When Peveril Castle first comes into view, Geoffrey gasps. “They must be able to see the whole valley from up there. They can probably see people approaching when they’re still miles away.”
“You’re not wrong about that, Lord Geoffrey,” says Sir Evrouin. “Makes it a strategically sound location. Take a good look as we get closer, though. Try to look at it through a commander’s eyes – an enemy commander’s eyes.”
We’re riding with a routine patrol – something I haven’t done in far too long, given the campaign to suppress the Teuton threat and this past summer’s papal inquisition. What a pleasure it is to be out with a troop once again – and especially to be doing it with my son. The early October air has the briskness of autumn, but there’s plenty of time to complete this patrol before any risk of serious cold.
I’d allowed Geoffrey to make the arrangements for us to accompany this patrol, the only stipulation being that it had to be after all the excitement surrounding his sister Juliana’s wedding. With his sixteenth birthday looming next year, it’s time for more serious lessons in the art of kingship, so I’ve begun giving him responsibility for some things that I’d ordinarily do myself. Small things, as yet, where his inexperience is no detriment, but sufficiently important for him to learn and to start developing some confidence.
An hour later, as the hill begins to loom above us, Evrouin turns in his saddle to address my son. “So what do you think now, Commander Geoffrey?”
“Well . . .” Geoffrey pauses, and I can almost see the calculations running through his mind. “An all-out assault from this side doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. It must be more than a hundred feet up to the top.”
“Closer to two hundred,” says Evrouin.
“Even worse. And the hill is steep and mostly grassland, so there’s nothing to impede the view of the defenders at the top. Cavalry’s no help. By the time the horses struggled up that hill, they’d be too tired to be of any use in a fight. And most of them would get picked off anyway before they made it halfway up.”
“So what would you do?”
“I think I’d send my scouts out to look for a better approach.”
“Good thinking,” says Evrouin. “So your scouts come back with the following reports. There’s a village just ahead at the base of the hill, and the hill continues on around until you reach a river. The river flows beneath the castle on the back side. But it’s a two-hundred-foot sheer cliff up to the castle from the river. On the side opposite the village, the hill is wooded and begins a slow descent toward the valley. That might be an easier way up for foot soldiers, but just before you reach the castle, there’s a deep ravine at least as wide as a castle moat with sides almost as sheer as the cliff on the back and a stream flowing through the bottom toward the river.”
Geoffrey furrows his brow. “And my orders are to take this castle?”
“Even if we had cannons, I don’t know if we could aim them high enough to do any damage. And the higher we aim them, the shorter their range, if I understand what Sir Tobin’s been teaching us. Most likely, the balls would fall short on the hill somewhere. So it seems my only option is a siege, sir.”
“Well assessed, Commander Geoffrey,” says Evrouin. “Which is why Peveril Castle has never been taken and only rarely come under assault. It only takes a couple dozen experienced longbowmen on the ramparts to make short shrift of anything trying to advance up that hill. Give some of them cross bows and the outcome is even deadlier. The attackers will turn tail in the blink of an eye.”