We have a special edition of Robot Viking fiction today, as Ryk Perry details an incident in the life of an unlanded knight. Life as a knight wasn’t always glamor and glory (though it was a hell of a lot better than what the peasants got). This is the first part of a series, so if you enjoy it, let us know in the comments.
This story is closely tied to an earlier set of articles, the first of which described the economic realities of knighthood. The second offered a series of adventure hooks and game rules for using knights in 4E D&D.
You can download this story as a pdf.
Sir Reimund’s Tale, Chapter 1 — Robber Knight
by Ryk Perry
All was quiet in the pre-dawn hour. Three men crept slowly upward along a path that was little more than a game trail. Silence could mean the difference between life and death for them. As the slope ahead leveled off, the lead man motioned for his companions to stop. Without waiting to see if they complied, he set aside his bow, a monster of a weapon six feet in length, and crept forward on his belly. Soon he was lost to sight. The other two waited anxiously for any sign of their companion returning or the hue and cry that would indicate failure.
Time seemed to stand still, minutes seeming like hours as the two men sat without moving, scarcely daring to breathe. At last their scout crept back into sight. “Hsst, Sir Reimund” came a whisper that sounded like thunder.
“Here Lars, softly” the youngest man waved to his wayward companion wondering what would have caused him to break his silence.
“They are all up in the camp. They don’t even have pickets out. You should be able to bring the others up with little chance of being heard if you’re careful.”
“Good Lars. What about the camp? Is there another way out?”
“No. They are in a small box valley between the summits of three hills. They won’t be able to climb those slopes quickly enough to get away and not at all with horses.”
“What about numbers?” The oldest of the three, a grizzled veteran of many campaigns, spoke for the first time.
“There are about thirty men, Gervas. Most look to be sleeping off sour wine. Also a few women, but whether they are prisoners or camp followers I can’t tell.”
“There is little difference in camps like these” Gervas snorted.
Sir Reimund was making calculations in his head, considering what changes, if any, he should make to his battle plans. “Lars, will you be able to get on the upward slope quickly and without detection?”
“Aye, as lax as they are, it should be child’s play.”
“Good. Head up there now. When you are in a position to cover the whole camp, launch an arrow into that dead pine over there. We’ll use that as our signal to begin. You should be high enough that their bows won’t be a danger to you while you can wreak havoc on any that are trying to flee. Otherwise you deal with their bowmen and we’ll deal with the rest.”
Lars nodded but didn’t set off immediately. “Are you still planning to give him the option of an honorable fight, one-on-one?”
“That is the baron’s command and I intend to honor it.”
“But his bowmen will have a clear shot at you and your horse.” Lars did not sound happy at the prospect, though in another situation one of his greatest joys was bringing low a mounted knight with his bow.
Sir Reimund nodded “I realize that, but it is a worthwhile risk. If they see their leader fallen, the rest might well surrender.”
“Not too likely,” Gervas interjected. “They’ll know that they can only expect the noose for their banditry.”
“Well, even if they don’t, Sir Lamprecht was once a respected knight. I am willing to offer him a chance to try to regain some of his lost honor.” Sir Reimund felt rather sorry for Sir Lamprecht. He was getting on in years but had never been granted a fief by any of the lords he served. Land was too scarce and almost invariably went to family no matter how honorable one’s service. Reimund knew that only too well.
“Damn his honor” Gervas spat. “He ain’t paying our wages. You are.”
“Yes I am. And if we don’t do as the baron commands, he could well decide to alter the fee he has offered me to bring Sir Lamprecht to justice. Then we’d all be decidedly short of coin.” That was a very real possibility with uncertain results. Lars and Gervas followed Sir Reimund out of considerable loyalty and shared history. But they were still hired retainers. If he had no coin, they would likely leave him, loyalty or no.
“You could at least go after him with the palfrey, they’re a hell of a lot cheaper to replace.” Gervas seemed inclined to argue this to the end.
“I don’t at all care to have Augustus pricked by their arrows but I’ll need him against Sir Lamprecht.” Sir Reimund was becoming impatient with his retainer’s obstinacy. “He still has his own charger, and unless it’s in very bad condition, it will plow over a smaller horse.”
