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The Game

 

A short story by Mark Tustian

 

A Jerseyman and an archer of sorts had first invented this particular pastime, but if asked, another archer could say he’d introduced it to The Tower garrison.  That archer went by the name of Mark Archer, although sometimes he was called Mark of Plymouth.  Mark would of course only claim to have introduced the game if the person doing the enquiring wasn’t the Tower Constable.  No, if Sir Alan was doing the asking, Mark Archer would keep quiet and plead ignorance.  Just in case.

 

***

 

It was morning and the late bells from far off St. Bartholomew's Priory had finally finished ringing Third Hour.  Gareth Robertson, thumbs comfortably hooked into the arm holes of his tabard, stood atop the Great Tower and surveyed the southern walls below him.   The river beyond the walls, just over the Water Gate from this particular vantage point, had turned high tide and a trading cog ladened with wool (destined no doubt for Calais and the Flemish market beyond) was using the tidal flow in its journey away from London.  The ship was flanked by half a dozen river boats transferring folk and supplies up, down and across the river. The majority of the river boats were the type known as a “shout”, pointed at both ends and flat bottomed.  Their flat bottoms allowed the boats to be winched over the flashes of mill-weirs which was handy, especially as the Thames and its river system had dozens of mill-weirs particularly if travelling further upstream past Maidenhead..

 

In actual fact seven miles up river from where Gareth stood was the town of Wandsworth and it was at Wandsworth that the Wandle River flowed into the Thames.  If you had a mind to do it you could travel up the River Wandle another seven or so miles until you got to a village called Waddon.  Gareth’s family had a mill and a mill-weir there and although he knew it was unlikely, he took comfort in imagining one of those shouts had gone past his home that very morning.  He could see it now, a happy greeting from his father, a few words asked about how business was, general agreement on how bad the weather had been but wasn’t it a fine morning eh?, then smiles, a cheerful goodbye and fair-thee-wells all round.  The master of one of the shouts was yelling at the master of the cog that he was too close to his boat, that he was bastard-born and that he should go tup a sheep.

 

Gareth turned casually around to his right, briefly facing Southwark well over on the opposite side of the bank.  What could he say about Southwark except that it was home to tanners, skinners, the Clink Liberty and Winchester Geese?  If he yelled would anyone over there hear him from here?  Probably not.  Connecting Southwark and London he could of course see the only bridge that crossed the Thames for many a mile - London Bridge.  Houses and shops hung over the edges of the bridge like happy children on a Mayday cart ride and water was churning white with the flow of the river beneath it.  It was a little known fact outside London that the nineteen bridge arch timber piers, or starlings as they were called, were large while the gaps between them for water to flow was small.  So small in fact that the flow was restricted, which in turn meant that the bridge acted as a barrier to the flow of tidal water.  The difference in height between the river levels on one side of the bridge to the other side of the bridge could be as much as six feet when the tides were changing.  With that much water flowing through such a narrow space only a fool would go under the bridge when the river flow changed direction, so you could bet your last farthing that those shouts that had come from up river had gone under the eddy-chafed arches a long time before.  Of course Gareth knew at least two … maybe three … possibly four archers he’d broken bread with that morning who’d happily go under London Bridge at the wrong time if there was enough money on the table.

 

To his immediate right on “his” side of the bank, were the stone slated, tiled, shingled and lead lined rooftops of London.  Here London’s buildings seemed to sweep up to and around the Tower’s entrance causeway that lead out over the moat and into the city.  The rows of houses here ran north, parallel with the moat, before seemingly giving Tower Hill further north a wider berth still.  Although not very steep Tower Hill over looked the castle and was the most accessible open space from here that was still inside the city walls.  A few horses from the Tower stables were being lunged and exercised up there.  At this hour, and with so few horses outside compared to so many still stabled inside they were probably the more expensive destriers and palfreys.  If you got closer you could confirm this, not just by the quality of the horses, but by the fact that it’d be the liveried pages doing the work rather than ordinary stable hands.

 

Looking back over London a haze of smoke from a thousand cooking fires partially obscured the view of a St. Paul’s Cathedral spire, the tallest of the tall among the dozen or so square church towers.  The view beyond London’s rooftops was a criss-cross of crop fields, herds of small sheep and lean cattle, hedges, thatched houses, coppice woodland, orchards and mud roads.

 

The young archer breathed deeply and smelled the wood smoke.  He could hear the faint far off sound of someone hammering - it echoed slightly off the castle walls.  There was the chirping of sparrows, the whinnying of horses and incoherent shouts from those down in the inner ward. But it might as well have been a silent pitch black moonless night for all that Gareth actually took in for by now he was too busy pondering the game..

 

“It’s not up here, thee knows lad”, said Lincoln John leaning on his upturned twig broom, “Thee barely being old enough to shave ‘ain’t got the experience to know it, but it ‘ain’t here,” he continued.  Lincoln John was also playing the game and had been shadowing Gareth since breakfast. 

 

There was bravado with Lincoln John, as with all archers to be honest, but more with him for some reason.  Lincoln John was fair haired, long limbed and broad shouldered, a full garrison archer now, but not that many years older than Gareth.  He believed what he said of himself and felt he was a man of responsibilities, on the up and up.  He’d done this or that or the other, even when he hadn’t, and didn’t mind who knew what he’d done because he considered himself something special.  He was basically an over confident braggart.  In contrast Gareth was quieter, more measured and this irked Lincoln John.  Lincoln John did not like Gareth Robertson.  

