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The Old Patched Shirt

Or

Petters? Peyters? Poitiers?

By Grim Wendlewulf

 

The old man eased his back against the wooden wall of the barn, raised his face to the warm summer sun and smiled. He settled his buttocks into the cushion that softened the block of wood he was sitting on and examined the tired old shirt he held in his hand. The shirt was less a shirt than a collection of patches; although it still could be thought of as parti-coloured, just what the colours were seemed variable. The left side varied from burberry to sky blue; the right side from mulberry red to pink – all in a bewildering collections of patches upon patches.

‘Uncle,’ the youth said, easing the scythe across his shoulder to get it to rest comfortably. ‘We are supposed to be with the rest haymaking. Why aren’t you ready?’

‘You telling me I’m late Gareth? That makes a change for ‘tis normally I chasing thee!’

‘Hmmph.’ Gareth gave up holding the scythe on his shoulder and leant it against the barn wall.

‘Anyway boy: aren't you late? The others left a while back.'

‘I was trimming Gifu the goat's hoves!'

‘Oh ah,' Wulf replied offhandedly.

‘Well, Uncle Wulf, are you coming haymaking or not?’

‘I have found a tear in my old shirt and I needs to repair it first.’ Wulf put the shirt down and started sorting though a collection of oddments of material at his feet.

‘Why are you repairing it? Couldn’t Aunt Lucy have done it for you?’

‘Ah, well – she says if I want to keep old clothes rather than scrap them, then I have to repair them.’

Gareth squatted on his haunches and started to examine the old shirt whilst his uncle continued to sort through the bits of cloth at his feet that, by their colours seemed to have been part of clothing similar to the old shirt. ‘Is it worth repairing though Uncle? It is rather threadbare.’

Wulf held a piece of reddish pink cloth up to the sun and gave it gentle tugs to test its strength, rejected it and did the same to a dark mulberry piece that by its shape had been part of the foot of a leg of hosen. ‘Old soldiers habits die hard; waste not – want not.’

Gareth gave the shirt another examination. ‘To be honest, Uncle, thrifty yeoman’s son that I am, even I would not bother repairing this shirt. It is so thin in parts, I’d even not even want to tear it up into arse wipes for fear it would fail when most needed.’

‘Thrifty yeoman? And you talking arse wipes?’ Wulf put down his selected patch and pointed the stub of his mutilated right index finger at his nephew. ‘When I was your age boy, arses were not wiped with bits of cloth but wiped with moss when things were good, and leaves when things weren’t so good.’

Gareth sloughed against the wall; “I supposed the leaves were from the holly bush too,’ he muttered under his breath, not expecting his hard of hearing uncle to hear him.

‘Only when constipated young man! You see you could use the prickle in the end to …’

‘Thank you Uncle, I know what you are going to say. Anyway – how come you heard what I said?’

‘Things that are said in the dark are brought out into the open, so says scripture.’

‘Does it?’

‘Probably.’

Gareth sighed. ‘Anyway; the old shirt – why keep repairing it? I mean, even the odd scraps you have to patch it with are threadbare.’

Geffrey Wulf reclaimed his old shirt and checked the patch to the size of the tear. ‘This shirt was what I wore at the Battle of Petters. That makes it special.’

‘Petters? Do you mean Poitiers?’

‘That may be how them Frogs say it boy, but Edward, Prince of Wales, God rest his soul, he called it “Petters”, and if it were good enough for him, it be good enough for me.’

Gareth found himself a block of wood from a pile waiting to be split and sat himself down beside his uncle. ‘They say the Prince of Wales used to speak English to his English troops and French to his French troops.’

The old archer smiled. ‘English with a London accent strong it made it hard for anyone from north of Watford to understand him and almost impossible for any Welsh serving him to follow what he said.’ Wulf held up his selected patch and gentled tugged it yet again to test the material’s strength. ‘Mind he spoke his French with a strong London accent too. Word was his Gascon troops thought they would have better understood him if he had addressed then in English rather than French. Funny people the French; no pleasing them – even when they are your own loyal French.’ Wulf used a needle to ease a thread from the cloth, having done so he passed thread and needle to his nephew. ‘Please, the old eye ain’t the same.’

Gareth squinted his eyes in concentration as he threaded the needle; ‘Anyway, you served the Duke of Lancaster, not the Prince of Wales.’

‘Family affinity is Lancaster. Not always the in the right of it, but affinity is affinity even though it can cause you grief, as Sir Alan de Buxhall’s father found out at Boroughbridge – almost cost him his head that battle for Lancaster did. One advantage of being yeoman boy, we are only thought of as followers so we keep our heads if taken prisoner.’

‘So,’ Gareth asked as patiently as he could, for he was only too familiar with his uncle’s way of going off at tangents and/or getting too detailed in his explanation, ‘what were you doing in the Prince of Wales army? Wasn’t Lancaster and his army raiding through Normandy at the time?’

‘His Grace of Lancaster to you boy.’

“I’ve heard you call him a lot of other names!’

Wulf leant across and mildly cuffed his nephew across the back of the head. ‘That’s me, an old soldier what served him speaking. You be anything other than very polite when referring to his Grace of Lancaster in front of Sir Alan and any hope you have of entering his service as a household archer will vanish. Now, you threaded that needle yet?’

Gareth passed the needle and thread over to Wulf, who promptly made the thread double and knotted the end.

‘Well, I was with His Grace’s army, under Sir Alan’s banner of course. That’s the old Duke mind, Henry of Grossmont, not John of Gaunt. We had had a right time of it chopping through Normandy.’ Wulf used some spare needles to roughly pin the patch in place over the tear in the sun rotted left shoulder of the shirt. ‘We managed to relieve a couple of “English” towns that the French had been besieging and had the horror of storming two of theirs and taking them: try and avoid storming towns boy, not that you get the choice mind. Anyway,’ Wulf slipped a smooth flat of wood under the area he was mending, ‘we were then stalked by the French King, Jean – a girl’s name, but then that’s the French for you. A huge army. The French king, he sent a challenge to battle across, but the old Duke, he weren’t daft, sent back some smart reply about being on a certain business, which he had now done and was going back home: then we did a midnight flit.’ Wulf saw Gareth’s puzzled look: ‘Had it away on our toes,’ he explained to the boy. Seeing confusion still in the boys face he added; ‘Legged it, snuck away, left very quietly.’ Seeing enlightenment in the boy’s eyes, the old archer continued. ‘Our scouts, when they came back said the Frogs had stood to arms all night expecting battle in the morn: daft buggers. They thought they saw us also standing to arms, but ‘twas only the scouts and some mounted archers on the skyline, left to fool them. I mean,’ he made his first stitch, ‘with all that loot and ransomable prisoners and them so outnumbering us, did they expect us to stand when we could withdraw and not risk all?’

Gareth settled himself more comfortably, for he could see his uncle was settling into storytelling mode and it seemed so much more attractive than haymaking under a hot sun. He nodded encouragingly at Wulf.

The old man continued: ‘We pulled back step by step, town by town till we got to where Sir Robert Knollys had a camp set up for us at Carentan. Now there was a fighting man, Sir Robert. Him and only seven men had just beaten up and killed 120 Froggies …..’

