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Calling all Castle Experts!

Calling all Castle Experts!

I hope this is the right thread for this sort of thing...

In my spare time, I've been working on this little creative piece that's been brewing in the back of my mind.

The setting is fantasy. Not a lot of flashy magic, but a definite supernatural feel.

I'm plotting out the first part of the story, and I've hit a spot where I just know I'm going to fall flat on my face.

Here's the scene:
The protagonist, Jenya, is trapped in a castle that is under siege, and is trying to escape.
In the scene, three things need to happen:
1) She must attempt an escape.
2) During the escape, she kills a soldier of the castle (who is relevant to her backstory).
3) The escape attempt leads to the sacking of the castle.

My original idea is this:
In the castle has a sally port. The port is gated on both sides (entrance and exit), the gatehouse for the sally port is built on the castle wall and is a reinforced building. In the building guards are posted to keep the gates from being opened. Jenya enters the gate house, kills the guards, barricades herself in, and uses some sort of wench mechanism to open the gates. The enemy pours in through the sally port, and the castle is lost.

The problem with this is that I know next to nothing about castles. I've studied them online and in books, and have read about sally ports and whatnot, but I've never actually *seen* a castle. So I have no way of knowing if this is even a remotely plausible idea, or what.

So, if anyone is an authority on the subject and feels like helping me out, please post. Or, you can present an idea of your own, based on the criteria above.


Castles come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and depending on the "historic period" (I know you're going for fantasy, but even that has a sort of "root" to it) you can see just about anything.

The first question you have to ask is, "Why is this castle here?" A castle guards something. It could be a walled town (or even a city), it could be guarding a pass through some mountains, it could just be guarding a section of a trade road. Some castles are fortifications used to guard the government from the governed, some are purely military establishments, some are actually monasteries converted for the purpose!

The second question to ask is, "When is this castle?" A castle from the 600's may be more of a village walled with wood, while stone castle construction happened at different times in different places, but mostly around the 1000's-1100's. Then if you look to something like the 1700's, you see forts like Fort Ticonderoga (one of my own favorites) that are made from stone, certainly, but have a very unique shape and construction pattern.

As for your own idea as to how to get Jenya out of the castle, in broad strokes, it should work with just about any sort of fortification. Inevitably there is some sort of gate (and often less central side-gates), guards, and a way to open said gate. Here's the thing: If the army is outside the gate, the guards will be defending that place particularly strongly. Spies and deserters would often bring news of what was going on on both sides of a siege to the different armies, so, if there was any way for Jenya to coordinate, she might plan to get to a "side gate" where the army isn't, kill the guard there, open it up, and a segment of the sieging army could have snuck around to that gate in the middle of the night for when Jenya opened said gate.

"Why is this castle here?"

Ha! I can answer that!
The castle was originally built to protect a natural pass. It was built on the southern tip of a mountain chain that runs north-south and divides to distinct regions of the area. The chain ends somewhat abruptly, giving way to a relatively flat expanse of about thirty miles or so before meeting the sea.

The castle is the historical seat of that mountainous area. I'm still building my knowledge of feudal politics, but imagine a string of these castles guarding the eastern boarder of a nation. The nation collapsed, splintering into smaller fiefdoms, but the castles remained. The lord of this castle is the liege of the mountain lords, so to speak, but he also swears fealty to a greater lord himself.

Jenya's father is currently the lord of the castle. His income is generated largely by the taxes he generates from the pass below. I suppose that would make him a robber baron, maybe.

"When is this castle?"
Hmm...this is your 'classic' castle. Not a motte and bailey (I think that's right), but a fairly large stonework with an impressive central keep and imposing walls. It was built on top of even older ruins.

As for her escape, Jenya isn't working with someone on the other side of the wall. She's being 'guided' in a general way by a supernatural being, who can also nudge the attackers in the right direction so that they notice the sally port is open. I hope I'm not being too vague, but that's the general idea. Jenya doesn't have a plan when she does this, she's just acting out of desperation and blind faith.

The way I picture it in my mind is this:
The siege has been going on for three weeks. It is a winter siege. Dangerous, but the attacker needed to take the castle before the spring campaigns began. He needed a quick victory.
Jenya has just learned that allies of her father are heading south, to smash the attacker between the walls and an army.

On the night in question, it is bitterly cold. The siege has been going on long enough that the initial rush is over. Both sides have settled in for a long engagement. Guards are on the walls, keeping watch on the enemy below, but not as diligently as they should.
The two men guarding the sally port are more interested in keeping warm than guarding the gate, as there is little fear that a spy is present.
That is how she is able to do it. Nobody expects the Lady of the castle would do such a thing.

