Out Of The Dark – Snippet 02
The team leader still didn’t care much for the thought of recording everything that was about to happen in full color, complete with sound effects, but he was forced to admit — grudgingly — that in light of the orders Joraym knew nothing about, his request might not be totally insane, after all.
“What do you think, Kurgahr?”
“I think Joraym has a point, Garsul,” the team’s xenohistorian said. He, too, knew nothing about Garsul’s classified orders, so far as the team leader was aware, but his tone was firm. Not remotely anything like happy, but firm. “Like you, I hope they’ll put all this under scholar’s seal when we get it home, but this is pretty close to a unique opportunity to get something like this fully recorded. The data really could be invaluable in the long run.”
“All right,” Garsul sighed. “I’ll ask Ship Commander Syrahk to see to it.”
Far below the orbiting Barthon starship, a young man with a long, pointed nose and a savagely scarred face stood looking out through the morning mists. His name was Henry, Duke of Lancaster, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Chester, Duke of Aquitaine, claimant to the throne of France, and, by God’s grace, King of England, and he was twenty- nine years old. He was also, although no one could have guessed it from his expression, in trouble.
It was obvious to anyone that he had overreached, and the chivalry of France intended to make him pay for it. His siege of Harfleur had succeeded, but it had taken a full month to force the port to surrender, and his own army had been riddled with disease by the time he was finished. Between that, combat casualties, and the need to garrison his new capture, his original field force of over twelve thousand men had been whittled down to under nine thousand, and only fifteen hundred of them were armored knights and men-at-arms. The other seven thousand were longbow-armed archers — nimble, deadly at long range (under the proper circumstances, at least), but hopelessly outclassed against any armored foe who could get to sword range. And truth to tell, Harfleur wasn’t all that impressive a result for an entire campaign. Which was why, two weeks after the port’s surrender, Henry had put his army into motion towards Calais, the English stronghold in northern France, where his troops could reequip over the winter.
It might, perhaps, have been wiser to withdraw his army by sea, but Henry had chosen instead to march overland. Some might have called it a young man’s hubris, although despite his youth, Henry V was a seasoned warrior who’d seen his first battlefield when he was only sixteen years old. Others might have called it arrogance, although not to his face. (Not a man to whom the wise offered insult, Henry of Lancaster.) It might even have been a sound strategic sense of the need to salvage at least something more impressive than Harfleur from the expedition. Something he could show Parliament that winter when it came time to discuss fresh military subsidies. But whatever his reasoning, he’d decided to reach Calais by marching across his enemy’s territory as proof the enemy in question couldn’t stop him.
Unfortunately, the French had other ideas, and they’d raised an army to confront the English invasion. Although it hadn’t assembled in time to save
Harfleur and wasn’t much larger than Henry’s army when he started cross-country to Calais, there was time for it to grow, and it had proved sufficient to block his progress along the line of the Somme River. In fact, it had succeeded in pushing him south, away from Calais, until he could find a ford which wasn’t held against him in force.
By that time, unhappily for the English, the French force had swelled to almost thirty-six thousand men.
Which was why Henry was looking out into the autumn mist this morning.
Confronted by four times his own numbers, he’d chosen a defensive position calculated to give the French — who had long and painful memories of what had happened to their fathers and grandfathers at places with names like Crecy and Poitiers — pause. At the moment his army held the southern end of a narrow strip of clear, muddy earth between two patches of woodland, the forests of Agincourt and Tramecourt. It was plowed, that stretch of dirt, and the autumn had been rainy. In fact, it had rained the night before, and the fresh-turned earth was heavy with water.
The French vastly outnumbered him in both mounted and dismounted knights and men-at-arms, whose heavy armor would give them a huge advantage in hand-to-hand combat against the unarmored archers who constituted better than eighty percent of his total force. That was why he’d formed his own limited number of knights and men-at-arms to cover the center of his line and massed archers on either flank. That was a fairly standard English formation, but he’d added the innovation of driving long, heavy, pointed wooden stakes into the ground, sharpened tips angled towards the French. The Turks had employed the same tactic to hold off the French cavalry at the Battle of Nicopolis, seventeen years before, and it had served them well. Perhaps it would serve him equally well.