‘Uncle: Poitiers?’

‘Right. Well we rested up and then went back down towards the Law River.’

Loire?’

‘Correct: ‘cos the thing was, Lancaster, His Grace of Lancaster to you boy, was supposed to have been linking up with His Grace, the Prince of Wales, who had been burning and looting his way north from Gascony. But when we got there all the bridges were broken or held in force and there were Frogs everywhere, thousands of them – thousands upon thousands of them, wherever we turned. All them Frenchies and no open crossing made it all too risky. You can’t get caught trying to cross rivers when the enemy holds the banks. Mind, on the campaign that lead to Cressey….’

‘Uncle!’

‘Right; Petters.’ The old man re-examined the patch and moved it slightly and re-pinned it. ‘Where was I? Oh yes:  so seeing as His Grace couldn’t make the link up, word had to be sent to the Prince of Wales so as he knew to turn back to our own French lands rather than get cut off.’

‘And, Uncle, and ..’

‘And Sir Alan volunteered me and a few of my squadies to take the message.’

 

***

 

Edward, Prince of Wales, son of King Edward III, King of England and rightful King France, Lord of Ireland, Overlord of  Scotland, sat with a bored look on his face as two cardinals, their faces as red as their garb, spoke on and on about making a truce with the French King, whose armies were closing in on Edward’s. The Prince stifled a yawn, turned to a page at his elbow and indicated the youngster should offer his unwanted guests more wine.

‘Wine your? Honours? Graces? Excellencies?’

The cardinals looked puzzled at the boy’s English words.

‘Don’t worry young Piers; they no more understand your words than they understand that I want to fight the French King, not make a truce with him. Just fill their goblets and hopefully they will take the hint. Some decent strong wine may dull their wits even more – they may even fall asleep with luck.’ Edward’s voice was as flat and devoid of meaning as his face. Seeing the cardinals accept the proffered wine he let his eyes wander over the green fields of Montbazan. His mind pondered the contrast between the pristine scene and the stench of the military camp with the rich smell of cooking fighting against the stink of human occupation and the always-underlying stench of the horse lines. He glanced at the cardinals, who seemed to have used the wine to refresh their vocal cords and appeared to be about to renew their attempts to gain a truce between the English and French armies.

Someone coughed discretely near his ear and the Prince looked up with relief and smiled at his favourite Captain, Lord Audley. Edward held out a flat hand towards the cardinals, stalling any attempt for them to start talking again.

‘Your Grace: a messenger from your cousin, the Duke of Lancaster.’

‘And not before time. I’ve stalled here waiting for news. Bring him in, but keep him at the entrance till I get rid of these idiots,’ he indicated the cardinals.

The cardinals looked at the Prince expectantly.’

I am sorry Your Eminences: the truce cannot be agreed to. You see, I just don’t have the authority. Naturally I will send your request and advice on to my father the King for, you see, only he can say “yea or nay” on a truce of this nature that involves another king. Sorry.’ Edwards stood, gave a curt drop of his head and left his pavilion, collecting Audley and Lancaster’s messenger on the way out, leaving the cardinals struggling to understand the Prince’s strangely pronounced French.

Edward indicated with his head for the messenger to walk ahead of them.

‘Well James, is he one of ours? Not a French spy?’ the Prince hissed

‘Your Grace, he wears the Duke of Lancaster’s colours,’ Audley hissed back

‘Easily taken from a body. Does he have paperwork?’

‘Indeed, though he says he has other words he was to keep only in his head and for your ears only.’

‘Could be misinformation. Does he speak proper English, like what I does?’

‘Not quite; sort of soft southern county with an overlay of London.’

‘Who does he say he serves?’

‘Sir Alan de Buxhall.’

‘That rogue? No one would lie about being identified with him!’

‘True.’

‘A rogue, but at least he is our rogue and a very valuable and loyal rogue at that. If Alan sent him he must have some useful characteristics. Right, let’s see what his missive says.’ The Prince caught up with the messenger. ‘Right man, this is private enough place. Pass on your message.’

The messenger stopped, turned and went on one knee. He proffered up a creased and rather battered piece of parchment.

Edward took the parchment and examined the wax seal, in particular checking whether it had been tampered with. ‘You are?’

‘Geffrey ðe Wulf, Household Archer to Sir Alan de Buxhall, in the army of his Grace, Henry, Duke of Lancaster.’

Edward ran his eye over Wulf, taking in the fact that he had a red scar running from his forehead to his chin on the left side of his face, the scar being interrupted by a leather patch where his eye had once been. ‘You know what is written here?’ The Prince tapped the parchment against his cheek.

‘Your Grace, I don’t read or speak French.’

‘Nor should you still be an archer with only one eye.’ Edward re-examined the seal for interference. ‘How do you know it is written in French if you haven’t opened it and then resealed it?’

‘I was there when it was writ Your Grace, and I couldn’t read it then, no more than I would be able to read it now.’

‘You read English though?’

‘I am a yeoman, Your Grace, I need to know my letters.’

‘Hmm: true.’ Edward broke the seal and perused the correspondence. ‘Hmm. You took your time in getting here, weeks rather than days.’

‘Frenchies like fleas on a dog’s back Your Grace. All bridges down or guarded, fords blocked or broken. We had to go miles west along the River Law till we could find a place unguarded and could swim the horses across. As it was I lost two men in a skirmish. It was only by great guile I made it through to your camp here, Your Grace.’

‘And the words for my ears only?’

Wulf looked up at the Prince.

‘Yes you can rise and approach.’

Wulf rose and whispered in the Princes’ ear.

Edward winced at what he heard. ‘Right Wulf by name, wolf by nature. Take yourself off to get fed and rested. If I want to get a reply back to Lancaster, where would I send a messenger?’

‘Punts dew Shay, though the bridge over the River Law is guarded.’

‘Ponts du Cė,’ Audley clarified, ‘the other side of the River Loire.’

‘That’s what he said,’ dismissed the Prince.

Wulf limped away in search of food from the field kitchen.

‘James?’

 ‘Your Grace?’

‘Message to my loved cousin of Lancaster: meet me at Chatellault. I expect to be there 14 September and will wait three days. If you do not appear, I will take it you have tried your best, and understand. I must then remake my plans for engaging the false French king.’ Edward rocked on his heels in thought. ‘James: I was going to send the wolf back to his pack with the message but, if the French are swarming around the River Law, then we would be better to use a more discrete messenger. We need a Gascon, a loyal Gasocon.’

Audley raised an eyebrow.

The Prince inclined his head knowingly ‘One of Captal de Buch’s boys.’

Audley let out an audible sigh of relief.

‘I need someone who knows the local dialect. He is to have no livery, plain horse, man to be nothing noticeable to look at. Plain horse; plain man.’

‘And well rewarded?’

‘If he makes it there? Yes. I only pay on results.’

‘And the verbal message from His Grace of Lancaster?’

‘For my ears only James, for my ears only.’

 

***

 

‘You are leaving.’ Mark the Archer stirred Geffrey de Wulf with the toe of his boot.

‘His Nibs of Wales is letting me and my mate to get back to our own army?’

