Sunday, 20 May 2018

The Lore of the TearStones

An excerpt from one of the great Lays of the Eyri.
It is taken from the not-yet-published sequel to Wings in the Wind, called Seasons of the Sun.

Ere first arose the Spirit Sun,
Ere first the Moon his course did run,
The Spirit-Wind, a song He sang,
And by it, Life and Light first sprang.

The skies, the winds it brought to birth,
And by His Song He formed the Earth.

His songs of beauty then did sow
Into the earth all things that grow.
His glory and his fragrance filled
The flowers, the trees, where’ere He willed.

He sent His living breath into 
The dales and hills, and from them drew
All diverse kinds of bird and beast,
The Eyri wingfolk not the least.

The Eyri-folk with joy took wing.
The Great Wind Spirit was their king.
He taught us flight and gave us voice
That with all nature we rejoice.

But scarcely had all flowers unfurled
When darkness came upon this world.
Some wilful wind-sprites spurned His love
And claimed His realm – the skies above.

And so they fell and so they sinned
And fought with every good white wind.
But at the last all evil fails.
Khan-harahe, His will prevails.

Within the earth the dark storms fled.
In darkened caves they made their bed.
Now great white storms the mountains sweep
The dark away, their prisoners keep.

But when their guards would pass them by
In secret these dark winds would fly
And dark deeds do, and havoc wreak,
Deceive the fool, prey on the weak.

One whispered in our fathers’ ears:
“Lo, nothing is as it appears.
Khan-harahe, His proud will bounds
Your freedom to these narrow grounds.

 To conquer is your destiny!
Come! Reign these wide green lands with me!
And if your claim your kin deny
Then they must fall, and they must die!”

Our fathers hearkened to his rede
Then fell deed followed dreadful deed.
Forsaking Him Who ruled the sky
Upon our own wings we would fly.

Through darkened skies and storms of night
Our hearts were hardened through the fight.
Much blood was shed and hands stained red,
Wing’d hate the path we fain would tread.

By Eyrie’s pride, so Eyries died.
The wisest counsel we defied.
The great deceiver, laughing, fled
The white storms’ wrath, their vengeance dread.

In grief and wrath, Khan-harahe 
Would fain have swept us all away.
His sons, the spirit-winds despaired
That any for another cared.

The Spirit Sun in grief beheld,
And from his fiery eyes there welled
Great tears of gold as liquid stones
That fell to earth amongst our bones.

But Mother-Earth she would not drink
Those Holy Tears, nor could they sink
Into her depths now choked with blood.
So lay they hard’ning in the mud.

War-wearied warriors saw, at last,
Their blessed first paradise had passed.
Repentant tears now fell upon
Those golden stones that ever shone.

“Henceforth,” they cried, “we dwell in peace!
No more the Crows of War release!
A king we choose above all thrones
And he shall keep the Weeping Stones.”

The Peace Accord they carved anon
on Meeting Stones we stand upon.
The Khanrikhan they chose to be:
Good BraveWing of the Mawh’eyri. be continued

© Bardswell Creations 2018

Sunday, 29 April 2018

The Lay of ThunderWing: The Deeds of Wonder

Here is a song supposedly composed by GoldSinger, minstrel-maid of the Great Eagles in the land of Mawha.
(Spoiler alert! It summarises all the amazing exploits accomplished by the main character from "Wings in the Wind: The Reign of the Mawh'eyri.")

Of eagles great throughout the Earth
I know of none of greater worth.
So swift of wing and strong of hand,
The mightiest warrior in the land.
Yet humbly with the Mawharhùn[1]
He toiled ‘til rising of the moon.
O who is this of whom I sing?
He is our Captain ThunderWing.

For love, for fame he would defy
Mawharikhan[2], and o’er it fly.
Arousing then the Demon Storm,
Pure evil in its darkest form,
Who slew full many an eyrion brave
And sent them to a stony grave.
This nearly was the fate of one
Young ThunderWing, HighSoarer’s son.

He fell before the foe, and yet
Unwittingly a snare he set.
The proud Dark Storm, his prey so near,
Then turned and fled in deadly fear.
The Great White Storm, he was at hand
And cast him out from our fair land.
The Windlord’s Council loud did sing
The praise of fallen ThunderWing.

Full shattered was our warrior brave.
He languished long in Healing Cave.
When all seemed lost in dark despair,
To him came SilverSong the Fair.
Their love was sealed, so healed in soul
His health and strength at length made whole,
He took to hunting ‘neath the sun
With StrongHand, Great HighSoarer’s son.

When painted raiders from the West
Put our defences to the test,
They were denied, their path restrained
By humble hunters, few, untrained!
The raider’s champion who them led
Was swiftly slain. The others fled.
Who did this deed, and vict’ry bring?
HighSoarer’s son, brave ThunderWing.

The wingfolk of Eyries west
The hunters’ valour fully blessed.
StrongFeather, called them to the feast,
The hunters’ captain not the least.
The Council gave him great renown –
A “Champion Perpetual’s” crown.
And SilverSong at last was won
By ThunderWing, HighSoarer’s son.

Now banished was Mawharikhùn[3].
The Summit slept for many a moon.
Then from the West the Dark Winds came
The “Raven Spirits” was their name.
Before them hapless wingfolk fled.
They preyed upon our fear and dread.
But one stood firm – our champion!
‘Twas ThunderWing, HighSoarer’s son.

The wingfolk of Mawha they hated,
Middle Eyries desecrated.
Many nests away were swept
The eyrie-mothers hid and wept.
They heard a song midst their despair.
A hundred warriors filled the air.
Repaired, rebuilt, the eyries sing
Their thanks to captain ThunderWing.

