My ten crossbowmen released their bolts upon my command. The hours of training paid off. All six of the charging knights’ horses went down. The knights were trapped under their mounts or lay broken on the ground from the sudden deceleration.
My twenty-first-century tactics in this 8th century were saving my adopted people. These were more like fourteenth-century tactics, but who was counting?
What was I, Jim Fletcher, a farm boy from Ohio who had died at the age of ninety-two in 2010, doing in the body of a twenty-four-year-old Baron in 8th-century Cornwall?
I think it is Cornwall, but there are some differences from the Cornwall that Dory and I knew. Not differences in culture, that was to be expected, but geographical differences.
I had no idea why I was here.
The action continued as I mused about what was happening in front of me. Contrary to war leaders of the time, I did not stand on the front lines but commanded from the rear.
It wasn’t far from the front, and I was protected from the main charge, able to command the entirety of my small army. Well, band. A small band.
My crossbowmen were trained to aim for the horses. Armor for horses wasn’t yet in use.
Heck, this was before stirrups were in use! Even the knights’ armor was rudimentary compared to later versions. The real Romans had better armor five hundred years ago.
Chain and plate mail was in the future. This armor was similar to bullet-resistant vests from my time. Flat pieces of metal in leather pockets.
Fifty yards behind the Knights were the attacking Baron’s footmen. At the start of the battle, there were forty of them. Now some were running from the field as the Knights went down.
I had only twenty-five men to counter their Army. But at least they weren’t running from the field.
Per the plan, the fastest ten of my footmen charged into the fallen Knights and finished the job with war hammers.
Shooting horses and using sledgehammers to beat people to death may not seem sporting, but this didn’t pretend to be.
It was war, and I knew war all too well. From World War II to Vietnam, I had been there. Now that I’m here, will I change history so much that those events never happen?
Once the horses and Knights were dead, they retreated. The horses were killed to put them out of their pain. The Knights so were no longer a threat and demoralized the remaining footmen.
The action also raised the morale of my soldiers as the 8th-century equivalent of the main battle tank was taken out of the equation.
My footmen followed the crossbowmen who had retreated through the scattered caltrops. Small sticks with cloth marked three safe paths through the field.
If the footmen charged, they would have a nasty surprise with our medieval minefield.
Across the way, an enemy Sergeant, a soldier with a Knight’s skills and tools but without a Knight’s golden spurs, was trying to rally the remaining troops. He wasn’t having much luck.
These weren’t trained soldiers but conscripted farmers. Baron Wendon had counted on his Knights’ charge breaking my forces. It was well known that my Barony had no Knights, so he was confident he could roll over us.
His so-called Army was armed with poor spears and billhooks. They were clustered as a rabble rather than in a soldierly formation.
My troops were only a step above them, but they were in a formation. Each of my people wore a green armband giving us a uniform appearance.
The enemy Sergeant had rallied his remaining troops and charged. We waited in place. Let them wear themselves out running up the moderate slope in front of us.
The slope could easily be walked, but it was wearing on running troops, especially since they were charged up on adrenalin. The crossbowmen fired once more just before the attackers hit the caltrop field.
Their fire took down five of the enemy by direct hits and another six by men stumbling into them. These men could get back up, but the momentum was broken.
These caltrops were not the six-inch ones for a horse but three inches for men. There were hundreds of them. Without hard-soled boots, the enemy footmen were disabled.
By the time the enemy had troops across the field, the crossbowmen had cranked their bows and shot another flight of bolts.
The crossbowmen retreated behind our footmen and started to crank their bows again. It wasn’t needed. Our front line cut down the dozen enemy footmen who made it that far.
Prisoners were taken, and the wounded were treated as well as possible. These were now my people by right of conquest, so they must be cared for.
“Sergeant, detail men to retrieve the caltrops and collect the weapons. And detail two men to accompany me to loot the Knights,” I said.
I had to loot the Knights in person, or I would see little of the loot. That was the nature of the beast in these days.
Not that there was much to loot. Baron Wendon had the most, but it was only a few silvers. I had to hope that his fortress had more. I had to act fast if I was going to add his Barony to mine.
My plan wasn’t to conquer my neighbors, but if they gave me no choice, they would face the consequences.
I never doubted that my forces would win. It enabled me to march with my crossbowmen and fifteen footmen at once. We had a pack train of supplies ready to follow. Our scouts had marked our path.
Baron Wendon’s castle was only ten miles from mine. Ten miles seemed a very short distance to me. But once I remembered that most people in this time never went more than five miles from their place of birth, it made sense.
