07 Preparing for War
[Zephyr to elsewhere … her dark fur hidden in variegated shades of darkness.]
Duke John d grown to a giant shadow
He shouted, “I am anger and I am wrath. I am hatred and vengeance. I animate you with the power of the Ring. Rise dead.” The dead rose.
And not just intact corpses, severed hands, arms, legs, all moved / crawled / slithered forward.
It was apparent now why Duke John had cared so little for the death of his men: even dead, he could use them as weapons.
… Duke John lied when he said that he ruled the dead. He ruled no one. He was only a vessel, the Djinn Shaitan, who had forged the Ring, ruled Robert completely.
The crowd continued to stare down the Angers road long after the Plantagenets had disappeared. Eventually the crowd dissolved into chatter.
The Lady spoke, “I am Alienor of Ithilǽn, third of my name, only surviving daughter of Arwen and niece of Mortain. King John has insulted us all. He is our enemy.”
The peasants had all turned to face her.
“Who is with me?”
The knights of France stepped forward with a loud clatter. Angouleme Mayenne, Bourgogne. The Barbazon stood back but created a clamor, banging fisted hands against their shields. Arthur’s men stepped back, uncertain how to proceed. France was an historic enemy of the Plantagenets, but John wanted to kill him.
The peasants looked on. They were not agents in any of this. The outcome could result in their deaths so their attention was rapt.
[Heckler: “We are a gathering of many peoples, Franks, Normans, Burgundians. Gascons, Bretons, and Flemish. My own family is ruled by both Angevin and Norman law. The former law says that women must never lead. You’re a women and not a witch. Right?”]
[She paused. All gave her their attention, but few understood her intention.] She removed scissors from a leather purse at her side and began to cut her hair. The blonde-gold tresses floated slowly to the surface of the coarse oak table. Once they landed they continued to move, as if alive, blown by a faint breeze. Sumptuary law forbade common women from having long hair, but said nothing about ladies who cut their hair short, like page boys and villeins. No rule but convention had been broken.
“Under Norman law, the Lady of a Lord who has neither brothers nor sons can lead. Which you all know because I have no brothers and sons, and I lead.”
She let her cape fall to the ground. There was a gasp as she tore off her wimple and removed her silk blouse, to reveal a leather tunic on which was displayed the sigil of her house, the green-eyed cat.
She gestured and her attendant handed her a leather gauntlet. It was heavy, and misshapen, held together by sharp steel studs. But it was her father’s gauntlet; the one he had worn when half the knights present had sworn allegiance to him and his house.
“King John has insulted both Ithilǽn and Mortain. I will lead my troops to Angers and avenge this insult. But we must do this as Normans. Penelope cannot be married until this is over.”
Thank you, Aunt! She had been saved from what she dreaded most. Her thanks was sincere. Despite herself Eleanor was pleased to be receiving positive emotion from her niece.
Robert had risen out of his seat, consumed in anger at his betrothed delaying the wedding. But his will was not his own: the Ring held him back.
Robert thought, Let me kill her.
The Ring replied, You cannot kill her. The Bactrian aelves will kill you first.
I have both Alexander’s Power and Alexander’s Arm.
“No. The Hainault boy has Alexander’s Arm.”
“He becomes a man shortly.”
“Make sure he doesn’t kill you.”
“Surely you – we – can control him?”
“My concern is not the boy-man, it is Alexander’s Arm.”
The Ring seized John and held him in place. He struggled against its power but only managed to shake.
Penelope, watching the situation wondered if the Ring wasn’t pushing her Aunt too start this war. Certainly her human nature seemed to be ruling her.
Penelope was aghast. Eleanor was so craven and wanton. So human.
The Lady threw her gauntlet at Robert’s feet, a challenge lost to no one, and said, “Robert, Duke of Mortain. You are my liege. Will you fight with me in this war?”
Robert was disoriented by the power of the Ring. He slurred his words as he replied, “What war? What enemies?”