The dense woodland covered both of his flanks, preventing the French men-at-arms from circling around to turn them, and his total frontage was less than a thousand yards. A frontal attack — the only way the French could get at him — would constrict their forces badly, preventing them from making full use of their numerical advantage, and the mucky terrain would only make bad worse. In fact, the potential battlefield was so unfavorable (from their perspective) that it seemed unlikely they’d attack at all. Besides, time favored them. At the moment, Henry was in a formidable defensive position, true, and the French were only too well aware of their previous failures in attacking prepared English defensive positions, but this time they had him trapped.
Henry was short of food, his weary army had marched two hundred and sixty miles in barely two and a half weeks, and many of his men were suffering from dysentery and other diseases. Charles d’Albret, the Constable of France, commanding the French army, was still between him and Calais; his enemies outnumbered him hugely; and his strength could only decline while theirs increased. Constable d’Albret could expect additional reinforcements soon — indeed, the Dukes of Brabant, Anjou, and Brittany, each commanding another fifteen hundred to two thousand men, were even now marching to join him — and if the English were foolish enough to move out of their current position the overwhelming French cavalry would cut them to pieces. They knew they had him and, in the fullness of time, they intended to repay the arrogant English with interest for those earlier battles like Crecy and Poitiers. But for now the Constable, in no hurry to bring on a battle, preferred to negotiate and stall for time and the arrival of yet more troops. After all, the English position was ultimately hopeless.
Which was why Henry had decided to attack.
“Does anyone have any idea why those humans — the ‘English’ — are doing that?” Garsul asked almost plaintively.
Despite the nausea roiling around inside him, he’d discovered he couldn’t look away from the outsized display. There was something so hideously . . . mesmerizing about watching thousands upon thousands of putatively intelligent beings march towards one another bent on organized murder. No Barthon could have done it, he knew that much!
“I’m not certain,” Kurgahr said slowly.
Of all the watching Barthoni, the historian came closest to possessing some knowledge of “military history,” although even his knowledge of the subject was slight. There wasn’t any Barthon “military history” to study, and while some other member species of the Hegemony were considerably more combative than the Barthoni, very, very few of them were remotely as bloodthirsty — a term no one in the Hegemony had even used until the Shongairi arrived — as humans appeared to be. None of them were represented in Garsul’s survey team, either, but Kurgahr at least had their histories available.
“I think the ‘English’ have decided they have nothing to lose,” he went on slowly. “Surely they must realize as well as the ‘French’ that they can’t hope to win, yet they appear to have chosen to provoke combat, anyway.” He twitched his upper shoulders in a shrug of bafflement. “I think this race may be even crazier than we thought. It looks to me like they’d rather attack, even knowing it means they’ll all be killed, than do the sane thing and surrender!”
“That’s a classic example of the worst sort of species chauvinism!” Joraym said testily. “You’re unfairly applying our Barthoncentric psychological standards to a juvenile, alien race, Kurgahr. As a historian, you of all people should know how inherently fallacious that kind of pseudo-logic is!”
“Oh?” Kurgahr looked at the xenoanthropologist scornfully. “And do you have a better explanation for why they’re doing that?”
He gestured towards the display, where the English army had slogged its way northward along the plowed, muddy strip of open ground towards its overwhelmingly powerful foe. The unarmored archers moved much more easily and nimbly than the armored men-at-arms, even with the long, sharpened stakes they carried. On the other hand, that same lack of armor meant that if the other side ever got to grips with them….
If the longbow men were worried about that, they showed no evidence of it — which, in Garsul’s opinion, only proved Kurgahr’s point about their lack of sanity. They simply waded through the mud, marching steadily towards the French.
The French, on the other hand, seemed taken aback by the English advance.
They obviously hadn’t expected it, and it took them a while to get themselves organized. By the time they’d taken up their own battle formation, the English had halted about three hundred yards from them, and the archers were busy hammering their stakes back into the ground.