Then did fair Mawha dwell in peace?
And wars upon her borders cease?
Alas! A mighty warring hoard
Across the Eastern Mountains poured.
The Eastern warband shattered they,
Windlord SwiftSlayer passed away.
Yet was a glorious victory won
By ThunderWing, HighSoarer’s son!

The Mawh’eyri, they deemed their Reign
Was now secure, alas, in vain.
The Ravens were unconquered still,
For spirits mortals cannot kill.
And so our captain did not rest,
Obeyed the Spirit Great’s behest.
Amongst the mountains hear it ring:
The war-cry of brave ThunderWing!

So once again a snare he baited
Came they forth where death awaited.
The white storm struck the final blows,
Then cast him up above the snows.
Upon the peak he found the Stones
That once adorned our ancient thrones.
He dared to do what none had done
Did ThunderWing, HighSoarer’s son.

With failing strength descended he
And rode the tumults skilfully.
StormRider came, his life to save.
They carried him to Resting Cave.
The stone he dropped was caught ere long
By his good lady SilverSong.
For this, the council named him king
Our Rikhan[4] now is ThunderWing.

[1] The name given to the oft-despised hunter-gatherers of Mawha
[2] “The King of Mountains”. The highest peak in Mawha
[3] “Prisoner of the Mountain”, the name given to the Demon Storm.
[4] King of the Mawh’eyri.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Next excerpt from "The Poor Preachers." Chapter 5: The Grim Reaper and the Lord of the Harvest

‘For he that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh he shall reap corruption;
but he that soweth in the Spirit, of the Spirit he shall reap everlasting life.’

(Epistle to the Ephesians 6:8 Wycliffe-Purvey Translation .)

Standing over his family’s grave, Tom took his knife from his belt and grimly slit the length of his hand until blood flowed.
‘By my blood, and that of my father, mother and sister, I swear again mine oath of vengeance!’ he declared defiantly to the surrounding trees. ‘I will relent never, neither will I rest until the blood of my foes flows freely as did my family’s! God and the Devil be my witness!’

Suddenly, as he stood upon the ashes of his past world, his earthly vision became cloudy and misty, and he was looking into the world of spirits. 
To his horror, he saw a black, shadowy chain had wrapped itself around his hands, feet and chest, drawing tighter. 

Then, before his horrified gaze, a large and menacing figure seemed to arise out the earth, shadowy and shrouded in a cloak as black as the darkest night. Its face was partly hidden by the hood, but Tom could distinguish the bony jaw of a skull peeping out from under it. In its skeletal hand was a large and sharp scythe. 
It was the Grim Reaper!

The apparition pointed towards him with a bony finger and gave a ghostly, echoing cackle of glee. Immediately, other horrible apparitions arose out of the ground.
Frozen with terror, Tom could tell, without asking, that these were demons of Violence, Hatred and Pestilence (surrounded by demonic, flea-ridden rats). 
He discovered that the ghostly chain wrapped around him was attached to a loosened length of chain, and Hatred grasped the end of it. Somehow he knew the chain represented his oath, sealed with his blood. 

The horrible apparitions leered at him for a moment, and the Grim Reaper spoke in glee with a harsh, rasping voice.
‘Ha! Out of his own mouth is he ensnared. He reapeth what he soweth. Now we have him.’

Tom realised what he had done. In his folly, he had allowed bitterness to poison his soul and had fallen into the trap of his true enemies, the minions of Satan.

Then Violence came forward and was about to take a hold of him. 
Somehow, Tom knew he had a choice to make:  to give in to the hatred that would possess him, living a destructive life of violence, or repent of his oath and relinquish his mission of vengeance. 
His father’s words, even those the Grim Reaper had uttered, came back to him. He fell on his knees in terror, crying for God’s mercy. 

Immediately, like a bolt of lightning from heaven, the shining figure of a huge heavenly warrior appeared, casting the demons to the ground. 
The Grim Reaper slunk away, knowing his time was not yet, while the others fled in fear. 

The light faded to reveal the great Warrior more clearly. He wore the gear of a great Saxon Thane fully armed for battle, but his face was noble and kind. In his right hand he bore a two-edged sword. 

Feeling like St Paul on the road to Damascus, Tom cried out, ‘Oh messenger from heaven! I have sinned! What must I do to atone?’

In a voice that echoed with thunder, the shining messenger said, ‘Fear not, Thomas Plowman. I am thy guardian and messenger. God hath chosen thee for a far greater destiny than a life of bloodshed. God hath permitted judgement to be executed upon Baldrick by thine hand, but vengeance belongeth to the Lord, and he will repay with far greater justice than thou canst do. Neither is it thine to atone for thy sins, for all thy works of righteousness are as filthy rags. There is a better way.
‘Think not that doom hath come upon thee for thy past sins. God hath seen thine hunger and thy pain. He would fill up thine hunger with Himself, the Bread of Heaven, and would heal thy pain, for He is the Great Physician, and hath suffered greater than any man. Thus shalt thou find thy destiny, if thou wilt turn unto Him in repentance and seek His healing.’

Then the warrior himself fell to his knees and bowed to the ground, as Tom became aware of a warming light behind him. It was as though rays of unconditional love were shining on him, beckoning him to turn around. 
He did so and also fell on his face, trembling. 
For before him, he saw the Lamb of God, suffering on the cross. 