“Bah, our palfreys are solid mounts,” Gervas retorted. “You just want to get up on your own high horse and charge into glory.”
“Enough!” Sir Reimund was tired of hearing his retainer’s objections. Gervas had always harbored bitterness because his old master refused to knight him, which sometimes translated into a disdain for any chivalrous ideals that clashed with his own pragmatism. Still, Gervas was not a knight. His long loyalty caused Reimund to sometimes be more lax with him than was strictly appropriate, but there were limits.
“Head off Lars. We’ll get the rest of them.”
Sir Reimund led his force quietly up the trail through the growing light. Dawn was not far off now. He had told his squire, Konstantin, to lead the horses up a little bit after the rest of the men. They were likely to make a good deal more noise than the men would and they were also more susceptible to arrows.
The small band crept to the edge of the clearing which the gathering light revealed to be about 90 yards across, hemmed in with steep slopes on the north, east and west sides. The south from whence they came was a gentler slope downward. All sides were covered by woods with relatively thick undergrowth. Lars’s earlier reconnoiter revealed that this was the only trail and therefore the only quick egress from the field. It was well hidden but also a potential deathtrap to the loser of the fight.
Lars was evidently already in position, because as soon as Sir Reimund crept to the edge of the clearing, an arrow struck the dead pine, standing alone about 10 feet from the mouth of the trail. Sir Reimund waved his men forward and they quickly spread out, overlapping their shields and forming a miniature shield wall nine abreast. Reimund took his place at the center with Gervas anchoring the right and Markus, another veteran, holding the left. The wall advanced to the right of the pine and stopped, Markus’s shield nearly scraping the bare branches. Sir Reimund looked behind and saw that Konstantin had brought the horses near the edge of the clearing about 10 yards back.
The camp was stirring though no cry had been raised. So far no one had taken notice of the men-at-arms. In the light he could see about a half dozen figures staggering around, sleep gummed eyes trying to find a place to relieve their bladders that wasn’t a neighbor’s bedroll. There were about a half dozen horses as well, picketed at the far end of the clearing. Everyone else was still sleeping off the foul wine that chased away their sorrows.
Reimund looked at Blaise who stood to his left and nodded, then stepped out of the line. Blaise shifted to the right and the left of the line covered down. Sir Reimund strode forward five paces and shouted “Sir Lamprecht!”
There was no immediate reaction from the camp. Lars had been right, they were horribly lax. Their earlier caution had been wasted. Clearly his warriors could have marched right in and slaughtered the brigands. They might still be able to do so before any sort of defense was organized. But his orders were clear; Lamprecht was to be given a chance at honor.
“Sir Lamprecht!” Sir Reimund strode forward a few more paces.
From the ranks he heard Gervas call his name. Gervas knew better than to challenge his command, but the meaning was clear enough; damn Lamprecht’s honor, let’s just gut the bastards.
Reimund ignored his man-at-arms and took yet another step forward. “Sir Lamprecht!” They must have thought he was a member of their band and were too muddled and disinterested to care why someone would be shouting their leader’s name.
“Lamprecht!” Finally, someone seemed to be taking notice. There was shouting now from the camp, and more figures were standing, some trotting to and fro. Weapons began to appear and finally a gravelly, sleep clogged voice shouted back “who seeks Sir Lamprecht?”
“My name is Sir Reimund, in service to Baron Hoesfeld. I have come to arrest you as an outlaw!” Now the camp was moving. Men scrambled to get their weapons and shields. Some tried to fumble into worn-out armor.
“You seem to have over estimated yourself Sir Reimund. I see less than a dozen men; I outnumber you three to one!” The shields behind him shifted slightly. Lamprecht’s jibe had hit home. No one wanted to be outnumbered; that meant your shield wall could be flanked. Even so, numbers weren’t everything. Lamprecht’s advantage in numbers was illusory.
