March, 1291 Outside York
Sir William Wallace
They were winning the war that much was abundantly clear. Most of northern England was theirs, Durham, Bamburgh, Newcastle, Auckland, and most importantly of all Alnwick, all of these places had fallen before them, and now, now there was just one thing preventing King David’s ascendancy in northern England. York. York was formidable, the walls of the place were high and there were archers manning all sides of the city for many hours in the day. After Ripon, William knew that many of the lords present had expected the king to simply begin the charge toward York, and yet William knew the king. He knew his friend was most mightily surprised that the battle of Ripon had been a victory, he was more than aware that his friend had thought they would lose. The king seemed to be more confident now, but of course it was one thing to win a battle in an open field, and quite another to win a siege against a city that had withstood many sieges before.
The king looked somewhat tired, and William could not blame him, for nearly three months they had laid siege to York and it did not seem as if it were going to capitulate any time soon. King David cleared his throat and William listened intently as his friend spoke. “York, the city remains the last stronghold my uncle has here in northern England. The city has to my knowledge never fallen to a siege before, and if the past three months are anything to go by, it is not likely to fall any time soon. I would hear reports on how are stores are faring. Sir William?”
As the expected constable of the army, William was expected to keep track of the stores and supplies and so it was that he looked at the report provided for him and spoke. “We have enough food for another two months Sire, and we have enough water I believe for the same period. However, it would be advisable that we begin planning on either taking the city by force or by subterfuge. With spring coming, the farmers of the land will begin bringing their animals out of their barns. Perhaps the time has come for us to begin raiding once more.”
There is a moment’s of silence and then Lord Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale speaks. “Sire if I might?” The king nods and the man speaks. “Whilst what Sir William says does make sense with the information provided, I would urge some caution. It is all well and good to go raiding when you are coming south, it is quite something else to do it, when the lands behind you have already sworn fealty. To go raiding would be seen as an act of war against those who are now part of your army.”
William bristles slightly and responds. “I am not proposing we go raiding onto lands which are our own my lord. I am not so great a fool as to suggest something such as that. I merely believe that we should begin looking toward replenishing our food stores for now, to make sure that should the siege go beyond the next two months we do not run out of food.”
A moment’s silence and then Lord Robert’s grandson speaks. “That is of course suggesting that we might not be done with this siege within the month Sir William. Surely you are not suggesting that such a thing might happen?”
William looks at Sir Robert and feels something akin to scorn begin to bloom within him, the young man had proven himself during the fighting at Ripon, but William does not forget that the man’s father had turned traitor. “I am suggesting nothing of the sort Sir. I am merely saying what I believe needs to be done. York has not fallen to a siege in living memory, and as the past few months have shown us, the English are not going to be breaking anytime soon.”
Silence falls for a brief moment, and then John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch speaks. “I agree with Sir William Sire, we cannot allow our supplies to dawdle beyond the recommended amount. Whilst we might have some two months of food left, we all know that an army laying siege tends to eat more than perhaps it should. More food is a necessity.”
“And where would such food come from?” Bruce asks. “We all saw the land as we marched here, the English took advantage of the winter that proceeded us, and they took the food and stored it inside York. Furthermore, the land that was left is now somewhat barren. We would need to either use food from newly conquered land or push southward. Neither are highly appealing options.”
“Are you afraid of something Sir?” William asks.
Robert Bruce, named Earl of Carrick by right of his mother, looks at him with such a fierce gaze, that William if he were a lesser man might quail before such a look, instead he merely looks back. Eventually Bruce speaks. “I am not afraid of failing Sir. I am merely stating what I believe to be an honest and true account. We cannot go south without exposing our backs to the English, and we cannot expect those newly conquered north of here to be overly willing to give us the food they have stored.”
William looks at the man and says. “Then they would be guilty of going against their king. They have sworn fealty to the king, and therefore when the king asks them for something, they are honour bound to give it to him. To not do so would be treason. I do not think the people of northern England would wish that to be given to them.”
There is a moment’s silence and then Sir Robert speaks. “So you would force the people to give up their food? Do you know what that would do to them? It would make them resentful and despising of the king’s grace.”
