I was having a discussion with some people on the European Medieval History Facebook Site
Some very knowledgeable people on there. So I offered to make my chapters concerning that terrible day for their consideration. Remember I’m a writer of Historical Fiction (I prefer the word ‘Faction’ as in Fact joined with fiction = faction). I researched this extensively from many different sources but the truth of the matter can never be easily defined. At the start of this piece you will meet two unnamed individuals. I was criticized at one stage for not giving names to these people – yet their anonymity is deliberate for they represent the anonymous majority who suffered at the hands of the high and mighty. I thought it right and fitting that among the Kings and baron’s the ‘little people should be remembered. So come and join me on a rainy day seven hundred and fifty years ago when the balance of power in England was decided.
Book One of “The King’s Jew”
Tuesday August 4th 1265
Feast day of Saint Molua.
Hebrew: 21st day of Av 5025
The Abbey town of Evesham. Early morning.
The crowd swarmed out from Evesham and the Abbey grounds, soldiers and peasants pressed together tightly like a flock of sheep.
The boy’s grubby hand clutched the hem of the threadbare woollen cloak in front of him. He was too small to see over the milling throng so he focused on the man pulling him along, following this way and that as the press of men swayed and moved in their eagerness to reach the Green Field.
The cloak stopped and the boy collided with the broad-shouldered man wearing it. The massive figure turned and they both struggled to avoid being swept along.
They were like two boulders, one huge the other small, in the midst of the torrent of humanity sweeping around them. The bearded, matted-haired man hefted his long-handled axe, moving it from one shoulder to the other and spoke to the youth who had dogged his steps for so long.
“Go home to your mother.”
“Please, father, let me come.”
“You are too young. I tell you, one last time, go home. This is man’s work.”
The youth was small and slim and a good foot shorter than his father who stood over six feet tall.
The boy had tears in his eyes.
“I can fight. I have my blade. Let me come with you.”
The man lowered his axe and bent down to touch his son’s head.
“I know your fear. You think your father will suffer harm. Have I ever been beaten in a fight? Can any man in Evesham cut down trees as swiftly? Who in this town can drink with me till dawn? No man has ever bested me. Well?”
“No but …”
“You will do as you are told.”
The son looked up and saw the confidence in his father’s blue eyes. He noted the old pieces of chain mail, the quilted vest beneath and the battered basinet on his head that might afford some semblance of protection. The short sword and dagger at his hip along with the axe his only weapons. His father had been away with Earl Montfort’s army for many weeks and had only returned home the night before and now he was leaving again.
The father proffered the axe to his son.
“Hold this for me,” he said as he removed the clasp from his cloak, took it off with a flourish and held it out to the lad.
“Take this. I must move freely today. Look after it. Go on, take it.”
The axe was pulled roughly from the boy’s hand and replaced with the rolled cloth which the boy draped over his thin shoulders just as someone knocked him from his feet and by the time he had picked himself up his father had disappeared, swept away with the multitude preparing to fight Lord Edward if, and when, his army appeared.
A voice in the crowd cried out for a lost father and a boy with tears in his eyes allowed himself to be borne along by the throng, for where they went his father would be and he loved his father beyond life itself.
Lined up outside the great Abbey church attended by squires and ostlers stood the steeds of Simon de Montfort’s trusted men. The horses stamped and pawed the ground. They had not been fed this morning and were unsettled. The noise, clatter and excitement of men readying themselves for battle seemed to affect the fiery beasts as they champed at the bit ready for action. Captains and sergeants stood nervously awaiting their master’s orders.
A fully-armed knight limped up the steps and entered the Abbey church; his squire followed clasping his master’s helm close to his chest.
Inside, Earl Simon de Montfort knelt with head bowed before the altar. His confessor and friend, Walter de Cantelupe, Bishop of Worcester, had said his final prayers for success in the coming confrontation and blessed all those Lords, knights, servants and squires who attended this final service.
De Montfort, being a few years short of his sixtieth birthday, rose slowly to his feet and turned to the man standing slightly behind and to his right.
