Blood Of The Lion

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Fleur De Lis

January, 1291, Marmande

King Philippe IV Capet

Marmande was the beginning, the beginning of the end for the English. For too long they had remained in France, and it had grown on his nerves. His forbearers had managed to drive them off from Normandy, Brittany and elsewhere, but still they held Gascony. That angered he, it really angered him, and he was determined that by the end of this year, he would hold most if not all of Gascony. He would not allow the English to remain here impeding on his authority. Their king was near death, or was dead, and a boy was next in line, he would reap the benefits from what the king of Scotland had sown. It was with this in mind that he had called a meeting of his commanders, the plan to divide the army was a sound one, but the question was, which way either host should go.

“Garona flows between Marmande and Langon, and as such would make for a difficult crossing. The English no doubt have their best men waiting there for us, whilst Libourne sits on the edge of Dordogne, and as such might well be where we shall find Leybourne. I would hear where you all think the two hosts should go.” Philippe says.

His brother as expected speaks first. “I believe sire, that Libourne would be the easier of the two to be taken, and as you are the King, Libourne should be where your host heads. We cannot risk giving the English a chance of some victory, and sending your host off to Langon would give them that. As you have stated sire, the Garona flows between here and there. Perfect chance for the English to ambush us.”

Philippe looks at his brother trying to assess whether there is some ulterior motive for what he says, but his brother’s expression is neutral, and as such he finds himself wondering at that. Raoul de Clermont, the Constable of France however, thinks differently it would seem. “Whilst the Count of Valois’ concerns are valid, it would look worse to the men if they were to be taken to Libourne sire. You are their king, and they are fighting for you. Send them to Libourne and they might well believe that you do not believe in them. That would change their confidence.”

A valid point Philippe must admit, and yet his brother replies most heatedly. “They would do well to remember that it is the king who decides what is and what is not to be believed Sir Constable. If His Grace the King wishes to take Libourne then they will fight with all their might. There is no excuse for a lack of confidence. That the king has asked them to fight for him is a sign that he holds them in great confidence.”

Clermont looks at his brother with some exasperation. “Forgive me Count, but I do not believe you understand what I am saying. The soldiers within this army are here because the king has asked them to come. The division of the army whilst somewhat sensible has already caused some within it to question the king’s faith in them.” Here Clermont looks at him and says. “They know you are doing this with good faith, but still, common men are apt to question when they do not understand.” He turns back to Charles and continues. “The original plan, the one that the soldiers are prepared for is to go to Langon under the king’s banner and to attack. They are not thinking of the change, or that the change is even possible. Such a thing could well undermine their confidence and that of their commanders.”

Another valid point, Philippe concedes, and with it he begins feeling the old doubts creep in, hesitancy and a question of what Louis would do. His older brother always seemed to know the answers to everything. Charles however, it seems is not convinced of this point. “If the commanders are not able to accept this change, then they should not be commanders. It is the duty of a commander to know how to adapt to change. If the king should wish to change course, it is his right, the men under him merely accept this and go forth.”

“And if this change brings them back to the main question of whether the king believes in what is happening?” Clermont asks. “You are young Count, you do not yet know how easy it is for a person preparing for battle to be shaken. The soldiers who are fighting this battle are preparing for something, which they either know or do not. And those who do not are beginning to question the path they have chosen. Giving them something with which to cling to, the certainty of their actions and the path laid before them, will make them more secure, and more willing to fight.”

Charles seems to about to rebuke this statement when, their cousin Robert, Count of Artois speaks. “If I might interrupt here sire?” Philippe nods and the man continues. “I agree with Sir Constable. Changing the direction of the battle plans and the army route, would only serve to confuse the soldiers and the commanders within the army. It is ill advised, and would only help the English. Should it be Sir Hugh or even Sir Charles who are commanding the English host, they would expect such a change.”

“And if the king dies? What then? What becomes of his army should he die under English swords or arrow fire? The army would break no doubt.” Charles says.

Philippe considers all of this, he remembers the carnage that came from Marmande, and the after effects, and he knows that whilst his brother means well, his brother also wants glory for himself. As he considers all of this he reaches his decision. “Sir Raoul, do you believe that the men are more than willing to cross the river, even in the height of winter?”

“Yes Sire I do.” The constable responds.

Philippe considers this and then responds. “Well then my mind has been made. Charles, you and Sir Robert shall command the host that rides for Libourne, take the town as bloodlessly as possible. I shall command the host that marches for Langon, and I shall take it.” As he sees his brother about to protest he says. “That is final, we march within the hour.” He dismisses the men from the room, and then makes his way to his own rooms, where his squires are there prepared and ready. His thoughts are elsewhere as they fit him into his armour, he thinks of Joan and their son Louis, his heir and the king should he die during this campaign. He knows there are a lot of risk associated with this campaign, but he must finish what his namesake started. The English have spent far too long in France, it is time they were removed, once and for all.

