Defending the Castle: Part VI: Breaking the Siege

Before we get started—note that today is Transgender Day of Visibility. Please take this time to write letter to a legislator, or just talk to people, or join a march.

I've been having fun with the adventures of James Campbell with Aunt Gertrude MacDonald at Campbell Castle! Follow the links to Parts I to III, Part IV, and Part V. This week I didn't get any inspiration from the #WritePhoto prompt, so I turned to my own photos of castles in Scotland.

When last seen, the motley crew of defenders of the last free castle in Scotland (maybe) were working out how to withstand a siege--or to end it--with a few antique weapons and a set of over-sized chess pieces.

Photo by Rebecca M. Douglass

About 850 words.

Part VI: Breaking the Siege

Gertrude MacDonald was peering over the parapet, only half hidden behind one of the crenellations. James Campbell came up beside her.


“Careful of showing yourself. Their weapons have a crazy long range.”


“Perhaps.” She swung around to face him. “But their eyesight doesn’t.”


“And you know that how?”


“I’ve seen them, you know. In the village.”


He looked at her in surprise. “You have?”


“What’s more, I’ve been in touch with the outside world. Unlike you folks in here. We’re learning a lot about our new overlords,” she added in a tone that suggested she might not be ready to acknowledge those new lords.


“We?” James asked. “We who?”


“Oh, you know,” Gertrude answered vaguely. “People. You aren’t the only ones, you know,” she added more vigorously. “And not everyone is holed up and besieged. Just my luck,” she muttered, “to be with those who are.”


James returned to the main point. “So, they can’t see all that well. It hasn’t stopped them so far, in their attacks.” Still, there must be some way to turn that to their advantage. He looked up at the highest remaining tower, where they had finally managed to reinforce the floor well enough to allow someone to stand guard up there. A make-shift tent kept the guard mostly dry when the weather was wet, as it so often was in the north of Scotland.


Then he turned and gazed back down into the courtyard, where a few of the castle’s defenders were engaged in a badly strategized game of chess with the giant pieces Gertrude had found in a storeroom only she had known about.


The idea came in a rush. “We’ll need some paint. Claire!” he shouted down into the courtyard. “Report!”


He’d been training his “army” and it showed. The young woman charged up the stairs, red hair streaming behind her. The girl really was lovely; presumably Rory MacDonald hadn’t failed to notice that.


“I want those chessmen painted. We need them to look like real people—from a distance,” he added to silence her objections.




It took several days, and some of the pieces still had a lot of red showing through, since they didn’t have all that much paint. James expected Gertrude, who to her disgust was still stuck in the castle, to object to them modifying the obviously historic game pieces, but she kept silent. Most of the crew got into the project, since they couldn’t play chess anymore.


Everyone asked what the point was, but James wasn’t ready to talk. Only when he was presented with a full army of life-sized wooden soldiers (plus a priest or two) did he give more instructions.


“I need half a dozen volunteers for a bit of night work.”


“Are we going to break the siege, chief?” That was Rory. He and most of the others had taken to calling James “Chief,” as in clan chief. The way things were going, it even kind of made sense.


“We’re going to try, boy. But don’t get too excited. We aren’t going to try any death-and-glory charge at the enemy.” He tapped his head. “We’re using our wits. I’m beginning to think,” he added with a glance out across the wide meadow to the line of four-armed soldiers, “that we have more of those than they do.”


“Hmph.” Gertrude let him know she wasn’t so sure of that. Given how much nudging she’d had to do to get him to think of solutions, she had a point, but James was counting the old woman’s wits among theirs.


When darkness fell—and it was a very dark night—the party formed up by the postern. They had their plan and everyone know what to do, so it all went off smoothly.


In the morning, the alien besiegers found that a large number of soldiers had moved outside the castle, standing at guard every hundred feet or so all around the perimeter facing the enemy.


Did they know how many people were inside? They had little excuse not to, after this long. James stood on the parapet, hidden like the rest of the defenders behind a crenellation and practically holding his breath. The canons and trebuchet were loaded and aimed, awaiting orders.


The new “soldiers” had been noticed. A flurry of activity in the enemy lines promised an attack.


Wait for it, he told himself. Let them get closer. Close enough to be in easy range, too far—he hoped—to see that the “soldiers” didn’t move. Every defender not on duty with the heavy armaments stood by a basket of water balloons or rocks. He’d deployed his crew based on who had the best pitching arms.


Just a few more yards…


It was a massacre. The wooden army stood by and watched, unmoved, as rocks, water balloons and dungballs destroyed the attackers.


When it was all over and the ship had flown away with what was left of the attackers, Gertrude went home. As always, she had the last word.


“Be sure you pick up all those bits of balloons, now.”



©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2023
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