1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 29

He was all but on them by the time they got their horses turned around. Plainly not trained warhorses, but beasts that needed careful management around the sounds and smells of gunfire and blood. To his professional’s eye they were making not too bad a fist of things, but it was about to get a lot more difficult for them.

Beyond, Kit and Stephen were on their feet and charging hard. Silent, quick, no wasted breath in shouting. Mackay stepped smartly to the middle of the lane. Room enough for both horses to pass either side of him. He’d have to defend against one and stop the other. Tough, but do-able. He took a deep, cleansing breath and brought his pistol to the aim.

There are a limited number of tactics for a lone man on foot against charging, mounted opponents, and most of them consist of methods to not die in the brief slice of time while the cavalryman passes. Most of them, on the record, work fairly well provided the footman isn’t outnumbered and doesn’t panic; all of the truly high-scoring slaughters of infantry by cavalry have been worked on fleeing soldiers. And, of course, being outnumbered is a major problem whatever the other tactical factors.

It was a given that Mackay wasn’t going to panic. He knew, to a nicety, the limits a cavalryman faced in this sort of a situation, and he had the means to keep himself alive and, in theory, no worse than a little bruised. The trick was going to be hurting one of them — or his horse — badly enough that he could make no escape but not so badly that he died before he could be questioned.

To do that would take someone who was truly good. Alex Mackay of the Clan Mackay grinned. He needed drop only one.

They’d seen Alex and Stephen coming. Where there were two armed men on watch, there were more, went the reasoning, and there were enough sharpshooters hidden about to empty two saddles already. The rate of fire of modern weapons was leading them to all manner of wrong conclusions, and Mackay was pleased to see the first knockings of panic on their faces.

A rapid gabble of Erse between them and they picked Alex’s direction. The way they’d come, and only one visible enemy. With a yell of “Fág a’ Bealach!” and a hiss of drawn steel they spurred their beasts hard at Mackay.

Daft wee laddies, he had time to think. Fifteen yards of charge was no time at all for a horse to come into a good gait for fighting. They did right with the steel, though; pissing about with pistols when it was close work was a fool’s business.

Unless you had a big, solid, down-time-built 1911-pattern .45, of course. Mackay had the moves planned out in his mind as soon as he saw what the bastards were about. Time for one shot with the pistol, maybe take one of them in the guts or leg, hopefully hurt the horse enough to throw him, take high guard and be ready to drop under the blow. Had there been more room, he’d have been able to manage a sidestep and a cut at a horse’s face, which would throw the beast into an utter terror and probably make it throw its rider as well.

And had ma granny baws, she’d be ma grandda, he thought as he settled his front sight neatly on the left-hand rider’s nearer hip. He hoped the riders could see his grin. Even just feeling it from the inside was unnerving.

The shot came, as all good ones do, as a surprise and even so he was already twisting to get his sword into guard as the other rider closed. A flash of steel at him, and a calm quiet little voice in his mind that sounded exactly like the master-at-arms who’d taught him the cavalryman’s trade said dinnae cut at the charge, ye fool, thrust as nicely as ye may and it was a simple roll of the wrist and sway back, so — and that was the last he knew for a moment until he was on the ground trying to cough some wind back into himself.

Distantly, two more shots, pistols, three cracks from Julie’s rifle, and he heaved himself to his feet to see four horses and two filled saddles vanishing into the murk and drizzle.

Leebrick arrived just at that moment. “Loose horse knocked you on the way past, Colonel. Too busy looking at the one with a man on it. You were doing really well up to then.” Leebrick was grinning. “I don’t think your first shot did more than score the horse’s arse, though you’d have had a good ‘un on the way past if you’d not gone down. I don’t think Stephen or I hit anything, but I’m pretty sure your good lady drilled a third one.”

“Yep,” Julie said, coming up the lane. “Alex, I need more practise over iron sights. I’ve been keeping ’em properly zeroed, but I need me to be zeroed with them. Can’t assume I won’t ever get into anything this tactical again.”

