The Sundering Flood, by William Morris

Chapter xlvii. The Battle in the Square

On the morrow’s morn, the leaders of the town met Osberne and his captains in council, and their rede was that they should do warily and not throw the helve after the hatchet. This they deemed best, that they should now, while they might, make strong with mound and wall their quarter of the town, since, until Sir Godrick was come to them, they might even now look to it to have much might against them. This reded the Red Lad nowise gainsaid, knowing well how valiant and stout these men would be behind walls; but he said: “Yet, my masters, the more leisure you have for this spade and mattock work, the better it shall be for you and the work. Wherefore my rede is that some of your chosen men go with the best of mine, and that we issue out of our quarter and fall upon the others, and make a good space clear of foes of the streets and carfaxes that march unto your quarter, which forsooth shall serve you as an outwork to your castle until Sir Godrick comes with a great host and fills up all that and more. And, sooth to say, now at once is the best time to do this, while the foe is all astonied at what befel last night.”

That seemed good to one and all; so when they had eaten and were duly arrayed they issued forth into the streets, and at first indeed wended those that were truly of their quarter, only on the day before they deemed them not big enough to hold all that; but now it was their mind to bring it within their defences. So the Red Lad and his rode on warily, taking heed that they should not be cut off by any at their backs. So at last they came unto a great carfax with a wide square round about it. There they drew up their folk in a long line with a wide face to the foe, well furnished of bows and other shot-weapons; for the townsmen were archers exceeding good.

There was nought in the square or on the carfax at first but themselves; but after a little there entered by the east way and the west a rout of archers, and fell to shooting at Osberne’s, and they back again. The archers of the Porte did not dare to show much face to the Red Lad, but were gathered together in plumps at each incoming into the square. Said the Red Lad to himself: Let us make an end of this folly. And he bade his men leave shooting, and then gave the word, and they rode at the carles right and left with spear and sword. Straightway the archers ran all they might, yet not so fast but that the Red Lad and his captains got amidst them ere they could take to the narrow byways, so that a many were slain. And this was a matter of but ten minutes. But when the horsemen had been along with the bowmen a little while, they heard great horns blowing from the south, and therewith great noise of horse, and presently a great rout of men-at-arms in the best of armour began to come in by the southern road, and the Red Lad’s men were all agog to fall on them straightway, but he made them forbear till they had filled the square over-full. They were not long about it, but meanwhile the townsmen shot all they might; and so nigh they were that, despite their armour, not a few fell, both of men and horses; yet did they fall not on till the square was full of them, so that it looked far bigger than might have been deemed. Then they thrust on, but so close that they might scarce handle their arms, and the Red Lad and his cried their cry, The Red Lad for Longshaw! and rushed forward, smiting and thrusting, till the front of the foemen began to try to turn about if they might; but scarce they could, though if they might not flee they might not fall. And they behind strove to get forward to smite, for they said they were many more than the others; but they could get but little done, for their forward men who had been overthrown were hindering them. Now also the carles of the town laid aside their bows and entered among them with short swords and axes, and hewed and slew and took none to mercy, and it seemed hard to know how that would end, save by all those men-at-arms falling in the place.

Now, as ye may deem, Osberne was more thrust forward than any other, and somewhat of a space he had cleared before him, and his yellow hair came down from under his basnet, and his long red surcoat streamed all rent and tattered in the wind, and Boardcleaver was bare and bloody in his fist, and his face was stern but not exceeding fierce; for he would the slaughter of the day were over. Now he hove up Boardcleaver, and before him was a tall man in gilded armour and a gay yellow surcoat of silk, and his armour was little rent and his sword unscathed in his hand; a stark man he was of aspect, but terror was come into his soul because of the slaughter of the press and that there was no escape therefrom. So when he saw Boardcleaver arising he cried out, “O Red Lad, Red Lad, O thou seeker, let me live, that I may tell thee what thou wouldst give many lives to know!”

Then Osberne restrained Boardcleaver and let him fall to his wrist, and stretched out his hand to the gilded man. But even therewith his hand was thrust aside, for many a man there was mad and drunk with the slaying: and a short, dark, long-armed man of the weavers’ craft, armed with nought else save a heavy short-sword cutting on the inner edge, drew him on to the gilded man’s horse, and brought his sword back-handed across his face and neck, and fell with him as he fell, and mangled him that he was more than dead, and then got up again amidst the horses and fell to work again. Then Osberne, when he saw the tale was done, groaned aloud; but none heeded him, for it was to them but as a cry of the wounded. Then he uphove Boardcleaver again and cried out shrilly: “The Red Lad, the Red Lad for Longshaw and the Crafts! On, on at them!” And that all heard, both his and theirs. And now they of the foemen began to cease pressing forward, and many fled without a stroke stricken, till there was somewhat more room for the rest to flee, but little leave, for even so was more room for the pursuers, and soon was the square clear of all but dead and sore hurt; and the chase endured all up and along the carfax, and mad-fierce it was, and that mostly at the hands of the townsmen, who deemed that they had much to pay back to the men of the King and the Porte.

Now after this Osberne and his drew not back from the carfax, but by the rede of him the townsmen made trenches and walls to strengthen them right up to the said carfax. And for three days the King’s men durst not fall upon them there, save that they tried a little arrow-shot from afar, but did not much hurt thereby.

But the next day thereafter comes Sir Godrick with his host to the help of the townsmen, and rides into the North Gate amidst the joy of all men. And the next day they push on to their outworks and fall on. Three days of battle they have thereafter, wherein Sir Godrick will not suffer the Red Lad to deal: “For,” saith he, “it is thou that hath won, and now we have little to do, but as it were the woodwright’s and the carpenter’s work. Wherefore now I bid thee to rest.” Laughed Osberne, and tarried in the North quarter, while Sir Godrick and his with all deliberation set to work on clearing the quarters on that side of the river; and they were four days about the business albeit the men of the Porte and the King were scarce so stubborn and enduring as they looked to find them.

But Osberne did all he might to keep good order and good heart amongst his men, and they made their strongholds strong to the letter, and looked to it that all their forward places should be ready for battle at a moment’s notice.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 22:07