When Alistair had thought of battle, he had envisioned the glorious charge of cavalry thundering across an open field. Of scores of knights all gleaming in polished armour, their lances lowered and prepared to strike. What he had not imagined was sitting for two weeks on his arse staring at a stone wall with thirty other men.
The stone wall wasn’t even that impressive, topping off at only around thirty feet, and it didn’t even have any of the fancy crenellations that Alistair had heard about of the mighty castles. This fortress, to him, was more like a glorified armoured shed. Even the moat around it only came up to his ankles.
Movement from the fortress’ ramparts caught Alistair’s attention. In a hurry he rose to his feet, being sure to check his sword was loose in its scabbard, and his breastplate was well fitted.
‘Oi, you buggers!’ a nasally voice shouted from the wall.
Alistair kicked himself for having checked his sword, a habit that was pointless for attacking from beneath a wall. Nearby, Alistair heard the groan of one of the other knights that had been brought along to this siege.
‘Stupid old git is at it again. Does he have nothing better to do?’ the knight grumbled, picking at a piece of thistle that had snagged itself in a gap in his armour clasp.
A manic laugh erupted from the ramparts, and looking up Alistair could see the top half of an elderly, ragged man hopping from one foot to another, the tattered rags he wore flapping around with each jump. Alistair swore he could almost see flecks of grime tumbling off the clothing each time the man moved.
‘Well, hello down there, young metal boys!’ the man shouted, cackling away. ‘Going to be trying any attacks again today? Throw your swords at me? Climb the wall, perhaps?’
With a burning red face, one of the knights leapt to his feet, shaking a firm, armoured finger in the man’s direction. ‘Now you listen here, you half-witted twit! Once we manage to get in those walls, you’re going to absolutely have it!’
The hurled insult only made the man laugh harder, clutching at his sides as the air escaped his lungs. It reminded Alistair much of a crow taunting a starved fox far below its branch.
‘I see you still have had no luck in getting no ladders. Nor battering rams for that matter,’ the man jeered, flashing a toothless grin. ‘But, perhaps if you hurl yourself with that big, hunking armour of yours at the gate, it’ll swing open!’
The knights groaned, turning back to their mundane work to pass the time, trying to ignore the echoing laughter above. The red faced knight, slumped onto his seat, focusing intently on the snagged thistle.
When they had rode out from that very fortress two weeks past to catch a local brigand, they hadn’t expected some old, mad fool to slip in behind them and steal the place from under their noses, let alone lock them out on their return. Now, they were stuck without siege weapons, ladders, or anything of any use to root the fool out. Instead, they just sat in wait, hoping the old fool would eventually get bored.
At this rate, however, Alistair was certain that wouldn’t be for more weeks yet.