join him in the great hall; he would also like those archers with you to attend as well."

"Thank you Robin; lead the way if you would."

Robin held the banner high as he lead the group into the main castle keep; after walking through a number of long passages; the group came to a large set of closed wooden doors.

Standing outside the doors were six fully armoured guards and waiting in front of the guards was an elderly man with a staff; the old man was dressed in his finest clothes as was expected in the King's court.

It was easily seen that the old man could not quite reconcile the list of titles he was expected to give and the youth of the boy that stood before him, but the King had told the man that this was to be a full court occasion and his guest was to be given all honours in the great hall.

The old man turned and stamped the staff on the stone floor; from inside the great hall, Eventide heard the sound of many horns blaring as the great doors opened to reveal those waiting inside.

The old man stepped inside and, in a voice that belied his age; called out to all the people waiting there. Eventide could now see what must have been every Knight of the land standing along each side of the great hall. At the far end sat the King; beside him stood the figure of his father, now looking much better than the last time Eventide had seen him.

Around the dais of the King stood the many members of the court; each was standing with bowed heads as the old man began to introduce the roughly clothed and dishevelled young boy to the court. The six guards of the brotherhood now had an extra banner to carry and it was quickly noticed by those who had seen the other banners that Eventide used.

This banner was striped in green and red; at the centre was a gold braided Unicorn head. The banner looked to be old and a little the less for wear; it was obvious that it had a long a torrid history; the old man made the introductions.

"My Liege, Lords and Knights of the realm; My Lord Prince Eventide Carliegh; heir to the crown of the western reaches; Baronet of Lancaster and Flanders; Kahlif of Wadhi Sufaria of the holy land and defender of the Kings banner and the People of the Kingdom."

The old man bowed low and stepped to the side as Eventide led his group inside the great hall. When he got to the bottom of the dais steps; Eventide bowed after going to one knee as did those with him except for the six brotherhood who salaamed instead.

"Rise Prince Eventide; we are grateful that you would come to our summons. Are these the men of the moors that would teach our archers?"

"Yes your Highness; these men have all volunteered to form and train your new archers; I also have the word of the Regent of the Western reaches Kendrik; that should your highness find himself in need of men for the defence of his lands or crown; they will come to stand with you as long as their new borders are respected by all."

"And you Prince Eventide; would you come to my aide in time of need?"

"Without question, Your Highness; although I would also come to the aide of the people should they find it necessary to call on me."

"We can ask for no more loyalty than you have already shown; I would ask you to join me up here and take the other throne; it is the place of a noble of the land and is now your's by right of ascension to the crown of the Iceni."

Eventide took his place on the slightly smaller throne beside the King; he felt a little discomfort as he was still dressed in the fashion of the Reaches; goat skin jacket, thick green wool shirt and the heavy seal skin boots; he had not had time to change but the King did not seem to notice or preferred not to. Only the ancient torc and the thin band of gold on his head showed any sign of his new station in life.

The King stood and looked out on the large gathering in the great hall.

"Lords and Knights of the realm; we all now recognise the veracity of the claimant to the crown of the Iceni; all those present will also acknowledge the right of Prince Eventide Carliegh as the lawful heir to the crown; see that it is written in the records. Now I will ask you all to leave us except for the bowmen of the Western Reaches; we have much to discuss and there is little time left."

The King sat back down and then smiled at Eventide as the courtiers, Lords and Knights left the great hall. The King looked down at the hundred archers.

"Archers of the Western reaches; our thanks for your appearance here today. I know that in the past there has been bad blood between the crown and the men of the reaches. I want you to know that those days are passed and our decision to return to you your old lands is to be a symbol of those new times. I have heard much about the power of your bows and would ask each of you to improve my own archers. Anything you need to do this then you need just ask. I have in mind an army of archers numbering five thousand. My archer army now has three thousand; they are yours to retrain and teach; you will all be given the rank of Captain. Your word will be law for the archers; we will not interfere in how you train them. For the present we have little time; it has come to our notice that there are plans afoot to invade the holy land once again and retake Jerusalem by the army of the church; they have been joined by the Teutonic and Frankish Knights. If this be true we are going to have trouble on our hands as they will know that i will not join a crusade for the church; they may well try to invade our lands. At most I would say we have six months to prepare; can you do this in that time?"

One of the runners stepped forward; he was a man of middle age and his forearms showed the power of his bow; they were wreathed in muscles like steel bands; the man bowed and then said.

"Your Highness; I am Gryfed of the northern lands of the Reaches; the men have chosen me to speak for them. What you ask can be done and will be done in your name; however, there is the problem of authority; your archers may not like us taking charge over them and, for the newcomers we would like to select those of younger years; they will take instruction faster."

"Your words are true Gryfed of the North; to that end I have a royal warrant that you can use; any man that refuses to serve under your orders will be sent from my archers and placed as common rank and file in my infantry; they will also be told that they will stand in the front rank in all battles; I can assure you that it is not a place they will want to be. Take those you want; we have sent word to the people that we are in need of young archers; select those who show promise and train them ready."

