For round 2 at the 1999 Spring Spears tournament my 1358 Medieval French faced face Larry Megazzis 1356 Medieval French. Hmmm. My army is pledged to return the king to the throne and they end up fighting that selfsame king. This was bound to cause some confusion in my army. Perhaps even a touch of madness...
François sat morosely in the pavilion. He had promised himself that he would get blind drunk, but looking into his cup he realized that he didnt have the spirit for it. He didnt have the spirit for anything. One by one, Pepin, Aoibeann, Childeric and Bertrand tried to console him.
Cheer up, François! Manys the history where events were bleakest just before they turned brighter.
It wasna yer fault. We shouldna gaid sae far off from the main battle.
With improved organization, the army will do better next time.
Dont be so hard on yourself, boy. Just because youre an incompetent leader now doesnt mean you cant improve later...
François managed a little smile. Thank you all for your sentiments. But an army cant be led by one who has lost faith in himself. We will return to the regent and I will resign my commission. Im just sorry that he ever placed such trust in such a fool. He said it with such heaviness that the others knew his heart could not be turned.
It will make for a sad history, lamented Pepin.
Message for you sir! They all looked up. A page boy had appeared in the entrance to the pavilion and now strode forward and handed a paper to François. He opened it and started reading. A very puzzled look came over his face and he read it aloud:
To be called great, every nation must face and vanquish their greatest foe. Who is the greatest foe of the French?
The goddam English of course! spat Bertrand.
Ay, the wannyod Soothrons, agreed Aoibeann.
History is bound to record the blood feud between Englishman and Frenchman as the greatest ever! pronounced Pepin.
Well, if you are referring to an individual, I would say the Black Prince. But as a nation, yes, it would be the English, mused Childeric.
The page addressed François, who still studied the paper. My master would like your answer, sire.
François stared emptily into space for awhile, then he replied: Themselves. As if waking from a dream François looked back at the page while speaking sharply, Who is your master to... They all gasped. No longer a page stood before them, but an old man in a white shift and long, flowing white hair who cackled with laughter. The fool amongst you has spoken wisest! And who is your greatest foe, François? With a parting laugh he vanished.
They all stared open-jawed in amazement at each other, but before any had a chance to speak a soldier burst in. My lords! he cried. An army approaches us in battle order!
Who are they? asked Bertrand.
I do not know, my lords. But if I did not know any better, I would say they were French.
Damn! cursed François. They appear out of nowhere and leave us no time to prepare.
Sometimes the best plans are those where you dont have time to second-guess yourself, boy! Take seven companies of knights and the pavisiers and use them to secure our left flank. Childeric, take another seven companies and detail some brigans and archers to guard the camp. Divide the Bretons between you and fill out your supports with skirmishers. Aoibeann, take six companies of knights and the remaining archers and skirmishers and cover the left flank. Now move!
They hustled out of the pavilion. Aoibeann was the last to leave. She looked back at François who was still seated in his chair. Youll nae stay in camp, she said firmly.
No, said François. But send in my squire. Ill dress here.
After seeing over the initial deployment of the army François rode up on Monfiche next to Bertrand at the head of the commanders company. Any idea who they are? he asked.
Not a one, boy. Lots of knights, supporting foot, peasant dregs, the usual stuff. But I cant make out any of the banners yet. There seems to be some sort of haze over the battle field.
François started to look over the opposing army when a voice piped up by his side: Lots and lots of little, tiny yellow fleurs-de-lys. François looked down and saw a man with a serene look on his face. Too serene. Lots and lots of little, tiny yellow fleurs-de-lys, he repeated. He stood just over five feet. No, more like 5 feet 6 inches François decided, with brown hair. He wore a mustache and beard and although François would not describe him as pretty, he was certainly not ugly.
Excuse me, said François, but what is this about yellow fleurs-de-lys?
Lots and lots of little, tiny yellow fleurs-de-lys, the man said again. Do you know how you paint lots and lots of little, tiny yellow fleurs-de-lys on a blue field? he asked.
Is this some sort of trick question? demanded François. Since the man simply waited patiently for his reply François gave in. You paint the blue field, then you paint lots and lots of... you paint the yellow fleurs-de-lys on top.
