Wednesday, 9 July 2014
Hear ye, hear ye good folk of England!
His majesty hopes you are enjoying the excerpts from the pages of his royal chronicler doctor Joachim of Oxford.
Now he wishes to test whether you have been reading with proper attention of a good royal servant.
Whoever shall guess what is the family battlecry of the Nevilles from Pitchfork shall be rewarded with his own free copy of the 'Gentlemen of Pitchfork' e-book!
The reward shall await for the first 3 claimants who state the correct answer in the comments to this notice!
The results of this royal contest shall be announced on the day of the publication of 'Gentlemen of Pitchfork'!
As of August 1st the contest is officially closed!
Monday, 7 July 2014
Lord Arthur sat looking at the chessboard. His face was strained. In his long velvet houppelande he looked like a dressed up statue. His robe’s pleats lay folded under the stool. While the opponent was thinking, Robert once again examined the less than impressive dining room of the Port Cock Inn. The stony interior was cosy, yet modestly arranged – there were no decorations except for simple dishes aligned on wooden shelves. The room was empty except for the two knights. The servants and the inn keeper were bustling about the whole abode, busy with kitchen duties and cleaning. Only one maid, seventeen year old Mathilde, peeked into the main room from time to time to make sure the knights didn’t need anything. They did not – the clay jug with Breton wine was still half full. Robert glanced indolently at the chessboard, touching his head bandage with the right hand. In accordance with his expectations nothing had changed. He was still four rounds from putting his cousin's king in check mate. His opponent did not seem to notice this despite his meditation worthy of a philosopher. Arthur finally budged and the ringed hand moved the rook. The younger knight answered momentarily following his long-planned scheme. It convicted him for long minutes of boredom. Luckily the irreplaceable Guillaume came to the rescue.
“Greetings”, he called from the door and bowed slightly.
Robert nodded his head.
“I would not want to disturb, but I am looking for Sir Ralph… is he in his room?” Guillaume asked shyly.
“He did not leave it today”, the smile on the Baron’s face left no doubts on how to take the hint.
“I get it”, Guillame replied grimly and marched towards the stairs leading to the first floor of the inn. Arthur looked at Robert.
“Well, well. I must admit your uncle’s stamina is impressive for his age.”
Robert decided that the discussion was leading towards uncomfortable ground.
“I guess so”, he murmured and shrugged.
“Oh no, my dear cousin”, Arthur would not be discouraged so easily. “It does deserve much more than a mere shrug. You should be content and proud”.
“If you say so Arthur… but what should I be proud of, actually?”
“Why?” Lord Pitchfork was surprised. “Your father’s masculine strengths of course. And it should fill you with joy that as it passes from father to son, you must be as mighty in bed as him. Maybe you just have not had an opportunity to prove yourself?”
Robert turned away from his cousin’s beady eyes.
“Look, Guillaume is back. Father must have sent him away again”, he tried to change the subject.
“Do not think you can put me off so easily”, said Arthur. “And please understand that I do not mean to upset you. I care for you as if you were my trueborn brother.”
Guillaume crossed the room shaking his head and left the inn. Arthur was about to start over when the door of the Port Cock opened again and Guillaume stepped back inside. He walked up to one of the tables and sat heavily on the long bench. He was sitting there silent, impatiently pattering his fingers on the table.
“Are you waiting for my father, Guillaume?” Robert called to him.
“Yes, though I honestly do not know why. I could just go to Saint Martin’s church and watch the maids or play dice with the guards at the Montvillier gate. Actually, I could just as well find some gambling companions in Montvillier itself, knowing your reverent father and his lewdness.
“Guillaume, isn’t that a French name?” Arthur opted for a casual conversation over the game of chess greatly relieved at this distraction.
“Indeed, m’lord. Wilhelm, in our tongue. It’s because of my late mother, Helen, who came from La Rochelle in Guyenne. My father was an Englishman though and fought under the banners of the Black Prince.
“Well, well”, called Arthur. “Your father must be an elderly man, if he served in those times. Can it be that he was at Poitiers in that fateful year, when John II the Good was captured and the sacred Oriflamme fell under a pile of French corpses?” The Baron’s voice showed excitement.
“No, my lord. Not that elderly. From those times he could only remember the smell of his dirty swaddling-clothes and the lullabies of my late Grandmother Elisabeth”.
The squire did not disclose any further details of his family life, as the beaming Sir Ralph appeared on the stairs.