"Thank you Your Highness; our Regent Kendrik has told us to call on the people of the Reaches should they be needed to protect your lands so we have more than enough should trouble arise."

"We will send our thanks to the Regent; now here is your warrant; if you wish to rest first; barracks have been set aside for you." The King held out a rolled scroll for Gryfed to take.

After taking the warrant, Gryfed said his thanks and then added.

"Your Highness; we would much rather go to the barracks of your archers and start right away; we can rest later but it is important they know that it is time to change."

"A good idea Captain Gryfed; do as you must; the archers of the realm are now in your sole hands and the hands of your fellow archers; I will not interfere in any decisions you make nor will any other if they want to keep their heads on their shoulders."

Gryfed bowed and turned to leave the great hall; the others quickly following behind him; they had work to do and they did not want to waste any time.

After the men had left and the great hall was almost empty; the King turned to Eventide;

"Now what of your plans, young Prince of the Iceni?"

"I would spend a little time with my father Sire but then I must head to Sufaria. If the church is going to try to take Jerusalem then they will have to pass through Sufaria. The Emir has given the responsibility of defending the Wadhi to my brother and I. I cannot let him down and I would not see my brother put in a position to fight alone."

"Good thoughts young Prince; but what happens if we are forced to take sides and fight with the church; would you draw your sword against your own people?"

"I honestly do not know Your Highness; I can only hope that situation never arises."

"So do I young Prince; so do I."

It was not long after that all the parties left the great hall. Eventide went with Freeman to their own quarters; his brothers walking just behind them. Eventide knew he had no more than two or three days before he would have to leave for Sufaria. Eventide had received a message from Mahmud that one of his ships would be waiting on the coast to take him home in two days; it would wait there until Eventide appeared.

Most of the next two days were spent with Freeman as Eventide tried to learn as much as he could about tactics normally used by the European Knights; what surprised the young teen was how easy he found it to understand what Freeman described to him and how to use those facts to his advantage.

The intense training of his mind and ability to see a battle plan through Freeman's tutelage; gave Eventide some interesting insights into possible ways to beat what he knew would be large army manoeuvres. Eventide did not know how many soldiers he could call on if it came to a major battle and so he worked on ways to prevent any frontal confrontation and still hurt an enemy.

Freeman had vast knowledge of the ways of the battles involving many Knights and vast numbers of ordinary soldiers. One thing that became obvious to eventide; was the fact of division between Knights and ordinary soldiers.

The most interesting fact was that most ordinary soldiers were very superstitious; added to that, the fact of the hold the church held over their faith gave Eventide something else to work on. His thoughts went to the old story teller Omar Khayyam.

The day finally arrived when he had to leave; with a final hug and the suggestion of tears in his eyes; Eventide turned to Shaitan and mounted; with his six guards and Shaun following; eventide headed for the coast where the boat would be waiting. He did not know if he would ever see his homeland, or his father, again.

Once again the trip was fast and non-stop; the Captain had his orders from the Emir and was not about to alter one word of his instructions; even if his crew men fell dead from the strain.

Fifteen days later and very tired from the constant travel; Eventide finally saw the towering walls of Sufaria. All his thoughts were now on a hot bath and a long time in his bed. For the last few months he had noticed changes in his body. Most nights he now had yearnings that he could not fulfil; he would have to talk to his brother about it; Mahmud was far more worldly than Eventide and would surely have the answers he needed.

That night; as he lay on a couch with food and drink being brought by the servants for his selection; Eventide yawned widely; Mahmud noticing his brothers weary face, called a halt to the dinner and laughingly sent him to his bed; Eventide was only too glad to do as he was told by the smiling teen. Tomorrow would be a busy day as he tried to catch up on everything that had happened in the gateway to the east in the time he had been in England.

The next few days turned out to be interesting as Eventide sat with Mahmud during the time spent listening to the needs of the people and merchants of Sufaria. During the evenings; they and the brothers sat around and talked about the possibility of an invasion by the European Knights and how they might be able to counteract their attempts to take back the city of Jerusalem; after first passing through Sufaria and what that might mean for the boys.

When the news came it was not good. From the far Northern border, five members of the Emir's troops rode into Sufaria; two of them suffering from light wounds; their story would change the activities of Sufaria for some time to come.

The five riders were immediately shown into the halls of the palace and taken before the two Kahlif; their report was one of total massacre of innocent people on the border with the territory of the Ottomans.

The numbers they were talking about told the two Kahlif that this was indeed a full invasion of the Christian Knights and their allies from the church.

As soon as the report was received and the five riders were sent to rest or have their wounds attended to; the two Kahlif sat down to work out what should be done. The numbers quoted by the soldiers were far too many for the detachments in Sufaria; the first thing to do was to notify the Emir and give him time to raise and army to defend his lands.

The call to arms went throughout the city as messages were sent by pigeon to the capital. The two Kahlif now had to find a way to get more solid information on the advancing enemy. The distance involved gave the boys some time to work on their strategy but they could not delay forever.