The vision faded as the Lord of the Harvest Himself appeared, shining in splendour. He held out his nail-scarred hands to show the suffering He had been through to secure Tom’s salvation. None of Tom’s own pain could compare to it. Who was he to sit in judgement on his enemies and to presume to execute judgement upon them? Had not his mother told him what the Saviour had said before He died: ‘Father, forgive them! For they know not what they do.’? 

Tom wept tears of repentance.
‘Now arise, Thomas. Thou art My Plowman, My Sower and Reaper. I have need of thee.’
The voice above him was as gentle as the breeze, yet more powerful than a thunderstorm.

In a daze, wondering why he was given the privilege of speaking face to face to the Lord of the Harvest, he timidly looked up and found that He had gone. In his place, a new messenger stood before him.

This messenger was clothed as a great Earl of the time of Harold. A glow and air of authority surrounded him, and in his hands he held a two-edged sword, a great shield and a sickle. He also spoke with a voice of rolling thunder.
‘Thy chain is loosed. But not all.’

Tom looked down and saw that the chain had broken and was lying at his feet. There were still remnants of those chains on his wrists, but his deliverance was almost complete.  Tom closed his eyes and breathed a prayer of thanks.
How could the Lord of the universe have need of him -- a profligate sinner? What was the meaning of those gracious words?

Answering his unspoken questions, the messenger said, ‘It is because He hath chosen thee as a chief labourer in the harvest that is to come to this land. Thou’rt called as a harvester of souls, a sower of the seed of the Word of God. But first thou must plough and sow into thine own life.’

The messenger brought forth the implements he bore. 
‘Behold! I bear the sword that thou shalt wield in great power to defend the defenceless and to strike down the enemy of men’s souls. But thou must be exercised in the use thereof ere I give it thee.
‘Behold! I bear a shield for thy protection. Thou shalt learn to lift the shield of faith to quench the fiery darts of the wicked one. It shall be thine anon. Bear it well.’

He held the shield out to Thomas, but when he received it, with a trembling hand, it seemed to melt into his being and disappear. Yet he felt a new sense of confidence, and that he could face anything that life, or the enemy, could throw at him.

The messenger continued.
‘Behold! I bear the sickle -- thine authority to go forth and preach the gospel, making disciples of many in this land. It shall be thine when thou’rt skilled to fight with the sword and the shield.
‘Now arise, Thomas Plowman! Go thou north unto Oxenford. There thou shalt find thy chosen yokefellow by the name of William Shephard, a worthy man of God. He and others of God’s servants shall instruct thee in the use of the sword and shield. Go forth! For God is with thee.’
And with that, the messenger was gone.

Shaking and wondering if it were all a dream, Tom stood looking around. 
Then he noticed it. The pile of ashes of his home was gone. There was nothing but green growth where once there was death.
He knew his family was safe in the arms of their redeemer. None would disturb their sweet memory. But he had learned his lesson now. He had an awesome call on his life to fulfil.
‘…God aiding me!’ he cried.
Shouldering the last of the worldly possessions he had in his sack, he set off north, on the long road to Oxford.

Tom’s journey to Oxford seemed rather uneventful after the glorious visitation he had just experienced, but he was enjoying himself hugely.
He had never felt so free, now that the guilt and shame of his past life had been washed away, without the need to do penance or buy indulgences.
He had never felt so alive. He felt as though he was born anew, and an exciting new life had begun. A sense of purpose and destiny had taken hold of him.
He had never felt so loved, by a love so powerful that the One who loved him would shed His blood for him and ask for nothing in return for the gift of salvation.

The religion he was taught by Holy Church was pale and pathetic compared to this.
His old joie-de-vivre returned with a vengeance, and the smile that now lit his face came from a powerful fire deep in his heart.
As he travelled, Tom sang snatches of old songs that suited his elated mood, but often reverted to the Song of the Harvest, for he knew that the Harvest of Souls was his calling.

‘Sing Hey for the sickle! Sing Ho for the scythe!
For the heart of the reaper be merry and blithe.
With joy shall we labour through rain or hot sun,
Giving thanks to the Lord when the harvest be done.’

He had a fine, strong, lusty voice, and those who heard him would stop to listen. In taverns along the way, the local men applauded loudly and bought him ale in return for another song.

At other times in his journey, he would meditate deeply upon the things that had been said to him, both in the visitation and also by his parents over the years. He was largely recovering from the grief he felt for his family, gone forever, but an ache would sometimes surface in his heart. This made him feel more for the sufferings of the people he passed.

However, his buoyant spirit could never be submersed for long, and it was not long before he burst into song again. His meditations comforted and cheered him, meaning so much more than they ever had before. 
This was the second experience of the shield that the Messenger had given him.
His money lasted him for most of the journey, but such was the exalted state he was in, together with his new-found compassion, that he gave freely to those in need. 
To supplement his dwindling resources, Tom hired himself out to farmers, and such was the volume of work he did that many asked him to stay. 

Although he enjoyed the roving life, his heart was restless to see what awaited him at Oxford, and to meet this mysterious man, William Shephard, of whom the Messenger spoke.
At first, a little unwisely, he spoke about his visitation to fellow travellers or in taverns along the way. He was naturally gregarious and fell easily into conversation with strangers. 
Many of the simple folk were awed at his experiences, and there was certainly a glow about him that could only come from meeting the Lord of life Himself. 

But some mocked and laughed. They had some cause to do so, for there was so much superstition around, and preposterous, conflicting tales were told, often fostered by the wandering friars. 
Tall tales sometimes generated an extra coin over and above the usual benefice that friars received. Many had long lost their credibility, for times had changed from when the friars first appeared as humble men, fired with zeal and true to their vows of poverty and a simple lifestyle.
Tom had a lot of easygoing tolerance, but if the mocker went too far, that gentry found himself head-down in the nearest horse-trough or miller’s pond. Tom still had a few things to learn.

