Expanded from a short story in Foreign Legions (Editor David Drake, July 2001, Baen ) which was an entire collection about human soldiers drafted for alien's wars, The Excalibur Alternative plucks an army of English soldiers, knights and longbowmen, out of a raging and surely fatal tempest in the 1300s and spirits them away to fight as mercenaries for a trading company.
Evidentially, the alien version of the Prime Directive insists that you have to meet like with like on the battlefield, but it's ok to conquer your customers by force rather than repetitive advertising.
Possibly it's more human as well.
Except for the infrequent permanent death, as the alien's biotechnology can restore all but the most hacked up soldiers, and the fact that they are not free men, but slaves, the English have a pretty good deal. Though limited to period appropriate weapons, for the most part, they are equipped with far better armor, swords, and bows than they every imagined, horses stolen from the French just before they departed, most amazing to them the English have not only stopped dying in battle, for the most part, but they've stopped dying, or aging altogether.
But they do grow restive.
They are most fortunate that their leader is a bright, pragmatic type, that his favorite priest is also, and that no small number of women, wives and "camp followers" alike, happened to be aboard the armada when it was taken. Though the aliens consider them breeding stock, we humans tend to breed rebellion as often as anything else.
The Trader Alien race is surrounded by another enslaved race, these being under a compulsion to protect their master at any cost, and with no restrictions on the potency of the weaponry they use. Which makes rebellion difficult, at best...but these are Englishmen...and equal to the challenge.
It's a good yarn, with a delightful ending, though it does jump around a bit from decade to decade as the story progresses, somewhat to the detriment of the story. What would have made an excellent trilogy, is reduced to a pretty good novel; but there are stories yet untold here, and it might be worth seeing what happens after the conclusion of this part.
The Excalibur Alternative is it's own story, but it's not the first time knights of the realm have taken to the high frontier. Notable, there was Jerry Pournelle's King David's Spaceship, (rev. of "A Spaceship for the King") in which the same sort of thing takes place, and you might enjoy reading the two for contrast.
© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu