Eventide and Mahmud spent the early hours of each morning high up on the parapets watching the massive army down below on the open plains.
It was noticeable to both boys that the encampment was now huge and spread over the whole width of the plains. Each morning they would look out on the number of camp fires and marvel at the sheer numbers of soldiers lined up against them and the city
The smoke from the morning fires created a light misty covering over the encampment which was soon blown away by the light breeze that swept across the plains in the morning. There was little they could do until they saw the form of attack that would be used by the assembled army.
Eventide had shown Mahmud and the various officers of the defending forces; the knowledge he had gained from his father's library. Their plan of defence relied heavily on previous campaigns he had read about; there was, of course; a certain amount of freedom to make the final plan effective if the attackers changed their well known ways.
The two Kahlif had heard little from Marchant over the last five days. He had secluded himself away with a number of special tradesmen and was working to design an effective long range bow to be hopefully used from the protected tops of the Wadhi rim.
The walls were now guarded by one tenth of the troops available to the city; there was a mixture of both Militia, city guards and those sent by the Emir; even the guards of the two Kahlif took their turn high up on the walls. The call to arms for the whole city would be a single long blast from the trumpets when the first attack started.
The two boys did not waste the time they had; now that the sand camp was static, they used the time differently. The cartographers still worked each night but this time it was to fill in the details of the encampment outside the walls.
As soon as it got dark at night; three or four of the Hashin would leave the city through a secret passageway under the walls. The Hashin would then go out as close to the encampment as they could safely go and then take note in detail of everything they saw.
Had the enemy known how detailed the maps that were held and developed in the city; they may have thought twice about attacking the high walls. As it was, the two boys saw the major weakness of the enemy; their need for water and a lot of it.
Their plan for the water carriers was given to the Hashin brothers but not until the attack was started and the enemy felt it too late to retreat. The two boys needed to hold the army here as long as they could and yet still defend the city and not let it fall.
Day by day the sand map became more detailed; the towering cliffs of the Wadhi were made by collecting clay from all the pottery works in the city and, with the help of those same potters; the towering cliffs became a reality. Small figures were carved by woodworkers and painted to represent the different types of soldiery; it was as though a man was flying like a bird above the enemy encampment in its detail and accuracy.
Patterns of movement were taken for everything the enemy did in its day to day preparations; nothing was overlooked that might be used to save the city. The two Kahlif watched and planned; making changes as something new was recorded.
The two boys were often seen by the people of the city as they walked around and spoke to everyone to keep up the moral of the city. It was good for the two boys to see most people still going about their daily activities even though a sword of destruction hung over the heads.
The day finally arrived when the enemy made its first moves. The boys had watched carefully as the two siege engines were assembled. They were a strange looking machine; a long thick beam was suspended between two uprights of wooden bracing; it was fixed to a large flat bed wagon with wooden wheels. At one end was a heavy weight that looked to be made from both wood and metal; at the other end was a type of round cup on one and on the other was what appeared to be a large sling.
This was the first time either had seen a Trebuchet or a catapult; it would not be long before they also saw its use. As well as the two machines, there was also something that looked like a large long hut on wheels with a heavy log slung below a thick canopy of interlaced shields. Both boys knew this to be a battering ram and was meant for the gates once the Trebuchet and catapult had done their work. Mahmud called for more reinforcing on the main gate.
The walls were no mean feat. At their base they were ten metres thick and narrowed to five metres at the top of the wall; where the gate stood on the outer wall; there was a narrow tunnel that led into the city; this also was protected by a steel portcullis that could be dropped if unwanted visitors tried to enter deeper. Along the side of the tunnel were small narrow slots for bowmen to fire down into the passageway and yet remain out of sight of invaders.
Even if, or when the enemy broke through; they would still be slowed by the narrow passageway and limited to the number of men that could be sent though at any one time and the hidden archers could take a huge toll before the enemy could break through the portcullis; if it was even possible.
The two Kahlif watched as the finished Trebuchet and catapult were wheeled to within 500 paces of the wall. The land around the entrance to the city wall was also now filled with earthworks that protected the soldiers from any archers that might be able to shoot at those distances.
Heavy wooden siege shields were set up in front of the earthworks as added protection along with row upon row of heavy sharp stakes; the enemy was setting in for a long siege.
Mahmud received a message by pigeon on the morning before the first shots were fired from the siege engines; it had been sent by the Emir who of course was being kept up to date with the building of the siege. Mahmud called for Eventide as he read the message.
When Eventide joined Mahmud in the great hall where the sand map now spread over half the hall; Mahmud told him of the message.
"Brother, it would seem we have some unexpected allies. The Emir has just let us know that one thousand Taureg have crossed the Devils Cauldron and are coming to help us. They have set aside their old enmities with us to help in defeating the Infidels; of course what they will do after the battle is anyone's guess; but for now at least they are ready to fight on our side against this army of Christians."
"That's good news; how long before they arrive?"
"Within the next few days; they have been told to come through the Eastern gate; how we can use them is another matter; they are desert people and do not like to be tied down in a city; we will have to find them battles outside in the open spaces where they are the most effective."
"Then we have many targets for them; the Christians will have to keep a supply line for the food and animal fodder; our brothers can take care of the water supplies and the Taureg can attack the supply trains behind the enemy lines."
"That sounds just the type of fight the Taureg would like; if we tell them they can keep all and any plunder they find, it will serve their purpose even further."
"Then that's our plan for them."
The two boys smiled; the unexpected help from one of the most dangerous desert tribes could only bode well for their own defence of the city.
The next morning was to be the first day of the attack by the siege engines; the large rocks hurled by the machines bounced and rolled along the ground well outside the walls of the city. The two boys watched with interest as the machines spent most of the day finding the right distance and then having to work to narrow down their angles to aim for the heavy wooden gates.
