Men at Arms

byoggbashan©

I was still worried about the signs our hunters had been seeing. There were several groups of men out in the snow living off the land. If they got together? They might outnumber us. Our defences meant we could deter or repel an attack from twice our numbers. Three times? We would be in real trouble and unable to retreat. We could stand and die but the villagers would suffer.

+++

Until a few days ago I had been living in the barn. It was a central place in the village. Our carts, horses and baggage were there. We had to defend them. But now we were defending the whole village we didn't need to guard the barn itself.

One of the village women, Jeanne, had made herself responsible for me. She was an older widow, still a few years younger than me, but older than most of the other widows. Her cooking? Her skill was obvious. She produced wonderful food from minimal ingredients. She had been suggesting that I should leave the barn to join her in her house. The implied invitation was that I should share her bed.

Now that Sir Henry had decided we should stay, at least until we had orders from Calais, I couldn't resist Jeanne's offer any longer. I could organise everything from her house just as easily as I could from a cold barn.

That night I was snuggled in bed with a warm Jeanne in my arms. I felt stupid for having refused until now. I relaxed. The organisation of the night patrols was done. Unless the French attacked I could stay in bed all night.

Jeanne rolled on top of me.

"Tonight, John, you are my victim," she said. "I've been stalking you for weeks and now I've caught you. You're trapped in my bed."

I didn't feel trapped even as Jeanne's lips covered mine. Her arms wrapped around my neck as she kissed harder.

Slowly she moved upwards, kissing my nose and each eye before I had a dangling breast in my view. I tried to kiss it. Jeanne giggled and lifted it away. She teased me for several minutes before she lowered the breast to my lips. I licked, kissed and nibbled. Slowly she eased an erect nipple between my lips. More of her breast followed until my mouth was full of Jeanne's breast.

"I could smother you now," Jeanne teased, swinging her other breast over my nose.

"But I won't," she continued. "I want a captive Englishman inside me before I decide if he's worth keeping. Once in there, I might not let him out."

Jeanne slid down me. A warm hand found my erection. In seconds I was sheathed inside Jeanne. She just stayed on me, tensing herself around my erect prick, teasing me again. Slowly she began to move, raising and lowering her hips. Jeanne knew exactly what she was doing. She took me to a peak again and again, stopping or slowing before I lost control. She was squealing above me. I was groaning with the effort of holding back.

Suddenly she thrust down hard. That was it! I pushed upwards as I came into her. I lifted up as she slid down. Once I was spent Jeanne rested over me, still holding me inside her.

"Well, Englishman? How do you like being a Frenchwoman's prisoner?"

"Jeanne, you witch, you are wonderful..."

"I know. But you're not being released until we've fought again and you've lost again."

Despite my age I managed twice more that night. Jeanne was that good at arousing me. Why hadn't I accepted her invitation earlier? I suppose my duty got in the way, and I was worried we would just take what the women offered and leave soon, too soon. If we were staying for a month or two we might be able to rebuild the village properly. Until then we would defend it against whomever. Maybe that was enough repayment for unlimited sex and good cooking? I hoped so. Unlike the crossbowmen's casual raping we had accepted consensual sex. No woman had been forced or even over-persuaded.

+++

The next morning I started the men on strengthening the defences. The rocky knoll behind the village had been quarried in the past to build the church, the barn and the water mill. Decades of winter frosts had cracked some of the stone on the sides of the knoll. As we built earthen banks we faced them with stone before replacing the palisades on top.

The buckets destroyed by the crossbowmen had been repaired or remade. The metal bands had survived and one of our men had been a cooper. He made new staves that the rest of us could assemble. Our own buckets were being used to carry stone.

As the work progressed slowly I looked at the knoll again. If we could bring it inside our defences we would be stronger. The top was beyond long bow range of the higher ground. It might be within range of powerful crossbows but if we had another palisade at the top we could shelter behind that. But it was wishful thinking. We had barely enough men to defend the village itself. We couldn't defend the village and the knoll. But if an enemy force got on to the knoll? We would be vulnerable. If only we had more men.

