Written by Steve Cox
Read The Fight at the Inn - Part I here.
Captain Hightower emerged from the breakfast room as Tom strode into the inn.
‘My compliments, Sir. We’re about to be attacked from the north and I must check the dispositions of the musket men upstairs.’
Captain Hightower nodded and followed Tom up the narrow, uneven stairs to the first floor where they found a dozen men blowing on match cord, the woven ropes of tallow that would light the gunpowder in the firepan of their muskets to send an ounce of lead speeding towards their targets.
Looking out the window the men could see a crowd of attackers crossing the ford and racing up the gentle slope towards the inn.
‘Those fellows seem to know where they’re headed.’ Captain Hightower noted. ‘Wait till they reach those bushes, ten yards out, then give them a volley.’
‘Can you direct the fire from here, Sir?’ Tom asked. ‘I’ll go and make sure the Pikemen don’t let anyone in.’ Not waiting for an answer, Tom disappeared down the stairs. The noise of a ragged volley was heard as he reached the ground floor again and looked to see where the Pikemen were placed.
The sixteen men were spread through the four ground floor rooms. They stood back from the shuttered windows and barricaded doors, one man at each window eyeing the enemy through cracks in the timber, relaying their progress to his mates.
‘Not long now.’ one barked. ‘The lads upstairs have slowed them down a bit.’
Tom moved to look and saw that the musket balls must have knocked down some men causing the rest to hesitate and lose momentum in their headlong rush to the building. But while the muskets reloaded, the attackers regained their wits and ran faster towards the inn.
Moments later, there was a thunderous thumping on the doors and shutters; splinters of wood suddenly jutted inwards and the whole building quivered. The Pikemen stood poised, like a dog waiting for the cat to make the first move. Their sixteen foot long pikes were left stacked in a corner and each man was armed with a short, stiff sword. Tom was armed with a similar sword but he also had a halberd: a six foot pole on which was a vicious billhook and spike.
A door in the next room gave up the unequal struggle and a knot of bellicose men tumbled in, only to be met by equal ferocity from the defenders and driven back to the threshold. A window caved in, more men jumped through the opening, again being met with defiance. But the defenders were under increasing pressure as more men pushed in from outside.
Another ragged volley from upstairs produced groans and shouts and renewed vigour from the attackers. Indoor-fighting was preferable to being an open target for Musketeers. But the enthusiasm of the attackers was brittle and buckled against the continued resistance of the defenders. The tide of attackers slackened and the defenders pushed harder to speed the ebb as the local men started drifting backwards. Men leaped through the windows again and suddenly they’d gone, racing back the way they’d come, zigzagging to put off the aim of the Musketeers who now cheered as they took pot shots. Few were felled as the distance quickly increased beyond the accuracy of the weapon.
Tom leaned on his halberd: it was blunted and chipped but not bloody.
Myers stood in the doorway. ‘Sergeant, The west gate. It's being smashed to pieces.'
Tom ordered six men to stay and clear up the inn rooms that now looked as though there’d been a particularly nasty disagreement over a drink. He leaned his halberd against the bottom of the stairs and led the others out into the courtyard and across to the west. As they ran, Tom saw the gate pulsing and cracking, and the barricading wagon shuddering as something crashed against it every twenty seconds or so. Men outside were shouting, shots were being fired through the timber. As Tom looked one of the wagoners flinched and collapsed. Rocks and iron bars were being hurled over the gate. Thank God none of these missiles were grenadoes.
Tom held his men at the back of the wagon and was soon joined by Captain Hightower with eight Musketeers and Corporal Gorringe.
‘I got a look at the outside of the gate from a stable window.’ The Corporal said. ‘They're using a tree trunk as a battering ram.’
‘That figures. It won’t take long for the door to be stoved in, by the looks of things. Where are your men, Corporal?’
‘We’re in the stables but we’ve not been attacked yet, Sir.’ Gorringe replied to the Captain.
