HER BODICE RIPPED FROM SIDE TO SIDE...
The chantry door might have burst open had its impenetrable oak timbers been less substantial. As it was, a loud and unmistakably violent noise resounded round the tiny chantry together with the hoarse nasal shouting of half a dozen or so Gallic voices in their native French.
“What's that!” squeaked Marcus.
Genesis looked scared stiff, which he was, whilst Exodus looked terrified, which he was.
The two monks had chosen their profession as a consequence of feeling fear at any suggestion of violence. They had both been born to peace-loving parents in times when peace loving was a bit of a novelty. For a moment we must try to push idyllic images of a Britain living in harmony with itself and its neighbours to one side, to despatch concepts of country life fairly dribbling with fluffy green lives to the back of our minds, because History was never like that. History was, rather, a land in which violence always gained the upper hand. Cruelties abounded, from witch-burnings to Princes in Towers, and anyone of a gentle disposition soon found himself seriously out of his depth.
“We feared it might happen,” whimpered Genesis, suddenly weak and submissive.
“It's being so close to the North Sea,” added Exodus. The Frenchies live across the North Sea and there's a constant stream of their little armies coming this way in their wretched boats looking for a fight. I wish they wouldn't do it, but then they are French and might be expected to do anything.”
“It's disgraceful!” said Marcus, outraged. “They're supposed to be our allies! They're supposed to offer us knights and swords in our battles against the damned Islamists, and here you say they're attacking us? Well, I'll soon see about that!”
“You will?” asked Genesis.
“As would any man,” said Marcus defiantly. “I'll go out there with my sword in my hand and teach them some manners!”
“But you're weak and feeble and have only just escaped the claws of death by the thickness of a single hair!” exaggerated Exodus. “These doors will hold and the Frenchies will go away when they realise they can't get in. They'll go off looking for others to attack, and when they get fed up with it or whenever tea-time comes, whichever is first, they'll go back to their boats and sail back across the channel. They're always doing it.”
“That is not good enough!” exclaimed Marcus. “I need a sword!”
“There's one in the vestry,” suggested Exodus. “It's been there ever since Sir Beofatt built this place. He left it there, said it might come in useful some time, but it never did because he died soon after and paid us to chant his soul to Heaven.”
“Then take me to the vestry,” said Marcus, grandly, but he found himself gripping the table as he stood, a wave of dizziness almost laying him flat. Yet he was a determined young man as has already been seen from his gallant actions when he rescued the three sad women from the flames of the Lord of Crackle Bottom's bonfire, and he wasn't going to let any feeble frailties of his own flesh get in the way of that determination.
He felt weak, though, as he made his way to the back door of the chantry, and the sword, a man-sized affair, felt heavy in his hands. The Frenchmen hadn't begun to consider the possibility of there being another entrance from the rugged stone building and they were still battering (with now-bleeding fists) on the oak timbers of the mighty front door.
The sword felt desperately heavy in his hands, but in a way it was familiar. He'd lost his own much smaller weapon during his near-drowning at sea, and this felt like something grander. It had about it the weight and balance of the great swords hanging in his father's home, weapons with almost human lineage, blades that had removed many a head from the shoulders that nature said should be supporting it. This weapon, this polished blade, could be a cousin of theirs and sure as sure only a noble warrior could hope to bear it.
Yet Marcus was no noble warrior. He was a sickly young man, out in the wide world in search of his manhood, and unknown to him he had just found it. It never struck him as strange that one such as him, a peace-loving pacifist, a lad who abhorred bloodshed, should have a sudden light in his eyes and tremor in his heart. But he had both as he battled against infirmity and made his way, outside the chantry, along one side and to the front where the enemies of Englishmen everywhere were having the battering time of their lives.
He stood there for a moment and surveyed the scene.
There were possibly twenty Frenchmen at the front of the chantry, but only a handful could reach to do the battering and the rest were hanging around, some of them looking positively mournful in a Gallic sort of way, waiting to see what would happen next. What must have been clear to them was that the door they were attempting to batter into submission would stay in its place until the end of time if necessary, without submitting to what was, in actual fact, more sound than fury.