All I could do was take stone from the knoll to make the sides steeper. The side away from the village was already almost vertical. A skilled climber might be able to scale it but not a group of soldiers. Yet I was worried that it was a potential weakness.

Weakness? I was surrendering to Jeanne every night. I would come to bed exhausted by a day's labour. She had the energy to bounce up and down on me until I fell into a satisfied sleep.

+++

Raoul returned with a stranger, a young priest. He asked me to accompany him to deliver his message to Sir Henry.

"Sir Henry," Raoul said, "I bring good news from Calais and this French priest. He has a message to deliver before mine."

Sir Henry and I were puzzled. Why a French priest?

"Sir Henry," the priest began, "I am pleased to tell you that France and England have signed a temporary end to hostilities until a peace treaty can be negotiated. The conditions of the ending of the fighting include that the forces stay where they are, occupying the land they held on Christmas Day, until the peace treaty. The Kings of England and France have agreed to that, urged by the Bishop of Paris. But..."

"But?" Sir Henry queried.

"Yes, but. There is a dispute about you and your people here in this village. The French claim that they occupy the surrounding land and you are just an anomaly in the centre of territory they hold. I have been sent to advise the Bishop of Paris of the true situation."

"We have seen no French troops," I interrupted.

"No? What about crossbowmen?" The priest countered.

Sir Henry held up his hand, a signal for me to keep quiet.

"Sir Priest, when we arrived in this village it had been set on fire, some of the men killed, women raped, and valuables stolen -- by crossbowmen. The village had been treated as if it was enemy territory by those crossbowmen. They weren't English or English allies. They told the villagers that they were Genoese mercenaries in the pay of the French King who had NOT been paid. My men at arms have been repairing the damage caused by those crossbowmen. The crossbowmen are not in occupation. They were never occupying this village. They slaughtered, stole and raped through this village in a couple of hours and left. You can ask any of the villagers including the local priest. You have my permission to ask whoever you like. We are in occupation, benign occupation, and have been since the Saturday before Christmas."

"Thank you, Sir Henry. I will ask in the village."

Sir Henry raised his voice.

"Agnes!"

Agnes came in the room so quickly that I suspect she had been listening.

"Sir Priest, Agnes here is the widow of the village headsman. He was killed by the Genoese crossbowmen just before we arrived. You can ask her, but I ask her to take you to the village priest. He and his housekeeper will probably look after you, so your enquiries will not be compromised by being with my men."

"Thank you again, Sir Henry."

The priest left with Agnes.

"Now, Raoul, what is your news?" Sir Henry asked.

"I took your letter to the Duke commanding in Calais. The King has returned to England after meeting with the Bishop of Paris. I gave him the verbal message about the crossbowmen as well. The Duke has sent written orders to you. Here they are."

Raoul produced a scroll.

"They are simple. They just say -- Stay put. You are in command. Do not leave the village and defend it if attacked."

"I can do that with Sergeant John's help."

"But he has given me a long verbal message too. Whatever the French priest discovers or reports we are not surrendering this village to the French. We will argue all the way to the peace treaty if we have to but this village is occupied by English soldiers and will stay occupied by English soldiers.

What the end to hostilities does not say is that we cannot reinforce or increase the defences of whatever we occupied on Christmas Day. That means that the castle we relieved recently stays in English hands. We can repair and reinforce it, increase its supply of stores, add more men -- do what we like as long as we do not extend our territory into that held by the French. The French will also reinforce wherever they hold.

This village is in a strategic position. The river and road are important communication links. If we hold the village we control the area. But fifty men are not enough to do that if hostilities start again. They will. Maybe not now. Maybe not until the summer campaigning season. Maybe not until next year. While hostilities are suspended this village will be reinforced and behind it, on that knoll? A castle will be built and garrisoned. The workmen are on their way with four hundred men, mainly workers. They are men who can wield a sword or draw a long bow as easily as they can cut stone or hew wood.

The written order says 'You are in command'. That means, Sir Henry, that you are to be the castellan of the castle being built."

Sir Henry suddenly slumped in his chair.

"Castellan? A commander of a castle?"

