Sunday 8 December 2019

Sticks and Stones by Barbara Gaskell Denvil - A Story Inspired By A Song

Read the Story
Guess the Song
here's a clue...

The shadows beneath the great stone bridge were deepening and the nineteen pillars stood pale and proud as night slipped over old London. The starling platforms which slowed the swirl of the river between the pillars and out towards the estuary were grazed by the bump of the wherry boats and barges. The bridge was too low for the great sea-going ships, but the tenders bringing in the cargo were busy every day and a few at night. Still the occasional splash of the oars could be heard by those living in the houses along the bridge or praying in the chapel. The squawking squall of the sea birds had faded as the gulls slept.

European Starling, Starling, Bird, Dark

Yet on one of the central stones, starlings huddled tight into the depth of shadow, and chattering amongst, were three aged women, each partially hidden by a dark hooded cloak.
“Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble,” said Winifred.
    Mabel scowled. “I wish you’d stop saying that, Winnie,” she complained. “It doesn’t mean a damn thing, you know.”
    Winifred looked somewhat abashed. “Well, I have to say something,” she complained. “Otherwise I just sit in silence while you and Bossy Boring Bandy Belinda talk non-stop.”
    Belinda, shaking her curls within her hood, ignored these insults and addressed Mabel with haughty calm. “It’s the coronation tomorrow,” she said. “I was looking forward to the feast.”
   “What makes you think you’ll be able to get a drink amongst the thousands there?”
    “I can slip in without being noticed,” Belinda insisted. “You can sit and go thirsty if that’s what you want, but I intend inviting myself to the feast.”
    They all stared at each other. It took a little time to consider.
    “No,” said Winifred.
    “Yes, definitely,” said Belinda.
    “I’m just not sure,” said Mabel. “It’s not an easy decision. Is the new king worth it?”

Surprising the others, it was Winifred who answered. “He’s another Henry,” she said. “He’ll be the eighth. They seem to think he’s strong and handsome. I heard he has red hair and he’s as tall as the Keep at the Tower. Of course, everybody thinks he’s wonderful just because he’s taken over from his miserable father, who everybody hated.”
    “Oh, pooh,” objected Mabel. “The last one was a miserable sod, but who knows if this one will follow his father and end up the same?”
    “King Henry VII was an ugly old thief,” said Belinda with feeling. “He sat in his counting house all day, counting out his money and trying to think of a way of getting some more. Well, after all the trouble he went through to try and steal the crown, it never did him much good. Oh yes, he got rich and bought some fancy clothes, and now he’s made his son rich, but he never enjoyed himself except perhaps in bed with his wife. Now he’s dead, and this son is good looking and jolly.”
    “Does that make him a good man?”
    “And will it make him a good king?”
    “Frankly, who cares?”
    “Personally,” Mabel decided, “I’m cold. Do we have to sit out here under the bridge? The wind is coming up from the east, and it's chilly.  Can’t we go into one of the back streets or find a courtyard, light a fire and keep warm?”
    “People will complain if we light a fire,” Belinda pointed out. “Fire is such a danger with all these silly little cottages with thatched rooves.”
    “Perhaps we could light a little fire here on the river,” suggested Winifred. “No one can see us anyway.”
    Mabel stared at Belinda and Belinda stared back. “What? Three little old ladies huddle in secret under the bridge, warming their hands over a fire in the middle of the Thames River? No, people will see us and think we’re witches or something.”
    “Well, we’re not witches, said Winifred crossly. “
    “Well, don’t act like one,” complained Mabel. “We can’t help being old.” She smiled a little sadly at her two friends, wrinkled necks beneath their cloaks, little wrinkled faces and wrinkled hands. She held out her own hands, seeing the sepia spotted signs of age, the wizened knuckles and the broken nails. “Poor little me,” she smiled. “But age also brings wisdom.”
    “Maybe for you,” nodded Belinda. “But not for Winnie.”