“Here I am, Guillaume!” he called. “Show me these brave men”.
“They are waiting outside, my lord”, Guillaume walked toward the door, straightening his hood.
“Greetings my dear nephew. Greetings to you, my son”, Sir Ralph turned to the young men. “Would you be wasting your time on chess, while so many fine girls are looking for a company of young knights?”
“Greetings uncle! It is true we played a game, but in my defense I must say I already have a date for the night. The game only helped me to pass the unpleasant waiting time away.”
Sir Ralph gave him a broad smile and turned to his son. Robert turned away and glanced at Guillaume, who was looking attentively at Sir Ralph. Finally the old knight followed the gaze of his son. The squire stood impatient at the door.
“They are waiting outside, m’lord”, Guillaume said.
“I know where they are waiting”, replied Sir Ralph. “I just do not know what my son is waiting for”. With these words Lord Moorow, much less beaming, left the room. Arthur and Robert followed.
A group of archers stood on the cobbled bank of the Leur river, where the Port Cock was located. They were dressed in simple soldier clothes. Most of them wore hose and light, woollen blouses. On their heads they wore hoods with long liripipe* falling on their backs down to their buttocks. All of them carried short weapons – swords, falchions and various daggers tucked behind their belts. The common element was a red cross of different sizes sewn on their clothes – a symbol of Henry’s troops. A bearded man with deep dark eyes was leading them. An ugly scar ran through his shaved head. The knights stopped before the five archers.
“How do they call you”, Sir Ralph asked the man standing in the front.
“And the family? How do they call your family?”
“Ball, m’lord. I am Will Ball, at you lordship’s service”, the archer gave a courteous bow. Way too courteous, thought Robert standing behind his father’s back.
“Hmm… I must have heard it somewhere… where are you from?” Sir Ralph continued.
“From Moorow, my lord”, the man smiled, showing his yellow, rotten teeth.
“My man!” Sir Ralph said cheerfully. “Do you recognize him from somewhere, Robert? We visit Moorow quite often”
“Why, it is the yearly winner of the Easter archery competition in our estate”, said Robert suddenly remembering where he had seen the man.
“Well, that explains a lot!” said sir Ralph. “Hah! You have proven yourself during the assault, my good man.”
“Who are these people?” Arthur asked, annoyed he did not fully comprehend the situation.
“They, my dear Arthur, saved our skin during the assault at Harfleur when we were stuck on the back of Holland’s men. They shot down the French crossbowmen, who had killed my faithful companion, Sir Crawley”.
“Did they now?” Arthur raised his eyebrows slightly that gave him illusively perspicacious look. “Then we owe you lads our gratitude”.
“Indeed”, admitted Sir Ralph. “I reckon as well, that the Baron’s thanks won’t end on kind words, which albeit please the dames, are of little use to a simple soldier”, Sir Ralph smiled with impertinence and glanced at his nephew.
“But of course…”, assured Arthur after brief consideration. He reached for the bulging pouch hanging from his knight’s belt covered with small square pads. The archers began grunting with content. “But first… I am curious to whom precisely we owe rescuing from oppression… present your people to me, Ball.”
The archer gave a wry smile and stepped aside. With a theatrical gesture he pointed at the first man on his right.
“This is Thomas Smith”, he announced. “A remarkable archer, despite his inconsiderable posture. This strapping fellow next to him is Big Will. We call him that to tell him from myself, but also because he was generously equipped by Mother Nature”, Ball pointed at the nature’s gift and the archers chortled. The knights smiled slightly, but that was all their social status allowed for.
“This is Small Tom”, the archer eagerly continued. “Tommy for short but let it not deceive you my lords. That’s how we tell him from Thomas Smith. There is nothing more to it, isn’t that right Tommy?”
Tommy seemed embarrassed which proved the contrary and inspired another wave of laughter among his companions.
“Finally I present to you, my lords, Matthew of Moorow”, Ball kept on speaking. “Although an elderly veteran, he is young at heart, as all village girls from Plymouth to Dover can attest”.
“Thank you for this detailed presentation and… upon your hands, Ball”, Arthur put a handful of silver in the extended hands of the soldier.
“We are thankful to you, my lord and remember us in the future. We are always keen on helping House Neville…”, with these words Bell patted his chest, where a metal clip showed a standing bear chained to a tree trunk.