“England has stolen the daughter of Angouleme – Isabella. He is with her in Angers Castle.”
Robert stood partially upright, supported by the power of the Ring. Through his limp lips the Ring said, “Yes! If we take Angers castle we will break England’s rule in France.”
Robert listlessly added, “I will usurp Philip Augustus.” These words angered the Ring so it shut him up.
Her insolence could not have been more extreme, but her offer was benign. Of course he had to fight to avenge his tarnished honor. But it was not his fiance’s role to suggest this.
The crowd watched the encounter with rapt attention; many were mortified. If Robert refused to fight Eleanor’s only options were to submit or more likely, to rebel.
I must kill her.
The Ring replied to Robert, King’s John chaos is our right arm. We will kill him, then we will kill France. Then we will be powerful enough to kill the aelves.
The tableau froze. Everyone present was waiting for Robert’s response. He slowly, stiffly bent over and picked up the gauntlet.
Duke Robert wants to kill you, Dmitrius thought to Eleanor.
You will defend me if he tries.
You can kill him without my help. But it doesn’t matter. The Ring controls him, and the Ring knows your strengths and will certainly manipulate your weaknesses. Its manipulating you right now.
Eleanor was still consumed by rage. She thought, Why did you give him the Ring?
Because you would not take it. Do you want it? We will kill him now and you can have it.
What about Penelope?
She is too human. But perhaps her guardian. He is haffen-aelf.
While the crowd waited expectantly to learn whether Robert had accepted the Lady’s challenge, Durand began to loudly stamp King Phillip’s staff against the stone floor. Boulogne, Burgundy and Hainault, all cousins of the French King, took this as a cue and began to clap, their mailed hands echoing sharply in the hall. Shouts of “Fuck the Plantagenets” and “Hurrah” reverberated and then turned into pure noise when Eleanor put on a metal helmet, mounted her ivory white stallion and unfurled the banner of her house.
Duke Robert weakly said, “Our forces will leave for Angers in one week.” He signaled his men to follow him back to his camp and turned to the Giliath bridge. He walked slowly and awkwardly, as if held up by strings.
Seige of Angers – Robert Goes to War Against John
The army followed the Ithil to the Mayenne. It skirted the city of Le Mans to avoid pillaging, and then went straight south to Angers, which lay at the confluence of the Loire, the Mayenne and the Sarthe Rivers. The archers floated on the river on rafts wide enough to carry both men and supplies, especially parts for trebuchets, mangonels and other siege engines, while the infantry marched with the knights along the shore.
Angers castle was the greatest in France, and the source of Angevin power1. On the River side (the Mayenne) it was 660 paces long. Its other five walls had 3 3 3 4 4 towers that were 6 paces in diameter, its walls were 60 feet high, and its towers. They were crenellated, to accommodate archers and counter-seige weapons. There were 50 archers per tower, and two pots of oil. The sixth wall, which followed the Mayenne was sheer and tall, the only openings in the face were small slits for archers.
Ithilaen had three counterweight trebuchets, which French soldiers positioned along the short wall, because the arrows from the defenders made controlling the bridge over the Mayenne – the south wall – impossible. These devices were quickly set up but not armed, because the boulders used for ammunition were too heavy to float, so took longer to move. There were neither serfs nor slaves in Ithilaen; horses had to be impounded and carts constructed.
Mayenne provided two mangonels, which were similar to the trebuchets but required twenty men to operate. These arrived with the first load of stone ammunition.
Time was against the attackers, because the Plantagenets controlled the bridge and the river, and all of the countryside west to Nantes and south to Bordeaux. The north-west was uncertain: did Arthur Plantagenet control Brittany, or the other way around. If he did then a deal could be made to fight his brother, John. If the knights controlled Britany they would oppose Philip Augustus Capet, and his French armies, and perhaps even fight alongside John Plantagenet.
