Ralph’s forces had ridden out two miles north of Hereford when they came across the amassing forces of Gruffydd and Alfgar. The Earl sensed the unease that was spreading throughout his men as the realisation that they were facing a far greater force than they had expected began to unsettle them. The horses felt it too; their ears were splayed back and they were baring their yellowed teeth. Their riders’ anxiety fizzled down through their trunks and their legs so that it seeped into the horse’s spine and nervous system. Fear filled the air with its unmistakeable tension and aroma.
“My Lord,” William said to Ralph apprehensively. “There must be four thousand of them.”
“But the scout said that there was half that number,” Ralph replied incredulously. “How can he have got it so wrong?”
“The sly vipers split up so that we would not know there was so many of them,” Malet replied. “Who would have thought that Alfgar could be so cunning?”
“Not Alfgar; Gruffydd more like. Alfgar would not be so clever. Gruffydd is the brains behind this.” Ralph shifted uneasily in his saddle. The enemy army was fast approaching. “We must send for reinforcements!”
William looked at him aghast. It was an absurd comment. “How can we? There’s no time. They’re bloody well upon us!”
Fitzscrob, captain of the middle-guard, rode over to them. “My Lord, the enemy are advancing. What should we do? We are overwhelmingly outnumbered!”
“What of it? We have the advantage. We have more cavalry than they. A man on a horse is worth two on foot. We can cut them down if we use the double circular formation and feigned retreat to break their lines,” Ralph replied. He knew that he was asking a lot from his inexperienced troops who were used to fighting in a shieldwall, but he had to save face...somehow. He looked out across the plain and saw the enemy vanguard advancing toward them, their pace quickening now as they got closer. The noise was thunderous. Trumpets were blaring and men were screaming obscenities at the “Saes bastards!” as they loomed toward them.
“My Lord, we will be cut to pieces! The men are untried and full of fear!” Fitzscrob shouted. “We must retreat and defend the town. It’s our only hope!”
Defend Hereford? This mob would overrun it in seconds, Ralph thought, his bravado beginning to wane. The enemy were thundering toward them now. Ralph’s fear began to overwhelm him. He lost all control of his bladder and his bowels as he sat quaking in his saddle. The ‘great’ army he had raised did not seem so great now.