Most of the men with Lamprecht were ruffians and peasants turned to banditry. Only a few would have any real training and be able to stand in the shield wall. Many likely didn’t even have shields. Some might try their bows from a distance but they would be in for a rude surprise. Lars wouldn’t let them fire with impunity. And most of Lamprecht’s men would be poorly equipped. Very few, other than Sir Lamprecht himself, would have mail, and those suits that they did possess were likely to be in very poor shape. The rest would have some sort of leather, possibly reinforced with metal plates or rings, or thickly quilted cloth as their only protection. If he attacked right now most would only have their small clothes, though by the time a single combat could be arranged, they would have had time to put on whatever armor they had.
No, Lamprecht’s force was not so well situated as his own. All of his men save Lars wore at least a mail shirt and they had all been trained in the shield wall. Even young Blaise had been taught to stand in the wall with his shield overlapping those of his neighbors. That shield wall would offer considerable protection from the missiles that the brigands might launch at them. And once the melee was joined, the bandits who opposed the wall would offer more protection from missiles.
And in any event, Sir Reimund was planning on dealing with the best trained warrior before shield walls could even be joined.
“If you want to test your convictions, you are welcome to try! But I have an offer for you and your followers!” Offering terms should rightly have been done between the leaders of the opposing forces under a flag of truce, but Lamprecht was an outlaw and he could be lawfully killed out of hand by any with the ability to do so, making the regular conventions inapplicable to him. Plus, Sir Reimund wanted all of Lamprecht’s men to hear the offer and realize that they needn’t all die here or on the gibbet.
“Should you choose to surrender Sir Lamprecht, you will be offered the headsman rather than the noose! And for your followers, only one in six will hang! The rest will only loose a hand!” The loss of a hand might well be tantamount to a death sentence anyway, particularly for men who were already without lawful employment. Even so it was a fair sight better than certain death by sword or noose. And such an offer might possibly persuade the rest of the band that resistance here would be unwise. It wasn’t very likely, but it was worth a try.
There was a commotion within the camp. Sir Lamprecht was arguing with some of the other brigands. Lamprecht had little to lose by resisting here. Axe or noose, he’d still be dead. Though the axe was considered a more noble form of execution, Lamprecht had no living kin so it was of little value to him.
Again, Reimund felt a stab of pity for Sir Lamprecht. He was a landless knight with few prospects. A knight was not allowed to marry without his lord’s permission and lords frequently withheld such permission for the landless knights. They might even withhold such permission from the landed knights, for if a knight died without a lawful heir, the fief would revert back to the lord, who always had younger sons and sycophants seeking favor.
Lamprecht was a man-at-arms who had been knighted for devoted service by his lord decades ago. But that lord had died soon after and his heir held no love for the former man-at-arms. That meant that Lamprecht had to follow the course of so many younger sons, competing in tournaments and hiring out as a mercenary in order to support himself. While a reasonable living might be made in such pursuits if one were skilled enough, it rarely meant that one could gain the wealth and security that came from holding one’s own fief. Sir Reimund was not unfamiliar with such pursuits and their fleeting rewards.
Reimund looked again to the enemy camp. Though there had been a short altercation amongst the brigands, it was clear that Lamprecht had reasserted himself and that there would be no peaceful surrender. Sir Reimund brought forth his final offer.
“Sir Lamprecht! I have another proposal for you! I challenge you to single combat! Should you win, my men will leave this camp for a day and you will be allowed to leave here unmolested until noon tomorrow!” This caused yet another stir amongst the camp as the brigands dared to hope that they might be able to escape with their skins.
“And what if you win?” Lamprecht yelled from across the field.
“Your men will have the same option to surrender and you shall no longer be subject to either the headsman or the noose!” A great shout went up from behind Sir Reimund as the men-at-arms voiced their approval of the challenge. Sir Reimund’s bravado proved too much for Sir Lamprecht’s pride.
“You insolent pup!” Sir Lamprecht took two strides forward then turned to shout for his horse. Sir Reimund called for Konstantin to bring up Augustus and began walking back towards his own men.
“It looks like he took your bait,” Gervas was keeping an eye on the brigand camp for any foolishness. The rest of the shield wall remained in place and Konstantin brought Sir Reimind’s mount around the men at arms.
Konstantin took his master’s shield and held the reins as Sir Reimund swung himself up in the saddle. Reimund nonchalantly kept his back to his foes as he placed his great helm on his head. He took his shield back from his squire, “What are they doing Gervas?”