 

When stood still Lincoln John had the knack of relaxing and looking as though he was leaning against something, even when there was nothing to lean against.  Today though, Lincoln John had the twig broom for a prop.  He turned his broom bristles down, making lack lustre sweeping movements just for appearances sake.  Scritch, scritch, scritch went the bristles on the flat lead roof.

 

Disturbed by the scratching Gareth stopped his musings, turned himself right back around to face east and started to amble on along the Tower’s roof walkway.  He was walking parallel to the river now and this somehow made him feel happy, like going with the flow of the water made everything easier.  There were now shouts of goodbye from the cog to someone down by the Water Gate.  The cheery waves from the ship meant it was definitely someone they knew.  Walter Palshe was on duty this morning and had cousins in the merchant business didn’t he?  It was probably his kin on the ship and he was down by the gate waving and acting the fool.

 

Gareth was actually walking widdershins around the rooftop this morning and if you were superstitious, which plenty of the garrison were, that was the “wrong” way around.  It was however the right way to walk around today if you were looking for something.  He stopped a second time and therefore so did Lincoln John.  Over his should Gareth said, “Well, I must be getting close or you wouldn’t be here, eh?”  Lincoln John smiled at Gareth’s back and nodded slowly.  “Of course,” continued Gareth, “you sticking close while I’m up here could be a diversion too.”  Lincoln John’s smile got wider.  Gareth continued walking followed by Lincoln John and his broom.  Scritch, scritch, scritch.  

 

***

 

The game they were playing, invented by a Jerseyman and introduced by Mark Archer, or Mark of Plymouth depending on who you asked, went by the name of “Moochey” and the rules were fairly simple once you learned them.  It could be said that if it had a design, which some might say it didn’t, the game had been specifically been made to stave off boredom during long uneventful days of garrison duty.  Mark Archer had first learned to play it during service to Sir Edmund Rose at the castle over looking the bay of Gouôrray on the island Jersey.  There it had been played by the English garrison very nearly continuously up until the French had invaded.  With a couple of thousand Frenchmen camped outside your gates games like this one aren’t at the top of your “things to be a doing”..  If any castle fell nobles might get to buy their lives, archers however were the first to get their throats slit like it was some sort of post siege entertainment for the victors.  No tarrying, no mercy, all you could look forward to was a cold blade on your neck followed by hot blood down your front.  If you were of a mind and bought Mark Archer a drink he’d tell you how the garrison got out of that scrape.  Those that already had bought Mark a drink might warn you not to buy him too many though as he talked too much about his collection of leather bracers when in his cups.

 

The garrison on Jersey was supposed to be all God fearing Englishmen but a couple of Jèrriais speaking locals were employed there too.  One of these locals was a man named Alain Métivier and he was the castle atilliator for a spell until it was found that his skill at making crossbows wasn’t as great as his skill for playing games.  That is playing games for money and cheating, which was a factor in terminating his employ at that particular castle.

 

When Alain had first suggested the game to his English comrades he had misinterpreted the general cries of amusement and shouted out in annoyance “Do not …!”, and here his English had failed him, so he reverted to Jèrriais, “… motchi!”  Thus the name “Motchi” had stuck for the game.  Or “Moochey” as it came out once garbled by the English tongues.

 

Mark Archer’s wife spoke Jèrriais like a local, chiefly because she was a local, however she’d failed to tell him what moochey meant when he asked.  This suggested it was probably either a rude word or he was in trouble for something and she hadn’t been speaking to him.  English archers being English archers they secretly hoped moochey was a rude word.

 

***

 

The summer had so far been particularly wet and muggy but today it was taking a break from the rain and although still getting hotter it already somehow felt fresher.  Each warm blustery puff of wind began to push away the heavy smell of damp mossy stone that lingered during these warm wet periods but still there was an underlying whiff of something slightly rotten.  The smell was like over boiled eggs - just a hint mind, enough to catch your attention.  This ordinarily might be attributed to the river; however those that could get closer to the source would say it was the moat that was going bad.  In the weeks of heavy rains the sweeping northern ditch around London had first become clogged and then casually overflowed into the moat from over the road by the city’s postern gate.  Someone from the garrison would be detailed off to sort that one out with the townsfolk; either with buckets and shovels or with fists and sticks.

 

“Give ‘im up lad”, said Lincoln John, “the game is all but over.  Thee hast not the skill for it like me. Might as well enjoy the light duties and the fine day.  I know I shall for I am looking forward to goat stew later this week.”  He smacked his lips to emphasise how much he was looking forward to it.  Gareth kept goats but not for the pot.  He was being baited and knew it, so he remained silent.  The shouts from the cheery cog down river had stopped as the ship reached their first bend in the river.

 

On the Tower roof without the rain it always got hot in summer so to pre-empt this Gareth had long since shirked off his jack, belt, dagger, pouch and sword belt.  His unstrung longbow and arrow bag were propped up against a wall at a jaunty angle, “guarded” by Airka over at the north east roof turret.  Gareth even rolled down his hosen.    Airka was part Irish, a retained archer and asleep.  Both he and Gareth were on duty to watch the river however they were there to watch more for signs of important visitors than enemies.  Their captain, Geffrey đe Wulf, who it was said had fought in more battles than most average folk had heard of, always explained the duty in his own unfaltering style; “Should someone appear a-flapping banners, farting through silk and looking important, treat it like the King and all his merry barons were approaching.  Run down and raise the warning so we can wake up the kitchen staff, sober up the knights and roll the piles of horse shit out of the way.  The gentles don’t always send their heralds and perfumed messengers ahead and there’s only one thing worse than not being ready for the enemy … not being ready for your betters!”