Against the thick walls; the single Trebuchet would have little success; had there been far more of them to survive the fire arrow attacks, then the walls would also be in danger.
As it was the gate was the only place for the machines to be used in such small numbers; the city settled down for the long bombardment of rocks. They were to find out at night, that the catapult also had a fire ball that was flung by the one with the cup shape; these were flung high in the night sky in an attempt to fly over the walls and set fire to the city on the inside.
On the first night of the fire balls it was totally unexpected; none of the spies had even seen anything to do with fire or any preparation for them; the boys began to organise the people into fire fighting groups. Water carts were set around the city for easy access in case of homes or shops being hit with the fire balls.
Most of the buildings in the old city were made of stone or fired brick; they would not burn but the contents could easily set large fires if not controlled; the boys worked hard to make sure that did not happen.
It was almost dark before the first large rock hit the gates; it had bounced first on the soft sand outside the walls and had lost a lot of its power. The gates barely moved and the sound was nothing more than a dull thud as it hit; there were to be many more to come but the great gates held against them all.
When the Taureg arrived at the Eastern gates; the two young Kahlif met them dressed as Kahlif; Mahmud had told Eventide it would be more politic than dressing as Bedou. The four chiefs of the Taureg had surprised looks on their faces when they saw the small figure of an Infidel dressed as a Kahlif.
Nothing was said directly but the looks of suspicion did not go unnoticed by either boys. The Taureg were let into the city for food and water; the four chiefs were escorted to the great hall for their meeting with the two boys and to find out what they would be doing.
At the first sight of the huge sand map; the four chiefs looked at the two youngsters with a new respect; they had to acknowledge that the two young Kahlif had put a lot of work and thought into their preparations for the defence of the great city of Wadhi Sufaria.
After looking over the sand map and talking about what they could do to repel the invaders; the four chiefs were treated to a feast along with drink and the inevitable hookah; the discussions continued late into the night.
Outside the palace they could hear the thuds of the fire balls; most landed in the wide streets but a few hit a house or shop but were quickly doused as the people were ready and the fires did not get a chance to take full hold.
When the discussions were finished and the four chiefs had been told that all plunder would belong to them; they were shown to rooms put aside for them; in the morning they would leave with their men and begin their raids far behind the lines of the Infidels.
The Taureg would again leave by the Eastern gate and ride nonstop back through the desert and around the Wadhi until they came out far behind the enemy army; it was hoped the rear attacks would draw more soldiers from the army to protect the supply trains.
It was the second day of the main siege when Marchant arrived in the great hall; with him he carried a small model; after placing it on the table to the side of the sand map; he smiled at the two Kahlif.
"I think this might do it."
The two boys looked at the small model; it was an unusual looking bow. Mounted on a flat deck with four wheels; the bow was fixed to a square looking block. Down the centre of the block or body of the bow was a deep furrow; the bow was mounted on the top and the string was lying on the block. At the rear was a windlass with a rope and hook to pull back the bow. It looked like a cross with the bow at the top and the body was the upright of the cross. Eventide was the first to speak.
"Where did you come up with the idea and does it work?"
"I took the idea from the Christians cross that they have mounted on a cart outside the Knights tents; the big one they travelled with. The cart underneath will make it easier to take from one place to the other. We have made ten of them so far and the shafts are being produced by many of the smiths in the city. The bow is reinforced with a metal lathe at the centre; it will give the bow flexibility and power."
"What are you going to call it?" Mahmud asked with interest.
"I don't know; perhaps we should call it after the Christian cross that they are so fond of."
Eventide got a glint in his eye as he saw the inference to the Christian cross.
"That's a good idea; we'll call it a cross bow."
The boys all laughed at the ridiculous name but it seemed to fit the occasion.
"How good is it; and will it have enough range to make a difference and how will you get a full sized one up on the escarpment?"
"We don't know yet what the range is but we did fire one shaft at a target inside the city and it went right through the solid wood without barely losing power; it left a very big hole in the stone wall behind the target. We are going to use as many of the small donkeys that are ridden around the city. The people tell me they are very sure footed and can carry far more than you would think from such a small animal."
"When will you be ready to begin using them?"
"We want to take the first ten up tomorrow morning; the rest will follow if we are successful with those."
"Sounds good; you go ahead and do what you think is right; if nothing else it should scare the enemy."
The next morning, there was a lot of interest from the cities people as they saw Marchant along with a column of loaded donkeys and attendant archers; leave by the Eastern gate. No one apart from those involved knew about the new bows and what they were to be used for.
The bows and other equipment had been broken down to a size the small donkey's could carry; once on top of the Wadhi they would be re-assembled and set for use along the front rim. It had been discussed the night before by the three boys that the shafts may be better off being made from both wood and steel.
The main shaft would now be made from wood and only the tip was to be metal; it would save resources in the city and produce far more useable arrows; or, as Marchant liked to call them; bolts.
Each day the two boys took turns patrolling the parapets; they spent time talking to the guards on duty and asking their opinion on some of the activities of the enemy; it all went to help form a defensive plan.
After the first day of bombardment by the two machines; it was noticed that only the single Trebuchet was used during the day and only the catapult was used at night; it could only mean they were limited with what they could use as projectiles.
On the fourth day of the small bombardment; the two boys received a message from the Eastern gate. A very young Taureg boy was asking to see the two Kahlif; he was quickly admitted and taken to see the two boys who were waiting for him near the sand map.
Eventide was surprised to see that the boy could not be more than ten years old and yet he carried himself like all the Taureg; he was a warrior and he let everyone know it by his demeanour.