While the French tested the siege engines, the Angevins stockpiled grain and weapons, and pushed the peasants who had flocked to the inner keep ahead of the army toward the main gate; intending to make room for soldiers from Gascony, Brittany, Aquitaine, Poitou, Normandy, England and Wales, who were expected to arrive from the countryside, shortly.
The gate suddenly opened. The French raced to mobilize. To everyone’s surprise peasants were being roughed pushed out of the keep onto the battleground. The Normans were rough with the peasants; they were unarmed and had no choice but to comply, but they swore and resisted as best they could. The gate closed with a clang.
Robert rode up to them. He towered high above them. He carelessly sauntered through the crowd, leaving up to the peasants to scatter. He thought to the Ring, Shall we kill them?They are farmers, they grow your men’s food.
No, they grow John’s food.
After we take this castle they will grow for you.
You’re soft? Imagine that, a Ring of Power that was soft on humans.
I care not for these peasants except as tools. When dead, they are not tools.
I want to be King of France, England and Aquitaine. What do you want, Ring,
Robert tried to give the order to kill the peasants, but his will what not his own. The Ring directed the warhorse back to the French ranks, and when Robert was asked by the Sergeant at Arms whether to let the peasants cross the bridge over the Mayenne, the Ring forced his head to nod. The Sergeant shouted, “Let them pass over the bridge.” The French did not need to use cudgels to move the peasants along. They cleared a path.
The Normans controlled the west side of the bridge, with a round tower. A passage had been cut through the tower tall and wide enough for laden carts and men on horseback to pass through. The passage was controlled by an iron-grated door, which was now noisily being raised. Fifty pikemen formed a half-circle around the exit to the gate.
The pikes and halberds were razor sharp, so they drew blood when they prodded the peasants south away from both the castle and the Norman re-enforcements, which were camped just west on the Nantes Road.
The French force camped just out of reach of the Norman arrows along the north and eastern walls. They did not have the forces to hold the western side of the Mayenne River, which was where the English held their reserves, two cohorts of pikemen and five more of infantry, who could be supported by archers and knights from the fortress. A full siege would be impossible unless the western shore could be taken.
Bring me to the Barons.
I am leader, here. Robert road forward and said tell me.
In public? It is a military secret.
I control these men.
A Bactrian scout has found La Rochefocaud. He is being held prisoner due west in Pictou.
De Blois, Demartten, and a nephew of Burgundy had arrived. De Blois, who considered himself the actual leader of this expedition, both because of seniority and power, said, “Tell the Bactrians to rescue him.”
“They have already done so.”
“Tell them they cannot act on their own orders. They are soldiers in my army.”
“The Lady Ithilaen commanded them, Sir.”
De Blois said nothing. In feudal terms he had no right to demand anything of them. Only the Lady and Duke Mortain could do that. And in the end de Blois was first among equals. Only King Philip Augustus Capet could tell Dukes what to do, and even he could not count on them doing it.
War Council …
We must attack. They grow stronger daily.
You must breach the wall. That is the only way.
Intake conference before the attack …. The power of the Ring did not exist independently of human vice. It mattered who bore it. A weak person would do little with it, or conversely, the Ring could do little with a weak person. Despite his drinking and his lazyness Robert was not weak. When the time came to fight he was always suited up and ready. He had inflicted far more wounds than he had received. In part that was because he chose his enemies carefully, but even that was part of his strength.
For days he had been overwhelmed by the Ring’s power. He had moved and acted like a marionette, but he was not. The Ring was trying to propel him to do things, but it did not yet know what he could do. And he resisted because he did not understand its power, so shielded himself.
The Ring could not be an agent. It had to act through its bearer.
Robert had never lost a battle. The looming defeat enraged him; his rage enabled him to use the power of the Ring.
“The London men refuse to attack. They say death is more certain than if they defy your orders.”
“What do you think?”
“I agree. With due respect we should back off before we destroy ourselves. Focus on controlling the rivers, rather than dying attacking castles.”