Saturday, 5 July 2014
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Interview with Kamil Gruca on YouTube
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Wednesday, 2 July 2014
A raised hand in an archer’s glove halted the riders. Ball stopped his horse and looked around. The road they were crossing was densely cut with horse hooves. The oldest of the archers, Mathew of Moorow, scratched his unshaven jaw and shook his head. He leaned over his saddle, blew his nose strongly with his left hand and said:
“We won’t cross here for sure.”
“What’s going on there, Ball?!” shouted the Baron with impatience.
“It seems m’lord an army passed here not long ago!” Came a reply.
Arthur and Robert drew closer to the group of archers and took a look at the highroad running in front of them.
“Not good. Can you tell when they passed?” Lord Pitchfork was slightly annoyed and no one would dare to ask whether it was caused by the danger or, quite the contrary, by them missing the French.
“Thomas...”, said Bill pointing at the road.
The obese archer slipped off his horse with an effort and distrustfully looked around the thicket separating them from the road. He bent down a few times examining something, scratched his head covered with a hat and turned back.
“Speak”, Arthur commanded.
“So then, m’lord...”, the fat man muttered. “No more than four days ago it was. Must be the army.”
“Can it be they passed only recently?” Robert joined in the conversation. “In other words, is it possible these are the traces of the avant-garde or the main forces and that we can be swarmed with Saint Michael crosses any time now?”
“Well, it may be so as well”, said Thomas. “We rode through the forest and it’s hard to tell how heavy the rain was. If it rained same as now, the traces would not wash away so quickly. If it rained harder, then these traces might be much fresher.”
Robert and Arthur looked at each other.
“We return to Sir Godfrey and Sir Ralph and discuss where to ride”, Arthur responded.
“I do not mean to question your will, cousin, but wouldn’t it be better to move west through the forest along the highroad and observe it from the safe distance?”
“What purpose would that serve, dear Robert?” Arthur wondered. “Sir Godfrey and Sir Ralph might come across the enemy unaware and they would not know where we are.”
“Then let us send one of the archers to tell them what we have decided”, suggested Robert. “We won’t waste our time on discussion and we will see whether we risk meeting the French rear-guard.”
Arthur puckered his forehead, straining his mind. Robert started to fear that this noble consideration might take as long as his chess moves, the Baron however quite quickly made up his mind due to an illumination or simple impatience.
“Agreed, cousin”, he said. “Let’s ride along the highroad. Little Thomas shall inform Lord Moorow about it.”
“You’ve heard the lord, Tommy. Move on”, Ball commanded.
The young archer kicked the horse on the sides and rode north through the forest.
They moved according to the plan, not losing sight of the highroad but keeping their distance. The rain fell continuously, but that wasn’t the problem – quite contrary to deciding whether to cross the road or not. They rode in silence, pondering on the dilemma, until finally their thoughts were interrupted by two sounds coming from the direction in which they were heading. The first, murmuring of the water, did not alarm the riders in particular.
“Oh! We reached the river Bresle”, commented old Mathew curtly.
The other sound provoked a much more lively reaction. A woman’s scream. The horses pricked up their ears and Arthur instinctively stood up in his saddle to get a better view. He could not spot anything through the thick curtain of pine trees though. Then they heard another scream.
“There”, said Ball listening and pointed in some general direction to the left of their course.
The majority of the men looked around at themselves with questioning eyes. Lord Pitchfork however did not intend to ponder over something so obvious. He just drove his horse hard in the direction indicated by the archers’ leader. Robert blinked looking after his quickly disappearing cousin.
He rode towards the highroad... he will cross it shortly, he thought. If the French are there, then we are doomed. If only the French are there...
Robert did not finish his last thought. Instead he yelled from the bottom of his lungs:
Not entirely realizing that he was forcing his horse to a breakneck gallop through the woods, not knowing why he was doing so, Robert rushed after Arthur. Archers joined their lords, saying their silent prayers.
Sir Arthur flashed across the highroad without a thought and bolted into the forest on the other side. Soon after the trees ended he found himself on the riverbank. On the other side he spotted a galloping black steed, on his back a lady in man’s clothing with wind-blown bright hair. In other circumstances the Baron would certainly give himself to fantasizing, but another scream did not allow him to forget his knightly duties. Four men dressed in chainmail and half-plate armour galloped behind the woman. They did not look like devoted admirers that the lady had invited to a courtly game. They rather looked like bandits or marauders. Arthur, being a man of action and not cold calculation, took out his sword and, not waiting for his men, rushed across the river with a savage battle cry.