The early morning battle allowed us to arrive at the Baron’s castle in the late afternoon. While not impressive as a castle, it would have been a bear to attack if the gates in the ten-foot-high wall were closed.
Thankfully the gate was wide open. We were able to march right up to the castle and go inside. The Baron was so confident of victory that he hadn’t left a guard at the gate.
There were a few old men with spears who surrendered immediately. They may seem primitive to my modern eyes, but they weren’t stupid by any means.
The Baron had left his wife and two small children behind. I was left with a dilemma of what to do with them. The original Baron whose body I inhabited would have killed them with no remorse. It was the sensible thing to do in that day and age.
Letting the wife live was inviting immediate trouble as some of the remaining population would be loyal to her. The two children represented future problems.
The six-year-old boy would grow up thinking he had been robbed of his title. The four-year-old girl could be married to another Baron to secure an ally for the cheated young Baron.
The recent widow didn’t seem upset about the death of her husband. She only seemed to care about her children.
I saw an opportunity in her attitude. While my men explored the Keep, she and I talked in their living quarters.
“You don’t seem upset by your husband’s death.”
“He would beat me if I didn’t please him.”
“Where are you from?”
“My father is a merchant in Saltash. He wanted his grandchildren to be titled, so he paid Baron Wendon to marry me.”
She and I talked for a while. I found her to have more education than I expected. When quizzed on this, she confessed that she had been taught to read and write as her father had no other children to follow him.
She ran the family chandler business when he had to go on trading ventures, obtaining tree limbs and trunks for sailing vessels.
The Wendon castle steward was one of those killed in the recent fight. I asked her if she could run the castle.
“I have been performing s Steward’s duties for the last two years. He was drunk most of the time. He and my husband were seldom sober enough to keep order in the Keep. I had to order provisions, hear the people’s complaints, and try to keep the place together.”
She continued, “The former Baron learned you had no Knights, so he thought it would be an easy victory. He had enough brains left to realize that his Barony was falling apart. He thought if he conquered yours, there would be enough loot to continue to support this one.”
Her apparent intelligence and lack of loyalty to her dead husband gave me an idea.
“I didn’t set out to conquer this Barony. Could you continue to run it for your son if I recognized him as the rightful heir and declared him the Baron?”
I thought she would collapse when I asked this. The brave front she had been putting dissolved. She thought she and her children were to be killed.
“I would leave one of my men to act as Steward, but you would be your son’s regent until he is of age.”
I went on, “There are changes I have made in my Barony that would benefit here.”
Her eyes lit up as I described our new sanitation systems, education, and improved farming methods. My policy of not letting my people starve in times of famine.
While talking I notice she is a handsome woman and has all her teeth. Having a full set of teeth was a rarity at the time. While decay from sugar wasn’t present, basic gum care was a huge problem. There was nothing about her that a bath wouldn’t cure.
It seemed we were at a crossroads about bathing. The Romans had their baths and used them frequently. Most conquered areas adopted the practice. They had influenced Cornwall but hadn’t conquered it to change its customs. At least in this reality. Pity.
“What do you want in return?” She asked.
“You and your son to swear allegiance to me and provide men if needed for war.”
She had no reservations that I could see in doing this. It would allow her and her children live. Not only to live but to remain in power. Expecting death, she now faced life.
My men secured the small fortress and assembled its inhabitants. When the people of the castle and the immediate surrounding area were assembled, I explained the change in their circumstances.
The news was accepted with little reaction. The former Baron hadn’t treated the people well, but he wasn’t horrible to them either.
To them, it sounded like business as usual. That would change. The village headman was brought to me. I explained to him that there would be changes, but wanted him to observe them in my village so he could explain them to his people.
You could tell he wasn’t used to this treatment. Confusing him further, I asked that his wife accompany him to bring back a women’s perspective on the coming changes.
I knew that when she saw the better lifestyle of my people, she would be our most avid supporter. The headman thought he ran his village, but I knew better.
The old Baron had less than five hundred silver in his treasury. This small amount wouldn’t have supported the castle for very long. It explained why he decided to conquer me. I told the mother of the new Baron that I would send one thousand silver to support her son. This amount was to be considered a no-interest loan with no set repayment date.
To say she continued to be amazed would be putting it lightly. I would have taken her as a wife if she had been younger. She was the most attractive and intelligent woman I had met so far. She just needed a bath.
I arranged for ten men and a Sergeant to remain as my representatives. The Sergeant understood that The Lady of the castle was in charge, he was there to report any attempted treason.
I could only trust so far.
While arrangements were being made, I thought about how I had gotten here. Ironically it started on my deathbed.