Julie Weathers

Murder Holes

Even though I write fantasy, I tend to do a lot of research. History is often more fascinating than fiction, so I glean tidbits that will eventually work their way into a story.

In the climatic battle of FAR RIDER spies ensconced with the cultists have discovered a way into a seemingly impenetrable stronghold. The rift through the rock leading into an underground tunnel is too small for men. That means only children or small women will be able to squeeze through. However, they also know the invaders will have to defend the gatehouse once they take it and lower the drawbridge. The force will have to hold it long enough for the Loyalists, those who are still faithful to the missing king, to get sufficient numbers into the stronghold to defeat the defending army.

This is the opportunity for the disgraced women’s unit to redeem itself. It’s also a chance for our intrepid main character to prove she isn’t a coward as was claimed.

It’s an impossible task, but the women have to hold the gatehouse or the battle will be lost before it begins. If they lose control, the Loyalists will be trapped between the raised drawbridge and the portcullis, a gate that is lowered as an additional defense.

The entrance to the castle is flanked by gatehouse. The”tunnel” has openings in the ceiling called murder holes. They are called murder holes because the defenders can rain down arrows, rocks, boiling water, tar, pitch and other weapons to kill attackers. If they happen to be trapped in this area, it becomes a slaughter from which there is no escape.

Murder holes could also be used in machicolations, which were platforms or extensions from castle walls which allowed defenders to drop missiles from the castle walls while remaining safe. 

Murder holes were in use from about 1000-1500 in the Norman and Plantagenet inspired castles. 

Even though the women going in know they will most likely be dead by the time the army gets in, they must hold the gatehouse and keep the portcullis up even if it means sabotaging the works before they die.

Murder holes at Bodiam Castle.

Castle defenses.

I collect books on castles and ancient warfare. One of my favorite series of books on ancient warfare is the Osprey Military History series. They are small books, but they allow a person to hone in on one specific attribute, battle or army.

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