Three days after the first pigeon had been sent; the Emir's troops began to arrive at the city gates; Sufaria would be the first large city to meet the invaders and the Emir needed more time to organise a large enough army to combat the attackers huge numbers. It would be up to Eventide and Mahmud to delay the approaching army for as long as they could. The loss of Sufaria was not an option.

The first to arrive at the gates of Sufaria were a contingent of five hundred camel mounted Bedou; after being introduced to the two young Kahlif; the riders were given the dangerous job of finding and watching the enemy; they were not to attack but shadow the invaders and report as often as they could to the two Kahlif.

The cameleers were split into groups of ten and sent on their way with everything they would need to survive for a long period of watching.

The next to arrive were two thousand cavalry; they were all mounted on the finest of the desert horses and their arms were the finest that could be made in the armouries of the Emir.

These cavalry would be made ready to take the field if the invaders came close to Sufaria and sent out scouts; it would be the responsibility of the cavalry to make sure none escaped to report back to the main army.

Two days later the n ext troops arrived; much to Eventide's surprise, he recognised the fancily dressed captain at the head of the nine hundred bowmen as they rode through the gate. Eventide immediately sent a message for Marchant to join him in the great hall.

Eventide and Mahmud waited for Marchant to arrive; when their friend walked into the hall, he immediately went to one knee and bowed his head; those officers with him looked on with interest as Marchant spoke.

"My Liege, I am at your disposal as are my bowmen."

Eventide looked at Marchant and the smiled.

"How did you know?"

"My Liege, I received a message not five days ago by Dhow from our homeland; my brother told me of your new station."

"Stand up Marchant, you are an old friend and we are going to need all our friends around us for some time."

Marchant stood and bowed again.

"As you command, My Liege."

"Oh stop that Marchant; now tell us why you have come?"

"The Emir has sent us to help you to hold Sufaria; I have left one hundred of my best men behind to train others. The Emir said he would raise an army of thirty thousand and would need new archers but we also need to help you hold Sufaria at all costs."

"Good, now we have a small chance; are there any others coming?"

"Yes the Emir has sent two thousand foot soldiers, they should be here in three or four days; what do you want us to do, My Liege?"

"Oh come on Marchant; stop that or I will be forced to call you captain all the time; new titles should not get in the way of old friendships; come we have much to talk over and plan."

Eventide, Mahmud and Marchant left the large hall and went through to a smaller room where they had set up a war room. On a large table was laid out a sand map of the region from the Ottoman border to Sufaria; while it was to truly to scale, it was sufficient for their needs for a broad plan.

Mahmud sent word for the Commander of the Cavalry and Cameleers, the Captain of the household guards along with the commander of the local Militia and the three senior Bedou to come to the war room; there would be only the commander of the foot soldiers to bring up to date once they arrived.

The planning and tactics were discussed late into the night. Some plans did not seem to work and others needed revision but all agreed that what they were doing could change warfare in the desert for years to come. The older commanders were the hardest to convince as Eventide introduced them to new ways and never before though of tactics; had he not been one of the Kahlif he may not have been able to convince the oldest of the commanders; Mahmud's stance on the rightness of Eventides final plan convinced even the old war dog that it was a good overall plan.

It was in the early hours of the morning before the group broke up to go to their beds and rest; they had not stopped for food or rest but servants had kept a continuous procession of food and drink for the men to take as they planned.

It was just before midday when the first camel rider appeared; he had ridden non-stop to bring the first news of the invaders and a better account of the numbers involved.

The two Kahlif and the small number of commanders met the rider in the great hall of the palace where he gave his report.

"Highness, the army is moving slowly; their numbers make it impossible for fast movement. We have estimated there are some sixty thousand Knights and soldiers. Their baggage train extends some ten miles behind them and they are making about ten miles per day. They have small groups of scouts out in advance of the main body; most number about fifty to one hundred in number. In their baggage train they have many carts filled with large heavy timbers; why? We do not know as yet. We are planning to try to take some prisoners from the scouts so you can question them more closely."

Mahmud was the first to ask questions of the messenger.

"Which road do they take?"

"As yet they are still on the main road just over the border; they have not yet shown any indication which of the three roads they will take, Highness."

"Thank you; go and get some rest and we will have a message for you to take back in the morning."

The man bowed and left with one of the servants to show him where to rest and eat; Mahmud turned to Eventide.

"Well brother, it looks as though we have plenty of time before they arrive here; what does that mind of yours think we should plan for?"

"Well if Freeman is right; and I have no reason to think otherwise, then they will be split in their priorities; we need to make them use the road we can best use to delay them on."

"So how do we do that?"

"We play on their base desires; Father told me all Knights have certain traits, once you know of these you have the advantage; we use their individual desires to delay their travel."

"Which means what, exactly?"