“The time has come!” He bellowed as his mount splashed around the foamed water with his hooves. As soon as Lord Pitchfork’s family call reached Robert’s ears, the young knight comprehended it was his end. While crossing the road he only wondered how he would die and passing through the roadside thicket he asked God for an easy death. When the river finally appeared before his eyes –he froze. He saw Arthur charging at three thugs riding toward him. Suddenly another woman’s scream rang out to the right. Robert glanced just in time to see a petite female figure fall off a huge horse’s down into the water. A mounted armoured man closed on her. The young knight rushed his horse in that direction producing his sword and murmuring pater noster in a crusader’s fashion.
The man leaned over in his saddle to grab the woman. He didn’t make it though and the current carried away the unconscious body. Suddenly he realized his mount was standing on the brink of a ford. He tried to move back and only then he spotted the charging Robert. The young knight struck a sweeping but inaccurate blow and only cut the padded jack on the stupefied man’s shoulder. In an instant he ran slam-bang into him and both men found themselves in deep water.
Sir Robert , losing interest in his recent opponent, rushed swimming after the lady carried by the current. The icy water made the wounded man lose all will to fight and he desperately pummelled around with his arms. Robert, not looking back, swam as fast as he could. He was so absorbed, that he did not notice a group of foot soldiers appearing on the riverbank. Neither did he see Ball’s archers jumping off their horses on the other side, putting on bowstrings taken from under their hats and hoods.
One of the soldiers riding toward the Baron raised his swords for a sweeping cut. He exposed himself a bit too much. The Baron struck from the right and cut the man’s eye and temple with the point of the sword. The weapon fell off the stiff hand. Meanwhile the horseman that got to Arthur from the other side cut backhandedly aiming at the unprotected head. The knight would manage to parry the blow, but not manage to block the last rider’s attack. He risked a dodge. The blade passed right over his head. The Baron, blocking the strike on his right leg used the momentum to forcefully push away the opponents arm. He reined in his horse and with a curt returning move hit the attacker in the temple with his shod reins and a steel gauntlet. Blood gushed from the crushed ear. Arthur pressed the wounded man swaying in the saddle with his horse and hit him in the forehead with the sword’s pommel. When the man was falling off the horse Arthur hit him again on the back of the head.
Upon seeing that, the last of the three riders decided to retreat and rushed his horse toward the bank. Arthur moved after him just when a dozen foot soldiers poured out from the forest. Having spotted them, the fleeing rider changed his mind and turned his horse around. He did not expect the knight was right behind him and paid for this oversight with his head. It fell into the river as Arthur made a wide slash from his galloping horse's back.
Arrows swished in the air and three incoming soldiers fell into the river. Ball skilfully reached to his linen quiver tucked behind the belt and took out another arrow. He aimed for a few seconds and released it. The bowstring slid smoothly over the leather covered fingers. There was a swish. One of the running soldiers fell on his face when the arrow pierced him through. Its thin head stuck out of the man’s back. A chainmail armour within fifty steps from the English longbow gave no protection at all. When the bowstrings of Big Will, Thomas Smith and old Matthew rang out, Ball was already putting on another arrow. Seeing the bodies of their companions falling into the water, the other soldiers took to their heels in unison. Arthur rushed in between them and started hacking around with a long sword sending them to the stony bottom.
Robert, much less interested in the course of battle than in the fate of the woman carried away by the river, swam with all his might. Finally he grasped a soft calf of the girl and pulling her to himself started the laborious fight against the current. On his way back to the ford he passed by a body which was being carried in the opposite direction. He congratulated himself silently for not wearing armour that day. Utterly exhausted he finally felt the bottom and stood with the woman in his arms. The fight was almost over. Ball and his archers mounted back and galloped after the fleeing soldiers – they did not need any witnesses of their expedition. Even the insignificant Picardian marauders.
Robert realized suddenly that the water was icy cold. He clasped the numb female body. The soaked clothes were nicely pasted around the soft skin. Robert felt an incoming wave of heat reaching his abdomen. He looked at the face of the rescued woman and saw what until now had been only a dream: a pale, delicate complexion, closed eyes with long eyelashes and perfectly shaped lips. This view entranced him so that he nearly lost his balance.“My countess… from a dream…my Lady of the River…”, he whispered feverishly.(...)