Battle Chapter 1
Antiseptic walls, painted soothing, healing colours, the gentle susurration of the hospital air conditioning and the soft whispered conversation of the family, my family on a death watch. My death that they are waiting for, some sad, some impatient, all wishing that they were anywhere else. I cannot shoo them away as I am awash in a morphine dreams, administered to ease my passing.
My stream of consciousness winds up with Roald Dahl who had a gentle loving last words sentence delivered when the nurse administered the last morphine injection and he said,"Ow! F*ck!" ruining his exit entirely or not depending. You never knew with Dahl. I love his work, quirky and a twist in the tale. I chuckled at the thought of him having a twist in his exit story. The family heard and thought the pain was getting to me, it was, but not cripplingly so. They summoned a nurse who administered another dose, the pain in my arm was slightly muted. Then there was a loud tinny crash and my arm was immediately and intensely painful. I grunted with pain and tried to turn my head to see what was going on. Everything was dark and the quiet subdued hospital erupted into what sounded like a tin can avalanche, accompanied by screaming, shouting and what sounded like horses. There was an awful stench of blood and mud and sweat, my own sweat, others sweat, horses sweat. The stench of battle.
My immediate thought was that my morphine dream had gone completely physical, a suspicion reinforced by what felt like a kick in the backside and a voice yelling; "Get up! Get up! Stop groveling in the mud, you are going to get us both killed."
This was followed with another powerful kick in the backside.
I still could not see, so I ran my hand up my face, or where my face ought to be, but there was what appeared to be a tin bucket over it. I hit at the tin bucket hard, and a slot opened. Light. I could see light and mud and feet and horses hooves. I tried to roll over and came to the conclusion I was carry far too much weight and I needed to go on a serious diet. I staggered to my feet and to my complete horror found myself in the middle of a mediaeval battle. Men on horses and on foot, hitting, slashing, cutting, falling and dying. All in some form armour. I looked down and found myself similarly encased in armour.
Someone thrust a mace in my hand, "Wake up damn you! You going to get us both killed."
It was at about this moment that someone launched himself at me, sword swinging to take off my head, I took one step back, leant backwards as the sword passed my nose by millimetres, I nearly fell over from the unfamiliar weight of the armour so to counter balance myself I swung my mace diagonally upwards, wishing it was a katana and not a spiky club. The sweep retrieved my balance and knocked my assailant backwards. I followed the upwards sweep with one that moved diagonally downwards. "Fighting with a katana rather than a club." I muttered to myself. My assailant dropped his sword and I swooped over, nearly falling flat on my face again and grabbed his sword. It was an ugly, badly balanced weapon but it had a nice sharp edge. I discouraged my opponent from retrieving his weapon with a swift kick to the head and he collapsed in a heap. Everything seemed under control in front of me, but I had no idea of what was happening on either side, taking care not to over balance I did a quick swivel, sword held double handed before me. As I got to about a third of the way round I nearly spitted a figure in the same coloured livery as me, obviously a friend.
He leapt back, "Not me you fool."
"Sorry, not well balanced." Over his shoulder I saw a pike man getting ready for a swing that would decapitate my only friend in sight so I stepped passed him and cut upwards against the pike and then down to smash the helmet down on the man's head. He went down without a sound. My friend looked around and then at me, back at the supine enemy and finally at the weapon in my hand.
"What happened to you?" he asked in a somewhat puzzled voice as I swiveled around again, blocking a mace attack. The mace broke and the owner took one look at me and beat a hasty retreat.
Directly in front of me was a cart horse. It was standing almost as if it were in a stall or delivering beer in some ancient ritual. Enormous creature, covered in patches of armour, it seem to be grazing in the middle of the mayhem. Seeing it made me want to be astride it. Obviously a war horse, despite the remembered stories of war horses only allowing one person to ride them, I decided to take a chance. I strode toward it using my sword indiscriminately as club to clear a path, I got to its side and it glanced at me with a cool disdain and went back to cropping grass. I was still considering how I was going to mount the horse when my protector and another man practically threw me onto the saddle.
Sitting up there gave me an indication of how small the melee was. My protector swung up behind me. "How do we end this battle?" I yelled.
"Kill that man." Across the heads I could see a man in fine shiny armour surrounded by some very tough looking men.
"Ok, lets do that then we can all go home." I kicked my heels into the horses sides. It completely ignored me. I kicked again, nothing, no movement. It just went on cropping grass. In a fury I swatted it on it haunch with the side of my borrowed sword, it grunted and reluctantly started moving forwards. As we moved forward and man threw himself at me, I hit him on the head with the pommel of my sword, but he held on stubbornly. I was just about to kick him off when I realised he had a bow on his back and quiver of arrows within reach. I pulled an arrow out and stabbed him in the neck with the arrow. As he started away, bleeding heavily I grabbed his quiver and the bow off him allowing him to slip to the ground.