‘No,’ the Devonshire man drawled. ‘Weem to provide escort to his wains full of booty and head to Petters, whilst those with horses go with him off to chase the Froggy King.’

‘Mark,’ Wulf held out his hand to be pulled up.’ We have horses.’

‘True, but if we are to escort the wains, we need them to stay above the dust.’

‘Oh well. This Petters? North towards the army of Lancaster?’

‘South towards Bordeaux.’

‘Oh well, I suppose the weather will be warmer.’ Wulf kicked the leg of a young man sleeping cuddled up to his war bow as if it were his girlfriend. ‘Oi wake up.’

‘Ah bugger to be sure,’ the stirring youth muttered.

‘What ‘im say?’ asked Mark.

Wulf shrugged.

‘Who be you?’ Mark asked the youth.

‘Airka Eóganachta Mór.’

‘What?’ the Devonshire man asked.

‘He said he is Irish.’ Wulf enlightened.

‘That explains a lot.’ Mark offered the youth his hand and helped to pull him to his feet.

‘Does his Nibs know it is the middle of the night?’ Wulf asked Mark as they headed off.

‘I understand he has no problems with his eyesight.’

‘Lucky him.’ Wulf stretched and then groaned and massaged his back. ‘Maybe the ground is softer down south.’

‘Well at least the roads won’t be too rutted if we are ahead of the army.’

‘Lucky us. Though not so lucky if the army succeed in catching the French King and taking him. They will get the booty.’

‘Booty?’ asked Airka, his eyes brightening at the thought.

‘Or lucky us if they get drubbed by the Frogs. Just think: if we are all that get back to Bordeaux all the loot already taken gets divided between us few rather than the six thousand odd in the Princes’ army.’

‘And us?’ questioned the Irishman.

‘We are now part of his army, are we not?’ Wulf informed him.

‘True,’ Mark confirmed. ‘Come Gef we need to move – the main army gets going at dawn and we need to be long gone by then.’

 

***

‘They’re back Gef.’

Wulf joined Mark Archer and watched the dusty columns of riders come up the hill towards the lager of wagons on the top of the hill south of Poitiers. One column rode up the Nouaille Road towards where it cut through the hedge than ran along the full length of the ridge. The other column came along the Le Gue de L’Homme Road and its gap in the hedge. As the first riders rode through the Le Gue gap men ran up asking for news. Weary looks spoke louder than words.

‘Don’t look like they got the Frog King then Mark.’

‘Well, there, there,’ Mark pointed Wulf to two very fancily armoured men with expensive horses. 'They don’t look English and by their faces, they ain’t happy to be here. They may have missed the King, but they got a couple of valuable prisoners.’

‘Not that we will see any of the booty I suspect.’

‘Booty?’ Arika asked hopefully.

‘You never know: If they pool the ransoms and plunder,’ reassured Mark.

‘Meantime it’s back to digging trenches to protect the supply train lager.’ Wulf bent his back to dig another shovelful of earth, watched by Airka who was leaning on his shovel.

‘Well’ Mark drawled, ‘better than digging the latrines, for they be already in use.’

‘Praise God for small mercies.’ Wulf emptied his shovel over Airka’s foot.

 

***

 

Edward, Prince of Wales, sat with a bored look on his face as the two cardinals, their faces as red as their cassocks, spoke on and on about making a truce with the French King, whose army was camped very near Edward’s. He stifled a yawn as they extolled the virtues of peace. His eyelids flickered as he fought off a desire to sleep whilst they explained the advantages of a truce, one that, in exchange for his booty and a few unimportant castles, very unimportant they emphasised, he and his men could return to Bordeaux unmolested.

Fine, a parley, in the no-man’s land between our camps. Noon.

The cardinals thought and mentally translated the unusual French into more understandable French. Having grasped the meaning they smiled and left, heading for the camp of Jean, King of France.

Sir John Chandos snorted down his nose: ‘You agreeing to a truce?’

‘Just buying time John: I want all scouts pulled back for I know where our enemy is. I want that trench round the lager deepened and stakes set in it. My left flank is protected by marsh but my right is vulnerable without something we make ourselves.’ He turned and waved James Audley over. ‘James get the loot wagons away as soon as the light has gone: not the supply train: that stays. I want my men fed and I want them to have easy access to whatever arrows we have left.’ He turned back to Chandos; ‘John stand the men down and get them checking harness and weapons. God willing we fight tomorrow. I have been trying to temp Jean into battle and now I can almost smell it.’

‘Your Grace,’ Sir John Chandos left. ‘Its after a battle you get the smell,’ he muttered as he walked towards the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury who were drinking and laughing with other nobles and knights bannerette who had gathered around a fire.

 

***

 

Edward, Prince of Wales, sat with a bored look on his face as the two cardinals, egged on by the French nobles at their side, spoke on and on about making a truce with the French King, whose army would crush Edward’s in the morning unless said truce was signed.

Edward laughed out aloud. ‘I am sorry Your Eminences: the truce cannot be agreed to. You see, I just don’t have the authority. Naturally I will send your request and advice on to my father the King for, you see, only he can say “yea or nay” on a truce of this nature that involves another king. Now piss off.’ Edwards stood, gave a curt drop of his head and left his pavilion, collecting the Earls Warwick, Oxford and Salisbury, Sir James Audley and Sir John Chandos on the way out, leaving those still in the pavilion struggling to understand his strangely pronounced French.

‘All ready?’ the Prince asked.

‘As best we can be Your Grace,’ Warwick answered.

Warwick: your Battle to take the left flank. Salisbury yours the right. Leave a space between you, but not for my Battle. I will be centre but back and will hold my troops in reserve. You have all the archers. Usual form, wedges on your flanks. As usual all men-at-arms dismounted but spured up and horses to be held by pages in the wood to our rear, ready to go if we need them. We will stay formed up south of the hedge that runs along the ridge.’ Edward turned to Warwick. ‘My Lord you will use spare wagons and brush wood to block the gap where the road in your centre goes through.’ He turned to Salisbury; ‘My Lord you will leave your road unblocked.’

Salisbury looked puzzled.

Edward smiled and ran his hand through his white gold hair. ‘With luck those French that survive the archers will get through the gap and we can pin them against the hedge and finish them off.’

 

***

 

‘I’m never happy shooting alongside those I don’t know.’ Mark the Archer carried on passing sheaves of two dozen arrows down to Wulf and Airka from the bed of the wagon. ‘We all know how much space to give each others so the bows don’t clash and all that.’

‘Job has to be done Mark. You will just have to get used to us two. We have the same concern for you and yours but they do say Warwick’s men are top men, English and Welsh.’

‘Welsh: good archers and I suppose they be more reliable then the Gascons and we’ve plenty of them in this army.’ Airka contributed.

‘What him say?' queried Mark

‘Watch your back with the Gascons,'Wulf translated.

Mark jumped down from the bed of the waggon and, together with Wulf and the Irishman, tramped towards their position on the Earl of Warwick’s far left flank a sheaf under each arm.

‘Hurry up you three: maybe you can slack in Lancaster’s army, but you need to learn to jump in Warwick’s,’ a sergeant archer yelled as he jogged past, two sheaves under each arm. 

