Weighing up the Odds.
Balk Forest, South of Pocklington
25th March 1642. 4:00 am.
Colonel Gryndell, Captain Hotham and four troopers rode out from Balk Forest, they headed South-East across country, avoiding all roads. Septimus knew the area very well and knew not only how to get to Twiston Hall by avoiding the roads, but also the best vantage point to observe the goings on.
Septimus was concerned that the latest intelligence he had was now two days old, many things could have changed in that period, royalist reinforcements, cancellation of the convoy or a host of other possibilities. This scouting mission would at least answer the most important of them.
After no more than thirty minutes gentle riding, Septimus held up his hand to halt the small group. 'We are very close Captain, we shall dismount here and travel the last half a mile on foot. There will no doubt be sentries and pickets surrounding the hall, so we move quietly, and in total silence.'
Two men were detailed off to hold the horses, ready for a hasty retreat if needed. The four remaining men, led by Septimus, headed into a wooded area.
After less than 15 minutes, Septimus once again halted the group with a raised hand, eyes had now become accustomed to the dark, the pale light of dawn was still some time off and would not penetrate the canopy of the wood for another hour or more.
The group gathered around Septimus, who spoke in a whisper. 'The hall is just beyond that hedge line,' pointing in the direction they had been travelling. 'We are in good cover and this vantage point will allow us to look down a slight fall in the ground to the hall grounds.' He looked about him, as if able to see through the dark and the surrounding trees. 'Not a sign of any sentry or picket, most odd, don't you think captain?'
'Yes indeed sir, surely they are not so confident in their position to think they are unapproachable!'
Septimus rubbed his chin, 'They must know about our force leaving Hull and then disappearing beyond Beverley. Any commander would be able to work out the distance such a force could travel and be prepared to resist it.
Once again he eyed his surroundings as if expecting a picket to step forward and challenge them. He smiled at the other three men, 'Maybe this Sir Royston is as big an imbecile, as I have been informed by various sources.'
The faint light of dawn was now creeping across the sky, illuminating the underside of the clouds. The four men crept slowly toward the hedge row overlooking the hall and its grounds. Candles were burning in a number of the rooms and the shapes of men could vaguely be seen moving about in and around the hall. Horses could also be heard away in the distance, out of sight. The four men crouched and waited for the slowly increasing daylight to lay all before them crystal clear.
Sir Royston was totally unaccustomed to rising so early in a morning, completely uncivilised. Consequently, he was not in the best of temper. That damn fool of a major, aided by Captain Parr, had convinced him to leave soon after daybreak for York, much against his better judgement, he wanted to arrive just after midday, to achieve the greatest impact and to be seen by the majority of the population. Well the two fools waiting downstairs, could wait a damn sight longer as he intended to eat a hearty breakfast and only then dress and go down to listen to their requests and seemingly endless problems. It was a short four hour march to York, how difficult could that be?
It was in fact one hour later, before Sir Royston met with Major Cunningham and Captain Parr.
'Sir, with your permission,' a very agitated Major Cunningham said, 'I shall send out a troop to scout the road ahead of us, and another two, one on each flank to protect and warn us of the enemy should he approach. I shall remain with the final troop as close escort.'
Sir Royston twisted the points of his moustache, 'My dear Major, you seem convinced this phantom force of yours is in this vicinity, am I cowwect?' he said in a quiet, almost friendly tone.
'It is possibly in this vicinity, on that point you are indeed correct sir.' The major relaxed slightly.
'Assuming that this webel force is indeed advancing upon us at this vewy moment,' Sir Royston continued to sound concerned but relaxed. 'Am I also cowwect in thinking that we will need evewy man available to pwotect the wagons?'
The major wasn't sure where this line of conversation was leading, but said 'You are indeed correct once again sir.'
Sir Royston slammed his fist down onto the tabletop, startling both the other men. 'Then why in God's name do you intend to send thwee quawters of your twoopers galloping awound the Yorkshire countwyside?' He shouted.
A reddening Major Cunningham, finding it hard to control himself, raised his own voice. 'Sir, they will not be galloping around the countryside, it is military sense to know what is ahead and to our flanks, otherwise we could march blindly into a trap!
Sir Royston jumped to his feet and stood one pace from the now crimson faced major. 'I want your twoopers awound me and the wagons!' he spat the words out, if the enemy is appwoaching it will be from the South-East, the one diwection you are ignowing major. If you must send out a twoop, then send it to the South-East, because that is the diwection any enemy is most likely to appwoach from. Do I make myself clear Mister Cunningham?
The major had to use all his self control not strike this fool across the face, he would not waste his career and future chances, he replied quietly. 'Very clear sir, very clear indeed, I shall not waste anymore of your time, and will follow your orders. With your permission, I shall send out a troop to the South-East, as you suggest.'
'Good, we seem to understand each other now major, you may indeed send out that twoop.
A hedge row, 300 yards away.
It was now light enough see everything that was happening down below at the hall. Septimus had watched with mild surprise as a troop of horse galloped off to the South-East, the opposite direction to which the wagons and the rest of the force were supposed to be taking.
'Do you think they have changed their plans sir?' Captain Hotham whispered.
'I doubt very much they would travel in that direction, it makes no sense.' Septimus rubbed his chin, as he always did when deep in thought. 'They must think that our force is somewhere to the South-East, surely they must know we could be here already.
A commotion in the grounds brought the attention of all four men back to the hall. Two limbered wagons had been brought to the front of the house, and the remaining three troops of the horse regiment were forming up in column ahead of it, whilst the regiment of foot, drum beating and flag flying, was also forming a column behind.
Eventually, a figure, who could only be Sir Royston Twiston-Rawlings emerged from the hall and was assisted onto his mount. He then moved to the head of the column and within moments the whole convoy lurched forward, heading North to join the York Road.
Septimus stared in disbelief and when he glanced at John Hotham, he could see the same look of suprise on his face too. That fool Twiston-Rawlings, had no advance guard nor did it appear, he was going to throw out any pickets on his flanks.
Captain Hotham, as though reading his commanders thoughts, said quietly, 'He must be waiting until he is closer to the York Road, before sending out scouts ahead and to his flanks.'
'Maybe John, maybe.' Septimus was watching the column snaking away into the distance. But no pickets or sentries guarded these woods overlooking the hall last night, a troop of horse sent off in the opposite direction to what is required. Unless this Sir Royston has some trick up his sleeve we haven't discovered, then the man is an idiot.'
The four of them made their way quickly through the wood to the two waiting troopers and their horses.
Two troopers were instructed to shadow the column and to immediately return to Balk Wood if scouts and flankers were thrown out when the column reached the York Road. Septimus, John and the two remaining troopers headed back across country to rejoin their men.