“Well, dear brother-in-law, it seems our time has come. I trust you are ready for the fray?”
Slightly smaller than de Montfort, the man nervously clasped his hands together as he looked with frightened eyes at the Earl.
“You do not expect me to take to the field with you? I will not bear arms against my son.”
“You will do as I say, and remember well why we have come to this. Somewhere, not far away, your son lurks with his army and would do us harm. You will ride with me today and I will keep you safe within the circle of my bodyguards. If I fall, you fall with me.”
“I am your King, your prisoner. You cannot force me to fight with you.”
“No, my Lord King, you are not a prisoner. I do but keep you safe from the jaws of your marauding son, Lord Edward and his royalist traitors.”
King Henry III turned away with a snort of disgust as the sound of Sir Hugh Despenser’s mailed feet echoed on the stone slabs for all there present had grown quiet listening to the exchange between Earl and King. A shuffling of feet and nervous coughs reflected the unease of some of the watching men.
Montfort turned to Despenser, greeting him with a shake of the head and a slight smile.
“Has Edward’s army been sighted, Sir Hugh?”
“Not yet, my Lord Earl, but we know he has left Worcester and can only pray that your son, young Simon, can bring his men to us forthwith. I fear time is no friend to our cause.”
Montfort looked around the church and beckoned his most trusted men to come closer. They formed a circle around their Lord as King Henry wrung his hands together in fear of what was to come.
Montfort’s squire began to tighten the straps on his master’s mail, pulling here, cinching in there as his Lord spoke.
“Balliol, you will escort the King, stay close to him and see he wears my colours. I would not have Henry shirk from his destiny. If I am to die this day I would have my ‘family’ with me.”
“This is wrong,” gasped the King.
“It is as wrong as your lust for power,” growled Montfort, “If you had obeyed our baron’s laws and done all that you promised then this moment would not have come. For a King to rule his people he must have their interests at heart. Your only interest is yourself and that pup you call son. Go get him ready Balliol.”
Montfort then addressed Sir Hugh, “My lord Despenser I ask that you do not join us on the march today. Your age precludes such a venture. As Justiciar of England your counsel is wise and of great value to us. I would not see such wisdom fall beneath an enemy’s sword.”
Despenser drew himself to full height and shook his head beneath the metal ventails and padding.
“My Earl, we have travelled the same path for too long and, with respect, you carry more years than I. Let it be as it was in the beginning of this noble venture for today we shall all drink from the same cup no matter how bitter the contents.”
“Go to then, see to your men,” whispered Montfort. “Arnold du Bois, where are you?”
Du Bois limped forward supported by his squire.
“Here my Lord.”
“We have been friends for many years, Arnold, and you are not fit to fight or ride with me this day. I order you, as you love me, to depart this place. Go back to your lands and heal your wounds. We will meet another day.”
Du Bois bowed stiffly and, assisted by his squire and one of his captains, made his way slowly down the aisle. Pausing, he turned back to face De Montfort saying,
“I will pray for you and your cause. Farewell, old friend.”
Bishop Cantelupe grasped Peter de Montfort by his arm. Cantelupe was seventy years old and Peter, though only ten-years younger, was his nephew.
“You have words for me, uncle?” said Peter.
“I do and I will keep them brief. Stay close to your Lord. You carry the same name though not the same blood. If it were in my power I would ride with Earl Montfort. Alas I can only pray for you all and, if God hears my prayers and the entreaties of others, you will all join with our Earl’s son’s army and defeat these royalists who do sign terms of peace they never mean to uphold. Beware of false Gods and false vows for the world is full of such abomination. I will meet with you all soon at Kenilworth Castle.”
Bishop Cantelupe blessed his nephew one last time, made a perfunctory bow to King Henry, and then hurried off to the sacristy.
Simon de Montfort’s gaze swept round his assembled men. Most looked him in the eye and he took comfort in their allegiance. Some kept their heads down, shuffling mailed feet, nervously adjusting belts and weapons looking anywhere except at their Lord.