‘Bloody show off.’ Wulf sped up from an amble to a walk.

‘Me in Lancaster’s army?’ said a hurt Mark.

‘A step up is that,’ Airka reassured him.

 

***

 

‘Dress ranks,’ the Captain of Archers shouted. ‘Dress ranks.’

The archers shuffled inexpertly till they were in a reasonably military shape.

A group rode up on splendid horses, at their head the unmistakably handsome face of the Prince of Wales, his blond hair glittering in the sun.

Edwards stood in his stirrups: ‘All right you horrible smelly lot; I don’t know if you frighten the Frogs but you sure as Hell frighten me. The smell alone should make the Frenchies falter! I won’t tell you how to fight ‘cos I know that you know how to do that only too well. Back home most of you would be dangling from the gallows by now. Anyway me beauties: we kicked their garlic tainted arses at Sluys, Crecy and so many other places so I know with you archers here we will do it again. You also know the odds: lose and we die. But win, oh yes win and glory will be ours.’ The Prince paused and looked at his archers’ bored faces. ‘Just joking. Oh yeah me old muckers: bugger the glory – think of the booty!’

The archers cheered enthusiastically.

‘What did he say?’ Wulf asked Mark. ‘I didn’t catch it all. Hearings never been the same after I got hit on the head a few years back. The steel helm may have stopped me brains falling out but the ringing sound is still there.’

‘Why not ask your mate,’ Mark asked indicating the sleeping Airka at their feet.

‘Can’t understand much of what he says: seems a mix of English, German and the tongue twisting speech he assures me is Irish.’

‘Well, anyway; don’t worry Gef,’ Mark assured Wulf, 'here come the sergeants, repeating his message for those what didn’t hear it. Earlier he gave the whole army a talk all full of “band of brothers; we few, we very few and honour & glory” and all that stuff as I understand. This talk was a special wind up for us archers that they say that is nearer the truth.’

 

***

 

‘Food,’ said Wulf.

‘Food?’

‘Food!’ Wulf insisted.

‘But Uncle,’ Gareth whined. ‘The battle is about to start.’

‘Food is essential to a soldier, as are other things.’ Wulf put down his partially patched shirt and stretched his legs. ‘Remember the four S’s?’

‘Yes Uncle Wulf,’ Gareth agreed in a bored voice. ‘Sleep; Shit; Stew; Stuff.’

‘Every chance that offers, for you never know when you may get the next chance to sleep, shit, stew in a bath or stuff your face.’

‘Only chance of a stew on campaign is when you burn down a French peasant’s house to heat the water,’ Gareth muttered as he started towards the house.

‘I heard that boy! If you can’t get hot water use cold, even if it means standing in a river to wash! Nothing worse than sweat burn: try marching 20 miles a days with it, or riding a horse for 40 with it! Stew is best, but cold wash will do.’

The boy turned: ‘Your hearing, Uncle, is very selective isn’t it? When Aunt Lucy wants something done you never seem to hear, but when I mutter a comment you do!’

Wulf smiled in a hurt way.

‘Talking of Aunt Lucy: hasn’t she taken the prepared food to the fields with her and the others?’

‘Bound to be some cheese and bread around; maybe some apples too. Oh,’ Wulf added. ‘Don’t forget some beer.’

Gareth started off towards the house.

‘That’s another thing boy: avoid drinking just water when you can. One can never be sure about the quality of the water.’

 

***

‘What’s happening?’ the supposedly sleeping Wulf asked.

‘Nothing that I can see,’ Mark informed him.

Airka slept on.

 

***

‘What’s happening?’ the dozing Mark asked, shifting his body on the hard ground.

‘Nothing that I can see,’ Wulf informed him.

Airka slept on.

 

***

 

‘What’s happening?’ Wulf asked, his voice muffled by the arm that draped over his face covering his eye from the summer sun. Beside him Airka snored gently, his outward breath raising the edge of the hood he had drawn over his face, his in taken breath sucking it back into place.

‘Our lot, that is Warwick’s, are still watering the horses and filling casks on the other side of the river whilst the other lot, Salisbury’s, are further up on this side and are starting to come back,’ Mark replied.

‘I was worried they were doing a runner at first.’ Wulf wriggled his body into a more comfortable position.

‘Not with each rider taking three other horses with them.’ Mark shielded his eys and scanned the scene at the bottom of the hill.

‘The first were armoured and without additional horses.’

‘True Gef, but they must have been the escort.’

‘I’ll go back to sleep then. Wake me if anything exciting happens.’ Wulf let out a gentle sigh that contrasted with Airka’s snores that were becoming louder and more discordant.

‘Best wake now then, for looks like a body of mounted Frenchies have arrived to have a go at our lot.’

Wulf sat up reluctantly, rubbed his right eye, shifted the leather patch over his missing left into a more comfortable position then stood up. He squinted at the distant river. ‘Too far away to see clearly. Though if Warwick’s men get done up it would let the Frogs come up this hill from the rear.’

‘Doubt it; there’s only a narrow gap they can come up with that wood behind us. A few archers there and they would all be dead before they could do anything. I know the French can be daft, but even they wouldn’t be that stupid.’

‘They are French.’ Wulf insisted.

‘True, but it doesn’t look like it will be an issue as our lot seem to be sorting the Froggies out and Salisbury’s guard are riding over to help them.’

‘Good, I can get back to sleep. I just hope some of that water is for us and not just for the nags!’

Airka snored on.

 

***

 

‘Still nothing happening Gef?’ Mark was lying with his head propped on his right hand, eyes closed.

‘Not from the French side. A lot of milling around, especially in the two mounted troupes. Most of their army seems to be on foot. Nothing organised seems to be happening though.’

‘Well,’ Mark drawled. ‘Them be French, disorganised milling around is their thing isn’t it; they are famous for it – that and bad cooking.’

‘True: everything ruined with rich spiced sauces and garlic. I suppose though you have to do something when the meat is inevitably rotten.’ Wulf changed his glance to the rear of the English forces. ‘Something going on with our side though. Looks like supply wains are on the move.’

‘Ah: hopefully they are bringing us food rather than arrows.’

‘Food? did you say food?’ asked Airka, waking at last.

Wulf turned back to his front, intending to make a derogatory comment to his mate when he spotted something in the French lines. ‘What, what, what? Ho, ho! Not sure what they think is happening up here but the Frenchies are all pointing toward the supply wains and their cavalry are forming some sort of line; I think that at last they may be going to attack.’

Mark struggled to his feet and stared at the enemy, his better vision getting more detail than Wulf could. ‘You are right; blow your horn, get the Captain’s attention, this could be it.’

Geffrey ðe Wulf, raised his hunting horn to his lips and expertly blew the alert. Seemingly dead archers and men-at-arms suddenly sprung from the ground, strung bows and checked weapons. More horns sounded and soon the whole English army was battle ready.

The French cavalry advanced in two columns, one towards each of the gaps in the hedge made by the roads that came up the hill. Out of bowshot they walked the horses then, as they felt they came into arrow shot, they started to trot.

Behind the hedge the archers waited.