The reply seemed to please the man greatly. He broke into a big grin and started jumping up and down and clapping his hands. Oh no! Oh no! Oh no! he said. Do you know what you get when you paint lots and lots of little, tiny yellow fleurs-de-lys on a blue field?
France? replied François, who knew at least the first thing about French heraldry.
Oh no! Oh no! clapped the man. You get a blue field with lots and lots of little, tiny green fleurs-de-lys. Yes. Lots and lots of little, tiny green fleurs-de-lys. And its not Azure, semy-de-lys Vert, now, is it? No! Not at all! Its semy-de-lys Or. So then, how do you get a blue field with lots and lots of little, tiny yellow fleurs-de-lys?
Im sure I wouldnt have the foggiest idea, said François.
Well, first you paint the blue field as you say. Then... Here the man grinned exceedingly serenely, which François found rather unsettling. ...then, you paint lots and lots of little, tiny white fleurs-de-lys. And on top of the lots and lots of little, tiny white fleurs-de-lys you then paint lots and lots of little, tiny yellow fleurs-de-lys. Yes. Thats how it goes. First lots and lots of little, tiny white fleurs-de-lys, then the lots and lots of little, tiny yellow fleurs-de-lys. Lots and lots of little, tiny...
Two men in white white surcoats hurried up towards them, sweeping up on both sides of the man and grabbing him by his arms. Hah! Got you! said one.
Excuse me, said François, addressing one of the white surcoats, but who is this man?
Hes the royal insignia painter my lord, said the surcoat. The other surcoat looked around as if to make sure that no one else was listening, then sidled up to François and said in a stage whisper, We suspect hes gone quite mad!
François looked at the royal insignia painter closer. Isnt that the royal burnisher?
Who, him? asked the first surcoat incredulously. No, not at all. After all, the royal burnisher, hes like, yea tall. With his hand he indicated a height a couple of inches taller than the royal insignia painter.
No, not at all! said the second surcoat. Hes more like this, indicating a height a couple of inches shorter.
Well, the point is, the royal burnisher looks nothing at all like the royal insignia painter, replied the first surcoat.
Thats right. Nothing at all like him, agreed his compatriot. They both looked at François as if they were beginning to harbor suspicions about him.
Well, ah, thank you very much then, said François.
Time to go back to your padded tent, said the first surcoat to the royal insignia painter, and they hauled him away while his gibbering of lots and lots of little, tiny yellow fleurs-de-lys... faded into the distance.
François turned to looked at Bertrand who just shook his head. The strain of war, boy. Some mens minds just arent up to it.
They turned back to regard the approaching army. Well, judging by their camp, boy, Id say they have four battles in their army.
How can you tell that? asked François.
Well, by the size of it, boy! An army with a camp that size always has four battles.
But maybe its a ruse.
But, I conceived of it, protested François.
If you ever want to become a passable leader then take my word, growled the Breton. That army has four battles.
But, where are they? Who are they?
The scouts reported on that before you arrived. It seems that this army has the normal three battles of men-at-arms along with some revolting peasants...
The commoners are the backbone of the French nation, Bertrand. You shouldnt speak of them that way.
Bertrand gave François that look reserved for idiots and commanders in chief. Thats to say, boy, theres a battle consisting entirely of peasant that are revolting against their seigneurs.
And who are their seigneurs?
From the looks of it, the rest of their army.
What? Thats the craziest think Ive ever heard! Why are they fighting with them?
I havent a clue, boy, but there you have it. And the scouts also reported that these peasants always fight in groups of seven companies.
Beats me, boy. Maybe they have a numerologist who thinks sevens a lucky number. And they like the woods. Always found in woods or in rough hills Im told.
So, mused François, if I was one of these revolting peasant, where would I be? He looked over the battlefield closely for the first time. There was not a hill in sight which made François inordinately happy. A wood lay on their extreme right flank on their side of the battlefield. On the left on the enemys side lay another, but positioned more closely to the center. Well, one of those woods, certainly. The one on the left will probably have more impact on the flow of battle - thats where Id be.
Good choice, boy. Aoibeann will still have to scout her woods to make sure theyre clear, but I think our battle will have some revolutionaries to deal with.