That was a serious promotion for a simple knight, leader of about a hundred fighting men.

"Yes, Sir Henry. Hubert, an assistant master of the King's Works, is coming with the workers to build the castle. He will have more detailed orders from the Duke. It wasn't safe to send written instructions with a single soldier escorting a French priest. Hubert will be working for you as he builds a Royal castle. But? It would be best if the French priest had left before the reinforcements arrive."

"It shouldn't take him long to get information from the village. What then?"

"He has to report to the Bishop of Paris. The Bishop will decide who was in occupation of the village on Christmas Day."

"But the priest is French," Sir Henry objected. "He could lie."

"Sir Henry," I interrupted.

Sir Henry looked at me briefly as if I was a nuisance. He doesn't normally do that. I thought he was still in shock from his promotion.

"Yes, John, what is it?"

"A suggestion. Why not send the local priest and Agnes to the Bishop of Paris? They are French. They know exactly what happened and that we were here on Christmas Day..."

Sir Henry was obviously considering my idea.

"Would they be safe? We can't escort them through French territory."

"We wouldn't have to," I said. "We could take them to the nearest French castle. The French would protect them from there onwards because the three of them ARE French."

It happened as I had proposed. The French priest was uncomfortable among English soldiers. Agnes was willing to travel. She persuaded the local priest. By late morning of the following day they were on their way to the French castle fifteen miles away. I went with five horsemen to accompany them.

Once in sight of the French castle we sounded a trumpet and waited for an officer to come out to us with a small escort. We could see that despite the season they were doing major repairs and improvements. We exchanged friendly Christmas greetings. He told me he was a French Knight, Sir Paul. I gave him two deer we had killed shortly after leaving the village. The French priest was concerned. We had killed deer that belonged to a lord. I reassured him. Sir Henry had given us permission and it was his idea. The officer was delighted. They could eat English venison without their lord's displeasure.

The two priests blessed us before they left. Agnes and the two priests went with the escort, laden with deer, to the French castle. Sir Paul and I spoke quietly. We agreed how to contact each other and the limits of where we and they would hunt. Neither of us wanted an awkward incident. I told him about the Genoese crossbowmen and other bandit groups we had tracked. His patrols had also found similar traces. If they became a serious menace, not that we expected that because there were too many soldiers in the French castle and our village, we might agree how to act.

+++

I reported back to Sir Henry when I was back in the village. He was pleased that we had made friendly contact with our French neighbours. It could be awkward if our patrols met. But Sir Henry seemed not to be concentrating. I asked him if there was anything else I should do before the workers arrived.

"No, John. I'm worried about Agnes."

He laughed.

"I don't know whether to be sad or relieved that she is away for a couple of weeks. I'll miss her but at least I'll be able to sleep at night..."

"You too? I've forgotten what a complete night's sleep is," I said.

"Agnes was wonderful," Sir Henry said, "She was helping my injuries to heal but she was demanding in bed. She was sometimes frustrated that I couldn't take a more active role, but I did my best. Tonight? I'll sleep."

I wasn't so sure. I think Agnes' sister wanted to play while her sister was away. At present our men-at-arms were outnumbered several times over by single women and widows who wanted a man in their bed. That would change when the workers arrived. Or would it? Agnes would have known exactly how many women had been without men before our arrival. For a few it was temporary. Their men folk were with the French army. But for most it was permanent. The continuing wars had made far too many widows and too many young village women had no men to choose from.

That night I asked Jeanne. She agreed that Agnes would have known the exact numbers of single women. She thought there were over two hundred women who had not grabbed an Englishman. She was more concerned about the few married women whose husbands were with the French Army. She thought that was about a dozen women. If the village was occupied by the English for a long time, what would happen?

I hadn't thought that far. I would ask Sir Henry. We could allow the women to leave but we couldn't have French soldiers coming home to the village to see exactly what we were doing. We couldn't keep secret that we were building a castle. We would not want the French to know the exact details including the castle's defences. The local women might see but would they know enough to appreciate the military significance? They had never been inside a castle. Most had not even seen a castle.