‘Nock,’ shouted the Captains of Archers in Warwick’s Battle. The archers nocked an arrow on their bowstring, looked over the hedge and mentally judged the distance to the enemy. ‘We wait till the middle ranks pass that first tree. Shoot only on my command. Volley shoot till they close and only individual shoot when I say you can. Wait for it.’

‘Anyone would think we were novices,’ Wulf muttered to no one in particular.

‘Very soon boys, very soon.’ The archers gently flexed and released their shoulder muscles. ‘Take the leaders. Almost there.’ The Captain’s voice became almost seductive. ‘Almost there.’ He took a deep breath and tightened his grip on his own bow stave. ‘DRAW!’ The massed archers drew the strings of their massive war bows to their ears and raised the weapons to the sky. ‘LOOSE.’

The sky darkened with arrows as both Warwick and Salisbury’s archers released their bowstrings at almost the same time.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘HOLD.’ Cried out the Captains of Archers.

‘HOLD.’ Repeated the Sergeants of Archers.

‘HOLD.’ Responded the archers.

 ‘The Earl of Oxford says the arrows are bouncing off their breast plates. They bloody well know it and are protecting the infantry that is following them up the hill, we are wasting arrows. Go for the horses; go for their bloody horses,’ the Herald told the Earl of Warwick.

‘Sodding Oxford telling me what to do.’ The Earl took a deep breath, realised the value of the information and slowly expelled before filling his lungs again, ‘Tell the archers,’ Warwick yelled to his Captains; ‘get the horses.’

GET THE HORSES,’ cried the Captains of Archers.

GET THE HORSES,’ cried the Sergeants of Archers.

GET THE HORSES,’ confirmed the archers.

‘On my command,’ yelled the Captain of Archers.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

Below them the French had reached the hedge and were trying to force the gap which Warwick’s men had blocked with upturned wagons and brushwood. As they rode parallel to the English army the other side of the hedge they made an easy target for the archers. Horse after horse was hit: few died but many were hurt and started becoming uncontrollable.

‘You lot! You lot, You lot.’ A Captain of Archers ran along the wedge of archer’s on the left flank of Warwick’s battle telling off rows of archers. ‘You lot! You lot! You lot!’ He stopped and faced the men he had named. ‘Grab two sheaves of arrows each and follow me.’

He left at a trot towards the far end of the hedge and down hill into the marsh.

‘I bloody hate running, but I suppose we would be in too much trouble if we didn’t go.’ Wulf grabbed two sheaves from in front of him and followed the other archers as they jogged off in the trail of the Captain. Behind them the remaining archers continued to shoot, but now shooting as marksmen rather than in volleys.

 The flanking archers soon found their pace slackened as the ground got softer as they entered the marsh, but soon they made up a somewhat ragged double line.

‘Form up, form up,’ yelled the Captain of Archers.

‘Not a bloody parade ground,’ Wulf muttered to himself as he shuffled with the others to form a more defensive stand.

‘Get the horses as they pull back. I want crazed animals crashing into those bloody French bastards in armour toiling up the hill on foot. Our arrows may not punch through their plate, but those animals with trample them down..’ The Captain took one final look to make sure he was happy with his men.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘On your own boys, pick your target, make each arrow count.’

On the other flank the remains of those French horsemen that had ridden through the gap in the hedge on Salisbury’s front fled back though the gap followed by an arrow storm of volley shots.

Loose horses, hurt horses, uncontrollable horses with terrified riders on them, all pounded down the hill to escape the arrows and smashed into the ordered ranks of dismounted French advancing uphill towards the English.

‘Let the front men go past, let the front ranks pass: too armoured. Hit the softer targets in the rear ranks.’ The Captain of Archers quickly cut the sheaf string holding his last two dozen arrows. Whilst still watching the approaching infantry he jammed the arrows into the ground in front of him. Around him the other archers were all doing the same. He stood up and cast a look along his ranks to satisfy himself all was ready. ‘On my command: volley shots rear ranks.’

Mark looked over at Wulf and Airka and winked. ‘Easy as Sunday practice at the butts.’

‘Till the arrows run out.’ Wulf pulled an arrow from his belt and held it ready.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

As the front ranks of French neared the hedge Warwick’s men cleared the road in front of its obstacles and joined Salisbury’s men-at-arms as they poured out through the gaps and formed up in front of the hedge.

The volume of arrows being shot slackened and then stopped.

‘Individual shoots till the arrows are gone and then get stuck into them from behind lads,’ the Captain of Archers commanded.

‘After you me old son,’ Wulf commented. ‘Not till I can find something with more whack than me short sword.

In front of the hedge the English and French men-at-arms locked in a crashing, clanging, clashing dance of death.

Wulf and the other archers on the flanks watched; selected targets and shot till all their arrows were gone.

‘I wonder if it be worth going back to the lines and seeing if they have any more arrows Gef.’

‘I’ll go!’ volunteered Airka, whose stomach was already starting to rumble from lack of food.

‘Doubt it Mark, for archers are coming out to join the men-at-arms and they wouldn’t do that if they had arrows.’

‘Well, looks like we had better do the same. I just hope no one nicks my bow in the meantime; special bow is that – not your standard issue.’

‘Know what you mean; I’m more concerned about not getting killed though. This is not my favourite bit of fighting: the further away I can kill ‘em, the happier I be. This up close and smell the stale urine and garlic is not what I like at all.’

‘Come on, you archers. Come on,’ ordered the Captain of Archers.

‘Come on; come on,’ mocked Wulf in a low voice.

‘Gef?’ Mark tossed over a pole-arm.

As expected it landed at Wulf’s side as catching things had proved to be very hard since the loss of his left eye. He bent and picked it up, played with it to find its point of balance, smiled at Mark in thanks.

Airka, fondled a rather wicked long bladed dagger that had appeared from somewhere about his person and started talking to it in a loving voice.

All three ran at the back of the French line.

Wulf levelled the pole-arm and jammed the end spike with great force into the back of a man wearing only a padded jack for protection. The Frenchman crumpled with a gurgle onto the man in front of him. Wulf twisted his weapon sideways and yanked it free. Bringing it into a high guard he then swung it and removed the front man’s head. Around him other archers were creating similar mayhem. The French flank started to roll up, but as it rolled the plate armoured front rank came to face the unarmoured archers.

Wulf found himself facing an inhuman suit of steel that suddenly lunged at him with a shortened lance. He jerked back and to his left then smacked the lance away with his pole-arm. Then another short lance narrowly missed his neck. Wulf tried to step back but was held in place by other archers behind him fighting their own battles with armoured foes. A third French man-at-arms tried to spit Wulf with a sword; suddenly the man’s head twisted sideways as a broken lance was shoved up the underside of his bassinet helm.

‘Gef; fall back,’ yelled Mark as he let go of the broken lance that was now jammed under the Frenchman’s helm.

‘Fall back archers; fall back,’ screamed the Captain of Archers. ‘Fall back and make way.’

Gasping for breath Wulf and Mark fell back as the pressure behind them eased.

Through the withdrawing ranks of the archers stepped English men-at-arms: ‘A Wales, a Wales’, they shouted as they made contact with the French ranks.