"Would it be considered cheating or bad form if I shot him?" I yelled at my protector indicating the shining man.
My protector shook his head in a funny bemused way. "No, go right ahead. IF you can hit him." he added somewhat peevishly.
I strung the bow, notched an arrow and wished for a compound bow. My first arrow went low, I suspect I was correcting for a compound bow. I hit the horse instead so the effect was not what I had wished for, but as the horse went down, I notched and loosed a second arrow catching the shining man fully in the face. The crash as he hit the ground was not loud and yet, it could be heard all over the field and the battle was over, the melee disintegrated into small groups of running men.
My horse suddenly seemed to be interested in the movement and we followed and indeed caught up with the front melees. The fleeing soldiers stopped at what looked like a boundary and prepared for a last stand. In my most imposing voice I yelled "Halt! Stop. Do not cross the boundary. Stay."
To my utter surprise I was heard and the fighting died away.
Addressing the enemy, "Who is now in charge?"
A swarthy man moved forward on his horse.
"I am. What do you want?"
"Please appoint four men to fetch your dead leader and remove him from the field of battle. I cannot guarantee that his body will not be desecrated if we wait for morning and a truce."
The swarthy man stared at me with a mix of surprise and hate and, without breaking his gaze, shouted out three names.
"We will fetch my father."
I bowed. "Please honour our truce."
He nodded. My protector shouted four names. "Escort my Lord Hamilton to fetch his father. The rest of you wait here till Lord Hamilton returns."
We waited and my brutish horse once again returned to cropping grass and ignoring the world around him.
"You a religious man?" I asked my protector.
"No. My lord." The last appellation said cautiously. "Not really. I go to church." He shrugged, "but I have seen too much to believe or follow the teachings of the priests."
"Good. Because you and I are going to have to have a long talk and very soon."
"I'll say." was the only comment I got back.
"What is your name?"
"Peter, my lord."
"And I am?"
Silence. I waited.
"Prince James, my lord."
"And Prince James is not the most effective of soldiers?"
"I heard someone shout about "Prince Weakling". That my nick name in the army?"
"Cummon, you have every right to denounce me for being demon possessed. You have the upper hand. Just for the record, I am not a demon. I am a common man and I am what, in my other life is called a martial arts expert. I study fighting methods and weapons from across the world. I can handle a mace, a sword and a bow with a certain amount of ease wouldn't you say? The problem is, that an hour ago, I was an old man and dying of a seriously bad disease. Now I am a young man in the prime of health and I don't know how that happened. To make matters worse, if I don't have your help I am going to end up being burnt by the priests. I don't know what happened to Prince Weakness but now you have me, I am alive and it would seem a bit of a hero. I need you to help me survive. You do that and you won't have to explain anything to my father. He will probably reward you. It was my father who gave you the job of making me into a soldier wasn't it?"
He nodded carefully.
"Right. You now have a choice. Denounce me as a demon, or go and tell my father that I came of age today. You can claim as much credit as you like."
We watched the four men return with Lord Hamiltons body. I took off my helmet as they passed and did a simple Japanese bow. I found myself the centre of all eyes.
"Lets go." I muttered. "Before the stories get out of control."
"They are already out of control." was the only response.
I kicked my horse get it to move, but it didn't even look up from the grass. I looked at Peter, exasperated, "Do you have access to horse that actually responds to basic commands and does not have to be beaten with a sword to get it to move?"
He looked at me for a long while, then a smile creased his eyes.
"Maria was specially picked for you so you could not get into trouble. Slow, stolid and boring and yet you still managed to fall off her." He shook his head. "Does your other life have horse riding in it?"
"Yes, but not battle riding."
He whistled and a groom rode up with two horses in tow. "Take the mare, she is not too skittish, the stallion is a handful."
I nodded. "Thank you. Lets go see to the mopping up of the battle field."
"Not a princes job."
"It is now, or at least while I am prince. Men died and were maimed on that battle field today, the least I can do is make an appearance.
Peter was silent as we rode, undecided.
At the battlefield there was a sort of organised chaos. Healers, priests, family, milling around. The sounds of pain and of mourning was palpable as Peter and I arrived. We moved through the carnage lending a hand where possible, staying well clear when our presence was not welcome.
We watched as a priest administered the last rites. He looked up at me, "You survived my prince." A flat statement.