‘Some of you will fail me this day,’ thought de Montfort, ‘and others will do just enough. I pray the many will help me in my hour of need.’ A vision of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane flew unbidden into de Montfort’s troubled mind. ‘Am I to be betrayed?’ he asked himself.
Knowing such thoughts must not be spoken he smiled at his assembled men thinking; ‘They must see me confident and ready this day. In me lies their hope and safety.’
“You have your orders gentlemen. We march to Kenilworth. I will lead with our Welsh troops and mounted knights. If that dog Edward is sighted we will destroy him and his army. Our spies tell me he is riding hard from Worcester. You have your orders?”
A great cry of affirmation rang round the church and Simon de Montfort walked slowly towards the door, his men following and shouting words of encouragement to each other.
Guy de Balliol ushered a frightened and trembling King toward the door. Henry would have given up his crown to escape the horrors he could see looming in his mind’s eye. But something stayed his hand. After all, was he not anointed and appointed by God? God’s do not let Kings fall in battle. Do they? Balliol urged him on.
As De Montfort and his men climbed onto their horses the noise around the Abbey reached a crescendo that rolled far from the Abbey walls to be taken up by the army of soldiers, retainers, camp followers and especially the Welsh auxiliaries who danced from one leg to another in anticipation of battle and booty yet to come. More than a few of De Montfort’s men looked at these Welsh mercenaries with suspicion and hatred. These wild men from the hills owed allegiance to no-one but their own Lord, Llewellyn ap Gruffydd. He had sent these foot soldiers and they were a long way from home.
A horseman, scattering all before him, rode towards De Montfort whose guard formed a protective ring round him for this man was helmeted and ready for battle.
De Montfort raised a hand in greeting thinking; ‘Do they not recognise my eldest son?’
Henry de Montfort drew close to his father and leaned towards him, their heads almost touching as Henry spoke; his words sounded hollow from within the helm but his father heard him clear enough,
“Father, your men have been hard pressed for many weeks. They have not slept nor eaten properly for three days. Even our horses are exhausted. Would it not be better to make a stand here in the church and the tower? They are strong and easily defended. Wait until my brother comes to our aid. Let your army recovered its strength, I beg you.”
Only Montfort’s closest men heard the exchange and some nodded in agreement thinking this was wise council indeed.
Montfort grasped his son’s arm and, still with their heads touching, spoke words that only his son could hear,
“No, my son. I am a knight, an Earl and my place is on the field of battle. Churches and towers are for priests and bell ringers. Throughout this day never forget my love for you and your dear mother.”
Henry de Montfort wished he could embrace his father but snorting horses and eager men precluded such examples of fealty and love. Bowing his head and raising his arm he manoeuvred his horse slowly backward, all the time staring into his father’s grim eyes. He took his place within Montfort’s bodyguard and the horses began to move slowly out from the yard towards the Abbey gates. The sound of cheering grew ever louder.
A mile away, a great throng of almost eleven-thousand men stood below the reverse slope of the Green Hill. It was a testament to the discipline of Lord Edward, his captains and advisors, that only a low murmuring echoed round the valley that hid them from the view of any Montfortian spies.
Cristian moved his steed closer to his friend but was thrust back by the arrival of Gilbert de Clare and his retainers. De Clare acted as if Cristian were a peasant and not Lord Edward’s long-time companion. Cristian detested the man and the feeling was mutual. He hated his arrogance and the fact that De Clare had once allied himself to Simon de Montfort and now brought his men over to Lord Edward’s banner. He was also complicit in a recent massacre of Jews in Canterbury. De Clare stared at Cristian with his usual look of disdain as the object of his rancor stared calmly back, his face as inscrutable as ever.
Earl Mortimer edged his horse through the press and now De Clare joined him as Lord Edward turned in his saddle to view his now silent host gathering around him.
A horseman came galloping down the hill towards the army and the skirmishers opened to let him through. His horse sweated and snorted as he made his way towards the commanders. Cristian urged his mount forward to meet the rider.
It was Mathew, his close friend and advisor.
“What news?” asked Cristian.
“Send him direct to me,” ordered the harsh voice of De Clare. “Meddle not in this venture, Gilleson.”