‘A what?’ asked Wulf as they finally got away from the fight.

‘A Wales, Gef. A Wales – the visors muffle their voices.’ Mark swigged what liquid remained in his leather bottle. ‘Must be from the Prince of Wales Battle come to reinforce us.’

‘Must be desperate if they have chucked in the reserves; if this push fails we are lost.’

‘I 'opes not,' commented Mark.

‘Airka! Airka!.’ Wulf yelled at the top of his voice. ‘Oi; you bloody Irishman. Get off him and get back here.’

Airka looked up from where he was sitting astride the breastplate of a fallen Frenchman rhythmically plunging his dagger into the eye slit of the man’s dented visor. Slowly getting up, completely oblivious of mayhem going on behind him, the Irishman strolled over the other archers.

Wulf slumped to the ground and held his own bottle to his lips, only to find it empty. He looked to Mark, but his mate shook his head and confirmed by tipping his empty costrel upside down with not even a drip of liquid emerging.

Suddenly trumpets sounded and the French disengaged and slowly and in good order began to move back down the hill.

The archers watched them go with almost disinterest for their attention was on the pages who were rushing towards them carrying buckets of water.

‘Drink up, fill up your bottles then forward and retrieve arrows,’ the Captain of Archers advised them. ‘Plenty more Frogs around and they may be back.’

‘Bugger,’ said Wulf.

‘Bugger,’ said Airka.

‘Bugger,’ said Mark.

‘Bugger,’ agreed all the surviving archers.

 

***

 

‘Well?’ Edward Prince of Wales looked up at the dusty rider on his equally dusty horse. ‘Well?’

‘At least two more French Battles. One would appear to belong to the Duke of Orleans. It is larger than our army, but seems disorganised, even by French standards, Your Grace. I think the survivors of that cavalry charge fled through their ranks headed for who knows where. It seems to have unsettled them.’

‘And the second Battle John? Is it the French King’s?’

Sir John Chandos eased his rump with a creak of saddle leather.

‘Well Sir John? Is it?’

‘I think so Your Grace, but we have lost track of it for the while. My scouts are still searching.’

Orleans does not concern me. In fact I doubt he and his Battle will concern anyone other than the local peasantry whose crops they will destroy and who daughters they will chase. Find me the French King! Drive him to me!’

 

***

 

‘Fall back,’ yelled all the Captains of Archers discordantly at the scattered archers collecting arrows from where they had landed amongst the French near the hedge. ‘Fall back, fall back.’

Wulf looked up from where he was yanking arrows from the churned turf. ‘What’s up?’

Airka continued plucking arrows from the ground, ignoring those stuck in dead Frenchmen.

Mark shielded his eyes against the lowering sun; ‘Looks like another French army has found us.’

‘Big?’ Wulf wiped dirt from an arrowhead on a dead Frenchman’s tabard.

‘Bigger than you would want to imagine. They are all over yonder hill like ants on a dead badger.’

‘Oh nice image Mark, nice image.’

The archers forced their at times damaged arrows through the backs of their belts as they moved their weary legs back up the hill towards the now somewhat battered hedge.

‘So, bigger than before then?’ Wulf asked pessimistically.

‘Yes Gef, bigger than before.’

‘And we with less arrows. Even against the last lot we ran out.’ Wulf shook his head despondently. ‘It does not look good Mark, it does not look good.’

‘Form up in front of the hedge, three lines; three lines.’ Yelled all the Captains of Archers. The call was echoed by their sergeants.

The archers all formed up. Towards them the French started their slow advance on foot towards the English. The front ranks carrying lances that had been shortened.

‘Don’t plant your arrows – keep them in your belt,’ instructed the Captain of Archers as he walked along the line, repeating the instruction every five or six men.

Suddenly through the gap on Salisbury’s flank the Prince of Wales and an escort of a dozen knights rode out. They turned right and the Prince addressed his archers. Next he rode left and addressed the rest of Salisbury’s archers. Next were Warwick’s right flank archers. Eventually he reached the left flank where the exhausted Wulf, Airka and Mark stood.

Prince Edward stood up in his stirrups’:

‘You are a knave if you say we can be conquered whilst I still live.

They are on foot.

They have no archers to speak of.

We have them!

Archers: volley, volley, volley then close and pick them off.

My men-at-arms are to horse!

They think we are going to wait here whilst they crush us with numbers.

They are wrong.

We charge!’

The Prince turned his horse, made it stand on its hind legs and waved his sword towards the lumbering French staggering up the steep hill, its grass slope churned up by the day’s earlier fighting and their path impeded by their dead predecessors.

The trumpeters at the Prince’s side lifted their long trumpets and brayed a long high note. Suddenly horses started to come through the gaps in the hedges and formed up in front of the archers’ ranks.

The trumpets sounded again.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘NOCK.’ The archers nocked an arrow.
‘DRAW.’ The archers drew back their strings and raised their bows.

‘LOOSE.’ The sky darkened with whistling arrows.

‘CHARGE!!!!!!!’ screamed the Prince.

‘CHARGE!!!!!!!’ replied the mounted men-at-arms and the air was rent with the sound of pounding horses as they charged down hill at the dismounted French.

‘Still too many of them and too few of we,’ commented Mark as the archers jogged behind the men-at-arms.

‘Hmm,’ agreed Wulf as he fought for breath and tried to control his pounding heart.

The sound of impact as the English horse hit the front ranks of the close packed French rolled back towards the archers.

‘Flank, Flank,’ instructed the Captain of Archers.

The archers split left and right and ran down the flanks past the lines of fighting men-at-arms.

‘STAND!’ the archers halted. ‘Get the rear ranks, get the rear ranks. Shoot at will.’

The archers slowly and methodically started to pick off the poorly armoured men in the rearmost ranks, forcing the others in more forward ranks to close up on those in front of them to avoid the arrows and thus cramping the ability of the more forward ranks to fight effectively.

Airka hummed a jolly tune to himself as he sent arrow after arrow into unprotected French backs.

‘Almost out of arrows,’ complained Wulf as he watched his latest victim flop forward onto the man in front..

‘So many targets, so few arrows; bugger,’ agreed Mark as he used his last shaft.

‘What now?’ asked Airka who after fumbling at his belt found he had no more arrows to shoot.

‘Look to horse & escape?’ asked Wulf.

‘Run?’ Mark raised a doubting eyebrow.

‘Well the men-at-arms are starting to give way, they obviously can’t overwhelm so many opponents.’ Wulf put to him.

‘Horses?’ put in Airika looking up the hill, knowing their ponies were still tethered in the woods at the rear of the original English line.

‘Horses!’ cried Wulf pointing to the left flank of the French Battle. ‘Horses! Look!’

‘St George! ST GEORGE!!!!!’ riding out from cover on the English right flank a small but determined troop of horse crashed into the unprotected French left flank and started to roll it up. ‘Du Buch! Du Buch – St George!’

‘Down bows lads, grab a blade and up and at ‘em.’ Wulf drew his short sword.

The other archers gave a roar, drew their own swords, grabbed fallen lances and other weapons and in a body crashed into the French right flank.