Finally, he crossed the Cherwell and found himself outside the Bull and Book tavern in Oxford. Entering, he discovered a much more congenial atmosphere than William had found a number of years before.

Much reconciliation had occurred since the riots at Merton College
Many students, mainly Wycliffeites, had approached the townsfolk and addressed their grievances. Friendships had been made, and now the tavern was nearly full with townsmen drinking the health of the masters and students, and vice versa, much to the delight of the tavern-keeper whose business was thriving again.

One man stood up and called for a toast for ‘Doctor Evangelicus, Champion of the poor’. 
Nearly everyone drank and applauded loudly. 

Another, rather reprehensibly, toasted, ‘Confusion to Courtenay!’ which produced loud, ribald laughter. Tom learned later that Courtenay, Bishop of London, was a fierce opponent of Wycliffe and forbade him to preach in his churches.

One group of students, farmers and labourers, mellowed with good ale, hailed him genially, liking him on sight. They invited him to join them, and one bought him a drink.

The one who did this shook his hand warmly and said, ‘I call myself Benjamin Abyngdon, master. A student of Merton College am I. It seemeth that thou’st journeyed long and sore, and a great journey’s tale hangeth upon thy brow. Wherewithal can one be of service unto thee?’

‘Thou’rt abundant kind to a stranger, Master Abyngdon.’ responded Tom, touched and grateful. ‘Thomas Plowman is my name, and I seek one William Shephard, a man of God. Dost thou ken of such an one?’

‘Few that ken him not at Oxenford, Master Plowman. A busy man is Father William, but hath ever occasion to speak to any that hath need of his wise rede. I met him hither as a stranger in this very place, whence he rendered me kindness in return for the churlishness of myself and my companions. A more godlier man have I not found, and his fellowship do I value above all. Haply we will find him anon.’

So it was that the Shepherd and the Reaper finally reached their divinely-appointed rendezvous.
Standing before him, Tom saw a tall, bearded man, with a grave and kindly face, and latent laughter in his grey eyes.

A sense of destiny came upon him.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Next excerpt from Part 1 of "The Poor Preachers". Chapter 4: "The Laughing Lion."

Master Harold Plowman looked with pride upon his son.
‘Verily, he be as Harold Godwinsson reborn, my love,’ he said to his wife, as they watched the young man work the team of oxen, singing in his fine, lusty tenor.

‘So ‘tis said,’ smiled the lady, “but though the Golden Warrior’s blood floweth in his veins, yet his fate shall be otherwise.’

Her husband glanced down at her with uneasy respect.
She was a godly woman and had developed some reputation as having a prophetic gift. Not without reason. But her pride was more in the sunny temper and endearing smile of her son, and in the generous heart that reminded her so much of his father.

She looked up at the strong, hardworking man at her side, and her smile faded.
‘Yet mine heart tells me that thine is the fate of King Harold also, my love,’ she added softly and sadly. ‘So be it. Then so also shall my fate be. Harold fell, that England may rise again. So we shall fall that our children may rise from our ashes.’

Hal’s attention was on his children, and he did not hear the strange prophecy. He waved to his daughter Mary, who divided her time between coaxing the striving oxen onwards and engaging in lighthearted banter with her older brother as he sweated happily at the plough.

Hal and Tom Plowman had worked themselves up through hard times to a more comfortable existence than most Dorsetshire peasant farmers could boast. They had recently obtained some land closer to the village of Gillingham, where Hal hoped to build a bigger and more comfortable dwelling, away from the growing danger of outlaws in Gillingham wood.

Lawlessness had been increasing of late, partly from the oppression of greedy landlords driving some poor men mad with despair. But moral laxity was everywhere, even rampant in the Church. 
Many of the local parsons, such as Father James, were decent men. They were often poorly paid by their bishops, and only stayed at their posts because they had a heart to serve God and the people.
In contrast, the hierarchy, by and large, lived lives of profligacy, ignoring the poorer classes.

But Hal Plowman never let the tragedies of his day affect his attitude to life.
His parents had died during the Black Plague, his grandfather in the Great Famine, but that was in the past. He was a free man, with the woman he wanted, children to be proud of, meat on his table and a roof over his head. He felt like a rich man and loudly asserted to his neighbours and friends that God had been good to him.

Everyone loved and respected the Plowman family, whose home was ever open to visitors. They threw themselves into helping their neighbours, even giving sacrificially to the poorer folk. They worshipped God with their whole heart during mass and often in between.
Tom especially endeared himself to everyone, with his cheeriness and enthusiasm for life, and smile that shone like the sun. He could lift the spirits of anyone, wherever he went. 
His prowess at the games at Dorchester Fair was proverbial, and he was as strong as an ox. Thus he became very popular, especially amongst the village girls. They would sigh over his blue eyes and rippling muscles, calling him ‘The Laughing Young Lion’, and gather at their gates to blow him kisses whenever they heard his voice lifted in song as he entered the village or town. 

He was not considered handsome, in the classical sense, for his prominent chin, sandy-golden beard and wild mane-like hair made him look too much like a wild and wilful beast to pass as an object of portraiture. However, he had rustic masculine charm, together with a sense of honour, a sense of humour, a generous spirit and a joie-de-vive that drew people to him. Many a village girl would almost swoon over his sparkling blue eyes, and longed to run her hands through his wild mane.

Unfortunately, and almost inevitably, his popularity and joie de vivre did make it easy for him to be led astray, and he allowed himself to be seduced by wild company, wild wood-ale (strong and heady liquor, forest-brewed in secret) and wild women. 

