Thursday, 17 December 2020

"Homout; ich Dene" a short story inspired by a song written by Nicky Galliers

Read the Story
Guess the song

here's a clue:

It was a long drive to Canterbury, especially with the stop in London to fetch something from a shop opposite the British Museum, but Camille was not deterred. She arrived late afternoon having set off well before sun-up, and found a place in a carpark some twenty minutes’ walk from the cathedral. With Evensong about to begin, she was spared the price of entry, a prayer book and hymnal thrust into her hands and directed to the quire. Thankfully, it was just where she needed to go; the Trinity chapel was just beyond.
    Camille hurried past the choir stalls and smiled quickly to the verger in robes who indicated a pew. She sat but briefly, hastily casting glances around her as she stood and slid out again and beyond the stonework to the aisle that led further east around the apse of the cathedral church. On the edge of the chapel, along the aisle, was what she was looking for - the tomb of the Black Prince, eldest son of the illustrious King Edward III of England - and as the first choristers raised their cut glass voices to the vaulted ceiling high above, she spied who she was looking for.
    ‘Edward,’ she called breathily, still afraid someone in the quire would hear her, though she knew that the singing covered any noise they might make.
    Edward was seated on the effigy inside the wrought ironwork around the tomb, cross legged as he often was, his hose straining at his heavy thighs and the bent knees. Today his tunic was red and spangled
    ‘This is rather like being in a cage, don't you think?’ he said. He rose gracefully to his feet and jumped over the ironwork, dropping to the ground softly in his leather-soled boots. He dropped a kiss on her cheek that made her blush. ‘Camille, how good to see you again.’ 
    Camille loved how he made her name sound so different, so playful. To everyone else she was ‘Cam-ill’, flat and lifeless. To Edward she was always ‘Cammee’, his French lilt intoxicating.
    ‘Did you bring something?’ he asked as she tried to contain her pleasure at being with him again. 
    ‘I did,’ she said, and delved into a deep pocket to retrieve a small box. ‘I brought two, just in case. One, the man said - the man in the coin shop in London - is definitely a 1356, but the other could be anywhere between 1340 and 1360, so I thought I’d give it a go.’ She opened the box and tipped the contents into Edward’s palm. Two silver coins, now the colour of pewter, lay side by side and with careful fingers, Edward flipped each over before he picked one up.

© Nicky Galliers

    ‘Buying coins doesn’t make sense to me,’ he mused with a furrow to his brow, but his face cleared and he concentrated on what was in his hand. ‘This,’ he said of the larger of the two, ‘is a groat, and is definitely 1356. See here, the crown, Father only had that added for 1356. This one,’ and he replaced the groat for the smaller coin, ‘is a penny, 1350. So, yes, there is a choice to be made.’ He shrugged. ‘Or not. We can do both.’
    Camille felt a frisson of excitement sparkle down her spine. She could do it again! He had promised, but she hadn’t really expected it. But Edward was a man of his word. The last time, he had taken her to Crecy in 1346 and she had watched the battle from a vantage point to one side of the English lines, a commentary given by Edward, whose eyes had shone, and he had revelled in the retelling. To watch it all unfold, and yet be safe, and to be with Edward himself. Edward of Woodstock he was called then; Edward the Black Prince history had named him.  
    Of course, she had told no one; who would believe her, travelling with a spirit (‘I’m no ghost, ghosts are not real,’ Edward insisted) to watch a fourteenth century battle. As long as she held his hand - and why on earth would she let go of someone that handsome - she remained with him.
    That time they had cheated a little and used a piece of rusted ironwork from a door plate that was of the correct date but they weren’t going to do that again after it fell to pieces. Hence the coins.
    ‘What about 1350?’ Camille asked him.
    ‘Winchelsea, that was August. But I nearly drowned; not good. However, there was also Calais. We had fun at Calais.’
    ‘Fun?’ Camille asked, ‘Crecy kind of fun?’
   There was a glint of mischief in his dark eyes and his smile was broad. ‘Better than that.’

