There had been high revelry at the Buttery the night before, and many of the last night's revelers remained as drowsy sleepers in the morning. Master Kobayashi Yutaka heard faint and far the plaint of Alexandre's trumpet, cursed, and reached for his katana. Then the city's alarm bells came to his ears, and he woke fully and instantly. His head ached from generous helpings of saké, and he was not quite sure he wanted to face this morning, but, dutiful as always, he gave himself no choice. He slipped from the pallet, shrugged on a light robe against the morning chill, and went over to the nearest lump on the floor, nudging it gently with his toe. "Kalë! Wake up! There's trouble!"
"Mmmumph?" was Lord Kalë Harlansson's response. Kobayashi stooped down and shook the sleeping Seneschal of Carolingia by the shoulder. "G'way!" growled Kalë, swiping clumsily with a bearlike paw. Kobayashi decided that drastic measures were needed. He picked up a pitcher of ice-cold water and splashed the contents all over Kalë's head. The grizzled Rusviking sprang up with a snarl and charged at Kobayashi like a wounded bear. The young Samurai ducked under his grasping arm and hid behind a heavy oaken chair. "C'mon back here and die like a man!" Kalë yelled.
"Not on my life!" called Kobayashi from behind the chair. "If you want to fight somebody, why not take on the Ostgardrians? They're attacking the city—can't you hear the bells?"
Kalë was now awake enough to listen to reason, or nearly so. He shook himself, spattering drops of water from his grizzled red-brown hair and heard. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Let's go get the others up." He grabbed his clothes and weapons, and threw them on as fast as he could.
Meanwhile, Kobayashi started on Herr John von Traubenberg. This was a trickier proposition, for the huge German merchant was even more violently averse to being abruptly awakened than Kalë, and had been known to lash out viciously and without warning. Kobayashi hunkered down and called softly, "Johan…Johan…" until he got an answering grumble and groan. "Johan, it's Koby. You'd better get up, the Ostgardrians are attacking!"
Johan opened his eyes and glared malevolently at his swordbrother. "Whassa big idea getting me up so early? 'S just past dawn! Go 'way and lemme get back to sleep."
"Sorry, no can do," said Kobayashi softly. "We need you, Johan."
The former Thegn 1A groaned, stretched, and uttered a cavernous yawn. "Well, then, I suppose it can't be helped. What's the big emergency, anyway? If I weren't still half-asleep, I'd swear I heard you say the Ostgardrians were attacking."
I did say so, " said Kobayashi, "and they are! The city bells have been ringing the alarm for the last half-hour!"
"Oh, so that's what those bells were! I had the damnedest dream — thought I'd been condemned to ring the University bells for falling asleep in class." Johan grumbled a bit under his breath and groped around. "Now where'd I put my halberd…?
By the time the three Thegns came downstairs, Mistress Marian of Edwinstowe, owner and proprietress of the Buttery, was up and making a hearty breakfast, with plenty of strong black coffee. She looked over the group that gradually gathered in the kitchen, mentally evaluating their strength. Master Kobayashi and his two sword-brothers were the strongest fighters present, which wasn't bad but could have been better if, for instance, their former Master had decided to spend the night also. Still, she had more than half the Company of Bowmen to support them — and also a few noncombatant types to be protected.
Breakfast was scarcely finished when they heard the measured tread of marching feet. Florian of the Glen, one of the keenest-eyed of the Bowmen — also the sharpest-tongued — was up to an upstairs window at once, and reported back that a sizable body of troops was coming up the South Coast Road. "By the repulsive worm on the banner," he said, "I'd guess that we have to deal with the Iron Guard — and from their numbers, maybe the Black Fist too."
"Oh damn," said Marian. "Oh damn. That means the Bridge and Smoking Rocks have allied with Ostgardr. They never did like us."
"As a matter of fact," said Kalë, "it indicates that the entire Confederation is against us, with the possible exception of Concordia — did you see any Concordian banners, Florian?"
"No, and I'd know their silly snowflake if I saw it!"
"Well, Concordia's a long way from here, and they may not even know what's going on," said Johan. Florian mutter, "I don't think they ever do," but was quelled by a sharp look from Marian.
"This is an outrage!" sputtered somebody from the back of the room. "How dare they? Why doesn't the King do something about them? Why didn't he protect us?"
Kalë replied grimly, "Heaven is high and the King is far away from here — and by the time he learns of it, it will probably be too late. We are very much on our own."
"Kobayashi," Marian asked, "is there any chance of holding the Buttery against them?"
"Some, maybe, for a while. It was never meant as a stronghold, you know."
"I ought to know. But if we can delay this bunch even a little, it would help the people inside the city. True?"
"True," Kobayashi admitted.
"Can we do it?"
"I believe so."
"Then let's do it. All in favor?" The fighters and all the Bowmen present, except Florian, raised their hands.
"Opposed?" No hands. "Abstain?" Two hands, both belonging to Florian. "I don't like it," he said, "but I'll go along with the rest."
By now the troop was well within longbow range. The archers, plus Kalë, who grabbed a bow and joined them, went to the windows, nocked, and loosed a flight. The enemy halted in confusion as several of their number fell. A second flight of arrows turned the confusion into complete disorder, and the survivors withdrew a little down the road to regroup. The archers raised a cheer, but Kobayashi warned, "They'll be coming on again, and they'll be harder to stop next time."
The enemy came on again, and a second time were forced to withdraw, at the expense of many more arrows. This time there was a longer wait, and apparently some discussion in enemy ranks. Then they rallied and came on a third time, spreading out to flank and surround the building.
"Our arrows are almost gone," said Pryderi mab Aurddolen, the Captain of the Company of Bowmen. "We can't hold out much longer."
Marian's round face set in determination. "Then there's only one thing to do. Withdraw to the city — and fire the building!:
The archers gathered their few remaining arrows, while Kobayashi and the Thegns charged and beat back the enemy lines for them. When the Company reassembled a short distance down the road, Marian wrapped oil-soaked rags around her arrowhead and set them alight. Then she drew and loosed, aiming in a high arc to lodge the flaming arrow in the thatched roof. Pryderi's loose followed close upon hers, then Florian's, Aidien's, and Wantelet's. The homely halls of the Buttery rapidly turned into masses of flame.
"Marian drew a hand across her eyes, which were wet. "It's the smoke," she said. "It's making my eyes water."
Nobody, not even Florian, saw fit to remark that the wind was blowing the other way….