"Yes, Father I did. I have killed and my soul is full of sin. Please bless me." I sank to my knees before him. He stared at me for a long while then sprinkled holy water on me, said a prayer for my sins, my soul and then went on to comfort other dying souls.
I found Peter looking at me carefully and then he nodded. "The King ages and we need a young strong leader so he will be told that you came of age today and that you led from the front. That you behaved in a manner that brought only credit to our kingdom." He paused. "If you ever give me reason to doubt you, I will kill you."
"Good. I will use my fall to explain any stupid mistakes I am bound to make. I will rely heavily on you for guidance."
In silence we rode from the battle field, a small group of soldiers accompanying us providing protection, and providing a soft murmur of conversation impossible to understand, both unsettling and reassuring at once. It was a cool pleasant evening and the twilight lingered far longer than I expected suggesting that I was further from the equator then I was used to being. I was too busy surving the battle to process sun angles and directions. I had a bad feeling that I was not anywhere near my beloved Cape Town in distance and in time.
We rode in through the main gate of the castle and were met by stable hands and the Major Domo who told us that the King awaited our presence in the throne room. We dismounted and I handed over my stolen weapons to a master at arms and allowed Peter to lead me up the stairs and into a dark, dismal and rather smelly room, lit by guttering torches that marked the walls and roof with black soot. It was almost impossible to breath in the place. An old man, with sunken eyes and a shake reminiscent of my other selfs Parkinsons sat on a large and very uncomfortable looking stool a few inches higher than the rest of the chairs and benches.
"You survived." he rasped. He didn't seem particularly pleased by the discovery, mind you I had the feeling that he might have greeted my death with the same lack of interest.
I went down on one knee, lowered my head.
"Yes, my lord. With much help from Peter sire."
That seemed to amuse him somewhat.
"Stories from the battlefield say you killed Lord Hamilton?"
"Yes my lord, I did. It seemed like the quickest way to stop the battle."
"Hah. No stomach for battle? Squeamish brat."
"No my lord. I was more concerned about losing more men. The harvest is not yet complete, and we need every hand to get it in before the winter comes. Killing Lord Hamilton presented an easy and quick way to end the battle, save lives and get on with the job of surviving winter."
"His son will seek revenge."
"Then we must persuade him to give up the feud.
"And how do you suggest we do that?"
"I know not my lord, but our gesture of returning Lord Hamiltons body to his family immediately may give them pause to think."
"Hah." a fit of coughing stopped his rejoinder.
When he had recovered, he looked at Peter.
"Is it true?" He asked. "True that my son, Prince Weakness himself killed three men and shot lord Hamilton from at least 40 paces? Him."
He jabbed a bony crooked finger in my direction.
Peter bowed lower. "Yes, my lord. The prince also saved my life. He led from the front . . ."
"After falling off his horse I am told."
"Yes, my lord but thereafter he fought bravely and well and I believe that he was a credit to you and our kingdom."
"Hah. This I don't believe. You are dismissed. Go and clean up. You stink." We retired from the stinking throne room, how he could have smelled us in the stench of that noisome hole was beyond me.
Peter led me to my room. I assumed it was my room because a page was there to undress me and provide water for washing.
I looked at Peter, dirty, battle stained, weary.
"Yes, my lord?"
"Fetch someone to help you. Sir Peter needs attending to, he needs food but most of all I need to talk to him. Go get us food, water for him, help, some clean cloths. Go lad. You know what is needful." The pages eyes widened, looked at me, looked at Peter and finding no clues there looked back at me. "Shoo, go. Move it. I will have you flogged if Sir Peter falls down from weariness before you get back." The page fled. I found Peter staring at me.
"I had a battle commander once. He was a good commander. A decent man. Your gesture now is so reminiscent of him that I could start believing in possession all over again."
"You mean he looked after his men first and then himself? Sounds right to me. I approve."
Peter shut his mouth with a snap.
The page returned with a bevy of servants bearing food, hot water and clothing. In fairly short order Peter and I were clean and fed and for the first time in the day alone.
"Now, Sir Peter, you and I we need to think up a way to stop Lord Hamilton from seeking revenge, or if we cannot, preventing him from doing us any more damage. First I need a history lesson. The history of this kingdom and Lord Hamiltons. Leave out nothing."
He talked, I listened. I asked questions, he answered to the best of his ability. Around midnight we were both too weary to continue.
"I need to learn the nuances of your weapons and warfare. I want to see our soldiers in training. Is that organisable?"
"Yes, we have training on going at present. You can join them."
"Tomorrow. First cock crow."
"I will see you then." He nodded and left and I fell into the best, most comfortable, dreamless sleep I had enjoyed in years.