The boy bowed and salaamed to the two young Kahlif; after being returned the young boy began to relay his message.
"My Father has sent me to warn you and also ask your advice. The Infidel have a new supply train coming; in it they have twenty carts loaded with thick timbers. My Father does not know what they are and would ask what must be done. There is also a very heavy guard of armoured soldiers and Knights with the carts. Do you wish him to attack them or continue on with attacking the softer supplies in other carts?"
The two boys thanked the boy and started to put their heads together; that the twenty carts held replacement siege engines there was little doubt, but what could they do about it. If they asked the Taureg to attack they could lose many men to the armoured guards and this would defeat the purpose of limiting the food and fodder supplies.
Mahmud called for food and water for the boy and had him shown to a room to rest while they worked on the new problem. The only thing they could do was to send one of the Hashin to look over the carts and try to find out what type of machine they carried.
The Taureg were not set up for fire attacks but the extra machines could also be the undoing of the cities defensive wall; it would be a fine balance between success and failure. The final decision was made with regret; they would have to let the carts through and save as many of the Taureg as they could to stay and attack the supply carts. They could not send their allies into certain death with only a small hope of destroying the machines.
That night the young boy left on his camel accompanied by Ishmael on one of Mahmud's finest war camels. The two would travel non-stop to catch up with the main Taureg force and Ishmael would look over the twenty carts; as yet the carts would not reach the city siege for another ten or more days. As they could only move slowly; there was still time to find a solution.
The morning after the two messengers had left; a young man led the file of donkeys back into the city from above; they would be used again to carry supplies and any new bows back up to Marchant and his archers; it was also the signal that Marchant was ready to fully test the new contraptions.
A system of signals had been arranged with Marchant; both for the tests and for when they were used in combat. A white flag was for a test with the metal bolts; a red flag was for the new wooden bolts with the steel tips. A green flag was to signal that Marchant was going to try for the siege engines with fire bolts and a black flag was for troops.
Both boys were up on the parapets when they saw the white flag being waved; they answered with one of their own. Marchant was going to fire only one bow at a time to see the range and accuracy of the new bows; if they were successful then they would look at how best to use them.
Far out on the plain, the boys could see the enemy hard at work making new barricades and trenches; they were being dug fifty paces closer to the walls; it appeared as though the enemy had not changed its plans from old.
It was a tactic used when laying siege to a fortified position; the trenches and barricades would creep closer and closer until they were within striking distance. The siege barricades would then protect the enemy archers while they fired at the guards high up on the walls. The boys hoped the new cross bows would be an effective counter stroke; that the enemy could manufacture long ladders to mount the walls there was little doubt.
Slowly the enemy plan of attack became more set; it was as though they also were following the old tried and true ways that Eventide had read about; he now knew he had a definite advantage by being prepared from Freeman's library.
After they answered the white flag; the boys watched high up on top of the Wadhi wall; it did not take long before they saw the black bolt fly from the high cliffs; the power surprised those watching as the metal bolt flew straight and true towards the enemy lines.
When it hit the ground with a fine spurt of sand flying high in the morning stillness; those watching almost cheered; the heavy steel bolt was no more than twenty or so paces short of the rear most barricade; with practice and using the lighter wooden bolts; there was a good chance of reaching the two machines in the rear; it was a good sign.
Down on the plains there was little notice taken by the enemy; only the few close to where the bolt landed seemed surprised at the sudden appearance of such a large weapon in their midst. The single metal bolt was soon ignored as no others appeared and the enemy workers went back to their task of creating a new trench and barricade.
It took a little while for Marchant to signal he was ready to fire one of the new wooden bolts; he had needed the time to reset the angle of the heavy cross bow and find the right elevation for distance; his years as a Reaches bowman now came into play.
Some little time later; the two boys watched as the red flag was waved up on the cliff top; as soon as they answered; they watched the new wooden bolt fly towards the enemy lines. It took everything they had not to cheer as they saw the single bolt fly just past the Catapult; had they been amongst the enemy lines they would have heard the dismay from the troops manning the catapult as the large wooden bolt flew past them and buried itself into the soft sand behind their machine.
Mahmud had one of the guards wave the black flag to let Marchant know not to fire anymore until the time was right; they had all the answers they needed for now and did not want to warn the enemy too soon of what they had in mind.
Since the start of the bombardment by the Trebuchet; the guards had been timing how long it took to reload the machine; they also took note of every shot and where it landed. It soon became obvious the Trebuchet was not very accurate as each rock would weigh differently from the other and the shape also made it twist or turn different from the one previous.
There was little doubt that a large number would be dangerous but; if there were only a few then it was a case of hit and miss; the new cross bow was another matter; once Marchant had his settings from one cross bow; he could set all the others to the same; it gave them greater accuracy and could now hopefully inflict far more damage than the siege machines.
One part of the plan was for the approaching barricades to be left untouched until they were well within striking distance of the long bows; it was decided to let the enemy approach to three hundred paces before they would take action; the longer they delayed, the more work the enemy had to do and it would all make them have to use supplies and water to keep the workers healthy and it would run their supplies low.
At three hundred paces; the enemy bowmen would still be short of an effective range for the Persian bows but the long bow could almost pick them off at will without reply. From now on it was a waiting game but the time would not be wasted; they still had the new carts to worry about and find a plan to disable or destroy them.
Seven days later; when Ishmael reappeared at the Eastern gate with his report; there had been another thirty cross bows made and transported up to Marchant's post on the high cliffs; the supply of the newer and lighter wooden bolts was now a lot larger and each day the stock pile grew.