Within minuets the French army collapsed, discipline vanished and those that could fled; steaming down the hill with mounted English men-at-arms riding down those they could and the archers on foot picking off those too slow to run from the horsemen.

 

***

 

In the shattered remains of the French camp Edward, Prince of Wales, halted his horse, causing mild confusion amongst the horsemen with him. ‘John.’

Sir John Chandos, sweat glowing on his forehead and dripping from the ends of his sweat slicked hair, nudged his mount forward. ‘Your Grace?’

‘Word is some of my dogs of war have strayed as far as the gates of Petters.’

‘So I have heard from my scouts, Your Grace.’

‘Gather some “whippers in” and round my pack of hounds up. There is no point in them winning a battle only to have their drunken throats cut by some indignant French peasant whose livestock they have just eaten.’

‘Your Grace.’ Chandos inclined his head and started to ease himself and his equally tired horse out of the group that surrounded the Prince.

Edward was just about to move his horse forward again when a slight movement caught his eye and a muted belch caught his ear. He looked over towards the disturbance.

A seated Airka gave the Prince an apologetic smile and hid a chicken’s drumstick behind his back..

Mark elbowed Wulf whose attention was dedicated to a hunk of cheese at his feet and the bottle of wine in his right hand. ‘Gef!’

Wulf looked up, saw who was looking at him and, together with his mates, stood and then went down on one knee.

Edward gave a smile as golden as his now sweat soaked and tangled hair. ‘Ha: refreshment time now the fighting is over!’

‘Your Grace,’ acknowledged the archers together.

‘Well, you have the French camp and its plunder. Whilst I,’ the Prince gestured behind him to a richly armoured rider at his left hand. ‘Whilst I, have the French King and his ransom.’

‘Your Grace!’ the archers’ voice raised in pitch in admiration.

‘Though with your lot holding the camp I have had to bring my guest down to salvage some of his possessions and some of his food before you wolves make it all  disappear.’

‘Your Grace?’ This time the archers’ voices took on a hurt tone.

‘I know my wolves.’ Edward smiled. ‘In fact I know one of you well: the messenger from my beloved cousin Henry of Lancaster. You are a wolf indeed if I am not mistaken.’

‘Geffrey ðe Wulf, Household Archer to Sir Alan de Buxhall, Your Grace.’

‘That old rouge. He would have loved today. He always enjoys a good fight. He enjoys the profits from the plunder and ransoms even more.’

Wulf and Airka allowed themselves knowing smiles.

The Prince waved a dismissive hand and kneed his horse to move forward.

‘Give Sir Alan my regards when next you see him,’ he called over his shoulder.

 

***

 

Sir Alan de Buxhall, Knight of the Garter, King’s Counsellor and Constable of the Tower of London to His Grace, King Richard II, looked down from the height of his splendid horse. ‘Dear God cousin Geffrey, you are not still using that threadbare old shirt of yours are you? More patches than original material!’ He eased himself in the saddle then turned to his escort, Mark the Archer. ‘I suppose you keep your old Battle of Petters shirt too?’

Mark, resplendent in Sir Alan’s livery of parti-coloured buttercup yellow and bright blue, but on a pony that was more practical than resplendent, inclined his head in acknowledgement.

Sir Alan shook his head in mock dismay. ‘I should have guessed.’ He nodded towards Gareth. ‘Been telling your nephew tall tales about what happened when you were wearing it I suppose cuz? Don’t answer – I know you have.’ Sir Alan dismounted and indicated to Mark to do the same. Gareth came over and led their mounts away.

‘Alone Sir Alan?’ Wulf asked, returning to his sewing.

‘Oh don’t worry, the supply train is almost here.’

Wulf looked up and smiled.

‘Young Columba, Robert of Knightsbridge’s boy, is driving the wain and his army of siblings have hitched a ride, supposedly to help unload, though not doubt in reality to help eat the food.’ Sir Alan took over Gareth’s vacant block of wood. ‘They stopped at the Ram in Wandsworth to collect the barrel of ale you said the brewer owed you for a small “visit” Hakon, Lyulf and the Irishman did on his behalf.’

Wulf inclined his head in acknowledgement and smiled.

‘No, don’t tell me the details; no doubt they are horrid.’

‘No worse than some “visits” I have done on your behalf cuz,’ Wulf said softly.

‘Yes well.’ Sir Alan looked up brightly. ‘Ah here is young Columba now.’

Wulf put his shirt aside and stood up, massaging his numbed buttocks as he did so as into the garth rumbled a wagon that appeared to be loaded more with children than goods.

‘Right all you Knightsbridges: take all that food into the barn and set it up.’ Wulf caught little Rowan Knightsbridge by the ear as he passed. ‘Set it up not eat it. Eating come later when the workers get home from the fields.’ He turned to Mark. ‘As soon as Gareth gets back can you and him get that barrel of ale into the barn and broach it? It’s too heavy for these kids and I’d rather you two check its quality than them: their mother would go mad if I let her brood get drunk.’

Wulf sat down again and continued sewing. Sir Alan dozed in the sun.

Gareth walked back from the horse paddock, passing young Columba, who arms were being stretched by food laden baskets.

‘Lift up your heart!’

‘Emmanuel’s Friend,’ Columba replied, giving the Lollard greeting.

Wulf indicated the waiting Mark & beer barrel with his head. Gareth gave a low groan and went off to help unload it and roll it into the barn. Wulf walked around the garth, doing nothing in particular until his nephew returned.

‘Oh,’ Gareth looked at the now snoring Sir Alan.

Wulf sat down and picked up his shirt.

Gareth went over to the wood pile and found himself a new log to sit on. Putting it down next to his sewing uncle he fidgeted it around till it sat unrockingly in the dry summer soil. ‘Right Uncle Wulf: so what happened then?’

 

***

 

‘On yer feet you lazy louts,’ yelled one of many burly Captains rounding up the English troops enjoying the delights of the French camp. ‘Work to be done, horses to be rounded up, wagons found, loot to be pooled.’ He eyeballed Wulf, ‘and don’t think you can hide any of it. Pooled the Prince said and pooled it will be – fair shares for all!’

‘Especially fair for his Nibs,’ Wulf whispered into Mark’s ear.

‘What?’ rounded the Captain, whose hearing was as edgy as his temper.

‘I said we’d best get moving Captain.’

‘I doubt it,’ the Captain sneered. ‘Now MOVE IT!’ he kicked a sleeping Airka as he passed.

‘All right, all right. We are moving.’ Wulf and Mark dragged the drowsy Airka to his feet and then they all moved off to join a group of others who were starting to back a pair of horses up to a captured wagon. ‘You lot sorting the horses?’ Wulf asked them. We’ll start loading the loot into the wain then.’

‘Well,’ Mark commented as he started to drag over a wooden chest that had fine linen poking out from under its lid. ‘At least tonight it is sorting plunder. Tomorrow it will be burying corpses.’

‘Ours only though; theirs can rot,’ commented Airka, fingering the protruding linen appreciatively.

Mark looked puzzled as he still hadn't managed to comprehend the Irishman's brogue.

‘He said he is not looking forward to it,' Wulf translated.