Being godly folk, his parents grieved over this. His father firmly, but kindly, confronted him, but Tom was unrepentant, carelessly insisting that he could easily get absolution and would cheerfully do penance for his illicit good times.

His father responded sternly, ‘Hast thou laboured so long in the fields, my son, and wot not that whatsoever a man soweth, that also shall he reap?’
Hal spoke from instinct and natural wisdom gained from observations of his world, not from any knowledge of the scriptures.
‘And this shall be thy watchword and thy song for aye, my son,’ his mother added prophetically.

Tom turned pale. For the first time he felt healthy fear and a sense of conviction over his loose living. He had too much respect and affection for his parents to go against their wishes in this matter, and he also had a deep respect for his mother’s wisdom and mysteriously prophetic insight, sensing a response to her words in his own heart.
So, from that day, he gave away the worst of his bad habits. 
His father and mother’s words were to haunt him for the rest of his life, both in good times and in bad, and he pondered on them often.

Tom had the knack of excelling in almost everything he turned his hand to. His thirst for knowledge led him to learn his letters. 
Father James, the parson at St Barnabas’ church in Gillingham, liked the lad. He took him under his wing and taught him as much as he knew, finding him quick and exceptionally intelligent.
Tom would drive Father James almost insane with his constant, ‘Wherefore…?’ The intelligent questions he asked were often disturbing, for Father James could not answer them with the limited and tidy theology he had been taught, and it flustered him a little.

One fateful day, Tom’s life totally changed.
Without any warning, a large gang of outlaws attacked his parents’ outlying farm.
Tom was away in the farthest field at the time, singing lustily as he worked, and he didn’t hear the faint shouts and screams in the far distance, until he saw smoke arising in the direction of his home.

With dread in his heart, he cut the oxen loose to graze, and then ran like the wind. The shouting had ceased, and he ran through a copse of trees to be greeted by a horrific sight.
The outlaws had fought and shot both his parents with arrows. Even their bodies had been dishonoured, with the best of their clothing ripped off and taken.

Tom ran, panting, up to his mother, then his father, trying to rouse them in vain. He then ran in among the ashes of his home, and found a third body of a young woman, burnt way beyond recognition.
His beloved sister Mary? The charred, unrecognisable remains were the only precious thing that remained of his home, now burnt to the ground. 

A few dead men lying around his father and mother’s dead bodies bore witness to a brave last stand, but everything he and his father had worked so hard for was either burnt or gone forever.
And he was too late!
He raised his fists to heaven and cried, ‘God! Hast Thou no mercy?!’
Then he fell on his knees and wept.

Tom undertook the heartbreaking labour of demolishing the pathetic remnants of the house, an easy task since the fire had done its work too well. Nothing of value remained -- the outlaws had made sure of that.
He buried his family where their home once stood.

Devastated and seething with bitter hatred, he looked darkly towards Gillingham Wood.
‘Someone shall answer for this in blood this night!’ he vowed.

After following tracks and the rumour of the passing of the murderers, he crept stealthily into the woods until finally hearing the distant sound of drunken revelling in a forest clearing. 

Creeping cautiously under cover, he saw a bandit sentry sitting up in the trees, but not very vigilant. He had a skin of ale in one hand, his bow in the other, and was yawning and belching prodigiously. The bandits had become overconfident, and thinking they were invincible, became rather careless.

Singing drunkenly to himself, the sentry didn’t hear Tom climb stealthily up behind him until it was too late. An iron hand clamped over his mouth, and his head was bashed hard against the trunk of the tree, knocking him senseless. 

Tom was almost ready to cut his throat, but he was no murderer, and couldn’t kill a man in cold blood. His father had instilled a rustic code of chivalry in him that, even now, he could not contravene. If he killed at all, it would be face-to-face, toe-to-toe, fist against fist, knife-to-knife, or arrow-to-arrow.

So he trussed and gagged the man to the branch on which he sat, took his weapons and crept up to where the bandits were feasting and making merry -- with his father’s ale, meal and meat. 

Swaggering with confidence that none would dare follow them into the woods, they laughed, drank, swore and jested about the prizes they had won, especially the prize inside the cave. They did not elaborate, but Tom guessed it was some object of especial value belonging to his mother or father.
Fuming, Tom lay low and waited until they separated. 

The loudest, largest and coarsest of them all stood in the centre of the group. He was the toast of his comrades and they drank to the health of ‘Baldrick the Boar’. 

Tom had heard fearful whispers about such a man, who had terrorized many a village right across Wessex. He ruthlessly slew or maimed anyone who stood in his way and eluded the hunting authorities like a cunning fox. 

Finally, Tom saw his chance as the Boar wandered out into the woods to relieve himself.
Tom quietly followed, and coming closer, discovered the huge beast of a man was wearing his father’s leather sleeveless vest. 

That was enough to thoroughly enrage Tom. He threw all caution to the wind and leapt upon the outlaw before he was aware, arm around his throat, nearly choking him.

But none had ever beaten Baldrick the Boar.
The big bandit had been fighting all his life. His throat was crushed so he couldn’t call his comrades, but though he gagged and coughed, he recovered quick enough to pick himself up and fight. Gasping for air, he charged in with a strangled cry of fury.

But though he was named the Boar, he had never confronted Thomas Plowman, the Raging Lion. 
Strong as an ox, quick as lightning and lithe as a snake, Tom was a skilled wrestler. As the Boar came for him, Tom threw him on his hip, sending the man crashing to the ground, winded. The Boar staggered to his feet, but a swinging blow to the jaw felled him so hard he bashed his head on a rock, where he lay motionless, blood streaming from a gash behind his head.