The Captain of the French forces was leading the attack, banging the head of a cabin-boy against the oaken timbers and cursing every time the boy cried out.
Marcus cleared his own throat and leaned heavily against the hard stone wall of the building in order to get some support and also, by association with its stone parapets, acquire something of their solidity. After all, he still felt weak.
“What a noble bunch of warriors!” he exclaimed, hoping that his voice would rise above the general hubbub and disappointed when it came out as little more than a feeble croak. But there's something about feeble croaks that have a power of their own. They can't be easily heard, least of all by lunatics attempting to destroy the indestructible, and anyone wishing to hear what the croaker is saying must be quiet himself. And that was what generally happened here.
Most of the Frenchmen stopped their haranguing and stared at Marcus, and those that didn't stop immediately were poked in the testicles by those that did. Within a very short time, and without Marcus having to repeat himself, the attacking force was quiet and looking at him questioningly.
He realised he should have rehearsed the scene because he clearly had to say something else now there was an approximation of silence and it wasn't easy thinking of anything at all threatening when confronted by a group of alien desperadoes. But say something he must or he would lose the moment, and if he lost the moment he knew he would lose the confrontation and be an easy target for men who were infinitely more experienced at being nasty than he was.
Lie, Marcus, lie, he told himself.
He wasn't a natural liar but he had told a few whoppers in his time. In that instant in which a kind of plan was formulating itself in his head he recalled the time he had stolen the village miller's daughter's best hat because it was pink and fluffy and, when he'd been caught with it in his bed under his pillow, sniffing it, had explained that it wasn't a hat at all but a wasp's nest that he'd bravely put out of commission and that it only looked like a hat because the wasps had stolen it and made their nest in it. He'd pulled such a (to him) terrifying face that his mother (who had challenged him concerning the hat) had believed him and called him her brave little cherub and awarded him with a hug and a cuddle and a great big I(and rather unpleasant) sloppy kiss.
Now he had to call on that talent and he closed his eyes and said the first thing that came into his head:
“My men are armed with blades as long and strong as this one, and will be on you in the twinkling of an eye,” he said, still croaking, and waving his glittering sword before him.
A polished blade, one wrought from cold steel, can cause a sense of furore amongst warrior-types who are armed with considerably less, and the Frenchmen took, in a weird kind of unison, one step backwards. The captain put the bleeding cabin boy down, and he scurried away, towards the path that led to the cliffs and the beach below, and before he got there ducked behind a rocky outcrop in order to nurse his wounds and aching head. Half a dozen others followed him, but went all the way to the beach. Any warrior holding a sword like that was a warning, and this one said he had an army of equally armed men with him.
“You have a choice,” croaked Marcus, wishing his voice was doing anything but croaking. “You can either remain where you are and die horrible deaths from a dozen swords with razor-sharp blades, or you can go, now, in peace, to your boats and sail back to your foetid country across the seas.”
“Who said it was foetid?” asked one of the Frenchmen.
“I've seen your cheese,” responded Marcus, quickly. “Now what is it to be … my men are but a few yards away … fight or death?”
The Frenchmen might have tried to see what manner of army was at this strange well-weaponed Englishman/s command, but, from their perspective, it would all have taken too long. Instead they fled, the Captain leading the way, down to the beach and onto their boats. The tide was just coming in, and before any desperate army of Englishmen with shining blades could come their way they let the tide take them out, back to France.
“Where's that dratted cabin boy?” roared the Captain (in French), and that was the last that was heard from them.
Marcus might have laughed to himself, but the strain of the confrontation acted on his already weakened state, and he fell in a dead faint onto the ground where he stood.
There was a rustling from some undergrowth not far away, and a figure stood up
“Very good. Very clever,” said the bleeding cabin boy, crawling towards him from hiding, and he winked at him.
©Peter Rogerson 09.10.11