As they watched the gate it shuddered. There was a great crunch and crash as another hammer blow from the battering ram thundered into the gate breaking it off its hinges. Slowly the gate collapsed, swaying tipsily as it landed on the wagon beneath.
The Musketeers spread out on either side of the gate as the defenders braced themselves for the next crunch that would open a way into the courtyard.
But there was no further ramming. Instead, silence settled on the scene with scurrying and muttered voices quickly receding to leave the defenders in limbo.
As the captain and the sergeant looked at each other, a voice hailed them from the track beyond the ruined gate.
‘Hola! Is there anybody there? Who is the Commanding Officer?’
Captain Hightower paused before replying ‘My name is Captain Hightower. I’m in charge. What in God’s teeth is going on here?’
Tom jumped on the wagon and crouched behind the top of the gate that was sagging against it at 45 degrees. He could see an austerely dressed gentleman standing in the centre of the road. His long, golden hair cascaded over a white collar, a dark grey tunic with tassles and open buttons along the arm seams revealing brilliant white flashes of the shirt within, a strange opulent austerity of dress. His strong chin, with a fashionable goatee jutted towards the inn, his face looking up at the roof, partly shaded by a dark felt hat with a wide brim and two feathery plumes; one white, one turquoise.
‘Captain Hightower, it is an honour to meet you. My name is Sir Orlando Montague. I believe we have some urgent business to attend to if we are to properly care for the souls of our men this day. You may be unaware that your Colonel will not be returning and you are surrounded by an overwhelming number of King's Men who resent your presence so much they are adamant that you be spewed forth from their country without delay.’
Tom could see a languid smile playing on the cavalier’s face as he announced this news. Tom stayed on the wagon crouching behind the sagging gate to see what his Captain would do next.
The Captain walked up to the gate and, shouting through the opening, invited the gentleman to approach him for further converse.
‘I’ve only just finished breakfast but, if you’d care to share a cup with me I will listen to what you have to say.’
‘Well said, young Sir.’ The Cavalier replied, ‘But I beg your indulgence for a moment and I, in turn, invite you to come out here as I have a personal message for you.’
‘What?’ breathed Tom as he watched the Captain accept the Royalist’s offer. Tom felt queasy as the Captain climbed the broken gate and approached the enemy to parley.
He leaned forward to catch the words exchanged between them but the morning breeze tore them to shreds before they reached his ears.
Some minutes later, while everything in the inn had paused, Captain Hightower and the Cavalier approached the courtyard together, heading straight for the dining room. They made a strange pair: the plain finery of the older, stockier Royalist seemed to highlight the brittle pomposity of the tall, lanky officer guiding his shorter antagonist into his lair. Tom wondered what secrets were being shared between them.
The Captain didn’t acknowledge Tom, Gorringe, Stannard or Myers. Tom jumped down from the wagon and looked at the men facing him. They all looked bemused but Tom broke the spell.
‘Right. Pikemen lift that gate off the wagon. Break it up and form a four-foot barrier across the entrance that we can defend. Musketeers, keep watch to see we don’t have any further surprises from our “friends”’.
Gorringe and Stannard looked at Tom.
‘If what he says is true about Colonel Ward then the Captain is in command. I don’t like it. That rat is likely to sell us down the river if he gets a chance.’ Gorringe’s face looked even more sour than usual.
‘But if the colonel isn’t coming back, we’re buggered’, added Stannard.
‘Don’t jump to conclusions. Gorringe. Keep your men alert and hold your horses ready. You may need to break out if things turn nasty.’
‘Right, if it comes to it, we’ll head south and try to find out what happened to the Colonel.’ Gorringe, acknowledging Tom’s authority, went back in to the stables.
‘Good. I’ll try to get in on the chat between our betters. Stannard, tell Myers to check out the wagon and pull it back, away from the gate. We need to keep it in working order to carry our cargo.’
With that Tom, marched over to see what the captain and his guest were up to. In the dining room, both men were seated at a table, sharing a bottle of sherry.