Night, Children, Witch, Fairy Tale, Sky

Getting a little tired of this continuous stream of insults, Winifred struggled to her feet, but the starling base wobbled, and she sat down again in a hurry. “Humph,” she said, half choking. “I think I’ll go off on my own and find a more cheerful spot to spend the night.”
    “We could all try a monastery,” suggested Mabel. “Sometimes they take poor people in for the night, and we’re certainly poor. I mean, it’s fairly clear we are poor old crones without a penny to our names.”
    “I liked the idea of lighting a fire,” persisted Winifred. “I know I’m an ugly old thing, but everyone is at our age. Though I don’t want to spend the night with nuns and monks, I’d feel very unwanted.”
    “We don’t have to admit that we’re not religious.”
    “Well, we could pretend. Otherwise, you seem to think we look like witches. I object to that. I certainly don’t act like a sick old witch.”
    Belinda laughed. “Now then, let’s work out something sensible, since we want to be ready to watch the coronation and join the feast.”

After a long chilly hour of argument, Winifred, Belinda and Mabel trailed from the river to the stabling sheds behind the tavern on the corner of Thames Street, and snuggled in beside the horses. This was certainly warm. The horses weren’t very pleased at first, but they put up with it and even when the old ladies pinched most of the straw, they accepted their fate, and everyone fell asleep snoring.

Witch, Portrait, Fantasy, Fairy Tale

The following morning they could already hear the cheering, the slap and crack of the bright painted banners hanging from every upper window, splashing their colours in the breezes. The king would ride from his royal apartments within the Tower, and slowly cross the mile from one side of London to the other. 
    The noise and pageantry were glorious, and the guards in their scarlet livery, followed by all the lords and ladies of the court who waved and smiled at everyone. The crowds lined every street as the king trotted through the widest of the cobbled roads, nodding and raising his hand as the citizens of London in their thousands came to cheer and clap and dance in the roads after the great procession had passed by. Minstrels played and even the king could be seen tapping his feet within the stirrups. 
Standing well back behind the excited crowds, Mabel, Belinda and Winifred peeped between the heads of those crowded in front of them, watching as his royal majesty, King Henry VIII made his glorious way to Westminster Abbey on the other side of the city. All the gates stood wide open, folk hurried out from the taverns and inns, raising their cups of ale to the bright young king, and toasting his good health and long reign. 
    “Yes indeed,” mumbled Winifred from the back of the crowd along Cheapside. “He’s young, red-haired and handsome, and quite slim too, though I’d wager that won’t last once he has all those feasts and cups of best wine.”
    “It’s a shame we can’t get close enough to him for a nice warm kiss,” nodded Mabel.
    Belinda cackled and waved her own hand to the king. He sat high on his beautiful black gleaming horse, keeping his speed slow in order that all his new subjects would have a chance to see how inspiring, grand and attractive he was. And they certainly appeared to agree. The previous king had certainly received no such accolade.
Everybody from young to old, from lord to beggar and from wealthy to baby, was dressed in their best. Winifred, Belinda and Mabel had no best clothes, and could only wear their big dark cloaks as they always did, a little stained unfortunately after all the years. But warm enough and hooded to keep their sad old faces in shadow.
    “I wonder what our new king will look like in his crown,” murmured Belinda.
    “You’ll never know,” Winifred answered. “We certainly aren’t invited into Westminster Abbey for the coronation. And after that, he’ll travel straight to the palace.”
    “Ah well,” sighed Mabel. “We can dream. These special occasions are such fun. 
    “As long as we can join the feast,” added Winifred.
    “Well,” Belinda pointed out, “No one is watching us, and no one will because they’re all too busy watching the procession and listening to the music. So we can creep in and feed all we want to.”
    “Right,” Winifred said, pushing forward a little. “I want that woman over there in the pretty grey velvet dress. The one with the lace collar, and her neck well displayed. Then I’m going to move on to the man with the big nose over there – look. He looks perfect, he won’t even hear me sneak up behind him.”
    “I think,” said Mabel, looking around carefully, “I like the very young man standing on the other side. He’s so excited he’s jumping up and down. He certainly won’t see me. Or perhaps I’ll trip him and then take my feed as I help him up, and he’ll just think I’m being kind. And his blood will be all simmering and fizzy from excitement. Then I’ll find someone else if I’m still hungry.”
    Belinda grinned, mouth closed, hiding her vampire's teeth. “I want that fat woman with the basket of fruit. She’s fat enough to fill me in no time, and her gown is cut so low I can suck her neck without even a shadow in the way.”
    “Now,” Winifred nodded. “Now is the perfect time. And we can meet up afterwards under the bridge.