Once he is armoured, he takes his sword, sheathes it and then walks out of the room and down the steps toward where the horses are already prepared and waiting. He sees his brother there already mounted and ready, his men and commanders around him. Philippe nods at his brother and says. “God speed brother, may the Lord see you victorious.”

“And you Sire.” Charles responds. Philippe watches as his brother having gotten his consent, now leads his men from the courtyard and out of the gates, toward Libourne. Philippe watches him go and feels something within him stir then, his brother is rash, that he has always known, he just hopes that his brother will not do something as rash as he did when they were boys. Philippe shakes his head then, what has come has come, and there is no time to dwell on the past. He mounts his horse when presented it, and then takes a deep breath. The gates are still open as commanded, Philippe takes a breath and then calls out to his commanders and men. “Today we ride to do God’s work. The English are out there cowering in their town and walls, they are foreigners on our soil, it is time to remove them from our lands.”

There is a lot of cheering at this, and calls of. “For the King! King Philippe! For France!” Philippe gives a small smile, and then leads the men through the gate and out of the town. Some eight thousand men are riding with him now, through the countryside, which is full of snow. Snow, he gives a small laugh then, snow might well decide the course of this war. If reports are true, the Garona is frozen, though whether it will hold under the weight of the armoured force coming toward them is another thing.

As they continue to march through the snow, Philippe wonders at where his rival is. King Edouard. A fierce fighter, and a great commander, the man’s disappearance following the battle of Ripon, is surprising, and somewhat uncharacteristic of the man, from what he has heard. He wonders if this is some trap or something else. If the man is still alive there somewhere, then he will come back and try and take Gascony back, and that is something Philippe looks forward to, the clash between him and that man.

As the hours tick by, Philippe can see the sun beginning to lower itself in the sky, and he knows that soon enough they will have to come close to the Garona or they shall face trouble. He looks at the constable and asks. “How much further is the river from here Sir Constable?”

The constable who rides beside him is silent a moment and then says. “I do believe Sire that the Garona is not too far ahead. We should be there quite soon.”

Philippe nods. “Good, very good.” Silence falls on them then, and they continue riding on, through the silence and the snow, the sun providing some form of light, eventually the river comes into view and Philippe calls the army to a halt. There are parts of it that are frozen and then there are parts which are not. He hesitates for a moment and then says. “Tell the men to find places where the Garona is frozen, and to cross there. The foot are to go first, and then the horse.”

“Yes Sire.” The constable responds, and the order is barked out across the army.

Philippe watches as the foot soldiers cross the ice tentatively, and he feels the first tendrils of fear rise inside of him. This is proving to be far too easy, there should be more resistance here, more fighting, the English should be commanding defence here, that they are not is making him wonder now. Just as another set of foot are crossing the frozen water, it clicks. “Call them back.” he says to the constable.

“Sire?” the constable asks surprised.

“Call the men back now, it is a trap.” Philippe yells.

“Sire, we can’t they’ve crossed now, to come back would cause confusion.” the constable responds.

Just as Philippe is about to respond, arrows pierce the men on the frozen water, they fall to their deaths then blood oozing from their wounds. Philippe watches in horror as the same happens to the men who crossed the water, he watches powerless as good men are brought to their deaths. And then a horn sounds and English forces are charging toward them, emerging from the snow as if they are the demons of hell. Foot soldiers who are charging toward them, their faces painted supposedly. Philippe can hear men screaming near him, he knows he should retreat, but he cannot move. He is stuck to the ground, his horse stuck as well, it seems they are going to be killed here as well. And then an arrow lands near him, and that brings him from his darkness into the light.

February, 1291

Charles, Count of Valois

Snow had delayed their progress, it was madness this, marching off for Libourne now, it was winter still, though the snows were beginning to melt. It was cold, and Charles could not blame his men if they felt as though they had drawn the hard way in this campaign. His brother’s uncertainty was beginning to show, Charles remembered how his brother had looked toward all but him for advice. Charles also knew that their brother Louis would never have done such a thing, Louis would have made his own thoughts and judgements from the information, like a true king, he would not have gone asking any old man for their opinion. Charles hungered for the throne, or for the crown, any crown, he wanted to prove himself, and he was getting desperate.

He could see Libourne, it was not too far away, but the snow was making it difficult to think how things could improve from here. Charles wanted warmth, he wanted the warm arms of a woman, and he wanted to fuck someone, but there was no one to fuck. The whores who he had been told came out on campaigns were not here now, they were gone, winter had driven them inside, he was angry, as were his commanders. They felt slighted, and he knew that he could if he truly wanted to, stir up some dissent within the army toward his brother, but he was not going to do that. He was not going to give that fool Raoul the satisfaction of such a thing. God he was tired.

His horse was tired, they were all tired, but still they kept marching, Libourne should be relatively easy to take, from what their spies had said there were very few men within that town, Sir Hugh or Sir William, whichever one it was, might well have drawn them elsewhere, to protect somewhere such as Bordeaux, and Charles could not blame them truth be told. He could see the wisdom in what Philippe was doing in attacking Libourne and Langon, in closing off two towns close to the main one, but it was dreary work. As they continued riding through the snow, the town came closer into sight, and Charles calls out. “Prepare the rams. We shall begin this battle soon.”