That night Jeanne made love to me so hard and often that I was exhausted when I went to sleep. In the morning I woke up to find she had wrapped the bed clothes around me. She had tied me in that bundle with yards of rope. I struggled but I couldn't get even a hand free.

"Jeanne!" I shouted. "Get me out!"

She walked into the room carrying a long scarf. As I pleaded with her for release she wrapped the scarf over my lips. She wound it round and round my head until my words were nothing but faint meaningless sounds. She sat on my chest, holding the two ends of the scarf in one hand.

"You're my prisoner, John. My helpless, silent, bound prisoner. You can't do a thing. But I? I could do this..."

She leant forward to pinch my nostrils shut with finger and thumb. She held for a few seconds before letting me breathe.

"Why? You can't ask now. I'll answer anyway. I want you, John. I've got you. You're helpless in my bed. You can't call anyone else. All they might hear would be too quiet. If this village is going to stay English I want an Englishman -- you. Marie has claimed Giles. Yesterday he proposed marriage to her. She accepted. When the priest comes back they will be married. Some of the other men don't know but they are being seduced into marriage too. They'll repopulate this village with married couples. Perhaps you shouldn't have occupied it with fifty single men? Most will not be leaving, or if they do leave, they will be with their wives."

I wasn't surprised that Giles had proposed to Marie. From the nativity play on Christmas Day they had been going around like young lovers besotted with the other. The rest of us were older, most having lost their wives in childbirth or to the plague that had hit our English village six years ago. The men had been defending the border with Scotland. They had returned to find half the village dead and buried.

The women of this village had taken the Englishmen into their homes and into their beds. Their cooking was much better than any English village woman could do. They had made us comfortable and shown us love. Now it seems they want ownership of the men. Tied as I was, Jeanne owned me now. If she let me free, unless I stayed out of her bed and avoided sex, I could find myself in the same predicament any morning. Jeanne could make love until I was unconscious -- every night if she wanted to.

I had a sudden dreadful thought. What if all the village women had acted like Jeanne? Apart from the sentries, most of my men at arms might now be helpless in a Frenchwoman's bed. If a few women offered hugs and kisses to each sentry...

But Jeanne had said 'I want an Englishman'.

My thoughts were interrupted. Jeanne knotted the ends of scarf across my tightly wrapped mouth. She lifted the hem of her gown to show warm damp lips that covered my encumbered mouth. She dropped the gown beyond the top of my head, plunging me into darkness. Her knees clamped the sides of my head as she pressed down. My nose sank into her warm cleft. I breathed her familiar womanly scent just before my breath was impeded. I couldn't bite her through the layers of scarf. I shook my head. Her knees squeezed harder. She could suffocate me with her sex.

I heard Jeanne say something above me. I couldn't hear what. The blood pounding in my head as I ran out of air was too loud.

Just as I thought I was going to die Jeanne pulled herself up and away. I was still hidden under the skirt of her gown but I could breathe. Light hit my eyes as Jeanne dragged the skirt off my head. She unknotted the scarf before slowly unwrapping my head. She stopped with the last layer over my lips.

"Well, Sergeant John? What are you going to do? Accept that you are mine?"

"Yes," I was able to say through the single layer of scarf.

That was whipped away to be replaced by Jeanne's lips fiercely kissing me. +++

An hour later I was nearly asleep again. Jeanne had unwrapped me before riding me mercilessly, taking me to the edge of ejaculation again and again. When I came finally we slumped against each other.

Over breakfast I did what Jeanne wanted me to do. I proposed marriage and she accepted. She had not given me an alternative but the idea of a life with Jeanne seemed too attractive to refuse.

I left the house to change the sentries. One of them reported that he thought a body of men could be approaching from Calais. He had seen glints of shining metal on a distant hill as the sun rose half an hour ago. It was now overcast. Nothing was in view but they would be in a valley the other side of the ridge. I sent two riders to the ridge. They looked, turned and rode back to report that the head of a column of men was about twenty minutes away. I sent a message to Sir Henry. Soon he joined me on a wooden gate tower. We watched as more and more men crested the ridge.

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