Tom ripped the vest off him and disappeared into the trees before anyone could discover what had happened. 

The others were used to the Boar regularly getting into fights with his own men, and so they had no idea that an intruder had penetrated their hideaway, let alone beaten him in a fight.
But finally, after a long wait, they went looking for him, cursing him for keeping them from their feast.

Furore erupted when they found their chief apparently dead. Who could have done it? Surely no one could have come alone. The sheriff and his hunters thought them miles away. 

‘The woods be accursed!’ one cried. ‘Wood-elves a-done this!’

‘Nay, it be the Judgement of God!’ cried another and crossed himself.

Others demanded that the woods be searched and called out all the men. 
But Tom had already gone.

Meanwhile, Tom brooded on his misfortunes, torturing himself over his past life of dissipation.
Surely, he thought, God had brought judgement upon him!

In his bitterness, he knelt by his family’s grave and swore a terrible oath:
‘Upon the bones of my father, mother and sister, I swear that avenged I shall be on all of those hell-born scoundrels, though I perish in performing this oath. God aiding me or no!’ 

He crossed himself, stood up and went off in the direction of Shaftesbury.
The sunlight of his eyes was quenched and, from that day, a dark mood took hold of him. 

The sergeant of my lord Sheriff’s band knew Tom well, but didn’t at first recognise the grim young man standing in the doorway that evening.
He was not the same happy-go-lucky lad who had often visited Dorchester and occasionally gotten into drunken mischief. Tom had always taken his punishment cheerfully, and the sheriff, like many other men, could not help liking and admiring him for it.

‘Thomas Plowman, lad! What is this?’ he cried, starting from his chair. ‘Come thou in. Wherefore comest thou so blackened and bloodied, lad? Thou hast the look of one that hath fought wild beasts!’

‘Aye, that I have done,’ said Tom, his brow darkening. ‘But the selfsame beasts hath had the best of it. But not for long, God aiding us.’

In a few trenchant and grim words, he told the startled sergeant what had happened to his family.

‘My God! Ben Baldrick the Boar? The black scoundrel hath slipped our net once again. Whither he be now? Gillingham forest?’ demanded the soldier urgently, buckling on his hauberk.

‘In Hell, if there be any justice!’ growled the young man, and he spat in that direction. ‘He hath not escaped the net.’

Tom went on to tell the amazed sergeant how he hunted down the Boar and fought him with his own hands, and how he had sworn to hunt down the rest of them. He then offered himself as a soldier in my lord Sheriff of Dorsetshire’s service.

The sergeant looked at him a moment. He had told Tom, on more than one occasion, that he would make an excellent soldier. If he had truly killed the notorious bandit in hand-to-hand battle, in the midst of his own hideaway, then Tom would be a valuable asset indeed.
Tom had a reputation for honesty, never boasting of any feat of arms he could not perform.

‘I grieve for Hal Plowman,’ the sergeant said at last. ‘A mighty man was thy father and a good one. His son would have found a place in our band, whate’er betide, for thou’rt a good fighter. Come thou to the armoury anon, for we must begin the hunt for those losels on the morrow, and need we every man we can use.’

So began Tom’s short career as a soldier. 
The Sheriff’s men, fully armed and reinforced by some of the Duke’s contingent, surrounded the forest near Gillingham the day after the next. Though they found the camp, there was not a trace of the outlaws themselves, except for one.

Frustrated, Tom took the sergeant to the spot where he had fought the Boar. Sure enough, there he lay. Tom spat on the carcase and turned away. He wouldn’t even help to bury the man.

Had the outlaws gotten wind of the soldiers approach long before? The tracks out of the forest were old and bore all the signs of a panicked stampede, not a stealthy, ordered retreat.

The local men of the town had gathered together in a tardy, half-hearted attempt to amend the situation, but none of them had ventured to enter the woods. Too many had done so in the past, never to return.

The sergeant made his report to the Sheriff, and thought little more of it, but it puzzled Tom somewhat. He suggested that a search be made, but the sergeant said there were too many other matters to attend to, and too few men to do it, let alone chasing elusive outlaws beyond the bounds of his writ.

A month passed, and Tom performed his duties faithfully.
To ease the pain and emptiness in his heart, he drank and womanised as much as any other soldier. 
His fellows developed considerable respect for him, not just for his fighting prowess, but also for his honesty and generosity. Although he had become grim and silent, he was always the first to buy drinks, and the first in to any conflict that was called for. He had a burning hatred for injustice and would swiftly avenge any hint of bullying among them or any oppression of the poor.

Yet there seemed to be no progress in the pursuit of the outlaws, and he became impatient with the normal processes of justice.

At last, the emptiness inside him became unbearable, and his oath of vengeance came back to torment him. He decided to go his own road, much to the sergeant’s disappointment. Tom was a promising warrior with leadership capabilities and could have risen rapidly in the ranks, but he would have none of it.

He decided to work his own way around the south of England until he avenged himself on any of the outlaws he could find. Maybe then he could find peace.

First, however, he returned to his family’s grave, and it was there that his life underwent the most amazing transformation.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Intermission: The Lay of Raymond.

Taken from part 3 of "The Poor Preachers" (yet to be published) . A balad sung by Gwendolyn Harper, Minstrel - Bardwoman, descendant of Raymond de Chalmonay.

An ancient tale of chivalry and mighty deeds I sing to thee,
Of love and true nobility. Thereto I sing my lay:

Of all Duke William’s meiny that sailed across the English sea,
The noblest knight in Normandy was young de Chalmonay.