"The Teutonic Knights and the Templars will want gold and riches; if I am right they will try to convince the others to take the road through Persia and cut the great Eastern road for the caravans. Now the Frankish Knights are more aligned with the church so they will want to get to Jerusalem before anything else; they will join with the Knights of the Cross and want to take the river road even though it is a little longer. What we want them to do is take the middle road that leads into the desert; while it is shorter and the most direct; there is also the matter of lack of water. For such a large army this would be their main concern so they will not want to take that route; we must convince them they have no other option."

"Yes we looked at that last night, but how can we do it; their numbers are far too large for us to force them and we have months before the Emir can raise his army. If our plans do not work they will be at our gates in less than two months. I know we can hold them at the walls but they will only need siege engines and we will be hard pressed."

Eventide suddenly got a look on his face as though something had suddenly lit up in his head.

"The carts with the large timbers; they are transporting their own siege engines; they know there is not enough timber for them to build them here so are carrying them in their baggage train; we need to destroy the train, especially those carts."

"And how are we going to do that with so few numbers, Highness?" Asked one of the commanders.

"We use our smaller numbers more wisely, Commander; we hit them and run before they can organise to counter attack. Our main concern at this point is to stop those carts and to force the army to go through the desert where the lack of water will weaken them. I know what I am about to suggest goes against everything that the Bedou and all desert people believe in but; as a final solution we may have to poison all the wells between them and Sufaria. We will not do that unless there is no other way to stop them."

"But Highness; if you order that it may well destroy wells that are the very life blood of the desert peoples." The Cavalry Commander said.

"As I said; it will only be a tactic of last resort, but this army cannot reach Sufaria and especially those siege engines. Now let's look at how we can change the road to what we want them to take. We should all go to the war room and look at the lay of the land between them and Sufaria or Jerusalem."

The group left the hall and went into the smaller room where the sand map lay undisturbed from the night before. All of the men looked at the lay of the land; there were a number of opportunities for them to delay the army of Knights and push them towards their chosen desert wastes.

"Well from what we have here." Said Mahmud. "We can slow them at this Wadhi before they can break through to the caravan road. They will have to pass down this Wadhi before they can break through to raid the caravans; if we can get enough people there, we can collapse the sides of the Wadhi and make it impassable for some time; they will not want to waste time if they are after Jerusalem and the Knights of the Cross will want to force the others to Jerusalem if they know that the Wadhi through to the caravans is blocked."

The others all nodded and began to look to the river roads; it was more open and passed through very few wadhi's where a trap could be laid. It was finally the Commander of the Cameleers that found a solution.

"Highness; I have travelled this road before when on patrol. Here they are following the Euphrates; when they penetrate further, they will be between the Euphrates and the Tigris; if they are forced to stop at Qa'im then they will have to turn more inland."

"And how will we do that, Commander?"

"At Qa'im there are vast areas of marsh; with the use of the people we can make it almost impassable by flooding the surrounding land. Most of this land was recovered by the farmers using channels and banks to dry the land; if we break them open the land will re-flood and the army will have to turn inland to continue. This will also pull them away from Jerusalem and into the desert. Those are the two main roads and they will be left with only the one we want them to use and that one is the road to Rutba; it will eventually lead them into the great desert and well south of Jerusalem."

Mahmud looked at Eventide for his agreement. Eventide went over both of the plans and finally looked up and smiled.

"It sounds like what we want; can you get word to the people to start on that and the blocking of the Wadhi; once they are into the desert we will start our harassing attacks and try to destroy those siege engines before they get here."

There was a sudden flurry of people as they each went to take care of their part of the plan to make the army of Knights do as they wanted them too.

For more than a week, reports from the following cameleers continued to come in. If what was being heard was fully correct, then the army of Knights was having trouble finding enough water for their massive numbers. Eventide was told that many desert people were hiding or disguising many of the wells to make them harder to find.

The blocking of the Wadhi was going well and the effort that would be needed for the army to pass through would discourage them from even trying. Eventide hoped their scouts would see the pointlessness of attempting to do so.

The flooding of the old marshes of the Euphrates had been accomplished far easier than he thought it would be. From dawn to dusk, the Euphrates farmers had destroyed ditches and banks that had stood for eons; the rich farmland of the basin was now under water as planned. There was now only one direction for the army to take. Eventide and Mahmud began to ready their small forces to harass the enemy.

All the plans and ideas had been sent to the Emir for his opinion; apart from sending twenty cartographers to rebuild the sand map to a size that would cover a large floor space; he changed nothing his two young Kahlif had devised.

The Emir had passed on that his new army was building quickly but would still not be available to help them for some time to come. They would have to do the best they could until he had his numbers to fight a major battle with a good chance of winning.

The twenty cartographers were a surprise for Eventide; only two of them looked like courtiers; the rest were from all of the desert tribes; moist had been enemies at one time or another but had now come together to fight a common enemy.

The sand map had been moved from the smaller room at the rear of the palace and now took centre stage in the great hall; it now covered more than ten paces on one side and twenty paces on the other. The construction of the land was done by all members and Eventide was amazed to see a lifelike map of the desert lands grow from the bags of loose sand resting on the floor.

