August, 1291, On the Banks of the Garona
Robert II, Duke of Burgundy
The war to reclaim Gascony from the English was going relatively well. Though Charles of Valois had died, they had managed to take Marmande and Langon, the forces that had survived the assault on Agen had joined the King’s force at Marmande, led by the Count of Artois, and slowly but surely they were consolidating their hold over these possessions. The key to taking Gascony, Robert knew, as did everyone else, lay in taking Bordeaux, the moment that fortress fell, the English were finished, for Bordeaux was the main centre for the trade with the continent, it was the beating heart of English occupied Gascony, and so to take it would be to finish the English once and for all. However, it seemed that the King was determined to meet the English in battle to prove to them and perhaps himself as well that he was as good as David of Scotland, if not better. Indeed, it seemed as though ever since learning of the successful conquests of the Scottish King, their own King had become obsessed with striking out and taking the English to task in the field, something Robert was not sure would work.
Whilst the English King was but a boy, the men who were leading the defence of their possessions here, were not, and as such they also had experience from their defeats against the Scots that would no doubt inform their perspective when it came time to fight Robert and his men. Indeed, it seemed as if the King had forgotten that they were fighting in Gascony, not France or England itself, the English might have suffered losses in their own land, but here, here they were not fighting the English per say, but rather they were fighting English backed nobles who liked their overlords and preferred them, to the French. Robert had seen the disgust on some of the people’s faces as he and his men had ridden past, it had not painted a promising picture, and as such, he was increasingly beginning to think that perhaps the plan proposed and sanctioned by the King was not the best one. They had roughly five thousand men with them, or rather there had been around five thousand men at Langon, but then the King had learned of the movement of English forces and decided to split the host, Robert had been placed in command of a host of some two thousand men, and they were to chase the English toward the River Garona and move from there.
It would have been a good plan, if they had actually been able to find the English forces, so far all they had been able to find were empty villages, and deserted roads. A few traps had been laid on the ground for them, and unsuspecting foot soldiers and some horsemen had fallen into them, plunging to their deaths for the river had soon swept them up. They had learned from that, but Robert had a feeling that there would be more of the same to approach them soon enough. His nerves were beginning to fray slightly, he was not sure what to think about certain things, that the men under his command were largely his own, would be reassuring, if he was not convinced that they were being set up. None of his scouts had reported sighting anyone, but he was sure that the English were out there somewhere, they had to be, where could they possibly go? There was not enough woodland to really protect them out here, the few trees he had seen looked scarred and burnt, as if the fire campaigns had begun. It was unnerving, but still he had to move forward, at the head of the host, he knew if he faltered everything would fall apart.
A snap of a twig draws his attention, but he cannot place where the snap has come from, he looks around, but sees nothing in front of him but simple open woodland, it is becoming disconcerting. The Garona is nearby, the sound of it reassuring in the increasingly uncertain surroundings. He moves his horse forward, determined not to stop so as not to draw any unwanted attention. However, just as his horse is about to move onto the next piece of green grass, an arrow comes out of seemingly nowhere to hit one of his guards. He looks around, feeling his heart begin to race, another arrow comes out of the wood and hits another one of his guards. “Archers, prepare.” He bellows. His archers begin forming up, but more and more arrows are coming out of the distance, hitting his men and breaking them down. It takes Robert a moment, but eventually he realises where the arrows are coming from. “Archers, turn to the right. Fire into the wood.” There might not be enough woodland to shade an entire host, but there is enough to shade archers, and the English are fond of their archers. He waits a breath, and then as the hail of arrows continues he barks out a command. “Archers fire.” The sky is filled with the whirring of arrows, as those weapons of death come into movement.
A moment passes and then another, the fire of arrows going backwards and forwards, his men are gaining ground, their superior numbers beginning to show, there are more and more Englishmen falling out of the wood, arrows piling through them. It creates a sense of relief for him, but he gets the feeling that there might be more, that there is something he is missing. As his archers continue to win the joust, he is not sure what it could be that he is missing, but he keeps getting a nagging feeling that he is missing something. As the archers continue firing, something hits him, and he realises the ploy. “Half archers turn left!” he barks, but before the command can be followed, a horn sounds and he hears the drum of horses. He turns to look from the wood toward the river, and his heart sinks as he sees the three lions of England flying closer and closer toward him. “Men about turn.” He barks, his men are slow off the mark, and that costs them dearly. The English meet them with their lances, and Robert can hear his men screaming as they are either knocked off their horses or flattened against the press. He feels slightly sick, but he does not know what more he could do, instead he draws his hammer and prepares for the eventual fight to come.