Last in retreat, first in advance; his fame was noised through Northern France.
Him few could worst with sword nor lance, nor arrow swift could slay.
Yet would he, when the battle’s done, the wounded tend ‘til setting sun.
For mercy, kindness, there were none could match de Chalmonay.

They stormed the wall of Saxon shields, and blood was shed on Hasting's fields.
“Out, Norman dogs! No Saxon yields to foreign threat this day!”
So they defied, and so they bled. 
“All other would long since have fled!
O worthy, valiant foemen!” said Raymond de Chalmonay.

The arrow struck, bold Harold died. "The day is lost!" the Saxons cried.
“The day is ours!” the duke replied. The Saxon’s dream was gone.
Their courage died. The shield wall broke. The duke prepared his final stroke
As grieving Saxons laid his cloak o’er Harold Godwinsson.

Some knights who rarely had engaged, their lust for blood was not assuaged,
So through the fleeing host they raged to butcher, maim and slay. 
Good Ralph Fitzwalter shook his head. “’Tis shendful!” to his friend he said.
“Wherefore this waste, this blood be shed, Raymond de Chalmonay?”

When Raymond saw, his wrath it blazed. Then rode he forth with weapon raised.
The cow'ring peasants stopped, amazed, to hear a Norman say:
"Put up your swords, lay down your bows! Art Norman knights, not carrion crows!
For shame! Cease ye these needless blows!" cried young de Chalmonay.

Then back and forth and to and fro he rode amongst the fleeing foe
To calm, persuade or soften blow or bear the maimed away.
Thus many a needless death was stayed by Raymond's shield and parrying blade.
So evermore is this displayed - the Arms of Chalmonay.


'Mongst Saxon maids t'were none so fair as Æthel of the Golden Hair.
She look'd out from her tow'r in prayer that Harold would prevail.
Her father was a noble thane, and with his sons he fought in vain
On Hasting's fields. All three were slain - the last line of Mardale.

Their sad remains must be interred, so with her cousins she concurred. 
In haste to Hastings forth she spurred. Her face was proud but pale. 
Amongst the fallen didst she seek, midst shattered limb and bloodied cheek.
Though maid she was, she was not weak, the heiress of Mardale.

On battle's ground she found him not. Her heart within her breast grew hot,
Until within a sheltered grot she saw him live but frail.
“O father mine! What but this grief! It was my prayer and my belief
That we would stand!” 
Said he “My lief, brave daughter of Mardale..

The day of Saxon rule is passed. Anon, my lief, I breathe my last,
Into my grave shall soon be cast. But ere mine old eyes fail,
Protection must I seek for thee else barful peril do I see,
Thus grieving, face eternity, O Æthel of Mardale.

In Norman realms dost thou now dwell. To wed a peer thou wouldst do well,
Yet all our valiant warriors fell – the best have passed away.
Of all our race remains there none I would be proud to call my son,
Yet ‘mongst our foes have I found one: Raymond de Chalmonay.”

Cried she "Then say'st thou 'tis my fate that from my foes I choose my mate? 
But Normans all my soul should hate, who kinsmen mine assail!" 
Quoth he “Strange things have passed of late; and hatred spawneth naught but hate.
So vengeance must not be thy fate, fair daughter of Mardale.

And did we not this land invade By Hengist's sword and Horsa's blade*? 
Thus for our father's sins we paid on Hasting's fields this day. 
Just as for Harold's cause I bled, likewise such path our foemen tread. 
Not willingly our blood he shed, this knight de Chalmonay. 

Thy brothers fell beneath the tide of Norman swords, and bravely died. 
Though I, too, fell; death was denied. I heard this young knight say: 
‘Enough! Spare ye that ancient's life! The war is won! Have done with strife!’ 
A parrying sword blocked fatal knife - the sword of Chalmonay. 

He bore me hither to this place by his good mercy and God's grace; 
Therefore I see my daughter's face ere I must pass away. 
Quoth I ‘Young warrior, grammercie! But who art thou, that saveth me, 
Thy foeman?’ 
Said he unto me: ‘Raymond de Chalmonay. 

Five twelvemonths gone our duke made war on Britt’ny's lord, who scorned our law. 
Full eager, I, my sword to draw and ride with our array. 
For young and heedless thence I came to win me glory and great fame 
And add more lustre to the name and house of Chalmonay. 

'Tis said pride cometh ere a fall. I had not struck one blow withal, 
But when scaled we their castle wall, I fell to my dismay. 
While shattered, helpless I did lie, a Breton man-at-arms drew nigh. 
Quoth I ‘Anon shalt surely die, Raymond de Chalmonay!’ 

But death I saw not in his face. Nay, rather mercy and God's grace. 
Staunched he my wounds that bled a-pace. My thirst did he assuay. 
Of his own cloth he cut with knife, and bound my wounds midst battle’s strife.
To my amaze, he saved the life of this de Chalmonay.

"But wherefore doest thou this deed? To tend thy foes that fall and bleed?" 
Quoth he: "Christ likewise saw my need, and heal'd my soul that day!" 
Though wist we not each other's name, my life shall ne'er more be the same. 
A common foeman put to shame Raymond de Chalmonay. 

Our men drew nigh, so forth he fled. Then laid they me upon my bed. 
But rose I ere my strength be sped. I humbly knelt to pray: 
"Henceforth, Lord Jesu, I eschew mine own desire, but serve Thee true!” 
That moment was I born anew, Raymond de Chalmonay. 