William stares at the Earl of Carrick and asks. “Do you know this for certain? Do you know that the people of northern England would not give their food to their king? Do you know that they would resent doing such a thing?”
“No, I do not.” Sir Robert responds.
“Then perhaps we should take this into consideration. The land south of here is not the option, then we must use our own resources.” William says patiently.
Bruce goes to object, but the king speaks then. “Sir William is right, we cannot expect that our food stores will last the full two months, if it takes that long. We must call upon those who are now under my control, and ask them to bring some more food for us. If they are loyal they shall do so, if they are not they shall fall. Now enough of that, tell me Amlaíb what word do you have from within the city?”
William looks at the gallowglass soldier, he had not been in the camp for some time, but eventually found his way back into the royal army just as they were settling into York. The man is silent a moment before responding. “Thank you Sire. From my investigations into York, it seems the city itself is holding strong, though there is of course fighting within it from those holding court in the castle. It seems Sir Humphrey De Bohun and Sir John De Warrene are both competing for control over the forces in the city. This is causing many to wonder what exactly is happening.”
“Interesting, very interesting.” The king says. “And this tension between the two, it is reflected in their men as well?”
“Yes Your Majesty. It seems that the men of Hereford and Surrey are growing more and more fractious with each month. Hereford proposes open action, whilst Surrey speaks of waiting for more reinforcements from the south.” Amlaíb says.
“And it is likely that such reinforcements are to come?” the king queries.
William looks at the gallowglass and sees how his expression changes somewhat, there is something in him, but he does not speak of it. Instead he responds. “Yes Sire. It seems from what I have been able to gather that a host under the command of Roger Mortimer de Chirk is coming northward. Containing mainly armoured knights and foot soldiers.”
“How many men?” the king asks.
A moment’s silence and then Amlaíb says. “I do not know for certain sire only that these men are coming with great haste.”
The king is silent a moment, and in that moment, William sees the look of anticipation and perhaps dread in the faces of the other men present at the meeting, both Bruces, Comyn, Aonghas Mór and countless others all of who are watching the king , waiting to see what he will say. Eventually the king speaks. “Sir William, tell me how prepared are our men for another open battle?”
Though the question was somewhat expected, William is surprised that the king had asked him the question so bluntly. He takes a moment to think and then looking at Sir William De Keith, says. “They are as ready as they were before Ripon, in fact one could argue that they are more ready. There is a hunger amongst the general man for more action, for more glory.”
This is a statement echoed by Sir William De Keith, who says. “What Sir William says is true Sire. Our men are more ready for war now than they were before Ripon. Should the English send another host to fight us, we would be ready to fight them and win.”
The king looks at him then and asks. “You are certain of this?”
William nods. “Most definitely Sire.”
“Very well then, I believe that concludes this meeting. Sir William De Keith, I want you to make sure the men are prepared for action, and are ready to string out at a moment’s notice. The rest of you see to your men and make sure that those of you who have land now in our newly acquired territories send word that they are to bring more food and supplies. William, remain behind if you would.” the king says.
William nods and remains seated as the other men rise, bow their heads and then walk out of the command tent. Once the last man has gone, there is a long silence that falls between him and the king, he does nothing to break it though, knowing the king will do so soon enough. Eventually the king does speak. “Tell me William, do you feel ready for the constableship when this is done?”
The question is unexpected, and William takes his time to consider the question, eventually he responds with an answer he feels comfortable with. “I believe I am Sire. Why do you ask?”
The king looks at him, and in that moment William sees just how tired his friend is, the king hides it well, and is being hailed as a conqueror, similar to his namesake and ancestor King David the first, but the king is but eighteen years old and bearing the crown and the war must be taking a toll on him. “I ask because I must make sure that I am not giving you more power than you can handle. I believe I have found the reason for Bruce’s defection.” William waits, knowing just how much of a sore topic his father in law’s desertion is to the king. Eventually the king speaks. “It seems to me, that he was given far too much power too soon, and it went to his head. I do not want that to happen to you William. That is why I ask.” the king pauses and then continues. “When we are done here and York falls, you shall be given it as an earldom, and your marriage to Lord Aonghas’ daughter shall go ahead.”