Small rocks were used wherever needed but the details were a marvel for eventide to see. While the map developed, Eventide and Mahmud could see their plan of battle become more viable. What was even more surprising for the two teens was the co-operation of all the different tribes involved in the map making. One time enemies had a single thought and that was to see the invaders sent from their lands; what would happen once the threat ended was any ones guess.

As the time passed and the reports continued to flow in; the two Kahlif finalised their plans and readied their small army; that there were going to be losses was undeniable but they hoped to keep those to a minimum by using their hit and run tactics; only the destruction of the carts with the siege engines was paramount.

The last report had told of the Knights turning off at Qa'im and avoiding the marshes; they were now set on their course to Rutba and the great desert that awaited them.

Some reports told of dissension amongst the Knights and that the ordinary soldiers were not happy nor were they prepared for what was ahead of them; the two young Kahlif hoped to make that even worse for the army.

Most of the cameleers had been called back to Sufaria; only a small number were left out there to scout and report as the huge army wound its way through the sands and small wadhi's; the road they followed was little more than a beaten sandy track but it was the only way forward for the invaders.

It was time for the two teens to go and look for themselves; accompanied by a contingent of one hundred Bedou and Cavalry; they set out for the last known location of the Christian army. Being able to travel fast and light; the group caught up with the slow moving army in only four days; it would take the army another two weeks of travel to reach Sufaria as they were burdened down with the baggage train and could only move at the walking pace of their foot soldiers.

The group spent a day and a night following and watching the massive trail of men at arms. It was noticeable that the Knights did not like to begin to move until mid morning and would stop to erect their camp in mid afternoon and their baggage train would finally enter the camp even later in the day; often just as the sun was sinking into the west.

The watching group stayed concealed among the towering dunes or rough rocks as they shadowed the army; it was easily noticeable that the army was only making about eight miles a day; far slower than the two Kahlif thought they would be.

Eventide and Mahmud had seen enough and turned their small force for Sufaria; they were a few miles from the still encamped army when things changed suddenly.

They had been moving at a trot along the sandy road to the city when one of the outer guards called a warning. Turning to see what was afoot; Eventide saw a contingent of about fifty cavalry from the army readying for a charge from the top of a nearby dune; how they had come so close was never to be revealed but the teens knew they had a fight on their hands.

Without thought; Eventide took one column of the guards while Mahmud took the other; at a yelled order, both boys turned; one to the left and the other to the right and led their columns to meet the attackers.

As the two columns divided, they spread further and further apart; at their centre rode the twenty camels and the lighter horse were now two files spreading outward.

As the cavalry of the attackers galloped towards the divided line by forming a double formation to give them more strength when they met those below who; by the look of it were trying to flee; the two lines of horse began to create a curving formation.

For the attackers it came as a shock as the two charging lines of Saracen horsemen curved first outward and then came back towards them; the confusion to the attackers became their undoing.

The attacking cavalry was soon to see the error of their ways; their sudden charge had left their flanks open and they were now faced with twenty bawling and mouth frothing camels charging directly at them while the two lines of horsemen were now starting to surround their flanks.

Before the attackers could react; they found themselves surrounded and with nowhere to run or escape; what caused even more disruption was the enemy shouting loudly as they charged into their ranks; the words were unknown to the attackers and they had little time before they were being struck down from all sides.

The flashing scimitars and long lances of both the cameleers and horsemen left the attackers with little time to think; all they had now was to get out of this mess in one piece; it was not to be. Had it not been for Eventide and Mahmud calling for prisoners; there would have been none to survive the viciousness of the desert dwellers.

Eventide had been surprised at the reactions of Shaitan; the black horse seemed to be born for battle. In the thick of the fight; Shaitan had even reared and used his sharp hoofs as weapons; his teeth were used to try to take bights from the attackers mounts; Eventide would make sure his black horse would get a special treat on their return to the city.

The battle was short and sharp; Mahmud sustained a light gash on his right thigh but kept fighting; Eventide seemed blessed and, apart from some torn clothing, came out of the fight without a scratch. The losses to the attackers were far more and; although the Kahlif's forces had lost ten men and had some fifteen wounded; the attackers lost more than thirty; which was more than 2/3's of their number.

Of those captured once the attackers surrendered; seven were not expected to survive the travel back to Sufaria; of the remaining; they would spend the rest of their lives either as slaves or, their heads would decorate the great walls of the city as a reminder to those who would attack the Emir's lands.

The soldiers were stripped of all weapons and armour; their hands were tied and a rope placed around their necks; if one fell, they would all fall; or carry the man with them.

It took less than an hour to round up the horses of the soldiers; their weapons were taken and bundled up behind the camels for transport back to the city; the small group was quickly on their way towards their home.

Somehow the word of the small but volatile battle had already reached the gates of Sufaria; the people, who had lived with the fear of the approaching Christians; could now take some relief that their Kahlif were well prepared to fight; even as young as they were.

As the small patrol entered the city, the cries of joy could be heard far and wide; the surviving captives; which now only numbered twelve; were spat on and reviled by the crowd although none were actually physically abused as was normal for Infidel captives.