Although my liege I served full well and rose to be a warrior fell, 
Whate'er my road my tale I tell, and vowed that from that day: 
The strongest foeman will I smite, but be he found in piteous plight? 
He shall find mercy from this knight, Raymond de Chalmonay." 

"So moved was I," the old Thane said "I called down blessings ‘pon his head. 

"Yet all my kinsmen now are dead, and so my line must fail. 
A mighty boon of thee I crave: To cast thy mantle o'er, to save 
And guard my daughter true and brave, sweet Æthel of Mardale.” 

Quoth Raymond "Wouldst thou trust this maid to one who did thy land invade? 
How then could I this child persuade that I would not betray?" 

"Bring me then parchment. Bring me quill. With mine own hand shall scribe my will. 
Her doubts of thee then shall I still, Raymond de Chalmonay."

So forth he went that my behest be so fulfilled, yet it is best
That to thy face I should attest the truth of this strange tale.” 

With moistened eye and heart so moved, said she "His worth is fully proved, 
And such a man, yea, could be loved by Æthel of Mardale!" 

The Thane, he smiled. He wist the end was drawing nigh. 
“I do commend 
My soul to Christ Who will defend my cause and shall prevail! 
Hold thou mine hands, my lief!” he cried. “And bid farewell to hate and pride!” 

And so the noble Saxon died - the last Thane of Mardale. 

But when in grief she laid him down, a hand reached forth and grasped her gown. 
A lik'rous knight of ill renown was Ranulph de Vinail. 
He gloated o'er her loveliness, his arm would hold, his hand caress. 
Despitously did he address fair Æthel of Mardale. 

"A golden guerdon do I find! To bed thee well is in my mind!" 

Cried she: "False knight! Seek thine own kind! Take thy foul reek away!"

Ranulph, he laughed, but then he swore, for hardy nigh his throat he saw 
A sword, and on its hilts it bore the arms of Chalmonay. 

Quoth Raymond "So, Ranulph, hast thou forsaken thus thy knightly vow?
Before the strongest thou wilt bow; on weakest thou wilt prey!" 

"Dost thou draw steel on unarmed knight?” Ranulph he cursed. “I will not fight!” 
Well might he quail. He knew the might of brave de Chalmonay.

Quoth stern Raymond: "Then get thee hence, else thou in blood pay recompense! 
And should she suffer more offence, my blade thy back will flay!" 

Ranulph in shame and anger cried "I go! Take thou thy Saxon bride!
But vengeance shall not be denied, Raymond de Chalmonay!"

Then Raymond turned and saw her face, her wondrous beauty and her grace;
And wondered that she found that place, she came and did not quail.
Then, grieving for her grief, he saw the lonely burden that she bore;
So passion’s fire was kindled for the lady of Mardale.

Quoth he, and gently kissed her hand: "Thou art the fairest in the land,
My sword is e'er at thy command, henceforth and from this day.
Hast thou not kin with whom to dwell, as haven from we Normans fell?"

Quoth she “Nay, but … I trust thee well, Raymond de Chalmonay.

For by thy sword thou'st served my kin, thou'st kept thy soul from lik'rous sin.
Should thou desire mine hand to win? So be it thine for aye.
And to thy mercy do I bow, a dawn of hope hath come, I trow.
The conqu'rer of mine heart art thou, Raymond de Chalmonay."


Brave Raymond’s deeds were noised abroad and praised by many a Norman lord.
“Full worthy he of great reward.” did common soldiers say.
The tale unto the Duke was told. Then summoned he the young knight bold,
And many gathered to behold Raymond de Chalmonay.

The young man came, and on his arm - the fairest maid, so proud and calm;
That e’er a royal court could charm, that Normans seldom see.
Before the Duke they both bowed low, then looked she on her former foe.
Her hate at last did she forgo for William’s Normandy.

Then Raymond looked he in his face. “My Liege, I crave of thee this grace
For one whose home we do displace. Though fair, she is not frail.
For fallen kinsmen she hath sought, for her own peril recked she naught.
Hence before thee have I brought brave Æthel of Mardale.

I pray that I may have the right, if I find favour in thy sight,
To guard this jewel fair, whose light shall never fade nor fail;
That she be honoured in this land, thy conquered realm in which we stand.
In marriage I have sought the hand of Æthel of Mardale.”

The iron duke his stern eyes raised upon the maid his knight had praised.
His courtiers all were full amazed her valour bold to see.
“Good lady” quoth the conqueror, “Shall thine allegiance heretofore
Bow in obeisance to the law and rule of Normandy?

To Westminster go I to claim the English crown, this land to tame.
Thy cause is lost, but not in shame. The memory shall not fail.
To force their fealty am I loath. To dwell in peace our peoples both
I fane would see.”

“E’en so, lord.” quoth the lady of Mardale.

“It was the will of my lost sire that I forsake a Saxon’s ire.
To dwell in peace is my desire; thy word and will obey.
And homage gladly give I thee, for ‘mongst the host of Normandy
Is him whose lady I would be: Raymond de Chalmonay.”

To Raymond said the duke: “Brave knight, thou’st served me true with all thy might,
In chivalry upheld the Right through pain and much travail.
This I decree: Into thy hands do I commit this maid, her lands,
And name I thee, while thine house stands, Lord Baron of Mardale.”

In joy and honour forth they went. Their house they raised in Northern Kent. 
To serve the poor their lives they spent; E’en so Raymond would pray:

“Unto mine heirs may God extend His strength the parrying sword to bend.
May God’s good grace for aye defend the house of Chalmonay.”

* Hengist and Horsa were the leaders of the first Anglo-Saxon colonisation of Britain.

Copyright © David Butler 2007