Ishmael reported that the carts were carrying what looked like fifteen new Trebuchet and five more catapults; they would now be only three or four days away; add a few days for them to be assembled and they could look at being under bombardment in less than ten days. It was time to get Marchant ready to use his new weapon.
They all knew the walls could still withstand a long pounding, even with the new Trebuchets being employed; but it could not last forever; they would need to damage or destroy as many as they could whenever the opportunity arose; it would be up to Marchant and his archers to cause that destruction if possible.
Later on that night; the report from their three brothers that went out each night to watch the camp gave them a little hope. It seemed the continual attacks by the Taureg were starting to have an effect on the moral of the enemy. Food was being rationed and the animals were being fed only in the evenings as fodder was not getting through.
The three brothers also reported that a number of troops had left the camp in what appeared to be a guarding action for the supply trains. The next good news was that the brothers had now seen enough of the water train to the small defile to have a good pattern of their actions. This was the sort of fighting the brothers fully understood; it would be their job to harass the water column each day; the more damage they could do to the water carts the better off they would all be and the worse off the enemy would be.
It was Marchant that saw the first of the new siege machine carts arrive in the enemy camp; from his high vantage point he had been able to see them before those below in the city; the two boys decided it was time to take action and begin a few small attacks of their own; they had had enough of waiting and watching; it was time to take offensive action.
The water carts left the encampment each morning just as the sun was rising; the trip to the defile took less than half an hour and the filling of the many carts took the best part of four hours; it was usually midday before they began the trip back to camp.
The biggest danger was the closeness of the main camp; any attack on the carts would have to be a quick hit and run then retreat. It was decided to hit the carts as they stopped at the defile to fill the wooden casks that they used as water tanks.
The casks were large and unwieldy but, if they could be damaged or better yet; destroyed, then it would make for a better result and cause more problems for the enemy; it would also cause them to use more men to guard the carts on any future foray to the defile; there was one thing left that they could do when it became too dangerous to attack the carts.
In one of the warehouses in the city was a large supply of salt blocks; it had been decided that, when it was no longer feasible to attack the carts they would load the pool with salt; with such a high concentration of salt it would make it undrinkable until the new water could dissolve enough of the salt to make it safe once again.
The use of the salt was to be the final solution to the water needs of the enemy; until then they would repeat their attacks until forced to use that solution. One of the court mathematicians had worked out that it would take at least ten days for the water to become drinkable.
Ten days in the desert without water was almost a death sentence and only a very strict rationing would save the enemy army; their weakness would be exploited in any way the two Kahlif's could think of.
The timing of the first attack on the water carts was set for the same morning that the new siege engines started to be used; it would be the signal for an all out attack on the carts; the hope was that all the enemy would be more interested in watching the results of the extra machines and not watching the carts.
The enemy seemed to be unaware that the carts could be a target; they were safely behind the lines and none of the defenders could break out of the city without being seen by the army camped around it. The enemy strategists could not have been aware of the true potential of the city and its long history as the gateway to the Emir's lands.
The city had been built many, many, years ago with one purpose; to hold the gateway to the eastern lands of the caravans and all the trade they produced for the wealth of the desert lands.
The first barrage from the sixteen Trebuchet was something entirely different from just one single one. The Trebuchet fired one after another but the large rocks seemed to all be in the air at the same time. While the number was threatening, their inaccuracy took away some of the fear that those watching on top of the walls as the rocks flew towards them.
All the rocks hit the walls but did little damage; the range of five hundred paces took a lot off their ability to do damage at that range. The six catapults were now dragged forward to the first line of the trenches; they were not used but saved for the night attacks; unknown to the catapult soldiers; they were now well within the range of Marchant's new cross bows.
It was planned to not use the bows until the enemy thought they were safe enough to also move the Trebuchet closer giving the defenders a better chance of hitting them with the heavy bolts. Marchant's bows would be kept secret until the last moment.
The third line of trenches was also now underway; the heavy wooden siege shields were already in place and only the earthworks needed to be completed. The soldiers would be well within the range of the far more powerful long bows of the defenders, but they were allowed to work and think they were safe at three hundred paces.
The distance was extreme for the Persian bows but well within the range of the long bow; the enemy would not know what had hit them when they came under such a heavy attack from eight hundred long bowmen.
As they watched the third barrage of rocks fly their way; Mahmud nudged Eventide and pointed towards the rear of the enemy camp; it did not take much to notice the thick plume of black smoke rising high into the still air; the brothers had had some success; how much, they would not know until their brothers returned to the city; that would not be until the darkness of night let them sneak through the enemy lines and use the hidden entrance into the city; until then they would disappear into the desert and wait out the day.
The continual bombardment by the Trebuchet was still doing little damage to the thick strong walls of the city; even the enemy did not think it would make any difference for quite some time to come; all they could do was continue day after day and hope the final reward would come and the gates would either fall or open due to starvation. It was a normal type of siege and could last as long as food and water held out.
There was little doubt by the defenders that, at some stage; the enemy would try to force the walls with ladders or some other form of assault that the enemy hoped would succeed.
The losses to the attackers were always high when a frontal assault was done in this way but it had been a form of attack used over years and no one had thought of any other way.
Most of the tactics of the defenders; relied on Eventides long hours of reading the books and scrolls in Freeman's library; so far that information had been correct and he had little doubt that it would remain that way. His own strategies were unheard of and that; he hoped; would give them the advantage over the huge numbers of the enemy out on the plains.
After five days of bombardment; the enemy decided to get more power into their Trebuchets and catapults. It was early in the morning on the tenth day that the two Kahlif watched as the siege machines were pushed by hand and rolled to the trench line that marked the four hundred paces limit. Unknown to the enemy; they were now well within the range of Marchant's new bows.