“Sir Lamprecht is struggling into his saddle. It looks like he’s got two of the brigands acting as squires. His horse has seen better days. It probably hasn’t had more than a handful of oats in months. Still it’s got a big frame. It looks like it’s maybe as tall as Augustus. The rest of the brigands look like they are still arming themselves. Maybe they don’t believe your word.”
“Is Lamprecht in the saddle yet?”
“Yes. They finally got him up. One of the ‘squires’ is handing him his shield.”
Sir Reimund turned his destrier away from Gervas to face his foe. Konstantin handed him his lance, stout ash, tipped with steel. He walked Augustus forward a few paces, feeling the power of the oat-fed horse beneath him. War horses weren’t just bigger than other mounts, they were fed a better diet which supported considerably more muscle which helped punch lances through wood and steel and flesh and batter smaller animals aside.
Sir Reimund could now see that Gervas was right. Sir Lamprecht’s mount had the frame of a powerful warhorse, but its sides were lean, the outlines of ribs visible. It was almost certain that Augustus would smash aside the weaker animal. But that could only happen after the animals met. An instant before that occurred, the lances would strike. That was the real threat.
“Whatever he once was, Lamprecht is now a brigand, facing the headsman’s noose,” Gervas again objected to his master’s chivalrous foolishness. “There is nothing to prevent him from striking your horse instead of you.”
Sir Reimund did not respond. Gervas had raised a very real possibility. Lamprecht was doomed, whatever he did, but if he was able to kill Sir Reimund here, at least he could cheat the Reaper a little longer. The most certain way to kill Reimund would be to first kill his mount. Then he could deal with the dismounted knight almost at leisure. The main advantage that Reimund’s men held over Lamprecht’s lay in their shield wall, but a shield wall advanced slowly. If they broke the wall to rush to the aid of their leader, the brigand’s numbers would be more telling and none of them might make it out alive. If they advanced in formation, Reimund would be at Lamprecht’s mercy until they arrived, if he lasted that long. At least, that is what Lamprecht would believe.
But Lamprecht was yet unaware of the huntsman hiding on the slopes above. Lars wouldn’t let Lamprecht get away with any dishonorable act. If he lanced Augustus, he would find himself and his mount pierced by arrows before he could even wheel around. Yet that would be little consolation to Reimund for the loss of his warhorse. A trained destrier was expensive. A landed knight could expect to spend much if not all of his land’s yearly revenue to purchase such a horse. The best, strongest horses could beggar a knight for decades.
That was one reason it was considered the height of dishonor to strike another knight’s horse. A knight who did that in a tourney forfeited his own mount and the match not to mention the good will of all who heard of the deed.
But this was no tourney.
This would be single combat with dozens of onlookers, most of whom were brigands. And the knight in question was already declared an outlaw. He would face a noose no matter what he did here, so there really was no reason for him to strike for Sir Reimund. Yet Reimund was counting on exactly that. He didn’t know quite why, but he believed that Sir Lamprecht would not cast aside this one chance to end his life with some little dignity and honor.
Gervas clearly disagreed. “I have made my decision, Gervas. I shall tilt with him honorably.” Reimund looked at his old retainer “Besides, if he does strike Augustus, Lars will not let him savor the moment long.” Gervas grunted sourly and resigned himself to the terms that his master intended to abide by.
It really couldn’t be any other way. Sir Reimund was a knight with a considerable reputation himself. He had no lands, so he traded on his reputation for jobs such as this, which, if successful, would mean enough coin to pay his retainer’s wages, keep his weapons and armor in good repair and feed himself, his men and their horses.
That reputation would be tarnished if he did not do as the baron ordered, especially now that he had issued the challenge. He could not withdraw it or adopt a new strategy. Most of the men with him were the baron’s men-at-arms. They would report any perfidy on Reimund’s part and that could easily result in the baron refusing to pay the fee, even were they successful in defeating the brigands. And, as much as Gervas liked to tout the virtues of pragmatism over chivalry, Reimund knew that deep down Gervas wanted, even needed, his knight to be honorable, as did Lars and Konstantin.