The captives were taken to the palace dungeons; Mahmud asked Salud and Ishmael to take care of the questioning; if anyone could get answers it was those two; what would happen to the captives after their questioning would rely on how they answered; it would turn out that only four survived the ordeal; they would soon be in chains and sold at the Emir's discretion.

Once the questioning had been completed; the two Kahlif had a better idea of what they would be facing. Their first taste of real battle had proven they could fight and that their knowledge; which was handed down from far wiser heads; had been sound; they were now ready to start their hit and run attacks on the large army and its baggage train.

For their first attack on the army; they chose a narrow defile that passed between two huge dunes; there was no way around as on the other side of the dunes were large patches of sinking sand; once trapped there was very little chance of getting out.

The boys sent for Marchant and told him what they wanted; he was to take all nine hundred archers and line both sides of the dunes; their horses were to be kept close for a fast escape. They would then wait until the van of the army was well into the defile before opening fire.

At the first sign of a counter attack, they were to mount up and pull back fast. Once they had pulled back, they were to wait for a while then return and hit the army again; they had to try to hit as many soldiers or Knights as they could each time.

At the completion of the second attack; Marchant was ordered to withdraw right back to the city and let some of the other forces take up the hit and run attacks.

The idea was to delay the army as much as possible while still keeping them on the roadway; with luck the baggage train would not get to the defile before the following day; it was then they would hit them with fire arrows. The arrows would be tipped with a cotton cloth that could soak up moister; the moister would come from the same black substance they had used in the carts at the Melee.

No One had a name for the substance but it could be found in small pools oozing from the sands in certain areas. It was foul smelling and could be used for little but, once alight it would burn for a long time; it was ideal for fire arrows and should catch to the very dry timbers on the carts.

To stop the archers from being harried by the main army or its cavalry; the horsemen and cameleers would alternate attacks at the head of the army. The frontal attacks would once again have to be fast and furious and spread out along the entire column; it was to keep the army always nervous about when and where the next attack was to come from.

For more than a week the attacks continued; there were losses to the Kahlif's small army but far less than those suffered by the invaders. The pace of advance slowed even further as the attacks took their toll. By the end of that first week; the army had lost over half its baggage train to the fire arrows and had now had slowed to keep the baggage train close for defence.

There was one thing that did not go well for the two young Kahlif; the continual attacks had slowed the approaching army but not stopped them. The huge numbers just kept forcing their way forward and were now less than five or six days away from Sufaria.

The two young Kahlif now decided that they had only one priority; the total destruction of the carts carrying the siege machines; without them the city could withstand a siege for years; with them the army could breach the walls in less than a year. Every effort was made to ready the city for a siege; food and water were stored and kept under guard.

The caravans had stopped arriving; the word had long ago gone out to let them know the city may come under siege. There was little the Kahlif's could do but continue to harry the army and attempt to totally destroy their heavy weapons of siege.

The direction of travel by the army would leave them only the western wall to attack; with the rear; or eastern gate protected by the towering side of the Wadhi; the boys could concentrate their defence on the one wall; they had to hold it until the Emir could reinforce them with fresh troops.

Each evening; after any new plans had been made; the sand map was wiped clean and rebuilt to cover the invading armies advance. Each time the map was cleaned; scribes would write down everything that had happened for that day. Eventide marvelled at the dedication of the twenty cartographers as they worked tirelessly each night to ready the new days map in full detail.

The continuous harassment of the spread out enemy took its toll; although the losses were not huge against the sheer numbers of the Christians; it was enough to cause damage and doubt amongst the oncoming army; it also meant they had to spread out their guards to cover a wider area and so left gaps for the harassers to take advantage of.

There was little doubt now that the massive army would reach the walls of Sufaria; everything was being done to fill the warehouses with needed food and the inner wells protected for the water supply.

Every smith in the city worked on amassing weapons stocks and Eventide set carpenters to work to reinforce the huge gates; the wooden gates were the weakest part of the great wall. Along the top of the high wall were placed huge tubs of oil and fire wood was stacked close-by to heat the tubs when they were needed.

Everything that could be done to prepare for a siege had been done; now, with the army only days away from the gates; Eventide and Mahmud wanted to make one last attack on the moving mass of soldiery; it would be something for them to remember when they had to stay inside the walls.

The plans for the last open attack were similar to the last one; Marchant had used his bowmen well and now the army was down to only three siege machine carts. There had also been a large loss of food and other needs for the large army by the fire arrows.

The invaders would now have to travel through a shallow valley with high dunes on each side. Just past where the valley opened out onto the wide plains before the city there was a Wadhi to the right; the boys planned to make use of that Wadhi and what it concealed.

With no heavy cavalry they could not attack the heavily armoured Knights and troops of the army; they would have to use the terrain and cunning to help them as they had done for all their attacks on the long spread out column.

The baggage train was now defended by a large number of foot troops as well as lighter cavalry; only the archers that Marchant led could be used for this final attack before retiring to the city to endure the siege.