Mark nodded his head in agreement. He then smiled. 'Not the horses mind!’ Mark ran his tongue along his upper lip.

‘Oh no,’ answered Wulf. ‘Very nice boiled with onions and wild greens is horse.’

Mark laughed.

Airka smacked his lips in anticipation.

 

***

 

‘So Uncle you weren’t allowed to rest that night despite being worn out fighting?’

‘Always the same boy. Same old, same old. Even after we got back to our camp with the booty, work still carried on. Sentries to stand, piquet to be placed, our wounded to be brought in. All that and tired so you could sleep for a week. Then there is the fact that you are getting stiff and achey from the cuts, blows and buffets you got from the fighting: many of which you didn't notice at the time.’

‘What about their wounded?’

‘We could leave them till next morning, despite the nuisance of their whining and crying making it hard to snatch some sleep between sentry stands’

‘So you tended their wounded next morning then.’

‘No, we went out and killed them and stripped them of their valuables. Well, those that their own peasants hadn’t seen to already.’

‘You what?’ cried the horrified Gareth.

‘You think we could hang around and nurse them? Our scouts had come back and told us there were still large bodies of French around, more than we had in our army. You think we could stay put to look after French wounded whilst another French army gathered? As for leaving them wounded: well killing was the more humane option; saved them from the rot, which would have set in by the time their own people got to them. Even then their peasants only see them as a source of plunder and more like kill them, and do so less professionally than we. We only took whatever armour was of quality and any jewellery we could see. Their peasant would strip them naked even when the clothes were ruined and blood soaked. Realities of war boy; realities of war. I haven’t even mentioned the stench. Bad enough on the day with the spilt blood and guts – unbearable a couple of days later when it all starts to rot. Forget the stories of glory and honour. War is a dirty, smelly business. Boring most of the time and horrifying and frightening in short bursts at other times.’ Wulf took a deep breath and looked thoughtful. ‘Hard work when push comes to shove: exhausting even.’ Wulf smiled as he held up his shirt, the new patch of mulberry standing out against the pink and rose coloured patches beneath it. Suddenly he looked up towards the entrance to the garth and sniffed. ‘Smells like our hard workers are back from the fields.’

Gareth looked and saw a long line of workers enter the garth. Herding them at the rear was Wulf’s son John. In front of him were the freemen of Half-Farthing and Garret manors and various others, a cloud of gnats hovering over them. Heading the tired column was the formidable Aunt Lucy, Wulf's wife; no gnats dared to bother her.

’Hello my love; a good day?’ Wulf enquired.

‘A good day indeed, but one without your company. “Just have to patch me old shirt” you said, and yet, here you still be.’

‘Just finished it my love. Still, I’ll be with you in the fields tomorrow.’

‘No need: it is all done.’

‘Well I must admit I am pleased. The extra help I got us eased your workload I trust?’

‘Seb Wulfson and Eirik Edwardson pulled their weight.’ Lucy confirmed.

‘And the retainers?’

‘After strong words from me; yes.’ Lucy looked aggressively at Hakon, Lyulf and Airka, who stood together with their heads hung in exhaustion. ‘That Irishman needed extra words mind.’

‘Good, good.’ Wulf stood and embraced his wife. ‘Did you have anything in mind about food for this evening’s meal?’

‘Don’t you start me on that! I have spent all day overseeing workers haymaking and you expect me to …’

‘No I don’t my love. See, here is Sir Alan come to see us.’ Wulf eased his foot back and gave Sir Alan’s foot a shove.

Sir Alan woke with a grunt and a start, ‘Eh? What? Oh - Lucy? How are you Lucy? What a hot and bothersome day.’ The old knight lumbered to his feet, embraced Lucy and kissed her noisily on each cheek. ‘I have come a visiting and brought you food. Indeed food fit for a king!’ Sir Alan swept his left arm in an arc and stopped with his hand pointing to the barn door. ‘His Grace the King dined at The Tower last night and there was more than enough left over to feed the garrison and to spare, so I though of you and the pleasure of your company.’ Sir Alan offered his arm, Lucy rested hers over his and the knight escorted her into the barn. The workers, headed by Wulf’s always hungry retainers, followed.

With a wisp of light brown hair coiling out from under a headscarf and entwining itself around her neck a slim young woman came and stood squarely in front of Wulf, hands firmly on her hips. She shook her head in disapproval. ‘Really Uncle, you should have been with us in the fields, Aunt Lucy was most upset.’

‘Yes Gwyn,’ Wulf answered his pretty niece. ‘I’ve already been updated on that fact.’

‘Ach aye tis this the way tae the feastie?’ A tall gangly young man came and stood at Gwyn’s side indicating the barn with a pointed and dirty finger.

Lachlan: you are a serf – this food is for the free!’ Wulf informed him in a mock stern voice.

‘Uncle!’ Gwyn’s eyes blazed.

‘Alright Gwyn, you can take him in; just make sure his manners aren’t an embarrassment.’

‘Uncle!’ Gwyn took the young Scots serf’s arm in hers and lead him into the barn where cheering by Wulf’s retainers and Mark announced the pouring of the first black jacks of ale.

‘Uncle!’ Gareth mocked in a very poor imitation of his sister’s voice. ‘Smelly old serf; I bet he sits at her feet.’

‘As long as he doesn’t fondle her ankle whilst there boy. Anyway, he is a hard worker and deserves reward. I am only talking about him having some food here mind. If only I could understand what he says sometimes.’ Wulf folded his old shirt, put all the remain scraps of cloth that might be used for later patches on top and headed back to the homestead to put it all back in his clothes chest.

‘Uncle?’

‘Yes Gareth.’

‘You never intended to go haymaking today did you?’

Wulf looked at his nephew with a hurt look.

‘You planed this didn’t you; even the food.’

‘Sir Alan owed me a favour for a small discrete job I did for him a week or two ago and the King always has food over after a banquet.’ They ducked their heads as they passed under the door lintel. ‘I had a plan yes, but like all plans it had to be flexible to match changed circumstances. If one pulls the same tricks each time, one’s opponents know what to expect. In the end the best plans are often those which strike not from the front, but from the flank.’

Gareth smiled, cleared his throat and started to sing in his clear boy’s voice:

 

As we were raiding all through the French lands

We hadn’t gone a month past two or three

Before we were caught by thirty thousand French

And they were five times more than we

 

Throw down your colours you English dogs

Throw down your colours don’t refuse

Throw down your colours English dogs

Or else you precious lives you’ll lose

 

Our Commander being a most valiant man

And a well bespoken man was he

Said it never will be said we died like dogs

We’ll fight this battle manfully

 

So climb the hill my most valiant boys

And stand by the hedge row way up on high

Form wedges on each of our flanks

We’ll win this battle or we’ll die

 

The fight began about the forenoon

It went till the setting of the sun

And by the rising of the morning

Of the French there could be seen not one

 

Most we had killed boys, some we had caught

The rest we had caused to flee away

The French King we carried home to England

For to let ‘em know we had won the day

 

If anyone asks you just who we be

And who our Commander is by name

Edward Prince of Wales is our chief commander

And we the archers who won him fame

 

(Tune: The Royal Oak)