 

So the deal was that Airka would do the actual running should banners “come a-flapping”, Gareth would do the watching and in the mean while Airka would get a nap.  On the face of it Airka had the better deal. Gareth was not yet officially signed onto the garrison rolls, Sir Alan paying him a Welshman’s reduced wage till he was old enough to be signed on properly, yet at the same time having him on the garrison payroll as a full archer and pocketing the difference.  Also Airka was Gareth’s senior by age, so Gareth was therefore expected to get the rough end of the stick when it came to such shared duties, but the split in roles suited them both of them very much.  Gareth knew that with his tabard on over his shirt and with a bit of extra shine to his sallet it meant that from this distance atop the tower you couldn’t tell if he was fully armed and ready for action or stripped down ready to take a pleasant summer stroll.   Sir Alan was running sword practice in the inner ward and, as was his wont, occasionally ran a critical eye over the walls.  Gareth couldn’t yet be seen by those doing the drills but he’d learnt long ago from his uncle that to be seen doing your job by all those that had eyes to look was never a bad thing…

 

Lincoln John on the other hand should’ve been sweeping one of the tower stairwells.  During the hotter summers folk that lived in them tended to prop open the top and bottom doors of their castle stairwells.  When there was a bit of wind in the right direction and the doors left open a stairwell acted much like a chimney and could draw air up into it.  In winter, open doors like that lead to nasty drafts and slamming doors, which then lead to cuffed ears for those that had left the doors open.  However come summer cooler air in places that had become stuffy was desirable.  Leaving doors propped open also let in more of the birds and the dust through, hence the need for the more regular sweeping.  The work was considered susicivus officium by Sir Alan, beneath some archers who thought they knew better, including Lincoln John.  However today this extra duty allowed Lincoln John access to the roof where Gareth and Airka were.

 

Gareth came upon six rundlet barrels placed by the south eastern turret near the bulging part of the Tower roof that had the chapel of St. John below it.  From the quarry mark on the barrels and the fact they were banded with metal hoops, which generally meant you had better water tight barrels than wooden hooped ones, Gareth correctly deduced they contained chunks of lime.  Gareth put his hands to each barrel and rolled them to a fresh spot, taking care to check underneath.  Other than woodlice and spiders there was nothing.  The barrel lids looked untouched, unbroken and whole as they should be out here in the open.

 

“I told thee there’s nothing up here” said Lincoln John.  He was leaning on his up turned broom again and was smiling.

 

It had been the old king who had first proclaimed the Great Tower should be white washed.  That’s what Gareth had heard.  However some others said it was the old king’s great grandfather who had done the ordering.  Well who ever had said it first, "La Blanche Tour" was what the gentles called it now and “La bloody-big-job-to-paint” was what it was called by those that had to do the white washing..

 

To make the white wash you tipped the lime chunks into big wooden troughs, broke them up into powder with the end of a heavy stick and added water to the powder until the lime cooked warm, bubbled, and spat.  Once mixed, and as long as you kept stirring it to stop it going hard you could build up a few coats of the grey mix onto the stone with a horse hair brush.  But while everyone agreed that after drying it came up lovely and white, you didn’t want to be near it while it was being mixed on account of the burns the dust might do to your eyes or any open cuts.

 

Next to the barrels was a very large up turned trough waiting for the next batch to be made.  Gareth lifted one end and with a bit of a struggle pushed it along a bit just enough to check the patch of roof under it.  The trough made a screeching sound as it slid across the lead roof and Lincoln John chuckled to himself as he watched Gareth’s efforts.

 

Lincoln John was already rehearsing the story of how the morning would unfold.  He’d tell it in a Beer Lane tavern when they were celebrating tonight and the little details, like how he could’ve lifted that large trough up clear and with one hand too, that was the sort of stuff he knew made him look good. 

 

There were a couple of coils of rope under there but the trough had offered little protection from the rain as water had clearly been running underneath; this was a roof after all.  There were few jobs that didn’t involve string or rope of some sorts and Gareth was experienced enough with ropes (especially when tethering goats) to know the dangers of rope left sodden out of the sun and the wind for too long.  The fibres got all swollen and rotted with mould, not to mention the dirt that could work into the rope and abrade it.  When rope like this dried out likely it’d stretch tight and hard but be as brittle as a hangover’s temper.  Gareth sighed and tutted loudly at it.  He did have an urge to sling all the rope over the edge but it would be too messy a disposal and it didn’t really solve his problem.  Anyway, plenty of lackwits were posted at the Tower that could still pick up and use such ropes without a thought to the dangers they posed.  Time to get a knife …

 

***

 

When Gareth had been very young the local priest at Waddon had got the King’s Evil and had been too ill to attend regularly to his congregation.  With no immediate replacement the village had nominated the village hayward to give the boys of the village some church teaching, but this arrangement was more for fear of the boys’ idle mischief than for fear for their souls as evidence that the girls of the village weren’t included.  What was going to be a couple of weeks for the boys and the Hayward turned into the whole summer.