Vampire, Horror, Blood, Dracula, Dirty

© Barbara Gaskell Denvil

Did you guess the song title?

(Official You Tube Video)

Barbara's website 
Barbara was born in Gloucestershire, England, and fell in love with the history of London. ears later, she moved to Australia. She has written fantasy and historical fiction. Very different genres, but all are crime mysteries in one way or another. She also has a children’s series (Bannister’s Muster series, for middle-grade children), no crime here, but a vibrant mixture of history and fantasy. After this is complete she is moving onto a series of modern crime mysteries.

Reviewed by Discovering Diamonds

Liked this story?

Thumb, Feedback, Confirming
Leave a comment below...
like... share...
Desktop, Pattern, Art, Graphic Design
Thank you!
There will be another story inspired by a song tomorrow!

The Full List of Authors

2nd   M.J. Logue   First Love 
3rd   Richard Tearle Chips and Ice Cream
4th    Helen Hollick Promises, Promises
5th    Paul Marriner Memories
6th    Pam Webber One Door Closing
7th    Louise Adam Hurt Me Once
8th    Barbara Gaskell Denvil Sticks and Stones
9th    Judith Arnopp Secrets
10th  Erica LainĂ©  Silk Stockings
11th   Anna Belfrage Hold Me, Love Me, Leave Me? 
12th  Annie Whitehead Frozen
13th  Tony Riches Alas, My Love
14th  Clare Flynn, Zipless
15th  J.G. Harlond The Last Assignment
16th  Elizabeth St John Under The Clock
17th  Alison Morton Honoria’s Battle
18th  Jean Gill The Hunter
19th  Patricia Bracewell Daddy's Gift
20th Debbie Young It Doesn't Feel Like Christmas
21st   Ruth Downie  Doing It Properly
22nd Nicky Galliers What God Has Joined
23rd  Elizabeth Chadwick The Cloak
26th  Helen Hollick Ever After
27th   Barbara Gaskell Denvil Just The One... Or Maybe Two
28th   Deborah Swift Just Another Day
29th   Amy Maroney What The Plague Brings
30th   Cryssa Bazos River Mud

 Note: There is copyright legislation for song lyrics 
but no copyright in names, titles or ideas

StorySong graphic by @Avalongraphics 
additional images via Pixabay accreditation not required


  1. Great fun - never trust little old ladies :) I did NOT see the twist - nicely done. My favourite part is the opening description though - so atmospheric. Great song choice!

  2. Well I wasn't expecting THAT! Made me laugh out loud, which made the cat jump...

  3. Barbara has good ability to write unexpected twists!

  4. Enjoyed it! Don't know the song but still fun!

  5. Ha! I wondered what would happen at the end. So pleased the 'little old ladies' got a bite at the feast.

  6. I swear, Barbara, no one - and I mean no one - can bring to life late medieval London as you can. I read the above and was overcome with an urge to re/read all your wonderful books, primarily Fair Weather which stands out as one of the best books I have ever read. Ever.
    Anyway: there I was, enjoying the brought-to-life setting and growing increasingly more curious about these three...err..ladies. Loved how you sprang THAT on us! Thank you for a lovely moment of escapism!

  7. Agree with all the above! Great atmosphere, a painting in words, a twist and a great song! Brilliant

  8. ...did not see that coming - brought a sunday morning smile, thank you Barbara.

  9. (Barbara may take a while to answer... she's gadding around the world enjoying various travels!)

  10. Well, that was unexpected! Lovely, fun story.

  11. Sad;y it seems my first reply disappeared into thin air - well, that's the ether for you. So apologies for being so late - but I have spent to last 4 months travelling from Australia to Africa - all over Namibia - from there to Last Vegas for a conference - from there to England - then the Mallorca Spain - and finally back to England. I now hat my suitcase and never wish to see it again - but am looking forward to Christmas.
    But first of all - a HUGER thank you to all you lovely lovely lovely people who made the comments above. I am so grateful and I appreciate every word. Blress you Anna - you are an angrl. Thanks a million to all of you - and especially Helen -= her lovely self.
    I just hope this works this time ------ Happy Christmas everyone XXX

  12. I did not see that coming! I loved the characterization and the descriptions. Beautifully written


We do not accept comments. If you need to contact Discovering Diamonds go to the CONTACT facility

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.