Mathew hesitated and looked to Cristian for guidance.
“Go, Mathew, report to the turncoat,” was Cristian’s quiet remark and he followed his man towards Edward where Earl Mortimer was in full flow.
“The bastard would serve his men well if he fled or surrendered,” muttered Roger Mortimer. “Though I would prefer him to come out and fight, if only for the pleasure of spitting him on my lance.”
Mathew sat quietly in his saddle. He would speak when commanded and not before.
“Well. Spit it out, what is my uncle doing?” demanded Edward. “Will he fight or flee?”
“His men leave the town and Abbey even now my Lord. The Welsh are at his front and his horsemen do prepare themselves behind. My informer says that Earl Montfort …”
“He is no Earl of mine,” snarled Edward.
“Beg pardon my Lord. His chosen men and guards are preparing to leave the precincts. They will make for Kenilworth to meet the army of his son.”
“How sweet is retribution on mine enemies,” laughed Edward. “He has no knowledge of our defeat of that illustrious son of his. He knows not that we sent him running for sanctuary in his great castle dressed only in his nightshirt and leaving many of his men dead in the field.”
These words resulted in a low rumble of satisfaction from the captains of war as Edward continued, “We shall have good sport this morning. Mortimer?”
“I will take the centre ground and you will keep your men to my right. De Clare?”
“You will move your battle to my left. Now listen and listen well all of you. I will move forward slowly over the brow of the hill. My outriders will carry the captured colours of De Montfort’s son before us. Let them think that succour is in their grasp, eh? If, and I mean, if, my uncle Montfort wishes to give battle let him think only my force is present here on this Green Hill.
“If he comes to us do not move forward until I command you. Then you, Mortimer will lead your men and attack their left flank and De Clare the same on the right. We will have the bear in a trap of our choosing, and geld the bastard beast.
“One thing more, I have bestowed the gift of knighthood on these men here,” Edward indicated a group of ten young men, “Mortimer you will make it your duty to ensure these men do attack and kill the traitor Montfort. Waste no time on minions, for our men will clear them from the field, just kill the traitor. Is that clear?”
Heads nodded agreement and with an inclination of his head Edward sent a message to Cristian.
Twenty-years these two had lived their lives close together, like peas in a pod they felt the mood and thoughts of the other and Cristian knew exactly what to do.
“Mathew,” he commanded, “to me.”
Expertly manoeuvring his horse slowly backward Mathew looked with expectation at the young Lord and leaning forward intently received Cristian’s orders.
“Take three men and lie low on the brow of the hill. Signal when the enemy come forward and when they do ensure you come back to me swift as an arrows flight. I would not have you caught between walls of steel never to return. You are no longer a young man, and I need you at my manor of Longhurst.”
Mathew laughed, picked three others and his final words to Cristian before he put spurs to his horse were, “I will see you after the battle Lord. In a tavern or in Hell, it is no matter to me.”
A man stands atop the tower of Evesham Abbey. He has good eyes. He pays attention to detail. He has to. He is Earl De Montfort’s barber and has never, in all his years, caused one drop of his master’s blood to flow. He loves his Lord better than his own son and, literally, knows every hair on his head and face.
Below him he sees the milling throng of the army as they move out towards Kenilworth and safety. A mighty fortress is Kenilworth, and garrisoned by the Earl’s son. If only that golden boy could be here now with his army to support his father then they would put an end to Edward’s reign of terror and restore the balance of power.
Drums beat, clarions blow and a tangible quickening of the host below him takes place. A frisson of fear and excitement spreads through the army.
Horsemen begin to leave the Abbey yards and trot out into the lower fields. Foot soldiers part to allow these great men and their beasts to pass through.
Unseen by the watcher in the tower, Simon de Montfort moves toward the Abbey gates to join his men. Sir Guy de Balliol, commands the leading knights. He carries Earl Montfort’s standard proudly and with reverence. Supporters cheer and shout encouragement. Horses prance and rear. Alas disaster strikes. The flag is held too high and the pole shatters against the gateway arch, the standard falling beneath the hooves of horses to be trampled underfoot.
