And so comes a dull dawn, a stifling late summers morning, red as blood, warm as hate, with a sad drizzle, as if the world made ready to wash away the sins that are soon to be committed. “Thou shall not slay”, sayeth the Bible, but in the trenches around Llud’s Hall the knights and men-at-arms are all ready to break the commandments of God, most of them for gold, but one of them for the love of a father.
A brazen trumpet blares in the leaden silence, and then they are off, crawling over the no-mans-land like armoured ants, rushing over the flotslam and jetslam of the previous two assaults: broken ladders, broken arrows, broken bodies. It is nothing to them, their blood is up, Sir Richard has promised them gold and riches if the castle falls, and fall it must: a simple Sheriff cannot stand against the might of Sir Richard and Duke Ulfius forever, and that Countess of Salisbury has not stirred to stop them. This time, surely, Sheriff Bedwor will give up the castle.
Arrows. No, he will not. Javelins, no, he is brave, foolhardy, that Sheriff. And men fall, hope flounders in the mud, but the fire is not as hot as the last time: the well has been sabotaged by some strange cunning or devilish magic of the Duke, and the men on the parapet have been drinking rain water and animal blood for days. They are weak.
The iron tide reaches the wall, scaling ladders rise, the ants start their climb as Sir Rirchard’s archers give them covering fire form their mobile walls. The first one goes down, the second goes down, and then there are men on the ramparts, a large knight with a puce shield foremost amongst them, clearing a space for more ladders. The defenders buckle, breaks. Those that have a ransom to their names surrender, the rest flee or dies. Llud’s Castle is cracked open at last.
But they cannot take the inner bailey. The Duke is furious, bellows left and right, Sir Richard is grim, gives calm orders: no plunder, no rape, you will all be rewarded, put out that fire. Then he takes them by utter suprise, Lord Bedwor. A duel! He challenges Sir Richard on a duel. His life and the gold if he wins? The men are laughing at such sentimentality, but not Sir Richard. He has been an Uther fan-boy all his life. “Yes, I accept your terms.”
The men are extatic, who could have hoped for that? Their battle is over. Instead of another costly assault, they can stand back and watch the old goats bleed. (Not the Duke, of course, he would never indulge in this way). They know each other well, these two, whom both has served good King Uther all their adult life. They have fought each other before, more than once, and the knights and soldiers try to reminisce: which of them won, which lost?
Sir Richard is the older, but haler and sharper; he soon has Sir Bedwor on the ground, bleeding profusely from a wound in his right arm. The sheriff yields! And Sir Richard nods, and helps Sir Bedwor to his feet. There are over a hundred knights here, and most of them are in awe of Sir Richard who has proved that he is both strong and honorable. The gold is his – and the castle, they say, shall go to the damn Duke, who always gets what he wants in the end.
Sir Richard is enjoying himself enormously; he knows that what he has done here today in front of hundreds of warriors will be retold countless times in these lands from now til long after he is dead. In the midst of all this celebration, the crowd around him splits up and out in front of him comes a large knight spattered in blood-with a puce cloth over his face. He is dragging a stinking old man in rags with him.
The two of them, Sir Richard and The Puce Knight, eyes each other warily for two or three heartbeats. Then speaks the one with a cloth over his face: “This is my man, Sir! This is my price.” He almost lifts his prize of the ground to make his point. Sir Richard looks at the old wreck; there are remains of muscles here and there, and white scars show through the rags. He may be beaten now, but once this was a warrior. Who is it? No matter! He has promised the knight in disguise the right to take one man from the pens as thanks for his service in the storming, and he is an honorable man. “You can take you price and leave, my good Sir.” The good Sir nods, and then he is off with his prisoner, who seems resigned to his fate.
Later, he asks the Duke. The Duke has spies everywhere, and he can tell that the old man was one Tudwal, once a knight out of Hillsfort hundred, accused of forging the King’s Seal. And The Puce Knight? A relative, surley, who else would serve three weeks in a seige for an usless old man? Sir Richard agrees, yes, that must be it. Such a strange tale. Oh well, he has coins to count.