At the time that Valun was riding through the mountains to invade Brandia, there was trouble of a similar kind at the walls of his capital. As has been related, John had left with the Princess primarily because of the hostile army which had only appeared two days ago. All of Robert’s time was now occupied in devising the best defense he could manage against a far superior force.
The minute word had come of the hostile army’s approach, Robert had sent criers out to call on the guardsmen to meet him at the main gate. He stood now in front of that gate, looking out at the crowd of men who had answered the call, all of them armed and wearing the king’s scarlet.
After a moment tense waiting, Robert began to speak to the men who had come. “My friends! I am pleased to see so many men here today, prepared to defend their city against foes that have appeared so suddenly! I know that every man here is a brave man, for there is no place for cowards in the ranks of the guards! This battle is not a fight to the death, for there must be men alive to welcome our king when he returns! You shall fight knowing this: the city will fall if it must, but the people of Corridane must remain! The people can build a city, but no city can create a people! We must fight for the king above all, for if the people remain, so does the king, and if the king remains, so does the country. For country and for king! For your own freedom! Stand and fight! Valunarrria!” After a minute of riotous cheering, Robert continued, issuing his orders. “Half of you must man the walls now! The rest must remain alert and prepared to run to their aid at any time, but until then, they must prepare the devices we have built for the defense of the city. I myself will join the men on the walls!”
The cheerful excitement induced by Robert’s speech ended abruptly as the men reached the walls. The moment they put their heads above the ramparts, it seemed that hundreds of arrows had hung in the air waiting for that instant. Several men who had not thought to carry their shields on their arms fell with loud cries.
Seeing this, Robert promptly shouted “Heads down, all of you! Look to your weapons, for we have a hard fight ahead!”
Peering over the wall cautiously, Robert spotted the attackers carrying several siege ladders toward the city as their archers kept up a steady rain of arrows, most of which mercifully fell harmlessly onto the empty road below the wall.
“When I give the word, push with all your strength! They are coming at three places along this wall! You will see them when they set those ladders down!”
“Please, sir,” the guard crouching nearest to Robert said “Please, Sir. Get down like the rest of us. We can not lose you.”
“If you insist.” Robert replied, crouching down behind the ramparts. “They will place their ladders any moment now. Watch carefully.”
No sooner had he said this than at least five ladders knocked against the wall simultaneously. With loud yells, the enemy began swarming up.
Robert gave them ten seconds to begin their ascent, and shouted “Now!” At the cry, men stood up all the way along the wall, combining their strength to force the ladder nearest to them away from their position.
Minutes later, as the men along the front wall were beginning to celebrate their victory, a messenger approached Robert, imploring him to come to the rear wall with all speed. “The enemy has breached the outer wall! It is all we can do to hold them back!”
“They have breached the wall? Impossible! These walls are eight feet thick! They could not have breached them so quickly!”
“Nevertheless, they seem to have done so, and my commander has sent me to fetch you.”
“I am coming. Have you called on the reserves? If you have not, you must do so with all speed.”
As the messenger hurried off to call on the reserves, Robert made his way along the wall until he had reached the rear of the city. The first man he met advised him “Keep your head down, sir. They shoot anyone they see over the ramparts.”
“We had the same trouble at the front wall. I was told the wall had been breached?”
“Not breached, exactly, but there is a spot the enemy can get through. Many of the men are down there now, prepared to hold it.”
Looking down, Robert spotted the small crowd, which grew larger by the minute. “It is the gate! The gate has been destroyed!” So saying, he hurried down to the ground to see it for himself.
When he had reached the ground, the men recognized him and stepped aside to allow him to pass. Robert continued walking until he had reached the gateway, where he paused to examine the gate, which still lay in the passage. It was not long before he noticed that the hinges had been cut. “The hinges have been cut?! We have a traitor in our midst! Some man run to the prison!”
Heeding his words, several men near the back of the group quickly turned and left.
Moments later, one of the men standing nearest the passageway cried out “Prepare yourselves! They come again!” Robert barely had time to draw his sword before the crowd of enemies was upon him.
A quick thrust made an end of the man attacking Robert. Drawing his sword out once more, he looked around in search of guards in need of help. Rushing upon one group of four foes who had surrounded one guard, Robert cut down two of them from behind, which allowed the man time to finish the remaining pair.