 

The hayward was called Boggy, although that probably wasn’t the name he was christened for more likely his name was John.  You see John was such a common name it became hard to know which John was which sometimes unless they took a nickname.  The self same Lincoln John that would be pacing the roof of the Tower with Gareth some years later had a “proper” name too and it wasn’t Lincoln John.  No. he’d been christened John Lincoln.  Anyway for those Sundays Boggy would gather the lads and give them a sermon like a good hedge priest.   Unfortunately Boggy wasn’t a good hedge priest.  Boggy’s sermon’s had half a dozen general themes.

 

The first theme was that young folk today were no where near as tough as the young folk of his day.  Lads these days were wet as freshly grounded seagull shit according to him.

 

“Before ye were born boys it rained solid for ten years like it was the Holy Flood again,” he’d say, “nobody had no food and do ye know what they ate?”  The boy’s would all shake their heads for fear of a cuff to their ear.  “Well what they ate was this.”  He’d lean in closer.  “They cut the hard gnarly skin off their hands and boil it up!  Boiled it up like fish and ate it like they were glad of it!  Then went out and worked to harden up their hands to get some more for tomorrow!”  

 

Gareth’s uncle, though he too had been too young to have lived through it, had told him about what folks had called the Great Famine when the rains had come and crops had failed three years running.  Folk had starved, got sick and died.  Not all had apparently learned the eating your own gnarly skin trick.  Of course they’d had the Great Pestilence since then which was worse but that meant nothing to Boggy.

 

“Soft lads these days don’t hardly remember to carry a knife even!  Always carry a knife!” Boggy added.

 

***

 

Gareth’s dagger was with his pouch over with Airka, so he pulled a second single edged blade he kept sheathed and loosely tied to the cord on his braes.  Lincoln John’s stance automatically shifted by just a fraction. 

 

***

 

Boggy’s second theme was women, or more accurately, why you should avoid them.  “My sister met a lad, “ he’d say, “and when they were sweethearts together she be all …”, and here his voice would go up two octaves for added effect. “… ‘Oooh! Look how much ye can drink my love!’ … ‘Ooooh! Aren’t ye strong and good at fighting!’”

 

After a short barking cough to clear his throat his voice dropped down to his normal scowling tone.

 

“Then, after they’d jumped over the fire at midnight she changed face quicker than a flock of sparrows in flight.  Nowadays it’s …”, up went his voice again, “…‘Now don’t ye go out drinking!’ … “Don’t ye go out fighting!’”

 

Boggy coughed again and spat green phlegm on the floor in disgust.  “They’ve got more parsley growing in their garden than anyone I know.”  He paused for second.  “Parsley sweetens ye breath lads.  Remember that if ye don’t want to be caught with ale on ye breath!” 

 

***

 

There wasn’t parsley growing on the rope but in parts it was as green as a field on St. Ethelwin‘s day, there was that much mould on it.  Gareth contented himself with making the rope as useless as possible by slicing it into shorter lengths.  Lincoln John relaxed and leaned on his upturned twig broom again.

 

Seemingly at a whim Gareth threw a small piece of the rope over the edge just to watch it drop the bottom of the Tower.  Then without thinking both he and Lincoln John were peering over the edge to watch another piece drop.  Lincoln John hawked up a glob and spat over the edge for good measure.  This was of course in violation of the spitting ban following an “unfortunate incident”, but sometimes it did you good to give into your urges.  As they leaned back in from the drop both their gazes naturally went to Broad Arrow Tower opposite them.

 

***

 

The last King Henry, the great-great-great-great grandfather of the new King had expanded and built a lot of the towers that ringed the Great Tower.  It was one of these towers, now called the Broad Arrow Tower where the majority of the archers were garrisoned.  Had King Henry known about the archers he probably would have saved his coin and not have ordered them put in, but between the blocks a number of iron rings were fixed.  The rings were there originally to secure painted canvass or tapestries so as to add comfort to the chambers there in.  But with archers these rings were never used even though they probably would have appreciated the extra cheer.  So it was these unused rings that were used in the game.  As Lincoln John and Gareth looked down at the Broad Arrow Tower they both naturally thought of the one iron ring in through which a long length of French lace was threaded …

 

***

 

“Womenfolk love lace,” said Boggy.  He was on to his third theme, how to win a woman’s heart.  Boggy was totally unaware of the contradictory nature between the themes of his second and third sermons.  “Ye have got to talk nice to women and treat them like gentle folk.  Don’t be coarse and don’t fart and belch in front of them.  At least not in their direction.”  Boggy belched long and hard.  The boys caught a whiff of herring.

 

“I remember … ha! … I remember,” he continued,”a girl who was the most beautiful girl in all Christendom.  She went down to the privy after Sunday church and all I could think about was what I was going to say when she got back.  How was I going to start talking to her?  What was I going to talk about?  Lace and pretty things is what girls like and I knew it.  Don’t make a hack of it, thought I.  When she came back the first thing that came into my head was the first thing I said.  Up she walks, her smile as white as snow on January ice, her hair glowing like the sun shining through autumn leaves.  ‘Been for a shit?’ asks I.  Fool!  Priests say ye should trust in God and ye don’t need to plan ahead like some godless, money obsessed town folk.  I say we’re not worth His bother most days and it’s best to always have a plan.”

 

***

 

Lincoln John did not yet know it, but Gareth had a plan.  They all did.