The two Kahlif showed Marchant what they wanted him to do; he was to place four hundred archers on each side of the valley with fire arrows as well as extra normal arrows. Once the fire arrows had been used up, they would try to kill as many of the supporting troops as they could before retiring back to the city.

One hundred cameleers armed with Persian bows which they normally used from camel back; were to position themselves across the track leading out of the valley; when they saw the first of the heavy Knights; which always travelled at the head of the army as the main strike force; the cameleers were to fire as fast and as often as they could at the lead Knights.

At a distance that was to keep them safe; they would continue to fire until the Knights charged them; they would then retreat as fast as they could but stay just outside the Knights range, if the Knights slowed; the cameleers were to start shooting again and draw the Knights on.

It sounded like an unequal task as the small number of camel archers would be far outnumbered by the two thousand or so mounted and armoured Knights. There was one thing in their favour; the army of the invaders was desperately short of water and this had affected both the soldiers and the stock; forcing them to fight would tire them further.

Once the cameleers had the Knights chasing them; they would lead them close to the entrance of the right hand Wadhi; deep inside the Wadhi would be four hundred of their light cavalry. While there was no way the lighter cavalry could win against heavy Knights; they were not expected to; they were a decoy to bring the Knights into the Wadhi where the secret of the land would await them. When the Knights found the trouble they had gotten into; the light cavalry would also retreat back to the city.

The plan was gone over many times so that all the forces understood what they had to do and when to do it; none of them would survive a frontal assault by the much large numbers; they would need every man back at the city for the siege.

It took Eventide some time to convince Mahmud to let him lead the light Cavalry; the only part of the plan that could lead to failure was the need for the charging Knights to take notice of the cavalry waiting to attack them in the Wadhi; if they failed to see Eventide's riders, the plan could fail; to this end, Eventide took three trumpeters with him.

The next morning found the large army travelling through the shallow valley; even after a nights rest the army looked tired. The heat and constant travel as well as the ever present fear of attack had taken its toll on the soldiers and Knights but now they knew they were almost within sight of the great city of Wadhi Sufaria; a jewel in the lands of the Emir and the only fortifications capable of stopping them from taking everything from the Emir and opening the road to Jerusalem.

With the knowledge that they were so close it seemed that the army gained a new strength; their travel through the valley felt easier and the thought of the riches that awaited them only went to spur them on further. There was also the knowledge that the two Kahlif that protected the city were only young teens and had little or no experience in warfare on such a large scale.

It was almost mid afternoon when the first Knights at the head of the army saw the small group of cameleers waiting for them at the exit of the valley. The camels were ranked across the exit and made no attempt to advance or fight. The senior Knight in the lead gave the order to advance at a trot; as he did so the Knights saw the cameleers begin to fire their bows at the advancing mass of armoured Knights and horses; at the time it seemed futile to the Knights.

The arrows could never have penetrated the heavy armour that covered Knights and horses yet the camel archers fired time and time again at the advance.

The lead Knights passed the opening to a Wadhi on the right; they were now almost at the point of calling for a full charge at the gallop; as the lead Knight was about to call for the charge; a number of trumpets sounded loudly from the depth of the Wadhi; turning his head he immediately began to slow his war horse.

Ignoring the now retreating archers; the lead Knight waved his arm to the right and began to turn his horse in that direction; the last thing they wanted was to outflanked by hidden troops. The mass of the Knights and mounted men following him also slowed and looked to the right; coming to a halt at what they saw, the Knights began to reorganise themselves for the new threat.

What the leader saw was a troop of light cavalry lined up in ranks across the width of the Wadhi; their light lances were held at the ready and, at the head was a small figure dressed in fancy white robes; it could only be one of the young Kahlif; he was mounted on a jet black horse and had three trumpeters at his side.

The lead Knight called for three wedge formations across the entry into the Wadhi; there was little doubt they would ride right over their lighter opponents and hardly even slow down as they hit the ranks.

The Knights charge began at a walk which quickly became a trot; it took only a few seconds later and the call for a full charge echoed in the silent Wadhi; the light cavalry made no attempt to run or to charge; they sat their horse and waited for the heavy Knights to come to them.

As the mass of armoured Knights galloped down the wide Wadhi; their cries and shouts could be heard all the way back to the long column still wending its way through the shallow valley; it was the signal for the hidden archers to show themselves and start the attack on the baggage train and the foot soldiers left to guard it.

While a rain of fire tipped arrows soured over and into the long column in the valley; the Knights saw they had little more than two hundred paces to meet the stupid light cavalry; what they thought they could do against heavily armoured Knights, the charging troops had no idea. Was this a last desperate attempt to save their city that the young Kahlif would throw all their light cavalry into such a folly? The Knights charged onward.

Eventide and his cavalry watched as the Knights grew closer and still they did not move; the sight of such power and might of the many charging Knights would have unnerved any soldier, but Eventide and his light cavalry showed little fear; they had a plan and meant to stand by it and that meant drawing the Knights to them.

