The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 33
Location: Outside Tzouroulos, Byzantium
Time: Three Hours After Dawn, November 22, 1372
Murad I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire, sat his horse outside Corlu and examined the tactical situation while in his hidden heart, he raged. How dare they? Could they not see that he was the Chosen of Allah? Destined to found an empire the like of which the world hadn’t seen since Alexander?
In less hidden places in his mind, he determined that though there was a slight rise, there were no walls protecting the city, that the enemy placed on rooftops along the edge of the city would damage him before they were overrun, but they would be overrun.
He called his staff together and prepared for the battle.
In Tzouroulos, Roger McLain, Bertrand du Guesclin, and Andronikos IV stood on a rooftop and watched as Murad arrayed his troops.
“Well, he’s not an idiot,” Bertrand said.
Roger grunted. Murad was arraying his troops into three columns, a large central column, and two smaller flanking columns. It was clear that he wasn’t going to try and be clever. He was going to come straight in and roll over them. An idiot would spend weeks working out a clever plan while the defenders fortified the town. “Still, he’s not considering Pucorl. Pucorl’s cow-catcher front armor is going to turn that central column’s charge into a disaster.” Roger looked over at Bertrand and lifted the long rifle. “I should go with Pucorl and we’ll repeat the trick of the last day of the siege of Paris.”
“It should work,” Bertrand agreed, “but you’re going to get a reputation if you keep offing great lords. People will start to think you’re some sort of republican, trying to put the plebes back in power.”
Again Roger grunted. “As it happens, I am. Both my parents were Republicans. And the more I see of kings, the better republics look.” Roger was looking right at Andronikos IV when he said it.
Andronikos looked back at Roger and didn’t say anything, though his knuckles were white on the hilt of his sword.
Bertrand continued. “As we discussed, Andronikos will command the right, I will command the left. Lord Demetrios, you’re mostly a reserve. Let Pucorl and Roger hammer the front of Murad’s central column. All we need from your contingent is to keep any cavalry that breaks free away from our people on the roofs.”
Pucorl sat ready as Roger climbed onto his roof, lay down behind the wooden frame work, and strapped himself in with the canvas straps. The framework was about six inches high and completely surrounded Pucorl’s roof. It had two functions. One was to act as an anchor for the van’s side armor, and the other was to provide a rest for firing a rifle while lying prone on Pucorl’s roof. In that position, Roger would not only be secure in case Pucorl had to make sharp maneuvers, he would be mostly out of sight of archers. Not completely safe, but as good as they could reasonably manage. Then they waited, while Murad started his forces forward at a walk.
It took Murad’s central column almost ten minutes to get close enough to start their charge, but the moment they did, Pucorl pulled out from behind the building, made a sharp right turn, and charged right at them, horn blaring and speakers screeching dire threats. Not to the soldiers. To the horses. Wilber provided the horse, and what the horses heard was warning that a massive predator was coming for them, and it was time to run.
In Murad’s army, the horses heard, and many of them bolted. But by no means all of them. Murad’s mount, for instance, was made of sterner stuff. Horses don’t think the way people do, but Murad’s mount was a war horse, trained from early age to fight in cooperation with humans. Its reaction was to charge forward to meet the threat, confident in itself and its rider to defeat anything that threatened its herd, which included the grooms back in camp, as well as the other horses and riders with them.
So while some ran, others charged. And Pucorl drove into a charging mass of horsemen.
They tried to get out of his way when he got close, but they were too packed together, and the cow catcher knocked them aside like a bowling ball through pins.
If you didn’t count the blood and broken bodies that smashed against Pucorl’s windshield.
Roger saw it. Then he felt it, as Pucorl jerked with each horse thrown aside. Pucorl was still moving, but the simple mass of horses was slowing him.
Then it happened.
With no intent at all, a horse trying to leap aside, tossed his rider up onto Pucorl’s roof. He landed on Roger.
Roger was strapped in. There were quick releases on the straps, but Roger had to get to them. Before he could, he felt the dagger bite into his right arm.
Roger bellowed in rage and pain as he tried to undo the straps with his left hand.
He bucked under the weight of the man to no effect at all, then Pucorl reversed course, backing out of the mass, and the man on Roger was rolled forward almost off of Pucorl’s roof. Roger got one strap loose, and tried to get up on his knees. And the Turk, now lying on his back, holding onto Pucorl’s armor with one hand, kicked Roger in the face.