The frankness of the man impressed Robert but nevertheless his words enraged him. Not because they were false, but because he hated defeat. If this had been a game of chess he would have turned over the table at this point.
“If we take this castle we defeat the Plantagenets. Do you understand?!”
His anger was like something he’d never experienced before.
The sergeant’s eyes started to bulge. His skin became flushed; his face puffy. He floated slowly into the air. The man began to struggle wildly against the air and then clutched his throat as he began to suffocate.
“Take me to these London men.” The force of the thought flung the hapless soldier forward until he hit a tree. He crumpled and then was animated by the force of Robert’s will, amplified by the Ring.
His megalomania fed on his anger and he grew more powerful still.
When no answer was forthcoming Robert probed the man’s mind and learned where the reluctant soldiers were. They were around the corner from the south-east gate, in the protection of a copse of trees.
He was enraged yet denied what he knew to be true. He had been defeated. But he could control these farm boys. He might not be able to win, but he could inflict damage.
The attack began at dawn.
Despite brutal efforts to clear the field, there were hundreds of local farmers just out of range of the main battle. They were all armed crudely, with scythes and forks. These were a slight deterrent to a knight, but no one mistook them for participants as long as they did not get in the way. When the Mayenne boys, who were local, stormed the south east tower a wail went up and a dozen women ran in to the battle field shouting, “Stop! This is madness! Run!” Several were immediately trampled by mistake, the rest stopped and carefully began to retreat. Except for one lithe young woman with golden red hair who ran through the entire tumult unscathed, and stopped beside the one man from the London companies who had resisted his will.
Robert tried to control this couple, but the effort caused the rest of the attacking men to waver and fall back – or down, if on ladders and turrets. Robert gave up trying to control them, but remembered what they looked like, because they were either haffen-aelf or saint, either way an enemy.
For all other men, if they had a single breath in them he could propel them. So most of the three companies made it to the crown of the towers that controlled the south-east gate even though they were mostly dead. Soldiers were pierced by quivers of arrows in each limb
The Ring cautions, Stop.
The first wave of soldiers attacked hesitantly. The main body of the reluctant soldiers were three companies from Mayenne. Locals. Duke Robert read their minds. They knew all the stories about failed attacks on Angers castle. Many had seen previous armies, from Touraine and Burgundy try to breach the castle walls and die.
Farm boys rushed in first, with shields over their heads. Their job was to protect the archers, who rushed in behind them.
The pikemen held back, just out of range of the Angevin arrows, protection in the event the Angevins released their knights.
To their surprise the Angevins allowed them to raise siege ladders and begin climbing before fighting back, save for arrows, which were sparingly being shot at the attackers from the two keeps, which guarded the wall the attackers were trying to breach.
There was a loud creaking sound. No one could see what was happening. Suddenly wooden cranes moved cauldrons directly above the French ladders. The cauldrons were filled will boiling pitch which was spilt onto the hapless French soldiers, who fell screaming to their deaths.
When the cauldrons were emptied they were quickly and squeakily pulled away, and replaced by two rows of Angevin archers. As this happened a magonel sent a rock crashing into one of the cranes. This was followed in short order by two more rocks, which fell short, killing several French soldiers when they ricocheted off the wall and fell to the ground. A fourth shot took out one of the crenellation and several Angevin bowmen.
But the battle was one-sided. The defenders had the better vantage, and were relentless.
Robert could feel the men wavering, so he held them in place with his will, to fight and certainly die. He moved his reinforcements into the breach caused by the massacred first wave, to the base of the tower where the oil had been spilt, accompanied by squires with shields to protect them.
They fire straight up, where the grappling hooks were, stopping the defenders from throwing down the ladders. He compelled some farm-boys from Burgundy to defy their fear and climb up the ladders. They all were hit by English arrows but kept going, and managed to take the tower. He sent another wave forward up the ladder. Some of these managed to ascend with no arrows. The trebuchets bombarded the neighboring towers and Mortain pressed his advantage.