At less than a hundred paces; the Knights began to get into difficulties; the three wedge formations were now at full charge; their heavy steel tipped lances were lowered and only waiting to taste the blood of the stupid light cavalry; the young leader at their head obviously did not know the power of armoured Knights.

The first warning the Knights got was also too late for them to do anything about; as the three wedges crossed the hundred paces mark; the front lines seemed to just fall down; they were soon ridden over by the fast charging followers; the Wadhi became a charnel house as more and more Knights found they could not stop in time to evade the sinking sands that spread across the entire Wadhi.

Eventide and his cavalry watched impassively as Knight after Knight ran into and then began to sink in the clutching sands. Horse screamed and Knights yelled as the sucking sand pulled them deeper and deeper into its grasp.

How many fell to the sinking sands, Eventide had no idea but the full power of the charge had forced those in front to be pushed or trampled by those behind who could not see what had happed. Eventide lifted his hand and called for his cavalry to retreat back to the city.

Turning their horses, they made their way back down the Wadhi to the rear exit leaving the mass of unhorsed and dying Knights to work their own may out of the mess. In his estimation; Eventide thought the invaders had lost well over two hundred Knights to the sand trap; there had been a good reason why no one ever travelled through that Wadhi.

As they rode through the gates of the city; Eventide looked up at the high walls; in every spare place he could see not only the troops of the city; but ordinary citizens who had taken up arms to help defend their homes; some were as young as Eventide had been when he was found by Freeman but all looked ready to fight.

It was not long after that Marchant returned with his archers to report on their attack. Marchant estimated they had killed almost a hundred foot soldiers as well as one more of the carts carrying the siege engines; there were also a large number of provision carts sent up in flames.

It was good that now the city only faced the two remaining siege engines. When he had finished his report; Marchant asked if he could make a suggestion about their resistance. Both Eventide and Mahmud agreed willingly and sat with Marchant while they all ate.

Marchant told them his plan for defence.

"My Liege, I have been thinking for some time on a way to make our defences more sturdy and I think I have come up with a way to surprise the enemy."

"That's good Marchant; what did you come up with?"

"I think if we can get enough carpenters and smiths to work non-stop we can produce some special bows; if they can be made and we have a way to get up to the top of the Wadhi above us; then we can fire at the enemy camp with impunity. They still have at least two siege engines. I know they will take some time to penetrate our walls with so few engines but, if we can harry them from the top of the Wadhi, it will make it that much more difficult."

"Sounds good; what do you plan on doing?"

"I will have to find timber within the city for the bows; the shafts can be made of metal; we will then have to find a way up the sides of the Wadhi then carry all of the equipment up there. I have just over eight hundred archers left, most will stay down here to protect the walls but I will need at least fifty for this new scheme to work?"

"You have them, you can go ahead and organise whatever you need; if anyone in the city complains just tell them the order comes from us." Mahmud replied.

Marchant nodded his thanks and quickly swallowed the last of his food before leaving the table to go and get started on his new plan.

Eventide smiled at Mahmud.

"It looks like we will be a harder nut to crack than those Christians think we will be."

"Never a truer word spoken Brother; if memory serves me right, there used to be a narrow goat track leading up the Wadhi sides; it can be got to from the eastern gate. The enemy will never be able to get around there unless they travel through the middle of the devils cauldron for thirty days and they would not survive that in their condition; even if they knew about the track.

The two young Kahlif left the table and went to walk the towering walls of the city. As they stood above the main gates and looked out into the vastness before them they saw the first clouds of dust and sand kicked up by the enemy army as they finally broke out onto the plains before the city and moved towards them.

The enemy would not come too close to the city walls but would camp a little distance away for protection. The two boys could only marvel at the numbers facing them. The enemy had been strung out over a long distance during their approach to the city; this was the first time that the boys really got to see the numbers they were facing as the enemy built in number rapidly as more and more broke out into the open plains.

The numbers they had killed along the way seemed insignificant to the two young Kahlif as the enemy army built quickly and there still seemed to be no end to them; even as the first dimness of the approaching night clouded their vision.

The boys waited up on the parapets as the darkness enveloped the plains below. The enemy was now getting fires lit and the sheer number seemed to light up the plain like a new sunrise and the numbers were still growing as the night progressed; the city was in for a long fight if the numbers were any indication.

Each day the boys sent pigeon messages to the Emir on their progress and plans for each day; now they were in a state of siege the pigeons would be even more important. The Emir had now formed a large part of his army to come to the rescue of the city but they would still be weeks away before they could fully take the field against such overwhelming numbers of the enemy.

For the next three days there was no attempt by the enemy to attack the city; it seemed they were readying their camp and building their siege engines. Both Eventide and Mahmud felt bad about the one thing they had no control over. Just behind the lines of the enemy camp was a deep fissure that held a small rivulet; it would be enough to supply the enemy with water for some time to come and, while it did not affect the city supply, it meant the enemy would not suffer from the thirst the defenders hoped would weaken them.

The rivulet had been overlooked at the time of making preparations for their defence; they could only hope it would not be a deciding factor when the real fighting started.


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