Marchant had not fired a single bolt at the enemy after the first test shot of the metal bolt and the second ranging shot of the modified wooden bolt; it was hoped that the enemy would have forgotten all about them; the movement of the machines was a signal that they had not even thought about the strange arrows; it was time for the next surprise.
During the long days of the bombardment; the small donkeys had worked tirelessly going back and forth to the top of the Wadhi. Each load was carefully packed and Marchant now had fifty of the new devices lined up along the rim.
Next to each strange bow as a large pile of wooden bolts each with a metal tip and, around the shaft just behind the metal tip was a thick band of course cloth. Every cloth wrap was covered in the thick black tar from the oozing sands.
It was the catapults that caused the most damage; at night it was a veritable fire storm as the huge round balls of fire flew over the walls and crashed in a spectacular shower of sparks and fire into the town. It was fortunate that the catapults did not have the range to reach the main palaces and it was here that the two Kahlif sent those of the city that were most vulnerable.
The men, boys and militia of the city stayed to fight any fires that broke out as a result of the fire balls. Now that the machines had been moved to well within the range of the new bows; it was time to hit back; Eventide sent the message to Marchant.
'Begin the counter attack'
The first target of the bows would to the catapults; every one of the new cross bows was to be aimed at destroying the catapults and then turn on the Trebuchets.
The two boys and most of the soldiery of the city were up on top of the walls to watch the first attack of the new bows. Marchant had decided to leave it until late in the day before firing his first bolts; by then the sun would be low in the sky and right in the eyes of the enemy if they tried to look up at the cliff top.
Everyone on the top of the wall watched as slight movement was spied on top of the cliff; until this time the bows had been kept well back from the rim so the enemy could not see what was going on.
Marchant rolled his bows to the very edge and, those below watched as an archer on each bow carried a fire brand to the front and lit the tar soaked cloth; when all bolts were alight and the thick black smoke was spiralling up into the late afternoon sky; Marchant gave one last look at the array of huge siege machines far out and below him on the wide plain.
The watchers on the walls barely heard the loud call from the cliff top as Marchant gave the order to fire. It was like some celebration spectacle when the watchers saw the fifty bolts take to the air with a trail of black smoke behind them and a flicker of red flame under the smoke.
The bolts flew far faster than the watchers thought they would; it took everyone by surprise how quickly the bolts suddenly began to slam into the ground around the six catapults but, not all of them missed. There were enough bolts in the air and Marchant's talents with a bow and how to sight them was enough to have more than twenty of the fire bolts slam into and stay fast on the six wooden catapults.
The enemy had no chance to save their six catapults as they had not even thought it was possible for the defenders to attack them; that and the lack of water to put out the fires meant they could only watch in dismay as the six wooden engines caught and then began to burn unhindered.
The loud roar from the mass of defenders at the top of the wall echoed over the plains as the six engines burnt stronger and stronger until they were a furious tower of flames.
While this was going on; Eventide watched as the enemy began to understand that the catapults were not the only thing in range of this new weapon. Loud yells and orders echoed over the suddenly silent plains as the enemy began to organise the withdrawal of their remaining machines; Marchant had no intention of letting them get away or at least stopping and destroying as many as he could hit.
After the first feeling or euphoria at seeing the six catapults burst into flames and begin to burn like funeral pyres; Marchant called for reloads. The enemy had not even got their Trebuchets rolling when the next fifty fire bolts began to land amongst them.
Enemy soldiers were trying to douse the flames as best they could with hands full of sand and flapping cloths or coats; little did they know that the black tar made it almost impossible to kill the fire once it had taken hold; their efforts were useless against the foul smelling tar.
Four Trebuchet were hit and in flames after the second barrage. The panic out on the plains was easy to see as more fire bolts flew through the air towards the machines as the enemy soldiers tried desperately to get them moving away from the deadly attack from the evening sky.
There was chaos and disorder in the enemy ranks as they tried desperately to bring up horse to pull the remaining Trebuchet out of the line of fire from the new weapons; even as they struggled with horses that did not want to be close to the towering fires of the catapults; three Trebuchet were hit by the next volley of bolts.
While it was possible to put out one or two of the fire bolts; the sheer number of accurately fired bolts that hit each Trebuchet made it impossible to stop the fires. Marchant had his archers all firing at only two or three targets at the same time; this way he could score many hits on one target with a higher likely-hood of their destruction. His plan worked well and; when the last of the Trebuchet were underway; there were only nine of them moving and not in flames.
The cheers from the high walls rang out over the darkening plains as they watched the retreating machines; some still showed the marks of a hit on their singed frames; Marchant's idea had been a total success; the Trebuchet were now pulled well back out of what they hoped was the range of the new weapon.
The Trebuchet could still fire their heavy rocks at the walls but the extra distance now made it harder for them to do heavy damage; what few knew was that the new cross bows had more in them and the expertise of Marchant as a bowman would make the difference in the days to come.
As had been agreed by the parties involved with the new weapon; Marchant would now once again dismantle thirty of the new bows and have them transported back to the city; the others would stay up on the cliffs to continue with other targets.
Those dismantled would be then set up on the walls of the city to counter any attacks from the enemy; they all knew that the enemy would eventually have to try to attack the walls with ladders and battering rams; it was then the new bows would come into their own.
Above the main gate on the wall; the large metal pots of oil stood waiting; the fires under them were kept burning at just enough temperature to make it easy to increase the heat once an attack started. It was expected that the destruction of the catapults and the ineffectiveness of the Trebuchet would spur the Christians to attack the walls soon rather than later.
When the members of the brotherhood returned to the city via the hidden passageway; the news they carried told of a complete success. The carts had not been guarded; the enemy had no reason to even think that they would be attacked so far behind their lines. The destruction of the water carts had been total, not a single cart escaped and only a handful of the drivers had got away to report back to the enemy camp.
The plan was for the enemy to be left alone for a while until they thought it was only a one off attack; once the two Kahlif thought the enemy were again a little lax; they would send out another attack on the water carts.
Reports till came in from the Taureg about their successes on the supply train; they also noted for the Kahlif that the number of guards had increased dramatically on the supply trains. It took only a change in tactics for the Taureg to still have a dramatic effect on supplies.
It had now been a month since the beginning of the siege; without the catapults to fire their dangerous fire balls into the city; things had improved; the Trebuchet now had an even harder task to damage the great walls; the increased distance made for less effective damage and accuracy.
It had come to a stalemate; those inside the walls still had the use of the Eastern gate to have supplies brought into the city and water would never be a problem as they had long developed deep wells within the walls; it was the enemy that was under the most pressure to keep their supplies coming.
It was only two days after the last of the cross bows had been set up on the walls when the guards sent a report to the two Kahlif.
"My Lords." The soldier said as he knelt in the great hall. "The enemy is massing behind the siege shields; what are your orders?"
Mahmud answered the soldier with short sharp orders.
"Have the trumpets sounded; call all archers to the wall and have the oil pots heated to their fullest. Send a message to Captain Marchant; he will be needed on the walls and have all other forces formed up ready to repel the attackers. The reserves are to form up below the walls and close to the gate."
The soldier bowed and left at a run; the time had arrived for the first attempt at breaching their walls and the two boys were not about to let that happen; their plans for close combat in the defence of the city were now ready to be set in motion.
At one end of the wall, Marchant had had a tall pole set up; at the top was a round block and a rope ran from top to bottom. On a table set up below the pole sat two long banners; a soldier stood beside the table waiting for Marchant's orders. The two Kahlif now found out why he had asked for it to be stood there.
"So Marchant; why the pole?"
"It is so I can tell the archers up on the cliff what I want, My Liege."
"The green banner is for fire bolts; the red is for no fire; we will use them against the siege shields and to disrupt the movements of the foot soldiers."
The two boys looked out on the plain; the numbers of the gathering enemy almost made them gasp. Row upon row of armed men were gathering behind the heavy siege shields. Mounted Knights were riding back and forth as they formed their men into large phalanx; the dust in the air was slightly obscuring the mass of men at arms as they formed up.
The reflection of the bright sun on the thousands of shields could be seen from afar. Behind the first phalanx was the large machine with the shields covering the top; it was the heavy battering ram that would attack the main gates once the soldiers began to mount the long ladders to the top of the walls.
For a little while it seemed that the whole plain was holding its breath; there was little noise from the massed ranks of the enemy and the defenders on the wall stood silently; it was as though they had all agreed to have a moments silence before the killing began.
It was as though an agreed signal had been given as to when the fighting would start and Marchant was the means of that signal. In the silent stillness of that midmorning day; the soft sound of the thin rope running through the roller at the top of the pole appeared to be that signal.
As the red banner ran up the pole to signal those bows up on the cliff to use plain bolts; the soft squeaking of the wooden block seemed to echo over the silent plain as if it was a trumpet; the squeak of the block seemed to be the signal for the enemy to start yelling and calling their battle cries.
Before the massed ranks could move; the sound of powerful bows filled the morning air and the sight of the heavy bolts were seen speeding towards the line of heavy siege shields. The bolts were the signal for all hell to break loose. From the top of the wall came Marchant's order for the long bowmen to fire.
It was as though an anger had been released as the fresh morning air filled with the hum of nearly eight hundred bows all firing in unison; it was the first of many as the sky became filled with the flying death.
The long arrows fell in a torrent into the massed ranks of the waiting foot soldiers; their lighter armour seemed to make no difference or afford any security as the ranks below the wall began to thin as holes appeared in the ranks. The arrows became like a cloud in the sky as the archers fired as fast as they were able to pull another shaft from the large baskets by their sides.
Screams of pain and suffering echoed over the sands as the first scent of fresh blood wafted towards the defenders high up on the walls. The enemy had little to reply with; their catapults were now ashes and not there to be brought into play but would have been ineffectual against the massed fire of nearly eight hundred well drilled archers.
High above the plains, the new cross bows took toll on the siege shields, many were split and almost useless for hiding the waiting foot soldiers; the heavy bolts were like a lightning bolt as they began to pass right through the thick shields and skewer those soldiers hiding behind them.
The defenders on top of the wall watched as there came a lull in the bows from the Wadhi rim; minutes later they began again; Marchant had run up the black flag; the fire bolts were now on their way towards the battering ram while others were raised even further and fired at the far off Trebuchets.
On the parapet the heavy cross bows began to also fire at the remaining siege shields with fire bolts. With the massed bolts aimed at the shields; it was not long before they were all ablaze. The Trebuchet were a little luckier because of their distance but even the threat of the bows was enough for them to be hitched to waiting horses and dragged far away and out of range; it also meant the Trebuchet could no long range the walls.
Marchant used his archers to perfection as the heavy cross bows returned to normal bolts and targeted the soldiers; the siege shields were turning out to be almost ineffective against this new weapon as more men fell mortally wounded.
The enemy ordered their own bowmen to fire but the distance for the shorter Persian bows was just too much to be effective; their next decision became almost a slaughter as the enemy urged their bowmen forward to get within range; even with soldiers carrying heavy shields to protect the enemy archers, it was still a slaughter. The moment they stepped out from the shields to fire; the massed archers on the wall took them down.
No one on the wall could tell if the next orders of the enemy were from frustration, desperation, foolhardiness or plain ignorance but the result was not good for the enemy.