 

Scaffold poles made of ash were stacked here in the broad roof guttering next to the barrels of lime.  With the poles A-frames could be lashed together and with pulleys and a rope a man, or a boy, could be swung and lowered down over the edge to do the white washing.  White washing stuff was a great tool against garrison boredom it seemed.  Hanging by a rope and a plank seat with nothing but a prayer to your chosen saint wasn’t boring, especially if the wind started blowing hard half way through the job.  Another garrison archer who went by the name of Lyulf St. George had once quipped “What’s the difference between white washing the Great Tower and visiting the privy?  Nothing.  If the plank breaks it’s a drop into deep shit for both.”

 

The Great Tower had gone some years since the last wash and was in need of a bit of smartening up so this was going to be the summer for doing it.  In the end though because of the heavy rain there was no white washing being done anywhere at the Tower.  Gareth rolled each pole one over and then back again checking to make sure nothing was there.

 

“I told thee lad, it’s not up here.  Deaf as well as stupid are thee?” said Lincoln John again merrily.

 

Gareth, satisfied with his work, moved on around the rooftop glancing down again at Broad Arrow Tower as he went.  He thought again about the iron ring affixed to the wall and the threaded piece of lace …

 

***

 

The lace was old, slightly yellow, about five feet long and an inch wide when laid out flat.   It was originally made perhaps to be attached as a decorative border for something but had been thieved by an English archer on a trip to France.  Once threaded very loosely through one of the iron rings it was tied in a tight bow at the bottom to make a big loop.  Thus secured, around the lace bow a wooden box was closed.  The box was had seen better days, it was battered and scuffed, the paint (if it had been painted) had long since flaked off, but it did its new job well enough.  The box’s job was to enclose and protect the lace bow from tampering, for although the lid trapped the lace it didn’t mark or cut it.  No one could pull the ends of the bow loose and unthread the loop from the ring without first opening the box.  Cutting the lace was against the rules of course and was immediately apparent should anyone try to cheat because such an identical piece of aged lace would be almost impossibly hard to come by.  So to undo the lace you had to open the box.  To open the box you had to unlock the lid and to unlock the lid you needed the key.  But where was the key?  Hidden, that’s where.  And that was the premise of the game they called “Moochey”.

 

***

 

Gareth walked north, his back was now to the river and as he continued he could see Sir Alan continuing to conduct sword practice.  They were working in an area off in front of Constable Tower, which was up from Broad Arrow Tower, and were there so as not to disturb the corralled palfreys, rounceys and sumpters taken out from the stables for their morning mucking out.  Cart loads of feed for the horses came into the Tower each week and cart load of dung correspondingly went out.  Barrels and straw had been strategically stacked and positioned to create the open area needed for such sword practice.  For archery practice the men would have to find a clear patch of field outside the walls or walk a mile out to the butts at White Chapel or Spitalfields.

 

His team mates in this game were all there with their wooden waisters, bucklers and well timed curses.  Down there was Hakon and Lyulf St. George, both tall as each other and sparring together.  Being as tall as each other meant they were cancelling out each others greater reach with the sword.  There was Mark Archer, rubbing his left leg after a spar with Geff, for although Geff physically tired, he never tired of his favourite low swinging attack to the leg.  Off to one side and watching was young Sebastian, as usual shoeless and barefoot despite random stamping attacks from some of the other men.  Robert de Chipnale, for example, had a fancy for cockers despite their slipperiness on cobble stones; he saw it as a bit of a game to see if he could bruise toes with his soles.  Yes, they were all there …

 

***

 

“Now,” said Boggy, well into his fourth sermon, “can anyone tell me how an arrow, good enough for war gets made?”

 

Boggy held up an arrow.  It was missing a head and there was a noticeable bend in the shaft.  No one volunteered an answer because they knew it was a question that was going to be answered without them.

 

“That’s right lads.  Someone splits a board of ash or birch or cedar, draws it and shapes it to make the shaft saddle backed, bob tailed, breasted or what ever.”  Boggy swiped the arrow up and down to punctuate each statement.  Swish. “Someone else boils and softens the horn and presses and cuts it into slivers to go into the shaft nock.” Swish. “Someone else kills the goose and plucks the feathers and cuts those feathers to the right shape.” Swish.  “Someone else boils up blue bell root glue and sticks the feathers on.” Swish.  “And someone twists the thread to bind and re-enforce those feathers so they don’t come free when the weather’s wet.” Swish.  “Someone else renders the tallow, “ swish, “before finally someone heats and beats the iron that in itself has been dug out of the earth to make the bodkin point to go over the end and be fixed with the tallow wax.” Swish, swish, swish, swish.

 

“What does tell ye lads?  It tells ye there’s a barn load of work goes into the smallest of things and most things can’t get done without folks working together.  Working together gets things done.  Remember that when ye needs crops brought in, houses built or an arrow made.”   

 

***

 

Some eight months previous when this game of Moochey had first begun, they were mostly all of the same watch keeping group and although Geff’s “special duties” for Sir Alan had meant the men were sometimes “borrowed” and split across different rosters, they still played the game as one fellowship.  The other group had got mixed a tad too but still had their members in play.