He looks up into the sky, the moon is still there, but the first rays of the morning are coming. The Count of Artois speaks then. “Are you sure that is wise my lord? The men are tired, we have been riding for most of the night. Surely a rest could do us some good?”

Charles casts a disparaging look at the man and responds. “We have been riding for nearly a month. We shall take this town before the English can think of responding. We must do it now, and not later.”

The Count of Artois is a big man, but he merely sighs. “Very well, we shall do as you say. Which part do you want prepared first?”

“The left and the right will go in together. I do not want them to get tired and lapse. Two attacks are better than one on that damned gate. The foot shall ram, and the horse and the archers shall pepper the defences.” Charles says.

The count nods and then the orders are passed down the line, Charles watches as the Great War animal stirs itself. The men who had been drowning in snow and despair, coming awake with the call to arms. He hears their cries and their shouts and the preparation, and it is music to his ears. The time for being subversive is over, the time for action has come. The men move toward the town much quicker now that they have an objective in sight. They begin pushing toward the town, the snow is not as much as of obstacle as it was before. In fact, it is only another thing to be pushed passed. On they go, marching through it, the drums of war are sounding, and Charles feels alive. So very alive.

The town comes more and more into sight, the men are screaming now, roaring their cries of provocation, and Charles watches as the rams hit the gates. The walls shake, and rubble falls to the ground. Again, and again the rams hit the gates, stirring the sentries from their slumber, arrows are loosed and though some men are felled, more come to take their place. Charles looks at the Count of Artois and the order is roared, arrows are loosed at their foe, and the archers on the walls either fall or survive. Charles barks more commands, and soon enough the rams have done their duty, the gates are open.

Charles watches as men stream into the town, and he soon follows leading his own section of men in. Arrows are fired, but they sore past him, hitting other less fortunate soldiers. He unsheathes his sword and begins cutting down those men who come before him, they fall to their deaths, or lose their limbs, and he feels powerful. Power resonates through him as he rides through the gates and into the town, cutting down more men that come to face him. Arrows are flying, chaos is soon to engulf them all, but on they go, fighting, killing and bleeding. The great push comes and soon enough, it is all about the instinct to kill.

Men come before him and are felled by his sword, power echoes through him, it seems that there is not a time for anyone else, but he. They run through the enemy, the town is in chaos, he can hear the sounds of bells ringing somewhere close by, a call for help, a call that will not come. Not now, not until it is too late for them. On they push, the army at his command, they are swarming over the English and those traitors who would fight for the king over the water. His men and he are revelling within the bloodshed, cutting down men and charging through it all.

His sword is covered in blood, his armour is caked in dirt, and still he rides on. Arrows have given way to spears, and swords. The English are struggling, he knows that they are winning, the English are breaking, they are turning in on themselves, forming into something not quite real, and yet not quite the same either. His mind is heavy, but his heart is pumping full of life. Tiredness and energy fight inside him for power and control. The thrill of the fight is keeping him awake, but his body is screaming for rest. His horse it seems might well be the same. He feels her beating beneath him, he feels her tiredness, and how she is pushing through all of this for him, and how their togetherness is what is keeping them going, what is keeping them strong.

Arrows hit his horse then, causing her to buckle, he manages to just about pull himself from the saddle and roll away before his horse falls and crushes him. His heart is thumping, his helm might well have fallen, for the air is cold on his face. He picks up his sword, and moves forward through the throng. Chaos, absolute chaos is abundant here, it seems that the English are more willing to fight than he thought. The cold air is making him shiver, but the warmth of the dirt on him is making him sweat. It is quite a contradictory thing to feel, he does not quite know how to feel about that, but as men come charging toward him, and he feels as though he does not care.

All that matters now is killing as many Englishmen as possible and moving towards the centre of the town, take the centre, and the town is theirs. He moves swiftly, culling those who come before him, taking no pity on the weak or the innocent, the battle lust is there before him. It is inside him, and he allows it to take control of him. He swings his sword, and removes a man’s hand, he swings his sword and another man falls to his death. On he goes, he feels as though possessed, as though he has become God’s messenger of death, he swings his sword and more men fall. He takes his own fair share of blows, but nothing that is enough to fell him. Charles does not know where the rest of his men are, but he does not care. He is winning this battle all by himself, he cuts through another Englishman and then another, the centre is so very close, so very, very close, on he goes, on and on and on.

His body is failing him though, the sun is rising, but his mind is beginning to grow weak from tiredness. His arms groan as he lifts his sword up to fight, he tries to fight through this, but it would seem that the march was too much for his body. He is a young man, but winter is the season of the devil, it would seem, on they fight, through the snow covered ground, but his sword disappears and then he is falling, falling, falling. Blood is on his face, the snow is wet, and there is a sword through him, his last thought is of victory, and then the world turns black.

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