When the fight comes, Robert is ready, his hammer, which has remained silent for so long, too long even, sings with joy as it feels the crush of armour beneath it. Robert swings his hammer hard, determined to make full use of the strength he knows he has, he swings and swings, and watches and laughs with delight as men fall of their horses or are knocked backwards by his swings. One knight, probably a green boy, who pisses grass, comes toward him a sword raised, Robert knocks the sword out and then flirts with the boy, tempting him into thinking he might let him live, but then just as the boy is about to turn, Robert smashes his chest and laughs. The thrill of battle envelops him, and he loses all sense of perspective. Determined to make full use of the fight that is happening right before him. Perhaps it is that, that rush, that feeling of absolute power that he feels is lacking sometimes, but something makes him break from ranks, charging down toward the river, a select few coming with him, and then before he knows what’s happening, there are eight men surrounding him, baiting him.
It doesn’t take him long to figure out that this was their plan all along and that he does not have the tools to get out, the men who came with him are either dead, or being prevented from reaching him. Once more his battle lust has made him act before thinking, and now it seems that it will cost him dearly. He feels tired, he is not as young as he once was, he is not old by any means, but still, lifting and wielding his hammer takes a toll, and slowly, but surely, the English are taking advantage of that. His body is littered with bruises, his armour is dented in several places, there is blood seeping through the wounds that are either fresh or will be fresh soon. Suddenly his hammer is out of his hands, and there are swords and spears pointing at him. He holds his hands up and says with great reluctance. “I surrender.” He says it in French, knowing these men likely know what he is saying, with his hands, if not his words. Eventually, he is led from the field, even as the battle comes to an end.
September, 1291, Bamburgh Castle
John Comyn, Earl of Bamburgh, Lord of Badenoch and Lord of Lochaber
Grief was like a shroud over him, he didn’t know how to overcome it, how to push past it. He would look around for his father and then feel a pang in his chest when he realised that his father was not there, that his father was gone and was never going to return. That was always a sharp slap to the face, to his ego, to him. He missed his father, and he wished that he could’ve said something more to his father, their last words had not been memorable, in fact if he remembered correctly, they had been arguing about something. That thought always made John angry and sad in equal measure. Still, he was trying to get over his grief, he was trying to be the man his father would have wanted him to be, the man that his father would have been proud to call his son. It was a heavy weight, but it was one he was more than willing to bear. The more he did, the more he felt as if his father was there with him, and that, that was something, even if it was not everything he needed.
That Bruce was still alive when his father was not, was something that was he was also trying to get over. It was not easy, he had spent most of his life believing that the Bruces were the enemy, and then to suddenly have to put all of that behind him, he was not sure how he would be able to achieve that, but he was trying. That was the main thing, he supposed, even if it was not enough, even if there were times when he wanted to ride to where Bruce was and have the man challenged to a duel and try his hand. Or perhaps even against that fool of a grandson the man had, the Earl of Carrick, who had killed his own father, whose father had turned traitor. Perhaps that might’ve been something, but then it would have broken his word, and he did not want that. He did not want the King thinking he could not hold to his word, for what the King thought of him was definitely important to the continued success of his family. And as such, he tried to push those thoughts from his mind.
“Tell me Siward, how are the accounts looking?” John asks the steward of Bamburgh Castle, trying to distract himself from the press of thoughts coming into his mind.
Siward is an old man, a man who had served as Steward of Bamburgh for as long as John has been alive, if not older, and as such, John is determined to get to know as much as he can about the man, and use him as much as possible. The man’s voice is slow and measured when he replies. “The accounts are strong my lord. It seems that the harvest was a productive one despite the war, and that the market is improving with every day that passes. Your presence here has helped strengthen the coffers.”