The barber does not hear his master’s cry of anguish, “God help us now!” Nor see the fear in King Henry’s eyes as he looks to Balliol for deliverance, for escape, for help and kindness. Balliol’s face is a mask of stone. A horse is spurred to him. He grasps a new standard. Puts thoughts of witchcraft and omens to the back of his mind. His Earl will save the day or die in the attempt.
A crow sweeps down then wheels above the tower. It draws the watcher’s eye toward the top of Green Hill. Something approaches, small and wavering in the early morning gloom. ‘Could it be?’ The barber strains, he stares and glowers at the line of banners now peeping over the brow. ‘Is it?’ They grow larger. ‘Praise be!’ The banners and standards of Simon de Montfort’s son; the army is saved. He shouts in triumph to those below and jubilation abounds.
Simon de Montfort raises his eyes to heaven. Whispers a silent prayer as King Henry crosses himself and Balliol grips his standard tighter.
The crow screams a warning. The barber looks again to the standards on the hill. They are listless now, not waving like before. The sky begins to darken and one giant flag now flies alone. It is Prince Edward’s colours. ‘We are undone,’ thinks the barber and rushes down to spread the dreadful news.
Earl Montfort has a strong heart. He is brave and will not run. He has God on his side. He sees the enemy up on the hill. Edward’s flag goads him, mocks him.
Orders have been issued. The men will obey. He has one last duty. It is hard to keep a clear mind in the midst of all the noise and confusion of horses, shouts, profanities and mayhem. Close to the town brook he gathers men dear to him and speaks:
“Fair Lords, there are many among you who are young with children and wives. You have only to cross the bridge to escape from the great peril that is to come. I will not think ill of you. Stay or go, it is all the same to me.”
He holds back a tear; this man of war, for nobody turns their horse or steps away. He signals his squire who comes and fastens the great helm tight. Now it will be easy. This is a day for men to live or die. There is purity in violence and destruction. He has been schooled for this day. It is as natural for him as birthing is to a woman.
His plan is simple and direct. Attack.
“Let them come. Let them die. Kill all the traitors. No quarter. No mercy. Death is my gift this day,” snarls Edward.
His bodyguard move to shield him, they will guard this prince with their lives. Edward tries to push his way through. He will not hide behind others; it is not in his nature to shirk danger. Cristian stays with his friend and watches the galloping rush come ever onward.
The clarions call, drums beat and Mortimer’s battle group moves in good order to the East with his left flank almost on the Avon’s edge. De Clare’s men do the same on the right, almost touching the Worcester road. As De Montfort’s horses come ever closer they do not realise they are hurtling into death’s welcoming embrace.
Captains and sergeants urge their men to stand fast; they see Montfort’s Welshmen straggling towards them behind their master’s brave dash.
Closer comes the enemy, yelling and screaming defiance. Already, the laden steeds sweat and foam. They are trained for this work. They think it a game. Three ranks, twenty horses abreast, shoulder to shoulder bearing steel tipped death. The riders’ a solid wall, knee to knee. They are a bulwark of flesh and weapons of death in a mad stampede of hatred. They cut through a group of foot soldiers sending them spinning, shattered and wailing to the earth, to be trampled underfoot by hard unfeeling hooves.
Simon de Montfort is in the foremost line, Edward’s ranks to his left and right are of no consequence to him. He will break through his nephew’s army in one fast decisive rush. If he can capture Edward his enemies will surrender. He does not know of Edward’s orders. There will be no prisoners today, only the dead.
The lines meet, horses scream and fall taking riders down with them. The bravest rush onward and men are speared and lances show no regard for man or beast in this great clash of arms. Some of De Montfort’s riders break to left and right for they see a gap and would avoid the press of bodies before them. They are eager to break the enemy’s will.
They force their way through the first five ranks of Edward’s army. The young Prince has not expected this mighty rush and his centre is pushed back. Swords are drawn now. Maces flail, swinging in bloody arcs, penetrating mail, buckling tight-gripped shields. There are many men crawling, screaming on the bloodied ground.
