King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 19, 20, 21, 22

Third, the elementary and primitive weapons that Shef himself had invented personally, the pull-throwers as his men called them. Mere traction weapons, worked by a gang pulling in unison at one end of a beam, while the other end, the long arm, whipped up and whirled round a sling, to release its rock at the critical moment. Cheap to make, easy to build, capable of being worked by anyone with a minimum of instruction. Easy to aim for line, almost impossible to gauge for range. Throwing their stones up in the air and relying on gravity for their force, not the power of twisted rope. Used best against formed bodies of troops, who could not avoid them. Cwicca’s gangs turned out dozens of them, sent them to every place they could think of along the walls, along with unlimited supplies of missiles dug out of the stony ground. After a while their operation was turned over to the women of the city, who could heave as well as men, and free men for the heavier work of close combat.

After the first few lunges by the Emperor’s men, mere demonstrations or explorations—though each left its trail of casualties lying dead or broken on the stony ground—it became clear that the lie of the land would impose its own pattern on the fighting.

Like many towns along the coast, Septimania had sprung from a settlement along a cala, or creek-mouth, where a river ran down between high bluffs to the sea. The city had grown up on both hills and on the steep sides of the cala between, but as it had grown more and more populous the original single bridge across had multiplied, been made and remade in stone, so that in some stretches the river had become almost completely hidden. But in any case, in this, the growing heat of mid-summer, the river-bed was as good as dry. Where it ran was blocked now by a heavy iron grid or portcullis, lowered to the stony bed beneath.

Nevertheless the river-bed was a weak point, where men could enter under the walls, rather than over them. Brand, touring the defenses with Malachi, captain of the prince’s guard, had said nothing when they reached it but told Cwicca to bring up his best twist-shooters and dig them in behind the iron grid.

Round the whole half-circuit towards the land ran the stone walls, beautifully made, fervently maintained and tended as Shef had seen. Assault on those was bound to be costly. At each end, where the walls met the sea, the road ran, the road along the coast that carried trade, and that carried it through the town where the traders must perforce pay toll. The gates at either end were as strong as could be made, of studded oak, with towers to protect them and cover the approaches with arrow-shot. Yet they too were a weak point.

And then the harbor itself. On the tideless Mediterranean there was no foreshore, and walls could be extended right down to the beach. Yet the sea was shallow. Anyone could wade or even paddle along it. As long as attackers faced nothing but wall, as forbidding as the landward one, no harm could be done. Yet as the sea-walls came into the harbor, there had to be a place of junction. To both the north and south of the harbor there ran long stone jetties, or moles, or staithes as the English and Norse called them, the northern one a good hundred yards long, the southern one half that length. They protected the mouth of the cala from the fierce sudden storms of the Inland Sea, had been built over the years as trade had increased and the size of the ships with it. Each jetty was six feet above the surface of the water—easy to reach from the deck of a ship, as they were intended to be. Their defense caused Brand anxious concern. They’re long, they’re low, if we were to defend them with swords and spears we’d need five, six hundred men, he estimated. And they’d all have to be better than the opposition as well, he added.

“Yeah,” Cwicca replied, “so we don’t defend them with swords and spears, nor axes neither. They’re long, they’re low, there’s no cover on them or coming up to them. Crossbows for short range and mules for long. Shoot the shit out of them.”

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