Our pavisiers securing our flank are lined up to march right past those woods. Lets hold the troops back and let the enemy advance right past them. That way, the revolutionaries will be taken right out of the battle.
Well, of course boy! Im surprised you hadnt thought of it earlier. And if you prefer to fight on our side of the battlefield why did you deploy the troops so far forward? Again.
I was afraid the enemy would be upon us quickly and our backs would be caught up against our own camp, I think, François responded unsure of himself.
Bertrand gave him the Look. That lot? What makes you think theyre more maneuverable than we are?
Well, I just wanted to be sure...
There are no sure things in war, boy! You were worried about the small risk of not having enough room to fight, and exchanged it for the large risk that our flank will be exposed. Ive seen this all the time, boy. Commanders making choices out of fear, only to be done in by that choice in the end!
That was a very inspirational speech, Im sure muttered François.
The point is, boy, said Bertrand angrily, is that you have to make the smart decision and then forget what fate might deal you in return. In this case, well just have to hope our knights arent quite so eager as theirs and we can hold them back. So, can you make out any of their insignia yet? I still cant tell through this haze.
François peered across the field again. The opposing commanders battle seems to be lined up across from Childeric. Their main battle standard is a blue field with... He turned to face Bertrand, his face gone pale. ...lots and lots of little, tiny fleurs-de-lys.
What? Thats the kings banner. Inconceivable!
I didnt conceive it, Bertrand, I just saw it. François looked back. Now I can make out the arms of Cleremont, de Chargny and Audrehem.
Impossible, they were all lost at Poitiers! Are you sure of those, boy? I just cant see anything through this haze.
No, I see them quite clearly. Theyre quite close now. Im surprised you cant see them. The Breton squinted, trying to make out the standards and arms. First my shameful leadership against the Germans, thought François, and now an opposing army that cant possibly exist. What did Bertrand say the strain of war? I think Bertrand... I think that after the Germans... I mean, I think the royal insignia painter isnt the only one mad... maybe you should handle this one today.
In a daze, François turned Monfiche around and started heading back to camp. Suddenly his shoulder was yanked violently backward and he was spun around to face Bertrand, barely keeping his seat in Monfiche. Bertrand swung back his free hand and brought his gauntlet sharply across the foreside of François helm toppling him face first into the dirt. François struggled to his hands and knees, spitting out dirt and blood. He was jerked back up again, this time Bertrand holding him in an iron grip inches from his face. I dont care if youre mad. I dont care if you cant lead. I dont even care if youre a coward. Youre the commander, François! Sometimes a commander must think, and sometime he must fight. Its time to stop thinking, François! Forget the last battle! Forget the other army! There is only now, François, and now there is only time to lead and to fight!
And forget that youve never had any respect for me as commander?
Especially that, François.
He shook himself angrily from Bertrands grasp, strode over to Monfiche and hoisted himself into the saddle. Monfiche started to fidget and François hauled in the reins tightly until the horse was still. Page! he cried. Wheres a page boy? A youth, face pale with fear, rode up into sight. Tell Lord des Vosges that he must capture the opposing commander alive at any cost! François then spurred Monfiche forward, trotting ten... twenty... thirty paces in front of the army. He halted and turned around to face the army. Form up on me! he commanded. His company, his battle, and on down the line of the entire army the knights and supporting companies moved forward abreast of his position. At that moment, François felt as if he were the most powerful man in the world, but he knew the feeling to be a mirage.
As Bertrand rode up next to him with the rest of his company he asked, Im curious. Why did you do that?
Because Im the commander, and because I wanted to, François replied.
Bertrand grinned slightly. Well, maybe youre catching on to this leadership thing, boy.
But François didnt smile. Well wait here until the enemy passes by the woods, then we charge.
Better tell that to Lord Childeric, boy.
François looked over at the central battle which was surging forward ahead of the rest of the army. Dont you just love that incomparable French esprit de corps? François asked.
Id rather right with it than against it, boy.
François snorted, then signalled his battle to keep line with the center battle, while sending off a message to Childeric to hold his men back. A reply came back that he was having difficulty restraining them, and for the better part of an hour the lines moved slowly forward. François had forgotten how loud an advancing army could be. Hundreds and hundreds of jostling metal packages produced a noisy racket that force François to shout at times to make his orders heard. Finally when the center battle was finally brought under some semblance of control, the right battle under Aoibeann surged forward in turn. Still wanting to present an uninterrupted front to the enemy François reluctantly ordered the left and center battles to move forward in unison. The opposing commander did not seem to have the same difficulty restraining their troops, but for some reason elected not to sit and wait and draw the regents forces into the trap that the woods on the left flank seemed to pose. Instead they elected to move forward as well. In the end, the two armies finally closed to charge reach near the center of the battlefield. The woods would be in play, but the left battles skirmishers were deployed facing the woods and covering the flanks of the pavisiers.
As they approached charge reach, François turned to Bertrand and asked, Do you know one of the things that I disliked most about the fight with the Germans?
Besides everything, boy?
François grinned. Yes, besides everything.
I dont remember hearing any of our war-cries.
Bertrand looked at him curiously. Sometimes I think I know you, boy, then you go and say something like that.
François turned to his right where Coucy was riding. My lord, would you do me the honor of leading this charge?
It would be my pleasure, François.
Coucy drew in a tremendous breath and let forth: Place a la banniere! [Let the banner pass!]
From the central battle came: Kill them all and let the ribauds sort them out!
And from the right battle: The-days a guid day fer tae fecht!
As knights all around yelled out their own war-cries François murmured Kyrie elaison, lowered his lance and with the rest of his company charged into the opposing line.
to be continued
Aoibeann watched with delight as her plans fell into place. Her own skirmishers had revealed the woods on the extreme right flank of the battlefield to be empty. Now they advanced towards royalist brigans threatening to flank them. The knights on this flank were all lined up against fellow knights. But Aoibeanns flank was secured by francs archers who dispersed the skirmishers opposite them with volleys of arrows, leaving the flank of the last royalist knight company vulnerable. They swung around just as royalist and regental knights charged home once more, pouring volley after volley into the flanks of the royalists or closing in with sword and dagger against fallen and isolated knights. Dispirited by the combined attack the flanked knights broke and ran. Thems my laddies! cheered Aoibeann. Nou if we can turn the flank of thons brigans, we micht brecht the whole battle! She watched as her skirmishers bore down on the brigans, hitting the last unit in front and flank. But the brigans fought back valiantly, driving off the skirmishers with heavy losses.
Aoibeann cursed just as the Duke of Rohan rode up to her. Hou gaes the fecht on our left, Rohan? she asked.
Not good, lady Arran, he replied. Weve taken the worst of the fighting and are close to breaking.
Ach. Weel, wumman proposeth but God disposeth. Lets hope that the rest o the army can win the day afore we break. Nae tae do but tae lat at them again. With that, the two charged once more into the fray.
François looked up from the fighting to survey his battles progress. Skirmishers sent to scout the woods had flushed out the revolutionaries as expected, and now engaged them in a swirling battle. Their leader had come close to peril several times but always fought back fiercely and survived. The royalist army had two more knight companies than the regental forces on this flank, and these faced off against pavisiers ranked with forward companies supported by a rear. The flanks of the royalist knights were guarded by brigans who could not stand up to he pavisiers, lending little support to the knights, one company of which charged to their doom early in the fight.
Then, a great cheer came from the ranks of Childerics battle. The standard of the enemys commander-in-chief had fallen! Could Childeric really have captured the king? Who was he? Was King Jean even now captured by the regents forces, impossible as that might be? Time for that later, thought François. The question now was: would the opposing battle survive the capture or flee demoralized? A great frisson swept through the opposing lines, then they fell back to fighting more fiercely that before. Oh well, thought François, Childeric will just have to defeat them the old-fashioned way.
The battle continued for what seemed to be an eternity to François, and he was greatly surprised to learn afterward that the actual fighting after the armies contacted was just over an hour. Finally, the royalist center battle could take no more and broke, eagerly pursued by Childerics knight. With great difficulty, the Alsatian worked to reorganized them for sallies against the royalists still fighting Aoibeanns and François battles. And the news from the right battle was not good: her command was bound to break shortly. François had earlier felt the power a commander has. Now he felt the helplessness they could feel as well, and knew that such a battle could turn on the smallest of events. François prayed that God would be with them when that event came.