Edward’s men are pushed back even further. De Montfort’s riders are among the lightly armed foot soldiers and these men are no match for mounted knights. They are cut down without compunction. De Montfort’s charge runs out of impetus. His men are wheeling their horses and slashing at the manic men below them. The initiative is lost.
Now Edward’s picked men begin to force their way through the press towards Simon de Montfort. It is a bloody business, but a purse of gold is offered for whoever takes the traitor’s life.
Too late de Montfort realises the danger and breaks off the attack. Savagely he pulls his horse round shouting to his diminished company to draw back; back behind his army’s men-at-arms.
Cristian has been busy. It would be easier if he could look out for himself but Edward continues to press his horse into the fray and, as always, Cristian wards off his enemies. Two enemy riders come close behind his Prince but turn away as Cristian moves towards them.
Earls’ Mortimer and De Clare have been manoeuvring their battle formations down the slope to left and right like a net waiting for the fish to come.
Many of De Montfort’s bravest knights are dead and the remainder urge tired horses back down Green Hill. They do not notice the net tightening around them, or that their Welsh force has already run from the fight only to be trapped by the Avon’s banks. They have a choice; drowning or the sword as they frenziedly try to push back through Mortimer’s ranks.
Too late Montfort’s knights realise the danger. They can move neither forward or back for his army still moves up the hill, the press of men making retreat impossible unless he turns on his own soldiers.
De Montfort’s army loses cohesion. The front ranks move backward as they see Edward’s army coming towards them and the rear ranks suddenly realise the cause is lost and break to left and right in their haste to escape.
Inexorably the trap is closed as Edward’s army press in from front, left and right. De Montfort’s army is surrounded now and men begin to throw down their weapons expecting the rules of chivalry to save their lives. The slaughter begins. Montfort’s men look on in horror. War is not supposed to be like this. Honourable defeat and surrender are the rules of this game. Alas, for them there are no rules on Saint Molua’s day.
Hidden by the banks of the river Avon, a boy seeks his father. He covers his ears to shield them from the manic din as all around him turns to chaos. Frightened men rush towards him in their haste to escape the enemy. They run along the riverside seeking a place to cross. In their fear the youngster is invisible to them for he poses no threat as they jerk this way and that like hares running from the hound that would tear them to pieces without a second thought. Edward’s knight’s ride around the flanks of Montfort’s doomed host, pressing them ever inwards onto their compatriots. The army, now a rabble, being herded ever closer together, concentrated like beasts in a pen for slaughter.
De Montfort’s riders gather round him protectively. He eschews their aid, not realising how desperate his situation for he only sees what is happening in glimpses of those nearest him, his vision limited by the slit in his helm. He dare not think of defeat as long as he can strike the nearest enemy down.
The boy is up now. Crouching, he rushes onto the field of blood. His father is here somewhere. He must help him. A mounted man swings down at him with a war hammer. He misses and his horse carries him onward to another victim. The boy moves swiftly, his breath issuing in ragged gasps at the horror around him.
Some men, a few, manage to escape these mounted warriors and seek refuge at the water’s edge. Others, the many, are pushed back into the heaving mass of confusion that the baron’s army has become.
Montfort’s forces begin to haemorrhage, to melt away as those in the rear ranks run for the safety of the village and Abbey grounds. They leave a trail of weapons amidst the dead. Wounded men cry out as they crawl on blood slicked grass seeking sanctuary, an end to their agony.
But something is amiss. The sky darkens. The sun has turned its face from this field of woe. Black clouds loom overhead, turn day to night. The heavens open and rain sheets down like bitter tears onto the heaving mass below.
Simon de Montfort’s bodyguard are being chopped down one by one as his assassins press ever closer to their purse of gold. De Montfort cries out in exasperation, he is weary and the rain limits his vision. Horses skid and slip on the wet ground. Two more of Montfort’s men are down and the Earl hears a terrible cry. No matter the noise of steel on mail, or the screams and cursing of desperate men, Montfort hears the death cry of his youngest son, Henry. Inside his helm Montfort weeps salty tears that mingle with the dripping rain and sweat.