Only moments later, as suddenly as it had begun, the battle was ended. As the men spread out to make room for him in the center of the group, Robert began silently counting the slain. “I see twenty foes here, spoiling our good ground with the remnants of their disgraceful lives. Alongside them, I see eight of our brave companions. How could this happen? You know well enough that there are so many of you here that you outnumbered your enemies by nearly three to one! How, then, could they be allowed to take even eight of your companions with them? You know also that the force outside our walls is greater than our own. If sixty of you can not defeat twenty men without losing no more than five of your own, count yourselves lucky that you are alive to hear me! We are outnumbered, but we may still survive! If you are to survive to return to your lives after we have defeated these enemies, we must first overcome them! To do that, we must fight, and fight harder than you have done here! The fate of the country rests on your shoulders! Fight for your lives! Fight for your country! Fight to maintain your freedom! Fight harder! Fight these foes with all your heart, and we will overcome them, to welcome our King home! When next our foes attack, give them no quarter and leave few men behind!”
It was not long after the conclusion of Robert’s speech that the two men he had sent to the prison came hurrying back, calling for the Captain. “Sir! Sir! The traitor has escaped!”
“Escaped? Where are the guards who were to watch him?”
“They, also, seem to have vanished.”
“It must have been the Traitor who has done this!” shouted Robert, pointing at the fallen gate. “Get those bodies into the passageway. We must repair this gate.”
Moments later, several more men came running toward Robert and the others. “Captain! Sir! They have nearly breached the walls! They are overwhelming us!”
“How are they accomplishing it? Are they bombarding the walls? Or have they brought their ladders up once more?”
“They have brought up catapults, which they have aimed at the walls. The men can not be expected to remain atop the walls much longer, for we shall need every one of them when the enemy breaks through.”
“You are right. They must fall back. All archers must place themselves on the rooftops. The others shall fall back to the castle. We shall wait for the foes to make their own way through, then cut them down as they search the city for us. The defenses within the castle must also be prepared.”
As the messenger hurried off to pass on Robert’s orders, the Captain of the Guards turned to the group of men who were still standing around him. “I do not have to repeat to you what I have just said to the messenger. I need only add that I am afraid I must change the orders which you heard before the battle began. I must ask many men here to remain here for the remainder of their lives. The enemy is breaking through the front wall. They will come again to break through this broken gate and surround us. Any man who remains here to fight to the death will be buying his countrymen the time we need to prepare our defense. You will take many with you, for only two men can come through this tunnel side by side.”
After speaking among themselves for a moment, twenty men stepped forward. One, who was taller than the rest, and had apparently been chosen as their spokesman, held his sword up in a salute, saying “We will remain. We do this in the knowledge that you will not throw our lives away by surrendering. You know the greatness of our sacrifice, as we understand that we can not expect decent burials by the time all is done.” Solemnly, the twenty volunteers stepped into the center of the party, in front of the gate they would give their lives to defend.
Robert stepped back into the ranks of the guards and joined his men in a silent salute of the valiant volunteers. A moment later, Robert broke the silence, saying “As much as we wish to, we will not see you alive again. Go on, in defense of your country, and pave your path with enemies!”
Nothing more was said. Robert and the remaining guards turned back toward the castle, running hard to reach the place in time to direct the defense of the city. When they had reached the castle, Robert broke the silence, saying “Every man run to the top. We shall watch and direct our fellows from there.”
Looking out over the walls, Robert could see the catapults the foes were using to destroy the walls. They had lined up ten enormous machines side by side three hundred yards from the walls and had them all firing at the city simultaneously. A moment later, the men heard the crash as all the rocks collided with the wall, causing several sections of the fortification to come crumbling down.
Robert turned to the guard standing beside him. “How long do you think the walls will stand? In any case, you had best go down into the city to see that the men are in their places.”
“In answer to your question, sir, I do not believe the walls will last past the next day. But, truly, there is need for me or anyone to go down into the city. If you look more closely, you will see the archers lying flat on the roofs of the houses.”
After taking a second look, Robert replied. “I can see that you spoke the truth. I can see them, all holding their bows flat so as not to give themselves away. Our enemies in the field are in for a surprising welcome.”