Jean-Michel gripped his spear and shield tighter and waited for the next charge of the royalist knights. He looked enviously at the other pavisier companies. The ones to the right had earlier defeated a knight charge and had felt little pressure ever since. But the companies to the left had only to deal with some brigans. They could be stiff fighters, to be sure, but nothing at all compared to the terror engendered by having a herd of knights charging down upon you. At least they might aid us a bit when the next charge comes, he thought.
Jean-Michel felt more than heard the thunder presaging another charge as his stomach turned over. Steady boys. Just hold your ground and youll stand them off again. All you have to do is hold your ground. It was Marcel, the companys sergeant. And then they were upon them! The fighting seemed even louder and fiercer than ever before. This time they will kill us all, Jean-Michel thought. And then his heart stopped. A knight had broken through the ranks of the forward company and was charging right for him! Jean-Michel wanted to run, but was too scared. He hitched his shield higher, ducked his head behind it, jabbed his spear up and closed his eyes. Just hold your ground, he thought while bracing his legs. The collision spun and threw him to the ground, mocking his feeble attempts to brace himself. Jean-Michel scrambled about, his helmet, shield and spear all lost. He grabbed at his helmet, but it just spun away out of his shaking hands. He grabbed his spear, but as he stood up it hit against his leg and fell out of his grasp. Then he felt the war-horse jostling against his back. This is it, he thought, waiting defenselessly for the blow to strike home. When it didnt come, he looked around, expecting the knights sword to smash his skull at any moment. But the horse was riderless. It made its way through the rear ranks of the pavisiers and Jean-Michel watched dumbfounded as it began to graze.
The hand coming down on Jean-Michels shoulder made him flinch, but it was just Marcel. Well done, soldier. Youve unhorsed their companys commander!
Me? asked Jean-Michel. Amazed, he saw his compatriots standing over a knight on his back, one holding a poignard at the knights throat.
And look! Their whole company is retreating! Youve broken the charge, Jean-Michel!
Me? I did nothing! They made their way to the front of the spear line, and as their fellow soldiers cheered, watched as first the opposing battle, then the entire army broke off and fled in retreat.
Look at that, you single-handedly defeated them all! Marcel said, only partly in jest.
But I did nothing! Marcel protested again. He looked down in shame. I even closed my eyes I was so scared.
But you did one thing, Jean-Michel. You stood your ground.
Jean-Michel looked up.
Cmon, grinned his sergeant as the pavisiers started breaking ranks to pursue the defeated foe. Lets go sack their camp while theres still something left.
The commanders entered the pavilion where the captured king was being held. He was still clad completely in armor. Even his visor remained shut. So, who do we have here? asked François. Do you claim to be the king of France? If so, why did you attack the forces of your son who have pledged to return you to your throne at all costs? If not, who do you claim to be and why to you parade yourself as a pretender? The figure remained silent. Impatient, François strode over the enemy king and flung up his visor. François staggered back as everyone else in the tent drew in their breath.
Ha ha ha! laughed the old white man from inside the armor. Very good, François. You and your army have successfully met the challenge of who you are. Now, if you would meet the challenge of who you might come to be, ride south! With another cackle of laughter the old man reached up and pulled down the visor.
Impudent grandfather! swore Bertrand. Who do you think you are? He strode over and grasped the shoulders of the suit of armor but if simply collapsed into pieces. Of the old man there was no trace. Witchcraft! Magery! exclaimed Bertrand. We will report this to Charles as soon as we return. Prepare to break camp. We will head north in the morning.
That is not your decision to make, François said softly.
Bertrands face turned red. Indeed, bo... indeed Lord Fargniers. But you said that you would be returning to Champagne.
That was then, Bertrand. This is now. A commander must always choose his action based on the latest information. I may choose to ride south. Or east, or west. Even north if I thought it to be in the best interests of the dauphin and of France. So, where will you ride, Bertrand?
The Breton did not hesitate in his reply. As my master commanded: at your side.
Then prepare you gear, Bertrand. For tomorrow you will indeed ride. South.