William is once more surprised by the king’s generosity, but merely says. “Thank you Your Majesty.”
April, 1291 York Castle, York
Sir John De Warrene, Earl of Surrey
Winter was gone and spring was here, there were birds chirping in the air, and it seemed that the world was righting itself, but for John De Warrene, Earl of Surrey, the world was still turned upside down. He still did not know how it had happened, how they had lost at Ripon, by rights they should have won, they had the superior numbers and the greater position, and yet still they had lost. The king was missing, or was he, the reports were garbled, but he did know this, support was coming from London, and it seemed the Scots were doing more to harm themselves than anything he or anyone else within the city could have done. Still, John wanted to be gone from here, he wanted out, and he wanted to fight, sweet Jesú it was frustrating being here with Hereford, a man he did not like or even tolerate.
He listens as Hereford speaks, and feels as though he wants to throttle the man. “We must make a move out of here, but we cannot go forward from the front gate, the Scots are camped outside it no doubt expecting us to do such a thing. The southern gate is there as well, but such a thing would look like we were fleeing from them, and that is something I cannot allow.” Hereford says.
“So what would you allow Lord Constable?” John asks tiredly.
“I would allow us to tempt them, to make them think that we are to be leaving. The boy might have won battles, but to give him such a target, well that might in itself prove to be something worth doing.” Hereford says.
“And what exactly would this target be my lord? We have the advantage here, why make it seem as if we are willing to give it away?” John asks.
“Because the boy might be a good commander, might have won many battles, but he is still a boy. We know from the reports we have been getting that his actions in gathering more supplies for his army has angered the people of the north. We know that some within his army are struggling to deal with this siege. We must make it seem as if we are breaking, and we must tempt him into acting.” Hereford responds.
“And if he does not fall for the bait?” John asks. “If he remains strong and ignores whatever traps are set? He is not green anymore, he might be a boy but he knows how to fight and how to win.”
“He will, he will be desperate to prove to his commanders that the siege of York was the right move for him to make. Just because you harbour some sort of treasonous respect for him, does not mean he is not infallible.” Hereford says.
“And what precisely do you mean by that?” John asks.
Hereford glowers at him and says. “You know precisely what I mean by that Warrene. I think there are things going on here that would you rather not tell us about. And I think you know just what they are, and you are trying to hide them from us all through trying to suggest we do nothing.”
John feels anger grow within him at this and responds. “I resent that implication Hereford. I have nothing to hide. I am suggesting that we think about what we do here, carefully, because we know that the boy has gained experience and that he has some very experienced commanders with him. Why should we risk becoming another casualty when we can instead watch him break into frustration? York has never fallen to a siege before, there is little reason to believe it shall do so now. Not to an army of Scots. Let them push themselves off the cliff itself.”
“And I think the reason you are not willing to go forward with a plan that is otherwise sound, is because you are scared. It was your part of the army that broke first at Ripon, your part of the army that allowed for the king to fall through the lines. It was your wing that turned tail and ran. Why now are you not allowing for a chance to gain revenge for that? Why hide behind the walls?” Hereford asks. “There is an army outside these walls, we can bring them in here and destroy them on terms that suit us.”
John looks at the man, anger growing inside him. “And what is there to say that he will not destroy us? The boy out there knows what to do when he is fighting. He is like his grandfather, he knows how to fight and how to kill. We cannot allow him to gain an advantage.”
“What is there to say he will gain the advantage? We know York, he does not. We have more men than he does, even with those from the north coming to his aid like traitors. We still have more men and we have more equipment here, ready to use when the word is given. We could invite him in and then massacre him. The river flows through this damned city for the love of Jesú, we know how to work it, and we can use it.” Hereford says. “What are you so afraid of?”
John feels anger grow within him, tension, frustration all of these things are mixing together, causing him to revolt inside. He does not like taking orders from Hereford, has never liked taking orders from Hereford, and he knows this, hell Hereford knows this. How is he supposed to say what he truly thinks without giving himself up? Sighing he asks. “Alright, say that we agree to go with what you plan, how then do we prevent the boy from being killed?”
Hereford looks at him and laughs. “Who says we are trying to stop him from being killed?”