To those on the wall watching; it appeared as though ten thousand foot soldiers erupted from the plains. On one arm they carried their shields high to protect them from the rain of death falling from the sky; in the other hand they carried long ladders in the hope of laying them on the wall to mount to the parapets and engage the defenders hand to hand.
Amongst the racing mass of soldiery, the defenders saw the strange battering ram being pushed by more than a hundred men that were protected by the mass of metal shields fitted on top of the machine.
The heavy cross bows on the wall changed angle and tried to stop the ram from reaching the gates but the metal shields made it difficult to penetrate. The enemy did suffer losses but not enough to slow the progress of the ram; Eventide ordered the fires of the oil pots above the gate to be increased; it was not long before they were starting to bubble.
Marchant's long bowmen lowered their aim to fire at the advancing horde; even with their shields high; the enemy suffered great losses and yet they came on; it seemed in sheer desperation knowing that once close to the walls the bowmen would find it harder to fire at them and their own archers would be well within range to fire upward.
The enemy officers urged their men forward; many were killed or wounded but they kept coming; their only hope was to reach the walls and try to fight their way upward; Eventide called for all the pots to be brought to full heat and long poles were made ready to push the ladders off the wall.
Below them the air became thick with dust and the smell of death; that strange, strong smell of blood now permeated every breath a man took and the screams of the wounded filled the defenders ears with a sound like screeching birds of prey.
The dust rose around the attackers as they tried to get close to the walls to use their ladders; the sheer numbers made it possible for many to reach their objective; even the slow moving battering ram was now close enough that it would soon start its attempt to destroy the great gates.
The defenders took a deep breath; the time was at hand to see if all their preparations had been worth it. Marchant's bowmen were now having to lean over the parapet to fire down into the enemy below; it was the most dangerous time as the enemy bowmen could now return fire; Marchant called his men back to continue firing at those reinforcements following behind the main thrust.
The long ladders took thirty men to carry; many fell but their places were soon taken by others as they pushed forward. Mahmud called to his light cavalry to prepare; when the chance arose; they would be let through the gates to attack the foot soldiers near the gate and then retreat back inside; it would be a desperate chance and only used as a last resort if those on the wall were being pushed too hard.
The ladders began to fall against the wall and the foot soldiers took to the climb. The walls were high and the climb was difficult while under continuous fire from the archers above. Before the first soldiers could reach the top of the ladder; Eventide gave the order for the oil pots to be tipped. The rain of boiling oil fell in a torrent on those below; even those waiting for their turn to climb did not escape as the hot liquid rained down on them.
Burned men fell from the ladders and yet it was not yet over; with a loud shout, Eventide ordered fire brands to be thrown down into the hot oil. All along the wall became a raging fire filled with the screams of the dying and the thick smell of burning flesh; ;those ladders that were not fired, were pushed off the wall with the long poles and the men on them fell to their deaths on top of those waiting below.
The battering ram had reached the gates and, as soon as the first blow was struck on the gates; Eventide ordered the oil pots above the gates to be tipped and then set fire to once the ram was doused in the hot oil; those underneath the protection of the heavy shields did not escape the oil or the fire; a few ran but were cut down by archers as the ram sat alone like a grave marker and burnt like a beacon.
The enemy began to run in retreat leaving behind so many dead and wounded that below the high walls looked like a charnel house. The defenders had not got off without their own losses; Marchant was to find he had lost nearly a hundred archers but the losses to those waiting to repel the foot soldiers had fared better as they had not got to the hand to hand fighting and were able to stay out of sight of most of the enemy archers. None of the enemy breached the wall; their first defence had been a huge success.
Out on the plain the retreat continued and Eventide ordered his men to let them go; there had been enough death on this morning. The retreating enemy were helping stragglers and wounded as they pulled back to their lines. The Knights on their great war horses could only watch as their first attack on the walls became a rout; it was obvious that their way forward was going to be far more difficult than they first thought. It was hard for them to think that only two young teens could have put up such a defence in the face of staggering odds.
Eventide called for water and food for those who would stay on guard when most of the others began to descend to take sustenance in a cooler place and away from the heavy smell of death that rose from below the wall.
Eventide was just about to leave the wall and join Mahmud for his own refreshment when one of the guards called for him and pointed out onto the plain.
Eventide turned to look in the direction of the pointing guard; far out on the plain was a single rider holding a white flag as he rode towards the smudged walls surrounded by the dead. Eventide called for the guards to hold their fire and let the rider come closer.
Once he was below the walls; Eventide saw he was an officer of the Templars; after checking that no enemy archers were waiting to ambush him; Eventide leaned out and asked the rider what he wanted; the rider; although he had a look of anger on his face; asked if the defenders would agree to a meeting to discuss a temporary truce so that the enemy could recover their dead and wounded.
Eventide thought for a few seconds and then called back that the one of the Kahlif would meet with officers of the enemy to make a short truce in one hour; the rider acknowledge the reply and agreed that in one hour, Knights would come forward to talk; he then turned his horse and rode back to the enemy lines while Eventide left the wall to talk with Mahmud while he ate and drank.
It was decided that Eventide would meet the men below the walls and Mahmud would watch closely from above; they would form up their men on the walls in case it was some kind of trap; neither boy trusted the Templars and the rest were also not to be trusted.
When the time was up; Mahmud went to the top of the wall and looked out at a small canvas covering set on four posts about fifty paces from the main gate. Behind the small semi tent sat ten Knights on horseback and a man in black robes; behind them were twenty mounted men who looked like officers.
Below Mahmud and inside the gate; Eventide sat on Shaitan with another fifty cavalry in two ranks behind him as his escort. Eventide was now dressed in his best Kahlif's clothes; the gold thread on the white cloth shimmered in the sunshine as he moved. At his signal, the gates were opened and Eventide led his men through and towards the waiting Knights.
