First look at chapter 5 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.
Other chapters from Stonehearted Volume 2 can be found by clicking here.
It looked so easy. No more than fifty French men-at-arms lined up on foot on a flat field in front of a wood, their horses tethered by a lone tree to their right flank with servants holding the skittish mounts. To the French left flank ran the road that the English vanguard had hoped would take them to the gates of Paris.
“I don’t like it,” said Knolles. “We’ll ignore them and go south away from the wood.”
“Across open farmland?” said Minsterworth. “That’s going to take us a lot longer. All day for the carts if there’s hedges and ditches. We could sweep them aside in a few winks of an eye. We have two hundred men-at-arms, and the same number of archers. On the blood of the holy virgin, a flight of two hundred arrows would scatter them!”
Richard was a few paces back from where the two English captains stood looking at the French force. The rest of the vanguard was in a column of march, dismounted however, along the road they had travelled from Amiens. Knolles and Minsterworth were staring across the wheat field, shielding their eyes against the powerful August sun. Richard hadn’t noticed the heat, but when Minsterworth blasphemed he felt he skin prickle with what felt like fire. God was telling him that he was angry. He crossed himself to ward off the evil of his master’s words.
Knolles turned to Minsterworth and smiled. “Well, sir, if you want to take men of your own retinue from the vanguard and try your luck against them then that is your concern, but I am taking the army away to the south.”
“And split the army?” Minsterworth replied. “Would you leave us behind?”
“Yes, if you disobey my commands for the purpose of seeking your own glory.”
Minsterworth turned to Richard. “How many men of my retinue are here? If you don’t know then ask that damned cur, Hugh, to count the bastards.”
“I know the number, sir,” Richard replied. “Twenty men-at-arms, and thirty mounted archers.” He crossed himself again to ward off the evil of Minsterworth’s continual swearing.
Minsterworth didn’t notice and swung on his heel and looked again at the French forces where they were positioned.
“Richard,” said Knolles smiling not unkindly at the young man, “you have served your master well, and if he neglects to then I thank you for informing him that the odds are in perfect balance.”
“You know that’s not true,” said Minsterworth, a piece of spit flying from his mouth. “You wouldn’t take them! The odds are never equal if one force is in a prepared defensive position. You wouldn’t take odds of eight to one. I know you, you’re no gambling man. Ever!”
“But you are,” chided Knolles. “You want this campaign to give you glory and wealth. You think because the king named you co-captain with I and the others, that means that you command. Then if that is the case take on that duty, but you will not waste my men and those of the other captains on it.”
“They would take the bet as well,” said Minsterworth. “If they were here, they would charge without hesitation at the enemy and run them down in seconds. The truth is it’s you who are getting in the way. We all command this army and will not suffer from your tyranny any longer.”
Knolles looked unconcerned by Minsterworth’s outburst, but Richard noticed that he was now gripping the pommel of his sword in case. “When the army arrives at Paris then we can discuss this with all the captains, but until then I rule. You can’t run an army like a republic.”
Richard nodded his head in agreement to that, and Minsterworth stared at him. “Do you want to say something? Or would you rather go and go and polish my armour?”
Knolles smiled. “The boy is bright, let him speak. It seems that he is even wiser for his years than I thought.”
Richard bowed his head swiftly to the old captain’s praise, and replied. “My lord, thank you for letting me speak. I just could not help but agree with your words explaining the nature of things to my master, Sir John.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” spat Minsterworth, “this whelp should be back in his grammar school!”
“Go on,” said Knolles to Richard.
“God, our Father, does not share his dominion with any others, but rules heaven like a king. So on earth it is natural for men to be ruled by a king in imitation of the pattern set by our Creator.”
Knolles nodded. “You see, John, I was right and this boy’s lesson proved it.”
Minsterworth shook his head. Both captains smiled, and Richard knew that they shared a moment of mockery at his words.
“I am glad that you are able to see the way of God’s will, my lord,” said Richard to Knolles. “It pains me that my master here is an ungodly man, and takes the name of Christ and the Holy Virgin in vain. I will pray for him, and trust in God’s judgment for his soul.”
Both captains were struggling to hold back their laughter.
“Yet I believe it is God’s will that we fight the French wherever we find them. King Edward is by right of God the King of France, and these men stand in the way of God’s will. They must be set right, and if needs must the sword will show them the truth.”
“It looks like you have found a paladin to lead your charge, John,” said Knolles.
“He’ll be out there on his own.”
Richard took a step forward and gripped Minsterworth by the shoulder. “You’re wrong. There are many others in the army who feel the same as I. They will do God’s will.”
Minsterworth shrugged off Richard’s hand as if it were poisonous. “I told you to stop that damn preaching.”
Knolles though came closer to Richard and took his hand in both of his. “How many of the vanguard behind us would follow you, young man.”
“None!” laughed Minsterworth.
“Hundreds gathered in the camp to hear me speak before you banned it, perhaps a hundred of the men here would follow me if God is willing.”
Knolles nodded. “Let this be a trial for you then Richard. If you lead well and win, then you can command men in my army.”
“He’s my man,” said Minsterworth.
“We will see about that,” replied Knolles. “Now go, Richard. Select your men for the attack.”
Richard left the two captains.
“If you raise this boy up then I want compensation,” said Minsterworth.
“You will have it,” said Knolles. “I know how your mind works. I have an instinct about this one. He’s different.”
“He’s burdened with guilt for killing his brother. All he desires is to do penance through death. Probably his own soon enough.”
“There’s something more to it than that, John. This boy has turned. The Stones are no more God-fearing than you or I, but something has happened to this boy. It’s like a fire burns in his soul.”
“Fires burn themselves out.”
“But you can’t help watch them,” Knolles replied. “Tell me are you not going to join the attack? It was your idea.”
“You have chosen your commander for the assault, and besides I would prefer to watch the flames burn.”
If you want to read the first volume of Stonehearted, By the Sword’s Edge, then click here.