“What if we climbed over the barricades?” They were at breaking point now, searching for some form of an answer to solve their problem. They had to overcome at least forty archers, who had the high ground, with a force that was separated in half on either side of the town’s main street.
“We should still have enough grapples to get enough of us up there.” He reminded but Aaren shook his head, “not an option, we need to be quick about it all and we can’t get enough men up there quickly enough to make an impact, we can use it as another way of hitting them, we do need something else to gain their attention. They’ve barricaded the lower half of the buildings, so we can’t penetrate through.”
Eamonn was frustrated with Aaren, every idea he had thrown out on the table had been rejected, and with some force. He wished they could at least try something, anything was better than waiting here for the Caledonians to wipe them out with their archers. Eamonn thought profusely, when they had pushed forward through several buildings, they’d managed to take down a few of the archers on the lookout atop the wall.
Pressing up to a closer range was now playing into the enemy’s hands, the enemy could fire anywhere remotely close to their cover and it would keep them behind there. On the odd occasion, Eamonn or Aaren would risk a shot at the wall, knowing where the enemy were placed along the line, they were growing in confidence, spending less and less time behind the protection, leaving themselves wide open for the shot, as a man went down the others would shot with more care, soon returning to the normal rate once things were back to normal.
Eamonn gestured to Aaren for him to wait, backing back through the open doorway of the nearest house, there was something there that he could work on. He’d remembered one of the other men had commented on it, it was something worth looking into, he called out to Aaren, “What about the fireplace guard?”
Aaren looked back in the direction of his apprentice, as if he had lost his mind. Aaren saw the youth’s head pop out of the door again, saw the expression on his mentor’s face and couldn’t help but smile. “Just humour me” Eamonn requested. Aaren shrugged his shoulders, he had only taken a cursory glance at them, the air was quite chilled, and after the stifling heat of the battle in the forest to the cool late afternoon air, moving through each of the buildings had been a mixture of uncomfortable chill when outside, to the relaxed atmosphere of the houses. He supposed that they would be like any other.
“Were they like ours?” Eamonn asked, laying stress on the words ‘ours’, they had a simple design, in Aaren’s home, they had a protected fireplace, with a latched door at the front that would contain the flames. It was rustic in design made out of a single piece of reinforced granite that had been super-heated and molded into shape, it could serve a similar purpose to a shield. Most were slightly rounded like a Normliethan shield, rectangular with a slight curve towards the corners, long with a single handle at the back, they were excellent for front lines soldiers when expecting to defend against ranged attacks, useful for blocking projectiles such as arrows and crossbow bolts.
If they were able to obtain a couple of them, they might be able to gain the support of their other team, or could continue to surge forwards. Aaren looked back at his apprentice, “Let’s have a look, we’ll go together, in the meantime” he was now directing orders to commanders in the group, “I want you and your men to follow us back, we’ve got the grapples we need for you to scale the walls when he attack, tell the scouts to ready their position and set up a perimeter to thin out the defenders when we attack.”
There was a general muttering of excitement, there was a definite plan in action now, they could see a potential way out of this. Aaren led the way back across, they would be exposed for a few seconds, but once inside they should be able to move with ease throughout the buildings, and if it turned out the doors were what they hoped for, they could move far more quickly. They left the other eight men to defend them if necessary, they were still tasked with trying to hit any possible targets.
Once in the house, it took no time to find the fireplace, as usual it was in the center room of the building, it was the easiest and most efficient way of heating a building. Aaren examined the burner, a moment of triumph leapt to his heart, it was what they needed; the door was roughly three by four feet in size, large for most ordinary burners, but it was responsible for heating the entire house, and it would certainly fit that requirement. “How do we cool it down enough to carry?”
“There was a water trough out the back, we could always submerge it in that for a few minutes” it was one of the soldiers who suggested it. Everyone paused at the suggestion, waiting for the man to explain himself, “I worked as a blacksmith for some time, we cooled the metal that way after casting them in the molds” he announced rather sheepishly.
The commander retrieved a pair of heavy linen gloves from the top of a wood barrel Aaren could use to lift the door, and a few swift belts with the hammer next to it should be enough to remove the door. It took eleven hits to break the door off its hinges before the door fell to the ground with a loud bang. Fortunately it did no damage to the door itself, and ensuring that he didn’t inadvertently burn himself on the still scolding hot granite he retreated out the back door and placed it in the trough.