John nods, relieved at that. He had been slightly worried when the King had told him that he would still succeed his father as Earl of Bamburgh, the place had belonged to the Kings of England for a very long time, and there were times when John wondered how he’d keep a former royal castle going. It helped that Siward was here, the man was a gem in handling some of the more strenuous things that went into running this castle. “And where are the most promising signs of income coming from?” John asks curiously.
Siward looks at the rolls before them and then says. “From the farmer’s market my lord. The percentage that the castle takes from that, and the mere fact that there are more people who are now willing to come to the village for the market, means that the coffers are filling up quite nicely.”
“Were people hesitant to come to the farmer’s market before?” John asks, wondering why that could’ve been.
Siward is silent for a moment, then he responds. “They were my lord.” The man pauses for a moment as if gathering his thoughts, and then he continues. “Having a royal castle so close to their homes, made people quite nervous. King Edward was a formidable man, who did not like certain things being done on his land. As such, the farmer’s market was very much a grim affair, though it has since improved. Furthermore, there are more Scots coming toward the market now, and slowly but surely the products being sold within the markets is changing and becoming more interesting. There was not a lot of difference in the goods being sold before, and now there is. That makes it interesting for people to come and see.”
John nods, understanding that, after all King Edward’s reputation had always preceded him. A grim man, who had been seen as a lion amongst his fellow countrymen, who had been brought low by King David, that was something that John still found hard to believe at times, but still, it was something he knew to be the truth. Curious as to what Siward made of King Edward, he asks. “What was King Edward like to you Siward?”
The old man looks at him appraisingly, his voice level when he speaks. “His Majesty, King Edward was a good man, a fine commander and an even better lord. But he had one small flaw. He did not always keep an eye on the detail, and I think that is what cost him in the end.”
John considers this for a moment and then nods in acceptance, he can see the truth in what the man says. Deciding to focus on more pressing matters he says. “The Earl of Durham shall be coming to visit very soon, I would like to know how much food and wine you think we shall need for such a visit.”
John sees Siward’s face pull into one of concentration as he looks at the accounts before them, as well as the storage records. His voice is filled with a question as he asks. “How many men is the Earl of Durham bringing with him my lord? And how long shall be staying here for?”
John thinks back to the letter that the man had written him, and then says. “He shall be here for a week no more, and I believe he is bringing merely some two hundred men with him.” Whilst two hundred men might seem a small number now, it would be considered hefty during peace time.
“Hmmm,” Siward looks deep in thought. “Then I would say that we have more than enough food to provide for that amount of time, my lord. Though I do believe that there are some vintages of wine lacking, there might be a need to venture out of the Earldom to get those vintages.”
John nods. “Very well, I shall have Adam look into that.” He pauses for a moment and then asks Siward. “Has there been any word from the King or from the north?” Whilst he had only known Joan for a brief while before the war had begun, she is still his wife, and he has not seen her for some time, he feels as though he should have kept in contact with her more, but still.
Siward looks at him evenly, before he responds. “There has been no word from the north my lord. Though King David has written to you to inform you of the fact that Bishop Beck shall be moving to Auckland Castle very soon, and that he wishes for you to have men posted on the border of your lands to ensure everything goes accordingly.”
John looks at the man and nods. “Very well.” He pauses for a moment, wondering if perhaps he should ask Siward for advice, but then decides against it, he does not know the man that well, and indeed, what business does he have discussing his marriage to Joan anyway? Instead he merely says. “Very well, that is all for now Siward, you may go.” The man bows low and then leaves the room. John finds himself lost in thought, he wonders why Joan has not written to him, he remembers how when they were on campaign, mother would always write to father, and how father would smile when he read mother’s letters. John had wanted to write to Joan, but he had never known what words to put down on paper, what could he say to her that would make anything happening before them make sense? Joan’s father and brother had died because of this war, that could not have been an easy thing for her to go through, and through it all he was with the King or his father, planning and plotting and fighting. As if that decides it, he takes a piece of paper and begins writing a letter, the first one to his wife, hoping that perhaps this might build something between them. It takes him about five tries, but eventually he finds a letter he likes, and he seals it and decides to send it off to Joan as soon as possible.