An unseasonal fog. It has just the right mystic element to it where it could be magic or it could be just a fluke of nature. Jenya goes in, schwacks the guard, locks herself up, and lowers the gate. Because of how foggy it is, nobody can really figure out what's going on until there's little enough that can be done about it, and a sharp-eyed picket on the sieging army picks out a flash of flame from the other side of the gate, which he then realizes is open. Stealthily leading the army up and in, they can take the walls by surprise, and then force the keep.


VERY doubtful. No single human being is going to open a fortified castle gate. Those things- at least the ones that would hold against a siege for more than fifteen minutes- require several strong men upwards of half an hour to open.

And even if for some weird reason you have the "drawbridge gate" method (which, by the way, those never actually existed except as decoration pieces- castles that had those also had a portcullis or some other "must be lifted up" barrier as well). The dropping process is VERY loud. The second those chains started clacking in the night, everyone on both sides would know exactly what was going on.

There's no way a single person- even a skilled saboteur on a mission- is going to be able to open the way for a siege in just one night. At all. Ever. The entire point of stone fortifications was that nothing but an army will ever break one.

... And, in fact, the vast majority of the time, castles were never breached, even when the defenders lost. Castle combat typically took the majority of a year. And ended when food ran out. Or disease struck. Or morale. Or if there was enough numbers, one side would attempt to swarm the other.

In short- what you're asking for- is legitimately impossible.

Hrm. I've never had to open a castle gate, so I don't really know about the strength required, but you bring up good points. Maybe the castle just has doors?

That's the gate into the inner part of Ft. Ti, and those are just big heavy double doors with a bar across the back.

And that's just a great picture

That's a "modern" fortress. It was never for siege warfare. It was designed to be a staging platform and artillery shelter. As far as cannons are concerned- all doors are decoration only. The reason said doors are on the "inside" of that tunnel is so there's less chance of them being destroyed by a cannon shot.

A classic fortress, on the other hand, the idea of that design would be batshit insane. If you were going to fight a medieval siege, it wouldn't last a full two days.

Of course, if you a battle the way modern forts were designed to have- which is to say primarily decided by cannon fire- trying to use a medieval stonework castle. That thing would be a deathtrap.

And trying to siege, medieval style, against an enemy using cannons and firearms... would be just about the single stupidest thing ever done in the history of warfare (except maybe trying to mount a ground war in russia during the winter).

Gunpowder changed everything about war.

Now... looking over the situation... I'd say her best hope of "single handedly" beating the castle... would be to inform the enemy of the coming allies. If she knows where to expect them to come from and which of the passes they would use...

Traps. Ambushes. A choice manufactured avalanche. Once those allies are slaughtered en route, her father would almost be forced to surrender.

Also- winter is the WORST time to mount a siege- that's when the fall harvests are in full stock and the people are prepared to spend three months indoors doing a lot of nothing. Also, keeping troops and animals alive is a great deal harder during the winter. MUCH better to wait for spring- that's when nations are at their most vulnerable. And summer tends to be the point when actual war campaigns went underway (at least, for the medieval european world).

Well, this is a bit cliche, but its cliche because it works so well. Im not up on the facts of the matter but in a lot of fantasy situations where a castle is being sieged there is always the concern about the "Secret Passageways" that would lead the noble and his family to safety should the walls be breached.

These are obviously kept under the strictest of confidences, often with only one person (the noble) knowing about it and revealing it to his family during the moment of egress, but just as often in these stories the passageway is discovered by happenstance or by an overheard conversation or something similar.

The heroine finds out about this passageway, has to kill a soldier in order to make good use of it, and then is captured by the enemies, she tells them about the passageway and voila, you have your single-handed defeat of the castle.

@Ramaloke: that's a good idea. Jenya (the protagonist), is the daughter of the Lord. Plus she spent her youth exploring the castle (and hiding from her father), so she'd have discovered most of the secret passageways of the castle by the time of the siege.

@TanaNari: I think you misunderstand the size of the gate I'm talking about. You're correct, Jenya isn't possessed of super-human strength.
The ports I'm talking about are something like these:
On the last one, if you click on '11', it pulls up a pic of almost exactly what I'm thinking. Obviously the ports in question would be more reinforced, but that's the size I'm picturing.

Regarding your other point, I hadn't considered that the castle would be stocked for the winter. That makes perfect sense.
To be clear, the reason why the attacking lord chose winter is because he knows he's going to be attacked, by a strong foe, in the spring. The way I originally drafted it out, the lord hoped that he could remove the rebellious vassal lord and the rest would see his strength and fall in line. A risky maneuver, but one he felt was necessary if he was to survive in the fall.

I could move the battle back, to late fall, or forward, to late winter/early spring, but that is taking the risk that his enemy wouldn't choose the same moment to launch his attack.
For the record, he discovers the treachery in the fall. He knows losing roughly a third of his vassals (the mountainous region) will tip the balance, making him too tempting a target for his enemies.

Jenya's father, on the other hand, chose this moment to rebel precisely because he knew the same thing would happen.


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