‘Of course, I understand your predicament, my dear Captain. But you must recognise that you are surrounded, outnumbered, in hostile territory and with no prospect of relief. I think, as civilised, gentlemen we have a duty to draw this incident to a conclusion as quickly and humanely as possible.’
‘Excuse me, Sir,’ interjected Tom. ‘We’ve just beaten off an attack and can do so again. I don’t see any organised foot soldiers outside, only a cavalry troop and local men. In what way are we outnumbered?’
‘Captain,’ Sir Orlando raised his voice over the sergeant's. ‘Do you make a habit of allowing your inferiors to invade your delicate diplomatic discussions? I thought not. This fellow is, no doubt, a worthy soldier but he should know how to keep his counsel and not interfere in what he can’t comprehend.’
‘I do apologise.’ Hightower used the same unctuous smoothness as he’d just heard. ‘Sergeant get out. I’ll call you when I am ready to give you your orders. Out!’ He ordered.
Tom left the room and kicked the door shut. He could see what would happen. Somehow, the Royalist would convince his Captain to surrender. But Tom was not convinced of anything he had heard from this enemy. He went into the adjacent room where he could hear the conversation through the back of the small fireplace that connected the two rooms.
‘You must understand that I am responsible for this, ah project, and that we cannot be deflected from our purpose.’ The voice of Hightower.
‘Absolutely, Captain. But I have two hundred men at my back, which trumps you, whatever way you play your cards.’ The chair squeaked as though the Royalist had leant forwards to emphasise a point.
‘So, from a Parliamentary point of view you cannot be criticised for capitulating.’ Tom heard a rustle, then ‘And from the perspective of His Majesty I can guarantee that you would be seen as having done a significant service towards ending this unfortunate war.’ Tom could imagine Sir Orlando winking and nodding as this offer was delivered.
But what could Tom do to prevent this shameful end to the mission?
At that moment one of the Pikemen came through the corridor.
‘Sergeant! We’ve put the place back in order and barred the doors and windows again. We’ve counted eight dead on their side and three wounded on ours. There’s one of their’s that’s not dead, though. What do you want us to do about him?’
‘Well, let’s go and have a chat, shall we. I wonder what he can tell us about their plans for the day.’
Tom walked into the snug and saw the prisoner was sitting on a chair in the dingiest corner of the room. Two pikemen watched over him and he didn’t look too injured, just a large bruise forming on his forehead and a blood soaked shirt was all that could be seen of his recent fight.
‘How are you faring, young Sir?’ was Tom’s opening gambit. When there was no response he examined the head wound and saw that there was a gash beneath the hair.
‘That wound looks like it needs some attention, my friend. Shall I call for the barber?’ Still no response.
‘I’m not a brute and we don’t want to be here any more than you seem to want us around. So, let’s help each other.’
‘I don’t know what you want here. Just let me go, you traitors.’
‘Well, at least we know your tongue works. Now, tell us why you are attacking us and who is your leader?’
When the man continued to be sullen Tom's temper worsened.
‘You have five seconds to decide whether to answer or not. If you decide not to I will run you through with this sword. No-one will know. You died attacking us, isn’t that right Smith?’ The Pikeman nodded and grinned evilly at the prisoner. Tom drew his sword to emphasise his intention. The man snorted, possibly in defiance, but it came out more like a sob and his resistance crumbled.
‘I come from a village two hours from here. There’s a gang of us what work together on special projects around this area.’
Tom nodded. ‘Go on.’
‘Last night our boss told us we’d a strong bit of work to do but it would be worth it. He said we were to help a Royalist raid on this place and we’d be paid handsomely.’
‘Did you see the Royalists? How many of them are there and how many of you?’
‘There’s, er, fifteen, no seventeen of us and we saw three other groups as we came down here. There were some gentlemen on horses with us; about thirty is my guess. I think they’ve got some locals up in arms as well. We were told one charge and you rebel scum would run. We only expected there to be a score of you altogether.’ That estimate wasn’t far from the truth but Tom didn’t let on.