Should Reimund renege on his own challenge because he feared Lamprecht’s perfidy, his retainers and squire would most certainly leave him and he would be dishonored wherever his name was known. He would be unable to support himself and may well be forced to follow in Lamprecht’s own footsteps to dishonor and banditry.
No, the challenge had been issued and he would follow through.
Sir Lamprecht was ready, mounted with mail, shield, lance and helm. Sir Reimund was likewise accoutered. Neither knight had ever been wealthy enough to afford plate, but Sir Reimund guessed that his equipment was in better condition than his foe’s. And Konstantin, whatever his faults, was dogged in his efforts to care for Sir Reimund’s gear. He was particularly good at simple, repetitive actions like scouring mail with sand and vinegar and rubbing mail and blades with oil.
In all, Reimund was younger, stronger, quicker, better equipped and better mounted. His victory should be a foregone conclusion, but that greatly depended on Sir Lamprecht fighting honorably. Whether he would or not, Sir Reimund would not discover until their lances met. And that would be in only a few moments.
Sir Reimund maneuvered Augustus to a spot about ten yards ahead of the center of his small shield wall. Sir Lamprecht walked his mount to a point about fifty yards distant, in front of a “wall” of about fifteen brigands, not all of whom had shields. Sir Reimund looked at the rest of the brigands. At least two had bows in hand, but none had drawn their strings and he had to trust that Lars was watching for the threat.
He raised his lance in his right hand; Sir Lamprecht mirrored the gesture, then they both started forward slowly. Both knights picked up speed at about forty yards. At thirty yards they lowered their lances and couched them under their armpits. The horses began to gallop. This was no practice yard tilt, with lances crossing over a center rail; both knights were headed almost directly towards each other at their mounts’ best speed. Lamprecht’s lance seemed to waver and then dip for a moment before he raised it again, horizontal to the ground.
Sir Reimund leaned slightly forward, bracing his feet against the stirrups. It was the stirrups that would allow the knight to use the full force of his lance against his adversary rather that rocking back in the saddle as soon as the head struck. A lance head propelled by a destrier and secured by rider in stirrups could punch straight through a shield, mail, a man, or all three. There was little chance to dodge, so the knight would try to angle his shield in such a way that his opponent’s lance would glance off, while his own lance struck true, perhaps avoiding the shield altogether.
Both knights had tilted countless times before. They knew the proper positions and techniques and could conceivably make pass after pass until their lances were shattered and they hammered at each other with sword or mace. The thunder of hooves propelled the knights towards each other at a combined speed greater than that of the fleetest horse.
They were twenty yards apart now. Again Sir Lamprecht’s lance wavered and dipped. Sir Reimund doubted his earlier confidence. After all, why would an outlaw fight honorably? He pictured himself pitching forward through the air as his mount was impaled on Sir Lamprecht’s spear.
And there was another concern; Lamprecht must be at least fifty winters old, the last several living the life of a brigand. Undernourished and aging, Sir Lamprecht might not have the strength to hold the lance level for a shield strike. Whatever Lamprecht’s intentions, he might still strike Augustus due nothing more malicious than infirmity.
There was nothing to do about it now.
Reimund saw one of the brigands start to raise his bow, and he feared for Augustus. Such a small bow would not be able to stop Augustus’s momentum, at least not for this first pass, but running would cause the arrow to cut back and forth into the destrier’s flesh eventually crippling him. Even if he survived, he would be ruined as a warhorse. Lamprecht would be dishonored, but he would have an easy time cutting Reimund down on the back of a lamed horse.
Suddenly the brigand pitched forward, one of Lars’s arrows quivering in his back. Lamprecht could not see that one of his men had violated the challenge and paid for it with his life. The rest looked around uncertainly for the archer who had killed the first of them of the day.
Both knights thundered towards each other, eating up the last yards. And then none of the brigands mattered.
Sir Lamprecht held his lance steady; it passed above Augustus’s head flashing towards the center of Sir Reimund’s shield. Reimund shifted the angle of his shield to deflect the lance away and at the same instant raised the tip of his own lance to try to go over the top of Lamprecht’s shield. Sir Lamprecht saw the danger and in the instant before the strike raised his own shield. But Sir Lamprecht was not the only thing that had weakened with age and neglect.