 

Geff’s team (for he had most naturally become its captain) consisted of Hakon de Falcon, Lyulf St George, Mark Archer-who-sometimes-was-known-as-Mark-of-Plymouth, the Irishman Airka Eóganachta Mór, Gareth Robertson and Sebastian Wulfson.  The other team was headed by Lincoln John, who had become their captain on account of his bravado and ability to talk up a victory before it’d been won.  On Lincoln John’s team was John Medow, also known as Meadow John, Big Bill Walpole, Young Walt Woborne, Freeman Walt, Rob Nunton and Henry Wastel.  The men in this second team were busy too this morning, for while Geff’s group was mostly at sword practice, Lincoln John’s group was on duty at Lion Gate at the far end of the entrance causeway.

 

For nearly two thirds of the year the two groups had taken turns hiding the key somewhere within the castle complex.  When the key was found the bunch doing the seeking had to take the key back to Broad Arrow Tower to remove box and move the lace loop to anther ring.  They have to make sure they were unseen by anyone from the opposing side for the agreed penalty for being seen moving the lace loop and box was to forfeit your turn.  The ground floor of Broad Arrow Tower was given over to storage rather than sleeping for no archer would carry his gear up stairs when he could stow it someplace easy that didn’t involve lifting.  So many a time over the months someone would come down to pick up their stuff and be dismayed to find the lace and box had moved to another ring…

 

***

 

Boggy’s fifth theme for sermons was on the danger of fairies.

 

“Tis fashionable these days for some not to believe in fairy folk and mock those that do.  All I can say is that some in this village have been visited by the boldest of our local fairy folk who, it is said, goes by the name of Tom in the Greenleaf.  It’s also said him lives up somewhere by the twisted oak by the fork in the old road.  I’ve not seen him, though I think I’ve heard him and I say it’s better to try and keep the fairy folk happy and find out later they don’t exist than to annoy them to mischief and find out that they do.  Mother Chandler says she put bread out for Tom in the Greenleaf for nearly thirty year and he only ever broke her pottery or moved things so they’d be lost when she forgot.  Mother Chandler may be old now but she’s got a wise head on her and never took company with fools.  So mark her and act accordingly.”

 

***

 

Of course there were additional rules to keep the game of Moochey playable.  The key had to stay within the Tower’s complex.  You couldn’t hide the key someplace where an ordinary archer couldn’t normally go.  So for example you couldn’t sneak it into a private apartment like Geff could’ve done with his family ties to Sir Alan.  In fact another rule was that a player had to do the hiding, they couldn’t give it to some who wasn’t playing to hide for them.  You weren’t allowed to disturb the bread Freeman Walt and Henry Wastel took turns setting out to appease the local fairy folk who might otherwise cut the lace and spoil the game.  Also the hiding place had to be somewhere where the key wouldn’t be moved i.e. you couldn’t hide it on a cart or inside a barrel (although under a barrel was acceptable) as the key might well end up in Oxford or some such before you knew it.  Finally you couldn’t hide the key in water or any other liquid, so lobbing it into the moat wasn’t an option either.

 

The score was measured by each passing mid-day, marked by the tolling of the bells for Sixth Hour, clearly heard by the garrison as London, it seemed at times, had more religious houses with bells than Avignon.  Each mid-day where a team was officially looking was another “point” to the other team.

 

Originally the prize was for something innocuous, the choice selection of firewood come winter for use in places where charcoal braziers weren’t available or needed (ash and oak for the winners, birch and elm for the losers).  But, over time, as the game had been played, points had been won, confidence grew and so had the winners’ pot.

 

First in had been added an extra goose (to be supplied by Walt Woborne) after Lincoln John’s team had taken less than a day to find the key (hidden under the box).  Then to the prize pot had been added a hogshead of cider (to be supplied by Mark Archer) when Geff đe Wulf’s team had taken less than a day to find the key again themselves (hidden back under the box).  After that a haunch of salted pork had been added (courtesy of Freeman Walt), then a knife particularly suitable for trimming goat hooves (Gareth Roberts) and then a bolt of Lincoln graine (Lincoln John), then two dozen best arrows (Rob Nunton), a bone handled dagger (Lyulf St George), three new linen shirts (Meadow John), an ivory rosary (Airka) and so on and that was before Hakon de Falcon had won best shot during bets at the March hastilude at Smithfield and put two shillings of his winnings in.  After that other monies went in too.  In fact the prize pot had grown to a value of well over twenty five pounds which even when divided up was still a sizable amount for archers such as these.

 

***

 

Boggy’s sixth sermon was on archery and which Gareth seemed to remember as the most interesting to him.  “Now lads,” he said, “the trick to shooting straight is ye eyes and ye right ear.  Eyes and right ear ye understand?  Draw the bow back to the right ear and keep both eyes on the target.”

 

Here Boggy would demonstrate with an invisible longbow, his wirey left arm held out straight, his right hand seemingly pulling his right ear.  Only archers in fancy manuscripts and tapestries were allowed to shoot left handed, for if a child favoured his left hand - his wrong hand - it was beaten out of him until he shot right..

 

“God gave ye two eyes to aim, not one, so keep both of them open!  I’ve seen,” he paused to spit in disgust, “I’ve seen men, grown men, shoot with one eye closed.  I spit on that closed eye lads!  I spit on it!  Because what’s the point in having two of something and only using the one?  Do ye hop to church on Sundays when ye has two good legs to walk?  Do ye hold your sweetheart with one arm when you’ve got two arms to do the holding?  Does ye sit on a stool with just one cheek of ye arse?  Yes, I see thee young Jack Cooper and do not think otherwise.  Mayhap when ye fart, but not normally when you want to be comfortable.  No!  Ye uses ‘em both.  Keep both eyes open!”

