Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 48

How Gargantua set upon Picrochole within the rock Clermond, and utterly defeated the army of the said Picrochole.

Gargantua had the charge of the whole army, and his father Grangousier stayed in his castle, who, encouraging them with good words, promised great rewards unto those that should do any notable service. Having thus set forward, as soon as they had gained the pass at the ford of Vede, with boats and bridges speedily made they passed over in a trice. Then considering the situation of the town, which was on a high and advantageous place, Gargantua thought fit to call his council, and pass that night in deliberation upon what was to be done. But Gymnast said unto him, My sovereign lord, such is the nature and complexion of the French, that they are worth nothing but at the first push. Then are they more fierce than devils. But if they linger a little and be wearied with delays, they’ll prove more faint and remiss than women. My opinion is, therefore, that now presently, after your men have taken breath and some small refection, you give order for a resolute assault, and that we storm them instantly. His advice was found very good, and for effectuating thereof he brought forth his army into the plain field, and placed the reserves on the skirt or rising of a little hill. The monk took along with him six companies of foot and two hundred horsemen well armed, and with great diligence crossed the marsh, and valiantly got upon the top of the green hillock even unto the highway which leads to Loudun. Whilst the assault was thus begun, Picrochole’s men could not tell well what was best, to issue out and receive the assailants, or keep within the town and not to stir. Himself in the mean time, without deliberation, sallied forth in a rage with the cavalry of his guard, who were forthwith received and royally entertained with great cannon-shot that fell upon them like hail from the high grounds on which the artillery was planted. Whereupon the Gargantuists betook themselves unto the valleys, to give the ordnance leave to play and range with the larger scope.

Those of the town defended themselves as well as they could, but their shot passed over us without doing us any hurt at all. Some of Picrochole’s men that had escaped our artillery set most fiercely upon our soldiers, but prevailed little; for they were all let in betwixt the files, and there knocked down to the ground, which their fellow-soldiers seeing, they would have retreated, but the monk having seized upon the pass by the which they were to return, they ran away and fled in all the disorder and confusion that could be imagined.

Some would have pursued after them and followed the chase, but the monk withheld them, apprehending that in their pursuit the pursuers might lose their ranks, and so give occasion to the besieged to sally out of the town upon them. Then staying there some space and none coming against him, he sent the Duke Phrontist to advise Gargantua to advance towards the hill upon the left hand, to hinder Picrochole’s retreat at that gate; which Gargantua did with all expedition, and sent thither four brigades under the conduct of Sebast, which had no sooner reached the top of the hill, but they met Picrochole in the teeth, and those that were with him scattered.

Then charged they upon them stoutly, yet were they much endamaged by those that were upon the walls, who galled them with all manner of shot, both from the great ordnance, small guns, and bows. Which Gargantua perceiving, he went with a strong party to their relief, and with his artillery began to thunder so terribly upon that canton of the wall, and so long, that all the strength within the town, to maintain and fill up the breach, was drawn thither. The monk seeing that quarter which he kept besieged void of men and competent guards, and in a manner altogether naked and abandoned, did most magnanimously on a sudden lead up his men towards the fort, and never left it till he had got up upon it, knowing that such as come to the reserve in a conflict bring with them always more fear and terror than those that deal about them with they hands in the fight.

Nevertheless, he gave no alarm till all his soldiers had got within the wall, except the two hundred horsemen, whom he left without to secure his entry. Then did he give a most horrible shout, so did all these who were with him, and immediately thereafter, without resistance, putting to the edge of the sword the guard that was at that gate, they opened it to the horsemen, with whom most furiously they altogether ran towards the east gate, where all the hurlyburly was, and coming close upon them in the rear overthrew all their forces.

The besieged, seeing that the Gargantuists had won the town upon them, and that they were like to be secure in no corner of it, submitted themselves unto the mercy of the monk, and asked for quarter, which the monk very nobly granted to them, yet made them lay down their arms; then, shutting them up within churches, gave order to seize upon all the staves of the crosses, and placed men at the doors to keep them from coming forth. Then opening that east gate, he issued out to succour and assist Gargantua. But Picrochole, thinking it had been some relief coming to him from the town, adventured more forwardly than before, and was upon the giving of a most desperate home-charge, when Gargantua cried out, Ha, Friar John, my friend Friar John, you are come in a good hour. Which unexpected accident so affrighted Picrochole and his men, that, giving all for lost, they betook themselves to their heels, and fled on all hands. Gargantua chased them till they came near to Vaugaudry, killing and slaying all the way, and then sounded the retreat.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33