Sir Reimund’s lance caught on the top of the shield which was well placed to deflect the attack, but the head bit into the willow boards and the wood shattered under the force of the impact. Sir Reimund felt Sir Lamprecht’s lance scrape down the side of his shield as he watched his own lance punch straight through Lamprecht’s defenses. It passed through the ruined shield, punched through mail and pierced the knight’s throat. The force of the impact lifted Lamprecht clear of his saddle then the two warhorses collided. Sir Reimund shuddered as Augustus shouldered aside the weaker mount. Reimund’s lance snapped and Sir Lamprecht crashed to the ground. Reimund veered quickly to avoid trampling him, then looked about to survey the field.
Visibility was limited through the slits of his great helm, but he could see that the brigands were running to and fro. At least two were down with arrows and others were running towards the edges of the clearing. A small group, no more than ten, had stayed in the ragged shield wall in front of their camp.
Sir Reimund cast aside his sundered lance and called to his men “Gervas, engage their wall. Konstantin, mount and follow me!” Turning his horse slightly he could see that Gervas had already begun to advance the shield wall, and Konstantin was in the saddle as well. He might be slow witted, but he was young and strong and dutiful and he had been training for years to be a knight. Now he would ride into battle against a real foe. And in a rare flash of insight he had thought to bring a second lance.
Reimund smiled beneath his helm and wheeled his horse towards the panicked brigands. At least two more were down, pierced by Lars’s arrows. A few were milling about in confusion but, aside from the ragged shield wall at the edge of the camp, the rest were haring off as quick as they could to the cover of the woods. He saw a brigand to his left raise a rusted old crossbow, but before he could get it to his shoulder, an arrow punched into his skull, throwing him to the ground. Mouthing silent thanks to Lars, Reimund kicked back with his spurs and charged the nearest brigand.
Konstatin was still behind him with his spare lance, so he drew his sword, a heavy chopping blade, and rode up and past the brigand, slashing backward with his sword. The brigand dropped with a shriek, clutching his bloody face and Reimund spurred after new quarry. All these men were going to hang anyway, so there was no need to kill them all in battle; in fact there were pressing reasons not to.
Sir Reimund needed to keep as many from escaping as possible. The baron’s fee was mostly a bounty. The greatest price was for Sir Lamprecht, but the others were worth good silver as well, more if they were alive. Baron Hoesfeld wanted to make an example of the bandits to others who thought to prey on his domains. Examples were easier to make on living villains.
Reimund rode towards the edges of the clearing cutting off all but a very few of the brigands and turning them back towards the center. Lars knew what his master intended and shifted his aim to those who looked like they might escape Sir Reimund’s corralling. Sir Reimund’s efforts had sent about a dozen men and half again as many women back towards the center of the clearing. The women tended to huddle together in little clumps amongst their camp, but the men thought to join their fellows in the shield wall which howled at the oncoming men-at-arms yet gave ground before the disciplined formation, fearing the grim, mail-clad vengeance that trod inexorably towards them.
Suddenly one particularly prescient outlaw shrieked “swarm them under, take their horses! It’s our only chance!” True or not, the highwaymen believed their fellow and, in desperation, charged.
Gervas and the rest of the men at arms braced themselves for the impact of a score of wild-eyed men. They leaned slightly forward and braced their right legs behind them. At the last second they pushed forward slamming their shields and bruising their shoulders on their foes. They could feel the hot stink of the enemy’s breath as swords and axes struck at the men-at-arms over their shields. Their wall was too small to have a second rank whose shields could protect their heads, so they ducked where they could and stabbed under the shields. Two brigands dropped to the ground, their ankles badly cut, and the wall near them was weakened. Two men at arms stepped forward quickly, stabbing down to ensure that those bandits would not rejoin the line and then fell back quickly to rejoin their fellows.