Cristian’s horse slips, crashes to the ground with a piercing shriek. He is out of the saddle before the horse hits the ground. He will fight on foot now; others must look out for Edward.
It is hard to move amidst this press of bodies. A figure looms before him, signals. It is Mathew, his chosen man, his captain. Mathew has deliberately dismounted to help his Lord. A movement of the arm signifies grateful thanks.
Lord Edward’s men wear a red cross on their garb. Crosses originally daubed with animal blood on scraps of cloth. Blood and rain make it hard to tell friend from foe.
Through his helm Cristian sees De Montfort surrounded and with a deep gash in his neck, the result of a lucky thrust with a lance. He fights on desperately but his time has come. Now dragged from his horse his enemies move in close. Lances jab; men dismount. Blows rain like the blacksmith’s hammer onto his twitching body.
Three paces away Cristian sees a man chopping at a figure on the ground. The prostrate form raises a un-gauntleted hand to beg for mercy. Cristian sees the colours on the man’s surcoat; three lions. It is King Henry. Summoning Mathew they rush over just as the soldier raises his weapon for a final stroke. Mathew barges into the man pushing him away and Cristian looks down as Henry shouts,
“I am Henry of Winchester. Do not kill me.”
Cristian stoops to help his King rise and Mathew guards their backs until more of Cristian’s men appear. The King is led away from the field crying like a baby.
The rain has ceased. The sun bursts through. The bloodletting continues.
Cristian can see that the destruction of Montfort is complete. His head is raised high on the point of a lance. What Cristian cannot see is the terrible mutilation of his body taking place amongst the dancing butchers.
Looking round he orientates himself. Over there is his Prince, Lord Edward, safe and sound. To the left, the river and down below him streaming away from the battle the Earl’s demoralised, beaten army being hotly pursued by Edward’s troops. The murder will carry on a while longer.
Cristian waves to Mathew. It is time for them to leave this field of despair, to allow others the thrill of meting out death. Mathew runs to gather a wandering mount for his master as suddenly danger threatens.
A wounded man, growling and swearing, breaks from the massed men and makes straight for Cristian. His axe whistles through the air to the place where Cristian’s head had been just a second before and glides harmlessly away pulling the man off balance so great was his wish to kill, to inflict grievous harm on those who had cut him.
This soldier is slow to recover, almost falling to the sodden ground. He grinds his teeth in exasperation as he tries to swing his weapon one more time. Too late, too slow, his time has come as Cristian’s sword smashes down on his unprotected neck. The man falls. He looks puzzled. This was not foretold by the wise woman of Evesham.
‘A waste’ thinks Cristian but then seemingly from nowhere a child appears. He is screaming, crying out for his father. The dying axe-man looks to the boy and mouths something. His last words are unheard on this field of bloodlust and madness but cause Cristian to break years of training and pause.
The child, the boy, throws himself at him. There is no need for this. The youth deserves life. He should not be here. The battle’s outcome is plain for all to see as the Royal troops continue their slaughter of Simon de Montfort’s dwindling supporters.
Men continue to throw their weapons down, pleading, crying for quarter, for mercy. No mercy on the field this day. Lord Edward’s orders are followed to the letter. Accept no surrender, take no prisoners. There was one rule. Kill the traitors who had taken the Holy body of King Henry III captive. De Montfort had usurped the rule of the King but, far worse, he had flown in the face of the rules of God.
Yet this child fights on. The recklessness and immortality of youth is about to be tested. Cristian knows full well that there is only one outcome. Yet again, he stays his arm.
Sensing his hesitation the youngster dashes in, left-handed. Feints to the right then moves swiftly left. His blade cuts through Cristian’s side and man and boy look shocked for the merest of moments.
Suddenly the noise and madness of thousands of men hacking, stabbing, gauging and wrestling each other disappears. The world moves slowly, time stops.
