The battlements of Gurtenhold's compound overlooked a scarred field of desolation. Smoldering foundations, dead animals, and tumbled walls of cobblestone surrounded the central compound and its keep, extending north all the way to the nearby woods. Desomprey curled his fingers against the Barbican's hard stonework, and breathed in the constant wind that blew from the west. A smell tainted with sulfur, rot, and a hint of oil floated in it. Behind him, inside the keep, his men at arms worked wood for more arrow shafts, and bound their wounds. A small smokehouse inside the compound was being disassembled for its stone,to provide ammunition for the two catapults set up in the yard behind the holding's newly finished stone walls .

Giffen Georges, a bright and inventive, if aggressive, scion of the late Calvert Georges, and newly installed ruler of nearby Cornet, had again decided to expand his holdings. Trade had brought to Cornet some newer native technologies, such as the crossbow, and Greek fire, which he was quick to adopt. Two attacks had broken against Desopmrey's holding, and the fortifications had done their job, repelling Giffen, who now camped out of bow-shot, but had not withdrawn.

March was a bad time for such adventures. Desomprey contemplated Giffen's probable next moves. The man's conscripts would be leaving soon, to plant their fields. His ragtag of marauders would shrink alarmingly. There was little chance he would or could, sustain a siege.

Good thing too, Desomprey thought, This time of year, the larders of the keep were at their lowest ebb. The man must have stumbled across something he felt would provide for a quick victory. But what?

The keep's children had been let into the Bailey for a brief respite from the central hall's confinement, chaperoned by the few women not currently aiding the men, or tending to cooking, or any other of the multitude chores a medieval community required to survive.

The waif's faces tilted up at him, beaming. Small hands waved, and the children jumped up and down, squealing. Desomprey waved back,warmly noting Mazzy's blonde mop among them. Mazzy, had brought him warning of Giffen's adventure, allowing him some chance to prepare, and now entertained the youngsters with a little juggling, and trickery to keep their spirits up.

His introductions of upgraded technology had made him a hero to these lost colonials. Such advances were slow and careful introductions though. If the Confederated Galactic Cultural Contamination Council felt the devolved colonies progress had been enhanced by outside agents - and he certainly did all of that - it would come again and search for him, or for someone like him.

The sudden appearance of gunpowder, for example, would quickly bring star-ships down on fiery tails. They treated such colonies as zoos, and forbade the importation of technology with the rabidity of the wrong headed. Desomprey's active disagreement with this policy prior left him a hunted man.

Still, some introductions were accomplished. He had recently succeeded in introducing movable type, albeit of carved wood blocks, and a paper made of local wood pulp. Literacy again now blossomed and spread.

Guerre De Temps, his captain, huffed up a ladder to the barbican, a copper tube fitted in his sash slapping one thigh.

"My Lord, I have the tube, as you requested."

Desomprey took the tube, another of his introductions, checking both ends for the glass fitted there, and raised it to one eye. The camp resolved blearily closer. Giffen's camp worked to erect what appeared to be two towers. Siege towers? Looking with the glass showed no wheels or sleds at their bases. What use would immobile towers be? A platform of some sort was being built between them, further affirming their immobility. Scanning the camp, one area seemed busy knocking together cross- shaped frames, and covering them with sewn material.Perhaps gut, or linen.

Kites? Desomprey nodded. Kites were not new here, but not common either, light materials like linen being expensive to make, and fine looms scarce. Not something to waste on children's toys. Some bright lad, perhaps Giffen himself, had figured out that if big enough, a kite could loft a man.

Catapulting Greek fire had not turned out to be quite a game changer, as Desomprey had it too, and catapults in the open could be targeted. Hidden behind walls, Desoprey's could be moved surreptitiously. He kept a large quantity of sand handy, tiled his roofs and built of adobe brick and lately, stone, not wood. Any approaching catapults were destroyed as they pushed into range. Fire from above though, could change that. The catapults and men could be targeted. Fliers were safe from return fire. And perhaps, would prove a substitute for wall-breaching ladders or clumsy siege towers, if Giffen could mount enough of them.