When he got close enough; Eventide saw that the Knights had set their swords upright in the sand outside the semi tent and were standing waiting for him to arrive; there seemed no intent to cause a problem with the truce talks; after all, it was their men that lay around the walls.
Eventide rode through the carnage and towards the waiting men; once he was close enough he stopped and dismounted while his own guard took up station close enough to cause a rescue if things turned bad.
Eventide walked towards the tent and; as he stepped into the shade the Knights stepped forward behind the man in black. A small table and two stools had been placed under the covering and the man in black sat on the stool on his side of the table while Eventide took the other; the Knights stayed standing behind the man in black.
It was plain to see that the man in black did not quite believe what he saw in front of him; the look of suspicion on the man's face at seeing such a young boy sitting opposite him was hard to reconcile with the slaughter of the morning; it was almost as though he thought this was a joke by the Kahlif's to belittle him. The man was the first to speak.
"I am Bishop Ferranti of the holy order of Jesuits and the representative of the Holy Roman Church; who am I addressing?"
"I am Eventide; Kahlif of Wadhi Sufaria. What is it you wish?"
"You are the Kahlif? How could this be so; you are only a boy; is this some joke to belittle the followers of the true church?"
"No, I am one of the Kahlifs; now enough of this; what is it you want from us?"
Eventide saw some of the Knights place their hands where their swords would have been had they not placed them outside the tent; Eventide smiled at some of the Knights and then turned back to the Bishop.
After a little splutter of disbelief, the Bishop looked hard at the young teen; he still found it difficult to think of this boy as being one of the master minds of the defence of the city. The Bishops voice was still sceptical but he had no one else to talk to about the truce; he decided to continue and hope for the best but he was not pleased and Eventide could pick that up from his voice.
"We, the army of the Holy Church would ask for a truce so we can collect our dead and wounded and treat them with the respect that fallen soldiers deserve without any attempt at attack by the city."
"If we agreed to a truce it would not be us that broke it. I have discussed this with my brother Kahlif and we have decided to allow you to do as you wish but; any breach of the truce will bring a heavy price down on your heads. We will desist from firing upon any man who is working below the wall until dark falls; after that then any soldier approaching these walls will be seen as an attack. I suggest you clear the dead below the walls first."
"Are you trying to dictate terms with me young man?"
"Those are the terms; if you wish I can withdraw them and we can let the dead rot in the sun or be eaten by the desert animals; it means nothing to us; they are your dead not ours."
The Bishop was surprised by the determined and somewhat callous sound of the boy's voice; it was true; they needed this truce more than the defenders; he would have to agree although he didn't like a bit of it.
"Very good, we will retire and have our men come forward to collect the dead and wounded; if there is nothing else."
"One thing more; make sure the men you send are unarmed; any sign of a weapon and we will consider the truce ended; also you may want to think about a full retreat and return to your own lands; this is the lands of the Emir Saed Ben Haman; your losses will only grow if you stay."
"Mark my words young man; you cannot stand against the Holy Church; we will take Sufaria and then Jerusalem; it is God's will."
Eventide stood up and then smiled at the Bishop.
"Then I hope your god and church have a good supply of men for they will need them; leave these lands now and you will live; stay and there is only certain death; this I will swear on my honour."
"Honour! What would a young boy who has turned his back on his own people to live among these Saracens know about honour?"
Eventide looked at the Bishop and then smiled as he took a small roll of parchment from his robe. He had prepared it earlier just in case this very situation came up; he was glad that he had thought of it now.
Without a word, Eventide gave the small roll of parchment to the bishop and then turned and left the tent without another word; once mounted on Shaitan he led his men back through the gates; everyone watching could see a wide smile on his lips as the gates were closed and barred.
Down on the plain, the bishop looked in bewilderment at the small roll of parchment; before he could unroll it to read; his Knights called for him to retire so their men could reclaim the dead; the Bishop put the parchment in his own robe and turned to where his horse awaited him. There would be time later to see what the boy had written.
Mahmud had arranged for the physicians to look over the wounded and also prepare the dead for burial while he waited for Eventide's return; once both boys were together again; Eventide related to his brother all that had transpired at the meeting; he also told him about the scroll; both boys laughed when Eventide told Mahmud about the Bishops attitude and the resulting parchment.
In the enemy camp there was a sense of defeat but the Knights would not let it set in and ordered the men out to reclaim their dead and wounded; it would be a long day for them under the hot sun and threat from high on the walls they had tried to take and lost.
In the Bishops tent, a gathering of Knights stood around the Bishops table as he unrolled the small parchment; after looking over the document he looked up at the surrounding Knights; his face told them something was not good as a bead of sweat that was not from the heat of the day, appeared on the man's forehead.
"What is it My Lord Bishop?" one of the Knights asked.
The Bishop threw the parchment down on the table and let the closest Knight read it. This was not the sort of trouble they wanted while most of the army was in the holy land.
The parchment read.
Eventide had felt guilty about using all those titles but he wanted to let them know who they were fighting and what may happen. If it caused them to retreat without further bloodshed; then his efforts and dislike for all the titles would have paid off. He could only wait and see; the more of his men he could save the better.
The Knights looked at the titles and felt a shiver run up their backs. If even half the boy's claims were true then they could soon find themselves having to face the might of the English armies as well as those of the Emir. It was time to decide who they owed allegiance to. If they were to be the cause of a war with the English at the same time as fighting the Saracens; there could be a lot to lose. They would have to contact His Holiness for further instructions. The city would have to wait for the Popes decision on the matter.
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