Cristian sees a flock of starlings appear, weaving and dancing in the hot air rising from the murderous crowd below. He wonders if these landless birds laugh at the foolishness of men. A body crashes into him from behind and he is jolted back to reality. He has a task and it isn’t just to stay alive in this mad throng, it is to kill, for only by killing will he live.
The boy has to die. It is nothing personal. Two people meet in battle but only one will walk away. Cristian is twenty-six and in his prime, the boy fifteen, sixteen at most. Cristian had taken life at that age. Now he will despatch the boy. He feels no pain from his wound as he parries an ineffectual thrust. Neither does it hurt as he raises his sword to bring it down towards the lad’s left arm, suddenly changing the direction of his swing outward then inward to slice deep into his enemy’s thigh. The boy falls to one knee, screaming in pain and fright. His high-pitched keening suddenly ceases as Cristian’s blade cuts into his head. He falls as dead as dead can be to the bloody churned up ground.
For a moment Cristian notices the rain has ceased, then the mad melee closes around him and the boy is forgotten. In Evesham a woman waits. She will wait forever for her husband and son to walk back into her life.
Lord Edward stands amongst his victorious captains. His eagle eyes survey the scene below as the slaughter continues. Not content with cutting down the enemy in the field, Edward’s men follow the fleeing rabble into the town. There is nowhere to hide. Nobody is safe. Villagers and soldiers look the same to trained killers. If the peasants harboured the enemies of the King, were they not themselves enemies and deserving death?
“Shall I bring our men to heel, my Lord?” asks Mortimer.
Edward is breathing hard, lips curled back in a snarl of hatred. He is pleased his father has been restored to him with only minor wounds. He is incensed that anyone had the temerity to lay hands on the anointed of God. God is not here but Edward is and Edward will play the part of a vengeful God.
“Kill them all,” he shouts. “Follow them into the church; send them to hell as they invoke the sanctuary of Our Lord God. Kill them all.”
Mortimer says nothing. Stands quietly, it was he brought down Simon de Montfort. They had been friends’ once, yet different paths lead to unknown places. Montfort is dead, long live Mortimer.
Edward’s personal physician has been summoned and attends the King who, now he is safe, regains his composure though his right hand shakes and will do so for many weeks to come.
Edward walks to his father, they embrace. Many times they have argued in the past but today is a day for reconciliation, for trust.
King Henry looks up at his son’s tousled hair, his rain and sweat-slicked brow, puts out a hand to touch the man who once was a boy and who will be King.
“Edward, my son, is it really finished? Is this the end of these troublesome Barons?”
“No, father, we still have many enemies to best but we have cut off the head and the body will soon fall.”
Still the noise of battle sweeps over the Green Field mingling with screams from the town.
Cristian and Mathew ride up to the group. King Henry looks up and forces a smile.
“This is the man who saved me,” he says pointing to Cristian. “Like father like son he came to my aide at the appointed time. Dismount, sir, that I may show my gratitude.”
Edward cocks his head to one side; he looks puzzled as Cristian slides from his tired horse, handing the reins to Mathew.
“My Lord King,” winces Cristian making a painful bow.
“Edward, your sword,” demands Henry.
“You are not going to cut off his head are you father?” laughs Edward.
“Kneel,” commands the King.
Cristian goes down on one knee in this muddy, bloody field and with bowed head receives the gift of knighthood from a grateful Sovereign.
“Arise, Sir Cristian,” says Henry, “and we thank God for your timely aid on this day of days. I will talk with you on the morrow.”
Edward and Mortimer look on in wonder; they are pleased the day has ended so well. Edward embraces Cristian and looks deep into his eyes saying, “The village boy from Longhurst. You have been raised high my dear friend, now to horse, there is much left undone.”
De Clare appears. He sees the tableau before him and this elevation of his enemy, Cristian, to knighthood angers him. With a muttered oath he spits on the ground and rides off in pursuit of blood; anybody’s blood! He will have Cristian’s head one day; the bastard upstart Jew lover!
Footnote – Just to say that Gilbert De Clare and Cristian Gilleson have issues between them that go back many years – it’s in the book! http://authl.it/2m5