image: Wikipedia

It was dark when they arrived, middle-of-the-night black, and few houses showed light around their window shutters. It was bitterly cold and Camille shivered. Edward had changed again, wearing a thick cloak over a dun coloured, heavy woollen tunic. It only just reached the tops of those magnificent thighs so Camille was surprised when he draped the cloak around her shoulders. His legs must be frozen!
    ‘What’s going on?’ she asked him, wrapping herself in the wool. ‘What time is it?’
    ‘Just gone midnight.’
    ‘Midnight?’ Camille stared at Edward. ‘What battle happens in the dark at midnight?’
    Edward grinned, his excitement evident and growing. ‘An ambush.’
    ‘An ambush?’
    ‘As I said. An ambush.’
    ‘But you own Calais in 1350.’
   Edward lowered his head so he was closer to Camille. He pointed towards the citadel of Calais, looming as it did over the town around it. Darker than the houses, it looked impenetrable. ‘There,’ he said, pointing to one end of the drawbridge across the moat: the water shifted sluggishly with little wind to stir it. ‘See how there is movement, just in the bloom of light from the house across the square.’
    Camille saw something but it was indistinct. She frowned. There was nothing happening.
    ‘We were to be betrayed, by a man called Amerigo di Pavia. He had served the French before he gave himself to England, but he revealed the plot to Father in time for us to be here. We travelled incognito, merchant’s wear, like this,’ and he indicated his good quality but plain tunic.
    Camille jumped at a howl of sound, the voices of many tens of men rising together. Torches were seen where there had only been blackness, and figures emerged from the gloom. They rushed as one to the drawbridge, stepped on it, their feet thundering on the long wooden planking. Then another shout, from the wrong end of the bridge, but the advance did not halt and men poured across. 
    ‘Now!’ a very English shout demanded, and Camille watched a boulder topple from the gatehouse above the wooden gangplank and smash right through it, severing it in two and stranding the advancing men on either side, the shockwave making the water beneath reel.
    ‘What are they doing?’ Camille asked, trying to make sense of what she was seeing.
   ‘They are the French, led by a man called Geoffroi de Charny.’ He pronounced it with a beautiful French accent. ‘They attack Calais when they think it undefended. It is just gone midnight on New Year’s Day 1350, which is why we are here now and not when this started yesterday, when it was still 1349.’
    ‘You are here?’
    ‘Within. For now.’
    Camille heard a ruckus from inside the citadel, crashes and thumps, cries and shouts, but there was no knowing what was happening. The French were attacking the English inside their citadel, but who was winning?
    ‘Come this way, we have to hurry.’
    Edward pulled on her hand and drew her away from the drawbridge and around the mass of French who were in a state of confusion, some still trying to advance over the breach, others trying to turn back and tangling with their compatriots. Edward and Camille couldn’t be seen - even had they been visible, the French would have paid them no attention, so caught up were they. They blew white clouds into the frigid air as the pair rushed to the other side of the citadel, to the west and towards Sangatte, if Camille judged right.
    It was still dark but Camille could easily make out the walls with torches lit along the battlements, and the massed French army was obvious. 
   ‘How many French are here?’ Camille whispered, forgetting that they couldn’t hear her.
     ‘We never counted, but five thousand or more.’
     ‘And inside, with you?’
     Edward shrugged nonchalantly. ‘About a thousand at my command.’
    They watched as the next scene began. The French advanced, ready to attack the west gate, weapons raised - swords and maces and lances with wickedly sharp tips. 
    Camille held her breath, unable to see how the English could escape this morass of enemies at their very gates.
    Then Edward tapped her shoulder and pointed with his spare hand. A small gate was opening not far from the French. Men emerged, just a handful, but they carried torches and were well lit. They trotted around the walls until they were in sight of the French. Camille’s mouth was wide with horror and fear. They would be captured; the French would seize them!
    ‘Watch,’ Edward said into her ear, the softness of his breath brushing against her skin, sending a frisson of something that was not true fear rippling across her.
   With a torch held up high, illuminating himself, one man stepped forwards. 
      ‘I am Edward of England - fight me!’ he roared.
   A shock wave undulated through the French ranks, the name of the Englishking on their lips. Some towards the rear were already turning to run, while those at the front were urged on to attack but managed only a few steps forwards.
    Movement from the gate behind him; another jolt of anticipation shook Camille. Then a banner, held high, one she recognised. The arms of England with the white label clear in the flickering light. A thousand men poured towards the French, the banner held aloft with pride, the king fighting beneath the colours of his son.
   ‘A thousand men, against so many. How could you win?’ Camille breathed, too tense to speak loudly, too excited by what she saw - shades of what had been; a movie whose ending she already knew could only be good, however nerve-wracking the journey to get there.
   ‘We won because my father was here, because the French feared him above all men.’
     ‘And you? They must have feared you after Crecy. They must have.’
   Beside her, Edward merely chuckled. ‘It is surprising what a thousand men can do when they are English.’
   Camille turned away from the fighting to face him, a flirtatious smile curving her lips. ‘Surprising what a thousand men can do if they are commanded by you.’

Prince Edward meets King Edward 
after the battle of Crécy.