Most of the men-at-arms were using short stabbing swords for just this reason. A longer blade was a hindrance in the shield wall. Only Gervas and Markus on the flanks had long blades because they would need them to try to hem in the outlaws who tried to outflank them. One ran from the second rank around to Gervas’s right but he did not circle far enough and was sent reeling back with a bloodied arm for his trouble. At the moment the outlaws were pressing a double rank against the men-at-arms’s single rank, but if that second rank rushed around the flanks in a group, Gervas and his men would be in trouble.
Sir Reimund called to Konstantin, who by following his knight at a gallop had scared the brigands from trying to dart back for the trees after Sir Reimund had passed. He had not been able to strike at any, encumbered as he was by the pair of lances. But now he caught up to his leader and handed him a lance, then gripped his own. “Follow me lad to the flank and ride down the length of their line. When your lance breaks, strike with your sword and continue down the length of the line at speed. We want to relieve the pressure on Gervas, not defeat the whole line ourselves, understand?”
“Yes Sir Reimund!” Konstantin nodded dutifully and Reimund again spurred Augustus forward. A few men were still trying to dash for the edges of the clearing, but Reimund had to leave them to Lars. Augustus galloped to a point about twenty yards from the right flank of the brigands’ line. The newcomers had mostly piled behind the original shield wall, but now that they had met, the back rank was starting to scramble around the flanks, whether to attack the rear of Gervas’s line or simply to flee, Reimund did not know. Either way he needed to join the fray. Markus was holding the nearest end of the wall and he had to turn away from his fellow to protect against the brigands trying to get around him. Any moment and a desperate outlaw could slip past his defenses, breaking the end of the line and causing the whole wall to crumble.
Reimund lowered his lance and spurred towards the enemy. None of the brigands seemed yet aware of the new threat and Augustus’s long strides ate the distance in seconds. At the last moment, a brigand who was flailing an axe at Markus’s shield, trying to work around behind him looked over his shoulder at Sir Reimund. His eyes widened and he threw himself to the right.
He needn’t have bothered. Sir Reimund had never considered him a good target. If he had lanced that brigand, his momentum would have carried him into Markus and his own line. Instead he aimed at the men who were still in front of the shield wall and were as yet still oblivious to the danger. A second man who was clumsily thrusting his sword at Markus’s exposed right side turned at the last instant and the lance punched through his torso, stabbing into the man behind as well. Reimund felt a crack and dropped his lance. Augustus smashed into the skewered brigands with his shoulder, throwing them to the ground.
Sir Reimund guided Augustus slightly to the left and drew his sword. He chopped at the backs of the brigands, glancing off helmets and shields and biting into flesh. Behind him he could hear screams of agony as Konstantin added to the carnage. The latecomers of the second rank broke and tried to flee in any direction. Reimund wheeled around after reaching the end of the line and saw that his charge had distracted the brigands enough that the men-at-arms had shattered the enemy shield wall.
“Prisoners, Gervas! We need prisoners!” Reimund saw that several of the bandits were sprinting towards the horses and the only path out of the clearing. “Konstantin! Protect the horses! Blaise go with him!” Reimund needed more horsemen to corral the fleeing outlaws but if he sent the men back, he and Konstantin would be unable to catch them all and the men would arrive too late to be of any use. So the men-at-arms would have to pursue on foot, no easy feat in full kit, when many of the brigands had thrown away their weapons and had little or no armor. Still, it was all he had.
He also couldn’t afford to leave the horses unprotected as several brigands were fleeing that way. Only a horseman was likely to be able to catch up, though he knew Blaise was young and fast and might be able to help Konstantin. Trusting that the two youths would do what was necessary, he began to circle the outside of the clearing trying to turn the brigands back to his pursuing men-at-arms. He knew some would get away, and that some probably already had. But he was determined to capture as many as possible to ensure that this particular bunch would be scant trouble for the baron after he had gone.
Frantic minutes passed. Sir Reimund continued to circle; Lars struck down fugitives with arrows and the men-at-arms began clubbing down outlaws with pommels or the flats of their blades. Women screamed and wailed and those who fled were not pursued, since they were not really bandits, but camp followers and possibly captives at that.
Eventually the clearing was subdued. Sir Reimund saw that a few had fled, but about a dozen were huddled together in the center of the clearing, most of them wounded. Perhaps another dozen lay scattered about the clearing where they had been felled by sword or arrow or lance. The sounds of fighting had ended. The moans of the wounded and the screams of the dying were all that remained.