 

***

 

The score for Moochey was as close as they could get. Lincoln John’s team had been trailing for a long while but Geff’s team had failed to find the key and now the scores were one hundred and five days to one hundred and five days.  It was equal. The game had but one more day left, one more mid-day and one more point to get as tomorrow was the feast of St. Margaret the Virgin which was the agreed end of the game.  This meant as everyone well knew, that unless Gareth and his team mates found the key and moved the lace undetected before mid-day today, they’d lose.  The odds were stacked against them and Lincoln John knew it.

 

“I’d be giving up now with plenty of good grace if I were thee,” he chirped, “the key is not up here lad and even if it was your boys are all at sword practice.  No chance to get to the box without me seeing you make the move.”

 

“Well, they’re all at the sword except me and Airka,” pointed out Gareth after at quick glance in Airka’s direction.

 

“Aye, except thee and Airka,” smirked Lincoln John, “and I’ve got my eye on you both ‘ain’t I?”

 

“Just the one eye?” asked Gareth.

 

“Yes, one eye is all I need to …” he’d looked back to where Airka was napping and although the gear was there, Airka was not.

 

***

 

Hakon de Falcon had been on duty up on the roof three weeks previous and it’d been drizzling as usual.  He’d looked all over the roof again, as had Sebastian the week before that, but there was still no sign of the key and now he was getting really wet.  Despite the muggy heat Hakon had wrapped a long cloak around himself to protect his padded jack from the wet.  It took days, if not a full week, to dry a jack out once soaked through as they had that much padding in them a jack literally drank any liquids up it came into contact with.  

 

The cloak’s greasy wool had protected him for a long while, but it was now starting to seep through.  His bow and arrow bag was stowed under a white wash mixing tub he’d found over by the south east turret.  The mouldy rope he’d found under there made an excellent bed to kept his gear out of the water running underneath.  He wondered if he could prop up the tub and shelter under there himself?  Momentarily cheered by the thought he splashed across the roof and lifted the tub.  After a brief struggle with the damp cloak to get his sword free he used the weapon to prop up the end of the tub.  It was a poor use for a sword he knew, but needs must.  Under there his neck was bent over and he still needed one hand to keep the tub steady but at least he was going to stay dry.  He figured that as long as he popped out to have a quick look now and again he’d be alright.  If he was accused of shirking his duty he could at least argue that he was on the roof and not lurking in one of the stairwells.  It was while moving his head into a more comfortable position that he spotted something pressed into the corner of the tub …

 

***

 

 “Where’s he gone then?” said Lincoln John.  “Off to tap his bladder?” Peeing off the Tower roof was banned following another “unfortunate incident”. “I’ll tell him he’s got the bladder of a small child when he gets back,” he laughed.

 

“No,” said Gareth, “he’s gone to move the lace and box.”

 

“Ha!  Thee may wish.”

 

“Oh? ‘Tis true John.”

 

“Nice try.  Thee thinks I’m going to panic.  Thee thinks I’m going to go check and lead you to the key?  Jolthead, we’ve won the game!”

 

“So if I was to tell you where the key was,” said Gareth, “would you believe me then?”

 

“Of course, but thee does not know.  Thee’s a dewberry lad, and a green one at that.”

 

“Oh aye? “said Gareth, “Well this green dewberry knows that the key was hidden in that white washing tub … For a big fellow you sure DO MOVE QUICK!” shouted Gareth as he watched Lincoln John dash back to the south east turret.

 

With an audible grunt Lincoln John tipped the tub full over where it clattered to a rest.  He peered in and there in the corner was a small blob of dried horse dung.  The dung had been disguised by dusting it with chalk so that it almost matched the colour of the dried white wash inside.  In the dung was an imprint of the once hidden key.  Where it had been torn out was visible as it had left a brown line and a dot against the white.  Ironically this made the shape of exclamation mark which harmonised with Lincoln John’s expression perfectly.

 

Lincoln John walked slowly back up to where Gareth was now leaning nonchalantly against the crenulations.  “I didn’t see you take the key,” Lincoln John said flatly.

 

“We took it out last night, Airka’s had it all morning,” admitted Gareth.  “But in actual fact,” Gareth continued, “we found it some weeks ago, did the sums and worked out when best to move the box.  The key’ll be well hidden now, you’ll not have the time to find it.”

 

Lincoln John had been played for fool.  He’d been led around the roof top like one of the palfreys on Tower Hill.  He’d been too busy watching rope getting thrown off the Tower like he was a toddling child at his first town fair.  Idiot!  Simpleton!  What would folk say now?  Lincoln John’s jaw tightened and his hand went to his dagger.

 

Gareth saw it and simultaneously dropped into a shallow crouch while palming his small knife..  Gareth was shorter and lighter than Lincoln John and although quicker on his feet he did not fancy his chances if the knife fight evolved into a wrestling match.  Like the bit of mouldy rope he’d used as distraction earlier, he’d be over the side if it came to a grapple.

 

“You’ve lost the game John but it’s mere bits and pieces.  Is this worth losing your life?”

 

Lincoln John paused.  His hand came off his dagger and he spat at Gareth’s feet.  “’Rot your lips, I’d stick you first in a fight and you know it.”  He began walking off over the rooftop before shouting back over his shoulder, “It’s not worth dangling from a rope for you!” 