Evensong continued beyond the Trinity chapel in the quire while Edward and Camille wandered in the cloister. The last of the evening sun spilled over the walls but most of the square garth was shadowed. 
    ‘Are we going to 1356?’ Camille asked. Like a favourite film, she wanted to see the sequel.
    ‘Not today,’ Edward said, brushing his hair from his eyes as a breeze blew it. Camille’s face fell but she rallied and forced a smile. ‘Keep the coin,’ Edward told her, ‘and make sure you come back. It is lonely here.’
     ‘Lonely? But the cathedral is full of tourists every day.’
   ‘But no one sees me. Do you know how many people I have spoken to since my death? Two. Just two. One man came in 1485 to pray for me to intercede on behalf of a descendant of mine who had just died in battle.’
    ‘Richard III,’ Camille said, knowing the date. ‘I suppose he is languishing in Hell. Are you able to do much to help with, well, God?’
    Edward shook his head. ‘Not really. Richard is in Heaven. Hell, it seems, is reserved for people called Henry. And, besides,’ he added, ‘I can’t help anyone. I am here, not there.’
     ‘Why are you here?’
    Edward shrugged. ‘I relive my battles because I didn’t die in one. How I envy that Richard. The irony - I died in my sleep and so cannot find eternal rest.’
   They passed a rose bush stuffed with pink roses, full bloomed and scented. On a whim, Camille slid Edward’s knife from his belt and cut a flower from the bush.
    ‘Here,’ she said, handing it to him. ‘For you, to remind you that there is one who thinks of you. Ouch!’ There was a single thorn on the stem but it hadn’t drawn blood.
    Were those tears in his eyes? Camille couldn’t see as he had dropped a soft kiss on her forehead. Her cheeks reddened with pleasure. ‘Take the coin, and come back, and we’ll do Poitiers.’
    ‘Deal,’ Camille said with joy, already calculating when she would next be able to afford the petrol for another long journey.

The original heraldic achievements of Prince Edward, 
on display in Canterbury Cathedral
(image: Wikipedia) 

The verger made his rounds through the silent cathedral after Evensong, checking that all was in order, that the vast building was empty before he closed up. His rounds took him into all the chapels and shrines, in the crypt and up to the apse. He said goodnight to the tombs, to the bishops, Lanfranc, Becket, Langton; to King Henry IV, his queen Joanna of Navarre, buried so far from home. To his favourite, the Black Prince, a man of great honour and courage. How unfair for the prince to be buried alongside the man who had murdered his son. He glanced up, at the achievements, the Black Prince’s jupon, helmet and gauntlets, hung above. They were not the real ones, they were too delicate now, almost uniformly brown so faded were they; no surprise when the helmet was so old it had been worn by the prince himself. These were reproductions, bright and colourful.
   He peered through the railings, the yards of wrought iron that surrounded the tomb. He frowned as he cast his eye up and down the noble, gilded effigy. He was not superstitious - he was a verger, after all, and he believed in the Holy Ghost, not ghosts - but he shivered and he didn’t know why.
    Then he saw it; laid under the steepled hands, on the breast over the heart, was a rose. It was dried up and decayed, petals now strewn, dropped from the stem but holding still a hint of their pink colour, a soft perfume rising as the air was disturbed.
   He sighed. Didn’t these people realise that such sentimental fripperies would damage the delicate gilding? He reached for it, to remove it and throw it away, but yelped when his finger caught on the one thorn on the desiccated stem.

(image: Wikipedia)

Did you guess the song?

Tenpole Tudor - Swords of a Thousand Men


Nicky Galliers is our technical editor for Discovering Diamonds - she is currently writing a novel which she hopes to have published in 2021

8 comments:

  1. I just loved this story. What a wonderful flight of fancy and so beautifully told. Thanks Nicky!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Annie. It was fun to write and fun getting to know Edward a little better.

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  2. Comment from Marina Osipova: "I didn't guess the song, but the story was so charming! Loved it."

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    1. Once I had stopped laughing at the song, I realised it was such a gift for a lover of the Hundred Years War era. So pleased you liked it.

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  3. Oh Nicky - that was brilliant! Great imagery and characterisation! I didn;t guess the song, though the clues were there. One of the few 'punk' songs that I actually liked!!

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  4. Angela MacRae Shanks17 December 2020 at 21:30

    Wonderful writing, Nicky! I was there, soaking it all in, so much so I forgot I was supposed to be guessing the song. I didn't, but I'm terrible at guessing songs. Your story charmed me. Brilliant!

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  5. I'm terrible at guessing the songs, but the one you found is perfect for this excellent story. Loved it!

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  6. Lovely piece! You breathed lovely life into a historical person I have always found difficult to approach. I am so looking forward to your novel, Nicky. Will there be a glimpse of our commong favourite, Charles (or Wenceslaus as us, his freinds call him)?

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