Reimund removed his helm and mopped sweat from his face. Now that he had a moment of peace he could see bushes shaking on the slopes of the hills and thought he could hear muffled curses as fugitives found their flight impeded by the thick undergrowth. “Gervas, detail a few men to bring them back.”
Gervas nodded and started barking orders. Reimund looked towards the path and thought about galloping over that way, but whatever had happened there was already over. If horses had been stolen or Konstantin and Blaise overpowered, the bandits would be long gone. And Augustus was tired. He had galloped around the clearing non-stop for almost twenty minutes. He needed some time to rest. Still Reimund had to know what had happened and he started Augustus at a walk toward the path.
Then he saw two men enter the clearing with their hands on their heads. They were followed by another man who held a sword at their backs. Reimund was relieved to see that Blaise at least had captured two fugitives, but he exhaled audibly when he saw Konstantin follow, leading a string that looked like all of their horses.
Sir Reimund had broken Sir Lamprecht’s band of highwaymen.
The fallen knight was dead. He had bled out while the fight raged around him. Sir Reimund knew that the baron would want to see Sir Lamprecht’s body, but Reimund reckoned that he had fought honorably and deserved to be treated so. He ordered a grave dug for him and the other brigands who had died. Seven had been killed outright in the fighting. Six more were mortally wounded and died soon after, one way or another. Three fugitives were collected and two more were believed to have fled successfully. Another eleven outlaws had been captured in the clearing. Most were wounded in some fashion, but all could walk at least to the nearest village. A dozen women were also captured and all claimed to have been prisoners of the brigands. Reimund thought at least half were lying, but he didn’t care to sort them out and promised to escort them as well to the nearest village to let the local reeve deal with them. His men had suffered nothing more serious than a few scratches and bruises.
Gervas had caught Sir Lamprecht’s horse and bound his eyes. So far the destrier seemed to be docile when led by the hand of someone other than his master. Whether he could be retrained as a steed was another matter. The men-at-arms also collected five swaybacked nags that comprised the rest of the brigands mounts. Sir Lamprecht’s armor and sword were collected but the rest of the brigand’s equipment was too shoddy to bother with, so swords were bent, axe hafts and spear shafts were splintered and crossbows were smashed and left on the ground so they could not be easily reused.
The men-at-arms lined up their prisoners, all tied together, then mounted their horses and started down the path. Sir Reimund led the way and felt satisfied that he had done well by the baron and his subjects. These bandits would rape and pillage no more. As he rode down, Sir Reimund turned his thoughts to his future prospects.
He doubted that Baron Hoesfeld would be so pleased as to grant him his own fief, but a favorable recommendation to another lord was a possibility. Hoesfeld might even offer him a place in his own household. That would be honorable, secure service, better than life as a knight errant, but as Sir Lamprecht proved, that security could be illusory. Perhaps he would take another turn in the tournaments held in the great fairs. There were no rumors of war in the area so anything he did besides tournaments would probably be similar to this bandit chasing.
He was lost in his musings as he reached the bottom of the hill, where the path opened onto grassy fields, and did not notice the rider until Lars nudged him. “Someone coming, Sir Reimund. Looks like a knight.” Reimund’s head snapped up. He had only brought three lances so if this newcomer was hostile, he could be at a great disadvantage.
Then he saw that the newcomer was riding forward with his right hand raised to show that he would bear no weapons against Sir Reimund and came in peace. Reimund recognized the knight as a member of Baron Hoesfeld’s household. “If you’ve come to join the festivities Sir Rurik, you are too late!” Sir Reimund gestured to the prisoners his men were escorting.
Sir Rurik did not smile at the jest, nor speak at all as he rode closer. Reimund wondered what could have brought him here. Had Hoesfeld decided to offer Sir Lamprecht a pardon? If so it had come too late. Sir Reimund ordered the column halted and rode out to meet Sir Rurik.
Rurik reined in a few yards from Sir Reimund and he could see that the new knight wore a wooden expression. He wasted no time on preamble “Sir Reimund, I come bearing ill news. You brother is dead.”