 

An out of breath Airka appeared back up on the roof from his trip to Broad Arrow Tower.  He gave a regal wave to Gareth before flopping down to begin his nap proper.  Lincoln John was stomping away, his broom forgotten, to start the impossible task of looking for the key before the bells tolled sixth hour.

 

“I think thee had best get going … lad,” said Gareth under his breath, in a mocking attempt at Lincoln John’s accent.

 

***

 

Of course Lincoln John never found the key in time and Geff’s team won the prize.  They didn’t get all of it mind.  Sir Alan had known about the game pretty much since it started and calculated that while there was no harm he’d let it continue.  Plus of course, as was his right, which ever team won, he’d demand his share.  Yes, Sir Alan was well practiced at knowing what was going on in his castle.  It therefore should be of no surprise to anyone that if asked, Sir Alan could say the game was invented by a Jerseyman, an archer of sorts, although it was Mark Archer-who-sometimes-was-known-as-Mark-of-Plymouth who had first introduced the game to the castle garrison.

 

********

 

Notes:

 

1. Before The Tower of London became better known as a prison and place of execution what’s now called Traitors Gate was known as The Water Gate.  

2. The Tower at the Tower of London was also known as The Great Tower.  Due to white washing it was and still is better known as the White Tower even though it’s no longer white washed and is therefore no longer white.  How they did the white washing, either by slinging the painters out on ropes as in this story or by putting up scaffold, is open for debate.

3. Although the White Tower has a lead roof now I can’t say for certain that it had a lead roof back in the 14th century.

4. Widdershins: anti-clockwise.

5. The river boats known as Shouts took their name from the Dutch schuit or schuyt.  There was said at one point to be at least twenty five mill-weirs between Oxford and London alone.

6. In later years attempting to go under London Bridge during ebb tide was called "shooting the bridge".  Many were drowned trying to do so, some people used it to commit suicide, thus there was a saying; the bridge was "for wise men to pass over, and for fools to pass under".

7. The game of Moochey isn’t entirely fictional.  A version is played with a small padlock and key by the watch keepers on the UK Royal Navy’s HMS Illustrious..  They confine themselves to the Ships Control Centre though rather than the whole of the aircraft carrier in case you were wondering how long each game took.  The name of “Moochey” is fictional.

8. Motchi is Jèrriais for the verb “to mock”.

9. “The castle over looking the bay of Gouôrray on the island Jersey” is better known as Gorey Castle by English-speakers and in later years lé Vièr Châté (the Old Castle) by Jèrriais-speakers..  The French called it Mont Orgueil “Mount Pride”.

10. The King's Evil was scrofula (scrophula or struma), tuberculosis of the neck. It got its name from the belief that sufferers would be cured by the touch of the king.

11. Broad Arrow Tower as it’s called was supposedly named after the broad arrow mark that adorns UK government (military) property even today.   First use is widely attributed to the Tudor period however there is a claim that a document dated to 1330 was issued by Richard de la Pole the King's Butler using the broad arrow mark - so there is a slim chance the Broad Arrow Tower was known as such in the period the story is set.   However, unlike Traitors Gate, I’ve really kept the name this time just to make it easy to look up where the Broad Arrow Tower sits on a map of The Tower of London. The broad arrow sign is claimed to have originally been used as a brand mark on arrow boxes to shew that the contents had been made to the approved government standard. The Tower of London was the main armoury for southern England where such arrow boxes, together with bow staves and strings, would have been stored.

12. The feast day of St. Margaret the Virgin is 20th July.

13. St.  Ethelwin’s feast day is 3rd May.

14. Third hour (Terce) was around 9am, Sixth hour (Sext) was around noon.

15. The “new King” listed here is Richard II, the “old King” was Edward III.  The story is set in the year 1379.

16. Although Boggy says you use Blue Bell roots to make glue this of course isn’t and wasn’t the only type of glue used during the period.

17. I’ve used the use of “thee” and “you” in context of perceived social inferiority rather than as a gimmick to make the dialogue seem more medieval.  Okay, maybe I have used it as a gimmick.  Use of “thee” to a social inferior and the use of “you” to a social equal, superior or just to be polite was the fashion for a time although whether this was the case in the late 14th century is again open for debate.  Shakespeare makes use of this for example in “Henry V” when the king confronts Cambridge, Scrope and Grey.  In the play King Henry switches from “you” when they are regarded as friends to “thee” when they are found to be traitors.

18. The character of Boggy uses “ye” instead of “you” to mark him as a bit old fashioned (and maybe a bit of a bumpkin) although technically everyone would have been speaking Middle English and using “ye” instead of “you”.

19. There’s no concrete evidence for left handed archers really being forced to shoot right handed.  Archers in manuscripts and tapestries do switch hands (and move their anchor points – where they draw their arrows) to suite the best profile of getting the archers faces clearly in the picture.  There was however an extremely strong dislike and distrust of using the left hand as evident now for example by the Latin for left, “sinister” and what the definition of sinister is today.  Also there is no solid evidence for all archers drawing to their ear, however instinctive shooting does require the archer to keep both eyes open (just as throwing a ball accurately requires both eyes to be open). Unfortunately for Geffrey đe Wulf, he lost his left eye fighting in France, which gives him an excuse for not being regarded as a ‘marksman’.