There was a hiss as he submerged the door and in no time, he had it back in his hands. They searched through the other two houses they passed through, taking the makeshift shields with them, one was smaller than the other two, and Aaren gave that to the commander to hold on to, they’d be placed in the least amount of danger, once out of town and at a safe place to offer support, they wouldn’t need to assistance of the shield, whereas Aaren and Eamonn would need to continue moving throughout the town and would be at much greater risk, as such they would need the larger ones.
“Get the scouts to be situated along that ridge there” Aaren told the soldier, pointing at the top of a hill perhaps thirty meters around to the left. The small group would need to move out and around, but it would provide them with an outlook over the town, giving them somewhere to shoot from. Aaren nodded his thanks to them and they were on their way again.
Aaren and Eamonn, now equipped with decent cover, waited for archers to lower their guards again. Knowing full well the archers would wait reveal themselves fully exposed to return shots, they’d take advantage of it as before, only this time they’ll follow through with the rush forward, noticing the slight increase in shots, Aaren called out to the other men, “Be ready to move to the next building on my command, hopefully we’ll gain focus and you can move forward, head straight for the wall, you’ll be safe there, we’ll cover you but you’ll need to be quick.”
Across the street he saw a couple of head nods, Aaren snuck a look at the archers, most were out in the open, but not all, he had to wait until they were all visible, when that first flurry was sent on its way, he wanted as much time possible for the others to cross the gap. Eamonn and he retained the shields, they would be used in the case of an emergency to protect themselves, but they would serve a different purpose to the original plan as Aaren saw the opening he needed. He turned to Eamonn and the others, “Shoot on three, Eamonn, the rest of you, I want you up and running for the wall after our first shots, if you can get a shot on the enemy, take it.
“One, two, three!” together they were up and running from cover, sighting the first targets and firing, another three shots and another two men went down. “Go!” he called across the street and instantly men were running, Aaren and Eamonn scampered forward picking out the widest men first to reduce the angle, the others ran haphazardly, spread out across the street, limiting the chance of a stray shot hitting. The first dozen made it easily, watching their companions follow them across, some went down under the return fire, but there were very few, another four made it, one with an arrow wound to the leg and limped his way there, falling to the ground once again behind safety.
A medic was busy tying a bandage around the injured man’s thigh, applying pressure to the wound in a bid to stop the bleeding. Aaren collected his shield, gesturing for Eamonn to follow now, alone among the attackers they had yet to make the crossing. Each had a fresh cartridge loaded into their weapon and Aaren ghosted his way across to the other side using his shield for protection, with his crossbow slung behind his back. “Cover me, I’ll move up, try to copy my actions, it’ll help to throw them off” he called back.
Aaren waited for the fourth shot to strike timber before he moved, zigzagging his way across, hesitating in his step occasionally and darting forwards a few meters to dodge the oncoming shots, added into this he would side step and at times retreated a few meters, before darting forwards again, doing everything he could to avoid being hit. He flinched as he felt each arrow smack into the hard fireplace door he was holding until finally he was behind the last scrap of cover before the last dash to the wall.
He waved the boy through now, hoping the boy was a quick learner, he waited for Eamonn to gain the attention of the archers and open fired on the defenders. Eamonn was slow by comparison, but he was deliberate with his movements, and perhaps it was his stop-start and stuttering approached that allowed him to advance unscathed to join Aaren, getting an approving pat on the back from his mentor as he made it. “Ready for the next bit?” Aaren asked, the answer was as he expected, a nervous shake of the head and a worried look on his apprentice’s face, “neither am I” he confessed, “I think we may be needing a hand this time” he stated.
“Connor” he called, the man named Connor raised his head to answer Aaren’s call, “give us some cover fire while we move up” the man nodded, ordering his troops to ready themselves to move out, “Now!” Aaren called, once again they were running, as a quick set from the others hit the tops of the wall, forcing the defenders to rear away in fright, Aaren and Eamonn slid into the cover, safe again.
They took a deep breath, studying the wall more deeply for signs of gaps they could use to gain a foothold in, the wall was fairly old judging by the initial rotting of the wood and by the looks of the foundation was starting to give in to the weight bearing down on it, a few strikes from the shields should cripple barricading structure, allowing them access through to the rest of the town.
They positioned one of the doors as a wedge underneath the wall to pivot the wall slightly with a man’s weight on top of that to add some leverage, the other shields were held by two of the stronger soldiers, they were aim for the slight crack that had formed in the timber two set to the left of the middle, with enough force, they would be able to force their way through. Eamonn loaded his next cartridge into his crossbow, discarding the old one in the satchel at his back, waiting for the upcoming fight.