“Did ye not shoot at the horses?” Alex asked, without thinking, and immediately regretted it.

Of course, she’d not have shot at the horses. It was hard work to get her to shoot at deer, and about the only prey she was really happy about shooting was boar, because they were “gross” and when you got right down to it, shooting a boar wasn’t just hunting but pre-emptive self-defence because the bastards were — very tasty — murder on four legs. He’d known that, he’d accepted that, he even cherished the softness of heart it showed as one of the many things he loved about his wife. It was, therefore, very much the case that the resulting chewing-out was his just and lawful punishment, to be endured stoically.

It was, he accepted, not the horses’ fault they had assholes on their backs. True, he agreed, there was no good reason to be hurting the poor beasts for what their riders were doing. He accepted entirely that it would be cruel to hurt a poor beast that didn’t understand why it was there and was already frightened with all the shooting. In truth, Julie had nothing to say on the matter that, from time to time, most cavalrymen would say. All of the good ones, certainly. A man who did not care greatly for horses did not long remain a cavalryman. Nevertheless, without taking the horses into harm’s way, a cavalryman was nothing but a dragoon, and dragoons were a sorry lot. That didn’t mean that horse-soldiers didn’t quietly regret the harm the horses came to. Just not quite so vehemently as Julie put it.

“All clear out here,” came Welch’s voice over the radio. “They’ve gone by the Huntingdon road, too far for a good shot, sorry to say.”

McCarthy and Cromwell had come out from the house by this point, accompanied by what had to be Sir Henry Steward, who’d gone immediately to see to his man, who was still clenched around a wound in his side. Mackay hadn’t noticed, but two women had already come out from the house and were starting to tend to him. He couldn’t see the dog any more, so with any luck the poor beast had only been wounded and had limped off somewhere. They’d have to find him and tend to him later, but for now the people were the main thing.

“They didn’t send anyone round the back, Oliver and me just checked,” Darryl said, “so I think them showing up was just an accident.”

“An unhappy one,” Sir Henry put in from where he was, really, doing no more than fuss over the care the two ladies were providing, “for now I am known as sheltering you.”

“We might be able to do something about that,” Darryl said, “if we can make it look like we came here to rob you or something?”

“Aye, I care not that my name be blackened with such as they,” Cromwell said. “Give it out that I came here furious that my goods and chattels were gone from the farm I leased from you, which is truth enough. Let the king’s men think I came to take them back from you, or rob you of goods to their value. ‘Tis as foolish as any justification a thief gives before the bench, and plausible thereby. Give it out that the king’s tyranny is turning gentlemen bandit — truth, too, for I am indeed outlawed by the king — and how long before any man is safe in his home? None of it false witness, and only the false of heart will hear it as lies.”

“True, from a certain point of view,” Gayle said, as she knelt by the wounded man and began unpacking an aid kit.

“From the point of view of Prince John, Robin Hood was naught but a thief,” Cromwell said, with a smile, “for all he was a good Huntingdon lad.”

“A Puritan Robin Hood?” Darryl was plainly amused by the idea. Especially, since in his heart of hearts, Robin Hood was and would always be a singing, animated fox.

Mackay had to put in something at this point. Robin Hood wasn’t really a Scots legend — Wallace and the Bruce were real, historical figures, after all — but he’d heard the stories. “I was always told Robin Hood was a Yorkshireman,” he said, “not that I’ve any great caring in the matter, ye ken. But I led borderers for a few years and the ones from the English side of the border would say ‘Robin Hood in Barnsdale Stood’ when they meant a thing was entirely plain. And Barnsdale, Gisburne and Loxley are all in Yorkshire, are they not?”

He had, over the years, wondered what the national argument of England was. They just didn’t seem to feel most of the differences you could bring Scotsmen to blows over. The next ten minutes seemed to settle it in his mind; they all wanted to claim their most notorious criminal for their own. Even Leebrick had a word or two to put in for Derbyshire.