John feels like yelling now. “The fact that he is worth more alive than dead. The fact that if we take him alive we can force the Scots to come to terms.”
Hereford laughs at this once more. “Bringing the Scots to terms? Have you gone mad man? Kill their king and the Scots will be driven into arguments. The king has a young son, we can use that to bring them on one another. And whilst they are fighting we can reclaim the land they took from us.”
John looks at the constable and says. “You are mad. Mad to think that such a plan could work. Killing King David, would make his people stronger not divide them. Have you forgotten Ripon? Have you forgotten just how hard they fought under his banner? They would come for us, and we might not be able to win.”
Hereford laughs at this once more. “You are falling into the trap here Surrey. You believe that just because of one battle the Scots are united? Come now, Bruce and Comyn are always at one another’s throats, a commoner is now constable of the Scottish army. The boy king has brought more time for trouble upon himself than I think anyone else might have done. We can use that, and the other divisions within Scotland and amongst its commanders to make them bleed.”
Before John can respond, John Hastings, First Baron Hastings speaks. “Killing the king of Scotland is one thing, sorry, talking of killing the king of Scotland is one thing, actually doing it is another. The boy will be heavily protected, and his commanders will know that any attempt on him is likely here. Therefore, does it not become paramount, that we try and separate commanders from the king, and if so how do we do that? We know the commanders fight close to the king, and are only drawn away on his command.”
Hereford looks at Hastings as though he is a traitor. “We do as we did before. We make sure there is a target for the king to direct his commanders toward, and when that is done we make sure that the king has no chance of getting help.”
“Easier said than done my lord Constable.” Hastings says. “We must make sure that the king or his commanders do not become aware of such a thing. And knowing as we do, that they believe York to be the pinnacle, what is there stopping them from being prepared? You cannot argue that Scots are not prepared my lord, for we know from Ripon that they can be.”
John looks at Hereford and sees the growing discontent on his face. Eventually the man says. “We must take advantage of the position we are in now. Otherwise, the Scots will gain an advantage, and we shall look scared of our own shadows. We cannot wait for Mortimer to come with aid, we must take full advantage of the situation we are in now.”
“No one is denying that my lord,” John begins. “But there is a difference between doing what you are proposing and waiting a little longer and acting in a smart manner. The Scots will begin preparing for whatever it is we throw at them. We must make sure that we know exactly what it is we are going to do when they come calling. And they will, of that I have no doubt. Right now, we must unite under a common cause, and we must use that to rally the men.”
Hereford looks at him then and asks. “And what to you, is this common cause?”
“The king. King Edward must be out there somewhere, we know that he is not dead, and we know that these forces coming under Mortimer’s command would only have come, had the king ordered it himself. So we use that as the way in which to rally the men, we make it so that it appears that the king himself is coming to fight here, and we ensure that the men believe that wholeheartedly. When that is done, we ensure the men know who their targets are. As my lord of Hastings said, it is one thing to talk about killing the king of Scotland, quite another to actually do it. We need realistic targets, and we must make sure they are the ones who would demoralise the army of Scots and the king himself. We go forward with this and victory is guaranteed.” John says.
There is a long moment’s silence following this, and then Hereford says. “Very well, we shall do it your way. But I do have one question, to which method do we use? Do we bring the Scots in or wait for them to try and force their way in?”
John considers this and then says. “We shall use a combination of both. Open one gate, make it seem as though we are going forth for a sallying campaign, and draw them, when they are in we slaughter them. It shall be the way to bring the king of Scots within the city.”
Hereford looks at him then and smiles. “Why that seems positively devious. I approve heartily my lord of Surrey. Let us begin planning then, no time like the present.” With that their meeting comes to an end.
The preparations begin with much gusto, John knows that sooner or later the Scots might very well catch onto what is happening within the city, but by that point it will be far too late for them to do anything about it. And so it is with that thought in mind that John throws himself whole heartedly into the preparations. Caltrops are planted, archers man the walls, and sentries are posted, there are demonstrations of the sallying that is to happen, but they occur on the eastern and western gates, where the Scots are spread thin. No fighting occurs until partway through the month, and when the sign is given, John lets loose a terrifying roar and battle begins.