Trumpet call and the south eastern gate opened. Two hundred of England’s premier knights emerged. Most had fought with the Templars in Acre and Tyre. They had the best weapons, Damascus steel, chainmail and plate armour. The pikemen and archers had been moved to the assault on the tower, which left the knights free to trample the peasant infantry. They made straight for the siege weapons, massacring the operators with their broadswords, and destroying the engines’ ropes. Torches were thrown but the fires did not take. Resistance thickened by the Trebuchet’s so the disciplined knights wheeled away and raced over the bridge trampling its started defenders. On the other side soldiers raced to open the gate, which they opened just as the racing horsemen arrived.
He needed more soldiers, but too many were dead or wounded. The moans of the dying were almost defeaning. He felt disoriented. There were not enough people.
His head snapped alert. He knew what he had to do. He rode slowly over the corpses at the base of the wall, heedless of those his horse stepped on. He was the target of all of the bowmen, but the power of the Ring kept the arrows away.
Robert pulled up beside a dead war horse and pulled the pike out of its throat, raised it and shouted, “I am wrath and I am violence, I will rule Heaven, Middle Earth and Hell. Follow my lead!”
And in that moment his spirit was fused with that of the Ring.
He shouted, “I am your power. Attack! Attack!” His words dissolved into a long unsettling scream.
The turf let off steam and the mud began to bubble. The pitchy mud began to stir. There was a loud low resonance of sound, and moment of stillness, like the intake of a breath, and then the wounded and the dead rose. They were missing hands and arms and legs and eyeballs but even the legless moved forward.
The dead were animated, not alive, unthinking vehicles propelled by the Ring and its agent Duke Robert. The Ring was evil because it could only parody divinity. It could not give life; or bestow souls upon human vessels, but it could move corpses. Regardless of their allegiances in life – to Brittany, to France, to England, to Angers or Aquitaine – the dead began to rise and move toward the walls of the Castle.
Though the missiles could not kill them, they were not impervious, but they had to be torn to shreds before they stopped advancing.
The English pelted them with missiles and fire. They could not kill them, but soon learned they could stop them if they tore them apart. They had to be thorough because intake body parts pressed forward. Of the two thousand animated corpses dead, hundreds reached the foot of the ladders and began to climb up. The most fearsome were those covered in pitch, because they maintained their integrity. The corpses which still had intact vocal cords rasped; it was a horrid sound, like a death rattle.
At first the English tried to put the ladders away from the towers, but they were held in place at the base by hundreds of squirming and resolute severed fingers and hands. Corpses and limbs crawled up the ladders, wounded by arrows and boiling oil, but pressing forward.
Demmarten, De Blois and Burgundy tried to control the situation, but their horses were wheeling, hysterical with fear. Mayenne’s son Jean had already been thrown and broken his back. With the Loire Barons not leading the French soldiers mostly fled; others, ccontrolled by Duke Robert held their ground.
Robert began to compel his wavering French soldiers. Because he had to shift his attention, he momentarily lost control of his dead minions; in the moment dozens of corpses fell from the ladder, but Robert recovered by extending his control over the entire battlefield, one thousand dead, one thousand living. They all moved toward the tower walls.
Robert, his armies in motion, began to exert pressure on the defenders, compelling them to injury themselves or fling themselves off the ramparts. Several did, but Robert had reached a limit to his power. He could only control so much.
Though the dead and the few French who supported them had breached the walls, there were still six large, fortified towers to be taken before the castle could be conquered.
The gate of the castle burst open. Though John was winning the day, the animated corpses terrified him and he had decided to flee for safety.
It was a fatal error. He successfully raced over the bridge to safety, but the knights guarding the bridge – they were far enough away from the battlefield that they were unaware of its horrors, rallied and raced for the gate, which they reached before it was closed. Seeing their moment, the Barons rallied and raced forward, taking the castle.