‘One last question: Has anyone spoken about any other men arriving to join in this fight?’
The man hesitated and almost licked his lips before replying ‘Well, there was some talk of more King's men arriving today to help out, but we wanted to finish things off and get the cash first.’
Two birds with one stone. Tom suppressed a smile. The obvious lie suggested the Royalists were just a patrol that recruited local men to appear a bigger force than they are. There were no reinforcements arriving, Tom was sure, but they knew the soldiers carried cash.
‘Right, you. We’re going to let you go. If what you say is true we’ll have to parley for our lives. But you know now that we’re trained killers and won’t take kindly to being disturbed further. Is that clear?’ The man nodded and Tom hoicked him up by his collar and manhandled him into the next room while a pikeman unbarred a door, enabling him to throw the man out of the inn.
Stannard arrived at Tom’s side as the Sergeant turned to give him more orders.
‘Get Myers and his men to retrieve the pay boxes. Stack them here, in the corner of the snug and station five Pikemen with them.’
The inn had more windows facing the courtyard than looked out to the stream. A difficult place to defend against attack; especially if their enemies came from opposite sides of the building at the same time. Tom sat down for a moment, removed his wool cap and wiped his forehead. How was he to defy his commanding officer and an outnumbering enemy without getting himself killed? His options seemed limited and he fretted that rich landowners and aristocrats were playing with the lives of men who were too poor to have any say in the matter. He could meekly wait for Captain Hightower’s lead; there was no shame in that. But to surrender and follow this haughty Captain's orders now was loathesome.
Looking up, he rose and ran up the stairs to where his snapsack and few belongings were stored. He grabbed his wide-brimmed hat, too good for normal, routine work but he would need every ounce of authority to take control of this dangerous situation. The hat was black, fading slightly, with a low crown, not a very wide brim and a pleasingly thin, leather band of alternating red and brown colour. No plumes added any fashionable cachet or authority but it was much better than a grey woolly Monmouth cap.
Heading back down the stairs, Tom collected his halberd and saw ahead of him Captain Hightower and Sir Orlando step out of the breakfast room and into the courtyard. There was no more time to speak to the men.
‘Sergeant Tyler!’ bawled the captain.
‘I’m here, Sir.’ Tom strode up behind the two men.
‘Parade the men in the courtyard.’ Then turning to the Royalist he said ‘I will await your detachment in the courtyard, Sir Orlando.’ And with that the Cavalier bowed and walked back to the broken gate.
‘You still here, Tyler? Get the men out here. Now, d’you here me?’
‘What’s happening, Sir? Why are we parading when we need to maintain our defences?’
‘You don’t need to worry about defence anymore, Sergeant.’
‘I bloody knew you’d do this!’ exploded Tom, ‘You’ve agreed to betray us and the army and surrender to those marauders, haven’t you?’
The Captain stepped back momentarily from this tirade then pushed his head towards the tense, flushing face of his subordinate.
‘Don’t you speak to me in that tone.’ he said through gritted teeth. ‘I’ll not forget your behaviour, Tyler. You’re on report for insubordination.’
Tom was furious.
‘Don’t give me that “when we get back to the army”’ stuff Hightower. You’re on your way to Oxford, aren’t you? Orlando bloody Montague has, somehow, bought you and you’ll be off to the King with a big grin on your face and six boxes of cash to show your devotion to His cause.’
‘Stannard’ both men called for the Corporal who took only a moment to appear.
‘Get everyone out in the courtyard and detail three men to put Sergeant Tyler under arrest for disobeying orders.’
Stannard flicked a look across to Tom before saluting and striding back into the inn bawling for his men to form up outside.
Hightower and Tyler stood glowering at each other as two Pikemen arrived.
‘I’ll take your weapons. You won’t need them further today.’ Sneered Hightower. His nasal voice sounding particularly grating.
‘In fact your military career is now over. You are under arrest.’ Then to the pikemen, Hightower said ‘Get him inside and lock him up with the tavern staff.’