Desomprey lowered the spyglass,and squinted at the sky, A few birds of prey circled in it, riding the higher thermals to slowly drift off towards the northern wood.

"Guerre, how much Greek fire do we have on hand?"

Guerre rubbed his rough-shaven jaw. "Two hundred jugs left, Lord, last count."

"And hewn or unhewn stove-wood?"

Guerre looked puzzled. "Harder to say, Lord. Enough to stand a siege though, if that's the way of it. Several cords of chop and tinder. A reserve of uncut log, all bone dry, mostly from the palisade disassembly when the stone walls went up."

Desopmprey stared again at the high circling raptors. Though spiraling, they always seemed to drift generally northward. They didn't hunt the wood. Upon reaching forest canopy they dropped, and winged vigorously southward over the plain, to rise once more and spiral, swooping down on field mice, voles, or anything small that offered a meal.

Jack Desomprey liked the Barbican, often spending his infrequent free time to watch the bird's daily hunt from its ramparts.

"Send men out the front gate,to pile the wood about the middle of town. I assume that would be reasonably safe, I doubt Giffen could cover that distance, to engage them before they could remake the walls?"

"A safe guess my lord. Doubt he would try. But why-for?"

"I want to make a big bonfire there, time comes, a big conflagration. Spread as long as our front wall, at least, and wide by several yards. Bury several jugs in it, maybe half our stock. Send five men out the side toward the north-wood. Have then dowse the trees before the river with the rest. Save back a dozen or so."

Guerre looked shocked. "But, why waste it lord? T'would it not be wisdom to reserve it for the catapults?"

Desomprey smiled. "I intend to lift the spirits of one and all."

Guerre shook his head. "If you say so, M'Lord"

The piling of burnables was completed before dusk, and Desomprey had one catapult moved to face the woods.

There was activity in the enemy camp. Men and kite-like affairs mounted the now complete towers and crowded the platform between. Then, like bats leaving a belfry, they launched into the wind, rode it up a tad, then circled to head towards Gurtenhold, with the March wind behind them. They came on haphazardly, obviously not practiced in the sport, and floated lower as they approached. A few simply crashed. The flicker of small baffled lanterns winkled in the dusk air, like a clump of Chinese lanterns. Such lanterns were unknown here, as had been paper till recently, but the look seemed similar to Desomprey. Eventually the wind blew them over the town and nearer the keep's walls.

Desomprey signaled the forward catapult, and a flaming ball arced over the wall, touching off the long piles of burnables he had ordered set there. Instantly, the bonfire rose, a tall, twisting curtain of heat and smoke.

The kites suddenly ascended like ash caught in the draft of a chimney. Higher and higher they climbed,until they caught the prevailing crosswind, the same one raptors rode towards the wood. A brace of the kites caught fire, and a light rain of Greek fire pots descended to the plain, increasing the updraft slightly.

Guerre watched struggling skyborne neophytes attempting to gain control of their rides in the hot updraft and signaled the northern catapult. Another arcing ball was generated, then flame spat upward from the incinerating woods.The kites jerked upward again. A few, failing, dropped down into the conflagration. The rest sailed up, and scattered north across the river.

"They seem quite taken away by the view, my lord," said Guerre.

"A difficult sport to master, Guerre," noted Desomprey, intent on his spyglass. "Especially while juggling jugs of Greek fire." Through the glass, the tiny figure of Giffen was disassembling his camp, ordering his troops to withdraw. "Perhaps next year, then."

"Perhaps, my lord."

"All this reminds me of something, Guerre. Send Mazzy to me. I want to show her how to make paper kites for the children.



About the author


Bio: So, I write largely science fiction and fantasy, and fantasy/humor. I do novels, short stories, Serial short stories, Novellas, all that. If all goes well, I expect to be posting a good deal of both here. What else can I say? I like walks in the rain and ice cream? I sketch, play blues harp, have been known to program for fun. Gamer? Yeah, I'm a slacker. Ran Plotters of Dreams for writers before it was virtually shut down save in title by Yahoo cuts in service, for ten years and counting. Ive moderated other groups, and obviously, writing is a passion. -Want to make peoples day, send them on vacation, make them chuckle occasionally.

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